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Jumping Into Local Culture: An Interview with Lauren Studen

For most people, travel is the perfect way to explore another place. No matter what the destination, travel affords us the opportunity to experience the local culture, to get out of our comfort zone and try something new and different. At the very least, it gives us a chance to step into another life, even if it is momentary.

Here at LeafCanoe, we love talking to other travelers and hearing about why they travel. Recently, we chatted with LeafCanoer, Lauren Studen, who writes about her travels on the blog, “Girl x Departure.” Lauren is a student living and studying in Istanbul, and writes about her experiences traveling abroad. She also has some great reviews of destinations and hotels in Europe, Asia, and the Middle East, and provides plenty of helpful tips and resources to get you started on your own travels. Lauren’s blog has been featured on other blogs, including Tripoto and Perrero Travel. She certainly has a lot to share when it comes to travel!

local culture

In addition, Lauren has written several great leaves on the LeafCanoe app, including her most recent one, “15 Things to do in Bangkok.” In it, she shares her suggestions for temples to see and things to do, as well as the perfect place to get the best view of the city or the best street food. It’s a great leaf to refer to for anyone interested in a trip to Bangkok.

When we reached out to Lauren, we wanted to hear about what it that is she loves about travel, and how she experiences the local culture during her travels. Here’s a snippet of our interview:

When did you start to travel and get the travel bug?
I started traveling as a child due to my multinational background (my mom is from Poland and my dad is from Serbia), but I really got the travel bug after living a year abroad in the US at the age of 16.

What do you look for when you travel?
I love to get a sense of how the people actually live in their countries. I try to have a local experience by trying the country’s foods, exploring local spots and learning about their culture.

local culture

How many countries have you visited, which one is your favorite and why?
I’ve been to probably 18 countries and it’s so hard to pick a favorite. I think I have to go with Thailand and Turkey. Both countries have amazing landscapes, the nicest locals and delicious food!

What’s the most amazing travel experience you have had so far?
I really loved flying in a hot air balloon over the otherworldly scenery of Cappadocia in Turkey, bathing an elephant in Thailand, swimming with dolphins in the Red Sea and living abroad in the US and Istanbul.

What leaves can we expect next from you?
Definitely leaves about my hometown Berlin and my current location Istanbul.

We loved the insight that Lauren gave us about experiencing as much of the local culture as possible. This is most certainly the best way to learn about any country that you’re visiting. Besides her leaf about Bangkok, Lauren also has a leaf called “10 Free Things To Do in Istanbul,” as well as “Things To Do In Cappadocia, Turkey.” In these leaves, she gives us plenty of helpful suggestions to experience Turkey when you’re on a budget, as well as beautiful pictures to fuel your wanderlust for travel. To read more about these leaves, check out our posts, “How to Explore Istanbul for Free” and “The Best Way to Experience Cappadocia.”

local culture

Ready to do your own exploring? Download the LeafCanoe app to get more ideas of how to experience the local culture in your next travel destination.

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Top Attractions for Jodhpur Travel

The majestic city of Jodhpur is a sight to behold. Dating back thousands of years ago, this city in India is the second largest city in the state of Rajasthan. Jodhpur is often called the Blue City, because of the bright blue hues of its old houses. But it is also known as the Sun City, in large part due to the sunny weather that shines on the city for the majority of the year. Travelers have always loved visiting Jodhpur because of the breath-taking palaces, forts and buildings that can be found in the city.

Jodhpur travel

Leafcanoer, aartideetoo, recently shared their experiences in Jodhpur in the leaf, “Blue Jodhpur – Sun City of India.” In it, aartideetoo highlights the top attractions to visit for Jodhpur travel.

Here is a look at the top attractions to visit in Jodhpur:

Umaid Bhawan Palace
The Umaid Bhawan Palace is known as one of the largest private residences in the world, partially managed by the Taj Hotels chain. The palace was built between 1929 and 1943, and has over 300 rooms, some of which house the Jodhpur royal family. Part of the palace also houses a museum, which is open to the public to tour.

The palace is built from a combination of sandstone and marble, set over 26 acres of land. As the Jodhpur royal family still lives within the palace, there are a number of decorations dedicated to the royal family, including the family’s coat of arms. The palace architecture pulls from Indo-Gothic, Classical Revival, and Art Deco styles, as well as influences from traditional Hindu and Buddhist architecture. The result is a magnificent space worth visiting.

