A few years ago I was utterly saddened when the news of the destruction on Bamiyan's Buddha statues in Afghanistan came out: I had been longing to visit there one day. But too late now....
Palmyra in Syria, which has already been exposed to greedy looters for a long time, now seems to have fallen into the hands of the ISIS. My hope is nil and I only keep asking myself: "How come I didn't go there in September 2010....?"

The below are ten of the greatest archaeological sites that I've visited and really enjoyed before. They are listed in alphabetical order and I am intentionally excluding Machu Picchu, Taj Mahal and Angkor Wat here because all of them are the most clichéd and most popular tourist attractions these days.

!!!!! Note !!!!!
The entry fees written below are of when I visited the sites, thus not up-to-date.

Ajanta & Ellora, India - アジャンタ & エローラ (インド)
Difficulty to Reach: Relatively Easy
Entry Fees: INR250
Comment: When people generally try to picture the most well-known monument of India, it must be the Taj Mahal, right? I would also do the same because it is admittedly the most iconic as well as the cleanest place in India. Whereas, the cave-temples of Ajanta and Ellora are somehow not world-widely recognized and they can get you with a little yucky smell of moles when stepping inside them. Nevertheless, both Ajanta and Ellora feature such detailed sculptures and paintings, all of which are probably more meticulous than any pieces that you can find at the Taj Mahal. Furthermore, both Ajanta and Ellora were created by carving out of enormous rocks and plateaus while the Taj was simply built on the ground, so we can easily tell which way was much more technically difficult than the other.
Keep in mind that Ajanta and Ellora are not located in the same spot: better to go to Aurungabad first and take a local bus from there for each one of them. Be extra careful with scammers, extreme heat, mad traffic and, of course, food. I never ever got sick while in India though :-)

Borobudur, Indonesia - ボロブドュール (インドネシア)
Difficulty to Reach: Easy
Entry Fees: USD20.00
Comment: This is said to be the world's largest Buddhist monument in the world's most Muslim populated country. Gigantic is the best word to describe it. Yet, once you take a close look, there are so many charming stupas on the upper platforms, some of which actually hold (or hide?) a statue of Buddha inside. Furthermore, its location is breath-taking as you can see from the top level an active/inactive volcano called Merapi blowing some ashes up in the air. I did not know this archaeological site at all until I went to Angkor Wat, Cambodia in 2004 and there I met a couple of backpackers who tipped me off about this mythical architecture lying in the middle of Java.
I highly recommend that you rent a scooter to visit Borobudur; it's so much fun riding a motorbike all around in Indonesia and also in the rest of South East Asia. Oh, Prambanan, located much closer to downtown Jogja, is also worth a visit for you.

Cappadocia, Turkey - カッパドキア (トルコ)
Difficulty to Reach: Easy
Entry Fees: Basically free of charge unless you join a tour
Comment: I was initially tempted to detour Antalya and Pamukkale before going to Goreme, a town of Cappadocia region. However, I decided to head straight to Goreme because I didn't want to squeeze my time in Cappadocia. I was glad that I did so. The town of Goreme is tiny, whereas, Cappadocia region is vast with lots of things to see and lots of trails to hike for you. Hot and dry during the day but it becomes chilly at night: even in summer. If you are fit enough, go hiking on your own and make sure you take plenty of water with you as well as a proper map to track yourself down as the monotonous landscape combined with those remarkable fairy chimneys might actually disorientate you at any time.
Lucky me. My sense of orientation was good enough back then and Goreme eventually led me to Syria afterwards (not by hiking, of course.) I never felt destined for the now war-torn country, but my instinct was telling me to go to Syria no matter what it would take. And I'm glad I did.

