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The top 10 most spectacular places: #5

It’s been a little while since I last touched on my “Top 10 most places I have visited,” so a quick review might be in order, as well as a list of criteria.

The criteria are strictly subjective. “Spectacular,” for me, is heavily weighted by landscapes, scenery, and uniqueness.

So, the recap: The five honourable mentions to the list were the Sea-to-Sky Highway, Lake Titicaca, Arches National Park, The Icefields Parkway, and Chichen Itza (in no particular rank-order).

Number 10 on the list was Table Mountain, the flat-topped backdrop to Capetown, South Africa. A pleasant, if invigorating, hike to the top, and a grand view make it spectacular from all perspectives.

Number 9 was Tikal, the grand Mayan ruin in Guatemala that easily trumps Chichen Itza, in my humble opinion. I travelled there last Fall with a packaged tour over a portion of Central America.

Number 8 was the Taj Mahal in Agra, India. It’s truly an amazing work of art and architecture but it’s exactly as pictured, so there was no great Wow! factor. (Its ranking may, admittedly, have also been influenced by my extreme exhaustion at the time of the visit.)

There was no number 7 because there was a tie for Number 6: Dead Vlei, Namibia, is one of the world’s most desolate places, set amongst the largest sand dunes in the world. Truly unique! Salar de Uyuni, Bolivia, the world’s largest salt flat, is almost as desolate. Combined with the neighbouring Martian-like landscape, the two are amongst the most surreal landscapes on earth.

So, today, we get to number five, and for that we move across the planet to East Asia. Halong Bay, with its 1969 islands rising almost vertically out of the ocean is a magical scene. I’d heard about karst towers when I studied geomorphology in university, and seen the classic photos of karst towers both in the Bay and in Guangxi province in southern China. But to see them in real, within their grand ocean setting, forming configurations that stimulated the imagination, they collectively created a grand portrait any artist would be hard-pressed to dream up.

I visited Halong Bay at the end of a two-week tour with a packaged tour company travelling nearly the full length of Vietnam. We—five clients, from Australia, New Zealand, Ireland, the UK and me, plus our Latino guide and three boat crew–did a 24-hour cruise on the Bay that was fully catered and comfortable. We visited one of the caves, the karst towers being filled with them, swam whenever we wanted, simply relaxed in the sun, played cards, and watched an amazing sun set behind the towers.

In the adventure, I gained a fuller appreciation of life on the water, as well; I’ve since bought a houseboat.

I appreciate all comments. What places would you nominate as spectacular for me to replace some of my top 10. Of course, there are still four more to go; so your nomination might yet be on my list.

Did you know? The same Lonely Planet list that named the Canadian Rocky Mountains the most spectacular natural attraction in the world, named Salar de Uyuni as #2 and also had the Dead Vlei area on the top 10 (as well as another one that still makes my top 4).