As the only democracy in the Chinese speaking world and the most progressive city for LGBTQ+ rights in Asia, a legacy of artists and activists have worked to make Taiwan’s capital a place where culture, progression and creativity thrive.

Now, a new wave of resident creatives are re-energizing the city. Cutting-edge art galleries stand next to traditional teahouses, and basement club techno still murmurs in the streets as local markets set up their fare with the sunrise. Affordable, safe, efficient and exciting, this sea of glass, concrete and palm trees is an urban explorer’s dreamland. For travellers looking to unearth Taiwan’s underground scene, here are eight tips for discovering cool Taipei at its best.

1. Don’t stop drinking coffee

Taiwan’s celebrated tea culture can be traced back more than three hundred years. Home to some of the world’s best greens and oolongs, tea here is both a science and a philosophy, a remedy for body and soul.

While you’ll find no shortage of old-school teahouses, the same spirit of craft and pride has been applied to Taipei’s third wave coffee scene – and the results are glorious. Interesting cafés are popping up everywhere in the city, from over the top chemistry lab-esque B Coffee & Space in Da’an to the award-winning baristas and Scandi-inspired minimalism of Fika Fika in Zhongshan.

Whether you spend the day shooting espresso or sipping cups of siphoned single-origin brew, you’ll quickly discover why Taipei seems set to become the world’s next hub of café culture.

coffee 1

photo by Colt St. George

2. Tap into the city’s creative scene in Zhongshan and Dongmen

Taipei was named World Design Capital 2016 for a reason. Everyone from young architects to underground record labels seem to be embracing a new “made in Taiwan” pride that’s at once trendy and distinctly Taiwanese. The neighbourhoods of Zhongshan and Dongmen are perfect for testing the waters.

While the main streets may feel a bit commercial, amble the historic back lanes of Zhongshan district and you’ll discover well-curated vintage shops like Blue Monday, cute design boutiques and stylish records stores like Waiting Room. Taipei Artist Village – an arts institution and residency open to local and international creatives – is also worth popping by.

Dongmen is even more gratifying. While the upscale main streets boast everything from craft bubble tea to the latest in Taiwanese interior design, hit the quiet residential alleyways and you’ll find quirky art cafés, craft beer bars, dusty Chinese antique shops and good old fashioned Taiwanese comfort food spots like James Kitchen on Yongkang Street.

3. Sample the street food, especially stinky tofu

Be it in London, New York or Berlin, street food has become undeniably, and often tragically, hip. Forgo the pomp, faux-grit and absurd prices of the latest in questionable Western street food trends and rejoice in Taipei’s affordable authenticity.

From notable night markets like Ningxia and Liaoning to nameless back alley daytime stalls serving dishes perfected over generations, there’re an overwhelming variety of delicious local dishes to sample. Fatty braised pork on rice, oyster omelettes, beef noodle soup, dumplings and shaved ice piled high with fresh fruit are good for starters.

However, your ultimate quest should be to conquer the infamous chòu dòufu, or stinky tofu. It smells like a rotting corpse, but possesses a flavour profile of such intense complexity most hardcore foodies call it sublime. Others spit it up immediately.

asia-700610 (1)

Pixabay / CC0

4. Give vegetarianism a try

If you’re a vegan or vegetarian having trouble finding meat-free eats, keep an eye out for restaurant signs with enormous, glaring swastikas. The symbol is associated with Buddhism in China long before it’s appropriation in Europe and marks the restaurant as entirely vegetarian.

There are loads around the city, selling delectable Buddhist meals at ridiculously cheap prices. Many are buffet style, where whatever you’ve stacked on your plate is paid for by weight. The selection is usually too vast to try all of in a single go, which will keep you coming back for more.

5. From dilapidation to design: check out the city’s former art squats

Maverick Taiwanese artists were the first to recognize the potential of Taipei’s abandoned industrial buildings, squatting and staging illegal performances in these derelict-turned-creative spaces. Though authorities were quite resistant to their presence initially, after much protest spaces such as Huashan 1914 Creative Park and Songshan Cultural and Creative Park have become governmentally protected cultural centres.

Today these spaces are generally buzzing with life, hosting a plethora of fun adult and family events in on-site galleries, concept stores, cinemas, studios, concert halls and more. While governmental commercialization of these spaces has blunted their cutting-edge origins, they still feel undeniably special and worthwhile.

taipei street 3

photo by Colt St. George

6. Lose yourself in Taipei’s nightlife

Home to a thriving underground scene, Taipei’s nightlife and music scenes are simply awesome. From indie garage rockers like Skip Skip Ben Ben, to techno, noise and experimental hip hop, putting the effort into exploring Taipei’s underground sounds will reveal an entirely different dimension to the city and provide opportunities to mingle with the artists who are making it happen.

Revolver in Zhongzheng is a laidback and friendly institution that throws everything from metal to indie nights, while F*cking Place (though the club doesn’t use an asterisk) is definitely among the city’s coolest dive-bars – with the added bonus of ridiculously cheap beer. For techno and electronic parties get to Korner, a subsection of well-known club The Wall. Pipe and APA Mini are also great venues for live music.

7. Not feeling the party? Try a reading rave

With a vibrant population of artists, intellectuals and activists perhaps it’s no surprise that print still holds a special place in Taiwan. The popularity of Eslite in Dunnan branch, Taipei’s massive 24 hour bookstore and one of the world’s only to keep such hours, speaks for itself. Curl up in this beautifully designed booktopia and join the locals as they pore over pages all night long.

On a smaller-scale, keep an eye out for the artisanal stationery shop Pinmo Pure Store, Gin Gin Store (the first gay bookstore opened in Greater China) and hip new bookish concept stores. In this respect, Pon Ding is an absolute standout – a friendly, three-story collaborative creative space housing art, independent publications, quality magazines and pop-up events. Of course, they’ve also got a brilliant café.

inside pon ding 1

photo credit: Pon Ding

8. Get back to nature

Every once in a while you need to leave the urban grind behind and unwind in the natural world. Thankfully, nature is never far off in Taiwan.

