Last Updated on November 29, 2021 by Nellie Huang
Table of Contents
My Favorite Places in the World
Of all the questions I get asked as a travel blogger, this is probably the most popular one: “What’s your favorite place in the world?”
For me, it’s also the hardest question to answer.
Having traveled to 143 countries (and counting…), I’ve had my fair share of amazing experiences in far-flung, gorgeous parts of the world. Earth is a beautiful place and there are just SO many spectacular places that it’s really hard to pinpoint one.
With that in mind, I decided to write a series of travel blog posts to share my favorite places, countries, cities and islands around the world. This is just the first of the series, be sure to stay tuned for the rest of the installation.
Antarctica stands strongly as my numero uno destination, particularly for wildlife experiences. From the moment we crossed the Drake Passage into the Antarctic waters, we were literally surrounded by nature. Pods of whales, fur seals, elephant seals and of course, hundreds and thousands of penguins.
And it’s not just the wildlife that makes Antarctica so special. There is no place else like it: It’s harsh, remote, and truly far beyond. One can really get a sense of being at the edge of the world here. There’s hardly any sign of humanity, just animals roaming freely, the way it should be. Antarctica makes you feel like you’re the first person ever to have arrived, even on a ship with 120 other passengers.
Each day of my 11-day Antarctic expedition was different and packed with surprises. From sailing into a playground of icebergs and glaciers at the start of the voyage, to watching Antarctica light up in bright vermilion at midnight the next, and cruising alongside playful whales towards the end of the trip. It’s definitely a trip I will never forget.
2. Avenue de Baobab, Madagascar
There are some things in life that are so beautiful they often leave us speechless and moved to tears. For me, watching sunset along the Baobab Avenue in Madagascar is one of them. The Avenue du Baobab in Western Madagascar might be one of the most visited spots in the country, but its natural beauty is hard to resist.
There are few places as remote and wild as Madagascar, and even fewer that offer such fulfilling and authentic travel experiences. La Grand Île (as it is known in French, meaning the big island) is like nowhere else on Earth: it is home to over 70 species and sub-species of lemurs, 346 species of reptiles and over 6,000 species of plants — found nowhere else in the world except in Madagascar. Only in this part of the world can you find cheeky lemurs, chameleons and ferocious fosas, as well as bizarre-looking baobab trees and spiny forests.
Alberto and I went to Madagascar for our honeymoon in 2011 and we absolutely fell in love with this unique country — for its wildlife, spectacular baobab trees, bizarre spiny forests and most of all, the remoteness of it all.
3. Galapagos Islands, Ecuador
You should know by now that I’m a wildlife buff and much of my travels are fuelled by the opportunity to see wildlife. Unique and bizarre wildlife make it all the more interesting to me. That’s why the Galapagos Islands are – and always will be – one of my favourite places in the world.
Located off the coast of Ecuador, this group of islands formed millions of years ago from volcanoes. They have been separated from the mainland since then. Through the years, wildlife slowly arrived by air and by sea. These creatures adapted to the conditions of the tiny islands. Ultimately they evolved into endemic species i.e. the only place in the world where you can find them.
These days, unique animals continue to roam freely around the Galapagos Islands and best of all, they aren’t the least bit afraid of human beings – we saw sea lions fighting for fish at the market of Santa Cruz, penguins swimming in and around us when we were snorkeling, giant land lizards sauntering around cactus gardens and weird blue-footed booby flying overhead. Wildlife on the Galapagos are out of the world and truly unique.
4. Svalbard, Norway
In 2011, I sailed to the northernmost corner of Norway, close to the Arctic Circle. Onboard an expedition vessel it was truly an outstanding experience and one that would stay with me for as long as I live.
This is one of the world’s last wildernesses. The Svalbard archipelago of the Norwegian Arctic is home to more polar bears than human beings. Sailing around the icebergs and glaciers, we would see whales, seals, Arctic fox, and belugas on a daily basis. The landscapes were of truly epic proportions.
The few peeks I took of Svalbard were enough to convince me that this was the very few truly untouched areas left in the world. Arctic travel somehow gave me a glimpse of how it must have been when the first explorers stepped foot on unchartered territories. When the world was at it was originally, when we humans had yet to leave our footprints.
5. Tiger’s Nest, Bhutan
Entrenched within mighty mountain chains and surrounded by Buddhist myths and legends, Bhutan is a truly special place. Having only opened its doors to international tourists in 1974, Bhutan has come a long way in terms of development and modernisation. It has chosen to proudly cherish local traditions and conserve its natural environment. It’s the only country in the world that measures its wealth by the Gross National Happiness (GNH) rather than the Gross Domestic Product (GDP).
In the one week that I spent in Bhutan (in 2013), the country floored me with its extraordinary Himalayan landscapes. Not to mention its impressive dzongs (fortresses), solemn monasteries and multi-layered, traditional culture. Everywhere I went in Bhutan, colourful prayer flags flew high in the air, sounds of monks chanting echoed through the walls of temples, and praying wheels spun freely in temples and on the streets.
If I had to choose one highlight of the country, it would have been the Tiger’s Nest Monastery or Taktshang Goeba. Even if you’ve never heard of it, you must have seen photos of it. The sheer location of it etched to the side of a cliff, a few hundred meters above ground, has earned it worldwide fame. Said to be where Buddhism began, this is the most popular place to visit in Bhutan (the trek up there is an experience on its own). But honestly, it’s only one of the many gorgeous areas in the country.
