Tips when you are visiting in Tokyo


  • Shop around online months ahead for hotels, as rates can fluctuate dramatically. The best deals tend to be on the east side of town, in neighbourhoods such as Ueno and Asakusa. Avoid the peak domestic travel times of New Year, Golden Week (late April to early May), and Obon (mid-August), or book well in advance if you can’t.
  • While business hotels tend to lack character – rooms are compact and functional – in some cases they can be a better deal than private rooms at hostels, especially if you’re travelling as a couple. There are several good budget business hotels that offer double or twin rooms from around ¥8000 (US$80). One of the best value is the Toyoko Inn chain.
  • Tokyo hostels are known for being clean and well-managed, catering for younger and older travellers. Most have a mixture of dorms and private rooms and can be a good option for families on a budget. Expect to pay about ¥2800 (US$28) for a dorm and ¥7500 (US$75) for a private room (double occupancy).
  • Capsule hotels offer rooms the size of a single bed, with just enough headroom for you to sit up. Most are men-only (such as Capsule & Sauna Century), though some have floors for women, too. Prices range from ¥3500 (US$35) to ¥5000 (US$50), which usually includes access to a large shared bath and sauna.
  • All-night manga kissa (cafes for reading comic books) double as ultra-discount lodgings, some with private cubicles, showers, blanket rental and vending machines for food. A ‘night pack’ (for nine to 12 hours) starts at around ¥1500 (US$15). Gran Cyber Cafe Bagus (, with branches in Shinjuku and Shibuya, is one of the nicer chains. You probably wouldn’t want to spend many nights like this, but one or two would free up some yen.
  • You can have an overnight stay at a love hotel, known in Japanese asrabu hoteru, from ¥6500 (US$65); you can’t stay consecutive nights, though. Some love hotels have over-the-top interiors (and amenities that range from costumes to video-game consoles). There are dozens of options on Dōgenzaka in Shibuya.
  • Many spas and saunas – Spa LaQua and Ōedo Onsen Monogatariincluded – have ‘relaxation rooms’ with mats on the floor or reclining chairs where you can overnight for an extra fee (about ¥1500 to ¥2000).
  • Check out the full range of budget Tokyo accommodation options.


Food & drink

  • Get good-value meals at shokudō, inexpensive, all-around eateries, usually found at train stations and tourists sites. A fillingteishoku (set-course meal) usually includes a main dish of meat or fish, rice, miso soup and salad, for around ¥1000 (US$10).
  • You can fill your belly with a steaming bowl of noodles at tachigui, stand-and-eat noodle bars in and around train stations, for as little as ¥350 (US$3.50) per bowl. If you prefer to sit while you eat, you can get a bowl of ramen for under ¥1000 at one of Tokyo’s many noodle joints, such as Nagi in Shinjuku.
  • Try kaiten-zushi (conveyor-belt sushi), for a casual sushi lunch or dinner. Individual plates are priced from ¥100 to ¥500.
  • Fortify yourself with a drink and some small bites such as yakitori(grilled chicken skewers) at street stalls and izakaya, the Japanese equivalent of a pub.
  • Look out for lunch specials. Restaurants that charge several thousand yen per person for dinner often serve lunch for just ¥1000.
  • In the evenings, grocery stores, bakeries and depachika (department-store basement food halls) slash prices on bentō (boxed meals), baked goods and sushi. Two depachika to try are Isetan in Shinjuku andMitsukoshi in Nihombashi.
  • Convenience stores (major chains include Lawson, 7-Eleven and Family Mart) stock sandwiches, onigiri (rice balls), hot dishes and drinks, which you can assemble into a very affordable (if not exactly healthy) meal.

Tokyo city guide

  • Food trucks gather around the Tokyo International Forum at lunchtime on weekdays, with a range of goodies for under ¥1000. They also make an appearance at the weekend farmers’ market in Aoyama. And listen out for Tokyo’s original food trucks: theyaki-imo (roasted whole sweet potato) carts that rove the city from October to March crooning ‘yaki-imohhhhh…!’.
  • Beer can be bought from a vending machine at half the price of one at a bar.

Out & about

  • If you plan on visiting a few museums, the Grutt Pass ( is excellent value. The pass costs ¥2000 and allows discounted admission at 79 attractions across the city.
  • Shop tax-free at a number of stores; these are noted with a ‘tax-free’ sticker in English on the window. You need spend a minimum of ¥5000 in the store and show your passport to collect the tax refund at the time of purchase (items must remain unopened until you leave the country). See the Japan Tax-Free Shop guide ( for more.

Filipino on travelling tips

images-16A fusion of Spanish, Chinese, Malaysian and indigenous cooking styles, the food of this 7000-island archipelago really is like nothing else on earth. Here are 11 classic food-and-drink experiences worth having – at least once.


Whether it’s chicken, beef, pork, seafood or vegetables, if it’s cookedadobo you’d be hard-pressed to find a Filipino that doesn’t love it. Adobosees meat and vegetables marinated in garlic, vinegar and soy sauce before being cooked in oil and then simmered in the remaining marinade. Served with mountains of white rice, it’s a hallmark Filipino dish. You’ll find it on every local restaurant menu, and in food courts and market stalls throughout the country. Sentro 1771 in Manila offers a flavoursome garlicky beef and pork version.


The Philippines is home to possibly one of the tastiest pig dishes in the world: a whole pig stuffed with herbs and vegetables (each region has its own secret filling), which is hand-turned on a spit over smoking coals until the skin shatters like glass and the meat drips with flavour. A favourite for Filipino celebrations, lechon can be purchased at takeout counters throughout the islands or at local markets (try Manila’s Saturday Salcedo Community Markets). No need to buy the whole pig – you can usually order a few hundred grams. Many Filipinos say the bestlechon comes from Cebu, an hour’s flight from Manila. Don’t be surprised to see wrapped pigs being collected at the airport baggage carousels; restaurants fly lechon around the country to ensure customers get to feast on their favourite pork dish.


