Category Archives: Travel

THE GREAT PLAINS OF TRAVELING

In January 2016, energy company Dakota Access announced plans to run an oil pipeline from North Dakota to Illinois. A few months later, members of the Standing Rock Sioux tribe began protesting the threat to their water supplies. The protests quickly became a movement, a rallying point for all manner of individuals and groups to express anger about everything from dark money and corporate power to ecocide.

But while the protests came to mean many things to many people, Neil McQuillian found that they mean most to the Native Americans involved. He went to understand why this is one of the greatest scandals in US history.

Colourful flags crack in the cold wind. There are tepees that sit like crowns amongst the regular tents. A silvery grey sliver of Missouri river slicks dull beyond them. The camp is pretty, in a way.

But, in its freezing stillness, the scene feels bleak – the few figures I see are bundles of clothing, moving hurriedly to finish what they’re doing and get back into shelter. Plus I’m only dropping in – I’ve come to better understand the protests against the $3.8bn Dakota Access oil pipeline but have just a few hours to spare – which means I’m an outsider. That status weighs pretty heavily here.

So when I hear low applause, it sounds like warmth and company. I find the source, a large tent in the centre of camp, and push back the heavy flap. It is warmer in here and my cheeks begin to glow. A group of some thirty people, around two-thirds Native American, are listening to the speaker. I recognise her as LaDonna Brave Bull Allard of the Standing Rock Sioux tribe, who owns the nearby land where the protests began.

“I’m here until the pipeline is stopped,” she is saying. ”We are at a point in our lives where we are unifying. We are people of trauma and we have to heal. We are fighting a demon. Everything we have fought for the past 500 years.”

Backpacking tips on Central America

From the calm surf of the Caribbean on the east coast, to the gnarly breaks of the Pacific on the west, the beaches of Central America make for stellar backpacking territory. And there’s plenty more wedged in between.

Whether you want to sandboard down a steaming volcano in Nicaragua, explore a cloudforest in Costa Rica, watch the sunrise over ancient Maya sites in Guatemala, or hike through the thick Panamanian jungle, the slim waist of the Americas offers plenty of adventure.

Here are eight tips to help you get the best out the region’s seven countries.

 

1. Pick your countries wisely

Sometimes saving a few bucks is as simple as hopping from one playa to the next. But if you’re selective about the countries on your hit list you stand to pocket a whole lot more change. Costa Rica and Panama consistently rank among the most expensive countries in the area, alongside English-speaking Belize, leaving Guatemala, Nicaragua, El Salvador and Honduras among the cheaper choices.

 

2. Know your accommodation options

Hostels and homestays are plentiful in these parts, but if you fancy spending the odd night somewhere more swish, bear in mind that most destinations in Central America are yet to capitalise on the trend for flashpacker-style hostels. There can be a hefty price gap between a dorm bed and a boutique abode.

 

3. Gorge on local produce

Chocolate, rum, coffee, cheese – you might just be surprised at the array of prime produce Central America’s rich soil nurtures. And best of all, you can go straight to the source. Forget savouring a cup of Guatemala’s single-origin espresso from your local coffee shop, or devouring a bar of Costa Rican chocolate at your desk. Here a number of local entrepreneurs offer wallet-friendly tours of cacao farms and coffee plantations with free tastings thrown in for good measure.

 

Know more about hygge

This winter, hygge emerged as the most divisive cultural phenomenon to hit the world since that blue and black dress. Or was it white and gold? In the second episode of our podcast (iTunes; Soundcloud), The Rough Guide to Everywhere, we get to the bottom of what it’s actually about.

In case you’ve been living in a cave (probably unknowingly having quite a hyggelig time while you’re at it), hygge is the Scandi word that translates to being comfortable, content and – paradoxically – antisocial amongst friends. It is a spiritual turning inwards, or a literal turning towards the nearest candle; a concept casually applied by Danes for decades before the rest of the world caught wind last year.

Lovers have flocked to the shops to buy handsome books, thick woolly socks and as much cocoa as they can get their cashmere mitts on. Haters claim that the concept has been exploited by publishers and clothing companies in a cynical bid to sell more stuff.

