9 of Borneo’s Most Spectacular Attractions

Luring travelers from far and wide, Borneo is more than twice the size of Germany and ranks as the world’s third largest island. Administered by Indonesia, Malaysia, and Brunei, it is not only home to more than 200 ethnic groups, but also one of the most biodiverse regions on the planet, boasting more than 15,000 plant species, including the world’s largest individual flower, Rafflesia arnoldii.

In this article, we look at 9 of Borneo’s most exciting sights.

1. Mount Kinabalu, Sabah

The tallest mountain in Southeast Asia, where the outlook for a post-pandemic resurgence in tourism is largely positive, Mount Kinabalu reaches to 13,345 feet (or 4,095 meters) and requires two days to summit. Deriving its name from a Kadazan word meaning “the revered place of the dead,” it is Borneo’s state emblem and one of the most important biological sites in the world, hosting an estimated 6,000 plant species – more than those of Europe and North America combined.

Mount Kinabalu

2. Derawan, Kalimantan

Located off the east coast of Borneo, the Derawan Islands have been noted for their white sand, lush interiors, and hidden lagoons. This region of the Sulawesi Sea offers exceptional diving opportunities, its submerged reefs and islets accommodating 500 types of coral and 872 species of fish.

3. Danum Valley, Sabah

A protected region of East Sabah since 1995, Danum Valley has largely escaped the deforestation that blights other parts of the island. Encompassing approximately 438 square kilometers of rainforest, Danum Valley boasts not only a dipterocarp forest that dates back more than 130 million years, but also thousands of species of flora and fauna, including orangutans.

The valley also includes comfortable bungalows to accommodate visitors taking part in jungle treks, night safaris, or canopy walks. Situated in the middle of the jungle, two hours from the nearest town, Danum Valley offers an exciting opportunity to immerse yourself in the sights and sounds of the jungle while escaping the hustle and bustle of urban life.

4. Kuching, Sarawak

The capital of Sarawak, Kuching is known as “the city of cats” and boasts stunning heritage buildings and colonial architecture, colorful temples, and floating villages in addition to its famous cat statues.

Like most cities in Borneo, the focal point of Kuching is its river. Meandering along the Sarawak River on a sampan is an excellent way to explore the city, providing impressive views of the Victorian fort, 19th-century Chinese shophouses, a golden-domed mosque, Malay villages, and the magnificent wooden-roofed palace set against a stunning mountain backdrop.

5. Sepilok, Sabah

One of Borneo’s most famous attractions, the Sepilok Orangutan Rehabilitation Centre opened in 1964. Since then, its staff and volunteers have cared for baby or orphaned orangutans, victims of poaching, deforestation, and the like. Around one-third of the 80 resident primates are babies. The best time to visit the center is feeding time, which takes place at 10 a.m. and 3 p.m. daily.

6. Bako National Park, Sarawak

One of Borneo’s most beautiful attractions, Bako National Park showcases a convergence of deserted islands and beaches with a jungle experience. Despite the national park’s modest size, it offers an impressive array of rare and interesting wildlife. Home to approximately 150 proboscis monkeys, the park is one of the best places in the world to observe the endangered species. Other species that can be spotted here include the Bornean bearded pig, long-tailed macaque, monitor lizard, plantain squirrel, and silvery langur.

7. Sipadan Island, Sabah

Voted one of the best dive sites in the world, Sipadan Island is the only true oceanic island in Malaysia, rising 600 meters from the ocean floor. Its stunning underwater visibility enables visiting divers to observe a myriad of rare marine life, including sea turtles, reef sharks, and huge schools of barracudas. With hundreds of coral species and over 3,000 species of fish, the region is classified as one of the richest ecosystems on Earth.

8. Niah Caves, Sarawak

Niah National Park has earned an international reputation for its vast caves, Iron Age cave paintings, and Paleolithic and Neolithic burial sites. The region was once a major center of human settlement, with remains discovered at the site that date back 40,000 years.

The walls of the Painted Cave are adorned with illustrations depicting boats carrying the dead to the afterlife. Remnants of these “death ships” found on the cave floor are now exhibited at Sarawak Museum.

9. Monsopiad Cultural Village, Sabah

Nestled on the banks of the Penampang River, this living museum is named after a fearsome warrior who lived more than 200 years ago. The main building is dedicated to Monsopiad and his descendants, displaying ceramic items, and the ceremonial costume of Bobohizan Inai Bianti, a senior high priestess and direct descendent of Monsopiad. Other interesting exhibits include a huge monolith, as well as the House of Skulls, containing 42 human skulls reputedly collected by the Kadazan headhunter.

The Cuisine of Southeast Asia: 4 of the Region’s Most Popular Dishes

Possessing a tropical climate, fertile soil, and crystal-clear waters, the lands and oceans of Southeast Asia produce an abundance of mouthwatering produce. Encompassing Singapore, Malaysia, Indonesia, Vietnam, Thailand, and the Philippines, the region has been influenced by numerous people and cultures throughout the centuries, culminating in an exciting fusion of different cooking styles. In this article, we look at a selection of Southeast Asia’s most celebrated dishes.

1. Martabak – Indonesia

From the sugar-white beaches of Bali to the orangutans of Borneo, Indonesia lures travelers from all over the world with its ancient temples, exotic wildlife, and breathtaking landscapes.

Little known outside of the country, Martabak is an incredibly popular Indonesian street food. Available in both sweet and savory versions, it is cooked to order and served hot and fresh.

A savory Martabak from a reputable vendor is typically made with duck eggs, featuring a two-egg filling as standard, although customers could order up to five. The vendor works a small piece of wheat dough with impressive dexterity, stretching it so thinly that the dough becomes translucent, to make a very thin base.

