When I’m trying to choose where to travel to next, I don’t often pick somewhere that I’ve already been. There are so many places to explore, my list keeps getting longer and longer, so with such little time and money, going back to a destination seems like a waste. Why not spend that time and money going somewhere new?
There have definitely been places I’ve absolutely loved, and familiarity makes returning to those an easy trip, so it’s always tempting. But to return can also be risky, because what if it’s not like I remember it? The friends I made there won’t be around, with only the lonely echoes of the laughs we shared. The place might have become way more touristy, crowded and noisy. I might not feel as relaxed and comfortable there as before, or worst of all, my favourite street food vendor might be gone!
When I was living in Vietnam I did, on occasion, return to places I’d already been, because sometimes I just needed an easy weekend away and didn’t have time to go further afield than where the plane landed. And now, of course, I’m back in New Zealand, where I spent three months travelling twelve years ago. While I probably will revisit some of the places I went before, I’m also looking for new experiences and to see new places.
I’ve got to give you five. Now the thing is, I can come up with lots of places I wouldn’t mind going back to, but not many that actually call me back, that I think of with longing. The first ones that come to mind are those that I’ve lived in, and it would be oh, so easy to just start my list with Jeonju, South Korea; Edinburgh, Scotland; and Hanoi, Vietnam. Each of those has a very special place in my heart and I would go back in a second.
But that feels like cheating. So here are five other places I have been that I would love to revisit someday:
1. Mawlamyine, Burma (Myanmar)
You probably know by now that I have an intense love for Burma. In fact, when people ask me what my favourite country I’ve ever visited is, Burma is usually the first that comes to mind.
But Mawlamyine goes the extra mile. It’s a sleepy seaside city of about 300,000 people, with a bustling market and waterfront, quiet streets and alleys to wander down, and a series of pagodas topping the ridge that runs the length of the town. There’s plenty to do outside of town as well, with the largest reclining Buddha in the world, Ogre Island, a mini Golden Rock, a monastery, and a waterfall (in the rainy season!)
The people here are exceptionally friendly, and I’ve spent many hours wandering the streets, looking at the old wooden houses, talking to people, and taking pictures.
The first time I went I stayed six days, and started to have thoughts about how I could stay, maybe start up a little cafe and/or English school. That’s how much I loved it.
And I’ve been back once already. Unfortunately I was only passing through so I should’ve just spent the night and moved on, but I couldn’t help myself and I stayed an extra day, just to enjoy the place. For dinner I went to the BBQ stands that line the waterfront in the evenings, and managed to find the same family I’d bought from several times on my previous visit, and wouldn’t you know, the woman recognized me! She’d actually remembered from an entire year earlier that I liked her chicken wings and corn and beer. Amazing!
2. Olomouc, Czech Republic
Nearing the end of a long, long trip, I found myself in Olomouc (pronounced Oh-loh-moats), worn out and ready to chill out a bit. And I was in the perfect place. Combine a 1000 year old city with beautiful surrounding countryside and nearby towns to explore, a charming town square, friendly people, and a fabulous hostel, and you’ve got a happy Jenny.
There are far fewer tourists here than there are in Prague, but so many areas to wander and explore and cafes to sit in and just people watch. And because it’s a university town, there are lots of opportunities to enjoy that delicious Czech beer. If beer isn’t your thing, visit a wine cellar and try a few. Be sure to take an empty pop bottle, and for just a few koruny they’ll fill it up with your favourite!
3. Wharariki Beach, New Zealand
Wharariki Beach has called me back to it ever since I first went. I still think of it as my favourite beach in the whole world, and I’ve seen quite a few by now.
At the far Northwestern tip of the South Island, down the end of a dirt road, through a field of cows, this beach is one of the most stunning I’ve ever seen. I was there when the tide was out, and the sun setting over the blue ocean and the flat, wide expanse of sand, behind rocky outcrops covered in barking seals is something I’ll never forget. Unfortunately the disappearing sun meant that I had to get back through the field of cows to the car before dark, so I didn’t have much time there. I vowed that one day I would be back, and I will. Soon.
I’m sorry to say that I don’t even have a picture to show you, because this was all back in the days of film cameras, and the pictures I took are in a closet in my mom’s house (Thanks Mom!). But expect a blog post when I do go there again
I didn’t know what to expect from Mongolia. All I knew was that I had friends who’d been and had loved it. For me it was a stop on an overland trip from Asia to Europe, and I arrived without much idea of what I was doing, where I might go, or how to get there. Luckily, the hostel I stayed at hooked me up with 5 other travellers, a van, driver, and cooking equipment, and we set out together on a 13 day trip around the country, staying in gers (yurts) with nomad families.
I enjoyed it so much that when we got back to Ulanbataar I then joined three of the others on another 8 day trip up to Lake Khövsgöl in the North, actually relinquishing of a week of my Russian visa’s validity to stay in this stunning country a little longer.
Mongolia is beautiful. The landscapes are so varied, from rocky cliffs to stunning lakes, sand dunes, an ice-filled gorge, grasslands, forests, gravelly deserts, clear icy rivers, and towering mountains. The people are few and far between, but the families that are there are friendly and welcoming. The towns are a combination of Soviet-inspired architecture surrounded by suburbs of gers, with fascinating markets, tiny supply shops, and endless people watching.
You can travel by 4WD van or horseback or even camel (I don’t recommend this), along roads that are simply tracks pounded into the grass, with not a road sign to be seen. I have no idea how our drivers navigated!
Mongolia is also huge. I saw a lot, but it was only a fraction of what’s there. I would love to go again one day, fly into the remote Western part of the country and explore there.
5. Luang Prabang, Laos
Luang Prabang is one place I could always return to. I could spend hours, days, even weeks just wandering its quiet streets, exploring the nooks and crannies of its numerous monasteries, and talking to the friendly monks. I could go watch the evening prayers and soak up the sound of the monks chanting every single day.
I could sit forever in cafes watching the world go by, or boats passing on the river. I could rent a bicycle and ride out of town into the countryside in every direction and never get tired of it. I could eat the delicious street food, take cooking classes, and ponder which crafts to buy in the night market.
Luang Prabang is touristy, but not in an overwhelming, kitschy and awful way. It has managed to retain its quiet charm despite an influx of tourists and the resulting explosion of restaurants and internet cafes. Step off the main street and you’re out of the central tourist area, into peaceful residential streets lined with tropical plants and colourful flowers, leading to beautiful, peaceful wats.
So that’s my five! What do you think? Have you been to any of these places? Would you go back?
Now I want to hear from a few other bloggers.
Jiyeon of Runaway Juno
Jeannie of Nomadic Chick
Stephen of Bohemian Traveler
Noel of Wander2Nowhere
Earl of WanderingEarl
What are your top 5 destinations you would return to?