Over the last 3 years, I have visited 31 different countries, which makes writing this article a difficult task. Nevertheless after much deliberation, I have come up with the top 5 countries that I have visited!
At number 5 on the list is Vietnam. In the summer of 2017, I spent 17 days in Vietnam and started my travels in Hanoi. Before setting off to Asia, I pre-booked through Vietnam Backpackers Hostel trips to Halong Bay and Sapa. I also booked a weeks long adventure down the coast of Vietnam called the Buffalo Run.
Being able to spend a couple of days on your own private island at Castaway was such an unreal experience. Arriving on the island with a hundred different people, you get to do pretty much whatever you want. Drinking all day, booze cruise, kayaking, wake boarding, rock climbing and much more! Knowing you’re doing all of this in one of the world’s natural wonders definitely makes you savour every moment more.
Having a nights recovery, we set off on a 6 hour sleeper coach to Sapa. Spending a night out a luxury hotel we rented bikes and rode around the Sapa mountains. Bar a scary moment when I fell off my bike, I think I enjoyed Sapa more than Ha Long Bay. Being able to see some incredible views with the mountain ranges silhouetting in the background was awesome. The highlight of Sapa without doubt was the 2 day trek through the mountains, which included a home stay.
After returning back to Hanoi, we set off on our week-long adventure down to the south of Vietnam. Meeting people from all over the world unquestionably made the whole experience better. Probably the most enjoyable part of the Buffalo Run was driving the Hai Van Pass in ex-Vietnam War army jeeps. Being able to do this is something that I will never forget and would recommend anyone who visits Vietnam to do!
Number 4 on my list is Thailand. My first experience to Thailand was after I visited Vietnam. Originally starting in the Thai Islands + Krabi, I can only describe these places as absolutely mad. If partying and drinking are your things then look no further than Koh Phi Phi. Although personally, Koh Tao is my favourite Island out of the four we visited, all the islands offer their own unique experience. Unfortunately, we messed up and missed the full moon party at Koh Phangan which definitely left a sour taste.
Why Koh Tao was my favourite island is because I loved diving so much. We originally just did a fun dive and then left Koh Tao, however, as Haydn and I enjoyed the fun dive so much we came back to the island after one day to get our open water licenses. I also liked how chill the island seemed – probably because everyone just wanted to dive or chill with a beer.
We then moved onto Krabi and continued partying before moving onto Bangkok and then the north of Thailand. The north of Thailand is epic and I really do want to explore this region more. So far, I have only visited Chiang Mai and Pai but both places are just incredible! I have since been back to Thailand another 5 times and spent around 8 months of my life there. I recently visited Ayutthaya, the ancient capital of Thailand as well as Phuket and both places are just so different from each other but also sums up Thailand so well. I like that Thailand offers the traditional Thai style in some places, but then in other places, you’re having mad parties with everyone from around the world.
This one may surprise a lot of people, but Guatemala is definitely in the top 3 places that I have visited. Spending only around a week here we had to rush many things, but I could have easily spent months travelling this country. This country is just epic and has SO much to offer!
Prior to travelling to Guatemala, we read and were told all the scare stories about muggings, shootings and killings. However, after enduring a difficult trip in India we did feel ready for what we expected to see. Nevertheless, these scare stories could not have been further from the truth! What I will say is that Guatemala does have a high crime rate so do be careful but go open-minded!
After landing in Guat City we took a uber to Antigua which is an old colonial town. What I loved about Antigua was just the chillness of the place. We visited the markets, chilled by our hostels pool and ate a lot of traditional Guatemalan food! One awesome thing you can do from Antigua is climb Acatenango (Volcano) where you get to camp overnight on an active volcano! This was definitely one of many highlights from Guatemala.
From Antigua we took a 12 hour overnight coach ride to Tikal, where we went and saw the ancient Mayan ruins. Tikal again has a very travellers feel to it and if that’s what you like then Tikal is perfect. What also made my experience of Tikal so good was that we met some people that we spent a couple of days with that we really got on with! It is also a good gateway to go and visit Semuc Champey (although 7 hours away) it’s worth the long uncomfortable minibus drive.
Semuc Champey is just one of the must see places of Guatemala in my opinion. It’s just an incredible place! Although there are only two hostels in Semuc Champey, we opted for the one that was in the middle of the jungle and we definitely made the right choice! Sleeping in the middle of the Guatemalan jungle was an interesting experience, as well as an enjoyable one. During our time in Semuc Champey, we visited the national park, jumped off a 20m Waterfall and went caving. Like Antigua, I really wish we had more time to just relax in Semuc Champey because it was just one of those places where you sat back and just thought about how awesome life is.
Unfortunately, as we only had a week by being on such a tight schedule, we couldn’t do everything that we would have wanted to do in Guatemala. Lake Atitlan is one such place that I really did want to visit, however it does give me a great excuse to plan another trip back!
Iceland is number 2 on my list. Iceland was probably my first out-and-out nature trip and its got me hooked to do more of this kind of travelling. Anyone who has been to Iceland can vouch for the spectacular geography on show. As we didn’t have much time in Iceland due to university and money, we really tried to cram everything in a small time frame. This meant sometimes going to sleep at 1/2am and waking up at 6/7am.
One of the highlights of the Iceland trip was visiting Pingvellir National Park. Here we decided to go snorkelling through the North Atlantic Ridge (which is the separation between the North American plate and the Eurasian plate). You also have the chance to scuba dive here if you wish but unfortunately we could not do that as we didn’t have our license. Oh and also make sure your dry suit is zipped up properly (Unlike Max), or you’ll feel 2 c water rushing in!
