Published: 09 January 2018 by: Emily Russ

The rice paddies of Sapa and Mu Cang Chai are utterly spellbinding

It’s a beautiful world and your mission is to explore it all. Add these incredible sights to your 2018 travel diary...

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Rice paddies of Sapa and Mu Cang Chai, Vietnam

In Vietnam’s rural areas, layers upon layers of rice paddies descend in varying shades of green, transforming the landscape into a giant topographical map. The best places to see these eye-catching fields in all their glory? Set your GPS for the northwestern districts of Sapa and Mu Cang Chai (pictured above). Steer clear of the crane-dotted town in Sapa and head for the hills for secluded eco-lodges, challenging mountain trails and fascinating tribal communities. And in Mu Cang Chai, return from exploring the paddies (almost 22 square kilometres of them) to a local guesthouse to sample delicacies from the Hmong people, like fragrant grilled fish with ginger, garlic and peppery mac khen seeds. 

Thailand's Yee Peng Festival is a romantic event not to be missed

Yee Peng Festival, Thailand

Thousands of golden-lit lanterns floating to the heavens, released by crowds of festival-goers with upturned faces and ear-to-ear grins: this isn’t folklore, it’s Chiang Mai’s Yee Peng Festival which happens once a year, on the full moon of the 12th lunar month (in 2018 it will fall on the 23 November). Translating to ‘The Lantern Festival’, this enchanting ritual symbolises letting go of the past year’s misfortunes and wishing good things to come. There are also traditional dance shows, grand parades, fireworks and plenty of delicious street food to taste. Do. Not. Miss. 

The Great Wildebeest Migration looks like an epic film

The Great Wildebeest Migration, Tanzania and Kenya

Listed as one of the ‘Seven New Wonders of the World’, this is a breathtakingly dramatic event worthy of a David Lean film. What makes it so spectacular is the epic scale of it all. Between July and October, more than 2 million animals (including wildebeest, gazelle, zebra and eland) migrate from the Serengeti in Tanzania to the greener pastures of Kenya’s Maasai Mara National Reserve – a journey of almost 2,000 kilometres. Adding to this challenge are crocodile-infested waters and prides of hungry lions. It’s no wonder this event is also known as ‘The World Cup of Wildlife’. 

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Swim in the cenotes of Mexico's Yucatan Peninsula

The cenotes of the Yucatan Peninsula, Mexico

Just a short distance from the region’s legendary beaches lie numerous mystical cenotes. These waterholes, created by the collapse of limestone bedrock, are natural underground swimming pools filled with crystal- clear, mineral-rich waters, schools of tiny fish and subterranean jungles. Translating to ‘sacred well’ in the Mayan’s ancient language, the cenotes were believed to be portals through which you could speak to the gods. For an ethereal snorkelling experience, plunge into the depths of Cenote Dzitnup, where the water is a constant 25°C. 

After you've done the Amalfi Coast, visit Cinque Terre

Cinque Terre, Italy

Perched atop a dramatic coastline and sheltered by olive grove-topped mountains, Italy’s Cinque Terre is an idyllic string of five pastel-hued fishing villages (including Manarola, pictured). The Unesco World Heritage-listed site dates back to the early medieval period and it’s where you’ll find winding paths, perfectly preserved architecture and old-school Italian enchantment. There are roads and a train line, but hire a boat or hike from town to town to really take it in. 

The Waitomo Glowworm Caves are a magical sight – image by Joseph Michael

The Waitomo Glowworm Caves, New Zealand

Make your way to New Zealand’s North Island and discover a glittering wonderland in the Waitomo Glowworm Caves. Here you can join a small-boat tour and glide along the Waitomo River, under a galaxy of thousands of luminescent creatures. New Zealand is home to one particular species of glowworm (the Arachnocampa luminosa) and you’ll be able to see these rare beauties at Waitomo, along with ancient stalactites. No matter your age, this other-wordly sight is enough to make you, just for a moment, believe in magic. 

