In pictures: Afghanistan’s ‘safest province’; Ali M Latifi & Abasin Azarm; Al Jazeera English

Afghanistan – Cultural Landscape and Archaeological Remains of the Bamiyan Valley

Bamiyan may not be wracked by violence, but it continues to suffer from poverty and years of underdevelopment.

Ringed by snow-covered mountains, Bamiyan has often been called Afghanistan’s “safest” province.

Its roads, paved for the first time in the central province’s history, make Bamiyan’s natural beauty and historical artifacts more accessible than ever. In interviews with Al Jazeera, residents of Bamiyan city and mountainside villages alike spoke proudly of their province’s safety compared to the rest of the nation.

But despite Bamiyan’s relative safety, poverty remains rampant. Nearly 70 percent of the province’s roughly 418,000 people live on less than $25 per month.

“We continue to struggle, so many people are without jobs,” said 19-year-old Zahra in Bamiyan city’s Titanic Market area.

The winter’s snow brings with it a host of economic and health problems.

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Former imperial citadel is masterclass in architecture, romance; VietnamNet, SGT

Viet Nam – Complex of Hué Monuments

When visiting Hue City, tourists proudly march to the former Hue Imperial Palace to explore the royal architecture for two reasons: to admire its ancient charm as well as to review the country’s history. It is a huge attraction to so many travelers for a number of years, especially since the citadel was recognized as a World Cultural Heritage Site by UNESCO almost two decades ago.

Just as a reminder, construction of the Hue royal city started in 1805 under the reign of King Gia Long and was completed in 1832 under King Minh Mang, on the northern bank of the Huong (Perfume) River. It is a huge complex covering an area of 520ha and comprising three circles of ramparts, Kinh Thanh Hue (Hue Capital Citadel), Hoang Thanh (Royal Citadel) and Tu Cam Thanh (Forbidden Citadel).

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A Vietnam Less Traveled — For Now; Ann Abel; Forbes

Viet Nam – Complex of Hué Monuments

Central Vietnam is trying to position itself as an alternative to Phuket or Bali. If it succeeds, it will be great news for the local economy; less so for travelers in search of places that aren’t like everyplace else. Here are two spots on the verge.

While Saigon and Hanoi—the first stops for most Vietnam visitors—are increasingly overrun by motorbikes and globalization, the country’s central region is growing more appealing. The pace is slower, and the history feels more intact.

For now, at least: The area, especially the along coast, is changing as its hub city, Da Nang, grows more prosperous. The oceanfront stretch from Da Nang to Hoi An is being developed with mega-resorts and casinos for the Chinese market—think of the strip from Cancún to Playa del Carmen. Global brands like InterContinental are opening here.

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24 hours in Georgetown; Jim Cheney; Asian Correspondent

Malaysia – Melaka and George Town, Historic Cities of the Straits of Malacca

NESTLED  in the northwestern corner of Malaysia, Georgetown is one of the country’s most popular tourist destinations. Sitting on the eastern shores of the island of Penang, the city and the surrounding villages are some of the most historically important in all of Southeast Asia.

Settled by the British in 1786, Georgetown was the first British colony is Southeast Asia, even predating the Singapore and Hong Kong colonies. Because of this, Georgetown became a major trading hub during the 19th century, creating a city with a vibrant variety of cultures.

Today the city center, which was named a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 2008, features a fantastic mix of colonial architecture, Indian and Asian food, and many different religions and ethnic groups.

Because of this, the island of Penang has something to offer every traveler.

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Białowieża Forest, Where Bison Have Come Back from the Brink; Mike Wheatley; Argophilia

Poland – Białowieża Forest

There are few travelers to Poland that won’t have come across the local variety of vodka, Zubrowka, at least once on their travels. Zubrowka is memorable not just because of its potency – which can knock the socks of even the most hardened drinkers – but also because of its distinctive label featuring a fearsome-looking bison, or zubr.

Sadly, few travelers are aware of just how precarious the European bison’s existence is today; nor do they realize that these magnificent beasts can actually be seen in the wild.

