Where should you wish to visit in a hurry?

Here is the reader request:

A friend remarked that on his trip to Cuba, the inclusion of modern buses imported from China had started to erode the charm of the vintage car culture we associate with the island. This is one factor, among many (including the possibility of the embargo being stopped), that made her travel to the island before it changed too much.

What other countries (or cities) are undergoing signficant change and will be presumably very different in a few years from now? Which ones would you travel to if you had the chance now before they underwent that change?

Here is my list of places to visit in a hurry:

1. Cuba

2. Bali, Laos, and Cambodia, which are all losing traditional culture.

3. Any wildlife or game reserve.

4. Yemen (maybe too late already?)

5. Tibet and possibly Bhutan

I can't bring myself to put North Korea on that list.

Here is my list of places which will only get better to visit:

1. China (air pollution will diminish, reading MR might become easier)

2. India (pollution will diminish, sanitation will improve)

3. Greece (someday will be cheaper)

4. Canada, New Zealand, and Australia: they don't have much old stuff anyway and what they do have will be preserved.  The U.S., in contrast, was interesting in the 1950s (or the 1920s) in a way these places were not and many aspects of that period are being lost. 

What suggestions do you have?  Iraq definitely belongs to one list or the other, we just don't know which.


Why couldn't Iraq (or Iran) be on both lists?

Good list, except I have to say it's too late for #2: Laos, Cambodia, and Bali. These places are totally taken over by tourists. Cambodia and Bali especially, it's like a visit to the EPCOT center!

I would add Hong Kong to the list, as I think the British expat community which adds so much to its culture/vibe will increasingly shrink. And then there's the looming total takeover by China in 40 years (HK losing its special status and reverting to total control by Beijing).

I disagree as far as Laos is concerned. It's way too late to experience ye oldie peasant culture amidst crumbling French ruins in both Luang Prabang and Vientiane already but, quite essentially, the "bo pen nyang" volkgeist isn't close to die and that's what makes the country charming to most. Luang Prabang is now "nice and preserved" and Vientiane is already bustling by Laotian standards. I've been seeing a number of news concerning the loss of Lao's soul to tourism highlighting Vang Vieng - the backpackers South-East Asian mecca - but that has been in fact going on for a decade. Some very specific zones may be losing their character at a high pace though - the "4000 islands" (Si phan don) in the Far South may become a new Vang Vieng anytime soon.

Same goes for Cambodia in a way. These guys experienced a horrendous cultural blow back in the 1970s and 1980s and I feel the noughties were in fact more of a great cultural comeback. One frightening element is the rate at which Vietnam is influencing/colonizing the area - the South is full of ugly viet shotgun flats, gradually replacing the local styles. Phnom Penh is losing a lot of its highly innovative modernist colonial architecture to the same horrors.

I have a small list of the sort. I put Cuba and Yemen (which I stayed in for extensive stays but within a very limited geographic area), and a "small low-lying islands" category.

one of the things I loved about New Zealand was that several medium size towns had live, bustling versions of the kind of car-centered, one-screen theater downtowns that filled the US in the '50s but are nearly abandoned now here.

I second what Dennis said. If this woman herself wouldn't want to live that way, then she can stuff the "charm".

Great list, one comment though. The degradation of the Great Barrier Reef is a big issue, and some researchers are saying it could be destroyed by 2020. This is a significant reason to visit Australia sooner rather than later.

NYC and Chicago before they turn into Detroit and Cleveland. Detroit and Cleveland before they turn into Monrovia and Juarez.

Compare NYC today to NYC in 1990 and its LESS like Detroit. If anything, I wish I could visit the pre-Guiliani / Bloomberg days back when SoHo and Times Square were relegated to the freaks and the poor, not playgrounds of yuppies and tourists. Heck I'd settle for when Brooklyn wasn't filled with moneyed condos and organic food shops.

Colombia will be getting better as security imporves and internal travel gets easier. Check out Villa de Leyva http://www.villadeleyva.net/

Iron Curtain countries: it depends on where you are going. Some places are not going to get better or worse with age (Tallinn, Baltics generally). Some places are already touristic, but not in a way that actually affects your choice of visit timing (Prague). There's no real risk of the places becoming dangerous for tourists outside the southern former Yugoslavia. Maybe you should put Hungary on hold until more people there learn English, because Hungarian is hard. Ultimately all these places are switching from one "modern" way of life to another, and in some ways they are more "modern" than Portugal or southern Italy, so if you like gawking at bucolic poverty, you could always go to those places instead. I don't know about the situation in the states of the CIS.

I forgot to list Albania.

Based on an article I read in the NYT - Aleppo in Syria

Markets are destroying all of these places.

India is getting worse, not better.

Raj era history is being wiped out; the older stuff is as well. Pollution is actually getting worse, and with more tourists the top-end stuff is getting more crowded.

Soon all of India will look like Surat...and nobody goes there for the ambience.

