The 7 Best Places to Visit in Northern Thailand

  • 01 of 08

    Where to Go in Northern Thailand

    The 7 Best Places to Visit in Northern Thailand

    Aumphotography/Getty Images

    Although Northern Thailand suffers from a dreadful lack of islands — it’s landlocked and mountainous — the region still tops the list of favorites for where to go in Thailand.

    Many of the best places to visit in Northern Thailand share an outwardly positive vibe. It’s just… different, in a good way. Culture inspired by Lanna, Shan, Karen, and other indigenous ethnic groups in the region provides a noticeably friendlier atmosphere than that often found in the south.

    The Golden Triangle, where Thailand, Myanmar, and Laos meet, doesn’t just produce opium anymore. Thanks to the slightly cooler climate, you can enjoy some indulgences in Northern Thailand that are sometimes difficult to locate elsewhere in the country: real coffee, tea plantations, vineyards, and strawberries.

    Even the festivals are bigger in the north. Loi Krathong/Yi Peng (the one with sky lanterns and candlelit boats) and Songkran (the Thai New Year water fight celebration) are celebrated with more gusto than anywhere else in Thailand.

    Note: Although Isan — Thailand’s largest region — occupies 20 sizable provinces that border Laos and Cambodia, it is traditionally considered “Northeastern Thailand” rather than “Northern Thailand” because of cultural differences.

    Continue to 2 of 8 below.

  • 02 of 08

    Chiang Mai

    The 7 Best Places to Visit in Northern Thailand

    Boy_Anupong/Getty Images

    Any discussion of interesting places to visit in Northern Thailand has to begin with the northern capital of Chiang Mai. Most destinations are within an easy striking distance of the city.

    Chiang Mai (pronounced: “ch-ae-ng mye”) means “New City” in the Lanna language. Despite the prevalence of elephants in the local culture, the name has nothing to do with chang (elephant), properly pronounced “ch-ah-ng” in the Thai language. Why the New City? Chiang Mai took over Chiang Rai’s job as capital in 1296.

    To bust another popular myth, Chiang Mai is not the second largest city in Thailand as many travelers think — but it does somehow serve as a cultural heart for the country. The city offers the classic winning trifecta that attracts travelers: friendly locals, great food, and affordable prices. With the usual amount of frugality, you get more bang for the travel buck in Chiang Mai — and Northern Thailand in general — than in Bangkok or the islands.​

    Chiang Mai’s Old City is a perfect square with all the defenses necessary to survive as capital in the 14th century. Elephant-proof moat, giant gates, a defensive wall with brick ramparts — they’re still standing. The labyrinth of confusing streets and passages in the interior of the Old City hides plenty of enjoyable finds — including a high density of temples. But the action isn’t all contained within the moat. Some of Chiang Mai’s most interesting places lie outside of the Old City, just within scooter range.

    If you don’t mind crowds, the weekend markets are a fun spectacle of socializing, nibbling, and shopping that attract just as many locals as tourists. The markets are definitely a good option for sampling local treats and grabbing inexpensive souvenirs — but you’ll still need to negotiate.

    Although Bangkok may offer 100 times the choices, Chiang Mai just feels more manageable. Things are easier to find. Want to help a good cause by getting a massage from a blind man or an incarcerated woman? Easy! And unlike in Bangkok, you can probably walk there in minutes; no public transportation necessary.

    Fun fact: Notice a high density of MacBook Air laptops in the many cafes? That’s because Chiang Mai is home to a large community of location-independent entrepreneurs and expats who call themselves “digital nomads.” They share cafes and coworking spaces alongside online English teachers, bloggers, and others who earn a living with a laptop. Even when dial-up modems were screeching for connections and online work wasn’t possible, Chiang Mai held appeal for artists, writers, and long-term travelers who were interested in dropping anchor for a while.

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  • 03 of 08

    Pai

    The 7 Best Places to Visit in Northern Thailand

    ARUTTHAPHON POOLSAWASD/Getty Images

    Ahhh, Pai. The elephant-pants-wearing, man-bunned, tattooed-traveler capital of Thailand. Despite Chiang Mai’s many draws, sometimes the sizable rats and endless traffic circling the moat can become too much. Thankfully, there’s Pai.

    A bit less than four hours north of Chiang Mai, Pai is a much smaller, chilled-out, riverside option for getting away from concrete. Although still mostly green, Pai’s popularity and its development have grown tremendously in the last decade. So far, the charm has survived. Travelers of all budgets and nationalities cram into minivans to visit Pai. A surprising number come and decide not to leave.

    But don’t let outdated guidebooks that still refer to Pai as a “quiet, hippie town” fool you. The growth in tourism sent many of the original “hippies” scurrying out of Pai to quieter destinations or homesteads in the hills outside of town. Somehow, despite the size, the backpacker-oriented nightlife rages later than Chiang Mai’s. Fortunately, there are plenty of organic eateries, juice shops, and healthy options for curing next-day regrets.

    Visiting tip: Pai’s legacy as a healthy place grows. You’ll find a high concentration of vegetarian and organic food (much of which is grown nearby), juice shops, and options for a healthier lifestyle. Yoga retreats, tai chi, qi gong, meditation centers, holistic healing workshops — Pai offers a lot of opportunities for improving health and knowledge if you can avoid the reggae bars.

    Continue to 4 of 8 below.

  • 04 of 08

    Chiang Rai

    The 7 Best Places to Visit in Northern Thailand

    Boy_Anupong/Getty Images

    The city of Chiang Rai is an anomaly among the places to go in Northern Thailand. With a population of only around 75,000 people, it’s certainly smaller than Chiang Mai. But the city is buzzing with commerce, universities, and daily life — which unfortunately includes plenty of traffic.

    Most tourists are drawn for a short visit to Chiang Rai thanks in large part to the impressive creations of Thawan Duchanee and Chalermchai Kositpipat, two renowned Thai artists. After enjoying their contributions to the city, you can escape to the serene Khun Korn Forest Park, a worthwhile 45 minutes away, to cool down under a waterfall.

    Until his death in 2014, Thawan actually lived in his otherworldly masterpiece — an estate known as Baan Dam (the Black House). Meant to be a portrayal of hell, the creepy grounds and buildings of the Black House are adorned with animal bones and demonic art. Exploring definitely bestows a dark sense of wonder.

    On the other end of that spectrum, Chalermchai Kositpipat’s bizarre work Wat Rong Khun (the White Temple) is a visually stunning Buddhist temple that somehow integrates religious themes with Hollywood and Hello Kitty. The Matrix, Terminator, and Superman — along with many other works of fiction — receive shout-outs in the mesmerizing murals. The White Temple will cheer you up a bit after having explored the Black House; that is if you don’t pay too much attention to the rejected souls writhing in agony before the gates of heaven.

    Another famous work from Chalermchai is Chiang Rai’s golden clock tower set prominently in a roundabout in the center of town. Unveiled in 2008 as a tribute to the King of Thailand, the clock tower comes alive every hour — as one would expect an ornate clock tower to do. But visitors who watch at 7 p.m., 8 p.m., and 9 p.m. get an unexpected treat. No spoilers here, but you’ll feel as though you just got sucked into Walt Disney World for a few minutes!

    Visiting tip: Don’t expect Chiang Rai to be a serene escape from Chiang Mai or you may be disappointed! The streets are perpetually clogged with drivers who think that sounding the horn will improve the situation.

    Continue to 5 of 8 below.

