Japan is like that weird but lovable friend. You’re taken aback when you first meet them – they seem absolutely off their trolley, but the more you get to know them the more you fall for their strange but irresistible charm.
What better way to see the sights of Tokyo than being dressed up as Yoshi or Princess Peach? Cruise your way around Rainbow Bridge, Tokyo Tower, Shibuya Crossing and through the Roppongi Area. Sadly, for health and safety reasons, no bananas or blue shells are involved.
An army of cats rule the remote Aoshima island, outnumbering humans six to one! Crazy cat ladies, welcome to feline paradise.
Feel like royalty as you stride through this pastel purple passageway of wisteria flowers. Make sure you visit in April-May to catch them in full bloom!
Sit down and share stories with a sumo wrestler over a Chanko hot pot dinner (a one pot dish filled with chunks of veg, meat and fish) and alllll the Sake.
With its red velvet curtains, cobweb-covered chandeliers and a coffin in the middle of the restaurant you’ll be feeling like Buffy. Sink your teeth into bat shaped pizza and wash it down with a Bloody Mary.
Honey, forget Gok Wan. If you want a real lesson in fashion then meet up with a geisha for a private shopping tour of Asakusa. Your guide will take you to some of the most unique shops around and give you an insight into the craftsmanship that goes into some of the geishas must haves: fans, fabrics and silk bags.
Famous for its’ baby octopus and soy donuts, Nishiki Market first opened way back in 1310. Arrive with an empty stomach to make room for all the mochi and of course, Kyoto’s famous yudofu tofu.
Be at one with nature and become a tree hugger, kinda. The Japanese practice of Shinrin Yoku (forest bathing) has been proven to lower heart rate and blood pressure as well as boosting your immune system. In-tree-guing.
Even if you’ve been to Disney Land or seen every single West End musical, this is a show like no other. If dancing with robots and ninjas to techno music is your thing then make your way to Tokyo’s Kabukicho red-light district for a boogie.
If you know your Monet’s from your Warhol’s, then head to the remote arty island of Naoshima and explore underground architecture, mazes and modern art pieces. Once a fishing town, it’s now a thriving contemporary art hub. There’s limited accommodation on the island so you won’t be surrounded by tourists too.
You can get anything and everything from a vending machine in Japan, whether it’s ramen in 50 seconds, a new pet rhinoceros beetle or canned bread (umm… sorry, what?), grab that yen and get pushing some buttons.
Ready to get weird in Japan? Check out our travel guide here.
Chaotic, humbling, colourful, joyful (especially the moment you stumble upon a clean Western-style toilet)… Southeast Asia is a traveltopia of temples, tuk-tuks, cheap beers and woefully misguided clothing choices.
I was therefore naturally delighted to travel on Stray Asia’s flexible hop-on hop-off network in Thailand and Laos recently.
Here are seven reasons why you should, too.
A much overused travel term, we can admit to being suspicious in a deeply British way about Stray’s claim to getting off the beaten track. After all, Southeast Asia is pretty well-travelled, and so hardly known for its surprises. Unless of course, you count waking up wearing someone else’s shoes, but that’s just down to Chang beer, and not really a surprise anymore after the first time it happens.
But via a mixture of authentic transport (houseboats, buses, trains, tuk tuks), flexible hop-on hop-off stops, homestays and truly legendary local guides, Stray genuinely does get you to places that no one else does.
The verdict: Words, fully eaten.
The Stray network is full of unique and out-of-the-way stops. On our route, we were lucky enough to stay overnight in a wildly remote village, on the Mekong River. Here’s what went down.
After a sunset swim in the Mekong, and a rather emotional ‘Baci’ blessing ceremony (the local whisky perhaps contributing to the sentimental nature of this), we responded to our hosts’ kindness as only travellers know how. The great cultural exchange… the hokey cokey.
The whole homestay experience was beautiful, moving and unforgettable. And we’d therefore like to sincerely apologise for inflicting our 90s dancefloor offences on your wonderful and gracious village.
Cultural exchange with locals: Travellers 0, Villagers 1, reasons to go 100.
We’ll keep this one short and lyrical. TLC told us not to go chasing waterfalls. They were wrong. Kuang Si Falls are wicked. And there were swimsuit mishaps. And bears. In a rescue sanctuary.
Whilst going to Asia and not visiting temples is possibly some form of travelling hate crime, we get that after several (hundred) your feet start to ache, your mouth feels dry, and while you should be part way through a spiritual awakening, you’re actually thinking about dinner, beer, or both.
