Intrepid Travel Offering 20 Percent Off All Food-Centric Trips Through August 31

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Melbourne-based Intrepid Travel – known for its cultural and food-focused trips to remote corners of the planet – is now offering 20 percent off over 350 of their trips, including the newly-launched Food Adventures. The discount is good for all trips departing before August 31, 2013.

Last fall, Intrepid partnered up with The Perennial Plate, which documents these culinary adventures in bi-weekly video clips. If that’s not inspiration enough, check out these “Summer of Adventure” trips on offer: Northern Spain (Barcelona to San Sebastian), India (Delhi to Goa), and Vietnam (Hanoi to Ho Chi Minh City).

The trips run from four to 14 days, and have been designed in collaboration with renowned chefs, cookbook authors and other food experts, including Susan Feniger and Tracey Lister. Trip prices include accommodation, ground transportation, a local guide, activities listed on the itinerary and, in many cases, cooking classes, meals with locals and trips to local markets.

[Photo credit: Intrepid Travel]

Hanoi’s Oldest Hotel Will Open Secret Bunker To Visitors This Week

bunkerDuring hotel renovations last August at the Sofitel Legend Metropole Hanoi in Vietnam, construction workers discovered an unknown bunker thought to be used during the Vietnam War. While drilling near the poolside bar, they found a flooded hallway, numerous rooms and a staircase leading to the secret 500-square-foot bunker. Moreover, wine bottles, unbroken light bulbs, graffiti and air ducts were also found, according to VietNamNet.

“In the hotel’s history, there is a story of the American folk singer, Joan Baez, who sought shelter in this bunker during the Christmas Bombings in 1972, and who sang some songs beside a Vietnamese guitarist,” explains Kai Speth, the hotel’s General Director. “We don’t know of any other hotels, in Vietnam or anywhere else for that matter, that maintained a shelter for guests and staff.”

The luxury hotel is the oldest in Hanoi, boasting a 110-year history that has welcomed guests such as Charlie Chaplin, Jane Fonda, Fidel Castro and Somerset Maugham. That will be celebrated, along with the opening of the bunker to guests, on May 21, 2012. Likewise, people who actually spent time in the bunker, such as Bob Devereaux, the Australian diplomat who carved his name into the bunker in 1975, will also be present at the opening ceremony.

[image via The Metropole Blog]According to the hotel’s blog, some guests were given a sneak-peek of the Bunker. As a recording played of “Where Are You Now My Son,” a song Baez made there in 1972, each guest was brought back in time to those scary days.

“I knew that my guests were the beneficiaries of a powerful feeling for a place, and the past,” writes Speth on the blog. “Usually, people travel beyond the confines of a hotel for such experiences. But how lucky, I thought standing there with those 10 Americans, that my guests could experience that right here with us.”

Snake Village in Hanoi, Vietnam, allows visitors to kill and eat their own snake

Located in Le Mat, Hanoi, Vietnam, the Snake Village is filled with the snake-related opportunities. Drink snake, eat snake, hold snakes, and even kill your own snake at eat its organs.

Finding it hard to wrap your head around an experience like this? Blogger Anna at TravelPod described the experience like this:

“We stood around them and watched as they slit the live snake and then furrowed around for the heart and swallowed it whole while it was still pulsating…Once the heart had been removed the blood was squeezed into a nearby glass and mixed with the local snake moonshine. In another glass a bile cocktail was prepared by squeezing all the green gunk from it’s stomach.”

Some of the other items on the menu included moonshine containing snake, crushed snake bones with poppadoms, grilled snake, snake spring rolls, crispy snake skin, and more.

To get a better idea of the experience in the Snake Village, check out this video (WARNING: GRAPHIC):


Gadling’s favorite destinations for 2011

gadling favorite destinations 2011

We travel a lot, to destinations both well-known and unfamiliar. In our defense, it is our job to travel like mad, to explore the world and then write about our discoveries.

