Travel

Four Things to Do in Greece

Hellenic Republic, popularly known as Greece, is a country located at southeastern Europe on the Balkan Peninsula. It is in a strategic location for trade between Europe, Asia and Africa. Aside from trade, it is a tourist destination because of the long coastline along the Mediterranean – a perfect place for rest and relaxation. The place would also allow foreigners to have a grasp and see a rich cultural history. Greece is the cradle of western civilization and had a great influence on both east and west. Greece introduced and propagated the idea of democracy, philosophy, Olympic Games, literature, political science, mathematical principles, and drama.

There are a lot of different activities one could do at Greece. A visit to this rich country is worth it.

Geographic Location

Greece has a total land area of 131,957 square kilometers. It is bounded on the northwest by Albania, on the north by the Republic of Macedonia and Bulgaria, on the northeast by Turkey. On the east is Aegean Sea, on the west is Ionian Sea, and to the south is the Mediterranean Sea. The Mediterranean coast on the south has a length of 13, 676 kilometers, the 11th longest coastline in the world.

The country is divided into nine regions: Macedonia, Central Greece, Peloponnese, Thessaly, Epirus, the Aegean Islands, Thrace, Crete and Ionian Islands.

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The country consists of more than a thousand islands. The largest and most populous island is Crete. The next largest islands are Euboea, Rhodes and Lesbos. Other islands included in Greece are the Ionian Islands, Sporades, Cyclades, Samos, Samothrace, Chios, and Lemnos.

The mainland is approximately eighty percent mountains or hills. The Alps stretch from the northwest to the southeast area. The highest point is at Mount Olympus at a height of 2,917 meters; this is the highest mountain in the country. On the western region, the Pindus Mountain Range could be found; the highest point is at Mt. Smolikas at a height of 2637 meters, the second highest mountain. To the northeastern area, Rhodope Mountain Range could be found. It is known for the flora and fauna.

There are also plains that are used for economy. The seas are home to marine species like seals and loggerhead sea turtles. The forests serve as habitat for endangered species such as the brown bear, lynx, roe deer, and wild goat.

Transportation System

There are a total of 82 airports in the country. Athens International Airport “Eleftherios Venizelos” is the main point of entry at Athens. This is the biggest airport in the country serving approximately 13 million passengers annually. Other international airports are located at Crete, Ionian Islands, Peloponnese, Macedonia, Aegean, and Thrace.

There are also domestic airports that serve as connecting flights to reach the different islands of Greece.

The official airline that operates and flies in and out of Greece are Aegean Airlines and Olympic Air.

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Thessaloniki International Airport at Thessaloniki is the second largest airport

Another way to travel within the country is by waterways. The country consists of islands and to connect these islands for trade and tourism, water transportation has been improved. There are a number of ports located within the country.

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Port of Patras

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Port of Kos

There are also different modes of road travel such as trains, tram, taxis, and buses. Roads have been improved and are continuously improved to cater to the increasing number of tourists.
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Proastiakos commuter rail

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Athens Tram

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Vintage trolleybus at Athens

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Aerial view of Attiki Odos

Demographics

Majority of the citizens, 91.56% are Greeks. The remaining are Albanians, Bulgarians, Romanians, Pakistani, and Georgian. The official language is Greek and the predominant religion is the Orthodox Christian faith. There are also Roman Catholics, Protestants, and Jehovah’s Witnesses.

What to do

Visit the Capital City, Athens

For those wishing for a cultural immersion, and being connected with ancient roots, then a visit to the capital, Athens is worth the time.

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Panoramic view of Athens

Athens is the capital and largest city in Greece. It is known to be one of the oldest cities and a cradle to civilization. It was known in history to have a huge impact to culture and philosophy. Now, Athens is the economic center, financial district, industrial complex, and political abode in Greece.

Important landmarks in the city that marked its modernization include: Hellenic Parliament, National Library of Greece, Athens University, and the Academy of Athens.

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Hellenic Parliament

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National Library of Greece

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Academy of Athens

There are two UNESCO World Heritage Sites in Athens: Acropolis of Athens and Daphni Monastery.

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Acropolis of Athens

Acropolis of Athens is Greece’s ancient city located on top of rocks. It overlooks the city of Athens. It was once the site of important buildings such as the Parthenon, Propylaea, Erechtheion and the temple of Athena Nike. Unfortunately, these buildings were destroyed during war. The remnants of the building are currently being preserved.


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The Parthenon was originally designed as a temple dedicated to the Greek goddess, Athena. It was built from the years 447BC to 438BC, during the height of Greek art and architecture. Throughout time it served different purposes such as a treasury, Christian church, mosque, and now a museum. The temple serves as a symbol ancient Greece and Athenian democracy.

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Propylaea is a monumental gateway to the entrance of the Acropolis.

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Erechtheion is a Greek temple built in dedication to Athena and Poseidon in the years 421 BC to 406 BC.

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Daphni Monastery

The Daphni Monastery was built during the 6th century. It was once a Sanctuary of Apollo Daphanios but was converted to a Christian site. It was the home to mosaics depicting the life of Christ. But during the war, the place has abandoned. Natural disasters occurred causing the monastery to fall. It was declared a World Heritage Site in 1990.

There are many other points of interest in the city of Athens. There are many museums, temples, parks, and zoos that tourists should visit. Athens is an abode to a great civilization worthy of exploring.

Visit the mountain ranges

There is more to Greece than ancient ruins and civilization. There are mountain ranges that are definitely a must climb for mountaineers. These mountain ranges serve as tourist attractions all year round. There are organized mountain refuges and guides to reach the peak of these mountains. Here are some of the mountains and peaks that mountaineers would love.

Mount Olympus

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Mount Olympus has 52 peaks and deep gorges. The highest peak at 2,917 meters was named Mytikas which means ‘nose.’

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Mytikas

It is popularly known and used in Greek Mythology as the home to Greek gods and goddesses. Aside from being prominent in mythology, it is noted for the flora, fauna and diverse species. In 1938, it became the first National Park of Greece and a World’s Biosphere Reserve.

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Hiking path to Mount Olympus in the background

Pindus Mountain Range

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The Pindus Mountain Range is often called “spine of Greece” because of the location and serving as a border of Thessaly and Epirus. It spans approximately 180 kilometers and a width of 56 kilometers. The highest point is at Mt. Smolikas at 2,637 meters, the second highest point the country. There are two national parks within the mountain range: Vikos-Aoos National Park and Pindus National Park.

Vikos-Aoos National Park was established in 1973. It got its name from two famous gorges in the area: Vikos Gorge and Aoos Gorge. Located between the two gorges is the Tymfi Mountain Ranges. There are natural pools, and lakes along the mountain range. There are also vertical caves.

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Vikos Gorge – the highest part of the gorge is 1000 m above Voidomatis River

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Aoos Gorge

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Tymfi

Tourists trekking the mountain would have a breathtaking view of rivers, lakes, caves, canyons, coniferous and forests. It is named as a UNESCO Geoparks. There are activities within the park such as rafting, canoe-kayaking, hiking, and mountain biking.

Pindus National Park or Valia-Kalda was established in 1966 and occupies an area of 6,927 hectares. It is famously known for the thick forests of European black pine, rocky ridges, peaks, streams and lakes.

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Rhodope Mountain Range

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Rhodopes Mountain Ranges serve as natural borders between Greece and Bulgaria. Majority of the mountain ranges are under Bulgarian territory; only the southern slopes are on Greek territory. Nonetheless, the flora and fauna are outstanding and exquisite.

Visit the coastline

If you are inclined to have some rest and relaxation, then head down to Greece’s coastline. Greece has one of the longest coastlines in the world. Another option for rest and relaxation is by visiting Greece’s islands.

One island worth visiting is Santorini or Thera. It is located approximately 200 kilometers southeast of the main island in the middle of Aegean Sea. The island is only 73 square kilometers.

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Location of Santorini at Aegean Sea

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The island is a remnant of a larger island that was destroyed due to a volcanic eruption. One feature created after the eruption is a rectangular lagoon surrounded by cliffs on the east side and an island on the west.

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Santorini Caldera

Tourists visit the island because of its calm and serene view. The buildings follow Cyclades architecture. It is built along the slopes and cascades down to the lagoon, making it a wonderful place to wake up and have breakfast.

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Buildings at Santorini

Another island getaway in Greece is Crete. It is the fifth largest island in the Mediterranean Sea.

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Location of Crete

There are a lot of things to do and see in the island. One could always explore forests, hike the mountains, take a look in history, take a dip in the lake, and cross rivers. But one thing that should not be missed are the beaches.

