It’s hard to keep anything in Hong Kong a secret for long. The walls between the world city and the world are thin; its people travel far and frequently, and they talk loudly.
But the city has some wonderful experiences that are not widely known, due to accessibility issues or simply because they have been forgotten.
If you’re looking to get under the skin of this Asian metropolis, here are a few of our favourite Hong Kong secrets.
Rocks from the dinosaur era
Hands-down one of Hong Kong’s most stunningly beautiful places but relatively unknown to visitors, Saikung’s hexagonal volcanic rock columns are part of the UNESCO-recognised Hong Kong Global Geopark (geopark.gov.hk), which features spectacular rock formations (volcanic and sedimentary) from 140 to 400 million years ago. The most geologically impressive of the volcanic gems can only be viewed from a boat, so the best way to see them is to join a boat tour or hire your own vessel.
Tours last about three hours and let you see, at reasonably close range, a variety of sea- and wind-sculpted marvels – massive sea stacks, precipitous rock cliffs, secluded bays, sea arches, sea caves. And imposed upon on these
On 25 April and 12 May 2015, deadly earthquakes struck central Nepal, causing catastrophic damage to Kathmandu and the surrounding valleys. Harrowing pictures of magnificent temples turned to rubble and concrete hotels collapsed on their foundations were beamed around the world. Five months on from the disaster, Nepal has declared itself open for tourism, but is now the right time to come back to Nepal, and what exactly will you find when you get here?
Assessing the damage
Media images at the time of the earthquakes made it look as though Nepal was completely destroyed, with its astonishing cultural heritage in ruins. The truth makes for less sensational headlines: while 130 historic temples collapsed across the country, only 14 of Nepal’s 75 districts suffered damage, and many of Nepal’s most famous sights escaped completely unscathed.
Even at the height of the disaster, travellers were relaxing in the resort town of Pokhara, unaware of the destruction to towns just 50km away. In Kathmandu, the vast majority of hotels reopened within days of the earthquakes, with just a handful of historic heritage hotels remaining closed for repairs.
This is not the first time Nepal has faced an earthquake of this scale, and as
The shortest month of the year is also the sweetest – if you know where to travel. Spend February up to your eyeballs in sugar-laced pancakes at Russia’s version of Mardi Gras; sip cocktails at a Modernist poolside setting in Palm Springs; or opt for something a little more tart, like Menton’s Fête du Citron (Lemon Festival).
Whatever your tastes, Lonely Planet’s destination experts have a treat in store for you.
Ski for your supper in the Dolomites, Italy
February is the peak of the European ski season, with the year’s best chances of great snow conditions (though obviously there are no guarantees when it comes to the weather!). Awarded World Heritage Site status by UNESCO for the exceptional natural beauty of its sheer rock faces and jagged pinnacles, the Dolomites mountain range in northern Italy provides the perfect backdrop for a spectacular ski holiday.
There are two main ski areas here: Dolomiti Superski (dolomitisuperski.com) is the largest, with 1200km of ski runs that connect up 12 valleys, and Skirama Dolomiti (skirama.it) in the western Brenta Dolomites, with 360km of pistes reaching up to 3000m altitude. Highlights include the famous Sella Ronda ski touring route, where skiers can spend a whole day circling the
Back away from your iPhone – this is a travel intervention. Do you ask about wifi before you’ve checked in? Instinctively arrange meals to fit an Instagram frame? Do you miss the magic of wildlife migrations and waterfalls in your hurry to edit the perfect Snapchat Story?
Help is at hand, digital traveller. But to overcome this addiction you must accept the cold turkey treatment. These remote places will deny you wifi, muddy your phone signal, and replace the trill of instant messages with roaring waves, monastic chanting or pure silence. Shun the modern world at these eight far-flung destinations.
Luxury lodges in Namibi
Does the idea of digging your own toilet make you want to stockpile two-ply and rush back to civilization? Fortunately you don’t have to forgo comfort to disconnect from the digital world. In Namibia, you can luxuriate in a plush lodge and remain blissfully unbothered by emails from your boss. Wilderness Safaris (wilderness-safaris.com) has a range of luxury accommodation, including 26 deliberately wifi-free camps in some of Namibia’s richest wildlife-spotting territory. Their Desert Rhino Camp is set within a valley home to Africa’s largest free-roaming population of black rhinos, plus lions, giraffes, springbok and more. Out with
Giant sand dunes fringed by sun-scorched valleys. Primordial fossils hidden within flaming-red cliffs. The sun setting pink and purple over a Mongolian yurt. Few experiences bring together offbeat adventure and epic road-tripping quite like bouncing through Mongolia’s Gobi Desert in the rear-facing seat of an off-road van, hoping against hope that the next little village has a couple of cans of petrol.
Hiring a van and a driver and spending a week cruising around the Gobi is one of the highlights of an adventurer’s trip to Mongolia. The region’s main natural sights are all less than 150km from one another, making an easy interchangeable loop that starts and ends in the capital, Ulaanbaatar.
Charge up your mp3 player, grab a few handfuls of camel cheese and set off on one of the best drives this side of Siberia.
Prepping in Ulaanbaatar
Before any of the photogenic bits, the adventure starts in Mongolia’s capital city, Ulaanbaatar. You’ll need to hire a van and driver, possibly source a group of travellers to fill it with (and share costs), and get enough supplies to keep the lot of you in good shape for the duration.
