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Top Fives


A wholly biased and unscientific list of favourite places, people, natural wonders etc. And not many are Top Fives, more like any number you can think of..


Friendliest people

Iran - unbelievably hospitable, from bus drivers driving an extra 30kms without pay, to free food, present-buying, queue jumping and lifts without asking. Every traveller I've met has the same experience

Burkina Faso - they don't have much but that doesn't stop them being kind and generous

Ghana - very welcoming, friendly and proud people in a lovely country

El Salvador - whether I needed it or not, they looked out for me; even the soldiers were friendly (though I wouldn't test this out too much..)

Northern Ethiopia - I'd have said the whole of Ethiopia but for the effect the narcotic qat has on the locals in the east

Special mention to Thailand whose people, considering the number of tourists they see, are extremely helpful and friendly. And though I only had one day in Tajikistan, everyone was so welcoming and generous with their time and services, helping me along my way.



Mekong, Laos - enjoy a speedboat then join local wildlife on a slow boat between Huay Xai and Luang Prabang via Pakbeng

Saloumb river near Mar Lodj, Senegal - see freshwater dolphins in this beautiful area of Senegal

Nile - take a felucca ride on the Nile at Luxor, Egypt; absorb the views of the Nile at Jinja, Uganda

Ganges, India - it might be heavily polluted but walking along the ghats at Varanasi is a very atmospheric experience

Amazon, Brazil/Ecuador - take a boat trip along an Amazon tributary



Lake Atitlan, Guatemala - beautiful, just beautiful. A stunning lake surrounded by laid-back villages and walking trails. A place I could stay for a long time

Lake Toba, Indonesia - a similar chilled feel to Lake Atitlan. Gorgeous

Lake Ohrid, North Macedonia - I was lucky enough to have a room with balcony right over this serene lake, with sunsets over an ancient church

Jokulsarlon lagoon, Iceland - take a boat around the floating icebergs at the edge of Vatnajokull glacier

Lake Malawi, Malawi - there's plenty of lakeside towns and villages on the beautiful lake shores

Kotor, Montenegro - not a lake at all but this coastal bay has the feel of one. A lvely old town with stunning views from the surrounding mountains

Lake Titicaca, Bolivia/Peru - lie on a beach 4000m above sea level with snow capped mountains as a backdrop

The flight in to Canaima in Venezuela is also great, with falls cascading into the central lake




A top ten jobby..

Isla Ometepe, Nicaragua - straddled by two volcanoes, ancient history, rural life and walking trails

Zanzibar - powder-white sand beaches, turquoise waters, a lush interior, fresh fish & fruit and a lovely old town

Ssese Islands, Uganda - a relaxed island in Lake Victoria offering country walks and small beaches

Cuba - great live music and dance, glorious colonial towns, fascinating history, beaches, rum and cigars

Iceland - plenty to savour, including active volcanoes, glaciers and waterfalls

Isla del Sol, Bolivia - a high altitude island set in Lake Titicaca with the Andean mountains in the background

Likoma Island, Malawi - a laid-back island in Lake Malawi offering beaches and diving

Malta - historic buildings, beaches, great nightlife and all within an hour or so's drive of each other

Floating Islands of the Uros, Peru - the Uros poeple live on floating islands made from woven reeds on Lake Titicaca; touristy but enjoyable

Ganvie, Benin - Ganvie village may not be 100% an island but it's definitely worth spending time at this stilt village on Lake Nokoue


Volcanoes & mountains

Pacaya, Guatemala - walk through billowing steam while climbing this active volcano, and finish off with superb views of three more volcanoes rising above the clouds

Karakoram Highway, Pakistan - bus it from Rawalpindi to Kashgar via the Khunjerab Pass, taking in some lovely towns and mountain scenery on the way

Himalayas, Nepal - take in stunning views on one of the many Himalayan treks on offer

Mt Bromo, Indonesia - another volcano in a beautifully barren setting on the island of Java

Mt Ararat, Turkey - view it from Turkey, Nakhchivan and Armenia, particularly stunning when seen as a backdrop to Khor Virap monastery in Armenia

Arenal, Costa Rica - for lazing around a cocktail bar floating in a thermal pool at the base of a rumbling, lava-glowing volcano