The dough is laid flat in a large shallow pan and fried in hot oil until it starts to bubble and blister. Meanwhile, the vendor adds cilantro, chopped green onions, and seasoned cooked ground chicken to the beaten eggs. The cook stirs the mixture, then spreads it across the center of the bubbling dough to form a thin layer.

The vendor then makes a series of folds, culminating in a neat, crispy rectangle, which is cooked until it turns golden brown before being served with sour pickled cucumbers, radishes, and raw hot chilis. The filling resembles fluffy scrambled eggs with a fresh herb flavor.

2. Bak Kut Teh – Malaysia

From the ultra-modern Petronas Twin Towers in Kuala Lumpur to the azure waters of Langkawi Island, Malaysia’s eclectic blend of ancient temples and customs and chic, modern cities attracts tourists of all ages.

Made with Chinese herbs, garlic, and pork ribs, Bak Kut Teh translates as “pork bone tea soup”. Traditionally made in a clay pot, the recipe involves hours of slow boiling, resulting in pork that is so tender that it melts in your mouth.

Bak Kut Teh contains tofu puffs and Shitake mushrooms, as well as being infused with herbs like star anise, cinnamon, and Dong Quai, filling the kitchen with tempting aromas as it cooks. The dish is commonly accompanied by stir fried vegetables, rice, and a small plate of minced garlic, chili, and soy dipping sauce.

The soup is believed to have its origins in Fujian Province, China. Historians suggest that Hokkien migrants introduced the dish to Malaysia in the 1800s. Bak Kut Teh is said to have been a popular breakfast among Chinese laborers, setting them up for a day of backbreaking work.

3. Pho – Vietnam

From bustling Hanoi to the emerald mountains of the north, Vietnam is home to several UNESCO World Heritage sites, including mystical Ha Long Bay and the imperial city of Hue.

The origins of Pho are thought to date back to the 1880s in northern Vietnam. Heavily influenced by both Chinese and French cooking, Pho is a delicate rice noodle soup that is made from beef bones, green onions, fish sauce, yellow rock sugar, and a variety of aromatic species, including fennel seeds, cinnamon, star anise, cardamon, and ginger.

Served sprinkled with chopped fresh herbs, Pho is considered a national dish of the Vietnamese, its complex flavors capturing the attention of Americans following its introduction to the West by Vietnamese migrants. Today, there are an estimated 2,000 Pho restaurants across the United States and Canada.

This versatile, adaptable dish is prepared in a range of different styles as chefs experiment with different ingredients. Typically made with beef or chicken, contemporary versions of this Southeast Asian staple contain pork or seafood.

4. Adobo – The Philippines

The Philippines is an archipelago comprising more than 7,000 Pacific islands. Famous worldwide for its white sandy beaches and crystal-clear waters, the country is home to many amazing natural waters, including an underground river and some of the finest diving spots in the world.

Adobo is a popular dish in the Philippines. It is made by marinating meat in soy sauce; garlic; and cane, rice, or coconut vinegar. Whole tomatoes, bay leaves, black pepper, and white onions are added, before the stew is cooked. Adobo is typically garnished with green onions and served with steamed rice. Traditionally, adobo was cooked in small clay pots, although metal pots and woks are commonly used today.

Adobo is usually made with chicken, pork, beef, or a mixture of different meats, although the seafood and vegetable versions are sometimes prepared. It is a popular daily meal as well as a feast dish. Since vinegar preserves meat by inhibiting the growth of bacteria, adobo has a relatively long shelf life. The dish keeps well without refrigeration and is commonly packed for Filipino travelers and mountaineers.

7 Off-the-Beaten Track Travel Adventures in Thailand

As the world slowly returns to some kind of normalcy as the covid-19 pandemic wanes in many countries, experts predict a rapid resurgence in international tourism.

With its vibrant cities, ancient temples, tropical beaches, and lush vegetation, Thailand figures prominently on the bucket lists of many international travelers. In this article, we eschew the many delights of Bangkok, seeking out a path less traveled in the Land of Smiles.

1. Mae Hong Son

Located in northwest Thailand close to the Myanmar border, the small town of Mae Hong Son is the perfect base from which to explore the local countryside, visit nearby waterfalls, and experience village life. Just outside the town is a Buddhist wat (temple) built in the middle of a vast rice paddy, which is accessed via a handmade bamboo bridge. Another impressive wat is located in the town center. Visitors to Mae Hong Son can spend a relaxing evening at one of the lakeside restaurants, enjoying impressive views of the vast, ornately decorated wat and its shimmering reflection in the water.

2. Mu Ko Chumphon National Park

Covering more than 317 square kilometers, including 70 kilometers of coastline, Mu Ko Chumphon National Park is a paradise for nature enthusiasts as it’s home to a wealth of rare and interesting plant and animal species.

This national park encompasses a variety of wildlife habitats, including mountains, mangrove forests, and dozens of islands in the Gulf of Thailand. Mu Ko Chumphon National Park is particularly popular with scuba divers and offers ample diving opportunities for both novice and experienced divers alike.

3. Wat Phutthabat Sutthamat, Lampang

The mountainous province of Lampang is a 1½ hour drive from the northern city of Chiang Mai. Known as the “unseen cliff temples of Lampang,” Wat Phutthabat Sutthamat is a unique destination that fewer international travelers to Thailand ever visit. Tourists can combine a tour of this site with a visit to nearby Chae Son National Park, with its hot springs, cave complexes, and Chae Son Waterfall.

With rugged rocky cliffs surrounding the temple, Wat Phutthabat Sutthamat is accessed via a bus ride up the mountain, before negotiating a winding, 800-meter path on foot. From the small, white-washed pagodas, visitors can experience panoramic views of the valley below.

4. Sala Kaew Ku

Sala Kaew Ku is a park that features many impressive statues that are notable even among the countless representations of the Buddha across Thailand. One such statue, which measures 25 meters tall, features Buddha in a meditative pose, under the protection of a seven-headed Naga serpent deity.

