Unesco: 1. Cultural Landscape and Archaeological Remains of the Bamiyan Valley 2. Minaret and Archaeological Remains of Jam
Unesco: 1. Gobustan Rock Art Cultural Landscape 2. Walled City of Baku with Shirvanshah’s Palace and Maiden Tower
Unesco: 1. Historic Mosque City of Bagerhat 2. Ruins of the Buddhist Vihara at Paharpur 3. Sandarbans. The delta of the Ganges and Brahmaputra Rivers, it is the planet’s largest delta and mangrove forest. The forest is 4000 years old. The water levels rise and fall with the Bay of Bengal tide. Can really only appreciated from above as the coastline and the Bay of Bengal merge in a mass of finger-like tributaries, swampy jungle and 2 billion tons of river-carried sediment. Best seen in the cool in late Oct-February season (25C) rather than the hot in Mar-mid May or monsoon in late May-October. Mangrove forest barely fit for human habitation. The heat is oppressive, buzz of insects deafening, one of world’s most pristine environments. Densest Bengal tiger population in the world (200-450 of 5000 total) with 120 fatal attacks per year. 4 species of dolphin: Ganges river dolphin, Irrawaddy dolphin, Indo-Pacific humpbacked dolphin and finless porpoise. Biodiversity and chances of seeing wildlife best in the southeeastern section, thanks to the open meadows. Burigoalini is the village on the edge and home to the fearless honey collectors from April to June. Bagerhat has many-domed mosques, a crocodile-guarded tomb and the 20m-high Khodla Math Temple, the country’s biggest Hindu monument. Swatch of No Ground is a deep-water canyon just offshore from Sundarbans with whales and bottlenose dolphins from Dec-Feb. Karamjal Forest Station – see on a day trip from Mongla to Karamjal with raised walkways, viewing platforms, a small zoo and a wild tiger. Cross border from India at Benapole on overland bus route from Kolkata to Dhaka. See Sanderbans on a boat trip organized out of Khulna, Mongla or Dhaka. Permits required to visit.
Natural: 1. Black Mountains 2. Phobjikha Valley and black-necked cranes 3. Mount Jhomalhari
1. Snowman Trek
Length: More than 200 miles
The Trip: Veteran trekkers peg the Snowman as the hardest trail on the planet. Most who start it don’t finish due to the unpredictability of weather in the high Himalaya and the sheer difficulty of the thing. Further complicating things, it’s only legal to do the trek with a guided tour company. That’s going to cost you close to $6,000, not to mention the $250 to $290 per day the government of Bhutan charges you for traveling in the country.
The trip takes at least 25 days to complete and traverses 11 passes, most more than 16,000 feet, including a high point of 17,388 feet on Rinchen Zoe La Pass. At the village of Thanza, you pick up yaks to navigate the mountains ahead. But it’s all of that difficulty that makes the thing so enjoyable.
Bhutan is one of the cultures and landscapes least touched by global technology. It is remote, as remote as you can get on a swiftly shrinking planet.
When to Go: April and October are the only month long windows when you can usually avoid the snows of winter and the rains of the summer monsoons.
Unesco: 1. Angkor* 2. Temple of Preah Vihear (Hindu Shiva temple, masterpiece of Khmer architecture, carved stone ornamentation, and spectacular cliff top setting)
Natural: 1. Tonle Sap Lake (largest lake in SE Asia, fills by backflow up tributary of Mekong) 2. Cardamom and Elephant Mountains (SE Cambodia, high rainfall, intact lowland forest, large animals) 3. Ta Prohm Temple Trees* (Siem Reap)
Unesco: 1. Ancient Building Complex in the Wudang Mountains 2. Ancient City of Ping Yao* 3. Ancient Villages in Southern Anhui – Xidi and Hongcun* 3. Capital Cities and Tombs of the Ancient Koguryo Kingdom 4. China Danxia* 5. Classical Gardens of Suzhou* 6. Dazu Rock Carvings* 7. Fujian Tulou* 8. Historic Center of Macao* 9. Historic Ensemble of the Potala Palace, Llasa* 10. Huanglong Scenic and Historic Interest Area* 11. Imperial Palaces of the Ming and Qing Dynasties in Beijing and Shenyang* 12. Imperial Tombs of the Ming and Qing Dynasties* 13. Juzhaigou Valley Scenic and Historic Interest Area* 14. Historic Monuments of Dengfeng in the Center of Heaven and Earth 15. Kaiping Diaold and Villages 16. Longmen Grottoes 17. Lushan NP* 18. Mausoleum of the First Qin Emperor* 19. Mogao Caves* 20. Mount Emei Scenic Area, including Leshan Giant Buddha Scenic Area* 21. Mount Huangshan 22. Mount Qingcheng and the Dujangyan Irrigation System 23. Mount Sanqingshan NP 24. Mount Taishan 25. Mount Wutai 26. Mount Wuyi 27. Mountain Resort and its Outlying Temples, Chengde 28. Old Town of Lijiang* 29. Peking Man Site at Zhoukoudian 30. Sichuan Giant Panda Sanctuaries* – Wolong, Mt Siguniang and Jiajin Mountains 31. South China Karst* 32. Summer Palace and Imperial Garden in Beijing* 33. Temple and Cemetery of Confucius and the Kong Family Mansion in Qufu 34. Temple of Heaven: an Imperial Sacrificial Altar in Beijing* 35. The Great Wall* 36. Three Parallel Rivers of Yunnan Protected Areas 37. West Lake Cultural Landscape of Hangzhou* 38. Wulingyuan Scenic and Historic Interest Area* (Zhangjiajie NP) 39. Yin Xu 40. Yungang Grottoes*
Natural: 1. Taklimakan Desert, Xinjiang Uygur Zizhiqu (Sinkiang)* 2. Yellow River* 3. Hua Shan Mountain, Shaanxi* 4. Wulingyuan, Hunan* 5. Zhoukoudian Caves, Beijing 6. Qinling Mountains, Shaanxi 7. Jiuzhaigou, Sichuan* 8. Shennongjia, Hubei 9. Huanglong Nature Reserve* 10. Mouunt Lushan, Jiangxi* 11. Wolong Nature Reserve 12. Zigong, Sichuan* 13. Tiger Leaping Gorge, Yunnan* 14. Yangtze Gorges, Chongqing* 15. Guilin Hills* 16. Guilin Caves, Guangxi Zhuangzu Zizhiqu 17. Huangguoshu Falls, Guizhou 18. Folded Borcade Hill, Guangxi Zhuang Autonomous Region 19. Wave-Subduing Hill 20. Elephant Trunk Hill, Guangzi Zhuang Autonomous Region 21. Dashiwei Doline 22. Jade Mountain Snow Mountain, Yunnan 23. Mount Meilixueshan, Yunnan 24. Mount Huangshan, Canton 25. Lunan Stone Forest, Yunnan* Tibet Plateau: Bounded by desert to north and the Himalaya, Karakoram and Pamir mountains to the south. Everest Base Camp on north gives full views of mountain. Nam Tso 240kms NW of Lhasa is this turquoise lake backed by mountains. At 4730m so acclimatize well. Tashi Lhunpo Monaster – It survived the Cultural Revolution unscathed and remains an authentic insight into ancient Tibetan Buddhism. 1 million wild yaks roamed the plateau 50 years ago; now there are 15,000. Yaks have 3x more red blood cells and extra ribs to deal with high altitude. 26. Kunlun Mountains, Tibet 27. Ngari, Tibet 28. Yamdrok Yumtso Lake, Tibet 29. Mount Kailash, Tibet 30. Tsangpo Canyon, Tibet 31. Lake Manasarova, Tibet* 32. Wong Lung Waterfalls, Hong Kong
1. Maclehose Trail, New Territories, Hong Kong
Length: 62 miles
The Trip: While Hong Kong may be one of the most densely populated places on the planet, the surrounding New Territories are rural and quiet—and they are tough country to hike. The MacLehose Trail makes constant, grueling 1,000-plus-foot descents followed immediately by ascents along the fingers of ridgetops, making it more challenging than its mileage suggests.
