Bree’s ‘Best’ Lists
People always ask me ‘What’s your favorite country that you’ve been to?’ This is an impossible question! Favorite place for what? Wildlife? Culture? Shopping? Eating? Hiking? Adventure? There are so many countries that have such beautiful places to see and awesome things to experience that I can’t narrow it down to one favorite place.
With this in mind, here’s my ‘Best of’ list. Keep in mind that this is a personal list that only includes places I’ve been to (ok plus one I haven’t). Of course there may be somewhere better in the world to eat deep fried tarantulas than Skoun, Cambodia, but until I find that place this list will just have to suffice.
Lists are generally in order of awesomeness.
Best in Show:
Cambodia: Beautiful crumbling ancient temples of Angkor, incredible food, and wonderfully kind people who suffered through a recent genocide and came out humble and still smiling. What more could you ask for?
New Zealand: This is adventure center! Cave spelunking, 4WD courses (where the ‘winner’ is the one with the dirtiest car), rafting, kayaking, cave tubing, skydiving, and ATV-ing. If New Zealand doesn’t get your heart racing, I don’t know what will.
Borneo: A near-perfect mix of wildlife, adventure, and relaxation. Visit the orangutans in the jungle, trek up the highest mountain in South East Asia, then spend a few days resting your aching muscles on the beach. Top it off with freshly-caught fish from the night market in Kota Kinabalu.
South Africa: Wineries, shark diving, Nelson Mandela’s prison, whale watching and one of the best Game Parks in all of Africa, Krugar National Park, all set in a beautiful rugged landscape. Table Mountain in Cape Town isn’t too bad either.
The Amazon, Brazil: Well, I’m a bit of a wildlife lover so this one tops the list for amazing wildlife and incredible adventure. Spend a week or two on a houseboat meandering along the Amazon, and make sure you spend at least one night sleeping in the jungle! (see ‘worst night of sleep’ below!)
Best Wildlife: (this one gets a top ten instead of top five because I love animals)
Overall: Bwindi Impenetrable Forest, Uganda. Lace up your boots and prepare for the best hour of your life: tracking gorillas! Get up close and personal if the gorillas are feeling friendly, or perhaps get a punch in the arm if they’re feeling playful! (Lincoln went to Ruhungeri National Park in Rwanda and had a similarly amazing experience)
Close Encounter: Galapagos Islands. The animals here are completely used to humans and not afraid of us, so go ahead and get that close-up of the blue-footed booby or marine iguana. They won’t shy away.
Spectacle: Maasai Mara National Park, Kenya. Head here in June/July for the wildebeest migration. Think hundreds and thousands of brown dots on the horizon. (Until you get close and just see wildebeest as far as your eyes can see)
Place to see the Big Five: Serengeti National Park, Tanzania: Elephant, Lion, Rhino, Leopard, and Water Buffalo. You’re nearly guaranteed these five during the dry season in the Serengeti.
Alternative Safari: Chitwan National Park, Nepal. Hop on the back of an elephant and head to the jungle in search of elusive tigers and rare one-horned Asiatic rhinos.
River Safari: Kinabatangan River, Sabah, Borneo, Malaysia. Hop in a boat and float down the river in search of orangutans! Be ready for heaps of other wildlife like proboscis monkeys, hornbills, and maybe even some pygmy elephants splashing on the shore!
Birds: The Amazon, Brazil. Parrots and toucans galore!
Luxury Safari: Okavango Delta, Botswana. Head here for some seriously plush safari lodges with small aircraft flights between your camps (and check out the giraffes from the plane window!)
Cold-Weather Safari: Manitoba, Canada (note- I have not actually been here but my parents have. This is my list; I can include what I want). Hop in your tundra buggy and head out on the snow to observe polar bears.
Animal Interaction: Isla Mujares, Cancun, Mexico. Swimming with dolphins! You actually get to ‘ride’ them (hang on to their fins and let them pull you in) and pet them. Just don’t go if you’re pregnant: If you have twins the dolphins will attempt to terminate your pregnancy.
