My four favorite places on earth

I just got back from a trip to Bali and Berchtesgaden, and a reader (correctly) pointed out that I’ve referred to both destinations as my favorite place on earth. So I figured I’d make a post about my four favorite destinations, since it occurred to me that I’ve referred to all four of these places as my favorite at one point or another. I’m by no means suggesting they’re the four most amazing places on earth, but rather just the places I enjoy the most of those I’ve been to. I’m sure in 20 years I’ll have more cities on this list, but these are the four cities I could return to again and again and never get tired of.

I’ll keep the descriptions brief, though here they are:

Hong Kong — my favorite city

I’d usually much rather visit small towns and countryside than cities, though Hong Kong is an exception. First of all, I find it to be the most vibrant, exciting city in the world. But beyond that, I find it to also be one of the few foreign cities that I could actually imagine comfortably living in and not feeling “lost in translation.” Hong Kong is also a perfect blend between a bustling, cosmopolitan city, and a relaxing, calm getaway, depending on where you look. It’s just an amazing place, and I don’t think words can do the vibe of the city justice.

Queenstown, New Zealand — my favorite scenery destination

The story behind how I visited Queenstown is pretty funny. Right after I graduated high school my mom and I went on a trip to Australia and New Zealand using United miles in Air New Zealand business class. We planned about 10 days for New Zealand, though didn’t know how to split our time between cities. At the time I was exclusively loyal to Priority Club, and I saw they had four locations in New Zealand — Auckland, Wellington, Christchurch, and Queenstown. Everyone I asked about New Zealand highly recommended visiting the first three cities, though oddly enough no one ever mentioned Queenstown.

As it turned out, Queenstown was one of the highlights of my trip, and I’m convinced it’s one of the most beautiful places on earth. It’s all the way in the southern tip of New Zealand, and has some of the most beautiful mountains and lakes I’ve seen anywhere. I’ll let the pictures speak for themselves. I’m really itching to return…

Berchtesgaden, Germany — my favorite adventure destination

Berctesgaden is just perfect. Perhaps I’m a bit biased since I’m German so it feels like “home,” but it’s just beautiful. I visited Berchtesgaden for the first time last year, and I remember my first reaction — “ah, so this is what fresh air smells like.” It had been years since I’ve been to a place that smells like one of those “mountain air fresheners” you’d put in your car, though Berchtesgaden most definitely does. Not only does the whole region have a lot of exciting things to do, like hiking, canoeing, visiting salt mines, cable car rides, etc., but Berchtesgaden itself is also one of the most charming towns I’ve been to, especially when they have weekend festivals. It just so happens to be that there’s a stunning InterContinental in Berchtesgaden at the top of Germany’s steepest road, which makes it all the more exciting.

Bali, Indonesia — My favorite relaxation/beach destination

Here’s how I’ve summed up Bali in the past: “It’s not that the beaches are the most impressive in the world or the sights are unlike anywhere else, but there’s some peaceful spirit to the place that I haven’t found anywhere else in the world. Oh, and the Balinese people and hands down the friendliest, most hospitable people I’ve come in contact with anywhere.”

‘Nuff said.

What are your favorite places?

Admittedly there are dozens of places I love (including the Lufthansa First Class Terminal in Frankfurt!), but the above four are my absolute favorites. Have you visited any of the above, and if so, do you agree or disagree? What are your favorite cities?

Filed Under: Travel
  1. Agree with all of your choices, but a couple of my other favorites are Buenos Aires – the most vibrant city I’ve been to with the sense that all can be good even if the economy sucks. Similarly Jaipur (and even Agra) where you’re left wondering how such a chaotic people can create such beautiful things. Well that then brings up Siam Reap – an entire generation of men wiped out but still the most friendly people on earth.

  2. @ infamousdx — In Bali I’ve done the IC, W, and Grand Hyatt. Probably like them in that order too.

  3. I think those are all terrific choices. I like Hong Kong and Bali — I’m not so into scenery and adventure, so I’m not sure I would have answers for those.

    My favorite city would be Tokyo. I like it because of there are so many things to do there and there’s always something new. I also think it’s special because it’s so safe that I can really relax and enjoy myself.

