Wednesday, 1 June 2011

The Matt Awards

A bit like the Oscars but much more important 'The Matt Awards' put into context the best of the best. Looking for the country with the best beaches or the best food? Then look no further. This hasn't been an easy blog to finalise; many a Chinese train journey has been spent, with pen and paper in hand, making alterations to the finalists ... but below are my best three...


In 3rd position are the Japanese. Extremely helpful, polite and patient they're able to mix new scenarios with their old customs and beliefs. I never felt in danger and I was never ripped off; they would make every effort to guarantee that I was well, happy and enjoying myself.

In 2nd position are the Canadians. The only people who, when I was unable to find my hostel, would walk me to it. The Canadian's are lovely, laid back and very honest. It was a joy speaking to them and, every time I meet some on my travels, I was reminded of their generosity.

There could only be one nation that could ever win this category and that was the Fijians. Unbelievably friendly their laid back attitude makes Fiji what it is. For me the people were the best bit of this country and it's such a shame that most live in poverty.

Fittest women

In 3rd position are the ladies from New Zealand. It must be all the 'outside activities' but the female Kiwis seem to be in pretty good shape. The only problem was that, as they jogged into the distance, I never had the stamina to catch up and make sure that they weren't a tourist.

2nd Position goes to the ladies of Canada. Amazingly beautiful, kind, honest ... though a little mad, these women were stunning and spending the day on the beach, or hiking around a national park, always brought pleasant sights that you weren't expecting.

In 1st place – by a long way – are the women from Japan. I never found a minger; their attire was usually a tight top, short black skirt and knee length boots (no matter the weather). I never tired of taking a walk around town and it was always a pleasant experience.

Mountain Ranges

In 3rd is the Tiger Leaping Gorge, China. The worlds deepest gorge is surrounded by huge jagged peaks that stretch on for miles. The views, and the scenery, are incredible plus the whole gorge can be walked within two days but it's better to spend your time - spend three or four days - and admire the power of nature.

2nd place goes to Franz Joseph in New Zealand. Being able to walk up mountains, either side of a glacier, gives you unbelievable views. The mountains form an intriguing back drop to the small town and I loved every moment whilst I was there.

1st Place had to go to Jasper National Park within Canada. Take the gondola up Mount Whistler and enjoy the panoramic view. During my trip there have been countless times that I wished I was back within Jasper.


In 3rd comes Lake Wanaka in New Zealand. The fact that this lake is a five minute walk away from the center of town makes it accessible. You can walk around most of the lake however it's huge; if your not into walking then grab a drink and sit on the grass bank overlooking the water with the mountains in the background.

2nd place goes to Lake Tekapo in New Zealand. With the church perched on the edge of the lake, it must be one of the most photogenic spots within the world. I spent a couple of days sitting and admiring the view.

In 1st place is Lake Agnes within Canada. Due to it's bigger sister – Lake Victoria – lying below this lake is hardly mentioned; however the two hour hike – up the mountains - is worth it for seeing the half frozen lake with the tops of mountains performing a barrier. A definition of beauty.


The Pacific Rim National Park in Canada takes 3rd spot; Tofino has some beautiful beaches, with more just a bike ride away. Being located in Canada they can feel a little cold however, as a beautiful scenic spot, they are worth seeing.

2nd place goes to the Coral Coast on Fiji's main island. Located in the south the waters are crystal clear, warm and full of life. Once you're tired of snorkeling walking up onto the hot sand, surrounded by palm trees, and finding a shady spot to read a book and consume a beverage is bliss.

1st place goes to the Yawasa Islands of Fiji. Pick anyone and you'll find a white sandy beach with crystal clear waters. Being small islands means that very few people will be around to spoil the moment.

Road Trips

The Saskatchewan province of Canada gets 3rd place. The 'land of the big horizon' is well named as you stare at the panoramic view, from your coach window, at the endless fields of wheat. I never got bored of the site.

2nd goes to the Northern mountains of Laos. The driving was a little dodgy but the view didn't disappoint. The tropical mountains stood covered in greet vegetation of all types; the trip flew by as I kept my face pressed against the glass.

The Icefield Parkway in Canada comes in 1st; it's said to be one of the worlds most scenic drives and it lives up to that perfectly. Every view, from every angle, is one of beauty and you certainly don't want to be driving or you'll miss out. The road can be completed within a couple of hours however spend a couple of days and take in it's full beauty.

Boat Trips

Ha Long Bay in Vietnam takes 3rd place with it's award winning limestone peaks. Due to the fog the view wasn't that great but you could see the potential if you had a clear day. If you find yourself within Vietnam this is not to be missed.

The southern waters of Alaska, USA, take 2nd spot due to the wildlife. Whales are just the start and with glaciers falling into the waters it's a superb place to spend a day.

The winner is the ferry journey along the Alaskan, USA, north-western coast. Being able to sleep outside watching the sun go down, and then rise again in the morning, is a moment I'll never forget. Take a seat on the top level of the ferry, with a drink in hand, and just watch the small snow capped mountain islands appear before disappearing into the distance.

Ancient Wonders

The Terracotta warriors, within China, take 3rd place; visiting 'site one' and having several thousand faces looking at you is an awe inspiring site. Trying to work out the time taken to produce the army is mind boggling and, given how old they are, it's amazing that they are still in a good condition.