The trail is broken down into ten sections, starting at the stunning eastern beaches before climbing up into tropical mountains, where monkeys chatter from the branches—watch out for cobras—and winding past 3,140-foot Tai Mo Shan, the highest peak in the area. It usually takes five to six days to complete the trail, which has been made a bit easier since the days of the Gurkhas with stone steps and paths and first-come-first-serve free campgrounds. Occasional food vendors offer more comfort along the way. When you are done, take a cab back to a hotel in the metropolis.
When to Go: Winter (November-March) is best since summer is very humid.
2. Tiger Leaping Gorge, Yunnan.
The Trip: 70 km north of Lijiang in Yunnan province, close to Tibet and Myanmar. Start from Daju to avoid the gruelling ascent.
3. Wolong Nature Reserve, Sichuan
The Trip: In Sichuan province, Wolong is 140 km NW of Chengdu.
4. Mount Kailash Pilgrimage, Tibet
Length: 32 miles
The Trip: Kailash, a perfect pyramid at 22,028 feet, has never been climbed as it is considered sacred to five religions: Hindus (the peak is where the god Shiva sits in meditation), Buddhists, Jains, the Ayyavazhi branch of Hinduism, and the ancient Bon religion of Tibet. The sacred pilgrimage path, known as the kora traverses 32 miles around the mountain. It draws crowds of pilgrims seeking its powerful good grace but is also a first-class Himalaya trek encompassing meditation sites at waterfalls, the sacred cave of Zuthal Puk, and 18,600-foot Dolma La Pass. After completing the kora, take a dip in nearby Lake Manasarovar. At 15,060 feet, it’s one of the highest lakes on the planet. According to Hindus, the waters purify bathers, and ablutions here complete the Kailash pilgrimage.
When to Go: April through September.
1. Forbidden City. 4 Jing Shan Qian Jie, Dongcheng, Beijing. www.dpm.org.cn
For more than 500 years the world’s largest palace complex was the exclusive haunt of royal dynasties, but after a Republican coup overthrew the last Qing Emperor the complex was open to all. It’s like stepping back in time. Crossing the 52m-wide moat that rings the complex takes you into the centre of the best-preserved ancient buildings in all of China. The buildings in the Forbidden City are collectively known as the Palace Museum and treasures and ancient royal artefacts are scattered through hundreds of rooms and galleries. See the City as divided into an outer and an inner court. Each is comprised of buildings with grandiose names like ‘The Palace of Earthly Tranquillity’. Wander unhurriedly through the endless halls and corridors and soak up the history at your own pace.
2. Watermelon Museum. Jingkai Side Road, Daxing, Beijing. Phone +86 1089281181
If only all the answers to my questions could be found in one place. Well, BOOM – they can and they are, here at China’s only museum devoted entirely to the humble watermelon. Neon lights dance around the wax replicas of numerous different watermelon varieties, there’s music pumping in the background, there’s even a gigantic fake watermelon hovering over the entrance. Well, its China’s favourite summer fruit. There are references to watermelons in ancient poems so the love affair has been alive for many years. If you need some convincing of the watermelon’s positive properties then head outside where the garden grows the real thing – you’re welcome to give the star attraction a taste test.
Unesco: 1. Bagrati Cathedral and Gelati Monastery 2. Historical Monuments of Mtskheta 3. Upper Svaneti
Unesco: 1. Agra Fort* 2. Ajanta Caves* 3. Buddhist Monuments at Sanchi 4. Champaner Pavagadh Archaelological Park* 5. Chhatropoti Shivoji Terminus (formerly Victoria Terminus, Mumbai)* 6. Churches and Convents of Goa* 7. Elephanta Caves* 8. Ellora Caves* 9. Great Living Chola Temples* 10. Group of Monuments at Hampi* 11. Group of Monuments at Mahabalipuram* 12. Group of Monuments at Puttadokol* 13. Humayun’s Tomb, Delhi* 15. Jantar Mantar 16. Kaziranga NP, Assam – Best for rhinos with 1800 or 2/3 of the world’s population. Overnight or multiday tours easily arranged in Guwahati. 17. Keoladeo NP (bird sanctuary) 18. Khajuraho Group of Monuments* 19. Mahabodhi Temple Complex at Bodh Gaya* 20. Manas Wildlife Sanctuary Barpeta Rd is the most convenient pint of entry for Manas, is on the train line to Assam’s state capital, Guwahati in 3 hours. 21. Mountain Railways of India* 22. Nanda Devi and Valley of Flowers NP 23. Quib Minor and its Monuments, Delhi* 24. Red Fort Complex* 25. Rock Shelters of Bhimbetka 26. Sun Temple Konarak* 27. Sanderbans NP 28. Taj Mahal*
Natural: 1. Keoladeo NP, Rajasthan 2. Siachen Glacier, Jammu and Kashmir 3. Ranthambore NP, Rajasthan 4. Valley of Flowers, Uttaranchal 5.Nanda Devi NP 6. Milam Glacier, Uttaranchal 7. Marble Rocks, Madhya Pradesh 8. Kyllang Rock and Symper Rock 9. Gir NP and Wildlife Sanctuary* 10. Waterfalls of Meghalaya 11. Waterfalls of Orissa 12. Lonar Crater and Lake 13. Pachmarhi, Madhya Pradesh (hill station) 14. Chilika Lake, Orissa (largest brackish lagoon in Asia, birds) 15. Belum Caves, Andhra Pradesh 16. Western Ghats* 17. Sila thoranam Arch 18. Waterfalls of Karnataka 19. Jog Falls 20. Hogenakkal Falls, Tamil Nadu 21. Kudremukh NP, Karnataka 22. Athirapally and Vazhachal Waterfalls
23. Himalaya Foothills Assam, India – Grasslands of elephant grass with dense thick-pile carpets across the plans of northern India and Nepal’s southern Terai region. The monsoon is in late May to September with peak flower displays. Oct-Nov still have grass but it is burned in Dec-Jan and new shoots in February lure animals out into the open: elephants, rhino, pigmy hogs (world’s smallest and rarest pig with fewer than 150 surviving in the wild. Manas NP has only viable population of pygmy hogs and Asian elephants, Indian rhinos and Bengal floricans. Rhinos more common in nearby Haziranga NP with 1800, some 2/3 of the world’s total. Jeep safaris and elephant tours are the norm but rafting and walking tours are available in Nameri NP to see leopards. Brahmaputra River Cruise – bisects Assam, rare Gangetic dolphin, best in January. Majuli Island is world’s largest river island with sandbanks, water meadow, rice fields and Hindu monasteries. 655 tea plantations produce half of India’s tea – around Jorhat colonial heritage estates. Drive to Little Tibet in Tswang, Arunachal Pradesh state, a restricted area requiring a permit.
