Photo by Flickr user oldandsolo
Many countries in Asia seem to have their own well-loved, cheap modes of public transport. Many have even become symbolic of the places they serve.
In Thailand, it's the tuk-tuk. China and India have the rickshaw. Indonesia uses the bemo.
But hands down, the unofficial king of the road in Asia has to be the trusty jeepney that rumbles daily through streets in the Philippines.
Jeepneys began as repurposed military jeeps left behind in the Philippines after World War II. Later, they were stretched, modified, and as you can see in the picture above, turned into a colorful fiesta on wheels.
- Read more about jeepneys in the Philippines.
Jeepneys are tough, no doubt about it. Their rugged frames and big tires are perfect for not-so-great roads on various islands throughout the archipelago. But you'll find just as many roaring down smooth roads in Manila as well. You can't possibly visit the Philippines without seeing -- and perhaps riding in -- quite a number of jeepneys along the way.
C Squared Studios / Getty Images
Packing for a long trip is an art learned through practice and experience. You'll only realize that you brought too many 'what if' survival objects and unnecessary creature comforts after lugging your heavy bags around on a trip.
Upon returning home, you'll also probably realize that you didn't use half of the stuff you packed anyway!
So how to avoid overpacking -- the #1 mistake that most travelers make? Here are a few tips I learned over the years:
- Never, ever, leave home with luggage packed to full capacity.
- Plan to purchase necessities at your destination.
- Once packed, close your bags and avoid adding things right before departure.
- Don't fall into the survival mindset trap.
- Don't go pre-trip shopping without a list of what you actually need.
Packing lighter than usual will dramatically enhance your next trip experience! See these 10 tips to avoid overpacking along with some packing lists for planning your trip to Asia.
Poras Chaudary / Getty Images
Sure, March is still a few days away, but now is the time to make any plans for big festivals coming up in Asia.
By far, the largest event in Asia to enjoy in March is the Indian Holi festival set for a colorful peak on March 17.
Holi is a wild, chaotic chance to dance in the streets and throw colored dyes at friends and complete strangers. Whatever you wear probably won't survive as anything more than a keepsake! Holi in the old days involved throwing colorful powders such as turmeric to kill germs and enhance health during the flu season.
Today, colored dyes -- some of them ironically toxic rather than health promoting -- are used instead of expensive herbs. You don't necessarily have to be in India to enjoy Holi. Penang in Malaysia as well as Singapore have their own celebrations.
- See more about Holi in India.
But Holi isn't the only Asian festival in March.
You won't see much for Fat Tuesday in Asia, however, Goa will celebrate Carnival with a big dance festival sometime around March 4. Sadly, Saint Patrick's Day is still relatively unheard of throughout Asia aside from inside the numerous Irish pubs strung along the Banana Pancake Trail.
Around the end of March is also the start of hanami in Japan, particularly in warmer areas such as Okinawa. Thousands of people will flock to parks for picnics and to enjoy the blooming cherry blossoms before they disappear quickly. Forecasts for different parts of Japan are broadcasts so that people can track the blossoms which bloom according to temperature. Cherry blossoms are symbolic for their fleeting beauty; they often appear as themes in art and even tattoos.
- See more about what's happening around Asia in March.
Photo by Greg Rodgers
While taking the ultra-cheap 'chicken buses' such as the one in this photo is a rite of passage when traveling in Southeast Asia, there is an alternative.
Southeast Asia has scores of budget airlines that connect major hubs in each country. While you may not get the free spinal realignment that you would on a lengthy bus journey, you can get to your next destination a lot more quickly.
But budget hops in Southeast Asia aren't all created equal. Flights from Koh Samui in the south of Thailand are disproportionately priced for the distance covered. You can take one of the luxurious buses from Kuala Lumpur to Singapore with far less hassle than flying. There are many examples of people flying into the largest hub in a country when they could have flown into a smaller, regional airport closer to their intended destination for the same cost.
I've spent the past eight years figuring out the cheapest ways to fly around Southeast Asia. Along the way, I've uncovered smaller airports with better deals, cheaper routes, and other quirks concerning hopping between countries.
Use these flight-booking guides to get the best deals -- and port-of-entry -- for specific destinations.
- Book the most convenient flights to Laos.
- Find the cheapest flights to Bali.
- Read about Kuala Lumpur flights.
- Find the best flights to Borneo.
Poras Chaudary / Getty Images
India's announcement last October of a new visa on arrival scheme created quite a buzz.
While thousands of people halfway through the excruciating visa application process currently in place rolled their eyes, others planning a trip to India rejoiced. The new system will allow citizens from over But the tentacles of bureaucracy don't give way easily; officials announced that it may take until October 2014 before the new visa rules go into effect.
Too bad, as scores of people will go to see the Holi Festival on March 17 this year.
India is huge, and chock full of cultural and geological treasures waiting to be enjoyed. But despite the size, only 6.65 million international tourists came to India in 2012 -- around four times less than the tourist numbers for Thailand and Malaysia in 2013.
Sadly, the current visa process is so fraught with pitfalls and such a beast to navigate that many potential visitors to India seem to opt for easier destinations instead. With tourism contributing 3.7% to India's GDP, officials see this as a serious problem in a country still plagued by extreme poverty.
