I didn't get to see a lot of China, until I changed companies and started leading tours on the Silk Road. Beijing was our drop off and pick up point when I was tour leading on the Trans - Mongolian Railway for Tucan. I had low expectations of China, but it surprised me. I was expecting to be in an ants nest of people 24/7, and I hate crowds. No where near as bad as I expected, except during "Golden Week" the week long national holiday when everyone in the country just converges on Beijing to visit the Forbidden City. The temples in Beijing are outstanding, but if I'm honest all start to look the same after a while. A trip out to the Great Wall is not to be missed, but be sure to go on a clear day and avoid the tourist trap of Badaling where you will be met with swarms of tourists. Try Jin Shan Ling instead or if you are a keen climber Muitanyu or Sematai, all are lot further away from Beijing but far more rewarding to be able to walk along the wall at your own pace and to see big sweeping views over the mountains. While in Beijing, don't miss the night markets or "Snack Street" out at Wang Fu Jing or trying the famous Peking Duck at a local restaurant. The metro is by far the easiest way to get around as long as you avoid peak hour, although to be honest even at peak hour, I've been more squished in trains in Australia and at least the Beijing metro is airconditioned. Western China is a completely different animal, in places like Kashgar you might feel like you've crossed a border into some mythical land.
I must confess, as far as Indonesia is concerned, I am the Aussie that's only been to Bali. That's where the apologies stop. I was the Aussie, who looked at her fellow Aussie bogans and though, I will NEVER go to Bali. A cheap Jet Star flight with my Mum changed all that. Sure there is a seedy side, and yes you can go out and get drunk and pay next to nothing, but Bali is so much more than that. From it's amazing sites, to friendly people, cheap massages and luxurious resorts it is a destination that is hard to beat and one that will leave you totally relaxed by the time you leave. It's easy to get around, I wouldn't ever book tours before I go. You can hire a private driver with a nice air conditioned van for around $30 AUD per day and he will take you anywhere you want to go on the island, if he is a good driver, (like mine) he won't stop at the "shopping stops" unless asked, this is of course a great opportunity to try the famous Kopi Luwak, the coffee made from beans digested by Indonesia's civet cat. Sounds disgusting, but it's great coffee.
The land of the rising sun, was never somewhere I'd really yearned to visit, mostly because you have to go to Japan specifically just to see Japan, because it's quite isolated, or take yourself quite out of the way to go, which is what I did on the way to the USA, or rather what we did. Darren wanted to go, he'd never been anywhere before so, we went. And you know what? I loved it. It was s different, with out being uncivilised. The Japanese people were the most polite I'd ever met and although basically no English is spoken anywhere, they can't do enough to help you. The temples are fascinating, the food is unbelievable, (only there is never enough of it) and the transports reliable, fast and clean. I'd also expected it to be expensive, after my Dad telling me of his $12 for a cup of coffee experience. I found you could spend a lot or spend a little, especially when it comes to food, if you're a backpacker 7/11 & Family Mart are your new best friends, you can get almost anything here. The best thing, because I thought I was in for an expensive couple of weeks, I moved on to America with half of Japan's budgeted funds still in my pocket. For a foreigner the thing not to leave home with out, is a rail pass, beware, you can't get them when you get there and they probably saved Darren and I about $500 each on transport.
What a really cool little country, head there before people start to discover it even exists! Been to Mongolia? This is like the undiscovered Mongolia, only a bit more on the rustic side. Kyrgyzstan comes complete with some of the most amazing mountains I’ve ever seen to some really interesting little cities with great local markets. Crossing the border with China through the Ishertem Pass is one hell of an adventure, walking the corridor between the Tian Shen and Pamir mountains. Don’t miss out on a home stay with a local family, and make sure to pack for all climates.
Strange place. Especially, Kuala Lumpur, city, jungle, city jungle. First time I discovered the "fish massage", I tried it thinking someone was going to beat me up with a mackerel. Lots of temples, mosques and many religions. China town, little India and 5 star hotels. Haven't seen too much more of the place, there's some pretty cool caves just outside the city, plenty of monkey's, watch out they don't swipe your camera.
