It was not a case of serendipity when I checked out one of Laguna's pride - Aling Taleng's Halo-Halo. When my friend and talented photographer Mike Caballes pitched the Laguna topic to our 7107 magazine editor-in-chief, and upon learning our route, I instantly insisted of visiting one dining area - Aling Taleng's Halo Halo.

Why wouldn't I insist when this is one of the oldest halo-halo serving establishments in the country today (originally established in 1933 by Editha dela Fuente). As I saw Aling Taleng's Halo-Halo signage, I was jumping for joy and my heart was pounding fast - alas! I was about to taste what they are made of.

 

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Forget about a dozen or more sweetened ingredients, Aling Taleng's Halo-Halo offers only seven. Yes, seven ingredients but these will surely blow your mind away with every spoonful. These seven ingedients are ube halaya, kundol, monggo beans, white beans, macapuno, kaling-kaling (or kaong as alternate) and tubo ng niyog (sugarcane bits). Intrigued by the tubo ng niyog, when uncooked, this is a crunchy round produce - with a white to yellowish hue. What they do is wash this, take off its brown "crown" and marinate in apog or lime then sweetened for about an hour. The result is a transparent fruit akin to a rambutan or lychee in color and texture. Each tall glass of halo-halo is topped with this tubo ng niyog when in season. We were lucky that at the time of our visit last July 2010 that all their ingredients were available, if not, leche flan may take place of this interesting ingredient.

 

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All ingredients being home-made spells the difference in every tall glass served and I actually did not bother for additional sugar with this concoction. What's best is that it is only Php50. Pagsanjan's residents are lucky to have Aling Taleng's Halo-Halo with their every whim.

I hope you would check out their deliriously delicious offerings and savor their goodness in every bite. As I always say, Live Well, Laugh Often, Eat To Your Heart's Content!

For more deliriously delicious dining destinations, visit my food blog at Eat To Your Heart's Content.


If you want to check out more food and dining destinations, follow me at Instagram and Pinterest

Vietnam is slowly but surely emerging as the preferred Southeast Asian destination for backpackers all over the globe. And why not? With so much to offer in terms of exotic street food, long pristine beaches with clear waters, ethnic people and lifestyles, ancient cities and monuments with rich history, breathtaking trekking locations, gorgeous landscapes and a vibrant nightlife, it truly does have all the ingredients that go into making a perfect holiday destination!

Vietnam is increasingly finding favor among eager backpackers in South Asia as well. An increasing number of Indian backpackers head to Vietnam due to its proximity as well as for its budget-friendliness.

Saigon aka Ho Chi Minh City in southern Vietnam

So my Indian friend, if you too are contemplating a backpacking trip in the near future, better put Vietnam on the top of your list. Get your hands on your passport, apply for a Vietnam visa, book your flight tickets and say chao to Vietnam!

Mentioned ahead are some tips for the first-time Indian backpacker making his way through this Asian wonder:

1. Know Your Destination

Before you head to a new location, it is better to equip yourself with pertinent information about it. Did you know Vietnam is officially known as Socialist Republic of Vietnam? Hanoi is the capital city and Ho Chi Minh City is the largest city in this country. The official language here is Vietnamese, and the currency is Dong.

The climate in Vietnam is hot and dry for most part of the year. Heavy rainfall is experienced between May and October, so you might want to avoid travelling in these months.

2. Take Important Documents Along

It is advisable to take along several photocopies of all important documents like your passport, the visa papers, the driver’s license, and so on. These documents should be kept in another bag, away from the originals as a backup (just in case you misplace your original papers). To be extra safe, scan these documents and upload them electronically to the cloud (or in your email) so that you can access them whenever required.

3. Get Vaccinated

It is a good idea to refer to reliable websites/travel guides on health precautions that you need to take before leaving for Vietnam. Depending on the places you plan to visit, figure out what vaccinations you need to go for.

In many countries, a cholera vaccination certificate needs to be produced as a condition of entry. Keep the vaccination certificates along with your travel documents so that you can show them at the airport if necessary. Also, do take along other medical supplies, mosquito repellants and sunblock lotions.

4. Money and Currency

Try and carry along some local currency and spend that wherever possible. Do give travel money cards a thought as it is not advisable to carry a lot of cash. Watch out for the special “tourist rates” that the locals might try to charge you. To minimize your chances of getting ripped off, research the going rates of staples such as food and drinks, transport and accommodation.

Vietnamese Dong

5. Accommodation and Transport

The post-war Vietnam has rapidly evolved into a traveler’s heaven, thanks to the development of its tourism industry. You can expect to find all kinds of hotels in major cities. Whether it is a budget lodging facility or a luxurious 5-star hotel you’re looking for, finding one shouldn’t be a problem. Make sure you book your hotel in advance if you’re going to travel in the high season.

Use public transport wherever possible. Buses are available too, but they may not be as comfortable as you would want them to be. You could opt for VIP buses though. Travelers also have the option of riding on/renting scooters. Tuk-tuks are one of the most popular means of commuting as they’re easily available. Apart from these, you can also use trains and planes.

6. Places of Interest

Take your time to explore the beauty of Vietnam. Do visit Ho Chi Minh and Hanoi for their gleaming skyscrapers, the caves of the Halong Bay for their exquisite splendor, Hoi An for its architecture and food, Dalat for its tranquility, Mui Ne for its stunning natural landscape, Nha Trang for its panoramic coastline, and Ha Giang to experience a different world altogether. Get there and you’ll know what I’m talking about.

Halong Bay in Vietnam
See More: Halong Bay Photo Gallery

7. Travel Light

Make sure your backpack does not weigh more than what you can carry. Keep it light by taking along only what is necessary. Keeping the Vietnamese weather in mind, it is better to carry lightweight and washable cotton garments, as you can stay cool and comfortable in them. Although you might want to look stunning in your photographs, remember, you’re going backpacking and not on a fashion parade. This reminds me – don’t forget to pack your camera!

8. Try the Local Cuisine

One of the best ways of experiencing a new place is through its authentic and exotic culinary delights. Vietnamese cuisine is colorful, aromatic, delicious, with some flavors similar to those back home in India. So do give the local cuisine a try. You don’t have to be over-adventurous with food though. Stick to what you’re comfortable with. There are ample options available for vegetarians too.

