Looking for some wanderlust or an idea of where to spend your next holiday? This might help – here are my top 10 favourite countries…
My Top 10 Countries (2018 Edition)
It must be the reflective nature which the last few weeks of the year often bring. After reviewing 2018 as a whole, it got me thinking about my favourite countries, experiences and trips to date. I’ve already written about my favourite trip, here. This article is all about my 10 favourite countries (as at the end of 2018) and, all being well, a top 10 bucket list experiences article will follow in due course.
Right then, onto the article. Because I’m all for suspense, the list is in reverse order…
After deciding on positions 1-9, I was number struggling a bit with 10. They say home is where the heart is, so why not. I was born in and have spent my entire life living in England. It can be easy to take your home country for granted. But when I think about it, Brexit aside, our little country is pretty darn good. Countless areas of natural beauty – the Cotswolds, the Lake District, the Jurassic Coast. Some of the best museums in the world – particular shout out to the Natural History Museum. And a whole host of wonderful cities (obviously, Birmingham is the best).
Norwegians are some of the happiest people in the world, and I could see why when I visited in 2017. When it comes to natural beauty, Norwegians are spoilt for choice: majestic fjords, snow capped mountains, jagged coastlines, lush green forests, crystal clear lakes and the ethereal Northern Lights could make anybody smile. But Norway isn’t just a pretty face: head into its cities for some Norwegian sophistication and to see what hygge is all about. Bergen, in particular, is wonderful. Check out my Norway content here.
I’ve visited Singapore on three separate occasions (hoping to make it four in 2019) and it kind of feels like a second home. One of the reasons is the fact that I’ve been able to stay with friends who live there. I love getting to experience a destination from a local’s perspective. Their love for the place they call home is infectious and it has definitely spread to me. Singapore is the definition of a futuristic metropolis and, as somebody who loves to dabble in photography, there are interesting compositions and photo opportunities seemingly around every corner. Singapore’s other stand out is it’s food scene. When visiting this green, garden city be sure to eat in as many hawker centres as you can (try the carrot cake – the dark variety – you’ll thank me later), explore the super tree grove at the Gardens by the Bay, enjoy life in the multitude of hip, cool bars and admire the sleek lines of the Marina Bay Sands.
Morocco offers particularly positive memories because I visited during what was, personally, a very low point towards the end of 2017. Getting away from everything was revitalising (an article about travelling and mental health is certainly on the agenda and I plan to write and publish one to coincide with 2019’s Mental Health Awareness Day on 10 October). What did I like about Morocco? It’s a very interesting country, which is filled with more beauty than my eyes could handle. Marrakech was a whirlwind of madness. The Atlas Mountains were serene and spectacular. Essaouira’s laidback hedonistic charm was a delight. All of my Morocco content can be found here.
If I had written this article back in 2015 or 2016, Cambodia would have easily taken top spot. Whilst it has since been dethroned, Cambodia will always hold a special place in my heart: it spawned my love of travel. My life could easily be split into two parts: before Cambodia and after Cambodia. After exploring this wonderful country and discovering street food, the warmth exuded by its people (despite all of the hardships which they have endured) and seeing some of the world’s most spectacular temples, how could I ever go back? Cambodia awoke something – a desire to see and experience as much of the world as I possibly can throughout the rest of my life. For that, I have nothing but gratitude for Cambodia.
5. Hong Kong
Love isn’t always instantaneous. Sometimes it’s a slow burner, as with Hong Kong. My first experience in 2015, whilst unforgettable (mainly due to staying in the notorious Chung King Mansions), was not what I had hoped it would be. Thankfully, I decided to head back in 2018 and Hong Kong won me over. We are now true BFFs and I’d go so far as to say that Hong Kong is my favourite city in the world. The food scene is unparalleled. The hectic hustle and bustle is absorbing. Watching that skyline come to life, cocktail in hand, as day gives way to night, is magical. I could happily spend weeks exploring this city, preferably with my camera in hand and my stomach full of all the local delights. This way for Hong Kong articles.
I visited Vietnam in 2017 as part of my first solo trip. The food is an obvious highlight, and you’d be a fool to leave Vietnam without having sampled as many bowls of pho as is humanly possible. If you’re in Hanoi, take a trip to the rather wonderful Chả Cá Thăng Long for some Chả Cá (fish sautéed in dill and turmeric and accompanied by Vermicelli Rice Noodles) . The architecture of Ho Chi Min City hints back to the country’s European occupations and the museums give a detailed insight into the Vietnam War (if you find that kind of stuff interesting, check out Ken Burns’ incredible 10 part documentary ‘the Vietnam War’). My personal highlight might be an obvious one, but there is a reason why Ha Long Bay is so revered. I was lucky enough to spend 3 days on board the Dragon Legend (pictured below) exploring the wonder of Ha Long Bay.
Bolivia might be the poorest country in South America, but it is a very special destination for me. It’s a country brimming with once in a lifetime experiences and jaw dropping landscapes. The Uyuni salt flats had been top of my bucket list for a couple of years and boy did it live up to expectations. Aside from this obvious highlight, there was La Paz – the chaotic capital city with its dramatic mountain backdrop, the mind-boggling landscapes of the Atacama Desert, taking a trip down the world’s most dangerous road and, seeing flamingos in the wild. My only regret is that we didn’t have more time in the country.
Italy just missed out on top spot. Whilst its not as exotic and far-flung as a lot of the countries on this list, Italy is bloody marvellous. So far in my life, I’ve taken three trips to Italy and could happily go back every single year. To read about my most recent trip, head over to this page. Perhaps, one day, when I have visited another handful of times and seen (and eaten) more, Italy will gracefully barge its way onto the top of this list. What is there to say about Italy? It is the destination which has everything: some of the most delicious food imaginable; dramatic landscapes; a long and interesting history; picturesque towns and cities; and some of the greatest artworks ever created. Just writing that almost convinced me to knock it up by one place. Almost. I mean, even the laundry looks splendid…
Nipping into first place courtesy of a photo finish is Peru. Obviously there is Machu Picchu and the experience of being able to see this ancient wonder with my own eyes is difficult to put into words. It was the first time in my life that I had seen mountains in person (I know we have a couple in the UK, but they are pretty piddly compared to the scale of South America’s rugged topography). The strength of the culinary scene continually impressed me – the seafood, in particular the ceviche, was to die for – visiting Lima? Make a reservation for lunch at La Mar for a feast comprised from the finest seafood. I loved the charm of Cusco – the city is so much more than a gateway to the Sacred Valley and it’s spectacular surrounded by mountains setting blew my tiny mind. Seeing and learning about the ancient history of the Sacred Valley and the ingenuity of the Incan empire. Watching local surfers battle the Pacific waves along the cost of Lima. A unique, warm and friendly homestay experience on the Uros Islands. Two weeks in Peru created so many special memories to last a lifetime.
Have you visited any of these countries? If so, how did you find them? Which countries make up your own top 10 list?