top 5 unexpected travel gems

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With the New Year almost a week in, we are back to regular blogging again. We had a festive/silly season break and it feels good to be back.

Towards the end of last year, we wrote a piece about our most disappointing travel sites and to introduce this year, we are sharing our top 5 unexpected travel highlights – places which we fell in love but hadn’t expected to.

In a world where information is so readily at our fingertips and the internet can reveal so much about a place – we avoid “researching” too much into a place we want to visit. We look for inspiration, we read about safety and basic introductory information, but we don’t read or look at everything we can about the place because we find that creates expectation and takes away some of the “unknown”. We tend to like the element of surprise.  And these are our top 5 unexpected travel gems.

(5) Pingyao

Enter through the gates of Pingyao and we were transported back to centuries ago. There are no cars inside, it is all pedestrian and bicycles.  Chinese history is oozing out of the walls and rooftops of this city and we LOVED it. It was our most favourite city during our time in China. As we walk along the alleyways and admire the well-preserved architecture, the only giveaway that we are in the 21st Century are the tourist shops.


(4) Lyon

Before arriving in Lyon, we did little research as we were using it more as a stopover before we headed into Switzerland, not expecting to be so blown away by it. The history and its Roman past had us fascinated for hours. We have written only about a couple of the places we visited in Lyon; the Museum of Miniatures and Cinema and the street murals. There is so much there to see and still more we are yet to share about our time in Lyon. Do yourself a favour and add it to your list for next time you are in France.


(3) Pergamum

When it comes to anything history, we love it! Visiting ancient ruins is one of our favourite things to do when travelling. Whilst travelling through Turkey, there are a LOT of ancient ruins to the point of possibly being fatigued by them. But there is no fatigue when it comes to riding a cable car and then exploring the ruins of Pergamum. The views from the top are just unbelievable across the countryside. What we found to be the biggest treat was walking amongst the columns and stones and remnants of life from thousands of years ago.


(2) Tasmania

Often left off maps and forgotten as belonging to Australia, it is one of the places in the world where we want to come back to as soon as we have left. There is just something about it that makes us just want more. There is delicious, fresh local food! There is jaw-dropping stunning scenery. There is an abundance of wildlife and there is a touch of history. Whoever comes to Australia and doesn’t put Tassie on their list is crazy!!


(1) Weliczka Salt Mines

Hands up if you thought “salt mines? – how special can they be?” We knew they were UNESCO Heritage, we knew they were important and a must-see. We knew about the history behind it but we were NOT by any means expecting to see what we saw. Climbing into a 3-storey shaft lift was only the beginning of one of THE MOST incredible places we have visited. An underground city, quite literally, that was carved out of salt.


We love having these surprises so we try not to look at too many photos of a place just before we visit!

Now it’s your turn! We would love to hear about places that you didn’t expect to be so AWESOME 🙂



64 thoughts on “top 5 unexpected travel gems

    Monika said:
    March 6, 2015 at 7:09 pm

    I loved Wieliczka! Despite a bit claustrophobic feelings on the way back (that tiny dark lift) it´s definitely worth a visit – and so is Krakow itself – the city also surpassed my expectations 🙂

      wisemonkeysabroad responded:
      March 7, 2015 at 7:19 am

      Hi Monika! The mines were amazing, right?! Yes, that lift was a little unnerving especially the fact that it was a three-storey lift. 😉 Krakow is a very special city. Loved Poland entirely in fact !

    […] we’ve written a post about the top 5 places that underwhelmed us, then we wrote about the top 5 unexpected places and now is our top 5 that was everything plus more than we expected. We should also qualify that we […]

    darklanternowen said:
    January 10, 2015 at 10:10 am

    Hi wisemonkeys – just checked in & I agree, Pingyao is a gem, Qing/Manchu Dynasty frozen in time, devoid of motor vehicles, I arrived at night, spooky but beautiful lanterns….. speaking of lanterns, if anyone is interested in cinema, one of Zhang Yimou’s & Gong Li’s early great cinema milestones, ‘Raise the Red Lantern’, was filmed nearby at the Qiao clan courtyard house. Now that’s spooky! All the best, Owen

      wisemonkeysabroad responded:
      January 10, 2015 at 10:14 am

      Hey there Owen, Thanks for your comment! We did visit the Qian courtyard house … and we do remember someone mentioning that movie! Thanks for bringing it up again, we might have to try and get a hold of it to watch. We absolutely love watching movies that have been filmed at locations we have been. It is always fascinating to see it from a different perspective. Have a wonderful weekend ahead!

        darklanternowen said:
        January 10, 2015 at 10:26 am

        Hi & yes, definitely a recognised great piece of cinema, much stronger IMO than Yimou’s more recent flashy extravaganzas (House of the Flying Daggers, hero, etc) & Gong Li is incandescent as always!

