This is default featured slide 1 title
This is default featured slide 2 title
This is default featured slide 3 title
This is default featured slide 4 title
This is default featured slide 5 title
 

Must-see sights on China’s Silk Road

 Luckily, the Silk Road is ever-more accessible from the rest of Chinathanks to the opening of a new high-speed rail line through Xinjiang. This train will eventually connect the furthest reaches of China’s northwestern province to Xi’an, Beijing and beyond. Here we explore a must-see list of its east-to-west sights.

Army of Terracotta Warriors

Painstakingly cast as guardians for Qin Shi Huang’s – the first emperor of China – safe passage into the afterlife, the Army Of Terracotta Warriors was discovered in 1974. Since then, thousands of warriors, archers and chariots have been unearthed and remain on display just outside the city of Xi’an in Shaanxi province. Xi’an is the first stop along an itinerary of the Silk Road from east to west – it was the capital of Chinese empires variously in ancient periods and its strategic north-central location on the Guangzhong Plain makes it a gateway from eastern China to the wild west. Today, Xi’an is a busy provincial capital home to numerous ethnic minorities, mainly Hui Muslims.

Labrang Monastery

An island unlike any other in Madagascar

 Kirindy and the baobabs

Start your trip in the west with wildlife encounters and a walk among iconic trees

Jean Baptiste strolls cheerfully through the forest, arms swaying, flip-flops flapping. For the past hour, he has led the way through a tangle of paths that each looks identical to the last, pausing to point out brown creatures hidden in the brown undergrowth: a twig-like pencil snake here, a fist-sized land snail there.

It takes some time to locate the lemur he spotted with barely a glance, but after much gesticulating (‘To the left of the fork, down from the second branch, no, not that branch, down further’), there it is: a sportive lemur, its teddy-bear head and goggly brown eyes poking out of a tree hollow. The sighting opens the floodgates to an embarrassment of encounters in the forest of Kirindy.

A few steps on, a black-and-white Verreaux’s sifaka appears far above, swinging between the treetops with the elegance of a trapeze artist, the tiny head of her baby peeking out from the

Gearhead’s guide to surfing Nicaragua

 Getting your bearings

Waves break year-round in Nicaragua and are best on the Pacific coast. Experienced riders should time trips according the swell and aim to get here from March through September. San Juan del Sur is the long-time surf capital of Nicaragua, and it has the partying pedigree to show for it. It’s also a good spot to gear up, hire out local tour boats to take you to hard-to-reach breaks and spend a few days cruising the colonial streets. Ironically, there’s only one half-decent break right in town. Unless you’re shelling out for daily boat charters, the real action happens in the little surf colonies north and south of here.

South of San Juan, Playa Remanso has a good beach break for beginners, with Playa Tamarindo just south offering up long left and right breaks. It’s also home to the lovingly playful Playa Hermosa Ecolodge (playahermosabeachhotel.com). On the other hand, you could head north, stopping off first at Playa Maderas and its gnarly reef break. Other worthwhile northern surf spots include Bahía Majagual and Arena Blanca.

If you continue on up the coast, you’ll find consistent waves as

7 places to get off the tourist trail in New York City

1. Sample small-batch Red Hook

At the southern tip of Brooklyn, the cobblestoned blocks and red-brick waterfront warehouses of Red Hook feel like a totally different city. The area is sprinkled with artsy stores, no-frills cafés and small-batch food and drink producers. Take a tour at Red Hook Winery, grab a tasty treat at Steve’s Authentic Key Lime Pies or feast on sumptuous pit-smoked barbecue at Hometown.

On summer weekends, head over to the Red Hook Ball Fields, where a dozen or so Latin American food carts and vendors set up around the local football (soccer) field. End the day at Sunny’s Bar, the neighbourhood’s spiritual heart, an old-school dive that opened in 1890.

2. Pay tribute to a giant of jazz at Louis Armstrong’s House

The multicultural borough of Queens rarely features on mainstream tourist itineraries – and few visitors know that the great Satchmo lived here from 1943 until his death in 1971. In fact, Dizzy Gillespie lived near Armstrong, and Ella Fitzgerald, Count Basie, Lena Horne, Fats Waller and, briefly, Charles Mingus all called the borough home too.

