A Vietnam tour often involves a whirlwind of activity trying to fit in as much of the culture and heritage of Vietnam on your trip as possible. Yet a Vietnam vacation can also offer the opportunity to relax and unwind in some of the finest tropical islands known to mankind. We've picked some of the best islands in Vietnam for you to consider on your travels:
Con Dao Islands
The Con Dao islands lay a short trip from Vietnam's busiest city Saigon (Ho Chi Minh). They were once used as prison accommodation first by the French colonists and later the American military during the Vietnam war; today they are an unspoiled sleepy paradise.
There are 16 islands in the cluster though it's only Con San which is permanently inhabited. You can take a tour of all of the islands during the day but you'll need to stay on Con San in the evenings.
You'll find all the activities you would expect on an island here; there's plenty of snorkeling and diving opportunities, miles and miles of untouched beaches and of course a host of seafood restaurants selling the fresh catch of the day.
You can also take a stroll round Con San and check out the lovely French colonial architecture slowly being squeezed out by modern Vietnamese buildings. If your vacation in Vietnam leads you here, you can also spend some time at Phu Hai jail which housed nearly 20,000 political prisoners from 1862 up until the 1970.
Theoretically nature lovers might be able to catch a glimpse of the dugong in the waters of Con Dao but you are more likely to see turtles instead. It's the largest breeding ground for turtles in Vietnamese waters.
Cat Ba Island
Cat Ba is on the other end of the country in Ha Long Bay; one of the main destinations of most Vietnam tours. Cat Ba doesn't offer a beach but it offers plenty of opportunity for adventure sports instead. You can kayak around the island and explore all the inlets or even go sailing. There's also a lot of rock climbing on the karst landscapes.
The Cham Islands
The Cham Islands have only recently been opened up to those on a Vietnam vacation before that they were a military stronghold and strictly off limits. In July and August the locals all come here on holiday and it can be a bit crowded. However, if you're going to travel at other times of the year – you'll find miles of golden sands which you can have all to yourself. It's not the best location for diving in Vietnam as the water can be a bit murky – however, you can see corals and whale sharks on good days.
You'll find Phu Quoc a way South of Ho Chi Minh City and it's a wonderfully unspoiled place. This is about to change as it's been designated for major resort development soon (though plans keep being delayed due to financial issues). It's a truly eco-friendly resort at the moment. We'd advise skipping a visit to the fish sauce factory in Duong Dong – unless you have an extremely limited sense of smell.
The Moken are a nomadic group of people that spend their life on the water. Anyone planning an inexpensive tour of Burma and heading for the Mergui Peninsula in the south of the country may be lucky enough to encounter these remarkable people.
The Moken live their lives on the water between Thailand and Burma, and the sea is integral to their culture. There are around 2000 sea gypsies living this nomadic lifestyle but the 2004 Tsunami wiped out many fish stocks and damaged the sea bed. In recent years some Moken have taken land based jobs but for the majority life on the water is how they exist.
Right from birth the sea plays a part in the event. When the children are born the umbilical cords are thrown into the sea. Right from the start learning to become an expert swimmer, diver and fisherman is a priority. Education can be a challenge because the Moken do not always have access to books; paper and other items needed for school, and cannot afford them. For those visiting on a tour of Burma, spotting the wooden boats or Kabang is a highlight when visiting the Mergui. These boats are really special because when a boy comes of age he builds his own boat from a single tree trunk which becomes his own. As a girl reaches marrying age she moves away from the parent's boat and so the new couple set up home. The Kabang are structured with a distinctive bulb or with a mouth shape carved at the bow. This brilliant feature creates resistance to waves by creating a counter wave, allows landing in the shallows when there is no deep keel and can resist the wind to 45 degrees, and also acts a step for getting out of the water without making the Kabang roll. The Kabang is also seen as a body symbolically with the mouth at the front, the shoulders, ribs, and anus at the back. In keeping with tradition, the Moken tend to keep clean day to day activities at the front of the boat and dirtier things around the stern. Some inexpensive tours to Burma visit the Mergui Peninsula which is a beautiful part of Myanmar and where these boats can be seen.
The Moken are expert divers and are able to dive to depths of up to 200ft in search of shellfish. They breathe through an air hose which is held above the water. Each year several die from the bends because they ascend too quickly, but diving in this way continues to thrive as a way of life. Moken children often have an ability to see better underwater as their vision accommodates. The Moken can live off the sea and use fish to trade for other items at the markets. Anyone on a tour of Burma will no doubt visit a market and the trading that goes on between the various tribes and villages is remarkable.
The way of life of the sea gypsies or Moken is fragile. Many have been relocated to land based settlements as a result of government law whilst the environment is the other threat. It remains to be seen whether mass tourism impacts on the lives of the Moken but a glimpse into their lifestyle whilst on a vacation to Burma is a privilege.
We continue our whistle-stop tour of China's schools of cookery in Beijing this week with Jiangsu cuisine. This series is perfect if your China vacation doesn't give you time to travel the length and breadth of China (and let's be fair who has the time to fit one of the world's biggest countries into a single visit?) and try all the schools of cookery in their home locations. Instead you can try all 8 schools of Chinese cuisine on a single trip to China which encompasses the capital.
About Jiangsu Cuisine
Jiangsu Cuisine comes from Southern China and is often abbreviated to Su Cuisine. As with many schools of cookery that you'll encounter on your China tour – freshness of taste and ingredients is a prized aspect of Jiangsu food. The school tries to balance saltiness and sweetness, thick sauces but without falling into the trap of becoming greasy sauces, and light soups that never feel thin.
If you ever travel to China for a state banquet it's likely that Jiangsu food will be the meal served during your trip. It is considered one of the “Royal” food cultures of China and is used to welcome ambassadors and dignitaries from abroad at major functions.
There are several sub-styles of Jiangsu food that you may be able to find on your China vacation; these include Nanjing, Yangzhou, Suzhou, Huai'an, Xuxhou and Haizhou. The most common of these are Najing, Suzhuou and Yangzhou.
Nangzhou is all about presentation; ingredients are cut finely to make them look appealing and to add a delicate crunch to vegetables and to allow meats to surrender their flavor to the whole dish. Suzhou emphasizes sweetness and incorporates a lot of vegetables into dishes. Yangzhou food focuses on the colors of ingredients to capture the eye as well as the palate.
Jiangsu food relies on a variety of cooking methods including braising, baking, stir-frying, steaming and sautéing. There's a lot of seafood in a Jiangsu diet as Jiangsu province lies on the Yangtze River and abuts the coast of the Yellow Sea. You will also find lotus, Chinese chestnuts and bamboo shoots in many dishes from Jiangsu.
Where Can I Find a Good Jiangsu Restaurant in Beijing?
When your China tour hits Beijing you'll have no problem finding a Jiangsu restaurant – the food is very popular in the North. If you want the perfect Jiangsu meal on your China vacation then we recommend that you visit:
Mei's Mansion Family Feast which is one of the few remaining traditional restaurants in one of Beijing's few well-preserved hutongs. We like the open courtyard at Mei's it's a great place to relax away from the hustle and bustle of the city and it allows you to focus on the food rather than the setting.
Because it's in such a good location – the food is more expensive than in some other restaurants on our tour of China's cookery schools; you'll be looking at around 400 RMB per person here.
Try the ribs in sweet and sour sauce which are melt-in-the-mouth delicious and extremely flavorful. TO keep things healthy; try some stewed cabbage with water chestnuts to complement the ribs.
One of the joys of taking an inexpensive tour to Burma is to enjoy life on the streets. Walk down any road in Yangon and you'll soon be greeted by a heady smell of fried meat, chillies, and sights of colourful fruit. It is fun to see and a way of life here. For a visitor, here are some of the highlights to look for when you walk around the block.
Food on the streets
On Burma tours you'll soon come across the street hawkers and sellers. Take a walk downtown and you'll find betel nut sellers, fruit traders, and spice dealers. One of the most fascinating sellers are those who bring their entire stand with them to sell mohinga, the traditional soup. They typically have tiny stools, a table, and cooking stand, all transported on the end of a pole which can be set up anywhere. At a mohinga stand the noodle soup is served from a large pot steaming over a portable stove, also transported by pole.
Skewered meat is another highlight of the street food scene and one that visitors on cheap tours to Burma will encounter from time to time. Typically there are pieces of chicken or pork intestines grilled on the street and served on skewers. Nearby the bowls of chilli sauce are used as dips. This is Dok hto. Diners need to keep their skewers and once they have finished the meal these are used to calculate the bill. Eating food from the street is fun to watch but is not always compatible with western digestive systems.
In Burma the tea room is an institution with some of the best found in Mandalay. If you are on a Burma vacation, taking time to check out these basic but fascinating facilities is an experience in itself. The tea served here is accompanied by condensed milk and the distinctive flavour takes some getting used to as a westerner. Green tea is normally free but do check beforehand. The tea rooms serve snacks as well and were once renowned as places where people could go and discuss politics without being overheard. Today they are popular with locals and have yet to catch on with visitors on tours of Burma.
Walking round a Zay or bazaar is a fascinating experience on cheap Burma tours. You'll find dried fish on Lake Inle, piles of tomatoes from the floating gardens, and piles of vegetables. The Burmese have a sweet tooth and you'll also discover peanut brittle, jaggery, and tamarind flakes. Stall holders are only too pleased to show visitors the wares on sale. In some markets there are stalls selling sticky rice in banana leaves which is a popular snack, and visitors will also see spring rolls filled with pork or vegetables.
A journey through Burma is a wonderful way of experiencing the culinary specialties. Just walking down the street in any town will give an insight into the popular foods on sale by the side of the road. Don't miss the experience.
A vacation in Thailand has a lot to offer the first-time visitor and it can be easy to forget about the beach when you're taking a tour of all Thailand's temples and museums. Yet one of the best experiences of a trip to Thailand is island life. You don't have to travel very far to find an island in Thailand and the majority of islands are highly developed in order to accommodate the demand from tourists. These resorts are very nice but if you'd like to see the Thailand that the locals live in during your vacation – you'll need to travel a little further to one of the islands below:
Ko Libong's not the perfect island in some respects. Unlike most islands in Thailand, the beaches and swimming opportunities are a little limited. However, if you want to see island life as it is before the big resorts arrive and how the jungle plays an important role in that life – Ko Libong's just about perfect.