        PS. Have just returned from India for the first time in a few decades & Rajasthan in particular & I was going to suggest adding it to your bucketlist, in fact India in total – see my Flickr page – or DarkLantern blog page. (Self promotion sorry 🙂 )
        Travel well, Owen

          wisemonkeysabroad responded:
          January 10, 2015 at 10:30 am

          India has been on our list for AGES and AGES. We will get there one day.

          And don’t apologise for self-promoting – it’s all good! We will check out your Flickr page for sure.

          Thanks and happy travels to you.

    Curt Mekemson said:
    January 9, 2015 at 4:09 pm

    Tasmania… I just have to get there! –Curt

      wisemonkeysabroad responded:
      January 10, 2015 at 9:14 am

      Curt – you might just have to schedule some time in this year for it 🙂

        Curt Mekemson said:
        January 11, 2015 at 11:39 am

        Maybe… Peggy and I want to get back to Australia and New Zealand… Tasmania is right there, so to speak. 🙂

          wisemonkeysabroad responded:
          January 11, 2015 at 8:56 pm

          Definitely .. right there 🙂 Enjoy your week ahead. Say hi to Peggy for us!

    justmytravelblog said:
    January 8, 2015 at 11:49 pm

    Tasmania – has always been on my list of places I need to check out. Just never made it down there – just so far away from Brisbane…..

    Though now that I know Tasmanian Whisky has won world awards I think I might need to head down there.

      wisemonkeysabroad responded:
      January 9, 2015 at 11:22 am

      We’ll be interested to see if you make it to Tassie some day 🙂

    nepaliaustralian said:
    January 8, 2015 at 11:39 am

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    Shikha (whywasteannualleave) said:
    January 8, 2015 at 8:21 am

    Funny, I literally just read a blog post about Tasmania! I’m glad you mentioned Lyon – a friend of mine is a pilot and has recently done a bit of flying to Lyon and was telling me how great it is and that the foodie scene there was quite good too! I’d love to discover these places!

      wisemonkeysabroad responded:
      January 9, 2015 at 11:31 am

      Well, there you go! Maybe you are meant to come to Australia to visit Tasmania and go to Lyon – all in 2015 🙂 Lyon is just such a gem! We cannot believe it isn’t higher in popular places to visit when in France. But then again, France has so much to offer too 🙂
      Hope you enjoy your upcoming weekend!

    the eternal traveller said:
    January 8, 2015 at 8:02 am

    We always go to the Tourist Information Office and ask them about any unusual or different places to visit. Local knowledge is the best source of information and they often tell us about somewhere that isn’t well known or on the internet. Having said that, before we went to Japan I googled “unusual day trips in Tokyo” and the list that came up was incredible. We did one and it was THE best day of our holiday. I am writing about it soon.

    I love this list of places – you’ve had some great experiences.

      wisemonkeysabroad responded:
      January 9, 2015 at 11:29 am

      Yes, we do visit Tourist Information Offices occasionally and get a little inspiration. Better than using the internet only….

      Cannot wait to read your DAY TRIP from Tokyo… wonder what you will be sharing 🙂

    Kat said:
    January 8, 2015 at 1:35 am

    I remember Tassie from my student days in Australia many, many, many moons ago 🙂 The most memorable trip was hiking in Cradle Mountain National Park – it was Sept and still snowing!

      wisemonkeysabroad responded:
      January 9, 2015 at 11:26 am

      We have only done a a few day hikes in Cradle Mountain National Park and that was in January with beautiful weather. It must’ve felt pretty magical with the snow (and cold too?). Thanks for reading and sharing your experience.

    Shikha Kothari said:
    January 7, 2015 at 10:31 am

    Eye-opening list… thank you for sharing 🙂

      wisemonkeysabroad responded:
      January 7, 2015 at 11:14 pm

      Glad you enjoyed it – might stir up your interest to visit any if you haven’t been already? 🙂

    Ian and Sue Roberts said:
    January 7, 2015 at 9:21 am

    Hi – happy New Year. We were blown away by the Gower Peninsula of Southern Wales. As well as stunning natural scenery, it is a sacred and ancient area of castle ruins, standing stones, iron-age tombs and burial cairns – all shrouded in swirling clouds of mist. Remarkable indeed

      wisemonkeysabroad responded:
      January 7, 2015 at 9:23 am

      Oh wow! That does sound quite special and magical! We will have to be sure to add that to our list next time we are in the UK. We visited Wales only briefly back in 2006 and thought it was stunning, we would definitely like to see more. Thank you so much for reading and for sharing your little surprise 🙂

    Diana said:
    January 7, 2015 at 9:10 am

    Great post…fab pics too (as always) Happy New Year!

      wisemonkeysabroad responded:
      January 7, 2015 at 9:10 am

      Thank you Diana! Happy New Year to you too. Hope you had a lovely Christmas also.