Crac des Chevaliers, Syria - クラック・デ・シュバリエ (シリア)
Difficulty to Reach: Very Difficult & Super Risky
Entry Fees: SYP150
Comment: Still today I am feeling extremely fortunate that I visited this spectacular castle/fortress while I was in Syria back in September 2010. It was, of course, before the civil war and even the Arab Spring erupted. Now even the UNESCO is uncertain whether or not this archaeological site still remains intact. Most likely not... Crac des Chevaliers is extraordinary in many ways not only because of its location, but also because of its elegance as a lone witness who has been through all the Middle Eastern conflicts and wars since the medieval period.
Mind you, I did sense a glimpse of political oppression, under which all Syrian people were "seemingly" living in peace, but I never guessed that this country would ever be in such disorder today. I sincerely hope that this castle will be standing still once all those blood-drenched morons are gone. "Only the dead have seen the end of war." as the saying goes... But not this exquisite lady and all those innocent Syrian people, please!

Djenne & The Great Mosque, Mali - ジェンネ & 大モスク (マリ共和国)
Difficulty to Reach: Difficult
Entry Fees: XOF1,000 (Additional charges apply if going inside the mosque.)
Comment: Yes, I did enjoy the 3-day hike with a local guide in Dogon region, but the highlight of my time in Mali was undoubtedly this rather unique mosque in the middle of nowhere. I went to Mali simply and only because I was dying to see it: the world's largest mud-made mosque and I'm sure it's the world's largest mud-made building. Funnily enough, the town of Djenne, as far as I could see, consisted of all mud-made houses anyway. And If you really wanna visit here, I highly recommend that you avoid the (irregular) wet season because the whole town might be eroding then. Hahaha. With that being said, what you should avoid the most is actually the dry season (almost all year round) as Mali is said to be one of the hottest areas on earth. WTF?!
My only regret now is that I did not go up to Timbuktu then due to a growing safety concern caused by an incident in which one German guy was shot dead and two French tourists were kidnapped there by Al Qaeda in broad daylight a couple of months prior to my visit in Mali. Yes! Timbuktu is not legendary, it does exist in the middle of the Sahara. Soooo faraway though.

Easter Island, Chile - イースター島 (チリ)
Difficulty to Reach: Relatively Easy (if you are in South America)
Entry Fees: No fees required but pay for your own transport to the island and while on the island
Comment: In March 2011 you could either fly from Santiago, Chile or from Lima, Peru. Alternatively, taking a regular ferry (a cruise ship?) or a flight from the French Polynesia was also possible. Easter Island, aka Rapa Nui, is super isolated in the Pacific but somehow still a part of Chile. This is the only place in the world where you see these jawbreakingly long-jaw statues. Moreover, the history of this island and of its inhabitants is as very intriguing as the statues.
A pity that it happened to be the worst time of my RTW trip: the terrible news of the Tohoku earthquake and Tsunami came out while I was on this tiny island (and my camera broke down too.) Feeling hopeless and helpless, I even started pondering the demise of everything.... Ironically, Moai statues were the finest example to teach me how we could own things today but might lose them all tomorrow as they were standing voicelessly without their masters. Easter Island is melancholic more than mysterious to me.

Lines of Nazca, Peru - ナスカの地上絵 (ペルー)
Difficulty to Reach: Easy (if you never puke)
Entry Fees: USD110 with additional PEN25 for airport tax
Comment: Machu Picchu should not be the only reason why you visit Peru. There are heaps more ancient civilizations' archaeological sites found or still under excavation in this country. Amongst them the lines of Nazca are absolutely a must for you to visit and if you travel by land from Cuzco or Arequipa to Lima and vice-versa, Nazca should be on your way anyway.
Recent archaeological research apparently came to a near-conclusion of how these enormous drawings could have been made without having to fly above the ground. However, to determine the true purpose of these drawings to the Nazca people still seem to baffle many scientists. Well, like those voiceless Moai statues, the lines of Nazca might be better to remain unsolved forever in my opinion. And I'm also still puzzled today about why I puked so much on that day in Nazca.
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The Ruins of Jesuit Reductions, Paraguay - イエズス会伝道所 (パラグアイ)
Difficulty to Reach: Fairly Difficult
Entry Fees: PGY25,000
Comment: Did you get fed up with all the crowds at Machu Picchu? Here you find serenity. Encanacion is the nearest town to two of the sites: "Santisma Trinidad del Parana" and "Jesus de Tavarangue", both of which only had a handful of visitors: less than 5 including myself. One more ruin-site called "Santos Cosme y Damian" was included in my ticket, but was located quite far from the other two, thus I did not go.... Essentially, whichever one(s) you choose to visit, I can assure you that they will be completely deserted or even ghostly: very few backpackers and tourists try to go to these ruins, and sadly, Paraguay itself isn't the most popular destination for tourists.
Despite the fact that I had spent three weeks in Spain before South America, I had zero knowledge in the Spanish language when I stepped into Paraguay. I didn't even know numbers in Spanish then, but somehow managed to hire local drivers and asked them to take me here and there!

