Are we running out of new places to go?

By Kirrily Schwarz

Samarkand, Uzbekistan: the wooden pavilion of siab dekhkhan bazaar, located next to the bibi-khanym mosque. Photo / 123RF
Samarkand, Uzbekistan: the wooden pavilion of siab dekhkhan bazaar, located next to the bibi-khanym mosque. Photo / 123RF

There are seven "Stans" in the world: Kazakhstan, Uzbekistan, Kyrgyzstan, Turkmenistan, Tajikistan, Pakistan and Afghanistan.

In some ways, Central Asia is the end of the Earth, awkwardly wedged between China, Russia and the Middle East. The area isn't easy to get to, and yet it's a rapidly emerging tourist destination.

It's a similar situation in South America, where bored tourists are looking for more exotic and colourful locales, like Colombia. Until recently, it was more famous for cocaine cartels than coffee, but now holiday-makers are arriving in droves, reports News.com.au.

It begs the question: are we running out of places to go?

We've exhausted Europe. We've explored New Zealand, and sufficiently embarrassed ourselves in Bali and Phuket.

We've been amused by American-sized meals, and we know that even if we do trek to Machu Picchu, heaps of our mates have already trodden the well-worn path to post a token photo with a llama.

The thing is, tourists have incredibly short attention spans. We're always looking for a new brag to take home, something bigger, brighter, and more life-affirming than before.

The internet is also playing an important part in breaking down perceptions that countries are "dangerous", making it far simpler for travellers to share their stories.

Kolja Spori, a 46-year-old German who's travelled to all but six of the 193 countries recognised by the United Nations, told the BBC that every country is open to travellers.

Samarkand, Uzbekistan. Photo / 123RF
Samarkand, Uzbekistan. Photo / 123RF

"I was in Donetsk [Ukraine] last year. I heard shelling all day long, but that doesn't mean you're in danger. In fact, I was fascinated to see how ordinary public life continued despite the mortar shelling," he told Dave Seminara.

"If you listen to the media, you would assume these places are like a living hell, but that is usually not true."

He said contrary to popular belief, his experience was that there is a much higher level of hospitality in Muslim countries than historically Christian ones, adding that more often than not the "official narrative" about a place is wrong.

Of course, the only way to find that out is to visit yourself.

"Trips can make you view the world in a different way," he said.

Sometimes, taking a risk on an exotic adventure leads to rich rewards.

Take Kazakhstan, for example, the world's ninth-largest country. It was on no-one's radar until the release of Sacha Baron Cohen's mockumentary Borat: Cultural Learnings of America for Make Benefit Glorious Nation of Kazakhstan in 2006.

The capital, Astana, hardly existed 20 years ago. According to CNN, it was best known as a gulag prison camp for wives of Soviet traitors until it was declared the new capital in 1997.

Tashkent, Uzbekistan: the golden mihrab in Galdirghochbiy Mausoleum. Photo / 123RF
Tashkent, Uzbekistan: the golden mihrab in Galdirghochbiy Mausoleum. Photo / 123RF

Head south to Almaty, however, and there are charming buildings such as the wooden Ascension Cathedral, as well as a stunning mountain range that runs all the way to China.

Similarly, The Telegraph labelled neighbouring Uzbekistan: "The most fascinating country you've never been to" in an article published in August.

At present, the Safetravel website recommends New Zealanders exercise caution in Uzbekistan, and advises against travel to "the areas bordering Afghanistan, Tajikistan and Kyrgyzstan" due a "high risk" to security.

However, writer Hazel Plush described it as a "charming mishmash of restored 12th-century mosques and classical Russian architecture alongside blocky Brutalist buildings" that reflect the faded Soviet glory of times gone by.

The cities of Khiva, Bukhara and Samarkand were key stop-offs for traders on the famous Silk Road, which ran from China to Turkey, and all three have been painstakingly restored.

While visas to former USSR countries are notoriously finicky to obtain, Uzbekistan recently toyed with the idea of visa-free entry to boost tourism. Plans are on hold for now, but it could be a key step to opening up a reclusive country.

- additional reporting: nzherald.co.nz

- news.com.au

Get the news delivered straight to your inbox

Receive the day’s news, sport and entertainment in our daily email newsletter

SIGN UP NOW

© Copyright 2017, NZME. Publishing Limited

Assembled by: (static) on production apcf03 at 30 Mar 2017 15:39:57 Processing Time: 1083ms