Your best country?
‘Rex! What was your favourite country this year?’
This question was punted over to me in London when I watched a rather violent game of table foosball in the middle of a pub. Wincing at the issue that the girls were beating the boys, I turned round to study my two good friends who I came to visit for a pint before I attended the World Travel Market. Becci and Becca grinned at me in anticipation.
Clearing my throat, I immediately answered,
‘ah I don’t have a favourite…’
Catching myself there and then, I immediately felt guilty for having such a favourite. All of the 10 countries I visited on my 2012 RTW Travels, I do indeed have a favourite. So much so, that on the plane journey back from USA, I actually did a countdown of my favourite to my least favourite. If channel 4 back here did do a programme segment of the top 10 countries I visited, then that’s how I planned it out to look like. The gorgeous trio of Katherine Jenkins, Kylie Minogue and Amy Pond would present and lickishly lick their lips as they reveal what my top 10 would be.
Okay, getting slightly out of hand here.
Back to London.
‘errr, I actually do have a favourite, it’s …..’ hold it there, it’s time to reveal the countdown!
Actually, USA shouldn’t be mentioned in this list. I haven’t done this country any justice at all. I was only there for 7 hours and only 20 mins of that, I was only in the Californian sun outside Los Angeles Airport. This country was on my plans to travel for 20 days but due to unforeseen circumstances, my friends who would be joining me then couldn’t come and I didn’t have enough money to travel solo and pay for a motel room on my tod. However, I wasn’t impressed with the American Immigration system but I do know it is needed as much as I harrumphed my way through it!
Hopefully in 2013/4, I’ll be heading back to these North American shores to experience yet again the immigration!
10) South Thailand
Huh? Has Thailand been carved into two?! Did you miss these news while you were too busy watching x factor or following breaking news about Duchess Catherine’s pregnancy? Have no fear, the country hasn’t been broken up. But I did feel very strongly about my views between the two sides of the land of a thousand smiles…now only 500 smiles on each side. I absolutely LOVED North Thailand but didn’t feel the same about South Thailand. Don’t get me wrong, I enjoyed the Full Moon Party and especially the beauty of Ko Tao, an absolutely must for any Thai destination. Railay Beach was panoramic even though on the way out of the place, the long tail boat got caught in the storm that came out of nowhere and I nearly drowned.
But I didn’t feel any cultural benefit at all here and it seemed to me that this place was purely money orientated and only for crazy partying backpackers. After 6 nights at Ko Pha Ngan of partying, I was pretty much partied out before I did the Full Moon. Ko Samui felt very tourist and the prices astronomical compared to the rest of the country.
On the other side, Ko Phi Phi I couldn’t get to because of the horrendous monsoon rains and Phuket felt very seedy along with the travel merchants who try to rip you off.
Also, my last day of Thailand was a traumatic one headed to Malaysia when I had a knife to my face, ripped off and unwittingly part of a drug gang on the bus down to the border. I was so relieved to get out of this part of Thailand and I wished afterwards that I spent more time in Vietnam or Malaysia than coming back to Thailand to visit this part.
I wouldn’t want to come back to this part of Thailand ever again on my future travels except for Ko Tao.
Possibly the country that I most under appreciated. I seriously had some good times particular in romantic Luang Prabang. The Kuang Si Falls nearby is undoubtedly one of the best sights I’ve ever seen. I could have easily spent more than a week here, it’s that unique! I would have rather stayed in Luang Prabang than heading onto Vang Vieng to tube and drink. The novelty soon wore off immediately and pretty soon, I found myself heading to Kong Lo Cave by way of Thakek, where the worst hostel I stayed in could be found. However, we got a fantastic experience when we ended up home staying in a village and saw the darkest secrets of Kong Lo Cave. It’s definitely not to be missed… My last stop was the 4000 islands close to the Cambodian border. Money worries took precedence over our enjoyment but luckily got resolved straight away, however, Don Det seems to be shaping up to be the next Vang Vieng after a crackdown on drink and drugs in Vang Vieng. However, this remote country has been a joy to visit and Luang Prabang has definitely been the huge highlight.
