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countries to visit in 2018

Singapore

This island city-state located south of Malaysia is all about modernity. Synonymous with its iconic skyline that exhibits discernable features such as that of the Esplanade and Marina Bay Sands, the Lion city is also scattered with traditional architecture seen on temples and homes, bohemian hideaways and heritage bazaars. Chinatown, Dempsey Hill and Tiong Bahru are some of the most popular places to visit in Singapore. And if you are visiting Singapore in January, experience the joy that is the Chinese New Year, when the entire city comes out to celebrate. Unwind at the 182-acre Botanic Gardens. Take a heritage walk through some of the city’s most prominent landmarks such as the historic Supreme Court and the City Hall buildings. Museum enthusiasts should head to the edifying Singapore Art Museum and Singapore’s history, the National Museum of Singapore. For moments away from the megalopolis, take the ferry down to Pulau Ubin, Kusu Island or Sisters’ Island and take delight in the tourist-free tropical coastline. If you are looking to explore around, a cruise (to Malaysia or Thailand) is a fairly popular thing to do. For a glimpse into what Singapore tourism to offer, visit one of the state-of-the-art waterparks or experience indoor skydiving in the beaches of Sentosa. When the sun sets, dance the night away at the bustling nightlife district of Clarke Quay or hit up one of the many legendary beach parties. Also in Singapore, do as the locals do and queue up for a taste of the authentic street eats. Shaped by its multi-ethnic immigrants, Singaporean street cuisine is an experience in itself. To make the most of what Singapore has to offer, budget between Rs.3000 to Rs.5000 a day. If your budget is tighter, read on for a more detailed travel guide and breakdown of your expenses in the land of dreams and fantasies.

Egypt

Tourism in Egypt has taken a major hit since Arab Spring and the following aftermath, as general travel advisories against visiting Egypt have continued to linger. Crowds have thinned, prices have dropped and the currency has weakened. But 2018 might be the year when all of that changes. Egyptians are eager to convince the world to come over, and it looks like travellers are finally paying attention. And it is easy to see why. While world history is typically calibrated in centuries, Egypt's timeline extends into millennia. Thousands of years of heritage, beautifully documented for the world to see. Believed to be engineered by the gods and goddesses of ancient history, Egyptian monuments continue to intimidate. From the Pyramids of Giza in the north to the temples of Abu Simbel in the south - the scale and ingenuity of these structures needs to be appreciated in person. And what lies beyond the shadows of these giants, is equally divine.  The beaches and lagoons of Sinai, the oases of Siwa and the surreal panorama of the White desert. All of this without the kind of commercialisation that is ultimately inevitable once the word gets out. Egypt commands at least two full weeks. More if you are looking to go diving or cruising on the Nile. The roads are quick and major cities are well connected by air. If you are short on time, limit your stay in Cairo and Alexandria. Many visitors skip Sinai and head to the Red sea coastline instead, but I would highly recommend visiting Sinai - even if only for a couple of days.

Maldives

Composed of twelve hundred islands, Maldives is a slice of heaven sustained by the Indian Ocean. A mosaic of aquamarine waters and shimmering white shores, Maldives beckons tourists from across the globe with its sunset catamaran cruises and extravagant spa retreats. The country’s beaches are home to a thriving marine life with their waters boasting of everything from coral reefs and neon clownfish to the slow-moving manta rays. The shallow lagoon of Cocoa Island in the South Malé Atoll is a haven for Maldives’ snorkelling and kayaking enthusiasts. The National Museum located on the main island of Malé houses thrones and other palatial remnants formerly owned by local sultans. Being an island nation, Maldives’ seafood-based cuisine is delectable. One can head to the island’s diving paradise of Banana Reef that is decked with numerous caves and the most dramatic cliffs. A trip to Maldives will be incomplete without feasting on any dish that has the red snapper or the char-grilled prawns, while the authentic fare of the flavoursome curries, such as the miruhulee boava, created with octopus, chili, and curry leaves is also a must have.

