8 Unmissable Sights in Sri Lanka That Attract Visitors from All Over the World

Described by Marco Polo as one of the world’s finest islands, Sri Lanka’s recorded history spans thousands of years. From the milder climate of its green hill country, with vast tea estates, to its white sandy beaches with turquoise waters, this tear-shaped dot in the Indian Ocean boasts more than its fair share of attractions. Here’s a look at some of the most interesting and scenic sites that travelers to Sri Lanka won’t want to miss.

1.         Kandy

The Sacred City of Kandy is of great significance to Buddhists, attracting devotees from all over the world to visit the Temple of the Tooth. Located in a 4th century AD palace complex, the temple is said to hold one of Buddha’s teeth, although the relic is not on show for visitors.

Surrounded by the mountains of the central highlands, Kandy also offers visitors an authentic taste of Sinhalese culture, dazzling those who arrive in the summertime, especially during the Esala Perahera festival. The event centers around a lively, elaborate procession of the sacred tooth relic through the streets of Kandy.

2.         Sigiriya Rock Fortress

Standing 200 meters tall above the surrounding jungle, Sigiriya is an awe-inspiring natural rock formation. Adopted by an ancient civilization who created steep stairwells to the top, the rock was home to a vast palace complex, as well as a monastery. Today, many impressive frescos remain, as well as the remnants of some of the world’s earliest landscaped gardens.

Known as Lion’s Rock, Sigiriya is a UNESCO World Heritage Site and is often referred to as the “Eighth Wonder of the World.” With giant lion’s paw carvings still remaining at the site entrance, it is easy to imagine how impressive this architectural masterpiece was in its heyday. The entire complex resembles a gargantuan stone lion rising out of the jungle, visible for miles in every direction.

3.         Dambulla Cave Temple

Another sacred Buddhist site and World Heritage Site, the Dambulla caves are free to enter on full moon days, making it especially busy at these peak times due to the religious significance of this lunar phase. Buddhists from all over the world make pilgrimages to Dambulla, leaving lotus flowers, burning oil lamps, and presenting other offerings to Buddha.

The Dambulla cave complex incorporates more than 80 separate caves that date back to 100 BC. The main five caves are decorated with elaborate paintings and statues. Archaeologists have counted more than 150 statues of the Buddha at the site, as well as statues of Sri Lankan rulers and Hindu gods and goddesses. The ceiling of one cave is covered with over 1,000 intricate paintings of the Buddha.

4.         Polonnaruwa

Around 800 years ago, Sri Lankan kings ruled from the ancient city of Polonnaruwa, a thriving religious and commercial center in the north-central region of the island. Archaeological treasures unearthed at the site provide glimpses of an opulent, sophisticated civilization. With its stupas, statues, temples, and tombs, Polonnaruwa remains a fascinating place to visit. Four hulking statutes of Buddha remain as impressive as ever at this UNESCO World Heritage Site. Carved out of a granite cliff face, they include a majestic reclining Buddha spanning 14 meters.

5.         Pinnawala Elephant Orphanage

Three hours from the capital city of Colombo, this large wildlife sanctuary was established in 1975 to rehabilitate injured adult elephants and orphaned elephant calves found in the wild. The facility serves as an orphanage, nursery, and captive breeding ground, with a resident population of around 100 Asian elephants—the largest captive population of the species in the world. Young elephants and females are left to live as a herd, roaming freely about the reserve.

The site is also a world-famous tourist attraction, as it allows visitors to interact with these amazing creatures. Pinnawala presents the once-in-a-lifetime opportunity for visitors to feed baby elephants with bottles, or help give adult elephants their daily bath in the river.

6.         Galle

Situated on the southern tip of Sri Lanka 119 kilometers from Colombo, this major city bears signs of the country’s Dutch colonial heritage. It is home to Galle Fort, yet another of the country’s UNESCO World Heritage Sites, as well as historic churches and plenty of museums.

A short distance from Galle, Unawatuna Beach boasts beautiful tropical scenery, with palm-fringed shores lapped by warm waters. It is a perfect spot to watch as the sun disappears over the horizon, setting the sky ablaze with vivid pinks, oranges, and purples, before night falls and the sky fills with glittering stars.

7.         Jaffna

Once an epicenter of the decades-long Sri Lankan Civil War, Jaffna is in northern Sri Lanka. Unlike the south of the island, where the Sinhalese form the ethnic majority, the majority of Jaffna’s population are Tamil. The Tamils are a predominantly Hindu people, which sets them apart from the predominantly Buddhist Sinhalese.

Lying just 100 kilometers from the coastline of Tamil Nadu, India’s southernmost state, the city of Jaffna boasts several fascinating sights, including Jaffna Fort, the beautiful golden Nallur Kandiswamy Temple, and Delft Island, an outlying limestone and coral island that has been an important strategic outpost since the days of the Chola Empire more than 1,000 years ago.

8.         Nuwara Eliya Famous for its tea estates and charming scenery, the city of Nuwara Eliya is sometimes called “Little England.” It is situated in an area with a relatively cooler climate than the rest of Sri Lanka, with lush green hills perpetually shrouded in wisps of cloud. Make sure to visit a tea estate or tea factory while you’re there, and visit St. Clair’s Fall, a picturesque series of cascades in the green hill country outside town.

Travel Focus: The Most Impressive UNESCO World Heritage Sites in Asia

The United Nations Educational, Scientific, and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) recognizes sites of historical, geographical, cultural, scientific, or other significance. World Heritage Sites are legally protected under an international convention. They may incorporate ancient ruins, historical buildings, or monuments, lakes, forests, mountains, and wilderness areas.

