Prior to my recent visit to Topeka, Kansas, I wouldn’t have been able to tell you much about the place, other than it was the capital of a state that was smack dab in the middle of the country. All I knew of Kansas was that it had plenty of cornfields and tornados, and was the fictitious home of Dorothy in the “Wizard of Oz.” Oh, and I also recalled that there is a Kansas City in Kansas and one of the same name with greater fame in Missouri, right across the border. These paltry facts pretty much summed up the extent of my knowledge of number 34th in the United States of America. In a matter of just a few days, however, I gained new insight into a destination that to many outsiders is often erroneously perceived as flat and boring.
One of the best safari destinations in the world, without question, South Africa's Kruger National Park offers some of the most exciting opportunities to experience a world of bio diversity and wildlife. As soon as I got the urge to visit this amazing park and its unique culture, I made my way to South Africa for a three week trip. The park, whose abundance of wildlife has turned it into a huge tourist industry, is quite possibly the best place to view game and birds in the world. Visitors all over the world come to visit the fascinating wild animals that reside in the park. The animals aren’t the only populations that have lived in Kruger: a vast number of different cultures and civilizations have settled here over time, with archaeological findings showing human populations existing here as far back as 1.5 million years ago.
Shanghai is such a massive urban centre with so much to offer, that it's sometimes easy to forget that there are other places throughout this amazing country, some of which are right on Shanghai’s doorstep. Take for example, Hangzhou, the ancient capital of China and only one hour away on board one of a fleet of new high speed trains China has developed. If one hour seems too long, however, then even closer is Suzhou. This place has been around for centuries and plays a very important part in the country's history. It was here that most of its silk was made, which not only clothed its people but also gave it one of its biggest exports to trade internationally. Because of this and its proximity to the Grand Canal, other waterways were opened up through the city. Most are gone today, but enough still remain for Suzhou to be nicknamed 'the Venice of China'.
Germany is a large country with a varied landscape and a seemingly endless number of cities, towns and hamlets, with each region offering up its own unique history. The country has experienced a multitude of changes throughout history, the most recent big one of course being the division of east and west, and the subsequent reunification. Since then, many parts of the country have transformed significantly, with eastern Germany specifically blossoming into something special that is well worth a visit for both its historical interest and natural beauty. Dresden, the capitol of Saxony, has a long history of being a cultural centre, though it was mostly destroyed during WWII bombing. The major buildings of historical interest have been rebuilt, however - a feat in itself - and the city has been reformed to its traditional glory. Some of the biggest pleasures here are to wander the streets and town centre, or enjoy a quaint horse and carriage ride, as you enjoy the grandeur and take in the view from the Elb River.
Indonesia is a stunning country with a size that is exceeded only by its endless varieties of cultures, locales and adventure opportunities. Home to a vast array of paths not taken, including stunning jungle mountainsides, hidden gold beaches, secluded crisp coral reefs, enigmatic volcanoes and primitive civilisations, the country offers up many mysteries for both the curious traveller and local alike to experience. These gems are everywhere and visitors only have to forget their reservations, turn the dial to 'explore' and think outside of the box in order to find and enjoy them. The small village of Baduy, a few hours by bus from the country's crowded and chaotic capital, is such a place.
I was looking for a good way to travel and make a little money while doing it, so like many I decided to head to Southeast Asia in hopes of becoming an English teacher. I first signed up for a Teaching English as a Foreign Language (TEFL) course in June 2007. The course was offered in the small fishing village of Ban Phe, Thailand, which was a lot like one of those small towns that you might find in the middle of nowhere. There were no malls and no movie theaters, but if I walked out of the school, took a right and walked a mile, I could stand in the Gulf of Thailand. It turned out to be an amazing town that more people should consider when visiting the country, particularly if they want to get off the beaten path and get to know a place that is often overlooked.
Seven days into our Sri Lankan voyage, we decided to make tracks to Sri Pada, or Adam’s Peak, as you and I might call it. We left wonderful Sigiriya very early in the morning, and headed by bus to the the chaotic bus terminal in Kandy. I slept for most of the journey, though did wake up occasionally and wonder how on earth the bus could still be moving with so many people on it. Our technique thus far, of wandering around bus terminals shouting a poorly pronounced version of our destination worked once again, and we were loaded on a bus that took us first to Hatton. I noticed immediately the closer we became to Hatton the more we were in tea picking country, which is a stark contrast to the Cultural Triangle we had been exploring. There were a lot of hills, and I spent a lot of time in amazement at the skill of the Sri Lankan bus drivers! Heads bob up and down collecting tea for the masses; it is exactly how I imagined it. Hatton itself is a very small village that looks to be primarily for trading. Snaking through its tiny main street on the bus is an experience, and I came to realise just how many people there are living in this part of the world.
South Korea may not initially appear at the top of the list when you compare its culture and tourist sites with the likes of the famed Louvre or the Coliseum. However, once you’ve had the opportunity to see one of the intricately detailed palaces or temples that are all over the country, or the artistically manufactured river that flows through the middle of Seoul, or the sexually provocative statues at Jeju Island’s sex-themed park Love Land, you begin to realize that this smallish country is a diamond in the rough. The list of cultural and tourist activities in Korea is surprisingly extensive, and I could go on and on about a number of them for thousands of words. However, one of my most memorable experiences has more to do with the food culture of this place than it does with its tourist attractions, and takes me the country’s second largest city, Busan.
Like anyone else who has lived or travelled in Korea, I spent much of my time there experiencing new and wonderful - and sometimes strange - things. I'll never forget the first time I went to a jjimjilbang, or a traditional, family-style bathhouse. In case you're wondering, that's exactly what it sounds like: a public facility for getting the gritty off, publicly. Yup. Naked. If you go to Korea, you shouldn’t pass up the opportunity to visit one. The experience alone will give you stories to last a life time, and the relaxation you get from the visit is worth almost as much as the inevitable shift in perception. You probably shouldn't attempt to go it alone, though, at least not for your first time; you'd have no idea what to do. Thankfully I had fellow expat Alex. She brought me along with two other girls, and showed us the ropes just as a Korean friend had shown them to her.