Monthly Archives: August 2016

What is the interesting to in Mongolia

Savour the serenity

Space. Glorious, mesmerising, limitless space. One of the least densely populated countries on earth, Mongolia is where the gods play golf. Endless fairways of treeless green, patterned by the shadows of clouds; lakes for water hazards; pristine air; epic silence – there is a reason that Mongolians refer to their homeland as the ‘land of the blue sky’. Occasionally the scene is tweaked by a lonely ger (yurt) of white felt: the portable homes of Mongolia’s pastoralists dot the country’s vast landscape. And when night falls, the stars come out to play. The Milky Way’s billions of stars appear so close and clear it seems like you could sweep them up in your hands.

Meet Chinggis Khan

Branded an imperialist during Soviet rule, Mongolia’s fiercest warrior is now a brand in his own right, adorning energy drinks, cigars, vodka and hotels. You might spot Chinggis Khan carved 60 metres high into the hills surrounding Ulaanbaatar as you touch down at the great ruler’s namesake airport. Near Nalaikh, a giant silver statue of the Great Khan can be seen shimmering from miles off.  In fact, little is known about the ruler rumoured to lie buried somewhere secret in Khentii, a protected wilderness area. His tented capital, Karakorum, is long vanished, a pair of lonely stele markers at today’s Kharkhorin the only trace. For a man who founded an empire stretching from Asia to Venice, the Great Khan left almost no physical legacy.

Eat the world’s weirdest breakfast

Boodog is an ancient steooking technique still used today when herdsmen find themselves far from home. An animal – usually a marmot – is sliced open and stuffed with river stones heated on a fire, creating a primeval pressure cooker (they have been known to explode on occasion). The fur is then singed off and the meat carved up to eat. If you’re lucky you might get treated to this, ahem, delicacy as the morning sun warms your ger. It’s the preserve of men, which is hardly surprising – there’s no washing-up. A posher version is the khorkhog – a goat cooked with hot stones inside a milk churn.

Marvel at Mongol warriors

Eurasia was terrorised by the prowess and potency of the Mongols 800 years ago, and their skills are by no means consigned to history. Every summer, Mongolians congregate for Naadam festivals to compete in the ‘three manly sports’: horse-riding, wrestling and archery. Children under ten race horses across 20km courses; wrestlers of all sizes hulk it out (Chinggis Khan believed it a way to keep his soldiers battle-ready); archers pierce targets with deadly accuracy. The biggest Naadam festival is held every July at the National Stadium in Ulaanbaatar, but the remote rural contests are the true bastions of grassland tradition.

Indonesia is the place to find the natural place to visit

images-17Kayaking

Begin a paddling sojourn in Indonesia by negotiating around the forest-clad banks of a holy mountain lake, before sea kayaking on smooth Balinese waters, or graduating to an exciting multi-day excursion in the more remote Raja Ampat Islands. Based in the Balinese mountain village of Kedisan, C. Bali runs morning tours exploring the volcanic caldera of Danau (Lake) Batur in inflatable canoes, while further south along Sanur’s beachy coastline, kayaks can be hired by the hour for leisurely exploration. In the far flung islands of Raja Ampat – around 2000km to the northeast – Kayak4Conservation explores a stunning archipelago of jungle-covered islands and concealed lagoons. Guided adventures include staying at local guesthouses.

Snorkelling

ith more than 17,000 islands – and hundreds of thousand of different beaches – Indonesia offers some the planet’s best places for escaping into warm tropical waters equipped simply with a mask, snorkel and swim fins. On Bali’s northern coast, snorkelling trips depart from nearby Pemuteran to explore the waters of Pulau Menjangan (‘Deer Island’), while at Tulamben in eastern Bali, the WWII wreck of theLiberty, a US Navy Cargo Ship, is just 50m off the coast. Continue further east to the Gili Islands off Lombok’s northern coast for excellent snorkeling straight off arcing sandy beaches – sea turtles are often seen – or swim with whale sharks at Nabire in the remote eastern province of Papua.

