June 5, 2005
I’m not talking about going to a country to work and earn a living. That would be an entirely different matter. I’m talking about a visit or stay by someone who arrives with enough money to live on. I’m excluding the US; this is about foreign countries.
And I’m talking about only the countries that I personally have visited: most countries in the Western Hemisphere; all countries in Western Europe, a couple in Eastern Europe; 11 countries in Asia; 2 countries in North Africa.
What are the criteria then? These are the things I’m considering: reasonable prices; good weather; friendly people; interesting culture; and scenic countryside.
I’ve been thinking this over for years, and these are my choices:
BEST COUNTRIES (In Order)
Indonesia, Egypt, Thailand, México, Brazil
WORST COUNTRIES (In Order)
Norway, Switzerland, Hungary, Greece, Mongolia
In my opinion, Indonesia is the best. The island of Bali is as close to Paradise as you will find on this planet, I think. This is the lushest, most brilliant jungle setting imaginable, where people live in carved stone cottages with thatched roofs. Prices are really low, and the people are friendly almost without exception. If you walk down the street, absolutely everyone will greet you. Bali is a Hindu enclave in the midst of an Islamic archipelago, but I’m sure that religion is only a marginal factor in the friendly disposition of these physically small people. The weather is perfectly wonderful. Average high and low temperature all year round: 86º and 77º. The only reason I am not there now is the problem of getting an extended visa. Generally, you get 30 days, and renew by reentering, but you have to fly out and fly in, so the cost would be prohibitive. I may explore it further though, to see if I can do any better.
Egypt also has extremely friendly people. I never had more fun in my life than I had in Egypt. And prices are incredibly low. I lived comfortably for $200 a month in Egypt. We all know that Egypt has endless archeological treasures. However, the desert countryside is depressing, and the appalling poverty that some people live in is distressing.
Thailand is much like Indonesia. People are jovial and merry to a fault. Again though the poverty is distressing. The problem here too is that extended visas may be difficult to come by. A 30-day visa just isn’t worth it, but I may check further. I’ve been thinking about a lengthier stay in Bangkok, if I can arrange it.
Americans who have been to Mexican cities and towns in the interior will know how genteel and amiable most Mexicans are. Prices are good, but not as good as in the abovesaid countries. And in most parts of México, the weather is not all that it could be. Most places have cold seasons. Visas though are easy-
Brazil has glorious weather, just like Indonesia, at least along the Amazon River. The scenery is magnificent. But Brazilians are not especially friendly. By American standards they’d be called ‘polite’ or ‘affable’, but they’re a far cry from Indonesians. Also, Brazil tends to be somewhat expensive.
If you like sky-high prices, cold weather and haughty, arrogant people, you should definitely visit Scandinavia and Switzerland. If you want to be served a $3 or $4 cup of coffee by someone who thinks she is too good even to look you in the eye, you need only go to Oslo, Genéva or Zürich, and trudge through the ice and snow to get to the restaurant.
Hungary and Greece, though interesting in many ways, are filled with hustlers, hooligans, smart alecks and troublemakers. I can’t believe how rude some of those people are. Weather is especially bad in Hungary. Prices are good in Hungary, a little higher in Greece.
Mongolia has little to offer. Barren, cold and unfriendly, Mongolia offers only the advantages of good prices and an exotic geography and history.
About the author Thomas Keyes: I have written two books: A SOJOURN IN ASIA (non-fiction) and A TALE OF UNG (fiction), neither published so far.
I have studied languages for years and traveled extensively on five continents.
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