The road less traveled

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Uganda is home to 10 national parks and boasts some astonishingly diverse scenery. (Shutterstock)
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Finland’s northernmost region is much more than just a kitschy seasonal holiday destination.
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Taiwan's nightlife is buzzing.
Updated 26 April 2018
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The road less traveled

DUBAI: For the more free-spirited traveler who wants to avoid the tourist trails this summer, check out some of the more unconventional destinations on offer at last week’s Arabian Travel Market

The light fantastic
LAPLAND

It’s most famous as the home of Santa Claus, of course, but Finland’s northernmost region is much more than just a kitschy seasonal holiday destination. For a true once-in-a-lifetime experience, the Kakslauttanen Arctic Resort offers glass igloos from which to view the breathtaking Northern Lights (on view for eight months of the year — August to April — from this fringe-of-the-wilderness resort on the road to the Arctic Sea) in one of the cleanest environments on the planet. If you want a bit more privacy than a glass dome offers, the rustic log cabins should do it for you. They have a mini glass igloo attached too, so you can still enjoy the midnight sun in the summer. If you want something a little more active than sightseeing, there’s hiking, mountain-biking and kayaking on offer, as well as horse or husky safaris.
It’s a good place to soak up some local culture too; the semi-nomadic reindeer-herding Sami people have inhabited the region for more than 100 years. And the resort is just next to Finland’s largest national park, Urho Kekkonen.
And if you still need your dose of kitsch, Santa’s Home (official!) is just a five-minute drive into the forest.

Ape adventures
UGANDA

With Rwanda doubling the price of its gorilla permits last year, neighboring Uganda — the only other place on earth you can see the magnificent apes in their natural habitat — has become increasingly attractive to nature lovers. It’s not just gorillas either. Uganda is home to 10 national parks and boasts some astonishingly diverse scenery — the sparse savannah of Kidepo Valley, the snow-tipped peaks of Mount Eldon on the Kenyan border, the northern shores of Lake Victoria, the Mabria Forest reserve, the awe-inspiring Murchison Falls, and more. You can see plenty of big game, if that’s your thing, a huge variety of endangered bird species, and monkeys galore. For a more cultural experience, take a trip to the home of the Echuya Batwa, commonly known as pygmies.
There’s a wide range of accommodation on offer too. If you’re on a budget and not too concerned about comfort, then opt for public transport and camping and you’ll spend very little. Of course, you can go the other way and choose luxury safari options too.

Street to sky
TAIWAN

New York might have been immortalized in song as “the city that never sleeps,” but Taiwan’s capital of Taipei puts up a persuasive argument for deserving that title. This place is buzzing in the daytime, but when the sun goes down things really take off. The renowned Shilin Night Market is a must-visit for shopaholics and foodies alike, while culture vultures will love the city’s burgeoning indie arts scene in the Zhongsan and Dongmen neighborhoods. Taipei offers a great range of accommodation too, from the classic Chinese style of the iconic Grand Hotel to hipster hangouts like Humble House (where you’re “not only a guest but also an artist in living,” apparently).
If that all sounds too much, Taipei also has plenty of less hectic attractions: Take a bike ride around some of its beautiful parks and ancient temples, visit the hot springs and geysers at Beitou, or head up Maokong Mountain to escape the rush of the streets. Alternatively, go full vertical and ride the world’s fastest elevator to the viewing decks of Taipei 101, the country’s legendary skyscraper.

Cream of the Caribbean
DOMINICAN REPUBLIC

As the rep at the Dominican Republic stand at the Arabian Travel Market pointed out, the country is ideally located for a Caribbean cruise holiday. But once you reach this place, you might decide against moving on. The republic is, the rep explained, home to “eight climates.” Its geographical diversity incorporates mountains, deserts, some of the world’s finest beaches and the stunning UNESCO heritage site of Santo Domingo, the capital, founded by Bartholomew Columbus (Christopher’s younger brother) in 1496. As you might expect, then, there is some stunning colonial architecture to be seen, particularly in the capital’s Zona Colonial — home to several of the New World’s “firsts” including the Catedral Primada de America, the oldest standing cathedral in the Western hemisphere.
But the Dominican Republic is by no means all about history. It’s a vibrant, chaotic treat, and a haven for culture lovers, from the highbrow — opera, orchestra, ballet, theater, avant-garde arts — to the pulsating nightlife and streetlife. The nature, too, is breathtaking: Humpback whales visit its northern shores every year, the protected Los Haitises forest is home to over 200 bird species, while dolphins and manatees regularly visit its waters. This country really does have something for everyone.