UNESCO protects sites of outstanding value to humanity, conserving them for future generations. When UNESCO compiled its first list of World Heritage Sites in 1978, the organization named just 12 protected areas:

  • The Galapagos Islands, Ecuador
  • The Rock-Hewn Churches of Lalibela, Ethiopia
  • Mesa Verde National Park, USA
  • Quito, Ecuador
  • Nahanni Park, Canada
  • L’Anse aux Meadows, Canada
  • Simien Mountains National Park, Ethiopia
  • Krakow, Poland
  • Wieliczka Salt Mine, Poland
  • Aachen Cathedral, Germany
  • Yellowstone National Park, USA
  • Island of Goree, Senegal

Although no Asian sites made the original list, today there are 41 World Heritage Sites in Southeast Asia alone. In this article, we explore four of the most culturally, naturally, and historically significant sites on the Asian continent.

1.   The Forbidden City – China

Cited as a priceless testimony to Chinese civilization, the Forbidden City was the Chinese imperial seat of power for over five centuries. Occupying 720,000 square meters, the Forbidden City is three times larger than the Louvre in France and required an estimated 1 million laborers to complete.

The Forbidden City comprises 980 buildings and more than 8,700 rooms. This masterpiece of Chinese architecture is the world’s largest collection of intact medieval wooden structures, with some buildings dating back to 1406. At the time, no one could enter or leave this walled city without permission from the emperor. Still, 40 percent of the complex remains off-limits to visitors today.

Home to 24 Chinese emperors over the years, the Forbidden City was the stronghold of both the Qing and Ming dynasties until the abdication of China’s last emperor in 1912, when the country became the Republic of China.

2.   The Tropical Rainforest of Sumatra – Indonesia

Covering 2.5 million hectares and three national parks, Sumatra’s tropical rainforest harbors a spectacular selection of plant and animal life, including more than 200 mammal species, 580 bird species, and over 10,000 plant species. Rare and important species found in the UNESCO World Heritage Site include the Sumatran elephant, rhino, tiger, orangutan, and the Malayan sun bear.

Once populous throughout Southeast Asia, with numbers estimated to be in their hundreds of thousands, possibly millions, orangutan populations dwindle today, with only a few thousand believed to remain in the wild. Indonesia’s rainforests are some of the most biodiverse on Earth, encompassing the third-largest area of rainforest on Earth after the Congo Basin and Amazon.

Located on the main spine of the Bukit Barisan Mountains, a region known as the Sumatran Andes, the area affords breathtaking views across the surrounding jungle. The Tropical Rainforest Heritage site is home to Lake Gunung Tujuh, Southeast Asia’s highest lake, along with numerous other glacial high-altitude lakes, waterfalls, volcanoes, and cave systems.

3.   Ha Long Bay – Vietnam

Located in Northeastern Vietnam, the Gulf of Tonkin’s emerald-green waters are dotted with gargantuan jagged outcrops of rock, each shrouded in lush rainforest. Comprising 1,600 islands, most of which are uninhabitable, these vast limestone formations are famous for their enchanting erosional features, incorporating mighty arches and mystical grottoes.

Ha Long, which in Vietnamese means “descending dragon,” was once home to a fearsome dragon, according to legend. The awe-inspiring creature was said to defend Vietnam from invaders by scattering emeralds from its mouth, forming an impenetrable wall. Over thousands of years, the wall crumbled, resulting in the majestic karst pillars we see today, or so the myth goes.

4.   Angkor Wat – Cambodia

Covering 1.6 square kilometers, Angkor Wat is the largest religious monument on Earth. It achieved UNESCO World Heritage Site status in 1992, sparking an international effort to save the ancient temple complex.

Featured on the Cambodian national flag since 1850, Angkor Wat was originally dedicated to the Hindu god Vishnu. Toward the end of the 12th century, it gradually evolved to become a Buddhist temple. The site is revered by both Buddhist and Hindu devotees to this day.

The monument is comprised of 5 million tons of sandstone blocks quarried from Phnom Kulen, a mountain located more than 50 kilometers away. The construction materials used to build Angkor Wat are believed to have been floated on rafts down the Siem Reap River, an impressive logistical feat given that Angkor Wat dates back more than 800 years.

Construction of the site is believed to have commenced during the reign of Suryavarman II, and according to inscriptions at the site, it took 6,000 elephants, 300,000 laborers, and 35 years to complete.

Thousands of storytelling bas-reliefs still decorate Angkor Wat’s temple walls, representing deities and important figures from the Buddhist and Hindu faiths as well as historical events and traditions.

3 of the Most Spectacular Mountain Vacation Destinations in Asia

We tend to associate Asia with endless tropical beaches and lush, green rainforests rather than its alpine regions. Nevertheless, the world’s largest continent is home to the world’s tallest mountains. In this article, we explore three captivating alpine retreats in Asia.

1.   Tien Shan – Kyrgyzstan

Kyrgyzstan is a landlocked country that comprises crystal-clear lakes, wildflower pastures, and majestic peaks, as well as many opportunities for cultural encounters. Visitors can spend the night in a traditional yurt, meet semi-nomadic communities, and enjoy the local hospitality as they explore the country on foot.

Tien Shan, which in Chinese means “celestial mountains,” is a mountain range that forms a natural border between Kyrgyzstan, China, and Kazakhstan. It stretches over 1,500 miles, with the highest peak at 14,773 feet.

With untouched snow and virgin slopes, the Tien Shen presents off-piste opportunities far from the crowds found at US and European resorts. The region has been named one of the world’s 10 most beautiful mountain ranges, attracting skiers from far and wide.

Karakol is one of the mountain range’s most popular ski resorts. Located near Lake Issyk Kul, the ski base is popular among freeride ski enthusiasts, as it boasts snow up to 2.5 meters deep from November to April.

