A day in Almaty

Almaty is described by the Lonely Planet as being the highlight of Central Asia – I certainly wouldn’t go that far, mainly because the city itself is just a bit too former-Soviet-concrete and without enough wow factor to justify that, but more than anything there are some great experiences around the rest of Central Asia

 

That being said though, there are some things that are definitely worth doing and its nice to walk through some of the streets which feel more European in style and vibe than Asian.  I’ll only provide a short entry here as, of the two times I’ve been, one was quite some time ago (2008) and the other a bit of a lash / partying blur.  I’d suggest though giving yourself a full day and checking out:

 

  • The picture perfect Zenkov’s Cathedral – gorgeous and sits within the pretty Panfilovtsev Park.  I visited in summer and autumn, but I’ve seen photos of the cathedral in winter with the snow and looks stunning
  • The views from Kok-Tobe Hill are worth taking the cable car up for – and you can often get to the Golden Eagles there which is cool
  • The Arasan Bathhouse – a great for experiencing the Russian-style thrashing with the birch branches
  • In the evening, if up for a big night, make sure to visit Sky Barlocated on the roof of an old factory, it’s split into various themed sections and is great fun.  Might be one of the best clubs I’ve been to

Hanging out with the Masai in the Masai Mara

The Masai Mara immediately conjures up images of being a kid watching your first wildlife documentary, with lions, leopards and cheetahs chasing gazelles, impalas and wildebeest . . . and indeed that is the immediate thought.  But the Masai Mara is also home of the Masai who run all things around here and who, actually, themselves, represent one of the highlights.  Spending the time with them in their bright red and black shukasas as they take you for a wander around the plains and through their villages is a magical experience and, if in Kenya, unmissable

Safari in the Serengeti and Ngorongoro Crater

Serengeti National Park is one of the world’s premier wildlife destinations, hosting some of the largest terrestrial animals in the world across a vast 15,000 square km / 6,000 square mile area.  The name alone conjures up memories of being a kid watching your first wildlife documentary on TV, and the reality actually doesn’t disappoint.  The “Big 5” of lions, leopards, elephant, rhinos and buffalo are in abundance, along with thousands and thousands of wildebeest, gazelle and impala that form part of the world famous “Great Migration”; and, to top it all, the Ngorongoro Crater offers the world’s largest unbroken crater for sensational views.  All combined, its one of the best travel experiences out there

The Trans-Siberian Railway from Omsk to Beijing

The world’s longest and most famous train journey.  Crossing all of Russia, the route takes you through a landscape that was previously so impenetrable that it used to be quicker to cross the Atlantic, America and the Pacific than it was to make the overland from Moscow to Vladivostok.  Considering there are unlikely to be any other ways you will get to see this vast expanse of territory, this feels like a must for an adventurous traveler

 

But two things to bear in mind – firstly, the route is not one single train / journey, rather it is a series of trains and with various stops.  Secondly, there are three final destinations – Vladivostok, Beijing or Zabaikalsk.   This provides a series of combination from where you could go, and the journey I took was from Omsk to Beijing, via Krasnoyarsk, Irkutsk & Lake Baikal, Ulan Ude, Ulan Bator & its surrounding national parks.  Its a great adventure and one that can easily be combined with a trip around Central Asia

 

I’ve written below some Travel Tips for this journey, but my main two tips are: #1. Prioritise Lake Baikal – it is the highlight stop of the journey, and far more fun than the grey city stops of the likes of Omsk and Krasnoyarsk; #2. Finish in Beijing – the Trans-Siberian is know for Moscow-Vladivostok, but it is a no-brainer to travel to Beijing instead.  Vladivostok vs Mongolia and Beijing?  No comparison

Hiking, horse-riding and staying in yurts in Gorkhi-Terelj National Park

You don’t have to head that far out of Ulan Bator to get a real feeling for the wilderness of Mongolia.  Gorkhi-Terelj National Park is only 55km / 35miles from the busy, polluted city, yet feels light years away.  Once you’re there, there is some fantastic hiking, traditional Buddhist temples nestled in the hills, and the opportunity to stay overnight in the Mongolian Gers (felt yurt huts).  Whilst not as remote as some destinations in Mongolia, there are various spots that give you those giant views across the seemingly endless steppes and allow you to spend time with people that are still living the subsistence lifestyle much the same as hundreds of years before.  A must if either staying in Ulan Bator or passing through on the Trans-Siberian Railway

 

I’ve listed some travel tips below, but the main tip I would give is to make sure you spend your evening(s) in one of the Mongolian Gers.  Not one that is surrounded by village infrastructure, but one that is isolated and with no other gers in sight – it gives you a feel of what it must be like to live in the isolation here and was our highlight of the trip

Shark Bay’s Monkey Mia – keeping an eye out for dolphins and bilbies

Shark Bay is huge – the UNESCO World Heritage listed site is 1500km / 930miles long and is a pristine Australian paradise of turquoise lagoons, white sand beaches, towering cliffs and very little development.  This gives it that wonderful Australian wilderness vibe and also the opportunity to see some of the wildlife including the Kangaroos, Eagles, Bilbies (Rabbit-Bandicoots) and, the highlight for most people’s trip, the dolphins that come for morning feeding in the beach of Monkey Mia.  A must-stop if driving the West Coast

 

Top tip – remember not to put any sunscreen on your legs as it irritates the dolphins eyes.  You won’t need the sunscreen anyway as its early in the morning

Driving through the Australia’s red centre from Adelaide to Darwin

The 3,800km / 2350mile route from Adelaide to Darwin via Uluru is one of the world’s great roadtrips.  You have the world-class destinations of Uluru (Ayers Rock), Kata Tjuta (the Olgas), the Kings Canyon, Kakadu National Park and the Barossa Wine region, but the real highlight is the sheer isolation and feeling of adventure of the trip as you drive through some of the most desolate places in the world and that bright red sand centre that lets you know you’re right in the centre of the continent