Any place in the western world (region or neighborhood in a city) that still retains its traditional culture, language, and people through sheer demographic power. Hurry!

I've heard that Cuba before the embargo was a pretty great place to go, and the entire population of Miami currently seems to think that it's not such a great place to live. Isn't it possible that after Cuba's "rustic charm" disappears, it will be better, not worse, to visit?

Nik Shah, I can't tell whether or not you're joking about Myanmar. A charming, machine-free, isolated peasant culture sounds like a pretty gussied-up way of saying "oppressed."

I'm not sure I want to go someplace where people have no choice about how they live in a hurry, before they're able to improve things.

northern ireland-
post peace process N. Ireland is changing very, very rapidly. in almost all regards for the better. but to the extent the "ira era" is fascinating, go now before all traces are wiped off the map
there's no way to say this w/o seeming racist, insensitive etc but the post-Zuma years simply do not look in anyway promising. If you go quikly you can still see a so'africa "before collapse" which has alot of merit. For the life of me, i cannot imagine a scenario where SoAfrica in , say, 2040 is better than so'Africa today

I also don't understand why Cuba goes on the list but not North Korea (unless it is because you don't expect North Korea to change any time soon, so no rush).

Either you want to hurry and go see a communist country before it has a chance to reform, or you don't. I understand wanting to see it even if you would hope for the sake of the inhabitants that you don't get that chance because change is imminent - but then all communist countries belong on the list, don't they? Or do you want to visit Cuba for another reason?

Cyprus. Still divided, but eventually either it will reunify, or the border will be completely open for all. Right now it is interesting for the division itself, especially in the divided city of Nicosia/Lefkosa.

Afghanistan for the second list?

I visited Cuba 2 years ago and it was beautiful (architecture and weather) but also quite depressing. The lack of commercial activity is really a shock (esp. for someone like me who had never been outside the US/Canada before). Walking south of the sea front in Havana you just think, this would be so nice to sit at a cafe, sip a drink and relax for many hours... or maybe just browse the shops... but of course there aren't any cafes and the few shops that are around aren't really made for browsing. The country side is equally depressing, fields that probably once grew sugar lay fallow with machinery rusting away at the edges. Perhaps some people find that rustic and charming but I find it demoralizing to see so much potential going unused.

PS I wouldn't worry about the classic car culture going away anytime soon, around Varadero there were still lots of oldies being used as taxis for both Cubans and tourists.

Of course pollution will diminish in India, America's manufacturing output has never been higher in absolute terms, yet we see very few soot covered buildings. When they get wealthier, they'll be more careful with pollutants.

I don't think that wanting to experience different things makes you a bad person. I would not wish communism or totalitarianism on anyone, but where it exists, why not experience it firsthand? I spent the summer of 1987 studying German in Weimar, East Germany when I was in college. Soon afterward, I would go to graduate school in economics. I really value the fact that I locked in the experience of living (temporarily) in a totalitarian, communist country. There were stasi informants on the teaching staff, "students" from all over eastern Europe for me to talk to, currency black markets for me to dabble in. One of the teachers even let me drive his cardboard Trabant car. All of these memories I treasure --and I am dead serious about that.

I spent another summer in central America, largely in Guatemala during the summer of 1989. There, right-wing totalitarian governments were battling communist movements. The people were great, but it was an unfortunate time for everyone in those countries. I am very glad that things have improved for central America, but again it gives me a first-person anchor to understanding totalitarian society. For example, not too many Americans have had their bus stopped by people with machine guns who were searching for guerrillas? Certainly fewer than blather on about our government confiscating their income from the barrel of a gun.

Morocco for the first list. My wife and I visited in 2004, and got to know our guide for an excursion to the Sahara. The Berber and nomadic Arab people's way of life is steeply declining, and likely won't exist in anything like it's historical form in a couple generations - maybe it doesn't now.

China is a place to see now, as it will only become more homogenised as travel becomes more frequent and Western influences creep in more and more.

For the real authentic China, go ASAP.

For the real authentic China, go ASAP.

Afghanistan for the second list?

Well wait a minute. It's an interesting list, but as an expat living in Bali for several years I'd point to Bali as a place that has retained its culture despite tourism and the mass development that admittedly is here, on the south end of the island especially.

Yes Jalan Legian is now a paved road (probably a good thing!) and you are seeing Bali Apartments where you formerly had only one- or two- story buildings. However, I know of no Balinese who doesn't go back to his/her village every time they must for ceremonies and other 'cultural obligations', even if it means getting off work at midnight and driving by motorcycle through the rain for hours to their village--and then being back to work in the morning, if it is possible. Any business owner knows that sometimes Balinese have obligations that supersede everything, that's the way it is, and the next generation seems no less intent on maintaining their identities as Balinese. In fact, I don't think my local friends see it as an option frankly; it is who they are.

Comments for this post are closed