As a jumping off point, here’s a rundown of two of the biggest countries on earth. With so much to see and so many miles to travel, distilling them down into a set of unique sights – let’s keep it at three for the sake of clarity – can be an arduous task. Nevertheless, it’s one worth doing – so here’s some ideas to get you started. To show how this method of seeing the unexpected can work, let’s investigate two countries that are vastly different from one another.
China: Vast and diverse
There’s a great big world out there, and it would take forever and a day to see it all. Even if you have unlimited time and funds, there will always be things that you run the risk of missing out on. While the world is separated into countries to make things a little simpler, there’s still the fact that covering every inch of a country – from coast to coast – is going to take more time than any of us realistically have on this earth.
If travel to you means little more than ticking off places on a checklist, then you can end up never really seeing anywhere. In fact, it’s commonly said by touring musicians that the single most depressing thing about their job is that one place just melts into another. While the world is vast and varied to the point of extreme nuance, there’s a simple truth to that too: travel enough and you will see the same patterns, the same ways of life, repeated over and over.
So is there a solution to this? Can you satisfy the wanderlust to see and experience as much as possible, without things becoming mundane and standard?
Of course there is, but it takes a lot of focus. Rather than flitting to a country and just hoping it will offer something new and exciting, you have to focus the time you spend in an area. The best way of doing this is by pre-selecting particular highlights that you want to see, photograph, and experience; each offering something different, something that is inherently more about that country – that way of life – than anywhere else on earth. While plotting highlights for a trip is no new activity for the experienced tourist, the nature of boiling everything down and traveling as if laser-guided to the exact areas takes more research than you may expect.
China is not only one of the world’s largest countries, but with a population of more than a billion people, it’s definitely the most populated. You could easily come to the conclusion that there is nowhere to visit in China that would allow you to get your own headspace.
Although you may consider it to be the height of tourist cliché, if you’re going to China, you have to visit the Great Wall of China. It is one of those destinations that comes to define a country. At 5,500 miles long, the wall winds across all of China. What some may not know is that the Great Wall is actually more of a series of walls and fortifications, built across a period of several centuries. Some were built as long ago as the seventh century BCE, but the bulk of what we see on TV was built around 1300 CE.
Next on your list should be a trip to the Forbidden City near Beijing. The city acted as the palace for the famed Ming dynasty and remained the home of Chinese imperial power up until 1912, with the removal of the Qing dynasty. The city remains in the same glorious condition today, in the center of China’s capital, and is now a tourist attraction. The centerpiece is the Palace Museum, which will teach you more about China that you ever thought you could learn.
Finally, any trip to China would be incomplete without visiting Shanghai. Though Beijing may be the capital, Shanghai is in many ways, the beating heart of China. It is China’s most technologically-advanced and financially important city, and also the one that attracts the majority of people taking China holidays. A particular tourist hotspot is the Bund or Waitan; this is a walkway in the centre of Shanghai which runs along the banks of the Huangpu River. The walkway is home to 52 eclectic buildings from the Romanesque to the gothic, offering a different take on Chinese architecture than you’re used to seeing.
South Africa: Historic, Haunting and Beautiful
A little over two decades have passed since the end of the apartheid era in South Africa. That time has seen the falling away of much of the insularity that comes with sanctions. It has also led to South Africa becoming one of the world’s most popular tourist attractions.
Seeing ‘the essentials’ in South Africa may mean leaving some areas of the map uncovered.
As a priority, your tour should include a trip to Robben Island, where Nelson Mandela spent 18 years of his 27 year incarceration. Tours of the prison camp are hauntingly emotional, but will set the rest of your trip in context.
Next, although it may not be considered as glamorous as SA’s other cities, make a trip to Durban. The crowds are smaller here and less numerous than they may be in some of the better known spots. However, this allows you to have time to yourself on its spectacular golden beaches.
When you’ve been properly sunkissed, head to uShaka Marine Park where you will see majestic examples of local sealife. Another unmissable destination is Durban’s fascinating Natural History Museum.
Then, it could be said that any South Africa holiday is not complete without a trip to Johannesburg. The attractions of “Jo’burg” vary between the solemn, the enthralling, and the sporty. Begin with a trip to the Apartheid Museum which is a neo-brutalist concrete exhibition space marking the darker years of South Africa’s history.
So there you have it: two diverse, rich countries, distilled into the need-to-sees that will give you a thorough taste of what they have to offer. What will you come up with?