Travel

Exploring Exotic Thailand

Thailand

Thailand was formerly known as Siam in the years 1945 to 1949. The country has been dubbed as “land of the freedom” because it was the only Southeast Asian country never colonized by any other country. The country’s capital and largest city is Bangkok. It is the center for politics, industries, business and culture.

Tourism of Thailand has increased in the past decade. Thai people are very welcoming and accommodating to their guests. With these traits, people continue to visit and flock the country. The country has been a popular shopping destination, place for spiritual reflection and enlightenment, and a perfect beach destination. They have also been known for their unique delicacies and cuisines.

Where is Thailand located?

Thailand is a member of South East Asia and a part of the Indochina peninsula. It has a total area of approximately 513,000 square kilometers making it the 51st largest country. It is bounded by Burma and Laos on the north, Laos and Cambodia on the east, the Gulf of Thailand and Malaysia on the south, and the Andaman Sea and the southern part of Burma on the west.

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How to get to Thailand?

Before travelling to Thailand, make sure to get a valid passport. Visas are not mandatory when travelling to Thailand for less than 30 days. However, if there are plans to stay for 60 days, a tourist visa is needed; and if planning to stay for 90 days, a non-immigrant visa is needed.

There are different ways to reach this beautiful country.

The most popular way is by plane. Most countries offer flights going to one of Thailand’s airports. There are four airports: Bangkok Suvarnabhumi Airport which is 28 km east of Bangkok, Bangkok Don Mueang International Airport which is 24 km north of Bangkok, Phuket International Airport which is 32 km north of Phuket city, and Chiang Mai International Airport which is 4 km south west of the city center.

Another way to reach the country is by train from Malaysia, Singapore, Cambodia and Laos. Land travel by private cars or buses to Thailand is also possible. There are roads connecting to Malaysia, Cambodia and Laos.

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Hua Lamphong or Krungthep Station – the main train station

There are different transportation systems within Thailand. There are different bus lines that operate for long distance travels. There are also motorbikes, bicycles, and taxis. But if you want to be adventurous and really immerse in their culture, try riding a tuk-tuk, songthaew, and elephant rides. One could also try riding on their boats and cruise down the river.

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Tuk-tuk – a three wheeler vehicle

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Songthaew – a passenger vehicle with two rows of fixed benches at the sides

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An elephant ride in Chang Rai province

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Long-tail boats – a long, narrow boat with a propeller at the end

With all these various vehicles, travelling within the country is indeed fun and interesting. One could easily reach the different tourist destinations, shopping districts, and eat one of a kind Thai food.

There are so many good reasons why tourists visit the country. It is a perfect blend of beauty, elegance, history, culture, and fun. Thai people are so humble and hospitable, that they make your stay memorable and enjoyable.

Places of Interest

Cultural Places

There are many interesting places in Thailand that are worth visiting. There are temples, giant Buddha images, palaces and many more. Listed here are some of the cultural places that are a must see.

Wat Phra That Doi Suthep

This is considered as one of Thailand’s most valued and sacred temples. It was built in the 14th century. It is located on top of a mountain and overlooks Chiang Mai. Within its walls are collection of Lanna art and architecture.

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Chiang Mai – Old City

Chiang Mai is an old city located in the northern part of Thailand. It has a rich cultural history and the home to historical temples. Tourists would enjoy a class in Thai cooking and meditation.

JEATH War Museum

Each letter of the word JEATH represents the nationalities of soldiers who died while fighting. These were soldiers from Japan, England, America, Australian, Thailand and Holland. This museum houses memorabilia, photographs and other artifacts left from World War II. It is located at Kanchanaburi.

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Isaan

Isaan is located at northeastern Thailand. To reach this place one would have to travel pass the Mekong River valley. One would get to see Thailand’s agricultural villages as well as ancient religious sites and temples. Some temple complexes that should be seen are Phimai, Phanom Rung, Khao Phra Viharn. Khao Yai National Park is also located here. It is the habitat of Thailand’s flora and fauna as well as animals.

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Phimai

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Phanom Rung

Ayutthaya

Phra Nakhon Si Ayutthaya or simply Ayutthaya is the old capital of Siam and a central province. It is approximately 76 kilometers north of Bangkok. There are a number of interesting ruins within the town. It was declared a UNESCO World Heritage Site in December 1991.

Within the area are the famous palaces: Grand Palace, Chantharakasem Palace or the Front Palace, and Wang Lang or the Rear Palace. The buildings Bang Pa-In Palace and Nakhon Luang Building were built for royal visitors.

