It's hard to miss the bright lights and ample displays at the duty-free stores in most international airports, cruise ship ports, and border stations. Designer clothes and jewelry, bottles of high-end liquor, and tobacco products are all screaming to be picked up and taken home. After all, it's a great deal and tax-free, right?

Getting a bargain at a duty-free shop requires some research in advance. Items found in these shops are free of the local import tax (also known as "duty") that would normally be placed on the item in a regular retail store. However, you may potentially owe a customs duty in the country you're heading back to. We're looking at you, America (sigh).

It's not all bad news. According to guidelines from U.S. Customs and Border Protection, if you are a U.S. resident returning from a foreign country other than one in the Caribbean (and you were there for more than 48 hours), you are allowed a duty-free exemption of up to $800. Your next $1,000 worth of goods is subject to a flat tax rate of 3 percent, which is still cheaper than many local taxes on similar items.

Don't go on a spending spree just yet: There are limitations with alcohol and tobacco products. Travelers returning from a European country like France or Germany are allowed to bring in up to 1 liter of alcohol duty-free, but the total amount is up to the laws in the state you head back to, so make sure to know what's permitted in your home state before you stock up. You are also allowed up to 100 cigars or 200 cigarettes within the $800 exemption. If you purchase duty-free items from a Caribbean country, like the U.S. Virgin Islands or Guam, there is a $1,600 duty-free exemption, and the next $1,000 worth of goods is taxed at 1.5 percent. (Spring Break trip, anyone?) Plus you can pick up to 5 liters of alcohol as long as one if a product of the U.S. Virgin Islands, Guam, or American Samoa. Residents are allowed 1,000 cigarettes as well.

Duty free Johnnie Walker Blue

When it comes to scoring a deal on duty-free items, the best bargains are the ones most heavily taxed in your home country (and state). In the U.S. this puts alcohol and tobacco-products at the top of the list. While U.S. federal tax is adjusted for the percentage of alcohol in a bottle of liquor, a 750ml bottle is taxed at $2.14 and just over $1 for a pack of 20 cigarettes. States also have their own tax on alcohol and tobacco. States like Washington, Oregon, and Virginia have some of the highest rates.

In general, beauty-related items, like perfumes and cosmetics, tend to be 15 to 20 percent cheaper than domestic U.S. prices. Pro tip: Fragrance multipacks are often created just for duty-free shops and could save you some cash compared to individual bottles. Consider free cosmetic samples and in-store sales at your local beauty store, which may tip the scale in favor of buying beauty items at an affordable price domestically.

Other goods like electronics, cameras, confections such as chocolate, and high-end jewelry and clothing are probably worth passing on. While discounts can range from 10 to 25 percent, an online or in-store sale in the U.S. might yield the same results. That being said, if the duty-free store is offering a one-of-a-kind product, or if you're interested in an item that never goes on sale, just saving the tax might be worth the purchase.

For the best deal, know what the customs regulations and exemptions applicable to you and your home turf. Make sure to check prices at your local retail stores so you can compare them when you get to a duty-free shop. And keep those receipts for when you enter customs at home – it will make declaring your new goodies that much easier!

  This article was posted on Hipmunk's Tailwind blog by The Hipmunk on February 21st.

Published in Travel Tips

Ever a city of cultural convergence and commerce, modern Istanbul’s 11 to 12 million annual international visitors can find themselves beckoned into shops and restaurants in their native tongues. There are a great many things to see in Turkey, but for the traveler looking for a truly unique experience, the Grand Bazaar is a feast for the senses. Constructed in the 1450s following the Ottoman conquest of Constantinople, the Grand Bazaar is alive with color, smells, and sounds. With over 5000 shops, the market is open from 9:00 a.m. to 7:00 p.m., Monday through Saturday, with closures on Sundays and bank holidays. Here are some tips having an optimal shopping experience in the Grand Bazaar, so grab some Turkish Lira (currently 0.36 to the US dollar) and hit the market where the wandering visitor can find everything from fortune telling rabbits, to vibrant textiles, rich spices, and much more.

