Hated Cities You Cant Help But Visit from All Over The World

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Being an underdog of sorts myself, I root for the underdog whenever I get the chance. As a traveler, this opportunity arises frequently.

I wouldn’t go so far as to say the entire traveling community holds a unified view of each destination, but rather than the collective reputation of certain cities tends to precede them. Not surprisingly, particular places get the short end of the stick more than others, to the extent that fellow travelers I’ve encounter prior to traveling to a given location recommend against me going there at all.

Of course being a traveler — in other words, someone who goes somewhere to see what is there, good or bad — this is curious: Taking the word of others as gospel seems to defeat the purpose of departing in the first place. With this in mind, I don’t expect or want you to hear my testimony on these maligned destinations as anything but an enthusiastic rebuttal — but I do hope that reading it at least makes you want to go and see them for yourself.


Why They Hate It

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A street in Rattanakosin

A city of more than 10 million, Bangkok has a reputation of being chaotic, crowded and smelly. Many budget tourists associate all of Bangkok with the soulless, seedy Khao San Road district, where the majority of the city’s budget hotels, hostels and guesthouses are located. The Thai capital, many argue, can’t compete with the more popular islands to the south and the back-in-time wilderness that leis to the north, on account of its lacking natural scenery. Few people can hear the word “Bangkok” and not think of prostitutes and “happy endings.”

Why I Love It

I feel at home every time I land at Bangkok’s Suvarnabhumi International Airport, an esoteric feeling I can’t tie to a particular characteristic or feature. The moment I arrive on the scene, the city’s throbbing pulse, rainbow spectrum of neon lights and cornucopia of energies and perspectives have me spellbound like it’s my first time, every time. Bangkok is at once ancient and modern, the capital of the only Southeast Asian country not to have been conquered by a Western power, the nucleus of the singular culture and lifestyle that has resulted from Thailand’s longstanding sovereignty. The fact that I arrived the first time expecting to loathe the city — I was strongly advised by nearly everyone I knew not to stick around if I could avoid it — probably had something to do with it as well.

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The Bangkok SkyTrain over a temple in Rajprasong

Why You Should Go

Even if you don’t fall head over heels for the city like I did, there are more than enough things to keep you fascinated for at least a few days — and the majority have nothing to do with cheap clothing or massage parlors, although you don’t have to spend a lot of baht to live like a Thai king. The contrast alone of the city’s Rattanakosin area, home to relics of the Kingdom’s “Golden Age” like Wat Arun and the Grand Palace, with the ultra-modern, forward-thinking Silom and Sukhumvit districts allows for time travel within the span of a 30-minute taxi ride. Once you want to get out, doing so is easy, whether you take any of the dozens of dirt-cheap flights from Suvarnabhumi or travel on a comfortable, modern train to destinations north or south.


Why They Hate It

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Traffic in the Chaoyang district

A quick read-through of any Western media story about China answers this question: Beijing, they say, is the center of the evil Chinese communist’s plot to take over the world, a bastion of social bondage that leaves its citizens too poor and uneducated to escape their congested, polluted reality. More tangibly, Beijing came under fire during the run-up to the 2008 Olympic games, during which the Chinese government very conspicuously forced large numbers of the city’s working poor out of their homes — and put them to work destroying them and building the Olympic village from the ground up.

Why I Love It

Beijing is absolutely massive, another characteristic detractors use to talk it down. I see this is as a benefit: It allows a huge variety of architecture, lifestyle and urban landscapes to exist within the confines of what we call a city. The 5,000-year old Forbidden City sits caddy corner to Tian’anmen Square, a monument to the leaders that sought to destroy the memory of China’s ancient past. Cosmopolitan neighborhoods like Sanlitun and Chaoyang sit side-by-side the city’s ancient hutong water houses. The city is at once gritty and glamorous, at once fragile and fierce, like the literally thousands of rose bushes that dot its crowded boulevards.

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Why You Should Go

To start, you’ll probably have to be there for at least a night anyway — Beijing is one to two hours from the most visited parts of the Great Wall — so why not explore the city? Beijing is one of the few places I’ve been where I really feel it’s important to visit as many so-called “tourist attractions” as you can. Places like the Summer Palace, Lama Temple and Temple of Heaven provide not only history and insight, but place the rest of the sprawling Chinese capital into a larger context that makes it difficult to write off even the cold, Soviet-looking metro stations and architecture that dominate most of its cityscape. Like Bangkok, Beijing is an extremely good value for money.


Why They Hate It

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The Cairo Metro

You’re probably noticing a theme: All of the cities I’ve thus far listed have a reputation as being overcrowded, polluted and therefore miserable. This isn’t a coincidence, as this is perhaps the most damning curse even seasoned travelers lay upon cities and regions. Cairo is no different in this aspect, at least as far as most travelers are concerned. The Egyptian capital, many say, is an urban wasteland that serves only as a gateway to the more spectacular destinations that orbit it in all directions, a necessary stop in an unnecessary place. The city also loses points for its congestion and smog, which result in a perpetual haze enhanced by the Saharan dust in the air.

