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Maldives

Asia

The 1190 low-lying coral islands that make up the Maldives are so small that dry land makes up one percent of the country’s tota...

string(8867) "The 1190 low-lying coral islands that make up the Maldives are so small that dry land makes up one percent of the country’s total territory. The 26 coral atoll nation is situated southwest of the southern tip of India and Sri Lanka in the Indian Ocean, extending across the equator in a north-south strip. Capital and major centres Malé is a small, quaint capital city and the hub of the Malé Atoll. This chain, comprising the old North and South Malé Atolls, stretches for more than 120 kilometres from north to south, but only 10 of its islands are inhabited; some used for specific purposes. For instance, Funadhoo is an island where oil is stored; Thulusdhoo has two factories, Dhiffushi is a fishing island and Kuda Bandos is a picnic island for the general public. Malé is tiny when compared to other capital cities, however, it houses one third of the total population of the Maldives. Malé is different to the other atolls in the archipelago with its high-rise buildings, paved streets and small parks dotted about the city. Seawalls surround Malé and there are no beaches although an artificially landscaped beach now stretches to the new harbour in the southwest. To the west is the Alifu or Ari Atoll, in the north is the large island of Thoddu, and to the south of Alifu Atoll is the Faafu Atoll and the island of Nilandhoo. In the Laamu Atoll are Isdhoo and Gadhdhoo, both of which feature impressive ruins. The Huvadhu Atoll is the largest true atoll formation in the world, with a huge lagoon and in the Gnaviyani Atoll is Fuamulaku, one of the most fertile areas in the Maldives. Meedhoo is located in the southernmost atoll of Seenu and is one of the rarest naturally protected atolls in the entire archipelago. The people The inhabitants of the Maldives are thought to have descended from both Southern India’s Dravidians and Aryans from India and Ceylon. Dhivehi, the national language, is Indo-Aryan in origin and found only in the Maldives. A contemporary Dhivehi culture is strong, despite many foreign influences, which range from Hindi movies and oriental martial arts, to Western music and Muslim fundamentalism. It has been an Islamic nation since 1153 AD when the king converted the entire country from Buddhism. The religion is a delicate blend of traditional and modern ideals, with women having more freedom than in other Muslim countries. English is widely spoken in Malé, the capital, and on all the resort islands, and on Seenu, or Addu Atoll, where a British air base was formerly located. Nature The brilliantly coloured coral reefs result in the Maldivian seascape being among the most beautiful in the world. Since natural fauna is sparse, the most exciting wildlife is found under the water. If you visit the Maldives, make sure you grab a mask and snorkel so that you can discover amazing corals and fish such as butterfly fish, angel fish, parrot fish, rock cod, unicorn fish, trumpet fish and bluestripe snapper. Other marine life includes molluscs, clams and crabs while sharks, stingrays, manta rays, turtles and dolphins may also be spotted. While the larger, wetter islands have small areas of rainforest, for the most part plant life is limited. The most common plants include pandanus, banana, mangroves, breadfruit trees, banyans, tropical vines and coconut palms; and the main crops are sweet potatoes, yams, taro, millet and watermelon, citrus fruits and pineapples. Tropical flowers are found in abundance and grow either in the wild or are cultivated in gardens. There are 100 species of birds, most of them migratory. Other fauna includes giant fruit bats and tree shrews, lizards, skinks, rhinoceros beetles, paper wasps and colourful butterflies. The sights The capital city of Malé is only about two kilometres long and one kilometre wide but is neatly packed with buildings, roads and public spaces. The mosques, markets and small streets give it a charm of its own. The National Museum houses exhibits of the sultans’ belongings and some archaeological discoveries, while the nearby Sultan Park is a pleasant place for a stroll. The imposing white three-storey Islamic Centre & Grand Friday Mosque holds more than 5000 worshippers and dominates the city’s skyline. The oldest of the 20-plus mosques in Malé is