02.03.2015

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After watching the sun slowly sink into the horizon, we dived into the water with our snorkels and were immediately surrounded by a galaxy of "stars".
The spectacle, created by bioluminescent plankton, can be witnessed inmost places along the southwestern coast of Cambodia and is a treat for any nighttime swimmer. When the water level in Cambodia's Tonle Sap Lake drops, the long stilts supporting homes in Kampong Phluk, a floating village, are left exposed. Our small group had moored a boat near the coral off Bamboo Island, a short ride from the white-sand beaches of Sihanoukville.
When darkness fell, the sparkling plankton came alive, providing just one of the many visual feasts that visitors to this country can expect.
Although largely known for the Angkor Wat Archeological Park, a massive collection of centuries-old ruins in the north, and the Khmer Rouge, Cambodia also boasts beautiful beaches, forests and wildlife reserves, as well as myriad sites providing insight into the country's fascinating yet often harrowing modern history. The city's two main attractions are the National Museum and the Royal Palace, both a short walk of each other in the center of town. A visit to the stunning Royal Palace (a rather steep $13 entry fee) will take only about an hour, with several exhibition areas added in recent years to give a fuller visitor experience. Around the museum and palace are dozens of restaurants offering Khmer and Western options and coffee shops, while Street 240, just around the corner, is lined with boutique stores selling clothes, organic foods and cosmetics.
Head to Sisowath Quay, which offers views of where Tonle Sap River merges with the Mekong River, and walk north and you will quickly arrive at the city's tourist center, ideal for shopping, dining and drinking. A tuk tuk can also be hired to take you to the Killing Fields, about 17 kilometers to the south, where the Khmer Rouge executed many of its victims during its four-year reign. We took a minibus southwest ($10 a seat) and arrived just under five hours later in Sihanoukville. Kayaks, jet skis and surfing equipment can be hired at most beaches, while boat tours and ferries are available to take you to the outlying islands, such as Koh Rong (also known as Monkey Island) or the smaller but equally calm Koh Takiev. As many tour operators stick to a fairly rigid schedule and tend to overload their vessels, we opted instead to rent a private boat for a day ($50 after haggling), which allowed the luxury of staying out after dark to snorkel among the sparkling plankton.
From here, you can also visit Kampong Nup Lok, an old fishing village that offers some nice views, and Ream National Park, a large mangrove nature reserve about 30 minutes' drive east. After relaxing on the beach for a few days, we boarded a plane at Sihanoukville airport bound for Siem Reap. Siem Reap boasts Cambodia's most famous attraction, while the city itself has grown into a fun and relaxing destination for international travelers. A visit here would not be complete without a tour of the 12th century Angkor Wat and the many other ancient and varied temples "rediscovered" by French explorers about 300 years ago. Most are located within two circuits to the north, both of which take a good 10 hours to cover, either starting at sunrise or finishing at sunset. Trips to temples further out can also be combined with other activities, such as a visit to the Landmine Museum ($5), which raises awareness and money for families affected by landmines, and Bantreay Srei Butterfly Park ($4). For those interested in learning about Cambodia's recent history, the War Museum ($5), not far from the city center, features a comprehensive collection of weaponry and photos from the civil war. Just to the south of Siem Reap is the vast Tonle Sap Lake, which is surrounded by floating villages and boasts abundant wildlife.
Chong Khneas, a small fishing community, is probably the most popular among tourists, but you can escape the crowds by heading out early to Kampong Phluk.
After a tiring tour in Siem Reap's beautiful wilderness, you'll be spoiled for choice on where to unwind. Money: The riel is the official currency of Cambodia, but US dollars are more commonly used by businesses, even in the markets. Visas: Landing visas for tourists cost $30 per person at custom entry points in Phnom Penh and Siem Reap.
NGOs, orphanages: There are many ways in which tourists can contribute to aid organizations, such as buying from stores that support impoverished families, eating at restaurants that help vulnerable young adults, or donating blood. The 62-year-old American living in Namibia since 1991 has devoted her life to saving the fastest land animal on earth, with a top speed of 70 miles (110 kilometers) per hour. Marker has been compared to Jane Goodall and the late Dian Fossey - defenders of chimpanzees and gorillas - who were the first generation of iconic female pioneers of wildlife conservation in Africa.
When Marker first visited Namibia on the southwest coast of Africa nearly 40 years ago, she was shocked to discover farmers were mercilessly killing the graceful sprinter of the plains. Now, less then 12,000 remain in the wild, all in Africa, except for a tiny population of less than 100 in Iran.
The rapid decline of the cheetahs could have been sharper without Marker's high-profile tireless efforts. A formidable campaigner and acknowledged world expert, she founded the Cheetah Conservation Fund (CCF) in 1990.
She saw her first when she was 20 and went to work at a wildlife park in the US state of Oregon.
Marker raised an orphaned female cheetah cub named Khayam in Oregon and, in 1977, took Khayam to Namibia, then known as South-West Africa.
She planned to see if the young cheetah could be taught to hunt for prey as part of research into whether captive cheetahs could be re-introduced into the wild.