Desert towns

Ghadames, Libya - an amazing network of covered walkways, whitewashed buildings and palm trees

Ouadane, Mauritania - a crumbling town in the Sahara

Chinguetti, Mauritania - the surrounding sand dunes are stunning

Jaisalmer, India - a grand city in the Thar desert

Timbuktu, Mali - just to say you've been there, nothing else


Other natural wonders

Gorilla trekking, Rwanda - see these awesome creatures close up

Darvaza gas crater, Turkmenistan - sort of natural! A huge gas crater that's been on fire since 1971. Amazing at night

Turtle egg-laying, Ghana/Costa Rica - see the huge leatherback turtles on coastal shores

South Luangwa National Park, Zambia - possible on a shoestring and take a morning/afternoon/night tour when you want

Liwonde National Park, Malawi - be part of the food chain on a walking safari, and drift on lagoon waters

Snorkelling, Belize/Kenya - bright colours and beautiful clear waters. If only I could swim properly! Many recommend the Honduran Bay Islands and the Red Sea at Sinai, Egypt


Events & activities

Another deserving of a Top Ten

Arirang Mass Games, North Korea - 100,000-strong synchonized dance with an incredible human mosaic backdrop. Welcome to North Korea!

Harbin Snow & Ice Festival, China - it's tacky and over the top but it's also brilliant. Huge snow sculptures and neon-flashing ice castles

Climbing Pacaya volcano, Guatemala - smell the sulphur at the top of this active volcano; the views of three more volcanoes rising above the clouds are magnificent

Glacier walking and snowmobiling, Iceland - a short but exhilarating snowmobile ride on Vatnajokull glacier

Chichicastenango market, Guatemala - more than just a colourful indigenous market; observe a local ceremony wishing for a good harvest

Candomblé ceremony, Cachoeira, Brazil - possessed believers perform a spirit dance before the Mother of the Saints

Fiesta de la Virgen de Copacabana, Bolivia - an Aymaran festival on the shores of Lake Titicaca featuring men and women dressed up in fantastic costumes, along with music and dance. And a lot of very drunk locals. Superb!

PDC World Darts, London (evenings, quarter-finals onwards) - the darts take second stage as the crowd stoke up a great atmosphere at Alexandra Palace. You'll love it or hate it. I love it

Olodum, Salvador da Bahia, Brazil - the energy and rhythm from these street drummers is immense

Trans-Siberian railway, China/Mongolia/Russia and Karakoram Highway, Pakistan/China - take a train ride across Asia to Europe or another across the roof of the world


I'm sure Glastonbury festival, Oktoberfest and the Brazilian Carnaval would be in there if I'd been


Beautiful women

Venezuela - all the women are glamorous, even the students

Indonesia - very exotic mix of dark skin and dark eyes

British Indian - so many Miss Worlds seem to be Indian..

Israel - olive skin and green eyes, a great combination; definitely the world's hottest army!

Sri Lanka - again the beautiful mix of dark skin and dark eyes



Zanzibar - the east coast has stunning powder-white sand and turquoise waters. I stayed around Paje and Bwejuu

Las Terrenas, Dominican Republic - a series of arching bays laden with palm trees

Ankobra, Axim, Ghana - a great hotel that blends with this small but gorgeous beach

Ada Foah, Ghana - the beach is not a world beater but the location of a very basic pension in the 50m stretch of sand that separates a lovely part of the Volta river and the Gold Coast is a delight

The Algarve, Portugal - stunning cliff-edged bays, but which to choose? My top four are Praia da Marinha, Praia de Dona Ana, Praia do Carvalho and Cacela Velha

Las Lajas, Panama - not the most stunning beach but you can walk for miles without seeing a soul

Arraial d'Ajuda at New Year, Brazil - included for the sight of hundreds of Brazilians dressed in white welcoming in the New Year

Isla Bastimentos, Bocas del Toro, Panama

And one day I'll get to the Maldives..


