Top 10 Things To Do In The Indian Himalayas

Top 10 Things To Do In The Indian Himalayas

A guest post by Rohit from India

Like a crown on a king’s head, the majestic Himalayas adorn my country- India. The Himalayan range swarms over the north and north east of the country and boast a great variety of flora and fauna and being the snowy area of our country, it is a highly sought after travel spot. The Himalayas have a huge list of activities to offer:

Mountain Biking

mountain biking in the Himalayas

Photo by trailsource, CC BY 2.0

Not a trekking fan? No problem at all! You can still go biking or cycling. The Himalayas have some really enchanting routes that are perfect for adventure biking and cycling. There is no denying that there are a few tricky ones, but with a little care, you can ride them safely.

Gondola Rides

Best things to do in the Himalayas

Photo by Basharat Alam Shah, CC BY 2.0

How about a mind blowing ride at 9000 or 10000 feet? You can experience the cable car here at Gulmarg (a.k.a. the meadow of flowers) to offer a chilly ride over some of the world’s best picturesque locations. You might want to take the same ride twice – one to take in all the beauty and another for capturing all of it on your camera.

Bungee Jumping at Rishikesh

bungee jumping in India

Photo by Tony Leon, CC BY-SA 2.0

If you are off to Rishikesh on a spiritual journey, you might as well add a tinge of adventure to it. Along with some spiritual awakening, the holy city might just open up the adrenaline junkie in you.

Spa and Relaxation

spa in Himalayas

Photo by Vinoth Chandar, CC BY 2.0

While Himalayas raise that adrenaline level, it can also help you in washing off those stress levels that come with a city life. The mountains have some really good spa centers, hotels and a blend of Ayurveda to calm you down. It would be a perfect getaway to indulge in some alone time and self-pampering.

White Water Rafting

white water rafting in the Indian Himalayas

Photo by Jason Pratt, CC BY 2.0

We are well aware of the pious Ganga – the river that washes away all your sins and purifies you. Well, she too seems to have a wild and fun side. Before Ganga comes over as the calm one, she is a turbulent challenge to be won over. Wrestle with nature and conquer the white waters of Ganga. River rafting in Rishikesh would be one memorable attempt with your team of friends.

Yak Safari

Yak safari in the Himalayas

Photo by Dennis Jarvis, CC BY-SA 2.0

Ride a camel in the desert, ride a horse but don’t miss out the yak. Out in the coldest parts of Ladakh, yaks were the sole means of transport and an accompanying animal for many. Travellers now enjoy this ancient practice to explore the hidden secrets of the Himalayas. This gigantic animal will offer you one of the truest Himalayan experiences. Dress up in the bright coloured dresses and ornaments of the local people and go on a yak ride.

Angling in Ramganga

Ramganga travel experience

Photo by Eric Gropp, CC BY 2.0

The Himalayan region is a dream destination for all angling lovers. Being home of the amazing and rare Mahasheer fish, the Himalayas is one spot on the angler’s bucket list. Catching this ‘tiger of the river’ is one of the best experiences for any angler. Fly fishing is also another popular sport in the Himalayas.

Canyon Crossing on a Jhula

Remember those swings you played on or those crazy rides in an amusement park. If you miss those, you should definitely try using a swing (jhula) to cross a canyon. Nothing to worry about, people living in these villages do it every day. It will be a ride you will never forget, riding in a box over a canyon with a river gushing right below you.

Treasure Hunting For A Glacial Lake

Forget those conventional treks to popular spots. If you are one of those ‘off-beat trekkers’ go find your own glacier. There are so many hiding in the depths and width of the Himalayas, waiting to be explored. Spend the night on the lake side with a starry skied roof and wake up to a splendid sunrise.

Take A Flying Taxi –A Helicopter

Helicopter ride in the Himalayas

Photo by Alec Wilson, CC BY-SA 2.0

Want a break from all the trekking and you just want to go sight-seeing. Take a helicopter taxi, no kidding. That taxi ride could be something you will treasure forever. Few of us can own a helicopter, so you might as well take a ride when you get a chance. Book one from the airport itself and travel in style.


 

Our grand Himalayas cannot be brought down to just 10 points, there are so many places to visit – temples, monasteries, valleys, breathtaking lakes, mountains and a crazy load of things to do – parasailing, trekking, wildlife safaris, catching a glimpse of the snow leopards deep in the mountains or just relaxing. This is one place to fulfill all your cravings and to make loads of memories.

 


Author Bio:

Rohit is an avid traveler and blogger at Transindiatravels.com. His passion for exploring has taken him to places all around the world. The accounts of his travel experiences act as a guide to other travel enthusiasts.

 


This article was published in April 2016.


Backpacking in Rajasthan – Top 5 Destinations

Backpacking in Rajasthan – Top 5 Destinations

Rajasthan is probably the most interesting state in all of India from a traveller’s perspective with an enormous wealth of history and culture to indulge in. It is the land where kings once ruled and where enormous forts and palaces have stood the test of time. Today it is one of the most popular parts of India for backpackers and it is rare that anyone on an extended trip in the country doesn’t come here.

Getting in is fairly straight forward as India has an extensive and very cheap transport network. You can head in from the East via a train from the nearby cities of Delhi or Agra (home of the Taj Mahal). Alternatively if you’re coming from the South then Mumbai and Ahmedabad are also home to international airports. There are airports in all of the main cities in Rajasthan too with budget connections to the rest of the country via IndiGo and Spicejet but international flights into Rajasthan are relatively limited.