Up in Thailand’s northernmost city, Wat Rong Khun is not your average temple. A glittering disco ball of a site, it may look like the brainchild of Barbie and Buddha, but close up, it’s seriously badass. An ode to Buddhist mythology and 1990s sleepovers, it features baddies such as Hellraiser, Freddy Kruger, Terminator and… Hello Kitty? While not pretending to understand the last bit, the effect is awesome.
Templed out? Never. Also, the toilets were an absolute delight. And when you find a good one in Asia, you really need to shout about it.
Lao’s so cruisy, that before we happily slip into a sticky rice and sunshine coma, we need to mention the Mekong. Spanning seven countries from the Himalayas to the South China Sea, this mighty river curves through the mountains and marigold-strewn heart of Laos.
Once on board the local houseboat used by Stray, it took a good 20 minutes of indignant phone tapping before realising that your satellites are no good here, Mister Google. This is the Mekong, and it owns you. For two glorious days. Home to an Esky cooler of Beer Laos and some of the most spiritual and humbling scenery on the planet, things got deep. In an incredible way.
Prediction: You’ll be in a pair of genie pants before you can say Aladdin, and not just because they make comfortable boat wear. Namaste indeed.
Technically not an official highlight of the trip, more a personal lifestyle choice, drinking is nevertheless an important point to raise. Unlike Thailand, Laos is pretty snoozy. With most locals firmly tucked up in bed by sundown, it’s also virtually impossible to find a beer after 10pm (unless you’re in Vang Vieng. Or Luang Prabang. Then your only hope is the knowledge of your local guide and bizarrely, the town’s bowling alley).
Laos may be sleepy, but don’t be fooled, it’s far from dry. Lao-Lao whisky is a staple here. And is a little like being socked in the face by supermarket tequila. And Sambucca. At the same time.
Verdict: Thank you whisky gods. (However, can we please have the feeling back in our faces now? Cheers).
Rice, the blandest of carbs, what’s to know? Other than it tastes better drowned in curry sauce or fermented into some kind of mind-altering moonshine.
An optional extra with Stray, this community enterprise was truly amazing. Not until you’ve been thigh high in a paddy full of buffalo poop will you appreciate the work that goes into producing this humble little carb.
Personal admission: You’ll never look at rice in the same way again, you cynical fool.
Ready to Stray? Head over to our website for a proper Southeast Asia destination guide full of tips, information and travel deals in Thailand and Laos.
If there’s one thing America does properly, it’s food. Whether you’re after a massive hot dog with toppings you’d never dream up yourself, or clean-living vegan delights, there’s a truck out there waiting for you. Get ready to drool all over your phone…
Get a taste of the flavours of Mauritius with an Asian fusion right in the heart of Portland. The Mine Frire with lentil fritters is almost worth the visit by itself. Don’t let them go easy on the mint chutney either, that stuff mixed with the spices is a taste sensation.
Find the truck: 427 SW Stark Street
Embrace your sassy side at this gourmet hot dog joint! If you’re looking for something a little different to the ketchup and mustard combo, how does Cajun alligator sausage with a crawfish topping sound?
Find the truck: Keep an eye on their Facebook page for their latest location
Ready to go to whipped cream and Belgium chocolate heaven? To pick our favourite combination of toppings would be like asking a parent to pick their favourite kid, it’s just morally wrong.
Find the truck: 284 Van Brunt St, Brooklyn, NY 11231, USA
You don’t need to go to Mexico to have some of the world’s best tacos, but you do have to go to Los Angeles! Once your taste buds have had a taste of their smoky chipotle, you’re going to want to bottle it up. Sriracha who?
Find the truck: 5300 W Olympic Boulevard
This burger joint is here to prove you don’t need meat between buns to have a good time. Arlo’s serves plant-based organic food in a bistro style setting. Don’t leave without trying their Bac’n cheeze burger!
Find the truck: 900 Red River
If there’s a heaven, Captain Cookie and The Milk Man will be waiting for you outside the gates. If you’re in hunt for a vegan chocolate chip cookie, these guys have got your back.
Find the truck: Check their website to see where their trucks are located daily
Hungry? If so you should probably check out these amazing USA adventures because, after reading this, how can you possibly think one stop is enough?
Whether you’re a mermaid, unicorn or just a regular human being, Queensland is a magical kingdom full of challenges for you to slay!
