LandLopers http://landlopers.com Tue, 03 May 2016 10:34:53 +0000 en-US hourly 1 Five More Ways To Improve Your European Travel Experiencehttp://landlopers.com/2016/05/02/improve-european-travel-experience http://landlopers.com/2016/05/02/improve-european-travel-experience#respond Tue, 03 May 2016 04:55:26 +0000 http://landlopers.com/?p=31126 Although I often travel to a variety of places around the world, Europe tends to be a siren call that I can’t ignore. It’s relatively easy to reach from the … Read More

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Although I often travel to a variety of places around the world, Europe tends to be a siren call that I can’t ignore. It’s relatively easy to reach from the East Coast where I live and the diversity of the cultures found there guarantees that I’ll never be bored. After spending a lot of time touring around the continent, I’ve picked up on a few best practices that I first shared in this post a couple of years ago. Since then I’ve been back many times and have created a new list of things I think every visitor to Europe should do to maximize their travel time and more importantly, to have an amazing trip.

Krka National Park Croatia

Rent a car

Not everyone will be comfortable doing this, but it will transform your trip in ways you can’t even predict. We love to think of Europe as the perfect place for train travel, and it is. I, like many of my fellow Americans, love the transportation promise that only Europe can fulfill. And if you’re only going between major cities then it probably is your best option in all reality. But there’s a lot more to Europe than its major cities, as I will soon expand upon, and there is so much to see and do that is only accessible by car. Aside from the smaller towns and villages, I think a big part of any trip to Europe should be spent exploring its more natural side. I remember the first time I left Paris and traveled through the French countryside. I was shocked by how many farms and large open spaces I found; beautiful landscapes as bucolic as any I’d ever seen. Europe is of course well loved for its history and important landmarks, but it’s also home to gorgeous lakes, rivers and mountains – all places that really need a car to better visit. So on your next trip to Europe, cast aside any fears you may have and take to the roads, I don’t think you’ll regret it.

Esslingen, Germany

Visit smaller towns

The great capital cities of Europe are the stuff of travel dreams. Who doesn’t love the idea of visiting metropolitan centers like London, Paris, Berlin, Vienna and Rome? And you’re right, they are all amazing and well worth our time as travelers. But Europe is shockingly big and not only that, but in my experience there hasn’t been a small town or village that hasn’t had something interesting to share. Europe’s secondary cities and even smaller more rural hamlets are also an important part of the European experience and are necessary to visit I think if you really want to delve deeper and learn more about whatever country you’re visiting. In Germany, Berlin and Munich are great but so are Freiburg and Esslingen and while you can usually visit these towns via train, renting a car is typically much easier. As you leave the very large cities, train travel is more limited and to reach some areas takes far longer than it should with connections that can at times be confusing. Renting a car can turn a 4-hour trip into a 1-hour jaunt and gives you the flexibility to go where you want when you want, a travel luxury that I always relish.

Tower Bridge London UK

Be touristy

I’ve said this before, I’m saying this now and I will most likely say it again – don’t be afraid to be a corny tourist. None of us are Anthony Bourdain or Rick Steves and we shouldn’t try to be. We’re on vacation, traveling and we need to make sure we enjoy the experience. This means that it is in fact OK to be a camera toting, crepe eating, Colosseum visiting tourist. Don’t let the hipsters and egocentric travelers tell you to always get off the beaten path and to only go local. Sure, this is good once in a while as I just wrote about, but on the whole don’t be afraid to embrace your inner tourist. There’s a reason why everyone who visits Paris goes to the Eiffel Tower, in London Westminster Abbey and in Rome the Forum. They’re awesome! They have always been awesome, they will always be awesome and you should see them. So ignore those nay-sayers and instead go, see the famous sites and enjoy yourself.

Sababurg Germany

Stay smart

Hotels can be an issue in Europe. Absent, for the most part, are those brands many of us have come to trust and in their places are smaller, boutique hotels the quality of which are unknown. Choosing a hotel outside of the major capital cities can be a challenge. They mostly all look fine online and the reviews tend to be almost entirely useless. When in doubt I try to find the nearest 5-star hotel, but in many smaller cities and towns those simply don’t exist. In their place are a hodge podge of 3 & 4 star accommodations unknown in their service, standards and quality. There’s no way of knowing if it’s good or not until you show up, at which point it’s too late. So do your research and more importantly, ask people who have been there for recommendations. TripAdvisor is ok for giving a broad idea, but it’s great (one of them) failing is that how we perceive hotels is very subjective. Someone from the UK may not care if the room is comfortable or not, as long as there’s a bed and no visible evidence of a murder having been committed on the premises. Whereas an American will be more picky, expecting spacious rooms, air conditioning and so forth. So be sure to consider the geographical source of those online reviews you read. Ultimately though, it’s a crap shoot and you have to eventually go with your gut after doing as much research as possible. Note: This is where some travel specialists come in handy as they have firsthand knowledge of the areas you plan to visit.