Once in Rajasthan, it is easiest to get around by train and in regions where there aren’t direct train routes, you can take the bus or even hire a driver to get you from A to B. A 4/5 hour journey should cost less than 1000 Rupees (under £10) by train (Air Conditioned coaches, much less in Non AC) or around 3000-4000 Rupees by car (£30-40), which can be worth it if you’re travelling as a group.

To see all 5 of our top backpacking destinations in Rajasthan, you’ll probably need about 2 weeks but they could be squeezed into 10 days if you are in a hurry.

Best Backpacking Destinations in Rajasthan


Jaipur

‘The Pink City’ is a large urban metropolis built around a city centre, which is absolutely nothing like anything you might find in the West or indeed other parts of Asia. Inside the city walls, you’ll find a maze of pink buildings and ancient architecture, now taken over by endless market stalls. What you won’t find is anything resembling a bar, restaurant or supermarket, which considering Jaipur is home to around 7 million people might not be quite what you’re expecting from its urban centre.

Backpacking in Rajasthan
View of Jaipur from the hill overlooking the city and in the other direction, the monkey temple.

Modernisation isn’t really a concept that Jaipur or much of the state has come round too but it’s not really what people come for in any case. The main point of interest in Jaipur is the giant Amber Fort on the outskirts of the city but there are several palaces, museums and temples which are worth a visit. There is a somewhat disappointing monkey temple complex, which was probably once great and is still cool if you like monkeys but the site has been left to rot and its a bit disgusting these days with garbage everywhere although you can get a good view of the city from there.

For a fun trip out of town consider paying Elefantastic a visit. It’s located a few km outside Jaipur and houses rescued elephants, which you will get the opportunity to feed, wash, ride and even paint. It’s a fairly pricey day by Inidan standards at about 4500 Rupees but is certainly worth a visit if you’ve always wanted to get up close to one of nature’s most remarkable creatures.

A day with with elephants in Jaipur
Elephant Sanctuary just outside Jaipur

Pushkar

Pushkar is a a unique spiritual town built around a small lake 3 hours from Jaipur, which is home to the nearest airport. The lake is surrounded by temples and small ghats and it is a hugely significant place for Hindus. It is said to to be the seat of one of the Hindhu Holy Trinity – Brahma. Legend has it that the demon Vajra Nabha killed Brahma’s children here however Brahma fought back using a lotus flower (pushkar) as his weapon.

Steps leading down to the lake in Pushkar
A holy cow in one of the great holy cities in India, Pushkar.

Apart from being a really pretty place to hang around for a few days you can take cookery or yoga classes or head out on a camel safari. Pushkar is only very small but there are strict rules in the town where no meat or alcohol whatsoever is permitted. If you come during November be sure to check out the Pushkar Camel Fair, which takes over the town for 2 weeks around the full moon.


Jodhpur

The monster of a fort that perches over the city.
The monster of a fort that perches over the city.

‘The Blue City’ of Jodhpur is another essential backpacking destination in Rajasthan. You won’t need much more than a day or two here but it’s worth it just to go to the magnificent Mehrangarh Fort alone. It’s an enormous structure, brilliantly built so it merges with the top of a large hill that overlooks the city. With audio guides and better signposts it is a much more informative and interesting visit than some of the other forts in India including Jaipur’s Amber Fort which is fairly uninformative besides a few ‘security guards’ eager to make a tip by showing you where the king used to go to relieve his bowels.

Follow the walls of the fort round to the part facing Jodhpur and you get a sensational view of the Blue City and it becomes immediately obvious why and how it got its name. Hang around until the fort is about to close as dusk begins to set for the best views and some wonderful photo opportunities.

The Blue City!
The Blue City!

If you fancy taking the quick route down, take the exhilarating zip-line over the Luni River and back towards city level. It’s good fun and has bizarrely been given the seal of approval by London mayor and all-round buffoon Boris Johnson who was clearly more impressed with the zip-line than the rest of Jodhpur.

Boris loves ziplining
high praise indeed.

Udaipur

There is a different vibe to Udaipur from the other main cities on the Rajasthan travel trail. Built around several lakes, it was featured in the 13th James Bond film Octopussy, which predictably plays nightly in bars and cafes around town. As the sun sets over Udaipur’s lake and its glittering palaces, its not hard to see why it was chosen.

There is more than an air of mystery about the place and little can beat heading to one of the many rooftop restaurants, all with great views of the lake for a curry and a few drinks, while fully appreciating the beauty of the place.

Sunset over the lake in Udaipur
Sunset over the lake in Udaipur

Nuisance factor here doesn’t go much beyond the fact that there are seemingly 100’s of tailor shops trying to sell you a suit on the basis that they have a photo of Judi Dench visiting their store. If you are looking for a suit then be sure to shop around and preferably seek independent reviews of the quality of their goods and service.

Other than that it is a nice place to chill out for a few days, with all the main sights very close to each other and all easily accessible via a relaxing boat tour around the lake. Take a few days and appreciate perhaps the most naturally charming city in all of India.

Udaipur palace
Palaces galore in Udaipur

Jaisalmer

‘The Golden City’ as it is known due to it’s proximity to the desert is the final Western frontier for many travellers in India. It’s not far from the Pakistan border and you can get pretty close to it by taking a camel or jeep safari into the desert, which is one of the highlights of a visit to Jaisalmer. Trips range from just an afternoon to upwards of a week and it’s certainly worth doing an overnight trip for a bit of stargazing in the vastness of the Thar Desert.

