Top 10 Unusual Travel Destinations for 2015

Kenya --- Maasai tribesmen jumping, Maasai Mara, Kenya --- Image by © Hugh Sitton/Corbis

After reading this great post by Elite Daily outlining ‘50 Unpredictable And Non-Clichéd Places To Travel To In Your 20s’, I thought I would write my own list of unusual travel destinations which I think you should check out. Not all of you though, don’t want these secret places getting too touristy now, do we?

Sometimes there are amazing, and quiet, hideaways waiting for you just around the corner from top tourist destinations. You don’t have to travel to Easter Island or West Africa just to get off the beaten track. Here are my Top 10 unusual travel destinations. Would love to hear what yours are!

10. Ssese Islands, Uganda.

While Uganda is far from the top of any Lonely Planet ‘Top Travel Destination’ list, it is slowly but surely growing as an interesting spot for people backpacking through East Africa or on some group truck trip down through the African continent.

The Ssese islands are a sort of unspoiled paradise smack bang in the middle of Lake Victoria, which in case you didn’t know, is the biggest tropical lake in the world! Think remote beaches, pineapple plantations, freshly caught fish for lunch and an unlimited supply of green, spiky-leafed plants that rhyme with bead. ;-) Just be careful of the Piranhas when swimming…

banda

9. Sapa, Northern Vietnam

Vietnam is now a popular spot for many adventurous travellers and is one of the most frequented destinations on the infamous ‘banana pancake trail’ around South East Asia. Sapa, which is a farming community in the far North of the country on the border with China, is a lot less busy than the rest of the country. The local H’mong people still live life the same way they probably did 50 or even 100 years ago. You can do a home-stay with these amazing people, after hiking for hours through the most stunning terraced rice fields and indulge in some of the most delicious traditional Vietnamese food which you will ever have the pleasure to eat.

sapa rice terraces

8. Inhambane, Mozambique

Think long white sandy beaches, hammocks, palm trees, fresh coconut cocktails and staying in rooms made of bamboo that line the beach. No jet-skis, no salespeople, no fancy restaurants at rip-off prices…this is true backpacker paradise. You can spend your days lying in a hammock reading a good book, or head out on a traditional boat for some snorkelling in some of the most undisturbed coral reefs in the world. The only trouble you’ll have when it come to Inhambane is actually getting there!

Rolas-Island

7. Bale Mountains, Ethiopia

Soooo not a lot of people know that you can actually go to Ethiopia on your vacation. Lot’s of people haven’t a clue how GREEN this country is, so full of trees and wildlife and mountains. People just think of poverty, sand and the desert. This does not describe Ethiopia. In fact tourist agencies in the country promote it as the land of ’13 months of sunshine ‘ (thanks to its’ bizarre calendar it has 13 months  in the calendar year and is 7.5 years behind the rest of the world!!)

The Bale mountains are unbelievably beautiful and you can organize a 1 week trek on horse back fairly easily on arrival. Meet medicine men, local children, learn about the medicinal properties of every plant and tree you pass, and pick what animal you would like killed and cooked for your dinner. A pretty amazing experience!

bale mountains

6. Slieve League, Ireland

Just because I travel a lot outside of Ireland doesn’t mean I don’t appreciate the beauty this country has to offer. However, I do encourage tourists to get off the beaten track and to avoid tourist traps like Temple Bar, Kilkenny and even the Cliffs of Moher. Why not go somewhere where few tourists go, but will blow you away. For me one of these destinations is Slieve League in Donegal, famed for being Europe’s highest sea cliffs.

Following a walk along the unprotected cliff, you can drive to some of the nearby fishing villages for a nice pint (better than the Guinness storehouse!) and some delicious pub grub. I did a road trip around Donegal a few years ago and it was one of the best weekend trips I have ever done.

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5. Tbilisi, Georgia

Georgia (the country, not the state) is not very well known. In fact apart from the people I travelled there with, I have only met 2 or 3 people who have ever ventured there. Tbilisi, the country’s capital, is the most magical city. Arriving by night, all the old building around the city are beautifully lit up and it really gives the impression of a fairytale.

There are lots of great things to see and do in and around the city, but the real highlight is the people, the food and the oh -so-tasty Georgian wine! Everyone in Georgia makes their own wine and there is no shortage of it. The bread, the cheese and the wine will make you never want to leave. If you are lucky…you might even get to hear some locals singing a traditional Georgian folk song – now that is something you will never forget.

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4. Cameron Highlands, Malaysia

For me, the Cameron Highlands sort of remind me of Vietnam, except instead of terraced rice fields, they are growing endless rows of tea leaves. Tours around this area are fascinating, learning about the history of the tea plantations were started, where all the tea goes, and learning about the medicinal properties of all the plants in the area.

