7 Unforgettable Experiences No Visitor to Vietnam Should Miss

With its awe-inspiring landscapes, expansive history, and fantastic food, Vietnam attracts tourists from all over the world. In this article, we explore seven unique Vietnamese experiences no visitor should miss.

1. Sample the street food.

Famed the world over for its fragrant herbs and spices, Vietnamese street food tempts the senses with an array of exciting aromas and flavors. Regardless of the time of day, you will see locals of all ages gathering outside store fronts or beneath market awnings. Vendors offer pork belly patties, savory sticky rice, egg coffee desserts, and, of course, pho, the staple salty broth made with chicken or beef, fresh herbs, and silky rice noodles.

Some of the cheapest and best places to eat in Vietnam are found in the traditional open-air markets. There, single-dish stalls, run mostly by women, peddle delicious dishes of home-cooked fare following secret family recipes that have been handed down from mother to daughter over generations.

2. Learn more about Vietnamese history.

The history of Vietnam is tumultuous and complex, the Southeast Asian country having been invaded and riven numerous times. Today, a strong colonial influence remains, visible in everything from the coffee and food to the architecture.

Interwoven with our own past, Vietnamese history is not only fascinating, but important to learn about. Numerous monuments and museums in the country today are dedicated to the Vietnam War. More than 60 percent of the population of Vietnam was born after the war ended in 1975. Today, the country may have moved on, but the sacrifices made on both sides are still commemorated across the nation, particularly in Ho Chi Minh City.

3. Explore the world’s largest cave.

Situated in Quang Binh province, a region of barely penetrable jungle near the border with Laos, Phong Nha National Park is riddled with hundreds of vast caverns, including the world’s largest cave, Hang Son Doon, an underground expanse so tall a skyscraper could fit inside.

Phong Nha is a UNESCO World Heritage Site that attracts cavers from all over the world. With local guides for hire and rental gear available, you can find everything you need to explore this underground marvel. 

Alternatively, for those who prefer to stay aboveground, the region is also famous for trekking. The surrounding jungle is dotted with imposing waterfalls, and monkeys and flying foxes are frequently spotted in the vicinity.

4. Visit Cai Rang Floating Market.

Located in the south of the country, this world-renowned floating market is staged on the Cai Rang River, 6 kilometers from the center of Can Tho. In days gone by, when travelling by road was still a major challenge, Cai Rang Floating Market played a critical role in meeting the needs of local people. 

Nowadays, Vietnam’s road traffic infrastructure is much more developed. However, the floating market lives on, serving as an important economic, cultural, and tourist center.

Cai Rang is a great place to sample the local fare, its floating restaurants presided over by chefs with 40+ years’ experience, ready and waiting to serve delicious dishes like hu tieu and banh mi to locals and visitors.

5. Visit a traditional village.

Today, Vietnam is world-famous for its picture-perfect beaches and lively nightlife. By venturing to the northwest, however, visitors can get a taste of a much less touristy part of the country and sample authentic village life.

Sapa is home to several Vietnamese ethnic minorities, including the Dzao, Jarai, Bahnar, and Hmong. Each of these peoples has its own language and signature clothing, as well as its own customs and traditions. In Sapa, families live in stilted houses in differing architectural styles according to their ethnicity. They provide visitors with a tantalizing taste of their culture through traditional poetry, music, and song.

6. Immerse yourself in nature at Ban Gioc Waterfall.

Situated 360 kilometers from Hanoi in Northeast Vietnam, Ban Gioc Waterfall is without doubt the most spectacular waterfall in all of Vietnam, if not the whole of Southeast Asia. It stands 30 meters high and 300 meters wide and sits on the border between Vietnam and China. The waterfall is fed by the Quay Son River and empties via numerous rivulets across multiple terraces, creating an unforgettably enchanting vista.

Although domestic and Chinese travelers are regular visitors, particularly on national holidays, the waterfall is largely untouched by international tourism. Foreign travelers rarely venture this far from the beaten track.

7. Cruise the Mekong Delta

The Mekong River starts in China, flowing through Laos and Cambodia, traversing Vietnam’s southernmost reaches, and emptying into the South China Sea. The Mekong Delta’s tributaries and rivers form a tropical maze through rice farms and towns. 

From cruise boats, visitors look out across an expanse of lush green rice fields dotted with stilted wooden houses. Local men and women sell produce from small boats, providing snapshots of the traditional Vietnamese way of life.

