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Archive for the ‘Sustainble Travel’ Category

My friend Greg Berry at nuance intelligence asked that I comment on his recent post:  Ethical Travel I’m not sure I offered anything towards the solution of our massive travel footprint but it allowed me a venue to post some thoughts. Thanks Greg.

Meeting new friends in Jordan

Meeting new friends in Jordan

Across the globe there are countless initiatives being discussed to address travel, air travel specifically, and climate change. Recent numbers I have read are that tourism trade accounts for 5% of the World’s CO2 Emissions.  If you allow for a second lens, tourism employees 10% of the worlds economy. Tourism infuses money into poor economies. Travel encourages protection of natural environments and finally, travel leads to understanding.

The reality is most travelers fall into two distinct categories. Those traveling for “vacation”-pleasure, education, adventure, experiences etc (we will include travelers taking part in National Geographic Tours private Jet Tours (!?) and those traveling for work.  Both groups are less likely to be focused on this discussion that we “conscious” readers are.

Challenges:
Consumers traveling for vacation purposes are not interested in feeling guilty about their travels. They’re on holiday! They want to enjoy their experience which includes using plush towels and wonderful bath products. It is a luxury they often don’t have at home.  Many argue correctly that the “towel” issues is much more about how the the hotels wash their linens than about how guests use them.  That’s followed by airline and hotel recycling programs etc etc. Good overview of what is all really means here.

Business Travelers are far more interested in convenience. For all of us who travel for a living I think it is safe to say that airline travel has lost any mystery and excitement it may once have had. The very thought of an airport is now worse than the fear of visiting the dentist.  Anything that makes this journey to our destination easier and less unpleasant will be used. Business travelers are focused on getting in and out with as little personal headaches as possible. Public transportation to/from airports is neither convenient nor well communicated.  Trying to negotiate rail and bus options is complicated enough for the budget traveler and even cities such as NY and Chicago have done a poor job.

Positive Steps:
Vacations: Tour Providers/Companies who have taken the initiatives (offsetting the carbon footprint of the ground portion of the tour) take the first step in educating and encouraging travelers to offset their flights.  Many “tour providers” carefully choose locally owned properties and restaurants and hire regional guides, all of which encourage an overall understanding and connection with the destination. I believe that future political and ethical decisions a traveler makes when NOT traveling will be based on these experiences.  Post travel we tend to read, shop, listen to and engage in topics that touch on a destination we have been to very differently than when we merely read about an issue in a far off destination. The Middle East and Africa are good examples.

(more…)

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Global Sustainable Tourism Criteria

October 6 2008
Ted Turner Announces First-Ever Global Sustainable Tourism Criteria
at World Conservation Congress

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Voluntary standards help travel suppliers around the world meet increasing consumer demand for products and services that will have positive effects on communities and the environment
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October 6, 2008 (Barcelona, Spain) – United Nations Foundation Founder and Chairman Ted Turner joined the Rainforest Alliance, the United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP) and the United Nations World Tourism Organization (UNWTO) today to announce the first-ever globally relevant sustainable tourism criteria at the IUCN World Conservation Congress. The new criteria – based on thousands of best practices culled from the existing standards currently in use around the world – were developed to offer a common framework to guide the emerging practice of sustainable tourism and to help businesses, consumers, governments, non-governmental organizations and education institutions to ensure that tourism helps, rather than harms, local communities and the environment.

“Sustainability is just like the old business adage: ‘you don’t encroach on the principal, you live off the interest’,” said Turner. “Unfortunately, up to this point, the travel industry and tourists haven’t had a common framework to let them know if they’re really living up to that maxim. But the Global Sustainable Tourism Criteria (GSTC) will change that. This is a win-win initiative – good for the environment and good for the world’s tourism industry.”

“Tourism is one of the fastest growing industries and a strong contributor to sustainable development and poverty alleviation,” said Francesco Frangialli, Secretary-General of the United Nations World Tourism Organization. “Over 900 million international tourists travelled last year and UNWTO forecasts 1.6 billion tourists by the year 2020. In order to minimize the negative impacts of this growth, sustainability should translate from words to facts, and be an imperative for all tourism stakeholders. The GSTC initiative will undoubtedly constitute a major reference point for the entire tourism sector and an important step in making sustainability an inherent part of tourism development.”

The criteria were developed by the Partnership for Global Sustainable Tourism Criteria (GSTC Partnership), a new coalition of 27 organizations that includes tourism leaders from the private, public and not-for-profit sectors. Over the past 15 months, the partnership consulted with sustainability experts and the tourism industry and reviewed more than 60 existing certification and voluntary sets of criteria already being implemented around the globe. In all, more than 4,500 criteria have been analyzed and more than 80,000 people, including conservationists, industry leaders, governmental authorities and UN bodies, have been invited to comment on the resulting criteria.

“Consumers deserve widely accepted standards to distinguish green from greenwashed. These criteria will allow true certification of sustainable practices in hotels and resorts as well as other travel suppliers,” said Jeff Glueck, chief marketing officer of Travelocity/Sabre, a member of the GSTC Partnership. “They will give travelers confidence that they can make choices to help the sustainability cause. They also will help the forward-thinking suppliers who deserve credit for doing things right.”

Available at http://www.SustainableTourismCriteria.org, the criteria focus on four areas experts recommend as the most critical aspects of sustainable tourism: maximizing tourism’s social and economic benefits to local communities; reducing negative impacts on cultural heritage; reducing harm to local environments; and planning for sustainability. The GSTC Partnership is developing educational materials and technical tools to guide hotels and tour operators in implementing the criteria.

“The American Society of Travel Agents feels it especially important to be a part of this global partnership that is leading the way in defining once and for all what it means to be a sustainable travel company,” said William Maloney, Chief Operating Officer for ASTA. “As an organization with its own Green Member program, it’s incumbent upon us to ensure that our steps toward a travel retailers’ green initiative were in sync with responsible global developments. The criteria will provide our members with much-needed guidelines for assessing future business partners’ commitment to sustainable tourism while offering consumers clear and reliable information about the travel choices they make.”

“The Global Sustainable Tourism Criteria initiative is about steering the industry onto a truly sustainable path — one that echoes to the challenge of our time: namely the fostering and federating of a global Green Economy that thrives on the interest rather than the capital of our economically-important nature-based assets,” said Achim Steiner, United Nations Under-Secretary General and Executive Director, United Nations Environment Programme.

“The Rainforest Alliance celebrates the outcomes of the GSTC Partnership, which we believe will help the tourism industry put itself on a sustainable path,” said Tensie Whelan, Executive Director of the Rainforest Alliance. “The Global Sustainable Tourism Criteria that have been developed will shape the minimum requirements that the Sustainable Tourism Stewardship Council will demand from accredited certification programs and help travelers have the assurance that they are helping, not harming, the environment.”

