Considered one of the world’s most iconic landmarks, and elected as one of the New Seven Wonders of the World, the Taj Mahal is a living testament to grandeur, romance, and historical significance. As India’s most recognizable structure, the Taj Mahal was built by Mughal Emperor Shah Jahan in memory to his favorite wife. Its interior is complete with blossoming and vibrant exotic gardens, reflecting pools, and an impressive mosque.
Although the Taj Mahal has been photographed time and time again, photography does no justice to the majesty of this awe-inspiring tomb. The wells of unfathomable emotion are drawn from its exterior, as the sun from dusk until dawn radiates an exquisite reflection upon its white marble composite, proudly coating itself in divine shades of red, orange, gold and pink.
Dozens of inexpensive guest houses, cheap pubs and local restaurants line the sidewalks of this street that’s popular among younger crowds and the backpacker set. Known for its noise, traffic and pure chaos, Pham Ngu Lao draws travelers looking to experience the energy of Ho Chi Minh without a filter.
Travelers can satisfy their hunger with a traditional bahn mi or even a plate of western-style bacon and eggs at one of the many cafes along this bustling street. Those looking to bunker down and watch the world pass can grab a seat at an outdoor table for cold beers and incredible people watching. And while Pham Ngu Lao offers an in-your-face taste of the city, travelers can still escape the chaos by walking a few blocks to the nearby park that’s filled with plenty of peaceful green space.
Jaipur is known for its spectacular architectural sites and the Hawa Mahal, or Palace of Winds, is perhaps the city’s most recognizable and photogenic building. The five floors of delicately-worked pink sandstone is only one room wide with rows of perforated screens and more than 900 windows to allow the breeze to pass through and cool the interior.
The honeycombed Hawa Mahal was constructed in 1799 by poet-king Sawai Pratap Singh, and, according to legend, was originally where the female members of the royal family could look down on the people in the streets below without being observed. Visitors can do some people watching of their own from this vantage point or can climb to the rooftop for an overhead view of the City Palace to one side and Siredeori Bazaar to the other.
The Mubarak Mahal was built as a part of Jaipur’s City Palace to welcome foreign dignitaries of the Maharaja. Built on a raised platform, the white palace is an example of Mughal, Rajput, and European style architecture. Its colonnaded and carved exterior now leads to the Maharaja Sawai Man Singh II Museum, which houses mostly historic textiles.
The Textile and Costume Museum on the first floor exhibits many of the clothing worn by royalty: formal costumes, traditional block prints, and a variety of embroidered textiles in precious fabrics, including silk and Kashmiri pashmina. Visitors can see the local history of both male and female attire, including uniquely shaped and sized items. Perhaps some of the most beautiful items are the brightly colored saris, many covered in golden embroidery. Royal carpets and antiquities can also been seen inside.
Walking through the grounds of Jantar Mantar may feel more like visiting a sculpture garden than an astronomical observatory. The eighteen devices, built by Jai Singh II, each serve a different function, such as predicting eclipses, telling time and tracking astrological bodies./p>
Jai Singh II built Jatar Mantar in 1726 and it remains the best preserved of the five observatories he built within his lifetime. Armed with knowledge of European astronomical advances, Jai Singh II invented many of the instruments himself, the most impressive of which is the massive Samrat Yantra sundial with a shadow that moves up to 13 feet (4 meters) per hour, or a hands-width every minute.
Guides onsite can explain how the devices work, and several are still used to make astrological and weather predictions. Try to come on a sunny day, since none of the devices will work under cloud cover, but avoid the middle of the day when the sun is particularly hot and shade is harder to come by.
It used to be that the Jal Mahal (Water Palace) was merely another fortress worthy of a quick photo op on the way to or from Amber Fort. After undergoing a dramatic restoration, however, the palace perched in the middle of Man Sagar Lake is worthy of a visit in its own right.
Sawai Pratap Singh built the five-story red sandstone palace in 1799 using Rajput and Mughal stylistic elements. After 200 years of neglect, water damage and general disrepair, the palace was restored to its original splendor. The rooftop gardens, Jal Mahal’s most stunning features, have been carved, painted and gilded by dozens of artists and designers, and the resulting details are exquisite.
