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Finding Nightlife and Entertainment in Havana

Yes, the city has lost the Barbary Coast spirit of prerevolutionary days, but habaneros love to paint the town red as much as their budgets allow. Many venues are seedier than they were in the 1950s; in many the decor hasn’t changed! Pricey entrance fees dissuade Cubans from attending the hottest new venues. Cubans are even priced out of most bars (one beer can cost the equivalent of a week’s salary).

[pullquote align=right]Havana finally has two reliable, widely circulated forums for announcements of upcoming events.[/pullquote]The great news is that private nightclubs have sprouted since being legalized in 2011. Havana now has some really chic scenes reminiscent of L.A. or Miami. And a gamut of 3-D theaters opened, only to be shuttered in a government crackdown in late 2013.

For theater, classical concerts, and other live performances it’s difficult to make a reservation by telephone. Instead, go to the venue and buy a ticket in advance or just before the performance. Call ahead to double-check dates, times, and venue.

A cup of coffee in front of a vintage radio, newspaper and eyeglasses.
Several newspapers and radio stations have information on local events to help you plan your time in Havana. Photo © Wolfgang Steiner/123rf.

Havana finally has two reliable, widely circulated forums for announcements of upcoming events. The Havana Reporter, an English-language weekly newspaper, features a center-page spread with upcoming gigs at key venues. It’s available in tourist hotel lobbies, as is Cartelera, a cultural magazine for tourists published monthly by Artex, with information on exhibitions, galleries, performances, and more. A fantastic Internet source is Cuba Absolutely, which maintains a monthly update of live concerts and other cultural events nationwide on its website.

Radio Taíno (1290 AM and 93.3 FM), serving tourists, offers information on cultural happenings with nightly broadcasts 5pm-7pm, as does Habana Radio (94.9 FM), which also broadcasts online. The TV program Hurón Azul (Cubavision) gives a preview of the next week’s top happenings every Thursday at 10:25pm.

Since so many young Cubans lack money for bars and clubs, thousands hang out on the Malecón (principally between Calle 23 and Calle 0) and along Avenida de los Presidentes (Calle G) on weekend nights. The latter chiefly draws frikis (Goths and punks), roqueros, and what Julia Cooke calls “a genealogical map of youth culture,” who mill around sharing beer or rum and listening to music played on cell phones.


Excerpted from the First Edition of Moon Havana.

Which Virgin Island Should You Visit?

Each of the seven Virgin Islands holds its own draw, and depending on what sort of experience you’re looking for during your travels–rest and relaxation, exploring off the beaten path, or a darn good party–there’s one or two that will fit you perfectly. To help choose where to spend your time, here’s an overview of each island’s personality and highlights.

A woman snorkels amid boulders under Virgin Gorda's blue skies.
Virgin Gorda’s Baths National Park is one of the most famous sights in the British Virgin Islands. Photo © BlueOrange Studio/123rf.

St. Thomas

Bustling, crowded, and commercial, St. Thomas is the most accessible of the Virgin Islands. Historic Charlotte Amalie is the main attraction, although spectacular beaches like Magen’s Bay and Smith Bay provide an escape from the city. Duty-free shopping for watches, jewelry, and crystal is a major draw for the millions of cruise ship passengers who visit here annually.

St. John

[pullquote align=right]Nightlife is laid-back, except when full moon parties ignite the night with infectious Caribbean music and creative libations.[/pullquote]Some two-thirds of St. John is protected by the Virgin Islands National Park. St. John has the best beaches in the U.S. Virgin Islands, and the best hiking in the whole archipelago. Accommodations range from beachfront campgrounds to high-end resorts. Laid-back Cruz Bay and Coral Bay provide an antidote to the outdoors with funky shops, hip restaurants, and buzzing bars.

Trunk Bay is the most exquisite beach on St. John. Photo © Susanna Henighan Potter.
Trunk Bay is the most exquisite beach on St. John. Photo © Susanna Henighan Potter.