9. Always Confirm the Rates

Always ask for the price before you buy something to wear, eat on the street side, or get into a tuk-tuk (or the local auto rickshaw). Confirming rates beforehand will deter locals from taking you for a ride and ripping you off. We’ve all heard stories about foreigners being charged substantially more than others for everything. In such cases, forewarned is forearmed.

Hear it from both sides: Why Most Tourists Never Return To Vietnam

10. Be Careful with Your Drinks

To be on the safer side, avoid unpackaged water and drink only bottled and filtered water. Do give the local beers a try. Another interesting (and daring) option to be sampled here is the Vietnamese snake wine.

Conclusion   Each city in Vietnam has different experiences to offer. Make sure you lap those up. Keep the above tips in mind for a fun and safe backpacking journey in one of the most wondrous countries in the world.

See More       Vietnam HoliDaze Travel Guides

  flickr   //   xiquinho   jmparrone

When you're looking for memorable experiences abroad, Cancun holidays are a dead cert to do the job for you, one of the finest trips you can make in all of Mexico and Central America. Providing alluring beaches punctuated by the inviting waters of the Gulf of Mexico, this paradise is indeed the ultimate travel destination for many. Still, there's much more to see in Mexico than the sights on this peninsula alone. One of the lesser-known facts is that in a very real sense, even though you've come to see Cancun, you're also at a "gateway" to the numerous other vacation spots throughout this captivating country.

Close and Convenient

If you plan to depart from Cancun to visit nearby locations, you're in luck. For instance, driving north along the coastline will lead you to the Parque Natural Ría Lagartos (Ría Lagartos Natural Park) and if you drive a bit further, you can expect to find some of the most secluded beaches known to man. Inland cities such as Valladolid and Merida are not far off; each offering unique glimpses into the country's colorful past. If you're truly intrepid, there are a number of Mayan ruins to be found as well. The best way to encounter these is to ask a local tour guide or to research online before you depart.

The Open Road...

Of course, you may choose to enjoy a whirlwind tour of inland Mexico. From Cancun, you can reach all of the ports and cities throughout the entire country. If you're keen on a bit of spice, why not visit the town of Tabasco, made famous by the sauce of the same name? From here, you can continue on to the port city of Veracruz-Llave before eventually arriving at Mexico City itself.

The Power of Flight

If you're wary about driving such long distances, the best way to reach every destination that Mexico has to offer is by booking a flight from Cancun International Airport. This hub serves all of the major urban centers in Mexico and chartered flights can take you to the more remote tourist destinations if you wish to truly absorb this amazing country.

In essence, your Cancun holidays can be even more enjoyable if you choose to broaden your horizons and explore more of Mexico. With agreeable exchange rates and a tourist-friendly attitude in most parts, what may have merely been a beach getaway can quickly become the vacation of a lifetime.

Do you love a swig of beer or a glass of wine? No, I'm not going to tell you to stop! In fact I'm most likely the one urging you to have another glass. Just don't drink the same thing on vacation that you would be at home -- try something new! Never heard of it? Sound strange? Just go for it!

Oh the stories I could tell of all the crazy local brews I've drank with locals around the world... ;)

Here are five drinks that you should definitely try:

Arak

Arak is the traditional beverage in Iran, Iraq, Lebanon, Palestine, Jordan, Israel and Turkey. The word ‘arak' means sweat in Arabic. Don't turn away from this alcoholic drink assuming it to be someone's sweat though. The drink is anise-flavored and diluted with water for consumption. The liquor is clear but upon dilution with water, it becomes milky. This is because anethole, the essential oil in anise, is insoluble in water. Adding ice causes the arak to form an unpleasant layer on the surface. If you order a bottle of arak, the waiter will usually serve it with several glasses as one does not drink arak in the same glass again due to the emulsification of the liquid. Arak is served with appetizers.

Ouzo

If you visit Greece, you must certainly try out their coffees and frappés. But don't forget to try out ouzo, the essentially Greek drink, along with a platter of olives, fries, fish and cheese. You will find it tastes of liquorice and is smoother than absinthe. Ouzo is generally flavored with anise or mint or coriander. Like arak, ouzo too becomes milky when mixed with water. For the same reason, adding ice to the drink is avoided. The Greeks use ouzo in many recipes and consider it to have healing properties due to the presence of anise.

Sake

Sake, a wine made of rice, is a traditional Japanese alcoholic beverage. The rice used to make sake differs from the normal rice that the Japanese eat. Sake comes in several varieties which are served at a range of temperatures. Though sake goes best with Japanese cuisine, you can enjoy the beverage with Chinese food too. Food that is flavored with herbs will also work well.

Cachaça

This is Brazil's national beverage. According to a survey, the country produces over a billion litres of cachaça annually but only 1% of it is exported. Fresh sugarcane juice is fermented and then distilled to make cachaça. Some types of rums are also made in the same way which is why cachaça is also referred to as Brazilian rum. The liquor may be consumed either aged or un-aged. Un-aged cachaça will come cheaper but do look for the dark and premium variety that is aged in wooden barrels. Caipirinha is a popular cocktail that includes cachaça as the main ingredient.

Mezcal

This Mexican distilled alcoholic beverage is much like tequila's cousin as they are both made from (different types of) agave plants. Mezcal is made from the maguey plant while tequila is made from the blue agave plant. Most of the mezcal produced by Mexico is made in a region called Oaxaca. A popular saying that you might get to hear is Para todo mal, mezcal, y para todo bien también, translated as, For everything bad, mezcal and for everything good, the same.

The drink might not seem inviting if you see larva in a bottle of mezcal, but many alcohol makers have embraced this age-old technique now. You can find mezcal without the larva too. You can relish it with sliced oranges dusted with ground chili, fried larvae and salt.

  Don't forget to purchase a bottle or two as a souvenir if you really fall in love with the taste of any of these drinks. That way you will have a tale to tell your friends over a round of drinks too.

Cheers to new adventures!

