Features // People

Joining the party at an Iban longhouse, Malaysia
Joining the party at an Iban longhouse, Malaysia

It’s always polite to bring gifts to your hosts’ house, but when visiting a Sarawak longhouse make sure it’s something that’s easily shared, as longhouses are communal, and nearly everything gets divvied up into equal parts. This isn’t always an easy task: typically, longhouses are home to around 150 people and contain at least thirty family apartments, each one’s…

Hot coals for Constantine, Greece
Hot coals for Constantine, Greece

In a handful of sleepy farming villages in northern Greece, the fire-walking ritual is an annual celebration of a thirteenth-century miracle, when locals rescued icons from a burning church – without being burned themselves. By nightfall, the towering bonfire in the main square has dwindled to glowing embers. Every light is put out and all…

Into the valley: hearing a Welsh choir
Into the valley: hearing a Welsh choir

The road into Senghenydd from the imposing Welsh castle town of Caerphilly snakes along the side of a steep slope that drops into a rocky valley below. Lined with red-toned terraced houses constructed from local stone, the village almost clings to the hillside, and though coal mining died out here long ago, the landscape still…

Why you should visit Southern Brazil
Why you should visit Southern Brazil

Brazil’s booming southern states – Paraná, Santa Catarina and Rio Grande do Sul – are often strangely absent on tourist itineraries of the country. The cities of Curitiba and Porto Alegre will host 2014 FIFA World Cup matches, and the region is already a huge draw for Brazilian, Argentine and Uruguayan tourists. Yet it can…

Cliff diving around the world with Orlando Duque
Cliff diving around the world with Orlando Duque

It’s taken him from the deserts of Oman to the stunning Amalfi coast and the edges of Australia – Orlando Duque is a Red Bull cliff diving champion and lover of all-things travel. At the beginning of this year’s championships, we grilled him on his favourite destinations for diving. Having started out as an Olympic…

Try a Buenos Aires tango, Argentina
Try a Buenos Aires tango, Argentina

When it first emerged in the city’s brothels and slums sometime in the 1890s, the world’s sexiest ballroom dance, the tango, horrified the genteel residents of Buenos Aires. Some of the city’s more liberal-minded upper-class youths fell in love with tango, though, and brought it to Paris, where the dance’s characteristic haunting melodies, seductive gazes…

Party in the sun at Boom, Portugal
Party in the sun at Boom, Portugal

Twenty thousand revellers each year come to Boom, Europe’s greatest outdoor dance-music festival, which takes place for a week over the August full moon on a lakeside ranch about 60km from Lisbon. In true summer-of-love fashion it combines non-stop dance music with eco-idealism: here you’ll find sustainability workshops, recycling and composting bins, a permaculture garden…

Floating through Xochimilco, Mexico
Floating through Xochimilco, Mexico

Spend a few days in the intoxicating, maddening centro histórico of Mexico City, and you’ll understand why thousands of Mexicans make the journey each Sunday to the “floating gardens” of Xochimilco, the country’s very own Venice. Built by the Aztecs to grow food, this network of meandering waterways and man-made islands, or chinampas, is an important gardening centre…

Hanging out in the Jemaa el Fna square, Morocco
Hanging out in the Jemaa el Fna square, Morocco

There’s nowhere on Earth like the Jemaa el Fna, the square at the heart of old Marrakesh. The focus of the evening promenade for locals, the Jemaa is a heady blend of alfresco food bazaar and street theatre: for as long as you’re in town, you’ll want to come back here again and again. Goings-on…

Take a dawn laughter yoga session in Mumbai, India
Take a dawn laughter yoga session in Mumbai, India

As dawn breaks in India’s largest and noisiest city, there’s a hubbub on Chowpatty beach that sounds altogether stranger than the car horns, bus engines and tinny radios that provide the usual rush-hour soundtrack. Standing in a circle on the pale yellow sands of the beach, a group of men and women are twirling their…

