Wild Junket » Travel Lists http://www.wildjunket.com An adventure travel blog that brings you on a rollercoaster ride around the world Wed, 29 Oct 2014 14:30:34 +0000 en-US hourly 1 http://wordpress.org/?v=3.9.2 7 Off-Track Countries that Are Worth Checking Out http://www.wildjunket.com/2014/10/27/off-the-beaten-track-countries/ http://www.wildjunket.com/2014/10/27/off-the-beaten-track-countries/#comments Mon, 27 Oct 2014 14:00:38 +0000 http://www.wildjunket.com/?p=17506 Tbilisi, GeorgiaThere are many well-known tourist destinations in the world, and they’re popular for good reason. But, imagine having incredible local experiences, lazing on world-class beaches, and exploring untouched terrain…with hardly a tourist in sight! Getting off the beaten path once in a while is something that every traveler should aim to do, the experiences you’ll [...]

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This is a guest post from our friends Dariece and Nick from Goats On The Road. Their blog is an extremely useful resource for those who are planning to travel Central Asia. They’ve visited many remote and interesting parts of the world and today they’re going to share with us a list of under-the-radar countries that are worth visiting:

There are many well-known tourist destinations in the world, and they’re popular for good reason. But, imagine having incredible local experiences, lazing on world-class beaches, and exploring untouched terrain…with hardly a tourist in sight!

Getting off the beaten path once in a while is something that every traveler should aim to do, the experiences you’ll have, the people you’ll meet and the sights you’ll see will remain in your memories for years to come.

1. Georgia

Little war-torn, post-Soviet Georgia is set in the perfect part of the world. It’s close enough to Europe to make it easy to travel to and it’s set at a crossroads between Russia, Europe and Central Asia, which provides it with some stunning landscapes.

Georgia retains an identity all its own. Georgian people are not Turks, Persians or Russians, nor do they have an ethnic connection with any other people, but there are various Georgian ethnic groups living here: the Kartveli, Mingreli, Laz, and Svan to name a few.

The Capital of Tbilisi is aesthetically pleasing, with rocky mountains as a backdrop and a windy river cutting through the main part of the city. You’ll be greeted with funky, cobblestone alleyways, numerous cathedrals, interesting architecture and a very liberal vibe compared to neighbouring Turkey.

Georgia is said to be one of the oldest producers of wine in the world and sniffing, swirling and sipping some of the delicious reds and whites should be high on your list! Much of Georgian food isn’t exactly healthy, but it is delicious. Think lots of bread, cheese and doughy foods. Definitely try the Khachapuri and Khinkali.

Outside of Tbilisi you’ll find stunning countryside perfect for hiking, walking and wandering. You can visit monestaries, mountains, wineries and UNESCO World Heritage Sites. The villages beyond Tbilisi are very off the beaten path and you’ll always be welcomed by the locals.

As an added bonus, Georgia is a very affordable travel destination.

Tbilisi, Georgia

2. Grenada

Grenada is an island in the Lesser-Antilles in the southern Caribbean. Located just 140 kms north of Venezuela and very close to Trinidad & Tobago, this gorgeous atoll bobs silently in the sea, with hardly a tourist in sight. When people think of the Caribbean, they typically think of the northern countries of Cuba, Dominican Republic, Jamaica, or even St. Lucia and Barbados further south, but no one ever talks about the Spice Island of Grenada!

Because Grenada isn’t as popular as some of its neighbours, this mountainous island retains its authentic Caribbean feel. It is rugged, unpretentious and has just the right amount of amenities to make a traveller feel comfortable.

This is a country with loads of activities on offer – try sailing, scuba diving, snorkelling, kayaking, cycling or deep sea fishing! When you’re bored of that, you can laze on pristine beaches, hike to towering waterfalls or just go for a leisurely stroll through the jungle. St. George is a colourful capital city that is often regarded as the most beautiful town in the Caribbean.

Grenada has it all.

Grand Anse Beach, Grenada

3. Iran

Many people consider this Islamic Republic to be a dangerous place to visit, with government travel advisories listing it as a country to “avoid all travel”. However, if you actually do some research and go to Iran, you’ll see the country for what it truly is. You’ll be completely dumbfounded as to why these warning messages are displayed around the web.

The diversity of Iran is amazing. One day you can be visiting the Persian Gulf, gazing out at the beach and enjoying the fishermen coming in with their daily catch, while the next day you could be visiting the desert with rolling sand dunes and sauntering camels. Head north and you’ll find towering snow-capped mountains with captivating Troglodyte Villages.

This is a country with incredible Islamic architecture. The mosques, mausoleums and minarets are adorned with intricate mosaics and designs, some of which are true feats of construction. The covered bazaars are exciting, with wafts of exotic spices filling the air. The modes of transportation are safe, clean, cheap, comfortable and run like clockwork.

But the most amazing thing about Iran is the people. Iranians are very concerned about how the Western world portrays them. You’ll be bombarded with questions about what you think of Iran (in a friendly way of course).

The locals are extremely hospitable with travellers often enjoying week-long stays in complete stranger’s homes. People will speak with you on buses, invite you over for tea and help with directions whenever you look lost. Iranians are very friendly.

On top of all of this, Iran is extremely safe, affordable and easy to get around.

New Iranian Friends, Iran

4. Tajikistan

Taj-iki-what?! Hardly anyone knows about Tajikistan, which has to be the most oddly shaped country in the world. This nation is one of the jagged, jigsaw puzzle countries that makes up Central Asia. Another former-Soviet republic, this country is not without its economic faults and unstable history. However, backpacking through Tajikistan as a tourist is an incredible experience.

93% of this country is mountainous! The unbelievable Pamir Mountain Range runs though Tajikistan along with the Alay Mountains and the Tian Shan range. Some of the highest mountains in the world are found here, which means you’ll be in for some very scenic drives and some outstanding trekking!

Sleeping in yurts and homestays, spotting the rare Marco-Polo Sheep, road tripping on the 2nd highest highway in the world (the Pamir Highway), eating unique foods and meeting friendly faces with Persian, Arabic, Caucasian and Asian features are all highlights of this tiny country.

Travel here isn’t easy, but it’s doable. Tajikistan is a definite off-the-beaten-track destination, and it’s also very affordable.

Hiking on the Pamir Highway, Tajikistan

5. China

Ok, so cities like Beijing, Shanghai and Xian may not be considered off the beaten path, but China is a huge country! Even if you did travel to the popular cities, you would still sometimes feel like you were the only tourist. Most cities in China have Old Towns for you to get lost in, back alleyways waiting to be explored and invitations for meals waiting to be had.

Even though there are many foreigners in this populated country who are teaching English, most of the people in China don’t speak English, but they will try to communicate with you the best they know how. Chinese people love foreigners and are very curious people. Lots of charades and hand motions will play a part in your chat with them, but one thing is for sure, it will be a very friendly conversation.

The ancient sites here are amazing and if you escape the cities, the countryside is stunning. Rolling rice paddies, jagged limestone karsts and towering mountain peaks are just some of the beautiful landscapes you can expect along your journey.

The people in China are wonderful and the history is fascinating, but the food is what really stands out! The majority of the world considers Chinese food to be what’s found in the white takeaway boxes of North America & Europe – sweet n’ sour pork, chicken chow mein and ginger beef! In China you’ll find some amazing, authentic dishes, many of which don’t even include noodles. This is one of the most diverse and delicious cuisines in the world.

And yes, China is a very affordable country to travel.

Chinese Food, China

6. Mozambique

Africa is a diverse continent filled with wild and raw experiences. Mozambique is a country located on the east coast, just above South Africa. This culture-filled country still has many remnants from its Portuguese past. In some cities you’ll find colourful, Portuguese-style buildings and much of the cuisine is made up of flavours from its past conquerors as well.
Mozambique is a country that feels safe, which can be rare on this continent. The people here are smiley, welcoming and love to dance!

