Travel even after the Covid-19 pandemic will probably never be the same – another case of the new normal especially since travel and tourism are one of the hardest hit industries. Travel pundits have been predicting that there would be a greater focus on local vs. international travel due to restrictions and the fear of getting stuck in another country – a trend recently being borne out by statistics even as travel restrictions are gradually easing.
This somewhat gloomy prediction only has us salivating for more destinations beyond our archipelago. But rather than come up with a bucket list of new lands to explore, we decided to focus for now on those places we’ve already visited – some of them several times over – but somehow missed out on other interesting sights and experiences.
Our first visit to this country in 1998 took all of 2 months – and we would be back almost 10 times more – all officially as part of our work back then. Although we stayed most of the time in the capital city of Phnom Penh, we also traveled to Sihanoukville, Kampong Cham and Battambang. Back then Cambodia was just recovering from years of armed conflict and the brutal reign of the Khmer Rouge so that much of the nation’s infrastructure were in tatters. A lot has changed by now. Don’t ask us why but in all of those previous trips not once did we make it to Siem Reap and the Angkor Wat complex – reason enough to see this country again.
We had our dose of travel to sensitive places and the North-West Frontier Province (now the Khyber Pakhtunkhwa) in Pakistan is right there on top of the list. Leo has been to Peshawar and a large part of this province a few times, once making it all the way to the Afghan border through the historic Khyber Pass. Even before 9/11 and the subsequent war that followed in nearby Afghanistan, Pashtun tribesmen cradling AK-47 assault rifles is an everyday sight here.
What doesn’t get equal publicity, however, are the scenic Swat, Kaghan and Hunza Valleys, charming Chitral, and the stunning lakes, valleys and towering highlands of Gilgit Baltistan – areas to the north and northeast of Peshawar. This region is a tourist paradise that has yet to live up to its potential. Lonely Planet named Pakistan as “…tourism’s ‘next big thing’ for more years than we care to remember.” Unfortunately, the presence of radical extremists in the past has often placed the country, especially its northern parts, in travel advisories and kept us from visiting these areas. Thankfully, many of these places are gradually becoming safer for foreign visitors.
Here’s another work-related brief visit by Leo where he got to tour the historic parts of the city. These included the Gothic Quarter and its Plaça del Rei (where it is believed that Columbus was received by King Fernando II and Queen Isabel upon returning from the New World), the adjacent Roman ruins of the Musea d’História de la Ciutat (the world’s most extensive underground Roman ruins) and Antoni Gaudi’s Casa Batlló and Casa Milà. Unfortunately he failed to visit the iconic La Sagrada Familia, just a few blocks northeast of the Casa Milà. These and more historical sites alone are things to look forward to on a revisit of this city but there’s more: excellent food, Catalonian art and architecture, the Boqueria market and the promenades of Las Ramblas.
Sometime ago, Laos attained a cult-like following among foreign visitors due to its laidback pace and carefully preserved traditions. We last visited this nation almost 20 years ago, only getting to the capital of Vientiane. The Vientiane we see today in photos – with its high rise buildings, busy streets and various tourist accommodations that have mushroomed during the years we were absent – hardly resembles the small city we saw in the early 2000s. The That Luang Stupa, Patuxai and Wat Si Saket all stand proudly unchanged however, an assurance that the city was able to preserve its precious connections to the past. But if there’s only one place we could visit in Laos it would have to be Luang Prabang and its surrounding countryside.
Of all the Southeast Asian countries, Indonesia possibly comes closest to the Philippines in terms of topography, language and culture. So why bother returning? First is to reconnect with our dear Indonesian friends whom we haven’t met in ages, many of them close associates in the organization that we used to work for. Second reason: Raja Ampat. We’ve been all over Indonesia – to the major island regions of Sumatra, Java, Bali and Sulawesi – but never to West Papua on the eastern edge of the country where this paradise of a destination lies.
There’s so much of Indonesia’s beauty we missed during the 6 years that we’ve ranged all over her but Raja Ampat – even if getting there is no walk in the park – is probably the most enticing of them all.
How can we forget our time at the Taj Mahal at Agra, not to mention the other mausoleums and forts built by the Mughal emperors in the most populous democracy in the world? Our visit to India was actually a stopover on our way to a meeting in Nepal but Ivan, our team leader and area director at that time, suggested we stop by for a few days at New Delhi and to visit the Taj Mahal – a 4-hour drive away. Years later we were talking about a return visit that eventually failed to materialize. But with a host of various interesting destinations to choose from, this is another country that we just have to place on this list.
San Diego, U.S.A.
Among all the destination on this list San Diego is where we stayed longest – 2.5 years to be exact. It’s such a fine city that we absolutely do not have any second thoughts about revisiting. Its Mediterranean climate, ruggedly beautiful coastline, world-class family attractions, historical sites, art galleries and mouth-watering Mexican cuisine is something we would happily experience all over again. But most of all it’s the chance to reconnect with old friends that makes us want to revisit San Diego.
Highways 1 and 395, California, U.S.A.
Our most memorable road trips ever. Highway 1 or the Pacific Coast Highway is considered one of the most scenic routes in America. It’s a longer route back to our home at San Diego from the Bay Area than if we would have taken the Interstate 5 but it passes through stunning vistas of wide beaches and wind-swept cliffs back dropped by hills shrouded in fog. Particularly interesting is the 90-mile coastal stretch between Carmel and San Simeon known as the Big Sur. We made brief stops in just 3 or 4 places here but this route demands more stops and a longer time to fully appreciate, hence a return drive is a must.
If Highway 1 takes you along California’s coast on that state’s western side, then Highway 395 takes you along its backbone – the eastern side of the Sierra Nevada range. The scenery here is vastly different from that along Highway 1 but no less stunning – sub-alpine forests, towering peaks framed by colorful fall scenery in the valleys below, majestic lakes and intriguing desert tundra. In retrospect we could have taken more time to enjoy the scenery at Owens Valley, Inyo National Forest and Mono Lake and perhaps enter Yosemite National Park from its eastern entrance but this trip was done just a few days before our return to the Philippines for good.
New England, U.S.A.
It was late fall when we arrived in Virginia 14 years ago at Uncle Rene’s and Aunt Tess’ place. It would take us a couple of weeks more before we traveled further northeast to visit a friend in Connecticut. By then it was almost winter and the trees were all bare. Fall happens to be our favorite season in America – mainly because of the colors. So, given the chance, we’ll grab any opportunity to fly to New England. In the middle of the fall season.