2.   Mount Bromo – Indonesia

The largest island country in the world, Indonesia boasts a wealth of hiking routes covering a myriad of different landscapes. From its inimitable volcanoes to its terraced rice fields, the country is a hiker’s paradise.

Located in East Java, Mount Bromo stands 7,641 feet tall. It may not be the country’s highest volcano, but it is the most easily accessible, with a road running all the way to the lip of the caldera. This active volcano is situated between the cities of Surabaya, Malang, and Probolinggo, with all three serving as an excellent base from which to explore the Bromo Tengger Semeru National Park. This protected region encompasses a cluster of five volcanoes, including Mount Semeru, Java’s highest mountain, which emits a steady stream of smoke.

Many tours of Mount Bromo start at sunrise. With spectacular colors and views stretching all the way to Mount Argopuro in the east on a clear day, Bromo has earned a reputation as one of the best places on earth to watch the sunrise.

Hiking to the top of Mount Bromo takes approximately one hour. Attracting almost 1 million visitors each year, the locality has a good safety record as well. No one has been hurt by the volcano in nearly 20 years, thanks to close monitoring and earthquake detectors that pick up any uptick in seismic activity in the region.

3.   Everest Base Camp – Nepal

No review of Asia’s top mountain destinations would be complete without a mention of Everest Base Camp. At a peak of 29,029 feet, Mount Everest is humankind’s greatest challenge, attracting thrill-seekers from all over the world.

Kami Rita Sherpa has scaled Everest 25 times. In an interview with the BBC, he warns that too many climbers underestimate how challenging the journey to the top is, with many left exhausted and struggling to breathe before getting anywhere near the summit. Veteran climbers, such as writer and expert mountaineer Alan Arnette, warn of the risks to tourists attempting to scale huge peaks like Everest with little or no formal training.

While the term sherpa refers to an ethnic group, outside of the Himalayas, it has become synonymous with mountain guides. Sherpa guides are the backbone of any expedition, doing much more than carrying provisions and oxygen bottles. They are expert navigators, helping climbers to negotiate avalanches and icefalls at extreme altitudes, checking climbers’ oxygen levels, and ultimately making the call on whether an ascent continues or stops.

Kami Rita Sherpa says he treats every climb like the first. He grew up in the same village as Sherpa Tenzing Norgay, the guide who helped Edmund Hillary reach the summit in 1953. Many Sherpas believe that Everest is home to Miyolangsangma, a Buddhist goddess. For them, Everest is more than just a mountain; it is a deity to be revered, respected, and cared for.

Reaching Everest Base Camp is an adventure in itself. One of the most popular local treks delivers visitors to the foot of the mountain, leading them on an 11-night trek that incorporates a helicopter ride, champagne breakfast, English-speaking guide, and a porter for a little over $100 a day. While trekkers will not reach the summit, they will have two days to explore Kathmandu, a UNESCO World Heritage Site, as well as Sagarmatha National Park, home to musk deer, red panda, and the elusive snow leopard.

For those of us who are not experienced mountaineers, Everest Base Camp offers a slightly tamer experience but with the same picture-perfect scenery. Following a route known as the “steps to heaven,” hikers take in a fresh, breathtaking view around every corner as they trek through the Himalayan foothills, forests, Sherpa villages, and glacial moraines.

4 Fascinating Southeast Asian Cultures You May Not Be Familiar With

Home to an eclectic mix of indigenous peoples, Southeast Asia is a cultural melting pot. Read on to learn more about four unique Southeast Asia cultures and their traditions and histories.

1.   Orang Asli – Malaysia

With a population of just over 178,000, making them a minority group in their home country, Malaysia’s “first people” are believed to be one of the region’s oldest inhabitants.

Consisting of numerous distinct tribes, the Orang Asli predominantly live in remote villages within the rainforest or mountains, each group identifying itself by its specific ecological space, with their rights enshrined in law.

Each community regards itself as culturally unique, although one common feature of Orang Asli tribes is their collective rejection of interpersonal violence, both within their own groups and in interactions with outsiders. Traditionally animists, believing that animals, objects, and places all possess their own distinct spirit, most Orang Asli believe that the universe consists of a celestial upper world, a terrestrial middle world, and a subterranean underworld, with all three inhabited by various supernatural beings that can be both helpful and harmful.

2.   Bunong – Cambodia

The Bunong are Cambodia’s largest indigenous highland ethnic group, with a population of over 37,000 living in the country today. Like the Orang Asli, most Bunong are animists, believing that all of nature is populated by spirits, although a minority follow Theravada Buddhism and Roman Catholicism. The Bunong practice their own diverse, notoriously secretive traditional medicine, utilizing the biodiversity of the rainforests.

During the 1970s, as war raged throughout Cambodia, the Bunong migrated to Vietnam or other regions of the country. This mass migration had a significant impact on Bunong traditional medicine. Practitioners started to integrate plants found in these new locations. However, decades later, when returning to their homeland, they found that the medicinal qualities of their endemic plants had been largely forgotten and abandoned.

In remote regions of Cambodia, healthcare provisions are scant, particularly during the rainy season. The Cambodian government, backed by the World Health Organization, supports the practice of Bunong traditional medicine in these areas, where up to 95 percent of inhabitants still regularly use medicinal plants.

3.   Mon – Myanmar

With approximately 1.1 million members living in Myanmar, the Mon people are a major ethnic group in the country. They are also a minor ethnic group in Thailand, numbering around 100,000.

The Mon are believed to be among Southeast Asia’s first settlers. They are credited with spreading Theravada Buddhism throughout the region, although they also have their own folk religion.

Settling Indochina in around 3,000 BCE, the Mons are thought to have originated from mainland China. They founded some of the oldest known civilizations throughout Southeast Asia and were an incredibly affluent, industrious people, dominating the region for centuries.