So, just before hygge reaches ultimate saturation point, we decided to talk to the global spokesman for hygge, CEO of the Institute of the Happiness Research Institute, Meik Wiking, to settle the score.

Before you listen to our podcast, here are 5 things you need to know about hygge to get you up to speed.

 

1. It rhymes with “cougar”

“Higgy”, “herger”, “hig” are all wrong.

It’s “hoo-gah”, people.

 

2. It’s not new

The word hygge has been part of the Danish language since the early 1800s, when the word first appears in written records. Meaning it took the rest of the world a mere two hundred years to catch on.

 

3. It was the 2016 Word of the Year

Every year, Collins English Dictionary publishes a list of the ten most popular new words and expressions of the year, and hygge made the cut. The 2016 list also included the words “Trumpism”, “Brexit”and “uberization”.

 

4. But some people think it’s an over-hyped trend

After a swathe of articles and magazine pieces on hygge, the press quickly turned on hygge, calling it “overhyped”, “a conspiracy” and one article even went so far as to brutally proclaim “Hygge Is Byllshytte”.

Solo travel guide in Thailand

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

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

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

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

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

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

How to find homestays when you are traveling

In recent years social travel networks have become increasingly popular, largely thanks to a rising interest in experiential and responsible tourism. Travellers are looking for new ways to engage with local communities and delve into the heart of a country’s culture.

One of the best ways to gain a genuine insight into your destination is to opt for a homestay. Offering something a night in a hotel can never provide, they give you a real experience of local life, connect you with like-minded people and can provide a vital source of revenue in struggling economies.

Here are just a few reasons to consider a homestay next time you travel.

 

1. To explore somewhere new

Homestays provide the chance to get to know a destination you probably wouldn’t have explored otherwise. Not only could you find a neighbourhood, town, or village yet to feature on the tourist map, but you’ll learn about local customs and traditions, from eating habits to family routines.

 

2. To get under the skin of a city

Sprawling metropolises such as Paris, New York, Rome and London might count among the world’s greatest cities – but they’re hard to get to grips with in a weekend. Stay with a resident, and you’ll have the ultimate insider to guide you.

Hosts will give you the scoop on the hidden highlights and unusual attractions. They might tip you off on the best place to watch the sunrise, share their favourite cosy café, or help you find the city’s coolest bar scene.

Places to visit in Iceland

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

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

 

To get off the tourist trail: the West Fjords

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

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

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

 

For wildlife: Vestmannaeyjar, the Westman Islands

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

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

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

The ultimate way to see America

South Dakota, one of the USA’s Great Plains states, holds an annual buffalo roundup in Custer State Park. Last week was the 51st event and we were lucky enough to be in the area. Here’s the lowdown…

 

What is a buffalo roundup, exactly?

First, the roundup is a practical business – it’s undertaken by people on horses (wranglers) to assess the size and health of the herd – but it’s also one of the best days out you can have on the Great Plains.

The vibe is about as South Dakota as it gets, all state pride and local flavour: Miss South Dakota beaming for pictures from atop her horse; long lines for buns stuffed with pulled buffalo (optional baked beans and nachos on the side); the smell of horses and manure spiking the air; and wranglers in chaps strutting about, bow-legged from a lifetime in the saddle.

 

What’s the history of the roundup?

The roundup is also a deep insight into the country’s past. The story of these enormous beasts is one of America’s most epic. They roamed the Plains in their tens of millions before the arrival of European settlers and Native American life revolved around them.

Through the 1800s, the bison were shot for their hides and meat; for sport (including ‘hunts’ involving potshots from the comfort of trains); to make space for cattle and farming; and, shamefully, to deny Native Americans their main food source. Come the end of the century, bison numbers had dwindled to just 700 or so.

So while it was an unforgettable occasion, full of the kind of ‘authentic’ experience every tourist craves, I watched the majestic running of the animals with sadness too. The thunder of their hooves could once rival that of the vast skies above.