  • 05 of 08

    Mae Hong Son

    The 7 Best Places to Visit in Northern Thailand

    Tuul & Bruno Morandi/Getty Images

    Although you’ll have to brave well over 1,000 twists, turns, and cutbacks on the six-hour drive from Chiang Mai, Mae Hong Son is definitely among the best places to go in Northern Thailand. The small town of 7,000 is about as close as you can get to Myanmar without getting into trouble. Shan cultural influences are apparent in the food and attitude. Many Burmese people call Mae Hong Son home.

    Remoteness is both a blessing and a curse; Mae Hong Son doesn’t often get included in itineraries for Northern Thailand. It’s usually relegated to being a stopover for travelers exploring the region by motorbike. The popular “Mae Hong Son Loop” is a scenic route popular with motorbikers that takes 4-5 days to complete.

    Mae Hong Son has all the enjoyable options of the other places to visit in Northern Thailand: temples, waterfalls, night markets, caves, and trekking to hill tribe villages. There are just enough hostels, guesthouses, and cafes, most of which are dotted around a small lake. The town is easily walkable.

    Continue to 6 of 8 below.

  • 06 of 08

    Chiang Dao

    The 7 Best Places to Visit in Northern Thailand

    Peera Sathawirawong/Getty Images

    Located around 90 minutes north of Chiang Mai, Chiang Dao is the place to go for picturesque limestone cliffs and Thailand’s third-highest mountain, Doi Chiang Dao (7,135 feet). Although the mountain is barely a pebble when matched up against the massifs in Asia’s Himalayas, Chiang Dao is the premier place for bird watching in Thailand. Over 300 species, many of which are rare, can be spotted.

    For the travel mates not so interested in birding, caves, and hot springs are good options. If visiting during Thailand’s “winter” season, you’ll definitely appreciate the hot springs: Chiang Dao can get chilly!​

    The town is located very close to Pha Daeng National Park, an area popular for trekking through bamboo forests in a climate that isn’t as sweltering as the rest of Thailand. Karen hill tribe villages are nearby.

    Continue to 7 of 8 below.

  • 07 of 08

    Lampang

    The 7 Best Places to Visit in Northern Thailand

    John Elk/Getty Images

    Hiding among the other lesser-known places to visit in Northern Thailand, Lampang stays fairly low on the tourism radar. Perhaps it’s because Lampang is south of Chiang Mai (90 minutes) rather than north like Pai, Chiang Rai, and Mae Hong Son.

    But Lampang isn’t exactly a sleepy village. It’s the third largest town in Northern Thailand. Overnight buses and trains between Bangkok and Chiang Mai often stop in Lampang — it’s directly along the way.

    One thing that makes Lampang “different” is that there aren’t any sputtering tuk-tuks clogging the streets. Lampang is the last real place in Thailand where horse-drawn carriages are still a “thing,” but they’re on the decline. The fleet of songthaews (covered pickup trucks) circulating town is a more practical solution for getting around.

    The best time to visit Lampang is on Saturday or Sunday when the weekend market is thriving. Ceramics from the region are a popular item to purchase. The paper made from elephant dung makes a very unique gift for squeamish friends at home.

    Many tourists — Thai and Western — are drawn to Lampang by the only government-owned elephant camp in Thailand. The Thai Elephant Conservation Centre has been around since 1993 and is home to 50 or so elephants along with an elephant nursery/hospital.

    Note: Although the elephant center is government run, it is under criticism for forcing elephants to perform shows and give rides — practices stopped by many private centers.

    Continue to 8 of 8 below.

  • 08 of 08

    Doi Inthanon

    The 7 Best Places to Visit in Northern Thailand

    Aumphotography/Getty Images

    If Doi Chiang Dao wasn’t tall enough for you, you can trek to 8,415 feet on Thailand’s highest peak, Doi Inthanon. The weather will feel especially cool as you explore the temple near the summit and take in limestone scenery.

    Doi Inthanon is located around two hours west of Chiang Mai. The Thai National Observatory, a large astronomical telescope, is perched on top.

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10 Treats to Try at Tokyo Disney

  • 01 of 10

    Churros and Popcorn

    10 Treats to Try at Tokyo Disney

    Erin De Santiago

    While churro and popcorn carts are a staple at Disney Resorts worldwide, Tokyo Disney kicks things up a notch and serves Mickey-shaped churros and popcorn in a wide variety of flavors. Look for seasonal shapes and flavors at the churro carts in both Tokyo Disneyland and Tokyo DisneySea.

    When it comes to the popcorn, flavors run the gamut from the expected to the bizarre. Stick to sweet basics like honey, milk tea, and caramel, or be bold and experiment with unique savory options like herb tomato, soy sauce and butter, barbecue, and curry. Popcorn flavors vary by individual carts, which means seeking out all the flavors in both parks can be an adventure in itself.

    Collectors of Disney popcorn buckets will want to visit the designated carts selling the latest releases, but be prepared to stand in line. There is such a demand for newly released popcorn buckets in Tokyo that lines can easily stretch 30 minutes or more, especially on the weekends.  

    Where to Find It: Various Popcorn and Churro carts in both Tokyo Disneyland and Tokyo DisneySea Parks  

  • 02 of 10

    Mike Wazowski Melon Bread

    10 Treats to Try at Tokyo Disney

    Erin De Santiago

    Fans of Pixar’s Monsters, Inc. and Monsters University movies won’t want to miss trying the Mike Wazowski melon bread at Tokyo Disneyland. Melon bread, more commonly called melonpan, is a traditional sweet bun found In Japan. It’s slightly sweet, but not ridiculously sweet, which makes it perfect for a quick snack, perhaps while waiting for a parade to start. Other options include a wide variety of Mickey-shaped breads and pastries. These are great to purchase and take back to your hotel for a quick breakfast in the morning before heading back into the parks.  

    Where to Find It: Sweetheart Café, World Bazaar, Tokyo Disneyland  

  • 03 of 10

    Little Green Alien Mochi Dumplings

    10 Treats to Try at Tokyo Disney

    Erin De Santiago

    Be sure not to miss the little green alien mochi dumplings that are unique to Tokyo Disney. If you’ve never heard of mochi, it’s a Japanese rice cake that is pounded into a paste and molded into shape. Each dumpling has a different flavored filling, which is typically custard, chocolate, or strawberry. You can also buy a matching souvenir container at New York Deli in Tokyo DisneySea. 

    Where to Find It: Designated food stands in Tokyo Disneyland and Mamma Biscotti’s Bakery in Tokyo DisneySea 

  • 04 of 10

    Mickey Waffles

    10 Treats to Try at Tokyo Disney

    Erin De Santiago

    Popular breakfast items like Mickey-shaped waffles are available at Tokyo Disneyland. The waffle shop is small, so expect a line, even on non-peak days. The menu is also small, but each waffle is delicious. The everyday offerings include maple syrup, chocolate sauce, and a strawberry and custard flavor. Look for the seasonal waffle, which may feature flavors like apple with caramel ice cream or red bean with green tea ice cream.

    The Great American Waffle Co. serves up iconic Mickey waffles all day long so you don’t have to rush to grab one at breakfast; perfect for people who want to get a few rides out of the way before stopping for food.  

    Where to Find It: Great American Waffle Co. in World Bazaar, Tokyo Disneyland 

    Continue to 5 of 10 below.

