Foreign visitors per year: 3.94 million
Languages: official Mandarin Chinese and Portuguese; unofficial Cantonese, Patua
Major industries: gaming, tourism
Unit of currency: Macau pataca (MOP$), Hong Kong dollar (HK$)
Cost index: hotel per night MOP$1500 (US$188), Portuguese dinner for two incl. wine MOP$800 (US$100), taxi from Macau Peninsula to Cotai Strip MOP$150 (US$18.80), ticket to a show MOP$1000 (US$125).
Macau has grown out of its rep as a Las Vegas knock-off and into a mélange of new world glamour and old world grit. With six times more revenue from gaming than Las Vegas, Macau has seen a huge boom in recent years. Nouveau riche mainland Chinese have begun to flock here to enjoy the buzz of China’s gambling hub.
But the casino culture belies Macau’s true charms. Its Portuguese heritage has created a fusion cuisine that combines European, African, Indian and Chinese elements. And where else in the world can you make an incense offering at an ancient Chinese Buddhist temple in the morning, take the world’s highest bungee jump in the afternoon, have a Michelin-starred meal in the evening topped off with a bottle of Portuguese vino, don your finest for a glitzy show and then pull up a plastic stool for some Chinese street food as a midnight snack?
With a spiffy new light rail system connecting the peninsula and islands in the works, as well as major hotel brands like Ritz Carlton and JW Marriott arriving and a slew of new glam casinos under construction, gambling in Macau will become even more tempting. And the completion of the world’s longest sea bridge between Macau, Hong Kong and mainland China means it’ll be easier than ever to get here.
During the A-Ma Festival, celebrate the Taoist goddess who gave Macau its name (`A-Ma gao’ means A-Ma Bay) on 11 May with offerings at her namesake temple and performances of Chinese opera.
As its name would suggest, Macau’s rowdiest to-do is the Drunken Dragon Festival on 20 June, when inebriated fishermen parade through the streets waving wooden dragons.
Stretching for an unbelievable five weeks throughout September and October, teams from around the world descend on Macau for the World Cup of pyrotechnic arts, the Macau International Fireworks Competition.
In November, the Macau Grand Prix sees champion motorcycle and race-car drivers take to the peninsula’s Guia Circuit, culminating in the Formula 3 Grand Prix race.
Exploring the back streets of Macau’s Unesco World Heritage old town – a mix of Portuguese and Chinese architecture found nowhere else on earth. Sampling the delights of Macanese cuisine, which mixes elements of Portuguese, African and Chinese food – think prawn, chorizo and olive-laden ‘Portuguese fried rice’. Thrill-seekers shouldn’t leave without a leap off the world’s highest commercial bungee platform or a cool stroll around the 233-metre-high Skywalk at Macau Tower.
Space-limited Macau is expanding at an incredible rate, with the Cotai Strip landfill having closed the formerly aquatic gap between Taipa and Coloane and more reclaimed land surfacing by the day. Real-estate prices are soaring, but pressure remains on local businesses to maintain Macau’s historic (read: low-rise) architecture. Added to that are ongoing discussions about the democratic process in the lead-up to the 20th anniversary of the region’s handover from Portuguese to Chinese sovereignty.
Macau is the world’s most densely populated territory, with more than 21,000 people per square kilometre.
At 980,000m2, the Venetian Macau is the world’s largest casino.
According to the CIA, Macau has the second highest life expectancy in the world at 84.41 years.
Code-switching is a common fact of life in Macau. On any visit, you’re likely to hear a local changing seamlessly from Cantonese to Portuguese, English and Mandarin, though you’ll be lucky to hear the local creole, an endangered language known as Pattuá .
With such a mix of influences on its cuisine, the food itself is a reason to visit Macau. Portuguese fried rice, African chicken and charcoal roasted seafood are staple dishes. Another local speciality is the Macanese egg tart – not unlike a Portuguese pastel de nata, but made with less sugar to suit local Chinese tastes. Cantonese cooking is also excellent here, from gourmet dim sum to late night chetomian from street stalls. And the sweet lack of import tax also means a gorgeous bottle of Douro wine is a no-brainer at most meals.
