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Travelling Tight

Stretch every cent on your shoestring budget for a fantastic holiday at some of the most exotic places in the world – you just need to know where to go and how to spend smartly.

Words by Efi Hafizah Hamzah

We tend to travel to places we are familiar with or to places that friends and family have visited before because such recommendations are safe and we know what to expect culturally, environmentally and mostly, financially. Here’s the thing: You can have a wonderful economical vacation anywhere in the world! You only need a bit of know-how and know-where. Here’s a guideline to the average cost of travelling to some of the most exotic locations in the world.

UTTAR PRADESH, INDIA

Known as UP, Uttar Pradesh is referred to as the ‘cow belt’ or ‘Hindu belt’, and borders Delhi, Uttarakhand, Nepal and Bihar. The city most visited and known in UP is Agra, home of the Taj Mahal; there’s also the enchanting city of Varanasi, the pilgrimage centre of Allahabad (the most auspicious of India’s four Kumbh Mela sites), Sarnath where Buddha first spread his teachings, and Kushinagar where Buddha died.

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Ganges River in Varanasi, India

GETTING AROUND
Take the train to Allahabad from Delhi. Once you get there, you can easily work out the buses you need to take to get around, but be prepared for a possibly strenuous journey as the state is vast and sprawling, so it’s quite a long journey from one city to another. There are car hires available as well that may cost a little bit more, but truly worth your while.

BEST TIME TO GO
October to March because the winter months are much cooler. Other months can be hot and dry.

THE ONE THING YOU CAN’T MISS
Go see Sangam in Allahabad – the point where the shallow, muddy waters of the Ganges River meets the clear and deep waters of Yamuna River. Hindu pilgrims come all year round to bathe and take a boat out to the auspicious spot where the two rivers meet. Taking a rowing boat should not cost more than INR30 (USD0.50) per person if you share, but beware of boat-owners who tend to fleece foreign tourists by quoting inflated prices. Alternatively, spend a bit more and take a private boat for a 30-minute trip that costs about INR200 (USD3.40). Avoid going mid-January to mid-February as it will be overcrowded due to the annual Magh Mela pilgrims. For more info on Uttar Pradesh, check out: www.up-tourism.com

GETTING THERE
AirAsia flies to Kolkata (the closest city to UP), and soon to many cities in India with the launch of AirAsia India. Go to www.airasia.com for details.

KUNMING, CHINA

Once lined with quaint back alleyways and wooden buildings, Kunming has since undergone a total facelift, and now features wide roads lined with palm trees and modern skyscrapers. It has become the ultimate modern Chinese city – just not as hectic as Beijing or Shanghai. It boasts the well-appointed Spring City Golf & Lake Resort on the northeastern shore of Lake Yangzong with one 18-hole championship course designed by Jack Nicklaus and another by Robert Trent Jones Jr. Kunming, the largest capital city in Yunnan province, is the country’s main horticultural centre, and the city is filled with greenery, flowers and spectacular parks.

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Golden Horse and Jade Cock (Jinma Biji) memorial archways in Kunming.

GETTING AROUND
The public transportation system is reliable, but should you desire more independence and plan to rent a car, be sure to prepare all necessary information and paperwork. Foreigners are not permitted to drive without a Chinese driver’s license, so it’s usually with a local driver who also serves as a tour guide.

BEST TIME TO GO
During the winter months from December to January, it’s usually only as cold as Europe in spring. But do bring a few sweaters as occasionally the temperatures may drop.

THE ONE THING YOU CAN’T MISS
Visit Green Lake Park to stroll, people-watch or join in one of the tai chi groups. The park is filled with trendy cafes, tea houses and shops. If you do visit Kunming in November, you’ll be able to join locals in the park to witness the return of the migrating red-beaked, black-headed seagulls. It’s fascinating and the best part is, it’s free. For more info on Kunming, check out: www.travelchinaguide.com/cityguides/kunming.htm

GETTING THERE
AirAsia flies daily to Kunming from Kuala Lumpur. Go to www.airasia.com for details.

