Your guide to the food and culture of the tropics

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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?

8 Tips for Traveling the World as a Vegetarian

 

“What am I going to eat!?” If you’re a vegetarian, like me, you’ve surely asked yourself that question before boarding the plane to a new and exciting tropical destination. The truth is that many countries in the tropics have a long history with vegetarian food, making traveling as vegetarian a breeze. Others have only recently joined the movement. It’s not always each navigating a county’s foodscape, but by following these tips, you can dig into mouthwatering vegetarian and vegan food wherever you go.

Tips for Finding Vegetarian Food While Traveling

 

  1. Do research and use apps. 

You’re more likely to find the food you want if you know what’s available. Time after time again I’ve witnessed travelers missing out on wonderful dishes because they didn’t know anything about the country’s culinary history. One time in Cambodia, I was talking with a fellow traveler who downsized a whole nation’s food history to “noodles and rice,” largely because he didn’t know what else could be on the table. Read books and read blogs, and you’ll always have a better idea of what you’re stepping into.

Doing research will also lead you towards some pretty awesome travel and food apps, such as Happy Cow, which is an app/website that lists and rates vegan and vegetarian restaurants worldwide. Users can add formerly unknown vegetarian food joints on the app and leave reviews about what’s on the menu and the quality of food. I found some of the best vegetarian and vegan food in places I would have never thought to explore, and during times when things were starting to look dire. It’s a great way of finding hidden gems and popular local haunts serving top-notch food. Other good resources to explore are Lonely Planet and Vegan Travel.

 

  1. Be adventurous.

Don’t limit yourself to only the vegetarian food you know and are comfortable with. Explore previously unknown dishes and ways of cooking and consuming food. This is even more important in a country where the familiar options are limited. Part of the fun of traveling is finding new and exciting foods and falling in love with flavors you never knew existed. It will make things a lot easier, and probably much more fun if you’re open to new foods and new experiences. Being adventurous will open you up to a whole world of food you may otherwise not have known about. I can’t imagine what life would be like if I hadn’t ordered Indian Pav Bhaji and pani puri, or Laos spicy papaya salad, or any of the hundreds of other dishes I’ve ordered on a whim and have come to love.

  1. Know what foods to avoid.

Even if you think you know the ingredients in the dish, sometimes it’s best to ask, as there is no universal understanding of what it means to be vegetarian food. Just because it says vegetarian, doesn’t mean it actually is. I’ve run into this problem in multiple countries. In Sri Lanka, for example, it’s widely thought that vegetarians still eat things from the sea. The curries would still be referred to as being vegetarian while being cooked with fish pastes and powders. Fish sauce is popular in many countries as a widely used condiment. It’s often a good idea to request no fish sauce in dishes you know it’s used in. Vegetarian soups are another culprit. While there may be no meat, the broths are often meat-based. Things are even more tricky for vegans. It helps to know what ingredients are typically used in the dish you want to eat, as well as understanding what the concept of veganism and vegetarianism means in the place you’re visiting.

 

  1. Choose Destinations Known for Vegetarian Food.

Your vegetarian foodie dreams are awaiting you in Asia, where countries like India have been serving brilliant vegetarian fare for centuries. Though much of Indian food contains dairy, there are still lots of vegan options too. Many menus in India have a section of ‘non-veg’ dishes, as veg fare dominates the menus. Consider taking a trip to South East Asia and exploring the amazing Vietnamese vegetarian culinary scene, or to basically any country in East Asia and you’ll be in food Heaven.

The religion prominent in a country can affect the availability of meat-free food. Hinduism and Buddhism, for example, practice diets that don’t involve any harm to animals. Food served inside temples in places like India will almost always be vegetarian and healthy. In Vietnam, for example, vegetarian restaurants are extremely popular and found throughout the country due to the large population of Buddhists. Many of those restaurants specifically cater to the Buddhists’ vegetarian diets. So, there’s a good chance you’ll easily find veg eats in countries where Jainism, Hinduism, and Buddhism are prevalent.

  1. Learn the local language.

Trust me. This one really helps. If you’re able to verbally express what do and don’t want rather than hopelessly pointing and using gestures, it will make things a lot quicker and less stressful. It can be the smallest phrase, such as “I don’t eat meat,” or “I’m a vegetarian.” In Vietnam, the word “chay” means vegetarian. You can simply say “chay” to your server and voila. Vegetarianism and veganism is sometimes largely misunderstood in some countries, especially when it’s a new concept in meat-centric cultures, such as in Peru, Brazil, Argentina, and Malaysia. Knowing a bit more of the language will help explain that you may not want any animal products in the food, rather than it just being meatless.  

 

  1. Be friendly with the locals.

Ask and you shall receive. Ask your hotel where you can find good veg food. Befriend a stranger on the street and get the lowdown. It’s even better when you’re staying with locals, through platforms such Couchsurfing and Airbnb. This way it’s possible to have your friend order safe and unique foods and to enjoy a completely different way of dining. Similarly, talk to your chef or server if you can’t find something to eat on the menu. This is much easier in less fancy, more humble restaurants. Often, by telling the server your dietary restrictions, the chef will whip up a suitable dish or modify an existing dish to your liking.