The Mekong Delta is home to a myriad of rare and exotic wildlife, the Mekong River itself holding three times more fish species than the mighty Amazon. Popular with ornithologists, this region of Vietnam is home to more than 1,000 bird species.

5 of the Best Vacation Destinations for Cultural Tourism

For some people, the notion of the perfect vacation is simply two weeks in the sun, doing absolutely nothing. Others see a vacation as a prime opportunity to immerse themselves in a new culture and experience a different way of life.

“Culture” is a broad concept, of course—it refers to the customs, language, cuisine, art, and shared history of a particular group. In addition, culture is everywhere; there’s nowhere you can go that doesn’t have a culture. Still, in some places, the culture just seems more tangible and alive. Here are a few of these destinations.

1.         Paro, Bhutan

Bhutan is a landlocked kingdom sitting atop the mighty Himalayan range, which renders it accessible only to a fortunate few. Combining colorful religious festivals with spectacular natural surroundings, this land of fluttering prayer flags, red-robed monks, and vast monasteries perched on cliffs harks back to a long-forgotten era, and a much slower, calmer pace of life.

The Paro valley stretches from the confluence of the Wang Chhu and Paro Chhu rivers at Chuzom, to Mount Jomolhari on the Tibetan border. One of the widest valleys in Bhutan, Paro is swathed in fertile rice fields, with elegant traditional houses dotting the valley and surrounding hillsides. The idyllic scene is dissected by a crystalline, meandering river.

Paro town’s central plaza is adorned with a small amphitheater that hosts events throughout the year. With more than 155 monasteries and temples in the region, some dating back to the 14th century, Paro is an excellent place to see Bhutan’s history.

The region is also home to one of the country’s most iconic sites. High above the oak and rhododendron forests perches Taktsang Monastery. Known as the Tiger’s Nest, this extraordinary temple is a sacred shrine dedicated to Padmasambhava, who brought Buddhism to Tibet. 

2.         Tikal, Guatemala

Many regard Tikal as the world’s most impressive Mayan site, despite the fact that just a small proportion has been excavated from the thick jungle that surrounds it. Comprising some 3,000 ancient buildings, including a palace, dwellings, tombs, altars, and an impressive nine-story pyramid, Tikal once formed the heart of the Mayan Empire. Today it sits in its own national park, having been assigned UNESCO World Heritage Site status. In its heyday, the site is believed to have been home to almost 100,000 people, making it one of the most important cities of its time.

The Mayans performed ritual human sacrifices at Tikal. This archaeological wonder was also used for farming as far back as 1000 BC. No one knows for sure what caused the city’s demise, but many researchers attribute its abandonment to deforestation and drought.

3.         Bilbao, Spain

From the early 1900s, Bilbao was one of the most important cities in Basque Country. Despite its cultural development and expansion being interrupted by the Spanish Civil War, the city quickly recovered its capacity to generate wealth, attracting immigrants from far and wide with its flourishing industry.

Following years of economic growth, the region’s steel and iron industry fell into a deep crisis toward the end of the 20th century. City officials were forced to reimagine the foundations of its economic development.

After years of financial uncertainty, Bilbao reclaimed its reputation as one of Europe’s most dynamic cities. It is brimming with amenities and focused on urban and environmental regeneration. Today, it is home to the Euskalduna Palace and Guggenheim Museum, the latter being one of the most iconic and praised works of contemporary architecture. These buildings have become icons of this vibrant metropolis.

4.         Florence, Italy

Florence is the most enchanting city in Tuscany, if not the whole of Italy or Europe. Internationally renowned as the birthplace of the Renaissance, it is home to the world-famous Uffizi Gallery, which houses works by both Michelangelo and Leonardo Da Vinci. If you have the means, you should visit Florence at least once in your life.

Other unmissable attractions include the Ponte Vecchio, Piazza del Duomo, and Boboli Gardens. Although it is a city, Florence retains a small-town charm and a slower, calmer pace of life. The city center is flooded with pedestrians rather than cars, idly strolling or sitting in piazzas, watching the world go by.

5.         Abu Dhabi, UAE

The United Arab Emirates consists of seven emirates in total, including Dubai and Abu Dhabi, the two that most Westerners are familiar with. Both are modern, cosmopolitan cities, but Dubai is flashier and fast-paced, while Abu Dhabi is often described as a bit lower-key and more representative of traditional culture in the UAE.

Sheikh Zayed Mosque is the largest mosque in the whole of the UAE. Both a place of worship and an icon of Islamic culture, it is widely praised as Abu Dhabi’s most beautiful building. Covering almost 30 acres and capable of accommodating more than 40,000 people, Sheikh Zayed Mosque is also one of the largest places of worship in the world. The construction took more than a decade to complete and combines traditional and modern architecture.

