Taken from the Rough Guide to Southeast Asia on a Budget, these are our top 11 tips for backpacking Southeast Asia.

With its tempting mix of volcanoes, rainforest, rice fields, beaches and coral reefs, Southeast Asia is one of the most stimulating and accessible regions for independent travel in the world. You can spend the day exploring thousand-year-old Hindu ruins and the night at a rave on the beach; attend a Buddhist alms-giving ceremony at dawn and go whitewater rafting in the afternoon; chill out in a bamboo beach hut one week and hike through the jungle looking for orang-utans the next.

In short, there is enough here to keep anyone hooked for months. Here’s our advice for getting the most out of backpacking Southeast Asia for the first time.

1. Plan around the weather

Southeast Asia sits entirely within the tropics and so is broadly characterized by a hot and humid climate that varies little throughout the year, except during the two annual monsoons. Bear in mind, however, that each country has myriad microclimates; for more detail see our “when to go” pages for Cambodia, Indonesia, Laos, Malaysia, Myanmar (Burma), the Philippines, Thailand and Vietnam.

2. Get off the beaten track

Though Southeast Asia has long been on the travellers’ trail, it doesn’t take too much to get off the beaten track – whether it’s to discover that perfect beach or to delve into the lush surrounds of the rainforest. Think about visiting the overlooked city of Battambang in Cambodia, taking the railroad less travelled in Thailand or exploring Myanmar’s unspoiled southern coast.

3. Try the street food

This is the home of the world’s tastiest cuisines, and the really good news is that the cheapest is often the best, with markets and roadside hawkers unbeatable places to try the many local specialities. Night markets, in particular, are great for tasting different dishes at extremely low prices – sizzling woks full of frying noodles, swirling clouds of spice-infused smoke and rows of glistening fried insects all make for an unforgettable gastronomic experience.

4. Budget carefully – but have the odd splurge

Your daily budget in Southeast Asia depends on where you’re travelling and how comfortable you want to be. You can survive on as little as $20 a day in some countries, but for this money you’ll be sleeping in very basic accommodation, eating at simple food stalls, and travelling on local non-a/c buses. Think about where paying a little more will really enrich your trip.

5. Learn from the locals

Tribal culture is a highlight of many visits to less explored areas, and among the most approachable communities are the tribal groups around Sa Pa in Vietnam, the Torjan of Sulawesi in Indonesia, known for their intriguing architecture and ghoulish burial rituals, and the ethnic minority villages surrounding Hsipaw in Myanmar.

6. Embrace the great outdoors

Up for getting active? There’s plenty to keep you busy. You can tackle world-class surf at G-land in Indonesia, take a mountain-bike tour of Vietnam’s far north or discover your own lonely bays and mysterious lagoons on a sea-kayak tour of Krabi in Thailand. And that’s just for starters…

7. Make time for temples

Southeast Asia’s myriad temple complexes are some of the region’s best-known attractions. The Hindu Khmers left a string of magnificent monuments, the most impressive of which can be seen at Angkor in Cambodia, while the Buddhists’ most impressive legacies include the colossal ninth-century stupa of Borobudur in Indonesia and the temple-strewn plain of Bagan in Myanmar.

8. Get high

No, not that kind of high. Every visitor should make an effort to climb one of the spectacular mountains, whether getting up before dawn to watch the sun rise from Indonesia’s Mount Bromo or embarking on the two-day trek to scale Mount Kinabalu in Malaysia.

9. Hit the beach

The beaches here are some of the finest in the world, and you’ll find the cream of the crop in Thailand, the Philippines and Malaysia, all of which boast postcard-pretty, white-sand bays, complete with azure waters and wooden beach shacks dotted along their palm-fringed shores. The clear tropical waters also offer supreme diving opportunities for novices and seasoned divers alike.

10. Take local transport

Local transport across Southeast Asia is uniformly good value compared to public transport in the West, and is often one of the highlights of a trip, not least because of the chance to fraternize with local travellers. Overland transport between neighbouring countries is also fairly straightforward so long as you have the right paperwork and are prepared to be patient.

11. Stay healthy

The vast majority of travellers to Southeast Asia suffer nothing more than an upset stomach, so long as they observe basic precautions about food and water hygiene, and research pre-trip vaccination and malaria prophylactic requirements – but it’s still vital to arrange health insurance before you leave home. Some of the illnesses you can pick up may also not show themselves immediately, so if you become ill within a year of returning home, tell your doctor where you have been.

For a complete guide to backpacking Southeast Asia, check out The Rough Guide to Southeast Asia on a Budget. Compare flightsbook hostels and hotels for your trip, and don’t forget to purchase travel insurance before you go. 

The fabled Pacific Crest Trail guides adventuresome hikers from the borders of Mexico to Canada, blazing across the deserts, mountain ranges and dense forests that make up America’s breathtaking Western States (California, Oregon, and Washington). It usually takes five months for thru-hikers to complete, but you’re about to make the 4286km journey in less than three minutes.

This film’s creator, Halfway Anywhere, says he quit his job to make the trip after “finally realizing that what you grow up thinking you are supposed to do and what you can actually do are two entirely different things”.

When you see the stunning clips in this video, you might just want to do the same:

Taken from the Rough Guide to South America on a Budget, these are our top nine tips for backpacking South America.

From the tropical beaches of the Caribbean to the windswept archipelago of Tierra del Fuego, backpacking South America guarantees a treasure trove of adventures that has fuelled the imagination of travellers for centuries, with dizzying landscapes, legendary cities and mind-boggling ancient ruins.

Haul on your backpack and follow in some famous – and infamous – footsteps: from Darwin’s voyage through the Galápagos and Che Guevara’s across the Andes to the devastating path of the conquistadors in Peru.

With backpacker-friendly hostels at every turn – and especially in irresistible cities from Buenos Aires and Rio to Quito and Cartagena – backpacking South America is both a breeze and the trip of a lifetime.

1. Learn the lingo

South America is a hugely popular destination to brush up on your Spanish: Cusco, Peru; Buenos Aires, Argentina; Sucre, Bolivia; and Quito, Ecuador, are the most popular destinations to take a course. In Brazil, most of the large cities are great locations for learning Portuguese. You can also try out indigenous languages such as Quechua in Bolivia or Guaraní in Paraguay. Living with a host family for a stint is a rich way to go about it.