Jodhpur travel

Jaswant Thada
The tomblike monument of Jaswant Thada was built in 1899 by Maharaja Sardar Singh, in honor of his father, Maharaja Jaswant Singh. The structure of the memorial is built from carved sheets of marble, and the grounds surrounding the monument include a garden, lake, gazebos, and several other mausoleums.

Jodhpur travel

Mehrangarh Fort
The highlight of any trip to Jodhpur is a visit to Mehrangarh Fort, one of the largest forts in India. Set on a hill 410 feet above the city, the Mehrangarh Fort is a looming and imposing presence in the city of Jodhpur. The structure is enclosed by thick walls, and within these walls are several palaces and gardens worth exploring, as well as a museum that is open to the public. Visitors can view the museum’s large collection of palanquins, the popular mode of transportation for the Indian nobility, as well a rare collection of armory from every historical era in Jodhpur.

The Mehrangarh Fort was initially built in 1460 by Rao Jodha as a way to protect the newly founded city of Jodhpur. However, the fort took over 500 years to be completed, with the latest installation completed in the 20th century. The fort can be entered through a series of seven gates, the most notable of which are Jai Pol (Gate of Victory), Fateh Pol, Dedh Kamgra Pol, and Loha Pol.

Visitors to Mehrangarh Fort can also explore the area surrounding the fort. The Rao Jodha Desert Rock Park, adjacent to Mehrangarh Fort, was created in 2006 in an effort to restore the natural landscape and ecology of the area. There are several trails that visitors can follow to explore the 200 acre park, providing travelers an opportunity to see the plants native to the area.

Jodhpur travel

For the intrepid traveler, Jodhpur certainly sparks a sense of adventure and intrigue. But these three sites are just the tip of the iceberg for anyone interested in Jodhpur travel. The city is a treasure trove of unique finds and cultural experiences. For more ideas of what to see in Jodhpur, check out more of aartideetoo’s leaf by downloading the LeafCanoe app.

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How to Prepare for Travel to Rajasthan

The Indian state of Rajasthan is a traveler’s dream come true. With a multitude of color-themed cities, as well as countless festivals being celebrated in the area, Rajasthan invokes in the traveler the quintessential image of India: vibrant, colorful, and full of culture.

LeafCanoer, aartideetoo, recently shared their insights on Rajasthan in their leaf titled, “Golden City of Rajasthan – Jaisalmer.” From exploring the Jaisalmer Fort to riding camels in the Sam Sand Dunes, aartideetoo’s leaf provides plenty of ideas for travel to Rajasthan.

Aartideetoo’s experiences in Rajasthan are sure to inspire you to embark on your own trip to the area. Before you go, however, here are a few things to help you prepare for travel to Rajasthan:

Brush up on your history
Rajasthan has one of the richest and most developed cultures in India, with so much history packed into one state. Officially formed in March 1949, the state of Rajasthan was once part of the Indus Valley Civilization. Many of the major tribes in India – the Rajputs, Jats, Meenas, Gurjars, and countless others – have contributed to the creation of the state of Rajasthan. Their influences, as well as the Mughal influence, can be seen in many of the forts and palaces that dot the area.

Travel to Rajasthan

Invest in a good camera
One of the perks of being in such a historical place is the abundance of palaces and historical buildings, which serves as a wealth of inspiration for the budding travel photographer. Bring along a good camera that will be able to perfectly capture the sights of the area. Rajasthan is known for being one of the most colorful regions of India. It is also known for having a strong classical music and dance tradition, so being able to record dance and music performances are necessary for any visit to Rajasthan.

Travel to Rajasthan

Take along some pocket change
The colors of Rajasthan come not only from the buildings and architecture, but also from the abundance of fabrics and goods that can be found in the markets. Take some time to explore the shopping in the area. The dollar is strong in India, so if you’re American, it will be relatively easy to buy good quality products for an affordable price. Though you’ll most likely be quoted the foreigner price, it’s customary to engage in some bargaining when you shop.

Travel to Rajasthan

Bring along your appetite
Indian food may not suit everyone’s palate, but there are definitely some delectable delights to be found in Rajasthan. Be prepared to sample some of the local cuisine while visiting the area. Rajasthan cuisine is different from the cuisine found in most Indian restaurants in the United States. Due to the scarcity of water, milk is often used as a substitute, and subsequently, much of the cuisine features the use of milk and milk products.

