Trips of a lifetime

12 for 2012 - one for each month of the year
Maldives among the top destinations to visit
Maldives among the top destinations to visit

01. Chile

Go before it&rsquos gone And because it&rsquos quite the adventure of a lifetime. Not all of Chile is endangered, of course but the fly-fishing paradise of the Ays&eacuten region may lose some of its nature reserves if a worthy plan &mdash to dam the Baker and Pascua rivers for hydroelectricity in a fast-industrialising nation that still has to buy its power from others &mdash comes through in 2012. The area has pristine nature reserves as well, largely sustained by those same two rivers (whose trout are also legendary). It&rsquos a hard road to travel, sure &mdash air and ferry support being spotty &mdash but you&rsquoll thank us when you park your 4-wheel drive and sink into the hot springs of Puyuhuapi or wash up on the shores of the stilted coastal village of Caleta Tortel, which eschews roads for raised wooden walkways. And while we hope the Easter Islands will survive another few centuries, the Laguna San Rafael Glacier might not &mdash it&rsquos the closest natural ice field from the Equator, and shrinking fast. Indeed, experts predict it may only be a few years more that you can see it drop &rsquobergs into the lake. Get there before climate change does And while you&rsquore there, stop by Torres del Paine and the Atacama desert too.

02. Myanmar

Why Myanmar Because it&rsquos been just over a year since the civilian government came to power and got to promoting tourism in the region with gusto, and because Aung San Su Kyi has said you should come But seriously, tourism on and along the Mekong is one of the high points of Southeast Asia &mdash several cruises already run to great reviews. Travel is getting cushier on the ground too, with new public transport lined up. Sustainable tourism is the keyword around Bagan, one of Asia&rsquos most stunning archaeological sites, with 2,500-odd stupas and temples. Inle Lake is another hotspot, with its fire balloon festival, the Pindaya Caves filled with gilded Buddhas, local fishing and weaving villages, fantastic natural rock formations and amazing manmade pagodas. Then there&rsquos Mandalay, last seat of the Myanmar kings, and its exquisite carved-teak Golden Palace and the Kuthodaw Pagoda, with the Buddhist scripture carved into 729 marble tablets, making up the world&rsquos largest &lsquobook&rsquo. Myanmar is also the playground of the endangered Irrawaddy dolphin, in case you haven&rsquot met them back home. Indeed, there are 33 national parks in Burma, and some 135 ethnic groups in the population &mdash and you could be the first among your friends to meet them all... if you hurry and get there before it becomes a busy tourism hub (which it will).

03. Lake Eyre, Australia

When is a lake likely to be swamped by tourists When it fills up only every 20-25 years. Currently going through its fill cycle, which commenced in 2010, Lake Eyre is Australia&rsquos largest salt lake (a sixth of central Australia) and often sports large dry patches&mdashthe exact location and size depending on the El Ni&ntildeo/La Ni&ntildea tango that determines rainfall in its catchment area. This year, experts are saying it might cross the peak volume reached in 1974. Thanks to 2009&rsquos record-breaking rains and the onset of winter soon (remember the topsy-turvy season down under), you should see a flourishing assortment of plants and birdlife when you fly over in a Cessna this year &mdash though just the huge expanse of (inland) water rippling over desert sands where there were recently roads is stupefying enough. Also in the vicinity are the Flinders Ranges &mdash one of South Australia&rsquos most enchanting outbacks, where you should meet emu, kangaroos, wallabies... and plenty of stationed sheep

04. Korea

Jeju-do, a Unesco-stamped geopark on the largest island of South Korea, is probably not the first province you thought of when we said &lsquoKorea&rsquo. But there&rsquos a lot to see besides Seoul at the other end of the nation, and this province is quite a nifty amalgam of attractions. The volcanic island with its lava tubes was recognised as a World Heritage Site a few years ago and last year enlisted by the New7Wonders Foundation as one of the planet&rsquos unique natural phenomena. The point of Mt Hallasan National Park is the crater lake atop it, Baengnokdam, though there&rsquos also the Paleolithic site of the Pillemot Cave and the well-marked Olle trails for hiking enthusiasts. To domestic tourists, it is a popular honeymoon destination and locally considered the &lsquoHawaii of Korea&rsquo, which has also meant a proliferation of manmade &lsquoattractions&rsquo. See

