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September 3, 2017

Visit 6 of the most notable tourist destinations in Japan

Phoenix Hall Byodo-in Buddhist Temple Kyoto Japan - photo Martin Falbisoner

Phoenix Hall Byodo-in Buddhist Temple Kyoto – photo Martin Falbisoner

In the next in our World Travel Blogger series, tourism expert Scott Carruthers shares some of his favourite places to visit in Japan.

Japan’s most notable tourist destinations

Kyoto in Japan


Japan is a beautiful country with so much to see. The historical side of Japan creates a world of fascinating cultural elements, like Samurai swords, ancient artwork, and tea-ceremony experiences. The modern side of Japan will leave your mouth agape, as you gaze at high tech infrastructure and dazzling skyscrapers. Through out it all, you will see breathtaking natural landscapes, meet amazing people, and taste amazing food. Here are six of the most notable tourist destinations in Japan, which you should be sure to include in your itinerary.

1. Hiroshima Peace Memorial

Hiroshima Peace Memorial in Japan

Hiroshima Peace Memorial

The Hiroshima Peace Memorial is iconic and carries the great weight of history. When you visit this cite, which is a memorial to the WW2 bombings of Hiroshima, you might feel a sense of loss. However, as you take in the paper cranes and vibrant, colorful memorial decorations, you begin to feel a sense of resolution. This memorial is truly a celebration of peace.

2. Todaiji Temple – Nara

Tōdai-ji_Kon-dō Temple Nara in Japan

Tōdai-ji_Kon-dō in Japan

The Todaiji Temple in Nara was constructed in 752 as the central Buddhist temple of the time period. The main hall of the temple is giant, and holds a stunning Buddha statue and is is said to be the world’s largest wooden Buddha room. Feed the deer that share the temple grounds, and visit the adjacent Todaiji Temple museum in order to learn more about this historically significant monument.

3. Fuji-Hakone-Izu National Park

Fujisan from Motohakone Japan

Fujisan from Motohakone

Fuji-Hakone-Izu National Park is home to Mount Fuji, Japan’s tallest mountain. The cone shaped and sometimes white-peaked mountain is a sight to behold! Hikers can attempt the daunting hike up this formidable 12,400 foot peak by traveling to a half way station and then managing the rest by foot. Though the peak is an active volcano, it has not erupted in over 300 years. The national park is a restful place to stay for several days if you need a respite from bustling city life.


4. Kinkaku-ji Temple – Kyoto

Kinkaku-ji Golden Temple Kyoto Japan

Kinkaku-ji – Temple of the Golden Pavilion

This widely loved and acclaimed tourist attraction in Kyoto is famous for good reason. Kinkaku-ji is also called the Temple of the Golden Pavilion, and is a beautiful structure covered in gold leaf. This work of art is placed in a harmonious garden filled with natural beauty. The accumulated effect is a visual masterpiece. The temple sits on the edge of a pond, and the gold reflected in the water is a sight that you won’t want to miss.

5. Imperial Palace – Tokyo

The Imperial Palace in Tokyo Japan

The Imperial Palace

The Imperial Palace of Tokyo is a must-see when you visit Japan because of its stunning architecture, landscaping, and rich quality of the scene. You will not be permitted into the palace or in many of the grounds, but you can walk through the traditional Japanese gardens that surround the palace. Be sure to snap a shot of the picturesque Nijubashi Bridge.

6. Ueno Park, Tokyo

Cherry Blossom in Ueno Park Tokyo Japan

Cherry Blossom in Ueno Park – photo Bernard Gagnon

This is a large park right in Tokyo filled with natural wonder. For a real treat, try visiting when the cherry blossom is in bloom. Ueno Park is designed in a very aesthetically pleasing way, and even if you do nothing but walk the many paths and soak in the design, it will be well worth it. If you’d like a little added adventure, visit the park’s zoo or go on a ride at the amusement park.