Travel to Rajasthan

Clear your calendar
There are a lot of things to see and do in Rajasthan. To fully experience the area, it’s best to spend at least a week, so be sure you have adequate time in your travel schedule. Popular cities to visit in Rajasthan include Jaipur (also known as the Pink City), Udaipur (known as Venice of the East), Jodphur (sometimes called Sun City and sometimes called the Blue City), and Jaisalmar (often called the Golden City). There are also a number of festivals that happen in the area. One of the local favorites is the desert festival, which features traditional costumes, snake charmers, puppeters, and folk performers.

Travel to Rajasthan

There are so many things to see and experience in Rajasthan. Just one trip is not enough to fully capture what that state has to offer. By far, the most important thing to remember when planning your travel to Rajasthan is to leave more for next time.

Interested in learning more about travel to Rajasthan? Download the LeafCanoe app and check out more of     artideetoo’s leaf.

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Seven Reasons to Visit Taiwan in 2016

For us here at LeafCanoe, Taiwan is the up and coming destination to visit in 2016. Once referred to as Ilha Formosa, or Beautiful Island, by the Portugese, Taiwan holds plenty of intrigue and curiosity for many a traveler.

LeafCanoer, ladyd, can attest to the wonders of Taiwan. With several leaves showcasing many of the country’s attractions and sites, including “Taiwan – 7 Days in Paradise” and “South of Taiwan is full of surprises!” ladyd shares some of her favorite destinations in Taiwan and tips for how to get the most out of your visit.

visit Taiwan

For those itching to experience a new destination this year, here are seven reasons to visit Taiwan in 2016:

Aboriginal culture
Nearly 2.3% of Taiwan’s population, roughly 530,000 people, refer to themselves as part of the indigenous peoples of Taiwan. Unlike the majority of Taiwanese, who originate from the Asian mainland, the aboriginal people of Taiwan can trace their roots to the islands of the Philippines, Malaysia, Indonesia, and even as far as out as Madagascar. Though in the past, these groups have experienced pressure to assimilate with the majority of the Taiwanese, many aboriginal villages have held on to their cultural uniqueness, and their existence represents the diversity of Taiwanese culture.

visit Taiwan

Cuisine
Taiwanese cuisine is highly derived from Chinese cuisine, but there are several nuances and influences from other countries such as Japan. Popular dishes in Taiwan include beef noodle soup and congee. Many of the dishes highlight the use of seafood, which is abundant and common for this island country, and due to its sub-tropical location, fruits such as papaya, starfruit, melons, and citrus have made their way into the cuisine as well.

visit Taiwan

Hiking opportunities
Despite being sub-tropical, Taiwan is also quite mountainous. The multi-level terrain of the country makes for some interesting and memorable hiking experiences for visitors to Taiwan. The best time for hiking in Taiwan is in the autumn, from late August to early October. The weather is usually much cooler and drier during this time. Some of the parks with the best hiking include Shei-Pa National Park, Taroko National Park, and Yushan National Park.

visit Taiwan

Architectural marvels
One of the reasons behind Taiwan’s selection as an up and coming place to visit is its commitment to inspiring wonders in architecture. One of the country’s most popular buildings is the 101 Taipei building, classified as the tallest building in the world. But there are other buildings around Taiwan worth visiting, including the glass slipper church, a building shaped to look like a blue glass slipper. visit Tawain

Rich history
Taiwan’s history dates back to tens of thousands of years. Formerly colonized by the Dutch, Taiwan then came under the influence of the Chinese, which transferred some of their own cultural traditions to Taiwan. These days, Taiwan is a hodge-podge of cultures. But the old buildings and temples around Taiwan still remain, and offer plenty of opportunities to explore the country’s cultural history.

visit Taiwan

Modern art
With so many historical temples and buildings to visit, it’s easy to overlook the role of modern art in Taiwanese culture. Taiwan, particularly the city of Taipei, has a large selection of modern art galleries that are worth exploring. Some of the best modern art galleries include Aki Gallery, 1839 Contemporary Gallery, and Angel Art Gallery, all of which are located in Taipei.

visit Taiwan

Hello Kitty love
The Taiwanese have a strong fascination with Hello Kitty. The airport in Taipei has a gate dedicated to Hello Kitty, as well as several rooms filled from floor to ceiling with Hello Kitty decor. But the best example of Taiwan’s Hello Kitty love is the existence of the Hello Kitty hotel, where lovers of all things Hello Kitty can pay to stay in a room decorated in their favorite character.

