There’s a reason why Sri Lanka has been named the number one destination to visit in 2019 by numerous travel experts and connoisseurs (most recently by Lonely Planet). Shrouded in mystery and beauty, this island packs a punch.
Rich with cultural experiences, join us on our 13 Day Treasures of Sri Lanka small group tour in 2019 and witness a surprising blend of timeless temples and edifices, wildlife reserves, and spectacular landscapes including the misty tea-covered hills of Nuwara Eliya. View the island’s wild elephants, gaze up at the ancient city of Sigiriya, and learn about one of history’s most thriving and vibrant ancient societies. Seek out Sri Lanka’s astonishing wildlife in Yala and Minneriya National Parks and along the Madu River. Plus, absorb the local culture in the cities of Kandy, Galle, and Negombo.
On tour, you’ll experience the heart of Sri Lanka with highlights including:
Immerse yourself in local culture during visits to the lively Negombo fish market and a Tea Estate Factory.
Search for the island’s magnificent elephants and other wildlife during tours and safaris in Minneriya and Yala National Parks and during a Madu River cruise.
Meet today’s Sri Lankans during home-hosted meals and sample local specialties.
Marvel at the UNESCO World Heritage Listed sits of Sigiriya, Kandy’s Temple of the Sacred Tooth and the Golden Temple of Dambulla.
With new dates just added to our 13 Day Treasures of Sri Lanka now’s the perfect time to start planning your visit to this alluring country. Plus, book by 31 January 2019 to save $300 per person on our published prices, including Book By rates. Enter or quote promo code: CNDSCV300A at the time of booking.
A great way to experience a destination when travelling is by food. Eating and dining out says so much about a country’s history and culture, and Vietnam is no exception. You’ll discover delicious dishes and a range of eating experiences, from street vendors through to fine dining restaurants.
If you’re planning a trip, be sure to add these five dishes to your gastronomic checklist:
1. Cà phê
While not a food, Australians are known for their love of coffee and the Vietnamese version is a must try. Drip-filtered, this strong coffee is sweetened with condensed milk and can be enjoyed either hot or cold. Indulging in a coffee from one of Hanoi or Ho Chi Minh’s many cafes is a great way to soak up the bustling city atmosphere.
2. Bánh mì
There is a reason why Anthony Bourdain called it “the perfect sandwich”. Made with a warm, crusty baguette, bánh mì is typically filled with pickled vegetables, cucumber, coriander and either meat, egg or tofu. Finished with a spicy sauce and mayonnaise or pâté, this cheap and tasty dish can be enjoyed at any time of the day.
Perhaps the most celebrated Vietnamese dish – and rightly so – slurping down phở is a real treat. This wonderfully light and fragrant noodle soup is built around a flavoursome beef broth. Fresh herbs, lime, chillies, onions, sauces and bean sprouts are usually served on the side, allowing you to customise to your own liking.
4. Bánh xèo
Translating to “sizzling pancake” you cannot go wrong with an order of bánh xèo. This thin and crispy pancake is made from a rice flour batter, flavoured with turmeric and stuffed with bean sprouts, pork, prawns and fresh herbs. Be sure to dip in the sauce provided for a flavour explosion!
5. Spring rolls
The fan favourite; you cannot leave Vietnam without tasting spring rolls. Multiple times. Order these fresh (Gỏi cuốn) or fried (Chả giò) and filled with either meat, seafood, vegetables, tofu or a combination of various ingredients. These make a great light meal or are the perfect appetizer.
If you’d like to experience the flavours of Vietnam, join us on our 11 Day Classic Vietnam and sample all these specialties for yourself. Be sure to ask your local guide for some tips!
China is a land of contrasts that offers both thriving modern metropolises such as Shanghai and Beijing as well as cities steeped in tradition and history such as the ancient city of Xian, the first capital city of China.
We spoke to Gate 1’s own Maria Metusela who recently returned from the 11 Day China with Chengdu tour and asked for the lowdown on her time in China.
What was it about China and this tour that made you want to go on the trip?
I am fascinated with ancient history and architecture so the thought of seeing the Terracotta Warriors and walking the Great wall of China was very attractive to me.
I also thought it would be interesting to see how a country of 1.4 billion people work, live and operate.
Add real life pandas to the mix and I was hooked and ready to go.
What was the highlight of the trip?
What stood out to me the most on this trip was our visits to the local parks in Xian and Chengdu.