The park was built over the course of two decades. It was commissioned by Luang Pu Boun Leua Sourirat, a Thai mystic who died in 1996. In addition to many Buddhas, Sala Kaew Ku features a myriad of enigmatic statutes of Vishnu, Shiva, and other deities. The main building is packed with hundreds of smaller sculptures, as well as photos of Luang Pu at various stages in his life.

5. Ban Chiang Archaeological Site

Located near Udon Thani in northeast Thailand, Ban Chiang was discovered by an American college student in the 1960s. He was conducting research for his political science thesis in Ban Chiang when he tripped over a tree root, tumbling face-first into a piece of ancient pottery. He took samples of the pots, which were subsequently dated back to 2000 BC.

The former residents of Ban Chiang left behind thousands of pots featuring intricate designs with red circular swirls, dots, and waves. Archaeologists also unearthed Bronze and Iron Age tools at the site, as well as finding early evidence of rice cultivation.

6. Emerald Cave, Koh Mook Island

Typically reached via the neighboring island of Koh Lanta, Koh Mook is a tropical island located in the Andaman Sea. Here, visitors can enjoy white sandy beaches, warm sea waters, and traditional Thai villages, making it the perfect spot for swimming, snorkeling, and sunbathing. It’s also great for vacationers keen to escape the glitz, party scene, and resorts of many other Thai islands.

To reach Emerald Cave, visitors are advised to set off at sunrise, renting a kayak to reach it in comfort, although some people opt to swim instead. The caves are accessed from the sea, with visitors paddling or swimming through a small hole in the rock face. They continue through the darkness for 80 meters, before emerging to find a stunning scene.

The Emerald Cave is actually roofless: its looming, jagged walls are festooned in tropical vegetation and give way to blue sky above. The vista is complete with a white sandy beach and turquoise lagoon, making for a truly breathtaking scene.

7. Kaeng Krachan National Park

Located near the border with Burma, Thailand’s largest national park has tremendous biodiversity. Visitors are likely to encounter hornbills with their large yellow beaks, as well as porcupines, monkeys, black squirrels, and thousands of butterflies. The park is also home to elephant and leopards, with the occasional tiger sometimes spotted.

Optimism Surrounds the Potential for Travel in Southeast Asia

The pandemic has had a devastating impact on global tourism, and Southeast Asia is no exception. Encompassing the region historically known as Indochina, including Cambodia, Laos, Vietnam, Thailand, Myanmar, and the Peninsular Malaysia, Southeast Asia is home to 655 million people. With its ancient temples, vibrant cities, tropical beaches, and exotic wildlife, the region attracted visitors from near and far prior to the arrival of Covid-19. We explore the potential reopening of travel across Southeast Asia in 2021 and beyond.

The impact of Covid-19 on Southeast Asian countries

According to the World Health Organization (WHO), Covid-19 did not spread as rapidly in Southeast Asia as it did in many other regions. Indeed, WHO suggests that the rest of the world may have much to learn from the response of Southeast Asian nations, who acted promptly following the emergence of the novel coronavirus, taking robust steps to contain the pandemic despite having only limited fiscal space.

Nevertheless, with Southeast Asia home to some of the most tourism-reliant nations in the world, coronavirus-induced global lockdowns have had a massive financial impact, reaping devastation on regional tourism. Throughout the summer of 2020, while many European travel destinations were open for business, Southeast Asian borders remained largely closed. A report published by WHO reveals that the Asia and Pacific region experienced a decrease in visitor arrivals in the first quarter of 2020 alone. In Southeast Asia, as in many other regions, the pandemic hit already vulnerable demographics the hardest.

Global vaccination programs and a potential bounce back in tourism

As countries around the world implement Covid-19 vaccination programs, market analysts predict a rebound in international travel, facilitating recovery from last year’s slump. According to research from travel market analyst IPK International, 62% of travelers are intent on venturing abroad in 2021.

IPK International’s report cited the fear of contracting Covid-19 as the most commonly given reason for avoiding international travel. Of those respondents who were intending to travel, 90% confirmed that they were willing to be vaccinated.

However, the research reveals one significant change in tourist behavior. Vacationers are showing a strong preference for staying within their own region, with Europeans, Asians, and Americans typically choosing trips on their continent for 2021. The report revealed a 70% decline in outbound international travel throughout 2020, with Asia hardest hit. Globally, international holiday bookings fell by 71%, with international air travel down by 74% worldwide in 2020.

Although the pandemic is largely under control in most Southeast Asian countries, many remain reluctant to reopen their borders too quickly, for fear of triggering a rapid rise in infections.

Some Southeast Asian countries are cautiously welcoming international travelers

Cambodia accepts international vacationers, subject to certain restrictions. Visitors must organize their visa in advance. They must also return a negative Covid test result within 72 hours of departure. In addition, they must have travel insurance with at least $50,000 in medical coverage. All international visitors must quarantine for 14 days, either at a government-approved hotel or government facility.

Thailand is officially open to travelers from all destinations, except India. As in Cambodia, visitors must organize their visa in advance of travel, as well as quarantine for 14 days upon arrival. In addition to the requirement for a negative test result within 72 hours of departure, international tourists are retested twice while in quarantine.

Although Vietnam, Malaysia, and Indonesia (including Bali) are currently off-limits to international travelers, and Cambodia and Thailand imposing lengthy spells in quarantine, the recovery of the regional tourism industry appears promising.

Government efforts to bolster the industry by promoting domestic tourism

All over the world, 2020 was the year of the staycation, with few vacationers venturing too far from home.

The Thai and Vietnamese governments have both invested heavily in domestic tourism campaigns, with Thailand launching a $641 million scheme providing travel subsidies to boost tourism, incentivizing domestic vacationers by facilitating significant discounts on transport and accommodations, as well as offering e-vouchers to cover food and other services.

