Alluring. Captivating. Timeless. When it comes to the most romantic countries in the whole world, Italy is up there at the top and hard to compete with. Italians are passionate, the language is seductive, and and the atmosphere of the country is addictive, igniting your senses like few others. It is this legendary charm that draws 50 million tourists to Italy annually. People from around the world flock to Italy to visit the many romantic cities they have heard stories of and seen in movies. As such, the country is a perfect vacation destination for you and your partner to see together. Some of the most popular destinations with couples traveling Italy include Florence, Rome, Palermo and last but certainly not least, Venice -- undeniably one of the most romantic cities in the entire world. Check out the following guide by the romance experts to learn more about the most romantic places in Italy.

Rome, the capital of Italy

Rome

Rome is the capital of Italy. It is one of the most ancient cities in Europe. Rome has everything to offer if you’re looking for a romantic getaway. The streets of Rome will carry you in the past. Its galleries and museums will astonish you. You can live in Rome for ten years and still didn’t see everything there is to see. Italian cuisine is pleasantly amazing everywhere you go but the best food can be found in Rome. People from all over the world come to Rome to experience the real Italy. The passion and energy of this city is simply stunning. Start with simply walking through the streets. Then, go to Vatican and see the world’s famous artworks by Michelangelo and Raphael. You and your partner will surely remember the trip to Rome for the rest of your lives. It just cannot be somewhat other than unforgettable. That is because this city is one of a kind.

Florence, Italy

Florence

One of the most popular and genuine world’s poets was born and lived in Florence. His name is Dante and his poems express love in every way possible. You should visit Dante’s native city to understand what caused him to become so passionate in his poetic approach and so loving towards his one and only muse, Beatrice. Anybody in Florence can tell you the story of Dante’s love. His story truly reveals the true inner essence of this magnificent city. Walk through its streets, go to the galleries, and visit the city’s most famous palazzos. The colors of the buildings and the energy of the people will reignite your romantic drive and make you and your partner appreciate each other more. Florence connects everybody.

The beautiful and romantic canals Venice, Italy

Venice

You probably heard about Venice. It is a truly original, exquisite, and unique city. Even Italians go to Venice on their honeymoons because the city is so magnificent. The famous troubadours and poets have long glorified Venice for it being the most romantic city in Italy, possibly even the world. First thing you need to do is to take a gondola ride with your loved one. See the city’s spectacular canals and architecture. Feel the air and atmosphere full of passion, love, and attraction. Go to the city’s central square and make a wish there on a bridge. It is a famous getaway place for lovers from all over the world. Then, visit one of evening concerts with musicians playing traditional love songs. Without any doubt, Venice will stick in your mind and make you closer to your partner because it has the unique ability to empower passion. The canals, the atmosphere, and the whole feeling in the air are so enormously energetic that it seems it was made to host lovers. It is truly one of the most romantic places not only in Italy but in the whole world.

The colorful streets of Palermo, Italy
The colorful streets of Palermo via Santiago Lopez-Pastor

Palermo

You cannot fully explore romantic Italy without visiting the beautiful city of Palermo in Sicily. Palermo is something else. It is really different from the rest of the Italy. The weather alone will make you feel different. Palermo is sunny and hot. Enjoy your romantic getaway with swimming in the pure waters of the Mediterranean Sea. You should definitely enjoy the local cuisine and see the architectural sights that are pretty unique in comparison with other places in Italy.

Well, now you have a better idea of why Italy is the most romantic country in the world. Don’t hesitate to plan a romantic Italy vacation. Good luck!

Published in Italy

Raging motorbikes, breathtaking natural wonders, a thriving art and culture community, the northern region of Vietnam is truly as stunning as it sounds. Covering the larger area of land and has all the world heritage sites, northern Vietnam is something not to be missed in your lifetime. Below are the top 8 reasons why you should see it for yourself.

1.The Capital City – Where all the magic happens

Hoan Kiem District in Hanoi
Hoan Kiem District in Hanoi

Everything about Hanoi, Vietnam’s capital city can be summarized into two words; organized chaos. Countless motorbikes of all shapes and sizes, bicycles old and new, a diverse mix of pedestrians from street vendors to your retired tourists from Europe or the Americas, kids crossing the buzzing streets without any care in the world, and the ever-growing number of cars, both luxurious and mid-range, are just a few of the things you could expect roaming the streets of the old quarter. Crazy and ludicrous at it seems the city is ironically thriving and is showing nothing but continuous growth over the years; which obviously is more than enough reasons for you to make a stopover.

And since you’re already here, make sure you do some essential sightseeing such as going around the 36 old streets of Hanoi or take a stroll around HoanKiem Lake, where everyone hangs out, especially during the weekends.

2. Coffee Culture – You’ve never tasted realcoffee till you’ve tried Vietnamese coffee

Probably the most popular business idea in the country, and most probably one of the most profitable as well, the coffee culture in Vietnam is not just a morning or afternoon drink. Coffee has been super essential in the people’s lives that it is now a lifestyle. And if you don’t drink coffee at all, your friend will think you’re too uncool to hang out with.

Giang Coffe in Hanoi with their famous signature drink, the Egg Coffee
Giang Coffe in Hanoi with their famous signature drink, the Egg Coffee

Because it's superbly popular amongst the youngsters and even their older counterparts, cafés are found in every corner of each street in the country. You’ll be surprised if you end up in an alley with zero cafés on sight. Aside from the countless number of cafés popping up every day all over the region, there is also an increasing number of creative mixes of coffees and such in the region; which somehow turned into tourism products like the Egg Coffee. Check out Giang Coffee House here.

