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Chase the Lights: 5 Places to Be Awed by the Night Sky and Southern Lights

MD Staff

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Sometimes, all we have to do to see magic is to look up.

This July marks the 50th anniversary of the Lunar landing, and it’s the perfect reminder that there’s so much beauty and mystery surrounding space and the universe around us. While we can’t all be jet-setting space travelers just yet, what we can do is admire some of the world’s most brilliant sights from down here on Earth.

Catching the Northern Lights – a transfixing display of lights caused by charged particles entering the atmosphere – is one of the most sought-after experiences of all time. Lucky for us, we don’t have to travel all the way to Iceland – their counterpart, the Southern Lights, are just right around the corner! At the same time, there are so many places in Asia where we can chase after the beauty of the night sky and go star-gazing. Here are five of them to get you started.

1. Lake Tekapo (South Island), New Zealand


In the day, Lake Tekapo offers a picturesque view of the dramatic Southern Alps – by night, it transforms into a whole new destination. Part of the UNESCO Dark Sky Reserve, the lake has some of the darkest skies in the world, forming the perfect viewing spot for the Southern Lights. Seize the winter season (June to August) to catch the illuminating lights display, with a full array of colorful lights dancing in the night sky. It’s simply a sight to behold! You can also head to the Mount John Observatory, which houses some of New Zealand’s largest telescopes, to get up close and personal with millions of stars. Bucket list? Checked.

2. Flinders (Victoria), Australia

There’s no doubt that the Melbourne city center has a lot to offer, but by nightfall, seek new attractions elsewhere. Make your way to the unassuming town of Flinders, a 90-minute drive away from the city. Located on the southern coast of the Mornington Peninsula, the beaches of Flinders offer an uninterrupted view of the night sky and its magnificent lights. With an absence of noisy tourist crowds or sounds of the city, you can marvel at the other-worldly Southern Lights in complete serenity and peace.

Stay: DoubleTree by Hilton Melbourne Flinders Street

Strategically located just steps away from the arts and entertainment district, DoubleTree by Hilton Melbourne Flinders Street is a choice location for when you do spend time in the city. Start your trip with a warm DoubleTree welcome with their signature chocolate chip Cookie, and take full advantage of the proximity to attractions like Federation Square and the historic Flinders Street Station.

3. Halong Bay, Vietnam

With its pristine emerald waters and towering limestone islands, Halong Bay has long become a fan-favorite among those looking to take a day trip out of central Hanoi. Believe it or not, the experience here gets even better at night! Get aboard an overnight cruise and set sail on a journey off into the starry, starry night. Without the smog and light pollution from the city, you’d have full view of the clear skies and constellations. The universe has never felt so vast.

Stay: Hilton Opera Hanoi

When back in the city, head to Hilton Opera Hanoi to continue the rest of your travel adventures in style and comfort. This iconic landmark is situated in the historic French Quarter of Hanoi, and offers locally-styled rooms and traditional Vietnamese cuisine for the full Vietnamese experience.

4. Doi Chiang Dao, Thailand


If you are up for some adventure, look no further than Doi Chiang Dao, Thailand’s third highest peak! No matter how difficult the hike, it’ll certainly be worth it in the end. Literally translating to the “City of Stars”, Doi Chiang Dao offers ethereal views of star trails, and takes you so high up, the stars are almost within your grasp. If you are keen to sleep among the stars, overnight camping is available, but be sure to get a permit in advance.

5. The Maldives

The Maldives is often considered to be paradise on Earth, and for good reason – from untouched white-sand beaches, exhilarating sea-sport activities to the ultimate in resort-styled luxury, you’re sure to have the getaway of your dreams. By day, bask in the sunlight and soak up your fair share of Vitamin D; by night, kick back with a cocktail and take in the mesmerizing view of the sea of stars. With these clear Maldivian nights, you’re almost guaranteed to catch a shooting star. Time to make your wish!

