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06.09.2013
Whenever anyone talks about Paris as a city of romance they are obviously not referring to those of its streets whose dank fragrance is that of an army barracks latrine. But forget these odd cases of odeur toilette, think rather of eau de toilette and just sniff the love in the air. Who could not be charmed, and envious even, seeing Parisians gathering in front of small galleries hidden deep in labyrinthine alleys and regaling the many art forms on display, and others - or even the same people - out on their morning rounds buying a baguette for breakfast and taking it home naked under the arm. And no matter how cold it is, it's as though the locals prefer to sit outside drinking bottomless cups of coffee, a fair few of them smoking as though there is no tomorrow and watching the world go by.
I and a few of my friends have all been to Paris a few times, one living there for a few years, and when we went there as a group at the end of March we decided to see a few places around the city that are a little off the beaten tourist track.
So we headed to Chinatown, on the Left Bank, which is the spiritual heart of Paris's Chinese community, said to be the largest of any city in Europe. Our relaxed mood turned somber later in the day, March 22, when we heard that little more than 300 kilometers away in Brussels terrorist bombs had killed dozens of people, and French television was abuzz with debate about what to do about immigration. It occurred to me that all the people who appeared to be of Chinese origin in and around Chinatown earlier in the day - in their dress, with their shopping bags and their conversation - far from seeming like intruders were as much a part of the city's fabric as its art galleries, bakeries, the Champs-Elysees, the Seine, the Eiffel Tower and much more besides.
The next day the metro line that services Puces Saint-Ouen, in the northern suburbs of Paris, was doing its job and we boarded a train for the 6 kilometer trip. About half of those selling goods in this cultural melting pot seem to be of Middle Eastern or North African origin. We scoured stalls that sell fabric and women's clothes representing four decades from the 1950s.
After visiting the flea market, we took the metro back to the city center and the cobbled streets around Rue Montorgeuil and Rue Tiquetonne, another mecca for second-hand fashion, in the second arrondissement. On this particular day Paris had decided to turn wintry on us, and I decided to restore a bit of warmth to body and mind by buying a pair of mountain boots bearing the Land Rover logo, as well as a large cashmere scarf. The passageway still bubbles with shops selling expensive vintage fashion, and we looked in awe at the Chanel and Dior dresses and suits from as far back as a century ago, the pencil-thin waists resembling those that populate European period dramas. From there it was onto the Gare d'Austerlitz in Paris's southeast to take a train to the town of Blois, about 180 km southwest of the capital on the Loire River. The chateau was the architectural showpiece of several successive French kings in the 16th and 17th centuries, as well as their residences and seats of power. In one of the reddest rooms, in 1588 King Henri III had his arch-rival, Duke Henri I de Guise, murdered by royal guards, and had the duke's brother, the Cardinal de Guise, killed the next day. From Chateau Blois, we took a taxi to the nearby Chateau de Chambord, which you could be excused for mistaking, on first glance, for Hogwarts School of Witchcraft and Wizardry of Harry Potter fame. The chateau, almost like a small city, has 440 rooms, 365 fireplaces and 84 staircases, including a staircase reputedly designed by Leonardo da Vinci, a huge garden and a forest. Hanging in and around chateaux, swanky shops, swish clothes and chic Parisians over a few days had obviously rubbed off on my friends, because soon they were acting like 21st century emperors and empresses. In the end I reluctantly jettisoned the boots in a hotel room, and the scarf I bought the same day may be lying in the lost-property office of a railway station.
Chateau Royal de Blois is the architectural showpiece of several successive French kings in the 16th and 17th centuries.
The appearance of small buds on the branches and the infusion of color to the freckled trunks of Shanghai's ubiquitous plane trees are just some of the subtle ways Mother Nature announces the arrival of spring. The Shanghainese people call these trees "French planes" because it was the French who introduced the species to the city. The locals have since been so enamored with French planes that apart from Shanghai's famous nightlife scenes, the city is today also known for its beautiful boulevards filled with these trees. The age of the trees on a street are usually indicative of the number of tales present in the area. Although the two-lane street, which stretches roughly 2 kilometers in the city's Changning district, is just a three-minute drive away from the bustling Xujiahui commercial area, the serenity in this area always reminds locals of what the city was like 20 years ago before a major population explosion. The area is still home to several two- and three-storey Western-style buildings that have now been covered with creepers, and these structures provide an enchanting juxtaposition to the local-style residential buildings, some of which were built almost a century ago.
Residents here also remember how the road would be closed to traffic as the motorcade for State guests passed through. Another resident Wang Changxiong said he remembered the first State guest of the area being Haile Selassie I, the then emperor of Ethiopia, who was in Shanghai in 1971.
Adjacent to Xinhua Road is Shaoxing Road, and this two-lane street that measures only about 400 meters is easily missed if not for the tall plane trees that tell of the area's equally rich history.
Located at No 27 Shaoxing Road is a huge villa built in 1936 that has been repurposed into a garden restaurant specializing in Shanghainese cuisine.
Du Yuesheng, the crime lord who ruled the gangs on the Bund in Shanghai in the 1930s and '40s, once bought this three-story house for his third concubine Yao Yulan, a Peking Opera actress from Beijing.
But these iconic plane trees are not exclusive to historical venues only as they can also be found in numerous other streets in Shanghai, including those that were built in recent years.
The Golden City Pedestrian Street in the Gubei community in Changning district is one example. Here, the road is flanked by old and new buildings, elegant cafes and quaint alleys between garden homes where residents jog and walk their dogs. These trees were later introduced to France and the French subsequently showed a stronger inclination to the species than the British.
