Planning your travels for 2012? Consider Lonely Planet’s Top 10 Best Value Destinations. I’m glad Japan, Portugal and Vietnam made the list. It would be nice to personally see Porto, home to the world-famous Porto wine which I love.;)
The town that put the ‘Port’ in Portugal (as well as the port in your wine glass) is a seriously good deal. Connected with much of Europe via budget airlines, Porto is a lovely town of atmospheric narrow lanes, village-like plazas and buildings decked in azuelo tile. You can stay in antique-filled inns with river views from just €25 (US$37.75), take a ride on an historical tram (€1; US$1.40) or head to the beach near Afurada village by ferry (€1). A few hours east is the traditional wine district of Alto Douro, where you cruise in a flat-bottomed boat (€20; US$28.50) and sleep in 200-year-old homes (€60; US$86). And did we mention the port?
Mekong Delta, Vietnam
Vietnam is always good value, but you can now skip the package trips arranged in Ho Chi Minh City that tread the same worn-out routes. It’s become easier, more rewarding and just as cheap to go on DIY multiday adventures to destinations like Ben Tre, Chau Doc and the floating markets of Vinh Long, and some less-seen ones like Ha Tien or Tra Vinh. Go by air-conditioned bus or hire moto-taxis as you go; the latter know ferry crossings on roads not on any map. Boat trips go for US$5 to US$10, while most guesthouses run US$10 to US$25.
Japan had a rough 2011, with the March earthquake and a hard year for tourism, so travelling there is not only a good thing to do, but can actually make financial sense. Compared with destinations like London, Paris or New York, its attractions and accommodation are often much cheaper. In Tokyo, for example, it’s possible to find simple, Japanese-style minshuku guesthouses from ¥3000 (US$37). Also, many attractions are free (eg temples, botanic gardens) or just cheap (the Tokyo National Museum is a fifth the cost of Tower of London), while attractions like the Nagano ski runs or Disney tickets are cheaper than Alps lift tickets or Mickey Mouse’s entry in Anaheim.
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