There are some super relaxed hotels and nature hostels in the area, where you can easily waste away a few days listening to other travelers tales and reading some great books.

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3. Zanzibar, Tanzania

For anyone who has traveled around East Africa, this won’t seem like much of an unusual destination, but for people who have never set foot on the African continent, they may not have heard of this absolute gem. Located off the coast of Tanzania, Zanzibar is both the ultimate honeymoon destination and the perfect backpacker getaway.

Start your visit in the historic stone town, where you can easily get lost down the winding, narrow streets filled with the smell of spices, and incense and delicious street food. After a day or two, make your way to the long, empty palm-tree lined beaches where you can learn to scuba dive, swim with turtles or dance the night away at one of East Africa’s best beach parties Zanzibar really is an incredible destination for your bucket list.

Stone-Town

2. Watamu, Kenya

Another gem in East Africa is this beautiful bay about half way up the Kenya coast, a few hours North of Mombassa. Famous for its crystal clear waters, excellent snorkelling and scuba diving sites and some pretty incredible forts and ancient ruins near by.

In recent years, it has become a popular package holiday destinations for many germans, but those areas and hotels can be avoided easily enough. My favourite thing about Watamu was hanging with some local beach boys who introduced me to ‘cow on a stick’ which is essentially pieces of beef barbecued on a grill on the side os a street then..you guessed it…put on a stick and sold for about 50 cent. So delicious!

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1. Jeju Island, South Korea

For Koreans, Jeju Island is the top vacation spot. For anyone who has never been to Korea, it’s probably a place you have never heard of! Compared to the rest of Korea, it is a tropical paradise. Compared to normal tropical destinations, it probably isn’t as breath taking but for what it lacks it palm trees, it makes up for in cliff walks, blue lagoons, waterfalls and weird and wonderful attractions.

The 5 days I spent on Jeju island was by far the highlight of my 2 years in South Korea. Days spents walking on the beautiful beaches, exploring parks full of life size penis statues and people re-enacting sex positions (!!), renting scooters and ATV’s, jumping into natural blue lagoons, swimming in waterfalls, walking in 2km long lava tunnels and seeing a UNESCO world heritage site – all on one tiny island!

jeju loveland penis

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That Time A Korean Cosmetic Store Photoshopped My Face

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Over the weekend, I went to a Soccer game in Seoul World Cup Stadium with a big group of friends. We had all had a very late night/early morning the night before so were a little worse for wear come Sunday afternoon. Lack of makeup and unwashed hair aside, we spent the day cheering on Seoul FC and feeling pretty proud of ourselves for opting to be productive rather than hibernating in out match box-sized apartments.

After the match we headed into the shopping centre to grab a coffee, relax and try to warm up having being outside in the almost freezing cold Korean winter for the last 2-3 hours. As we walked in a well dressed, perfectly manicured Korean lady approached me and my friend and asked if we would like to get our photo taken for free. It all looked professional with proper lighting, cameras and a “set” where we could sit and pose so without delay my friend and I signed up.

The photo shoot was organized my Korean Cosmetic brand “Skin Food” which specializes in all sorts of lotions, moisturizer and cosmetics for your face, body and hair to make you look both younger and “whiter”, two aspects of beauty which every Korean aspires to be. We answered a few questions which had been roughly translated from Korean to English with regards to our skin tone, how old we were, how old our skin looked, what we would like to change about our skin and other questions which I usually avoid/hate to answer. 

After about 5 minutes we sat down and were asked to pose naturally, which we attempted to do. While they loved my dear friend Mandy (a 38-year-old with the skin of a 31-year-old, or so they said with much delight and awe), they kept telling me “smile bigger”, “smile with your eyes” “You’re too awkward” and “Still too awkward”. The 3 hours of sleep I had had the night before, many hours of dancing, cocktails, hours of shopping, match day pints and general tiredness was suddenly catching up with me and I simple did not have the energy to pose like a Korean. We gave our phone numbers and the woman said we would be sent 2 photos; the first one would be of us “au natural” and the second one would be photo-shopped by the “talented” photographers and would make us look younger and whiter, the look we should aspire to be.

Instead of writing any more, I’m simply going to post the ‘before’ and ‘after’ shots as I am still slightly frightened and slightly horrified at how they think I should look as opposed to how I look right now. I may look tired, I may look hung over, I may look “too dark”, but I still like the way I look “au natural” way, way more than their idea of “photoshopped perfection”.

The "before" picture

The “before” picture

The "after" shot.

The “after” shot.

Related posts:

Big is Beautiful – Except in South Korea

Cosmetic Surgery in Korea – Starting Young

Korea- What Grinds My Gears

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All Aboard The Koreana – Tall Ship Sailing Cruise

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Two weeks ago I had the opportunity to spend the weekend cruising on ‘The Koreana’, a Korean Tall Ship capable of sleeping almost 50 people. The trip was organized by WinK Travels, and included two days cruising around the Southern coast of Korea and stopping off on 2 islands along the way. One of these islands is famous for dinosaur footprints and the other is famous for being the home a of makgoli (korean rice wine) factory. It was hard to know which one more people were excited about, as they were both equally exciting!

