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 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!

Take The Travel Alphabet Challenge

A-B-C-D-E-F-G. . . Now that I’ve got that song in your head, I’d like to propose a fun challenge – The Travel Alphabet Challenge, if you will – that will help you reflect on your past travels and hopefully tide you over until you can start having new ones.

The guidelines are really simple: Come up with your favorite specific destination – it can be a city, town, island or landmark – to which you’ve traveled that begins with each letter of the alphabet. Don’t use countries or regions unless you really have no other choice. The result will be that you’ll be more appreciative of the experiences you already have, and maybe find some inspiration to get back out there once it’s safe to do so.

Share this challenge with your family and friends or your followers on social media for a fun, safe, and inspiring activity that will keep your wanderlust happy . . . for now.

Below are my entries and the sometimes agonizing debate on which place gets the top spot. Have fun!

A: Antigua, Guatemala

A Peaceful Courtyard in Antigua, Guatemala

This Central American gem surrounded by volcanoes beat out the cultural capitals of Athens, Greece and the city of Agra, India. An honorable mention goes to the evocative ruins of Ayutthaya, Thailand.

B: Bora Bora, French Polynesia

Lagoon of Bora Bora, French Polynesia

The B’s had some serious competition, with such world-renowned capital cities such as Beijing, Budapest, & Buenos Aires in play. But as anyone who’s been to Bora Bora can attest, that lagoon is just too beautiful to take second place to anywhere else. A shout out to tiny Boracay in the Philippines for its incredible beach as well.

C: Chobe National Park, Botswana

Cruising on the Chobe River, Botswana

The C’s had quite a few worthy entrants. Most noteworthy are the Australian town of Cairns as the gateway to the Great Barrier Reef, and the amazing former Inca capital of Cuzco, Peru. But in Chobe National Park, those sunsets over one of the largest elephant populations in Southern Africa are honestly hard to beat.

D: Dominica, Caribbean

Roadside Bar, Roseau, Dominica

This green jewel in the Windward Islands of the Eastern Caribbean is home to the second-most beautiful place I’ve ever been: the tropical Titou Gorge. On that basis alone it beat out the also-stunningly-beautiful Denali National Park in Alaska, and the intriguing Middle Eastern playground of Dubai.

E: Edgartown, Martha’s Vineyard, USA

Charm out the wazoo in Edgartown, Martha’s Vineyard

To be honest, I just can’t think of many places I’ve been that begin with the letter ‘E’ (besides the country of Egypt, and again, I’m aiming to be more specific). This is not a knock on quaint Edgartown with its quintessential New England houses and picturesque storefronts bustling on a summer’s day, but it would appear that I’m low on ‘E’ – centric experiences. I’ll have to get on that going forward.

F: Flam, Norway

Walking the trails above Flåm, Norway

This adorable outpost in the Norwegian Fjords is the starting point for the jaw-dropping Flamsbana Railway, which shoots it to the top of a very short list. I also have to give a nod Fairbanks, Alaska, USA because of its standing as the farthest north I’ve ever been. Apparently I haven’t had many noteworthy ‘F’ experiences in my life either.

G: Geiranger, Norway

The amazing setting of Geiranger, Norway

The ‘G’s were a really tough one to call. Geiranger is the third-most beautiful place I’ve ever been, and is only slightly edged out by the Titou Gorge in Dominica. Goreme, in the Turkish region of Cappadocia is home to incredible stone cities and was the place I went on my first (and only) hot air balloon ride. There’s also Antarctica’s scenic Gerlache Strait, the walled city of Galle in Sri Lanka, and I I’ll never forget the wonderful people I met and partied with in Guayaquil, Ecuador.

H: Hoi An, Vietnam

Time to party in Hoi An, Vietnam

The H’s were also well-represented. Hong Kong, Honolulu, and Harare could each have easily been the frontrunner. But the charm and color that oozed from each street of UNESCO World Heritage-listed Hoi An was enough to put this historic town on top.

I: Ilha Grande, Brazil

The tranquil cove of Praia Pousa, Ilha Grande, Brazil

Even if I hadn’t been short on ‘I’ locations, this idyllic island on Brazil’s Costa Verde, with its lack of cars and abundance of beauty would still claim the top spot. No offense, Istanbul.