Since 2012, the Shanghai government has been recommending the best boulevards to view autumn leaves every year and these places would always be swarmed with locals, many with their sophisticated cameras in hand. Except for winter when the trees become bare, the leaves from these plane trees provide the cityscape with a dash of color in other seasons. Children in Shanghai have always seemed to be particularly fond of treading on the fallen leaves and the sound it makes evokes warm childhood memories for many people. A visitor takes a picture of the 618-meter-long thangka scroll at the Tibetan Medicine Museum of China in Xining, capital of Qinghai province. Without perpendicular wall intersections, the scroll simply wouldn't fit in the museum's entire second story. Essentially, it's like designing an entire floor around amazing wallpaper - rather than the other way around, as the world usually works. A security guard scouting for stragglers emerged to point us to the exit and then vanished.
It took over 400 ethnic Tibetan, Tu, Mongolian and Han scholars from the Tibet autonomous region, and Gansu, Qinghai, Sichuan and Yunnan provinces 27 years to put the final strokes on the horizontally protracted, 2.5-meter-high masterpiece. The astonishing artwork renders a cosmovision that can perhaps be thought of a very different take than Stephen Hawking's on a "brief history of time", not only in content but also in presentation.
Our legacy literally unfolds across the scroll to show animals roving wild and then pacing in pens, while humans move from mud huts to brick buildings. The floor's only other display is The Great Book - a 1.5-ton copy of the 156-chapter medical code Tibetan intellectual Yuthok Yonten Gonpo compiled between 773 and 783. Silver, pearl and coral powders artistically present 2.5 million articles over 490 pages that took craftspeople and calligraphers more than four years to complete. Its superlative character may be better recognized if it weren't juxtaposed against The Great Scroll. Ultimately, and seemingly unintentionally, the Tibetan Medicine Museum of China is an art museum as well as an institution elucidating traditional healing. Yet it remains relatively unknown, despite containing the Guinness World Record-setting scroll. The first floor is full of anatomy diagrams that signage claims have been used for two millennia. That said, some depict anthropomorphic creatures with, for instance, goat heads and snake bodies being swallowed by fish. Diseases are depicted as sword-fights with snakes, stabbings by blades and stings by scorpions.
The diagrams about behavior, skeletal systems and poisoning also display instruments for bloodletting, surgery and autopsy.
The Icefields Parkway, a scenic road in Alberta, Canada, attracts many road trip aficionados. A tourist bus pulls up near the Eiffel Tower in Paris, Trafalgar Square in London, or any other tourist attraction in Europe you care to name, and troop out a mass of Chinese, with cameras, selfie sticks and UnionPay cards at the ready.
These are stereotypical Chinese tourists on a stereotypical tourist jaunt, one that will have them "doing Europe" in seven days and back at work on a Monday morning, ready to regale their workmates with tales of where they stayed, what they saw and what they bought. Now consider Li Xiaowei, aged 40, hunched over a computer in her Beijing home, admiring dazzling motor vehicles of all types, colors and models, before she chooses one of them and uploads photos of hers and her husband's driving licenses. Li is one of a growing band of Chinese travelers who have turned their backs on package holidays in the company of strangers and embraced a way of travel that they can intimately share with their nearest and dearest. This travel comes in several types, including renting cars and staying in hotels, renting campervans or caravans and staying in camping grounds and buying a campervan or caravan for getting around. The key word in all of these is independence, and according to China's Outbound Road Trip Report for last year many Chinese people are renting cars online, 28 percent of those bookings coming from mobile devices.
Among Chinese making road trips overseas, Chinese tourists last year spent the longest time on average in North America, a little more than eight days, and the shortest time in Southeast Asia, a little under five days, the report says, and many of those who made these trips were accompanied by their children, partners and parents. As more and more overseas suppliers join the market, competition has become fierce, and prices are continuing to fall, he says. A Chinese mainland driving license does not qualify the holder for an International Driving Permit, but authorities and companies in many countries will recognize a Chinese driving license, accompanied by a notarized translation.
Li Bin says it is preferable to rent a car in advance because it is more expensive to rent on the spot, and the choice of vehicles is likely to be more limited. Companies in overseas destinations that are popular for road trips are now working with partners in China.
Last October, Meng Ni, 31, who works for a culture company in Beijing, and her husband did a five-day self-driving trip in Germany, and they spent less than 2,000 yuan ($310) on car rental and diesel, she says. Germany is big, the cities they wanted to visit are scattered, and some scenic spots they were interested in are remote, she says, and they had to work out whether they should use the country's excellent train network or drive. In Italy, to which they traveled from Germany, they visited Rome, Florence and Venice, and used public transport, because of the relative closeness of the cities to one another, Meng says. Some people who do road trips, particularly using campervans and caravans, say that they bring people together, but Meng says the Germany-Italy trip that she and her husband took suggested the opposite - that using a car in Germany reduced the chances for mixing with other travelers while using trains and buses in Italy increased their chances of rubbing shoulders with backpackers and other travelers. While doing road trips as a couple can be idyllic, adding a child or children to the equation, can add an extra layer of difficulty, even allowing for the joy that all members of the family may derive from their travels. Zhou and his wife took their daughter on a road trip in the United States in 2014, when the baby was 8 months old. As for older children, Xu Jihang, 41, a teacher from Guangzhou, Guangdong province, says it is better to travel with another family, so children have someone who can speak and understand the same language. He counsels anyone traveling with children not to have them cooped up in a car for very long periods, "otherwise they are going to get bored". At the end of 2014 Li Yi, his wife, and a cousin went on a 10-day road trip in the South Island of New Zealand. They spent less than 6,000 yuan ($920) on diesel and 10,000 yuan on an all-wheel-drive SUV rental, Li says. They are fans of The Lord of The Rings and were keen on visiting places where the film trilogy was shot.
In New Zealand it would be tiring traveling to several places each day with a tour group because of the long distances, he says.