Cybersecurity: How Can Businesses Protect Themselves from Ransomware?

Ransomware is becoming an increasingly significant threat to businesses all over the world. Companies face a constant barrage of cyberthreats, from brute force attacks to phishing campaigns. Ransomware strikes a special kind of fear into the hearts of business owners, leaving them vulnerable on a variety of different levels, from the financial repercussions of losing critical data, to reputational damage and loss of trust among customers.

Ransomware can affect any type of organization, large or small, with cybercriminals executing sophisticated techniques to target not only businesses, but government agencies, nonprofit entities, and, astonishingly, educational facilities and even hospitals and healthcare providers.

An attack typically begins with an assailant gaining access to an internal computer network via a phishing email or other type of compromise. Cybercriminals analyze internal systems to deduce assets and vulnerabilities. They then mount an attack, infecting and encrypting files, rendering them inaccessible by the victim.

Revealing compromised data

Finally, cybercriminals reach out to the victim, blackmailing them, demanding payment of a fee for release of the data. Nevertheless, even if payment is promptly made, the threat to the organization does not stop there. The hacker may simply fail to make good on their assurances or, increasingly, punish and humiliate the victim by publicly revealing compromised data.

According to cybersecurity analyst Mohsin Khan Mahadik, it is incredibly difficult to assess how widespread a problem ransomware really is, since many incidents go unreported, with victimized organizations reluctant to go public for fear of losing business. In many cases, victims pay off their attackers without reporting the incident. According to data from Statista, there were 187.9 million attacks in 2019 alone, although experts believe the figure could actually be much higher.

In 2017, the WannaCry ransomware attack targeted computers all over the world using Microsoft Windows. Cybercriminals encrypted data, demanding payment in Bitcoin for release. The incident involved more than 200,000 victims worldwide, infecting over 300,000 computers. Believed to have originated in North Korea, with the Lazarus Group the prime suspects, attackers infected computers in more than 150 countries, culminating in global economic losses estimated at $4 billion.

Cybercriminals are growing increasingly sophisticated

As cybercriminals grow increasingly sophisticated, the problem is becoming more difficult to prevent. For companies that fall prey to these monetized cyberattacks, the impact can be devastating, literally paralyzing business operations. It is therefore vital for business leaders to be savvy about preventing and defending against such attacks, recognizing that all businesses are vulnerable.

With 15 years’ experience in cybersecurity at a Fortune 100 company, Tim Bandos is Digital Guardian’s director of cybersecurity. He explains that every week, a barrage of new ransomware attacks hit the headlines, targeting businesses, organizations, and even hospitals and demanding that they pay a ransom to regain access to their data. As he points out, a victim’s first question is often “Could we have prevented this?” Bandos says there are multiple steps enterprises can take to protect themselves against malware, explaining that a layered approach is always the most appropriate.

Bandos advocates for installing anti-virus software across all endpoints within a business, ensuring that it is kept up to date. Although new variants are constantly being developed, anti-virus software is an important line of defense. He recommends using a multi-faceted cybersecurity solution armed with additional protective technologies, such as firewalls, heuristics, and behavioral-based threat protection.

Implementing security awareness campaigns

The second step is to implement security awareness campaigns among staff, ensuring that employees know the dangers of clicking on links in emails. Regularly backing up data, be it to a local storage device or to a cloud provider, can protect against data loss, but it is vital to remove the external storage device once the backup is complete to avoid ransomware infecting that, too.

GPO restrictions can be used to prevent ransomware and other forms of malware from installing. Patching third party software such as Flash, Adobe, and Java—all common access points for cyber criminals—undoubtedly prevents many attacks. Finally, restricting the administrative rights of endpoint users can also be incredibly effective in terms of reducing vulnerabilities.

With Covid-19 triggering a global transition to remote work, many employees continue to stay connected from their home offices. It is critical for IT departments to cover all the bases, fortifying the entire network. Periodically conducting phishing tests can help identify areas where further training is needed. It is also vital for systems to require strong passwords and multifactor authentication when users log on to the business network.

Countering ransomware attacks

In the United States today, government agencies like the Department of Homeland Security are focusing heavily on countering ransomware attacks. The Cybersecurity and Infrastructure Security Agency has developed a useful Ransomware Guide, helping business owners to develop an action plan to mitigate risk and respond to incidents. Ransomware creates a national security risk and economic threat, targeting enterprises of all sizes. As the Department of Homeland Security continues to prioritize anti-ransomware initiatives, it is vital that businesses of all sizes play a part in countering this multibillion-dollar problem, educating and informing staff at all levels of an organization to protect them from attacks.