There is another impressive fort here, which unlike most of the other ones in Rajasthan is still inhabited, which adds to its intrigue. It is also a great place to buy leather and silver jewelry but be warned bargaining is expected and the first price you are quoted is probably 4 times what the owner is prepared to sell it for so barter down as much as you can and pretend to lose interest and eventually you should get a fair price.

the desert in Jaisalmer
head into the wilderness of the Thar Desert

 


This article was published in October 2015


The definitive top 10 places to visit in Germany this summer

The definitive top 10 places to visit in Germany this summer

(Sponsored Post)

Plan your perfect German vacation

 With fairy tale landscapes, white beaches and cultural cities, Germany offers something for everyone. We’ve rounded up some of the best places to visit.

In comparison to its Mediterranean neighbours Spain and France, Germany is somewhat underrated as a holiday destination. However, with its stunning countryside, rich history and fascinating cities, Germany is actually a fantastic location for your next summer holiday. With so much variety, it can be difficult to decide where to go. We’ve put together a list of the top ten places you should visit in this beautiful country.

Rugen Island

Rugen Island in Germany

Germany is not traditionally associated with beach holidays, but Rugen Island in north eastern Germany offers visitors beautiful white sand beaches and charming seaside resorts. Away from the beach, the island has its own national park for you to explore, and each summer, visitors can experience the island’s theatre festival.

Berlin

Berlin has soared in popularity in recent years, earning itself a reputation as a hip, edgy city packed full of culture. The city has a wealth of galleries and museums to explore, including the five institutions located on ‘Museum Island’. Visitors can also get an insight into the city’s history by visiting famous landmarks such as the Reichstag and Brandenburg Gate. As well as history and culture, Berlin is also a great place for foodies and revellers alike, making it the perfect city break location.

Romantic Rhine

Rhein River in Germany

Between Bingen and Bonn, the Middle Rhine – or the Romantic Rhine as it’s commonly known – flows through the dramatic Rhine Gorge. With its stunning scenery, terraced vineyards, castles and medieval villages straight out of a fairy tale, it’s little wonder that the area has been designated as a UNESCO World Heritage Site. The best way to explore this beautiful part of Germany is with a riverboat cruise.

Cologne

Located on the banks of the River Rhine, Cologne is one of the most popular tourist destinations in Germany – and with good reason. The city is home to impressive landmarks including the famous gothic Cologne Cathedral and the Twelve Romanesque Churches. Cologne is also viewed as a cultural centre with a wide array of art galleries and museums, and, with its many bars and clubs, visitors will find plenty to do when the sun goes down.

Black Forest

If you love the great outdoors, head to the Black Forest near the borders of France and Switzerland. Its romantic setting inspired many of the Brothers Grimm’s fairy tales and it offers numerous opportunities for hiking, cycling and boating. Base yourself in the nearby famous spa town of Baden-Baden, or if you’re a fan of medieval architecture, head to the ancient university town of Freiberg.

Heidelberg

Heidelberg Castle

Located in south western Germany, the town of Heidelberg attracts thousands of visitors with its picturesque appearance and old-world charm. Heidelberg Old Town houses a number of historic treasures including the Church of the Holy Spirit, the medieval Old Bridge and the magnificent Heidelberg Castle which towers over the town. Heidelberg also offers a variety of nightlife options with more than 300 bars, pubs and clubs.

Schoenau am Koenigssee

Another great destination for active, outdoorsy travellers, Schoenau am Koenigssee in Bavaria offers amazing views of the Berchtesgaden Alps. Enjoy the scenery while hiking or mountain biking, or choose the more relaxing option of a boat trip on the clear, emerald waters of Koenigssee Lake. Don’t miss the opportunity to take a gondola ride to the top of Jenner Mountain for an unparalleled view of the stunning landscape.

Munich

Munich is perhaps most famous for the Oktoberfest festival which takes place each autumn. However, people visiting the city during the summer months will not be disappointed. A great destination for culture-vultures, Munich is home to many art galleries, theatres, royal palaces and historic churches, and its attractive city centre is the perfect blend of modern and traditional architecture.

Rothenburg

Rothenburg Germany

Rothenburg, with its preserved medieval old town, is popular with tourists from all around the world. Visitors can walk along the top of the city walls, or, alternatively, climb to the top of the 200 foot town hall tower for views of the entire town. For something a little different, those with a strong stomach should head to the slightly gruesome, yet extremely interesting, Medieval Crime Museum.

Seebad Heringsdorf

Another destination for beach lovers, Seebad Heringsdorf is a popular resort town on Usedom Island in Western Pomerania. One of three ‘Emperor’s Spas’, the area is known as the ‘Bathtub of Berlin’ and features long sandy beaches and scenic architecture. It has a history of attracting the upper classes and even royalty, including Emperor Wilhelm II.

With so many must-see destinations in Germany, it’s really difficult to narrow it down to just ten. Whether you want to spend your summer relaxing on a beach, exploring medieval villages, taking in the country’s rich culture, or hiking through the mountains, Germany really does have something for everyone.

 


This article was published in August 2015.


