**Note, there's nothing wrong with Prague or Delhi. Both are wonderful cities in their own right. (I really enjoyed Prague) But no, they aren't exotic, so let's just set the record straight. Singaporeans have this weird idea that anything to do with India or Eastern Europe automatically means it's exotic. No they aren't. And for those of you smart Alec's who claim "Exotic-ness" is in the eye of the beholder? If you're eye rates Paris as more exotic than Iraq, you really need to get your eye's checked.**
Most (not all) of us Singaporeans are ignorant trend followers (who think we are trend setters) when it comes to traveling. We prefer to "believe" we are well traveled; ignoring the fact that if you were to ask a random Singaporean to name 10 cities in Eastern Europe, there's a pretty good chance he'd be lost after naming just Budapest, Prague, and perhaps Dubrovnik.
Right now, Prague (lovely city) and say Delhi (ooh India! Exotic!) are probably the benchmark Singaporeans use to determine if a destination is considered exotic. Still for the sake of educating Singaporeans on what an exotic destination truly is, let's take a look at 18 cities which would truly be considered "Exotic, Safe, Affordable, but yet Touristy enough" for a typical Singaporean to consider.
What to do/see: Wildlife spotting (national park prices are lower than in S.Africa), hiking, tribal village visits.
If you discount the fact that Swaziland has the world's greatest number of HIV infected people, you'll find it to be a really cool country.
Think of Manzini as some sort of a Raffles Place equivalent. There's nothing much to do in Raffles Place except perhaps a beer overlooking the Singapore skyline. More than that, Raffles Place is the gateway to Sentosa, Orchard Road, East Coast, practically the center of most of our local attractions.
Manzini is the Central Business District of Swaziland. Being among the smallest's of African countries, you can get ALMOST a full fledged African experience here.
Wildlife Spotting? Check. Hiking or Camping in the African Wilderness? Check. Visiting tribal African villages and soaking in their customs? Check. Oh yes, and most tours start from here. The launch pad for your next African Adventure
The only reason Singaporeans wouldn't check out Swaziland? Is because it isn't South Africa........... (yes, dumb reason I know. That's just how Singaporeans are)
For more on Swaziland, check out: 11 Days Luxury Travel In Africa @2k SGD Nett! (Including Airtickets)
What to do/see: Tibetan culture, gorgeous national parks, hot springs
I'm sure you've heard the term "Shangri-La" being thrown about sometime or other. Heck, you've probably seen the international hotel chain Shangri-La.
So what is this Shangri-La?
The term Shangri-La has become synonymous with any earthly paradise; commonly used to describe "heaven on earth". Does the real Shangri-La live up to it's expectations? In our book, yes.
Shangri-La is probably the closest you can get "discovering the meaning of life" without actually mediating in a Tibetan Monastery. Discover it's untouched beauty and soak away your troubles in its hot springs. Don't just stay in the hotel chain; go uncover the real "Shangri-La"
For more on Shangri-La, check out: Shangri-la, Dali, Li Jiang & Kunming. Plan a "COMFORTABLE" Holiday To China Under $31 a Day!
3. Sarajevo, Bosnia & Herzegovina
What to do/see: Museums, war tunnels, graves, bullet riddled buildings
Alright, i'll admit it. You'll need to be a history buff to truly appreciate Sarajevo.
There is no gorgeous mountain range. No magnificent architecture. No bragging rights when you return home. (because Singaporeans don't know any cities that aren't Paris, Bangkok or Seoul)
What Sarejevo has is history. Museums, massive graveyards and bullet riddled buildings still standing since the 1992 Bosnian War. And yes, people live in this bullet riddled, half bombed out city. This communist remnant of a city might be a little depressing to visit just on its own if you aren't a history person.
Visit Sarajevo together with it's touristy more welcoming neighbor Mostar, (a few hours train ride away) and you'll a holiday unlike any you've had before.
For more on Bosnia, checkout: Singaporeans Abroad - Exotic Europe Series (3) Bosnia & Herzegovina - Mostar
4. Chefchaouen, Morocco
What to do/see: Smoke hash at dirt cheap prices, get lost in the blue maze, take lots of beautiful pictures, trekking
Some people call it the "Santorini of Africa", and truth be told, an entire city decked out in Blue & White? It's not difficult to understand why. (without the blue sea of course)
Dirt cheap prices, unbelievable photos for your camera (blue & white walls show up beautifully on that SLR of yours) locals selling hash (cannabis) at every corner; Chefchaouen offers a 360 degree experience as opposed to your typical Eiffel Tower selfie kind of European vacation.
