These are a few of my favourite- or least favourite- things.
World’s biggest meteor, Namibia! One day and night to get to the nearest town, and another wasted getting out there, expecting something BIG, not a coffee table. Stayed for minutes.
Big Rock, Mongolia! See above. Uluru is a big rock. Nice place to camp at least.
Golden Triangle, Thailand! Sounds exotic and edgy. It’s bend in the river, with tourist tat for sale.
Jordan, all of it! Wadi Rum and Petra are two of the world’s great sights, and attract some of the world’s great scumbags. Ordinary Jordanians, with whom you had no business dealings were great. A different story if money was involved.
Aksum, Ethiopia! The Ark Of The Covenant, whatever that is, is locked away out of sight. The church which holds it is nothing special. The great obelisks and steele are a bit better at least.
Tanzania, nearly all of it. Boasting some of Africa’s great wildlife, this place loves fly-in package tourists. It also loves fleecing people, and treating paying customers with utter contempt. Never seen a tourist industry shamelessly shaft visitors time and time again.
Northern Ethiopia, into Aksum. Breathtaking moutain scenery down which your bus seems certain to plunge at any and every moment.
Botswana highway to Chobe. Flat, straight, empty, stunning, with elephants and giraffes wandering into sight from the horizon.
Pamir Highway, the second highest highway in the world. From Khorog (2200m ASL), Tajikistan, through the Gorno-Badakhshan Autonomous Region, to Osh, Kyrgyzstan, with a pass of 4655m, an overnight stop at 4314m. Incredible engineering, incredibly isolated, incredible alpine scenery, and tough but hospitable people.
Tajikistan, Kalaikhum to Khorog. 244km, hugging the Pyandzh River which forms the Afghan border, a beautiful, bone-crushing goat track, where we spent 14 painful hours being thrown around the cabin of belching snail paced trucks.
Skeleton Coast, Namibia. Mists. Shipwrecks. Sand dunes of multiple hues. Rolling clouds. Moody and desolate.
Salalah to Yemen coast, Oman. The bluest ocean water, rocky coasts, camels, wadis, and oasis villages.
Taipei. With apologies to to the rest of Taiwan. Awesome Chinese food of different persuasions at every turn. Huge street market. Killer pork dishes. Noodles, dumplings. Never bad.
Chiang Mai, Thailand. Some may say Bangkok is better, but C Mai is so much easier to get around. Lanna and Isaan Thai, Chinese Thai, Burmese, some good western, street markets.
Namibia. Never likely to become a gourmet destination, but after 5 months of East African eating, this was heaven. Game meat, German pork, big serves, fully stocked supermarkets. It’s all relative.
India. Regional varieties abound, from northern tandooris to Assamese thali or southern dosa. Street food impossible to miss.
Burma. Likely to draw a blank for most people, Burmese cuisine has Thai, Indian and Chinese influences, but is distinct from them all. Often centred around curries and served with plenty of side dishes. And then there are the regional varieties. And the noodle soups.
Auntie Rose’s dining room. Sorry, this one is invitation-only. My mate Rakish’s mother, Auntie Rose is a Burmese-born Malaysian of Indian descent, and her home cooked meals are some of the best I have ever had.
Chimpanzees, Gombe, Tanzania. Hard to get to, expensive to visit, but a privilege. Guided through the forest on Lake Tanganyika and allowed to sit and watch these magnificent, intelligent creatures playing, eating, scratching and fighting, yeah, cool.
Elephant charge, Kruger, South Africa. On our first day in a big game park, one big lady told us to back off, which we did. But apparently not far enough. The secnd charge was for real, and we were backing up faster than an Italian tank.
Wildebeest migration, Masai Mara, Kenya. Millions of them, making that weird wildbeest grunt-squeek, massing by the water, checking the water, waiting, retreating, coming back, and finally one mass charge across.
Gibbons, Thailand. The sweetest call that carries across the forests. Perhaps I have just been lucky, but I have managed to find them almost every time I set out in Khao Yai and Kaeng Krachan National Parks. One of my favourite animals.