The golden facade of the Grand Lisboa casino, with its surreal pointed leaves designed to look like a lotus flower, dominates Macau’s skyline. And these days, dozens of cranes surround Macau, dredging sand and soil in the middle of the sea to form reclaimed land plots.
Population: 33 million
Foreign visitors per year: 10 million
Languages: Moroccan Arabic (Darija), Berber (main dialects Tashelhit, Tamazight and Tarifit), French
Major industry: phosphate rock mining and processing
Unit of currency :dirham (Dh)
Cost index: glass of beer Dh25 (US$3), two-hour surf lesson Dh300 (US$36); tourist hammam visit and scrub from Dh200 (US$24); tagine in budget restaurant Dh50 (US$6)
Recognising the spell Morocco’s winding medina lanes, carpet-piled souks and High Atlas peaks have cast on travellers since the hippy-trail days, the country’s tourist industry aimed to attract 10 million visitors annually by 2010. Five years later, the industry is halfway to its next staging post of 2020, hoping to double tourist arrivals to 20 million and become a top-20 destination.
Developments such as budget flights are certainly bringing Morocco’s surf beaches, mountain valleys and palm groves closer to Europe. On the ground, travellers can also enjoy increasingly chic accommodation, from medina hideaways to hilltop kasbahs ¬notably the riad hotels fit for glossy magazines. None of the country’s Maghrebi mystique is gone, but travellers can now explore the stirring landscapes and Berber culture in comfort and style. Equally, immersive, community-run tours and homestays offer opportunities to meet Moroccans and learn about their daily lives.
In June, Fez Festival of World Sacred Music stages performances by tariqas (Sufi orders) and World Music stars.
During July’s Festival of Popular Arts, the scrum of storytellers, snake-charmers, acrobats and astrologers on Marrakesh’s carnivalesque square, Djemaa el-Fna, reaches fever pitch.
One of the year-round religious festivals known as moussems, lmilchil Marriage Moussem in September pairs young Berber shepherds with wives.
Historic riads with hammams, zellij tiles and tadelakt walls.
Hotels where Hendrix/ Jagger/Burroughs supposedly stayed with squat toilets and crumbling walls.
Get lost in the medina. These labyrinthine old quarters, where mopeds and donkeys navigate alleyways and date vendors juggle mobile phones and sales patter, are Morocco’s chaotic heart and soul. Brave the Tizi n’Test pass. Cross one of the notoriously tortuous mountain passes to the snowy peaks of the High Atlas. Mountains such as Jebel Toubkal, North Africa’s highest at 4167m, are famous for trekking and climbing, with more opportunities for hiking and village stays in the Middle Atlas, Anti Atlas and Rif ranges.
Go in search of white Saharan sands. In Merzouga or M’Hamid, hire a turban-wrapped guide and head between the dunes by camel or 4WD to a nomad camp for a night under the stars.
Alternatively, find a shady spot in a date-farming oasis village, or generate more static than a worn carpet when you try sand boarding.
Having graced Hollywood movies, Morocco’s varied landscapes and atmospheric cities have recently appeared in TV series. In the third season of Game of Thrones, Essaouira medina features as Astapor, where Daenerys acquires an army and her dragons fry the city’s cruel rulers. Rabat stood in for Tehran in the third season of Homeland, and the first season of Atlantis was shot around Ouarzazate ¬already nicknamed `Ouallywood’ for its film studio.
Casablanca’s Hassan II Mosque, one of the world’s largest, has a glass floor overlooking the Atlantic waters beneath its rocky perch.
Fez medina, a millennium-old maze of souks and tanneries, is the world’s largest living Islamic medieval city and most populous car-free urban area.
