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.

All about romantic city to visit

Consider yourself warned: Charleston, SC, is hard to shake.

“If you come to Charleston and experience it like us locals do, it will forever take place in your soul,” says David Szlam, a co-creator of Virgil Kaine ginger-infused bourbon. “Dining at Bowens Island Restaurant is especially romantic, watching the sun set over tidal creeks while enjoying some fresh steamed oysters—the list goes on and on.”

Charleston, with its cobblestoned streets, genteel mansions, and dynamic food scene, took top honors as the best city for a romantic escape in the America’s Favorite Places survey. Readers ranked cities in up to 67 categories, including wine bars, parks and gardens, live music, and brunch—the kinds of offerings that often attract couples.

And don’t underestimate the allure of a warm climate: San Diego, voted No. 1 for its weather, came in fifth among the best cities for romance. “The days aren’t only filled with sunshine, but there’s the warmth from people who are almost giddy to live here,” says Gina Stark, owner of a fashionable downtown women’s boutique. “You can sail, and within minutes of docking be enjoying an outdoor concert at Humphreys by the Bay or sipping happy-hour drinks in the heart of downtown.”

Whether you’re looking to steal away for a weekend with your longtime honey or spark a new relationship, these cities will set the mood for love.

Best Destination in America

images-16In some cities, a night out means martinis, high heels, and velvet ropes. In others, even your good jeans might be too formal for the singles bar scene—and “after five” is open to interpretation.

“In Austin, people love to drink at all hours of the day,” says Lindsey Reynolds, a local food publicist. “Flip-flops and jorts—short jean shorts—are found everywhere, even at more upscale places.” That mellow attitude makes it easy to mingle, so it’s no surprise that the Texas capital made the top 10 again this year for its singles scene, according to Travel + Leisure readers.

In the annual America’s Favorite Cities survey, readers ranked 35 cities on dozens of features, from hotels to wireless coverage, as well as the qualities that make for a vibrant nightlife, such as live music, cocktails, and attractive locals. In thesingles/bar scene category, New Orleans took the No. 1 spot yet again—thanks in part to that year-round Mardi Gras vibe, but also because of a certain homegrown effervescence, aside from any booze.

“We talk to strangers. We dance in the streets. We wear costumes for no reason,” says Colleen Rush, the editor of NewOrleans.com and a happy single herself. “It’s not difficult to dive in and meet people here.”

In Los Angeles, it’s all about dressing to impress, preferably on a swanky rooftop, while in San Diego, hipster beer purists mingle in microbrew tasting rooms. In New York, the No. 1 ranked city for diversity, there’s a bar for every taste—even a Lower East Side speakeasy-type joint that reportedly offers a cocktail with extremely aged spirits for $150 (a reminder to think twice before asking, “Buy you a drink?”).

Even in the cities with legendary nightlife districts—such as the Vegas Strip, or Miami’s South Beach—locals are quick to point out that the best scene is off the tourist path. “Most people think Bourbon Street is New Orleans,” says Rush, but she recommends Frenchmen Street instead, with its eclectic range of food and drink options and lots of live music—another category that New Orleans won in the survey.

Of course, a singles scene doesn’t need to involve any bar stools at all. In Austin, even the jogging trail around Lady Bird Lake can be a pick-up spot; according to Reynolds, “it’s meat-market city.”

Tips to find the romantic hotel for your trip

What’s more romantic than staying at a former 19th-century monastery with vibrant sofas, bleached wood floors, and a bamboo garden that doubles as an echo chamber? How about setting this hotel, the Centurion Plaza, among the canals of romantic Venice.

Fortunately, the days of the heart-shaped hot tub are over. Today, the features that define the world’s most romantic hotels are much more understated. Of course, no matter what the aesthetic of the hotel might be, a classic romantic location—Venice, Napa, Bali, or New York—will always add to the magic.

And while everyone has their own definition of romance, some trends have emerged. One of them: cold is cool. Hotel Kakslauttanen & Igloo Village—hidden away in Finland’s Lapland wilderness—has created a personalized approach to the ice-hotel concept. Year-round, you’ll find 20 domed “igloos” made out of thermal glass—perfect for stargazing from your underground room. But if you go between December and April, you can stay in a real igloo, built from actual snow and outfitted with fluffy down sleeping bags. Plus, you’ll have a first-row seat for the multihued laser show that is the northern lights (Eskimo-kissing optional).

Closer to home, you’ll find the perfect setting for a seaside stroll. At Big Sur’s Glen Oaks, a brisk hike to secret Pfeiffer Beach will deposit you in soft purple (yes, purple) sand. Back at the hotel, the natural theme continues—cottages sit between the river and the redwood trees, each outfitted with cast-iron stoves and showers built for two.

And what’s sexier than James Bond? Jamaica’s GoldenEye—the cliff-top retreat once owned by Bond creator Ian Fleming—brings a celebrity twist to the romantic experience. Couples love to book Fleming’s original three-bedroom villa, which still features the writer’s Jamaican red bulletwood desk. It’s the perfect place to write a love letter to your mate, or maybe the next great spy novel.

We all know there are as many ways to define romance as there are humans, but this list of the world’s most romantic hotels has something for (almost) everyone.

Tips to find the best sunset in Maui

1.Haleakala Summit

Haleakala is more than a one-trick pony when it comes to watching the sun. Already famous for its breathtaking sunrise, the summit offers views from the Big Island to Moloka‘i (almost the entirety of Maui) that are just as spectacular at sunset. On days when the summit is above the clouds, explosive oranges and pastel pinks seem to float on a sea of white. Warm jacket required!

2. Keawakapu Beach

Every beach in Kihei is a prime sunset-watching viewpoint, but hidden Keawakapu is special for its perfect angle and a stretch that’s refreshingly free of crowds. The middle of the beach is often emptiest, and the sun hits the beach in a particular way that reflects off the smooth wet sand.