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Grand Palace

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Floating pavilion in Bang Pa-In Royal Palace
 

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Chinese style in Bang Pa-In Royal Palace

Wat Phra Kaeo

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Wat Phra Kaeo or sometimes known as Wat Phra Si Sanphet is located within the Grand Palace in Ayutthaya. It is an impressive monastery and the home to the Emerald Buddha. Near the temple are Royal Barges used during procession on the Chao Phraya river.
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Statue of kinnara

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Emerald Buddha

Wat Chaiwatthanaram

This is one of the monasteries located within Ayutthaya. In the year 1767, the place was burned down by a Burmese army. Currently, only ruins are left.

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Ruins of Wat Chaiwatthanaram

Sight Seeing

There are beautiful scenic locations that nature lovers would adore. These places truly take your breath away.

Chiang Dao

Take a time out and go to Chiang Dao and visit Thailand’s highest limestone mountain. There are also caves that are worth exploring.

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Doi Inthanon

This is Thailand’s highest point with a picturesque view and a thrilling experience uphill. To get to the top, one needs to trek the jungle and enjoy the luscious greenery, hear the birds hum, and take a dip in the springs and waterfalls.

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Two Chedis or temples near the peak

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The view from the peak

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One of the many waterfalls

Phang Nga Bay

Phang Nga Bay covers approximately 400 square kilometers. There are caves and grottoes that tourists could explore. Within the bay are limestone islands that could reach a height of 300 meters. The most famous islands are Ko Ping Kan and Koh Pannyi. The latter literally means ‘Sea Gypsy Island’ and had become popular because the village was built on top of water supported by stilts. The village is protected by a giant rock.

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The giant rock protecting Koh Panyi

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Relaxation by the Beach

Thailand is bounded by sea on its east and west side. These coasts are adored and sought by tourists because of the fine, powdery white sand. It is an ideal location to lounge on a beach chair with refreshments on the side. It is perfect place to have a tan, play beach volleyball, or just party. There is a wide array of accommodations that could suit any travelers’ budget.
Here is a list of the country’s famous beaches:

•    Pattaya – the most popular and ‘go-to’ destination of tourists. It is highly developed

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•    Islands of Ko Samet and Ko Chang

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Ko Samet

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Ko Chang

•    Ko Samui

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•    Ko Pha Ngan

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•    Ko Tao – a diver’s paradise

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•    Ko Similan island chain – a perfect diving spot, a great place to see corals

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•    Phuket – perfect beach, nightlife, and modern developments

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•    Ko Lanta – an ideal family beach destination

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Shopping

No foreign trip would be complete if you do not buy a souvenir for yourself or your friends. This is a simple token and remembrance of the wonderful experience. And here in Thailand, there are a lot of different shops to buy those souvenir items. One could buy different articles of clothing, Thai silk, and other handicrafts. The shops also offer tailor made suits, coats and blouses. The material they use is one of a kind.

The most popular mall is Bangkok’s Mahboonkrong or MBK Mall. Another weekend bazaar is the Chatuchak Weekend Market or simply JJ Market. There are a lot of products at JJ Market that covers an astounding area of 35 acres or 1.1 square kilometers. If you want to shop in luxury, try Siam Paragon. There are also night markets in every town, the most popular are in Bangkok and Chiang Mai.

Thailand is a shopper’s delight and paradise because of the great quality of merchandises and reasonable price. One could even haggle to get an item for less.

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MBK Mall

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Siam Square

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Local selling umbrellas at Chang Mai

Food

After a long day of being immersed in culture or haggling on the streets for souvenir items, it is time to take a time out and try authentic Thai cuisines.

Thai food has a distinct taste because they use strong flavor such as lime juice, lemon grass, and fresh coriander. They are also known for serving hot and spicy foods.

Noodles

Noodles are served in all parts of Thailand, from the sidewalks to luxury restaurants. There are different types of noodles such as rice noodles, angel-hair, egg noodles, wanton ravioli, and glass noodles. Any type of noodles would be served with an array of condiments: chili, fish sauce, vinegar and sugar.

The most common noodle dish is Phad Thai which means ‘Thai stir-fry.’ It is made from thin rice noodles basked with tamarind sauce. It is topped with shrimp, pork, chicken, or vegetables.

Other noodle dishes are ba mii muu daeng  which uses egg noodles, and guay dtiao ruea which is a rice noodle soup.

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Phad Thai

Soups and curries

The most popular soup that they serve and is must try is tom yam goong. It is a spicy, sour soup served with prawns, lemon grass and galangal. One could always request to lessen the spice of the soup to suit their tolerance.
Another soup is tom kha gai which uses chicken, galangal-flavored coconut stock, mushrooms and chilies.
Thai’s also serve the best curry dishes. There are three famous curry dishes: gaeng ped or red curry, gaeng kheow-waan which a sweet green curry, and gaeng som or orange curry. Each differs in the amount of spice.