Best Places to Get Away From it All:
Where You Will See Zero Other White People: Bangladesh. I’m not even going to put a city because no matter where you go, there will be no other white people, even in Dhaka. It’s pretty cool. Remember to be especially polite and respectful here because for many locals, you may be their first impression of white people.
Where You Will See Minimal Other White People: Bhutan. The government regulates the amount of tourists who are allowed here each year, and each person has to pay over $200 a day while they’re there. That $200 a day is well worth it though, with the spectacular mountain views and friendly locals to show you around Thimpu, the only capital city in the world with no stoplights.
You Should Go Soon: Burma. With the recent release of political prisoner Aung San Suu Kyi and the subsequent opening of its borders in 2012, tourists are now streaming in. But with still only 4% the amount of tourists that neighboring Thailand receives, it’s still a great place to go to get away from it all and see some beautiful sights.
Sleepy Village: Luang Prabang, Laos. Sure, there are quite a few tourists here, but sleepy little Luang Prabang is a fantastic place to relax, get a massage (or three!) and indulge in some great food.
Breath of Fresh Air: Darjeeling, India. If you’re in India and need to escape the heat and chaos of southern and central India, head north to the mountains and cool fresh air of Darjeeling. Chill out in a tea shop or go for a hike in the neighboring hills.
Overall: Ho Chi Minh City, Vietnam. Droooooooool. Don’t miss the pho at Pho 24 (chain store in Ho Chi Minh City)
Overall (tie): Italy. Fresh bread and cheese. Pizza. Pasta. Wine. Need I say more?
Street Food: Khao San Road, Bangkok, Thailand. Open 24 hours; fresh, hot, tasty and cheap!
Seafood: San Blas Islands, Panama. Where else can you pay $10 for a full lobster dinner, a bed for the night, and a full crab lunch? All caught that day.
Craziest Food: Skoun, Cambodia (on the road between Phnom Penh and Siem Reap). Deep fried tarantulas are a delicacy.
Best Natural Wonders
Waterfall: Iguassu Falls, Brazil and Argentina. Over 275 different falls create this beautiful masterpiece of nature
Magic Moment: Bioluminescent Bay, Puerto Rico. Canoeing in the bay, you dip your hand in the water and it glows! Tiny animals called dinoflagelites glow like lightning bugs when disturbed, causing a very Harry Potter-like atmosphere. (note- I did not take this photo, it’s from the internet)
Snorkeling: Red Sea, Sharm El Sheik, Egypt. The colors here cannot be beaten.
Strange Feeling: Dead Sea, Jordan. If you’re normally a sinker, don’t despair! You will float in the Dead Sea.
Breathtaking View: The Annapurnas, Nepal. With some of the highest peaks in the world, the Annapurna Mountain Ranges simply take your breath away (plus you’re at high altitude so are generally short of breath anyway).
Best Man-Made Wonders
Reclaimed by Nature: Angkor temples, Siem Reap, Cambodia. Angkor Wat is stunning, but don’t overlook the ‘Tomb Raider’ temple of Ta Prohm with its trees growing through the walls and the famous faces of Bayon Temple.
Carved in Rock: Petra, Jordan. Get all Indiana-Jones-like and ride your horse to the mouth of the canyon before eying up this spectacular old building carved into rock.
How Are They Still Standing?: The Great Pyramids of Giza, Egypt. Everyone knows about the pyramids. They are truly stunning in real life. So go there.
Built to withstand Earthquakes: Machu Picchu, Peru. Take the 4:30am bus to the top to get there before the crowds and you’ll be rewarded with a spectacular view over the site without all the Asians in their red tour group hats. (don’t get me wrong I love Asians- just not their red tour hats)
Most Impressive: The Great Wall of China. Go for a hike on the ten-kilometer section from Jinshaling to Simatai, just outside of Beijing. At the end of the hike you can zip line across the canyon to finish!