Fight night in Bangkok, Thailand
Fight night in Bangkok, Thailand

The Thai people are predominately Buddhist, and through much of their country Siddhartha’s spirit is palpable. Even in the noisy and overcrowded capital city, hard-faced nationals will soften their features and treat visitors with a respect given all living creatures. The exception that proves the rule is the brutal national sport of muay thai or Thai boxing – where…

Navigating a Swedish smorgasbord, Sweden
Navigating a Swedish smorgasbord, Sweden

Offhand, how many different ways can you think of to prepare herring or salmon? The two fish are staples of the smörgåsbord and, at last count, there were well over 120 varieties being used in restaurants and kitchens across Sweden. The Swedish smörgåsbord (literally “buttered table”) is a massive all-you-can-eat buffet where you can sample…

Ten things to do in Madrid for free
Ten things to do in Madrid for free

Sophisticated, globally minded and perfect for late-night parties – Madrid can be an expensive place to enjoy. So if you want to see the sights on a budget, timing is crucial. Many of the city’s best museums, galleries and historic buildings are free to visit but only for a few hours at a time, so…

Painting the town red at La Tomatina in Spain
Painting the town red at La Tomatina in Spain

On the last Wednesday of every August, 130,000 kilos of over-ripe tomatoes are hurled around the alleyways of Buñol until the tiny town’s streets are ankle deep in squelching fruit. What started in the 1940s as an impromptu food fight between friends has turned into one of the most bizarre and downright infantile fiestas on…

Listening to Gnawa music in Essaouira, Morocco
Listening to Gnawa music in Essaouira, Morocco

It’s midnight in Essaouira, and a castanet-like rhythm is drifting over the ramparts on the steely Atlantic breeze. Tucked into a courtyard is a group of robed musicians playing bass drums, reed pipes and qaraqebs, metal chimes which are clacked together in the fingers. Their leader, the maalem, plucks a three-stringed gimbri lute. Singers in…

Music, dance and drama in ancient Aspendos, Turkey
Music, dance and drama in ancient Aspendos, Turkey

It’s a hot summer’s evening; overhead is a soft, purple-black and star-strewn sky. The incessant chirrup of cicadas mingles with the murmur of thousands of voices – Turkish, German, English, Russian – and the popping of corks, as the 15,000-strong audience settles down, passes round wine and olives and eagerly awaits the entertainment ahead. All…

Tucking into a hangi feast
Tucking into a hangi feast

A suitably reverential silence descends, broken only by munching and appreciative murmurs from the assembled masses – the hangi has finally been served. Pronounced “hungi”, this traditional Maori meal, similar to the luau prepared by the Maori people’s Polynesian kin in Hawaii, is essentially a feast cooked in an earth oven for several hours. It can’t be found on…

An Arranged Marriage in Tajikistan – via MMS
An Arranged Marriage in Tajikistan – via MMS

Driving through the city of Panj, Tajikistan, Rough Guides writer Kiki Deere meets an ex-Soviet-soldier-turned-teacher who has discovered a new way of arranging a long-distance marriage. Our heavy-footed driver swerved to avoid a series of large rocks that had crumbled from the mountainside above. A muddy crimson river swept through the valley below: the Panj,…

Bedouin camping at Wadi Rum, Jordan
Bedouin camping at Wadi Rum, Jordan

This excerpt from Make The Most Of Your Time On Earth sees one intrepid Rough Guides writer experience a night to remember… My Bedouin guide settled forward over his ribaba, a simple traditional stringed instrument. As he drew the bow to and fro, the mournful, reedy music seemed to fill the cool night air, echoing…

Indulging in a Welsh tea feast in Patagonia
Indulging in a Welsh tea feast in Patagonia

By Shafik Meghji In 1865, 153 Welsh men, women and children boarded a tea-clipper, the Mimosa, in Liverpool and set out on an 8,000-mile journey to what they hoped would be their Promised Land. Fleeing cultural and religious persecution in the UK, the pioneers wanted to create a “little Wales beyond Wales” – a place…

