Whenever we announce our next destination of travel, 3 predictable questions/comments usually pop up.
1. "Wah, so exotic ah?" (wow, exotic)
2. "Safe meh?" (Is this place safe?)
3. "There got things meh?" (What's interesting there?")
Most Singaporeans have the habit of associating "Exotic" with "Dangerous". Now, is this really true?
To find out if the exotic is always accompanied by danger, let's take a look at a few of the countries we've visited to find out.
Note: Just so we are on the same page; Iceland ISN'T exotic, it's COMMON. (typical, in fact) Oh, and so are Turkey, Egypt, India and South Africa.
Because i'm trying to cut down the length of my articles, let's take a look at JUST ONE "Exotic" country from FOUR different continents: Asia, Oceania, Europe, and Africa. I will review the MOST EXOTIC country in EACH of these these continents according to our travels thus far, breaking it down for readers on how "dangerous" traveling to someplace "exotic" can possibly be.
Travel destinations in Asia don't get weirder than Bangladesh. (with the exception of the "Stan" countries) Sure, there are many self proclaimed "off the beaten track" kind of travellers who visit Myanmar, India, or Cambodia. These people return home with a smug "self-satisfied halo" over their head that says "hey, I've been to India. You should try roughing it out sometime." Yeah, really "exotic" indeed.
Is Bangladesh safe? Well surprisingly, yes. In fact, their "government" really looks out for tourists. Just two weeks before we arrived, there was some bombing of some sort. The Bangladeshi police "insisted" on providing us with a "security detail" (above) as we went about our own sightseeing.
If you're thinking, "what! bombed two weeks earlier considered safe? WTF?" My answer to that is simple; Paris and Brussels were bombed too. You think the tourists there were issued with their own security detail?
Not only did we find Bangladesh to be safe, I even felt like a celebrity there. Locals practically stopped whatever they were doing just to stare at us. A number of the "braver" ones even asked me if I could take a photo with them as a memory.
Stopping for photos at a university in Bangladesh
"Over friendly" kid trying to persuade us to buy a garland of flowers
What's There To See/Do?
"Alright, so you've convinced me that Bangladesh is safe. What's there to do there then?"
Let's just say I would rate Bangladesh among my FAVORITE travel destinations (and that's saying a lot) and it's one country i'd DEFINITELY recommend to a friend. If you'd like to find out on more how amazing a travel destination Bangladesh can possibly be, check out the following two posts;
1. Now "THIS" Is What An Amazing Cruise Experience Should Be Like! (the "TOP" attraction in Bangladesh. So amazing I dedicated a post specially for it)
2. Bangladesh For A Vacation? You Must Be Crazy! (A general overview of my Bangladesh trip with tips, attractions, costs, etc)
Tanna Island, Vanuatu
"What was that again? Vanu-What?"
If you've never heard of Vanuatu or have no idea what it's all about, don't be embarrassed; neither do most other Singaporeans. (when it comes to the Oceania region, all Singaporeans know is New Zealand, Australia or Fiji)
Fun with the native children. They don't use money (barter trade), so travellers try to leave behind some clothes as a "souvenir"
Did I feel unsafe? Well for a split second I did, because being surrounded by huge black guys wielding parang's (even the kids carry them about. See the huge blade behind me?) wasn't exactly what I had in mind when booked my trip. Surprisingly, upon more interaction with the locals, I actually found them to be really friendly. The people of Vanuatu are consistently ranked among the "happiest people in the world". (but Singaporeans would say, "not Bhutan meh? Those happy people?")
My point? If the people are mostly "happy", it's a good bet you're pretty safe.
Eton Beach, Port Vila; Vanutu
What's There To See/Do?
I'd recommend Vanuatu to anyone who wants more out of a beach holiday than the typical Maldives. How different is it from the Maldives you say? Well, lets just say that besides beautiful white sand beaches, Vanuatu also has an easily accessible ACTIVE volcano, underwater caves, tribesman/villages to visit, blue holes to swim in, and also, it's the land of the "ORIGINAL bungee jump."
For more on our amazing Vanuatu experience, check out; Singaporeans Travel To Vanuatu, The Fiery Island Paradise of the South Pacific
View from Samuil's Fortress, Lake Ohrid; Macedonia
Choosing an example of an "exotic destination" in Europe was a tough one. We've been to Albania, Bosnia & Herzegovina, Montenegro, Bulgaria, Romania; in fact, probably at least 75% of Europe. Still, for the purposes of this post, let's use Macedonia as an example.
I'm choosing Macedonia for two reasons:
1. Most Singaporeans either have never heard of it; or even if they have, don't have a clue what it's about or where it is.
2. Albania for example, I would consider more exotic; but i'm lazy, and I already have an existing post on Macedonia. (if it's exotic enough for me, it's exotic enough for Singaporeans)
Flag of Macedonia
So, is Macedonia safe? Yes! Absolutely yes. Not only is it safe, it's cheap. (more on Macedonia here) In fact, I would consider it way safer than Spain, Italy, or France. We walked the streets at night and hung out at the pubs & bars; not once, and i'll say it again, not once did we come across anything which gave us those danger vibes. No street thugs, no pickpockets, no touts, nothing.
Want to experience a feeling of insecurity? Take a walk in Rome, you'll probably end up with one less wallet. Plus, you'll get the "I think I had better avoid crowds in case I get bombed" feeling.
Lots of tourists at the Old Bazaar of Skopje, capital of Macedonia
What's There To See/Do?
Since 2010, the government of Macedonia began a "restructuring project" of it's capital, Skopje, with the aim of attracting more tourists. Ohrid, the most famous lake in the Balkan as always been a major draw among European tourists. All these, have resulted a better tourist infrastructure and more security provide a better experience tourists. After all, the government's objective is to attract more tourists.
Wondering what there is to do in Macedonia to make it worth your while to visit? You really need to check out this post here. Singaporeans Abroad - Exotic Europe Series (1) Macedonia (The Jewel of the Balkans)
Flag of Swaziland
The only country in Africa most Singaporeans are familiar with, is South Africa.
Don't believe me? Take your pick of any Singaporean and ask them if they would fancy an African holiday (if they haven't gone already). I'll bet you my last dollar, that their reply would be "South Africa ah?" Either that, or "Cape Town?" That's about all the Africa Singaporeans know.
So, would Swaziland be considered exotic? Among Singaporeans, you bet! (assuming they have heard of it to begin with) Anyway, I considered Swaziland interesting/exotic enough to make it a part of my First African Solo Trip.
Meeting a Swazi native. I'm the first Singaporean he's ever met!
Probably only one factor would make Swaziland seem unsafe; HIV.
Swaziland has the highest rate of HIV infection in the world. Yes, you're reading it right; the worlds highest. Still that wasn't an issue for me so long as I kept my pants on. It shouldn't be an issue for you unless you've a thing for females larger and heavier than yourself. I don't.
When in Johannesburg, South Africa, the hostels had iron bars on their windows. I was told "walking along the streets after dark wouldn't be advisable." In Swaziland though? No such problem. No iron bars, no street gangs, no pickpockets. Just friendly people genuinely interested as to why an Asian was visiting their country. Oh, and they even played Christian music in their taxi's and public buses.