El Calafate – Argentina
El Calafate - Argentina

El Calafate – Argentina

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Patagonia, land of glaciers and mountains

Leaving behind the civilization and big cities such as Buenos Aires and Cordoba for something of spectacular nature in this world: glaciers, mountains and landscapes of surreal pristine beauty. El Calafate itself being the major gateway into the countless natural parks, some of which in Chile’s soil yet accessible from Argentina’s side. Although not a city, but a small town, it contains all the facilities to handle the ever growing number of tourists seeking another of the fascinating sides Argentina has to offer.

Be prepared to not only enjoy the natural landscape, but also the flora and fauna which is beautiful. From the Patagonian desert of infinite emptiness, only interrupted by serpentine rivers, to the Magellanic subpolar forests. easy to spot are guanacos (similar to a llama), cougars (puma concolor) which is the second heaviest cat after the jaguar in the Americas; grey foxes, rheas (similar to an ostrich, also known as ñandúes), condors or eagles to name a few. You could simply spend weeks in the area, and every day visiting a different place, but distance of course, are large, and time spend travelling around dramatically increased because there are no motorways nor dual carriage roads. In some place and for many kilometres, the path is unpaved, not the best when in rainy or snowy conditions.

A trip to Argentina in my own opinion, is not complete unless you plan well your route to include this place. While there is something I would not recommend at all, coming here overland and spend unnecessary very long time, even days on a bus with actually not much to see out there from the window other than the emptiness; I would for sure not hesitate in taking a flight. The good news is that from most of the main cities in the country you can fly here directly, and at great fares! Would you even consider 40 hours on a bus from Buenos Aires to take an example, against 3 by plane? (more…)

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Cordoba – Argentina
Cordoba - Argentina

Cordoba – Argentina

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Cordoba de la Nueva Andalucia

Re-entering Argentina to continue the tour in Argentina after a couple of days visiting Montevideo, the capital city of Uruguay, it is now time for one of the most visited places in the country, the beautiful Cordoba. Argentina’s second largest city, named after Cordoba in Spain was founded in 1573 by Conquistador Jerónimo Luis de Cabrera, who claimed most of the northwest of current Argentina. Soon after, the original urban plan for the city was created: the traditional colonial orthogonal grid of streets, 70 blocks in total in a 10 by 7 with an epicentral square, the heart of the religion and politics where the City Hall and Cathedral were built.

It was not much later, in 1616 when the Jesuit Block started to take shape in its construction, becoming the first university in Argentina, and the 4th oldest in South America. Several other complexes ere built by the Jesuits in the province, receiving the name of Estancia Jesuistica, each had its own church and buildings around which, a town grew. Nowadays, these are one of the major tourist draws, and preserved for posterity by their inclusion in the UNESCO’s list as World Heritage Site.

Churches, basilicas, monasteries and palaces for wealthy merchants soon filled all available plots, rivalling in greatness with Buenos Aires to the point of been considered as the capital of the country before any other city. Its population kept growing, expanding beyond its original limits to create new districts around the old town; tending of new avenues and streets, infrastructure and another great boost to its economy after the arrival of thousands of immigrants from Italy and Spain at the end of the 19th century. The taste for the architecture change for a French, Italianate and Spanish colonial, same as it happened in Buenos Aires at the turn of the 20th century, and although beautiful, it meant the destruction of most of the original colonial fabric to make way for the bigger and greater.

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Colonia del Sacramento – Uruguay
Colonia del Sacramento - Uruguay

Colonia del Sacramento – Uruguay

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Best preserved colonial city in Uruguay

One of the highlights of coming to Uruguay is taking the chance for visiting the oldest and best preserved colonial city in the country, the small Colonia del Sacramento right along the Rio de la Plata estuary and directly opposite Buenos Aires. You can see one each other from the shore. But before continuing, let me define a bit more what best preserved and oldest city means here: basically, do not expect a wonderful city like the ones you can see all over Central America, notorious example of glorious Antigua in Guatemala. Colonia is very small and lacks that opulence and flair. Take a remote, small and possibly unknown village in Spain or Portugal, and you have what you are about to visit here. Yes, it is a nice place, with a charm, but little more than that. In the other hand, expect lots of tourists from all over the world, it is the most visited place in the country.

