The Thai people are predominately Buddhist, and through much of their country Siddhartha’s spirit is palpable. Even in the noisy and overcrowded capital city, hard-faced nationals will soften their features and treat visitors with a respect given all living creatures. The exception that proves the rule is the brutal national sport of muay thai or Thai boxing – where knees batter ribs while gamblers wager their salaries on who will fall, and when.

Vendors surround Bangkok’s Lumphini Stadium three nights out of seven, peddling wares and heated snacks to patrons streaming into a theatre of controlled violence. Past the ticket booth is a mere hint of a lobby, its walls pierced with numbered archways too small for the seating areas behind them. A rhythmic thudding from deeper inside triggers a bottleneck at the edges of the arena, the narrow entryways imparting a final suggestion of order before releasing spectators into the clamour beyond. In the ring the pre-fight display has already begun. Like many of the martial arts, muay thai has its roots in national defence, and the fighters perform awkward dances before the bell in honour of a kingdom which was never at any point conquered by foreign invaders.

Drums pulse behind tense woodwind sounds as the early rounds get under way, each fighter cautiously feeling for weakness in his opponent’s defence. The crowd is equally patient, watching carefully for an advantage they can use against the bookmakers. At the end of the second round all hell breaks loose. In the stands men are waving and shouting, signalling with contorted hands the amounts they’re willing to lose. Within two minutes the fighters must retake the ring, and when they meet there are no more feints or dodges. Each attack is without pause. The music quickens. Blows are harder now, exchanged at a furious rate. The crowd raises its voice at every strike. Against the shin, into the ribs. Ferociously. Relentlessly. And then a step backward and to the left reveals enough space to slip an instep up to the loser’s jaw. Patrons make good on their markers while a stretcher carries away the unconscious also-ran. With ten fights a night, there’s simply no time for compassion.

Lumphini Stadium, on Thanon Rama IV, stages fights on Tues, Fri and Sat eves. Take the subway to Lumphini station or the Skytrain to Sala Daeng and then a taxi.

 

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Offhand, how many different ways can you think of to prepare herring or salmon? The two fish are staples of the smörgåsbord and, at last count, there were well over 120 varieties being used in restaurants and kitchens across Sweden.

The Swedish smörgåsbord (literally “buttered table”) is a massive all-you-can-eat buffet where you can sample almost anything under the midnight sun, from heaving plates of fish and seafood – pickled, curried, fried or cured – to a dizzying assortment of eggs, breads, cheeses, salads, pâtés, terrines and cold cuts, and even delicacies such as smoked reindeer and caviar.

You’re best off arriving early and on an empty stomach. Just don’t pile everything high onto your plate at once – remember that the tradition is as much celebratory social ritual as it is one of consumption. That means cleansing your palate first with a shot of ice-cold aquavit (caraway-flavoured schnapps), then drinking beer throughout – which as it happens goes especially well with herring, no matter the preparation.

Plan to attack your food in three separate stages – cold fish, cold meats and warm dishes – as it’s generally not kosher to mix fish and meat dishes on the same plate. Layer some slices of herring onto a bit of rye bread, and side it with a boiled potato, before moving on to smoked or roasted salmon, jellied eel or roe. Follow this with any number of cold meats such as liver pâté, cured ham and oven-baked chicken. Then try a hot item or two – Swedish meatballs, wild mushroom soup, perhaps Janssons frestelse (“Jansson’s temptation”), a rich casserole of crispy matchstick potatoes, anchovies and onion baked in a sweet cream. Wind down with a plate of cheese, crackers and crisp Wasa bread and, if you can still move, fruit salad, pastries or berry-filled pies for dessert, capped by a cup of piping hot coffee. Then feel free to pass out.

Try Ulriksdals Wärdshus, Slottspark (www.ulriksdalswardshus.se), 10min north of Stockholm in Solna.