Watching the hurling at Croke Park, Ireland
Watching the hurling at Croke Park, Ireland

The player leaps like a basketball star through a crowd of desperate opponents and flailing sticks. Barely visible to the naked eye, the arcing ball somehow lodges in his upstretched palm. Dropping to the ground, he shimmies his way out of trouble, the ball now delicately balanced on the flat end of his hurley, then…

Getting in line at Mardi Gras, Louisiana
Getting in line at Mardi Gras, Louisiana

America’s most over-the-top and hedonistic spectacle, Mardi Gras (the night before Ash Wednesday) in New Orleans reflects as much a medieval, European carnival as it does a drunken Spring Break ritual. Behind the scenes, the official celebration revolves around exclusive, invitation-only balls; for such an astonishingly big event, it can seem put on more for…

Feeling fruity in the Mekong Delta, Vietnam
Feeling fruity in the Mekong Delta, Vietnam

If you’re looking for a classic Southeast Asian scene, Vietnam’s Mekong Delta, south of Ho Chi Minh City, will do the trick. This is an area of vivid green rice paddies, conical-hatted farmers and lumbering water buffaloes, of floating markets and villages built on stilts. Lush orchards overflow with mangoes, papayas and dragonfruit; plantations brim…

Motorbiking from Australia to Estonia
Motorbiking from Australia to Estonia

After motorcycling from Australia to Istanbul, Kickstarter-funded traveller Tyson Cable told Lottie Gross about his exploits around the world on two wheels.  Over a crackly line from his hotel room in Istanbul, Tyson Cable introduced himself to me as a traveller first and foremost, and a photographer second. He is the creator of the Adventure…

Joining the festivities on Norwegian National Day
Joining the festivities on Norwegian National Day

The seventeenth of May is just another day to most people, but in Oslo (and all across Norway for that matter) it’s an eagerly anticipated annual event: Norwegian National Day. A celebration of the signing of the Norwegian Constitution, National Day is a joyous and rather rambunctious affair. It has the usual parades, bands, street…

Classical drama at Epidavros theatre, Greece
Classical drama at Epidavros theatre, Greece

There’s no better place to experience classical drama than the ancient theatre at Epidavros, just outside the pretty harbour town of Nafplio in the Greek Peloponnese. Dating back to the fourth century BC, it seats 14,000 people and is known above all for its extraordinary acoustics – as guides regularly demonstrate, you can hear a…

Ten things to do in Berlin for free
Ten things to do in Berlin for free

Few other European capitals can compete with Berlin, a city that’s simultaneously funky, cultured, gritty and glamorous. And whether you want to see museums, or be seen at trendy galleries, there are enough free things to do in Berlin to keep you busy for a week or more. Visit the Reichstag’s roof terrace For far-reaching…

Champagne tasting in Epernay, France
Champagne tasting in Epernay, France

Champagne is an exclusive drink, in all senses of the word, what with its upmarket associations and the fact that it can be made only from the grapes grown in the Champagne region of northern France. The centre of champagne production is Épernay, a town that’s made much of its association with the fizzy stuff, and where all…

Learn how silk is made in Laos
Learn how silk is made in Laos

Holding the tiny cocoon in your fingers, it’s hard to imagine it contains a fibre of silk that will be 800m long when finally unravelled. And when you consider 100,000 silk worms are being cultivated here at Vang Viang Organic Farm, you’re effectively surrounded by 80,000km of silk – enough to circle the earth twice.…

Moonlit manoeuvres through Hoi An, Vietnam
Moonlit manoeuvres through Hoi An, Vietnam

Once a month, on the eve of the full moon, downtown Hoi An turns off all its street lights and basks in the mellow glow of silk lanterns. Shopkeepers don traditional outfits; parades, folk opera and martial arts demonstrations flood the cobbled streets; and the riverside fills with stalls selling crabmeat parcels, beanpaste cakes and noodle soup. It’s all…