D. Scott Carruthers grew up within a military family and was forced to move from country to country through-out his youth. Rather than find this disagreeable, like many would, he enjoyed it! He loved being immersed in a new culture and landscape each time the family moved. From this background was born a love for world travel that did not leave him as he grew older. He entered the Air Force, and then studied business. He then used his expertise to start a successful travel-based business Dennis Scott Carruthers Travel.

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6 must-see sights in Japan - The Quirky Traveller


August 14, 2017

5 beautiful and different places in Europe you must visit

In the next of the World Travel Blogger series, writer and sweetie lover Emily Johnson shares five of her favourite places in Europe.

5 beautiful places in Europe

Europe is renowned for its unparalleled beauty and favourite tourist destinations include Paris, London, Amsterdam, Rome. Many famous places in Europe have their fair share of visitors every year and it’s difficult to choose. There are some hidden gems that lie amidst the amazing Europe? Well, here’s are 5 places you might like if you are looking to explore something different in this mesmerizing continent.

 1.  Lugano, Switzerland

Lake Lugano Switzerland Europe

Lugano is more of a commercial and financial hub of Switzerland but has been untouched by the teeming crowds that visit Europe. You can explore the parks, buildings and gardens of Lugano that is somewhat modern in its nature but gives an impression of a hidden small town in the tourist region of Ticino. It is situated by the splendid Lake Lugano and is blessed with the aura of beauty and nature.

2.  Bacharach, Germany

Bacharch Europe

Located in the Rhine River Valley in Germany, Bacharach is another great treat for explorers and has small castles, intersting buildings and quaint villages to discover. It is nestled close to nature and is more like a town in a Disney movie that have castles, colorful houses and vibrant liveliness to it as Bacharach will add another great travel experience to your bucket list. The green, natural vibes of Bacharach are what make it a must-visit place when you are in Germany or travelling in Europe, this unknown gem will surely augment a lot to your trip.

3.  Santorini, Greece

Santorini Greece Europe

This crescent-shaped island was created from a volcano in prehistoric days. There is a huge lagoon surrounding this beautiful island and Santorini has been discovered by many tourists recently. It is one of the most popular Greek islands, especially with cruise ships. However, at times it’s less crowded than some streets of more famous European tourist sites. It has alluring sunsets, sizzling panoramas and beaches just blessed with tempting vistas. On Santorini, find a place away from the crowds to relax at, unwind, sip your favorite cocktail and spend a whole day admiring the gorgeous views.

4.  Svalbard, Norway

Svalbard Norway Europe

Svalbard is one of the best places to see the astonishingly beautiful Northern Lights. Its location is also interesting as Svalbard is situated halfway between Norway and North Pole. It is ideal for those looking to explore wildlife, Arctic Ocean and told mining towns. The northern lights can also tempt you to explore this wonderful gem while the overall landscape is worth a chance to give if you are wondering for some offbeat place in Europe.

5.  Lake Bled, Slovenia

Lake Bled Slovenia

This picturesque lake in Slovenia is relatively undiscovered place in Europe. Lake Bled is a splendid emerald-green; there are the top mountains of Julian Alps, some castles to be explored and picture-perfect churches to visit. You can try adventure sports like hiking, water-sports and biking while also immersing yourself in the breezy atmosphere of this appealing, undiscovered pearl of Europe.

Emily Johnson writes about sweets on her blog engaging her audience with articles about flavored candy treats and also sharing her tips on travelling around the world for other explorers.

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5 beautiful destinations in Europe

June 30, 2017

Top Tips: A Beginner’s Guide to Hiking – all a newbie hiker needs to know

In our latest World Travel Blogger series, hiking expert Rebecca Crawford shares her top tips for a beginner hiker/walker.

Hiking is so much fun, and can be therapeutic at best! You get to exercise and connect with nature at the same time, which unravels a world you had no idea existed in the first place. If you’ve never gone on hikes before, there are a couple of things you need to know before you actually get on that trail. Keep in mind that no one knows everything; but it sure does help having a few tips that will guide you through this awesome adventure and make your first trip a memorable one.

