Category Archives: Travel

The best nights out in Southeast Asia

With eternal summer, thousands of kilometres of beaches and affordable prices, Southeast Asia is the perfect destination if you’re planning a trip around nightlife.

Truth be told, the region’s party reputation has been greatly tarnished by the excesses of Ko Pha Ngan’s full moon parties and drug- and alcohol-fuelled incidents at Vang Vieng’s tubing bars, Laos’ backpacker central. Yet the real picture is far from this portrayal of a gap-year-fool’s playground.

Southeast Asian nights hide many more vibrant and authentic experiences. Here are a few of the best.

 

1. Dive into Kuala Lumpur‘s music scene, Malaysia

Apart for the well-known Bukit Bintang, Bangsar and TREC entertainment districts, the Malaysian capital hides a polyhedric music scene. Around the Golden Triangle, you can start from ZOUK‘s trance and R&B-filled rooms to No Black Tie’s classy jazz ambience.

In the outskirts, Petaling Jaya’s Merdekarya hosts one-man-band blues wails, while Ampang’s Rumah Api and rehearsal space Live Fact are underground venues for alternative, metal and punk bands.

 

2. Sample Ho Chi Minh City‘s bars, Vietnam

When the sun goes down, the bustling energy of southern Vietnam’s megalopolis transfers to its many clubs and bars. Atmospheric rooftop lounges like Chill Sky Bar stay open until late, and besides drinking, there’s a small but exciting music scene to check out.

Acoustic Bar in District 3 has pop-rock cover bands, while Carmen in District 1 offers an odd selection of Spanish flamenco played by skilled Vietnamese musicians.

For a casual good time, the plastic tables along Bui Vien – also known as ‘Beer Street’ – in backpacker central Pham Ngu Lao are a must.

 

3. Take a bite of the Big Mango in Bangkok, Thailand

Bangkok never sleeps: the whole Sukhumvit strip, from Asoke to Thong Lor and Ekkamai, boasts every imaginable type of club, including an Arab quarter filled with restaurants and shisha bars.

The Khaosan Road area, Bangkok’s backpacker haunt, is where young Thais go to dance and drink, while the RCA (Royal City Avenue) area, Bangkok’s biggest nightlife district, is where well-heeled Thais and celebrities uncork expensive whisky bottles.

Alternative Bangkok haunts  include hostel-cum-bar the Overstay, who throw electro-dance parties and underground rock gigs, while Fatty’s and Immortal Bar host local and visiting punk and metal bands.

Beautiful places in Vietnam

Here at Rough Guides we’ve always known that Vietnam is magical. The gleaming skyscrapers of the country’s booming cities have a singular kind of beauty that shouldn’t be overlooked, but it’s the natural landscape that is truly breathtaking. Picture rice terraces carved into steep hillsides, market days that are a riot of colour, limestone peaks jutting out from azure waters and white-sand beaches stretching for miles. Here are the most beautiful places in Vietnam – as voted for by our readers.

 

1. Cat Ba

Although the low-slung harbour town doesn’t have all that much – except location – to recommend it, the rest of the island is rocky and wild and begging to be explored. Half of Cat Ba is verdant national park and it’s a paradise for travellers who come here to hike, climb and kayak (the waters and coral reefs are protected too). For jaw-dropping views across Ha Long Bay, head up to Cannon Fort.

 

2. Da Lat

Nestled in Vietnam’s central highlands, Da Lat is a quintessential hill station centred on pretty Lake Xuan Huong, whose shore is lined with pine trees. Dotted with French Colonial-era villas and blessed with a cool and temperate climate, this is the Vietnamese honeymoon destination – an air of kitsch only adds to the genteel atmosphere.

 

3. Da Nang

A surprise entry in this poll, the modern riverside city of Da Nang is increasingly making it onto every traveller’s must-see list. It’s particularly attractive after dark when the neon light spills across the Han River; on weekend nights the quirky Dragon Bridge is illuminated and, astonishingly, it breathes fire. East of the city, a seemingly never-ending stretch of sandy beach extends 30km to Hoi An.