Gullfoss is another cool area that we visited. One of the best natural things that I have experienced is definitely seeing a Geyser erupt! Although having to wait every 10 minutes to see it explode in the freezing cold isn’t that nice, the eruption is worth the wait. Gullfoss also has a series of some pretty awesome waterfalls that you can check out after the Geysers.
From here we went to a place that we hadn’t heard much about, Hraunfossar. We did take a bit of risk driving here because it was about 2-3 hours away from Reykjavik which is where we were basing ourselves. However, I am so glad that we took the risk because the waterfalls were just stunning and arguably still the best waterfalls that I have seen. What also made the whole region so good was the huge Volcano in the background, as well as the breathtaking scenery we saw on the drive.
Iceland also gave me the chance to tick 2 items off my bucket list: The Blue Lagoon, and the Northern Lights. As you can imagine being able to do both of these things was just immense! The Blue Lagoon, although expensive, was just such a cool experience and is 100% better than what you see on Facebook. Probably THE highlight of the trip though was being able to see the Northern Lights. Not only did we get to see them but we were able to get some amazing pictures of them dancing around!
We also had the opportunity to explore the southern coast of Iceland which is part of the Iceland ring road. Black Sand Beach and Fjaoragljufu are probably my favourites things that we saw on the south coast.
Although I had an amazing time in Iceland, and managed to tick 2 items off my bucket list, I simply didn’t spend enough time here and also had a really disappointing day whilst whale watching, that for now, Iceland cannot be the best place that I have visited.
So the big finale.. What’s my number one place I have visited? Have you guessed yet? Well… It’s Norway! The plan was to travel from the south to the north and back down to Oslo again in just 8 days by car. A total of 5,500km! Although extremely ambitious the fact we got to do everything that we planned I think only made the trip even better. Even the immigration officer told us “Good luck!” Despite Oslo being underwhelming, the rest of the trip was just phenomenal and one that I would unquestionably do all over again.
For me the trip really started when we got to Stavanger, where we took a ferry over to Tou. Here, we completed the Pedersgata Hike which was a magical experience. We were walking through the middle of the forest in the mountains, when it started to snow! Although it’s hard to convey how cool this was, it’s absolutely one of the best hikes I’ve ever done. On our second day in Stavanger (also our last) we drove to Frafjord, which is a huge fjord which is unbelievably picturesque. This is one of the reasons which makes Norway just such a good place to see, because you constantly stop and get out of the car to take a photo as the scenery is just spectacular.
From here we visited a waterfall called Manafossen, which was a massive waterfall where you just stood and marvelled at the beauty around you. Manafossen is undoubtedly one of the best waterfalls that I have seen! We then visited a place called Gloppedalsura which has stunning rock formations surrounded by stunning mountains and lakes on either side. Honestly, Stavanger and the surrounding areas are just simply beautiful and if you can only spare a couple of days then Stavanger isn’t a bad option! Weirdly enough, we only came to Stavanger because Haydn had to get a later flight than us.. Luckily!
After picking up Haydn, we drove to Bergen where again, we only spent a day exploring the area. Although this doesn’t seem much time I do think that this is enough time in Bergen because in spite of Bergen being aesthetically pleasing, there wasn’t that much to do here. We did climb up a mountain called Ulriken and got to Montana point which did give some awesome views of the city. Personally, I do think this is the best thing you can do in Bergen as the “World’s famous fish market” didn’t really seem like a market.
The second part of our trip is where I think it got even better but also more challenging! We began by leaving Bergen and driving for 7-hours to Geirangerfjord. After a bit of faffing about, we took a ferry through the middle of the fjord which offered some breathtaking scenery. The fjord is simply a must see place if you’re travelling Norway. It’s one of the places where you constantly are stopping the car at every single view-point to take a picture.
The next part was where it got really tough. We had a 21-hour journey up to Lofoten Island which in hindsight was probably a little stupid. However, completely worth it! Despite the fact that we didn’t really get to see much of Lofoten Island and probably could have spent 3 or 4 days here, I’m still so glad that we at least got the chance to see it! As we didn’t have much time, and we still had to get to Tromso and then all the way back down to Oslo in the next 2 days, we decided to go and see one of its best fjords (Trollfjord). As we were now in the Arctic circle, there were only 4 or 5 hours of daylight here so the skyline was permanently amazing! The colours that bounced of the lakes, mountains and snow just made the place unbelievably stunning.
Unfortunately, we had to leave and plough on for another 6 hours to Tromso, which is weirdly one of my favourite cities. Although we only spent about 15 hours here, I just really liked the chill, beautiful look the city gave you. We originally hoped we would be lucky enough to see the northern lights again. However, we were not so lucky and that did put us down a little. Nevertheless, we decided that on our last proper day travelling we should do something awesome to top the trip off. We contemplated whale watching but after a disappointing time in doing this in Iceland, there were no guarantees that we would see one here. Therefore, we decided to pay £180, yes… £180.. To husky sledge!! (Probably one of the best activities I have ever done even for the price). As someone who owns a dog, being able to spend 3 hours with the dogs and also be able to go sledging with the sun setting was just a unique experience. This absolutely ended the trip on a huge high and is why Norway is my favourite place that I have visited. Although some of you maybe gawking at the price, honestly, it’s just such an incredible activity, and you’re getting to do it with amazing scenery in the Arctic circle. For me you couldn’t really ask for anything more!
The final thing for me which really made this trip my best, is probably the fact that we had complete freedom to go to any place and to leave any place any time that we wanted. Although we had our outbound flight booked already due to university commitments, we only had a rough itinerary of places that we researched were good to see. This kind of freedom allowed us to really get to see the very best of Norway in the little time that we had, and I’m so glad that we went!
Countries I have visited 2015-2018.