Since April 2020, the Vietnamese government has been encouraging citizens to explore their own country, increasing domestic flights and discounting fares.

Prior to the arrival of Covid-19, domestic travelers represented 29% of the market in Asian Pacific hotels. From China and Japan, to Singapore, Thailand, and Vietnam, governments across the Asian continent are continuing to concentrate their efforts on domestic travel as part of an effort to bolster the tourism sector.

In many Southeast Asian nations, domestic travel is serving as a vital boost to the economy. Fortunately, with strident vaccination programs underway in many countries, in terms of international travel, for 2022, and potentially even the latter part of 2021, the picture looks much rosier.

Apple’s iOS 14.5 Release: What Are the Implications for Online Advertising?

Touted as Apple’s biggest privacy update yet, industry experts caution that iOS 14.5 is poised to completely disrupt how apps track behavior. In this article, we explore the main implications of Apple’s most recent update, looking at the introduction of ATT, and exploring the benefits and disadvantages for both online advertisers and iOS users.

From now on, iOS users will have to opt-in for advertisers to gather personal data.

Companies use personal data in various ways. From the morning run logged on your Fitbit, to your purchasing habits on Amazon, each of us produces thousands of snippets of information throughout the course of our daily lives. Some of them can be very valuable to companies, particularly in terms of enabling businesses to fine-tune their digital marketing campaigns.

Targeted advertising allows companies to reach a select consumer group, helping them to reach “warm” leads, primed to make a purchase.

One of the key advantages of targeted marketing campaigns is cost efficiency. Targeted advertising enables marketers to home in on a target demographic, bypassing the rest of the population and avoiding individuals with no need or desire for the company’s products. Data about potential clients is simple to access, with social media platforms like Instagram, Twitter, and Facebook making it easy for marketers to reach their target demographic.

Major Apple iOS updates are typically released every autumn.

Annual updates adding headline features are usually followed by smaller, subsequent fixes, making minor improvements and eradicating bugs and flaws.

The iOS 14.5 update is something entirely different.

This much delayed revision to iOS programming will introduce new controls, curtailing the ability of apps to track unwitting and unwilling iOS users. For the first time, iPhone users will have to opt-in for apps to track their activity online.

Experts warn that the advertising industry faces a day of reckoning regarding its past abuses of personal data. Given that Facebook Ads generated more than $84 billion in revenue in 2020 alone, the social networking platform is particularly unhappy about Apple’s most-recent system update.

After the update, iOS users will choose between “Ask App not to Track” and “Allow.”

The latter option could potentially have a devastating impact on Facebook, and other companies that rely heavily on CPM revenue. When announcing the update on April 20, 2021, Apple acknowledged that the update would significantly affect digital marketers relying on iOS to help them track and target consumers.

The impact for online advertisers.

iOS 14.5 will enforce an AppTracking and Transparency (ATT) prompt in the App Store. Apps that do not incorporate the prompt will simply be blocked from the platform.

An Identifier for Advertisers (IDFA) is assigned to every iOS user, consisting of a unique string of numbers assigned to each iPhone that provides advertisers with data about the user. The IDFA shares personal information, enabling advertisers to deliver personalized advertising, in addition to conferring tracking and attribution capabilities.

Released in 2013, Apple’s IDFA works in a similar way to Google’s Advertising ID, which has been incorporated in Android phones since 2014. Both identifiers enable advertisers to track downloads, clicks, and purchasers within mobile apps. This data can be leveraged by advertisers to produced personalized ads within apps, returning relevant, targeted advertisements to produce clicks and ultimately drive sales.

Released on April 26, 2021, industry insiders predict that following mass adoption of iOS 14.5, the percentage of iPhone users sharing their IDFAs within apps will plummet from 70 percent to just 10 percent. Merkle Corporate Chief Strategy Officer John Lee cautions that if, as expected, the majority of consumers opt out of IDFA tracking on apps, this will depreciate the ability of advertisers to target and track at an individual level.

Hugo Loriot, a partner at the data consulting firm Fifty-Five explains that the new framework will not only have consequences for online advertisers, but could significantly affect how apps are developed in the first place. According to Loriot, Apple’s new privacy framework will make it virtually impossible for mobile apps to attribute installs or app events to add exposure.

In the wake of Apple’s announcement regarding the introduction of ATT, many developers set about rebuilding their apps in the hope of circumnavigating some of the new policies, Experts warn that Apple is having none of it, rejecting numerous attempted updates. The overwhelming message to developers is rebuild as you see fit, but don’t even think about trying to bypass the tech giant’s new ATT policies.

iOS 14.5 effectively turns off ad tracking identifiers by default.

The move follows a wider market trend towards privacy-enhancing technology. Civil liberties groups have praised the move by Apple, with Digital Content Next CEO Jason Clint praising the changes as the most significant improvement in digital privacy in the internet’s history, although, for digital marketers, the full impact of the iOS 14.5 update has yet to be seen.

For example, Apple products represent less than 50 percent of the market. According to Bloomberg, Google is investigating the development of an alternative privacy feature; however, the company has an interest in balancing the needs of consumers against the desires of advertising partners. So it may be a while before Android users have access to anti-tracking tools as robust as those recently introduced by Apple.

Top Travel Tips for Cambodia: When to Go and What to See

Crammed with culture, history, and stunning scenery, Cambodia is a beautiful country with a tragic past. In this article we look at the country’s history, cuisine, and climate, identifying some of country’s outstanding attractions, including Angkor Wat, the world’s largest religious monument.

Cambodian History

The Khmer Empire was founded in the early 9th century. A series of powerful Hindu sovereigns reigned over the civilization until the 11th century, when a new dynasty introduced the Khmer people to Buddhism. By the mid-15th century, Hindu cults were no longer dominant in the region. However, the ancient monuments at Angkor Wat, which were dedicated to Hindu deities, retained their importance as spiritual centers.

