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.

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.

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.

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.

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

This year we listed Hull as one of the top ten cities to visit in 2016 – an accolade that had many people surprised. Here, Lottie Gross explains why it made the list.

It’s safe to say, most people’s preconceptions of Hull aren’t brilliant. In the past it has been named Britain’s worst city and the least romantic place in the UK. But Kingston upon Hull, to use its proper name, has come into its own in recent years.

Designated the UK City of Culture for 2017, we believe Hull is finally able to showcase what a vibrant and intriguing place it is.

Here are just a few reasons to love this misunderstood city.

1. Its historical charm will surprise you

You might expect to see industrial factories and high-rise concrete blocks throughout Hull, but while much of the city was flattened by bombing during the blitz, some of its oldest streets remain.

Head to the Old Town, where cobbled roads are lined with charming old houses and visit the 700-year-old Holy Trinity Church for some typically British Gothic architecture.

The Victorian indoor marketplace and shopping arcade also evokes a past age; there are a handful of vendors still inside selling fresh fish and coffee, and the shops range from electronics to a quirky old joke store.

Shopping arcade by Lottie Gross

2. It’s full of cosy drinking holes

There’s nothing better than, after a long day of exploring, settling into a comfortable corner with a good old pint of English ale. Fortunately, there is plenty of opportunity for this in Hull.

Try the Lion & Key whose walls and ceiling are colourfully covered in beer mats, the Minerva, which is steeped in maritime history, and Ye Olde Black Boy, whose facade was painted pink for the Freedom Festival to signify that “colour doesn’t matter”, for local ales and snug seating.

The seventeenth century George Hotel has a lovely, wood-panelled bar, and just outside you can find what’s purported to be the smallest window in the world.

Need something to soak up that hangover? Look out for patties on any pub, restaurant or take-away menu. These deliciously deep-fried discs of mashed potato seasoned with sage are the perfect cure to the morning after your historic pub crawl. Try a pattie butty – yes, that’s two slices of bread with a pattie in the middle – if you need a carb overload. For something a little more upmarket, but equally comforting, try 1884 Dock Street Kitchen’s Sunday roasts.

3. There are brilliant museums – and they’re free

From street life and art to geology and archaeology, Hull’s free museums cover it all. There’s something for all ages, whether it’s climbing atop old trams and trains, or delving into the city’s maritime history.

Head to The Hull and East Riding Museum to travel through time: you’ll walk through a reconstructed iron age village, explore Roman bathhouses and see ancient Viking artefacts.

One of the city’s more poignant exhibitions is Wilberforce House, once the home of William Wilberforce who helped abolish slavery in the nineteenth-century British Empire. His pretty Georgian house in Hull’s Old Town High Street is now a museum about slavery, with films and interactive displays, as well as the work of Wilberforce himself.

If you’re looking for something a bit more hands on, hop aboard the Arctic Corsair (located behind the Streetlife Museum) for a guided tour of the city’s last remaining sidewinder fishing trawler – one of the most important vessels in the city’s deep sea fishing fleet.

The Streetlife Museum by Lottie Gross

4. It’s played home to some of Britain’s greatest figures

Poet Philip Larkin is one of Hull’s most famous exports, but there’s a whole host of big names that have grown up or settled in Hull. William Wilberforce – the man who helped abolish slavery in the UK – lived in Hull and his old home, a creaky, red-brick house, is now a museum dedicated to the fight against slavery.

There’s an entire book, titled The Famous Side of Hull, published by locals listing all the celebrities from the area, and even a hall of fame in Spin It Records inside the market building.

Wilberforce House by Lottie Gross

5. The city knows how to throw a party

The Freedom Festival is the highlight of the Hull calendar – a long weekend of performance arts, installations, street food and some seriously impressive fireworks.

The festival name hails from the link between William Wilberforce and Hull, but – according to the festival website – it’s as much about freedom of the people as it is about “exploring local, national and international representations of freedom, independence of spirit and creative expression.”

The Deep and the Humber by Lottie Gross

6. It’s going to be City of Culture 2017

We’ve long championed Hull as a travel destination – but in 2017 the city will be given a real change to shine as the UK’s Capital of Culture.

There’ll be something to see or do every day of 2017, and millions of pounds of investment flowing into the city.

7. It’s not that unromantic after all

We challenge anyone to stand in the tip of The Deep, watch the sun turn the sky a fiery orange as it sets over the Humber, and not feel even just a little wooed.