2. Use your nous

South America is a continent that suffers from high levels of poverty. In general, cities are more dangerous than rural areas, although the very deserted mountain plains can harbour bandits. Many of the working-class barrios of big cities are “no-go” areas for tourists, as are the marginal areas near them. Caracas has experienced an upsurge in violent crime in the last few years, so take extra care.

3. Research your accommodation

The range of accommodation available is enormous and you’ll find that the US$10 that buys you a night’s rest in Ecuador won’t even stretch to breakfast in the Southern Cone or French Guiana. Unless you’re rocking up at festival time there’s usually no shortage of places to stay. Generally, the Andean countries are the least expensive, and you should be able to find a decent room in a residencial or pensión for under US$15 (US$8 for dorms). A lot of travellers stay in backpacker-focused hostels – with the term “party hostel” referring to those places that lay on a throbbing bar and plenty of reasons to stay on site (try to avoid being one of those people).

4. Embrace bus travel

The “chicken” bus… You’re going to have to learn to love these blinged-up ex-US school buses, adorned with cartoonishly painted images of everything from religious figures to curvaceous warrior queens and the Tasmanian Devil, which are the main means of travel for short-ish journeys across much of the continent. They get their nickname not from the stench of the fried chicken being munched by your fellow passengers (though this is another South American favourite), but from the fact that locals will bring just about anything onto the bus with them – including farm animals.

5. Time your trip wisely

With about two-thirds of South America near the equator or the tropic of Capricorn, visitors to most destinations can expect a tropical or subtropical climate all year round. Temperatures rarely drop below 20°C, while rainforest regions average maximum temperatures of about 30°C. As you get further south (and don’t forget the southern hemisphere reverses the seasons), you’ll find colder winters from June to August and milder summers from December to February, with the extreme south of the continent freezing between April and October. It’s important to plan around the rainy season in each country, particularly when travelling in the Andes.

6. Follow the festivals

South America loves a fiesta, by far the most famous being Carnaval, the legendary flesh-fest (closely associated with Rio), with official celebrations usually taking place on the days before Ash Wednesday and Lent. For something spiritual, head to Inti Raymi, a week-long Inca festival in Cusco, Peru, where thousands of revellers honour the sun god. Down in Argentina, the Feria de Mataderos lets you mingle with gauchos at one of Buenos Aires’ most exhilarating events. Be aware, when planning your movements, that some towns and villages celebrate saints’ days and other local holidays that shut down businesses and make travel difficult.

7. Stay healthy

The potential health risks in South America read like a textbook of tropical diseases. But if you prepare carefully and take sensible precautions, you’ll probably face nothing worse than a mild case of “Montezuma’s revenge” (traveller’s diarrhoea) as your system gets used to foreign germs and unhygienic conditions. That said, be sure to get health advice before you travel and arrange vaccinations in plenty of time (we’re talking ten weeks or so before you travel). The most common risks are heat stroke, and bites and stings – especially by those pesky mosquitoes, so definitely plan ahead if you’ll be in a malaria zone. Good medical insurance is, of course, essential.

8. Go wild

Visit any corner of the Amazon (Bolivia, Brazil, Ecuador, Peru and Venezuela) and you’ll be treated to a unparalleled biodiversity, while the Pantanal, Brazil, is the world’s largest wetland, home to thousands of animal species (jaguars and pumas among them). Splash out on a trip to Ecuador’s Galápagos Islands to see the giant tortoises, marine iguanas, penguins, sea lions and flightless cormorants that Charles Darwin observed, subsequently developing his theories on evolution. Down in Argentina’s Tierra del Fuego, you can take a take a boat trip along Beagle Channel to see the penguins and whales.

9. Be brave about local cuisine

Your tastebuds are in for the time of their life, with each destination promising culinary riches. Even when a creation is shared between two countries, there’s often passionate debate about who does it best, as in the case of pisco sours, where the rivalry between Chile and Peru is fierce (better try both, then). As for the grub, a lot of the musts are dishes that the locals eat. As well as meaning that they’re cheap, this also guarantees you’ll be immersed in the day-to-day culture – whether that’s weighing out your own lunch alongside office workers in a comida por kilo joint in Rio or nibbling on a warming salteña in La Paz.

Explore more of South America with the Rough Guide to South America on a BudgetCompare flightsbook hostels and hotels for your trip, and don’t forget to purchase travel insurance before you go.

Travelling is about education: learning about the world, yourself and life in general. The lessons are endless no matter where you are in the world, so if you’ve ever been backpacking, you’ll know what we’re talking about. Here are fourteen things every backpacker learns on their first jaunt around the world:

1. You need less stuff than you think

You might leave home with three pairs of shoes and an XXL fanny pack, but after a few weeks away you’ll be permanently glued to your flip flops – and you’ll start carrying your money around in your pocket, just like everyone else on the planet. The best advice is to pack as little as possible; everything else can be picked up along the way.

2. Earplugs are a good investment

Bargain bunk beds and the warm embrace of a drunken sleep, surrounded by new friends from around the world. Ah, yes: snoozing in shared dorms is an essential part of the backpacking experience.

But wait… is somebody snoring already? Why didn’t Big Dave from Australia mention his sleep apnoea? And how are those two backpackers from the bar doing god-knows-what in a bunk that’s barely big enough for one person? Add in the nocturnal farters and pre-dawn plastic bag rustlers, and you’ve got a recipe for a pretty rough night’s sleep. Pack earplugs, and be prepared to use them.

3. There’ll always be someone who’s done more

Swum to a remote beach and survived on venomous snakes that you caught with your bare hands? Smoked weed with a yogi during a solar eclipse? Been to every hostel in every country on Earth? Awesome! But there will always be someone staying at your guesthouse who’s done it all too, and then some. The solution? Find your own path and do what makes you happy, rather than engaging in the un-winnable war of one-upmanship.

4. There are good people everywhere

Despite what TV news would have you believe, there are good people everywhere. Get yourself into a spot of bother pretty much anywhere in the world and if you’re polite and respectful, there will be some good soul willing to help you out.