The Magic of Laos: 5 Unmissable Attractions

Laos is a culturally diverse country, incorporating 49 ethnic groups that influence its customs, culture, cuisine, and arts. Often overshadowed by its more widely known neighbors Cambodia, Vietnam, and Thailand, this tranquil, landlocked country has plenty to offer visitors besides the benefit of fewer crowds.

Encompassing undulating mountains, thundering waterfalls, remote villages, and underground caves, this exciting Southeast Asian country has a “back-in-time” feel. From the mysterious Plain of Jars to the gilded Pha That Luang national monument, we explore five of the country’s most impressive attractions.

1.   Vat Phou                                                                         

A little way off the beaten track, this complex of temple ruins set against a magical mountainous backdrop is a must-see.

This UNESCO World Heritage Site was a seat of power for the Khmer Empire from the 10th to the 14th centuries. The site also bears testimony to several other Southeast Asian cultures that occupied the region through the centuries. Shaped to express the Hindu vision of the relationship between humanity and nature, Vat Phou lies on the banks of the Mekong River, with parts of the development dating back as far as the fifth century.  

Dedicated to Shiva, the site was adopted by Buddhist monks in the 13th century, and Buddhists continuing to worship there to this day. During the Vat Phou festival, which is held yearly on the full moon of the third lunar month, thousands of nationals flock to the temple to bring offerings for Buddha. The ancient temple complex bursts with food and drink stalls, along with presentations of traditional Laos dance, musical performances, games, and other entertainment.

2.   Plain of Jars

Located in the Xiangkhoang Plateau, the Plain of Jars comprises thousands of carved granite and sandstone jars. The attraction encompasses more than 90 separate sites, each featuring between one and 400 jars, some more than 2,000 years old, with the tallest jar standing around 3.4 meters high.

A mystery to archeologists and locals alike, the Plain of Jars dates to the Iron Age. Some locals theorize that the structures may have been used to collect rainwater or brew and store rice wine.

Situated on a plain in the Lao Highlands, the jars lie in ruins today. They received relatively little Western attention until the French archeologist Madeleine Colani surveyed the area in the 1930s. After discovering human remains, including burned bones and ash in a nearby cave, Colani suggested that the jars were funeral urns for local chieftains, although many historians dispute this claim. Bizarrely, similar clusters of jars have been found across Asia, forging a path that leads to Northern India, causing some researchers to believe that the site formed part of a wider trade route.

3.   Pha That Luang

Also known as the Great Stupa, Pha That Luang is the most important national monument in the country. Located in the country’s capital, Vientiane, the site dates to the third century. It has been reconstructed several times over the years after enduring foreign invasions. The existing complex comprises three levels symbolizing the three realms of Buddhism, and the temple is surrounded by 30 smaller stupas.

According to an account dating back to the 1600s from Dutch envoy Gerrit van Wuysthoff, the monument originally featured an enormous pyramid covered in around a thousand pounds of gold leaf. The site was repeatedly plundered by the Chinese, Siamese, and Burmese over the years, with the Thai invasion of 1828 reducing it to ruins. It was not until the French arrived in 1900 that Pha That Luang was restored to its original design.

4.   Bokeo Nature Reserve

Created to protect the black-cheeked gibbon, a species believed to be extinct until it was rediscovered in the region in 1997, Bokeo Nature Reserve is home to the Gibbon Experience, a world-leading eco-tourism conservation project where guests stay in tree houses, travel by zip line, and search the tree canopy for the elusive ape.

Having earned an international reputation as a “hidden paradise” of Laos, Bokeo Nature Reserve is in the northwest of the country, comprising 123,000 hectares of primary rainforest. Other wildlife sometimes observed in the reserve include bears, elephants, wild buffalo, tigers, and chimpanzees.

The Gibbon Experience operates local tours, creating jobs for local people and supporting indigenous people in developing sustainable agriculture. At the same time, it establishes a model of eco-tourism to protect, preserve, and explore this unique ecosystem.

5.   That Ing Hang Stupa

Standing 9 meters tall, this 16th-century tower is believed to contain an important Buddhist relic: a bone taken from Buddha’s spine. Buddha is believed to have stayed here after falling ill on his journey to the Kingdom of Sikhottabong. Substantially rebuilt during the reign of King Setthathirat in the 1500s, That Ing Hang was restored by the French in 1930.