Possibly the most popular food for Filipinos (after firm favourite white rice; tip: ‘unli rice’ stands for ‘unlimited rice’) is rice noodles! Stir-fried with a mixture of meats and vegetables, and lashings of soy and oyster sauce, this dish is a staple at any Filipino celebration and is eaten for breakfast, lunch or dinner.  The noodles do come in varying thicknesses but pansit bihon (thin ones) are the best.


Served on a sizzling hot plate, this pork dish is traditionally made by boiling a pig’s head, then grilling or barbecuing it to add a smoky flavour, chopping the meat into tiny pieces, and finally frying with onion, garlic and spices. Sisig was made famous in Pampanga Province by late restaurateur Lucia Cunanan, who has been credited with creating the modern Filipino version. If you’re in the area, stop by restaurant Aling Lucing ( for a taste of the original. Sisig is available around the country; many restaurants serve variations using chicken, tuna, squid or even tofu instead of pork, or add items such as raw egg or mayonnaise. Whichever way you order it, get ready for a sizzling feast.


Sinigang is a sour-tasting soup made of a tamarind, tomato, garlic and onion broth. Native vegetables including okra, eggplant and green finger chilli are boiled up and meats (usually pork on the bone) are then added. Sinigang is the epitome of Filipino comfort food; most Pinoys can’t get enough of its signature sour taste. The dish is usually served with a side of patis (fish sauce) and chilli, and of course some white rice.

Traveling Tips in South Korean

images-17In the spirit of New York’s High Line elevated garden promenade, Seoulwill launch its Skygarden in 2017. It is the latest in a series of bold architectural and urban planning projects that have marked out this vibrant metropolis of 10 million people as the place to watch when it comes to a crafting a design-conscious, people-centric city for the 21st century.

Sixty five years ago, when Seoul lay in rubble following the Korean War, such a transformation was beyond most people’s wildest dreams. The priority then was to rebuild – fast. The results were far from pretty, but served their purpose. Seoul was the boiler room of South Korea’seconomic miracle, a non-stop city, crisscrossed by subways and elevated highways, its workers housed mainly in utilitarian, unlovely apartment blocks. Hosting the summer Olympics of 1988 and the FIFA World Cup of 2002 provided the impetus for some more imaginative city planning but mainly resulted in Seoul gaining new sports stadia and a couple of much needed parks.

Waterside parks

The pivotal moment came in 2003 when Lee Myung-bak, then mayor of Seoul and later to become the country’s president, green-lighted a multi-million won plan to demolish a 5.6km stretch of elevated highway not far south of the imperial palace Gyeongbokgung.

Beneath the concrete at the highway’s base ran the course of theCheong-gye-cheon a creek buried in the late 1960s when rampant development and pollution had made it an eyesore. Two years later, the highway was gone, replaced by a pristine stream flowing beside sinuous promenades and under reconstructed historic stone bridges.

Striking pieces of public artwork, including the giant pink and blue swirl Spring by Claes Oldenburg and Coosje van Bruggen, were also part of the design. The public loved it and the project was hailed a success for returning a strip of nature to the city centre, as well as naturally cooling the area and dramatically decreasing vehicle traffic.

In 2010, under the theme of ‘Design for All’, Seoul took on the mantle of World Design Capital. The same year it was appointed a Unesco City of Design. Across the city, hundreds of imaginative projects were softening Seoul’s concrete and steel edges.

The highways that thundered along both sides of the Han River couldn’t be so easily swept away, but the parks beneath them were upgraded. An old water filtration plant on Seonyudo, was transformed, Cinderella-like, into an award-winning garden oasis. The futuristic-looking recreation complex Some Sevit crowned artificial islands floating beside the Banpo Bridge, itself transformed at night by a fountain illuminated in rainbow colours arching forth from its girders into the river.

Ambitious design projects

Two key projects initiated in that period were so ambitious that it would take several more years for them to be completed. Finished in 2014, the inimitable design signature of the late Dame Zaha Hadid is immediately apparent at Dongdaemun Design Plaza & Park. Billed as the world’s largest atypical building, and looking more like a giant spaceship than a convention, exhibition and shopping centre, the curvaceous structure is coated with 45,000 aluminium panels, and glows from pulsating LED lights.


Around it Hadid crafted a remarkable, undulating landscape that incorporates fragments of the area’s history, including remains of Seoul’s 15th-century city walls and the 1925 sports stadium that once occupied the spot. It’s one of Seoul’s most fascinating structures.

Also making a bold architectural statement is the new Seoul City Hall opened in 2013. The design is based on the eaves of a traditional Korean house, which provide shade. But if you didn’t know that, you might think the glass structure more resembles a giant wave, frozen as it is about to crash down on the former 1926-vintage City Hall (now a library).

Inside, the eco-friendly building’s lobby boasts a vertical garden that rises up seven floors and is hung with over 70,000 plants in 14 different species. Over the lobby also dangles Jeon Su-cheon’s Meta Epic: SeoBeol – a giant cluster of hundreds of translucent spheres symbolising Seoul’s dynamism.

Soaring towers and skygardens

From all across the city, it’s hard to miss the tapering fins of Lotte World Tower, the sixth-tallest building in the world, cutting 555m high into the sky. The 122nd floor of this sleek tower, designed by Kohn Pedersen Fox Associates, will be the best place to take in Seoul’s full architectural sweep when the upper floors are completed, likely by the end of 2016. You can already visit the mammoth shopping mall, a 2000-seat concert hall, multiplex cinema and aquarium featuring South Korea’s longest freshwater tunnel and first underwater escalator tunnel.

Where are you go on next holiday

Smack in the middle of austral spring, October is a great time to visitPeru. Shoulder season sees smaller crowds at the famed Inca citadel ofMachu Picchu, allowing visitors to bask in its dizzying grandeur (and snap that iconic pic of Wayna Picchu) with a bit more elbow room. Drier weather during this time of year also makes for good rainforest trekking and wildlife-watching in the Amazon Basin.

In early October, the longest raft race in the world flows between Nautaand Iquitos. The Great Amazon River Raft Race (GRARR) began in 1999 as a one-day, 19-km event that drew only locals. In 2006 the course was extended to encompass a 180-km stretch of the Amazon River, granting the now three-day affair Guinness World Record status.

