My "Top 50 Places to Experience Before I Die"

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1 Phi Phi Islands, Thailand Read the travelogue

Read the travelogue

 

Pure Paradise. The natural beauty of the Phi Phi Islands is now public knowledge thanks to Leonardo Di Caprio and the film "The Beach"; but way before all the fuss my daughter watched "The making of Mysterious Girl" (a music video by Peter Andre) and told me that she wanted to go to Phi Phi Leh. I had absolutely no idea where it was but I soon found out. For four years I day-dreamed about taking her there until one day we did. Read the travelogue here.

2 Angkor Wat, Cambodia Read the travelogue

Read the travelogue

 

During the 12th century the Khmer Empire built a city on a monumental scale, with Angkor Wat being the largest and most impressive structure of all. The region was later re-discovered, "ruined and lost to the jungle" by Henri Mouhot, a French Botanist, in 1860. To follow in the footsteps of such discoveries of ancient civilisations fascinates me more than any other reason to travel. Air-con hotel rooms and hordes of tourists may now make the experience a little different to Henri Mouhot's, but at least I got to see with my own eyes what he saw in Cambodia. Read the travelogue here.

3 Parc National des Volcans, Rwanda Read the travelogue
 

Many journeys could be described as a 'once in a lifetime' experience but the privilege of meeting face to face one of the few remaining Silverback Mountain Gorilla communities of the Virunga National Park could possibly be the most unforgettable experience of them all. Rwanda of course is not just known for its Gorillas. It also came to the world's attention, and to the shame of the UN's lack of intervention, during 1994's descent into genocide. The country is now recovering from these attrocities and tourism is an important part of the process. See the Photos here

4 Machu Picchu, Peru

 

 

High in the Andean mountains is another destination that has captured my imagination. It seems quite breathtaking not only for its altitude of 8000ft, but for how the architecture and the landscape blend into each other. Built around 1470, it survived intact because it was never discovered by the invading Spanish conquistadors. It was however discovered by a Yale professor, Hiram Bingham in 1911. Whilst in Peru I would also have to visit Lake Titicaca, the mysterious Nazca Lines, and Iquitos in the Amazon basin.

5 The Galapagos Islands

 

 

Having held in my hands a first edition of "Voyage of the Beagle" by Charles Darwin my desire to visit the Galapagos has rocketed. The islands will always be associated with his visit in 1835 and his discovery of evolutionary changes in a variety of finches that changed everything. It must be an amazing experience to walk amongst blue footed boobies, long necked turtles, iguanas, penguins and so on, all accustomed and unafraid of human contact.

6 Varanasi, India Read the travelogue

 

 

 

 

This city is an intensely spiritual place for all Hindus. The steps (or Ghats) that lead down to the river bussle with pilgrims bathing in the holy Ganges. Funeral pyres burn and their ashes scattered into the water. 10km away at Sarnath is the site of Buddha's first sermon. Read the travelogue here

7 Dharamsala, India  
  The current residence of the 14th Dalai Lama, and the Tibetan Government in exile. I have this romantic notion that I should make a pilgrimage to Dharamsala. Perhaps time the visit with one of the Dalai Lama's public appearances. I would really like to complete the "Buddhist circuit" and visit Bodhgaya (place of enlightenment), Kushinagar (place of death) and pop over the border to Lumbini, Nepal, the birthplace of the Buddha.
8 Sri Lanka  

 

After Julie and I recently committing to sponsor Nipuni, a child from Kurunegela district of Sri Lanka, my desire to visit the country has suddenly increased. The island has many ancient cities and Buddhist temples of interest such as at Anuradhapura, Sigirya and Kandy. It has suffered from internal conflict during the 90s, but at the moment a cease fire has lasted for some considerable time, giving the country its longest spell of stability. .

9 Rapa Nui (Easter Island)  

 

3700km away from mainalnd Chile and even further away from anywhere else this tiny remote island is famous for one thing, those massive Moai statues! These colossal monuments, built to worship ancestors, are one of the world's beautiful mysteries. The island only warrants a few days so it would have to be in conjuction with a visit to Chile with the red sands of the Atacama Desert to the north, its lively capital Santiago, and the stunning Patagonian south.

