Wednesday
Aug282013

Luck & Superstition in Different Countries

One interesting aspect of traveling is that there are so many facets of a new country or culture that you never really think about. The big things are easy to spot – language, dress, religion, government, currency – but there many little ones that go unnoticed. For instance, in English-speaking countries, a dog says woof woof! But in Thailand, a dog says hong hong! It’s the little things that are often the coolest.

Another cultural aspect with many differences is people’s perceptions of good and bad luck. Certain things, like black cats and lucky/unlucky numbers seem to be cross-cultural, but there are plenty of other elements that are unique to a certain culture or country.

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Wednesday
Aug212013

Walking, Exploring and Eating in Tainan, Taiwan

For Taiwan’s oldest and fifth-largest city, Tainan can be deceiving. One may expect skyscrapers and crowds of millions pushing through wide streets, but you may be surprised to find a more serene environment with a small town vibe. It’s known far and wide as a place where you can find “real” Taiwanese cuisine, as well as for its gorgeous temples, friendly people and charming neighborhoods linked by narrow, winding alleys and roads. It’s definitely a must-see city!

There is evidence of habitation going back at least 20,000 years but the area around what is now Tainan really came into its own in the 1500’s, when Chinese and Japanese sailors set up thriving trading posts. This led to a healthy blending of linguistic, cultural, and ceremonial traditions, and the city today still shows clear signs of these influences. Of course, the island wasn’t immune to the surge of European exploration in the mid-1600’s especially the Dutch, who set up a fort on the island and dominated the area for 40 years until they were forced out by the Chinese.

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Wednesday
Aug142013

The Kathmandu Valley: Three Cities in One

Few cities on earth are as accessible or unique as Kathmandu, Nepal and its greater valley area. Steeped in history, the region’s dizzying array of religions, a traditional yet friendly culture, an incredible assortment of food, and stunning attractions come together to make this a supreme destination for travelers. The best part – it’s reachable from most countries in south and southeast Asia in just a few hours. This area really is one valley with three distinct cities – Kathmandu, Patan and Bhaktapur.

Modern Nepal was formed in 1768 by Prithvi Narayan Shah who united a wide range of people across varied and unforgiving terrain to form what is now more less modern day Nepal. Prior to this the Kathmandu Valley had three city-states: Kathmandu, Patan and Bhaktapur. Each had their own sitting kings and elaborate Durbars (Royal palaces), which today are UNESCO World Heritage Sites and serve as the centerpieces to each city. Not only do these Durbars rank as must-see attractions, but the cities and their residents are each unique, holding stories and allure around every corner.

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Wednesday
Aug072013

Hotels of Note: The Oriental, Bangkok

Bangkok is one of the biggest cities in Asia, and also one of the most chaotic. That of course is part of its charm, with modern malls and skyscrapers mingling with traditional wats (temples) and pedestrians milling past food stalls, motorbike taxis and vendors along the busy sidewalks.

Bangkok also happens to be home to one of the world’s great hotels, the Mandarin Oriental, a five-star legend which has been winning awards for years. With its location on the banks of the Chao Phraya River at the end of a quiet soi (street) and surrounded by lush tropical gardens, this hotel is a true oasis. It’s also the oldest hotel in Thailand, and features buildings ranging from its original colonial style 19th century property to the present day towers.

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Wednesday
Jul312013

Big City Transit: Seoul

If a think-tank full of the world’s top city planners and developers put their heads together to design a state-of-the-art public transport system, it would probably end up looking a lot like Seoul’s. To be fair, that’s not far from what actually happened. The Seoul of post-war Korea expanded rapidly as people from the surrounding countryside poured in. Those people needed practical and effective infrastructure, and transit solutions that worked. And that’s exactly what they got.

That’s good news for today’s visitors. For all of Seoul’s drab (some would say ‘soulless’) architecture, the city redeems itself with one of the cleanest, most beautifully organized public transport systems in the world. All a visitor needs is a public transit map, a card with the name and address of their Seoul hotel written in Korean and a stored value card (try the Seoul City Pass or T-Money card) and you can get pretty much anywhere you need to go. You’ll end up doing a little bit of walking between stations and your onward destination, but this is nominal. Wherever you are headed, the subway, taxis and buses of Seoul will get you there quickly.

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Wednesday
Jul242013

Thai seafood favorites

From fish to crustaceans, many forms and varieties of seafood play a major role in Thai cuisine. Deep fried, steamed, curried, and roasted are just a few ways that seafood is prepared, and there is no end to the ways in which seafood can be combined with the spicy, tangy, sour and sweet flavors in traditional Thai cooking. For seafood lovers, Thailand is a paradise!