The beaches are powder-white and the seas are turquoise blue. If you make your way to the very northern Quirimbas Archipelago, there are some fantastic islands to discover and it’s a great place to do some sailing and sleeping under the stars. You can snorkel with Whale Sharks and if you’re lucky, scuba dive with Humpback Whales!

Transportation isn’t exactly comfortable and the cost of travelling here isn’t cheap (although it’s not expensive either), but it is definitely an exotic country that should be on your travel itinerary.

Matemo Island, Mozambique

7. Mongolia

Mongolia is a nomadic wonderland! This country is one big campground with endless opportunities for trekking, camping, fishing, horseback riding, road tripping and more. The people here are mostly nomadic, sleeping in gers (yurts) and moving from place to place, depending on the season.

The rolling, vibrant steppe is beautiful to not only look at, but its a blast to explore on foot as well! From crystal clear lakes to dry deserts, there’s a lot to see and do in Mongolia.

The people here are very mild-mannered and kind. Although most of them can’t read maps, they’ll try to point you in the right direction if they can. Many of the roads in Mongolia are just dirt paths, which makes this such an adventurous place to travel around. The food in Mongolia isn’t exactly a highlight, although there are some good dishes. What stands out the most in this country are the vast expanses of nature and the friendly, warm people.

Veering off of the well-trodden tourist trail may seem intimidating and impossible to some, but once you arrive at these foreign destinations, you’ll soon realize that there’s actually quite a bit of tourism infrastructure in place. There are just enough fellow travellers around to make visiting these countries one incredible experience. You’re never alone in the backpacking world and even if you were, the people of these 7 countries would welcome you in and treat you just like family.

Trekking and Camping in Mongolia


Author’s Bio:

Nick and Dariece are the couple behind goats on the road Goats On The Road, a website designed to inspire others to live a financially    sustainable, location independent lifestyle. Masters at making money abroad and turning their travels  into a way of  life, they’ve been on the road since 2008 and have explored some of the least visited places on earth,  finding adventure  wherever they go. They’re also full time contributors at Travel Pulse and Credit Walk where they  share their stories  and expertise of long-term travel.

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Life on the Edge: The Most Extreme Places I’ve Been http://www.wildjunket.com/2014/09/24/extreme-places/ http://www.wildjunket.com/2014/09/24/extreme-places/#comments Wed, 24 Sep 2014 14:00:34 +0000 http://www.wildjunket.com/?p=17251 Pyongyang subwayTravel to me is about getting out of my comfort zone and exploring places that make me hold on to the edge of my seat. But these days, with travel getting more affordable and easily accessible, it’s getting harder and harder to find untouched destinations – places that remain relatively raw and untainted. That’s why [...]

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Travel to me is about getting out of my comfort zone and exploring places that make me hold on to the edge of my seat. But these days, with travel getting more affordable and easily accessible, it’s getting harder and harder to find untouched destinations – places that remain relatively raw and untainted. That’s why I like traveling to less conventional destinations. Most often than not, the places that I enjoy the most are the ones with slightly negative connotations.

Don’t get me wrong, I’m not silly enough to put my life at risk for bragging rights. But even Tony Wheeler, the founder of Lonely Planet who recently wrote a book on his tour of the axis of evil, poised it eloquently, “In almost every bad land I am moved by the outgoing friendliness of ordinary men and women. I  have come to see that bad is a relative term, and that there are always two sides to every story.”

Forget about holiday brochures – get your atlas, find somewhere you’ve never heard about before, and go there. I promise you nothing will make you feel more alive.

North Korea

It comes as a surprise to many that anyone can visit North Korea as a tourist. Notorious as one of the “axis of evil”, North Korea (better known as Democratic People’s Republic of Korea) is often sullied by negative perceptions. Since the end of World War II, DPRK has closed its doors to the outside world. Only local channels are shown on TV, there is no internet anywhere and only 2,500 foreign tourists (not including the Chinese) visit the country each year.

North Koreans are taught to think that anything foreign is a threat – yet, I was surprised to find how curious locals were of us. On the subway, we interacted with people, showing them our photos and laughing along with them. We even had the chance to play with Korean children at a park, through charades and guessing games. Read about my time there.

Pyongyang subway

Palestine

Technically, it’s not even considered a country. The Palestinian Territories has had  a long and tumultuous history, largely due to its location on the crossroads for religion, culture, commerce, and politics. The treacherous Israel-Palestinian conflict has been ongoing since the mid-20th century, and until today, the two parties have failed to reach a final peace agreement. Hundreds of thousands people have been killed and many more displaced and injured. 

In recent years, there continue to be bombings in Gaza and the West Bank, so be sure to keep yourself updated before visiting. During our visit in February 2013, it was safe to visit Palestine’s West Bank and we had an insightful time traveling around Jericho, Bethlehem and Ramallah. As the birthplace of both Judaism and Christianity, Palestine definitely has plenty of historical and cultural sights to see, but most importantly, visiting Palestine allows you to get a chance to talk to its locals and find out more about the conflict on a first-hand basis.

Our Palestinian guide and the Wall

Iran

I’m currently in Iran as we speak and it’s definitely exciting to be a in place that has earned quite a reputation for itself in the public eyes. For over a decade, the U.S. has charged Iran with sponsoring terrorism and producing nuclear weapons. In his 2002 State of the Union Address,George Bush stated Iran “aggressively pursues these weapons and exports terror, while an unelected few repress the Iranian people’s hope for freedom.”

As one of the “axis of evil”, Iran has been looked upon as a public enemy for the past decade or so. However, friends who have visited all say quite the opposite about Iran. They’ve only got positive things to say about the country, with its outstanding architecture, good food and some of the most hospitable people in the world. Most parts of Iran are safe to visit and I can’t wait to experience it for myself. I’ll be writing more about it here, please stay tuned.

The Jāmeh Mosque of Yazd _IranFlickr image by Ali Reza

Albania

Albania is often linked to the Soviet War even until today. With more than 40 years of communist rule under the dictator Enver Hoxha, followed by a period of extreme capitalism in the mid ‘90s, the country is still struggling to get back on its feet. During my visit in May 2010, Albania surprised me with the hospitality of welcoming locals (I lost my wallet and a local brought me to the police station and even lent me some money), local cuisine that easily tops anywhere else I’ve been, and clusters of beautiful towns tucked high in the mountains. Plus with prices well below the European standard, Albania is definitely a rare find.

Kruje, Albania

Myanmar

Due to decades of political conflict, travel to Myanmar presents an ethical decision – are we encouraging the regime by visiting? While Myanmar remains a troubled country, things are definitely looking up. Following the election in 2010, a civilian government took over, Aung San Suu Kyi was released from house arrest, and the tourism boycott has since been lifted.

Traditional and surreal, this country offers time travel back to the days when roads were non-existent and creaking buses throttled along with hundreds of passengers onboard. It is a country that stirs my soul with its thousands of sacred stupas, poetic Buddhist towns, and mystical lakes. It remains one of my favorite countries to date.

Perhaps it’s because of years of isolation, perhaps it’s the deep-rooted Burmese culture, Myanmar remains pure and untainted – for now.

Shwedagon Pagoda, Yangon

Zimbabwe

Like the others on the list, Zimbabwe has been making headlines for the wrong reasons. Since Robert Mugabe took ruling power in 1980, the country has spiralled into a series of racial conflicts, human rights abuse and violence. Although the country’s economy is slowly recuperating, millions of people are still living on food aid and struggling with disease outbreaks.

Behind this dark history lies a gorgeous country waiting to be explored. From the wilderness of Mana Pools to the chaos of Harare, Zimbabwe shows Africa at its best. Besides spotting the Big Five in the wild and witnessing the power of Victoria Falls, I got a chance to know its people – who all warmly welcomed me into a country clearly misunderstood by the world.

