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Best Value Destinations for This Year

Bang for your buck and pizzazz for you pound: here’s where to stretch this year’s travel budget untill it oozes contentment.

Tunisia

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A lot of Star Wars scenes were shoot in Matmata – Tunisia

When it comes to Tunisia, the conversation has moved on from safety to recovery for tourism, and a renewed appreciation of why the country is such a compelling destination. Travel warnings have been dropped and travellers are once again tuning in to North Africa’s most compact package. This year prices will remain tempting to lure travellers back, and lower crowds will mean that those who do come will get a more rewarding experience whether they stay in cosmopolitan Tunis, head for Saharan Star Wars sets or explore the Roman remains that dot the north of the country.

Seasonal charters from European airports to Djerba can be an excellent-value gateway into Tunisia.

South Africa

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The port of Cape Town – South Africa

Currency fluctuations mean that for certain Hers South Africa is more affordable than it has been for many years.Instead og just rejoicing in the undercooked rand, consider what South Africa offers value-seeking travellers at any time. How about fantastically accessible wildlife watching for all budgets, bargain public (and traveller-friendly) transport and free entry to many of the country’s museums? Most visitors will find something to please their budget, whether it’s a cheap-and-cheerful Cape Town seaside cafe or an affordable safari campsite.

Come in South Africa’s shoulder seasons (February, March, September and October) for the best combination of low crowds and comfortable weather.

Shanghai

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Shanghai – China

For all the upscale new openings in China’s most famous coastal city, Shanghai remains reassuringly affordable for budget travellers. No-nonsense dorms start at -less than US$10, and the pleasing pricing continues through budget and mid¬ range hotels until you hit the less-than-friendly international big names and trendy boutique accommodation. It’s a similar story when eating out: characterful street-treats for a dollar, and big portions in popular restaurants for little more. Best of all, walking the city’s safe and buzzing streets is the best way to take the pulse of this fast-changing metropolis.

SmartShanghai is a great place to keep pace with new happenings in this ever-changing city.

Samoa

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A samoan beach fale (hut)

It feels like we’ve heard this one before: `Beautiful, undeveloped tropical paradise seeks underfunded travellers for discreet liaison. Applicants must enjoy no-nonsense budget buses and simple, idyllic beach hut accommodation (fales), owned by local families, who tend to throw in diriner. So as with so many places before it, we’d say get to Samoa soon. Best visited by jumping off from New Zealand or Australia, these islands are one of the best travel deals in the Pacific.

The markets of Apia, Samoa’s capital and largest town, offer a great introduction to everyday life. Maketi Fou, the biggest, is the place to come for souvenir hunting and Samoan street food.

Bali

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Kuta Beach – Bali

While many budget-traveller favourites have grown up and got proper jobs running overpriced resorts, Bali never stopped delivering the goods. In fact, while backpacker-friendly beachside bungalows and other affordable digs still abound, with reasonable costs for food and transport thrown in. Bali is also pretty stonking value for mid-range adventurers who delight in air conditioning, distinctive Balinese style and a large range of quality places to stay. And of course, Balinese spa treatments are rightly famous, and cheaper than in many other places.

Bali’s international popularity is evidenced by the large number of winter flights from Russian cities — offering the unlikely combination of a snowy Trans-Siberian journey and a week on a Balinese beach.

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Bali’s Cascading Beauties

If Bali has only been a quick getaway vacation spot during a long weekend, it might be time to book another flight to explore the island beyond the comforts of your resort. The Indonesian island may be famous for its majestic sea temples, like Uluwatu Temple and Tanah Lot, as well as its rice paddy fields but an oft-overlooked attraction are its waterfalls.

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Uluwatu Temple

There are numerous gorgeous waterfalls in Bali, especially in the central-northern highlands. Most tourists tend to stay away from waterfalls due to their hard-to-access nature but each and every trip is worth the effort to come face to face with one of the most stunning phenomena of nature.

The easiest to access and the most visited is Gitgit, twin waterfalls accessible from the main roads of Bedugul to Singaraja. Getting to Gitgit from the main road just requires a comfortable 20-minute walk through a shady forest on a wooden boardwalk.

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Gitgit Waterfall

What greets you at the end of the path is rushing waters cascading from a height of 40 metres into a rocky pool. Cool off from the heat and humidity of Bali by taking a dip and then continue the trek to the falls of Mekalongan, a continuation of Gitgit’s watercourse.