    Natalie Tamara said:
    January 7, 2015 at 5:22 am

    Dare I say it but, for me, Pingyao was my biggest disappointment in China. There’s a chance it was down to it being during golden week and thousands of Chinese tourists visiting the small town at the same time… It is amazing how some places you weren’t expecting much from can be a highlight of a trip though! Before visiting Jordan I kept hearing the Amman was barely worth going to but I loved the city and the day I spent exploring there and walking up to the citadel was a gem, followed by one of the best meals I have ever had. Thank goodness I went 🙂

      wisemonkeysabroad responded:
      January 7, 2015 at 8:44 am

      Interesting that you didn’t like Pingyao. Guess it all depends on what our preconceptions are, right? We had no idea what to expect so then were pleasantly surprised.
      We always find it tricky when people “advise” not to go to a place because they didn’t like it – we tread cautiously but if we want to see it for ourselves, we do anyway and then make our own minds up. That is what travelling is all about, isn’t it?
      Thanks for reading and sharing your experiences.

    quirkywanderer said:
    January 6, 2015 at 11:00 pm

    lovely post! thanks for sharing. Tasmania came as a surprise! Looks extremely inviting! 🙂

      wisemonkeysabroad responded:
      January 7, 2015 at 9:13 am

      Tasmania is a little gem – we love it there so much and we didn’t expect that it would become our favourite place in our home country. It even beats home for us – maybe we just need to see more of our own state 🙂

    Still Times said:
    January 6, 2015 at 10:58 pm

    What an amazing list of places… I think I would love to see the salt mines. We did visit the great wall when we visited Beijing and were blown away by the cheer size of it… wow! Thank you for sharing!

      wisemonkeysabroad responded:
      January 7, 2015 at 9:14 am

      Yes we thought the Great Wall was very impressive too – especially when we saw the unrestored parts a bit further into the countryside. So surreal!
      Thank you so much and for sharing your surprise visit 🙂

    backpackerlee said:
    January 6, 2015 at 10:51 pm

    Great choices. From your cover photo, I thought it was going to be Xi’an, not pingyao! But I haven’t been to any of these places, so I enjoyed reading your description! It’s a small world 😉

      wisemonkeysabroad responded:
      January 7, 2015 at 9:16 am

      Happy New Year Backpacker Lee – Thank you for reading! Maybe one of these places are in store for you in 2015?? The day we were on the Xi’an wall – the fog/smog was so low – it looked like we were walking in the grey clouds. So seeing Pingyao with a touch of blue sky was a real extra treat 🙂

    Ayla said:
    January 6, 2015 at 10:37 pm

    I have to admit that I’m a massive planner and like to know what there is to do and see and what we’re going to do ahead of visiting somewhere. Alex doesn’t look into any of it though so I get to see the surprise on his face which is just as nice 🙂 I agree with you about Tasmania – we decided at the last minute to take a trip there from Melbourne and even though it was freezing cold and windy we just loved it. The people were so friendly, the scenery was amazing and the Tasmanian devils are just the cutest haha!

      wisemonkeysabroad responded:
      January 7, 2015 at 9:22 am

      Oh yes, we plan too but more like sketch what we want to see or do. We don’t actually look at too many photos of the things we want to see especially as it gets closer to the visit time!
      Hope you are well – when do you guys fly out for Cuba? Still soooo jealous of you 😉

        Ayla said:
        January 7, 2015 at 9:55 am

        Oh see I’m obsessive! I’ve been looking at Cuba photos all day haha! 13 Feb so not long now yay!! Where are you off to next?

          wisemonkeysabroad responded:
          January 7, 2015 at 11:13 pm

          We have only a few local trips booked at this stage. We have a few on the cards we would like to do but I (Le) need to find a job first if we want to go further afield. Flights from Sydney are always so pricey… 😦

          So excited for you 🙂

    worldjourneysdiscover said:
    January 6, 2015 at 9:08 pm

    what a great list. But shhhhh we dont want the secret about how brilliant Tassie is out! I loved Lyon and the Salt Mines too! great post!

      wisemonkeysabroad responded:
      January 7, 2015 at 9:19 am

      Glad you agree about Lyon! We haven’t met any one else yet who has agreed with us about it. It feels like the Salt Mines is a hand-down winner with anyone who has been that we have spoken to. Happy New Year – hope you had a lovely festive season 🙂

    John Rose said:
    January 6, 2015 at 8:57 pm

    Yey! We are going to Tasmania in 2 weeks!! But 😦 as we had planned to go to Pingyao but didn’t have time and had to keep going onto Xian. Thanks for sharing this!

      wisemonkeysabroad responded:
      January 7, 2015 at 9:20 am

      Pingyao can be visited on your next trip to China 😉 Oooh – so excited that you are going to Tasmania so soon. How long are you there for?