3. Thousand Years of History – Chinese, French, Japanese, American, wait, what?

Bai Dinh Buddhist temples in Ninh Bình province, Vietnam
Bai Dinh Buddhist temples in Ninh Bình province

For thousands of years, Vietnam had to struggle and survive under the rule of different colonizers, from the early Chinese empires to the end of the American War in mid-1970s. Although they are all long gone for some decades now, there’s no doubt that all of them have left marks everywhere, especially in the northern region, where a lot of these iconic events happened.

As a first-time visitor of Vietnam, it’s no doubt that visiting the north is a good introduction to the country. There are many things to learn about and a lot of stories to tell, specifically in the northern region as it’s been around longer than the southern counterpart. With the mix of cultures, languages, traditions, and even ways of living, there will always be something to learn every day when traveling across the cities.

4. The European Touch – Experience the Southeast Asian gem through the eyes of the west

Hanoi Opera House built by French in 1911
Hanoi Opera House, built by French in 1911

The French has left so much influence in the northern part of Vietnam. From its architecture, urban planning, bridges, gastronomy, fashion, and even the lifestyle, there is no way a European would not be so surprised with the similarities between the two nations.

Northerners are typically viewed as the more sophisticated and more eloquent Vietnamese because of their daily habits, the way they live, and the things they spend on, especially when it comes to fashion trends and dining activities. But I guess you’d have come over yourself for you to experience it. There’s definitely nothing else like it in Southeast Asia.

5. Classical Art Scene – Fancy an opera on a Wednesday evening, a musical on a Friday afternoon, and a ballet on Sunday after brunch?

Water painting museum in Vietnam
Water-Painting Museum

One of the main reasons why we love the northern region is because of this, the classical art scene. Sometimes loud, but most of the time it’s underground. Growing up in a socialist regime surrounded by the brightest and the most cultured individuals in the country, northern Vietnam is the place to visit for classical arts and culture. And if you’re the type of person who likes the finest things in life, someone who appreciates arts, paintings, musicals, operas, ballets, and Sunday brunches, then you’re making the right decision to come over here.

Thanks again to the European influence and its preservation throughout generation after generation, these things have been kept alive long enough for everybody to enjoy, both for locals and foreigners.

6. Imperial Vietnam – Where did all the Nguyen’s go?

Imperial Citadel in Hanoi, Vietnam
Imperial Citadel in Hanoi

You might have noticed, or probably you’ll notice once you get to Vietnam that the word "Nguyen" is displayed everywhere in the country. Even more so when you visit the northern area most probably because it originated in the imperial capital of Hue. As many might wonder, the word Nguyen is the most popular family name in the country and the last empire to rule Imperial Vietnam.

Whether you’re a history buff or not, knowing just a bit of information about how the Vietnamese emperors ruled the country, even when it was divided into two, can be an insightful lesson when visiting the northern region. The best places to visit to find more information about the imperial period can be found in two cities, Hanoi capital and Hue.

7. Unlimited Food Adventures – Where rice and noodles are man’s best friends

Pho is a noodle dish and the most famous (and most delicious) of all Vietnamese food
Pho, the most famous Vietnamese noodle dish

Being one of the top exporters of rice all over the globe, the whole of Vietnam obviously survives on rice and noodles all-year-long. From the simplest Com Binh Dan to an upscale Vietnamese gourmet restaurant, you will never go hungry in this part of the world. And with the northern region having the most diverse options for gastronomy and dining, the opportunities for you to be able to taste the most genuine Vietnamese dishes are endless.

Whether you fancy the not-so-adventurous dishes such as Pho or Bun Cha to the extremes like deep-fried snake meat or barbecued dog meat, the possibilities and options are insanely vast. Expect moments where you’ll start questioning your own taste buds and probably even your mom’s cooking. All in all, Vietnam is bursting with the best culinary to offer not only in Asia, but also on a global scale.

8. Unworldly Landscapes – Discover the world of Hollywood Films

Halong Bay in Vietnam, a UNESCO World Heritage Site
Halong Bay, a UNESCO World Heritage Site   (photo gallery)

Possibly the best reason why you need to spend most of your travel time in the northern region of Vietnam, to discover the unworldly landscapes and sceneries as seen in some notable Hollywood films such as the recent Kong: Skull Island. Witness the towering limestone karst rocks of Halong Bay on a luxury cruise, do a short boat trip while immersing yourself in the serene landscapes of Ninh Binh province, and walk through staggering terrains of Phong Nha-Ke Bang cave systems, there is never a shortage of adventures to enlist yourself into.

Accesses to these world wonders have never been easier. Thus, there’s no reason for you not to be able to do it at least once in your lifetime.

Published in Vietnam

Sitting alongside Silom Road right in the heart of Bangkok lies the Bangkok Seashell Museum. Always a fan of unique and offbeat museums, I decided to stop on in the other day with a friend who was visiting town.

The small but modern Bangkok Seashell Museum is three stories and is packed full of thousands and thousands of seashells from hundreds of different species all painstakingly arranged by size and color into elaborate displays. Most have information on where/when they were found. Was quite surprised to see that the shells here come from countries around the world, not just Thailand and other Southeat Asian nations.