Are you at your happiest when you’re splashing around in the sea? Does having feet feel strange to you? Well then, my little mermaid, we have some challenges for you up where they walk, up where they run, up where they stay all day in the sun… in Queensland!
Great Barrier Reef Diving
If you go to Queensland without seeing the Great Barrier Reef, did you really go to Queensland? If you want to get up close and personal with nemo and his fishy friends, then head to Cairns. Don’t worry if you haven’t dived before, most tours offer you the opportunity to try it out with a small group before you jump in at the deep end.
White Water Rafting
Craving adrenalin? Head to Mission Beach or take a trip to Cairns to get your thrills. The backdrop of the World Heritage Rainforest is worth the experience in itself!
You don’t need to be a pro diver to appreciate all the good stuff. Pop on your fins and choose from one of Queensland’s many snorkelling sites. To name just a few, try Magnetic Island, Orpheus Island and Lady Musgrave.
Stand Up Paddleboarding
If you’re not quite ready to ride the waves on a surf board, then peaceful paddle boarding may be the one for you. Ready to stand up to the challenge?
Forever chasing rainbows? Constantly glowing from glitter filled weekends? Dreaming of flying through the air? Fabulous friend, it’s time to take to the skies. We believe in you!
Hot Air Ballooning
Rise and shine, you’ve got a hot air balloon ride to catch! Take flight and see the sunrise over Queensland as you float across the Hinterland. Some tours offer breakfast with champagne afterwards, we’ll toast to that.
Spread your wings as you zip-a-dee-doo-dah your way through the UNESCO World Heritage-listed Daintree Rainforest. Keep those eyes open for immense views of the Rainforest canopy and the Great Barrier Reef.
Mission Beach is the place to go to get your kicks at 15,000 feet in the air. You’re probably not in it for the scenery, but the sights of the pristine white beaches, rainforest and the Great Barrier Reef will have you giving jumping a second thought as you take it all in. But when you do finally step out of the plane, you’ll freefall at over 200km/hour. Fly unicorn, fly!
So you want to see the sights of Queensland from above without jumping out of a plane? We feel ya. Not all unicorns fly.
Regular Human Being
So you’re not a mermaid, or a unicorn. Well then, you’re just a regular human being – and there’s nothing wrong with that! The land is yours to conquer.
Big Red Sand Dune
Like being behind the wheel? Just 35km from Birdsville lies the perfect challenge for any driving enthusiast. Make sure to stick around for the sunset, it’s an experience not to be missed.
Have a Rose and Jack moment and feel the breeze in your locks as you cruise around some of Queensland’s paradise islands.
Born to be wild? Cruise through the town of 1770 with the Scooteroo crew as you explore the beautiful Australian countryside. Watch out for the joeys!
Fraser Island 4WD Tour
Get behind the wheel of a 4WD and see the sights of Fraser Island on your own terms. Highlights include Central Station, Lake McKenzie, Eli Creek, the Pinnacles, Wanggoolba Creek, and the Maheno shipwreck.
Queensland challenge accepted? Hell yeah! Head over to our site to start planning out your Aussie adventure.
The USA is MASSIVE. Seriously massive. It’s a country full of diversity, which is reflected in their music scene. They’ve got a variety of incredible festivals just waiting to be attended. Whether you’re a bit of a celebrity-spotting fashionista, into your hard-core punk or like to keep things pretty chilled, the USA is guaranteed to satisfy your musical penchant, whatever it is! Not only that, the freshest new talent and undiscovered gems are often found at festivals, especially in the States – that’s the best bit about them. So hop across the pond, put your dancing shoes on and keep your ears out for the next big thing in music!
Let’s get stuck into some of the AWESOME festivals the USA has to offer…
If we utter the words ‘long-haul flight’ do your legs immediately seize up at the thought of sitting still for 4+ hours? But don’t stress, when you choose the right airline, you’ll feel like absolute royalty (champagne on arrival pur-lease). From one global explorer to another, here’s our survival guide on how to have an experience just as good as the adventure you’re about to embark on…
Everyone’s got at least one pair of comfy pants that should have been chucked in the bin a long time ago, but for some strange reason, you cling onto them. This is their moment to shine.
Struggle to sleep on planes? There’s nothing a glass or two of the good stuff can’t cure. You’ll be snoozing in no time. Hiccup.
The window seat not only means epic views on take-off and landing it’s also the perfect headrest. AND most importantly you won’t be disturbed by peeing Paul who needs the loo every 2 minutes. Those sideglance evils are for you Paul.