The South Island is full of forests and national parks, he said, and often when they were on the road they drove past pretty scenic spots, although if they noticed many cars parked at some of these places they would pull up to get a view of the scenery. He suggests that those planning road trips for the first time gather as much information online and plan their itinerary and routes.
The next time he goes to New Zealand, he says, his parents may accompany him, and he is likely to rent a campervan because of the extra convenience, including the ability it gives travelers to stay overnight at scenic spots.
Another who appreciates the independence that self-driving holidays deliver is Li Xiaowei, 40.
Li, a food security industry worker in Beijing, says independent travelers are limited in their choice of hotels because they ideally need to be close to a railway station, for onward travel, and the logistics of using such transport demands extra time.
Li recounts the time she and her husband bumped into an old lady in a small Greek town who cheerily looked at them and said "China?" At a time when far fewer Chinese were traveling overseas than are now, it came as a pleasant surprise to the couple. In Turkey, she says, they found the locals to be particularly hospitable and helpful, such as offering to take photos of tourists and ensuring those who were photographed were happy with the result. Once, in Britain, after exiting a motorway they inadvertently failed to reduce their speed and were stopped by police. One important thing in self-driving holidays is always to be aware of the time the legs of journeys need, and taking account of road conditions, she says. Chinese traveling overseas also need to be keenly aware of where road tolls are payable, particularly if they are crossing into another jurisdiction, Li says. A driver's license from the Chinese mainland is not recognized for obtaining an International Driver's Permit, which is recognized in many countries, but more countries are recognizing Chinese mainland licenses, and car rental companies will accept these so long as they are accompanied with a bonafide translation. Another of those with plenty of road holiday experience under his belt is Wang Renhe, 61, who with his wife has driven extensively throughout China and Europe over the past 10 years.
Many Europeans they came across on their travels were amazed to see the Chinese flag on their campervan and even more amazed to find out that they had driven all the way from China.
Most of the people they have met both in China and in other countries could not have been more helpful, Wang says. The couple experienced the other side of human nature on the other side of Europe, having their laptop, all their cash and passports stolen in Barcelona.
Left with their mobiles, Wang posted his predicament on the social media WeChat Moments, and within hours a friend's niece who lived nearby brought them 1,800 euros and helped them go through formalities to apply for new passports. The vehicle has been a hardy workhorse and has even been near the roof of the world, Wang and his wife having traveled to the base camp of Qomolangma, on a trip to Tibet autonomous region for three times. Wang says that he was one of the first people in China to own a campervan, and that when he registered it he was told that there were no more than 100 in the country. Caravanning is likely to continue growing in popularity, he says, but another owner, Zhang Guangzhi, 49, a retired entrepreneur of Beijing, says the domestic market is still a fledgling compared with Western markets, where there are far more caravan owners and campsites. Zhang says he has just returned from a four-month road trip with his wife and son in the United States.
Like Wang, Zhang designed his own caravan, and an online name he once used encapsulates his feelings for caravanning: "Home on the road". A duty-free shopping policy text message popped up the minute I switched on my mobile phone straight after I landed at Sanya Phoenix International Airport in Hainan province.
A few minutes later, after learning I would be exempted from tax here without leaving the country, I was pondering whether to fork out a few thousand yuan for sunglasses and cosmetics at the Sanya International Duty-Free Shopping Complex.
I rang my girlfriend and asked her if the items I had my eyes on were as cheap as they seemed to be.
The southern island province raised the duty-free spending limit for non-locals to 16,000 yuan ($2,470) a year on Feb 1.
The move has given potential tourist one more reason to visit the island, in addition to its sunny weather, attractive beaches and laid-back pace of life. Duty-free sales hit 340 million yuan during the week-long Spring Festival holiday, customs sources say. In Hainan, watch brands such as Tissot and Longines have long enjoyed the best sales of any place on the planet, Wang says. The State Council also recently adopted a measure allowing non-locals who leave the island by train to enjoy the rebate, says Wang; it was previously limited to those leaving by air. As a result, Wang says, he expects tourist spending this year to rise 30 percent, to between 6 billion yuan and 7 billion yuan. The improved duty-free shopping is just one of many measures Hainan has taken to transform itself into an international destination. By 2020 the island province aims to attract more than 80 million tourists, including 1.2 million from overseas, and total tourism revenue is projected to surpass 100 billion yuan.
The number of tourists who spent at least a night in Sanya reached 15 million last year, the local government says.
The government has also developed sea tours along the eastern line of the province, forest-themed trips in the middle and port and industry outings in the west, Wang says.
More road trips will be launched as Hainan develops camp sites for self-drive tourists, a concept that is now being developed. China's biggest caravan and camping forum will be held in the province in September and is expected to draw many self-drive associations from around the country to look at what Hainan has to offer, Wang says. A total of 100 industry towns and 1,000 distinctive villages will be established over 2016-2020 to woo Chinese tourists. The town of Huiwen, for instance, has attracted many visitors for its handmade wooden Buddhism beads and has pulled in several hundred million of yuan annually.
Local food is also offered at major events, such as the Boao Forum, to enable guests worldwide to savor the flavors of Hainan.
Qilou Old Street in Haikou has brought together 100 restaurants that offer practically all distinctive local cuisines and it has become a tourist magnet. At the first annual Hainan International Tourism Trade Expo, held in Sanya on March 26, agreements on 71 tourism-related projects worth 13.2 billion yuan investments were signed.


Companies from India, Italy, France, Malaysia, Myanmar, Pakistan, Poland, South Korea, Thailand and Vietnam took park in the weeklong event, hosted by the local city and provincial governments, the central Commerce Ministry and the national body China Council for the Promotion of International Trade. Well-known artists from home and abroad were invited, the aim being to raise the expo's profile among art lovers.