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Where to Stay

If you’re looking for a place to stay in the middle of it all, at Niles Hotel Istanbul – Special Class, the rooms have Ottoman style décor, and air conditioning or the DoubleTree by Hilton Istanbul Old Town for modern chic with affordable prices.

Hitting the Grand Bazaar

Upon first entering the Grand Bazaar, expect to immediately see a dozen things you want to buy. It is a rookie mistake to commit to the first eye catching object, so try to refrain from buying the first thing you see. Instead, spend some time walking around and observing many shops (with a smartphone, it’s easy to pin the location to return later) to get an idea of price range and item selection. With some 5,000 shops stretching 60 streets, there is a lot to see. The high domed Cevâhir Bedesten at the market’s center was originally constructed by Sultan Mehmet II as a dedicated area for the trade of textiles. The building still stands, and continues to house some of the market’s most precious objects and antiques. There’s much to see, so consider staying at the Barcelo Saray Hotel for easy return trips.

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Local Hospitality

Many shopkeepers will offer çay, or tea, to browsing patrons. To refuse is rude, though acceptance at some 16 shops might very well be a bit much. To avoid coming out of an afternoon feeling like a water balloon, politely accept and sip, accepting does not commit the shopper to making a purchase.

Haggling like a Pro

Many Americans are inexperienced with haggling or bargaining, but it is typical in a great many countries around the world. It is common to feel uncomfortable or embarrassed when starting out, but trust us, it can be quite fun and exhilarating once you’ve had some practice and walk out of a transaction with a great price! Vendors will often intentionally inflate prices because they 1) expect patrons to bargain, and 2) generally charge more to tourists. To get a feel for fair prices and how to bargain, it can help to try to inconspicuously observe locals haggling. If the price is wrong, one might try thanking the vendor and moving to leave the shop, at which point, the vendor may counter by asking what price you want. Alternatively, the vendor may walk away, but if you refuse to cave, and the last price was not too far off from reasonable, they may return to resume haggling. It can also be helpful to find two vendors with the same item and play them off one another. While you should be confident and firm while bargaining, keep your tone light and friendly. The business owners often have families to support, so don’t be rude.

When a particular item catches your eye, avoid showing too much interest or enthusiasm, especially if that item is rare as the shop owner will know they have the upper hand as they know you cannot find another vendor with a potentially better price and will stay firm.

If haggling still feels uncomfortable, there will be shops with fixed sticker prices, but expect to pay much more at such establishments.

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Carpets

No trip to the Grand Bazaar would be complete without shopping for a Turkish carpet. However, this can be quite an expensive process, and it is very difficult to know the value of the prospects. If you want to be safe, try a trusted shop, as many carpets are now manufactured in China and it can be difficult to tell—there is a list of trusted shops here (though it is certainly worth while to visit small shops in the Bazaar). There is a range of materials, like silk or wool; designs, which are specific to the different cultures who hand-make the rugs (the more intricate the pattern, the more expensive); dyes, natural and chemical (natural dyes are less subject to fading, and do so more gracefully than chemical dyes); number of knots per square meter (the more knots, the better made, the more expensive); sizes (prayer rug sized to large).

Visit several carpet shops, where the vendors will treat you to a show of their wares (this can take hours). Do not buy on the first day, but rather, return to your favorite shop after having visited several, getting a sense for colors, patterns, and prices. Always buy handmade rugs. Again, definitely haggle for the price, but do so respectfully and with some humor.

Consider how to get a purchase home—a canvas duffel bag lined with plastic can help protect the textiles, though some shops offer shipping services.

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Dressing to Local Customs

While foreign visitors are not expected to dress according to local customs, when visiting any of the mosques, one must dress appropriately for admittance.

At the Aya Sofya or Blue Mosque, which are very close to the Grand Bazaar, men must wear long pants, and women must wear cover to mid shins. Women must also don a wrap or pashmina covering their heads. Wraps are supplied at the entrance of the Blue Mosque, free of charge or more stylish choices can be purchased easily in the Grand Bazaar.