“The GSTC Partnership is a collaborative effort to provide a much needed common framework and understanding of sustainable tourism practices,” said Janna Morrison, Senior Vice President of Corporate Social Responsibility at Choice Hotels International. “Tourism is an important and growing industry that supports sustainability and will clearly benefit from this common framework. Ultimately this effort will result in a positive impact on communities and the environment.”

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In 2003, the World Travel & Tourism Council (WTTC) launched its vision statement – the Blueprint for New Tourism. Outlining a multi-stakeholder vision, the Blueprint for New Tourism “looks beyond short-term considerations… and focuses on benefits not only for people who travel, but also for people in the communities they visit, and for their respective natural, social and cultural environments.” One way in which WTTC exemplifies that vision for New Tourism is with the Tourism for Tomorrow Awards.

Destination Stewardship Award

This award goes to a destination – country, region, state or town – which comprises a network of tourism enterprises and organizations which show dedication to and success in maintaining a programme of sustainable tourism management at the destination level, incorporating social, cultural, environmental and economic aspects as well as multi-stakeholder engagement.

Community Benefit Award

This award is for a tourism business or initiative that has effectively demonstrated direct benefits to local people, including capacity building, the transfer of industry skills, and support for community development.

Conservation Award

Open to any tourism business, organisation or attraction, including lodges, hotels or tour operators, able to demonstrate that their tourism development and operations have made a tangible contribution to the conservation of natural heritage.

Global Tourism Business Award

Open to any large company from any sector of Travel & Tourism – cruise lines, hotel groups, airlines, tour operators, etc – with at least 200 full-time employees and operating in more than one country or in more than one destination in a single country, this award recognises best practices in sustainable tourism at a large company level.

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Spotlight on top experiences in Alaska

Alaska, the Great Land, is fundamentally about having fun in the Great Outdoors, whether your travel focuses on adventure, relaxation or culture. Here we feature ten of the finest Alaskan experiences.

Take A Walk on the Wild Side

Alaska offers many chances to get up close and personal with its wildlife, from Kodiak brown bears to tundra caribou to arctic wolves. Take an Active Vacation exploring one or more of the National Parks. Kenai Fjords National Park is a mere two-and-a-half-hour drive south of Anchorage and offers both easy walks with Glacier views as well as day hikes leading to 360-degree views of snowcapped mountains and Resurrection Bay.

An experience within Denali National Park defines Alaska for many visitors. Home to North America’s highest peak, the 20,320- foot Mt. McKinley, and six million acres of wild land, Denali National Park is its own country, where the forces of nature and its animals reign and humans are mere observers. The National Park Service has created a checklist of nearly 40 mammals to watch for while traveling through the park. The park is ringed by accommodations ranging from RV parks to luxury hotels, but for a unique perspective on the vastness of one of America’s greatest natural treasures,Camp Denali and its sister property, North Face Lodge, can’t be beat.

Alaska by Boat

The best way to ease into the bigger-than-life Alaskan experience is by boat. Thousands of visitors annually arrive aboard cruise ships, opting to sail one way and fly the other.

A less well-known option is to take an Alaska state ferry, which can’t be equaled for value and local color. Alaska naturalists usually are on board to describe the leisurely trip’s marine and coastal wonders. The ferries are a great way to meet Alaskans and get local tips about where to go and what to do. They are kid-friendly, too, with plenty of room to play games and enjoy quality family time.

Exploring the islands, glaciers and fjords of Alaska by water offers a unique vantage point for experiencing wildlife and the wilderness. Whether you choose a small ship voyage through the Inside Passage, a day of sea kayaking though the Kenai Fjords or a rafting adventure along the Tatshenshini River, this experience will be a highlight of your Alaska journey. f you have only one day to spend on the water, a trip into Kenai Fjords National Park or Prince Williams Sound is likely to reward you with sightings of humpback whales, Orca pods, sea lions, seals, sea otters and a number of bird rookeries – such a cruise is a must for birders.

The Wild Blue Yonder

If you want to see as much as possible in a short time, do what Alaskans do — take to the air! Flightseeing is available anywhere there is an airport, gravel landing strip or sand bar! Whether it’s float, ski or plain old wheels you’ll want on your airplane, you can find your aircraft of choice in every city, town and village.

At Anchorage’s Merrill Field, headquarters for many of the state’s most experienced flight services, veteran pilots are available for charters to remote fishing cabins, the shores of isolated lakes, glacier tours, or just an afternoon spin with the family around the summit of Mt. McKinley.

A fine example of flightseeing companies is TalkeetnaAir Taxi, an “old”, by Alaska standards, air service. It was started by legendary Bush flier Don Sheldon, who was the first “rescue” pilot of climbers stranded on Mt. McKinley and the first to ever save an injured mountaineer at the 14,000-foot level of North America’s highest mountain. Former Alaska Lt. Gov Lowell Thomas, Jr., bought the air taxi and turned it into a multiple passenger flightseeing operation. Still flying today at age 84, he no longer owns Talkeetna Air Taxi and has sold it to younger pilots who carry on the tradition of ferrying mountaineers as well as providing exhilarating flightseeing tours of Denali and Mt. McKinley, including landing on glaciers.

To get an historical overview of how important aviation has been, and continues to be, in the Great Land, visit Anchorage’s Alaska Aviation Heritage Museum, then watch the non-stop takeoffs and landings at Lake Hood near Ted Stevens Anchorage International Airport. And don’t be surprised if you see airplanes parked in front yards and driveways – many residential subdivisions were built just for that purpose, in case the family pilot decides to take off on a whim to get away from it all!

Bear Spotting

If you are determined to spot a bear on your Alaska vacation, visit the Stan Price State Wildlife Sanctuary’s Pack Creek Bear viewing area. Located at the mouth of Pack Creek on the shore of Admiralty Bay and only 30 miles south of Juneau, the sanctuary provides protected habitat for brown bears while allowing visitors an opportunity to observe and photograph the bears from close-range. Plan ahead though, public access requires an advance permit and during peak seasons (July 10 – August 25) numbers are limited.

If it’s polar bears you want to see, you will have to travel farther north on a circumpolar trip for visitors who want to get out into the Alaska bush for a six-day “Polar Bear Watching & Whale Harvesting in Alaska” tour. The adventure starts in the Bering Sea village of Barrow and takes travelers to the oil fields of Prudhoe Bay and to Kaktovik, the only village in the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge (ANWR). Traveling in specially-equipped vans, travelers will see polar bears in their natural habitat and observe centuries-old ceremonies by the people of Kaktovik as they harvest whales for their food.

Fish On!