I have never understood how anyone can like January. The sad, sinking feeling caused by limp, leftover tinsel hanging in shops, braving the dreary weather without any promise of a mulled wine stop, realising that everyone you know has vowed to lose weight, save money or quit drinking- it is a real slog of a 31 day month.  For me, the January Blues are hitting particularly hard this year (can you tell?) Having spent Christmas on holiday in India, flying back to reality on New Years Day has left me longing for backpacking adventures again. So, before I get a grip, look forward and make plans for 2014, here are my top 10 beautiful places in Asia, home to my happiest past travel memories.

10.   Tiger Leaping Gorge, China

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By far and away the best thing I did whilst traveling around China, The Tiger Leaping Gorge hike in northern Yunnan is, in my opinion, still massively underrated. The Hutiao Xia gorge, at 16km long and 3900m from the Jinsha River to the snow capped Haba Shan, is simply breathtaking.  During summer the hills are absolutely teeming with plant and flower life and an even pace allows you to unwind in the picturesque villages along the way. The trail stretches between sleepy Qiaotou and even sleepier Walnut Garden and runs high along the northern side of the impressive gorge, passing through some of the most diverse and beautiful landscapes in the country.

Jane’s Guesthouse in Qiaotou is the perfect place to prepare or recover from the trek. The food is homemade and hearty, the coffee is strong and the rooms are cosy with clear views of the snow-capped peaks. At the other end, Sean’s Spring Guesthouse is worth every footstep of the extra walk into Walnut Garden. Keep following the painted yellow arrows- you will not regret it! We finished our trek with warm Tibetan bread, celebratory beers and an open fire in Sean’s homey lounge.

The hike can be completed in a day or two, but it is equally tempting to linger and enjoy countryside life for longer. After all, how often do you get to watch the sun set over Jade Dragon Snow Mountain while supping Chinese tea and resting your tired feet?

9.    Gili Islands, Indonesia

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There is a lot to be said for an island with no motorized traffic. Being able to stroll around the parameters, barefoot and still sandy from the beach, having left your friends snoozing on one of the shoreline sofa beds, is reason enough to make the trip across the water from Padang bai. Though they are certainly not undiscovered, the three irresistible Gili islands offer a quiet and serenity that the rest of Bali simply does not.

Made up of beachfront bungalows, white sands and warm waters, Gili Trawangan is the isle with the most going on. Like many of the Indonesian hotspots, it ticks all the boxes for a desert island cliché and also boasts an exciting nightlife for those living-the-dream on the South east Asia trail. Designated party venues mean you can choose between a night at one of the low-key raves or whiling away the hours at a beachfront restaurant. Highlights for me were the Nutella milkshakes, having our very own DVD night in a private beach hut, dancing under the stars at Rudy’s Bar and night swimming with phosphorescence- luminous plankton.

You can reach the tiny tropical islands by fast boat from Bali and mainland Lombok or (painfully) slow ferry from Padang bai and Senggigi.  Prepare to wade ashore.

 8.     Malapascua Island, The Philippines

Malapascua Island

 

This little island off the northern tip of Cebu is sun-bleached and fabulous. Simple villages, bustling basketball courts and local fiestas play a huge part in making this tiny speck of The Philippines a traveler’s paradise. Though it is slowly becoming more and more popular, Malapascua remains off the beaten track and humble in its approach to tourism. Home to welcoming locals and some dive school expatriates, the island community is peaceful and charming with a real sense of having left the western world behind.

The diving here is also world class. With three wreck dives, a sea-snake breeding centre and daily thresher shark sightings, Malapascua is one of the best places in The Philippines for big fish encounters. Night diving is popular, with mandarin fish, seahorses, bobtail squid and blue ring octopus making regular appearances. And if marine life isn’t your thing, the delicious local food, mesmerizing sunsets and picture-perfect Bounty beach make for a blissful dry land experience.

Sunsplash Restaurant operates a beach bar during high season and is the perfect place to wait for the sunset. For the very best views and an extra slice of quietude, stay at Logon or Tepanee.

7.     Mui Ne, Vietnam

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For someone with a notoriously terrible sense of direction, the surf capital of southern Vietnam offers a welcome sense of order. With everything spread out along one 10km stretch of highway, it is impossible to get lost and easy to find friends. In fact, with guesthouses lined up on one side of the road and restaurants and shops flanking the other it couldn’t be any easier to negotiate your way around the coastal town.

Once an isolated stretch of sand, Mui Ne is now famous for its unrivalled surfing opportunities and laid back vibes. For windsurfers, the gales blow best from late October to April while surf’s up from August to December. Luckily for me, lounging around on the beach is possible all year through. For the very best Kodak moments, the red and white sand dunes provide endless hours of sledding fun and jump-as-high-as-you-can competitions with the local children. A beautiful walk along the Fairy Spring will also take you past some stunning rock formations. While it feels as though you should be wading upstream barefoot, be sure to take shoes if you are going during the midday sun.

When night falls, resident DJs, beach bonfires and live bands draw the surfer crowds to DJ StationWax and Joe’s 24 hour Café, where happy hour can and usually does last til sunrise.

6.    Unawatuna, Sri Lanka

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Unawatuna Beach in Sri Lanka is what I hope heaven looks like. Deliciously lazy, exceedingly tropical and just so very, very beautiful, this sandy gem is the kind of place everyone dreams about. Life moves slowly here. Sleeping under a swaying coconut palm is about the only thing on the itinerary for most.

Following the devastating effects of the tsunami in 2004, locals of Unawatuna set about re-building their businesses right on the sand. While this does mean that the beach is much smaller than it used to be, honey-mooners and hippies alike flock to this boomerang shaped bend to soak up the Sri Lankan sunshine. And it really doesn’t get much better than this. The sea is gentle, turquoise and perfect for swimming and banana lassis are brought to your very sunbed. Colourful tropical fish swim in the live patch of coral in front of Submarine Diving School and you can rent snorkel masks from any of the places on the beach. I discovered a whole new meaning of lazy in Unawatuna but, if you want to leave utter beach paradise, it is a great base from which to explore the surrounding areas.