Though most travel writers find something or other of interest in most places we visit, there are always those personal favorites that rise above the rest. This year, we decided to scribble our favorites down for you. Some of these spots we’re tipping for greater coverage in 2011, while others are simply tried-and-true favorites that we can’t stop raving about to our friends and the various publications that allow us to write for them. Over the course of this week, we’ll weigh in on our favorite hotels, airlines, gadgets, apps, and websites.

So, without further ado: Gadling’s favorite destinations for 2011.

Mike Barish. St. Kitts. I genuinely enjoy how locals and visitors frequent the same beach bars and restaurants. During evenings on the strip, I’d recognize staff members from my hotel doing the same thing I was doing: enjoying the ocean breeze with a cocktail and some jerk chicken.

Kraig Becker. Everest Base Camp, Nepal. For adventure travelers, a visit to Everest Base Camp is one of the best treks in the world. The 12-day hike isn’t just about the destination, however, as you walk in the shadow of the Himalaya each day, passing through sleepy mountain villages steeped in Sherpa culture along the way. The scenery, and altitude, is a breathtaking once-in-a-lifetime adventure.
Catherine Bodry: Ko Chang, Thailand and Sayulita, Mexico.

Joel Bullock: My favorite new roller coaster of 2010 is Carowinds’ Intimidator. Carowinds is located on the border of North and South Carolina in Charlotte in the heart of NASCAR country. It was only fitting that the park design a racing-themed roller coaster that bears the nickname of racing legend Dale Earnhadt. Intimidator is an exciting ride. It’s the tallest, fastest, and longest roller coaster in the South East.

David Downie: As a general trend, I revisit places that have fallen off the tourist maps, or that have been taken for granted, and delve deeper into favorite destinations such as Paris and Rome, which are infinitely rich and fascinating and satisfying. Cities: Paris (art, culture, walks, museums, food, wine), Rome (art, culture, walks, museums, food, wine), Genoa (food, wine, scenic beauty, history, magically restored architecture), Bologna (food, food, food and atmosphere and architecture), Helsinki (scenic beauty, atmosphere, seafood). Countryside destinations: Burgundy (wine, food, vineyard and mountain scenery), Massif Central (hikes, scenery), Drome-Provencal (ditto, plus truffles and wine), Tuscany (art, culture, museums, wine, food, vineyard and mountain scenery), Italian Riviera (ditto).

Don George. (1) Peru‘s Sacred Valley. I finally made it there this year and was enchanted by scenery, history, culture, people, cuisine. Machu Picchu is of course life-transformingly amazing but the other untouted ruins all around the valley are equally amazing. (2) Kyoto, Japan. The cobbled back quarters of this ancient city are as enchanting now as they were when I first visited 30 years ago. Tiny temples, impromptu shakuhachi concerts, apprentice geisha in full splendor. (3) Aitutaki, Cook Islands. Incredible island scenery, hospitable people, stunning lagoon, peaceful and laid-back lifestyle, thriving dance, carving, and textile arts scene.

Tom Johansmeyer. If you’re a cigar smoker, nothing beats Esteli, Nicaragua. On just about any budget, you can spend a few days down there. Make a few calls in advance, and you’ll have the opportunity to tour tobacco fields and cigar factories. Even if you aren’t a smoker, it’s amazing to see such craftsmanship in action.

Jeremy Kressmann. Hanoi, Vietnam for its great history and architecture, awesome cuisine, and intriguing Cold War sights. Secondly, Laos. The rugged north of the country has great hikes and the buzzing cultural capital of Luang Prabang is totally worthwhile.

Grant Martin. Bogotá. Forget what you’ve heard about kidnappings, drugs and danger, Bogotá is the new cosmopolitan capital of South America. With quaint, brick streets, a buzzing commercial district and a hip, young population, there’s not much to dislike about this place. Get there before the rest of North America figures it out.

Melanie Nayer. Shanghai. The city of old and new hit a turning point when it hosted the World Expo, and set the stage for Shanghai to become one of the most talked about–and visited–cities in the world.