Singaporeans claim they are well traveled, that they've visited many "old towns". Nothing, however is as pleasant an experience is strolling through these narrow blue streets, sampling Moroccan delights and slipping mint tea.
For more on Chefchaouen, checkout: Singaporeans Abroad - African Adventure Series (1.3) Chefchaouen - Africa's Answer To Santorini
5. Brasov, Romania
What to do/see: Hear about vampire legends, visit magnificent castles, trek the beautiful Transylvanian landscape
The Vampire Capital of the world; or so travel marketers would have you believe.
Brasov is charming old city kind of "Van Helsing" like. Walk the streets and hear the locals tell you "stories" of how Vampires got associated with Romania. After listening to their tales, it's time to visit the many castles. You've seen castles in England, in Germany, in many parts of Europe. You haven't visited those in Romania. Brasov is home to some of the worlds most magnificent castles; and gimmicky castles as well. Dracula's castle anybody?
Castles and Vampires aside, Transylvania (where Brasov is) is the main highlight. The landscape is made up of snow mountains and towering trees; kind of Twilight like.
Oh, and if you're in to the Gothic kind of style, this is a city you definitely should visit
For more on Romania, checkout: Singaporeans Abroad - Exotic Europe Series (4) Romania - Home of Dracula & his Vampire Brethren
6. Mellieha, Malta
What to do/see: Lovely beaches, caves, blowholes, the film set of the 1980s Popeye movie
I'm Popeye the Sailor Man,
I'm Popeye the Sailor Man.
I'm strong to the finich, Cause I eats me spinach.
I'm Popeye the Sailor Man.
If your reading this and you don't know Popeye, you must be really really young.
Mellieha is the film set of the 1980s Popeye movie; indeed, it's with it's colorful walls and blue harbour, it really seems like it was cut right out of a comic book. If you're not in to Popeye, no worries. Blue water, lovely beaches, and caves to explore should make your stay in Mellieha pleasant at the very least.
Still, if you did grow up with Popeye like I did, there's no reason for you to give this a miss. Unless of course your a Singaporean. (whose first choice is always Paris. Or Venice)
7. Semonkong, Lesotho
What to do/see: Waterfall abseiling, horse riding, camping, fishing, mountain biking African BBQs
Adrenaline junkies look out! Next stop, Semongkong Town.
Abseil down a waterfall, ride a horse along the edge of a cliff, fish in an African river, and best of all, enjoy an BBQ under the African night sky.
Lesotho is also known as the "Kingdom in the Sky". It is the highest country in the world (Nepal has the worlds highest mountain) with the lowest point of this country higher than 1000m above sea level.
If your clique of friends are the adventure sort, you don't want to miss this town out. Semonkong represents a true taste of Africa without the crime (unlike S.Africa).
For more on Swaziland, check out: 11 Days Luxury Travel In Africa @2k SGD Nett! (Including Airtickets)
8. Bled, Slovenia
What to do/see: Boat rowing, castles, gorges, and tourists!
If you've every seen pictures of Bled, they almost always feature a small island in the middle of a huge lake.
Yes, that's Bled. And that's what people from all over the world come to Slovenia to see. Russian Millionaires, loud mouth rich Chinese brats living of their parents money are the guys who contribute the most revenue to this tiny city. So much so that it costs an arm and a leg to get anything done in this city. "To the church in the center of the lake sir? That will be 12 Euros".
Costs aside, Bled is beautiful city. Rent a boat and go for a romantic row in the lake with the Julian Alps as your backdrop. Visit the church in the lake and get ripped off. Have dinner at Bled Castle and watch the Sunset over the lake. Or perhaps book a nice SPA & Massage as you soak up the beauty of Lake Bled.
Most of, remember to draw a little more cash from the ATM, you'll need it.
For more on Slovenia, checkout: 27 Days In Europe "COMFORTABLY" Under 2.8k SGD or 1.8k Euros! (Including Airtickets)
9. Vilnius, Lithuania
What to do/see: Churches, Crosses, communist style atmosphere, KGB museum
You're a Catholic? Yes I know, you've visited the Vatican. Now why the heck haven't you visited Lithuania?
