Monthly Archives: September 2016

10 Backpacking Destinations in Asia’s

Southeast Asia’s lush tropical landscape and patchwork of ancient civilizations, combined with relatively low prices for western travelers, has drawn a steady stream of backpackers since the counter-cultural movement of the sixties. The current flows as strongly today as ever before and, as this list of the region’s gems attest, it’s easy to understand why. Climbing limestone cliffs from the soft sand of pristine beaches, diving into emerald waters to explore submarine worlds of colorful coral, and weaving handicrafts with a cosmopolitan population of ragged travelers are among the experiences these ten destinations have to offer.

1. Climb or recline on West Railay Beach, Thailand

Located on the tropical shores of the Railay peninsula, this stunning setting is among Thailand’s most picturesque white sand beaches, lapped by emerald tides and enclosed by towering limestone cliffs. These cliffs cut the peninsula off from the mainland, so it can only be reached by boat, which enhances its atmosphere of isle-like seclusion. Rock climbing up these jagged sentinels above the soft-sanded beach draws enthusiasts from around the world. And there are also plenty of bars and restaurants, at astonishingly low prices, for the more indolent to indulge in their own brand of pleasure. The accommodation is cheap too, and ranges from bamboo bungalows on the adjacent East Railay Beach, to the affordable and secluded Tonsai Bay Resort on neighboring Tonsai Beach.

2. Experience the ancient Buddhist culture of Luang Prabang, Laos

A small town in northern Laos, Luang Prabang weaves together natural and man-made beauty. It sits at the confluence of two rivers which girdle the town, beneath forest-swathed hills rising to rugged mountains. The town’s skyline is dominated by one steep hill topped with the gleaming spires of Wat Chom Si, one of many gold-hued wats sprinkled through the town, decorated with intricate mosaics depicting the life of Buddha. Each morning brings the sight of hundreds of monks wandering the town’s streets collecting alms. The town also has a long tradition of handicrafts, sold at the night market which runs until 10 at night.

3. Lose yourself in Bangkok, Thailand

A global backpacker Mecca, Bangkok’s budget travelers orbit around the hippie haven of Khao San Road, designated by one writer as “the place to disappear”. Handicrafts, food and fruit, pirated CDs and DVDs, and regional barbequed snacks join the jumble of bars and clubs that are filled with lounging travelers at any time of the day or night. Elsewhere in this buzzing, relentlessly eventful metropolis, travelers can step into relative peace in Buddhist temples such as Wat Pho, with its huge golden statue of a reclining Buddha, or explore the vast and labyrinthine Chatuchak Weekend Market.

4. Hit the beautiful beaches of Sihanoukville, Cambodia

Sihanoukville’s latest incarnation as a budget traveler hub marks a fresh twist in its tragically eventful history. It is named after Norodom Sihanouk, a former King of Cambodia, under whom the town became a booming and glamorous port in the 1950s. But after the Khmer Rouge seized power the city was symbolically desecrated; the walls of its luxury Independence Hotel peppered with bullets. Through the past few decades, the town has been traveling the slow road to regeneration, helped in large part by intrepid backpackers who braved the journey’s dangerous reputation and brought back word of the area’s sublime beaches, such as the stunning 4km stretch of white sand, Otres Beach. The town is now the hub of Cambodia’s most vibrant backpacker scene, a chilled-out stretch of bars, restaurants, cheap lodging and tropical coastline, lively but relatively unswamped with travelers.

5. Get yourself along to the classic hippy hangout of Goa, India

There’s no denying that Goa’s soul has changed since it was first chosen by the hippies of the sixties as an exotic backdrop for exploration of self and consciousness, distanced from the psychic chains of western civilization and conveniently situated in lush tropical surroundings. There are still strong hippy communities in the area, and ragged westerners travel here to make and sell handicrafts. But these days they share the tourist space – including iconic beaches such as Calangute and Baga – with charter holidaymakers, a creeping quantity of upscale resorts, and Catholic and Hindu pilgrims. But a great backpacker scene cuts through all this, feasting on the fantastic cheap food and cavorting in the bars and on the beaches, and in many ways the area’s increasing diversity makes it all the more interesting to visit. Many budget airlines fly direct to Goa’s airport.

6. Encounter the flora and fauna of Cat Ba Island in Vietnam

The jagged archipelago of limestone islands that compose Halong Bay off Vietnam’s north coast have long been one of the country’s top backpacker attractions. As well as the ocean and beaches, there are mangrove forests, craggy peaks and enchanting caverns such as Song Sôt for tourists to explore. This environment is home to a unique world of flora and fauna, including some of the world’s rarest flowers as well as the golden Cat Ba langur. This endangered creature inhabits Cat Ba Island, one of the archipelago’s best stop-offs, an island of breathtaking beauty which packs the best of Halong Bay into one place and is a great base for kayaking, rock climbing, hiking and water sports.

