Being 25 is fun. You are independent enough to do what’s wrong but you’re mature enough to know consequences. So you weight down which highs you want to chase, and when it comes to chasing the next high, travel is my choice of drug. At 25, I may not always know what I want to do in life, but at least I know where I want to go.
25. Dubai (U.A.E.)
Perverse and boastful show of wealth and a nightmare for eco-tourism advocates, with its indoor ski park, one of the world’s largest indoor aquarium, etc., Dubai has it all. From a simple fishing community, it has emerged as one of the richest oil producing middle eastern countries. You are never far away from a Lamborghini or a Rolls Royce wherever you are in this city. Go to any hotel and surely there’s a Porsche (cheapskate) parked somewhere.
Glitz and glamour aside, there’s one road called Al Dhiyafha where a melting pot of blue collars, the backbone of any society, gather and exhibit specialty cuisines from their respective home countries. If you want real food in Dubai, its the place to be.
24. Seoul (South Korea)
Already having lots of Koreans in the Philippines, its a wonder why I even went here. But to my surprise, Seoul turns out to be a one stop shop of Korean culture which I never really was curious back at home. Amidst skyscrapers, suit clad businessmen and efficient modern public transportation that smells of kimchi during the day and soju at night, massive shrines and temples located on prime real estate locations have been left untouched by city developers. A visit to these shrines automatically and surprisingly drown out the usual city sounds, a place to slow down your pace.
23. Bruges (Belgium)
Old town Brugge gives you what most European old town squares offer. Everything is built around the town’s main church, where Jesus christ torned blood stained cloth is purportedly stored. Specific shops selling different things are organized and concentrated on their respective places, bierhaus (if you need translation for this, I am not talking to you) being the most popular of course. Equally famous for their chocolates, expect to find lots of overpriced chocolates here.
22. Nuremberg (Bavaria)
Nuremberg is located in Bavaria, which is a part of Germany, but when I was here, everyone bragged about being Bavarian first, only then they are Germans. Proud people, these Bavarians are. Nuremberg is most famous for its Christmas market, or Christkindlemarkt in German, it is outlandishly cute. Although it may feel like you’ve just missed the party if you visit outside the Yule season, but this city is alive, thriving with history and students alike. Hungry? Try those tasty little Nurnberger sausages.
21. Hallstatt (Austria)
A short train ride from Salzburg, Hallstatt is a small town that became opulent once from the salt trade, now, its nothing more than a postcard town. Although residents still cling to the narrow strip of land between the mountain and the lake, I actually don’t remember meeting any local in my short time there. The most interesting part of my visit is that since real estate is remarkably scarce, there is a limit of 50-year lease for a spot in the minuscule but quaint grave yard. After your golden death anniversary, some family member gets to write your name on what used to be your forehead and stacked up among the rest of the oldies.
20. Venice (Italy)
Venice, a once powerful kingdom and a symbol of opulence just a few centuries ago, now suffering from the negative aspects of tourism, is sinking from its fame. There is no shortage of tourist influx here, rain or shine, for better or worse. But I can hardly blame anyone who goes to visit Venice, even if they make the place sink deeper from junk, waves coming from wakes of tourist boats and cruise ships. You have to see it at least once. Oh the grandeur and renaissance. Interestingly, Marco Polo, probably the worlds most famous traveler (not just a chain of hotels), was a Venetian. He somehow made it to China through the silk road, rubbed shoulders with Kublai Khan, and made it back to tell the story.
19. Jungfraujoch (Switzerland)
I started my journey to the top of Europe from the small, cliche of a German speaking Swiss town in Grindelwald. Jungfraujoch is the highest point in the Alps, hence, the rest of Europe, with an elevation of 3,471 meters above sea level. Beyond the prized title of being the roof of the continent, it is also really expensive to get here. But the fun really is in getting here. You take a really cute train that gives you a view of the quintessential Swiss country side, slowly making elevation, change trains a few times, until you get a peek of the snoq capped mountains. Bring sunscreen as UV rays get really harmful with the elevation. When it gets too cold, you can always have the most expensive lackluster cheese fondue you’ll have in Switzerland at the restaurant on top.