 

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Stretching from the warm tropical shores of the Caribbean to the wild and windswept archipelago of Tierra del FuegoSouth America has a dizzying treasure trove of landscapes that have long seduced independent travellers seeking an unforgettable experience. Belgian photographer Pascal Mannaerts has been captivated by the continent since he discovered photography during his student years; here is a selection of his amazing pictures of BrazilBolivia, and Peru.

The Altiplano, near La Paz, Bolivia

Dried frogs, potions and medicinal plants in the Witches’ Market, La Paz, Bolivia

 

Sur Lípez, Bolivia

Ancestral remains in a cave in Villamar, Bolivia

Abandoned train, Uyuni, Bolivia

 The streets of Copacabana, Bolivia

A woman living in the Antiplano, Bolivia

Ipanema beach, Rio de Janeiro, Brazil

Lago do Pelourinho, Salvador, Brazil

Portrait of a man in Barreirinhas, Brazil

Lençóis Maranhenses National Park, Brazil

The view of Rio from Sugarloaf Mountain, Brazil

A man drumming during a street party, Rio de Janeiro, Brazil

An Uros woman, Lake Titicaca, Peru

Mama Peruana in traditional dress, Cusco, Peru

Children walking their llama home, Cusco, Peru

Bolivia is one of our top countries to visit in 2014 – find more of the top countries, cities and best-value destinations with the Rough Guide to 2014.
All photographs courtesy of Pascal Mannaerts – you can see more of his work at www.parcheminsdailleurs.com.
Explore more of Brazil, Peru and Bolivia with the Rough Guide to South America on a Budget. Book hostels for your trip and don’t forget to purchase travel insurance before you go.

Dubai’s nickname, the “City of Gold”, is well earned: gold jewellery is sold here at some of the world’s most competitive prices, and shopping among the constant flow of customers, many here for their marriage dowries, is an exceptional experience.

The Gold Souk is a fascinating warren of tiny shops and stalls clustered together in the old quarter of Deira. Visit in the cool of early evening when the souk is at its best, with lights blazing and window-shoppers out in force. Every corner is crammed with jewellery of every style and variety; spotlights pick out choice pieces and racks holding dozens of sparkling gold bangles and chains dazzle the eye.

Buying is a cagey but good-natured process: treat it as the chance to have a friendly chat with the shopkeeper, talking about family, work, life – anything but the item you’ve got your eye on. Then ask to see a few pieces, while surreptitiously assessing quality and sizing up your adversary, before lighting on the piece you knew you wanted from the start.

When the time comes to discuss money, bear in mind that the gold price fluctuates daily – and every shopkeeper in the souk knows the current price to several decimal places. Whereas in the West gold jewellery is sold at a fixed price, in Dubai the cost of each item has two separate components: the weight of the gold and the quality of craftsmanship involved in creating it. The former is fixed, according to the daily price-per-gram (listed in the newspaper) set against the item’s purity; the latter is where bargaining comes into play, with you and the shopkeeper trading prices – always
with a smile – until you reach agreement.

It takes a cool head, amidst all that glittering gold, not to be dazzled into paying over the odds, but the experience is more than worth it.

Most shops in the Deira Gold Souk follow similar hours (daily 9am–10pm).

 

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The Banaue rice terraces were once a colourful collage of winding fields that clung onto a mountain-side in Ifugao province in the Philippines. After being almost completely abandoned by the locals, these plantations are now being revived as young farmers return to work on the paddies. While researching the new Rough Guide to the Philippines, Kiki Deere was awestruck by the sheer beauty and functionality of the Banaue rice terraces.

I follow my guide Elvis along a narrow path that snakes its way through verdant scenery. We clamber up a series of little stone steps that precariously jut out of the mountainside. “We’re heading to the viewpoint!” Elvis exclaims in excitement. I am too busy trying to balance along the stairway to avoid an unpleasant fall, and it’s not until we reach the top and I turn around that I realise what surrounds me: an awe-inspiring view of rice terraces that weave around the mountainside like a giant stairway. “If you joined these rice paddies end to end they would reach half way round the earth”, he tells me.