The Mon people are believed to have arrived in Myanmar around the ninth century, bringing with them Theravada Buddhism, which they acquired in India and Sri Lanka. By 825, the Mon had founded the cities of Thaton and Pegu in Southeast Myanmar, but their kingdom fell to the Pagan in 1057. Following the defeat, more than 30,000 Mon people were captured and taken away, including many Buddhist monks.

Many of Myanmar’s ancient treasures are built in the Mon style, including Manuha Temple in the Mandalay region. This temple is a place of worship built in 1067 by the captive Mon King Manuha. He reportedly commissioned the construction of Buddha in repose, reciting in prayer “Whithersoever I migrate in samsara, may I never be conquered by another.”

The Manuha Temple still receives visitors to this day, and the colossal gilded Buddha statue remains perfectly intact.

4.   Asmat – Indonesia

The 70,000-strong Asmat population of New Guinea resides predominantly in Indonesia’s Papua province on the island’s southwestern coast. Encompassing lowland rainforest, freshwater swamp, tidal swamp, and mangrove, their homeland covers more than 7,300 square miles and is bordered by the Arafura Sea.

Part of the Asmat’s lands falls within Lorentz National Park, a protected UNESCO World Heritage Site. The Asmat are famous for their woodcarvings and art, which are sought after by collectors from all over the world.

A typical Asmat village consists of a collection of stilted houses, raised 2 or more meters above ground level to prevent flooding during the wet season. In some regions, the Asmat live in tree houses up to 25 meters above the ground.

Headhunting raids were an important part of Asmat culture, a practice that persisted until the 1990s, according to some.

The Asmat remain relatively isolated, although their interactions with the outside world have increased in past decades. Many Asmat receive higher education, with some traveling to Europe. Today, the Asmat seek to find innovative new ways of leveraging technology to improve health services, communications, and education throughout the region while at the same time protecting their cultural identity and homeland for future generations.

Spotlight on 4 Idyllic Retreats in Malaysia

Malaysia is the world’s melting pot, with a multitude of Asian ethnicities who have lived side by side for centuries and who bring their own distinct cultures and traditions to this beautiful country. For those seeking a laid-back retreat where they can relax and get away from it all, Malaysia boasts some of the finest beaches in the world, with crystal-clear turquoise waters and powder white sands.

In this article, we explore four stunning Malaysian vacation resorts.

1. The Datai Langkawi

Located in a lush tropical rainforest, the Datai Langkawi is a beach resort that blends sustainability, nature, and wellness. Featuring an array of villas, rooms, and suites with private balconies, this luxurious venue features views of Tarutao Island and the Andaman Sea. In addition, guests can enjoy a meal at the resort’s award-winning restaurants.

The Datai Langkawi has a spa located by a winding stream. Seeking to connect nature and wellness, the spa offers treatments drawn from the herbs and plants from the rainforest. In addition, the resort offers a range of experiences for its guests that include golfing, cooking classes, and opportunities to explore the rainforest.

Nestled on the island of Langkawi, the Datai Langkwai provides guests the chance to view nearby waterfalls, secret waterways, and picturesque paddy fields.

2. Pangkor Laut Resort

Situated on its own private island, Pangkor Laut features a collection of villas perched on stilts in the sea and dotted around the ancient rainforest. This award-winning venue boasts fragrant jungle trails, as well as an extensive stretch of white-sand beach, making it the perfect spot for nature lovers to while away the day, soaking up the sun and watching the mighty sea eagles circling on the thermals. With a full spectrum concierge service, nothing is too much trouble for the resort’s discreet staff, whether guests seek to arrange an off-island excursion, or a lobster dinner on a private beach under the stars.

Described as “paradise” by Luciano Pavarotti, and named the number-one resort in the world by Condé Nast, Pangkor Laut Resort invites visitors to immerse themselves in the sights, sounds, tastes, and cultural heritage of the region, presenting PURE, a trekking experience that involves traversing rainforests believed to date back more than 2 million years.

A variety of watersports are available locally, as well as island-hopping opportunities and deep-sea fishing trips, where anglers can try their hand at catching a variety of challenging species, including queenfish, giant trevally, barracuda, and bigeye tuna.

3. The Taaras Beach & Spa Resort

Situated on scenic Redang Island, this extensive resort is located just off the east coast of mainland Malaysia. Surrounded by a turquoise ocean and incorporating a protected marine park, the Taaras Beach & Spa Resort is a popular option for snorkelers and scuba divers.

With crystal clear waters and abundant tropical fish just 50 feet from its white sandy beaches, Redang Island is one of Malaysia’s most popular diving resorts. With visibility of up to 20 meters and light penetrating down to 30 meters, the island’s reefs incorporate an elaborate assortment of hard and soft coral.

Species commonly spotted by divers at Redang include moray eel, stingray, giant grouper, barracuda, giant ray, clownfish, and yellow snapper. With 30 dive sites in total, there are plenty of choices for divers of all abilities, from beginners to divemasters.

4. Eastern & Oriental Hotel

Located in the heart of George Town on Penang Island, the Eastern & Oriental Hotel has been serving guests for more than 125 years, serving as host to some of the world’s most famous artists, writers, and dignitaries. Today, this opulent venue continues its pedigree for classic elegance and world-class service, with most suites incorporating stunning views across the decorative garden and Andaman Sea beyond.

Internationally renowned for its heady mix of eastern cultures, Penang Island is a land of contrast, with vendors selling world-class street food from the roadside and national parks teeming with wildlife.

George Town is a UNESCO-listed site famous for its colorful heritage houses. Here, glittering glass high rises overlook ancient gilded temples.

The city’s museums showcase ancient Malaysian treasures, with Khoo Kongsi featuring prominently among the city’s must-see attractions. The ornate Chinese clan house is laden with gloriously ornate carvings. Nearby Penang Hill features Southeast Asia’s oldest British hill station, dating back to the late 1700s.