The high speed railway from Taipei can have you beaching on the island’s subtropical southern coast in less than two hours, while verdant mountain trails and popular surf breaks are easily accessible by bus. If you’re feeling adventurous, delve further into the mountains to experience the colourful cultures of Taiwan’s indigenous peoples.

But whenever you find yourself recharged and craving that big-city buzz it’s a quick train trip back to the creative playground that is Taipei.

EVA Air, a Star Alliance member, flies daily from London Heathrow to Taipei, offering passengers award winning service and a choice of three cabin classes: Royal Laurel Class (Business Class), Elite Class (Premium Economy) and Economy Class. Featured image: Pon Ding. See more of Taiwan with the Taiwanese tourist board

Spanning an area as large as Europe, French Polynesia can be intimidating to the first-­time visitor. Technically an overseas collectivity of France, this globally ­renowned destination is considered by many to be a slice of heaven on earth.

With its idyllic beaches, postcard­-worthy sunsets, and incredible turquoise waters filled with abundant marine life, French Polynesia’s Society Islands (most notably Tahiti, Moorea, Bora Bora, Raiatea, and Taha’a) attract the majority of the region’s visitors. Yet there’s all this – and more – to discover in these halcyon isles.

Here, Eric Grossman takes us through French Polynesia’s highlights in a (coco)nut shell.

Tahiti Island

Tahiti Island is the largest and most populated of the 118 islands and atolls that make up French Polynesia. Most visitors use Tahiti as a base from which to explore the region’s many highlights; all the major destinations can be reached from the international airport in Faa’a.

With its ubiquitous pearl shops, lively roulottes (food trucks), and occasional traffic jams, the capital city of Papeete is the closest thing French Polynesia has to a metropolis. To truly appreciate the island’s many natural wonders, however, be sure to explore its rugged coastline, myriad historical sites, and mountainous interior.

Tahiti also affords visitors their best chance to get a taste of normal everyday Polynesian life by seeking out a beach or market (such as the Marché Papeete) crammed with friendly locals.

Tahiti, French PolynesiaTahiti via Pixabay/CC0

Moorea

Only a 30 minute ferry ride from Papeete, the charming island of Moorea is less populated and developed than its famous neighbour. Visitors exploring the mountainous, mostly rural island are more likely to encounter more chickens than humans.

From an elevated perch inland (for which you’ll need a 4×4 vehicle) one can view the two small, nearly symmetrical bays on the north shore where most of the island’s action takes place.

Moorea, French PolynesiaMoorea via Pixabay/CC0

Bora Bora

Perhaps the most lauded honeymoon spot on the planet, Bora Bora benefits from its natural lagoon that’s monitored by the imposing, majestic Mount Otemanu. The clear, warm waters are filled with colorful fish and majestic rays, and most visitors spend as much time here as possible.

A handful of upscale resorts, including the family friendly Four Seasons and opulent St. Regis, are famous for their overwater bungalows. These pricey accommodations offer an exceptional, once-­in-­a-­lifetime splurge perfect for celebs looking for some peace and privacy, as well as mere mortals celebrating a special occasion.

Bora Bora, French PolynesiaBora Bora via Pixabay/CC0

Raiatea and Taha’a

The islands of Raiatea and Taha’a can be seen from Bora Bora, and like their world-­famous neighbour, both offer astoundingly clear waters and a relaxing break from modern life (in other words, don’t expect perfect internet access).

Prized by yachters and sailors, Raiatea is the larger and more visited of the two. The island is believed to be the site from which organised migrations to Hawaii and other parts of Polynesia were launched many centuries ago.

Smaller, quieter Taha’a is also worth a visit, especially for those interested in its two most famous products: vanilla and pearls.

Raiatea, French PolynesiaRaiatea by Liz Saldaña via Flickr (CC-BY – modified)

Tuamotu Islands

While no one will confuse the Society Islands for busier, more developed tropical destinations, certain visitors may seek something a little quieter; those looking to completely disconnect are wise to consider the Tuamotu Islands.

This vast archipelago of coral atolls is headlined by Rangiroa and Tikehau, where pink sand beaches give way to clear waters filled with a kaleidoscope of colorful fish (the famed underwater explorer Jacques Cousteau was a fan).

If you’ve ever fantasized about seeing a shark swim under your bungalow, look no further. Rangiroa, comprised of 240 small islets that form the second­-largest atoll in the world, ­is a mecca for divers.

Few visitors leave the Tuamotus without diving, snorkeling, or boating. Just don’t expect anything by way of shopping or nightlife ­ visitor services are at a minimum in these sparsely ­populated destinations.

Rangiroa, Tuamotu Islands, French PolynesiaRangiroa by dany13 via Flickr (CC-BY – modified)

Marquesas Islands

About a three hour flight from the Society Islands resides the Marquesas Islands; these rugged, quiet islands are renowned within French Polynesia for their rich culture and breathtaking nature.

Some of the Marquesas have remained untouched since the era of European exploration. Fearless visitors traverse steep mountains while keeping an eye out for the wild horses, pigs, and goats that roam inland.

Nuku Hiva, the largest of the Marquesas, lures visitors with its lush valleys, ancient religious sites, and towering waterfalls. The island of Hiva Oa also receives tourism due to its wild landscape, giant stone tiki, and rich history (it’s the final resting place of the performer Jacques Brel and artist Paul Gauguin).

Marquesas Islands, French PolynesiaMarquesas via Pixabay/CC0

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Backpacking Thailand can mean staying in fun-packed hostels and idyllic beach bungalows, eating noodles so tasty and so cheap you’ll swear off all other food groups and climbing aboard everything from an overnight train to a lolloping elephant.

But it also means following a well-worn route – one that has sprouted an entire industry to service it, and sometimes, sadly, to take advantage of it.

Sidestep those scams and dodge the dangers with our top tips for making the most of backpacking Thailand.

1. Be respectful – know the etiquette

Thailand is known as the Land of Smiles for a reason, but those smiles can quickly disappear if you don’t respect the culture. The feet are considered the lowest part of the body so never point them (especially the soles) towards somebody, especially if that somebody is a statue of Buddha. The head is considered most sacred so don’t touch people on the head, even children.

