I decided that all the travel blogs were a waste of space, so I thought Iíd just put up a few pictures of my 10 favourite places that Iíve been to so far.† Hopefully if Iím less broke in the future I might get the chance to change it about every now and thenÖ†

10China: Shaanxi Province

Itís well and truly hyped up, but not without good reason, if you ask me.† Iím not a fan of ticking boxes in a guide book, but the Terracotta Warriors in Xiían, Shaanxi Province are worth it.† All this lot, without one identical face, just so that a man could have an impressive burial.† Worth pondering on.†

Henan Province is also home to one of Chinaís three famous rock carvings, the Longmen caves.†† (The other two are in Datong at the other end of Shanxi Province, and in Dunhuang, Gansu Province).† If you want something good which a lot of Westerners miss out, these might be a good place to start.†

The warriors are the main attraction in Shaanxi Province, but not too far away in the confusingly named Shanxi Province is a small ancient town called Ping Yao.† I got some of my best Ďold Chinaí photoís here.

And in another province next to Shaanxi is Hua Shan, a well-known mountain in Henan Province.† And thatís not the only thing in the province which attracts visitorsÖ

9Prague

I canít quite put my finger on it, but thereís something about the easy way that so many different styles and attitudes sit some comfortably next to each other in Prague, capital of the Czech republic, that it has to be one of my favourite cities in Europe.†

Like this rare example of Ďcubistí architecture, which started here in Prague, and then developed into Art Deco before spreading across the rest of the world.†

And there are no end of fabulous coffee houses, which are not necessarily expensive, and sit in buildings which usually only banks can afford in the rest of the world.†

And one canít leave out this famous view across the Danube.†

1India

I set myself up for a fall on this one.† I was invited / invited myself to my practice managerís wedding.† It was during a bank holiday weekend, and the practice was closed on a Friday anyway, so I just took one day off work and after finishing my dayís routine on the Thursday I drove to Heathrow for a long weekend in India.† So, itís no exaggeration to say that I tidied up my office in the afternoon, picked up my hand-baggage and left, and not much more than a few hours later I was heading out of Madras, third class, on a long-distance train to my practice managerís village.†††† You guessed it, I coped badly.†

It wasnít the heat, although it was 35 degrees.† It wasnít the dirt, although it was basic.† It wasnít the huge number of people, although the city was packed.† It wasnít the poverty, although there were people sleeping rough everywhere.†

The funny thing about culture shock, I now know, is that itís the very small things that, although small, you had no inkling about beforehand.† In my case it was the idea of property.† There isnít any.† The way the friend sent to meet me at the airport showed me how friendly everyone is was to put his stuff all together with mine, make sure I slept with everyone, shared everything, including my things, and do his best to show me samples of all the local food.† Needless to say, it came as a surprise.†

I think the guy in this photo also got a bit of surprise too, not least because my hand-baggage only included suits, which I was wearing when taking a stroll around his farm.†

So there I was, tying to blend in.†† Behind this camera, I should say, are a good portion of the other 3000 people who were also invited to the wedding.†

I had a few strokes of luck.† The first is that by the second full day I realised what was going on and started to calm down and go with the flow a bit.† Another is that, despite eating and drinking everything, I barely needed the bathroom at all.† That one, actually, borders on divine intervention.†† The last, and most important, is that the Indian people I came across were simply the nicest, friendliest, and most helpful people I have ever come across anywhere, and despite having nothing, couldnít do enough to help make your life easier, even if it was a lot of hassle for them.†

8China: Sichuan Province

Well, it canít be too bad if I managed to live here for four years.† The most special things about Sichuan Province are that the people here have an attitude to foreigners which is missing in Beijing and Shanghai.† Itís almost like people take all the propaganda here with a pinch of salt, and are curious about what itís really like abroad.† And thereís plenty to keep tourists busy.† Like Emei Mountain in this picture, near the Leshan Giant Buddha, about 2 or 3 hours drive from Chengdu.†

And Jiu Zhai Gou Nature Reserve in the far north of the province, which is one of the best known nature reserves in China.† Donít go during peak times though, like the October holiday or the May 1st holiday, or youíll be killed in the rush.† And Iím not joking.†

I love the food here too.† Spicy.† Itís difficult to sample real local food without a translator, however, since English seems to be restricted to employees of Starbucks in the most part.† Iíll be honest, if you came with a Chinese friend from Beijing you might not do that much better, since the owners of the best local restaurants canít even speak Mandarin Chinese let alone English.†

And even people who couldnít care less about the Pandaís come and see them anyway.† And actually theyíre worth a trip.† About an hour on the bus out of Chengdu.†

7Scotland

My experience of Asia is that if a mountain isnít high enough itís obviously not worth going to.† Luckily, then, that there wonít be 1.3 billion tourists ruining this place any time soon.†

Itís another one of those places that you canít quite put your finger on where the magic comes from, but the Scottish Highlands are simply the most picturesque place Iíve ever been, and the odd things is that you hardly bump into anyone else at all.†† How do they do that?