5. It’s okay to get lost

See point 4, above.

6. No one wants to hear it

Your guitar, that is. Or your ukulele. The whole reason the people go travelling is to experience something new, not to listen to someone muddling through a cover of Wonderwall after a few too many local beers.

7. Not everything is online (yet)

There are still amazing places that don’t have a presence online. Smart backpackers learn not to limit themselves to the restaurants, hotels and restaurants they’ve seen getting good reviews on the web, as often it’s personal recommendations that lead to the best experiences.

8. Your body copes with a lot (but not everything)

The average backpacking trip puts the human body through a lot, including long flights, sleepless nights, litres of cheap beer and tasty, exotic seafood, which is not always prepared to the same squeaky-clean standards you’re used to back home. You’ll cope with most of this stuff pretty well but there are still limits, so expect at least a few of your ‘comfort breaks’ to be rather, well… uncomfortable.

9. If it sounds too good to be true, it is

That five baht tuk-tuk ride around Bangkok sounds cheap, but will wind up with you getting dragged around gem shops that you never wanted to visit. Likewise, the ‘free’ walking tours offered in European capitals often end up with tourists being guilt tripped into tipping the guide, or paying for a longer tour. If you want a good experience, be prepared to pay for it.

10. Banks don’t like backpackers

What happens when you call your bank to let them know about your travel plans? That’s right, they wait until you’re having a good time thousands of miles from home and then put a block on your card, saying they suspect some kind of fraudulent activity (when really it’s just you, frantically trying to book a last-minute flight).

Worse still, if you really are a victim of fraud, they’ll cut the card off completely, and then helpfully offer to post a new one out to your home address – that’s right, on the other side of the planet.

11. Cheap doesn’t feel cheap for long

A beach hut for $10 a night seems like great value at first, but you’ll soon come to expect low prices and moan when they edge even a few cents higher – completely forgetting that you’d pay ten times the amount for similar digs back home.

12. There isn’t much you can’t wash in the sink

Jeans, t-shirts, and even your entire backpack – when needs must, you’ll find room for almost everything in the bathroom sink. Drying times vary.

13. You’re incredibly lucky

In some parts of the world it’s possible to survive on next to nothing and still be relatively rich. The fact that you can afford to jet away from your home country and experience new places and cultures (even if you are surviving on a diet of noodle soup and local-brand cigarettes) puts you among the luckiest people on Earth. Appreciate it, and make every second count.

14. You can never see it all

Which is why your first backpacking trip should never, ever be your last.

Take your first trip with the Rough Guide to the First-Time Around the WorldCompare flightsbook hostels and hotels for your trip, and don’t forget to purchase travel insurance before you go.

There’s nowhere quite like Amsterdam. You could
 be sitting nursing a drink outside one of its cafés, chugging by boat along its canals, or riding its ringing trams, and you’ll sense immediately that you couldn’t be anywhere else in the world. Of course, there’s a slew of first-rate attractions, but it’s not all about big sights here. You can have a great day out here, see loads, and not spend a cent apart from a few euros on lunch and dinner. From the new Pocket Rough Guide to Amsterdam, here’s our pick of the best free things to do in Amsterdam.

1. Go to the Bloemenmarkt

There’s no charge to wander past the stalls of the city’s wonderful floating flower market, the Bloemenmarkt (daily 9am–5pm, some stalls close on Sun), which extends along the southern bank of the Singel. Popular with locals and tourists alike, the market is one of the main suppliers of flowers to central Amsterdam, but its blooms and bulbs now share stall space with souvenir clogs, garden gnomes, Delftware and similar tat.

photo credit: Amsterdam: Floating Tulip Shop via photopin (license)

2. Explore Zeeburg

On the northeast edge of the city centre, Zeeburg has become one of the city’s most up-and-coming districts. Actually a series of artificial islands and peninsulas connected by bridges, the docks here date back to the end of the nineteenth century. By the early 1990s, the area was virtually derelict so the city council began a massive renovation, which has been going on for the past fifteen years or so. As a result, this is the fastest-developing part of Amsterdam, with a mixture of renovated dockside structures and new landmark buildings that give it a modern (and very watery) feel that’s markedly different from the city centre. The best way to explore is by bike.

photo credit: Veemkade Amsterdam via photopin (license)

3. Discover Begijnhof

A little gateway on the north side of the Spui leads into the Begijnhof, where a huddle of immaculately maintained old houses looks onto a central green. This is one of the city centre’s most beguiling sights, and totally free. It was founded in the fourteenth century as a home for the beguines – members of a Catholic sisterhood living as nuns, but without vows and with the right of return to the secular world.

photo credit: Hearing just the wind via photopin (license)

4. Stroll Albert Cuypmarkt

Just wandering the length of the city’s best (daily except Sun 10am–5pm) is a fine way to pass the time. It stretches for over 1km between Ferdinand Bolstraat and Van Woustraat and is the largest in the city, with a huge array of stalls selling everything from raw-herring sandwiches to saucepans. Check out the ethnic shops that flank the market on each side, and the good-value Indian and Surinamese restaurants down the side streets.

photo credit: A tiny army via photopin (license)

5. Listen to lunchtime concerts at the Concertgebouw

There are regular free lunchtime concerts at this impressive arts venue, home of the famed – and much recorded – Koninklijk (Royal) Concertgebouw Orchestra. It has become renowned among musicians and concertgoers 
for its marvelous acoustics, and after a facelift and the replacement of its crumbling foundations in the early 1990s it is looking and sounding better than ever.

photo credit: das Konzerthaus in Amsterdam am Rijksmuseum via photopin (license)

6. Walk in Vondelpark

Amsterdam is short of green spaces, which makes the leafy expanses of the Vondelpark, the city centre’s main park, one of its best attractions. The park possesses a wide variety of local and imported plants, an excellent rose garden, and a network of ponds and narrow waterways that are home to many sorts of wildfowl. There are other animals too: cows, sheep, hundreds of squirrels, plus a large colony of bright-green (and very noisy) parakeets. During the summer the park also regularly hosts free concerts and theatrical performances, mostly in its own specially designed open-air theatre.

 photo credit: P1680831 via photopin (license)