St. Croix

The largest of the Virgin Islands, St. Croix offers an appealing balance of history, natural beauty, and culture. Christiansted and Frederiksted are classic West Indian harbor towns with exquisite Danish colonial architecture. Buck Island is an ideal place for hiking and snorkeling. A lush rainforest is a perfect contrast to the sunny, sandy beaches, and divers come to explore the storied Wall off the island’s north coast.

Travel map of St. Croix, Virgin Islands
St. Croix

Tortola

Tortola is an island of steep hills, remarkable vistas, and quiet beaches. Delight in the exquisite white sand at Smuggler’s Cove, hike through a tropical forest at Sage Mountain National Park, or admire tropical flowers and trees at the Joseph Reynold O’Neal Botanical Gardens. Nightlife is laid-back, except when full moon parties ignite the night with infectious Caribbean music and creative libations. A sailboat is the best way to explore the out islands, including Norman Island, believed to be the inspiration for Robert Louis Stevenson’s Treasure Island.

Virgin Gorda

At The Baths National Park, giant boulders create grottoes and pools that have delighted visitors for generations. On the other end of the island, North Sound is a sailor’s paradise: a community without roads, where the fastest route between two points is over the water. In between, find a series of unspoiled beaches and a quaint town. Gorda Peak National Park, home to the world’s smallest lizard, is good for hiking.

A boulder at the Baths National Park. Photo © Todd VanSickle.
A boulder at the Baths National Park. Photo © Todd VanSickle.

Jost Van Dyke

This tiny island has more goats than people, and more visitors than year-round residents. Sailors especially delight in some of the best beach bars around. Great Harbour is picturesque—its main street is a sandy path lined by palm trees. White Bay is one of the most beautiful beaches in the Virgin Islands. Offshore cays and little-known attractions, like Little Jost Van Dyke, Bubbly Pool, and Sandy Cay reward visitors who venture off the beaten path.

Anegada

Flat, dry, and sparsely populated, Anegada is famous for its miles of sandy coastline, endangered iguanas, world-class kitesurfing, and the fresh lobsters fishers harvest from reefs around the island. Anegada is also a sportfisher’s mecca: Elusive bonefish live in the shallows around the island, and wahoo, marlin, jack, and tuna patrol the nearby North Drop.


Excerpted from the Sixth Edition of Moon U.S. & British Virgin Islands.

Before Traveling to Vietnam

As always, being prepared is the key to enjoying your travels to a foreign country. When heading to Vietnam, the most important thing is to ensure your travel documents are in order; officials take regulations on visas and passports extremely seriously. Otherwise, here are some tips on what to pack to make your stay smooth, advice on getting to and around the country, and vaccination information.

What to Pack

Most Western amenities are available in Vietnam, though some are more affordable and accessible than others. Sunscreen, for instance, is available in many coastal destinations, though it can be tricky to find and is always more expensive. It’s best to bring your own from home. Other items, like contact lens solution and menstrual products, can be difficult to come by.

Vietnam tends to be more formal than the United States. In rural areas and outside of major hubs like Ho Chi Minh City and Hanoi, local women often dress more conservatively than their Western counterparts, opting for long pants and covered shoulders. Many Vietnamese women in the city have adopted a Western approach to fashion. You can get away with shorts, T-shirts, and tank tops in most tourist destinations. When visiting pagodas or sights of national importance, it’s important for both men and women to opt for conservative clothing, wearing long pants and covering shoulders, as this is considered a sign of respect.

Vietnamese visas. Photo © Dana Filek-Gibson.
Vietnamese visa. Photo © Dana Filek-Gibson.

Passports and Visas

Visitors are required to secure a tourist visa prior to arrival in Vietnam. This can be arranged up to six months before your trip. Visas are assigned in one- and three-month increments with both single- and multiple-entry options. Costs run USD$100-180, depending upon the nature of the visa.

[pullquote align=right]Vietnam often convinces long-term travelers to buy a motorbike, driving the length of the country and then selling it at the end of their journey.[/pullquote]Travelers entering Vietnam over land must visit an embassy or consulate to prepare their visa ahead of time. Air travelers have the additional option to apply for pre-approval, a significantly more cost-effective route, though this is only available to those arriving at one of Vietnam’s three major airports: Tan Son Nhat in Ho Chi Minh City; Noi Bai in Hanoi; or Danang International Airport. Although pre-approval is not advertised by the Vietnamese government, it is a legitimate option, provided you arrange your documents through a reliable company. International air travelers must have a passport with at least six months’ validity at time of travel.