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Dining

A day of haggling can work up an appetite. There are incredible options available to the traveler, but we recommend heading over to the Galata Bridge for an Istanbul fish sandwich. Fishermen catch, grill, and serve their catches fresh on their boats so you can enjoy a delicious, fresh dinner while watching the sunset over the Golden Horn!

  This article was posted on Hipmunk's Tailwind blog by The Hipmunk on November 1st.

Published in Turkey

One of the best things about foreign travel is the knowledge that invariably comes with it. It provides the opportunity for each of us to learn more about the world and its' many diverse cultures, as well as a little bit about ourselves. Another bonus is the chance to see which technology, trends, and practices are popular in the local region.

Think back and I'm sure you can recall a few things that made you go "Why don't they sell these back home?" or "Damn, why aren't we doing this at home?" even "Look at that, how awesome!" Most often those thoughts and semi-rhetorical questions are soon enough forgotten. But for me, at least in the case of Japan, not a day goes by that I don't miss all the great things about that country.

Japan is full of innovative ideas, futuristic technology, impressive customs, and other things that make you say WOW. Don't believe me? Take a look below and feel free to add your suggestions after the post.

Those Fancy Japanese Toilets

Let's get the obvious one out of the way first. Many people already know that these crappers are in a league all of their own. I wrote an entire article about fancy Japanese toilets and other bathroom innovations. Their toilets have features most Westerners have never dreamed of, including background noise to cover any sounds that the user may make, a warm cleansing spray, self-warming seat, built-in water-saving sink, and other impressive features. Be sure to read that post for more intriguing info.

Japanese toilets are top-notch toilets and the best Japanese innovation ever!

  Photo Gallery: Japanese Toilets 101

Underground Bicycle Garages

These things are pretty neat, Mayu showed me how to use one. Basically you just hop off your bike and roll it onto this platform. Insert your card and the machine will automatically stow your bike in a huge underground cylinder. This keeps it safe from both thieves and natural disasters while also reducing the amount of clutter at street level. To retrieve it simply re-insert your card into the attached machine and it will spit your bike back out in around ten seconds.

In areas without the Eco Cycle storage it is not uncommon to see hundreds of bicycles crammed together as part of a makeshift bicycle lot (a trend which I hope has died out since my last trip to Japan).

I don't have any personal photos, unfortunately, but I did find this  

Underground bicycle garages in Tokyo, Japan

Automated Vehicle Garages

An enlarged version of the bicycle garages, these things are amazing! They come in a variety of shapes and sizes and are pretty wild to watch in action. Some are drive-thrus that slide the vehicle off to the side. Others in the basement of high-rise buildings feature a circular pad so that the vehicle can be rotated 180° and driven out in the opposite direction it was driven it.

Automatic underground car parking garage in Tokyo, Japan
Ramps down to these underground garages can be seen all over the big cities

Other models are individual lifts that hoist one vehicle up into the air so that a second can be driven in underneath it. Walk past people's homes in the evening and it is not uncommon to see two vehicles stacked atop each other.

Astonishing Array Of Vending Machines

In the big metropolises of Japan you are never more than two blocks from a vending machine. They are usually found in pairs but sometimes also in long banks of a dozen or more. They sell all the traditional items you would expect such as refreshing beverages (soda, water, tea, milk, juice, beer...essentially everything liquid) and cigarettes (requires scan of a Japanese ID to dispense product) to other more unconventional items including ramen, electronics, umbrellas, even underwear and ties.

Vending machines in Japan sell everything from drinks to cigarettes, electronics, toys and even panties -- both new and used. Yes, seriously.

Automatically Opening Taxi Doors

This one is essentially self-explanatory, I don't know what more I can write about them. They are controlled by a button up front and swing open really fast. Oh and they are twice as great when its raining out.

Japanese taxis have automatically opening doors

Touchscreen Menus At Upscale Restaurants


These reduce the number of (and stress on) restaurant employees. Expect to see more in the future.

Pachinko Parlors That Nearly Induce Seizures

Anyone who has ever walked past one of these has undoubtedly heard the noise and flashing lights blaring out. They are basically like arcade halls combined with casinos, some being multiple levels and taking up entire blocks. I never played myself but did wander through a couple of them.