Penang Botanical Gardens is another popular George Town attraction. Created on an old quarry site by the British in 1884, the attraction is divided into 12 separate sections, including the Tropical Rainforest Jungle Track, Formal Garden, Lily Pond, Cactus House, Fern Rockery, and Orchidarium.

Spotlight on Mongolia: Home of One of the Last Untamed Wildernesses on Earth

Once the center of the largest empire of the ancient world, Mongolia spans Central and Eastern Asia, surviving relatively untouched with indigenous tribes continuing the old way of life in some of the most foreboding landscapes on Earth.

The country’s founding father was Genghis Khan, who in just 25 years, conquered a region with a greater geographical area and population than the Romans managed in almost four centuries. Today, a 131-foot statue commemorates the formidable leader just outside the city of Ulaanbaatar, establishing a new world record as the tallest statue in the world featuring a horse.

From its colorful history to its rare wildlife, Mongolia is a country unlike any other on Earth. In this article, we take a closer look at some of Mongolia’s finest attractions.

1.   Ulaanbaatar

Mongolia’s capital city is rich in Soviet architectural influences, leftover from the Soviet occupation of the city from 1921 to 1924. Luxury boutiques like Dior and Hermès vie with wholesale markets in downtown Ulaanbaatar, where nightclubs reminiscent of those in Paris and London can also be found.

Ulaanbaatar is a sprawling, industrialized city of contrasts; Armani-clad executives walk the streets with Buddhist monks and nomad tribe members. Here, visitors can explore sprawling museums, immerse themselves in Mongol culture at traditional theaters, and indulge in world-class haute cuisine.

Highlights of Ulaanbaatar include Gandan Khiid, a 19th-century monastery that survived the religious purges of 1937. Starting in the 1990s Mongolians began openly practicing Buddhism again. Meanwhile, the National Museum of Mongolia guides visitors on a journey right back to the Neolithic era, providing an unparalleled overview of Mongolian history and culture, with exhibits ranging from ancient stone ornaments to traditional ceremonial costumes, unmistakably the inspiration for several Star Warscostumes.

2.   Gobi Desert

Spanning parts of China and Mongolia, the Gobi Desert is the fifth-largest desert on the planet. This stunning landscape is in stark contrast to the hustle and bustle of Ulaanbaatar, its seemingly endless, wide-open spaces of amber-hued rock and sand stretching as far as the eye can see.

This sparsely populated region is home to numerous rare and interesting species, including Bactrian camels, jerboa, wild mountain sheep, goitered gazelles, Siberian ibex, and the elusive Gobi brown bear.

The Gobi Desert is world famous as a dinosaur graveyard, boasting a variety of rare fossils including a fighting protoceratops and a velociraptor, a collection of protoceratops infants, and an oviraptor sitting atop its eggs. Egg fossils of a variety of different species have been unearthed at the site, as has a giant tarbosaur and its baby. In total, 80 dinosaur species have been found in the Gobi Desert, representing a fifth of the 400 dinosaur species discovered worldwide to date.

3.   Karakorum

Located deep in the stony ridges and lush green hills of the Orkhon Valley, a UNESCO World Heritage Site, this ancient city was once Mongolia’s capital city. A network of well-trodden cobbled paths weaves around the mountains, providing visitors with glimpses of the city’s ancient past, including crumbling temples, kiln-smelting houses, and stone statues providing a visual testimony of the city’s ancient might. A vast, ornately carved stone turtle dating back to the 13th century still stands at the site, as does the Stupa of Nirvana.

Once a major site for global politics, Karakorum was an incredibly prosperous city in its heyday, with the Silver Tree of Karakorum lying at its heart. This extravagant piece was designed by Guillaume Boucher, the renowned Parisian goldsmith. It was composed of silver and other precious metals, rising from the center of the courtyard and looming over the palace, its branches dripping with silver fruit and four golden serpents twisting around its trunk. When the khan wished for drinks to be served to his guests, a clockwork angel placed a trumpet to his lips, sounding a horn. At this moment, the mouths of the serpents would open, and fountains of alcoholic beverages gushed into a large silver basin at the foot of the tree.

When the Flemish Franciscan missionary William of Rubruck visited Karakorum in 1254, he described it as a very religiously tolerant and cosmopolitan city, citing the silver tree as its focal point.

Sadly, the city fell into ruin over the years. Surrounded by steppe and beneath endless sky, the main sight today is Erdene Zuu Monastery. Constructed from the remnants of the ruined city, the monastery itself dates to 1585. Boasting an impressive row of stupas, Erdene Zuu comprises three beautiful temples and numerous carvings and statues.

 4.  Gorkhi-Terelj National Park

With snowcapped mountain peaks, picturesque valleys, and vast rock formations, Gorkhi-Terelj National Park provides visitors with a unique opportunity to step back in time, with charming yurt camps dotted all around. Popular with ornithologists, the region boasts numerous rare bird species, including Eurasian hoopoe, Siberian rubythroat, dusky warbler, oriental cuckoo, and taiga flycatcher.

For the ultimate Mongolian experience, a horseback ride through this epic scenery of Gorkhi-Terelj is a must, allowing you to take in the hot springs, glacial lakes, and vivid green pastureland all around.

The Land of the Rising Sun: 8 Unforgettable Natural Attractions in Japan

Renowned for its architecture, traditions, art, and popular culture, Japan offers something for everyone. The country attracted nearly 30 million visitors a year before Covid-19. The host of this year’s Olympics has many wonderful attractions. In this article, we explore eight stunning Japanese natural wonders, from the bamboo groves of Arashiyama to the Zao Snow Monsters.