Atomium Brussels

Don’t be afraid

Travel has always been a scary proposition for many travelers, especially if it’s their first time leaving the country and heading overseas. Recent events around the world involving terrorists honestly haven’t helped things either. Many in the travel industry have reacted in one of two ways; they either ignore that a problem exists or just tell tourists to ignore it in a blanket statement. While I agree that tourists shouldn’t let terrorism affect their travel plans, I think it’s amazingly narrow-minded to ignore that those fears exists. Travel can be scary. Terrorism is scary. Combining the two doesn’t create warm and fuzzy feelings. So we in the travel world have a responsibility to 1) encourage travelers to keep visiting Europe but 2) also helping them work through whatever fears they may have. My best advice is to travel as you would normally, but to always be smart and stay aware of your surroundings. That’s good advice anywhere you go to be honest and should be at the heart of our travel security experience. But don’t let the bad guys keep you from visiting some of the most beautiful cities and regions found anywhere in the world. Europe is special, there’s nothing quite like it and is a continent and assemblage of countries I will never, ever get tired of visiting. These places both simultaneously live up to our preconceptions of them while surprising us with new and wondrous sights. It’s a place with warmhearted people, delicious food and a history that boggles the mind. You owe it to yourself to visit and visit as often as you can, but do so with your head held up high in defiance of those thugs who would prefer you stay holed up in your home, afraid of the world around you.

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Busy Afternoon at the Summer Palace, Beijinghttp://landlopers.com/2016/05/02/photo-afternoon-summer-palace-beijing http://landlopers.com/2016/05/02/photo-afternoon-summer-palace-beijing#respond Tue, 03 May 2016 04:50:17 +0000 http://landlopers.com/?p=31118 The post Busy Afternoon at the Summer Palace, Beijing appeared first on LandLopers.

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Beijing China

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How To Get A Panda Hug In Chinahttp://landlopers.com/2016/05/01/panda-hug http://landlopers.com/2016/05/01/panda-hug#comments Mon, 02 May 2016 04:55:13 +0000 http://landlopers.com/?p=31124 I’m not exactly sure when the idea of hugging a panda first popped into my head. It was a long time ago, I know that, and I’m not sure if … Read More

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Panda Chengdu China

I’m not exactly sure when the idea of hugging a panda first popped into my head. It was a long time ago, I know that, and I’m not sure if I was ever truly serious about it. I have always loved pandas and just like for millions of others, they’re my favorite animal. There’s just something so unusual, so mysterious and yet so humanlike about these black and white balls of fluff that has always captivated me. Living in the DC area I’ve been lucky to have them as neighbors, but I never thought I’d ever have the chance to actually interact with one. As I got older and people asked me about my travel bucket list, I would always jokingly say “Hug a panda.” I thought it so outrageous and so unlikely that it would always enjoy a permanent spot on that list. But then came along a special chance to get a panda hug and I knew I couldn’t say no.

Working with Cathay Pacific Airways, they asked me to put together what my ideal trip to China would look like. No, better said, to see what my first introductory trip to China would look like. The country is far too vast and far too interesting to relegate to a single travel experience, but for my first foray into the Chinese mainland I knew not only that I had to visit the capital city Beijing, but if it all possible I had to hug a panda in the panda capital of the world, Chengdu.

Panda China

Chengdu is a large city in China’s Sichuan province. It’s one of the oldest cities in the country and has enjoyed a position of power and influence for millennia. Food, a fascinating culture and warm-hearted people are all long-standing reasons to love this city, so it must chagrin them a bit to know that they are world famous not for any of these hallmarks of the city, but for their furry residents. The Chengdu Giant Panda Research Base is the best-known center of Giant Panda research in the world. It started simply in the 1950s, but by the 2000s it had nearly 100 pandas in the reserve and was responsible for hundreds of panda births. This endangered species calls the mountain ranges in south-central China home and Chengdu is the historic center of their habitat. It’s also from here where dozens more pandas to all corners of the world are loaned, usually as part of diplomatic entreaties between China and foreign governments. Chengdu is the largest of the panda reserves and thanks to its proximity to the metropolitan area of Chengdu, is also the most visited by tourists. But it’s not the only reserve near Chengdu and more importantly to me, you can’t interact with the pandas at Chengdu. So instead I visited a newer and lesser-known facility about an hour outside of town – the improbably long-named Dujiangyan Research Center of Giant Panda Breeding and Release.