A Mystic Fool: Travels in Vietnam

Mystic Fool: Travels in Vietnam

I had the fortuitous timing to arrive in Vietnam during the culmination of the celebration of Tet, the Vietnamese new year. For Vietnamese, Tet probably has the importance of all the Western holidays rolled into one. Families spend time remembering their ancestors and offering to them incredible amounts of food, liquor, cigarettes, and whatever else Grandpa used to really enjoy. The items are placed on the family altars that are ubiquitous in Vietnam, and after a mystical period when their essence passes on to the ancestors in the spirit realm, they can then consume them.

This timing was a boon to anyone fascinated by Vietnamese traditions, but I wished I’d come in low season when I found myself enmeshed in a sea of motorbikes crossing the city’s broad boulevards. Inching through a seemingly impassible maelstrom of motorists, like a school of fish with fire-hot exhaust pipes, was not the most welcoming introduction to Ho Chi Minh City. Needless to say, every person in southern Vietnam seemed to be in the city then.

I crashed at a place offering a $5/night room in Pham Ngu Lao. It was so cozy that I could touch the walls on either side of my bed at the same time.

vietnam beachIn several days I tired of the hustle of Ho Chi Minh City and cast my eyes on the long coast leading to Hanoi, where I had a general plan of staying for a while. I blazed through the quaint coastal town of Mui Ne (right), spending a night in a youth hostel after a trek through town and some red snapper on the beach that I picked out of the tank myself.

My wanderings delivered me next to the former holiday refuge of the French colonials, Da Lat. The nearly alpine environment of that small settlement was what originally drew the Europeans to build vacation homes there, and it still has a feeling of being far removed from the jungles, tropical coasts, and chaotic cities of the rest of the country.

Da Lat is famous foremost for the strawberries, flowers, and other delectables that fill its vast sweeps of nurseries and sloping ridges. It is called “Le petit Paris,”and there is even a miniature Eiffel Tower there. Despite these attempts by the French to imprint upon it their own character, it has much of its own originality that attracted me.

One example is the Crazy House, a seemingly Alice in Wonderland-inspired array of rooms rising like a surreal dream out of the ground. Technically a guesthouse, it’s like a fairy tale on mescaline, a twisting and surprising trip of childhood fancy and playful anomaly.

hoi an vietnamPassing through the relatively uninteresting beach party of Nha Trang, I arrived in Hoi An (left), the entire old section of which is a UNESCO world heritage site. The architecture of the tiny winding streets has been magnificently preserved to appear as it did long ago, and is one of the most historical destinations in Southeast Asia.

After several days in Hue, the old imperial capital, I finally made it to Hanoi, a place that for years I had held as mythical, where it was my will to stay for a long time.

I arrived on an overcast morning after being up all night on the bus from Hue. Knowing nothing about the city’s geography other than that Hoan Kiem was the area I wanted to be in, I ended up walking for miles all over the city that first day, falling in love with it.

I was attracted to Hanoi like it was a living being, more so than any other place I had ever been. It was very seductive, in the facades on houses, the old men with painter’s hats bicycling down the street, and the grey cobblestone underneath. It felt very respectable, refined, yet enigmatic, enshrouded. There was a curious dichotomy to it. On the one hand there was the serenity of the lakes and parks, and on the other, the blitzkrieg whirlwind of people and motorbikes in the street. There was a palpable sense of reverence to history there. Under the shadow of glass and concrete high rises, on streets lit by neon, an ancient stillness refused to be edged away by the impulses of modernity.

I was swooned by its vibrancy. Out of such a turbulent past there seemed to be an immediacy, a poetic urgency to make a future capable of stability. I found the images I saw walking around to be intensely captivating and beautiful. Trees wildly draped themselves over rainy streets and fog hung in the air into midday. At Hoan Kiem lake, old people did tai chi, young lovers embraced surreptitiously, and others sat alone in the stillness that emanates from that mythic water.

hanoiI knew only the simple, everyday necessities of the language, but these coupled with a modicum of politeness rendered more toothy grins and warm handshakes than anywhere I had ever been. People are nice in their own way everywhere, but in Hanoi I found some of the most straightforward and hospitable people I have encountered anywhere.

Walking down the street in Hanoi was like a military exercise. With every step one has to guard against getting creamed by a motorbike, stepping on a family of chickens or an old woman’s foot, knocking over a cigarette vendor’s stock, falling into a hole in the ground, obstructing the path of a woman carrying baskets bulging with fruit, falling over a steaming cauldron of pho broth, or, dazed by these perpetual precautions, just slipping and falling the way one does in the course of a normal walk.

There was an unexpected fluidity to the chaos in the streets, and after a while I realized it wasn’t chaos, but a seamless order. When crossing the street, the best thing to do, I found, was to just walk right across as if it were empty. The barrage of motorists would zip effortlessly around like the water in a river around a stone. It’s a kind of order, a symbiotic disharmony that was remarkable to witness.

This is an extract from Andy Hill’s excellent travel novel ‘Mystic Fool’. It follows the adventures of a young man as he travels around South East Asia. It makes for an entertaining read that mixes humorous drink-fuelled debauchery with a spiritual journey as he learns about fascinating local cultures and himself.

You can find the book here on Amazon and it is available in paperback or on kindle.


This post was published in April 2013.


Backpacking in Yogyakarta

Temples, Lava & Gangs: This is Jogja!

yogyakarta train stationAs well as having a really cool name, Yogyakarta has much to wow even the most unimpressionable traveller. Vast ancient temples and ridiculously active volcanoes surround this friendly city which lies in the heart of Java, Indonesia’s most populous island. It’s easy to reach with good plane, train and bus links to the rest of this vast country and nicely breaks up the popular but long journey from Jakarta onwards to Eastern Java and Bali.

