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At the end of its epic journey through the heart of Indochina, the coffee-brown Mekong River splits, sloshing seawards through Vietnam. A pocketful of dong still goes a very long way in this delta region, and although the fertile plains and waterways are a riot of vivid colours and flavours, with endless opportunities for exploring by motorbike and boat, the area still sees surprisingly few foreign tourists. Wind up your trip with a few days on the island of Phu Quoc, whose southern shores are blissfully warm and shallow.
Mekong delta in top 10 best-value destination 2015

ABOUT MEKONG RIVER

By the time it reaches Vietnam, the Mekong River has already covered more than four thousand kilometres from its source high on the Tibetan Plateau; en route it traverses southern China, skirts Burma (Myanmar), then hugs the Laos–Thailand border before cutting down through Cambodia and into Vietnam – a journey that ranks it as Asia’s third-longest river, after the Yangtse and Yellow rivers. Flooding has always blighted the delta; ever since Indian traders imported their advanced methods of irrigation more than eighteen centuries ago, networks of canals have been used to channel the excess water, but the rainy season still claims lives from time to time.
It’s difficult to overstate the influence of the river: the lifeblood of the rice and fruit crops grown in the delta, it also teems with craft that range in size from delicate rowing boats to hulking sampans, all painted with distinctive eyes on the prow. These continue an ancient tradition and were originally intended to scare off “river monsters”, probably crocodiles.
Mekong delta in top 10 best-value destination 2015
Floating marking in Mekong delta

IN TOP 10 BEST-VALUE DESTINATIONS


KOSOVO

Banish your preconceptions. These days Kosovo is the ideal destination for independent travellers on a budget. Even in the capital Pristina, decent double rooms go for less than €50 per night and a bottle of the local beer, Peja, needn’t set you back much more than a single euro. Some of Kosovo’s best sights – including serene mountain villages and cool, clean waterfalls – are also free to visit. Travel to some parts of Kosovo is currently not advisable; check your own country’s advice before setting off.

THE PEAK DISTRICT

For cosy pub lunches and bracing walks through windswept moorland, the rugged Peak District, with its stately homes and literary legacies, is difficult to top. Base yourself in Chesterfield on the national park’s eastern edge, where cheap accommodation options abound, and the cost of a break here will plummet. Prepared to spend a little more? Try Buxton, over on the other side of the hills. The handsome little spa town has some gorgeous guesthouses, many in historic buildings.
top 10 best-value destination 2015


THE CANARY ISLANDS

A dose of the Canary Islands’ shoulder-warming sunshine is the perfect winter pick-me-up, and budget airlines can whisk you there from the UK in around four hours – four new routes are opening to Gran Canaria and Fuerteventura in 2015. To escape the package-tour crowds, head for the northern part of Tenerife, where you can wrap up a good day’s hiking with a soothing soak in natural pools that are washed by the churning sea. Culinary adventurers might prefer neighbouring Lanzarote, whose blossoming wineries have started offering tours – Canarian tapas optional.

KARNATAKA

If time constraints have stopped you taking a long trip around India, but you’re still keen to get a taste for the country, try Karnataka. The southwestern state is home to colourfully chaotic cities like Mysore and Bangalore, where the rock-bottom prices for food and accommodation make Delhi and Mumbai look positively expensive. Sugar-soft beaches every bit as sun-kissed as those in Goa stretch out along state’s western flank, while ancient temples dot the interior.

NORTHERN IRELAND

Untroubled by the Eurozone crisis and given a dragon-sized boost by its lead role in a certain fantasy drama series, Northern Ireland is a surprisingly cheap destination. Apart from visiting the locations where scenes from Game of Thrones were filmed, there are real-life castles to uncover, plus more up-to-date attractions like the unsinkable Titanic Belfast, which tells the story of the world’s most famous ship.

ALENTEJO

Portugal’s culinary scene has always struggled to gain international recognition – but then having a foodie hotspot like Spain as your only neighbour can’t be very easy. One region in particular is helping to change perceptions about Portuguese food. And for now, at least, visiting is as cheap as chips. Go to Alentejo for the super-fresh seafood, plus sublime olives, meat, wine and cheese, and then stay to drink in the rugged scenery – it’s a world away from anything you’ll find in the touristy Algarve.

NORTHWEST CHINA

If Northwest China was a country, it would be the world’s eighth largest. Needless to say, this vast region along the historic Silk Road that linked west with east has plenty to captivate visitors – from ghostly, whispering grasslands to icy-blue lakes and frozen, toothy mountains. Although the region is culturally rich, prices for food and accommodation are far lower than in the crowded metropolises on the other side of China.

OAXACA

To see coastal Mexico on the cheap, skip glitzy Cancun and head for the state of Oaxaca, over on the Pacific seaboard. Surfers flock to Puerto Escondido for its crowd-free Mexican waves, while Puerto Angel – a back-to-basics fishing town – attracts a handful of barefoot beach bums. One of the highlights of a trip here is trying the locally distilled mezcal, a smoky spirit made from the prickly maguey plants that sprout up around the region.