Beginners guide to hiking

Beginners Guide to Hiking

Here are some Do’s and Don’ts as you embark on your backpacking journey, as well as some tricks you can use to make things better and easier on the trail. Read on for a full guide on just what you need to know as a beginner hiker.

1. Do your Research

The moment you decide that you want to start hiking, you should start reading extensively on the subject, as well as watching online tutorials and documentaries so that you get a scope of just what it entails, and what you will need to look out for during your first hike. For instance, you can research on the best pocket knife to use during your hike. There is a whole wealth of information out there, especially on online platforms like YouTube. You can also join hiking communities that are made up of other hikers who will be more than willing to show you the ropes.

2. Plan ahead

Beginners guide to Hiking - map reading

For every successful hike, there was intensive planning behind it. You have to plan out your hike before you embark on it. Get a map and study the trail so that you can get a feel of the place. Get enough gear to last you the whole trip, including food and money. And most importantly, if you will be staying in hotels, make your reservations in advance to avoid the last minute rush.

3. Prepare your Hiking Gear

Beginners Guide to Hiking - walking boots

We all know that you can’t just wake up one morning and decide that you are going for a hike. It has to be after days or months of preparation, which also involves purchasing the right gear for your trip.You will need a large and comfortable backpack you can use to carry your clothes, food, sleeping bag, footwear and a camera if you are into photography or you want to capture every moment of your adventure.

For your sleeping bag, ensure that you purchase one that’s lightweight and can fit about two people comfortably, especially if you will be sharing it with your hiking partner. It should also pack small because you will be moving around with it for the rest of your trip. Since this is your first trip, we advise that you borrow a sleeping bag so that you can first try it out and know what to look out for when you will be buying your own.

Pack enough canned foods and water purifiers because you just don’t know the next time you’ll come across fresh drinking water or food. If you are hiking in a large group, it’s better if you carry a stove along with you, to heat food and water, and a large tent you can all sleep in.

4. Get an Experienced Hiking Partner

Beginners guide to hiking - walking

Even after watching tons of hiking documentaries and interacting with other enthusiasts, you should not think that you can handle going out on the trail by yourself. This is because nothing ever prepares you to face the real situation. We recommend seeking out an experienced partner for your first trip. They will help you manoeuvre the trail easily as they teach you the hiking basics that will help you on your subsequent trips

5. Safety First

Beginners Guide to Hiking - First Aid Box

You are going out in the wild and this makes you susceptible to animal attacks as well as diseases from eating contaminated foods and water. Safety has to be one of your key priorities. Ensure that you have a way to keep animals at bay,  especially when you are sleeping. Moreover, bring a hand sanitizer with you to use before handling foods and most importantly, always carry your first aid kit with you. This also means that you have to know basic first aid beforehand to be able to use the kit effectively when the time comes.

6. Keep it short

For your first trip, you want to keep it short because let’s face it, you are never quite prepared to be on the actual trail and even if you have planned for a longer trip, in most cases, you won’t last until the end. Always plan for a shorter trek and keep advancing to longer hikes, and with time as you gain confidence on the trail, you will find yourself going for days without even realizing it.

7. Avoid pitfalls

Snakes crossing Osoyoos Canada

During your research and interaction with other hikers, there are a couple of things you should avoid at all costs. For instance, there are trails you should avoid, plants you should not eat, and other general blunders you should not commit. Always stick to your plan.

8. Be Respectful

When backpacking, you have to learn to respect nature as well as other hikers trekking on the same trail as you. For instance, we advise that you always give the hikers trekking uphill the right of way. Another trick is to always have a plastic bag with you that you can use to carry trash with to avoid polluting the environment.

Also, do not feed wildlife you encounter on the way and never should you talk loudly or play loud music while on the trail. Keep in mind that people resort to hiking to get away from all the hustle and bustle of the city.

9. Hike Your Own Hike

The Paper Bridge Lake District

You will hear this a lot; especially among other hiking enthusiasts. It only means that despite everything you have learned from other people and sources about hiking, when on the trail, it’s all about you. You should focus on getting the most out of your experience with nature and not try to conform to standards that have been put out there by others.

