Northern Lights spectacle

Over the past week, the Northern Lights, or Aurora Borealis, have been visible in unusual locations across Europe and North America. These celestial lights are often limited to northern most territories and high-latitude regions. However, a massive G5 level geomagnetic storm event in space made it possible for the lights to be seen farther south. The Southern Lights, similar to the Northern Lights, were also seen in New Zealand due to its location near the southern pole.

For many travellers, seeing the Northern Lights is often at the top of the bucket-list. So, they visit places such as Iceland, Sweden, Norway, and Alaska from different parts of the world. However, there is no guarantee of catching a glimpse of the magnificent lights, even during peak seasons. Fortunately, according to experts, 2024 is the best year to enjoy the unforgettable light show. 


Cherry blossom season

Cherry blossom season is known for attracting tourists to any city that has these ornamental cherry trees. More than 1.5 million people visit Washington, D.C each year for its National Cherry Blossom Festival, and Japan also experiences an influx of millions of tourists when the trees begin to bloom in March.

Did you know:

Son Doong—the world's largest cave

Son Doong ("Mountain river") cave in Vietnam is the largest cave in the world. It was discovered first in 1991 by a local farmer, then in 2009 British explorers relocated it with the farmer's help. About 9km (5.5mi) long, with a rushing river and caverns that could hold an entire New York City block with 40-floor skyscrapers, it's more than twice the size of the largest previously known cave, Deer Cave in Malaysia. Just imagine—a Boeing 747 jet plane could fly through some areas without the wingtips touching either side!

Even more incredible is the rainforest that has grown beneath a place where the limestone ceiling collapsed. Vegetation, insects, birds, and other animals (including tigers!) all live in this miniature forest. Elsewhere, there are "cave pearls" the size of baseballs, stalagmites 70m (230ft) high, and even a sandy beach.

Spotting wildlife

I once took a trip to Yellowstone National Park in America with my dad. The park was incredible—especially the wildlife.

We were driving into the entrance and saw a lot of cars parked on the side of the road so we just parked behind them and looked around. In the distance, a couple of bison were grazing. They look like cows, but with massive heads with fur on top that looks like an afro. They were majestic, like something from a bygone era. 

A little while later, we were walking along a path through the hills. A park ranger was there to keep people moving because some bison had decided to hang out right next to where people were walking. Up close, they were even more impressive. 

The Songkran Water Festival

If you go to Bangkok during the Thai New Year in mid-April, you might get splashed with water. This is because the Thai celebrate New Year with a water festival called Songkran. It is a holy festival where people bless each other with water. So, in Bangkok, people with water guns take part in huge water fights.

People of all ages take part in Songkran. You should be careful when refilling your water gun since older folks might pour ice-cold water down your back while you’re not looking. The good thing is that it’s very hot in Thailand, so the cold water feels refreshing. Some tourists join in the fun. Others don't. For those who don't, the best place to be is indoors. Anyone on the street will get splashed with water, even if they're driving. Throwing wet powder on each other's faces is also an important part of the festival!

What a fun way to spend New Year!

The perfect-sized coffee cup

Most Americans love to buy a lot of coffee—I learned this when I traveled through the country with an 8 oz reusable cup. It takes about 10 to 15 minutes to drink this amount of coffee, by the time you reach the last drop, it's almost cold but not quite. I think that's a perfect size. But, the cafe staff I met did not.

In the San Diego airport, I asked for "this cup, full of coffee." The staff examined my cup like a foreign artifact. He wondered aloud how big it was. When I told him 8 oz, he looked confused, and then charged me for the smallest size they have—12 oz. I paid and didn't say anything.

Then in the Los Angeles airport, I asked for the same thing. The young woman working there was equally surprised by it. She looked at the till, frowned, and then looked over her shoulder, and said, "They're just gonna overcharge you." So she took the cup and filled it with coffee for free. I guess, to her, that's fair. I said thanks.

