Five Places To See This Decade (Before They Change Too Much)

Five Places To See This Decade (Before They Change Too Much)

I asked yesterday for suggestions on places to visit for a holiday before they get ruined. These are the five that are on my own wish list.

Picture by Patrick Nouhailler

I’m not going to lie: more often than not I’m happy to go to a place with a very developed tourism infrastructure, because it generally makes life easier and cheaper. But I can understand the allure of a place that not everyone has discovered and which still has the potential to be astounding. I can also see the appeal of visiting somewhere that might soon be radically different (for geographic or political reasons). These are the five that I would single out. (You can also see me discussing those on Ten Breakfast.)


My initial interest in Cuba developed through the late Kirsty MacColl’s excellent (and alas largely ignored) album Tropical Brainstorm album back in 2000. Shame on me for not having been there yet. Cuba isn’t undeveloped as a tourist destination — some 2 million people head there each year — but the ban on travel from the United States means it won’t resemble most other places you visit. Inbound tourists are often directed to stay in specific hotels, but even the thought of managed tourism in a socialist country seems like something worth trying. It’s also an option that could radically change if Cuba’s national politics alter when long-time leader Fidel Castro dies, an event that seems all too likely in the next decade.

Great Barrier Reef

It’s another shameful admission: while I’ve travelled the coast of Queensland, I’ve never bothered to properly check out the reef. Climate change and over-development are both a potential threat to this delicate wonder of the natural world, so I feel like I should see it while I still have the chance. (Provided that can be done without impacting it further, of course. Tricky business, this eco-tourism.)


Another long-term obsession: I can date this one back to seeing Venice in the 1981 TV adaption of Brideshead Revisted and admiring the canals, But there’s a problem with building a city on canals: flooding makes it a precarious business. There have been extensive efforts to ensure Venice doesn’t subside over the last 100 years, but those remain uncertain. It’s often crowded, but the trick to making it feel less overwhelming is apparently not to visit during busy periods; winter, when it’s cooler, offers more options and lets you admire the elegant decay in less chaotic settings.


The activity that tempts me in Vietnam is scenic motorcycle tours (a former colleague of mine runs one), but who am I kidding? Me on the back of a motorcycle is unlikely to end well. More broadly, I always hear two versions of Vietnamese tourism: while it’s a very affordable country, the main cities such as Ho Chi Minh are becoming heavily tourist-infested, so you need to move further afield for a more varied experience. Nha Trang sounds appealing: any other recommendations?


We’ve all heard of the location if only because of the animated movie series, but as a destination it’s still relatively ignored (most incoming tourists are French, reflecting the island’s colonial history). The big selling point is the unique wildlife, developed, rather like Australia’s, in isolation from the rest of the world. Add a taste of French culture and a lack of large-scale development, and it’s sounding good.

Additional suggestions welcome in the comments. On the original post asking about this, some readers argued that revealing their target list would increase the risk of it getting ruined. I take the point, but there really aren’t many places left that absolutely no-one knows about. Loosen up a little!


    • I hate travellers with a chip on their shoulder. Not everyone who’s not you is a pinhead expecting a McDonalds wherever they go. Especially Australians, in a general sense, compared to some other nationalities.

      And yeah, the great barrier reef certainly needs careful management — but why wouldn’t we support local, responsible, eco tourism operators?

      The other places aren’t on the “brink” in the same sense as, say, the Galapagos, which I suggested to Angus for this list because it’s certainly changing…changing by drastically limiting tourists quite soon for preservation.

  • Hagia Sophia in Istanbul. Ancient church/Mosque that may not survive a big earthquake. (maybe the story is attached to the blue mosque… although they are both very near and absolutely stunning.

  • I friend of mine went to Vietnam and at a war history tour got fire M16’s an AK47’s and for an extra $20 he played losing a hand roulette with a live 30 year old hand grenade.

  • I second Hoi An – great food and cheap clothes!

    Nha Trang is like the Gold Coast of Vietnam, but way nicer 🙂 Try and find the lady selling fresh crab on the beach, grab a few BaBaBa’s (the local beer). Dreamy.

    Don’t bother with Da Nang, but Aussies should head toward the old DMZ and check out Khe Sahn – if only to say they’ve been there.

    Hue is beautiful, but stinking hot. The ancient city is wonderful though

  • Viet Nam is one of the best places for a holiday. If your like me and can speak the language, pretend you cant, saves you so much time when they ask for bribes and prevents you from getting held up at security. I didnt even have my bags checked because I pretended I couldnt understand them. Rach Gia was pretty awesome I had my own personal servants!!

  • I third Hoi An – beautiful little town with some of the best food in the country – not to mention the tailors! I’ve been there twice now, and I got the best spring rolls I’ve ever had from a restaurant on the water front there. We also hired a couple of little scooters and drove down the road to the beach, got to see lots more out of the way stuff, and the beach!

    I’d also recommend Perfume Pagoda – the pagoda itself is a bit miss-able, but to get there you have a scenic bus ride from Hanoi, through the farming area of the north, and lots of little towns. See some very loaded down motorbikes on the way! Then you get a boat ride – you, three other people, and one of the locals. The local will row you in this little boat both ways, and you get to see some beautiful countryside – including some of the locals fishing and tending their rice farms. Then you have the choice of a walk or a chair lift up the side of a forested hill, to the Pagoda. We cheated and took the chairlift up, but walked down again. Basically, it’s a great day trip that you won’t regret!

    Also, don’t forget Ha Long bay – Cat Ba Island is a bit seedy, but do a 1 or 2 night trip on one of the boats. The most scenic bay I can remember visiting, a couple of nice beaches, caves, lookouts, the whole works!

    I’m embarrassed to say in my two trips I’ve never been down south of Ho Chi Minh. I’ve really wanted to go but haven’t had the time. My family went and stayed on a little island there and said that it was beautiful, a bit backward, and there weren’t many tourists!

    As for somewhere new to the list, I’d suggest Lombok. It’s the Indonesian island to the east of Bali. It’s much quieter and emptier than Bali, and well worth the trip. Also, off one of the coasts (I forget which) there are the Gili Islands. There are (I think) three islands there. They are all tiny. Not a single car on any of the three. The islands are so small that there’s no need, so getting around them is done by little horse and carts/chariots. We were the only ones in the restaurant that we had lunch in, and the food was spectacular. Also, the islands are surrounded by beautiful reefs that you can snorkel on. You can scuba dive too, but so much of it can be seen by snorkelling that it’s not too bad. The reefs aren’t quite as good as the Great Barrier Reef, but then I am an Aussie so I’m clearly biased. 😉

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