10 Borobodur, Java, Indonesia  
  Built around 750AD by the Shailendra Dynasty, Borobodur is a massive religious structure built to represent the Buddhist universe. It stands at 250m in height, and a 100m square at its base. It's constructed in a pyramidal style, with three levels. It fell into neglect and was abandoned to the encroaching jungle until it was re-discovered by Sir Stamford Raffles in 1814. Whilst in Indonesia the island of Komodo will also be worth visiting to see to the huge lizards, the Komodo Dragons, also the incredible rice terraces of Ubud, and Bali or Lombok offer first class beaches.
11 India Raj Read the travelogue
  The jewel in the crown of the Raj is undoubtedly the Taj Mahal. (Although technically it's not in Rajasthan but in Uttar Pradesh) Completed in 1648 this monument to eternal love was built by the mughal emperor Shah Jehan for his wife Mumatz Mahal who died in childbirth. It is arguably the most beautiful building in the world. I would also have to visit the Lake Palace in Udaipur. An ultra-romantic palace built in the centre of Lake Pichola . Other places of interest are Jaipur, Jodhpur and Pushkar (Camel Fair). Read the travelogue here
12 Great Wall of China, China  
  Originally started during the 7th century BC as terretorial boundaries, it was joined together during the unification of China by the country's first Emperor Qin Shi Huang around 200BC. However it was the Ming Dynasty of the 14th century who constructed the walls as they stand today. It covers an incredible length of 6000km and can be seen from space! The most popular location to see the wall is just north of Beijing. Whilst in China another MUST SEE is the Terracotta Army in Xi'an. An entire army of terracotta soldiers to accompany Emperor Qin Shi Huang to his afterlife.
13 Uluru, Australia  
 

Known to the western world as Ayres Rock for over a century it was returned to the rightful ownership of the Anangu Aboriginals in 1985. As a result it reverted back to its original aboriginal name of Uluru. It is considered a sacred site and the location of an energy source called Tjukurpa or 'dream time'. The rock is huge and stands at 350m tall and 8km in circumference! Australia also is home to the Great Barrier Reef, another must see. I also would like to visit my many second cousins who live in New South Wales.

14 Himalayas, Nepal  
  The Himalayas cover a large area of central asia and falls into India, Tibet (China), Pakistan and Bhutan but its heart is in Nepal. The entire top 10 highest mountain peaks in the world are in the Himalayas but Mount Everest is the Holy Grail and there are many treks that will take you to the Base Camp. I have no inclination to climb the 29035ft and follow in the footsteps of Sir Edmund Hillary and Tenzing but just to be able to see it would be amazing. Kathmandu is a facinating city to visit, and I want to see the Swayambhunath Stupa.
15 Potala Palace, Lhasa, Tibet  
  Tibet, "the Roof of the World", ruthlessly invaded by the Chinese in 1959. The 14th (and current) Dalai Lama was forced into exile, and his country brought to its knees. The Potala Palace survived the attacks on religious structures by the Red Army and today stands defiant above Lhasa. There has been a palace at this site since 637AD but construction of the palace as it is today began in 1645 during the reign of the 5th Dalai Lama.
16 Timbuktu, Mali  
 

Few places in the world have an air of mystery as alluring as Timbuktu. The name of this city in the West African country of Mali is so wrapped in legend that many people think of Timbuktu as a mythical, timeless land rather than a city with a real history. Today, Timbuktu is threatened by the Sahara Desert. The desert, which for centuries brought wealth to the city, now brings only drifting sands, driven by the dry wind of the harmattan, that threaten to smother the city and its monuments. The country also offers the Grand Mosque of Djenne, the largest mud-brick building in the world.

17 Bagan, Myanmar  
 

The Bagan area has been called the Valley of a Thousand Temples, and it looks absolutely incredible! Other highlights may be a cruise up the Irriwaddy, and a journey along the 'Road to Mandalay'. Many organisations encourage a boycott of Burma in an attempt to force serious political reform. Aung San Suu Kyi, a famous opposition leader has been kept under house arrest for years. I don't know enough about the situation to make a personal descision but before I were to seriously consider visiting I would make it my priority to understand the problem, and base my descision from an informed viewpoint.

