Monthly Archives: June 2016

Get the fresh air at the sea in San Diego

But forget the zoo and the themes parks and even Ron Burgundy. The US’ eighth-largest city offers some less conventional and even unique opportunities for appreciating its fineness by ditching terra firma and taking to the skies and the water. Here are the best options for getting a fish/bird’s-eye view of San Diego.

By air

Rooftop panorama

It can be hard to get a handle on downtown San Diego from the street. More high-rise than you might imagine and more densely-packed than other Californian cities, it is also divided into distinct districts. Happily, some of the best places to get an overview of the city are from rooftop bars which offer sensational vistas accompanied by a tempting array of cocktails.

San Diego’s harbour is dominated by the two towers of the Grand Hyatt Hotel whose 40th-floor Top of the Hyatt bar gives unbeatable sunset views over the marina. Further downtown, on 6th Avenue, the Nolen (thenolenrooftop.com) attracts a more local, fashionable crowd, downing cocktails and local craft beer while gazing down on the goings-on of the busy, eating and drinking haven that is the Gaslamp Quarter.

Paragliding

Further north in La Jolla, paragliders emerge each morning from the clifftops at Torrey Pines. Taking advantage of the unique soaring conditions (westerly sea breezes deflected upwards by the sandstone cliffs) gliders can stay aloft for hours and land back on the clifftop. Unlike many paragliding venues, flying here is a year-round activity (although they do make a grudging exception for Christmas Day). Tandem flights (flytorrey.com) take you straight out over the sea where, floating above the vast Pacific Ocean and with dolphins and surfers sharing the waters of Blacks Beach below, you can see the expanse of the La Jolla coastline spreading out on one side and North County on the other. The flight even gives you aerial views at startlingly close quarters of La Jolla’s poshest clifftop communities. It’s worth sticking around afterwards for a sandwich at the Cliffhanger Café to watch others in flight and enjoy the views with your feet on the ground.

Helicopter flights

The best way to get the full panorama of San Diego is undoubtedly to take a helicopter tour, which in one flight takes in the city’s entire area.  Most fly over La Jolla (some venturing further north up the coast to glitzy Del Mar) as well as downtown and waterfront San Diego andBalboa Park, with perhaps a swoop down to the Mexican border towards Tijuana. Variations on the theme include a stop-off for wine tasting in nearby wine country. These trips don’t come cheap – prices tend to start at around $250 for the most basic tour – but they do cover a huge distance.

Combat flight

If you’re a fan of classic Tom Cruise movie Top Gun, a trip to San Diego is all about visiting locations from the movie, and a combat flight over the city is the ultimate Top Gun experience. Admittedly less sightseeing and more adrenaline adventure, this is your chance to experience a flight in a fighter jet (skycombatace.com), complete with aerobatic manoeuvres and even the option to take the controls yourself. It’s wildly expensive but, for Top Gun buffs especially, unforgettable.

By sea

Harbour cruise

San Diego is very much a sea port and with its grid formation you often get tantalising glimpses of the ocean as you walk around. To get the best water views though, you need to head out into the harbour.  Tours take place at regular intervals throughout the day in cruise ships, and give you a feel of the scale, depth and history of San Diego, as well as impressive shots of the skyline. The tours typically take you past the glamorous residences of Coronado and under the Coronado bridge, passing the military base (where you get an excellent close-up look at navy destroyers and aircraft carriers) and commercial shipyards with huge floating dry docks. If you want to turn the tour into more of an experience there are dinner and champagne cruises as well as blue whale tours on some days of the week.

How to find the best of outdoor thrills in Malaysia

Shaped like a crescent moon, Perak sweeps across the northwestern corner of Peninsular Malaysia. Limestone cliffs are the state’s most unmistakable landmarks, but Perak is a tapestry of mangrove swamps, jungles and beaches, too – terrain so varied that exhilaration (and exhaustion) are practically guaranteed. Here are four adventures to get your pulse racing…

Get off the grid in Royal Belum State Park

The only sound is a rhythmic swish, swish, as our boat glides across Lake Temenggor. We’re heading deep into Royal Belum State Park (royalbelum.my), a 117,500-hectare wilderness made even more impassable by its water levels. This jungly swathe of northern Perak, right against the Malaysia-Thailand border, was flooded in 1972 when Temenggor Dam was built. And in this remote nature park, the chances of getting phone signal are roughly the same as spotting the elusive sun bear.