(This one does come with a warning. A cockroach warning. It is not enough to get Unawatuna booted off the list, but please note that multiple hard-shelled creepies do feature in my memories of this otherwise utterly perfect corner of the resplendent isle. Having said that, I did choose to stay somewhat off the beaten track at Mr.Rickshaw’s brother’s cousin’s place. It is very likely that the crayon-box cute guesthouses on the beach are roach free.)

5.    Yangshuo, China

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For the perfect blend of bustling Chinese culture, enchanted landscapes and sleepy relaxation, look no further than this sedate and peaceful ancient city. Worlds apart from the mayhem of congested Guilin, Yangshuo lies in the mist of karst limestone peaks and the gentle Li-river. Cycling through the villages will take you past duckmen, fishermen, water buffalo and clementine farms, as well as over silky brooks, ancient caves and sights like Moon Hill and the Big Banyan Tree. And when you’re done with the countryside, get lost amongst the painted fans and embroidered costumes of Yangshuo Town and its cheery market place.

I stayed at beautiful Dutch guesthouse, The Giggling Tree in Aishanmen Village. Bamboo rafting was on our doorstep and they arranged transport to the Lakeside lightshow, ‘Impression Sanjie Liu’. Cycling into town for street side specialties, souvenir shopping and live folk music was easy enough, although the starlit ride back after a few Tsing Tao’s was a little shaky!

4.     Luang Prabang, Laos

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You can’t help but smile when you are in Laos. The people here are possibly the most laid back people on earth. Even after two long, long days of doing nothing on the slow ferry, arriving into the languid mountain kingdom of Luang Prabang makes you want to s-l-o-w d-o-w-n. Tourists meander down the French colonial streets to the flow of the Mekong River and saffron robed monks seem to almost glide up and down the shaded sideways on their way to prayer.

Voted one of the best places in the world for ‘slow travel’ by Lonely Planet, this hushed and heady city offers everything from red roofed temples to quaint provincial coffee houses, the moonstone blue Kuang Sii waterfalls and exquisite night markets. You can watch the sun setting over the river, hear the monks chanting their oms in the distance and enjoy delicious local dishes with a cold Beer Lao. With a curfew bidding this heritage listed town goodnight at 11.30pm, catching up on your sleep has never been so enjoyable, especially if you are recovering from tubing in Vang Vieng. (For a much less sleepy evening, ask a tuk-tuk driver to take you to the local bowling alley. Trust me on this one.)

3.    Mira Beach, Perhentian Pulau Kecil, Malaysia

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When I discovered that Beach Tomato had included Mira Beach as one of its ‘world’s most beautiful beaches’ I physically stood up and clapped. I almost don’t want to say it aloud for fear of contributing to this unspoilt patch of paradise becoming, well, spoiled, but I couldn’t agree more. Set back on the western side of tiny Kecil island, Mira Beach is its very own secluded cove. Surrounded by forest-green jungle, lapped by bathtub warm sea and drenched in Malaysian sunshine, the white bay can be reached by taxi-boat or Tarzan inspired trek only. Steer clear if you’re looking for plush resort or summer luxury though, the stilted chalets are as basic as they come. Managed by a local Malay family, the collection of rustic huts are kept clean and framed by frangipanis for ultimate postcard perfection. We left by water-taxi, tanned and having swum with turtles. Heaven.

2.      Pokhara Valley, Nepal

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Whether you are in Nepal for trekking the Himalayas, volunteering with an NGO or spotting the rhinos and elephants, a visit is not complete without catching a glimpse of (or a good long gaze at) Lake Phewa in Pokhara. Popular for being the gateway to the AnnaPurna trekking circuit, the valley has been blessed with panoramic views of this breathtaking region. Waking up to crystal clear views of snowy Mt. Fishtail, boating on Phewa’s placid waters and hiking to the sunkissed World Peace Pagoda could not have made me any happier. Throw in the cups of masala chai at Asian Teahouse, the surrounding Tibetan villages and the unimaginable hospitality of the local people and I was about ready to miss my return flight home.

Guesthouses are homely, food is hearty and the scenery really is spectacular. Pokhara is so much more than just a place to rest your feet after a hike. A month here saw us paragliding from Sarangkot, exploring the Old Bazaar, playing guitar in an underground Blues bar and falling in love with the children of the Himalayan Children’s Care Home. Don’t miss out on the Nepali specials at Asian TeaHouse and Pandey Restaurant. For me, the smaller the café, the better the food. Venture away from those Lakeside favourites!

((Drum Roll please...))

1.     Varkala, India

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If Varkala were a fairytale, it would be the one that made you believe in love, trust in the happy ending and doodle hearts and flowers in your notebook.

Nestled in the evergreen state of beautiful Kerala, this seaside town offers sunlit red ochre cliffs, coconut palm fringed beaches and peacock blue waves. The liquid lulls of local Malayalam, coconut spiced South Indian curries and breathtaking views of the ocean make it the perfect haven from the hustle and bustle of India’s cities. After ten days here, I wondered how I’d ever been happy anywhere else in the world.

From the singing mango-seller on the sand ‘yum, yum, yum, yum, eating eating’, to the cheeky waiters at the cafes, the locals on the cliff have got it exactly right. You could while away days, weeks and months watching the lives and loves of fishermen, frisbee-playing locals, moonlit yoga classes, Hindu temple men and strolling backpackers. Guesthouses are secret gardens and bamboo huts, restaurants are candle lit and family run and the Tibetan market wafts incense until after dark. Yet, far from being just a serene stopover, Varkala boats a ‘Shanti Shanti’ soul and cheeky community spirit that binds even the quietest visitor under its spell. By night, lanterns twinkle, candles flicker and stars burn bright over the backpacker favourites. I never knew beer could taste as good as it does here; poured from a discrete tea-pot, served with a glinting smile and supped to the blissful sounds of ocean, music and laughter.

If you tire of strolling, swimming, sunbathing or smoothie-drinking easily, the charming Varkala Town is just a 5 minute scooter ride or leisurely walk away. Surfing lessons, yoga classes and cooking workshops are all available atop the rosy cliff too. For dolphin watching, walk past the quieter Black Beach to the hamlet of Edava and watch from the cliff curve.