24. Teak Forests of Central India – Teak forests dot central and southern India. Pench Tiger Reserve, Bandhavgarh and Panna Nin eastern Madhya Pradesh and Kanha NP, have hope of seeing a tiger between Feb-June in the early mornings. Also try Wayanad, Parambikulam or Chinnar Wildlife Sanctuaries in Kerala. Best in winter when cool and the dry season Nov-Feb. Temperatures soar in Mar-Apr but undergrowth thins and see more wildlife: gaur or forest buffalo, chitals (spotted deer) and Hanuman langur monkeys. Monsoon arrives in June. The nearest major railhead to Pench is Nagpu, 2 1/2 hours by bus. Manha’s closest train station is Jabalpu. Also see: Khajuraho – a 10-century old complex of Hindu temples with ornate erotic figures, the karma-sutra of carving. Maheshwar – fort above the sacred Narmada River lined with ancient ghats and temples. Pachmarhi – Rag-era hill statioin with highland hikes past caves and waterfalls. Orchha – palaces and temples to 16th and 17th centuries in the jungle. Mandu – mountainside village the remains of a mighty 1000 year old Afghan citadel with palaces, mosques, temples and tombs.
1. Darjeeling Tea Trek April, May or October, November.
Epic Road Trips 1. Leh-Manali Highway, Himalaya Mts.
1. Sulabh International Museum of Toilets. Sulabh Bhawan, Mahavir Enclave, Palam Dabri Marg, New Delhi. www.sulabhtoiletmuseum.org
The International Museum of Toilets grandly proclaims to ‘explore the history of hygiene and sanitation’. The seriously great thing about this museum is that it is run by a charity that works tirelessly to bring sanitation to India’s poor and destitute. And there’s some genuinely interesting toilet-related artefacts on display – from 2500 BC to present-day. The museum houses a replica of the toilet used by King Louis XIV. It’s very… regal. How about chamber pots from the 17th century? Or French toilets that were designed to be disguised or completely hidden from view? Check out the medieval women’s toilets. Design has come a long way since the ‘good old days’.
Unesco: 1. Borobudur Temple Compounds* (Java, great Buddhist monument, 5 square terraces + 3 round platforms, 6km carved walls) 2. Komodo NP* 3. Lorentz NP (New Guinea, marine to mountain top ecosystem, glaciated mountains) 4. Prambanan Temple Compounds* (Java Hindu temple complex with 224 temples) 5. Sangiran Early Man Site (half worlds early hominoid fossils, animal fossils) 6. Tropical Rainforest Heritage of Sumatra 7. Uung Kulan NP (Java, volcanoes, rainforest, Javan rhinoceros)
Natural: 1. Mount Merapi, Jawa Tengah (very active volcano, climbable without a guide) 2. Gunung Rinjani, Lombok Island (volcano with caldera and lake, rainforest) 3. Lake Toba, Sumatra Utara (in huge volcanic caldera exploded 75,000 years ago, volcanic winter for 6 years) 4. Kerinci Seblat NP, Jambi, Sumatra (biodiversity, Rafflesia flowers) 5. Anak Krakatau (original Krakatau blew in 1883, this emerged in 1930’s and now second highest in group of four) 6. Gunung Gede – Pangrango, Jawa Barat (twin volcanoes, active, Java) 7. Gunung Agung, Bali (volcano, 10,308′) 8. Kawah Ijen, Jawa Timur (crater lake) 9. Mount Bromo and Tengger Highlands, Java
Unesco: 1. Buddist Monuments in the Honyi-ji Are 2. Gusuku Sites and Related Properties of the Kingdom of Ryukyu 3. Himeji-jo 4. Hiraizumi – Temples, Gardens, and Archaeological Sites Representing the Buddhist Pure Land 5. Hiroshima Peace Memorial* (Genbaku Dome) 6. Historic Monuments of Ancient Kyoto* (Kyoto, Uji and Otsu Cities) 7. Historic Monuments of Ancient Nara* 8. Historic Villages of Shirakawago and Gokayama 9. Itshkushima Shinto Shrine* 10. Iwami Ginzan Silver Mine and its Cultural Landscape 11. Ogasawara Islands 12. Sacred Sites and Pilgrimage Routes in the Ki Mountain Range 13. Shirakami-Sanchi 14. Shiretoko 15. Shrines and Temples of Nikko* 16. Yakushima*
Natural: 1. Daisetsu, Hokkaido (wildest part of Japan, peaks, volcanoes, relic brown bears, beautiful fall color) 2. Kegon Falls and Lake Chuzenji, Tochigi (forested lake at foot of Mt Nantai Volcano, 320′ falls, Nikko NP) 3. Teuri-Jima, Hokkaido (island off NW coast of Hokkaido, seabirds on pinnacles and cliffs, rhinoceros auklet) 4. Mount Fuji (12,338′, highest mountain, sacred, sunrise on summit) 5. Yaku-Shima, Kagoshima* (mountainous island, high rainfall, biodiversity, 40 granite peaks, biodiversity, cedars) 6. The Ryukyu Islands, Kagoshima/Okinawa (chain of 200 islands between southern island of Kyushu and Taiwan, rich ecosystem on Okinawa, corals) 7. Kushiro Marsh, Hokkaido (largest wetland in Japan, red crowned crane endangered, tancho spectacular mating dance) 8. Izumi, Kyushu (reclaimed farm land where white necked cranes feed over winter)
9. Giant Salamanders – At up to 2m, are the world’s largest amphibians. Can live up to 80 years. Live in crystal-clear mountain streams of western Honshu, Shikoku and Kyushu. Listed as Near Threatened. Nocturnal so only see them in action after dark. Mate in late August and hundreds congregate at nest sites. Has very poor eyesight but highly sensitive nodules that sense the slightest changes in water pressure, picking up vibrations. Try around Maniwas, in Okayama prefecture with clean streams with the perfect habitat. Exceptionally slow metabolism so feeds infrequently. It secretes a milky substance that smells like a Japanese pepper when threatened. It is the only salamander species that practices external fertilization – the female lays 4-500 eggs that may be fertilized by several males. they eat insects, fish, mice and crabs. They are considered living fossils as their skeletons are almost identical to that of a fossilized specimen dating back 30m years. Maniwa’s Hanzaki Centre has giant salamanders.
