Things to do/see/eat/avoid/meet in these countries, on my first RTW trip?
May 17, 2009 2:48 PM   Subscribe

Things to do/see/eat/avoid/meet in these countries, on my first RTW trip? Finally heading out on a very unplanned RTW trip with one of those Star Alliance tickets. These are the flight routes I have set at the moment (three weeks before heading out, so still malleable)

* Stockholm-San Francisco (June 6th, for Apple's Developer Conference, WWDC, et al.)
* SF-NYC (more work-related stuff...)
* NYC-Auckland, NZ (around July 12th; I'm a bit hesitant on NZ in the middle of winter, though)
* Christchurch, NZ-Tokyo (just staying a short while in NZ if at all)
* Tokyo-Singapore (staying a couple weeks in Tokyo)
** Local airlines within Indonesia, to Jakarta, Bali, Gilli Islands/Lombak, Komodo Island (seemingly very good weather in July/August)
* Bali (Denpasar)-Chennai (seemingly extremely _bad_ weather in July/August, monsoon period)
* Mumbai-Gothenburg (home) around Sept 3d

So, I reach out to the Hive to come up with opinions on both the rough outline of the trip itself, but more importantly, as mentioned in the rubric, what (and who) to do/see/eat/avoid/meet in those locations. As you can see, this trip is heavily compressed, and if I could have put it somewhere else during the year (let's say during our terrible Swedish winter...) things would probably have matched a lot better, and more time would have been available. All in all, probably around 3 months total.

(Astute readers may have noted I completely passed over the "main attraction" of the East, namely China. I've decided it's just too much for this trip, and in any way the weather is awful in Shanghai until October, so I'll do a separate one-month:er sometime this Winter. )

For interest, I will try to stay with members wherever I can, both as a measure to lower the cost, but more important to connect with people on the ground, and get a richer experience, as well as hopefully friends for life. Profile here (I know, nice couch):

PS. I can change the dates for any flight up to 24 hour before for free, but a route change costs $125 IIRC.

More info, and a nice (and time-eating) RTW planner, here:
posted by avocade to Travel & Transportation (17 answers total) 7 users marked this as a favorite
NZ is great and Queenstown is the "xtreme" sports capital few hours of Christchurch -- there's tons of things to do in there and surrounding areas. I haven't been there in winter, but it wouldn't surprise me if you'll want to spend more time there.

Jakarta is big and dirty city -- I'm sure there are charming sides to it as well, but would skip to the islands as quickly as possible. Bali is great even though we happened to be there for the bombing.

I'd give great consideration to Vietnam, Cambodia and Laos. Our our trip Vietnam was a true high-light and only thing about our SE Asia - Pacific trip we regret is that we didn't go into Cambodia and Laos.
posted by zeikka at 3:14 PM on May 17, 2009 [1 favorite]

Best answer: What an exciting trip!

When in NYC, make sure to check out at least one of the outdoor free summer concerts or movies. Besides great music, they are the ultimate NYC people watching experiences with people from all over the city congregating on a little patch of grass or boardwalk to listen, dance, chat, picnic and have a good time. How often do you get to see New Yorkers relaxed? A few of my favorites:

Celebrate Brooklyn in Prospect park. ($3 suggested donation)
Thursday, June 25, 7:00 P.M. (gates open at 6:00 P.M.) Femi Kuti & The Positive Force/Melvin Gibbs¹ Elevated Entity
Friday, June 26, 7:30 P.M. (gates open at 6:30 P.M.) Blonde Redhead

Seaport Music Festival at South street seaport has a show July 3rd.

Movies with a View near the base of the Brooklyn Bridge in Dumbo is showing Raising Arizona July 9th.

Time Out NY, Free NYC and Brooklyn Vegan also list cheap/free music events around the city both indoor and outdoor.
posted by ladypants at 3:20 PM on May 17, 2009

Oooh, another good NYC cultural/people watching event is First Saturdays at the Brooklyn Museum. There's free music and dancing, and it draws a very diverse crowd from adjacent neighborhoods (including the Caribbean populations from Prospect Park West/Midwood). And some people really dress up! I've seen some stunning ensembles. It's worth it just for the fashion, but it's really a great party all around.

PS 1, a contemporary art museum in Queens has a Friday night Warm Up party that is quite the singles scene. It costs $10, and it gets pretty crowded, but I hear they have some world class techno DJs.
posted by ladypants at 3:38 PM on May 17, 2009 [1 favorite]

Best answer: Two weeks is long for Tokyo proper but if you get a two-week railpass you can see most of Japan comfortably, well as comfortable as you'e gonna get being in Japan in June.

Kyoto -- specifically the various temples located on its N and E outskirts -- is a must, must, must visit place.

Perhaps a one-week rail pass to use in the middle of your two-week stay in Japan would work best. That way you'd get a nice stay in Tokyo, head down to the Izu Hanto, staying overnight in an inn there, then over to Kyoto, up to Kanazawa and Nagano, then back to Tokyo for another 3 days or so. I lived in Japan for 8 years and it can all look the same if you don't get off the beaten track, which is tough to do if you've only got days there.