05. European capitals of culture

They&rsquore ranged at opposite ends of Europe, but at least in 2012, Guimar&atildees (Portugal) and Maribor (Slovenia) are twin destinations. These are the European Capitals of Culture in 2012. Guimar&atildees plans a &lsquoPerformance Architecture&rsquo project as well as &lsquoPop Up Spaces&rsquo. An architectural guide to the city was just launched, and flash mob-style musical entertainment is promised through the year. Maribor, which is also the European Youth Capital of 2013, has its own attractions (the Gothic Maribor Cathedral, the Renaissance-style Town Hall) and is adding a new embankment and footbridge on the Drava river as well as an art gallery. In February, it will hold a workshop inspired by Occupy movements around the world. Later in the year, there are music and theatre festivals. The Live Squares and Courtyards project of performance is in July, and a modern dance festival in August-September. Rent a free bike and get rolling.

06. Offbeat Rajasthan

You and a jeep in the desert. No fixed itinerary. No chauffeur. Does that sound like a tyre or 4x4 commercial Actually, it&rsquos Overlander India&rsquos spanking new good idea for the hottest domestic trip of 2012, we think. You will see the real rural life of the various communities of Rajasthan&rsquos dhanis. You will trail the black buck and the blue bull, maybe get a shot to snap a chinkara. Leaving behind expectations of paved roads and expressways, you will rumble down dirt tracks and follow camel-caravan routes, maybe cross a dry riverbed or two...with a safety net of support if this is your first time off the beaten path. Set out for a night or two &mdash or five. Overnight in Swiss tents with attached bath (with running hot water), or for a longer trip, stop sometime at a family-run heritage homestay or hotel. Evenings entail a campfire barbecue (expect to pitch in with the pans), with local folk dance and music for your entertainment. More information at

07. Meroe, Sudan

Yes, yes, last year we said Sri Lanka and now we&rsquore supporting Sudan &mdash we must have a death wish or something. But it&rsquos got the Nubian pyramids and is absolutely lovely, really. The island of Meroe, almost a desert trapped between the Nile and Atbara, was at the heart of the Kush kingdom and recent archaeological finds have seen it listed as a World Heritage Site just last year. Egypt&rsquos passé, after all, and this is where the excitement&rsquos at in this century. Of course, having come all this way, you wouldn&rsquot want to miss the remains of the royal city at Atbara, the temples and pyramids of Shendi, the museums of Khartoum on the Blue Nile and the souk and camel market of Omdurman on the White Nile, not to mention the Tomb of Mahdi.

08. London

This is where the party&rsquos at in 2012. Far from falling down, London Bridge looks all set to span an astounding range of interests and activities this year. Of course, there&rsquos the Olympics, which has brought a new City Hall to complement Tower Bridge, and while tickets for sporting events may have dried up, the London 2012 Festival&mdashthe culmination of the Cultural Olympiad&mdashopens on Midsummer&rsquos Day and runs until the Paralympics in September but there are countdown events already (having kicked off with Edinburgh&rsquos Hogmanay). There&rsquos an exploration of the changing face of London through a multilingual bonanza of Shakespeare productions at Stratford-upon-Avon, a soccer-inspired art installation deep in a Scottish forest, restrospectives of David Hockney and Lucian Freud&rsquos portraits, Cate Blanchett on stage and Damien Hirst at the Tate, Music Nation in March, a nature walk cum treasure hunt to find 2012 species, a search for sites of the 205 Olympic Nations in the Walk the World project... Oh, you shall have a jolly good time at Importantly, many events are free to attend. There&rsquos also the London Festival Architecture in June-July, with the clever theme of &lsquoPlayful City&rsquo (, the Handel Festival in March-April (, and the London Street Photography Festival ( in June. Surely, there&rsquos something in there to tempt you to tea with the Queen

