Sunday, October 14, 2012

Sighnaghi, Georgia

The Kakheti region in eastern Georgia is well-known as a wine producing region, and in fact, some say that it is the cradle of the world's wine production! And one of the more popular destinations within the Kakheti region is the hilltop town of Sighnaghi.

In fact, after some heavy reconstruction efforts from the government, it has become a very popular and important attraction for both locals and foreign tourists alike. And it is hard not to like the small town. Beautiful houses with ornate balconies built between neat pictureque cobbled streets, and surrounded by breathtaking Caucasus mountain ranges, it was holiday-picture-perfect. Add to it the wonderful Georgian cuisine, complete with its famous wines, all at affordable prices, really, it was one of the best places to relax and unwind.

Churches, monastery and monuments form most of its attractions, all within easy reach from town. The most famous is its 18th century town wall that stretches 4.5km, one of the longest in the world. Sighnaghi was a fortified town during its time, and the wall contains 35 towers each named after a nearby village, and each offering refuge for the villagers during times of war. The churches and monastery, like most in Georgia, all all worth a visit, though at that time (Kakheti was the last region I visit in Georgia), I may already had an overdose... :p

While the town have fancy hotels and restaurants, and even pretty boutique hotels, I stayed in a beautiful family-run guesthouse (Nato & Lado) that suited my budget. Aside from their amazing hospitality, their homecooked dinner with free-flow homemade wine were phenomenal! Truly one of my best stays in Georgia!

Sighnaghi is easily accessible from Tbilisi by mashrutkhas like everywhere else in Georgia. Just about 2 hours of journey, and you'll be transported to a wonderfully refreshing destination....

Saturday, October 6, 2012

Mystic Misty Charm of Sapa

The touristy town of Sapa in northern Vietnam is a well-known and popular destination. With cheap travel costs, easy and convenient access via train, beautiful landscapes and interesting ethnic tribes, it's certainly formula for mass tourism.

But it was exactly it's popularity that had somewhat kept me from visiting Sapa for a time. Tales of incessant hassling from the ethnic minorities had put me off, and scamming of independent travelers are common. Nevertheless, I finally made a trip, and it turned out to be quite a pleasant experience, especially photography-wise!!

While the hassling by the local Hmong ladies are indeed a tad annoying, the charm of the place was hard to deny. I love a good landscape opportunity, and I was not disappointed. September was rice harvesting time in Sapa, and the fields are covered in glorious golden green. But surprisingly, what actually fascinated me was the mists!! I had 2 days of complete misty weather and it gave a different feel to the photos.

And the biggest surprise was when Sapa revealed glorious sunlight amidst the mysterious mists within a short window of time. It was exciting and truly spectacular. As shown in the timelapse below, towards the end of the video, the land was again shrouded in mists.

Thus the tip of the day is, whatever the forecast or outlook is, rise early to try to catch a glimpse of the sunrise. You never know when you would be treated to a show!!