Japanese citizens love these things and have been know to spend hours playing in these giant parlors, like the stereotypical American Grandma glued to the Las Vegas slots. Not very popular among foreigners though due to the constant flashing lights and never-ending din of bells, chimes, tings, tongs, pings, and general noise of hundreds of people gambling.


Japanese crack

Love Hotels

Love hotels are plush yet discreet hotels that rent rooms either by the hour, a several-hour "short stay" period, or for the entire night. Each room has different themes with the fanciest being compared to a brief stay in paradise. These swanky rooms would undoubtedly fit right in with some of the classy hotels of Las Vegas or Dubai.

When I say the theme varies greatly between rooms, I cannot stress that enough. One could be Egyptian theme, the next dungeon-themed, another a retro-hippie love-nest, etc. I highly recommend you check out a love hotel, especially if you've met a cute little Asian girl at the club that night.


Impressive, huh? Love hotels are common in neighborhoods with lots of clubs and an active nightlife.

Other Unique Types Of Japanese Lodging  

White-Gloved Helpers...Everywhere

A variety of businesses have staff that are ready and waiting to help you at a moment's notice. For lack of an official term (that I know of) I jokingly refer to these people at the white glove crew. Whether standing next to the trash cans in McDonald's waiting to take your tray from you and dispose of it themselves or inside the elevator, eager to take you to whichever floor has what you need, these people always have a smile on their face and white cloth gloves on their hands.

The railway attendants are dressed similarly and also sport the white gloves. However, they don't always have a smile on their face -- especially not during rush hour.

Drunk Female Attendants At Clubs

It's not what you may think. Big clubs in Japan frequently stay open until sunrise. Many even have an employee on hand who's sole job is to care for the ladies that have had way too much to drink; other employees that are walking around the club will bring these women down to him. Not only does this prevent them from getting taken advantage of or robbed, but it also leaves their boyfriend free to keep partying (guilty, I'll admit it).

This employee is even armed with rubber bands and miniature black trash bags for -- you guessed it -- tying up their hair and puking. This "drunk person attendant" is located near the entrance, making it easy to retrieve your drunk person on the way home. Hope you saved money for a cab because they will not be fit to walk!

Now that is a level of service that is hard to match. Unfortunately I never thought to get a photo.

Clubbing In Tokyo  

All The Paper Currency Is Perfectly Crisp

Now this isn't so much a Japanese innovation, but rather a testament to their level of perfection. Every bank note is impeccably crisp, whether receiving it from an ATM or as change from the local corner store. No bills are ever raggedy, torn, of limp, as other countries currency often is. I suspect that the banks simply rotate out worn bills at an increased rate. Whatever it is the fact remains that this simple little thing is surprisingly easy to get used to.


Image coutesy of Japan Scene

100¥ Stores

Based on the American dollar stores, Japan revamped these into stores that offer products that are not utter crap -- even fresh food -- and people are not shopping at them because they are poor.


These stores take the embarrassment out of bargain shopping

Designated Smoking Areas Cubes

Although you can smoke inside restaurants, clubs, and a variety of other places in Japan -- basically everywhere except grocery and clothing stores -- many cities have restrictions on outdoor smoking. For example outside railway stations and airports there are sporadic smoking areas. Some are merely painted rectangles on the ground but others are actually fully enclosed cubicles with high-powered ventilation to combat the smoke, as pictured below.


Indoor smoking area at an establishment that had recently banned smoking

(Almost) No Homeless People In Tokyo

Given the fact that Tokyo is the most populated metropolis in the world (36.9 million people, over 10 million more than #2, Mexico City) I initially expected there to be a lot of homeless people as well. After all, I was born in NYC. I'm familiar with homeless people.

There is nothing more depressing than walking around a big city only to pass underneath a bridge and realize you are walking through someone's home. And damn, now I've got to keep smelling this God-awful smell until getting out from underneath this bridge and several paces away.

In my many months of wandering around Tokyo at all hours of the day and night, I only recall seeing a single homeless person. I'm not saying that they do not exist, just saying that thanks to the strong principles of the Japanese culture, homelessness is not near the problem there that it is in many other countries.