2. Eat bravely

One of the best things about travelling in Thailand is the food and you’ll find the tastiest – and cheapest – Thai noodles and curries at the street food stalls.

Be brave and follow the locals, they know which places have the highest standards, and the more people eating means more turnover and fresher ingredients.

Street food, Thailand

3. Embrace public transport

Yes, the tuk tuk is an experience you mustn’t miss but to get proper mileage under your belt (and to get between Bangkok and the highlights of Chiang Mai, the southern islands and Kanchanaburi) you’re going to need to get to grips with the Thai bus service (Baw Khaw Saw or BKS).

Government-run, it’s reliable and extensive, with a BKS station in almost every town. Book your tickets here the day before you want to travel if and take the overnight first class bus to save on a night’s accommodation.

These generally stop somewhere en route for you to eat and will have reclining seats and a toilet on board. Bring a warm jacket to wrap up in, earplugs and an eye shade and prepare to arrive very early in the morning.

4. Timing is everything

The best time to visit Thailand is between November and February, when the monsoons finish for the year and temperatures are at coolest. This is also peak season though so if saving money and avoiding crowds is more important to you than sunbathing, the wet season (May to October) could be a better bet. To see all the highlights at a reasonable pace you’re going to need at least a month, though two is better.

Phuket, buses, Thailand

5. Don’t be fooled

That tuk tuk driver stopping you on the street to tell you it’s a national holiday and that temple you’re about to visit is closed? It’s almost certainly not, he or she may just want to take you to their cousin’s carpet factory or sister’s gem shop.

Don’t be fooled by official looking uniforms, cheap or free tuk tuk tours or one day only gem sales either – unfortunately all are scams set up to part you from your travel funds, usually in exchange for a worthless ‘gem’ you can sell when you get back home

And don’t even think about getting involved in the sex industry – prostitution may be rife in Thailand but one thing it’s not is legal.

6. Agree a price before you ride

Be it a taxi or a tuk tuk, you need to agree a price for your journey in advance. Taxi drivers are meant to use the meter so ask them to and if they say no move on along the rank to the next driver.

Tuk tuks should be haggled over – ask your hostel for a rough estimate on current rates and stand firm. Though it also pays to remember that haggling over 20 baht is about equivalent to getting in a stress over 40p or 60 cents – sometimes it just isn’t worth it.

Morning Alms Round, Young monks on alms round, Mae Hong Son, THAILAND

7. Pack light

You’re going backpacking for the freedom – so don’t weigh yourself down. Buy a light backpack and fill it only with the essentials.

You’ll need layers for those chilly bus journeys, a few items of underwear you can wash repeatedly, a waterproof jacket, earplugs, your phone charger and adaptor and insect repellent. Here’s a backpacking checklist to help you plan your backpack.

8. Use hostels

Thailand has a great network of hostels and you’ll not only save money over hotels, but also meet more people and get more local recommendations. Hostel staff are also a reliable source of advice and information on everything from avoiding the latest scam to where to get the best noodles, so talk to them.

9. Go with the flow

Thailand is a place to chill. So stay on somewhere if you love it, move on if you don’t, and if you hear about a cool new bar or restaurant, or a party on the beach, go. Unpredictable sometimes, unforgettable always.

setting off hot air balloons, Loy Krathong festival

Explore more of Thailand with the Rough Guide to ThailandCompare flights, find toursbook hostels and hotels for your trip, and don’t forget to buy travel insurance before you go.

Many visitors to Cape Town leave with a fairly limited view of the Mother City. They see the whitewashed beachfront restaurants and hotels, take the cable car up Table Mountain and top up their tan before heading home with a suitcase full of overpriced carved wooden animals that were actually made in China.

The overwhelming majority of Capetonians inhabit a very different world. That world is broadly referred to as the Cape Flats, and comprises the range of crowded informal settlements and “ghetto” townships – once known as “apartheid’s dumping ground” – that sprawl beyond the city centre and its leafy suburbs.

But a number of young township-based innovators and entrepreneurs are reimagining and repackaging these traditionally peripheral areas as much more than sad, impoverished and passive backdrops for a quick tick-the-box “poverty safari”. To these guys, the townships are the pulsing epicentre of urban South African experience, culture and creativity.

Take the time to get beneath the surface of Cape Town’s townships and you’ll find it’s hard to argue with them. Here are five of the best ways to see the irrepressible township revolution in all its glory.

Enjoy the sounds of Jazz in the Native Yards

Just around the corner from the raucousness and revelry of Mzoli’s Place in Gugulethu, you’ll find a live jazz venue with a difference.

Jazz in the Native Yards, the brainchild of former arts journalist and local boy Luvuyo Kakaza, takes some of the best jazz musicians from across South Africa away from overpriced and exclusionary city centre venues and squeezes them into a cozy township living room.

When the music isn’t playing, drinks can be ordered through the kitchen hatch and there’s a braai (barbecue), lots of banter and a distinct lack of racial boundaries to enjoy outside in the yard as the sun goes down.

Get your caffeine fix at the Department of Coffee

In 2012, The Department of Coffee was the first artisan coffee shop and espresso bar to open in a Cape Town township.

Found behind the busy Khayelitsha train station and the labyrinth of market stalls that surround it, this shop, run by three local twenty-somethings, is showing the surrounding community that a good brew is not just for the affluent – none of the delectable creations on offer cost more than R10 (about 50p), and all are made with local beans roasted specially for Department of Coffee.

You can sit and enjoy your coffee and the incessant hustle and bustle of this part of town on one of the shaded stone tables out front.

Department of Coffee, Cape Town, South AfricaImage by Chris Clark

Catch dinner and a show at Theatre in the Backyard

Acclaimed theatre producer and director Mhlanguli George has teamed up with Cape Town experiential tour operator Coffeebeans Routes to offer an innovative and interactive twist on traditional dinner theatre.

George’s visceral, hard-hitting theatre pieces are staged in a township backyard in Nyanga, where his actors make use of the various “props” that are available to them while the audience, with no allocated seating, have to negotiate their way around the performers and the space.

