Thailand is the quintessential backpacker destination. Here you can make the first footprints on secluded sands, dance shoeless under a full moon and swim beneath cascading waterfalls.

Running through Thailand’s rainforests and temples and looping around its islands and beaches is the so-called “banana pancake trail”, a well-worn, tried and tested backpacker route that has seen the sandals of thousands of independent travellers over the decades.

They’re still coming in their droves and you’re a part of the action as soon as you strap on that backpack – the accessory that ensures you won’t even have the chance to get lonely.

Must-see destinations

For a frenetic introduction to Thailand, head straight to Bangkok where the neon lights and market stalls of Khao San Road still serve as the country’s main backpacker hangout. Slurp noodles, sip local beer and visit the gilded Grand Palace and Wat Pho’s giant gold reclining Buddha with your new friends.

For impressive Thai temples, head to Ayutthaya in the north, the country’s ancient capital now scattered with temples in varying stages of decay. The brooding red-brick ruins are best viewed at sunset, when the golden light makes this atmospheric city a photographer’s dream.

If you’re after something a little more laidback, Kanchanaburi is the spot for you. You can take a train along the famous Death Railway, built by prisoners of war during World War II, see the Bridge over the River Kwai and swim at the tumbling seven-tiered Erawan Falls.

Ko Pha Ngan is where the sands of Hat Rin see up to 30,000 people arrive each month for the famous full moon parties. The party starts at dusk, when thousands of lamps are lit, and continues through the night, with dancing, fire twirling and, of course, drinking.

If you want to get to know the locals, head to Chiang Mai, the jumping off point for numerous guided multi-day treks and short walks in the country’s remote north. Here you can visit small local communities and hill-tribes.

Getting around

A journey by tuk tuk is an essential Thai travel experience and you’re sure to use these noisy, fume-cloaked but very fun vehicles to get around, especially in Bangkok. Fares are the same no matter the number of passengers so team up with one or two (three is the safe maximum) other travellers to save money. Agree the fare before setting out (expect to pay 100-150 baht for short Bangkok hops) and be sure to have the right money ready on arrival.

Solo travellers can make good use of the motorcycle taxis that ply all common routes in both major towns and more off-the-beaten-track parts. These only seat one passenger and are no good if you’ve got luggage, but short journeys across town or the island can be good value (as low as 20 baht).

Thailand is a sizeable country and distances between large towns can be great (it’s 700km from Bangkok to Chiang Mai). An overnight bus or train is a good way of getting from A to B while also saving the cost of a hostel.

The overnight trains are operated by the State Railway of Thailand and run on four useful routes out of Bangkok, including services to Ayutthaya, to Chiang Mai and to Surat Thani (a jumping off point for many of the southern islands).

Second-class berths are the best bet for solo travellers, with the communal comfortable seats converting into fully flat curtained-off beds come nightfall.

First-class cabins are set up for two so only book these if you’re happy sharing with a stranger. Bring snacks and drinks and settle in for a long journey.

Don’t fancy the long journey alone? There are plenty of internal flights, with Bangkok Airways, Air Asia, Nok Air (Thai Airways’ budget arm) and Thai Lion Air all offering daily Bangkok-Chiang Mai flights with a flight time of 1hr 15min. Flying also means not having to go back to Bangkok – trains and buses use the capital as a hub meaning you will keep ending up back there.

Where to eat

Eating alone in Thailand doesn’t need to mean a table for one. The best food is often found at the local night market, where mobile kitchens sell noodles, fried rice, sticky rice cakes, pancakes and fresh juices, and seating is communal and lively.

Almost every large town will have street stalls selling noodles day and night, so you can fill up without even sitting down.

Many hostels have cafés or restaurants, where you won’t stand out as a solo diner and may even meet fellow travellers in search of dining companions. Most travellers love nothing more than discussing where they’ve been or are going over a bowl of noodles or a beer.

How to meet people

If you want to meet people, sticking to the main backpacker destinations (including those listed above) is the best bet. Stay in hostels rather than hotels – choose to stay in a dorm so you’ll be sharing with other people and not holed up alone.

In Bangkok stay on or near the Khao San Road for the best chance of impromptu Singhas with your new friends – NapPark is a good choice, with its communal tamarind-shaded courtyard and TV room.

In Chiang Mai, Diva Guesthouse has six­-bed dorms and a sociable café on the ground floor, while Kanchanaburi’s Jolly Frog has a communal atmosphere and hammocks in the central, leafy garden.

Compass Backpacker’s Hostel by James Antrobus on Flickr (license)

Group activities are a great way to make friends fast. You can try everything, from day trips to Thai cookery courses. If you want an insight into Thailand through food, in Bangkok try Helping Hands or the vegetarian May Kaidee, and in Chiang Mai the Thai Cookery School.

For more of an adventure, take a zipline tour through the rainforest near Chiang Mai with Flight of the Gibbon or learn to scuba dive with The Dive Academy on Koh Samui.

A girl’s guide: is it safe for solo female travellers?

Thailand is largely safe for solo travellers of both genders, and despite the country’s prolific sex industry, women are unlikely to attract any more attention than men when travelling alone.

When travelling alone in Thailand, the standard rules apply: don’t take unlicensed taxis and don’t go home with strangers. As long as you use your common sense, Thailand is a perfectly safe place to travel.

Many hostels will have female-only dorms, which may be safer, not to mention a great way to meet other female travellers.

Unfortunately drug-muggings are known to sometimes happen in Thailand, but these are easily avoided. Don’t eat or drink anything a stranger gives you, especially on a train or at a full moon party. Trains and buses are ripe for petty theft so keep all your valuables with you when you travel.