There is plenty more that makes Japan a fantastic country to visit, but you'll just have to experience it yourself and see what you find!

  What are your thoughts? Have any additions to this list?

Published in Japan

Beautiful natural scenery and sights, fun water-based activities, top-notch shopping, addictive nightlife, amazing food, and so much more: Just because you only have a short time in New Zealand's most impressive city doesn't mean that you should miss out on some of the best things the city has to offer.

Hike a Nearby Volcano

Auckland is home to a whopping four dozen volcanoes! That means no matter where in town you are staying, there is a nearby volcano that you can hike up and enjoy the breathtaking 360-degree view. Don't expect lava flows though -- these volcanoes have erupted only once in history and are now dormant. In fact, most are lush green parks.

Read More Free Things To Do In Auckland

Splash Around With Some Water-Based Fun

Water plays an important part in the weekly life and fun of Auckland residents thanks to the Auckland Bay. Hop a ferry and explore some of the nearby islands. Get your adrenaline pumping with activities like surfing, kayaking, jet-boating, diving, and windsurfing. Or if relaxation is the name of your game, enjoy some peaceful morning fishing or soak up the sun on a beach.

Karekare Beach near Auckland, New Zealand

Insider tip: Nestled in the countryside west of Auckland is Karekare Beach, overlooked by most tourists and much more refreshing than the crowded beaches at the heart of town.

Tingle Your Senses

Unlike anything else I have ever experienced, the Odyssey Sensory Maze is exactly what the name suggests: an invigorating journey that will stimulate all of your senses and leave you wanting more. Each section features unique obstacles, lighting, music, and yes, even smells. There is a jungle zone, a cave zone, a space zone, and...well...you'll just have to discover the rest for yourself.

Read More Offbeat Sights and Activities in Auckland

Learn More About the Māori

Maori man issuing a challenge at a cultural show at Rotarua, New Zealand
Photo courtesy of Peter Mackey

The Polynesian settlers who originally settled in New Zealand became known as the Māori. Their rich cultural history shaped and still plays a part in New Zealand culture, despite making up only 15% of the country's population. Learn more about the Māori by visiting one of Auckland's many museums, art galleries, or cultural attractions.

Enjoy the Best Auckland Has to Offer

Certain things always tend to be better in big metropolises, primarily shopping, nightlife, and food. Thankfully, Auckland excels at all three. If it's shopping you crave, there are numerous hotspots around town, such as Queen Street, Ponsonby, Newmarket, the Britomart Precinct, and of course Takapuna up on the North Shore.

When it comes to nightlife, many of the same areas known for spectacular shopping are always home to the city's best bars and clubs. Britomart is a popular favorite with both locals and foreigners, but Ponsonby and Parnell are where the stars shine. However, there are also other offbeat after dark Auckland areas, such as K Road and High Street.

As far as great food, that can be found throughout the city. Just ask a local! Or check out this list of the Top 50 Restaurants in Auckland.

Ready to visit yet? Just make sure to find a cheap Auckland hotel, and put all that money you save to good use having fun around town!

Published in New Zealand

India is a wonderful place to visit but is a vast country which cannot be covered in one vacation. The food and the people are so good that you will like to come back to India again and again. The country is incredible....true to its slogan INCREDIBLE INDIA. Now let me present you with 10 important tips that may prove helpful when you visit India.

1   First of all I would like to mention that India as seen by many is not a poor country. You will get all the ameneties provdied that you book in advance and have the capacity to bear the cost. Note: planning trip well in advance will not only provide mental peace but also cut your cost. In India usually everything gets booked compeletely full.
2   Don't rely too much on plastic money, be sure to carry some cash, Indian rupee. Although nowadays most of the reputed outlets accept plastic money, cash is preferred and universally accepted.
3   Carry or purchase drinking water of reputed brands at all times. Check out for the seal of the bottle if you feel the bottle is tempered do get it changed. The brands in India are Kinley, Bisleri, Aquafina, Manikchand, Bagpiper, Neer, Himalaya, etc.
4   Since India is a vast country traveling times vary from place to place. Kindly check on the web for best travelling time and place of interest. Best and true facts are provided with government sites ending in ".gov.in"