Hello Kitty Room

Taiwan is a wealth of interesting sights. With a fascinating history, spectacular natural and man-made views, as well as a unique culture, a visit to Taiwan is sure to make any trip memorable and worthwhile. For the adventurous traveler, this country is your choice for 2016.

For more ideas of where to visit in Taiwan, check out more of ladyd’s leaves by downloading the LeafCanoe app.

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Cultivating That Human Connection

One of the greatest perks of travel is making a human connection. Travel has the ability to expose you to different ways of living, and it is this exposure that allows us to gain new perspectives and outlooks on life. LeafCanoe recently connected with LeafCanoer, Kathryn Damicone, also known as sociokathy, to talk about what it means to travel and make human connections.

Kathryn is a sociologist by trade, but a traveler at heart, and shares her travel experiences on the blog, Sociokathy. Her travels focus on connecting with people and breaking down cultural barriers. Many of her leaves reflect this desire for cultural understanding, from exploring the history of Dresden in “Destination Dresden“, to experiencing Maui’s local treasures in “Maui’s Must See List.” For Kathryn, whose motto is “helping humans understand humans,” travel is about cross-cultural connections and gaining new perspectives on humanity.

human connection

To get to know her travel philosophy better, we asked Kathryn to share with us her perspectives and experiences with travel.

What is behind “Helping Humans Understand Humans”
“Helping humans understand humans” stems from a simple philosophy that travel is the best way to help people understand human nature. Too often our lack of understanding about other cultures can fuel judgement and fear. When we look at the world through the eyes of only our own culture, our ethnocentric tendencies can shadow the beauty behind the mystery of humankind. I believe that experience and education are the keys to open-mindedness, and what better way to experience life than to travel the world! The more I’ve explored this precious planet, the more my mind has expanded about both myself and others. My love for travel and my love for other cultures merged into a lifelong commitment to help humans understand humans for who they are, not just how we perceive them. I hope to inspire people to travel and experience new cultures for themselves as well. People are mysteriously beautiful, we just have to give ourselves permission to go out there and see it for ourselves.

human connection

What do you look for when you travel?
When I travel, I am always looking for an adventure. I search for a place that I can get out of my comfort zone and learn something new about other cultures, people, which in turn always leads to learning something new about myself.

What’s your travel motivation and goals?
Aside from “helping humans understand humans”, I try to do at least one thing every day that scares me, no matter how big or how small. After all, I’d rather regret something I did than something I didn’t do.

human connection

What has been your favorite travel memory so far?
That is a tough question! I have had so many amazing experiences it’s very hard to narrow it down to only one. But if I had to choose, I would say being in Dresden, Germany in the summer of 2014 when Germany won the World Cup. The game was displayed on a large white sheet that was draped over a concert hall structure. Everyone watched the game along the hill that ran along the Elbe River. Germans (especially the younger generations) are very hesitant to display “pride” in their country, so to see them excited for their country’s success was really exciting.

What leaves can we expect next from you?
Upcoming leaves will include some from Europe and the midwest region of the United States. Europe will include Budapest, various cities in Italy, various cities in Germany, and also Ireland. Midwest region of the US will include cities such as Pittsburgh, Cleveland, and the Lake Erie Shores. Stay tuned!

human connection

Read more about Kathryn’s travels in her leaves: “Destination Dresden,” “Maui’s Must See List,” and “Canadian Rockies Summer Guide“. To discover more leafs from other LeafCanoers, download the LeafCanoe app.

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Quebec City Highlights: A Taste of France

If you live in North America, you don’t have to travel all the way to Europe to get a taste of France. Quebec City, located in southeastern Canada, is a city with a history and culture highly influenced by the French. LeafCanoer, daijie, recently shared her Quebec City highlights in her leaf entitled, “Spending New Year in Quebec City.” It’s full of great tips on how to enjoy this French-Canadian provincial capital in the winter months.

Quebec City highlights

One of the oldest settlements in North America, Quebec City, was originally colonized by the French, who ruled the city and its surrounding areas since the 1500’s. It fell under British rule in the late 1700’s, but managed to retain some of its French flavor. Since then, Quebec City has served as the provincial capital of Quebec, the main French-speaking province of Canada. For any visitor to Quebec City, exploring the city is a great way to understand the immense influence the French had on Quebecois culture, and also experience the way the people of the area have reshaped that influence into something distinctly Canadian. For those planning a visit, here are some Quebec City highlights.