        John Rose said:
        January 7, 2015 at 9:31 pm

        We are in Tasmania for 8 Days. Just booked a camper van and going to drive around the place!

          wisemonkeysabroad responded:
          January 7, 2015 at 11:14 pm

          How wonderful!! Can’t wait to see what you think of it 🙂

    Every Day Adventures in Asia said:
    January 6, 2015 at 6:42 pm

    I did not expect to be so amused by the flamboyant and exuberant gay quarter of Shinjuku Ni-chōme in Tokyo. Or feel completely transported to an North America lifestyle in Bonifacio Global City in Manila. Others too but these immediately stood out!

      wisemonkeysabroad responded:
      January 6, 2015 at 7:53 pm

      How fascinating! Thanks for sharing those two places – we have never been to either so have learnt something new 🙂

    unfinishedtravel said:
    January 6, 2015 at 4:23 pm

    I am interested in all of these, but the salt mines especially sound fascinating! I tend to do a lot of research when I travel (somewhat of a bad habit), but one place that really surprised me recently was Hiroshima – lots of history there but I was shocked at how beautiful the city is.

      wisemonkeysabroad responded:
      January 6, 2015 at 7:54 pm

      Yes, Hiroshima is very beautiful – so much history yet so modern! Thank you so much for reading and for sharing your “surprise” place 🙂

    CrazyChineseFamily said:
    January 6, 2015 at 4:12 pm

    I have read about Pingyao before and saw some pictures however i think I still need some convincing to do until my wife is willing to go there :p

    I remember the salt mines very well from your article however I totally must have missed the Tasmania one as I really wonder how it is there

      wisemonkeysabroad responded:
      January 6, 2015 at 7:56 pm

      Yes, we have visited Tasmania twice… We have a few posts about it but still have more that we could write about Tasmania that which we probably should. If you ever visit Australia – be sure to add it on the list 🙂 And next visit to China, see if you can squeeze in Ping Yao 😉

    sophierose233 said:
    January 6, 2015 at 3:35 pm

    Great post! I’ve heard so many good things about Pingyao but am yet to go! Definitely on my list for 2015! Thanks for sharing!

      wisemonkeysabroad responded:
      January 6, 2015 at 7:57 pm

      Oooh – we hope you do get to Pingyao this year. What other travel plans are in store for you for this year? We are still working our out very slowly…. So welcome any inspiration. 🙂

        sophierose233 said:
        January 6, 2015 at 9:17 pm

        Mine are most likely to be China related so I really want to go to Datong to see the hanging temple, Chengdu and I still haven’t been to Yangshuo so they’re top of the list. Although i’d really like to go to South Korea for a trip and possibly Vietnam although with my new job I have a lot less time on my hands!

          wisemonkeysabroad responded:
          January 6, 2015 at 10:28 pm

          OMG – You must go to Datong! The Hanging Temple is ONE of the BEST things we have seen. We would be so interested to see what you thought of it. We had high expectations of this one and it certainly lived up to it 🙂

    Mani (A New Life Wandering) said:
    January 6, 2015 at 2:46 pm

    Wow those salt mines seriously sounds amazing.

      wisemonkeysabroad responded:
      January 6, 2015 at 7:57 pm

      Happy New Year!! Yes, the salt mines are one of the most incredible things we have seen and totally unexpected!

    yprior1 said:
    January 6, 2015 at 2:21 pm

    cool places – and I think it is cool how you do not read too much about a place – so that you can have a fresher experience – good idea… anyhow, the salt mines were my fav from this post 🙂 –

      wisemonkeysabroad responded:
      January 6, 2015 at 8:04 pm

      Happy New Year, Yvette! Hope you and the family had a wonderful Christmas and New Year. We like to have our breath taken away by seeing something for the first time with our eyes then be underwhelmed because we have read too much hype about it. Thanks for reading 🙂

        yprior1 said:
        January 7, 2015 at 8:17 am

        have a great week

    Compass&Camera said:
    January 6, 2015 at 12:53 pm

    Excellent post! Happy New Year!

      wisemonkeysabroad responded:
      January 6, 2015 at 7:58 pm

      Happy New Year to you too! Thank you for reading and glad you liked the post 🙂

    Yvonne said:
    January 6, 2015 at 12:42 pm

    yay for Tasmania! It’s such a beautiful state. 🙂

      wisemonkeysabroad responded:
      January 6, 2015 at 7:58 pm

      Three more cheers for Tassie, right??! Absolutely love it there – driving around is so much fun and there is so much to see 🙂

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