Thailand

Thailand is a cosmopolitan cocktail of tropical islands, sacred temples and ancient ruins. In the heart of the country lies Bangkok, which is a must-visit for its temples, palaces, markets and for one of the most legendary nightlife cultures in the world. Among the plethora of places to visit, make sure you stop by the Grand Palace in Bangkok which houses the current monarch of the kingdom. Most travellers will also wind up in the old city of Chiang Mai, the second largest city of Thailand. 10 miles out of this city lies the golden temples of Wat Doi Suthep at the Doi Suthep-Pui National Park; a popular way of getting here is on rental scooter. As an alternative to Chiang Mai, visit the province of Isaan for a taste of authentic Thai culture and way of living. Koh Samet, Koh Tao, Koh Phi Phi, Koh Samui and many, many islands are dotted off both coastlines of the Thai peninsula, offering enchanting underwater vistas of snappers, rays, and turtles. Another major attraction are Thailand’s whimsical floating markets of which the Damnoen Saduak, in Ratchaburi (Bangkok) is the most popular with tourists. And as most people travelling to Thailand do, gorge on the lemongrass and coconut favouring cuisine and make sure you stock up on some fresh local ingredients before you leave. Thailand tourism has flourished in the last decade as a huge number of travellers want to explore the interiors.

Mongolia

Mongolia is not a country, it’s an experience. With vast, untouched landscapes inhabited by the last of the true Nomadic people of the world, Mongolia will shock and amaze you. Head south and you will witness the incredible Gobi Desert – home to intriguing double-humped camels. The west is framed by the majestic Altai mountains, while the east is home to untouched rolling hills, known as the steppes of Mongolia. In the north is the magical Khuvsugal Lake, the second largest freshwater lake in the world. Whichever direction you set off to, you can see why the country is emerging as the next hot tourist destination. But don’t expect a smooth ride, especially beyond the capital. Mongolia is still developing its tourism and infrastructure, so roads are still rough and accommodation basic. But the Nomad hospitality in the wilderness of Mongolia will leave you with some long-lasting friends and adorably cute pictures. Shop for the best cashmere, or go Khal Drogo on some horse meat, travel to lands that are beyond imagination and be prepared to come across a dinosaur egg or two!

Tanzania

Tanzania is the largest country in East Africa, sharing borders with Kenya, Uganda, Rwanda, Mozambique and Zambia. Home to two world-renowned destinations, this country attracts visitors from all over the world. Beaches, national parks and Mt. Kilimanjaro make Tanzania an unmissable African destination. Whether it’s the wildlife or the aquatic life, Tanzania has a treasure trove of both. Lions, elephants, leopards, monkeys and other such animals rule the land whereas coral gardens and colourful fishes dominate the waters. Scale Mt. Kilimanjaro, or just admire its beauty from the base. Witness the majestic migration of zebras and wildebeests in Serengeti National Park. Visit the Ngorongoro Crater, that serves as a permanent water source for the animals of Ngorongoro Conservation Area. See the largest congregation of migratory wildlife near the drying rivers in Tarangire National Park. The grand Arabian homes lining the narrow streets of the 200 year old Stone Town in Zanzibar is a must visit for all history and culture buffs whereas the numerous islands that form the Zanzibar archipelago make for some great beach relaxation. And when you are done with the wildlife and the stone men, enjoy some local hospitality and soak in the tradition of Tanzania with red-cloaked Maasai warriors and semi-nomadic Barabaig tribes. With their warmth and politeness, Tanzanian hospitality will bowl you over and make your vacation a truly memorable one. Tanzania is relatively cheap and with safaris available in all price ranges and amazing homestays on the beach in Zanzibar, this can be a great trip to take, without breaking the bank!