J: Jodhpur, India

The Blue City, Jodhpur, India

Other than the Taj Mahal (which we’ll get to shortly) my greatest motivation for visiting India was to see the Blue City of Jodhpur. Looking down at the warren of hyacinth-blue alleyways from atop the massive town fortress was a travel dream come true. Special props also go out to the Pink City, Jaipur, India, and the most famous city in the Holy Lands (& Bible history) Jerusalem, Israel.

K: Kalambaka, Greece

The Meteora, Kalambaka, Greece

Too many K’s so little time. It was striking to me how many of my memorable travel experiences took place in a ‘K’ location. Tiny Kalambaka is the gateway to the unforgettable Meteora, pictured above, and my visit there was a thrill I still fondly recall. But the K’s don’t stop there. There was the incredible scenery of Australia’s Blue Mountains in Katoomba; whitewater rafting in Borneo outside of Kota Kinabalu, Malaysia; and attending a beautiful convention in Kaohsiung, Taiwan. But if there was a second place award I’d probably have to give it to Killarney National Park in County Kerry, Ireland. The bucolic setting interspersed with the ruins of a crumbling abbey at sunset are firmly etched on my brain.

L: La Digue, Seychelles

Bonus Beach Time! Anse Source d’Argent, La Digue, Seychelles

Famous for its screensaver-worthy beach Anse Source D’Argent, this quiet pearl in the Indian Ocean is the quintessential island escape. This gives it the edge over the hip British capital of London, and the Costa Rican adventure town of La Fortuna.

M: Milford Sound, New Zealand

Mitre Peak, Milford Sound, Fiordland National Park, New Zealand

Milford Sound in southwestern New Zealand’s Fiordland National Park is my choice for the all-time most amazing place I’ve ever been. Pictures just can’t do it justice, so if you ever have the chance, please go there and you’ll save me the trouble of trying to explain it. Tropical heavyweights Maui, Moorea and the island of Mahe in the Seychelles make ‘M’ a dominant letter in my travel alphabet.

N: Nusa Penida, Indonesia

Me and the Manta, Nusa Penida

This little island just east of Bali was the site of my dive with manta rays, which ranks high on my all time list of amazing animal encounters. New Delhi, India – which was a much more interesting destination than I had originally expected, and the Neumayer Channel on the icy Antarctic Peninsula are also ‘N’ highlights for me.

O: Ocho Rios, Jamaica

Going up? Dunns River Falls, Jamaica

As an admitted travel snob, I thought myself above the possibility of being impressed by such a mainstream tourist destination as Ocho Rios. But after climbing gorgeous Dunns River Falls and floating the aqua-blue White River, I found myself humbled by the natural beauty that defies the rampant tourism development that defines this popular cruise port. A special nod to the Hawaiian island of Oahu for, well, just being awesome.

P: Tie – Ponza, Italy/Paraty, Brazil

Chiaia di Luna, Ponza, Italy
Sunset over the Historic Center, Parati, Brazil

For me, the ‘P’ stands for powerhouse, as some of my favorite destinations on the planet all begin with that same letter. The authentic Italian island of Ponza is the closest thing I’ve ever had to a second home, and my memories there are something I deeply cherish. As for Paraty, I fell in love with the place just minutes after arriving, and if I could choose a setting in which to live, the jungle-clad mountains and islands of Paraty Bay and its surroundings are my vision of paradise. Had they been spelled with any other letter besides ‘P’ the Thai island of Phuket, and gorgeous Praslin Island in the Seychelles would be vying for that top spot for any letter, as would my second-favorite place in Italy – Positano on the Amalfi Coast.

Q: Quito, Ecuador

La Ronda is a bit more subdued in daylight hours, but still literally just around the corner

You would think that ‘Q’ would be an easy letter for choosing a favorite, but I found it to be a challenge to choose from such contrasting but fascinating destinations such as Quito, Quebec City, Canada and Queenstown, New Zealand. Ultimately I had to give the nod to Quito. Its colonial center and mountain setting just ticked too many boxes for it not to come in first, but I tip my hat to the ‘Qs’ for an impressive ensemble showing.

R: Rio de Janeiro, Brazil

Despite not being a city person per se, I was mesmerized by the setting of Rio de Janeiro and its namesake harbor that’s considered one of the Seven Natural Wonders of the World. Ipanema Beach and the views from Sugarloaf Mountain didn’t hurt either. The silver and bronze medals for my list of R’s goes to the Eternal City, Rome, and the lovely Caribbean island of Roatan, Honduras.