  • 05 of 10

    Afternoon Tea

    10 Treats to Try at Tokyo Disney

    Erin De Santiago

    One of the unique options at the Tokyo Disney Resort is the classic Afternoon Tea at the Disneyland Hotel. The tea set changes based on season and around various park events (like Frozen), but some of the typical times include Christmas, Easter, and Halloween. These tea sets clearly showcase the creativity and artistic capabilities of Disney’s pastry chefs. Start with four savory finger sandwiches, two scones, and then the stunning dessert platter. Head over during the late afternoon or right around 11:30 to beat the rush.  

    Where to Find It: Dreamers Lounge (Lobby Lounge) at Disneyland Hotel

  • 06 of 10

    Sweet Duffy Desserts

    10 Treats to Try at Tokyo Disney

    Erin De Santiago

    Duffy the Disney Bear is the star of Tokyo DisneySea and his adorable fluffy presence is reflected everywhere in the park. Head over to Cape Cod and order the latest seasonal Duffy dessert—which comes with a souvenir plate or cup. You’ll usually find two everyday offerings on the menu and then the seasonal plate and cup desserts. For around $8 US (depending on current exchange rate), these are some of the best deals in the park as you get a quality dessert and a souvenir to take home.

    Where to Find It: Cape Cod Cook-Off on the American Waterfront in Tokyo DisneySea

  • 07 of 10

    Krispy Kreme

    10 Treats to Try at Tokyo Disney

    Erin De Santiago

    Ikspiari is Tokyo Disney’s version of Downtown Disney. The multi-level shopping center is home to a number of interesting stores and Japanese restaurants, along with some familiar brands like Krispy Kreme. If you’re a fan of doughnuts, don’t miss heading down to the basement and trying their seasonal items and traditional Japanese flavors that you won’t find at Krispy Kreme back home.  

    Where to Find It: Krispy Kreme, Basement Food Court, Ikspiari Shopping Center 

  • 08 of 10

    Mickey and Minnie Steamed Buns

    10 Treats to Try at Tokyo Disney

    Erin de Santiago

    Steamed buns are popular items in Asian cuisine. Tokyo Disneyland offers Mickey- and Minnie-shaped ones. Buns shaped like Mickey’s ears and head are typically filled with savory ingredients while Minnie’s are usually sweet. Look for seasonal ones too, especially during Halloween when Mickey and Minnie get a colorful makeover.

    Where to Find It: Boiler Bites, Tokyo Disneyland 

    Continue to 9 of 10 below.

  • 09 of 10

    Omiyage Boxes

    10 Treats to Try at Tokyo Disney

    Erin De Santiago

    Omiyage is a Japanese term that refers to a gift you give someone after returning from a trip. Individually wrapped snacks are packaged in a brightly colored box or tin, which makes them great for sharing. Tokyo Disney has a mind-blowing selection of what you might refer to as souvenir tins, filled with everything from sweet to savory treats. These collector items fly off the shelves as each new seasonal event starts, and you’ll find entire stores devoted to selling them. Don’t worry, no one will judge you if you keep a few for yourself and enjoy all the delicious Japanese specialties inside.  

    Where to Find It: Nearly all stores and shops throughout the Tokyo Disney Resort 

     

  • 10 of 10

    Seasonal Dessert at Hyperion Lounge

    10 Treats to Try at Tokyo Disney

    Erin De Santiago

    Take a break from rides and attractions and head over to the Disney Ambassador Hotel to try their cake set or dessert medley. This is a great alternative to the afternoon tea at the Disneyland Hotel if you want to try one of the specialty seasonal treats but save your appetite. The cake set comes with tea or coffee while the dessert medley does not. Both dessert options are beautifully executed and are always themed to Disney characters and the current seasonal events.  

    Where to Find It: Disney Ambassador Hotel, Hyperion Lounge

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The Top 10 Things to Do in Chiang Rai, Thailand

02 of 10

See the White Temple (Wat Rong Khun)

The Top 10 Things to Do in Chiang Rai, Thailand

Getty Images/Stuart Black/robertharding

Address

ตำบล ป่าอ้อดอนชัย อำเภอเ มืองเชียงราย เชียงราย 57000, Thailand

Phone

+66 53 673 579

Web

Visit website

You can’t visit Chiang Rai without seeing the famous White Temple, located just outside the city. Designed by Thai visual artist Chalermchai Kositpipat, the massive all-white complex, covered in glass tiles, is one of the most unique temples in Northern Thailand and definitely the most surreal. The gleaming, 6.4-acre complex features an interior painted with murals filled with pop culture references, including Superman and Harry Potter. Construction began in 1997 and is still a work in progress. Get out your camera because there’s something eye-catching at every turn.

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The Top 7 Things to Do in Phnom Penh, Cambodia

02 of 07

Face a History of Genocide at Tuol Sleng

The Top 7 Things to Do in Phnom Penh, Cambodia

Image courtesy of Cormac McCreesh / Getty Images

Address

St 113, Phnom Penh 12304, Cambodia

Phone

+855 23 665 5395

Web

Visit website

This former school found itself in a very, very dark place in the 1970s — as the Khmer Rouge took over Cambodia, its fanatical leader Pol Pot instituted a “Year Zero” that deemed intellectuals, noblemen, and city dwellers as worthy only of death. Torture camps like S-21, or Tuol Sleng (location on Google Maps), contributed to a genocide that eventually killed up to three million people.

“The Tuol Sleng Genocide Museum in Phnom Penh is an important site to visit to have a deeper understanding of what the Cambodian people have been through,” said Joslin. “It is a horrifying to see what humans are capable of doing to one another over ideals, yet important to see so that history might not be forgotten nor repeated.”

Four buildings stand around an open courtyard, their grisly contents attesting to the gory and utterly needless suffering that the Khmer Rouge inflicted on innocents for four long years. A macabre photo gallery of victims stares blankly out at visitors in Building B; all-but-empty rooms and starkly lit interiors allow travelers' imaginations to run wild at the horrors that must have happened here.

“It is such an intense experience — one you will be glad you had to better understand Cambodia and what people and their families have been through,” said Joslin.

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10 Tips for a Better Experience in the Busy Markets of Asia

  • 01 of 10

    Don’t Worry About the Attention

    10 Tips for a Better Experience in the Busy Markets of Asia

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    Locals are often as curious about you as you are about them. Don't be surprised if you're the recipient of a few stares, giggles, and even some good-natured “hellos” as you wind your way through the maze of busy markets in Asia.

    Rather than shy away, take advantage of the opportunity to interact and compare cultures a bit. Break the ice by showing an interest. Learn something new about unfamiliar food for sale. Vendors will often offer a sample of fruit or sweets.

    Tourists are sometimes considered rich while traveling in impoverished places — and you probably are wealthy by local standards. Expect some harmless beckoning and hustling from people who are just trying to make a daily living. They may even fight for your attention; travelers have a reputation of overpaying.

  • 02 of 10

    Arrive Early

    10 Tips for a Better Experience in the Busy Markets of Asia

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    By arriving at markets early, not only will you have fewer crowds to contend with, the early-rising vendors will have more energy and patience before the heat of the day. You'll also have first pick from the better, fresher items.

    Tip: Merchants often regard the first sale of the day as the “lucky” sale — a harbinger of a profitable day to come. They'll usually be more flexible on price to make that sale happen. Arrive as vendors are setting up shop for more negotiating power.