As of 2014, foreign overnight visitors to Phu Quoc are eligible for a 30-day visa exemption. Check with the Vietnamese embassy regarding updated policies on this exemption rule. Any travel on the mainland still requires a tourist visa.

Vaccinations

While there are no required vaccinations for Vietnam, the Centers for Disease Control recommend that travelers vaccinate against Hepatitis A and typhoid prior to visiting in order to prevent food-borne illness. Additional preventative measures, such as the rabies vaccine, are suggested for cyclists and those who may come into contact with animals.

Though malaria does exist in Vietnam, its prevalence is low, with only rare incidences in the Mekong Delta. Most travelers opt to use insect repellent and cover up at dawn and dusk.

Getting There and Around

Most travelers arrive at either Tan Son Nhat International Airport in Ho Chi Minh City or Noi Bai International Airport in Hanoi and set off from there. Public transportation is easily accessible, from planes and trains to buses and boats. For shorter journeys, hitting the road is the cheapest option; for long-distance trips—from Hanoi to the central provinces, for example, or the central provinces down to Nha Trang—you’re better off in the air or on the rails. Budget airlines like Jetstar and VietJet fly to a number of domestic destinations, while overnight trains run the spectrum from cheap hard-seat cars to air-conditioned sleeper berths.

Vietnam often convinces long-term travelers to buy a motorbike, driving the length of the country and then selling it at the end of their journey. This is the most independent option and affords you the freedom to explore. Outside of major coastal cities you’ll be hard-pressed to find any English speakers or Western amenities, so a phrasebook and a good map will come in handy. Cars can be rented here, but, due to driving regulations, it is required that you have a Vietnamese driver.


Excerpted from the First Edition of Moon Vietnam.

The Ghost Town of Rhyolite in Death Valley

Shorty Harris and E. L. Cross sparked the birth of Rhyolite in 1904. While prospecting in the area, they found gold in the Bullfrog Hills, named for their green-spotted rocks. Thousands of people began streaming into the area. The first post office opened in 1905; at its peak in 1907-1908, Rhyolite was probably home to between 3,500 and 5,000 people. The town boasted an ice cream parlor, a school, an ice plant, banks, and a train station. As quickly as Rhyolite sprang up, it started to deflate when the financial panic of 1907 kicked off a rush in the opposite direction. By 1911, the mine had closed, and by 1920, the last holdouts had dwindled to 14 lonely souls.

Partial walls stand as remnants of Rhyolite, Nevada, a ghost town near Death Valley National Park.
The ghost town of Rhyolite, Nevada sits just outside the eastern edge of Death Valley National Park. Photo © bilbowden/iStock.

[pullquote align=right]Rhyolite might be most famous for its bottle house, built by enterprising miner Tom Kelly out of a plentiful material on hand—beer and liquor bottles.[/pullquote]Today, the main road through the ghost town leads past crumbling banks once bursting with gold. Some ruins are two stories tall, towering like era monuments. The beautiful mission-style train station remains intact and looks like it could open tomorrow. Side roads lead to the red-light district, cemetery, and mine ruins.

Rhyolite might be most famous for its bottle house, built by enterprising miner Tom Kelly out of a plentiful material on hand—beer and liquor bottles. It took over 50,000 bottles to make this structure, which was restored by Paramount Pictures in 1925, as Rhyolite began to be used as a filming location.

Rhyolite's bottle house was built from empty beer and liquor bottles.
Rhyolite’s bottle house was built from empty beer and liquor bottles. Photo © Robert Pernett, licensed Creative Commons Attribution.

Goldwell Open Air Museum

The Goldwell Open Air Museum (1 Golden St., 702/870-9946, year-round, free) is a sculpture installation and art park located next to Rhyolite, sharing the land and the desert backdrop. Belgian artists began the museum in the 1980s using the surreal location to showcase larger-than-life sculptures.

