Monthly Archives: November 2016

Visiting the Ancient City of Luxor

At one time, 4,000 years ago, the ancient city of Luxor was one of the greatest cities in the world. The golden-era of Thebes, as Luxor was then known, lasted for thousands of years and its grandeur rivaled even that of Athens or Rome. Great pharaohs built an almost unbelievable amount of tombs, temples and monuments in the city and its surrounds, which even today retain much of their incredible glory.

Roughly 700 kilometers south of Cairo, Luxor, like most Egyptian cities, sits on the River Nile. The longest river in the world, a small patch of greenery lines the shores of the River Nile as it snakes through the Sahara Desert and its waters are the only reason civilization ever flourished here.

In Luxor it creates quite the contrast, as the city itself is rather green with its suburbs dominated by small farming plots, but travel just a few minutes outside of the city and one could be forgiven for thinking that the massive sand dunes and mountains of the Sahara were endless.

Today, most travelers begin their holidays to Egypt at Luxor’s international airport, but it is still possible to arrive the traditional way, via the River Nile. Luxury cruise ships make the journey regularly to nearby Aswan and even all the way to Cairo.

Once in Luxor travelers are literally surrounded by the antiquities of ancient Egypt. The grandeur of the ruins and temples in their real-life settings far surpasses what’s possible in any museum, and there aren’t many travel experiences in the world that can rival a person’s first visit to Egypt.

The Luxor Temple is in the center of the city and its giant sandstone columns covered in hieroglyphs offer an imposing first impression of the city. The complex is even more impressive at night, when it’s possible to visit the illuminated ruins and admire the small statues of the Avenue of Sphinxes without the crowds that throng the site in the day.

A few thousand years ago the Avenue of Sphinxes connected the Luxor Temple with the Karnak Temple to the north of the city center. These days, however, a regular street will have to suffice.

Much larger than the Luxor Temple, Karnak was the preeminent temple of Thebes and all of Upper Egypt. In light of how impressive the Karnak Temple is in this modern-era of skyscrapers and architectural feats, it doesn’t take much imagination to envision what the reaction to its Great Hypostyle Hall must have been thousands of years ago.

The hieroglyphs that adorn every inch of the temple contain the spiritual knowledge of ancient Egypt. The decline of the Egyptian civilization and religion happened rather quickly and so rapid was the displacement of hieroglyphics by the Greek alphabet that the meanings of the hieroglyphs were lost even to the modern Egyptians themselves. It wasn’t until the soldiers of an invading Napoleon found the famed Rosetta Stone, which had a translation of ancient Greek into hieroglyphics, that their meanings began to be studied and understood once more.

Outside of Luxor, on the west side of the River Nile, the Valley of the Kings beckons to be explored. The official burial site of the Egyptian pharaohs for over 500 years, elaborate underground burial chambers that were constructed to safeguard the mummified remains of the kings of Egypt line the valley.

Understated entryways lead travelers past the rock faces and immediately underground into the dimly lit chambers, which wouldn’t seem too far out of place in an Indiana Jones film. The young Pharaoh Tutankhamun is the best known resident of the valley, and his burial chamber ordained in gold is not to be missed, though much of its treasures now sit in Cairo’s Egyptian Museum of Antiquities.

Leaving the Valley of the Kings a small trail climbs the mountain and leads hikers on a 45-minute trek through the desert to its payoff of stunning panoramic views of the Mortuary Temple of Hatshepsut. The limestone temple would blend seamlessly into its desert landscape and cliff-face backdrop if it weren’t for its grand staircase and perfectly uniformed support columns.

This temple was built by Queen Hatshepsut, Egypt’s first female ruler, to curry favor upon her death with the sun god Amon Ra, and it sits just across the mountain from her tomb in the Valley of the Kings.

Though there are always more wonders to discover, the gist of it is that a trip to Luxor is an unforgettable journey into ancient Egypt that should not be missed.