Vilnius is the capital of Lithuania, home of the Hill of Crosses, Europe's top pilgrimage site among Catholics. Every few steps I took, I saw a church. To my left, a church. To my right, another church. I know you pray guys, this time though, just come to Vilnius to do it.
If you're a devout Catholic, communist fanboy, or simply an explorer (like me), it's time to make your way here. Vilnius is an interesting capital, (i'm interested in WWII history) expenses costs almost nothing, (you can live like a king on 10 Euros a day) and it makes you feel you've crossed into the "other side" of the world.
Vilnius is a great city to just sit down, and observe a side of Europe most Singaporeans will never get to see. It's a Europe where there are no annoying tourists to photobomb you and no touts to pester you to take up tours. And yes, you get that "communist" rather than tourist vibe about you.
The Hill of Crosses is a particular highlight, a few hours train ride away from Vilnius.
For more on Lithuania, checkout: The Hill Of Crosses - Eerie Or Holy? You Be The Judge & 12 Days Finland & The Baltics @2.5k SGD Nett! (Including Airtickets)
10. Sanaa, Yemen
What to do/see: Al-Qaeda terrorists, people watching and culture observing, exploring the old city
Crazy place to visit I know, unless you your idea of a holiday is wearing an orange jumpsuit and ending up in a body-bag.
The Al-Qaeda network aside however, Sanaa is a really interesting city. It'd be lovely to sit down in a coffee shop, or on a roof terrace, and watch the world go by. I mean, just look at the picture; wow. I don't know about you, but getting lost is a fun part of traveling, and what's better than wandering about the streets of this old city? (I'm assuming you don't start flashing your Singapore passport and getting yourself kidnapped)
Alright, I shall not write much about this city. It's not like Singaporeans will be flying here anytime soon even if I were to blog that the streets of of Sanaa are paved with gold.
11. Krakow, Poland
What to do/see: UNESCO Heritage Old Town, Skiing, Auschwitz Concentration Camp, Salt Mines, Museums, Beer!
Krakow is home to one of the most beautiful European old towns I've ever seen. (trust me, I've seen way more old towns than most) Unlike most old towns with narrow cobbled paths making it difficult to navigate your way about, the old town of Krakow is huge, the atmosphere rich, and it makes you absolutely feel you're on vacation.
From Krakow, visiting the Auschwitz Concentration Camp is the top "must do". History and museum visits are part of the Krakow experience. What we found really fascinating was exploring the underground salt mines.
There's something for everyone in Krakow. Even skiing! And did I mention the beer is really great? And if you really must see Singaporeans on your vacation, Prague is just an overnight train away.
For more on Poland, checkout: Impossible! Just 800 SGD? For 19 Days in Europe?\
12. Shkoder, Albania
What to do/see: Bike riding, lake/river exploring, castles, trekking the Albanian Alps
Shkoder? Where the hell's that? Albania? Isn't that the country of kidnappers I watched in the Liam Neeson movie "Taken"?
If you're a ruins/castle kind of guy, Shkoder might be for you. Shkoder is the bike capital of Albania. (mainly because it's flat) Rent a bike, cycle to the lake, (the largest in the Balkans) cycle to the many ruins, and when your bored of cycling, it's time for camping; Shkoder is the gateway to the Albanian Alps.
Most of all, visit Shkoder or Albania for that matter for it's untouched raw feel about the country. This is probably the LEAST visited country in Europe. More than just what you can do, it's how it makes you feel just being there.
The question is; are you open minded enough to make Albania your next travel destination? Or are you just a Sheep?
13. Calcutta, India
What to do/see: Riding the yellow taxi, lose yourself in the streets, British architecture, watch an Indian football match
Whenever people talk about India, it's always the Taj Mahal; and getting diarrhea/food poisoning. Still, as magnificent as the Taj Mahal is, India is way more than that (I won't go into the wonders of India in this post).
When it comes to Indian cities, Kolkata is an often overlooked city which is a real pity. Once a colony of Britain, Kolkata is a mix of British architecture fused with the Indian culture, resulting in this city offering a rather interesting experience.
The trademark of Kolkata though, is the Yellow "London" Taxi. I made that the first form of transport I tried in India. In fact, it was once so popular, a song "Calcutta" was made up from it; by Dr. Bombay.
