Northern Kyrgyzstan, Con Dao (Vietnam), Isphahan (Iran) selected by NYT among top places to visit in 2021

SEOUL: Northern Kyrgyzstan, Con Dao, an archipelago of 16 mostly uninhabited islets just off the southern coast of Vietnam, and Isphahan, Iran, have been selected by the New York Times among 52 places to visit in 2021.

“We asked readers to tell us about the spots that have delighted, inspired and comforted them in a dark year,” the newspaper wrote.

The daily received more than 2,000 suggestions, and it selected 52 “to remind us that the world still awaits.”


Northern Kyrgyzstan: Mountains, grasslands and crystal-clear lakes

Northern Kyrgyzstan was suggested by Yogesh Mokashi, the founder of The Egg Factory, a chain of restaurants in Bangalore, India.

“I traveled to northern Kyrgyzstan in August 2018. If you grew up in India in the 1970s and 80s, as I did, the presence of the Soviet Union was pretty big. We visited the city of Bishkek, which was an interesting mix of Soviet-era architecture with a liberal, open society. But the city was just a pit stop before we headed off into the hills,” Yogesh Mokashi wrote in the suggestion.

“Within a few hours in the mountains, the weather turned bad and it started sleeting. I’m 48 years old, and it was the first time in my life I’d seen something like snow. We would drive three, four hours and not come across another person. We spent four nights in a yurt camp, and the hospitality was mind-boggling. And this was just the northern part of the country! I’d like to go back to explore the rest of it, hopefully soon.”


Con Dao, Vietnam: A tropical paradise 

Con Dao was suggested by Thang Dac Luong, a lawyer and a writer in Sydney.

“My dad was a journalist, and he was imprisoned on Con Dao, an archipelago off Vietnam’s southeastern coast, from 1961 to 1963. He was in an activist group that was a part of the first coup against South Vietnam’s then-president, Ngo Dinh Diem. He was held in a “tiger cage,” a five-by-nine-foot space, with five or six other people. Conditions were terrible. My mom later told me that he survived by doing meditation, and by telling stories,” Thang Dac Luong wrote, explaining the suggestion.

“My father never went back to Vietnam. He died in 2006, and now, when I travel there, I bring his journalist card with me to return his spirit, in some way. Having a refugee background means I have an urgent need to love this place because Dad could not.

“I spent three days on Con Dao. I visited a cemetery, where relatives of people who died or suffered in the prison can bring offerings. There’s a marine conservatory, where baby turtles are being raised. On the last day, I was on the beach. As I swam out in the warm, turquoise water, I burst into tears. It’s important that we have these places where we can remember the people we’ve lost. Someday, I’d like to take my children there so they can learn more about their grandfather.”


Isfahan: People see Iran as politically charged and oppressive. But there is a lot of beauty and innocence

Isfahan was suggested by Neeknaz Abari, raised in Washington, D.C., and working at a consulting firm in Dallas.

“My memories of Isfahan come in snippets: The hiss of the nan panjereh, an intricate funnel-cake dessert, as my grandmother shows me how to dip it into hot oil; the smiling, chattering taxi drivers with their endless questions about America and their playful jabs at my accent; the winding alleyways that reveal hidden nooks and crannies in the Grand Bazaar,” Neeknaz Abari wrote.

“There’s a difference between the people and the government. I wish Americans could see the vibrant curiosity of the people who live here. I used to visit Isfahan every year. I spent long mornings lifting weights in the women-only gyms, and afternoons with my grandfather, watching him lovingly watering the plants in his garden and shooing away stray cats. But divisive politics, and now Covid-19, have made it harder. My grandfather died two years ago. I wasn’t there. I feel my Farsi growing rusty on my tongue.”

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