At the expo, many tourism operators displayed their offerings, while seeking potential business collaboration. The aviation operator Meiya Air Co, which offers sightseeing tours and flight training in Hainan, plans to triple its fleet this year, acquiring four new seaplanes to cater to increasing demand, says Xu Yan, the company's key account manager. Hainan also plans to expand duty-free shopping zones, improve international transport and stage more tourism activities, a local government report says.
Meanwhile, the new Boao Airport, designed to handle 480,000 passengers a year by 2020, opened last month. Airports at Haikou and Sanya will also be expanded this year, and another will be built in Danzhou in the next three years, the local government report says. There are now direct flights to Hainan from Beijing, Shanghai and Guangzhou and Shenzhen in Guangdong province.
The trans-island high-speed rail has made things easier for travelers to move around Hainan, especially to enjoy the port and industry tours that are being promoted.
The Sanya government is also talking with Uber, the car sharing app developer, about the possibility of working together. Government officials have also been working to make tax rebates more attractive for international travelers. Wang has proposed that international air travelers who have bought duty-free goods in Hainan be eligible for tax rebates if they leave the country from Shanghai or Beijing.
Improved infrastructure has helped the island appeal to a growing number of conventions and exhibition attendees. Last year, conventions and exhibition tourists made 2.8 million visits to Hainan, up 13 percent year on year. During my short stay at Dadonghai beach, many foreigners were sunbathing or in the water, a clear indication that the effort to draw international travelers to the island is already paying off. The iconic site boasts gargantuan temples, canals and statues carved into red cliff walls nearly 2,000 years ago by Al-Anbat, an ancient Arab culture now known as the Nabateans. Yet still, a handful of adventurous tourists heard the siren call of the ancients, and struck out 9 kilometers north to Petra's smaller sister site, Little Petra.
Once, these sites were watering holes on the punishing desert route of traders laden with goods to the Indian Ocean, the Red Sea and the Mediterranean.
At Little Petra's entrance, locals sold plastic ponchos and umbrellas to bands of shivering tourists. During the storm, a calm silence resounded but for the rain's patter, the howling wind and visitors' giggles and splashing.
With Petra rained out, the two 28-year olds from Belfast, Northern Ireland, were pleasantly surprised by Little Petra's damp grandeur. They once carved channels and cisterns into the cliffs to catch and collect the arid region's scant rainfall, "so that life was possible here," he says. With this water-wealth, the Nabateans securely straddled trade routes until Romans conquered the area, and they began to fade into history. What remains are ruins attracting tourists, roads used by hikers and locals, and cisterns still catching rain.
This is called datiehua, or the spraying of iron - a tradition followed in the provinces of Shanxi and Henan to celebrate the Spring Festival and scare away demons. This year, the tradition was converted into a regular performance on weekends at Situ village, Jincheng city, in Shanxi province, and attracted tourists from surrounding cities. The show includes about 600 craftsmen who are divided into 100 teams, and there are also 400 dancers who demonstrate how blacksmiths lived and worked in ancient times. Members of the group, which made its public debut during the recent Spring Festival celebrations, say that the current performances are the first time that so many people have gathered to perform datiehua.
Three of the performers are in charge of melting the iron in a large furnace and putting the molten liquid into a special vessel.
According to Wang, there are more than a dozen ways of spraying the molten iron into the air, with tools such as an iron wire and a board. Performers from Situ and nearby villages are paid a monthly salary of between 2,500 yuan ($384) and 3,000 yuan. Wang says the performance looks stunning on a snowy evening, because the molten iron also explodes into sparks for a second time when it touches the snow on the ground. As for members of the audience, they have to stand at least 30 meters away from the performers because the temperature of the molten iron can be as high as 1,600 C. Sometimes, however, Wang does get scalded by a few drops of the molten liquid, and it can leaves holes in his clothes and scars on his skin. As for Situ, which is still coming to grips with its newfound fame thanks to the performances, it used to be just another village until the authorities decided to step in and develop it into a tourist attraction. Zhou Xiaoming, the head of the village committee, says that as tourists are typically interested in traditional culture, they took the trouble to visit neighboring areas to find craftsmen who could perform datiehua and then train young people in the area. Speaking of the newly introduced performances, he says that the show which was performed twice a day attracted about 20,000 people in total every night in February.
At the start of the show, the dancers would do a performance showcasing how blacksmiths lived and worked in ancient times. Meanwhile, besides the show, Zhou is keen to establish an Internet platform to promote and distribute the city's farm produce. One of the ways currently being used to promote the area's agricultural riches is an exhibition.
The exhibition at the village's Agriculture Museum features wax figures of farmers and a newly-wed couple dressed in traditional consumes posing next to stacks of corn. The museum also has a display of robots - large ones that can dance and small ones that can cook and serve. The facades of the restaurants are decorated with farm tools, such as hoes, to show off the village's agricultural roots.
There are also loads of taverns that aim to sully your gin and quiet with music - DJs, karaoke, a guy on a guitar.
And then there is the Blue Room, where patrons head when the need for good music pushes aside those lower-brain urges. You go to the Blue Room to listen, and not in a background-fill-in-the-gaps kind of way, but in a "Hey - pay attention!" kind of way.
The Blue Room is a small two-tiered space adjoining Kansas City's American Jazz Museum in the Historic 18th & Vine Jazz District, a few miles from the hotels and convention locales of Crown Center, downtown and the Country Club Plaza.