But soon after her arrival, she learnt about a more immediate emergency - farmers were poisoning, trapping and shooting huge numbers of cheetahs. Namibian farmers continue to kill cheetahs because they threaten valuable livestock, while poachers steal cheetah cubs from their mothers to sell as pets to wealthy clients, particularly in the Middle East. The threat has driven Marker on a decades-long effort to halt poaching and persuade farmers that a balance can be struck between raising livestock and protecting wildlife. She has led academic study into the cheetah since the 1970s, and completed a zoology doctorate at Cambridge University in 2002.
Even now she spends much of the time travelling the world, giving lectures and raising funds for her cheetah conservation work.
Marker says she has slowly managed to change attitudes through a mixture of knowledge, charm and determination. The most effective tactic for protecting livestock has proven to be introducing large Anatolian shepherd dogs that live permanently with the cattle. Wild predators like cheetahs are reluctant to take on the fierce canines, and so they return to hunting antelope in the bush. But Marker knows that the cheetahs are still under severe threat and will always be a difficult animal to save because they struggle even in the biggest reserves. A cheetah lacks the power of a lion, hyena or leopard and, where animal densities are higher and competition is tough, cub mortality can be as high as 90 percent. Waikiki has been facing erosion problems for years, so Hawaii lawmakers are pushing a bill to restore it. The bill originally asked for $1.5 million to make a plan to fill a portion of the beach where erosion has left it almost entirely gone.
The latest effort comes four years after the state spent over $2.4 million to pump sand from offshore to replenish the beach. Photographs from the 1930s and 1940s show a continuous stretch of white sand from one end of the beach to the other. Lee said an uninterrupted stretch of beach is important to maintaining the allure of the state's most popular tourist destination.
State agencies and business organizations supported the proposal, saying Waikiki Beach is critical to the state's economy. A 2013 state report said it would take about $14 million to maintain and improve Waikiki Beach over the next 10 years. The earliest beach replenishment projects date back to the 1920s, but the first major recorded project was in 1939.
Maison Tamboite, founded in 1912, had an A-list clientele including the likes of Marlene Dietrich, Maurice Chevalier, Edith Piaf and Josephine Baker in its heyday. It was an uncle who closed down the company in the 1980s when bicycles began being mass-produced and could be found even in supermarkets, Jastrzebski said. In the new workshop near the Bastille in eastern Paris, Jastrzebski has kept the old wooden drawers from the original shop on the other side of town. He also has the original tools, an old catalogue and the counter on which his great-grandfather built bicycles. Production has begun, with the Jastrzebskis peddling their two-wheeled creations as an "urban aesthetic" for the well-heeled.
Gleaming but not bling, the bicycles are virtual works of art, their metal frames contrasting with the honey-toned oak from Italy's Lake Como region used in the wheel rims and the mud guards.
Hand-burnished leather is everywhere: used for the seat of course, but also on the handlebar, the pedals and the lock - as well as the optional satchel. They sell for an impressive 11,000 euros ($12,000), with the electric version priced at 15,500 euros.
Each bicycle takes three months to make, custom fitted on the basis of no fewer than 15 measurements.
The frame alone can take a month to make before the glam embellishments are added, the 24-year-old noted. Asked about the wisdom of leaving a Tamboite bicycle on a public street, even with a sturdy lock, Jastrzebski said: "All of our models are numbered and traceable. Over 500 years old, surviving fire and earthquakes, it welcomes up to 400,000 people a day and takes pride in being the world's most visited destination - more popular than the Eiffel Tower.
So it's hardly surprising that Istanbul's venerable Grand Bazaar, built in the mid-15th century, has suffered some wear and tear over the years. The labyrinthine bazaar is now about to undergo a much needed renovation that will last a decade and cost tens of millions of dollars. But the revamp is not without controversy, especially among traditionalists who fear the spirit of the historic market will be lost.
The Grand Bazaar ranked as the top destination anywhere in the world with over 90 million visitors in 2014, according to a Travel + Leisure listing. Construction of the bazaar began around 1455 under the reign of Sultan Mehmet II, the "Conquerer" who had finally seized the city then known as Constantinople from the Byzantines in 1453. With the city in need of a trade center for goods coming in from all over the nascent Ottoman Empire, the Grand Bazaar expanded rapidly.
By the 17th century it had taken on its current form, a covered market (giving the bazaar its Turkish name Kapalicarsi), which now has thousands of shops and dozens of streets.
It has become one of Istanbul's most iconic sites, outstripping even the Hagia Sophia in terms of visitor numbers, and featured in a memorable sequence in the 2011 James Bond film Skyfall. Locals also come in droves to pick more prosaic goods like clothes, furniture or shoes, or possibly jewellery for a special occasion. With the building's foundations showing their age, the absolute priority is to give the bazaar back its structural stability, the restoration's architects say. Meeting under the framework of their union, the owners of the more than 3,000 shops in the bazaar agreed to also contribute for the renovation, convinced that it was necessary. But there are still dissenting voices, especially from among the small-scale traders who fear their rents could skyrocket. With the government undertaking massive construction projects across the country that risk trampling on heritage, others fear atmosphere will be sacrificed to modernity. The project also foresees the construction of two hotels in caravanserais - Ottoman-era guesthouses that were aimed at traveling merchants - on the edge of the bazaar. But Demir, a close ally of President Recep Tayyip Erdogan, insisted that there was no alternative to the renovation.
