Monthly Archives: November 2016

The greatest places to spend Christmas

We asked our social media followers to tell us their favourite destinations for a Christmas holiday – here are the results.

 

1. England

There are some truly atmospheric corners of England to visit at this time of year and plenty of things to do, from country escapes in The New Forest to Christmas markets in Manchester.

 

2. New Zealand

On Twitter, @Kellie_Rooke chose New Zealand as her preferred Christmas destination. She recommends the country for “a BBQ near the beach, sun shining and Sauvignon Blanc in hand”. We think that sounds pretty perfect.

 

3. Barbados

On Twitter, @vickeblueyes was one of those voting for a sunny part of the world for this festive season. She recommends you kick back and relax on the beach with a glass of Mount Gay rum, getting that much-needed Vitamin D from the glorious sunshine.

 

4. Germany

For an ultra-Christmassy break, @marykingtweets recommends Berchtesgaden in Bavaria, Germany. Here you’ll find fantastic mountain scenery and a brilliant Christmas market.

Never heard of but need to visit to this place

Meknes is made up of the old (medina) and the new (ville nouvelle); two distinct centres less than three miles apart but harnessing quite different vibes. The medina holds the city’s historic sights and sought-after romantic flavour, while in the ville nouvelle you’ll find big houses, modern cars and branded takeaways.

 

What are the highlights of the medina?

You’ll find everything from specialist souks selling crafts and swathes of textiles, to knock-off trainers, souvenirs and carpets in the medina. At its heart is the twelfth-century Grand Mosque (although this is closed to non-Muslims), while teahouses in secret courtyards, ornate riads, and the odd hard-working donkey add to the atmosphere.

Look up to see sections of roofs that have recently been renovated with carved cedar wood panels, offering dappled shade along some of the covered alleyways.

If you’re in the mood for more shopping, head to the market sandwiched between the medina and old Mellah (the old Jewish quarter, worth a peek for its distinctive architecture). Juicy oranges, cart-loads of red chillies, dried grains and precariously stacked bowls of olives sit alongside everyday items such as kids’ toys, kitchen appliances and piles of underwear.

Sounds fascinating, where should I start?

Most people begin exploring the medina from the Place el-Hedim – think of a smaller-scale Jemaa el Fna in Marrakesh, and you’ve got the idea. Grab a mint tea and watch the world go by to the soundtrack of Moroccan pop music blaring from competing vendors, then head into the medina via the entrance next to the Dar Jamai Museum.

 

What are the other main attractions?

Bab el-Mansour is a big hit with visitors, and for good reason. Completed in 1732, the gate is impressive not only for its size but its original green and white zellij tiles, marble columns and inscriptions from the Quran along the top.

The Dar Jamai Museum is worth the few dirhams’ entry for the interiors alone. What was once a palace built in the late nineteenth-century now displays not only dazzling rooms and doorways but also traditional crafts, including ceramics, jewellery, costumes and brass work. The eclectic collection is dotted around the building; just don’t miss the incredible tile work (not that you could) or the decorated dome ceiling on the first floor.

How to make backpacking in Japan

With its tech-centric entertainment, ancient temples, lightning fast rail system and traditional art forms, Japan offers a fascinating mix of the new and the old. Between rural Hokkaido and the tropical islands of Okinawa, you’re bound to find something to embrace as a curious backpacker. And with the following insider tips, backpacking Japan can be both memorable and affordable.

1. Skip the train

Rail passes can be pricey and often completely unnecessary given the cheap deals offered by airlines, ferries, and buses. Low-cost carriers like Vanilla Air or Peach can whisk you to another major city for as little as ¥3000 one way.

Overnight ferries – such as the Sunflower, which runs from Osaka to Beppu – give travellers tatami mat sleeping space and the chance to party with locals on deck (just be sure to bring an eye-mask and earplugs if you actually want to sleep). Similarly, overnight buses crisscross the country at highly discounted rates.

