In 2018 our journalists travelled across six continents. We asked them to reveal their best trip taken over the last year and here’s the results.
Looking for tigers in the Sunderbans, West Bengal
Sometimes when you go on a journey to find something, the search can be just as rewarding as the ultimate find. This was the case when I ventured out into the West Bengali Sunderbans in the hope of spotting the elusive tiger.
I boarded the “Jungle Boat” as the sun rose one morning and it was a little surreal – the silence, the early morning nip in the air, the orange hues of the sun, now high in the sky, beginning to evaporate the remnant greys of the diminishing night – it was exciting.
The boat made its way slowly, stealthily into the serenity of river passing lush mangroves. We saw troops of monkeys frolicking by the river edge while egrets wondered nonchalantly amid them. Throughout the day all sorts of birds came out to loiter on the mudflaps, flying overhead or were perched on branches. Colourful Kingfishers stood out against the greens and browns of the vegetation.
There was excitement when our guide spotted tiger footprints in the silt. We followed them but these led back into the mangroves where no human is allowed to tread.
Wild boar turned up every now and again munching on something or other and deer looking on in surprise. Fishing boats and those carrying hay stacks passed by as if it was just another day in the office.
But the headliner stayed evasive and even when spotting a tiger remains a promise it was a superb day out on the river.
Grindelwald, Jungfrau Region, Switzerland
This summer I travelled to Grindelwald, an alpine resort in the Bernese Alps of Switzerland. It is a little known gem for outdoor enthusiasts during the summer months, with the added bonus of cosy bars and restaurants that serve up traditional fare such as fondue and schnitzel. The village is picturesque but it is the surrounding snow-topped mountains that, for me, set it apart as a truly stunning destination.
On my first day there I took the gondola to Mannlichen, which looks over the Lauterbrunnen valley. I enjoyed whizzing down the mountain on a summer gemel – a three-wheeled gravity powered cart that takes you on a winding path past cheerful cows and acres of greenery. Another popular area is Grindelwald First, a minor summit that offers loads of fun activities including mountain carting, zip lines and a vertigo-inducing cliff walk.
The highlight of my trip was my visit to the Grindelwald Glacier Canyon, the home of the Interlaken Canyon Swing. This involves harnessing up and jumping off the edge of vertical rock face and falling 70m towards the roaring Lütschine River. I travelled at speeds of almost 120kph (70mph) and after catching my breath, took great pleasure in marvelling at the amazing scenery as I swung back and forth above the river. This was by the far the scariest thing I have every done and I loved every second of it.
For an intrepid traveller, like myself, the challenge is always to get to new places. Countries that were once part of the Soviet Union are now opening up to tourism and Moldova is one of the poorest in Europe. The capital, Chisinau, suffered a devastating earthquake in 1940 and what was left was flattened by fighting in WW2. It was rebuilt by the Soviets in classic Stalinist style, dark crumbling concrete blocks of flats and glum people.
To get a real insight into what life was like during the Soviet period, I take a day trip to Tiraspol in Transnistria, originally part of Moldova, but now a renegade state, created after a brief civil war in 1992, when the people decided to stay with Russia. It’s known as “the last remaining Stalinist dictatorship in Europe”.
At the border crossing, officious soldiers in Russian uniforms, hand out day passes, written in Cyrillic, and the city feels like a Soviet theme park. There’s a huge Lenin statue outside the parliament building and opposite a T-34 tank stands proudly guarding a monument to those killed in WW2. Empty streets border leafy squares with well-tended flower beds, and first impressions are that nobody steps out of line.
In the market, however, the atmosphere couldn’t be more different. The stalls are piled high with walnuts and pickled vegetables and in one corner there’s a band playing folk music. I get closer and suddenly am sucked into the crowd, someone offers me a glass of vodka and I’m given a dancing partner. Now I understand why the Soviet Union lasted as long as it did.
Botswana’s Gomoti Plains
It takes a lot to make me cry, but the first time I came face to face with a rhino in the wild, tears ran down my cheeks. Botswana’s Gomoti Plains is a safe haven; Rhinos Without Borders relocates at-risk rhino here from South Africa. They’ve settled in well to their new home in this lush part of the Okavango Delta, and an up close encounter is the unforgettable highlight of any game drive.
I stayed at Gomoti Plains Camp, where the luxurious safari tents are spread out along the bank of a water channel. Giraffe amble by in the mornings, and a kudu might well block your way to breakfast. The grunting of hippo is a surprisingly alluring soundtrack, and every now and then the quiet of the wilderness is broken by a lion’s roar.
It is possible to walk, drive, and explore the channels by mokoro canoe. Local guide Motte has an encyclopaedic knowledge of natural history, a warm personality, and an acute sense of when and where the best wildlife sightings will occur. He quickly becomes in equal part teacher and friend.
Batad Rice Terraces in the Northern Philippines
This year I’ve visited multiple places twice, including Russia, Taiwan and the Philippines whilst living in Hong Kong, so it’s a hard choice. I would say, visiting Batad Rice Terraces in the Northern Philippines has been my favourite. I’ve had the opportunity to explore lots of Hong Kong’s wilderness as well as experience the FIFA World Cup in Russia, but Batad simply felt like one of my best experiences ever. Looking down at the rows of highly-saturated green rice terraces really made me feel in the moment.
Mass tourism hasn’t hit the north of the Philippines yet because of the transport options to get there, so it’s still a place under the influence of who manages it best, the locals. The area feels protected and quite surreal, it’s like the setting of a myth or fairy tale. Batad Rice Terraces is actually up there with being one of my favourite experiences ever and it’s no wonder it gets the nickname the ‘Eighth Wonder of the World’.