Microstates & enclaves

Monaco - so many sights packed into such a small area

Hong Kong - as well as bright lights, shopping and crowds it's got beaches, forest trails and tranquility if you know where to look

Ceuta - a second Spanish African enclave dishing up beaches, a fancy waterpark, marinas and hillside trails

Melilla - some aren't bowled over by this Spanish enclave in north Africa, but prove them wrong by mixing beachtime with marinas, waterside bars and Modernist architecture

Gibraltar - give it more time than an afternoon booze and fags trip - the Rock has plenty to offer

And don't forget San Marino's capital city with its superb hilltop views



Micronations are unrecognised territories, often created by the quirky and eccentric

Seborga in Italy - the least quirky, mainly because it has a valid claim to independence

Christiania in Denmark - colourful street art amid this controversial hippie enclave, with a relaxed attitude to soft drugs

Achzivland in Israel - Eli Avivi is a true eccentric

Sealand - off the coast of England with a turbulent past. A distant view from the mainland at Felixestowe 12km away

Uzupis in Lithuania - an artists' enclave

Kugelmugel in Austria - a sphere in a Vienna park with a contested past


Statues & sculptures

The Kelpies, Scotland - incredible pair of huge horse statues, amazingly life-like for their size

Kim statues, North Korea - pick any of them but the most revered are at the Mansudae Grand Monument (since I went Kim Jong Il has joined his father there). Amazing to see a representation of what you've come all this way for

Harbin Snow & Ice Festival, China - a brilliant exhibition of massive but intricate snow sculptures, with over the top neon-flashing ice castles

Menton Citrus Festival, France - a long weekend of citrus-based exhibitionism at Menton on the French Riviera

Abu Simbel, Egypt - I'd forgotten how impressive this temple fronted by huge Ramses II statues is

Sand Wonderland, Belgium - the setting's a letdown, at what feels like Blankenberge's industrial park, but the sand sculptures are superb

Also check out Sand City near Lagoa, Portugal, just inland from some gorgeous Algarve beaches







Ancient sites & buildings

Big enough for a Top Ten (make it eleven), with some older than others..

Petra, Jordan - magnificent rock-cut city built in the 3rd century

Bam citadel, Iran - breathtaking abandoned mud-brick city, but destroyed in a 2003 earthquake

Lalibela, Ethiopia - a series of 10th-13th century rock-hewn churches, linked by pathways. Amazing - worth going to Ethiopia for

Taj Mahal, India - stunning 17th century marble mausoleum

Angkor, Cambodia - centre of the Khmer empire from 9th-15th century boasting many temples. Another sight worth going to Cambodia alone

Registan, Samarkand, Uzbekistan - At night these three madrasahs set around a square are absolutely stunning, the main draw for central Asia

Teotihuacan, Mexico - huge pyramids just outside Mexico City, built between 100BC-250AD

Borobodur Temple, Indonesia - 9th century monument laden with Buddha statues inside bell-shaped stupas

Ksar Ouled Soltane, Tunisia - a 15th century fortified granary store

Qasr Nalut, Libya - another fortified storeroom dating to the 11th century; full of alleyways, nooks and crannies

Chichen Itza, Mexico - Mayan city inhabited between 7th-13th centuries

Vardzia, Georgia - 12th century cave city with several floors of rooms, explorable via tunnels and steep stairs

Machu Picchu, Peru - 15th century Inca site in the Andean mountains


Never been to Mada'in Saleh but one day I hope to see Petra's rival in Saudi Arabia



Victoria Falls, Zambia/Zimbabwe - you can see the water vapour rising several kms away; take a helicopter ride above this awesome site

Kaieteur Falls, Guyana - take a five-day overland trip from Georgetown to this beautiful waterfall; stay the night and have the place almost to yourself

Angel Falls overland trip, Venezuela - world's highest waterfall and another one where the overland trip multiplies the experience, via a four-seater plane to Canaima

Iguacu Falls, Brazil/Argentina - these set of falls are mightily impressive

Blue Nile Falls, Ethiopia - smaller than they used to be but nevertheless a worthy trip


North Korea Travels to the Hermit Kingdom by Mark Wilkinson | Make Your Own Book


Grand Mosque, Djenne, Mali - an amazing structure built from mud

Taj Mahal, Agra, India - not quite a mosque but a mausoleum. Stunning

Imam Mosque, Esfahan, Iran - the green, blue and turquoise tiles typical of Persian mosques are beautiful

Sultanahmet Mosque, Istanbul, Turkey - Better known as the Blue Mosque. Definitely a 'wow' moment when seen for the first time

Umayyad Mosque, Damascus, Syria - maybe not on the tour itineraries right now, but the world's fourth holiest mosque is gorgeous inside

Registan, Samarkand, Uzbekistan - Again not a mosque but 3 madrasahs. At night it's absolutely stunning, the main draw across all central Asia

Also spare time for Shah Faisal Mosque in Islamabad, Pakistan and the Hassan II Mosque in Casablanca, Morocco.


