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Travel Guides from Bali to Vietnam - travel guides to South East Asia

Bali
A friendly and remarkably artistic people, living amid breath taking panoramas, have created dynamic society with unique arts and ceremonies, making Bali an island almost unreal in today's hectic and changing world. Terrace rice fields dominate the landscape, with rivers and small irrigation streams dissecting a luscious green landscape, filling the air with enchanting sounds of running water.
Bali divided by a string of impressive and authoritative volcanoes running almost through the center of the island. Mountains and particularly volcanoes are believed to be the home of the gods.
Shrouded in mystery and magic, they stretch skyward in majestic splendour. Bali's main volcano is the still active and sometimes explosive. Gunung Agung, which is considered, sacred among local people as it is believed to be the center of the universe. Not just a view visitors leave with the same believe.
The ancient kingdoms of the "Rajas" and princes of Bali were dismantled by colonial governments in the early part of this century, but many of the royal descendants still own traditional palaces and are very much respected as patrons of the arts. Art and culture are strongly bonded to Bali's unique form of Hinduism called "Hindu Darma". Classical dance dramas for example, are based on the old Hindu epics of the Ramayana and the Mahabarata, but contain an element of local folklore, perculiar to the island.
The very soul of Bali is rooted in religion and is expressed in art forms that have been passionately preserved over the centuries. It seems that almost every person is an artist, spending free time applying skills and images which have been passed down from generation to generation and grasped from a very young age. Whether expressed through beautiful and intricate paintings and dances, extraordinary carvings, superb weaving or even in decorations made for myriad shrines which can be found in public area, on roads, in paddy field or in homes, the island is alive with art.
The Balinese have been more exposed to international tourists and generally speak more English than people in other parts of the Indonesian archipelago. They have managed to preserve their culture despite overwhelming foreign influences brought to the region by an ever increasing number of tourist. Bali's international airport, Ngurah Rai, is in the south of the island and is served by numerous international airlines and charters.
In order to keep up with the growing number of visitors and the need for their comfort, more hotels have been built, ranging from small bungalows for budget travellers to the luxurious Nusa Dua tourist resort area, near the air port, on the southern tip of the island. Water sports have naturally gained in popularity and Bali offers superb surfing, windsurfing, sailing, scuba diving and white water rafting.  More....

Bangladesh
Formerly known as East Pakistan, Bangladesh came into being only in 1971, when the two parts of Pakistan split after a bitter civil war which drew in neighbouring India. Bangladesh spent 15 years under military rule and, although democracy was restored in 1990, the political scene remains volatile.
Most of the country is formed by the alluvial plain of the Ganges-Brahmaputra river system - the largest delta in the world; water flow is second only to that of the Amazon. To the east of the delta lie the Chittagong Hill Tracts. Flooding is normal and life has adapted to take account of this. Occasionally, excessive flooding, as in 1988, 1998 and 2004, causes widespread destruction and loss of life.
The landscape in Bangladesh is mainly flat with much bamboo-, mango- and palm-covered plains created by the effects of the great river systems of the Ganges and the Brahmaputra. The Sundarbans in southwest Bangladesh is one of the largest mangrove forests in the world and the area supports a variety of wildlife, including the Royal Bengal tiger, the national animal. Today, Bangladesh is one of the world’s most densely populated countries and poverty is deep and widespread, although the population growth has reduced and the health and education systems have improved.
However, there have been political tensions in recent years. As a result, travellers are advised against all but essential travel to the Chittagong Hill Tracts (this does not include the city of Chittagong) because of the risk of being caught up in clashes between rival tribal groups, settlers and the military.  More....