A photo posted by Lottie Gross (@lortusfleur) on


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

In this article sponsored by Compare Forex Brokers, Helen Ochyra runs down the best ways to carry cash while travelling. 

You may have become accustomed to depending on those little pieces of plastic when at home, but on the road paying for that bowl of noodles, train ticket or local beer is unlikely to mean simply whipping out the Visa or waving your Amex.

Carrying your money abroad often means literally carrying it – in cash – as you’re likely to be charged a fee each time you use your card. And it’s certainly going to mean more forward planning than your usual “just popping to the ATM” lifestyle back home requires.

The first question is: where are you headed? Our guide to carrying money abroad is divided into regions, depending on how easily available ATMs, banks and chip and PIN machines might be. Pick your travel destination below and we’ll help you start planning the practicalities behind that skydive you want to do, that market you want to visit, or that cross-continent train journey you’ve got up your sleeve.

Easy money: the UK, most of Europe, Australia and New Zealand

When travelling around much of Europe or in Australia and New Zealand you can apply the same rules as you would at home.

It’s always advisable to have some local currency on you – especially on arrival, you may need it for those first taxi or bus journeys, or that first coffee or meal before you get to an ATM. Throughout your trip you are sure to come across smaller businesses, markets or bars and restaurants that don’t accept debit or credit cards.

If you use American Express, be aware that it’s not as widely accepted as Visa and Mastercard. Carrying both a Visa and a Mastercard is always the best bet, though keep them separate to avoid losing both at once.

It’s also a good idea to keep one credit card in your hotel or hostel, tucked away somewhere hidden, for emergencies.

For security reasons, taking money out of an ATM every few days is a better idea than carrying large amounts of cash. Although using ATMs to withdraw cash is convenient, it can be costly as most banks will charge you a fee when using your card abroad.

Wherever you’re travelling don’t forget to tell your bank so they do not block your card.

Take a tip: the USA and Canada

Although the USA and Canada are also countries where debit and credit cards are widely accepted, you will certainly need cash here – you are expected to tip everyone from taxi drivers and hotel porters to waiting and bar staff.

Before your trip get some US or Canadian dollars and ask for small bills so that you’re ready to tip as soon as you arrive. Be sure to continue breaking larger bills into smaller denominations so you always have one dollar bills for those small tips. Bear in mind that roughly $1 per bag is expected by porters and $5 for valet parking.

Plan ahead: North Africa, South Africa, Japan and South Korea

Although ATMs are reasonably widespread in these areas, you may find that only some banks will accept foreign cards, and that in rural areas (or even smaller towns and cities) there may be no ATMs.

Credit and debit cards are also less widely accepted than you might be used to, especially in smaller restaurants and shops. Plan ahead for what you expect to spend and get cash organized in advance.

If you are travelling for a while, don’t carry all the cash for your trip from the beginning. Instead, plan to withdraw further, larger sums at an ATM in a large city or at an airport or train station, where ATMs are not only more common but also more likely to accept foreign cards.

Where cash is king: most of South America, Southeast Asia and Africa

In these areas cash remains king and you may find that even larger hotels do not accept credit and debit cards. If you are planning to cross any borders you should also expect to need cash for visas and should not assume that there will be an ATM nearby.

Many of these countries have currencies that are either unstable or unpopular, meaning that the US dollar is often accepted widely.

In Vietnam for example, you will even find hotel rates quoted in dollars. Check before you travel and if the US dollar is widely accepted take both dollars and the local currency.

Cash by GotCredit on Flickr (license)

Make sure also that all bills are clean and undamaged, as well as in small denominations such as $10 and $20. A hotel in these destinations may only set you back $20 and a meal $2, so you won’t have much use for $100 bills.

As you may need to pay for everything in cash, even more forward planning is required in these areas. Try to work out a budget for your entire trip, assuming that every cost will need to be paid for in cash, and order the currency you need in advance so that you will have it when you arrive and won’t need to hunt down an ATM. For longer trips, research where you will be able to find an ATM online (generally in larger cities and at airports) and plan to replenish your cash roughly once a week.

Some countries (including Vietnam and Cuba) have a closed currency – meaning it is not freely available outside the country of origin. For these, plan to visit an ATM on arrival (at the airport, if you’re flying in) and carry US dollars at all times.

