So it’s well into 2018 and like almost everyone else, your travelling checklist is still empty. You’ve been fortunate enough to visit the countries you wanted last year and this year it’s time for a change. Where to go? What to do? 2018 is the year to fill up your backpacks and start travelling again. Say goodbye to hefty luggages, it's the time to relive your backpacker days.
First on the list has got to be Indonesia! If you’re new to backpacking, it’s wise to try somewhere closer to home. Indonesia offers a wide variety of choices for newbies who’re just starting out to seasoned backpackers. From lazing around in their emerald beaches to going for arduous mountainous volcanic hikes, there is bound to be something for everyone.
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You may begin your backpacking trip in any part of Indonesia. Most backpackers however begin in Jakarta and head east towards Bali/Lombok. They will then head in an anti-clockwise direction, covering Flores, Papua, Sulawesi, Borneo and Sumatra (in that order).
Muslim travellers need not worry about hunting for halal food or mosques. Being a majority-Muslim country has its perks. Street food will generally be edible but just ask the vendors again if you’re doubtful. There’s no harm in asking ?
Try visiting the famous Baiturrahman Grand Mosque. Located in Aceh, this mosque is known for withstanding the disastrous tsunami in 2004. This mosque has a huge historical significance. Originally built in 1612, it still retains is Mughal architecture charm.
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Packing will be a breeze. You may bring light and airy clothes and wouldn’t need to worry about bringing dense winter materials. There also wouldn’t be a need to worry about buying additional luggage space while booking your flight.
2. Andalusia, Spain
Located in Southern Spain, Andalusia consists of 8 different provinces. It has a very strong Islamic influence, dating back to the 8th
century. The name Andalusia was derived from an Arabic word, Al- Andalus. Andalusia would be more suited for those who are interested in history and marvelling in its architecture.
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To cover the whole of Andalusia, travellers may begin their journey from Malaga and head north to Granada. Travellers may cover the entire region by moving from province to province in an anti-clockwise direction; Granada, Crodoba, Seville, Jerez, Cadiz, Ronda and back to Malaga.
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While in Granada, it’s easier to find Halal options. Head over to Om Khalsoum on Calle Jardines and try out their tapas! You know you’ve never really travelled until you begin to eat like they do. Om Khalsoum serves authentic halal Spanish food with a North African twist.
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While in Andalusia you have to visit the Mosque-Cathedral of Cordoba. You’ll lose out if you fail to visit this place that holds so much history. The interior of this Mosque-Cathedral very much reminds me of the blessed Mosque in Madinah. Sending our love and salutations to the Prophet saw.
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Despite no longer being a working Mosque, there are many other mosques you may visit in the region. Mezquita de Granada or Mosque of Granada is held right in the city. This mosque comprises of 3 main parts; garden, prayer hall and a center for Islamic Studies. Other than the 5 daily prayers, this mosque also conducts sermons and Arabic lessons for those who are interested.
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The Mosque of Granada is also a point of contact for any Muslim travellers who are facing difficulty, and will be able to render assistance if needed.
Morocco, the land of beautiful souks, culture, architecture, nature, food…. (need I say more?). Morocco seems like an iconic place to get lost in only to discover yourself. Surrounded by amazing Islamic influences, the young Muslim traveller need not worry too much while losing themselves here.
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While in Morocco, travellers will have to visit the Sahara Desert. A landscape that remains a mystery to most of us, it would be an interesting experience to spend at least a night in it. Visiting the iconic souks in Tangier and even walking down the narrow-cobbled streets, it’s an adventure waiting to happen.
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Travellers need not worry too much financially. An average of USD$15 per day should be sufficient enough to cover everything from food, accommodation, activities and transport. As the price range of each activity differs vastly, do expect the average to increase/decrease.
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Hassan II Mosque is the largest mosque in Morocco and 13th
largest in the world. It’s located in Casablanca and it’s only right if we head down to check it out. The mosque overlooks the Atlantic Ocean and is partially built over it! Imagine how amazing it would be praying over the sea Masyallah!
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4. Bosnia & Herzegovina
A country that holds so much untold history, Muslim travellers won’t have any issues finding halal food and praying areas in Bosnia. It has been ranked the best non-Muslim country for Muslims to visit, according to the Global Muslim Travel Index.
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When I think of Bosnia and Herzegovina, I think of that amazing bridge overlooking the river. Little do people know that the bridge is placed in Mostar and is now a UNESCO World Heritage Site. Mostar has played a vital role in introducing Islam to Europe. More than half of its current population are Muslims and identify themselves as Sunni Muslims.