On the Mediterranean coast, Ceuta and Melilla are Spanish-owned enclaves, with plazas, tapas bars and Gaudi-influenced architecture.
Goats climbing frizzy argan trees in the Souss Valley to munch on the nuts.
Foreign visitors per year: 350,000
Languages: English, St Lucian Creole French
Major industries: tourism, bananas
Unit of currency: East Caribbean dollar ($)
Cost index: beer in beachfront bar EC$5 (US$1.90), double room at boutique resort in high season EC$662 (US$245), minibus fare EC$1.50 (US$0.60), single tank dive EC$105 (US$40)
This ravishing island of emerald mountains and golden beaches sings its siren song year-round. Its main city of Castries is loaded with shopping, dining and sightseeing opps. And with primo diving and snorkelling, hikeable rainforests, and even a drive-in volcano (yeah, you heard us), it’s also got all the right stuff for the off-the-beaten-path adventurer.
When it comes to nature, St Lucia thrills. Swim in the blood-warm waters alongside dolphins, take out a pair of binoculars and try to spot the island’s unique species of parrot, catch sea turtles laying eggs on Grand Anse beach, or observe an iguana sunning itself on a log.
Those seeking solitude can explore the secluded villages of the interior or the quiet sandy coves of the east coast. Thrill-seekers should climb the Piton mountains, kite surf Sandy Beach, or dive magnificent coral-crusted undersea walls.
But despite its splendour, this remote island paradise is still little-visited except for the usual cruise-ship traffic and in-the-know French couples. Take advantage of what everyone else isn’t doing and make this year the year you visit St Lucia. There’s no way a place this charming can stay secret for long.
In May, national and international musicians jam together at the St Lucia Jazz Festival.
In June, St Lucia’s Carnival is a bacchanal of street dancers, calypso music, costumes, food and rum.
The Atlantic Rally for Cruisers, a global sailing event, sees enthusiasts arriving in St Lucia in November and December, after sailing 2,700 miles from their embarkation point in Spain.
Glide through the treetops in the heart of the St Lucia rainforest on a zip-line tour with Rain Forest Adventure. If you’re an adrenaline junkie who finds walking nature tours a bit… pedestrian, this is the activity for you. Take in the sights, sounds and smells of the tropical forest – prehistoric-looking ferns, buzzing insects, voluptuous jungle flowers – from a bird’s perspective. For the less Tarzan-spirited, there’s an aerial tram tour as well.
Though St Lucia is no stranger to celebrity visitors, actor Matt Damon recently set tongues wagging when he and wife Luciana Barrosso rented out the entire ultra-luxe Sugar Beach Resort for a vow-renewal ceremony. The star-studded guest list reportedly included Ben Affleck, Chelsea Clinton, Chris Hemsworth and Gus Van Sant, who partied for three days to the tune of a mid-six-figure price tag.
Who owns the beaches? Can a beach be privatised, or does it belong to everyone? Historically all the beaches are part of the ‘Queen’s Chain’, open to the public even if they’re in front of a hotel. But many developers are keen to change this tradition.
The environment has been a hot topic lately as growing development threatens biodiversity ‘hot spots’, potentially causing land degradation and species loss.
St Lucia has the highest population-to-Nobel-laureate ratio of any country, with two winners: Arthur Lewis in economics and Derek Walcott in literature.
Control of the country went back and forth between the British and the French 14 times.
The national bird, the St Lucia parrot, only exists on the island.
It is illegal to wear camouflage clothing on St Lucia.
On Pigeon Island, so-called despite the manmade causeway linking it to the rest of St Lucia, visitors will be confronted with photogenically spooky ruins worthy of a Gothic romance novel. Back in the 1550s, the island’s first French settler, Jambe de Bois (Wooden Leg), used Pigeon Island as a pirate base. Later, the British turned the island into a fort for use in warfare against the French. Today it’s a historic site dripping with vines and thick with the mystery of ages past.