The parks in China are quite different compared to Australia with regards to how they are used. The local park we went to in Xian was a park that many seniors/retirees would visit each morning. They go there to exercise, play games and for dance and singing rehearsals. We got to join in on all these things which was fun and gave us a glimpse of how their day starts off.
We even went to a park in Chengdu that had a matchmaking corner. Parents would write their child’s name, date of birth, occupation, education and such on a piece of paper and pin it on a board. The parents would then walk around looking at other resumes on the board, chatting with other parents to see if their children would make a good match.
I enjoyed these visits very much as it gave me the opportunity to interact with the locals and to get a true understanding of their way of life.
What was your favourite meal or what food did you have that you really enjoyed or felt was very authentic?
I thoroughly enjoyed the food in China. All the restaurants that we went to on this trip were local and authentic. There were no other tourists in there but us.
Most of the meals were Lazy Susan style with such a variety of dishes and so flavoursome that you couldn’t help but try them all.
The Peking Duck dinner for our orientation night in Beijing was amazing and was definitely my favourite meal. I also enjoyed the food in Xian especially one of their local dishes “biang biang noodles”.
What surprised you about China that made it different from other places you have visited?
What surprised me about China was that each city that we went to was different from the other. No two cities were the same which made it feel like a whole new experience.
Even the food we had in each city, although the dishes were the same, they were cooked in a slightly different way with different flavours.
You can see the influences from the different dynasties in the different cities. Xian had a more historical feel to it being the ancient capital of China. Beijing was a mix of old and new.
Chengdu had a very commercial and industrial feel to it whereas Shanghai was very modern and cosmopolitan.
What travel tips would you give to someone preparing to go on this trip?
Always carry tissues around with you as you will need it when touring during the day.
It can get crowded when visiting some historical sites so always keep your Gate 1 whispers on so that you are aware of where your guide is at all times.
What did you enjoy the most about the Gate 1 escorted tour?
The organisation of this tour was simply outstanding. Everything was taken care of so I did not have to worry. Joe our Tour manager was exceptional and called us his family. We were never too late or too early for anything on the itinerary so nothing was missed out and the day ran smoothly. I also learnt so much about the history of China, the people and the culture through Joe and our equally informative local guides.
If you’re thinking of touring China you can browse our website for a whole range of options to suit your preferred travel style and budget. If you book a Gate 1 China tour by the 31st of December you can save $200 per person when you quote the promo code FBCHINA200A. Simply quote the promo code at the time of booking to receive the discount. Call 1300 653 618 if you have any questions and we look forward to welcoming you to China soon!
Are you working on your travel wish list for 2019? Dreaming of sleeping in a riad in Morocco or knocking back a schnapps in the Swiss alps? Learning Salsa in Colombia or surprising your friends by heading off to Uzbekistan?
So where to go and what to do?
Check out our new tours visiting hot destinations:
1. Italy and Croatia
Quote lines from Gladiator at The Colosseum in Rome, taste local wines in Tuscany, Florence, Venice and Pisa, and head off Croatia to bask in the azure beauty of the Adriatic sea.
Did you know that Marco Polo was born on the Croatian island of Korcula? Visit his birthplace, explore ‘King’s Landing’ aka Dubrovnik just in time for the last season of Game of Thrones, and take in the natural beauty of the famed blue cascades in Krka National Park.
Do you know the way to San Jose? Not to be confused with San Jose in Northern California that The Carpenters sang out, San Jose is the capital of Costa Rica and is a perfectly preserved Spanish Colonial town.
From this starting point, head out to an artisan village to learn about local art and craft, visit a dormant conical volcano, knock back some Costa Rican coffee on a plantation tour and put your head in the clouds at Monteverde Clouds Forest.
The vantage point from a river or canal gives you a totally different aspect on a country. Glide under 14th Century medieval bridges in Lucerne, pass castles and cobbled streets straight out of fairytales, and enjoy a tipple in a quaint wine tavern in Rüdesheim. See the tiny storybook Principality of Liechtenstein from the bow of your ship and hop off for a close-up look at Marc Chagall’s stained glass window in the Fraumunster Church in Zurich.
Get off the beaten track by heading for the heel of the boot. This is the lesser known part of Italy is the birthplace of pizza and the home of Pompeii. Enjoy long farmhouse lunches, stroll through UNESCO Heritage-listed cobblestone streets and visit medieval ruins. Round out your trip with a visit to the Amalfi coastline for a look at one of the world’s most loved views.