10. Practice

Lastly, you will never be good at hiking unless you are prepared to put a lot of work into it. The first few trips will be tough and you will feel like giving up. Don’t! Keep going back to the trail and trying to be better at it, and eventually you will.

Concluding Thoughts

We hope that you have learned a thing or two about hiking for beginners. We only give tips to improve your hiking experience and you should not feel pressured to get it right the first time. No one does. Just focus on having the best experience and everything else will fall in place.

Loved the tips given? Comment and let us know what you liked best and what we left out. Do not forget to also share this post with other hiking enthusiasts, family and friends.

Author Bio: Rebecca Crawford lives in USA, but loves hiking all over the world. Her favourite is Everest Base Camp Trek in Nepal. It usually takes 16 days, but she likes to slow down, enjoy mountains, company of other adventurers and take more pictures, so it took her 28 days last time. Another of her passions is the ocean, so all short and long hikes along the ocean shore bring a lot of joy. She also writes for Hiking Mastery.

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August 21, 2015

Caen: a Tale of Two Abbeys

In the latest article in the World Travel Blogger series, archaeologist and travel writer Thomas Dowson, takes us to the historic city of Caen, in northern France.


William’s Ducal Chateau in Caen

From the walls of the imposing castle in the centre of Caen you have a vast view over this northwestern French city and beyond. Presumably this is why William, then Duke of Normandy but later William the Conqueror, chose the location for his ducal château. The castle is still one of the largest Medieval fortresses in Europe today housing the departmental art, archaeology and local history museums.

Caen_France_ DennisPeeters

Caen and the Abbey of St Etienne – photo Dennis Peeters

Looking east, to your right are the striking spires of the abbey Church of Saint Etienne. To your left you would be able to see the large and somewhat unassuming towers of the abbey church of Sainte Trinité if you could see them. They are now blocked from sight by more modern high-rises. Although separated by the city centre and at least a 45 minute walk between them, these two abbeys have a much more intimate history.


Abbaye aux Hommes

The Abbey of Saint Etienne is also known as the Abbaye aux Hommes, or the ‘Men’s Abbey’. It was dedicated to Saint Stephen and founded in 1063. Founded in the same year, the Abbey of Sainte Trinité is also called the Abbaye aux Dames as it was a monastery for women. That both of these abbeys were founded in the same year is no coincidence. Rather, it is a consequence of the power of the Catholic church in France in Medieval times.

Caen - the central portal of Sainte-Trinité, (Abbey aux Dames) with Romanesque detail.

Abbey aux Dames central door

Matilda of Flanders, wife of William the Conqueror (as depicted in the Victorian era)

Anyone who has read anything about William will know how ruthless he was in seeking out and establishing political alliances. For himself, he had decided to marry Matilda of Flanders. Matilda was the daughter of the Count of Flanders and Adèle of France (daughter of France’s Robert II). He was initially refused her hand, and there are differing legends that detail his reaction and his brutal treatment of Matilda.

Whatever the truth of these legends, Matilda eventually wanted to marry no one but William. This was strictly against her father’s wishes, but more importantly, against a Papal decree from Pope Leo IX. William and Matilda were cousins. Not to be deterred, William and Matilda were married in the city of Eu (in Normandy) in 1051 or 1052.

The Prior of a nearby abbey, Lanfranc of Pavia, despite his reservations with the marriage, sought a reconciliation between the Pope and William. William and Matilda agreed to establish two monasteries as penance and to gain Leo IX’s forgiveness, one for men and one for women. And so the two abbeys of Caen were founded in 1063. For his services, Lanfranc  was made the first Abbot of Saint Etienne.

Both abbeys suffered greatly in the battles that have raged across Normandy in the intervening years since their founding: the Hundred Years War, the French Revolution, and World War II. But both are definitely worth a visit today. Saint Etienne is one of the finest Romanesque buildings in Normandy. The spires of the abbey Church of Sainte Trinité were destroyed during the Hundred Years War. Although these were replaced by the less striking towers we see today, there are still some wonderful Romanesque features surviving around the church.


