Abashiri, Austria, China, Cuba, El Nido, el nido philippines, Halstatt, Hokkaido, hokkaido japan, Huang Shan, Istanbul, Japan, japan hokkaido, Koh Tao, koh tao thailand, Merzouga, Morocco, New York, Philippines, shanghai, thailand, tokyo, top ten, Travel, Turkey, USA, vacation, Vinales
Top Ten travel recommendations, as voted for by … me.
El Nido, Philippines
El Nido is a small town on the northern coast of Palawan island. It is a bizarre place, with grumpy expats, holidaying locals, a pretty average beach and lots of motorbikes and dogs. Yet it is also a gateway to some stunning islands, beaches, snorkelling and wreck diving – and it is largely empty compared to similar places elsewhere in East Asia.
Koh Tao, Thailand
While the Philippines were great, there’s something immensely satisfying about the combination of tropical weather and comfort that Thailand has to offer. Out of my three visits, my favourite island was Koh Tao. Sitting reading a good book, drinking a Chang beer and eating Pad Thai that cost pennies and tastes great – it can’t get much better than that. Yet Koh Tao also has secluded beaches, accessible by dirt bike, and some of the best diving in Thailand.
Abashiri, Hokkaido, Japan
Hokkaido, Japan’s northernmost island, is a winter wonderland in the early months of the year, and Abashiri is the jewel in its crown. After travelling across the island, past snow-capped mountains and through valleys with frozen reservoirs and onsens, you arrive at this remote coastal town. Locals wary of Russian sailors might not give the fondest welcome to Caucasian visitors, but the “drift ice” that covers the sea is a sight to behold. Visiting here is an unforgettable experience.
Huang Shan (Yellow Mountains), China
The Yellow Mountains are mountains on a seriously grand scale. Accessible by overnight train from Shanghai, and then by climbing thousands of granite stone steps, the views across jagged peaks are jaw-dropping. A tougher climb than other mountains I tried in China, it was the descent that was truly memorable – done at 6am through early morning mist, up and down peaks with exposed chasms on either side, and only a meter between you and certain death – no ‘health and safety’ ropes here!
I love Tokyo, probably because it distils almost everything I like about Japan into one place. Kyoto may be the city of ancient Buddhist shrines and Shinto temples, but Tokyo is Japan’s gloriously neon, modern face. It’s a city best expressed in names – Harajuku, Shibuya, Shinjuku, Ebisu, Ueno, Asakusa, Akihabara, sushi, sashimi, yakitori, nomihodie, karaoke, love hotels, shinkansen bullete trains and tranquil parks, views stretching off into the distance – to Mount Fuji – and fish markets best visited at dawn. The Yamanote-sen, circling this futuristic and fantastic city. Brilliant.
New York, USA
New York has it all – and in XL portions. That’s not just the food, but the quality of restaurants, the quality of beers, or parks, museums, art galleries. It’s a behemoth of a city that’s both beguiling and imposing, with skyscrapers stretching toward the heavens and hobos prowling the run-down public subway. I loved it – it blew every other city away in truth – and I’ll definitely be back.
Vinales exempified many of the highlights of Cuba on my 2003 visit – natural beauty, amazing weather, great food, but above all the kindness of the Cuban people. Carlos and his casa who welcomed us into their house, fed us fantastic feasts, including lobster and mojitos, even after we’d told them how low our budget was and how we couldn’t afford the lobster. He was an amazing host and staying with him was one of the strongest memories of this trip.
Istanbul (not Constantinople) is a fab city, full of amazing architectural gems such as the Aya Sofya and the Blue Mosque, amazing food and welcoming people. It’s the modern side of a fascinating country that’s grappling with how to deal with modernity, and choosing between its Western, secular and Islamist heritages. A trip up the Bosphorus, and seeing the silhouette of Sultanahmet at sunset, is unforgettable. For me mosques are stunningly beautiful buildings – and Istanbul has some of the best in the world.
Merzouga is an odd place, clearly struggling with poverty, sitting as it does at the ‘end of the line’ in the south-east corner of Morocco on the edge of the desert. A trip out on camels to sleep in the desert, complete with Bedouin guide and these groovy tents is a bizarre and wondrous experience, particularly if you’ve had no sleep for 24 hours. It was the highlight of the Morocco trip for no reason other than it was so different to anything I’ve done before.
A small town east of Salzburg might seem a strange choice for this list, but Hallstatt is an astonishingly beautiful place. There’s nothing else to say really – the train there from Salzburg weaves through the beautiful Austrian mountains, the lake is crystal clear and the buildings all traditional constructions. It’s perfect.