Things To Do in Lima: Culture, Food, Activities & Nightlife

Lima, a city often overlooked and used merely as a springboard for Peru's myriad highlights, is an utterly delightful urban paradise that no traveler should miss, especially if you’re a foodie. The Peruvian capital, with its colonial and contemporary charm, may get a touch of fog through the winter months between June and August, but come summer, the sun shines bright on all its beauty and the city transforms into a kaleidoscope of food, festivals, shopping and adventure.If you try and experience everything that this city offers on your own, chances are you will miss out. That's where a travel expert comes in to plan your itinerary, so you get the best experience possible, based on your likes and preferences. HISTORY AND ARCHITECTURE: Lima is enchanting in itself, with a rich history from even the pre-Columbian era; the Huaca Pucllana is an Incan monument that lies in the very heart of the city’s famous Miraflores district, right alongside the high-end shopping mall of Larcomar.The city is also home to most of Peru’s museums, ranging from the Larco Hererra Museum of pre-Columbian art (one of Lima's prominent highlights, of which we strongly recommend a privately curated tour, conducted by a historian)....to the MATE Museum by fashion photographer Mario Testino, to the Choco Museo - a museum dedicated entirely to chocolate. The Museum of Art (Museo de Arte de Lima), or MALI is also a must visit with an exceptional collection of Peruvian art, both modern and classical. Another popular attraction is the Church and Convent of San Francisco, a part of the Historic Centre of Lima.While the church and its Spanish Baroque architecture are a sight to see, the spot is more famous for what lies beneath - the catacombs. Experts say that more than 75,000 bodies were buried here, the bones arranged neatly in circular formations. You can opt for an hour-long guided tour of the catacombs, and trust us, it's breathtaking, but caution is advised if you are prone to claustrophobia (and/or you consider yourself slightly faint hearted).SHOPPING, CULTURE, ADVENTURE: Of the city’s 43 districts, the most famous amongst tourists has to be Miraflores with its numerous cafes & restaurants, the Larcomar shopping centre, and the Malécon, which is a most delightful walkway along the Pacific Coast and a prime spot for paragliding.The six mile long Malecon or Miraflores Boardwalk is lined with statues created by Peruvian artists and is perfect for a sunset stroll. You will also find the prime take-off point for paragliders here, at Parque del Amor (Love Park).If self-driving is your thing, take a sunset spin on the gorgeous Costa Verde highway, along the Pacific Coast.Barranco is another popular district of Lima, known for its bohemian vibes and cool nightlife.The area was home to many artists early on and then the abode of the rich and elite. As a result, Barranco is artsy and peaceful, with its colonial architecture housing art galleries and quiant cafes. The MATE Mario Testino Museum and Choco Museo....are both located here, along with the Bridge of Sighs - a must visit monument with a romantic backstory.FOOD: It is not for nothing that Lima is regarded as the gastronomical capital of South America, and the menus here are testimony to that. You can customise an entire Peruvian itinerary around food if you so desire, but the choices in Lima itself are endless.It’s a great place to enjoy a royal meal without going over budget. Lunchtime brings with it a host of set lunch menus – menús, usually offering a starter, a main course and a drink for just about three to four dollars. While there aren’t set meals at dinner time, its not hard to find a place that serves excellent food at reasonable prices. Peruvian cuisine also happens to be a mix of Spanish, Andean and Asian influence; so expect to find unique combinations and flavours on your palate.Tip: Do brush up a little on some basic spanish food vocabulary, or keep a phrasebook handy.Some restaurants to try out:El Salto de Fraile Paseo Billinghurst, Distrito de Chorrillos 15064, PeruSituated on a cliff that juts out into the Pacific ocean, this is the perfect place to enjoy a Lima sunset accompanied by ceviche and pisco sours.Al Toke Pez Av. Angamos Este 886, Surquillo 15047, PeruThis little spot is a true testament to Peruvian cuisince and serves one of the best and most underrated ceviches in Lima. While it may look like a hole in the wall, it definitely won’t burn a hole in your pocket, which is what makes this place so popular. It’s best to come to Al Toke Pez off peak hours as they have very limited seating.Amaz Av. la Paz 1079, Miraflores 15074, PeruWith all the fuss about how Peruvian food is some of the best in the world, this statement would not be complete without some authentic Amazonian offerings. And this is precisely what Chef Miguel Schiaffino set out to do: showcase the best of the largest and least-known region of his country via its food. There may be some dishes served at Amaz that will be a mystery even to Lima residents. We recommend a starter menu to get you accustomed to the rare ingredients and concoctions that are the staple of the wild and wonderful Amazon, innovated, cooked and served up by one of Lima’s finest chefs.Central Restaurante Santa Isabel 376 Miraflores Lima, PeruThe dining experience at the innocuously-named Central Restaurante in Lima is nothing less than a cultural and anthropological journey of the Andes under the expert guidance of Chef Virgilio Martinez, through its varied produce (depending on where you are, upper, middle or lower Andes) and their mouth-wateringly delicious preparations. There you go. Lima, in all her worldly glory, will charm, entrance and thrill you. Give it a whirl; done right, it may just be the most talked about experience of your entire Peru trip.