Get more advice on your solo trip to Thailand with the Rough Guide to ThailandCompare flights, find toursbook hostels and hotels for your trip, and don’t forget to purchase travel insurance before you go.

Scattered like shards across a million square kilometres of the North Atlantic, west of Portugal the nine islands of the Azores are unmistakably volcanic.

For now, this green and breezy archipelago is snoozing in the temperate embrace of the Gulf Stream; the last significant onshore eruptions were in 1811. However, over thirty of its volcanoes remain active, and regular tremors and underwater seismic events serve to remind that every crag, crater and cave was sculpted by geothermal forces.

Central São Miguel by David Stanley (CC license)

This might seem like a perilous place to live, but Azorean foodies embrace their role as volcano-dwellers, growing hothouse pineapples, bananas, guavas and passionfruit in the fertile soil and harvesting plump, meaty clams from volcanic lagoons.

In the picturesque caldera village of Furnas on São Miguel, famous for its hot springs, they take things further by using natural volcanic energy to slow-cook a stew that’s a signature local dish, cozido das Furnas. To make it, the chef lines a heavy pot with layers of meat, vegetables, chorizo and blood sausage, covers it and lowers it into a steamy hollow in the ground to simmer for five or six hours.

Underground oven by David Stanley (CC license)

Order this hearty dish at a local restaurant, and you may be invited to the springs to watch the pot being unearthed. At Canto da Doca, a casual, contemporary place, you can enjoy a little DIY volcanic cooking.

Waiters bring a platter of fresh meat, squid, tuna, vegetables and sauces to your table, along with a piping-hot slab of lava stone. You drop morsels onto the slab one by one to cook, inhaling the delicious aromas as they sizzle. When the temperature dips, a fresh slab will miraculously appear.

Cozido das Furnas by David Stanley (CC license)

While traditional Azorean cooking tends to be solid peasant grub – regional cheese to start, stewed or grilled meat or seafood as a main course, custardy puddings, fragrant Azorean tea as a pick-meup – there’s a move afoot to bring out the islands’ gourmet side. Check out 10 Fest Azores, an annual ten-day gastronomic festival featuring Michelin-starred chefs from all over the world.

Several restaurants in Furnas offer cozido. As it takes so long to prepare, it’s best to order the day before. Canto da Doca is on Rua Nova in Horta on Faial. 10 Fest Azores (taste.visitazores.com) is hosted  every June by Restaurante Anfiteatro in Ponta Delgada, São Miguel (efth.com.pt). Discover more unforgettable places around the world with the new edition of Make the Most of Your Time on Earth.

 

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

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

 

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

Iced 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

Batu 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.

Bali 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.

You can’t expect to fit everything Europe has to offer into one trip and we don’t suggest you try. For those taking a big, extended trip around the continent you could join a few countries together.

Each of these itineraries could be done in two or three weeks if followed to the letter but don’t push it too hard – with so much to see and do you’re bound to get waylaid somewhere you love or stray off the suggested route.

For a complete guide to exploring the region and up-to-date recommendations of the best hotels, hostels, activities and more, buy the full guide here.

1. Britain and Ireland

Where else to begin but London (1) – one of the world’s greatest but most expensive cities. While your wallet is still intact move on to the storied grounds of Oxford (2) before heading to Snowdonia (3), where the Welsh mountains provide excellent hiking.

Soak up some history in the medieval streets of York (4), then make the trip north to stunning Edinburgh (5). Find your inner Braveheart in the Scottish Highlands (6) and fit in an unforgettable hike, climb, or ski while you’re at it.

Pop across the North Channel to Belfast (7), but be sure not to miss the nearby Giant’s Causeway – one of Europe’s great natural wonders. Grab a perfect pint of Guinness in Dublin (8), then wind down on the windswept beaches of Ireland’s West Coast (9).

2. France and Switzerland

Start in Paris (1), Europe’s most elegant capital, then venture off to the châteaux and prime vineyards of the Loire Valley (2). Move south to beautiful Bordeaux (3), which boasts bustling city life and some of Europe’s finest surfing beaches to boot.

Head south the peaks of the Pyrenees (4) before taking a trip through Southern France to the Côte d’Azur (5). Don’t miss the magic of Corsica (6), a true adventure playground, or traditional cooking in Lyon (7), the country’s gastronomic capital.

Try your luck skiing and climbing in the Alps (8), and end by relaxing riverside in laid-back Zürich (9).

3. Benelux, Germany and Austria

Kick off in Amsterdam (1) before enjoying more atmospheric canals and beautiful buildings in Bruges (2). Cologne’s (3) spectacular old town is a perfect first stop in Germany, but be sure to head north soon after for the vast port and riotous bars of Hamburg (4).

Few cities can compete with the style and youthful energy of Berlin (5), while Dresden (6) has also become a favourite backpacker hangout. Then head south to Munich (7), where Bavaria’s capital boasts everything from snowy scenery to beer-fuelled Oktoberfest.

Cross over the boarder to Austria and hit the slopes or the Mozart trail in scenic Salzburg (8), and conclude this itinerary among the palaces, museums, cafés and boulevards of Vienna (9).

4. Spain, Portugal and Morocco

Begin in the Basque capital of Bilbao (1), Spain’s friendliest city and home of the Guggenheim. Then it’s on to the city beaches, late-night bars and enchanting old town of Barcelona (2). Ibiza‘s (3) nightclubs are famous the world over, but its pockets of peace and quiet are worth the trip alone.