Safari safely and ethically

‘Safari’ traditionally means journey in Swahili, but the word now describes the ultimate bucket-list trip to discover Africa’s wondrous wildlife. Yet today, that wildlife seems increasingly vulnerable, so how do you ensure your safari will be both safe and ethically sound?

 

Start with a good safari operator

A good safari operator is key to a good safari. Research well and check the company’s ethical credentials: do they use local staff and guides? How do they help communities? Are they involved with conservation initiatives?

With a bewildering array of safari options and complex logistics, it can be a false economy to book independently: specialist operators have invaluable insider knowledge and often better rates. Websites like safaribookings.com are a good place to start, and offer helpful customer reviews of hundreds of operators and the tours they offer.

 

Stay safe on the road

On game drives, remember wildlife is still wild, even if the lions or elephants you spot seem unperturbed by 4x4s surrounding them. Stick to responsible safari etiquette: stay in your vehicle, don’t stress the animals, don’t stand up or move suddenly, don’t let your driver get too close or go off-road hoping for a better tip, and definitely don’t litter.

Get closer to nature on an exhilarating walking safari: you’ll be accompanied by an armed ranger but the gun is only ever intended as a last resort. Make sure it doesn’t need to be used by always obeying your guide’s instructions, walking quietly in single file, and never ever run – by doing so, you act like prey, and predators will act accordingly.

Most safari destinations, with the exception of parts of Namibia and South Africa, are malarial – use prophylaxes and insect repellent, and if you’re on a budget trip, you may need your own mosquito net. Avoid wearing blue and black since these colours attract tsetse flies – they have a nasty nip similar to a horse fly and can cause sleeping sickness.

Best podcasts to listen when you are traveling

Like it or not, podcasts are the ultimate travel companion of 2017. Whether you want to get gripped by a psychological drama with a Hollywood cast, nerd up on unbelievable facts, learn a brand new language or just have a good old fashioned belly-laugh, there’s a podcast out there for every traveller.

In fact we at Rough Guides are delighted to announce that today, we are entering the podcast-iverse with our brand new show The Rough Guide to Everywhere, featuring conversations with adventurers, comedians and eccentrics about their travel stories from around the world. You can listen to the first episode on Soundcloud here, and subscribe on iTunes or your favoured podcast app.

Here are nine other podcasts that will bring colour, inspiration and laughs to those occasional lonely or boring moments on the road.

 

1. If you’re a first-timer: Serial (series one)

For tens of millions of people, Serial was a deliciously addictive gateway drug into the world of podcasts. In the first series, launched back in 2014, investigative journalist Sarah Koenig delved into the mysterious 1999 murder of 18-year-old Hae Min Lee. It’s a true story, narrated with flair and compassion that will leave you yearning for answers.

 

2. If you like eavesdropping on funny conversations: The Adam Buxton Podcast

Dr Buckles is the undisputed duke of British podcasting; only he can make you laugh and cry with equal velocity in the space of one episode. His intimate, honest interviews leave you feeling like you’re listening in on a chat between old friends – which is often the case; Richard Ayoade, Louis Theroux and Sarah Pascoe are a few pals who have appeared on the show.

 

3. If you’ve ever thought about escaping to a desert island: Desert Island Discs

Simply one of the best podcasts out there, regardless of whether you’re on a desert island or not. In each episode, host Kirsty Young asks guests (or ‘castaways’) to choose the eight records they would take with them if they were stranded on a desert island. The BBC has put thousands of archive episodes online, with Louis Armstrong (1968), John Peel (1990) and Yoko Ono (2007) being a few of the landmark interviews.

All about America that you need to know

A land of ancient ruins, soaring Andean peaks and sweltering, seemingly endless jungle, South America is a true treat for the adventurous traveller.

