timor-leste, travel, tourism, coronavirus

Places I Wish I Visited Before the Pandemic Happened

Underrated travel destinations to add to your post-pandemic plans.
June 30, 2020, 10:17am

This summer was going to be my last break in university, and I had big plans. Armed with a yearning for a once-in-a-lifetime adventure and ambitious travels, I wanted to go on a solo trip to a monastery in China for a month-long immersion. Then, after returning from a transformative temple stay, I was going to embark on a few short getaways with friends who were also graduating from school.

But then, the pandemic struck. Beyond my quixotic travel plans, life, as we all know, has entered some kind of strange limbo. As non-essential travelling came to an abrupt halt, the global tourism industry now finds itself reeling from the impact of the coronavirus, with tourist favourites like Japan taking a massive hit.

Stuck at home in Singapore, suspended in uncertainty and overcome with wanderlust, I tried to travel vicariously through articles, Instagram photos, and friends’ stories. I imagined myself walking around cities and islands where I would rather be, and promised I would visit them once I can. Below, are the places that emerged at the top of my post-pandemic travel bucket list, and why you might want to add them to yours too.

Petra, Jordan

One of the "New Seven Wonders of the World," the Lost City of Petra in Jordan needs little introduction. Its world-famous archaeological ruins have been listed as a UNESCO World Heritage Site since 1985. The extraordinary ancient structures, carved into the side of a stone cliff in 200 A.D. by the Nabataeans, drew over one million tourists in 2019. And it’s not hard to see why. Nestled within colossal desert canyons, the site harbours impressive architecture in a warm—almost surreal—colour palette that leaves visitors awe-inspired at the immense history of a once-flourishing empire.

Akrema Beach, Timor-Leste

The youngest country in Asia and one of the least visited travel destinations in the world, Timor-Leste welcomes about 75,000 tourists a year—a far cry from Bali, the Indonesian island located just 1,000 kilometres away, which received nearly 6.3 million tourists in 2019. But Timor-Leste’s beaches are no less breathtaking than Bali’s. One such stunner is Akrema Beach, located about an hour’s speedboat ride away from the country capital Dili, which boasts white sand and clear blue waters. It’s the perfect spot for an afternoon of diving, snorkelling, or simply frolicking—except during the wet season from November to May.

Hakka roundhouses in Fujian Province, China

Listed as UNESCO World Heritage sites in 2008, the tulou (roundhouse) clusters tucked in crop fields around southeast China’s Fujian Province are circular earthen structures built according to feng shui principles. Constructed by the Hakka people between the 15th to 20th centuries, each tulou is a communal hub, a tiny village of sorts for families in the same clan. The enclosed structure centred around an open courtyard facilitates social interaction among its few hundred residents. Now, some tulou offer home stays for tourists seeking the unique experience of living in a historic building while enjoying authentic Hakka cuisine

Baracoa, Cuba

The mention of Cuba brings to mind the dilapidated shophouses of Old Havana, the waves crashing upon the seawall of the iconic Malecón, and Che Guevara’s steely gaze at the Plaza de la Revolución. But Baracoa, the oldest town in the country, is a little-known gem that would enthrall many travellers with its unassuming vitality. Located at the eastern corner of Cuba, Baracoa was built in 1511 but was virtually isolated from the rest of the country until 1965. While Baracoa offers little that resemble the tourist-oriented entertainment of Havana, visitors definitely will not be bored with hikes through lush greenery, visits to historic architecture, or simply soaking in the distinctive laid-back vibes of the countryside.

Ticino, Switzerland

In the southern part of Switzerland, bordering Italy, lies the canton of Ticino. Lined with quaint houses, resplendent country sights, and the alps not too far in the distance, the region is an eclectic mix of Italian chill vibes and Swiss nature sights. Visitors can explore Ticino’s capital Bellinzona, which boasts three medieval castles—all UNESCO World Heritage Sites. Then there’s Corippo, the smallest municipality in Switzerland, which only has 12 residents, and Verzasca Valley, a spot for afternoon hiking and swimming in clear turquoise waters.

Beirut, Lebanon

Lebanon is perhaps more known for its political turmoil than its tourist appeal. Having gone through iterations of wars and civil unrest, its capital Beirut still sees political grievances sporadically erupt into riots. But its population of 6.8 million is learning to thrive amid the assiduous reconstruction efforts, and civil society and the cultural sphere are flourishing. Once known as the “Paris of the Middle East.” Beirut is a former French colony that still exudes unmistakable French influences in the city’s haute couture, quaint cafés, and vibrant arts scene. This is where visitors can enjoy world-famous Lebanese cuisine, and a dazzling nightlife that’s seldom found in other parts of the Middle East.

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