Thursday, August 28, 2014

10 great destinations that don’t deserve their bad reputations

10 great destinations that don’t deserve their bad reputations

Travel destinations are a lot like high school social cliques: Most of what outsiders know about them is hearsay. The only way to discover what they’re really like is to go see for yourself, says Chuck Thompson. Which is what the freelance travel writer set out to do in researching his new book, To Hellholes and Back: Bribes, Lies, and the Art of Extreme Tourism (Holt, $15). His conclusion: Some places with bad-boy reputations can be quite nice — once you get to know them.

Singapore
Its reputation as a sterile, authoritarian city-state is undeserved. “It’s a really vibrant town with a highly sociable population of happy people,” says Thompson. “They’re probably happy because they eat so well.” Check out the waterfront eateries on Clarke Quay. 323-677-0808; visitsingapore.com

Mexico City
Even fans of Mexico’s beach resorts often avoid its capital, figuring it’s a polluted mess populated by corrupt cops, kidnappers and drug cartels. Thompson himself was convinced the city was the “armpit of Mexico” — until he visited. “The people are friendly and helpful. It’s not filthy; I’d call it clean-ish. The architecture is amazing. And the perception that it’s dangerous is wrong. To me, the greatest danger is gaining 10 pounds. The taco snarfing is non-stop.” 800-446-3942;visitmexico.com

Orange County, Calif.
Sometimes written off as a sprawl of white-bread suburbs full of surgically enhanced reality-show housewives, the area also harbors some nice beach towns and shoreline. “I love the beaches,” Thompson says, including The Wedge in Newport Beach, for bodysurfing. Plus, it’s home to large Vietnamese and Latino communities. “It feels like a piece of world culture that exists nowhere else. It’s not this homogenized Caucasian-ville,” he says.714-/765-8888; anaheimoc.org

Queens, N.Y.
Most visitors to New York see no reason to venture beyond Manhattan. But this northern borough has some interesting neighborhoods, including historic Astoria. Worth the trip: the Bohemian Hall & Beer Garden, an indoor-outdoor European-style watering hole. “It feels like a different place,” Thompson says. 212-484-1222; nycgo.com

Caracas, Venezuela
The antics of President Hugo Chavez, whom Thompson describes as “the latest in a long line of tin-pot loonies,” tend to hog the headlines. But this city of Miss Universes has its own physical attributes, including “glorious” architecture and dramatic mountains. Plus, spicy grilled meat arepas, “one of the world’s best street foods,” are always close at hand, Thompson notes.

Waikiki, Hawaii
It’s a familiar story: A destination gets too popular and people start bashing it. As a seminal tourist haunt, Waikiki has suffered its share of taunts. But, Thompson says, “It is what it is because it’s a fascinating and beautiful place. Whether you approach it ironically or you really like hula dashboard girls, it’s still an iconic location with great hotels and restaurants.” 800-464-2924; gohawaii.com