Covered with sights that give testimony to the continent’s chaotic yet captivating history, across a series of nations as unique as they are huge, this is a region where few are disappointed – and many can’t help but return. If you’re planning a solo trip in South America, here’s everything you need to know.

 

The must-see destinations

The once Inca capital of Cusco is the gateway to the continent’s prime destination: Machu Picchu. Trek the paved path of the classic Inca Trail through lofty peaks and cloud forest, or escape the crowds along the increasingly popular Salkantay or Lares treks that take longer – and more remote – routes to these magnificent ruins.

In the south, Patagonia has become synonymous with world-class hiking, particularly in Chile’s Torres del Paine and Argentina’s Los Glaciares national parks, while Bolivia’s Salar de Uyuni, the world’s largest salt flats, are an incomparable sight at dawn.

At the heart of South America, the Amazon rainforest draws visitors in their droves, all keen to spot a yawning caiman or one of the jungle’s most elusive residents, the jaguar. Sling up a hammock on a river boat journey, take a tour from Iquitos in Peru, or explore the wilderness surrounding the Brazilian city of Manaus.

But it’s not all about the countryside in South America. Encounter graceful colonial architecture in the Ecuadorian capital, Quito, and learn to tango in the sultry streets of ‘The Paris of South America”, Buenos Aires. If samba, caipirinhas and hedonism are more your style, join the ultimate Brazilian party at Rio de Janeiro’s famous carnival celebrations.

 

Getting around

Covering over 17.8 million square kilometres, the continent is best explored by focusing on a few countries at a time, particularly as domestic and international flights are expensive unless booked well in advance.

Many budget travellers take the local approach and journey by bus. Although the quality varies between countries, overnight buses are an affordable means of travelling and help to save cash on accommodation.

Inspiring architectural wonders

From ancient temples to hyper-modern skyscrapers, these are just a few of the world’s most incredible architectural wonders. Whether you’re looking to wander lost ruins or explore lavish palaces, you’ll find inspiration here.

 

1. The Alhambra, Spain

Towering out of an elm-wooded hillside above Granada, a snowy Sierra Nevada behind, there are few more iconic images of Spain than the ochre-tinted enclave of the Alhambra. Over five thousand visitors wander through the restored complex every day. No amount of words, however, can approximate the sensual charge of seeing the Palacios Nazaríes, the best preserved palace of the Nasrid dynasty, for the first time.

 

2. Baalbek, Lebanon

One of the wonders of the ancient world, the Roman archeological site of Baalbek – a place that, in the words of Robert Byron, “dwarfs New York into a home of ants” – holds awe-inspiring temples, porticoes, courtyards and palatial stone stairways. The Greeks and Romans called it Heliopolis, “The City of the Sun”, a name it shares with another great Classical city in Egypt – but this phenomenal site has no equals.

 

3. Burj al Arab, Dubai, UAE

Dubai is a desert turned Disney. What was once a sleepy fishing village is now a futuristic cybercity, with sparkling skyscrapers, shopping malls, water parks, golf courses and hotels so flashy that Elton John would be proud to call them home. The iconic Burj Al Arab is a striking 28-storey symbol of new-world bling. One of the tallest hotels in the world, the gleaming building is built on an artificial island, 280m from the mainland, and is shaped like a huge billowing sail.

Things you need to know before you go in Portugal

With its stunning beaches, friendly people, unspoilt countryside and tasty local cuisine, Portugal is, unsurprisingly, one of Europe’s most popular travel destinations. If you’re planning a trip, here are 10 tips from Matthew Hancock, co-author of The Rough Guide to Portugal, to help you find the most authentic parts of the country, escape the crowds and get even more for your euros.

 

1. Go out of season

While it’s true that parts of Portugal – Lisbon and the Algarve beaches in particular – can be overcrowded and busy in high summer, they are surprisingly quiet out of season.

Autumn is a lovely time to visit – the sea is at its warmest (the Algarve average water temperature in October is 21˚C) while the sun still shines for an average of seven hours a day.