Lions, Kafue, Zambia. Wildlife is free to walk through the unfenced camps in Zambia’s national parks. We ate dinner to the mating calls nearby, and they continued through the night. In the morning, first one then another, the eventually nine lions were outside our tent.
Wolf, Bale Mountains, Ethiopia. The rarest dog in the world, a beautiful day trek took us into their habitat, but sightings are never certain. Eventually we saw over ten! And in the night our sleep was broken by the haunting sounds of a leopard and baboon fighting close by.
Honourable mentions: Sugar glider, Chiltern, Australia; 19 lion pride in South Luangwa, Zambia; leopard, Tsavo West, Kenya; chameleons, Umbusara mountains, Tanzania.
FESTIVAL & EVENTS
Australian Open Tennis, Australia. A strange inclusion because it is not only my home town, but also work. But it is such a fun festival, with happy, friendly people from the world over competing and watching that I look forward to it every year.
Hamar Bull Jumping, Ethiopia. Male of southern Ethiopia’s Hamar tribes must jump over 9 bulls lined up, to become a man. Naked. After the women of the tribe have danced around him, tormenting and whipping him for hours. (I lost all my photos…..)
Songkran, Thailand. The Thai New Year is a time for washing away the sins of the past year, and blessing the new. Big cities involve free-for-all waterfights and soapy twerking, where the smaller towns and villages are an all ages dance, whiskey and water party.
Water festival, Phnom Penh, Cambodia. Boat races held in November finish in front of the Royal Palace and draw teams and vsistors from all over the country. Thousands gather on the river banks to festivalise.
Nomad Games, Kyrgzstan. An international multi-sports festival involving horses, wresting, archery, and eagles, often at the same time. Thousands bring their ger and set up a village in the valley for a week.
Weddings, Gondar, Ethiopia and central Asia. Gondar Castle fills with a dozen singing and dancing wedding parties on weekends. Central Asian weddings are huge affairs, singing, dancing, lambs, vodka, old girls kicking up their heels.
Elephant, Phnom Penh, Cambodia. A mahoot was walking his elephant through the street of the capital, as you do, so he gave me a ride around town.
Garbage truck, Namibia. We’d just been dropped by a friend at a camp/resort at the end of the road, 15km from town. It was closed and she had driven off. Along came a garbage truck to save the day.
Tractor, Kenya. In the beautiful rolling hills of Kenya’s west, returning from a national park with no public transort. Along chugs Farmer Brown.
Truck, Keetmansop, Namibia to Cape Town . 1600km to our final destination in Africa, on the day Mandela died. The driver let us sleep in his cab until day break, for safety reasons, and walked us to the bus stop.
Gold Convoy, Namibia. Riding in the cab listening to Rod Stewart in a 3-truck armed convoy carrying US$15m of gold and copper- our introduction to Namibia.
Lake Turkana, Kenya. From a one street town where people wear goatskins and machetes, through across sandy tracks, acacia forests and past primitive villages to the largest desert lake in the world. And the driver asked me if I know the way! Getting out was just as interesting.
(I’m writing this a few months before a trip to Zimbabwe!)
Kakadu, and Nitmiluk, Australia. Kakadu’s waterfalls, billabongs, ancient rock art at stunning rock look-outs, crocodiles, wallabies, millions of birds. The same geological structure runs down to Nitmiluk (Katherine Gorge) with great hikes and swimming.
South Luangwa, Zambia. Just the best. Great wildlife, well managed, feels endlessly big, and Africa’s best guides.
Kafue, Zambia. Lions and elephants walking through your camp ground is hard to beat. A country-sized park, with some of Africa’s legendary wildlife heroes.
Etosha, Namibia. A smorgasbord of wildlife. Flood-lit waterholes for night time viewing. Great facilities.
Tsavo West, Kenya. As well as a very healthy elephant population, this often overlooked park has some unbeatable scenery. Classic red dirt and acacia trees.
West MacDonnell Ranges, Australia. Gorgeous gorges, plenty of treks, classic red-centre outback.