Palm Beach of Vai is one of the sought after beach destinations in Crete. It has an extensive pal forest, one of the largest in Europe. The best time to visit is during the month of August.

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Palm Beach of Vai

Another beach destination in Crete is Matala. It is famous for its artificial caves made during the Neolithic Age.

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Caves of Matala

Myrtos Beach could be found at the Ionian Islands in the middle of the Ionian Sea. It is well known for the beautiful contrast of colors between the blue and turquoise sea, and white beach. To add beauty and splendor are the mountains. For this reason, it has been referred to as “one of the most dramatic beaches in Greece”, with its “mile-and-a-half long arc of dazzling white pebbles.”

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Myrtos Beach

These are just a few of the beaches to choose from. The other beaches are just as beautiful as those mentioned.

Take a bite to Greek food

When in Greece do not forget to try their local cuisine. It is delectable, delicious and distinctively Mediterranean. A staple ingredient in Greek cuisine is olive oil. It is used in most Greek dishes.

They start their meal with Orektika or appetizers. They also serve pita bread with some dips. They also serve mezes. Mezes is a collection small dishes accompanied with wine or anise-flavored liqueurs.

They love cooking with vegetables especially tomato, aubergine, potatoes, green beans, okra, green peppers, and onions. They also use herbs like oregano, mint, garlic, dill, bay laurel leaves, basil, thyme, and fennel seed. The northern regions of Greece would sweetness to their meal.

A meal is not complete without a serving of wine.

Their desserts consist mostly of nuts and honey.

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Classic Greek Salad

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Lagana – a type of Greek bread

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Pita with Gyros

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Moussaka

Kristine Capanzana

Japan: the Land of the Rising Sun

Japan or ‘the Land of the Rising Sun’ is well known for its modern technological advancements – health, gadgets, transportation, research and a lot more. But there is more to Japan than technology.

It was once isolated from the world, no foreigner was able to get a glimpse and influence their culture. But when the gates had opened the world had a chance to see a distinct rich culture that blended with their peaceful surroundings. With the changing of time and genre the people have been able to fuse distinct Japanese culture with a touch of foreign culture. They had also managed to bring balance between culture, environment and technological advancement.

Japan’s Geography

Japan belongs to East Asia and lies at the Pacific Ocean. It has a total land area of 377,801 square kilometers and consists of 6,852 islands. The four largest and main islands are Hokkaido on the north, Honshu at the middle and the largest, Shikoku and Kyushu on the south. These four main islands make 97% of the total land area. Each major island is separated by a strait. To the southernmost end of the archipelago are Ryukyu Islands which include the famous Okinawa.

Location

It is bounded on the west by the Sea of Japan which separates it from China, North Korea, South Korea, and Russia. On the north is the Sea of Okhotsk separating Japan from the rest of Russia. On the south are East China Sea and Taiwan.

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Japan is considered to be part of the Pacific Ring of Fire in which earthquakes, volcanic eruptions, and tsunamis are common. There are a total of 108 active volcanoes within the country. And in the past years earthquakes had claimed thousands of Japanese people. The latest major earthquake had a 9.0 magnitude followed by a large tsunami.

Terrain

Approximately 70% of Japan is mountainous; the highest point is at Mt. Fuji at a height of 3,776 meters. In order to gain habitable living space, Japanese had different land reclamation projects. They extended land to the sea and used the carved the slopes on the mountainsides for rice paddies. Some efforts to increase usable land area included demolition of mountains.

There are also rivers that have been sources of hydroelectric power.

Climate

Generally Japan is a temperate country. It is highly influenced by the Asian continent and Oceanic major currents. At the north end there are short and warm summers and long, cold winters. As one travels to the south it there are longer summer and shorter winter. Also the amount of rainfall increases as one goes south.

The average temperature during winter is 5.1 degrees Celsius and 25.2 degrees Celsius during summer. Rainy seasons starts from May until July. The climate from July to September is hot and humid. On average five to six typhoons visit the country.

Japan’s Demographics

Majority of the people in Japan are Japanese. It comprises around 80% of the total population. The remaining 20% are Chinese, Koreans, Filipinos, and Brazilians. There are also minority groups called Ainu who live at Hokkaido and Okinawans who live at Ryukyu Islands.

Out of the total population 80% live in Honshu, 12% in Kyushu, 5% in Hokkaido and 3% in Shikoku.

The official language is Japanese. Other dialects include Ryukyuan language and Okinawa Japanese at Ryukyu Islands. Students are also taught English.

The main religion is Buddhism which was influenced by Chinese in the 6th century. Other religions are Shinto, Confucianism and Christianity.

Japan’s Transportation System

Japan has been well known for its advancements and modernizations including the transportation system. The country is proud of their railroads and train systems. All roads are connected to major cities. There are nearly a hundred airports in the country. Their ports are also considered to be one of the busiest.

Railroads

This is the major means of transportation between cities because it is fast and reliable. There are also subway systems, streetcar and monorail networks at some key cities. Some stations are linked to malls, and hotels for easy access to passengers, shoppers and guests.

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Streetcar in Hiroshima

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Kyoto Station being linked to a mall and hotel

Japan is also the first to build a bullet train. This inspired neighboring and other first world countries to build their own bullet trains.

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Bullet train

Roads

Another way to travel in Japan is by road. They follow a left-hand drive. Each city is connected by national roads and expressways that have toll ways.

Air

The three main airports are Narita International Airport at Tokyo, Kansai International Airport serving Osaka, Kobe and Kyoto area, and Chubu Centrair International Airport at Nagoya. Domestic flights are catered at Tokyo International Airport and Haneda Airport. Other airports important airports are Osaka International Airport, New Chitose Airport and Fukuoka Airport.

Japan Airlines and All Nippon Airways are the two major airlines operate and serve flights to other countries. Other airlines that fly in and out of the country are Skymark Airlines, Skynet Asia Airways, Air Do, Star Flyer, Fuji Dream Airlines, United Airlines and Delta Airlines.

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Narita International Airport

Seaports

Japan is an archipelago consisting of thousands of islands. Thus, water transportation is common. Ports have been constructed to help in trade and delivery of foods. Furthermore, these ports are open for ferries. It allows tourists to travel by sea to neighboring islands and nearby countries.

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A ferry in the Inland Sea near Hiroshima

 

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Nagoya Port – the largest and busiest trading port in Japan

Japan’s Culture

During the Tokugawa period the country was isolated and kept away from foreigners. Thus, it was during this time that pure Japanese culture was developed. It was uninfluenced by other countries and it was distinctly theirs. Some of unique Japanese culture included art, architectures, practices like tea ceremonies and Geishas.

Currently, Japanese government established a protection and promotion of these cultures.

Art and Architecture

The most famous traditional Japanese buildings are Kabuki theaters. Here dramatic performances are staged with performers wearing elaborate make-up. Currently there are still kabuki theaters all across the country including the cities of Tokyo, Kyoto, Osaka and Nagoya.

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A kabuki theater in Kyoto

A distinguishing feature in Japanese housings and buildings were the use tatami mats and sliding doors. They also patronize the use of wood.

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Traditional Japanese home complete with tatami mats and sliding doors

Wood is used in sculptures and art. An example of Japanese art is ukiyo-e or wood block print.

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Ukiyo-e woodblock printing: The Great Wave of Kanagawa

When the country was once again opened to foreign trade after the Tokugawa period, there was a mixture and infusion of both styles. This fusion had led to newer art forms such as manga and anime.

Music

There are notable musical instruments that are used by Japanese in their gagaku (court music) orchestra. Examples of unique instruments are koto – a 13-stringed zither, biwa – pear-shapped lute, tsuri-daiko – a large hanging drum, shoko – a small gong, and kakko – horizontal drum.

The introduction of American and European culture had led to J-pop or Japanese popular music.

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Koto

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Biwa

Clothes

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Traditional Japanese clothing includes the kimono for the female and haori and hakama for the male. Both wear tabi and zori for their footwear.

Kimonos are full-length robes wrapped around the body. It could be layered, and tied with an obi. It could be worn with accessories like obiage, obijime, obidome, haneri and kansashi. It comes in a wide array of style, colors and textile.

A haori and hakama on the other hand are paired kimono jackets and trousers. The haori is a hip or thigh length jacket that is tied with a haori himo. The hakama is pleated and tied at the waist.

Currently, these are still worn for ceremonies, festivals and special events.