There is nowhere hotter than Central Europe for small group touring. With a burgeoning cafe culture and bohemian art scene, the Czech Republic is the place to hang out. On the flipside, take in Slovakia’s perfectly preserved town centres, castles and convents for a glimpse back in time at 13th century life.
Did you know that the oldest copy of the Koran in the world is held in Tashkent’s Muyi Muborak Madrasa? Visit this historic marvel before you head off down the Silk Road to explore the cultural treasures of this little known corner of the world. Learn how to make a traditional Pilav when you share dinner with a local family, relax in a yurt camp in the desert and take your credit card on an adventure at the ancient Siab Market.
Wander through the back streets of Istanbul tasting regional specialities like stretchy icecream made from orchid roots, look up in awe at the dome of the Blue Mosque, and master the art of shopping in the Grand Bazaar. For a change of pace, spend a day cruising around Fethiye’s 12 Islands, explore an ancient underground city at Kaymakli and explore traditional Turkish Ottoman houses in Safranbolu on the coast of the Black Sea.
If you’ve called our Gate 1 Australia reservations team there’s a good chance that you’ve spoken with the lovely Lynne. She has travelled all over the world, but this was her first trip to Vietnam, so we kept Lynne off the phone for long enough to ask her all about her recent Essential Vietnam tour.
Q: The big question first, what was your highlight of the tour? A: Most definately our day cruise in Halong Bay, a UNESCO heritage site and declared recently as one of the New Seven Wonders of the World.
It was the perfect day and the beautiful emerald water surrounded by the limestone karsts was just amazing and the number of boats on the water was mind-boggling. We docked in one of the many coves and after a lot of stair climbing we accessed one of the many beautiful caves in the bay, absolutely stunning, and refreshing to get out of the heat!!
Lynne was lucky to see Halong Bay skies this blue!
Q: Did you discover anything about Vietnam that you didn’t know before your visit? A: I learned so much about the communism takeover of Vietnam from our guides. Hearing from the locals about the Fall of Saigon in 1975 and the sad plight of those people attempting to escape Vietnam.
I was also facinated by the French influence in Vietnam, which is reflected in the architecture throughout Vietnam and the cultural diversity of the country.
Q: What was Tour Manager like? A: Tran our Tour Manager was fantastic!!
He was very knowledgable, very organised and very entertaining with great one-liners – “Take a picture…take a picture…take a picture” in quick succession!
Always kept us well-informed with great commentary and history lessons whilst on the coach and during local city tours. He was great at unifying the group, even extending an invitation to join him for lunch and dinner outside his tour duties.
Q: What tips would you have for first-time travellers to Vietnam? A: Have your camera on the ready for the many amazing sights you will see and be wary when crossing the streets as the scooter drivers there are crazy!
Q: What type of travellers would enjoy this trip? A: Those who like to go off on their own…and explore. There is a lot of free time on this tour if you do not avail the Optional tours offered by Gate 1 Travel.
Alternatively you can take all the Optional Tours which will include local commentary of the areas your are visiting, coach transfers and some included meals ie: Mekong River was a Day trip which included coach transfer / boat trip / tour of local area / and lunch which was included in the tour price. Great value, really worthwhile to see more of Vietnam and very enjoyable.
India is colourful, chaotic and extremely charismatic. It’s a heady blend of life at its most vivacious, yet the thought of venturing to this very foreign land can come with mixed emotions for some travellers – everything from trepidation and excitment, to fear and fascination.
For Gate 1’s own David Bird, India has been high on his wish list for years, so we quizzed him about his recent 8 Day Golden Triangle of India and from the sounds of it, his first trip to India won’t be his last!
Q: What were you looking forward to doing most in India? A: Visiting the Taj Mahal and Amber Fort were on the top of my list. Probably like many other travellers, I was excited to see in real life these iconic sights that I’ve watched in documentaries and learned about at school.
Q: Did India live up to expectations? A: India exceeded my expectations. Beautiful scenery, delicious food and warm, friendly people. It wasn’t anywhere near as intimidating as I thought it might be and I was travelling solo, so it was even more fun to be enjoying it all with the new friends in our group.
Q: What was the highlight of the trip? A: Taj Mahal was a highlight by far. The Taj was even more spectacular in real life and was not over crowded, with plenty of space and time to walk around the site and gardens and take some amazing photos. One thing I noticied is it’s the little things, like planning our visit at the best time of day, that make Gate 1 stand out from the crowd.