Once the new visa on arrival system for India is in place, citizens from 180 countries will be able to receive electronic visa on arrivals at 26 different airports. The current system only makes allowances for 11 countries, including Singapore and Japan.
So if you're planning to visit India this year before the new rules go into affect, you'll still have to use the current Indian visa application form.
Photo by wesaidgotravel.com
Burma, Myanmar, whatever people are inclined to call mainland Southeast Asia's largest country these days is still on the rise as the next big destination.
Burma is still considered relatively 'uncorrupted' by the mass tourism that has mutated the culture throughout much of Southeast Asia. But that may change soon.
As more and more economic sanctions against Burma are lifted, the country continues to grow and expand. Western-networked ATMs -- once completely nonexistent -- can now be found in tourist areas. Even big Western businesses such as Mastercard and Coke have moved in. Burma was one of the last three countries in the world where Coke didn't have a presence -- North Korea and Cuba are the last two holdouts.
- See: where is Burma?
Photo by Stacy Herbert
Or at least you should try not to do so. When forced to bow in a cramped space, did you know that you should turn slightly to the left?
If you turn to the right, you may end up in an awkward dance resembling the twist with your host, which may deteriorate into a saving face situation -- not a good first impression.
For Westerners, the thought of having to proffer a proper bow in Japan can cause a serious case of the jitters. Unless you practice martial arts, you probably don't go around bowing to people throughout the week.
But bowing is an integral part of daily life in Japan. In fact, some companies even give etiquette classes to executives for how to to bow properly.
- See how and when to bow in Japan.
Lucky for us Westerners, Japanese businessmen also shake hands. Sometimes you bow and shake hands to honor both cultures, however, you shouldn't do so at the same time. President Obama combined a bow with a handshake when meeting the Emperor of Japan during his 2009 visit (photo shown). The Emperor remained stiff, knowing better than to bow while shaking hands.
Just for fun, learn a little about the interesting etiquette in Japan:
Photo by Greg Rodgers
Mount Sinabung, the meanest volcano in North Sumatra, Indonesia, erupted on Saturday, killing at least 14 people.
- See: where is Sumatra?
I climbed nearby Gunung Sibayak -- Sinabung's closest active neighbor -- back in 2010. The sleepless night before our early-morning climb was filled with tremors that made my bungalow rattle on its four legs. A powerful electrical storm overhead actually destroyed my laptop. When I asked if such geological phenomenons were 'normal,' people told me not to worry, that the volcano had been asleep for nearly 400 years. Sibayak, the very crater that we were climbing into, was much more active.
Geologists weren't even paying much attention to the massive volcano at the time. Sinabung then surprised everyone with an eruption later that August, however, there were no casualties.
Unfortunately, despite evacuations and over 100 minor eruptions between January 4 and January 5, the volcano caught everyone off guard with a massive blow on February 1 -- costing the lives of at least 14 villagers.
While North Sumatra remains one of my favorite adventure destinations in the world, now probably isn't the best time to attempt a climb on Gunung Sibayak, or even to visit Berastagi -- the little town at the base of the volcanoes.
Fortunately, Sumatra still has plenty of other adventures on offer. Lake Toba -- the largest volcanic lake in the world -- is quieting down after a busy Chinese New Year rush. And you can still go see orangutans in Gunung Leuser National Park near Bukit Lawang.
- See some more great things to do in Sumatra.
Photo by Greg Rodgers
Timing is everything. Particularly when planning a trip to Asia, the most populous continent on earth.
Miss a big festival by just one day -- fail. Not only do you get to hear just how fun/crazy/interesting the holiday was, you get to deal with the leftover mess, crowds, and bumped-up holiday prices.
The same applies to weather. While you'll certainly get better prices, easier negotiations, and fewer crowds during low seasons or monsoon months, you'll have to deal with rain.
Life goes on during the rainy season -- I actually prefer to travel in the low seasons -- but torrential showers can put a real damper on outdoor activities and beach time.
I've written several guides for when to go where so that you can plan accordingly!
- Best time to visit Vietnam
- Best time to visit Singapore
- Best time to visit Malaysia
- Best time of year to visit Thailand
- Best time to go to Sri Lanka
Grant Faint / Getty Images
Chinese New Year brings in the Year of the Horse on Friday, January 31!
If you were born in 1930, 1942, 1954, 1966, 1978, 1990, or 2002, this is your year of the 12-year Chinese zodiac cycle.
According to Sara Naumann, our China expert, people born in the Year of the Horse make great scientists, adventurers, politicians, or poets. Apparently, actors and actresses, too! Some notable Year of the Horse people include: Clint Eastwood, Sean Connery, James Earl Jones, Jackie Chan, John Travolta, and Harrison Ford.
Even if you aren't a Horse sign, Chinese New Year is a festive, exciting time of year. People observing the holiday throughout the world will prepare special food, clean house, remove clutter, get new clothes, settle old debts and feuds, and even open windows so that good fortune can come inside easier.
Chinese New Year is about a fresh start for the year and attracting as much good fortune as possible. If you've got some festering New Year's resolutions left over, this Friday is (another) chance to start again.
Gong xi fa cai!