    My favorite beach/relaxation spot isn’t a beach, but it is very relaxing. I’d pick Bangkok and the Mandarin Oriental, on the banks of the Chao Phraya river. With its laid back vibe, great food (Thai food from Sala Rim Naam or Peking Duck from the Chinese House — decisions, decisions…), and spectacular service, I love hanging out there without a worry in the world.

  4. I don’t know why and many will disagree, but my favorite city destination is Los Angeles.

  5. I have been to Hong Kong. I agree with you completely. I guess you might have not experienced the old airport – landings at that airport were dramatic to experience and technically demanding for pilots.

  6. @ USairelite — I’m a huge fan of LA too. Definitely top 10 for me.

    @ Serendipity — Sad I never get to fly to Kai Tak. 🙁

  7. I spent a week in Queenstown and had a ball there as there’s so much to do. Can’t wait to go back.

  8. @ gpapadop — That’s a toughie, because Bali is a destination that typically has reasonably priced hotels, and the high end hotels are also expensive with points. Purely in terms of value I’d say the Hyatt Bali is pretty tough to beat at only 5K per night. But it also wouldn’t be my first choice in Bali…

  9. Can’t disagree with three out of the four as I have yet to visit, but I do love Berchtesgaden!

  10. I see LA mentioned a few time. Would anybody please explain why? Maybe I am missing something..

  11. For me it’s a coin toss between Hong Kong & Singapore. Hong Kong for all the reasons you mentiong & Singapore because how can you not love a city state where the national past times are eating & shopping.

    Bali is still my all time favorite beach destination on the planet. The Balinese are just so darn nice!

  12. @gpapadop

    I’d have to agree with lucky. All of the hotels on Nusa Dua (where the 5* international chains mostly are) are pretty expensive on points these days. W ain’t cheap either.

    My wife and I have reserved a suite at the Bali Hyatt in October, costing 8,000 points per night. That might be the best bang for the buck.

  13. @lucky

    What’s your first pick in Bali? The wife and I are staying at four different places in Bali/Lombok — two local places and two chains. I couldn’t pass up a suite at the Bali Hyatt for 8k points/night. I also caved and paid for a villa ($400/night++) at the W.

    Also, glad to hear you like HKG. We’re staying for 4 nights at the Conrad HKG before we head to Bali. Bali is a repeat for us, but HKG is a first (at least leaving the airport, anyway).

  14. @nancy

    When I saw SIN a few years ago, it didn’t impress me — felt pretty sterile. Maybe I didn’t get out and eat enough 🙂

  15. @ Dan — Excellent choice in Hong Kong, love the Conrad!

    As far as Bali goes, I still really like the InterContinental and think it’s the best balance between value and luxury for a club room.

    I thought the W was an awesome resort, though it wasn’t in any way Balinese — it could’ve been in Mexico, the Caribbean, or Florida, and I wouldn’t have known the difference.

    I’m really tempted to try the St. Regis Bali, though it’s outrageously expensive. I think the Hyatt and Grand Hyatt are a great option on points, be it for a suite or standard room.

  16. In terms of cities, for me it is (in order):

    1. Hong Kong;
    2. Sydney;
    3. San Francisco; and
    4. Buenos Aires.

  17. I agree with @Bruce: Tokyo has got to be one of the most exciting cities. For Americans, there is just so much wonderful weirdness there, but in a completely safe environment! No place else like that on this planet!

  18. Lucky, I learned about the IC Berchtesgaden from your posts and I now plan to stay there in late October for a few nights. You mention the steepest road in Germany leads to the hotel. The web site also mentions this. How difficult is the drive up and down from the hotel? Also, any tips on how to get Lucky with a great room there? I’m not an IC Ambassador like you.

  19. @ entrada — Are you an Ambassador member? If not I’d recommend joining for $200, especially if you can stay over a weekend and use a “buy one get one free” weekend night certificate.

    As far as the street goes, it can take a bit getting used to if you don’t usually drive stick, but as long as it’s not icy you shouldn’t have any issues.