Gobble tapas and dance the night away in Madrid (4) before heading west for the countless port lodges of Porto (5). Cruise down the Atlantic coast to the historic Portuguese capital of Lisbon (6), then make for the region of Andalucía (7), stopping in the cities of Seville and Granada as you venture further south.

If you catch a ferry across the Straits of Gibraltar to Morocco and set course for Fez (8), explore the medieval Moroccan city of labyrinth alleys, souks and mosques. Finish up in Marrakesh (9), a colourful city with a stunning backdrop of the Atlas Mountains.

5. Italy

Start in Milan (1) for a little Prada, Gucci, and Leonardo da Vinci. Veer east to visit the world’s most beautiful city, Venice (2), then south to the foodie nirvana of Bologna (3). Glide onwards to Tuscany (4) where Florence and Siena make excellent bases to explore the region’s hill towns.

You can hardly “do” Europe and not see Rome (5), and there is truly no better place to eat pizza than in the crumbling yet attractive city of Naples (6). Experience a Roman town frozen in time at Pompeii (7), before sleeping in one of Matera’s (8) hand-carved caves.

Kick back in Sicily (9) on idyllic beaches beneath smouldering volcanoes, or enjoy the hectic pace of Palermo, one of Italy’s most in-your-face cities.

6. Central and Eastern Europe

Get going in Prague (1), a pan-European city with beer that never disappoints. Move east to Warsaw’s (2) vodka-soaked bar scenes, Old Town, palaces and parks.

Arty and atmospheric Kraków (3) shouldn’t be missed, and neither should a trip to charming cafés of L’viv (4). Leave cities behind for the majestic wilderness of Slovakia‘s Tatra Mountains (4), then head back to civilisation and immerse yourself in Budapest (6) where you’ll find two great cities in one.

Finish this itinerary up in Ljubljana (7); Slovenia’s capital is a perfectly formed pit stop between central Europe and the Adriatic if you’re eager to push on to the Balkans.

7. Scandinavia

Start in the lively lanes of beautiful Copenhagen (1), and head north to Gothenburg’s (2) elegant architecture, fantastic nightlife and fully-functioning rainforest. A visit to Oslo (3) is worth the expense, but after a while you’ll feel the pull of the Norwegian fjords (4).

The mild climate and wild scenery of the Lofoten Islands (5) should not be skipped, but neither should the reindeer, huskies and elusive Northern Lights of Lapland (6). Of course, no trip to Scandinavia would be complete without a stop in Stockholm (7).

If you’re travelling in summer, get to Gotland (8) – Sweden’s party island, buzzing with DJs and bronzed bodies on the beach.

8. Russia and the Baltic Coast

Big, brash, expensive surreal – Moscow (1) is almost a nation in itself, and well worth a visit before moving on to the jaw-dropping architecture and priceless art collections of St Petersburg (2).

Head west to Helsinki (3), the proudly Finnish love child of Russian and Swedish empires, then hop across the gulf to charming and beautifully preserved Tallinn in Estonia (4).

Latvia’s cosmopolitan Riga (5) should not be missed, and when you need your nature fix go further south to the Curonian Spit (6), a strip of sand dunes and dense forest ideal for cycling and hiking. Wind this trip down in Vilnius (7), the friendliest and perhaps even the prettiest of all Baltic capitals.

9. The Balkans

Start with a slew of cheap but delicious wine, watersports, and vitamin D on the Dalmatian coast (1), then move on to Europe’s war-scarred but most welcoming capital, Sarajevo (2).

History-steeped Dubrovnik (3) rivalled Venice in its day, and is an easy stop on the way to Budva (4), Montenegro’s star resort with unspoilt beaches and throbbing open-air bars. Head further south to Tirana (5) for charming architecture and urban exploration, before visiting the shimming shores of Ohrid’s (6) mountain-backed lake.

Be sure to check out the chilled vibe of Sofia (7), and the more upbeat buzz of Serbia’s hip capital: Belgrade (8). End this itinerary by discovering Transylvania (9) – you probably won’t find any vampires, but you will find fairytale villages, colourful festivals, and wolf tracking in the Carpathians.

10. Greece and Turkey

Begin by finding the perfect beach in Kefaloniá (1), and continue to Athens (2) for a sun set over the Parthenon. Sail first to the island of Íos (3) for partying backpackers and hippie-era charm, then on to Crete’s (4) Samarian Gorge.

Get to the Turkish mainland for a visit to the remarkably preserved temples, mosaics, and baths in Ephesus (5) before mountain biking, paragliding, or diving in Kaş (6).

Then venture east to Cappadocia’s (7) volcanic landscape and subterranean city, and wrap up among the bazaars, hammams, and surprisingly hectic nightlife in Istanbul (8).

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

A country in the throes of massive change, Sri Lanka’s heady mix of British colonial heritage, beautiful landscapes and incredibly friendly locals make it a beguiling destination. But the tropical isle has only cropped up on travellers’ radars in recent years, following the end of the country’s 26-year-long civil war in 2009. With more tourists heading to Sri Lanka every year, now is the perfect time to visit. Here are ten tips and tricks to help first-time visitors.

1. Prepare to go slow

Although infrastructure is improving and transport options are plentiful, getting around this modestly-sized country might feel a little trying at times, with its tightly winding roads and engine-testing inclines. The Hill Country is particularly notorious for eating away at time – whether traveling by bus, tuk tuk or train, expect to inch from one tea plantation to the next at speeds of around 12-15 miles per hour. For those with little time or deep pockets, taking a seaplane or hiring a car and driver are good alternatives.

