I’m so sick of the travel section of most mainstream newspapers. The Saturday ‘Traveller’ section of my local paper is pretty much pages and pages of advertisements thinly disguised as destination reviews. I’ve noticed that it’s pretty rare to find a less than flattering review written journalists that travel as ‘guests’ of the tour groups, government tourism departments or airlines that they are writing about. They might point out one or two minor niggles but I’d say 95% of the content in those articles are absolutely glowing reviews of the service or company in question.
This has led to a stock standard format of reporting where each beach is pristine, all locals smiling, flight attendants charming and attentive and the nightlife electric and thumping. It’s a shame. Besides the fact that we’re all intelligent enough to know we’re being taken for a ride, it also makes for a very boring read.
Am I asking too much to expect an unbiased and interesting account of someone’s travels in my Saturday paper? We all know that not every trip is amazing, nor is every single holiday devoted to a beach hopping somewhere in Fiji. Airline service is generally not fantastic and some places just don’t have exciting nightlife. So why isn’t that reflected in what we read in the paper?
I’m over reading about the next paradise found. What about Paradise lost? I find travel disaster stories to be some of the most captivating. We can all relate to an awful flight or getting ripped off. So in the interest of balanced and fair reporting, I’d like to present to you my list of the words most over rated tourist destinations. I put the call out on twitter this week and here are some of the responses, as well as a few of my own;
I didn’t naively travel into Phnom Penh without some idea of what to expect. Cambodian’s history is riddled with bullets, persecution and heartache. No city could bounce back with ease from what happened there, so I knew to go in with an open mind. Still, that didn’t stop me from wanting to leave from the moment I landed.
I arrived just on nightfall, and after checking into my guesthouse went on the hunt for some bottled water and toothpaste. I managed to walk 5 metres from my hotel before hordes of touts pounced, pulling me this way and that, promising me cocaine, opium, dope and my choice of teenage kids to take home for the night. I’m not unaccustomed to the ways of the tout, but I have never been as aggressively accosted as I was in Phnom Penh. To top it off were gun shots in the distance and I had a very unsettling feeling about being there.
A lot of the residents in Phnom Penh were lovely, genuine people and I had a few interesting conversations but I still couldn’t shake the seedy and unsafe feeling I was getting from being there. Also, there just wasn’t a lot to do except visit the Killing fields and Museum. I still think Phnom Penh is worth visiting as I’m a firm believer that only by being there to talk to people and witness first hand what happened will we ever fully understand magnitude of the atrocities brought against the Cambodians by the Pol Pot regime, however I just don’t think that the city itself makes for a great tourist destination, yet have you noticed that everyone raves about it? Makes me wonder…
I think this response from alert reader Kassey sums it up;
Stupid bloody Paris. Honestly what’s the deal about a TV antenna that was supposed to come down decades ago? And the price of food. Astronomical! Down with Paris, it’s way overrated and now it’s got a big head. We need to take it down a notch I say. Though I do like the way the people manifest (protest) on an ongoing basis. I respect that about the French (and love their accents).
Succinctly put I say. Paris is very beautiful, but is also very aware of that fact. Everything is expensive. Everything. Even public toilets cost at least a Euro. Still it’s worth visiting at least once. If only so you can have get surly service at restaurants, pay through the nose for a dodgy guesthouse and swoon over the accent (French does sound beautiful, even when being slurred by hobos in the subway). And yeah, take a photo at the base of that antenna.
I just can’t get on the Florence bandwagon. It’s so noisy, dirty and expensive. The first time I visited Florence 3 years ago I woke bright and early to head to the museum to see Michelangelo’s David but when I got there the queue snaked down the road for at least 200 metres. I gave up, instead walking around the corner to the Piazza della Signoria to see the free replica. No queues and I got an interesting photo of a pigeon sitting on David’s head. Can’t do that in the museum. I thought that perhaps my initial judgement of the city was too harsh so I went back again last year and am sorry to stay that I’m sticking by my first assessment. Nice enough city, but in my opinion just not worthy of all the hoopla. Who’s with me?
Panama (city and country)
If I had to choose between Costa Rica or Panama I’d choose the former, hands down. Panama didn’t do it for me. I was told that the city of David would make for an interesting stop over on the way to Panama City, but I found David to be too hot to do anything except drink gallons of water and wait for the next bus out of town. Casco Viejo (the old town in Panama City) had some interesting ruins that were worth visiting, but the main draw card is the Panama Canal. It’s really not as exciting as it seems. It takes hours for a boat to pass through the locks. That’s a lot of waiting around watching the water levels slowly rise and fall. Unless you’re a hardcore canal or giant boat fan, just find a video of it on YouTube.
Phuket is the last place to go in Thailand to get a taste of local culture. Here’s what Twitterer Cally has to say on Phuket;
Besides the drunk western men with young scantily clad ladies being everywhere, there were signs on most hotel doorways saying, if you have ‘guests’ in your room there is an extra charge- gives you some idea of what you might be in for! Although there were some good points, it was kind of in your face, the cynicism of locals toward tourists (which probably has been earned?!) and there was certainly a constant fear of being ripped off and having to check and recheck everything a million times. Also lots and lots of old European ladies on the beach topless (old, really old, and really having spent their lives in the sun, it was quite eye opening to say the least)
So Phuket – great if you want beach, beer and boobs. If you’re after a little more than that, probably best to look elsewhere or maybe have a read of my previous post on untoursited Thailand
A few other notable overrated destinations twittered to me this week include:
Anywhere in Ireland, Ancona – Italy, Zagreb – Croatia, Gold Coast (I concur) as well as Brampton Island – both in Australia and also Fiji.