Kenya

Kenya is a country in East Africa that lies on the equator with a coastline on the Indian Ocean. It is world-known for its dramatically changing landscapes that range from vast Savannah, Lakelands, the Great Rift Valley to the mountain highlands. You can get a glimpse into the  fascinating tribal cultures, diverse wildlife and a wide range of activities when you visit this country. Kenya is home to the big five -- lion, leopard, rhinoceros, elephant, and Cape buffalo in more than 45 National parks and reserves. You will be spoilt for choices and you can choose to go for a different safari every day when you visit this extraordinary country.  From the capital city of Nairobi, you can go on a safari to the famed Maasai Mara Reserve, known for the great wildebeest migrations in the months of July to November, and Amboseli National Park, that offers views of Tanzania's mighty Mt. Kilimanjaro. Kenya enjoys the diverse environment and they are all within relatively close proximity to one another. You can enjoy the white sandy beaches, tropical forests, vast deserts, snow-covered mountains and a lot in a single trip to Kenya. From hand feeding Giraffes to going on safaris to spot the big-five to taking breathtaking balloon safaris at dawn, there is a lot to experience in Kenya. Let 2018 be the year when you visit this wild paradise.

Seychelles

An archipelago of 115 islands sprinkled in the Indian Ocean, Seychelles is a secluded tropical getaway, located off the east coast of Africa. Experiences on the Seychelles island range from walking on the soft white-sand beaches, snorkelling or scuba-diving to meet the marine life that thrives in the clear, crystalline waters, explore the national parks and bird reserves, spot whale sharks or just spend time sampling the flavourful cuisine, which is heavy on coconut, seafood and curry. This heaven on earth is a once-in-a-lifetime experience, but it comes at a heavy cost. You can’t expect to have a budget trip on Seychelles island. While you could find a few Airbnbs and family-run guesthouses, eating and tourism in Seychelles is still quite heavy on the pocket. But if you can afford it, then this paradise will be available to you in perfect form – pristine and isolated.

Jordan

The middle Eastern jewel of Jordan is a hotbed of varied cultures and flavours, with a fistful of World Heritage sites. Jordan or the Hashemite Kingdom sustains time-worn cities of Petra and Jerash with equal splendor as it does the bustling capital of Amman. The safest place to travel in the Middle East, the country’s warmth and energy is infectious. Start with camping at the desert in the ancient town of Petra – the newest addition to the seven wonders of the world, where you may come across the nomadic Bedouin tribe. Take an edifying walk through the towering colonnaded avenues of Jerash’s Roman ruins and then head to Wadi Rum, whose moonscape of hills and canyons are truly other-worldly. Cake yourself with salubrious mud and float your troubles away in Dead Sea’s impossibly blue waters. In Karak, spend hours marveling at the archaic Crusader castles and on a day trip to the vibrant market town of Madaba, learn a little about the famous Byzantine-era mosaics. Adventure enthusiasts can head to the quaint Aquaba, that’s crowded with diving and snorkelling clubs, and take a trip down to Red Sea's coral reefs. Spot oryx, gazelles and bustards at the Shaumari Wildlife Reserve that dates back to 1975. The Mujib Biosphere Reserve, that’s home to the striped hyenas and a few hundred migratory birds, also contributes majorly towards Jordan’s tourism. The country also boasts of an assortment of cuisines and aromas. A paradise for gourmands, don’t leave here without trying their falafel, shish kebabs and the lip-smacking Levantine dips of hummus and baba ghanoush.

Malaysia

Malaysia is a montage of varied cultures and flavours, with a dash of colonial heritage. From the blue beaches of the Perhentian Islands to the dense jungles of Sabah, Malaysia is a traveller’s paradise. If you are travelling to Malaysia, a few nights marvelling at the Petronas Twin Towers in Kuala Lumpur is a given. When you are done indulging in the urban delights of the capital, head to the misty tea plantations of the Cameron Highlands. Definitely explore aborigine villages while you are there. For those seeking adventure, Malaysia has no shortage of activities and things to do. Trek through one of the forests of Borneo for wild encounters with giant flowers (Rafflesias) and some of the last remaining orangutans. You could also hike up Malaysia’s tallest mountain, and Southeast Asia’s fourth tallest, Kota Kinabalu. A dive down the pristine waters of the Sipadan Island that is home to barracudas and manta ray. Malaysia is also a cornucopia of cuisines and aromas. A paradise for food lovers, don’t leave here without trying their mee goreng, otak otak and the assam laksa.