Geisha

Geisha are traditional Japanese female entertainers. They act as hostesses during ceremonies and gatherings. They have mastered the art of performing a musical instruments, singing, dancing, and storytelling. They also facilitate games.

hey would wear exquisite and stunning kimonos and obi. The amount of makeup on a geisha depends on her level as well as her maturity. Younger geishas have heavier makeups while mature ones wear less.

After the war, there had been a decrease in the number of geishas.

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Geisha Kimiha

Literature

The earliest Japanese literature was Kojiki (Record of Ancient Matter) which is about cosmology. Man’yoshu (Collection of Ten Thousand Leaves) was written in the mid-8th century is a collection of 4,500 poems. The kana, a syllabic writing system was introduced in the 9th century and helped develop prose writing. Other forms of Japanese writing included Haiku – a 17 syllable poem and waka – 31 syllable poem.

The most notable Japanese literature is the novel Tale of Genji by Murasaki Shikibu written in the 11th century.

Cuisine

The staple Japanese food includes rice or noodles, soup, fish, and vegetables. They also value presentation of food.

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Japanese sushi

Japanese are also known for their tea ceremonies also known as the Way of Tea. Tea ceremonies involve the preparation, mixing and serving of tea.

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Tea ceremony

Sports

The national sport of the country is sumo. Other sports practiced by the people include martial arts like judo, karate and kendo. Recently foreign sports like baseball, football, golf and car racing have gained in popularity.

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Sumo wrestling

Japan’s Must See Destinations

Its rich culture and geographic location had greatly influenced tourist destination spots. Below are some must see destinations.

Mount Fuji

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Mount Fuji is the highest point in Japan and a prominent symbol used in photographs and postcards. It is located on Honshu Island and is approximately 100 kilometers southwest of Tokyo.

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Mount Fuji peeking in between skyscrapers at Tokyo

It is also a sought after mountain climbing destination during July to August. There are a number of routes to choose from to reach the summit.

It was listed as a Cultural Site in 2013. According to UNESCO has “inspired artists and poets and been the object of pilgrimage for centuries.”

Tokyo

Tokyo is the capital of Japan, busiest and most populated city. One could see tall skyscrapers and uniquely designed buildings. It is also the home of business centers and corporations.

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The Imperial Palace, the official residence of the emperor, could also be found at Tokyo. It occupies 3.41 square kilometers of land. There are several buildings used for museums, archives, and administrative offices.

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Imperial Palace

Kyoto

Kyoto was once the capital of Japan for thousands of years. Now it is known for the different shrines and temples. There are 17 UNESCO World Heritage Site and Historic Monuments. These include the following:

• Kamigamo Shrine

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• Shimagamo Shrine

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• Kiyomizu-dera

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• Kinkaku-ji

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• Ginkaku-ji

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• Kongobu-ji

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Mount Yoshino

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Mount Yoshino is located at Nara. It became famous for the cherry blossoms and sakura trees. It became the subject of several waka poems. There are also several shrines located along the mountain. It is one of UNESCO World Heritage Site.

Itsukushima Shrine

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Itsukushima Shrine is a well-known Shintoshrine at Hiroshima. It is noted for its “floating” tori gate. The tori appear to be floating on water during high tide. But during low tide, a walkway is accessible to the tori gate. This shrine is part of UNESCO World Heritage Site.

Gusuku Sites and Related Properties of the Kingdom of Ryukyu

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Shuri Castle

This is a UNESCO World Heritage Site located at Okinawa. This is a collection two sacred sites, one garden, and five castle (four of which are ruins and one is undergoing reconstruction).

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The garden

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One of the sacred sites

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One of the castle ruins

Shiretoko National Park

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Shiretoko National Park is located at the northeastern tip of Hokkaido Island. It is noted for the brown bears, the flora and fauna, and a view of Kunashiri Island. There is also a hot spring waterfall within the park. The only way to reach the park is by foot or by sea. And in 2005 the park was named as a World Heritage Site.

Kristine Capanzana

A Glimpse of Bali, Indonesia

There are many parts of the world worth exploring. There are historical and cultural sites, eco-adventures, and modern developments. One place worth exploring is Indonesia.

Indonesia

Republic of Indonesia has a total of 17, 508 islands spread along Southeast Asia and Oceania. It occupies an area of 1,904,569 square kilometers and considered to be the seventh largest country in the world. It is bounded to the north by the countries Malaysia, Singapore, Palau, and Philippines, to the south is Australia, and on the east is Papua New Guinea.  The five largest islands are Java, Sumatra, Borneo, New Guinea, and Sulawesi. The capital and largest city is Jakarta and could be found on the island of Java which is on the southern area. On the western section is the island of Sumatra and to the east is Irian Jaya, which shares land with New Guinea.

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The country is divided into 34 provinces. One province that is worth exploring is Bali.

Bali, Indonesia

Bali, Indonesia earned the nicknames Island of Peace, Morning of the World, Islands of Gods, Island of Hinduism, and Island of Love.

Where is Bali located?

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Map showing the location of Bali in color green

 

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Topography of the island province

The province consists of a four islands. The main island is approximately 3.2 kilometers east of the island of Java and on the western end of the Lesser Sundra Islands. Bali Strait separates Java and Bali. There are three smaller islands southeast of the main island: Nusa Penida, Nusa Lembongan, and Nusa Ceningan. The three islands are separated to the main island by Badung Strait. To the east of the province is Lombok separated by Lombok Straight.

The province occupies 5, 623 square kilometers. It is 153 kilometers from west to east and 112km from the north to south. There is a mixed topography; on southern part are plains that are great for rice crops. On the north are dry mountains that slope towards coffee plantation. The highest peak is Mount Agung also known as ‘Mother Mountain’ at 3,142 kilometers. It is an active volcano, located on the eastern side of the island. There is 75 kilometer river that flows in the island, Ayung River.

The capital of the province is Denpasar at the southern coast.

What is the demographic of Bali?

In a census done in January 2014, the population is 4,225,000. Majority of its citizens are Balinese who are descendants of Malays. Other ethnic groups are Javanese, Baliaga and Madurese. The predominant religion is Balinese Hinduism. A few believe in Islam, Christianity and Buddhist.

The official language is Indonesian and others speak Balinese.

How to get to Bali?

Reaching Bali is easy. The province has its own international airport, Ngurah Rai International Airport also known as Denpasar International Airport. It is the third busiest airport in the country. The airport serves both international and domestic flights. Tourists get a feel of Balinese culture as soon as they step out of the plane because the airport has a Balinese inspired theme and architecture.
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Ngurah Rai International Airport

Another way of entry is via sea at the Benoa Harbor which is 10 km away from the city center. In the year 2011, Benoa Harbor was award as the ‘Best Port Welcome 2010’ by London’s Dream World Cruise Destination magazine. Roads have also been improved and have been connected bringing in more tourists.

How to travel in Bali?

The main mode of transportation is by land. A coastal road encircles the island, and three major roads cross the mountains. To help transportation at Denpasar and the busy southern area, Ngurah Rai Bypass Expressway was built.

It is also common to see a moped or a light motorcycle. To drive a moped, one must be older than 17 years old, have a legal driver’s license, a registered vehicle, and wear helmets. The speed limit is 100km/h.

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Moped

As of the moment, there are no railroads in Bali. But there are plans to construct railroads.

What to do in Bali?

Despite being a small island province, it is a sought after travel destination in Indonesia. It is an interesting place to visit. There are a lot of things to do and experience in Bali. Listed below are a few suggestions.

Relax on perfect beaches

Bali has the best beaches which are really breathtaking. It is a perfect place to walk on the fine sand as it tickles your sole, watch the gentle waves as it approaches the shore, and the clear blue ocean is truly spectacular. Get your swimming attires ready and relax on Bali’s perfect beaches.

On the south of the main island are beautiful white sand beaches.

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Kuta Beachis one of the most famous beach and an international tourist destination.
 

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Sanur Beach at the southeastern coast of Bali is a soothing place to be

And to the south are unique black sand beaches.

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Balangan Beach is one of the famous black sand beaches and surfing destination

Aside from visiting the beaches along the main island, there are also great beaches along Nusa Dua. Nusa Dua is 22 kilometers from the capital Located here are large international 5-star resorts.
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Nusa Dua beach

Renew the spiritual faith

Bali is a place wherein religion, Hinduism is important. Temples have been erected all throughout the island province.