QUEENS

Leave behind the Big Apple’s busy core: these days, Queens is the place to be. Cheaper than Brooklyn and a steal compared with Manhattan, Queens should be the borough of choice for any frugal traveller. Long Island City is where you’ll find the bulk of the action, with MoMA’s PS1 gallery and a tongue-tingling array of new restaurants attracting hungry bellies from across the city. In summertime especially, when the beach at Rockaway fills up with day-tripping New Yorkers, Queens is ripe for exploration.

LET'S SEE ROUGH GUIDE RECOMMEND FOR 2015

top 10 best-value destination 2015


TOP 10 COUNTRIES:




IRAN
Iran recently reported a two hundred percent rise in the number of tourists arriving from Europe – the result, perhaps, of thawing relations with the West. The country was once a key stop on the hippie trail that snaked between Europe and South Asia and still has plenty to offer foreign visitors, not least ancient Persian history, heaving bazaars, towering minarets and rippling mountain scenery. Travel warnings are in place for Iran, however – check your home country’s advice before booking.

BANGLADESH

While its neighbours India and Myanmar are both firmly on the tourist trail, for many travellers, low-lying Bangladesh is still a bit of an enigma. Those who go can expect to find frenetic cities, the world’s longest beach and swampy mangrove forests that teem with birds and reptiles. Some of the world’s last surviving Bengal tigers are found here too. Travelling in Bangladesh is still slow and challenging, but visit this year to discover this beguiling country before the secret gets out.

HAITI
Five years on from an earth-shattering natural disaster, Haiti is gracing the pages of travel magazines once again. New tours are being launched, taking in everything from art and rum to voodoo, and in 2014 the country appointed a new Minister for Tourism who is putting community-based projects at the heart of her plan. If all that wasn’t enough, American Airlines is now operating a direct route from Miami to the city of Cap-Haïtien, along the country’s cove-studded north coast. Note that some areas of Port au Prince are unsafe for travellers, so check official travel advice before you go.

GREECE

With a culture and civilization that stretches back for millennia, and more sublime beaches than you could hope to visit in a lifetime of summer holidays, it’s no surprise that Greece became one of the early superstars of the package holiday industry. When the brutal economic crisis began to bite in 2009, however, its good fortune seemed to fade. But in just about every other sense, Greece remains a rich nation, and one that’s welcoming much-needed tourists with open arms – and lower prices.

EGYPT

Successive bouts of political turmoil spooked the tourists and today, many Egyptians are still struggling to make ends meet. But there are plenty of reasons to visit: places like Cairo and Sharm el Sheikh are considered safe to visit, as are Luxor and Abu Simbel, home to some of ancient Egypt’s finest temples. Go now for a once-in-a-lifetime chance to see the pyramids without crowds spoiling the view, and you’ll be helping local people to get back on their feet in the process. Certain areas of Egypt are unsafe for tourists, so check official travel advice before you go.

ZAMBIA

In 2015, it’s time to look beyond Tanzania and Kenya when organising an African safari. Wild and fertile Zambia is also prime safari territory, and new airline routes are set to make visiting even easier. Explore the rich Luangwa Valley, where lions and elephants roam the plains, and to try out one of the luxurious new bush camps, where cold sunset beers are served around crackling fires. Feeling brave? Leave the 4WD behind and sign yourself up for a guided walking safari between two remote camps.

URUGUAY

It might be dwarfed by its South American neighbours, but Uruguay shouldn’t be overlooked. The country has been quietly cultivating a reputation as one of the region’s best wine producers and small, independent vineyards are beginning to welcome thirsty tourists. Heading east to laze on the sweeping sandy beaches that face the South Atlantic provides the perfect contrast; purpose-built platforms along the coast offer views of the annual whale migration, which takes place between July and November. Need another reason to go in 2015? Air Europa is operating direct flights from Madrid to Montevideo.

UNITED KINGDOM

Although it came within a cat’s whisker of breaking apart, Europe’s most populous kingdom is still very much united. And why shouldn’t it get a place on our list of the top countries to visit in 2015? Few nations on Earth can offer so much in a single, manageable package. With a week here you’ll have time to squeeze in world-class restaurants, ancient landmarks, rugged highlands, epic beaches and cutting-edge cultural hangouts. All that and more before you even set foot in London – one of the world’s most exciting and innovative cities.

MALAYSIA

Malaysia hit the headlines for all the wrong reasons in 2014, but tourists are still arriving in their droves. And who can blame them? The country offers a silky-smooth introduction to Southeast Asia, with modern metropolises like Kuala Lumpur and Penang giving way to gleaming white beaches and cacophonous tracts of jungle. Pay a visit to Sarawak’s proboscis monkeys or dive into a kaleidoscopic world of marine life on a scuba trip to tiny Sipadan Island – just don’t forget your camera.

