Places with photo galleries in Asia
Neither as flashy as Singapore nor as crazy as Bangkok, Kuala Lumpur (or just KL as locals call it) is often considered a bit tame, but that just makes it easier to approach for first timers. Dull or not, it does have its own distinct flavour worth exploring. The major attractions are a few major sights along with the ethnic colourful "hoods", Kampung Baru, Little India and Chinatown. If shopping is your thing, KL can match in both price and range what you find in the neighbouring capitals. So if you need to replace some of your travel stuff or just get some western gear, this is a good place to stock up. Or just splurge in the exorbitant selection of street food and restaurants.
The old port town of Melaka (Malacca) has a long and rich history as a sultanate, colonial trading town, and regional powerhouse. Waves of immigrants have arrived through time, adding a piece to Melaka's unique heritage. Today, Melaka still receives hordes of foreigners, this time not from the sea, but in bus coaches armed with cameras and hand fans. The cute well-restored trading houses, the colourful colonial architecture, the temples and the mosques go all too well with the tourists, and the fact that Melaka was granted a UNESCO World Heritage status in 2008 only adds to that. A wonderful spinoff from Melaka's popularity is its famous fleet of bicycle rickshaws, which have been pimped out to the limit that drivers need to push them over any tiny climb due to excessive load of loudspeakers, plastic flowers, parasols... well, anything kitsch - they are super touristic and tacky, but how can you not love them?
One thing that makes Mt. Kinabalu stand out from other mountains is the fact that it is possible to take in its full scale. On a clear day you can splash around in the South Chinese Sea along Borneo's shore and see Mt. Kinabalu's grey dome rise dramatically above the green and lush jungle less than 50 km inland. Today, no skills are required to trek it and the tracks are well marked. It can be done in a very long day, but two days are strongly recommended. This way you can get some rest in one of the huts below the bald granite, before heading for Low's peak, which is the highest point, in total darkness to watch the sunrise light up Borneo.
Climbing Mt. Santubong is a great thing to do if you feel like doing 'something active'. The mountain isn't particularly high, only 810 m, but you have to scale all 810 metres since you start at sea level. There are several starting points at the base, but as you ascend, the trails merge into one. At first, it's just a modest ascent, but then steep sections with roots come up. Fixed ropes are available, to pull yourself up over the biggest steps. Then, some modest up-down-and-more-up trail through the jungle before the real fun starts. Vertical jungle has to be climbed with the use of fixed rope ladders and exposed roots. None of the sections are particularly high or dangerous, but they just keep coming. The ascent will take about 3 to 5 hours and the descent about the same - it takes longer time to climb down rope ladders than up. Surprisingly, the view isn't as pretty as you might expect, but the adventurous journey is totally worth it.
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.
This temple site is one of the most magnificent on the globe. Build over a period of 230 years about 900 years ago the Bagan's kings managed to build as many as 4400 temples on the flat plain where the Irrawaddy River makes a bend. Today the temples show centuries of neglect and decline, which just add to the mystery of the place. All temples are different and many are open, so it's possible to explore the inside passageways with old Buddhist murals and huge Buddha statues. Do the sight seeing by horse cart and climb one of the less famous but tallish temples at dusk for the mandatory sunset viewing. It's one of those settings that give sunset viewing its reputation.
Hsipaw is a very lovely little town with a beautiful setting among green fields and a backdrop lush hills. Not much is happening here. The market is well stock and bustling in the mornings when villages people come in, and there are some pretty walks through rice fields to nearby villages and hills - and that is pretty much it. Well, that's not entirely true for Hsipaw has its own Shan palace, which housed the last Prince and Princess of Hsipaw who was deposed in 1962 during the military takeover. Maybe Hsipaw charm lies in the fact that you can rest and reflect, instead of feeling obligated to see another pagoda.
Inle Lake is a very pretty place and one of Myanmar's major attractions. The mountain lake (880 m) lies in the Shan State and is home to several unique things like the leg rowing fishermen, stilt villages with floating gardens, and the cat jumping monastery of Ngaphechaung. If you want to take in everything the lake has to offer, it will be a long day including a bit of sightseeing along the shores, where the golden stupas stand and the non-floating markets are. A must see if you choose to go to Myanmar.
Kalaw is a small hill town nested among rolling mountains. It sprawls over several hills and is centered around the market. But travellers are not coming to Kalaw for shopping, but to go trekking in the green mountains and, particular, visit minority villages of the Palaung or Pa-O tribes. Trekking options range from easy half day treks over harder ones to multiple days, even all the way to Inle Lake. Though these villages only are accessible by foot some have been modernised, but you still find traditional longhouses, where several families live, and village monasteries. Expect trekking along muddy trails with beautiful views over sloping tea plantation. For the best experience, find a knowledge guide in Kalaw who knows the villages and people there.
Myanmar is full of long lost places and the little mountain town of Pyin U Lwin is just such example. Located at about 1000m in the cool hills it makes a great getaway from the hot Mandalay in summertime. Sweater shops are the hot thing here and occupy some of the grand old colonial houses that stand along the main street. Tea houses are hidden in the side alleys along with the mosque, church, Buddhist monastery, and even a Chinese temple. Beside bike cycles, the primary transportation is horse wagons and the railway pass by here, making it a grateful stop on the way northeast.