Tourists should also not miss the seaside temples or Pura Segara. There are seven sea temples in Bali. One is Tanah Lot that is located in Tabanan, approximately 20 kilometers from Denpasar. The other temples are Pura Gede Perancak, Pura Rambut Siwi, Pura Luhur Ulu Watu, Pura Mas Suka, Pura Sakenan, and Pura Pulaki. Each temple is within sight from the next, thus forming a chain on the southwestern coast. The temple is a mixture of Balinese mythology and Hinduism.
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Tanah Lot is a rock formation and pilgrimage seaside temple

Another temple worth mentioning is the Mother Temple of Besakih or Pura Besakih which could be found on the slopes of Mount Agung. It is the largest and holiest Hindu temple in Bali.
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Mother Temple of Besakih or Pura Besakih

Take a dive and enjoy the sight of corals

There are also diving spots and areas wherein tourists could snorkel and see beautiful coral reefs. Diving and snorkeling spots are located all around the island. Examples of these spots are within the Marine National park, Tulamben, Amed, Candi Dasa, Padang Bai, Nusa Penida, Nusa Lembongan, and Nusa Ceningan.

Have an adventurous mountain climb

For adventurist and those wanting to experience a breathtaking view of Bali then try climbing Mount Agung or Gunung Agung. It is the highest peak in Bali. It is actually an active volcano. From a top, mountain climbers could see neighboring islands and the coastline.
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Mount Agung
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View from the top of Mount Agung

There are two ways to reach the summit. The fastest way is from Pura Besakih. This brings mountaineers to the western peak. The other way, from Pura Pasar Agung allows mountaineers to reach the southern peak.

When climbing, it is advised to wear and bring warm waterproof clothing since there are sudden changes in weather conditions. Since there are no sources of water, bring plenty.

Explore the capital, Denpasar
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Location of Denpasar in Bali

Denpasar is the capital and gateway of the province and the hub to nearby Lesser Sundra Islands. Being the capital, tourism had definitely improved. Tourists flock the city and visit tourist destinations such as:

•    Serangan Island which is a popular surfing beach.
•    Sanur beach is a popular sunbathing and kitesurfing area.

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•    The town of Kuta is a known place to eat, drink in cafes, shop at malls, and shopping district. The famous souvenir items are batik clothing, sarongs, pottery, artwork, and silverware.
•    Different temples like Pura Jagatnatha and Pura Maospahit.
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Pura Maospahit

•    Puri Pemecutan, the former royal palace.

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•    St. Joseph Church, a Hindu styled Catholic Church.

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•    Bali Museum that showcases Balinese art and history.

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Listen to Balinese music

It is common to hear the beautiful, soothing music of Bali. What makes it different from other Indonesian music is the kecak. Kecak imitates the sounds made by monkeys.
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A kecak dance and music

 

There are also different gamelans that only Balinese uses like gamelan jegog, gamelan gong gede and gamelan gambang.
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Musicians playing Balinese music
 

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A set of gamelan

Admire Balinese art

There is something unique and captivating about Balinese art. Here are some examples of Balinese art:

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Mask Dancer by A.A. Gde Anom Sukawati
 

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The Wheel of Life by I Ketut Murtika

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Beached Whale by Ida Bagus

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The Snake Tree by Wayan Pugur

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Rajapala by Lunga

 

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Stone carvings in Ubud

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Balinese stone guardian at Ubud Palace
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Woodcarving of an elderly Balinese lady

Kristine Capanzana

Jamaica: an Island in the Caribbean

Jamaica is a quiet island country located in the middle of the stunning Caribbean Sea. It is one favorite tourist getaway destination because of the beautiful and relaxing beaches surrounding the island, the rich cultural history in towns, and humble and accommodating Jamaican people. So take a break, and get ready to experience something truly extraordinary.
Jamaicans, call their country ‘Rock’ in which the country had been dubbed with other slang names such as ‘Jamrock,’ ‘Jamdown, and ‘Ja.’ While a group of indigenous people, Taino call the country Xaymaca which means ‘Land of Wood and Water’ or the ‘Land of Springs.’

Where is Jamaica located?

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Jamaica could be found along the West Indies, surrounded by the Caribbean Sea. 145 kilometer to the north is Cuba, and 191 kilometers to the east is Hispaniola (island where the nations of Haiti and Dominican Republic are located).

It has a total land area of 10,990 square kilometers making it the third largest island in the Caribbean. It has a length of 235 kilometers and a width of 82 kilometers. 80 percent of the island is considered highlands. The highest point, Blue Mountains is located on the eastern side at a height of 2256 meters.

The capital and largest city is Kingston.

How to reach Jamaica?

There are two ways to reach Jamaica: by air or by sea.

There are three international airports within the island: Norman Manley International Airport in Kingston, Ian Flemmings International Airport in Ocho Rios, and Sangster International Airport in Montego Bay.

•    Norman Manley International Airport is on the southeastern part of the island and close to the towns of Mandeville, May Pen, St. Thomas, St. Mary and St. Catherine.
•    Ian Flemmings International Airport is on located on the northern part of the island and close to the towns of Browns Town, Port Maria and Ewarton.
•    The last airport, Sangster International Airport is located at the northwestern part of the island and close to Negril and St. Elizabeth region. This is also the busiest airport since it is closes to popular resort areas.

There are hundreds of flights flying in and out of the country daily. Some airlines that serve flights to the country are Air Jamaica, Air Canada, American Airlines, Virgin Airways, British Jet Blue and Spirit Airlines.

The other option to reach the island is by sea, more popularly is by cruise ship. There are four ports that are used as a point of entry to the island: Ocho Rios, Trelawny, Montego Bay, and Port Antonio. Cruise ships would usually stay at the port for 12 hours. This amount of time is enough for one to get a glimpse of Jamaica.

What should you know when travelling to Jamaica?

It is a must that all tourists have a valid passport before entering the country. This is obtained from the country of origin.

Not all tourists would require a visa. If you are travelling as a tourist for a couple of days, you would not need a visa. However, if one is travelling for work in the country, an employment visa is needed. If one wants to study at the country, then a student visa is required. If one plans to make business in the country, especially if it is for more than 30 days, a business visa is mandatory.

The unit of currency is Jamaican dollar with a symbol J$ and a code of JMD. Since it is not an international currency, converting money is done upon arrival to the country.

The average temperature is 27 to 29 degrees Celsius all year round. The hottest months are from July to August, while the coolest months are from December to February. This temperature makes the country a perfect vacation spot.

How do you get around Jamaica?

There are different modes of transportation in Jamaica: by air, land, and sea.

There are domestic flights connecting the east and west side of the country. The three domestic airports are:

•    Tinson Pen Aerodrome – the largest and mostly used for business purposes
•    Ken Jones Aerodrome – mostly used by vacationers
•    Negril Aerodrome – mostly used by locals wishing to avoid the long road drive.

There are also helicopters and other chartered flights. Travelling by air would give one a nice aerial view of the island.

There are different means of transportation by land. There are car rentals, taxis, buses, and motorcycle.

•    Car rentals – if one plans to rent a car, keep in mind, drive on the left side and be careful of ruthless and careless drivers.
•    Taxis – There are two types of taxis: chartered and route taxis. The former type of taxi is more expensive but has less stop overs and is more comfortable. The later taxi is more affordable. Just remember to ask the price first before riding. More often than not there is an overprice in rate. Do not be afraid to haggle for a lower rate.
•    Buses – Rural areas are operated by mini-buses while urban areas are operated by government owned buses. Buses follow a schedule and are at a reasonable price. Riding the bus offers a unique experience and a chance to hear local stories through their local radio stations. For those who could afford, they could ride an express shuttle bus or sightseeing buses. These offer more comfort and are faster.
•    Motorcycle – this is a common mode of transportation for those staying at the northern side of the country. Alternative rides to motorcycles are scooters, mopeds, and bicycles. Just like cars, motorcycles, scooters, mopeds and bicycles could be rented.

Tourists could also try traveling by sea. The ports also accommodate local travel. There are chartered boats, luxury yachts, and cruises. Taking a ride in one of these would offer tourists a chance to see the island off shore.

Who lives in Jamaica?

According to a census done in 2011, majority of the citizens are Black Jamaicans including Black Indians and Black Chinese. They comprise 91.4% of the whole population. The remaining citizens are Asian Jamaicans and White or European Jamaicans. There was also an increase in immigrants who wish to live in Jamaica.

Communicating with Jamaicans is easy since the official language is English.  Some have developed a slang called Jamaican Patois.  It is a mixture of African language and Native American words.

The predominant religion is Christianity. There are also a percentage of Adventists, Pentecostal, Baptist, Anglican, Roman Catholics, Methodists, and Jehovah’s Witnesses.

Where to go in Jamaica?

Montego Bay

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Montego Bay is the second largest city in Jamaica and a famous tourist attraction in the country. It is most popularly known for the beautiful beaches lining the town.