18. Vienna (Austria)
They say Vienna is for old people, I don’t always disagree, especially if you’re young with hormones running wild. But I enjoyed Vienna. I spent Christmas here, away from my family who were comfortably warm at our home in the Philippines. I loved Vienna for probably the most different reason why people come here. I came here for my favorite philosophically romantic couple, Jesse and Celine of the Before Sunrise series. I walked their walks, rode the creaking ferris wheel where they first kissed, because Jesse was too shy to do it on the booth at the record store, the cafes and the rest of it.
17. Bratislava (Slovakia)
It does sound familiar, heard it somewhere once, where the hell is Bratislava? In the film Eurotrip, Bratislava is presented as a drab communist dead end town. Sure it does, once you cross the bridge with a weird looking UFO bar in the middle, it is the epitome of communism with its tenement housing, much like SMDC really. But if you arrive here by train, you’ll see that it must have been habituated by rich, cultured people once. The old town is just as beautiful as any other Eastern European old towns, with an overlooking upturned table-like castle. Its mystical and almost deserted in winter, but that’s where the charm comes from perhaps?
16. Pokhara (Nepal)
Kathmandu can make you crazy after staying there for too long, and that’s what Pokhara is for. Get away from the city, take the nerve racking highway that falls a few hundred meters into a river that’s dotted with, wait for it, ill-fated buses. I personally just closed my eyes, prayed to the universe that should my time come, please please let me see the Himalayas first. The mountain gods must have heard my appeal and I was able to reach Pokhara, white knuckled, but safely. The city has a picturesque lake, and hordes of hippies that comes with a super laid back place. From here, I rented a plane to see the Himalayas, the rooftop of the world. Let’s just say I would more likely forget my first sex, god knows how bitter sweet that was, than my face to face experience with the Himalayas.
15. Krakow (Poland)
Schindler’s list anyone? Save one life, save the world? Yes, Schindler’s enamel factory is located in Krakow, a 15 minute walk from the main square, Europe’s biggest square. And where else better to spend New Year’s eve than Europe’s biggest square? Yup. Spent NYE here and was rewarded threefold. Different stages for different bands of different genres, an intoxicated, super charged hormones of a crowd and you get the picture. To equalize the fun, a visit to Auschwitz concentration camp, around an hour by local bus from the square, is a never fail depressant.
14. Oxford vs Cambridge (U.K.)
Let me tell something personal to you, sure, I like beautiful and intelligent students, but I like beautiful schools more. Professor Charles Xavier graduated here, prince Charles, also that egotistic physical theoreticist (clue, not Sheldon Cooper) named Stephen Hawking aka wheelz, and the infamous philanderer, Lord Byron, to name a few of my favorite, albeit one is fictional, alumni. In my next life, I only want to study here, graduate and become a fellow and tenured professor in either Universities.
13. New York (U.S.A)
From JFK airport, I took the train to Bronx where I was staying with a friend in his flat. On the way, I had to transfer overland from one station to another, it was just before mid town, around the 30s when I got overland, luggage rolling and bouncing on rough and uneven pavement, Jay Z and A. Keys, as my friend, Angela, who, mind you, is personal friends with, even followed her back on Twitter, started playing in my head “Neeew yooooooork”. I love New York. There’s America and there’s New York. Its a city that’s got something going on at some place at any time of the day, and night. People from all over the world, with different ethnicities, from all walks of life, they’re all here, trying to make it big. As a result, really damn good food, cheap and expensive, so many interesting people, so much quirks.
12. Amsterdam (Netherlands)
Amsterdam has an unfair reputation of a place where people go to for legal dosage of drugs and lenient bureaucracy. Sure, you get taxed for prostitution and marijuana, but the city itself is gorgeous on its own. With canals that smell so much better than those of Venice, low rise buildings with curious ground floor life size windows (wink) and the only place I’ve seen that’s got more bikes than people. Park your black, nondescript bike in some corner, when you come back, its impossible to tell which one is yours, hopefully not the one floating along the canal. I’ve never felt so short in my life than when I was here. The Dutch have the award for being the tallest people on Earth. It must be the cheese, that world famous Edam cheese. Spent two nights here, watched a sex show, got drunk, smoked a joint, passed out, magically woke up in my room, with pictures to show for. On the second night, got a tattoo. The following morning, really glad to have left.