During the monsoon season from June through September, the bottom four floors of the palace become submerged, but the boat trip across the glassy waters makes this the best time for a visit. Come at dusk when the setting sun lights up the water and marble alike.
Located in the historic Intramuros district of Manila (the oldest district and historic core of Manila, otherwise known as the "Walled City"), the Church of San Agustin was designated an UNESCO World Heritage Site as an example of the Baroque architecture that was specific to the Philippines. A Roman Catholic Church, it was constructed by the Spanish in the sixteenth century, but was not consecrated until 1607. Its beautiful architecture is worth the visit all by itself, though it also houses the tombs of several historical figures, including several conquistadors, statesmen and artists.
The accompanying San Agustin Museum is housed in the adjacent San Agustin Monastery, and exhibits art and artifacts from the Philippines, Spain, Mexico and other cultural centers. The original Augustinians arrived in the Philippines in 1565 just a few decades after Magellan explored the islands, meaning that the aforementioned museum is no slouch.
In stark contrast to its famed northerly neighbor, tiny and sleepy Koh Tan tempts visitors with empty beaches and vehicle-less roads just three miles and a 15-minute boat ride south of Koh Samui’s southern tip. Koh Tan (also spelled Koh Taen) is sometimes also called Coral Island for its diversity of colorful hard and soft corals, and it often serves as a popular day-long escape for snorkel or kayak excursions through its clear inshore waters. Though the island doesn’t have quite the aquatic diversity of other more remote locations, it still affords excellent snorkeling, relatively empty beaches and navigable mangrove swamps all very close to a major tourist hub. Longboats make the crossing daily and usually stop at several unique coral spots around the island.
On land, Koh Tan spans only three square miles, and its population barely tops 30 people; their rustic lifestyle with limited electricity affords a glimpse of what much of Thai Island-living was like decades ago.
The superb buildings in this complex date from the onset of Islamic rule in India. The Qutub Minar (Qutb Minar or Qutab Minar) itself is a soaring 240 foot (73 meter) high tower of victory that was started in 1193, immediately after the defeat of the last Hindu kingdom in Delhi. At its base is Quwwat ul-Islam Masjid (Might of Islam Mosque), India's first mosque.
The tower has 5 distinct stories, each marked by a projecting balcony, and it tapers, like something out of a fairytale, from a 50 ft (15 m) diameter at the base to just 8 ft (2.5 m) at the top. The first 3 stories are made of red sandstone, the fourth and fifth of marble and sandstone. The stairs inside the tower coil so steeply that they're enough to make the hardiest climber dizzy and claustrophobic, and it was no surprise when a stampede during a school trip in 1979 resulted in a number of deaths. The inside of the tower has since been closed to visitors.
Designed by British architect Sir Edwin Lutyens, India Gate sits at the center of New Delhi in the middle of a traffic circle at one end of Rajpath. Built in 1931, the Arc-de-Triomphe-like gate commemorates the 90,000 members of the British Indian Army killed during World War I and the Third Afghan War.
Another memorial, the Amar Jawan Jyoti or eternal flame, was added to India Gate in the early 1970s as a memorial to India’s unknown soldiers, particularly those who died in the Indo-Pakistan War in 1971.
The Bahá'í Temple in Delhi is one of the most visited buildings in the world, attracting over 50 million people since it opened in 1986. Also known as the Lotus Temple for its distinct half-open lotus design, the belief behind the Bahá'í house of worship is that it should be open for all, regardless of denomination. There are however certain rules: no sermons can be delivered, no ritualistic ceremonies and no musical instruments can be played. There are also no religious images displayed.
Bahá'í temples must all be a nine-sided circular shape as set out in their scriptures, hence the solution of a lotus shape. Bahá'í is an independent religion founded around 1844. Their belief is in a mystic feeling with unites man with God and they do not dictate how that be done, hence their openness to other forms of worship within their temples.
The heart of New Delhi -- and one of its top attractions -- is the palatial Presidential Palace known as Rashtrapati Bhavan. British architect Sir Edwin Lutyens helped design the grand estate as part of a larger plan for Delhi’s new city after it was decided to move the capital from Kolkata to Delhi in 1911. Lutyens designed the palace as a symbol of British colonial power, and it remains one of the most impressive colonial-era monuments in Delhi today.