The most popular Doctor’s Cave Beach Club. Tourists would enjoy a swim in the calm clear blue waters and a walk along the white sand beach which is 200m long.

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Doctor’s Cave Beach

There is also a nearby port wherein yachts and luxury cruises make a stop. Tourists on cruises can get off and take a glimpse of Montego Bay.

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Montego Bay Yacht Club

Another must see attraction in this city is the White Witch’s Rose Hall which is famously used in haunted stories.

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White Witch Rosa Hall

Negril

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Negril is situated at the western part of the country. It was once known for having a lighthouse to guide ships and sea vessels on the area. But when Montego Bay has developed and a road was constructed connecting Negril to the airport, tourists came to the area.

It is very famous for its long stretch of beach, four miles to be exact, although tourists have dubbed it as ‘seven-miles.’ On the southern end of Negril are famous cliff diving spots and snorkeling areas.

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Negril Lighthouse

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Cliff diving at the southern end

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‘Seven-mile’ beach

Ocho Rios

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Ocho Rios is a simple town located at the northern area of Jamaica. From Montego Bay, it is less than two hours drive. In recent years there has been a steady increase in tourists because of the nearby port that allows cruise ships to dock. Tourists on these cruises ships often take the time to do a little exploration.

The most popular attraction in Ocho Rios are Dunn’s River Falls, Dolphin Cove, Mystic Mountains, Margaritaville, and Dolphin Cove.

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Dunn’s River Falls

Dunn’s River Falls is waterfall with multi-step cascade or giant staircase interspaced with lagoons. It stands at 55 meters with a length of 180 meters. The water empties to the sea. It is a great spot for an adventure and mountain climbing. The path is lined with trees and different plants making it a refreshing climb. The climb would take approximately one to one and a half hour. This site is popularly used in different movies like Cocktail in 1988 and Dr. No in 1962. It was also featured in America’s Next Model Cycle 19.

Another attraction is Dolphin Cove. This place showcases performances and tricks done by dolphins. There are also other activities such as a nature hike and different animals like parrots, snakes, turtles, iguanas and sharks.

Kingston

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Kingston is the capital and largest city in Jamaica. Government transactions and negotiations occur here. Furthermore, an international and a domestic airport are found within the city. Unlike other parts of the country, Kingston does not have any beach. Nonetheless, tourists flock the city for entertainment.

The capital is bustling with different activities. During the day, streets are filled with employees hurrying to go to work. And at night, the place is brightly lit with lights from bars, nightclubs, karaoke and other entertainment hubs.

Aside from partying at night, one could take a day or two and visit popular tourist attractions like the Bank of Jamaica Money Museum, Bob Marley Museum, Caymanas Park, Botanical Garden, Devon House Heritage Site, Emancipation Park, Fort Charles and Maritime Museum, Hope Garden and Zoo, National Gallery, Twin Sisters Cave, and the University of the West Indies.

Tourists could also buy souvenir items like chains, clothes, baskets, and wooden sculptures.

Blue Mountains

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Map showing the location of Blue Mountains (colored orange)
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Blue Mountains are the longest mountain range and the highest peak in the country. It encompasses four towns: Portland, St. Thomas, St. Mary and St. Andrew. Climbing the mountain serves as a good adventure for mountaineers. The view from the top is rewarding; both the north and south coast could be seen. And during a clear day, Cuba which is 210 kilometers away could be seen.

What to eat?

A trip to Jamaica will not be complete without trying the local cuisines. It is a must that tourists try Jamaican foods.

Be warned that Jamaican foods could be spicy.

There are a lot of fruits and vegetables. Their vegetables are served with a unique dressing recipe. The dressing includes mayonnaise, avocado dip, tartar sauce, mustard sauce, white sauce, mango chutney, or soy onion sauce. They offer coconut, sugar cane, melon, pear, banana, nasberry, soursop, ortanique, paw paw, mango, guinep, june plum, nutmeg, apple, tamarind, guava and a lot more. Some of these fruits are used in their pastries.

They have used bananas and plantains to make their famous banana chips. It is the number one export product and a great giveaway when you get back home.

For the main dish, guests should try the national dish, Ackee and Saltfish. The place is abundant in seafood. Their main dish would not be complete with a side dish. The most common side dish are rice and peas. There are also potatoes, bananas and dumplings served on the side.

Do not forget to taste their jerky. It comes in pork, chicken, fish, cow foot, stew peas, shrimp, goat, and lobster jerky. It is popularly served in parties and at the beach.

And a meal is not complete without a drink. There are a lot of natural drinks that come from fruits and vegetables. There are also bottled drinks; the most popular is Ting and Ginger Beer. It is also common to see and taste their alcoholic beverages like Appleton, J Wray, Nephew White Rum, Tallawah, Rumbar, and Red Stripe Beer.

Kristine Capanzana

Escape to Palawan

We all need an escape from the bustling city life. Our hectic schedule, demanding tasks, and polluted environment have caused us to be stressed and burned out. It is time to take a break. And the best place to unwind is with nature.
A popular getaway is at Palawan, Philippines.

Palawan, Philippines

Palawan, Philippines is a province with abundant and luscious forest, clean and sparkling water, and pristine nature. There are also mountains that are great for trekking. And of course there are beautiful quiet and relaxing beaches. There are a number of islands, 1780 islands and islets in particular, constituting the province. The largest is the main island spanning a length of 450 kilometers and a width of 50 kilometers.

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Lagoon in El Nido, Palawan

Location

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Left: Map of the Philippines, the pink area is Palawan; Right: Palawan Province up close

The province is on the western side of the country in between South China Sea and Sulu Sea. The nearest islands are Mindoro, Philippines on the northeast and Borneo on the southwest. There are almost 2000 islands in Palawan; some of these include Calamianes Group of Island (Busunaga, Coron and Culion) on the north, Balabac Island on the south, and the disputed Spratly Island on the west.

People

The main dialect of the people is Tagalog; half of the people could speak and understand the language. Other languages include Cuyonon, Illonggo, and Palawano. Majority of the citizens are Catholics. There are also Protestants, Christians, and Buddhist.

Transportation

The main way to get to Palawan is via plane. There are a number of airports and airstrips. The two main airports are: Puerto Princesa International Airpot in Puerto Princesa and Francisco B. Reyes Airport in Busuanga Island. The former is an international airport going to the capital, Puerto Princesa and the main island. It is also the port of entry for those wishing to visit the Underground River. Flight routes include Manila, Busunanga, Cebu, Iloilo, Davao, Kota Kinabalu in Malaysia and vice versa. The later airport is a domestic airport serving the northern part of the province. It is the point of entry to reach Coron Island and the municipality of Busuanga. Flight routes include Puerto Princesa, Cebu, Manila and vice versa.

One could also reach Palawan via ferries. There are ports in Puerto Princesa City and Coron. Ferries travel in between these two and to Manila, and Iloilo.

When in the city, there are varies modes of transportation such as buses, tricycles, jeepneys, and vans-for-hire. Most areas are promoting environment friendly transportation systems such as the e-tricycle. These e-tricycles do not emit harmful carbon monoxide and any noise compared to their gasoline counterparts. Furthermore, e-tricycles are cheaper to operate.

There are three places of destination in Palawan: Puerto Princesa City, Coron, and El Nido. Each Destination is unique, beautiful and definitely worth visiting. Plus, these places are great relaxation spots.

Puerto Princesa City

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Puerto Princesa City is dubbed as ‘The City in the Forest.’ It is also the provincial capital of Palawan; all economic activity and governance occurs here. It is located on the center of the main island. It is the second largest city in the Philippines but there are only a few living in here.

Despite being highly urbanized, this city has a lot of hidden travel destinations such as beaches and other breathtaking nature spots.

Puerto Princesa Subterranean River National Park

Puerto Princesa Subterranean River National Park or simply Puerto Princesa Underground River is the most sought after international tourist destination. It is located 80 kilometers north of the city and under the Saint Paul Mountain Range. To the north is St. Paul Bay and on the east is Babuyan River. The reach the national park one could take a hike or a boat ride.

It is the longest underground river in the world. Along the ride, tourists could see amazing stalactites and stalagmites formation as well as limestone. The dome of the cave at some areas reaches 300 meters. There are also bats and different marine animals within the cave. During the trip to the Underground River, there are different flora and fauna striving along the path. In the year 2010, environmentalists and geologists discovered a second floor which creates mini waterfalls inside the cave. There are a lot more to discover, however, due to its depth and oxygen deprivation some areas are inaccessible.

In 2012, Puerto Princesa Underground River was named as one of the New7Wonders of Nature.