  • 03 of 10

    Learn to Negotiate

    10 Tips for a Better Experience in the Busy Markets of Asia

    Missbossy / Creative Commons

    Although uncomfortable for many Westerners, haggling is a big part of daily life in most Asian countries. Approach negotiating as a fun game rather than with dread and embarrassment — or even worse, guilt. Realize that if you fail to negotiate a little, you're spreading cultural mutation and possibly inflating prices for local residents.

    Excluding a few items with fixed prices, most things in a market have been priced to allow room for good-natured haggling. Never haggle for prepared food or drinks. Buying several items from the same place gives you more leverage for requesting a discount.

    Don't feel too bad: a vendor will never agree to a price that causes them to lose money!

    Tip: Never negotiate just for sport. If you begin negotiating with someone and agree on a price, failing to make the purchase is very bad form. Don't counter with an offer unless you're willing to buy!

  • 04 of 10

    Delve Deeper Into the Market

    10 Tips for a Better Experience in the Busy Markets of Asia

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    Market positions for tables and carts aren't random or first come, first served; they follow a complex hierarchy based on seniority and fees paid.

    The booths in the most prominent positions, such as those by entrances and street corners, tend to be the most expensive. The cost of paying for a good spot often gets passed down to the customer.

    If you see an item you want near the entrance of the market, chances are that you'll find it again and again as you work your way deeper inside. Rarely is an item only found at a single stall. Ask about the price just to have an idea, then hold off on the purchase — you'll probably see the same thing later for a better price.

    Continue to 5 of 10 below.

  • 05 of 10

    All Purchases Are Final

    10 Tips for a Better Experience in the Busy Markets of Asia

    @by Feldman_1/Getty Images

    You won't get a receipt for purchases made in markets — all sales are final! No matter if whatever you bought breaks before you get back to the hotel, the problem is yours once the transaction is completed. Scrutinize purchases carefully. If the item you receive isn't the actual displayed item, carefully check the packaged one you are given before walking away.

    Local markets usually don't have fitting rooms. Even if you find later that an item doesn't fit, or one sleeve is six inches longer than the other, you won't be able to return it.

  • 06 of 10

    Beware of Fakes and Scams

    10 Tips for a Better Experience in the Busy Markets of Asia

    Peter Ptschelinzew / Getty Images

    You'll find plenty of cheap fakes and replicas for sale at markets in Asia. Don't be upset if that amazingly cheap iPhone breaks on the first call, or the Rolex logo comes unglued inside of the watch. If a deal seems too good to be true, it most definitely is — especially when something electronic is involved.

    Bringing fake items into countries is often technically illegal. Although enforcement is still fairly relaxed, those fake DVDs could be confiscated and land you a fine in Singapore.

    Unsurprisingly, tourist markets are often rife with scams and fake goods. Don't be easily fooled by appearances or make assumptions. Oranges piled up around a cart does not mean that the “fresh” orange juice for sale isn't more than a sugary, artificial drink purchased in bulk from a grocery store then rebottled and resold. Yes, that's a popular scam in Thailand.

    A pile of wood shavings on the floor does not mean that the man holding a wooden carving for sale is a local artisan. Lots of “handmade” trinkets are imported from China; you'll see them again and again in different countries throughout Southeast Asia.

    Tip: Fakes aren't only found in open-air markets. The popular MBK Center mall in Bangkok is full of them!

  • 07 of 10

    Enjoy the Food

    10 Tips for a Better Experience in the Busy Markets of Asia

    Paul Beinssen / Getty Images

    You'll find inexpensive food and authentic snacks while nibbling your way through the great treats in local markets. Bring plenty of small change for trying cheap delicacies. Sampling new things in the market is half of the experience! Portions are often smaller than restaurant size, so plan mealtimes accordingly.

    Tip: Always be on the lookout for glorious mangosteen fruit to be in season!

  • 08 of 10

    Don’t Bring Luggage to the Markets in Asia

    10 Tips for a Better Experience in the Busy Markets of Asia

    Barry Chan / EyeEm/Getty Images

    If you're visiting a market before flying out or checking in, ask the hotel to watch your luggage or store it at the airport. Markets often get crowded; your big backpack or suitcase will become a hindrance. Remember: you may have to squeeze past fresh fish, hanging raw meat, and unidentified liquids oozing off of surfaces.

    Tip: Although carrying a small daybag around a market is perfectly acceptable, be careful when squeezing through crowded spaces. You may not feel a deft hand working zippers if the bag is on your back.

    Continue to 9 of 10 below.

  • 09 of 10

    Watch Out for Bad Apples

    10 Tips for a Better Experience in the Busy Markets of Asia

    Hiromi Shiota / EyeEm/Getty Images

    No, not the ones for sale. Busy markets in Asia can sometimes attract individuals who may see you as a target. Carefully mind your backpack, wallet, and purchases when bumping and jostling through crowded spaces.

    Children and beggars tend to frequent local markets to target tourists. Giving handouts is not a sustainable way to help the people. You may be ​supporting a very nefarious industry (child begging gangs) without realizing.

  • 10 of 10

    Don’t Expect Nice Toilets

    10 Tips for a Better Experience in the Busy Markets of Asia

    Martin Puddy/Getty Images

    If you're lucky enough to find a public restroom at all, it will probably be a filthy squat toilet. Allow plenty of time in case you have to hit the streets in search of a bathroom. You'll probably have to pay a few coins to use the toilets in the markets.

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Japan’s Most Surprising Tourist Attractions

02 of 07

Tottori Sand Dunes

Japans Most Surprising Tourist Attractions

Robert Schrader

Address

2164−661 Fukubechō Yuyama, Tottori-shi, Tottori-ken 689-0105, Japan

Phone

+81 857-23-7652

Web

Visit website

The question of whether or not the Tottori Sand Dunes are actually a desert is a contentious one. After all, the only reason this 32-square mile expanse of sand exists in an otherwise ordinary Japanese landscape is because of winds that have redeposited sediment from the Sendai River over the past several thousand years. Nobody disputes the strangeness of this huge expanse of sand, which sits along the northwestern flank of Honshu Island on the Sea of Japan.

Whether you ride a camel across the dunes, hike up them to get an incredible panorama of the ocean below or simply pretend you're a character in Hiroshi Teshigahara's Woman in the Dunes, which Tottori Sand Dunes inspired, this place is certainly not one you probably expected to find in Japan.

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The Ultimate Guide to the Neighborhoods of Seoul

  • 01 of 10

    Myeongdong

    The Ultimate Guide to the Neighborhoods of Seoul

    Maremagnum/Getty Images

    Love to shop? Put Myeongdong on your must-visit list in Seoul. This is one of the primary shopping districts in the city and sees a whopping one million visitors pass through the area every day. But don’t let that number deter you; getting there and around isn’t nearly as chaotic as it might sound. The streets may be busy, but getting around doesn’t feel overwhelming. Here you’ll find a good mix of both Korean and North American brands, as well a plethora of skin care and beauty-focused shops where there will be samples aplenty if you ask for them. Myeongdong is also a great place to fill up on Korean street food both sweet and savoury.

  • 02 of 10

    Itaewon

    The Ultimate Guide to the Neighborhoods of Seoul

    flickr.com/photos/infanticida

    With its colorful winding streets and alleys filled with bars, cafes and restaurants and the area’s international vibe, eclectic Itaewon is a great neighborhood to base yourself or to spend time in on a visit to Seoul. Itaewon was the first special tourist zone in Seoul, designated in 1997, and where you’ll find a high concentration of expats, giving the neighborhood its multicultural feel. You can get almost any type of cuisine you’re craving here, from Italian to Greek and everything in between, in particular among the rows of international restaurants right behind the Hamilton Hotel. Itaewon is also home to Antique Furniture Street filled with over 100 shops selling unique pieces of antique furniture and home décor items. 

