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Cultural Immersion: Coolest Street Art Cities in the World

Street art is more than just a graffiti tag on a wall – it’s an exciting art form that brings life and passion to the bare surfaces of a city.

After all, as human beings we have had the instinct to paint on the walls ever since the early days of cave paintings. Murals along underpasses, splashed across the sides of buildings or down alleyways turn the urban space into an outdoor museum. They are not only beautiful to look at, they can have powerful cultural and political messages.

There are some cities around the world that have embraced street art more than others. In these places the experience of admiring the murals is an important part of cultural immersion and it helps visitors to understand what life is like in the location. Here are some examples of amazing street art cities from around the world:

 

Cultural Immersion Through Street Art

Valparaiso, Chile

A laid-back, hip port city only 1.5 hours from Santiago, Valparaiso has an effortlessly cool vibe. It’s a mix of the artsy bohemian residents, the unique coffee shops and the live-music-fueled nightlife that goes on until dawn – as well as the brightly-hued paintings that adorn almost every public wall.

The colourful buildings here cascade down the steep hills, with views of the vast blue Pacific that once inspired Chilean poet Pablo Neruda. The local government here doesn’t just allow street art, it promotes it. Many local cafes, bars, and restaurants are eager to have the talented local artists paint their buildings and during your visit you can take a street art tour to discover some of the best large-scale paintings within the winding, steep streets.

Sao Paulo, Brazil

Sao Paulo has embraced and cultivated an incredible street art scene. However, if you want to see it you had better book your trip soon. The new mayor of the city has been threatening to “beautify” the city by painting over the street art, as he calls it “visual pollution.”

To see the best street art in Sao Paulo, you can first head to the Vila Madalena, which is known for the street “Beco de Batman.” It is a narrow laneway filled with colorful artwork. Each of the walls is owned by a different artist and it’s fascinating to see the different styles.

Istanbul, Turkey

The street art scene in Istanbul has grown considerably in the last several years. The city hosted the Mural Istanbul festival, which was an opportunity for local and international artists to show off their artwork on the sides of buildings all over Kadikoy. This vibrant district is packed with local bazaars, vintage shops and pubs and is covered in bright murals.

Another one of the best neighborhoods in the city to look for cultural immersion into the street art scene is Tünel, where almost all of the shops are decked out with colourful shutters.  

Bangkok, Thailand

BBC Culture recently published a feature about the thriving street art scene in Bangkok. This form of expression was once discouraged, but it is now a way to share beauty, communicate humour and identify social issues.

Street art has been embraced all over Bangkok – even the Beat Hotel Bangkok now features rooms painted by some of Bangkok’s best loved urban artists. The city also hosted BUKRUK, which translates to “invasion” and is a cultural immersion festival of street art featuring artists from around the world.

Where is your favorite street art around the world?

5 Great Off the Beaten Path New Year’s Destinations

Sure, Times Square and the fireworks displays in the Sydney Harbour are impressive – but what if you want to go somewhere a little different for New Year’s Eve? Do you want to ring in the New Year at a place that is a little bit further off the beaten path and will offer a one-of-a-kind travel experience? Here are some of the most interesting spots around the world to spend December 31st.

5 Off the Beaten Path New Year’s Destinations

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  1. Valparaiso, Chile

Valparaiso is one of the coolest cities in South America and this street-art covered, quirky seaport really knows how to ring in the New Year. It hosts one of the most mind-blowing fireworks shows in South America, as well as a three day long “New Year’s Eve by the Sea” celebration.

 

The best way to see the fireworks in this off the beaten path destination might be to climb up to the top of one of the steep hills around the city, or charter a boat and watch them from the sea. During your visit, you can also check out the home of poet Pablo Neruda and take a tour of the winding, quirky streets to learn more about the colorful street art that adorns nearly every public wall in this funky city.

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2. Scheveningen, Netherlands

This community is home to the largest New Year’s Eve bonfire in the world, according to the Guinness Book of World Records. In fact, this bonfire has been officially recognized as part of the Dutch cultural heritage. This enormous conflagration of wooden pallets will light up the night, while the festivities will also include live music, fireworks and much more.