Explore the Old Town
The historical part of Quebec City, known as Old Quebec, is a designated UNESCO World Heritage site, and boasts itself as being the only walled city north of Mexico. With its cobblestone lined streets and old brick buildings, Old Quebec exudes European charm. The whole area is walkable and takes about thirty minutes to walk from one end to the other. From the Old Port, you can take in spectacular views of the Saint Lawrence River, as well as visit shops and restaurants along the riverside promenade. In the Petit Champlain district, you can visit the Place Royale, the site of the first settlement of Quebec. Or if you’re looking for a more low key activity, you can spend the day relaxing on the Plains of Abraham, known to many as Quebec City’s version of Central Park.

Quebec City highlights

Live in style at Le Chateau Frontenac
For another taste of Quebec’s French-inspired history, visit Le Chateau Frontenac, one of the most photographed hotels in the world. The hotel was built in the late 1800’s as a way for the Canadian Pacific Railway company to promote luxury tourism. Overlooking the Saint Lawrence River and Dufferin Terrace, Le Chateau Frontenac is still a popular hotel, with a capacity of over 600 rooms covering 18 floors. Guests to the hotel are treated to the style of Old Europe, with the conveniences and comforts of modern amenities. The hotel even has an indoor pool and fitness spa, which is complimentary to all guests.

Quebec City highlights

Celebrate winter at the Quebec Winter Carnival
This time of year is the perfect time to visit Quebec City. From the end of January until the middle of February, the city participates in the Carnaval du Quebec, also known as the Quebec Winter Carnival. The carnival first began in 1894 as a way for the inhabitants of the city to get through the hardships of winter. Since then, the carnival has evolved into a large city-wide celebration, drawing thousands of tourists each year. This year’s carnival features over 200 activities, including a night parade, snow sculptures, music, dog sledding, and canoe racing. There are also horse-drawn carriage rides, known in Quebec City as carioles, that visitors can take around the Plains of Abraham.

Quebec City highlights

Quebec City is a great starting off point for exploring the rest of French Canada. With its beautiful streets, picturesque skyline, and old European charm, Quebec City has much to offer for visitors to the city.

For more ideas about what to do in Quebec City, check out more of daijie’s leaf, or you can download the LeafCanoe app to share your own Quebec City highlights.

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Eight Must-See Cities in Germany

No country in the world is as well-known for its precision and order much like Germany. With so much stress on efficiency and organization, one would think that Germany would be a dull place to visit. But nothing could be farther from the truth!

cities in Germany

LeafCanoer, sociokathy, recently shared her highlights from living in Germany in her leaf entitled, “Destination Dresden.” Focusing on the city of Dresden, sociokathy’s leaf is full of helpful tips and suggestions of what to visit in Dresde. But there is more to Germany than just the city of Dresden. The country is chock full of cities waiting to be explored. For those planning a trip, here are eight must-see cities in Germany:

Berlin
The largest city in Germany, Berlin is also the country’s capital city. Berlin was once a divided city, separated by a wall running through the center of the city. The western part of the city, known as West Berlin belonged to the French, Americans, and British, while the rest of the city, known as East Berlin, belonged to the former USSR. In 1989, the Berlin Wall was torn down, and the city of Berlin, as well as the rest of the country, became united.

cities in Germany

Cologne
Situated along the Rhine River, the city of Cologne is one of Germany’s most liberal cities. The main attraction in Cologne is the Dom Cathedral, a Roman Catholic church that is now a UNESCO World Heritage Site. For those interested in religious architecture, the city has other historical churches and synagogues worth visiting.

cities in Germany

Dresden
The city of Dresden can be found in the state of Saxon. It is known as a cultural center in the region, and is a popular city to visit among Germans, attracting around ten million tourists each year. Many tourists enjoy visiting the city’s historic center, which has a large selection of interesting buildings, palaces, and gardens.

cities in Germany

Munich
The Bavarian city of Munich is also worth a visit. Known primarily for its Oktoberfest celebrations, Munich is also a technological hub in Germany.  For visitors to Munich, there are several royal avenues, squares, and palaces worth visiting. Munich is also one of Germany’s art capitals, and within the city, there are over 16 museums and 40 galleries to choose from.

cities in Germany

Hamburg
As Germany’s largest port, and Europe’s second busiest port, Hamburg is often called Germany’s Gateway to the World.  The fish market, located on the harbor, is worth a visit, as are other parts of the city, including city hall and the Speicherstadt, the city’s historical warehouse district. Besides the importance of the harbor, Hamburg has also become one of Germany’s media hubs.