The temple features a hollow section containing a collection of Buddhist images that, in line with religious customs, women are forbidden from entering. There is also a Buddhist repository containing 4,000 palm leaf manuscripts, considered one of the most important collections of Buddhist scriptures in Laos today. Its oldest components date to the 16th century.

Hidden Gems of India: Exploring the Country’s Lesser-Known Attractions

As the home of the iconic Taj Mahal, the Red Fort of New Delhi, Agra Fort, and the fantastically elaborate Mysore Palace, India is a land of contrasts, where traditional and modern worlds collide. In this article, we venture off the beaten track, exploring some of the country’s lesser-known, but no less impressive attractions.

1. Ziro – Arunachal Pradesh

A nirvana for tourists beating a retreat from the stresses of daily life, tucked away in the picturesque mountain-scape of northeast India, the Ziro Valley’s sprawling paddy fields, lush green hills, and quaint villages mesmerize visitors with its scenic beauty.

Popular with photographers, bird spotters, and nature lovers, Ziro is perfect for adventure seekers, too, presenting the unique opportunity to trek through the jungles of this relatively unexplored region of Arunachal Pradesh.

Every September, top national and international musical performers and folk artists arrive in Ziro for its annual music festival, presenting overseas visitors with an unforgettable taste of Indian culture, enjoying enchanting music and sampling regional culinary delights.

2. Gurez Valley – Kashmir

With its cool mountain air, bubbling river, and breathtaking landscapes, the Gurez Valley lies on the ancient Silk Road. In 1865, the British author Sir Walter Lawrence described it as one of the most beautiful scenes in all of Kashmir, where the waters of the Kishenganga River are surrounded by “mountain scarps of indescribable grandeur.”

Precariously crooked wooden villages dot the Gurez Valley landscape, its hillsides awash with vivid swathes of wildflowers. In the distance loom snowy peaks, with waterfalls tumbling down the mountainside, quenching the emerald grasses of the valley, while women wash colorful rugs at the side of the river.

The army delivers essential assistance and supplies in emergencies and throughout the long, hard winter.

3. Unakoti – Tripura

Tripura is the third smallest state in India, and one of the nation’s least explored travel destinations. Nevertheless, it is rapidly garnering an international reputation as a hidden jewel of Indian tourism.

From its magnificent palaces and ancient temples to its wildlife sanctuaries and waterfalls, Tripura’s lush green landscapes boast much to entertain visitors of all tastes.

Tucked away in the forested Jampui Hills lies the heritage site of Unakoti. A centuries-old Shaivite pilgrimage spot, Unakoti’s Lost Hill of Faces is unlike any other attraction in India. The most famous statue is a 30-foot-high carving of Shiva’s head, crowned with a 10-foot high headdress. Flanked by the Goddesses Ganga and Durga, the relief also incorporates several other Hindu deities, including Hanuman, Nandi, and Ganesh.

4. Spiti – Himachal Pradesh

Spiti, which translates to English as “Middle Country,” is a town straddling the border between India and Tibet. Though technically falling within India, Spiti incorporates a strong Tibetan cultural influence, with colorful prayer flags fluttering in the wind, and monks in saffron colored robes wafting from ancient monasteries.

Spiti’s largest monastery is Kye. Perched atop a hill at an altitude of 4,166 meters, Kye is the largest training center for monks in the region.

This cold desert region is a land of contrasts, where green plains vie with barren mountainsides, beneath towering, snow-capped peaks. Spiti is a land of myth and mystery, its incredible rock formations carved by melting snow over the centuries, leaving deep gouges stretching up to the sky.

5. Majuli – Assam

Best known for its picturesque views and untouched tribal cultures, Majuli is a large island on the Brahmaputra river, and is one of just a handful of wetland ecosystems in India.

Accessible by ferry from Jorhat, Majuli is best avoided between the months of July and September, when severe flooding causes considerable disruption. The best time to visit is the third week of November, when the Ras Leela festival attracts visitors from near and far, with cultural music, dance, and theatrical performances.

Majuli’s Hindu Satras are world-famous places of worship that remain an integral part of Assamese life, with 31 of the original 16th century structures still in use today. Satras not only serve as places of worship, but are also important centers of culture, arts, and literature. A hotspot for flora and fauna, Majuli harbors many rare and endangered species, including the Siberian crane, pelican, and whistling teal. The island is under threat due to soil erosion, with conservationists warning that within 20 years, the entire island could be underwater.

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.