My heartfelt recommendations for Varkala are breakfast at The Juice Shack, hammock swinging at Secret Garden Homestay and Restaurant and cold Kingfishers at Backside Café. If you’re lucky enough to be there when the Alleppy Boys are playing, get down to Chill Out Lounge for a jamming session with the gorgeous and very talented local band.

There are daily trains and buses to Trivandrum, and a backwater boat to Alleppy leaves from neighboring Kollam.

Hammocks at Secret Garden Homestayhammocks at Secret Garden Homestay
Varkala CliffVarkala Cliff
Indiasea view from Juice Shack balcony
New Year's Eve at Secret GardenNew Year's Eve at Secret Garden

Happy Traveling in 2014!

Kuala Lumpur, or fondly known as KL, is a big city with an area of 94 square miles and a population of 1.3 million. Being a big city, sometimes we wonder, what can we do in this city? Where to go or what to do? Here are my 7 suggestions based on my personal experience. 7 things that we can do while in Kuala Lumpur:

Batu Caves

The Batu Caves in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia

Not exactly in Kuala Lumpur, but this place is located near to the border of Kuala Lumpur and the state of Selangor. Batu Caves is a limestone hill that has a series of cave and cave temples. The main attraction here, apart from the highest Lord Murugan statue in the world, is the fact that one has to climb 272 concrete steps in order to reach the Temple Cave. It has another cave for exploration, called the Dark Cave tour, which is open for the public to explore, with a fee of course. To read more on Batu Caves, go here. To go to Batu Caves, take the Komuter Line train to the Batu Caves station.

Try Banana Leaf Rice

Banana leaf rice in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia

Yes, it is Indian food. But don’t you know that Malaysia is Truly Asia. Yeah, go to the Petaling Street (Chinatown) area this time of the year and with the upcoming Visit Malaysia Year 2014, the Malaysia Truly Asia song will go into your mind like a North Korea propaganda song. Haha. So, if you have never had the chance to go to India, try the banana leaf rice in Kuala Lumpur. They are delicious, exotic for those who are going to eat with the hand (right hand only, please) for the first time and satisfying. There are plenty of banana leaf restaurants around, just go on a food hunt!

Petronas Towers

The Petronas Towers in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia

No visit to Malaysia is not complete if a trip to the tallest twin building in the world is not included in the itinerary, they say. I agree. If we were to visit a particular place, of course we are going to take photos with the famous landmark of the place, no? Well, a visit to the skybridge comes with a fee, so if you want to enjoy the place for free, just go to the 2 exits in the middle of the shopping mall for different views of the towers. One exit through the Malaysian Philharmonic Orchestra and another through the KLCC Park. Definitely a sight to remember. To get to the Twin Towers, just take the Kelana Jaya Line LRT, exit at KLCC Station.

Sultan Abdul Samad Building

The Sultan Abdul Samad Building in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia

For a dose of colonial period building, the Sultan Abdul Samad Building can fix that. Built in 1897, this is one of the oldest buildings in Kuala Lumpur. Previously used as the British government administrative office, this building had also been used as court houses as well as the Culture and Heritage Ministry office. This building had also seen a lot of historical events, such as the independence day and the infamous trial of Anwar Ibrahim. The design is unique to the period it was built and is evidenced by the similar concept buildings around its vicinity. To go here, take the Kelana Jaya Line or Ampang Line LRT and disembark at the Masjid Jamek station.

Eat At The Roadside Stalls

The delicious roadside food stalls of Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia
Soutarou, my CS surfer from Kyoto, eating satay at one of the many roadside stalls

Nothing beats roadside stalls. Seriously. Whenever I am travelling out of Malaysia, I tried to eat at roadside stalls, if possible, which are always the best -- minus the hygiene. Lol. The same goes to Kuala Lumpur. There are plenty of such stalls at Chinatown area. The one near the Petaling Street offers good kuew teow goreng (fried noodles or fried flat noodles) and tons of other fried foods. Also satay and Chinese steamboat. Near Dataran Merdeka besides the river is D’Tebing, a roadside food stall. Just find one. Amazing experience.

Go For An LRT Ride Around Town

The LRT in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia
Inside the Kelana Jaya Line LRT

I intended to ride on Singapore'’s MRT from one end to the other to see the city during one of my visits there. Nevertheless, considering the fact that almost the whole journey were underground, I cancelled the plan and did something else instead. But here in Kuala Lumpur, most journeys are elevated, so you could see the city from a higher point, including all the suburban places. So, why don't you buy a ticket to the next station, but ride it until the last station, and then at the last station, get back into the train and go back to the station where you bought the ticket to. Sounds like a plan? ;)

I said 7 did I? Well, maybe you can suggest what is the 7th thing that can be done in KL?

Share your comments and suggestions below!

Only one thing beats a holiday: a holiday of a lifetime!

You know the one. It's the holiday you can never forget, because everything fell into place and you created the type of memories that have continued to live with you long after you returned home. Some may think it is entirely possible to have more than one holiday of a lifetime - as these are the types of holidays that are rarely repeated. It could be because you holidayed with your best friends and had a truly great time. Or you went to a location you'll never have the chance to visit again.

Or perhaps it qualifies for 'holiday of a lifetime' because you did something so outlandish it can never be topped. Swimming wild with whale sharks in Australia, bungee-jumping off a bridge in New Zealand, flying over the Rocky Mountains by helicopter, swimming on horseback in the Mediterranean... the list is endless.

Often, these experiences aren't meant to form part of the holiday of a lifetime - sometimes it just happens that way. But if you're really looking to create lasting memories, a luxury holiday must surely be high on your list of priorities. Luxury holidays come in many different forms, from stunning beach breaks in the Seychelles to riding the Orient Express across Europe.

More often than not, luxury holidays represent some of the most amazing and unforgettable experiences you'll ever have. Luxury travel with Elegant Resorts, for instance, easily ticks the 'experience' box - along with a few others too, like 'unforgettable'. From boating holidays to cruises, sumptuous spa and beach breaks to golf holidays - even adventure expeditions and private island retreats - this is one sure-fire way to create the type of experience that qualifies for a once-in-a-lifetime holiday.

The only problem you'll have is deciding which one.