1. Kabira Bay – Ishigaki, Okinawa

Located on the north coast of Ishigaki Island, this stretch of pristine tropical beaches drew thousands of tourists each year prior to the outbreak of Covid-19. With bountiful coral reefs and an abundance of rare marine life, there is as much to observe under the waterline as there is above it.

Swimming is prohibited throughout Kabira Bay due to the jellyfish and dangerous currents. However, visitors are welcome to take glass-bottom boat tours, with kayaks also available to rent to explore the uninhabited islands nearby.

2. Bamboo Groves of Arashiyama – Kyoto

One of the most photographed spots in all of Japan, this bamboo forest comprises swaying bamboo trees reaching up to 25 meters high. The attraction is featured in the Japanese Ministry of Environment’s 100 Soundscapes of Japan, areas recommended to Japanese citizens to escape the noise pollution of the city.

Locals recommend visiting the bamboo groves either early in the morning or late in the afternoon to experience it at its most tranquil. These magical groves are unlike any other forest on earth, comprising a seemingly endless world of bamboo and dappled green light.

3. Naruto Whirlpools – Tokushima

Just off the Naruto Straight, where the Pacific Ocean meets the Seto Inland Sea, the rushing tides create the Naruto Whirlpools, a natural phenomenon that happens twice a day, growing stronger in summer and winter, when they can reach up to 20 meters wide.

Visitors can view the attraction via a promenade accessible from near the Onaruto Bridge. Alternatively, there are several observation decks nearby.

The tidal current is the fastest in all of Japan, reaching top speeds of more than 20 kilometers per hour during spring tides.

4. Mount Yoshino – Yoshinoyama, Yoshino

For visitors arriving in Japan in the springtime, Mount Yoshino is a must-see, presenting a sea of cherry blossoms stretching into the horizon. Comprising more than 3,000 cherry trees in total, Mount Yoshino was first planted more than 1,300 years ago. Today, the site incorporates more than 30,000 cherry species.

In addition to its cherry trees, Mount Yoshino is renowned for its various temples and shrines.

5. Zao Snow Monsters – Zao Onsen, Yamagata

Resembling a crowd of humans, these snow-covered trees are situated in a popular skiing spot, presenting impressive views as visitors travel by cable car to higher altitudes. Also known as ice trees, the snow monsters take on curious shapes during heavy snowfall, molded by subzero winds.

Gathered around the Zao Ski Resort’s peak, the snow monsters are at their most spectacular in mid-February, when skiers and non-skiers alike can access the spot via a ropeway and gondola. One of just a handful of places in Japan where ice trees can be seen, Zao Onsen is also known for its hot springs.

6. Jigokudani – Yamanouchi, Nagano

World famous as the site where monkeys bathe in hot springs, Jigokudani is about so much more. This smoldering volcanic crater is known to the Japanese as Hell Valley, a place where Mother Nature vents a darker side, with ponds of bubbling mud and sulfurous geysers.

The spring waters of Jigokudani feed the famous Japanese thermal spa resort, Noboribetsu, where a luxury resort has been developed at the crater’s edge, attracting visitors from across Japan and beyond to experience the therapeutic benefits of the mineral-loaded waters.

Referred to as Hell Valley since ancient times, the region is buried in snow for almost a third of the year, and is home to troops of wild Japanese macaques.

7. Mount Fuji – Yamanashi

No list of Japan’s most impressive natural attractions would be complete without a mention of Mount Fuji. Standing at more than 12,000 feet tall, the snow-capped peak is Japan’s most famous landmark. On a clear day, it is visible from Tokyo, more than 60 miles away.

Mount Fuji is an active volcano. It last erupted in 1707, spewing tons of solid volcanic material into the atmosphere, blanketing the city of Edo, more than 100 kilometers away, in volcanic ash and rock.

8. Nachi Falls – Wakayama

Japan’s tallest uninterrupted waterfall, Nachi Falls stands 13 meters wide and 133 meters tall. The pagoda of Seigantoji in the foreground culminates in a truly spectacular sight.

This ancient stretch of primeval forest has been venerated since ancient times as the home of a Shinto deity. At the base of the falls, visitors can buy a taste of pure waterfall water for around 100 yen, which is said to offer a long life and prosperity.

6 of the Top Travel Trends for 2021

As we emerge from the cloud of Covid-19, travel priorities and habits have evolved considerably, creating significant changes within the tourism sector. In this article, we look at six emerging travel trends for 2021.

1. Sustainability

In recent years, with the impact of climate change being felt more acutely in locations all over the world, many tourists have re-evaluated their priorities. They are seeking out destinations that focus on environmental awareness and emphasize sustainability.

Sustainable tourism seeks to protect all that is precious in this world, safeguarding stunning landscapes, rare wildlife, history, and culture for future generations. It can be used as a catalyst for growth in communities, creating quality jobs and funding for local enterprises and conservation programs.

2. Workations

Covid-19 has forced employers all around the world to embrace teleworking, and people are taking longer trips for business and pleasure. The “workation” is expected to become more common, as more companies are releasing employees from the rigidity of a 9-5, five-day workweek. Experts have long touted the benefits of providing staff with greater flexibility in terms of enhancing job satisfaction and increasing productivity.

No longer confined to the office, an increasing number of travelers are extending their stay at resorts, spending an extra week or so working remotely. Travel industry insiders suggest that laptop bags will become an increasingly common sight in overhead bins, with Wi-Fi topping the list of must-have resort amenities.

3. Remote Locations

According to a recent VacationRenter survey, demand for geographically isolated vacations has risen sharply, with almost half of vacationers staying in a cabin off the grid; with 83% lacking Internet access and nearly 75% without cell phone coverage.

