The next entry in our Top 5 series: Top 5 Sights! We have had some great times in the course of our travels together (check out our Top 5 Trips), but sometimes there are just truly breathtaking sights that stay with you long after you have left. You can click on the place names to read more details from the original posts.
5. Temple of the Emerald Buddha (Bangkok, 2009/2013)
The Temple of the Emerald Buddha (referred to as Wat Phra Kaew in Thai) is perhaps the most famous and sacred temple in Thailand. It houses, unsurprisingly, an emerald buddha statue, that only the King of Thailand is allowed to touch (he apparently changes the cloak the statue wears to correspond with each change in season, supposed to usher in good fortune for the upcoming season for Thailand). This iconic temple is truly a sight to behold, and it is awe-inspiring every time I visit. I’ve visited the temple on every trip I’ve takne to Thailand since I was a child (I think it’s considered good manners to pay your respects here regularly). David was particularly impressed by it when he first saw it back in 2009. The massive complex is bounded by walls painted with murals depicting the entire Ramakian, the Thai national epic based on the Indian Ramayana. What’s not to love about a story with action, love and enormous monkeys fighting giant demons? The temple is bursting with vibrance and colour, a good reflection of the Thai people I’d say. Upon first visiting, it seems like such a foreign, exotic place as to be so unfamiliar relative to even the most grandiose of palaces we’ve visited elsewhere.
We visited Rocamadour, located in the south-west of France, during our honeymoon back in 2010. I remember marveling that a place like this actually existed in the world. The buildings rising out of the cliffs made us think of Tolkien’s Minas Tirith from The Lord of the Rings. For being such a sleepy town, it was surprisingly awe-inspiring. This was historically a famous site for pilgrimages, and pilgrims were known for climbing the 216 steps of the major staircase on their knees (though we opted to just walk up). We continued our climb up Chemin de Croix, a peaceful winding climb through woodlands to the top of the ramparts, where we were treated to fantastic views of the valley. An outstanding place.
Paris is a magical place for me, filled with art and croissants and with gorgeous buildings on every corner, so it takes something particularly spectacular to rise to the top of all that. Palais Garnier is one such magical place. It is said to have inspired the famed opera house in Phantom of the Opera, so that should give you an idea of its grandeur. I remember walking through, mouth agape, just staring up at the beautifully ornate ceilings, paintings and candelabras. It was so over-the-top in its opulence, it was almost not to be believed. David and I were so inspired the first time we visited in 2008 that we vowed to come back again someday to not just be visitors but to be patrons and actually see a performance there. In 2010, for our honeymoon, we made good on our promise to ourselves and saw the Paris Opera perform a ballet inspired by Degas. Even though we were up in the rafters, in the farthest possible seats (our seats actually folded down from the wall), we were happy to experience such a historic, opulent theatre.
Our road trip around the Highlands of Scotland was quite the epic adventure. Our first two days were particularly eventful, as we drove through some truly amazing landscapes. The low, scraggy peaks through the Glencoe region, apparently the remains of an ancient super volcano which were subsequently shaped by a glacier, were bleak and almost haunting. The light that day fell so gorgeously over the hillsides. Needless to say, we spent a lot of time pulling our rental car over and gaping at the view. I remember we were astounded that this was a place that could possibly happen in the world. We couldn’t, however, not also include Neist Point on this list, the westernly most point of Scotland on the Isle of Skye. We spent a long day driving out to see it, along some very narrow (though picturesque) single track roads, but we were certainly rewarded for our efforts. Jutting out into the Atlantic, the soaring cliffs stood tall and resolutely. It was hard to pull ourselves away and drive home.
1. Norwegian fjords (Norway, 2013)
I had never really thought that I would ever see the fjords of Norway. It just wasn’t a place that I’d ever thought about visiting. I’d booked us on a “Norway in a Nutshell” Tour, which was essentially arranged transport from Oslo to Bergen, involving several trains and, critically, a ferry ride through Aurlandfjord and the Nærøyfjord. National Geographic lists it as the world’s top natural heritage sight (and it’s even supposedly the inspiration for the landscape in Disney’s Frozen). Despite being freezing (and my still recovering from a cold), it was perhaps the most gorgeous landscapes we’ve ever witnessed. Everything was so still and tranquil, with little villages hunched between the water and these craggy, snow-covered peaks. The word breathtaking is often overused, but it was definitely apt as the ferry glided through the Nærøyfjord. It was once in a lifetime view that I’m glad to have witnessed.