Cambodia enjoyed great prosperity throughout the 16th century. Over the years, the Khmer Empire was invaded several times by neighboring countries as rising powers came to recognize the strategic importance of unseating the Khmer and assuming control of the lower Mekong basin.

By the 19th century, European colonial powers were arriving in droves. In 1863, King Norodom of Cambodia signed an accord with the French, effectively placing the nation under the protection of France, but leaving Cambodian sovereignty intact. In reality, the powers of the French grew over time, until King Norodom’s authority ceased to exist beyond the palace walls.

Norodom was succeeded by Sisowath, and then Monivong, both of whom acquiesced to French rule. Following Monivong’s death in 1941, King Sihanouk ascended to the throne. Sihanouk went on to lead a royal crusade for independence, finally ousting the French.

Sihanouk himself was ousted from power in 1970, when a military coup triggered the Cambodian Civil War. The nation underwent rapid, radical social transformation, with markets, money, and private property outlawed, and schools, offices, shops, and monasteries closed as the country transitioned to communism.

Pol Pot rose to power in 1976. Adopting Maoist principles, Pol Pot mobilized Cambodia’s population as an unpaid labor force, seeking to double rice yields. By 1979, 1.5 million people—equating to 1 in 5 Cambodians—had died from starvation, overwork, disease, or execution.

Associated with tragic conflict for decades, Cambodia has enjoyed peace for more than 25 years now, benefitting from billions of dollars of investment in development and restructuring. With its picture-postcard beaches, lively cities, and astounding archaeological sites, Cambodia has earned an international reputation as an up-and-coming tourist destination.

Cambodian Tourism

Cambodia has numerous attractions and destinations to keep visitors fascinated entertained. Sihanoukville’s tropical shoreline is popular with beachgoers, while the outback regions of Ratanakiri, with its red-dirt roads and ethnic minority villages, lure intrepid travelers from all over the world.

The country’s vibrant capital, Phnom Penh, is also popular with travelers. Its Royal Palace is full of historical treasures, including the Emerald Buddha, a priceless jeweled statue. It is also the home of the Maitrey Buddha, a relic encrusted with more than 2,000 diamonds.

Angkor Archaeological Park is one of the world’s most impressive—and well-known—ancient sites. Built between 802 and 1432 CE, Angkor Wat was once the home of the Khmer kings. During medieval times, it was the largest city in the world. Deep within the Cambodian jungle, Angkor is home to exquisite reliefs and ancient sandstone relics.

Covering approximately 400 acres, the site is the world’s largest religious monument. The main site was originally constructed in honor of the Hindu god Vishnu. Buddhists began using the temple for religious practices during the 12th century.

The ancient monumental temple complex of Prasat Preah Vihear, originally built in honor of the Hindu God Shiva, offers dizzying views across the surrounding floodplains, while the sleepy city of Battambang is an excellent base for exploring the nearby temples of Phnom Banan, Wat Ek Phnom, and Phnom Sampeau.

Cambodian Cuisine

Influenced by a variety of other cultures over the centuries, Cambodian cuisine is a mouthwatering fusion of aromatics and spice.

Fish amok is the country’s national dish: a creamy fish curry flavored with shallots, fish sauce, kaffir lime leaves, lemongrass, and coconut milk, steamed in a banana leaf.

Other highlights include kuy teav, a pork or beef noodle soup made with bean sprouts, shallots, green onion, garlic, chili, lime, and fresh herbs. Chicken and banana flower salad is a refreshing, light dish—the perfect antidote to the midday heat.

For the more adventurous, grilled frog, tarantula, and scorpions on sticks are also regional delicacies.

Cambodian Climate

Cambodia has a tropical climate with warm temperatures year-round. With dryer weather and lower humidity, December and January are the best months to visit, although visitors should expect higher prices and larger crowds at this time.

From February onwards, temperatures start to rise, peaking at 40 degrees Celsius (104 degrees Fahrenheit) in April, and remaining high throughout May and June. The southwest monsoon season starts in May, bringing more humidity, with the most rain falling during the months of September and October. Travel is generally comfortable even during the monsoon months, except in remote regions with poor infrastructure.

4 of the Most Spectacular Ecotourism Resorts in Asia

Ecotourism is gaining global popularity with a new generation of environmentally aware travelers. Ecotourists not only want to go out and experience new places and cultures, but they want to have a lasting, positive impact on the communities they visit.

According to Deloitte, the number of travelers who are willing to spend more on environmentally friendly travel options has increased by a third over the last decade. Ecotourism stems from a variety of concerns, from climate change, to over-tourism, to a desire to drive the economy. Read on to learn about four unforgettable Asian ecotourism resorts and the unique, eco-conscious experiences they offer.

1. Six Senses Laamu, Maldives

Located on the Laamu Atoll in the southern Maldives, this private island paradise focuses on sustainability. The resort’s thoughtfully crafted villas are constructed from natural materials, perfectly complementing the surroundings.

Engulfed by an array of marine life, the region draws divers and naturalists from all across the globe. Resort guests can attend marine conservation presentations or participate in turtle hatching and marine biology excursions. Alternatively, the hotel presents organic garden tours led by the resident chef.

The following are just some of the sustainability and conservation efforts at Six Senses Laamu:

  • Half of all restaurant water sales are reinvested in local communities to provide residents with clean drinking water.
  • By adopting reusable glass bottles for its desalinated seawater, the resort has so far eliminated the need for 20,000 plastic bottles.
  • Partnering with the Manta Trust UK, the resort’s manta ray conservation efforts have helped identify and protect 125 manta rays and 400 sea turtles inhabiting nearby reefs.
  • The resort has implemented a stringent waste management program, installing segregation bins, implementing on-site recycling, and banning single-use plastics.
  • All organic waste generated by the resort is recycled and either used for mulching or converted into organic garden soil.