Gorge at Victoria Falls

Guatemala

Stories of violence, kidnapping, and drug trafficking incidents are all too common in Central America. Based on a CNN report, 6,500 people met violent deaths in 2009 and nearly 6,000 were slain in 2010 in Guatemala. 41% of these deaths were associated with drug trafficking. Worst of all, more than 96% of all crimes go unpunished. When I was in Guatemala several years back, I was stumped by all the tales of mugging and rape from fellow travelers.

Danger may be lurking in certain corners, but that doesn’t stop Guatemala from being a popular backpacking spot. It didn’t take me long to fall for the charms of this diverse, rustic nation. I traversed the country from the charming colonial city of Antigua to the impressive Tikal ruins in the north, and never got mugged once or felt like I was in any sort of danger.

Tikal, Guatemala

 

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World’s Friendliest Countries http://www.wildjunket.com/2014/06/24/worlds-friendliest-countries/ http://www.wildjunket.com/2014/06/24/worlds-friendliest-countries/#comments Tue, 24 Jun 2014 14:00:32 +0000 http://www.wildjunket.com/?p=17048 The Golden Falls, IcelandEach year, the World Economic Forum ranks 140 countries in order of their hospitality towards international travelers. The ranking is created based on the Forum’s newly-released Travel and Tourism Competitiveness Report, which gives scores on a scale from one to seven (one for ‘very unwelcome’ and seven for ‘very welcome’). An Executive Opinion Survey is distributed to [...]

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Each year, the World Economic Forum ranks 140 countries in order of their hospitality towards international travelers. The ranking is created based on the Forum’s newly-released Travel and Tourism Competitiveness Report, which gives scores on a scale from one to seven (one for ‘very unwelcome’ and seven for ‘very welcome’). An Executive Opinion Survey is distributed to business leaders in 140 countries, who are asked to rank their own countries on such topics as infrastructure, environmental sustainability, and economic policy. It is however important to note that WEF’s ranking of friendliness towards foreigners does not actually take into account the opinions of any foreigners.

Personally, I’m pleasantly surprised by the results of the 2013 ranking — with Iceland topping the chart and lesser-known West African countries like Senegal and Burkina Faso making a rare appearance. I’m really happy to see Macedonia and Bosnia in the top 10 list, as the Balkans is definitely an underrated part of the world. Having just returned from New Zealand, I can safely say that the Kiwis are some of the most welcoming people I’ve met and they’re always happy to show you around and share a part of their culture with you.

Another country I’m glad to see in the top 10 list is Morocco, where locals are always eager and enthusiastic to interact with you. In recent years, Morocco has sadly earned a bad reputation with female travelers. While I don’t deny that some parts of the country have got aggressive touts and conservative men, not all of Morocco is unwelcoming and I definitely think you need to dig deeper and get to know locals to truly appreciate Morocco.

The report also ranked the countries least friendly towards foreigners. Bolivia unfortunately was voted as the least welcoming among those surveyed, and was joined in the bottom ten by Venezuela, Russia, Kuwait, Iran, and Pakistan, among others.

Click for the full list of the 2013 ranking.

World’s Most Welcoming Countries, According to World Economic Forum

Have you been to any? Do you agree?

1. Iceland

The Golden Falls, Iceland

2. New Zealand

Franz Josef Glacier, New Zealand

3. Morocco

Djemma el Fna in Marrakech, Morocco

4. Macedonia

Lake Ohrid, Macedonia

5. Austria

Flickr photo by Moyan Brenn
Photo by Moyan Brenn on Flickr

6. Senegal

Senegal sand dunes
Flickr photo by Jose Pereira 

7. Portugal

Algarve, Portugal

8. Bosnia and Herzegovina

Mostar, Bosnia

9. Ireland

Cliffs of Moher, Ireland

10. Burkina Faso

Children of Burkina Faso
Flickr photo by Dietmar Temps

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Glamping Adventures: 5 Luxury Campsites Around the World http://www.wildjunket.com/2014/06/11/glamping-adventures-5-luxury-campsites-around-world/ http://www.wildjunket.com/2014/06/11/glamping-adventures-5-luxury-campsites-around-world/#comments Wed, 11 Jun 2014 05:00:27 +0000 http://www.wildjunket.com/?p=16975 Rock CreekRecently I’ve had the chance to experience glamping at a few luxury campsites and they completely changed my perspective of sleeping in the great outdoors. The concept of glamping is a combination of the words glamorous and camping. Sound a little like opposites? Think again. Getting down and dirty is no longer an essential part of camping. With [...]

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Recently I’ve had the chance to experience glamping at a few luxury campsites and they completely changed my perspective of sleeping in the great outdoors. The concept of glamping is a combination of the words glamorous and camping. Sound a little like opposites? Think again. Getting down and dirty is no longer an essential part of camping. With the increase in ease and accessibility to resources, there are now plenty of places offering unique glamping experiences, let’s take a look at some of them:

The Ranch at Rock Creek – Montana, USA

Nestled amid Montana’s most breathtaking landscape, The Ranch at Rock Creek is a log-cabin style luxury ranch resort offering a slice of raw western adventure in the stunning backcountry. There’s so much to do here - from horseback riding to fly fishing and wildlife watching – but most people come here to experience the cowboy life at its best. The ranch reinvents the concept of camping with its spacious and luxurious canvas tents furnished with rustic furniture, wood flooring, gas fireplace, and comfortable bedding. All of them include private bathrooms and even a deck facing Rock Creek. With a romantic and remote setting, the ranch definitely draws in a lot of couples — even Kate Bosworth found this place romantic and held her celebrity wedding here. As one of the first glamping accommodations in the world, The Ranch at Rock Creek is definitely a pioneer in the industry, having been awarded the Forbes 5-star Travel Guide honor.

Rock Creek
Grayling-Canvas-Cabin

Cosy Under Canvas – Kington, Wales

This eco-friendly glamping site sprawls across four acres of beech woodland, just a stone’s throw from the popular book town of Hay on Wye in Powys, Wales. This town is home to the largest literacy festival in the UK, when authors, poets, environmentalists, comedians, scientists, and musicians come together to inspire and entertain the tens of thousands of people that descend on the town. Cosy Under Canvas features three geodesic domes and two canvas tipis, all of which are decorated in simple but stylish touches and glammed up with sheepskin rugs and wood burning stoves. They are carefully situated around the woodland with plenty of space between them for guests to enjoy the peace and tranquility. Though have stayed in a tipi tent before and loved the experience, this place definitely brings new meaning to sleeping in a tipi tent. In recognition for the owners’ creativity, it was named winner of the ‘Best Place to Stay, Alternative Accommodation’ in the National Tourism Awards for Wales, supported by Visit Wales.

Dome tent
Tipi tent at Cosy Canvas

Treebones Resort - California, USA

A true eco resort perched on the rugged Pacific coast in Big Sur, Treebones Resort works on the basic principles of environmental consciousness. Before a pencil ever hit paper in the design of Treebones over twenty years ago, they agreed they would be about “perching lightly” to create as light a footprint on the earth as possible. At Treebones Resort, you can choose between 16 yurts and five campsites all of which come with breathtaking views of the Pacific coast. Each unit contains a queen-sized bed, electric lighting, pinewood floors, heating, and a sink with hot and cold water. The yurts are built on raised decks facing the ocean. For a truly unique experience, reserve the Human Nest, an elevated human-sized bird nest with a futon and unobstructed view of the Pacific. Resort amenities include outdoor yoga, an organic garden, massages, an outdoor sushi bar and a heated ocean-view pool and hot tub. There’s plenty to do around the area, from coastal hikes, canyoneering, and ocean kayaking, all of which can be arranged through the resort.