JOGJA!

Jogja (as it is affectionately known) may be first and foremost a base for exploring the surrounding area but it is also one of Indonesia’s most culturally and intellectually significant cities. It is also one of the oldest in the country and has various monuments and palaces from bygone eras that remain in good condition. The main attraction in town is the giant Kraton Complex, which includes the plush palace of a bloke known as Sri Sultan Hamengkubuwono X. There are various other Islamic sights and a few remnants of the colonial period when the Dutch ruled in Java. There are also many impressive art exhibitions and galleries that are worth a visit but they do sometimes try to pressure you into purchasing their items.

TEMPLES!

borobodurThere are two popular temple trips that you can do from Jogja. The enormous Borobudur temple (left) is the largest Buddhist monument in the world and probably the most visited sight in Indonesia. Further east are the equally impressive Hindu temples of Prambanan. There is also an open-air theatre inside the park with regular Javanese dance performances.

You can either leave at dawn or in the afternoon on organised trips or find your own way to the temples. The dawn trips may involve getting up ridiculously early but you’ll beat the crowds and the heat and will also see the temples at their most spectacular as the early morning mist rises. If you’re pushed for time it is possible to take a trip that includes both temple sites on the same day.

Be warned there is a somewhat extortionate extra $20 US fee for foreigners at Borobudur and $18 US at Prambanan that isn’t included in any tickets you buy in Jogja. You are also likely to be asked for photos with dozens of friendly if a little bit persistent Indonesian teenagers and children!

borobodur backpacking

LAVA!

One of the highlights of backpacking in Indonesia is the chance to get up close and personal with some of the world’s most violent volcanoes. While not everyone will agree with this sentiment (in case you hadn’t heard, they can be a bit dangerous), this is simply the best place in the world to witness a bit of volcanic activity.

There are several active volcanoes in the region but the most spectacular has to be Mount Merapi which can be viewed from the town on Kaliurang on its southern slope or Ketep, a pass that dissects the mountain and it’s near neighbour Mount Merbabu. Merapi erupted as recently as 2010 killing over 300 people and lava is almost constantly flowing down its slopes. It is possible to climb the mountain yourself but it’s safer to take the organised night-time trip from Jogja when the lava is most visible.

GANGS!

Yogyakarta’s backpacker area is conveniently located by the main train station and is just off the city’s main boulevard, Malioboro Street. The going rate for a cheap room here is around Rp100,000 and most of the accommodation is located off Jalan Sastrowijayan on two gangs (sidestreets & very safe) that run off it. They are imaginatively named Gang I and Gang II.

jogja gangsThere are various travel agencies on Sastrowijayan that all pretty much offer the same trips at the same price. Many of the guesthouses will also be able to hook you up with the temple/volcano trips. There’s also no shortage of pesky trishaw and moto-taxi drivers who congregate at the entrances to the gangs and will happily transport you anywhere around town. Agree a price before setting off! Another option is to rent a scooter which can work out cheaper than taking any of the organised trips.

There are a few decent bars and restaurants along Sastrowijayan, some of which offer really good live music but it’s not really a place for wild partying with many travellers setting off before sunrise on trips to the surrounding areas. It is however a biggish city so you can head off to other areas of town if you want to extend your night beyond midnight.

 

You can find up-to-date info and loads more things to do in and around Yogyakarta on Yogya Backpacker.

 


This article was published in January 2013.


Best Dishes to try in Thailand

5 Must Try Thai Dishes

a guest post by Sofia Angeli

thai food

When travelling to Thailand, one of the best things you can do is eat! In this country, you can enjoy all the lovely flavours in one bowl. I’m fortunate enough to be staying and travelling around Asia where I can always have access to Thai food. But of course, nothing beats getting them in the most authentic way possible – in the restaurants or food stalls in Bangkok’s busy streets.

And whenever I get the chance, these are the 5 dishes that I always indulge in.

Tom Yum Gung

This is the one that’s on top of my list. Maybe it’s because I’m a seafood lover. But maybe it’s also because it simply tastes amazing. It has an explosion of all the flavours that I like – sour, salty, spicy, sweet, and even creamy.

It’s a bowl of soup featuring shrimps and mushrooms and oozing with the Asian tastes of kaffir lime leaves, galangal and lemongrass. You can take it with coconut milk, which really makes it an incredible concoction. But if you want to stay away from the creamy ingredient, you can specify that when you order. You can tell that I prefer the original version.

Pad Thai

You’ll find various rice noodle recipes in most Asian countries, and this one’s a real favourite not just for me, but for many tourists. Imagine the tastes of bean sprouts, garlic, green onions, peanuts, scrambled egg, shrimps and tofu combined with the classic Thai seasoning combo of fish sauce, lime juice, sugar and chilli peppers.

You’ll find this treat everywhere in Thailand – from the outlets in luxury hotels to the street stalls. And it’s great as a meal or as an accompaniment to another Thai dish that you like.

Yam Plah Duk Foo

If you find it hard to memorize the local name of this dish, try “crispy catfish and green mango salad.” Because that is what this dish is all about. The fish and fruit are bonded by cilantro, lime, red onions, peanut sauce and sugar. The shredded catfish, by the way, is deep-fried so it’s light and crunchy – adding texture to the already incredible tastes of the dish.

