The best thing to take home from a holiday is a cool souvenir – something so radically different, it’s sure to start a conversation. So take your pick!
Panda Poo. Despite the 2008 earthquake that hit southwest China, the Chengdu Giant Panda Breeding Base in Sichuan is still going strong. People here have taken resourcefulness to new heights… by turning excrement into marketable merchandise! After drying and sanitising the panda dung -- mostly made of digested bamboo -- the stuff is then turned into sculptures and picture frames. Don’t be scared to sniff… it doesn’t stink at all!
Sichuan, “The Land of Abundance”, is known for its spicy cuisine. Its UNESCO World Heritage Sites are remarkable as well. The Jiuzhaigou National Park is a valley of jewel-like lakes, rushing waterfalls, and snow-capped mountains. The 71-metre Leshan Giant Buddha is another spectacle, a statue carved out of the Linyun Mountain.
Frog Wallet. You might not find these on the runway, but they sure make a statement. These fat leather purses from the Philippines are made out of the entire bodies of large frogs. They come with key-rings or strings so you can keep your amphibian friend by your side.
To get these babies, head high up to Baguio, the country’s “Summer Capital”. It is home to a quirky art scene, strawberry fields, and roads believed to be haunted by “white ladies” (female ghosts) and dwende (dwarves). The public market also offers lots of goodies at very low prices.
“Got blood?” Shirt. From Count Dracula’s hometown comes Vlad the Impaler… commercialised! A portrait of the Romanian ruler – with his characteristic moustache, long flowing hair, and dead-serious demeanour and the words “Got blood?” emblazoned underneath – is also available on journals, keepsake boxes, aprons, trucker hats, and mouse pads. Show all those Twilight fanatics what a real vampire looks like!
Surrounded by thickets of trees, the compact, earth-toned Bran Castle in Romania was built in the 14th century to guard against outsider attacks. It then became a royal residence, although today it is most known as the inspiration for Bram Stoker’s classic. Dracula was patterned after Vlad the Impaler or Vlad Tepes, a prince who was known for resisting the Ottoman Empire with unrivalled military might, as well as for finishing off his opponents by driving a stake through their bodies.
Snake Wine. Presentation counts, and this exotic elixir is the perfect demonstration of this principle. Looking like something you’ll find next to jars of human organs in a cobwebbed apothecary, Vietnamese rice wine come with a surprise… a venomous serpent lying at the bottom of the bottle! Locals say it boosts potency, cures hair loss, and promotes longevity. Another round?
Buy some at Le Mat or “snake village”, where the streets are lined with restaurants dishing up the coiling creatures deep-fried, spiced, ground, in spring rolls, and with soup. Nibble on the crunchy snakeskin, bite into the tail, and gulp down the heart, which is usually plonked into a shot glass with spirits.
Kangaroo Paw Backscratcher. The Australian government controls the numbers of these prolific marsupials, and various souvenir shops sell anything from bookmarks to tobacco pouches – made from kangaroo body parts. You don’t have to be a gymnast to reach that pesky spot… just get yourself a backscratcher from down under. Nothing gets to an itch quite like a kangaroo claw.
Rainforests, beaches, calderas, canyons, and bushlands are just some of nature’s highlights in Australia. Here, you can go fossil-hunting, mountain biking, and painting with Aborigines. For a Valentine’s Day present, hop aboard a seaplane with your special someone and take an aerial tour of Heart Reef, a coral formation so-called for its shape.