Top 10 Luxury Boutique Hotels in Japan

The Japanese have always adhered to the philosophy of harmony with the elements, and nowhere else is this apparent more than in its deluxe boutique properties scattered up and down the country.Of course, when you plan your vacation through Tripifini, our Japan travel experts will have already hooked you up with finest hotels to suit your budget. But if you wish to have that extra-special staying experience that matches your uniquely-tailored itinerary, here are 10 beauties of the Japan boutique-hotel world that are living embodiments of the harmony-with-surroundings that Japan strives for.  The Tokyo Station HotelThis hotel evokes the glamour of a golden age of heritage architecture; just staring at its solid red-brick façade which is slightly more than 100 years old (built in 1915) gives you the sensation of being in a period movie. Inside, within the vaulted ceilings and period fittings, it is all 21st century efficiency and the finest principles of Omotenashi – the fabled Japanese hospitality. Tokyo, in all its glory, is right outside your hotel window....and stepping out will have you slap in the middle of downtown, walking distance from Ginza, Tokyo’s shopping mecca, although, we think you may be spending a lot of time in the hotel itself, what with a luxurious contemporary spa and 7 in-house haute cuisine restaurants, covering sushi, French and traditional Kaiseki, just to name a few. The Hotel La Suite Kobe HarborlandKobe’s sea-views are quite spectacular, and even more so when seen from each and every room of the sophisticated Hotel La Suite Kobe Harborland. Apart from the stellar views, every one of its 70 rooms comes fitted with a Jacuzzi to make you feel pampered and special. Set against a backdrop of the soothing green Rokko Mountains, this hotel screams location! Go for a stroll along the water’s edge, check out the shopping options, and dine out in the numerous restaurants that the harbour area is so well-known for. We also recommend you sample the exquisite cuisine of its two restaurants (Kokoro being the most popular one all over Kobe). Pamper yourself in the spa (there’s a women-only option as well), with a variety of water therapies and treatments, after a hectic city tour. The Hotel la Suite is a wonderful complement to the gorgeous city of Kobe, and we can’t think of a better way of spending your time here. The Karuizawa Prince Hotel East (Nagano)Combining Japan’s almost surreal and enchanting outdoors with a sense of adventure, and packaging it all with the utmost luxury, that is what the Karuizawa Prince Hotel East does with flair and panache. We are talking luxe log cabins, with a forest spa and a ski lift (for the winter season) right outside your door. Spring and summer months are perfect for a gentle bike ride over the breathtakingly beautiful landscape of the property and beyond. The hotel caters for kids as well, with outdoor family activities, traditional woodwork sessions and star-gazing experiences, while the adults can lounge in the spa (open-air baths and hot springs), use the golf course or browse boutique shops nearby. Check out the in-house restaurants that cook up a variety of Japan’s finest cuisine. All in all, an uniquely Japanese experience, with the finest in luxury served up outdoorsy-fresh. The Terrace Club Busena (Okinawa)This Okinawan spa resort is the perfect combination of a wellness retreat and boutique hotel, on the shores of the azure and tropical East China Sea. The food is farm-to-table, or fresh seafood that is the catch-of-the-day, and you will understand why the Okinawans are some of the healthiest people on the planet. Just a walk on light-goild Nago Beach would be therapy enough....but there’s more waiting for you at the spa. Enjoy a wide range of therapies specially curated for you, including a whole host of thalassotherapies – designed around the benefits and healing properties of sea water. Fancy a water-aerobics, or yoga session? Or just a soothing massage with all natural oils. It’s all there. The Hoshinoya Fuji Hotel (Yamanashi)You have to actually see, visit, and stay at this uniquely beautiful resort to know how special it is. Touted as Japan’s first glamping resort, the property is sprawled cleverly over the slopes that arise from Lake Kawaguchi near Mt. Fuji, blending perfectly with the lush red pine forest all around and often layered with a fine mountain mist. Enjoy ‘camping’ food meticulously conjured up by the resident chef to give you that authentic outdoors experience. Take a walk with the hotel’s ‘glamping experts’ through the unbelievably gorgeous Aokigahara Forest, referred to as the Sea of Trees. The cabins are Japanese-minimalist (without sacrificing an iota of utmost luxury), and they indulgently look out on the magnificent, unspoiled topography of volcanic craters, ice-caves and mixed forests of Lake Kawaguchi eco-system. We recommend the changing-of-season as the best time to visit; we are talking a living, breathing Japanese painting, almost too beautiful to be true. The Benesse House Hotel (Kagawa)This one’s for art lovers who are also nature lovers who are also fans of how only the Japanese could combine the two. The entire staying experience in the Benesse House Hotel is an interactive one, with natural and man-made beauty mingling effortlessly and visible at every turn of the head. Located on the tiny Naoshima Island, aka the Mediterranean of Japan for its startlingly blue seascapes and wonderfully temperate climate.. ..the entire property is a marvelous show of light and colours, with an original art piece in each of its 65 rooms over 4 builfings called Oval, Museum, Park and Beach, all of which are connected by an innocuous monorail, walkways, ramps and staircases. In addition, there is a restaurant, a spa, a café, all blending into the backdrop of Setonaikai National Park.Is it a museum that doubles as a hotel, or vice versa? Come and find out for yourself; whichever it may be, it will be a staying experience you are not likely to forget. The Claska Hotel (Tokyo)Yet another art hotel makes it to our list of top 10; this one was designed to reflect all of Japan’s wildly eclectic contemporary art scene, with architects and designers pitching in to create 20 rooms that conform to 4 broad themes, Modern, Contemporary, Tatami and DIY. If all this sounds uniquely Japanese and quirky, it is, but the result is a hotel property that dazzles all the senses. The Modern theme (featured above) has all the aspects of staying in a chic and comfortable home, with rare antiques and décor motifs from all over Asia. The Tatami is pure Japanese in theme, and a masterclass in how minimalism can be super-luxurious. The DIY rooms are each one-of-a-kind. This is one hotel you will want to come back to again and again just to experience the myriad design themes. The food served in its restaurants? Let's just say it also conforms to the highest level of aesthetics....not to mention being delicately and mouth-wateringly flavored.  