Sunday, March 26, 2006

The Forbidden City, China

by Steven Clarke

The Forbidden City, China

The third Ming emperor YongLe returned the capital to Beijing (from Nanjing) and in 1406 he began construction of a new and extremely grand imperial palace complex. The building work took 14 years to complete - and an estimated one million workers, including 100,000 artisans, were involved.

The Forbidden City gets its name from the fact that ordinary citizens were excluded from the complex. It is surrounded by a six meter deep, 52 meter wide moat. Inside the moat, the outer wall is 10 meters high and 3,400 meters long. The enormity of the complex, with the emperor hidden inside, added to the imperial mystique and air of legitemacy.

The Forbidden City, located at the exact center of the ancient city of Beijing, was the home and seat of power of 24 emperors during the mid to latter Ming and the Qing dynasties. By the end of the eighteenth century, some 9000 people were estimated to reside there. Apart from the royal family, these were eunuchs, concubines and maid-servants.

From Palace to Museum

The Forbidden City ceased being the political center of China in 1912 with the abdication of Pu Yi, the last emperor of China. PuYi wrote an interesting autobiography entitled 'From Emperor to Citizen'. The film 'The Last Emperor' was the first foreign film made in China and was partly filmed on location in the Forbidden City.

Today, the Forbidden City is a public museum, drawing the attention of millions of travellers and tourists from around the world. Here you can see and feel part of a place with over 600 years of history. Now renamed as the 'Palace Museum' ('GuGong' in chinese, meaning simply 'old palace'), its extensive grounds cover 720,000 square meters (74 hectares); it is nearly 1km from north to south. There are 800 buildings that have in total about 9,000 rooms.

The Forbidden City is listed by UNESCO as the largest collection of preserved ancient wooden structures in the world, and was declared a World Heritage Site in 1987. It is a dazzling architectural masterpiece. The imperial palace grounds are located directly to the north of Tian'AnMen Square and are accessible from the square via Tian'AnMen Gate. Although no longer occupied by royalty, the Forbidden City remains a symbol of chinese sovereignty and the image of its entrance gate appears on the seal of the People's Republic of China.

Popular tourist destination

The Palace Museum is now one of the most popular tourist attractions in the world. Visitors can see the traditional palace architecture up close, enjoy the treasures of the imperial family and court, and learn of the legends and anecdotes about the imperial family and the court. White marble, walls of terra-cotta, roofs of glazed golden yellow tiles, and woodwork finished with paint, lacquer and gilding unite to create an effect of exceptional beauty (see for many photos).

The chinese government has invested a lot of time and money in the Forbidden City and it is now a fantastic place to wander and dream of times gone by. Recently, the site has been under a major renovation that has limited visitors to a few areas. However, it remains open and the great majority of places are still accessible.

The name Beijing translates as 'northern capital' and is close to the old northern border of China protected by the Great Wall - about 40 km away. So with a trip to Beijing one can take in not only the Forbidden City but also the Great Wall of China. Also, the world famous Summer Palace with its large man-made lakes (the country palace grounds of the emperor) is only 20 km to the west, near the popular Fragrant Hills. To the south is the equally famous, and beautiful, Temple of Heaven (TianTan). Beijing is close to the port city of Tianjin and therefore can be a stop on a cruise tour of China.

A dazzling architectural masterpiece that illustrates a long histoy now passed, the Forbidden City is a world cultural heritage 'must see'.

About the Author
Steve Clarke is a travel writer, photographer and founder of the Forbidden City China website that features over 200 high quality photographs of the Forbidden City.

Sunday, March 19, 2006

Travelling Thailand: 5 Top Destinations

by Robert Thatcher

With several sights to see and surprises to offer, Thailand could be one of the best locations you should not miss to visit. Culture, beaches, people, and heritage sites are some of the things you can expect when you travel to Thailand.

Bangkok - Traveling Thailand wound not be complete without visiting Bangkok. As the nation's capital with an estimated population of over 10 million (including the neighboring provinces), this city is by far the largest in the country. The city is divided into 50 districts or khet but for tourists and those who are new in the place, 6 divisions would be more useful. These are Ratchadaphisek in the northeast section of the city, Sukhamvit in the southeast, Silom in the south, Thonburi in the west, Rattanakosin in the central north, and Phahanyothin in the north. The whole Bangkok district would give you a diverse taste of culture, history, religion, modernity, and fast-phase life. You can actually witness how all these blend together to comprise the whole Bangkok package. Buddhist temples, historical museums, towering buildings, contemporary restaurants and hotels, shopping centers, canals and rivers, and food make Bangkok a one of a kind city in Southeast Asia.

Phuket - Down south, Phuket features magnificent beaches, tropical sunsets, white sands, blue seas, and breathtaking sceneries. No wonder it is the most popular vacation destination in Asia beating every beaches of the neighboring countries. It has several beaches like Kata Beach, Karon Beach, Patong Beach, Kamala Beach, and Surin Beach. The island showcases several water sports and activities including parasailing, jet-skiing, and scuba diving. By day, Phuket is alive with beachgoers and shoppers and by night, lights, sounds, and party people dominate the whole island.