2. Go to relax, not to rave

Outside of Colombo, and a few beach resorts, hostels with dorm rooms tend to be thin on the ground. Family-run guesthouses are much more common, which means it’s easy to meet locals but tricky for solo travellers hoping to make friends on the road. As an emerging honeymoon hotspot Sri Lanka also attracts a lot of couples. Those looking for nightlife to rival Bangkok’s Khao San Road will leave unfulfilled: beach bars pepper Arugam Bay on the east coast and Hikkaduwa on the west, but these are mellow affairs and many shut down out of season.

3. Treat yourself

If you’ve got Sri Lankan rupees to spare there are plenty of new luxury hotels and resorts where you can spend them. International names such as Aman have already set up shop on the island, and Shangri-La has two new hotels scheduled to open soon. But it’s the home-grown, luxury hotel mini-chains that you ought to keep your eye on. Uga Escapes and Resplendent Ceylon are just two examples of burgeoning local brands that offer more than just copy and paste properties. There are tonnes of great budget boutique hotels across the country.

4. Go north to get away from the crowds

Formerly off limits, the country’s Northern Province is prime territory for those who want to roam off the beaten path. A Tamil Tiger stronghold, it was one of the last areas on the island to reopen to tourists, and has yet to succumb to the same wave of hotels, resorts and other developments, or to receive the same flurry of foreign visitors. If you’re after deserted golden beaches, remote temples and colonial port towns go north.

5. Focus on food

Sri Lankan food is delicious, so make the most of it while you’re there. Though knowing where and when to find the good stuff may prove a harder task than you anticipated. Bowl-shaped hoppers (savoury rice flour crêpes) are a highlight, though are typically only served first thing in the morning or in late afternoon. Rice and curry is a lunchtime affair, while kottu rotty (chopped flatbread stir-fried with eggs and vegetables) is only available in the evening. Those familiar with Asia will be surprised at the lack of street food stalls; instead, some of the best food can be found in the kitchens of small guesthouses.

6. Consider Colombo

With jazz clubs, rooftop bars, boutique stores and internationally-acclaimed restaurants, Colombo can no longer be considered merely a gateway city. And though there are a number of sights to see, the capital is also a great place to simply settle in and get a sense of what local life is like. Watch families fly kites on Galle Face Green at sunset, cheer for the national cricket team at the R Premadasa Stadium or observe grandmothers swathed in vivid saris bargain with stallholders at Pettah Market.

7. Plan around the seasons

While the monsoon rains might not dampen your enthusiasm for exploring bear in mind that experiences can vary wildly depending on the season. If you’re desperate to climb Adam’s Peak, for example, then visit during pilgrimage season (December-May). Outside of these months it’s still possible to hike to the summit, but the myriad tea shops that line the path will be closed and you’ll climb with a handful of tourists instead of hundreds of local devotees, meaning much of the atmosphere and camaraderie among climbers is lost.

8. Get active

Sri Lanka might be known for its stupas, beaches and tea plantations but it’s also crammed with adrenalin-packed activities. Why not try surfing in Arugam Bay, hiking the Knuckles Mountain Range or white-water rafting in Kelaniya Ganga, Kitulgala. Cycling holidays are also becoming increasingly popular with a number of international tour operators offering specialist tours.

9. Make the most of your money

By western standards Sri Lanka is still a cheap destination, but prices are rising quickly: the cost of a cultural show in Kandy has doubled in the last year alone. For everyday items like tea and toothpaste head to the supermarkets in big cities where you can rest assured that you’re not paying over the odds. In the corner shops of smaller cities simply check the packaging, which has the price printed next to the letters ‘Rs.’ (meaning rupees).

10. Understand the culture

At its closest point, only 18 miles of aquamarine waters separate Sri Lanka and India, but there’s a world of difference between the two. The pace of life in Sri Lanka feels much less frantic than that of its neighbour, which makes it ideal for those intrigued, yet intimidated, by India. Few locals bat an eyelid at western visitors and while covering up is always appreciated (and necessary at places of worship), wearing shorts and vests is unlikely to attract much attention.

Explore Sri Lanka with the Rough Guide to Sri LankaCompare flights, find toursbook hostels and hotels for your trip, and don’t forget to purchase travel insurance before you go.

Taiwanese xiǎochī, or “small eats”, are justly famed, and no trip would be complete without several street food feasts. Night markets are among the best – and cheapest – places to try a selection, and you’ll want to leave plenty of time to go from stall to stall to seek out the best.

To whet your appetite, here’s our pick of 10 Taiwan street food dishes you need to try around the country. Find out more with the new Rough Guide to Taiwan, which covers the country’s complete culinary highlights – from night markets to the top restaurants.

 

1. Pearl tea in Taipei

Night markets are a quintessential part of the Taipei food experience. Shilin Night Market is the city’s oldest, largest and most popular, dating from 1910. There are a vast array of cheap xiǎochī on offer here, from oyster omelettes to stinky tofu. Also worth visiting is Gongguan Night Market, where must-try dishes include the delicious buns (bāo) at Yuanbao and Lan’s Steamed Sandwiches. The most celebrated stall, however, is Chen San Ding Pearl Milk, specializing in pearl tea (qīngwā zhuàng nǎi). This milky tea with large, chewy tapioca balls was invented in Taiwan in the 1980s before being popularised worldwide.