cities in Germany

Dusseldorf
The city of Dusseldorf is known for its vibrant nightlife, abundant shopping, and exciting events. Each summer, the city hosts the Kirmes Fun Fair, which attracts more than 4 million people annually. One part of the city worth visiting is the Old Town, which is home to shopping malls, as well as bars, coffee shops, and brewing houses.

cities in Germany

Frankfurt
Known as the business and financial center of Germany, Frankfurt is a bustling hub of commerce and technology. The city is famous for its skyline, which features futuristic architecture, but there are also many well-maintained historical buildings scattered throughout the city.  Frankfurt attracts millions of tourists each year, and is one of Germany’s transport hubs, both for air travel and train travel.

cities in Germany

Heidelberg
The city of Heidelberg is the quintessential German city, full of beautiful historical architecture and neighborhoods. You can easily spend your days strolling through the Alstadt, Heidelburg’s city center, or take a hike up Heiligenberg mountain to see an aerial view of the city. In addition to the sites, Heidelberg also has more than eight theaters, to ensure your entertainment options are not limited.

cities in Germany

These eight cities in German are not to be missed, especially if you have a lot of time to spare on your upcoming trip to Germany. You can check out more of sociokathy’s leaf to get additional ideas of what to visit in Dresden. And to get information and tips on other destinations, download the LeafCanoe app.

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Something for Everyone in Beautiful Bali

Even before it was made famous by Elizabeth Gilbert in her book, Eat, Pray, Love, beautiful Bali had always held a special allure to travelers. This tiny island in Indonesia is full of natural beauty and welcoming charm. Known as the island of the gods, Bali is a popular spot for surfers chasing after the perfect wave, luxury travelers looking for the perfect beach resort, and even artists seeking out the perfect creative retreat. No matter what type of traveler you are, there is something for everyone in beautiful Bali.

Beautiful Bali

LeafCanoer, ladyd, recently shared her tips on Bali in her leaf, “Bali Miracles.” Highlights of her leaf include exploring rice paddies in Ubud, visiting the island’s many temples, and sampling the local seafood in Jimbaran. Bali is a great choice for any type of traveler.

The Luxury Traveler
Luxurious beach resorts line the coasts of Bali, where white sands are as common as the motorcycles that zoom along the roads or the Bintang beers that are served at the restaurants. In Bali, luxury travelers can have their pick of resorts, including brand names like Four Seasons, Marriot, Westin, and Sheraton. In addition to the abundance of resorts, there is also an abundance of shopping opportunities in Bali, from the brand name stores around Kuta Square, to the famous goldsmiths and silversmiths in Celuk Village.

Beautiful Bali

The Budget Traveler
On the other end of the spectrum, if you’re the type of traveler who wants to minimize spending, there are plenty of cheap lodging and eating options for you. Indonesia’s currency, the rupiah, is relatively weak compared to the dollar, which makes the cost of living in the country quite inexpensive. Guest houses are a popular accommodation option for budget travelers, but there are also cheap hotels and hostels that you can choose from. As for food, you’ll find that places that serve local cuisine will be much cheaper than those that serve Western style food.

Beautiful Bali

The Adventure Traveler
The island of Bali is full of natural wonders, and as such, there is a plethora of outdoor activities available for the adventurous traveler. Since the 70’s, Bali has been known as one of the surfing capitals of the world. Besides surfing, there are plenty of other water activities to choose from, including snorkeling and scuba diving. On land, adventure travelers can take their pick from hiking, biking, and exploring the island’s many volcanoes and caves. After a long day of adventuring, you can also take some time to unwind at any of the yoga retreats that can be found throughout the island.

Beautiful Bali

The Cultural Traveler
Bali is a unique oasis of Hinduism in a country that is predominantly Muslim. Balinese culture centers around music, dance, and temple worship. Travelers who love learning about local culture will enjoy visiting the many temples that dot the island and are used on a daily basis by the Balinese. There are also plenty of opportunities to catch a dance performance or a shadow puppet show. These shows are often accompanied by a percussion ensemble known as a gamelan. The city of Ubud is known as the cultural center of Bali, and is a must-see for anyone who really wants to get to know the culture of Bali.