Given that Ko Libong's in the South of Thailand; it's population is mainly Muslim. The community survives and thrives due to two specific activities; rubber farming and fishing. On the East coast of the island you'll find a large fishing village and if you explore the jungle interior – you'll also find plenty of rubber plantations.
The North of Ko Libong is a nature preserve and it's where you'll find nearly untouched jungle scenes with waterfalls, cliffs, etc. You can take a mountain bike round this area if you'd like to explore in depth. You can also rent a kayak and head round the shore to find your own completely deserted beach. Be warned the sand is a little coarser and slightly less pristine looking than on some of the other islands.
If you want to go diving – there's a really good reason to take a trip to Ko Libong. It's the best place in South East Asia to find the endangered species the dugong or sea cow. Like it's slightly more common cousin the manatee – the dugong is reputed to have given rise to the mermaid myth. You'll also find some of Thailand's best coral reefs off shore here too.
One thing you should note before taking some time out of your Thailand tour in Ko Libong is that there are absolutely no ATMs on the island. So bring cash.
Ko Yao Noi
The name means “little long island” though it doesn't have much in common with its counterpart in New York. As with Ko Libong this island is in the South of Thailand and while you can get alcohol during your travel in this region – it's a good idea to keep things discrete and not drink in public.
Ko Yao Noi is absolutely unspoiled and accommodation is incredibly basic; guesthouses only and no resorts. Restaurants tend to be resolutely Thai and if you're not keen on Thai food it may not be the best place to visit during your vacation.
It's the last development frontier in Thailand and if you want to see the last of Thai island life before the developers come – you'll need to move quickly; there are already plans afoot for several luxury resorts on Ko Yao Noi.
If food is an important part of your China vacation; welcome back to our whistle-stop tour of China's schools of cookery in Beijing. You don't have to travel all over China in order to taste everything the country has to offer during your trip. If you're going to be in China's capital, Beijing, then you can enjoy all the schools of cookery without going very far at all.
The Easiest School to Find in Beijing
Shandong cuisine is local to Beijing so it should be very easy to find during your tour of the city. Its history dates back to China's Qin Dynasty and since the turn of the first millennium it has become the most popular form of food in China. You can find it anywhere during your vacation but it's best in Beijing.
There is a very specific emphasis on fresh ingredients and maintaining that freshness throughout the cooking process. There's a good use of salt in Shandong cuisine too and the idea is to develop dishes that are tender, savory and crisp on the outside too.
There is a strong emphasis on seafood, perhaps unsurprisingly as Shandong sits on the North East coast of China. That means that the catch doesn't need to travel too far before it reaches the table; which is something that often concerns those with a delicate stomach.
There's less emphasis on rice in Shandong cuisine and more on corn, peanuts, and grains. That's a reflection of the slightly cooler climate in the North of the country which is less suited for rice growing. Vegetables tend to include potatoes, mushrooms, tomatoes, onions, garlic, etc. It's worth keeping an eye on potato products as they can be a little undercooked for Western tastes.
Cooking techniques in Shandong are seriously varied with the claim that more than 30 are used in the preparation of food locally! Rapid deep fat frying is a particular favorite. Look out for Pa preparation; in which the raw ingredients are shaped and then battered in sauce and flour.
When in Beijing, Do as The Beijinger's Do
There's one meal, more than any other, that is associated with Beijing. You can eat Beijing Duck anywhere on your China trip but there's nowhere in China that you'll find a better Beijing Duck on your vacation than Beijing. The best Beijing duck is simply a taste explosion.
It's prepared a little differently than you may be used to. The skin is crisped separately from the cooked bird and cut into neat squares which can be dipped in sauce at will. There are pancakes and spring onions available for the flesh of the duck which is less fatty and superbly tender for being cooked without the skin.
Where should you go during your China tour for Beijing duck in Beijing? We think Da Dong's in Dacheng is a great place – it's supposedly the oldest duck restaurant in the city. It's definitely one of the best and you'll only need to spend around 200 RMB for the meal. However, be warned it is extremely popular and you may need to wait for a table.
If you're looking to catch a little beach time during your vacation in Laos; you'd be forgiven for thinking it was impossible. After all it doesn't require a trip to Laos to know that the country is landlocked. However, there are both islands and beaches in Laos you just need to travel down the Mekong to the South of the country to find them. You may need to book a special tour itinerary for Laos in order to fit this little known part of the country in to your agenda but it's worth it.
The 4,000 Islands of Laos – Si Phan Don
The Mekong is integral to life in Laos and it travels down the length of the entire country. It's a big river all year round but in the rainy season it reaches a width of up to 14 kilometers at Si Phan Don! You can take a trip down river at any time though most people tend to head to Si Phan Don by road rather than river as the journey can take a long time on the river.
Si Phan Don is a river archipelago and during the dry months of the year when the river retreats from its maximum width it exposes thousands of islands. Not every island is a big island, some are no more than sand bars, but there are several hundred islands which can be visited in this part of Laos.
The biggest island in Laos is Don Khong and it tends to be the places that most tours of the archipelago begin. There are guest houses, restaurants and bars on the island and while they tend to be a little more basic than most you will see during a vacation in Laos – they are comfortable enough. Don Khong is a little sleepy for some tastes and the other two major islands; Don Kohn and Don Det offer a little more vibrancy for night life.
The number one reason to travel to the 4,000 islands is the peace and tranquility. The Mekong appears to go on forever here and there's very little of modern life to distract you from communing with nature. In fact this is the only place in Laos where you might be able to catch a glimpse of the incredibly rare Irrawaddy Dolphin. The only other place you can see these dolphins is in neighboring Cambodia and also only in a very short stretch of river. If the dolphins are a major reason for taking a vacation in the region – you should book soon; they are an endangered species and their numbers, sadly, are dwindling and are likely to further decline when the hydroelectric projects currently under construction on the Mekong come on line.
There are of course plenty of opportunities in the 4,000 islands to get involved in water sports. Boat cruises, swimming, kayaking, etc. are all very popular in this corner of Laos. It's worth noting that tubing has been cut back due to the number of accidents it was causing. Safety is always a number one priority of the tourist industry.
Most trips to Cambodia tend to concentrate on the country's rich history and the incredible sights of Angkor Wat. In fact many of those who travel to Cambodia don't know that there are some lovely unspoiled islands off the cost which can really add something to a Cambodia vacation. Those that do look for beaches on a Cambodia tour tend to head to Sihanoukville on the mainland.
Sihanoukville's a nice enough town but the beaches there are a little over-visited and under-cared for and that can mean they aren't particularly clean. It's better to take a trip off shore and visit Cambodia's islands for the best beach vacation in Cambodia.
Koh Rong Saloem – Lazy Beach
For a good while this island was the only one available for a short beach trip in Cambodia and it's still one of the most popular places with visitors. The island has recently been upgraded in terms of accommodation and there are some luxury bungalows available to while away the hours in when you're not swimming or sunbathing.
Diving off shore is excellent in Koh Rong Saloem; and if you take a boat trip a little way out – you can see some spectacular coral reefs and the water is incredibly clear.
Cambodia's finest island is Koh Rong. It's the archetypal tropical paradise. Miles of clean, white sand beaches surrounded by the cleanest waters await your tour here. It's the ultimate vacation destination for those seeking some serious relaxation in Cambodia. You can dive, snorkel and sunbathe to your heart's content in Koh Rong. There's also plenty of jungle to go hiking and trekking in.
You should be aware that all electricity on Koh Rong is generated on site and that tends to mean that lights go out early in the evening.
Koh Ta Kiev
There is a “resort” on Koh Ta Kiev but it's an extremely basic collection of bungalows rather than an ultra-luxury hotel. It's one of the best places to see island wildlife in Cambodia; travel into the jungle here and you can find over 100 bird species. Keep an eye out for the pitcher plant – one of the very few carnivorous plant species in the world. If you want to go diving; it's the only place on a Cambodia vacation where you can see the giant mussel.
The least developed of the major Cambodian islands; Koh Thmei got its first accommodation in the form of an eco-friendly resort run by a German coupler recently. All electricity is solar powered and water is filtered using natural systems on the island itself.
You can see dolphins off shore on Koh Thmei which makes it a popular place for nature lovers. The island is also home to nearly 150 bird species. You will need a boat to properly explore the island as the jungle is so dense it's very difficult to get from place-to-place on foot. There is a shrimp fishery on Koh Thmei and the shrimp makes for excellent eating on the beach at the end of day's exploring.
Hong Kong remains one of the most popular destinations on a China tour. A vacation in Hong Kong lets you enjoy the mix of Eastern and Western cultures in this former British colony which is now one of China's special administrative regions. If you'd like to take a day trip to see on the most recognizable places in China then you might want to consider taking in Aberdeen Harbor when you travel to Hong Kong.
About Aberdeen Harbour
Aberdeen Harbour may be one of the first places in China that many of us saw at the movies. It has featured in many Hollywood classics including James Bond and Bruce Lee movies. It was once a working port but today it mainly plays host to pleasure boats and yachts used by locals and those on vacation from mainland China. There are a number of floating restaurants on the bay which can make for a pleasant side trip to try seafood China-style.
The best known floating restaurant is the “Jumbo Floating Restaurant” (names of places in China tend to be literal at times). The food is good if a little pricey but the best reason to visit is that you'll be standing in the shoes of Tom Cruise, John Wayne and Queen Elizabeth the 2nd of England who have all spent some time aboard. The boat is owned by Hong Kong's richest man; Stanley Ho.
