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If you’re hungry for variety in your travels, Thailand is your country. Visitors in search of big-city bustle, colorful produce and flower markets, and street food galore go to Bangkok. Partiers, backpackers, and sun worshippers head south to the islands. And outdoorsy types, and those simply in search of some fresh air and quiet, go north, to the mountainous region around the city of Chiang Mai.
Covered in both jungle and alpine forest — not a contradiction in terms — this area offers rice paddy-covered mountains, elephant sanctuaries, gilded temples (if you haven’t had your fill in Bangkok), and even opportunities to visit and stay with families via new community-based tourism efforts.
We recently spent some time in tourist-free Doi Inthanon National Park, which is about a two-hour drive southwest of Chiang Mai. Here’s a sampling of some things you can do and see in this area, all of which can be accomplished in a day trip with a rental car. Pay the 200 baht (about $6.25) entry fee; pack a sweater, comfortable shoes, and some rain gear; and you’re set for the day.
Bangkok is a renowned shopping destination, and for good reason. With everything from rambling night bazaars to high-rise shopping centers, nearly any kind of shopper can find a good way to unload their baht. But travelers who go outside their home country in search of a true bargain on well-known goods are often disappointed. iPhones cost the same all over the world. H&M carries the same dresses in Shanghai as it does in your local mall, and whether you’re paying euros or pesos, it all costs about the same. The same is mostly true in Bangkok.
But there may very well be a way to score a great deal, even on big-ticket, brand name items in this shopping mecca. You just have to know when to go, and what to look for. We scoured a major Bankok shopping center and did some research. Here are a few pointers.
“Cheap” and “private island.” There’s no way those two words go together, right? Only billionaire investors and Brad Pitt vacation on their own exotic paradise.
To be the bearer of great news, we’re happy to share that, actually, you can possibly afford a wee vacation on your very own island — no crowded resorts or overpriced mojitos.
Relaxation takes form in all shapes and sizes. To some, an afternoon coffee with a pastry eases away the tension better than a full-body massage. To others, being pricked in the back with dozens of needles does the trick. From skin-eating fish to dives into icy lakes, here are some of the varied techniques you can seek out on your next travels.
Japan: Sake Bath
First practiced by Japanese geishas to decrease the appearance of age and skin spots, thousands of Japanese men and women continue to experience the healing effects of the rice wine’s kojic acids, which smooth and hydrate the skin. Sake also contains a healthy mix of ginger and pine extracts that’s proven to relax muscles (or is that just the alcohol talking?) and help breathing. Japan’s Yunessun Spa Resort, 50 miles southwest of Tokyo, invites guests to soak in their giant pool of sake — or try their red wine, coffee, or green tea baths — for an all-inclusive entry fee of ¥2,800 ($28).
Last month, a report claimed that a fifth of the 720 UNESCO World Heritage Sites could be at risk of drowning due to climate change and rising sea levels. In the spirit of not taking these sites for granted, we’ve rounded up a few of the landmarks on the list that may not be as well known as the Leaning Tower of Pisa or the Statue of Liberty – but are just as stunning and worthy of any traveler’s bucket list. See them while they still exist…
Kinderdijk-Elshout Mill Network, Netherlands
Kinderdijk, a low-lying town in the Netherlands, had been kept dry since the 1940s by a network of 19 windmills together with more modern pumping stations, storage basins, and sluices. The risk of flooding for the still-operational mills is obvious. While you can, we highly encourage driving along the neighboring trail – it feels like stepping onto the set of a perfectly scenic Dutch movie. Read more
Whether it’s a packed cruise ship unloading throngs of boisterous passengers, or a mob of thirty college students tearing through town, an excess of tourists can make a destination go from in-demand to insufferable, just like that. Consider avoiding these played-out locales and shift your attention to nearby spots that are lesser-known, and more worthy of the term “vacation.”
On vacation, we tend to keep different schedules. That’s why, at 1 a.m., with all the regular restaurants closed and the bar having stopped serving food, you may decide you’re ready for dinner number two. Offering unique insight into local culture, late-night eats can enhance your travel experience as much as they can satisfy your craving. For a few bucks, you can fill up on local dishes like tacos, oyster omelets, and crepes, and get a candid glimpse into a city’s after-hours culture. Every country has a specialty; here are the best bites served past midnight in cities all over the world. Read more
Whether you’re looking for a tropical escape or windswept remoteness, the following destinations are perfect for island-hopping. From there, your biggest challenge is choosing your favorite beach…
Inner and Outer Hebrides, Scotland
Despite their wild and remote image, getting around these archipelagos in western Scotland can be straightforward. A few of the most accessible islands include Skye, where the geologically diverse landscape includes lochs (lakes), forests, and glens (valley) and Islay, with its whiskey distilleries. Iona has white sandy beaches, and Lewis has mysterious standing stones. Ferry operator Caledonian MacBrayne runs services to 22 islands, most year-round. Visitors planning to travel extensively around the islands can purchase an Island-Hopping pass, which can save you some money. For example, one pass includes ferry rides from the mainland and to the islands of Skye, Harris, and Lewis, and back to the mainland. For car and passenger, the pass costs $30 per person in the summer ($28, or $56 total, in the winter). By comparison, the total price for a car and passenger making the same trip by buying single tickets would be $202 in the summer.