10. Dragon Chimneys, Okinawa Trough, Western Pacific between Japan and Taiwan marks the edge of the continental shelf in the East China Sea – underwater vents 1000-2000m deep (max 2700m) with superheated water and dissolved minerals. Deep sea diving in manned submersibles from the Ryukyu Islands. See many crustaceans. Ryukkyu has subtropical beaches, mangrove forests and bamboo jungles, a rich history and culture and a Chinese/Japanese cuisine. Scuba dive the warm waters for tropical fish and pelagics, dolphns, whale sharks, hammerheads and manta rays, sot and hard corals, and dive wrecks. Manta Way in straits between Iriomote-jima and Kohama-jima in late spring and summer. Manta Scramble of Ishigaki-jima. Irizaki Point – off Yonaguni-jima has hammerheads in winter. Mini Grotto off Miyako-jima has underwater caves. Excellent tourist infrastructure that caters to the Japanese domestic market.
1. Yoshida Trail, Mount Fuji, Japan
Length: There are several trails to the top of Fuji but the most popular, the Yoshida Trail, covers about eight miles. For fewer people on the trail, try one of the less traveled paths to the summit, such as the Gotemba Trail, covering about ten miles and 4,723 vertical feet.
The Trip: A Japanese cultural tradition, climbing Mount Fuji, at 12,389-foot the highest point in Japan, is one of the most climbed mountains in the world, with over 300,000 hikers trying to summit each year. And it’s quite easy to access since its four major trailheads can all be reached via public transport from downtown Tokyo.
Wilderness experience? Certainly not. But it is a once-in-a-lifetime cultural trip. It’s the crowds themselves (a third of which are foreigners) that make Fuji such a memorable climbing experience. Watch the sunrise from the summit with over a thousand new friends.
When to Go: The official season is July through August. The crowds are smaller in June and September, but the huts may be closed and public transport slows down. In the winter, Fuji requires technical mountaineering and snow safety gear.
2. Temples of Kyoto
Several walks around Kyoto visit all the temples and parks. Late March or early April for the cherry blossums and autumn for the fall colors are best.
1. Ghibli Museum. 1-1-83 Simorenjaku, Mitaka-shi, Tokyo. www.ghibli-museum.jp
The gorgeous animated creations from the inspired master of Japanese anime, Hayao Miyazaki, are all here, from Princess Mononoke and the cast of Spirited Away to My Neighbor Totoro (you’ll see him peering enigmatically through the glass at the entrance). Kids will love the huge, furry bus, which they can clamber inside, and they’ll marvel at the giant robot propped up on the roof, but the museum is not just for children; it caters to anime fans of all ages with some beautiful, detailed artist sketches and animation cels on display. The in-house theatre shows a short film, made especially for the museum, that can’t be seen anywhere else. With the crowds to prove it. Buy tickets well in advance as it is always busy. If you find you need a break from the crowds of fans inside, take a leisurely stroll through Inokashira Park, the lush garden in which the museum is located.
2. Cupnoodles Museum. 2-3-4 Shinko, Naka-ku, Yokahama. www.cupnoodles-museum.jp
It may be difficult to believe that a museum dedicated to the humble cup noodle, or instant ramen as it’s more commonly known in Japan, could be anything more than a glorified supermarket shelf, but this museum proves its worth. There is a room displaying 3000 packets of instant ramen, so yes, there are more noodles than you can poke a chopstick at, but there’s more. The museum celebrates the life of the father of ramen, Momofuku Ando, and includes a replica of the shed in which Momofuku invented the first chicken ramen. There’s an animated movie detailing the history of ramen, an indoor cup noodle park where kids can interact with the ramen manufacturing process from the perspective of the noodle (really!), a factory where visitors can create their own totally original cup noodle package – from cup design to noodle ingredients – and last but not least, a noodles bazaar where you can sample the famous goods.
Unesco: 1. Mausoleum of Khaja Ahmed Yasawi* 2. Petroglyphs within the Archaeological Landscape of Tamgaly 3. Saryarks – Steppe and Lakes of Northern Kazakhstan
Natural: 1. Altai Montains, Mongolia/China/Russia/Kazakhstan 2. Tian Shan Mountains – China/Kyrgyzstan/Kazakhstan*
Unesco: 1. Sulaiman-Too Sacred Mountain
Epic Road Trips
1. Bishkek to Osh*. This 10-hour drive has no buses but only share taxis caught from Osh Bazaar in Bishkek. Flights are available for little money ($25) but the scenery was so spectacular, that I would encourage the drive. Even after the country flattens out, there is always an interesting view out the window.
After an initial flat area, enter a rocky gorge to climb over 3586m Tor-Ashuu Pass and a 2.6km tunnel here was the scene of a 2001 fatal carbon monoxide poisoning disaster involving cyclists. Then decend to the yawning Sousamyr Basin, a classic example of Kyrgyz herding country. Then climb over 3184m Ala-Bel Pass again with nice rugged mountains and great views. The descent is into a beautiful valley that’s part of the Chychkan State Zoological Reserve. The route is now in the headwaters of the gorgeous Naryn River, which has at least 4 dams on it creating several reservoirs that we passed. The road loops around the vast Toktogul Reservoir before reaching Kara-Kol, where the first 210m high dam is (invisible from the road). The river is a fantastic turquoise/green showing its glacial source. The gorge of the Naryn has sheer eroded walls and towering pillars of red sandstone. The country flattens but passes several towns, dry grassy hills, and fields of maize and stacked hay, horses, cows, sheep and donkeys. Arsianbob is a worthwhile detour – surrounded by an impressive wall of snow-sprinkled crags, the town is in a vast tract of woodland, the world’s largest walnut grove. The grove’s seed nuts were apparently a miraculous gift from the Prophet Mohammad to a modest gardener who he had charged with finding paradise on earth. Ozgon has a historic minaret and a three-in-one 12th century brick mausoleum complex. Finally, you reach Osh.
2. Osh to the Tajikistan border*. The 450km trip all the way to Murgab takes 9 hours going over several passes. Without your own vehicle, a private 4WD costs about US$200. Driving the Gulcha River and ascend to Taldyk Pass (3614m with rugged, craggy peaks flanking the road. After another 3550 pass, views were huge down to a wide east-west valley and the dazzling Pamir Alay Mountain Range on the Kyrgyzstan/Tajikistan border. Descend to Saray Tash.
a tiny village sits on a major crossroads: west to the tongue of Kyrgyzstan that juts into Uzbekistan, 74kms east to Irkeshtam on the Chinese border and Kashgar beyond and south to the Pamirs and Tajikistan. Drive 25kms west to Sary-Mogol and views of 7134m Peak Lenin astride the border, the cheapest and easiest 7,000m peak to climb in the world. The mountain holds the sad record for the world’s worst mountaineering disaster, when in 1991, an earthquake-triggered avalanche obliterated Camp II on the approach killing 43 climbers. Return to Sary Tash and turn south. The potholed pavement degenerated to gravel before Bordobo at the Kyrgyz border post at the base of the mountains. To continue requires a Tajikistan visa and GBAO permit. It is then 20km further on a single lane dirt track to 4282m Kyzyl-Art Pass and the true border. A great statue of a Marco Polo sheep with huge curved horns is at the pass. Just beyond is the Tajikistan border post.
