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Asia

Novice monks arrive to receive alms of sticky rice. Photo by Robert Waite

The country of Laos, along with some other Southeast Asian nations, was on my radar as a possible destination for this year. I was especially interested in taking a river cruise on the Mekong and visiting Luang Prabang.

Alas, it was not to be, but contributing writer Robert Waite did make it there this January, which now seems a lifetime ago. But the portrait he paints is of a “tranquil gem” that I hope will be waiting when safe travel again resumes. And according to Bob, the Laotians are anxious to greet us.

By Robert Waite

Luang Prabang, Laos – It is dark and just a touch chilly. You’re seated on a stool on the road clutching a wicker basket filled with sticky rice, trying to remember the instructions you have just been given. Ball the rice… Continue reading

Waterfalls empty into beautiful Milford Sound on New Zealand’s south island. Photo by Jade Chan

Among our far-flung correspondents is Jade Chan, who writes for The Star, an English-language newspaper in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia.

Jade was on vacation in New Zealand just days and hours before that country — as well as Malaysia and Australia (where she had to transit) — severely limited travel to combat the coronavirus threat.  Getting home was something of a trial — “I was ‘saved by the bell,'” as she puts it — but at least she wasn’t stranded for weeks on a cruise ship.

I’ll let Jade take it from here (note that a somewhat different version of this piece originally appeared in The Star).

By Jade Chan

My family had planned for a holiday in New Zealand more than half a year ago, and departed for the Land of the… Continue reading

Time for the pig to squeal. Image from China Travel Guide.

Time for the pig to squeal. Image from China Travel Guide.

Chinese New Year (also known as Spring Festival), starts on February 5 this year and continues for 15 days.

It’s the most important festival time of the year in China — when millions of Chinese travel to their home villages and cities to be with family or friends for holiday reunions.

One of the world’s most celebrated festivals, Chinese New Year is also a star occasion  in Hong Kong, Taiwan, Vietnam, Malaysia, Singapore and some other Asian countries as well as Chinatowns around the world. And in recent years, the celebrations in New York, London, Vancouver, Sydney and other overseas cities have spread out of Chinatowns.

Parades with dragon and lion dances and fireworks, family feasts, and, on the final day, a Lantern Festival illuminated by red lanterns are all traditional.

This is the Year of… Continue reading

Nikko's arched Shinkyo Bridge spans the Daiya River.

Nikko’s arched Shinkyo Bridge spans the Daiya River.

Nikko, Japan, is just 72 miles (120 km) and two hours north of Tokyo by train, but seems a world apart.

Situated at an elevation of more than 4,200 feet (about 1,300 meters) and sporting crisp, clean mountain air, Nikko’s central area reminded us of an alpine village, including some chalet-style architecture and a roadside stand dispensing crêpes.

A mountain river tumbles through a gorge and forests fill the mountains. Hot springs, hiking trails, lakes, and waterfalls grace Nikko National Park, which borders the city of 85,000. And UNESCO World Heritage Sites are within walking distance of Nikko’s central square.

Nikko National Park and a World Heritage Shrine

While Nikko is an extremely popular day trip from Tokyo, we stayed overnight and are glad we did. It gave us time to absorb the atmosphere and explore Nikko’s main claim to fame, Toshogu,… Continue reading

Gold lanterns light the way in one of Nara Park's many shrines.

Gold lanterns light the way in one of Nara Park’s many shrines.

Eighth in a Series

Just an hour by train from Kyoto, Nara is a sometimes-overlooked jewel of a city that has played a key role in the historical and cultural life of Japan.

Often visited on day trips from Kyoto — certainly possible if you get an early start — Nara is well worth an overnight stay to keep from being too rushed. We stayed two nights and didn’t regret it, even though we had to change hotels after one night due to a booking error.

If you have more time, Nara is also a convenient base for exploring the surrounding countryside and villages filled with history, hot springs, and, in  season, cherry blossoms.

Nara Park and World Heritage Sites

Japan’s first permanent capital during the 8th century AD before the imperial base was moved to Kyoto,… Continue reading

Many ryokans -- traditional inns -- offer public baths. Photo from Japan National Tourism

Many ryokans — traditional inns — offer public baths. Photo from Japan National Tourism

Seventh in a series

Taking a public bath in Japan can be a wonderfully relaxing experience — as long as you know the rules.