Indonesia is a vast and diverse archipelago that continues to impress and surprise longtime expats and even locals. To think that because you've seen Jakarta and done Bali then you "know" Indonesia is to be sorely mistaken. As one expat told me: "Just when you think you're starting to understand Indonesia, that's when you realize you don't understand it at all."

From amazing cultures and regional customs to a seemingly neverending variety of local cuisines, Indonesia is home to more diversity in some of it's larger islands than other nations have in their entirety. Especially when it comes to langauges and dialects, of which the country has over 700 -- and don't think that Indonesian (Bahasa Indonesia) is even remotely similar to Javanese (Bahasa Jawa) or Balinese (Bahasa Bali) because its not. After all the slogan of the country is Bhinneka Tunggal Ika, which is Javanese for "Unity In Diversity."

Mount Rinjani, Lombok
Mount Rinjani, Lombok

What To Know Before Traveling Indonesia

Indonesia is home to some of the friendliest and most hospitable people I have even met. During six months motorcycling around the country and making local friends, even doing a tourism film on Sumatra, I had nothing but good experiences with the best of people. All except for while I was in Bali -- but I'll get to that in a second. For now the most important things to know are:

The Street Food Is Better Than Restaurant Food

Both in terms of taste and authenticity, street food kicks all other food's ass. Oh yeah and of course price. Depending where you are in the country you can get a decent meal for around 11,000IDR ($1USD), a little more if you want to splurge and really fill up. Don't worry about getting sick, just go with the street vendor or warung has the most local customers. After all they must be doing something right!

Street food in Yogyakarta, Indonesia
Street food in Yogyakarta, Indonesia

Bakso on the street in Suarabya, Indonesia
Bakso on the street with friends in Suarabya, Indonesia

Expect a lot of variety in dishes and sweetness/spiciness depending upon where in the country you travel. However no matter where you visit there will be lots of fried dishes, such as nasi goreng, mie goreng and ayam goreng (rice, noodles, and chicken respectively -- and of course as you probably guessed goreng is Indonesian for fried). Beyond that the variety begins. For every city you visit make sure to ask the locals what their speciality is.

Learn more before your trip: First Impressions: Indonesia and Basic Indonesian Food Cheat Sheet.

For Every Good Tourist Site There Is An Even Better "Hidden" One

Indonesia has no shortage of spectular views, virgin beaches, challenging mountains, and off the beaten path exploring. When I first arrived there I thought one or two months would be enough. Six months later and I still didn't want to leave. Yet during my travels I had met so many other backpackers, all of which were visiting Yogyakarta, Mount Bromo, and Bali. "Oh plus Gili T and Komodo if we have time" I heard more often than I can count. Hardly any stopped by Sumatra. And none had even thought about Kalimantan or Sulawesi, let alone Papua.

Pantai Sundak, Gunungkidal, Indonesia
Pantai Sundak, Gunungkidal, Indonesia. My ten local friends and I had it all to ourselves!

Trust the locals. Ask them where to visit, what to eat, how to have fun. The friends I've made along my journeys through Indonesia have shown me a world of things not covered in any tourist guide book, from traditional pastimes and 5am fishing trips to lesser-known things like panjat pinang and stick-fighting. And of course more virgin beaches than I can keep track of!

  My friend Trinity is author of the famous Indonesian book series The Naked Traveler. Last week her newest book went on sale, Across The Indonesian Archipelago. If you are looking for ideas on where to travel in Indonesia then this is both a great resource and an enjoyable read. (And yes, it is in English.)

Local Transportation Is Easier Than You Might Expect

Especially on the main island of Java, which has a reliable train network and plenty of regular routes. Outside of Java you will have to rely on buses and ferries, the latter of which can have a bit more of an irregular schedule depending on how remote your intended destination may be. However in places like Sulawesi short flights might be a better, albeit more expensive, option.

Street food in Yogyakarta, Indonesia
Taken while traveling by train across Java

Renting a motorcycle is also another option. Of course I would only recommend this option for experienced riders, preferably ones already used to driving in the chaotic streets of southeast Asia. For 50,000IDR/day ($5USD) or 650,000-1,000,000IDR/month ($60-90USD) a scooter or motorcycle can be rented, allowing you to go where you want when you want. This has fantastic way to visit small villages and other off the beaten path destinations. It is the only way I ever made it to places like Banyusumurup, the traditional village that makes all of the kris, small Indonesian daggers with mystical powers. Plus despite horror stories of bus thieves and midnight muggings in Sumatra I have yet to encounter any difficulties along the road.

  For more read my newest blog post: How To Travel Indonesia By Motorcycle

Don't Rush Off To Bali -- Explore Elsewhere First

If you only have one month or less in the country then I would say skip Bali entirely. It is an over-priced, Westernized version of Indonesia where the bulk of the individuals working in the tourism industry are not even Balinese but rather Sudanese or Javanese and have come solely to take your foreign money. As a caucasin here you essentially have dollar signs tattooed across your pale forehead. Plus as with any place that attracts massive notoriety as a tourist hotspot so too come the touts, beggars, scam artists, foreign food (so you can "feel at home") and of course the inflated prices. At the risk of upsetting some of my Balinese friends I'll say it: if you get pickpocketed or robbed anywhere in the country, it most likely will happen here. It is a predators' paradise because the prey keep flying in 365 days a year.

Don't get me wrong, Bali is not all bad -- just the southern part is. Kuta, Denpasar, Sanur, Uluwatu, etc. In fact Googling "kuta is hell on earth" or some near varient will produce several interesting articles by other bloggers on why Bali is only for couples or families looking for all-inclusive four- and five-star resorts and not for backpackers. The eastern and northern parts, most specifically Padangbai and Ubud, weren't nearly as bad as the Kuta area but neither were they that good.

Talon of 1Dad1Kid.com and I crossed paths in real life one day in Sanur. Turns out he and I had the same feelings about this island. If you are unsure about visiting Bali then his post will help you decide if the island is right for you.

I basically can’t encourage people to come to the island. Indonesia has some truly amazing areas, and I think a person’s time and money are better spent exploring other parts of the country.