Water Sport: Tumo tumo tubing, Waitomo Caves, New Zealand. Grab your rubber tube and hop in the underground river for a ride you won’t forget! Glow worms light your way on the ceiling of the cave.
Jungle Hike: The Pinnacles, Sarawak, Borneo, Malaysia. It’s a full day hike to camp, and then another hot and sweaty four hours to the top the next morning, but the Pinnacles are pretty cool! (as is the hike)
Killer Hike: Mount Kilimanjaro, Tanzania. At 5,895m (19,340 feet), it’s the highest mountain in Africa and a tough slog on summit day. You’ll battle altitude sickness, fatigue, and a frozen camelback tube, but when you reach that summit sign it feels so good!
Sport: Canyoning the Cetina River, near Split, Croatia. Canyoning involves floating, walking, and careening down rapids, along with some fun cliff jumps!
Bike Ride: Mount Haleakala, Hawaii, USA. Strap on your motorcycle helmet and prepare to bike down this old volcano. Starting at 10,000 feet above sea level and about 20 degrees Fahrenheit, make your way to a much more comfortable 0 feet and 80 degrees.
Glacier Hike: Glacier Bay, Alaska, USA. Hop in a helicopter and strap on your crampons for this awesome hike across a glacier.
Best Family Trips:
Cruise: Juneau Alaska to Vancouver Canada, stopping in all the major Alaskan ports. Bald eagles, bears, and beautiful views abound!
Road Trip: Southwest USA. Arches National Park, Zion, Bryce, Monument Valley, Grand Canyon, and all within a few hours of Vegas! Think Vegas is wrong for kids? Think again. Magic shows, good cheap food, roller coasters and just walking around ‘Venice’ or ‘Paris’ is fun enough!
Fun in the Sun: Stingray City, Cayman Islands. Take a boat out to a shallow area and hop out to pet wild stingrays!
Road Trip #2: Great Ocean Road, Victoria, Australia. Beautiful coastline scenery and beaches with wild kangaroos and koalas.
Beaches: Turtle Beach, St. Croix, U.S. Virgin Islands, the Caribbean. This beach is amazing, and at certain times of the year you may spot turtles nesting. (but really you can’t go wrong with just about any beach in the Caribbean).
Best Drinks and Partying
Street Music: Bahia, Brazil. There’s nowhere in this ex-slave trading town where you won’t hear drumming and music. Mix it with some cachaca (sugar cane rum) and start dancing in the streets!
Cheap Wine: Peloponnese Peninsula, Greece. One liter jugs of wine for three euros! I’m no wine connoisseur, but it’s pretty tasty. Plus you become really good at Greek dancing after a few jugs.
Tea: Nuwara Eliya, Sri Lanka. The most delicious tea in the world- just ask Thomas Lipton.
Party Atmosphere: Late night discotecas in Spain. The Spanish know how to party, with most clubs not even open until one am or later. This generally doesn’t coincide with my body clock, but for those party animals out there, this is the place to be.
Impromptu Spring Break: Flic N Flac beach, Mauritius. When you’ve spent months of your life preparing for your awesome safari in Kenya, then get told you can’t go there because there are pirates off the coast of Somalia and you’re going to Mauritius instead, what better way to drown your sorrows than to drink them away on the beaches of Flic N Flac?
Back in Time Moment: Hunting with the Hadzibe Tribe, near Lake Manyara, Tanzania. These are some of the last hunter-gatherers on earth. Go hunting with them to find birds, mice, or the occasional monkey, and then accompany them back to their huts to buy their necklaces, bows, and arrows so they can purchase metal for their arrow-tips.
Museum: The Egyptian Museum in Cairo, Egypt wins this hands down. Tutankhamen’s Tomb contents are enough to keep you interested for hours, not to mention the preserved mummies! Get a guide or you will get lost.