Stay: Conrad Maldives Rangali Island

Set on Rangali Island, Conrad Maldives Rangali Island is one of the Top 100 Greatest Destinations in 2018, and home to the world’s first undersea residence, THE MURAKA. With its distinctive design and focus on personalized experiences, you can even star-gaze from the luxury of your own living room.

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Travel & Leisure

Gift Giving Traditions Around the World

Newsroom

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Giving gifts is a tradition as old as mankind itself. It has always been a part of our society. When you give a gift to someone, it tells them that they are special in some way to you. We give and receive gifts for many occasions, like birthdays, mothers days, Christmases, on our anniversary, etc. In fact, gift-giving is so integral to our world that many nations developed interesting traditions around it. Here are some of the most interesting ones.

Japan

When giving a gift in Japan you should be very careful. The Japanese people attach great importance to gifts and consider them something that is mandatory, not just a kind gesture. It is not desirable to surprise them, as they will be embarrassed if they cannot immediately return something to the gift giver. Therefore, it is a good idea to discreetly advise them that you will give them a small memento of your meeting. The gift is given exclusively in private, and it is not common to open it immediately.

South Korea

In Korea, it is extremely rude to give or receive a gift using only one hand, especially if it is the left hand. You must always use both hands at once if doing so. Korean New Years greeting cards or gifts are never with a predominantly red color, as it is used for announcing funerals. Also, avoid gifts that come in sets of four as they symbolize death in Korea.

India

When giving a gift in India, you should always use your right hand. Using the left hand can cause offense as that hand is considered unclean. If giving money in India, try to give a sum that ends with 1. Odd numbers are considered very lucky in India. The number 1 is especially lucky as it signifies a new beginning. Because of this, giving a sum that ends with 1 is believed to grant prosperity to the gift recipient.

Arabs

Gifts are not as important to the Arabs as to other people. They represent something that “gives hospitality a wider dimension”. When someone comes to dinner, small gifts such as flowers and candy are common, and as a sign of special affection, silver, crystals, porcelain, and famous brand items are very appreciated. Handkerchiefs of any kind associate them with parting and tears and should be avoided.

Europe

As far as Europeans are concerned, every nation is a story for itself. The French are quite reserved with gift-giving, the Germans are especially rigid and formal, and the Dutch are a little bit more relaxed. For Italians or Spaniards, the exchange of appropriate gifts is quite acceptable. Russians and people from Eastern European countries appreciate something from your own culture, for example, a CD with your national music or some other kind of token from your country.  Also, in Russia, you should never give someone yellow tulips as they are the symbol of ending a relationship or betrayal.

Ireland

Don’t be surprised if your gift is refused a couple of times in Ireland. This tradition comes from a time when they had the potato famine, and because of this, the recipients are making sure that you can really part from the item that you are offering. It will also show great humility if you refuse the gift they are offering you a couple of times. The standard reply in Ireland when someone receives a gift is “you shouldn’t have gone through all that trouble.”

Kenya

In Kenya, the Maasai people spit on a gift before giving it to someone. This is considered a sign of blessing and with this, they wish the recipient great fortune. Spiting is a very important tradition in Kenya. It is customary to spit on the head of a newborn child and on a hand before shaking it with someone.

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Top 10 Cheap Vacation Destinations in Spring 2020

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This is going to be a nice, long, relaxing spring. You will get some sun, explore a new destination, and use the awakening force of Nature to recharge your batteries.

What’s your plan for spring break? How about something different this year? You don’t have to choose the nearest beach again. There are wonderful places you can explore. Don’t worry; they won’t be expensive!

You can have a great adventure with a limited budget, only if you plan it well.

We’ll list 10 impressive destinations that give you the feel of luxury travel without eating up your entire savings.

Best Cheap Spring Vacation Destinations for 2020

1. Marrakech, Morocco

Spring is the perfect time for seeing Morocco. You can find affordable accommodation in Marrakech and have day trips from there. The street food is lovely, but most travelers can also afford the cozy restaurants.

Make sure to check the calendar, since Ramadan is in spring. Many restaurants will be closed during the day over that period of time.