This is a great appetizer to a main course of fried rice and some basil-flavoured chicken or seafood. Like all the other dishes here, you can find this in almost every food establishment in Bangkok and all over Thailand.

Gaeng Kiew Wan Gai

Here’s another challenge for the non-speakers of Thai. You can easily call it in English as green curry chicken. It’s often preferred by those who aren’t into the spicier type of Thai dishes.

Aside from chicken, it has lots of eggplant and some basil and kaffir lime leaves. The green curry paste is traditionally made from lemongrass, chillies, shallots, galangal, cilantro, basil, fish sauce and a host of spices.

You can also find green curry dishes with seafood or all vegetables, instead of chicken. But chicken is the more traditional one and is the most-loved by both locals and travellers.

Khao Niew Ma Muang

And I just have to have this dessert. It’s a perfect way to cap a meal, especially with dishes that are more on the spicy side. It looks like a small pillow of soft, sticky rice topped with ripe mangoes that Thailand is famous for. It’s drizzled with coconut cream for a final touch.

What’s great about these dishes is that you can find them in the menus of almost all commercial food shops in the country. It’s best to enjoy these treats in one of the restaurants or carts along the streets after a tiring shopping spree or a relaxing trip to an authentic Thai spa.

 

Read our Thailand backpacking route for more inspiration!


About the author

Sofia Angeli is a PR & communications consultant for companies in various industries. In particular, she brings her writing skills and passion for culture and travel to the online world, including cheapflights.com.au.

 


This article was published in February 2013.


Backpacking in Ho Chi Minh City

Saigon: Moto-City

Motorbikes in Vietnam

NOTE – This article is now over 5 years old. Some info may no longer be accurate.

Vietnam endured a troubled 20th Centrury in which it was first ruled by the French, before their final expulsion left the country split in two. A horrific civil war ensued which saw millions die. The country was finally united as a Socialist state in 1975 and has been ever since. Vietnam today is a fast growing nation of some 90 million people enjoying increasing economical and political power in the South East Asian region. Nowhere are the vast changes more evident than Ho Chi Minh City (aka Saigon) which is a great place to experience a modern and vibrant Asian city while also delving into the countries traumatic past.

Saigon & The Vietnam War

Reunification Palace tank in SaigonThe war began in 1955 with US forces becoming heavily involved throughout the 1960’s as they attempted to prevent the Communists in the North taking control of the entire country. Based in Saigon, the US and South Vietnamese forces fought a long guerrilla war in the region with the Viet Cong (a Communist group in the south). After suffering and inflicting heavy casualties, US troops withdrew in 1973. After the eventual fall of Saigon in April 1975, the city changed its name to Ho Chi Minh City in honour of the man who formed the Communist party. Vietnam remains a Socialist state to this day and visits to any of Vietnam’s war Museums and memorials will make it clear the administration has changed little over the past 35 years.

Reunification Palace

Once known as the Independence Palace (above), this was where the US and South Vietnamese leaders were based during the War. On 30th April 1975, the Communist forces stormed the palace bringing an end to the 19 year conflict. Quite deliberately, nothing has been changed inside the Palace since 1975 so it remains in something of a time warp. Only the gates outside that were destroyed have been replaced and it is now open to visitors and makes for a fascinating couple of hours.

War Remnants Museum

war museum SaigonThis museum houses some shocking photos of severely maimed people and those who have been left with or often born with serious disfigurements as a result of weapons and gases used during the war. Outside you will find captured US tanks and airplanes from the era. Some people do find the museum very upsetting but it does demonstrate the tragedies that took place during the Vietnam War. Unquestionably the US forces committed some atrocities in the region, however the museum gives a very one-sided and biased account of the events that took place.

Cu Chi Tunnels

If you find yourself backpacking in Ho Chi Minh City or nearby then half or full day tours to the Cu Chi Tunnels are a must-do. They are 40km out of town but can be organised by any of the agencies in Pham Ngu Lao. The tunnels were dug during the period of French occupation before being expanded during the Vietnam War (known as the American War in Vietnam). They provided the Cu Chi people with a strategic advantage. You may even get the chance to fire weapons here in the town which moved underground in the face of a heavy bombing campaign.

Check out our Vietnam backpacking Route for more on this incredible country!


HCMC today: The City of Motorbikes

motorbikes in SaigonToday Ho Chi Minh City is a bustling metropolis, home to some 7 million people. Almost the only way to get around is by motorbike. The traffic is completely bonkers and just trying to cross the road can be a terrifying process as there is almost never a gap in the traffic. Hop on a moto-taxi or if you’re especially brave hire out a bike and try to navigate your way away around Vietnam’s biggest city.

When backpacking in Vietnam it is impossible to escape the war but it is now a distant memory for most and American visitors are very unlikely to receive any hassle about it. Most Vietnamese are naturally friendly people and with a very young population this country is moving on up and developing at quite a rate. The city is made up of many numbered districts, each of which has their own feel. District 1, in the centre of the city is known as the French Quarter for example and this is reflected in the architecture. It is well worth hopping on a bike and heading out into some of the suburbs which are generally very safe for a true flavour of what life is like for the residents of this busy city.