The Last Supper, Lady Desert: The Venus of Nevada, and Tribute to Shorty Harris are all impossibly big and very haunting. The Last Supper, the most prominent piece, features ghostly life-size hollow figures huddled on a wooden platform in an eerie plaster sculpture rendition of Leonardo Da Vinci’s famous fresco. The Venus of Nevada represents a 3-D woman made of 2-D computer pixels; it stands larger than life, pink and yellow cinder blocks incongruous against the desert browns and golds. An oversize mosaic couch dwarfs anyone who sits on its riot of bright colors. Other sculptures are a nod to the desert setting. One abstract metal sculpture is intended to be a portrait of Shorty Harris, a desert prospector. A totem-like pole tells the story of Icarus, who flew too close to the sun in Greek mythology, an appropriate statement in the desert. Taken together, the collection is disjointed and surreal against the desert landscape.

The art piece The Last Supper features ghostly life-size hollow figures against a desert background.
Next door to Rhyolite, the Goldwell Open Air Museum places a series of public art pieces against the desert backdrop. Photo © Claudio Del Luongo/123rf.

A tiny Visitors Center (10am-4pm most days) sits centrally located among the sculptures, with T-shirts and museum gifts for sale; there are no services.

Directions

Rhyolite is located approximately four miles west of Beatty, Nevada, off of State Highway 374. Take Highway 374 west from Beatty and turn right into the well-marked entrance.

From Stovepipe Wells, Rhyolite is about 30 miles northeast. Head east on Highway 190 to Daylight Pass Road. A well-marked entrance on the left indicates the two-mile road to Rhyolite. Plan to spend an hour or two strolling among the crumbling buildings and art.

Death Valley National Park Rhyolite Ghost Town image of ruins and map of area.


Excerpted from the First Edition of Moon Death Valley National Park.

Best Beaches of Providencia and Santa Catalina

Secluded palm-lined beaches, gorgeous turquoise Caribbean waters, mellow locals, fresh seafood, and rum drinks make it easy to become smitten with Providencia and tough to leave.

[pullquote align=right]The best beaches on Providencia can be found generally on the western side of the island.[/pullquote]Located about 90 kilometers (56 miles) north of San Andrés, these islands are the easygoing cousins of hyperactive San Andrés. Of volcanic origin, Providencia and Santa Catalina are older islands than San Andrés, and are smaller in area and population than it, having a total area of about 18 square kilometers (7 square miles) and a population of only 5,000. Only 300 people live on minuscule Santa Catalina, an island known as the “Island of Treasures,” which was once home to an English fort.

The best beaches on Providencia can be found generally on the western side of the island. From Manchineel Bay (Bahía Manzanillo) on the southern end to Allan or Almond Bay in the northwest, they are each worth exploring, if you have the time. On these beaches, the waters are calm, the sand golden, and there’s always a refreshing breeze.

A beach in Providencia. Photo © Andrew Dier.
A beach in Providencia. Photo © Andrew Dier.

Manchineel Bay, home to Roland Roots Bar, is an exotic beach where you can relax under the shade of a palm tree. Be careful of falling coconuts. In Southwest Bay (Suroeste), there are a couple of hotels and restaurants nearby, and you can sometimes see horses cooling off in the water or people riding them along the shoreline. The beaches of Freshwater Bay are very convenient to several hotels and restaurants.

The beach at Allan Bay (or Almond Bay) is more remote. It’s notable for its large octopus sculpture on the side of the road (can’t miss it) and nicely done walkway down to the beach from the ring road. The beach area is a public park, and there is a snack bar and stand where you can purchase handicrafts. You’ll have to either drive to this beach or hitch a ride on a taxi.

A couple of coves on Santa Catalina have some secluded beaches on the path to Morgan’s Head, and there is decent snorkeling nearby.

A boat race in Providencia. Photo © Andrew Dier.
A boat race in Providencia. Photo © Andrew Dier.

