, DECEMBER 25, 2006 (STAR) RENDEZVOUs By Christine S. Dayrit - We can find heaven on earth, if we choose to. The nearest thing to perfection is a personal odyssey, not just to far and distant lands, but rather to the center of ourselves where real joy, peace and love abound. If we have the opportunity, however, to explore and learn much more about the world that surrounds us, to embrace the diversity of culture and flavors, squeal in delight at the epiphanies that accompany discovering unique and fascinating places, we ought to embrace it.

As the year draws closer to an end, I am inspired to take a closer look once again at some of the most enticing and intriguing destinations in Asia that I have been to, savoring every bit of magic, wonder and legacy these places have impressed on me. These magical havens, perfect for the holidays and the whole year through, have made me truly believe in the rejuvenating power of travel.

Shangri-La Of Human Aspirations

Exploring a new culture is as dramatic as actually finding yourself inside a movie screen of that particular milieu. Have you ever viewed the Brad Pitt film Seven Years in Tibet? Brad fell in love with Tibetís sights, scenes and way of life, and converted to Buddhism. Lhasa, the cityís capital, once known as the Forbidden City, perceived as unreachable but now easily accessible via direct flight from Hong Kong. Described in ancient lore by dreamers and visionaries alike as the "Shangri-La" of human aspirations, Tibet (Xizang), was the much-coveted prize of adventurous travelers. Finally, Tibet opened its doors to tourism in the mid í80s, the once-elusive Buddhist kingdom made popular by the highly revered Dalai Lama remained intact and well preserved.

Once in Tibet, one cannot miss the Potala Palace Ė built on top of the red hill Ė which represents the achievement of ancient architecture of the city. The Monastery, on the other hand, is a sight to behold where monks in mustard and saffron robes study the tenets of Buddhism. Here, gold, silver, gilded copper and jewel encrusted murals and statues are priceless treasures.

Cruising The Yangtze River

In the New York Times bestseller 1,000 Places To See Before You Die, the Yangtze River in the Sichuan province of China is described as a natural art gallery because the place impresses upon visitors some sense of the earthís magic, integrity, wonder and legacy.

I will always remember my Chinese New Year cruise along the Yangtze River with fond memories because it was while passing through the scenic gorges that my best friend Bum Tenorio Jr., Philippine STAR-Allure assistant editor and 2006 Best Opinion Writer for the Catholic Mass Media Awards, gathered everyone consisting of many nationalities and sang to them over the megaphone at the upper deck of the cruise liner. It was freezing at five degrees below zero as Bum sang lively songs in Spanish, Chinese, French, English and Filipino while wine poured incessantly. What an exhilarating way to welcome the New Year with the gift of laughter!

Also in Sichuan Province, a trip to Jiuzhaigou Valley is very memorable. Affectionately called the "Sacred Mountain and Water," Jiuzhaigou is an outstanding work of nature where mountains and lakes lie in peace and harmony. Here, attractive sites and tranquil surroundings are a fine collection of sights, color and melodies. This national place of scenic interest also earned the monikers "Fairyland on Human Earth" and "World of Fairy Tales."

Bromo Magic

For a most exhilarating East Java journey, take a limousine from the Mandarin Majapahit for a scenic three-hour drive to the breathtaking Mount Bromo, the highest mountain in the region at 2,382 meters above sea level. If you depart from the hotel at the crack of dawn, you may experience the spectacular sunrise as the blanket of clouds rise over the spewing crater. This surreal scene in the fashion of National Geographic or Lord of the Rings is what many local and foreign travelers aspire to witness.

Scenic views of volcanic vistas and lush foliage pave the way as you pass the mountain peaks overlooking the scenic Probolinggo harbor. Before reaching the active crater of Bromo, one first pays respect to Pura Agung Poten Bromo, a temple of sacred ground. Not to be missed, too, are Mount Batok and Mount Semeru, which, together with Mount Bromo, form the glorious East Java mountain range.

In Surabaya, the capital of East Java, Hotel Tugu Malang, a 1910 colonial edifice, is a five-star premier address. Itís referred to as an "antique-storage hall with the most romantic setting" while others call her "the living quixotic past." Like walking into the setting of films that transcend many eras depicting history, drama and romance, Hotel Tugu Malang links the romantic moments of this countryís forgotten history while living in an exotic tropical paradise.

Here Is Where Gods And Goddesses Reside

In Bali, Indonesia, the Four Seasons Hotel in Sayan, like a lost relic of an ancient civilization, is an enigmatic structure that seems to emerge from the mountain mist. The presence of serenity and tranquility are palpable signs that gods and goddesses reside here. The scent of aromatic incense mingles with the sweet smell of frangipani and champaka flowers, creating an olfactory feast. Verdant rice terraces and cascading water gardens share the jungle with ancient shrines, brilliant heliconias and rugged banyan trees. Amidst all this beauty is a private sanctuary that restores inner balance and serenity.

Journey To Paradise

Palau, Micronesia, is one of the rare places on earth that looks even more alluring in reality than it appears in the glossy travel advertisements. It is undisputedly one of the best paradises for diving and underwater activities. Itís like a magical illusion: being one with all the creatures of the sea that converge or gravitate towards man. In Jellyfish Lake in Palau, diving can be both spectacular and eerie. Millions of stingless jellyfish swarm around you like little pink parasols floating around.

At Home, Where The Heart Is

Sonyaís Garden and Bed and Breakfast in Tagaytay is a stunning countryside bed and breakfast of nine lovely cottages (aptly called Marjoram, Lavender, Parsley, Chamomile, Thyme, Basil, Rosemary, Mint and Sage) set amid a pastoral masterpiece that started as a humble garden and greens and floras. Their sensational four hands massage is total bliss. Here lies a perfect setting for the art of doing nothing.

2006 Conde Nast Traveler Green List Awardee El Nido Lagen Island Resort in Palawan is also a magical place. From ageless towering marble cliffs to its white sandy beaches with crystal clear water, many refer to it as paradise. You will also find enchanting lagoons with tranquil turquoise-green water, caves that can take you to hidden beaches, and a very diverse variety of wildlife. At Lagen Island Resort there are water cottages built on stilts on both sides of its cove, Beachfront Cottages with a view of the entire cove and of the sunset, Forest Rooms and Forest Suites built on the fringes of a tropical forest. Palawan is frequently referred to as "The Final Frontier." Once you have been here you realize why. Enchanting El Nido is truly breathtaking; many leave, their lives changed by this enchanting paradise.

My passion for travel like many of us is insatiable. Travel connects us to divinity, infinite beauty and creation. Like finding a rare gem, one can always surmise that there is an even more enticing jewel waiting to be discovered. In the quest for this splendid treasure, we can actually get lost and yet find ourselves at the same time. The world is our oyster and all we need to do is to take that first step in letting ourselves discover the infinite beyond. Make heaven on earth your choice.

Chief News Editor: Sol Jose Vanzi

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