William the Conqueror’s tombstone

Most poignantly, these two abbey churches in Caen are the final resting places of William and Matilda.

thomas dowsonThomas Dowson is an archaeologist turned traveller, writing about his journeys back in time on Archaeology Travel. You can follow him on Facebook Archaeology Travel Twitter @archtrav and Instagram @thomasdowson, where he shares his experiences of visiting archaeological and historic sites around the world, from our earliest times to the not so distant past.

December 2, 2014

Take a leisurely cruise along the Yangtze River

This month’s World Travel Blogger is Keith Kellett, a free-lance writer and photographer, originally from Cumbria, but now living in Southern England, a short distance from the ancient stones of Stonehenge.  His travels have taken him to most of Europe, Cyprus, Oman, Egypt, Jordan, Tunisia, Kenya, the Gambia and Australia. Here’s his account of a recent cruise along the Yangtze River in China.

Yangtze 2 River Cruise China - image Keith Kellet

Yangtze 2 River Cruise

We arrived at Yichang in the early evening to board the Yangtze 2 for our Three Gorges Cruise. We weren’t going anywhere that night, though; the ship wasn’t going to sail until the morning. We’d upgraded to an Executive Suite, although all cabins have a balcony. From here and the impressive glass elevator we sometimes got views of the scenery outside the ship – and sometimes, views of a rather dilapidated dockside or a ship moored alongside.  It’s a reminder, though, that the Yangtze River is, first and foremost, a commercial waterway and the towns on its banks industrial ones. Nevertheless, if this is accepted, enough remains for it to be an unforgettable cruise – whatever the weather.

So quickly and efficiently did we get away the following morning that we hardly noticed it. Breakfast was a bit of a scramble, but buffets usually are. The food was, of course, Chinese; a pick-what-you-like, all-you-can-eat buffet. The ship was only a couple of years old, and well presented. Our cabin was roomy and spacious, in which we settled comfortably while we waited to see what the next day brought.

Interior of 'Yangtze 2'cruise ship - image Keith Kellet

Interior of ‘Yangtze 2’ cruise ship

Two programmes are on offer each day; one is included in the fare, the other an optional extra that you have to pay a supplement for. Our first excursion was the optional one for that day. It looked like chaos at first, with all the crowds, and the guides trying to outshout each other, for ours wasn’t the only ship moored here. But, some sort of order emerged from the confusion, and the ‘Tribes of the Three Gorges’ turned out to be an unmissable trip.

We moored in the Xiling Gorge, and hiked up a tributary gorge following the Dragon Stream. Most of the way, a boardwalk is provided, and, if it’s not there, it’s an easy path, Almost the first thing you see is a traditionally dressed lady in a sampan on the stream below. All the way up the gorge, you pass traditional Chinese buildings, water wheels, cormorant fishermen … They’re showing China as it used to be – or maybe, as we imagine it used to be. The jury’s still out on that one.

Dragon Stream Falls, Yangtze River, China - image Keith Kellet

Dragon Stream Falls

There’s natural beauty here, too. Everyone stopped to photograph or video the monkeys; the waterfall was pretty, rather than spectacular and, on the way back, they showed us a re-enactment of a wedding ceremony; I nearly got ‘fingered’ to be the ‘groom’, but I got out of the way in time, and another was chosen instead. When we got back around lunchtime, we found the laundry we’d left out before we left had already been delivered. Full marks for that!

Xiling Gorge, Yangtze China - image Keith Kellet

Xiling Gorge

In the afternoon, we went on the ‘included’ excursion, to the Three Gorges Dam. I’d already seen a couple of videos put out by the National Geographic Society videos and was expecting great things. After all, the dam is massive enough to actually slow the earth’s rotation, thus lengthening the day by a fraction of a nanosecond.