Churches & cathedrals

Pokrovsky Cathedral, Moscow, Russia - better known as St Basil's Cathedral, it's colourful onion domes are stunning

La Sagrada Familia, Barcelona, Spain - Gaudi's immense and quirky structure is fascinating both inside and out

Church of the Saviour on Spilled Blood, St Petersburg, Russia - a cuter version of St Basil's

Salisbury Cathedral, Salisbury, England - for the excellent 'Sean Henry 2011' statues throughout the cathedral and its grounds

Canterbury Cathedral, Canterbury, England - seat of the Archbishop of Canterbury, leader of the Church of England

Tsminda Sameba Church, Kazbegi, Georgia - not for the church but for its location. Set at 2,200m amid snow-capped peaks including 5,047m Mt Kazbegi; while gazing down at the village of Stepantsminda below


Off-the-beaten track

Bam citadel, Iran - unfortunately this breathtaking abandoned mud-brick city was destroyed in a recent earthquake

Zipaquira underground salt cathedral, near Bogota, Colombia - a cathedral built into an abandoned salt mine, complete with Via Dolorosa stations. Wow

North Korea - the whole experience! Take a surreal tour and feel like you're part of The Truman Show

Turkmenistan - again the whole country! But especially Ashgabat for lessons in propaganda to rival North Korea

Lome, Togo - Negotiate a sale with a voodoo priest and ask the spirits to reduce their price. Not forgetting nearby Benin which is awash with fascinating voodoo culture

Candomblé ceremony, Cachoeira, Brazil - get lucky and experience a genuine ritual at the heart of Brazilian Candomblé. Possessed believers perform a spirit dance before the Mother of the Saints



Plazas & squares

Imam Khomeini Square, Esfahan, Iran - a truly beautiful array of blue and turquoise tiled mosques surround this square

Lyabi Hauz, Bukhara, Uzbekistan - I love the chilled atmosphere around the pool by day, morphing to bustling and lively in the evening. Take in surrounding mosques and bazaar stalls for a great experience

Djemma el Fna, Marrakech, Morocco - really comes to life in the evening with food stalls, music, dance and hustlers

Old Town Square, Prague, Czech Republic - surrounded by grand buildings.. and several bars to take it all in

Hasan Pasa Hani, Diyarbarkir, Turkey - Not really a square but a converted caravanserai. Absorb the wonderful evening atmosphere over a nargileh and mint tea

Piazza Navona, Rome, Italy - difficult to choose between all the squares in this city

Plaza de San Francisco, Plaza Vieja or maybe even Plaza de Catedral, Havana - the Cuban capital is full of glorious plazas, buildings and outdoor cafe-bars so take your pick


European city breaks

Split, Croatia - my new favourite; a beautiful old town set on the Adriatic coast with plenty of outdoor nightlife

Lisbon, Portugal - difficult to choose between Split and Lisbon, but it has great outdoor cafes, bars and restaurants, particularly in Alfama, plus a waterfront vibe, street art and fantastic hilltop panoramas

Dubrovnik, Croatia - my new second favourite. A fantastic walled old city and a nearby island to escape from it all

Seville, Spain - meandering cobbled streets and alleyways complement lush gardens and Moorish architecture

Budapest, Hungary - take in views of a city spanning a picturesque river and experience a lively old town centre

Malaga, Spain - underrated city on the Costa del Sol. Lively and fun with grand buildings and an excellent old town

Prague, Czech Republic - lots to see and do in this tourist friendly city

And walk the lovely cobbled streets of Trastevere in Rome



Dominated by Latin America..