  • 03 of 10

    Dongdaemun

    The Ultimate Guide to the Neighborhoods of Seoul

    Ed Norton/Getty Images

    Another shopping-centric neighborhood, Dongdaemun, consists of over 20 shopping malls and 30,000 traditional shops and markets, meaning that no matter what you’re on the lookout for, you’re likely to find it here. And the best part is, you can shop into the wee hours of the night as many locals like to do. Dongdaemun covers the entire area around Dongdaemun Gate and even if you aren’t in the mood to buy, the neighborhood makes for a fun area to walk through. In addition to all of that shopping, this neighborhood is also where you’ll find Dongdaemun Design Plaza (DDP), designed by world-renowned architect Zaha Hadid and home to museums and galleries offering a variety of cultural experiences and exhibits. For something a little off the beaten path, wander up the road behind Dongdaemun Gate to Dongdaemun Seonggwak Park for a bird’s eye view of the city below.

  • 04 of 10

    Insadong

    The Ultimate Guide to the Neighborhoods of Seoul

    Peter Ptschelinzew/Getty Images

    Looking to find a few local souvenirs from Seoul to take home with you? Insadong is an ideal place to do it. The main street features a plethora of shops specializing in a wide variety of traditional Korean goods, including hanbok (traditional clothing), hanji (traditional paper), pottery, tea and crafts. That being said, the neighborhood’s winding alleyways are a wealth of teahouses and quaint eateries, so give yourself some time to explore slowly so you don’t miss anything. Art lovers will also want to put Insadong on their must-visit list — there are about 100 galleries in the area showcasing traditional Korean fine art. When you get hungry, the area is known for its ample array of places to eat, including Sanchon for vegetarian food and Gogung for Korean staple bibimbap.

     

    Continue to 5 of 10 below.

  • 05 of 10

    Gangnam

    The Ultimate Guide to the Neighborhoods of Seoul

    Insung Jeon/Getty Images

    You may be familiar with Gangnam thanks to the ultra-popular song and accompanying viral YouTube video for “Gangnam Style” by PSY. But if you’re not (or you just know the song and not anything about the area), Gangnam, which means ‘South of the River,’ is the district that lies along South Korea‘s Han River. One of Seoul’s busiest areas, Gangnam is packed with high end shops, malls, restaurants and cafes. The affluent neighborhood is also home to COEX Mall, the largest underground shopping center in Asia, located in the basement of the Korea World Trade Center. 

  • 06 of 10

    Hongdae

    The Ultimate Guide to the Neighborhoods of Seoul

    Claire-Marie Harris/Getty Images

    Located near four universities, Hongdae offers an exciting blend of boutiques, live music venues, cafes, bars and clubs creating all the buzz and excitement you can expect from a university-centric area. During the day, stop by to do some shopping or some people watching at one of Hongae’s many cute cafes. In the evening, the neighborhood is known for its vibrant club scene — so if you’re a night owl, this is the place to be. You’ll also find lots of Instagram-worthy street art in Hongdae, as well as the Hongdae Free Market, held every Saturday from March to November at Hongik Children’s Park and featuring handmade products of all kinds.  

  • 07 of 10

    Jamsil

    The Ultimate Guide to the Neighborhoods of Seoul

    Topic Images Inc./Getty Images

    Sports fans might want to make their way to Jamsil, a neighborhood that’s home to two professional Korean baseball teams: the Doosan Bears and the LG Twins, which both play at Jamsil Baseball Stadium. The stadium also hosted events during the 1988 Summer Olympics in Seoul. Jamsil is also home to Lotte World, a massive entertainment complex where you’ll find the world’s largest indoor amusement park, an ice rink, stores, restaurants, a folk museum and even a lake.

  • 08 of 10

    Namdaemun

    The Ultimate Guide to the Neighborhoods of Seoul

    Ina Tsitovich/Getty Images

    This area is where to go to shop at Korea’s oldest and largest traditional market, also named Namdaemun. The market and the greater Namdaemun area are named after the large gate located nearby, which is one of eight gates you'll find in Seoul along the city’s Fortress Wall. The market itself is a twisting maze of stalls spread over several city blocks, making it fairly easy to get lost — but that’s half the fun. Take your time wandering the crowded tangle of stalls and shops, stopping to buy and browse among locals and sample some street food when you’re hungry. 

    Continue to 9 of 10 below.

  • 09 of 10

    Buam-dong

    This charming neighborhood in central Seoul is where to go to get away from the faster pace you’ll often feel in other areas of the city. The peaceful, residential area offers views of the surrounding mountains of Inwangsan and Bugaksan, and is home to many art galleries, museums (including Seoul Museum and Whanki Museum), coffee shops and restaurants. Stake out a spot at Sanmotoonge (which means Mountain Corner), a popular coffee shop with amazing views over the mountains. 

  • 10 of 10

    Samcheong-dong

    The Ultimate Guide to the Neighborhoods of Seoul

    Sungjin Kim/Getty Images

    Samcheong-dong is where you’ll find Bukchon Hanok Village (Hanok are Korean traditional houses), a great place to learn about traditional Korean culture. The charming neighborhood is also home to forty different galleries, which art-lovers should make a point of visiting, as well as European-style cafés and unique shops, some of which reside in renovated hanok.

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The 9 Best Places to Visit Outside Bangkok

  • 01 of 09

    The Ancient City in Samut Prakan

    The 9 Best Places to Visit Outside Bangkok

    CR Shelare / Getty Images

    The easiest, nearest option on this list of Bangkok day trips definitely doesn’t require an overnight stay. The Ancient City (also commonly called “Ancient Siam”) is just about an hour away. If you only have an afternoon to spare and want to get away from Bangkok’s concrete embrace, head an hour south for a pleasant escape.

    Wandering the beautifully manicured 200 acres of the Ancient City provides a microcosm of Thai culture and history. The atmosphere is romantic. Famous archaeological sites — some of which are difficult to reach or no longer standing — have been tastefully recreated. Photogenic monuments, temple replicas, Buddha statues, and gardens provide a peaceful respite from the city along with a chance to learn a bit about Thailand. In fact, the entire park is actually shaped like Thailand.

    The grounds are expansive! If the walking is too much, bicycles and golf carts can be rented; guided tram tours are available. The relatively steep entrance fee of 700 baht (plus 400 baht per vehicle) is cut in half at 4 p.m. The Ancient City closes at 7 p.m.

    Tip: If you've still got time to spare in Samut Prakan, the Erawan Museum is another interesting attraction in the vicinity.

    Getting There: Bypass some of Bangkok’s perpetual traffic jam along Sukhumvit by taking the Skytrain all the way to On Nut station. Try not to laugh about the name, then switch to a taxi or Uber. Tell the driver you want to visit the Ancient City (Muang Boran).

  • 02 of 09

    The 9 Best Places to Visit Outside Bangkok

    Sompong Tokrajang / Getty Images

    Although Ayutthaya — the ancient capital of Siam from 1350 to 1767 — is often visited as a day trip from Bangkok, an optional overnight stay will provide proper time to enjoy.

    On a day trip, you’ll be rushed trying to see so many ruins in a single afternoon and ultimately miss the ancient vibe that permeates the place. The reason you aren't reading “Best Places to Visit Near Ayutthaya” is because the Burmese sacked the ancient capital in 1767, causing it to be moved downriver to where Bangkok stands today.

