Hangover Cures: A Global Primer

elephantNew Year’s Eve is fast approaching, so what better time to provide a list of hangover cures from around the world? Our friends at Alice Marshall Public Relations in New York asked some of their clients about local versions of hair-of-the-dog. Unsurprisingly, the preferred remedies all have a distinctly regional flavor. Here’s to a headache-and-nausea-free January 1!

St. Barts
On this notorious party island, the secret is to stay awake. Pull an all-nighter, and when “the bakery” in St. Jean opens, score a croissant straight out of the oven. Devour it, cross the street and jump into the ocean.

Thailand
Although I’ve found coconut water to be the best hangover helper in existence, Thailand has a more original cure. According to the Anantara Golden Triangle resort, Black Ivory Coffee (aka elephant dung coffee, which I believe puts kopi luwak to shame) is what does the trick. Elephants feed on coffee beans, which then ferment in their gastrointestinal tract.

The beans are then plucked out by the mahouts (elephant keepers) and their wives, roasted, and sold for approximately $1,100 per kilogram. But wait, there’s more! Eight percent of all sales are donated to the Golden Triangle Asian Elephant Foundation. No reason is given for why this cure supposedly helps, but I’m thinking this folklore is full of … you know.
coconut waterMaldives
As if being in the glorious Maldives weren’t cure enough, Naladhu luxury resort has my kind of cure in mind (that’s me, right, killing a hangover in Mexico). They provide queasy guests with fresh coconut water from their own groves. All those electrolytes along with potassium stop hangovers in their tracks.

Cape Town
According to chef Reuben Riffel of One&Only Cape Town, a swank urban resort, you need to drink yourself better. His solution is an alcohol-free tonic consisting of one cup of chilled Rooibos tea (an indigenous plant), a half-cup ginger ale, and 1 ounce of lemongrass simple syrup. Top with soda water, and a dash of Angostura bitters.

Santa Fe
After many visits to Santa Fe, I’ll swear by the local’s cure for a long night. A green chile cheeseburger is the prescription, although I’d add that a bowl of great posole, green chile, or a breakfast burrito also work wonders.

Nantucket
Nantucket Island Resorts recommends a brisk swim in Nantucket Sound, followed by a visit to Brant Point Grill for a Lobster Bloody Mary and lobster kabobs. Now we’re talking.

Have a safe, happy, hangover-free New Year’s!

[Photo credits: elephant, Flickr user rubund; coconut, Laurel Miller]

Intrigued by Black Ivory Coffee? Watch this video!


How to visit the Taj Mahal


“No, madam. I am sorry. Taj Mahal is closed today.”

“But,” I thought, as I skeptically squinted at the guard delivering this bad news, “this is the Taj Mahal. The TAJ MAHAL! It’s one of the most recognizable structures in the entire world. How could it be closed?”

“It’s Friday, holy day,” offered the gatekeeper. My whole body slumped with disappointment. And just like that I had my Walley World moment.

I had arrived in Agra, India, home of the world’s most famous Muslim shrine, on a Friday. No travel agent would have arranged an itinerary whereby I arrived in Agra on the one day that its main attraction was closed. But, seeing as how I was living in India at the time, I thought I could plan my own Golden Triangle adventure. I like to think that jaundice, the disease I had contracted two months before and that had left me home-bound and mustard-skinned up until a week before my travels, had contributed to my lack of planning. But my sister, who had come all the way from the U.S. for this once-in-a-lifetime trip, was none too pleased.

Nevertheless, we did what any traveler in such a situation should do. We rolled with it, retreating to a nearby cafe to work on Plan B. Turns out, arriving on a Friday was the best thing that could have happened to us. Agra was quiet, save for the Hindu wedding livening up the backstreets, and we got the opportunity to see the Taj Mahal and the Agra Fort, the city’s other big landmark, from several vantage points.

%Gallery-145552%My very first view of the Taj Mahal was from the roof of a small restaurant a few blocks from the Western Gate, the main entrance to the Taj. Drying laundry and the crumbling brick rooftops of Agra’s city center framed the panorama. The air was sooty and hazy, giving the marble monument an almost mirage-like quality. Was that really the Taj Mahal?

Following lunch, we set out with a tour guide to the Agra Fort, the other landmark in Agra. The Agra Fort was built in the 16th century by the grandfather of Shah Jahan, the Moghul ruler who built the Taj Mahal as a shrine to his late wife Mumtaz Mahal. These sprawling red sandstone fortifications of Agra Fort would be an attraction in their own right were it not for the Taj. In the last years of his life, Shah Jahan was placed under house arrest in the Fort, forced to gaze upon the gleaming monument in the distance without ever setting foot inside its gates. I could relate.

After an hour or so at the Agra Fort, our guide drove us to the back side of the Taj. It was February, still a few months away from monsoon season, so the Yamuna River had all but dried up. Local kids were playing cricket in the dusty riverbed. The late afternoon light was rendering the Taj’s white marble pink.