Bosnia & Herzegovina is the perfect non-touristy backpacker spot. Still unknown to most, it’s the perfect time to visit Bosnia & Herzegovina this year. With transport, food and accommodations included, the budget per day costs about USD$25.
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Most mosques in Bosnia were built during the Ottoman Empire in the 16th
century. Imagine how beautiful it must be to be able to see one. Gazi Husrev-Bey Mosque is located in Sarajevo. It still retains its classic Ottoman architecture and is the largest mosque in the country.
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Travelling through Bosnia and Herzegovina, one thing will remain constant. The evidence of war is still widespread, with sniper shots seen through window panes and war-torn buildings. It’s vital to know or at least read up on their history. After the war, many of them remained as refugees and didn’t return to their homes. For those who stayed, they’ve remained resilient and restarted their lives again. It’s times like this that remind us to look past the horrors and focus on the positive aspects of this beautiful country.
An up-and-coming place for backpackers to visit, Iran might seem like an unexpected destination. But in fact, Iran is one of the safest countries to backpack in. With the Persian hospitality in mind, it’s a wonder why many aren’t travelling there.
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Iran is filled with amazing architecture and culture, hosting 19 UNESCO World Heritage Sites. Cities to visit while in Iran will have to be; Tehran, Esfahan, Yazd, Shiraz, Kashan and Kerman. Travelling from one city to another will be relatively easy with the means of their public transport. It’s encouraged for travellers to opt for the VIP shuttle service as it might be pretty challenging to lug your huge backpack into a normal bus.
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An average day in Iran might cost you at an average of $30, inclusive of food, transport, accommodations and food. If you plan to save more, hitchhiking and couch surfing are a few different options to consider while in Iran.
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While in Iran, there are countless breathtaking mosques for you to visit. Take the Nasir ol Molk Mosque for example. With rainbow stained glass windows and exceptionally beautiful hand-crafted pillars, the mosque has got to be one the major highlights for anyone visiting Iran. The mosque is located in Shiraz, the heart of Persian culture.
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Being a Muslim country that has been operating under Shariah law, all food in Iran – from street food to restaurants – is halal! You wouldn’t need to look out for a Halal Certificate for things that are locally produced as the country has always been following Islamic rulings.
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Backpackers will be able to obtain their visa upon arrival in Iran unless you’re holding a British, Canadian or American passport. If you’re from these countries and wish to get a visa before arrival, you will have to get an authorisation code from an Iranian tour agency.
Kyrgyzstan is often known as the highlight of all the “stan” countries within Central Asia. Situated between China and India, it’s a country landlocked by mountainous terrains. With the country’s recent political stability and peaceful status, travellers are beginning to head to Kyrgyzstan. Plus, it’s better to head there before the crowd does. And coming to Kyrgyzstan is a lot easier that you might have imagined (probably easier than spelling it!).
You don’t have to worry about obtaining an incredibly expensive visa before entering the country. Once in Kyrgyzstan, they will be able to provide you with a free 60 day visa upon arrival. The cost of daily essentials in the country is around $30 per person, including food, accommodation and transport. Travellers are encouraged to opt for a homestay rather than hostels. You will be able to experience the Kyrgyz hospitality and live like how they do! Some host families even live in yurts. AMAZING!
Kyrgyzstan is a country with a Muslim population of over 80% and hence, halal food isn’t a problem. Pork isn’t in their diet. If you’re feeling doubtful you can just head over to the kitchen and ask.
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With mountains making up 90% of the country, there are many places to visit and activities you can do – trekking, horse riding and even swimming to name a few. One of the unique mosques you can head to is the Dungan mosque in Karakol. This mosque was built for the Dungans (Chinese Muslims) who fled to Kyrgyzstan upon their country’s political unrest in the 1900s. The oriental exterior of the mosque looks like it could be a Buddhist temple. This includes a wheel of fire, which reflects the Dungans’ pre-islamic past.
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Heading to Kyrgyzstan will be an eye-opening trip. Being able to travel off-road and really experience their nomadic lifestyle is an experience money can’t buy.
Do check your country’s visa status before planning your trip. Singapore, Brunei, Australia, New Zealand, South Korea and US are some of the countries which can get free visa upon arrival.
Another country you have to visit in Central Asia is Uzbekistan – a prominent reason being its stunning age-old architecture dating back to the 14th
century. As the hub of the Silk Route, their ancient culture has been alluring travellers from all over the world too.