Another waterfall to check out is Sekumpul Waterfall. It takes a three-hour trek that requires crossing over streams and hiking up about 100 steps.

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Sekumpul Falls

Sekumpul Waterfall is actually a cluster of a few narrow cascades centred in a lush bamboo valley. The best views are accessible through durian and coffee plantations for a vantage point that gives you a full view of the 80-metre high falls.

There are many other falls to look into during a weekend trip to Bali. Lake Tamblingan has two: Munduk Waterfall and Melanting Waterfall, set between orange groves, coffee plantations and fields of hydrangea and bougainvillea. Then there’re the twin falls of Banyumala that flow into clear, shallow soaking pool and are surrounded by some exotic birds. Also not to be missed is Blahmantung Waterfall, located near the farming village of Pupuan. In the rainy season, the waters gush from a drop of 100 metres, making it Bali’s highest and most impressive waterfall.

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Blahmantung Cascade

MAKE IT HAPPEN

  • National carrier, Garuda Indonesia, flies from Singapore and Kuala Lumpur to Bali’s Denpasar Airport multiple times a week. If staying at a hotel or resort, make prior arrangements with the concierge for an airport pick up.

  • For a comprehensive tour of Bali’s waterfalls and other places of interest, book a tour with InterContinental Bali Resort. Their ‘In the Know’ insider guide customises personal tours centred on visitors’ interest to the Indonesian island. Prices vary per tour.

  • Stay at InterContinental Bali Resort, which is located on a sandy stretch of Jimbaran Bay. The 417-room hotel caters to couples, families and large groups on its expansive tropical land filled with six swimming pools, a children’s resort, and other recreational activities (from US$258 per night for Resort Classic Room).

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    InterContinental Bali Resort – Bali, Malaysia

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10 Asian Sensations

1. Palawan, Philippines

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Nagtabon Beach, Palawan

The Philippines checks all the boxes for a romantic tropical getaway, but the Province of Palawan – comprising Palawan island and its reef-ringed neighbours – goes above and beyond. Not only is it visually spectacular (in 2014 Condé Nast Traveller readers voted the island the most beautiful in the world for its aquamarine waters, jungle-carpeted emerald green mountains and idyllic, multi-hued fishing villages backed by limestone cliffs), but there’s plenty to see and do, too. Foodie hub, Puerto Princesa is home to a UNESCO-inscribed subterranean river, voted one of the New 7 Wonders of Nature. You’ll find great places to sail and dive as you hop from islet to island, and may even sight rare species such as the Philippine pangolin or tiny mouse deer. Palawan isn’t short on luxe resorts – Amanpulo offers beach, hillside and canopy accommodation, while each of the El Nido properties is more gorgeous than the last – and as you can get there by boat or a 90-minute flight from Manila, it probably won’t be long before the madding crowds roll up.
2. Cambodiacambodia
Laidback provincial town Siem Reap is arguably best-known as Cambodia’s gateway to the ancient Angkorian temple complex, but its sophisticated restaurants, boutiques and luxurious, pool-fringed accommodation will keep you lingering long after you’ve had your temple fix. We love Belmond La Residence d’Angkor, Raffles Grand Hotel d’Angkor and taking time out to enjoy Wat Damnak’s local produce-focused degustation menu. Cambodia has lots more for couples to explore – you can cruise up the Mekong, go jungle trekking in Ratanakiri and wander through gilded wats and striking examples of 1960s New Khmer architecture in the French colonial capital, Phnom Penh. From here it’s a 35-minute flight (or 3.5-hour drive) to the southern beach resort of Sihanoukville, named for Cambodia’s former king. Song Saa Private Island is the perfect setting for couples looking to escape, and when the Kenzo-designed Arovada by Akaryn – the first private island wellness retreat on Koh Krabey — opens later this year, it’II be one more good reason to go.

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Ubud and the Amandari – Bali, Indonesia

Island Hub of Painting, Music, and Dance, and a Temple of Hospitality

The Balinese have always believed that the gods live in the mountains, one reason to leave the teeming beach area of Kuta or Sanur behind and head north into the hills. For years Ubud has been known as the harborer of Bali’s artistic heritage – a significant distinc­tion on an island where art is everywhere and everyone lives to create and embellish as a means of “making merit” and honoring the gods.