Three Gorges Dam, Yangtze River China - image Keith Kellet

Three Gorges Dam

There’s a better view of the ship lock, but, in a lock this size, watching a ship lock up or down, a process which takes about four hours, is an exercise akin to watching paint dry. However, the ‘ship lift’, which should be completed next year, will raise and lower vessels much more quickly, and might be more interesting to watch.

Unfortunately, the kindest thing I can say about this excursion is that it’s three hours out of my life I’ll never get back. After a lot of up-and-down on escalators, the viewpoints provided don’t give the best view of the dam by any means, and it’s difficult to appreciate its size and grandeur from this angle. I did get some good pictures later, when our ship went through the lock, and I was able to photograph the ship in front of us, festooned with lights.

Yangtze River from 'Yangtze 2' China - image Keith Kellet

Yangtze River from ‘Yangtze 2’

We were awakened in the morning by the squawking of a loudspeaker – 6 a.m. from the ship moored alongside. There’s probably an ancient Chinese torture called Death by Loudspeaker, for it seems that life everywhere is ruled by announcements, even at mealtimes, telling us stuff that we already knew from the daily handouts anyway. The guides sometimes carry portable loudspeakers; our excellent Linda Yang gets extra points because she didn’t.

The next day’s excursion on the Yangtze River was a sail up the Shenong Stream; a ‘stream’ no longer since the dam was built and the gorge flooded. Previously, boats had been man-hauled up the stream by gangs of men called ‘trackers’, nowadays employed as luggage porters. But, it’s now possible to sail up the gorge on a boat … Not in the Yangtze 2, though. It’s too big for that. We transferred to a ferry, which would have given some excellent views if not for the haze and mist. But, having said that, many Chinese paintings show misty scenes, so maybe it’s a common occurrence around here.

Misty Morning on the Yangtze River China - image Keith Kellet

Misty Morning on the Yangtze River

We came ashore at a Cultural Centre; strictly speaking, below the centre, for we had several steps to negotiate to achieve it. We watched a demonstration of music and dance, and someone described the work of the ‘trackers’, which, before the dam, consisted of man-hauling ships and boats up the stream. Their traditional garb, we were told, was silk shorts – but, in practice, they chafed so much that they actually worked naked.

Shenong Stream Cultural Centre - image Keith Kellet

Shenong Stream Cultural Centre

In the centre of the square outside, a drummer thumped out a repetitive boom boom CLANG; boom boom CLANG. I expected the ghost of Freddie Mercury to appear at any minute, and start singing ‘We Will Rock You’!

To get to the Ghost City of Fengdu, we’d have 400-odd steps to negotiate, for the city stands at the top of a sheer cliff and, before that, 100 steps to get from the quayside to the coach. We weren’t that keen on climbing so many steps and the final decider was that it was raining. (It had been raining all the way up here, through the Qutang and Wu Gorges, but the low cloud and mist didn’t detract from the scenery at all; indeed, it added an air of mystery and other-worldliness to it.)

Fengdu Hall of the Son of Heaven - image Gisling

Fengdu Hall of the Son of Heaven – image Gisling

So, we chose to stay on the boat for this one. But we did watch a constant stream of umbrellas going ashore to brave the elements, determined to get their money’s worth.

Fengdu was as far as the Yangtze 2 went this trip. It was planned to terminate at Chongqing, but the river levels dictated it couldn’t go any further. So, the following morning, we disembarked; the luggage carried up those steps four, or even six cases at a time by trackers, using a yoke. The service of man-hauling ships and boats up the stream is no longer necessary, they’ve simply become luggage porters.

Tracker hauling suitcases up steps Yangtze River, China

Tracker hauling suitcases up steps

We settled down for a four-hour coach ride to Chongqing, where we had lunch. We ate in a first-floor restaurant, with a covered balcony giving good views of the busy street below.  A good location for some candid street photography. We had a dish of minced beef mixed with noodles, and a thought came to me. Was is possible that Marco Polo was familiar with this dish, and the dumplings of Xi’an, and took the recipes home with him – to develop into ravioli and spaghetti Bolognese?