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Tom yam

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Thai style seafood curry

Salads

Unlike western styled salads, Thai salads are basked in fish sauce, lime juice and a lot of chilies. The most popular salad is som tam which is sweet with nuts and dried shrimps. Other variants of their salads are yam ponlamai which is their version of a fruit salad, yam som-o made with pomelo, yam wunsen uses glass noodles and shrimps, and yam tua poo which is a mixture of pork and shrimp.

Tea

Aside from food, they also serve the best tea. The unique thing about Thai iced tea is its orange color which owes its color to the tamarind seed. Some people prefer to serve their tea with milk.

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Rice wine

No country is complete without their version of a rice wine. Thai rice wine or sato is a type of beer extracted from glutinous rice with an alcohol level of 8%. Here, they serve it in hai, an earthenware jar.

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Kristine Capanzana

Europe Meets Asia at Turkey

Exotic Turkey has been a mixture and blend of two worlds: Europe and Asia. Both continents had a great influence in Turkey’s architecture, art and culture. Being an important passageway and gateway to both continents, history unfolded within its territories. Currently there are modern restaurants and party hubs. Turkey modernized with the world while maintaining its rich history.

When visiting to Turkey do not forget to visit the mosques, bazaars, and UNESCO World Heritage sites.

Location

Turkey is located in between Southeastern Europe and Western Asia. It is bounded on the north by the Black Sea, on the northwest by Bulgaria, on the west by Greece and Augean Sea, on the northeast by Georgia, on the east by Azerbaijani and Nakhchivan, on the southeast by Iraq and Syria, and on the south by the Mediterranean Sea.

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Here are the top 12 places to visit while at Turkey

1.    Hagia Sophia

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Hagia Sophia is located at Istanbul, Turkey. It was built in 537 in devotion to the Wisdom of God, Logos. It was sometimes called the “Shrine of the Holy Wisdom of God.” It was once a Greek Orthodoxpatriatchal basilica until 1456. It was converted to a mosque in May 29, 1453 until 1931. It was the main mosque in Istanbul until the construction of the Blue Mosque. And in February 1, 1935 it became a museum.
The design of the building was done by Isidore of Miletus, a Geek scientist and Anthemius of Tralles, a mathematician. It became very popular and a tourist attraction due to its massive dome. The design was the bases of architectural designs for other Ottoman mosques.

2.    Sultan Ahmet Camii or Blue Mosque

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This historic mosque is located at Istanbul. The mosque is easily seen because of its height and grandeur. It took seven years to complete the mosque, from 1609 to 1616.

The mosque was designed by Sedefkâr Mehmed Ağa. It has a main dome, six minarets or towers and an additional eight secondary domes. It was influenced by Byzantine Christian elements and Islamic architecture.
The walls of the interior are lined with blue Iznik style ceramic tiles with over fifty different tulip designs. The walls without tiles were painted blue, it has stained glass windows, and ostrich eggs, gold and gems on its chandeliers. The flooring is lined by carpet which is regularly replaced.

The most valued piece in the interior of the mosque is the mihrab. It is made out of marble with a stalactite niche. On the right of the mihrab is an ornamented pulpit.

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The mosque’s interior

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Blue tiles lining the interior of the walls

3.    Topkapi Palace

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Topkapi Palace is one of its largest palaces located in Istanbul, Turkey. It was built in 1459 and became the residency of Ottoman sultans. It comprises patios, hospitals, bakeries, and mosques. It was the home to almost 4000 people. During the 17th century the sultans abandoned tha palace transferred to another royal residency. In 1923, the government of Turkey decided to convert the palace to a museum. Important artifacts and holy relics are kept here. It also showcases Ottoman architecture, treasures, jewelry and murals.

In 1985, the palace was declared a UNESCO World Heritage Site. It was known as “the best example[s] of ensembles of palaces […] of the Ottoman period.”

4.    Galata Tower

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The Galata Tower is also known as Galata Kulesi in Turkish or Christe Turris in Latin and located at Istanbul. It was built in the year 1348 to serve as an observation tower. It stands at a height of 66.9m or equivalent to nine-story. It is made out of stone which is 3.75 m thick. From the top of the tower, tourists could get a panoramic view of Istanbul and its neighboring places.  Inside the tower are a restaurant, café, and night club that tourists could enjoy.