Only here for 3 days, I did rather enjoy myself. It was time to feel flush after backpacking round cheap SE Asia and Singapore certainly knew it! Grabbing myself a Singapore Sling at the exclusive Raffles Hotel certainly was an experience and so was climbing the MBS Hotel to sightsee the skyline at night that certainly blew my breath away. I could see myself living here…if I had a job.
However, as a lowly backpacker, there was absolutely no way I could easily spent more than a few days here. Sure enough there were a few more places to sightsee but money rapidly ran out for my Singapore budget. It’s pretty expensive. Also, throughout, I couldn’t quite be myself. Singapore is accused of being a police state and there were thousands of rules I must adhere to. However, I started to feel ill on my travels there, which turned into a full-blown tonsilitis as I landed at my next destination. I would like to come back but only as a luxury traveller if I become one.
7) North Thailand
This part of Thailand shouldn’t be at this place on the list. But I only put it there because I spent not enough time here. I think it’s a testament that spending 9 full days in Chiang Mai definitely makes me sure that this is the place I would love to come back! Spending my time cuddling tigers, trekking through the jungles, and the best festival ever called Songkran has made me start to enjoy travels fully. In hindsight, I should have stayed in this region longer but with flights booked to leave Singapore in 2 more months and having to travel at least 4 countries in between, I had to leave. If I stayed, I would have checked out Pai, Chiang Rai and more.
Perhaps the reason why this part of Thailand has secured its place on this list, is due to Bangkok. Don’t get me wrong, I enjoyed Bangkok but I think my expectations for my first city of 2012 Travels were a lot higher. Perhaps I should have stayed longer than the week I was there, but I was in a hurry to start travelling. I did all the touristy stuff like the Wat Pho, taking a river cruise down the River followed by a trip to the State Tower to be overawed by the skybar. But if I had to return, then I would try to stay in the ex-pat area rather than the Khao San Road area and explore less gimmicky places. And actually have my own hired Tuk-tuk that don’t take me constantly to suit shops!
This has been the most difficult to place. After all, it’s not just a country, it’s a continent! I’ve only visited 4 states there and yet I feel like they should be treated as four different countries. However, Australia is one country in its right. Landing in Cairns of Queensland, I immediately disliked the place. A party town it was and I didn’t feel it was right for me. After a brief spell of trapping animals in the rainforests for a job, and Finding Nemo at the Great Barrier Reef, I went on a campervanning experience to Cape Tribulation and Cooktown and that’s when I started to really enjoy Queensland. Being in the outback was me. I could see myself as a strutting cowboy in the barren plains and I was loving being on the road.
A further campervanning trip down the east coast of Australia through Queensland threw up some gems. Waterfall wonders such as Wallaman Falls, and Jourama Falls, followed by daunting experiences such as nearly mistaken for dogging, or even getting a fine in Airlie Beach, and a trip into the state of New South Wales and catching the rays at Byron Bay Lighthouse made my Australian a thoroughly enjoyable one! Finishing at Brisbane, I was soon pressed into a new WWOOFing job by being naked at a nudist resort (post to come when I feel writing about it 😛 ) due to money worries. Australia is sooooo expensive and being a backpacker meant that I exceeded my budget on a monthly basis. But luckily, I came under budget in SE Asia which made up for it.
After finding my freedom by dangling bits around, I flew to Western Australia to Perth, a city I cannot make up my mind about. It seemed a great place to settle down if I wanted to but there’s something that I can’t put my finger on why I didn’t take that chance. But I didn’t need to wonder too much as I found myself in the outback again surrounded by wildflowers and hanging out with my friends from back home in Morawa. I really liked Western Australia. It wasn’t full on like Sydney or Melbourne. The pace of life seemed just perfect for me. However, I needed to be back on the road again to get over to New South Wales again to Sydney!
Now, Sydney, was a huge delightful surprise! Everyone kept banging on about how amazing it was and I was sure that it wasn’t at all it’s cracked up to be and that I would enjoy Melbourne more than Sydney. But I needn’t feared. Sydney was AWESOME! Even after a week there, I still wanted to stay and I would have happily lived there if I wanted to. Sydney had everything to offer through Beaches, walking tours, bloody fantastic nightlife and what’s more the Blue Mountains, a place of fantastic beauty (and where I nearly died) was right on Sydney’s doorstep!