After the show, you join the unfailingly affable director and his performers for a home-cooked dinner and a couple of beers, and George will tell you more about his Theatre in the Backyard concept.

Theatre in the Backyard, Cape Town, South AfricaImage by Chris Clark

Experience the urban creativity of The Langa Quarter

According to the Langa Quarter’s creator Tony Elvin, a black Brit who has settled in Langa, this so-called Social Enterprise Precinct will one day be to Cape Town what the French Quarter is to New Orleans.

Langa is both Cape Town’s oldest township and, interestingly, the geographic centre of the metropole. The Quarter thus serves both as a museum of the city’s past, and a creative hub of contemporary music, art, culture and design. Various artists living in the precinct use their houses as open art galleries, while others have painted directly onto the quarter’s walls and buildings themselves.

A ”hotel homestay”, where you’ll be put up and fed by a local resident, is the best way to experience the Langa Quarter’s growing number of attractions.

Langa Quarter, Cape Town, South AfricaImage by Chris Clark

Feel the vibe on Spine Road

Strangely quiet during the week, this long road into the heart of Khayelitsha comes alive on weekends in a cacophony of sizzling meat, bassy Kwaito music, tooting car horns, laughter and general revelry.

At the sophisticated Deep Kultsha Café, the local elite dress to the nines and enjoy the views of the street below from the floor to ceiling windows of the raised venue. Just around the corner at the open air Rands Lifestyle Space, the in-house DJ gets the droves of beautiful people moving to the beat long before dusk. Punters bring their own alcohol and ice and set in for the long haul.

The crowds on the street – deck chairs out on the pavement and beats pumping from their car sound systems – sometimes outnumber those inside the venues. To those in the know, this is the city’s undisputed party capital.

Explore more of the Cape Town with the Rough Guide to Cape TownBook hostels, hotels and tours for your trip, compare flights, and don’t forget to purchase travel insurance before you go.

Beyond the mystical sounds of gamelan and the intricate craft of batik, Bali boasts a world of subcultures often overlooked by visitors. The art makes bold statements, nightlife sometimes involves a new tattoo, and music is anything but serene.

On an island where locals are often denied entry from bars and clubs, an experience off the typical tourist trail is both vital and enlightening. Kick-start your journey into Indonesia‘s underground with this alternative list of things to do on the Island of Gods.

Get weird at Black Market

What do pet snakes, drunk tarot readers, homeless artists, punk hairdressers, organic grocers, and the police have in common? They’ve all appeared at Black Market Bali.

This unpredictable art event pops up where and whenever it pleases, welcoming whoever wants to set up. With no schedule or restrictions, it tends to unfold like some chaotic hybrid between a circus and a garage sale. Buy, sell, browse, perform or party to a backdrop of live music, quirky vendors and rice fields.
Jl. Basangkasa No. 88, Seminyak

blackmarket_warehouse_photoby_kelibow0095

Skate the pool at Pretty Poison

When a venue in Bali says it’s having a pool party, you can usually bet on gaggles of the scantily clad and sunburnt swaying to last year’s top forty. But not at Pretty Poison. Here the pool stays drained for skateboarders to party in day and night.

Live music, skate competitions, dance parties, open-air movie screenings, art shows and tattoo nights all go down surrounded by Canggu’s tranquil rice paddies. Rambunctious skaters respectfully wait for their turn to shred the pool, while onlookers mingle, dance and get inked.

Most importantly, Pretty Poison one of the few venues remaining on the island that attracts a roughly equal mix of Indonesians and foreigners.
Short Cut Road, Jl. Subak, Canggu

A video posted by @prettypoison___ on

Tune into the contemporary at Ghostbird + Swoon

Run by a young Balinese woman and and her American partner, Ghostbird + Swoon doubles as an art gallery and curatorial space for experimental fashion. Their manifesto? “‘We seek beauty. Not the thoughtless, fleeting kind. But the ugly kind that takes time, mistakes, intelligence, obsessive reflection and mad skills to cultivate.“ The space features works by contemporary artists, often Indonesian women, with exhibitions examining themes such as female identity in regional society, and the artistic potential of junk. Engage with the thought-provoking work here and you’re sure to gain a nuanced understanding of this vast, complex country. Jl. Danau Tamblingan No. 75, Sanur

swoon-25

 

Rock out at Twice Bar

It’s no secret that Kuta, Bali‘s commercial centre, is a little trashy – especially after dark. Developers and binge-drinking foreigners have transformed the area into a mishmash of uninspired nightclubs, sleazy bars and tourist traps. But in the midst of all the debauchery, one venue is worth your time: Twice Bar, founded by members of popular Balinese punk band Superman is Dead. The frenetic sound of Indonesian punk rock keeps most foreigners away, but if you’re looking to begin an off-beat Balinese night out, this is the place to be. Heavy music is an important part of Indonesian culture – Napalm Death is the President’s favourite band, after all. Enjoy cheap arak (the palm sap equivalent of moonshine), adrenaline-fueled shows, an in-bar tattoo parlour and friendly Anarcho-Indonesian company. Jl. Popies II, Kuta

A video posted by Nugra dadee (@nug412) on

Take shelter at Revolver Espresso

Hidden down nameless a Seminyak backstreet, the original Revolver Espresso isn’t easy to find but is worth the hunt – they serve the best coffee on the island. Inside, you might think you’ve wandered into a trendy East London warehouse, with high ceilings and chipped white paint on rough brick walls.

But there’s enough comfy seating and vintage bric-a-brac to keep this industrial space feeling cosy. The shop has become famous for its premium beans, carefully sourced from around the world, roasted in-house, and brewed to perfection.

With fun tunes always spinning on vinyl, and delicious food to boot –try the poached eggs on mashed avocado, homemade relish and sourdough toast – it’s an ideal place to escape the island heat or wait-out the rain.
Jl. Kayu Aya, Gang 51, Seminyak

15875577997_5630d6312d_oIced Revolver shot by Jonathan Ooi (CC license)

Buy a taco and get a free tattoo at The Temple of Enthusiasm

Lifestyle brand Deus Ex Machina makes bespoke café racer-inspired motorcycles, artisanal surfboards, skateboards, clothing and more. Since the opening of their flagship, The Temple of Enthusiasm, the once sleepy village of Canggu has transformed into into the island’s most happening area.