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Pearl of the Adriatic; Jill Worrall; Stuff.co.nz

Croatia – Old City of Dubrovnik

Can you trust the opinion of a man described famously as ”mad, bad and dangerous to know”?

Possibly not if one was planning to lend him money or was considering a romantic dalliance with him.

However, on the subject of Dubrovnik on Croatia’s Adriatic coastline, Lord Byron, who in more ways than one got about a bit, got it exactly right.

Byron, one of the greatest poets in the English language, described Dubrovnik as ”the pearl of the Adriatic”. Byron, who was famed not only for his poetry but his financial excesses and scandalous personal life, died in 1824, so it’s probably fair to say that he was fortunate to see Dubrovnik before the ravages of 20th-century conflict and mass tourism struck.

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Budapest offers tourists much to see, do, eat; Sandy Fenton; PennLive

Hungary – Budapest, including the Banks of the Danube, the Buda Castle Quarter and Andrássy Avenue

Budapest is an important and historic city filled with royal palaces, must-see bridges and has become one of the most popular and affordable tourist cities in Europe.

Before locking in our trip to Budapest, I spent time researching Hungary’s capital city. I knew little about the country, let alone the city, and kept confusing Budapest with Bucharest.

According to Endre Kardos, director of the Hungarian National Tourist Office, it seems we Americans might need a refresher course for central and eastern European geography and with our view of Hungary in general.

And he was right.

Here are a few things I learned and experienced while touring Budapest several months ago.

First, Hungary is not an eastern European country, but smack in the heart of central Europe.

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IFAW Wildlife Rescue Center celebrates 10 years and 1,600 animals saved; IFAW

India – Kaziranga National Park

An elephant calf injured in a village, a rhino orphaned by poachers, a full-grown tiger discovered in a well and a leopard found in a house! These are four of 1,600 animals and 150 species saved in the last ten years at IFAW’s Wildlife Rescue Center in northeast, India.

Situated near Kaziranga National Park – a UNESCO World Heritage Site in the northeast Indian state of Assam, the center was opened in 2002 by IFAW, the International Fund for Animal Welfare (www.ifaw.org), in partnership with the Assam Forest Department and Wildlife Trust of India (WTI). Since then it has also pioneered hand-raising and rehabilitation of numerous species of wild animals including clouded leopards, rhinos, elephants, bears and birds like the greater adjutant storks and India’s only apes -the Hoolock gibbons.

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Exploring Georgetown, Penang; Mike Aquino; Asian Correspondent

Malaysia – Melaka and George Town, Historic Cities of the Straits of Malacca

Georgetown in Penang, Malaysia is a hotspot for history buffs; its origins as a British colonial trade depot serving as the foundation for the district’s dining, shopping and cultural attractions. Nicknamed the “Pearl of the Orient”, Georgetown’s status as Penang’s foremost historical attraction was cemented in 2008 by UNESCO recognition as a World Heritage Site.

Over the centuries, trade and war brought a rich blend of ethnic settlers to Georgetown. Chinese, Indians, Malays, Arabs, Siamese, Burmese and European settlers built their homes and trading houses side by side in Georgetown, resulting in a colorful collection of historic buildings: Chinese clan houses, European churches, Chinese and Indian temples, Malay mosques, streets lined with bungalows and shophouses, and, of course, the aforementioned British fort.

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Gaudi’s Barcelona; Susan Semenak; The Gazette

Spain – Works of Antoni Gaudí

He’s everywhere, from the undulating facades of apartment buildings to the soaring, unfinished towers of La Sagrada Familia cathedral, from fairy tale houses with crazy-coloured mosaics to menacing rooftop statues.

Barcelona is Antoni Gaudi’s city. If you get a postcard from the Catalan capital, chances are it features a Gaudi creation.

Even though Spain’s most famous architect has been dead for 86 years, no one or nothing more epitomizes the flair and flamboyance of Barcelona than the enigmatic man who filled it with his outrageous designs. Barcelona boasts the largest collection of Gaudi’s works of any city in the world. He designed or contributed to more than a dozen of the city’s parks, public squares and buildings, of which seven have been designated world heritage sites by UNESCO.

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