That’s the thing about the Taj Mahal. It changes with the day’s light. Sunset turns the marble dome and its corresponding minarets a rosy color while sunrise, I learned the next morning after entering the Taj gates, gives the complex a golden tint. During the afternoon, or at times of bright sun or cloud cover, the Taj can take on a rainbow of hues, subtly switching from one to the other like a mood ring. Had I not made that huge travel mistake – arriving at the Taj Mahal on a Friday – I would not have had the chance to see the monument in all its many sublime shades.

South by Southeast: Top 10 Southeast Asia

There’s a lot to see in Southeast Asia. Over the past five months, as I’ve traveled through this amazing region, it’s something I’ve experienced firsthand. From mind-blowing jungle ruins to outstanding food and world class beaches, there’s a never-ending wealth of curiosities for visitors. But with so much to see and do, it’s hard to know what to prioritize. Is Angkor Wat really as awesome as you’ve heard? Where should you go in Vietnam? Is it safe to eat the street food?

If you’ve been thinking about that dream trip to Southeast Asia but didn’t know where to start, today’s post is for you. We’re going to run through ten of Southeast Asia’s most amazing attractions, from the outstanding food to the best adventures and most awe-inspiring sights. Expect to find a few of the Southeast Asia’s most famous spots, along with my favorite “off-the-beaten path” Southeast Asian destinations from more than five months on the road. Ready to visit one of the world’s most fascinating regions? Keep reading below for our top ten picks…#10 – Bangkok’s Khao San Road
You simply can’t make a top 10 list on Southeast Asia without mentioning Bangkok’s Khao San Road. Love it or hate it, it’s the standard first stop for most Southeast Asian itineraries. The sheer volume of travelers, sizzling street food and range of shady characters ensure there’s always a good time and a story waiting to happen.

#9 – Street food in Ho Chi Minh City
The variety, quality and value of eating in Ho Chi Minh City, also known as Saigon, is beyond compare. From the freshest ingredients to crispy French baguettes to the most extreme culinary adventures, the food scene in Saigon is sure to amaze and delight. Check out Gadling’s “South by Southeast” investigation of eating in Saigon if you want to learn more.

#8 – Thailand’s Tarutao National Marine Park
It’s really hard to pick a favorite island in Thailand. There’s literally hundreds of them. But when we saw the secluded beauties that make up the Tarutao National Marine Park in Southern Thailand, we were hooked. This chain of wild, jungle islands offers beach camping, peace and quiet and some amazing snorkeling. Though Ko Lipe has gotten rather busy, Ko Adang, Ko Tarutao and Ko Rawi remain delightfully undeveloped.

#7 – Exploring Angkor Wat
With almost two million visitors a year, it’s clear that Angkor Wat is one of Southeast Asia’s most popular tourist attractions. When you first set eyes on the stone giant that is Angkor’s main temple, you’ll understand why. The intricate carvings and sheer size of this ancient archaeological marvel are simply mind-blowing. If you’re heading to Cambodia for a visit make sure to check out our 5 Angkor Wat tips.

#6 – Burma’s Taunggyi Balloon Festival
Burma (Myanmar), is the forgotten country of Southeast Asia. Visitors stay away because of the country’s hard-line military government. But those who make the trip inside this cloistered country come away awestruck by the sights and humbled by the friendly, welcoming citizens. This is particularly true at the annual Balloon Festival at Taunggyi, where hundreds of giant hot air balloons are launched into the sky over an eight day event. Make sure you read up on responsible travel to Burma if you want to go.

#5 – Wandering Luang Prabang
Is Luang Prabang the world’s most beautiful city? Achingly beautiful colonial French architecture, serene Buddhist temples and elegant palaces make this former royal capital of Laos a must on any Southeast Asia itinerary. Make sure to enjoy the town’s top-notch eating at spots like Tamarind and enjoy Luang Prabang’s buzzing night market.

#4 – Motorbiking the Golden Triangle
The Golden Triangle, a remote region bordering Northern Thailand, Laos and Burma, just might be one of Southeast Asia’s last great exotic destinations. The area’s curvy mountain roads and remote villages make it haven for motorcycle trips. Increasingly popular routes, reliable maps and cheap bike rentals make it easy for even novice cyclists to grab a helmet and hit the open road. Check out our guide to motorcycle trekking to get started.

#3 – The Gibbon Experience in Laos
Want to feel like a kid again? Try sleeping in a tree house and flying around on zip lines in the jungles of Northern Laos, home to the legendary Gibbon Experience. This one-of-a-kind eco park is pioneering a new model of forest conservation and sustainable tourism. Not to mention you might get to see some wildlife and it’s a crazy good time too.

#2 – Trekking in Luang Namtha
Chiang Mai has Southeast Asia’s most popular treks, but they are often overcrowded and disappointing. Instead, head to Luang Namtha in Northern Laos, an increasingly popular base for hikers looking to visit remote hill tribe villages. Imagine waking to the sound of roosters, bathing in a river and drinking moonshine with a village chief.

#1 – The ruins of Bagan
Move over Angkor Wat. There’s a new champion in town. The ruins of Bagan, a stunning complex of over 2,000 deserted temples in Myanmar, is quite possibly the world’s most amazing sight. Spend your days exploring the ghostly structures by horse cart or bike, discovering ancient Buddhist murals and climbing hidden staircases to gorgeous 360 degree views. If you want to read more about Myanmar, check out our guide to ethically visiting this fascinating country.