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Panoramic view from the tower

5.    Grand Bazaar

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The Grand Bazaar is a shopping haven for tourists. It is a large, covered market in Istanbul. It encompasses a total land area of 62 streets with other 3000 shops. Throughout the years the marketplace had evolved and many tourists and merchants flock to the area to do trade. The reason for concentrating the market at one place is to decrease petty crimes and increase security. There are guards patrolling the area. It is open from 9am to 7pm except Sundays.

6.    Egyptian Bazaar

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The Egyptian Bazaar is also known as the Spice Bazaar. It is the second largest covered market in Istanbul. Just like the Grand Bazaar, this bazaar sells different products such as spices, jewelry, souvenirs, dried fruits and sweets. During weekdays and Saturdays it is open from 9am to 7pm. And on Sundays it is open from 10am to 6pm.

7.    Pera Palace Hotel

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Pera Palace Hotel is a specialty hotel – a fusion of a hotel and a museum. It was built in 1892 in Istanbul as a waiting area for passengers of the Orient Express. It was dubbed as the “oldest European hotel of Turkey.” The hotel is has the many ‘firsts’ in Istanbul like the first building to have electricity, the first electric elevator, and the first hotel to provide hot running water. Nearby establishments to the hotel includes Istiklal Avenue, Taksim Square and different consulates.

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Elevator door

8.    Antalaya

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The coast of Antalaya

Antalaya is the biggest international sea resort located along the Mediterranean coast at southwest Turkey. It is part of the Turkish Riviera. There are many different places one should see when visiting the town of Antalaya.
Kaleici is the place to go to see ancient and historic Ottoman houses. Here one could find hotels, bars, clubs, restaurants and shopping places. There is also a harbor located within its walls.

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Kaleici Harbor

Cumhuriyet Square is the main square where town performances and exhibitions are held.

And being a coast town, there are definitely beach destinations. One of its famous beaches is Konyaalti, Lara, and Karpuzkaldiran.

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Lower Duden Falls with Lara Beach at the background

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Konyaalti Beach

There are also a number of festivals and events celebrated throughout the year.

9.    Sumela Monastery

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Sumela Monastery is a monastery located at the ledge of a steep cliff at the Black Mountain, Trabzon Province. It overlooks the Altindere valley.

It was built in 386 AD as a dedication to the Virgin Mary that was found inside a cave on the said mountain. During the years, sultans destroyed the monastery. But since the 13th century sultans started sustaining and giving funds for its maintenance. Currently, it is a tourist destination for monks and other guests.

10.    Goreme National Park and the Rock Sites of Cappadocia

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Goreme National Park was declared a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 1985. It became popular due to the “fairy chimney” rock formations.

11.    Archeologic site of Troy

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Ruins of the walls of Troy

Troy is located at northwest of Turkey. It is a popular historical site with archeological importance. The famous Trojan War happened here. In the year 1998, Troy was added to the UNESCO World Heritage list.

12.    Selimiye Mosque

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Selimiye Mosque was built in 1569 to 1575 by architect Mimar Sinan at Edirne, Turkey. It was designed in a way that the mihrab could be seen from any point within the mosque. On the exterior a giant dome could be seen with four similar minarets. It is an example of perfect symmetry.

This mosque was included in UNESCO World Heritage list in 2011.

Kristine Capanzana

Rio de Janeiro: an Exquisite Travel Destination

When traveling to South America, one should not miss the fascinating country, Brazil, particularly Rio de Janeiro. It is a primary tourist destination because of the friendly people, distinctive cuisines, joyous festivities, beautiful beaches and exotic scenery.

Rio de Janeiro

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Although no longer the capital of Brazil, Rio de Janeiro is still considered an important asset of the country. It is the second largest city of the country, and the sixth largest in America. The state is considered a major port. It provides great revenue to the country because of its business, recreation, education, trade and tourism. As a matter of fact, it is noted as one of the most visited cities in South America. It has a unique appeal that attracts foreigners to come and visit over and over again.

Location

Rio de Janeiro is located at the southeastern section of Brazil. It is bounded by the Bay of Guanabara on the east. Also on the eastern side one could see the so-called Sugar Loaf, an important landmark in Rio. On the south, the city is bounded by the Atlantic Ocean wherein a beautiful coastline could be seen. To the north and western side are land masses – hills and mountains.

 

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Location of Rio de Janeiro in South America

Modes of Transportation

Before travelling to Rio de Janeiro, make sure to have your passport and visas ready. If travelling to deeper parts, have your vaccine shots updated. It is best to convert dollars to their monetary unit, “real” pronounced as “hay-al” at legitimate currency converters. Learn their national language, Portuguese, to be more in touch and conversing with locals. Only a few locals could speak and understand English.