Sean McLachlan. Ethiopia. Friendly people, rugged scenery, historic sites, and great coffee. What more could you want? Beautiful women, good food, adventure travel? Ethiopia has all that too.

Laurel Miller. Ecuador, especially Cotopaxi National Park (see above), because it’s stunningly beautiful, uncrowded, and there are loads of outdoor recreational opportunities. Ecuador is an amazingly diverse country, kind of like a mini-Peru but with very low-key tourism. There’s also great whitewater rafting/kayaking and mountaineering, fascinating indigenous culture, beautiful colonial cities, delicious regional foods, and the people are wonderful. There’s so much more to Ecuador than just the (admittedly spectacular) Galapagos.

Meg Nesterov. Bulgaria is cheap, creative, and easy to explore. Several of my most well-traveled friends already rave about it. Go now before tourism overexposes the country.

Heather Poole. Positano, Italy. It’s just so beautiful and the food is amazing. I’m a flight attendant and I have a four year-old son, as well as a husband who travels over 100,000 miles a year for business. Our life is like a game of tag. So when it comes to vacations all we want to do is relax. I love to be able to sit on a balcony and let the vacation come to me.

McLean Robbins. Telluride. It’s not new, but as ski towns go it feels non-commercial and relatively untouched. You’ll find truly friendly people (and your fair share of under-the-radar celebrities), but also the country’s best extreme skiing. And it looks like heaven when it snows!

Annie Scott. I’m big on Vienna. It’s a magical city that embodies everything I think of when I think of Europe: culture, history, cathedrals and class. I think the Swiss Riviera may be the most beautiful place I’ve ever been. Lake Geneva looks so pristine you could drink it, and the French influence gives everything from the dining to the shopping that elusive je ne sais quoi. Lastly, I had a marvelous trip this year in Zambia where the wildlife was rampant and the scenery was enchanting and unexpectedly dynamic: sweeping plains, dreamlike riverscapes and incredible trees. The thrill of being immersed in the bush is hard to match.

Alex Robertson Textor. Lima, Peru continues to pop. While the Inca Trail is old hat, Lima is emerging as a major destination on its own. Perhaps most notable is the Peruvian capital’s excellent restaurant scene, which is as disarmingly inexpensive as it is top-notch. I also have to mention green, rustic, jaw-droppingly beautiful Dominica as the Caribbean’s top adventure destination. Dominica has a number of fantastic eco-lodges that showcase the island’s natural beauty wonderfully and are priced reasonably.

Karen Walrond. As a diver, I love Cayman. Love it. Very touristy, but the diving is beyond anything I’ve seen, and i’ve been diving all over the world. And I’m partial to Grand Riviere in my homeland of Trinidad, which isn’t touristy at all. Between April and June, you can see Giant Leatherback turtles nesting in Grand Riviere.

[Image: Flickr | alepheli]

Vietnam monuments under threat

Vietnam is an ancient land filled with historic monuments, but archaeologists say many are falling into ruin.

Sites like Hue, the old capital of Vietnam pictured here, are crumbling under the strain of centuries of weathering and an increased number of visitors, while the Vietnam Archaeology Association complains it lacks the funding to make necessary repairs. The famous citadel at the UNESCO World Heritage Site is in especially bad repair, with one archaeologist saying it will be gone entirely within 15 years if nothing is done.

Historic preservation and restoration require some serious training, and qualified preservationists are in short supply in Vietnam.

Archaeologists are especially worried about 82 giant steles in Hanoi bearing the names of ancient degree earners. Some date back to the fifteenth century and it’s traditional for Vietnamese students to run their hands along their surfaces for good luck before taking exams. With one million visitors last year, the wear and tear on the carved lettering can be imagined.

Archaeologists hope that funding to preserve the steles may be forthcoming thanks to UNESCO recently naming them a World Heritage Site.

[Photo courtesy user abaesel via Gadling's flickr photostream]