The Southeast Asian city that never sleeps takes nocturnal entertainment to the streets once again with the Singapore Night Festival. Night owls take over the Bras Basah/Bugis heritage precinct for two weekends in August to showcase a magical show in the dark during this annual midsummer celebration.
This year’s Singapore Night Festival focuses on the theme of Inventions and Innovation and will see international and local artists combining science fiction with fantasy to create unforgettable performances that will dazzle through the night. Spread out over a few spots, including Armenian Street, CHIJMES, Singapore Art Museum, National Museum of Singapore and many more, festival goers can expect an array of events to fill up the night. Be treated to street buskers with acrobatic acts, Singapore musicians, installations and the highlight of every Singapore Night Festival – Night Lights.
This year will also see the return of PERSPECTIVE talks and CREATIONS workshops, where registered guests will get the chance to discuss in an open panel with artists or make a souvenir commemorating their time at Singapore Night Festival at a workshop.
When dawn breaks, stay in the area to participate in a heritage walk around one of Singapore’s oldest neighbourhoods. The Original Singapore Walks by Journeys will take history buffs through Bras Basah on The Time of Empire walk. Unearth interesting facts about the 19th century as knowledgeable tour guides share about prominent names in Singapore’s history.
Learn more about the Sir Stamford Raffles, the founder of Singapore, the Sarkies brothers, The Straits Times and the cocktail drink that put Singapore on the map as you visit St Andrew’s Cathedral, Coleman Street, Raffles Hotel, Supreme Court and much more (US$28 per pax).
Singapore Night Festival will be held over the course of two weekends from 19 to 27 August 2016. Various programmes are ticketed but the Night Lights shows are free.
Changi Airport in Singapore serves more than 100 airlines flying in from some 330 cities in about 80 countries around the world. National carrier Singapore Airlines is available in 63 international destinations in 35 countries.
Newly opened M Social Singapore is an ideal place to stay for the weekend. The Philippe Starck designed hotel is Robertson Quay’s newest and chicest accommodation that thrives on the idea of community and new experiences. Opening rates are available from US$187 per night for a Nice Room.
Celebrate the rich cultural diversity of Penang at its annual George Town Festival this summer. Inaugurated in 2010 in honour of George Town’s designation as a UNESCO World Heritage, the festival transform the Penang town into a stage to showcase performances, installations and collaborations with local and international artists from around the globe.
Highlights of the month-long festival include the A+SEAN Showcase, an outdoor event that includes giant installations of mammoth machines in Strandbeests by Theo Jansen and a host of popular bands from Malaysia and around the region.
In this short video you will see how “The Strandbeests” work
The George Town Festival commissioned Pearl of the Eastern & Oriental is not to be missed as well. Singaporean writer/director Lim Yu-Beng presents the second part in a trilogy of odes to his father’s home of Penang with an enchanting tale of a young female butler at the prestigious The Eastern & Oriental Hotel.
Beyond modern art shows are also heritage showcases. Svara Bhumi (Songs of the Earth), one of the official opening acts this year, will feature laeding aboriginal bands from Australia, New Zealand and the region.
Get yourself involved with the festival by participating in talks, workshops and heritage walks too. Liar’s Walk takes a crafty spin on popular walking tours available in George Town. Then listen in on stories from co-founder of Burning Man Festival, Larry Harvey, and prolific Cambodian director, Rithy Panh at Stories, Humanity and What About the Arts.
George Town Festival runs from 29 July to 28 August this year. Some events are ticketed or may require prior reservation/registration.
AirAsia flies direct from Singapore and Kuala Lumpur to Penang daily (airasia.com). Taxis here are cheap. Fares from Penang International Airport to George Town start from US$10.
How better to experience the UNESCO World Heritage Site of George Town than with a stay at Penang’s most iconic hotel? The Eastern & Oriental Hotel has been in service through two World Wars and has been the accommodation of many distinguished guests. The E & O continues to charm with its British colonial style in its facade and its rooms (from US$167 per night for Studio Suite).