Ryokan Hakone Ginyu (Hakone)The name might give away the thought and design theme behind this wonderful spa-resort property nestled in the lush mountain wonderland of Hakone. ‘Ginyu’ is a term used to describe a person ‘seeking inspiration for a poem by traveling around’. And, well, there is a poet in all of us; it just requires the right surroundings and setting. Imagine breathtaking views of the mesmerizing Haya-Kawa River and the sheer beauty of Hakone Mountains enveloping you in their embrace, and you may just be inclined to pen haiku after haiku.Touted as one of the best Ryokans in all of Japan, and in keeping with the tradition of the same, each room has an open-air hot spring bath (fed by springs that were discovered 1300 years ago)....and a large verandah that allows for private, customised dining. Come and unleash your inner poet in this most luxurious and beautiful of Japan’s long-standing Ryokan tradition. The Gorakadan (Kanagawa)Another jewel in the Japanese Ryokan crown, the Gora Kadan spa resort is attached to the once-upon-a-time summer getaway of the royal imperial family. Talk about location! That, and all the accolades for its eye-catching design that blends the lush outdoors of the surrounding mountains with chic, contemporary luxury. It was enough to blow away Relaix & Chateaux and have them jump in and take over, bringing to the world the first-class standards of deluxe hospitality for which they are renowned. The Hoshinoya KyotoA world-class hotel located within one of the world’s most beautiful bamboo groves, the famous Arashiyama in Kyoto.. ..also one of Japan’s most breathtaking and must-visit highlights. Also an erstwhile Imperial retreat, the Arashiyama grove is a visual delight for thec senses at any time of year – think cherry blossoms in spring....lush greens in summer..,,flaming red vistas in autumn and a winter wonderland right after that – and each of these easily seen from every one of its delicately designed rooms.   Kyoto is home to more Michelin star restaurants that probably any other city in Japan, and this tradition is well-lived up to at the Hoshinoya Kyoto. Guests can dine in lap of nature outdoors, or in their rooms for that private haute cuisine experience.   The interiors, the gardens, the landscapes are all the works of Japan’s finest artists, designers and architects; you have to live it to believe it. We cannot think of a better complement to beautiful Kyoto than the equally gorgeous Hoshinoya Kyoto. After reading this, you're probably convinced that a great hotel might just be the most important highlight of your itinerary. We hope you'll never go back to the ordinary ever again.

Best Festivals In Japan (And Where To Find Them)

Festivals (matsuri) in Japan are celebrated with an insane amount of zest and energy. It’s one of those rare occasions where people come together, let their hair down and enjoy a party. While most of them are small local events, some are truly grand and breathtaking. As a traveler, a festival is a great opportunity to interact with the locals and to partake in the lighter side of Japanese culture; our travel experts can plan a customised trip to Japan around any of these mega-fun events just so you can learn the cultures and tradition of this one-of-a-kind country through song, dance, eating, drinking, and just all-out merrymaking.OverviewWith thousands of festivals each year, you can witness a sheer variety of spectacles throughout the country; depending on the occasion, most of them involve spirited processions of participants vigorously chanting, dancing, and bearing massive, intricately-decorated omikoshi (portable shrines) or floats.The following is a list of the biggest and best of festivals celebrated in Japan. Gion Matsuri (Kyoto)When: JulyWhere: KyotoPerhaps one of Japan’s most prominent festivals, its history dates back to ancient times, and the floats used in its parade  are truly breathtaking. Held in Kyoto's Gion district, the festival spans the entire month of July with events happening nearly every day.The highlight of the festival is the Yamahoko Junko (float parade). During these processions, the two floats (called yama and hoko respectively, hence the name yamahoko) are pulled through the streets, turning the city, into a mobile historical museum.Editorial Copyrights: ShutterstockThe night before the Yamahoko-Junko is called Yoiyama, which acts as a build up to the enthusiasm of the festival. Take a tour with a local travel experts as they take you through street stalls offering traditional snacks and arcade games. Witness the whole spectacle unfold; it's almost like a historical picture scroll of the nation, as thousands of citizens (and enthusiastic foreigners) dressed in yukata (traditional Japanese clothing) hit the streets. Setsubun – The Bean-Throwing FestivalEditorial Copyrights: ShutterstockWhen: FebruaryWhere: At major temples and shrines throughout Japan.Each year, shrines and temples throughout Japan prepare for spring with mamemaki (a bean-throwing custom involving demons and lucky beans) as part of the Setsubun celebrations. As much fun as it is bizarre, it is also believed that eating these beans brings good luck, health and happiness for the following year (the norm is one bean for every year you have lived). Discover the annual Japanese ritual which has evolved into a nationally televised event with famous Japanese celebrities as participants. If you wish to try your luck, your chosen travel experts will arrange some lucky beans (that come with a lottery ticket) for you. All tickets are winning tickets, so the beans can be said to be good value. We totally recommend you to try this, just for the sheer