By Plane
The main point of entry is by plane. There are three airports within Rio. The international airport, Galeão-Antonio Carlos Jobim International Airport is located north of downtown. It has connecting flights to 19 different countries. The domestic airport, Santos-Dumont domestic airport is located downtown. It is used as a service to Sao Paulo. Another airport, Jacarepaguá-Roberto Marinho Airport is used by Brazil Flying Club and located near the city center.

By Sea
Aside from catering to cargo and shipment, the port of Rio de Janeiro is used for cruise vessels. Usinhg a cruise vessel, one could reach the states of Sao Paulo, Minas Gerais and Espirito Santo.

By Land
And of course, one could always travel by land. The neighboring state, Santo Cristo has a bus terminal that travels to other states.

Getting Around
Getting around is also very simple. There are taxis almost everywhere. Just take note and be cautious that from 6am to 9pm every Monday to Saturday the reading on the meter should be “1.” A meter reading of “2” means the rates are higher.

To save money, one could also take a bus. There are a total of 440 municipal bus lines that travels through all parts of Rio. There are air-conditioned buses and non-air-conditioned buses.

Another option would be the newly improved and updated trains and subways. There are currently two subway lines operating. There is a plan to add another train system in the near future.

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Rio de Janeiro Metro Station

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The new urban train from SuperVia which connects the city of Rio de Janeiro with other parts of the state

Best time to visit
Foreigners could visit the state any time of year. The temperature ranges from 25 to 35 degrees Celsius during summer and 15 to 25 degrees Celsius during winter. It is usually densely populated during summer, from December to March.

What To Do at Rio de Janeiro

Enjoy the Festivities

Carnival
The Carnival is an extravagant, joyous and colorful celebration prior to the Lenten season. During the festivity the Sambódromo Marquês de Sapucaí, a permanent grandstand-lined parade avenue, is opened. The venue is also called Apoteose Square. Approximately 90,000 people participate in the festival. The street is filled with music, dancing and costumes. A popular dance and beat that is heard during this time is samba. Dancers from different samba schools gather and perform a dance to the tune of their respective school’s samba anthem.

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Panoramic view of the Carnival

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Enjoy the Man Made Structures

The Statue of Christ the Redeemer

This is the most famous landmark in Brazil. The Statue of Christ the Redeemer stands atop of Mount Corcovado with arms extending on both sides as the image looks down on the citizens of Rio. The statue was sculpted and inaugurated in 1931 with a height of 2,310 feet. One could see the statue from any point. But if you want to have a magnificent view of the whole Rio and neighboring areas, a climb to the top of the mountain is recommended. You could also book a cog train and see another tourist attraction, Tijuca Forest National Park.

This statue was been named as one of the New Seven Wonders of the World.

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Aerial view

Tijuca National Park
Tijuca National Park, also known as Parque Nacional da Tijuca covers approximately 32 square kilometers. It is an urban forest at the heart of the city of Rio. This park was made to compensate coffee plantations. The most attractive part of this park is the famous statue of Christ the Redeemer which is located at the park’s peak.

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Candelaria Church
Candelaria Church, also known as Igreja de Candelaria was built in 1775 to 1811. It followed the Baroque style architecture on the façade and a Neoclassical and neo-renaissance for the interior. The church started from a simple chapel and grew to what it is right now.

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The façade
 

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The church’s interior

Maracanã Stadium
The people of Brazil love football that is why a large stadium was built. Maracanã Stadium also known as Estádio Jornalista Mário Filho or Estádio do Maracana has a seating capacity of 200,000 people and is considered as one of the world’s largest football stadiums. It was inaugurated in 1950 just before the World Cup. In 2014, the stadium was the venue for the World Cup. And in 2016, it would host the Summer Olympics Opening Ceremony.

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Aerial view

 

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Interior of the stadium

Rio de Janeiro Botanical Gardens
Rio de Janeiro Botanical Gardens or Jardim Botânico do Rio de Janeiro was built and designed in 1808 by Dom João VI as the habitat of Amazonian flora and fauna. Examples of plants found here are large Victorian water lilies and Japanese plants.

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Enjoy the Sceneries
 

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Panoramic picture showing the mountains of Corcovado on the left, Sugarloaf at the center and the Two Brothers on the right

Sugarloaf Mountain
Sugarloaf Mountain is also known as Pão de Açúcar. This mountain is located at Guanabara Bay in the Atlantic Ocean. It stands 395 meters tall and gives a unique view of Rio and its beaches, the statue of Christ the Redeemer and the luscious green forest. For adventure lovers, they can always go up for a hike. But there are also cable cars for easy access to the top and bottom of the mountain. The best time to visit the top of the mountain is during sunset.