KOREA, DEMOCRATIC PEOPLE’S REPUBLIC OF
Unesco: 1. Complex of Koguryo Tombs
Natural: 1. Mount Baekdusan / Cheonji Caldera Lake (sacred mountain on border with China, 9,003′, caldera with lake at summit 2. Yeonjudam Pools, Kangwon (south, pools surrounded by limestone rocks, fall colors 3. Guryong Falls / Geumgangsan Mountains (falls over single block of granite, pools 4. Manmulsang (limestone pinnacles, erosional features, monasteries, forest, fall color)
KOREA, REPUBLIC OF
Unesco: 1. Changdeokgung Palace Complex* 2. Gochang, Hwasun and Ganghwa Dolmen Sites 3. Gyeongiu Historic Areas 4. Hoeinsa Temple Janggyeong Panjeon, the Depositories for the Tripitaka Korean Woodblocks 5. Historic Villages of Korea: Hahoe and Yangdong 6. Hwaseong Fortress* 7. Jeju Volcanic Island and Lava Tubes* 8. Jongmyo Shrine* 9. Royal Tombs of the Joseon Dynasty* 10. Seokguram Grotto and Bulgusa Temple
Natural: 1. Manjang-Gul* (8.4 mile cave and lava tube) and Seongsan Ilchulbaong* (on island of Jeju-do, volcanic peak 3000′ high and 2,000′ crater) 2. Jusangjeolli Coastline, Jeju-do Island (vertical stone hexagonal pillars along 1.2 miles of coast) 3. Hwanseon Gul Cave (huge cave) 4. Sunrise Peak, Jeju-do Island* (huge crater with 99 jagged rock pinnacles on rim) 5. Mount Hallasan*, Jeju-do Island.
Unesco: 1. Town of Luang Prabang* (traditional Lao and colonial architecture, monasteries) 2. Vat Phou and Associated Ancient Settlements withn the Champasok Cultural Landscape (10th-14th century Khmer)
Natural: 1. Puh Hin Bun Mountain (Borikhamsay, forests, karst, caves, river through mountain) 2. Pak Ou Caves* (Luang Prabang, 4,000 Buddha statues) 3. Nam Khan River* (Luang Prabang, monastery, mountains, hills, rafting) 4. Luang Prabang Waterfalls* (French colonial city, tomb of Henri Mouhot) 5. Champsak Waterfalls (highest waterfall in Laos, 400’) 6. The Mekong Waterdrop* and Si Phan Don Delta* (33’ drop, fishing, dolphins, 4,000 islands, channels, rapids)
Unesco: 1. Gunung Mulu NP 2. Kinabalu Park* 3. Melaka and George Town, Historic cities of the Straits of Malacca*
Natural: 1. Kampung Kuantan Fireflies 2. Taman Negara (central old rainforest rich biodiversity) 3. Batu Caves (Selangor, 8 miles from Kuala Lumpur) 4. Kanching Falls (Selangor, 1 hour from Kuala Lumpur) 5. Kinabalu* (Sabah, highest mountain in SE Asia, 13,455’, flora and bird biodiversity) 6. Gua gomantong (Sabah, 2 limestone cave complexes famous for swiftlets for birds nest soup) 7. Danum Valley (Sabah, pristine rainforest, wildlife, forest) 8. Kinabatangan River* (Sabah, floodplain, 10 species of primate, 10’ rain/year, caves) 9. Niah Caves (Sarawak, enormous, human habitation for 40,000 years, access by river) 10. Clearwater Cave System (Sarawak, huge caves, palms) 11. Mount Gunung Api and Pinnacles (Sarawak, tall limestone needles, difficult 3 day trip) 12. Deer Cave/Mulu (Sarawak, huge cave, bats) 13. Sipadan Island* (diving on oceanic volcano)
1. Sarawak State Museum. Jln tun Abang Haji Openg, Kuching, Sarawak. www.Museum.darawak.gov.my
This is a world-class ethnological and archaeological museum and gives visitors an illuminating insight into the natural history of the Malay archipelago. We’re talking a vast assortment of taxidermied creatures including orangutans, birds and wild cats, exhibitions of tribal tattooing, textiles, magnificent iron works, and ceremonial masks from various tribal groups, including the renowned Dayak people, who practiced head hunting. The museum has a replica longhouse of the Dayak people which is adorned in traditional style with actual human skulls. The Dayak believed that the heads would bring good fortune and prosperity to the community and they adhered to certain rituals and rules, including food offerings, in order to placate the spirits of the skulls; some of these rules and rituals are still followed today.
Unesco: 1. Orkhon Valley Cultural Landscape (pastureland on banks of river, archaeology) 2. Petrogylphic Complexes of the Mongolian Altai (rock carvings show progression from hunters to herding to horse dependent nomadic life, and funerary monuments) 3. Uus Nuur Basin (saline lake, birds, mountains with mammals)
Natural: 1. Singing Sands, Gobi Desert – highest dunes in Mongolia. 2. Flaming Cliffs, Gobi Desert – Bayanzag has classic red rock sand and sweeping emptiness in the central Gobi. A dinosaur hot-spot. 3. Gobi Desert – Largest desert in Asia with mountains and valleys, fossil cliffs and grassy steppes. Sand dunes cover only 3% of the Gobi. Ger camps always welcoming. Summer temperatures to 40C, winter to -15C. Best time to visit is in Sept-Oct when cooler and tourist ger camps are still open. Two-humped bactrian camels use snow as only winter water source. Domestic bactrians originated from same population but not from the one that survives in the wild (the last wild camels in the world with only 350 left). Bactrians transport goods, provide wool (600l a year) and gamey meat. Khongoryn Els is a patch of towering dunes 100km long and up to 300m high. Yolyn Am (Volture’s Mouth) is a curious valley in the middle of the Gobi encrusted with metres-deep ice practically year-around. 2km walk to gorge.