Q: What was your tour manager like? A: Our tour manager, Bhanu, was fantastic. He was very informative and nothing was too much trouble for him. Bhanu offered plenty of opportunities for the group to ask questions and informed the group of Indian culture and history while on the coach journeys between cities. Everyone commented on how wonderful Bhanu was and one of the couples even booked another Gate 1 trip while they were on the tour, because they loved the experience so much!
Q: What type of travellers would enjoy the Golden Triangle tour? A: Travellers of all ages with a sense of adventure would really enjoy this trip. The tour offered the perfect mix of included sightseeing and free time to explore on your own. The hotels were all of a high standard with all the creature comforts and close to shopping and restaurants. I think that the way you are looked after by Gate 1 takes the hassle out of travelling in India. You get to learn more about the local culture and history, but at the same time enjoy the comfort of modern coaches and relaxing in great hotels. I can’t wait to go back to India and explore some more, maybe in the south or combine it with Nepal.
Q: Before we let you go, you know there’s one question everyone asks, did you get sick on the trip? A: You’re right, it’s often the first thing friends ask when they find out you’ve been to India. The answer: No. We all enjoyed trying the local food but I don’t think any of us got sick. Maybe we can thank Bhanu for pointing us in the right direction for food stalls or it was just good fortune, but I wouldn’t let worrying about your stomach put you off going to India!
If you’re thinking of tours in India you can browse our website for a whole range of options to suit your preferred travel style and budget. Call 1300 653 618 if you have any questions and we look forward to welcoming you to India soon!
Few regions of the world embody our ideal vision of paradise: emerald forests, turquoise waters lapping at palm-fringed beaches, an all-embracing and peace-loving religion, and a simple way of life even amidst the bustle of a sweeping metropolis. The nations of Southeast Asia show varying shades of all these things, and so much more. And for many visitors, what stands out is the relaxed ease and welcoming smiles of its residents. Gate 1 Travel helps you experience it all, with the help of our experienced local guides, who know the ins and outs of these enigmatic and beautiful lands.
Temples of Bangkok
Bangkok: A Polished Jewel
Bangkok is Thailand’s bustling and electrifying capital. Thais call it Krung Threp, or City of Angels. The more western name by which we know it translates into “riverside village of wild olives.” No matter what you call it, it’s sure to mesmerise you with its floating markets teeming with longboats, its ornate architecture and tropical gardens, and its glittering temples. It’s also a culturally diverse city, where paper dragons adorn the windows of Chinatown and the fragrance of curry wafts through the streets of Little India.
The city’s largest and oldest temple is Wat Po, the Temple of the Reclining Buddha. Within these hallowed halls, its namesake golden-hued deity is massive, stretching 150 feet long. The soles of its feet are intricately etched in mother-of-pearl. It is an extravagant show of spiritualism – and an echo of the nearby temple complex of the Grand Palace. Home to monarchs until 1925 and the fairytale setting of The King & I, today the Grand Palace serves a ceremonial function and is open for enraptured travellers to explore. Its Emerald Buddha in the Royal Temple is considerably more petite than the Reclining Buddha, standing only 26 inches, yet it is the most revered statue in the nation.
Vestiges of History
Statues such as the Reclining Buddha and the Emerald Buddha serve as spiritual touchstones for the Thai people. There’s another destination right outside Bangkok cherished by locals as the spiritual birthplace of the city: the ancient capital of Ayutthaya. The golden era of Thai history unfolded among what are now temple ruins and incredibly preserved streets. This was once a powerhouse of Southeast Asia. Its palaces, monasteries and temples inspired French King Louis XIV to compare the burgeoning metropolis to European capitals. It fell to the Burmese in 1767, after which the capital was moved to the riverside site of present-day Bangkok.
In Kanchanaburi province, a dark chapter in Thailand’s history is memorialised at the Bridge over the River Kwai & War Museum. In 1942, here in the tranquil countryside, the Japanese forced POWs to construct a 255-mile railway across Thailand in the blazing heat. More than 7,000 conscripted workers died. The bridge was the frequent target of Allied bombing and gained notoriety as the subject of the 1957 Alec Guinness movie by English director David Lean.