6. Inle Lake, Myanmar
Inle Lake is a magical watery world of floating gardens, stilted villages and Buddhist stupas. The lake is hemmed in by the beautiful Shan hills of central Myanmar, creating a poetic setting for this heaven on earth. Clusters of beautiful stilt houses are scattered all over the lake, built by villages and communities who rely on the water for a livelihood. At just 22km long and 11km wide, Inle supports a substantial population of 70,000 in and around the lake. The Inthas are a resilient bunch of people who call this place home.
When we visited Burma (or Myanmar) in 2012, the country was warmly welcoming tourists after decades of boycotting tourism. It was still on the road to recovery and an air of dusty nostalgia hung around every corner with locomotives trotting on 1960s’ engines, and men sauntering in their longyi. Traveling Burma was (I hope, still is) an adventure: there were few ATMs, little internet access, non-existing roaming phone signal, and a refreshing lack of global brands and hotel chains.
7. Salar de Uyuni, Bolivia
Spanning across an area of 13,000 square kilometres, the dazzlingly white Uyuni salt flats resemble landscapes from the Moon. The shimmering salt fields are so clear they reflect the sky in perfect symmetry. In the immensity of the desert, it’s easy to fantasize about space travel. Or even aspire to visit the Moon someday.
The Southern part of Bolivia lies the vast area of Reserva Natural Andina (Andean Nature Reserve). It is blessed with incredible landscape, larger-than-life mountain range, volcanoes and lagoons. Llamas and alpacas roam freely in the wild and cactus fill the endless deserts. But the star of the show is definitely the stunning Salar of Uyuni. It stretches across 13,000km2 of area and is amazing in its grandeur, reflecting the clear skies on its white surface.
In 2008, we went on a 4-day safari through the Reserva Natural Andina, where electricity and heating were minimal. Climbing as high as 5000m, it was freezing cold especially in the night and several people suffered from altitude sickness. But the beauty of the place definitely made up for it. I’ll never forget catching the sun poking above the cactus on the Isla de Pescado and then goofing all over the salt flats and taking illusion photos like this.
8. Wadi Rum, Jordan
Affectionately known as the Valley of the Moon, Wadi Rum is a rose-red desert, sprinkled with jagged peaks in Southern Jordan. As the backdrop of various epic films, the desert has long drawn on the imagination of curious travelers.
We spent a few nights camping in the Wadi Rum desert in 2006. It was definitely an amazing experience – we spent our days sliding down sand dunes, riding camels and then watching sunset over the cliffs before sleeping under the stars by night.
When I revisited in 2011, I got the opportunity to see Wadi Rum from a hot air balloon. There was so much to see from above and plenty of surprises at each corner. At an altitude of 7,000 feet, I got a refreshing perspective of the vast desert. Its peculiar rock formations, sand dunes and the occasional natural springs. It was easy to see why Wadi Rum is also known as the Valley of the Moon.
9. Cappadocia, Turkey
An expanse of sandy brown plateau topped by cascading cliffs, Cappadocia in Central Turkey features whimsical fairy chimneys, bizarre cave churches and maze-like underground cities. A land I can imagine hobbits and genies roaming in – Cappadocia has a setting fit for fantasy.
On my solo trip there in 2009, I explored all over the region. Hiking around the Goreme area, peddling the undulating slopes and valleys on bike, and my favourite of all — floating above Capppadocia on a hot air balloon at daybreak. From above, Cappadocia looked like a fantasy land with thousands of fairy chimneys dotting the landscape. This is after all one of the best places for hot balloon rides.
Let’s not forget the beautiful cave hotels you’ll find in Cappadocia that are pretty much one-of-its-kind. I stayed at the elegant Yunak Evleri. This is a boutique hotel carved right into the cliffs of Urgup, Cappadocia. They were so kind to offer me the ridiculously romantic honeymoon suite — such a shame that I was there alone!
10. Kilimanjaro, Tanzania
In 2008, Alberto and I spent a few months volunteering in a rural village in Kilimanjaro, Tanzania and we forged strong friendships with locals and learned lifelong lessons from my students.
We also explored different corners of the country, from the Serengeti to Zanzibar. But it’s Kilimanjaro that will always hold a special place in my heart. When I look back at my time in Tanzania, I remember the times I spent playing with students after school. The times I went visiting a few students’ home and orphanage. The times I spent in the village market and the times I hung out with friends in the bar over nyoma coma and Tusker beers.
Volunteering in Tanzania was one of my most memorable travel experiences to date. As a travel blogger, Kilimanjaro also became one of my favorite places in the world because of its beautiful people.
BONUS: Darvaza Gas Craters, Turkmenistan
During my Silk Road overland journey in 2014 (when I was pregnant!), I saw and experienced many outstanding parts of Central Asia. But one place that really stood out to me was the Darvaza Gas Craters in Turkmenistan.
In the middle of the Karakum Desert, a roaring fire burns from deep beneath the ground, its flames dancing in the darkness taunting and teasing curious travelers. The walls of the oval crater drop vertically down into the abyss of fire. One careless step and you may well be on your way to hell. They named this “darvaza” (meaning “gate” in Turkmen) for good reason. In the darkness of the night, the ferocious gas crater sure looks like the gates of hell. It’s one of the most unusual sights I’ve ever seen anywhere in the world. Certainly one of those rare sights that will stay with me for years to come.
Strangely enough, the Darvaza gas craters aren’t the work of Mother Nature. Rather, they are a result of Soviet-era gas exploration that went terribly wrong in the 1950s. The three craters were all artificially created by gas exploration. It’s said that scientists were concerned with the effects of the gas on nearby villages and so lit up the crater with fire. The hope was it would burn out after a few days. But now more than 60 years later, it’s still burning bright. Rumor has it that the burning gas crater may be put out for the government to continue gas exploration.