 2. Alaska

You can hardly think of something more beautiful than Alaska in spring.

Large ship cruises will cost from $100L per day, but keep in mind that food is included so you won’t spend much more than that.  Late May belongs to the so-called shoulder seasons, so the prices will be lower than usual.

3. Sonoma, California

Napa doesn’t seem like a place we’d feature in a top list for budget travelers. It’s known for its luxurious restaurants and hotels. But Sonoma, Napa’s neighbor, is much more affordable. You can still enjoy exploring Napa, but you won’t spend too much money.

Calistoga is a small town that’s breathtaking in spring. You can search for accommodation there. But hey; camping is also an option.

4. San Juan, Puerto Rico

San Juan is a well-known spring break destination. Mid-April is the best time to go to Puerto Rico. you’ll avoid the summer rains and winter crowds.

The beaches are so beautiful and the food is so cheap that you’ll consider staying longer. That’s always an option! You can hire a service that writes research papers to complete some of your work, and you’ll extend the vacation a bit. In Puerto Rico, it seems like time takes another dimension. Everyone is cool and relaxed.

5. Turkey

Go ahead and google this: Cappadocia. Can you already visualize yourself in one of those balloons?

But that’s not the only important sight to see in Turkey. Istanbul is a story of itself. It’s a beautiful blend between Eastern and Western culture. The food is out of this world. The restaurants are not expensive, but with so much food on the streets and markets, you won’t even think about getting into a restaurant.

Turkey also has beautiful beaches, which are ready for you during the spring months.  

 6. Budapest, Hungary

Budapest is quite possibly the most beautiful European city. Forget Paris; it’s expensive, crowded, and overestimated. Budapest is full of museums and mesmerizing architecture. You’ll love the nightlife, too! If you like Budapest and you would like to write an essay about it, you could use topicsmill to generate a good and suitable topic.

7. Amsterdam, The Netherlands

It’s not about the weed. You don’t have to be high to experience Amsterdam as the most exciting city, ever. The parties are out of this world, and they make Amsterdam the best destination for young people during spring break.

But you’ll also enjoy the cultural tours, parks, and art museums. TripAdvisor offers a great list for Super Savers in Amsterdam. Check it out!

8. Puerto Vallarta, Mexico

The fact that many students choose it as their spring break destination is no coincidence. Puerto Vallarta attracts with beautiful weather, affordable accommodation, and great food. Make sure you plan your vacation during April or early May, so you’ll avoid the hurricane season.

9. Hawaii

Can you imagine the breathtaking Kahului without the crowds?

That’s what your spring break in Hawaii will be like. Spring is awesome because it turns your vacation into a budget-friendly experience. The accommodation will be more affordable when compared to high season. But you can also consider activities labeled as “luxury,” such as scuba diving.

10. Thailand

It’s beautiful and affordable throughout the entire year. Koh Samui and Phuket are great with their fancy resorts, but those are not the only places where you can stay. Even backpackers travel to Thailand. They can still experience the fun in Phuket, but they choose Koh Chang or Koh Phayam for affordable accommodation.

Are You Ready for the Best Spring Ever?

The first thing you need to do is identify your budget.

Then, explore the destinations listed above. Find information about flights, accommodation, food, and all other expenses related to trips. Some of them will probably fit in your budget. Choose the one that attracts you the most!

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Is it safe to travel to Iran as a solo female traveler?

Anna Karsten

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Before I started reading more into Iran, all I heard about this country were stories about its politics. In the media, Iran seemed like a place where no one would ever want to visit. Can you imagine solo female travel in Iran?

After my trip to Iran, I can tell you now that Iran has the most hospitable people and great architecture. Traveling to Iran as a solo female traveler has been safe, rewarding and fun.

Iran is safe, accessible and totally easy to navigate as a solo female traveler. Sure, you might experience some inconveniences, but for every annoying man you get 3 nice ones, just like anywhere else. Iran is a destination you must see for yourself to see what I mean.