2. Four Seasons Resort, Langkawi

Langkawi is a 99-island archipelago located just off Malaysia in the Andaman Sea. Set to look like a traditional Malay village, the Four Seasons is a 91-room resort influenced by Balinese, Indian, and Middle Eastern architecture and design.

Each luxury beachfront villa features its own private plunge pool and spa room. The resort presents an extensive spa menu, incorporating a variety of different treatments including Ayurvedic therapies, Malay massage, and private yoga classes.

Nestled within a UNESCO World Geopark, the Four Seasons is an excellent base for exploring the winding rivers, mangrove forests, and ancient sea stacks nearby. As the resort’s senior naturalist Aidi Abdullah explains, few tourists realize the extent of the beauty lying beyond the atoll’s beaches, but once they venture into the magical Geoparks and observe the colorful crabs, magical mangroves, and soaring eagles, local legends come alive.

3. Bambu Indah, Indonesia

Bambu Indah combines luxury service with local hospitality to create an unforgettable experience. Guests are immersed in the sights and sounds of the jungle, participating in yoga classes at the majestic Minang house or simply enjoying candlelit dinners looking out across the river valley.

Bambu Indah presents a variety of experiences for visitors keen to explore the region and learn more about Indonesian culture. Guests are invited to take a tour of Green School, where students learn about alternative energy sources, inspiring the next generation of green leaders.

At the River Warung cafe, Bambu Indah guests enjoy traditional cuisine semi al fresco beneath a canopy of hand-folded copper shingles supported by vast, bamboo arches spread out in a lofty, intricate fan. In the emerald green Ayung River valley, guests are invited to sample homemade delicacies like bubur Bali, a traditional Balinese savory rice porridge breakfast dish consisting of green beans, shallots, peanuts, and a subtle blend of Balinese spices.

4. Gal Oya Lodge, Sri Lanka

Nestled beneath the forest canopy of Gal Oya National Park in southeastern Sri Lanka, Gal Oya Lodge is a calming oasis for visitors to the island. It provides the perfect base from which to enjoy walks, take jeep and boat safaris, or simply relax by the pool.

Set against a striking mountain backdrop, Gal Oya is one of Sri Lanka’s quietest, most untouched national parks. Encompassing a diverse mix of terrain, including jungle forests and lakes, the park is home to several herds of Sri Lankan elephant.

A subspecies of the Asian elephant, experts believe that the Sri Lankan elephant evolved relatively recently, with males increasingly becoming tuskless. While female elephants of all species only ever grow small stumps or no tusks at all, today in Sri Lanka, approximately 90 percent of bull elephants are also tuskless.

Some scientists suspect that rampant poaching may have triggered an evolutionary change, culminating in a new generation of tuskless Sri Lankan bull elephants. In Gal Oya National Park, the elephant population has also developed an intriguing capability, adapting to the aqueous habitat to become fantastic swimmers. Guests enjoying boat safaris are sometimes fortunate enough to witness these majestic creatures swimming gracefully from island to island.

Other species that can be spotted in Gal Oya National Park include leopards, water buffalo, and sloth bears.

China Announces Its Own Cryptocurrency: Will the United States Follow?

With decentralized cryptocurrencies like bitcoin so widely used, many countries are considering government-sponsored digital currencies, also called digital fiat currencies or central bank digital currencies (CBDC).

China has effectively leapfrogged the West by conducting a limited trial launch of its digital yuan. However, other countries may not be far behind—according to the Economist in 2020, some 80% of central banks were studying CBDCs, including the U.S. Federal Reserve. 

It’s clear that CBDCs have the potential to revolutionize monetary systems. What are the issues prompting the move toward CBDCs, and what does China’s e-yuan mean for the rest of the world?

How do central bank digital currencies differ from other cryptocurrencies, and from digital payment technologies?

Most people have used digital payment technologies like Venmo, Apple Pay, and electronic bank transfers to complete transactions. However, these are technologies that move money around, not a different form of currency.  

CBDCs also differ from decentralized cryptocurrencies like bitcoin and Ethereum. These cryptocurrencies are not considered legal tender (recognized by law as a means to settle public or private debts, like the U.S. dollar). At the same time, most countries do not forbid people from using cryptocurrencies. Because they are decentralized, these cryptocurrencies are by definition not regulated by one authority; if both parties in a transaction agree to use bitcoin, they can. For tax purposes in many countries, a cryptocurrency may be considered property, rather than currency.

In contrast, a CBDC is legal tender, issued and regulated by a country’s central banking authority like the dollar in the U.S. It is a virtual form of government-issued currency and would be backed by reserves. Because CBDCs are still in the research, development, or pilot phases in several countries around the world, there are still many uncertainties regarding exactly how they would work from country to country.

Why are national governments interested in CBDCs?

Just a few years from now, global digital transactions are predicted to top $9 trillion. Some experts contend that countries around the world need to develop their own cryptocurrencies just to catch up with this trend. Others say that the popularity of cryptos may pose a threat to a central banking authority’s ability to regulate monetary policy.

CBDCs take the convenience of cryptocurrencies and marry it with the regulations and government control of the traditional banking system. It is increasingly expensive to manage and transfer physical cash, and CBDCs could reduce this cost while allowing greater insight into the flow of money within an economy. A state-sponsored digital currency might also promote financial inclusion, enabling individuals without a bank account to access the financial system.

At the same time, critics contend that transactions made with CBDCs would not be anonymous, since by definition CBDCs are a centralized form of cryptocurrency.   

Which countries are exploring CBDCs?

In February, the Atlantic Council published this helpful map showing the state of CBDCs around the world. Many countries, including the U.S., are in the research phase. Brazil launched Pix, an instant money transfer system, last year but has not launched a true digital real. Sweden, Thailand, and Ukraine are in the pilot stage, along with China.