  20. My four favorite places:

    – Kangaroo Island, Australia
    – Santorini, Greece
    – Barcelona, Spain
    – Sydney, Australia

  21. Excellent Choices Ben ; I must say, that German place ( I wont even try to pronounce/spell it) looks like a painting you would find at my parents house… Although Bali looks amazing, I did find Redang Island, Malaysia to be spectacular.

  22. I absolutely love Queenstown too. One of the coolest places around. I’m actually heading back in Feb 2014 (too far away). Any tips on booking an award ticket? I see a lot of posts on getting to Australia, but not a lot on getting to New Zealand. Any brilliant ideas?

  23. @ Noel — Ever since Qantas stopped flying from Los Angeles to Auckland and Air New Zealand more or less stopped releasing premium cabin award space between the US and New Zealand, your best bet is to just route through Australia. The other option is to route through Asia, as Air New Zealand releases a good bit of award space on their Shanghai and Tokyo routes.

    Good luck and enjoy Queenstown!

  24. Gotta agree that Hong Kong is awesome! I managed to get over there on one of the UA 4 mile tickets, and had a blast for a weekend running around the city! Will definitely be back to it again to see more!

  25. City – Lisbon
    Scenary – Iceland
    Adventure Destination – Zermatt/Cervinia
    Relaxation – St Barth

    Let me add 2 more categories:
    Overall Country – Italy
    History destination – Egypt

    Off course I still have plenty of places to go and see, but these were places that I really enjoyed being and would not mind coming back over and over again.

  26. 1) The southern lakes region of Switzerland (Lake Lugano, Como areas). Great food, sites and climate for relaxing.
    2) Tokyo – so vibrant and safe.
    3) Kyoto – Gorgeous in the Fall.
    4) Malibu – close by for long weekend getaways.

    Would really love to go to Bali and Hong Kong. I just don’t do humidity well so that eliminates many places on the planet. But the pictures sure look wonderful.

  27. City- I agree with Hong Kong. I have loved it since my first time there in 1967.
    Scenery- The Amazon, slight bias towards Ariau
    Adventure- I’m with Philipp. I have spent a couple delightful weeks in Zermatt often in the last thirty years, there is no better or more varied ski destination, including a day trip to Cervinia
    Relaxation- Saint-Paul de Vence, near Nice, France more than 25 years of part-time living there has made me deeply addicted to the area

  28. @lucky: “I thought the W was an awesome resort, though it wasn’t in any way Balinese — it could’ve been in Mexico, the Caribbean, or Florida, and I wouldn’t have known the difference.”

    Funny, that’s my impression of all of Nusa Dua.

    Personally, I left my heart in San Francisco. But Borobudur at sunrise was a recent highlight.

  29. When will you be in HKG next? I go back every other month and would show you around the “countryside” where tourists don’t venture!

  30. @ Ken — I’ll definitely be there in January and February, though probably sooner as well. Will let you know!

  31. Nice pictures. Now I know where the image next to your articles on the boarding area homepage comes from.

  32. Beirut Beirut and Beirut no wonder it was classified top 1destination on cnn travel or new york times,and just one adress to stay the IC phoenicia,i ve visited 67 intercontinental hotels from bali to sydney,london to rio but the one in beirut is the top,not a singke city in the workd will give you the opportunity to swim abd in less than 30 min ski in the mountains.

  33. I love Malta, specifically the tiny island off the coast, Gozo. So beautiful!
    and Venice. Amazing to finally see the place that you had seen pictures/heard about your whole life.

  34. sydney – without a doubt my favorite place on earth!

    @ imfamousdx – look at the laguna in bali, it’s a starwood luxury collection and was immaculate when i was there, much better than grand hyatt, conrad or westin in my opinion

  35. Am I allowed to say Walt Disney World, there’s something magical about driving through that archway……

    Back in the real world, as far as cities go, I love Chicago and Tokyo, both very different cities. Scenery….. Maybe Scotland, or Patagonia.

  36. @ Antonio — I was planning on staying there last time I visited, though when I emailed them they said they didn’t get HHonors Gold members lounge access, so I passed. Will try it when I’m a Diamond for sure.

  37. Antonio & Ben- When I stayed at the Conrad in Bali as a HH Gold I got lounge access, a room upgrade, and free breakfast (in a choice of three locations). Very nice hotel with an excellent pool area (4-5 pools).

