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Asia Travel Planning

The Golden City of Jaisalmer

There’s no dearth of legends that talk about the lost cities of gold. Sure, they are all myths, but what if we tell you that there’s a place in this world that gives you the exact feel of a city of gold? Well, that, and much more. Known for its distinguished landmark, the Sonar Quila, or Golden Fort, the Indian city of Jaisalmer also goes by the name Golden City. An ancient charm, as if stuck in time, the Golden City houses this majestic sandstone fort atop a hill surrounded by sun-kissed towns beneath it, taking up the golden-yellow color of the sand, and hence, the name. The city is located in the heart of Thar Desert and near to the Indo-Pakistan border and is as far in the west as you can go in the desert state of Rajasthan.

The pages of history say that the city was built in the year 1156 by the Rajput king Rawal Jaisal who had set out to find a new location for his capital, built a mud a fort, and named it Jaisalmer after himself. Packed with history and imbued with culture, the city has a lot to offer to any explorer.

How to reach Jaisalmer?

Jaisalmer is well-connected to the rest of Rajasthan by buses run by the Rajasthan state government and other private operators. A five-hour-long bus journey from Jodhpur to Jaisalmer will cost you around 400 – 500 in Indian rupee. You can also reach Jaisalmer by taking a train or an over-night bus from Jaipur. The Jaisalmer airport is located some 17 km away from the city; thus, you can reach the place from the international airports of Delhi or Mumbai as well.

Places to tour in Jaisalmer

Hop around the Jaisalmer Fort

Start your day by touring around the Jaisalmer Fort and get lost in its ancient charm and architectural magnificence. Like, literally, you can get lost in its labyrinth of twisting alleys lined with colorful shops and occasional flights of stairs that take you to the top of the fort. Yes, this isn’t just ‘yet another fort’ in India. While, like most other Rajput forts, it displays the grandeur of the local craftsmanship, what makes it stand out is that people still live inside the fort. It is more like a community with the regular hustle-bustle of a town than a touristy fort. Oh, and free entry too!

There’s so much to see and do that you may want to come back the next day and explore a little more. The fort also houses numerous rooftop restaurants from where you can get an epic view of the whole town as the mystic golden rays of the sun shrouds it at sunset, disappearing in the faraway desert dunes.

A tiny piece of side-information for the movie buffs out there: This fort plays a primary role in the plot of the film Sonar Kella (The Golden Fortress) by one of the greatest filmmakers of the 20th century, Satyajit Ray from his Feluda series. You may stay inside the fort; however, it is commonly deemed unethical with its overcrowding and deteriorating sewage systems.

 Explore the Havelis and Jain temples

Inside the fort, you will find several Jain temples dedicated to the famous Jain Tirthankars (wise teachers) Rikhabdevji and Shambhavdevji. Dating back to the 12th and 15th centuries, the architecture is fashioned in the beautiful Dilwara style.

There’s Patwon Ki Haveli, Nathmal Ki Haveli, and Salim Singh Ki Haveli that are the most impressive and elaborately constructed among the Havelis in and around the fort. Havelis are mansions that were built by rich people in ancient India. After you’re done gazing at the wonderous carvings on the outside, you can go inside the haveli and get an essence of how royal luxurious Rajasthani life was back in the day.

Camel Safari in the Thar Desert

Your tour to Jaisalmer remains incomplete without a camel safari. It may feel a little touristy, but it’s worth the hype! If you’re running short of time, you can take a half-day camel trek, but for a wholesome experience that also lets you spend your nights under the starry desert sky, go for a three-day tour option, or maybe more!

Take a boat ride on Gadisar Lake

After the hustle of the day, now is your time to chill in the quiet of the Gadisar Lake. Many temples and shrines surround the lake, so it is also a pilgrimage spot.

Shopping in Jaisalmer

Get ready to carry an extra bag (or a suitcase maybe!) as Jaisalmer’s markets are a treasure trove.  From Rajasthani embroidery and shoes to antiques and souvenirs, there’s so much that choosing one and leaving another may become a hard feat for you. Colors? There’s no shortfall of it. Camel leather is quite popular here. You will also find perfume sellers at some corner, so grab a vial or two as well.