#tastierthanitsounds by Karl Baron CC BY 2.0

2. “Iron eggs” in Tamsui

Tamsui is famous throughout Taiwan for its delicious snack food, and makes an easy day trip from Taipei. Favourites include fish crisps (yú sū) sold in packets all over town, fish balls in soup (yúwán tāng) and “iron eggs” (tiě dàn), chicken or dove eggs marinated and boiled in soy sauce and spices until they shrink, harden, and turn black, and). Gongming Street, running parallel to the riverside from the station, is packed with stalls and there’s even a Fish Ball Museum.

3. Seafood in Keelung

Keelung’s night market is one of Taiwan’s culinary highlights and by far the best place to eat in the city. Today rich in seafood, tasty rice noodles and mouthwatering fruit ice stalls, the market dates from the late Japanese occupation era; each stall advertises its main dishes in english, and it’s open around the clock. Try the “pot side scrapings” (thick rice noodles in a mixed seafood broth) at Ding Bian Cuo, one of the oldest stalls in the market.

Keelung night market by Mustache / CC BY 2.0

4.  Stuffed meatballs in Hsinchu

Eating in the northern city of Hsinchu is lots of fun as the city is renowned for its culinary specialities: pork meatballs in soup (gòngwántāng), rice noodles (mĭfēn) and stuffed meatballs (ròyuán), especially at the food stalls in and around Chenghuang Temple Night Market. Head to Wang’s Oyster Omelet for oyster omelettes and Ah-Cheng Rice Noodles for rice noodles and meatballs.

5.  Fish ball soup in Jiufen

Sampling the famous snacks on Jishan Street is an essential part of any visit to Jiufen, with fish ball soup, taro balls and roasted mushrooms the most celebrated. Make time, too, for a trip to one of the atmospheric teahouses – Jiufen Teahouse is one of the best, occupying a gorgeous old mining bureau’s headquarters dating back over 100 years (though the teashop opened in 1991). Make sure you get a wooden booth with a view, or have your tea outside on the terrace.

Fish ball soup by kumbyCC BY-ND 2.0

6. “Shrimp monkeys” in Lugang

Lugang, one of Taiwan’s oldest port towns, specializes in xiǎochī. Favourites include oyster omelettes (é a jiān) and “shrimp monkeys” (xiāhóuzi) – mud shrimp fried with basil. Try them at the stalls and restaurants in front of Tianhou Temple then move on to a cakeshop or bakery for an ox-tongue biscuit (niúshébǐng), a sweet flat pastry that vaguely resembles a tongue

7. Suncakes in Taichung

Taichung is an excellent place to gorge on Taiwanese food and the night markets offer a good introduction to the local specialities. As well as excellent savoury dishes, travellers with a penchant for something sweeter won’t be disappointed, with Ziyou, Zhongzheng and Minquan roads crammed with cake shops selling suncakes (tàiyáng bǐng) – flat, crumbly pastries filled with sweet wheatgerm, honey or taro paste.

Delicious brown sugar sun cake by Connie Ma / CC BY-SA 2.0

8. Danzi noodles in Tainan

Taiwan’s former capital is home to some of the country’s best street food and many of its dishes are favourites that are famous island-wide. Dānzǐmiàn (or “peddler’s noodles” with pork, egg and shrimp) is probably the best-known dish, created in 1895 by hawker Hong Yu Tou – the name recalls the shoulder poles he used to carry the noodles to market, while the brand he created, “Slack Season”, is a reference to the slow season for fishermen, when his noodles were a way to make food last. The the city’s other snack foods are equally renowned and include milkfish, eel noodles, oyster omelettes, shrimp rolls and “coffin bread”, hollowed-out thick toast filled with a creamy mix of vegetables and seafood.

9. Biǎnshí in Hualien

Hualien is known throughout Taiwan for muaji – cakes made of sticky, glutinous rice and stuffed with sweet fillings – and biǎnshí, a type of wanton or dumplings in soup, filled with pork and shrimp. Its night markets are great places to try these and other dishes – the most central is the small but diverse Ziqiang Rd Nightmarket, while Nanbin Night Market is bigger but harder to get to.

Hualien Night Market by Tomás Fano / CC BY-SA 2.0

10. Pigs’ blood soup in Taitung

Not one for the finicky, pigs’ blood soup (zhūxiě tāng), a thick broth filled with diced cubes of congealed pig’s blood, is one of Taitung’s specialities – try it at the lively Sunday night Siwei Rd Night Market. Taitung is also known for its amazing variety of fruit, most famously the custard apple (shìjiā), which you can buy at the “Fruit Market”, on the long stretch of Zhengqi Road between Zhongshan and Boai roads.

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

Despite the name, Bregenzerwald’s KäseStrasse (Cheese Street) in Austria’s Vorarlberg region is not a marked route along a specific road. Instead it denotes an association of cheese-related industries – around 200 partners in all – that are united in cultivating, maintaining and promoting the highest standards of regional cheese production.

Visitors can gain insights about cheese and other regional food production via operations that range from dairies, farms and private cheese makers to butchers, bakers and museums. And by far the best way to explore the area is by hiking.

Vorarlberg, Austria by Andreas Theis via Flickr (CC license)

Bregenzerwald is a splendid rural landscape in itself, dotted with lush Alpine meadows, picturesque farms and traditional wooden-shingled farmhouses. The “route” spans an area of around 100km, with each venue marked by the distinctive KäseStrasse logo.

As you explore, you’re likely to come across everything from the Alpine Dairy Farming Museum in Hittisau, where you can see a 300-year-old dairy kitchen and learn about cheese-making and milk processing (guided tours available), to romantic mountain inns (hütte). There are also some surprisingly modern spots, such as the Käsekeller Lingenau, demonstrating how cheese is matured, and KäseMolke Metzler, which produces natural remedies and cosmetics from whey.