RIO DE JANEIRO, BRAZIL

Rio is a party city through and through, and it’s gearing up to welcome the world as host to the 2014 World Cup and the coming Olympic Games in 2016. Such events mean fresh development and a facelift so now is the time to go before prices rise. Tucked between the Serra da Bocaina mountains and the sea, this gorgeous city will certainly entice you to spend big money on things you probably don’t need but want to enjoy. However, none of this will really matter as you immerse yourself in the sexy vibe of the city where customary outfits are a bikini top and shorts for girls, and just shorts for guys. Rio is laid-back and carefree, and the sounds of samba seem to reverberate everywhere you go. The residents of Rio seem to have perfected the art of easy living and living well. From the famous Copacabana and Ipanema beaches to the Corcovado dance halls, bars and numerous trendy cafés, everyone in Rio seems to live with nary a care in the world. It’s this idea of paradise that seduces, enchants and attracts visitors.

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Carnival performer in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil.

GETTING AROUND
The city has an efficient subway system called the Metro. Taxis are easy to find and fairly inexpensive. Buses are really cheap but usually crowded, not quite on schedule, and a lair for pick-pockets! The other option is to walk; the city is small enough to navigate by foot, and you’ll be able to visit a variety of interesting places on your stroll.

BEST TIME TO GO
June to September is relatively cool compared to other months in this warm tropical city. It’s usually crowded with summer tourists between December to March. If you want to be part of the famous Carnival, February is when you should go and be sure to head to Copacabana Beach for crazy partying.

THE ONE THING YOU CAN’T MISS
Catch the cable car up the Sugarloaf mountain for fabulous views of the mountains, sea, forests and the 38-metre high statue of Christ the Redeemer, built in 1931. The cable car ride costs USD15 for adults and USD7 for children aged six to 12 years old. For more info on Rio de Janeiro, check out: www.rio.com

NEPAL

It wasn’t until the 1950s that this small nation opened its doors to visitors. Despite being one of the most challenging places to visit, Nepal remains a great mystical allure to many largely due to it being the centre of Hinduism and Buddhism, and a gateway to the Himalayas. It is a nirvana for mountain climbers and a sanctuary for those in search of peace and calm. Nestled between the majestic walls of the Himalaya and the luscious jungles of the Indian plains, Nepal is a land of snow-capped peaks, Sherpas and stupas, yaks and yetis, monasteries and mantras. The Kathmandu Valley is lined with centuries-old stupas and temples, and further south are its national parks with exotic birds, rhinos, elephants and tigers. There’s a spiritual romance in the Nepalese air, one that is now combined with modern comforts like shops, bakeries and bistros. With the wealth of activities and places to visit here, you may certainly want to go back for more.

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Bhaktapur Square in Kathmandu.

GETTING AROUND
Although it can be quite challenging to get around Nepal due to its terrain, weather conditions Bhaktapur Square in Kathmandu. Carnival performer in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil. and general disorganisation, you can count on car hires that usually come with a driver. However, the best way to get around is still by walking. For the more adventurous, you can opt to hire hot air balloons or elephants but these are not cheap. Avoid trying to get in and out of Nepal during festivities like Dasain and Tihar as it’s extremely crowded and prices are generally higher then.

BEST TIME TO GO
October to January when it’s cool and visibility is still clear.

THE ONE THING YOU CAN’T MISS
Visit the Durbar Square in Kathmandu. This is where the city’s kings were once crowned and where their durbar (palace) was. The actual palace was moved up north to Narayanhiti about a century back, but the square remains the heart of Kathmandu and a legacy of its traditional architecture. There are shops of colourful locally-made trinkets and crafts around the area that are worth a visit for some souvenirs as well. For more info, check out: welcomenepal.com/promotional

GETTING THERE
AirAsia X flies to Kathmandu, Nepal four times a week from Kuala Lumpur. Go to www.airasia.com for details.