Here are five locally popular seafood dishes in Thailand.

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Wednesday
Jul172013

Four sides of Samui 

Koh Samui is developing fast, becoming an international tourist destination to rival Phuket. It's much smaller than its Andaman Sea counterpart, so it's easier to navigate, and there are still far fewer tourists than in Phuket, though the tourist infrastructure is just as sturdy. Situated in the Thai Gulf, Samui has a different monsoonal season to Phuket, which means it's sunny and mostly dry when the rest of Thailand is rainy. Conversely, the wettest months are November to February, when most other places are cool and dry.

Samui has a high number of western expats, many of whom run restaurants and bars on the island, so there's no shortage of choice when it comes to drinking and dining. All the main fast food chains can be found around Chaweng Beach, plus countless venues aimed specifically at the tourist market. The range of accommodation in Samui is also vast, offering everything from rustic beach bungalows to luxury pool villas. As far as tropical islands go, Samui is one of the most flexible, accessible and affordable. Here are four different types of holiday you can have in Koh Samui.

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Wednesday
Jul102013

Hanabi: Japanese Fireworks Festvial

What do you get if you cross a culture of excellence, lovely summer weather, and thousands of pounds of high-explosive gunpowder? No, not a Michael Bay movie marathon at your local drive-in theater; rather, you get Japan’s noisy, colorful, crazy-fun fireworks festivals.

As most people know, fireworks originated in Asia, and centuries before they were used as decorative and loud entertainment, they were used to scare away spirits and demons, and even as weapons. In Japan, the word for fireworks is hanabi and the country is known for its many summer festivals and celebrations across the country for which fireworks shows are a major component, and are definitely worth checking out if you’re in-country.

Most of the fireworks festivals come with lively street markets, plenty of food, musical performances and games for families, couples, and people just looking for a bit of fun. During the day, you can wander the streets eating and enjoying the decorations, shopping, or visiting the historical and tourist sites in the town that you’re in – it doesn’t matter where, every place in Japan has something cool to see.

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Wednesday
Jul032013

Exploring Kathmandu by Foot

Most travelers want to connect personally and deeply with the destination they’re visiting in Asia. The term street-level is often used to describe such experiences and there’s truly no better way to explore new areas than by foot. Sure air-conditioned taxis are comfortable and rickshaws novel at times, but striking out by foot is truly the best way to see a city. Indeed, when you visit an older and not centrally planned city like Kathmandu, taking a hike becomes even more appealing, practical and fun.

Nepal’s capital Kathmandu is a treasure trove waiting to be discovered, but navigating its labyrinthine streets and passageways efficiently and not sitting in traffic is the key to having the best possible time. With roughly 2.5 million people calling the greater Kathmandu Valley home, this is a sprawling, yet accessible metropolis. People have been living here for about 2,000 years, and it’s been a well-established trader’s meeting point for centuries. Indians from the lower subcontinent didn’t want to go higher than the city’s 1,400m elevation and traders from the Tibetan Plateau found any lower point too hot, so this is where they met. Areas grew into towns, towns into cities and along the way they all became connected by a series of roads, paths, and passageways, making foot the best way to commute. After all, cars didn’t even come to Nepal until the late 1940s when the first one was literally carried in over the mountains.

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Wednesday
Jun262013

City Insider: Syracuse

It sounds horribly like a travel writer’s overused cliché, but the beautiful Sicilian city of Syracuse really and truly does have it all.

And what exactly is “it”, you may well ask. Let’s just say that Syracuse has historical monuments galore, a busy, picturesque harbor, narrow winding cobblestone streets, amazing churches and cathedrals, great food, brilliant markets – pretty much everything one needs for a perfect holiday. Oh, and the shopping is elegant, too. This is Italy, never forget.

Let’s start with the city’s history, of which there is far too much to cover in a simple blog post. The Greeks first visited in the 8th century BC, settling on the island of Ortygia, which is now connected to the rest of the city by three small bridges. The famous Roman philosopher and statesman Cicero once described the city as “the greatest Greek city and most beautiful of all,” and wandering through the spectacular Greek theatre – the famed teatro Greco – you tend to agree with him. Far from Greece, in a little corner of an Italian island, overlooking the sea, the theater is a jewel. It’s in amazingly good, unrestored condition, and if you visit off-season you’ll likely find it almost empty. You can wander at will or simply sit and let centuries of history wash over you.

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