Final advice…

Note that the countries and regions listed here are generalizations. Thailand differs from Vietnam, and France will be different to Germany. We recommend that you check the Rough Guide to your planned destination, as well as online advice, before travelling.

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You can’t expect to fit everything Southeast Asia has to offer into one trip – or two or three or four, to be fair – and we don’t suggest you try. So, to help you start planning, we’ve put together 8 ideas for your Southeast Asia itinerary from The Rough Guide to Southeast Asia on a Budget.

For those taking a big, extended trip around the continent you could join a few together, but remember that the distances you’ll be covering can be vast. Plus, there’s lots to discover off the beaten track.

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. Vietnam

Start in colonial streets of Hanoi (1), the country’s historical, political and cultural capital. Go for a sail around the famed natural wonders of Ha Long Bay (2), before heading to the northern hills to the ethnic minority villages orbiting Sa Pa (3).

Take the train down to imperial architecture of Hué (4), make a day-trip to the DMZ, then move south to charming Hoi An (5). Nha Trang (6) is Vietnam‘s pre-eminent beach party town, whereas Mui Ne (7) offers great water-sports and sandy coasts with a more laidback vibe.

Da Lat (8) is your gateway to the Central Highlands, but if you’re still craving sea and sand the island of Phy Quoc (9) is a haven for beach bums and divers. Float down lush canals in the Mekong Delta (10), and finish your trip in bustling Ho Chi Minh City (11).

2. Myanmar

Kick off in Yangon (1) for street markets and the glorious Shwedagon Paya, then go to Mawlamyine (2), Myanmar‘s third largest city. Catch a boat to Hpa-an (3) before visiting one of the holiest Buddhist sites in the country, Kyaiktiyo (4).

Kalaw (5) is a perfect base for treks to ethnic-minority villages, and traditional life at Inle Lake (6) shouldn’t be missed either. Watch the sunset over Mandalay (7), then soar in a hot-air balloon over the awe-inspiring temples of Bagan (8).

Stroll the botanical gardens at Pyin Oo Lwin (9) before taking the train ride across the Goteik viaduct to Hsipaw (10), an increasingly popular trekking base.

3. Laos and Cambodia

Begin with the unmissable two-day trip down the Mekong River from Houayxai to Luang Prabang (1), the city of golden spires. Then its off to the stunning natural playground of Vang Vieng (2), before venturing to the country’s quaint capital, Vientiane (3).

Enjoy the pretty French-colonial lanes of Savannakhet (4) and explore the Khmer ruins of Wat Phou near Champasak (5). Set course towards Si Phan Don (6) to chill out for a few days in one of the four thousand islands scattered across the Mekong River. Catch a mini-bus to Cambodia for river dolphin watching in Kratie (7), or laze riverside in relaxed Kampot (8).

An easy bus ride takes you from Phnom Penh (9) to  Siem Reap, where the world-famous temples of Angkor (10) beg to be explored. But if you’re feeling a little travel-worn afterwards there’s no better place to kick back than the beach resort and offshore islands of Sihanoukville (11).


4. Bangkok and Northern Thailand

After immersing yourself in Bangkok, Thailand’s frenetic and thriving capital, chill-out among the rafthouses and waterfalls of Kanchanaburi (2).

Rent a bicycle to explore the ancient ruins of Ayutthaya (3) and then make for the elegant temple remains in Sukhothai (4). To break free of the tourist route head to isolated Umphang (5), where the surrounding mountains are perfect for trekking.

Chaing Mai (6) is always a backpacking favourite, but an amble through the arty night markets and excellent live-music bars of Pai (7) shouldn’t be missed either.

5. Thailand’s Beaches and Islands

Commence among the old-world charms of Thailand‘s Phetchaburi (1), then take a trip to the paradisiacal islands of Ko Tao (2) and Ko Pha Ngan (3) for raging moon parties or a detox.

Trek through the jungle in Khao Sok National Park (4) ­– one of the most bio-diverse places on the planet – and as you move further south, consider a stop in the slightly ugly tourist village of Ko Phi Phi (5) for undeniably fun all-night parties, snorkelling and diving.

Continue south to the relaxed island getaway of Ko Lanta (6), before winding this itinerary down in the pockets of paradise still remaining in Ko Lipe (7) and the stunning Ko Tarutai National Marine Park nearby.