Beautiful Bali

The Family Traveler
Bali is not just a place for adults. There are plenty of activities geared towards kids throughout the island. In the Kuta area, the new water park, Waterbom, is a popular place for families who come to visit Bali. Many of the tourist activities in Bali are kid-friendly, and the hotels on the island are actually quite accommodating to traveling families. Kids especially love visiting the Monkey Forest in Ubud. There is also the Bali Safari and Marine Park, that includes both a safari and an aquarium, and the Bali Tree Top, which features zip line circuits for all ages.

Beautiful Bali

No matter what your travel style is, Bali is the ideal place to spend your next island vacation. There is truly something for everyone in Bali.

To see more of ladyd’s leaf about beautiful Bali, or to read up on other tropical destinations, download the LeafCanoe app.

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Old Meets New in Tokyo

In a city consistently ranked as the cleanest and most friendly in the world, spending time in Tokyo isn’t difficult or unappealing. Ease of traveling, helpfulness of locals, and plenty of historical sights in addition to modern amenities puts Tokyo at the top of many travel guides’ lists of must-see places.

It is the capital of Japan and boasts the most populous metropolitan area in the world, 36 million people, and growing. The area is divided up into areas, or neighborhoods—each treated like small cities, which explains whyTokyo is frequently referred to as a “city of cities” affectionately. With so much to see, it could become overwhelming to plan an itinerary in Tokyo, but thankfully, Leaf Canoer Julia at vetaretus-6 has compiled a thorough list of sights and experience in this bustling city in her leaf “Things to see in Tokyo”.

The comparative aspect of old vs new makes Tokyo an endlessly interesting place to explore. Culture and way of life is passed down from generation to generation and a tradition of honor and loyalty is well-preserved in Japan in both architecture and attitude. But a booming economy also makes Tokyo home to many global corporations and the amenities are truly first class and state of the art. To fully appreciate Tokyo one has to be ready to dive in to the history while still appreciating modern technology and innovations that are to be found there. Below are a mix of “old vs new” Tokyo sights.

Hachiko Statue at Shibuya Station
It’s no secret that dogs are regarded as inspiringly loyal animals, and the story behind this statue demonstrates just how true that it. Waiting for his owner to come home from work each day at Shibuya Station, Hachiko became a local fixture in the early 1920’s. When his master died of a brain hemorrhage, this remarkable Akita continued to wait for his master each day for nearly a decade after he died. This statue was erected as a national symbol of loyalty to one’s family and to the Emperor, and remains a popular tourist attraction.

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Shop Til You Drop
When you’re ready to take advantage of a populated city, shopping is usually a part of the experience and Tokyo is no exception to a wide array of shopping venues. One particularly interesting area worth exploring is the fashion district of Takeshita-dori in Harajuku. Here one can find living art just watching the people passing by on the street. Don’t feel shy! Ask to photograph them and most people would be flattered to stop and pose. Shops and restaurants abound in the area so explore and pick up some of Japan’s quirky and delightful fashion expressions.

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Temples and Shrines
Worship is a very significant part of Japanese culture. Though there is not one mandated religion, the country is largely Shinto, an ethnic religion, or Buddhist. Buddhism arrived in Japan in the early 6th century and most Japanese death rituals are handled by Buddhist monks. There are many Shinto shrines available for patrons to attend and offer offerings and enjoy their peaceful atmosphere. One excellent shrine to consider visiting is Meiji Jingu, dedicated to Emperor Meiji and his Empress Shoken. After their deaths,  the loyal people of Japan donated over 100,000 trees to commemorate their virtues and created a lush forest amid a busy city. Tips are offered by user vetaretus-6 for showing proper etiquette while visiting Shinto shrines.

From the Water
One great way to take in Tokyo and appreciate it’s panorama is from a river cruise. There are a variety of options for routes, and vessels, including ferries, open air boats, water busses, and even enclosed boats for inclement weather. One option provides for pickups from hotels where you are escorted to the towering skyscraper of World Trade Center Tokyo. From the 40th floor, take in sweeping views of Tokyo, with a guide to answer any questions and provide information. Travel then through parts of the city on your way to Asakusa Kannon Temple, the oldest and most significant Buddhist temple in Tokyo. Passing briefly through a shopping district, you’ll head to the river where you’ll embark on a 45-minute river cruise, gliding under bridges all while hearing audio commentary about this historic city. (www.viator.com see Tokyo Highlights Afternoon Tour and Sumida River Cruise)

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Sky High Buildings
Skyscrapers are part of Tokyo’s iconic cityscape. It wouldn’t be proper to visit Tokyo without ascending one of it’s sky-high buildings and Mori Tower provides an unparalleled view of this metropolitan area. Observation decks on the 52nd and 54th floor are open to visitors. It is a fantastic place to capture some cityscape photography.

