Sunday, January 1, 2012

Places to see in 2012 - Extended Edition

In the January 2012 issue of Time Out Singapore I shared the best places to visit in 2012: Xinjiezhen, China; Guimarães, Portugal; London, England; Niagara-on-the-Lake, Canada and The Mayan Riviera, Belize.

Below, are a few more places worthy of your time before it all comes crashing down on 21/12/12.

Hong Kong
The city of Hong Kong is organized chaos at its best. Like any place with a constant whir, there is always a quiet food stall situated down a dusty lane to discover, or a corner city-view atop Victoria’s Peak, providing pause for reflection on a day well spent. And, with less than a year left on earth, spending is something you should not shy away from in The Pearl of the Orient.
What to see: "Kung Hey Fat Choy!!" The Year of the Dragon commences, Cantonese-style, on January 23, 2012. The Chinese Lunar New Year is best celebrated whilst floating on a junk boat in Victoria Harbour, being treated to an indelible fireworks display. The displays of fire are sandwiched between family-oriented fun, in the form of a colourful parade and one of the world’s largest horse races.

Hoi An, Vietnam
Hoi An is the perfect stopover between Hanoi and Saigon. Look good for your trip into the Afterlife by getting fitted for a half-dozen tailored suits. Between fittings, rent a bike or scooter and head to Cua Dai Beach (a.k.a. Chin
a Beach), a 20-km stretch of sand situated on the South China Sea.
What to see: There is no better place to be when all the lights go out, than a lantern festival. On the full-moon of every month, Hoi An’s pedestrian-only Old Town celebrates a Full Moon Festival. Electricity is shut down for the evening, and the town is solely lit by lanterns. Light your own lantern, make a wish and release the lantern into the current of the Thu
Bon River. (Photo of Hoi An's Lantern Festival by E.Z. Guler-Tuck)

Paro Valley, Bhutan
Now that the Himalayan kingdom of Bhutan is officially open for business, albeit to a select few tourists per year and for a price (up to $200/day), you can now be shuttled around by a government-approved tour guide through some of Buddhism’s most sacred sites and other awe-inspiring splendours of the Himalayas.
What to see: An hour drive west of Bhutan’s capital city, Thimphu, glued to a hill face, 900 m above the Paro Valley, is Taktsang Palphug (Tigers Nest) Monastery, the most famous of Bhutan’s monasteries. It is believed that the legendary Guru and Buddhist saint, Rimpoche, flew up there on a tigress and meditated in a cave for 3 months. The monastery was built around the cave later.
(Photo of Taksang Palphug Monastery by: Ceyda Eratalar)

Melnik, Bulgaria
For those feeling the Euro credit crunch, you might actually spend less money travelling to Bulgaria, then you would by staying home. The cosiness and warmth that Bulgaria lacks in its major cities is made up for in its countryside. Melnik, the self-declared ‘tiniest town in Bulgaria,’ lies, untouched, in Bulgaria’s up-and-coming wine region.
What to see: The chalet-like architecture of Melnik’s guesthouses and surrounding landscape are as stunning as any of its more widely romanticized Western European counterparts. Lush and rolling pastures and vineyards bleed into mountain vistas. In town, you’ll be treated to inexpensive yet palatable wine and as much sausage and Shopska salad you can handle.

This is a picture (credit: Tomek Roszkowski) of me taking a break after a short hike in the countryside around Melnik.

Budapest, Hungary
Budapest still has some warts but hey, nobody’s perfect. Besides, a sunset stroll along Chain Bridge over the Danube River will provide all the cover-up needed. ‘The Pest’ is a great European hub for cost-conscious travellers as Hungary’s low-cost airline, Wizz Air, is now flying to more and more cities.
What to see: Budapest is hosting the 2012 Euro Games, a precursor event to the Summer Olympics in London and fully supported by the London Organizing Committee (27 June – 1 July, various locations around Budapest). In between sips of Goulash soup, be sure to visit the Parliament Buildings (Kossuth Lajos tér, V. district).

White Desert, Egypt
If you are still curious to tour through Egypt, interested in visiting during its time of transition, far to the west of the din of Tahrir Square, 50 km south of the Bedouin town of Farafra, you can find peace and wondrous natural beauty among the mushroom-capped rock formations of the sprawling White Desert.
What to see: Take a short hike up one of the desert’s many white mounds and watch the sunset.
(Photo credit: Ciara Sullivan)