Cheese, cheese, cheese by Trishhhh via Flickr (CC license

Then, of course, there are the fantastic restaurants (gasthöfe), where you can sample dishes like the delicious macaroni cheeseesque concoction Käseknopfel. To be registered in the association, each restaurant has to have at least five different cheese dishes on its menu, and use a minimum of five Bregenzerwald cheeses.

In terms of when to visit, the summer is of course best for warm weather. But the region’s KäseHerbst season (the “fifth season”), from mid-September to the end of October, is a popular time to host traditional festivals.

Culture vultures may also be delighted to learn that the region hosts two excellent annual music events: an Opera Festival in Bregenz, and the Schubertiade, which takes place in the charming village of Schwarzenberg.

For tours of the Farming Museum in Hittisau, contact hittisau.at. The Bregenz Opera Festival (bregenzerfestspiele.com) takes place in July/Aug (dates vary each year), while Schwarzenberg’s two-part Schubertiad (schubertiade.at) runs just before and afterwards, usually in June and Sept. Discover more unforgettable places around the world with the new edition of Make the Most of Your Time on Earth.

From psychedelic milkshakes to overloaded tuk-tuks, there are some things everybody comes across when backpacking in Southeast Asia. Whether you spent the brunt of your time beaching, boozing, motorcycling, meditating or trying to see it all – here are 15 things you likely learned.

1. Getting from A to B is surprisingly fun

All-night bus rides with bad action movies on loop, clutching the waist of a scooter driver as he weaves through Ho Chi Minh City traffic, or buying a vintage Minsk motorbike to tear up mountain roads – you know that the act of motion itself seems to facilitate some of the best backpacking memories.

2. Everything moves slowly

Thanks to any combination of traffic, vehicle break-downs, poor roads, bad weather or punishing hangovers you learned to accept the impossibility of arriving anywhere on time. Booking accommodation in advance was as rare as a concrete plan longer than two days. Learning to chill rather than feel perpetually frustrated was one of the best lessons you took home with you.

Vietnam by Malingering (CC license)

3. Tourism is both a blessing and a curse

Disrespectful debauchery, fake orphanages, irresponsible development and a whole lot of other despicable stuff ­– spend long enough backpacking in Southeast Asia and you know that tourism’s destructive side starts to glare.

At first you felt like part of the problem. But you learned to search out homestays, socially responsible tours, eco-friendly projects and grassroot NGOs. Every little bit helps.

4. The nicer-looking the restaurant, the worse the food

You know it’s not the locally-popular roadside food stalls that are likely to give you food poisoning. No, it’s the type of joints that serve penne al pollo and special steak tartare (“special” was probably dog code for “dog”).

5. A tuk-tuk can be the ultimate in luxury travel

A good tuk-tuk is like a chauffeured convertible crossed with a couch. Their people-carrying capacity seems to grow as each hour passes, capping somewhere around a dozen passengers after dark. For the price, it’s a luxury that can’t be beat.

Bangkok Tuk-tuk by Didier Baertschiger (CC license)

6. Cheap deals are usually too good to be true

A smiling driver offered you a sweet deal. Then you agreed to help him “get gas”. And you quickly learned what that means: pretending to shop in soulless tourist trap boutiques while buddy gets “gas coupons” from the owners. Visions of adventure faded before your eyes – but you never made the same mistake again.  

7. The smell of Durian will haunt you

Durian: the much-loved ball of spikes with an acquired taste and a rather pungent aroma that reeks of sweat, garlic and sweet-scented paint thinner – detectable from a block away. You learned to love it or hate it – there is no inbetween.

8. Not all monks are as serene as they look

Some monks look serene. Some monks drink whiskey and smoke cigarettes. You may have spotted one, red or saffron-robed and sneaking a smoke behind a crumbling temple wall or sipping a spot of Mekong Whiskey beneath a banyan tree.

Of course, this is prohibited by Buddhist precepts, and it definitely clashed with your original imaginings of monastic life. But nobody’s perfect, and old habits die hard.

Myanmar monk smoking a cigar by Peter Halling Hilborg (CC license)

9. “Happy Pizza” is not a cute name for pizza served by smiling staff

It is pizza that will get you high.

10. Mushroom milkshakes are not a new health food fad

These will also get you high.

11. Travel tattoos can be an awful idea

A Balinese Om symbol made much larger than asked, an ambiguous word scrawled across ribs in Khmer script, a little butterfly resembling a birthmark – perhaps you learned the hard way, or maybe you learned from others’ mistakes. Southeast Asia backpackers know these markings well: yolo moments of such (regrettable) power that they actually outlive you.

Tattoo support by MissAgentCooper (CC license)

12. Thai Red Bull is way more intense than the energy drinks you’re used to

It’s actually called Krating Daeng, and it’s reportedly what inspired the creation of Red Bull. Whether you guzzled it with vodka from a bucket or sipped it to null post-night bus fatigue, it’s strength was a syrupy revelation.

13. Backpackers wear a uniform

Harem pants, beer-branded tank tops and a pointless bandanna to top it off. Did you examine the stinky, hungover travellers surrounding you and think: Yes, I’d like to look exactly like them? Probably not. But the uniform happened.

14. Don’t bring chewing gum to Singapore

If you went to Singapore, you’ll know it has some weird laws. The illegality of chewing gum is one of them. But that’s just the beginning. Walking around nude in your own home? Illegal. Taking a sip of water on the metro? Illegal. Failure to flush a public toilet after use? Illegal, obviously. Even publicly eating Singapore’s “national fruit”, the durian, falls on the wrong side of the law.