The quintessential Alaska experience involves fish: salmon, halibut, trout. Some of the greatest fishing in the world is found in the state’s gin-clear lakes, abundant off-shore coves, and mighty rivers. Fly-fishing, saltwater fishing, freshwater fishing — even ice fishing — attract amateur, veteran and professional anglers to all parts of Alaska. Kodiak Island is the hotbed for halibut fly-fishing, where access to relatively shallow waters and desirable weather conditions make success more likely. Kodiak Island is also a good choice for rainbow trout. Afognak Island, located slightly north of Kodiak Island, is also home to legendary rainbows, which can be coaxed from the waters of Afognak, Portage and Malina lakes.

Mush-Mush

Alaska is synonymous with the Iditarod, a national tradition since 1973. The 1,150-mile sled dog race brings competitors and viewers from all over the world, and inspires even more to try mushing. If you want to travel in your own pack, book an Iditarod package with Alaska Wildland Adventures. If you don’t just want to watch the start of the race, but participate in it—you can! The Idita-Rider Program allows anyone to bid on a seat in any of the racer’s sleds for first 11 miles of the race. Bids start at $500.

Viewing the Northern Lights

Alaska provides one of the best spots on earth to see the northern lights. Beautiful and mysterious curtains, the colors range from green to red to purple, with the brightest and most common color, a yellow-green. Be sure to check the University of Alaska Fairbanks’ Geophysical Institute new web site before planning your aurora viewing trip to Alaska. The site offers a 28-day forecast allowing visitors to narrow dates for the best likelihood of catching the dancing sky. Prime viewing is at 64 degrees north — right below the auroral oval — just outside of Fairbanks.

Learn about the First Alaskans

Descendants of the First Alaskans still fish, hunt and practice their culture on their ancestral lands throughout the state. Arriving thousands of years ago, Native Alaskans are not a single homogeneous group, but are broadly identified as Indians, Aleuts and Eskimos, with 20 language and culture groups. Before a trip to Alaska, visit First Alaskans and Native Federation online for a brief educational primer on two of the most influential organizations working today on behalf of Alaska Native peoples. Then, when you arrive in Anchorage, head straight to the Alaska Native Heritage Center to see hundreds of years’ worth of cultural artifacts preserved in authentic exhibits. The center offers visitors the rare opportunity of seeing beautiful Alaska Native artwork, such as intricately beaded mukluks (boots) and hand-carved traditional native masks. There are also live dance performances, hands-on art demonstrations, and Alaska Native storytellers who spin magic with their legends, which are rooted in thousand-year-old traditions.
Farther north, Riverboat Discovery in Fairbanks offers an Interior Alaska look at Native culture, and includes a three-and-a-half hour cruise with stops at an Athabascan Indian village and fish camp, and an Alaska Native-led tour of the Chena Indian Village. Icy Strait Point near Glacier Bay National Park in Southeast Alaska, is the newest port destination on the map. Owned by the Hoonah Totem Corporation, an Alaskan native village corporation, the port is built on the grounds of a defunct salmon cannery that has been restored and filled with an active canning line, history display, museum, and family-owned shops. Passengers can tour the nearby Tlingit village of Hoonah (the largest Tlingit Indian settlement in Alaska), experience native dances and tribal stories, walk a history trail, go on a brown bear and wildlife tour, or go whale watching or salmon and halibut fishing.

Hop on Board!

The Alaska Railroad’s classic train travel through the Last Frontier offers some of the most spectacular scenery in the world while sacrificing none of the comforts of old-fashioned rail travel. The Glacier Discovery train combines active adventure with a scenic excursion. From Anchorage, the train travels south along the Turnagain Arm and Chugach Mountain Range deep into the Chugach National Forest. Arriving at Spencer Lake, professional guides greet guests with a deli-style lunch before escorting them on a gentle float tour. The float begins among icebergs in Spencer Lake and continues down Placer River before meeting back up with the train. Ride the rails all the way from Anchorage to Fairbanks for an intimate glimpse of the great empty interior, passing through Bush Alaska in comfort.

Tad Bartimus

Eons contributor

Tad Bartimus (Eons member Taddie) is an award-winning journalist and syndicated columnist. Read Tad’s weekly blog posts from “Elsewhere in America”, on Eons. Her weekly column “Among Friends,” is distributed by United Features Syndicate

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Hawaii is a feast for all five senses, intoxicating locals and visitors alike with its perfumed flowers, magnificent tropical scenery, exotic birdsong, fresh Pacific Rim foods and the sun-kissed ocean. Here we feature ten of the finest Hawaiian experiences.

Visit a volcano

There are few places on earth where humans can get a glimpse of what’s inside our planet; Hawaii is such a miraculous place. All of the Hawaiian Islands were created over eons by molten lava bubbling out of the earth’s crust to form pyramids rising from the ocean floor and above the sea when the rock cooled. Since the first tourists arrived soon after the Yankee clipper and whaling ships came in the 19th century, visitors have been mesmerized by the sight of liquid fire pouring down the side of a mountain. Kilauea volcano, on the island of Hawaii – now familiarly known as the Big Island – still offers up oozing lava sliding downward into the sea. Designated a national park in 1916, Hawaii Volcanoes National Park is today the state’s foremost natural attraction, where visitors at a safe distance can watch the earth create itself. Because volcanoes keep their own schedule, sometimes the lava erupts in fiery red streams; sometimes it’s just a trickle of molten rock and a lot of steam. To research the timing of Kilauea’s past eruptions, get a hint of where and when its next one might occur, and find out about other Hawaii volcanoes such as dormant Mauna Kea and Mauna Loa, also on the Big Island, and Maui’s Haleakala volcano, the Hawaiian Volcano Observatory has a new website, http://hvo.wr.usgs.gov/kilauea/update/main.html. Haleakala National Park (www.nps.gov/hale) is the primary natural attraction on Maui, and extends from the summit of “House of the Sun” all the way to ‘Ohe’o gulch, known around the world as the misnomer “Seven Sacred Pools” on the windward side in the Kipahulu district. There are 27 miles of hiking trails in the crater, as well as two camping sites and three rustic cabins that can be reserved (by lottery selection) at least three months in advance. Astronauts train in this moonscape inhabited by rare “nene” flightless geese and home to the elusive silversword plant. There is no comparable experience to watching a sunrise from the summit of Haleakala mountain.

Watch the whales, swim with the dolphins

From December through April, Hawaii is a “nursery” for humpback whales that migrate 3,500 miles from rich summer feeding grounds in arctic Alaska to give birth in warmer waters. All winter, these endangered mammals can be spotted “dancing” on their noses as their tails wave above the ocean, blowing water through their air hole, leaping completely out of the waves, and slapping their flukes on the surface for what looks like the sheer fun of it. Up to 3,000 humpbacks weighing as much as 80,000 pounds apiece cruise around all the islands, preparing their babies for the return trip north. The best whale-viewing is in the Humpback Whale National Marine Sanctuary created in 1992 around Molokai, Maui and Lanai, but whales can spring to the surface anytime, anywhere, and are visible from all shorelines and beachfront accommodations as well as aboard whale-watching and snorkel cruise boats.