But a proper visit entails some time and effort and is tough to pull off for business travelers on tight time constraints. There are spices, perfumes and jewelry to choose from as well as pottery, traditional Egyptian garb, belly-dancing outfits and any type of souvenir you can imagine. Aside from shopping, you can also stop at a traditional coffee and tea shop for a hot drink or to smoke a shisha, the ornate Egyptian water pipe of fruit-scented tobacco. It's a close taxi ride from the city center and if you have some extra time you can combine a visit with a quick glimpse of two adjacent sites: Al-Azhar mosque, renowned as the epicenter of study in the Sunni Muslim world, and Muizz Street, the historic spine of Islamic Cairo. Take the Metro to the Dupont Circle stop and look for a white marble fountain in a circular plaza.
The Heurich House Museum, billed as "the brewmaster's castle", is a 31-room home at 1307 New Hampshire Ave., built in the 1890s by Christian Heurich, a German-born beer-maker. Hour-long tours of Heurich House are offered Thursday, Friday and Saturday, but you must reserve online (free, $5 suggested donation).
Two curiosities in the neighborhood: Spanish Steps, a flight of stone stairs at S Street and 22nd Street named for the famous steps in Rome, and a gas station on the National Register of Historic Sites at 2200 P St.
Other attractions in the area include the Woodrow Wilson House, 2340 S St., and the Textile Museum, 701 21st St. But as of now only two sources have been tapped and roughly 4,000 cubic meters of water from the hot springs is supplied to local facilities every day. Hot spring facilities elsewhere have supplies running into hundreds of cubic meters at best, he says. At night, dim polychromatic lights suffuse the various open-air hot spring pools, each of which is well-separated from the other ones by tall trees and thick bushes. My visit is in late February, a perfect time to enjoy hot springs since there is still a chill in the air but it is not bitterly cold. The opportunity for him to get into the business came when he got to know of the hot springs in Wuyi when he was dealing with the bankruptcy case of a local government-owned hot spring facility after his Japan trip. The whole facility integrates elements of Tang-styled constructions and classic parks south of the Yangtze River.
Meanwhile, despite the obvious profitability of his project, hot springs are more than just a business venture for Sheng. At the moment, he is trying to get support from the local government to build a museum to show the public the benefits, culture and history of hot springs. He hopes this will help people get a better understanding of hot springs before experiencing them. Taking his venture further, the businessman has launched an online app this year that offers a butler service to users. The other hot spring in the area, the Qing Hot Springs, covering an area of 130,000 square meters, the biggest in Wuyi, drew 50,000 people during the festival and raked in 1 million yuan daily.
The facility has now evolved into a complex that integrates a spa, karaoke, a gym, basketball and tennis facilities.
The facility is targeting guests from Shanghai and Wenzhou since the high-speed rail to Wuyi opened early this year. The local government has focused on using local hot spring resources to develop tourism since 1994.
The Jingyuan ancient houses park has more than 80 structures from the Ming and Qing dynasties (1368-1911). The county has nearly 20 villages, where locals now offer farmhouse-styled cuisine to tourists.
Last year, 3.7 million tourists visited the villages and now some rural households' annual income has surpassed 500,000 yuan a year, according to the local government.
He Guangxing, who is now in his 50s, from Guodong village opened his family-run restaurant offering local cuisine to tourists in 1999. The restaurant is practically where he lives - a 400-year-old two-story building made of stone and wood.
Dozens of residents in the village like He have also opened restaurants or hotels to cater to the increasing number of tourists, who come mostly to savor the local natural environment and village life. Among other local government efforts to promote Wuyi is a one-month hot spring festival, which has been held every year over the late October-November period. Celebrations are staged and discounts offered during the period, the government official says. Separately, bars, a shopping plaza, F3 racing tracks, and health facilities will be established to spice up the hot springs experience, says Zhang Xinyu, the head of the county.
Airports are also expected to be established in the next five years to connect the area with Zhoushan and Hengdian. There are many celebrities at the Hengdian World Studios, and the half-hour flight will make it possible for them to visit Wuyi to relax and enjoy the hot springs after work, says Zhang.
Work on an expressway connecting downtown Jinhua city and Wuyi will begin this year, shortening travel time to 15 minutes from the previous one hour.
The idea is to ultimately turn Wuyi into a backyard of major cities nearby so people can come and take a break from their busy schedules. He was referring to Panajachel, one of several towns and villages surrounding Guatemala's magnificent Lake Atitlan. He, like many others, was waiting for a flete, a pickup truck that transports villagers to and from Panajachel several times each day.
During a six-week stay in Guatemala, I traversed the path between the main town and the tiny village numerous times.
My favorite part of the walk was encountering women dressed in the traditional Mayan huipil (blouse) and corte (skirt) and expertly balancing bundles atop their heads.
The walk between villages includes several steep inclines, and a decent level of fitness is required.
Lake Atitlan: The Lake Atitlan region is located about 70 miles from Guatemala City, home to the nearest major airport.
Visiting a natural reserve park in the depths of winter would not be everyone's idea of holiday fun, particularly if that park is in southern Ontario, where the average minimum temperature in January can be around -20 C. So even the colorful language that a friend used as she suggested that we head out of Toronto on a day trip to Algonquin Provincial Park - we could "embrace the beauty of the nature", she says - held little appeal for me. So here we were, three people and a dog, Willy, a border collie, on Highway 60, which passes through the southern section of the park. Before the trip I had never heard of Algonquin Provincial Park but Rachel, who has lived in Canada for more than 12 years, reckons it is the perfect place to appreciate the beauty of maple leaves, which indeed is what the park is best known for. Locals apparently often refer to Highway 60 as a corridor, and it was easy to see why, because the road gradually takes you into the area's natural scenery before you even realize it.