We set off early on Saturday morning, just after sunrise, armed with a few changes of clothes, some water and enough food and drink to keep us merry (and some) for the duration of the trip. We were told there would be no stores to buy stuff in along the way so it was important to come well prepared.

climbing crows nest

dog on a boat

After a few hours of cruising, making new friends and breaking open a few bottles of champers, 10am had arrived and we were set to make our first stop at the Makgoli Island. Sadly, due to the low tide, the ship’s captain said it was not possible for us to dock as the water was too low. Fear not, said our incredible trip leader William Cho, as he had a mighty plan in place.

No doubt in any other country, or if you were with any other travel group, the leaders probably would have apologized for the inconvenience and sailed onwards towards the next destination. Instead, the Captain phoned ahead to the Makgoli Factory to order 3 crates of wine. After less than 20 minutes waiting, a small fishing boat pulled up alongside us and the good people handed us crate after crate of delicious rice wine. It was equally hilarious and amazing, as they were laughing and us and taking photos and we were inevitably doing the exact same thing to them.

crows nest view

william cho

It was almost 10.30am and the party was about to get started! We pumped up the music (thanks Ryan for that epic playlist!), sang along to classics such as ‘I’m on a boat’, and had a full on game of Kings Cup completed before noon. An unbeatable start to a great weekend.

Our next stop was at an island famed in Korea for its dinosaur footprints along the coastline, and in case anyone should forget this, they had two HUGE, almost life-size T-REX dinosaurs welcoming tourists to the island. The view sailing in was a true sight to behold…especially now that quite a few bottles of wine had been consumed.

group on boat

dinosaurs statues

Despite the weather changing, ponchos and rain covers appearing, and it becoming quite chilly, nothing could put a damper on everyone’s high spirits and following a delicious lunch on board the ship, everyone started jumping, leaping and swinging from the boat into the surprisingly warm waters. This was an activity that was repeated throughout the weekend, including a sneaky swim around midnight when the rained had finally cleared.

pirate jump

jump

pirates jumping ship

We spent Saturday night docked on the ‘dinosaur island’, where we were treated to a delicious Korean BBQ which was followed by salsa dancing lessons on the pier, sing songs and countless drinking games both new and old.

We also watching in awe as the Captain and his first mate impressed us with their fishing skills, catching an array of colorful marine life from an Octopus, to a multi-coloured starfish. One of my friends was even brave enough to try out some raw fish, hand fed to her by the Captain himself! I think it’s capturing moments like that, and having those memories and interactions with locals, that make trips like this so special. He may not have spoken a word of English, but somehow, after a few drinks, we all seem to have a common language involving hand gestures and smiles.

starfish

captain

captain fish

 

While some brave folk decided to venture off and sleep on the island, with some even choosing to find shelter at the feet of the two enormous dinosaurs, most people found a bunk bed on the ship, and cosied up there for the night where we were gently rocked to sleep.

We woke up on Sunday,surprisingly hangover free, to the smell of toasted bagels and freshly brewed coffee. Shortly after, we set sail again, and soon the sun was shining, the sound of Jack Johnson’s sweet, sweet voice was filling the air and everyone was nothing but content. We eventually made in to the Makgoli island where we were treated to freshly cooked corn-on-the-cob…picked fresh from the owners garden that morning.We were also treated to not one, but two classic rides in the back of pick up trucks to save us from walking the long up-hill stroll back to the ship. Zooming past groups of Korean hikers while about 15 of us waygooks (foreigners) were crammed into the back of a pick-up truck was a pretty hilarious sight.

 

getting a ride

tall ship sailing cruise 1

All in all, it really was a magical weekend and I would highly recommend anyone living in Korea to jump at the chance to spend a weekend pretending to be pirates onboard the beautiful Koreana.

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A Korean Island Escape – Camping on a Deserted Island

camping on island

When I signed up last-minute to a weekend camping trip on a deserted island off the West coast of Korea last weekend, I had no real idea what to expect.

As some poor unfortunate soul dropped out on the Friday morning, I jumped at the opportunity to take their spot and spend what was predicted to be a scorcher of a weekend camping with 60 other waygooks on an island. Although WinK (When in Korea, a travel group I often go on tours with here in Korea) described this island as having ‘no electricity, no running water’ they also said their would be the chance to see bioluminescent plankton and build a campfire to beat all campfires!’ Sounded like my kind of place!

panorama beach shot

I had less than 5 minutes to pack my bags for the weekend before I ran out the door to work, and spent my lunch break frantically running around HomePlus in search of a tent, snacks to munch on and sufficient alcohol to survive 2 days on a deserted island.Later in the day another friend of mine secured the last spot on the trip, I managed to borrow a tent from a friend and we were al set for the weekend ahead.