Whether you’re in it for the Temple’s hip concept store, art gallery, bar, restaurant, half-pipe, farmers markets, movie nights, high-speed dress-up drag races, live music, longboard competitions or Taco Tattuesdays (free tattoo with the purchase of your taco) – this bona fide Bali institution is an absolute must.
Jalan Batu Mejan No. 8, Canggu

Surf, snack, and drink a cold one at Batu Bolong Beach

A steep, black-sand beach with waves perfect for longboarding brings beginners and tattooed, retro-looking surfers to Batu Bolong.

Factor in a bustling Hindu temple, Balinese family gatherings, Indonesian street food, unbeatable sunsets and Old Man’s – a tiki bar-style beer garden that gets wild on Wednesday nights – and you’ll discover the atmosphere of this beach is tough to beat.
Jl. Pantai Batu Bolong, Canggu

20448057071_a42d5a6807_oBatu Bolong sunset by bruno kvot (CC license)

Kick back at a late-night goreng stall

Whether you’re wrapping up after a hard day of surfing, exploring or doing a whole lot of nothing, there’s no better place to unwind than at at one of Bali’s many roadside late-night goreng tents.

Pass on the cutlery (though it’s not usually on offer) and use your hands to tuck into fried chicken or tempeh (a soy product sort of like tofu), served with a side of mouth-watering sambal (spicy chili sauce), white rice and a single lettuce leaf.

Their ramshackle, bare-bones atmosphere is the perfect complement to the intense flavours served up, and locals are always happy to chat. This really is Balinese nightlife at its finest.

19472428939_8f9bf07cf4_oBali street food by steve deeves (CC license)

Explore more of the Bali coastline with The Rough Guide to Bali & LombokCompare flightsbook hostels and hotels for your trip, and don’t forget to purchase travel insurance before you go.

In a country where censorship rules, few people gave the idea much of a chance. In little more than a decade, however, the 798 Art District, which occupies a former military zone on the northeastern edge of Beijing, has grown to become a genuine creative hub for contemporary art.

The story begins in the 1950s, when huge brick factories were thrown up around the Chinese capital to help satisfy the army’s growing demand for communications technologies. When manufacturing techniques moved on, these Bauhaus-style buildings were left abandoned.

China, Beijing, 798 Art District

By the early 2000s artists had moved in, attracted by low rents and the high-ceilinged spaces that gave them room to work on, and show off, their paintings and sculptures. With few other places for local artists to express themselves, and the empty factories effectively a blank canvas, news began to spread.

Today, the vast 500,000-square-metre complex teems with bookshops, galleries and art stores. Bright sculptures (think lipstick red and lime green) add colour to the traffic-free streets, while hipsters from Beijing, Shanghai and beyond rummage through trailers stacked high with ceramics and old cameras, searching for souvenirs.

Abandoned Electronic Factory, China, Beijing, 798 Art District

It’s hard to spot much in the way of politically charged art, though you might glimpse the odd cartoonish doodle of a tank or gunman, and the shops do a good line in “Obamao” T-shirts.

Away from the glossy commercial galleries, multimedia installations and corporate-sponsored exhibitions, though, there are still traces of the area’s edgier beginnings. Old factory walls shimmer with graffiti, and lone photographers snap at the handful of tumbledown industrial buildings and rusting pipelines that have yet to be torn down or redeveloped.

On its journey from niche art hangout to major tourist attraction – a transition that has caused rents to spiral, and thus priced out many artists – the district has picked up its share of critics. But then, if an art district like this wasn’t bringing in the money, it might not have been tolerated for so long.

Make Most Your Time On Earth coverDiscover more unforgettable places around the world with the new edition of Make the Most of Your Time on Earth.  Compare flightsbook hostels and hotels for your trip, and don’t forget to purchase travel insurance before you go.

So you’ve gawked at the guards of Buckingham Palace, hiked up Snowdon and hit the beach – what next? From lethal motorcycle races to mountain towns that look like something out of Tolkien’s Lord of the Rings, here are 8 unconventional things to do in the UK.

1. Horse about at Scotland’s Common Ridings

The Common Ridings of the Scottish border towns of Hawick, Selkirk, Jedburgh and Lauder are an equestrian extravaganza that combines the danger of Pamplona’s Fiesta de San Fermin and the drinking of Munich’s Oktoberfest. At dawn on each day of the ridings, a colourful and incredibly noisy drum and fife band marches around the streets to shake people from their sleep. It’s a signal: everyone get down to the pub – they open at 6am – and stock up on the traditional breakfast of “Curds and Cream” (rum and milk). Suitably fortified, over two hundred riders then mount their horses and gallop at breakneck speed around the ancient lanes and narrow streets of town, before heading out into the fields to race again.

By early evening, the spectators and riders stagger back into Hawick to reacquaint themselves with the town’s pubs. Stumbling out onto the street at well past midnight, you should have just enough time for an hour or two of shuteye before the fife band strikes up once more and it’s time to do it all over again.

Jethart Callants' Festival Day

2. Find Middle Earth in Northern Ireland

The mountains rise above the seaside town of Newcastle like green giants, with Slieve Donard the highest, almost 3000ft above the sandy strand of Dundrum Bay. Donard is just one of more than twenty peaks in County Down’s Mourne, with a dozen of them towering over 2000ft.

Conveniently grouped together in a range that is just seven miles broad and about fourteen miles long, they are surprisingly overlooked. On foot, in a landscape with no interior roads, you feel as if you have reached a magical oasis of high ground, a pure space that is part Finian’s Rainbow and part Middle Earth. This is ancient land and prehistoric cairns and stone graves – said to mark the resting place of Irish chiefs – dot the hills, peering through the mist to meet you.

3. Mountain bike on world-class trails in Wales

It’s not often that the modest mountains of Wales can compete with giants like the Alps or the Rockies, but when it comes to mountain biking, the trails that run through the craggy peaks of Snowdonia, the high moorlands of the Cambrian Mountains, and the deep, green valleys of South Wales are more than a match for their loftier counterparts. Indeed, the International Mountain Biking Association has long rated Wales as one of the planet’s top destinations.

