Top 10 photo galleries from Asia
One of the reasons to come to Bangladesh in the first place, and probably the reason why you want to leave again, is the amazing people. They are friendly, helpful, curious and, well, everywhere. Being one of the most congested countries in the world, it can be hard to find a quiet corner. Wherever you go someone will come up to you and ask for "the name of your country" and maybe venture into something about your marital status and profession. It is all very sweet and innocent in the beginning, but after week or two it can turn brain numbing. Either you will love them, or simply turn mental.
Bokor Hill Station
Bokor mountain in Preah Monivong National Park
To escape the tropical heat of the low land, the French built an elaborated hill retreat in 1921 at the top of Bokor mountain, deep in the Cambodian jungle. At 1062 m, the weather here is chilly with clouds rolling in, probably giving the French colonists a flavour of their Alps. The hill station consisted of a catholic church, post office, and the flashy Grand Bokor Palace Hotel & Casino with a ball hall and gambling rooms. The hill station was first abandoned in 1940 and later in 1972 when the Khmer Rouge took power of the area. During the Vietnamese invasion in 1979, the Khmer Rouge withdraw to the jungle and kept Bokor Hill Station as a stronghold, which was still under Khmer Rouge control until the 1990s. Today you can join a tour to visit the ghost town. The company of Sokimex (yes, same company who owns all the gas stations and the entrance to Angkor Wat) has magically gained a 99-years-lease of Bokor Mountain and is now building another 5-stars resort and casino.
Tibetan sky burial
Litang, Sichuan Province
Sky burial is a Tibetan custom for giving back the earthly remains after death, when the soul has left the body for reincarnation. The body is simply sliced open and offered to waiting vultures that rip the flesh from the bones within minutes. Afterwards, the bones, along with the skull and brain, are smashed to pieces with an axe and mixed with barley flour and again offered to the still waiting vultures. Besides being a mind blowing experience (and not for the faint hearted), it's also a very rare opportunity to get close to these monster birds of prey, some of them very rare (such as Black and Bearded vultures). Remember this is not a tourist attraction and an invitation should be obtained before attending. (The picture was taken with permission from the descendants).
Capital of East Timor
A colonial leftover from the Portuguese. It has been through a lot of war, massacres and general neglect. Burnt-out buildings are still a common sight and the roads are dotted with bottomless manholes, but it has edge and charm like a street urchin. The packed Santa Cruz cemetery along with the Truth Committee center CAVR can give some insight of the violent recent history of this young nation. For a bit of tranquility, head for the nice waterfront which has several narrow beaches and clear view to Atauro island. These days the town is fueled by UN and NGO money, meaning there exists a surprisingly good selection of eating places. The best part though, is the locals are still friendly, honest and welcoming.
Near Jaipur, Rajasthan
13 kilometers from Jaipur in Rajasthan you find Amber Fort, built in 1592. The palace is situated on a hill with sweeping views over the area and it is a classic example of Rajput architecture. If you do not have the energy to walk up to the fort, from the foot of the hill, you can ride up there on elephant back for a fee. There are lots of tourists who do this, so you should expect to queue for a while. The palace covers a fairly large area, and there are fine columns / arches, painted ceilings, mirror mosaics, courtyards and women in bright blue saris who walk around sweeping.
Lamalera village, Lembata Island
The small fishing community at Lamalera still practices traditional whale hunting. From small boats, they hunt with harpoons thrown by hand from the stern. The usual prays are manta rays, dolphins and the occasional hammerhead shark, but a couple of times a year the big game comes by, the sperm whale. Being many times bigger than the boats it is not unusual for an angry whale to flip over a boat, or even smash it, with its tail. The black sand beach at Lamalera is dotted with wooden pieces from splintered boats along with the white whale bones. The few fishermen with missing limbs just add to the evidence that this kind of whale hunting is insanely dangerous. Since the number of caught animals is small, the village is excluded from any hunting ban, letting them continue their truly unique hunting tradition. You can join the whalers on a hunt. If a whale is in sight, you will be kept in safe distance, but with smaller preys you will get in on the action.
Upper Baram, Sarawak, Borneo
Borneo is filled with many different ethnic groups that have traditionally lived sustainably off the forest. The Penan are one of the last groups of hunter-gatherers that reside in Borneo. Take an adventure up the Baram River and experience how the Penan live. The forest is prehistoric and the Penan are the true experts of the rainforest. Let them share their vast knowledge from medicinal value in plants to how to set up a Penan jungle camp in less than an hour. The Penan still have a strong culture and have many spiritual beliefs that are connected to the forest. Spend a few days camping in the forests, hiking to beautiful waterfalls, climbing unclimbed mountains, and absorbing insight on the forest. Do a homestay and spend time with a host family and see how they go about their daily lives. The Upper Baram is truly an untouched wilderness, with limited or no contact with the outside world.
Capital of North Korea (D.P.R.K), population 2.5 million.
A visit to Pyongyang is more a trip back in time than anything else. The broad streets are vacuumed of everything besides political manifests. The few shops that exist do not advertise, the bright blue traffic directors (strangely all makeup-wearing young females) look like something from a children's book, and all the women fancy haircuts from the 50s. Even the subway (which by the way is the deepest in the world, going 120 m underground) looks like a toy model. It is a wicked mix of drab Soviet-style buildings and grand monuments, which are all dedicated to their dear, dead, leader Kim Il-Sung and his son Kim Jong-Il. This fascinating city is built on ideology and fully cleansed from all capitalism - and where else on the planet do such places exist? Welcome to people's paradise!
Betel nut girls
Along every major road
These girls are not prostitutes, as you might think, but betel nut beauties who only sell betel nuts, cold drinks and cigarettes. Positioned in neon lighted glass booths along the major provincial roads, these skimpily dressed girls try to attract passing drivers' attention (probably mostly men) with their cuteness and lack of outfit. In the good old nineties, the girls were hardly wearing anything, but today no breasts or buttocks are exposed. Betel nut is a mild stimulant and is big business in Taiwan, where the girls are considered as a unique culture feature. They certainly make entering a Taiwanese town a bit more exciting. Just remember to keep your eyes on the road while driving.
Hill tribe markets
Lao Cai province
The mountains of northern Vietnam are populated with minorities. Every smallish township has their own market once a week and attracts different kinds of colourful tribe people that comes in for shopping, browsing, finding a wife, or just stocking up on this week's rice wine. Some of the best markets "near" Lao Cai Town is Bac Ha (Sunday) which is one of the biggest and most touristy, not saying that many come, Can Cau (Saturday) beautiful set on the mountain side, Coc Ly (Tuesday) small but interesting, Muong Hum (Sunday) located in a lush valley, and Muong Khuong (Sunday) a great trading fair with a real outpost felling, since it's very close to China. Keep in mind that it takes many hours from Lao Cai town on winding mountain roads to get to these far out markets, but it's sure worth it.