 

Pham Ngu Lao: Saigon’s Backpacker Ghetto

Pham Ngu LaoThis is very much backpacker central in Ho Chi Minh City. It consists of two main roads and many little side streets connecting them. Here you will find an enormous choice of world cuisine with meals costing as little as US$2-3 (For up-to-date prices see our Vietnam backpacking budget). There are loads of budget accommodation options, laundrettes, bars and basically everything else that a backpacker might need. You won’t be able to walk 10 metres without being shouted at by one of the moto drivers which congregate in the area looking for foreign business. This can be an advantage as you will never have to wait to get a lift to where you’re going but also can get quite annoying after a while.

The bars in Pham Ngu Lao are good fun and tend to be cheaper and better than the ones in the rest of Central Saigon which charge Western Prices and attract an unpleasant mix of dirty old Westerners and teenage Vietnamese prostitutes.

 


This article was published in July 2011. 


 

Best Places to Stay in Cambodia

Best Places to Stay in Cambodia

Cambodia is one of the most popular destinations with travellers and many backpackers in Southeast Asia leave the region with fond memories of their time in the country. While the price of accommodation is very much to the liking of budget travellers, the quality can certainly sometimes be a little bit lacking unless you know where to look!

This article should hopefully help you find somewhere cheap in Cambodia’s main travel destinations without sacrificing on the bare essentials.

cambodia map

Here are some of the best places to stay in Cambodia:

Phnom Penh

phnom penh

The Phnom Penh skyline around the bustling Central Market.

The Cambodian capital has the widest choice of accommodation in the country and has some dirt cheap options. Most of them were in the slightly crazy Lakeside area near the Beoung Kak lake which was popular with travellers on the tightest of budgets. While the lake no longer exists, Guesthouses 10 and 11 as well as a few others are still there and offer basic rooms starting from $3 although don’t expect amazing facilities and certainly don’t count on hot showers!

The biggest hostel in the city with a lively social scene is The Mad Monkey Hostel. They have modern dorms as well as private rooms and offer a huge choice of tours and also have 3 bars and a restaurant. For solo travellers it’s the safest bet for finding somewhere modern, sociable and fun but still budget friendly.

There are plenty more cheap options in the centre close to the Central Market with prices starting from $4 or so but again the standard is variable. Other solid options with travellers looking to socialise include Velkommen Backpackers and Top Banana Guesthouse while Capitol 3 Guesthouse have cheap clean private rooms which may suit those seeking a bit more privacy.

Sihanoukville

Cambodia’s most famous beach destination has plenty of budget accommodation although some of the better options do sell out quickly during peak times. Sakal Bungalows offer everything from basic huts on the beach to better equipped air-con rooms with a nice sea view. If you’re looking to meet people then try The Led Zephyr Backstage Bungalows which have several bungalows that act as dorms from $4 a night and generally receive excellent reviews.

If you want to get away from the increasingly commercialised centre then Cinderellas Dive Resort & Beach Bungalows on Otres Beach provide a quieter alternative with beachfront accommodation from $6.

Kampot

mad monkey hostel in kampot

Pictured above – The Mad Monkey Hostel in Kampot.

Just a short journey from Sihanoukville and conveniently located for the beautiful Bokor National Park is Kampot. It’s quite easy to find a budget room in town as it is very small and the imaginatively named ‘Guesthouse Street’ has many offerings that cater to foreigners. Popular options there include the Magic Sponge and Blissful Guesthouse with prices starting from $3 for dorms and $4/5 for private rooms.

There is also a Mad Monkey hostel in Kampot which is one of the best places to stay in Cambodia. It is located on the riverside and boasts one of the few swimming pools in the town which can be a welcome relief from the heat.

Battambang

The riverside town is a good place to get to experience what life is really like for Cambodians and there are some interesting homestay and community options. BOVA (Battambang Orphanage Village Assistance) Village Homestay is a bit more expensive than most of the options featured here with rooms costing $12 but it includes the chance to eat Khmer cuisine and live with a local family. You can also provide some much needed help at the local orphanage so it’s a nice way to get involved with locals and make a positive contribution to the lives of young Cambodian orphans.

Contact sophornbb@yahoo.com for info.

If you just want cheap and friendly then try Tomato Guest House were beds start at just $2! Somewhat obviously you shouldn’t expect the height of luxury though.

Siem Reap

siem reap

You can help the local communities by supporting the Mad Monkey Clean Water project.

Located close to Angkor Wat, Siem Reap receives hordes of new backpackers every day so there are plenty of budget places to eat, sleep and drink. Beds start again at just a few dollars a night and private rooms can be found for as little as $5.

The Mad Monkey in Siem Reap boasts a rooftop pool bar and has plenty of fun events and trips to get involved with. You can also help support their important community based projects in and around the town.

Garden Village Guesthouse & Hostel is another sociable option. There are also plenty of small guesthouses close to Pub Street and the Night Market that can’t be booked in advance but be sure to ask to see the rooms before handing over any money. Also be wary of tuk-tuk and moto drivers who try to take you to specific guesthouses as they are working on commission. Either tell them exactly which hostel you want to go to or get off at Pub Street and find somewhere yourself.


This article was first published in February 2015.


Best Places in Gili Trawangan to Get a Drink

Best Places in Gili Trawangan to Get a Drink

A Guest Post by Heather Sinclair

gili Trawangan beach

Gili Trawangan is the largest of three small islands off the coast of Lombok, Indonesia. Backpackers have flocked to this island since the early nineties, where the sound of screeching bike brakes and the clip clop of horse-drawn carts replaces honking horns and screeching tires.