Our planned route was to enter the park through what is called its western gate and exit through the other side. Willy the border collie had in effect become my master, confidently leading me to the shop, obviously drawn by the heart-felt warmth of the big sign hanging outside the door: "Dogs welcome". Since local businesses generally provide dog sledding services in the form of day trips, meaning you will have to commit six hours from 9 am to 3 pm, and we had apparently missed the departure time, the best option left was to try our luck with the wildlife. Over the next couple of hours we failed to spot a single mammal, reptile, amphibian or bird, the best we could manage being a sketch of a moose on a traffic sign warning "Danger 45 km".
The comfortable warmth of the car dissipated within seconds of our getting out, and as we trudged through the thick snow my teeth were chattering. Thanks to his exuberance and strength I soon found myself sitting on snow-covered ground, holding his leash and being dragged downhill. Thus began a contest to see who could dig up ice the fastest, and of course the winner was a certain quadruped who could not stop rolling in the snow. In the end we all started doing the same, making several human- and dog-shaped stamps on the lake surface.
Exhausted from all the rollicking about, we lay on the ground looking at our breaths steaming in the air. Fees: A day visit to the park requires a daily vehicle permit, and the price depends on the season.
Transport: The most convenient way to get to the park is probably driving your own vehicle. I reckon I was well within my rights to fret over the heavy snow that had fallen in the area in the days before we set out. The good news for modern generations is that in their dealings with these prime woods the pioneers appear to have shown enlightened mercy, and today the pine trees continue to flourish. Majestic lakes are probably one of the images that the mere mention of Canada evokes in many people's minds, and that itself may be of little surprise, given that the country is said to have more than two million lakes covering about 7.6 percent of the country.
Canada is of course a vast expanse, the world's second-largest country, but if you are keen to get a feel of what having two million lakes in one country is like, the Algonquin Park provides a useful microcosm.
Driving along Highway 60 with Willy the collie in the back seat, lakes were another constant companion. Alex suggested I go back to the park in summer to try what he called "remote camping", meaning you canoe to a small island between the lakes and spend a night snuggled up with nature as you share the habitat with other species.
Even if the lack of snow and ice then would have stolen some of the park's many surprises, I'm sure many others would be lying in store. When the film director Hou Hsiao-Hsien was making his award-winning film A City of Sadness in Jiufen in 1989 he could scarcely have realized what a service he was doing to the town, which is about a 90-minute drive from downtown Taipei. The film, set between 1945 and 1950, depicts the life of the four brothers of the Lin family, and its background is the February 28 Incident in Taiwan in 1947, an anti-government uprising that took place exactly 69 years ago this weekend. Jiufen, a mountain-side town, in Ruifang district, Xinbei city, draws tourists with its landscape, local specialities and gold heritage.
That dark mood of the late 1940s was no doubt inextricably linked to the tragedy of the thousands who died as the uprising was quelled, while the somber air Hou found in Jiufen in 1989 may have had something to do with the fact that by then Jiufen was a mere shadow of the thriving gold town that had existed there in the earlier part of the century. On a foggy morning early this month I visited Jiufen, which, thanks mostly to Hou using it in his film, has turned into a tourist attraction over the past 25 years and regained some of its earlier verve. One of the first things that caught my eye was a sign saying "Baked jade whelk" and the next thing I saw was the whelks' alluring green shells.
Walking along the narrow street my culinary tasting tour continued: baked ice cream covered with a thin pancake and chopped peanuts, and taro balls, then preserved tiny fish. There were about 100 small stores beside the road, which I later learned is Jishan Road, the town's main thoroughfare, and which also has many small workshops that sell leather goods, sculptures and paintings.
Soon I came to well-known Shuqi Road, an almost vertical stone path with more than 300 steps. Just as persistence paid off for many of those miners, I find that wondering aimlessly often delivers rich rewards. The three-story yellow edifice is not particularly conspicuous, and in fact looks like a residential building.
In an area made to look like a mine there was a mine wagon, a miner's clothes and a miner's lamp, and the young woman explained the exhibits. It seemed that the museum was so close to the heart of the man's father that before he died he worried about its future. His father, one of the last surviving gold miners in Jiufen, opened the museum 22 years ago, he says. For many miners the work exacted a heavy toll and life was short, in most cases death taking them before they were 60, Zeng says. By the time this brief trip into the past was done, the rain had stopped, and as I stepped out onto the street and back into the present a beautiful view awaited me: the port of Keelung and several small islands sitting like gems in the East China Sea. Because of poor transport at the time, whoever went out of the then village, located in what is now Ruifang district of Xinbei city, usually bought everything in nine packages, one for each family.