7. Visit the Schuttersgalerij

The Amsterdam Museum, which occupies the rambling seventeenth-century buildings of the former municipal orphanage, surveys the city’s development from its origins as an insignificant fishing village to its present incarnation as a major metropolis and trading centre. You have to pay to enter the main museum, but this gallery, with its portraits of civic guards, is free.

photo credit: Tulipes via photopin (license)

8. Take a ferry across the IJ

Take
 one of the free ferries from behind Centraal Station to Amsterdam Noord and discover leafy suburbs, perfect for aimless wandering. The city is riding something of a resurgent wave at the moment, and this is one of the best rediscovered neighbourhoods to expore.

photo credit: Nieuwendam via photopin (license)

9. See Amsterdam’s finest church

Trapped in her house, Anne Frank liked to listen to the bells of the Westerkerk, just along Prinsengracht, until they were taken away to be melted down for the German war effort. The church still dominates the district, its 85-metre tower – without question Amsterdam’s finest – soaring graciously above its surroundings. The church was designed by Hendrick de Keyser and completed in 1631 as part of the general enlargement of the city, but whereas the exterior is all studied elegance, the interior is bare and plain.

photo credit: Westerkerk via photopin (license)

10. Tour Gassan Diamonds

Before World War II, many local Jews worked as diamond cutters and polishers, but there’s little sign of the industry hereabouts today, the Gassan Diamonds factory being the main exception. Daily free guided tours include a visit to the cutting and polishing areas, as well a gambol round Gassan’s diamond jewellery showroom.

photo credit: DSC02241 via photopin (license)

Explore more of Amsterdam with Pocket Rough Guide. Compare flightsbook hostels for your trip, and don’t forget to purchase travel insurance before you go.

From the new Pocket Rough Guide, we’ve selected some of our favourite tips for seeing Paris on a budget.

A trip to Paris, famous as the most romantic of destinations, is one of those lifetime musts. Long the beating heart of European civilization, it remains one of the world’s most refined yet passionate cities. Yet despite its reputation as an expensive place to visit, there are many places that can be enjoyed without splashing the cash, from engrossing museums to good-value restaurants. Here’s our pick of the best free things to do, affordable eats and budget beds.

The free sights

Musée Carnavalet
One of the city’s best free museums is the Musée Carnavalet. Set in two beautiful Renaissance mansions, it charts the history
 of Paris from its origins up to the belle époque through a huge and extraordinary collection of paintings, sculptures, decorative arts and archeological finds. The attractive formal gardens are worth a visit in themselves.

Maison de Victor Hugo
Among the many celebrities who made their homes in Place des Vosges was Victor Hugo; his house, at no. 6, where he wrote much of Les Misérables, is now a museum, the Maison de Victor Hugo. Here, his life is evoked through a sparse collection of memorabilia, portraits and photographs that convey an idea of his prodigious creativity.

Petit Palais
Built 
at the same time as its larger neighbour the Grand Palais,
 the Petit Palais is hardly “petit” but certainly palatial, with beautiful spiral wrought-iron staircases and a grand gallery on the lines of Versailles’ Hall
of Mirrors. The Musée des Beaux Arts housed here has
 an extensive range of paintings and sculpture and decorative artworks, plus there are free lunchtime classical concerts on Thursdays.

Père-Lachaise
Final resting place of a host of French and foreign notables, Père-Lachaise  covers some 116 acres, making it one of the world’s largest cemeteries. It’s surely also one of the most atmospheric – an eerie yet beautiful haven and the resting place of (among others) Molière, Chopin and ex-Doors singer Jim Morrison.

The best views

Pont Neuf
The “new bridge” is actually the oldest in the city, and, with its stone arches, arguably the loveliest. There are few better places to watch the Seine flow than this link between the Ile de la Cité, and the right and left banks of the river.

On the buses 
Touring
 Paris by bus is enjoyable and inexpensive; try the #29 from
Gare St-Lazare, which goes
past the Opera Garnier, through the Marais, and on to Bastille.

Parc de Belleville
Absorbed into Paris in the 1860s and subsequently built
up with high-rise blocks to house migrants from rural areas and the ex-colonies, Belleville might not exactly be “belle”, but it’s an interesting side of the city. Well worth the trip out is the Parc de Belleville, which with its terraces and waterfalls, offers get great views across the city, especially at sunset.

Sacré-Coeur
There’s no charge to visit this Parisian landmark, but the real draw is the view from the terrace. Looking out from 
the steps that cascade down Montmartre’s steep hill, the silvery roofs of Paris seem to spread to the horizon.

Getting outdoors

Jardin des Tuileries
No trip to Paris is complete without a saunter along the chestnut-tree-lined alleys of the Jardin des Tuileries, admiring the grand vistas, formal flower beds and fountains. This is the French formal garden par excellence.

Jardin du Luxembourg
Fronting onto rue de Vaugirard, the Jardin du Luxembourg is the chief green space of the Left Bank, its atmosphere
a beguiling mixture of the formal and the relaxed. These gardens are filled with people playing tennis or chess and couples strolling round the elegant lawns.

Promenade Plantée
This disused railway line, now an elevated walkway planted with trees and flowers, is a great way to see a little-known part of eastern Paris. Starting near the beginning of avenue Daumesnil, just south of the Bastille opera house, it takes you
to the Parc de Reuilly, then descends to ground level and continues nearly as far as the périphérique.

Bois de Boulogne
The Bois de Boulogne was designed by Baron Haussmann and supposedly modelled on London’s Hyde Park – though it’s a very French interpretation. You should avoid it at night, but by day it’s an extremely pleasant spot for a stroll. The best, and wildest, part for walking is towards the southwest corner.

Affordable meals

Bistrot des Victoires
If you’re in the mood for something traditional, stop off at Bistrot des Victoires, a charming old-fashioned bistrot serving staples like confit de canard and poulet rôti for around €10. 

Breizh Café
This Breton café serves arguably the best crêpes in the city, with traditional fillings like ham and cheese, as well as more exotic options such as smoked herring, which you can wash down with one of twenty different ciders.

La Fourmi
This artfully distressed, high-ceilinged café-bar in Montmartre can usually be found full of Parisian bohos sipping coffee and cocktails. Come during the day for light meals or at night for drinks.