On a recent Friday night, by 8:40 pm, apart from a couple bar stools, the place was standing-room-only packed. The Blue Room "is a working jazz club exhibit" that hosts veteran musicians and new bands, locals and the internationally known, says Christopher Burnett, marketing and communications manager for the American Jazz Museum. It's open Thursday, Friday and Saturday evenings, with the last Monday of the month usually for big bands, and the last Thursday for Latin Jazz and Salsa. The Blue Room also holds a free jam session on Monday evenings where musicians of all skill levels can sit in with veterans. Onsite Museums: The American Jazz Museum and Negro Leagues Baseball Museum are located in the same building as the Blue Room. After watching the sun slowly sink into the horizon, we dived into the water with our snorkels and were immediately surrounded by a galaxy of "stars". The spectacle, created by bioluminescent plankton, can be witnessed inmost places along the southwestern coast of Cambodia and is a treat for any nighttime swimmer.
When the water level in Cambodia's Tonle Sap Lake drops, the long stilts supporting homes in Kampong Phluk, a floating village, are left exposed.
Our small group had moored a boat near the coral off Bamboo Island, a short ride from the white-sand beaches of Sihanoukville. When darkness fell, the sparkling plankton came alive, providing just one of the many visual feasts that visitors to this country can expect. Although largely known for the Angkor Wat Archeological Park, a massive collection of centuries-old ruins in the north, and the Khmer Rouge, Cambodia also boasts beautiful beaches, forests and wildlife reserves, as well as myriad sites providing insight into the country's fascinating yet often harrowing modern history. The city's two main attractions are the National Museum and the Royal Palace, both a short walk of each other in the center of town.
A visit to the stunning Royal Palace (a rather steep $13 entry fee) will take only about an hour, with several exhibition areas added in recent years to give a fuller visitor experience. Around the museum and palace are dozens of restaurants offering Khmer and Western options and coffee shops, while Street 240, just around the corner, is lined with boutique stores selling clothes, organic foods and cosmetics.
Head to Sisowath Quay, which offers views of where Tonle Sap River merges with the Mekong River, and walk north and you will quickly arrive at the city's tourist center, ideal for shopping, dining and drinking.
A tuk tuk can also be hired to take you to the Killing Fields, about 17 kilometers to the south, where the Khmer Rouge executed many of its victims during its four-year reign. We took a minibus southwest ($10 a seat) and arrived just under five hours later in Sihanoukville. Kayaks, jet skis and surfing equipment can be hired at most beaches, while boat tours and ferries are available to take you to the outlying islands, such as Koh Rong (also known as Monkey Island) or the smaller but equally calm Koh Takiev. As many tour operators stick to a fairly rigid schedule and tend to overload their vessels, we opted instead to rent a private boat for a day ($50 after haggling), which allowed the luxury of staying out after dark to snorkel among the sparkling plankton. From here, you can also visit Kampong Nup Lok, an old fishing village that offers some nice views, and Ream National Park, a large mangrove nature reserve about 30 minutes' drive east. After relaxing on the beach for a few days, we boarded a plane at Sihanoukville airport bound for Siem Reap. Siem Reap boasts Cambodia's most famous attraction, while the city itself has grown into a fun and relaxing destination for international travelers.
A visit here would not be complete without a tour of the 12th century Angkor Wat and the many other ancient and varied temples "rediscovered" by French explorers about 300 years ago.
Most are located within two circuits to the north, both of which take a good 10 hours to cover, either starting at sunrise or finishing at sunset. Trips to temples further out can also be combined with other activities, such as a visit to the Landmine Museum ($5), which raises awareness and money for families affected by landmines, and Bantreay Srei Butterfly Park ($4). For those interested in learning about Cambodia's recent history, the War Museum ($5), not far from the city center, features a comprehensive collection of weaponry and photos from the civil war. Just to the south of Siem Reap is the vast Tonle Sap Lake, which is surrounded by floating villages and boasts abundant wildlife. Chong Khneas, a small fishing community, is probably the most popular among tourists, but you can escape the crowds by heading out early to Kampong Phluk.
After a tiring tour in Siem Reap's beautiful wilderness, you'll be spoiled for choice on where to unwind. Money: The riel is the official currency of Cambodia, but US dollars are more commonly used by businesses, even in the markets. Visas: Landing visas for tourists cost $30 per person at custom entry points in Phnom Penh and Siem Reap. NGOs, orphanages: There are many ways in which tourists can contribute to aid organizations, such as buying from stores that support impoverished families, eating at restaurants that help vulnerable young adults, or donating blood. The 62-year-old American living in Namibia since 1991 has devoted her life to saving the fastest land animal on earth, with a top speed of 70 miles (110 kilometers) per hour.
Marker has been compared to Jane Goodall and the late Dian Fossey - defenders of chimpanzees and gorillas - who were the first generation of iconic female pioneers of wildlife conservation in Africa. When Marker first visited Namibia on the southwest coast of Africa nearly 40 years ago, she was shocked to discover farmers were mercilessly killing the graceful sprinter of the plains. Now, less then 12,000 remain in the wild, all in Africa, except for a tiny population of less than 100 in Iran. The rapid decline of the cheetahs could have been sharper without Marker's high-profile tireless efforts.
A formidable campaigner and acknowledged world expert, she founded the Cheetah Conservation Fund (CCF) in 1990.
She saw her first when she was 20 and went to work at a wildlife park in the US state of Oregon.
Marker raised an orphaned female cheetah cub named Khayam in Oregon and, in 1977, took Khayam to Namibia, then known as South-West Africa. She planned to see if the young cheetah could be taught to hunt for prey as part of research into whether captive cheetahs could be re-introduced into the wild.
But soon after her arrival, she learnt about a more immediate emergency - farmers were poisoning, trapping and shooting huge numbers of cheetahs. Namibian farmers continue to kill cheetahs because they threaten valuable livestock, while poachers steal cheetah cubs from their mothers to sell as pets to wealthy clients, particularly in the Middle East. The threat has driven Marker on a decades-long effort to halt poaching and persuade farmers that a balance can be struck between raising livestock and protecting wildlife. She has led academic study into the cheetah since the 1970s, and completed a zoology doctorate at Cambridge University in 2002. Even now she spends much of the time travelling the world, giving lectures and raising funds for her cheetah conservation work.