When it comes to Americans making their way to Southeast Asia, there are often two costs that they consider carefully before making a single reservation. The first is the literal cost of the trip in dollars; and the second, and perhaps an even bigger barrier for some, is the “time cost” that it takes to get there. It’s one thing to pay close to $1,500, but when the total travel time approaches the 24-hour mark (as it does in the case of Malaysia), that can cause some travelers to skip Asia as a travel option altogether.
The good news is that Southeast Asia is trying – really trying – to make it easier on tourists who travel long distances by uniting its ten member countries into a single destination. (The tagline “Ten Countries, One Destination” has been officially coined.) From new rail lines to pedestrian bridges to the deregulation of the airline industry, these integrative measures are all part of the ASEAN Tourism Strategic Plan, which aims to significantly increase the number of international visitors to the continent by 2015.
Here are a few ways upcoming projects will save you time, money, or both, as you plot your excursion to Southeast Asia: Read more
Traveling in Asia, or to an Asian community, this week? You’re in luck. The Lunar New Year, typically falling at the end of January or the end of February, is arguably the most festive and also the most interesting time of the year. Big events like lion dances and firecrackers aside, this is when communities everywhere come alive with cheer and tradition, with good wishes and ancient folklore at top of mind.
While it’s unlikely that anyone would expect a traveler to follow all the customs, we can’t think of a better way to get to know a destination’s culture. Plus, helping to usher in auspiciousness is a great way to delight a kind host or helpful friend. Here’s our guide to the general dos and don’ts – there’s naturally an overlap between the traditions of different ethnic groups and countries – as well as a gift guide for visits and meet-ups. Read more
As much as we love travel, no one loves the red-tape-filled process of getting a new visa. Here are a few helpful tips for securing your travel documents in a few specific places around the world — namely, in East Africa, Southeast Asia, and Europe. We chose these areas because you’re more likely to cross a border while you’re traveling there, and/or because there are some new developments around visa laws in these countries. Our tips below (including a new multi-country visa program in East Africa) ought to make the process a little less cumbersome next time you embark on a multi-leg trip… Read more
UPDATE: January 20, 2014: If your travel plans have you passing through Bangkok this month, it would be wise to use caution, consult your tour operator, or check the State Department for further updates. At demonstration sites around the city, things took a turn for the worse this weekend, when three separate instances of violence escalated an already-chaotic situation. A grenade exploded on Friday, killing one man, and over Saturday and Sunday, gunfire and separate explosions have left many injured. As of now, protests haven’t reverted to “war-zone” proportions of 2010, and the AP reports that Bangkok “remains calm.” However, it’s hard to predict what will happen through February 2, when a government-sanctioned election is slated to take place.
Government buildings, large public squares, shopping malls, and major intersections in the city center are all active demonstration sites. And while the Tourism Authority of Thailand discouraged visitors from venturing into demonstration sites due to the inconvenience of traffic and large crowds, safety has now become a real concern. Even if the violence is contained to particular demonstration sites (Victory Monument was the site of explosions on Sunday), there is always the possibility it could spread to other parts of the city.
Ready to spend some of your holiday money? If you’re looking to get some overseas R&R, two airlines just announced sales, right in time for the New Year.
As reports come in that the political situation in Bangkok is steadily relaxing after days of major anti-government protests, thee are still questions about the safety of tourists who find themselves in the Thai capital. On Tuesday, the BBC reported that concrete barriers and razor wire placed outside police headquarters had been removed, a sign of tension cooling between the government and protestors. The U.S. government, meanwhile, has not issued an official travel warning, though a “security message” was posted on December 1, alerting travelers of the demonstrations.
For those who have booked flights and hotels in the region, should you be worried? Here’s what we’ve learned… Read more
Travelers were up in arms last week when Thailand announced plans to introduce a $16 entry tax for passengers arriving by air and staying more than three days – and a charge of 30 baht (97 cents) for travelers coming into the country from a neighboring state and staying for two days or less.
The Thailand Tourism Authority (TTA) claimed the proposed tax is needed to cover the cost of unpaid medical bills left behind by foreign travelers – although other reports mentioned the tax has been levied in the hope of attracting a ‘better’ standard of visitor, compared, presumably, to the young backpackers drawn to the country’s affordable beach destinations and buzzing nightlife.
In a statement to the press, World Travel & Tourism Council (WTTC) President & CEO, David Scowsill called the proposed tax “one of the more egregious tourism taxes that we have seen”.
Of course, Thailand is not the only country to charge visitors a fee for arriving or departing the country. While many countries include their entry or exit taxes in the price of an airline ticket (Thailand, Ecuador, and the Dominican Republic, to name just three examples), a stubborn few still do not allow this. In the interest of you not getting caught off-guard at the airport without the means to cover an unexpected tax, here are a few entry and exit fees worth knowing about:
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