Top 10 destinations lists — recommended vs. favorite

This item appears on page 32 of the December 2017 issue.

After the article “Building Your Travel Bucket List” appeared in Contributing Editor Randy Keck’s column (Jan. ’17, pg. 56), ITN asked subscribers to each send in two lists of international destinations, excluding locations in Europe (which is so popular among travelers) and in the United States (which ITN does not cover).

One list was to include the Top 10 destinations that they had visited and would recommend for newer/beginning international travelers. On the second, they were to list their own Top 10 favorite travel destinations, based on their actual experiences. We requested an explanation or comment with each choice.

This will be the third issue in which we have printed lists — two from each person — and more are on the way.

In some cases, when the traveler’s reasoning was clear, ITN allowed the listing of some adjacent countries or of a particular experience as a single “destination.”

The Taj Mahal flanked by the Kau Bon mosque and the Mihman Khana palace — Agra, India. Photo by Peg Sonnek

From Nancy Tan of Fresno, CA: I’d like to say, first of all, that I think new travelers should follow their interests. At least, that’s how it was for me. It didn’t matter where others thought I should go; I had to listen closely to what destinations called to me, once in a while even changing my plans when another trip turned up that felt just perfect. But not everyone is like me, so here goes my list (although it’s difficult to exclude Europe). I ranked these with number 1, at the top, being the most favored.

Best for Beginning Travelers

1. Australia — I recommend this first off because there is no language barrier and the culture is similar to our own, which make things much, much easier. There is the problem of driving on the left-hand side of the road, but the public transportation is so good in the larger cities that one can easily get around without a car, and there are tours for the harder-to-reach areas. 

I find the Aboriginal art fascinating, as I do the convict history.

2. New Zealand — No language or cultural barriers. It’s a beautiful country, especially for lovers of the outdoors, and I found the Maori culture very interesting. My favorite area is the Bay of Islands.

3. Thailand — Bangkok is a bit of a mess to get around in, but problems with scams can be overcome by booking day tours through the hotel. The northern part of the country and the beaches can be visited on one’s own more easily.

4. Seoul, South Korea — My husband and I thoroughly enjoyed our week there. The public transportation was excellent, and the street signs were in multiple languages. The government seems to promote cultural activities, and we found lots to do on our own. Most of all, we loved the food.

5. Kyoto, Japan — We spent some time there on our own. Once we learned the bus system, we easily visited various sites. Shopping was excellent and interesting.

6. Cambodia — If planning a visit there, I’d suggest taking a tour. Angkor Wat was magnificent, a “must see.”

7. Argentina — Buenos Aires is a beautiful city, very European, with lots to do. From there, it’s a short ferry ride over to Uruguay for a day trip or a night or two. 

8. Singapore — An easy destination for a few days. Again, no language barrier. It’s safe and orderly, with excellent service in the tourist industry. Lots of good shopping. From there, you can catch a cruise to a variety of destinations. (We took a cruise from there to Indonesia and are now looking for one to Malaysia and the Philippines.)

9. Vietnam — We took a private tour; a driver took us from town to town and we picked up a local guide in each. There shouldn’t be problems traveling independently in the larger cities like Hanoi and Saigon.

10. Morocco — I found this an interesting country with a very different culture. I suggest taking a tour rather than traveling independently.

Again, it was difficult picking a favorite 10 countries without including Europe, but this was a lovely way to look back and contemplate on my travels.

Personal Favorites 

1. Egypt — I was lucky enough to have visited twice. On our 2009 visit, armed guards accompanied us in certain places. The very fact that they were there made us feel less safe than when we were there in 1995, and now it seems the situation, in general, is even worse. I love Egyptian history, however, and I’m hoping to visit at least one more time. 

I think signing up with a reliable tour company would be the thing to do, especially one whose tour includes a visit to Nefertari’s tomb.

2. Bhutan — I am fascinated by Tibetan Buddhism, but, having a severe problem with high altitudes, I have not been able to visit Tibet. Bhutan was an excellent substitute.

3. Syria — I was fortunate to have visited this country before its current plight. It felt amazing to visit biblical places, such as the Damascus Gate, and Hama, where more modern history was made. The Old Town of Aleppo was beautiful, as was the empty desert with herds of wild camels and the solitary Crusader castle.

4. Jordan — Walking through the passageway into Petra was just amazing. I also visited a Roman ruin.

5. South Korea — When in Seoul, we were lucky enough to walk right into a royal wedding reenactment. We also attended a monthly cultural performance and caught a comedy that transcended language.

6. Israel — I recall the experience of walking across the border from Egypt and the wonder of seeing the biblical sites in Jerusalem. We also had the best falafel sandwich ever in the market in the Jewish Quarter.

7. The Silk Road — We only did the part in China, to Urumqi and Turpan, but I enjoyed that trip very much.

8. Cambodia — We found Angkor Wat amazing and wouldn’t mind doing that one more time.

9. Sydney, Australia — We enjoyed our stay there very much. In one of the quiet suburbs, we had an apartment that offered a fantastic water view. We took the convenient ferry into town each day, a fantastic and stress-free way to commute. The museums were very well done (and some were free of charge).

10. Singapore — I really appreciated the orderliness of this place and the feeling of safety. Everyone seemed to be striving to do their best. There wasn’t a huge amount of attractions, and the weather was really hot and humid, but we found it a nice place to stop off and get over jet lag before heading elsewhere.