Our introduction to the baths came at Kyoto’s Funaoka Onsen, located on a nondescript street about a half hour’s walk from our Airbnb.

Here one can slip into a variety of hot and even hotter mineral-water pools, both indoors and out, and remain there until you start to boil. There’s also a sauna in case you need some roasting.

The residual effect is incredibly soothing and the perfect way to unwind after a day spent sightseeing or climbing small mountains.

Funaoka onsen is one of Kyoto’s oldest and finest public baths, though the most picturesque and authentic onsen are in the countryside and fueled by Japan’s multitude of hot springs.

But… Continue reading

The bamboo grove at Arashiyama

The bamboo grove at Arashiyama

Sixth in  a Series

At first, it wouldn’t seem that heading to some of Kyoto’s most popular attractions during cherry-blossom season would qualify as an escape.

But the key to finding the peace and quiet we were seeking amid the throngs, my wife Catharine and I found, was to just keep walking — and climbing — once we got there.

On the same day we visited the Ryoan-ji Zen rock garden and the Kinkaku-ji temple (Golden Pavilion), we boarded an antique narrow-gauge railway that carried us in romantic style to Arashiyama on the western outskirts of Kyoto. (You can also take more modern trains from Kyoto station, or take a bus or the subway.)

It was obvious when we arrived that however they had gotten to Arashiyama, a good portion of everyone visiting Kyoto had conspired to visit at the same time as… Continue reading

Some cherry trees still held their blossoms.

Some cherry trees still held their blossoms.

Fourth in a Series

In most years, we would have landed in  Tokyo right at the peak of cherry blossom season.

Alas, my wife, Catharine, and I arrived in the Japanese capital a few days too late in early April this year because the winter there had been unseasonably warm and most of the delicate cherry blossoms had already drifted off the trees in this breezy city.

Nonetheless, some trees remained in full bloom, as did many other types of fruit trees. And as we walked through parks that offer a wonderful respite from Tokyo’s crowded streets, scores of Japanese families were still laying out their traditional picnic blankets and baskets under the cherry trees, blossoms or no. And having a great time of it.

From our little Airbnb-rented apartment in the teeming Shinjuku district, we set out to explore… Continue reading

Yu Sheng, the salad that Malaysian Chinese toss to ensure prosperity for the coming year. Photo by Jade Chan.

Yu Sheng, the salad that Malaysian Chinese toss to ensure prosperity for the coming year. Photo by Jade Chan.

Chinese New Year (also known as Spring Festival), starts on February 16 this year and continues for 15 days.

It’s the most important festival time of the year in China — when millions of Chinese travel to their home villages and cities to be with family or friends for holiday reunions.

This is the Year of the Dog, which is one of the 12 rotating Chinese Zodiac signs.

Those born in the Year of the Dog are thought to be loyal, industrious, and courageous.

Chinese New Year is now celebrated by parades featuring dragon and lion dances and fireworks, family gatherings and feasts, and, on the 15th and final day, a Lantern Festival featuring illuminated red lanterns.

According to legend, Chinese New Year traditions stem from thousands of years ago… Continue reading

The new Viking Star, the line's first ocean ship, cruises in Istanbul. Photo from Viking Cruises.

The new Viking Star, the line’s first ocean ship, cruises in Istanbul. Photo from Viking Cruises.

How many days in advance should you book a cruise to get the best price?

In part that depends on your destination, according to the website Cruisewatch.com, which uses artificial intelligence to study trends in worldwide cruising. In this case, says a Cruisewatch press release, they undertook a “massive study [that] examined 18,983 sailings by region with departures in 2017.”

They also conducted an “intensive analysis of over 18 million data points” (which are, of course, too numerous to detail in a press release or just about anywhere for that matter, but we are nonetheless grateful for modern technology).

Cruisewatch says the massive study found a “surprising trend: as the date of departure approaches, cruise prices fluctuate to a greater extent.” Some regions, they note, show as much as a 71… Continue reading

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According to government and private surveys:

  • Leading-edge baby boomers (born between 1946 and 1955) and seniors account for four out of every five dollars spent on luxury travel today.
  • Roughly half the consumer spending money in the U.S.--more than $2 trillion--is in the hands of leading-edge baby boomers and seniors.
  • Baby boomers (born 1946-1964) travel more than any other age group.
  • When asked what they would most like to spend their money on, baby boomers answered “travel” more than any other category, including improving their health or finances.

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