22 December 2007

Trippers Best Of...Backpacker Ghettos

They are unavoidable, and sometimes amazing. Backpacker ghettos, the places in many (mostly eastern) cities where the concentration of hostels and guesthouses as hit a critical mass, and with the surrounding bars and cafes, has become the meeting point for travelers from around the world. It's where you can have breakfast with a Englishman in the morning, go trekking with a Frenchman in the afternoon, and play drinking games with an Australian in the evening.

Some are great, others are cancerous. Here are my favorite 5, and my least favorite 5.

1. Thamel, Kathmandu, Nepal - Beautiful streets with incredibly affordable food, lovely boutiques, and transportation by Rickshaw and foot. Also, the nightlife ain't bad, and the drinks are cheap!

2. Tanah Rata, Cameron Highlands, Malaysia - Home of the infamous Daniel's Traveler's Lodge, one of the top 10 best lodging. Besides being a refuge of cool, mountain air in a hot, hot country, Tanah Rata has an amazing selection of South Indian, Chinese, and Malay food all at ridiculous prices, and a fantastic, laid back, backpacker atmosphere.

3. Sihanoukeville, Cambodia - One amazing thing about this place? How about FREE ACCOMODATION! Yes, at least at Khin's Shack, another one of the top 10 best lodging. Throw in a really relaxed atmosphere, only two bars on the beach, and plankton in the ocean, and you have yourself an epic time. Unfortunately, it looks like commercialization is going to ruin this place, so go there soon! Imagine Thailand 15 years ago!

4. Goreme, Cappadochia, Turkey - Imagine, rooms carved into caved for less than $3 a night. Fierce competition keeps the prices here low, and in the offseason, when I went, a beautiful, peaceful time. Check out Restaurant Mercan and say hi to Mustafa for me!

5. Kanchanaburi, Thailand - A lovely, riverfront backpacker's ghetto, with good, cheap restaurants, not too many tourists, and in close range to all the historic sights of this important WW2 city, including the infamous Bridge of Tears.

The WORST

1. Koh Phangang, Thailand - One moment, I was on the boat back from the island, and I walked outside. There I saw people sitting alongside the entire side of the boat, not saying a word to each other. Many gave me weird looks as I walked by. That was Koh Phangang, an antisocial, lazyass island with more white people on the beaches than California.

2. Vang Vieng, Laos - Imagine a city in Laos with no Lao people. Instead, just drunken, high, and drugged up westerners sitting at bars designated by the TV show shown on repeat all day (Simpsons, Friends, Family Guy, Seinfeld), and overpriced bars where everyone speaks English. If I wanted that, I'd have gone to Vegas, where at least I can gamble.

3. Khao Sahn Road, Bangkok Thailand - The most infamous backpacker ghetto (see the Beach) was not the place for a solo male traveler like me. Disgusting guesthouses, loud, loud nights, and bars that play soccer, rugby, cricket, and shitball, but not good old Football, its pretty close to hell.

4. Lake
Boeung Kak, Phnom Pehn, Cambodia - Not terrible, but the accommodation by the Royal Palace is cheaper, nicer, and better located. Here, you really are in a city within a city, and its tough to escape and see the real Phnom Pehn. Too much weed, too many movies, and too much inactivity.

5. Sultanahmet, Istanbul, Turkey - My first real backpacker ghetto! Great location, but all the guesthouses and hostels are run like business's, and they mean to rip you off. I recommend staying on the other side of the river, or Couchsurfing, as I did my last two times after staying here and getting ripped off.

*note - Europeans cities tend not to have backpacker ghettos, hence, they are not on this list. Hostels in Europe tend to be more spread apart among the city, and the preponderance of regular tourists rather than budget tourists ruins the ghetto dynamic. Hence so much Asia on my list, though Sultanahmet is technically in Europe!

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14 December 2007

Trippers Best of...Friendliest People

What makes traveling around the world different from sitting in your room and watching the Travel Channel? One word PEOPLE! People are the wealth of the world. So here, a cursory ranking of the friendliest people in the world, by no means exhaustive, and heavily subjective!

1. Bulgaria - Once I crossed the border, I immediately felt at home. From having locals show me around Veliko Tornovo, to being invited to an soldier's apartment during the national holiday in Plovdiv, Bulgaria was fun, friendly, and the only country in Eastern Europe where I felt truly at home.

2. Isaan, Thailand (pictured) - A little bias because I spent three weeks there teaching english, but the people are so lovely, smile like no one else in the world, and are such a joy to be around. Read my ode to Isaan here. And my life as a Thai teenage heartrob here.

3. Dhulikhel, Nepal - Once again, volunteering bias, but my memories of living in Dhulikel, playing soccer with the villagers, and visiting the homes of my students, are of some of the most open and happy people in the world.

4. Luang Prabang, Laos - One short story. I was riding my bike clumsily through the main street in the second largest city in Laos, Luang Prabang. I turned abruptly, accidentally cutting off a Lao girl on a bike. Instead of giving me an evil glare, or shouting, she just stopped and smiled. The next day, the exact same thing happened. That is the mark of a laid back society that understand what really matters. Back home in the US, I try to keep that attitude anytime someone cuts me of in traffic.

5. Lisbon, Portugal

6. Romania

7. Malaysia

8. Osaka, Japan

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04 December 2007

Trippers best of...Religious Sites

What is a sacred site? Loosely defined in the World Trippers dictionary, it's a site which a large number of people come to for pilgrimages every year, or a site that has spiritual value of some sort. I began this trip in the heart of Christendom, a block away from the Vatican, traveled through the middle east during the holy month of Ramadan, then trekked near the most remote pilgrim sites in the world, in the Himalayas.

1. Sunrise from Ta Prohn, Angkor Wat, Cambodia (pictured) - I got up at 5AM, rode my bike though the quiet morning streets of Siem Reap and then hiked up to this hilltop temple, where me and a few other restless souls watched the glory of the sunrise over the largest religious complex in the world, Angkor Wat. Pictures and words don't do this any justice.

2. St. Peter's Cathedral, Vatican City. The beams of sunlight through the giant strain glass windows into the behemoth interior left an impression that has let to subside.

3. Boudha Temple, Kathmandu, Nepal. This urban buddhist temple in Kathmandu is hidden behind a row of red brick building, within which you find a amazing white stupa, barely squeezed into the small square, with the trongs of Tibetan buddhists circling the temple, orange robed children sitting on the white surves of the stupas in one the best surprises of Nepal (and a temple I can't find any link to online!

4. Blue Mosque, Istanbul, Turkey - A living temple, with the most beautiful interior and roof I'd ever seen. The courtyard outside, with the Hagia Sofia across the plaza, is one of the most incredible places in the world.

5. Doi Suthep, Chaing Mai, Thailand - A beautiful though small courtyard of this Thai temple sitting on a mountainside with incredible views of the 3rd largest city in Thailand.


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