Because everyone loves an arbitrary list.
In no particular order, because it is WAY too hard to decide, these are some of my favourite places from my ever-growing list of Places What I Have Been.
The Cape Coast, Ghana
Ghana is just an underrated and phenomenal destination all over, and I’m really glad I spontaneously decided to go pay it a visit. While the Boabeng Fiema monkey sanctuary, north of Kumasi in the direction of the Kintampo waterfalls, is also a strong contender for this list, the Cape Coast has to take the spot. You can learn about horrible human histories at Cape Coast Castle – a former hub of the slave trade – and there’s plenty of sandy beach space to flounder on, as well as a selection of tourist-friendly drinking holes.
This part of Ghana has a sizeable Rasta population, so expect lots of bleary-eyed smiles welcoming you into street stalls and food shacks where you can get unique keepsakes and great food for very little cash. If you feel like a sit-down meal, check out the mouthwatering vegetarian venue ‘Baobab House’ on Commercial Street, which is run by a local not-for-profit organisation. If you’re happy with street dining, keep your eyes peeled for stalls selling Red Red – a delicious spicy bean stew best served with fried plantain chips. Drool.
Koh Phangan, Thailand
Forget the full moon parties. I’m a bit of a sucker for island life, and Koh Phangan has yet to be beaten in terms of sheer bliss levels. If you’re thinking of heading there, make sure you take advantage of the boat trips that float around the island each day, even if they don’t look very glamorous. Aside from the miles and miles of insane beaches, dirt-cheap price of an oil massage on the shoreline and abundance of affordable local cuisine, one thing from Koh Phangan I will not forget is an entirely silly day out on what appeared to be a dilapidated fishing boat, drinking dubious Thai booze and snorkelling.
The boat tours take you to completely isolated beaches as well as some of the populated ones, and you can splash around looking for tropical fish and corals in the marine park on your way. When it’s all over, make sure you’re staying on the south side of the island for the most jaw-dropping sunset views. I stayed at Mac’s Bay Backpackers (which has it’s own private beach!) and it was absolute heaven.
Ha Long Bay, Vietnam
Pretty much all of Vietnam could have been on this list, because Vietnam is a great place full of great people and great things and you should all go. While Mai Chau gets a special mention for being the place I finally got back on a push bike for the first time since childhood, Ha Long Bay was where I had my first ‘holy sh*t’ moment in Vietnam. Book yourself onto one of the overnight or two-night cruises that sails around the bay, because waking up in the morning to a pinky lilac sunrise over the karsts is mind-blowing, and if you’re feeling jazzy you can take part in a bit of tai chi in the morning mist on many of the boats.
Kayaking expeditions are included in the cost of most of these packages, along with Vietnamese cookery classes and visits to caves like Sung Sot. Even on a grey day it’s still so beautiful you have to keep blinking and wondering if it’s real.
Siem Reap / The Angkor Temples, Cambodia
So firstly, the Bayonne temple and Ta Prohm at Angkor Thom are just as exciting as the main temples at Angkor Wat, if not more so. But also, Siem Reap is a really cool place and if you’re passing by with the sole aim of seeing the temples, schedule in time to stay for a few days and hang out. Sink a few bottles of Angkor lager on Pub Street and head to the night market to haggle over whatever catches your eye, and recover the next day with a $3 massage.
Obviously you should dedicate a day to exploring the famous ruins, or even two or three days if you’re keen to see as many as possible, but as well as clambering around them on foot there’s also the option to admire the temples from a hot air balloon or even from a zipline. The choice is yours!
New York, USA
Long enough ago that I’m pretty sure the phone I took there didn’t even have a colour screen, let alone photo capabilities, New York still deserves a place on this list for being completely bonkers and full of very cool stuff. I went to the top of the Rockefeller Centre and saw the Empire State building in all it’s glory, sunned myself in Central Park and still haven’t gotten over how stupendously big all the food portions were for literally every single meal of every single day I was there.
Visiting in summer meant maximum fun was had at Coney Island, as well as Ellis Island, tourist-ing it right up on the Staten Island ferry, skipping across the Brooklyn Bridge, eating actual New York Cheesecake and all the other good stuff. Definitely a winner as far as city breaks go.
And special mentions go to…
For city breaks:
- Berlin, Germany – for all the history and hella good vegan food.
- Madrid, Spain – because Chueca is great fun, there’s a Warner Brothers theme park not far away and it’s just damn nice.
- Melbourne, Australia – never has a city felt so spacious. Also, easy to go pester koalas from here and see the penguins on Philip Island.
- Toronto, Canada – not only is it a really cool place, it’s also less than two hours from Niagara Falls. And it’s full of Canadians.
For getting back to nature:
- Sangkhlaburi, Thailand – great trekking, a lush lake, a historic bridge and a really great bar. Looking at you, Blue Rock.
- Mai Chau, Vietnam – insane scenery and a real authentic bit of non-touristy Vietnam.
- Bolgatanga, Ghana – technically this is a town, but it’s definitely on the rustic, still developing end of the ‘town’ spectrum, full of life and character.