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Archive for January, 2009

Ulan Bator

Despite its reputation as a fallen dynasty, Mongolia still remains a country of wonder and mystique. The country’s capital is Ulan Bator, a city of 1 million people. The city sits on the north central part of the country, Mongolia’s industrial, financial, and commercial hub. It recently grew into the country’s manufacturing center in the 20th century.

Ulan Bator is a city of smiling women and grunting men, people raised in hardship while living amidst spectacular scenery. The city is also a city of culture, one that has remained untouched by the modern world due to its inaccessibility. At first glance the city is gloomy, dingy, and gray, but its people are just the opposite, teeming with color and vibrant hospitality. Ulan Bator is a painfully honest city, where you can find poverty in the streets, former nomads trying to find their luck in the country’s capital amidst smiling children wearing the traditional colorful Mongolian attire. Think about this while you reflect at the Gandan Monastery, one of the many monasteries in the area. You can also immerse yourself in Mongolian history by visiting any of the city’s museums. A trip to Mongolia is not complete if you do not experience the Naadam, the country’s most famous festival. See a swirl of colors and witness the artistry of Mongolian nomads as they perform in horse racing, archery, and wrestling events.

You can get around by taxi, since taxis are pretty cheap at T300-350 per kilometer. Buses charge lower at T200 ($1 is equal to 1380 Mongolian Tugrik), but they are slower and typically go on fewer routes. Walking is another option, especially if you want to explore the city center first. Petty robbery is the main problem for tourists in Ulan Bator, always secure your belongings when walking or touring in groups. The best time for a visit is from June to September.

Tourists can obtain a visa for Mongolia places where a Mongolian consulate is present. If planning to stay at Mongolia for more than 90 days, an entry visa is required. Registering with the police is required when planning to stay for more than 30 days.


Sofia, one of the oldest cities in Europe, is the capital of Bulgaria and sits on the southern part of the Sofia Valley, resting at the foot of the Vitosha Mountains and Lyulin. Formerly called Serdica by the Romans, the city was renamed Sofia in the 14th century. It is now home to 1.4 million people.

Sofia is drenched in history, from its buildings built in every form of European architecture styles, to the cultures and traditions of its people. Experience the architectural movements of past times in the structures that dot the city, from the renovated Alexander Nevsky Cathedral, the public theater, St. George Church, St. Sofia Church, and the Palace of Justice. An immersion in Bulgarian culture that is unique to the city can be further experienced with a visit to the city’s many museums, libraries, and theaters which house the city’s cultural attractions such as performances by the National Opera Ballet. Sofia is also a city of leisure, as seen in its many cafes, restaurants, and shopping boutiques.

Getting around Sofia is best done by buses, trams, and subways. Traveling by car is more difficult since most important highways in the city are still undergoing construction and renovations. Traveling by car exposes you to the risk of car thefts. Also, exercise care when driving around with non-Bulgarian license plates, as this apparently is something that Bulgarian police frown upon. Walking may be more dangerous, as Bulgarian drivers are not known for their kindness to pedestrians. Avoid train and bus stations at night, as well as areas noted for prostitutes and junkies such as the Maria Luiza Boulevard.

US tourists do not require a visa to visit Bulgaria or any of its cities, just a valid passport is needed. The stay is valid for up to 90 days within a six-month period.

Luxembourg City

Luxembourg, the “Gibraltar of the North,” is the capital of Luxembourg, a community with a city status. Officially, the city is known as the capital of the Grand Duchy of Luxembourg and sits at the junction of the Alzette and Pétrusse rivers.

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Kuala Lumpur

Kuala Lumpur is the capital of Malaysia, a vibrant, rich city teeming with 7.2 million of Malaysia’s population. The Greater Kuala Lumpur, or the Klang Valley, is Malaysia’s legislative capital and the home of the Petronas Twin towers, two of the tallest buildings in the world.

Kuala Lumpur, KL to most Malaysians, is a distinct fusion of various Asian influences, as well as the modern and the old, the cheap and the high-end. The city is a bustling metropolis, its fast but charming pace seen in the hawkers and street vendors ready to sell you whatever you need at the city’s commercial place and in the colors, sights, and sounds of the Central Market. Experience the same in a subdued setting in the evenings at the Kuala Lumpur, Chinatown where you can bargain-hunt to your heart’s content. If you are looking for one of the biggest shopping malls just visit the Mid Valley Megamall for all your needs. If you a whole street of shopping malls, in combination with the cities best restaurants visit Jalan Bukit Bintang. When you are looking for a night out in Kuala Lumpur hit Jalan P. Ramlee area for a lot of clubs and discotheques of which Beach Club and Aloha are the most popular. For a the beauty of nature, you can head over to the Botanical Gardens, where you can experience the lush tropical jungle right in the heart of the city.

