Travel Goals Master Checklist: Part V – Asia

This portion of the Travel Goals Master Checklist series of blog posts focuses on Asia. Not surprisingly, much like its counterpart in the real world, it is the biggest in both size and number. Spanning a land area far beyond that of any other continent, Asia is a medley of cultures, technology and history that cannot be matched. From the ancient desert bastions of the Middle East, to the frenetic metropolises of the Orient, Asia holds the lion’s share of destinations on the Travel Goals Master Checklist, and as I’ll go on to explain, that’s for good reason.

But before we do, if you’d like to catch up on the entries from some of the other continents, click the following links for North America and the Caribbean, South America and Antarctica, Africa, and Europe.

Bali, Indonesia

With its dazzlingly green terraced rice paddies, expansive beaches and Hindu temples, Bali is an amalgamation of natural beauty and a deep cultural heritage. Even just mentioning the name Bali is sure to conjure images of exotic beauty, so it was a sure-thing to rank a place on the top 72 world-class destinations.

Borneo, Malaysia

Speaking of exotic, Borneo is the epitome of off the beaten path, with ancient rain forests and Southeast Asia’s tallest peak. Add in some unique animal life, such as the orangutan and proboscis monkey, as well as prolific coral reefs, and it becomes readily apparent why I felt compelled to add Borneo to the checklist.

Cappadocia, Turkey

At the western edge of the continent, this region in Central Turkey is renowned for its surreal landscapes of eroded volcanic rock. Floating above it in a hot air balloon remains one of my favorite life experiences, and given its incomparable characteristics, Cappadocia is a must-see destination for anyone with an appreciation for history, unique architecture, natural beauty or all of the above.

Coral Atolls, Maldives

Though I had been dreaming of getting to the Maldives long before they became an Instagram phenomenon, I still haven’t managed to do so – yet. But that doesn’t make this idyllic archipelago of coral atolls surrounded by some of the most appealing water on earth any less worthy of their spot on the checklist. Just Google a few pictures and you’ll see why this remote destination in the Indian Ocean is the stuff that travel dreams are made of.

Dubai, United Arab Emirates

It’s hard not to be impressed by Dubai. Sitting on the crossroads between East and West, this glittering city is the world showcase of all that is glittery and artificial. Rising out of the barren wastes where the desert meets the Persian Gulf, this incredibly modern playground has become one of the most interesting – and indulgent – urban centers in the world. Love it or hate it, Dubai is a player on the world scene and earns its place on the Travel Goals Master Checklist.

Great Wall, China

In a land full of famous landmarks, the Great Wall of China was an easy Top 10 entrant on the checklist. My own travels brought me only to the Badaling section outside of Beijing, but seeing this famous structure snake its way across the hilly landscape does not disappoint regardless of where on its expansive length you choose to observe.

Ha Long Bay, Vietnam

While there are a number of beautiful karstic regions around the world, none are perhaps as famous as Ha Long Bay off the northern coast of Vietnam. Rising precipitously out of the water, these dramatic islands are home to caves, beaches and ancient temples. This geological feature is world-class and Ha Long Bay is a fitting nominee to represent it on the checklist.

Hong Kong, China

With the only skyline that can rival New York, and the cultural bones of its Chinese and British history, Hong Kong is a top contender among world cities, and a worthy destination to appear on the checklist. Despite the overwhelming modernity in its current iteration, there’s still a sense of original flavor despite the homogeny overtaking Asia that makes Hong Kong a must-see city.

Marina Bay, Singapore

While on the topic of must-see cities, the tiny island nation of Singapore has found a pleasant blend of urban necessities and natural spaces that makes it a top rated destination in Southeast Asia. This is particularly evident in Marina Bay and its signature showpiece, Gardens by the Bay; home of the Supertrees, lovely outdoor gardens, and artistic pavilions, all in the shadow of the impressive Marina Bay Sands hotel. I’ve yet to see a nighttime setting quite like this one, and felt impelled to include Singapore on the list

Mount Everest, Nepal

Of the 72 destinations on the Travel Goals Master Checklist, Mount Everest will likely be the last one I could mark off, assuming that I could even get to them all. Even the trek to base camp is far beyond my level of physical fitness. But considering its fame as the highest peak in the world and its role as a perennial bucket list favorite, there’s no way I couldn’t add it to the checklist, even if that’s one circle I’m unlikely to ever cross off.

Mount Fuji, Japan

Few natural landmarks are as inherently entwined with a national image more than Mount Fuji, Japan. This almost perfectly conical mountain on the outskirts of the megalopolis of Tokyo is a peaceful counterpoint to the modern megacities that surround it. I know I was quite impressed when seeing it for the first time from the window of a bus, and given its easily-recognized iconic value, it was a no-brainer for inclusion on the checklist.

