Category Archives: Travel

Thailand Travel Guide

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

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

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

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

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

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

AMERICA EERIEST GHOST TOWN

The history of Bodie reads like a parody of Wild West clichés. The discovery of gold transformed this one-horse mining camp into a boomtown of banks and brothels, saloons and schools. When the gold supplies dwindled in the early twentieth century, so did the population, and today Bodie is preserved in a state of arrested decay.

Rough Guides writer Greg Dickinson travelled to Mono County, California, to prospect these haunted streets.

The time portal to Bodie is located about three miles west of the town. Only, unlike the DeLorean time machine in Back to the Future, you need to reduce your car’s speed to cross this wormhole.

There’s no looking back now, as a cloud of whipped-up dust in the rear window distorts any memories of the modern world.
The tarmac road reaches a sign that reads “Bodie Historic Park” and a crunch falls beneath your tyres as you land on the sun-bleached dirt track. There’s no looking back now, literally, as a cloud of whipped-up dust in the rear window distorts any memories of the modern world.

Slowly and jerkily I approached Bodie, air conditioning blasting the hell out of my face. You can’t help but feel a bit intrepid on this track near the border of California and Nevada, but I knew mine was just one in a long list of vehicles that had pounded the road over the last 160 years.

The best places to visit in Iceland

Iceland is famous for majestic glaciers and snow-covered houses, for the Northern Lights and blue-lit ice caves. Visit in summer, though, and it can feel like a different country.

While there are still plenty of icy natural wonders, you can also party with the locals at summer festivals, hike across flower-strewn moorland and soak in hot springs under the midnight sun. Here are our picks of the best places to experience summer in Iceland.

 

To get off the tourist trail: the West Fjords

Summer is the perfect time to hike through the stunning Icelandic scenery, and if you can camp, so much the better (and cheaper). Dynjandi is a particularly good spot to pitch up – the waterfall may not be as famous as Gullfoss, but it still attracts plenty of visitors. Stay the night and you may well get the thunderous falls, glittering in the early-morning sun, all to yourself.

For a more remote West Fjords experience head to Hornstrandir, right on the edge of the Arctic Circle and barely accessible out of summer. This peninsula in Iceland’s far northwest is entirely wild, its inhospitable but beautiful terrain preserved as a nature reserve.

It’s the perfect place to escape the crowds of the southern coast – though even in the middle of summer the weather is unpredictable, so hikers should take precautions to stay safe.

One of Iceland’s biggest draws is its wildlife and the Westman Islands are the prime place to go for puffin spotting. Every year between April and August, the archipelago becomes the biggest puffin colony in the world. The friendly town of Vestmannaeyjar is located on the only inhabited island, Heimaey, and is the best base for seeing these cute orange-beaked birds.

Visit in early August and you might be lucky enough to witness a truly heart-warming event: local families collect lost baby puffins, or “pufflings”, who’ve found their way into the town by mistake, and bring them to the shore to safely release them.

The summer festival, Þjóðhátíð, is also held in early August; its popularity among Icelanders is reflected in the fact it’s known, quite simply, as “The Festival”.

How to find the great place in Florida

Life in the Florida Keys is dominated by the ocean. The simplest trips become postcard-worthy adventures on the Overseas Highway, the link between its countless balmy isles, while the coral barrier reef just a few miles off shore will have even the most experienced divers raring to go. From kayaking the mangroves to paddleboarding at night, here are some of the best things to do in this fascinating region.

 

1. Meet its endangered residents

Sea turtles are notoriously difficult to spot in the wild, but at the Turtle Hospital in Marathon you can meet the whole gang: Bubble Butt, Blinky, Spartacus and even the malodorous Smelly Cat.

Since firing up its first orange-and-white ambulance in 1986, the hospital has helped injured loggerheads, greens and Kemp’s ridleys, and returned over 1500 of its “patients” to the Keys. Take one of the hourly guided tours to get up close with some of the residents in the tanks, or re-enact everyone’s favourite Free Willy scene (with a less acrobatic protagonist) at one of the popular releases.

 

2. Kayak in the mangroves

The Lower Keys backcountry is full of secret waterways, accessible only to the most adventurous paddlers. For starters, join Big Pine Kayak Adventures and follow Captain Bill Keogh and canine first mate Scupper through the dense tangle of mangroves in the Key Deer National Wildlife Refuge.

Within live the tiny Key Deer, an adorable but endangered species, as well as all manner of curious creatures like alien-looking horseshoe crabs. The salty channels here are knee-deep and fringed with overhanging branches and roots, which are so thick in places that you’ll have to drag yourself along.

 

3. Become a night rider

You can still make the most of the ocean when the sun goes down – providing you’re using a kayak or paddleboard that lights up like a Christmas tree. A night tour with Ibis Bay Paddle Sports will see you manning one of these souped-up watercraft and sailing across the murky flats to a deep shelf on the ocean floor, spotting all manner of nocturnal critters along the way.