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Sugarloaf Mountain
 

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Cable car to Sugarloaf Mountain

Atlantic Coastline
A trip to Rio is never complete without visiting its beaches. There are two famous beaches that must be seen: Copacabana Beach and Ipanema Beach. The former beach stretches 4.5 kilometers and an ideal place to play beach soccer, have a tan under the warm sun, dance and party until early morning. They also offer water sport activities such as snorkeling. This area has nearby hotels and restaurants that cater to the needs of tourists. On the other hand, the later beach is more expensive and luxurious. Nonetheless, it is a perfect relaxing spot.

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Children playing beach soccer
 

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Copacabana Beach
 

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Tourists at Ipanema Beach
 

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Ipanema Beach at night

Kristine Capanzana

Machu Picchu: the Cradle of Inca Civilization

Peru is a country located at the Western area on the continent of South America. It has a total land area of approximately 1,285,216 square kilometers. It is bounded to the north by Ecuador and Columbia, to its east is Brazil, to its southeast is Bolivia, to its south is Chile, and to its west is the Pacific Ocean. The country’s capital is located at Lima. It is divided into 25 different regions plus the province of Lima.

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The country has different topographies and habitats. The west side are coastal regions and plains, on the east side is the high peaks of the Andes Mountains, on the southeast is the Amazon Basin tropical rainforest, and on the east is the Amazon River.

During the 16th century, Spanish conquistadors occupied the land. But because of this diverse topography there are certain areas they did not occupy. One particular area is Machu Picchu.

Machu Picchu

machu_picchu02 Machu Picchu or Machu Pikchu is an important historical site and the cradle of Inca Civilization.

During the 15th century, the Incas built the estate. Different theories exit on why the estate was built. Some historians believe that the estate is a sacred religious site. Others believed that it is the birthplace of the Incan or Virgins of the Suns, and the site was later converted to a temple. And some say it was a royal home to the Inca Emperor Pachicuti. The exact purpose of the estate still remains a mystery to historians. But nonetheless, tourists have continued to flock to the area.

Its unique beauty and importance had gained popularity, recognition and became worthy for preservation.

It was during 1911 when the world saw its unique beauty and grandeur. Since then buildings were reconstructed and preserved. Until present reconstruction and preservation of the site was done. In the year 1981, Machu Picchu was declared a Peruvian Historical Sanctuary. And in 1983, it was declared a UNESCO World Heritage Site. It was described as “an absolute masterpiece of architecture and a unique testimony to the Inca civilization.” In 2007, it became part of the New Seven Wonders of the World.

At present Machu Picchu is one of the most visited tourist attractions in Latin America, and it is the most visited tourist attraction in Peru.

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Machu Picchu covered with clouds

Location

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Machu Picchu could be found in Peru at approximately 80 kilometers northwest of Cusco Region. The Urumbamba River flows directly into Machu Picchu. It lies at the crest of the mountain ridge at about 2,430 meters above sea level. It lies in between two mountains: Machu Picchu and Huayna Picchu.

machu_picchu05Panoramic view of Machu Picchu looking towards Huayna Picchu

It is located on a high altitude providing a perfect view of the two valleys below. Situated behind it is a massive mountain that is nearly impassable. The river crossing Machu Picchu provides an excellent source of water. To further increase land for cultivation of crops, the hillsides have been terraced. The terraced hillside has helped steepen the slopes making the ascend harder.

Transportation

To reach the historical Machu Picchu site, tourists gather in Cusco at Kilometer 82 or Kilometer 104 near the town of Ollantaytambo. The only mode of transportation is by foot. Tourist would have to walk through the magnificent Andes Mountains. The whole journey would last two to five days.

There are two bridges that serve as gateways to the estate. These two bridges were built by the Incas. One is the Inca Rope Bridge located at Pongo de Mainique that transverses the Urumbamba River. Another bridge is located to the west of Machu Picchu. This is a tree-trunk bridge measuring 6 meters long and it is approximately 570 meters high.

machu_picchu06Inca Rope Bridge

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Inca trail

What to see at Machu Picchu

Machu Picchu is the perfect place to see Incan architecture.

Incans were famous for their technique called ashlar. Stones used for the construction of the buildings and houses were obtained from their natural quarry. These stones were polished dry and cut into regular shapes. These stones are then placed close to one another. This technique provided a sturdy material that could stand earthquakes. The chippings from cutting the stones were used in construction of the terraces. Each terrace is composed of top soil, followed by dirt, and the stone chips. This arrangement allowed water to be absorbed by the soil and into the mountain, thus, preventing floods, mud and landslides.