In central Thailand, a vast archaeological site tells ancient stories of Thailand’s founding. In fact, Sukhothai is to Thailand as Giza is to Egypt. Before Ayutthaya, this was Thailand’s first capital through the 13th and 14th centuries and its artistic and architectural remains are astounding. Part of what makes this city so fascinating are the philosophies under which its kings ruled: Sukhothai’s leaders respected the wishes of the people. Cultural and religious freedom set the tone for this flourishing civilisation. The UNESCO World Heritage Site enjoys a lush setting among leafy hills and peaceful lotus ponds.
Lush Northern Cultural Capitals
Established in 1262, Chiang Rai is one of the oldest cities in Thailand. This is the heart of Thailand’s northern Lanna Kingdom, the “Golden Triangle” historically shaped by its proximity to the borders of Burma (today’s Myanmar) and Laos. Gate 1 travellers have the chance to visit these countries, ascending a mountain in Myanmar for views of the stunning countryside and embarking on a serene cruise to the small Laotian island of Don Sao. Thailand’s renowned hill tribes eke out a living in the hills around Chiang Rai, too. An optional tour ventures into the jungle to introduce you to the fascinating and welcoming Akha, Long Neck and Salong tribes.
The capital of the Lanna Kingdom, Chiang Mai, hugs the banks of the Ping River among green hills. Elegant temples, cultural emporiums and long leisurely strolls await you in this graceful city surrounded by a canal. Chiang Mai is mostly known for its crafts culture, which you can dive into at the shops along Sankampang Street. Silk, lacquer, silver, wood and bronze are all transformed into intricate artwork here and you’re sure to come across a demonstration or two by craftspeople who keep their traditions alive.
If the cultural heart of Thailand lies in the central and northern parts of the country, then a beach-going, laid-back spirit lounges around in the south. But it’s not all sun, sand and surf. In Pattaya on the Gulf of Thailand’s East Coast, break up your beach time with forays into a lively city and with a visit to one of the largest Floating Markets in the world.
On the island of Phuket, a traditional way of life lingers among infinite blue horizons and breathtaking natural beauty, as you’ll see when you browse the local Thai village, admire the Sino-Portuguese architecture and witness serene monks making their rounds for alms. Without question, it is the perfect island paradise for relaxation and doing nothing at all. But if you do want to explore, you can consider a visit to the mangrove jungles and towering limestone peaks around Phang Nga Bay and Lawa Island.
But perhaps no other Southeast Asia country is as linked to the sea as Vietnam.
Friendly faces of Vietnam
A Rich History and Colourful Culture North to South
Hanoi recently celebrated its 1,000th birthday. For much of its history, it has been the political and cultural capital of the country. During the nation’s more turbulent times, it was the capital of French Indochina (1902-1954) — during which its elegant colonial-era buildings were constructed — and of North Vietnam (1954-1976). More than 50 ethnic groups have shaped Hanoi and the surrounding region; many of their stories and cultural relics are on exhibit at the Museum of Ethnology. But perhaps nowhere is the nation’s heritage more dramatically represented than in the world-renowned water puppetry that originated here. These fascinating shows are performed over a pool of water, depicting ancient folktales and long-cherished lore set to traditional music and Cheo, a form of opera.
Nearby, more than 3,000 islands rise from the shimmering waters of Halong Bay, many of them several hundred feet tall. This UNESCO World Heritage Site is shrouded in myth and legend. According to one tale, the gods sent dragons to this coastline to protect the country and they spat out jade and other jewels into the water. These precious stones protected the land from enemies approaching by sea. Gate 1 takes you sailing among this breathtaking archipelago of karst cliffs on a traditional junk. Floating fishing villages and inviting sandy beaches cling to the shores and vast echoing caves have been carved within the hulking rocks over millennia.
Though Hue was the capital of Vietnam for only 143 years, from 1802 to 1945, its cultural influence on the region has been immeasurable. This may be because the Nguyen Dynasty that ruled from here constructed such a vast and imposing complex of palaces and fortresses. Their Imperial City has undergone remarkable restoration. Its most notable structures are the 1.5-mile wall that surrounds it, the Imperial Enclosure, Thai Hoa Palace (or the Hall of Supreme Harmony), Hall of the Mandarins and the Forbidden Purple City, named after its Chinese counterpart.
For a stroll through Vietnam’s past, there is no place in the world like Hoi An, a remarkably preserved trading port. The buildings and streets of its Old Quarter remain much as they were more than 500 years ago. As far back as the 8th century, a thriving spice trade brought unprecedented wealth into the region. Much later, a vibrant trade with Japan, China, India and Holland lured settlers here from those countries. With such a rich past, it’s easy to understand why Hoi An is an important UNESCO World Heritage Site. The spirit of its origins live on in the fascinating Old Quarter as artisans fashion paper lanterns and residents carry goods in wicker baskets hanging from sticks slung over shoulders.