Look out for colourful sponges, sea cucumbers and upside-down jellyfish, as well as stingrays and small sharks. On the route back, you’ll pass shadowy mangrove islands blanketed with snoozing pelicans, ibises and herons.

Great places when isit in Europe

There are few better ways to see Europe than by rail. Budget flights might abound, but nothing can match the experience of travelling by train. Forget about tedious airport transfers and unsociable departure times, by rail you’ll get glorious views, spacious seats and – best of all – the ability to hop off a train right in the centre of a new city.

Whether you’re planning an epic rail tour or just looking for a weekend break, this is our pick of the best places to visit by train in Europe.

 

For foodies: Lyon

France’s gourmet capital has never been more accessible, with a direct Eurostar link to London and TGV connections that will whisk you to Paris or Marseille in under two hours.

Compact and instantly likeable, the city is perfect for getting to grips with in a weekend. Stroll the old streets of Vieux Lyon, test your adventurous palate with local specialties such as tablier de sapeur (breaded tripe), then hit up the hip Croix-Rousse district for super-cool coffee bars and cocktails.

Do: Shop at the city’s famous indoor market, the Halles de Lyon Paul Bocuse. It’s the ideal place to pick up a train picnic.

Stay: Stylish mini-chain Mama Shelter have opened their latest outpost here, offering boutique design at budget-friendly prices – including iMacs in all the rooms.

 

For nightlife: Budapest

Looking to get ruined? No, we’re not condoning bachelor party excesses, but embracing one of Budapest’s most famous attractions, the ruin bar.

These rambling bars have taken over abandoned buildings in the city’s seventh district, filling their dilapidated interiors with quirky decor, murals, art installations and more. You won’t find another night out in Europe quite like it.

As for getting there, direct rail links put you in easy reach of Vienna’s more sedate charms or the chilled-out Croatian coast via Zagreb.

Do: Take a bath. Budapest has long been known for its magnificent thermal pools; Gellért and Széchenyi baths are two of the best.

Stay: The sleek but affordable Soho Boutique Hotel is perfectly located for Budapest’s two train stations, and the best of the city’s nightlife.

Great alternative in UK

London, Edinburgh, Cardiff… These are the usual suspects when visitors are thinking about UK city breaks. But there are actually 66 other cities to be explored throughout this land, each with something different to offer. Here’s our pick of the 8 best alternative UK city breaks.

 

1. Belfast, Northern Ireland

Belfast rarely makes the cut on UK weekend getaway lists, but there’s plenty to lure you to Northern Ireland’s port-side capital for a 48-hour minibreak. On these lanes you can get educated at the Titanic Museum, stretch the legs along the ancient walls of Londonderry, or wet (or drench) your whistle in the pubs along Great Victoria and Donegall streets.

If the hubbub of the city overwhelms, Belfast is a good springboard to explore the rest of the region; the mountains of Mourne and the Giant’s Causeway are within easy reach. Just be sure to pack for any weather you could possibly imagine. This is a “four seasons in a day” kind of place.

 

2. St Davids, Wales

To the untrained eye, St Davids could be mistaken for yet another tiny Welsh town. But locals will be quick to tell you that this is as much of a city as London or Manchester, thanks to its handsome cathedral where Wales’s patron saint, St David, is buried.

Beyond a mooch around the cathedral and posting a cryptic status update saying “I’m in the UK’s smallest city. Where am I?”, there’s not a great deal else to do here. Try the Pebbles Espresso Bar and Gallery for a caffeine hit while looking at world-class photography, or escape to the country into nearby Pembrokeshire National Park.

Spring holiday tips

Springtime is beautiful, with its big blue skies and flowers in bloom, so there may be no better time to travel. If you’re thinking about getting away, here are our editors’ picks of the best places to go in spring.

 

Ōsaka, Japan

With the natural phenomenon known as hanami (cherry blossom), spring in Japan is simply stunning. Head to Ōsaka, one of our top 10 cities for 2017, in early April to see the city’s castle rise high above a sea of petals, or walk through the Expo 70 Commemorative Park beneath a canopy of pink.

 

Alentejo, Portugal

After years of economic crisis, Portugal is finally on the up. Spring is a beautiful time of year for the Rota Vicentina, a network of walking trails on the west coast of Portugal’s Alentejo region. There’s an inland route – the Historical Way – for the sea-scraping Fishermen’s Trail cliff-top paths stunning ocean views shrubs and flowers are aromatic beyond belief and the native storks should be returning from their winter holidays around now too.

 

Amsterdam, the Netherlands

Amsterdam really comes to life in the spring, as cafés and bars spread out over the cobbled streets. Get to know the city’s ins and outs in a canal-boat ride, or take a trip to the unforgettable Keukenhof , 25km out of town, where tulips bloom in spectacular colours from late-March to mid-May.