With regret, I left this amazing city to Melbourne in the state of Victoria. I was slightly disappointed with Melbourne but only because I think it was absolutely freezing there thanks to it being in the middle of winter. You could feel the cold and bitter wind on the brilliant Great Ocean Road. Perhaps in summer, I can truly appreciate it for what it should be.
With Melbourne my last stop, I wished I could have stayed in Australia. I really do. But on a backpacking budget and on a tourist visa, I couldn’t do what I wanted to do thanks to monetary restraints and expensive tours. I would have loved to gone to the Northern Territory and saw Uluru, drove through South Australia and stayed at Coober Pedy. And even gone to Tasmania! But next time….next time. Perhaps when I’m a flashpacker.
Now, we’re getting into the top 5! Malaysia, definitely, is high on my list but would have been higher so if I stayed longer and explored the country more rather than just Kuala Lumpur, the capital. I wasn’t convinced about Malaysia before and everyone I spoke to didn’t develop the enthusiasm about the country as they did with other countries, so I decided to spent a few days there just exploring the capital. Now I really regret doing that. I had an awesome time there! The food was absolutely gorgeous, so much so that I ended up doing a cooking class to find out how I could recreate this back home. The accommodation was fantastic, the people super friendly, the Petronas Towers inspiring, and the culture was just astonishing. I was just bowled over by it all. It’s actually on my bucket list to try to get enthused about Malaysia and I only had to spend one day there just to get even more enthused! So next time I’m in this hot bed of culture, I will want to explore more and visit Penang, plenty of the islands and even Borneo. This truly is the country that I feel like I missed out on.
This is the country when travel got truly funky. Just ask my hippie pants. After travelling through remote Laos, Cambodia was an absolute revelation. Siem Reap is truly one of the best places to be when you’re a backpacker. I could see myself living here. The Temples of Angkor are right at your doorstep and I viewed one of the best sunrises ever on my travels over Angkor Wat. There’s a variety of accommodation, mostly guesthouses, that’s just absolutely brilliant, the people are always constantly smiling and definitely wanting a banter with you (you must buy these hippie pants because you look so handsome!), massages are out of this world, and you can even learn some Khmer Cooking if you’re not too busy getting the Angkor What Bar T-shirt by drinking buckets! Siam Reap was just, to use my favourite description, AMAZING! I just couldn’t fault it all.
With Siem Reap as my first stop, the rest of Cambodia didn’t quite meet to its standards despite still having the time of my life in this beautiful country. Phnom Penh, the capital, was our next stop and this is the place to go if you want to learn about the history and culture of Cambodia. However, I only stayed 2 days. I thought it was too overcrowded, smelly and perhaps a bit unsafe. But the harrowing tales of the Khmer Rouge regime told through the S21 Genocide Museum and the Killing Fields definitely brought me closer to the Cambodian people.
Sihanuokville was our beach stop before we headed into Vietnam. Grabbing a dirt cheap deal for accommodation on Otres Beach, we chilled out to the max. However, we could only be there for 3 days and I would have loved to have jumped aboard a boat and saw Ko Rong, reputed to be the most beautiful place in Cambodia. I definitely want to go back.
This country is absolutely one of my favourite countries. The reason for being fourth place is that it just got beaten by the other 3 countries slightly. I really, really, want to go back.
Getting towards the end of my 2012 Travels, Fiji was my last real stop before USA. And really, in the end, I treated it like a holiday rather than backpacking and I ABSOLUTELY LOVED IT! The main reason? Mantaray Island. Just wow, wow, wow and wow! Never in my life I felt so relaxed and the main thing I had to think about was organising my time for snorkelling, sunbathing and eating. That is all. The best snorkelling spot, freshly caught food, and constant best weather possible made it totally worth it.
I had some trepidation about this country, that’s made up of a series of small islands, that I would be on my own, but I made the best friends possible on this island. I also travelled to Blue Lagoon Island where I got my full taste of Fijian Culture and to the main island to experience the way of life. Only for a week I was there, and despite normally hating this kind of holiday for being boring, this was indeed the best beach holiday I’ve ever been on.
I would have liked to explored the main island more and perhaps visit more of the Yasawas Islands but I’ll alwasy remember to avoid Beachcomber Island thanks to horrifying stories of sleaze from there! This country indeed is the best beach holiday on offer!