fun-factor!Nebuta MatsuriEditorial Copyrights: ShutterstockWhen: 1st Week AugWhere: Aomori City Hall, AomoriFamed for its apples and historic castle, Hirosaki-jo, the northern prefecture of Aomori plays hosts to Japan’s most colorful and visually striking festival – The Nebuta Matsuri. Witness parades of spectacular illuminated floats made with washi (Japanese paper) depicting scenes of samurai and deities, accompanied by thousands of rowdy, chanting dancers, drummers, flautists, and other musicians. We strongly recommend you to join in the lively procession provided you wear the haneto (traditional dancer’s costumes). You can buy the costume at a variety of places in Aomori Prefecture, or simply rent one for the day along the route.As this is one of Japan's most famous festivals, you may need to book accommodation way in advance so that you don’t miss the action. Even if you miss the festival, you can still capture the spirit of the festival displayed at The Nebuta Warasseis museum, with live performances, every weekend.Chichibu YomatsuriEditorial Copyrights: ShutterstockWhen: First Week DecemberWhere: Chichibu Shrine, Saitama PrefectureWhile most festivals begin in the daytime, the Chichibu Yomatsuri is celebrated in the evening. Held about 90 minutes from Tokyo, it is one of the more impressive float festivals in Japan.The highlight of the festival are two elaborately decorated floats (weighing 10-20 ton each) featuring lanterns, tapestries and gilded wood carvings. The gorgeous floats are pulled through the streets of Chichibu, accompanied by traditional Japanese dancers, drummers and flute players. At the end of the festival, the floats are pulled to the top of a slope, and the night concludes with a two-hour fireworks display – an extraordinary spectacle in winter.Tenjin MatsuriEditorial Copyrights: ShutterstockWhen: Last week JulyWhere: Tenmangu Shrine, OsakaDubbed as the festival of gods, the festival is held at the famous Tenmangu Shrine in Osaka in the honor of the deity, Sugawara no Michizane (god of learning). The patron god of art and education is paraded in a mikoshi (portable shrine) alongside umbrella dancers, musicians, and goblins on horseback! Editorial Copyrights: ShutterstockTake a tour and experience everything from the rhythmic hand clapping, the stalls of mouth-watering street-food that line the roads, leading up to the fire display on the Osaka Okawa River, all of it creating a hypnotic display. It’s a great chance to interact and chat with locals, who are more engaging and outgoing than their counterparts in Tokyo or Kyoto.Hanami (Cherry Blossom Festival)Editorial Copyrights: ShutterstockWhen: March – May (depending on how far north or south in Japan)Where: Throughout JapanLet’s take a break from traditional float parades and let’s take a closer look at Japan's stunning landscapes and scenery for a while (at least a few weeks every spring). Japan celebrates an annual ritual known as hanami. As ancient folklore dictates, the word hanami means "flower viewing" and that's exactly what people do during the spring Cherry Blossom Festival. It's a hugely symbolic and much-loved source of national pride, and a chance to recognize and reflect on the beauty of nature while welcoming the new season. Look for a quite spot, take a breather beneath the blooms, and enjoy breathtaking nature at its best. Some festival goers may appreciate the sake more than the flowers themselves, but all enjoy the time outside in fresh spring air! Family and friends gather for extended picnics under trees, enjoying food, drinks and music.Asakusa Samba Matsuri Editorial Copyrights: Extreme MatsuriWhen: Late AugustWhere: TokyoIt’s not often you see thousands of Japanese and Brazilians dancing in tandem to rapturous beats of samba music on the streets of Tokyo. But the Asakusa Samba Carnival, one of Tokyo's livelier and popular summer festivals, attracts around 500,000 visitors who fall under the spell of the passionate rhythms of the dance form. Samba teams from Brazil arrive in the small district of Asakusa to participate in the annual dance competition which features around 20 teams of musicians and dancers in elaborate costumes.Due to strong cultural ties between the two countries, the Latin spectacle has grown to become one of the area's most popular events rivaling the more traditional festivals. The sidewalks are packed by around half a million spectators, so it’s best to make early bookings.Yuki Matsuri, Snow Festival Editorial Copyrights: ShutterstockWhen: FebruaryWhere: SapporoIn the month of February, the streets of Sapporo (capital and largest city on the northern island of Hokkaido) turn into a winter fantasy-land, as truck loads of snow are shipped into the parks, heaped up, lined up and carved into awe-inspiring sculptures.From humble beginnings in 1950, when local high-school students built six snow statues, the festival now hosts an international snow sculpture contest and draws more than two million visitors annually. The gravity-defying art varies from year to year, often taking inspiration from prominent people and monuments. The meticulous effort and creativity that goes into each of the sculptures can be enjoyed by day, and they are even more magical in the evenings when they are brightly lit up!Editorial Copyrights: ShutterstockApart from the snow architecture, the Yuki Matsuri has everything for everybody, including music concerts on frozen stages, snowball fights, snow slides and mazes for kids. There are plenty of food and drink vendors and you can expect all kinds of drunken revelry, predominantly after sunset.Yokohama Pikachu OutbreakEditorial Copyrights: ykanazawa1999When:  14th August, 2017Where: Nihon Odori Avenue, YokohomaBack in the day, when we all loved Pokémon, Pikachu was the cute one. It was the trump card all the kids wanted, the cuddly toy they all embraced, the video game character they all wanted to catch. If your kids miss the smiley yellow mascot, head out to Yokohama in summer for an 'Outbreak of Pikachus'!Editorial Copyrights: Kuri C‘The Pikachu Tairyou Hassei Chu!’ or ‘An Outbreak of Pikachus!’ was first held in Yokohama’s Minato Mirai district in 2014, for the promotion of a new Pokemon film. Since then, the tradition repeats every year, and it's no surprise that the event has swept throughout the country with hundreds of people dressed up as Pikachu parading through the streets with intense passion.Awa Odori (Tokushima)Editorial Copyrights: ShutterstockWhen: AugustWhere: Tokushima Prefecture, Shikoku The Awa Odori (Awa Dance) festival originated in rural Tokushima (formerly known as Awa Province), on the island of Shikoku. According to a myth, the feudal lord of Awa held a massive celebration at the opening of Tokushima Castle. After endless drinks throughout the night, the drunken attendees started singing and dancing, while musicians played a simple beat. Over the years the tradition has become a lively annual event, and one of Japan’s most fun-loving matsuri.Editorial Copyrights: ShutterstockDespite its somewhat off-beat location, Awa Odori draws over a million visitors to Shikoku each year. The festival features fantastic traditional costumes, a lively dance performances, and highly energetic singing, chanting, and instrumentation in the background. If you're tempted to shake a leg, join the dancers on stage. Don’t worry, a dancer will teach you how.There you have it; festivals in Japan can be strange, from throwing beans to frighten evil spirits, to all out samba parties. But there is no better and fun way to understand a country's culture and tradition; so gear up and plan your next Japan vacation around its mad, eclectic festivals. 

Dos and Dont's in Japan

Japan is warm and welcoming, and for a first-timer it can be an exciting and exhilarating experience (tip: expect the unexpected). It can be daunting (not to mention virtually impossible) for a foreigner to fully understand the many rules, customs and etiquettes of Japan. Your first and most important step would be to get in touch with our travel expert in Japan to show you around, who will decode the complex web of social rules and traditions for you as only a local expert can. To help create a well-oiled and faux-pas-free trip, we recommend a list of dos and don’ts that will not only help to enhance your experience, but also to avoid any embarrassing moments once you have planned your customized trip to Japan. DosDo Learn some Japanese PhrasesChances are you will never have to use any phrases because our travel experts will be with you every step of the way.  But wouldn’t it be nice to say ‘thank you’ in the language of the country that you are visiting? In case, you want to learn them, our guide - Essential words & phrases for a first-time traveler, will sort you out.Do have an OnsenAt the end of a long day of non-stop travel, an onsen (natural hot spring) public bath can wash away your tiredness. Warning: you will be required to strip; those are the rules. Look for same-sex onsens. Or not. Understand that the Japanese have been using public onsen to relax, heal and socialize for centuries. Also, visible tattoos may be a no-no at some onsens. That may just be to keep out hard-line Yakuza gang-bangers, so don't take it personally if they exclude you for your harmless and beautiful Celtic/Maori artwork.Apart from the physical benefits, the natural settings of onsens are usually gorgeous. Take a leisurely stroll around the spa towns (including one in Nikko – a key highlight of Japan) where they are often located. There are several rules of etiquette of which your travel operator will thoroughly explain. Knowing them can save you an embarrassing experience.Do Remove ShoesImage Copyrights: RubyGoesLike most Asian countries, removing your shoes before entering someone’s home is practiced in Japan. The Japanese take dirty shoes very seriously and should not be worn, especially on floor mats (tatamis). These mats are often used to sit and sleep on, instead of chairs and beds. If you’re paying your friend a visit, leave your shoes outdoors and slip into the home slippers that are often placed at the doorstep.Do use ChopsticksMost restaurants, convenience stores, and food stalls in Japan offer chopsticks as dining utensils, and it’s important to dine with respect. When you’re sharing a communal dish with someone, pick up the food using your chopsticks and place them on your plate before eating it. It’s also essential not to stick your chopsticks upright on a rice bowl as this resembles a custom performed at Japanese funerals. Once you’ve finished eating, place both chopsticks back on the holder.Sure, the Japanese are an understanding and forgiving lot; however, knowing a little about the art of chopsticks and local manners really helps you in making friends, doing business with the locals, and being a good guest.Do KaraokeKaraoke brings out the wild side in almost everyone in Japan, from high school kids to old folks. We highly recommend you to try this fun activity. Feeling shy? Performance anxiety? Don’t worry, they provide private booths as well, where you can happily make a fool of yourself without anybody watching.Do try Japanese Super-ToiletsAnyone who has been to Japan will know that it takes toilets very seriously; over-engineered and ruthlessly efficient, they don’t just deal with waste, they remove any evidence that it ever existed. And hands-free, too! Image Copyrights: Yuya TamaiYou will encounter these high-tech wonder thrones in Japan almost everywhere. First time visitors are sometimes puzzled and confused by the buttons on the control panel. We strongly recommend you play with every button, every function, and thoroughly enjoy your nature’s-call experience. Do stay in a RyokanSince spa getaways seem to be common protocol these days, work in a visit to a ryokan (traditional Japanese inn) on your next Japan trip. The mild scent of tatami, the minimalist elegance of the interiors, the meticulous service, the outdoor hot spring baths, the multi-course meal of local seasonal produce, the soothing silence—all unite to make a night at ryokan an unforgettable experience, while providing you with a keen insight into Japanese culture.Historically, many of the best ryokans did not welcome travelers. These days everyone is welcome in most ryokans, where a typical stay is no more than three nights. We recomend your reservations be handled properly by local experts who know ryokans inside out. Dont’sDon’t litterImage Copyrights: Bruno CordioliDespite its crowded cities, you'll be amazed at how immaculately clean the streets are in Japan. While many other countries would turn a blind eye to a plastic bag or cigarette bud lying on their