Not A Good Destination For Former Cigarette Smokers

Cigarette ads are everywhere in Indonesia

Indonesia ranks third in the world for total number of cigarette smokers according to the WHO. Almost all of the men smoke, far too many kids, and yes, even the orangutans. The tobacco industry is big business here and as the Western world keeps placing more restrictions on cigarette advertising and marketing the tobacco giants keep pumping more money into southeast Asia. Despite 'No Smoking' signs in places like malls you can often find someone less than a meter away, using the floor as an ashtray.

To make matters worse cigarettes are around 10-14,000IDR ($1-1.25USD) and sold at every family-owned market, corner store and restaurant. Although I quit smoking after moving out of Tokyo in 2009 I have found myself occasionally smoking a kretek cigarette when drinking. Although this is entirely social, if you tried hard to quit cigarettes and do not want to see and smell the temptation everywhere you go, you might best avoid Indonesia. Even as I type this I am sitting in a smoke-filled office in Jakarta.

  House Of Sampoerna, Cigarette Factory And Museum

All in all Indonesia is one country that does not disappoint. There is a reason why so many travelers over the years have come here and then never left. Between the warm, inviting culture, vastness of the country and extensive list of places worthy of exporing, beautiful scenery and delicious food, Indonesia truly has something for everyone. You just have to know what you are looking for.

  Have any Indonesia travel questions? Ask away!

  The Ultimate Unique & Off The Beaten Path Indonesia Travel Guide     Indonesia Archives

IT’S stupid-o-clock. It’s some time between 2am and 2.30am and I can’t sleep.

I probably would have been able to sleep had I not incorrectly set the air conditioning/thermostat thing to ‘ludicrous’ heat before settling into bed.

My dreams began peaceful and placid and slowly progressed to being infinitely weird and hell-like.

You know those dreams where you’re parched and desperately trying to find something to drink? You got it, times infinity.

Air conditioning is admittedly something I’ve never been able to get my head around.

I mean, hailing from England how or why the hell would I know how to operate an air conditioning unit?

All I’ve ever done is light gas fires to combat the freezing winters.

Air conditioning? Pfah.

Where I come from ‘air conditioning’ is opening or closing a window. Or asking your flatulent friend to leave the room.

Holidays in Egypt… that’s what air conditioning is designed for for us Brits.

So yes, I can’t sleep. My bedroom, and in fact my entire apartment, is currently a blazing furnace.

I’m in a state of undress with sweat dripping from my brow onto the keyboard. Ewww…

It’s warmer in here than it is in the desert on a summer’s day.

I hear you… ‘open the windows’ and ‘stop whingeing’!

They’re open. And it’s really warm outside. Even at stupid-o-clock.

San Diego, it seems, doesn’t do ‘chilly’.

It’s actually so warm here throughout each and every day, that the city’s parks and recreational spaces boast an unbelievable amount of tramps – or ‘bums’ as they’re called here.

They’re largely harmless. They just sit around sleeping, acting weird occasionally if anyone offers them a glance.

It’s like a year-round bum summer camp. And we’re their entertainment.

 

Honesty deserves charity

Anyhow I digress.

As I write this I’m also Googling the bloody air-con unit instruction manual in the hope that I can rest easy tonight without the sleep/sauna detox.

I might talk the talk and walk the walk but there is no doubt, here in the U.S. I am a still a stranger in a foreign land – just as much as I was in next-door Tijuana.

I’m daily misunderstood, and often confused.

In the nine weeks that I’ve been here in San Diego I can tell you that Americans are a fascinating bunch.

Oh and in case you didn’t know, they are crazily open and honest about health and religion.

These are two things that people here love to talk about openly.

These are two things that we Brits never really talk about when we’re in the UK.

We have a funny way of avoiding discussions concerning our illnesses, ailments, and of course religious leanings.

Personally I’m not really comfortable talking about either – especially with someone I’ve just met.

“What do you take?” I was asked recently.

“When?”

“Now? Nothing, I feel fine”.

Again: “Seriously... what do you take?”

Me: “Uh… aspirin or ibuprofen for a headache… a ‘Lemsip’ if I’ve got a cold…?”

“Aha…”

*cue long lingering stare*

“And…?”

*stare continues*

“And… nothing… I don’t take anything. Nothing to get me through the day, nothing to help me sleep, nothing.”

“Isn’t that weird?” I was then asked.

“What REALITY?”

It’s only when you go to a supermarket (otherwise known here as a ‘grocery store’) that you begin to appreciate the national obsession with remedies.

 

Drugs - 'aisle' buy that for a dollar!

 

Shelves and aisles of pills and potions to cure everything from headaches and sports injuries, to sleep deprivation and toothaches. There are pills for things I’ve never heard of.

And natural remedies featuring seemingly unnatural-sounding ingredients.

 

'

'D3 5000 I.U.'....? Isn't that a brand of motor oil?

 

Sure, we have pharmacies in England but wow.

I’m sure there’s actually medication for medication here.

When you’re seen to be new to town religion is the other big talking point.

Within seconds of meeting some people they’ll ask you if you go to church and if you want to go to their church.

I always consider that I must have sinned during the conversation leading up to that point and that they’re trying to cleanse my soul as a result.

I immediately feel uncomfortable and I try to joke my way out of it.

Bad move.

So forgive me.

The actual process of greeting someone here in California (or indeed the U.S.) also confuses me on a daily occurrence.

Rather than simply offering a hardy handshake or a pat on the back, people here seem obsessed with a greeting known as ‘fist-bumping’ – or variations of it.

 

Bump day

How the pros do it

It’s basically the action of putting out your fist for someone else to ‘bump’ with their own fist.

I’ve observed plenty of Californians doing it here and I must admit, they look cool.

I however, do not.

There are simply too many variations for me to get my head around.

There’s the actual fist bump. Then there’s the high-five. And there’s some of other part-handshake part-grip thing.

And these are just three of the more popular types of greetings.

And for me, who is new to town and the whole fist-bump thing, I panic when someone puts out their fist or hand because I don’t know which greeting they’re planning on using.

It’s always an awkward moment and, despite the fact that the whole thing is supposed to look and feel ‘cool’, I don’t. I can almost feel my coolness dripping away as and when someone puts out their hand for the bump , or slap, or whatever.