Are visit in London then heres the guide

In 2015, some 31.5 million people visited London. That was a record year, yet early indications are that 2016 beat even those figures. The capital has the three most popular free visitor attractions in the UK (British Museum; National Gallery; Natural History Museum). It also lays claim to the top three paid-for sites (Tower of London; St Paul’s Cathedral; Westminster Abbey). Long and short – as a tourist in London, you won’t be short of company.

But should you start finding all the people wearing their backpacks on their chests a little oppressive, it’s time to shake them off your tail. As one of the authors of The Rough Guide to London, Neil McQuillian has got this down to a fine art. Here are his top tips.

 

Take a walk – or the bus

Mews, alleyways, yards, courts – London does atmospheric walking like few other places on Earth. And the more you walk, the more you find; roads seem to call out to you, leading you on, ensnaring you in a wonderful riddle. Getting lost in London is one of its great pleasures.

Feeling ambitious? Writer Will Self reckons it takes a whole day to walk from central London to green fields – in other words, to actually leave the city on foot. A more manageable variation is to take a bus to the end of its line and walk back in.

Slightly less ambitious, but a lot of fun, is to take a bus back into London from the start of its route. Getting on before anyone else, you’ll have your choice of seats – which of course means top deck, front row. Picnic and hip flask optional.

You could try the number 18 from out by the legendary Ace Café, a petrolhead hub on the North Circular. The 74, meanwhile, is cut out for better things: hop on at Putney Bridge and spend the next hour or so peering in at the windows of some of London’s wealthiest residences in the likes of Fulham, South Kensington and Knightsbridge.

Many of the buses that run from around Hampstead Heath feel practically bucolic at times – get some fresh air vibes aboard the 214 or 271 (the latter is also handy for Highgate Cemetery). South of the river, the 176 runs from Penge, through leafy Dulwich (passing right by the excellent Horniman Museum) to Tottenham Court Road.

A fine companion to such explorations are the Pevsner architectural guides – with these in your backpack, you’re never far from a flying buttress or some other fascinating nook or cranny. Nairn’s London is another recommended book.

Great destination in Southeast Asia that must visit

Southeast Asia: steamy rainforests, sleepy rice paddies, endless beaches – and crowds of backpackers, hawkers and tourists?

Southeast Asia may have some of the most blissful destinations in the world but it also has some of the planet’s most frenetic cities, its most popular backpacker haunts and some seriously crowded sands. We’ve been far off the beaten track to find the most remote places in Southeast Asia. Here are a few of our favourites.

 

1. Mindat, Chin State, Myanmar

Mindat is known worldwide as the home of the tattoo-faced ladies of the Chin tribes, but few tourists make it out to this remote village in the shadow of Mount Victoria. Those who do are rewarded with fresh mountain air, a fascinating Christian culture and some of the friendliest people in Southeast Asia – not to mention superb trekking. If you want to visit, be sure to read up on how this kind of community-based tourism can be done ethically here.

 

2. Saluag, The Philippines

Life on Saluag is all about fishing, seaweed farming and boat making. There’s little to do here on the Philippines’ southernmost isle besides chilling out, and watching sea eagles soar above the soft waves.

How to get there: fly from Zamboang City to Bongao on Tawi-Tawi, hire a tricycle to Chinese Pier and take the ferry to Barangay Tandubanak on Sibutu. From here take a motorcycle taxi 30 minutes south to Barangay Tandu-owak where the boat leaves for Saluag, 40 minutes away.

 

3. Koh Thmei, Cambodia

Thousands of birds populate this isolated isle and there’s just one place to stay, the Koh Thmei Resort. Nothing spoils the sea view from your wooden bungalow at the water’s edge and wildlife-spotting is a breeze with some 150 types of feathery friend – plus dolphins and sea eagles. The island is part of Ream national park, but several long leases have been granted to developers in recent years; go now.

How to get there: take the bus from Phnom Penh to Sihanoukville, getting out at Ou Chamnar. Hire a moto taxi to Koh Kchhang Fishing Village, where the boat departs for the resort. The crossing is one hour.

Unforgettable place in the Florida

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

 

1. Meet its endangered residents

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

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

 

2. Kayak in the mangroves

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

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

 

3. Become a night rider

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

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