Known locally as the Panda Ark, Dujiangyan is just one of many reserves found in the region and here they focus on rescue, rehabilitation and disease control. Covering about 126 acres, walking into the facility it looked just like a panda rescue center should look. Set in amongst mountains and natural bamboo forests, it has an ethereal look to it, a place where you’d expect to find pandas. But it’s also a very modern facility, with large private enclosures for the pandas, a hospital, research area and an educational center. The goal of Dujiangyan from the beginning was to create a new kind of eco-tourism in the province. A way to study and preserve the species while at the same time allowing the public access so that they can learn more about the beautiful Giant Panda. And that’s why I was allowed to hug a panda.

There are several volunteer programs available at Dujiangyan and when I go back I’ll definitely join one of the longer courses. Volunteers can spend the day at the facility, dressed in panda keeper outfits they learn all about the day-to-day care of the pandas. The volunteers do everything from clean up after the pandas to help prepare their food, all in an effort to create a greater understanding and awareness of the Giant Panda. The research base also offers options for folks with less time to spend, like me.

For a donation to the center, a limited number of guests are allowed to sit next to and “hug” a panda in a carefully controlled environment. Knowing how popular this is, I arranged for the visit well in advance and couldn’t believe my luck when I was told that there was space available. Arriving into the volunteer center, I was met by one of the educational guides whose job is to instruct the volunteers who come almost every day. The chance to spend the day with pandas is a rare experience, and because of that it has quickly become one of the most popular tourist activities in Chengdu. It’s not cheap though and because of that and the limited slots available every day, it feels like belonging to a small club of panda enthusiasts when you finally do arrive.

Panda Chengdu China

Before meeting my huggable panda, I spent some time wandering around the facility itself, impressed by what I found. In a series of large and forested enclosures are a variety of Giant Pandas, raging in ages and from a variety of places all over the world. It was breakfast time and the pandas were hungry, excitedly munching the bamboo stalks and racing across their enclosures as new bales were delivered. I could’ve spent the whole day just standing there in the cool mountain mist watching them play and lumber about in ways that can only be called panda-like. I’m not sure what it is exactly about this gorgeous creature that enthralls us so much, but there’s no denying their magnetic charm when you stand in front of them. I’d only ever seen them in zoos where at the most there were 2 or 3. To be in a reserve with dozens of pandas, including babies was a special experience in its own right, hug or no hug.

The time finally came though for my hug and after a staff briefing, we were all led to the private section of the research facility where biologists conduct their work far from the prying eyes of tourists. Suited up in plastic gloves and a hospital gown, we all felt nervous anticipation as the juvenile panda was led to a nearby bench. For most of us, this was a moment we had dreamed of since we were little kids, not even realizing that such an encounter was even possible. Most had traveled halfway around the world just for this moment, just for the mere chance to interact with one of the world’s rarest and most precious animals. The keepers were rightfully strict, allowing each of us no more than 20-30 seconds next to the panda, whose interest was more concentrated on his bamboo snack than it was us. I was beaming though, as happy as I’ve been in a long time sitting there with my arms around this infinitely huggable bear. I couldn’t believe it and ever since that moment have thought back to it, trying to mentally reconstruct every second in an attempt to keep the memory alive for as long as I can. His hair was course, but overall the panda was soft and careful not to bother sensitive areas I gave him a quick squeeze before allowing the next guest their opportunity. Thirty years of pining had been reduced to just a few seconds, but they are brief moments that I know I’ll never forget.

Chengdu China

The purpose of the panda experience at Dujiangyan isn’t to give rich tourists a unique experience. The money donated goes back to the center and helps fund their important efforts. But what’s more important is the education that arises as a result. I spent several hours at the research base learning even more about the pandas than I already knew, and by the end of my time there was proud to have contributed just a little to their preservation. I was deeply impressed with the Dujiangyan facility, thankfully so as it turns out. We never know what wildlife encounters will be like until we’re there. Personally, I’m always worried that they won’t be sustainable efforts so, sadly, I mostly avoid them. This is different though, this is a new model in China in eco-tourism and is part of a long-term effort to find new ways of preserving this important animal. Pandas are about much more than being cute, they are a symbol of China and an important aspect of the Sichuan mountains. They’ve rebounded in recent years but it’s only through ongoing research and education of the public that this can continue. And in the process if that means that folks like me can spend the morning hanging out with them, then all the better. I couldn’t have imagined a better example of what #MyChinaExperience means to me than getting that all so rare panda hug.