the Hukuru Miskiiy, famed for its intricate stone carvings. Friday Mosque on Isdhoo is more than three centuries old and features lacquered supports, flowing calligraphy and finely carved rafters. Gadhdhoo is home to one of the Maldives’ most impressive ruins, from which rises an enormous stupenda, formerly a huge, white limestone pyramid. The solitary and exceptionally fertile island of Fuamulaku produces vegetables and fruits such as mangoes, oranges and pineapples, which are not grown anywhere else in the country. Baa Atoll is famous for its handicrafts, which include lacquer work and finely woven cotton felis (traditional sarongs). Where to stay The wide variety of accommodation ranges from island resorts and hotels to modern, motel-style rooms and guesthouses, with more on offer in the high-end range. Hotel rates usually include full board. There are also yachts and yachtdhonis, specially converted Maldivian vessels licensed to sleep guests. Developed on uninhabited islands, some exclusive hotels accommodate a limited number of guests while some cater more or less exclusively to certain nationalities, notably Italian, German, French and Japanese visitors. Some resorts have better access to specific dive sites, local villages, or Malé than others and while all offer scuba diving, some are known as hardcore divers’ destinations. Bungalows equipped with modern conveniences and en suite facilities offer magnificent views. Getting around Transfers between the islands are by either dhoni (local boats), speedboat or seaplane. Transfers for visitors with confirmed reservations in the Maldives are arranged by the host. Taxis, private cars, motorcycles and bicycles are used for transport on the larger islands including Malé and Addu Atoll. There are two companies operating regular seaplane services in the Maldives. Tourism is strictly regulated, and independent travel is discouraged as it is seen as disruptive to traditional island communities. Cruising across all atolls is now allowed with a permit. Food and entertainment Almost everything needs to be imported in the Maldives, except for fish, coconut and some fruit such as watermelon and banana. Fish and rice are the staple foods of Maldivians, with meat and chicken eaten only on special occasions. While there are strict local laws against the consumption of alcohol, liquor is freely available at the resorts. The local brew, raa, is a sweet liquid from the crown of the palm trunk. Maldivian men enjoy ‘short eats’ (small snacks) in the many small teahouses. Nightlife in Malé is confined to these teahouses and a few Western-style restaurants. Various resorts offer weekly dances with live music from local musicians and tourists are encouraged to hire boats and attend the dances on other islands. Activities Seenu, the ‘second city’ of the Maldives, is the best base from which to visit traditional Maldivian island communities, while Gan is linked by causeways to the adjacent islands and a bicycle is the easiest way to get around and see village life. For those keen to learn to dive, all resort islands have schools run by fully qualified instructors, while some offer training up to professional diver level. The warm lagoon has coral gardens, turtles, shells, crustaceans and schools of brilliantly coloured fish. Trips in dhonis visit some of the best fishing grounds in the world. Night fishing expeditions for snapper and barracuda or dawn excursions seeking tuna, dolphin, fish and rainbow runners are excellent. Other pursuits include cruising from atoll to atoll in boats with bunk beds or private cabins, yachting with professional crews, waterskiing, windsurfing, parasailing, and beach volleyball. Shopping Malé is the best place in the Maldives for shopping, and has minimum duty on most items. Best buys include reed mats and lacquered wooden boxes, woven sarongs called ‘felis’ in wide black and white stripes, Chinese ceramics, electronic items and souvenirs such as coral rings and sea shells. Climate It is warm and tropical throughout the year with a cooling sea breeze. The average daily temperature is between 25°C and 32°C. What to wear Light, informal cotton and linen clothing is recommended. Most resorts do not enforce any dress regulations. In Malé visitors must wear appropriate attire and cover up. Currency The currency is Maldivian Rufiyaa. Credit cards are accepted at resorts, as well as with travellers cheques and tipping is not discouraged. "
Palau

