Backpacking Havens for the Budget Traveller – Part 1
Everyone can fly – thanks to AirAsia’s catchy slogan and incredible success, more and more budget airlines have stepped into the playing field, offering lower prices, better deals and loads more opportunities for avid travellers worldwide. Despite the markedly lower travel costs, food, accommodation, entry tickets and etc still pose a threat to our wallets and our dreams of exploring the world. The worst part is, tourist booms worldwide have hiked up prices even further, forcing tourists to fork out unreasonable amounts of cash for the simplest meals.
Budget travelling has come increasingly into the spotlight as an alternative for expensive tours and exorbitant accommodation costs. With little – or no – money at all, travelling can still be an eye-opening affair, full of surprises and unforgettable experiences. Working your way through the trip is also a part of budget travelling – or backpacking – but jobs available are largely dependent on visas and country laws, though day jobs such as harvesting and waiting at restaurants or hostels are available for backpackers. Teaching English online is also a viable option. Accommodation options have also evolved with the likes of Airbnb.com which is home comfort at very affordable rates.
The question is, which places offer the best fun and exploration without severely affecting your bank account?
Here are four amazing backpacking havens in our part one guide for the budget travelling enthusiast.
1. Rustic Romania
Conveniently bordering five countries, the beautiful meadows and somewhat spooky medieval towns of Romania are gradually attracting backpackers near and far. Brasov – a medieval city in central Romania – Rasnov fortress are architectural sights to behold. Want to experience some Romanian eeriness? Then stop by at Transylvania, which houses Bran castle (said to have inspired Dracula), Sibiu, Brukenthal Museum and Sighișoara, a small city boasting a 13th century Clock Tower. The Black Sea coast is a great pit-stop for beach-lovers, while spa lovers can head to Eforie Nord, Sovata Spa (which features a unique “bear” lake) or Mangalia Spa, south of Romania.
Brasov and Bran Castle, Transylvania.
Hiking enthusiasts should not miss out on the Carpathian Mountains, rich in wildlife and housing the Peles Castle near Sinaia. The eastern part of the mountains has limestone formations, whilst the western part is home to traditional rural civilizations. The Danube Delta is rich in bird biodiversity. Mangalia, aside from its spa resort, is the site of the ruins of the Callatis citadel. A UNESCO World Heritage Site – the Churches of Moldavia – is a collection of eight Romanian Orthodox churches with unique architectural styles and beautiful frescoes depicting religious scenes.
Caraiman Peak, Southern Carpathian and frescoes in the Churches of Moldavia.
There are two international airports in Romania, or you could opt to get there by train. Visa is not required for bearers of a Malaysian passport up to 90 days. To save money on accommodation, look for hostels, or ask the locals if you’re having trouble finding any in smaller cities. Some hostels have friendly staff that can even help out with further itineraries, such as Felinarul in Sibiu. Beware of pickpocketing in Bucharest, the capital of Romania. One Romanian Leu is approximately equivalent to RM1.20, and 1/3 of a US Dollar. Many Romanians can speak English, but it never hurts to pick up some basic Romanian phrases here.
2. Panoramic Peru
Since Machu Picchu was voted as one of the New Seven Wonders of the World, more and more people have flocked to the South American country, but thankfully for backpackers, prices have not skyrocketed to expensive heights. The plentiful rainforests, ruins and shores are great for exploring and clearing up minds cluttered by work and the lot. The Inca Trail – a network of stone-paved roads comprising three overlapping routes – provides scenic views of forests, prehistoric stonework and eventually leads to Machu Picchu, but due to its popularity, the government sets a limit on the number of hikers at any one time, and independent hiking is strictly forbidden. The Valley of the Pyramids – Lambayeque Valley – in Northern Peru is a stunning pyramid site, where excavations are still ongoing.
Machu Picchu and Lambayeque Valley.
The Gringo trail is a popular tourist route encompassing southern Peru. Destinations on the trail include the Islas Ballestas National Reserve in Paracas with its Humboldt penguins and Peruvian boobies, the Nazca lines – a series of ancient geoglyphs in the Nazca desert, Santa Calina Monastery in Arequipa and Lake Titiccaca in Puno. The trail ends in Cusco, where Machu Picchu resides. In Northern Peru, you can find the Peruvian Amazon, where boat travel is standard. Don’t forget to try inexpensive set lunches in Peru known as menus, as well as pisco, the national drink of Peru. LA73 in Lima is recommended by famous photographer Mario Testino for its delicious dishes. To look for bargains on food, observe where the locals go for meals.
Nazca lines and Pisco!
A number of airways offer flights to Lima – or Great Preoria Airport, Illinois, 54 miles away from Peru – from Kuala Lumpur, including Cathay Pacific, KLM and AirFrance, with varying numbers of transits. Visa is not required for stays not exceeding 90 days. The May to August period has less rainfall, and definitely makes exploration much easier. Hostels (like Ekeko hostel) or guesthouses (Alojamientos) will help you save costs. Hop on a bus to get around Lima, but it is advised to pay a little extra for midrange to top-end bus companies such as Cruz del Sur, Ormeño or Oltursa, as they tend to be more punctual and less crowded. One Nuevo Sol is equivalent to RM1.20. Pick up some Spanish phrases here to help you get around town and avoid scams.