If you have a fear of flying, we’ve got a trick that will keep you calm when turbulence occurs. Shake it like Beyonce! It sounds weird, we know. But jiggling your body replicates the aircraft movements so you won’t feel it so much. It works, trust us.
Invest in a neck pillow! Sure, they’re not the hottest fashion accessory but your neck will thank you for it!
No eating baked beans at least 24 hours before your flight. Don’t become the phantom farter of the flight, that guy doesn’t deserve friends to travel with.
Make sure your phone battery is fully charged before you take off. There will come a time during the flight after watching your fourth film when you’ll want nothing more than a game of Candy Crush. We can’t help you with level 47 though, sorry.
Don’t ever check what time it is. It’s not going to make the flight go by any faster!
We’re not asking you to start doing yoga in the aisles, just make sure you get up every now and again and stretch your legs to help boost your circulation.
The person next to you will thank you for it.
See above. Cheese feet.
Qantas was recently awarded Best Airline in Australia/Pacific at the Skytrax 2016 Awards (well done, guys!) so you know you’re in for a treat. Fun fact: Qantas A380 is quieter than any other large aircraft with a reduction in take-off noise by half and a quieter cabin experience in flight so sleeping will be a breeze! And from March 25 2018 you can also enjoy a cushy little stopover in Singapore on your way to Australia! And with all these tips, from March Qantas can fly you there non-stop on their Dreamliner – the quickest way to reach Australia! Check out their flights here.
Australia is known for having some of the most insane beaches in the world, but with so many of them how do you decide which are even worth your time? Beach please, we’ll tell you.
Location: New South Wales
We can hear you tutting, but hold up hun. We HAD to put Byron Bay on the list because no top 10 list of beaches is complete without it. Not because of the beach itself, but the vibe (and the ridiculously good-looking locals – hellooooo). As you arrive, you’ll be greeted by a welcome sign that reads “Welcome to Byron Bay. Cheer up. Slow down. Chill out” which you can’t help but obey. Don’t leave without visiting The Top Shop. No, it’s not the Topshop you’d expect to find on the high street, it’s a trendy back street café. No basic beaches here.
To celebrate our latest offer, giving you up to £740 off Arctic & Antarctica expeditions, (How n-ice of us!) we thought we’d tell you exactly why polar bears are cool all year round.
1.Polar bears may look white, but their fur is made of clear, hollow tubes filled with air
2. They keep themselves clean by rolling in the snow
3. They have no natural enemies (surely the seals must secretly hate them?!)
4. When they aren’t hunting, they rest for up to 20 hours a day
5. They have built-in socks. Kind of. The stiff fur on the soles of their feet keep them from slipping on ice
6. Beneath their white coats, their skin is black. Don’t ever Google ‘shaved polar bear’, you’ll never look at them in the same way again
7. Adult polar bears can measure over 2.5m long and weigh around 680kg, making them the largest living carnivores on Earth!
8. When born, a cub weighs about the size of a guinea pig
9. Polar bears are camouflaged to most animals, the expectation being reindeer which see in ultraviolet light
10. Cubs stay with their mothers for about two years, before heading out on their own into the big world
11. They do NOT fear humans! You have been warned.
There’s no better treat to take you back to your childhood than a scoop of ice cream, it’s dairy nostalgic heaven! Whether your taste buds are craving the simple joy of vanilla or something a little more experimental, we’ve got you covered with our guide to the best ice cream New York City has to offer.
Price range: $$
Skipped breakfast? Head to the Milk Bar for a cereal bar soft serve – it tastes just like the milk at the bottom of a bowl of cornflakes! While you’re there, grab a few b’day truffles – a birthday party in a bite. Don’t be scared of the constant queue, it moves pretty fast and we promise you it’s worth the wait.
Where to go: 251 E 13th St, New York, NY 10003
Thailand is one of the most popular destinations for those looking to find bliss, but paradise isn’t always found diving head first into an infinity pool. You probably already know all about the beautiful beaches and the electric nightlife of Bangkok, so here are a few experiences to shake things up a bit and make your Thai adventure EVEN more memorable…
Whether you’re a volunteering veteran or a first timer, caring for rescued elephants will warm the coldest of hearts. The Thai Elephant Conservation project in Chiang Mai is home to around 30 rescued elephants who have sadly suffered a lifetime of abuse working in the tourist trade before they found their way to this little sanctuary. Help feed and take care of these glorious creatures, conserve their environment and be prepared to get a little wet when it comes to communal bath time!
Interested in this volunteering project? Get in touch with us here.