Signs in Thai and English scattered on the walls of each floor provided detailed information on the types of species we were looking at and where these specimen were found. The museum is definitely interesting, even if you do not know the slightest thing about seashells except that they tend to be found on beaches more than mountains. Tend to.

Entrance was 150 baht per person (around $4 USD) and despite being three stories, you only need 30-45 minutes to thoroughly examine and chat about everything. If nothing else, it is a great way to escape that horrendous Bangkok heat for a bit.

Colorful seashells at the Bangkok Seashell Museum in Thailand
Colorful shells...

Big seashells at the Bangkok Seashell Museum in Thailand
...big shells...

Small seashells at the Bangkok Seashell Museum in Thailand
...small shells. There's a shell for every shape and size at Bangkok Seashell Museum

Giant clam at the Bangkok Seashell Museum in Thailand
Tridacna gigas, otherwise known as the aptly named Giant Clam, live in offshore reefs 2-20 metres deep (6-65 feet) and can weigh up to 300kg. This giant clam only weighs 150kg (330lbs), despite one side of its shell being more than a metre across. (That's almost four feet. No one is stealing it anytime soon.)

Yes, the Bangkok Seashell Museum is pretty damn cool.

So cool it even won an award for being a "very good" recreational activity. That's certainly no "outstanding" and not quite an "honorable mention" but hey at least you're getting closer. Keep up the good work.

Bangkok Seashell Museum in Thailand

  Pin much? Here ya go!  

Photo journey and travel guide for the Bangkok Seashell Museum in Thailand

Bangkok Seashell Museum in Thailand

Bangkok Seashell Museum in Thailand

Bangkok Seashell Museum in Thailand

Bangkok Seashell Museum in Thailand

Bangkok Seashell Museum in Thailand
Throughout the museum there are giant signs on the walls in both Thai and English further explaining about the seashells on display, the differences between species, even when and where they were found.

2nd Floor

2nd floor of the Bangkok Seashell Museum

Bangkok Seashell Museum in Thailand

3rd Floor

3rd floor of the Bangkok Seashell Museum

Bangkok Seashell Museum in Thailand

Bangkok Seashell Museum in Thailand

Bangkok Seashell Museum in Thailand

Bangkok Seashell Museum in Thailand

Bangkok Seashell Museum in Thailand

Bangkok Seashell Museum in Thailand

Bangkok Seashell Museum in Thailand

Bangkok Seashell Museum in Thailand

Bangkok Seashell Museum in Thailand

Want more unique museums?

Now Museum, Now You Don't: Strange American Museums

Published in Thailand

"During summer when it's 24 hours of daylight, we drink to celebrate that. When it's winter and only a few hours of daylight, we drink just to get through it." Welcome to Iceland, a country with a complex and interesting relationship love of alcohol -- including several unique types of alcohol that are available nowhere else in the world. As such, no trip to Iceland is complete without visiting a few cities and regions that are famous for their local brews.

  Much like the United States, Iceland has a complex past with prohibition -- one that started earlier and lasted many, many decades longer. Enacted in 1915, the ban on alcohol was eventually loosened over the years on certain spirits, but unfortunately beer over 2.25% remained illegal until March 1st, 1989.

In order to have the most authentic Icelandic experience available, be sure to make a few new local friends over the following drinks:

Brennivín

Brennivín is unquestionably the national drink of Iceland. It is a purely Icelandic creation using potato mash and herbs native to this Nordic island nation to create an unsweetened schnapps. Sometimes called "Black Death" in reference to the original bottles, which featured a white skull on a black label, Brennivín is primarily served chilled in shot form. It is often accompanied with Icelandic hákarl (fermented shark), the national dish of Iceland. Although I am an adventurous eater, I much prefer my Brennivín sans-shark. Why? Well, as Anthony Bourdain so eloquently said, Hákarl is "the single worst, most disgusting and terrible tasting thing" that he has ever eaten anywhere in the world.

Would you like a little Hákarl with your Brennivín? Yes please!
Would you like a little Hákarl with your Brennivín?

Because Brennivín is unsweetened, outside of Iceland it is sometimes referred to as an "akvavit" instead of a schnapps. Regardless, it is surprisingly smooth, hits hard, and has no shortage of foreign fans despite the fact that Brennivín has never been exported internationally. At least not until 2014 when Egill Skallagrímsson, the countriest premiere Brennivín brand and also an award-winning beer brewery, began exporting Brennivín to the United States -- but no where else. Yet.

  While Brennivín can be found throughout the country, never is it in more abundance than during Þorrablót, the Icelandic mid-winter festival every January.

Fjallagrasa Moss Schnapps

There is an old saying that the worse something tastes, the better it is for you. That would appear to be a big selling point behind Fjallagrasa Moss Schnapps, which yes, is made with real Icelandic moss. There is even a tuft of the famous lichen lovingly included in each bottle produced. Icelandic moss is so important that it is protected by law and has been used medicinally for centuries to treat things such as cough, sore throat and upset stomach. (Of course if you drink too much Fjallagrasa, you are liable to end up with one of these afflictions, rather than curing it.)

Fjallagrasa Moss Schnapps, one of the unique types of alcohol only found in Iceland

The moss is hand-picked in the mountains of Iceland, ground up and mixed with a "specially prepared alcohol blend" which remains a trade secret of IceHerbs, the company that produces Fjallagrasa. It is then soaked for an extended period of time, allowing all of the biologically active components of the moss to dissolve. No other artificial colors or flavors are added.