L’As du Fallafel
For a cheap and filling lunch, get a takeaway from L’As du Fallafel in the Marais’ Jewish Quarter. The sign above the doorway reads “Toujours imité, jamais égalé” (“always copied, but never equalled”), a boast that few would challenge, given the queues outside.

Budget beds

Hotel Bonséjour Montmartre
Set on a quiet, untouristy street on the slopes of Montmartre, footsteps away from great neighbourhood bars and restaurants, this hotel is
 a steal. The simple, old-fashioned clean room are a serious bargain.

Mama Shelter
One of the most talked-about hotels in Paris, Philippe Starck-designed Mama Shelter justifies the hype. Yet it’s also extremely good value. The industrial-chic theme includes arty graffiti motifs on the carpets and ceilings, swanky bathrooms, iMacs and decorative superhero masks.

St Christopher’s Paris
We reckon St Christopher’s two massive hostels are among the best in Europe. Try the original branch overlooking the waters of the Bassin de la Villette where there’s a great bar, inexpensive restaurant, and free internet access.

Get the full Pocket Rough Guide to Paris for a complete guide to the city. Compare flightsbook hostels for your trip, and don’t forget to purchase travel insurance before you go.

Tasmania has shaken off its reputation as a sleepy backwater. Australia’s smallest state is buzzing with art, nurturing an exciting foodie scene and cutting the ribbon on new hiking trails – all against a backdrop of rich history and remarkable wildlife. Here, Anita Isalska gives ten reasons why you should give in to the island’s lure. 

1. To be awed and appalled at MONA in Hobart

A ferry ride up the peaceful Derwent River doesn’t seem like the obvious start to explore your dark side. But in the subterranean galleries of Tasmania’s Museum of Old and New Art you’ll find some of the most confronting creations in Australia. Passion, death and decay are explored in unflinching detail in this controversial museum in the northern suburbs of Tasmania’s capital, Hobart. Test your limits with maggot ridden installations, X-rated sculptures and obese automobiles, all from the private collections of arty eccentric David Walsh.

2. To raft the Franklin River

Quicken your pulse in Tasmania’s wild west on a white water rafting adventure. In this glacier carved terrain, thick with Huon pine forests, experienced guides will navigate you down the frothing Franklin River. You’ll stop to cook on open fires and pitch a tent under the stars. There’s nothing like being part of a crew paddling a raft through the Franklin’s thunderous rapids to instil a lasting respect for Tasmania’s formidable wilderness.

3. To meet Tasmanian devils

Tas’ most famous critter is most often experienced through its nocturnal scream. But Tasmanian devils can be seen up close at sanctuaries across the state, like Bonorong. Don’t be fooled by their puppy-like appearance and lolloping gait. Time your visit for feeding time and you’ll see these marsupials screech, squabble and chomp straight through wallaby bones. On a more serious note, make sure you spare some time to learn about the devastating facial tumour disease threatening these Tassie natives.

4. To feast your way around Bruny Island

Mainland Aussies flock to the annual Taste Festival in Hobart. But you can undertake a year-round gastronomic extravaganza on Bruny Island, an easy day-trip by ferry from Hobart. Start by slurping fresh oysters at Get Shucked, before perusing the unctuous delights of Bruny Island Cheese Company. You’ll want a bottle or two to accompany those garlic-marinated, vine leaf-wrapped delights, so stop for pinot noir at Bruny Island Premium Wines. Finish off with jams and ice creams at the berry farm.

5. To explore the wilderness at Cradle Mountain

The silhouette of Cradle Mountain, reflected in mirror-clear Dove Lake, is one of Tasmania’s greatest natural icons. Lace up your hiking boots in Cradle Mountain-Lake St Clair National Park and discover Pencil Pine Falls or the neck-craning Ballroom Forest. Some are easy wooden walking trails that spiral around picnic spots like Wombat Pool; others vertiginous hikes that require experience. For hardened adventurers, there’s the six-day Overland Track.

6. To pace the brand-new Three Capes Track

One of Australia’s most hotly-tipped new attractions for 2015 is the Three Capes Track. Due to open in November 2015, this 82km coastal trail promises a touch of luxury for bushwalkers. Instead of stooping under the weight of your camping gear, you’ll be able to bed down in furnished huts at three different spots along the track and make use of on-site cooking facilities. That leaves more time to focus on what’s really important: jaw-dislocatingly good views of Australia’s tallest sea cliffs.

7. To see pint-sized penguins in Bicheno

Each night at dusk, a parade of little penguins pops out of the waters of Bicheno Bay and waddles ashore to their burrows. A guided walk is the best way to admire these dainty seabirds without disturbing them. They’ll hop between your legs, preen their inky black coats and jab their beaks at toes (don’t wear open-toed shoes).

8. To admire gorge-ous views near Launceston

Stomach-plummeting views await at Cataract Gorge, just 15 minutes’ drive from Tasmania’s second city, Launceston. Tiptoe over the suspension bridge or enjoy a bird’s-eye view of forested hillsides from the longest single-span chairlift in the southern hemisphere. Picnic spots are scattered around the gorge’s First Basin (and stalked by curious peacocks), ideal for you to soak up some rays and the tranquil atmosphere.

9. To explore dark history at Port Arthur

Two centuries ago, a ticket to Australia was a terrible fate. The most harrowing final destination was Tasmania’s Port Arthur, one of Australia’s 11 penal colony sites. Port Arthur was thought inescapable: only a narrow band of land, Eaglehawk Neck, connected it to the rest of the island, and this was fiercely guarded by dogs. Today, Port Arthur has been conserved as an open-air museum. You can explore the former prison wings and convict-built chapel, board a boat to the lonely graveyards on Isle of the Dead and linger for a ghost tour if you dare.

10. To bliss out at Wineglass Bay

There’s an unforgettable reward for taking a steep forested trail on the Freycinet Peninsula on Tasmania’s east coast. At the Wineglass Bay overlook, you’ll see a perfect arc of sand glowing against the vibrant turquoise of the Tasman Sea. Cool off from all that bushwalking with a dip or kayaking trip, or simply gaze out over the dusky pink granite boulders dappled with lichen, one of Tasmania’s most surreally beautiful sights.

