The unique and beautiful region of Cappadocia in Turkey is known for its original rock formations, balloon flights and cave towns where people have lived for millennia. The soft sandstone made it easy for the locals to carve out caves large enough to create their own homes inside. Some of the ancient settlements are located in cliff walls, others in the mountains and some are even composed of a complex network of underground tunnels resembling a termite mound! In this post I'll describe the most spectacular as well as easy to reach ancient cave towns that we visited near Goreme - don't miss them while exploring the region!
Merv is one of those examples that clearly demonstrate how high we (humans) think about our civilization and how little we actually mean. Once, the most advanced region on Earth, the part of ancient Persia, dotted with bustling cities along the famous, historical Silk Road. Now - the few remains of strongholds as well as defensive walls that used to be the witnesses of enormous power stand silently stripped of their grandeur in the middle of nowhere and the only citizens that settle in the destroyed fortresses are some little desert rodents and herds of camels nibbling wilted shrubs
Almaty - Kazakhstan's largest city and the former capital. At first, it looks completely ordinary and uninteresting, and if it weren't for the world's class natural wonders surrounding it (I'll describe them all in detail soon), probably no one would be willing to come here. But if you take a second, closer look, you'll notice the uniqueness, vibrancy and diversity. Having said that, it seems that no foreign travelers (especially from the western countries) ever make it to Almaty or other Central Asian places anyway. We didn't meet any westerners there. This is, of course, not because of the lack of attractions in the region - I suppose the mainstream media are at fault here - by always depicting the post-Soviet states as backward, grey, boring and gloomy.
On the second day of the extraordinarily beautiful trek to Poon Hill, we left the cozy village of Ulleri at sunrise and headed uphill towards another village - Ghorepani. Ghorepani is located at the elevation of 2750 meters and it differs from other towns with the distinctive blue roofs and houses. It is also a gateway to the most important point of the trek - Poon Hill (around 3200 meters above sea level) which offers a spectacular, 360 degree view of the Annapurna range in the Himalayas. Especially stunning in March/April when all the wild rhododendrons blossom and cover the mountainous valleys in bright red colors.
Old Bagan is one of the most famous archaeological sites in South East Asia. Often compared to the Angkor Wat Complex in Cambodia, Bagan was open to the tourists relatively recently. Although Myanmar is still regarded by some as an off the beaten path destination (for example, there are not that many foreign visitors in Mandalay or at the Golden Rock Pagoda), the magnificent temples of Bagan attract hundreds of travelers every day. Nevertheless, just like Angkor Wat, the pagodas in Bagan are spread around such an enormous area that you'll still feel the uniqueness and remoteness of this extraordinary site.
Lake Kaindy in southern Kazakhstan is one of the newest and most unique natural wonders on our planet. Although literally unknown in the West, if it was located in any European country, it would be its best tourist attraction. Especially beautiful in the fall (autumn), Lake Kaindy boasts not only exceptionally attractive blue color of water and snowy rocky mountains surrounding it but also the unique, silver trunks of dead spruce sticking out of the lake's surface. The "flooded forest" is indeed one of the natural landmarks of Kazakhstan. It all creates a fairy-tale like scenery, not seen anywhere else.
Ko Phi Phi Islands are the main landmark and the most popular tourist destination in Thailand. It's just a piece of heaven on Earth - it's exactly the way you can see it on the postcards or wallpapers featuring exotic beaches. And it really is that idyllic and full of colors - the water is perfectly turquoise and crystal clear, the sand is soft and immaculately white and the surrounding limestone cliffs create "the gate" to paradise. Nature is always flawlessly beautiful - but it couldn't be all so perfect, could it? There are, obviously, some faults in this must-see Thailand's attraction. And they are all caused by us - humans. Read on about my experience in Ko Phi Phi, find out how to avoid the scams and what's the best way to visit the islands.
Pokhara is the second largest city in Nepal, located at the foot of the Himalayan Annapurna Range. It may be quite difficult to get to the starting point of the Mount Everest Base Camp Trek as there are no roads there from Kathmandu but that's not the case with Pokhara where you'll see spectacular mountainous peaks as if they were in front of you. It's also very easy to get closer to the Himalayas and start hiking the beautiful, fairy tale-like, full of blooming rhododendrons Poon Hill loop trail, or more advanced Annapurna Base Camp trek. If you're lucky with the weather, you can spot the most beautiful, snowy, "Fish Tail" mountain which rises almost 7000 meters above sea level (original name: Machhapuchchhre - yes, the spelling is kind of crazy) right away from Pokhara's center.
Cappadocia is one of the most popular regions of Turkey. The famous all over the world, weird rock formations shaped like mushrooms, pillars and even animals are scattered across the area. Clear weather conditions, crisp even in the late months of fall/autumn allow not only to hike among the most extraordinary valleys but also to enjoy the famous hot air balloon flight, which, although quite expensive, is a one of a kind event that everyone should experience at least once. I visited Goreme in November and I think it was a perfect time. The town was cozy and sleepy, I felt as if I was somewhere at the end of the world and although it is so popular I barely saw any other tourists. Moreover, the leaves that had just turned bright yellow created an excellent contrast with the rock formations making it all look even more eerie and extraordinary.
Yangon (or Rangoon), Myanmar's former capital is still the largest city in the country and important economic as well as cultural center. Comparing to Bagan, Mandalay or the rest of Myanmar, Yangon seems to be a really modern, culturally diverse metropolis with over 5 million inhabitants. You'll find Burmese, British and Chinese influences at every corner. Colonial buildings, pagodas, churches and Chinese markets are strewn around the center. Although the city is huge, you'll be able to see a lot in just one day - the most impressive monuments and sights (like Shwedagon Pagoda or Sule Pagoda) are within walking distance from one another.