Over the last decade or so, a series of purpose-built mountain-biking centres has been created throughout the country, providing world-class riding for everyone from rank beginner through to potential-world-cup downhiller. From easy, gently undulating trails along former rail lines that once served the heavy industry of the South Wales valleys, to the steep, rooty, rocky single tracks that run through the cloud-shadowed hills of North Wales, this is mountain biking at its finest.

7174028403_510f7cf652_b_MTB1662 by Dai Williams (license)

4. Explore Britain’s most mysterious beach in Scotland

Cape Wrath is a name that epitomizes nature at its harshest, land and sea at their most unforgiving. In fact, the name Wrath denotes a “turning point” in Old Norse, and the Vikings regarded this stockade of vertical rock in the most northwesterly corner of Scotland as a milestone in their ocean-going voyages. As such, they were surely among the first travellers to come under the spell of Sandwood Bay, the Cape’s most elemental stretch of coastline.

Here blow Britain’s most remote sands, flanked by epic dunes and a slither of shimmering loch; a beach of such austere and unexpected elegance, scoured so relentlessly by the Atlantic and located in such relative isolation, that it scarcely seems part of the Scottish mainland at all. Even on the clearest of summer days, when shoals of cumuli race shadows across the foreshore, you are unlikely to encounter other visitors save for the odd sandpiper. You might not be entirely alone, though; whole galleons are said to be buried in the sand, and a cast of mermaids, ghostly pirates and grumbling sailors has filled accounts of the place for as long as people have frequented it.

5. Discover heaven on Earth in Cornwall

A disused clay pit may seem like an odd location for Britain’s very own ecological paradise, but then everything about Cornwall’s Eden Project is far from conventional. From the concept of creating a unique ecosystem that could showcase the diversity of the world’s plant life, through to the execution – a set of bulbous, alien-like, geodesic biomes wedged into the hillside of a crater – the designers have never been less than innovative.

The gigantic humid Rainforest Biome, the largest conservatory in the world, is kept at a constant temperature of 30°c. Besides housing lofty trees and creepers that scale its full 160ft height, it takes visitors on a journey through tropical agriculture from coffee growing to the banana trade, to rice production and finding a cure for leukaemia. There’s even a life-size replica of a bamboo Malaysian jungle home, and a spectacular treetop Canopy Walkway.

Inside the Eden Project, Cornwall, England, UK

6. Call in the heavies at the Highland Games

Throughout Scotland, not just in the Highlands, summer signals the onset of the Highland Games, from the smallest village get-togethers to the Giant Cowal Highland Gathering in Dunoon, which draws a crowd of around 20,000. Urbanites might blanch at the idea of alfresco Scottish country dancing, but with dog trials, tractors, fudge stalls and more cute animals than you could toss a caber (tree trunk) at, the Highland Games are a guaranteed paradise for kids.

The military origins of the games are recalled in displays of muscle-power by bulky bekilted local men, from tossing the caber to hurling hammers and stones, and pitching bales of straw over a raised pole. Music and dance are also integral to the games, with pipe bands and young girls – kitted out in waistcoats, kilts and long woolly socks – performing reels and sword dances. A truly Scottish sight to behold.

7. Take bonfire night to extremes in Lewes

The first week of November sees one of the eccentric English’s most irresponsible, unruly and downright dangerous festivals – Bonfire Night. Up and down the country, human effigies are burned in back gardens and fireworks are set off – all in the name of Guy Fawkes’ foiled attempt to blow up the Houses of Parliament in 1605 – but in the otherwise peaceful market town of Lewes, things are taken to extremes. Imagine a head-on collision between Halloween and Mardi Gras and you’re well on your way to picturing Bonfire Night, Lewes-style.

Throughout the evening, smoke fills the Lewes air, giving the steep and narrow streets an eerie, almost medieval feel. As the evening draws on, rowdy torch-lit processions make their way through the streets, pausing to hurl barrels of burning tar into the River Ouse before dispersing to their own part of town to stoke up their bonfires.

Forget the limp burgers of mainstream displays and lame sparklers suitable for use at home – for a real pyrotechnic party, Lewes is king.

Bonfire night, Lewes, England, UK

8. Browse one of England’s oldest markets in Birmingham

There’s enough chaos and colour to rival any frenetic southeast-Asian market here, as a stroll around Birmingham’s Bull Ring markets is an overdose for the senses. The pungent aromas of fresh seafood; the jewel colours and silken textures of miles and miles of rolled fabrics; the racket from hundreds of vendors bellowing news of their latest offerings in hopes of making a sale.

Around 850 years ago Birmingham became one of the first towns in medieval England to hold a legitimate weekly market, selling wares from leather to metal to meat at a site they named the Bull Ring, and cementing the Anglo-Saxon settlement on the map for centuries to come. But while Birmingham has much-changed since medieval times, the noise, excitement and commotion of its Bull Ring markets have barely changed at all – only now you can buy almost anything from neon mobile phone cases and knock-off superhero outfits to fresh meat, fruit and veg.


MTM3 coverDiscover more unforgettable places around the world with the new edition of Make the Most of Your Time on Earth.

Kaohsiung, Taiwan’s second largest city, is a tropical gateway to one of the region’s main surfing areas, Kenting. But it’s also well worth a visit in its own right. Jamie Fullerton finds some of the top things to do in Kaohsiung.

Taipei, the capital of Taiwan and most travellers’ gateway to the island that is rightly considered one of the world’s friendliest places, is one of the greatest cities on Earth for day trips. Less than an hour after you’re slurping beef noodle soup in the city centre you can be up a mountain sucking in lung-cleansing air, perhaps while considering messing around in a waterfall or two.

For this reason Kaohsiung, Taiwan’s second city – reached after a two and a half hour journey on the wonderfully efficient high speed train from Taipei – is often overlooked. Surrounded by mountains, it also boasts rich day trip choices such as the Wushanding mud volcano or Kenting National Park, but an exciting 24 hours can be had there without leaving the city.