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Moody Glamis Castle in Scotlandhttp://landlopers.com/2016/05/01/photo-moody-glamis-castle-scotland http://landlopers.com/2016/05/01/photo-moody-glamis-castle-scotland#respond Mon, 02 May 2016 04:50:20 +0000 http://landlopers.com/?p=31060 The post Moody Glamis Castle in Scotland appeared first on LandLopers.

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Glamis Castle Scotland UK

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Sanctuary Retreats: What They Are & Why You Should Know About Themhttp://landlopers.com/2016/04/28/sanctuary-retreats http://landlopers.com/2016/04/28/sanctuary-retreats#comments Fri, 29 Apr 2016 04:55:10 +0000 http://landlopers.com/?p=31074 A major aspect of my Tanzania safari experience with Abercrombie & Kent is where we stayed, and for most of the trip our accommodations were at three different tented camps … Read More

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Sanctuary Retreats Swala Campa Tanzania

A major aspect of my Tanzania safari experience with Abercrombie & Kent is where we stayed, and for most of the trip our accommodations were at three different tented camps run by Sanctuary Retreats. One of the most coveted luxury travel experiences, Sanctuary Retreats truly excels at what they do, but I thought today I’d take a few moments to share with you who they are, what their experiences are like and why a stay with them should be on your travel bucket list just as it was on mine. I will be reviewing each property individually, but first I wanted to provide this introduction.

Sanctuary Retreats

Originally created by Geoffrey Kent as a way to provide guests with high-end, luxury accommodations while exploring the most rural areas of Africa, today Sanctuary is a separate company and is a collection of luxury safari lodges and expedition ships that bring a boutique experience to guests throughout Africa and now the world. Each one of their properties, located today in Zambia, Botswana, Tanzania, Kenya, Uganda and South Africa, is completely unique and individual and operates by the ethos of “Luxury, naturally.”

What Is A Tented Camp?

“Welcome to your home away from home Mr. Long,” was how I was greeted at each of the three Sanctuary Retreats camps I visited, along with a cool washcloth and a refreshing welcome drink highlighting local fruits. Sanctuary Retreats excels in what is called a permanent tented camp experience. Mobile versions have been around for decades, but the permanent variety is a little newer to the luxury travel scene in Africa. Since each Retreat is different, it’s hard to provide sweeping generalizations, but in most cases a permanent luxury tented camp includes individual pavilions on which massive canvas tents are erected. The pavilions usually include a deck or verandah and inside the tent is everything you’d expect to find in a more traditional 5-star hotel experience. The camps themselves tend to have a central meeting area where there are lounges, bars and of course the restaurant. All three camps we visited also had fire pits for evening get-togethers and Sanctuary Swala even had a small infinity pool with a great view of the bush and wildlife. Spread out around a compound, the Sanctuary experience feels like a luxury summer camp, with every amenity and service you could ever possibly want.

The Accommodations

Walking into the first tent of my safari at Sanctuary Swala, I was met with a massive space including sitting areas, a desk, large beds with the finest linens, a full bathroom with both indoor and outdoor showers, W/C and even wardrobes. Electricity was always available, there was a fan over the beds and WiFi was included for each pavilion. Better yet was the view; the untouched wilderness of Tarangire National Park was in front of us, along with all kinds of wildlife. Impala wandered a few feet away, monkeys poked around corners to see if we’d left any food and mongoose scampered around everywhere. It was a rural, African bush experience with the finest of every modern convenience. That was the Swala camp though, each Sanctuary Retreat we visited was a little different, but all shared the similar characteristics of a luxury tented camp, wooden pavilions with massive tents inside of which were our little havens for the duration of our stay. The one exception to this was the Sanctuary Retreat Ngorongoro Crater Camp, which is designated as a mobile camp. The conditions were still luxurious, but decidedly more rustic. While there was an en-suite bathroom, it wasn’t as private as at the other camps and the shower was an indoor bucket shower. We would tell our room attendant what time we wanted to take a shower, and he’d fill the bucket shower with hot water at the prearranged time, monitoring the supply throughout. It was a little strange at first, but I soon fell into the rhythm of even this more intimate camping experience.