Respondents showed a preference for remote venues for a myriad of different reasons, one of the most common being a desire to spend time in nature. Others sought out locations where they could enjoy peace and quiet, while many people simply wanted to escape their daily lives and routines.

4. Enhanced Safety Measures

Despite national vaccination programs being well underway in most countries and international travel opening up once more, many travelers remain nervous, with increased expectations that travel providers will help to keep them safe. Some businesses and destinations will need to do far more than they did prior to the arrival of Covid-19 to regain the public’s trust.

Many vacationers will only book accommodation once they have seen the owner’s health and hygiene policies, with travelers favoring those that offer sanitizing and antibacterial products.

Covid-19 has not only changed where we want to go, but how we want to travel, with vacationers demonstrating a clear preference for private travel, driving their own car or a rental, and avoiding public transportation.

5. Late Bookings

For many people, the annual vacation is the highlight of their year and is something they typically like to have penciled in on their calendar months in advance, counting down the days to departure. Nevertheless, in this new normal, having witnessed so much uncertainty over local stay-at-home orders, travel corridors, and arrival entry requirements, the vast majority of travelers are reluctant to commit their cash in advance.

Karl Thompson, the managing director of Unique Caribbean Holidays, a corporate representative for Sandals, explained that in the UK much of his company’s business in 2020 consisted of late bookings. He pointed out that even as we move through 2021, with travel restrictions easing all over the world, travelers remain keen to snap up last-minute deals and are reluctant to commit themselves months in advance.

6. A Preference for Outdoor Adventures

With little to keep us busy during lockdown except to walk, hike, run, or cycle through the countryside, vacationers have rediscovered a fondness for the great outdoors, with many embracing a healthier and more physically active lifestyle. The same trend has translated to vacation preferences, too.

EMEA Managing Director of Intrepid Travel Zina Bencheikh explains that cycling vacations have proven particularly popular in 2021. For those with safety concerns, cycling not only offers plenty of time outdoors, but also natural social distancing, as well as serving as an eco-friendly way to see the world.

Cycling trips to Morocco, Jordan, and Vietnam are attracting vacationers from all over the world. For those keen on immersing themselves in nature, excursions to Costa Rica, Nepal, and even Antarctica are also proving popular.

These Are 6 of the Hottest Travel Destinations for 2021

COVID-19 had a catastrophic impact on the travel industry, pushing numerous global brands to the brink of bankruptcy. With vaccination programs well underway in countries all over the world, although some destinations remain off limits, more and more countries are opening their borders to international travelers.

With an increasing consumer appetite for foreign climes, we explore six of the most exciting vacation destinations for 2021.

1. Scotland, UK

Situated in whale-populated waters between northern Scotland and Norway, the Shetland Islands are a paradise for food lovers. With a bounty of seafood and local produce, these isolated, sea-battered coasts attract chefs and curious gastronomes in equal numbers.

World-famous for its medieval castles, craggy typography, and charming seaside villages, the Isle of Skye attracts visitors from all over the world. This mountainous, lush green landscape is particularly popular with hikers. The largest, most northerly Inner Hebrides island, Skye was first settled in prehistoric times by Gaelic-speaking tribes from Ireland.

2. Maldives

With travelers’ thirst to escape to paradise keener than ever in 2021, the stilted bungalows and sugar white sands of the Maldives remain an irresistible draw for tourists the world over. The Maldives are about much more than cocktails on the beach. The remote archipelago’s diverse marine life make it a top diving spot.

Characterized by crystal clear waters and swaying palm trees, the region boasts an exotic mix of sea life, from giant pelagic species, such as dolphin, shark, tuna, and graceful manta rays, to octopuses, giant clams, and jellyfish. Inland marshes and ponds are also teeming with life, with saltwater crocodiles dwelling in marshy areas.

3. Vietnam

Reimagining tourism in a post-COVID world, the Vietnamese government bolstered its tourism sector throughout the pandemic by incentivizing citizens to spend their money on “staycations,” relying on domestic travel to keep the industry afloat. While commercial flights to Vietnam remain limited, the country is accepting international travelers once more, subject to a negative COVID test result valid within 72 hours.

From its quiet beaches to the floating markets of Mekong Delta to the ancient forests of the Central Highlands, Vietnam is a land of contrasts. Nestled in the stunning scenery of the Tonkinese Alps lies Sapa, a small French hill station. In the nearby minority villages of Dao and H’mong, locals still dress in traditional attire, honoring ancient beliefs.

Steeped in history and tradition, the vibrant streets of Hanoi betray the country’s French past, its wide, tree-lined boulevards dotted with pavement cafes and flanked by colonial architecture. A boat ride down the Mekong River offers a more leisurely pace, this “biological treasure trove” hosting over 1,000 animal species, as well as the world-famous floating markets.

Encircled by mountains, the former Champa capital, My Son, comprises a collection of ruined red-brick temples dating back to the 4th century that are dedicated to Hindu deities. For sunseekers, the crystal-clear turquoise waters and sugar white sands of Lang Co beach have earned it an international reputation as the “World’s Most Beautiful Bay.”

4. Botswana

People typically associate safaris with the well-trodden tourist haunts of South Africa and Kenya. Nevertheless, Botswana is rapidly establishing itself as the ultimate safari destination.

Botswana is home to the Okavango Delta: expansive grassy plains that flood every year, transforming the entire region into a remarkable animal habitat. Here, visitors can roam down the waterways in dugout canoes, passing elephants, hippopotamuses, and crocodiles. The Moremi Game Reserve is home to a whole host of interesting and impressive wildlife, including giraffes, rhinos, lions, and leopards.

What sets Botswana apart from other safari destinations is the fact that there are no fences anywhere. Here the animals wander freely across the mesmerizing landscape of lush greenery and wide-open plains.