Marker says she has slowly managed to change attitudes through a mixture of knowledge, charm and determination. The most effective tactic for protecting livestock has proven to be introducing large Anatolian shepherd dogs that live permanently with the cattle.
Wild predators like cheetahs are reluctant to take on the fierce canines, and so they return to hunting antelope in the bush.
But Marker knows that the cheetahs are still under severe threat and will always be a difficult animal to save because they struggle even in the biggest reserves. A cheetah lacks the power of a lion, hyena or leopard and, where animal densities are higher and competition is tough, cub mortality can be as high as 90 percent. Waikiki has been facing erosion problems for years, so Hawaii lawmakers are pushing a bill to restore it. The bill originally asked for $1.5 million to make a plan to fill a portion of the beach where erosion has left it almost entirely gone.
The latest effort comes four years after the state spent over $2.4 million to pump sand from offshore to replenish the beach. Photographs from the 1930s and 1940s show a continuous stretch of white sand from one end of the beach to the other.
Lee said an uninterrupted stretch of beach is important to maintaining the allure of the state's most popular tourist destination. State agencies and business organizations supported the proposal, saying Waikiki Beach is critical to the state's economy. A 2013 state report said it would take about $14 million to maintain and improve Waikiki Beach over the next 10 years. The earliest beach replenishment projects date back to the 1920s, but the first major recorded project was in 1939.
Maison Tamboite, founded in 1912, had an A-list clientele including the likes of Marlene Dietrich, Maurice Chevalier, Edith Piaf and Josephine Baker in its heyday. It was an uncle who closed down the company in the 1980s when bicycles began being mass-produced and could be found even in supermarkets, Jastrzebski said. In the new workshop near the Bastille in eastern Paris, Jastrzebski has kept the old wooden drawers from the original shop on the other side of town. He also has the original tools, an old catalogue and the counter on which his great-grandfather built bicycles. Production has begun, with the Jastrzebskis peddling their two-wheeled creations as an "urban aesthetic" for the well-heeled. Gleaming but not bling, the bicycles are virtual works of art, their metal frames contrasting with the honey-toned oak from Italy's Lake Como region used in the wheel rims and the mud guards. Hand-burnished leather is everywhere: used for the seat of course, but also on the handlebar, the pedals and the lock - as well as the optional satchel. They sell for an impressive 11,000 euros ($12,000), with the electric version priced at 15,500 euros. Each bicycle takes three months to make, custom fitted on the basis of no fewer than 15 measurements. The frame alone can take a month to make before the glam embellishments are added, the 24-year-old noted. Asked about the wisdom of leaving a Tamboite bicycle on a public street, even with a sturdy lock, Jastrzebski said: "All of our models are numbered and traceable. Over 500 years old, surviving fire and earthquakes, it welcomes up to 400,000 people a day and takes pride in being the world's most visited destination - more popular than the Eiffel Tower.
So it's hardly surprising that Istanbul's venerable Grand Bazaar, built in the mid-15th century, has suffered some wear and tear over the years. The labyrinthine bazaar is now about to undergo a much needed renovation that will last a decade and cost tens of millions of dollars.
But the revamp is not without controversy, especially among traditionalists who fear the spirit of the historic market will be lost.


The Grand Bazaar ranked as the top destination anywhere in the world with over 90 million visitors in 2014, according to a Travel + Leisure listing. Construction of the bazaar began around 1455 under the reign of Sultan Mehmet II, the "Conquerer" who had finally seized the city then known as Constantinople from the Byzantines in 1453. With the city in need of a trade center for goods coming in from all over the nascent Ottoman Empire, the Grand Bazaar expanded rapidly. By the 17th century it had taken on its current form, a covered market (giving the bazaar its Turkish name Kapalicarsi), which now has thousands of shops and dozens of streets. It has become one of Istanbul's most iconic sites, outstripping even the Hagia Sophia in terms of visitor numbers, and featured in a memorable sequence in the 2011 James Bond film Skyfall. Locals also come in droves to pick more prosaic goods like clothes, furniture or shoes, or possibly jewellery for a special occasion.
Laid-back Paris chic even seems to allow the unlikely ensemble of running shoes being worn with a stylish, body-hugging leather jacket wrapped around a white T-shirt.
The metro line that services Chinatown was out at the time, and we jumped instead onto a packed bus.
Nevertheless, if it were not for the Chinese, Korean, Thai and Vietnamese on the signs of shops and restaurants, you would be hard pressed to distinguish this from any other area of Paris. As we strolled through busy shopping areas in central Paris young people were distributing leaflets that beat the anti-immigrant drum.
Puces Saint-Ouen is home to what is said to be the world's largest flea market, which has more than 2,500 stalls covering 7 hectares. However, that pot seems to have two distinct halves, those from the East who sell cheap clothes and handicrafts, their French counterparts, most of whose stalls are located together, selling mainly vintage fashion goods, old books and pictures, and antique furniture. We went into one of the bigger shops, called Espace Kiliwatch, which was packed to the rafters with well-dressed and obviously well-to-do customers, and in an atmosphere of festive chaos people of all ages, male and female, queued in front of its fitting rooms waiting to try on its stylish clothes.
It turned out that his interest turned on a delicately decorated covered passageway that is part of the palace complex where, apparently, in the 19th century women shopped without having to expose themselves to the sun. Once there, and before boarding a bus for the nearby Chateau Royal de Blois, we joined a queue at a bakery to buy a baguette. The facades of its buildings are all ornately carved, and every room has been decorated in strongly bright blue, gold and red. It was built over 30 years on the orders of King Francois I, who reigned from 1515 to 1547, and became the largest and grandest chateau in the Loire Valley.