Natural: 1. Inle Lake* (shallow, unique fishing, floating garden farming) 2. Golden Rock* (Mon State, 5 hour, 4000’ elevation gain hike, gilded balancing rock)
Unesco: 1. Kathmandu Valley* (7 sites) 2. Lumbini, the Birthplace of the Lord Buddha* 3. Royal Chitwan NP* 4. Sagarmatha NP
Natural: 1. Manaslu 2. Dhaulagiri 3. Annapurna* 4. Cho Oyo 5. Mount Everest* 6. Lhotse 7. Makalu 8. Kangchenjunga 9. Kali Gandaki (deep valley 14,520′ deep) 10. Royal Chitwan NP*
1. Everest Base Camp Trek.
Length: About 40 miles one way
The Trip: The two-week trek to Everest Base Camp and back has become increasingly popular. After landing in Lukla the route passes through the heart of the Khumbu region and wanders into Namche Bazaar at 11,286 feet and where most trekkers spend a few days getting acclimatized. From here, the trek heads up past smaller villages, like at 13,074-foot Pangboche, with its famed Buddhist monastery, before topping out at 17,650 feet at base camp, with the summit towering over 11,000 feet above. You see three of the highest peaks on Earth (Everest, Lhotse, and Lhotse Sar) in one glance—and dozens more Himalayan giants along the way. A favorite is the view from Thyangboche, called by renowned mountain explorer W.H. Tillman the “greatest view in the world.” But it’s the deep immersion in the Sherpas’ Buddhist culture that will bring you back for the friendly villages, the monasteries, and the polyglot scene of world travelers who come for the high-octane pilgrimage to Everest. Go slow on the way up. Healthy hikers could cover 35 miles in two days, but the need to acclimatize means you’ll take ten days on the trek in to Everest, but only three on the trek out. The enforced downtime allows you to savor the experience—and the culture of people who live there.
When to Go: Spring from March until the monsoons move in. May is best but September–November after the monsoon season can be beautiful as well, and a bit less crowded. In May, the rhododendrons are in bloom with orchids growing in them. There are guest houses on the way up.
Unesco: 1. Archaeological Ruins at Moenjodoro 2. Buddhist Ruins of Takht-i-Bahi and Neighboring City Remains in Lahore 3. Historic Monuments at makli, Thatta 4. Rohtas Fort 5. Txila
Natural: 1. Indus Valley 2. K2 3. Hunza Valley (along Karakoram Highway part of China/Pakistan Silk route) 4. Khyber Pass 5. Nanga Parbat
Unesco: 1. Baroque churches of the Philipppines (4 churches in Manila, Santa Maria, Paoay, and Miag-ao) 2. Historic town of Vigan* (planned Spanish colonial town with mixing of many cultures) 3. Puerto-Princess Subterranean River NP* (Palawan, karst landscape with underground river that empties into sea) 4. Rice Terraces of the Philippine Cordilleras* 5. Tubbataha Reefs Natural Park (2 coral atolls with birds and turtles)
Natural: 1. Pagasanjan Falls (Luzon, SE of Manila, 2 hr journey up river to falls) 2. Taal Lake and Volcanoe (Luzon, lake inside volcano, 34 eruptions since 1572, venomous sea snake and only salt water sardine in world) 3. Chocolate Hills (Bohol Island, low, grass covered hills on plateau) 4. Mount Kanlaon (Negros, tallest in Philippines, active, virgin forest, birds and reptiles) 5. Cagayan Valley Caves (Luzon, 75 documented cave systems) 6. Lake Lanao (Mindanao, ancient lakes with endemic fish) 7. Mount Apo (Mindanao, 9,690’, highest in country, sulphur deposits, hot spring waterfalls, diverse forest)
Unesco: 1. Central Sikhote-Alin 2. Citadel, Ancient City and Fortress Buildings of Derbent 3. Golden Mountains of Altai 4. Lake Baikal* The world’s largest lake with 20% of the world’s and 80% of the world’s water. Deepest point is 1637m, making it more than 200m deeper than any other lake on earth. Known as the Galapagos of Russia, 80% of species living in lake are endemic including the nerpa, a freshwater seal with 60,000 individuals and 50 types of fish. Freezes from January to May. Boat and kayak in summer, ice trek, ice fish, dive dog sled or ice mountain bike in the winter. Olkhorn Island – halfway up western shore, reach by short ferry from Sakhyurta. 72km-long island has good lake views from sheer cliffsthat culminate at the north in Cape Khoboy. Cool off in the small Shara-Nur Lake where harmless, naturally occurring chemicals in the water dye your skin red if you wallow too long. Barguzin Valley is accessible from Ust-Barguzin. valley opens out into wide lake-dotted grassland, edged by the vast Toblerone mountains. 5. Natural System of Wrangel island Reserve 6. Putorana Plateau 7. Uvs Nuur Basin 8. Volcanoes of Kamchatka 9. Western Caucasus
Natural: 1. Taymyr Peninsula, Taymyrskiy (dolgano-Nenetskiy) Autonomnyy Okrug 2. Northern Steppe and Saiga Migration, Kazakhstan/China 3. Sea of Okhotsk, Japan 4. Tyulenii Island, Sakhalinskaya Oblast 5. Volcanoes of Kamchatka 6. Kamchatka Peninsula 7. The Valley of the Geysers, Kamchatka Oblast 8. Lake Baikal*, Republika Buryatiya 9. Yankicha – Kuril Islands 10. Tamgaly Gorge, Almaty Oblast 10. Broadleaf forests of the Russian Far East home to Asiatic black bears, roe and sika deer, wild boars, raccoon dogs, Siberian weasels, many types of birds (including the rare grey goshawk) and Amur leopards (world’s rarest cat with less than 40 in the wild. Kedrovaya Pad Zapovednik is a nature reserve in the Black Mountains 20km from Vladivostok has best chance of seeing them. All have radio collars. 300 are in captivity mostly in zoos in Europe, NA and countries of the former Soviet Union. Coats increase in thickness from 2.5cm in summer to 7.5cm in winter. Males weigh 32-48kg and females 24-43kg.
Region has dense forests, sandstone canons, rivers, pools and waterfalls. Vladivostok is Russian Far east’s most commopolitan town with a dramatic setting of peaks, peninsulas and bays. funicular railway for views or outlying islands. Galvoron, 235km north of Vladivostok, has Russian Academy of Sciences biological research centre with two Amr tigers, the leopard’s larger cousin. Khankaisky Zapovednik reserve with birds in a wetland and Lake Khanka. Sikhote-Alinsky Biosphere Zapovednik is home to the Siberian Tiger, the world’s biggest cat in mountainous and densely forested reserve.
Unesco: 1. Ancient City of Polonnanuwa* 2. Ancient City of Sigiriya* 3. Golden Temple of Dambulla* 4. Central Highlands of Sri Lanka* 5. Old Town of Galle and its Fortifications* 6. Sacred City of Anunadhapura* 7. Sacred City of Kandy* 8. Sinharaja Forest Reserve*
Natural: 1. Sigiriya* 2. Diyalumma Falls 3. Bambarakanda Falls 4. Vavulpane Caves 5. Sri Pada (Adams Peak)* 6. Lake Bolgoda 7. Duvili Ella (100′ waterfall)
Natural:d 1. Dialuma Falls, Uva 2. Bambarakanda Falls, Uva 3. Vavulppane Caves, Uva 4. Sri Pada, Sabaragamuwa 5. Lake Bolgoda, West
Unesco: 1. Proto-urban site of Sarazm
Epic Road Trips
1. Khorog to Danshube*. This is a 13-hour share taxi to Danshube. There is a northern route (goes over a 3252m pass and is closed from the end of October to May) and a southern route. And it is a wonderful drive following the Afghanistan border through a spectacular steep-walled canyon for 8 hours. The road is part asphalt, part bone-cruncher. Try to sit in the left hand middle seat for the best views across into Afghanistan. A narrow, raging river divides the Tajik road from a precarious foot-path-track on the Afghan side, linking hamlets of stone and adobe houses set among small fields surrounded by rock walls. The Afghan road is a marvel of construction with many blasted sections across rock walls and sections that exist only with the support of long sections of rock. Many were walking with the occasional motorcycle.