Just like with Brennivín, as there is no sugar in Fjallagrasa Moss Schnapps, it is technically not a schnapps by international definition. Regardless, it is still consumed around the country for both healthly and recreational purposes.

Iceland has many unique types of alcohol not found anywhere else in the world

Reyka Vodka

Vodka may not be an Nordic creation (we owe Poland for that one) however Icelanders may have perfected it. Reyka Vodka is often referred to as the best vodka in the world by vodka connesiours. Using pure arctic water naturally filtered through a 4,000 year old lava field and then distilled in a top-of-the-line Carter-Head still -- one of only six that exist in the entire world, and the only one that is being used for vodka -- the result is so pure and delicious it goes down like water.

Reyka Vodka, arguably the best vodka in the world

With only one still Reyka is brewed in small batches of only 1,700 litres each, ensuring optimal quality every time. As an added bonus, the entire Reyka distillery is powered by volcanic geo-thermal energy, meaning that the world's best vodka is also the greenest. Everyone wins.

  Although this is Iceland's first distillery, public tours are unfortunately not available. But you can take a digital tour to see exclusive photos and learn more about the process that makes Reyka vodka so special here.

Opal

Opal is a popular licorice candy in Iceland and also the name of an equally popular vodka that also tastes like licorice. As my local buddy put it, "Once you outgrow the candy you switch to the drink." At 27% ABV Opal is not the strongest, but if you are a fan of Jägermeister straight then you will probably enjoy an Opal shot or three.

Opal is a unique type of vodka only found in Iceland

Bjórlíki

Up until 1989, the only type of beer that was legal in Iceland was the weak "near-beer" consisting of only 1-2% alcohol content. However because 40% ABV spirits such as Brennivin and vodka were legal, people would add them to their beer. Known as Bjórlíki, you will never find this for sale in any store or bar. However if you venture off the beaten path and explore the Icelandic countryside, you can taste this beauty for yourself.

Bjorliki, a weak Pilsner spiked with vodka, is a unique type of alcohol only found in Iceland

Björk & Birkir

Made from the sap of birch trees, Björk and Birkir are two relatively new Icelandic creations. Sure they might not have the history or significance of other drinks such as Brennivín and Bjórlíki, but c'mon now where else in the world can find liquor made from birch trees? Yeah, that's what I thought.

As the story goes, the two brothers behind Foss distillery traveled around Iceland sampling all the native flora until they decided that birch was the most delicious. So they planted what will one day become a sustainable birch forest and now gently "borrow" a little sap from the growing trees to make their spirits. Oh and in case you were wondering, the 27.5% ABV Björk is not named after the singer but rather the Icelandic word for "birch". It has an earthy, woody taste with a slightly sweeter finish than the 36% ABV Birkir, but both are intriguing. Either one would make a unique souvenir to take home the next time you travel Iceland.

  BONUS

Celebrate Bjórdagur, Iceland's "Beer Day"

  After nearly 75 years of prohibition, it's time to celebrate. Every March 1st is Iceland's "Beer Day" and it is best celebrated in the capital city of Reykjavik by doing a Rúntur -- the Icelandic word for "pub crawl".

During this time of year the sunset is after midnight and sunrise just before 3am, but because of the lingering glow that exists even after sunset, it never truly gets dark. As such, the "night" is perfect for bar-hopping and celebrating the holiday with some new Icelandic friends. Did I meantion that bars are open until 4am?

Want more unique things to do in Iceland?

The ultimate Iceland off the beaten path travel guide

  flickr // chrisgold considerable_vomit mmepassepartout borkazoid vannortwick

Published in Iceland

The very mention of Monaco evokes images of glamorous ladies in evening wear escorted by dashing gentlemen to the tables at one of the many casinos in this small country. Monaco is also known for its Formula One Grand Prix, besides being a popular tax haven for the rich and famous, as well as the rich and not so famous. Glitz, glamour, and the spectacular landscape are all reasons to add the country to your itinerary planner. Here are some not-to-be-missed destinations in this tiny nation that is part of the French Riviera.

Roll the Dice at Monte Carlo Casino and Opera House

Monte Carlo Casino and Opera House
Monte Carlo Casino, Monaco by Paul Wilkinson

A venue for special gala dinners, the Casino and Opera House also houses a marble paved atrium. What catches the eye, though, are the magnificent onyx columns that surround the atrium. With a 130-year-old history under its belt, this building was also the venue of two royal gala dinners. The casino is unique given its stained glass windows, allegorical paintings, bronze lamps, and spectacular decorations. The Casino has also been featured in quite a few notable Hollywood movies including the James Bond series and Ocean's Twelve.

Swim With the Fish at the Oceanographic Museum


Oceanographic Museum, Monaco by wami82

Perched on the Rock of Monaco, this museum of marine sciences is a stunning example of Baroque Revival architecture which by itself is sufficient to ensure it a place on your Monaco travel planner. The museum which towers over the cliff face makes for a picturesque setting. It took 11 years to construct this building which is now home to various several thousand sea creatures including sharks and turtles. The Oceanographic Institute devoted to the study of oceans and their inhabitants are also housed here.