I always hesitate.

Once or twice I admit, I’ve pretty much just thought ‘bollocks to it’ and shaken the outstretched bump fist.

Epic fail.

I actually freak out that one day I’m going to face-palm someone by accident.

So I’ve taken to YouTube to try and teach myself some basic rules…

Anyhow. People are strange when you’re a stranger right?

 

Hey, I noticed my last blog post was popular in Latvia.

Bizarre, but very cool. Welcome Latvians!

At the bottom of this blog is a ‘translate’ icon if anyone wants to read it in a different language.

I can’t promise my ramblings will make any more sense but hey.

Thanks for lending me your eyes.

 

Want daily updates on this bizarre life I live in…?

Follow me on Twitter: https://twitter.com/tristan_nichols

Östermalms Saluhall in Stockholm; photo by Andy ParsonsI didn't know much about Stockholm to be honest. Meatballs, hockey, blondes and Ikea was my only knowledge of Sweden prior to last weekend, so I was intrigued in what I would find once I got to her capital city, oh yeah - I heard it's pricey too. After getting dirt cheap flights for an overnight stay and finding central accommodation via the excellent Airbnb website, we were very much looking forward to this. Once I found out where Skanska airport was though, in truth, I thought this may be more of a chore than a fun foreign foray - it's an hour-and-a-half drive outside Stockholm! Although in fairness, the Flygbussarna coaches are an effective way of getting you there at around £25 return. So armed with exactly £160, roughly 1600SEK, we arrived in Stockholm's main station, T-centralen, for our 24-hour whistle stop break. Luckily enough, we could pick up a 24-hour metro ticket, which cost around 200SEK for my partner and I.

We only travelled one stop north before it was time to get off. It had been an early start at now it was lunchtime. We stopped off at Östermalmstorg to check out the food market at Östermalms Saluhall. I had researched this was the best place to find authentic Swedish food, and with my partner being more health conscious than me, she was encouraged to find the many varieties of fresh national fare on offer. After pulling ourselves up to a bar next to the counter, I had some meatballs with a cream sauce and potatoes, while she had a beef stroganoff with rice. The food was incredibly hearty and we picked a lovely stall where to eat. The prices were very fair indeed, around 100SEK each which I thought was excellent. Some of the stalls in Östermalms Saluhallare aimed at the high-end market, and on our budget, we didn't want to spend everything in one gluttonous feast. After leaving there, we dropped off our things at our accommodation one stop up at Karlaplan before heading back on the train to see Stockholm's undisputed heart stealer, Gamla Stan.

Gamla Stan in Stockholm; photo by Andy ParsonsGamla Stan is a lovely area to walk around with hundreds of inviting cafes, amazing boutique craft shops, bars and alleyways to explore. As with many major cities, this was crawling with tourists and the same items were in souvenir shops as you would find in London, New York and Paris, but just draped in yellow and blue. As we walked around, we saw the Palace and got some lovely views out towards the north of the city over the impressive Riddarfjärden bay. Very charming indeed. Time to move on, and this time north through the imposing island of Helgeandsholmen which houses the Swedish parliamentary buildings into the main shopping precinct area. This was a very clean area and many options in where to shop, so we carried on walking, trying to pronounce some of the signs we read (including Kvarteret Rosenbad, Utbildningsdepartementet and Akademibokhandeln Drottninggatan) before finding first a coffee shop then an hour or so later, a bar near Rådmansgatan station. Now I do like my beers, but paying 75SEK, was eye-wateringly expensive. The Swedes must come to London and think it's their birthday due to the 'cheapness' of the ale in the UK! At this point, I was getting quite worried about running out of money, as even a bottle of water was setting us back double the price it would have in London.

After heading back to the accommodation to get changed, I wanted to go to a lively area for a night out and importantly, somewhere new where we hadn't seen as of yet. So after delving into my guidebook, we decided that we would give the island to the south a try; Södermalm. Södermalm is apparently where many of the students inhabit and it has a strong blue-collar background. We were told by our host that the prices here wouldn't hit you as hard as they would in the Gamla Stan or the central areas. So we got off at Medborgarplatsen, which literally means 'Citizen Square' and went hunting for our evening meal. Now after looking at the prices in restaurants most of the day as we wereThe parliment building in Stockholm; photo by Andy Parsons passing, we noticed that you needed around 200SEK for a feed - again, expensive even by central London prices. We after exhausting many options, we found a Pizza Hut where two pizzas, a glass of wine and a beer came to 400SEK. This was a fine meal, although still, around £10 more than what you would pay in London. I wanted to try out the local nightlife though, and despite the extortionate prices, we found a fabulous vibrant drinking hole called Jameson's Bar, where I enjoyed a few lovely big bottles of Swedish beer was a more palatable 39SEK, which is in keeping with local suburban London prices, let alone those from the West End. We noticed that Swedes were a really calm bunch and welcoming while we were on our night out and everyone seemed to be having a great time. One amazing fact compared to London is that on Friday and Saturday nights, the trains run 24 hours. Alas, a night out in London can be ruined when it gets to 1230 as you have to scurry back to the underground to get home.

Our second day involved much more walking, but this time, it was to see the gorgeous area of Djurgården, the royal island to the west of the centre and accessible by local bus and tram services. Djurgården is absolutely beautiful - nestled on the bay with trees and lovely statues, and it made us think how lovelier it would have been in the snow or in the height of summer. We were free to roam the park as we wished, seeing squirrels foraging and occasional joggers before wandering past all the amazing museums in a small area which was just as touristy as Gamla Stan which we had seen the day previously. A quick check of the funds and it didn't look good - we only had around 300SEK left, we needed to find a cheap eat near the T-centralen before we got on the bus back to the airport. We eventually found a Mexican fast food joint which hit the spot quite nicely before saying our farewells to Stockholm after a thoroughly enjoyable trip. We loved it here and definitely worth seeing in a quick trip if you don't want to go to the museums. Stockholm struck me as a extremely liveable city as the people were so friendly and the transport so efficient. We knew it was going to be expensive before we came, but in my experience of travelling, the best places usually are!

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