The Food

The great thing about Sanctuary is that it’s an all-inclusive environment and just like an Abercrombie & Kent safari, you never have to worry about anything, especially the food. And from my own experience, food is something Sanctuary takes very seriously. At all three camps, breakfast was an event unto itself, not only with delicious options both hot and cold, but views unlike anything else in the world. Most people were out during lunchtime on game drives, which is why Sanctuary also excels in preparing elaborate and elegant picnic lunches, served on china and white linen on pop-up tables wherever your safari experience may take you. Dinner is where each camp shined though, and the individual chefs provided meals so unique and so delicious I couldn’t believe that I was literally enjoying them in the middle of nowhere. Whether it was homemade soups, expertly prepared steaks or chocolate desserts I still think about, it all had the air of a fine-dining experience, but under a canopy of stars in Africa.

The Overall Experience

I’m not a camper, but luckily a stay with Sanctuary Retreats is anything but camping. It combines all the best aspects of being as close to nature as you possibly can be with all of the luxuries of a first class travel experience. The game drives on my Abercrombie & Kent safari were of course amazing, but our accommodations at the tented camps weren’t just a nice aspect of our trip, they played a major role. At the camps we got to know fellow travelers, met people from around the world and learned how to appreciate the natural landscape in a slower, more laid back way than in a safari truck. Whether it was sipping my coffee as the fog lifted from the forest of acacia trees, or admiring one of the best sunsets I’ve ever seen in the Serengeti, my experiences at the Sanctuary Retreats were just as important to my overall travel experience as was seeing my first cheetah or fawning over a baby elephant. Sanctuary and Abercrombie really are the perfect marriage of luxury, service and quality and when combined create the safari experience of a lifetime.

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Beautiful Vineyards and Wineries Around the World: Photo Serieshttp://landlopers.com/2016/04/28/vineyards-wineries http://landlopers.com/2016/04/28/vineyards-wineries#respond Fri, 29 Apr 2016 04:50:40 +0000 http://landlopers.com/?p=31076 I’ve visited many wineries and vineyards around the world, from the one where I worked in college to more famous ones in California, South Africa and too many others to … Read More

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I’ve visited many wineries and vineyards around the world, from the one where I worked in college to more famous ones in California, South Africa and too many others to name. I love visiting them not only for the obvious reasons, but because vineyards are inherently beautiful places, home to moments of hard to find calm and tranquility. They offer a different view of the destinations we visit, so with that in mind this Friday for my weekly photo series I thought I’d share some of my favorite vineyards and wineries around the world.

Stellenbosch South Africa

Stellenbosch South Africa

hot air balloon napa

Napa Valley

Mouton Rothschild, France

Mouton Rothschild, France

Croaita wine

Croatia

Cava cellar Spain

Spain

Wine grapes margaret river Australia

Margaret River, Australia

Rippon Winery, New Zealand

Rippon Winery, New Zealand

Groot Constantia

Groot Constantia, South Africa

Chateau de Rully France

France

German Sekt Wine

Plesivica Croatia

Croatia

Italy

porron

Spain

Malta

Tournon & Tain l'Hermitage France

Tournon & Tain l’Hermitage, France

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My China Experience: The Instagram Photos I Didn’t Posthttp://landlopers.com/2016/04/27/my-china-experience-instagram http://landlopers.com/2016/04/27/my-china-experience-instagram#comments Thu, 28 Apr 2016 04:55:49 +0000 http://landlopers.com/?p=31108 I knew even before leaving for China that connecting to my social media accounts would be a challenge. Not only is the data network in China slow, but the social … Read More

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I knew even before leaving for China that connecting to my social media accounts would be a challenge. Not only is the data network in China slow, but the social media accounts I use every day are blocked in mainland China. There are ways around that of course, and I prepared myself before hopping on board that Cathay Pacific fight to Hong Kong and then Beijing. Even though I could mostly get online, the time difference and connectivity meant that I didn’t post quite as often as I would’ve liked. I’m picky about what I post to Instagram on a good day, and when there are added complications that frequency is reduced even further. So today I thought I’d share a few photos and stories from my trip to China that I didn’t post for one reason or another as a way to share what the experience was like.

Working with Cathay Pacific Airways, the goal of this trip was to show what My China Experience (#MyChinaExperience) looks like. We’re all different in how we travel and what we like to see and do, and they wanted me to figure out what an ideal trip to China would look like. Choosing activities and cities that interested me, my trip may have been brief but I feel that it was the perfect introduction to this enormous nation that will take many more trips to see more fully.