Trust the Australians to make the best out of a potential environmental problem into a kickass festival to be enjoyed by the masses. The Darwin Beer Can Regatta was born out of an attempt to clean up litter in and around Darwin, when co-founders of the festival, Lutz Frankenfeld and Paul Rice-Chapman had the idea of using discarded beer cans to build a working, motorised boat.
Since 1974, the Darwin Beer Can Regatta has been a local and international favourite with festival goers for the spectacle of beer can boats floating in Port Darwin at Mindil Beach. The competition has seen some remarkable can-struction of boats that range from one to 12 metres in length. Races last through the morning and even see children taking part with soft drink can boats. On the beach, join in drier fun with sandcastle building, tug-of-wars, iron person competitions, novelty hat contests and thong (flip flops) throwing competitions.
Adding to the festival atmosphere is the Mindil Beach Sunset Market. Food is the main attraction here and hail from far-flung corners of the world. Find quality Asian cuisine, as well as South American and European fare. Apart from food, the market also has a number of stalls dedicated to local handmade goods, ranging from jewellery, clothes, and even Aboriginal artefacts.
Make sure to make your way to Darwin’s national parks too. Litchfield National Park and Kakadu National Park require a drive out but the wildlife and splendid scenes of nature are unparalleled to anything else in the Top End.
This year’s Darwin Beer Can Regatta will be held on 17 July from 10am to 5pm at Mindil Beach. Participating as a spectator is free.
Qantas (qantas.com) flies direct from Singapore to Darwin International Airport daily. Malaysia Airlines only flies direct from Kuala Lumpur thrice weekly. To get to Mindil Beach, rent a car from the airport to make the hour-long drive. There are various international car rental chains available, including Avis (from US$62 per day) and Hertz (from US$101 per day).
For immediate access to Mindil Beach, stay at SKYCITY Darwin. The beachfront hotel and resort is just a short walk from Mindil Beach Sunset Market and near the city centre. Onsite facilities also include spectacular pools, fine dining restaurants and a casino (from US$153 per night for Deluxe Room).
July is peak summer for the northern hemisphere and while many may choose to stay indoors to get away from the heat, the Japanese are one to head outdoors for a Natsumatsuri or summer festivals, are like street carnivals, where locals get together to enjoy the warm weather with food and games. The Gion Matsuri is no different and is considered one of the most famous festivals in Japan.
Held in Gion, the geisha district of Kyoto, the ancient festival originated as part of a purification ritual to appease the gods that caused natural disasters and plagues. By far the highlight of the festival is the Yamaboko Junkō parade. The Yamaboko are giant wooden floats that are assembled in a traditional Japanese way that doesn’t use nails.
These floats are mounted onto wooden wheels and are pulled through the narrow streets of Kyoto by at least 40 men during the parade. All eyes will be fixed on the chigo, though, during the parade. The chigo is a young boy who is chosen to act as the deity’s special page that has to cut a sacred rope with his sword in one slice as part of the ritual.
In the days leading to the Yamaboko Junkō parade, attend the Yoiyama Festival, which allows parade goers to check out the floats that also act as shrines or as museums holding priceless artefacts. As with every Natsumatsuri, do check out the yatai, street stalls selling traditional Japanese snacks and food, as well as the game stalls where the gamed can win bags of goldfish and other trinkets.
To feel like a part of the rich Japanese culture, don on a yukata (summer kimono). Yumeyakata has a wide range of colourful yukata for rent for both men and women.
The month-long summer festival runs from 1 to 29 July 2016. The Yamaboko Junkō parades are held from 17 to 24 July. It’s best to head to the intersection of Shinjo and Karasuma, where the parade begins. Arrive early for the best views. Entry to all events is free.
From Singapore, fly Singapore Airlines or All Nippon Airways direct to Kansai International Airport (KIX). From Kuala Lumpur, fly Malaysia Airlines or Japan Airlines. From KIX, grab the Hankyu Tourist Pass with Limousine BusTicket (from US$18) at the Kansai Tourist Information Center for fast transport to Kyoto.
