Every country has its fair share of tacky, guidebook attractions. But sometimes these spots do stack up and can genuinely surprise us.
Bangkok has so many opportunities for visitors to see a whole variety of attractions. Some of these offer a great insight into the Kingdom’s rich culture and Thai traditions, while others provide a glimpse into the seedier side of humanity. We recommend avoiding the popular ping-pong balls and instead head to one of Bangkok’s more salubrious tourist attractions, Wat Pho (the Temple of the Reclining Buddha).
Located in the Phra Nakhon District, Wat Pho is on Rattanakosin Island, directly south of the Grand Palace. It’s one the oldest and largest temples in the city and the star attraction is the Reclining Buddha. This majestic monument is the largest in Thailand, measuring more than 45-metres in length.
Walking through the temples and gardens of Wat Pho you’ll be able to gain a greater appreciation of Thailand through the rich tapestry of art, culture and history on show. Along with the famous Reclining Buddha, it features 394 other Buddha statues which are spread out between four temples.
If that’s not enough to shoot this place straight to the top of your must-visit list, in addition to being a place of worship, Wat Pho is also an education centre that focuses on traditional medicine. You’re guaranteed one of the best Thai massages in the city here.
We recommend visiting early to avoid crowds, dressing respectfully, engaging a knowledgeable guide who can share further details and, most importantly, bringing a wide angle lens if you have one. Price of admission is only AU$5 and that includes a bottle of water.
Does a James Bond-themed revolving restaurant at a height of almost 3,000 metres float your boat? It may sound a little touristy, but located atop the stunning mountain of Schilthorn, this interactive 007 experience – which houses both a museum and cinema – is far from naff.
You’ll start with a one-hour gondola trip through the picturesque Lauterbrunnen Valley and Bernese Alps. The summit was the location for the sixt film in the Bond franchise, On Her Majesty’s Secret Service. It’s fair to editorialise and say that this installment wasn’t one of the better films in the series, but it also happened to feature the Australian model George Lazenby. With no acting credits to his name, George was chosen as the replacement for Sean Connery.
Both the Skyline Walk and Thrill Walk offer guests an adrenaline-inducing experience on a glass platform that dangles high above a precipice, providing a panoramic view of the snow-covered Jungfrau massif.
Spectacular views of the Eiger and Mönch also await and you can follow in James Bond’s footsteps at the interactive Bond World exhibition or the 007 Walk of Fame. Highlights include gazing upon the original screenplay, enjoying a simulator flight in the original chassis of a decommissioned Air Glaciers Alouette III helicopter and creating your own Bond chase montage in a bobsleigh.
So do you need to be a James Bond fan to enjoy this experience?
It certainly helps, but the Schilthorn is such an incredible location in itself that it wouldn’t really matter what the exhibits were.
So grab yourself a martini, (shaked, not stirred, of course), from the revolving restaurant, and if you’re visiting in winter you can really get into character by strapping on your skis and tackling the black run from the movie while pretending to outrun the baddies.
HARBOUR BRIDGE CLIMB
It’s one of the most iconic bridges in the world, overlooking one of the most recognisable and picturesque harbours in the world. Should you bite the bullet and climb the Coathanger for an eagle’s view? We say, absolutely.
Traversing the top of Sydney Harbour Bridge is a must, and climbs are available from dawn until dusk.
While it can be quite challenging to climb you don’t have to be a trained mountaineer to get to the top and you’ll be assisted every step of the way. And as you take in the extraordinary views you’ll be plied with interesting facts about the bridge by a laconic Aussie guide with a decent sense of humour and pathos.
There are several climbs available that range in time lengths, but all offer fantastic vantage points for looking out over gorgeous locations such as Milson’s Point, Lavender Bay, McMahons Point, Luna Park, the North Sydney Olympic Pool and Kirribilli.
If the view from the top is always different, what’s the opportune time to climb? Dawn would be our choice, but there are limited departures so book well in advance.
It’s the official drink of Irish people right across the world, and even if you aren’t a fan of Guinness, chances are someone you know is.
But does the idea of spending an entire afternoon in a seven-storey visitor centre dedicated to the dark drop tickle your tastebuds? We know that sounds like a long stretch for any museum, even one filled with beer. However, we can assure you that even if you don’t love the rich, malty good stuff, you’ll still enjoy a visit to the Storehouse.
Located at Dublin’s St James Gate Brewery, the Storehouse is a shrine to all things Guinness. Think interactive exhibits, old brewing equipment and an incredible collection of artefacts, historical records and ad campaigns. You can even learn the fine art of pouring the perfect pint. According to the master brewers, to produce the perfect ratio of the dark liquid draught and cream-coloured head it takes exactly 119.53 seconds for the beer to settle between the first and second pours. So if your bartender serves up a pint with a huge head of foam, it just isn’t a proper Guinness.
Finish your tour in the Gravity Bar where you’ll be treated to panoramic views over the city while enjoying a complimentary, perfectly poured, Dublin-brewed Guinness.
When visiting San Francisco one of the most touristy activities you can do is jump on a cable car and ride it right down to the harbour, where you’ll look across to the now shuttered penitentiary of Alcatraz.
To visit or not to visit?
We say no trip to Frisco is complete without venturing across the bay to Alcatraz, and whatever hype you’ve heard about it being a tourist trap should be taken with a grain of salt. The Alcatraz tour offers a riveting and fascinating insight into one of the world’s most notorious jails.
Starting from the ferry ride to the island you’ll take in some stunning views of the city including both the Bay and Golden Gate bridges. Upon arrival it’s pretty clear you’ll get unparalleled access to the site and can pretty much explore as you wish without a single velvet rope in sight.
While wandering around the prison you’ll sense an eerie melancholy and hear stories about infamous inmates such as Al Capone, The Birdman of Alcatraz and Machine Gun Kelly. You’ll also learn about the 1969 Native Occupation of Alcatraz. Your journey is narrated by ex-guards or prisoners, and the chequered history will genuinely make the hairs stand up on the back of your neck. For a truly immersive experience, you can also be locked up in one of the cells to get that nasty, claustrophobic feeling of incarceration.
Those looking for a fright are encouraged to take the night tour which is not for the faint of heart.
The verdict? Yes, Alcatraz is a major tourist attraction, but you will get a massive return-on-investment with this one.