streets, authorities take a zero-tolerance stance on street trash. People often keep their wrappers and waste with them until they get home. There isn't really any excuse, anyway, as public trash cans are abundantly spread throughout Japan's major cities.Don’t Eat or Drink while WalkingThe Japanese aren’t big fans of multitasking; they believe in doing just one thing at a time, so eating while walking is seen as impolite. Also, in sacred places such as temples and shrines, eating and drinking is a sign of showing lack of common sense and bad manners.Image Copyrights: Charlotte MarilletHowever, eating while walking around stalls near shrines during festivals or other celebrations has been an exception since ancient times; your chosen travel expert will recommend spots where you are permitted to eat while you walk. Otherwise, its best advised to huddle around a store or vending machine, finish your food or beverage, dispose the trash, and then continue walking.No TippingThe culture of tipping is not practiced in Japan. In fact it is frowned upon. Locals would appreciate if you put your palms together and say “Gochisosama deshita” after finishing a meal – it is a gracious way of expressing “Thank you for creating this feast.”While Using Public Transport – Silence Please!Image Copyrights: Blondinrikard FröbergWhen traveling by train in Japan, you may wonder why the journey is so quiet, despite the number of people squished in one carriage. That’s because people generally sit or stand in silence; being too loud and disturbing other passengers is considered rude. This includes talking on your phone or having loud conversations; they have signs everywhere, and make public service announcements (in both Japanese and English) every once in a while, in typically soft voices.If you need to chat to your travel companion, do so in a low voice. Also make sure your phone is on silent mode; this applies to all public transport throughout the country.Don’t be Afraid to Slurp!Noodles are a primary staple of Japanese cuisine; pho, ramen, udon, soba, just to to name a few, and in Japan slurping them is considered polite. You’ll look weirder for not slurping your noodles. Trust us. Besides, it’s near impossible to savour a bowl of noodles in Japan without making any noise. Slurping shows the chef you’re appreciating the meal – so slurp away!Avoid Public AffectionUnlike Europe or other Western or Latin countries where hugs, kisses and cheek pecks are the norm with casual acquaintances, public displays of affection are less prevalent in Japan. Even those who are madly in love will keep things modest in public. Don’t expect any physical contact when saying hello or goodbye to even close friends in Japan; it’s always best to stick with a formal hands-off bow as a greeting.Don’t pour your Own SakeImage Copyrights: Jeremy KeithSake (Japanese alcohol) is known in Japan as the “drink of the gods” and it has deep ties to religion, ceremony, traditions and everyday social interaction. So it is sometimes considered discourteous to pour your own sake. It gives a hint that you don’t trust your hosts to be hospitable. Besides, pouring sake for a friend and allowing them to reciprocate the gesture creates an atmosphere of social interaction and bonding.Caution: there will be a constant stream of refills as everyone tries to top each other up. You'd better have your drinking legs on you; or else politely decline with a hand over your cup and a bow. Or else...

Top 10 Street Foods in India (And Where To Eat Them)

You can tell a lot about a country by its food; by that, we don't mean the fine-dining, haute cuisine, trendy resto-bars sprouting up all over the place. We are talking about the street food, the stuff the common man eats. Not necessarily healthy (in fact, probably the opposite), but so tasty it will have you salivating at just the thought of it. Every city in India has its own signature street food, and a travel expert can easily customise a trip which will take you on a culinary adventure, sampling the REAL common-man delights through the chaotic streets of the country.A tip: When embarking upon a steeefood jag, and especially through India, leave all notions of weight loss, superb nutrition value and calorie counting back home. We are talking comfort food, we are talking taste, we are talking culinary icons, we are talking sheer gluttony pleasure.Another important tip: Be sure to avoid drinking tap water and only pick items that are fully cooked; while street food may not be nutritious, with a little research it can certainly be hygienic.So without any further ado, let’s explore the top 10 street-foods to treat your taste buds.Rabri Paratha Best had in New DelhiVisiting ‘Paratha Wali Gali’ on the streets of Chadini Chowk (a top culinary highlight of India), is a gastronomical experience filled with a culinary heritage. Here, you can taste all sorts of yummy parathas you could have only imagined, but have you ever tried a sweet one? For those so inclined, we strongly recommend the Rabri Paratha, surprisingly wholesome and and even healthy, if you're not too fussy about the condensed milk and the gallons of clarified butter (ghee) that it comes soaked in.The whole wheat paratha bread, stuffed with burnt, solid condensed milk with a variety of nuts, is deep fried in desi ghee (clarified butter) on a cast iron kadhai (cooking pot). It’s then served with a variety of chutneys, pickles and raitas (yogurt containing chopped cucumber or other vegetables, and spices) that will leave you wanting more.Kadhi KachoriBest had in RajasthanAs raw and earthy as its home-state of Rajasthan, a plate of kadhi kachori has something for every foodie. The scrumptious and fulfilling snack is a blend of two Rajasthani delicacies – the Rajasthani kadhi (a thick, chick-pea gravy), and Rajasthani kachori (a puff pastry stuffed with spiced lentils, potatos or beans). Take a culinary tour of Rajasthan and discover this staple item of the Ajmer region, famed throughout the state. Traditionally a breakfast item, this dish is such a favorite that people don't mind having it for a quick lunch or an evening snack too.Rajasthani kachori differs from the rest with its spicy and flavorful moong daal (split green gram) filling. The kadhi, prepared with besan (gram flour) and curd, on other hand, has a burst of flavors that add warmth to