So, when you are in Rajasthan, India, don’t miss out on its golden city. Whether you’re on a backing budget or you’d prefer to spend a little more lavishly, Jaisalmer won’t disappoint. You’ll get good hostels to stay at for as low as $2. You can also stay at one of the many haveli-inspired hotels.  The best time to visit Jaisalmer is around February when it witnesses the vibrant annual Desert Festival in the Sam Dunes, some 40 km away from the main city of Jaisalmer. From folk dances to camel races, traditional desert tunes to Rajasthani art, get a true taste of the indigenous desert culture during this three-day-long extravaganza. Before leaving, pay a visit to Hamira or Barna villages around Jaisalmer to carry with you the insights and tunes of the local Manganarian music tradition.

Europe

Fall back in love with holidaying in the UK

It may be winter in the UK at the moment but that doesn’t mean it’s not a great place to visit. With Covid putting our usual plans on hold, many of us have taken a different approach to holidaying in 2020 and into 2021. Here we take a look at places that can be enjoyed through the winter and into the spring, from city breaks to countryside retreats.

The Cotswolds

The Cotswolds boosts beautiful chocolate box villages that draw the attention of visitors all year round, and is the largest area of outstanding natural beauty (AOND) in England and Wales, straddling 6 counties: Gloucestershire, Oxfordshire, south Warwickshire, Worcestershire, Wiltshire and Bath & northeast Somerset.  If you are looking for a winter city break why not head to Bath, the historic city famous for its Roman Spa Baths. Take a tour around the ancient Roman baths during the day and then indulge in a spa evening at the modern Thermae Bath Spa, which houses the only natural thermal hot springs in Britain you can bathe in. If you would rather visit the Cotswolds in the Spring, head to the town of Warwick and explore the famous Castle; take the family along as it’s a great day out for all ages.

Yorkshire Moors

The Yorkshire Moors have been the setting for many novels, including those of the Bronte Sisters, Wuthering Heights by sister Emily Bronte, reached great popularity, with the moors as the enchanting back drop. Another popular novel that has recently seen a remake of the first film, is the Secret Garden by Frances Hodgson Burnett, which tells the tale of a young girl who is brought to Misselthwaite Manor, located on the moor, to live with her uncle after being orphaned. In these novels the Yorkshire Moors are portrayed as wild and romantic and it continues to be a popular place to visit. Famous for its countryside walks and its location to Robin Hoods Bay, the final destination on the coast to coast walk: it’s easy to see why walking holidays in the UK are proving ever popular to really immerse yourself in nature.

London

When you think of the UK, you think of London. It’s hard not to after all, with it being the capital city. Not only is it the capital but it’s a great place to visit all year round: packed with history, fun days out and excellent food and retail therapy. Decorated for Christmas is when the city really shines though, shop windows are decorated to show the magic of Christmas and Christmas trees are found across the city, Covent Garden, Trafalgar Square and Somerset House to name a few.

Edinburgh

If you don’t fancy a trip to London this Christmas, Edinburgh is another beautiful city in the winter. Take a stroll down Princess Street admiring the Christmas decorations before calling into a cosy pub for a glass of mulled wine. If you are feeling adventurous you can take a walk up to Arthurs Seat, an ancient volcano and the site of a 2000 year old fort that sits 251 metres above sea level, lending to breath taking views of the city. The city and its surroundings are a must for any whisky lover, why not take a tour around a working distillery, or pop into the Scottish Whisky Experience at the top of the Royal Mile and see the largest collection of Scottish Whisky in the world.

Enjoy your next UK holiday but don’t forget to check the latest travel advice before exploring these fantastic places.

Asia

Best Places and Experiences in Vietnam

When you’re out to visit Vietnam, there are plenty of places to explore, and experiences to enjoy. Vietnam is spreading on a large territory and boasts cultural heritage, natural treasures, and mesmerizing sceneries. It’s pretty much impossible to see everything, and as a tourist, one should have it all planned out to make sure they will enjoy an unforgettable trip.

To make things a bit easier, we’ve handpicked a couple of must-have experiences and places to visit when visiting Vietnam. Of course, which ones you go for, is all up to you, but we made sure to include something for everyone.

Ha Long Bay

We’re kicking things off with one that’s perfect if you want to cruise Vietnam – the Ha Long Bay. It is definitely one of the most recognizable places when it comes to Vietnam, and it’s a sight to behold. You have the bay’s emerald waters and quite a lot of limestone mountains that are scattered throughout.