The jazzman’s legacy is preserved at the Louis Armstrong

6 of the best road trips in the UK

1. Scotland’s North Coast 500

This circular route is a greatest hits of Scottish icons, stretching across 805km of lonely single-track. Skirting the coast from Inverness and the Black Isle, past the seaboard crags of Caithness, Sutherland and Wester Ross, it offers up uncanny ruins, rugged fairways, toothy castles, shingle-sand beaches, tiny fishing hamlets and peaty whisky distilleries. Even the name is a doff of the cap to The Proclaimers.

Along the way, the road becomes a symphony, building note after note, bend by bend, from its rallying start through the east coast villages of Dornoch and Wick to Aultbea, Poolewe and Gairloch on the savage west coast. Here, it reaches a crescendo below the impregnable peaks of Loch Maree.

Finally, the road reaches the nuttily brilliant Bealach na Bà, which loops up and over the Applecross Peninsula like a piece of gigantic spaghetti. It could scarcely be more isolated or awe-inspiring.

Best for: escaping urban life and unexpected traffic jams, courtesy of wayward Highland cows and stags.
Duration: 4-7 days.

2. A circuit through Yorkshire’s finest

In Yorkshire, the roads move from moor to dale through centuries of dark medieval history, once a backdrop

8 ways to justify booking your next trip

1. Travel is an excellent way to destress and unwind

Although it’s hardly a shocker that travel has extensive health benefits, it seems that few of us manage to make the most of it. A third of British workers don’t take all their annual leave, while only four in ten Americans use their paid vacation days.

From reducing stress – yes, there is an argument for a day of cocktails and nap time on aCaribbean beach – to invigorating your mood, travel has so many wholesome benefits that it should really be bottled and sold in health food stores.

2. It could boost your career

Opportunities to test your transferable skills can arise more often than you change your underwear while you’re abroad. Need to evidence your problem-solving capacity for a job interview? Just whip out that story of your last trip to China, where you got from A to B relying solely on pointing, a few choice words of Mandarin and the lingua-franca of the travel world: charades.

3. You’ll meet a kaleidoscope of new people

Travelling gives you the opportunity to meet inspirational, impassioned and eccentric souls from around the globe. While not everyone

Phong Nha-Ke Bang National Park: Vietnam’s last paradise?

Phong Nha is famous for its caves, right?

The stunning 400-million-year-old limestone karst landscape is littered with caves and underground rivers – and every year more are being discovered, surveyed and opened to the public. At more than 5km long, and comfortably able to fit a New York City block within its expanse, Son Doong Cave is the best known.

If you have a spare US$3000 you can try and bag a place on the five-day expedition thatOxalis organise to its remote location. There’s also talk of a planned cable car that will ferry thousands of people to the entrance. This will detract from the feeling of discovering a lost world, though, so if that’s what you’re hankering after, best visit sooner rather than later.

With a little less cash and advanced planning, you can visit beautiful Phong Nha Cave, which is closest to Phong Nha town and only accessible by dragon boat from the little jetty here. Dark Cave (Hang Toi) involves a zip line, a muddy exploration, a cold swim and a short kayak trip, while Paradise Cave is a huge dry cavern with a deceptively tiny entrance. The latter has mind-blowing stalactite

Space tourism: an interview with an astronaut

What’s the view like from space?

The first time you look out the window once you’re in space, I think the reaction of every astronaut is about the same: first there’s this huge gasp. It goes “Aw, wow!”. You just can’t believe what you’re looking at.

Even though I had seen many pictures of the Earth taken from space – and I had seen the huge IMAX movies with images of Earth – when I saw it with my own eyes, I just gasped.

I was amazed at the blackness of space. It’s a darker, richer colour than I’d ever seen before.

And there, right up against the blackness of space, you have the beautiful blue Earth and the thin layer of atmosphere that’s protecting us. It looks quite infinite when you’re down on the surface, but from above, looking back at the Earth, our atmosphere appears a paper-thin layer. You sense how fragile this planet really is.

 

What are the best views of Earth from space?

I always loved passing over Egypt. To see the Nile River – this bright green pathway cutting through the centre of Egypt – was just spectacular.

6 reasons your next trip should be to Durban, South Africa

1. Durban is probably South Africa’s coolest city

“Durbs” has a rep for being cooler than Cape Town and Jo’burg, and the city has an enviable list of hip places to stay and eat. First up is a fabulous boutique hotel, The Concierge Bungalows, with its attached Freedom Café built out of a shipping container. Then there’s Distillery 031, knocking out locally flavoured spirits (African Rosehip gin anyone?) and the Unity Bar and Brasserie, which brews its own Cowbell Pilsner and grills a mean steak.

