Forty years ago an exotic vacation consisted of merely getting on a plane. It didn’t matter where you were going. Which was good, because you would probably end up in a place more American than where you came from.
In 2015, it’s only exotic when you tell facebook where you’re going and the world exclaims: “where the f***?” We’re talking about countries you’ve never heard of, places so unique they’ve decided to hide on the world map. Just because they’re hidden doesn’t mean they’re small. Some of the following are bigger than most European nations. And while they may be unknown, they’ve got far more to offer than just a cool facebook status and unique passport stamp.
Thanks to Borat, you probably know of Kazakhstan, a vast desert country that jumped out of its Soviet skin 20 odd years ago. Everything is a stan around here and there’s a good chance you won’t have heard of Uzbekistan or Kyrgyzstan. Tajikistan is the smallest and most remote of these half Soviet half Asian countries, its villages lost amongst snowy mountains and ladles of vodka. This country is remote. Even the capital city doesn’t have tarred roads and it’s usually quicker to walk than get a ride with the one vehicle a week that rumbles past then gets stuck in the mud. Tajikistan is a hiker’s paradise, full of unconquered peaks and trails that weave through traditional Central Asia.
Oman has a perfect name for a Bart Simpson joke. “O-man” didn’t happen, so it’s still virtually unheard of. Tucked away on the Arabian peninsula, due south of Saudi Arabia, Oman offers a glimpse of Islamic exoticism without having to wear a full burka. It’s also one of an elite band of Middle Eastern countries that isn’t scarred by war. Tourists have been discovering ten century old mosques, stone walled villages, and one of the world’s most unique surfing destinations, complete with camels watching the waves. It’s hot and arid, so visit in winter unless you’re into daily highs that hover around 120ºF.
Visit Southeast Asia and within a few days you’ll be templed out. There’s tiger temples, holy temples, orange temples, screw-the-tourist temples, and so many golden temples you’ll quickly lose respect for precious metal. But Bhutan is different. Sandwiched between India and China, lost within the Himalayas, Bhutan is exclusively Buddhist. The beautiful temples aren’t places to visit, they’re as ubiquitous as Starbucks in New York. Temple, temple, temple, oh, there’s a house, temple, temple, house, temple, temple…Bhutan is so Buddhist and traditional that foreigners can only visited as part of a government tour, to avoid any Westernization rubbing off on the locals.
4) Solomon Islands
Everyone loves a random Pacific Island. There’s Papua new Guinea, Nauru, Kiribati, and the Solomon Islands, home to just about nothing bar sand and trees. Okay, there are three hotels and a couple of villages. But other than that, you might as well start practicing your Tom Hanks Castaway impressions. If you want to escape then this is where to come. Even the GPS doesn’t know where you are.
Think tribal Africa and the mind swarms with voodoo ceremonies, dodgy costumes, and men waving swords. It’s a popular stereotype that holds little truth on most of the continent. Except in Benin, where voodoo is the national religion and doctors treat patients by pouring gin over some statuesque deities. All the country’s oil is sold illegally in plastic water bottles and the roads through the jungle are little more than glorified swamps. The above video is what happened when Random Vacay visited…
If you’re looking for somewhere to stash your illicit dollars then Monaco and the Cayman Islands spring to mind. But the government know about these countries and the tax man will be chasing. But Liechtenstein? Squashed between Austria and Switzerland the country is about the size of a post stamp. There are more registered businesses than people, only four hotels, and an outrageous Alps backdrop. If you’re traveling Europe then it’s a good one to squeeze into the itinerary for a day. Here’s an idea of what it’s like. Liechtenstein once sent 119 men to fight in Italy. They came back with 120 without a bullet being fired. Not only was the army fundamentally opposed to fighting, they managed to convert a rival soldier to come live in their state of peace.
Any country that has a public holiday in celebration of the melon deserves better world fame. Another ex Soviet stan, Turkmenistan has one of the world’s largest natural gas reserves. They have “democratic” elections, where even the leader of the opposition openly votes for the existing president. The president went so power hungry he put golden statues of his head on most street corners in capital Ashgabat. He also made all books illegal, other than the Quran and his own autobiography. Memorizing this autobiography became mandatory for passing your driving test. Turkmenistan is absolutely bonkers, something Jefferson Taylor discovered when he visited last year.
Life is good if you’re from Brunei. No local has a job and still everyone is rich. Run by a Sultan, Brunei is a tiny oil rich state on a mostly Indonesian island. It’s spotlessly clean (thanks to an army of immigrant workers), well-developed, and as easy a life you can find anywhere. Rather than get people to pay tax, the Sultan dishes out a monthly salary to the locals. In return, they treat the Sultan as a god like figure and employ some poor Bangadeshi to wipe their ass.
The highest country in the world is the home of nomadic shepherds. Life is simple here. You start herding someone’s sheep at age 11. You get paid one sheep per month (no cash changes hands). Over the next 15 years you sell a few sheep to get by and keep herding until you’ve got 100 – 150 sheep. Then you marry the hottest girl in the village and get some 11 year old to herd your sheep. Only the capital city has electricity (other than solar powered), most journeys are done on horseback, and the HIV rate is around one in four. Lesotho is a country in a country, completely surrounded by South Africa. And unless you claim to own a few sheep, you’ll be considered poor.
10) French Guiana
Even in the Americas there’s a country you’ve probably never heard of. Flanked by the Amazon Rainforest and crashing Atlantic waves, French Guiana hardly makes it onto any South American itineraries. It’s flora and fauna are almost as diverse as Madagascar, and you can compliment nature walks with the country’s eery prison camps. This was where Papillon escaped from and the indigenous population help fulfill all reverie about women only wearing grass skirts, children licking frogs, and tourists getting drugged by shaman.
If you were inspired by these countries, you’ll also like Random Vacay’s list of destinations to discover, before the rest of the world discovers them.