But when gold was discovered there in 1893 the mountain-side village was transformed into a town in which 40,000 people eventually lived, and tightly packed buildings eventually competed with one another on the hillsides, linked with labyrinth of narrow, winding paths. The Japanese colonizers of Taiwan between 1895 and 1945 took control of the gold reserves along with the Yan family in the town of Keelung, near Jiufen. Predictably, as the gold resources began to dwindle in the late 1950s, the town's life blood seeped slowly away and by the early 1970s the gold was finished and the town became a sleepy relic of what it had been for nearly 80 years. But it started to attract artists with its beautiful landscape, winding paths and old buildings, and as sculptors and ceramic artists began to move in there was a mini renaissance. That began to be cemented in the early 1990s after the release of the film A City of Sadness, which was filmed in Jiufen, and which won the Gold Lion award at the 46th Venice Film Festival in 1989. The town has now become a tourist magnet, and its shops, restaurants, teahouses, cafe and home-stay inns have become thriving businesses. Also in 2016 from the cruise industry, Royal Caribbean launches the world's largest ship, and a new ship from Carnival features a biking track suspended high above the water. Crystal Cruises has just launched Crystal Esprit, a 62-guest yacht that offers among its excursions a ride in a submersible vessel. Later this year, Crystal launches a yacht for river cruising in Europe, Crystal Mozart, with four more river yachts in 2017.
Fathom, a new brand from Carnival Corp., offers "voluntourism" trips to the Dominican Republic in April and to Cuba in May.


New from Celebrity Cruises: Passengers on certain sailings in the Caribbean and Europe are participating in the Chef Market Discoveries program, in which they shop with chefs in local markets for ingredients used in the meals they'll eat onboard that night. New from Princess Cruises: Chocolate Journeys with chocolate-infused menus and other treats designed by chocolatier Norman Love, plus menus by celebrity chef Curtis Stone, on-deck stargazing in a partnership with Discovery Channel, and a magic show and musical revue, "Magic to Do", with music by Broadway composer Stephen Schwartz of "Wicked" and "Godspell" fame. Disney Cruise Line features a "Star Wars" day on each of eight Disney Fantasy ship sailings in the Western Caribbean beginning this month, with "Star Wars" characters, activities and themed celebrations. In June, Royal Caribbean launches what will be the world's largest ship, Harmony of the Seas, with a capacity of 5,479 passengers.
Carnival Cruise Line launches its largest ship in May, Carnival Vista, which can carry 3,954 people based on two per cabin.
Norwegian Cruise Line's newest ship, Escape, debuted in the fall of 2015 with an urban craft beer hall, Mondavi wine bar, a Margaritaville and a tapas bar. Regent Seven Seas Explorer launches in July with the $10,000-a-night super-luxurious Regent Suite, complete with private spa and grand piano. Seabourn expects its first new ship in five years, Seabourn Encore, to be delivered in December for a January 2017 launch.
And Cunard is renovating the Queen Mary 2, adding staterooms for solo travelers and expanding the number of onboard kennels where guests are permitted to keep their dogs. More than 700 years ago, Zhou Daguan, a Chinese diplomat, recorded for posterity details of his stay in Angkor in The Customs of Cambodia, a work that would one day play a key role in the discovery of the abandoned, forest-clad Angkor by the French. Apart from the book, the brick and stone temples that remain are the only tangible way for us of the 21st century to get to know about the art and civilization of the mysterious Khmer Empire of the 9th-14th centuries.
Angkor Wat was built as a state temple dedicated to Vishnu, one of the Hindu trinity, in the early 12th century.
Like other Khmer architecture, the temple boasts pyramids created by stepped terraces that symbolize a temple-mountain and concentric galleries of elegant bas-reliefs. It is one of the world's largest religious monuments, a miniature of the Hindu universe, with its five central towers representing the peaks of Mount Meru. The first carvings at the main entrance to catch the eye are the beautiful apsaras, female divinities in Hindu mythology.
You have to cross a 350-meter-long causeway before climbing steep stairs to the central shrine at the towers. The causeway's balustrades are in the form of nagas, or seven-headed serpents, with guardian stone lions next to them. One thing to be keenly aware of before you visit Angkor Wat is that the view you get of will differ markedly depending on what time of day you are there; the views of sunrise and those of sunset are world's apart. Outside the central temple complex are the well-known intricate bas-reliefs about historical events and Hindu mythology.
One 49-meter-long panel depicts 88 gods and 92 asuras pulling the body of a giant naga to churn the Sea of Milk for 1,000 years to produce amrita, the elixir of immortality. The gods keep their promise to give half of the amrita to asuras, but the latter try to steal it.
You can easily see that the churning created dancing apsaras and various marine life such as fishes, crocodiles and turtles.
Another place that offers fantastic narrative bas-reliefs is the Bayon Temple at Angkor Thom.
On the upper terrace of the temple 37 face-towers remain, just like a chain of mountain peaks.
Just like the smile of Mona Lisa, their smiling faces make people feel peaceful and ponder over life. In front of the gate is a road above a moat lined by two rows of figures each carrying the body of a giant naga - gods and asuras respectively.
The heart of Angkor Thom is the 330-meter long Elephant Terrace, with carvings of elephants with mahouts along its walls.
Next to it is the Leper King Terrace, carved with mythological scenes such as nagas and deities with swords.
The best way to travel around the city is by tuk tuk, a motorcycle that pulls a two-wheeled trailer. The winding tree roots twine around the remaining structures, making this place like a wonderland. Our tuk tuk driver told us that more and more young people are learning English and even Mandarin to get a decent job in tourism.
In scenic spots it is not just the scenery that you spot, but adorable children as well, touting cheap souvenirs such as magnets and postcards in Mandarin and English.
