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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 :-)
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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.
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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.
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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!
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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.
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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.
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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!
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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!
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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?
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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....?



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