7. Spend time on the island of Bali, Indonesia

Bali’s volcanic landscape, fringed with world famous beaches and alternating barren and forest covered hillsides, attracts millions of tourists from all over the world, traveling on the whole spectrum of budgets. Famous backpacker sites such as Kuta Beach have now been infiltrated with wealthy resorts, top-end restaurants, and private developers who have chomped chunks of the white sand beach. But there is still a terrific budget scene and plenty of cheap and laid-back bars and cafes in which to meet locals and travelers alike. And you can meditate on the island’s spirituality at Tanah Lot Temple, spectacularly situated on a headland jutting out into the ocean.

8. Drift among the beautiful Gili Islands, Indonesia

The Gili Islands make up a small archipelago just north of Lombok in Indonesia. They became popular with backpackers in the ‘80s, looking for a remote experience of the Pacific isles that didn’t require a super-expensive flight to reach. Even two decades after the first intrepid budget travelers set foot on the island’s powdery sand, it remains relatively undeveloped – there’s no automated traffic, and people travel primarily by horse and cart. But there are a few indulgences to choose between, including a Japanese restaurant, good backpacker accommodation, and, inevitably, a lively Irish bar. The island is also famous for its hatching sea turtles, and there is a sanctuary which buys the eggs from the local population to prevent them being sold in the market. And there are some world-class, uncrowded dive sites, such as the ominously named Shark Point.

9. See a different side of China in Yangshuo

Backpackers first flocked to Yangshuo in the ‘80s, set on the trail by a gushing recommendation in Lonely Planet. They discovered an entirely different China to the rapidly industrializing country depicted in the western press, a quiet, picturesque region spread from the banks of two great rivers, Li and Yulong. Strung between these rivers is a rolling landscape of bare karst peaks, green hills, deep sharp-sided caves and unique sights such as Yangshuo Moon Hill, a limestone pinnacle with a moon-shaped hole reached by over 800 marble stairs.

10. Escape the traveler crowds in Chiang Mai, Thailand

Thailand’s rural north is far less infested with hordes of tourists than the resort-ridden south, and it makes a great escape from the crazy crowds that swarm Bangkok and Phuket during peak season. Chiang Mai is the region’s hub – founded in 1296, it was the capital of the ancient Lanna Kingdom and designed as the center of Buddhism in northern Thailand. This ancient heritage can be experienced at sites such as Wat Chedi Luang, a towering ruined temple in the center of the city, and the Bhubing Palace, surrounded by colorful gardens a few kilometers out of town. And the city’s cosmopolitan ex-pat population has given rise to a vibrant scene of restaurants, bars and nightlife.

10 Best Nude Beaches in Europe

Bikini season is nigh, but this summer, ditch the expensive swimwear and show off those hard-won abs on a nude beach. For maximum seen-and-be-seen appeal, make sure it’s one of Europe’s top nude beaches, where the relaxed and tolerant attitude is as welcoming as the sparkling sunshine and warm waters. From Brigette Bardot’s former playground of St. Tropez to Croatia’s many nude options, Europe’s liberal beaches are a great way to work on that seamless tan while enjoying the all equally stunning landscapes.

1. Plage de Pampelonne, St. Tropez, France

Pile on the kohl eyeliner and sport your best Breton top, because it’s time to go to St. Tropez, which French bombshell Brigette Bardot put on the map in the 1950s and 60s. Today, St. Tropez is still a magnet for the rich and famous. Beachgoers are welcome to show off the latest runway swimwear or strip off, and they can rent beach beds and parasols for stylish lounging in between dips into the warm water. Nudity isn’t fully confined to the beach, either. After dark, head to the nearby clubs where hedonism and Champagne mix for an epic, glittering cocktail.

2. Playa de los Muertos, Almeria, Spain

The name, which translates to “Beach of the Dead,” may conjure up gloomy images, but this couldn’t be further from the truth. The view from the top of the cliffs eases the effort of a steep walk down to the pebble beach, and the deep turquoise waters wash away stress. The lack of facilities and relative out of the way location keep numbers down, and nudists and textiles splash about in equal numbers outside the high season. Volcanic cliffs frame the picture-perfect scene.

3. Espalmador Island, Formentera, Balearic Islands, Spain

Recover from the non-stop partying in Ibiza with a short trip south to the Balearic Islands. It seems like the entire place is a haven for nudists, as only one beach doesn’t cater to the less-is-more crowd. Get away from the day-trippers from Ibiza at white sand Playa Illetes, where nudists and textiles mingle happily. Nearby lies the privately owned Espalmador Island, whose beaches are open to the public. In low tide, beach-goers can wade to the island, although due to the undertow, the ferry is a safer alternative. Once on the island, many nudists get dressed up in mud from the mud baths that supposedly contain rejuvenating qualities.