Most Portuguese assert that the sea is far too cold outside the self-imposed “swimming season” (usually just July and August), leaving the beaches more or less empty in the shoulder seasons.

 

2. Venture off the beaten track

In Portugal it pays to get off the tourist trail. Head inland to the border region, where fortified castle towns such as Marvão and Estremoz loom over the surrounding plains, and storks nest in spring above the olive and orange groves.

In autumn, go north to the Douro vineyards, where the vines are bursting with grapes – you can even join in with the harvest and grape-stomping at some wine estates.

If you just want some sun and swimming, head to the coasts of the Alentejo, the Centro district or the west coast of the Algarve, where the long sandy beaches are still relatively undeveloped.

 

3. Eat and drink like the locals

Portuguese food and drinks are usually excellent quality and very good value, so stick to ordering what is grown, caught or made locally. You’ll find a fine array of fresh fish and seafood everywhere, while Portuguese pork and local cheeses are hugely underrated.

The local house wine will almost certainly be excellent. Local beers and spirits will cost around half the price (and taste pretty much the same) as the branded international equivalents.

Best European city breaks with rural escapes

City breaks can be hard to plan. You want it all – art, culture, quirky hotels, top restaurants – but also the chance to relax. Fortunately, there some cities where you can find both. These eight European destinations don’t skimp on urban culture, and have nature on their doorstep for when you need a breath of fresh air.

 

1. Reykjavík, Iceland

Reykjavík is the ultimate city-and-nature destination. This diminutive capital brims with Nordic-chic boutiques and cool hotels, yet lies just a few hours’ drive from the country’s most earth-shatteringly gorgeous landscapes.

Catch a ferry out to the islands of Viðey, Lundey or Akurey to see thousands of breeding puffins; hike up the “city mountain” Mount Esja; and explore still-active Eyjafjallajökull volcano, just 90 minutes outside of town.

You can also use Reykjavík as your base before embarking on the famous “Golden Circle“. This route encompasses the geysers at Geysir and roaring waterfalls at Gullfoss, with bathing opportunities in thermal pools such as Fluðir or Laugarvatn along the way.

Back in the city, make time for Reykjavík’s growing number of innovative restaurants, many of which use locally sourced ingredients such as cloudberries or lamb. Try Michelin-starred DILL or the more affordable Sjávarbarinn for freshly caught seafood.

 

2. Munich, Germany

You’ll find some of Germany’s most beautiful architecture in Munich, Bavaria’s historic capital. Start by exploring the fifteenth-century Gothic Frauenkirche, or climb the tower of St Peterskirche, the oldest church in the city, for unparalleled views over the rooftops.

Other worthwhile sights include the Pinakothek trio, three galleries each dedicated to a different era of art, the futuristic BMW museum and Schloss Nymphenburg on the outskirts of the city.

Munich’s green heart is the Englischer Garten, one of Europe’s largest urban parks, designed by Sir Benjamin Thompson in 1789. If you’re looking to explore further afield, hire a bike and spend a day cycling south along the river Isar, detouring to the lakes of Sternbergersee or Ammersee for a spot of swimming.

Alternatively, head north and you’ll find yourself on more rugged trails through forested areas. All S-Bahn, underground and regional railways take bikes, so you don’t have to worry too much about the return journey.

 

3. Oslo, Norway

Oslo might be Norway’s largest city, but its ever-present waterfront – opening out onto Oslofjord – will lure you away from the centre in no time at all.

The best way to explore this island-studded channel is on a kayak tour, taking you close to lighthouses, nesting birds and small beaches from which you can swim or picnic before paddling back to the marina.

Off the water, make time for Oslo’s world-class restaurants – Maaemo has three Michelin stars – and some excellent museums, including the fascinating Nobel Center and National Museum, home of Edvard Munch’s Scream.

Romantic places for visit

Whether you’re looking for a beautiful beach to share a sundowner on, or you want to get lost in each other amongst the bustle of a city, these are the best places around the world for a spot of romancing.