6. Singapore and Malaysia

Singapore (1) is an easy introduction to Southeast Asia with its array of tourist-friendly pleasures. But move on to Melaka (2) for a fascinating mix of cultures and an ideal first stop in Malaysia.

Kuala Lumpur (3) is a must, and the cooling heights of the Cameron Highlands (4) will provide refuge after the bustle. Relax on the beaches of the Perhentian Islands (5) then make for the rainforests of Taman Negara National Park (6), before catching a ride on the jungle railway to Kota Bharu.

Attractive Kuching (7) is an ideal base for visits to the Iban longhouses, and a journey along the 560km Batang Rajang (8) river into the heart of Sarawak is unforgettable.

Nature and adventure buffs alike will love Gunung Mulu National Park (9), Kinabalu National Park (10) and the wildlife outside of Sandakan (11). Finish this itinerary among the teeming marine life of Pulau Sipadan (12), one of the top dive sties in the world.

7. Indonesia

There’s plenty to discover by starting in Sumatra’s Bukit Lawang and Danau Toba (1), the famous orang-utan centre, soaring volcanoes and island retreats among them.

Take time to explore Indonesia’s capital, Jakarta (2), before moving on to Java cultural heart: Yogyakarta (3), the best base for the temples of Borobudur and Prambanan. Take a pre-dawn hike up to the crater rim of still-smoking Gunung Bromo (4), adventure the many wonders of Hindu Bali and hop over the Lombok (6) and the Gili Islands for adventures in paradise.

Enjoy close encouters with Komodo dragons in Komodo and Rinca (7) before heading to the mountainous landscapes of fertile Flores (8). Finish up on Sulawesi, immersed in the flamboyant festivals and fascinating culture of Tanah Toraja (9).

8. The Philippines

Start by soaking up the compelling energy of Manila (1), a convenient gateway to some of the country’s more inaccessible areas.

Check out the shipwrecks and prehistoric landscapes of Palawan (2), before you pass through Cebu city (3) on your way to Camiguin (4), a small volcanic island home to a bohemian arts scene and some amazing adventure activities. 

Surfers flock to the acclaimed reef breaks of Siargao (5), while the captivating sunsets and limited electricity at both Malapascua and Bantayan (6) typifies island living at its best.

Boracay (7) also shouldn’t be missed, home to some of the world’s most beautiful beaches and nightlife rivalling Manila. Conclude this itinerary in the cool mountain villages of the Igorot tribes in the Cordillera (8), nestled among jaw-dropping rice-terrace scenery.

Featured image by Lee Aik Soon.

Bukchon Hanok Village, Seoul, South Korea

It’s strange to think that at the heart of one of the most densely populated places on the planet, just a stone’s throw away from the gleaming high-rises of bustling Insadong, there’s a quiet neighbourhood of traditional wooden houses, where locals chatter in tearooms and children play in the sloping streets. These charming hanokjip (literally, "Korean House") hark back to a time when every home in Seoul had paper walls and was crowned with an elegantly tiled wing-tipped rooftop.

Islamic Cairo, Egypt

The medieval city at the heart of Cairo is a tangled web of narrow lanes, towering mosques and aromatic bazaars. Enter the warren at Khan al-Khalili, packed with goldsmiths, spice vendors, and traders hawking incense, then burrow your way south to the Citadel, a hilltop bastion with majestic views over the district’s minaret-studded skyline.

The Hermitage, St Petersburg, Russia

The Hermitage quite simply has the largest collection of paintings in the world, and is set in one of the most beautiful buildings in Russia: the Winter Palace, an opulent Baroque confection that served as the official residence of the tsars until the revolution of 1917. The museum contains over three million treasures and works of art, from ancient Scythian gold to paintings by Picasso, only a fraction of which are on display at any one time.

The Mercato, Addis Ababa, Ethiopia

Crowded, cramped and rough around the edges, the Mercato covers several square miles of Ethiopia’s capital city. Reputedly the busiest market in Africa, it’s a fascinating place to explore, a shantytown of traders peddling their wares out of corrugated-iron shacks amidst a fug of incense, coffee and cow dung. This is very much a market for locals, with sections selling grain, vegetables, tyres and used white goods, but you can still pick up an interesting piece of jewellery or a traditional Ethiopian cross.