The bay is an active fishing territory and you can still see small fishing vessels wend their way through the pleasure cruisers. The fishermen tend to sell their catch either to the floating restaurants or the fish markets along the shore. You might want to take a tour of these markets and see the variety of marine life in Hong Kong. You should be aware that like most wet markets in China; the smells can be a little overwhelming in the middle of a hot summer day and it's perhaps best to travel to the market early in the morning rather than leave it too late.
You can hire a boat to take you out to the Ap Lei Chau Island in the center of the harbor for around 100 HKD or to visit Ocean Park. You need to be a little careful when choosing a boat; some of the crews are a tad unsavory and may push for more money once your trip is underway. If in doubt, wait and go with someone else – there's always plenty of boats around in this part of China.
Do take a walk down the promenade and enjoy the sights and smells of harbor life; though do try and avoid doing this in the middle of a summer day as the heat can be a touch overwhelming and heat stroke is not the best souvenir from a China vacation.
It's also easy to walk from Aberdeen Harbour to that major Hong Kong attraction; Victoria Peak. On your way you might want to grab a snack of fish ball noodles – a local specialty- from one of the street vendors. They are cheap and delicious.
One of the main reasons for a trip to China is to discover the history and culture of the country. It's easy to forget that modern history can be significant too during a China vacation; there's so much of the ancient to see as you travel around China that recent developments often pass unnoticed. If your tour is going to visit China's special administrative region – Hong Kong; you might want to check out something a little newer than most of the other attractions.
The Golden Bauhinia Square
Sometimes called the expo promenade too, the Golden Bauhinia Square is a major draw to China tour parties in the know. The square itself is named after a giant statue of a Golden Bauhinia Baleana (a Chinese flower) which stands directly on the waterfront in Wan Chai near the Convention and Exhibition Center. It's easy to travel to the square and you can get a metro to Wan Chai easily and cheaply from most parts of Hong Kong.
The state was a gift from the Chinese government to welcome the people of Hong Kong back into the fold following the handover of Hong Kong to China by the British Government in 1997. The flower is a symbol of the people of Hong Kong and is considered to be very important to the locals. It rests on a pyramid supported by a pillar made of red-granite.
Each day hundreds of people make a trip to the square to witness the flag ceremonies which are conducted by the Hong Kong police. They began on the 30th of June 1997 at the time of the handover to China and have continued each day since.
The Daily Flag Raising Ceremony
This ceremony is conducted every day at 8.00 a.m. promptly; except for the first of the month. The police are garbed in their regular attire and the national anthem of China is played in full. They are accompanied by a Chinese rifle unit who travel in national dress respectfully behind the police band. Once the flag is raised there is a brief concert given by the Police Pipe Band.
The Enhanced Flag Raising Ceremony
If you are lucky enough that your China vacation is in Hong Kong on the first of the month; you can attend the enhanced flag raising ceremony. This is conducted by local youth uniformed groups (UG); these are members of organizations like the Scouts or the St. John's Ambulance Brigade.
This enhanced ceremony is conducted without music; except on the 1st of July and the 1st of October. You may wish to see both the daily and enhanced flag raising ceremonies if you can during your China tour.
Once you've seen the ceremony; there's plenty to see in the local area. Wan Chai is home to many bars and restaurants (and the infamous red-light district) and also the China Bank building which is one of Hong Kong's best known man-made landmarks. It's a very safe area and one that is very popular with expats in Hong Kong.
Vietnam's a wonderful vacation destination. A tour of Vietnam allows you to explore one of Asia's most interesting countries. If you're wondering what you might want to see during a trip to Vietnam we've put together a list of 10 major destinations you can travel to in Vietnam.
Nha Trang's the ultimate vacation destination for the Vietnamese themselves. It's the best beach resort in the whole country and if you'd like to spend some of your trip to Vietnam catching rays – you can't go far wrong with Nha Trang.
The Cu Chi Tunnels
If you'd like to see a little history relating to the Vietnam War then the Cu Chi Tunnels remain a very popular choice. Just outside of Saigon you can see the huge tunnel network that enabled the Viet Cong to evade the American soldiers during that terrible campaign.
The Mekong Delta
Take a trip down to the South of Vietnam and you can see where the Mekong meets the sea. It's a lush verdant wilderness with many floating villages and markets to visit. Life in the Delta is incredibly peaceful compared to the fast paced life of the major cities of Vietnam.
If Nha Trang's too hectic for you then travel down South to Mui Ne and see the best sands in all of Vietnam. It's almost like being in a desert and there are some dramatic photo opportunities awaiting you here.
Near the Chinese border you'll find Sapa an area of Vietnam often left out of less adventurous tour itineraries. It's here that you'll find rice terraces to rival Longsheng in China and get to meet the Hmong people of Vietnam too.
Phu Quoc is the largest Vietnamese island of them all. Unlike some of the more famous islands in South East Asia it's still relatively undeveloped and it offers the opportunity to commune with nature, take part in exciting water sports and of course uninterrupted sun bathing too.
Hoi An is a dramatically beautiful fishing village town in the middle of Vietnam. It's comparable to Venice in Italy with a stunning canal network running through the town. It's one of the best places to stop when your tour moves from Ho Chi Minh to Hanoi.
Hanoi is the capital and there are dozens of exciting things to see and do there. One of the most popular spots is the Hoan Kiem Lake which is supposedly the place that the first Vietnamese kind drove the Chinese out of Vietnam from. There are some lovely temples both in and around the lake.
Hue is not only the historic capital of Vietnam and utterly lovely for it but it's also home to the Thien Mu Pagoda which is the largest pagoda of its kind in the country. It was built during the Nguyen rule and it has been redeveloped many times since. It's intricate, delicate and awe inspiring.
Ha Long Bay
If there's one thing no-one should miss on a trip to Vietnam; it's Ha Long Bay. It's one of the seven natural wonders of the world and if it doesn't take your breath away – nothing will.
There's so much to see on a Thailand tour that it's not likely you'll get to see all of these places on a single trip to Thailand. That's not bad news; it gives you a good reason to book a second Thailand vacation or even a third! So our top ten list for Thailand should give you plenty of inspiration for repeat travel to the country.
The Dusit Palace
In the heart of Bangkok the palace is a perfect fusion of Thai and colonial (even though Thailand was never colonized) architecture in the world. A trip to the palace allows you to marvel at the country's complex history and enjoy the atmosphere created by one of the world's best-loved monarchs.
Phang Nga Bay
It's not quite as spectacular as Ha Long Bay in Vietnam but if you'd like to see some serious karst seascapes during your tour of Thailand; this is the place to do it. It's not far from Phuket the popular beach resort either.
Again, travel just a little way out of Phuket and you can find these amazing islands which offer perhaps the most unspoiled diving territory of anywhere in South East Asia or Thailand. It is a marine park and it's one of the least developed areas in the country. Perfect for fishing, snorkeling or sunbathing.
The Floating Markets
Not far from Bangkok you can enjoy the biggest and brashest floating markets in Thailand. Whether you want to experience life on the water as it's been for thousands of years or whether you're looking for a vacation bargain to take home – the floating markets are perfect for you.
Phi Phi Islands
Absolutely lush verdant forests and unspoiled beaches as far as the eye can see. If you'd like your trip to Thailand to leave you as relaxed as possible the Phi Phi Islands are perfect for you.
This lovely Northern town is a great place to see the mountains and jungles of Thailand from. Climb Doi Suthep and marvel at the beauty of this often neglected part of Thailand. The temple on the mountain is one of the most spectacular in the whole country.
This is a true tropical paradise; absolutely unspoiled beaches, marvelous backdrop, caves to explore and a natural lagoon to swim in. This is the reason that so many people travel to Thailand in the first place. You heard about it here first.
This is the most incredible temple complex in Thailand with a hint of almost every Asian architectural style. The Angkorian influence of Cambodia is unmistakable but there's also a dash of Thai, Burmese, Persian and more in the mix.
Khao Yai National Park
It's a UNESCO world heritage site and one of the richest natural parks in all of South East Asia with a wealth of flora and fauna and dramatic scenery to explore. When you're all templed out – head to Khao Yai, you won't be disappointed.
Monitor lizards, whales, crab-eating macaques and the incredible mouse deer await you in this beautiful island habitat. It's not the best place to dive but it's perhaps the cleanest most incredible beach you'll ever see in your life.
If you're planning a China trip but you're worried that your China tour won't let you visit every part of the country – don't worry! You can still try food from every region of China on your vacation without having to travel outside of China's capital Beijing. There are 8 schools of cookery in China and each of them is represented in Beijing. This week we're going to look at Hunan Cuisine.
About Hunan Cuisine
Hunan cuisine is also known in China as “Xiang Cuisine”. It travels to Beijing from a province that is often called “the home of rice and fish” but that's not the extent of the cookery. In fact Hunan province offers one of the most varied approaches to cooking that you'll encounter on a China tour. The main focus is on rich, creamy and moist dishes and with just a gentle hint of chili.
The food is also designed to appeal to the nose and it's created with the aim of spreading a delicate aroma throughout the kitchen and serving space. It's the perfect adventure for your China vacation after a day's hard sight-seeing. The scents will gently tease your appetite and senses into relaxation. Hunan cuisine is very much seasonally based and that can mean that Hunan restaurants are a bit cheaper than other schools' restaurants. There's no need to import ingredients or preserve them – they're cooked as soon as they're gathered or caught.
There's also a visual aspect to Hunan food which comes in the form of finely cut meats and vegetables style to please the eye. It's another good reason to visit a Hunan restaurant during your China trip.
Common ingredients in Hunan cuisine include soy sauce, spicy chili infused oils, red peppers, fennel, and tea seed oils. They're used as much for the color that they add to recipes as for the flavors. Hunan food can be extremely spicy at times so you might want to ask the waiter/waitress if you're in doubt. Hunan folks will eat chilies by the handful if they can get away with it.
Where to Eat Hunan Cuisine in Beijing?
There are plenty of Hunan restaurants in Beijing. The food is cheap, delicious and popular but we've found what we consider to be the best Hunan restaurant in the capital; Gen Ju Di.