That pair of boots I had proudly bought so cheaply only a matter of days before were falling apart and my friends felt uncomfortable being seen with such uncool, unParisian company.
Historians say that it was the immigrants from France at the beginning of the 20th century who had planted these trees all over the former French Concession in an attempt to fight homesickness. Some say that it was also the charm afforded by these French planes that led Shanghai to being dubbed as "the Paris of the East". Xinhua Road, where trees are more than half a century old, is one of the most storied places in Shanghai.
Huang Minghua, an 85-year-old who has lived on this road since the 1960s, said that only people who were politically reviewed could apply for a resident permit to stay on Xinhua Road in the past. Primary school students would form the first row on both sides of the road while performers from art troupes and People's Liberation Army soldiers formed the second.
We were really excited when the motorcade arrived but I didn't dare to shout anything that might be improper," said Huang.
Wang said that he also managed to catch a glimpse of former US president Richard Nixon in 1972. Most of the buildings were constructed around 80 years ago and over the decades, generations of writers and editors have worked within. It is a popular venue for wedding receptions because of its beautiful garden, which can be viewed from the floor-to-ceiling windows in the lobby.
His daughter, Du Meiru, once said on a television show that the family had employed 17 servants. Walking or cycling along such a street in the evenings is considered by the locals as one of the greatest pleasures of living in Shanghai.
Life in this part of the Shanghai seems to slow down a few notches, and the idyllic scenes along the street almost feels like an antidote to the bustle of city life.
British people had cultivated hybrids of the species in medieval times and they were then called "London Planes".
After making its way to Shanghai, the French plane was later introduced to other Chinese cities such as Nanjing, Hangzhou, Wuhan and Qingdao. In 2011, the relocation of some 150 plane trees on Maoming and Shimen roads to facilitate the construction of downtown metro lines was faced with numerous complaints from residents. In summer, the leaves create a vibrant green canopy for people to seek respite from the scorching heat.
It is a joy to watch the leaves gracefully spiral in the wind before they finally land on the ground to imbue the landscape with mesmerizing hues of red and yellow.
Because of this colorful spectacle created by the autumn leaves of the plane trees, city authorities have since last year decided to keep the leaves on streets with light traffic instead of having them swept away.
Erik Nilsson experiences this - literally - when he can't find his way out of a building's entire floor that houses the world's longest Tibetan thangka on every wall.
It had to be mounted across numerous walls that jut in different directions to produce enough surface area to fit in the building's second floor, carving several rooms out of a more than 70,000-square-meter area.
We entered the room he'd pointed toward to arrive in what turned out to be another sequence of chambers. In such a noisy and busy environment, wildebeest dare not cross a river; lions dare not catch or hunt. My angles were restricted because I was confined to the car, and to some extent it was our African driver that dictated what I photographed. Some Chinese agencies that deal in rental cars can help with the procedure, offering a translation recognized by their overseas suppliers. With access to an abundance of car rental companies, he says, an agency can offer more models and possibilities for picking up and returning cars. For example, the German airline Lufthansa and the German National Tourist Board recently unveiled a Chinese-language app designed for the Chinese market, German Road Trip and Shopping. The app offers information about popular routes, car rental agencies, petrol stations and shopping centers.
Arriving in Munich on a rainy night to return it to the dealer, they had problems with their navigational aid finding the designated drop-off point, and it was only after three hours of frantic searching that they managed to locate it. They had to pack everything their daughter needed, ranging from feeding bottles to diapers. Apart from New Zealand's beautiful scenery and fresh air, they also enjoyed their encounters with animals such as seals and penguins by the sea and alpacas by the roadside.
In fact you would be able to spend only half an hour or so in each place after a two- or three-hour stint of driving. Hitchhikers are common, he said, and in one case they picked up a backpacker who happened to share his passion for soccer. For them, one of those was going on a helicopter excursion that gave them a bird's eye view of grand glaciers and snow capped mountains.
She has done six such trips in six countries, including Greece, Israel and the United States with her husband and friends since 2006, she says.
When Li began talking to the woman in English and she replied "No English" it became clear that China was one of the few English words she knew.
What delighted them was that the police simply gave them a gentle lecture on watching their speed and said it was their lucky day because had a speed camera caught them they would have been fined.
Given a choice between routes, she and her husband generally opt for roads that follow the ocean or wind through mountains, which will offer great scenery but will also demand more driving time.
Li says it is particularly important to have such documentation on hand if you are involved in an accident.
One joy of getting around in a house on wheels is waking up to different scenery every few days, he says. Naturally enough, those who inhabit the world of caravanning get to know one another, and the community feel has become even stronger with the help of the internet and social networking. They set off from China and drove nearly 40,000 kilometers, visiting about 30 countries, he says.
When they encountered mechanical problems in Latvia, three mechanics spent seven hours doing repairs and refused to take payment for it, he says, so in awe were they of the couple's gung-ho spirit in traveling so far from home. The loss of the laptop was especially bitter because it held documents of Wang's, including technical drawings of their campervan, which he designed himself, and a decade of memories in the form of photos the couple had taken. He spent a year designing the campervan and got a Chinese car company to build it for him, and it cost nearly 150,000 yuan ($23,200). During the first trip in 2007, the demands that the high altitude put on the campervan meant that each time Wang started the vehicle or drove uphill, his wife needed to inject oxygen from an oxygen bottle into the air intake of the engine.
He has written about his experience on a campervan and caravanning forum and his reports have attracted more than 6 million hits. As part of the expo, a duty-free goods fair at which nearly 200 international brands were represented was held.