11. Siem Reap (Cambodia)
I’ve never been more humbled by this feat of mankind. The Khmers built something so vast and grand in the far east, that until now, the very basic maintaining of upkeep still puzzles the best archaeologists. Such colossal strongholds and places for worships, mysteriously abandoned, reclaimed by the forest, lost for generations until a French explorer chanced upon it. Wow is definitely an understatement. I don’t think there can be any superlative adjective used that will ever be an overstatement when describing Angkor Wat, Ta Prohm, Bayon, and the rest of the structures that dot the rest of the once powerful kingdom.
10. Edinburgh (Scotland)
Before becoming part of Great Britain, Scotland was a mysterious land of rolling hills, foul weather and inhabited by fierce mythical creatures and hell of a tough Scottish folks. Now, Edinburgh, its capital, is truly one of my favorite cities. The only reason its in number ten is because I didn’t like the food here that much. It still retains its foul weather, tough folks with very weird accent, hence, do not ever get into a bar fight in Scotland. Like the rest of my favorite cities, literature is always an inspiration to visit. For Edinburgh, there’s Trainspotting (“it sucks being Ska-ish”) and The Da Vinci code (Rosslyn chapel). Regardless of inspirations, it is a must visit city for any self respecting traveler. To see the old town from the Edinburgh castle, walk the Royal Mile, and a real Scottish pub crawl are experiences that are truly YOLO-ing.
9. Bled (Slovenia)
I arrived in Bled when it was winter, dark, and empty. Its a sleepy lake town and the fog that blanketed the whole place didn’t afford me to see beyond a few meters from me. Its the perfect setting for Silent Hill. Upon checking in at my hostel, the receptionist informed me that I was the only guest and that she was glad that I have finally arrived so that she can finally go home and leave the whole 3 floors of that damned building all to myself. Needless to say, I did not sleep well. Making it alive and unscathed come morning, I am a different man after that. Anyway, the only exciting thing about this place, is not the church planted on a small island inside the big lake, but the Vintgar gorge. A 1600 meter walkway made of sleet covered broken wood planks on top of a gushing river and in between wet mountains. I was the only traveler in town and had I fallen into the river, at least I meant that goodbye hug to my parents when they dropped me at the airport.
8. Tokyo (Japan)
Tokyo, its easily the most shocking place I’ve ever been in my life. There seem to be an electric current running from the buildings to the neon signs to the people and food. Everything is alive, even the food you’re about to eat was surely living just a few moments back. You only have to see the famous Shibuya crossing and the morning auction in Tsukiji market to know what sort of energy and pace I’m talking about. During the day, everyone’s busy with work, the ideal Japanese salary man, at night, all fetishes are catered for. From Pachinko parlors (casinos), Purikura machines (a photobooth that’s girlishly blown out of proportion) to dive bars that fit 3 people the most. Food? Its all about sushi. Tuna is king and O-toro is gold.
7. Hong Kong (Hong Kong)
Upfront, I would tell you that what moves people here is money, it is the catalyst in this city. People are flashy, Rolex stores are as abundant as 7elevens, but they are hard working people who know exactly what they want in life, except maybe that they have really really small expensive hotel rooms, but the rest, they’ve figured out perfectly. Duck rice, that’s what I go to Hong Kong for, that meal I cry myself to sleep at night when I want it and can’t have it. The Avenue of The Stars, the Victoria Harbour, the skyline from the opposite side of the river, shopping, nope, I’m skipping all that for all the Duck rice in Hong Kong.
6. The Sahara Desert (Disputed between neighboring North African countries)
The Sahara, extends from Morocco to Egypt, Tunisia to Sudan. In English, its vast. Caravans of the past crossed this arid, uninhabitable, interminable landscape after landscape to do trade from Asia to Africa. Even Islam crossed this desert from the Middle East to reach Africa. Spending a night here will make even Bear Grylls humble about his self preservation instincts. Between the punishing mid day heat and chaffing camel ride to the campsite where we’d spend the bone chilling night is a moment spent siting down on top of a really tall dune, watching the most glorious sunset that nothing will ever compare to, slowly giving way into the moon and the stars to paint the sand silver and the make the rest of the desert seem like a violent ocean frozen mid wave.