Get a Taste of the Royal Life at Palais du Prince

Palais du Prince, Monaco
Palais du Prince, Monaco by healinglight

The building of the Palace dates back to the 13th century and has its origins as a fortress, but has since been turned into a luxurious palace. There is a gallery with 15th-century frescoes that will leave you awe-struck. The gilded décor of the ‘Blue Room’, the 17th century Palatine Chapel, and the Main Courtyard with its spectacular Carrara marble double staircase make it a ‘must-see’ addition to your Monaco trip planner. Don’t forget to check out the Changing of the Guards ceremony that takes place at about noon each day.

Commune with Nature at the Jardin Exotique de Monaco

Jardin exotique de Monaco
Jardin exotique de Monaco by Sylvain Leprovost

Situated on a steep cliff overlooking the Mediterranean Ocean, this garden is home to varied species of plants from Africa, Arabia, and Latin America. There are at least 7,000 types of succulents which thrive in the great climate the region enjoys. Stalagmites and stalactites are found in the Observatory cave situated on the premises. You can further enrich your knowledge of the pre-historic era and early civilisation with a visit to the Anthropology Museum situated within the property.

Hop on a Catamaran for a Spin around Monaco Harbour

Monaco Harbor
Catamaran rides, Monaco by Dennis Jarvis

The harbour at this princely state is always filled with moored luxury yachts from across the world. It is a great place for a stroll and you can find plenty of places to grab a bite to eat as you watch the spectacular yachts pull out or weigh anchor. Catamaran rides are available for a closer look at the coastline. If you are lucky you might be able to catch a glimpse of the rich and famous arriving to attend one of the many galas or races that take place in Monaco Harbour.

The small size of the country makes it easy to get around and see it all without having to travel too much. Don’t forget to take a close look at the narrow city streets where Formula One drivers race down in May each year!

Published in Monaco

India has always offered a wealth of treasures to its visitors. The stunning Mughal architecture, incomparable natural beauty, and exceptional food have drawn travelers for centuries. India’s recent emergence as a technological and economic world power provides new and compelling reasons for travel as well. Keep reading to find out why India is the hottest destination in the world.

Technological Boom

The Indian technology and services industry is on track reach $225 billion in revenue by 2020, and it will change the economic face of the country. India has quickly emerged as the second largest mobile phone market in the world, and there’s still plenty of room for growth: Almost 20% of the population (800 million people) still lack internet access.

India technological boom

Facebook’s Internet.org recently started offering free mobile internet service to many in India who would not otherwise be able to afford it. Both startups and tech giants are increasingly interested in India as a new market base, and many are using it as a testing ground for new software and features.

Mark Zuckerberg himself is also invested in India’s technological growth and deepening the connection between India and Silicon Valley. When Facebook was floundering in its early stages, Zuckerberg took the advice of his mentor Steve Jobs and visited a temple in India. The trip inspired him to double down in his efforts, much as Jobs’ seven month Indian excursion inspired him to launch Apple in 1976.

Would-be tech entrepreneurs looking to recreate the success of Facebook and Apple will be drawn to India, and it’s never been easier for them to make the trip. India’s strong and lasting connection with Silicon Valley will be cemented with a recently announced direct flight from San Francisco to New Delhi. Operated by Cathay Pacific, the flight will run three times a week, and in the words of San Francisco Mayor Ed Lee, it will unite “two great cultural and economic centers of the world.”

Travel Boom

The new flight is part of a general increase in Indian travel: India welcomed 7.68 million visitors in 2014 and expects more this year. Indians themselves are also traveling more frequently. In 2014, 9.6 million Indians traveled internationally, up from 3.5 million only a decade ago. Part of the growth is due to the rise of travel agencies designed exclusively for women. Groups like Women on Wanderlust organize women-only groups that travel within India and internationally, providing a safe and supportive community of female travelers.

Women dressed in traditional Indian clothing

India is also experiencing a huge expansion in air travel that will making getting around the country vastly easier for both residents and visitors. Over 20 airlines are currently operating in India, six of which have started flying in the last year alone. The proliferation of options has led to lower fares, making it very cost-effective to travel around India by plane. Domestic air travel is up 19% from last year, giving India has the highest growth in domestic air travel in the world.

It’s also easier to get a visa to India as of this August. Over 100 new countries, including the United States, are now eligible for e-Visas to enter India. Rather than waiting in long lines to apply in person, visas are now accessible online. Processing time has been reduced from two weeks to four days, and the fee has been reduced to $60. The new visa system is part of an initiative by Prime Minister Narenda Modi to incorporate more technology into government and education.

Wellness Boom

In 1968, The Beatles made a pilgrimage to an ashram in Rishikesh to study Transcendental Meditation. Their trip helped to introduce Eastern spirituality to the West and opened up the idea of India as a destination for enlightenment and spirituality. Since then, travelers seeking a holistic mind/body experience have come to India to practice yoga, pray at temples, and embrace meditation and mindfulness.

Yoga at the temples of Rishikesh, India

The explosion of yoga’s popularity has also helped to fuel travel in recent years. Yoga originated over 5,000 years ago as an eight-fold path to spiritual enlightenment, and asana, the series of postures that make up its physical branch, is now a $27 billion industry in the United States with more than 20 million practitioners.

To capitalize on the demand, many ashrams are offering packages for yogis to experience their discipline in its homeland. Sivananda Yoga Vedanta, for example, has put together a Yoga Vacation that involves two weeks of silent meditation, lectures, and yoga classes with vegetarian meals provided.

Now there’s no excuse not to book a trip to India. Flights are cheap, visas are easy, and there’s never been more to see and do in this fantastically beautiful country. Get a visa, book a flight, and prepare to experience travel nirvana.