Teams of up to four rafters come from all corners of the globe to compete in the annual event. Each team must construct their own craft from eight balsa wood logs and other supplied materials before taking to the rushing waters in hopes of beating the current record finishing time of 12 hours and 19 minutes, set in 2008 by a team from the USA.

Enjoy feasts and festivities in Cork, Ireland

Cork is Ireland’s second city and a thoroughly enjoyable place to visit at any time of year, its energy and enthusiasm for life’s finer things balanced by a fascinating history. Great food (especially beef, lamb, seafood and cheese) and lively pubs are a big part of any visit, and you can spend many contented hours browsing the famous English Marketand ambling between bars – Murphy’s and Beamish originated here, and the Franciscan Well Brewery offers fine craft beer.

Cork likes a party, and autumn sees its folk (29 September-2 October) and jazz (28-31 October) festivals take over concert halls, back rooms and bar stools across town. The jazz festival offers big rock and dance acts as well as more purist fare, while folk music’s sense of history and loss keys into this part of the country’s role as a place of departure. Millions of Irish men and women left for new lives from the nearby ports of Kinsale and Cobh, and Cobh was Titanic’s last stop before it set off into the North Atlantic.

Cork, Cobh and Kinsale are all great to explore on foot, offering river walks, forts and stunning views out to sea, where you can gaze and ponder the passing of so many people, a feeling of wonder mixed with melancholy that seems utterly autumnal.

Have fall festival fun in New Orleans, USA

With the intense heat and humidity of summer starting to recede, October is the perfect time to visit New Orleans. The city is less crowded than in the summer months but the cultural offerings still abound for locals and visitors alike. The month begins with the second annual Treme Fall Fest (, a celebration of this historic community, the nation’s oldest African American neighborhood. The festival includes local music and food offerings, as well as a children’s festival.

12-20 October sees the New Orleans Film Festival (, in its 27th year, showcasing films from local, regional and international filmmakers. The end of October is a particularly fun time to visit New Orleans, when the Halloween vibe really amps up the gothic charm of the city. The premier event is the LGBT community’s Halloween New Orleans (, a four day extravaganza that benefits Project Lazarus, a nonprofit residential home for men and women with AIDs in the city. All proceeds from the festival go to funding the work that Project Lazarus does throughout the year. The event includes club nights, a costumed parade (this year’s theme is pirates!), and a second line parade and jazz brunch.

The Voodoo Music and Arts Experience ( is the last big music event of the year, and probably the most comfortable one to attend, weather-wise. This year’s headliners include Tool, Arcade Fire, Band of Horses and Foals, all taking place in City Park. Food from some of New Orleans’ best chefs and large scale art installations are dotted around the park for the duration of the festival.

Go boho in Bulgaria’s southwestern mountains

With cool but pleasant days, October is a great time to explore the southwestern mountains of Bulgaria.

Start in Plovdiv, the ancient city on seven hills that’s packed with art galleries, bohemian cafes and impressive 19th-century architecture, and offers an engrossing stroll through history. Head west to revered Rila Monastery, tucked in a valley in the eponymous mountains. Ponder spiritual matters as you admire the colourful frescoes and take a tranquil walk through a 1000-year-old birch forest to nearby St Ivan Rilski’s cave.

For epicurean highs, move south to Melnik, a tiny village of grand National Revival-style houses overlooked by imposing sandstone pyramids – hike the cliffs for serene sunset views. This is the centre of Bulgaria’s wine production: try its signature strong red (and Winston Churchill’s favourite), Shiroka Melnishka Loza, and check out the enormous cellar of Kordopulov House, a former wine merchant’s home.

Take the cool route back north and meet some authentic local characters on the narrow-gauge railway ride from Bansko to Septemvri through striking mountain scenery.

Hong Kong Global Geopark

The Unesco-listed Hong Kong Global Geopark is the crowning glory of the city’s natural spaces, covering 50 sq km of Hong Kong’s northeast coastline. The park is made up of two distinct geological regions and eight named sites that range from islands to volcanic rocks, cliffs, sea caves and even a tombolo (tidal spit). If eight amazing sights weren’t enough to draw you, here are seven reasons (and one bonus) why we think now is the time to visit Hong Kong Global Geopark.

1. It’s easier than ever to get here

The Hong Kong government has been taking steps to make the sublime but underplayed Hong Kong Global Geopark more accessible to visitors. The park is distributed across two regions – volcanic rocks at Sai Kung Peninsula, and sedimentary formations and old villages in the northeastern New Territories. Guided boat tours now whisk visitors around the islands that comprise the park, and ferries take explorers out for hiking excursions, swimming and wildlife-spotting. The easiest island to reach is Sharp Island – home to the park’s tombolo – as it is connected to Sai Kung Town by regular small ferries in about 15 minutes. Minibuses now run between the formerly difficult-to-reach jumping-off village of Sai Kung and central Hong Kong in about half an hour.

2. Get up close with rare volcanic rocks

The centerpiece of Hong Kong Global Geopark is the Sai Kung Volcanic Rock Region: a series of towering, honeycomb-shaped basalt columns. These are not the black basalt found in most other places in the world; depending on the light, they are pinkish or a luminous honey-colour seldom seen on such a large scale anywhere. These beautiful giants are the result of a massive eruption about 140 million years ago. Lava and ash solidified over hundreds of millions of years and contracted, producing uniform columns. The sun, wind and waves finished the job, sculpting and adding colour. The rocks form poses along the coast, skirting an island, forming a tall mural on a seaward cliff, rising over a sea arch, or winding a spiral staircase upon an islet.

3. New buses to colonial East Dam

If you’re short on time but still want to take in some of Hong Kong’s magnificent geopark, there’s a new shuttle bus to one of the sites: East Dam of High Island Reservoir, a surreally handsome piece of colonial waterworks architecture. The bus departs from Sai Kung Town four times daily on weekends and public holidays. Fares are HK$90 round trip (HK$85 for children under 12) or HK$50 one-way. There are guides on board explaining the history and geology of the reservoir and the volcanic rocks. Visitors have an hour to explore the area before the bus heads back to town. To ensure a seat, you can book online via theVolcano Discovery Centre, which serves as the main tourist info centre for the geopark.