It's a peculiar place because it's a full scale replica of the Communist Party's headquarters in Hunan. Fortunately, it's also trying to achieve a certain nostalgia feel and the wait staff is all dressed up in period army uniforms – that's something you're unlikely to see elsewhere on a China vacation and it's worth making the trip to Gen Ju Di just for this.
It's one of the cheapest restaurants in China despite the pomp and circumstance of the setting and we doubt you'll spend more than 100 RMB. We like to keep things simple and the chili hot pot allows you to try just about every meat, vegetable and spice from the menu. Keep it company with a couple of cold beers and it can be the perfect end to a busy day in Beijing.
If you're planning your trip to Laos and you're wondering what you can see on a tour of Laos – we've brought together the 10 top destinations in the country. You may not be able to fit them all in during a vacation in Laos but you should be able to see quite a few as you travel through Laos.
You might not know about Laos has a tunnel network very similar to the one used in Vietnam during the war. You can travel through the whole network and see where 23,000 people used to live and fight from until they overthrew the royal family. It's not a major vacation destination in Laos yet as they're still trying to renovate the tunnels.
The Pak Ou Caves
The finest collection of Buddha sculptures in Laos and only a short trip outside of Luang Prabang. The journey down the Mekong is as much fun as the caves themselves.
If you're going to travel to Cambodia before or after your Laos tour then Wat Phu may be of interest – it's one of the only remaining Angkorian sites in Laos. Unlike most of the Cambodian sites it's also still used as a temple today.
Pha That Luang
The largest stupa in the country is absolutely magnificent. It's a 16th century religious relic that takes your breath away on first sight. The whole thing is a metaphor for the stages it takes a Buddhist to pass through on their way to Nirvana.
Wat Xieng Thong
The oldest and finest temple of Luang Prabang. It's on the peninsula where the Mekong and Nam Khan rivers join together. The reclining Buddha statue inside was built at the same time as the temple making it a bit of a rarity in its own right. It also once spent 30 years in Paris at an exhibition and wasn't returned until the 1960s.
The Plain of Jars
Mysterious and enigmatic aren't the usual descriptions of a tourist attraction but if there's one thing in Laos that is truly peculiar – it's The Plain of Jars. There are thousands of jars spread across a wide area and no-one knows what they're for; guesses range from storage to burial units but there's nothing confirmed just yet.
A bit out of the way for most trips to Laos the 4,000 islands are a set of islands on the Mekong River as the river joins Cambodia. They're best for relaxing the day away at rather than doing anything strenuous.
A nice tourist town set in some dramatic karst landscapes. It's also famous for the now-banned river rafting in inner tubes.
The Mekong is one of the longest rivers in the world and its name captures images of the Orient gone by. It's simply spectacular and given the amount of dam building projects currently being carried out on its length you might want to see it before it changes drastically.
Luang Prabang is the best reason to take a vacation in Laos. The whole city is a UNESCO world heritage site and it is an incredible place to visit. See the Royal Palace, the colonial architecture and the majestic wats.
Before you travel to China you might be a little nervous about the health risks of a vacation overseas. The good news is that most trips to China are completely uneventful on the health front. However, if you'd like to be sure that your China tour goes without a hitch we've got some tips for you before you travel to China.
What to Pack?
Wherever you travel in the world or China it's a good idea to have some basic remedies etc. on hand before you go. That's because it can be hard to track down a pharmacy when your China tour is on the Great Wall or you're stood amongst the Terracotta Warriors. You don't want to miss out on any of your China vacation so a little preparation can stand you in good stead.
Obviously this depends on the time of year that your China trip takes place at but it's a good idea to bring some sun-tan lotion as it can get quite warm in Summer and Hong Kong and Macau are hot for most of the year. High protection factors can stop you getting sun-burned.
A Hat and Sunglasses
A hat can come in handy both in Winter and Summer to keep you warm or keep the sun off your head. Sunglasses can also be useful in Winter if you find somewhere particularly dusty then you can protect your eyes easily from the dust.
Disposable Face Masks
If you're at all concerned about pollution in China then disposable face masks will cut down the amount of pollution that you can breathe in dramatically. In truth if you're only going to travel for a few days the exposure to pollution is negligible any way.
Acetaminophen and Immodium
You can buy both of these over-the-counter medicines in China but it's probably best to pack them instead. Acetaminophen is for headaches or minor colds or flu bouts. The Immodium is there to help with any episodes of traveler's diarrhea. You are very unlikely to get any form of food poisoning in China particularly if you take advice on where to eat from your tour guide or hotel. However, an upset stomach can be a common symptom of travel and it's better to be safe than sorry.
On the Plane
It's a long way to China from the United States. It's a good idea to drink plenty of water and avoid alcohol on the plane. That way you stay hydrated and fresh. It's recommended that you get up and walk around a little every few hours to protect yourself from DVT (Deep Vein Thrombosis) which is a rare condition that might be caused by sitting still for too long.
You should try to sleep on the plane if possible. You should also remove your shoes to prevent your feet from swelling at the reduced pressures in the cabin.
In general, you can expect your China vacation to pass without any real health worries at all. You should make sure that you have appropriate travel insurance just in case as treatment in China can be a little expensive.
In the Land of Smiles anyone on a cheap Burma tour will love meeting the locals. Here's a short guide on the etiquette around body language when you are travelling in Myanmar.
In Burma modesty is the order of the day. Self-control and not drawing attention to oneself is a general characteristic of Burmese people. Being boastful and loud is not something that people on an inexpensive tour of Burma are likely to encounter and such behaviour is generally frowned upon.
You'll also find that public displays of affection are very uncommon in Myanmar, although married couples are sometimes seen walking hand in hand in cities. You may also see young girls linking arms. Kissing and cuddling in public is a no no and locals will probably find it offensive.
At one time using the left hand was considered offensive as Burmese people used it for cleaning themselves after a visit to the bathroom. It is still not polite to hand objects to people with the left hand, especially to elders or monks. Passing objects over the head of someone is also offensive as the head is considered the holiest part of the body. Touching someone on the head is also taboo in Burmese culture. One of the biggest ways of offending a Burmese person is to slap them across the face. This is something the Burmese find abhorrent.
Respect for Elders
In Burma respect for the elders is a fundamental part of the culture. Younger people are taught to be quiet and not walk noisily when near their grandparents. If you are on a trip to Burma you may see children running errands for their grandparents such as fetching the shopping or collecting water. It is also tradition that young children bow their heads slightly when walking past an elder person. On holidays to Burma do look at how children position themselves in a family group. You'll find that they never sit in a position that is above the grandparent's head.
At night kadawat is performed. This is where children kneel on the floor and bow to their elders who are seated. It is to show respect to the older people and to ask for forgiveness if they have been naughty. Obedience and respect is taken very seriously in Burma.
Wherever you go on a Burma holiday you'll find lots of smiling people. Do smile back as it breaks down barriers. When Burmese people don't speak a lot of English they will smile as it helps with communication. They will also smile when they are sad or suffering grief because they do not want to inflict their sadness upon other people. Myanmar is known as the Land of Smiles and interacting with the locals is a highlight of any holiday to Burma. All you need to do is remember the basics with etiquette and body language and start smiling as you travel around. You'll definitely feel a lot more cheerful for it, even on the hottest of days.
If your tour is heading to Cambodia then you're in for one of the greatest trips of your life. Cambodia may not receive the press of its neighbors Thailand and Vietnam but it is an amazing place. A vacation to Cambodia offers temples, cities, beaches and more. If you're going to travel to Cambodia here are ten places you might want to see.
Siem Reap's a fantastic little town; loads of colonial architecture and more dining options than you could fit into a year yet alone a vacation in Cambodia. It's also the perfect place to access the jewels in Cambodia's crown – the Angkor Archaeological Park – from.
Near the border with Thailand it's a destination that might be difficult to squeeze into your Cambodia tour. It's a temple so stunning that wars have literally been fought over it. The area is at peace now that the UN has ruled that it belongs to Cambodia. It's a long walk up hill to get there but it's very much worth it.
The cheapest beach destination in Asia is in Cambodia. You have to travel via Phnom Penh to get there as the airport's closed and there's no easy route from Siem Reap. Once you're there though there are miles of beaches to choose from and you can relax and enjoy the sunshine.
The Tonle Sap
The Tonle Sap is the largest freshwater lake in both Cambodia and South East Asia. It provides most of the protein eaten in the country (in the form of fish) and is home to floating villages and Vietnamese and Cham people. The flow of the lake changes twice a year and depending on when you visit – you might even be able to travel all the way to Phnom Penh on it.
The Silver Pagoda
The Silver Pagoda is in the Royal Palace grounds and contains some of the most spectacular Buddha figures in Cambodia. The Maitreya Buddha is made of gold and contains nearly 10,000 diamonds!
The Hill Station at Bokor is kind of creepy. It was supposed to be a luxury resort but it was abandoned before it was every occupied when the Pol Pot regime captured Cambodia. A trip out there today reveals a sort of ghost-town feel to the place.
Kratie is the only place that you may get a glimpse of the rate Mekong Dolphins today. It's worth taking some time out from your Cambodia vacation for that alone.
The ancient capital of Cambodia is a great day trip from Siem Reap. It's a magnificent Angkorian ruin and better still – it's normally free of tourists especially compared to Angkor Wat.
Just outside of Siem Reap there's the last of the Angkorian temples to have been built; Banteay Srey. Its red sandstone finish makes it truly unique and very much worth a visit. Interestingly; it was the only temple to be built for a functionary in the whole complex – all the others were built for kings.
It tops CNN's list of places to visit before you die. It's one of the modern wonders of the world. Angkor Wat needs no introduction and it is the number one reason to take a tour of Cambodia.
If you're wondering where to include in your China tour itinerary then you have plenty of options. Everywhere you can travel in China can make for a great China vacation. However if you're uncertain sa to whether to include Shanghai in your China trip – we've got some great reasons for you to choose the city:
- It's the largest city in the world not just China. There are more than 20 million people based in Shanghai. That means if you take a trip to Shanghai – you'll be stood in the equivalent of a double “mega city” (a mega city has 10 million or more inhabitants).