Dusk_on_the_Yangtze_River China - Andrew Hitchcock

Dusk on the Yangtze River – image Andrew Hitchcock

Keith Kellet

Keith Kellett writes about and photographs food and drink, beer, old cars, railways, beer, steam engines, historical re-enactments, bygones, beer, gardens, travel, beer and brewing, nature and the outdoors and beer. He’s presently trying to get his head around video and podcasting. Read more by Keith on his engaging blog Travel Rat. All images © Keith Kellet unless otherwise stated.

September 13, 2013

A first time visit to South East Asia

In our latest World Travel Blogger post, Travel PR specialist Lynne Gray discovers the joys of the exotic destinations on her very first trip to South East Asia.

If you ever get the chance to go to South East Asia, grab it very, very quickly with both hands. I guarantee it will be one of the best decisions you make.  It's just fascinating; wonderful countries, beautiful people and so much to discover.

Children playing by Angkor Wat lake, Cambodia

Children playing by Angkor Wat lake, Cambodia

As part of the ‘trip of a lifetime’ my friend and I had planned to change planes at Singapore on our way to Samoa, one of the gorgeous Polynesian Islands, but on looking at the atlas, how could we land there without going on an adventure to some of the surrounding countries? 

As well as Singapore we visited Vietnam, Cambodia, Thailand and Malaysia.  We found Singapore to be very modern, slick but in no way boring. China Town was fascinating. The development around Clark Quay is lively and varied; so many places to eat, drink and spend your money. If you get a chance, try the chilli or peppered crab at Jumbo's – mouth wateringly delicious.

Clarke QuayPanorama, Singapore - photo by Sengkang

Clarke QuayPanorama, Singapore – photo by Sengkang

Hanoi in northern Vietnam next and a huge culture shock awaited us. The chaos of the old city and traffic was somehow exhilarating. The people were so helpful and friendly. We had our first experience of a cyclo there.  You need steady nerves for that! We went to HaLong Bay from there and were fortunate to have a cruise booked for three days. The serenity and beauty of the place was good for the soul. Back to Hanoi and more amazing food and then down to the south to visit Ho Chi Minh City (previously called Saigon). It was very different from the north of the country. The people were a little more reserved and the city was a little more modernised. Again, so much to see and do.

Halong Bay Vietnam

On to Cambodia and our first stop was at Phnom Penh, the capital.  The next day we went to see the Choeung Ek Memorial, also known as the ‘Killing Field' Memorial. This country has been invaded so many times, undergone huge hardship and genocide and here, what you witnessed was grace and dignity in bucket loads. We were in awe and that just multiplied when we went on to Siem Reap and visited the breath taking Angkor Wat and the surrounding temples. Oh my goodness, it was one of the most marvellous and privileged days of my life.

Killing Fields Memorial Cambodia

The Killing Fields Memorial, Cambodia

Next stop, Thailand and the capital city of Bangkok. Another busy, busy city with so much going on. Whatever you do, do not miss going to see the Royal Palace – it will blow your mind, a joy to behold and marvel at. However, do remember that the rules of respect at the Palace ask that you wear clothes that cover your shoulders and also your legs, men and women.

Royal Palace, Bangkok, Thailand

The Royal Palace, Bangkok, Thailand

There are shops outside where you can rent clothes for the duration of your visit, as you will not be allowed in if dressed unsuitably.  Well worth any effort to see the treasures and buildings. We did so much walking that we treated ourselves to a full body massage that evening.  Oh, it was good. We also visited the Bridge over the River Kwai in Kanchanaburi on the Death Railway, which was a very poignant and moving day.

Bridge over River Kwai, Kanchanaburi, Thailand

The Bridge over River Kwai, Kanchanaburi, Thailand

Malaysia and its capital Kuala Lumpur were next.  We met up with Umei and Josen of CC Food Travel and spent a day with them.  What a delicious time we had.  They took us to an amazing food market where everyone sat in the middle of a circle of small restaurants and chose different foods and courses. Umei and Josen selected ours and what an experience it was – South East Asia food is full of spices and flavours that seem to explode in your mouth. Yummy scrumptious is how to describe it!

