As 2023 is coming to an end in a few weeks from now, I find myself reflecting on a year filled with intriguing travels to countries perched on the edges of geopolitical tension – mostly across news channels the world over. Contrary to popular perceptions fueled by media sensationalism, these border regions turned out to be remarkably safe and rewarding destinations. Let me take you through my experiences in South Korea, Kashmir & Ladakh, Poland, and Japan — each a testament to the beauty and safety often overlooked amidst global headlines.
1. South Korea: A Safe Haven Beyond the Border
My first adventure of 2023 led me to South Korea, a nation frequently overshadowed by its northern neighbor’s headlines. The initial skepticism of safety dissolved as I explored Seoul, ventured to the pristine Jeju Island, and even treaded into parts of the DMZ. My stay revealed South Korea as one of the safest countries I’ve experienced in a long time. For a deeper dive into my Korean escapades, check out my dedicated blog which will be up shortly in the coming weeks.
2. Kashmir & Ladakh: Beyond Borders, Boundless Beauty
Next on my list were Kashmir and Ladakh, regions often clouded by concerns due to their proximity to Pakistan and China, respectively. Contrary to expectations, the landscapes of Srinagar, Sonmarg in Kashmir as well as Kargil, Leh, Nubra and Pangong Lake in Ladakh felt like havens of tranquility. From crossing the border traversing Kashmir into Ladakh via Kargil to running a half marathon in Leh, every moment reinforced the safety and allure of these off-peak season gems.
3. Poland: Central European Charm Amidst Headlines
My sixth visit to Poland, a Central European country bordering Belarus, Ukraine, and the Baltic Coastline, underscored the importance of smart and informed travel. Despite being close to regions making headlines for the wrong reasons, Poland remains a haven of safety. My recommendation is to seize the opportunity to explore these unique and special places before they become overly commercial and crowded with tourists.
4. Japan: A Serene Sanctuary Amidst Global Tensions
Finally, I concluded my year in Japan, a country often featured in global news for its proximity to China and Korea and movements across the South China Sea. The reality, however, is that Japan stands out as one of the safest countries to visit. Nestled near the Sea of Japan and the South China Sea, it captivated me with its tranquility and cultural richness.
In retrospect, 2023 became a year of living on the edge — not in peril, but in the joyous discovery of secure havens. These four destinations — South Korea, Kashmir & Ladakh, Poland, and Japan — are highly recommended and should be on your must visit destinations list for your travels in 2024. Stay tuned for detailed accounts of each journey in upcoming blogs, where I would share my firsthand experiences and insights from these extraordinary places.