Diving

Warm tropical waters, a huge variety of seascapes, and the attraction of abandoned wrecks and brilliant marine life make Indonesia one of the finest diving destinations on the planet. For beginners, the tourist-friendly dive schools of Bali and Lombok’s Gili Islands provide an introduction to the underwater world – including the opportunity to see manta rays and sunfish off Bali’s Nusa Penida – while liveaboard boat charters are the best way to explore the expansive reefs and teeming shoals of Nusa Tengarra, Sulawesi’s Pulau Bunaken and Papua’s Raja Ampat Islands.

Trekking

Indonesia’s huge diversity offers many opportunities to discover different landscapes and cultures, ranging from enlightening day hikes through to multi-day jungle treks and ascents of spectacular volcanoes. Hook up with Sungai Penuh-based Wild Sumatra Adventures to explore the forests and mountain lakes of the Kerinci Seblat National Park or take on the challenge of ascending the chilly summit of Gunung Semeru, Java’s highest peak (3676m). Understanding Indonesia’s compelling mix of cultures includes easygoing day walks around Ubud’s verdant collage of rice terraces, sleepy villages and ancient temples, or exploring the fascinating local architecture and valleys of Sulawesi’sTana Toraja region.

Surfing

From the beginner-friendly breaks of Bali, to brand new locations being discovered every year by intrepid travellers, Indonesia is a hotspot for surfers from around the globe. The southern beaches of Bali are packed with surf schools, laidback hostels and a pumping after-dark scene, while the islands of Java, Lombok and Sumbawa combine palm-fringed beaches and simple thatched bungalows perfect for a long-stay surfing sojourn. The massive island of Sumatra anchors Indonesia’s hottest surf regions including low-key Pulau Nias and up-and-coming Krui, while legendary Mentawai Island breaks like Pitstops, Telescopes and Bank Vaults are hugely popular with more than a few Australian and Brazilian boardriders.

Tips to find the great of city in South Korea

images-18Sixty five years ago, when Seoul lay in rubble following the Korean War, such a transformation was beyond most people’s wildest dreams. The priority then was to rebuild – fast. The results were far from pretty, but served their purpose. Seoul was the boiler room of South Korea’seconomic miracle, a non-stop city, crisscrossed by subways and elevated highways, its workers housed mainly in utilitarian, unlovely apartment blocks. Hosting the summer Olympics of 1988 and the FIFA World Cup of 2002 provided the impetus for some more imaginative city planning but mainly resulted in Seoul gaining new sports stadia and a couple of much needed parks.

Waterside parks

The pivotal moment came in 2003 when Lee Myung-bak, then mayor of Seoul and later to become the country’s president, green-lighted a multi-million won plan to demolish a 5.6km stretch of elevated highway not far south of the imperial palace Gyeongbokgung.

Beneath the concrete at the highway’s base ran the course of theCheong-gye-cheon a creek buried in the late 1960s when rampant development and pollution had made it an eyesore. Two years later, the highway was gone, replaced by a pristine stream flowing beside sinuous promenades and under reconstructed historic stone bridges.

Striking pieces of public artwork, including the giant pink and blue swirl Spring by Claes Oldenburg and Coosje van Bruggen, were also part of the design. The public loved it and the project was hailed a success for returning a strip of nature to the city centre, as well as naturally cooling the area and dramatically decreasing vehicle traffic.

In 2010, under the theme of ‘Design for All’, Seoul took on the mantle of World Design Capital. The same year it was appointed a Unesco City of Design. Across the city, hundreds of imaginative projects were softening Seoul’s concrete and steel edges.

The highways that thundered along both sides of the Han River couldn’t be so easily swept away, but the parks beneath them were upgraded. An old water filtration plant on Seonyudo, was transformed, Cinderella-like, into an award-winning garden oasis. The futuristic-looking recreation complex Some Sevit crowned artificial islands floating beside the Banpo Bridge, itself transformed at night by a fountain illuminated in rainbow colours arching forth from its girders into the river.

Ambitious design projects

Two key projects initiated in that period were so ambitious that it would take several more years for them to be completed. Finished in 2014, the inimitable design signature of the late Dame Zaha Hadid is immediately apparent at Dongdaemun Design Plaza & Park. Billed as the world’s largest atypical building, and looking more like a giant spaceship than a convention, exhibition and shopping centre, the curvaceous structure is coated with 45,000 aluminium panels, and glows from pulsating LED lights.