3. Mysterious Mongolia
If you’ve associated meadows and sprinting horses with Mongolia, then your impression isn’t too far off of the real Mongolia. Aside from its sprawling grasslands, part of the Gobi Desert is in southern Mongolia, and it can be explored by hiring a jeep. An experienced guide is strongly advised for the trip. It’s best visited in June or September due to moderate weather conditions. Hikers can challenge the four holy peaks in Ulaanbaatar from June to September, namely Tsetseegun, Chingeltei, Songino Khairkhan and Bayansurkh, but a permit is needed and applicable at the entrance gate to the Bogdkhan National Park, 15km south of Ulaanbaatar.
Gobi desert and Songino Khairkhan, one of the four holy peaks of Mongolia.
The Altai Tavanbogd National Park in western Mongolia is a great place to visit for nature lovers, featuring three beautiful lakes and a raft trip down the Dayn Nurr river. Amarbayasgalant Khiid – one of the three largest Buddhist institutions in Mongolia – can be reached via trekking from Darkhan. Navigation is easy and halfway through the trek there is horse farm, where horses can be borrowed to continue the rest of the journey to the monastery. During August a special ceremony is held called the Gongoriin Bombani Hura, which is attended by many locals. Some tourists camp overnight near the monastery and are treated to lovely unpolluted, starlit skies.
Amarbayasgalant Khiid and meng gu bao.
There are no direct flights from KL to Mongolia, but you can find planes flying in to Ulaanbaatar from Beijing and Korea, among others. Visa is not required for up to 30 days. Once there, there are bus or tram services to neighbouring towns, or you could rent a bike (but only if you’re well-equipped). Here are some tips on how to avoid offending the locals. Hostels or the traditional meng gu bao in the grasslands are good options. Meng gu baos generally have no toilets or electricity, but owners are usually friendly enough to rent out spaces for backpackers. Chinese is spoken predominantly, and is useful when haggling for their beautiful crafts and leather products. Look here for useful phrases. And remember, slather on the sun-block! The weather can be deceptively cool while glaringly bright at the same time. Crime and muggings may occur in Ulaanbatar at night, so don’t go anywhere unaccompanied at night.
4. Breathtaking Bulgaria
Bordering the Black Sea as well as destination hotspot Greece, Bulgaria is the complete package for lovers of art, hiking, nature and adventure. Offering beautiful beaches and thermal springs, Bulgaria is famous for its Valley of the Roses – located around the cities of Kazanlak and Karlovo, central Bulgaria – which bursts into amazing blooms in May-June annually. Hiking enthusiasts can head for the Pirin mountains, the Rhodope mountains or the Rila mountain range, which houses the Rila Monastery (featuring lovely frescoes) and the Seven Lakes of Rila, of glacial origin. Hiking can be done in both the summer and winter months, but do check weather forecasts and websites like this for help on planning your route.
Valley of the Roses and Rila monastery.
Borovets is the largest and oldest mountain ski resort in Bulgaria, 45 miles south of capital Sofia. At Tsarevets in northern Bulgaria, tourists are treated to a spectacular audio lights show telling the story of how Tarnovo fell to the Ottomans. Varna, a seaside city, is a main tourist destination with sights such as Euxinograd palace, the Sea Garden and the Roman baths. Camping in Bulgaria is also a fun experience, and campsites are characterised from I to III, with the top two categories having hot and cold water, showers, restaurants, shops, sports facilities and telephones.
Euxinograd palace and hija.
No visa is required for Malaysians up until 90 days of stay, but registration as a foreigner at local police stations within five days of arrival is mandatory, for which you’ll get a card that you need to hand in before leaving Bulgaria. Singapore Airlines and a handful of airlines provide indirect flights to Bulgaria. Once there, you can take trains (but they’re slow because they stop at a lot of villages en-route) or grab a cab, but do agree on the price with the driver beforehand. All bus and tramway tickets must be pre-purchased. One Bulgarian Lev is about 0.40 pound sterling. Food is easy on the wallet, with a two-course meal costing 4 pounds sterling. Hostels such as Yo Ho Hostel, Nomad’s hostel in Plovdiv, Gregorys Backpackers in Varna and Hostel Mostel in Sofia are good places to start with. Hostels are however, rare in Melnik, Blagoevgrad, Pleven and Ruse, so you may need to ask for room and board in a local’s house. Mountain huts called hija provide a bed at night and a basic meal for hikers, sparing them from lugging around camping gear while hiking.
So pack your bags, and it’s time to go have some fun!
Feature photo – http://onenomadwoman.com/top-10-reasons-backpacking-awesome/
Brasov, Caraiman Peak, Southern Carpathian, Machu Picchu, Gobi desert, Amarbayasgalant Khiid, Rila monastery – http://en.wikipedia.org/
Bran Castle – http://www.rolandia.eu/bran-castle/
Frescoes in Churches of Moldavia – http://worldheritage.routes.travel/world-heritage-site/churches-of-moldavia/
Lambayeque Valley, Nazca lines – http://www.explorebyyourself.com/en/peru/
Songino Khairkhan – http://www.panoramio.com/
Valley of the Roses – http://roseoilskincare.wordpress.com/2013/02/
Euxinograd palace – http://www.commons.wikimedia.org/