After many hours of traveling (4 hours standing on a subway!) Coral and I eventually found the motel we were staying in and joined the group for dinner. I mean, who doesn’t love eating galbi (Korean bbq) at 1 o’ clock in the morning. After a few beers, some shots of soju and talking to both old and new friends, it was time for bed. Despite only getting 2 hours sleep and having to wake up at 5am Saturday morning, I leaped out of bed with a smile on my face and was ready for the journey ahead. We would need to take a bus to the port, a large ferry to a  nearby island and the WinK leader had prepared 3 smaller boats to take us to the private island which would be all ours for the weekend!

group on ferry

peeps on ferry

We waited at the ferry port for about an hour for everyone to arrive and I couldn’t help but laugh when people started cracking open bottles of beer at 7 o’clock in the morning. I followed suit soon enough and the weekend was suddenly off to a fantastic start! The ferry journey was really relaxing, withe everyone sitting up on deck watching seagulls follow the ferry as local Koreans through big chunks of bread off the side of the boat. Beers were drunk, jokes were told and many photographs were taken.

One more, smaller, boat ride later and we arrived at our final destination, Sa Seong Bong Do. Considering the amount of stuff everyone had with them, the half hour walk to the camping spot was a bit painful. If I was to do this trip again I would re-think what i consider ‘essentials’ and pack as light as possible. That said, the people with the most stuff happened to be carrying ice-coolers and canopy to provide shade to the masses, things which would have been greatly missed if left at home!

arriving on deserted island

boat drinking

We were all pretty wrecked, and a little tipsy in my case, by the time we set up camp and pitched out tents. Many decided a quick dip in the sea was needed while others went for a nap. The day was spent playing games on the beach, making new friends, searching for wood for the campfire and relaxing with new friends while sipping on cold sangria and laughing and the ludicrous card combinations turned over in the always-popular ‘Cards against Humanity’!

Later in the day, people started preparing their food for dinner. Turns out just because you are going camping does not need you need to starve yourself. In fact, judging by the food and crazy-innovative ideas thought up by the dozens of other super-prepared campers, I realised that camping food can in fact be bordering on ‘gourmet’ if you are fully prepared.

While I munched on doritos and salsa, apples and a few protein bars, others were cooking steaks (one guy managed to eat more than SIX steaks in a 12 hour period!!), grilling sausages and meat kebabs, wrapping potatoes and a mixture of veggies in tin foil and cooking them over the camp fire. There were smores, breakfast burritos, fried eggs, french toast, potato salads and an array of other things to make your mouth water. Gas cookers, frying pans, saucepans and an array of other cooking utensils that I would never have thought of bringing were on offer, as people cooked up fresh clams, pasta and who knows what else!

sunset

colorful sunglasses

cards against humanity

 

The night was spent playing drinking games, singing along to typical campfire songs and some people braved the cold water in search of the bioluminescent plankton which we had all being told about. Lighting the fire was a pretty amazing moment, as everyone gathered around in a circle, mesmerised by the flames, watching with anticipation for Skofes ‘Bird effigy’ to explode into a Burning Man-esque fireball. Less than a few minutes in and the masterpiece was pretty much ruined, but it sure was fun to watch!

Waking up a little hung over Sunday morning, I crawled out of my tent to see just a few stragglers stil sitting on the beach chatting. I wasn’t too sure whether they had simply woken earlier than I had or they had decided to stay up all night. The campfire was smouldering, the surrounding area was littered with empty bottles and remnants of what had happened the night before but best of all there were half empty bags of marshmallows  scattered about the place. The wonderful Ashley provided us with chocolate biscuits and whoever was awake got treated to delicious smores for breakfast. As they say, the early bird catches the worm!

bonfire

breakfast

seagulls ferry 1

All in all, it was probably one of the best weekend I have had while in Korea. The fact that it was so isolated made it all the more special. In Korea, we are so used to being near to the every-day comforts like toilets, corner stores which never close and restaurants which stay open til the wee hours of the morning. We are surrounded by people, cars, buses, subways and flashing lights on every street corner. It was so great to just get away from city-living, even just for one weekend, to relax on a beach with not a worry in the world and sort of ‘get back to nature’.

If you want to go on this trip, or similar ones, check out the WinK Facebook page for a list of their upcoming events! I would HIGHLY recommend it!

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Spring has Sprung

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A small taste of the photographs I took last weekend at the Gyeong-Ju Cherry Blossom Festival. No words can fully describe how beautiful spring is in South Korea…even if it only lasts a few weeks!

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