While organized tours are still dominating Iran’s tourism, it’s not uncommon to find another person traveling solo. Backpackers and hostels can be found anywhere on a tourist route from Tehran to Shiraz and Yazd.

Plus, if you can’t find a hostel, a cheap guesthouse is also an option. No matter which way you travel in Iran, you can always find an affordable place to stay for less than $30 a night for a double room.

Iran in Western media

Traveling to Iran or anywhere in the Middle East independently, especially as a woman, isn’t perceived well these days. Some time ago an article about a woman cycling through the Middle East alone went viral. People were wondering whether it’s safe for a woman to cycle alone across the Middle East? The comments weren’t pleasant:

‘It’s foolish and she was very lucky not to get herself raped or killed or both. I hope this article won’t encourage other solo female travelers to visit these countries alone’ – 400 upvotes

‘Not impressed. Putting oneself in harm’s way, which then puts potential rescuers in harm’s way makes little sense.’ – 170 upvotes

But how can we talk about media coverage of safety in Iran when BBC, that published the article, doesn’t even bother to check the facts. The article states: ‘In Iran, I was given more freedom. Yet foreigners are not permitted to stay with locals without permission, and several of my hosts endured an intense grilling by police.’ None of the above is true.

Staying with locals is only forbidden for British, Canadian and American citizens. Anyone else can stay with locals wherever whenever and no police will come and check on you.

U.S. government currently warns against travel to Iran for obvious reasons, these two countries don’t get along. It says that U.S. citizens may be subject to harassment or arrest while traveling in the country.

Again, I’d say that this statement is very exaggerated. Especially after Argo – the film exaggerating the seizure of the American Embassy in Tehran won the Academy Award for Best Picture.

My Advice is: don’t believe what you hear on the news. Explore the place, talk to locals and come to your own conclusions. Come to Iran with an open mind and I guarantee you’ll make many great friends in Iran.

Is it safe to travel to Iran in 2020?

Many travelers, including myself, describe it as one of the ‘safest countries I’ve ever been to’. You’ll be much more likely to get mugged in Europe than in Iran.

Violent crimes against foreigners are extremely rare and, indeed, if you do your best to fit in with local customs (read more on the dress code and how local women fight it), you are unlikely to be treated with anything.

In fact, I’ll be returning to Iran in 2020 to explore even more of its natural beauty.

My experience of traveling solo in Iran

I traveled to Iran solo and later teamed up with another girl whom I met at the hostel. I traveled around the country, in the same way, I would anywhere else in the world.

Wandering around in the evening, taking the metro, using local taxis and buses, going to markets etc.

I met many women whose lives didn’t seem very different from the women I know at home. At the birthday party, it was actually men who had to clean after, not women.

Young girls told me they date the same way people date in the Western world, they just don’t announce it anywhere and keep it to themselves.

I only felt uncomfortable twice in Iran – once in Esfahan (Isfahan) and once in Kashan. In Esfahan a man in a car started driving next to me and my friend in the evening. Every time we moved, he moved. It scared my friend and me for a bit, but the moment we approached another traveler the car left.

Another unpleasant situation I encountered was while walking around the narrow streets of Kashan. I was filming with my DJI gimbal with my iPhone attached to it when I fell someone approaching me on a scooter.

To me, being uncomfortable once or twice doesn’t mean that the place is dangerous. I never once felt physically threatened, unsafe, or at risk, even when I was wandering the streets of Iran.

I felt safer in Iran than if I was walking around in NYC. Even the tap water was safe in Iran!

People believe that Iran is full of moral police watching your every step, ready to arrest Westerners at the slightest provocation. In my experience, this couldn’t be further from the truth.

While cases or reporting and arrests occur, it’s not as common as it’s being portrayed outside of the country.

Everyone I met was extremely helpful and treated me like I was an expensive piece of jewelry. Escorting from one place to the other, while feeling responsible for me. And that’s the people I met on the street for 5 minutes! So unless you’re planning on running around naked with a bottle of smuggled vodka in hand, don’t be afraid.

From our partner Tehran Times

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