- It's the richest city in China and that means if you want to see how China is changing on your vacation – Shanghai's the best place to do just that. It's a vibrant, modern, cosmopolitan city and uniquely Chinese.
- You won't be alone. Some of the world's most notable people travel to Shanghai to experience life in China. You'll be walking in the shoes of George Bernard Shaw and Albert Einstein among others. It's one of the few places you can see on a China tour that brings together the best of the East and the best of the West.
- You can shop until you drop and then shop some more. If you want to return from your China vacation weighed down with bargains then Shanghai's the place to stock up in. Head down to the markets and malls and feast your eyes on the wealth of products made in China for a fraction of the cost of back home.
- There's no need to sleep! Shanghai is a truly 24-hour city and there are clubs, bars and nightlife galore – in fact Shanghai's probably the best place in China to go out at night in and there's far more choice of nightlife here than there is in Beijing.
- It's easy to get around. Actually this is true of most Chinese cities. If you want to take a trip on your own then you'll find that the public transport system is excellent. The metro and bus network covers pretty much everywhere in the city and it's extremely cheap and efficient.
- There are plenty of things to see and do. Everyone wants to visit The Bund which may be the most picturesque piece of waterfront anywhere in Asia with the heady mix of modern China and classic Western architecture. However, once you get off the beaten path you'll find that it's impossible to get bored in Shanghai – there are museums, parks, and galleries everywhere.
- English is spoken in most major tourist destinations. Shanghai's cosmopolitan heritage and major finance district tends to attract rather more English speaking graduates than the rest of China. That can make finding your way round a little easier than in some of the other major Chinese cities.
Shanghai is a truly unique experience. If you'd like you visit to China to include the world's largest city – we thoroughly recommend it. It's an unforgettable place.
Between 1044 and 1287 it is estimated that over 10,000 temples were built in Bagan. This was once the ancient capital of Burma and is now a world famous archaeological site. Today a visit to the city is a highlight of any tour to Burma and where you can see ancient stupas stretching for miles. Here are some of the highlights of this intriguing city and where around 3000 temples still stand.
Get up early
There are several reasons for being an early riser in Bagan. The temples get extremely hot and crowded during the day so it is best to start exploring as the sun rises. You'll also get some superb views with the changing light. Outside the monsoon months a hot air balloon ride over the many temples is a stunning way to see this archaeological site, one of the finest in the world. Done at sunrise it is a wonderful way to greet the dawn. Select your temples
If your stay in Bagan is time limited you should choose just a few temples to see on your cheap Burma tour. That way you'll get to look around in more detail and think about what you are seeing as each temple has its own history and character. One of the best is at Shwezigon Paya where the golden domes are stunning. Another very popular temple to visit on a Burma vacation is the terraced Shwesandaw Paya. The distinctive shape and colour of Ananda Paya is another beautiful temple to visit in Bagan and it is renowned for its huge teak doors. Others such as Nandamannya Pahto are renowned for their temple art.
Choose how you travel in Bagan
For many visitors on a tour of Burma, air conditioned coaches are the norm. In Bagan you'll find other choices available to you that add to the adventure and get to places a large bus cannot go. Many visitors rent a bicycle and ride around the temple complexes. This is also an excellent way to meet the locals and encounter the roads and trails around the temples. Another way to see the temples is to travel by horse and cart. This is very popular at sundown when a visit to the temples is a superb way to see the sunset in Bagan.
See other attractions in Bagan
The city of Bagan features in many cheap vacations to Burma and whilst most people see the temples there is a lot more to experience in the area. You could take a boat on the Irrawaddy River to see the fishing communities and villages, as well as see the Bagan landscape from the water. Arts and crafts are popular in Bagan and it is very interesting to watch sand paintings being created, and to see how laquerware is made. Another popular visit is to Mount Popa which is a holy mountain and famous for its sacred monasteries. There are 777 steps to the top and some very enthusiastic monkeys.
Whatever you decide to do in Bagan, you'll be amazed at the sheer amount of things to do and the temples to explore in this beautiful Burmese city.
A trip to Luang Prabang in Laos is always memorable as the whole city is a UNESCO heritage site. One place you won't want to miss during your Laos tour is the Royal Palace which is by the river. It's one of the highlights of Laos vacation as it's one of the finest examples of French colonial architecture in the city. Here's what you should know, before you travel to Laos, about the Royal Palace:
About the Royal Palace
The Royal Palace was constructed in 1904 and it was a reward from the French colonists for their chosen head of state for Laos; King Sisavang Vong. Before the French military decided to conduct a brief tour of the area to the West of Northern Vietnam there was no state of Laos; instead there were dozens of small kingdoms. These were deemed too problematic to rule by the colonial power and they chose to amalgamate power with a single head of state.
The palace is situated where it is with travel in mind; the idea was that people arriving in the city would normally arrive by boat and be greeted by the sight of the palace directly above the docks. It would then be a short trip to meet the royal family of Laos and for the king to make any proclamations necessary in regard to the arrivals.
In 1975, the royal family was deposed in the communist revolution in Laos. The palace was converted to a museum as the royal family was sentenced to re-education in a camp outside of town.
The Palace Grounds
You can take a full tour of the grounds and there's plenty to see as you travel round the gardens; watch out for the lotus pond (which will be in full bloom in the early part of the year) and for the statue of the King Sisavang Vong which is outside the conference hall.
The Palace Building
The architectural style of Laos is blended with French colonial architecture to give you a truly unique building. Nowhere else during your vacation will you see such a rich fusion of the two systems of architecture.
The entrance stairs are made of a decadent Italian marble and as you enter you'll be confronted with some of the most important religious relics of the royal family. To the right of the entrance you'll discover the reception room which has a wonderful collection of sculptures of former kings of Laos. The walls are covered in French murals – each of which was designed to be viewed at a specific time of day when the sunlight illuminates the canvas.
Take a trip further inside the palace and you'll find the Phra Bang which is a 50 Kg gold, silver and bronze sculpture of the Buddha and perhaps the finest piece of art inside the palace. If you keep your eyes peeled you can also find a piece of moon rock donated by the United States following the moon landings.
Don't finish your tour of the palace without checking out the throne room where you'll find the Crown Jewels of Laos.
Much of a vacation in Tibet will be spent taking in the man-made wonders of this beautiful Buddhist nation. However a tour of Tibet's countryside can reveal incredible natural wonders too. If you travel just a little way out of Lhasa, Tibet's capital, you will find Yamdrok Lake an incredible melt water lake formed from the glaciers of the Himalayas. It's very much worth the trip if you want to see one of the last unspoiled wilderness's on earth in Tibet.
About Yamdrock Lake
Yamdrock Lake is on the highway to Gyantse from Lhasa. You'll need to hire a 4x4 vehicle for the trip as travel on Tibet's roads is somewhat challenging. It's surrounded on all sides by the grey and snowcapped peaks of the Himalayas. It's not a small lake either; it covers over 640 square kilometers of Tibet's countryside and at its deepest point it's nearly 60 meters deep. You won't want to discover that, it's far too cold to swim safely in Yamdrock Lake.
The lake is said to resemble a dragon if you view it from above as there is a central body of water with several small limbs stretching out below and then a long “tail” trailing out behind the main body to the North. It's at a very high elevation (over 4,000 meters above sea level) so you won't want to make a trip out to the lake in the early part of your Tibet vacation as it can be hard to catch your breath until you're used to the altitude. It's much easier to wander the shores once you've spent a little time in Tibet and adjusted.
One nice thing about the lake is that it hasn't yet become part of the established tours of Tibet and you should be able to find plenty of quiet places to just enjoy some silence and appreciate the native Tibetan way of life. The waters are so clear and clean because there's no source of pollution within hundreds of miles. It's a good place to grab some lunch too as the local fisherman bring their catch in throughout the day and you can enjoy some of the freshest fish at any of the nearby restaurants.
You should take your camera as the contrast between clear water, the mountainside and the wealth of flora and fauna on the shores offers some of the best photo opportunities you'll find during your Tibet vacation.
Between April and October you'll also find the most splendid collection of bird life in Asia. All the migrating birds that move between India, China and Central Asia stop by the shores of the lake during their migration. It's an absolutely astonishing sight and you'll find that bringing a pair of binoculars at this time can greatly enhance your visit to the lake.
Once you've had your fill of nature; you can repair for some food and drink at the nearby village of Nangartse. You're sure of a friendly Tibetan welcome there and you'll be amazed at how much cheaper it is than Lhasa.
There are many standard vacation destinations in Thailand; today we're going to look at somewhere a little different that you can visit during a tour of Thailand. The Siririaj Medical Museum is not for the faint of heart and if you travel to Thailand hoping to dwell on the Buddhist serenity of the nation – it may not be the ideal day trip on your Thailand break.
About the Siriraj Medical Museum
It's a bit of a trip to get to the museum. It's on the "wrong side" of the river which means you'll need to take a tour of what feels like half of Thailand to get there by taxi. Like many other sights in Thailand it has strict opening hours so show up after 9 a.m. and well before 4 p.m. in order to get in and have enough time to enjoy the spectacle.
The entry fee of 150 baht includes a guided tour (using a headphone based guide) of the exhibits which is dictated in a cut-glass British accent. You can't take photographs inside the museum and you should be aware that a trip to one of Thailand's infamous police stations may result if you try to take photos.
There are an incredibly number of grisly exhibits in the museum and it probably isn't suitable for children accompanying you on your Thailand vacation. One of the big draws of the museum is a series of babies preserved in formaldehyde. There are 9 children in total and they were all donated to the hospital nearby after dying either in the womb or shortly after birth. They are not on display for cheap titillation of guests they are there to demonstrate some of the risks of pregnancy to students at the nearby hospital. We won't lie to you; it can be a seriously disturbing sight so be sure that you're ready for it before you travel to the museum.
One of the other exhibits is a series of photographs from autopsy recordings and as you might expect, this being Thailand, there are no punches pulled in the graphical content. Suicides and murder victims abound here and once again it really isn't for the faint-hearted.