5. United Arab Emirates

World-famous for decadent cities like Dubai, in 2021 the United Arab Emirates became the world’s most sought-after travel destination. Those who have visited Dubai know there is much more to the region than luxury hotels and bright lights. There are an abundance of natural wonders and lesser-known historical landmarks a stone’s throw away.

Made up of seven emirate states, the Untied Arab Emirates boasts year-round sunshine, making the region popular with sunseekers. Notorious for its futuristic city skylines, miles of sandy beaches, and never-ending shopping malls, Dubai is home to Burj Khalifah, one of the most iconic buildings in the world.

6. Andaman and Nicobar Islands

Open to international travelers once more (subject to a negative rapid test result), the Andaman and Nicobar Islands consist of 300-plus islands off the coast of India. Just 12 of these are open to visitors. The remainder are reserved for indigenous inhabitants, many of whom have limited interaction with the outside world.

With soft sandy beaches and clear blue waters, the islands are challenging to reach. However, visitors are compensated with unspoiled jungle and miles of uninhabited beaches. Home to an abundance of sea life, the Andaman and Nicobar Islands attract snorkelers and scuba divers from all over the world.

5 of the World’s Most Exciting Train Journeys

Blue Train, South Africa, Cape Town to Pretoria review: 31-hour journey  beats flying

For those seeking to escape the hustle and bustle of daily life, a train vacation provides a welcome opportunity to slow down, enjoying spectacular scenery from the comfort of your seat or sleeper, experiencing tantalizing tastes of new cultures and the bygone age of rail travel. From Singapore to Switzerland, we explore a selection of unforgettable train journeys.

1. Eastern & Oriental Express, Singapore to Thailand

Traversing the 1,200-mile journey from Singapore to Bangkok, Thailand, the Eastern & Oriental Express is the height of luxury, boasting an observation car, opulent sleeper cabins, and delectable meals concocted by internationally educated chefs.

In the elegant bar, passengers enjoy artisan cocktails while watching towering mountains, swathes of green, and glittering stretches of ocean pass by.

2. Blue Train, South Africa

Gliding from Pretoria to Cape Town, the Blue Train’s exterior is somewhat modest, belying the extravagance waiting within.

One of South Africa’s most iconic, elegant trains, the Blue Train’s dining car presents lavish five-course banquets, with the main car serving all manner of dainty creations at high tea. Deluxe Suites feature either twin beds and a shower or a double bed and a small bath. The bedroom areas can be converted into sitting rooms for daytime use.

Guests have the opportunity to explore vibrant Pretoria, spending the night at the exclusive Castello di Monte hotel. Once the Blue Train arrives in Cape Town, guests are invited to explore the sights, including Boulders Beach and its world-famous penguins and, of course, Table Mountain.

The Blue Train then continues to scenic Mont Rochelle and its internationally acclaimed vineyards. Guests also have the option of extending their itinerary, hitting the Garden Route, or embarking on a safari.

3. Reunification Express, Vietnam

Few stretches of railway boast the storied history of the North-South Railway, one of the best-loved railways in Southeast Asia. Over the years, the track’s fortunes have ebbed and flowed along with the countries it passes through.

Spanning a distance of 1,072 miles over two days, the Reunification Express transports passengers from Ho Chi Minh City in Southern Vietnam to Hanoi in the north. The train rumbles through fishing villages, lush green paddy fields, dense jungle, and even busy neighborhoods, providing spectacular views of the Vietnamese countryside.

Although it offers fairly modest accommodation, the Reunification Express does present a variety of different seating or sleeping options. The cheapest fare is the Hard Seat, providing passengers with a spot on one of the train’s many unforgiving wooden benches.

The next option is the Soft Seat, with plush chairs and overhead televisions playing Vietnamese programming, offering a (relatively) comfortable option for travelers on a tight budget. However, bearing in mind that the journey from Ho Chi Minh to Hanoi takes 30-plus hours, many travelers opt for a sleeper.

As the name would suggest, the Hard Berth is basic, comprised of a room with six beds and no padding. For a few dollars more, the Soft Berth is available, with four passengers sharing. Finally, there are two-bed VIP cabins, which are ideal for couples.

4. Glacier Express, Switzerland

With a duration of 7.5 hours, this somewhat more modest 180-mile journey has earned an international reputation as the slowest, most scenic train journey in the whole of Europe. Winding through the magnificent Swiss Alps, the Glacier Express negotiates 91 tunnels and 291 bridges on its journey through the Oberalp Pass.

With surrounding mountain peaks reaching almost 7,000 feet above sea level, passengers are treated to magical vistas across the surrounding countryside as the train winds its way through valleys, past mountain forests, and along picturesque alpine pastureland.

Updated in 2019, seats in the train’s First- and Second-class panoramic cars feature power sockets and free WiFi. In addition to the audio guide, passengers can also access the newly-integrated infotainment system via their tablets or smartphones, tracking the progress of their journey and learning interesting facts about the region.

5. The Venice Simplon-Orient-Express, Italy to the UK

The world’s most famous luxury train, the legendary Orient Express has been reimagined to emulate the Golden Age of rail travel.

In the dining carriages, passengers indulge in the romance of the railway, dressed to the nines in elegant downs and dinner jackets with black ties. Capturing the hearts and imaginations of guests for generations, the dining carriages are ornately decorated with oriental black lacquer panels inlaid with Lalique glass.

Providing a unique opportunity to experience a world of timeless glamor, the train’s six Grand Suites are the height of luxury and unbridled indulgence that, in days gone by, was known only to royalty.

Journeying along one of Europe’s most scenic rail routes, passengers enjoy their own private compartments furnished with gleaming mahogany paneling and damask bed linen. From the Italian Dolomites to the Swiss Alps, guests are afforded spectacular views aboard this timeless jewel.