philipines: el nido, pretty peculiar coastal idyll

El what? If you have never heard of El Nido, it's time you did, because few resorts better deserve the label “breathtakingly beautiful” than this seaside town in the Philippines province of Palawan, aka "the final frontier".

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nepal: patan cafés

Patan, Nepal

Ask tourists where and what have they have been doing in Nepal and their answers are quite similar:

“Shopping in Thamel.”

“I went to a Vipassana meditation center there, it was amazing.”

“Elephant rides!”

“Monkey Temple.”

“Well, I’m going to visit Mount Everest. If I had been younger, I’d…”

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italy: the glories of rome

Coliseum in Rome, Italy

If a prize existed for the world's most stunning city, Rome might well win it. The Eternal City that hugs Italy's third longest river, the Tiber, is a cut above. Once the center of the world's most daunting empire, it oozes style and splendour. Every centimetre is saturated in history.

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united states: missouri top 5 attractions

Slap in the heart of America, land-locked Missouri is the gateway between the nation's east and west. It borders no less than eight states: Iowa, Illinois, Kentucky, Tennessee, Arkansas, Oklahoma, Kansas and Nebraska. 

The mega-crossroads contains two mighty rivers. One, the Mississippi, defines the eastern boundary of the state. The other, the Missouri, runs west to east, linking the state's two largest cities, Kansas City and St. Louis. 

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malaysia: penang, pearl of the orient

Georgetown, Penang

The Malaysian island of Penang, set off the peninsular mainland's northwestern coast, is a classic multicultural mix and well worth a visit. Nations ranging from India to Holland have made their mark on the island. This history is reflected in the island’s eclectic social scene, its mosaic of temples that represent every faith you can think of, exotic gardens, and its rich choice of food.

The culinary scene in George Town is laidback and approachable with food stalls and hole-in-the-wall joints selling fresh piquant fare. Take your pick from Indian, Chinese, Thai, Korean and Malaysian — which is like 15 cuisines fused together. Diversity permeates the fabric of Penang. Temples of many faiths, jungle hikes, cozy cafes, secluded beaches, and a lively art scene all contribute to the cultural landscape. The island’s nickname “Pearl of the Orient” seems too one dimensional. With all the colorful cultures and histories reflected here, perhaps “Prism of the Orient” would be more suitable.

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australia: sydney 5 great cruises

Since the 2000 Olympics, Sydney city has climbed in cost and faded from fashion. Still, the Australian city retains some formidable attractions – not least the world’ most attractive harbour network. 

Any ride on a chunky green ferry integrated into the public transport system beats the bus by a mile. 

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hanoi: the giant turtle of hoan kiem lake

Hoan Kiem Lake Turtle

Some observers dispute its existence. Like Scotland's suspiciously camera-shy Loch Ness Monster, the turtle of Hoan Kiem Lake in Hanoi's heart is elusive: a fleeting creature intertwined with myth and speculation.

Still, almost certainly, some turtle occupies the picturesque, willow-fringed lake that serves as the city's cultural hub.  A smattering of photographs supports the notion.

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malaysia: snake temple, penang

Snake Temple, Penang

Food, food, food – that is the standard take on the Malaysian island of Penang. Food and a serving of history.

But Penang has at least one other extraordinary angle: a landmark on the fringes of town called Snake Temple, which – you guessed it – is riddled with snakes.

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malaysia: langkawi jewel of kedah

If you feel suspicious of resorts with fancy nicknames, join the club. But Langkawi – an Andaman Sea archipelago some 30 kilometres off mainland Malaysia – just about lives up to its billing as the “jewel” of the state of Kedah.

Sheltered by peninsular Malaysia's mountainous backbone, the archipelago escapes the north eastern winter monsoon and enjoys sunny skies in winter when the eastern provinces are flooded. Featuring pristine jungle, natural white sand beaches and craggy peaks, it is a recognised “geopark” blessed with a wealth of wildlife. The lineup runs the gamut from otters to a quirky bird called the “racket-tailed drongo”.

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songkhla: hat yai insider guide

Simila beach Koh Noo Kho Meaw

While not the most obvious Thai destination on the international traveler's itinerary, Hat Yai does have its fair share of attractions for those passing through. This southern border city is the third largest metropolis in Thailand after Bangkok and Chiang Mai, and is visited mainly by Malaysian holiday-makers and people there on business (this is also a major transport and import/export city).

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