At 65kms, the Bartang River is crossed. This valley is one of the wildest of the Western Pamirs with only occasional splashes of green amongst the barren rock walls. 4WD is required to get past Jizeu, a great short-hike destination.
The valley widens at the mouth of the Vanj Valley that leads to the Fedchenko Glacier, one of the world’s longest (a full day out-and-back hike from the end of the road). At Kalai-Khum, the northern route to Duchanbe takes off.
Between Rogak and Khostov is the most appealing stretch of the road. Across from Yakhchi Hisor springs is an Afghan-side village with a series of houses perched on rocky riverside outcrops. After passing an Afghan border bridge, the valley opens up before turning west climbing to the modest 2200m Shurabad Pass. To see the best part of the trip, break it into two, or travel in the Khorog to Dushanbe direction. We ate at Kulob, Tajikistan’s 3rd largest city. 30kms farther, at Vose is the startling 11th century reconstructed Hulbuk Fortress Palace (I didn’t see this).
It is possible to fly but why would you want to. The 45-minute flight is either the most exhilarating or terrifying experiences possible as the plane scoots between (not above) mountain valleys. In Soviet days, this was the only route on which Aeroflot paid its pilots danger money. Happily, the flights are grounded at the first signs of bad weather or unhappily, if there are insufficient passengers to fill the plane. Book an extra day or two in case flights are cancelled.
2. Tajikistan border to Murgab*. (Refer to the Kyrgyzstan section for first part of this trip from Osh to the border) At the 4655m Ak-Baital (White Horse) Pass is a large statue of a Marco Polo sheep with massive curved horns This is supposedly the best place to see Marco Polo sheep from the road. At the pass, the snow virtually disappears with the road almost clear and a dusting on the mountains in Tajikistan. This was obviously in the rain shadow of the Pamir Alay Mountains, and foretold the desert to come.
After the Tajikistan border check-point, the road follows the Chinese border, marked with a fence topped with a meter of barbed wire. Enter a moonscape of hardscrabble mountains and rocky desert with the only plants tiny tufts of grass. Kara-Kul Lake appears below, the creation of a meteor impact some 10 million years ago. At 3914m, although salty, it is frozen till May, but there is a new jetty, plans for a regatta and attempts to declare it the world’s highest navigable lake in the world, beating Lake Titicaca. Summer boat trips are planned to an island that was once a camp for unfortunate German POWs kept here many years beyond the end of WWII. Karakul is a small, scrappy village, 63km from the border and the only sign of habitation between there and Murgab. It sits on the lake and has 4 homestays. Osh bound vehicles often stop here for breakfast, but beware getting off here without your own vehicle, as getting out again might take a day or two.
The whole area lies in Unesco listed Tajik National Park. Tickets aren’t needed if transiting or sleeping in Karakul. The landscapes are archetypical Pamir poster-material with long straight stretches of road disappearing into stark, colorful mineral moonscapes, ringed with white-topped mountains in crystal clear air.
3. The Wakhan Corridor*. This wide river valley forms the border of Tajikistan and Afghanistan. Tall mountains rim the valley with the dazzling Hindu Kush in the background and forming the Afghanistan/Pakistan border. Khorog to Ishkashim. This 100km stretch starts with the river raging through a narrow canyon. The road on the Afghan side seems close enough to touch. Near Ishkashim, the river widens with pretty meadows and fields. Near the town of Anderob are ruby mines first recorded by Marco Polo in 1274. Ishkashim is the Wakhan’s regional center and largest village. There is not much here other than a famous trans-border market held 3kms west on Saturdays, but it has not operated for many months because of Taliban insurgencies in the area. A passport was required but no Afghan visa. It is still a border crossing point to a safe part of Afghanistan. Ishkashim to Langar. This part of the road has the Wakhan’s greatest appeal. Poplars, many villages and arid valleys frame white pinnacles and glaciers across the river on the Afghan side. Kakh-kara Fortress, 15km east of Ishkashim, has a series of mud-brick wall fragments on top of a hillock beside the road. The oldest sections date to the 3rd century BC, but the site has been reused by many cultures since. It was built to defend parts of the Silk Road that went through the Wakhan Corridor. Gravel pathways make exploration easy. Visit the Bibi Fatima Hotsprings (named after the Prophet Mohammed’s daughter). Bring a towel but no bathing suit is necessary in the sex-segregated pools. Stay at one of the nearby guesthouse high above the wide valley with the braided, meandering river far below. The houses are lovely: low, flat-roofed affairs with white plastered exterior walls – very similar to the adobe of New Mexico without protruding roof beams. The insides are glorious: colourful patterned rugs on the walls and floor and sleeping platforms encircling the room. A central skylight framed by massive beams in a pentagonal pattern makes them bright spaces. The rest of the ceiling is open beamed timbers with thin debarked branches filling the spaces. Towards the hot springs, see Vamchun Fortress perched on an impossible rock outcrop. Occupied between the 3rd and 1st centuries BC, many of the walls remain. One rounded tower has many ports. It is hard to understand the need to build something this high and remote – the valley below must have been a dangerous place to live. The river is a lovely turquoise. Some of the valleys coming out of the Hindu Kush have trees, fields and a few houses. Otherwise the Afghanistan side is desolately uninhabited. Continuing up the Wakhan, the road turns to hard packed gravel and bits of pavement in villages. Amazingly, Afghanistan is only the valley on the other side of the river and a narrow sliver of the Hindu Kush, with the majority of the mountains in Pakistan. The road is lined with rock walls, tiny collections of houses, wandering men, sheep, goats, cattle and donkeys. Langar is where the Pamir and Wakhan river valleys meet. The Wakhan is huge and wide extending due east next to Pakistan. There is not much in the town other than a collection of (supposedly) 6000 petroglyphs high above the town. Hire a guide to show you the way. It is a steep 20-minute climb past a Muslim cemetery (most gravestones have pictures of the occupant) to a large area of sloping granite. I found them quite disappointing as 90% of the ‘petroglyphs’ are recent and simply people’s names. The rest are older (our guide did not their age) and almost all of these are poorly executed Marco Polo sheep. The few that are not were of a figure with a shield and headdress, some multistory Islamic buildings and a very nice sheep next to some good handprints at the very top of the rock. Langar to the Pamir Highway. At Langar, the single lane gravel/dirt road climbs high above the Pamir River (now the border between Afghanistan and Tajikistan). Set in a steep walled gorge, only one glimpse of the river itself is possible. A well-constructed path is across the valley and we saw a caravan of 9 camels and 5 horses stopping at 2 mud huts. A little further were 3 men on horses. It is not obvious where these guys are all headed as the country is so desolate. Eventually the road follows right next to the river and we were only 30m from Afghanistan. Even though you do not actually set foot in Afghanistan, it feels like you have been there most of the trip. The valley eventually widens and the high mountains become rounded hills as you approach the military checkpoint at Khorgosh, 70kms from Langar. Here the road swings north away from the river and crosses 4344m Khorgosh Pass before descending to the Pamir Highway.