Sigiriya, Sri Lanka - シギリヤ (スリランカ)
Difficulty to Reach: Easy
Entry Fees: USD25.00
Comment: A palace and a citadel built on a huge rock. I mean HUGE! What more would you want as a king in the ancient time? There must have been a decent-size city constructed around this palace too as the remains of shelters, caves and gardens could be seen when I was here. The most impressive archaeological aspect to me was the Lion Gate: the entry point to the palace located on the top floor. Unfortunately, the head-part of the Lion fell off years ago, but I could still tell it wasn't just an ordinary gate that anybody was allowed to walk through but only nobles. There is actually a throne still intact on the top floor, which everybody can sit on today :-)
I went to Sri Lanka just one year after the officials declared the end of their long-lasting brutal civil war. It was definitely a little obscure country to me at that time. So I wasn't feeling very comfortable while travelling there, partly because the central and northern parts of the country were still No-No zones for foreigners and also because I was dragging that shoulder-killer coffin everywhere - a 7ft long surfboard case with two boards in it. Never do that again!

Tikal, Guatemala - ティカル遺跡 (グアテマラ)
Difficulty to Reach: Relatively Easy
Entry Fees: GTQ150
Comment: Mexicans would love to claim that Tikal is in Mexico, but it's not! They just don't wanna admit that even their beloved Chechen Itza could be shadowed by those majestic pyramids of Tikal in northern Guatemala. Elaborately structured and resting in the middle of a dense rainforest, Tikal would welcome you with lots of colourful birds, loud monkeys and big venomous spiders, and possibly scammers too. Temple I and Temple II look absolutely amazing, and there are heaps more temples here, but many of them are yet to be excavated. Like Sigiriya, there must have been a kingdom in this region, but it's now completely abandoned and even today's Mayan descendants don't live here anymore.
Flores, a tiny town in a lake called Lago Petén Itzá, is your best choice to be based in and you take a day-trip from there to Tikal. I remember there was a gruesome massacre in the region in the early 2011 and it backed off many tourists: no wonder it wasn't crowded at all while I was there. But look! Guatemala is generally safe just like all other countries as long as you don't go off the beaten track too much both geographically and socially. You know what I mean?

One question for us now is: "Can we build the same things with the technologies that we have today?"
My answer is: "We might be able to." However, when I pragmatically think about it, the question should be: "Can we ever unite ourselves to carry out such life-long projects?"

Some people claim these magnificent pieces of architecture could only be created by extra-terrestrials or divine intervention. Whatever and whoever created them, our "modern civilization" hasn't inherited their great skills and knowledge at all. Instead, we are so stuck with tiny cellphones, laptops, cars, houses, jobs and money, all of which only help us become more limited in our abilities and imagination than ever before. Are we truly advanced....?


The below are five of the greatest nature reserves that I've visited and thoroughly enjoyed before. They are listed in alphabetical order and I highly recommend that you visit them as soon as you can before the climate-change/global-warming permanently damages them.

!!!!! Note !!!!!
The entry fees written below are of when I visited them, thus not up-to-date.