09. Bhutan

Do you really need a reason to visit the happiest place on earth Well, here&rsquos one &mdash Drangme Chhu, the most isolated of the key river corridors in the region. Arising in Arunachal, it makes for the longest river ride you can take in Bhutan and includes some challenging whitewater for excitement and dreamy wilderness for company, as well as some sightseeing at dzongs and monasteries if you choose the tour operator. A trip rarely taken (first done in 2009) brings you downriver till it becomes the Manas, just before emptying into the Brahmaputra just south of the national border. The first few days have the most lively rapids (often charged up by the monsoon), which gentle and smoothen as you approach India. At the end, you can rest for a couple of nights at the Manas wildlife sanctuary. For maximum bragging rights, set out before the world has heard of it. Aquaterra Adventures (, for example, is doing a trip this February.

10. Maldives

As an environmentally conscious traveller, you probably think we&rsquove dived off the deep end when we suggest Maldives to you. But hear us out. There&rsquos nothing new to say about Maldives&rsquo blue beauty, its rainbow-hued reef-resident fish. But the island nation&rsquos first freely elected president has been dubbed a &lsquohero of the environment&rsquo (Time magazine) and he is serious about change. The first environmental laws of the land are now on the anvil there are plans to put in public transport (ferries) and mobile bridges to connect the 1,190 islands and one of the world&rsquos most beautiful marine destinations hopes to be the world&rsquos first carbon-neutral nation and an oil-free one to boot by 2020. So how about you put your money where your mouth is, and help out a community striving to turn back the clock on dreaded climate change &mdash and have yourself a helluva holiday while you&rsquore about it. Also, in line with the ministry of tourism's efforts to encourage mid-market travellers and not just the affluent guests of luxury resorts, new 3/4-star hotel chains and budget resorts are coming up too. After all, tourism is the basis of Maldives&rsquo economy and they&rsquoll be needing money to put those plans into action&mdashwhile you might have saved a whole nation of lives (and livelihoods) from rising water levels and coral death.

11. New Zealand

Are you a pedestrian tourist If you&rsquore the one who gets up at crack of dawn to go walkabout in a new city, New Zealand&rsquos is the visa to line up for. The Long Pathway, aka Te Araroa &mdash one of the world&rsquos longest walking routes (3,300km) &mdash opened up last month, linking Cape Reinga, at the northern tip of North Island, and Bluff, on South Island&rsquos southernmost coast. Consisting of old trails and back-country roads linked by new tracks and signposts, this one should keep you going for months and includes as its highlight a crossing of the volcanic landscape of Tongariro. Download that map from and go now. You&rsquoll find it&rsquos also possible to take off at a tangent on short off-trail excursions along the way. If you get tired, you can always stop for a few at Wellington, which is en route. You&rsquod miss the sheer assortment of landscapes, from coastal lowlands and native forests, to alpine country though. And it&rsquos not all traversed by shank&rsquos mare, really&mdashsome sections are bicycle-friendly (in the Mackenzie Basin), and there&rsquos a watery section of Long Island to kayak across.

12. Suzhou, China

If you&rsquore a foodie, Suzhou prefecture&rsquos savoury mooncakes are delectable, and autumn brings even domestic tourists flocking for the hairy crabs farmed only in Yangcheng Lake. If you&rsquore a history buff, the past is still being peeled back in 2,500-year-old Suzhou, one of the oldest towns in the Yangtze basin &mdash it is where rice cultivation originated, and new digs last year found an ancient town and tombs spanning six dynasties. The Suzhou New Museum (entrance free beside the Humble Administrator&rsquos Garden, China&rsquos loveliest) complements its collection with the tradition-inflected architecture of I.M. Pei, a son of the city. Among culture vultures, Suzhou&rsquos gardens are justly famous, the photo-ops at the watertowns of Zhouzhuang (pic) and Jinxi make snap-happy tourists sing, and the Kun Opera Museum celebrates the Unesco-recognised endangered art that is mother to all opera If you&rsquore a shopaholic, the silk is famous and there&rsquos a whole embroiderers&rsquo street. Suzhou has won a national award for tourist satisfaction seven new municipal tourist resorts were unveiled last year it&rsquos 17 minutes from Shanghai by bullet train and the metro launches soon. They just started promoting Suzhou in Times Square, so book your room before the Americans arrive. More at

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