Oman

A storybook setting, forts that look like sandcastles and Arabian horses make Oman a magical destination to travel to this year. With endless desert on one side and the Arabian Sea on the other, Oman offers the best of both worlds. Its jagged mountains stretch up to the sky, and the riverbed oases glisten like jewels in the massive desert. This middle-eastern country might not be as glamorous as its neighbour UAE, but Oman has an old-world charm that is unique. There is much to do in this country, where history and development co-exist, instead of competing. The capital city of Muscat is illuminated with the grandeur of the Sultan Qaboos Grand Mosque, the allure of the old waterfront in Muttrah quarter, and the thrill of walking around the labyrinth souks. Beyond the capital of Muscat, lies the The UNESCO World Heritage Site, Bahla Fort , that will amaze you while the souks of the ancient town of Nizwa will provide you the best souk shopping experience. Hike in the Al Hajar mountains, swim in the sea in Salalah, bash some dunes in Wahiba Sands or see some turtles breeding in Masirah Island. Oman isn’t easy on the pocket, with 1 Omani Rial equalling ₹167 but it is a country with so much to offer that you must put it on your bucket-list and start saving for it now!

Canada

The second largest country in the world, Canada is a canvas of mammoth mountains, rugged coastlines, remote rainforests, glimmering glaciers and an infectious energy. It has gradually evolved into a melting pot of an assortment of ethnicities and cultures, and continues to draw curious travellers from across the globe. For a glimpse into the country’s rich biodiversity visit Gwaii Haanas National Park sitting on the 450-island archipelago of Haida Gwaii. Vancouver should be visited for its thriving theatre scene, impromptu music gigs, Shakespeare shows and one too many fascinating festivals. Check off the misty spectacle of Niagara Falls from your bucket list and drive through the winding roads of Nova Scotia's Cabot trail. Keep a few hours aside for the World Heritage site of Nahanni National Park Reserve that’s a local favourite for canoeing opportunities through the choppy South Nahanni River. Take an enlightening walk through the cobblestone streets of Montreal’s UNESCO World Heritage site of Québec City and explore the multitude of 17th and 18th century houses. If you’re travelling in June, make sure to take part in the Festival International de Jazz de Montréal and soak in the melodious explosion of jazz and blues shows. Coming to Canada’s flavoursome food scene, some must-eats are Montreal’s smoked meat and its breakfast bagels, the nutella-topped pastry of BeaverTails, the Chinese meat pie of pâté chinois, the bite-sized butter tarts and last but not the least, the gravy and cheese drizzled poutine.

Japan

Japan, also called the "Land of the Rising Sun" in reference to its Japanese name, is an island nation located in the Pacific Ocean, off the eastern coast of the Asian mainland. One of the safest country to travel in the world, Japan has loads of surprises in store for every kind of traveller. With Imperial palaces, mountainous national parks, hundreds of active volcanoes, ancient temples, glitzy urban life, mouth-watering food, zen gardens, and a rich historic culture, this unique country is an amalgamation of tradition and modernity. You will get a chance to ride the bullet train, enjoy the most delectable sushi, marvel at ultra-modern technologies, understand the origins of Sumo wrestling, get acquainted with Japanese Onsens and pop-culture when you visit this mind-blowing country. From bustling Tokyo with neon-lit skyscrapers and the opulent Meiji Shinto Shrine and zen-like Kyoto with classical Buddhist temples, gardens, imperial palaces and Shinto shrines all the way to the laid-back Okinawa with scenic nature parks and wintery Hokkaido with great skiing slopes, Japan has it all. Though it is quite expensive to travel around Japan, there are so many amazing places and experiences waiting to be revealed that it will make your visit to this wondrous country totally worthwhile. 