Like in Hanoi, the city’s French colonial influence is prevalent in the glorious architecture and wide boulevards of Ho Chi Minh City, inthe nation’s south. The twin-spired, neo-Romanesque Notre Dame Basilica was built with materials imported from France. The Saigon Opera House carries echoes of the Petit Palais in Paris. Even the Post Office was designed by a Frenchman, one Gustave Eiffel. The true Vietnam here lives in the city’s vibrant and mesmerising markets. Dong Khoi Street captures the pulse of the city with its colourful shops and aromatic food stalls. At the intoxicating indoor emporium of Ben Thanh Market, all things Vietnamese can be found, from handicrafts to ao dai, the traditional silk tunic worn by women. And at the city’s fascinating floating markets, ancient houses and canal-side stalls are orbited by traditional longboats laden with all manner of goods and produce plucked from local farms.
An entirely different culture greets you right next door. Indeed, you are sure to be enchanted by Cambodia’s authentic charms and Khmer legacies.
Cambodia’s famous Angkor Wat Temples
Grand Temples & Cultural Treasures
The centerpiece of any visit to Cambodia is the ancient city of Angkor, 40 square miles of stupendous architectural treasures unrivalled anywhere in the world. Its famous temple, Angkor Wat, took 25,000 workers 37 years to complete. Many historians call it the largest single religious monument in the world. Its five lotus-style spires are said to represent the five peaks of Mount Meru, home of deities from Hindu mythology. Its walls and moat symbolize Meru’s surrounding mountains and ocean. Remarkable in scale and design, it is considered a perfect example of the high classical style of Khmer architecture.
The bustling and laid-back city of Siem Reap is the gateway to this spectacular site. Its streets lined with colonial and Chinese-style architecture are a delight to explore, and the city’s artful Apsara dancers cast their spell on all who attend a performance. The city is also a launching point to one of the region’s most fascinating natural phenomena: Tonle Sap Lake. Loosely translated as “Great Lake,” Tonle Sap has an unusual geographic feature that affects village life on its shores. The flow of water exiting the lake changes direction twice a year. The lake empties into the Tonle Sap River, which later spills into the Mekong River and the Mekong Delta. During most of the year, the lake is fairly small and just three feet deep. But during monsoon season, the delta backs up. The resulting backwash reverses the Mekong’s flow and pushes water up the Tonle Sap River into the lake, enlarging its size six times, increasing its depth to 27 feet, and setting in motion the fishing season for surrounding villages.
Cambodia’s capital, Phnom Penh, is the nation’s historic and cultural centre. One of the prettiest French-built cities at its colonial height, it was known as the “Pearl of Asia” and was named for 14th-century Wat Phnom, still the city’s tallest structure. Elegant architecture and gracious boulevards set a sophisticated tone here, and the city’s temples are simply spellbinding. The Royal Palace, especially, boasts magnificent treasures such as the Silver Pagoda, with its floor of 5,000 shimmering tiles and bejeweled Buddha statues.
Explore Even More of Southeast Asia at a Terrific Value
If you’re travelling this far, it would be a shame to miss out on all the riches that make Southeast Asia one of the most mesmerising destinations in the world. Gate 1 Travel makes it easy and affordable. Many of our itineraries combine the above destinations into one scintillating itinerary. Plus, you can indulge in even more experiences that bring this magical region to life. Step into Laos and explore the unspoiled charms of Luang Prabang, participating in a baci welcome ceremony, giving alms to orange-robed monks, and marvelling at the hundreds of Buddha statues during a boat trip to Pak Ou Caves.
Or marvel at the more than 2,000 pagodas, stupas, and temples that dot the golden plains of Bagan, Myanmar, just one exciting highlight of an enlightening cruise along the fabled Irrawaddy River.
With Gate 1 Travel, your possibilities in Southeast Asia really are endless. And our value is matchless. Feature for feature, you won’t find a program that beats our price and quality. Come and discover Southeast Asia for yourself!
When it comes to sheer size, China tips the scales. Just think of it: in all the world, it boasts the longest man-made structure, the greatest concentration of skyscrapers, the largest hydroelectric dam, the vastest public square. To say nothing of a palace complex of 9,000 rooms!