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Tokyo Dome City
A small entertainment complex in Bunkyo consists of the mega-arena Tokyo Dome, a spa and an amusement park complete with roller coasters. It is a great way to spend a few hours thrill-seeking and with ample opportunities for relaxation as well.

The contrast of city and nature, old and new, ancient custom and modern amenities make Tokyo a fantastic city to explore. It’s low crime rate and temperate climate should encourage one and all to spend some time in this world-class city.

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For more ideas of things to see in Tokyo visit LeafCanoer Julia’s leaf here and to read what other LeafCanoers have to say, download the LeafCanoe app.

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A Step Back in Time: Exploring Hoi An Hotspots

Located along the central coast of Vietnam is the ancient town of Hoi An. This town dates back centuries, and is rich with history and natural beauty. For travelers to Vietnam, Hoi An is a must-see for providing a glimpse into the country’s heritage. LeafCanoer, DeclanBradley, recently shared some of his favorite places to visit in his leaf, titled “Hoi An Hotspots.” A closer look at the culture and history behind the city provides some insight into these Hoi An hotspots.

Hoi An Bridge

Biking through Old Town Hoi An

 

History and Culture

In the 15th to 19th century, Hoi An served as an important trading port in Southeast Asia, bringing in traders from China, as well as Japan and European countries. The town’s architecture became greatly influenced by these multi-cultural interactions. Hoi An still retains many of its original wooden buildings, including a Japanese style bridge. And much of the city’s layout remains the same as it was centuries ago, with the buildings are laid out in a grid-like fashion, especially in the Old Town portion of the city. The Old Town is considered a UNESCO World Heritage site, and even today, Hoi An continues to serve as a trading port.

Hoi An Market

Fresh fruit at Hoi An Market

Old Town is full of places to walk and explore. One of the most popular spots is the market, which is located along the riverside. Visitors to the market can find fresh meat, fish, and vegetables, as well as fabrics, artwork, and wood carvings. There are also plenty of roadside cafes to grab a bite to eat and a rest, after a long day of shopping.

Natural Beauty

Being a coastal town, Hoi An is surrounded by natural beauty. About 1 km away from the historical part of Hoi An are beach resorts that can offer travelers a chance to relax and enjoy the sun and sand. Popular beaches include Cui Dai and An Bang, where visitors can enjoy a drink or meet other travelers. Biking along the beach is a common activity for travelers, and it’s a great place to watch the local fishermen bring in their haul.

If you’re interested in a brief excursion, head to the island of Cam Nam, across the inlet from Old Town. Visitors can access this island by bridge, and can walk or bike around the island. Cam Nam Island has plenty of small roads, fields, and lakes that are perfect for exploring. Many of Cam Nam’s locals are fisherman, so travelers can get a taste of what the fisherman life is like by visiting this island.

Cam Nam

Boats at Cam Nam

 

For a lengthier excursion, head to the Marble Mountains, which is located about 19 kilometers north of Hoi An. The Marble Mountains is a cluster of five hills made of limestone and marble, named after the five elements: metal, water, wood, fire, and earth. The mountains are home to several Buddhist sanctuaries and grottoes. Climbing up to the top of the mountain offers travelers breathtaking views of China Beach.

For those looking to explore the water, a trip to the Cham Islands, located about 16 kilometers east of Hoi An, is worth a try. Visitors can rent speedboats leaving from Cui Dai beach out to the islands. While there, visitors can enjoy snorkeling, or sample the local seafood. There are a couple of homestays and guest houses located on the islands, for those interested in staying overnight, but most travelers visit the Cham Islands as just a day trip from Hoi An.

Speedboats

The Hoi An waterfront

 

Hoi An is a wonderful travel destination, rich in history and surrounded by natural beauty. For any traveler to Hoi An, it’s easy to fall in love with the picturesque buildings, the laid back atmosphere, and the delicious food. From the bustling market to the quaint fishing areas, there is a lot to love about this town.

Interested in learning more about Hoi An hotspots, as well as other travel destinations? Check out DeclanBradley’s leaf, and explore other interesting places on the LeafCanoe app.

Hoi An Old Town

Historic Old Town Hoi An

 

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