The centerpiece of the museum may be the most horrific exhibit in Thailand. It's the embalmed body of a Chinese murderer from the 1950s. Si Quey, as he was called, killed six children and then ate their internal organs. He really wasn't a pleasant person. He was sentenced to death and after his execution his body was brought to the museum for preservation and as a warning to future generations.
The rest of the exhibits are slightly less gruesome though there's nothing here that could be termed –e easy viewing. We often wonder if the Mug Café (the museum's onsite restaurant and gift shop) actually sells any food after people have been round the exhibits. However, if you're looking for something very different to do on your Thailand vacation – the Siriraj Medical Museum might well be what you're looking for.
A trip to Tibet is an unmissable chance to connect with the spiritual heritage of the Far East. A vacation in Tibet brings you into contact with the ultimate evolution of Buddhism in China and you'll be able to take a tour of all of the most important religious places in Tibet as you travel round the country. One of the most important monasteries in Tibet is Tashilunpo; here's some background which could make your visit even more memorable.
About Tashilunpo Monastery
You may not have time to squeeze Tashilunpo into your Tibet tour itinerary as it's quite a way out of Lhasa. However, if you do find that you can free up a day or two it's very much worth visiting as it's the largest monastery of its kind in Tibet. It is a Gelugpa (Yellow Hat) monastery and it's one of the 6 most sacred monasteries of that type in all of China. The faith made the trip from Mongolia to Tibet and China in the late 15th century and as such it's the newest branch of Buddhism in Tibet.
As your tour approaches Tashilunpo from the road the first thing you'll see is the golden roof dominating the frozen landscape below. You might want to ask your driver to stop so you can take a vacation photograph as it's a truly stunning sight to behold.
The name Tashilunpo means “the heap of glory” and the monastery is held in high regard throughout Tibet. It was the source of several Pashen Lamas and is considered to be the 2nd highest of all the Gelugpa monasteries in the world.
There's certainly plenty of wonderful things to be found in the monastery's grounds including:
The Maitreya Temple
This houses the largest statue of Buddha in Tibet and in China. It was built by the 9th Pachem Lama and it contains nearly 300 kilos of Gold and more than 150,000 kilos of Brass! It's an incredible sight and worth making the trip to Tashilunpo for alone.
The Buddha Festival
If you're lucky enough to time your vacation for the 5th month of the Buddhist year (July or August depending on the exact lunar date of the month) then there's a huge Buddhist festival held in the Tashilunpo monastery's grounds.
Three different Buddhas are displayed on each day of the festival. One to represent the past, one the present and one the future. Tens of thousands of people turn up to celebrate life around the Buddhas and they all congregate eventually in front of the giant Buddha in the Maitreya Temple. There's a giant platform constructed from local rock which the festival is held on and where monks offer blessings and prayers for those gathered there.
It's one of the largest festivals in Tibet and outsiders are quite welcome to gather with the faithful and join in the celebrations. Please remember to be respectful of people's beliefs throughout the festival as it's a very important part of local culture.
A trip to Vietnam's Hoi An offers you the chance to relax in luxurious surroundings. If you'd like a little history with your Vietnam vacation then you could also take a tour of the local Cham temple ruins – My Son. The Cham are the people who came before the Angkorian empire of Cambodia who orginated in Vietnam and if travel to My Son you can get a greet feel of what would inspire the impressive complex of Angkor Wat. The temple is about an hour's drive out of the city of Hoi An and if you do decide to visit please remember that Vietnam's roads can be a touch hazardous and drive safely.
About My Son
My Son is a UNESCO world heritage site. In fact a tour of Vietnam can take you to more UNESCO heritage sites than anywhere else in Indochina. It's considered to be of importance because the Cham King would have worshipped at the temples between the 4th and 13th centuries.
The temple complex was built using bricks without any form of binding and as you'll soon see during your Vietnam vacation – this didn't mean the complex was built for longevity. In fact as you travel round the ruins it's hard to imagine that this was once the most spectacular place of worship in Vietnam. There are still some walls surviving and the sculptures that adorn them show scenes of battle and gods.
Believe it or not the temple complex also played a minor part in the Vietnam War with the Viet Cong using them as a base for operations. It took an act of Congress to prevent the US forces from bombing these culturally significant ruins to force out the Viet Cong. This left the locals free to conduct tours of the local countryside unhindered by their opponents.
The temples are completely disused today and you won't find any monks or pilgrims visiting them. The best time to get there is in the early morning when the place is relatively free of tourists.
There is a Champa Museum on the site as well as the ruins and it's well worth a trip round. It details all the better preserved remains of Vietnam's lost civilization as well as some of the history of the Cham people themselves. It's worth noting that the museum closes earlier than the site so if you arrive late in the day on your Vietnam vacation – go to the museum first.
There is traditional dancing held in the courtyard daily at 9.45 a.m. which is another incentive to arrive in the mornings.
There's a restaurant on site but you might want to consider eating elsewhere as the prices are a bit steep for this part of Vietnam and the food is pretty average. There are snack stands and stalls throughout the compound so you can get a drink or a quick bite easily enough. The souvenir store is not the best equipped place and if you're in a hurry it can safely be skipped off your agenda.
One of the main reasons to take a trip to Cambodia is to see the Angkor Archaeological Park and the amazing temples of ancient Cambodia. In addition to Angkor Wat itself most people try to take a full tour of all the temples during their Cambodia vacation. One of the most spectacular temples you can travel to in all of Cambodia is the complex known as Bayon or Angkor Thom.
Bayon was built towards the end of the Angkorian period in either the late 12th century or early 13th century. As you'll find during your Cambodia tour – it's hard to be precise about anything from the Angkorian civilization because no written records remain from the period. A lot of what you will hear about the temples of Cambodia is speculation based on the slender evidence collected from stone tablets around the Angkorian sights.
The Bayon temple is situated in the center of Angkor Thom which would have been the capital of Jayavarman VII's empire in Cambodia. It was constructed for Jayavarman VII but it would have been modified several times following his death by the Hindu and Theravada emperors that followed.
What makes Bayon such a spectacular vacation destination? It's the faces in the stonework. As you travel round the temple you'll see huge faces gazing down on you from every tower and on every side of each tower. There are 216 faces in total and it's said they would have been representations of the Emperor Jayarvaman VII but this is speculation based on the similarity of the faces to the emperor's face in other carvings. Other scholars claim that the face is in fact the Buddha of Compassion. You can get up close to the faces on the upper gallery during your trip to Bayon and it's worth climbing the stairs in the heat to see them in detail.
In the center there's also an incredible pair of bas-reliefs which take events from mythology and history and combine them with ordinary scenes from the period of construction.
It was the last temple of state to be founded in the Angkor complex and was originally intended as a Mahayana Buddhist place of worship. However, in common with all the other Angkor temples the designers also took a trip through every other form of worship known in Cambodia at the time and incorporated concepts from each religion in the finished piece.
The temple has also been through two periods of restoration. The first was a French archaeological group on a tour of Cambodia at the turn of the 20th century and then following the upheaval in Cambodia's recent past a Japanese group of conservationists has been working on the temple ever since. Unfortunately the one thing you won't see on your trip to Bayon is the statue of the Buddha which sat at the heart of the sanctuary. That's because it was smashed to pieces and thrown in a well and after it was found and rebuilt it was moved the main temple at Angkor Wat.
If you're on a vacation in China but you don't have time for a tour of the whole country – you can still try every type of cookery in China's capital city; Beijing. China's food is one of the main reasons that the locals take trips to other provinces and we think it's one of the best reasons to travel to China too. Today we'll look at Guangdong Cuisine in Beijing.
About Guangdong Cuisine
Guangdong Cuisine is better known in the West as Cantonese Cuisine; though the dishes we're familiar with tend to have been developed by emigrants from Hong Kong rather than from the mainland. Cantonese is perhaps the most popular food in China and you won't have to travel too far to find a Cantonese restaurant to your liking.
A trip to a Cantonese restaurant reveals that the school of cookery specializes in tender meats, ever so slight sweet sauces which are very light on the tongue. The ingredients used are those people most associate with China, oyster sauce, soy sauce, plum sauce and sweet and sour sauce.
If you'd like to try something less familiar during your China vacation look out for the five-spice powder and star anise dishes which are mouthwateringly pleasant. You should be aware that Guangdong Cuisine is the reason it is often said (in China as well as elsewhere) that “The Chinese eat anything with legs except for a table and anything that flies except for a plane.” So you can be really adventurous when your tour stops at a Cantonese restaurant or you can play it safe. It is an incredibly varied school of cookery.
There's less frying involved in Cantonese food and much more braising which leaves the flavors of the ingredients to suffuse with each other and deliver a very satisfactory result on the taste buds.
Where Do I Find Guangdong Cuisine in Beijing?
There are plenty of options for your China tour group when it hits Beijing but we think you might want to check out the Lichang Seafood Restaurant (the one in Hugosi rather than the others in the chain) as it's the longest established Cantonese restaurant in the city and it's still packed out every day at main meal times. You might as well get a little history as part of your China vacation dining experience right?
There's plenty to choose from on the menu and if you'd like to be as authentic as possible then it's a good idea to try some of the dim sum. These are brought to the table at regular intervals on little carts and you just point at a tray to try it.
The lobster sashimi is incredible (if a little pricey) and we've found that the durian cakes here are one of the best ways to experience the flavor of this famously stinky fruit without being overwhelmed by the odor.
A trip to the Lichang Seafood Restaurant will normally set you back around $40-$50 a head and it's worth every penny.
One thing's for sure whether you take a vacation in Cambodia or indeed anywhere else you need to know about money for your trip. Cambodia's both simple and complex when it comes to matters of finance. So before you travel to Cambodia you ought to check out our handy guide to managing money on your Cambodia tour.
Currency in Cambodia
The official currency of Cambodia is the Cambodian Riel. The unofficial currency is the US Dollar. That's true in theory. In reality the main currency in Cambodia is the US Dollar and it's accepted absolutely everywhere.