Yurts at Treebones
Inside a yurt

Mandrare River Camp – Fort Dauphin, Madagascar

Located near Fort Dauphin in the southern tip of Madagascar, Mandrare River Camp is a plush campsite decked out in pure East African style set along the banks of the far-flung and remote Mandrare River. The big, spacious tents are tastefully decorated with a four-poster mosquito netted bed, wardrobe and dressing table. There are even 24 hour solar lighting, hot water and fully plumbed bathrooms. Guests awake to the sound of the local Antandroy tribe singing as they fetch water from the river, or children playing and splashing in the water. By protecting the sacred forests, where the Antandroy’s ancestors rest in their ornate tombs, the tribe have managed to preserve large wildlife areas. There are four species of lemur in the local area: ring-tailed, Verreaux’s sifaka, mouse and white-footed sportive (the last two are both nocturnal); and birding is exceptional with at least 15 resident species in camp and many more in the surrounding wooded areas.

Evening dinner by Mandrare River

mandrare_104

Adels Grove – Queensland, Australia

Having just stayed at Adels Grove Camping Park recently, I highly recommend paying a visit the next time you’re in Australia. It isn’t so much about the decor or style of the tent. In fact, the tents are probably the least fancy of the list – it’s the whole atmosphereof this family-run camping park and its remote location in Outback Queensland that truly make it special. The campsite is located just 10km from Boodjamulla (Lawn Hill) National Park, where there are plenty of hiking trails and kayaking opportunities to keep you out and about for a week. You can choose from several types of accommodation: from canvas tents perched on the river’s edge to wooden cabins that come with bathrooms and air-conditioning. As an accredited Savannah guides station, it runs excellent tours in and around the area. Adels Grove is also the winner of the 2013 Outback Queensland Tourism Awards.

The backyard of Adels Grove
Tents in Adels Grove
Have you been glamping before? Any recommendations to add to this list?


Disclaimer: This is a sponsored post, but all opinions expressed above are my own.

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World’s 10 Most Ethical Destinations 2014 http://www.wildjunket.com/2014/05/28/worlds-10-ethical-destinations-2014/ http://www.wildjunket.com/2014/05/28/worlds-10-ethical-destinations-2014/#comments Wed, 28 May 2014 14:30:05 +0000 http://www.wildjunket.com/?p=16748 Bahamas Orange CreekWhile we’re on the topic of ethical travel, here’s an interesting list I’d like to share with you. Every year, the non-profit organization Ethical Traveler conducts a survey of developing nations — from Afghanistan to Zimbabwe — to identify the world’s best travel and tourism destinations. They choose the ten that are doing the most [...]

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While we’re on the topic of ethical travel, here’s an interesting list I’d like to share with you.

Every year, the non-profit organization Ethical Traveler conducts a survey of developing nations — from Afghanistan to Zimbabwe — to identify the world’s best travel and tourism destinations. They choose the ten that are doing the most impressive job of promoting human rights, preserving their environments, and supporting social welfare – all while creating a lively, community-based tourism industry. the creation of the list, Ethical Traveler emphasizes that, “No country is perfect. All nations have genuine shortcomings. Each of their winners, however, had made a genuine effort to ‘do the right thing’ in the many areas that they take into consideration.”

Of the top ten countries, we’ve only been to four of the ten countries but we haven’t found any of them particularly ethical in terms of protecting their environments except for Palau which has done a great job protecting its marine life. I am however quite surprised that Bhutan didn’t make the list. It’s definitely the only country that I know with government policies that focus on environmental and human rights protection. Scroll down to the end of the post to see the full list and let us know if you agree with the list!

How the List is Created

With a list of nations in hand, the organize starts by conducting their research on three general categories: Environmental Protection, Social Welfare and Human Rights. For each of these categories they look at information past and present to understand not only the current state of a country, but how it has changed over time. Their main resource is the Socioeconomic Data and Applications Center (SEDAC) Environmental Performance Index (EPI). Equally weighted was the EPI trend rank, which monitors improving or declining performances in environmental protection.

About Ethical Travel

Ethical Traveler is an all-volunteer, non-profit organization founded to “empower travelers to change the world.” They seek to use the economic clout of tourism to protect human rights and the environment. It was founded by Jeff Greenwald, an active and respected member of the world travel community for over 25 years and award-winning author of six travel books and hundreds of articles. He was compelled to direct his passionately humanitarian voice towards creating such a traveler’s alliance. In the creation of the list, no money or donations of any kind were accepted from any nations, governments, travel bureaus or individuals.

World’s 10 Most Ethical Destinations 2014

Here is the full list of the 2014 winners.

The winners, in alphabetical order (not in order of merit), are:

1. The Bahamas

Bahamas Orange CreekFlickr image by Trish Hartmann

2. Barbados *

Barbados beachFlickr image by Berit Watkin

3. Cape Verde*

Cape VerdeFlickr image by Erik Kristensen

4. Chile

Chile San Pedro de AtacamaFlickr image by Trodel

5. Dominica

Whale watching in DominicaFlickr image by Kartlasarn

6. Latvia *

Riga, Latvia

7. Lithuania *

Trakai from aboveFlickr image by Mindaugas Danys

8. Mauritius *

Mauritius sailing
9. Palau *

Palau jellyfish lake
10. Uruguay *

Uruguay colonial architectureFlickr image by Rod Waddington

( * = also appeared on the 2013 list).

Have you visited any of these countries? Do you agree with the list?

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Street Art from Around the World http://www.wildjunket.com/2014/05/01/street-art-around-world/ http://www.wildjunket.com/2014/05/01/street-art-around-world/#comments Thu, 01 May 2014 18:15:29 +0000 http://www.wildjunket.com/?p=16622 In the quirky Lapa districtn recent years, street art has evolved into something more than just graffiti. Renown artists like Banksy have helped bring awareness to street art, and cleared the cloud of mystery that used to revolve around it. What was once an act of vandalism is now a revered form of urban art that’s now appearing on the streets and walls of cities all around the [...]

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I[n recent years, street art has evolved into something more than just graffiti. Renown artists like Banksy have helped bring awareness to street art, and cleared the cloud of mystery that used to revolve around it. What was once an act of vandalism is now a revered form of urban art that’s now appearing on the streets and walls of cities all around the world.  It’s bold, brash and artistic, and most of all, street art is a form of expression and often has an underlying message of political and societal context.

From Brazil to Palestine, we’re bringing you on a visual tour to experience the latest street art culture that’s taking the world by storm.

Rio de Janeiro, Brazil

While exploring Rio de Janeiro, I found Lapa to be one of the most interesting areas in the city with gorgeous wall paintings and mosaic artwork. It may be a little gritty and scruffy, but there’s an undercurrent of bohemian and artistic vibes that epitomizes the character of Rio.

In the quirky Lapa district

An eclectic mixture off Sanskrit writings and contemporary art on the walls of Lapa

Preparing for World Cup

World cup fever in Rio de Janeiro

Contemporary artwork

Playing with femininity in Lapa

Childhood

The children of the streets

A world of contrast

Old vs new

Favela thoughts

In the favela of Santa Marta, the walls convey messages like “The rich want peace to get richer, we want peace for survival.”

West Bank, Palestine

During our visit to Israel over a year ago, we took the opportunity to cross over to the West Bank in the Palestinian Territories. What surprised us most were the street art lurking in every corner. Messages of the fight for freedom sprawled across the West Bank barrier that the Israelis erected. The strength and tenacity of the Palestinians are expressed through these evocative art work. Even Banksy left plenty of his masterpieces around the area.

Art that convey messages in Palestine

The Palestinians continue to fight for their freedom

the Palestine heroine

Leila Khaled is a famous female Palestinian freedom fighter born in the city of Haifa 1944. Khaled is the first ever woman to hijack a plane in history strapped with grenades around her waist and a pistol gun.

Free Palestine

Free Palestine

Banksy art work in Palestine

The art work of Banksy is seen on the streets of Bethlehem

Cape Town, South Africa

While in Cape Town, we went on a design walking tour with an architecture who led us through the streets of downtown Cape Town in search of contemporary urban art. What we found were really abstract and artsy work that we didn’t get understand but they got us thinking – and that was most important.