Hanging out in Shinjuku
Hanging out in Shinjuku

Shinjuku isn’t for the faint-hearted. But if you’re new to Tokyo and want a crash course in crazy, it’s the first place you should come to. Sure, Asakusa has more history and Roppongi has better nightlife, but neither can compete when it comes to dealing out high-voltage culture shocks. On the west side of Shinjuku…

Visiting the last panama hat wearers, Ecuador
Visiting the last panama hat wearers, Ecuador

Panama hats, as any Ecuadorian worth their salt will tell you, don’t come from Panama. Authentic Panamas – or sombreros de paja toquilla, as they call them locally – are only woven in the Andean country, from the straw of the toquilla plant, which grows in the swamps near Ecuador’s central coast. The origin of the misnomer comes from…

Discovering the delights of a ryokan in Japan
Discovering the delights of a ryokan in Japan

Sofia Levin discovers tradition and tranquility in rural Japan Lush rice paddies morphed into a thick forest of bamboo and cedar trees as our train climbed steeper. Plants clung desperately to the side of the mountain and small waterfalls trickled down every crevice. At the end of the line, a funicular heaved us up the…

Funeral season in Sulawesi, Indonesia
Funeral season in Sulawesi, Indonesia

Motorbiking around Sulawesi in search of one of the island’s famed funerals, Anthon Jackson attends an intense and bloody ceremony to bid farewell to the deceased. Leashed to a stake in the ground, the buffalo’s entire body squirmed as its broad throat was slit, its knees buckling and its huge torso collapsing onto the grass.…

Laughing with township comedians, South Africa
Laughing with township comedians, South Africa

“You can probably guess that I’m from the Cape Flats – born and fled that is!” So starts another night of impassioned, edgy and often bitingly satirical comedy from some of South Africa’s rawest young comedy talent. The townships of Cape Town aren’t known as hubs of comedy, but the Starving Comics, an almost exclusively…

Calling in the heavies at the Highland Games
Calling in the heavies at the Highland Games

Throughout Scotland, not just in the Highlands, summer signals the onset of the Highland Games, from the smallest village get-togethers to the Giant Cowal Highland Gathering in Dunoon, which draws a crowd of 10,000. Urbanites might blanch at the idea of al fresco Scottish country dancing, but with dog trials, tractors, fudge stalls and more cute animals than you…

Beach bar-hopping in Hamburg, Germany
Beach bar-hopping in Hamburg, Germany

Move over Paris Plage. Although media reports heap praise upon its strip of sun, Seine and sand, the North European city that has a better claim to be the spiritual home of the urban beach is Hamburg. Every April tens of thousands of tonnes of sand are imported as miniature seaside paradises appear in the…

Catching the Loy Krathong Festival of Light, Thailand
Catching the Loy Krathong Festival of Light, Thailand

In the days leading up to Thailand’s annual Loy Krathong Festival of Light, pretty little baskets fashioned from banana leaves and filled with orchids and marigolds begin to appear at market stalls across the country. On festival night everyone gathers at the nearest body of water – beside the riverbank or neighbourhood canal, on the…

Crossing cultural boundaries in Krakow
Crossing cultural boundaries in Krakow

Poland’s oldest football team, Cracovia Kraków, serves as a metaphor for the multicultural history of the city. During the interwar years, Cracovia was nicknamed the “Yids” because significant members of Kraków’s Jewish community were on both the terraces and the team sheet. It also happened to be the favourite team of local boy Karol Wojtyła, who would later become…

On the road again – travel thoughts from Simon Reeve
On the road again – travel thoughts from Simon Reeve

Bestselling author, TV presenter and insatiable traveller, Simon Reeve has visited more than 110 countries in his time. Drawn to far-flung, mysterious and often troubled places, he is an expert at chronicling the lives of the people he encounters along the way. He is best known for the BBC series Tropic of Capricorn, Tropic of…