Ecuador presents an interesting case and possible cautionary tale, though the circumstances behind its CBDC are unique. Ecuador adopted the U.S. dollar in 2000, then 15 years later became the first country to implement a state-run electronic payment system. The dinero electrónico (DE), as it was called, was intended to support the country’s dollar-based monetary system, not replace it. However, the DE was widely mistrusted, with relatively few citizens using it. It was abolished in December 2017.

How is China leading the way with its digital yuan?

China’s digital yuan has been in development for more than five years, and the country is the first major economy to issue a CBDC. Real world trials of the digital yuan are currently underway in several regions and cities, including Shenzen, Suzhou, Chengdu, Xi’an, and Shanghai. South China Morning Post reported that more than 100 million yuan have been allocated by lottery to tens of thousands of people. The currency can be used for shopping in certain participating stores, paying utility bills and government services, and paying for catering services.

The digital yuan is tipped to increase competition in China’s mobile payments market, an arena currently dominated by Tencent’s WeChat Pay and Ant Group’s Alipay.

Supporters of decentralized cryptocurrencies have criticized the digital yuan’s lack of anonymity. Representatives of the People’s Bank of China have contended that the digital yuan will have “controllable anonymity,” meaning that users will not be able to view other users’ identifying information unless they provide it. However, the bank itself will still be able to monitor the entire user base.

How does the digital yuan affect the U.S.?

Some economists have voiced concerns that the yuan is becoming an increasingly strong challenger to the U.S. dollar, threatening the dollar’s status as the mainstay of international commerce.

In an interview with CNBC, however, Fundstrat head of digital assets research David Grider voiced skepticism about the impact of the digital yuan. He explained that he did not believe that the digital yuan would materially change very much in terms of the dollar’s role in the world, because of the fundamental differences between the two countries’ monetary systems.

Nevertheless, other analysts caution against complacency, warning that the U.S. runs the risk of falling behind globally if it doesn’t prioritize the development of a CBDC.

What is the U.S. Federal Reserve doing with regards to a CBDC?

In the U.S., the concept of a digital dollar has so far garnered a lukewarm reception. In September 2020, the Federal Reserve Bank of Boston announced that it was working with MIT on a multi-year research initiative that will test hypothetical CBDC systems for wide-scale use, with a focus on architecting a scalable, accessible cryptographic platform.

 In March, Federal Reserve chair Jerome Powell described the Fed’s research into CBDCs as “early and exploratory,” according to the New York Times. He said the U.S. would only consider a CBDC launch if there was widespread buy-in from the public and political leaders. He cited money laundering and cybersecurity vulnerabilities as risks tied to CBDCs that could disrupt the country’s banking system.

5 of Malaysia’s Most Spectacular Attractions

Malaysia is a diverse, multicultural nation, with myriad attractions to keep visitors entertained, irrespective of age or budget. From the country’s cosmopolitan capital, Kuala Lumpur, where colonial palaces vie with the ultramodern Petronas Twin Towers, to the jungles of Borneo, we look at five of the country’s most impressive attractions.

1. Gunung Mulu – Sarawak

Sarawak is located in Borneo, a stone’s throw from Brunei. The sultanate is home to several national parks, including Gunung Mulu, a UNESCO World Heritage Site that was featured in the BBC’s award-winning Planet Earth series.

World famous for both its unique geographical features and high biodiversity, the park is dominated by gargantuan karsts—columns of rock reaching hundreds, even thousands, of meters into the sky. The park is named after its highest peak, Gunung Mulu, a pinnacle of sandstone that stands a colossal 2,377 meters.

Boasting an extensive underground cave system, with an estimated 295 kilometers of caves yet to be explored, Gunung Mulu National Park is home to the world’s largest cave chamber, the Sarawak Chamber, which measures 600 x 415 x 80 meters.

Gunung Mulu National Park’s deep canyons, wild rivers, and rainforest-swathed mountains are home to an assortment of rare wildlife, including 3,500 species of plants. Fauna includes giant porcupines, monkeys, civets, deer, and hornbills, as well as a myriad of vividly colored dragonflies and butterflies.

2. Petronas Twin Towers – Kuala Lumpur

Standing 452 meters high, with 88 floors and 76 elevators, the Petronas are the tallest twin towers on earth. Composed of reinforced concrete, steel, and glass, the structures are connected on the 41st and 42nd floors by a double sky bridge.

The Petronas Twin Towers boast stunning views of Malaysia’s capital city, particularly at night. While most of the floor space is rented to companies like Microsoft, IBM, and Huawei Technologies, the towers’ lower floors comprise one of Malaysia’s largest shopping centers. It features more than 300 shops, as well as an art gallery and even a Philharmonic Hall.

3. Sipadan Island

Located in the Celebes Sea, the waters of Sipadan host a vast coral seascape formed in an extinct volcano cone. Due to its vast population of marine life, Sipadan has earned a global reputation as a diver’s paradise.

Home to hundreds of different types of coral and more than 3,000 species of fish, Sipadan is one of the world’s most spectacular diving spots, offering divers opportunities to swim with manta rays, green and hawksbill turtles, whale sharks, schools of barracuda, parrotfish, and potato head groupers. It also is home to several sharks, including black- and white-tipped.

4. Langkawi Island – Kedha

Situated on Malaysia’s West Coast, 30 kilometers from the mainland, Langkawi is the most northernmost archipelago in Malaysia. This duty-free haven is easily accessible by air or by boat, either from Malaysia or Thailand.

Langkawi, with its picture-perfect white-sand beaches, is touted as Malaysia’s ultimate island escape. With year-round sea temperatures hovering around 84 degrees Fahrenheit, Langkawi’s waters are incredibly inviting. Jellyfish can be a problem, although several resorts have installed anti-jellyfish nets to protect their guests.