Iceland

Iceland’s an other-worldly, once in a lifetime experience. The dramatic dancing auroras aside, its patchwork of islands and mountains, the Nordic European nation is straight out of a fairytale. The second you witness the sweeping green grasslands and volcanoes blanketed with ice, you will fall under Iceland’s irrevocable spell. Start with the milky-blue geothermal lagoon in Reykjanes Peninsula and pamper yourself with a rejuvenating spa treatment. Iceland’s Westfjords are another bucket list experience. Bedecked with coastal fjords, its kaleidoscope beaches will leave you awe-inspired. Take a boat ride through Jökulsárlón’s glacier lagoon and soak in the magic of the iridescent icebergs and the breathtaking ice sculptures.The occasional seal might drop in to say hello at this lagoon. In Vatnajökull National Park, head to Skaftafell whose birch wood dotted rivers are a canvas of unhindered wilderness. Jagged peaks border the little town of Borgarfjörður Eystri, that needs to be visited for its puffins, seabirds and driftwood sculptures. For a taste of Icelandic history and its burgeoning modernity, take a trip down to the capital city of Reykjavík. Iceland's food scene is constantly evolving and is guaranteed to light up your taste buds. Begin with pylsur, Reykjavik's hot dog that’s over a 60 years old, and brimming with crispy onions, mustard and a creamy remoulade. Served alongside tarts, with cream and berry jam, the dairy dish of skyr is a local favourite. Get yourself a plate of the roasted sirloin that comes with sides of blueberry polenta, pistachio crumble and Tindur cheese. If all the above has still not whet your appetite, try the Icelandic staple of rye bread that’s served at eateries in a few hundred ways. Our pick though will be the slices laden with butter and crunchy lava salt.

Australia

Australia is a wildly popular destination with travellers for the sheer diversity it offers. There is a 34,218km long coastline to walk along, colourful and dense rainforests to explore, the iconic Outback that makes up its intriguing interior, mountains, canyons, world-renowned beaches and the incredible Great Barrier Reef. Sadly, however, this beautiful natural wonder is dying because of the mass coral bleaching that has occurred due to climate change. By travelling to this unique reef, you can change that. Help with the conservation efforts and volunteer at aquatic rehabilitation centres. And then happily trot around the cities of Sydney, Melbourne and Perth for scenery, gastronomic adventures and an electric nightlife. Or get on the road, because the best way to see Australia is by driving through its picture-perfect routes. Renting cars is affordable and pit-stops at small eateries inexpensive. To stay within budget, drink water from the taps, and couchsurf with friendly hosts.

New Zealand

New Zealand is all about uncharted beauty and unexplored lands. Stunning mountains, scenic lakes, relaxing beaches, and a slight sprinkle of humans make New Zealand one of the most sought after countries. Easy to travel through, this tiny strip of land in the Pacific Ocean has enough to keep you entertained and occupied. Adventure enthusiasts can pick from a horde of activities such as hiking, bungee jumping, mountain biking, canoeing and more. For those who like to take it slow, wandering along New Zealand’s many beaches, and diving into some of the most serene waters make for perfect activities. The ease of travel in New Zealand makes exploring the country very convenient. Roads are smooth, public transport is trouble-free, road-side restaurants serve clean food and there are no snakes or poisonous spiders like in Australia. Add to that the amazing food and wine scenes throughout the country, and New Zealand becomes a travel haven. The cities have impressive restaurants with experimental cuisine, while the countryside has delicious seafood to tantalise your taste buds. The country’s cool-climate wineries have been winning awards for decades, but the exploding craft beer scene is transforming the drinking culture of the country. New Zealand has everything, culture, food, adventure and nature and therefore makes for the most perfect vacation destination down south.