4. Red Beach, Crete, Greece

A favorite of hippies in the 1960s and 70s, Red Beach has a long nudist history. Today, nudists mainly stick to the north side of the beach near the rocks, although there is a tolerant and accepting vibe throughout the beach. Getting there either requires a boat ride or a fairly steep walk, and watching the sunset from the top of the hill is an ideal way to finish off a perfect day. Limestone cliffs back the beach, and near the nudist section, a Belgian named Gerard has carved out Minoan and Egyptian sea creature sculptures from the rocks, adding to the offbeat vibe. Get there early for a chance to nab an umbrella, and be prepared to make the trek down to the beach with all the necessities needed for a day in the sun.

5. Island of Rab, Croatia

Get back to naturists’ roots in Lopar, where nudists have enjoyed all-over sunshine since the beginning of the 20th century. The island of Rab has three nudist beaches. First is Ciganka, on the north side of the island, where sunbathers can walk or drive to the beach and then explore the sand dunes before catching some rays on the sand or rocks. Sahara is only accessible by foot, and the shallow warm waters are a comforting welcome for first-time nudists. Stolac beach is surrounded by rocks for extra privacy, and visitors can walk through the clear water to a small islet for a family-friendly adventure.

6. Agesta Beach, Stockholm, Sweden

Agesta is Stockholm’s official nude beach, where families, friends and couples can hang out and enjoy the many amenities including restrooms play areas, picnic tables and barbeque areas. The government-owned and operated beach lies at the southern end of Lake Magelungen, and is easily accessible by bus, making it a quick escape from the city.

7. Plage Linguizzetta, Corsica

Nudists can romp over the four-kilometer beach of Plage Linguizzetta, the longest nude beach in Corsica. Outside the high season, the beach is a pocket of tranquillity, aided by clear waters and fine sand. The heart of the beach is the Bella Riva naturist resort that’s right on the beach and fully kitted out with amenities, including a few friendly llamas.

8. Guvano Beach, Corniglia, Italy

This gem requires a walk through a dark abandoned railway tunnel where visitors can literally see the light at the end of the tunnel. Once back in sunlight, this little beach is a great escape from the tourists, and the unusual way of arrival and backdrop of cliffs add to the hideaway vibe. There’s room to spread out on the pebbly beach, and the crystalline waters require a dip.

9. Ilha Deserta, Olhao, Portugal

Uninhabited Ilha Deserta features just one restaurant and a whole lot of peace and quiet. Take a 30-minute water taxi ride and then it’s time to do nothing but relax in your birthday suit. It’s easy to find an area all to yourself on the clean beach, and the water is clear and warm. Literally meaning “Desert Island,” Ilha Deserta is the place to act out all those Lost fantasies with just the parts about being alone in a really beautiful place.

10. Wenningstedt-Braderup, Sylt, Germany

Germany’s island of Sylt packs in family friendly beaches, dog beaches and nudist beaches into its slim anchor shape. The nudist Wenningstedt-Braderup beach is wide and spacious, and as part of Germany’s FKK, or Free Body Culture, movement, extremely tolerant of one’s right to bare all. Set in the North Sea, the island’s temperatures are certainly cooler than other hot spots on this list, but the laidback attitude and glorious open spaces make it a must-see.

5 Best Hikes in Hong Kong

You wouldn’t know it from your first glimpse at its famous glass and steel skyline, but nearly three-quarters of Hong Kong is undeveloped countryside – a patchwork of windswept ridgelines and overgrown valleys that covers the length and breadth of the territory.

Many urbanites head to the hills to hike on the weekend to escape the oppressive downtown crowds, and four long-distance hiking trails with dozens of shorter offshoots leave Hong Kongers spoiled for choice.

So grab a decent pair of shoes and plenty of water and get out there – you’ve got 300 km of trail ahead of you if you want to see it all! Here are five of Hong Kong’s best hikes:

1. Tai Long Wan – Stage 2 Maclehose Trail

Hong Kong’s best beaches are also the territory’s most remote, and one of the only ways to get to them is on foot.

From Sai Kung Town, make your way to the end of the Sai Kung Man Yee Road along the High Island Reservoir, the starting point for stage 2 of the Maclehose Trail.

Just over the first hill is Long Ke beach, a taste of what lies ahead and a good spot for a quick swim before tackling the tough climb up Sai Wan Shan.

The descent rewards you with some stunning views of Tai Long Wan (Big Wave Bay) and its main beaches – Sai Wan, Ham Tin, Tai Wan, and Tung Wan – which wouldn’t look out of place in Thailand.

