So I’ve been home for a short stint between trips. This means catching up with friends and acquaintances, many of whom are curious about the travel I’ve been doing. The two most common questions are fairly predictable: 1. How do you manage the language barrier? And 2. What was your favorite place?
We’ll come back to the language barrier at a later date. Today, I just want to share my favorite countries I have visited so far.
I came to Nepal under some trying personal circumstances (you can read about that here, if you like). Alone and burnt-out on travel, I had every excuse to dislike the place.
And yet, Nepal stole my heart.
From the moment you land at Tribhuvan International Airport, you know you’re somewhere different. Unlike the scores of clean, shiny airports I’ve passed through in the past year, Nepal’s airport is a disaster. It’s dirty, crowded, and crazy. Travelers hate it. It’s a beautiful mess.
That theme continues as you journey onto the streets of Kathmandu—a huge, sprawling metropolis that is choked under a blanket of smog. The roads are terrifying, the food’s not that good, and as a tourist, you will be besieged by touts.
So why is Nepal my favorite country?
The people; and the nature.
When I came to Nepal, March 2016, the people had been suffering under dual tragedies: the earthquake (which you probably heard about) and the Indian fuel blockade (which you probably didn’t hear about). The country literally, in many places, lay in ruins.
You would not have known it, talking to the Nepali. “It is actually kind of a bad thing,” one man told me, on the trekking trail to Annapurna Base Camp. “You give the Nepali people the smallest thing, like a pen, and we are happy. Because of this, no progress gets made.”’
I don’t doubt there’s truth to what he said. As a visitor though, that attitude is amazingly infectious. The Nepali people are the kindest and most welcoming I have met—and I felt I was genuinely doing good by visiting. That’s not something I experienced in Thailand, for example.
And of course, you cannot talk about Nepal without mentioning the mountains. I’ll just let my pictures do the talking for me here.
I know I will be back to this country, several times, throughout the course of my lifetime. That’s how much I liked it.
The only danger with Thailand is that it’s on the verge of becoming over-touristed. With record numbers of young Australians and Americans setting off for the “backpacker circuit” in Southeast Asia, it’s easy to write these countries off as places full of nothing but stumbling-drunk 20-somethings trying to run away from their responsibilities. And that is true, in parts.
If you want that experience, it’s there for you. It’s a lot of fun, too. If you don’t, the country is so large, diverse, and welcoming that you can have an amazing experience, entirely separate of the stereotypes. There’s a good reason for this country’s growing popularity with tourists and backpackers though: it lives up to the hype.
If you’re an armchair traveler, your perception of Thailand is probably limited to it’s beaches. Instagram is stuffed full of photos of the iconic longtail boats on white sand beaches, nary a person in sight. The beaches are nice—but you won’t find long pristine stretches of secret beach. Instead, you’ll find backpacker bars, swarms of people, and high-end hotels as far as the eye can see. They’re still a good time, but at times, in places, Southern Thailand can feel a little bit like a Russian Mexico.
The real Thailand is to be found in the north of the country. Cities like Chiang Mai and Pai have enough tourist infrastructure for a backpacker or a digital nomad to comfortably set up shop, while still preserving the low prices and local charm that drew travelers to Thailand in the first place. Up here, you will find many more menus in Thai, instead of English. And for those in search of “authenticity,” that’s always a good sign.
And the food is amazing.
Bosnia and Herzegovina
A little less widely known than the other two, Bosnia is a bit more of what you might call a “hidden gem.”
Famous mostly for being the site of a brutal civil war in the ‘90s, Bosnia and Herzegovina isn’t exactly topping too many international tourism lists right now. This is understandable: unemployment hovers near 50 percent, and the economy is in shambles. The government doesn’t have the money to keep the trains running, meaning getting into the country overland can be a bit more hassle than you might expect in Europe.
The country has problems with stray dogs and active landmines.But as my sister found out when she traveled to African countries which we in the West often view as dangerous: in the end, no matter the conditions, people are still living their lives in these places. And the people in Bosnia and Herzegovina are wonderful. Sarajevo is a fabulous city with an intriguing mix of Christian and Ottoman architecture and culture. Although the wounds of war can still be freshly felt, an intriguing young energy swirls through the streets. I would give anything to have seen the city before the war; and I’ll be sure to be back a few times over the next decade to see if the youth succeed in revitalizing this seductive crossroads of a capital.
Outside of Sarajevo, Bosnia is blessed with immense natural beauty. While traveling through the country all I could think about was the possibilities for rock climbing some of these big faces. Then I remembered that huge swathes of the country are still covered with active landmines.
Great place, but probably not one to go off the grid.
So Why Visit Now?
The US Dollar will take you far in all of these places. Bosnia and Nepal are struggling, and in need of tourism. For Thailand—it’s probably best to get there before the tourism gets any worse. Thailand has waived visa fees through the end of February, too, so there’s literally never been a better time to go!
Happy travels in 2017!