After I got back from the Maldives, I did nothing but talk clients out of going, maybe because they had the wrong idea about the place, like I did. Don't get me wrong, it is STUNNINGLY beautiful, but I guess the thing to remember is it's also stunningly isolated. You need to remember, you are stuck on an island and a very small island at that, the Maldives are made up of a group a small atols. You won't be going off exploring, you won't be doing any shopping and the furthest you will be going out for dinner is the resort's restaurant. Its great, if that's what you're into. I went to force myself to relax for 5 days between working on the Trans - Mongolian and taking up a safari job in Africa....even so I nearly went crazy there was so little to do. I can only lay on a beach for so long, even a beach as stunning as the Maldives. My top tip, go all inclusive...you can't go anywhere else to eat so prepay and save yourself the heart attack of reaching into your wallet every meal.
Ah Mongolia, the least populated country in the world, where there is roughly 1.7 people per square kilometer. It's bliss if like me you don't particularly like people very much. The capital Ulaanbatar is the coldest capital city in the world and it has some of the most unique sights to see, from the old monastery to the antique train museum, which is little more than a collections of old Soviet style engines by the side of the road, a photographers dream. The wilderness that is the rest of the country is nothing short of spectacular, with clear skies, crystal clear air and amazing skies full of stars at night, all of which you can appreicate from your nomadic Ger tent in many of the camps you can stay in at national parks such as Terelj. Just because you are out in the wilderness doesn't mean you will lack entertainment, with many of the camps having their own karaoke room, much like all the hotels in town. Mogols it seems, love Karaoke...I wonder if Ghengis Khan could hit the high notes?
The tear drop island seems to have something for everyone. From archaeological sites, to national parks and safaris and even a flop and drop beach vacation, you couldn't go to this place and say there's nothing here for me. The Sri Lankan people are warm, friendly and everywhere you see big smiles and are greeted with an Ayubowan meaning long life. As far as my trip was concerned predictably, I enjoyed the archaeological site of Sigiriya Rock Fortress (and even the climb to the top) and the tea plantations spread over the hill country. I was surprised to find Buddhist grottoes similar to the Mogao Caves near Dunhuang in China (but actually much better preserved) at Dambulla and I have to say at no point did I feel unsafe, even on an afternoon spent wandering around chaotic Colombo.
A place with a reputation, a place thoroughly deserving of such a reputation and, sometimes not so deserving. Bring lights, seedy massage parlors, cheap drinks, legalised street fighting and ping pong shows....but also stunning beaches, amazing sites and national parks in abundance. In short, Thailand is whatever you want it to be, if you are after a sordid weekend with your mates then its the place for you, if you want to have a relaxing week away its for you and if you want to see wonderful sites and eat amazing food and have the adventure of a lifetime, then its most certainly the place for you. A warning though, it is only to easy to be led astray in a place where there are no holds barred. Keep your wits about you and you'll be fine.
What a strange place. This is one of the hardest places to get into in the World, and trust me this secretive nation is worth it. From archaeological wonders like Ancient Nissa and Merv, where you can walk the paths trodden by the likes of Alexander the Great and Tamarlane to big shiny deserted cities like Ashgabat. You can stay in a huge deserted five star hotel in Mary (build it and they will come, uh not with those kind of visa restrictions they won't!) and visit places that are completely untouched by westerners. The dictatorship of Turkmenistan is still very much finding it's feet after being kicked out of the former Soviet Union and people seem glad to see the odd tourist. There is still so much of Turkmenistan I want to explore, here's hoping the relax their visa restrictions soon.
A place in the world where legends have traveled, Alexander the Great, Marco Polo, Tamerlane...you name it they've been here. With good reason too, this little visited country has something to see around every corner, amazing Blue Domed Mosques, fantastic shopping experiences at some of the oldest trading posts in the world, ancient cities and some of the most majestic scenery I've ever seen. Uzbek hospitality is famous, or it would be if more people visited - don't be surprised if you're sitting in a restaurant and the locals send you over cognac and chocolate, it's their way of saying "Welcome to Uzbekistan!" My only hope for this country is for the government to ease visa restrictions, tourism is being encouraged however getting a visa can be taxing to say the least.
What an interesting little country, and so easy and cheap to get around! Catch the historic Unification Express all the way from Ho Chi Minh City to Hanoi or if you're feeling adventurous catch the sleeper bus part of the way and stop off and Hoi An with its little streets and colourful Lanterns. Admire the chaos and history of cities like Hanoi and Ho Chi Minh, enjoy the beach at Nah Trang and enjoy reasonably priced shopping and spa treatments everywhere you go. A cruise on Hanlong Bay in the North on a traditional Vietnamese junk is a must do, and a foodie tour in at least one of the cities is a must do - the food is to die for as are the Mojitos!