Explore more of Tasmania with the Rough Guide to Australia or our Tasmania Snapshot. Book hostels for your trip, and don’t forget to purchase travel insurance before you go. Compare flightsbook hostels for your trip, and don’t forget to purchase travel insurance before you go. 

Kris Griffiths takes a tour of the birthplace of reggae, following in the footsteps of Jamaica’s most famous son, Bob Marley, on what would have been his 70th birthday.

Reggae music was born in the downtrodden townships of this Caribbean island. It’s a genre that has managed to captivate most of the globe with its bouncing riddims and One-Love jubilation, thanks largely to its chief ambassador, Robert Nesta Marley.

Despite cancer stealing him at age 36 in 1981, he’s still very much part of Jamaica’s collective consciousness, and in the city he grew up in, he has almost attained the status of a prophet. Murals of his dreadlocked visage abound and his tunes can almost always be heard floating on the breeze.

For fans of Marley and the genre he helped globalise, one of the most fitting times to visit is ‘Reggae Month’ every February, when his birthday is celebrated with tribute shows and exhibitions. But Bob’s Kingston is alive all year round, for anyone from reggae pilgrims to more casual admirers just seeking some ‘positive vibrations’.

It all began here.

Growing up in Trenchtown

Although he was born in the village of Nine Mile in north Jamaica, Bob moved to Kingston’s Trenchtown as a young boy with his mother after his father died. It was in this impoverished neighbourhood his musical journey commenced. He learnt the guitar while listening to R&B from American radio stations with housemate Bunny Wailer, with whom he would later form eponymous group The Wailers.

The restored tenement block is now a National Heritage Site and fascinating cultural centre, where reggae musicians congregate to record and perform. A striking new statue of Bob has also been erected here to mark his 70th birthday.

Some tourists are deterred from visiting by a prejudice about local ‘ghetto’ culture, at odds with reality – visitors are welcomed warmly by locals promoting Bob’s peaceful message. Visiting also generates vital revenue for the still-deprived community that spawned him.

Recording at Tuff Gong Studio

Located in downtown Kingston, Tuff Gong is the label Bob founded in 1965 (named after his nickname ‘The Gong’ and being a ‘Tuff’ cookie). Today, its HQ is not only one of the biggest studios in the Caribbean but one of the most famous in the world, attracting not just reggae luminaries like sons Damian and Ziggy but superstars of other genres from Kenny Chesney to Sinead O’Connor.

Housing vintage analogue equipment alongside newer digital technology, the studio allows intimate access to the spaces where Bob recorded hits like Redemption Song and Buffalo Soldier. The label went on to sell millions of records, while Bob’s posthumous best-of Legend became the biggest-selling reggae album of all time.

Relaxing at home

Little did young Bob know, the home he would later buy a few miles uptown would become Kingston’s most-visited tourist site, the Bob Marley Museum.

The colonial-era clapboard house, where he lived for his final six years, is now a preserved shrine. Utensils in the kitchen date from his last days; his unpretentious bedroom left exactly as it was, his favourite guitar still by the bed; and poignant family photos hang on the walls. More dramatic are bullet-holes from the infamous 1976 assassination attempt, a grim reminder of the evil confronting Bob’s non-violent philosophy.

There are also museum spaces literally wallpapered with press clippings that exhibit his vast collection of Gold Records. And you can try Bob’s favourite drink, Irish Moss (made with seaweed extract), in the One Love Café, or a hearty vegetarian stew typifying the Rastafarian ‘Ital’ diet.

Retreating to Strawberry Hill

Following the shooting, Bob often withdrew to a retreat nestled high in the Blue Mountains overlooking Kingston, which is as special a spot to visit today as it was 40 years ago. Now a boutique hotel, Strawberry Hill was then owned by producer Chris Blackwell, who’d signed Marley and found his songs an international audience. Subsequently many famous artists visited, including the Stones, Willie Nelson and Grace Jones – personal photos of whom still hang on its walls alongside various Marley platinum discs.

For those with the budget to stay here, high-end features include a negative-edge infinity pool offering vertiginous mountainside views down to the city. For the rest of us, a traditional afternoon tea will do just fine.

Performing at National Stadium

Jamaica’s Wembley, built during Bob’s teenage years, has for most its lifetime served as a temple for the sport he held dear – football – which he regularly played. Home of the national team, internationally-known as the ‘Reggae Boyz’, it backdropped a significant moment in Bob’s career.

In 1978 the Wailers headlined the massive ‘One Love Peace Concert’ here, Bob’s first homeland show since returning from self-imposed exile, at a time when Jamaica was riven by deadly political civil war. During the song Jammin’, however, peacemaker Bob called for the leaders of both warring parties to join him onstage and shake hands, in a plea for national unity. For that night at least, peace reigned on Kingston’s streets.

Three years later Bob would return to the stadium, for his funeral. A commemorative statue of him – one of several around the capital – still stands outside, wielding a guitar.

Kingston has celebrated his life every year since on his birthday, but for visitors that musical high is on offer here perennially. As his son Ziggy said recently, Bob is more alive today than ever.

Kris stayed at Spanish Court Hotel. For further info on visiting Kingston go to www.visitjamaica.comCompare flightsbook hostels for your trip, and don’t forget to purchase travel insurance before you go.

Wherever your itinerary takes you, travel in Myanmar (Burma) is sure to provide a wealth of new experiences – whether you’re air-kissing at your waiter in a city teahouse or witnessing your first nat ceremony. To mark the release of our first guide to the country, co-author Jo James shares fourteen of her essential things to do in Myanmar.

Breakfast in a Burmese teahouse

From Yangon’s traffic-choked streets to dusty village lanes, Myanmar’s teahouses are local institutions. Enthusiastic tea boys dodge between the tables, slopping tea into saucers and serving up deep-fried snacks. Patrons air kiss loudly to attract the staff’s attention, their eyes on the football match on TV and their minds on teashop gossip. Stop for a bowl of mohinga – the nation’s favourite noodle soup, or refuel with a char kway (a Chinese-style doughnut) dunked in a delicious cup of sweet, milky tea.