4. Rocks from the age of dinosaurs

The geopark’s Sedimentary Rock Region features Hong Kong’s oldest rocks (400 million years). Dating from the age of dinosaurs, these ancient stones don interesting silhouettes in vivid plum, ochre and jade colours. The star here is the uncanny Devil’s Fist, an human-height sandstone formation that weathering and erosion have fashioned into a wrist with finger-like protrusions. You’ll also see stunning younger rocks like shale, which evokes layered cake or wave-cut platforms, and rock pools that contain entire ecosystems within.

5. Majestic hiking on the MacLehose Trail

A wonderful alternative to riding a shuttle bus is to hike to East Dam, which falls along the opening section of the legendary MacLehose Trail, one of Hong Kong’s best hikes. A pleasant 9km saunter along Tai Mong Tsai Road and Sai Kung Man Yee Rd takes you to East Dam. Going on a further 1.6km, you reach one of the area’s most beautiful beaches, Long Ke, where blue waters are framed by jagged rhyolite columns. From here, you can carry on through the next section (13.5km), often lauded as the most picturesque section of the 100km trail. The route winds past majestic peaks and secluded bays, ending after five hours in Pak Tam Au.

6. An (agri)cultural revival in Lai Chi Wo village

Though previously semi-abandoned, the 400-year-old village of Lai Chi Wo – a walled Hakka village – has been enjoying a new lease on life thanks to the hard work of villagers and conservationists. Rice and vegetables are sprouting in formerly fallow fields, old livestock sheds and shuttered abodes have been turned into a mini-museum and research facilities. And there’s an open-air restaurant in the main square cooking up a delicious storm. Cultural and ecological tours and a Hakka dumpling-making workshop are run every Sunday, with architecture tours, accommodation, and a volunteer in exchange for lodging scheme (applicable to overseas visitors) soon to join the list of colourful offerings.

Visit in Vietnam Tips

For decades the main settlement of Con Son was used by the French and Americans as an island prison for anti-regime activists and criminals. Several of these jails are now deeply moving, harrowing sights to visit. History aside, Con Dao is blessed with stunning beaches and rich coral reefs that represent the best diving in Vietnam. The islands have been declared a National Park, and there are rewarding rainforest hikes to remote bays.

Take a morning stroll in Con Son town

The islands’ tiny capital is a delight to explore on foot, with (almost) traffic-free streets, a couple of traffic lights (which don’t work) and a solitary gas station (which closes for a siesta). This is Vietnam in the slow lane.

Begin with an early morning stroll along the town’s spectacular promenade, with a horizon-filling turquoise ocean on one side and a roster of handsome ochre French colonial buildings to admire on the other. You’ll pass the old Gallic customs house where Camille Saint-Saëns composed his opera Brunhilde in 1895.

Next up, take a peek inside Con Son Market, where you’ve the option of a local breakfast (think rice porridge or noodles) and a glass of drip-fed, treacle-thick Vietnamese coffee. If you’re thinking more along the lines of a cappuccino and an omelette, head to Infiniti Cafe & Lounge instead, which has an arty vibe and a great street terrace.

Discover the islands’ terrible past

For a good overview of the islands, their environment (the Con Dao are important nesting grounds for sea turtles and there are 11 endemic trees) and their role as a concentration camp, drop by the modern Con Son Museum. This will prepare you for a tour of the prisons themselves.

There were once 11 jails. The largest was Phu Hai, where political rebels and criminals were herded together naked in the French period; today the dank rooms are filled with emaciated, chained mannequins. This prison acted as a revolutionary university for leaders of the People’s Army of Vietnam and Vietnamese Communist Party, many of whom were incarcerated here by the French and Americans.

The most difficult prisoners were singled out for particularly gruesome treatment in the infamous neighbouring Tiger Cages, where they were kept in open-roofed pens, beaten with sticks and doused with lime (which burns the skin). Over 20,000 prisoners died in Con Dao.

Reflect on the beach

After a disturbing look into Con Dao’s past, lighten your mood with a trip to the beach. Grab a scooter and buzz up to the north of Con Son island, past towering granite hills and fishermen’s houses wrapped in wild bougainvillea. Nestling in a niche in the coastline close to the airport is the glorious cove of Dam Trau, flanked by rocky promontories, blessed with soft pale sand and fringed by casuarina and pandan trees. Feast on ocean-fresh seafood (try the crab) at one of the shacks on the shore.

On the return leg you could drop by the uber-luxurious Six Senses resort (Angelina and Brad stayed here in 2011), which occupies a stunning sheltered beach, for a sundowner, or even a gourmet meal. Alternatively, dine in the family-owned Thu Ba in Con Son town for delicious Vietnamese dishes (including plenty of choices for vegetarians). The English-speaking owner will guide you through the menu and make suggestions.

Hike the national park

Drop by the National Park management office at 29 Vo Thi Sau, Con Son town and get a (free) permit for entering the national park. There are many trails but some are closed during dry season (November to February) because of the risk of forest fire.

The two most popular are the hike to the rocky bay of Ong Dung (where there’s good snorkelling on a fine coral reef offshore) and the steep climb up to So Ray, an abandoned plantation with fine views over the islands – it’s now home to a large troop of long-tailed macaque monkeys (watch they don’t steal your lunch!). In the forest keep an eye out for other wildlife, including black giant squirrels and monitor lizards.

Dive Vietnam’s best reefs

The Con Dao islands’ reefs are unquestionably the best in Vietnam, with healthy soft and hard coral, and there are also a few wrecks to explore (including a 65m Thai freight ship). You can expect to see a good variety of tropical marine life: parrot fish, triggerfish and perhaps a turtle. The best conditions are between January and June but diving is possible year-round.