Now, Ha Long Bay is something that you could spend a single day on, but if you want to make the most of it, you should definitely dedicate at least two to three days. This will allow you to explore it completely, and see what it’s all about.

Hanoi

One of the most crowded places in Vietnam, Hanoi is located in northern Vietnam. Contrary to the peace you could get from exploring Vietnam’s wilderness, in Hanoi, you get the Old Quarter experience. This is a place that’s chaotic, to say the least, but there are a lot of things to do.

This is where you’ll find some of Vietnam’s finest colorful food for sale. Both the sidewalks and the streets are as crowded as they come, which is why Hanoi, especially the Old Quarter, shouldn’t be your first stop. Even though that’s exactly what makes it so attractive, Hanoi is rather overwhelming. You should visit something like Hoi An first. And while we’re at it …

Hoi An

While the name is definitely similar to Hanoi, Hoi An is a slightly calmer experience in comparison. Hoi An is an ancient city located in central Vietnam, and should definitely be one of the places you witness. If your trip only allows you to go to one place in Vietnam, you should go to Hoi An.

The main reason why it’s so good is the fact that you pretty much get everything Vietnam has to offer. In the center, you’ll find some of the finest restaurants in Vietnam, as well as shopping opportunities. There are even some really nice historic sites you should visit, too. Oh, and if you take a short ride, you’ll be met with those stunning rice fields Vietnam is known for, as well as some of the best beaches you’ve seen.

The Mekong Delta

This is another one of those must-have experiences, and is also known as the “rice bowl”. The Mekong river actually starts all the way in China, moves through Cambodia and Laos, and ends in the Mekong Delta before going into the South China Sea.

But that’s not what you’re here for – what you are here for are the numerous rivers that spring out from the river in Vietnam’s south. They create a stunning network of canals that you can travel by boat, and they link things like small cities and rice farms. This is a stunning tropical maze that you’ll enjoy every minute of.

Ho Chi Minh

Ho Chi Min is one of the cities Vietnam is famous for, and there are plenty of reasons why. Previously known as Saigon, this buzzing-city gives you a pretty interesting combination of old and new, history and contemporary.

You will get the opportunity to visit and tour buildings that were designed by Gustave Eiffel (yes, that Gustave Eiffel), see cultural sites like the War Remnants Museum, and if you would like a bird’s eye view of the entire city, you can head to the Bitexco Financial Building.

Of course, you also get to experience the same motorcycle dodging you get in Hanoi, which is pretty much a trademark of Vietnam at this point.

Phu Quoc

Even though technically, Phu Quoc is closer to Cambodia than mainland Vietnam, it’s still one of the most beautiful, tropical places you can visit. There is certainly no shortage of beautiful beaches in Vietnam, but Phu Quoc is something else. It’s the go-to place if you want to get away from the chaotic city experiences.

Now, one thing to note about Phu Quoc is that “you get what you pay for” is absolutely true here. If you want to enjoy it to the fullest, by all means spend a bit more and go for one of the nicer resorts. This also gets you larger and cleaner beaches, and better views, something definitely worth paying extra for.

And if you make it to Phu Quoc, do not miss the chance to continue your trip to Cambodia. It sure is one of the Asian countries, that together with Vietnam, should be on everyone’s bucket list.

Asia Guides Insider Tips

City Guide to Kyoto, Japan

I have visited Kyoto many times since I moved to Japan, yet it will never stop to amaze me. This former Japanese imperial capital is full of mysterious temples, majestic palaces, beautiful Zen gardens, and picturesque back alleys with traditional wooden town houses. It is a big city with small town charm and immense cultural heritage. However, it can be quite overwhelming for a first time visitor, because there are so many places to see. I prepared this article to help you plan your stay, it includes not only my favourite places to visit, but I added some extra activities to make your trip more memorable.

Best Places to See

Fushimi Inari Taisha Shrine

Fushimi Inari Taisha is one of the most impressive and popular sights in Kyoto. This mountainside Shinto shrine is dating back to 711 AD and its main feature is a path made of thousands of traditional torii gates in vermilion colour. The area is truly picture-perfect and therefore very touristy. If you wish to get a photo without people, you have to come here very early in the morning, or you can try to come late at night as the shrine is open 24/7. In the evening the lanterns light up the way. Another option is to hike all the way up to top of the hill, where not many people go and the views are spectacular.