Kuala Lumpur City, Malaysia - photo by Alex Tan

Kuala Lumpur City View – photo by Alex Tan

Back to Singapore and on to Australia … Would we visit again? We'd go back tomorrow, given the chance and for a good few months too.

Lynne Gray - That's PRLynne Gray: Lover of our planet, passionate about conscious travel & tourism, friends, gardening, soul & chocolate.  Lives in the bodacious shire of Bedford, England.  You can read more on her blog That’s PR, follow her on Twitter @lynnerosie and like her Face Book Page That’s PR.


August 29, 2013

Go to Hell at quirky Gao Miao Temple in Zhongwei, China

In her second contribution, this month’s World Travel Blogger is Shara Johnson. She lives in Nederland, USA and travels all over the world. Here she describes a VERY quirky Chinese temple in the heart of this fascinating country.

Inside China, the primary religious groups of Buddhism, Taoism and Confucianism each typically have their own sacred spaces and temples. But in Gao Miao Temple in Zhongwei, Ningxia Province, China, elements from all of these religions, plus the relatively rare Christianity, are fused into one very unique complex.

Gao Miao Courtyard China - photo by SKJtraveler

Gao Miao Courtyard – photo by SKJtraveler

Originally built in the Ming Dynasty, perhaps the most frenzied period of construction in China's history, Gao Miao Temple is a charming maze of temple rooms and courtyards, beautifully painted doors and entryways, and elaborate rooflines overhead. The outer architecture is the iconic Buddhist architecture found throughout China, but inside the individual temples, the painted imagery and statues represent, to different degrees, the religious beliefs and practices of the four different religions.

Gao Miao Temple, Zhongwei, China - photo by SKJtraveler

Gao Miao Temple, Zhongwei, China – photo by SKJtraveler

The most bizarre and quirky feature of the Gao Miao temple complex is the tour you can take through Hell. Displayed inside a dank labyrinth of underground caverns, once used as a bomb shelter during the Cultural Revolution era, you can visit numerous animated scenes, like a Disneyworld ride gone monstrously wrong – instead of the animatronics recreating daily-life scenes in a particular culture or time period, or fictional story setting, these animated scenes depict daily life in the deepest pits of Hell. Though it's worth visiting purely for the sake of touring something so bizarre, it should really come with the TV-style warning: Some content may be disturbing to some viewers; viewer discretion is advised.

Gao Miao temple - Enter Hell, Zhongwei, China - photo by SKJtraveler

Enter Hell Gao Miao Temple – photo by SKJtraveler

A completely terrifying soundtrack blares throughout the tunnel system, the screams and wails of the heinously tortured souls echoing down the corridors. Each room is motion-activated to light up the day-glow sinners as you walk by and spring them to life, where they can begin screaming as they undergo a shocking variety of pains. If you get stuck in the pitch-black darkness between rooms with the soundtrack still running, it is scary as … well, scary as hell.

Gao Miao Torture - photo by SKJtraveler

Gao Miao Torture – photo by SKJtraveler

And then you emerge back into daylight, into the tranquility of quiet courtyards delicately veiled in incense smoke; robed monks strolling the grounds or snoring quietly on a stool in the corner, an open book resting on their belly; butter lamps burning with golden flames and gracious goddesses blessing you, welcoming you back from your terrifying journey through the Underworld.

Gao Miao Goddess China - photo by SKJtraveler

Gao Miao Goddess – photo by SKJtraveler

The profound contrast between the pleasant above-ground atmosphere and the rather appalling below-ground atmosphere is quirkiness at its height.

Shara Johnson plots her travels from her home in the small RockyMountain town of Nederland, Colorado, USA. Partial to volunteering and getting off the beaten track, you can find her adventures abroad at, ‘like’ her Face Book Page  SKJtraveler and follow on her on Twitter @skjtraveler.