Myanmar: coming in from the cold
After decades in the political wilderness, Myanmar is now one of the world’s hottest destinations. In the space of a few short years, it’s become possible for travellers to drive past the Yangon home of pro-democracy campaigner Aung San Suu Kyi (her street was formerly off-limits) and, on a more prosaic note, withdraw cash from ATMs. A cruise along the Irrawaddy, where golden stupas punctuate the riverbanks, features villages so peaceful that many have no souvenirs for sale. Bagan, however, and its persistent hawkers is a peek into the not-so-distant future.
Lights, camera … Iceland
It’s the sight that’s on everyone’s bucket list. The Northern Lights have mesmerised mankind for, like, ever but seeing them is now within reach of anyone who ventures to the northern extremes in the darker months. Of course, you could pick from a bunch of countries but the coolest place on the planet from which to view the mesmerising cosmic light show these days is Iceland. That’s your nights taken care of. During the day, explore the geysers, hot springs, volcanos and lava fields that add a dash of drama to this Nordic island nation.
Musical homes as museums
Elvis and Prince might have left their respective buildings but fans can pay homage in new ways. Prince’s Paisley Park, near Minneapolis in the northern US state of Minnesota, is now open for tours following the Purple One’s death in April, 2016. Take the self-guided tour around the recording and mixing studios, concert hall and NPG Music Club, or try a longer VIP tour with a guide. In Memphis, a 450-room hotel called The Guest House opened in October near Graceland, replacing the Heartbreak Hotel.
How sweet it is
Canada turns 150 in 2017. Make like a local in Montreal and pull up a wobbly stool at Wilensky’s Light Lunch. The corner diner’s special is a fried bologna, salami and mustard sandwich that’s toasted and served on a napkin (but never cut in two). The diner, which has been around since 1932, has another firm rule: no tipping. For another quintessential Quebecois experience, head to Sucrerie de la Montagne, tucked within a maple forest an hour’s drive from Montreal, to discover what sugar-shack feasting is all about.
Thailand: not so black and white
Thailand is in mourning after the country’s beloved King Bhumibol Adulyadej died in October, 2016. While most Thais will dress in black and white during the year-long mourning period, it’s not mandatory for visitors (however, those who want to show respect can pin a black ribbon to their clothes). The country is still open for business during this period. Head to a hot Bangkok restaurant such as Gaggan (nestled in a quiet soi, or side street, near Chit Lom BTS Skytrain station) or seek out a contemplative spot off the well-beaten tourist path such as Phayao Lake in northern Thailand.
Visit hippo central
There’s a lot to like about South Africa (including the fact the Australian dollar has appreciated against the rand over the past few years). While many visitors head to Cape Town, Johannesburg or Kruger National Park, there are 800 photogenic reasons to visit St Lucia on the country’s east coast. The town is wedged between the ocean and an estuary filled with hippos (as well as Nile crocodiles). One hippo family, nicknamed the Townies, even wanders the town’s streets at night.
Hike Catalina Island
Catalina Island, which lies off the coast from Los Angeles, is expanding its system of walking trails that cut through its rugged back country. In October, 2016, work started on adding another 43km of tracks that will allow visitors to trek for just a few hours rather than committing to a day-long or multi-day hike. The new trails, which create smaller hiking loops and follow the natural paths formed by deer and bison, are scheduled to be completed by mid-2017.
Raise a glass to Bordeaux
In 2016, La Cite du Vin – a futuristic wine museum – opened on the banks of the Garonne in Bordeaux (the entry price includes a glass of wine). The opening is the latest in a raft of changes that have transformed the city into one of France’s most appealing destinations. Over the past 20 years, grime has been scrubbed from the limestone facades and the riverfront has opened up to pedestrians and cyclists. Stand for a moment in front of Miroir d’eau – a giant reflecting pool that regularly disappears in a puff of fog.
Vote for Slovenia
The US’s incoming First Lady, Melania Trump, hails from Slovenia – an eastern European country that borders Italy, Austria, Hungary and Croatia. Visit Sevnica, where Mrs Trump grew up and try the wines (the quaint town, surrounded by vineyards, boasts about 30 bars). Slovenians love outdoor pursuits. Follow their example and go for a hike in one of the world’s greenest countries (forests cover more than half its area). At pretty Lake Bled in the north, take a pletna (a gondola-like boat) to the baroque church crowning an oh-so-romantic lake island.
Get lost in the Lau Islands
Fiji is a popular destination for Australians but it’s now possible to do it differently with a cruise to the little-visited Lau Islands that lie between Viti Levu and Tonga. Those that head off the grid (don’t expect any mobile-phone coverage) will find extraordinary snorkelling (the crystal-clear waters feature spectacular coral gardens), charming villages filled with friendly residents and photogenic natural sights such as the mushroom-shaped islets of Fulaga Lagoon.