Fushimi Inari shrine is located on the south of Kyoto and you can get there by Nara Line from Kyoto station. The journey lasts only 5 minutes. The entrance to the shrine is free.

Kinkaku-ji Golden Pavilion

Kinkaku-ji Golden Pavilion was named, together with Mt. Fuji, as one of the greatest sights in Japan and it is easy to understand why. Surrounded by stunning Zen Garden with its reflection in the pond, shining in the sun, this sight can honestly leave you speechless. The pavilion was built in the 14th century as a retirement villa for a military commander, but after his death his son turned it into a temple.

Golden Pavilion is open daily from 9 am to 5 pm and the price is 600 yen per adult. To get there, you need to take the bus 205 which leaves from Kyoto Station from the B3 platform. Even though Kinkaku-ji is very popular and usually very busy, it is a must-see place in Kyoto and totally worth the longer bus ride!

The Path of Philosophy

The Path of Philosophy (also called the Philosopher’s Path) offers a quiet retreat from the city and it will lead you to many historic sites along the way. The stroll lasts approximately 30 minutes to 1 hour, depending on your pace. It starts at the Eikan-do Temple, a lovely temple with famous Buddha statue looking over his shoulder and finishes at Ginkaku-ji Silver Pavilion. The path goes along a stream and it is lined with cherry trees, so this place is especially beautiful in spring when all the flowers are in bloom.

Gion District

Gion is very traditional neighborhood in Kyoto that has developed in Middle Ages as one of the most exclusive geisha districts in Japan. The chances that you will meet a geisha today are very small, but Gion is a lively and picturesque area to visit. The streetscape is very well preserved with high concentration of typical ochaya (teahouses) and machiya (merchant houses). Be aware though that many of these houses are private and their inhabitants do not wish people to take photos of them, so be respectful (you wouldn’t want to have masses of tourists in front of your house every day either).

The two most popular streets where you can take beautiful pictures are Ninenzaka and Sanenzaka.

Nishiki Market

Nishiki market, also called the “Pantry of Kyoto” is a lively place located in the city centre, where you can find hundred stalls with street food, fresh produce, sweets or handmade souvenirs. It is a perfect place to sample some unique dishes and enjoy the atmosphere. If street food is not directly your cup of tea, there are also many restaurants nearby.

Kiyomizu Dera Temple

Kiyomizu Dera Temple is one of Kyoto’s most famous and enjoyable temples. It was founded in 778 AD, and it’s a part of the UNESCO World Heritage Site. The main hall, situated on the hillside of Mt. Otowa, has a large wooden veranda from where you can enjoy epic views over the city. The entrance fee is 300 yen per adult and it is open daily from 6 am to 6 pm. It is walking distance from Gion, or you can take one of the city buses from Kyoto station (numbers: 106, 110, or 206).

Heian Shrine

Heian Shrine was modelled after the ancient Imperial Palace and it is dedicated to the spirits of the first and last emperors who reigned in Kyoto. It belongs to the newer shrines in Kyoto, with its history dating back only about hundred years, but it has very impressive spacious grounds featuring a gorgeous garden full of weeping cherry trees that bloom around mid-April. There are a couple of museums in walking distance from the shrine, where you can hide in case of rain, and at its entrance you will also find some food trucks with Japanese and international dishes so you can take a nice break here when sightseeing all day.

Heian Shrine can be reached by Kyoto city bus number 5 or 100. The entrance to the temple is free, but if you want to visit the gardens you have to pay 500 yen per person. The shrine is open daily from 6 am to 5 pm (hours can differ during public holidays).

Top Things to Do

Stay in a Traditional Ryokan

Ryokans are traditional Japanese inns that can be found all over the country. They offer you more than just a place to sleep, you will get here the opportunity to experience the real Japanese lifestyle and hospitality. In a classic ryokan, you will sleep on futon beds in tatami rooms, you can soak in famous Japanese bath and sample the local cuisine. Staying at least one night in ryokan is a must when visiting Japan.