Chiang Mai - The second largest city in Thailand with an estimated population of more than 200,000. This city located in the northern part of the country offers greener and quieter city. Chiang Mai's tourism is becoming more and more popular and permanently settling at this city is very common. When you travel Thailand and visit Chiang Mai, you surely would want to see museums such as Hilltribe Research Institute Museum and the Chiang Mai City Arts & Cultural Center. With religion and history enriching the city, you can see several Buddhist temples such as Wat Chiang Mun, Wat Chiang Mun, Wat Phra Singh, Wat Oo-Mong, Wat Phra Jao Mengrai, Wat Phrathat Doi Suthep, and Wat Chedi Luang. The oldest temple dates back in the 11th century. Chiang Mai features attractions such as Chiang Mai Flower Festival in February, Bo Sang Umbrella & Sankampang Handicrafts Festival in January, The 2nd Orchid Fair also in January, and the Loi Krathong Festival usually falls in November.

Pattaya - Located 150 km. north of Bangkok, Pattaya is one of the most popular tourist destinations, which offers great beaches, beer and go-go bars, and a wide array of sport activities. Visit Pattaya when you travel Thailand is a must. Although it is the most overdeveloped part of the country in terms of tourism, prices in Pattaya still remains with reach. In fact, prices of foods, accommodation, and transportations are very affordable.

Krabi - In a small province of Krabi lies a small town with the same name. Paying a visit Krabi town when you travel Thailand is worth the time. Located south of Bangkok near Phuket and Phi Phi island, the town features great beaches along with high end hotels and not so expensive hotel that cater tourists of different classes.

About the Author
Robert Thatcher is a freelance publisher based in Cupertino, California. He publishes articles and reports in various ezines and provides thailand travel resources on

Monday, March 13, 2006

Kauai - the Garden Island

by Diane McCalley

Kauai, the furthest of the Hawaiian islands, is often called "the garden island." And, no wonder. With it's lush greenery, tropical rainforests and spectacular waterfalls, Kauai is a place that will truly take your breath away.

A trip to the garden island is certainly not complete with visiting the National Tropical Garden, located in Lawai. The long, narrow garden covers just under ½ square miles, and stretches from Lawai to the Pacific. Contained within the garden are about 800 varieties of palm and 60 types of banana plants, countless tropical flowers and huge water lilies.

Another must-see spot on Kauai is Waimea Canyon, described by Mark Twain as the Grand Canyon of the Pacific. Waimea Canyon is ten miles long and about 3,600 feet deep. The last time I visited Waimea Canyon the entire area was shrouded in fog, which is common. So, if you want to ensure yourself of a spectacular view, be sure to call ahead for weather information. The number for weather info is: 808-245-6001.

Of course, a visit to Kauai isn't complete without taking in the 50 miles of white sand beaches which surround this small island. Starting with the North Shore, a few beaches of note include Lumahai Beach, which served as the backdrop for the movie "South Pacific." The surf here can be dangerous, but the surroundings make a spectacular setting for weddings or commitment ceremonies. There's also Tunnels Beach, known for its wonderful windsurfing, and Hanalei Bay, a semicircular bay, which is the larges on Kauai. Hanalei Bay is considered the finest beach in the islands.

Moving along to the east side of the island, you'll find Kealia Beach and Wailua Beach, both considered excellent for bodyboarding and surfing. Kalapaki Beach is located south of Kealia and Wailua Beaches, and is one of Kauai's most popular beaches.

Along the South Shore you'll find Keoneloa Beach, a major windsurfing beach. Poipu County Beach Park is the South Shore's most popular beach, with a sheltered swimming area. If snorkeling is your sport of choice, then you must head out to Poipu Beach.

Another good snorkeling area along the South Shore is Waiohai Beach, which is also a good swimming area.

The West Shore boasts Kauai's most famous surfing beach, Pakala Beach. But, beware, shark sightings are common. One of the widest beaches is Polihale State Park. You get to Polihale State Park after driving a 5-mile unpaved road. For that reason, this beach can be uncrowded. The time I visited I felt like I had the beach to myself. A great place to watch the sunset.

If you wish a truly memorable Hawaiian vacation, then put Kauai at the top of your list. It certainly deserves it.

About the Author
Diane McCalley is the owner of, where you can find all you need to travel well.

Wednesday, March 08, 2006

Ibiza; An Island of Contrasts

by Quiller

IBIZA - an island of contrasts Of course it's world-renowned for its uniquely hedonistic clubbing scene, but there are so many other sides to the island. Ibiza's wildly beautiful coastline boasts dozens of outstanding cove beaches, lapped by crystalline turquoise waters, while the hilly interior is replete with whitewashed villages and pine forests. Then there are dozens of remarkable restaurants offering everything from typical Ibicencan dishes, Zen-styled sushi bars to cutting-edge contemporary cuisine. Ibiza represents a perfect mixture where everyone can find what they want.

