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!



The Witty Traveler’s Guide to Cappadocia

Souvenirs for sale, Kaymakli, Turkey
Souvenirs for sale, Kaymakli, Turkey

From a Persian term meaning “Land of Beautiful Horses”, Cappadocia is not one town but rather a region etched into an otherwise unremarkable plateau in central Turkey. It was in this general neighborhood that the ancient Hittites thrived, paving the way for a unique collaboration between man and nature that is still in effect today. Having always wanted to visit another planet, I was thrilled by the prospect of visiting a landscape that looked right out of a galaxy far, far, away.

 

Before the emergence of the Hittites—or anyone else for that matter—erupting volcanoes blanketed the region with a mixture of hard volcanic rock and ash, which solidified into a soft material called tuff. Over the millennia, the combination of wind, rain, and temperature changes caused the underlying tuff to erode while the denser upper layer of volcanic rock remained intact. The result is a Dali-like dreamscape of cones and pillars that wouldn’t look out of place with a melting clock or two draped across them. Though the sizes and shapes vary widely, the undeniable stars of the show are the so-called “fairy chimneys.” Political correctness and good taste aside, these towering shafts of rock topped with mushroom-shaped peaks challenge even the most Puritan among us not to giggle while winding through what are essentially valleys full of upright phallus. Personally, I did a lot of giggling.

 

Most visitors arrive in Cappadocia by air via the rather industrial city of Kayseri. From the airport it is less than an hour’s drive to a pair of the area’s primary tourism centers: Goreme and Urgup. The latter boasts the lion’s share of the region’s upscale accommodations, though throughout Cappadocia the most appealing lodging by far is available in numerous ‘cave’ hotels liberally delved into the mountainsides.

 

 

A cave hotel has all the charms of home--especially if you're from the town of Bedrock
A cave hotel has all the charms of home–especially if you’re from the town of Bedrock

Essentially renovated cave dwellings from generations past, these small-scale enterprises boast all the comforts of home—especially if you’re from the town of Bedrock. The charm derives from the fact that each room is uniquely sculpted from the aforementioned tuff, from ornately carved “moldings” to the hollowed-out nooks for local bric-a-brac. After a long day of giggling and exploration there’s no greater feeling than climbing into your very own hole in the wall.

 

 

Goreme Open Air Museum, Goreme, Turkey
Goreme Open Air Museum, Goreme, Turkey

The nearby hamlet of Goreme is home to the aptly-named Goreme Open Air Museum—a UNESCO World Heritage Site. This cluster of honeycombed hills was once a stronghold of early Christianity, as is evidenced by numerous chapels, churches, and monasteries with frescoes dating back to the 9th century. Here, the landscape has been sculpted by more than just the elements. In seemingly all directions are the remains of troglodyte dwellings hewn from the rock in an Escher-like warren of doorways and staircases whose architectural style can be best described as early Dr. Seuss.

 

 

Baloon-view over Cappadocia, Turkey
Balloon-view over Cappadocia, Turkey

For a clearer perspective of the uniqueness of Cappadocia, I suggest rising above the jungle of rock to take in the surreal landscape by hot air balloon. Is it expensive? Well, yes, but those who have indulged in an hour or so drift across this moonscape are hardly quibbling over pennies when they finally touch down. The movement is gentle and serene and you’d be hard-pressed to find a better vehicle to take in the views. If it wasn’t for the challenges of parallel parking, I’d say a hot air balloon may just be the best way to travel period.

 

As if the cave dwellings and hot air balloons were not enough, Cappadocia is also home to several underground cities such as can be found in Kaymakli and Derinkuyu. Burrowed some eight to ten stories underground, these mazes of chambers and kitchens sheltered tens of thousands of the local populous for months at a time during periods of Arab invasion. Though not recommended for severe claustrophobics, most will find that just such a tour is well within their comfort and interest range, and its fun playing ‘ant in the terrarium.’

 

Naturally, almost all tours include stops at the local tourist traps where guests are given a demonstration of how local handicrafts are made, then amazingly offered the opportunity to purchase a piece for themselves. At the very least it’s nice to sit down and relax over a warm cup of the ubiquitous apple tea you’re sure to be offered. Plus, adding a handmade souvenir to your china cabinet is worth the trouble of being targeted by smooth-talking Turkish salesmen.