Havana, Cuba - beautiful Spanish architecture, great live music and vibrant people

San Juan, Puerto Rico - huge fortresses and historic streets on the edge of the Caribbean Sea

Zanzibar Old Town, Zanzibar - nature and time try to engulf this beautifully run down 'city', with a fascinating but tragic history

Tel Aviv, Israel - for the lively character of this beach city rather than sights to see. For those who love the outdoors - pavement cafes, bars and beaches

Cartagena, Colombia - more glorious Spanish architecture and a nearby fortress. And the Caribbean helps too

Antigua, Guatemala - glorious setting among volcanoes with a colourful indigenous population, bars and colonial buildings

Taxco, Mexico - small but gorgeous silver mining town


UK cities

York - a walled city that's home to quaint independent shops, ancient buildings, cobbled streets and seemingly a pub every other building

London - soak up the South Bank, River Thames, exhibitions, museums, galleries, concerts, parks, pubs, clubs, restaurants. More?! A world melting-pot

Bath - another historic English city complete with Roman baths

Edinburgh - for an overdose of culture try to go around Fringe time

Cardiff - a pleasant surprise. Shopping arcades, a lively port area and plenty of bars makes the Welsh capital a worthy choice



Green Devil IPA by Oakham Ales, England - seriously hoppy, great taste

Lamu fruit juice, Kenya - freshly made, thick and with a zing of lime. The best juices ever

Vietnam roadside beer - tanks of dirt cheap home-made beer cooled by blocks of ice are for sale roadside. Sit in pathetically small plastic chairs for a real Vietnamese experience

Addis Ababa juice stall - I didn't expect Ethiopia to do great juices. A glass of layered avocado, papaya and banana was a highlight

de Koninck APA - Better known as a Bolleke, Antwerp's a lucky recipient of this tasty Belgian beer

Page 24 - If you like de Koninck you'll probably go for this excellent beer from French Flanders


I love the majorly hoppy beers such as Jaipur by Thornbridge in England and the excellent IPL by Minipivovar Tatras in Poprad, Slovakia.

My world beers page


Gluten-free beers

Satzuma by Thornbridge - Bakewell, England. My current favourite, a gluten-free beer from the makers of the excellent Jaipur, with a zing of satsuma

RED by First Chop - Manchester, England. A red ale, drinkable in numbers but flavoursome

Scarborough Fair IPA by Wold Top - Yorkshire, England. Another brilliant beer which I'd drink even if not a Coeliac. Triple hopped

Hop Zij Met Ons by Jopen - Haarlem, Netherlands. Lovely IPA with a superb (hoppy of course) taste

Hoptical Illusion by Brass Castle - Malton, England. Great sorghum-based beer that's also vegan

Brunehaut Tripel by Brunehaut - Belgium. Found this strong tasting beer at Delirium Bar in Brussels

I Wish IPA by Mikkeller, a Belgian-based Dane. Bought this in London but can no longer find it. Hoppy! Update: Mikkeller Or Die is a top substitute.

A fantastic low alcohol gluten-free option is YES by First Chop. Finally, choose one from Gorgeous Blond Ale (by Greens of Stockport, England), Against the Grain (a bitter by Wold Top - England), Daas Ambre similar to Brunehaut (Daas - Belgium), West Coast Pale Ale (Redwell - England), hoppy citrus PIP (First Chop, England) or hoppy IPA Vagabond (BrewDog - Scotland)

My world beers page - Gluten free beers section


Communist relics

North Korea - a surreal peak behind the 21st century Iron Curtain

Albania - Tirana has plenty of attractions like Bunk Art 1, Bunk Art 2 and the House of Leaves. Add Gjirokastra's Cold War tunnels, Shkodra's Sigurimi museum, and country-wide bunkers for a fascinating but chilling glimpse of communist life

Transnistria - a breakaway slice of Russia in Moldova that most have never heard of

Buzludzha - a fantastic crumbling monument set high above the plains in Bulgaria

Kelvedon Hatch - this huge underground former nuclear bunker is just outside London, and was top secret for many years

Goris, Georgia - the birthplace of Stalin, leader of the Soviet Union 1935-1972. There's a museum in his honour - walk through his Yalta conference train and buy tacky souvenirs

Memento Park - Budapest's exhibition of Soviet-era sculptures lies on the outskirts of the Hungarian capital


this other world travel store

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