Palawan, Philippines

Though my own travels in the Philippines did not take me to Palawan, travelers in the know recognize the island – and its main draw, El Nido – as a tropical playground that can easily be confused with paradise. The islands of the Philippines are simply stunning, and I chose perhaps the most famous of them all for the list in honor of this recognition.

Petra, Jordan

Even if you couldn’t care less about history, Petra, with its cities carved out of rock, is world famous thanks to its cinematic exposure. While you’re not likely to find the holy grail inside (see the previous sentence for context), this World Heritage Site has both the historic, architectural and recognition value to represent the wonders of the Middle East on the Travel Goals Master Checklist.

Phuket, Thailand

Phuket and the surrounding Phi Phi and Similan Islands are a convincing stand-in for paradise. With gorgeous beaches, tropical foliage and amazing dive sites, if peninsular Thailand’s most popular destination is not on your bucket list, it’s time to revisit your list.

Seoul, South Korea

It’s impossible to discuss the topic of major cities in Asia without mentioning Seoul. It has emerged as an economic and cultural powerhouse that punches well above its weight. I haven’t yet visited myself, but recognize that it is a player on the world scene, and deserves its spot on the master checklist.

Siem Reap, Cambodia

Home to the sprawling Angkor Wat complex, Siem Reap is like something right out of an adventure movie. The remnant pagodas and temples smothered in rain forest draw visitors the world over, making this an indisputable candidate for the list.

Taj Mahal, India

In over 25 years of travel, I’ve yet to see a building that could match the splendor (yes, you read that right, splendor) that could equal the Taj Mahal. This is one of those places you can see a million times in pictures or on TV, but when you see it in person it makes a far deeper impression. Only the Pyramids and Eiffel Tower could be considered on par with the Taj Mahal in terms of recognizability, and as such, its place on the checklist was instantly assured.

Yangtze River, China

Had I not seen the Yangtze in person, I may have overlooked it as a candidate for this list. But after seeing not only the majestic scenery but also the major role the river plays in the lives of those who live alongside it, I was convinced that this impressive river and the region that surrounds it belongs on the checklist. See it for yourself and you’ll likely agree.


The Travel Goals Master Checklist

With Part V of the series I’ve now covered 65 out of the 72 destinations on the master checklist. How many can you check off? Even if that number is zero, the beauty of the checklist is that it inspires a person to new adventures and specific travel goals. If you’ve enjoyed the artwork and want a Travel Goals Master Checklist to display in your home or office, please visit my Custom Travel Art store, or my Etsy store to order a copy for yourself or the traveler in your life.

Coming soon, Part VI . . . Australia and Oceania


Have you been to any of these destinations? Or do you have a favorite in Asia that you feel should have made the list? Share it with your fellow travel lovers by leaving a comment!



Mantas Need Showers Too – Diving Nusa Penida

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Me and the Manta, Nusa Penida
It had been over seven years since I had gone scuba diving when I got onto  a speedboat on Bali. I had heard that getting back underwater was like riding a bike, that it would all come back to me – and without all that tiresome pedaling. My destination was the nearby island of Nusa Penida, located about halfway between Bali’s east coast and Lombok. My objective was to see giant manta rays in action.

Getting There

If you’re staying on Bali, a dive trip to Nusa Penida is most easily arranged from the east coast. Many hotels can book you on a tour, and if you’d rather go it alone, just stop in to one of the myriad tour agencies sprinkled around the shopping districts, or even the dive operators’ offices themselves. The aptly-named Manta Point will be one of your options and a two-tank dive should cost you roughly $100-$120 U.S. Chances are, this will be your most expensive tour, so budget accordingly. My particular operator drove guests to their boat, which was moored at gentle Sanur Beach on the east side of the island. From there it was a choppy 45 minute ride to the hulking silhouette on the horizon.

Nusa Penida

The island of Nusa Penida can also be visited by non-divers as well, but be warned that though there is a nice beach on the southern shore, waves and currents are strong. If you don’t believe me, just look at the towering cliffs being pummeled by spray. Manta Point is close to the aforementioned spray-pummeled cliffs, and if you made it through the crossing without throwing up, get ready for your breakfast to make a reappearance once your forward motion stops and the boat starts pitching and rolling. I’m quite proud to say I made it to the end of my second dive before my breakfast revisited me.