The boat thumps noisily against the wooden gangplank at Belum Eco Resort (belumecoresort.com.my), my island home for the next few nights. While resort staff busy themselves securing the boat, my fellow travellers are already wriggling out of their T-shirts and dive-bombing into the lake.  As we bob around in the water, the jungle chorus of whistling blue-rumped parrots and chattering crickets surrounds us.

At daybreak, we gather in walking boots and liberal coatings of mosquito repellent. Boat transportation and a hiking guide are essential in this dense, swampy wilderness. Ours is leading us into the 130-million-year-old rainforest, one of the world’s most ancient. It’s home to tapir, seldom-seen tigers, and rafflesia, one of the largest flowers on the planet. Along slippery trails we spot tiny orchids that cower amid tree roots, while grasshoppers whir past our heads like toy helicopters. Hornbills swoop between branches, their orange beaks easy to spot in the gloom.

Make it happen: Royal Belum is a 170km drive north of Ipoh, Perak’s main city (or 150km east of Penang). Daily buses from Ipoh reach gateway town Gerik from where you can get a taxi towards the park. Stays at Belum Eco Resort include boat transfer from Pulau Banting jetty, a 42km drive east of Gerik.

Board a Jeep safari to Kinta Nature Park

‘No other place in the world can claim to have 10 species of hornbills in one location,’ declares Jek Yap with pride. For Jek, a fanatical local birdwatcher, Perak’s wildlife is hard to beat. And in contrast to remote Royal Belum, some reserves lie in easy reach of Perak’s cities, like Kinta Nature Park.

Around 20km south of state capital Ipoh, this former tin-mining land is a tangle of low-hanging trees and teeming fish ponds. The park is home to around 130 species of bird, and it’s the region’s largest gathering place for herons and egrets.

‘Birds usually show up at dusk and dawn,’ counsels Jek. Despite Jek’s advice, dawn has long broken by the time I trundle into the park by 4WD. But hitting the ‘snooze’ button on my alarm hasn’t caused me to miss out: wildlife is abundant here, and much of it is barely troubled by the sounds of the car engine.

I can see grey herons alighting on fence posts, and plump little herons looking improbably weightless as they perch on fine tree branches. Huge monitor lizards dawdle on pathways. I’m poised to photograph a blue-tailed bee eater, but its flash of jade feathers is faster than my camera’s click. Still, it’s a good excuse to lay down my camera and admire the flourishing reserve, distraction-free.

Make it happen: book knowledgeable Ipoh-based guide Mr Raja for a guided 4WD excursion into Kinta Nature Park for RM400 per head (minimum two people). It’s also possible to cycle parts of the park.

Experience Gopeng’s caves and river rapids

The ceiling of Gua Tempurung yawns above my head. As I hike deeper into the cave, one of the largest in Peninsular Malaysia, every footstep sends echoes bouncing off the walls. Long spindles of limestone reach up from the slippery ground, and stalactites drip from above. Squinting, I can make out other walkers further along the dimly lit trails. They seem microscopic in size, dwarfed by vast folds of limestone.

The wonderful destination that you should visit

Hike the peaks of the balkans

The majestic wilderness of Prokletije (aka the Accursed Mountains) is home to Montenegro’s newest national park and the cross-border Peaks of the Balkans (peaksofthebalkans.com) hiking trail. Here you can have one of Europe’s most remote corners and incredible scenery almost to yourself. This 192km circuit follows shepherds’ paths and alpine trails – soaring over 2000m – through forests, meadows and isolated villages of Montenegro, Albania and Kosovo. Not up for the 10-day, three-country loop? A 27km hike within Montenegro from Plav (the gateway for the trail) to the village of Vusanje is an equally marvellous alternative offering fantastic views of the jagged Karanfil Mountains.