Last but not least, make a trip to the Artisanal Bakery in Glenwood, Durban’s answer toNew York City‘s Williamsburg or London‘s Dalston. The locals here know their sourdough from their focaccia.

2. There’s great surf to be had

Unlike the frigid waters around Cape Town, Durban’s coastline is lapped by the warm currents of the Indian Ocean allowing you to swim or surf without a wetsuit. The best breaks are found at South Beach, where Saffa surfers congregate in the morning before grabbing chicken and tijps (chips) at local institution Afro’s Chicken.

South Beach is just one of many surfing hotspots along the city’s revamped “Golden Mile”. For families, Addington Beach is

Trips for travellers who want to learn something new

Cook up a storm in Chiang Mai

Blessed with some of the world’s best street food, you could be forgiven for coming to Chiang Mai and spending your entire trip indulging in everything from the spiciest tom yum soup to searching for the perfect pad thai. But chances are you’re going to want to learn how to make these delicious dishes yourself. Thankfully, Chiang Mai has several options for curious cooks looking to pick up new culinary skills, with schools dotted through town.

Based on the edge of the city, teachers from Thai Farm Cooking School (thaifarmcooking.net) will collect you from your guest house, take you shopping in local markets and teach you about spices, rice and flavours. You’ll then decamp to its organic farm base, where you’ll learn to cook six dishes. After cooking up a storm, pupils and teachers sit down together to taste everyone’s creations.

Become a gaucho in Argentinian Patagonia

Forget childhood riding classes on sleepy farmsteads. Hopping on a horse in Argentina’s spectacular Parque Nacional Nahuel Huapi in Patagonia means scaling mountains and splashing through rivers, all while learning how to round up cattle on vast ranches.

Where to find family adventure in the wintry Canadian Rockies

The best downhill skiing in the Canadian Rockies

Many Canadians start skiing as soon as they can walk. As a result, the Rocky Mountain area has plenty of facilities for children on its slopes. For a full-on downhill experience, the local national parks (Banff and Jasper) are particularly well-endowed offering four major ski resorts with several others perched temptingly on the periphery.

Top of the pile in more ways than one is Banff’s Sunshine Villagewedged high up on the Continental Divide and famed for its heavy snowfalls and ski-in hotel. Next comes diminutive Mt Norquay, an under-the-radar day-use area located just outside Banff town.

However, the prize for the most family-friendly ski resort in the Rockies has to go to Lake Louise. Named for the robin-egg blue lake that enamours hikers and honeymooners in the summer, Lake Louise is the second-largest ski area in Canada (after Whistler) and offers an impressive web of 145 varied runs including lots of beginner terrain. Adding to its kudos are a tube park, bags of ski schools, guided wildlife tours (on snowshoes), and the finest snow-encrusted mountain views you could ever wish to see. In the unlikely event

Winter sports in the Slovenian Alps

Unspoilt wilderness in Vogel

The only ski area situated within the Triglav National Park, Vogelbenefits from an almost unbelievably picturesque location, surrounded by towering mountains and with views over Lake Bohinj towards Mt Triglav, Slovenia’s highest peak. The terrain is unusually beautiful too – an array of snowy hillocks, which feels like skiing on the contours of a fluffy cloud or through a Renaissance vision of heaven.

Despite its relatively diminutive size (22km of pistes), the area’s varied topography makes it feel much bigger, and there’s a magical laid-back atmosphere, perfect for carefree coasting down the well-groomed blue and red runs. When conditions are right and there’s plenty of snow, it’s also a great destination for off-piste skiing and ski touring.

Most skiers stay down in the pretty Bohinj Valley, taking the high-speed gondola up from Ukanc, but there are restaurants, bars, ski-hire facilities, chalets and even a hotel up on the mountain.

Family-friendly facilities at Kranjska Gora

Uniquely for Slovenia’s major ski resorts, Kranjska Gora’s ski area is located directly adjacent to the village, allowing many of its hotels to offer ski-in, ski-out access. The piste layout is compact and

Switzerland for nature lovers

On a high in Valais

Nothing says Switzerland more than that mountain. As the train chugs from Täsch to the ritzy outdoor resort of Zermatt, the pop-up effect of the Matterhorn is surreal. The 4478m fang of rock and ice forces your gaze skywards and elicits gasps of wonder.