Standing at the heart of Mother Russia
Standing at the heart of Mother Russia

Stand in the middle of Moscow’s Red Square and in a 360-degree turn, the turbulent past and present of Russia is encapsulated in one fell swoop: flagships of Orthodox Christianity, Tsarist autocracy, communist dictatorship and rampant consumerism confront each other before your eyes. Red Square, is, well, red-ish, but its name actually derives from an old Russian word for…

Spellbound in Laos
Spellbound in Laos

The pace of life is deliciously slow in Luang Prabang, but if you opt for a lie-in you’ll miss the perfect start to the day. As dawn breaks over this most languorous of Buddhist towns, saffron-robed monks emerge from their temple-monasteries to collect alms from their neighbours, the riverbanks begin to come alive and the…

Sand and spice on Ko Samui, Thailand
Sand and spice on Ko Samui, Thailand

Ko Samui is perhaps an unlikely spot to learn the art of Thai cooking. Given the choice between lapping up rays on a patch of sand, palms and waterfalls in the Gulf of Thailand or arming yourself with a sharp cleaver to take on a mound of raw pork and fiery chilies, most people will…

Seven days in the warm heart of Africa
Seven days in the warm heart of Africa

Of all the sights, sounds and sensations stamped in my mind from my week in Malawi, one stands out above all others: Everlasting’s laugh. Our brilliantly-named driver was guide, companion and entertainer over several hours and countless bumpy miles around this sliver of sub-Saharan Africa, and his protracted guffaws were a law unto themselves. Oscillating…

Jungle boogie in Sarawak, Malaysia
Jungle boogie in Sarawak, Malaysia

In this excerpt from Make The Most Of Your Time On Earth, one Rough Guides writer experiences a memorable three-day music festival. Afternoon, the first day of Sarawak’s Rainforest Music festival. People are mingling ahead of show time when the famous Malagasy band Tarika will perform. For now though, a local Melinau musician with a hat…

St Petersburg’s White Nights
St Petersburg’s White Nights

Imagine spending all day sightseeing, taking a shower and a nap, and then looking out of the window to see the sky as bright as midday. Your body kicks into overdrive, and the whole day seems to lie ahead of you. The streets throng with people toting guitars and bottles of champagne or vodka; naval…

Shopping in the City of Gold, United Arab Emirates
Shopping in the City of Gold, United Arab Emirates

Dubai’s nickname, the “City of Gold”, is well earned: gold jewellery is sold here at some of the world’s most competitive prices, and shopping among the constant flow of customers, many here for their marriage dowries, is an exceptional experience. The Gold Souk is a fascinating warren of tiny shops and stalls clustered together in the old quarter…

Hitting Ibiza’s closing parties
Hitting Ibiza’s closing parties

Ibiza’s summer clubbing season is an orgy of hedonism, full of beats, late nights and frazzled young things. It reaches a messy climax in September, when the main club promoters and venues host a series of seratonin-sapping parties to round things off and extract a few final euros from their battered punters. These end-of-season events…

Visiting the Pueblos Mancomunados, Mexico
Visiting the Pueblos Mancomunados, Mexico

Pine forests, wild mushrooms and a sunrise above clouds: not what you might associate with Mexico, better known for beaches, colonial cities and Aztec ruins. The mountains of the Sierra Norte, two hours’ bus journey north of Oaxaca, are home to a cluster of villages, a semi-autonomous community known as “Pueblos Mancomunados” (meaning “united villages”),…

Witnessing the power of the haka, New Zealand
Witnessing the power of the haka, New Zealand

Few spectacles can match the terrifying sight of the All Blacks performing a haka before a test match. You feel a chill down your spine fifty metres away in the stands so imagine how it must feel facing it as an opponent. The intimidating thigh-slapping, eye-bulging, tongue-poking chant traditionally used is the Te Rauparaha haka,…

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