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November 29, 2012

Why I Hate Patchouli

The lovely scents of Macau, before the patchouli invaded (Nathan Borchelt)

It’s impossible to over-exaggerate how much I despise the smell of patchouli. I would think the fact that it was used in the 19th century to repel moths and termites would be enough to keep people from spraying themselves with the stuff. Or that it smells like an ungodly mixture of wet earth and decaying flesh. Sure, it may cover the smell of marijuana smoke, but with medicinal use spreading (and Seattle and Colorado legalizing pot across the board), this seems like a fringe application. And yet, travelers still wear it.

My hatred of the stuff dates back to high school days, when a “hippy chick” (as the clique was called) poured some patchouli on a friend’s aviator flight jacket, the acceptable uniform of the hardcore music-lovers. The noxious smell never left (this is as low as a punk can get).

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Related Topics: Asia Travel · Travel Rants

March 19, 2012

Why Indians Like to Drink

From my experience, Indians love their blended whisky (specifically Johnny Walker). Perhaps it’s a lingering influence from the days of English colonization. But I hazard to guess that, if they elected to try a single malt whisky harvested and distilled in their own country, they may change their allegiance.

Last week I had the good fortune to be introduced to Amrut, a whisky distillery whose variety of single malts are fully developed in India—a kind of locavore movement for the drinking set. I was able to sample two of their whiskies at a tasting event held on a surprisingly balmy night on the roof deck of Washington, D.C.’s Jack Rose, one of the best cocktail-themed restaurants in the nation’s capital.

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Related Topics: Asia Travel · Food and Drink

February 09, 2012

Taiwan Lantern Festival Celebrates the Year of the Dragon

(Pieter van Noordennen)

The crowd of 200,000 people explodes as the 30-foot-tall dragon bursts to life. We’re gathered in the Lukang Sports Park in a small port town in central Taiwan for the Grand Opening ceremony of the Taiwan Lantern Festival, a tradition that dates back hundreds of years but that has gotten increasingly more popular with tourists since its reinvigoration over the past decade. Many Westerners have seen photos of the Sky Lantern Festival—which takes place on the same day as the opening in the rural village of Shifen outside of Taipei—where event organizers release some 2,000 traditional lanterns into the night sky. But that’s just one event of the entire Lantern Festival, which runs from February 6 through February 19 this year. There’s also the Beehive Rocket Festival in southern Taiwan, where participants shoot rockets loaded with firecrackers into the air to scare off evil spirits, and, my favorite, the Bombing of Master Han Dan, where young men show off their bravery by being carried around in a sedan chair while people in the crowd hurl lit strands of firecrackers at them. (It’s unclear if anyone gets hurt in this process.)'s Taipei Travel Guide

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Related Topics: Asia Travel · Holidays, Events, & Festivals

November 14, 2011

The Best Places to Get Naked on the Road

A Google search on "nude travel" nets over 100 million results. That's a lot of flesh, so to speak, and while I'd rather not spend too long contemplating visions of sunburned boomers drinking mai-tais and comparing depleted 401k's, it did make me ponder the best possibilities for unpacking your birthday suit while traveling.

Dive Right In: Kurokawamachi, Japan

Onsen in Kurokawa, Kumamoto (david McKelvey/Flickr)

The venerable Japanese onsen—literally, "hot bath"—is the perfect place to wallow in the refinement of Japanese life. Traditionally fed by hot natural springs, the best of these baths are located in some beautiful outdoor spot framed by a babbling brook and rustling mountain foliage, so harmonious that you'll barely notice the exposed male and female flesh around you. Join families, couples, and travelers as they soothe away the aches of their day; some of the more famous baths in Japan even include simian bathers, though my favorites are adjacent to tiny ryokan in the picture-postcard town of Kurokawa, a traditional onsen resort on the slopes of still-smoking Mount Aso in Kumamoto Prefecture.