Bhutan
The Kingdom of Bhutan has adopted a cautious approach to tourism to avoid any negative impact on the country’s culture and environment. All tourists, group or individual, must travel on a pre-planned all inclusive guided tour through a registered tour operator in Bhutan or their counterparts abroad. The basic rate is fixed by the government.
There are still plenty of takers wanting to explore the breathtaking mountains and valleys of this astonishing country. The tourism industry in Bhutan is founded on the principle of sustainability, meaning it must be environmentally friendly, socially and culturally acceptable and economically viable. The number of tourists is also kept to a manageable level by the limited infrastructure.
The Bhutanese name for Bhutan, Druk Yul, means ’Land of the Thunder Dragon’. Much of Bhutanese history is lost in legends but the first major event was the arrival of Guru Rinpoche, believed to have brought Mahayana Buddhism from Tibet in the eighth century. Bhutan, the world’s last Mahayana Buddhist kingdom, became a coherent political entity around the 17th century and has never been conquered or ruled by another foreign power.
Bhutan is a peaceful country with strong traditional values based on religion, respect for the royal family and care for the environment.  More....

Brunei
Although a tiny state with a small population, Brunei has one of the highest standards of living in the world thanks to sizeable deposits of oil and gas. Situated on the northern coast of Borneo in South-East Asia, Brunei is a heavily forested state where visitors will encounter the grandeur of Islamic architecture and royal tradition. Architectural treasures include the Sultan Omar Ali Saifuddien Mosque, with its gleaming gold dome.
The country only gained independence in 1984, but has the world's oldest reigning monarch and centuries of royal heritage. At the helm of the only remaining Malay Islamic monarchy in the world, the Sultan of Brunei comes from a family line that dates back over 600 years. The first sultan ascended the throne in 1405, founding a dynasty of which the current sultan, His Majesty Sultan Haji Hassanal Bolkiah, is the 29th ruler. Sultan Hassanal Bolkiah has been on the throne for 38 years and is one of the world's richest individuals.  More....

Burma
But for its brutal military regime, the beautiful country of Myanmar (previously known as Burma) would be a popular tourist destination tempting visitors from across the globe to explore its dense forests, abundant wildlife, friendly people, rich culture and underdeveloped coastal resorts. However, would-be tourists face a difficult choice in whether to come. On the one hand, there are many attractions: thousands of pagodas, fascinating culture and ancient towns among them. And tourists are welcomed with open arms by locals hungry for news of the outside world, and for their economic contribution.
On the other hand, it is argued that tourism directly funds the military regime. The pro-democracy resistance figure Aung San Suu Kyi is one of many who have asked tourists to resist traveling to Myanmar for this reason.
Travellers should also be aware that certain areas in Myanmar are currently out of bounds owing to the political disturbances of recent years; always seek advice before planning a trip.  More....

Cambodia
Captivating Cambodia is a land of beautiful temples, wild jungle and unspoilt countryside, yet still bears the scars of years of conflict. For so long off limits to the tourist trail, Cambodia began to open up to visitors again in the late 1980s. Travellers poured into the gritty capital Phnom Penh and marvelled at the jungle temples of Angkor as the Khmer Rouge militia dissipated.
An extensive landmine clearing program has made other areas of Cambodia accessible, and visitors should take the time to discover the hill tribes around Banlung, the colonial architecture of Battambang and the sandy beaches of Sihanoukville.
Today's tourists can expect to mix luxurious hotels and restaurants with traditional markets and ramshackle side streets in Phnom Penh and Siem Reap.
Intrepid foodies can look forward to sampling deep fried spiders and cockroaches which have become delicacies in northern Cambodia, despite being a reminder of the food crisis endured by Cambodians under the Khmer Rouge.
With the road network improving, it's time for visitors to start exploring this delightful country beyond its imposing temples.   More....