3. Lahaina Pali Trail

This is the best place on Maui to watch the sunset—but getting here requires a little bit of work. A 15-minute hike from the Ukumehame trailhead lets you climb 500 vertical feet, and the panoramic view gazes due west over a white-capped swath of ocean (in winter, you can count the whales you spot). Be sure to pack a flashlight for the walk back down.

4. Aboard a Ka‘anapai Sunset Sail

It’s not just the sunlight reflected on water that adds to the offshore romance. Nor is it the calming ukulele rhythms that float from the deck of the sailing catamaran. It’s the view of West Maui bathed in twilight, a rainbow stretching over Ka‘anapali, or a full moon rising over Mauna Kahalawai to complement the setting sun.

5. Kahekili Beach Park

Pack a beach chair and a cold drink and then settle in for the show at this sweeping shoreline. Not only does the beach face due west; the surrounding grassy park and towering palms create the perfect sunset amphitheater. The ample parking and restrooms are a logistical bonus, and the beach is over a mile long if you feel like a sunset stroll.

Best destination for solo trip

The singles scene in New York City is a little crazy, maybe even certifiably so.

“This is a city with attention deficit hyperactivity disorder, but only in the best ways,” says Rachel Harrison, a Brooklyn-based public relations exec. “You can dress a little wilder, slap on some fake eyelashes—you can do anything you want, at any age. There are no judgments.”

Unabashedly batting those faux lashes got the Big Apple more than a few second glances this year. New York City landed in the top 10 for the best cities for singles, according to Travel + Leisure readers. In this year’s America’s Favorite Places survey, readers ranked 38 cities on dozens of appealing qualities, including good-looking locals, cool shopping, and hipster-magnet coffee bars.

The winning cities in the singles-scene category excel in the off-hours, ranking highly for nightclubs, dive bars, and even great diners, where you might lock eyes with someone over a late-night order of fries.

But the most singles-friendly cities also put a creative spin on conventional meet-up spots. Plenty of big attractions—from the Brooklyn Museum to the San Diego Museum of Art—offer monthly happy hours, wooing artsy singles with cocktails and live music. In Boston, one of the coolest bookstores does Trivia Nights, while indowntown L.A. a popular bar stocks old-school video games.

Another strategy for uncovering a city’s best singles scene is exploring the activities that locals love most. “New Orleanians live and breathe festivals—like Jazz Fest, and even Creole Tomato Fest,” says native Stephen Schmitz. Just be warned: “The heat and humidity,” he says, “can make for a rough appearance.”

Read on for the full results. And make your point of view heard by voting in the America’s Favorite Places survey.

How to find the best of european villages

The notion of postcard-perfect villages steeped in old-world charm has inspired centuries of travelers to fan out across Europe, seeking its secluded hamlets.

As a result, the continent’s scenic spots rarely remain hidden for long. It doesn’t take much to make a charming village feel uncomfortably popular. Consider the five fishing villages that make up Italy’s Cinque Terre, where an evening summertime stroll often feels like shuffling through a packed amusement park, complete with overpriced restaurants and souvenir shops.

But just a few miles down the coast from those crowds is Tellaro, another beautiful seaside village that is less accessible and thus blissfully unspoiled. A similar sense of discovery is the major draw in overlooked regions that house pint-size gems like the Alsatian village of Colmar, France, where bakeries sell both croissants and kugelhopf.

The first requirement of a beautiful village is a scenic location, whether among the Norwegian fjords or the sun-splashed Greek isles. But the finest also have distinctive features like the plaza ringed with high-gabled pastel façades in Telč, Czech Republic, or the unforgettable Victorian castle rising above the thatched roofs of Cong, Ireland.

Reaching some of these European beauties requires extra effort, yet the rewards are dazzling. Your eyes will thank you.

How to find great place with preasure and love

So you’ve found the person you want to spend the rest of your life with. Mazel tov! That’s a huge decision, but now another looms: how—and where—to pop The Question. The choice of locale is paramount—and as every aspiring spouse should know, some scenarios capture the mood better than others. Certain classics, of course, stand the test of time: the sunset stroll along a deserted beach; the postcard moment in front of an iconic backdrop; the candlelit dinner at a chic restaurant. But how to narrow down the list (and avoid becoming stuck in a cliché), given this is a story you’ll be telling for the rest of your life?

Creativity is key. Consider an element of surprise, or a destination that has special significance for the two of you. (Your paramour’s always yearned to get their pilot’s license? Book a night in a helicopter at sublime Connecticut hideaway Winvian, whose stylish and whimsical rooms are all themed.) But don’t necessarily overlook the classics either: Paris is an amorous mainstay for good reason. Famed New York–based wedding planner Colin Cowie sings the praises of the City of Light, suggesting “the Ferris wheel at the Tuileries when at the 12 o’clock positio,” for extra impact.

Warm-weather destinations, not surprisingly, topped our experts’ lists (nothing kills a love buzz like frostbite). Certain tropical spots like Fiji and Hawaii seem custom-made for great proposals, thanks to their wealth of secret beaches and castaway-style islands where couples can be assured of having the place to themselves. For seriously adventurous couples, meanwhile, an African safari has all the trappings of high drama…particularly when you’re floating above the savanna in a hot-air balloon.

Not everyone wants to blow a big-ticket overseas trip on a proposal, though. If you’d rather save up for the honeymoon, consider a nearby urban setting. New York’s Central Park provides an inimitable setting, as does a candlelit corner table at one of the city’s acclaimed restaurants. Whatever the context, each of our favorite settings is packed with enough romance to pretty much guarantee the right answer. Now all you have to do is choose the ring.