It’s one of those great cities that seem to have vastly more mid-range hotel rooms than are necessary, so prices are low. Once you’ve dropped your bag off at any of its adequate quality, fairly bargainous crash pads you can grab a bite at one of the city’s many quirky themed restaurants.

Funny Sex, Kaohsiung, Taiwan

Kaohsiung is the proud home of Funny Sex: the island’s first sex-themed restaurant, where you can dine in the company of a blow-up love doll, drink soup from a bowl shaped like a pair of breasts and eat chocolate pudding shaped like a penis and testicles. Don’t expect a world-class meal, but for a lifetime’s worth of new Facebook photos it can’t be beaten.

Once you’ve had your fill of food shaped like genitals you can head to Chichin Island, found an eight-minute ferry ride from Kaohsiung Harbour. Despite being so close to the main city, the island has a fun holiday feel, with people stumbling around in enormous garish traditional masks as vendors dish out ice creams and seafood.

Cihou Lighthouse, built in 1883 by British engineers, is a highlight, but the most invigorating experience is a long coastal walk down the quiet western side of the island. As the weather worsens the place becomes more atmospheric with the black and grey sand, crashing waves and swathes of trader ships moored in the distance forming a mildly spooky yet relaxing atmosphere.

Cihou Lighthouse, Cijin Island, Kaohsiung, Taiwan, Asia

Back in the main city area, as evening sets in, it’s time to visit a couple of of the city’s famous night markets to quell the coastal walk-derived hunger. Go to Ruifeng Night Market first, found next to the Kaohsiung Arena metro station. A blurry whir of colourful funfair-style games, zany clothes stalls and steam from countless food stands billowing into the atmosphere, it’s an invigorating people-watching spot. Play some air gun games, grab a huge mug of 7 Up, crushed fruit and vodka, but save space in your stomach for Liuhe Night Market, found further south on Liuhe 2nd Road.

A normal road by day, at night Liuhe is pedestrianised. There are clothes and bags on sale but really, it’s all about the seafood. To the eastern end of the market many seafood barbeque stands and ramshackle restaurants offer garlic-soaked lobsters, oysters, fat shrimps and squids on sticks. Go large and fork out 1,000 TWD (£20) for a huge seafood variety barbeque platter, washed down with a local beer.

Night market, Taiwan, Kaohsiung

With the city’s young flocking to the night markets and only a small boozy expat population, Kaohsiung doesn’t have a thriving late-night bar scene. However, there some good spots seldom frequented by visitors from outside the city. Try Ann Cocktail Lounge (34 Daren Street, Xinxin district) for friendly service and decent cocktails. The bar is as good for language practise as its Old Fashioned drinks; on my visit the barman explained that I was only the fifth westerner who had visited in three years. A venue with a more hidden feel is the classy Mini Fusion (No. 4, 10th block, Linde Road, Lingya district), found down a traditional lane.

It’s hardly the bar frenzy of, say, Hong Kong or Shanghai, but there’s enough going on to have a cosy toast to your 24 hours in the city. And, if you really want, you can always go back to Funny Sex and drink milk tea from a mug shaped like a penis.

Explore more of Taiwan with the Rough Guide to Taiwan. Book hostels with your trip, and don’t forget to purchase travel insurance before you go. 

Encompassing northern Sweden, Norway, Finland, and Russia’s Kola Peninsula, Sápmi is the collective name for the traditional territory of the nomadic Sámi – Europe’s only indigenous people, who migrated to northern Scandinavia after the last Ice Age and subsisted by hunting reindeer. As the reindeer grew scarce by the seventeenth century, hunters became herders; today, only around ten per cent of the Sámi still make a living from reindeer husbandry.

The Sámi year was traditionally divided into eight seasons, each tied to a period of reindeer herding, and the herders lived a nomadic life, their lightweight lavvu (teepee-like dwellings) enabling them to follow the grazing paths of their reindeer. The former is still true for the herders, but today, many Sámi live in modern housing for much of the year, and even the very process of herding has been modernised with helicopters and snowmobiles. The Sámi are also active in other fields – from art and music to tourism, cuisine and traditional craft-making.  

The Sámi population of Sápmi numbers approximately 70,000–80,000, out of which around 40,000 live in Norway, 25,000 or so in Sweden, 13,000 in Finland and 2000 in Russia. Though Sámi culture had faced repression over the course of time in all four countries, it has nevertheless survived; the Sámi have their own language, flag, national anthem, customs and more. The traditional Sámi costume, called the kolt, is worn on special occasions across Sápmi and although all variants use the same colours: blue, red, yellow and green, the appearance varies depending on the region, and Sámi can determine at a glance where the costume comes from.

In all four countries the Sámi way of life was encroached upon when colonisation of Sápmi, or Lappland as it was known, began in earnest, and the establishment of borders between Sweden, Norway, Finland and Russia restricted the grazing land of the reindeer. The Sámi still face threats to their land in the form of powerful interests – mining, logging, tourism and military activities – and to counter these threats representative bodies known as Sámi Parliaments have been formed, lobbying for Sámi interests with varying degrees of success; Russia is the only country not to recognise the Sámi as a minority.

Meet the Sámi

In Sweden, the majority of the Sámi live in and around Kiruna, Jokkmokk and Arvidsjaur; in Norway, Kautokeino and Karasjok have the highest concentration of Sámi, while in Finland, many live in and around Inari, Enontekiö and Utsjoki have Sámi majorities.

Those interested in delving deeper into Sámi culture can visit the excellent Ajtte Museum in Jokkmokk, which tackles different aspects of Sámi life – from their history to shamanism to the making of silver jewellery. An unparalleled collection of Sámi silver can be seen at the Silvermuseet, near Arvidsjaur. The Sami National Museum in Karasjok showcases works by contemporary Sámi artists, as well as traditional clothing and hunting techniques, while the Siida Museum in Inari explores the relationship between the Sámi and the harsh environment they inhabit, complete with beautiful photography.