India
India is a mystical land that presents the traveller with a bamboozling array of unforgettable experiences. Hinduism, the prominent religion, is intimately woven into the fabric of everyday life, reflected in an extraordinary range of time-honoured traditions. Apart from its ancient spiritual framework, India's vastness also challenges the imagination, being home to one sixth of the world's population.
Its intoxicatingly rich history can be traced back to at least 2500BC when the first known civilization settled along the Indus River. There was an influx of Mughals in the 1520s from Central Asia, who maintained effective control of the north until the mid-18th century. At the end of that century, as the Mughal Empire declined, the British took control of the whole subcontinent, and India was administered by a single alien power.
The Indian National Congress was formed in 1885, but made little progress on independence until Mahatma Gandhi began the policy of non-violent non-cooperation with the British. But the Congress itself was later split on the issue of Hindus and Muslims. The Muslims, under Mohammad Ali Jinnah, claimed a separate homeland and in August 1947 the independent states of India and Pakistan came into being. Since this time, India has been a democratic republic.
Such a rich history has spawned an incredible number of exquisite palaces, temples and monuments. The most frequently visited part of India is the Golden Triangle, comprised of Delhi, Agra and Jaipur. Meanwhile, the people-packed cities of Mumbai (Bombay) and Kolkata (Calcutta) have a bustling, colourful charm, while the holy city of Varanasi and the awe-inspiring temples of Tamil Nadu are rewarding places of pilgrimage. For those in search of tropical bliss, there are the palm-fringed beaches of Goa and Kerala. And for fresh air and serenity, India ripples with pristine mountains and hills, from the towering beauty of the mighty Himalayas to a bevy of beautiful pine forests, orchards and babbling streams.
One of the greatest fascinations of India is the startling juxtaposition of old and new; centuries of history rubbing shoulders with the trappings of modern-day living, from slick Internet cafes and fancy fast-food eateries, to swanky bars and chichi boutiques.  More....

Indonesia
The islands of the Indonesian archipelago are strung like beads across the equator. Clear blue seas lap pristine beaches, gentle breezes carry scents of spices and flowers, and divers are entranced by the ocean's riches. Inland, dramatic volcanic ranges tower above a green mantle of terraced hillsides and lush rainforest.
Bali, Lombok and Jakarta
Bali offers an image of paradise: stunning scenery, gentle sarong-clad people and sunsets of legendary glory. On peaceful Lombok, life moves at a slower pace, while bustling Jakarta exhibits Indonesia's cosmopolitan, modern face.
Adventure Komodo Island's‘living dinosaurs' and the entrancing ‘sea gardens' of Suwalesi invite exploration, as do Borobudur's architectural treasures, which include 5km (3 miles) of Buddhist relief carvings. Adventure-seekers head for Kalimantan's remote jungle interior or explore Sumatra, with its teeming wildlife and wealth of tribal groups.  More....

Malaysia
Malaysia, which celebrated 50 years of independence in 2007, is one of the rising stars of South-East Asian tourism, a nation looking to the future while cherishing the ways of the past. Centuries of trade combined with a vibrant mix of Malay, Chinese, Indian and tribal influence have created a mix of peoples and culture that make it a colourful and intriguing place to visit.
Tropical island resorts and endless white, sandy beaches offer a taste of paradise, while beneath warm coral seas, world-class dive sites await exploration. Orang-utans, the oldest rainforest in the world, city skyscrapers and majestic mosques and temples, plus a gorgeous coastline, are enough to tempt even the most jaded visitor. And if that were not enough, Malaysia's culinary credentials are among Asia's finest.
The British were relatively late arrivals to the region in the late 18th century, following Portuguese and later Dutch settlement, but they played a key role following the European wars of the 1790s and, in particular, the defeat of the Netherlands by France in 1795. The Federated Malay States were created in 1895, and remained under British colonial control until the Japanese invasion of 1942.
After Japanese defeat in 1945, the 11 states were once again incorporated as British Protectorates and, in 1948, became the Federation of Malaya. In 1963, the Federation of Malaya merged with Singapore and the former British colonies of Sarawak and Sabah, on north Borneo, to form modern Malaysia. Singapore seceded to become an independent state in its own right in 1965, leaving Malaysia in its present form.
Its convoluted history highlights why Malaysia is so ethnically and culturally diverse. Even better, the magnificent landscape is no less fascinating - dense jungles, soaring peaks and lush tropical rainforests harbour abundant and exotic flora and fauna.  More....