This country is, without a doubt, one of the best I’ve been to. I really enjoyed myself there. I could see why people would say that if you didn’t enjoy Thailand as much, you would love Vietnam. Steeped in history and brimming with culture and fantastic food, this was unarguably a country that I loved. I just wished I had more time there and checked out the more rural and remote areas. Heck, I would even gone on a hike in Sapa from Hanoi.
Despite my disappointments, I still did a load of fantastic experiences. Dodging traffic in the infamous Saigon, being informed about the Vietnam War (or American war to them) at Cu Chi Tunnels, getting muddy in the mud baths of Nha Trang, tasting the best food in Hoi An followed by buying myself some sweet suits there, and loving the old Imperial Capital of Hue and finally the capital of Hanoi. Hanoi, I really could see myself staying there a lot longer, I mean, there’s everything on its doorstep. Halong Bay is indeed one of them and I believe is one of the best UNESCO sites ever along with its beauty and grandeur. And the cruise I undertook with Hanoi Backpackers had to be one of the most funniest tours.
The people of Vietnam has a forthright manner and it was indeed refreshing after the ‘saving face’ attitude of Thailand, Laos and Cambodia. If they wanted to tell you what they thought of you, they would do so! Every accommodation I went to for backpackers was pretty comfortable, and the food is just awesome. You must try Pho.
If I ever had to return to SE Asia, Vietnam would absolutely be my first priority.
1) New Zealand
Here we are, the best country of my 2012 Travels! It’s New Zealand! I must confess that New Zealand was the place I was most looking forward to and it didn’t disappoint. It by far exceeded my expectations a million fold. I grew a huge affinity to the place and when I left the Island of the Long White Cloud, I had tears rolling down my cheeks. For nearly 2 months, I travelled round the length and width of the 2 islands and I wanted to stay and live there. If I was with someone, I think we would have.
There have been too many highlights to pick out a few favourites but I would say that Bungee Jumping over the Nevis Gorge in Queenstown, seeing the beauty of both Kaikoura and Abel Tasman Park, travelling up 90 mile beach to Cape Reinga, and many more would be listed.
Jumping aboard the Kiwi Experience Bus allowed me to visit as many destinations I could. Kicking off after leaving Auckland after a pleasurable time in the Northlands in the Bay of Islands, we headed on over to Hot Water Beach in the Coromandel Coast. This would be the start of a brilliant tour. What followed was the Caves of Waitomo, doing the Hangi Feast with the Maoris, skydiving over Taupo and checking out the beating capital of Wellington.
Crossing over to the South Island, I immediately fell in love with this island. After a delightful stay in Kerikeriteri, we travelled down the west coast to rub shoulders with rugby players, attending a Poo Party and got to go to Franz Josef Glacier. At Franz, this was my main disappointment of New Zealand. Due to the awful weather, we couldn’t hike on the Glacier, something I’ve always wanted to do.
After a brief stop in picturesque Wanaka, I stayed in Queenstown for a few more days and it basically had everything to offer. A beautiful lake, extreme sports, a buzzing atmosphere, and a backpacking vibe, this was indeed the place to be if you wanted to look for work. And you must by all means, do go to Milford Sound. It’s the 8th Wonder of the World!
Christchurch, afterwards, offered fantastic glimpses into the New Zealand way of life even in its aftermath from the deadly earthquake that destroyed most of the city. Then it was time to go back to Auckland from there and stopping over in Kaikoura, Wellington and Taupo, I got to do one of the best tours of my travels. The Hobbiton set! In Matamata, all the hobbits could be found there in there hobbit holes, it was just a buzzing experience to me. Then there I was back in Auckland.
New Zealand was just right for me. It ticked all the boxes, and I long for the day when I can move there. But first, I need to do some more travelling.
‘errr, I actually do have a favourite, it’s…New Zealand! I replied.
They look impressed and turned back to the game and I leant back on my chair. A realisation had dawned on me. I don’t think any other country could top New Zealand and for any future travels, I think I’m screwed.
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Guess where I’m going in June. NZ!! Yay! I’m sure I’ll love it as much as you did. I also totally agree that southern Thailand can be a bit too party orientated and Malaysia is a better experience and just as beautiful.
You’ll absolutely love New Zealand. How long are you going for?