Bock Casemates, Luxembourg City, Luxembourg

Part of Luxembourg City’s impressive series of fortifications, designated a UNESCO World Heritage site in 1994, the dark, dank Bock Casemates were carved out of a sandstone promontory overlooking the Alzette valley in the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries.The extraordinary complex of underground passages and galleries ran for 23km (17km still remain), and at one time housed a 1200-strong garrison, along with bakeries, kitchens, stables and the like.

Knossos, Crete, Greece

You won’t be the first person to get lost at the Palace of Knossos. Many of the visitors that wander amongst the courtyards, storerooms and royal apartments that made up the largest Minoan palace in Crete are tempted here by the legend of its labyrinth, and of the Minotaur, the creature it was built to contain. Whilst there’s no sign of the labyrinth today, you can still peer into some of the palace’s remaining rooms, which once numbered a thousand.

The Grand Bazaar, Istanbul, Turkey

The world’s largest covered market, Istanbul’s suitably named Grand Bazaar has been trading goods on the same spot in historic Sultanahmet for over 550 years. Browsing is an endurance sport here, all the more so given the enthusiastic sales techniques on display, and with more than 4000 shops crammed under one roof, you’ll need to pick your battles – try bartering with the shoe-sellers on Kavaflar Sokak or the gold merchants on Kalpakçilar Başı, or the carpet-sellers everywhere in between.

Kolmanskop, Namibia

Stand in the middle of the old town hall in Kolmanskop and you’ll find yourself knee-deep in sand. Kolmanskop sprung up when diamonds where discovered here in the early 1900s but faded just as quickly once the gems petered out, and it was abandoned to the mercy of the desert in the mid-1950s. Today, it’s an eerie ghost town, its once-grand buildings – including a ballroom, theatre and casino – slowly succumbing to the encroaching dunes.

Old Delhi, India

Founded in 1638 as the capital of Mughal India, Shahjahanabad (or Old Delhi) is the most intense and downright chaotic area of the city. Delhi is home to nearly 17 million people, and at times it can feel like most of them are jostling along Chandi Chowk, the heaving main thoroughfare, or in the surrounding warren of streets, where rickshaws and handcarts hurry between bazaars selling everything from spices to wedding garlands to car parts.

The Moscow metro, Russia

Perhaps only in Moscow can a lengthy trip on the underground become a journey of artistic beauty. The system was designed in the 1930s to showcase the glories of Mother Russia, and many of the first few lines to open employed the most renowned Soviet architects of their time. There are 195 stations to wander, neck craned, gawping at decor ranging from High Stalinist opulence (think red marble, gold-encrusted mosaics and bronze lamps) to the utilitarianism that defined 1970s USSR.

Shinsegae Centum City, Busan, South Korea

Shinsegae Centum City is officially the largest shopping complex in the world – they’ve even got a certificate from the Guinness Book of World Records to prove it. This is three million square feet of retail therapy, with over 425 shops filling sixteen floors. Plus there’s a food market, an art gallery, an ice rink, a three-floor spa, a multiplex cinema, a gym, a roof garden and the world’s largest indoor driving range, of course.

The temples of Angkor, Cambodia

The biggest archaeological site on earth, the temples of Angkor are scattered over some four hundred square kilometres of countryside in northwest Cambodia. For six hundred years from the early ninth century, successive Angkorian kings constructed their royal cities and state temples here – the magnificent Angkor Wat is just the most famous of myriad monuments, among them the ancient walled city of Angkor Thom, and Ta Prohm, its crumbling ruins engulfed in a tangle of creepers and strangler figs.

Fez el Bali, Fez, Morocco

The extraordinary Medina of Fez el Bali is an addictive maze of blind alleys and dead-end lanes. You can follow Talâa Kebira, the main thoroughfare, down into its bowels, past goods-laden donkeys and ancient fondouks selling olive oils and a dozen types of honey. Metalworkers hammer away at immense copper cauldrons on Place Seffarine, brightly coloured yarns dry in the heat on Souk Sabbaghine, and workers toil knee-deep in the honeycomb of vats that make up the tanneries Chouwara.

Kumbh Mela Festival, Allahabad, India

The largest religious gathering on earth, Kumbh Mela takes place every three years, alternating between Allahabad, Haridwar, Nasik and Ujjain. The cities are auspicious with Hindus thanks to their location at the confluence of holy rivers, and a staggering nineteen million pilgrims attended the last Maha ("Great") Kumbh Mela in Allahabad in 2013, when the surrounding floodplains were turned into a vast tent city and legions of naked sadhus, their bodies covered in ash, plunged into the waters each morning.

