Top 10 iconic travel experiences

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Yoga in India, cooking in Vietnam - in this extract from Lonely Planet's 1000 Ultimate Experiences, we find those 10 iconic experiences that are as special as the place they're from.

1. Surfing in Hawaii, USA

Learning to surf here is special. Polynesia was the birthplace of surfing – he'e nalu (wave sliding) was first observed here by Europeans in the 18th century – but Hawaii remains the focal point for the world's coolest lifestyle. Plenty of surf schools and instructors will patiently teach you how to read the ocean for swell, paddle into a wave and, critically, learn to stand and ride at beginner spots such as Waikiki Beach and Puena Point. Between sessions you can watch the pros shred heaving monsters at reef breaks such as Pipeline, Off the Wall and Sunset Beach. Learn to bottom turn with the Waikiki Beach Boys; two-hour lessons cost US$99 and run twice daily from Monday to Saturday.

2. Cooking in Hoi An, Vietnam

On the banks of the Hoi An River, the Red Bridge Restaurant and Cooking School is one of many restaurants offering courses to meet the growing demand for tutorials in quality Vietnamese cuisine. One-day and half-day cooking tours will match your culinary skills, from non-existent to cordon bleu. Starting with a trip to a local market, where you'll select ingredients and learn by observing street vendors, you'll then return to the restaurant for an expert demonstration before putting your new-found knowledge into practice. Expect to serve up rice-paper rolls and marinated beef, decorated with a pineapple boat. Classes usually last about three hours, include four dishes and cost around US$40 per person. Take a camera so you can remember each dish you master.

Related article: Vietnamese cooking courses Q & A

3. Archaeological research trips at Crow Canyon, USA

Crow Canyon Archaeological Center offers up to 11 trips annually for those willing to get their hands dirty as they dabble in amateur archaeology. Visitors' accommodation is in one of 10 'hogans', circular log cabins built in the traditional Navajo style, at the centre's 28-hectare campus. The campus is part of a site that was occupied by Ancestral Puebloans of Mesa Verde more than 1000 years ago. The trips, lasting seven to 10 days, allow visitors to explore the land in relation to what is known about the region's indigenous occupants, through studying the interaction of light, landscape and architecture, or participating in a dig. Find out more about resources for teachers and students at www.crowcanyon.org.

4. Yoga in Rishikesh, India

A trip to the birthplace of yoga is an obvious choice if you're looking for a mystical experience inside and out. Not only does yoga promote relaxation through meditation; research conducted by the University of Texas has revealed it can help alleviate the negative side effects of cancer treatment. At Rishikesh, in the serene foothills of the Himalayas, special retreats invite novices to practice stretching, breathing and contemplation alongside qualified yogi masters. Depending where you stay you might also be encouraged to help out in the organic garden and cook for the group, in between soul-enriching excursions into the mountains. Ashrams offer courses to suit your level, from a few weeks to three months; get a feel for serenity at www.yogashramrishikesh.com.

5. Spanish in Patagonia, Argentina

The small town of Bariloche, surrounded by glacial lakes, forests and the valleys and mountains of the Andes, is so inspiring you'll probably learn more Spanish here in a month than you might elsewhere in a whole year. Sometimes called 'the Switzerland of South America', Bariloche is the base for most Patagonian language schools, so there's always a good mix of international students should you wish to slack off from speaking Spanish. There are plenty of optional excursions too, from nearby skiing at Cerro Catedral, South America's premier downhill resort, to a refreshing day trip through thick forest to the glorious Cántaros waterfall. Select courses from one-week intensives to six weeks of private tuition; visit www.spanishinbariloche.com.

6. Calligraphy in Kyoto, Japan

Anyone looking to make their mark using the traditional characters of Japanese calligraphy will find the course run by the Women's Association of Kyoto simultaneously frustrating and rewarding. Calligraphy written in Japanese is not at all easy, so you'll need to keep focused if you want to make your instructor proud. After receiving a lecture about the history of the Japanese literary art form, you will be shown and told how it's done. Then it's over to you, grasshopper, as you sketch your favourite Japanese character, such as the symbol for 'peace' or 'love', before adding your signature. One lesson is enough to ensure you pity Japanese school kids forever. WAK JAPAN offers courses based in Kyoto; book online for a discount.

7. Mountain biking in Marin County, USA

Thanks in large part to the pioneering efforts of bike designer Joe Breeze, Marin County, and in particular Mt Tamalpais, has become famous worldwide as the birthplace of mountain biking. Located just north of San Francisco across the Golden Gate Bridge, there's no more rugged or exciting arena to develop a passion for downhill riding. Throughout summer, countless tour operators, catering to kids, women, amateurs and pros, offer tuition and guided trail riding, including bike hire and transport to the start of hundreds of trails among more than 2550 hectares of redwood groves and oak woodlands. Trails range from the gently sloping and visually spectacular to the you-must-be-kidding-me steeply insane. For trail maps, customised tours and bike hire information visit www.mountainbikingmarin.com.

8. Kung fu at Shaolin Temple, China

Every year foreigners can apply to attend classes at the Shaolin Temple, amid the beautiful Song Shan mountains in China's Henan province. Trainees at the 1500-year-old monastery, the birthplace of kung fu, embark on a steep learning curve led by extraordinarily disciplined 'warrior-monk' tutors. You won't notice who you're sharing a dorm with, as the gruelling regime starts at 8.30am (Chinese students begin at 5am) and lasts until at least 7pm. For inspiration, watch the coaches prepare for daily tourist performances, in which they snap iron bars with their heads and break glass by throwing a pin at it. Visitor opening hours are 8am–7pm daily, all year; http://www.infohub.com offers a 10- to 30-day training tour for budding Bruce Lees (around US$2000).

9. Bush-survival skills in Esingeni, South Africa

If you can last a one-week survival course in South Africa's pristine wilderness, then chances are you'll emerge feeling more human than you've ever felt before. Qualified field experts lead small-group tours from the Esingeni Bush Camp, based on a private game reserve. Participants learn how to construct a shelter, make a fire, locate and prepare food, and extract water from plants. You will also be taught how to navigate using the stars as you traverse the countryside, which is abuzz with unfamiliar sights, sounds, smells and animals. Anyone who has imagined what life was like before the agrarian revolution can find out here. Book a five-day bush survival course at www.conservationacademy.co.za.

10. Stove building in Cadmalca, Peru

At the Cadmalca Community Lodge in Peru's remote northern highlands, a simple but potentially life-saving ecoproject allows travellers to do something challenging and useful, while becoming immersed in a culture they would otherwise find difficult to access. In return for being lodged and shown around by a local host family, visitors will source the construction materials for a cooking stove that's ideally suited to high altitude conditions – and then build it. The stoves have been shown to help reduce serious respiratory conditions associated with cooking over the open fires that are contained in the majority of mountain huts. Tours last seven days and depart from Lima; book before you arrive and expect to pay around US$1600.