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Docking area to Puerto Princesa Underground River
 

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Entrance to Puerto Princesa Underground River

Tubbataha Reefs National Park

Tubbataha Reef has been a protected area for several years. It is located around 181 km southeast of the city in the middle of Sulu Sea. There is a wide range of marine life living in the reef these include manta rays, lionfish, sea turtles, clownfish, sharks, and a lot more. Some of these are already considered endangered and near extinction. There are a number of islets nearby. These islets are home to unique bird species.

In December 1993, Tubabataha Reef was declared a UNESCO Heritage Site. In 2008, it was also nominated at the New7Wonders of Nature.

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Honda Bay

Honda Bay is located on the eastern shore of Puerto Princesa. It is one of the most famous places to go island hopping at nearby islets, snorkeling at Pambato Reef, and relaxing at famous resorts. Some of the islands included in Honda Bay are Luli Island – known for appearing during low tide and disappearing during high tide, Starfish Island – with abundant number of starfishes, Panden Island – has fine white sand and tropical forest, and Cowrie Island – different sized snails live here and it had become a popular tourist destination.

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The most popular part of Honda Bay is the island of Arrecife wherein Dos Palmas Resort is located.

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Dos Palmas Resort

Sabang Beach

There are also beaches that are surely worth visiting such as Sabang Beach. It is a pristine, secluded beach in Puerto Princesa.

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El Nido

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El Nido is dubbed as ‘Heaven on Earth.’ CNNGo had claimed that ‘it is the best beach and island destination in the Philippines for its extraordinaty natural splendor and ecosystem.’

It is located on the northern end of the main island of Palawan; it is around 238 kilometers from the capital. There are approximately 45 islands and islets. The bay is surrounded by limestone cliffs as high as 640 meters. Aside from these astonishing cliffs there are at least 100 perfect beaches, thick jungles, and mesmerizing mangroves.

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Bacuit Bay

Bacuit Bay is composed of numerous islands and islets which are inhabited. There are also 30 dive sites that adventurous could try. The islands are surrounded by crystal clear waters. These waters are the home to marine life such as dugongs, turtles, manta rays, coral reefs and sharks.

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Some of the islands on the bay are Cadlao Island, Dilumacad Island, Pangulasian Island, Virgin Island, and Matinloc Island.

•    Cadlao Island is the largest island in the area and the closes to the main island. It is popular because of the white sand beaches, great beach swimming, lagoons, and mountain trailing. Imagine walking through a lush forest cover trail and end up at one of the most beautiful lagoons, Makaamo Lagoon.

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•    Dilumacad Island is also known as Helicopter Island because of the shape of the limestone cliffs. This island is a popular island hopping destination, picnic site and beach area.
•    Pangulasian Island has a longer stretch of white beach. It is perfect for a day at a beach, snorkeling, bird watching, and mountain trailing.
•    Virgin Island is also known as Snake Island because of the shape of the sandpit during low tide.
•    Matinloc Island is popular because of a secret beach. The secret beach could only be reached by diving in between a crevice in a rock wall. There are also other beaches on the island that are accessible.

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Coron

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Coron is located on northeastern area of Palawan Province; it occupies the eastern half of Busuanga Island plus 50 small islets. The main part of Coron, which is on Busuanga Island is a wedge-shaped limestone island.

Half of the coastal region is covered in mangroves, perfect for sightseeing. The other half of the coastal region is lined with perfect white sand beach. There are also seven lakes which are the cleanest in the country. The water is so clear that it is perfect for snorkeling and diving.

To get to Coron, one could get a direct flight from Manila to Busuanga domestic airport or ferry from Puwerto Princesa.

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Kayangan Lake

Calauit Game Preserve and Wildlife Sanctuary

Calauit Game Preserve and Wildlife Sanctuary is the home to exotic African animals and some endangered species.

Coron Reefs

Coron Reefs is located beneath the seven lakes which are surrounded by beautiful and magnificent limestone cliffs. Coron Reefs are a popular diving site. The most popular area is the area wherein 12 World War II Japanese ships sunk in the year 1944. The depth of the shipwreck varies; some are visible on the surface, while others are 40 meters deep. This site is ranked as on one of the best scuba sites in the world according to Forbes Traveler Magazine. Aside from diving, tourists could also try snorkeling at the area.

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Mount Tapyas

Mount Tapyas is the second highest mountain at the height of 210 meters. It is easy to recognize the mountain from a far because of the giant white cross on top of the mountain. The climb to the mountain could be tedious, but the view on top is spectacular. One could get a stunning view of the beaches, commercial buildings, and forest.

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The cross on top of the mountain
 

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The view on top of Mount Tapyas

Kristine Capanzana

Must See Tourist Destinations at Rome, Italy: the Eternal City

Italy

Italy is a humble southern European country. It is the fifth most populated country in Europe and one of the most developed countries worldwide. Many tourists visit the country each year because of its historical importance, cultural contributions, and modest people.

It stretches from the Alps to the Mediterranean Sea forming a boot-shaped peninsula. It is bounded on the west by the Tyrrhenian Sea and Ligurian Sea, on the east by the Adriatic Sea, on the south by Ionian Sea, on the north are the countries France, Switzerland, Austria and Slovenia. There are islands that form part of Italy including Sicily and Sardinia. The topography includes the Apennine Mountains on the west side and the Alps on the north.

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It has a total land area of 301,268 square kilometers. The capital and largest city is Rome.

Rome

Rome is known as the seat of political power in Italy. All major trades, businesses, and governance of Italy happen here. It is also the home to the supreme pontiff of the Roman Catholic Church. Since the first century, Rome has been the seat of power and home of the pope.

Because of Rome’s rich history and cultural significance, historians dubbed Rome as the “Eternal City” and the “birthplace to western civilization.”

Tourists flock the city all year round. As a matter of fact, it is the 18th most visited city in the world, and the 3rd most visited in Europe. A tour to Rome would not be complete without visiting the different tourist attractions such as churches and ruins of ancient Rome.

Location

Rome is located at the western portion of central Italy at the region of Lazio. The Tiber River flows through the city dividing it into the west and east banks. Within Rome is a walled enclave, the Vatican City. Vatican City is the world’s smallest independent state occupying only 44 hectares.

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Travelling to Rome

The coldest months in Rome are from December to February were temperatures could drop up to 3 degrees Celsius during the night and 12 degrees Celsius during the day. The warmest months are from July to August with a temperature ranging from 18 to 30 degrees Celsius.

Majority of the people at Rome speak Italian or other related dialects. Only a few could speak English.

Top Places to Visit in Rome

St. Peter’s Basilica

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St. Peter’s Basilica is located within the walls of Vatican City at the west side of the Tiber River. It was designed by Donato Bramante, Michelangelo, Carlo Maderno, and Gian Lorenzo Bernini following a Renaissance style. Construction of the basilica was finished in 1626 and considered as the world’s largest church with an area of 2.3 hectares.

One prominent feature of the basilica it its dome. The dome has a height of 136.57 meters. The construction of the dome took years. But the final result was outstanding and wowed the world.

The basilica has several chapels and altars which hosts a statue or image of saints. Beneath the altar is the burial site of Saint Peter the apostle. There are also a number of tombs of important people like previous popes.

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From left to right: St. Helena – St. Longinus – St. Andreas – St. Veronica

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Left: The tomb of Alexander VII; right: The bronze statue of St. Peter

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Michelangelo Pieta

The front of the basilica is called St. Peter’s Square. It is surrounded by colonnades. There are also statues of Saints Peter and Pail that stand at 5.55 meters. This place is usually filled with people during important liturgical events. There are also other important features such as the Witness and fountains.

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Panoramic view of St. Peter’s Square

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Aerial view of St. Peter’s Square

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One of the fountains at St. Peter’s Square

Sistine Chapel

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The famous Sistine Chapel or Cappella Sistina is located within the walls of Vatican City. It was constructed in 1473 to 1481 by Baccio Pontelli and Giovani de Dolci. It was consecrated and dedicated to the Assumption of the Virgin in 1483. The exterior of the chapel is simple compared to its magnificent interior. Majority of the interior paintings were done by Michelangelo.

It is a three-story rectangular building with no extravagant façade. The first floor is a basement that serves as the entrance to the chapel. It is an empty space used to support the whole building. The second floor is the main space. Its ceiling is 20.7m high with tall arched windows. It is an example of perfect symmetry. There are six windows on both sides and two windows at both ends. On the third floor is the wardroom for the guards.

