First published on 26 Sep 2012. Updated on 11 May 2013.
The capital of Kerala, also known by its colonial name of Trivandrum, is a historic city with interesting old architecture in its narrow, winding lanes – but it’s mainly a gateway to the sights of Kerala, India’s most laid-back state. Chief among these are the tourist-y but still beautiful surf beach at Kovalam, 17km away; or, even better is the more peaceful Varkala, 50km to the north, perched on cliffs overlooking the beautiful ocean. Another classic Kerala experience is to take a houseboat through the state’s meandering backwaters – there are trips that take you from Trivandrum to the fort city of Cochin (also accessible with budget airlines). Tiger Airways flies to Thiruvananthapuram from $240 return. See www.tigerairways.com.
Yogyakarta is most visited as a gateway to Borobudur – the largest Buddhist monument in the world – and the nearby Hindu temples of Prambanan. Yet the city is worth a visit in its own right, being one of the oldest in Indonesia and packed with temples, shopping and places to wander. The highlight is the Sri Sultan’s palace, or Kraton, in particular the beautiful Taman Sari, or water castle, a pleasure garden for the sultan’s harem, with tunnels and Escher-like staircases. Also look out for cabbies playing giant chess. The Museum Affandi is another must-visit, where you can see works by one of Indonesia’s great painters and the swimming pool he designed. Air Asia flies to Yogyakarta from $220 return. See www.airasia.com.
Okay, Dhaka is not the most relaxing city on Earth – the mega-city of 18 million has gridlocked streets with some 600,000 rickshaws, and guides always use words such as ‘overwhelming’ and ‘frenetic’ to describe the city. But take a camera and an open mind and it’s a fascinating place – from the chaos of the Sadarghat Riverfront to the narrow laneways of old Dhaka and the relatively upscale restaurants in Gulshan, where you’ll see the city’s nouveau riche at play. It’s also got a pretty mean selection of theme parks and water parks for daytime excursions, most notably the huge Fantasy Kingdom (which has both water attractions and rides). Tiger Airways flies to Dhaka from $340 return. See www.tigerairways.com.