If you’re anything like me then whenever you look for recommendations on TripAdvisor you do so with a heavy accompanying dose of skepticism. Case in point: TripAdvisor once threw me a restaurant recommendation in Kuala Lumpur…the restaurant in question was a branch of Chillis! Don’t get me wrong, I love a good chain restaurant as much as the next man (my wife will attest to my love for the ‘safe space’ that is Hard Rock Café…they do great nachos in every single location). However, when I look for a restaurant recommendation in a foreign land, I’m not typically looking for a bang-average chain restaurant. Herein lies the problem with TripAdvisor: its recommendations are based on the number of user reviews and ratings rather than a carefully cultivated and considered list of gastronomical delights.
However, I recently stumbled across a survey conducted by the good people at Voucher Cloud which countered my TripAdvisor skepticism with a little something I hold very dear……travel lists. Travel lists are a guilty pleasure for me. Whether it’s ‘The Top 10 Sights You Have to See in Venice’ or the ‘Ultimate Travel Bucket List’, they represent the ultimate click-bait for someone like me (i.e. someone who has a spreadsheet for how many pairs of pants they should take on a business trip – yes, I designed that spreadsheet myself and no, I don’t use it anymore). The Voucher Cloud ‘study’ mapped the top tourist attractions for every country on earth as voted for by TripAdvisor user reviews and ratings. Could this be the ultimate test of my TripAdvisor skepticism? Let’s analyse the results:
Five Logical TripAdvisor Choices :
#1: Angkor Wat, Cambodia
The Angkor Wat Archeological complex is one of the truly mesmerising sights of the world, and when combined with a sunrise or sunset, that feeling is multiplied tenfold. A complete hush seems to descend over the entire crowd during sunrise or sunset and, other than the frequent click of a camera shutter, you can enjoy the experience in relative quiet as everyone stands in awe. Although a sunrise experience means getting out of bed at a somewhat ungodly hour, to miss the experience entirely would be a huge mistake. Instagram worthy and definitely worthy of topping TripAdvisor’s list of top attractions in Cambodia! See my post on sunrise and sunset at Angkor Wat HERE.
#2: Mosi-oa-Tunya / Victoria Falls National Park, Zimbabwe
Despite the fact that Mosi oa Tunya is actually on the Zambian side of the border with Zimbabwe, the choice is definitely a logical one! Mosi oa Tunya isn’t exactly your standard safari destination. It’s divided into two very distinct parts: the south of the park is dominated by one of the most famous natural wonders of the world – Victoria Falls. This portion of the park is what gives it its name which translates as ‘The Smoke Which Thunders’. By contrast, the north of the park is a traditional game reserve containing a broad diversity of wildlife within its relatively small 66 sq. km. The park is located on the border of Zimbabwe and the two countries are divided by the Zambezi River which forms the eastern park boundary. The inclusion of Victoria Falls is definitely a logical choice for Zimbabwe!
#3: Petra (World Heritage Site), Jordan
Petra, a UNESCO World Heritage Site and undoubtedly the crowning jewel of Jordan’s tourist industry, was the impressive capital of the Nabataean Kingdom and is believed to have been founded around the 6th Century BC. It was pretty much lost to Western society until it was rediscoved by Swiss explorer Johann Ludwig Burckhardt in 1812. Since then its most famous moment (and probably how most people who haven’t visited recognize it) came when it featured in Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade in 1989 (the building you probably remember form the film is better known as the ‘Treasury Building’). Since then it was also chosen as one of the New Wonders of the Modern World which has engrained its position firmly at the top of the tourist map not only for Jordan but for tourist hotspots worldwide!