In the year 1508, the ceiling was repainted by Michelangelo. It showed scenes from the book of Genesis. He also painted The Last Judgment at one of the end walls in 1535 to 1541.

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A part of the ceiling of Sistine Chapel

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The Last Judgment by Michelangelo

Aside from Michelangelo’s painting are twelve other frescoes or paintings. These were done by Domenico Ghirlandaio, Sandro Botticelli, Perungino, Cosimo Rosselli, Pinturicchio, Benedetto Ghirlandaio, Luca Sugnorelli and Bartolomeo della Gatta. All these frescoes depict a story from the bible such as the life of Moses and life of Jesus.

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The Delivery of the Keys by Perugino on the northern wall
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Trials of Moses by Botticelli on the southern wall

Currently, the chapel serves as the venue for the Papal conclave or selection of a new Pope. Other religious ceremonies are still held within the chapel

Raphael Rooms

The Raphael Rooms is also known in Italian as Stanze di Raffallo. There are four reception rooms located inside the papal apartment that is open to the public. The rooms were known as Sala di Constantino or Hall of Constantine, Stanza di Eliodoro or Room of Heliodorus, Stanza della Segnatura or Room of the Signatura, and the Stanza dell’Incendio del Borgo or the Room of the Fire in the Borgo. Each room has its own frescoes painted by the famous painter Raphael and his assistants Gianfrancesco Penni, Giulio Romano, and Raffaellino del Colle. These rooms are located on the third floor, with a view of the south side of Belvedere Courtyard.

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Disputation of the Holy Sacrament at Stanza della Segnatura
 

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The Vision of the Cross at Stanza di Constantino
 

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The Mass at Bolsena at Stanza di Eliodoro

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Fire in the Borgo at Stanza del’incendio del Borgo

Colosseum

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The Colosseum or Coliseum is known is Rome as the Flavian Ampitheatre. It was built from 70 AD to 80 AD out of concrete and stones on a land of 24,000 square meters. It is the world’s largest elliptical amphitheater that can sit 50,000 to 80,000 audiences. The main purpose of the Colosseum was for entertainment purposes such as gladiator contest, mock sea battles, animal hunts, executions, re-enactments of famous battles and other drama. Years later, it was used for housing, workshops, a fortress and a Christian shrine. Every Good Friday, the ‘Way of the Cross’ procession led by the pope starts here. Due to several earthquakes and stone-robbers, the Colosseum was ruined and until this date it remains partially ruined. In 2007, it was part of the New 7 Wonders of the World. This iconic symbol is also located on the back of the five-cent euro coin.

 Arch of Constantine

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The Arch of Constantine or Arco di Costantino in Italian is a triumphal arch located in between the Colosseum and Palatine Hill. This triumphal arch was built in the year 315 by the Roman Senate in honor of Constantine I’s conquest. It stands at 21 meters with a width of 25.9 meters and it is 7.4 meters thick. There are three archways, the middle being the largest. The top, which is called the attic, is made from bricks and marble. The design on both sides is identical; there are round reliefs that show scenes of hunting and sacrificing. There is also an inscription written on the attic.

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Detail on the attic of the Arch of Constantine

Palatine Hill

The Palatine Hill is located at the center of the Seven Hills of Rome. On top of the hill one could have a perfect view of the Circus Maximus and Forum Romanum. The place was known as the early settlement area of Romans. Today, there are ancient ruins of structures that have been preserved. These structures include Temple of Cybele, House of Tiberius, Flavian Palace, Hippodrome of Domitian, Domus Agustana, church of Buenaventura, and part of the Imperial Palace.

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Domus Agustana
 

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Imperial Palace
 

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Church of San Bonaventura

Baths of Caracalla

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The Baths of Caracalla or Terme di Caracalla were built in 216 AD under the reign of Emperor Caracalla. These were known as the second largest public bath in Rome occupying 25 hectares. It was said that a total of 1600 bathers could bathe at the same time. There was also a public library and shops within the building. Currently the ruins of this structure are a tourist destination. Tourists could see the place for a minimal fee.

Circus Maximus

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The Circus Maximus was the first and largest Roman chariot racing stadium and Ludi or activities related to Roman religious festivals. With a span of 621 meters and width of 118 meters, it could seat a total of 150,000 audiences. It is located between the Aventine and Palatine hills. However due to natural wear and tear, the structure had collapsed. Today the site is used as a public park

Pantheon

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Pantheon and Fontana del Pantheon

The Pantheon was original intended to be a private temple built by Marcus Agripa in 27BC to 14 AD. However, throughout history the purpose of the place changed and had become a church in dedication to St Mary and the Martyrs in the year 126AD.

The most distinguishing feature of this structure are eight large granite Corinthian columns on the first row and two groups of four behind it on the façade. The dome is known as the ‘world’s largest unreinforced concrete dome.’ It stands at 43.4 meters. On the peak of the dome is an opening that allows light to pass through.

It is currently used to hold masses on important days. It is also a burial site to two kings and a queen, and the Raphael, the famous painter.

Castel Sant’Angelo

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Castel Sant’ Angelo means Castle of the Holy Angel; it is sometimes known as the Mausoleum of Hadrian. The structure was built in 123 to 139 AD along the right bank of Tiber River. It was intended as a catacomb for the Roman Emperor Hadrian and his family. Ashes of succeeding emperors were also buried here, the last was Caracalla. It was known as the tallest building in Rome. But during the course of history it was transformed in a fortress, prison and castle by the popes. Angels were also added on the pathway and at the top of the building. Today, Castel San’t Angelo is used as a museum.

Roman Forum

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The Roman Forum was once a marketplace known as the Forum Magnum or Forum. Important public speeches, trials, events and marches were done here.  Now, it is a rectangular plaza encircled by remnants of ancient government buildings and temples.

Trevi Fountain

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The Trevi Fountain was designed by Nicola Salvi in 1762. It is considered at the largest Baroque styled fountain in the world with a height of 86 feet and width of 161.3 feet. This fountain has been featured in several movies.

Rome is indeed a fascinating and interesting place to visit. But there are other Italian cities that a tourist must not miss. These cities include, but are not limited to Milan, Florence, Venice, and Sicily.

Kristine Capanzana

Singapore – Sentosa Island, Marina Bay and Shopping Places

The Republic of Singapore is an independent city-state and island country in Southeast Asia. Although relatively small, Singapore has a world impact in terms of trade, economics and tourism. Each year, thousands of tourists visit the country for a unique cultural, thrilling and adventurous experience.

Location

Singapore is located at the southern tip of the Malay Peninsula. It has a total land area of 618 square kilometers. Expansion of the country occurs by land reclamation. In the past years, more than 100 square kilometers of land reclamation occurred, and more is to come.

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To the north of Singapore is the Straits of Johor; this separates Singapore from Peninsular Malaysia. On the south is Singapore Strait, which separates the country from Riau Islands of Indonesia.

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Singapore comprises 62 islands which is about 7% of the whole country. Among these islands are Jurong Island, Pulau Tekong, Pulau Ubin, and Sentosa. There are plans to merge these small islands to create larger, functional islands. The remaining 93% is occupied by the main island, Singapore Island or Pulau Ujong in Malay. It is shaped like a tablet. Generally, the islands are flat; the highest peak is located on the main island, Bukit Timah Hill at a height of 166 meters.

Since Singapore is an urbanized country, there have been plans to restore parks and nature. Since 1963, there were greening efforts by the government to introduce the ‘green space into the city.’

Transportation

The main point of entry to Singapore is via plane. There are a total of eight airports, Singapore Changi Airport being the main gateway. 80 airlines fly into the country and connect it to 68 countries. Their airport is considered to be one of the best international airports worldwide.

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One could also use the two man-made connections: the Johor-Singapore Causeway on the north from Malaysia, and Tuas Second Link on the east.

Singapore is also known as one of the busiest ports in the world. These ports are used both for shipping trades and cargo.

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Transportation within the city and nearby areas is easy. All points are connected by both buses and trains. Their bus system follows a number code. These buses shall stop at designated bus stops and follow a certain route. It is confusing for first timers, luckily, there is an app that could help commuters be familiar with their bus transportation system. There are two bus train companies operating the country: SBS Transit and SMRT Corporation. One could purchase a ticket that could be used for both buses and trains. Currently additional train lines are being constructed for easier and more convenient transportation.

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There are also taxis available. The fare for taxis are more affordable compared to other countries.

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There are also people who opt to travel by bike or by foot. Walking or biking along Singapore is safe and it is highly encouraged.

There are only a few who own private vehicles. The reason behind this is the high price of purchase and maintenance. This way, traffic congestion and pollution is lessened.

