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Get off the beaten track in 2018

Len Rutledge

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It's time to think about getting away in 2018. Are you going to visit the same old places? Perhaps it is time to try somewhere new. With a few places in the world becoming tourist unfriendly because of the sheer number of visitors, and others feeling crowded when you get there, 2018 may be a good time to get off the beaten track.

This doesn't mean you have to sacrifice safety or comfort and it certainly doesn't mean you will not find new experiences to enjoy. Excellent hotels, fabulous tours and exciting experiences are available in most destinations today. It just depends on you to make the most of the opportunities.

The following three destinations may not immediately come to mind when making travel plans, but each will reward you with untold memories.

Zimbabwe

Forget the political situation in this southern African country; you are here for the experiences, to see the animals in the national parks and to marvel at the world-famous Victoria Falls. Other places that you will discover are the ancient city of Great Zimbabwe, the beautiful Lake Kariba behind the huge dam on the Zambezi River, and the two biggest cities — Harare and Bulawayo.

Zimbabwe has 11 National Parks, each of which offers vastly contrasting and fulfilling wilderness experiences. These have accommodation facilities such as lodges, chalets, cottages, caravan sites, and camping sites. Matobo National Park, for instance, has a timeless landscape of exposed granite outcrops and wonderful wildlife, which accounts for its UNESCO World Heritage status.

Hwange National Park, one of Africa's prime safari locations, is where elephants roam free and lions rule while, during the winter months, Mana Pools National Park has the highest concentration of game in the entire continent of Africa.

The Victoria Falls is Zimbabwe's most popular tourist attraction and one of the greatest natural wonders of the world. When the river is in full flood (February-April) this is the world's largest curtain of falling water. Close by is the fabulous Edwardian-style Victoria Falls Hotel (www.victoriafallshotel.com), a five-star Leading Hotels of the World property, which for more than a century has welcomed royal families, statesmen, celebrities and discerning travellers. It is only 10 minutes from the falls along a private walkway and is a wonderful place to stay.

Something not to be missed at Victoria Falls is a ride on the Bushtracks Express (www.bushtrackssteamsafaris.com), an indulgent luxury fine-dining experience taking you back in time to the age of romantic, steam-train travel. With five-star service, a four-course gourmet meal, the setting sun and a view of the famous Victoria Falls, you can enjoy the best that this World Heritage Site has to offer.

Sri Lanka

Adventure-seekers and intrepid globetrotters looking for new experiences in Southeast Asia need to consider Sri Lanka. This has emerged recently as an interesting travel destination because of its beaches, wildlife safaris and adventure tours.

Along with its native land mammals — elephants, leopards and wild buffalo — the island is also a great destination for whale and dolphin watching. Sri Lanka also offers top-notch surfing and diving experiences, jungle treks, hikes, elephant-riding and rock-climbing adventures.

Colombo is Sri Lanka's capital and largest city. Stylish eateries, galleries and shops line shady boulevards and there are ancient temples, mosques, and colonial landmarks to see. Accommodation is diverse with everything from five-star to budget available. One place particularly worth a mention is Maniumpathy (www.thecolombohouse.com), a 19th-century jewel offering an oasis of serenity and luxury in busy Colombo but with direct access to art, shopping, entertainment, and dining.

Hill-enclosed Kandy is the cultural capital of Sri Lanka. It is a World Heritage Site and has a number of tourist attractions. The city is famous for the Kandy Perahara — a huge cultural pageant that takes place in the month of July or August. It is one of the most colourful processions in the world with thousands of drummers and dancers accompanying a parade of ornamented elephants. The Kandy House (www.thekandyhouse.com) is a beautiful example of a luxury Kandy boutique hotel. In the gardens, a stunning infinity pool has been landscaped into the hillside with views of the paddy fields. With only nine rooms it provides a private escape.

Sri Lanka's beaches are attracting world interest and most is focused on the south coast. Endless stretches of pristine, white-sand beaches and crystal-clear seas await you at the historic town of Koggala. Not far away is the UNESCO World Heritage Galle Fort, the best preserved fortified city built by European colonial powers in Asia. The fort is a small walled town, which is home to about 400 houses, churches, mosques, temples, and many commercial and government buildings.

Once again, excellent accommodation is available. The Fortress Resort and Spa (www.fortressresortandspa.com) is fashioned in the style of a strong fortress, its walls enclosing verdant gardens and water features, a spa, a huge swimming pool, wine cellar, restaurants, boutiques and exquisitely appointed accommodation. The resort is a perfect place to enjoy the beach, the village and the history while providing a quiet escape when you need it

Cambodia

For many people, Cambodia means Angkor, the remarkable Khmer city of stunning temples. I rate this as one of the better sites in the world, but the country, of course, has much more than just this.

Phnom Penh is the country's lively capital city which is blessed with a picturesque riverside promenade and lovely colonial buildings to make a quite beautiful city. From the contemporary restaurants and bars to crowded markets, museums and glittering Royal Palace, there is much to see.

The sparsely populated and wild district of Mondulkiri is rich in stunning landscape with its valleys, waterfalls, jungles and rolling hills. The wildlife-viewing opportunities, great scenery and cool climate make this part of Cambodia a fascinating place to visit for trekking adventures. Kratie is rich in striking French colonial buildings along the length of the riverfront. This charming area is a perfect place to sit and watch the brilliant sunsets over the Mekong River.

Sihanoukville, Cambodia's premier beach town, is a place to unwind by the beach, enjoy the fresh seafood, take in a snorkeling or scuba trip, and generally slow-down, lay back and chill-out. In recent years, the islands off the coast of Cambodia have become a tourist destination in their own right with new accommodation being built on nearly all of them, along with a host of bars, restaurants, dive shops and so on.

Angkor, near Siem Reap, is one of the most important archaeological sites in Southeast Asia. Angkor Archaeological Park contains the magnificent remains of the different capitals of the Khmer Empire, from the 9th to the 15th century. Highlights include the famous Temple of Angkor Wat, the Bayon Temple at Angkor Thom, and Preah Khan and Ta Prohm. All are wonderful examples of Khmer architecture.

Siem Reap has grown dramatically in recent years and now there are an amazing number of hotels from which to choose. If classy interiors, good service and closeness to places of interest are important to you, Shinta Mani Angkor (www.shintamani.com/angkor), an upscale boutique property with a pool, soothing spa and dreamy swing-seat dining, may be for you. The hotel enjoys a tranquil and leafy setting within the French Quarter of Siem Reap.

Just a short walk from Shinta Mani you'll discover Siem Reap's rising arts and culture precinct. Kandal Village is home to a vibrant and eclectic new mix of around 25 cafes, galleries, arty homewares, shops, spas and cool fashion stores. Go explore!

www.LenRutledge.com

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