2. Or buy discounted train tickets

If riding the shinkansen is a non-negotiable part of your Japan experience, opt for deals like the Puratto Kodama. This one-way ticket saves you ¥4000 off the regular bullet train fare between Tokyo and Osaka. Or take advantage of the seasonal Seishun 18; five days of unlimited local train travel.

3. Come prepared with socks

It’s customary to remove your shoes before entering most indoor spaces in Japan, including shrines, traditional restaurants, and ryokan. If you’re going to wander around in your socks (make sure they’re clean), they might as well be stylish. If you’ve not got anything suitable from home, head to a local Don Quijote store to up your sock game.

4. Shop at Daiso

Forget something? Need a makeshift costume for a random night out? A cheap souvenir? Visit one of the 3000 Daiso stores scattered throughout the country, where most items are ¥100 and you can buy anything from craft supplies to shampoo.

Planet image story that really so amazing

This year, British astronaut Tim Peake took up his six-month post in the International Space Station. During his time there, the world watched as he opened the London Marathon chained to a treadmill, was chased by a gorilla and tweeted pictures from beyond the Earth’s atmosphere.

There may be no more astonishing and grounding way to see the world; he described our planet as “a stunning oasis of life in the vastness of space.”

Now, his photos feature in Hello, Is This Planet Earth?, a gorgeous coffee-table book full of his best stories of time in space and reflections on Earth. Here are 21 of our favourites.

Tim Peake reading in space

One of the most popular trips in Bolivia, and some travellers’ sole reason for crossing the border, is a chance to hurtle down the infamous Death Road. This hair-raising adventure involves a 3500m descent along the old road from La Paz to Coroico in the Yungas.

Be careful when planning a trip, though – cyclists have been killed or seriously injured on this rough, narrow track chiselled out of near-vertical mountainsides, and you must choose a tour operator with great care.

Places to get fun

Southeast Asia is the quintessential backpacker destination – all noodle stands, grungy hostels and full moon parties, right? Not necessarily. There are still plenty of authentic Southeast Asian escapes. You just need to know where to find them. Start here.

 

1. Trek the path less followed in Umphang, Thailand

Want to trek Thailand in peace? Head to Umphang, a spectacular drive south of Mae Sot, and spend a few days walking around the Umphang Wildlife Sanctuary, spotting gibbons and giant lizards. The highlight is a dip in Tee Lor Su waterfall, a three-tiered thunderer that is at its best in November, just after the rainy season. There’s accommodation atUmphang Hill Resort, who can also take you trekking and rafting.

 

2. See dolphins in colonial Kratie, Cambodia

Tiny Kratie (pronounced kra-cheh) was largely unscathed by war and retains its appealing mix of French colonial and traditional Khmer buildings, strung along the Mekong river. It is also the best place to see not only some of Cambodia’s beautiful watery sunsets, but also the rare freshwater Irrawaddy dolphin. A pod lives upriver at Kampi and sightings are more or less guaranteed if you take a boat trip. Take a dip afterwards at the nearby Kampi rapids.

3. Have seafood and stunning views in Quy Nhon, Vietnam

Few tourists stop in Quy Nhon, where the main industry remains fishing and the long sandy beaches remain (largely) the preserve of the Vietnamese. During Cham rule this was an important commercial centre (and during the American War a US supply centre) and evidence of this remains in the imposing Banh It towers on a hilltop just north of town. Head up here by xe om (motorcycle taxi) for sweeping views over the unspoiled countryside before returning to town for a seafood supper.

 

4. See spell-binding Khmer ruins in Champasak, Laos

Champasak may be sleepy now but it was once the capital of a Lao kingdom that stretched as far as Thailand. Grand colonial-style palaces share the streets with traditional wooden houses – and even the odd buffalo. From the town’s central fountain it’s just a few miles to Wat Phou, the most bewitching Khmer ruin complex you’ll find outside Cambodia. Little restoration has taken place here, and the half-buried ruins that fill this lush river valley are an unbeatably romantic backdrop to a stroll.