There is only one cable car system in the country, it is found between Mount Faber from the main island to Sentosa Island. This is one way to access the famous tourist attraction.

People

Singapore is a melting pot of different races, languages, and religion. Anywhere you look there are Chinese, Malay, Indians, Pakistani, Sri Lankans, and many more. They could speak English, Malay, Mandarin Chinese and Tamil. There are also different religions such as Buddhism, Daoism, Islam, Hinduism, and Christianity.

Just be warned that law enforcers of Singapore are strict. Everyone abides to the law. There is strictly no littering, spitting or even jaywalking. These would all have corresponding fines.

Places to Stay

There is a wide array of accommodations to choose from when visiting the country. There are high-end hotels that are near commercial districts and establishments. These hotels provide luxury and leisure. For those who are on budget, there are more affordable hotels at the outskirts. There are also new hotels located near the beach at Sentosa Island. For those who wish to stay for a couple of months, there are high rise HDB flats and condominium that could be leased.

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For more information on places to stay at Singapore contact a travel agent. They could give you the most suitable accommodation for your needs.

Top Three Places to Visit

Sentosa Island

Sentosa Island is located half a kilometer south of the main island and occupies 5 square kilometers. Majority of the island was due to land reclamation. The newest development, Resorts World Sentosa attracted more tourists compared to before. There is also a 3.2 kilometer stretch of white beach sand on its shores.

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There are three ways to reach the island:

•    One way to reach the island is by cable car from Mount Faber that passes by HarbourFront then to Sentosa.

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•    Another way is by monorail. There are four stops: the mall VivoCity, and three on the island itself.

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•    The island could also be reached by walking or by bus.

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Within the island are a tram service and three bus services.

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There are also different attractions on the island. These include, but are not limited to:

•    Tiger Sky Tower – this stands at a height of 131m above sea level and serves as an observation tower and viewing deck of Sentosa, Singapore, Southern Islands and parts of Malaysia and Indonesia.

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•    Merlion Statue – this is a 47 meter tall replica of the Merlion. At the peak are two viewing galleries and a souvenir shop. Construction was finished in 1996.

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•    Underwater World and Dolphin Lagoon – on the western side of Sentosa is Underwater World, an oceanarium. It was built in 1991 and until now, had attracted tourists. There are at least 2500 marine life species that tourist could see and have a live encounter with. There is also a part called the Dolphin Lagoon in which guests could interact with pink dolphins.

•    Songs of the Sea – this is a famous light, water, fire and music performance done by the beach.

•    MegaZip Adventure Park – this is the first adventure park in Singapore and the longest and steepest in Asia. It was featured in the reality show, Amazing Race.

•    Sentosa Luge and Skyride – the luge is an adventurous ride using a non-motorized cart. The track is 650 meters long. After an exhilarating ride on the luge, one could ride the Skyride which gives guests a nice view of the place.

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Luge and Skyride

•    iFly Singapore – this ride mimics the feeling of flying. It is complete with instructors, trainers and safety gear.

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•    Beaches – these three beaches are all artificial. The sands came from Indonesia and Malaysia.

o    Palawan Beach

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o    Siloso Beach

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o    Tanjong Beach

•    Resorts World Sentosa – this occupies 49 hectares of land and is the home to six hotels, a number of restaurants, performance shows, high-end shops,  and the following attractions:

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o    Singapore’s casino

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o    Universal Studios Singapore – the park officially opened in 2011 and attracted 2 million tourists within 9 months after opening. The park occupies 20 hectares of the eastern side of the whole Resorts World. The center of the theme park has a lagoon which is surrounded by seven themed zones and 24 different attractions. There are also dining areas and food stalls inside the theme park.

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o    Marine Life Park – this occupies 8 hectares of land and has two attractions: S.E.A. Aquarium and the Adventure Cove Waterpark. It also has the world-s largest oceanarium. It opened in November 2012.

Gardens by the Bay

Gardens by the Bay is a nature park occupying 101 hectares of reclaimed land. It is located on the main island. Development of the park was done to promote greenery within the city. It also aimed to become ‘Singapore’s premier urban outdoor recreations space and national icon.’

There are also two conservatories: Flower Dome and Cloud Forest.  Each conservatory is 1 hectare and located at the edge of the Marina Reservoir.

The Flower Dome is known to be the largest columnless glasshouse. It is the home to different plants from the Mediterranean and semi-arid regions. The temperature inside the dome ranges from 23 to 25 degrees Celsius.

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Inside the Flower Dome

The Cloud Forest has a much cooler temperature. It is the home of plants found in tropical mountains. A giant waterfall is found in the middle that provides a cool air.

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Inside Cloud Forest

Another part of Gardens by the Bay are the Supertrees Groove. These are tree-like structures with a height of 25 and 50 meters. Each ‘tree’ is a vertical garden with ferns, vines, orchids and bromeliads. There is an elevated walkway called the OCBC Skyway that allows guests to take a unique view of the surroundings. At night, there is a light and music show.

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Supertree Groove at Gardens by the Bay

 

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Supertree Groove at night

Marina Bay Sands

Adjacent to Gardens by the Bay is the famous Marina Bay Sands. It is one of the world’s most expensive buildings occupying an area of 15.5 hectares. It was opened in 2010 and serves a variety of functions including a hotel, convention, exhibition facility, entertainment venue, shopping and dining area.

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Nearby is the famous Shoppes at Marina Bay Sands. There are hundreds of signature shops and restaurants. The most prominent feature of this shopping mall is the canal with boat ride which mimics the canal, Venetian in Las Vegas. Aside from the canal, there is a Rain Oculus also known as an inverted fountain.

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Outside the Shoppes, one could see the magnificent Louis Vuitton Shop just in front of the Event Plaza. Every night, a 13 minute show known as Wonder Full is shown. It uses light, water, lasers, and graphics.

Another part of Marina Bay is the ArtScience Museum. On the exterior, it is shapped in the form of a lotus flower. Some believe that it is ‘the Welcoming Hand of Singapore.’ It was opened in 2011 and showcases different arts, media, technology, design and architecture.

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One could also find the famous Helix Bridge that allows pedestrians to walk from the above mentioned place to other parts of Marina Bay. There is an adjacent bridge used for vehicles. There are four viewing platforms throughout the span of the bridge. At night, the bridge it lit up by lights which illuminates the bridge and makes it seen even from afar. It was opened in 2010.

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The Helix Bridge and Marina Bay Sands on the background
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The Helix Bridge on the far left, ArtScience Museum, Singapore Flyer, the Shoppes and Marina Bay Sands

Singapore Flyer

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The Singapore Flyer is a giant observation wheel that opened in 2008. There are 28 air-conditioned compartments that can fit 28 passengers. It has a height of 165 meters.

Merlion Park

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When people visit Singapore, they want to see the famous Merlion statue. And the best place to see the said statue is at Merlion Park near One Fullerton. The said statue has a height of 8.6 meters. A smaller version is seen behind it, standing at 2 meters.

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Marina Bay Sands at night. On the left is the ArtScience Museum, on the background is the Marina Bay Sands, on the foreground are the Helix Bridge and the Shoppes at Marina Bay Sands. On the right is the Merlion Park

Esplanade – Theater by the Bay

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The Esplanade is known for its unique shaped design, two durian shaped buildings. The main purpose of this six hectare building was for performance. There is a concert hall that can accommodate 1600 people, and a theatre that accommodates 2000 people. There is also a library, food stalls and an open space. The open space faces the Singapore River and gives a view of Marina Bay and the Merlion Park.

Suntec City

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Suntec City is known as a convention site near the Marina Centre. Aside from being a convention center, it is also a shopping mall. It is composed of a total of five towers. At the middle is the famous Fountain of Wealth. There have been debates as to whether it was the largest fountain in the world. There are times when guests could visit the middle of the fountain and perform a ritual believing it would bring them luck. And during the night, there is a spectacular light show.

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Fountain of Wealth

Orchard Road and Bugis Street

Orchard Road and Bugis Street are the go-to places for shopping and buying souvenir items.

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Buildings along Orchard Road

Orchard Road stretches 2.2 kilometers and attracts tourists all year round because of the malls and shops. Famous buildings along the road are Istana, TANGS, Nge Ann City, Centerpoint, Tanglin Mall, DFS Galleria and many more.

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Bugis Junction

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Another perfect place to go shopping is at Bugis. Here tourists could buy assorted goods for a very low price.

Despite the small area, Singapore had managed to maximize its land. There are many more places that one should visit while staying here. A week’s stay would allow you to take a glimpse of each part of the country.

Kristine Capanzana

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