the palette. Combine the two and add a mix of onions, coriander leaves and sweet chutney and behold! A toothsome, lip-smacking and divine delicacy is at your mercy, waiting to be wiped off your plate.Puchka (Panipuri or Golgappa)Best had in Kolkatta, Mumbai and DelhiKolkata (formerly known as Calcutta), the third largest city in India, also happens to be one of the country’s friendliest cities for street-food lovers. With a constant stream of honking, foot traffic, and hawkers, vendors serve everything from famous Bengali snacks to full rice-n-curry meals. There are few things more pleasurable than biting into the tasty Puchka (aka Panipuri in Mumbai or Golpappa in Delhi), a crunchy little ball packed with potatos and lentils, and then the whole thing dipped in sweet and spicy tamarind water - it’s the ultimate refreshing spice bomb. Call it what you want, what matters is the taste, not the name.For variety, tamarind water can be replaced with curd and a sweet palatable chutney giving rise to the name Dahi (curd) Puchka, popular amongst kids and adults who prefer not to have a blast of chilli in a mouthful.Tunday KebabBest had in Lucknow, Uttar PradeshImage Copyrights: Matt StabileLucknow is a total foodie’s paradise; take a walk around the bustling and narrow chowks (alleyways) and you will discover the taste, the smell and the air of a city that screams magic. If you’re here, we strongly recommend you to try Tunday Kabab (a flat, soft and succulent pattie made of minced meat).This local specialty was invented 150 years ago by a man called Haji Murad Ali for an old toothless Mughal royal who was unable to chew this delicacy. Ironically, this man only had one hand, hence the name - Tunday (derived from the word tunda meaning – a man without a hand) Kebab. With time these became the most popular kebabs on the streets of Lucknow, and not just for the old and toothless. Smeared with a host of Indian spices, crispy on the outside, soft and supple on the inside, topped with fiery hot chutneys, this finger-licking kebab is known to literally melt in your mouth.Litti ChokhaBest had in BiharBiharis absolutely love litti chokha, as do, in truth, most people who taste it. This crown jewel of Bihari street cuisine is made with litties (whole-wheat dough balls) packed with a spicy mash made of sattu (roasted chickpea flour), usually grilled over beds of charcoal – or baked – and then dipped in salty melted ghee (clarified butter). These litties are then served with a decent dollop of chokha (a dip prepared with mashing potato, tomato or eggplant with spices), as well as some yoghurt sauce and a scoop of hot, sour pickle. Totally mouth-watering, this!A preferred snack for different occasions, this famous street-food has found a coveted place amongst many other street-side delights of the country, and you will find it wherever Biharis go; and since they go almost everywhere, that means you’ve got a chance of tasting this yummy snack almost anywhere in the country. Just keep your eyes wide open, though.Vada Pav – Indian BurgerBest had in Mumbai and all over MaharashtraWhile people from all over the country turn up their nose at this amazing offering, the Vada Pav is Mumbai's favorite grab-and-go snack. It begins with a spiced mashed potato mixture, slightly battered and deep fried to a crisp. The potato patty gets packed into a fluffy small laddi pav (white bun), and then gets doused in a variety of extremely flavorful chutneys. An added touch is a plate of rock-salted fried green chilies (which aren't nearly as fiery as you might think) which will give it a hard-to-resist pizzaz. Bhel PuriBest had in MumbaiThe perfect beach snack: it is crunchy, sour, sweet, salty and spicy and it just makes you want to keep snacking on it. There are many versions of Bhel Puri, but the norm is a sweet-and-sour mix of puffed rice, sev (small pieces of crunchy noodles made from chickpea flour paste), chopped onion and potato, and a balance of salty, sweet and spicy tamarind chutneys. It has to be mixed and eaten on the spot, and most vendors will devise their own variations. You can eat it by the spoonful or scoop it onto a flatbread or puri. If in Mumbai just pre-monsoon, insist on the addition of tarty, tangy raw mangos for that flavor-burst in your mouth. Poha-JalebiBest had in IndoreIndore is famous for street-food and eateries that have been active for generations. You will often find customers queueing up at stalls selling Indori Pohe, a sweetened version of the breakfast dish made of beaten rice, dressed with squirts of lime and crisp sev, along with jalebi (crisped fried flour dipped in light sugar syrup, served hot).Poha-Jalebi is a ritual when it comes to breakfast for the people of Indore. The savory and sweet combination of poha with jalebi is something unique to the region and many shops in the Chappan Dukkan (a row of 56 shops) area serve it early in the morning.PadduBest had all over South India Moving beyond the super-popular dosa and its counterpart, the fluffy idli, let’s try Paddu, a very popular street food from South India. It’s basically a severely shrunken dosa, but with a slight hint of sourness, as the snack is prepared with urad dal (black gram lentils), rice flour, ginger, onion and other spices. This technique infuses just the right amount of flavour in the dish, and the final product, served with coconut chutney and piping hot sambar is quick and irresistible finger-food.Shahi FaloodaBest had in Mumbai, Delhi, Hyderabad and LucknowImage Copyrights: Stefan KrasowskiShahi (Royal) Falooda - The queen of all Indian street foods is a concoction of rose syrup, sweet basil seeds and vermicelli, usually served with kulfi (an ice-cream made from reduced milk, sugar, nuts and saffron), with a mix of dry fruits like almonds, cashews and pistachios thrown in. Alternatively, it can also be served with a scoop of vanilla ice cream, which makes it into something like a cross between a milk-shake and an ice-cream sundae. Originally a Persian dessert-drink handed down from the Mughal courts, it has gained a lot of popularity as an Indian street food, perfect to cool off during the summer heat.So there you have it – diverse and delicious, Indian street-delights are a great prologue to the cuisine of a country celebrated for its food. Sample these, and you’ll be feeling like a local in no time.

