Category Archives: General

America’s Most Mysterious Places

Arguably the world’s largest national economy with an estimated GDP of $16.7 trillion in 2013, America, or the United States of America, contains 50 states and a federal district. One wonders about the millions of fascinating attractions that this country has, and Travelandleisure has extracted 10 of the most mysterious places there that will definitely send chills down your spine, including Skinwalker Ranch in Utah, “Mel’s Hole” in Washington, Pennsylvania’s Ringing Rocks Park and Coral Castle in Florida. Have a look at America’s most mysterious places here – all of them look so incredibly interesting that I wish I could fly there to explore now.

Slider photo courtesy of Kevin Dooley.

Ancient Underwater City Shi Cheng

I have always been fascinated by anything that is underwater – I wrote about the top ten underwater attractions some time ago and today I have discovered another interesting underwater attraction. According to news reports, the ancient underwater city Shi Cheng, or Lion City, was flooded and disappeared underwater when its mountain valley was turned into a man-made lake called the Qiandao Lake, or Thousand Island Lake (千島湖) after a new Xin’an River hydro-electric station was built. Located in Zhejiang, China about 150 kilometres away from the city of Hangzhou, and lying between 26 to 50 metres beneath the Qiandao Lake, Shi Cheng city has now been resurrected as a new attraction for tourists. Read more about this fascinating city here.

Top Ten Museums in Macau

The last time I went to Macau was almost ten years ago but it seems that it has lost none of the charms that it possesses. One of two Special Administrative Regions of China (the other is Hong Kong), Macau to me feels more like a little Europe with its rich colonial history and colonial-style buildings than an Asian country, being the first and last European colony in Asia. It came as no surprise to me then, when a report sieved out a number of museums with rich colonial exhibits and displays, as among the top 10 must-see museums in Macau. Do check out the ‘Sound of Century’, a very interesting museum that contains lots of vintage sound machines.

Take a look at the top ten museums in Macau here. Be sure to allow up to a day or two to fully appreciate them.

The Northern Lights

I have heard so much about the Northern Lights, and finally, I am planning to visit Europe to get a glimpse of them next year. When doing my research, I realised that it is not as easy as it seems to catch the Northern Lights, said to be one of the most spectacular sights in the world.

An aurora, according to Wikipedia, is a natural light display in the sky especially in the high latitude regions. A little background on the Northern Lights, or Aurora Borealis, before I move on – why do they actually occur? The unique spectrum of colours happens when particles from the sun enter the Earth and collide aggressively with the gas atoms, which are strongest around the poles, resulting in a burst of beautifully coloured lights in the dark night sky. The most common colour seen is usually green, but the colours do changes accordingly to blue, red, white-grey or even purple and violet. Articles have pointed to many different ways and methods of catching these splendid sights. I have consolidated them and thought I would share them with you here.

1. Choose the most ideal viewing conditions and places – Avoid light pollution, the full moon and choose a dark, clear night with cloudless skies. It is best to go to the surrounding countryside in the north’s horizon for a glimpse of the phenomenon. Cities and big busy towns are out. Usually, the northern lights are visible from late September to March anytime from 6pm to 6am. According to SpaceWeather.com, March is the most geomagnetically active month of the year, followed by October, and Aurora activities seem to be most concentrated between 10pm and 3am.

2. The altitude matters – Try to climb as high as possible, as height will pump up your chances of getting a sight of the northern lights.

As the Aurora Borealis are attracted to the Earth’s magnetic poles, the far northern and southern latitudes are often the best regions to view the light displays. It has been said that they are best seen in Norway, especially above the Arctic Circle in northern Norway. The Huffington Post has highlighted the top ten places where you are more likely to catch the aurora borealis, so do take a look. These include Alaksa, US, the remote Norwegian Sea Islands in Denmark, Scotland, north of the border of Canada, Finland’s northern regions, Iceland, northern Russia, Norway and Sweden. Some hotels also offer a wake-up call if there are northern lights sightings, so do enquire at the hotel reception when you check in.

And of course, you would definitely want to capture a precious memory of the Northern Lights. Alaska Photographics has an excellent article about what you should do and bring in order to capture the best, including a detailed checklist, which I have documented below for your benefit. Credit goes to them and if you want to find out more, click here.

Northern Lights Checklist (Credit: Alaska Photographics)

  • Shoot in RAW format
  • Set LCD Brightness to low
  • Remove the filter from your lens
  • Pre focus your lens on infinity or use live-view with loupe
  • Test exposure, consult histogram
  • Have 2 batteries and 2 flash cards
  • Use a tall but sturdy tripod
  • Check the aurora forecasts
  • Use your lens hood to protect against frost/condensation on your lens
  • Put black tape over your red processing light under the wheel (for Canon users-your fellow photographers will like you)

Indeed, the Northern Lights are one of nature’s most spectacular phenomena, and everyone should see them at least once in their life. However, that said, sightings are said to be unpredictable, because on nights when they are most likely to occur, they did not, and on nights when they are not expected to occur, they shone at their brightest. The safest bet is probably to join some specialised Northern Lights tours, where the tour operators are very experienced about where and when to view them, and some will even offer you to rejoin their tour if you do not get a chance to see the lights. But my advice to you is, just relax and do not travel for the sake of seeking them, but travel for the sake of wanting to go to a country and experience more of their culture and nature. Good luck and let there be light!

Spring is Here!

year of the horse 2014 Spring is Here!

The Year of the Horse 2014

Yes, indeed – spring is here! It is officially the Lunar New Year tomorrow, and warm wishes from A Billion Little Stars - Happy new year, everyone!

The Lunar New Year is perhaps one of the grandest and most celebrated festivals for the Chinese around the world. This festival dates back more than 4,000 years ago, originating during the Shang Dynasty. It is a time for the entire family to gather together and have a reunion feast, and it is also a time for people to go around visiting one another.

In terms of travel, people in China tend to travel to Beijing, Guangzhou, Xian or Pingyao for holidays and to enjoy the festival cheers. You may also like to explore the rural cities like Sanjiang or Tibet, for a different feel of how they celebrate and welcome the New Year. However, many shops and restaurants in China, or for that matter, in countries or cities where many Chinese reside, may be closed for the first three days of the New Year, although most tourist attractions will still be open.

During Chinese New Year, main points of attractions and festivities include plenty of decorations and places decked out in red, festival fairs, dragon and lion dances and lots of families gathering around for reunion. If you know of a Chinese family, do ask them for permission to join in – I’m quite sure they will welcome you! Special snacks and New Year treats are also abundant, with goodies like pineapple tarts, crackers, egg rolls and more to tantalize your taste buds, so eat away – it’s only once a year anyway.

Bear in mind though, that airfares and hotels might be a little bit expensive during the Chinese New Year period in China and many parts of southeast Asia. However, it is a good time to enjoy special deals on plane tickets and hotels in western countries like Canada, Australia and Europe, or even Asia cities like Thailand or the Philippines.

A side note for everyone, public transport during this period are always crowded in Chinese cities, so be sure that you have secured your transport beforehand, as do your accommodation and airfares. Once again, 新年快乐!