Maldives
For a long time, the Republic of Maldives was one of the best-kept secrets in the world; a beautiful string of low-lying coral islands in the Indian Ocean, a paradise for water sports enthusiasts and sun seekers alike. Now the islands are developing quickly to become an increasingly popular long-haul destination.
The country’s 26 natural atolls offer nautical delights from night-fishing trips, windsurfing and scuba-diving. Many islands embrace enormous lagoons, where bright blue-green water laps gently.
Yet, even in paradise, trouble can bubble beneath the surface. It is precisely because the Maldives are so low-lying (80% of the territory is less than 1m/3.3ft above sea level), so transparent and perfect for snorkelling, that their very existence is especially threatened by global warming. They are also particularly vulnerable to natural catastrophe, as shown in the devastating tsunami on 26 December 2004: of the Maldives’ 199 inhabited islands, 20 were completely destroyed.
These factors need to be seriously discussed by the international community in future years. Otherwise, paradise really might be lost.  More....

Nepal
Pakistan encapsulates great variety, from hidden bazaars in the narrow streets of Rawalpindi to architecture that rivals the Taj Mahal in Lahore. It is a land enriched by friendly people and magnificent landscapes. Opportunity for adventure is as high as its mighty mountain ranges, with water sports, mountaineering and trekking all popular and rewarding activities. Coupled with this is a profound sense of cultural concoction, Pakistan once being home to several ancient civilizations, and witness to the rise and fall of dynasties.  In ancient times, the area that now comprises Pakistan marked the farthest reaches of the conquests of Alexander the Great. It was also the home of Buddhist Ghandaran culture. It was the independence of India in 1947 that catalysed Pakistan’s nationhood. Under pressure from Indian Muslims, the British created a separate Muslim state. Originally, it consisted of two parts, East Pakistan (now Bangladesh) and West Pakistan (now a single unitary state).
Following military rule and civil war, Bangladesh became independent, truncating Pakistan. Today, the long-running Indo-Pakistan conflict continues, with the status of Kashmir at its heart. Although it has a majority Muslim population, Kashmir became part of India in 1947.   More....

Pakistan
Pakistan’s landscape is as fractured and unsettled as its history. Pakistan encapsulates great variety, from hidden bazaars in the narrow streets of Rawalpindi to architecture that rivals the Taj Mahal in Lahore. It is a land enriched by friendly people and magnificent landscapes. Opportunity for adventure is as high as its mighty mountain ranges, with water sports, mountaineering and trekking all popular and rewarding activities. Coupled with this is a profound sense of cultural concoction, Pakistan once being home to several ancient civilizations, and witness to the rise and fall of dynasties.
In ancient times, the area that now comprises Pakistan marked the farthest reaches of the conquests of Alexander the Great. It was also the home of Buddhist Ghandaran culture. It was the independence of India in 1947 that catalysed Pakistan’s nationhood. Under pressure from Indian Muslims, the British created a separate Muslim state. Originally, it consisted of two parts, East Pakistan (now Bangladesh) and West Pakistan (now a single unitary state).
Following military rule and civil war, Bangladesh became independent, truncating Pakistan. Today, the long-running Indo-Pakistan conflict continues, with the status of Kashmir at its heart. Although it has a majority Muslim population, Kashmir became part of India in 1947.  More....

Singapore
Cultural melting pot and dazzling example of the region’s economic successes, wealthy Singapore assails the senses of the first time visitor.  The former British trading post and colony has carved a unique niche for itself in its two short centuries of existence, nowadays offering a vivid combination of ultra-modern skyscrapers, remnants of tropical rainforest and colourful ethnic urban areas, each with a character very much of their own.
One of the most noticeable features of this tiny but bustling city-state is its cleanliness - indeed, it is sometimes criticized
for its many seemingly petty regulations, such as the banning of chewing gum - but crime is virtually unknown, and it is one of the world’s safest places to visit.  Despite its rather sanitised reputation, though, Singapore is anything but dull. The visitor is spoilt for choice, for things to see and do, and in terms of vibrant nightlife, its rich cultural mix, and a whole planet’s worth of culinary experiences. Singapore is a veritable feast for the senses, a heady mixture of the familiar and the exotic.
It suits all budgets, too, presenting a happy collision of opposites - grand and expensive at the famed Raffles Hotel, but low-key and cheap (but good) in the food markets of Bugis Junction and Clarke Quay.  More....