Another tradition is the New Year’s Dive, which involves taking a freezing cold plunge into the sea – followed by warming up with some yummy hot chocolate or Dutch pea soup.

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3. Vienna, Austria

If you are looking for a swanky and sophisticated New Year’s Eve, the Austrian capital promises an elegant celebration. If you are lucky enough to get a ticket to the New Year’s Eve Grand Ball at Hofburg Palace, you will be rubbing shoulders with the who’s who of Europe.

If not, you can sip mulled wine and be dazzled by the beautiful artisan crafts at Vienna’s famous Christmas markets, such as the Christkindlmarkt Rathausplatz and the Spittelberg Christmas Market. Or, go for a stroll along the New Year’s Trail, where dozens of local restaurants will be serving up yummy treats.

Want something inspirational to wake up to the next day? A crowd will gather at the City Hall on New Year’s day to start off the year with a concert by the world renowned Vienna Philharmonic Orchestra.

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4. Edinburgh, Scotland

The Scots call New Year’s Eve “Hogmanay” and they celebrate it with a fiery passion. The origins of the celebrations go all the way back to the Viking winter solstice celebrations and they begin with wild and crazy parties in late December.

The cold dark Scottish nights are lit up with torchlight processions, street parties and live music. Princes Street in Edinburgh will be filled with revelers, with the spectacular Edinburgh Castle in the background. You can dance, drink and eat all night, with outdoor bars, food trucks, DJs and giant screens.

When the clock ticks down to midnight, a spectacular fireworks display will burst forth from the ramparts of the historic castle and everyone will hold hands with the person nearest to them and sing Auld Lang Syne.

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5. Nuku’alofa, Tonga

The tiny Pacific Island of Tonga is the first place in the world to celebrate New Years – you’ll be counting down to midnight three hours before anyone in Australia. So, if you are the type who likes to do things first – you’ll want to make New Year’s plans here. The local celebrations will include brass bands, the ringing of church bells and midnight mass.

 

The capital city, Nuku’alofa, on the island of Tongatapu, has a laid back atmosphere and some great snorkeling beaches. Also, build some time into your trip for an off the beaten path trekking adventure on nearby Eua Island, home to the largest tropical rainforest in Tonga.

 

What Makes Vietnamese Food Different?

Vietnamese food is unlike any other in Southeast Asia – so what makes it so special?

Fresh. Invigorating. Fragrant. Sweet. Sour. Fermented. These are all adjectives you might use to describe Vietnamese cooking. It’s all about the yin and yang, the perfect balance of opposites within a dish that really makes each ingredient sing.

If you’ve tried food from several different Asian countries, you’ll know that there’s nothing quite like Vietnamese cuisine. What are the elements that make the dishes of this vibrant country unique?

It’s Not All About Spiciness

Unlike some other dishes in Southeast Asia that will melt your face off with spiciness, such as Tom Yum in Thailand, Sambal in Indonesia or Vindaloo Curry in India, Vietnamese cuisine isn’t focused on being as hot as possible.

Instead, the goal is to balance all of the five taste elements of sweet, salty, bitter, sour and spicy. This results in a more balanced, aromatic and subtle dish with a complex flavour – perhaps with a bit of a kick to it but never screaming hot.

Vietnamese chefs believe that every ingredient has “heating” or “cooling” properties. So, for example duck meat is considered cool so it should be served in the summer. Chicken is a warm food, so it is served in winter and paired with a sour sauce which is considered cool. The chef strives to create a perfect equilibrium between the different elements within each dish.

It’s Light and Fresh

If you have ever had Burmese cuisine, you’ll know how rich, heavy and oily the curries are – but this is not the case with Vietnamese dishes.

The cooking in Vietnam is done with minimal use of oil and dairy and relies more on the light, fresh flavours of herbs and vegetables. As a result, Vietnamese cuisine is considered one of the healthiest cuisines in the world.

Some of the yummy aromatic herbs that are commonly used include mint, cilantro, basil, lime leaf, lemongrass, green onion, perilla leaf, turmeric, ginger, Saigon cinnamon and tamarind pulp.

