Five places to see in 2012

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For the superstitious among us, wanderlust will go into overdrive this year before the purported end of the world. Joe Tuck tracks down five time-sensitive travel boxes to tick off before 21/12/12.

First published on 23 Dec 2011. Updated on 9 Jan 2012.

Before it’s too late: Xinjiezhen, China

As China transforms itself into its seemingly inevitable destiny of World Supreme Leader, well documented are the lost rural communities and distinct cultures left by the wayside. But there are still towns like Xinjiezhen, floating in the air above the clouds, untouched by superhighways and dynamite.
What to see: The Hani women, colourfully dressed in their traditional blue and pink garb, are the strong, proud and weathered leaders of this matriarchal society. Hire a taxi for the day and venture outside town to see the Hani farm, with hundreds of levels of neighbouring rice terraces that descend into the clouds. It’s a breathtaking sight: perhaps the best man-made sight in all of China.
Getting there: Return fare to Hanoi on Tiger Airways starts at S$200 (www.tigerairways.com). Transfer to an overnight train to Lao Cai. Rent a scooter and ride to the town of Hekou, China. Xinjiezhen is a 200km ride.

Save the environment: Guimarães, Portugal

Guimarães, Portugal’s first capital, lies 50km north-west of Porto and is the 2012 European Capital of Culture. Its small-town charm, steeped in heritage and history, puts one in mind of Bruges – except thankfully Guimarães is not crowded with tour buses (yet). Guimarães Castle was the 10th-century birthplace of the nation’s first king, Afonso Henriques. The picture-perfect monuments and buildings in Toural and Oliveira Squares date back to the 9th century; in 2001 the town centre was deemed a UNESCO World Heritage Site.
What to see: For the travelling intellectual, Guimãres will play host to a plethora of events and conferences tackling the environmental and financial woes of the day through creative thinking, as opposed to industrial or corporate solutions. As the Earth’s clock ticks down to zero, energy and environmental sustainability are at the top of everyone’s agenda, in business and in government. The Energy-Cities’ conference (9-11 May; www.guimaraes2012.pt) will seek new ways of thinking in the energy sector, and explore how local communities can grow from the inside and govern through self-reliance.
Getting there: Return fare to Lisbon with one stop on Air France starts at S$1,500 (www.airfrance.com). Bus fare from the airport to Guimarães is S$60.

Go for the gold: London, England

Now is the time to Facebook-message that long-lost friend of yours who settled down in Pimlico or Kensington Gardens: ‘Long time no see, remember when we used to play in your parents’ backyard? Oh, and hey, can I crash on your couch this summer to catch the 2012 Summer Olympics?’ (27 Jul-12 Aug; www.london2012.com).
What to see: The vision for the Opening Ceremony springs from the mind of Oscar-winning film director Danny Boyle. We can expect a stellar soundtrack presiding over the traditional pomp and revelry, coupled with an appropriate sprinkling of proper English silliness. Central London has been transformed to accommodate the city’s 500,000 extra visitors, 70,000 volunteers and 10,000 athletes. The Live Sites (big TV screens set up in large public spaces), which were a hit in Trafalgar Square during the Beijing Olympics, have increased in number. There are already 20 big screens up and running in cities across the UK, so if you are unable to snag event tickets or are stuck outside of town, the atmosphere and patriotism on display at the Live Sites will be comparable to the real thing.
Getting there: Return fare to London on Singapore Airlines starts at S$2,000 (www.singaporeair.com).

A piece of history: Niagara-on-the- Lake, Ontario, Canada

In addition to the end of days, 2012 is also the 200th anniversary of the War of 1812, a pivotal conflict in the history of the USA, Canada and England. In commemoration of this war, which culminated with the British (now Canadian) troops burning down the White House, there will be re-enactments staged upon the original battlegrounds.
What to see: Plan a trip to Niagara Falls between 12 and 14 October, and travel 5km up the road to the self-declared ‘Loveliest Town in Canada’, Niagara-on-the-Lake. Here, you will not only enjoy antique shops and delicious fudge, but also a re-enactment of The Battle of Queenston Heights (12-14 Oct, Lewiston, New York and Queenston, Ontario; www.historiclewiston.org/battleofqueenstonheights), the first major battle of the War of 1812. Niagara County is also home to a highly praised wine region which happens to be the world’s largest producer of Icewine, a criminally sweet dessert wine whose grapes are not harvested until temperatures reach -8˚C. The Inniskillin winery (1499 Line 3, Niagara Parkway, Niagara-on-the-Lake; www.inniskillin.com) was one of the original pioneers of mass-produced Icewine and is worth a stop in between battle re-enactments.
Getting there: Return fare to Buffalo, NY with one stop on United Airlines starts at S$2,500 (www.united.com). Niagara Falls is a 30-minute drive from the airport.

Celebrate the end: The Mayan Riviera, Belize

Take your permanent leave of absence where it all started out, along the sun-drenched coast of the Mayan Riviera. A few thousand years ago the Mayan civilisation chose to allocate a finite number of days and years to its ‘Long Count’ calendar. As a result, we may have to bear the brunt of this questionable decision on 21 December. End-of-the-world festivals and events are being promoted by foreign-owned seaside resorts up and down Belize’s coast; however, the best way to enjoy the ‘festivities’ is with local Mayans.
What to see: In early August, take a boat out to San Pedro on Ambergris Caye for an island-style Carnivale at the International Costa Maya Festival (www.internationalcostamayafestival.com). The event kicks off with a beauty pageant that crowns Reina de la Costa Maya (Queen of the Mayan Coast), followed by four days and nights of dance, music and parades celebrating local culture – which, contrary to popular misconception, is alive and well.
Getting there: Return fare to Belize City with one stop on Continental Airlines starts at S$3,200 (www.continental.com).

By Joe Tuck
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