There are 4,000 Riel to 1 USD and in the main you'll only receive Riel as small change during your vacation. In more rural areas you'll find that Riel in larger denominations is slightly more common than dollars but not so much more common that it makes a huge difference to your wallet. Take US dollars for your trip to Cambodia and try and spend all your Riel before you travel home. Cambodian Riel are a non-convertible currency and that means outside of Cambodia they're virtually worthless and can be hard (or impossible) to change.
One of the nice things about the Riel is that there are only notes 50, 100, 500, 1000, 2000, 5000, 10000 and 20000 in regular circulation. So you won't fill up your pockets with coins.
ATMs in Cambodia dispense US dollars and not Cambodian Riel. In all the major tourist towns (Phnom Penh, Battambang, Siem Reap and Sihanoukville) of Cambodia there are plenty of ATMs you can use. You should be aware that withdrawal fees from some banks are steep and they can make your vacation more expensive than you need them to be. American bank cards can withdraw money for free (except any charges levelled by your home bank) at Canadia bank ATMs and European bank cards can withdraw money for free from Vattanac bank ATMs (which are much scarcer on the ground).
If you are going to travel outside of major cities please stock up on cash as access to ATMs may be very limited or non-existent elsewhere in Cambodia.
Four star and five star hotels (like the kind we offer in our Cambodia tour packages) generally accept credit and debit cards; though sometimes credit/debit card processing can be convoluted. It is unusual for anywhere else to accept credit and debit cards in Cambodia. If you're expecting to make it through your trip using plastic – you'll probably want to use it to withdraw from ATMs on a regular basis rather than rely on being able to pay with it. Don't be fooled by signs which claim that an establishment accepts credit cards; in many cases they don't.
Travelers checks are a great idea for protecting your money – if they're stolen they will be instantly replaced. They are, however, expensive to cash and while in theory you can cash them anywhere; in practice in Cambodia you'll have to visit a bank to do it. You'll then need to go through a time consuming process to turn them into money. We like the protection they afford but on a short visit to the country – you may find them more effort than they are worth.
This is the second of an eight part series on how to take a tour of all China's schools of cookery in Beijing. It's designed to help you fit as much of the incredible cuisine in the country as you can during your China tour. A vacation in China can be greatly enhanced by great food and this guide aims to help you do just that as you travel around China's capital city.
About Fujian Cuisine
Fujian (or sometime Min) cuisine is from Southern China and the Fujian province. It has one of the longest established histories of any of China's schools of cookery. There are recipes which date back over 5,000 years. That makes it perhaps the most authentic Chinese food you can eat on your vacation.
Getting Fujian food outside of China is difficult and that gives you a great reason to try it on your tour. You'll find that there are 3 blends of Fujian cookery too; Fuzhou, Western and Southern. The Fuzhou style focuses on contrasting sweet and sour, Western is based on mustard with a strong hint of peppers throughout the dishes and Southern is sweet with a delicate hint of spice.
In Fujian every meal begins with a soup course and it would be unthinkable for a meal not to have soup. Soups are extremely complex creations with dozens of herbs, spices, oils, vinegars, soy sauces, etc. employed in their cooking. If you do travel to a Fujian restaurant make sure you spend some time choosing the perfect soup for the occasion; it's likely to be the best soup you have in China.
Cooking techniques in Fujian cuisine are incredibly varied; much more so than in other schools of cuisine in China. You'll find pan-fried, deep-fried, boiled, baked, stewed, casseroled, simmered, smoked, braised and sautéed foods galore. Teetotalers should be aware that red rice wine is a prominent ingredient in many dishes so if you'd prefer to remain abstemious on your trip you may need to pick through the menu carefully. Where to Get Fujian Cuisine in Beijing?
There are many good Fujian restaurants in Beijing and it shouldn't be hard to squeeze one into your China tour. Our favorite is a place called Wuyishan Nongjiacai. It's best visited in conjunction with a trip to Beijing's tea markets which are very nearby. Once you've spent a pleasant hour or two wandering the markets you should have worked up an appetite for some great food.
It's a very reasonably priced place and you should not spend much more than 100 RMB for a range of courses per person. (That's around $15). Fujian food is very much about fish and the majority of fish dishes on the menu are absolutely superb but we'd encourage you to go for the beef and taro. It looks pretty ugly on the plate but it tastes incredible. If you want something a bit more adventurous the cauliflower with squid is rather good too.
If you are planning a vacation in Burma then knowing a little about the significance of astrology here will give you a real insight into Burmese culture. In Myanmar astrology is based on four elements, one being the day of the week, each of which is represented by a creature. Another is the direction. When you book a cheap Burma tour, be sure to find out the day of the week you were born. It will impress your guide and win friends among the locals. There are also eight days of the week and this number is highly significant in Burmese culture. If you go into a pagoda on a Burma holiday you will find a temple dedicated to your animal and birth day of the week. Sunday. (Direction- North East) People born on a Sunday are represented by the mythical winged creature, the garuda. Those born on Sunday like a challenge and are also kind and gentle. If you travel on Burma tours or in parts of South East Asia you'll see references to the garuda.
Monday. (Direction- East). Tigers represent those born on Monday. These people are strong, patient, likely to succeed, but are impatient and do not tolerate fools.
Tuesday. (Direction- South East).The lion represents Tuesday and those born on this day of the week are determined and rise to a challenge, especially representing the underdog. They are born leaders. Aung San Suu Kyi was born on a Tuesday.
Wednesday Morning. (Direction- South). Elephants with tusks represent the first part of Wednesday. These people are unpredictable and enthusiastic. Tusked elephant also represents spontaneity and independence. People born on a Wednesday morning like to be in control of a situation.
Wednesday Afternoon. (Direction- North West). Elephants with no tusks represent those born on a Wednesday afternoon. People with this sign tend to be successful in business and are good at promoting their work. They are also very private people.
Thursday (Direction- West). Those born on a Thursday are represented by the rat and are known to be intelligent and witty. They are also known for getting ahead but also have a quiet nature.
Friday (Direction- North). Guinea pigs represent Friday people who are known for their artistic and creative nature.
Saturday (Direction- South West). If you were born on a Saturday you'll be represented by the dragon. These people are confident, philosophical, understanding, and like to work alone.
You'll find Burmese astrology all around you on tours to Burma. This is a great ice breaker and just being able to find the temple assigned to your day of the week in a pagoda is a wonderful way to experience the culture here. Locals are only too pleased to help and guide you. You may also find drawings and art work representing the astrological figures, and there will be carvings in the temples and other buildings. As you enjoy your inexpensive Burma vacation you'll appreciate more by understanding the culture of this intriguing country.
Planning a Laos tour or a larger vacation which includes Laos? Then it's a good idea to know how money works in this lovely Asian nation. It's best to resolve money issues before you travel to Laos so you can be fully prepared and then you can relax and enjoy your trip to Laos fully when you get here.
About the Currency in Laos
Laos is one of the easiest places to spend money in Asia. Unlike other nations in Indochina there are three currencies you can use during a vacation in Laos. The first is the Lao Kip; that's the local currency and it's pegged at approximately 8,000 Kip to the dollar. It is also officially the only legal currency for use in Laos. However, unless you need to spend money directly with a government department that particular law is completely ignored everywhere you travel in the nation. In small towns and rural areas it may be easier to spend Kip than the alternatives.
The US Dollar and the Thai Baht are accepted nearly everywhere and in most cases the exchange rate will be exactly the same as at a bank. However, fluctuations in the Thai Baht may not be taken into account and you may find that some places fix the exchange at 30 Baht ($1) to 8,000 Kip. At the moment that works out better for you as there are, at the time of writing, 32 Baht to $1.
We'd recommend that before you travel you change a small amount of money into Kip (maximum $100) and that you keep the rest in dollars or if your vacation is taking in Thailand as well as Laos, then Thai Baht will be just as good.
Make sure you get rid of as much Kip as possible before you leave the country as it's hard to change elsewhere.
The ATM situation in Laos is not as dire as it is Myanmar (where an ATM can only be found in Yangon) but it's not great either. You'll find ATMs if your trip heads to Vientiane or Luang Prabang but don't rely on ATMs outside of the major cities. Withdrawal fees vary from bank to bank but aren't as punishing as they are in some of the other countries in Indochina.
Laos and credit cards don't mix. The same is true for debit cards. Outside of the major hotels you will not find anywhere that accepts plastic for payment. You'll need to plan to take cash to fund the majority of your spending during your vacation in the country.
We'd advise against relying on traveler's checks in Laos. They aren't widely accepted and the banking system is appallingly hard work. It may be slow work to process a check in Cambodia in Laos you'll want to allocate half a day to get them changed in a bank. The experience is far too frustrating and completely outweighs the benefits provided by the traveler's check firms.
Anyone taking cheap guided tours to Burma will discover that religion and superstition are intertwined in this fascinating country. Around 89% of the people are Buddhist but many also have animist beliefs. You'll hear about nats or spirits and see some of the way of life of the Buddhist faith, and encounter monks wherever you go. Here is an introduction to the religions of Burma.
Visitors on inexpensive vacations to Burma are sure to come across a pagoda or temple in their travels and hear stories of Buddha. But what does it all mean? In Burma the Mon tribe were the first to practice Buddhism as far back as the 3rd century BC using a conservative or Theravada form of the religion. By the 9th century other forms of Buddhism entered Burma from the Tibetan Plain such as Tantric and Mahayana Buddhism was seen. Although these have never gone away in Burma the faith today is mainly the more conservative form of Therevada Buddhism.
In the Therevada form of Buddhism it is believed that an individual tries to achieve nirvana rather than with a population waiting for salvation. Only by achieving complete wisdom and abstinence can one achieve enlightenment. In Burma devout Buddhists try to achieve five moral rules which are abstinence from theft, killing a living creature, intoxication, lying, and adultery. Generally throughout Burma visitors will see the locals trying to embed the principles of daily life into their everyday routine. When you are on a cheap trip of Burma chances are you will see people giving alms to monks, worshipping at the local Buddhist paya, and donating to the temple. You will also notice things around you that embrace the Buddhist way of life. On a morning, you will likely see monks carrying bowls asking for food. This is not considered begging in Burma. On the contrary it helps a local Burmese achieve Dhana or merit in the Buddhist faith.