Here be tigers
BANGLADESH

It rarely features on the South Asian tourist trail, as Bangladesh continues to suffer from its media image as a place of natural disasters and political turmoil, but the country has a wealth of beauty, culture and comfort to offer travelers.
Its Arabian Travel Market brochure proclaims it “a country of rivers,” and they’re the cause of Bangladesh’s jaw-dropping, lush greenery. For outdoor types, this is a true haven — you can hike the rolling hills, dense forests and tea plantations of Srimangal or go bird- and snake-spotting in the freshwater swamp forest of Ratargul. The main draw for wildlife enthusiasts, of course, is the Bengal tiger. In the world’s largest mangrove forest, the UNESCO-protected Sundarbans, which Bangladesh shares with India, you can track these magnificent cats through the bleak beauty of the watery wilderness.
If you’re one of those people who thrive on the rush of sensory overload and hi-energy vibes that can only be found on city streets, you’ll love the bustling, colorful capital city, Dhaka. There’s history, architectural marvels and culture a-plenty (the stunning Pink Palace — Ahsan Manzil — will fill your Insta-feed for days), and, as you’d expect, some awesome street food to fuel your wanderings.


Malaysia seeks to attract more Arab tourists

Updated 17 June 2019
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Malaysia seeks to attract more Arab tourists

  • Tourism minister tells Arab News how his country plans to do so

KUALA LUMPUR: Malaysia is on a mission to welcome more tourists from the Arab world, establishing itself as a cosmopolitan, halal paradise.
With pristine beaches and diverse cultures, the Southeast Asian country has become a magnet for Middle Eastern tourists.
“Malaysia enjoys good relations with the Middle East. Arabs will always feel welcome in Malaysia. We have mutual respect for each other,” Malaysian Tourism, Art and Culture Minister Mohamaddin Haji Ketapi told Arab News.
“Malaysia has a multicultural society. There are a lot of ethnic groups that live happily and peacefully in this country.”
Colonized by the British, migrants from China and India were brought to Malaysia as laborers. “The country is a mix of people … such as the Malays, Chinese and Indians,” said Haji Ketapi.
“Malaysia has countless places to visit besides the capital Kuala Lumpur,” he added, citing Penang, Melaka, the Langkawi islands and Sabah.
“In the Middle East, most of the visitors are from Saudi Arabia, Oman, Yemen, Jordan, the UAE and other GCC (Gulf Cooperation Council) countries,” he said.

Malaysia's Tourism, Art and Culture Minister Mohamaddin Haji Ketapi.  (AN photo)

In 2018, nearly 33,000 Arab tourists visited Malaysia, up from 27,000 the previous year. “We want to have more Middle Eastern tourists,” said Haji Ketapi, adding that the majority of Arab tourists are from Saudi Arabia.
The number of Arab tourists is expected to rise further as Malaysia continues to position itself as a Muslim-friendly, halal haven.
Saudi tourists spend the most when holidaying in Malaysia, at $257 per capita, more than visitors from the UK, the US and Australia, said Haji Ketapi.
“Recently, we were in Dubai promoting Malaysia to attract more Arabs. They’re considered high-end tourists,” he added.
“When they come to Malaysia, they can spend up to six or seven nights, or even more. They stay longer in Malaysia than some other tourists.”
Saudi tourists spent on average 10.1 nights holidaying in Malaysia. “They come to Malaysia for health treatments, shopping and holidaying,” said Haji Ketapi.
“Some of them even come here for business. They have restaurant businesses. That’s why you can easily find Arabic restaurants.”
This year, Malaysia was ranked by the Mastercard-Crescent Rating Global Muslim Travel Index as the top travel destination for Muslim travellers for the ninth year in a row.
“Halal food can be easily found in the country. The majority of the population are Muslims,” said Haji Ketapi.

Malaysia's Tourism, Art and Culture Minister Mohamaddin Haji Ketapi speaking to Arab News journalist Nor Arlene Tan. (AN photo)

Muslim tourists “can go anywhere in the country without difficulty,” he added. “Mosques are everywhere for them to perform prayers. During Ramadan, there are a lot of Middle Eastern tourists visiting Malaysia.”
In every hotel, shopping mall and airport, Muslim travellers can find prayer rooms with signage pointing to Makkah, said Haji Ketapi.
Air Arabia “will be flying soon from Sharjah International Airport to Kuala Lumpur International Airport to bring more tourists from Arab countries,” he added.
“Arabs can easily learn about Malaysia with just a click of a button,” he said. “If I want to go to Dubai, I can just go on the internet and get information about Dubai. I can easily search for the name and cost of hotels and food.”
Some 30 percent of the population in the Middle East are aged 15-29. As such, Malaysia’s government hopes to attract younger tourists through its Visit Malaysia 2020 tourism campaign, which will include digital marketing, social media, influencers, hosted media and other online platforms.
“These people will cover Malaysia through social media and the internet, and bring the news to their country,” said Haji Ketapi.
“We hope to do more such connectivity to get more … tourists from everywhere to visit Malaysia.”