The former viceroy’s residence, now the home of the president of India, contains 340 rooms, well over twice as many as the White House. The entire estate covers an area of 320 acres (130 hectares), including the sizable Mughal Gardens, open to the public on only a few select days each year.
Riding a Star Ferry across Victoria Harbour from Kowloon to Hong Kong Island is a signature Hong Kong experience.
The low-slung, double-decker, green and cream ferries are a Hong Kong emblem, dating back to 1888. Until the cross-harbor road tunnel and underground train link were built, the only way to cross between Kowloon and Hong Kong Island was by ferry.
Take a trip by day to experience the harbor and see the buildings on both sides, then take another trip at night to see the buildings light up and enjoy the nightly Symphony of Lights.
You can also cruise Victoria Harbour aboard a circular Star Ferry harbor tour, or book yourself onto an evening dinner cruise to sit back and drink in those twinkling views.
Located at the end of Sansad Marg in New Delhi, the Parliament House (or Sansad Bhavan) is one of the most architecturally impressive buildings in the city. It was designed by British architects Edwin Lutyens and Herbert Baker, with construction beginning in 1921.
Having been modelled on the Great Stupa of Sanchi, Parliament House is a huge circular building, surrounded by gardens and fenced off by sandstone railings. Inside, the Central Hall holds particular significance, since this is where the Indian Constitution was drafted. The building also houses the Lok Sabha, Rajya Sabha, and a giant library hall. The Parliament Museum stands next to Parliament House and offers information on the democratic heritage of India. This is conveyed in an interactive way, with sound and light videos plus oversized computer screens used to depict the significant events of India’s democratic history.
For classic Kyoto in a nutshell, head to Arashiyama Park. The perennially popular area is rich in temples and a riot of fall colors in November, with pink cherry blossoms in April.
The park area embraces several major sights, including Tenryu-ji Temple, founded in 1339. The main temple of the Rinzai school of Zen Buddhism, Tenryu-ji is a UNESCO World Heritage Site surrounded by tranquil Zen gardens and bamboo forest. There are many other temples in Arashiyama, including the Gio-ji, Jojakko-ji and Daikaku-ji temples. Another highlight is walking across the Moon Crossing Bridge, with views over to Mt Arashiyama.
From sushi fish to kitchen knives, you’ll find everything under the sun relating to food at Nishiki Market. The covered market is a foodie's wonderland, and provides fascinating glimpses into the shopping and eating habits of Kyoto's locals, chefs and families. Pick up produce to prepare in your hotel/apartment if you’re self-catering, or choose from a staggering array of ready-to-eat snacks, sweets and drinks. This is a great place to pick up a Kyoto souvenir with a difference, from authentic cooking equipment to green tea or photographs of this colorful market.
Chinatown - or Yaowarat - is a vibrant area, packed with shops, markets, restaurants and hotels, mostly concentrated along Thanon Yaowarat (Yaowarat Street). Markedly different from the rest of Bangkok, Chinatown is relatively untouched by modern development and has the highest concentration of gold shops in the city. There is also a smaller network of roads and alleys, which reveal markets crammed with anything from hair slides to cutlery.
Having been settled in the area since the 1700s, Bangkok's large Chinese community has a unique and fascinating history. You can now get a sense of that at the relatively new Yaowarat Chinatown Heritage Centre in Wat Trai Mit Witthayaram. The center details the evolution of Chinatown and its people, from their earliest migration from China to the present day.
A distinctive pair of karst islets jutting out from the calm waters of Halong Bay; the unique Hon Ga Choi Island has become one of the bay’s most memorable landmarks and among the most photographed attractions for cruise visitors. Located right in the heart of the bay, the jagged rock formations loom 12 meters over the water, improbably perched on narrow, weatherworn bases and appearing to lean towards each other.
It’s this peculiar creation of nature that afforded the island its name - Hon Ga Choi (Fighting Cocks Island), or Trong Mai Island (Cock and Hen Island), depending who you ask. For the full effect, pass by the islands at sunrise or sunset, when the dreamy sunlight casts a red hue over the rocks, further enhancing their cockerel-like appearance.