Getting to Myanmar isn’t easy considering its proximity to India (no non-stop flights). But its golden pagodas glinting in the sun, tea leaf salads and teahouses, and the Irrawaddy (Ayeyarwady) River views are well worth the layover. With the country inching towards a stable democracy, the tourism too is thriving so plan ahead and book wisely. The triad of Yangon, Bagan, and Mandalay are great for summer holidays and October breaks. Slow travellers might consider a gentle cruise down the Chindwin river to tap the pulse of rural Myanmar, marked by colonial relics and strong religious beliefs. They usually start from Mandalay and can be 2 to 15 days long and of varying levels of comfort.
Airfares average at about ₹35,000-40,000, but can dip to ₹20,000. In ancient Bagan, Thanzin Garden Hotel (thazingarden.com; from about ₹8,500) and Thande Hotel Bagan (baganthandehotel.net; from about ₹5,000) are worth the tariff; and in Mandalay, the Hotel by the Red Canal (hotelredcanal.com; from ₹8,500) and Peacock Lodge (peacocklodge.com; from ₹2,500) are good options. Also, consider staying at one of the local vineyards near Inle Lake.
Flying into Rome is often cheaper (around ₹40,000) than Florence (up to ₹60,000). So it’s better to take a 2-hour train ride from Rome (about ₹2,500) to Tuscany, after a brief pause to see the Colosseum and its cousins. From Florence, head out to the walled city of Lucca and beyond, to the country manor of Frattoria Petrognano (fattoriadipetrognano.com; doubles from ₹5,000 or ₹30,000 per week for a two-bedroom apartment). Siena, Arezzo, Cortona, and several other places also have agriturismo options just outside Florence (agriturismo.it/en/farmhouse/tuscany)—find one that you’d have liked to own.
Often, we tend to assign value to a country by its distance from us. The farther away a place, the more desirable it becomes. And yet, Sri Lanka has had no difficulty in drawing in tourists to its southern and western shores. Now, in the post-war calm that has descended on the east and north, the island is also opening doors anew to places like Trincomalee, Passikudah, the surfer’s den of Arugam Bay, and the once-notorious rebel outpost of Jaffna. It takes about 6-7 hours by road to get to these places from the capital, Colombo. The best (and driest) time to visit the north and east is from summer, up to mid-September.
Flights are all under ₹20,000 to Colombo (cheapest fares ex-Chennai), so splurge on stay. The hotels in the east are often better than the north. Trinco Blu (www.cinnamonhotels.com/trincoblubycinnamon/; from ₹10,000) in Trincomalee and Amaya Beach (amayabeach.com; about ₹20,000), Pasikudah are both splurge-worthy. In Jaffna, Margosa Villa, an elegant boutique hotel, is set in a refurbished 19th-century home (www.jaffna.travel/margosa; doubles from $100/₹6,500, including breakfast).
The city of Porto is like a carpet of tiled roofs. Photo: Rosino/Flickr/Creative Commons (http://bit.ly/1jxQJMa)
Give Algarve, Alentejo, and all those other places in Portugal that sound like the lyrics of a fado a miss, and set your sights on Lisbon instead. Portugal’s hilly capital is beautiful, and a little euro goes a long way here, if you plan right (Getting the Lisboa Card, for instance, cuts down travel costs in the city and beyond, and provides free entry to a clutch of museums and monuments).
Rattle about town in old yellow trams and funiculars, find a perch at St. George’s Castle on the hilltop, and let the music wash over you in the old neighbourhood of Alfama or the bars of Bairro Alto. Later, set off on daytrips to the historic town of Sintra and the beaches of Cascais (both 30min away from Lisbon), or stray further into medieval, magical Porto, a carpet of tiled roofs.
May and June are ideal times to visit weather-wise, but consider waiting until the crowds recede in end-August and September. Flights are priced between ₹45,000 and ₹55,000 (the lowest fares are from Mumbai).
Stay at affordable yet charming rooms at places like The Independente hostel (theindependente.pt; from ₹1,000 per bed) and Hotel Lisboa (hotellisboa.com.pt/en/; doubles from about ₹6,000), and you’ll have plenty of money left for seafood and sundowners.
Sveti Stefan is a small islet in Montenegro. Photo: Mr Hicks46/Flickr/Creative Commons (http://bit.ly/1jxQJMa)
Romania and Croatia are now tourist darlings but only the most adventurous travellers have explored Serbia. Carved out of Yugoslavia in 2003, Serbia (barring the Kosovo region, perhaps) and Montenegro nearby are both travel-friendly. More affordable than Western Europe, especially in summer, they offer all the charms of the Continent at a considerably lesser price. Belgrade, for instance, is everything a European capital promises to be. This Balkan city with Communist imprints has elaborate museums and castles, cobbled streets and winding rivers (a confluence actually, of the Danube and Sava), and nightclubs that are its beating heart. The beaches of Montenegro on the other hand, take their cue from the languid Adriatic Sea. Combine the two, if you have about a week at hand—or plan ahead for the famous Exit music festival in Novi Sad, Serbia (July 7-10).