Closer, you say? Kein problem. The Gornergratbahn, Europe’s highest cogwheel railway, has been trundling up to Gornergrat (3089m) since 1898. At the summit, the view of the Gorner Glacier and 29 peaks rising above 4000m – including Switzerland’s highest, Dufourspitze (4634m) – opens up. Skiers, mountaineers and hardcore hikers are in their element at Matterhorn Glacier Paradise, Europe’s highest cable-car station on the Klein Matterhorn (3883m), with views reaching deep into the Swiss, French and Italian Alps.

Ever since British climber Edward Whymper made the first successful ascent of the Matterhorn in 1865 – albeit a triumph marred by rope-breaking tragedy – Zermatt has been the Holy Grail for mountaineers. Here you can tackle some of Europe’s most epic ascents: the Matterhorn, say, or Monte Rosa (4634m), with an Alpine Center guide. Hikers, meanwhile, can set out along the two-hour, 6.5km Matterhorn Glacier Trail. When

Gearhead’s guide to rock climbing in Yosemite

Getting started at rock climbing in Yosemite

There are climbs for every ability imaginable somewhere in this park. First-timers should hit up the Yosemite Mountaineering School to do intro courses. In these intros, you’ll learn to safely belay your climbing partner, how to use your feet and hands properly to ascend the rock, and the basics of rock climbing safety. You’ll have a blast doing it, but it’s important to remember that climbing is dangerous. You should only go out on your own if you (or your partner) already know what you are doing. You can take more advanced courses at the Mountaineering School, or, if you’re confident that you’re ready for action, head to the notice board at Camp Four, where you can find climbing partners.

Rock climbing essentials

You can gear up before you depart for the park or wait to do your shopping at the Yosemite Mountain Shop to round out your equipment. Either way, the basics will probably cost you about US$200. It’s of utmost importance that any climber is going to need a well-fitting harness (costing between $50 and $150). Some top climbing manufacturers include Black Diamond (blackdiamondequipment.com), Petzl (www.petzl.com)

Hiking through Patagonia

Warm and cozy

Patagonia’s weather is influenced both by Antarctica and the Southern Patagonian Ice Field – that great glacial mass larger than California’s Death Valley. Coping with this influence will take attention to detail. It’s the little things. The best investment is seamless wool socks like those from Darn Tough (darntough.com) to keep you warm and comfortable. Happy feet mean uninterrupted walking: the difference will be miles of splendor that you can’t put a price on. A few extra pairs can be a godsend when you’re hiking nonstop without a day off to do the wash.

Avoid shorts – there’s plenty of thorny brush to get at your legs even when chilly gusts of wind aren’t whipping. Bring top and bottom thermals, light gloves and a hat, an insulating layer like a fleece, rain gear and a down jacket for cool nights.

And remember, crisp climates can still pose issues for your eyes and skin. Sunglasses with a leash, waterproof, high-SPF sunscreen and shade had will protect you from overexposure – a crucial matter as a hole in the ozone layer moving over Patagonia and Antarctica leaves you extra vulnerable.

Keeping your footing

Where to get your adrenaline rush in Ras al Khaimah

Climb Jebel Jais via car or via ferrata

A bit shy of 2000m, Jebel Jais is RAK’s version of a skyscraper. This rugged peak is the highest in the UAE and home to one of the most thrilling driving roads in the Middle East. Sleek, freshly laid tarmac corkscrews its way through countless steep, camel-coloured canyons and along eroded cliff edges that sometimes see snow and often see passing herds of goats.

To experience Jebel Jais in true Emirati fashion, hire a Lamborghini, Ferrari or Land Rover and weave through the hairpin bends of these usually deserted mountains. The road comes to an abrupt halt 5km from the summit, but rumour has it that it will be completed soon. In the meantime, you still have more than 20km of zigs and zags to race through, with breathtaking views of the valley and RAK City below.