 

The Seychelles

With verdant rainforest stretching down to dazzling white-sand beaches and warm azure seas, it’s no surprise that the islands of the Seychelles are such an intoxicating destination. Home to a number of intimate (and often exclusive) resorts – not least on beautiful La Digue island – this is undoubtedly a honeymooner’s paradise.

 

Jukkasjärvi, Sweden

Constructed afresh each winter, the IceHotel is just as much an art project as it is somewhere to spend the night. Situated in Swedish Lapland, 200km north of the Arctic Circle, this is more than just an unusual place to stay (and snuggle up); it’s also an amazing spot from which to see one of the most astounding natural phenomena – the Northern Lights.

 

The Lake District, England

With sixteen major lakes squeezed between England’s highest mountains – and set within a mere thirty-mile area – the Lake District deserves all its hype. This is the place for long walks, picturesque villages and breathtaking scenery – and fantastic pubs in which to cosy up at the end of a day exploring.

Traveling in India with train is great too

The Himalayan Queen, the Grand Trunk Express, the Deccan Odyssey… the very names of India’s trains are evocative of timeless style and old-school adventure.

Introduced by the British East India Company, tracks were first laid across the country in the late 1800s to transport troops. Only after independence in 1947 did the focus switch to passenger trains – now, Indian Railways is the biggest employer in the country.

Today, there’s always an element of adventure to a journey on the rails. Here’s everything you need to know before travelling by train in India.

 

1. Book in advance

Booking opens 60 days before travel, and long-distance trains get filled up quickly, meaning that only the shortest journeys can be organized on the day. It’s often possible to book at your hotel reception, but be aware that you may have to pay a small “admin” fee.

If you organize your trip at a train station, avoid any touts, head straight for the booking desk and leave yourself plenty of time – it’s not the fastest system in the world.

You can also book online, though it’s not as simple is click and pay. First, you’ll need to create an account on IRCTC (Indian Railways’ official website), which will require an Indian phone number for confirmation. You can get around this by emailing the company with a photocopy of your passport.

Once you have your IRCTC login, you may find the website a little clunky, so it’s much easier to use another travel booking site such as Cleartrip to actually buy your tickets (you’ll still need to enter your IRCTC login details at payment stage).

 

2. Don’t panic if your ticket says “Waitlisted”

If there are no tickets available at the time of booking, you’ll be given a reserve ticket, either “RAC Waitlist” or “Waitlist”.

With an “RAC” (reservation against cancellation) ticket, you can board the train, though you might not get the seat/class you were after. The ticket will be confirmed if enough people cancel and, as many people book far in advance, there is a high chance of this happening.

“Waitlist” means that all confirmed and RAC tickets have been sold. You’ll get a number with your waitlisted ticket – if your number is lower than ten, there’s a good chance that your ticket will be confirmed. To find out whether you have got a seat on the train, you can check at the station on the day, where you’ll find a seating chart posted up on the station notice board, or look online to see whether your status has changed.

 

3. Pick your class carefully

Indian trains are generally divided into eight classes – though they are not all available on all trains (it usually depends on the distance and line you’re travelling on).

There are three air-conditioned sleeper classes: AC1 (first class) is the most expensive, with four-bed booths, but most tourists choose AC2 (two-tier bunks) or AC3 (three-tier bunks) for long or overnight journeys.

These three classes offer a blanket, sheet and pillow for the journey and have fold-out bunks so you can get some decent shuteye. With two-tier bunks, AC2 is a little quieter and more comfortable than AC3; choose a side berth for the best window view or a top bunk in the main berth for the greatest chance of sleep.

SL (sleeper class) is cheaper but, ironically, you may not get that much sleep. Seating is arranged in open berths with three tiers of bunks, but bedding isn’t provided. While it is a reserved carriage, there tend to be more people than bunks. Although it gets quite crowded, sleeper class is actually a great option for daytime journeys, as it tends to be quite sociable.