Why Frequent Travelers Are More Likely To Be Successful

Success can be defined differently for everyone but the fact is some people achieve it and some people don’t. What is it that successful people do or have to find success that others don’t? There has been a lot written about the skills and habits needed to live a successful life and I think most of us know the things we could work on like building confidence or overcoming fears to be more successful in areas we want to. There are people that have a higher likelihood for success than most. Frequent travelers, people constantly on the move learn many life skills exploring our world. Here are 15 reasons why frequent travelers are more likely to be successful because of that:

1. They Know how to Thrive Outside their Comfort Zone

Frequent travelers are in unfamiliar situations regularly. They must work through the unknown because of necessity. Faced with countless new experiences they learn valuable coping strategies that help them shoulder uncertainty and remain calm and effective. This is a key skill for success in both business and leading people.

2. They Welcome and Embrace Change 

Travelers invite novelty. People constantly surrounded by new and different things avoid boredom and learn to focus better. This way of thinking inspires innovation and creativity.

3. They Know how to Manage their Emotions 

Frequent travelers experience varying levels of stress routinely; tight flight connections, interrogations by border guards, and rude hotel staff can all cause ones nerves to fray. Travelers hone the ability to manage emotions and remain calm under pressure developing keen self-awareness. Being self-aware increases productivity and helps people find what makes them happy in life, the ultimate success.

4. They Trust and don’t Always Need to be in Control

Travelers have to rely on people they don’t know all the time. They deal with language barriers, cab drivers in strange cities and are often dependent on the kindness of strangers. Accepting the fact they can’t always be in control helps them build new relationships. They develop confidence in their ability to choose friends and acquaintances that are genuine and trustworthy.

5. They Manage Fear and move Past it

The key to success is taking action. When you travel a lot you put yourself in situations where there is no turning back.This makes people face fears head on and develop coping skills to take action despite the fear.

6. They Recognize and Seize Opportunities 

Travelers have a wider breadth of experience and knowledge about the world. They learn new and better ways of doing things being exposed to different customs and cultures. This knowledge  helps them recognize opportunities to improve and innovate at home and in the places they visit.

7. They Know how to Negotiate to get What they Want 

Travelers negotiate to avoid being taken advantage of. Good negotiating skills are needed to get what you want or need without becoming pushy or aggressive. This skill is important in influencing others and helping them understand and accept your ideas in business and as a leader.

8. They see Beauty Where Most don’t 

Frequent travelers see many different types of things and train their brains to focus on the beautiful. Constant novelty keeps the mind and the eyes sharp. People who travel see beauty where others see the ordinary. This skill belongs to great photographers, poetic writers and fertilizes the garden where inspiration grows.

9. They are More Confident and Know how to Fake Confidence when Vulnerable

People who travel a lot learn to rely on themselves and are confident that they can accomplish what they want to. This belief helps them to be persistent in the face of obstacles and recover better after failure because of that.

10. They Better Understand Differences in People and are More Accepting 

Travelers are always meeting new people. They become good at asking questions to learn about the people they meet and what their opinions are on their city and culture. The questions come naturally because of travelers curiosity and desire to learn about the places they visit. This inspires great conversations that help travelers understand and accept the person and their views on a deeper level. They make friends easily and are loved by many because of this.

11. They Know When to live in the Moment 

Learning to live in the moment has many mental and physical benefits. Frequent travelers know their time in a place is fleeting. This helps them think to live in the moment more than average.

12. They Smile More and feel Happiness More Often 

Studies show travel makes us happy. Frequent travelers smile more than average because they explore new places regularly. They feel happy because they get to meet different people, see incredible sights, eat new and delicious food. That living in the moment skill helps with happiness to.

13.They Understand the Importance of Listening 

This is a life skill that a lot of people struggle with. Learning to focus and really listen to what people tell us is so important to success in life. Achieving success is about building relationships and you build strong relationships understanding people. People who travel a lot know you really need to listen to have good understanding.