Float down the Irrawaddy

The Irrawaddy River curls south from foothills of the Himalayas, unfurling past Mandalay and Bagan’s temple-covered plain before spilling its silt-rich waters into the Andaman Sea. Myanmar’s most important waterway is plied by everything from luxury teak-decked steamers to ponderous government ferries and leaking speedboats. Climb aboard your vessel of choice and float downstream to see a slice of riverside life – and remember to keep an eye out for rare Irrawaddy dolphins.

Relive the Raj

From streets lined with peeling colonial-era buildings and afternoon tea at The Strand in Yangon, to ghostly locations from George Orwell’s novel Burmese Days in Katha, echoes of British Burma reverberate in a handful of places around Myanmar. Nowhere are these echoes louder than in Pyin Oo Lwin, a former hill station, where horse-drawn carriages trundle past mouldering teakwood mansions and a bell cast for George V’s Silver Jubilee still chimes from the town’s Purcell Tower.

Revive yourself with tealeaf salad

Enthusiastic tea drinkers, the Burmese are one of the few cultures to eat tea as well, in the form of lahpet thouq or tealeaf salad. Fried garlic and broad beans, chopped tomato and whole green chillies are added to piles of deep green, slightly pickled tealeaves, creating something like pesto with a strong caffeine kick – a popular pick-me-up for sleepy students and flagging sightseers alike.

Explore Buddhism’s quirky side

Myanmar’s Theravada Buddhism is shot through with a thick vein of mystery and magic, with enough offbeat sights and stories to revive the interest of the most jaded temple-goer. Climb to the Golden Rock, a precarious gold-crusted boulder held in place for centuries by a few strands of Buddha’s hair, meet alchemist monks searching for the secret to eternal life at Hpa-An’s crag-top pagoda and clamber through the insides of a vast concrete Buddha outside Mawlamyine.

Image by Jo James

Join a nat ceremony

Transvestite natkadaws ply a middle-aged lady with whisky as she gyrates to music from a traditional orchestra. Members of the audience tuck 1,000-kyat notes into her clothing to propitiate the nat who has possessed her. Although Myanmar’s native belief system – that the world is suffused by a collection of unruly nats who require frequent mollification with alcohol, music and money – contrasts sharply with Buddhism’s emphasis on restraint and quiet reflection, many Burmese people happily believe in both. Catch the country’s largest nat ceremony in Taungbyone each August, or head to Mount Popa, Myanmar’s most important centre of nat worship.

Take your time on a Burmese train

Journeys on Myanmar’s antiquated narrow-gauge rail network are often uncomfortable and comically bouncy, and timing is unpredictable in the extreme. However, in exchange for risking a bruised bum and a late arrival, train travellers are rewarded with a fantastic chance to interact with local people, from friendly fellow passengers and holidaying monks, to the poised ladies who sway down the aisle selling snacks from trays balanced precariously on their heads.

Try thanaka

Each morning Burmese women and children daub their cheeks with powdery yellow swipes of thanaka, a natural sunblock and cosmetic made from the ground bark of the wood apple tree, with its sandalwood-like fragrance. However you feel about its beautifying abilities – that tawny shade of yellow isn’t for everyone – freshly applied thanaka is wonderfully cooling, and makes your face smell great for hours.

Rock a longyi

Once you’ve sorted out your thanaka, the natural next step is to get yourself a longyi – a tube of fabric worn by men and women across Myanmar. The male version (a paso) is often nattily checked or striped, and tied with a knot in front, while the female version (a htamein) is more richly patterned, and tucked into a fold around the waist. Pick out your favourite design and take it to a tailor, who will sew it up for you and you’re all set – just ensure that it’s tied tightly enough to avoid any inadvertent flashing…

Nurture a jaggery addiction

Irregular, caramel-coloured lumps of jaggery are one of the great pleasures of a Burmese meal. Made from boiled toddy palm sap and jokingly called “Burmese chocolate”, jaggery is exceedingly addictive whether plain or flavoured with coconut shreds and sesame seeds. However unhappy it might make your dentist back home, cultivating a serious jaggery habit is certainly healthier than Myanmar’s other great tooth-rotting pastime – chewing kwoon-ya, lip-staining little parcels of betel nut, tobacco and slaked lime.

Image by Jo James

Get tipsy on toddy

All over Myanmar, you’ll see spindly bamboo ladders disappearing into spiky palmyra palm trees – a sure sign that a toddy tapper is at work nearby. The palm’s sweet, white sap ferments naturally into toddy, a cloudy, lightly alcoholic beverage also called palm wine or tan-ye. Myanmar’s only home-grown alcoholic drink (Mandalay Brewery’s “anti-aging” spirulina beer notwithstanding), toddy is only available from low-key village bars close to where it’s made, making it an unmistakable taste of the Burmese countryside.

Sample village life

Take to the hills in Shan State and trek along the now-classic Kalaw to Inle Lake route, or head north to explore the less-visited area around Hsipaw and Kyaukme. Whichever hike you choose, you’ll have the opportunity to stay overnight in Shan and Palaung villages along each trail – something that isn’t yet possible elsewhere in Myanmar – and to experience rural life first-hand, with roosters for alarm clocks and water buffalo for trail mates.

Image by Jo James

Go to market

Barefoot porters pad down crowded aisles shouldering crates of limes, stallholders lean against sacks of onions lazily smoking cheroots, while prospective buyers prod green mangoes and examine glistening fish. Go for a stroll through any messy morning market and you’ll discover something new, from the novel (Burmese herbal shampoo) and delicious (crispy bein moun pancakes smeared with jaggery syrup), to the malodorous (shapely piles of ngapi fish paste speared with smoking incense sticks).

Get wet during Thingyan

While in theory, Thingyan – the week-long Burmese New Year festival – is a time to solemnly reaffirm one’s Buddhist beliefs, to the outside observer it seems more like a raucous, countrywide water fight. As temperatures soar each April, everyday life grinds to a halt and children and teenagers take to the streets to soak each other and passers-by (foreigners are singled out with particular relish) with buckets and out-sized water pistols. Festivities reach fever pitch in Mandalay, where streets are lined with makeshift stages from which revellers hose down passing motorists to a booming soundtrack of local hits.