  This article was posted on Hipmunk's Tailwind blog by The Hipmunk on October 16th.

Published in India

Jaipur, also known as the Pink City, is a superb piece of architecture. This city was built in perfect Nine Squares and wide roads were designed to intersect each segment. The segments were also linked internally by small roads. The city is a perfect example of how well the architectural concept was developed at that time. The old city, which is sometimes refered to as the Walled City, is uniformly painted in pink color and thus earned its nickname.

Hawa Mahal, the Wind Palace of Jaipur, India
Hawa Mahal, the Wind Palace

The city attracts a lots of tourists as it has many historic monuments that have architectural value, such as Amber Fort, Hawa Mahal, Jantar Matar, City Palace, the Water Palace, and many more.

Hawa Mahal, the Wind Palace of Jaipur, India
Hawa Mahal, the Wind Palace

The Amber Fort in Jaipur, India, a UNESCO World Heritage Site
The Amber Fort from a distance

Jaipur: The Pink City of India

Jaipur: The Pink City of India

Jaipur: The Pink City of India

The Water Palace in Jaipur, India
The Water Palace

Jaipur is also famous for its arts and crafts, specially the blue pottery, Bandhej work, and Sanganeri print linen. All in all Jaipur is a must see place.   October to March is the best suitable time for visiting this lovely city.

Published in India

Ever thought of traveling off the beaten path and glimpsing a side of India that few tourists see? From pristine beaches to quirky villages, hidden architectural marvels and more, there is no shortage of such unseen places in India. These pristine surroundings are waiting to be discovered. Check out these 24 offbeat destinations that are just begging for you to visit them!

1.   Anthargange: Land of Caves

Approximately 70 km from Bangalore, this unique hillside is heaven for cave explorers. It is scattered with a plethora of caves formed from small volcanic rocks. The caves are both welcoming and intimidating at the same time.

What adds to its charm? There’s a spring that emerges from a small crevice in the rock, a mysterious source. Local people believe the water of the stream to be very holy.

2.   Umri: The World’s Twin Capital

The small town of Umri in Allahabad, believed to be 250 years old, has perplexed researchers all over the world. Out of every 1,000 children born here, 45 are twins. In the last 80 years, the village has had 108 twins, which is amazingy. The reason for this remains unknown. But the villagers believe it to be god’s miracle.

Hemis monastery during their famous and colorful festival, one of India's incredible offbeat destinations
madpai

3.   Hemis, Kashmir

Located about 45 km southeast of Leh is the beautiful town of Hemis. The town is popular for its Hemis monastery and a colorful festival that it celebrates every year.

4.   Bhangarh Fort: So Haunted its Illegal!

Like with other haunted places, Bhangarh has no shortage of myths and ghost stories. But unlike other places this one is so haunted the government of India has made it illegal to enter the grounds. Apparently anyone who has been out past sunrise in the ruined town of Bhangarh, also known as Bhangarh Fort, has never returned alive.

Read More   The Haunted Bhangarh Fort

5.   Ethipothala Falls: A Sight to Behold

About 11 km from Nagarjuna Sagar Dam in Andhra Pradesh lies Ethipothala, which is home to the spellbinding Ethipothala Waterfall. The falls are a union of three streams and are quite a sight to behold.

Bekal Fort, one of India's incredible offbeat destinations
vaibhav

6.   Bekal Fort: The Giant Key-Hole Shaped Fort

Sprawling over forty acres, the 300-year-old Bekal Fort is shaped like a giant key hole. It is one of the best preserved forts in Kerala. The observation tower in the fort offers a fascinating view of the Arabian Sea and all the major places in the vicinity.

7.   Bada Imambra: Gravity Defying Palace

This architectural marvel was built in the 18th century in Lucknow. It is a fantastic mix of European and Arabic architecture. The most astonishing aspect is the central arched hall, a whopping 50 meters long and about three stories high, hanging without the support of any pillars or beams!

8.   Idukki: Land of Red Rain

Well known for its spice plantations, wildlife sanctuaries, hill stations and the gigantic Idukki arch dam, this district in Kerala truly is the epitome of natural beauty.

What makes this place really quirky? Idukki is known for the most unusual phenomenon called Red Rain. The colored rain of Kerala started falling in 2001. Since then it has become one of the most discussed anomalies of recent years.

Loktak Lake, also known as the floating lake, one of India's incredible offbeat destinations
ch_15march

9.   Loktak Lake: The Floating Paradise

This is the largest freshwater lake in Northeast India and its banks are home to the world’s only floating National Park. The Loktak Lake in Manipur is also called the floating lake because of the floating masses of vegetation on its surface.

10.   Khajjiar: India’s Mini Switzerland

About 24 km from Dalhousie, this small picturesque saucer-shaped plateau is a wonderful destination. For a peaceful sojourn in the lap of the Himalayas, this is the ideal place for relaxation.

11.   Kolkkumalai: The World’s Highest Tea Plantation

For all the tea lovers reading this, this is one place you would crave to visit. At 7,900 ft above sea level the hills of Kolkkumalai in Tamil Nadu produce tea which has a special flavor and freshness.