Beijing China

Tiananmen Square, Beijing

A stop at Tiananmen Square is near the top of the list for most Western visitors to China, thanks to those iconic images we all remember from 1989. Truth be told, it’s an interesting place to visit in its own right and walking around this gigantic public square was a perfect first activity in Beijing. Gazing up at that giant image of Mao, that was the moment when I truly felt like I was in China. We all have preconceived notions of what traveling in any country will be like and for me, walking through the gates to the Forbidden City under the watchful gaze of the Chairman was the critical moment when I realized that I had indeed arrived.

Beijing China

Summer Palace, Beijing

One challenge I had in Beijing was that there was too much to see and do and not enough time to do it. So I had to pick and choose but looking back at it, the decision to visit the large Summer Palace complex was very smart. Chinese rulers lived in this tranquil retreat for centuries and today you can easily sense the former power and glory that was centered here. On a warm almost-summer weekend afternoon, its appeal wasn’t only obvious to me, but the thousands of Beijing locals all there to enjoy some time in the gardens and paddling on the lake. It was a fun afternoon with some history thrown in, but mostly the appeal of the Summer Palace is the pastoral beauty. In a city as large as Beijing, it’s a nice way to slow down and relax.

Chengdu China

More Pandas

I of course had to share at least one image of pandas on Instagram and the experience of interacting with them was so meaningful, I thought I’d share this photo as well. For years, I always joked with people that my ultimate travel experience would be to hug a panda. It seemed so outrageous and so inconceivable that I thought it was a great answer. And then I actually hugged a panda. The Dujiangyan Panda Base is affiliated with the larger and more well-known Chengdu Giant Panda Research Station but just because it’s smaller and not as well known doesn’t mean that important work isn’t being done there every day. A new facility, the goal here is to fuse both tourism and conservation in a unique way that seems to be working. In large, private woody enclosures, about 30 pandas live their quiet lives, part of ongoing breeding and research critical to preserving the species. Visitors can walk around and admire them, but they can also spend the day volunteering at the base as well. Although I didn’t have the time for the full experience, guests spend a whole work day learning about the pandas, cooking and cleaning for them and going behind the scenes to see what panda keepers do on a daily basis. If you don’t have the day to spend you can do what I did – hug a panda. For a donation fee, visitors get to spend a few moments sitting next to a young panda, an experience as unique as any in the world. For someone like me who truly loves pandas, it was a wonderful moment and an experience I know I’ll always remember. The only problem is that now I’ll have to think of a new bucket list item.

Chengdu China

Chengdu Cuisine

Even within China, a food crazed country, Chengdu is known for its food – spicy food at that. I tried as much as I could from simple street food to its famous hot pot restaurants and all of it was Sichuan cuisine at its finest. Food is the fastest way to learn about any new city, and in Chengdu that meant making new friends and fast. A great place to start your exploration of Sichuan cuisine in Chengdu is at the admittedly touristy Jinli Street. Here there are hundreds of small vendors, selling inexpensive snacks on the go including everything from noodles and soups to spicy potatoes and pineapple sticky rice. I loved my afternoon there and my only regret was that I couldn’t eat more.

Kennedy Town Hong Kong

Kennedy Town, Hong Kong

I could have easily flown home from Chengdu, but I wanted to spend the night in Hong Kong because I just enjoy being there. Although I didn’t have a lot of time to explore on this trip, I wanted to do something different so I joined a walking tour of an up-and-coming neighborhood known as Kennedy Town. This long-neglected area of Hong Kong is going through a very rapid change thanks to the opening of a new subway connection. Walking around with my guide from Little Adventures in Hong Kong, I learned a lot about what life in Hong Kong was like decades ago, a lifestyle still on full display in Kennedy Town. From joining locals for milk tea and egg tarts to strolling the waterfront, it was a wonderful way to learn a little more about this dynamic city.

I have so much to share from my week in China, but I hope this brief insight into the travel experience is a good first start.

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Mom and Baby Panda at the Dujiangyan Panda Basehttp://landlopers.com/2016/04/27/mom-baby-panda-photo http://landlopers.com/2016/04/27/mom-baby-panda-photo#respond Thu, 28 Apr 2016 04:50:26 +0000 http://landlopers.com/?p=31105 The post Mom and Baby Panda at the Dujiangyan Panda Base appeared first on LandLopers.