The urge to help them by buying their wares is almost irresistible, until you consider that if you hand over your money some parents will keep their children out of school so they can make easy money this way.
Instead, you can donate things such as clothes and stationery to schools or local NGOs and stay a little longer to do volunteer work.
Dagu Glacier on the Qinghai-Tibet Plateau is thought to have been formed millions of years ago, but it remained unknown until 1992, when scientists discovered it through satellite images. Located in Heishui county in the Aba Tibet autonomous prefecture of Southwest China's Sichuan province, the glacier is 280 kilometers northwest of Chengdu, the provincial capital, making it among the world's rarest ice bodies to be at close proximity of a full-fledged urban space. Dagu can swell up to 200 meters in thickness and covers an area of 8.25 square kilometers along three adjacent mountains, with the highest being at around 4,600 meters above sea level. Heishui River that originates from the glacier runs through a small village where some 30 Tibetan families live. But with all its pretty houses made of wood, earth and tiles, the village has become a tourist spot now, thanks to Dagu.
The Tibetan families still maintain their traditional lifestyle, raising yaks, picking herbs and running small eateries for travelers. Nearly 90,000 soldiers of the Red Army crossed the village from 1935-36 and were warmly welcomed by its residents during the Long March from China's south to its north. In 2003, provincial authorities stepped up efforts to protect the primeval forests and wildlife here, especially the rare Sichuan snub-nosed monkey.
The national park was later established and a network of cable cars was built to afford visitors stunning views of the glacier. Travel time to the glacier's base from a point by a cable car is roughly 15 minutes and a sightseeing tour is usually completed within two hours.
The change in colors of leaves through the four seasons gives the park an additional touch of charm.
The forests are mostly temperate deciduous, with glacial erosion landforms featuring sharp gravel and detritus on the higher reaches of the mountains. According to the local tourism bureau, the glacier sees 130,000 to 150,000 visitors every year.
Although the river and lakes have enough water to nurture the forests and wildlife, the shrinking of Dagu is a worrisome reminder of the harmful effects of global warming.
Top: The magnificent view of the glacier attracts 130,000 to 150,000 visitors every year to the national park, 280 kilometers northwest of Chengdu, Sichuan province. Back then, Songpan used to be an important source of biodiversity because of its location near the origin of Minjiang River, between the Qinghai-Tibet Plateau and the Sichuan Basin. During his visits, the late British botanist took many photos of the city and praised its weather, landscape, ethnic food and culture in eulogies.
The local government has installed a statue of Wilson to honor his contributions in making Songpan known to the world by way of photos and writings. Songpan was a hub for trade in tea, herbs, salt and cattle between western China and Central Asia, as well as a base for imperial China's military forces since the Tang Dynasty (AD 618-907).
The city's profile rose further in the early Ming Dynasty (1368-1644), when a general from northern China built a wall with many gates and watch towers. The wall of black bricks, made from rocks of a nearby mountain, is more than 6 kilometers long and 12 meters high. The watch towers are taller and broader compared with similar structures in Nanjing, the first Ming capital, in East China's Jiangsu province. Late Ming rulers consolidated the 60-year-old wall project, making Songpan one of the country's most impenetrable cities at the time.
The city gates served as shelters from air raids during the War of Resistance Against Japanese Aggression (1937-45).
As dusk approached, we drank a beer and enjoyed the silence, which was broken only by our captain performing acrobatic dives from the hull into the warm, clear water. The museum ($5 admission) houses a modest collection of ancient artifacts, but you can probably skip it if you're planning on heading to Siem Reap, which has the larger and more-impressive Angkor National Museum. When the sun goes down, however, the area can feel a little seedy, and you need to be careful with your belongings. From here, most head to the splendid ruins of the north or to the relaxing beaches and sea views of the southwest. This coastal city has a beach for all tastes: from Serendipity and Ochheauteal, backpacker favorites and nighttime party spots, to Otres, a laid-back stretch about 10 minutes from the center. Those in town for only a day or two will probably be content with the smaller of the two, which includes Angkor Wat and Bayon. Guides offer free tours and most themselves are former soldiers who can regale visitors with firsthand accounts of the conflict. In the dry season (November to April), you can see the tall stilts that support the houses, offering an otherworldly experience. Most of the city's nightlife is spread between three areas - Old Market, Wat Damnak and Wat Bo - and all have an abundance of bars, restaurants, markets, and massage parlors.
Try to fill out the paperwork on the plane to save time, and if possible pay with the exact money.
Also, the people casually offering incense near statues will expect money if you take it off them. However, carefully research any orphanage you plan to visit, as some are scams using children to profit from the so-called pity industry. It would also give money to design a path along the shoreline for pedestrians and bicyclists. The Grand Bazaar will undergo a renovation that will last a decade and cost tens of millions of dollars. The cost is estimated at $33.5 million which will be largely financed by the Turkish authorities.
Bargaining with the multilingual, friendly but famously hard-nosed shop-holders is all part of the experience. Engineers will build concrete tunnels through them to allow water, rain and discharges to pass and also to carry the electrical wiring which still hangs above from the bazaar's walls. If all you have is an hour or so for a quick getaway, your best bet is probably a visit to the city's famous Khan el-Khalili Bazaar that has been operating since the 14th century. But be prepared to hone your bargaining skills ahead of time - the merchants here are expert negotiators and have been known to start their offers at three to four times the actual market value. Al-Fishawi is the most well-known shop and is legendary for being open consecutively for centuries. Located just behind the Khan, Muizz Street is lined with several monumental and beautiful mosques and was recently renovated with new paving and lighting - making for a dramatic and lovely nighttime visit with fewer tourists.