Palace of Parliament, Bucharest, Romania

If ever a building defined its builder, then the Palace of Parliament is it. The enormous centrepiece of Bucharest’s Centru Civic was constructed in the 1980s for Nicolae Ceauşescu, Romania’s Communist dictator, and is regarded as the concrete zenith of his megalomania. Allegedly the second-largest administrative building in the world (after the Pentagon), the "Madman’s House", as it was once popularly known, has well over a thousand rooms and took some seven hundred architects to put together.

Beijing’s hutongs, China

North of The Forbidden City, the labyrinth of twisting grey alleyways and half-hidden courtyards that surround Houhai Lake make up the last major hutong district in Beijing. Once the home of princes, dukes and monks, these ancient backstreets are being torn down to make way for modern housing. For now, though, workers still scurry around on rusty bicycles and old men sit quietly in the shade, attending their caged birds, in what has become an ever-dwindling outpost of traditional Beijing.

The Smithsonian, Washington DC, USA

The supersized collection of big-hitting museums and research facilities that constitute the Smithsonian spreads across a large swathe of Downtown D.C. The complex’s collection is so mind-bogglingly vast that if you were to spend a minute looking at every object on display, it would take you a hundred years to see everything – and that’s without stopping to sleep.

Convento dei Cappuccini, Palermo, Italy

Warning: this is not one for the faint-hearted. Lining the catacombs deep beneath Palermo’s Convento dei Cappuccini, on the outskirts of the Sicilian capital, are the gruesomely preserved bodies of some eight thousand Palermitans, each one occupying its own niche within the jagged stone walls. The deceased were interred here up until the early 1880s, row upon row of them, dressed in their finest and suspended ad infinitum in some sort of grotesque waiting room for the afterlife.

Mumbai train station, India

At 8.30am at Churchgate Terminus, Mumbai, rush hour is in full swing. The trains pulling into platforms are swollen with suburban commuters, many of them carrying up to 3000 more people than they were designed to. When two trains empty onto a platform at the same time, disgorging their passengers in an explosion of colour, you need to stand still, take a deep breath and remember that there’s only another hour and half to go until things start to quieten down a little.

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.

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.

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.

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. 

Yorkshire boasts a wealth of big-hitting tourist attractions, but hidden away there are a few entertaining oddities which would be a shame to miss. Here, in no particular order, are ten of the best.

The Teapottery

Housed on an industrial estate just outside Leyburn, the Teapottery calls itself, with justification, the “home of eccentric teapots”. Though the main reason for visiting is to buy teapots in the shape of guitars, police helmets, valve radios, toasters and wheelbarrows, you can also tour the workshops and see each carefully explained step in the production line.

The Mart Theatre

With echoes of Shakespearean inns, Skipton’s animal auction mart doubles as a theatre. On certain nights, the main show ring becomes an auditorium, mounting plays, opera, folk music and stand-up comedy. Barriers are removed, the concrete apron is scrubbed down and the exhibition hall becomes a theatre bar. How do thesps and Dales farmers get on, you might wonder? Like a house (or barn) on fire. Farmers love the animal-enhancing lights while the theatre company gets quirky accommodation. It’s win-win all the way.

Spurn Head

East Yorkshire’s Spurn Head is an amalgam of wild nature, nautical significance and military history. As you drive along its windblown single-track road, the Humber Estuary to your right, the ships riding at anchor in the North Sea to your left, and three generations of light-house, the pilot’s control tower and a jetty ahead, it really does feel like the end of the world.

Ampleforth College

Ampleforth College in North Yorkshire is, unlike most ruined English monasteries, in surprisingly good health. It’s not only a working monastery, but also the country’s premier Roman Catholic public school, whose alumni include Downton Abbey creator Julian Fellowes, actor Richard Everett and sculptor Antony Gormley. In addition to viewing its Roman Catholic worship and tradition, visitors can also walk in the grounds, use the Sports Centre, or attend spiritual classes.

The Cold War Bunker

To those who lived through the Cold War, this bunker, west of York’s city centre conjures up mushroom-clouded Armageddon. To younger visitors, it’s just a jumble of risible old technology set in echoing reinforced concrete. Commissioned in 1961, and one of twenty-nine such facilities, it was manned 24/7 by the Royal Observer Corps, tasked with monitoring nuclear explosions. Here’s a chilling thought: had it ever been used, most of us would have been dead!