CAMBODIA

This is one country that seems to have risen from the ashes. Its natives, the Khmer people, are the real treasures; they have endured strife, poverty and political instability, yet their spirits remain intact, and their smiles ever bright. Their optimism is quite infectious and you will feel all warm inside as you visit the home to the eighth wonder of the world, the Angkor Wat. It is well-known as a shopping haven for crafts, beddings and linens, but there’s also a shop called Samatoa in Siem Reap that is fast becoming a tourist favourite offering custom-made dresses and suits in 48 hours. The shop promotes Fair Trade products.

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Bamboo train in Battambang.

GETTING AROUND
Once you’re there, you have the option of taking buses or taxis to go around the towns, but do avoid getting into the mamatus (minibuses) because although they are cheap, they’re usually overcrowded and the drivers are not always careful. Car rentals are also a great option if you can spend a bit more as almost all rentals now include a driver, which makes it really easy.

BEST TIME TO GO
November to February, when it’s cool.

THE ONE THING YOU CAN’T MISS
Try a ride on the bamboo train in Battambang. The ride starts at O Dambong and heads southeast to O Sra Lav. It’s a bit of a bumpy ride but well worth the experience as it’s one of the world’s all-time classic rail journeys. The bamboo train called nori in Khmer is made up of a three-metre long wooden frame covered with light bamboo slats that rest on two barbell-like bogies, and is powered by fan belts hooked up to a 6hp gasoline engine. You’ll cruise along the rail at speeds of about 15km/hour. You can hire a private bamboo train for the trip for about USD8, but sharing with the locals who use it to transport their food and wares to the market is cheaper and a real fun experience too. For more info on Cambodia, check out: www.tourismcambodia.com

GETTING THERE
AirAsia flies to Phnom Penh from Bangkok and Kuala Lumpur, and to Siem Reap from Kuala Lumpur. Go to www.airasia.com for details.

LOGROÑO, SPAIN

Logroño is the capital of La Rioja, a wine country in the north of Spain. This little town has possibly the most pintxos (pronounced ‘pinchos’, meaning ‘tapas’) bars in a single street than any other place on earth. You’d best loosen your belt as you walk around. This little understated town with its narrow streets and quaint corners is a treasure trove of hearty food and wine culture, and creative little shops in a most relaxed setting.

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Selection of tapas.

GETTING AROUND
Everyone will tell you to take the train from Madrid, but take the ALSA bus instead; it takes about the same amount of time to get there by bus but at only a quarter of the price of a train ticket. There’s even WiFi on the bus. Within the city, there’s a variety of transportation from buses and car hires to choose from.

BEST TIME TO GO
September to October because that’s when the leaves begin to change in the vineyards of La Rioja – a spectacular view. Going in September also gives you a chance to experience the festival of San Mateo, patron saint of Logroño. This is lots of fun for those who love letting loose and partying.

THE ONE THING YOU CAN’T MISS
Do a winery tour and go for pintxos. There are many great, cheap tours available and you just need to check them out to see what’s best for you. Don’t forget to visit Calle Laurel, the famous pintxos street. For more info on Logroño, check out: http://goo.gl/XXleKC

AUSTRALIA

Kevin Rudd and the national apology to Aboriginal Australians.

During Australia’s colonial period, the indigenous people of Australia endured neglect and pauperisation. Their traditional way of life was frowned upon; being semi-nomadic, they had no desire for material gains. British colonisation began in 1791 and by 1810 had escalated with Governor Macquarie deeming it best to ‘civilise’ the Aboriginals by turning them into an agrarian society, creating a hostile relationship between the colonisers and the original people of the land. Although New South Wales established the Aboriginal Protection Board in 1883, the Western Australian Aborigines Act 1905 marked the start of lawful oppression of the Aboriginals with legal forcible removal of their children to assimilate into the Caucasian life. The Native Administration Act 1936 inflicted even greater damage by giving the state absolute rights over the Aboriginal people. It would be 31 years before Aboriginals were granted full citizenship rights in Australia with the placement of the 1967 Commonwealth Referendum. In 2008, Australian Prime Minister Kevin Rudd made a national apology to the stolen generations of Aboriginal Australians with a heartfelt apology to all Aboriginals for laws and policies that “inflicted profound grief, suffering and loss”. Only then did the healing process start taking place between the Aboriginal people and the Australian government. The apology defines the beginnings of genuine efforts to usher in a new era of reconciliation in Australia.
Source: researchrepository.murdoch.edu.au; en.wikipedia.org; www.infoplease.com; world.time.com; www.survivalinternational.org; bovination.com

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An Australian Aboriginal man in the Outback.