China is one of the most captivating and compelling places on Earth. Gate 1 Travel helps you get to the heart of its history, its traditions and its people – and, yes, its epic architectural achievements.
You’ll stroll the quiet lanes of Beijing’s ancient hutong neighbourhoods. Walk Shanghai’s historic Bund, with colonial edifices to one side and the futuristic skyline of the Pudong on the other. Sail the magnificent Yangtze River through its three famously scenic gorges. Gaze in awe at the forest of skyscrapers that is Hong Kong. And so much more. All with Gate 1’s expert guides who know the nation they call home like no one else.
To gain an understanding of how China’s past, present and future are interwoven, a good place to begin – or three good places – would be its dominant cities: Beijing, Shanghai and Hong Kong, each of which has its own character and story to tell.
Beijing is monumental, literally. The city is home to 6 UNESCO World Heritage Sites, among them some of the world’s greatest treasures. The Forbidden City is no longer forbidden to anyone: after 500 years of turning guests away from the world’s largest palace complex, China now invites all to see the wonders of the stunning 178-acre complex encircled by two miles of fortified wall. Over time, 24 emperors lived in these 90 palaces, composed of 980 buildings and almost 9,000 rooms. As if that weren’t enough to boggle the mind, it rests on the largest public square in the world, Tiananmen, a massive acreage that salutes the grandiosity of China’s past and present.
The little sibling to that royal complex is the Summer Palace, built for the hottest months when the Forbidden City complex felt too stifling. A small pond and reservoir were joined, widened and dredged, yielding a sparkling 540-acre lake big enough for royal navy vessels to run drills upon. The dredged soil from the lake was used to make the adjacent Longevity Hill, a 200-foot slope crowned with palaces, pavilions, temples and gardens. To this day, it remains, as intended, one of Beijing’s loveliest locales, a brilliant collaboration of man, nature and time.
Just a short drive outside the city, the Great Wall undulates over sloping hills like a serpent. It is the longest man-made structure in the world and, though claims that it can be seen from space are debatable, its imposing ramparts will surely impress you as much as the ancient marauders it was intended to keep out.
Whereas Beijing calls to mind the glories of the past, Shanghai is decidedly a snapshot of the future. While the city is certainly known for its gems that date back to previous eras – such as the verdant Yuyuan Garden from the Ming Dynasty and the elegant colonial architecture of the Bund – it is Shanghai’s jaw-dropping new skyline that may leave you speechless.
Viewed across the Huangpu River, the Pudong neighbourhood boasts a dizzying array of striking, colourful towers. Shanghai Tower, the biggest of the lot, is the second tallest skyscraper on earth. But height is only one way that this metropolis dazzles: The Orient Pearl looks like a stacking toy of ever-smaller glass beads, while the sinuous Financial Centre is a modernist masterwork; even the low-slung Ocean Aquarium impresses passers-by with its flamboyant shark-fin wings.
Hong Kong knows a thing or two about showing off its skyline too: more buildings scrape the sky here than in any other city on earth, with more than 270 rising 500 feet or more. Within those glittering towers are some of the world’s most highly acclaimed restaurants, 64 of which have Michelin stars, and bespoke tailors fitting the fashionistas of Asia and beyond. But it is not all city here. Hong Kong means ‘fragrant harbour’, a reminder that nature – not metropolitan life – still holds the upper hand. More than 70% of Hong Kong is comprised of islands, mountains, parks and caves. No matter where you are in the city proper, you’re just a tram ride away from a daylong hike in a green parkland with ocean views.
Inland Treasures and a Spellbinding River
Xian was the final stop on the Silk Road and China’s capital for 12 dynasties, including the Ming era, which gave the city its still-standing fortified walls. But the single most powerful draw for visitors is its immobilised army of 8,000 Terra Cotta soldiers and horses. Crafted by hand, this vast military consort attended the final resting place of the first emperor, Qin Shi Huang. Arrayed in neat rows, these enigmatic soldiers remained underground from the 3rd century until their excavation in 1974. Remarkably, each one was carved with a distinct expression, hairstyle, armour and footwear. They have captured the global imagination, eclipsing the fame of the ruler they were meant to honour.
The stars of Chengdu are less numerous but perhaps even more beloved. The 80 pandas at the Giant Panda Research Centre have become envoys for China, a source of pride as well as concern as the worldwide population of wild pandas has fallen to under 2,000. While visitors also absorb the fascinating architecture of Qin Dynasty-era Jinli Street and marvel at the 213-foot stone Buddha in nearby Leshan, it is these endangered ambassadors of the mountains which have become the face not only of Chengdu, but of China.