The Pacific Whale Foundation on Maui offers more than a dozen whale-watching trips a day to support its non-profit research. Other species, including pilot, sperm, and false killer whales, cruise island waters year-round. Most of their sightings are along the calmer Kona coast of the Big Island, where 25-year veteran whale researcher Dan McSweeney often drops a microphone over the side of his cruise boat to let his whale-watching clients also hear the leviathans “sing.”

Visitors whale-watching off the coast of Lanai also may get the thrill of swimming with sleek, leaping dolphins that like to “hang out” with snorkelers at Hulopoeo Beach. Judged by Dr. Stephen Leatherman, “Dr. Beach,” as 1997’s best beach in America, the area is included in the protected marine reserve and is one of the few places on Lanai considered generally safe and calm for viewing gaudy tropical fish in shallow tide pools. The only watersports outfitter on Lanai is Trilogy Lanai Ocean Sports. Snorkelers at Hulopoeo often find themselves surrounded by pods of leaping spinner dolphins, which seem as curious about the creatures in masks and fins as we are about the silver-skinned marine mammals famous for their “talking” and rescues.

Kalaupapa

Molokai is the least visited of Hawaii’s main islands, and the least impacted by tourism and commercialism. It also offers one of the state’s most memorable experiences – a visit to the Kalaupapa peninsula, reached via small plane, on foot or by mule ride. Kalaupapa has become synonymous with the leper colony established there in 1866 by King Kamehameha V. Leprosy was greatly feared because at that time it was incurable and was believe to be very contagious, a myth later dispelled when research proved it was spread only by repeated contact. The term “leprosy” was outlawed by the Hawaii Legislature in 1981, when the illness officially became known as “Hansen’s Disease,” to honor Dr. Gerhard Hansen, a Norwegian who, in 1873, discovered the germ that caused it.

Kalaupapa National Historic Park has human relics dating from 1,000 A.D., and is located in one of the most spectacular natural settings in Hawaii. Hiking the nearly three-mile trail down to the peninsula is not for faint hearts; there are 26 switchbacks between the trailhead at 2,000 feet above sea level, and the terminus at Kalaupapa. Descending takes about an hour; climbing back up can be a three-hour effort, and a hiking permit is required. Most visitors arrive either by scheduled light plane flights, or on the backs of sure-footed mules used to traversing the sometimes heart-stopping trail. Upon arrival at Kalaupapa, resident tour guide Richard Marks(See list of tours) who has survived Hansen’s Disease, invites visitors aboard a yellow school bus for an excellent overview of the scenery and history of what was once known as “The Place of the Living Dead.” The tour includes the life story of Roman Catholic priest, Father Joseph de Veuster, best known as Father Damien, who has been nominated for sainthood. Father Damien gave up a privileged life in Belgium to inspire the creation of a clean, united community of new houses, schools and churches. The priest who brought hope to thousands of ailing outcasts died of Hansen’s Disease in 1889, at age 49. Father Damien’s St. Philomena Church, a crafts shop and a museum are open to visitors with official guides. If you have only one day Molokai, visit Kalaupapa on a mule.

Waikiki

Waikiki Beach is the gaudy, noisy, crowded, hectic two-mile heart of Honolulu. From ancient times through the days of Hawaiian royalty up until this morning, Waikiki has attracted visitors and locals alike to sun themselves on its world-famous golden sand, frolic in its gentle, lapping waves, and float contentedly in its aquamarine waters. Waikiki attracts five million visitors a year from around the globe, and offers something to delight every one of them: world-class shopping, ethnic foods, five-star hotel rooms that cost as much a night as a down payment on a car, free double-rainbow mornings and pastel sunsets you’d swear were painted on the sky.

Handsome beach boys can teach you to ride a surfboard, paddle an outrigger canoe, sail a boat, and keep you from drowning, all in the same day. Some evenings there are free big-screen movies on the beach, other times some of Hawaii’s finest musicians jam it up on ukulele and guitar. Waikiki is full of surprises: craft fairs, street vendors, outdoor cafes, a reasonably priced trolley car to take you up and down the boulevards.

Patrolled by good-natured Honolulu police on bicycles and horseback, Waikiki Beach is where the action’s at, day or night, for tourists who want to people watch, catch a wave, eat sushi-tacos-saimin-sate-hamburgers, catch a fish, experience a hotel luau, and toast the good life with an exotic cocktail sporting a paper umbrella and an orchid floating on top. Besides boasting one of the most perfect beaches in the world, Waikiki also offers nearly guaranteed year-round sunshine. Don’t miss what all the fuss has been about since Mark Twain sailed into town and pronounced Hawaii the most beautiful necklace of islands “anchored in any ocean….”

Take a hike!

Every island has hiking trails ranging from gentle to straight up, from treeless volcanic rock to tropical rain forests, from easily accessible to nearly impossible. From a remote bamboo forest bordering ‘Ohe’o Gulch in Haleakala National Park’s Kipahulu district, to the accordion-pleated green folds of Kauai’s Na Pali coast, to Diamond Head’s dry brush-covered summit looming above Waikiki, hiking trails offer an intimate look at the islands’ unique flora and fauna while offering unforgettable views not discovered any other way. On Oahu, the Hawaiian Trail and Mountain Club allows visitors to join members on scheduled hikes through wilderness still left on the state’s most populous island. Kauai is a backcountry paradise for experienced outdoors enthusiasts; join the local Sierra Club chapter for group treks ranging from easy to “are you kidding?” in Kokee State Park. The most arduous hike is along the historic Kalalau Trail on the Na Pali coast, a protected state park. The ancient footpath is for experienced hikers only — in some placed it narrows to less than a foot on the side of cliffs more than a thousand feet above the ocean. Slippery in rain and prone to flash floods, many Na Pali coast hikes require permits available only on a limited basis. For casual walkers, there are plenty of opportunities to stretch your legs on public beaches, in state and national parks, and along paved trails such as the three-tenths of a mile blacktop path from the Hotel Hana-Maui parking lot up to a cross raised in memory of the hotel’s founder, Paul Fagan.