S: Singapore

Welcome to Pandora at Gardens by the Bay

The ‘S’ destinations were a bit tricky for me, with lots of good options but no one that really stood head and shoulders above the rest. Eventually I had to go with Singapore, for its beautiful Botanical Gardens, unique Night Safari Zoo, and the otherworldly-after-nightfall Gardens by the Bay. Honorable mentions go to Sydney, Australia; Stanley, Falkland Islands for being a slice of rural England inserted at the very bottom of the globe; St. Thomas in the USVI for Megan’s Bay, one of my favorite beaches of all time; and lastly Sigiriya, the monolithic fortress in Sri Lanka just for being really cool.

T: Taj Mahal, Agra, India

It may look doctored, but this image is 100% untouched

As a fan of architecture, I couldn’t not pick the Taj Mahal when it came time to select my favorite ‘T’ spot. To date I’ve never seen any building that could be its equal. Unfortunately that stole top billing from two other very worthy entrants. The Timbavati Reserve in South Africa was the site of my first safari and all its associated thrills. And Tahiti, besides being the flagship island of French Polynesia, is the very definition of ‘tropical paradise’.

U: Urgup, Turkey

Cave Hotel, Urgup, Turkey

Much like the letter ‘Q’, I was surprised that there were actually several contenders for the top ‘U’ destination. I went with Urgup since it was part of one of my favorite regions in the world: Cappadocia. This was also the site of one of the most unique properties where I’ve ever spent the night, namely, a cave hotel. A shout out to Ushuaia, Argentina for its alpine charm and Undara National Park in Queensland, Australia for its genuine Outback setting and abundant wildlife.

V: Victoria Falls, Zimbabwe/Zambia

The only way to see it all is from above

Not surprisingly, when you’ve visited one of the world’s most impressive waterfalls, it’s going to make an appearance on your ‘best of’ list. From both the Zimbabwe and Zambia sides this is another one of those places you just have to see for yourself in order to understand how awesome it is. Other notable ‘V’ destinations are Valentia Island, on Ireland’s southwest coast, and the city of Vancouver, whose setting is unrivaled by any but a few cities (see also ‘R’).

W: Wanzhou, China

Child acrobats, Wanzhou, China

My affection for Wanzhou, a small city on the Yangtze River, is owed to the experience I had while watching a local children’s theater perform as I sat amongst a bunch of area farmers. It was there, upon observing our common reactions to the feats performed onstage despite the obvious cultural differences, that I truly understood that people are people – even if they’re in China. As a runner up, I nominate colorful Willemstad, the capital of the island of Curacao.

X: To be determined

As it turns out ‘X’ was the easiest of all the letters, because I have no recollection of being anywhere that begins with that challenging letter. It’s not for nothing that you get a full 10 points in Scrabble for using it. If you live an a place that starts with the letter X and remember seeing me pass by, please let me know at your earliest convenience. Until then, I’ll probably have to make another trip to China to make it work.

Y: Yellowstone National Park, Wyoming, USA

Old Faithful, and a pretty reliable geyser behind him, Yellowstone National Park, 1994

The ‘Ys’ were blissfully free of competition, but even so, the first and arguably most famous of all American National Parks is a bucket list destination in its own right. To all other ‘Y’ places I’ve passed through and can’t remember, thank you for playing.

Z: Zambezi River, Zimbabwe/Zambia

Sunset over the Zambezi River, Border of Zimbabwe and Zambia

The fact that two of the letters in my travel alphabet are occupied by the Zimbabwe/Zambia border is testimony to how special a place it is. Recalling an evening cruise as the sun went down in the most orange sky imaginable while hippos splashed along the shore is a memory I’ll always treasure. The ‘Zs’ may be few, but they are mighty.


I hope you enjoyed perusing my personal travel alphabet and the deliberations that were required to create it. I encourage you to begin working on your own, and feel confident that you too will enjoy the memories, anecdotes and imagery that will inevitably come to mind as you do so. Be sure to share this challenge with family and friends and on social media, so that everyone’s travel alphabet may be firmly in place by the next time we’re ready to set off into the big wide world.

So to conclude and avoid keeping the more OCD among you, let me finish the song I started at the beginning. “Now I know my (travel) A-B-C’s. Next time won’t you fly with me.” You’re welcome.

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