Beautiful beaches, white sand coves, crystal clear shorelines and deep-sea waters are within minutes drive of anywhere. The island's interior is home to dense pine-forests, refreshing rolling hills, traditional whitewashed villages and extremely friendly locals.

Ibiza Old Town itself is steeped in culture and history and the island's capital, with its mediaeval walls and dominating Cathedral is one of the most beautiful towns in the Mediterranean.

Of course if it's nightlife you're after - look no further. Ibiza is the summer party capital of the world, and features spectacular night spots and world famous DJ's.

The level of service has improved greatly on the island, with activities such as water sports, hot air ballooning, mountain-biking, boat rental and yoga easy to find and well-priced. For the full rock-star service, I would recommend hiring a villa complete with chef, maid and chauffeur; some villa rental agents are even offering a concierge service through which you can book tables at exclusive restaurants, get VIP tickets to the best clubs, hire boats or arrange other services such as masseurs in your villa. They can take the strain out of organising events such as weddings, and can arrange photographers, make-up artists and chauffeurs to make your special day as perfect as possible

If you are planning your summer holidays, take another look at Ibiza...I think you will find yourselves as pleasantly surprised as I was.

Check out the following websites for great accommodation options and a free concierge service:

About the Author

Friday, March 03, 2006

A Marriage Made in Maui Heaven

by Paul Malcolm

Looking for a paradise wedding, or have friends that are looking for the perfect place to get married? We have lots of romantic ideas for a heavenly Maui wedding.

At the beach, near a waterfall or in a chapel, with the fragrance of tropical flowers borne on gentle trade winds caressing your face -- a Maui sun bids 'Aloha' to another day in Paradise. It is quite simply, the perfect place to celebrate your wedding vows.

Here are a few of the ingredients that will imprint your wedding day on your minds for years to come.

Maui, Hawaii is the second largest island in the Hawaiian archipelago in both size and population, located some 1,800 miles off the south western seaboard of the United States.

Hawaii is one of the top tourist destinations for the majority of Americans and hence a Maui wedding is highly desirable, taking place in one of the world's foremost wedding and honeymoon destinations.

The weather in Maui is also most attractive as it is year round tropical; however it is most consistently pleasant outside the months of January and February (dead of winter).

Maui offers several fascinating attractions, including the unforgettable sight of a surfacing whale, biking through wine country, snorkeling the tiny atoll of Molokini, or enjoying a stage production at the Historic 'Iao Theater.

A reasonable stay of seven days, or more is recommended if you want to explore more than one Hawaiian Island.

Maui, Hawaii offers the enamored an ideal place to declare their love. Several professional services for Maui Weddings are in great demand, and wedding providers such as are at hand to assist in every way, from classic beach weddings to larger formal affairs.

A beautiful wedding of land and sea, the island of Maui offers newlyweds any number of romantic options. An authentic Maui wedding might require the services of a 'kahu', which is a Hawaiian minister.

A Maui wedding may also include an elaborate 'luau' (pronounced loo-ow) celebration. A luau is a Hawaiian gathering of family and friends to enjoy good food, company and times.

In addition to the Hawaiian tradition of the ceremony, many couples decide to incorporate the exchanging of the lei, where each person gives their betrothed a lei. (A lei is a flower necklace.) For the bride, the pikake lei seems to be one of the most popular varieties because of its sweet fragrance and delicate appearance.

Pikake is a seasonal flower and has limited availability, but there are many other fragrant flowers to choose from. Grooms usually receive a maile lei, which is quite masculine and drapes loosely around the neck. The maile lei has beautiful green leaves which have a sweet smell and little fragrance. It also dries quickly and can be retained as a cherished keepsake for many years to come.

Another tradition that is sometimes performed is the conch shell announcement of the ceremony. Here a conch shell blower introduces the nuptials, and a Hawaiian chanter often follows in precession. A hula dance usually adds the perfect touch of Hawaii and can portray a beautiful message of love. Some brides have even taken it upon themselves to learn a hula dance and perform it as a surprise to their grooms. (The hiring of a professional hula dancer can be easily arranged.)

Hawaiian music can easily be adapted for any wedding. A soulful ukulele and guitar accompaniment can evoke the most melodic sounds. The "Hawaiian Wedding Song" is a popular request for many wedding couples here in Maui.

For more information on Maui Weddings visit ParadiseMaui at Maui Wedding. offers a number of quality wedding packages. They are based in Hawaii and are one of the island's main wedding planners. They are also members of the Hawaiian Wedding Professionals Association, Maui Weddings Association and the Maui Chamber of Commerce.

About the Author
For more information on Maui Weddings visit ParadiseMaui at Maui Weddings. offers a number of quality wedding packages. They are based in Hawaii and are one of the island's main wedding planners. They are also members of the Hawaiian Wedding Professionals Association, Maui Weddings Association and the Maui Chamber of Commerce.