Colonia was founded and developed by the Portuguese who had several posts along the Rio de la Plata, coexisting with the Spanish where several times conflicts and wars changed the hands to the Spanish and back to the Portuguese. Destruction and reconstruction until the early 18th century when after the Treaty of Utrecht it was handed back to Portugal who transformed it into the most wealthy and best defended city in the Rio de la Plata region. Fallen in the hands of Spain on several more occasion through the century, it can be said that it was never part of the Spanish Empire for longer than 20 years. Uruguay became an independent nation in 1828.

Considering as an average tourist you can fully explore in one day Montevideo, the country’s capital, then why not enjoy a day out here! Easy to come, bearing it’s 3 hours away by bus or car from Montevideo, or merely hour and a half from Buenos Aires by high speed boat and easy cross-country border formalities. What’s best, no need to scramble your head thinking what to do, what to see and how to plan a best route. Everything, everywhere is walking distance next to each other, plenty of restaurants, bars and cafes.

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Ayutthaya – Thailand
Ayutthaya - Thailand

Ayutthaya – Thailand

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Venice of the East

Once of the major archaeological sites in Thailand, the once gloriously wealthy capital city of the former Kingdom of Ayutthaya, founded by King Ramathibodi I in 1351 AD, and overtaking Sukhothai as the capital of Siam (nowadays Thailand), was ruled by 35 kings during its history. Reaching a size of almost a million inhabitants by the year 1700, making it one of the largest in the world at that time, it was also one of the wealthiest. Merchants from all over the world made from Ayutthaya one of the most important trading posts between Asia and the West. Unfortunately, the glorious past was pretty much destroyed by the Burmese army in 1767 burning it to the grounds.

Nowadays, fortunately, you can see most of this imposing past from the huge ruins of the hundreds of temples around, with excavation and restoration continuously going on. It is one of the most complete historical site listed by the UNESCO as a World Heritage Site in the country.

The great side is how easy it is to reach from Bangkok. There is a god timetable of trains on this route, and forget what you read over the internet that the trip can take 2 hours or more. It’s merely 1 hour, or even shorter if taking the faster trains. I would not recommend you spend more than a day here. At the end, there is nothing else to do here than sightseeing the historical park, hence a day trip from Bangkok is more than viable without stress and getting tired at all. Or as how we did on another trip, leaving Bangkok early in the morning, being for the day in Ayutthaya, and then continuing on the night train to Vientiane, the capital of Laos at the end of the railway line. (more…)

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Bangkok – Thailand
Bangkok - Thailand

Bangkok – Thailand

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City of Royal Palaces

Incredible Thailand, and the astonishing capital city, Bangkok. To this date the fourth time here, and certainly looking for more to come in the future. Since 2011 when we first came here on what was the very first trip ever this far away, to now and the other times in between it still did not change anything in my opinion towards it. I simply love this place, more than ever. And not just the city, but this country itself, ranking among my top favourite 5 from the many I have been in the world, and that’s already over 100!.

It is such a gigantic city, with so many places to visit, ancient, historic and modern; so many temples, and so, so welcoming and charming, it feels the time is never enough, always short to do as much as you would like. Of course one of the reasons would be moving around the different areas and sights where you do require quite a long time.

The first impression a visitor takes, could not be better. Most of the international arrivals are in the spectacular Suvarnabhumi Airport. It is quite obvious why it has won so many prizes and awards for being one of the best in the world; it’s great architecture, easiness, environmental friendly and many more. So straightforward and quick to clear immigration, and so super fast to get to the heart of the city by the well connected railway links.

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Singapore
Singapore - Singapore

Singapore

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The City in a Garden

Returning once more to the most perfect “sin-city” in the planet, the stunning and shiny capital of this tiny nation-island, Singapore. While the first time I came here was as part of a wider trip visiting Thailand and Malaysia as well, on this occasion there was no difference. Coming from Malaysia, after spending two weeks travelling through Hong Kong, Macao and Taiwan. And funny-wise, it’s the matter of just a month after this trip that I will be returning to Southeast Asia, precisely to Thailand, one of my all-time favourite countries ever. No matter how many times I keep coming to Southeast Asia anyway, it is always so good that I cannot wait too long for the next one.