Orientation

The two islands of Providencia and Santa Catalina combined are about seven kilometers long and four kilometers wide (four miles by 2.5 miles). The harbor area of Providencia is called Santa Isabel and is the center of island activity. Other settlements on the island are usually referred to by the names of their beaches or bays. The main ones are on the western side of the island: Manchineel Bay (Bahía Manzanillo), on the southern end, which has some excellent beaches; Southwest Bay (Bahía Suroeste); and Freshwater Bay (Aguadulce), home to many hotels and restaurants. A ring road encircles the entire island of Providencia.


Excerpted from the First Edition of Moon Colombia.

The Architecture of the Sydney Opera House

The Sydney Opera House, lit up for Vivid Sydney, 2014.
The Sydney Opera House, lit up for Vivid Sydney, 2014. Photo © chaiwat leelakajonkij/123rf.

The one building everybody associates with Australia, the Sydney Opera House (Bennelong Point, tel. 02/9250-7250, daily 9am-5pm, tours adult $35, child $24.50, family $90), was inscribed in the World Heritage List in June 2007 with the comments: “Sydney Opera House is a great architectural work of the 20th century. It represents multiple strands of creativity, both in architectural form and structural design, a great urban sculpture carefully set in a remarkable waterscape and a world-famous iconic building.”

Probably one of the most recognizable buildings in the world, the opera house is made up of two sets of three sail-shaped roofs facing the harbor and smaller ones facing the city. White tiles give it an ability to shimmer in different colors according to the angle of the sunlight and time of day, and also make it a perfect canvas for the annual Festival of Lights, which projects shapes and colors onto the roof. Although mostly likened to white sailboats due to its location by the water, the roof shapes have also been likened to shells and opening lotus leaves.

[pullquote align=right]White tiles give it an ability to shimmer in different colors according to the angle of the sunlight and time of day.[/pullquote]It was designed by Danish architect Jørn Utzon, whose design was nearly too ambitious for the times, with many redesigns necessary before the unique structure could be realized. Utzon resigned due to quarrels over design, schedules, and costs before he could see the entire project through. He was not in attendance for the grand opening in 1973, but he was rehired in 1999 to develop a set of design principles to act as a guide for all future changes to the building. The building is still a stunning example of the impossible possibilities of architecture, and it is a record-breaking accumulation of statistics: It cost $102 million to build (between 1957 and 1973), over one million tiles shimmer on the roof, some 1,000 rooms play host to 3,000 annual events watched by two million people, plus 200,000 tourists visit the opera house each year.

Several guided one-hour tours are offered daily 9am-5pm in various languages, and at noon there’s one for visitors with limited mobility.


Excerpted from the First Edition of Moon Sydney & the Great Barrier Reef.

Cambodia’s Top 10 Temples

The god-kings of the Khmer Empire built a huge number of temples across Cambodia as well as in today’s southern Laos and parts of Thailand. The most famous, Angkor Wat, now attracts up to 6,000 visitors per day. Others, almost as spectacular but more remote, attract but a handful of visitors. Any list of favorites is subjective, of course, but these 10 buildings will not disappoint.

A crumbling wall made of large squared stones leaves a natural keyhole window standing.
A crumbling wall in Beng Melea Temple. Photo by nonuou licensed Creative Commons Attribution No-Derivatives.
  1. Angkor Wat
    The largest religious building in the world. Awesome, stupendous; don’t miss the chance to explore Angkor Wat.
  2. The Bayon
    The enigmatic smiles of the bodhisattva follow visitors around this mysterious temple complex in the heart of Angkor Thom.
  3. Beng Melea
    Subsumed and enveloped by forest, this off-the-beaten-path complex has a special dark atmosphere, especially just after rain.
  4. Ta Prohm
    A sprawling temple compound, preserved as the French explorers of the 19th-century Angkor saw it.
  5. Banteay Srei
    Marvel at the Khmer Empire’s finest carvings at this small temple just off the Angkor circuit but within easy distance of Siem Reap.
  6. Koh Ker
    The remote, forest-bound former Khmer capital and temple complex with a fascinating pyramid as its main monument. More than 100 structures deep in the forest make the journey worthwhile.
  7. Preah Vihear
    A politically controversial cliff-top temple on the Cambodian-Thai border with stupendous views over the Cambodian plains.
  8. Banteay Chhmar
    Rarely visited temple complex between Siem Reap and the Thai border—looted, overgrown, and remote enough to invoke illusions of being on an Indiana Jones-style mission.
  9. Sambor Prei Kuk
    A pre-Angkorian temple city near Kompong Thom shows the development of architecture that would come later.
  10. Neak Pean
    A minor ruin on the Grand Circuit, this small temple, constructed in a pond, comes into its own during and after the rainy season. A small, romantic gem of a building, it’s a personal favorite.