5. Varanasi (India)
Basically, Hindus go here to die. If you don’t get an instantaneous heavy dosage of culture shock with that, you are one tough bastard. You are in the holiest city in India. Expect to hear chanting everywhere, poor people resigned to their fates and get cremated and the remains thrown away in the Ganges river, where supposedly, the act of reincarnation will end and your samsara, over. Literally, where fire wood are stacked, you will see dead bodies being burned open air by the river. If that’s not enough, the Ganges is popular, aside from being one of the holiest rivers, but also the dirtiest. It makes Pasig river look like Evian. But in Hindu belief, a dip here will clean up all your karma, a sort of soul cleansing, and as weird as I am, I took a not so refreshing but inner cleansing morning dip.
4. Marrakech (Morocco)
Dictators, colonialists, and governments may change with time but Marrakech will always be what it is, a hub of trade, culture and energy. Marrakech is damn sexy. A veiled woman walks by, taking with her the mystery of whats hiding underneath her perfect form, the way her hips sway when she walks, intrigues you like a mad lover. The constant sound of pounding metals, shaping them, gilding them to become something so exquisite, be it a lamp, a figurine, or any other Islamic art. The curious looking conical shaped pottery from which they stew their food, when opened, explodes different aromas of cinnamon, to olives, dried citrusy fruits and animal protein. Mud brick kasbahs, riads (guesthouses) mosques and shops form the labyrinthine medina. Come night time, a visit to Jemaa el-Fnaa, the main square is like an assault on the senses. Everything moves, some things bite, some dance, some sing, but mostly, they cook. Its the biggest open air stage I’ve ever seen in my life.
3. Penang (Malaysia)
From Indonesia to Singapore, there is a general consensus that Penang is the food capital of the Straits. It used to be frequented by the British colonialist for Penang Hill which offers refuge from the damning heat, overlooking the sea. I’ll give it to Penang, the island is beautiful, but nothing of the landscape and the sea can beat what the island offers when it comes to food. Let me tell you straight, you need a local friend here to know which places to visit, and how to get there. The best Nasi Kandar, Nasi Lemak, oh and the Laksa! I’ve tried them all here. This place is second only to, you guessed it, San Sebastian in Spain, when it comes to concentration of so many good food in one place.
2 San Sebastian/Donostia (Spain/Basque)
San Sebastian is the food capital of Spain, there is no contest. And if Spain is, arguably the food capital of the world, then logic follows that San Sebastian serves the best food in the world. Its got more than 3 michelin star restaurants concentrated for its small size than any other place in the world. But food doesn’t have to be expensive here. Nightlife here is a system of Pintxo (tapas) bar hop. You go to one bar, order the best Pintxo (normally advertised), drink just enough wine or Txakoli (sparkling dry white wine), then move to the next one. That sounds good enough on its own right? But did I tell you the buildings have very alluring old world appeal, the people are so beautiful and there’s a long stretch of beach, actually, two or three coves that stretches long enough to cover so many good looking people.
1. Hanoi (Viet Nam)
Of all the places in the world, this is where I had the most fun. I found the perfect ratio of strangeness and familiarity in Hanoi. From the moment you wake up in the morning to eat Banh Mi (French baguette with fillings) while you sip that strong dark and gooey Vietnamese coffee, and then you head to watch people from all walks of life and generations exercise around Hoan Kiem lake to make room for all the delicious food to be had. Then you start looking for lunch and of course, its going to be Pho (rice noodle), the only choice really is if you’ll have it with beef or chicken. Alternatively, you can dine on some authentic French cuisine, but I’d rather explore more from Vietnamese cuisine like the Bun Cha, Cha Ca La Vong, and etc. up until you walk along the old quarter to look around old French colonial architecture, while somewhere in the corner, propagandas blast from a speaker on top of an electric post.