The government is now working on hosting a global luxury conference to Sanya next year that is expected to draw in more brands to the island. Many foreigners are used to Uber, and the introduction of its software will make getting around Hainan easier, Li says. Because Hainan has very few international flight connections, few international travelers are eligible to claim tax rebates because few leave the country from Hainan. The island now has 68 five-star hotels, says Li Xuefeng, deputy director of the convention and exhibition bureau with the provincial commerce department. Now, tourists travel the world to see the temples and hike the Nabatean routes recently connected to a 600-kilometer path called the Jordan Trail. White mist poured over the mountains, obscuring the temples inside into "the cold canyon," Little Petra's name in Arabic, Siq al-Barid. Wrapped in hot pink and bright blue ponchos, the pair beamed at the well-worn carved stones. The trail can be hiked using GPS coordinates but tour operators, group hikes and local guides are available.
Suddenly, they begin to spray the scorching liquid into the air, producing a shower of magnificent sparks, almost like fireworks.
While city dwellers can try their hand at a spot of farming and even pick vegetables if they want to, children can have fun in the amusement facilities.
There is a large iron pot with food already cooked thoroughly, such as meat and vegetables.
The draw that night was the James Ward Band, a six-piece contemporary jazz group that hushed the middle-age skewing crowd and set one older gentleman in an oversized sport coat dancing alone in front of the bar. The museums are open Tuesday-Saturday, 9 am-6 pm, Sundays noon-6 pm; combined tickets to both museums cost $15, adults, and $8, children 5-12, or for one museum, $10, adults, or $6, children.
As dusk approached, we drank a beer and enjoyed the silence, which was broken only by our captain performing acrobatic dives from the hull into the warm, clear water. The museum ($5 admission) houses a modest collection of ancient artifacts, but you can probably skip it if you're planning on heading to Siem Reap, which has the larger and more-impressive Angkor National Museum. When the sun goes down, however, the area can feel a little seedy, and you need to be careful with your belongings. From here, most head to the splendid ruins of the north or to the relaxing beaches and sea views of the southwest. This coastal city has a beach for all tastes: from Serendipity and Ochheauteal, backpacker favorites and nighttime party spots, to Otres, a laid-back stretch about 10 minutes from the center.
Those in town for only a day or two will probably be content with the smaller of the two, which includes Angkor Wat and Bayon. Guides offer free tours and most themselves are former soldiers who can regale visitors with firsthand accounts of the conflict.
In the dry season (November to April), you can see the tall stilts that support the houses, offering an otherworldly experience. Most of the city's nightlife is spread between three areas - Old Market, Wat Damnak and Wat Bo - and all have an abundance of bars, restaurants, markets, and massage parlors.
Try to fill out the paperwork on the plane to save time, and if possible pay with the exact money. Also, the people casually offering incense near statues will expect money if you take it off them. However, carefully research any orphanage you plan to visit, as some are scams using children to profit from the so-called pity industry. It would also give money to design a path along the shoreline for pedestrians and bicyclists. The Grand Bazaar will undergo a renovation that will last a decade and cost tens of millions of dollars.
The cost is estimated at $33.5 million which will be largely financed by the Turkish authorities. Bargaining with the multilingual, friendly but famously hard-nosed shop-holders is all part of the experience.
Italian and Chinese communities there live shoulder to shoulder, each with their distinctive feel, but Paris' Chinatown lacks that strong feel of an ethnic enclave. Then again you do come across the odd Buddhist temple or shrine on a street corner, and there are at least a dozen Asian supermarkets. There are also nearly 100 stands that sell all kinds of used bracelets, brooches and other accessories. The expansiveness of all its rooms is such that they exude everything other than warmth and homeliness. The road was actually crowned as one of the city's most beautiful boulevards by the municipal government two years ago.
Such was the exclusiveness of this area that the apartments facing the street were reserved for government officials only. Before 2000, when air conditioning was still not a popular fixture in China, it was common to see pajamas-clad residents fanning themselves under a plane tree during summer. It chronicles biological, technological and societal evolution to modern man, amid the context of the spiritual advancement of Buddhism, while triumphantly declaring Tibetan medicine to be 3,800 years old. I couldn't talk with him to give me a better view because we could not understand each other.
At one point, when the helicopter broke through clouds, they felt as if they were going to crash into them, he said.
The only warmth was the smoky hearth of Aouath Amarin's hot mint tea served at his trinket shop atop the slick staircase at the end of the canyon. The trail is not physically marked and includes harsh terrain and areas where water is scarce.
The palace is open 9-11 am and 2-5 pm, but its best to visit early to avoid the afternoon heat. Alternatively, you can arrive there by tuk tuk and hire a park ranger to lead you on a walking tour (usually $5, although best to call ahead).
However, if you do have the time, doing both circuits and adding a third day to see sites further out, such as the 1,000 year-old Banteay Srei or the jungle-covered Beng Melea, is well worth it to see the variations in carving styles and architecture. Most of our wildlife is outside protected areas, so it is the farmers who are the stewards. It's unclear how much legislators might plan to spend now; the latest version of the bill did not include a dollar amounts. My previous visits to Paris have revolved around high-end fashion shopping, but this was shaping up to be a little different. I bought an exquisitely carved silver bracelet for 20 euros that I hope to restore to its no doubt glorious, original unoxidized state. Check your change, though, as stores and restaurants will not accept notes that are even slightly ripped, nor can you use $2 notes.
From one of those supermarkets I emerged triumphant with my first purchase of the holiday: three packets of instant noodles.
A friend parted with 10 euros for a beautifully enameled bird-shaped brooch after playing with it and accidentally parting the bird from one of its wings.
We were literally lost in the Tibetan painting at the Tibetan Medicine Museum of China in Xining, capital of Qinghai province.



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