Lofty plans have been thrown around to build a hotel, a cable car, a launch point for paragliders, a golf course and even an artificial ski slope on Jebel Jais, but the only attraction to materialise so far is a via ferrata (a rock climbing route that uses a

Why Kiribati is a nature lover’s paradise

First come for the fishing

One prime reason travellers head to Kiritimati (Christmas Island) in the Republic of Kiribati is for the fishing – marlin, sailfish, wahoo, barracuda and huge schools of tuna are found here. But the real gem: miles of pristine saltwater flats perfect for wading and fly-fishing for bonefish, milkfish, triggerfish and a number of trevally including the elusive giant trevally. GT, as they are affectionately known, are on the bucket list of most dedicated fly-fishermen. This exotic species hunts on the flats for prey and is known for its speed, weight (upwards of 40kgs) and ferocity.

Giant trevally are difficult to hook and even more difficult to land. They frequently snap both lines and rods. Fishing for one is a truly awe inspiring experience that will give you a heightened respect for this bully of the saltwater flats (catching a 20kg baby, in relative terms, GT was one of this fisherman’s proudest moments).

Fishing tours are run from a number of self-contained lodges that provide board, boats and guides. These local guides are proud of their island’s rich and diverse marine life and conservation is as important as

Outdoor adventure awaits in Washington, DC

Running the National Mall

With major road races occurring year-round, including the acclaimed Marine Corps Marathon in the fall and the Cherry Blossom 10-Miler in the spring (a warm-up for Boston-bound elites), Washington is a runner’s paradise. Locals never tire of jogging the National Mall, bound by trails that take you past the nation’s most important democratic monuments—all of which glow from within as dusk falls. Spring cherry blossoms, summer fireworks, autumn glory color and winter-snow wonderlands are some of its seasonal delights.

Climbing Great Falls

Rock climbers find happiness at Great Falls Park (nps.gov/grfa/index.html), just 20 minutes upstream from Washington, DC, on the Virginia side of the river. Here, neophytes and experienced climbers alike negotiate cliffs and outcrops ranging from Class 3 to 5.10. Nearby Carderock and Annapolis Rock are favorite go-tos as well. And note that in winter, when it’s cold enough, this is where Washingtonians come for ice climbing.

Paddling the Potomac

Where else can you escape the office at noon, jump in a kayak for a quick paddle, and be back in time for a 2pm meeting? Thompson Boat Center, next to the Kennedy Center, rents

Sailing from Denmark to Iceland

Most visitors to Iceland fly into Keflavík (the country’s international airport) to begin their vacation. Fans of slow travel who are looking for a point of difference, a super-scenic voyage, or a means to reduce holiday costs (by bringing their own car or campervan), should consider sailing on Smyril Line’s Norröna, the only ferry that cruises fromHirtshals in northern Denmark to Seyðisfjörður in east Iceland, via the spectacular Faroe Islands.

The journey

Sailing time is around 36 hours from Denmark to the Faroe Islands, and 19 hours from the Faroes to Iceland. The ferry’s home port isTórshavn, the capital of the Faroe Islands, a small archipelago with a population of just 50,000 that’s a self-governing country within the Kingdom of Denmark.

All journeys pause in Tórshavn, and stopovers range from six hours to three days, depending on the season’s schedule. Since the ferry runs weekly, there’s also the option of staying a full week or two for a more thorough Faroe foray.

It’s worth noting that seasickness it’s a possibility on the voyage, especially on the open seas northwest of the Shetland Islands. The boat is large and has good stabilisers but this is the

The essential guide to backpacking China’s Silk Road

But for adventurous travellers looking for something truly different, backpacking the Chinese Silk Road reaps glorious rewards: sand-sledding down a magical unmoving sand dune, a camel ride around an oasis, a trek up the end of the Great Wall and sipping wine under grape trellises are just a few of the possibilities. So don a sand-proof rucksack and check out our guide to backpacking the Silk Road through China.

The route

Historically, the Silk Road was not one but many routes that connected east and south Asia to Mediterranean Europe, so named because the largest commodity traded down the route was sought-after Chinese silk. The route traditionally started in Xi’an (then known as Chang’an), China and continued northwest through modern-day Gansuand Xinjiang provinces before reaching Central Asia.

Several historical splits in the road mean that you have options when deciding your route. By far, the most traversed portion of the route is from Xi’an to Lanzhou and Jiayuguan in Gansu. From here, you can choose to head northwest to Urumqi in Xinjiang, where fascinating Uigher culture, China’s wine country, and the soaring peaks of the Tian Shan mountains await.  Alternately, the southern route heads through the fiery