 Amazing budget travel experienes across the globe

Add the Antelope Canyon to your USA must-see list

Antelope Canyon, USA

Arizona’s Antelope Canyon is a remarkable sight that’s been millions of years in the making. Formed by the forces of water and wind, the canyon curves and juts in an unpredictable and utterly beautiful path, reaching heights of 36 metres and creating a cathedral of vibrant red-toned sandstone. What is now a photographer and nature-lover’s dream destination was once the home of herds of pronghorn antelope, and remains a revered and spiritual site for the Navajo people. History and awe-inspiring natural beauty? You’ll find it here. 

Japan's Cherry Tree Festival looks like a fairyland

The Cherry Blossom Festival, Japan

Between late March and early May, Japan’s streets and parks are transformed into a pink fairyland as thousands of cherry blossom trees spring into bloom. This delicate display symbolises new beginnings and embodies many of Japan’s cultural and philosophical beliefs. The trees’ bloom date is meticulously forecasted and the locals even have a word for viewing them, hanami. Visit hotspots Tokyo and Kyoto to soak up modern Japanese culture on the side, or head to the Tohoku and Hokkaido regions for a more rural setting. Wherever you go, take part in tradition and admire the blossoms while enjoying a bento box picnic. 

Timing is everything when it comes to seeing Yosemite National Parks 'Firefall'

‘Firefall’ in Yosemite National Park, USA

Timing is everything when it comes to this natural phenomenon in California. For a few days in February, Yosemite National Park’s El Capitan rock formation appears to flow with molten lava, earning itself the name ‘Firefall’. What crowds and photographers actually gather to witness is the afternoon sun setting the waterfall alight with a fierce orange glow. The best vantage point for viewing is a spot near the Park’s Horsetail Fall, but resist spending the whole time looking through your camera lens. Capturing the optical illusion is a challenge, so take a few happy snaps and enjoy the magnificent sight the good ol’ fashioned way.

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The hype around seeing the Northern Lights is completely justified

Northern Lights, Iceland

It’s the experience everyone wants to tick off their list, and the hype is justified. The Northern Lights (Aurora Borealis) is a natural phenomenon that occurs when particles from the sun interact with gas particles in the earth’s atmosphere and appear to dance across the sky in ribbons of glowing colours. If you’re on the hunt to catch the elusive spectacle, Iceland is a safe bet – but avoid the light pollution of cities. Head out to a remote area and be prepared to wait for the privilege of spotting the lights. Conditions have to be just right and even if you do see a flicker, it might only be for a moment. This is an experience to be earned, but it comes with a rich reward. 

Oman's rose harvest brings together locals to create precious rosewater

Rose harvest, Jebel Akhdar, Oman

At first glance, Oman’s Jebel Akhdar mountains appear too rugged for plant life to thrive. But it’s in this harsh landscape between March and May that masses of delicate damask roses bloom. From these pink beauties, local distillers concoct highly prized Omani rosewater by boiling and filtering the petals in water. It’s a ritual steeped in bonhomie, bringing the community together to collect petals, talk, drink coffee and sell the precious product. Take it all in with a stay at a mountaintop resort and let a local ‘mountain guru’ take you hiking through the villages.

Bolivia’s Salar de Uyuni makes you look as if you're walking on water

Salar de Uyuni, Bolivia

There aren’t many places on earth where you can feel (and look) as if you’re walking on water, but it’s this magical experience that draws travellers to Bolivia’s Salar de Uyuni. The world’s largest salt flat spans 10,582 square kilometres and creates a mirror-like optical illusion when nearby lakes overflow (between December and April) and a thin layer of water reflects the sky. But even when the salt flats are dry, Salar de Uyuni is incredibly scenic, adorned with intricate polygonal patterns drawn with salt. 

If there’s one festival in the world that’s all about happiness and beauty it’d have to be India’s Holi Festival

Holi Festival, India

If there’s one festival in the world that’s all about happiness and beauty it’d have to be India’s Holi Festival. Celebrating the victory of good over evil, this vibrant carnival is linked to a few different legends, but they all come down to worshipping gods and vanquishing not-so-nice demons. The throwing of colourful powders (the ritual that Holi is famous for) also comes from varied origins, but today it’s a way of uniting people of all ethnicities in celebration. Holi festivities are held across India (1-2 March in 2018), but to soak up an electric atmosphere and a rainbow of vivid colours, Delhi, Jaipur and Agra are the places to go.  

Related article: 5 OTT luxury travel experiences 

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