You just have to get a bit lost and you trip over the most spectacular bits of natural formation by mistake.†

You do, however, need your own transport.† A car like my old MR2 does the job very nicely indeed.†

6China: Hong Kong

I accept that if the main purpose of your visit is a quiet moment in which to find yourself, then clearly there are going to be a lot of people who are going to help you look, even if you donít want them to.†

And if there is something about globalization and commercialism which annoys you, then this is not the place.†† If your wife likes shopping, however, it is.†

Somehow, for me, itís the juxtaposition of all of that next to these tiny little shops selling bits and bobs the likes of which you canít imagine.†† Itís the street corner on which stand 10 people, 9 of which you couldnít begin to guess where they are from, let alone what language they speak.† Itís the small shop selling dried deer tongue for medicinal use next to the post-office which is identical in almost every respect to the one round the corner from Mum and Dad back at home.† And itís the way I have to ask every shop owner if he prefers to speak Chinese or English and every time I get the answer I wasnít expecting.††† I love it.†

I accept that a main attraction of other smaller cities in Mainland China is that Westerners have apparently lots more money to spend, and represent better value for money.† In Hong Kong, no-one gives a damn where you are from, since thereís not much chance you are richer than a local anyway.†† The fact that this is the experience of almost all travellers to my home country is worth considering, and making allowances for, I reckon.†† Amen.

I love Hong Kong.† I could live there forever.† I have diplomatically put it at number 6 in my list, however, since a lot of people I know donít agree and canít stand the place.† I have decided, however, that they are idiots and that Iím right.†

5Japan

I only spent a month in Japan, which clearly wasnít enough, but it was enough to realise that you could probably also spend 20 years here and not fully understand what was happening.† This is another place where a local guide, preferably in the shape of a friend, could make a lot of difference.†† To help you cook fresh mackerel yourself, for example.†

As well as places like this, the Golden Temple in Kyoto, there are more political places to go to, like Hiroshima and the A-Bomb museum, and then even a trip to the Yashukuni Shrine in Tokyo if you are up to it.† Japan has a bit of everything, and you wonít get food poisoning.† Just one caution though:† if you are on a bit of a trek round Asia, make sure you do Japan last, as every country you go to afterwards will seem completely shite.† Backpackers donít really do Japan too much I guess, half because a backpackerís wardrobe clearly isnít going to cut it on the streets of Tokyo, and half because their budget only lasts for 5 minutes.† I only lasted for a month through sheer ignorance about my financial situation.†† Those were the daysÖ††

I like the way that everywhere you go everything just seems to be done properly.† And having grown up in a house with a big garden, I obviously appreciated Japanese skills in this area too.†

4Trans-Siberian Railway

OK, itís not everyoneís cup of tea.†† Yes, it really does take several days on the same train.† No, there werenít any showers.†

And Iím not a train enthusiast.† But you start off in a city as famous and at the same time mystical as Moscow...

Ö and you watch the apartment blocks turn into smaller apartment blocks, farms, long roads, and in the end, frankly miles of barren no-where land.† And then you end up in Mongolia, mostly, which really does have a sandwiched-in-between-two-important-countries feel about it.† Before you know it you are chatting to people who have had the same way of life for simply centuries.†

All this, and you havenít even mentioned the fact that you end up in China, with whatever feelings you may have about the onslaught of another totally different cultureÖ†

3The Inca Trail

The reasons why this trip is attractive are blindingly obvious.†

And I know it sounds really snobbish to say that you really need to trek there for a few days to have done it properly, but itís true that the feeling of the place really comes from walking the same routes that the Incas would have done themselves, and using them to get to the hiding place where they avoided detection from the colonizers.

Its another one of those places where no amount of hype will take away from the fact that the end result is worth it.†

2North Korea

I understand that this one, however,† is not an obvious choice.†

And if laying flowers at the foot of a statue while putting on fake sincerity is beyond you, then best to leave it.†

But thereís something fundamental about coming here, almost as if you canít really say that you understand the human race without having seen that things like this really exist.† Of course you only see the good bits on an official tour, but thatís not the point.† The challenge is to see the good bits and understand why they are bad.†

If you ask me the last decade was a red-herring.† Theyíll be squabbling over the odd square metre of land or principle for decades in the Middle-East, but if thereís another World War, God forbid, then North Korea will be in the thick of it, whoever starts firing first.†

That said, 50,000 school children all turning up on time and moving in perfect unison, without making a single mistake, does challenge you to think if we really have got the right answer or not.† Especially when our lot go on the rampage looting flat-screens from the local high street.† All added together, this trip was the one that left the biggest impression on me.†

There was, however, only one trip on which I suffered from culture shock.†

And a couple of times I managed to find an excuse to go for a walk, and had a chance to have a look at some of the simplest natural beauty, that no tourist has ever laid eyes on, and bump into a few more people who would start falling over themselves to show me around.† Only spending a few days there was criminal, but certainly a lot better than not having seen this absolute gem.†† The next time, however, I wonít do it all in a three piece suit, like I was when I took this picture.†

So just when I was getting into the spirit of it, and half enjoying the attention, it was time to leave.†

At that point, I asked the groomís sister, a nice local girl, what train I should get in order to catch my flight from Madras that night.† She looked at her watch, shook her dainty head the way that only Indians are born able to, and said ďOh itís much too late, you cannot make it. †

Culture Shock Round Two.†

Kevin Munns

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