Places where I have no desire to return to - Alvinology

Places where I have no desire to return to

Hello everyone. Usually most travel writers would brag about the most beautiful or exotic countries they have traveled to, their mission is to make you jealous that you didn’t have that opportunity to make that wonderful trip with them and to encourage you to travel. Well I am going to do the complete opposite today and tell you about some trips that were a total let down and that I didn’t enjoy, so you can spare yourself that trip.

Places where I have no desire to return to - Alvinology

The weather is just one of many things that can go wrong on holiday

Ireland & Northern Ireland

Why did I even bother going to Ireland? Because it was there. It was 1998, I had barely been in the UK for a year and I was itching to travel. I didn’t have much time during the Christmas break so I picked a country that was very close to the UK. I found some very cheap return flights to Dublin and I thought, great! That’s another country I can tick off my list. Ireland was intensely boring – it was extremely similar to the UK where I live, everyone speaks English and everything just seemed a bit too familiar. When you’re on holiday, you want to experience something foreign, something different, you want to be transported to a different world when you get off that plane – but when I got off the plane in Dublin, you could see the signs of British imperialism all over and it was just way too familiar for me to the point where it was boring.

As I live in London, I get plenty of Irish culture here in London anyway since there are so many Irish people in London – nearly a million Irish people live in London, making up 12% of the population here. I thought, okay, Dublin was nothing to write home about, let’s head on out into the countryside away from the big city, maybe the Irish countryside would be enchanting. It wasn’t. This was December 1998 and it rained heavily everyday. The temperature hovered at around 5 or 6 degrees and it was just grey and miserable. I had to buy a new pair of shoes that were totally waterproof given how heavy the rain was. The two most memorable sites I visited were Newgrange and the Giant’s Causeway – both sites were awesome and even though it was pouring with rain at the Giant’s Causeway, the sheer majesty of the columns took my breath away.

Places where I have no desire to return to - Alvinology

Giant’s Causeway, Northern Ireland

Those were the only two flashes of brilliance throughout my week in Ireland. Otherwise, it involved us driving from one sleepy town to another, checking into grim looking B&Bs and getting very wet from the rain. the food was as grim as the weather and I remember getting into Belfast and declaring, “I’m getting some Chinese or Japanese food, we’re in a big city, there’s bound to be some decent Chinese or Japanese food here. I’m sick of this Irish crap.” Don’t get me wrong, I love trying all kinds of European cuisine whenever I travel, but do you ever wonder why you never find any Irish restaurants around? It’s because Irish food is crap. Even in London with it’s large Irish community, you have loads of Irish pubs but never any Irish restaurants!

Ireland has been hit very hard by the recession and as a result, many well educated, younger Irish people have moved away to places like the UK, America and Australia in search of work and better opportunities. So I’m afraid it is more depressing than ever – on a trip back to Ireland in 2013, I attended a birthday party in a very small town in the middle of nowhere and whilst my host had a huge house and garden, there was very little to do in her town. I can’t imagine how boring life must be for the younger people living there. Heck, if I sold my flat in London, I could get a whole mansion in rural Ireland, but no way could I live in a small town like that.

Places where I have no desire to return to - Alvinology

That’s me in Carrick, Ireland in 2013

So the moral of the story: If you’re coming to Europe, just visit the UK. Do the main sights in England, Scotland and Wales and you can skip Ireland and Northern Ireland altogether. You have to either fly or get a ferry to Ireland anyway from mainland Britain, so you may as well fly to somewhere more interesting like France or the Netherlands instead!

Dubai (the United Arab Emirates)

I had actually worked in Dubai in the period 2006 to 2007 and I wouldn’t have chosen to visit that place as a tourist. I find it unreal that people actually want to visit Dubai on holiday as it is such a vapid, soulless place. Prior to the discovery of oil in Dubai in the late 1950s, Dubai was a small town which depended on fishing and the pearl industry. Very little remains of Dubai from this period – even the Deira clock tower in the old town was built in 1965, that’s after that discovery of oil. Otherwise, as you drive down the highway on Sheik Zayed Road, all you can see are skyscrapers on both sides as far as the eye on see. If you like skyscrapers and shopping malls, then go to Dubai by all means.