The Dive

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Soaring together at Manta Point, Nusa Penida
Why are manta rays so consistently found here? It’s because of the existence of what is called a cleaning station. In basic terms, this means that the mantas know that over a certain large dome of coral located here, smaller fish will emerge as they cruise by, ‘cleaning’ them by eating any parasites and dead skin they might be carrying around. This is sort of like a fly-by shower, or drive through cleaning service. It is also a great reason for us to visit, as mantas are usually here in numbers. Visibility was around 50 feet or so when I splashed down. As promised, my dive training and instincts came back to me as I eagerly peered into the blue. For this I was glad, because when I saw the first of what turned out to be a dozen mantas gracefully swooping around a large coral patch, my only focus was on them. The site is rather shallow, allowing for long bottom times and plenty of opportunities to see the mantas up close. These particular mantas were at least 12 feet across and the same if not longer from head to tail. It’s quite humbling to be in the presence of animals so much bigger than you. It’s also kind of flattering to know that you’re not the fattest thing in the ocean. For their part, the mantas are rather undisturbed by the daily presence of divers, and on several occasions I got very close – almost so that I could touch one – though I would heartily recommend that you avoid doing that. They may not eat you, but these are wild animals all the same. Content yourself with a bucket list experience of observing these majestic creatures up close, and for everyone’s sake keep your hands to yourself.

The Sideshow

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Tutrle, Manta Point, Nusa Penida
With a dozen mantas swirling around you, it’s hard to drag your attention away. But if you do, you will not only see swarms of colorful fish darting around various types of coral, but other denizens of the deep like turtles, stingrays, and if you’re truly fortunate, a mola mola, or ocean sunfish (think a fish, dinosaur and dinner plate all fused together).

Good to Know

Besides the potential of seasickness, be aware that currents are often strong. In practical terms, that means that you will be exerting lots of energy as the wave action pulls and pushes you (and the mantas) back and forth. It is not an easy dive by any means. You will come up tired, nauseous, and likely low on air, but if you are dive certified, thinking of becoming dive certified, and are planning a trip to Bali, you will not regret a trip out to Nusa Penida and back. Take comfort in knowing that you can take your own shower at your hotel.
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Mantas everywhere

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2016 Year in Review

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Dragon and Tiger Pagodas
2016 is gone, for better or for worse, and it is at this point that I traditionally recap the Trip Accomplice blog’s contributions in the past year (again, for better or for worse). Here’s a breakdown of what was covered, just in case you weren’t paying attention.

Destinations

This year I was a little light on dedicated destination posts – covering 5 foreign countries (3 in South America and 2 in Asia) and 5 U.S. destinations.

South America

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Check your straight-edge at the door at Casapueblo
I suppose I was feeling nostalgic for South America with three posts based on my 2008 Antarctic cruise. In Playful Patagonian Penguins: A Lesson in Chilean Alliteration, I had some grammatical fun recounting a trip to Seno Otway and its resident penguin colony in the remote city of Punta Arenas, Chile. Speaking of remote, I combined an obscure Pink Floyd Song with an even more obscure travel destination in Echoes of Pink Floyd in the Falkland Islands which details what to see and do on a visit to the Falkland Islands. It also lays the basis for a unique soundtrack when doing so. I also shared some tips for visiting a surreal Uruguayan locale in Straight Lines are Overrated in Punta del Este

Asia

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Nighttime on Lotus Lake, Kaohsiung, Taiwan
During nearly the entire month of November 2016 I was off exploring Southeast Asia with my wife and parents. Despite a wealth of new material to cover, I only got around to two of the many destinations I visited. In Kaohsiung, Taiwan – The Nicest Little City You’ve Never Heard Of I provided practical advice for visiting this interesting ‘little’ city in Southern Taiwan. I also shared a review of a great hotel for a relaxing stay in Bali, Indonesia in the appropriately-titled post  Hotel Review: The Samata, Bali. You can be sure I’ll get around to some of the other spots in the months ahead.

U.S. Destinations

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Come for the sand. Stay for the sunsets.
Within the United States I shared the beauty of the Gulf Coast in the post Brazos Bend: Stars Above, Gators Below for a look at this lovely wetland landscape. I also provided detailed information on visiting two of New Mexico’s greatest attractions in the posts Elevator Appreciation at Carlsbad Caverns National Park and White Sands: Sun, Sand &…Sledding? Lastly, I really enjoyed reflecting on a return to my childhood stomping grounds in A Travel Snob Returns to Disney World where I shared my thoughts on Disney’s progress versus preservation.

Top Tens and Other Lists

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Anse Lazio, Praslin Island, Seychelles
The beginning of the year saw me attempting to summarize some of my favorite places in the ever-popular ‘Top Ten’ list format with My Top Ten Beaches, And Why They Should Be Yours and My Top Ten List of World Monuments (Who Said Anything About Dying?) I also went the list route with Safety Tips for the Skittish Traveler – a rundown of simple precautions to make sure your trip stays all about having fun, along with An Apology to the 14 Countries I’ve Visited More Than Once Without Doing Them Justice which highlights the sad fact that it’s nearly impossbile to see everything a destination has to offer on one (or even multiple) trips. Just as a side note, I now have to update that number from 14 to 17.

