It's hard to pin down a list of 'best' things: I struggle with music, so doing so with a topic as culturally divisive and memorable as travel is always going to be a thing that's entirely in flux. If you checked out yesterday's blog, you'd see that my most life-changing moment wasn't actually staring over some great site, or exploring some wonderful cultural dimension (okay, maybe a little of that latter one with the monks), but there are definitely elements of that which have really stood out. Today's top five is certain to be different to tomorrow's, but here's how things stand right now, with an un-numbered selection of moments I won’t forget until my memory begins to fade entirely:
Crossing the border to North Korea, twice. Throughout the five years since I set foot on North Korean soil, I've had countless heady expenses that have battered by bank account, but I've always, without exception, made sure I have the finances accessible to get on the first plane over should the unlikely occur, and North Korea opens its borders to free exploration. I visited twice, back in the days when crossing the South Korean border into the north was an option under carefully monitored circumstances, and as far as experiences go, this is really, really hard to beat. North Korea can be described as a little like going back in time. In some ways it's utterly beautiful: Kumgangsan (the Diamond Mountains) in the south west are one of the most stunning spots I've ever set foot, and I could get used to a world without advertising. Bowing down before Kim Jong Il (compulsory, but done with tongue firmly in cheek by most visitors), eating lavishly in a display of 'wealth' that feels awkward and traveling along streets where soldiers monitor your actions every fifty metres for many miles is not so positive. I still have the English translations of North Korea's version of history, which make for fascinating reading, and I'll never forget tucking into a north-of-the-border Soju, enjoying a North Korean 'spa' experience or the regulations surrounding the use of cameras, passports (all fake anyway) and communication with locals. A true 'appreciation for what you've got' situation.
Safari in Ngorongoro Crater and the Serengeti, Tanzania. This was my 'honeymoon proper' (we couldn't afford anywhere too extravagant the first time after paying for the wedding), and my first experience of Africa. I found Tanzania (and my brief experience of Kenya) to be both frustrating and beguiling in equal measure: the pushiness and dishonesty of the cities frustrated me, but the beauty of the countryside quickly flipped my opinion on its head. We visited the immaculate Ngorongoro Crater, where thousands and thousands of animals roam around the watering holes, and all of the pick five can be spotted within half an hour of each other on a good day (we got a good day). Then we drove to Serengeti, watching a mass migration pass in the direction of Ngorongoro, featuring so many animals filling a 360 degree view that the entire colour of the landscape changed from musty yellow grassland to the darker brown of the dominant wildebeests. We dropped in on the Maasai Mara, sharing a traditional English Christmas pudding (they're meant to mature, so they keep well!) with the confused locals after we joined in with their traditional dance and took a glance at the modest hut accommodation. We slept in tents, got stuck in muddy tracks in the middle of nowhere (temporarily, fortunately), and ate possibly the worst food I've ever paid money for, before it reappearing shortly afterwards. Sure, safari with a tour company isn't exactly the wild experience some off-the-beaten track travellers might go for, but I still found the experience utterly mind-blowing.