Upon my first visit to any new Asian city, I am most excited to try the local food. Perhaps the second-most interesting feature unique to each new destination is the creative ways that people are transported across the city. Below are some of my favorite modes of transportation across Southeast Asian cities:
BAJAJ: JAKARTA, INDONESIA
A bajaj, named after the Indian Bajaj motor company, is a motorized rickshaw. There are an estimated 20,000 of these in Indonesia’s “Big Durian” capital of Jakarta. They will seat two comfortably and even accommodate five or six with a little motivation. The drivers are generally upbeat and fairly honest, though a little negotiation is necessary. Just ask a young local what you should pay to your destination before getting in.
The ride can be fun. These guys will fearlessly make a … Read More »
Long-term budget travel can be strenuous and take its toll. In addition to the long bus rides, the heat, and the constantly-changing environments, your accommodations will generally be modest and sometimes downright uncomfortable. Many budget travelers try to keep to a $1,000-a-month budget, which comes out to about $30 a day, accounting for cross-border flights and visa fees. When considering this budget, it is generally wise to keep accommodation around $10/day, which will allow for a modest guesthouse or dormitory, depending on the country.
When budget allows, I recommend finding a sweet deal on a luxury hotel, arranging a 10 a.m. check-in and just spending the next 26 hours relaxing on the premises. It will give you the chance to take a steaming bath, clear your head, get excellent sleep and even wear a damn robe. You will likely get a … Read More »
Even the truss-like diagonals and curvature of the letters that make up the words ‘NEW ORLEANS’ exude a feminine, wrought-iron elegance. There is architecture even in the name here.
A pianist/singer I heard at LaFitte’s on Bourbon Street once informed us, “I’ve played in two countries: the USA and New Orleans.” It seems New Orleans doesn’t really belong anywhere. While New York and Los Angeles remain a patchwork of influences, there has never been a definitive style that comes from either city. As the common notice goes, San Francisco has been “yuppiefied” and sterilized for years. Boston and Philadelphia, though physically stately, were never the most emotive of places. Chicago is an athlete with a strong chin, indifferent to its style. New Orleans, however, is of its’ own.
Everywhere I go in the world, I still see New Orleans. It’s there in … Read More »
“Come Quickly. I have tasted the stars.”– 19th century champagne print add, often attributed to Dom Perignon
5. LUNA BAR, Kuala Lumpur
Located just across the street from the KL Tower (the city’s unmissable ‘space needle’) on the 34th floor of the Pacific Regency Hotel, the Luna Bar offers a spectacular view of the Petronas Towers and Kuala Lumpur skyline. After 10pm, secure a spot on the upper deck for the best view of KL available. Unfortunately, the tempting swimming pool in the middle is only for hotel guests. But, what’s the worst that can happen- you get kicked out? Finish your drink and hop in.
4. XIU, Beijing
Another sprawling Grand Hyatt rooftop bar, Xiu is modestly located on the 5th floor of the hotel. The design is a combination of sleek contemporary and traditional Beijing architecture (recreated, of course). The … Read More »
A surge of Tokyo pedestrians doesn’t shuffle. A Tokyo crowd moves like a current, its unity seamless and sychronized. On a rainy day, from above, the umbrellas of Tokyo drift like leaves in a stream, independent and incongruent, yet guided by a common momentum. Down the narrowest alleys and side streets, these lids flock together like birds, graciously careful to not encroach or collide. Even for the most urbane first-time visitor to the city, swimming in a Tokyo crowd takes guts and determination. Observing it from a vantage point is often more pleasant, and far less embarrassing.
I remember exiting the Harajuku JR station on a Sunday afternoon in September, expecting to photograph the over-the-top fashions of the gothic Harajuku Girls. What I saw instead were hundreds of other downcast, yet eager faces peering from beneath the rims of their umbrellas. … Read More »
For tourists to the USA, one of the most often-traveled routes is Los Angeles to Las Vegas. We have seen it in countless movies, including The Hangover, Very Bad Things and Swingers. I have spoken to many international tourists who have made this drive. Almost always, they travel straight along Interstate 15, making the 4+ hour drive as fast as they can, seeing power lines, billboards and truck stops along the way.
However, if you take a full day and the initiative to push your car off the restrictions of the 4-lane Interstate and into the depths of the desert, you will find a rewarding journey filled with surreal desertscapes and highway ruins, exposing layers of forgotten Americana that few international travelers can experience in American cities. Additional time may allow for some exploration of Joshua Tree National Park, famous for … Read More »
It has been estimated that over 35,000 shoppers come here, to Southeast Asia’s largest market, each Saturday and Sunday. On the Saturday that I visited, I didn’t count 35,000- but I did see quite a few sweaty faces.The 35-acre Chatuchak Weekend Market has been selling expendable horseshit to travelers for over 30 years. It contains an estimated 5,000 unnecessary stalls of needless horseshit, all of which could be yours. In addition to all of the inessential horseshit, the Chatuckak Market has become a hub for the trade of crucial endangered species. Enjoy.
Since I’ve exhausted my use of “horseshit”, along with synonyms for “needless”, I’ll leave it at that.
To visit, travel north all the way up the BTS skytrain to Mo Chit Station and follow the masses toward the market. The dispensible market offerings begin the second you exit the station.
View … Read More »
Lake Toba is a place where people come for a week but end up staying for a month, sometimes never leaving at all. Located in northern Sumatra, the largest of Indonesia’s many islands, Lake Toba sits at a high altitude that gives it a year-round cool and comfortable climate. One hundred kilometers long and thirty kilometers wide, Lake Toba is the largest volcanic lake in the world. Not only is the lake of importance in archeological history, it is also a spectacularly beautiful and peaceful travel destination which offers an alternative to the thumping pop music and traffic-filled beach destinations of southeast Asia.
My trip to Lake Toba offered me the chance to take a break from the hectic pace and thick air of many Asian cities. The lake water is clean, warm and perfectly inviting for swimming. The lake also … Read More »
The Tsukiji fish market is widely known to be the largest fish market in the world, as well as one of the largest markets of any kind, anywhere. No visit to Tokyo is complete without a smelly pre-dawn wandering. Bring your camera and plenty of battery, as the vivid colors and juxtapositions here are amazing. The market is set to move locations in early 2016 so if you want to see it at the current location, be sure to plan your trip soon.
Remember that bar in Star Wars? Yes, the cantina with all the crazy creatures jamming and fighting. The Tsukiji market is something akin to this, except that the characters are soon to be traveling down an esophagus rather than sailing through space. You will see creatures you could never imagine on a plate. They are squirming, spitting, twisting … Read More »
I understand: you’ve just arrived from the airport. You look like hell. You really do; you’re sweaty, tired, hungry and you’re wearing sports pants. You just want to check in, put down your bag, shower and eat. You don’t yet want to go out exploring your new city, scouring for the best hidden place to get your first meal. Again, I understand. I’ve seen you looking anguished in countless hostels, hotels and guesthouses across the world, and I have been in your sandals before.
Be patient. I don’t believe I’ve ever eaten at a guesthouse, hostel or hotel eatery that could survive on its own as an independent restaurant. The food is always dumbed down for tourists and built to fill a hole and make a buck, not to cherish. Food is one of the joys of travel, so fight the … Read More »