But once you've got the essentials covered, including whatever monuments and museums are on your list, consider spending a few hours in Dupont Circle, a neighborhood with gems that range from a popular indie bookstore to a beer brewer's Victorian mansion.
Through May 8, "Seeing Nature" offers 39 paintings from five centuries, including Impressionist works and David Hockney's large, colorful 1998 depiction of the Grand Canyon.
On one block, a white statue of Saraswati, the Hindu goddess of knowledge, graces the Indonesian embassy, while the flag of Portugal flies from the embassy next door.
On the second floor of 1702 Connecticut Ave., the Secondi consignment store sells designer finds, ranging from a DVF wrap dress for $98 to a Chanel coat for more than $1,000.
There are 13 hot springs in the 1,577-square-kilometer Wuyi county in the heart of Zhejiang province. And a short trek up a tortuous road leads me to Tangfeng Hot Springs, one of the few major facilities in Wuyi. The middle-aged man used to be a lawyer but fell in love with hot springs while he was on a business trip to Japan in the 1990s. The area contains Qing Hot Springs, a park containing ancient residences and a fluorite museum.
Most of guests, often from neighboring cities like Shanghai, drop by after enjoying a hot spring treatment. Panajachel is the lake's economic hub and jumping-off point for many tourists visiting the area. Occasionally I encountered young children in traditional dress skipping down the road or kicking rocks. State Department warns American travelers that crime and violence in Guatemala are serious problems, I can honestly say that I never felt unsafe in the Lake Atitlan region. The white icing on this supposedly appetizing cake was two days of heavy snow that had just fallen in the area. However, the day we headed for the park, when it was-10 C, autumn colors were the last thing I expected to see. Despite the terminology, it seemed to us that there was in fact no gate, at least not one big enough for us to notice. As I stepped out of the car I found myself knee-deep in snow, and feeling every one of those 10 degrees below the zero mark.
At this time of the year it rents out ski equipment, but because pets are barred from the well-groomed ski trails, that seemed to rule us out as customers. The four-month old was so excited to be in the snow that I think he was deliberately throwing himself into the thickest piles. We were standing on a vast landscape, nothing but a smooth and neat surface covered with pure white snow, glistening in the occasional sunlight. A gust of wind then swept through the pine trees by the lakeside, somehow incredibly forceful but oh so tranquil, and at once very familiar but also fresh. Norman Bethune's life, the Bethune Memorial House National Historic Site is worth a visit as well. You can spend weeks beforehand doing all the homework you like, but you can always be guaranteed to return home with tales of the unexpected. Snow may look wonderful on picture postcards, but if you have had any experience of the kind of travel chaos that heavy snowfall can generate, as I had, you will understand where I am coming from and was going to. Instead of talking about things visual, as I generally do, I found myself enthusing about how impressed I was when I heard the wind whooshing through the pine trees.
Apparently it was the great pine trees that attracted one of the earliest groups of human visitors to the area hundreds of years ago. At first it was difficult to tell where lakes began and where they ended, because they looked little different from the snow-covered terrain that was free of any human traces. I imagine Hou chose Jiufen as a location for his film because it perfectly captured the mood he wanted to depict. The question now became whether my stomach was big enough to cope with all the local specialties on offer, and that was very quickly answered in the negative. The theater, with its 600 red wooden seats, and a projector that still works, has become a kind of place of pilgrimage for aficionados of Hou's film.
Eventually, wanting to break free of the tourist crowd, I turned off the street I was walking down and saw before me Jiufen Gold Ore Museum.
A notice inside a small window explained that because the museum had few staff, a bell needed to be rung to receive attention, and a woman duly came. A man in his 50s appeared and said that "this used to be my father's museum" as he gave a demonstration of the traditional way of turning raw gold into a product for sale, including how to wash it and grind it.
More than 80 gold pits operated at the height of the gold boom, and many of its inhabitants led affluent lives in a buzzing town that never seemed to sleep. Many of those who visit the town are there for less than a day, so one way of experiencing it at its quietest best is to stay for a night or two. And for cruisers with deep pockets, luxuries range from round-the-clock personal assistants to long-term leases for residences at sea. The underwater excursions take place near the Seychelles islands in winter and on the Adriatic Coast in spring and summer.
Crystal is also getting into the airplane business with charter flights on four jets connecting to trips by ship and on land.
Carnival is still negotiating details on the Cuba trips with the Cuban government but tickets are on sale. In June, the Disney Magic ship will sail its first British Isles itinerary, to Scotland, England and Ireland. Harmony will feature the "neighborhood" areas already found on other Royal Caribbean ships, including Central Park and Boardwalk.
Vista's showcase attraction, SkyRide, lets guests cycle on bikes suspended from an 800-foot long track, 20 feet above the top deck and 150 feet above the water. Norwegian is also introducing a new "Free at Sea" promotion inviting guests to pick a free amenity from four options: A beverage package, specialty dining package, excursion credits or WiFi package. There are more than 2,000 of these in the temple, with different expressions, postures and hairstyles. Traditional belief has it that this is a rainbow bridge that links the world of humans with that of the gods.
