Places with photo galleries in Asia
Cambodia's treasure of ancient temples goes beyond the group at Angkor. The mystical temple of Beng Mealea is one of those. Built in the Angkorian period, 40 km from Angkor Wat on an ancient royal highway, it was among the biggest temples. Today, it is a magical ruin that has been hidden under the jungle carpet until recently. Giant serpent-like roots are slowly crushing the walls, while a web of smaller roots are holding the place together. You have to crawl over fine carved sandstone blocks, duck under fallen pillars, and hang in vines to get through the giant maze of closed courtyards, dark chambers and rising towers. Though there are boardwalks at some sections, it is a raw experience to explore this hidden jewel. This jungle temple makes Ta Prohm, the famous jungle temple at Angkor, look like a groomed little brother.
Phnom Sorsia is a small mountian rising from the flat farmland outside Kampot. There is a monastery at the foot and a small colorful temple on the top along with stupas. The mountain also has some cool caves passages where you can see bats. The great thing about this place compared to Phnom Sidaoun, Phnom Chhnork and Wat Kiri Sela, is that it is a working monastery, so there will be young novice monks hanging around. As with the other places, you will very likely be greeted by some young kid who will tag along as your guide - whether you like or not. But they do know the caves, so it might not be such a bad idea.
Sihanoukville is Cambodian's answer to a beach resort area. There are several nice beaches around what might one day turn into one connecting town when all the developments are completed. The main beach drag is the crowded Serendipity Beach, which slides into the deserted Ochheuteal Beach. It is a shabby version of Phuket with ramshackle deck chairs, aged jetskis for rent and an endless stream of beach kids, massage ladies, beggers and cheap draft beer. Some people like the edge and seediness of the place (all the middle aged men certainly seem to like it), while others might wish they were in picture-perfect Thailand. Serendipity Beach has a lively backpacker scene where expats, sex tourists and young travellers meet over more cold beers. If you want to escape all the buzz and beach hawkers, hit for easy going Otres Beach further south or one of the many tropical islands off the coast, like Koh Russei (Bamboo Island) or Koh Rong (Monkey Island).
The Tibetan trading town of Ganzi (alt. 3350 m) might not seem as the most charming place in western Sichuan, but, away from the dusty and noisy main road, things get interesting. The old Tibetan quarter, with its narrow alleys and adobe walls with dry yak dung, is begging to be explored and so are the couple of Buddhist monasteries in the outskirt of town. From here there are amazing views over the valley and the rising mountain range. There is a fairly big market with all sorts of vegetables, that seem impossible to grow in these regions. The majority of shops cater for Tibetans and other people in the need of a big knife or a yak fur coat.
The wall at Jinshanling is probably one of the most exciting sections of the Great Wall of China. Near Jinshanling village, the wall has been renovated and is therefore very groomed, with cable car and outdoor loudspeakers playing Celine Dion. Going West towards Gubeikou, the wall quickly becomes naturally overgrown and decayed. Going East towards Simatai, the wall again becomes a bit deteriorated with loose surfaces but more winding with steep sections and plenty of stairs. This section offer great views of the snaking wall jumping from peak to peak until it disappears into the horizon, the image most people associate with the Great Wall of China.
You can walk on the wall all the way from Jinshanling to Simatai, a distance of 5 km, a trek that is quite popular these days.
In the old days when the Forbidden City was forbidden, the area around it was a huge maze of traditional shopping quarters, so-called hutongs. Today, most have been demolished for communist concrete or modern highrises, but there are still a few hutongs left. Here you can get lost in the narrow lanes, watching how real Beijing people live, join the squatting row in one of the public toilets (most houses here do not have their own toilet) and check the merchandises of the many small specialised shops. The hutongs that have become tourist attractions are a bit tarted up, but there are still lots of hidden scruffy corners waiting to be explored.
This pleasant city is situated at an altitude of 1900 m rewarding it the title as the "City of Eternal Spring". It is one the most relaxing big cities in China with broad boulevards, green parks and a floating river that surprisingly looks clean. Kunming was previously known for its bird and flower market and though this still exists, modern China has also changed the traditional way of life here. Scrubby, but charming, old neighbourhoods are demolished and replaced by shiny new apartment blocks and flashy malls. Luckily, there are still pockets of how Kunming once were and where you can meet some of the many ethnic Chinese, like the Yi and the Muslim Hui minorities.
Litang is the next Tibetan town coming from Kangding on the Southern Sichuan-Tibetan route. The road trip from Kangding to Litang is long, but offers amazing views over snowcapped mountains and vast grassland, and can be quite breathtaking, literally since the elevation of Litang is 4000 m (400 m higher than Lhasa). The first impression of Litang might be a bit rough and uninviting, but the Tibetan culture is strong here so please endure. In the cold morning, hordes of yaks are led through the dusty streets, which during the day will be filled with tough looking Tibetans in fur vests and monks draped in red robes. Old ladies with prayer wheels soak up the warm sun on benches along the path leading up to the town's large monastery, Ganden Thubchen Choekhorling, which was founded in 1580 by the 3rd Dalai Lama. Tibetan sky burial (where corpses are fed to vultures) is still practiced on the slopes outside town.
The bus journey from Manigango to the Dega, close to the Tibetan border, must rank as one of the most beautiful road trips in the whole of China. Setting out from the small Tibetan wild west town of Manigango, you will first pass the serene mountain lake of Yilhun Lhatso at the foot of Chola Shan (6168 m) and neighbouring snow caped peaks, before slowly ascending the hairpin road to the mountain pass at 5050 m (though our altimeter showed only 4850 m). There are chances to sight both vultures and marmots – and the occasional overturned truck having gone over the edge and crashed down the mountainside. When reaching the pass, locals will (if they are not too carsick) throw colored prayer notes out of the bus windows. From here, the road descends into a beautiful narrow valley carved out by a still flowing river. You will pass by small Tibetan villages, Buddhist stupas and monasteries with prayer flags going in all directions, before arriving (hopefully) safely in Dege.
Serxu monastery (Serxu Gompa) lies 30 km outside the drab town of Serxu (Serxu Xian), in the most northwestern part of Sichuan. It is a big Tibetan monastery surrounded by rows of prayer wheels and a maze of adobe houses for the red cloaked monks, who count to more than a thousand. Across the river, a small cluster of dusty shops makes out the rest of the monastery town. Here, weather beaten Tibetans with gold teeth swag down the street (for there is only one street) in wide brim hats and homemade sunglasses. It is a fascinating place full of character and edge.