South Korea

Left unexplored for decades, South Korea is now on travellers' radar for its ancient culture, diverse experiences and stunning landscapes. The fast developing nation offers all the comforts of a modern destination – public transport is easily accessible, luxury hotels line streets, nightlife is vibrant, while remaining attached to its old, traditional ways. And it is this great infrastructure that helps you get close to the pine-draped mountains, the canvas of green rice paddies, remote islands and a variety of national parks. When you've had your fill of nature, head back to the cities for a spicy meal paired with Soju, some friendly banter with local Koreans and shopping at Myeong-dong, one of the world’s largest malls. Why is 2018 the year to visit this country? It's being talked about by travellers everywhere, so it's best to go before it gets too crowded. March through May, spring season, and September to November are the best months to go. 

Laos

The pocket-sized landlocked country of Laos sits at the heart of Southeast Asia and is neighboured by Myanmar, China, Vietnam, Cambodia and Thailand. Still majorly untapped by travellers, Laos is a canvas of stilt houses and endless stretches of paddy fields. Its jungles are in abundance, and an intense blur of green and the mountains, laden with tea plantations as far as the eye can see. Head to Luang Prabang for a heady dose of Gallic cuisine, wan Indochinese villas and saffron-clad monks out and about the 33 florid wats (Buddhist temples). Encompassed by densely forested mountains, this region has a cornucopia of adventure opportunities such as mountain-biking, kayaking and trekking. Rent a scooter and explore Vang Vieng’s picturesque terrains. Visit the shimmering Irrawaddy Dolphin and Khone Phapheng Falls at Si Phan Don, also known as the Four Thousand Islands. At the erstwhile French trading post and today Laos’ capital, Vientiane houses ancient temples and offers a cinematic sunset over the magnificent Mekong river. Clamber aboard a boat and navigate through the Tham Kong Lor’s river cave, existing beneath a mountain of limestone. A tour of Vieng Xai's outlandish karst war-shelter cave complexes are another must-do, while in Laos. Coming to the must-eats, Lao cuisine has one constant – sticky rice. Pair it with or lam (a traditional stew), sien savanh ( Lao beef jerky), or the zesty tam mak hoong (papaya salad).

China

A riveting blend of geographical landscapes, languages and traditions, China sustains the world’s oldest civilisation. Eastern Asia’s colossal country is studded with paragons of both modern architecture and age-old grottoes and hilltop temples. Go to Beijing’s UNESCO heritage site of Forbidden City and capture the splendid scarlet citadel walls. Another World heritage site, Hóngcūn’s feng shui inspired villages dating back to the Ming dynasty is glimpse into China’s colourful past. Hike up the astounding Great Wall snaking its way through the north China region and trek the adrenalin-pumping Tiger Leaping Gorge trail of southwest China. Take a walk through the Bund – Shanghai’s fascinating complex of futuristic buildings and later for dinner, go to the French Concession, the city’s more flamboyant district. Cruise down the Yangzi River, China’s longest waterway and those seeking religious enlightenment can embark on the sacred Mt Kailash’s pilgrim circuit starting from the town of Darchen. Sìchuān’s Jiǔzhàigōu National Park that’s dotted with obscure lakes, unfathomable valleys and tiny Tibetan villages. At Xī'ān, marvel at the archaeological finds of the Army of Terracotta Warriors that are bound to leave you awestruck. Nearly 700 years old, the Lóngjǐ Rice Terraces at an elevation of 1000m are another must-visit. Bursting with bold flavours, gobble up the Xiao Long bao (soup dumplings), relish one too many bowlfuls of siu mei (Cantonese barbecued meat), try the crystal sugar hawthorns balls for a sweet-sour punch and sip on the woodsy Shaoxing wine or get yourself a cup of the full-bodied pu'er tea, hailing from China’s Yunnan province.