Pots for sale in Jaipur, India

5   Beware of the guides, shopkeepers and taxi or tuk-tuk walas. They will pursue you for talking to them. They ususally observe you and follow you. Note: pretending that you are with some Indian or know some local there will always give an edge to you. Best is to book your guide through hotel or government appointed guides directly at the tourist spot.
6   If you are in Rome be a Roman and the saying goes true in India. When in India, do as the Indians do. This is particularly true for single women, who should be dressed modestly in Indian attire if they don't want any unsavory attention. Though the country is liberal, it is best to dress up people admire rather than get stared.
Night life in India can only be found in the metro cities like Delhi, Mumbai, etc or tourist spots like Goa. Elsewhere India doesn't have a strong nightlife culture...yet. If you are partying person hook to these city for parties.
10   Note for giving tips in India. If you want a better and personalized service keep giving tips to room boys, cab drivers, waiters, etc. Tip should be moderate -- a minimal tip from you is still a large tip in their eyes. Enjoy that fact and make the most of it.

  Have any tips to add or questions?

Published in India

You Don't Have To Like Fashion To Love Harajuku!

Harajuku Girls
In this wild district absolutely
"anything goes" fashion-wise!

Harajuku is located in the northern portion of Shibuya ward and even though I don't care for fashion or shopping, this is still is one of my favorite districts in all of Tokyo. Two things I appreciate most while traveling are uniqueness and art. If you had to describe Harajuku in any two words except for the obligatory 'fashion' and 'shopping,' well it would undoubtedly be those.

The district, its' spirit, and of course its' original and indescribable street fashion is why the area is known worldwide as being not only the fashion capital of Tokyo but also the world. Countless ideas have sprung from Harajuku and numerous now-prominent designers proudly trace their inspiration to this humble little district.

Given the district's obvious status as a fashion-Mecca, it should be no surprise that Harajuku is also renowned for its clothes shopping. The area has two main shopping streets, Takeshita-dōri (Takeshita Street) and Omotesandō. Takeshita-dōri caters to youth fashions and has lots of small stores selling Gothic Lolita, visual kei, rockabilly, hip-hop, and punk outfits. If arriving via Harajuku Station you will most likely recognize the iconic entrance of Takeshita-dōri, located just a few feet from the station.


Upon exiting Harajuku Station visitors are greeted by the hallowed Takeshita-Dori

During my first visit to the district I arrived relatively early in the morning, anticipating a brief trip. The plan was to have a quick look around and then continue on to Yoyogi for more explorations there. As it turned out I was so impressed by the area and its unique spirit that I completely lost track of time. It was only when noticing shadows start to creep up the buildings that I realized the sun was setting and had spent my entire day in Harajuku.

The great gorilla of Harajuku, Tokyo, Japan

The streets of Harajuku, Tokyo, are always busy

While the vast majority of clothing and accessories here may not be a perfect fit to your style, that does not diminish the enjoyment of strolling the streets and browsing the stores. Everything little thing is incredibly interesting and so appealing that each second can only be described as a gift to your eyes.

  Yes, Harajuku is indeed a fantastic area for capturing great photographs. However when walking down Takeshita-dōri it is important to be polite and focus pictures more on the street as a whole and not single out any of the individual clothing stores. A vast majority of these stores have prominent English signs which read 'No Fucking Pictures' and 'Want Pics? Fuck Off!' and other colorful variations along the same theme.