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Travelling in Uzbekistan is pretty similar to travelling in the other central Asian countries. An estimate of $25-$30 will be needed per day, inclusive of accommodation, transport, food and activities.
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Obtaining a visa for Uzbekistan can be tricky though. Most countries will need to apply for a visa with an Uzbek travelling agency before their trip. You may find multiple agencies online which focuses on Central Asia as a whole. These agencies will be able to provide you with an invitation/visa support letter to visit Uzbekistan for up to 30 days.
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Almost 80% of the population in Uzbekistan are Muslims and thus looking for halal food won’t be an issue. Muslims make up a huge percentage of those travelling to Uzbekistan, a huge reason being it’s amazing Islamic history. Similar to some Muslim countries, Uzbekistan doesn’t have halal certification, due to the simple fact that things sold are already halal. But still if you’re feeling doubtful, it doesn’t hurt to ask the vendors if their food is halal.
Credits: Uzbek Cuisine on Facebook
There are countless mosques to visit in Uzbekistan, some even dating back to the 9th
century. It should come as no surprise that most of these mosques are part of the UNESCO World Heritage Site. Preserving some of the buildings from one of the oldest civilisations in the world definitely has its perks. However not all of these mosques are still functioning as it was back then. Some of them are now museums and even market places.
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The best time to visit Uzbekistan is during the Fall/Autumn period, once the sweltering summer heat is over.
8. Colombo, Sri Lanka
Being one of the top ten countries for you to visit in 2016, Sri Lanka has got to be on your list this year. You can expect this island to keep you occupied during your stay there. From beaches, mountains, padi fields and historical buildings, there’s something for everyone in Sri Lanka.
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The budget in Colombo would definitely be affordable. At an average of $20, it includes everything from accommodation, food, transport and activities. Hunting for food won’t be difficult in Colombo, as they offer a wide variety of halal restaurants and fast food chains.
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Do head over to the Jami Ul-Alfar mosque when you’re in Colombo. It’s one of the oldest mosques in the city, spotting an eye-catching red and white exterior.
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Anytime is a good time to visit Colombo but monsoon season can be expected during June to September.
9. Kazan, Russia
Break boundaries and head to the largest country in the world, Russia! A country that covers both Europe and Asia, Russia boasts having over 160 ethnic groups. Kazan is the capital of the Republic of Tatarstan. It has a population of over 1 million and is the 6th
biggest city in Russia.
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Islam is the most recognised religion amongst the Tatars, with a Muslim population of 55%. That means mosques are widespread in the country. One of the more iconic ones is Qolsarif Mosque in Kazan. The mosque is open for prayers on major holidays but it serves as a museum on any other day.
Credits: Visit Tatarstan on Facebook
Budget travelling in Russia might not be as cheap though. It starts at an average of $40 per day, inclusive of transport, food, accommodation and activities. Be sure to walk through Kazan’s main streets and witness how the locals live while admiring the city’s stunning architecture. Some of the places that you should not miss are the Kazan Kremlin, Old Tatar Settlement and the Central Market – where you get a chance to soak in the bustling atmosphere. The experience will surely be a rewarding one.
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Travel to Russia during the summer months unless you’re planning to be frozen. With over 65% of the country experiencing sub-zero temperatures throughout the year, be fully prepared and pack all the sufficient winter items you need!
10. Xinjiang, China
An unexpectedly Muslim-friendly place to visit – China! Most Muslims would think that travelling to China would be difficult but contrary to popular belief, there is a region in China that’s Muslim friendly, Xinjiang. This region shares its borders with a few other countries namely Russia, Mongolia and India. Due to that reason alone, it’s home to various ethnic groups such as the Uyghurs, Russians and Tajiks just to name a few.
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Other the amazing mountain ranges, a reason why travellers should begin to head to Xinjiang is because of their rich history. Turkic Muslims brought Islam to Xinjiang in the 9th
century. Since then, Xinijang has had the largest percentage of Muslims in China. There’s no need to worry if you’re looking for mosques while in Xinjiang as there are plenty of them.
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Due to the influences from Central Asia, the food in Xinjiang is mostly halal. Popular cuisines such as kebab, mutton and rice are easily found. There definitely won’t be any difficulty food wise. If you’re opting for a cheaper alternative and buying food from street vendors, just ask the owners if you’re feeling doubtful.
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With an increasing number of Muslim-friendly places abroad, there are more options for Muslims to travel around the globe and there isn’t a more perfect time to travel than now. So, go forth and experience new cultures, witness age-old architectures that has withstood the test of time and live amongst locals!
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