Creative artwork in Cape Town

Flying children on the walls

Design tour

Futuristic flashback

Street art in the township
While biking in the township of Masimpumelele, we stumbled upon this piece of art.

Ljubljana, Slovenia

 The Slovenian capital of Ljubljana is small but eclectic and creative. Far from the medieval city center, we found some bright and youthful street art at the area around Hostel Celica. The hostel used to serve as a military prison but the Metelkova Network managed to convert the building and its surroundings into an independent cultural hub. This area is now a place for free-spirited locals and tourists to hang out and exchange ideas.

Alternative artwork in Ljubljana

Big foot

In the back streets of Hostel Celica

Living by their own rules

A youth park

Freedom of expression

Quirky artwork

A blend of alien characters and modern scribbles

Basseterre, St Kitts

On the Caribbean island of St Kitts, we left the beaches behind to explore the capital city of Basseterre and were pleasantly surprised to find interesting little corners revealing hints of local culture and flavors. Just a few blocks behind the Independence Square, we found a few walls painted with local heroes and political characters.

Caribbean street art

The wall of fame include portrait paintings of Kim Collins, a local track and field sprinter, and Sir Kennedy Simmonds, the ex-premier of the country.

Political characters

More local characters on display

Local heroes

Politicians seem to play an important role here – from left to right: Marcus Garvey, a Jamaican civil rights activist; Sir Lee Moore, an ex-Premier of St Kitts; and Robert Bradshaw, the first Premier of St Kitts.

 

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10 of the Coolest Hotels We’ve Stayed At http://www.wildjunket.com/2014/04/16/10-coolest-hotels-weve-stayed/ http://www.wildjunket.com/2014/04/16/10-coolest-hotels-weve-stayed/#comments Wed, 16 Apr 2014 14:30:46 +0000 http://www.wildjunket.com/?p=16536 A collage of the differnent treehouses at TreehotelThanks to this website and our magazine, we’ve had the chance to travel far and beyond, from Antarctica to Zimbabwe, North Korea to South Africa. Along the way, we’ve also been fortunate enough to stay at many extraordinary and outstanding hotels. These aren’t your conventional five-star hotel chain or backpacker hostel — you’ll be surprised by how creative and unusual some hotel owners/designers can be. [...]

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Thanks to this website and our magazine, we’ve had the chance to travel far and beyond, from Antarctica to ZimbabweNorth Korea to South Africa. Along the way, we’ve also been fortunate enough to stay at many extraordinary and outstanding hotels. These aren’t your conventional five-star hotel chain or backpacker hostel — you’ll be surprised by how creative and unusual some hotel owners/designers can be.

Here’s a look at some of the coolest hotels we’ve stayed at:

1. Treehotel — Harads, Sweden

Undoubtedly the coolest hotel we’ve stayed at is Treehotel, a unusual abode tucked in the remote countryside of northeastern Sweden. It comes as a surprise to many, that hidden within the Harads forest is a cluster of highly innovative treehouses that bring design to a whole new level. Each of its five treehouses features distinctive architecture and interior design: The UFO – which we had the pleasure of staying in – mimics an outer space shuttle (with a metallic shell and retractable staircase), providing a comfortable escape to our childhood dreams. The Mirrorcube acts almost like a mirage, beautifully camouflaged into its surroundings by mirrored walls. Hanging from the tree canopy is the Bird’s Nest, clad entirely in a network of branches collected from the surroundings.

A collage of the differnent treehouses at Treehotel

2. Yunak Evleri Cave Boutique Hotel — Cappadocia, Turkey

Whimsical fairy chimneys, staggering rock spires and multi-colored cliffs sprawl across the high plateau of Cappadocia, Turkey. In the midst of this unearthly landscape stands Yunak Evleri, a boutique cave hotel that gives new meaning to the concept of ‘sleeping in a cave’. Carved into the rugged Mesa mountain cliff, the cave rooms of Yunak Evleri date back as far as the 5th century. Each of its 30 cave rooms has been immaculately restored and tastefully decorated with Ottoman-style furnishing, polished teak flooring and old kilim carpets – all of which open up to a panorama of the surrounding Turkish Mesa. I had the fortune of staying in one of the suites at Yunak Evleri where most couples on honeymoon stay. The living area was massive, the bathroom rustic yet elegant, and the view was outrageous.

Yunak Evleri cave hotel

3. Iglu-Dorf Igloo Hotel — Zermatt, Switzerland

Right in the middle of the ski slopes of Zermatt and surrounded by spectacular views of the Swiss Alps is the Iglu-Dorf igloo hotel. Built from fresh snow each year, the igloo hotel is a cluster of igloos made of a mixture of snow and ice, with igloo-shaped rooms and white icy bars and lounge areas. In the day, it acts as an aprés-ski bar and by night, it’s converted into a frosty ice hotel. For dinner, guests are served warm and rich cheese fondue and mint tea. The sleeping bag that was provided by the hotel was thick and warm, but I unfortunately suffered from a bout of indigestion at night and had to wake up several times in ngiht and venture into the cold (the bathroom was outside the igloo). I ended up vomiting inside my sleeping bag that night. Despite this minor setback, I would still highly recommend a stay at Iglu-Dorf.

Iglu Dorf in Zermatt

4. Ashford Castle — Mayo, Ireland

While doing a road trip in Ireland, Alberto and I had the chance to stay in the opulent and atmospheric Ashford Castle in the countryside of Cong, County Mayo. What used to be the Guinness family’s summer residence centuries ago is now an elegant hotel with a strong sense of those olden days. The hotel’s lobby is decorated with invaluable portrait paintings and china porcelain while its bar and lounge areas are tastefully embellished with paintings and furniture dating back to the 13th century. The intricately-crafted roof paneling and exquisite wooden furnishing in the hotel lobby are original, dating back to the 1200s. Rooms are decked out with velvet upholstery, floral-patterned wall papers and carpeted flooring and in the state rooms, guests can snuggle in their four-poster bed, blanketed with burgundy beddings and white linen. Our suite also had a spectacular view of Lake Cong and the surrounding pine forests.

Ashford Castle in Ireland

5. Raj Palace Heritage Grand Hotel — Jaipur, India

In Jaipur, Rajasthan’s capital, we experienced Indian royal living at the Raj Palace, an opulent heritage hotel converted from a 300-year-old palace. It was once home to the Maharaja (royal king) and is still a property of his descendants. Each suite in the hotel is decorated with 200-year-old antiques: brass figures, golden-plated pillars and bronze furnishing. Our suite even had a mini-museum with artifacts on display and old photos of the Maharani (Princess) who used to live in the palace. The biggest suite in the hotel was the Maharaja Suite, priced at a whopping US$15,000 for a night’s stay. It’s no wonder the hotel was voted as the World’s Best Heritage Hotel by the World Travel Awards for four consecutive years, 2007-2011.

Raj Palace Jaipur

6.  Hotel Ranga — Hella, Iceland

As part of our attempt to see the Northern Lights in Iceland (we did end up seeing them in the Swedish Lapland), we based ourselves at Aurora Central, Hotel Rangá. This countryside resort is not just a hotel on its own right, it’s a world-acclaimed expert in Northern Lights, specializing in aurora forecasts, studies and photography. Surrounded by the volcano Mt Hekla and a range of mountains and glaciers and the Atlantic Ocean, the resort’s geographical location in South Iceland creates perfect conditions for the phenomenon. In fact, Hotel Rangá has been dubbed the best place on Earth from which to witness the Aurora Borealis by The Sunday Times Travel Magazine.