14. They are Less Judgmental and More Empathetic 

Great leaders know the ability to relate to others gains loyalty and moves business forward. Frequent travelers learn to show empathy and avoid being judgmental because of that. Empathy comes from a willingness to understand, people who travel come by that willingness naturally

15. They may not be Rich but they Know how to Save and Spend Wisely 

Frequent travelers know where their money goes farther. Making the world your home you can choose places based on cost of living. People who travel and work can make less and live well in a lot of countries.

The Five Best Temples in Hong Kong

Ditch the shopping malls and skyscrapers and delve into the city’s rich cultural heritage with a visit to one of Hong Kong’s top five temples. Nowhere is better to learn all there is to know about the hopes, dreams, fears and superstitions of this city’s industrious urbanites – especially true during Chinese New Year and important lunar calendar festival dates. While some places of worship have been given a glossy new makeover, many of Hong Kong’s oldest temples have been serving as important community gathering points for hundreds of years.

1. Sik Sik Yuen Wong Tai Sin Temple

 With its bold, red pillars and ornamental latticework, Wong Tai Sin displays all the qualities of the archetypal Taoist Chinese temple. Colorful and noisy, worshipers come year round to pray for good fortune and divine guidance from the “Great Immortal Wong.” Crowds flock here during the Chinese New Year to offer incense, make wishes and visit fortune tellers in hopes of an auspicious and prosperous year to come. Visiting the temple during this time may be interesting from a cultural perspective, but it is certainly not for the faint-hearted. Throngs of people push their way through the winding temple complex in a cloud of smoky incense towards the main altar and gather around stalls selling charms and amulets of all shapes and sizes. It is certainly a once in a lifetime experience, but alternatively, an early morning weekday visit will serve just fine.

2. Chi Lin Nunnery and Nan Lian Garden

At Diamond Hill, only one subway stop away from the Wong Tai Sin temple, you’ll find the peaceful and serene Chi Lin Nunnery. In stark contrast to its colorful and brash Taoist neighbor, the Buddhist nunnery exudes calm and tranquility with smooth stone balustrades, lotus ponds and stunning wooden architecture. Inspired by Japanese and Tang Dynasty temples, the elegant series of halls and walkways were constructed without the use of nails, using a complex design of counterweights and dowels. Across the road, the Nan Lian Garden is a scenic oasis amid towering high-rise apartments looming up along the hillside. A relaxing stroll past ancient bonsai trees, koi ponds and meticulously landscaped gardens is the perfect antidote for those needing some time out from the hustle and bustle of the city.

3. Ten Thousand Buddhas Monastery

Although calling itself a monastery, the name is a bit of a misnomer as there are no resident monks at this eclectic Sha Tin temple. Follow the steep winding path up the hillside, flanked by 500 life-sized Arhand statues to reach the main complex and its 9-story pagoda. Here you’ll supposedly find more than 13,000 Buddha statues – but at this point, who’s counting? – and a few bodhisattvas on horseback for good measure. The main attraction, however, is the preserved body of Yuet Kai, the monastery’s supremely devout founder. Embalmed in lacquer, plastered with gold leaf and dressed in robes, the upright body currently sits on display in a glass case inside the main monastery building.

4. Man Mo Temple

Stepping into the Man Mo Temple on Hollywood Road is like entering another world, a realm inhabited by the venerable deities of Man (God of Literature) and Mo (God of War) who are worshiped here. Rays of sunlight cut through the rising smoke of giant incense coils hanging low from the ceiling and down onto the altars of the 10 judges of the underworld. Make sure to take in all the details – the lines of descending green Shekwan roof tiles represent bamboo and longevity, while the antique sedan chairs inside were used to carry statues of the gods during festival processions.