“Ono Grinds”

Hawaii’s multi ethnic population makes for a mixed plate of favorite foods; sushi and sashimi from Japan, Portuguese bean soup, pad Thai, Vietnamese pho noodles, Chinese dim sum, and Hawaiian poi are available most everywhere. Good food – “ono grinds” as the locals say – are an important ingredient for a successful Hawaii vacation, and an essential spice for friendship and goodwill among the local population. An unwritten rule in rural Hawaii is that anybody who’s hungry may pick a ripe banana and eat it as they go on their way. Lilly and Chuck Boerner’s Ono Family Farms on Maui is at the forefront of the organic food movement. Lilly conducts tastings and tours of their 50-acre, fourth-generation farm where nearly 100 varieties of GMO-free fruit, coffee, chocolate, and vegetables flourish.

It’s tough to get a bad meal in a place where ahi — yellowfin tuna — goes from the ocean to the plate in the same day, where wild papayas and mangoes simply fall off the trees for critters to eat, where tomatoes, corn, strawberries and salad greens grow year-round. Every culture has its holiday delicacies; the Japanese-American community gives blemish-free persimmons grown in upcountry Maui at Christmas time; haupia, a coconut-cornstarch candy, is a favorite at Hawaiian children’s birthday parties; glutinous rice “mooncakes” are special treats for Chinese New Year. Local weddings and funerals that attract hundreds of guests mean extended families work days to make sure everybody gets plenty to eat and there are leftovers wrapped in tinfoil to send home for those who couldn’t make it.

Whether you’re dining at the most famous and expensive restaurants, such as Mama’s Fish House on Maui or Michel’s on Oahu; Kauai’s favorite burger joint, Duane’s, on the way to the north shore; Grandma’s, a chili-with-rice-and-Spam Maui institution in upcountry Keokea; the Kamoi Snack-N-Go on Molokai, famous for its sweet potato Icee floats, or Nori’s Saimin and Snacks across from the Hilo Lanes bowling alley on the Big Island of Hawaii, there is great food everywhere or you to sniff and sample.

Patriotism

Since December 7, 1941, the waters of Pearl Harbor have been sacred to generations of Americans. On that “day that will live in infamy,” as President Franklin D. Roosevelt called it, the harbor has been the resting place of the USS Arizona, which sank in nine minutes after it was bombed in the Japanese attack that brought the United States into World War II. A grave to 1,177 Marines and Navy sailors, the battleship is now a national memorial visited by millions who take free U.S. Navy launches to the site. There is a visitor center jointly manned by National Park Service and naval personnel that includes historic and personal information about the attack, Pearl Harbor, the sunken ship, and those who served and died aboard her.

But perhaps the most moving moments spent at the graceful memorial that spans the Arizona’s sunken hull are those in which visitors silently contemplate the oil bubbles still leaking from the engine room. It is less and less common to see World War II veterans at the memorial, but some still come to pay tribute to fallen friends, and every year on the anniversary of the ship’s loss a few survivors of the Pearl Harbor attack still gather to share their tears. Companion visits to the Arizona are trips to the nearby USS Missouri Memorial and up the hill to the National Cemetery of the Pacific, familiarly known as “the Punchbowl” because it is located inside an old crater. The Missouri came to Pearl Harbor in 1998 to become a historical “bookend” to World War II; the Japanese surrender was signed aboard the battleship.

The USS Bowfin, a World War II submarine nicknamed “the Pearl Harbor Avenger” for its tenacious fight against the Japanese, also is open to the public. The casualties of three wars – World War II, Korea, and Vietnam – are interred in the national cemetery. Among them is war correspondent Ernie Pyle, who was shot by a Japanese sniper on Okinawa in April 1945. At every one of these hallowed sites there are quiet places to stand, reflect and remember the brave men and women who made the ultimate sacrifice for their country

Party on!

Besides traditional Christmas and Hanukkah celebrations, holidays include Buddha’s birthday (April 8), Girls’ Day (March 3), Boys’ Day (May 5), Samoan Flag Day in August, commemorative days honoring Hawaiian royalty — all sorts of “special” days to throw a party, dance, eat, go to the beach, and “talk story” with family and friends. A gentle climate and outdoor lifestyle means statewide and local festivals that include parades, picnics, athletic events and concerts are held practically every week of the year — see the Go Hawaii calendar. Aloha festivals honoring Hawaiian customs are annually observed on all islands and take up half of September and October. Tickets to the grandmother of all cultural festivals, the five-day Merrie Monarch Hula Festival held the week after Easter every year in Hilo are as scarce as hotel rooms at the same time in the same place. Other festivals salute pineapples, slack key guitars, ukuleles, trees, surfing, coffee, taro, jazz, and even narcissus. Festivals aren’t just an excuse to play hooky from work; they also pay tribute to the people and things that matter to locals. The “May Day is Lei Day” tradition is about the giving, receiving and crafting of flower necklaces as tokens of love and respect; to give and receive a lei helps perpetuate the spirit of aloha.

Hawaii’s host culture: A cultural renaissance builds on a royal heritage

Hawaii’s Polynesian heritage is the underpinning of all human occupation that followed the outrigger canoes carrying the first settlers in the vast triangle between Hawaii, Easter Island and New Zealand. Hawaii’s exact occupation date is not known, but artifacts dating from 400 A.D., have been found. Descendants of the islands’ first occupants established separate kingdoms, lived as hunters and gatherers, and developed strict rules of behavior enforced by warrior kings and legendary queens. When English Capt. James Cook sailed over the horizon by chance in 1778, the Industrial Revolution overwhelmed Hawaii’s Stone Age culture and the islands went on world maps, bringing the first tourists.

Hawaii’s rigid rules system that bound its society together began to crumble with the death of King Kamehameha I in 1819 and the arrival of New England missionaries the following year. Just 73 years later, reigning Queen Liliuokalani was imprisoned by the missionaries’ prosperous descendants who were supported by U.S. marines. The sovereign nation of Hawaii was annexed as an American territory in 1898, an illegal act Hawaiians still mourn and protest.

Cultural and historic sites such as Iolani Palace, Bishop Museum (www.bishopmuseum.org), the Queen Emma Summer Palace, and the Royal Mausoleum are easily accessible on Oahu. Hulihee Palace, as well as Imiloa, a center that explores connections between the science of astronomy and its link to Hawaiian culture, is located on Hawaii Island. Throughout the state, sacred temples and archeological preserves are open to the public, and should be considered sacred sites that must be treated with utmost respect. Today, as Hawaiians aggressively reclaim their rich heritage in a Hawaiian Renaissance of language, art, music, and political activism, visitors who listen closely to the islands’ native people will learn much from their wisdom.

Stop and smell the plumeria

Because flowers bloom on nearly every kind of tree, shrub and hedge, and even sprout from the top of wooden fence posts, wearing and sharing gorgeous blossoms is one of Hawaii’s most delightful customs. Stroll anywhere, day or night, and your olfactory system will be on delicious overload. Local women customarily tuck a fresh flower behind an ear, even if they’re just going to work or to the beach; a bloom behind the right ear signals they’re single, and married if it’s behind the left one. Fresh flowers are de rigueur on any occasion, given to men as well as women. Most Hawaii gardens are created, and certainly augmented, by treasured “cuttings” shared by good friends. Flowers are shipped daily by air from Hawaii to global markets, the biggest share of a multi million-dollar agribusiness that includes culinary, craft and cosmetic applications.

