I find that I always have the best travel experience in places that have been mostly untouched by tourism. Now you can have a good time in the Forbidden City or Chichen Itza, but the feeling is quite different. You cant really get in touch with the local culture and everything is very predictable, so it doesnt feel like an adventure. Worst of all its full of other tourists. Now I dont hate all tourists (after all Im one myself), but I admit I like to be by myself while travelling.
If you go to a touristic place, the locals will try to make their living by selling souvenirs and show generally not much interest in you. In less popular places though, the locals will be excited to learn about your culture and are incredibly happy to meet you (given you have the right attitude and show them respect).
Now you probably all know this, so the purpose of this thread is not to educate anyone about this. It is rather a call to you to share these kind of great places here with our community. To bring it down to one sentence: Please tell us about a great place youve been to, that isnt popular at all. I maintain a list with places I want to visit and I imagine this thread might be able to bring up great additions to it!
It makes sense that I kickstart this thread with one of the greatest travel experiences I ever had.
Last year I was working in Shanghai. During October the WHOLE COUNTRY gets a one week national holiday. Imagine 1.4 billion Chinese either trying to visit their families or travelling within China. This is total overkill for public transportation and every touristic destination.
Thats why I decided to find the most remote and distant place that China has to offer. I wanted to find the adventure of a lifetime. In the end, I wasnt disappointed. I decided to go to Xinjiang, the biggest of Chinas 33 provinces. Its HUGE. This province alone can fit Germany more than 5 times. It borders countries such as Tajikistan, Kyrgyzstan, Afghanistan and several others. It also populates several minorities you have never heard from in your life. Promise.
While the whole province offers amazing opportunities for vagabonders, I want to share the particular days I spent in the north of Xinjiang. I went to the Kanas Lake, which is located on a pointy end of land in between Russia, Mongolia and Kazakhstan. The whole area is home of many Tuvans and Kazakhs. They are still living a very traditional life, partially as nomands with tents and partially in small villages consisting of wooden huts. Its an amazing environment, with hundreds of wild animals, snowy mountaintops, teal rivers, beautiful forests and of course the breathtaking Kanas Lake.
When I got in the bus that was taking me to Lake Kanas in Urumqi, the capitol of Xinjiang, I didnt know about all this. Actually I didnt know anything about this place at all. My Lonely Planet didnt provide much more than half a page, but it sounded interesting so I decided to go. Urumqi is a really hot city. Its an arabic setting and the climate fits appropriately. I was sweating all day long, while the sun was burning relentlessly! But when I entered the bus with my wool shirt and shorts with nothing more than my little backpack, the crowd went furious!
First I was confused, but after a while the other passengers were able to explain to me in Chinese that I was going to freeze to death. I didnt take this very seriously and was more worried about the sunburn I had gotten that day. Guess what, turns out the locals know better than you! Needless to say, that when I left the bus, I was indeed freezing to death. I greatly underestimated the impact of altitude difference and the long distance we were driving.
I even learned another lesson quickly after. Be careful what you wish for. After arriving I immediately realized I found a place that could truly be called remote. To find an English speaking person was out of question and I even needed to be in luck to find someone who was able to speak Chinese. Although they were living in China it was a foreign language for them too, and barely anyone spoke it. If you think I was fluent by the way, consider reconsidering. 2 months prior to my trip my lips have never formed a Chinese syllable. When I managed to ask someone where I could find the next ATM, he laughed and told me it takes 200 kilometers to get to the closest ATM. Oh great, gets better and better, I thought. I truely reached the end of the world.
So I was wandering around, shivering and worrying what Ive gotten myself into. Thats when I decided to make the most out of this mess, instead of choosing the easy way and simply taking a bus back. Turns out, this was the best decision I could make.
I quickly found a local who was willing to sell me his Chinese army coat (that explains the hilarious pictures you are going to see) for less than 100 yuan, about 10 Euro. From that point on, my trip went uphill.
I found 2 Chinese tourists that couldnt speak any English either and together we started our hike towards the first Kazakh village. On our way there we found a single tent in the middle of nowhere. A very nice Kazakh family welcomed us and offered us fresh bread and Chinese milk tea. Except that, for the next 8 hours, we were not going to see any other person. We spend those 8 hours walking in an amazing setting, passing hundreds of wild horses, cows, goats and countless other animals. If you want to get a rough idea how the beautiful forests and rivers looked in real life, take a glance at the pictures below.
Eventually we arrived in the village and I was going to spend the night with a local old woman. Some of the wooden huts had electricity, none had water connection. Most houses contained only 1 room and I ended up sleeping on some sort of giant couch next to that old woman. Living with someone from another culture is as close as you can ever get to truly experience that culture. You see how they spend their days, you see how they prepare food, obviously you eat what they eat, etc. It was amazing!
The village was the hub for many amazing hikes I did and within the next few days, I ended up staying with several other families. One of them even threw a party for me! To do that, the father simply put a ghetto blaster on the ground, turned it on and started dancing with his wife and kids. The village quickly showed up and was fighting over who could teach me dance moves next. We were dancing all night long.
During my whole trip I didnt see any other Western human being and only a few Chinese tourists. Like you would expect, everybody was very excited to meet me and share his culture with me and I think thats what made the trip so special.
Here is a Flickr Album, containing some of the best pictures I took around Kanas Lake.
It was a long read, but hopefully worth it for you. If you consider going, note that its closed in winter time due to bad weather. The whole area is not accessible after mid of October. Generally you can reach it best by flying to Urumqi and taking a sleeper bus to there. Contact me if you need further information.
Now its your turn. Please share your favourite remote destination with us :)