Indonesia adventures tips

Begin a paddling sojourn in Indonesia by negotiating around the forest-clad banks of a holy mountain lake, before sea kayaking on smooth Balinese waters, or graduating to an exciting multi-day excursion in the more remote Raja Ampat Islands. Based in the Balinese mountain village of Kedisan, C. Bali runs morning tours exploring the volcanic caldera of Danau (Lake) Batur in inflatable canoes, while further south along Sanur’s beachy coastline, kayaks can be hired by the hour for leisurely exploration. In the far flung islands of Raja Ampat – around 2000km to the northeast – Kayak4Conservation explores a stunning archipelago of jungle-covered islands and concealed lagoons. Guided adventures include staying at local guesthouses.


With more than 17,000 islands – and hundreds of thousand of different beaches – Indonesia offers some the planet’s best places for escaping into warm tropical waters equipped simply with a mask, snorkel and swim fins. On Bali’s northern coast, snorkelling trips depart from nearby Pemuteran to explore the waters of Pulau Menjangan (‘Deer Island’), while at Tulamben in eastern Bali, the WWII wreck of theLiberty, a US Navy Cargo Ship, is just 50m off the coast. Continue further east to the Gili Islands off Lombok’s northern coast for excellent snorkeling straight off arcing sandy beaches – sea turtles are often seen – or swim with whale sharks at Nabire in the remote eastern province of Papua.


Warm tropical waters, a huge variety of seascapes, and the attraction of abandoned wrecks and brilliant marine life make Indonesia one of the finest diving destinations on the planet. For beginners, the tourist-friendly dive schools of Bali and Lombok’s Gili Islands provide an introduction to the underwater world – including the opportunity to see manta rays and sunfish off Bali’s Nusa Penida – while liveaboard boat charters are the best way to explore the expansive reefs and teeming shoals of Nusa Tengarra, Sulawesi’s Pulau Bunaken and Papua’s Raja Ampat Islands.


Indonesia’s huge diversity offers many opportunities to discover different landscapes and cultures, ranging from enlightening day hikes through to multi-day jungle treks and ascents of spectacular volcanoes. Hook up with Sungai Penuh-based Wild Sumatra Adventures to explore the forests and mountain lakes of the Kerinci Seblat National Park or take on the challenge of ascending the chilly summit of Gunung Semeru, Java’s highest peak (3676m). Understanding Indonesia’s compelling mix of cultures includes easygoing day walks around Ubud’s verdant collage of rice terraces, sleepy villages and ancient temples, or exploring the fascinating local architecture and valleys of Sulawesi’sTana Toraja region.


From the beginner-friendly breaks of Bali, to brand new locations being discovered every year by intrepid travellers, Indonesia is a hotspot for surfers from around the globe. The southern beaches of Bali are packed with surf schools, laidback hostels and a pumping after-dark scene, while the islands of Java, Lombok and Sumbawa combine palm-fringed beaches and simple thatched bungalows perfect for a long-stay surfing sojourn. The massive island of Sumatra anchors Indonesia’s hottest surf regions including low-key Pulau Nias and up-and-coming Krui, while legendary Mentawai Island breaks like Pitstops, Telescopes and Bank Vaults are hugely popular with more than a few Australian and Brazilian boardriders.


From downhill journeys through the villages and rice paddies of central Bali to more challenging mountain biking adventures, exploring Indonesia on two wheels is a great way to explore more leisurely and travel at the same speed as the easygoing locals. Biking operators based in Ubud or Kintamani lead tours around winding mountain roads past temples and heritage monuments, while the northern Balinese town ofLovina is a good base for independent day trips to nearby waterfalls. Exploring the backroads of Lake Toba’s Pulau Samosir in northern Sumatra includes verdant volcanic views, while Java’s cosmopolitan university city of Yogyakarta is a pleasant 17km bike ride from the Hindu temples of Prambanan.

Natural wonders in Indonesia

Sunbaked and barren, Komodo stands apart from other more verdant Indonesian islands, and the island’s most celebrated species is also singular and surprising. The world’s biggest lizard can grow up to three metres-long, and Komodo dragons are often seen lumbering along the beach by visitors arriving at the national park’s main camp at Loh Liang. Guided walks with national park staff continue for 30 minutes to a dry riverbed at nearby Banu Nggulung where the huge monitor lizards are often seen. Two-day/one-night boat trips to Komodo depart from raffish Labuanbajo on nearby Flores, and day trips to Rinca – where the dragons also roam – are possible from Labuanbajo.

Tanjung Puting National Park

Wildlife watching and river adventures combine in this massive 4150 sq km park in central Kalimantan, the Indonesian southern part ofBorneo. Rustic but comfortable river boats travel up the Sungai Sekoneyer, stopping at orangutan feeding stations during a three-day journey en route to Camp Leakey, a rehabilitation centre where orphaned and formerly captive orangutans are trained to live in the wild. Stellar birdlife including darting kingfishers and regal hornbills is often revealed along the river’s banks, and local operators includingBorneo Orangutan Adventure Tour can arrange private trips on the Sekonyer’s signature two-storey teak houseboats dubbed klotok.

Raja Ampat Islands

Remote near the northwestern tip of far-flung Papua Island, the scattered waters of Raja Ampat host the world’s greatest diversity of marine life. Above a translucent ocean, rounded hills enrobed in tropical forest surround a labyrinth of compact coves and improbably small islets, providing sublime diversion to the underwater spectacle. Manta rays and epaulette sharks drift through a technicolour seascape of pristine coral, while shoals of barracuda and parrotfish patrol the diverse marine terrain punctuated with underwater walls, peaks and ridges. Snorkelling, kayaking and birdwatching are all essential attractions for non-divers, and live-aboard boat cruises – often on Bugis-style heritage schooners – are the best way to explore Raja Ampat.

Mt Bromo

In a country studded with volcanoes, the surreal beauty and immense scale of Java’s Mt Bromo is one of Indonesia’s most epic natural spectacles. A vast crater – 10km across and created by the violent volcanic history of the ancient Tengger caldera – is punctuated by the oft-smouldering peak of Bromo. Immense plains of ash and volcanic sand extend to the crater’s towering cliffs, and the nearby peaks of Kursi and Batok stand as sinister companions to Bromo’s bulk. Sunrise is when the horizon-filling crater is seen at its best, and 4WD excursions leave from the nearby town of Cemoro Lawang at around 3:30am to capture a terracotta landscape infused with the bronzed half-light of a Javanese dawn.

