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.


Tourists follow ‘Game of Thrones’ trail in Northern Ireland

Updated 20 April 2019
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Tourists follow ‘Game of Thrones’ trail in Northern Ireland

  • Since the series began in 2011, fans have started to flock to the coastal caves and ruined castles of the British province where much of the show was shot
  • Tourism Northern Ireland estimates the magical show drew 120,000 visitors to the province in 2016

BELFAST: Wielding a replica broadsword, Indian tourist Akshay Mannur duels with friends — re-enacting scenes from “Game of Thrones” on the Northern Ireland pilgrimage trail for devotees of the blockbuster fantasy TV show.
Since the blood and guts series began its rise to prominence in 2011, fans have started to flock to the coastal caves and ruined castles of the British province where much of the HBO television production was shot.
“Every new step is like something new, it’s more than my expectations,” 23-year-old student Mannur marvelled.
“It’s a beautiful country — Northern Ireland is just amazing.”

Tourism Northern Ireland estimates the magical show — in its final season — drew 120,000 visitors to the province in 2016, generating £30 million (35 million euros, $39 million).
One in six visitors now comes to Northern Ireland to visit shooting locations, according to their estimates.
Along the largely coastal trail, a short drive outside the capital of Belfast, that popularity is clear to see.
A steady hum of buses and coaches are marshalled in and out of parking lots on strict schedules, and sleepy village shops throng with tourists.
“The last week, I think on Saturday past, we had a bus with 24 nationalities on it,” said tour guide Patrick Rogan at the mouth of the Cushendun Caves, the site of a pivotal plot point in the series.
“We had people from Patagonia, from New Zealand, from Japan, from Russia, from South Korea and Europe, so I think that tells its own story.”
Since 2012 his employer — the “Stones and Thrones” tour — has offered daily outings out of Belfast, manned mainly by guides who have acted as extras on the show.
Today they run at least two full buses a day, he said, competing with at least four other companies offering a similar service.
Other more bespoke tour services offer immersive experiences — axe-throwing, archery, and photo opportunities with a pair of wolves that starred in the epic series.

A popular comparison holds that “Game of Thrones” is to Northern Ireland tourism what “Lord of the Rings” has been to New Zealand.
But Northern Ireland’s very recent bloody past during the so-called ‘Troubles’ — when 3,500 were killed in 30 years of sectarian strife — makes the boom particularly welcome.
“The dark history that was here is coming out,” said Irish actor Liam Cunningham, a stalwart character in the series now feted as the most expensive to ever be filmed for the small screen.
“The place is blooming, and for us to have this show here and be part of that transition is joyful.”

Cunningham was speaking at the opening of a touring exhibition of costume and scenery pieces in Belfast, the same week as the new season of the series premiered.
Ranked displays of dragon skulls, intricately crafted weapons and interactive exhibits are preceded by a gallery of landscape prints, depicting the countryside shooting locations.
A caption on one image reads “Views to die horribly for,” whilst another reads “Sun, sea and savagery,” referring to the show’s reputation for bloodily killing off major characters.
They are testament to the canny local tourist board, making efforts to cement the link between their territory and the series.
“I think our association with such a global success helps to transform the image of Northern Ireland across the globe,” said John McGrillen, chief executive of Tourism Northern Ireland.
“In many ways that gives you PR that you just simply couldn’t buy.”
With the final season of “Game of Thrones” under way, the fever pitch devotion to the series may be about to end.
But with spin-off projects in the pipeline and a studio tour development due to open in Northern Ireland next year, the province still hopes for tourism revenues.
“We think this still has longevity,” said McGrillen.