What this means is an absence of culture and history: in cities like Istanbul, Amman, Cairo and Damascus, there is a sense of history as you look at monuments which are hundreds of years old. I really enjoy holidays where I get to explore a city which has a long and fascinating history, where the past meets the present, where I can wander through a market that has been there for centuries, where I can see ancient traditions being kept alive for future generations. I did get a chance to do all of that in neighbouring Oman which I visited in 2013 – but in Dubai, there wasn’t any of that. Everything was so new and shiny and there are so many, too many, shopping malls.

Places where I have no desire to return to - Alvinology

A photo from the time I lived in Dubai – I had a nice pool!

Oh the locals there love their shopping malls and they are huge – the mall of the Emirates stands out amongst them as it contains Ski Dubai, the world’s largest indoor ski slope. When you actually look at the sheer size of Ski Dubai, you would be impressed by just how they actually built something like that in the middle of the desert. But then again, that’s what you do when you have so much money that you have no idea what to do with it. And even if you like shopping in general, you’re not going to get any bargains in Dubai. Forget it, it is a very expensive city and the malls are mostly catering for the rich Arabs who are spending their oil wealth – they are not for you poor tourists who are looking for bargains. You want cheap bargains for shopping, head to somewhere like Kuala Lumpur or Bangkok instead. You’re so barking up the wrong tree with Dubai!

Sure there are man-made tourist attractions in Dubai like Wild Wadi, one of the world’s most amazing water theme parks. But would you fly seven or eight hours just to go to a water theme park? I don’t think so. Likewise, Dubai is home to some of the world’s most amazing hotels such as the Burj Al-Arab, Burj Al-Khalifa (part of the building is a hotel) and the Atlantis The Palm resort. But then again, those are just playgrounds for the rich who won’t think anything about flying several hours just to stay at one of the world’s most beautiful (and expensive) hotels. If you’re an ordinary tourist, you will find even very average hotels in Dubai frightfully expensive. Okay, there are some excursions which will take you out to see the sand dunes in the desert – but those excursions are frightfully expensive in Dubai and if that’s the kind of adventure you’re after, you’re better off doing that somewhere cheaper like Tunisia, Egypt or Morocco.

Places where I have no desire to return to - Alvinology

Dubai can get crazy hot in the summer.

Oh yes and Dubai is in the desert. It is freaking hot. It is crazy hot. Only in the winter months of December, January and February is the weather a little more forgiving – it was drop to 18 degrees or so at night but it still exceeds 30 degrees easily in the middle of the day. During the rest of the year, you can forget about venturing outdoors as it is just too hot. In July, temperatures in the UAE can exceed 50 degrees – so venturing outdoors in the summer is not just bad for your health, but practically dangerous if you spend any extended period of time outside in that kind of temperature.

Furthermore, Dubai has a very religious society and whilst it isn’t as strict as say Saudi Arabia – the expatriates and tourists still have to follow the rules of the locals. The sale of alcohol is restricted and it is extremely hard to hunt down any kind of pork product. The police can be very unforgiving when you do get into any kind of trouble and they are not to be trusted at all when it comes to dealing with women. There was this horrible case of a Norwegian woman who was raped in Dubai – she reported the rape to the police who promptly arrested her and jailed her 16 months for extramarital sex. I hate to say this, but despite the facade of modernity, the attitude towards women in the Middle East isn’t just disgraceful – it is practically medieval. And it’s not like they will respect the fact that you come from a different country with a different culture, they will subject female tourists and expatriates to that same kind of devious misogyny.

Places where I have no desire to return to - Alvinology

I take a moral stance against the law in the UAE.