  38. @ John — And that’s what I read from most people as well, though for whatever reason when I emailed the hotel they said Gold members only get breakfast and not lounge access, so I decided against it for this time.

  39. Lucky,
    What’s your favorite hotel in Hong Kong? Which hotel would offer the best value if using points? I am never been there but I want to go.

  40. @ Dave Op — The Ritz Carlton and InterContinental are AMAZING, though both outrageously expensive. I think the best value on points is the Conrad, which I really love as well. It has great views, huge rooms, and a very nice executive lounge.

  41. Lucky,

    OK I’m getting sold on Bali! If I want to go East coast to Bali via Europe (say using United miles on Lufthansa, etc.) – what would be the best way to do that? Or do you always to via the Pacific? I’m in LA but would love to try and get there via Europe. Any ideas?

    Favorite places….Sydney, Bahia, St. John USVI, and always Paris 🙂


  42. @ stacey — If you can book within two weeks of departure I’d do JFK-FRA-SIN-DPS on the Lufthansa 747 & A380.

  43. @stacey – On the way back from Bali, we’re doing DPS-BKK-ZRH-JFK to try Thai and Swiss F.

  44. @infamousdx – wow….very cool itin! Are you doing any stopovers? Did you do the same on the way over? #Jealous

  45. When I was recently in Hong Kong, I thought it was funny how people there talk about Bali like we talk about Cancun or the Bahamas in the USA. They couldnt believe that it was an aspirational destination for us.

  46. City – Montreal
    Scenery – Luxembourg
    Adventure Destination – Kona, Hawai’i
    Relaxation – Estes Park, Colorado. It kind of fits the adventure destination as well.

  47. My Favorite Places

    1. Vancouver, Canada (Mountains, Ocean, Great people)

    2. Phuket, Thailand (Amazing Beaches, good prices, friendly locals)

    3. Malé, Maldives (Absolute Luxury, perfect beaches, the best snorkeling)

    4. Athens, Greece (Great city for walking, the ruins are amazing)

  48. Great post Lucky!

    On your next trip to Berchtesgaden, if you have some time (and a car), you may want to visit Zell am See in Austria and the Salzkammergut region (the towns of Hallstatt and St. Wolfgang in particular). Both within a couple of hours of Berchtesgaden – and both amazingly beautiful.

  49. Lucky – I also recommend Patagonia (though you’ve got to hike to get to some of the most scenic places). Near Queenstown, I strongly recommend Milford Sound, and some of the nearby treks.

  50. Nice list Lucky, and commenters have some great spots too. I’ll have to add a few to my list. And I have to agree on LA too, really enjoy that city.

  51. I love Bali, too but this is one place I don’t do chain hotels. As Ben said these chain hotels could be in Mexico or in Tampa

    My favorite places that haven’t been mentioned by other readers:

    Antigua, Guatemela
    Dubrovnik, Croatia
    Luang Probang, Laos

  52. City: Lisbon, by far. Way down at number 2 Istanbul, Riga, Macau, and Oslo.

    Scenery: Aalesund, Norway.

    Beach: Somewhere in Mindanao, say Samal Island resort off Davao. Haven’t been to Bali yet. Am not a great fan of beaches.

    Adventure: not sure I understand what this actually means, but if it is what I imagine it to be, then perhaps the docks of the harbour of Rotterdam at 2:30 a.m.


    Least liked (cities I do NOT want to revisit, though I must pass through at least one of them as it is en route to my closest airport): Rome, Malmo, Manila conurbation, Shenzhen, and Washington D.C.

    7) BEIRUT

  54. My four favorite places are Paris, Rio, Cape Town, and Angel’s Landing in Zion National Park, Utah.

  55. Here’s my choices for cities I’ve visited – I’ve lived in NYC and San Francisco, so I didn’t count those.

    Big City: Sydney, followed by Hong Kong and Barcelona

    Small City: York, England, followed by Victoria, BC, and Burlington, VT

    Relaxation destination: Ambergris Key, Belize, Killington, VT (in the summer)

    Solitude option relaxation destination: the Point-No Point resort, near Sooke,BC

    Scenery: the desert parks of Utah, the Barrier Reef and inland sights of Queensland, Australia, or the coast and hills in and near Whistler, BC, depending on mood.