Hotel Ranga Iceland

7. Lakaz Chamarel — Chamarel, Mauritius

As curious travelers, we like to seek out unconventional experiences and less-visited areas. At Lakaz Chamarel, we felt as though we’d found a different side to Mauritius. This ecolodge is tucked within the mountains and valleys of the Chamarel region, far beyond the beaches and resorts. To get there, we zigzagged our way along the winding switchbacks and climbed up steep mountain roads. Once in the peaceful grounds of Lakaz Chamarel, the sounds of birds singing echoed through the jungle and the smell of lush tropical foliage surrounded us. Designed with a stylish Balinese flair and elegant African decor, our bungalow featured high ceilings, natural hardwood furnishing, a private plunge pool and a spacious outdoor area was perched on a hilltop, overlooking stunning mountain peaks.

Lakaz Chamarel Mauritius

8. Cheetah Plains — Sabi Sands, South Africa

Both Alberto and I love are wildlife buffs and our favorite continent to go for wildlife watching is obviously Africa. We’ve been to most of Southern Africa and East Africa: from the Serengeti to Etosha and have stayed in several safari resorts and campsites. The best one was definitely Cheetah Plains, a gorgeous safari-style lodge in the Sabi Sand private reserve. The intimate size (only eight bungalows), proximity to the wildlife and gorgeous, natural setting definitely made it an experience to remember. Although the lodge was properly fenced, some animals still find their way into the lodging area. One morning we were in awe when we found a young bushbuck right outside our door. We were told that there have been sightings of leopards in the property grounds, which made us all the more excited.

Cheetah Plains in Sabi Sands

9. Hostel Celica – Ljubljana, Slovenia

 Dating back to 1883, the prison-hotel Hostel Celica in Ljubljana, Slovenia, used to serve as a military prison for the Austro-Hungarian Empire and the Yugoslav Federal Army after Yugoslavia was formed. After the war was over, Metelkova Network converted the building and its surroundings into an independent cultural hub. With the help of more than 80 local and international artists, each of the 20 jail cells have been artistically renovated and reinvented. Our room consisted of two single beds suspended close to the cell’s ceiling by a wooden structure that also served as a staircase and a small study table. We finally got to experience how it was like to sleep in a prison cell for the night – and it turned out to be so much fun.

Hostel Celica, Slovenia

10. Sumilon Island Resort – Cebu, The Philippines

Of all the island resorts we’ve stayed at, the Sumilon Island Resort has to be the coolest — not for the design/style of the resort but more for its location on a private island. Located 10 km from Cebu island, the island might be just a hop away from civilization but it sure felt like a world apart. Thick virgin rainforests and rugged coral terrain are kept in their original conditions, while the sparkling clear water surrounding it are protected even more so by Bluewater and relevant research groups. A clusters of stylish, and tastefully designed bungalows stand on the waterfront and an infinity pool is perched on a hilltop overlooking the sea.

Sumilon Island Philippines

BONUS: Zambezi Queen — Chobe River, Namibia/Botswana

Technically a boat isn’t a hotel, but I did sleep on this luxury river cruise and so I’ve added it as a bonus item. The Zambezi Queen plies the backwaters of Chobe River (that straddle Namibia and Botswana) and brings you deep into the heart of the waterways and savannas where wild animals roam free. The 45-meter-long, three-level boat is stylishly decorated in contemporary African style, and features floor-to-ceiling sliding doors that open up to stunning views of the passing scenery and wildlife. As we glide through the glassy water, we watch groups of hippos and elephants grazing on one side and herds of gazelles running on the other. It provided a perspective unlike no other.

Zambezi Queen

Have you stayed in any of these hotels? Know of any other unusual hotel?

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Interesting Tribes from Around the World http://www.wildjunket.com/2014/04/15/interesting-tribal-cultures-around-world/ http://www.wildjunket.com/2014/04/15/interesting-tribal-cultures-around-world/#comments Tue, 15 Apr 2014 14:28:34 +0000 http://www.wildjunket.com/?p=16529 A Huli wigman with face paintingDuring our travels, we’ve had the fortune of meeting numerous interesting tribes who live in isolated, remote corners of the world and have truly preserved their cultures and traditions. For certain places like Papua New Guinea, the intriguing tribal culture was what drew us to visit. As always, I believe it’s the people who make [...]

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During our travels, we’ve had the fortune of meeting numerous interesting tribes who live in isolated, remote corners of the world and have truly preserved their cultures and traditions. For certain places like Papua New Guinea, the intriguing tribal culture was what drew us to visit. As always, I believe it’s the people who make a place. To pay tribute to the amazing people we’ve met, here are some of the amazing tribes we’e encountered around the world.

The Huli Wigmen — Papua  New Guinea

The Huli is the largest ethnic group in the Highlands, with a population somewhere between 300,000 to 400,000 people, covering the whole of Tari. Huli men are best known for their custom of wearing decorative woven wigs, that are used as elaborate headdresses and decorated with bundles of multi-colored feathers during singsings (celebratory festivals). These wigs are specially made by a unique clan known as the Huli Wigmen, who attend wig schools and live together in isolation from the rest of the community. During my visit to Papua New Guinea, I met the teacher and students of Poroiba Akua wig school, and had an interesting lesson on how to grow wigs. According the Kupunu, the teacher, hair can only grow into a wig with the teacher’s spell.

A Huli wigman with face painting
Huli wigmen

Nomadic Maasai Warriors — Kenya and Tanzania

The Masai (also spelled as Maasai) are a semi-nomadic people from East Africa who are known for their unique way of life as well as their cultural traditions and customs. Living across the arid lands along the Great Rift Valley in Tanzania and Kenya, the Masai population is currently at around 1.5 million, with the majority of them living in the Masai Mara. They are reputed to be strong warriors who hunt for food and live closely with wild animals. Dressed in bright red Shuka cloth and colorful beaded jewelry, the warrior men proudly adorn themselves with what looks to Western eyes like women’s attire. According to the Masai people I met in Kenya, they have little interest in the supposed benefits of modern life.

The Masai doing their jumping dance
Making their own fire

Karen Women with Elongated Necks — Burma/Myanmar and Thailand

In the border mountains between Burma and Thailand live the Karen people, a tribal group related to the Tibetans. Today, their tribe numbers around 40,000 people as more and more of them are moving to the cities. The Karen people are most famous for the neck rings worn by the women of the tribe for beautification purpose. The first coil is applied when the girl is five years old and with the growing is replaced by a longer coil. Sadly, the number of Karen women who still practice this custom is dwindling and many people are exploiting them for tourism. We met a few Karen women at Inle Lake, Myanmar/Burma, who had traveled thousands of miles to live there to work in tourism.

Karen people in Myanmar/Burma
Karen women weaving cloth for visitors

The Ochre-Covered Himba People — Namibia

A group of indigenous people live in the harsh, dry deserts of the Kunene region, northern Namibia, and they’ve become well known throughout the world for their practice of covering themselves with otjize, a mixture of butter fat and ochre, to protect themselves from the sun. The mixture gives their skin a reddish tinge, symbolizing earth’s rich red color and life, and is consistent with the Himba ideal of beauty. Himba women like to braid each other’s hair which is also covered in the ochre mixture. There are now 20,000 to 50,000 people left and most of them making a living tending livestock or welcoming visitors into their villages. During my overlanding trip in southern Africa, I had the chance to meet a Himba family in Damaraland and it was definitely an experience talking to them and understanding their way of life.

A Himba lady

The Hardworking Hmong Women — Vietnam and China

Our visit to the Sapa region of northern Vietnam was so memorable mainly because of these strong and hardworking Hmong women we met along the way. Even though the Hmong culture is patrilineal i.e. allowing a husband’s family to make all major decisions, Hmong women have traditionally carried a large amount of responsibility in the family. The children learn gender expectations at a young age and young girls traditionally learned household skills from their female elders by the age of eight. Besides taking care of the household chores, the women also plant and harvest fields with their husbands. Many Hmong women now work in tourism, offering their houses to trekkers for homestays and also giving a helping hand during the hikes.

