Over the last few years a myriad of books have been published recommending what to visit, see, eat, drink, do, listen to, etc. I'm referring to titles such as 1000 Places to Visit Before You Die, 500 Cities to See Before You Die, 1000 Books to Read Before You Die, and so on. It seems to have developed into a craze with publications (and websites) such as 1000 Wines to Try, 1000 Recordings to Hear, 500 Trips to Take, 1000 Films to Watch, 500 Natural Wonders to See, 1000 Birds to Spot, 1000 Artworks to See and many more. I wouldn't be surprised anymore to come across a volume entitled 1000 Cigars to Smoke, 500 Bars to Get Hammered In, 1000 Cathouses to Patronise or 500 STD Clinics to Visit.
From most of the above-mentioned titles I have deliberately omitted the ‘Before You Die' part as I find it somewhat lugubrious. Actually, I think some of the titles - esp. the ones concerning alcohol and daredevil activities - should be labelled ‘And Then You Die' or ‘And Hope You Don't Die', since doing what the books say could definitely lead to liver cirrhosis at best or an untimely death at worst.
Also, most of what the books prescribe is virtually impossible to do in just one lifetime. For example, the recommended places to visit are spread all over the globe and the reading suggestions contain works such as Tolstoy's War and Peace. Apart from becoming an energetic and globe-trotting centenarian, being a millionaire is a necessity as well for enjoying many of the fine wines and far-away exotic locations. Not to mention stamina and 20/20 vision for some other activities.
I actually like perusing these books although I am quite aware that I'll never be able to complete even a tenth of what they encourage people to do. Unless you combine several of the once-in-a-lifetime activities and do so for decades on end, it's impossible to experience them all. However, I can't see myself riding a camel (a thing to do) in the streets of Timbuktu (a place to visit) while savouring a Chateaux d'Yquem (a wine to try), puffing on a Cohiba (a cigar to smoke), listening to Tchaikovsky's 1812 Overture (a recording to hear) and reading Hemingway's Old Man and the Sea (a book to read) all at the same time.
Although I'm not a die-hard fan of these ‘list-books' and feel there are too many already, I couldn't resist jumping on the bandwagon and provide you with some lists of my own. Contrary to the authors of most - if not all - of the books, I decided to include only what I've experienced first-hand. My approach unfortunately excludes a number of amazing locations I haven't been to myself, but so be it. Although most of what I included is definitely worthwhile, I don't expect you to go running to your local travel agent or bookstore to book a world trip or buy a cartload of novels. You will survive and possibly live happily ever after without treading in someone else's footsteps and ticking off ‘been there, done that' lists.
By the way, even though there is occasionally some kind of advice in my column, one of the best pieces of advice I can give is not to listen too much too other people's advice. Yes, you read that correctly. This is based on the fact that everyone is unique and has different tastes and preferences. What I consider to be a picturesque waterfall might just appear another boring day trip in someone else's eyes. What others consider must-see ruins may seem uninteresting piles of bricks to me. Some readers may consider Stephen King worthy of a Nobel Prize while others think it is literary rubbish.
So please don't think you should do everything these lists or books mention, nor should you get frustrated or depressed if you don't have the means to do so in this lifetime. Nobody would expect a New Yorker to go on a city trip to Sydney or a Singaporean to fly around the world just to see Machu Picchu. However, if you happen to be in the neighbourhood, you might just as well make a detour or add a couple of days to your journey. Alternatively, if you have time and funds aplenty, take a few months (or years) off so you can enjoy some of the beauty at your leisure.
I chose to keep the lists that follow short. I know there are uncountable other marvelous things to see and do around the world, but if you're really into long lists, just pop out to any of the major English bookshops, spend some cash and support the local economy.