    Man-made scenery: York Minster, central London, the Harbour Bridge/Opera House combo of Sydney

    Adventure: well, that depends on what kind of “adventure” you have in mind. Las Vegas is always an adventure, and it can be tacky or not, your choice. Fantastic dining, fun shows, an In-N-Out gear store… 😀

    For outdoor adventure, my favourite so far has been Caves Branch Jungle Lodge in Belize, running with (or from, more accurately, since I was at the end of the route)in Pamplona, and hiking, mountain biking, bear-encountering, and rafting in Whistler, BC.

  56. Taipei is definitely worth a visit, if only for the night market food ;). I’ve visited three times over the last few years, and I can’t wait to go back and see more of Taiwan.

  57. Favorite 4 (like them equally – for different reasons):
    Hong Kong

    (I live in San Francisco).

  58. For my fav city, it would probably have to be Sydney, Australia, a beautiful blend of cosmopolitan life, western suburban areas, beaches (good airlines too, I’m looking at you Qantas!) what more is there to ask, though there might be some bias there, since my aunt and cousin live in Sydney. Anyway, my fav scenery destination would definitely be the Reykjavík area of Iceland, fields of ice, the blue lagoon, downtown Reykjavík, and the long days and long nights, it’s perfect! As for the adventure destination, I would have to say Interlaken, Switzerland, since I haven’t been to many ‘adventure places’, but If you seek an adrenaline rush, just go hiking in the mountains, or go up the Jungfraujoch, situated on the Jungfrau mountain, or go paragliding during the summer, and ice skating and skiing during the winter. There’s something for everyone in Interlaken! My Beach/relaxation destination would be The Maldives, It’s perfect for relaxation, since every resort is its own island, and the pristine beaches are the best I’ve been too( though I plan to visit Mauritius soon). My overall fav city would be Vancouver, BC, the climate is nice year round, downtown is pretty cosmopolitan, yet the suburbs are rather, well, suburb-y, it’s also a beautiful city, to say the least. Although I am quite biased toward it, since I’ve lived there for 3 years. As for your choices Lucky, I have relatives in Hong Kong, and I’m also quite fond of the city( I’ve been for 17+ times, mostly to visit family) I haven’t been to Bali since 2009, so I don’t quite remember, but I’m sure it’s really nice, and I’ve never been to Queenstown and Berchtesgaden, but I have been to Auckland, and I will be going to Munich in June.

  59. @Lucky, if you like mountain places like Queenstown and Berchtesgaden, here goes a tip for an off the beaten track place: Bariloche, Argentina. It can be easily reached from Buenos Aires (AEP) on frequent 2-hour flights (only coach available, I’m afraid, but well worth it!). The Andes dwarf the Alps in imponence, and the immense and crystal-clear Lake Nahuel Huapi alone is worth the trip; the former reflected on the latter on a sunny day makes you ponder on the meaning of the word “beauty.”

    And there’s also the “arrayanes” forest on a small peninsula on the lake, the only place in the world where there is still a whole forest of a rare, nearly extinct species of South American redwood. The trees are REALLY very much red and don’t lose their leaves in winter, so the color contrast is unbelievable.

    Bariloche is also a ski resort, and in winter it gets overcrowded and swarming with hordes of tropical Brazilians on cheap package tours, eager to see the novelty of snow. So, I’d recommend to avoid Bariloche in winter (June-August in the Southern Hemisphere), but the place is so beautiful it hurts at any time of the year, and mid-seasons (fall in March-May and spring in September-November) are just perfect, with plenty of snow on the mountaintops for scenic value, but fairer temperatures below and far fewer tourists.

    An overland trip to the no less beautiful nearby Chilean Lake District (including Osorno, with a volcano that looks like a perfect copy of Mount Fuji, only more beautiful) is also a good suggestion. A bit further south of Bariloche is the little town of Esquel, founded by Welsh immigrants (the Welsh language is still spoken there, alongside Spanish), which is less touristy and more crude, but also very beautiful.

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