Langkawi offers a range of accommodation types, from basic beach huts to boutique hotels. On the southwest coast, Pantai Cenang is Langkawi’s busiest town. Travelers can find a diverse mix of cuisines, as well as duty-free outlets and souvenir shops lining the picturesque beach strip.

For those seeking a more laid-back experience, the northern beaches of Tanjung Rhu, lapped by the crystal-clear turquoise waters of the Andaman Sea, can be the perfect place to relax and unwind.

The archipelago is a popular destination for nature enthusiasts, with the Langkawi Skycab presenting a unique opportunity to rise high above the rainforest’s dense canopy to gaze across the glittering ocean. From here, on a clear day, visitors can catch glimpses of Southern Thailand.

For those seeking a closer encounter with the jungle, experienced guides lead treks through the rainforest slopes of Gunung Raya. Another trail leads visitors to the Telaga Tujuh (“Seven Wells”) waterfalls, a site frequented by fairies, according to local folklore.

5. Cameron Highlands – Pahang

One of Malaysia’s largest hill stations, the Cameron Highlands were first colonized by the British in the 1920s. Today, the region has a population of more than 34,000, its largest ethnic groups being Malays, Chinese, and Indians.

Renowned for its trails, the Cameron Highlands incorporates a variety of terrain, from the emerald green hills of the plantations to dense jungle. With a year-round temperate climate rarely topping 77 degrees, the Cameron Highlands provide visitors with respite from the oppressive heat and humidity of the Malaysian summer. Trekking options are available for hikers of all abilities. Visitors are advised to hire a guide since some trails are poorly delineated in places.

Translating as “the original people,” the Orang Asli still inhabit nearby forests and jungles. Excursions depart from the town of Tanah Rata, enabling travelers to experience Orang Asli village life firsthand. You can even join these famous hunters as they stalk through the dense flora, bringing down prey with blowpipes and poison-tipped darts.

Spotlight on Clubhouse: What Is It and How Do You Join?

Touted as the next big thing, Clubhouse is an audio-based iPhone app that enables users to listen in on other users’ live conversations. Although the concept may sound sinister, the app only lets users listen in on people who want to be heard, such as celebrities or professionals. With Bill Gates and Elon Musk recently popping up in Clubhouse rooms, the app is currently enjoying a great deal of media attention.

Clubhouse Audio

As TechCrunch explains, spurred by the COVID-19 pandemic, Clubhouse is leading a wave of new social media apps prioritizing performance streaming. The app was the brainchild of former Google engineer Rohan Seth and entrepreneur Paul Davison. Launched in April 2020, Clubhouse expanded its base to 1,500 by May. However, on almost its first anniversary, Clubhouse has been downloaded close to 13 million times.

In the app, there are no pictures or videos, just a profile picture for each user. In addition to listening in on conversations, users are sometimes allowed to join chats. Although the developers do have an Android version in the works, Clubhouse is currently available only on iPhone. There are more Android users than iPhone users globally, but the developers plan to scale up slowly, indicating that in trying to do too much too soon, they run the risk of overloading the app’s servers.

How Do You Join Clubhouse?

Any iPhone user can download the app, provided they have received an invitation from another Clubhouse user. Every Clubhouse user can invite two new members, but they can earn the right to invite more people as they use the app. Anyone interested in Clubhouse could start by asking friends, seeking out a pay-it-forward invite chain, or even buying an invite on eBay.

Nevertheless, with Clubhouse attracting so much media attention, prospective users are vulnerable to scams. For example, a fake website presenting itself as Clubhouse for Android has already popped up, circulating a Trojan program that steals log-in details for more than 450 online services.

How Does Clubhouse Work?

With movement still curtailed by social-distancing policies in many countries worldwide, Clubhouse effectively has a captive audience. The platform provides virtual rooms for users to come together and discuss issues that resonate with them, whether it’s relationships, world affairs, technology, or pets.

Each room has a list of speakers, while the rest listen, as well as a moderator controlling who takes the floor and when. If a listener wishes to speak or ask a question, they virtually raise their hand. Clubhouse’s vast population of celebrity members include Ashton Kutcher, Jared Leto, Drake, and Oprah.

In its review, Glamour UK magazine describes the invite-only, audio-only social media platform as a mashup of Spotify, Zoom, and singing-competition show The X Factor. The magazine likens signing up to gaining entry to a VIP nightclub, enabling the lucky few (or rather, 3 million) “highly exclusive” members to enjoy thought-provoking conversations, talent shows, and ad hoc celebrity appearances from the comfort and safety of their own home—something of a priority right now. Straight out of Silicon Valley, Clubhouse enables users to eavesdrop on conversations that have already started or start a new one of their own.

Trialed in China for just a brief stint, Clubhouse is already banned there. According to reports from Bloomberg, the ban came after Chinese users started discussing sensitive topics such as China-Taiwan relations and the genocide of Uighur Muslims by the Chinese government.

Outside of China, Clubhouse is surging in popularity. As Glamour UK explains, it is like listening to a live podcast, but with the bonus of being able to contribute to the conversation, ask a question, or show off your singing skills. The app was used in tryouts for a forthcoming US tour of Dreamgirls. Glee star Amber Riley and Broadway actor Leroy Church judged auditions, while an audience of hundreds of thousands of users listened in.

Clubhouse is presented as a safe place for celebrities to answer questions from ordinary people, as well as a platform for showcasing talent, sharing stories, and presenting lectures. Conversations are live and cannot be recorded using the app, although there is always the possibility of participants being quoted on other social media platforms.

Within less than a year of the app going live, Clubhouse was valued at circa $100 million. Its founders indicate that there is much more room as they expand access, eventually making it available to all without an invite, including Android users. Elon Musk’s appearance on Clubhouse undoubtedly raised the fledgling social media app’s profile exponentially. However, the surge in demand left many would-be listeners out in the cold, forcing them onto pirate YouTube streams.