Enjoy a full Japanese experience of staying in a ryokan with modern comforts at Maifukan, situated within Gion. Their combination Japanese/ Western-style rooms let guests enjoy the best of both worlds (from US$143 per pax per night).
The great composer Gioacchino Rossini was so fond of his hometown, Pesaro, that he left an ample fortune to the municipality, which honored him by establishing a Rossini Foundation. From this grew the annual Rossini Opera Festival, devoted exclusively to his work (die rarely performed ones as well as the famous) and now one of Italy’s most popular summer music festivals, a favorite among purists since it was founded in 1980.
Even when the festival is not in town, life centers around—where else?— the animated Via Rossini. Pesaro is a popular, attractive seaside resort, and its piazzas and cafes are always full. For the quintessential festival experience, stay at the handsomely refurbished but still old-world waterfront Hotel Vittoria, the meeting place for the stars of the festival.
Check out the culinary’ genius of Otello Renzi, a genuine scholar of food and wine whose restaurant, Da Teresa, is named after his mother, who oversees the kitchen. The house specialties of fresh pasta and fish draw the festival’s performing artists annually.
With its historic architecture and old-world courtliness, Guanajuato is the picture-perfect location for the Cervantes Arts Festival, an annual affair that keeps alive the image of the errant knight Don Quixote, tilting at windmills and fighting to preserve the romantic side of the Spanish soul.
On any given day, the narrow cobblestone lanes resonate with the music of the estudiantinas—local university students dressed as strolling 16th-century troubadours and armed with mandolins and guitars, evoking the Andalusia of centuries ago.
The multiweek Festival Internacional Cervantino is considered one of the most important celebrations in Latin America, and it floods the city’s and state’s many venues with well-known performing artists from around the world. Anything being performed in the Teatro Juarez, the center of Guanajuato’s cultural life, is worth seeing, if only to admire the theater’s ornate metalwork, gilt carving, and thick velvet.
The opulent turn-of-the-century theater—considered by Enrico Caruso to be one of the finest in the Americas—is located on the Jardin de la Union, the former mining capital’s main square and ultimate gathering place for the festival’s more spontaneous alfresco performances.
The venerable Posada Santa Fe, the oldest and most charming inn in town, has a number of rooms that overlook the plaza and the festival’s movable concert; its outdoor cafe downstairs promises front-row seats and some of the best regional food in town.
Until the expiring 1,000-year-old Venetian Empire fell to Napoleon in 1797, it seemed that it was holding on solely for the hedonistic annual Carnevale, when the well-heeled came from Europe’s courts to partake in unbridled and licentious festivities that went on for weeks, sometimes months.
Carnevale in Venice was resuscitated in 1980 and took off as if it had never skipped a beat. Leave the havoc and hedonism to Rio: Carnevale here is a reenactment of that final swan song of the Most Serene Republic, of rich damasks and powdered wigs, cascades of lace, costumes borrowed from the 18th century and reminiscent of the days of Casanova, dandies, and everywhere the characters and masks from Italy’s Commedia dell’Arte theater troupe.
Countless concerts and events wrestle Venice out of its wintertime hibernation, filling the piazzas, churches, and Byzantine palazzi with masquerading revelers. Off-limits to all but the luckiest invitation holders are the candlelit masked balls hosted by the descendants of the ancient doges and Venice’s once powerful noble families.
One of the rare exceptions is also one of the city’s most sumptuous: book in advance to attend II Ballo del Doge (the Doge’s Ball), held in the privately owned 15th-century frescoed Palazzo Pisani Moretta on the Grand Canal.
It’s an evening filled with extravagant banquets and strolling minstrels, all in a magical atmosphere illuminated by a thousand candles, re-creating that moment when La Repubblica Serenissima still held sway and life in Venice really was as if a dream.