What, no fine for durians though? by Clark & Kim Kays (CC license)

15. Southeast Asia has been through a lot, and continues to go through a lot

Be it the horrors of colonisation, absurd and devastating wars, or the corruption and poverty that followed, the peoples of Southeast Asia have gone through hell. Yet it was ultimately the incredible friendliness of locals that made backpacking Southeast Asia one of the best experiences of your life.

Have your next backpacking adventure with the Rough Guide to Southeast Asia on a BudgetCompare flights, find toursbook hostels and hotels for your trip, and don’t forget to purchase travel insurance before you go.

Tandoori, naan bread, butter chicken and rich vegetable curries are delicious, but these north Indian staples are just a fraction of the country’s diverse culinary offerings.

To get a more complete picture, you also need to head south. South Indian cuisine is vastly different – think steamed, spiced and coconut-flavoured.

The South Indian states of Andhra Pradesh, Telangana, Tamil Nadu, Kerala and Karnataka each have their own variants of common dishes as well as regional specialties. For an introduction to South Indian cuisine, here are 10 dishes to look out for.

1. Dosas: paper-thin crepes

A traditional breakfast food made of fermented rice-and-lentil batter, a dosa is much like a crispy thin crepe. It’s accompanied by sambar (a hot lentil soup) and coconut chutney.

Masala dosas are stuffed with a spicy mash of potato and onion; plain dosas are hollow; rava dosas are made from semolina; and some new-age variants get creative with fillings such as cottage cheese or mixed vegetables.

Whatever you choose (trust us and start with a masala dosa), the delightfully light dish is best eaten hot, when it’s fresh off the griddle.

Masala Dosa by Pachinee Buathong via Flickr (CC license)

2. Idlis: steamed rice cakes

Soft, fluffy and ivory-coloured, idlis are what many South Indian families eat for breakfast. A fermented lentil-and rice-batter is steamed in little circular moulds, and the resulting spherical rice cakes are served with sambar and chutneys.

Idlis are light and mild tasting, an ideal snack for when you want to give your stomach a rest from fiery flavours.

Fresh Idli!! by yue via Flickr (CC license)

3. Vadas: savoury doughnuts

What’s that doughnut-like thing doing on your South Indian breakfast thali (platter)? While a vada won’t cure your sugar cravings, it will satiate your desire for something deep fried, hot and crispy.

Made from a batter of black lentils, gently spiced with peppercorns, curry leaves, cumin, chilli and onion, this crunchy fritter tastes best when smeared generously with coconut chutney.

vadas! by Scott Dexter via Flickr (CC license)

4. Uttapams: pizza-pancake hybrids

Is it a pancake? Is it a pizza? No, it’s an uttapam. A batter of fermented rice and lentils is ladled on to a griddle. Chopped tomato, onion, chillies, carrot, coconut and other toppings are then sprinkled on. The result is a fluffy, porous, delicious uttapam, softer than a dosa, and tastes great with chutneys or without.

uttapam by Shoko Muraguchi via Flickr (CC license) – colour corrected

5. Banana chips: crisps with a twist

Roadside stalls frying up and selling packs of bright yellow crispy banana slices are a common sight. Banana chips are a popular snack in South India. Thin circular slivers of banana are deep-fried, usually in coconut oil. Sometimes they’re coated in jaggery. Salty with a mild coconut flavour, these crisps are a good teatime snack.

Banana chips freshly made by Sherry J. Ezhuthachan via Flickr (CC license)

6. Malabar parotta with Kerala-style beef: flat bread and spicy beef

Tiring of vegetarian fare? Indulge in some fiery Keralan meats. Parottas are flaky, layered flatbreads made of flour. Eat these with a Kerala-style dry beef fry (erachi varattiyathu) – an incredibly spicy and delicious dish of beef chunks cooked with ground spices, black pepper, coconut and chillies.

Parotta preparation by Motographer via Flickr (CC license)

7. Appams and ishtu: pancakes and stew 

Appams are like thin crepes, made from a batter of fermented rice flour and coconut milk. Soft, light and fluffy, they go best with ishtu – a fresh coconut milk-infused stew of veggies, shallots, mild spices and meat of your choice. Mutton, chicken and vegetable stews are the common options.

Appams and fish curry by Pankaj Kaushal via Flickr (CC license)

8. Kaapi: filter coffee

There’s nothing quite like a steaming tumbler of South Indian filter coffee to kick start your morning. Coffee connoisseurs will concede that nowhere else in India does kaapi like the south.

Beans from southern Indian coffee-growing regions such as the Nilgiris, Malabar and the hills of Karnataka are roasted, ground and sometimes blended with chicory.

The coffee is then brewed in a steel filter, mixed with hot milk and poured vigorously between two tumblers from a great height to create a frothy strong brew, served in a stainless steel glass.

Kaapi by Kamakshi Sachidanandam via Flickr (CC license)

9. Biryani: something like pilaf

The ubiquitous biryani is found in different forms all over India, changing in flavour and preparation style according to regional influences.

Biryani is essentially a dish of rice cooked with meat, veggies and spices such as turmeric, cardamom, bay leaves, cinnamon, cloves, and pepper; sometimes garnished with cashews, raisins and caramelized onions. It can be vegetarian or have meats such as chicken, mutton or beef.

While there is no single South Indian-style biryani, you’ll find different varieties such as Hyderabadi dum biryani, Kerala-style Malabar or Thalassery biryani, the coastal Karnataka variant of Bhatkali biryani, Tamil Nadu’s Dinidgul biryani and so on.