BOLIVIA, SOUTH AMERICA

The richness of all things Latin American exists in this country. Bolivia is a great place to expand your horizons by experiencing its diverse mix of peoples, cultures and history that dates back to the Inca Kings and Tiwanaku cosmologist priests. There are deep forests on the low-lying plains amidst the majestic summits that seem to ‘protect’ the city, as well as the rivers and treks that lead out to the Amazon. Bolivia is both slow and fast-paced, depending on where you are. It’s a place where you will see the rich and the poor, the educated and the underprivileged, the hardworking and the laid-back, all melded and moulded by their own diverse cultures and traditions. It’s a place for those who are adventurous with a brave and curious spirit.

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Papyrus boat on Lake Titicaca, Bolivia.

GETTING AROUND
Bolivia has an extensive transportation system that covers most parts of the country and offers varying degrees of comfort and ease. Although many places are remote, the locals offer transportation like buses, trucks and even boats as options. The bus services in the more popular places in Bolivia are efficient and cheap.

BEST TIME TO GO
Any time of the year, but May to October is when most tourists visit Bolivia as this is the dry season and it is cooler. It’s a bit warmer from April to June, and from September to November.

THE ONE THING YOU CAN’T MISS
The Uyuni Salt Flat (Salar de Uyuni) is one of the most incredible places on earth and the largest salt desert in the world. Located over 6,400kms above sea level, no modern technology has been able to ascertain the actual amount of salt in this seemingly endless desert. It is said that Uyuni Salt Flat holds approximately a few million tonnes of salt! There are various local tours that you can sign up for to visit Uyuni, priced between USD70 and USD100, depending on the package you take for a car and tour guide.
For more info, check out: www.bolivia.travel/events_en.aspx

BUDGET TIPS FOR TRAVELLING THE WORLD IN STYLE

Call ahead before booking your hotel online
Arranging your trip online is certainly convenient but it doesn’t always guarantee you the best deal. Here’s a tip: Call the hotel at 4pm (their local time) on Sunday and ask to speak with a manager because he or she will have power to cut you a good deal. Say you’re celebrating something big and you may just get a real deal on your accommodation.

Be an extraordinary traveller, not an average one
Another way to save on hotel stays is to understand their peak season and avoid it. Business hotels are usually booked up from Sunday to Thursday but are usually empty on weekends; that’s when you’ll probably get a good deal.

Check out ‘Repositioning Cruiseships’
This is an insider tip worth a bundle! Cruise liners often have ‘Repositioning Cruiseships’ exercises to move from one port to another; this usually happens twice yearly. These cruises tend to be cheaper but provide services similar to traditional cruises. Check out vacationstogo.com/repositioning_cruises.cfm, where several repositioning cruises are featured based on the liners, regions and ports.

Use Twitter for insider deals
Follow major airlines and ticketing sites on Twitter; they often share sales, discounts and promotional codes with followers. You can also search #traveldeals; there’s a lot of travel savings to be made through Twitter.
Source: money.usnews.com, www.huffingtonpost.com

LET'S GO VISIT THE MIGHTY GANGES IN INDIA.

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  • Kelly Rogers

    Oh. These are great tips. Thank you for posting this article. It would be a great read for people wanting to go on a holiday without a destination in mind.

    • http://www.airasia.com/travel3sixty Travel 3Sixty

      You’re welcome! Sometimes all it takes is a bit of inspiration for the wanderlust to kick on. Hope you found a place to include in your bucket list. Check back often for more. :-)