So there you have it – my attempt at bringing a little balance to the otherwise overwhelmingly positive destination reviews we tend to read in the paper. If you have any further places you’d like to add to the overrated list, leave a comment below!
You can read more of Shane’s posts at havepack.com, on twitter or at sanchezjalapeno.com
15 Replies to “Some Destinations Aren’t as Glorious as Advertised”
I totally disagree with Ireland being overrated. The country is beautiful and the people are some of the most friendly in the world. Dublin is overrated. Ireland is not. I’ve been three times and can never wait to go back.
I agree with you Patrick, I found Ireland to be surprisingly charming myself.
I agree with you Patrick, I haven’t yet had the chance to visit Ireland but everything I hear tends to be positive reviews (except of course, when I asked around for this post). Also, how can you call the country that brought us Guinness under rated?
The thing is any place anywhere in the world can be great or complete shit depending on how you travel. I’ve been to Phuket and Phnom Penh on your list. I agree with Patong, if you are up for a party it is great, the rest of Phuket has a lot more to offer. Still I’d rather go to Tiger disco in Patong for a night out than a Full Moon party.
I have to compare Phnom Penh to Bali, I found the touts in Kuta to be far worse than in PP, in PP I’ve never been offered more than a moto or tuk tuk, in Kuta I was offered all you were in PP. It is funny some people just click with certain places and others don’t. I would say there is far more to do in PP than in Kuta but the truth are both good bases for day trips to other areas, and in any place there are always those lesser known experiences that are often only discovered depending on the company you keep while there.
I guess when an editor gets two stories on his desk one negative and one positive the negative one would want to be a damn entertaining yarn if it is to be published. Negative reviews don’t sell advertising or convince people that they must travel. I could write a glowing review about the shittiest place on the planet, someone will want to go there.
You make an excellent point about negative stories not selling advertising, Dan. I guess it’s just frustrating sometimes when you open the paper and each article seems to be an exact replica of last weeks, albeit with a different photo of a beach attached to it.
By the way I really like your website, I especially enjoyed the post with the images from Pakistan.
Thanks for this- totally agree with you about the thinly disguised advertorials filling newsprint. The New York Times’ travel section has become particularly horrible in recent years. In addition to the shallow writing and eye-popping number of cliches, they cover the same destinations over and over. Old San Juan, Puerto Rico has been covered at least three times in the past couple of years. I lived there; it’s great, but c’mon- there’s a whole island to discover!
And even if the travel sections don’t want to publish travel horror stories, which I understand, they could at least hold their writers to higher standards, challenging them to use words and images that are more evocative and more original than “a hidden gem.”
I couldn’t agree more!
I agree with you on Florence… just didn’t do anything for me and I actually felt kind of bad about it. Dublin I felt was overrated but I suspect the rest of the country is great. I suspect a lot of it depends on what you are looking for and expecting in your travel experience.
Ditto on Florence here as well. It wasn’t bad by any means, but I wasn’t wowed nearly as much as most people I’ve met. Then again, most people I know studied there for an extended period of time so maybe it has to rub off on you.
Could I add Paphos to your list, all travel agencies always make it sound great, but when I visitied it I was less than impressed
We haven’t been in all places you listed but the reason why we skipped Phuket was it’s bad fame as tourist, party ghetto. Interesting about Florence. Have you been to the Uffizi?
We couldn’t agree more anyway that some places are over rated and to us was Rarotonga which i would be interested to know why many people acclaimed is a tropical paradise. Maybe the charm of a remote land off many routes?? This is what we thought http://www.atravelaroundtheworld.com/2010/02/rarotonga-living-up-to-tropical.html
I didn’t get a chance to go to the Uffizi unfortunately. I understand that Florence has a lot in terms of things to see, I just feel felt it was over rated in other aspects (too many people, very noisy etc). I’ve heard mixed reports about Rarotonga. I really enjoyed your blog post though!
After reading about all the places to avoid, I was particularly amused by the comments from Cally about Phuket…I am over 50 and lived my 20’s through the ’70’s and ’80’s, so hangin on the beach drinking and smoking pot topless was a way of life that no amount of skin cancer advertising will totally put on the kybosh. So while this may spoil the aesthetics for the x and y gen when travelling, just consider the experiences of us oldies – many of us have wasted away our youth and can only afford to get travelling now that we have ‘grown up’! However, sleazy middle-aged me the world over will try to exploit scantily clad young women- after all – who else would give them a second glance? Maybe supporting local businesses so these girls can get out of the sleaze is a good option.
Couldn’t agree more Michelle. As far as men the world over trying to exploit scantily clad young women… check out my post on exactly just that: https://havepack.com/sex-tourism-around-the-world/
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