Besides their monetary value, sniffing, wearing and giving flowers is fun. At Ali’i Chang’s Maui lavender farm, wandering around his purple hillside is a perfect morning or afternoon in upcountry Kula. From simple purple blossoms he’s created lavender honey, soap, shampoo, scones, meat seasoning, eye pillows, and anything else he can stuff or infuse. Chang hosts daily farm tours, tea parties, and garden classes beloved by Mauians who consider his Monet-like setting a “must see” for visitors. Commercial farms growing and shipping orchids, tropical flowers such as anthuriums, heliconias and ginger, and exotic palms are found on every island, but to see a wide variety in one place visit any farmer’s market or shop the flower stalls in Honolulu’s Chinatown.

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Spotlight on New Zealand

From the Southern Alps to 90 Mile Beach, New Zealand offers spectacular scenery, friendly folks, exciting adventures and lots of lamb on the hoof. Here are 10 of the top travel experiences in Kiwiland.

Go Bungy Jumping

Based on a puberty ritual of the natives of Vanuatu, AJ Hackett and friends perfected the gear that allows men, women and children to dive from great heights without hitting bottom. The trick was replacing the vines around the ankles with industrial strength rubber cable tethered to winches to retrieve jumpers. The 100-year-old suspension bridge 141 feet above the Kawarau River on New Zealand’s South Island was the world’s first commercial bungy site. A jump costs about $100 and includes a T-shirt and certificate — photos and video for a few dollars more. You choose whether to get dunked in the river, or stay dry. After the jump, staff in a little rubber boat haul you aboard like a big fish, unhook your legs, and drop you on shore, where you must climb a steep stairway to return to the parking lot. The Kawarau site includes a high-tech Bungy Dome which simulates a jump for those reluctant to take the actual plunge. For eight and a-half seconds of free fall – it feels like eternity – go for the Nevis Highwire. There’s no upper age limit to bungy, but it’s not for the obese. You can bungy from the Auckland Harbor Bridge or jump tandem at Taupo. Variations include the Sky Jump, a cable-controlled base jump in Auckland, or the Big Swing at the Agrodome Park in Rotorua.

Explore Milford Sound

Walking the 33-mile Milford Track – one of the great walks in New Zealand – is a real accomplishment. Rain is almost guaranteed during the four-day tramp. Fortunately, the wonders of the magnificent Milford Sound can be viewed comfortably from one of the many cruise ships that ply the glacier-carved ocean inlet. Milford Sound is part of Fiordland National Park, a world heritage site. Lush rain forests cling to the steep 3900-foot cliffs – draped by waterfalls — that rise on either side of the nearly 10-mile long narrow cleft in the coastline. The waters are home to dolphins, seals and penguins. View the rich marine ecosystem below the surface, including rare black coral, from The Milford Deep Underwater Observatory in Harrison’s Cove. A boat ride down the Sound and back will take a couple of hours. Getting there takes five hours by road from Queenstown, two and half-hours from Te Anau.

Swim with the Seals

We scheduled two wild animal adventures in New Zealand, swimming with the rare Hector’s Dolphins in Akaroa, and swimming with the fur seals in the Tonga Island Marine Preserve in Abel Tasman National Park. The dolphins were shy and didn’t want to swim with us. The seals were captivating. Book online, or sign up at the beachfront kiosk at Kaiteriteri Beach . John the Walrus, the bearded guide who leads the tour, is a hoot. He sang and told stories about the wildlife and history of the area on the boat ride to Tonga Island. Outfitted in wet suits, snorkels, mask and fins, John led us into the water where we frolicked up close and personal with the seals for an hour. Afterwards, we sipped hot cocoa on a crescent beach while waiting for the water taxi back to Kaiteriteri. The whole expedition takes the better part of a day, costs about 108-dollars and was a bargain at any price.

Attend a Maori Hangi

There’s no better way to get a glimpse of New Zealand’s native culture than at a Maori hangi. Hangi refers to the traditional Polynesian method of steam cooking in the ground with hot rocks – like a Hawaiian luau or New England clambake. A number of tribal families around Rotorua offer tourists a cultural experience along with the meal. Book when you arrive at your lodgings. Tattooed performers introduce you to Maori village life through dance, song, stories and native crafts. The men are nearly naked to display their full body tattoos, most of which are only temporary. Once upon a time, the designs were carved into the flesh. The visit starts with a haka challenge from a warrior, the exchange of a peace token, then a speech of welcome. If you’ve ever seen the New Zealand All Blacks play rugby, you’ve seen a haka, a truly awesome display. The Mitai hangi serves an excellent meal and throws in a glowworm walk to their sacred spring. Another hangi option is the amaki Maori Village.

Ride Horseback on a Beach

This is the first adventure we booked in New Zealand. Many countries won’t allow horses on beaches; many guides won’t let you gallop, but Kiwis aren’t into restrictions. Gail and Don McKnight at Cape Farewell Horse Treksat the northern tip of the South Island will outfit you with a helmet, mount you in an English saddle on a well-behaved horse, and guide you through the green hills to Wharariki Beach. With the Archway Islands rising above the surf, and an occasional bull seal lolling on the sand, it’s a magical place. “Giddy up!” and you’re off for a gallop down the mile-long beach — a fantasy fulfilled. Afterwards, dismount and explore the caves carved by the waves. On the North Island, try Pakiri Beach Horse Rides.

Zorbing

This was the most fun we had of all our New Zealand adventures. Even describing it brings a smile. Picture a clear plastic golf ball the size of a minivan. Inside, a soft, smaller chamber, big enough for two or three. Toss in a splash of mildly soapy water to make it slippery, and then roll downhill at speeds up to 30 miles per hour. Hilarious! You can try to keep your feet, but we tumbled every which way, laughing the whole time. It’s another of those crazy Kiwi inventions for witless amusement. Zorb Rotorua is conveniently located next to the Agrodome. They’ll rent you a swim suit and towel, too.