Relax in an Onsen

Onsens are Japanese natural hot springs containing distinctive minerals. Soaking in an onsen after a busy day of sightseeing is one the essential experiences to have in Japan. Onsens can be public, or private as a part of ryokans. Kyoto is not very rich in onsen, but there are still a few to found around the city. Before visiting an onsen it is important to mention that there is an etiquette to follow – you have to take a shower first and you go inside without a bathing suit. Some more traditional onsens can forbid people with tattoos to enter.

Try a Kimono on for a Day

Nowadays, kimonos in Japan are used mostly for special occasions like weddings or official holidays. It is very rare to see young people wearing this formal attire daily. However, Kyoto is one of the cities where this tradition hasn’t quite disappear and people use kimonos frequently. There are many shops and kimono rentals so it’s easy to pick one and get the real kimono experience in the streets of Kyoto’s historical old town. The kimonos are beautiful and you usually get the full “make-over” including hairdo like geisha, make-up, wooden slipper shoes and little pouch for your necessities while browsing the city.

Kaiseki Feast

Kaiseki is a celebration of Japanese tradition, fresh seasonal and local produce and haute cuisine. It is traditional Japanese multi-course high dining with a long history that originated centuries ago in tea ceremonies and later it evolved into exclusive cuisine popular among aristocratic circles.

Kaiseki can be quite pricey and intimidating, if you haven’t got this experience before. The elegantly presented dishes often look like a piece of art and some restaurants don’t appreciate if you take photos of them. That is why I would recommend booking a food tour that takes you to kaiseki, where an experienced tour guide will lead you through each dish and tells you more about its cultural context.

Join a Food Tour

Japanese cuisine is very complex, it goes way beyond sushi, miso soup and ramen that are popular all over the world. Each Japanese city and each region have their own local cuisine and they take a great pride in using locally sourced seasonal ingredients. If you are a foodie and you would love to know more about Japanese food, I am sure you will appreciate a good food tour, where you will discover the whole philosophy behind each dish and its cultural and historical background.

There are plenty of food tours or cooking classes to choose from in Kyoto that suit all the budgets.

Getting Around Kyoto

The city centre of Kyoto is compact and easily walkable, however, if you want to get to further destinations such as Fushimi Inari Taisha or Bamboo Forest, you will have to use the public transport. Metro, trains and city buses are the most convenient way to get around. Taxis are very expensive in Japan so if you are traveling on budget, I wouldn’t recommend using them.

For international travellers the most convenient mean of transport are the city buses that have commentary in English and they take you to all the important sites. One journey costs 230 yen for an adult and you pay directly to the driver at the end of your journey, or you can buy a daily ticket in the office at the Kyoto station for 600 yen. Kyoto city buses are green and easily recognizable. They operate with numbers 5, 17, 100, 204 and 205.

Best Time to Visit

Kyoto can be visited and enjoyed in any season, but the best time to visit is spring and autumn. At the end of March and beginning of April, the cherry blossoms are in bloom and everything is covered in light pink. It is simply spectacular! Beginning of November is just as magical when all the leaves turn red, orange and yellow. Also the temperatures are moderate with little rainfall. However, keep in mind that these seasons are also the busiest.

Summers in Kyoto can be very hot and humid. The rainy season starts in June and continues until the end of July. Winters are relatively mild with January and February being the coldest months of the year.

Unique Souvenirs to Buy

Green tea – Japan, and Kyoto especially, takes pride in its green tea – matcha in Japanese. You can find matcha and matcha-related products anywhere in Kyoto, from convenience stores to high quality green tea leaves sold in big department stores.

Kimono or Yukata – Kimono and yukata (lighter kimono worn in summer) are also great souvenirs to buy in Kyoto, as there are many shops that sell them. Kimonos can be pretty expensive but yukata is usually a cheaper alternative.

Hand-made hand fan – summers in Japan can get very hot and you will see many people using hand-fans. They are colourful, cute and beautiful, and apart from being useful during hot summer months, they also make a beautiful souvenir to remind you of your trip to Japan.

Umbrella – I don’t mean the Japanese paper umbrella to protect you from the sun, but proper umbrella for the rain. In Japan you can buy high quality umbrellas in specialty shops that will protect you even during a typhoon. They usually have twelve collapsible ribs for extra protections against the wind and many of them have also UV protection against the strong sun.