 

Explore more of Myanmar with the new Rough GuideCompare flightsbook hostels for your trip, and don’t forget to purchase travel insurance before you go.

Taken from the Rough Guide to Europe on a Budget, here’s our pick of the best hostels in Europe.

Europe presents an irresistible challenge to the budget traveller. From London’s Royal Parks and Amsterdam’s canals to İstanbul’s Grand Bazaar and the Berlin Wall, just getting tangled up in its sights is a huge draw – you can see the Algarve, the Alps and the Arctic, all in one trip. There’s time travel here too: with Stonehenge and Ephesus, cathedrals and castles, châteaux and palaces (not to mention statement-making modern architecture). But to take all this in, you’ll need to get some kip. Picking accommodation wisely is one of our top tips for backpacking through Europe, and these days hostels go far beyond basic bunks and a breakfast buffet…

Czech Inn, Prague

Historical, whimsical, hedonistic and cynical, Prague bewilders its visitors – and charms them. Fall in love with the city at Czech Inn, which with its oak floors, brushed aluminium and discarded backpacks seems like the product of a tryst between a youth hostel and a luxury hotel. It’s on the edge of the town centre in the great Vinohrady neighbourhood and has a café-bar with live music, great staff and a 24-hour reception.

Jumbo Stay, Arlanda Airport

On a flying visit to Sweden? Treat yourself to a night at a working hotel and hostel built into the shell of an old Boeing 747. Up front in the flight deck, with two adjustable beds and a flat-screen TV, the cockpit suite is the reserve of first-class travellers. Thankfully there’s cheaper accommodation further back in the fuselage, where cattle class used to be.

Photo courtesy of Jumbo Stay

Cocomama, Amsterdam

Amsterdam is a “bucket-list” city for most travellers. Its relaxed attitude to drugs and vice attract thousands of thrill-seekers, but after assault from the haze of cannabis and the gaudy Red Light District, you’ll need somewhere to catch forty winks. Located in a former brothel, this “boutique” hostel has themed dorms sleeping up to six people and lovely en-suite private rooms, plus a pleasant, smoke-free communal/kitchen area, a cute little garden and even a friendly house cat.

Gallery Hostel, Porto

One of Europe’s finest second cities, Porto is less pretentious than the capital, Lisbon, and extremely welcoming. Art-loving travellers in particular will feel right at home in this superb and spacious, hostel-cum-gallery in Porto’s emerging artists’ quarter. The house, built in 1906 and carefully restored, has its own library, bar and TV room. The helpful family running it even offer free tours and trips to local galleries.

Hedonist Hostel, Belgrade

We’ve been keenly following Belgrade’s rejuvenation over the past few years, and its growing stack of terrific hostels is yet another string to its bow. Occupying an old town house, the fantastic Hedonist Hostel is a superb antidote to the ubiquitous apartment-style places that proliferate – bare brick walls and low, wooden-beam ceilings lend it considerable charm. There’s also a chill room with PlayStation, and the chirpy owners lay on regular barbecues in the pretty garden. A massage room and bike rental are available too.

Hostel Celica, Ljubljana

You’ll find the alternative face of Ljubljana, Metelkova, a five-minute walk east of both the bus and train stations. This is one of the city’s most colourful quarters, its graffitied streets now accommodating a cosmopolitan array of independent societies, underground clubs, bars and galleries. Stay at the centre of this artistic district at this brilliantly original hostel in a former military prison. Beds are in bright dorms and two/three-bed “cells”, each designed by a different architect or artist. Expect concerts, exhibitions and parties, too.

Photo courtesy of Hostel Celica

St Christopher’s Inn, Paris

St Christopher’s have two outposts in Paris: a whopper of a hostel with over six hundred beds well-placed for the Eurostar by Gare du Nord and a purpose-built “canal” branch close to the nightlife along the Canal St Martin. They’re a very slick operation: dorm beds have lockable storage cages and USB points in the headboard, plus there are on-site restaurants and bars. Other perks include phones for free international calls, a female only floor and a slew of nightly activities.

Jetpak Alternative, Berlin

You’ll find this attractive, high-end hostel in a gritty Berlin neighbourhood close to all the action in Kreuzberg, a premier twenty- something late-night hangout, and Friedrichshain, home to many of the city’s best clubs and alternative hangouts. Perks include free internet, a buffet breakfast and under-floor heating, along with bicycle rental, laundry facilities and cheap beer.

The Beehive, Rome

No backpacking trip to Europe would be complete without a trip to Rome, recently voted the world’s most beautiful city by Rough Guides readers. The area around Termini station can be pretty insalubrious, but this wonderful hostel still gets our vote as one of the best places to stay. As well as spacious rooms with artisan mirrors and designer furnishings, there’s a vegetarian organic café, a massage room and a quiet leafy patio perfect to unwind with a book.

Photo courtesy of The Beehive

Clink78, London

You’ll find this quirky hostel a short walk from London’s Kings Cross station – an area fast being regenerated. It’s unusually housed in a Victorian courthouse, with dorms of various sizes (some of which are girls-only) painted in cheerful colours. Chill-out space is in the actual courtrooms, while the cheapest of the private rooms are the cramped former police cells.

Hostel Mostel, Sofia

Sofia can seem an uninspiring place to first-time visitors, but this is a city on the up. Much has been done recently to revitalize the centre, and pavement cafés now buzz with life. These days the city also has a number of good hostels, but this one is superb, located in a historic building a short walk from the centre. Besides the free all-you-can-eat breakfast, they offer a bowl of pasta and a bottle of beer for every night of your stay.

Af Chapman, Stockholm

Built across fourteen islands, water and green space dominate the landscape of Stockholm, so it’s no surprise that you’ll find one of the world’s most elegant hostels inside a converted Stockholm landmark, the tall sailing ship, Af Chapman.  If you can’t get one of the pricier beds on board, there are cheaper rooms on dry land in the hostel building, which houses the reception and a breakfast room plus a decent café.

For a full guide to travelling in Europe, check out the Rough Guide to Europe on a BudgetCompare flightsbook hostels for your trip, and don’t forget to purchase travel insurance before you go. 

 

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