RUINS & ANCIENT CITIES
Mrauk U, Burma. Unlike Bagan, there was no forced removal of villagers at Mrauk U, so you can be walking or riding past someone’s washing line or ducks, turn left at be awed by a huge stone temple. Unlike Bagan, almost nobody goes there, even in peace times.
Angkor, Cambodia. I had the pleasure of seeing the maginifent Khmer cities in 1993, when daily visitor numbers were in low double figures.
Samarkand, Uzbekistan. Probably the greatest Silk Roads city, the Registan stuns the modern visitor. After weeks in the desert, how would the 16th century merchant have felt seeing these glorious temples, palaces, and caravanserai?
Palmyra, Syria. It breaks my heart.
Esfahan, Iran. Some of Islam’s greatest architecture is built around the Naqsh-e Jahan Square. Churches, gardens, palaces, bridges and markets from a multi-cultured city which was the centre of the world.
Karnak temples, Luxor, Egypt. Massive scale as only the Egytians could do, this sprawling, jaw-dropping, complex was built over a period of 1600 years.
Taj Mahal, Agra, India. Believe the hype. Nothing I can add.
Golden Temple, Amritsar, India. Gliterring gold, throngs of pilgrims, one of the world’s more incredible kitchens.
Bantaey Srei, Siem Reap, Cambodia. The delicate 10th century sandstone Hindu Shiva temple features the finest carvings , and is the pinncale of Khmer art.
Red Fort, Agra, India. With views of the Taj, and its interwoven history, the palaces of the Mughal emperors should not be missed.
Shwe Dagon, Yangon, Burma. Serene and fascinating. The heart of Burman Buddhism.
Prasat Preah Vihear, Cambodia-Thai border. The second biggest Khmer temple sits on a cliff with broad views across the plains of western Cambodia. Sitting with legs dangling over the edge undistrubed by anything, bliss.
Mosques. Hard to pick a favourite for these oasis of calm. The grand Moghul Delhi Jama Mosque, or Esfahan’s inricate and intimate Sheikh Lotfollah? Istanbul’s Sultan Ahment or Emim Pasha? Jāmi‘ Ḥalab al-Kabīr in Allepo, or one of Cairo’s many? Uzbekistan….
Thailand. Mountains, parks, beaches, markets, ruins, cities, food, food food.
Namibia. Deserts, wildlife, weird German towns, unbelievable landscapes.
Burma. Enchanting, friendly, tormented, beautiful, food, mountains, ruins.
India. A continent of cultures, cities, towns, history, ruins, temples, wildlife, alps.
Syria. Compact, welcoming, ruins, bazaars, forts, history, food. Now ruined.
Honourable mentions: Cambodia, Kenya, Kosovo, Oman.
Aranyapratet, Thailand. What began as a smugglers’ market is now a virtual town, selling everything in huge quantities, supported by its own post office and so large, you can rent bicycles and golf buggies for the rounds.
Kumtepa bazaar, Margilan, Uzbekistan. Truckoads of melons. Cheeses and curds and yoghurts and ayran. Textiles and kebabs and blankets and tea and plumbing supplies and shoes. The grand tradition of silk road bazaar, with lovable, colourful Fergana people.
Livestock market, Karakol, Kyrgystan. The biggest show for miles around. Goats crammed in Ladas. Cows argued over for hours. Horses test driven. And thousands and thousands of people.
Old bazaar, Istravashan, Tajikistan. All the best of central Asian produce -honey, fruit, lamb, bread, textiles. Old school trades like knife makers and blacksmiths, and friendly folk.
Medina, Fez, Morocco. The first old world souq/bazaar/medina I probably went to, this is a maze of twists and turns, sights, sounds, smells and shocks.
Mr Furry Hat’s pig market, Phnom Penh, Cambodia. I had a year watching the pig trade from my balcony. Pigs were roasted in the morning, desptached in bicycle baskets, arrived in utes and sometimes esccaped down the street. But why did Cambodia’s Hog Tieing Champion wear a furry hut?
Honourable mentions: Aleppo, Damascus, Tabriz’ old silk road souqs, Chosur Bazaar, Tashkent, and Green Bazaar, Al Mata, Kazakhstan. Too many to choose from really.