Malana, deep in the heart of India's cannabis country and home of the pontent hash known as Malana Cream, is one of India's most incredible offbeat destinations
mo_cosmo

12.   Malana: Little Greece of India, Popular for Its Cannabis Cream

In the northeast of the Kullu Valley lies the solitary village of Malana. The village is considered to be one of the first democracies in the world. It is also home to the notorious Malana cream, arguably the finest quality hash ever produced.

13.   Mawlynnog: Asia’s Cleanest Village, The Magical Paradise

Do you cringe at the sight of litter on streets in India? Well then you will be surprised to know about this village. Located about 100 km from Shillong is Mawlynnog, a small village in the East Khasi Hills. In 2003 it won the award of being the cleanest village -- not just in India but in all of Asia.

14.   Nohkalikai Falls: The Waterfall with a Tragic Tale

One of the five tallest waterfalls in the country, Nohkalikai Falls near Cherrapunji is named after the horrific tale of a woman named Ka Likai. The legend behind this gorgeous fall makes it all the more intriguing and beautiful.

Orchha dates back to 1501 and is full of palaces and shrines. This combined with a lack of tourists makes it one of India's most incredible offbeat destinations
azwegers

15.   Orchha: A City Frozen in Time

Full of palaces and shrines still retaining their original grandeur, the city of Orchha dates back to 1501 and is a must for all history / culture / architecture buffs. It is located near the banks of Betwa River in Madhya Pradesh.

16.   Roopkund Lake: The Mysterious Skeleton Lake

Situated at an altitude of 5,029 metres in the Himalayas, this lake is popularly known as Skeleton Lake. Skeletons of about 200 people belonging to the 9th century were discovered here. It was later found that a hailstorm had killed the people. To this day, visitors can still see those skeletons.

17.   Shetpal: The Village of Snakes

A village at about 200 km from Pune follows a frightful custom. Each house in this village has a resting place for cobras in the rafters of their ceilings. No cases of snake bites have been reported in this village despite snakes moving about freely in every household.

Spiti Valley, one of India's most incredible offbeat destinations
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18.   Spiti Valley: The Hidden World

Tucked away in the Himalayas of Himachal Pradesh, the Spiti Valley is a relatively unknown world! With Tibet in the east and Ladakh in the north, this region is scattered with tiny villages and monasteries rich in traditional culture.

19.   Tharon Cave: Archaeological Wonder

Located 27 km from the district of Tamenglong in Manipur, the Tharon Cave is of great archaeological and historical importance. A visit to this cave is reportedly the experience of a lifetime.

20.   Chilkur Balaji: The Visa Granting Balaji Temple

Is the USA your land of dreams? If yes, then you simply cannot miss visiting the Chilkur Balaji Temple, which is about 20 kms from Hyderabad. People believe the 21st century god of this temple has the power to grant you a US visa.

Yes, you read that right. Every week around 75,000 to 100,000 devotees visit this temple!

Dhanushkodi, one of India's most incredible offbeat destinations
ryanready

21.   Dhanushkodi: Ghost Town with Mythological Importance

About 620 km from Bangalore is the ghost town of Dhanushkodi. Not only is it famously known for its mythological importance, but also for the cyclone that hit the town in 1964, which ravaged the entire region.

22.   Vihigaon Falls: The Picturesque Falls

Located in the Thane district of Maharashtra, Vihigaons Falls is a monsoon fed waterfall. It is the perfect place for rappelling and canoeing.

23.   Wilson Hills: Hill Station with a Spectacular Sea View

About 870 meters above the sea level, this hill station is located in the State of Gujarat. The most amazing aspect about it is the rare and beautiful sea view that guests get to see.

Yumthang, one of India's most incredible offbeat destinations
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24.   Yumthang Valley: The Valley of Flowers

Located at about 148 km from Gangtok, the Yumthang valley with its scenic beauty is truly a paradise for nature lovers.

Most likely you won't have the time or money to visit all of these destinations. However make sure to squeeze at least a couple of them into your India trip -- it will be that much more special and memorable of an experience!

  Over the next six months I will be exploring as many of these locations as possible. 1 down, 23 to go! Follow along at blog.theHoliDaze.com

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Published in India

Just as Shakespeare has confounded high school students for generations, it seems the playwright has been doing the same to historians for even longer. This week, new research found that as well as hoarding grain during food shortages, the Bard was also threatened with jail for tax evasion.

Hard to believe, but 400 years on Shakespeare still manages to keep a fair few secrets up his sleeve. This became apparent to my friend and I when we visited Shakespeare's hometown of Stratford-Upon-Avon in England.

William Shakespeare

As you can imagine, the town has well and truly contracted "Shakespeare Fever" and attracts bus loads of cashed-up, Bard-loving tourists. After all, this is the town where Shakespeare was born, grew up, lived some of his adult life, and was buried.

But what surprised us most was how little is actually known about Shakespeare... and how there continues to be doubt about whether he actually wrote all of his plays or not. Granted he did live several hundred years ago, but given his prominent role in English literature we had assumed every facet of his life had already been discovered and documented.

Boats in the River Avon in Stratford-Upon-Avon named after female characters in William Shakespeare's plays
Boats in the River Avon named after female characters in Shakespeare's plays

We visited one of the town's main "pilgrim" sites called Shakespeare's Birthplace - a 16th century half-timbered house on Henley Street which is now a museum. This is believed to have been the Shakespeare family home where William was born, grew up and spent the first five years with his wife Anne Hathaway.

Reading the museum's information boards, we noticed the liberal use of the following types of phrases: "he almost certainly would have...", "it's believed he...", "like others at the time he may have...", "he quite possibly would have..." and so on.