Helihike the glaciers

New Zealand is home to two of the world’s actively expanding glaciers, Franz Josef and Fox in Westland Tai Poutini National Park. The ice advances from the Southern Alps down narrow valleys into lush forests close to the Tasman Sea. You can hike from a parking lot through a valley to the base of one of the glaciers and scramble up the face of the ice to the surface, or, you can board a helicopter for a scenic ride through the mountains and land high up the glacier directly on top of the ice. I recommend the helihike. Flights depart daily from the towns of Fox and Franz Josef, midway down the west coast of the South Island. Once on the ice, a guide will lead you to and through the most interesting caves and holes, while teaching you about the moving rivers of ice. At $225, the helihike was the priciest adventure we booked in New Zealand. Bring warm clothes, sunglasses, sunscreen and a hat. The outfitters provide boots and crampons. We had a marvelously clear day — so warm our guide wore shorts – but foul weather will ground the choppers. Many companies offer these trips, such as The Guiding Company and Fox Glacier Guiding . Don’t leave without taking a drive to nearby Lake Matheson for an astounding photo op, the two tallest peaks in New Zealand – Mt. Cook and Mt. Tasman – mirrored in its waters.

Go Jet Boating

I’ll admit I wasn’t all that excited about taking a jet boat ride on the Shotover River outside Queenstown. But rocketing – literally — through the canyon just inches from the rock walls, then slamming into a 360-degree turn, got my heart pumping. The boats are the brainchild of Kiwi Bill Hamilton, a self-taught engineer who was looking for a way to navigate shallow rivers. Intakes in the flat bottom of the boat suck in water, which is driven out through two jet units at the back. The big red jet boats can maneuver in just inches of water, hit speeds up to 35 miles per hour, and change direction, brake and reverse on a dime. The Shotover was the scene of a gold rush in the 1860s, and we saw a few diehard prospectors manning sluices along the riverbank. About $67 will get you a ride, a life jacket, spray jacket and a locker for your things. Bring sunglasses. For a few extra bucks, you can take home professional photos and a customized DVD. On the North Island, try Kawarau Jet or New Zealand River Jet.

Kayaking

When you want to relax and let your adrenaline levels settle down in New Zealand, head for a beach and rent a kayak. Outfitters are everywhere. We went with Golden Bay Kayaks at Tata Beach at the northern tip of Abel Tasman Park. The park is named after a Dutch navigator, the first European to anchor in New Zealand waters. Paddling silently in the easy-to-maneuver kayaks allowed us to approach nesting shags and seals sunning on the rocks. You can opt for a guided tour, or take off by yourself. The park’s shoreline is one perfect sandy beach after another. During the summer, you’ll have plenty of company when the weather’s good. In Abel Tasman, tired paddlers can load their kayaks on a water taxi for the return trip. Looking for a bigger boat? Paddle a Maori war canoe with Waka Taia Mai Tours in the Bay of Islands.

Black Water Rafting

Waitomo on the North Island is renowned for its caves. These caverns are lit by bugs — fungus gnats – which dot the ceilings in their luminescent larval stage. Some enterprising Kiwi christened them glow worms — far more appealing. You can clamber through the caves by foot, or float through them on an inflated tire tube. Kiwis call this black water rafting. For the ultimate adventure, take the five-hour Black Abyss Tour. Start by abseiling (rappelling) through a gaping hole in the ground down into the Ruakuri Cave, then climb and squeeze through the underground caverns until you catch a tube and float out. Moderate fitness is required. Bring a swimsuit and towel. The Legendary Black Water Rafting Company provides all the gear and a hot shower afterwards. Rap, Raft ‘N’ Rock offers a similar all-inclusive trip.

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Spotlight on top experiences in China

Trying to pick the Top 10 places to see in China is like tossing a boxful of joss sticks out on the floor and having somebody say “pick out the stick that looks the best.” I’ve been going to China over a 24-year period and I think I’ve just hit a bit of the surface.

But here goes, with apologies to Old China Hands who may disagree and have their own lists, I’m sure, based on personal experiences and emotion.

I’m going to use the categories of Beijing, the Silk Road, Inner Mongolia, the Yangtze River, the Monsoon Jungles, Xian, Mountain People, Food, and Photos & History.

Beijing
I realize all people come to see the Great Wall. The problem is that it is overused, the walkways are crumbling, the traffic’s a mess and if you have a heart attack you’re in a lot of trouble. I’m reminded of the famous network TV executive who was driven the 42 miles to the Wall’s closest gate, put one leg out of the limousine, snapped a photo, and said, “Thanks, now let’s get back to Beijing.” But I guess see it you must, climb it at your peril, and keep in mind that it probably was not to keep barbarians out (they rode around it) but merely to say “Here lies the boundary of emperor Qin Shi Huangdi’s land.”

Similarly, the so-called Forbidden City requires a couple of hours of walking and more steps than seriously arthritic knees can tolerate.

So I’d suggest a leisurely two-day motor tour to see those things but not necessarily perambulate them all. Instead, check out Tiananmen Square, go to a Peking Opera performance, have a lunch at the Dowager Empress’s old cottage, now a restaurant on Beihai Lake, and dinner at an authentic Peking duck restaurant (see below under food.) Try a short trip on the “Underground Dragon”, Beijing’s air-conditioned subway. Many people seem to use the ride to sleep.

And for those interested, get up early, go to any park, and join in those doing tai chi chuan (taijiquan), that Chinese form of exercise and shadow boxing. Maybe attend a mass in the Southern Cathedral. It’s packed on Sundays with Chinese who remain steadfastly Catholic.

Silk Road
People argue whether Marco Polo really traveled the Silk Road or made up his story from tales he heard from travelers while he was in jail. No matter, this ancient trail from India and Persia into China holds a mystical attraction, even today. But you have to decide which part to visit.

Dunhuang is popular. You can see a 2,000 year old watchtower that guarded the Great Wall’s end at the caravan trail to the west into the desert. Buddhism came here early with drawings and sculptures in dark caves. There are nearly 500 caves with maybe 2,000 sculptures. Ten centuries of art. People call this an “archaeological sandbox” where people find ancient coins and pieces of pottery in the dirt.

The Grand Sun and the Silk Road are among the better hotels in Dunhuang and both have helpful travel desks to help you plan trips to the caves.

Urumqi is the central city of the region of the Silk Road, with a heavy Uighur Muslim minority and a history of dissidence and argument with the Han Chinese from Beijing and elsewhere who have flooded the region. It’s the headquarters for planning vehicle trips to see Uighur villages and the hillside yurts of the Kazahk and Tajik sheep herders who welcome tourists for a fee. They’ll kill and boil a sheep for you and suggest that as an honored guest you should eat the eyes.

For those up the journey to the Very End of China, there is Kashgar on the far west border with the 25,000- foot Pamir mountains, nomadic travelers on Bactrian camels, the Id Kah mosque with room for 8,000 worshippers, and all manner of countryside travel easily available through Discover China Tours.

Inner Mongolia
They are tearing down most of the old houses in the capital of Hohot, so go while there are still some left to photograph. But the real reason tourists come to this city is to make air or train connections out to the northeast Mongolian grasslands. This once was an outland, but the Chinese government encouraged a flood of immigrants to put a Han stamp on the land and the politics, and now Mongolians are a minority of about 20 percent of total population.