#4: The Great Wall at Mutianyu, China
The Great Wall is probably a no-brainer for the TripAdvisor list and the Mutianyu section, in particular, is one of the more developed sections for tourism. It has one of the most dense accumulations of watchtowers along the entire wall (22 watchtowers on this single 2,250-metre-long stretch) and is also one of the most well preserved and restored sections. Its main downfall is that it has been over-developed for tourism. The fact that you can take a toboggan ride on the steep slopes leading back down from the wall somewhat diminishes its historical and cultural significance. Combine this with a cable car and tourist village of tacky ‘I was here’ souvenirs and you get the picture. That said, I did thoroughly enjoy the toboggan ride downhill, so who am I to complain? If you’re looking for a less touristy experience, then you should take the increasingly popular hike from the Mutiantu section of the wall to the Jiankou section.
#5: Taj Mahal, India
The Taj Mahal sits in second place behind Angkor Wat on the list of best UNESCO World Heritage Sites since 1983 and has therefore rightfully earned its place on the TripAdvisor survey. Commissioned in 1632 by the Mughal emperor Shah Jahan to house the remains of his cherished wife, the Taj Mahal stands on the southern bank of the Yamuna River in Agra, India. Built over more than 20 years, the famed mausoleum complex is one of the most outstanding examples of Mughal architecture which combined Indian, Persian and Islamic influences. At its center is the Taj Mahal itself – built of shimmering, white marble that seems to change color depending on the sunlight or moonlight hitting its surface. It remains one of the world’s most celebrated structures and is a stunning symbol of India’s rich history.
A Selection of ‘*WTF’ TripAdvisor Choices :
*If you’re not familiar with the acronym “WTF”, then simply imagine it as politely meaning – ‘Preposterous,’ ‘Absurd’ or ‘Ridiculous’
The logical choices I’ve listed above started to make me think that I’d underestimated the power of TripAdvisor reviews. After an initial high, I was brought crashing back down to earth with a bump by a number of choices that are questionable at best and ludicrous at worst.
Here are three ludicrous choices….
#1: Seoul Metro, South Korea
So admittedly South Korea isn’t normally the first place on the average tourist’s bucket list. It isn’t blessed with anything akin to the cultural and historic attractions of Angkor Wat, The Great Wall, Petra or the Taj Mahal and doesn’t have the enormity of natural wonders like Victoria Falls. However, to say that the Seoul Metro is its star attraction is selling the country a little short. Yes, that’s right folks – TripAdvisor reviews have given the Seoul mass transit system the top spot for tourist attraction in South Korea! After all, why visit the 14th Century Gyeongbokgung Palace or Namiseom Island when you can really see what South Korea has to offer by sitting in one of its train carriages during rush hour. Marvelous!
#2: Miniatur Wunderland, Hamburg, Germany
When you think of Germany, you probably think of the Berlin Wall, Brandenburg Gate, Neuschwanstein Castle or the Black Forest. What probably doesn’t come straight to mind is TripAdvisor’s top pick – Hamburg’s Miniatur Wunderland. You seem surprised, but yes, Miniatur Wunderland is ‘The largest model railway in the world, and one of the most successful permanent exhibitions in Northern Germany’. Admittedly, the video on their website does look pretty awesome, but in a country teeming with historical and cultural relevance, is Minitaur Wunderland really the star attraction?
#3: Harry Potter Studio Tour, United Kingdom
I’m a UK citizen and I like to think that we have a lot to offer tourists; Big Ben and the Houses of Parliament, Buckingham Palace, Stonehenge, Edinburgh Castle, the British Museum, The Harry Potter Studio Tour…..can you guess the odd one out? Yes, that’s right, TripAdvisor’s top rated UK tourist attraction is, in an embarrassment that will rock the British establishment, the Harry Potter Studio Tour. Whilst I have taken the tour, gulped the butter beer, and loved every minute of it, I still submit the fact that you, JK Rowling, have a lot to answer for!
So what did I learn from all of this? That I’m right back where I started – treating any TripAdvisor recommendation with a heavy accompanying dose of skepticism!
If you want to see the full Voucher Cloud country-by-country map then you can find it here.
Where do you think TripAdvisor is recommending the wrong sights? What are some of your top recommendations?