Mt Rinjani

Soaring to 3726m, Mt Rinjani is Indonesia’s second tallest volcano, and the mountain’s majestic profile dominates northern Lombok. Sacred both to Lombok’s Sasak people and to the Hindu residents of nearby Bali, Rinjani’s finest feature is a 6km-wide lake of shimmering cobalt blue encompassing the summit’s huge caldera. Conquering Rinjani is most usually achieved on a three-day/two-night excursion. Rudy Trekker in the nearby village of Senaru has experienced guides.

Lake Toba

Located amid northern Sumatra’s volcanic peaks at a height of 1130m,Danau Toba encompasses the caldera of a super-volcano known to be the world’s largest volcanic lake. Intense ocean-blue waters cover an expanse 100km in length, framing the wedge-shaped island of Pulau Samosir, home to the region’s Batak people. Sleepy roads perfect for biking fan throughout the island and along the lake’s edge, making Toba a favourite for travellers taking time out from exploring other parts of Indonesia.

Kelimutu National Park

Best discovered at sunrise after a meandering minibus journey from nearby Moni, three intensely coloured volcanic lakes sit atop the summit of Kelimutu on the eastern island of Flores. Two of the exceptionally deep crater lakes regularly change colour – driven by the continuous leaching of different minerals – and the indigo smudge of a Flores dawn illuminates contrasting hues ranging from brown and orange through to black and red. All the while, Kelimutu’s third lake is daubed an iridescent shade of turquoise, glowing through the half-light slowly revealing Kelimutu’s sparse lunar landscape.

Okinawa is the wonderful place to life

Mrs Kajigu used to get up at 5am. Now that she is 104, she allows herself a lie-in, except for the two days a week when she rises early for the shuttle bus that circuits the small island of Taketomi, bringing together the older members of the community. Japan has the world’s highest share of centenarians, but in the southern islands of Okinawa, people live long even by Japanese standards.

Sitting in her spacious tiled-roof house, with carved wooden ‘angama’ masks on the walls, Mrs Kajigu proffers a tray of sweet-potato cakes, and downplays the significance of her age. ‘In Okinawa, 97 is when we traditionally have a big party,’ she says. ‘For my 100th birthday, I just celebrated with my family.’

The main island of Okinawa lies 1000 miles southwest of Tokyo; the Yaeyama group, to which Taketomi belongs, is another 240 miles towards Taiwan. Taketomi is just one corner of this subtropical archipelago, which has health researchers poring over their data. It’s clear talking to Mrs Kajigu that the key to long life is not a one-size-fits-all approach: ‘I eat anything,’ she says. ‘When I get together with friends, I do karaoke, even though my voice isn’t what it used to be.’ An island-hopping tour around Okinawa is a chance to pick up small clues about what goes into this famously healthy lifestyle.

Bring sunshine into your life

Getting enough vitamin D is rarely a problem in Okinawa. Just one degree north of the tropics, the Yaeyama group is especially blessed with sun. On the island of Ishigaki, Taketomi’s larger neighbour, fields of sugarcane chequer the flat land between the jungle-cloaked mountains and the coral-fringed shore. The light has the kind of brilliance that sends painters rushing to their easels. What’s good for the banana plants and mango trees is also a charm – taken in moderate doses – for the 49,000 people of Ishigaki.

On the main islands of Japan, custom as much as weather limits the beach-going season to July and August, but in Okinawa this stretches from April to October, or longer. While their compatriots to the north are busy with cherry blossoms or early autumn leaf-peeping, beachgoers here have ample time for typical summer pursuits such as suika-wari – a Japanese version of the piñata, where blindfolded players holding baseball bats take turns trying to locate and split open a watermelon laid on a mat.

Driving from Ishigaki town, a circuit of the island takes about four hours. This being Japan, there are vending machines for cold drinks even on sleepy back roads, but thirst is not yet an issue at an early-morning stop by the little white lighthouse at Uganzaki. Just off the point is a rock shaped like the kind of slipper you change into on entering a Japanese home. A crackling in the bushes on the hill to the side announces a party of hunters and their dogs, moving through the thicket in search of wild boar.

Sukuji Beach runs for almost a mile on Ishigaki Island’s northwest coast © Matt Munro / Lonely Planet

Further east along the coast, two fishermen with cone hats and nets cross the road that leads to Sukuji Beach. This broad sweep of sand curves around a bay of uncanny stillness. With one solitary hotel nearby, it’s usually a peaceful spot. Today the only movement is a woman doing yoga on the sand, the only noise the frenetic chatter of cicadas. On many other beaches around the Yaeyama Islands, finger-sized stubs of whitened coral lie scattered across the sand, left there by the tide, making a glassy sound when knocked together under walkers’ shoes. Locals sometimes use the pieces in garden wind-chimes, or as chopstick rests and paperweights.

Nearby Kabira Bay offers an easy chance to see living coral. Glass-bottom boats reveal an undersea geography of canyons and defiles more intricate than any on land, if on a smaller scale. Beneath the turquoise surface of the bay, clownfish and Moorish idols flit between brain corals and toaster-sized clams, two species for which a hundred years is no great record.

Tuna sashimi served with sea grape and wasabi at Hitoshi restaurant; tuna is high in protein and low in calories, and is one of the most popular ingredients in Okinawan cuisine © Matt Munro / Lonely Planet

Eat to eight-tenths full (and don’t skip the seaweed)

In any region famed for its number of centenarians, diet gets the most excited attention. And in Okinawa, as with other places, not everything in the local cuisine seems an obvious recipe for good health. Among the best-known dishes here is rafute: cubes of fatty pork belly simmered in a stock that contains several spoonfuls of black sugar.