 

Many Americans may feel hesitant about traveling to Turkey, yet such trepidation is mostly unfounded. The Turks are a truly friendly bunch and if they seem proud about their heritage, just take a look around and you’ll understand why. Prices are generally reasonable and though you’d do well to sharpen your haggling skills, deals can be had. Just a note, if you’re looking to take home that authentic Turkish rug, be sure to save your pennies and be prepared to receive the full-court press if you show any real interest.

 

Without a doubt, a visit to Cappadocia is an experience far removed from your average vacation. For anyone wanting to try something different without straying from their comfort zone, you’d be hard pressed to find another locale with so much to do and such a unique setting to do it in. Besides, at the very least you should get a few giggles out of it, and after all, isn’t that what travel is all about?

A Picture Is Worth A Thousand Miles

One of the most frequent questions I get asked when people peruse my travel photos is: “What made you go there?” followed by the inevitable: “How did you even hear about that place?” The response is the same for both: “I saw it in a picture.”

Yes, just as the beauty of Helen of Troy launched a thousand ships, so too a few travel photographs have sent me on a chase of many more than a thousand miles, just to witness the scenes depicted in person. My earliest recollection of this was an old book my parents had on a shelf in the crude entertainment center my dad built on his own when I was still a young boy. In it was the iconic scene of Machu Picchu, and I knew then and there I wanted to see it for myself. (I made the attempt to do so back in 2010 but was denied due to mudslides, so that goal is still pending).

Is it a sign of weakness that my mind (and wallet) are so open to suggestion? Perhaps. But there’s no doubt I have consistently had my expectations either matched or surpassed when I finally got to see the real thing. Below are just a few examples.

 

The Meteora, Greece

The Meteora, Kalambaka, Greece
The Meteora, Kalambaka, Greece

The first time I saw the image of ancient monasteries dwarfed by enormous pillars of stone, I thought I was looking at a scene from a video game (specifically something out of MYST). When I found myself in the general neighborhood of Greece I made visiting this otherworldly setting a priority and was thrilled when I was able to add hundreds of inspirational pictures to my own collection.

Cappadocia, Turkey

Goreme Open Air Museum, Goreme, Turkey
Goreme Open Air Museum, Goreme, Turkey

This surreal landscape captivated me at first glance. I mean, where else can you wander entire villages of sculpted rock right out of a Dr. Seuss book? Add to that the opportunity to stay in an authentic cave hotel (the coolest thing ever, btw) and I knew that despite being literally in the middle of nowhere (well, Turkey actually) it was worth the effort. My photo album is in complete agreement.

Jodhpur, India

Image
Partial view of the Blue City

 

While India had always been a dream destination of mine, nothing stoked my wanderlust quite as much as a picture of Jodhpur, The Blue City as seen from the imposing Mehrangar Fort. Other than the intriguing color, the warren of flat houses, alleyways & staircases seemed a real-life M.C. Escher drawing. Considering its use as a setting in the Dark Knight Rises installment of the Batman series, apparently I’m not the only one to consider it as worth the trip.

Parati, Brazil

Sunset over the Historic Center, Parati, Brazil
Sunset over the Historic Center, Parati, Brazil

It was in a book of travel photography that I first caught sight of the cobblestone streets and whitewashed houses of Parati. Having always wanted to go to Brazil anyway, I not only included it in my itinerary but also decided to spend the bulk of my time there. Sure, I had read up on all its fine attractions, charming pousadas and artistic vibe, but it was those first pictures that made me say “I have to go there” and made me feel so very glad that I did. In fact, very shortly I will be posting about what a marvelous place it is.

These are just a few examples but by now I’m sure you get the point. So the tip is: If you’re lacking in inspiration or have always taken the road most traveled, do yourself a favor and go down to your local library, take out a book on a destination that intrigues you, and flip through the pictures (or alternately, view my photo gallery.) Inspiration is never far away so long as there are pictures, and so long as there are pictures, there will always be a reason to travel.