There’s a French Flair

No other cuisine in Southeast Asia has such a strong French influence. Although it has been more than six decades since the end of French colonial rule in Vietnam, you can still taste the French culture in every fluffy baguette. The perfect banh mi baguette is soft and airy on the inside and crusty on the outside, is smeared with pate and loaded up with fresh cucumber, meat, fried egg and other veggies. You must try one – they are available from street vendors in every major Vietnamese city.

Some of the other culinary leftovers from the French colonial era include creme caramel and coffee. In some of the chic cafes of Ho Chi Minh City you’ll even find macarons and croque monsieur for sale (at Parisian prices!). However, although coffee in France is served black and hot as an espresso or with steamed milk as cafe au lait, the coffee in Vietnam is enjoyed iced and sweetened with condensed milk.

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Soups are Clear

Both the French and Southern Chinese influence on Vietnamese cuisine shows in the tendency towards clearer soups and sauces. For example, the Vietnamese signature dish Pho is made with a meaty, rich clear beef broth. In these clear soups, the simple tastes of the principal ingredients is showcased. You can taste every element distinctly, from the cilantro to the lemongrass to the long-simmered beef bones and the fish sauce.

This is different to Thai cuisine, which often strikes a balance between featuring the main ingredients and emphasizing the flavour of the broth or the sauce.

These are just a few of the ways that Vietnamese cuisine is different than the food in other nearby Southeast Asian destinations. What’s your favorite Vietnamese dish?

Durian: What You Need to Know Before Eating This Smelly Tropical Fruit

I tasted Durian for the first time at a night market in Kota Kinabalu, Malaysia with a group of happy, drunk couchsurfers. We purchased the fruit, as heavy as a baby and as sharp and prickly as a hedgehog, then watched the seller hack it open with a huge knife.

As soon as the creamy, soft flesh was exposed the odor hit our nostrils. It reminded me of rotting compost, or what my socks smell like in the Southeast Asian heat when I haven’t done laundry for a while. Even with the husk unbroken, this notorious fruit is so pungent that it is banned on Singapore Rapid Mass Transit and in many other public places in Southeast Asia. It’s aroma has been compared to rotting meat, feces and dead bodies.

I reluctantly sampled a spoonful of the gooey fruit.

At first, I was fooled into thinking that the taste was sweet. The initial impression on the tongue is sugary, but as the aftertaste takes over the flavour is pungent and bitter like rotten mushy onions. The final flavor stings the mouth with an acidic burn, like after vomiting.

I’m not a fan – and I’m not the only one. Writer Anthony Burgess compared the taste to “eating sweet raspberry blancmange in the lavatory.” In this Munchies article, the writer describes it as a “hellish monstrosity of Satan food”. There’s something quite heady and nauseating about the combination of sweetness and the earthy, ripe, rotten smell.

In an article in China’s Global Times newspaper there was a story of an early importer who brought samples of Durians to China. When a hotel cleaner opened the door to the importer’s room, she immediately vomited in reaction to the stench of the fruits inside.

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However, a surprising number of people like it! It is known as the “King of Fruits” in Southeast Asia and it is commonly used as a flavour in many yummy edibles including baked goods, biscuits, milkshakes, ice creams, candy and more. In fact, Pizza Hut in China is even using it as a topping! When durian is combined with other flavours such as in baked goods or pizza, some find that it’s potent taste is balanced and more palatable. You may agree, or you may think that there is no way this fruit could possibly be delicious.

Whether you love it or you hate it – sampling Durian is a must when you are traveling in Southeast Asia. Be adventurous and go outside of your comfort zone! Just be prepared with a drink to wash the taste out of your mouth if you don’t like it!

Things You Should Know About Durian

  • When choosing a durian, look for a fruit with light coloured spikes and avoid the ones with dark brown patches. Also, avoid fruits with bits of white between the spikes, as they are signs of over-ripeness.
  • Be careful when handling the fruit – the spikes are sharp enough to cut your skin. 
  • Watch where you eat durian – it is banned in many public places.
  • When it comes to washing your hands after eating the fruit, try running hot water on the durian skin. It will create a mild lye water which you can combine with soap to get rid of the smell.

Have you tried durian? Would you try it? Share your thoughts in the comments below.