130122647_14Read about how to join the Sámi reindeer migration >

The biggest event of the Sámi year is the Jokkmokk Winter Market, held in early February. It’s the oldest and biggest of its kind, attracting over 30,000 people from all over Sápmi. Sámi traders come to make contacts, visitors can choose from the best array of Sami duodji (handicrafts) and there are food-tasting sessions, live bands, parades, photography exhibitions and reindeer races on the frozen Lake Talvatissjön.

For visitors interested in experiencing Sámi life, there are a number of operators across Sápmi who focus on specific aspects of Sámi culture. Nutti Sámi Siida, based near the Icehotel in Jukkasjärvi, Sweden, arranges visits to the Ráidu Sámi camp to meet reindeer herders, reindeer sled excursions and an eight-day reindeer sled trip through the tundra to the Norwegian border, staying in Sami tents and wilderness huts. Tromsø Lapland in Tromsø, Norway introduce you to reindeer sledding, Sámi food and yoiking, lasso-throwing and overnight stays in a lavvu (traditional Sámi dwelling), while in Finland  you can watch the reindeer races and attend Skábmagovat – the Indigenous People’s Film and TV Production Festival in Inari and go hiking, hunting and fishing with Sámi guides of Poronpurijat.

Book Map

Indulge in Sámi art and music

From Stone Age rock carvings to twenty first century installations, Sámi art has come a long way. Pioneers of Sámi art at the turn of the twentieth century included include Johan Turi, Nils Nilsson Skum and John Savio, but the real breakthrough only came in the 1970s, due to the development of an extremely strong commitment to preserving Sami culture and individuality. This year, as part of the European Capital of Culture events in Umeå, Sweden, the Bildmuseet is showcasing Eight Sámi Artists, from installations by Carola Grahn to paintings by Per Enoksson and Anders Sunna.

One of the cornerstones of Sami identity is the yoik, the oldest musical form in Europe that has traditionally provided a bond between the Sami and nature. The yoik is a rhythmic poem or song composed for a specific person, event or object to describe and remember their innate nature. Though banned as witchcraft at one point, the yoiking tradition was revived in the 1960s, and it’s now performed in many different ways – including yoik metal by Finnish band Shaman, and minimalist folk-rock with yoik roots, performed by Norwegian singer Mari Boine.

Where to buy Sámi handicrafts

The 1970s saw a revival of traditional Sámi craftsmanship; since then, genuine Sámi handwork that utilises traditional designs and materials bears the Sámi Duodji trademark of authenticity.

Sámi crafts combine utility with beauty; men tend to pursue ‘hard crafts’, such as knife-making, woodwork or silverwork, whereas ‘soft craft’, such as leatherwork and textiles, has traditionally been the female domain. Look out for knives in bone sheaths with abundantly engraved handles made of reindeer antler, wooden guksi (drinking cups) or other vessels, made by hollowing out a burl and often inlaid with reindeer bone; cloth decorated with colourful geometric patterns, beautifully-crafted leather bags and silverwork – anything from belt buckles and brooches to earrings and pendants. Reputable Sámi craftsmen include Ellenor Walkeapää in Porjus, Sweden, who specialises in cotton and linen clothing with Sami designs; knife-maker and woodcarver Jesper Eriksson in Jokkmokk, silversmith Juhls Sølvsmie in Kautokeino, knifemaker Knivsmed Strømeng in Karasjok, jewellery, spoons and leatherwork by Petteri Laiti and felt design by Kaija Palto in Inari.

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Eat like a Sámi

Traditional Sámi cuisine revolves around reindeer meat and fish, supplemented with cloudberries, lingonberries, herbs such as mountain sorrel, and mushrooms in season. The fish, such as the Arctic char and trout, are eaten fresh, dried or smoked, and every part of the reindeer is consumed, including marrowbone and hooves, with the intestines used to make black pudding; other dishes include renkok (reindeer stew), bread made with reindeer blood, dried reindeer meat and suovas (smoked, sliced reindeer meat). Gáhkku (flatbread baked on embers), ideally cooked over an open fire, is another typical Sámi dish; while cooking was traditionally the premise of Sámi men, women are now also allowed in the kitchen. Restaurants serving Sámi cuisine include the Áttje Restaurant in Jokkmokk, Sweden, Treehotel, Camp Ripan in Kiruna, Duotar Restaurant at the Thon Hotel in Kautokeino, Strogammen at the Rica Hotel in Karasjok, Sámi Tallberg in Helsinki and Tradition Hotel Kultahovi in Inari.

You’ve had a satisfying day or two’s heavy sightseeing in Istanbul’s historic Sultanahmet district. You’re culturally replete – but have a nagging feeling that you’ve missed something. The locals. Just what the hell do they do in this metropolis of fifteen million souls?

To find out, head across the Golden Horn to Independence Street (İstiklal Caddesi), the nation’s liveliest thoroughfare. Lined with nineteenth-century apartment blocks and churches, and with a cute red turn-of-the-twentieth-century tramway, it was the fashionable centre of Istanbul’s European quarter before independence, and it is now where young Istanbulites (it has the youngest population of any European city) come to shop, eat, drink, take in a film, club, gig and gawk, 24/7.

By day, bare-shouldered girls in Benetton vests, miniskirts and Converse All Stars mingle with Armani-clad businessmen riding the city’s financial boom, and music stores and fashion boutiques blare out the latest club sounds onto the shopper-thronged street. At night the alleyways off the main drag come to life. Cheerful tavernas serve noisy diners (the Turks are great talkers) wonderful meze, fish and lethal raki. Later, blues, jazz and rock venues, pubs and clubs burst into life – with the streets even busier than in daylight hours. You won’t see many head-scarved women here, and the call to prayer will be drowned by thumping Western sounds. But though Islam may have lost its grip on Istanbul’s westernized youth, traditional Turkish hospitality survives even on Independence Street, and you may find yourself being offered a free beer or two. This is Istanbul’s happening European heart; no wonder it has been heralded as “Europe’s Hippest City”.

From Sultanahmet take a tram to Karaköy then the Tünel funicular railway to the bottom of Independence Street; both close at around 9pm. Return to Sultanahmet by taxi after midnight.

 

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