(ah, wait, Izu is best if you've got a car or time to wait for buses, which you don't I guess).

In Tokyo I'd hang out in Shibuya (don't miss the curry lunch special at Samrat), Akihabara (everything), Ginza (Sony Building, Hakuhinkan toy store, Ito-ya). For a fun jaunt take the Inokashira line from Shibuya to Kichijoji and Inokashira koen. On Saturday mornings the grounds of the NHK complex near Harajuku hosts a swapmeet, not sure how often.

I'm going to WWDC too but I live in the area. Nice places to visit are the Lawrence Hall of Science in Berkeley -- awesome, jaw-dropping view of SF from its patio area; heading up to the redwoods or over to Yosemite would be cool since you are in the area and these are among the most beautiful part of nature on the planet. SF is a surprisingly small city -- you can walk around the nice area in an afternoon. My favorite dayhike is to start in Japantown and head over to Russian Hill then across Pacific Heights to the Presidio, then back to Japantown. Lots of bay views and plenty of nice houses to look at.
posted by toroi at 3:57 PM on May 17, 2009 [1 favorite]

I'm very, very jealous. Just out of curiousity, how did you convince Star Alliance to let you backtrack on an RTW ticket? (From SF back to NYC -- or did you buy a nested SFO-JFK r/t, and plan to fly to AKL from SFO?) Or is that not a constraint anymore?

Anyway, it seems a shame to skip entirely over everything between Mumbai and Gothenburg, unless you've traveled in that area a billion times or something. How about stopping in Budapest for St. Stephen's day (Aug. 20), since it looks like you'd be passing through around then? There's an air show over the Danube -- planes buzzing the crowd and darting underneath stone bridges, the whole place nutty with sounds and smells. Not for you if you detest crowds, but otherwise a fun time.

I don't know most of the places you're headed all that well; hopefully your couchsurfing contacts will take you to the off-the-beaten-track places. In SF, I'm partial to Tommy's mexican (out in the richmond), but really just for the tequila (though the food isn't bad either). If you're there for a while, it's worth heading up to wine country -- and hey, while you're there, eat at Cyrus, one of my favorite restaurants on the planet (not cheap, though). Muir Woods makes a nice daytrip, too.

Have fun!
posted by chalkbored at 4:26 PM on May 17, 2009 [1 favorite]

If you are staying a couple of weeks in Tokyo you must do day trips to Nikko and Kamakura. I'd second the suggestion to get a one-week JR rail pass. We did that a few years ago and in addition to Tokyo/Nikko/Kamakura also went to Kanazawa, Nara, Shiraishi Island (there's an international villa there), Miyajima, Kyoto, and Osaka (we flew into Narita and departed Osaka, not sure if that is an option for you.)

I also highly, highly recommend doing some scuba diving in Indonesia. The diving there is superb and not to be missed. I'd suggest spending as little time in Jakarta as possible.
posted by ambrosia at 4:26 PM on May 17, 2009 [1 favorite]

I've done two RTWs but haven't gone to many of the places you're looking at. I can 2nd two weeks being a long time for Tokyo. I spent 2 weeks in Japan with a rail pass and went to Tokyo, Kyoto, Hemiji, Takayama and day trips from both Tokyo and Kyoto.

In India I love Madurai and went to a number of temple towns in Southern India. Its different and less touristy than the North. I guess that would be a big detour from Chennai-Mumbai and I'm not even considering weather issues. A lot of people talk up Hampi which might work for you although it wasn't on a main train line and didn't fit into my plans.

Your route doesn't fit into the Star Alliance rules as I know them but if they say you can do it that's great. I've couchsurfed and have hosted surfers (in fact one just left today). Bring them something nice, buy them a meal or something while you're staying with them. I put a lot of thought into accommodating my schedule and coming up with things for people to do when they're here so its nice when they bring me a treat from their country or pay for dinner.
posted by Bunglegirl at 5:02 PM on May 17, 2009 [1 favorite]

Best answer: Indonesia's domestic airlines can be a bit freaky. I'd advise sticking to Garuda and AirAsia Indonesia.

Jakarta is huge and insane, but Yogyakarta, which has its own airport, is much friendlier to tourists and is convenient to both Borobudur and Prambanan, as well as the royal city of Solo and some very cool Hindu temple ruins at a place called Candi Sukuh. A good stopping point to really get a feel for how Java is way way way different from Bali - really, how diverse the whole archipelago is.

East of Bali and Lombok, time *really* slows down. Getting to Komodo NP is an ordeal - it's not really a fly in, fly out kind of thing. Give yourself a few days of cushion on your trip there.

It will be hot, but walk around as much as you can.

Don't be too afraid of street stalls, either - if you see them prepare something vegetarian in front of you and it's super-steamy hot, I'd say you're fine. Nasi goreng is basic fried rice in a zillion varieties, ikan bakar is a grilled fish you rip apart with your fingers. Neither of these things should be more than 10,000 rupiah - less than €1.
posted by mdonley at 5:15 PM on May 17, 2009 [1 favorite]

I'm an Indonesian who's currently working in Singapore. I just took a trip to Tokyo too recently, so here are my pointers:


* Spend as few days as possible in Jakarta. I'd imagine that it would be impossible for you to get anywhere in the city without having a hired driver/car. The place is messy, chaotic, lacking in any must-see attractions and generally quite tourist-unfriendly (even for domestic tourist like me). You might as well skip Jakarta and go to Bangkok and experience the same 'messy-south-east-asia' feel there.