Condomania, your one-stop-shop in Harajuku for all your condom needs

Progressing south from Takeshita towards Omotesandō the shops begin to transition from the gothic and youth-trendy independent shops into more upscale places aimed at the slightly older — or at least wealthier — shoppers also wandering the district. It begins gradually with Puma and Adidas and other brands along that tier but quickly becomes exclusively luxury stores. All the big names you would expect are there, such as Chanel, Prada, and Louis Vuitton to please all you ladies, but I was happy to see my personal favorite was also here: Burberry. (Touch is my scent after all)

Random old shrine in Harajuku, Tokyo, Japan

Although the prices along Takeshita-dōri were reasonable, the same cannot be said about the luxury stores of Omotesandō, which had clearly been built to satisfy local demand rather than entice visiting foreigners. None of these brands stock any extra mechandise that is unique to Harajuku. Instead their shelves are piled high with the same items found in their Western counterparts except at inflated prices, to reflect Tokyo's high cost of living. Keep that fact in mind as you shop and explore throughout the rest of this metropolis and be sure not to purchase anything that can be found at home for cheaper..

Turning down Omotesandō street the area steps up its level of quality by adding a small but soothing stream that runs lengthwise underneath the sidewalk and features regularly-spaced openings to highlight the flowing water. Following it will lead towards Omotesandō Hills, a mall with a decidedly unique and almost triangular shaped architecture. Inside the building several floors line the outer walls at a slight angle, allowing you to slowly circle your way up or down the structure, still passing each and every store along the way but without ever being obligated to transverse the optional staircases located in the middle of the structure. Although the architecture of this mall is quite intriguing, it is a shame that the same cannot be said about its' stores. The majority were aimed towards women yet none seemed to have anything really exciting.


Small corner coffee shop

Another notable section of Harajuku to explore is called "Ura-Hara" and its located off the main streets, in the alleys of the northeast. Ura-Hara is essentially just a collection of small, independent clothing shops with much more reasonable prices then the stores along the more prominent parts of the district. I found myself stopping in nearly every one of the shops I passed, mostly because everything was from Japanese manufacturers and no two had the same items.

The majority were fairly small — not quite as small as the bars in Nonbei Yokocho though — and they were definitely directed at a more youthful crowd then the shops of Omotesandō. The bulk of items for sale were still clothing, as with all of Harajuku, but this specific area was decidedly more about trendy t-shirts and other hip items more suitable for college students.

Regardless of which subsection you may be wandering, the shops of Harajuku are a wealth of clothing possibilities, even to those who may initially be skeptical of the style or worried items might clash with their wardrobe back home and never get worn. Given the large number of one-of-a-kind stores and their wide assortment of clothing, accessories and jewelery, finding a few fresh items to compliment your style is just a matter of recognizing the underlying potential of what you see. Being open to new ideas never hurts either.

Worth pointing out is that despite Harajuku's notoriety outside of Japan, the clothing sold here is targeted towards the locals and sizes offered are much better suited for people of a slightly smaller frame and stature than myself. Here is an easy rule of thumb: If you notice while walking the crowded Tokyo streets that you are significantly taller or wider than the folks which surround you, well I apologize for being the bearer of bad news but that unique Harajuku clothing just was not designed to fit you.

  What I Learned Clothes Shopping Along Takeshita-Dōri
  Female visitors will have a much easier time and more successful shopping experience thanks to the high number of stores specializing in ladies apparel. They also fare better at being able to fit into the limited range of sizes found here.
  Guys hoping to pick up some new clothes here will have a slightly tougher time, primarily due to their restrictive size. I would advise individuals taller than 6'1"-2" or with a waist size larger than a 32, you not to get your hopes up. Same goes for anyone with large biceps. Japanese shirts feature very narrow sleeves, several of mine became unwearable after the first wash.
  Even if the clothing hunt is not a complete success, everyone will still get immense pleasure and enjoyment from the scenery and sights while strolling through Harajuku.
  The near-endless supply of jewelery and accessories also sold in these shops is a great source of souvenirs for friends back home.

  Do you like people-watching? Perfect, Harajuku is one of the best places in the world to do it!


More Harajuku Girls

This is a district where crazy costumes, extreme hair and strange accessories are all just part of daily norm here, making the simple task of people-watching here unlike anywhere else. Local residents have long been recognized as possessing a great sense of style but that alone is not enough to stand out in Harajuku anymore. Individuals must also be highly-creative and fresh-thinker if they hope to stand any chance at designing a look that is worthy of representing Harajuku. And finally they must be able to pull it off. You never see anyone out here bring anything less than their A-game, especially on Sundays.

