Doctor's Review: Medicine on the Move

January 20, 2022
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Rock the boat

Five of the best places to explore from the water

From the water

Amsterdam, Netherlands

The beauty and romance of Amsterdam is completely entwined with its canals. The concentric ring of waterways at the heart of the city dates back to its Golden Age in the 17th century. Walking on the tree-shaded canal paths next to 300-year-old homes with their elegant windows and intricate brickwork is one of the delights of a visit here. Another is taking it all in from the water. Many residents still keep boats to get around; some even live on restored barges. Skip the clunky tourist cruisers and hop on a restored "garden flat" — the canal boats previously used to ferry vegetables — for an intimate hour of sightseeing. It's not a guided tour, just a chance to take in a view of the city from one of the iron boats that helped build it.

Cambridge, England

Punts may only have been introduced in Cambridge around the turn of the last century, but they quickly became the most popular boats on the River Cam. So much so that during high season, tourists are more likely to be playing bumper cars in them than actually gliding unimpeded for any great length. That's because the river narrows in the centre of town and passes so close to many of the city's most beautiful colleges. Still, these traditional flat-bottom boats with square bows are perfect for getting around, even if you're a total novice — or a drunk university student. Of course, you could take a "chauffered" tour, but it's much more fun to try poling and stearing yourself. For a truly bucolic afternoon on the river, do as the locals do and head north of town to the stretch of river up towards the village of Grantchester. You'll pass sublime country scenery past moss-draped trees and weeping willows. And you can stop for lunch in the village pub before heading back.

Chicago, Illinois

The Windy City has some of the earliest and most varied examples of skyscrapers in the US, as well as some of the tallest highrises in the world, so it's sometimes hard to remember that this dense urban core is actually clustered around a river. An architecture river cruise lets you soak it all in while experts explain the style and significance of 50 important buildings — from late 19th-century brick "skyscrapers" like the Wrigley Building to more recent sleek highrises like the Willis Tower. Unlike the usual tunnel view you get at street level, here you'll be winding your way through a Grand Canyon of design. Plus it's perversely fun to drift through a car-clogged metropolis on a slow boat.

Phi Phi Islands, Thailand

Their crystalline waters and incredible rock outcroppings were inspiring sighs long before the Leonardo Di Caprio movie The Beach launched a thousand tourist speedboats. Now there's definitely competition for a solitary cove. It probably doesn't hurt that the Phi Phi Islands are just 40 kilometres from both popular Krabi and Phuket. Still, if you can carve out a few hours by yourself, a boat ride around this little archipelago is heavenly. Once you're on the main island of Koh Phi Phi Don, walk over to Loh Dalam, a horseshoe-shaped bay of blinding-white sand. There, small beachfront outfits will pair you up with a ride on an a traditional long-tail boat, heading to quiet coves with great views of coral reefs and sea life. Still, head out early to make sure you really do have the place to yourself.

Yangshuo, China

The unusual landscape surrounding the Li River near Guilin in southeastern China has inspired poets and painters for centuries with its tall karst mountains and beautiful bamboo sprays. But with overpriced cruises now overcrowding the river, some of the lustre has unfortunately started to wear off. To step into a landscape that's just as lovely and far more peaceful, head outside nearby Yangshuo. There, you can board a bamboo raft punted by a local farmer down the Yulong River, a small tributary of Li. The Yulong winds through a similarly lush landscape of rice fields and farms against the backdrop of limestone peaks and you're far less likely to hear any boat engines running. Unfortunately, you'll still have to brace yourself for the requisite stops at riverside vendors.

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