This kind of food, though, would have been a rare indulgence in times past, when most islanders lived by the saying ‘eat every bit of the pig except its squeal’. Even now, in more prosperous times, mimigaa (chopped pig’s ears) is a staple dish. Another motto, still repeated today, is ‘hara hachi-bu’ – ‘eat until you are 80 per cent full’.

Why you need to visit in Mongolia

Space. Glorious, mesmerising, limitless space. One of the least densely populated countries on earth, Mongolia is where the gods play golf. Endless fairways of treeless green, patterned by the shadows of clouds; lakes for water hazards; pristine air; epic silence – there is a reason that Mongolians refer to their homeland as the ‘land of the blue sky’. Occasionally the scene is tweaked by a lonely ger (yurt) of white felt: the portable homes of Mongolia’s pastoralists dot the country’s vast landscape. And when night falls, the stars come out to play. The Milky Way’s billions of stars appear so close and clear it seems like you could sweep them up in your hands.

Meet Chinggis Khan

Branded an imperialist during Soviet rule, Mongolia’s fiercest warrior is now a brand in his own right, adorning energy drinks, cigars, vodka and hotels. You might spot Chinggis Khan carved 60 metres high into the hills surrounding Ulaanbaatar as you touch down at the great ruler’s namesake airport. Near Nalaikh, a giant silver statue of the Great Khan can be seen shimmering from miles off.  In fact, little is known about the ruler rumoured to lie buried somewhere secret in Khentii, a protected wilderness area. His tented capital, Karakorum, is long vanished, a pair of lonely stele markers at today’s Kharkhorin the only trace. For a man who founded an empire stretching from Asia to Venice, the Great Khan left almost no physical legacy.

Eat the world’s weirdest breakfast

Boodog is an ancient steppe cooking technique still used today when herdsmen find themselves far from home. An animal – usually a marmot – is sliced open and stuffed with river stones heated on a fire, creating a primeval pressure cooker (they have been known to explode on occasion). The fur is then singed off and the meat carved up to eat. If you’re lucky you might get treated to this, ahem, delicacy as the morning sun warms your ger. It’s the preserve of men, which is hardly surprising – there’s no washing-up. A posher version is the khorkhog – a goat cooked with hot stones inside a milk churn.

Marvel at Mongol warriors

Eurasia was terrorised by the prowess and potency of the Mongols 800 years ago, and their skills are by no means consigned to history. Every summer, Mongolians congregate for Naadam festivals to compete in the ‘three manly sports’: horse-riding, wrestling and archery. Children under ten race horses across 20km courses; wrestlers of all sizes hulk it out (Chinggis Khan believed it a way to keep his soldiers battle-ready); archers pierce targets with deadly accuracy. The biggest Naadam festival is held every July at the National Stadium in Ulaanbaatar, but the remote rural contests are the true bastions of grassland tradition.

Explore the capital

Originally a sort of mobile yurt monastery, Ulaanbaatar has become Mongolia’s only true city. Best visited during the brief summer season, it has a curious, weather-worn appeal – a muddle of crumbling Soviet-era apartments, ger ghettos and shiny Chinese-built high-rises. Recently, a cafe culture has taken hold, complemented by some excellent restaurants, cashmere fashions, a monument to the Beatles, and, oddly, one of the finest LEGO shops outside Denmark. Culturally, the ramshackle Choijin Lama Temple presents gruesome murals of Buddhist hell, while at the State Youth & Children’s Theatre, the Tumen Ekh ensemble specialises in the stirring art of throat-singing, the epic ‘long song’, shamanist dancing and contortionism.

Munch on mutton

You can eat everything from Asian fusion to KFC in Ulaanbaatar, but outside the capital, the flesh (and milk) of the sheep and goat are staples. After a summer ‘white season’ of mostly dairy foods, Mongolians quench their ‘meat hunger’ with mutton – boiled, fried or cooked in dumplings called buuz or pastries known as khuushuur. Milk is heated to make a clotted cream called orom, spread thick and yellow over slabs of Russian bread, and made into cheese curds called as aaruul, like rock-hard, lemony gobstoppers.

Go glamping

Sleeping in a rough-and-ready Mongolian ger is a quintessential grassland experience, but a growing number of tour operators are establishing sustainable, nomad-run ger camps that target the posh adventurer with innovative luxuries. Nomadic Journeys operates gercamps at pristine wilderness sites that feature heated eco-showers, hand-painted beds with thick yak’s wool blankets, and even a sauna ger. For the truly adventurous, they’ll open up an airstrip and fly people into the great Mongolian void – 365 degrees of pristine emptiness, and it’s all yours.

Get spiritual

The Erdene Zuu Khiid monastery, Mongolia’s most important Buddhist site (Buddhism came to Mongolia via Nepal and China), was constructed out of the rubble of Chinggis Khan’s capital, Karakorum. But the country’s far older shamanistic tradition reveals itself on crags and hilltops –heaps of stones called ovoos are laced with horse skulls and strips of blue cloth, the colour symbolising sky worship. A few days on the steppe and you start to understand: the green grassland is a constant – it’s the ever-changing ‘eternal blue sky’, with its puffy banks of buffeting clouds, rain, wind and azure stillness, that lends form to every vista.

Lombok is the natural place to visit

Dominating the northern half of Lombok is the surging and brooding profile of Gunung Rinjani, one of Indonesia’s most spectacular mountains. Sacred to both the Hindu people of nearby Bali and the Sasaks of Lombok, ascending the 3726m­high peak is a challenge, but definitely achievable by travellers with good fitness. Guides and porters can be hired in villages on the fertile slopes on Rinjani – includingSenaru and Sembalun Lawang – and the ascent is usually undertaken across three days and two nights. Located 600m below the massive rim of Rinjani’s huge caldera, the cobalt blue Danau Segara Anak (Child of the Sea) is a 6km­long lake trimmed with hot springs – a perfect natural tonic after completing the trek – and on the mountain’s eastern edge, the more recent volcanic cone of Gunung Baru (‘New Mountain’) is a steaming reminder of nature’s immense power.