Ancient Ruins: Peloponnese Peninsula, Greece. I love Ancient Greece. Olympia, Delphi, the Acropolis; they’re all fantastic!
Architecture and Sculpture: Florence, Spain. The city is awesome and the old art and sculptures in the museums are too.
Knowledge: The chocolate tour in Sarapiqui Research Center, Costa Rica. Learn all about the history of chocolate. (Did you know the Spanish hated chocolate when they first came to the Americas because the native name for chocolate is cacagua, which translates to ‘poop water’ in Spanish! Plus it’s brown. . . . so it didn’t bode too well with them.)
Best Markets: (all girls love a bit of shopping!)
Overall: Damnoen Saduak markets in Thailand. These are those famous floating markets you saw on TV. They’re just as cool in real life. Another great market in Thailand is the Bangkok Weekend Markets. You can buy everything there: food, clothes, furniture, pets, car parts, etc.
Souvenirs: Greenmarket Square, Cape Town, South Africa. Want that five-foot high wooden giraffe? How about a choice of 300-plus African masks? This market is bursting with authentic African souvenirs from all over the continent, not just South Africa.
Quaint: Otavalo Markets, Ecuador. Alpaca wool blankets, scarves and clothes dominate this market but many other great things can be found including paintings, jewelry, and there’s even an animal market across the road. Guinea pig for dinner, anyone?
Overwhelming: Khan el-Khalili Markets, Cairo, Egypt. Do not go to these markets as a single female! You will get harassed. That being said, if you are accompanied by your ‘husband’ these markets are great fun and you can get some great deals if you bargain hard. Just make sure your ‘husband’ doesn’t sell you for 1,000 camels to that persuasive guy down the hall.
Relaxing: Ben Than Markets, Ho Chi Minh City, Vietnam. This is a great place to wander around without being hassled to buy anything. There are some great gems hidden in here!
And a few ‘Worsts’
Night of Sleep: The Amazon, Brazil. We set up our hammocks in the middle of the jungle. Before bed, our guide advises us, ‘If you need to get up to go to the bathroom in the night, be careful because there are eight venomous snakes in the Amazon and six of them can kill you. Also, there are bullet ants, which feel like a bullet when they bite you. Oh, and scorpions. And spiders. And jaguars. Ok, goodnight!” He forgot to mention that howler monkeys in the distance sound like ghosts. But you should still do it!
Bus Ride: Arequipa to Puno night bus, Peru. Although it’s only about 7 hours long, it’s about 20 degrees Fahrenheit. Avoid this bus. (or make sure you get one with windows that aren’t stuck open)
Food: This is a tough one.
- Bhutan: Would you like your bland, tough pork with 80% fat or 90%?
- Burma: Would you like your beef curry sitting in two centimeters of oil or three?
- Peru: Would you like your sinewy Alpaca stew on top of spaghetti or French fries?
Smells: Calcutta, India. This is an assault of your senses from good to bad: urine to flowers to dead dog to chai tea to decomposing trash to incense to burning bodies to ‘what is that smell?’ Ahh, Incredible India.
Pollution: Lima Peru wins this one with Beijing, China close at its heels.
A Few That Didn’t Fit into Categories
Best Looking Men: Croatia wins this hands down. Beautiful men around every corner. If he’s tall, dark, handsome, and his last name ends in something close to ‘vich,’ he’s probably Croatian.
Best Public Transport: South Korea. I was scared to travel here by myself after getting lost in Japan several times, but all the signs here are in Korean and English, and everything is smack on time. (and clean!)
Best National Geographic Moment: Inle Lake, Burma. This place makes you feel like you just opened a page in National Geographic and dove in.
Best Way to Lose 15 pounds: Go to Nepal. Go hiking in the Annapurnas. Eat the food. Get a parasitic bacteria called giardia. Lose 15 pounds. Voila!
Best Weather: Perth, Australia. I’ve lived here the past three years and can probably count on my fingers the number of rainy days we’ve had. (Okay that may be an exaggeration, but you get the point)