One should also take note of the walls which were designed to protect the people and architecture in case of an earthquake. The walls are tilted inwards. The doors and windows are trapezoidal and inclined inward. The corners are rounded.

machu_picchu08Trapezoidal doors and windows inclined inward

As mentioned, the slopes of the hillsides were converted into terraces. This provided additional agricultural land and irrigation. Furthermore, to maximize the land area, there are roughly 200 buildings that are built along the terraces. There are also long and narrow kanchas or compounds. To reach these different levels of terraces, stone stairways were built.

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Terraces used for agriculture

The eastern section is also known as the Popular District or Residential District. Residential houses for the lower-class people were built here. Furthermore, storage buildings and warehouses are also constructed.

machu_picchu11Residential section

machu_picchu12Panoramic view of the residential section

There is also a section dedicated for nobility and royalty. Each house of royalty had a distinguishing feature. The amautas or wise persons had reddish walls. The ñustas or princesses had trapezoid-shaped rooms.
On the western section was an area devoted to religious and ceremonial activities.

As a sign of devotion to their sun god and greatest diety, Inti, three important structures were built: Inti Watana, the Temple of the Sun, and the Room of the Three Windows.

The name Inti Watana was derived from the Quechua language and literally means an instrument “to tie up the sun.” Tourists often call the place “The Hitching Post of the Sun.” It is a group of stones positioned to directly point to the sun during the winter solstice. The best time to visit the place is from November 11 to January 30 when the sun is located directly above the pillar. Some historians believed that this also served as a clock or calendar.

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The Temple of the Sun or Torreon is one structure that could not be missed. This was an observational tower.

machu_picchu15Temple of the Sun or Torreon

machu_picchu16Sculptures seen at the bottom of the Temple of the Sun. It is interpreted as “Water mirrors for observing the Sky.”

machu_picchu17Room of the Three Windows

The Monumental Mausoleum is a place for religious rites and sacrifices. On the exterior, it is carved statue with a vaulted interior and carved drawings.

Another important artifact to visit is the Inti Mach’ay. It is located on the eastern side just north of the “Condor Stone.” It is surrounded by other caves that were used as tombs.

This place was the venue of the Royal Feast of the Sun during the Incan month of Qhapag Raymi. Only nobles and royalties could participate in this celebration. The celebration would begin during the start of the month and end on the solstice. One tradition observed was ear-piercing of male nobles to symbolize their manhood.

Aside from being a feast place, it is also a point of architectural interest and significance. It is built with the finest and best masonry of the Incan Empire. There is also a unique tunnel-like window that would only allow sunlight into the cave during a specific period, and that is during the feast.

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Remnants of Inti Mach’ay

There is three-sided building called the Guardhouse. Inca architecture is very famous for its three-sided style. It is commonly called wayrona style. The longest side faces to the Terrace of the Ceremonial Rock.
machu_picchu19Guardhouse

machu_picchu20Terrace of the Ceremonial Rock

Kristine Capanzana

Backpacking at South Africa

For those seeking adventure and some adrenaline rush, then a backpack trip to South Africa is suited for you. It is would be a fantastic, exciting and thrilling escapade. So get your backpacks ready, and explore South Africa.

What You Need to Know About South Africa

The country on the southern tip of Africa is the Republic of South Africa also known as South Africa. Another name for this country is Mzansi which means “south.” There are three cities that hold power: Pretoria for the executive branch, Bloemfontein for the judicial, and Cape Town for the legislative. Johannesburg is the largest city.

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Boundaries
South Africa is bounded on the north by the countries Namibia, Botswana, and Zimbabwe. To its east are the countries Mozambique and Swaziland. Located within South African territory is the nation Lesotho.  South Atlantic and Indian Oceans surround the west and southern borders. It ranks as the 25th largest country in the world.

People
It is also the 25th most populous country. 80 percent of the populations are descendants of black Africans which composes different ethnic communities. The remaining 20 percent is composed of Europeans and Asians. Because of the various ethnic communities living here, the country was dubbed as the “rainbow nation.”

Transportation
The main mode of transportation to get to South Africa is by plane. There are international flights from the United Kingdom, Ireland, United States, Canada, Australia and New Zealand. The main airports are located at Johannesburg’s OR Tambo International or Cape Town.

Travelling within the country is easy because of the organized public transportation. Public transportation includes buses, minibus taxis, trains, and domestic flights. For those who could afford, there are also car and bike rentals.

What you need to know and bring in your travel

Make sure to have your return flight ticket, passport and temporary visitor’s permit ready when travelling to South Africa. The temporary visitor’s permit is valid for 90 days. If you wish to stay longer, you could apply a visa at the Department of Home Affairs.

Before travelling to South Africa, you should learn their language. There are a total of 11 official languages. English is the fourth most-spoken language and is used is public and commercial life. But if you want to converse with people in deeper parts of the country knowing another language would help.