* Do go to the following places in Java island if possible: Yogyakarta and Mount Bromo.

* Bali is beautiful, spend more time there. Be prepared to be charged a price that is 3x more expensive than the price offered to locals for many things in general (unavoidable). Street stalls are safe, but do not drink / brush your teeth using tap water.

* Language barrier. No problem in Bali, a lot of English-speaking people. For the rest of the country, bring along a phrasebook since many people can speak English well elsewhere. Most people you encounter might know English on the level of ... say, that of a primary 3 student ? Beware of being ripped off too when you're in Jakarta (another reason to spend not much time there).


* Is boring/small in relative comparison to Indonesia. It's a good place to resupply / electronic gadgets though. I'd say that 2 or 3 days are just enough to see everything that Singapore has to offer.


* Is awesome. Do everything that everybody has mentioned in the posts above!

I hope you have fun in Indonesia. If you need help / clarifications, don't hesitate to message me.
posted by joewandy at 8:43 PM on May 17, 2009 [1 favorite]

Aargh ... should be

"For the rest of the country, bring along a phrasebook since many people can't speak English well elsewhere. "
posted by joewandy at 8:57 PM on May 17, 2009

You can see all of Japan in two weeks using a JR Railpass.

I would stay in Nara and make a day trip to Kyoto, though. Nara is awesome and is great for walking and decompressing after travel. Nara and the vicinity also is really, really old, and is home to artifacts from the Tang era, as well as interesting Silk Road influences.

Kyoto is a cool place to live, but it's too busy and crowded for real exploration, although I suppose you will be able to check off a lot of things on a list of must-sees.

For a really unique Japanese experience, why not check out...

One Life Japan offers hiking and biking tours, plus farm stays, all in Nagano, about an hour by train from Tokyo. They also publish an extremely interesting blog (that will give you more of an idea of what their tour operation is like) at
posted by KokuRyu at 10:11 PM on May 17, 2009

NZ will be cold, but if you ski, there are several options a couple of hours from Christchurch, or hop down to Queenstown as already suggested.
posted by HiroProtagonist at 10:43 PM on May 17, 2009

Local airlines within Indonesia, to Jakarta, Bali, Gilli Islands/Lombak, Komodo Island (seemingly very good weather in July/August)

Just FYI, the local bus service is reliable and inexpensive in Indonesia. The hardest part will be getting to the bus station without getting ripped off. Also, I don't think you can get to the Gilis by air. Typically you take the ferry from Padengbai to Lombok, and once you're there you can easily take a local bus to the Gili Islands (well, you transfer to small boat, then go the islands).

Mt. Bromo and the Tengger Caldera is very active and at a steep altitude. If you don't like driving on the sides of roads with 1000-foot drops and no guard-rail, you probably won't like getting there. And the bus drivers are all fucking crazy the way they pass in front of slower-moving traffic.
posted by Civil_Disobedient at 1:07 AM on May 18, 2009

I would suggest Tokyo > Bangkok > Singapore. Lots to do in Bangkok and easily navigable by tourists. Singapore is beautiful but mostly about the shopping experience, although electronics prices are not necessarily cheaper--especially if you are coming through the US.

Echoing above advice, I wouldn't go into Jakarta at all. It's just not that interesting and you don't have much time. Book Air Asia online and fly directly from DJK to DPS in Bali. Since you will be doing the beach thing in the Gilis, spend your time in Bali in Ubud, centrally located to get to other points of interest on the island and just an all-around great place to hang out. From Bali, you take the ferry from Padangbai to the Gilis and Lombok.
posted by TWinbrook8 at 5:59 AM on May 18, 2009 [1 favorite]

If skiings not your thing, another good way to spend a day in NZ is to cross over to the west coast [and back] on the Tranz-Alpine express. The West Coast of the South Island is a must-see.
posted by HiroProtagonist at 6:58 PM on May 18, 2009

I loved Singapore, but was on business, and in your shoes I'd basically just stay there long enough to eat, and then eat some more (hawker center food with beer on ice will always stay with me).
Even though I was staying with beloved friends in Jakarta, I hated it, so Nthing other comments here--it takes two hours to get anywhere by car (there's no other way) and that's if your taxi doesn't drive in circles to jack up the fare. The art scene there is interesting though. The rest of Java, as far as I got, was great, especially Yogya.
We managed only two couchsurfing stays on our RTW, but both were really wonderful--budget time to work on these ahead, and give a good idea of who you are and why you're interesting!
Have a great trip.
posted by Mngo at 8:27 PM on May 18, 2009

Response by poster: Wow, thanks for all the answers! Will take a while to get through since internet access have been, and will be, spotty for me even here in California... :)

One update on the trip is that I've stricken NZ and Australia for this time. Just became too long! Looking forward going there some other time.
posted by avocade at 12:37 AM on June 19, 2009

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