Bucket list ideas: the top three places to see in your lifetime

By | Category: Travel tips & opinions

Travel bible, Lonely Planet, has selected the top three experiences that should be on your “bucket list”

1. Temples of Angkor, Cambodia
H I N D U  H E A V E N  O N  E A R T H
When all the votes were counted, the no.1 sight in the Ultimate Travelist was the undisputed champion by some margin: it won 36 percent more votes than the very closely fought second and third places. In electoral terms, this was a landslide. So, how did Angkor Wat do it?

As the world’s greatest temple to the Hindu god Vishnu, Angkor Wat might seem a bit off the grid in Buddhist Cambodia, but this magnificent monument is the greatest treasure of a Hindu kingdom that once stretched as far as Burma, Laos and southern China. Even in a region as richly gifted with temples as Southeast Asia, Angkor is something out of the ordinary – a literal representation of heaven on earth, hewn from thousands of sandstone blocks and carved floor-to-ceiling with legends from the Ramayana, Mahabharata and Puranas.

Even better, Angkor Wat is the crowning glory in a complex of more than 1000 temples, shrines and tombs that forms a virtual city of spires in the jungles of northern Cambodia. International flights drop into nearby Siem Reap, so it would be hard to describe Angkor as ’undiscovered’, yet every visitor who steps among the ruins, where tree roots tear through ancient walls and the heads of forgotten deities poke out from between the vines, feels like Indiana Jones, peeling back the foliage for the first time. Over Angkor’s long centuries, the residents of this celestial city traded Hinduism for Buddhism, leaving many temples fusing mythologies. Few experiences can match arriving at the ruins of the Bayon at dawn and watching dozens of benevolent faces of the Avalokiteshvara, the Buddhist bodhisattva of compassion, appearing slowly out of the mist like heavenly apparitions. Indeed, Angkor offers so many hard-to-match experiences that many travellers spend weeks soaking up the glory of all the temples and ruins.

Angkor Wat itself is the undisputed highlight, a massive representation of Mt Meru, the mountain home of the gods of Hinduism, executed in stone blocks adorned with bas-reliefs of such delicacy and grace that they could almost have been carved in the presence of the divine. Travellers feel similar emotions when exploring the overgrown ruins of Ta Prohm, a 12th-century temple that was almost completely consumed by the jungle, left much as it was when European explorers first ventured to Angkor in the 17th century.

Away from this central hub are sacred pools and stone bridges that have handrails depicting demons holding monstrous serpents, as well as a panoply of crumbling temples, scattered over an area of more than 400 sq km. Some of these outlying groups have become must-see sights in their own right – the complex at Banteay Srei features some of the finest stone-carving at Angkor, and the artistry continues underwater at nearby Kbal Spean, the river of a thousand linga (Shiva symbols).

More than anything else, Angkor is a powerful reminder of the soaring ambitions of human creativity, the fundamental human need to leave something permanent behind, and the very Buddhist realisation that nothing material is eternal, and that given time, all will be reclaimed by the jungle. Angkor isn’t just an interesting ruin – it’s a spiritual epiphany in stone.

SEE IT ! Stay in Siem Reap; zip to the temples by motorbike taxi or tuk-tuk. Book trips the night before for a dawn spectacular.

02. Great Barrier Reef, Australia
O Z ’ S  U N D E R W A T E R  W O N D E R L A N D

Aerial view of Heart Reef on Great Barrier Reef near Whitsunday Islands.

Aerial view of Heart Reef on Great Barrier Reef near Whitsunday Islands. (Lonely Planet images)

Second place in our list goes to a natural wonder stretching for more than 3000km up the northeastern coast of Australia. The Great Barrier Reef hardly needs an introduction. But here are some facts: this is the world’s largest network of coral reefs, with 400 types of coral and 1500 species of fish. Some 30 kinds of whales, dolphins and porpoises have been spotted here, along with six species of sea turtles and 17 kinds of sea snake.

If that doesn’t convince you to hop on a plane to Oz, there’s this: the reef may not be around for much longer, at least in its present state of glory. Rising sea temperatures have been bleaching and killing the coral, and the trend shows no sign of stopping. But for now, the reef is a psychedelic underwater playground for divers and snorkellers. Even above the surface, and closer to the Queensland coast, this vital ecosystem enthrals all who visit, with abundant bird life and countless tropical islands and beaches.

SEE IT ! Major access points to the reef include the cities of Cairns, Port Douglas and Airlie Beach, all in Queensland.

03. Machu Picchu, Peru

3 - Machu PicchuPhilip Lee Harvey

3 – Machu Picchu.Credit: Philip Lee Harvey


Just a handful of votes separates second and third spot in the Ultimate Travelist. But they could not be more different… Gawping down at Machu Picchu from the Sun Gate after a lung-busting four-day hike along the Inca Trail is a rite of passage for  travellers to Peru. But it’s not the outrageously dramatic Andean setting, nor the way that the city clings to impossibly precipitous slopes that makes Machu Picchu so mind-blowing – it’s the fact that no-one really knows what happened here. You’ve found a proper enigma. There are theories aplenty – from royal retreat and temple for virgins, through to alien landing pad – but they remain just that. Theories. Even Hiram Bingham, the American amateur-archaeologist who stumbled across the ruins in 1911 and spent years excavating them, didn’t know what he was looking at. (Bingham died, claiming erroneously that he’d found a different site altogether – Vilcabamba, the fabled lost city of the Incas.) Today, you can wander wide-eyed around the mysterious mountain  metropolis in a liberating knowledge vacuum, forming your own ideas. Be sure to climb Huayna Picchu, the Andean shard towering over the ruins, with its mettle-testing trail to the Temple of the Moon.

SEE IT ! Cuzco is the gateway to Machu Picchu. Take a train to Kilometre 88, then walk the 42km Camino Inca.

View the complete list of the 500 best sights on the planet in Lonely Planet’s new title Ultimate Travel, which is available now in Lonely Planet’s shop and where books are sold.

Check out the Ultimate Travelist page here


Ultimate travelist cover

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