Designated a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 1995, these stone and mud rice terraces delicately trace the contours of the Cordillera Mountains in Northern Luzon, and have been central to the survival of the Ifugao people since pre-colonial Philippines.

Photograph by Kiki Deere

This living landscape, with its intricate web of irrigation systems harvesting water from the mist-enveloped mountaintops, reflects a clear mastery in structural techniques and hydraulic engineering that have remained virtually unchanged for over two millennia. The art of maintaining the terraces was passed orally from generation to generation with traditional tribal rituals evoking spirits to protect the paddies. To this day, bulol rice deities are venerated and placed in the fields and granaries in order to bring abundant harvests and protect against malevolent spirits and catastrophe.

“When I was seven I would head to the paddies with my grandfather. He would teach me how to repair the dikes, flatten the area. I rode the buffalo which would play like a dog sometimes; run back and forth, roll down…” Elvis’s voice is filled with warmth as he recounts his childhood experiences, and I sense a twinge of nostalgia for those carefree boyhood days spent working in the fields.

“The rice that we harvest here in Ifugao is only for personal consumption but sometimes it’s not enough. On average, an Ifugao family has five children, plus the parents. That’s a total of seven mouths to feed. And we eat rice three times a day.”

The average Filipino consumes over 120kg of rice a year. Commercial rice, as it is known up in the Cordilleras, is grown in mass quantities in the lowlands with the use of fertilisers, and is exported mainly abroad.

“Remember that there are bad harvests, too – when the rice we grow here is not enough we end up buying commercial rice from the low lands”, Elvis goes on to tell me. It is therefore very rare that an Ifugao family has excess rice to sell.

For Ifugao farmers, the terraces are the only source of income. With a daily wage of less than US$6, increasing numbers of young Filipinos have, in recent years, migrated to urban areas and renounced fieldwork. As a result, a number of rice terraces have been abandoned and are rapidly deteriorating. The situation reached such a worrisome degree that the terraces were placed on the list of World Heritage in Danger in 2001.

But Elvis tells me the situation is now improving: “In the last few years I have seen most of the abandoned paddies being revived. I’d say over 90% are being used at the moment.”

As the price of a sack of rice (50kg) now stands at US$45, a four-fold increase from the mid 1990s, the paddies are slowly being tended for again, with youngsters returning to their home province to work with their families.

Photograph by Kiki Deere

In the last decade, programmes have been put in place by the local government to conserve this living natural landscape, and in 2012 the terraces were successfully removed from the Danger List. Yet, the area continues to face new challenges. Climate change and powerful earthquakes have caused dams to move, thereby re-routing water systems and affecting the hydraulic system of the terraces. The Ifugao must overcome these challenges in order for the terraces to function as a balanced whole, with sustainable tourism proving to be one of the answers.

An elderly lady stoops in a field, a scarlet shawl wrapped around her head to protect her from the sun’s scorching rays. In the neighbouring terrace, a lean fellow stands knee deep in a viscous layer of mud, his coarse hands tightly wrapped around a wooden shovel. He is levelling the field for the upcoming planting season. This time of year – November and December – is commonly referred to as “mirror time” after the paddies’ glassy appearance as they lie covered in a layer of water.

Other months bring an array of different colours: “Planting time is in the middle of January, until about the middle of February. Then the rice needs a bit of time to stabilise. Around April the terraces are at their greenest, in June and July, during harvest time, they become yellow, and in August they are golden with ripe grain, and then brown.”

I try to picture the terraces in their different stages, morphing into a rainbow of hues throughout the year, and remember how much these 70-degree slopes have shaped the lives of the people around them. I look across the mountainside to a small hamlet that comfortably nestles within the terraces, a tapestry of harmony between humankind and nature that is truly a sight to behold.

If you want to explore more of the Philippines, you can buy the Rough Guide to Southeast Asia on a Budget now. Book hostels for your trip, and don’t forget to purchase travel insurance before you go.