Gadling writer Jeremy Kressmann spent the last five months in Southeast Asia. You can read other posts on his adventures “South by Southeast” HERE.

South by Southeast: Motorcycle Thailand

Each year thousands of travelers head for Chiang Mai in Northern Thailand, ground zero for jungle treks, cooking courses and plenty of shopping. But good as Chiang Mai can be, it’s the regions beyond the comfy confines of Thailand’s second-largest city where travelers will find real adventure, an undertaking best-tackled by motorbike.

Northern Thailand’s vast terrain remains one of the country’s last great undiscovered areas, dotted with remote hill tribe villages, breathtaking hilltop vistas and laid-back mountain retreats. The best way to explore this vast region is by motorcycle trekking, an increasingly popular activity for savvy travelers looking to get away from the crowds in Chiang Mai.

There are several reasons why renting a motorbike is the best way to explore Northern Thailand. Touring by motorbike allows you to explore the area at your own pace, unrestrained by the limits of bus schedules and tourist guidebooks – you’re free to “get lost” on your own private adventure. In addition, the region offers an ideal environment for riding: traffic is light and the weather from November to February is mild and dry, with daytime temperatures in the 70′s. Most importantly, motorbike riding in Thailand’s North affords travelers the sheer thrill of area’s curvy roads and gorgeous scenery.

Earlier this month, I decided to try out a motorcycle trek of my own. I would head out from the Northern Thai city of Chiang Rai, riding nearly 300 kilometers southwest towards the lazy mountain town of Pai. Prior to starting my trip, I had zero days of riding experience. Curious to see what happened? Read below for more…

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Is It Safe?
Perhaps the biggest concern for anyone considering a motorcycle “trek” in Southeast Asia is safety. We’ve all heard the horror stories of the friend who rented a motorbike on holiday and ended up with a broken arm or worse. These are all valid concerns, but undertaken responsibly, a motorbike trek can be just as safe as a ride in a car.

If you’ve never been on a bike before, take a day or two in a parking lot or a quiet street to get the hang of the acceleration and turning. Learn the rules of the road. If you’re coming from the U.S., keep in mind they drive on the left in Thailand, not on the right. Make sure to also do some research on the type of bike you should rent. I opted for the small but nimble Honda Click. At 125cc, it’s easy to control for beginners and comes with automatic transmission. Lastly, make sure to get a helmet.

Navigating
Before setting off on my motorbike trip, I grabbed myself a Northern Thailand road map made by Groovy Map from one of Chiang Mai’s many English-language bookstores. The map proved invaluable – not only did it outline roadside attractions like waterfalls, caves and hot springs in both English and Thai, it also listed the condition of the roads as well as ranking them for scenic attractiveness. It’s also worth checking out the extensive itinerary ideas over at Golden Triangle Rider. David Unkovich, who founded the site, provides detailed information on models of bike, destination ideas and how to handle problems along the way.

The Trip

As we departed Chiang Rai, my initial worries about controlling the bike quickly faded from memory. My bike proved easy to handle and maneuver and soon I was tooling around like a pro. My concern was soon replaced by the sheer thrill of riding a bike through the rugged scenery of Thailand, wind racing past my face, humming motor below.

As I quickly discovered, touring by motorbike is just as much about the ride itself as it is about the destination. For every real “attraction” we planned to visit along the way, we spent nearly as much time simply enjoying the ride – leaning into the turns, stopping for scenic photos and chatting with owners at tiny filling stations.

That’s not to say there were no highlights. Some of my favorite sights along the way are listed below. Remember, the real beauty of motorcycle trekking is you’re free to change your itinerary each day as you please. Make sure to throw in your own adventures along the way.

  • Route 1340 – this curvy strip of road, just south of the Myanmar border, was among the most rugged (and gorgeous) I traversed. Plan to be alone, just you and your bike, with nothing but towering limestone cliffs, tiny mountain villages and curvy swithbacks to keep you company.
  • Doi Ang Khang – known among locals as “Little Switzerland” Doi Ang Khang makes a nice day trip from points further south. Stop by to enjoy locally-made handicrafts, fresh organic produce and plenty of killer views.
  • Chiang Dao Caves – Northern Thialand’s vast limestone rock deposits are dotted with plenty of caves. Many cave complexes, like the one found near Chiang Dao, make for an intriguing visit. Make sure to take a tour of the cave’s vast interior by lamp light, including quirky rock formations and plenty of reclining Buddhas.
  • Pai – this once-sleepy Thai hill town is fast becoming a mini-Chiang Mai. After spending a few days racing around on bike, Pai makes for the perfect antidote. Spend a few days enjoying Pai’s plentiful outdoor activities including rafting, hiking and camping. Make sure to stop into town for top-notch Thai and Western cuisine and lots of gourmet coffee.

Gadling writer Jeremy Kressmann is spending the next few months in Southeast Asia. You can read other posts on his adventures “South by Southeast” HERE.