Getting around Kuala Lumpur is a breeze. You can get from point A to point B by bus, train, or taxi. Be careful for taxi hassles and persist on using the meter. You can visit KL anytime, as the weather is fair and sunny anytime of the year. Tourist season in Kuala Lumpur peaks in the dry months, which are June and July. This is also true for the months of October to January, which is the festival season. If you are planning to visit KL during these months, make your reservations in advance. Kuala Lumpur is generally safe, with petty thieves and pickpockets the major cause of worry for most tourists especially in crowded areas.

One only needs an international passport and other internationally recognized documents to enter Malaysia and Kuala Lumpur. Your passport must have a validity period for at least six months at the date of entry. American citizens receive a 90 days visa upon arrival. Visitors will also be asked to provide proof of adequate funds for the trip as well as return or forward travel documents.


Zagreb, home to 1.2 million inhabitants in its metropolitan area, is the capital of Croatia and sits on the slopes of the Medvednica mountains. The city, despite having a lackluster reputation in tourism in the past years, enjoys a favorable location on the Pannonian Basin, putting it right smack in the center connecting the traffic from Central Europe and the Adriatic Sea.

The city is not hard to love. Cobblestone streets and medieval architecture are reminiscent of Venice and other medieval European cities. More than a million tourists were charmed by the old-world feel of the city and its mix of modern luxuries set in the carefully laid back atmosphere of its quiet, lush, and green parks and classic and historical architecture. Walk through the upper town’s cobble stoned streets lit by medieval street lamps and visit the Church of St. Marks. Do as the locals do, and watch the world go by in Zagreb’s numerous cafes or spend lazy afternoons savoring the cuisine in the many restaurants of the lower town.

Getting around the city is made easy by the city’s efficient and modern transport system composed of buses, trams, and trains. Tram lines are not accessible in the weekends and holidays, however. Buses cover routes all over the city, along with neighboring towns, and they use the same ticketing system as the tram lines. To immerse oneself in the town’s history even while on the commute, one can try the old funicular railway, considered one of the steepest in the world and serves as a link between the upper and lower towns. Taxis are also available but they are notoriously expensive.

A passport is needed for a trip to Croatia and any of its cities. No visa is needed for US nationals on tourist trips planned to last no longer than 90 days within a six-month period.


A city with just over 100 thousand inhabitants, Reykjavik, which means “Smokey Bay” sits on the southwest coast of Iceland and holds the distinction for being the world’s most northernmost capital. Reykjavik is the country’s center for culture, commerce, and government. It is also the country’s top tourist destination.

Reykjavik is a vibrant happening little metro set against the backdrop of nature. Indeed, natural wonders such as lush and vibrant valleys and powerful waterfalls are only a few minutes away from the modern structures and young vibrancy of the city. The city is clean and unpolluted, making walks along its clean and airy parks, past art galleries and high-end restaurants and boutiques a favorite activity of the locals and travelers. The downtown area can be traversed in a span of an hour and a half. But for a unique experience, weave in and out of the city’s side streets, arriving at Laugavegur and going past Bankastraeti, and finally ending at Shoreditch of Reykjavík, to discover the beauty of the city’s houses distinguished by their cheerful colors and corrugated tin roofs.

What makes the city different from other tourist cities is that travelers can immerse themselves in the everyday lives of its people while enjoying the tourist comforts that it offers. Walking is the primary mode of getting around. Traveling by car can be made even more enjoyable if one takes it to the outskirts of the city, where one can get a spectacular view of the city at the Perlan. Buses are clean and convenient although a tad expensive. Going by bicycle is another enjoyable way of getting around, as bicycle lanes crisscross the city and its parks. The best time to visit the city is from June to August.

US tourists do not need a visa for entering Reykjavik for business or for personal travel. This applies for stays that will last for no longer than 90 days. A valid passport, proof of return or onward travel, and proof of sufficient funds for stay are all that are needed.

Panama City

Panama city is the capital of Panama. Located on the Pacific entrance of the famous Panama Canal, it is the country’s center of administration, culture, and commerce. It holds the distinction of being one of the most desirable cities for retirement in the world, and was chosen to be the American Capital of Culture in 2003. The city has a population of 900 thousand people.