Singapore is the city of the future as many refer to it. A place where everything is being planned with a future perspective of 50 years ahead, and now even beyond. It is a very small nation, where space is their limitation. Completely surrounded by water, only a bridge links it to mainland Malaysia. Every project must be carefully studied and planned, and they excel at it like no other city in the world. From design, to comfort, environment, technology and efficiency; everything seems out of this world in the sense of cleanliness, safety, order and superb education and respect of its citizens. It’s really everything. A country which claims to have one of the highest educational levels and lowest crime in the world, and anyone can totally agree with that.

Now believe it or not, it is merely some dozens of years ago that this territory was in a completely different league and story. While it thrived as a British colony, it lasted until 1963 when the British left and so it joined Malaysia for a brief period of 2 years. For Malaysia, the fact that majority of the population was Chinese it was seen as a threat, hence on 9 of August 1965, Singapore became the first and only country in the world to gain independence against its own will. I’m quite sure Malaysia is still regretting such part of their history. Nowadays it is a non-stoppable growing Asian Tiger, like its other tigers Hong Kong, Taiwan and South Korea.

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George Town – Malaysia
George Town - Malaysia

George Town – Malaysia

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The Pearl of the Orient

From the three times I’ve been to Malaysia, on each occasion I get to visit a new place, and this trip is no exception, no other that one of the best kept gems and most visited in the country, second largest city after Kuala Lumpur, the gorgeous George Town in the island of Penang. North of the Malay peninsula not far anymore from neighbouring Thailand along the Strait of Malacca, home not only to a great colonial city but to lush jungles, pristine beaches and excellent resorts.

Founded by the British in 1786 as their first settlement in South east Asia which together with Malacca and Singapore formed the Straits Settlements that developed into a crown colony in 1867, it became the very first city in the modern history of the country, title granted by Queen Elizabeth II shortly before the dissolution and independence in 1957. The Japanese occupation in 1941 after World War II and their massacre of Chinese people, then the short period where the British regained the colony and all the troubles carried over on reconstruction, sanitation, crime, unemployment, decline…and an independent country that forgot about George Town for decades did deteriorate every side of the city until only quite recently from the year 2000.

With such a potential with regards to history, culture and heritage, no wonder by the year 2008 it was included in the prestigious list of World Heritage Sites by the UNESCO. Continuous efforts in restoration, reconstruction and new construction; diverting the overcrowded traffic from the roads and great projects still going these days have transformed it into a thriving port city once again also becoming the major cruise terminal of any ship on an Asia/Southeast Asia tour.

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Malacca – Malaysia
Malacca - Malaysia

Malacca – Malaysia

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The Historical City

Malacca, one of the most historical and most visited cities in Malaysia is without doubt the little gem awaiting to be discovered. Often forgotten by visitors, yet still terribly overcrowded with countless foreign visitors, it is together with George Town in the island of Penang and of course Kuala Lumpur, the greatest highlights for anyone visiting the country. These are in any case just a small example of the incredible beauty and countless landscapes, lush jungle, historic cities or amazing idyllic islands and beaches scattered all over the nation.

Gladly, this is a second time for me in this city. And while back in 2013 it was a terribly rushed day trip from KL where we did only spend 3 hours wandering the streets, considering 2 hours to come and another 2 to return by bus, it was certainly not enough. On this occasion, it was well enough time and much better planned ahead hence a great chance for also updating this travel guide and bringing it in line more descriptively and complete.

A few notes on history, it was founded in the 14th century by Sumatran prince Parameswara, who escaped to the Malay Peninsula when the state-city once he ruled, Srivijaya in the island of Sumatra, fell to the Majapahit. The Portuguese soon saw the potential on such a strategical location at the confluence of the river and the Andaman Sea in a natural harbour on the Straits of Malacca, and conquered to their empire in order to grow their colonies in the hyper profitable trade route, yet not for long. The Dutch came after taking over the Portuguese and as last, the British in the 19th century until Malaysia’s Independence in 1963.

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