 

  1. Get creative and DIY.

Knowing that you’re traveling to a county where vegetarianism isn’t really a thing can make a big difference. This is where hitting up the local markets and grocery stores will really come in handy. A big bonus to this approach is that local markets are fun, immersive experience in many cultures. You’ll find foods here you may have never come across in a restaurant.

It can also pay off to pack some snacks and bring your own goods, such as trail mix, granola, and dried fruit when going on long hikes or train journeys. You’ll be healthier and can ward off hunger until you reach somewhere that has veg-friendly options.

  1. Be flexible.

While most of us probably don’t want to compromise our diets or moral beliefs, doing so might make things a lot easier. If you find yourself in a situation where none of the above tips work for you, it could be time to consider bending the rules of your diet. Many vegan and vegetarian travelers often travel by this rule. Some people find it easier to accept food that has been offered, rather than refusing foods and potentially offending someone. Some people turn a blind eye to dishes they know aren’t vegetarian or vegan, such as curries cooked in ghee, and vegetable soups cooked in meat broth. Being not picky about vegetarian food definitely makes things easier for both the consumer and cook.

Follow these tips and traveling as a vegetarian will become a lot easier and more enjoyable. I typically have no worries of visiting new countries and being afraid there won’t be vegetarian food to eat. The vegan and vegetarian lifestyle is growing rapidly in much of the world, which is making things a lot easier for the traveling vegan. Lonely Planet recently said that vegetarian and vegan travel will be the trend for 2018.

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.

 

5 Coffee Shops Worth Instagramming

Coffee shops are no longer just for those with newspapers in hand looking to relax or to gossip with your friends on the couch like an episode of Friends. Shops today are not only trying to satisfy customers with their product but are looking for the total package appeal. From engaging interior design, beautiful gardens, and unique exterior appeal you can now find some of the most eye catching, photogenic, Instagram worthy spots to have a cup of joe. This article is going to name a few of the best coffee shops worth stopping at to capture unique photos that will have all your coffee enthusiast Instagram followers beaming with envy.

5 Coffee Shops Worth Instagramming

Truth Coffee, Cape Town, South Africa

Truth Coffee has been recognized as one of, if not the best coffee shop in Cape Town, South Africa. Its outdoor scenery might not be at the top of the list, but its indoor charm is one for the books, simply beautiful. It is so unique and detailed in its decor and not lacking one bit in its quality of food and coffee. It has a distinct modern industrial design with exposed piping, beams, and lighting, displayed typewriters and singer sewing machines, and a vintage cast iron drum for hand roasting coffee. The intention of its interior design matching the quality of their coffee is both unique and detailedly magnificent. Many simply state, Truth Coffee, is THE Truth!”.

Salvaged Ring Cafe, Nha Trang City, Vietnam

The Salvaged Ring Cafe was ranked in the top 20 of the world’s best architectures in 2014 at The World Architecture Festival. This economically friendly and all around beautiful cafe is located among the countryside of Nha Trang City in Vietnam. The cafe was eloquently designed by the architects of a21 studio and constructed primarily of scrap wood, coconut leaves, and locally sourced rocks. The circular flowing architecture blends into its natural surroundings and provides a feeling of being one with the outdoor scenery. Its open contoured design encourages refreshing air flow and natural light, and its curves provide a beautiful outpouring from the highway where you arrive down to a flowing river and lush courtyard. The natural allurement of this cafe will help you relax while you enjoy a cup of coffee in a tropical oasis.

Dreamy Camera Cafe, Yangpyeong, South Korea

The Dreamy Camera Cafe in South Korea is a dream Instagram post for the photograph enthusiast. A bold red Rolleiflex camera makes the shape for this unique cafe that sets among the grandiose South Korean landscape that is picturesque in all four seasons. Inside its camera exterior this cafe also provides a museum where you can interact and marvel at evolving photos and technology.

Take a few polaroids to leave behind and enjoy the view of the rolling hills outside of Seoul, South Korea. There’s good reason why this Cafe is ranked #10 by Buzzfeed’s “Coffee Shops Around the World You Have to See Before You Die.”

Fair Folks & Goat, New York City, United States 

An entrepreneur and coffee addict’s paradise, Fair Folks & Goat describes itself as a “membership cafe.” For $25 a month customers can enjoy unlimited coffee and tea including signature cold brew imported from New Orleans. The funky cafe is also a clothing and accessories shop that helps deliver inspiration to the artists, start-up staffers, writers, and other laptop warriors you’ll see in inside. The turquoise exterior is too cute for words. Oh, and the goat-themed items will be a hit on your Instagram feed.

Open Farm Community, Singapore

Among the open air and lush greenery this farm to table restaurant and cafe has so much beauty inside and out. This is not only a quaint spot for lunch or coffee but a total dining experience. If you’re into Instagramming your food — this is your place. Each plate is a work of art almost too beautiful to eat. You can also take a tour of the farm from its local farmers and immerse yourself in herbs and vegetables soon to be transferred to the table through the Open Farm culinary experience. A cafe, gift shops, and kid-friendly exterior houses activities for all ages.  Enjoy a hot mug in the cafe or sit out on the patio and observe the wonderful 35,000 square feet of charming terrain.