Bishkek has many moments of beauty, but it’s the Tian Shan mountains that are the real scenic draw of Kyrgyzstan.
Bishkek serves as a de facto visa capital of Central Asia, so many travellers find themselves with a bit of extra time here, passing the painless few days for a Kazakh tourist visa or the purgatory that is a Turkmen transit visa.
Situated in the northern centre of Kyrgyzstan just above the Tian Shan range, Bishkek makes an excellent hub for short trips into the mountains. The closest hikes are less than an hour away, meaning there’s a hike nearby just the right length for even the shortest of layovers. Here’s our guide to getting out of town and into the mountains, whether you’ve got a week or just one day.
One day – Exploring Ala-Archa
The easiest and closest option to Bishkek, a hired car can get you from the centre of town to the alplager (mountain camp) of Ala-Archa Canyon in under an hour. It’s popular with locals and tourists alike, and for more than just proximity: the main trail traces the Ala-Archa
Gazing at a remarkable view for the first time is one of travel’s greatest thrills – and these 10 landscapes are among the most mind-blowing we’ve ever seen.
Yellowstone National Park, Wyoming, USA
Yellowstone National Park has an embarrassment of astonishing sights, from the thundering waterfalls of the Grand Canyon to the infamous ‘Old Faithful’ geyser. But it would be hard to top the dazzling colours of the Grand Prismatic Spring, the largest hot spring in the USA. The spectrum of shades from aqua to rust derives from different types of bacteria, each of which thrive in a particular water temperature.
Aurora borealis, Kiruna, Sweden
This surreal spectacle is one of the most coveted bucket list experiences out there. The mesmerising display appears when charged particles, which flow from the sun at 1.4 million km/h, hit the Earth’s magnetic field at the planet’s poles. The effect of these curtains of light is heightened by solar storms. There’s never been a better time to view the mysterious aurora
If you’ve felt a disturbance in the Force lately, you’re not alone: millions of film fans are awaiting the new Star Wars movie, which comes out this week.
Whether the reboot gives devotees new hope for the franchise or proves to be a phantom menace remains to be seen, but one thing is certain: you’ll struggle to avoid Luke Skywalker and co. for a while. Even if you’re not a fan, Star Wars: Episode VII – The Force Awakens is coming to a commercial break, fast food chain and probably a cereal packet near you.
So if you can’t beat ‘em, why not join ‘em? Slip into the cockpit of the nearest X-wing and set a course for one of the even-better-in-real-life places to have featured in that galaxy far, far away.
The film-makers of the latest instalment could have plonked their cameras almost anywhere in Iceland, such is the otherworldliness of its landscape. Rumours suggest the Star Wars crew focused its attention on the northeast Mývatn region, which is a good bet: home to a spectacular lake, the Krafla volcano, and more gurgling mud pots, steaming fumaroles and weird lava formations than you can shake a stormtrooper at.
Giant rock formations rise from glimmering emerald waters and sugary beaches wrap jungle-shrouded islands. Speedboats buzz between them, with weathered long-tails puttering behind. This is southern Thailand as you’ve always imagined it, only more beautiful – and less travelled. With improving transport links and small distances, the sun-soaked Trang Islands, on Thailand’s far southern Andaman Coast, make for idyllic island-hopping.
Though no undiscovered tropical utopia, the Trang Islands are a notch up in tranquility from nearby Ko Lanta, Ko Phi-Phi or Phuket. Getting here requires more commitment than jetting into Phuket or Krabi, but even before arriving, you’ll spot those sparkly white sands and know it’s absolutely worth the effort.
Just 16km southwest of mainland Pak Meng, road-free Ko Ngai (also called Ko Hai) is a tiny, semi-wild stunner. It’s deservedly Trang’s most popular island, a particular hit with families and loved-up couples, but even so there’s still just a murmur of development rather than a roar. No permanent population lives here; there are just a sprinkling of low-key, upper-midrange resorts to enjoy.
Ko Ngai’s vibe is understated, dishevelled beach chic with 24-hour electricity (yes, and wi-fi). The shimmering aquamarine waters off its main strand conceal coral reefs worth exploring;
Melaka has transformed itself from a faded port city into a strutting tourist hub, and its kaleidoscope of cultures makes it one of Malaysia’s most irresistible weekends away. The trick is finding the time to sample flavours from Peranakan to Pakistani, roam from Chinatown to the Chitty village and go gallery-hopping and shopping, without dropping. This itinerary weaves together the very best of Melaka in a single weekend.
Arriving in Melaka on a Friday night hurls you straight into the colour and chaos of Jonker Walk Night Market. The street swarms with food vendors, craft stalls, fortune tellers, gag gift sellers and purveyors of flashy souvenirs. Start at the south end of the market near the bridge, working your way up past deep-fried octopus, Dutch tilework, I-heart-Melaka shirts and a rainbow of kuih Nonya (Peranakan rice sweets that glisten with coconut milk).
Just after the right-hand turn-off to Jln Hang Lekiu, find the courtyard with a statue of famous body-building champ Dr Gan Boon Leong and a menagerie of animal sculptures. It’s an irresistible place to take a selfie, so strike a pose before continuing north up Jonker Walk to Geographér Cafe. Fight for a seat; this traveller haven gets