Going with a guide is recommended. If you aren’t joining an organised trek, contact Plav’s tourist office (toplav.me) to sort out the border-crossing requirements and accommodation, which includes welcoming village homestays, mountain huts and ecolodges spread along the trail.

Raft the Tara river

For a different perspective on the highland scenery, rafting the emerald-green Tara Canyon (at 1300m, one of the world’s deepest) beneath the soaring Durmitor peaks can’t be beaten. Relatively easy rapids through most of the season (except for April and May, thanks to the melting snow) make it a suitable experience even for white-water novices. A two-day trip takes in the 82km stretch through the deepest part of the canyon, from the stunning Tara Bridge to Šćepan Polje on the Bosnian border; day trips cover the final 18km of the route, where most of the rapids are found.

Camp Grab (tara-grab.com), secluded in the canyon 9km upstream from Šćepan Polje, is a recommended operator for multi-day rafting. Lodgings include tents, bungalows and en-suite rooms, and the mouth-watering lunches make it a complete package. For day trips, the experienced Kljajević Luka camp (tara-rafting.info) is conveniently located near the Tara bridge.

Cycle the Durmitor Ring

The glorious Durmitor National Park, with its dramatic canyons, glacial lakes (poetically nicknamed ‘mountain eyes’) and hulking limestone peaks, is prime mountain biking territory. An 85km paved road – known as the Durmitor Ring – winds through this splendid scenery, across vast pastures and past several vertigo-inducing viewpoints above Tara and Sušica canyons. With some fairly steep ascents, the loop demands suitable fitness; it starts and ends at Žabljak town, while villages along the way have good restaurants or cafes where you can break the ride.

Family-run Etno Selo Šljeme near Žabljak is a terrific Durmitor stay offering snug two-bedroom cabins with pristine mountain views. Its excellent restaurant serves traditional dishes; highland specialtyjagnjetina ispod sača (lamb roasted under hot coals) is a must-try.

Some interesting to do in Nepal

Sure, there are moments where the menu varies, such as when leaving vegetarian Sherpa lands for the meat-eating hills of the Limbu and Rai tribes, but for the most part, meals are prepared from a limited palette of rice, lentils and greens. By the time they return to Kathmandu, many trekkers are openly salivating at the very thought of such delicacies as burgers, chips and pizza.

For some, the repetitive diet of rice and lentils can inspire extreme measures. An on-the-spot examination of trekking packs will uncover hidden bottles of ketchup and Tabasco, zip-lock plastic bags of seasonings and secreted salamis, saucisson and beef jerky. On the other hand, anticipating the culinary delights that await on your return to Kathmandu can be an almost transcendental pleasure.

Nepal has been calling out to the world’s adventurers for decades and restaurants have sprung up in the backstreets of Kathmandu catering to every imaginable palate. You want pizzas? You got ‘em. You want Thai curries? The lemongrass is already being pounded. You want Korean barbecues? The grill is already sizzling. Despite its rugged location and patchy transport links, Kathmandu serves up the world in a menu, and we guarantee your first meal back in the city after trekking will be a feast. Here is our pick of Kathmandu’s culinary highlights.

Wood-fired fabulousness

After weeks of lentils in the hills, the flavour sensation of tomatoes, pepperoni and mozzarella can be an almost religious experience. Nobody in Kathmandu does it better than Fire & Ice, an upscale favourite in a smart setting in an arcade on Tridevi Marg. For one thing, the ingredients are authentic, which means anchovies, salami and olives flown in fresh from Italy, hand-made mozzarella and hard-to-find options such as pizzas made with wholewheat dough.

Himalayan jambalaya?

New Orleans Cafe isn’t just a restaurant, it’s a Thamel institution. This courtyard café has been serving up globe-trotting cuisine to generations of travellers, with everything from Creole jambalaya to barbecued beef and jacket potatoes on the menu. There’s live music twice weekly and travellers have been known to join the on-stage musicians for impromptu jams – not a bad way to shake off the traildust after a knee-knocking circuit around the Annapurnas.