My Top 10 Towns From My First 100 Countries

My Top 10 Towns From My First 100 Countries (photo taken in Shahr-e Kord, Iran)

My Top 10 Towns From My First 100 Countries (photo taken in Shahr-e Kord, Iran)

People often ask me where my favourite town is and to be truthful about it – the answer changes all the time and I never really have a set number one or top 10 – it’s just not possible to give the same answer all the time. It depends on who I’m with, how I’m feeling, where I am, what I’m reminiscing on, what you mean by “top town” etc. In fact, about 100 of the few hundred towns I’ve been to could make my top 10 towns on any given day. We don’t always feel the same. However right now, as I’ve recently cracked the 100 country mark, these are my current top 10 towns and it feels good to get something like this jotted down. Towns only of course, I’ve covered my top 10 cities and villages in separate articles.

mini bus to harar

One of the towns we passed through on my “death mini-bus” to Harar, Ethiopia

1. Bournemouth, ENGLAND
The English sunshine beats down on cosy little Bournemouth and tells you there’s something joyful in the air. My first visit to the town was in 1994, I relocated there in 2003 and I still pop back once a year to dream it all up again. Some of my jobs in the town include working in a hotel, working in a shop, selling ice cream, serving tea and coffee and DJ-ing on FM radio.

Good old Bournemouth on the south coast of England.

Good old Bournemouth on the south coast of England.

Once considered England’s happiest town, sunny sunny Bournemouth has the best bars, vibe and beaches in the whole of the UK. Some of my friends live there and then there is Dean Court, home of the Cherries – AFC Bournemouth which featured in my top 10 football stadiums.

Jonny Blair at the Best Break Party in Bournemouth 2005

A crazy Best Break Party in Bournemouth 2005

“Traded in my sorrow for some joy that I borrowed back in the day” – Kylie Minogue

2. Chalchuapa, EL SALVADOR
El Salvador was my highlight from my time in Central America and with it, came a surprise. The little known town of Chalchuapa is absolutely marvellous. Within this small town, you can visit the Mayan ruins of Tazumal, get an indigo dyeing demonstration, try some unique food and drinks (Horchata, Chilate and Camote) and check out Casa Blanca site and museum. And the best thing – there’s not another traveller in sight, so you become a novelty!

At the indigo demonstration in Chalchuapa.

At the indigo demonstration in Chalchuapa.

Chalchuapa should be kept a secret, but it’s too good not to tell.

chalchuapa backpacker

Downtown Chalchuapa in El Salvador.

“My baby’s got a secret” – Madonna

3. Harar, ETHIOPIA
Harar, the town of 99 Mosques, the place where wild hyenas roam the streets at dusk looking for food. The town where back in 2013 I made the crazy decision to feed hyenas mouth to mouth after a bottle of Ethiopian red wine. You can read my feeding hyenas in Ethiopia story, but there’s more to Harar than that – it’s a crazy town.

juma mosque in Harar Ethiopia

The impressive minty coloured Juma Mosque in Harar, Ethiopia.

jonny blair dont stop living feeding hyena

The crazy moment feeding a hyena in Harar Ethiopia!!

“My smile as real as a hyenas” – Nicky Wire

4. Taupo, NEW ZEALAND
My first visit to Taupo back in 2007 was when this travel blog was only a few weeks old and I left some dreams hanging around, after a day where I jumped out of the aeroplane. (if you click on those links, you’ll see my cringeworthy early blog posts when I was a newbie to the internet travel writing scene).

Sky diving in Lake Taupo, New Zealand in 2007

Sky diving in Lake Taupo, New Zealand in 2007

I returned to Taupo in 2010 and felt a huge emotion on the second visit. Who knows if I’ll ever make it there again, but it’s a town that holds dynamic magic, great memories, some nights out and has the lake and hukka falls. Saudades, Taupo!

“Give me something I can write about” – Neil Finn

5. Siauliai, LITHUANIA
A cloudy dreary sky greeted me in the town of Siauliai in Lithuania in 2015 on a journey which took me through the sights of the town, out to the eery wilderness at Kryziu Kalnas (the Hill of the Crosses) and of course my excellent hotel there, the Hotel Siailiai.

St. Peter and Paul's Cathedral, Siauliai, Lithuania

St. Peter and Paul’s Cathedral, Siauliai, Lithuania

This was a sleepy journey in a Lithuanian winter which reignited my travel spark and proved to me that even in countries like this, there are still undiscovered towns like Siauliai. I wrote some chapters of my book here before heading on my bus to Latvia.

“Nail a crucifix onto your soul” – Manic Street Preachers

6. Shahr-e Kord, IRAN
From my entire travels, the country that stands out as having the most welcoming and friendly people is Iran. By a long shot as well. We met an Iranian guy called Rasool while backpacking in Azerbaijan and within a month he was letting us stay with his family in Shahr-e Kord, tour his city and hang out.

jameh mosque shahr e kord

The Jameh Mosque in Shahr-e Kord, Iran.

