Best affordable travel 2009
Author: kendall hill
Photography: CHRISTOPHER WISE
2010 will be a big year for Turkey as Istanbul assumes the mantle of European Capital of Culture and the country edges closer to EU membership, so go now to avoid the rush and the rising prices. Istanbul, one of the world's most fascinating cities, is the entry point to a kaleidoscopic country blessed with Roman ruins, a captivating Aegean coastline, the underground cities of Cappadocia, the rugged landscapes of Anatolia, and the tragic beauty of Gallipoli. So hot right now: Istanbul, with its unique mix of the ancient and the modern, the secular and the religious, Europe and Asia.
The enduring romance of Egypt's spectacular architecture, art and antiquities places it firmly on most travellers' wish-lists, so go now while prices remain reasonable. Immerse yourself in chaotic, culture-rich Cairo, then follow the pharaohs to the Giza pyramids and the famed temples of Luxor. Take a leisurely felucca ride down the Nile, chill out at a desert oasis, and soak up this enigmatic society that dates to the dawn of civilisation.
So hot right now: The Mediterranean city of Alexandria, Egypt's ancient capital, with its modern library, national museum, Roman amphitheatre and catacombs.
Flights to North America should become more affordable with the debut of V Australia and Delta Air Lines on the Qantas-dominated trans-Pacific route, but our dollar's still a dud against the greenback and the Canadian dollar. Head to Mexico instead, where you'll get good value against the peso - especially outside the capital and the resort-heavy coasts. You'll find bargain beach holidays, rustic villages, colonial grandeur, Aztec and Mayan ruins and friendly locals. So hot right now: Costa Chica on the Pacific coast, especially the surfer enclave of Puerto Escondido where the living is easy and rooms start at about $60 a night.
Indochina is a shoestring traveller's saviour and Cambodia is one of its more fascinating destinations. The former seat of the Khmer Empire was once home to the largest civilisation in South East Asia; the elaborate temple complex at Angkor Wat recalls these former glory days. Avoid the daytime tourist hordes by visiting Angkor at night, when the stone structures are aglow with lights. So hot right now: Cambodia's 61 islands. Fortunately, only a handful have been developed. Koh Rusay, Koh S'dach and Koh Tonsay offer simple lodgings on virgin beaches.
Beyond its packed metropolises, India offers astonishing culture, people and food at every turn, from the desert villages of Rajasthan to the holy towns of Tamil Nadu. Even with the dollar ailing against the rupee, Australian visitors can still live like maharajas. Avoid the gilt-edged palaces and luxe desert camps and opt for the country's wealth of sometimes faded but always character-filled hotels, and feast on superb cuisine for next to nothing. So hot right now: The sprawling central province of Madhya Pradesh, noted for its wildlife, tribal peoples, historic forts and erotic sculpture in Khajuraho.
Rock-bottom fares across the Tasman make this an ideal time to discover our often-forgotten neighbour. New Zealand is much more than bungee jumps and après-ski action; it has a surprisingly sophisticated restaurant scene, more opportunities for daredevil adventure than you can poke a crampon at and truly dazzling natural scenery. Of course, there's the language barrier to overcome, but you'll find it easier after a few glasses of Marlborough's finest. So hot right now: Hawke's Bay, on the east coast of the North Island, brims with wineries, fresh produce and the charming Art Deco streetscapes of Napier.
As international arrivals recede, expect some tempting deals from local operators designed to lure us into our own backyard. Few countries can lay claim to the diversity of experiences available within our own borders, from rainforests and reefs to deserts and a coastline sparkling with beautiful beaches. Not to mention our country's unique Aboriginal heritage, which traces the continent's history back tens of thousands of years. So hot right now: Tasmania's pristine environment, boutique hotels and fine diners continue to capture the world's imagination. Lonely Planet recently nominated the Bay of Fires as 2009's hottest destination.
Bali is booming again. The island resort has rebounded big time after the crippling bomb attacks of 2002 and 2005, restyling itself as a niche- rather than mass-tourism haven but one that is still economical for Australians. A raft of new resorts and villas place equal emphasis on pleasure and security, while thriving restaurants, bars and clubs are adding to Bali's reputation as one of the world's favourite party islands. Behind the fevered spurt in development, Bali remains a tranquil, spiritual sanctuary of great beauty and - importantly - great bargains. So hot right now: Uluwatu and the Bukit Peninsula, where the stunning cliff tops, reefs and surf beaches are being colonised by first-class resorts such as Bvlgari and Raffles.