Bangkok is one of the top travel destinations in Asia, and it is also home to nearly nine million residents. For both the millions of visitors who descend upon Bangkok each year and the millions who call the city home, shopping is an important part of life. While there is an increasing number of department stores, grocery stores and shopping malls throughout Bangkok, one of the biggest parts of the local Thai culture is the market. Markets are more than just a place to buy food or gifts. They are also a place to meet new people, chat with old friends and get to know the locals. Anyone planning to visit Bangkok will want to include trips to as many of these incredible markets as possible.
A colleague who heads up our operations in Cambodia has a mantra: “There is so much more to Cambodia than the temples” and when I asked him recently what it would take him to leave Cambodia he replied he’d have to leave “feet first”.
Possibly one of the most entrancing and beautiful countries to start one’s backpacking adventure is Sri Lanka. Gap years are probably one of the most important times of your life; some people even tend to extend their sojourn for longer than a year, and this might prove to be a most liberating experience. Enjoy.
Flickr: julien mrt
One of the most culturally diverse islands to visit is that of Sri-Lanka, under British colonial rule this magical island used to be called Ceylon and was mainly famous for its tea. What a mistake, this island can boast gods, famous temples eco-tourism and so much more. If you’re operating on a minimal budget one of the cheapest ways to visit and subsume a country is to volunteer in one of the many differing projects that abound in this region. A country changes once you actually call that place ‘home,’ and living and working within Sri Lanka will give you a totally unique perspective on, life. For example, there is no better way in which you’ll be able to take a weekend trek out to that sanctuary all blessed places than to visit the magical sites of the Sri Lankan temples in the so called ‘cultural triangle,’ and then return to your residence or volunteer project.
Mulkirigal Rock Temple
Whether you spend time in Sri Lanka under your own steam or visit the island through one of the many tours organised by companies including Selective Asia try and visit some of the lesser-known sites. The rock temple at Mulkirigal is well worth the long hike up the 200-metre rock face in order to visit this beautiful spot and take in the ancient paintings that decorate these two thousand year old temples. You should also make sure that you pay a visit to the enormous reclining Buddhas that are venerated in one of these shrines. Be prepared to be well and truly amazed.
This town in the South of the island is renowned for its excellent beaches and can operate as a base for visiting many of the local sites. Mulkirigal is only 20 kms away and the Tangalle pristine coastline is as popular with local birds and wildlife as it is with travellers. There are eco lodges in this region as well as hostels and hotels but the area is only slowly being rebuilt following the devastation of the infamous tsunami. If possible it might prove to be a good idea to book in advance or if this is your first foray to this island.
Sri Lanka is most definitely a land of possibilities. If surfing and snorkelling don’t interest you then make your way to the Yala National Park and spend some time admiring the elephants and monkeys who live here, the stately leopards that spend much of their time sunning themselves on the rocks are also pretty impressive. Old Sri Lanka hands advise haggling when it comes to paying for tours around the park and this is best carried out by a group rather than an individual.
By Celina Bledowska
Goa India is known for its beautiful beaches, crystal waters and smiling, happy locals. It’s no wonder that Goa holidays are popular among travellers from all over the world. Search Goa holidays from First Choice to see the going rate at the moment.
Flickr: Nicolas Fleury
In addition to the magic scenery, Goa’s vibrant culture and party scene make it the ideal destination or stop during your gap year. Goa is especially well suited to first time travelers and students because it’s easy to navigate with adequate infrastructure and it’s a place where everyone speaks English.
Short-term visitors and holidaymakers will have a myriad of activities to fill their agenda. To immerse yourself in local culture, go on a multi day trek where you’ll see the native forests, wildlife and stay in tucked-away tribal villages.
For a more relaxing and spiritual experience, spend a few days in an ashram learning the ancient wisdoms of yoga and meditation. And of course leave plenty of time to soak up the sun on the pristine beaches and check out the buzzing bar scene in the nearby Margao and Palolem villages.
If you’re planning to stay long term in Goa, your options include volunteering, doing an internship or working. You can decide which one suits you once you get there, but it never hurts to research in advance.
Volunteer in Goa
Schools, AIDs hospices childcare centers in Goa are always in need of an extra pair of hands. Your time will be greatly appreciate and go a long way to supporting local community.
Intern in Goa
Get some international career experience while you’re abroad. Many agencies can help arrange an internship in your field by placing you within a local business. Popular industries include journalism, film, marketing, PR, law and publishing.
Work in Goa
While you will see foreigners working in the local bars and resorts, many are not legal. There is no easy ‘working holiday’ visa to get, and the visa would likely have to go through an employer (either before you arrive or after you get there). The government is on the lookout for illegally employed foreigners as they take away jobs from locals.
But don’t be discouraged, the best way to find work is to simply walk around and ask once you’re there. With Goa growing as a holiday destination, more and more resorts will be looking for English speaking westerners to service their guests.
Whatever you choose to do during your time in Goa, you are likely to walk away tanned and smiling. The locals’ happy demeanor is infectious and won’t take long to get to you!
You can make your backpacking adventures all the more epic when you visit some of the world’s most famous filming destinations. From pristine beaches to quirky city cafes, the following spots have that special touch of cinematic romance and magic.