A Sapa lady weaving art work
Our Hmong host cooking in her home

Bush-hunting San People — Botswana

The San people (or Saan), also known as Bushmen or Basarwa are members of various indigenous hunter-gatherer peoples of Southern Africa (the most accessible groups are in Botswana’s Kalahari Desert). These indigenous hunter-gatherers were first made famous by the movie, The Gods Must be Crazy. Sadly, the San people were evicted of their ancestral land in the 1950s (which went all the way to the 1990s) and they were forced to switch to farming as a result. Banned from hunting, and forced to apply for permits to enter the reserve, they are now being pushed to the brink of extinction.

In Ghanzi, Botswana, we went out to the bush with a group of San people who showed us how they gathered herbs for medication and plants for food. It was really interesting to see the way they behave and speak (their dialect has a lot of click sounds) and learn how they’re using the same survival techniques as they have for centuries.

The San people showing us their way of life
The family

Have you met any of these tribes? How was your experience? What other tribes have you met?

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The World’s Happiest Countries – Do You Agree? http://www.wildjunket.com/2014/03/26/the-worlds-happiest-countries-do-you-agree/ http://www.wildjunket.com/2014/03/26/the-worlds-happiest-countries-do-you-agree/#comments Wed, 26 Mar 2014 12:52:02 +0000 http://www.wildjunket.com/?p=16439 Copenhagen, DenmarkSince we’re on the subject of happiness, I’d like to share this interesting list of the happiest countries around the world compiled by the World Happiness Report. Every year, United Nations Sustainable Development Solutions Network conducts a 156-nation survey and rank the happiest countries around the globe based on aspects such as healthy life expectancy, freedom to make life [...]

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Since we’re on the subject of happiness, I’d like to share this interesting list of the happiest countries around the world compiled by the World Happiness Report.

Every year, United Nations Sustainable Development Solutions Network conducts a 156-nation survey and rank the happiest countries around the globe based on aspects such as healthy life expectancy, freedom to make life choices and social support. Basically, interviewers sit with people and ask them about their level of happiness, with an emphasis on life satisfaction rather than transient emotional changes.

The results of the 2013 World Happiness Report are quite surprising - with northern European countries like Denmark, Norway and Switzerland leading the pack. Among North American countries, Canada took sixth place, while Mexico came in at 16th slightly outranking the U.S. (17th). Scroll down for the full list.

Rich vs Poor

The report clearly shows that the rich, stable northern countries tend to be happier than those in the relatively poor regions of the world. In an article on the Vancouver Sun, one of the authors of the World Happiness Report explains, “the UN’s Happiness Report doesn’t necessarily indicate that Danes, Swiss or Canadians are the richest or poorest – or that they are cheerful people who put on smiley faces. Instead, the UN rankings confirm the three countries offer decent if unspectacular incomes, a viable social safety net and reasonable community trust.”

True, these people may have decent incomes, freedom from corrupt officials and health resources — but do those things equate to happiness?

We’ve been to all ten of the countries that rank highest in the report, and truth be told, we’d love to live in these countries – with the excellent social welfare, health benefits and work/life balance - and yet, we know so many Scandinavians who just aren’t happy with  life back at home and wish they could live somewhere warmer.

We’ve also met those on the other end of the spectrum: people who live in extreme poverty but seem to not have a care in the world. In the most remote corners of Burma, Bhutan and Madagascar, we found the happiest and friendliest people we’ve ever met. Living in poverty doesn’t necessarily mean a low level of happiness, while being blessed with social stability isn’t equivalent to a high level of happiness.

I guess what I’m trying to say is that it’s impossible to measure happiness. Rather than let a scientific report tell us who’s happy and who’s not, why don’t we go seek true happiness ourselves?

Rather than let a scientific report tell us who’s happy and who’s not, why don’t we go seek true happiness ourselves?

 

United Nations Top 10 Happiest Countries

1. Denmark

Copenhagen, Denmark

2. Norway

The Narvik Fjord

3. Switzerland

Zermatt, Switzerland

4. Netherlands

Windmill - KinderdijkFlickr image by coanri

5. Sweden

Small fishing town Lysekil in West Sweden

6. Canada

Banff, CanadaFlickr image by Patrick

7. Finland

Luosto, Finland

8. Austria

Salzburg, Austria

9. Iceland

The Golden Falls, Iceland

10. Australia

Uluru, Australia

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8 Things You Might Not Know about Bhutan http://www.wildjunket.com/2014/01/13/8-things-you-might-not-know-about-bhutan/ http://www.wildjunket.com/2014/01/13/8-things-you-might-not-know-about-bhutan/#comments Mon, 13 Jan 2014 14:30:27 +0000 http://www.wildjunket.com/?p=16185 Building a strong identitySince opening its doors to tourism in the 1970s, Bhutan has quickly risen to become one of the most talked-about country  in the world. So how did a small, isolated country of just under 800,000 people landlocked between the superpowers of India and China suddenly get so much attention’? I came to Bhutan to search for [...]

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Since opening its doors to tourism in the 1970s, Bhutan has quickly risen to become one of the most talked-about country  in the world. So how did a small, isolated country of just under 800,000 people landlocked between the superpowers of India and China suddenly get so much attention’?

I came to Bhutan to search for an answer, but I left with so much more than I’d expected to find. My fascination with Bhutan only urged me to learn more and dig deeper. During my visit, I got to know its people, ask questions, observe, and learn all about their cultural traditions, beliefs, and philosophies in life. And the country truly captured me.

To share some interesting things I learned along the way – here are some things you might not know about Bhutan.

Building a strong identity

1. In Bhutan, Gross National Happiness is an official development policy that is more important than Gross National Product.

In the 1970s, the Fourth King of Bhutan came up with the concept of Gross National Happiness to measure the nation’s wellbeing as an alternative to the Gross National Product. The concept implies that sustainable development should take a holistic approach towards notions of progress and give equal importance to non-economic aspects of wellbeing. It’s often been explained by its four pillars: sustainable development, environmental protection, cultural preservation, and good governance. All of Bhutan’s governmental policies and projects have to undergo a GNH screening system before approval to make sure they do not have a negative impact of its people’s wellbeing.

Fin Novu, co-founder of Bridge to Bhutan, says that the Gross National Happiness has been very successful in helping the development of Bhutan. The policy has made it possible to include far flung villagers in the development program, further promote self-sufficiency amongst the people and reduce the gap between the rich and the poor.

The idea of measuring a country’s development through happiness has gained so much popularity that the United Nations created its own measurement to apply to countries around the world. The idea has also inspired similar approaches in France and Britain.

Happy people in Bhutan

2. Bhutan is a Buddhist country with strong belief in myths and legends.

Buddhism is very much alive in Bhutan and the country is considered the last stronghold of Vajrayana Buddhism. But from what I’ve observed, Buddhism here is more of a way of life than a religion. Fluttering prayer flags, people circumambulating temples, red robed monks performing rituals are all show how Buddhism is an integral part of Bhutanese life. The entire country is punctuated with dzongs (fortresses), monasteries, stupas, and prayer wheels — all symbols of their faith.

The Bhutanese also have a strong reverence to nature and spiritual world (partly because of the pre-Buddhist animist belief) — mountain peaks are considered to house Guardian deities, lakes inhabited by lake deities and cliffs resided by cliff deities. In fact, mountains are so sacred to the Bhutanese that the government has banned mountaineering on any peak above 19,685 feet. Bhutan actually has the world’s highest unclimbed peak, Gangkhar Puensum, at 24,836 feet (7,570m).

Another interesting belief is the phallic symbol which is commonly painted on houses to ward off evil spirits and bring in good luck. The history of this symbolic image can be traced back to a revered lama named the Divine Madman who was known for his special brand of Buddhism that used shocking behavior (he was a drinker and philanderer) as a way to bring Buddhism to the masses. It’s believed that he would hit evil spirits with his penis and turn them into protective deities.