The Himalayas—taller every year

The Himalayan mountain range is nearly 25 million years old, yet it is one of the youngest mountain ranges in the world. It was formed as a result of the collision of two tectonic plates over millions of years. The Indo-Australian plate is presently colliding against the Eurasian plate at a speed of 67 millimetres per year, which means that the Himalayan mountains, the tallest in the world, are getting even taller.

The Himalayas were named by joining two Sanskrit words that mean “Abode of Snow.” People in Nepal call Mount Everest Sagarmatha, which means “Goddess of the Universe.” Mount Everest derived its English name in honour of Sir George Everest, a 19th-century Surveyor General of India.

The benefits of living abroad

According to studies commissioned by the Harvard Business Review (HBR), international experiences can enhance creativity, reduce racial bias, and promote career success.

HBR set out to examine how international experiences can transform a person’s sense of self, specifically self-concept clarity, or the extent to which someone’s understanding of themself is clearly defined, and consistent.

Self-concept clarity has been linked to multiple benefits, such as psychological well-being, the ability to cope with stress, and job performance.

My trip to Taiwan

Travelling can be a lot of fun. I have lived abroad for over two years in Asia and Europe. I take trips for different reasons. One of them is food.

When I lived in Vietnam, I decided to go visit Taiwan for a week. I knew the food would be great since I had watched food shows about Taiwanese food. However, I did not realize just how amazing it would be. I tried stinky tofu, different Taiwanese soups and Dan-Dan, a spicy dry ramen dish. I sometimes ate two breakfasts or two lunches because I wanted to try everything at the markets, so I was never hungry. At the end of my week in Taiwan, I had gained five kilos (10 pounds)!

I decided to move to Taiwan six months later, but I became a lot more careful about weight gain.

abroad /uh-BRAWD/ [adverb]—in or to a foreign country or countries

Crossing the street in Vietnam

Crossing the street is very easy in most countries. You simply wait for the crosswalk light to turn green. The cars stop and let you walk safely to the other side.

However, in Hanoi, Vietnam, crossing the road is an adventure. There are few traffic lights, and the cars and motorbikes will never stop for you. You need to just walk into the street and the vehicles will go around you. It can be very scary, but that is the only way to cross the street in Vietnam. You have to trust the drivers not to hit you.

You get used to it very quickly and then laugh when you see tourists panic while crossing the street.

World's longest bus route

According to the India Times, in May 1968, a British traveler named Andy Stewart was looking to make his way home to London from Sydney, Australia. So he bought a double-decker bus and converted it into a mobile home, nicknamed "Albert". That October, he set off with 13 others on Albert the Bus for a 16,000-kilometre journey from Sydney to London via India. The journey took 132 days to complete.

Things turned out pretty well for Albert, considering it went on to complete 14 more Sydney-to-London trips over the next 8 years. A "year-round timetable" was drawn up for a regular service between London, Kolkata and Sydney in what was called Albert Tours.

A long ride on Train 61

If there is one train ride that will rid you of your comfort zone, then that is the journey on Train 61, from Yangon to Bagan in Myanmar. Myanmar is an impoverished country that has been reeling from civil conflict for nearly 70 years. It only opened itself up to the rest of the world in 2014.

The environmental costs of flying

The Japan Times reported that most world leaders chose to fly to New York for the United Nations General Assembly, but Swedish teenage activist Greta Thunberg made headlines for deciding to sail instead.

This has prompted a gathering of tourism executives to ponder how to address the fact that flying adds to the greenhouse gas emissions responsible for global warming. According to data cited by the Air Transport Action Group, in 2019, commercial flying accounted for about 2 percent of global carbon emissions and about 12 percent of transport emissions. By 2020, emissions from global international aviation are projected to be about 70 percent higher than in 2005 due to rising travel demand.

Time-free zone

The 350 residents of Sommarøy are declaring the small Norwegian island the world’s first time-free zone.