The birthplace of William Shakespeare in Stratford-Upon-Avon, England
"Believed to be" Shakespeare's birthplace

The birthplace of William Shakespeare in Stratford-Upon-Avon, England
Did Shakespeare once walk through this door? "Quite possibly."

The vagueness is justified.

For a man who seemingly couldn't put his pen down, doubters note that this not a single piece of evidence Shakespeare actually wrote anything. There are no manuscripts, letters or other documents in his own hand. Even the spelling of Shakespeare's name is up for debate as the only surviving examples of his handwriting are six scrawled signatures where his surname is spelt several ways.

The birthplace of William Shakespeare in Stratford-Upon-Avon, England
The house where Shakespeare "almost certainly" grew up

We had the distinct impression that we thought we knew more about the man before we had actually walked into the museum. However, thanks to the local Holy Trinity Church, there is more concrete evidence about Shakespeare's life.

The Holy Trinity Church in Stratford-Upon-Avon, England, where William Shakespeare was baptised and buried
Holy Trinity Church: Shakespeare was baptised and buried here

Here they have written records about his baptism on 26 April 1564 ("possibly" in the damaged medieval font on display) and burial on 25 April 1616. Interestingly it does not have any account of his wedding to Anne Hathaway; other churches claim they were the venue.

The Holy Trinity Church in Stratford-Upon-Avon, England, where William Shakespeare was baptised and buried
The church's damaged medieval font in which Shakespeare was"likely" to have been baptised in

The Holy Trinity Church in Stratford-Upon-Avon, England, where William Shakespeare was baptised and buried
Holy Trinity Church which Shakespeare "may have" visited regularly while growing up

Frustratingly, even the grave indicated as being William Shakespeare's doesn't actually bear his name (the graves either side of his belong to wife Anne and daughter Susanna). Instead it has the following inscription (which he "possibly" wrote himself) warning anyone against moving his bones.

"Good friend fur Jesus sake forebeare
To digg the dust encloased heare
Bleste be ye man yt spares thes stones,
And curst be he yt moves my bones"

William Shakespeare's grave inside the Holy Trinity Church in Stratford-Upon-Avon, England
Shakespeare's grave inside the church

And it seems he was already developing a following not long after his death with a funerary monument built into the church wall.

William Shakespeare's funerary monument at the Holy Trinity Church in Stratford-Upon-Avon, England
Shakespeare's funerary monument on the church's wall

The church also has a glass case with a first edition of the King James Bible from 1611, just before Shakespeare's death. Apparently it is usually open at Psalm 46; 46 also being Shakespeare's age in 1611.

King James Bible inside the Holy Trinity Church in Stratford-Upon-Avon, England
King James Bible inside the church

At the end of the day, perhaps it doesn't really matter that we don't know a great deal about Shakespeare himself. "His" plays have already shaped English literature and how he will be remembered.

What is known is that generations of school children, and others, will continue to struggle finding great detail when they are next forced to write an assignment on William Shakespeare.

Published in England

At first glance, Hong Kong might appear to be just another sprawling modern metropolis that revolves almost entirely around technology, corporate business, and the global financial market. Little do first-time visitors realise that there is plenty more below the surface. For those eager to get off the beaten path and explore the hidden side of Hong Kong, these are some of the most fun and intriguing sights and activities in this modern city-state.

Peng Chau
via Marc van der Chijs

Escape the island

Most people eager to temporarily flee the fast-paced city life flock to Lamma Island, but there is a better place. Completely overlooked by both foreigners and locals alike, the small Peng Chau Island is a great way to slow things down. Relax at the waterfront, watching the boats, or visit a couple of the island temples. Just don't forget to take a stroll down the Peng Yu Path, a hiking trail immersed in nature with picturesque views of the ocean. The best part? Peng Chau Island is only a thirty-minute ferry ride away!

Another option is the town of Sai Kung, located in the New Territories, and home to the best beaches in all of Hong Kong! Sample the local seafood, go cliff-jumping at Sheung Luk Streams, soak up some sun on the beach, and be sure not to miss the floating seafood market. You can find out more, and get directions to each of these individual attractions.

Wander the walled villages

The city's sleek, iconic skyscrapers reveal little about Hong Kong's rich history and culture. For that, visitors need to visit one of the city's walled villages. Shui Tau Tsuen may require a bit of work to get to but a trip out here is well worth it. Nineteenth-century buildings with ornate architecture and decorations provide a glimpse into the past that visitors will not soon forget, including traditional temples and a remarkably well-preserved study hall.

Hong Kong skyline at night
via Phil Wiffen

View Hong Kong in a different light....no light

It's impossible not to notice the abundance of lights, sounds and smells that pervade every corner of downtown Hong Kong. However, you can never really fully appreciate them until removing one of your senses and letting the other four work overtime. That is the concept behind Dialogue in the Dark. Visually impaired guides lead guests along a 75-minute journey that is unlike anything you have ever experienced. "See" the ferries, wet markets, traffic intersections and more in a whole new light. If nothing else, this excursion will give you an insight into life as a blind person, and a new level of respect for the extra sensory experiences that they encounter on a daily basis.

Of course Hong Kong has plenty more to offer visitors, especially when it comes to food and entertainment. Still not sure it's the destination for you? Here are four more amazing reasons to visit Hong Kong now.

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Published in Hong Kong
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