It has become a kind of rountine for local youths and cosplayers to come out every Sunday dressed to impress. Some outsiders may consider this gathering to be a simple or even silly social event and escape from reality, but to those involved it is often much more than that. Most are also quite proud of their costumes and treat these sundays as an opportunity to demonstrate their creativity and bold sense of style. After all, in a metropolis of nearly 37 million its no surprise than so many strive to be unique.

Visitors taking photographs of the weekly gathering and its participants are acceptable, although its advised to ask permission first (either verbally or with hand gestures) prior to snapping close-up shots of individuals or couples, as not all are comfortable being the center of attention. This is especially important with individuals encountered along the streets on normal weekdays.

The "Harajuku Girls" have always been my favorite and while most love posing for pictures, a few are still too shy. I've always been curious how many hours some of the have to spend getting all dressed up. Some of the hairstyles alone appear to have required hours of preparation!

  What do you think of the Harajuku style? Seen any wild fashion trends during your travels?

Published in Japan

  FYI this article covers adult topics and includes a couple photographs not appropriate for kids.

Angeles City, otherwise known as the 'City Of Friendship' or simply AC, has a bit of a mixed reputation. On one hand the city is becoming increasingly popular as a tourist destination, particularly for visitors from South Korea. It's center, Balibago, is especially known for its fine restaurants, hotels and shopping malls. Within Balibago is neon-lit Fields Avenue, known for its bars, nightclubs and what may be one of the world's largest concentration of go-go bars. The city, and the rest of the Pampanga region, is known both as the "Entertainment Capital of Central Luzon" as well as the "Culinary Center of the Philippines."

Angeles City

Plus thanks to the continued expansion of Diosdado Macapagal International Airport it is now MUCH easier to fly into PI here than through that old airport in Manila, Ninoy Aquino International. Plus, AC is just over an hour from Subic Bay, versus the four hours it takes to get there from Manila.

But despite some of Angeles City's recent attempts to become know for more positive things, many people still regard the city as the sex trade capital of southeast Asia. Where the working girls in Subic Bay will flock to you 10-deep, they will surround you 100-deep in AC.

It was probably my third or fourth time to the Phils before I ever made it out to Angeles, because of my (now) Filipina ex. My buddy Ron and I had made plans to go during several earlier trips, but each of those fell through because my ex would find out. She would proceed to guilt-trip me out of going by saying something sweet and innocent like, "Ron said you and him are going to AC for the day, please say its not true." Why? Because for many years AC has had a rough reputation, to say the least. Most people go there simply to be bad.

But no worries, not me, I had my angel back in Subic. Still, I was curious to see the city for myself and escape the monotony of Subic, at least for a few day or two.

Angeles City

The infamous nightlife scene in Angeles originally sprung up to service nearby Clark Air Force Base. Then in 1991 nearby Mt. Pinatubo erupted and the contact on the US military was not renewed by the Philippines, so by the end of the year things began to die down. However a subsequent crackdown on prostitution in Manila sent fresh waves of both girls and clients out to AC, which quite promptly restored the industry's fortunes.

Angeles City

20 Years Later And Angeles City Is Still The Biggest Nightlife Scene In All The Philippines.

Balibago district is home to many bars and karaoke joints. It has of a number of clubs which fit any budget and personality. There are traditional clubs with DJ's and the live band clubs. For endless evening of dancing and pulsating music, head for the bright lights of Balibago. Fields Avenue and McArthur Highway are the places to head for go-go bars, comedy bar shows, sing-along or karaoke bars, nightclubs and drinking beer - it is a non-stop pleasure trip seven days a week, 365 days of the year.

And That's It

Nightlife in Angeles City

Nightlife in Angeles City

Nightlife in Angeles City

  Here's a list of all the best things to do in Angeles City.

In the end, at least for me, Angeles City was not for me. Easily bored by golf, not a fan of shopping and not wanting to cheat on my angel back in Subic, there was nothing for me. That's about it. If you are not coming here to party or pay for sex then don't bother. It's not worth the effort, there are better cities.

Published in Philippines

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