    The crumbling temples and headless Buddha statues of Ayutthaya (properly pronounced “ai-yoot-tai-yah”) are best enjoyed in much the same way as Angkor Wat in Cambodia: by renting a bicycle.

    Centuries of Thai history can be absorbed by exploring the many temples, structures, and museums. You may even find yourself alone, awash in archeology, at some of the less popular temple sites.

    Getting There: The best way to get to Ayutthaya is by train. You’ll glide past much of Bangkok’s traffic while enjoying some authentic scenery. Depending on which train service you choose, the journey takes around two hours. You can purchase a ticket yourself for one of the many daily trains at the Hualamphong Railway Station.

  • 03 of 09

    Kanchanaburi

    The 9 Best Places to Visit Outside Bangkok

    AROON PHUKEED / Getty Images

    Located west of Bangkok at the confluence of three rivers, Kanchanaburi is a relatively quick escape from the hectic pace of Thailand’s capital.

    But arriving in Kanchanaburi doesn’t feel much more peaceful — at least until you get out of the busy part of the city and choose one of the many guesthouses with pleasant gardens stretched along the river.

    The French novel The Bridge Over the River Kwai was set in Kanchanaburi. The bridge, and most of the story in the film, were highly fictionalized. Technically, the bridge in the movie should have been “The Bridge Over the River Mae Klong.” And River Kwai should be “Khwae Yai.”

    Regardless, the impressive bridge in Kanchanaburi was one of many that were part of the infamous “Death Railway” constructed and repaired by forced POW labor. The infamous “Hellfire Pass” is nearby. World War II history abounds in the area. Visit the museum and one of the war cemeteries to learn the real story.

    The cascading waterfalls of nearby Erawan National Park are a great way to forget about how much history and Hollywood often disagree. Plan to cool off in one of the turquoise pools along the hike.

    Getting There: Kanchanaburi can be reached from Bangkok via bus or train; however, buses and minibusses are the most popular options because trains depart from Thonburi Station, across the Chao Phraya River in the northwest part of Bangkok. The two daily trains take around three hours to reach Kanchanaburi. Getting there by bus may take anywhere from 2-5 hours, depending on traffic and tenacity of your driver.

  • 04 of 09

    The 9 Best Places to Visit Outside Bangkok

    Frank Carter/Getty Images

    At around 4.5 hours from Bangkok, Koh Samet is just slightly out of “day trip” range, but that doesn’t stop it from attracting a lot of travelers who would rather spend their last day or two in Thailand on a beach.

    Although Koh Samet has all the usual ingredients of a Thai island (nice beaches, fire shows, and bucket drinks), it somehow misses the chill vibe that permeates Koh Lanta, Koh Tao, and other islands. Regardless, if you’re short on days before flying out of Bangkok, Koh Samet is an excellent choice for cleaner air and a fire-show cocktail.

    Getting There: The easiest way to get to Koh Samet is to purchase a bus-boat combo ticket, on offer from every travel agent in Bangkok. If you still want to make your own way, get help finding one of the minivans that depart frequently from Victory Monument; they run directly to the ferry pier. Once at the pier, you can purchase your own boat ticket for the short hop to the island. Beware: there isn’t much room for luggage in the local minivans.

    Continue to 5 of 9 below.

  • 05 of 09

    The 9 Best Places to Visit Outside Bangkok

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    Not to be confused with the much larger Koh Chang, Koh Si Chang is a small island situated close to Pattaya. Although beaches aren’t as nice due to the rocks and heavy boat traffic, at only three hours away or so, it is tantalizingly convenient. The island serves as a weekend getaway for locals who want to be nearer to the sea. Peace prevails on the island, unlike nearby Pattaya.

    Koh Si Chang is home to a royal summer palace no longer in use, a small community, temples, and several interesting caves.

    Getting There: Getting to Koh Si Chang requires passing through Sri Racha in Chonburi Province — the namesake of the highly celebrated hot sauce. The trip takes around three hours, including an hour on the ferry.

  • 06 of 09

    Koh Laan

    The 9 Best Places to Visit Outside Bangkok

    Isa Foltin / Contributor / Getty Images

    Often transliterated as “Koh Larn,” Koh Laan (Coral Island) is Koh Si Chang’s little island neighbor to the south. Koh Laan is slightly closer to Pattaya and offers better beaches and sand than those found on the mainland or Koh Si Chang. The island isn’t exactly undeveloped (yes, there is a 7-Eleven), however, the atmosphere is relaxed.

    Koh Laan ends up being a quick jaunt for travelers and locals in Pattaya who go over for swimming and seafood. There isn’t much to do on Koh Laan aside from sunbathing, snorkeling, and swimming — but that’s the point!

    Tip: Plastic waste is a serious problem on Koh Laan. Do your part by refilling bottles and taking them back to the mainland to dispose of.

    Getting There: Ferries from Pattaya take around an hour, or you can cut travel time in half and have more fun by upgrading to a longtail speedboat. Watch out for the resident monkeys on the island; they’ve been known to rob bags left on the beach.

  • 07 of 09

    The 9 Best Places to Visit Outside Bangkok

    by Chakarin Wattanamongkol / Getty Images

    Koh Chang (Elephant Island), is the second largest island in Thailand — Phuket is the only one larger — and it’s definitely the nicest island escape near Bangkok. Unlike Koh Samet and Koh Si Chang, the island is big enough to accommodate both extremes: finding a nightclub party or escaping into bamboo-hut tranquility.

    Koh Chang has mutated from the “backpacker paradise” as it was once known. Close proximity to Bangkok accelerated high-end development in the last decade.

    But White Sand Beach still lives up to its name, despite beach buffets fighting for room on the powdery sand. Fortunately, smaller beaches can be found around the island where reggae bars and hammocks are still the ​norms.

    Getting There: Again, the easiest and most economical choice is to let a travel agent book a bus-boat combo ticket to the island. But if spending five hours on a bus sounds miserable, you can take a one-hour Bangkok Airways flight to Trat Airport (airport code: TDX) then get your own ferry to the island.

     

  • 08 of 09

    The Floating Vineyards

    The 9 Best Places to Visit Outside Bangkok

    Pakin Songmor / Getty Images

    Although Thailand doesn’t have much of a wine legacy, the unique “floating vineyards” situated 40 miles south of Bangkok in Samut Sakhon provide an interesting day trip from the city.

    Fresh fruit from Thailand is often sweet and way tastier than average, so there is some potential to produce good products. The local “Spy” brand of wine coolers are a popular drink to balance the heat of the afternoon and the spiciness of the food.

    The floating vineyards don’t really float, but they are built on rich land reclaimed annually from the Chao Phraya River delta. Workers push small boats between the narrow rows to do their pruning. Visitors can take a tour ​and sample products, however, the operation is oriented around actual production, not accommodating tourists. Facilities aren’t very accessible for disabled travelers.

    Getting There: Siam Winery is one of the largest and most popular vineyards to visit. Read up on the available tours then contact a travel agent in Bangkok. You’ll definitely need a guide to have access. Tours run for approximately fours hours and are best enjoyed during Thailand’s dry season (November to April).

    Continue to 9 of 9 below.

  • 09 of 09

    The 9 Best Places to Visit Outside Bangkok

    John W Banagan / Getty Images

    Located around four hours southwest of Bangkok, Hua Hin is one of the most popular coastal (non-island) beach choices in Thailand. The city is home to many Western expats; the wide beach attracts local and international families.