Las Vegas, USA – Las Vegas lends itself well to heists and capers, as the whole city feels a bit like a Hollywood set piece with its faux Eiffel Tower and Sphinx. Its numerous resort hotels have been the scene of a number of recent films, with Caesar’s Palace serving as the centre of hijinks in The Hangover, and the famous fountains of the opulent Bellagio appearing as a backdrop for Ocean’s Eleven.
Paris, France – Film lovers with a taste for whimsy may wish to fly to Paris to have a crème brulee in the lovely art deco café where Jean-Pierre Jeunet’s Amelie worked, the Café des 2 Moulins. Strolling the streets of Montmartre and other neighbourhoods lets you relive the storylines of French New Wave classics Breathless and Alphaville, as well as the more recent Woody Allen production Midnight in Paris.
Tokyo, Japan – The city of Tokyo stars as itself in Sofia Coppola’s ode to disorientation, Lost in Translation. Much of the film’s chaotic outdoor scenes were filmed in the Shibuya district, while the Park Hyatt Hotel is where Bob and Charlotte meet each other. The hotel bar now has a drink named after the film to please the numerous film geeks who come to visit.
Prague, Czech Republic – A trip to Prague has long been almost mandatory for international film students and bohemians, although it has also served as the set for a number of Hollywood action flicks. Mission Impossible was primarily filmed here. The Bourne Identity begins in Prague as well, though it is meant to be Zurich. The Barrandov Studios just outside of Prague are also used to film many international productions, including Casino Royale.
Manhattan, USA – Although New York City’s most famous borough of Manhattan has been the set for many big-time films from Spider Man to The Devil Wears Prada, it is also world famous as the setting for many television productions. Law and Order draws its storylines directly from New York headlines, while Manhattan served as the stomping grounds for the underage socialites on Gossip Girl and the ladies of Sex and the City.
Salzburg, Austria – The charming Austrian city of Salzburg will be familiar to most travellers as the setting for The Sound of Music, with the Leopoldskron Palace becoming the Von Trapp’s family home. You can prance around the Mirabell Palace and Gardens to relive the Do-Re-Mi scene if you feel like singing when you see the spectacular scenery.
Ko Phi Phi Leh, Thailand – It’s every backpacker’s dream to find that perfect isolated beach before everyone else comes along to ruin it, which is the premise of the book and film The Beach. Tourists can now visit the beach where this was filmed in Ko Phi Phi Leh, Thailand. Although you can’t stay overnight, you can visit as part of an organised tour to view the strikingly clear waters of the lagoon and the stark limestone cliffs rising above them.
For students considering the cultural rite of passage that is a gap year, Thailand is the country that has it all. Dropping off the grid for a while in Thailand has never been easier, with a favourable exchange rate, pristine beaches, exceptional food and cheap ways to hop around the surrounding countries of Southeast Asia.
Rather than just doing the typical beachside holidays to Thailand, adventurous and inquisitive students can make themselves useful by volunteering with local wildlife or community organisations. Volunteering adds a great deal of clout to a CV. And while this isn’t currently a priority, it may be some time in the future.
Volunteer to Help Communities
A native English speaking university student should find volunteer work easily in an orphanage or childcare centre. With bounding enthusiasm and a fresh perspective on things, students can really make a positive impact on the children’s lives. For students with an affinity or affection for kids, this could be an enchanting experience.
For sporty students, there’s always building work to be done in isolated villages. Students can help with general labour and maintenance there. Helping a small village to get back onto their feet can give students a real sense of satisfaction.
Volunteer at an Animal Sanctuary
These types of volunteer programmes are plentiful but they are also very popular, so book in advance. At an elephant sanctuary, getting up close and personal with an elephant can be an amazing experience and one that you will treasure forever. This can involve the maintenance of sustainable crops to feed the elephants, giving them a wash at the river and offering support to the local community. Animal lovers and science students will surely jump at the chance to understand how elephants and the local community can live together sustainably and happily.
Mix It Up
Getting into Thailand often requires entry via Bangkok, the notoriously noisy and hedonistic capital, well-known for its traffic jams. It’s a good idea to get out of there and head to Chiang Mai, the unofficial capital of northern Thailand, surrounded by lush mountainside and beaches. From there it’s not far to the fabled Golden Triangle area between Thailand, Myanmar and Laos. This has a bandit-country atmosphere with plenty of dense jungle, ancient tribes and bamboo rafts. Taking it all in from the top of a lumbering elephant is also possible.
Get some well-earned R&R from stressful study by relaxing on a beach or two. It’s possible to island hop on catamarans to some of the purest, cleanest beaches in the world. For students who are dreaming of swimming in incandescent clear waters, beaches of this kind are found on islands around the eastern coast of Thailand. For those with more energy, diving with whale sharks is possible, along with jumping over big waves on jet skis. Rayong is famous for the perfect swell for surfers during the peak season. Si Racha is known for the spicy seafood and delicious tropical flavours indigenous to the island. Thailand has it all, interesting architecture and art, delectable food and a fascinating culture. Uncover the gentle pace of life and atmosphere of holidays toThailand and it may be difficult to return home again.
This is a guest post.