I’m not telling you to avoid Dubai if you are a woman, many female tourists do visit and loads of female expatriates just get on with life there – but you have to know where you stand with the law in their society should you ever get into trouble there. And if you have considered all that and still want to go, then good luck to you. Oh and don’t get me started on the way they treat gays there. The amount of homophobia, sexism and misogyny they have in their society is unreal and it is all justified in the name of religion. I chose to work there because the money was good and it was an opportunity to experience a different culture and country. I returned to London the moment I finished my contract and I have absolutely no desire ever to visit Dubai ever again. And no, I don’t recommend it.

Shanghai, China

Now I am going to be quite specific – I don’t want to condemn all of China as it is a huge country, just Shanghai. Now there is a painless way to do Shanghai, that is to pay for the luxury of avoiding the crowds in this terribly overcrowded city with 24 million people. Arrange for a private car to pick you up from the airport, then stay in the finest, most expensive hotel so as to avoid the commoners. Then if you want to go anywhere, avoid public transport and arrange for a driver to take you to your destination and back to your hotel. When dining, only choose the most expensive restaurants. When shopping, only go to the most expensive boutiques. You might just have a pleasant (if not hideously expensive) experience in Shanghai if you did that. That was clearly not what I did.

Places where I have no desire to return to - Alvinology

Why do so many tourists bother with Shanghai?

I thought, well I speak Mandarin fluently, I can read Chinese, surely I would be able to navigate my way around Shanghai without any problems at all, right? Wrong. Oh the language barrier wasn’t the problem at all. The problem was the locals – rude, nasty, ugly Chinese people. And there were 24 million of them. Trying to use public transport in Shanghai was an absolute nightmare given the crazy levels of overcrowding – imagine being on a public bus at rush hour, with locals pushing and shoving you with no regard to any concept of personal space. Oh and the spitting drove me mad, people just spat anywhere and everywhere. A friend of mine warned me before going to China, “if your hotel has a swimming pool, don’t use it – the locals treat it as a giant spittoon.”

There are other parts of China which may be worthy of a visit as a tourist – I have been to the rural areas in Yunnan and Guizhou. The majestic mountainous landscape there took my breath away and it was mother nature at her finest. Whilst the conditions were very basic (oh don’t get me started on the toilets in rural China), it was worth putting up with the inconveniences to see incredible natural wonders like Huangguoshu waterfal in winter when the periphery of the waterfall was frozen. But you’re not going to get any of that in the greater Shanghai area as it is one of the most densely populated urban areas in the world. Oh and don’t even get me started on the pollution in Shanghai, like many other parts of China, pollution is a serious problem in Shanghai. All you will see are grey concrete blocks as far as the eye can see – unless you really enjoy overcrowded Chinese cities, Shanghai has little to offer.

Places where I have no desire to return to - Alvinology

A street in old Shanghai, stepping back in time.

China is a country with a rich cultural heritage, very little of which can be found in Shanghai. The Great Wall of China, the Summer Palace, the Forbidden City, Tiananmen Square, Yonghe temple and the Ming tombs are all found in Beijing which has a much richer and longer history. Shanghai is often compared to Los Angeles in terms of her age – whilst a settlement has always existed on the site of modern Shanghai, the city really only grew in terms of its size and importance in the 19th century because of international interest in the city as a potential trade centre. So unlike Beijing which has a much longer and richer history, Shanghai is a relatively young city by Chinese standards. Hence if you are after Chinese culture and history, you’re in the wrong city – you should go to Beijing instead. So what does one do in Shanghai? In the words of a local, ““(Eat, drink and be merry). I suppose you can take advantage of the fact that food and shopping is relatively cheap and there are bargains to be had – but it seems a long way to go just for a 吃喝玩乐 type of holiday.

There are other places which I have not particularly liked, such as Indonesia – but I do put that down to my own bad luck in terms of encountering accidents when I was there rather than a general problem with the country per se. Are there any places where you would not recommend for a holiday? Are there places which you would never ever return to? Let’s have a chat about it. Thanks for reading!

Places where I have no desire to return to - Alvinology

Oh I have so many stories to share with you…


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