Make the leap from silver to gold
Always the bridesmaid, never the bride … It’s an expression you don’t hear much these days. More likely, it’s silver versus gold medal. Second placegetters are rarely remembered, unless it is a team, such as the Wallabies, for who among us could not applaud the valiant efforts of the recent RWC runners-up. I have such an aunty crush on Izzy Folau, by the way.
Now, where was I? Oh yes, in Myanmar. This emerging destination used to be accorded second-place silver status, and now it’s gold, grabbing the spotlight from regional favourites such as Vietnam. This is what happens in the fickle world of travel. You are hot and then you’re not. As 2016 looms, already the pundits are scratching about, positing what places will be on-trend and totally cool. For my travel dollars, I reckon it is the turn of those bridesmaid destinations to catch the bouquet.
For example, South Africa, Kenya and Tanzania are the big safari drawcards but how about little Botswana? It is my favourite of southern Africa’s game-filled nations and the very best place for intimate and authentic wildlife-watching. In Hawaii, everything focuses on gateway island Oahu and its neighbour isle of Maui, thick with celebrity residents. But head, I urge you, to the Big Island of Hawaii and to Kauai for landscapes so soaring and primeval you’d hardly be surprised to find a dinosaur hitching a ride or a pterodactyl darkening the sky. Kauai has been used as backdrop for movies such as Jurassic Park. Hollywood loves it. The locals call it Hulawood.
Many destinations well-known to experienced travel- lers are being discovered by tourists from emerging nations. Paris, for one, is booming with Chinese visitors and who can blame them for doing all the iconic sights, just as we did years ago. But crowds are a pain, so the rush is on to lesser-visited, but arguably just as beautiful, European cities, such as Prague, Cracow, Heidelberg and Bratislava. On and on it goes. Mauritius v Madagascar? Greece v Croatia? Peru v Ecuador? Cancun v Havana?
If the big Asian cities are too bustling and hard to negotiate (Beijing springs to mind, inevitably), use such metropolises as gateways and explore further and deeper to, say, Yunnan province in southwest China; its lovely capital, Kunming, still has an old quarter that’s as pretty as a Zhang Yimou film set. If Tokyo bamboozles you, head to the snow country of Yasunari Kawabata’s so-titled 1948 novel. It is there, to Gokayama and Shirakawago, that author Pico Iyer goes in search of “stillness”; it’s the Japan we’ve seen in old woodblock prints, with thatched-roof houses and wind-chimes.
Costa Rica and Belize get a lot of oxygen in the travel press, and filmmaker Francis Ford Coppola has colonised the latter with luxe lodges, but Nicaragua, with a cultural edge, is the up-and-comer to watch. If famous walking trails are too crowded, consider secondary alternatives. In New Zealand, if the Milford Track is unavailable, try the Routeburn or the Kepler or even the Dusky Track, which is so hard that surely wannabe All Blacks must train there, although the sight of such sturdy menmountains could send me over the edge.