The nation’s life blood is the Yangtze River, the world’s third-longest river. Navigating the east-flowing ribbon of water on a river cruise is the only way to truly experience the legendary, dramatic scenery that unfolds around its banks. As you sail through the three mesmerising gorges of Xiling, Wu and Qutang, watched over by the fabled Twelve Peaks and fantastic rock formations towering above, you’ll wind past tiny villages, soaring cliffs, verdant groves and terraced hillsides. It is hard not to fall under the timeless spell of the slow-moving current and the ethereal, embracing landscapes that guide it.
The Yangtze, though a beloved symbol of China, was often prone to massive flooding. Through the ages, thousands lost their lives and their villages to a seasonal deluge. Today, the waters are tamed by the gargantuan Three Gorges Dam project, a fascinating highlight of cruising this incredible river.
Resting easy in China
No one does China like Gate 1. Our knowledgeable guides use their longtime contacts to open doors to you that other travellers miss and introduce you to China’s most remarkable resource: its people. We’ve handpicked the best local accommodations for your journey to ensure your comfort. And our Yangtze River cruise unfolds aboard a five-star cruise ship purpose-built for the river, boasting roomy cabins and impeccable service. Best of all, we take care of all the details every step of the way, so you can leave the logistics to us and spend your time uncovering the compelling mysteries of this enigmatic nation.
Follow this link to our exciting China Tours. Or call to find out more, 1300 653 618!
Gate 1 receives a lot of helpful and positive feedback from our travellers, but this one from Lynne H. on a recent 13 Day Classic India with Ranthambore really stopped us in our tracks!
“I’ve had a wonderful time with Gate 1 in India. Everything went smoothly and we had an excellent guide (Raj) and a truly spectacular bus driver who seemed to negotiate spaces that were a hair’s breadth much of the time. Also we had our man who passed out cold water, helped us on and off buses and cleaned the bus inside and out every night.
I’ve experienced so much that’s a contrast – beauty and filth, colour and drabness, splendour and dreadful poverty. I’ve stayed in good hotels, seen so many monuments, learned a lot of history and eaten gorgeous Indian food.
I’m sharing with you the best photo I took in Ranthambore National Park. No luck with seeing a tiger that morning so we headed back as our three hours was up. Suddenly the driver said there was a tiger headed towards us near the gate we were about to go through. He threw the vehicle into reverse and we, and another vehicle in front that had been leaving also, backed up like crazy.
The tiger was unperturbed and padded along on her big velvet paws, taking her time – and couldn’t care less about us. Then other vehicles from the area somehow got to know, and as we turned to follow her several vehicles arrived and it was like a car rally over a dirt road. So exciting!
Thank you for organising this for me. This is my first trip with Gate 1. I will certainly recommend your company and I look forward to my next trip with you to Switzerland in June.”
On the 15th day of the month of Kartika, millions around the world will be celebrating Diwali.
In 2017, this special day falls on 19 October in India, where it’s an official holiday to celebrate the ‘Festival of Lights’. The festival symbolises the triumph of good over evil and the revellers rejoice in the ensuing light over darkness.
While the origin of the celebrations differ for Hindus, Sikhs, Jains and Buddhists, together they will will mark the holy festival with five days of street parties and fireworks.
As you can imagine, this is a magical time to travel in India. Houses are decorated in bright colours and shimmering streamers, vibrant patterns are created on floors using coloured rice or powder and there’s a constant glow of candles and fairy lights.
Diwali, or Deepavali, festival embraces a strong belief in helping those in need and there’s a wonderful generosity as Indians visit friends and family to exchange gifts and share traditional sweets.
Don’t be surprised if you see lots of card games taking place. According to legend, on this day the Goddess Parvati played dice with her husband, Lord Shiva. After thoroughly enjoying the game she exclaimed that “whosoever plays dice on this day shall be bestowed with good fortune throughout the year!” Today the dice have been replaced by cards, but in honour of the age old tradition people gather to indulge in friendly gambling matches.
This vivacious Festival of Lights is typical of the colourful customs and culturally rich experiences that you’ll get to enjoy in India. From a quick trip around the Golden Triangle, to a spiritual journey in south, a Gate 1 tour of India in 2018 will leave you with remarkable memories that will flicker brightly for years!