A safe haven amidst a region of conflict, Jordan offers an exotic adventure through mind-blowing desertscapes and reddened dunes, with a scatter of lush oases, deep canyons and the famed salt lake at the lowest point on Earth. Armed with an endless array of treasures, it’s no wonder this Middle Eastern gem has clinched a coveted spot on Lonely Planet’s list of the best destinations to visit for 2019. Jordan’s claim to fame is undeniably the ancient pink-hued Nabataean city of Petra, a renowned archaeological site that is classed as one of the Seven Wonders of the World. A walk through the ‘lost city’ brings you to some of the most impressive structures intricately carved out of sandstone enscarpments, and the first view of the magnificent Treasury is sure to amaze even the most travel weary of visitors. Come 2019, the long-awaited Petra Museum will finally open its doors, home to some 300 artifacts and eight galleries of various themes that showcase the Nabataean way of life.
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Morocco is the answer to all your fantasies, in particular for travel-weary souls looking to reinvigorate their sense of adventure. It’s also not hard to see why the city of Meknès has been named by Lonely Planet as one of the top cities to visit in 2019; the ancient imperial capital might be overshadowed by its more popular neigbours, but Meknès is certainly no less enchanting with its abundance of historic treasures. Under the rule of the notorious monarch Sultan Moulay Ismail, Meknès’s past glory days are evident in the magnificent relics and thick fortifications that were rumoured to be constructed using stone and marble plundered from Marrakesh palaces and the Roman ruins of Volubilis. The imposing Bab El Mansour surpasses all other Moroccan gates in its grandeur, while the sprawling Place El Hedim is host to all sorts of events and entertainments along with a produce market. The opulent Mausoleum of Moulay Ismail is among the few sacred sites that welcome non-Muslim visitors, and is scheduled to open its doors again after a two-year-long restoration.
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If you’ve always been intrigued by Egyptian pharaohs and the colossal pyramids, now is the best time to experience the magnificent wonders of Egypt. Tourism in Egypt has picked up in recent years after a period of political turmoil, but the tombs and temples are still quite clear of the usual tourist crowd that you might encounter in other popular destinations. While the sand is settling on the country’s classic monuments, archaeologists have been unearthing a flurry of exciting finds that bring ancient Egypt back to life. The past year alone has added a litany of new discoveries, among which include eight mummies from the Ptolemaic Dynasty and the 4000-year-old Tomb of Mehu in the Saqqara necropolis. Rounding out the list of new Egyptian attractions is the highly anticipated Grand Egyptian Museum, whose grand opening is slated for 2020. The sprawling complex will become the world’s largest museum dedicated to a single civilisation, housing some of Egypt’s most precious relics.
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Home to the ancient Greek gods and goddesses, big-name Greek philosophers such as Aristotle and Socrates and birthplace of the Olympics, Greece is a fascinating country brimming with long-lost historical wonders of the past. The sun-kissed Aegean islands of Greece may have stolen the hearts of romantic wanderers and the spotlight surrounding this mythical nation, but the oft-overlooked ancient cities in mainland Greece will definitely captivate your mind and soul. Delve into classical Greek history as you explore the sun-bleached ruins of the Acropolis and Parthenon in Athens, marvel over the towering monuments of ancient Delphi, or visit the medieval Meteora monasteries that bring you closer to the skies. After all the excitement, unwind at the beaches of Santorini and Mykonos and enjoy the spectacular sunset views.
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The heart of the massive ancient Persian Empire, Iran offers so much more than just an exotic culture and rich history. The jewel in Islam’s crown, Iran’s timeless beauty stands out seemingly at every turn, from the splendid visual feast of Imam Square to the lavish palaces in Tehran and Kashan’s verdant gardens. The endless array of artfully decorated mosques is sure to elicit appreciative gasps of wonder, affirming Islam’s historical dedication to aesthetic beauty and intricate architecture. The Vank Cathedral is an elaborate masterpiece that serves both as a reminder and proof of how differing cultural styles can coexist and merge exquisitely, decorated with stunning frescoes of biblical paintings paired with Persian tiles. If you’re looking for some local buzz, drop by one of their lively bazaars to have a taste of sumptuous local cuisine, peruse a lovely collection of Iranian handicrafts and haggle for that perfect Persian rug.
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As exotic as its name suggests, Uzbekistan is Central Asia’s latest showstopper, home to an incredible arsenal of spellbinding architecture and fascinating ancient Silk Road cities. Much of Uzbekistan (and this region) remains relatively unknown among travellers, and its long, eventful history under Persian rule and as a former Soviet Union enclave has made this nation all the more intriguing. Uzbekistan’s rich cultural legacy is deeply infused in the breathtaking mausoleums, mosques and medressas, beautifully contrasted with a mix of stark Soviet buildings and classic Russian architecture. The magical cities of Samarkand, Bukhara and Khiva offer iconic insights into the ancient Silk Road, along with exquisite Islamic monuments like the Registan Square, Ismail Samani Mausoleum and Tash-Hauli Palace. The amazing juxtapositions of modern and traditional elements come to life in Tashkent, and a trip to the Chorsu Bazaar provides a window into the daily life of Uzbeks.