Rasool lived in the town of Shahr-e Kord and I loved writing about this unusual town (which could almost be a city) and also touring nearby Yaseh Chah.

“What a life it would be if you could come to mine for tea” – Noel Gallagher

7. Ollantaytambo, PERU
The journey is all about the moment, the emotion at the time and the joy looking back. Little Ollantaytambo will never be forgotten. A quiet sleepy Inca town in the valleys of Peru.

After the town of Ollantaytambo, we headed on the 4 day Inca Trail in 2010

After the town of Ollantaytambo, we headed on the 4 day Inca Trail in 2010

It was here that I had my last cup of tea, charged my camera for the last time, bought my final snacks and dreamed another dream before embarking on quite simply a magnificent 4 day Inca Trail through the deep valleys, peaks and rivers of Peru, ending up in the lost Inca City of Machu Picchu.

Jonny Blair in Ollantaytambo Inca Trail a lifestyle of travel

Ollantaytambo was the town in the Sacred Valley where we stopped off before starting the Inca Trail

“I want to lie like this forever until the sky falls down on me” – Savage Garden

8. Bangor/Newtownards, NORTHERN IRELAND (Double A-side)
Bangor and Newtownards are the two most important towns on my journey and I’m bunging them together as one – for a few reasons:
– They are both in North Down, Northern Ireland
– They are only a few miles apart
– Some local people in each town seem to think it’s cool to have a bitter rivalry with the other town (I personally don’t like this and I love Bangor and Newtownards equally and always will)
– Both are home to me and still where I feel most at home

backpacking newtownards

Backpacking in Newtownards – back in my birth town exploring Scrabo Tower.

So I was born in Newtownards, I passed my driving test in Newtownards and I passed my college course in Newtownards. Three of the most important things that have happened in my entire life were in Newtownards. However I was educated mostly in Bangor and I grew up in Bangor, played on the streets in Bangor and my parents still live there. Bangor was also the scene of the “Great Exam Heist” back in 1994. I have equal affiliation with both towns and I sometimes class the brace coupled with Belfast City as the golden triangle. If you’re heading to Bangor, check out and stay in the Cairn Bay Lodge – a perfect homely B and B right by Ballyholme Beach. I just love it.

Muriel Blair Jonny Blair Northern Ireland

At home in Bangor – Ballyholme Beach with Mum.

“All these places feel like home” – Snow Patrol

9. Eluanbi and Kenting, TAIWAN
Again I’m kind of bunging these two places together, as that seems to fit. Kenting is a massive National Park but on a hot October day in 2009, I had the most magical day of travel here. We swam in the South China Seas, we lay on the beach, we ate some great Taiwanese food, had a few beers, toured the market and the lighthouse at Eluanbi and we all slowed down and took a breather as we walked to the south tip of Taiwan – the Beacon of South East Asia.

southern most tip of Taiwan - Jonny Blair in Eluanbi

Eluanbi – the lighthouse family – beacon of South Asia,TAIWAN.

My world was just a dream then and I look back with a tear in my eye. We watched the sun sink over Kenting, one of the most fabulous hot sphere sinking moments in history before a bumpy bus ride up the east coast via Taidong. Thanks to Millwall Neil, Natalja and Eva for being there to share such a vivid memory.

One of my top 10 towns - we walked to the Beacon of South East Asia on a hot day in Eluanbi, Taiwan back in 2009.

One of my top 10 towns – we walked to the Beacon of South East Asia on a hot day in Eluanbi, Taiwan back in 2009.

“We could be reaching out for anything if we try enough” – Lighthouse Family

10. Guatavita, COLOMBIA
I’ll be honest I was tossing up between Guatavita in Colombia and Xiaoqi in China for the final spot here, but as I’ve included China and Taiwan prominently in these lists, I thought Guatavita needs to be in here.

The absolutely stunning Laguna Guatavita in Colombia

The absolutely stunning Laguna Guatavita in Colombia

It’s an incredible little Colombian countryside town by a Lake (Laguna Guatavita) and my memories here were shared with my friend Julio and family. Julio is the guy who swapped his camera for a cow, let me stay on his farm in Santa Ana Alta and showed me how chilled out Colombian farming life is.

guatavita colombia amazing

The boys are back in town! Julio Felipe and I touring Guatavita in COLOMBIA. I had the camera, he swapped his for a cow!

So this is my top 10 of towns (I hope they are all actually towns, and not cities or villages!). I’ll get onto compiling my top 10 villages from my first century of countries next, you may also have seen my 5 craziest moments so far.

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Safe travels!

 

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