Why I Love It

As had also been the case with Bangkok and Beijing, I arrived in Cairo with the pre-conceived notion that it might not be worth visiting — I only booked two nights in the capital. How foolish I was! Cairo’s allure comes not from the mighty Nile that flows through the center of the city, the wealth of museums and other cultural institutions and its charming, vast old quarter, although all of these add to its appeal. I love Cairo because I can step out onto any street, without knowing its name, history or location relative to the city center, and feel like I’ve been transported to another planet entirely. Cairo’s residents are also among the most friendly people I’ve met anywhere in the world. When I was walking in the city to kill time before a train to Alexandria, I happened upon a local who insisted I join him for tea and shisha – and also insisted upon picking up the bill!

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Old Cairo

Why You Should Go

Cairo is more than a gateway to the Giza pyramids, although it fulfills this role well — you can see the city’s impressive skyline, or at least kind of see it through the mixture of smog and dust that float above it — as you walk or ride through the Pyramid complex. The modern capital is also a stone’s throw from the Greco-Roman capital of Alexandria, which you can easily turn into a day trip. Like Bangkok and Beijing, Cairo is cheap, which allows you to more fully experience the city that you would more expensive tourist traps like Aswan, Luxor and Sharm el Shiekh. As of September 2011, the capital is in an even greater slump in tourist numbers than the rest of the country, so locals are excited and happy to see foreign faces. The city also has an excellent, 24-hour metro system.

Los Angeles

Why They Hate It

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Sunset Boulevard

Traffic. Pollution. Hedonism. Contemporary Los Angeles has a reputation of being little more than a mess of highways, hookers and houses, in spite of it being regard fondly and even lovingly in America’s cultural memory, a 1950s boomtown and the very origin of glitz, glamour and style. Residents are often stereotyped as being as fake and materialistic and the celebrities everyone loves to hate, who live among them and bring their city most of its publicity. This doesn’t stop the majority of tourists, particularly foreign ones, from visiting as it has in the case of the previous three cities, but that doesn’t mean the shimmering skyline that straddles the mountains and the sea is as well loved in its present incarnation as nostalgia would have you believe.

Why I Love It

I love the paradox of Los Angeles. The vast majority of people who live here own cars, something evident by its heavily congested freeways, yet the city has long been a bastion of trendy environmentalism and its citizens are very aware of the impact their lifestyle has on the environment. Like Beijing and Cairo, Los Angeles is covered by a perpetual haze, but the metro area also houses huge swaths of protected forests and other nature reserves — and no matter how dirty the grimiest parts of the city get, few global sites manmade or otherwise are more magnificent than the downtown Los Angeles skyline as you drive south toward it on the Hollywood Freeway. I also have fond memories of visiting the region with my father twice at the end of the 1990′s, two trips I credit with kicking my wanderlust into full gear.

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Venice Beach

Why You Should Go

The term “city of Los Angeles” is misleading — the region is home to 18 million people and is just as diverse in what is has to offer tourists. Feeling tacky? Book a room in Hollywood and make a beeline for West Hollywood or Beverly Hills, dining among the celebrities at trendy spots like Mr. Chow and the Ivy and not feeling bad about it. The area’s dozens of miles of coastline span from mostly-untouched Malibu and Ventura in the north to the quirky Venice Beach south of the airport, so no matter you reason for wanting to take to the sea, you’ll find yourself fulfilled here. Peripheral destinations like schmoozy Palm Springs and laid-back Santa Barbara are easy day trips from the urban core, which is to say nothing for vast array of amazing restaurants, shopping and cultural activities that exist within the city limits.

São Paulo

Why They Hate It

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The skyline

Like many large cities in South America, São Paulo has a reputation for being dangerous, as in robbed-at-gunpoint dangerous. The massive city, the largest in the southern hemisphere, is also inland from the coast, which causes it to lose points with many visitors, particularly compared with well-loved Rio de Janeiro to the north. Curiously, most of the people I’ve met who have negative things to say about São Paulo have never visited the city, disinterested, put-off or even plain scared by what they’ve heard prior to visiting Brazil. Many prospective tourists believe there is simply nothing to do in São Paulo.

Why I Love It

Unlike Rio, which I love for its own reasons, São Paulo is a city through-and-through. People from all over the world live and work here, which has built an eclectic urban identity that is also galvanized. To supplement to the churrascarias and açaí berries that have gained world fame, São Paulo has its own special dishes, which include the delicious feijoada, served only on Thursdays and Saturdays. I’m not certain whether it’s because tourists are such a rare sight, but the so-called Paulistas seem absolutely overjoyed to meet them — and this is to say nothing of the explosive romantic encounters you’re bound to have if you look even casually for them. The city’s massiveness is humbling, particularly when you take in a view from the free-of-charge observation deck of the BANESPA tower, Brazil’s answer to the Empire State building. The city also has a vibrant street art scene.

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Rua Augusta

Why You Should Go

Even if walking beneath its towering skyscrapers and along its grand boulevards doesn’t awe and amaze you, São Paulo has more than enough activities and sights to break down even the strongest preconceived notions about it. The Museu de Arte de São Paulo, which locals simply called “MASP” or masp-y, is one of the greatest exhibitions of visual art in all of South America, all housed in a stilted building along Avenida Paulista that is a work of art in and of itself. The city’s de-facto center is home to the cathedral, the historical Luz station and the Portuguese language museum that now resides there and the Mercado Municipal, where you can get a delicious trout-filled pastel bacalhau, among other tasty delights. Even if you only spend a couple days in São Paulo, such as en route to Rio, Florianópolis or elsewhere in the country, you are sure to develop a fondness for the city.

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