As one of the world’s least densely populated country, Mongolia is a country of vast open spaces, nomads and mutton. At the countries center, along the Trans Mongolian railway lies the coldest capital city in the world, the rather bland Ulan Bator. Venturing out of the city is where you discover Mongolia’s rugged beauty and great hospitality. To the south lies Asia’s largest desert, the Gobi, which is constantly growing further into the north of China. Heading into Western Mongolia gives an immense sense of isolation. Here you find Kazakh nomads who fled Kazakhstan because of the “Russification” since 1920, and set up permanent residence in the Bayan-Ulgii province. To see the best of the country it’s suggested to tour the country using your own vehicle (or a guide), however attempting to master your own way around on public transport can be an experience in itself.
A month long tourist visa is barely enough to see even a fraction of Chinas many highlights. From its incredibly diverse cultures, amazing food, spectacular mountains and cities that sprawl seemingly endlessly in order to contain the world’s largest population as well as the second largest economy in the world, there’s a lot to enjoy. A fairly straight forward route when arriving from Vietnam can take you through the popular tourist region of Guilin, then onto some seriously stunning mountains and national parks, before heading to the modern Shanghai, the most populated city in the world, and then onward to the history and culture rich Beijing. From Beijing there is of course the mandatory trip out to the most iconic symbol of the country, the Great Wall.
To mix up the usual photo posts, here’s a video of some butterflies in Cuc Phuong National Park dancing to the unlikely sound of Drum ‘n Bass. A few minutes into the video you’ll see a slide show of some existing photos, with a few new ones thrown in as a hint of what’s to come. Enjoy.
Click HERE to watch in HD (720p)
While you may experience some lingering post war resentment as a westerner travelling through northern Vietnam, the countries raw beauty and established tourism industry help to put that all aside. Exploring the scenic karst formations by sea in Ha long bay or by land and river in Tam Coc, hiking through the mountains in the north such as the hill tribe regions around Sapa, or just cruising around the country by motorbike are great ways of experiencing the best of the countries landscapes as well as absorbing the various ways of Vietnamese life. Of course no visit to Vietnam is complete without indulging in the cheap bia hoi (draught beer) on street corners in the likable old quarter in the capital, Hanoi.
Laos new years from April 14-16 is a great time to visit the country, with its water festival that encourages a contagious mixture of cheerfulness and cheekiness, spurred on by the constant flow of water and endless supply of Beer Laos. Jumping on the back of a truck filled with a dozen locals dancing, shouting “Saibadee Pi Mai” (happy new year), and throwing buckets of water, is a trip highlight of many lucky enough to take part in the local celebrations. The festivities lasts a few days longer than the official three days, and is most intense in major cities such as Luang Prabang and the capital, Vientiane.
It appears the law making it illegal for a Laotion and a foreigner to enter a “relationship” has helped prevent the country from becoming an overly westernised tourist destination, as well as limit sex tourism – a surprising difference from neighbouring Thailand. The people are much friendlier, and while there are no beaches due to it being a landlocked country, there are plenty of sources of water to keep you entertained. There are stunning waterfalls such as those found in Luang Prabang, mysterious streams running through an endless array of caves, and hidden springs scattered throughout the country that you’ll usually just share with the locals. Of course there is also the controversial tubing in Vang Vieng where alcohol (amongst other substances), care free tourists and the river mix with often fatal consequences. This type of activity has been isolated to just the one river, so if you grab a motorbike and explore the country on your own, you’ll have no trouble discovering the beauty of real Laos.
It’s no secret that Thailand is a tourist hotspot, though surprisingly you don’t often hear people complain about too many tourists here. Not that there aren’t, they’re just about everywhere. Often loud, regularly intoxicated, and always having fun, visitors here seem to get along harmoniously, contradicting the effect they may be having on the country and its local people. When the hangover wears off, you may find the time to discover how much beauty the country has to offer. From its stunning beaches and countless diving opportunities, to its world class rock climbing on the dramatic karst limestone cliffs, or its jungles, rivers and waterfalls, there is never a shortage of natural wonders (or beer) to justify a stay of far longer than first planned.