On the last Wednesday of every August, 130,000 kilos of over-ripe tomatoes are hurled around the alleyways of Buñol until the tiny town’s streets are ankle deep in squelching fruit. What started in the 1940s as an impromptu food fight between friends has turned into one of the most bizarre and downright infantile fiestas on earth, a world-famous summer spectacular in which thirty thousand or so finger-twitching participants try to dispose of the entire EU tomato mountain by way of a massive hour-long food fight.

Locals, young and old, spend the morning attaching protective plastic sheeting to their house fronts, draping them over the balconies and bolting closed the shutters. By midday, the town’s plaza and surrounding streets are brimming to the edges with a mass of overheated humans, and the chant of “To-ma-te, To-ma-te” begins to ring out across the town.

As the church clock chimes noon, dozens of trucks rumble into the plaza, disgorging their messy ammunition onto the dusty streets. And then all hell breaks. There are no allies, no protection, nowhere to hide; everyone – man or woman, young or old – is out for themselves. The first five minutes is tough going: the tomatoes are surprisingly hard and they actually hurt until they have been thrown a few times. Some are fired head-on at point-blank range, others sneakily aimed from behind, and the skilled lobber might get one to splat straight onto the top of your head. After what seems like an eternity, the battle dies down as the tomatoes disintegrate into an unthrowable mush. The combatants slump exhausted into a dazed ecstasy, grinning inanely at one another and basking in the glory of the battle. But the armistice is short-lived as another truck rumbles into the square to deposit its load. Battle commences once more, until the next load of ammunition is exhausted. Six trucks come and go before the final ceasefire. All in all, it only lasts about an hour, but it’s probably the most stupidly childish hour you’ll ever enjoy as an adult.

See www.latomatina.com for info on Tomatina tours and plenty of photos and videos of the event.

 

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Despite its natural beauty and vast array of historical sites, Jordan welcomes only a fraction of the visitors to the Middle East. When many think of Jordan, they picture camels and deserts – which admittedly make up 85 percent of its land mass – but this is also a country of mountains, beaches, castles and churches, with a welcoming population and a rich culture. These are our top things to do in Jordan:


Music: Ya Mo by Dozan (with thanks to worldmusic.net).

Ibiza’s summer clubbing season is an orgy of hedonism, full of beats, late nights and frazzled young things. It reaches a messy climax in September, when the main club promoters and venues host a series of seratonin-sapping parties to round things off and extract a few final euros from their battered punters. These end-of-season events tend to attract an older clubbing crowd, who prefer to hop over to Ibiza for a cheeky long weekend, avoiding the gangs of teenage pill-monsters that descend on the island in late July and August. The British rave dinosaurs join a resident hardcore of Ibizan clubbers and an international cast of party freaks and techno geeks, all brought together by a common appetite for dance music.

Where you go depends on your tastes. In San Antonio, the young crowd gathers at Eden and Es Paradis, whose entire dancefloor is flooded just before sunrise, while in the village of San Rafael, Amnesia’s essential closing party usually throws open its doors for free after 4am – the last worn-out dancers are often still there come mid-afternoon. Just across the road, Privilege, the world’s biggest club, parted ways with the famously debauched Manumission in 2008, but still throws closing parties for crowds of up to 10,000. In a laudable attempt to inject fresh energy into the scene, Ibiza Rocks has added live music, including Florence and the Machine and Pendulum, to the mix in recent years. Across the island in Ibiza Town, the elegant Pacha has the cream of the world’s best DJs, including Erick Morillo and David Guetta, cranking things up to delirious levels. Four kilometres south of Ibiza Town, the after-party at Space usually gets going around 8am, with punters donning shades and getting down on the legendary terrace before moving inside, where the walls quiver to progressive techno.

The Space closing party was once the event in the Ibiza club calendar but lately it has lost out to the hardcore action down at DC10. The no-frills club has had regular battles with the authorities over licensing, but it’s gained a loyal crowd of the hippest partiers (and most outrageous mullets) in Ibiza).