They used to all be farmers and herdsmen (women do house and children) but more and more they are settling into the urban centers. Travel agents such as Discover Mongolia.com arrange for small groups to visit grassland families where you can live in a yurt (they call them gurs) or just stay a while and drink fermented mare’s milk or tea, have someone play the string instrument called a huqin and ask questions about the nomadic life. The nomadic life these days is likely to include a car, or a truck, or at least a motorcycle.

In winter it can get down to minus 30 degrees Fahrenheit at night.

The Yangtze
The Yangtze runs for 3,900 miles so you can’t easily see it all. Yes, you can cruise part of it (see Boats & Cruises). The gateway to it is Shanghai, which is on a tributary called the Huangpu and which is the money center of China, the business powerhouse, polluted beyond belief, but a must-see for foreigners because … well, because it’s Shanghai.

See Shanghai for its architecturally-stunning high rises on the Pudong side of the river as well as the old Bund, the foreign enclave from the Opium War days, on the opposite side. Stay at the old Peace Hotel. See the Shanghai Acrobats perform. Tour the old city, but keep an eye on your flag-carrying guide because it’s easy to get lost in the crowds.
One of the best events is to go a Children’s Palace. Those are old homes that have been turned into after-school classrooms for ambitious (and paying) students in everything from music to computers. They welcome visitors who come on organized tours. One such agency is RegentTour.com.

See if you can arrange a half-day river trip on a junk with a quilted sail, the kind that mainly carry cargo but take some tourists, too. They are called fanchuan and the same kind traded with India six centuries ago. Check with ChinaOdysseyTours.com for all Yangtze outings.

The Monsoon Jungles
Way down south, near Laos, is where China turns jungly and unlike any other part of the country. The area is known as Xishuanbanna and you get there by train or plane from Yunnan. The trip to the main city of Jinghong is well worth your time and the effort and extra fare.

Some years ago it was a risky trip because of malaria. But that’s almost been eradicated and there’s little chance of the carrier mosquito being around Jinghong.

This is the home of the Dai people who look very similar to the people of northern Laos and Vietnam. And yes, it’s jungle. But historical jungle. Shang people were here 4,000 years ago. The first road didn’t come across the mountains from Yunnan until the 1950s. There are elephants and golden monkeys and people adorn themselves with flowers. During an annual spring festival they throw water on anything and anyone that moves.

The food leans toward bean curd, braised fish, water buffalo meat, bean sprouts, chicken and eggs. Hotel facilities have grown quite luxurious as more tourists come every year, especially for the spring Water Festival.

XIAN
Everybody comes to Xian to see the Tang empire tombs with their armies of life-size terra-cotta soldiers. Alas, outside the tombs are the belching smokestacks of the steel, chemical and textile factories. But the Xian digs are something! On the approach to the tombs are sculptures of lions, winged horses and headless generals. That’s tribute to Emperor Qin, popularized in the movie Hero, the man who first unified China.

This is one of China’s most popular tourist spots and you need to make early reservations to get a good room in a top-flight hotel. Luckily, you can now do that easily on the Internet. There are plenty of pictures and descriptions. What the sites don’t tell you is that there usually are two prices, one for Chinese and another for foreigners.

The Mountain People
There are many of them scattered around China but my favorites are the ones of Guizhou Province in the southwest between Yunnan and Sichuan. It’s one of the few places where the central Han Chinese are a minority.

The best way to see Guizhou is to book with a car or bus company that will take you both southwest and southeast in the province. Southwest because you’ll want to see Huangguoshu Falls, the largest cataract in Asia and actually nine falls in a series. You can walk, or for a small fee take an elevator and escalator down to the falls viewing area from the hotel-with-pool topside. Most of the visitors here are Chinese.

On the southeast side is Zhaoxing, the all-wood Dong village that’s just put in a new, modern hotel for foreigners who find Lulu’s Wooden House Inn too primitive.

And all the way along the mountain roads both southeast and southwest of the capital city of Guiyang are the small hillside villages of the Miao, Shui and Buyi minorities.

There are small hotels in every sizeable town along both roads into those areas, so overnight accommodations are not a problem.

Food
Many people come to China for the food. It seems to change dramatically with every hundred miles you travel. Finding news restaurants with new food is definitely worthy of being listed as one of the Top 10 travel events in China. Author K.C. Chang has written that “the overriding idea about food in China is that the kind and amount of food one takes is intimately relevant to one’s health. Food, therefore, is also medicine.”

It’s said that of the 4,000 people who typically ran an emperor’s quarters, 60 percent handled food and wine.

Ah, but where to eat? Shanghai people make no bones about the claim that there is no better food in China. I might have to agree. Hairy crab (Eriocher sinensis) is Shanghai’s #1 dish and pork dumpling is number 2. Old timers say that the Crystal Jade Restaurant has the best of the latter. The upscale Xintiandi restaurant is renowned for its ten-course crab banquet.

In Beijing, the Quanjude Restaurant is my choice for Peking duck. It may be the largest roast duck restaurant in the world, with 41 dining halls, one which can serve 600 diners. It’s commonly known as the Sick Duck restaurant because it’s next door to a major hospital.

As with many other things in China, food comes in two prices. One for Chinese and another for the foreigner, even if you speak fluent Chinese.

Photos and History
These really go together because most of the history you can see is history that you’ll want to preserve for your memory in photographs.

One of your big problems will be lighting. Most of the best historical sights are indoors (that’s why they are preserved) and intentionally not exposed to sunlight or even much artificial light. Using a flash seems to give you a bright spot in a black tunnel.
So one of my Top 10 recommendations is to get a first-rate digital SLR camera, one up there in the $700+ range, that can capture your indoor photos lightless by setting 1600 ASA and using the no-shake function.

For most outdoor shooting in China, I use both a warm-up filter because bright sunlight can be rare due to air pollution. When shooting near water or snowy mountains, I use a polarizing filter.

One of the common mistakes is to shoot too many photos of buildings and not enough of people. When you get home, those buildings won’t all look so special any more. The people shots will evoke many more memories of you times in restaurants, village homes and markets.

And make good use of the Internet before you go. Look up many travel agencies and airlines. Check on hotel deals you can make yourself. Read up on things to do in each town you’ll visit.

You can never be too well prepared when you travel China.

Bio
Bob Jones (Eons member: bj449) was the first television reporter allowed into the western, Muslim province of Xinjiang. He has done five China documentaries and traveled through Yunnan, Inner Mongolia and Guangdong, plus multiple trips to Beijing and Shanghai. He has also taken a group of middle-aged schoolteachers on a China north-to-south train run with many stops en route.

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