Unesco: 1. Ban Chiang Archaeological Site (5th century BC-3rd century BC) 2. Dong Phayayen-Khao Yai Forest Complex (800 animals, birds, reptiles) 3. Historic City of Ayuthaya* (1350-1765, art) 4. Historic Town of Sukhothai and Associated Historic Towns* (first capital, monuments, stupas, tower) 5. Thungyai-Huai Kha Khaeng Wildlife Sanctuaries (near Myanmar border, forest, elephants)
Natural: 1. Mae Surin Waterfalls (Mae Hong Son, NW near Myanmar, 262’, mountains) 2. Ob Luang Gorge (Chang Mai, narrow, deep gorge, rock formations, waterfall) 3. Doi Inthanon Mountain* (Chang Mai, highest mountain in Thailand, mist, waterfalls, cave) 4. Khlong Lan Waterfall and Mountain (N Thailand, waterfalls, rivers) 5. Mae Ping Gorge (Chang Mai, cliffs, caves, karst, forest) 6. Ang Thong Archipelago (craggy limestone islands, hiking) 7. Phu Kradung Mountain (NE, arduous 5 hour hike) 8. Naga Fireballs (full moon in November, tennis ball sized lights float off Mekong River) 9. Kaeng Sopha Waterfall (3 steps) 10. Phu Rua Rock Formations (Loei, flat topped mountain with eroded pillars, cliffs, Buddha statue) 11. Khao Yai Forests and Waterfalls (124 km NE Bangkok, animals) 12. Phu Hin Rong Kla Mountain (Loei, broken rock field, unusual rock formations) 13. Pha Taem Cliff (Ubon Ratchathani, eroded sandstone, waterfall, paintings) 14. Mukdahan Rock Rormations ( Mukdanhan, rock formatins, hoodoos) 15. Kaeng Tana Rapids 16. Thi Lo Su Waterfalls (Tak, remote north, spectacular) 17. Samui Island Rocks (Surat Thani, tropical island, granite promontories, beaches, rocks) 18. Samui Island Waterfalls (beautiful) 19. Thung Yai Naresuan and Huay Kha Kaeng Forests (superb forests, wildlife) 20. Khao Chong Pran Bat Cave (Ratchaburi, 2-3 million bats leave cave in evening, guano) 21. Thale Sap Lakes (Songkhla, 4 interconnected lakes, fishing) 22. Khao Khitchakut Mountain (Chanthaburi, waterfalls, pilgrimage) 23. Similan Islands (Phang-nga, granite, forest, monkeys, rock formations, coral, diving) 24. Khao Phanom Bencha Mountain (Tiger Cave Temple, rainforest, pools, beaches, waterfalls) 25. Khao Sam Roi Yot Mountain (conical peaks, beaches) 26. Phra nang Peninsula* (Krabi, beautiful beaches, 820’ cliffs) 27. Sri Phang-Nga Waterfalls 28. Khao Luang Mountain (3 day hike) 29. Phang-Nga Bay (limestone islands, high cliffs, hollow interiors, caves) 30. Khao Lampi Waterfalls (Phang-Nga, remote falls, flowers) 31. Thai Muang Beach (Phang-Nga, S of Phuket, turtles) 32. Khao Lak-Lam Ru NP (Phang-Nga, islands, forested valleys) 33. Erawan Waterfalls (Kanchanaburi, 500’, giant ironwood, pools)
Epic Road Trips.
1. Mae Hong Son Loop
A real epic journey, the Mae Hong Son Loop in northern Thailand is 600km long and takes four days to travel. Starting in Chiang Mai and going clockwise, the circular drive takes in the beauty of Mae Hong Son Province passing through towns Mae Sariang, Mae Hong Son and backpacker mecca Pai. Scenery is as stunning as you’d expect in Thailand’s most mountainous province, and asphalt roads are in great condition. On the way you’ll pass waterfalls, caves and temples, and climb Thailand’s highest peak Doi Inthanon for spectacular views over the valleys.
1. Erawan Museum. 99/9 Moo 1, Bang Muang Mai, Samut Prakan. www.erawan-museum.com
The museum is housed inside the five-storey, 250-tonne sculpture of a three-headed elephant. An enormous homage to Erawan, the revered Hindu elephant god. Thai sculptures of mythical dragons and fairies pepper the interior, there are ancient ceramics and gold statues towering over the ground floor, and all the exhibits are beautifully cast in the coloured light of the stunning stained-glass ceiling. It’s certainly an eclectic and magical mix of artefacts. The collection is the heart’s desire of eccentric Bangkok businessman, Lek Viriyabhun, who unfortunately passed away before the museum opened in 2004. To get the full effect of Lek’s creative vision, clamber up the steep spiral staircase to get a close-up view of the multicoloured glass roof and a bird’s-eye look at the exhibits below. When it’s time for your psychedelic trip to end, head outside to take some deep breaths in the tropical flower gardens.
Unesco: 1. Kunya-urgench 2. Parthian Fortresses of Nis 3. State Historical and Cultural Park “Ancient Merv”
Natural: 1. Kopet Dag (dry, barren mountains, sand dunes, along Iran border)
Unesco: 1. Historic Center of Bukhara* 2. Historic Center of Shakhrisyabz 3. Itchan Kala 4. Samarkand – Crossroads of Cultures*
Unesco: 1. Citadel of the Ho Dynasty (150 km west of Hanoi, built of green granite, built on feng shui principles) 2. Complex of Hue Monuments* (capital 1802-1945, feudal planning) 3. Ha Long Bay* (1,600 islands as limestone pillars, lakes and caves) 4. Hoi An Ancient Town* (15th century trading port, traditional architecture) 5. Central Sector of the Imperial Citadel of Thang Long, Hanoi* (11th century, center political power for 13 centuries) 6. My Son Sanctuary* (4th–13th Hindu town, tower temples) 7. Phong Nha-Ke Bang NP* (karst, caves, underground rivers)
Natural: 1. Hai Van Pass (highest and longest pass in country, lagoon, cloudy and windy) 2. Son Tra Peninsula (forest, monkeys, beaches, corals, diving, near Da Nang) 3. Mekong Delta (9 channels, biodiverse, pollution) 4. Marble Mountains (Da Nang, limestone outcrops and towers, caves, human presence)
Epic Road Trips. 1. Ma Pi Leng Pass in Northern Vietnam near Dong Van