Sri Lanka
A teardrop-shaped island cast adrift in the Indian Ocean, Sri lanka is filled with cultural and natural treasures. Indians, Portuguese, Dutch and British have all left their marks here, making for a delightful mix of ancient cities, monuments and atmospheric colonial architecture.
At the same time, palm-fringed beaches are never far away and lush mountainous greenery beckons inland. It’s clear to see why Marco Polo proclaimed Sri Lanka to be one of the best islands in the world.
However, its teardrop shape is not inappropriate and Sri Lanka has known its fair share of political turmoil and natural disasters in recent decades. Once the country became a Republic in 1972, serious conflict arose from the Tamil minority (occupying the north and east), who demanded a separate state. Terrorist activity by the Tamil Tigers has been prevalent ever since - apart from a shaky ceasefire in 2002, which sadly did not last much more than two years.
The country was also devastated by the 2004 tsunami, which killed more than 30,000 Sri Lankans and wiped out many coastal communities. While many tourists have been discouraged by the troubles, tourism is a healing force in this hard-hit country, and visitors will be guaranteed a warm welcome.  More....

Thailand
Each year Thailand is discovered by millions of visitors, drawn to its pristine beaches and aquamarine seas, as well as its rich culture, glitzy shopping malls, chic boutiques and colourful markets crammed with bargains.
With its enticing mixture of established destinations such as Phuket and Hua Hin, and out-of-the-way palm-fringed islands, Thailand appeals to the most varied of travellers, whether they are craving barefoot luxury or hippy chic. From staying on a converted rice barge, clambering into a jungle tree house or bedding down in a hill tribe village, Thailand offers a wealth of choice for every taste and budget.
Pampering is an art form in Thailand, and throughout the country spas offer authentic treatments whether it's in a 5-star luxury resort or a beach-side hut. If it's pulse-raising excitement you are after, head to the hectic sprawl of Bangkok's futuristic high-rise buildings.
Early morning is when the saffron-robed monks leave the sanctuary of their wats (temples) to receive alms from the people, be it in a dusty village or on crowded city streets. Buddhism is a way of life here and the Thai's are also strong supporters of their monarchy. In fact, His Majesty King Bhumibol is the longest reigning monarch in the world, since coming to power in 1946.
Following the end of absolute monarchy, Thailand moved towards democracy, but this was thwarted by the military, which has often staged coups in protest at government policies. The most recent was in September 2006 when a bloodless coup overthrew Prime Minister Thaksin Shinawatra and replaced him with an interim prime minister until elections at the end of 2007. For all this, Thailand has risen above the economic collapse of 1997, SARS and avian influenza as well as the devastating tsunami in December 2004, to become a hugely popular destination on the long-haul tourist trail.  More....

Vietnam
Vietnam, a name too long associated with the horrors of war, has finally won its last battle - to capture the imagination of the travelling public. Elegant Hanoi now vies with its dynamic sister, Ho Chi Minh City (still fondly called Saigon by the locals), for the attention of visitors drawn by the eclectic mix of old and new. In both cities the streets are jam-packed with motorbikes and scooters, often carrying whole families, and the markets are chaotically busy.
Elsewhere, the scenes are timeless. Early morning on the Mekong Delta brings the daily floating markets where fruit and vegetables are peddled. Everywhere the green patchwork of rice paddies stretches into the distance, broken only by the silhouette of water buffalo and conical-hatted farm workers bending down to tend the young plants.
The soaring mountains in the north of the country tower over tiny villages where life continues much as it has done for centuries, with traditional costumes still proudly worn. Old French hill stations survive throughout the country offering welcome respite from the heat of the plains below. The ancient former imperial capital, Hué, takes visitors back to a time of concubines and eunuchs. In every town, young women wearing the simple but feminine national dress, the ao dai, weave their way through the traffic at the controls of a motorbike.  Only in Vietnam could the past and the present be encapsulated so perfectly.   More....

 
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