Unique Kit-Kat chocolates – famous Kit Kat is one of the most popular sweets in Japan because its name is pronounced similarly to ‘kitto katsu’ which means good luck. You can find here many different flavours that you cannot find anywhere else in the world – from green tea, to sake, to soy bean paste, to apple pie, you name it! You won’t know which one to choose!

Kanzashikanzashi are traditional hair ornaments often worn with a kimono. They are very fine and usually hand-made. It can be difficult to attach them at first, so make you sure you ask for instructions in the shop how to use them. They are a very unique special gift.

 

I hope this guide to Kyoto will help you to plan your visit! Kyoto is very popular and beloved tourist destination for a good reason. I love to come back every time I get a chance! If you have any further questions, don’t hesitate to ask in the comments below. Have you ever visited Kyoto? Or would you like to go there?

 

*This post is for the inspiration for your future travels. As per 10th August 2020, Japan remains closed for international visitors until the end of this year.

 

 

 

Trips

Far Out Destinations to Get Your Imagination Running

The pandemic has influenced different sectors in significant ways. Perhaps one of the most affected sectors in the tourism industry. The world is packed with exciting destinations that you may want to experience as soon as the pandemic is over. Many of us have been dreaming and desiring to go to some far flung destination, especially while we were all in lockdown. With hopes the pandemic may be over by next summer, here’s some ideas of destinations you can start looking into for your first big post pandemic travel.

Hanoi, Vietnam

Hanoi is the capital and the second-largest city in Vietnam. There are numerous amazing destinations in Hanoi, which are split into old and the French quarter. The old quarter is home to a more traditional Vietnamese vibe and atmosphere. The city has a lot to offer from lakes like lake Hanoi to the imperial sites, mountains, museums, and other landmarks. You could also try to rent a car and explore the outskirts of Hanoi or other areas! The government has been working to improve the Vietnam infrastructure to make the country more attractive and modern. The suburbs of Hanoi also provide several important religious places that you can enjoy.

Photo by Nastasia Yakoub / @nastasiaspassport

Kavkhan, Mongolia

Kavkhan is one of the 21 provinces of Mongolia. Located in the west of the country, Kavkhan is one of the best locations to visit because of its calm environment, climate, and wildlife. The province in Mongolia is home to massive populations of livestock and a diverse wildlife population. It also hosts several forests, mountains, birds in migration, and other rare animal and bird species. Kavkhan is home to hundreds of small rivers and lakes where you can enjoy a swim! I’d highly recommend to continue onto see other parts of Mongolia, it’s just so full of nature and culture that you will never get anywhere else in the world.

Perth

Perth is the capital (fun fact for you if you didn’t already know that) of Australia, and one of its largest cities. It is home to some of the most significant pieces of art, cultural and educational institutions in Australia like the Art Gallery of Western Australia, WA Museum, and the Perth Institute of Contemporary Arts for any art lovers out there! Even if you aren’t into art or design, these museums are definitely worth seeing. The city has also inspired a lot of artistic and cultural work in cinema. Perth’s main tourist destinations are focused around the city center, the coast, and the swan river.

Crete

Crete is the largest, the most populated, and considered by some to be the most beautiful island in Greece. It is surrounded by a myriad of islets that make up the Region of Crete. It is an extremely mountainous island crossing from the east to the west of the region, making it great for mountain activities with

sweeping ocean views that can be found almost everywhere. Crete is significant in cultural heritage for Greece, known for such elements as ancient literature, poetry and music! Not but least, the beaches. The water in Crete possess a beautiful, Poseidon blue color that changes from super clear to a bit darker shade of blue as you move throughout the island’s beaches and water.

Galapagos Islands

Galapagos Islands is a significant part of the Republic of Ecuador. It is an archipelago of volcanic islands that are distributed on each side of the Pacific Ocean equator. The Spanish islands feature an incredible climate, historical landmarks, and a beautiful and calm atmosphere. Here, you can find a seemingly uninhabited part of the world that you may not even have known to be real!

Each of the destinations mentioned above is an incredible place to visit. They are all far out from the average place, and a visit to any of them could be the most beautiful and exciting experience in your life. They have so much to offer that you are guaranteed to have an incredible experience.

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