5. Lam Tsuen Tin Hau Temple and Wishing Trees

This quaint collection of villages in Tai Po has been drawing visitors to its Tin Hau Temple and two wishing trees for hundreds of years. Traditionally, festival goers would write their wishes on joss paper and tie it to an orange, which was then tossed up towards one of the banyan tree’s highest boughs – the higher the branch the better the odds of your wish coming true! As the practice became more popular, authorities stepped in to help preserve the trees and visitors are now encouraged to tie wishes to wooden racks nearby instead. Steps away you’ll find a small Tin Hau temple, dedicated to the Goddess of the Sea, which can typically be found in any ancient fishing community in Hong Kong or along the Chinese coastline. Sit down with a fortune teller here if you want to find out about that wish.

Asia’s Top 10 Backpacking Destinations

Southeast Asia’s lush tropical landscape and patchwork of ancient civilizations, combined with relatively low prices for western travelers, has drawn a steady stream of backpackers since the counter-cultural movement of the sixties. The current flows as strongly today as ever before and, as this list of the region’s gems attest, it’s easy to understand why. Climbing limestone cliffs from the soft sand of pristine beaches, diving into emerald waters to explore submarine worlds of colorful coral, and weaving handicrafts with a cosmopolitan population of ragged travelers are among the experiences these ten destinations have to offer.

1. Climb or Recline on West Railay Beach, Thailand

Located on the tropical shores of the Railay peninsula, this stunning setting is among Thailand’s most picturesque white sand beaches, lapped by emerald tides and enclosed by towering limestone cliffs. These cliffs cut the peninsula off from the mainland, so it can only be reached by boat, which enhances its atmosphere of isle-like seclusion. Rock climbing up these jagged sentinels above the soft-sanded beach draws enthusiasts from around the world. And there are also plenty of bars and restaurants, at astonishingly low prices, for the more indolent to indulge in their own brand of pleasure. The accommodation is cheap too, and ranges from bamboo bungalows on the adjacent East Railay Beach, to the affordable and secluded Tonsai Bay Resort on neighboring Tonsai Beach

2. Experience the ancient Buddhist culture of Luang Prabang, Laos

A small town in northern Laos, Luang Prabang weaves together natural and man-made beauty. It sits at the confluence of two rivers which girdle the town, beneath forest-swathed hills rising to rugged mountains. The town’s skyline is dominated by one steep hill topped with the gleaming spires of Wat Chom Si, one of many gold-hued wats sprinkled through the town, decorated with intricate mosaics depicting the life of Buddha. Each morning brings the sight of hundreds of monks wandering the town’s streets collecting alms. The town also has a long tradition of handicrafts, sold at the night market which runs until 10 at night.

3. Lose yourself in Bangkok, Thailand

A global backpacker Mecca, Bangkok’s budget travelers orbit around the hippie haven of Khao San Road, designated by one writer as “the place to disappear”. Handicrafts, food and fruit, pirated CDs and DVDs, and regional barbequed snacks join the jumble of bars and clubs that are filled with lounging travelers at any time of the day or night. Elsewhere in this buzzing, relentlessly eventful metropolis, travelers can step into relative peace in Buddhist temples such as Wat Pho, with its huge golden statue of a reclining Buddha, or explore the vast and labyrinthine Chatuchak Weekend Market.

4. Hit the beautiful beaches of Sihanoukville, Cambodia

Sihanoukville’s latest incarnation as a budget traveler hub marks a fresh twist in its tragically eventful history. It is named after Norodom Sihanouk, a former King of Cambodia, under whom the town became a booming and glamorous port in the 1950s. But after the Khmer Rouge seized power the city was symbolically desecrated; the walls of its luxury Independence Hotel peppered with bullets. Through the past few decades, the town has been traveling the slow road to regeneration, helped in large part by intrepid backpackers who braved the journey’s dangerous reputation and brought back word of the area’s sublime beaches, such as the stunning 4km stretch of white sand, Otres Beach. The town is now the hub of Cambodia’s most vibrant backpacker scene, a chilled-out stretch of bars, restaurants, cheap lodging and tropical coastline, lively but relatively unswamped with travelers.