Panama city is a city of friendly people and hospitality itself. From high-end shopping to lazing around on the beach while soaking up the Panama sun, there is no shortage of things to do and enjoy in this city. Experience the sophistication and luxury while shopping around the high-end stores of the Paitilla, Via Espana, and Los Pueblos. Or, take a stroll through La Central, the famous pedestrian walkway. Take a bite out of popular history by visiting the Panama Canal, which you can do for only $8 for adults, half that for kids, and top this off with a trip to Casco Viejo, the historic part of town.

You can get around Panama by taxi. Although most do not have a meter, fare rates are set by the government. There is usually a surcharge for an additional person. Be careful to explain where you are going, as some drivers may find it harder to understand slang English than others. Buses are cheaper and a bus ride is a fun activity since Panamanian buses are colorful and comfortable, although at times they can get pretty crowded. Panama City is safer than other Latin capitals, a place where homeowners no longer fence their yards. Still, it is better to use common sense to avoid being the victim of a crime. For example, avoid wearing flashy jewelry or exposing large amount of cash in public, and avoid dark alleys at night.

US visitors need to purchase a tourist card upon arrival to Panama. The validity of the card can be extended up to 90 days, depending on the decision of the embassy or immigration officials.


Port-au–Prince, the city that sits on the Gulf of Gonâve, is Haiti’s capital and largest city. It is the center for trade and transportation and is currently home to around 600 thousand inhabitants or more. The University of Haiti is located here.

Port-au-Prince is a city of color, from the rich, dark brown skin of Haitians to the deep blue roofs of its many churches. Contrary to popular belief, there are a lot of things to do and sights to see in Haiti. Relax while exploring African-inspired art, music, and dance, or get your first glimpse of Haiti’s famous voodoo culture. Haitian cuisine is a must-try. Try your hand at French and Creole cuisine with a Haitian twist for an unforgettable gustatory experience. Visit the National Palace in upscale Petionville, which was rebuilt in 1918, the Cathedral de Port-au-Prince, one of the many churches in the island that stands as a witness to the country’s deep Catholic roots, and marvel at the talent of Haiti’s artists at the Musee & Art Haitian du College Saint-Pierre.

Most bus terminals are located in the city, and from there you can go anywhere in the island. Buses are usually old school US buses or the local version, taptaps. Drive at your own risk, as drivers drive on the opposite side of the road, which is more often than not full of potholes. Take the bus instead, because aside from being a cheaper alternative, it is also a good way to mingle with the locals. You can also try the taxis, which are relatively cheap. You can spot a Haitian taxi by a red ribbon hanging from its front mirror. Safety is always a risk in Haiti. Travelers are advised to always travel in groups at all times.

A tourist visa is not required for stays no longer than 3 months. Processing can be done at the Haitian embassy in your country.


Tropical and natural – this is Nassau, the capital of Bahamas. It is the largest city of the Bahamas and has a population of around 260 thousand inhabitants. The city is a prime commercial, cultural, and political hub although there is no local government. Nassau sits comfortably on Providence Island and is easily recognizable for its attractive harbor and exciting nightlife.

Nassau is a prime tourist destination for its sun, surf, food, and nightlife. Experience the best of the tropical world in this city that boasts an even mix of the nature of the tropics, international travel, and a distinct Victorian past which one can discover through its preserved mansions, cathedrals, and ruined forts all reminders of Nassau’s well-reserved history. For a better appreciation of the city, a citywide view can be provided by a short trip to the Coral Island, location of the hundred-foot tower. After a day of cultural sightseeing, relax and unwind at the many upscale hotels, or give the international casinos a try. Nassau is the shopper’s paradise set in the lush greenery of the tropics.

Getting around Nassau can be done by minibus, taxi, bike, car, or scooter. The scooter is the most popular ride in town, although tourists are advised not to go to sparsely populated areas and “over-the-hill,” an area south of downtown where crime is known to occur. Walking is also popular. From the beach, you can walk in your flip-flops and pay the Government House a visit before heading out to the Bay Street market.

The best time to visit Nassau is from May to September, when the summer is in full swing. US tourists do not need a visa to travel to Nassau. All that is needed is a valid passport, return tickets, and proof of sufficient funds for the entire trip.


Shopping in Thailand can easily turn into a addiction since it’s capital Bangkok is the shopping destination that passed by shopaholics paradise Hong Kong years ago. Ten’s of giant luxurious shopping along with 24 hours markets for bargaining turned Bangkok to be the leading shopping destination in South East Asia. Another upcoming shopping destination within Thailand is Chiang Mai which night market attracts thousands of tourists a day.

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