 

The Wye Valley, Wales

This Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty has never wanted for visitors, and for good reason. The river itself is fantastic for canoeing and kayaking, while your inner twitcher will rejoice at the sight of the gorgeously flecked goshawk engaging in its so-called ‘sky dance’, a mate-attracting display of flying prowess that is a spring (and late-winter) phenomenon.

The best area to stay in Hong Kong

Hong Kong floats between old China and the west; its futuristic harbour has become one of Asia‘s most famous views but you’ll also find pockets of traditional culture dotted between the skyscrapers.

From the glossy heights of Central to the streets and alleys winding through Kowloon, there are culinary, shopping and cultural delights to be found across the city. Whatever you’re looking for, this guide will help you chose the best area to stay in Hong Kong.

 

Best for luxury: Central to Causeway Bay

Hong Kong is known as the vertical city, and as you make your way up the Mid-Levelsescalators you can see why. Business blossomed in the 1900s and the influx of western banks, bars and boutiques line the streets on the north shore of the Island.

High-end shops and restaurants are here in abundance, and so are the most luxurious places to stay.

For oriental opulence: Mandarin Oriental. The Mandarin Oriental is often thought of as Hong Kong’s best hotel. The facilities and service are excellent, and you’ll find draped Chinese tapestries and antiques in each room.

Grand rooms, grand prices: Renaissance Harbour View Hotel. As the name promises, the Renaissance offers incredible views over the water. It shares a pool and fitness centre with the Grand Hyatt but set just back is often slightly cheaper.

 

Best for atmosphere on a budget: Mong Kok

The streets of Mong Kok are a sensory overload: hundreds of neon signs hang above roads that bustle with shoppers – you can buy anything from cosmetics to mobile phones here – and street food stalls steaming with local specialties.

It’s a popular spot for budget travellers; Mong Kok is where the vast majority of hostels and cheaper accommodation are based.

Cash-strapped: Dragon Hostel. This seventh-floor guesthouse offers dorms, doubles and singles. Though it’s not the most glamorous (some rooms are windowless) staff are helpful, and the location is ideal.

A plush cultural experience: Royal Plaza. Located above the Mong Kok East MTR station and above the mania below, Royal Plaza is linked to the MOKO Shopping Centre, where beauty counters and designers shops can be found. You can pamper yourself in the sauna and spa and then dip back into the chaos just a few minutes away.

The guide when visit in Palma

Forget package holidays: Palma is far more than just the gateway to Mallorca’s beach resorts. The Balearic capital is a dynamic city of stylish restaurants, chic bars and a unique architecture that mixes the Gothic with the Moorish.

Don’t just fly in and head out, stay awhile in this lively Spanish city and you’ll soon see why it’s one of our top 10 cities to visit in 2017.

 

Where do I start?

You’ll find it impossible not to start at La Seu, the city’s enormous, attention-grabbing sandstone cathedral, perpetually bathed in golden sunshine and dominating the centre of town.

All flying buttresses and spiky columns, it is a Gothic masterpiece – and best seen from the outside. Its exterior, rising up from the water and announcing this as a Christian-conquered city, is its most striking feature and the stone seats along the old city wall at its base are the perfect place to soak up the sun and plan your assault on the city.

You’re in the heart of the Old Town here, its narrow pedestrianized streets tangling back from the water and begging you to get out there and explore.

Next head to the Royal Palace of La Almudaina, just next door – a great example of Gothic meets Moorish architecture. See the Arab baths and the state apartments, still used by the king on occasion, before retreating to the Italianate courtyard of the Palau March, home to modern sculptures and cracking views over Palma.

The travel confessions of Ruby Wax

Ever been locked up in a jail cell in Berkeley or taken a selfie with the Dalai Lama? No, neither have we. That’s why we invited the one and only Ruby Wax to appear on our podcast, The Rough Guide to Everywhere (iTunes; Soundcloud), and share her experiences from the road.

In this episode, Ruby takes us on a tour of her brilliant and bizarre life in travel. From a formative hitchhiking trip to Mexico, to just last year when she booked a flight to the other side of the world when Donald Trump got elected as president. Ruby also shares her love for bohemian destinations, and tips us off on one or two places where she has discovered “that real thing”.

To make sure you don’t miss an episode, subscribe to The Rough Guide to Everywhere on iTunes, and help us spread the word by rating and reviewing the podcast.

All flying buttresses and spiky columns, it is a Gothic masterpiece – and best seen from the outside. Its exterior, rising up from the water and announcing this as a Christian-conquered city, is its most striking feature and the stone seats along the old city wall at its base are the perfect place to soak up the sun and plan your assault on the city.

You’re in the heart of the Old Town here, its narrow pedestrianized streets tangling back from the water and begging you to get out there and explore.

Next head to the Royal Palace of La Almudaina, just next door – a great example of Gothic meets Moorish architecture. See the Arab baths and the state apartments, still used by the king on occasion, before retreating to the Italianate courtyard of the Palau March, home to modern sculptures and cracking views over Palma.