18 Tahiti  
  Since marvelling at a selection of paintings by Paul Gauguin, I've been drawn to visit the French Polynesian island of Tahiti above any other south pacific island. Gaugin moved to the South Seas in 1891 and painted Tahitian life. Apart for a gap of two years where he returned to Paris, he lived on these islands until his death in 1901. He ended his days on a small island called Hiva Oa. The most popular resort islands are Moorea and also Bora Bora of the Leeward Islands. Nuclear testing by the French government took place at the Moruroa atoll as late as 1996, but that's sufficently far away (1200km) from Tahiti to cause concern.
19 Iguaçu Falls, Brazil / Argentina  
  Iguaçu Falls are quite immense, and personally I imagine beats any other waterfall for impact. Situated at the border of Brazil and Argentina, the Iguaçu river spills over 275 waterfalls. The Argentine side has the best and most varied up-close views of Iguacu Falls while the Brazilian side has the spectacular panoramic view. A must visit whilst in Brazil is Rio de Janiero, with Sugar Loaf mountain, Christ the Redeemer statue, Cococabana beach, Maracana football stadium, and the mother of all carnivals.
20 Sossusvlei, Namibia  
 

Sossusvlei's rich ochre sand dunes are one of the most wonderous sights in the world. They rise to an astonishing 300m, (100m higher than their nearest rivals in Arabia) and they just begged to be climbed barefoot. Geologists say that this supreme desert covering most of the Namib-Naukluft Park could be the oldest in the world. The older the dune, the brighter the colour from slow iron oxidisation. Visiting this remote region takes some perseverance as it is 300km from any main highway, but well worth the effort.

21 The Kingdom of Bhutan  
 

This mystical mountainous buddhist kingdom still holds a tight control over visitor numbers into its ancient and spiritual lands, which simply inceases the intrigue about this country. It's most sacred site and famous landmark, the cliff edge Taktshang Monastery, burned down in 1998 but will be re-built once an auspicious date has been decided upon. The capital Thimbu is the only national capital not to have any traffic control lights! The meeting of four valleys at Bumthang is said to be spectacular.

22 Kerala, India  
  A lesser known destination until recently, but becoming increasingly popular. The sleepy backwaters of Kerala is a paradise for relaxation and rejuvination. The area specialises in Ayurveda therapies and is also a haven for vegetarians! A popular way of staying in Kerala is to go on a House Boat vacation, cruising gently down the network of rivers and canals. Just off the coast are the Amindivi, Kavaratti, and Cannanore Islands, collectively known as Lakshadweep.
23 Borneo, Malaysia  
  As a child I always wanted to visit Borneo above any other place after looking through my father's stamp collection. Those little square inch artwork painted pictures of an exotic destination. They were the things that first ignited my interest in travelling. It has now slipped down my list but visiting an Orangutang Sanctuary, seeing Mt. Kinabalu, or even the opportunity to spend an evening in a tribal village, still makes Borneo and fascinating destination. Malaysia also has Kula Lumpur and Langkawi to offer.
24 Ngorongoro Crater , Tanzania  
 

Tanzania is where I would consider as the top African "safari" destination. The Ngorongoro crater is the largest unbroken caldera in the world, and measures some 260 sq. km. It has created its own microcosm which is home to an rich abundance of wildlife. Tanzania also boasts the greatest safari show on earth with the mass migration from the Serengeti north towards the Masai Mara. Plus it is home to the most surreal sight in Africa with the snow capped mountain of Kilimanjaro. The fabulously named spice island of Zanzibar seems like the natural destination to end the trip with some rest and relaxation.

25 Gobi Desert, Mongolia  
 

 

26 Patagonia, Argentina  
  Patagonia has a very special link with Wales because in 1865 hundreds of settlers landed in what is now called Puerto Madryn and established a community which still survives today. The Welsh language is spoken by many as a second language in the Province of Chubut, with the town of Gaiman being its cultural centre. A visit to Tierre del Fuego is also essential with it being the "end of the earth"! Also we may fancy learning how to Tango in Buenos Aires!
27 Kyoto, Japan  
 

Japan, a country that sometimes appears to be from another planet! There's something fascinating in the way that it has blended a lifestyle of rich cultural heritage with a super-ultra modern outlook. A visit to Kyoto and Tokyo would be essential to see the two faces co-exist. Mount Fuji is also one of those elite top 10 mountains that you should visit. Throw onto the list a ride in a "Bullet" train and to watch a bout of Sumo wrestling!

