Thanks for the kind words and I’m happy to hear that this info helps. The Mount Rinjani ash cloud situation is also a mystery to me at this point. My plan was to fly into Bali more or less for the full month of February, but according to the news it does seem possible that the skies in the area will still be unsafe at that point. I will already be in Asia and if the Bali airport is still closed I’ll just go to the Philippines or Malaysia. But I wouldn’t book a long-haul flight into Bali for the coming months at this point, at least not unless I knew I could change it cheaply if the flights are canceled.
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Southeast Asia is easier to deal with, and there are cheap flights connecting in the Middle East and landing in Bangkok, Kuala Lumpur, and Singapore. Each of those is a very interesting city, and there are many smaller places to go in the same region. In Malaysia there is Penang and Melaka. In Thailand there is Chiang Mai and quite a few others in that area. In Laos you can visit Luang Prabang, which sounds like it could be a winner for you. And there is also Siem Reap, which is home to the amazing Angkor Wat temple complex.
Vietnam is generally cheaper than Thailand, so if that is your primary factor, Vietnam could be the best choice. The beaches in Nha Trang are quite nice and the town is pretty easy for English-speaking tourists. But the other thing about Vietnam is that visitors have to be much more careful, especially when booking tours and that sort of thing. The travel agencies in Vietnam (even those in hotels, but mostly the independent ones) are famous for over promising and under delivering. That said, it’s a lovely country and you can have a wonderful time there on a modest budget. It’s just that you have to be more careful, compared to Thailand where the travel industry is a bit more honest about what you get and how much you’ll pay.
Overall this is a perfect time of year to visit almost anywhere in Argentina. When December arrives things really start filling up and all the locals are on their own holidays, so November is the ideal mix of great weather that isn't too steamy, and modest crowds and prices. With Argentina's recent inflation and currency devaluation, it can be hard to know how expensive this trip will be, but for most people it will be cheaper than in recent years.
Don’t be too shy to ask the wait staff how the food is prepared. If you suspect something might be breaded ask. Ask if any of the dressings have sugar in them. In Italy it’s not common at all for savoury food to contain any sugar, even the sauces. Most are based on olive oil or cream. If you order a steak without any sauce don’t be afraid to ask for olive oil to use on it. You might get some strange looks if you ask for butter and they might not have any available. Try to go for roasted or grilled food rather than fried as even in Italy, the spiritual home of olive oil, the food is usually fried in vegetable oils. Also don’t be afraid to ask for substitutions. I don’t like bell peppers and they always come as part of grilled vegetable sides. I simply ask them to leave them out and I’ll get more of another type of vegetable instead.
In India I’ve always had good luck with the trains by booking at least a couple days in advance, and also being flexible and only going when an AC3 ticket is available. As you know, the actual train stations are nightmares. But every hotel has a person who can fetch a ticket for you by going through the back door and bribing someone at the train office. Like a AC3 ticket might cost US$20, and for an extra US$4, your hotel will go buy it for you and it’ll be waiting at the front desk later that day. It’s a pretty sweet system.
Southeast Asia is easier to deal with, and there are cheap flights connecting in the Middle East and landing in Bangkok, Kuala Lumpur, and Singapore. Each of those is a very interesting city, and there are many smaller places to go in the same region. In Malaysia there is Penang and Melaka. In Thailand there is Chiang Mai and quite a few others in that area. In Laos you can visit Luang Prabang, which sounds like it could be a winner for you. And there is also Siem Reap, which is home to the amazing Angkor Wat temple complex.
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