Restaurants at the small village of Sai Wan and at the far end of Ham Tin beach sell hot food, cold drinks, and some can even arrange a boat back to Sai Kung – a considerably more scenic option to the uninspiring stretch of concrete path leading out of Tai Long Wan to Pak Tam Road. Alternatively, a short but steep hike behind Sai Wan village will drop you off at the end of Sai Kung Sai Wan Road, where you can catch a taxi or minibus back into Sai Kung Town.

2. Sunset Peak & Lantau Peak – Stages 2 & 3 Lantau Trail

Give Hong Kong Disneyland and its throng of tourists a miss and check out two of Lantau Island’s other star attractions: Sunset Peak and Lantau Peak.

Hop a ferry from Central to Mui Wo, where it’s a short bus ride or walk up to Nam Shan and the start of stage 2 of the Lantau Trail.
A steady climb eventually delivers you to a plateau along the North face of Sunset Peak, from where you should be able to spot planes taking off and landing at one of the world’s busiest airports.

Further ahead is a windswept ridge dotted with stone huts. These were built between the first and second world wars as a holiday retreat for missionaries, and although the huts can still be rented out for short stays, they’ve seen better days and most campers opt for a tent.
The summit of Sunset Peak is a slight detour off the main trail, but from here you’ll be able to look across to the towering Lantau Peak, Lantau’s highest mountain and the second highest point in Hong Kong.

If you’ve still got the energy after the descent from Sunset Peak, continue onward towards Lantau Peak along stage 3 of the Lantau Trail, which skirts the summit and ends at the Po Lin Monastary and its giant Bronze Buddha.

Buses and taxis heading for Mui Wo and Tung Chung can also be caught before the start of the trail to Lantau Peak on Tung Chung Road.

3. Tai Mo Shan – Stages 7 & 8 Maclehose Trail

Hong Kong’s skyscrapers may be dizzyingly tall, but you won’t find the territory’s highest point downtown.

That crown goes to Tai Mo Shan (Big Hat Mountain) in the Central New Territories, which at 957 meters is twice as high as any of the city’s man-made offerings.

The often mist-covered mountain was previously renowned for the “cloud and mist” green tea which grew on its slopes, but these days you’re more likely to see the odd feral cow.

Make your way to the start of Stage 7 of the Maclehose Trail at the Shing Mun Resevoir, which quickly begins a steep climb up Needle Hill.

The trail carries on up to Grassy Hill, before plunging back down into Lead Mine Pass – the start of Stage 8 and where the climb up to Tai Mo Shan begins in earnest.

A steady plod up the rocky eastern spur of Tai Mo Shan ends before the actual summit, which unfortunately is occupied by a radar station that is closed to the public.

The way down from here follows a winding road with bird’s eye views down into the flatland of Yuen Long and ending at Route Twisk, where you can catch buses or taxis to Tsuen Wan.

4. Pat Sin Leng – Stage 9 Wilson Trail

Some of the finest hiking in Hong Kong can be found just south of the territory’s border with mainland China.

Beginning at Cloudy Hill just North of Tai Po, Pat Sin Leng (Ridge of the Eight Immortals) is a series of 500-meter peaks named after famous characters in Chinese mythology.

Stage 9 can either be joined after a grueling climb up Stage 8’s Cloudy Hill, or farther along at the Hok Tau Resevoir – best reached by taxi or minibus from the Fanling MTR station.

From here the ascent begins up towards Emperor’s Ridge, with the mountainside tumbling down dramatically to the south into the Tolo Harbour and Plover Clove below.

A short detour to the summit of Emperor’s Ridge offers views of both the eastern and western coasts of the New Territories, and beyond this lies the first and highest of the 8 immortals: Shun Yeung Fung.

Catch your breath before crossing the next 7 peaks to reach Sin Ku Fung, beyond which you can link up with the Pat Sin Leng Nature Trail and make your way down to Tai Mei Tuk for buses or taxis back to Tai Po.

5. The Dragon’s Back – Stage 8 Hong Kong Trail

Ask a Hong Konger to name their favorite hike, and there is a very good chance it will be The Dragon’s Back.

Although the well-deserved popularity of this ridgeline hike on Hong Kong Island can make it frustratingly crowded at times, the spectacular views of the south side of the island more than make up for the bother.

Stage 8 of the Hong Kong Trail begins at To Tei Wan on Shek O Road, and quickly brings you up to the Dragon’s Back proper and Shek O Peak.
The undulating trail then cuts North along the sun-baked ridgeline towards Mount Collinson, offering panoramic views of Big Wave Bay to the East, and Tai Tam Bay to the West.

After rounding Mount Collinson, the trail turns down past the impressively terraced Cape Collinson cemetery and into Big Wave Bay – Hong Kong’s best surfing spot, of course.

The trail ends here, but keep heading south along Big Wave Bay Road and past the Shek O Golf Course to the beachside village of Shek O, for good food and cold Chang’s at the Shek O Chinese & Thai Seafood restaurant.