Summer fares from Delhi are under ₹45,000. But even if you pay up to ₹60,000 for flights from the other metros, don’t worry. Hostels and hotels are relatively inexpensive—try Skadarlija Sunrise (skadarlijasunrise.com; from ₹800 per bed), or 360° Apartments (apartmanibeograd360.com; from about ₹3,000 a night) in Belgrade. In Montenegro, rent apartments from sites like Airbnb (airbnb.com; from about ₹2,000 a night).
There are plenty of reasons to go to Russia. But the best one at the moment is that the rupee almost matches the rouble, making everything slightly more affordable for the Indian traveller. We recommend beginning with the tourist heart of Moscow—the Red Square and Kremlin—followed by Gulag museum and Bolshoi theatre. Zip about town on the metro that just turned 80, before retiring for a cup of tea from a samovar or a bath in a banya. If you can spare the time, make the trip to St. Petersburg to catch a performance at the Mariinsky theatre (four hours by train)—ballet tickets are best booked online and months ahead, unless you want to pay a czar’s ransom to get one. Try to time your trip to coincide with the White Nights Festival (around June), when St. Petersburg doesn’t sleep, and neither does the sun.
Airfares are as low as ₹32,000 ex-Delhi, but even from the other cities, fares rarely breach the ₹45,000 mark. In Moscow, try Mercure Baumanskaya (mercure.com; from ₹4,000) and in St Petersburg, try Nevsky Forum Hotel (forumhotel.ru/en; from ₹6,000).
The Tuscan town of Volterra is home to many well-preserved ancient Italian ruins. Photo: Polina F/Flickr/Creative Commons (http://bit.ly/1jxQJMa)
Book an agriturismo holiday in Tuscany for an Italian vacation that won’t burn a hole in your pocket. Agriturismo are rustic, family-run, farm stays that offer functional accommodation, meals made from fresh produce, and a glimpse of life in the Italian countryside. The nicer ones often have a pool, vineyard views, even a traditional olive oil press on the property. First-time tourists may want to club their rural holiday with a visit to the cities of Florence and Rome; more enthusiastic travellers might want to go one step further and sign up at an agriturismo with volunteering opportunities. Some cover accommodation and meals in exchange for a few hours of work, which makes expenses even lesser.
With the promised revival of direct flights to Indonesia from Delhi and Mumbai in the next few months, there’s yet another excuse for washing up on the Southeast-Asian country’s beautiful shores. Bali, of course, is the hive of tourism. But many prefer the somewhat quieter, reef-fringed Lombok and Gili. If you’d rather skip the pit stop at Jakarta, take a connecting flight straight to any of these islands. Flights from Delhi to Praya on Lombok island is about ₹30,000. For accommodation, try Alam Gili (alamindahbali.com; from ₹4,500) or Manta Dive Gili Air (manta-dive-giliair.com; from ₹5,000).
Halong Bay’s stunning natural beauty attracts thousands of tourists every year. Photo: Lawrence Murray/Flickr/Creative Commons (http://bit.ly/1jxQJMa)
Vietnam’s most enduring images are those of Halong Bay’s limestone mast soaring out of the water, terraced rice paddies in the countryside, and the streets of Ho Chi Minh City overrun by mopeds and cyclos. The good news is Vietnam is among the most affordable countries for Indians to visit, but remember that Hanoi and Ho Chi Minh City are major tourist pushpins. A holiday here is as much about Imperial Chinese and French colonial architecture as it is about karaoke bar-hopping, bottomless bowls of pho and chic cafes selling baguette sandwiches brimming with organic goodness.
It’s best to fly into Hanoi, spend time exploring Halong Bay and fly out of Ho Chi Minh City. Together, the three flights should cost about ₹50,000. For stay in Hanoi, try Maison d’Orient (maison-orient.com; from about ₹2,500), and in Ho Chi Minh City, consider the Alcove Hotel (alcovehotel.com.vn; from about ₹6,000) or Catina that once hosted Graham Greene (hotelcatina.com.vn; from about ₹4,000).
Taiwan doesn’t find itself on many tourist wishlists. Those that have made it, know it has a soft, beating tourist heart within its industrial shell. Even in business-like Taipei, where there’s free Wi-Fi for tourists, you’ll stumble upon street markets, pagoda-crowned temples, and factories turned into cultural hubs. An hour on the train and you can be in Taiwan’s best-known landmark—the tranquil Sun Moon Lake. The Yangmingshan National Park, fringed with cherry blossom trees in spring, and Beitou’s hot springs are also worthy excursions. Then of course, there’s the food. Taipei’s food markets alone are worth a trip.
Flights to Taipei are all under ₹40,000, and there’s plenty of affordable accommodation downtown, from as little as ₹1,500.
Budgets have been drawn up as per exchange rate and prices at the time of publishing.
eats, shoots, and leaves town whenever the wind picks up. To pay for it all, she works as an independent travel and food writer and editor.
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