CANADA

Visit Canada for the FIFA Women’s World Cup, which takes place in summer 2015, and you should definitely stick around for the Pan-American Games in Toronto, which are scheduled to start a few days later. Both events provide the perfect excuse for a road trip around Canada’s jaw-dropping east, whose sweet-smelling pine forests and friendly coastal communities seem to burst into life during summertime.
top 10 best-value destination 2015

TOP 10 CITIES:


JOHANNESBURG

Jo’burg has a reputation problem. But South Africa’s biggest city is finally beginning to break free from the chains of its troubled past, and parts – like the arty Maboneng quarter – have rooted themselves as exciting cultural hubs. New clusters of forward-thinking museums, galleries and shops are set to emerge in 2015, though better-known attractions like Constitution Hill and the poignant Apartheid Museum should still be on the to-do list of any first-time visitor.

MÁLAGA

Founded by the Phoenicians, the ancient city of Málaga has far more to offer than the usual Spanish cocktail of sun, sea and sangria – though all of those things are still in plentiful supply. In 2015, a cube-shaped building on the quay will swing open its doors as an offshoot of the Centre Pompidou in Paris, featuring works by Málaga-born Pablo Picasso. Other projects signalling Málaga’s cultural revival include a new museum of Russian art, set to light up a former tobacco factory, and the continued development of mural-daubed Soho, which attracts trailblazing street artists.

NEW ORLEANS

A decade on from the devastation of Hurricane Katrina, New Orleans is back. Not just as a tourist destination, but as one of the world’s most exciting places for food and music. There are now more than 1400 restaurants in the city – that’s double the amount before the hurricane rolled in – and NOLA’s music scene is back in the swing of things, most audibly in the Upper Ninth Ward’s brightly painted Musician’s Village, purpose-built to rehouse performers who were displaced by the storm.

HAMBURG

Cheap, cool and crazy about techno, Berlin has long been the go-to European city for wide-eyed night owls. But Hamburg, around half Berlin’s size, also has a whopper of a party scene. Steer clear of sleazy, neon-lit Reeperbahn (a street known locally as the “most sinful mile”) and you’ll find countless kitschy bars, boozy beer gardens and wild rock venues, plus throbbing, Berlin-style dance clubs housed in old factories. Our tip? Allow an extra day or two at the end of your trip to catch up on sleep.

NIZWA

Once the capital of Oman (that title now goes to Muscat), Nizwa’s historical importance can’t be underestimated. This was the sultanate’s capital for more than 1000 years, attracting artists, scholars and traders from across the region. And in 2015, when Nizwa takes over from Sharjah as the Islamic Capital of Culture, its history and future will be celebrated with a series of events across the city.

WELLINGTON

Big-budget films helped bring tourists to New Zealand and now Wellington, which celebrates 150 years as the country’s capital in 2015, is giving visitors plenty of reasons to stick around. There’s a real buzz about the city’s café scene and smart new craft-beer bars are bubbling up across the city. Be sure to check out Te Papa (the New Zealand National Museum), which is packed with treasures from across the Pacific. Highlights include the elaborate feather cloak that was given to the English explorer James Cook in Hawaii.

BELGRADE

Easily squeezed into an overland tour of Europe and small enough to explore on foot, Belgrade is changing fast. Long-neglected neighbourhoods like Savamala are being redrawn as artists’ hangouts, while slick bars and clubs pop up in dilapidated, box-like buildings – hangovers from Serbia’s war-torn past. Another reason to go: the ten-hour train ride connecting Belgrade with Podgorica, in Montenegro, is spectacularly scenic.

SALTA

Stretching out beneath the scorched peaks of the Andes, sunny Salta is the definition of a pretty Argentinian city. Colonial-era church spires pierce the sky, palm trees edge the plazas and the foot-stomping sound of Andean folk music floods out from boisterous peña clubs. When you’ve had your fill of art, music and history, head out to explore the cacti-spiked deserts, or the high but fertile vineyards just a few hours south, which produce some of the country’s best wines.

BIRMINGHAM

Midway between two of England’s big cultural powerhouses – London and Liverpool – Birmingham has often missed out on its share of the limelight. Creative hotspots are beginning to emerge in the urban sprawl, however, like the old industrial district of Digbeth, where vintage shops and street food stalls have begun to appear in and around the old Victorian buildings. Head to the old Bird’s Custard Factory for vintage kilo sales and live music performances. Plus with Birmingham New Street station reopening in 2015 after a much-needed renovation, this year is the ideal time to make a trip.

YANGON

The days of tourist-free streets might be over but it’s not too late to discover Myanmar. Steamy Yangon, with its golden pagodas, red-robed monks and fin de siècle architecture, is as tantalisingly exotic as ever. Armed with the first-ever Rough Guide to Myanmar, which comes out in February 2015, you’ll have no trouble exploring beyond the city – including the untouched beaches of the Tanintharyi Division, only recently opened to tourists.

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