“All over the world, people are characterised by stress and depression,” Kjell Ove Hveding, the leader of the campaign, said. “In many cases, this can be linked to the feeling of being trapped by the clock. We will be a time-free zone where everyone can live their lives to the fullest. Our goal is to provide full flexibility, 24/7. If you want to cut the lawn at 4am, then you can do it.” 

Sommarøy spends November to January in darkness, but in summer, residents know that when the sun rises on 18 May, it will not set again until 26 July. “Here we enjoy every minute of the midnight sun, and yes, a coffee with friends on the beach at 2am is a normal thing.”

Visitors to Sommarøy have reportedly embraced the idea enthusiastically, with some abandoning their watches and attaching them to a bridge leading to the island.

Tourists cause headaches in Japan

Until recently, Japan didn’t have much of an influx of foreign tourists. Now, it does, and with that comes problems.

For much of the 20th and 21st century, foreign tourism in Japan didn’t really exist. Now, with the rise of Japan’s neighbors in Asia, the country has seen an influx of travelers like never before. In 2018, a record number of 32 million foreign tourists visited Japan, with over fifty percent from mainland China and South Korea. In comparison, less than 5 million foreign tourists visited in 2001. In 1970 there were only 854,000.

This sudden spike has caused growing pains, such as overcrowding and hotel shortages, and conflicts caused by cultural differences over things like smoking and garbage.

Osaka will host 2025 World Expo

The Japanese city of Osaka has been selected to host the World Expo in 2025, an event expected to draw millions of visitors and showcase the local economy and culture. The theme for the 2025 World Expo is finding solutions to challenges facing humanity.

Japan's prime minister, Shinzo Abe, said in a statement that the country will make an utmost effort to "achieve a magnificent expo in Osaka that would give dreams and surprises to everyone in the world." Hosting a world expo in Japan would be "a golden opportunity to promote fascinating charms of Japan to the rest of the world," Abe said.

World Expos, which are held every five years, can last up to six months and cost millions of dollars to host, but can help put a city on the global map by bringing in international visitors and attention.

Japan—2018 Destination of the Year

Think about what you look for when you’re deciding on the perfect travel destination. Is it rich history? Cultural experiences? Lots of delicious food or shopping opportunities? Comfortable and unique places to stay? Or, perhaps, you just want to go somewhere with truly breathtaking views that you can’t get anywhere else in the world.

Guess what? You can find all of this and more in Japan.

Travelers across the globe love to visit the country for its fabulous natural spas, or even its quirkier relaxation offerings like baths of beer, red wine, or even ramen, for a one-of-a-kind experience.

Tokyo garden loses a fortune

An attendant at a popular garden in the heart of Tokyo has cost the facility millions of yen because he was “too frightened” to ask foreign visitors to pay the admission fee.

The attendant, who is in his early 70s, admitted failing to collect the fees for Shinjuku Gyoen national garden after an investigation was launched following a tip-off by another employee. The unnamed man said he had stopped collecting admission fees of 200 yen (US$1.80) for adults and 50 yen (US45¢) for children in April 2014, and had continued to allow foreign visitors in free of charge for about two and a half years. As a result an estimated 160,000 people entered the garden without paying. The environment ministry said that it had lost at least 25 million yen ($220,000).

Crafts boost tourism

In Takaoka, craft tourism adds to the city’s historical festivals and sights that, according to Toyama Prefecture, are already in the top 10 destinations in terms of increases in tourist numbers in the region. Although there are no official figures on Takaoka’s overall drive to promote local industries, the new Nousaku foundry alone has welcomed approximately 110,000 visitors since it opened.

The Nousaku outreach project is just one of many contributions to Takaoka industrial tourism, an initiative that the city has ramped up over the past decade with open-factory tours, hands-on workshops and the introduction of new contemporary goods. And it appears to be hitting the right notes.