Antarctic Peninsula, Antarctica - 南極半島(南極)
Difficulty to Reach: Difficult
Entry Fees: No fees required to enter, but the cost greatly varies depending on your means of transport.
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Comment: It's super windy, freezing and intense everywhere at that southernmost of our planet. It's also barely habitable unless you are assigned to stay in one of those mad scientists' labs or you are reincarnated as a penguin in your next life. Therefore, tourists and backpackers alike are only allowed to visit the peninsula during the short summer: usually between late November and early February. Even so, the Drake Passage, an all-time cranky channel between South America and Antarctica, was still tremendously ruthless when our vessel crossed it in January 2011. Moreover, for the preservation of its unique ecosystems and for your own safety you are not supposed to stay overnight on any part of the continent. Instead, you stay on your ship at night and land by a boat called Zodiac in the daytime with rented boots on (not your own shoes). I was never ever bored during my entire expedition as tons of birds, penguins, seals and big fish always kept me entertained. Plus there were so many enigmatic-shaped icebergs and spectacular mountains which just amused me every day.
I gave myself two options when I landed in South America in November 2010: one of them was this expedition and the other was to go to the Galapagos Islands. Both were very pricey and I chose the first (so I still haven't been to the Galapagos.) Although my choice has turned out to be the most expensive expedition ever taken in my life, it was not about money in the end. It was absolutely a priceless experience for me. And now all the fond memories of my time in that planet of Ice will live on inside me till the day I die :-)
If this article is tempting and you really decide to go, you'd better hurry up because the ice is melting :-( A friend of mine actually sailed across the Drake Passage by yacht and successfully reached Antarctic Peninsula a few years ago. Would you like to try it?

Etosha National Park, Namibia - エトーシャ国立公園(ナミビア)
Difficulty to Reach: Relatively Easy
Entry Fees: NAD80.00 per person, plus extra charge for your car and accommodation
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Comment: Etosha is the completely opposite version of Antarctica as there are no ice, no snow and no mountains, but dry bush land with the blazing sun above it at all times. One mutual ground, however, is that there are animals everywhere but very few people or none in sight. Unfortunately, I could not spot any big cats while I was driving around the park. Yet I was very satisfied with a variety of animals Etosha offered: elephants, giraffes, rhinos, jackals, baboons, zebras and many more! Needless to say, this park is not an ordinary park in your city. It's so wild and unimaginably vast! The whole land including the horizon can become seemingly immaterial if you keep staring at them for more than a few minutes: I personally call this natural phenomena "Savannah's Magic". Furthermore, you cannot jog around in this park with your iPhone on, and always make sure to keep your distance from any animals: even a tiny hog. I also recommend that you try not to drive your car after dusk because visibility becomes helplessly low in Namibia's beautifully delusive landscapes. And you don't wanna get lost and become easy meat for those beasts in the middle of nowhere.
Despite having visited other national parks in Africa, I'm writing about Etosha for this article on purpose in order to draw more people's attention to the fact that this is one of the best examples of what Africa is really like: basically, more animals than humans inhabiting. And I'm sure there are many parks similar to or even much wilder and larger than Etosha in other parts of Africa, and they must be as equally good.
While our different political views and religious beliefs still cause so much trouble to ourselves, this part of Africa might be the safest place on earth from now on as there are no religions, no politics and no wars. But only nature dictates us. I miss Africa.

Ha Long Bay, Vietnam - ハロン・ベイ(ベトナム)
Difficulty to Reach: Easy
Entry Fees: No fees required to enter, but the cost varies depending on your tour-boat.
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Comment: A funny thing is that whenever I picture what would be a typically classic countryside of China, it would be more or less what I saw in Ha Long Bay, though this bay is located in Vietnam. It's this unique terrain here: a combination of the tranquil dark-green sea with uncountable limestone pillars, some of which contain deep caves. It seemed slightly mythical or almost haunted because it was foggy and eerily quiet while we were cruising around the bay. Something in the atmosphere even made me wonder if Kung-fu masters were dwelling in some of the limestone caves; do you understand what I mean...? Well... I didn't run into any Yin-yang masters in fact, but Eli, my ex-girlfriend from Colombia, and I met three German women in Cat Bat, one of the starting points for cruising Ha Long Bay, and we ended up taking a private boat together to cross the bay. The tour was USD33.00 for each one of us, which was quite expensive by local standards, but it included delicious Vietnamese lunch. Additionally, I was with four beautiful women on the vessel then. So no complain at all.
As of January 2013, Japanese nationals were able to obtain a tourist visa on arrival for free of charge (maximum stay of 15 days) by presenting a proof of a means for your outbound transport at the immigration on arrival: no e-ticket on a laptop or cellphone was accepted, it had to be printed out. Vietnam was still heavily adhering communism / socialism back then. And I'm sure they still do today. The big brother is watching us, yo!