Step into the faraway land of Bhutan, a diverse and traditional Buddhist nation tucked away in the Himalayas. A great Buddhist kingdom shrouded in mystery and magic, Bhutan is an isolated country that has only recently opened its doors to tourism. But by implementing a tourist tariff, Bhutan has shrewdly avoided being overrun by tourists, keeping in line with its commitment to sustainable, high-value tourism. Set amidst one of the world’s most breathtaking mountain ranges, the land of happiness offers a staggering variety of natural vistas, and stunning tangible examples of its rich culture and heritage, whether it may be their gravity-defying mountain monasteries and forts, or religious images and figures carved onto the craggy cliffs. Head on a 90-minute trek that winds through pine forests dotted with ancient Buddhist shrines to reach the Tiger’s Nest, a sacred cliff-side monastery famous for its grand architecture and an inner spiritual cave where the founder of Tibetan Buddhism once meditated. Or simply bask in the tranquility of the mountain peaks and forests, of which there are bound to be plenty as 60% of Bhutan’s forests are protected by law.
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Despite its enthralling natural beauty, the small European nation of Slovenia remains relatively off the radar for many travellers. Yet tiny Slovenia truly has it all – unbelievably beautiful landscapes, magical natural treasures, balmy beaches and coastlines and a vibrant, eclectic mix of architecture paired with quirky street art. It’s no surprise that Lonely Planet has included Slovenia in its list of top ten best-value destinations for 2019; this compact country offers the best of both worlds – a less touristy Mediterranean holiday that gives you a taste of Eastern Europe without being miles apart from other popular European destinations. Chances are if you have seen only one photo of Slovenia, it’s most likely of Lake Bled. The beautiful alpine lake presents a stunning picture of serenity; made all the more unique with a steepled church perched atop the small islet that sits right in the middle of the lake. Enjoy a fascinating tour of the stalactites and stalagmites in Postojna Cave, or sit back and chill with a glass of Slovenian wine as you admire the beautiful baroque buildings in Ljubljana.
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Although Albania forms a part of the Balkan Peninsula, its attraction lies in the remoteness and relative anonymity from the rest of the region. So much of Albania remains an enigma, due in part to the country’s recent emergence from the tight fist of communism, resulting in glorious scenic landscapes and authentic cultural experiences that are still unmarred by tourist activity. The charming hilly quarters of UNESCO-listed town Berat presents a riveting picture featuring Ottoman architecture, while the buzzing city of Tirana is a wonderful riot of colour that represents the nation’s hopes and dreams. Explore Albania’s wealth of historic remnants left behind by past civilisations – think ancient Greeks, Romans and the Ottoman Empire, or drop by some of their idyllic villages where time appears to have stood still. Indulge in the tantalising flavours of the Balkans as you dig into the local cuisine, made from fresh seasonal products and the best ingredients Albania has to offer.
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One of the biggest countries in Europe that still finds itself among the ranks of the less travelled, Ukraine is an eclectic nation rich in cultural diversity, thanks to its borders that skirt along the boundaries of Russia, Poland and Hungary, just to name a few. The resulting tug-of war between Russian and western European influences have led to an incredible mix of landscapes and city vibes, topped off with some warm hospitality once you break the ice with the locals. Largely underrated, Ukraine is still gaining traction in terms of tourist numbers, which means undisturbed views of their vibrant cities, majestic castles and vivid landscapes without the jostling of the tourist crowds. History unfolds in old town Kyiv and its glittering collection of monasteries and cathedrals topped with gleaming golden domes, a bizarre contrast with the quirky murals and art statues bursting onto the streets. Soak up the sun as you lounge on one of Odessa’s breezy beaches, or sneak into one of Lviv’s back-alley cafes for a sip of their amazing coffee.
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If you’re craving for something uniquely different to spice up your travels, a guided tour of North Korea might just be the thing to whet your curiosity. Though this once-in-a-lifetime experience comes with plenty of restrictions and compromises, but believe us, the journey into the hermit kingdom is definitely more than worthwhile. Besides offering a rare, firsthand glimpse into life in North Korea, tour guides will present an account of North Korean history that forms the narrative behind the glorification of the Kim regime. Tour the metropolitan capital of Pyongyang and its trove of monuments, statues, towers and buildings, proudly dedicated to leaders Kim Sung Il and Kim Jong Un as well as the prevailing Juche ideology. The Pyongyang metro is yet another highlight of the capital, where stations are buried deep underground to fulfil their secondary function as nuclear shelters in the event of an invasion. A quintessential trip to the demilitarized zone (DMZ) serves as a poignant reminder of a divided nation and the ongoing tensions between North and South Korea.