Excerpted from the Second Edition of Moon Angkor Wat.

Wildrose Charcoal Kilns and Hiking Wildrose Peak

Once used to make charcoal for the mining efforts in the area, the Wildrose Charcoal Kilns now stand as works of hand-engineered beauty. The kilns are made of cut limestone, quarried locally and cemented with gravel, lime, and sand. They stand approximately 25 feet tall, their walls curving gracefully inward to form a beehive shape. The Modock Consolidated Mining Company built them in 1877 to fuel the smelters of lead-silver mines in the Argus range to the west. The structures were designed to reflect as much interior heat as possible, but who knew that sound waves have similar properties? Open arched doorways lead to the interior of the kilns; stomp around on the floors of each one to capture the hollow echoes. Each kiln stands as a mini cathedral, the echoes swelling to the industry that once rang out across the canyon.

A charcoal kiln used for making coal from juniper and pine in Death Valley, California.
Once used to make charcoal for the mining efforts in the area, the Wildrose charcoal kilns now stand as works of hand-engineered beauty. Photo © George Burba/123rf.

[pullquote align=right]The views become increasingly more impressive as you look down into Death Valley Canyon, Trail Canyon, and Death Valley itself.[/pullquote]If you hike along the Wildrose Peak Trail, which starts at the first charcoal kiln, you’ll see tree stumps along the mostly forested trail. The trees were cut down and fed to the kilns to feed the mining operations that were king here. This is an easy trip from Wildrose Campground or on your way to hike Wildrose or Telescope Peak.

Hiking Wildrose Peak

This pretty, well-maintained trail lures you on with juniper trees, conifer forests, sparkling ancient schist, and glimpses of the canyons below. Stretches of welcome shade for hiking, coupled with the relatively high elevation, makes this a good choice for late spring or early summer.

The clearly marked 9-mile round-trip trail begins at the westernmost charcoal kiln. The trail starts out fairly level, but this is small comfort because sooner rather than later, you’ll have to start climbing; the trail has an elevation gain of 2164 feet. The trail is intermittently steep up to the saddle, at 2.1 miles, where you have sweeping views of Death Valley. If you are not set on reaching the summit, this is a rewarding place to stop and turn around.

View of Death Valley from Wildrose Peak, with trail on the right.
Wildrose Peak: Gnarled bristlecone pines mark the way through the tight switchbacks that lead to this windswept summit with panoramic views of the valley. Photo © David Dufresne, licensed Creative Commons Attribution No-Derivatives.

After climbing again, the trail reaches a second saddle, with more views, at 3.1 miles. From here, Wildrose Peak is 1.1 miles farther via a steep trail; it feels like you’re climbing straight up the side of the mountain, and then comes a series of increasingly steep and tight switchbacks. The views become increasingly more impressive as you look down into Death Valley Canyon, Trail Canyon, and Death Valley itself. The scenery becomes as rarified as the air, and you’ll begin passing gnarled and ancient bristlecone pines.

Beware a false summit 0.2 mile before the actual summit. Just as you’re about to start celebrating your ascent, you’ll see the trail continues along a ridge to the actual summit. Fortunately, this is an easy, level stroll. You’re rewarded for your pain and suffering with panoramic views from the windswept summit. The tiny road you see in the distance to the northeast is Aguereberry Point.

Getting There

From Panamint Springs, drive 16 miles east on Highway 190 to Emigrant Canyon Road. Turn right onto Emigrant Canyon Road and drive 21 miles south to the road’s end. The kilns are located seven miles past Wildrose Campground. The road is paved most of the way; the last two miles of gravel are slightly rough, but should be suitable for most cars.


Excerpted from the First Edition of Moon Death Valley National Park.

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