Nellies

Nellies (officially the White Horse), in Beverley, reminds us how much the British pub has changed. A seventeenth century coaching inn, its warren of small rooms glory in stone, tile and wood floors, have open coal fires, gas lighting, and a hotchpotch of scuttles, fire-irons, brasses and old pictures. There’s not a carpet, fruit-machine or jukebox in sight.

Eden Camp

Eden Camp in North Yorkshire started life as a Prisoner of War facility during World War II. Having become a derelict eyesore, it was acquired during the 1980s by local visionary Stan Johnson, who converted it into a fascinating museum. A perfect fusion of form and content, its original huts are devoted to different aspects of the war – the rise of Hitler (Hut 1) for example, or the Home Front (Hut 2). Displays are graphic, and even vibrant.

Image courtesy of Eden Camp

The Forbidden Corner

A huge puzzle of spirits and giants, with monsters and myths strung out along labyrinthine paths and tunnels, The Forbidden Corner near Middleham has follies and riddles and mysterious voices galore. Built in the grounds of Tupgill Park, by its owner C. R. Armstrong, to amuse his children, and subsequently opened briefly to the public to raise money for charity, The Forbidden Corner was so popular with visitors that it has now become a tourist attraction in its own right. It’s easier to enjoy than describe – so check it out.

Fort Paull

The pentagonal Fort Paull, just outside Hull, is a ‘Palmerston’ Fort built in the 1860s and named after the then Prime Minister. After its 1960 decommissioning it seemed destined to subside into brambled dereliction. Then a local group took it in hand, and, in 2000, opened it as a military museum. Don’t look here for a coherent recreation of the World War II. Enjoy instead a ragbag of wartime memorabilia, tanks, guns, planes and exhibitions on the Women’s Land Army, child evacuees and the use of carrier pigeons. It’s chaotic, but oddly charming.

The Peace Museum

The only British representative of an international movement, Bradford’s Peace Museum is tucked away at the top of a steep staircase in an old bank in the centre of the city. Its collections include books, cuttings, works of art, posters, banners, photographs, letters and film, all relating to the Peace movement – there’s even a piece of Greenham Common’s perimeter fence. But its greatest resource are its development officers – if you visit, pick their brains.

Explore more of this northern area with the Rough Guide to Yorkshire. Teapot photograph courtesy of the Teapottery.

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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Once a month, on the eve of the full moon, downtown Hoi An turns off all its street lights and basks in the mellow glow of silk lanterns. Shopkeepers don traditional outfits; parades, folk opera and martial arts demonstrations flood the cobbled streets; and the riverside fills with stalls selling crabmeat parcels, beanpaste cakes and noodle soup. It’s all done for tourists of course – and some find it cloyingly self-conscious – but nevertheless this historic little central Vietnam town oozes charm, with the monthly Full Moon Festival just part of its appeal.

Much of the town’s charisma derives from its downtown architecture. Until the Thu Bon river silted up in the late eighteenth century, Hoi An was an important port, attracting traders from China and beyond, many of whom settled and built wooden-fronted homes, ornate shrines and exuberantly tiled Assembly Halls that are still used by their descendants today. Several of these atmospheric buildings are now open to the public, offering intriguing glimpses into cool, dark interiors filled with imposing furniture, lavishly decorated altars and family memorabilia that have barely been touched since the 1800s. Together with the peeling pastel facades, colonnaded balconies and waterside market, it’s all such a well-preserved blast from the past that UNESCO has designated central Hoi An a World Heritage Site.

The merchant spirit needs no such protection, however: there are now so many shops in this small town that the authorities have imposed a ban on any new openings. Art galleries and antique shops are plentiful, but silk and tailoring are the biggest draws. Hoi An tailors are the best in the country, and for $200 you can walk away with an entire custom-made wardrobe, complete with Armani-inspired suit, silk shirt, hand-crafted leather boots and personalized handbag. And if you’ve really fallen under Hoi An’s spell, you might find yourself also ordering an ao dai, the tunic and trouser combo worn so elegantly by Vietnamese women.

Hoi An is around 700km south of Hanoi. The nearest airport and train station are in Da Nang, a 30km taxi ride away.

 

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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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