Anthony Lau from Hong Kong has been named the 2016 National Geographic Travel Photographer of the Year for his picture of a horseman riding through the snow in Inner Mongolia. Lau, whose photo was selected from thousands of entries, wins a seven-day polar bear photo safari for two at Churchill Wild's Seal River Heritage Lodge in Manitoba, Canada.

Lau took the photo, entitled Winter Horseman, in the Inner Mongolia Autonomous Region of China after an early morning hike. He and his travel companions were driving back to their hotel for breakfast when they came across a team of riders showing off their skills.

"The snow was getting heavier, the wind was getting stronger, the morning snow was getting thinner and the light was moving away from its optimal position," Lau said. "I knew I only had a couple of shots to get the best out of this encounter. With a bit of luck, one of my final attempts managed to capture the moment when one of the riders charged out from the morning mist along with his horses."

The National Geographic Travel Photographer of the Year, open to professional and amateur photographers, recognises the most compelling travel photography taken in the past two years in three categories: Nature, People and Cities. The judges awarded first-, second- and third-place prizes, as well as an honourable mention, in each category. Lau's photo was placed first in the People category.

National Geographic Travel Photographer of the Year Contest
Grand prize-winner: Winter Horseman by Anthony LauAnthony Lau/National Geographic Travel Photographer of the Year Contest

Second in the People category went to Rooftop Dreams by Yasmin Mund, who says: "It was 5.30am and I had just arrived in Varanasi, India, off a sleeper train. I got to my guesthouse and climbed the seven flights of stairs to see the sunrise over the Ganges River. As I looked over the side of the rooftop terrace, my jaw dropped in disbelief. Below were mothers, fathers, children, cats, dogs, and monkeys all sleeping on their roofs."

National Geographic Travel Photographer of the Year Contest
People award, second place: Rooftop Dreams by Yasmin MundYasmin Mund/National Geographic Travel Photographer of the Year Contest

Third place in the People category was awarded to Mattia Passarini for a photo called Remote Life at -21 Degree, depicting an elderly woman carrying a big log back home to warm up her house in a remote village in Himachal Pradesh, India.

National Geographic Travel Photographer of the Year Contest
People category third place: Remote Life at -21 Degree by Mattia PassariniMattia Passarini/National Geographic Travel Photographer of the Year Contest

Dotan Saguy received an honourable mention in the People category for this photo, taken at Muscle Beach in Venice Beach, California.

National Geographic Travel Photographer of the Year Contest
People category, Honourable Mention: Muscle Beach Gym by Dotan SaguyDotan Saguy/National Geographic Travel Photographer of the Year Contest

In the Nature category, first prize was awarded to Hiroki Inoue for a picture entitled Wherever You Go, I Will Follow You, showing two red foxes playing in a snowy landscape in Biei, Hokkaido, Japan.

National Geographic Travel Photographer of the Year Contest
Nature award, first place: Wherever You Go, I Will Follow You by Hiroki InoueHiroki Inoue/National Geographic Travel Photographer of the Year Contest

Second prize in the Nature category was awarded to Massimiliano Bencivenni for Double Trapping, a perfectly timed shot of a caiman about to eat a fish – which is, in turn, eating a fish. Massimiliano took this remarkable shot on the Rio Negrinho in the Brazilian Pantanal.

National Geographic Travel Photographer of the Year Contest
Nature, second place: Double Trapping by Massimiliano BencivenniMassimiliano Bencivenni/National Geographic Travel Photographer of the Year Contest

Victor Lima took third place in the Nature category with this photo, entitled Lagunas Baltinache (Atacama Desert). The photographer says: "The Atacama Desert is one of the best places on the planet to do night photography. I embarked alone on an adventure to find images not yet published of the most arid desert in the world and its contrasts."

National Geographic Travel Photographer of the Year Contest
Nature, third place: Lagunas Baltinache by Victor LimaVictor Lima/National Geographic Travel Photographer of the Year Contest

Bears on a Berg won John Rollins an honourable mention in the Nature category. He says: "The location is on the sea ice in Davis Straight, off the coast of Baffin Island in the Canadian Arctic. This mother polar bear and her yearling are perched atop a huge snow-covered iceberg that got 'socked in' when the ocean froze over for the winter. To me, the relative smallness of these large creatures when compared to the immensity of the iceberg in the photo represents the precariousness of the polar bear's reliance on the sea and sea ice for its existence."

National Geographic Travel Photographer of the Year Contest
Nature, honourable mention: Bears on a Berg by John RollinsJohn Rollins/National Geographic Travel Photographer of the Year Contest

In the Cities category, the judges awarded first place to Takashi Nakagawa for this photo of a tranquil scene at the Ben Youssef Madrasa. The photographer says: "Marrakesh is an exciting city for any traveller, but I was tired of walking on the crowded streets and being asked for money, so I was looking for a place to settle down. As I was resting, a beautiful reflection appeared on the shallow pool. It was a cloudy day so I could only see it when the wind stopped blowing and sunlight hit the Islamic architecture."

National Geographic Travel Photographer of the Year Contest
Cities, first place: Ben Youssef by Takashi NakagawaTakashi Nakagawa/National Geographic Travel Photographer of the Year Contest

Silenced by Wing Ka H won second place in the Cities category. The photographer says: "This photo was taken on my last trip to Guangzhou, China. This place is the school dormitory of South China Normal University."

National Geographic Travel Photographer of the Year Contest
Cities, second place: Silenced by Wing Ka HWing Ka H/National Geographic Travel Photographer of the Year Contest

Celestial Reverie by Jeremy Tan took third place in the Cities category. He says: "Lightning seemingly strikes Komtar Tower, the most iconic landmark of George Town, capital of Penang state in Malaysia, during a thunderstorm.

"It is symbolic of the rejuvenation that the city, famous for a unique blend of centuries-old buildings and modern structures, has enjoyed in recent years. While many of its old neighbourhoods fell into neglect in the 1990s and early 2000s, a UNESCO World Heritage listing in 2008 sparked a transformation."

National Geographic Travel Photographer of the Year Contest
Cities, third place: Celestial Reverie by Jeremy TanJeremy Tan/National Geographic Travel Photographer of the Year Contest

Finally, Kathleen Dolmatch received an honourable mention in the Cities category for this photo, called Divided, She says: "From a doorless helicopter looking south on Central Park West, dividing the architecture and Central Park, a day before my 27th birthday. The flight was my birthday gift."

National Geographic Travel Photographer of the Year Contest
Cities, honourable mention: Divided by Kathleen DolmatchKathleen Dolmatch/National Geographic Travel Photographer of the Year Contest

You can find out more information and see more entries, including all of the judges' favourite submissions to the National Geographic Travel Photo Contest here.