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Related Topics: Asia Travel · Beach Vacation · Exotic Escapes · Trip Ideas

March 21, 2011

Blog4NZ, Japan Earthquake Relief, and How Travelers Can Help

WALK THIS WAY: Milford Track, New Zealand (Heidi Coppock-Beard/New Zealand Tourism)

In the wake of the devastating March 11 earthquake in Japan, it has been almost tragically easy to overlook the impact of another recent natural disaster, the February 22 earthquake that flattened much of Christchurch, New Zealand. Communities in both countries are now digging out and rebuilding shattered lives. And while it will take a very long time for these stricken regions to recover, it's a moment when the travel community should remember that we can still play a very active, healing role.

Blog4NZ logo Tourism to New Zealand makes up 10 percent of that country's annual GDP, while tourism-related GDP to Japan accounts for over 2 percent of economic activity. Christchurch and large swathes of the Canterbury region will be out of action for quite some time, but the rest of New Zealand—the adventure-centric, naturally-endowed "Land of the Long White Cloud"—is still very much open for business. For example, go and enjoy the spectacle of the forthcoming Rugby World Cup, due to be played in 11 other venues around NZ. Tournament officials reluctantly decided on March 16 that the seven games scheduled to be played in Christchurch would have to be moved, adding another emotional layer to what is sure to be an incredible festival of sporting as well as international fellowship.

Read our New Zealand Travel Guide to plan your trip

The section of northeastern Japan affected by the 9.0-magnitude earthquake and subsequent tsunami was even harder hit (including the ongoing nuclear crisis), but you should still consider many other parts of the country a safe and unforgettable vacation destination. For example, the southern island of Kyushu harbors some great places to visit, including atmospheric Nagasaki, the volcanic hot sands of Kagoshima, and some world-class surf over in Miyazaki. There's no doubt the Japanese people will appreciate all the support and good wishes of the international community to help them get through the immediate aftermath of the disaster, but don't forget that when the crisis passes, they will also relish the chance to say "yokoso" and show you all this great country has to offer.

Read our Japan Travel Guide to plan your trip

This post is in support of Blog4NZ, an independent travel bloggers' initiative to offer continuing support to the victims of the Christchurch earthquake. To support ongoing earthquake-relief efforts in Japan, please consider making a donation to the Japan Society.

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Related Topics: Asia Travel · New Zealand Travel · Outdoor Adventures · Travel News

January 06, 2011

Sustainable Travel and Volunteer Vacations in China

Naked resort
I'D RATHER GO NAKED THAN...: A swimming pond set among the bamboo forests of Moganshan in Zhejiang Province, China (naked Retreat)

Volunteer vacations are a unique and fulfilling way to travel—projects range from simple litter-picking in country parks to more complex building projects and highly-skilled support such as providing medical aid or technology training. As volunteers pay a fee for their trips, it is important to be careful when choosing projects to ensure that work being done is actually necessary and directly benefits the local communities. Although the concept of volunteer vacations in China is still relatively new, there is growing interest from independent travelers, schools, and companies wanting to "do something good."

China’s travel industry is growing at a phenomenal rate, particularly in rural areas where it is viewed as a quick way to promote economic growth. As travelers go further into China’s wild areas, it is important to remember to do so responsibly. Next time you take a family vacation, school trip, or company retreat why not consider choosing to support responsible travel in China? Creating enough demand will encourage the industry to grow and China’s beautiful landscapes and unique cultural heritage will remain wild, authentic, and awe-inspiring.

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Related Topics: Asia Travel · Eco-Tourism

January 05, 2011

Run a Marathon Spanning Two Continents

THE JOURNEY IS MORE IMPORTANT THAN THE DESTINATION: Racers cross the Bosporus Bridge, Istanbul (Istanbul Eurasia Marathon)

With a new year comes a new resolution, and for many people it's the promise to get back in shape—whether by joining a gym, a running group, or signing up for that marathon you've always wanted to do. If you're one of the latter there's a marathon you may never have heard of. And one that not only will let you cross those dreaded 26.2 miles (42 km) off your to-do list, but also provide you with a stunning cultural experience. Istanbul, Turkey, is often referred to as the bridge between Europe and Asia, and every year this picturesque city hosts the internationally known Istanbul Eurasia Marathon.