Iguasu Waterfalls, Brazil - イグアスの滝(ブラジル)
Difficulty to Reach: Easy
Entry Fees: BRL37.00 (Brazil) & ARP85.00 (Argentina)
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Comment: Just letting you know that I've been to Niagara Falls, but still haven't been to Victoria Falls in Southern Africa or Angel Falls in Venezuela. So I'm no expert in waterfalls at all, but I can still tell you confidently that Iguasu Waterfalls are so much larger and more impressive than Niagara Falls (and all other minor waterfalls I've visited before.) It's the wateriness with power and noise in such a gigantic scale that Iguasu stands out amongst the rest. Such turbulent water is generated non-stop and it's cascading through the river in a ferocious way: you might be feeling overwhelmed by her as well as threatened at the same time, especially when you try to step along the walkways built over the Devil's Throat, the core and epic-centre of Iguasu Waterfalls.
One unfortunate thing during my visit was that the water-colour was hardly turquoise, it was actually as murky as your disgustingly sweet Starbucks Frappuchino. And this murkiness was said to be mostly caused by deforestation. Thus, I'm assuming that it is still the same colour or even much murkier today....
Since Iguasu Waterfalls are shared between Brazil and Argentina, you can visit the falls from both sides. What I did back in November 2010 was that I stayed in a small town in Brazil called Foz du Iguasu and from there I did a day-trip to the Brazilian side on my first day and then I went over to the Argentinian side on my second day: the details of how-to are written here.
Whichever one you visit, I emphasize once again, there is so much water running and spraying everywhere in Iguasu, therefore, you will get wet 200%. Moreover, there's no chance for you to take your cellphone out of a pocket or a bag for one single second and you have to bring a water-proof camera with you.

Uyuni Salt Lake Flat, Bolivia - ウユニ塩湖(ボリビア)
Difficulty to Reach: Relatively Easy
Entry Fees: No fees required to enter, but the cost varies depending on your means of transport.
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Comment: Unlike Africa's dog-eat-dog land, there are no angry hippos or hungry crocodiles in this lake. If you are lucky enough, you might spot lovely flamingos here instead. It's the world's largest salt flat and it's also the world's most magically beautiful lake (in my opinion.) This salt flat, locally called Salar de Uyuni, can be mind-twisting with its surreal landscape as her face constantly changes just like your wishy-washy partner keeps changing his/her order at an upmarket restaurant. Depending on the time of the day and the season, Uyuni tricks your eyes with millions of different colours and forms and you will definitely end up taking so many more photos than you thought you might, therefore, having a couple of extra batteries for your camera is recommended. In return for all your tireless efforts in shooting at the lake, you'll need very little time to arrange and edit photos afterwards because Uyuni provides all special effects more than the latest version of your Photoshop can.
This lake is simply beyond all words and expressions we can ever think of: I really mean it because she is so stunning and also because you become speechless by her spell anyway.
An ignorant Esky back in February 2011 became very sick while on my way to Uyuni by ascending from the Chilean coast without going through substantial acclimatization: I seriously thought that I was going to die then. Luckily, I recovered from my acute high-altitude sickness on my 3rd day of the tour and managed to enjoy the magic show of Uyuni just in time. If I have a chance to visit here again, I would spend at least a couple of days to acclimatize myself beforehand and spend a few days in Uyuni for my self-indulgence.

Did you know that Salar de Uyuni is not listed amongst UNESCO World Heritage Sites yet?
It might have something to do with the amount of Lithium in this lake (the largest ever found in history) and the Bolivian government must be seeing it extremely lucrative.... I highly suspect that this is the reason why the lake hasn't been registered as a heritage site by UNESCO. Otherwise, they would no longer be able to dig the salty land for lithium which is now highly valuable for most batteries used in our cellphones, cameras, laptops, hybrid cars, electric cars, etc.
Apparently, some American, Japanese, Korean and French companies are behind this extraction. What was once said to be "eco-friendly" is actually not eco-friendly at all. Sooner than later Uyuni's magic spell will fade out.