5. Get yourself along to the classic hippy hangout of Goa, India

There’s no denying that Goa’s soul has changed since it was first chosen by the hippies of the sixties as an exotic backdrop for exploration of self and consciousness, distanced from the psychic chains of western civilization and conveniently situated in lush tropical surroundings. There are still strong hippy communities in the area, and ragged westerners travel here to make and sell handicrafts. But these days they share the tourist space – including iconic beaches such as Calangute and Baga – with charter holidaymakers, a creeping quantity of upscale resorts, and Catholic and Hindu pilgrims. But a great backpacker scene cuts through all this, feasting on the fantastic cheap food and cavorting in the bars and on the beaches, and in many ways the area’s increasing diversity makes it all the more interesting to visit. Many budget airlines fly direct to Goa’s airport.

6. Encounter the flora and fauna of Cat Ba Island in Vietnam

The jagged archipelago of limestone islands that compose Halong Bay off Vietnam’s north coast have long been one of the country’s top backpacker attractions. As well as the ocean and beaches, there are mangrove forests, craggy peaks and enchanting caverns such as Song Sôt for tourists to explore. This environment is home to a unique world of flora and fauna, including some of the world’s rarest flowers as well as the golden Cat Ba langur. This endangered creature inhabits Cat Ba Island, one of the archipelago’s best stop-offs, an island of breathtaking beauty which packs the best of Halong Bay into one place and is a great base for kayaking, rock climbing, hiking and water sports.

7. Spend time on the island of Bali, Indonesia

Bali’s volcanic landscape, fringed with world famous beaches and alternating barren and forest covered hillsides, attracts millions of tourists from all over the world, traveling on the whole spectrum of budgets. Famous backpacker sites such as Kuta Beach have now been infiltrated with wealthy resorts, top-end restaurants, and private developers who have chomped chunks of the white sand beach. But there is still a terrific budget scene and plenty of cheap and laid-back bars and cafes in which to meet locals and travelers alike. And you can meditate on the island’s spirituality at Tanah Lot Temple, spectacularly situated on a headland jutting out into the ocean.

8. Drift among the beautiful Gili Islands, Indonesia

The Gili Islands make up a small archipelago just north of Lombok in Indonesia. They became popular with backpackers in the ‘80s, looking for a remote experience of the Pacific isles that didn’t require a super-expensive flight to reach. Even two decades after the first intrepid budget travelers set foot on the island’s powdery sand, it remains relatively undeveloped – there’s no automated traffic, and people travel primarily by horse and cart. But there are a few indulgences to choose between, including a Japanese restaurant, good backpacker accommodation, and, inevitably, a lively Irish bar. The island is also famous for its hatching sea turtles, and there is a sanctuary which buys the eggs from the local population to prevent them being sold in the market. And there are some world-class, uncrowded dive sites, such as the ominously named Shark Point.

9. See a different side of China in Yangshuo

Backpackers first flocked to Yangshuo in the ‘80s, set on the trail by a gushing recommendation in Lonely Planet. They discovered an entirely different China to the rapidly industrializing country depicted in the western press, a quiet, picturesque region spread from the banks of two great rivers, Li and Yulong. Strung between these rivers is a rolling landscape of bare karst peaks, green hills, deep sharp-sided caves and unique sights such as Yangshuo Moon Hill, a limestone pinnacle with a moon-shaped hole reached by over 800 marble stairs.

10. Escape the traveler crowds in Chiang Mai, Thailand

Thailand’s rural north is far less infested with hordes of tourists than the resort-ridden south, and it makes a great escape from the crazy crowds that swarm Bangkok and Phuket during peak season. Chiang Mai is the region’s hub – founded in 1296, it was the capital of the ancient Lanna Kingdom and designed as the center of Buddhism in northern Thailand. This ancient heritage can be experienced at sites such as Wat Chedi Luang, a towering ruined temple in the center of the city, and the Bhubing Palace, surrounded by colorful gardens a few kilometers out of town. And the city’s cosmopolitan ex-pat population has given rise to a vibrant scene of restaurants, bars and nightlife.