Just missing out on first place is the Great Wall of China. Located within the north of China the wall is a marvel to behold and the views, if you get a clear day, are stunning. It defines believe to think how old the wall is, and how long it took to build.

There can be no other winner; the temples of Angkor within Cambodia make you speechless. Each temple is different and the work involved took years. If I could go back in time this is certainly one place that I would want to see in it's full glory.


Sydney, Australia, is extremely photogenic. The harbor with the bridge, opera house and the parks make it a lovely place to spent an afternoon.

Hong Kong, China, is probably the worlds most prettiest city at night; cross the water to Kowloon and wait for the evening light show. The financial district is a maze of beautifully constructed skyscrapers and you'll leave with a smile on your face and a crick in your neck.

1st place goes to Quebec City, Canada. Stunningly beautiful it's the only walled city within North America. Even concrete fly-over pillars are painted beautifully and spending hours looking around the small cobbled streets is well worth the effort. After the first day there I didn't think things could have got any better, but the city kept on getting more and more beautiful.


Queenstown, New Zealand, takes 3rd place. A laid back town, located on the edge of a river, the whole town has been built to perfection. The streets are clean, the buildings look brand new and all the residents walk with a smile on their face. Crammed in between the lake and the mountains leaves you with so many options to spend your time.

In 2nd place is Dali, China. Also crammed between mountains and a lake the town is full of old Chinese buildings with their distinctive roofs. The skies are always blue, the temperature is always hot and the food is great.

The theme of lakes and mountains continues to 1st place. Wanaka, New Zealand, for me is the pretties town within the world; a lot smaller than the other two only adds to it's beauty and I often wish I was back there chilling out at the lake front.


Rammien, a Japanese dish, takes 3rd place. A spicy noodle soup rammien can take various forms all of which are a delight; I could have eaten this all day.

The 'Furg Burger', Queenstown New Zealand, takes 2nd place. Everyone thinks that North America have the best burgers within the world but you would be wrong; with all their produce sourced locally the 'Furg' is extremely tasty and the queues, at any time, are out the door.

1st place goes to Thailand and it's green curry. Pick any Thai dish and you'll love it but my favorite was this, mild, green curry. I have a Thai recipe book and so I hope I'll be eating more Thai food in the months to come.


The famous Banana Routie – found all over South East Asia but mainly in Malaysia – is a very sweet snack. A pancake filled with sliced banana and topped with chocolate and condensed milk make this the South East Asian equivalent to the British 'Kebab' … best eaten after visiting the pub.

Malaysian spring rolls take the 2nd spot. Mainly within Melaka the spring rolls are fried and filled with steamed vegetables and covered in a spicy sauce. Once again great after a night out, or during the heat of the day.

1st place goes to Thailand's spring rolls. Almost identical to Malaysia the Thai spring rolls are smaller and more densely packed. Costing 25p for a bag of six – covered in the same spicy sauce as the Malaysian ones – this makes them a bargain and I ate hundreds.


New Zealand's caramel cake, covered in coconut, takes the 3rd spot. I must have eaten miles of this cake as Kiwi supermarkets sold four, within a packet, at a very reasonable price.

Mont Blonc in Chang Mai, Thailand, is a very posh cake shop. The cakes are delicately presented making them almost as nice to look at as to eat. Slightly expensive the cost is soon forgotten with the first mouthful.

The winner is the Cargo restaurant within Hoi An, Vietnam. For a while, after visiting Hoi An, I would miss the morning cake I would order from this restaurant; each one was a delight and the cost wasn't too high. For me the cake alone is a just reason to visit Hoi An.

And that's it. As you would agree a lot shorted than the Oscars but a lot more important. If anyone is interested in the statistics I listed:

Canada eight times winning four,

New Zealand eight times winning once,

China five times winning none,

Thailand three times winning twice,

Fiji three times winning twice,

Japan three times winning once,

Vietnam twice times winning once,

USA twice winning once,

Malaysia twice winning none,

Cambodia once winning once,

Australia once winning none,

Laos once winning none,

However 'The Matt Awards' are not complete just yet; every award ceremony has to have a final 'outstanding award' and this ceremony is no exception. The exceptional experience award goes to Cambodia for allowing me to teach English, within a small village, located outside Phnom Penh. I loved every minute of my teaching and I hope the children did to; the memories of those three weeks will remain with me all my life and I hope those children grow up with all the opportunities they deserve. For future holidays I'm very tempted to do something similar as it's an experience that money just can't buy.

Just for a little bit of fun below are the worst three places that I've visited:

Laukota Fiji takes third place. The hostel I stayed in had cockroaches and there was nothing to do … at all. I was there three days and within that time I spent most of it keeping cool within the cinema. The cinema was cheap and I did get to see some enjoyable films.

Phnom Penh Cambodia takes 2nd. Filthy, busy and cramped I never felt safe out at night. There was a cockroach within my room here as well!

1st place goes to Savannakhet within Laos. Described as the 'Louang Phebang' of the south was totally misleading; seeing dead animals on the footpaths, unable to find a decent place to eat and the fact that hardly anyone seemed to live there made it a horrible environment to find myself in. I only stayed one night.

So that really is it; thank you and good night.

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