During the day, tourists SCUBA dive, stand-up paddle board, or relax on a white sand beach. At night the island changes: backpackers know Gili Trawangan as a party island, and there is no lack of places to wet your whistle.

Finding a place to drink on Gili Trawangan’s main street isn’t a problem, because every other building is a bar. To help you narrow your choices, here are three of the most happening places with cheap drinks to get you started:

Tir Na Nog the Irish Bar

irish bar Gili T

Sunday is Ladies Night, which means it’s half price drinks for everybody (figure that one out). Tir Na Nog (called “Irish” by locals) is notoriously expensive (ha!) at 47,000 IDR ($3.75 USD) for a local Bintang beer. Besides Bintang, you can get imported beers and spirits that aren’t available at other establishments. The place is huge, and hugely popular, not just on Sundays.

Lava

Bumping up against the beach, this venue is basically a wooden platform with a bar and some tables and chairs. Relax on a stool at one of the tables, or ease into one of the bean bag chairs near the firepit. When you get bored of watching the movie screen continually showing indie music videos and Red Bull stunts, look up and see if the fire dancer is doing his thing on the roof of the bar.

Sama Sama

On Gili Trawangan Bob Marley tunes come out of restaurants, convenience stores, and…well…anything that plays music. If you’re not tired of reggae tunes, Sama Sama has live reggae bands and a dance floor for when you’re feeling energetic. It’s guaranteed you’ll hear more Bob Marley, but this time it comes with a performance. Find a table near the dance floor or hop up on a stool at the long tables closer to the bar and suck down some Bintangs while you make new friends.

gili t main street

Main Street on Gili T


heather sinclair

Author Bio

Heather’s passion for travel compelled her to change careers, and start writing to encourage anyone who feels stuck in their life to find their fulfillment with travel. Among Heather’s loves are yoga, scuba diving, and exploring the world.

Come on over and say hi at thetraveltype.com or find me on Facebook or Google+.

 

 


This article was published in March 2015.


Backpackers Guide to Cambodia: Understand the Cambodian Genocide

Cambodia: Witness the Horrors of Pol Pot

Country Guide | Temples of Angkor Wat | Cambodian Genocide | Phnom Penh’s Lakeside

NOTE – This article was published in 2011. Some info may no longer be accurate.

Background: Pol Pot & The Khmer Rouge

The Khmer Rouge were a Communist group which rose to power in the aftermath of the Vietnam War which had a devastating effect on Cambodia, leading to some 2 million refugees and the danger of a huge famine. Led by Pol Pot many hoped the regime would lead to a fairer more peaceful era for the Khmer people. Tragically though around a quarter of the 8 million population died from execution, overwork and starvation. Ethnic minorities and those in the skilled professions such as doctors and teachers were targeted in a horrific genocide. It is impossible to underestimate the brutality and shocking nature of this 4 year episode which the world turned a blind eye to and no-one has ever been brought to justice for. The Vietnamese invaded to put an end to the regime in 1978, but this was by no means the end of the Khmer Rouge influence in the country, often supported in the 1980’s by powerful western nations.

Today while the Khmer Rouge has gone and the world is no longer turning a blind eye to what happened, the descendants of those who ruled then are still among the wealthy elite. Their are two main sites in and around the capital open to visitors relating to the genocide that took place and both will give you a detailed account of what took place here. Visiting the killing fields and Tuol Sleng Prison is a must for anyone who wants to learn more about the genocide.

Tuol Sleng Prison

Tuol Sleng Prison Phnom PenhThis is the prison in the centre of town where the Khmer Rouge tortured thousands before sending them to be slaughtered at Choeung Ek. Originally a high school, the building was turned into a prison and torture house by the Khmer Rouge after their rise to power. Various gruesome methods of torture were used to extract often fake confessions. Around 20,000 people were held here between 1975 and 1979 including many foreigners. This was also the site of many executions, before the more remote fields at Choeung Ek became the primary location for executions.

Now a genocide museum, It receives many visitors from abroad and from local schoolchildren. It contains photos of the victims, methods of torture and a detailed history of the events that took place here and across the country in the late 1970’s.Easy enough to walk to from the centre or get a moto ride for under a $1. Entry is $2, open daily 8am-5pm.

Visiting The Killing Fields, Choeung Ek

mass grave in cambodia

The killing fields of Choeung Ek is the site where 17,000 men, women and children were brutally executed by the Khmer Rouge. There have been in fact over 300 mass graves discovered, so this is just one of the many ‘killing fields’ across the country. It is now a memorial to the victims with a small museum. A Buddhist stupa contains the skulls of around 5000 victims, while you can walk around the fields where human bones are still very visible.

Cycle or ask any tuk-tuk or moto taxi driver to take you out to the Killing Fields, just outside of Phnom Penh. $5 should be enough for a return trip (they wait at the gates till you’ve finished). Entry is $2, you are expected to buy a flower to place at the foot of the white monument containing the skulls, before starting your visit. Open 7am-5:30pm, allow 1-2 hours to see it all.

It is pretty grim and some would argue that this kind of tourism is wrong, but it’s undoubtedly somewhere you need to visit to understand the horrors that took place in Cambodia. Needless to say you should behave in a respectful and dignified manner at all times while here. Take off your shoes before entering the memorial stupa.

 

Country Guide | Temples of Angkor Wat | Cambodian Genocide | Phnom Penh’s Lakeside


This article was published in June 2011.