    Over three miles of beach provide room for everyone. Major hotel chains and restaurants occupy the main strip with numerous spas squeezed between. But to Hua Hin's credit, some greenery still remain on nearby hills.

    Khao Takiab (Chopsticks Hill) occupies the southern end of the beach and provides an excellent view of the full length of Hua Hin. The Buddha statues on top provide ambiance for taking in gorgeous sunsets — but beware of the many cheeky monkeys that consider the hill their own.

    Golf is a popular activity in Hua Hin; the courses are among the best in Thailand and have attracted top players for decades. Medical tourism has surged in the area, along with a relatively new abundance of wellness centers. A couple of shopping malls, a night bazaar, and numerous other markets offer plenty of shopping.

    Getting There: Although slower, train is the most enjoyable and convenient way to get from Bangkok to Hua Hin. Taking the train eliminates transfers and allows for more interesting scenery. Plus, the railway station is right in the center of Hua Hin, making for a very convenient arrival.

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9 Dishes to Try in Laos

02 of 09

Laap

9 Dishes to Try in Laos

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Whether you call it laap or larb, this traditional dish retains its essential Lao identity despite its popularity in Thai restaurants.

Laap essentially consists of chopped meat and innards—pork, water-buffalo beef, duck, or chicken will do—mixed with fish sauce, coriander, mint, chili, spring onion, and lime juice, along with dry-fried rice grains that impart a subtle nutty flavor, then cooked. Sticky rice and fresh vegetables accompany a hearty serving of laap, wherever you go in Laos.

Tourists tend to have their laap freshly cooked, but purists in Laos and northern Thailand occasionally like to have laap served bloody and raw, called laap seua, or tiger laap (presumably because this is how tigers prefer their food—heavy on the gore).

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Toraja, Indonesia: What to Know Before You Go

  • 01 of 11

    In Toraja, Life Is Colorful and Compelling… Even After Death

    Toraja, Indonesia: What to Know Before You Go

    Mike Aquino

    In Toraja, high in the mountains of Indonesia's Sulawesi Island, the worlds of the living and the dead stand side by side — with hardly anything dividing the two. As a result, the Torajan realm of the dead is just as colorful (if not as lively) as that of the living.

    Cave floors littered with human bones and offerings of cigarettes; towering tongkonan (Toraja houses) set high on pillars; effigies called “tau-tau” staring with sightless eyes out of openings in a cliff; and regular sacrifices of buffaloes to appease the spirits of the newly departed — these all spring from the belief that the departed ancestors of Toraja have not really “departed” at all.

    Spend a few days in Toraja to take in the fresh mountain air and the hospitality of the locals — and you'll find how happily they live, even in the ever-present gaze of their sainted ancestors. The unique culture of Toraja is well-worth the ten-hour curvy mountain drive it takes to get there!  

    Continue to 2 of 11 below.

  • 02 of 11

    Where Is Toraja, Indonesia?

    Toraja, Indonesia: What to Know Before You Go

    Peter Ptschelinzew/Getty Images

    The highlands of South Sulawesi in Indonesia isolated the Toraja people from much of the cultural ferment that overtook the island's coastal areas in the 19th and 20th centuries.

    In the old days, Dutch missionaries and Bugis mercenaries must have taken several days of hard marching to reach the Toraja homeland, located in mountainous terrain some 200 miles north of the capital Makassar.

    A concrete highway makes short work of that distance today, requiring only about eight to ten hours' ride by bus. (The Torajans have a reputation as excellent mechanics; they operate most of the buses connecting Makassar to their homeland.)

    Travelers disembark at Rantepao, North Toraja's capital and its cultural center. Rantepao's low-slung urbanity, chock-a-block with low 1960s-era buildings and the occasional tongkonan-style structures, quickly gives way to rice fields and towering limestone peaks.

    The cooler weather is your only immediate clue to Toraja's elevation. You'll need to visit lookout points like Lolai to get a visceral idea of your place in the highlands: in the mornings, the lookout point at Lolai feels like an island peeking out of a sea of clouds. 

    Continue to 3 of 11 below.

  • 03 of 11

    What Sets Toraja Culture Apart From the Rest of Indonesia?

    Toraja, Indonesia: What to Know Before You Go

    Mike Aquino

    As the lowland Bugis and Makassar people underwent conversion to Islam and later Dutch colonization, the Toraja managed to hang on to their traditional beliefs — Aluk Todolo, or “the way of the ancestors” — that still serve as the basis for Toraja's culture today.

    Even after the mass conversion of most Torajans to Christianity, adherence to old Aluk Todolo habits die hard.

    The Toraja people arrange their lives around their position on respective social and spiritual ladders. Social: a four-tiered class system with royalty at the very top, and servants at the very bottom. Spiritual: three different levels, from our mortal life to puya, the afterlife, to heaven for noble spirits and gods (deata).

    The traditional villages in Toraja — such as Pallawa — preserve the locals' original lifestyle, embodied in the area's iconic curved-roof tongkonan houses. Each community houses a single family or clan, who live in the row of houses facing north; smaller rice granaries (alang) line the other side of the lane.  

    Continue to 4 of 11 below.

  • 04 of 11

    Torajan Status Symbols

    Toraja, Indonesia: What to Know Before You Go

    Mike Aquino

    Many traditional tongkonan feature a column of water buffalo horns, arranged according to size. These horns are markers of status: the remnants of previous sacrifices in honor of some dearly departed ancestor.

    The people of Toraja — like every society in the world — busy themselves with collecting status symbols, accumulating and spending wealth, and breeding descendants. Torajans use rites of passage to cement their status, wealth and family standing in society; nowhere is this more apparent than in Toraja's famous funerary rites.

    When death comes for a Torajan, the family lays the corpse in the master bedroom and treats it like a patient. “Father is sick,” a Torajan matriarch might say of her husband, his corpse lying in state in the next room, wearing his pajamas, and being served food once a day by his obedient children. (Torajans use a traditional embalming fluid using the juices of betel-leaf and bananas to ward off decay.)

    As the body slowly mummifies in the tongkonan, the family pulls out all the stops to arrange the biggest party money can buy: a funeral usually held over a month after the time of death. Torajans believe that souls cannot enter puya (the afterlife) unless they perform a proper makaru'dusan ritual — involving the sacrifice of as many pigs and water buffaloes as they can afford.

    Continue to 5 of 11 below.

  • 05 of 11

    The Water Buffalo: An Unlikely Status Symbol

    Toraja, Indonesia: What to Know Before You Go

    Mike Aquino

    Water buffaloes do no work in Toraja, despite the area's endless rice terraces. Torajans do brisk trade in these beasts nonetheless, to go by the large, lowing herd perpetually on display at Rantepao's Pasar Bolu market.

    Every rite of passage calls for the sacrifice of several buffaloes or pigs — but the rules are particularly stringent for funerals. Aluk Todolo (the way of the ancestors) sets out the minimum number of beasts to be slaughtered, depending on your status in society. Middle-class families must offer at least eight buffalo and 50 pigs; noble families must slaughter upward of a hundred buffalo in the event of a funeral.

    Families spend about 500 million Indonesian rupiah (USD $37,000) per water buffalo, with the price reaching astronomical heights for buffalo of a certain color or pattern.