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Panda China

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Not To Miss Experiences in Tropical North Queenslandhttp://landlopers.com/2016/04/26/tropical-north-queensland http://landlopers.com/2016/04/26/tropical-north-queensland#respond Tue, 26 Apr 2016 21:55:45 +0000 http://landlopers.com/?p=31072 Queensland is a large Australian state, and within it are a number of smaller regions, including the somewhat amorphous Tropical North Queensland. Geographically it makes sense, but even the name … Read More

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Queensland is a large Australian state, and within it are a number of smaller regions, including the somewhat amorphous Tropical North Queensland. Geographically it makes sense, but even the name does little to portray the real magic of this part of Queensland. It’s here where the rainforest meets the reef, as tourism officials will quickly tell you, where the ancient UNESCO protected Daintree Rainforest meets the equally ancient and protected Great Barrier Reef. It’s a wild and wooly part of Queensland, but one that quickly won my heart. It’s physically stunning, but it’s also home to any number of fun and adventurous activities that will bring you closer to some of the most amazing places on the planet. I spent a fair amount of time in the Tropical North and while there is still much more for me to see and do, I thought I’d share a few of my favorite experiences (so far) in this, my favorite region of Queensland.

Kuranda Train Queensland Australia

Kuranda Scenic Railway

I love trains and scenic rail trips are always experiences I look for when I travel. One of the best in Australia is based out of Cairns and when you visit is just one of those activities you can’t miss. Running from Cairns to Kuranda, this scenic railway snakes up the Macalister Range through jungles, waterfalls and areas of the Tropical North impossible to reach by any other means. The rail line was built in the late 19th century but has been a tourist railway since the 1930s. Thanks to that history, the carriages look and feel just like the original versions, adding a vintage feel to the experience. I opted to travel in luxury though, booking the Gold Class experience on the Kuranda Scenic Railway. Enjoying drinks in the station lounge before departure, I traveled in a special luxury car with lounge-style chairs and was treated to drinks and food throughout the scenic journey. Providing ease and comfort, it made the experience even more special than it already was.

Port Douglas Australia

Spend time in Port Douglas

While Cairns is fine, the community that really stole my heart was Port Douglas – but I can’t necessarily tell you why. Like so many other Australian towns, Port Douglas begun life in the 19th century when gold was found nearby. Life fluctuated in this small town over the years, but by the 1960s it was little more than a nicely situated fishing village. Then, in the 1980s and ‘90s, some smart developers realized the potential and starting to invest in hotels and infrastructure eventually evolving to the great beachside retreat it is today. The active heart of the community is Four Mile Beach stretching from rocky headlands, it’s a massively wide beach and is one of the main reasons why people visit in the first place. But I barely stepped foot onto that beautiful beach. No, instead I was much more interested in the town and community itself. Maybe it was the tree-lined street or the pastel colors of the buildings, but everything had a design to it, a look that was more elegant than normal. It was the kind of community where I could see myself vacationing, relaxing at a coffee shop or just going for a walk. Crazed drunken 20-somethings were nowhere to be seen, no backpackers could be found and instead professionals, couples and families crowded the sidewalks. It was nice and maybe as I get older I appreciate these enclaves of civility more than I ever have before. There’s a time and a place for everything, and drinking contests and half-naked people aren’t for me anymore. No, instead when I relax I want to actually relax in a peaceful and calm environment and for me at least, that’s what Port Douglas was all about.

Daintree Cape Tribulation Queensland Australia

Jungle Surfing, Daintree Rainforest

I’ve done a lot of zip lines all over the world, from the highest, the fastest, the longest – you name it. They’re experiences I enjoy and usually offer great opportunities to see places you’d never get to experience otherwise. I was surprised though to learn that in the barely inhabited wilderness area of Cape Tribulation is one of the most unique zip line tours in the world. Jungle Surfing Canopy Tours take guests on a series of zip lines through the UNESCO World Heritage protected Daintree Rainforest. One of the oldest tropical forests in the world, these jungles look like scenes from Jurassic Park instead of a quiet park in Northern Queensland. So what makes this zip line so unique? The fact it exists at all is fairly phenomenal, building in UNESCO sites isn’t the easiest thing to do, especially in an area without electricity or running water. The entire trail was constructed essentially by hand and done in ways that aren’t only sustainable, but culturally sensitive to the indigenous peoples who call this jungle home. The result is a wild and fun experience that includes easier, slower lines for novice fliers to the final zip line, which is one of the fastest you’ll find anywhere. It’s a great adventure experience and a fantastic way to get into the rainforest and to enjoy its beauty close up.

