From yoga in India to cooking in Hoi An, here are 10 experiences that are as special as the places they are from.

Surfing in Hawaii, USA
Polynesia may have been the birthplace of surfing – he’e nalu (wave sliding) was first observed here by Europeans in the 18th Century – but Hawaii remains the focal point for the world’s coolest lifestyle. Plenty of surf schools and instructors will patiently teach you how to read the ocean for swell, paddle into a wave, stand and ride at beginner spots such as Waikiki Beach and Puena Point. Between sessions you can watch the pros shred heaving monsters at reef breaks such as Pipeline, Off the Wall and Sunset Beach. Learn to bottom turn with the Waikiki Beach Boys; two-hour lessons cost $99 and run twice daily from Monday to Saturday.

Cooking in Hoi An, Vietnam
On the banks of the Hoi An River, the Red Bridge Restaurant and Cooking School is one of many restaurants offering courses to meet the growing demand for tutorials in quality Vietnamese cuisine. One-day and half-day cooking tours will match your culinary skills, from non-existent to Le Cordon Bleu. Classes start with a trip to a local market, where you will select ingredients and learn by observing street vendors. Then, you return to the restaurant for an expert demonstration before putting your new-found knowledge into practice. Expect to serve up rice-paper rolls and marinated beef, decorated with a pineapple boat. Classes usually last about three hours, include four dishes and cost around $40 per person. Take a camera so you can remember each dish you master.

Archaeological research in Crow Canyon, USA
Crow Canyon Archaeological Center offers up to 11 trips each year for those willing to get their hands dirty as they dabble in amateur archaeology. Visitors’ accommodations are in one of 10 “hogans”, circular log cabins built in the traditional Navajo style on the centre’s 28-hectare campus. The campus is part of a site that was occupied by Mesa Verde’s Ancestral Puebloans more than 1,000 years ago. The trips, lasting seven to 10 days, explore the land in relation to what is known about the region’s indigenous occupants. Visitors study the interaction of light, landscape and architecture, or participate in a dig.

Yoga in Rishikesh, India
A trip to the birthplace of yoga is an obvious choice if you are looking for a mystical experience inside and out. Not only does yoga promote relaxation through meditation; research conducted by the University of Texas has revealed it can help alleviate the negative side effects of cancer treatment.  At Rishikesh, in the serene foothills of the Himalayas, special retreats invite novices to practice stretching, breathing and contemplation alongside qualified yogi masters. Depending on where you stay, you might also be encouraged to help out in the organic garden and cook for the group, in between soul-enriching excursions into the mountains. Ashrams offer courses to suit varying levels, from a few weeks to three months.

Learning Spanish in Patagonia, Argentina
The small town of Bariloche, surrounded by glacial lakes, forests and the Andes mountains, is so inspiring you will probably learn more Spanish here in a month than you might elsewhere in a whole year. Sometimes called “the Switzerland of South America”, Bariloche is the base for most Patagonian language schools, so there is always a good mix of international students should you wish to slack off from speaking Spanish. There are plenty of optional excursions too, from nearby skiing at Cerro Catedral, South America’s premier downhill resort, to a refreshing day trip through thick forest to the glorious Cántaros waterfall. Select courses from one-week intensives to six weeks of private tuition are available through

Calligraphy in Kyoto, Japan
Anyone looking to make their mark using the traditional characters of Japanese calligraphy will find the course run by the Women’s Association of Kyoto (WAK JAPAN) simultaneously frustrating and rewarding. Calligraphy written in Japanese is not at all easy, so you will need to keep focused if you want to make your instructor proud. After receiving a lecture about the history of the Japanese literary art form, you will be shown how it is done. Then it is over to you, grasshopper, as you sketch your favourite Japanese character, such as the symbol for “peace” or ”love”, before adding your signature. One lesson is enough to ensure you pity Japanese school kids forever.

Mountain biking in Marin County, California
Thanks in large part to the pioneering efforts of bike designer Joe Breeze, Marin County, and in particular Mt Tamalpais, has become famous worldwide as the birthplace of mountain biking. Located just north of San Francisco across the Golden Gate Bridge, it is the most rugged and exciting place to develop a passion for downhill riding. Throughout summer, countless tour operators, catering to kids, women, amateurs and pros, offer tuition and guided trail riding, including bike hire and transport to the start of hundreds of trails among more than 2,550 hectares of redwood groves and oak woodlands. Trails range from the gently sloping and visually spectacular to the you-must-be-kidding-me steeply insane. For trail maps, customised tours and bike hire information visit

Kung fu at Shaolin Temple, China
Every year foreigners can apply to attend classes at the Shaolin Temple, amid the beautiful Song Shan mountains in China’s Henan province. Trainees at the 1,500-year-old monastery, the birthplace of kung fu, embark on a steep learning curve led by extraordinarily disciplined “warrior-monk” tutors. You will not notice who you are sharing a dorm with, as the gruelling regime starts at 8:30 am (Chinese students begin at 5 am) and lasts until at least 7 pm. For inspiration, watch the coaches prepare for daily tourist performances, in which they snap iron bars with their heads and break glass by throwing a pin at it. Visitor opening hours are 8 am to 7 pm daily, all year; offers a 10- to 30-day training tour for budding Bruce Lees (around $2,000).

Bush-survival skills in Esingeni, Kenya
If you can last a one-week survival course in Kenya’s pristine wilderness, then chances are you will emerge feeling more human than you have ever felt before. Qualified field experts lead small-group tours from the Esingeni Bush Camp, based on a private game reserve. Participants learn how to construct a shelter, make a fire, locate and prepare food, and extract water from plants. You will also be taught how to navigate using the stars as you traverse the countryside, which is abuzz with unfamiliar sights, sounds, smells and animals. Anyone who has imagined what life was like before the agrarian revolution can find out here. Book a five-day bush survival course at; it costs around 3,500 Kenyan shillings per person.

Stove building in Cadmalca, Peru
At the Cadmalca Community Lodge in Peru’s remote northern highlands, a simple but potentially life-saving eco-project allows travellers to do something challenging and useful, while becoming immersed in a culture they would otherwise find difficult to access. In return for being lodged and shown around by a local host family, visitors will source the construction materials for a cooking stove that is ideally suited to high altitude conditions – and then build it. The stoves have been shown to help reduce serious respiratory conditions associated with cooking over the open fires that are contained in the majority of mountain huts. Tours through Planeterra last seven days and depart from Lima; book before you arrive and expect to pay around $1,600. 

Correction: A previous version of this article incorrectly stated the location of the Red Bridge Restaurant and Cooking School. This has been fixed.

The article 'Ten iconic travel experiences' was published in partnership with Lonely Planet.