Micronesia, Pacific

This pristine paradise is a dream destination. Like giant green mushrooms scattered across a tranquil turquoise lagoon, the lim...

string(2610) "This pristine paradise is a dream destination. Like giant green mushrooms scattered across a tranquil turquoise lagoon, the limestone Rock Islands of Palau seen from the air are one of the most exquisite creations of nature found in the world. The spectacular Rock Islands Southern Lagoon was inscribed onto the UNESCO World Heritage list in 2012. But that’s just the beginning. From sunburnt volcanic savannahs to forests concealing endemic plant and bird life, to coral atolls and reefs teeming with marine life, the Republic of Palau is truly Nature at her most majestic. Within this archipelago is a marine diversity higher than most of Micronesia. Sharks thrive in waters that in 2009 became the world’s first shark sanctuary, setting an example that has been followed by many other island destinations. Palau’s rare dugong, known locally as the mesekiu, as well as endangered species such as the hawksbill turtle, or the chambered nautilus, a deep water shell species that inhabits only a few Pacific islands, can be found here. Not only does Palau protect its marine life, it puts new species on the lists. Trapped in an enclosed body of water, the mastigias of Jellyfish Lake have completely lost their sting because they have not had to repel predators. Instead, they spend their days in privileged leisure, pulsating gently from one side of the marine lake to the other while catching the sun’s rays and farming their own food supply of algae. Snorkelling surrounded by them is fascinating and surreal. Discovered in one of Palau’s deep underwater caves, a prehistoric eel was named Protoanguilla Palau as recently as 2011. Rainbow-filled walls and channels on the fringe reef provide homes for at least 1450 species of reef fish and 400 species of reef-building hard corals, as well as 150 species of soft corals, gorgonians, and sea pens. Some of the famous residents and visitors include manta rays, black or red snappers, napoleon wrasse, bumphead parrot fish and pelagic species including the colossal whaleshark, marlins, and tornados of schooling barracudas. Outside of the reef are sports fishing opportunities beyond your wildest dreams and fully equipped charters to bring back the proverbial “big one”. A democratic country that still abides by its culture and traditional leadership, Palauan villages were, and still are, traditionally organised around matrilineal clans. Men and women had defined roles. A council of chiefs governs the villages, while a parallel council of women holds an advisory role in the control of land, money and the selection of chiefs."
North Bali & Other Regions

Bali, Indonesia, Asia

Renowned for its variety of picturesque landscapes, lovely beaches and villages where traditional ways are preserved. There are...

string(2859) "Renowned for its variety of picturesque landscapes, lovely beaches and villages where traditional ways are preserved. There are a number of other regions on the island of Bali which are popular with travellers. On the northeastern coast lies the small village of Tulamben which has a friendly atmosphere and wonderful food. Tulamben is best known for spectacular dive spots including a drop-off and the sunken American ship, Liberty, torpedoed by the Japanese in 1942. Now encrusted with marine flora, it is home to thousands of tropical fish. The area boasts picturesque rice fields with massive black rivers of volcanic rubble from the 1963 eruption of Gunung Agung. As Bali’s highest and most revered volcano, it dominates the easternmost district of Karangasem which is not only renowned for its variety of scenic landscapes and lovely beaches but also for villages such as Manggis where traditional ways are preserved. The mountainous region of Kintamani is located in the northeast of Bali and centres around the spectacular caldera of Gunung Batur with its deep crater lake and hot springs. Kintamani has a range of accommodation but is easily accessible for day trips from Kuta. It is great for trekking, sightseeing and shopping. Gunung Batur is still active but much of the crater is farmed by villagers with water from Lake Danau Batur. Every three days, a colourful market is held where fresh produce and handmade clothing is sold. In the northwestern corner of Bali is Pemuteran, a small village untouched by tourism. Bordered by the Java Sea and jagged mountain ranges, the area is too dry for rice cultivation so the local people traditionally live off the sea. Following years of destructive fishing around the offshore coral reef, a conservation project has been instituted. This has resulted in greatly increased numbers of marine life, perfect for snorkelling and diving. Visitors to Pemuteran may also be interested in Menjangan Island just off the coast, the dramatic Pulaki Temple which is perched on the side of a cliff, the botanical gardens at Bedugul and Sing Sing waterfall. Natural wonders continue to be a drawcard in the west of the island. The Bali Barat National Park is renown for its dive sites, flora, fauna, great trekking and pristine, beautiful beaches. Off the east coast is Nusa Lembongan, a small island covered with coconut trees, mangrove forests and small farms. Most people visit Nusa Lembongan to enjoy its quiet beaches, surfing or diving on day cruises from Bali. The village of Jungutbatu is charming with quiet lanes and a few temples. A popular temple is Pura Segara, which has an enormous banyan tree within its complex. About four kilometres away is Lembongan Village where visitors can take a tour of the eerie underground house where a man excavated his cave with a spoon."
Savai’I