Silky Oaks Lodge Queensland Australia

Silky Oaks Lodge, Mossman

More than just a great luxury resort, Silky Oaks Lodge offers an experience nearly impossible to find anywhere else in the world. Occupying an enviable space adjacent to the UNESCO World Heritage protected Daintree Rainforest and Wet Tropics region, Silky Oaks has incorporated all the best elements of the jungle into its refined and private luxury experience. Silky Oaks is made up of a series of small cottages that they call tree houses. Perched high on hills overlooking the jungle or nearby river, the tree houses offer a secluded and luxurious experience for every guest. Silky Oaks has also done a great job of embracing its natural surroundings by offering walks through the forest, a private swimming hole, kayaking on the hotel’s river and a spa that is one of the best I’ve ever been to. There is no choice in my opinion; Silky Oaks must be on your to-do list if you’re an admirer of luxury hotels and resorts as I am.

Daintree Ice Cream Company, Cape Tribulation

While not typically known for their culinary prowess, Australians do love their sweets and the unique flavors of the homemade ice cream here were some of the best I’ve ever sampled. The ice cream is all made on site from tropical fruits grown on the property. That means that the flavors change by season, and there are usually only 4 of them on offer. When I visited the flavors included: pineapple, mango, soursop and wattleseed. A little unusual, so I went with the sampler cup to try them all. The ice cream was rich and creamy and as it turns out the soursop was my favorite. It was a fun way to cap off an amazing day exploring this lush, tropical area and to cool off in the always hot and humid weather.

Cairns Queensland Australia

Skyrail Forest Cableway, Cairns

No, going in a cable car is not in itself an adventurous experience. Is it fun? Yes, no doubt there, but the only element of danger is hitting your head as you get in the cars. But this particular operator does include an option for the intrepid traveler that is certainly a hair-rising and adventurous way to see one of the most beautiful rainforests in the world. In addition to the normal cars and even all-glass cars, the Skyrail Cableway also offers something they call the Canopy Glider. Harkening back to the days when fearless souls built the railroad that still traverses this wilderness area, the glider is an open-air gondola that offers amazing views and a one-of-a-kind immersion to the beauty of the rainforest itself. Accompanied by a ranger who explains the sights as you soar more than a thousand feet above the ground below. It’s one thing to be that high in an enclosed car, but it’s an entirely different experience to suddenly have those walls removed with nothing separating you from the landscapes all around.

Koala Australia

Wildlife Habitat, Port Douglas

I was a little dubious as I drove up to the Wildlife Habitat in Port Douglas; it didn’t necessarily look like a reputable animal care facility, but luckily those first impressions were very wrong. It’s not a zoo, as the staff will quickly remind you, instead it’s meant to be a wildlife immersion experience. Committed to rescuing and preserving native species, the habitat takes in hundreds of sick or injured animals every year before releasing them back into the wild. Visitors can get a firsthand look at these efforts by joining a special wildlife care behind the scenes tour. Led by one of the expert keepers, guests literally get to go behind the scenes to see some of the animals housed at the habitat, visit the clinic where they’re treated and learn more about the width and breadth of wildlife found in Queensland’s north tropics. The tour also includes a normal walk around the enclosures – immersive habitats that painstakingly recreate the ecosystems from which the animals come. From cuddly roos to the elusive Southern Cassowary, it’s one of the best ways I’ve seen at both showcasing and preserving animal species anywhere in the world.

Tropical North Queensland Australia

Just Wander

The Tropical North of Queensland is a vast area characterized by the state’s greatest attributes, the rainforest and the reef. The ancient Daintree Rainforest runs the length of the northern reaches of the state, right next to the beach in most cases. It’s from those beaches where thousands access the massive Great Barrier Reef every year, giving rise to the slogan Rainforest to Reef. It’s more than a clever tourism saying though; it’s the truth and is just one attribute that makes traveling around the Tropical North so much fun. For me that enjoyment started almost as soon as I left Cairns, passing by near perfect stretches of sandy beaches, stopping off along the way to pinch myself that these were just the “ok” beaches in the hierarchy of Queensland’s tropical retreats. Anywhere else in the world, and they’d be tourist destinations in their own right instead of rest stop backdrops. It was a peaceful and pleasant drive, and just reinforced my belief that renting a car in Australia isn’t just nice, it’s a necessity if you really want to get out and explore.

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Towers & Mountains Along Mutianyu Section of the Great Wallhttp://landlopers.com/2016/04/26/photo-mutianyu-great-wall http://landlopers.com/2016/04/26/photo-mutianyu-great-wall#respond Tue, 26 Apr 2016 21:50:01 +0000 http://landlopers.com/?p=31099 The post Towers & Mountains Along Mutianyu Section of the Great Wall appeared first on LandLopers.

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Great Wall China

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