From Brenda Milum of Reno NV: My husband, George, thinks my recommended destinations are too difficult for beginners. I guess they’re for the more adventurous.

Best for Beginning Travelers

1. Bonaire — Our favorite Caribbean island. Calm and friendly, with great scuba diving and snorkeling.

2. Belize — A small country with several great tourist islands, jungles and some Mayan ruins. A little of everything.

3. Galápagos Islands — Totally unique. You have to see it, yourself.

4. Australia — Too big for one trip. Start with the eastern and southeastern coasts. Tasmania is interesting, too.

5. Southern Africa — For a safari. There are so many wonderful game parks, you will have to do some research. Most travelers to this area go to more than one country, but if you want only one, I would put Botswana first, followed by South Africa and Zimbabwe.

6. Chilean Lake District — Our fascinating bus-boat-bus-boat trip from Chile to Argentina was great.

7. Myanmar — Our favorite country. The people were the friendliest we’ve ever met.

8. Egypt — Including a Nile River cruise. And the pyramids, of course, but you see much more on the river trip.

9. Vietnam — A fascinating country, both south and north.

10. Thailand — A real kingdom, with awesome temples and shrines.

George and I agreed on our favorites. These are listed as most favorite on down. 

Personal Favorites

1. Machu Picchu, Peru — Awesome! Plan to spend at least a whole day there or maybe two days.

2. Angkor Wat, Cambodia — Many of the walls are crumbling, but that adds to the ancient ambiance!

3. Bagan, Myanmar — Take in the sunset from the top of one of the 2,200 temples and pagodas in the Bagan plains.

4. Okavango Delta, Botswana — We think this is the best of all the safari areas.

5. Raja Ampat, Indonesia — For the best diving and snorkeling in the world! This area is pristine and beautiful and loaded with sea creatures.

6. Iguazú Falls/Iguaçu Falls, Argentina/Brazil — Awesome when there is a lot of water flowing but not so good in the dry season.

7. Antarctica — A must for all travelers.

8. New Zealand — As great as Australia but way smaller and easier to see the sights.

9. Mongolia — A jeep ride into the desert was intriguing and wonderful.

10. Pitcairn Island — Now some cruise liners stop there between Easter Island and Tahiti.


Part of Parque Arqueológico de Ollantaytambo in Peru. Photo by Peg Sonnek

From Bernard Sonnek of Easton, MN: I enjoy each destination for what it is; I do not have favorites.

Best for Beginning Travelers

1. Costa Rica — You can visit rainforests. It is very safe and less expensive than many other countries. The time zone is the same as Central Standard Time. 

2. Peru — There’s much more to see than Machu Picchu, such as Parque Arqueológico de Ollantaytambo.

3. Australia — Ayers Rock. Kakadu National Park.

4. Fiji — Cheaper than Hawaii and not as touristy. Has many isolated islands with white-sand beaches. Great for snorkeling. 

5. Myanmar — Inle Lake. Bagan pagodas and temples (a “must see”). Shwedagon Pagoda in Yangon.

6. New Zealand — Combine it with a visit to Australia. Be sure to stay overnight in Doubtful Sound.

7. China — Besides the Great Wall, see the Terracotta Warriors in Xi’an. In Guilin, take a boat ride on the Li River to view the karst (limestone) hills.

8. India — It’s quite a distance to travel for first-time travelers, but there are many tours from which to choose.

9. Argentina — Iguazú National Park (also visit the falls on the Brazil side). Buenos Aires’ La Boca neighborhood. Parque Nacional Los Glaciares (for glaciers).

10. Thailand — Bangkok’s Grand Palace.

Personal Favorites

Fisherman on Inle Lake in Myanmar. Photo by Peg Sonnek

1. Myanmar — I got to see it before Western influence began changing the culture.

2. Cambodia — Siem Reap, Angkor Wat and Angkor Thom.

3. Vietnam — Enjoy the UNESCO World Heritage Site of Ha Long Bay on an overnight Vietnamese boat or Chinese junk, including a tour of Thien Cung Cave (Heavenly Palace Cave) or Sung Sot Cave (Amazing Cave).  

4. Thailand — Bangkok’s Grand Palace. Gem factories. The Kanchanaburi Bridge over the River Kwai.  

5. Tibet — Lhasa is the site of the hilltop Potala Palace. Learn about the culture and traditions of these hardy people.

6. Nepal — In Kathmandu, some of the sites were destroyed in the April 2015 earthquake, after our visit. Eight of the 10 highest peaks in the world are located in Nepal. Fly past Mt. Everest.

7. Laos — Buddhist temples, such as the golden Pha That Luang. The Plain of Jars.

The octagonal Oljaytu Mausoleum in the city of Soltaniyeh, northwestern Iran. Photo by Peg Sonnek

8. China — Great Wall. Terracotta Warriors. Guilin. If possible, visit during the (Chinese calendar) New Year celebration!

9. Iran — These were the friendliest people of any of the places my wife, Peg, and I visited. See the Shiraz area, including the extensive marble ruins of Persepolis, the mausoleum of Öljeitü (Ölziit) at Soltaniyeh and so many UNESCO sites. In Mashhad, the shrine of Imam Reza is [by dimensions] the largest mosque in the world.   
10. India — For Agra’s iconic Taj Mahal and nearby sites and to see the activities along the Ganges in Varanasi (people bathing in the river, cremations and other ceremonies).

There are so many other places we have enjoyed in South America and Central America, it’s difficult to select just 10. We like to get to new destinations before McDonald’s arrives.