The Ibiza closing parties take place in the last three weeks of September; DJ, Pacha and MixMag magazines have listings.

 

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It happens to most newcomers: noses flare, eyes widen and pulses quicken upon entering La Boqueria, Barcelona’s cathedral to comida fresca (fresh food). Pass through the handsome Modernista cast-iron gateway and you’re rapidly sucked in by the raw, noisy energy of the cavernous hall, the air dense with the salty tang of the sea and freshly spilled blood. As they say in these parts, if you can’t find it in La Boqueria, you can’t find it anywhere: pyramids of downy peaches face whole cow heads – their eyes rolled back – and hairy curls of rabo de toro (bulls’ tails). Pale-pink piglets are strung up by their hind legs, snouts pointing south, while dorada (sea bream) twitch on beds of ice next to a tangle of black eels.

The Mercat de Sant Josep, as it’s officially called, was built in 1836 on the site of a former convent, though records show that there had been a market here since the thirteenth century. Its devotees are as diverse as the offerings: bargain-hunting grandmas rooting through dusty bins; gran cocineros (master chefs) from around Europe palming eggplants and holding persimmons up to the light; and droves of wide-eyed visitors weaving through the hubbub. At its core, though, La Boqueria is a family affair. Ask for directions and you might be told to turn right at Pili’s place, then left at the Oliveros brothers. More than half of the stalls – and attendant professions – have been passed down through generations for over a century.

When it comes time to eat, do it here. The small bar-restaurants tucked away in La Boqueria may be low on frills, but they serve some of the finest market-fresh Catalan fare in the city. Flames lick over the dozens of orders crammed onto the tiny grill at Pinotxo, a bustling bar that has been around since 1940. Pull up a stool, and choose from the day’s specials that are rattled off by various members of the extended family, like the affable, seventy-something Juanito. Tuck into bubbling samfaina, a Catalan ratatouille, or try cap i pota, stewed head and hoof of pig. As the afternoon meal winds down, Juanito walks the bar, topping up glasses from a jug of red wine. There’s a toast – “Salud!” – and then everyone takes long, warming swallows, as all around the shuttered market sighs to a close.

La Boqueria has a website – www.boqueria.info – and is open Monday–Saturday 8am–8.30pm.

 

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“You can probably guess that I’m from the Cape Flats – born and fled that is!” So starts another night of impassioned, edgy and often bitingly satirical comedy from some of South Africa’s rawest young comedy talent.

The townships of Cape Town aren’t known as hubs of comedy, but the Starving Comics, an almost exclusively black and mixed-race group of young funny men and women, most of whom hail from troubled areas such as Mitchell’s Plain and Gugulethu, aim to change that perception. After decades in the international wilderness during apartheid, when comedy from the US and Europe was all but impossible to watch, this clutch of new comics have a voracious appetite for international skits and stars, and are deadly serious about giving South Africa a distinctive comic voice.

So this means an eclectic cluster of moneyed bohos, grizzled old Afrikaners, township residents and tourists can be found in a variety of modestly sized venues above bars and in tiny theatres across Cape Town on any given night to hear comics blaze a trail through comic journeys both satirical and surreal that can take in everything from political corruption to ice-rink etiquette.

To watch a gig with the Starving Comics is to be reminded that it’s possible to create comedy out of absolutely anything – even issues as tragic as the South African crime rate and the legacy of apartheid. It’s not the slickest comedy experience. Performers forget their lines, audiences are sometimes barely in double figures and getting info in advance about gigs can be difficult. But this is comedy at its rawest, bravest and most exciting. Even if, after watching these guys, you may never feel the same way about Nelson Mandela’s rugby shirt ever again.

The Starving Comics perform almost daily at various venues in and around Cape Town including Zulu Sound Bar (194 Long Street) on Mon nights. Contact the venue on +27 21 424 2442.

 

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