28 Samarkand, Uzbekistan  
 

Uzbekistan is currently suffering major civil unrest which makes the idea of visiting a little less tempting! However Samarkand can take you back to the Silk Road with its mosaic Registan and colourful bazaars in the historic centre. The rest of the city is just a drab Soviet style development. Other cities such as Khiva and Bukhara offer other ancient cities that are the best examples in Central Asia.

29 Victoria Falls, Zambia  
   
30 Grand Canyon, USA Read the travelogue
 

One of the Natural Wonders of the World. It's difficult to comprehend the sheer scale of the canyon. At its deepest it reaches over a mile down beneath the rim. I remember photographs of my father standing at the rim, wearing a cowboy hat, throwing snowballs! It's one of the few places in the USA that I wanted to see so when we visited Las Vegas recently to renew our vows a trip to the Grand Canyon was the only thing on my to-do list. Read the travelogue here.

31 Mayan Guatemala, Belize & Yucatan  
 

With Tikal in North Guatemala, Chichen Itza in the Yucatan (province of Mexico), and Xanantunich in Belize this whole peninsula is full of examples of the Mayan civilisation. The archaelogical finds from the site of the ancient Aztec city of Tenochtitlán, deep beneath Mexico City would also be interesting. I would also get a buzz from going to Mexico City, not only to drink copious amounts of tequilla and eat barrow loads of burritos but also to visit the museum of unorthodox artist Frida Kahlo.

32 Costa Rica, El Salvador & Nicaragua  
   
33 Sukhotai, Thailand  
 

Having twice previously visited Thailand, and seen the Reclinning Buddha, the beauty of the Phi Phi Island, the evocative Golden Triangle, and the World Heritage site of Ayutthaya; a visit to Sukhotai is high on my list of what to see during a return visit. Other locations include treking out of Chiang Mai, some bridge of the Kwai river, a troop of monkeys in Lopburi, the elephant round up of Surin, and many many more reasons to return.

34 Pak Ou Caves, Laos  
  On the banks of the Mekong, 25km up north of Luang Prabang, cut into the limestone karst are two caves that were pilgrimage sites for the Lao people. Now they draw hordes of visiting tourists. Over a thousand years of pilgriming has built up a vast collection of Buddha statues. The city of Luang Prabang has a charm that has been recognised by UNESCO as worthy of its protection. The "Plain of Jars", a bizarre landscape strewn with large stone jars also looks interesting. Laos is a very poor country, and the least visited in SE Asia.
35 Havana, Cuba Read the travelogue
 

 

 

36 Hong Kong, China  
 

 

 

37 New York, USA  
 

 

 

38 Petra, Jordan  
 

 

 

39 Abu Simbel, Egypt  
 

 

 

40 Antartica & New Zeland  
 

 

 

41 Kaieteur Falls, Guyana  
 

 

 

42 Reunion Island, Indian Ocean  
 

 

 

43 Hawaii, USA  
 

 

 

44 Alaska, USA  
 

 

 

45 Marrekech, Morocco Read the travelogue
 

Read the travelogue here.

46 Israel & Palestine Read the travelogue Read the travelogue
 

Jerusalem, Bethlehem, Jericho, the river Jordania and the Dead Sea. Biblical names that take me back to my Sunday School days. I was fortunate enough to have visited, (if only for a day), during a period of relative calm in the region. Or was it ? Perhaps at the age of thirteen I was unaware of the tensions. Now, twenty five years later, it is probably the most tense time to visit in recent history. See some more photos here

47 Angel Falls, Venezuela    
 

 

 

48 Roman Temples of Libya  
 

Sabratha & Leptis Magna

 

 

49 Temple of Bachus, Batalbek, Lebanon    
 

 

 

50 Trinidad & Tobago  
 

 

 

 

Reserve List

Niagra Falls & Toronto, Canada
Damascus, Syria
Iran

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