Chicken Biryani by cell105 via Flickr (CC license)

10. Payasam: milky pudding

A milky, sugary rice pudding, payasam is a dessert that’s served across South India during festivals and major events. Rice or vermicelli (depending on the type of payasam) is added to boiled, sweetened milk and sometimes flavoured with cashews, almonds and cardamom. Coconut milk and jaggery occasionally replace the milk and sugar. Beware, this one is a jaw-gnashing kind of sweet.

eleneer payasam by Pankaj Kaushal via Flickr (CC license)

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

There’s more to see in Canada’s most populated province than ice hockey, forests and freely flowing maple syrup – and some of it’s pretty weird. From the world’s largest Elvis Presley festival, to axe throwing ranges in Toronto, here are just a few things you didn’t know you could do in Ontario.

1. Drink Dead Elephant Ale while gazing at a dead elephant

On September 15, 1885 Jumbo the Elephant of the PT Barnum circus, the world’s first animal celebrity, was hit by a train and killed in St Thomas, Ontario. It made global headlines. Jumbo’s skeleton is on display at the New York Museum of Natural History and his ashes are interred at Tuft’s University. Thankfully, none of these remains are distilled in the Railway Brewing Company’s tribute. They boast a hoppy IPA in honour of Jumbo, dubbed Dead Elephant Ale, and an enormous statue of the deceased animal in front of their business. Cheers?

2. Lace up your blue suede shoes for the biggest Elvis Festival on Earth

Situated on the unlikely banks of Georgian Bay, the ski resort town of Collingwood hosts an Elvis-fest to end all Elvis-fests every summer. Impersonators with greasy pompadours and overwhelming sideburns flock here from around the globe with hopes of being crowned the next King of Rock ‘N’ Roll. Every venue in downtown Collingwood, plus the nearby hot spot of Blue Mountain resort, is practically crawling with Elvises. Whether the impersonators are bang on, or hilariously missing the mark, they’re a lot of fun to gawk at.

Collingwood Elvis Festival by Jay Morrison (CC license)

3. Trim a few years off of your life with Dangerous Dan’s “Colossal Colon Clogger”

If gorging on local fast-food is your idea of a holiday then don’t miss Dangerous Dan’s, named after owner James’ grandfather, a wrestler notorious for his unhealthy diet. The Toronto restaurant is famous for its “Quadruple ‘C’ Combo” – a 24oz burger served with a quarter pound of cheese, a quarter pound of bacon, two fried eggs, a side of poutine and a large milkshake. Be sure to leave room for a Double D cup dessert to hammer the final nail in your food coma coffin. Eat at your own risk.

4. Get sleepy in a tepee on Manitoulin Island

On beautiful Manitoulin Island’s M’Chigeeng Reserve lies a forest ringed campground with tepees, wigwams and a native longhouse. Here, at the Great Spirit Circle Trail, glampers can get back to nature in a luxury-enhanced tepees. Whether you want to hike, canoe, forage on a medicine walk or take on a horseback tour into the Manitoulin wilderness, this is a wonderful way to learn a bit about the rich cultures of Canada’s Aboriginal peoples.

5. Channel your inner lumberjack

The West Coast Lumberjacks didn’t win Canada’s Got Talent for nothing. Showcasing thrilling exhibitions of wood wizardry such as log rolling, chainsaw carving and axe throwing, they keep all audiences enthralled with superhuman skills. Catch a performance at Wonderland Amusement Park just outside of Toronto during the summer months, or at the Ontario Lumberjack Competition at Brechin in June. Feeling inspired? Channel your inner lumberjack at BATL, Toronto’s very own axe throwing range.

Axe throwing at BATL by Tibor Kovacs (CC license)

6. Retrace the footsteps of a prepubescent Justin Bieber in his hometown of Stratford

150km east of Toronto is the pretty little theatre town of Stratford, the site of Justin Bieber’s nativity. Yes, musical superstar Bieber’s talent was birthed and nurtured in this very place. For hardcore ‘Beliebers’, sitting on the steps of the Avon Theatre, where Justin used to busk, will no doubt be a holy pilgrimage of sorts. This self-guided tour also features the pizza parlour where Bieber has been known to give autographs and the City Hall where he recorded his first song.

7. Relax with a restorative ‘Stitch n’ Bitch’

Nothing is more therapeutic than the intricate needlework involved in knitting and crocheting. Except, perhaps, getting everything off your chest while you’re at it. The Knit Café in Toronto’s hip west-end not only offers drop-in sessions for beginners up to advanced students but is a great hang-out, with “Stich n’ Bitch meetups every Tuesday. By far, the most relaxing part of any session is the chat.

8. Break bread with Old Order Mennonites in St. Jacob’s Country

North of Toronto is a stunning rural area where farms are nestled among undulating hills. This countryside is home to twenty different sects of Mennonites, and on any given day you can see these farmers’ traditional horse-drawn buggies trundling along the roads. The village of St Jacob’s is home to St Jacob’s Mennonite Church, where there is a potluck supper open to visitors every Sunday at 5:30pm; a perfect opportunity to learn about the locals residents, many of whom still eschew the conveniences of modern technology, electricity included.

Ontario Mennonites by Zhu (CC license)

Explore more of Canada with the Rough Guide to CanadaCompare flights, find toursbook hostels and hotels for your trip, and don’t forget to purchase travel insurance before you go. Lynn stayed with the Westin Trillium House Hotel, Blue Mountain, prices from $159 (low season) and $199 (high season). 

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