    Tedong saleko, or white buffaloes with black spots, can fetch up to 800 million rupiah (USD $60,000) while the most expensive buffalo of all — albino buffalo called tedong bonga — can cost over one billion rupiah (US$75,000)!

    No part of the buffalo goes to waste — in a conspicuous show of generosity, the family donates the meat to community members who attend the funeral.  

    Continue to 6 of 11 below.

  • 06 of 11

    The Nobility’s Final Rest in Tampang Allo

    Toraja, Indonesia: What to Know Before You Go

    Mike Aquino

    For the status-conscious Toraja people, not even death can erase class distinctions.

    A cemetery cave — Tampang Allo, on the southern outskirts of Rantepao — contains the remains of the former ruling family of Sangalla district, Puang Menturino, who lived in the 16th century. The boat-shaped coffin (erong) immediately tells us that the decedents here are part of the nobility, for this type of coffin was the preserve of rulers and their kin.

    Time has not been kind to the remains of Puang Menturino — the intricately carved erong, mounted on beams set high above the cave floor, have deteriorated through the centuries, and some have dropped their contents below.

    Locals have cleaned the scene up somewhat, arranging the ancient skulls and assorted bones on ledges around the cave. Offerings of cigarettes (left by pious locals) still litter the rock around the skulls.  

    Continue to 7 of 11 below.

  • 07 of 11

    Last Resting Place for All Classes in Lemo

    Toraja, Indonesia: What to Know Before You Go

    Mike Aquino

    Burial caves are in short supply these days, but limestone cliff faces are a dime a dozen around Toraja. Local custom disdains burial in the ground; Torajans prefer to be entombed in rock, which these days means a hole carved out of a Toraja cliff.

    In the town of Lemo, a sheer cliff stands honeycombed with hand-carved crypts called liang patane, their doors measuring about five feet square and opening into a small space that fits four or five coffin-less remains. Liang patane are meant to accommodate entire families, and are guarded by tau-tau, or effigies, that depict the persons entombed behind them.

    Unlike caves, liang patane are permitted to most Torajans regardless of class, but the cost of such burials all but reserves them for the well-heeled. Each hole costs about 20 to 60 million Indonesian rupiah to carve (about USD $1,500-4,500), not counting the cost of the funeral ritual. 

    Continue to 8 of 11 below.

  • 08 of 11

    Tau-tau: Toraja’s Silent Guardians

    Toraja, Indonesia: What to Know Before You Go

    Mike Aquino

    A few steps down from the Lemo cliff, you'll find a shop for a tau-tau maker, whose handiwork stares out from the shop floor.

    Tau-tau are intended to be likenesses of the dearly departed, and their makers take care to reproduce unique facial traits in the finished product. Craftsmen use different materials depending on the social class of the deceased: nobility get tau-tau carved from jackfruit wood, while the lower classes must content themselves with effigies made out of bamboo.

    The tau-tau wear real clothes, which are replaced every few decades by surviving family members. The Lemo tau-tau wear relatively new threads, as they ditched the old ones before the President of Indonesia came to visit in 2013. (The tau-tau themselves are estimated to be over 400 years old.)

    Tau-tau makers are traditionally paid in water buffalo, and these effigies don't come cheap: about 24 water buffaloes is the average price, with higher-end tau-tau going for 40 or more water buffaloes.  

    Continue to 9 of 11 below.

  • 09 of 11

    Practicing the Old Ways Alongside a Newer Faith

    Toraja, Indonesia: What to Know Before You Go

    Mike Aquino

    For all these picturesque pre-Christian traditions, the majority of Torajans belong to the Christian faith; locals practice Aluk Todolo alongside the sacraments, and see little conflict between the two.

    60 percent of all Torajans belong to a Protestant Church, 18 percent profess the Catholic faith, and the remainder is split between Muslims and hardcore practitioners of a pre-missionary brand of Aluk Todolo.

    You'll find a Christian church (gereja in the local lingo) on almost every road bend, and both capitals of Toraja — Makale and Rantepao — feature a massive Christian structure erected on a nearby hill, visible from anywhere in the city.

    A giant cross stands on Bukit Singki overlooking Rantepao, the most visible sign of the local faith. And on Buntu Burake hill over Makale, a giant Jesus statue stands even taller than Rio de Janeiro's Christ the Redeemer (40 meters in height, versus the Redeemer's 38 meters).

    Visitors to Buntu Burake get an eyeful of the gorgeous Toraja landscape, as a concrete Jesus — arms outstretched, blessing the city below — watches over their shoulder.

    The sculptor, an artisan from Yogyakarta named Hardo Wardoyo Suwarto, is Muslim himself – a situation that reverses that of another Indonesia landmark, the Istiqlal Mosque in the Indonesian capital Jakarta, a massive Islamic structure that was designed by a Christian!

    Continue to 10 of 11 below.

  • 10 of 11

    Torajan Coffee

    Toraja, Indonesia: What to Know Before You Go

    Mike Aquino

    Toraja's highland climate makes it an ideal environment for Arabica coffee cultivation.

    Thanks to the relative difficulty of getting here (at least in the 19th century), Toraja's coffee plantations were spared from the coffee-leaf rust epidemic that swept Indonesia in the 1870s; as a result, Torajan coffee was so prized, a “Coffee War” broke out in the 1890s to seize control of the local coffee and its trade routes.

    Today, combat is the last thing on anyone's agenda, when seeking Torajan coffee. You can buy a cup of hot joe in every coffee shop, restaurant and warung (street stall) in Toraja. For beans and ground, budget shoppers can head over to Malanggo' Market to buy inexpensive Robusta by the liter (about 10,000 Indonesian rupiah per liter, or USD $0.75).

    Shoppers with a bigger budget and more discriminating tastes in coffee can head over to Coffee Kaa Roastery, a specialty coffee dispensary with Arabica beans and ground labeled according to type and origin. Beans at Kaa cost about 20,000 Indonesian rupiah per kilogram, or about US$1.50.

    Continue to 11 of 11 below.

  • 11 of 11

    Where to Stay in Toraja & Where to Go

    Toraja, Indonesia: What to Know Before You Go

    Mike Aquino

    Indonesia's tourism board touts Toraja as the next cultural destination after Bali, and their optimism is well-founded: beyond the cultural sites mentioned above, Toraja offers a few other adventures and activities well-suited to the hilly terrain:

    • Trekking and Cycling: Visit the villages around Rantepao and Makale on foot or by bike — the scenic highs and lows of Toraja's highlands consist mainly of rice fields and forest, interrupted occasionally by limestone peaks and distinctive tongkonan villages. (Read about Southeast Asia's other top trekking trails.)

    • Whitewater Rafting: If Toraja feels a little too laid-back, then go rafting on Toraja's rivers for that adrenaline rush: operators launch regular whitewater raft expeditions down Sa'dan, Mai'ting and Rongkong rivers, with levels of difficulty ranging from class I all the way to class V.

    • Culinary Adventure: The rice-growing Torajans make their mark on traditional Indonesian cuisine with unique dishes like pa'piong, or spiced and seasoned meat grilled inside a bamboo tube. Eaten with rice — and preferably eaten by hand — pa'piong is the perfect introduction to Torajan cuisine, found at many restaurants all around Makale and Rantepao.

    Accommodations in Toraja cater to travelers of all budgets. The Toraja Heritage Hotel is one of the area's very first four-star hotels and still one of the largest in the area. Giant tongkonan-style buildings surround the swimming pool – providing a taste of Toraja culture even before you've set out to explore the area!

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