Anyone on vacation in Burma will come across the animist way of life and especially symbols pertaining to nats. These are spirit beings and belief in these spirits predates Buddhism in Burma. A Nat occupies a temple or home, and even a car. In early times separate temples were built for the nats and animals sacrificed to appease them. This was stopped during the 11th century in Bagan by King Anawrahta who realised that if he completely banned animism he would also alienate those worshipping Buddha. Hence, the two religions go side by side in Burma.
In Burma you will see items associated with nats. On a rear view mirror you could see a red and white cloth. These colours signify nats and are there for protection. In many homes you will see a coconut in a red turban which is also representative of the nat. Villages often have a shrine dedicated to a nat.
Burma tours are exciting and really fascinating because you will discover lots of things about the country and get to know more about the culture and religious life.
Your Vietnam vacation should go smoothly if you know about the Vietnamese currency before you take your Vietnam tour. We've found that a trip to Vietnam can be really easy if you do a little preparation before you travel to Vietnam.
The official currency of Vietnam is the Dong. There are roughly 21,000 Dong to the US dollar. In general the Dong is the most widely accepted currency in Vietnam and most transactions are conducted in dong; having said that the US dollar is also widely accepted (though not everywhere and exchange rates at individual stores should be checked before spending dollars rather than dong). If you're unsure during your trip as to whether dollars will be accepted – just ask.
You should bring no more than $5,000 cash into Vietnam and you may not take any Vietnamese dong when you travel outside of Vietnam (officially – in practice small amounts will go unchallenged). You should not take more than $1,000 in cash out of Vietnam either.
We've found that managing Dong can be a bit difficult in particular the 10,000 and 50,000 notes and the 20,000 and 500,000 notes are very similar in size and color. You need to be vigilant when you pay or you might find that you're paying 5 – 25 times too much for everything you buy on your Vietnam vacation.
There are plenty of ATMs in Vietnam. The trouble is that they are not all equal. In tourist areas the withdrawal limits are set shockingly low on many ATMs (less than $100 in some cases) and the withdrawal fees can be astronomically high. If you'd prefer to keep your money for spending on your tour rather than handing it to the banks – look out for HSBC and ANZ bank branches. These ATMs have much higher withdrawal limits compared to their street-side counterparts.
You should also know that the banking network in Vietnam only allows you to make one withdrawal a day. If you make a tiny withdrawal from an ATM you'll have to wait until the next day before you can make another one. That's a genuine inconvenience and one you should take pains to avoid on your trip.
Credit Cards and Debit Cards
These are a bit hit and miss but in general big stores and large chains will accept plastic in Vietnam. You shouldn't expect to be able to pay for the whole vacation with a card but you will be able to use plastic more than you can in Laos or Cambodia.
Watch your cards when they're used and don't let them be moved under a counter and if you see someone swipe the card through two machines – call the police. Vietnam is a hot bed of credit card fraud.
Vietnam's banks are incredibly efficient in comparison to the rest of Indochina. It's easy and quick to cash a traveler's check in the bank on your Vietnam tour and it may make traveler's checks an appealing alternative to cash.
If you'd have taken a tour of China back in 2008; you'd have witnessed perhaps the greatest Olympic games of all time. China's entrance to the world stage was no small beans. The country spent a fortune on an Olympic extravaganza and there are some lasting monuments to the event that you can see on your China trip. One of the big highlights of a China vacation is The Bird's Nest Stadium perhaps the best known of all China's modern buildings. Here's what you need to know before you travel:
About The Bird's Nest
The stadium cost over $400 million to build. It was designed by a Swiss firm of architects which won the right to build the stadium in a competitive tender with 12 other world-renowned architects. As you'll find out during your China tour the bird's nest is considered to be an incredible delicacy in Chinese cookery. That means it's an expensive delicacy and, as you'll also see as you travel round China, that means it's considered something of a national symbol.
Interestingly the world famous Chinese artist Ai Weiwei was employed as a consultant on the project. It's thus the largest piece of art he's been involved with.
There was another reason for the bird's nest design; the idea was to use the ceramic beams that form the nest to mask the infrastructure necessary for a retractable roof on the stadium. In the end the roof was abandoned as impractical during the construction phase but by then the design was set in stone.
One interesting thing about the design of the stadium is that the majority of water, used to heat the playing surfaces or to cool the stadium in the hot, sticky Beijing summer, is recycled rain water. It's a very green solution and is a testament to the efforts that China is putting into environmentally friendly research. It's easy to see the effects of industrialization in Beijing but much harder to spot behind the scenes efforts to clean up the problems that industrialization has caused.
What Goes on at the Bird's Nest?
At the moment the Bird's Nest is somewhat under-utilized. If you're lucky your China vacation may coincide with one of the concerts or events run at the stadium but it's unlikely there is perhaps only one brief event held there each month.
However, if your China tour is in winter you may be able to skate inside the Bird's Nest when the entire stadium is filled with water and left to freeze in Beijing's harsh winter conditions. It's a lot of fun but watch out for errant skaters – health and safety are not a number one priority anywhere in China and you don't want to have to end the day taking a trip round a Chinese hospital.
There are plans for a shopping mall at the site but developers have been somewhat reluctant to commit to the project and you shouldn't delay your China vacation in the hopes that you might be able to shop until you drop next door. It seems unlikely that the mall will be ready anytime soon.
With diverse flavors, food in Burma is one attraction that should not be missed during your Burma vacation. For those in the know it is one of Myanmar's best kept secrets. You can enjoy the culinary delights of Burma and learn more about culture and the way of life in this fascinating country. Here are just a few of the many highlights.
During your Burma tour, you may be surprised to learn that in Burma most households sit on the floor around a low table to eat. If you go to a restaurant you will find that tables and chairs are used. When a traditional meal in Burma is served, all the dishes are placed on the table in one go. Typically there is a small bowl of curry for an individual and then all the side dishes are shared with everyone else at the table. This is very different to several other Asian countries such as China where all dishes are shared. Don't be alarmed if the family and small children are not seated with you in a private home. In Burma they often sit apart from the guests.
In Burma food is commonly eaten with the fingers, although several restaurants use cutlery. Keep in mind during your trip to Burma that food is mainly eaten with the right hand and also the left as this is not as taboo as in other Asian countries. You'll often find food served on banana leaves as the ultimate example of recycling. While there are many sit down restaurants throughout Burma you may also encounter the all you can eat variety. These are also known as “Chetty Restaurants,” and are excellent value as well as popular with the locals. In Myanmar it is considered very bad form to waste food because there are many people who live below the poverty line so only take what you know you will eat during your Burma vacation.
Types of Food
Burma has some distinctive foods that typify the cuisine and are likely to be found when eating a traditional meal. You are likely to see some of these on your inexpensive Burma tours, and tasting is all part of the experience. One of the most common is Mohinga, which is a thin rice noodle soup in a fish broth. You'll see it served at breakfast as well as a snack and at lunch. In Shan State and around Lake Inle you will find k'auq sen which are rice noodles with curry. Fresh fish is common here too, as is salad grown on the floating gardens at Lake Inle. Noodles with chilli marinated meat are very common in Shan state as well as parts of Mandalay and you'll find this on most menus on tours of Burma.
If part of your Burma vacation involves travelling in Rakhaing State the food is similar to the cuisine found in Bangladesh. The food is spicier with beans and pulses. In Mon state the food is also spicier than Central Burma and where you might find choices of four curries in Yangon, the Mon restaurants have at least twelve to choose from.
Food is one of the highlights of any tour to Burma and you'll enjoy tasting all the new and distinctive flavors the country has to offer.
If you're taking a tour of Thailand it's always a good idea to bring the right financial tools for the perfect Thailand vacation. We've put together a quick guide to money on your Thailand trip, it's best to read it before you travel to Thailand so you're prepared with what you need to know.
Cash in Thailand
Thailand's a better developed nation than most of the other countries in Indochina and that means that the Thai Baht's value fluctuates on the open market (all other currencies in the region are pegged to the US dollar within strict limits). When you change your money for your trip can make a big difference to how much you can spend during your Thailand tour.
The good news is that for the recent few months the Thai Baht has been losing ground against the US dollar. If you'd have taken a vacation in Thailand last year – you'd have got 30 Baht or less to the dollar. At the time of writing there are 32.5 Baht to the dollar and it's possible the Baht may even get a little weaker. That's a great reason to book a Thailand tour today – it means you can buy nearly 10% more for each dollar you change than you could a year ago!
The Baht is divided into 100 Satang; there are a variety of Baht and Satang coins so make sure you know which is which when you're paying for souvenirs. The Baht also comes in note denominations of 20,50, 100, 500 and 1,000 which isn't a very big bill (it's equivalent to $15) and it quickly bulks out an ordinary wallet. We've found that buying a cheap second wallet or purse before you travel to Thailand can make managing the currency a bit easier.
ATMs in Thailand
Apart from extremely remote and rural locations you will find ATMs in every Thai tourist spot and city. Pay careful attention to the fee charged by an ATM as they can be daylight robbery. We'd also urge you to be cautious about which ATMs to use – try and choose one which is secure from the road (snatch and grab theft at ATMs particularly in tourist districts is not uncommon) and check the card slot carefully for sings of tampering (card cloning is big business in Thailand).
You also want to check how much the maximum withdrawal limit is at an ATM as some force very small withdrawals in order to crank up the fees you pay.
Credit/Debit Cards in Thailand
Thailand is the one place during travel in Indochina that you can expect major stores, hotels and even restaurants to accept cards. You are not likely to be able to pay with a card in a small store, market, café or bar.
Traveler's checks do keep your vacation money more secure than cash. You should be able to change them at money changers, banks and even in hotels in Thailand and the fees are usually pretty reasonable.