The monetary unit is rand (R) which is also called “buck.” You can have your local currency changed at the airport upon arrival, banks, and hotels. Credit and debit cards are accepted at major cities and hotels. However, in remote areas, cash is needed.

You should also need to know that there are extreme weather conditions. The weather is mostly sunny. But during the months of June and July, temperature drops to zero. It is advised to do some research on the current weather conditions before travelling.

Electric supply here is 220/ 230V, 50Hz AC and the sockets are round-pinned plugs. Make sure to bring an adaptor to charge your gadgets.

Places of interest

There are a total of nine provinces in South Africa. Each of these provinces has its own uniqueness and beauty; something you must visit and see. It is a big country with a lot of fascinating places. The best way to explore everything is planning your visit. You could divide your itinerary between the different provinces.

Cape Town
Cape Town is the capital and largest city at Western Province. This town is a combination of stunning beaches and breathtaking views. Here are four attractions that you should not miss at Cape Town.

•    Robben Island

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(Left) Aerial view of Robben Island. (Right) Prison cell at Robben Island

Robben Island is known to be a penal colony for 400 years. It is situated just off the coast of Cape Town and surrounded by sharks. It was also the prison cell of Nelson Mandela for 18 years. In 1997, it was declared as UNESCO World Heritage Site and museum. A tour to the island lasts 4 hours; this includes the ferry ride, a visit to the prison building, and a bus tour.

•    The Township

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If you want to meet and share an experience with the community, then a trip to Township is recommended. It was built as settlement area for non-whites during the old political system. Currently it is home to majority of Cape Town’s citizen. When you visit this place do not miss the pub or shebeen, school, orphanage, community venter and the traditional healer. It would give you an insight to the life of a South African. Despite their status in life, the people perform the best music.

•    Cape Town’s beaches

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The best time to see the beaches is during summer – that is from December to February. There are a lot of different beach to choose from. There are also different watersports like surfing, diving, sailing, kayaking, and kite-surfing. There are designated beaches for young people showing off their bodies, family beaches, and nude beach. There are also beaches wherein you could see penguins and whales.

•    Table Mountain

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The famous table mountain a large slab of sandstone located at the heart of the town. It stands at 1086m and a length of 3km. It is covered with clouds that dubbed as the mountain’s “tablecloth.” It is admired not only because of its beauty but also because of its diversity. It is the habitat of at least 1400 different plants and animals. For those brave and adventurous enough to climb the mountain for 3 hours, a spectacular view awaits. Or you could try using the cable cars installed. From atop you could see the coastline, the beaches and Robben Island. One way to get down from the top is by paragliding.

Knysna

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Knysna was voted twice to be South Africa’s favorite town. There are a lot of reasons for this nomination. Because of its location, between Outeniqua Mountains and Indian Ocean, it has a spectacular view. There is also a lagoon which water sports are hosted. The luscious forest serves as a nice trail for walking. Here are a few things you could do here:

•    Have fun along the beach. Build sand castles, have a barbeque with family and friends, talk a walk, and go swimming in the beach.
•    Walk into the forest. There is a trail path for walking within the forest. If you are lucky, you could also see birds and some animals.
•    Do not forget the Township tours.
•    Take a dip into the lagoon.
•    Spare some time to enjoy the view from the Featherbed. This is a private nature reserve. The trip starts with a boat trip, followed by a drive up to the lookout point. There are two ways to get down, by driving down or hiking through the forest or alongside the lagoon.

Drakensburg Mountains

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This mountain range is about 600 miles long forms the KwaZulu-Natal’s western border. There are a lot of different things you could do here: hiking, bird watching, guided tours, 4 x 4 trails, bikes, golfing, fishing, white water rafting, and a lot more. It is indeed a sight for those adventure lovers. If you plan to visit this area, make sure to do the following:

•    The Karkloof Canopy Tour

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This tour is an eco-wilderness adventure. You would get to see the birds and plants from above. It is an exciting educational tour because there are professional tour guides to give fascinating facts. The whole tour would last around three hours.

•    Bushman Rock Art

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The first settlers of the Drakensburg Mountains were San Bushmen. They narrated their day to day life through paintings found in caves. Those painting became popular because of its unique beauty. These works of art are showcased at Kamberg National Park.

•    Royal Natal National Park

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Tugela Falls

Mont-aux-Sources is known to be one of the highest mountains; and it could be found within the park. This high mountain is the source of five rivers and the famous Tugela Falls. Tugela Falls is 3000ft tall and the water flows to five different tiers. This is also the perfect place to go rock climbing and horseback riding.

Kristine Capanzana