Female Travelers: How to Dress in India

Packing for any foreign country requires a little thought, especially when you’re not sure of what to expect and everyone seems to have an opinion. A country like India? Triple that. If you’re a female traveler, and you have that dream trip through India all planned out, these are some of the questions that should buzz through your mind as you stare at that open suitcase. What’s the culture like? Will it exclude certain dressing options entirely? Can I get clever with it? How much can I get away with? Will things such as weather and cultures change as I move within this vast country from north to south, east to west? Let’s face it, chances are you’ve heard some dodgy things about how the locals may react to female tourists from other countries. Don’t worry too much about it; yes, you probably will be stared at, but more out of curiosity than anything else. That said, there are a few things to keep in mind while packing for your Indian getaway to avoid disrespecting the culture and to deter unwanted attention.Your packing list can be narrowed down to the two C’s: Climate and Culture. The former is easy: just check for weather. The latter can be a tad trickier. Let us emphasise that, for the most part, you are completely safe, especially if you are traveling with guides or local experts who know and can decode every situation, city, or occasion.But here are the broad-strokes:  1. Cover up Foreign women in India are likely to stand out of the crowd regardless of how they dress, but it’s still best to cover up; showing too much skin can be viewed as a sign of disrespect, or attract unwanted attention. While shorts and tank tops will work in big cities like Mumbai and Delhi, elsewhere it's best to respect the locals’ sentiments. Half sleeves and skirt lengths that fall at or below the knee should be fine in most cases, and you can keep a shawl handy to drape over your shoulders if needed. Covering up will also help your skin escape the wrath of India's hot sun and avoid the burn that comes with it.  2. Comfort It’s important to feel comfortable in what you’re wearing, and this is where it gets a little challenging. The heat says that less would be better, but India's culture doesn’t agree with that logic. My suggestion? Wear something flowy and breathable so you’re comfortable throughout the day. Think of it as having the added advantage of not accentuating too much body curve, while taking away nothing from fashion. It's fine for women to wear pants - loose fitting linen pants, aladdin pants, and the like all go well with plain tees and are versatile options to mix 'n' match.If you're feeling adventurous, try street shopping; you’ll likely find lots of stylish, traditional kurtis and printed trousers and skirts that are extremely comfortable and look great! Plus, wearing local clothes will help you blend in more with the crowd and carry back some memories of your time here.  3. Shawl/Scarf A shawl is ALWAYS handy to have; whether it’s getting a little chilly, or you need to cover up, or if the sun’s shining down a bit too hard. In religious places, where you may sometimes have to cover your head, a shawl means the difference between going inside, or snapping a picture out front. A shawl also doesn’t take up too much space in your bag when not in use, so consider keeping two at hand. Pro tip: Use your shawls to safely store any delicate souvenirs you’re taking back home in your suitcase. Again, shawls are sold at many local markets in a wide variety of beautiful patterns and colours and even thicknesses that will satisfy your needs.  4. Cotton In India most people like to keep the clothing light and breathable; cotton is just perfect for that. Pair a basic tee with some printed palazzos, or buy a nice traditional kurta to wear with plain black leggings. Maxi dresses and long skirts are perfect for the occasions you feel like dressing up a little, and are great to roam around during the day as well. Denim pants or jeans are perfectly fine as well, but might get really hot during the day.In addition, if your vacation is all about adventure - trekking, biking, river-rafting, village stays, etc, then denim might be an unnecessary added weight, especially if you intend on washing them during your stay.  5. Still confused? Leave your suitcase half empty and shop! When in Rome, do as the Romans do. India is known for its various markets scattered ALL over the country. Incorporate a day of street shopping into the beginning of your itinerary and you won’t regret it. In most big cities, you will find such markets dedicated exclusively to the latest trends in fashion at ridiculously cheap prices. Kurtis, skirts, palazzos, flared trousers, shawls, shrugs, maxis – you name it and it’ll be there in a plethora of colours and patterns and shapes.Shopping is a great way to experience Indian culture at markets and give you great insight into the art of bargaining.What to pack (an overview): A good formula for a week/ten day long trip would be to have two pairs of pants, a skirt, a maxi and 5/6 tops. Even for longer trips, you can stick with the same formula and decide to fill up the rest of your suitcase with your shopping adventures on the streets of India.