Think yourself a passionate football fan? You need to watch a match in this city. Kolkata is home to some of the top Indian football teams; watching an Indian football match at a stadium in Kolkata makes a way more interesting experience than our own S'League football match.
14. Marrakesh, Morocco
What to do/see: Get scrubbed and massage by strangers in a hammam, lose yourself in the Moroccan maze of shops and alleyways, book yourself a desert tour to explore the Sahara.
Marrakesh is by far the most touristy city in Morocco. Now, i'm not a fan of touristy stuff, but Marrakesh? This city is an absolute feast for the senses. I could just sit in the main square, sip a 0.40c Euro orange juice and watch the world go by for hours.
In Marrakesh, getting lost is actually fun. Taking 2 hours to navigate a 10min route is part of the experience. When I watched contestants selling boiled snails in the Marrakesh Market Square on the Amazing Race, I knew I had to be here. Snake charmers in the day, Moroccan BBQs in the night.
Did I mention the fun of getting scrubbed by a stranger in a hammam? Oh, and no Moroccan experience is complete without the Sahara. Marrakesh is the easiest place to organize your Sahara Desert camping experience.
For more on Morocco, checkout: Singaporeans Abroad - African Adventure Series (1.1) Marrkech, Morocco - Dizzying souks, smelly tanneries, & Jemaa el-Fnaa & 18 Days Africa & Europe Under 2.2k SGD Nett! (Including Airtickets)
15. Kotor, Montenegro
What to do/see: Climb the city fortifications, explore the UNESCO Heritage Old Town, enjoy a cruise from the bay.
The Bay of Kotor offers a pleasant touristy experience in the otherwise un-touristy (I made up this word) country of Montenegro.
The Old Town is a true UNESCO standard, (nothing like the "UNESCO" old town in Malacca) extremely well preserved, and best of all? It is free. Climb the city fortifications and you'll be rewarded with awesome views of the Bay of Kotor.
For more on Montenegro, checkout: 27 Days In Europe "COMFORTABLY" Under 2.8k SGD or 1.8k Euros! (Including Airtickets)
16. Ohrid, Macedonia
What to do/see: National Parks, churches, ruins, and of course, the huge lake!
Lake Ohrid is truly the "Jewel of the Balkan Peninsula". It's so beautiful, it's worth 2 full days just lazying by the Lakeside, a wine in hand.
You've probably heard of Alexander the Great. What you didn't know, is that he was the King of Macedonia, home of Lake Ohrid. If you'd like to read/view more about the beauty of Macedonia, you'll really want to check out this post
For more on Macedonia, checkout: Singaporeans Abroad - Exotic Europe Series (1) Macedonia (The Jewel of the Balkans)
17. Dhaka, Bangladesh
What to do/see: Take a river cruise, be followed by curious locals, wander about the markets and harbor for a culture overload.
Yes, I know. Dhaka is the capital of Bangladesh, no one wants to visit Bangladesh, recommending it is a waste of space.
Believe it or not, Dhaka/Bangladesh is by far the MOST fascinating country I've visited in Asia. In no other country would I ever be keen to hang around places like the harbor or the marketplace. Dhaka surprised me; I was like, "wow, this is really really cool!"
The main highlight of Dhaka is catching a river cruise on a 100 year old paddle steamer. It departs daily from Dhaka and it's the closest you'll ever get to an Amazon River experience. Dhaka is so fascinating, even taking a "tuk tuk" is an experience of it's own.
Don't understand why I love Bangladesh so much? Check these posts out!
For more on Bangladesh, checkout: Bangladesh For A Vacation? You Must Be Crazy & Now "THIS" Is What An Amazing Cruise Experience Should Be Like!
18. Plovdiv, Bulgaria
What to do/see: explore ruins, watch a symphony, visit monasteries
Do you enjoy watching symphonies? I know I do. What makes this experience all the more amazing, is watching a symphony held in the ruins of a Colosseum. Somehow, it just amplifies the experience.
Musicals aside, a truly interesting thing about Plovdiv is the mix of new and ancient architecture. New buildings are built on top of existing ruins; why, even ruins can be turned into a restaurant!
For more infomation on Bulgaria, checkout: Singaporeans Abroad - Exotic Europe Series (2.1) Bulgaria - Plovdiv & Singaporeans Abroad - Exotic Europe Series (2.2) Bulgaria - Sofia, Rila & The Rest