Samoa, Pacific

Scenic Savai’i is Samoa’s largest island at 80 kilometres long and 40 kilometres wide. Less populated, it is renowned for its ...

string(2204) "Scenic Savai’i is Samoa’s largest island at 80 kilometres long and 40 kilometres wide. Less populated, it is renowned for its slower pace, natural beauty, and lava fields. Its size and lack of population make Savai’i the ideal place to get away from it all, immerse yourself in true Polynesian culture and explore incredible landscapes. Savai’i is accessible by ferry from Upolu. The island’s main town and arrival point for ferries from Upolu is Salelologa in the southeast, accessible by the main road that encircles the island. Savai’i has plenty of pristine beaches, caves, blowholes, great snorkelling, kayaking and diving. Near Salelologa, in the southeast, the Afu Aau Falls plunge down a rock face to a deep freshwater pool. Stroll across the dramatic Saleaula lava fields where molten lava from the Mt Matavanu eruption buried five villages over a century ago. In the interior, Mount Silisili is Samoa’s highest peak. In the west, the Falealupo Rainforest Preserve features the Canopy Walkway. Cape Mulinuu is Samoa’s westernmost point, according to legend, this is also the place where the dead pass into the underworld. There are several archeological sites of interest in this area including Devil’s Haden, Vaatausili’s Cave, Paepae o Apaula, Vai Sua Toto (Blood Well), Lualotooalii Pool, Spirits Meeting Ground, and Fusipotopoto Pool. Aganoa Beach, on the southeast coast, is renowned for surfing. A wide range of accommodation options are available in Savai’i along with some of the best local food experiences in Samoa. Getting around is easy. Rental cars are available or can be brought over from Upolu by ferry. All visiting drivers in Samoa must have a temporary drivers’ licence. Riding one of Samoa’s brightly coloured buses is a must-do local experience. In Salelologa, buses depart from the wharf or market. There are no bus stops, simply wait on the side of the road and wave your bus down. Bicycles are another popular way for visitors get around Savai’i, and you can hire a bike or join a guided bike tour of the island. Taxis are reasonably priced but don’t have meters so its it’s best to agree on a price at the start. "
cook islands aitutaki the vaka lagoon cruise Aitutaki

Cook Islands, Pacific

Aitutaki, the second most visited island in the Cook Islands group, is geologically part volcanic and part atoll. Just 220 kilo...

