The big picture

The big picture
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First Published: Fri, Nov 19 2010. 10 09 PM IST

Felix Hug/Lonely Planet
Felix Hug/Lonely Planet
Updated: Fri, Nov 19 2010. 10 09 PM IST
THAILAND
Felix Hug/Lonely Planet
Top things to do:
• Dance barefoot on the sands at a full-moon bash on Ko Pha-Ngan.
• Conjure up a Thai feast on a cooking course in Chiang Mai.
• Test your head for heights by climbing the awesome karst outcrops at Krabi.
•Trek to atmospheric tribal villages around Chiang Rai and Mae Hong Son.
• Dive with magnificent megafauna at Richelieu Rock, Hin Daeng and Hin Muang.
MALAYSIA
Getting under the skin:
• Read Tash Aw’s The Harmony Silk Factory or Rani Manicka’s The Rice Mother for two different takes on Malaysia’s multiculturalism.
• Listen to dondang sayang (Chinese-influenced love ballads); or the wholesome Malay pop of Siti Nurhaliza and Mawi.
• Watch Yasmin Ahmad’s award-winning Sepet, which challenges taboos about cross-cultural relationships in Malaysia.
• Eat roti canai (fried, flat bread with a rich curry dipping sauce) at one of Malaysia’s 24-hour mamak (Tamil Muslim) canteens.
• Drink teh tarik (‘pulled’ tea with condensed milk); or tuak (rice wine from Borneo).
MALI
If you could visit only one country in West Africa, Mali would be a prime candidate. Few countries in the region can boast such an array of sights, from fabled Timbaktu and the mysterious Dogon Country to riverside mosques that seem to spring from a child’s imagination. Adding considerable depth to these attractions is Mali’s illustrious history, a story of ancient gold-rich empires along the Sahara’s southern fringe that has yielded to a stable West African democracy famed for the largely peaceful coexistence of its multifarious ethnic groups. And accompanying you on your journey through the country will be Mali’s world-famous musical soundtrack, a beguiling playlist of soulful desert blues, ancient griot tunes and frenetic dance rhythms.
NETHERLANDS
Top things to see:
• Amsterdam is one of Europe’s best-preserved great cities, with canals, 17th century vistas and an incongruous mix of neighbourhoods.
• Rotterdam is as modern as Amsterdam is old, an open-air gallery of cutting-edge architecture.
• Cheery Maastricht is hilly and has a Belgian-German accent.
• Millions of tulips pose as pixels every spring at Keukenhof.
• Hoge Veluwe National Park with its world-class art museum set among vast royal gardens and forest.
JAPAN
Frank Carter/Lonely Planet
Getting under the skin:
• Read Natsume Soseki’s satirical I am a Cat; or Shikibu Murasaki’s The Tale of Genji, written around AD1000.
• Listen To the curious hybrid sound of Japanese heavy metal, such as Murasaki or X Japan; for Japanese punk rock, try the Stalin or Blue Hearts.
• Watch Akira Kurosawa’s epic Seven Samurai; Katsuhiro Otomo’s classic anime Akira; or Hideo Nakata’s chilling Ringu.
• Eat raw fish, preferably as sashimi—wafer-thin slices served with soy, wasabi and preserved daikon radish.
• Drink shochu, the national spirit of Japan; or sake, Japanese rice wine—served hot it infuses the senses.
VATICAN CITY
Will Salter/Lonely Planet
Top things to do:
• Hike 320 steps up to the world’s largest dome, St Peter’s Basilica—the panorama is dizzying and dazzling.
• Zigzag around Doric columns and lap up the extraordinary air of St Peter’s Square.
• Kiss or rub for luck the right foot of bronze St Peter inside the basilica.
• Take a 90-minute tour of the City of the Dead and see St Peter’s tomb beneath the basilica.
• Pay your respects to John Paul II, the second-longest serving pontificate and first non-Italian for centuries—his tomb lies in the Vatican grotto complex.
KAZAKHSTAN
Christopher Herwig/Lonely Planet
Top things to see:
• The glittering blue domes and 15th-century Timurid tilework of the Yasaui Mausoleum in Turkistan.
• Kazakhstan’s futuristic new capital Astana, which boasts the world’s largest tent.
• Cosmopolitan Almaty, with Orthodox cathedrals and engaging museums.
• Fishing boats marooned in the desert sand of Aralsk, miles from the nearest waters of the Aral Sea.
YEMEN
Yemen may be the Arabian Peninsula’s poorer cousin, but therein lies its charm. With none of the oil wealth of its neighbours, the country is like a time capsule to old Arabia. Yemen’s history reads like the retelling of a legend—to the Romans, Yemen was Arabia Felix (Happy Arabia), Noah launched his ark from here, the Queen of Sheba once ruled the land and there was once many diverse focal points, from the Arabian Nights-like capital of San’a in the west to mud skyscrapers in the east, from the stunning mountain scenery and villages of the north to the weird and wonderful landscapes of Suqutra off the south of the coast.
An e xcerpt from The Travel Book: A Journey Through Every Country in the World. Published by Lonely Planet, 448 pages, $50 (around Rs 2,200).
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First Published: Fri, Nov 19 2010. 10 09 PM IST
More Topics: Thailand | Netherlands | Japan | Yemen | Vatican City |