More leisurely trekking opportunities also abound in villages in the lea of Rinjani. From Tetabatu, paths meander through a lush patchwork of tobacco plantations, rice fields and orchards, or continue up Rinjani’s southern slopes to the beautiful Air Terjun Jekut waterfalls. On the eastern side of the mountain, the bucolic Sembalun Valley is another fertile farming area cradled by the iconic profile of Rinjani, and at Senaru, mountain and ocean views combine with walks to nearby cascades and swimming holes. Senaru’s Rinjani Trek Centre has information on local walks and can arrange guides for climbing Gunung Rinjani.

Learn to surf on world famous waves

From Sumatra to Java, Indonesia offers some of the finest surfing on the planet, and the board­riding scene in Lombok includes what Tracksmagazine has called the ‘best wave in the world’. Located near the town of Pelangan in southwest Lombok, the left-handed break dubbed ‘Desert Point’ rolls in from the Bali Sea to offer rides up to 300m. May to September offers the best waves for experienced surfers.

From October to April, Lombok’s surfing scene is focused on Gerupak, a sprawling bay 6km east from Kuta on the island’s south coast. Here, with its Indian Ocean waves rolling in and five different breaks, there are opportunities for surfers of all abilities. Sheltered from the tradewinds by surrounding hills, the dependable Bumbang breaks over a flat reef and is suitable for beginners. More challenging is Pelawangan or ‘Kid’s Point’, a right-hand break that generates spectacular barrels during the biggest swells.

Located in the sleepy coastal town of Kuta (not to be confused with energetic and cosmopolitan Kuta across on Bali) Kimen Surf can arrange board rental and surfing lessons.

Find solitude on spectacular southern beaches

For a coastline offering such wild and untrammeled beauty, southern Lombok remains one of Southeast Asia’s undiscovered gems. While it’s true travellers are beginning to discover the region – courtesy of the island’s conveniently located international airport at nearby Praya – beaches including Selong Blanak and Mawun are still well off the mainstream tourist radar. Simple roads negotiate Lombok’s southern coastline west of Kuta, often detouring inland to meander through rice fields and rural countryside, before heading back to a series of arcing beaches framed by rugged headlands. Around 3km from Kuta, Mawun is a sheltered half­moon cove that’s ideal for swimming, and just further west, more rugged Mawi is a popular surfing destination from May to October.

Continue 15km west of Kuta, and Selong Blanak trumps even the sublime beauty of Mawun and Mawi. Access via a simple pedestrian bridge reveals a crystal white bay lapped by gentle Indian Ocean surf and the promise of more leisurely hours of swimming and relaxing. The excellent Laut Biru Cafe is open to all visitors, and if you’re not able to tear yourself away from Lombok’s best beach, there’s very comfortable luxury accommodation nearby at Sempiak Villas.

Make it happen

Getting there: Lombok’s Bandara International Airport links the island to Bali – a short 30­minute flight – and other domestic Indonesian destinations from Lombok include Jakarta, Makassar and Surabaya. International flights to Lombok include Silk Air from Singapore and Air Asia from Kuala Lumpur in Malaysia.

By sea, public ferries connect Lombok’s west coast with Bali, and east to the island of Sumbawa. Ferries link with bus and minibus transport. Faster express boats also run between Lombok and Bali.

Vientiane on travelling

As you wander the cracked streets and riverfront in Vientiane, you’re walking past the ghosts of Siamese invasions, wartime spies and madcap Ravens (American pilots) who were all here at one time or another. Vientiane urbanites are friendly, and in no time you’ll be chatting with a monk, stall-holder or expat, all happy to help you on your way.

With just two days in Laos’ languid capital, make the most of your time through a couple of Vientiane’s excellent local tours, enjoying croissant breakfasts, night markets, temples and foot rubs in between.


Vientiane is all about coffee and bakeries; coffee from the lush region of the Bolaven Plateau in the far south, and bakeries harking back to the colonial times of the French, when baguettes and pastries were absorbed into Lao food culture. Start your day early at Le Banneton, a simple little patisserie that turns out the best croissants and tarts. Then at 8.30am meet Tuk Tuk Safari for one of their memorable tours of the city in a comfy tuk-tuk. The ‘Lao for One Day’ tour takes you far beyond the obvious as you explore a fresh food market, try a sweet snack known askao larm (sticky rice and coconut roasted in bamboo), then visit a silversmith’s workshop. After this you’ll get behind the scenes in the kitchen of a restaurant that helps train street youth, before taking lunch there. After visiting the COPE Visitor Centre, which gives victims of UXO (unexploded ordnance) all over Laos the chance to walk again with prosthetic limbs and physio, the final stop will be a temple to learn to make a wax flower offering.


After your tour, grab your own tuk-tuk and make for Laos’ most important national monument, Pha That Luang, passing Patuxai, the country’s version of the Arc de Triomphe. Later, consider a visit to Wat Si Saket, before taking an early dinner at the excellent, contemporaryLao Kitchen to feast on delicious laap (chicken or pork mince with mint leaves, lime juice, spring onion and coriander).


As the light turns golden over the Mekong, head to the riverfront and soak up the atmosphere of the night market, wandering past stalls grilling meat and fresh fish. Bor Pennyang has a balcony where you can drink to the sunset. For Indochinestyle lodgings for the night, go down a quiet lane beside a temple to Lani’s House by the Ponds. This tranquil art deco house has French chandeliers, roomy bedrooms at affordable prices, and koi carp turning silent arabesques in its ornamental pools.


Grab an early breakfast at JoMa Bakery & Café, where you can feast on fresh fruit, bagels and fresh juices, before meeting Green Discovery (, the country’s premiere adventure and ecotour operators. On their one-day kayaking and cycling trip you’ll cycle alongside the Mekong and through rice fields to a fertile chilli-growing island (with a delicious picnic to follow), then float leisurely downstream back to Vientiane by kayak. Alternatively, stay closer to the city with a visit to one or two of Vientiane’s museums, such as the Kaysone Phomvhane Memorial and Haw Pha Kaeo; or take a bus or tuk-tuk out to Xieng Khuan, aka Buddha Park, to see the myriad religious and mythological statues.