string(2700) " Aitutaki, the second most visited island in the Cook Islands group, is geologically part volcanic and part atoll. Just 220 kilometers north and an easy 45 minute flight from Rarotonga, its lagoon is considered one of the most magnificient in the world. Local legend claims that its highest hill, Maungapu, is said to be the top of Rarotonga’s Raemaru mountain that was chopped off and brought back by victorious Aitutaki warriors. Polynesian myth holds that beautiful Aitutaki is a giant fish tethered to the seabed by a vine from the air. The light turquoise lagoon looks like a huge pale oyster against the vivid blue ocean. Captain Bligh discovered Aitutaki in 1789, only 17 days before the notorious mutiny on the Bounty. Christian missionaries followed which meant it was the first island in the Cook Islands to receive Christianity. Today the people live in villages along the coastline and island interior. Most roads are tar sealed and transport is mainly by motor scooter, although bicycles and cars are also used to get people around. The low rolling hills of the island are flanked by banana plantations and coconut groves. A triangular barrier reef seems to catch the exquisite turquoise Aitutaki lagoon like a giant fishhook. The crystal clear water in the lagoon is ideal for sailing, swimming, snorkeling, kitesurfing, stand-up paddle boarding, kayaking, and scuba diving and beneath the blue surface is a world of sea creatures that will leave you fascinated. There’s also the elusive fighting bonefish which is favoured by anglers. To reach the summit of Maungapu, take a leisurely half-hour walk to the west side of the island. At its peak you’ll discover a breathtaking view of Aitutaki. The shopping and business district is between Amuri and Ureia and also clustered near the wharf at Arutanga. Aitutaki offers a range of accommodation for any budget and there are a few restaurants and cafés on the island for your dining pleasure. Live entertainment can be found at hotels or local watering holes. Be sure to book a full-day lagoon cruise. There will be plenty of snorkelling opportunities and you can even hand feed schools of tropical fish and see giant clams up close. Some operators offer snorkelling gear and towels and serve a barbecue lunch when you arrive on an island. A cultural day tour is an opportunity to discover, and interact with a culture that was hidden for 200 years as a result of the inf luence of the new culture that was adopted in 1821. Punarei Culture Village offers visitors the experience of engaging in some cultural practices such as making umukai, sharing stories of the ancient past and visiting sacred and scenic sites. "
East Coast Thailand

Thailand, Asia

The Gulf of Thailand offers a host of resorts where Thais and foreigners can unwind, relax on the superb beaches and enjoy the suc...

string(2641) "The Gulf of Thailand offers a host of resorts where Thais and foreigners can unwind, relax on the superb beaches and enjoy the succulent bounties of the sea. It is also home to magnificent mountains, waterfalls and lush tropical vegetation. Pattaya, in the province of Chonburi, lies 150 kilometres east of Bangkok and is one of Thailand’s best known beach resorts. It is a developed, vibrant city that draws families (mostly to Jomtien, two kilometres south of Pattaya) and singles (mostly to South Pattaya Road). It attracts visitors who love watersports and golf, as well as those looking for entertainment, dancing and action in its neon-lit go-go bars, nightclubs, cabarets and discos. For visitors looking for other activities, the Khao Kheow Zoo has more than 50 species of birds and animals, including deer, zebras and tigers, many of them indigenous to Southeast Asia. Each October, buffalo racing is held in conjunction with a fair, and there’s also a buffalo beauty contest. Since the 15th century, Chanthaburi has been known to Western travellers for its abundance of gemstones, and is as renown for gems worldwide as Bangkok. More than 70 percent of the world’s rubies come from Thailand, and Thai workers have a reputation for their skill and dexterity in faceting stones. Of all the Thai gemstones, deep blue sapphires and blood red rubies are the most highly prized, as are unusually coloured (such as yellow) sapphires. Covering an area of just 59 kilometres, Khao Kitchakut National Park is one of the country’s smallest and boasts a 1000-metre granite mountain after which the park is named. Many people make the four-hour climb to the summit of the impressive Phrabat mountains to see an image of the Buddha’s footprint and collections of natural rock formations shaped like an elephant, a large turtle, a pagoda and a monk’s bowl. Nearby, the far larger but less visited Khao Soi Dao Wildlife Sanctuary provides a home to many endangered species, including sun bears, spotbellied eagle owls, silver pheasants and elephants. Mountainous Ko Chang is the largest of the 50 or so islands that form the Ko Chang National Marine Park, two-thirds of which is sea. Inland exploration is difficult due to the rugged terrain, but it has excellent beaches, including the popular Sai Khao Beach, prettier and quieter Khlong Phrao Beach and the particularly beautiful beach of Ao Bang Bao in the southwest corner. The tourism industry in Ko Chang is in its infancy, a contributing factor is probably the fact that several of the islands consist solely of exclusive, privately owned resorts. "

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