Pet Projects

globechatterlogo_edited-1 2016 also saw me widening out my repertoire to include some pet projects. I shared my passion for travel art and showcased some of my work in Putting the ‘Art’ into the Art of Travel. And I also announced my travel-themed  public speaking business in the post I Am the Globechatter…. Both then and now, I invite you to check them out if you haven’t already done so, and share these posts with anyone you might know that would be interested in the services offered.

The Year Ahead

As mentioned before, I still have lots to share from my recent trip to Asia. Keep an eye out for more on Bali, both as a general review and site specific posts. My return to Singapore and Hong Kong will result in updated posts in the coming months, and I look forward to sharing my take on places in the Philippines and Borneo, Malaysia. Other than that, I have nothing set in stone, as my own travel plans are wide open at this point. But as you well know by now, dear loyal readers, you can be sure of two things: 1) I’ll go somewhere, and 2) I’ll be sure to write about it. Wishing everyone the best in the days, months and years ahead; I thank you for another year of being my travel companions. Ben Pastore

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Hotel Review: The Samata, Bali

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The Samata’s main pool in the public area

At the tail end of my latest whirlwind Southeast Asia tour, what I really wanted more than anything else was to have some privacy and time to relax. If you’re coming to Bali for that, I can enthusiastically say that the Samata is the place for you.

Our positive experience started right from the airport where the driver was waiting for us with a placard (which was even nicer than the cheap print-out of the Four Seasons – just sayin’). He took our bags, gave us cool towels and took us on the approximately 45 minute ride northeast to the hotel.

The public areas are gorgeous, with two long pools and comfortable lounges. We were technically there in the “off” season so it was not at all crowded. Even if it were, once we were ushered into our gorgeous two bedroom villa (2) we would have left them all behind.

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The Master Suite (2 bedroom villa) at the Samata, Bali

The canopy beds with mosquito netting were soft and clean, the outdoor shower and tub were charming and the decor was distinctly Balinese. The enormous, open-air covered living area was a great place to relax (we loved the driftwood couch) in between dips in our private infinity pool – where we spent the majority of our time looking out at the rice paddies in front of us. There was a dining and kitchen area but we had no time for that, and food on Bali was so cheap that it wouldn’t have been worth the hassle.

Breakfast is included and was beyond just a basic meal. You’re offered a juice, coffee or tea (go with the Balinese coffee – it’s a little muddy by the end but delicious) then a selection of fantastic dishes. I highly recommend the vanilla French Toast and berry pancakes.

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The main building, restaurant and reception at the Samata, Bali

Twice we decided to have dinner in the onsite restaurant, and while it was a slightly pricier than the restaurants in nearby Sanur, the food was just as good as the breakfast was, and still very reasonably priced if you’re coming from Europe or the U.S.

They have spa and massage treatments onsite but I just opted to get the standard $5-$6 massage offered about every other 15 feet in town. I wouldn’t be surprised if “massage?” is the most widely known English word on the island.

There are tennis courts, a well-equipped fitness center and yoga studio on the grounds – not that I used them. If you want to work up a sweat in Bali, all you have to do is stand outside.

 

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Private pool with a view, the Samata, Bali

Depending on the driver’s availability, they offer free shuttle service to Sanur, which is about 10-15 minutes to the south. You’re on your own getting back, but finding a Blue Bird cab (they have meters) isn’t hard and only costs a few bucks. Make sure you take the hotel’s business card as the hotel is tucked away in a backstreet and not all cab drivers know exactly where it is.

Best of all was the staff. They were exceedingly polite and Leni in particular was a most excellent hostess. They arranged a private driver for a tour up to Ubud and the rice paddies that was competitive, though not quite as cheap (but still really cheap) as the operators in town. They even just charged it to our room which made things easier.

Some details worth knowing: Wi-fi is included and refreshingly fast compared to some other places in Asia. Air conditioning works well too, which regardless of when you visit, is something to be grateful for.

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The ample living area in the two bedroom villa, The Samata, Bali

There is a beach not far from the hotel (you can see the water from your balcony) or you can just go down to Sanur. From here, you’re approximately a 45- minute ride from the much more lively Seminyak /Legian/Kuta area. The area immediately around the hotel is not particularly interesting or suited for tourists unless you’re looking to buy a giant stone statue or wood carving from the dealers lining the main road. And if you stay in villa two, there’s a tall window in the master bedroom without a curtain, so if you have friends or relatives staying in the other bedroom, be cautious when prancing around after using your outdoor shower.

We got a spectacular deal – probably since it was the low season – that meant for less than one night in Manhattan our group of four stayed in our private two bedroom villa. If you’re looking to splurge then this is a great spot. I cannot say enough good things about this place, and if you’re looking for the quiet, but not too quiet part of Bali, and don’t feel like partying over in hopping Kuta, The Samata is just right

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