Five Places You’ve Never Been To But Should (once life returns to normal)
By Paul Watson
There’s nothing like a state of indefinite lockdown to make you appreciate how much you took to travel for granted.
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While at the moment even the thought of a trip to Hammersmith Broadway can seem exotic, we have to believe and hope that sometime soon normal life will resume and our wanderlust will kick in again.
The phrase ‘off the beaten track’ is thrown around a lot, but here are five destinations where you’d be pretty aggrieved to find yourself sharing a hotel with Brian from the office.
The very name Outer Mongolia is used as a metaphor for remoteness, but technically ‘Outer Mongolia’ is the country Mongolia while Inner Mongolia is a region within China.
Those who do make it to Mongolia have a vision of the vast empty plains or steppes, so the capital Ulan Bator can be a bit of a jolt.
Ulan Bator, or ‘Red Warrior’ (although nicknamed ‘Smog Warrior’ which is almost the same word in Mongolian) is a massively overcrowded and largely grey Soviet-esque city with very little charm. Sitting bumper to bumper in traffic for hours is about as much fun as a holiday on the North Circular.
However, once you get out of UB you see just why Mongolia is the least densely populated nation on earth. Staying in a traditional yurt (or ger) hundreds of miles from anyone is a very therapeutic antidote to office life, as is the amazingly good vodka that Mongolia produces alongside fermented mare’s milk as the tipple of choice.
It’s also worth a quick look at the immense statue of Genghis Khan. Genghis’s name is everywhere in Mongolia, which makes sense as he once pretty much ruled the world. Unlike his image abroad, Genghis is revered at home for being a man of peace who created the concept of diplomatic immunity. Although a guide was keen to tell me, he did also pour liquid silver in the eyes of his enemies.
Go in August and enjoy the Naadam Festival of horse riding, archery, and other traditional events. Don’t go in winter as it’ll be -20 degrees and you’ll freeze.
It’s hard to find anyone in the UK who has heard of the tiny Pacific nation of Palau, but this diver’s paradise has long been a favorite for Chinese and South Korean tourists.
Located east of the Philippines and serviced by regular flights from Seoul and Taiwan, Palau’s 445 uninhabited Rock Islands (which are technically not islands but coral reefs) are a UNESCO World Heritage Site and can be accessed by a relatively quick boat ride from Koror, the more functional business island.
When you’ve had your fill of some of the best diving spots on earth and beautiful unspoiled beaches,
Palau’s jungly north island Babeldaob is worth driving around.
Take a stop at the bizarre and ghostly parliament buildings of the administrative capital, Ngerulmud (a pub quiz winning answer there), based on Capitol Hill, that are incongruous and largely empty and potter around them feeling like you’re in a zombie movie.
The world’s largest island is technically part of the Kingdom of Denmark but it is fiercely independent and has a tangible pride in its identity.
Only 56,000 people live in Greenland and 20,000 of those are in the relative metropolis of Nuuk.
The Nuuk Marathon takes place in August and is the perfect way to one-up anyone boasting about doing the London Marathon. The scenery en route is stunning and at points, you have the soundtrack of icebergs melting in the sea to compete with your despairing gasps.
The downside of Greenland is that, like Denmark, it is expensive. Internal flights are cripplingly pricey and there are quite literally no roads so you won’t be getting a 54-hour Megabus from Nuuk to Ittoqqortoormiit.
In the eyes of most of the world, Somaliland doesn’t exist, which has certainly not helped its tourist trade, but anyone who has visited will tell you it is a world away from Somalia.
Since becoming independent after Somalia’s civil war, Somaliland has become a beacon of peace and relative affluence in the Horn of Africa but visitors can still expect some concerned looks from friends and family and to pay a fortune for ‘war zone’ travel insurance.
Capital Hargeisa’s standout sight is the money-changers sitting by the road with their massive bricks of Somaliland shillings (try changing one of those in a UK bank) which are exchanged for US dollars. When the call to prayer happens, the money changers simply leave their stacks and walk to the mosque. Crime is more or less nonexistent.
The big-hitting attraction in Somaliland is Laas Geel where you can see some of the oldest cave paintings in the world. You can get right up close and personal with the incredibly vivid pictures and you probably won’t meet another tourist.
A note of caution, as fun as the Somaliland stamp is in your passport, you may have some explaining to do the next time you visit the USA and you’ll struggle to get an ESTA visa.
Outside of the Eurovision Song Contest, you don’t hear much about Moldova and it’s Europe’s least visited major nation (we’re not counting San Marino, Liechtenstein, etc here).
Sandwiched between Romania and Ukraine, Moldova became independent from the Soviet Union in 1991.
If Soviet nostalgia is your thing, the unrecognized state of Transnistria, which is still part of a frozen conflict, is worth a visit – military parades on tap, old-school tanks in the streets, tannoys playing propaganda songs, what’s not to like?
Moldovan wine is on the rise and it certainly produces enough of it. Milestii Mici is the largest wine cellar in the world, a 150-mile network of caves filled with bottles and (presumably) hopelessly lost but drunk people.
In the more rural parts of Moldova guests you’ll almost certainly be welcomed with open arms and made to drink eye-wateringly strong homemade spirits that make wine feel like water.
Ex-youngest international football manager in the world (sort of). Wrote Up Pohnpei, owned Mongolian team organized CONIFA World Football Cup 2018 in London. Writes about footballing underdogs and travel.
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