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Related Topics: Asia Travel · European Travel · Holidays, Events, & Festivals · Trip Ideas

December 14, 2010

Gone Fishin'

Fish soak

While in Singapore to witness the first ever Youth Olympic Games, I kept hearing about people getting "fish pedicures." Because travel writers hate being the last in the know, I immediately began doing research. Apparently a "Fish Spa" is not a new idea and dates back to the early 1900s. One of the older and more famous ones, Kangal Spa, can be found in Sivas, Turkey. Initially used to treat psoriasis and other skin diseases, the concept has quickly become a tourist attraction the world around. The first one in the United States opened in 2008 in Alexandria, Virginia.

Visiting a fish spa is like going to an aquarium where you're not only allowed but encouraged to get up-close and personal with the marine life. You sit over the fish tank with your feet dangling in the water below and the Garra Ruffa fish (a.k.a. "doctor fish," which are mainly found in Eastern European countries) will nibble away at your dead skin. The extremely adventurous can choose to submerge their entire body in the tank. The experience is completely painless but not for the ticklish. The benefits include blood circulation, stress relief, and tension, and it helps relieve skin diseases.

In Singapore you can visit a spa chain called KENKO, where their newest location is billed as the world's first Fish Spa Internet Café. You can surf the web while the fish do their thing. Talk about multi-tasking! Another KENKO is found within the same complex as the iconic Singapore Flyer, one of Asia's biggest tourist attractions. At 541-feet tall the Flyer is an ultra-modern Ferris Wheel that gives stunning views over the city, including an up-close look at the newly opened billion-dollar Marina Bay Sands hotel (the world's most expensive hotel with the world's largest outdoor pool).

Lisa Costantini is a writer/editor currently traveling the world with her husband working on a project about sport and culture. More information can be found on their website at Lisa will be blogging from the road for us as she and her husband travel through Africa, Asia, South America, and Europe over the next several months.

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December 02, 2010

Five Things You Should Buy at a Nepali Market

By Guest Blogger

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Kathmandu Market(The Advocacy Project,Flickr)
Kathmandu Market, Nepal (The Advocacy Project)

When it comes to adventure travel mixed with a rich cultural experience, Nepal is arguably at the top of the list of destinations. Set amidst the backdrop of the Himalayan Mountains, visitors can partake in a wide range of outdoor activities while experiencing breathtaking scenery, from lush rhododendron forests to glacier-capped peaks. And a visit to the rich historical villages invites a step back in time into a world of ancient customs and simple joys.

Gurkha Knives (Khukuri)
Touted as the world's most popular knife, it's known for its unique slashing edge and has been used as a weapon of war dating back to the early 1800's. These are high quality and handcrafted right in Nepal, so they make an excellent souvenir, particularly for collectors.

Mandalas and Thankas
Buddhist paintings and other art are incredibly beautiful with deep rooted meanings. What better way to remember your trip to Nepal than by seeing native artwork hanging in your own home?

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November 15, 2010

Thai Cooking School

Chatuchak Weekend Market,Bangkok(Paul Edmondson,Photogs Choice,Getty)
Chatuchak Weekend Market,Bangkok (Paul Edmondson)

After almost one year on the road, a spatula has become about as foreign to me as the Chinese language. But recently on a trip around Thailand my husband and I signed up for a cooking class in Bangkok to honor our second wedding anniversary. It seemed fitting because it was here on our honeymoon that we first fell in love with the Land of Smiles and its spicy cuisine. Pad thai, curries, sticky rice...we wanted to learn how to make them all.

After searching online we found one that had the best reviews and, oddly enough, the best prices. May Kaidee's Vegetarian Cooking School first started as a restaurant and now has three locations across Thailand, two of which offer cooking classes. When we showed up for our afternoon class we were told that May was actually in New York looking into opening her first location in the States sometime next year.

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Related Topics: Asia Travel · Culinary Travel

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