Wonderful Places to Visit in Thailand
1. Chiang Mai (esp. the old part of the city surrounded by the moat)
2. Sukothai and Si Satchanalai World Heritage Sites
3. Krabi, Ko Phi Phi and selected islands in the Andaman Sea
4. Temples and ruins of Ayutthaya
5. Rattanakosin Island, Bangkok (Grand Palace, Wat Pho)
6. Hua Hin and Petchburi (Kao Wang Historical Site)
8. Phanom Rung and Phimai
10. Mae Hong Son
Breathtaking Sites to See in and around Southeast Asia
1. Temples of Angkor, Cambodia
2. Bagan and Mandalay, Myanmar
3. Halong Bay, Vietnam
4. Luang Prabang, Laos
5. Bukit Lawang and Lake Toba, Sumatra, Indonesia
Stunning Locations Worldwide
1. Machu Picchu and Cuzco, Peru
2. Luxor and Aswan, Egypt
3. Atacama Desert and the Lagunas of the Altiplano (Andean Highlands), Chile
4. Venice, Italy
5. Iguazu Falls, Argentina & Brazil
6. Alice Springs and Ayers Rock, Australia
7. Tropical rainforest, South America
8. Lake Titicaca, Peru and Bolivia
Fabulous Big Cities around the Globe
1. Rome, Italy
2. London, England
3. Sydney, Australia
4. Barcelona, Spain
5. Paris, France
6. Buenos Aires, Argentina
Interesting Medium Cities Worldwide
1. Sevilla and Cadiz, Spain
2. Lijiang and Dali, Southwest China
3. Hue and Hoi An, Central Vietnam
4. Amsterdam, The Netherlands
5. Bruges and Ghent, Belgium
Relaxing Small Towns around the World
1. Vang Vieng, Laos
2. San Pedro de Atacama, Chile
3. Dalat, Vietnam
4. Otavalo and Cuicocha, Ecuador
5. Kuranda, Australia
Worthwhile Daytrips to Take
1. Island and snorkelling trip in Krabi, Andaman Sea, Thailand
2. Sightseeing trip around Iquique, Chile
3. Skyrail Rainforest trip from Cairns to Kuranda, Queensland, Australia
4. Railway trip from Riobambe to Alausi (Nariz del Diablo), Ecuador
5. Trekking in Chiang Mai, Thailand (usually 3-day trip)
Thrilling Authors to Read
1. Tom Clancy
2. Frederick Forsyth
3. Minette Walters
4. Agatha Christie
5. Carl Hiaasen
6. Jeffery Deaver
7. Michael Ridpath
8. Philip Margolin
9. Dick Francis
10. Andy McNab
Exciting Films to Watch
1. The Shawshank Redemption
2. In the Name of the Father
4. The Silence of the Lambs
5. An Inconvenient Truth
6. The Usual Suspects
7. Pulp Fiction
8. Something Wild
9. Rattle and Hum
10. Groundhog Day
Must-visit Countries Worldwide
5. Any country in sub-Saharan Africa
Top Destinations on my Wish List
2. South Africa
If you are puzzled with my number 5 choice (any country in sub-Saharan Africa) in my Must-visit Countries Worldwide list, let me explain. If you are reading this online column, you must have a computer or at least access to one. You probably have enough money to spend on leisure activities, eat three meals a day and live in a house that doesn't have a leaky roof. Visiting an African country will give you some sense of perspective. You'll realise how incredibly lucky you are because most of the things we take for granted are in very short supply or completely inexistent in this vast continent.
As I'm based in Thailand at the moment, I only thought it fair to give this amazing country its own top 10. However, if the popularity of my photostream on Flickr.com is anything to go by, it could mean that interest in the Land of Smiles has decreased sharply. Among my 200 most popular photos, only 22 are from Thailand. Pictures from Laos are the most popular by a mile, followed by Vietnam as a distant second. Let's hope the Land of Smiles can find a quick and peaceful solution to the predicament it is in and become a prime and carefree destination its people can be proud of again.
Photos of many of these wonderful locations are available on www.flickr.com/photos/philiproeland">www.flickr.com/photos/philiproeland
The author of this article can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org.