For the month of June (and a little bit over) I decided to release a series of weekly posts focusing on one continent. Each continent is so diverse, so exciting, with endless experiences and exciting travel opportunities. I have been
lucky dedicated enough to have travelled to 6 of the 7 continents (Antarctica I am coming for you). I thought this would be a great way to show what I thought was the best of the best… of the best
On my instagram @my100by40 I am posting pictures daily each with a theme:
- Monday’s: An Underrated Gem
- Tuesday’s: A Place I Would Return To
- Wednesday’s: A UNESCO Site
- Thursday’s: Most Impressive Place
- Friday’s: A Photo in Nature
- Saturday’s: A Photo of Architecture
- Sunday’s: My Most Favourite Place
Of the 47 countries in Asia (49 if you include Cyprus AND Russia) I have visited 12 + 2 Special Administrative Regions (SAR’s). This leaves a lot of ground of cover for future trips.
An Underrated Gem: Tajikistan
Taking the title of Underrated Gem for Asia was the entire nation of Tajikistan. This former Soviet Nation, whose independence in 1991 started a devastating civil war, has become one of my top rated nations in all my travels. Within the Five Stans it is seldom visited, tourists usually flocking to Uzbekistan with its beautiful architecture and Kazakhstan with its surprising modernity.
From mountains, valleys, lakes and rivers the landlocked nation of Tajikistan has it all in terms of scenery. Rugged mountain peaks that shoot up almost vertically into the sky; winding, narrow roads almost impossibly attached to the side of the mountain and pure and pristine blue coloured lakes. Add all this with some of the friendliest people I’ve met, a beautiful culture and some delicious, hearty meals (note: probably a vegetarian’s nightmare) and you have an underrated gem.
Place I Would Return To: Kazakhstan
It’s hard to choose one place I would return to. So many places are worth repeat trips and some aren’t. But for this I chose one that I knew very little about going there, spent a few days there, loved what I saw and left only to realise there was so much that I missed. So, so, so much. That place is Kazakhstan.
Spending 2 days in Kazakhstan’s uber modern, in fact futuristic, capital city Nur-Sultan left me amazed at its other worldly like unique architecture. This garnered the city a spot in my Top 15 Cities I’ve Visited List. In addition, a hike in the Canyons surrounding the Almaty region and a full day exploring the more Soviet era style, yet, surprisingly, cosmopolitan city of Almaty. All three places have me wanting to go back already. You can check out my previous blog posts on Kazakhstan here:
– Charyn Canyon
It’s what I missed that is just adding to this desire to go back. Look up Altyn-Emel National Park and Ustyurt Plateau. The entire western Kazakhstan is remote, isolated and relatively unexplored. Take me back now!
A UNESCO site: Ephesus, Turkey
UNESCO sites are spread throughout the world and tour guides everywhere will make an effort to mention that this building or city is a UNESCO site. But what is a UNESCO site? The United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organisation (UNESCO) inscribe sites of cultural, historic or scientific significance into their World Heritage Listing each year. This means that the site is protected and it’s continued protection is important in preserving the cultural and historical significance of humanity. A big call.
There are more than 1000 UNESCO sites in 161 countries around the world. I have visited many and many have been in Asia. But I had to narrow it down to one. So, naturally, being me, I decided to pick a more obscure one – Ephesus, Turkey.
Turkey is a transcontinental country but by general agreement the only portion of Turkey in Europe is the Thrace Peninsula (where Istanbul is located). Ephesus, therefore, is in the Asian region of Turkey.
Ephesus was an Ancient Mediterranean port city first founded in the 10th Century BC. It became a political, intellectual and cultural centre of the region and was in a strategic place which saw it invaded and occupied by many Empires from the Greeks, Persians, Romans and Byzantine Empires.
It also played a significant role in the early stages of Christianity. Saint Paul and Saint John preached here and managed to convert many citizens to Christianity leaving the nearby Temple of Artemis, one of the Seven Ancient Wonders of the World, to be abandoned and destroyed. Mary, the mother of Jesus, is also said to have lived out her days here. You can visit the house she is said to have lived in as well as Saint John’s tomb here.
Pictured here is the Library of Celsus. It was built sometime between 117 and 135AD and at its time was the third largest library in the world. Named after an influential Roman Ephesus benefactor, Tiberius Julius Celsus, the library now remains as one of the only few surviving Roman built libraries.
Overtime, natural silt accumulated and this pushed the shoreline out many kilometres leaving Ephesus an inland city. The city was eventually completely abandoned by the 15th Century AD. It is a popular tourist stop for Greek Island cruises.