Tiger's Nest

3. Bhutan has many interesting rules as part of the monarchy’s way to build national identity.

Since the coronation of the first king in 1907, the Bhutanese monarchy has always regulated foreign influences to a great extent in order to protect and preserve the nation’s identity, culture and eco-system. Because of its small size and fragile state, the nation believes that is the key to keeping its sovereignty. The country only opened its doors to foreign tourists in 1974, the year that the United Nations recognized Bhutan as a country.

Before the 1960s, Bhutan had no roads, automobiles, telephone, postal system or electricity. The government lifted a ban on TV and the Internet — only in 1999, 15 years ago. Its capital Thimphu is the only capital in the world without traffic lights. In fact when traffic lights were installed, there was such public outcry that the city reverted back to the use of white-gloved traffic police. Bhutan is also the only country to outlaw tobacco — the sale of cigarettes is banned throughout the country.

In the 1990s, the King introduced a decree to have all Bhutanese follow traditional customs including dress and conduct and as a result, riots erupted in the Nepalese community. This led to the forced exile of 100,000 Bhutanese people of Nepalese origin and the Bhutanese government was criticized for this, says National Geographic.

Today, the Bhutanese are still obliged to wear national costume – a judo-style suit known as gho for men and a silk jacket known as kira for women – to work and to monastic buildings. However, if you talk to the Bhutanese, you’ll soon realize that most Bhutanese don’t feel in any way restricted by these rules and obligations and are full of pride for their nation.

Men in traditional gho playing archery

4. All tourists have to travel with a tour operator and pay a minimum tariff of US$250 per day to visit Bhutan.

Contrary to popular belief, travel to Bhutan is relatively easy these days — it’s just expensive. The Kingdom of Bhutan does not place any cap on the number of tourists who are allowed to travel there, but all visitors to Bhutan (except citizens of India, Bangladesh or Maldives) must travel with a tour operator and pay at least US$250 per person per day (during the high season which is during spring and autumn, expect to pay $40 more per day).

This fee includes everything from four-star hotel stays to all meals, transportation, guide and driver (drinks are not included). It is also important to note that $65 out of this $250 per day goes towards funding the free education and healthcare that the government provides to citizens. In other words, just by visiting Bhutan, you are indirectly doing your part to help support the local communities.

We need to know a few things to understand why the Bhutanese government came up with these restrictions. Firstly, the Bhutanese culture has always had a strong emphasis on conservation of tradition and culture. By keeping the tourism industry small, the government ensures that the impact on local culture and environment is minimal. I’ve seen what mass tourism can do to a country — from environmental destruction (such as Vietnam’s Halong Bay) to cultural erosion and loss of authenticity. The idea is not to keep the gap between the elite and the masses, but to attract more mindful and responsible travelers.

Secondly, Bhutan is a tiny country with limited resources and infrastructure, and cannot sustain large numbers of tourists. To ensure sustainability, Bhutan needs to keep its tourism industry small. With this “low impact, high value” tourism plan, Bhutan will remain an exclusive tourist destination and keep providing its visitors with quality services and authentic experiences. During my visit, I hardly saw other tourists around — which made the experience all the more genuine and intimate.

In 2009, the government actually debated if they should abolish the tourist tariff. It created quite an uproar as many Bhutanese strongly opposed to removing it. According to the Bhutanese I spoke to, they firmly believe that imposing the daily tariff is the only way to prevent Bhutan from falling victim to cultural degradation. In response, the government not only retained the tariff but also increased it further to $250 a day.

Bhutan's currency

5. Bhutan is one of the leading countries in environmental conservation.

Because of the deep traditional reverence the Bhutanese have for nature, the country has a strong emphasis on protection of flora and fauna. In fact, Bhutan is the first country in the world with constitutional obligations on its people to keep at least 60 percent of the nation under forest cover at all times. At the moment, over 72% of the country is forested.

Power is generated hydroelectrically through special turbines placed directly into rivers without the need for constructing dams. For remote villages without access to power lines, the government provides free solar panels. If someone cuts down a tree to aid in the construction of their house, they are required to plant a new tree in its place. The country also sells its hydro-electrical power, making it the only country whose largest export is renewable energy. This is the biggest industry for Bhutan at the moment.

Plastic bags have been banned in Bhutan since 1999. Instead of using plastic bags, the Bhutanese use cotton bags for their groceries to keep the environment free of non-biodegradable rubbish.

Bhutan is home to a wide range of rare animals, such as the Bengal tigers, snow leopard, red panda, Himalayan black bear and the national animal, takin. There are over 670 bird species in the whole of Bhutan. To protect all these animals, anyone caught killing an endangered species faces the harsh sentence of life in prison.

Protecting the natural environment

6. The Bhutanese government provides its people with free education and healthcare despite poverty.

Out of the 720.000 people in Bhutan, the majority of them reside in rural areas and about 30% still live under the poverty line. That said, you will not see any beggars or slums in Bhutan and there is no abject poverty. In general, all Bhutanese have a shelter and are self-sufficient to a large extent. Agriculture and livestock rearing have long been the mainstay of their sustenance. Now 70% of the population continue to live on farming  while the remaining percentage are dedicating themselves to tourism and hydroelectric power industry.

Despite the country’s low GDP, the government provides free education for all – from primary level all the way to tertiary institutes – as well as free health care through Basic Health Units. Western education and the modern system of medicine were both introduced only in the 1960s (prior to that only monastic education and traditional medication were available). Clearly, the government still has lots of work to do but it is definitely setting a great example to the world.

farming is the mainstay of their sustenance

7. Polygamous marriage is allowed in Bhutan.

Despite all the strict rules, polygamy and polyandry (when a woman has more than one husband) are surprisingly legal in Bhutan although they are not common these days. The fourth king himself is actually married to four sisters. According to my Bhutanese friend Fin Novu, polyandry and polygamy started out of necessity. In rural parts of Bhutan particularly in the north, women usually marry more than one men to delegate chores to her husbands — one husband brings the yaks out, another grows crops in the field, another cooks at home and so on. And why do they tend to marry brothers or sisters? To keep the blood within their family.

For the same reason, people also marry among distant relatives. Cross-cousin marriage was a popular tradition in the rural areas of eastern Bhutan but it’s longer popular today. Traditionally, inheritance (such as land, house, and animals) is generally passed to the eldest daughter rather than the eldest son. Husbands also generally move to the wife’s house after marriage.

Modern-day Bhutanese, especially those who live in Thimphu, are no longer restrained by these traditions. They marry for love and most couples choose to live on their own after marriage. Divorces are an accepted norm and they carry no disgrace. In most instances, divorced couples move on with their lives just like in the western world.

Phallic symbol is commonly found in Bhutan

8. The Bhutanese love spicy foods.

I wasn’t expecting much from Bhutan in terms of food but Bhutanese cuisine took me by surprise. As farming is the mainstay of sustenance in Bhutan, their diet is mainly composed of crops that are grown in the country, such as rice, potatoes, ginger and chili. Animal products such as cheese, butter and milk are staples of the Bhutanese diet—which is quite an uncommon thing for Asia. The Bhutanese don’t tend to eat too much meat as their Buddhism beliefs don’t support the sacrifice of animals.

Chili in particular is found in every meal – whether in a hotel restaurant or a farmhouse. They eat several varieties of chili: a common form is the bright red chili that’s usually left to dry on roofs and then stir-fried with beef cubes and spinach; another more popular type is the green chili that is cut into slices and cooked with cheese to form ema datshi, the most popular dish in Bhutan.

Bhutanese food is a mixture of simple ingredients, Chinese flavors and a hint of Himalayan style. I absolutely loved Bhutanese food for the variety and the familiarity. Perhaps it’s because of my Chinese heritage but I’m a huge fan of Bhutanese cooking and can’t wait to head back just to eat.

Ema datshi, Bhutan's national dish

Did we miss out any other interesting facts on Bhutan? Share with us!

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