Around it Hadid crafted a remarkable, undulating landscape that incorporates fragments of the area’s history, including remains of Seoul’s 15th-century city walls and the 1925 sports stadium that once occupied the spot. It’s one of Seoul’s most fascinating structures.

Also making a bold architectural statement is the new Seoul City Hall opened in 2013. The design is based on the eaves of a traditional Korean house, which provide shade. But if you didn’t know that, you might think the glass structure more resembles a giant wave, frozen as it is about to crash down on the former 1926-vintage City Hall (now a library).

Inside, the eco-friendly building’s lobby boasts a vertical garden that rises up seven floors and is hung with over 70,000 plants in 14 different species. Over the lobby also dangles Jeon Su-cheon’s Meta Epic: SeoBeol – a giant cluster of hundreds of translucent spheres symbolising Seoul’s dynamism.

Soaring towers and skygardens

From all across the city, it’s hard to miss the tapering fins of Lotte World Tower, the sixth-tallest building in the world, cutting 555m high into the sky. The 122nd floor of this sleek tower, designed by Kohn Pedersen Fox Associates, will be the best place to take in Seoul’s full architectural sweep when the upper floors are completed, likely by the end of 2016. You can already visit the mammoth shopping mall, a 2000-seat concert hall, multiplex cinema and aquarium featuring South Korea’s longest freshwater tunnel and first underwater escalator tunnel.

The stunning scenery of a beach

Sicily’s waters remain clean and warm throughout the summer and autumn months, with swimming conditions at their best from June to early October. Beaches range from crowded bathing lidos where you can rent sun loungers and umbrellas to stretches of nearly deserted strand.

Best for families: Cefalù

Cefalù’s long crescent of soft, golden sand is a dreamy place to spend a day… or a week. Basking here in the sun, gazing across the blue-green waters at the palm-fringed medieval cathedral backed by craggy cliffs, you may just be seduced into staying longer than expected.

The calm, warm waters – perfect for families with kids – coupled withCefalù’s proximity to Palermo (an hour away by train) make this one of Sicily’s perennial favourites. The town also boasts an enchanting historic centre, making for atmospheric strolling and gelato-shopping when dinnertime rolls around.

Best for scenery: Scala dei Turchi

Named Scala dei Turchi for the Arab pirates (colloquially known as ‘Turks’) who according to legend hid out here in stormy weather, this blindingly white, staircase-like rock formation is Sicily’s most dazzling beach backdrop.

Driving in from Agrigento (15km to the east), the first beach you come to abuts a shallow swimming area that’s perfect for kids – but older and more adventurous spirits will find it hard to resist climbing high onto the milky-smooth rock shelf beyond. From here, you can leap into the limpid jade-to-indigo waters below, or follow the stratified bands of stone to a longer, sandier strand just around the bend.

Best for solitude: Torre Salsa

Most people travelling between the superstar Greek ruins of Agrigento and Selinunte don’t even notice the turnoff for Torre Salsa – and that’s a good thing! Despite being one of Sicily’s prettiest beaches, this long stretch of golden sand backed by white cliffs remains remarkably secluded. Yes, you do have to navigate a rugged unpaved road to get here, but once you arrive, you won’t have any trouble finding a tranquil place to lay your towel.

The surrounding nature reserve, administered by the World Wildlife Fund, offers some nice trails with sweeping panoramic views of the surrounding mountains and coast; walking tours with WWF naturalists are available if you book ahead.

Best for nostalgia buffs: Mondello

When summer rolls around, Palermo’s entire population packs a beach towel and a pair of D&G shades and heads 11km north to this popular 1.5km strip of white sand sandwiched between the handsome rocky promontories of Monte Pellegrino and Monte Gallo. In fact, Mondellohas been the darling of Palermo’s see-and-be-seen crowd since the early 20th century, when a local aristocrat drained the surrounding swamplands and launched the fad of building Liberty-style (Art Nouveau) villas by the waterfront.