At dawn, about 7 am, many gather at a pond near the causeway to enjoy the temple's pretty silhouette and reflection. It shows historical battles on water and on land, and the daily lives of people in the early 13th century. When you are inspecting the walls a cursory look will not do; look closely and you will see fascinating scenes and vivid detail. There are carvings of lion-head men and garuda (bird-man, Vishnu's vehicle), with raised arms as if they are supporting the terrace. The main entrance is just a pile of giant stones and you have to walk on a wooden path built in recent years, if you want to explore further. The daily income of a Chinese-speaking tour guide is twice that of those who speak English, because of the demand.
At the center of a large national park, the glacier is situated amid one of the country's least-populated places. While the residents have revered the mountains for generations, even they didn't know of the glacier's existence as it remained hidden in the snow. A temporary conference venue for the troops and their barracks have also become places of historical interest. But the favorite season for many tourists is fall, when the forests blaze in hues of gold and red. They have also served as ready references for the authorities while rebuilding parts of the ancient structures other than the city's well-preserved wall.
The palace is open 9-11 am and 2-5 pm, but its best to visit early to avoid the afternoon heat. Alternatively, you can arrive there by tuk tuk and hire a park ranger to lead you on a walking tour (usually $5, although best to call ahead). However, if you do have the time, doing both circuits and adding a third day to see sites further out, such as the 1,000 year-old Banteay Srei or the jungle-covered Beng Melea, is well worth it to see the variations in carving styles and architecture. Most of our wildlife is outside protected areas, so it is the farmers who are the stewards. It's unclear how much legislators might plan to spend now; the latest version of the bill did not include a dollar amounts. Here you can get a brief taste of Cairo's feverish pace in an old-style marketplace of cramped, maze-like alleyways filled with merchants peddling their wares to tourists and Egyptians alike.
As long as you don't mind the haggling, and don't get bogged down in it for too long, it can be an entertaining part of the experience. The area also includes a gas station on the National Register of Historic Places and the Phillips Collection, a modern art museum.
In the museum's permanent collection, be sure to see Renoir's lively "Luncheon of the Boating Party," and spend a moment in the Laib Wax Room, a closet-sized space lined with fragrant, yellow beeswax.
He survived Prohibition by temporarily turning his beer business into an ice-distribution company, and he was still making beer when he died in 1945 at age 102. This spring, a company called DC Brau plans to launch a new beer inspired by Heurich's legacy. The gas station was built in 1936 by Gulf Oil to look more like a bank or library than a filling station.
You'll also find dim sum restaurants, a Shake Shack, empanadas (Julia's), tapas (Boqueria) and the local Teaism chain, among many other eateries. It's located about 2 miles from Santa Catarina Palopo, the village I was in as I encountered the man. During my walks, I was able to take in spectacular views of the lake and watch as the sun slipped behind volcanoes.
Note that Guatemala is listed on the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention list of countries where mosquitoes carry the Zika virus. Take Ontario Provincial Highway 404 on to Highway 11, and then onto highway 60, which will lead you straight into the park. Rachel, my friend and traveling companion who has plenty of local experience, reckons the local snow removal companies do a great job. But the nearer you got to the surface of a frozen lake surface the easier it became to tell what you were looking at.
I latched on to a group of people who were ambling along, and we ended up in a cobblestoned lane that turned out to be a mecca for food. After I ordered three for NT$100, about 20 yuan, the stall keeper picked up three from the stove and removed the meat from the shells, before slicing it and coating it with sauce. It turned out to be cakes made of pork cooked in wine sauce and coated with sweet potato powder. In the town's halcyon days the theater served as a social meeting place, somewhere to unwind for those who had toiled away during the day looking for gold. And later this year Crystal launches residences at sea, with long-term leases for staterooms on three new ocean vessels, prices to be determined. Passengers will work with locals on everything from learning English to reforestation, while immersing themselves in the culture. Harmony will also have robot bartenders, a mini-golf course, surfing on a FlowRider machine, waterslides, a zip line and, for guests who need their every whim catered to, round-the-clock personal assistants called Royal Genies. HAL is also collaborating with a travel planning service called Utrip so guests can go online and create customized shore itineraries. Viking, once known just for river cruises, is launching the second of its ocean-going ships, Viking Sea, in April, a sister ship to Viking Star, launched last year. The Khmer soldiers have short hair and are often armed with shields and spears, and their commanders ride elephants.
For example, Chinese place bets on a cockfight, women weigh their goods in the market and there is a troupe of jugglers.
The broken naga sculptures, lintels with carvings and pillars everywhere try to tell their stories to visitors - in vain, alas!
Set against the reflection of blue lakes that are surrounded by snow-capped mountains, the experience is balmy, especially for city dwellers. Check your change, though, as stores and restaurants will not accept notes that are even slightly ripped, nor can you use $2 notes. Be sure to get off the main drag and venture into the arched inner alleys for a more intimate take of the sights, smells and sounds. It's a Sunoco station today, with "SNACK SHOP" written on the tidy building that helped earn its historic designation. Another new Royal Caribbean ship, Ovation of the Seas, debuts in April, designed primarily for service in China.



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