Most Impressive Place: Ta Prohm, Cambodia
A place(s) I was most impressed by were the temples of Siem Reap, Cambodia. How could I not be? This could have easily fit into any one of the other categories. But it had to be this one. When you hear about a place a lot, you get worried that it is not going to live up to the expectations. This was not the case here. Neither the heat or humidity or the fact I had to wear long pants in the heat and humidity could distract from these mighty temples.
The Khmer Empire, a significant South East Asian civilisation between 802AD and 1431AD built a series of mighty religious temples in the middle of the jungle. The most famous of these is Angkor Wat which is the largest religious monument in the world. Originally constructed as a Hindu Temple in the beginning of the 12th Century, it was gradually transformed into a Buddhist temple by the end of the 12th Century.
But for me, the temple that places Siem Reap into my most impressive position is Ta Prohm. Whereas the entire Siem Reap temple complex is a testimony to the capability of humanity and their ingenuity with architecture, this temple, Ta Prohm, shows that in the end, nature always wins. Left completely abandoned by 1431, Ta Prohm has been reclaimed by the jungle. So much have the tree branches intertwined with the ruins that if they were to remove the trees, the ruins would collapse. Just. WOW
A Photo in Nature: Kyrgyzstan
For all things nature I had to go to another Stan country, Kyrgyzstan. This landlocked nation is aptly nicknamed the “Switzerland of Central Asia”. It has no access to the sea, in fact the Kyrgyz people have to travel the furthest than any other nation in the world to get to an ocean. But what they do have is some of the most dynamic landscapes I have ever seen in a such a small nation.
Green mountains, desert valleys, pristine lakes, red rock formations and a mountain lake that would make you swear you were in the Maldives. Kyrgzystan has it all. In fact I probably could have dedicated a whole week to the nature photos from Kyrgyzstan. Or you can check out my previous posts here too: Kyrgyzstan Part 1 and Kyrgyzstan Part 2.
A Photo of Architecture: Bangkok, Thailand
Could it be the world famous Burj Khalifa in Dubai? The iconic Petronas Towers in Kuala Lumpur? Tokyo Tower? Fortified cities on the Silk Road? Marina Bay Sands? Futuristic Astana? White marble Ashgabat?
Asia has it’s share of monumental architectural feats. But for my choice…. it’s a palace…
The Grand Palace in Bangkok, Thailand to be exact. It has been the official residence for the King of Siam and later the King of Thailand since 1782, Although, the King doesn’t actually live here now. Meaning, you can visit it and awe at it’s beauty.
The Temple of the Emerald Buddha is also located within the Palace. Featuring the small but invaluable Emerald Buddha, it is considered Thailand’s most important Buddhist temple.
Be prepared for crowds (when visiting Bangkok in general) but specifically here. Strict dress codes apply including wearing socks (as you can’t wear shoes in the temple) and long pants for men.
Most Favourite Place: Khiva, Uzbekistan
Located in the middle of the nowhere, deep in the Kyzylkum desert and bordering nearby reclusive Turkmenistan, lies the old Silk Road City of Khiva, Uzbekistan. Personally, it ticks so many boxes that I love about traveling, the wow factor, isolated, off the beaten track, not as many visitors, history, culture, food and even wine.
There is an inner city, fortified by walls. Within the inner city are vendors selling traditional handicrafts, marketplaces selling textiles, and monuments and historic sites with amazing architecture spread throughout the city. It gives you a true insight of what life could have been like during the times of the Silk Road. Two large minarets dominate the Khiva skyline – one is distinctive and unique being the largest unfinished minaret in the world; the other is the tallest in Uzbekistan offering views of the city from the observation deck at the top. To top all of this, you can climb up to the city walls watch the sun set over the desert, the inner city and outer city and then be lost as you look up into the desert sky. My favourite place.
You can also read more about Khiva here.
Underrated Gem/A Photo in Nature: Kyrgyzstan and Tajikistan, for me, could be interchangeably categorised into these two categories. Both offering stunning natural settings and both are often overlooked.
Place I would return to: Tokyo, Japan… but this time with a friend. Travelling to Tokyo, I found, is an experience best shared with someone else.
Architecture: Dubai, United Arab Emirates. The whole city from the awe inspiring mighty Burj Khalifa to their extensive land reclamation campaign.
Well I hope you had as much fun reading as I did reminiscing about Asia! Tune in next week for another post, 7 different places of the same themes, in a new continent…. AFRICA!
You can follow me on Instagram for more photos and information @my100by40 .