Jan 16, 2012 11:53:00 PM
The world’s greatest guilty pleasures
Everyone needs to indulge their vices every now and then. In this extract from Lonely Planet’s Best in Travel 2012, we bring you some of travel’s guiltiest pleasures.
Let the good times roll, Las Vegas, USA
Sin City, the setting for iconic tales of modern excess, from Hunter S Thompson’s Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas to the film The Hangover, Vegas has become synonymous with overindulgence and cutting loose. It boasts more gambling casinos than any other city on the planet, plus the world’s biggest food buffet and largest strip club, along with 15 of the world’s 20 largest hotels. There are no statistics for annual alcohol consumption in Vegas, but presumably it would boggle the mind. In a city that promotes itself with the slogan, ‘What happens in Vegas, stays in Vegas’, anything can happen – and usually does.
Somewhat surprisingly, Las Vegas is also kid-friendly. Check out vegaskids.info for G- and PG-rated fun.
Smoke like an Egyptian, Cairo, Egypt
There’s something alluring about the shisha, the ubiquitous waterpipe smoked by Egyptian men. Maybe it’s the bubbling of the water in the glass base, maybe it’s the curly hose you draw on, or maybe it’s the ornate architecture of the brass stem capped with a clay bowl. Trying one at a coffee shop is an essential way to get a taste of Egyptian culture. Order a hagar (Arabic for ‘stone’) of sticky tobacco (many tourists like apple flavour, while locals prefer plain), and enjoy with tea, coffee or karkadai (brewed from hibiscus leaves).
Cairo’s most famous coffeehouse is Fishawi’s, at Khan al-Khalili market.
Let loose at a beach party, Ko Pha-Ngan, Thailand
Few places on the planet are as perfect for shedding your inhibitions as Ko Pha-Ngan, especially during the epic Full Moon parties, which claim to be the biggest beach bashes in the world. With cheap Thai whisky, and plenty of other mind-altering substances, flowing freely, barely clad bodies dancing on the sand, loud music and bonfires, there’s a vibe of unadulterated hedonism. Maybe best of all, you can sleep it off the next day, lazing on gorgeous beaches and swimming in the clear emerald sea – a sure-fire hangover cure.
See Lonely Planet’s guide to Thailand’s Islands for our ten Full Moon commandments, including ‘thou shalt cover thyself with swirling patterns of neon body paint’ and ‘thou shalt not sample the drug buffet, nor shalt thou swim in the ocean under the influence of alcohol‘.
Sleep like royalty, Jaipur, India
Jaipur’s first palace, built back in 1727, is now one of the world’s top heritage hotels. The Raj Palace is an exquisite example of Mughal architecture, with fluted archways, gold-leafed ceilings, marble bathrooms, ivory furniture and crystal chandeliers: impeccably classy and inarguably authentic. Guests are made to feel like royalty. If you’re up for a splurge, go for the Shahi Mahal Presidential Suite, which costs $53,000 per night (yes, that’s US$40,000, and no, it’s not rupees) and comes with a private pool, personal spa and dedicated servants (in case you’ve accidentally left yours at home).
Every March Jaipur hosts the Elephant Festival, when painted pachyderms parade through the streets before competing in races, polo matches and tugs-of-war against teams of men.
Clog your arteries, Chandler, Arizona, USA
With specialities like the Quadruple Bypass Burger (said to weigh in at 8000 calories), Flatliner Fries (deep-fried in pure lard) and the Butterfat Shake, the Heart Attack Grill stands wholeheartedly behind its motto: Taste worth dying for! Waitresses dressed up as nurses take orders on a prescription pad and will take you out to your car in a wheelchair if you manage to finish a Quadruple Bypass.
You can buy beer and smokes (there are candy cigarettes for the kids), but no diet soda. It’s so obscenely unhealthy that even the restaurant’s owner calls the food ‘nutritional pornography’.
Drop in to 6185 W Chandler Blvd, Chandler. It’s open 11am to 8.30pm Monday to Saturday, and 11am to 3pm Sunday.
Burn some rubber, Florence, Italy
Florence is one of the art capitals of the world, blessed with an abundance of palaces, churches and museums that are loaded with best-in-show examples of Renaissance paintings, sculptures and architecture.
But if you get bored with that trove of artistic perfection (or the horrendous queues), don’t allow yourself to feel like an uncultured dolt. Instead, experience a different form of legendary Italian design – rent a Ferrari. Half-day tours of the Tuscany countryside put you behind the wheel and allow you to drive along the famed Mille Miglia road race route and through the gorgeous Chianti hills, past vineyards and villages.
Tour leaders teach you how to handle these earthbound rockets and keep you from getting lost. Prices for a half-day tour start at 850 Euros. See more at red-travel.com.
Taste dessert heaven, Bangkok, Thailand
Order up a piece of Madagascar chocolate cake, a dab of strawberry-chocolate mousse, a spoonful of champagne sherbet and some crème brûlée topped with shaved truffles, then serve them together on a plate with edible gold leaf. Add a glass of the rare Moyet Très Vieille Grande No 7, and you’ve just been served the Chocolate Variation, one of the most expensive desserts in the world. It’s created at Mezzaluna in Bangkok, where the dining room hovers 65 storeys over the city and offers breathtaking views. You may truly gasp, however, when you get the bill – US$640 for the dessert alone.
For cheaper Thai delicacies in Bangkok, head for the stalls at Talad Loong Perm market.
Drink like a nomad, Mongolia
Visit a felt tent (called a ger) on the Mongolian steppes, and you’ll likely find yourself handed a large bowl of airag - Mongolian moonshine made from fermented horse milk. This concoction is a bit sour, and sometimes carries quite a kick, but drunkenness will always follow – less from the potency than from the sheer quantity you’ll be expected to imbibe. And if the Genghis Khan-brand vodka comes out, then you’d better brace yourself. It will have to be finished off as well, because the bottle tops are not resealable.
Don’t be too surprised if, by the end of the night, you hear someone being noisily sick outside.
The best airag is said to come from Dundgov or Middle Gobi province, south of Mongolia’s capital Ulan Bataar.
For all your travel inspiration and tips for the coming year from Lonely Planet’s experts, get Best in Travel 2012 now!
Best in Travel 2012 also available on the iBookstore.