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Luang Prabang Highlights: monks, markets and the Mekong

Orange-clad monks at the dawn alms giving ritual in Luang Prabang

Monks at dawn in Luang Prabang

Luang Prabang is one of last authentic cities in Indochina. This is the place people expect when they fantasize about South East Asia. What makes it so special is that you don’t have to run around checking off a bunch of tourist sites. It is wonderful to just ‘be’ and enjoy the soul of the city.

In the soft grey light of early morning, we sit quietly on a bamboo mat, wicker baskets of sticky rice beside us, across from a shuttered colonial mansion heavy with bougainvillea.

Around a corner, dozens of barefoot monks appear in a swish of saffron, golden bowls hanging from orange shoulder straps.  Locals show us how to earn merit.  Men adorned with scarves over one shoulder as a mark of respect and kneeling women in traditional shawls put fistfuls of rice into the monks’ bowls.

As in a dream, just as the rising sun gilds the ceramic-tiled temple roofs, the stream of gold vanishes and the monks return inside...

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Kasbah de Toubkal is an Authentic Berber Lodge in Morocco’s Atlas Mountains

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The Kasbah de Toubkal is a beautifully restored stone and thatched-roof village compound that offers guests an insider’s experience of Berber life in the heart of Morocco’s Atlas Mountains.

I love hotels that help you engage with the locals while still enjoying a touch of luxe. National Geographic Traveler writer Daisann McLane captured the sentiment perfectly when she wrote a piece about her favorite South American hotels. “A hotel is a threshold to an unfamiliar culture…Good hotels have a strong sense of place.” The Kasbah de Toubkal in the Atlas Mountains of Morocco is a perfect example. And to emphasize this fact, it isn’t even called a hotel but rather ‘a Berber hospitality center.”

Re-imagined by British adventure guide Mike McHugo and his friend and fellow guide from Morocco, Hajj Maurice, who grew up in these mountains, the Kasbah de Toubkal was a crumbling fortified village at the top of the Imlil Valley, which at the time had no electricity...

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Barging on France’s Canal du Midi

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I confess I’ve always had a fantasy about canal barging in France…gliding slowly alongside sunflowers and vines, biking to local bakeries, lunching at canal-side cafés, and snoozing away balmy afternoons. No more rushing about not appreciating France’s bucolic riches: our family of five travel a mere 157 kilometres in seven days along the Canal du Midi.

The boat

We start our journey at the Le Boat Company’s port in Castelnaudary, near Toulouse, where a staffer gives us a 15-minute boat handling class. “Yep, we understand how to go forward, reverse and sideways; sure, we’ll remember how to swivel and jiggle the toilet pump for the requisite flushing into the canal…nope we won’t be swimming there;  yes, we see how to fill the water tank and hook up for power. Mais, bien sur, we’ll stick to the speed limit. What is it again…eight kilometers an hour?”

After a full inspection of the 11.5-meter Tango barge boat, we are mightily impressed with its design...

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Byron Bay’s Best Aussie Beach Cottages

Imeson Cottage has a spectacular view of Clarkes Beach in Byron Bay

Byron Bay beach cottage with panoramic ocean view

Byron Bay on the North Coast of New South Wales has the answer to all our fantasies about the perfect Aussie beach cottage. They have beach cottages to suit just about every family and friend configuration and better yet, they are actually right behind the beach!

There is something built into the Australian DNA that summertime must be spent with family and/or friends in a simple beach house as close to the water as possible. Memories of salty sun-kissed bodies, towels thrown over veranda railings, surfboards propped against the fence, and casual barbecues within earshot of the surf bring us all back to those carefree days.

Problem is that in most cases our aesthetic has grown up a little and there is a huge gap between those wistful fantasies and the real life comforts we all now seek on holiday...

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11 Cool Reasons to Visit Australia

The Great Barrier Reef is the first of 11 Cool Reasons to Visit Australia

The Great Barrier Reef is the first of 11 cool reasons to visit Australia

There are so many reasons to visit Australia that it can feel overwhelming to decide what to do. I have combed the country to highlight the best places and most authentic experiences in Australia for my app Australia’s Best Places.

Here is my must-do list.

1. Dive into the Great Barrier Reef

Go snorkeling or scuba diving at the Great Barrier Reef, which is the world’s largest reef system and the largest natural made structure on earth. Take day and overnight trips to the Outer Reef from locations all along the mainland or stay on exquisite tropical islands like Lizard, Hayman and Wilson.

2. See all the unique animals

Nowhere else in the world are there so many unusual and bizarre animals. Think of the whole marsupial family including koalas, kangaroos and wallabies, wombats, and other lesser known gems like bilbies, bandicoots and potoroos all of which have pouches for their babies.

Then there are the mono...

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