It is useless to dwell on what Ubud was like before today’s streams of tourists and for­eign artists. The off-road town still possesses much of the allure that first drew European painters and sculptors in the 1920s, and their spirit lives on in the programs and schools for young artists they founded. Jump onto a ramshackle bemo packed with locals and chickens, and get off somewhere beyond the reach of Ubud’s motorbike- and four-by- four congested main strip to find yourself among its fabled rice fields. Under the cone of an extinct volcano, farmers still cultivate these terraced paddies by hand, using a com­plex irrigation system dating back to the 9th century.

You may see those same farmers perform in tonight’s temple dance, and this morning’s waiters from your hotel may show up as members of the local gamelan orchestra.

Sitting serenely among these terraced rice paddies, the Amandari resort (a name that roughly translates as “peaceful angel”) is more retreat than hotel, a luxurious, ideal­ized adaptation of a traditional walled Balinese village, built with native materials by local craftsmen. It is one of Asia’s loveliest destinations. The reception area, an open thatched-roof building, recalls a wantilan, the meeting hall of all Balinese villages, while its pool hugs the contours of the sur­rounding emerald-green rice paddy terraces, overlooking the Ayung River and the valley beyond.

With the gracious and ever-smiling Amandari staff (four to each guest), who come from the nearby village of Kedewatan, visitors needn’t go beyond the hotel’s lush, temple-like, frangipani-scented grounds to immerse themselves in the magic of the Balinese spirit. For those who do venture out, the staff will share their knowledge about festivals, celebrations, and dance and music performances on the island.

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Four Seasons Resort at Jimbaran Bay – Bali, Indonesia

A Beachside Temple to Romance and Pampering

It doesn’t get any more romantic than this award-winning resort, disguised as a traditional Balinese banjar, or village. Breezy, bougainvillea-covered guest pavilions are strewn like so many frangipani petals across the resort’s terraced hillside, leading down to a private 4-mile crescent of white-sand beach and turquoise waters.

Privacy is paramount in these sprawling three-roomed pavilions, despite their open-air showers and sliding partitions that broach the boundaries between indoor and out­door. Each has a secluded, garden-surrounded plunge pool, and if you arrange a lulur treatment – an exotic combination of Javanese beauty ritual and age-old Balinese ceremonial preparations – sarong-wrapped goddesses will come to your pavilion to massage and exfoliate you with sandalwood and spices from head to toe, splash you with cold yogurt, and soak you in masses of fragrant rose petals.

With an introduction like that, you’ll likely not resist any of the other intoxicating spa treatments, which – along with the resort’s myriad water sports and nightly moonlit banquet – will be your rationale for never leaving this enchanting 35-acre oasis, your own little Balinese village.

The Jimbaran’s younger sister, the Four Seasons Resort at Sayan, is located about 22 miles north in the lush hills near Ubud, on 18 lovely acres on the banks of the sacred Ayung River.

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The Heart of Bali – Indonesia

Beyond the Beaches on the Island of the Gods

Package-deal tourists to Bali seem happy to stay in the Fort Lauderdale-like area of Kuta or to cocoon themselves in Sanur’s toney hotels, but it’s in the countryside – where Bali is vibrant with the theater of dance, prayer, and mystery – that you’ll really be able to absorb the island’s magic. Here it is still pos­sible to imagine that the October 2002 bomb­ing – which shook Asia as the earlier September 11 attacks did America – never happened.

Serendipity will lead you to the haunting rhythms of a practicing village gamelan orches­tra, past a procession of lithe women carrying impossibly high baskets of fruit offerings on their heads to the local temple, to preparations for a celebration that turns out to be a cremation.

Bali’s people are gracious and beautiful, a mix of Malay, Polynesian, Indian, and Chinese, and believe they are the chosen guardians of the Palau Dewata, the Island of the Gods, whose hilly terrain is peppered with temples (Ulu Danu, beside Lake Bratan, is the most pictur­esque) and punctuated by constant temple festi­vals. Locals will direct you to tonight’s tooth-filling ritual or tomorrow’s performance of the kecak monkey dance.

Visit the mist-shrouded Mount Agung, at the island’s heart, considered by the Balinese to be the navel of the world. Rent a jeep (or better, bicycles) to explore the rest of the island, an abstract jigsaw of towns and stepped rice terraces still cultivated by water buffalo, with occasional harvest houses built on stilts.

Many of the towns specialize in age-old crafts – to really understand Balinese silver works, you must visit Celuk; for umbrel­las, Sukawati and Mengwi; for wood carvings, Mas and Tegallalang; for stone carving, Batubulan; for traditional Ikat fabric, Tenganan.