Disappointing places



David Whitley looks at the places he’s most willing to launch into a diatribe about, and questions whether he’s really being fair.


Doing what it says on the tin is something of a curse for tourist attractions. It’s a natural human reaction to talk up our own discoveries – we’re always more likely to want to talk about the places that aren’t stonkingly obvious rather than rave about the same spots that everyone else bangs on about. The surprises stick out in the anecdote bank; anything that’s great that you expected to be great before you got there manages to slip back into the pack.


Hence, for me, the Hoover Dam always comes to mind before the Grand Canyon, even though the Grand Canyon is clearly better. The same applies to Darwin and Melbourne. I’ll sing the former’s praises first, even though I know I’d probably enjoy going back to the latter more. But an opposite knee-jerk applies to places you’re expecting great things of that turn out to be mildly disappointing. If it’s not as it has been sold, then an irrational desire to paint it to be far worse than it actually is develops.


Hence my somewhat vitriolic responses when anyone asks me what Byron Bay on Australia’s East Coast is like. Objectively, it is a seaside town with plenty of things to do, with a couple of cracking beaches and an occasionally admirable alternative ethic. In my head, it is somewhere to die by a thousand paper cuts from flyers handed out by backpackers, stand around in the rain and get annoyed by people who think having a terrible haircut equates to being some kind of spiritual earth child. Basically, I went expecting some kind of sun-drenched, laid-back paradise, and I didn’t get it. Therefore, it’s rubbish.


The same applies to Queenstown in New Zealand. It’s in an extraordinarily beautiful setting, there are unfathomable riches in terms of things to do, but I was expecting something that at least vaguely resembles a real place. It’s not, it’s a resort town infected by some truly awful people who measure their worth to society by how high they’ve bungy jumped from and precisely how many adrenalin activities they can pack into a week. Ask me about it, and it’s an enforced fun hellhole. It’s really only partially that.


And it goes on. Bali is a basket case ruined by the worst aspects of Australian mass holidaymaking (translation: most parts are lovely, avoid Kuta), Vancouver is as satisfying as an all-Ryvita diet (it’s got a lot to like, but lacks edge) and the whole of Malaysia is not worth bothering with (I’ve only been to Johor Bahru, and it’s a predictably grim border town).


Such grossly distorted opinions are ones that will get expressed a little too regularly. Ask me about Canada, and I’m far more likely to harp on about Vancouver’s blandness than the general agreeableness of Toronto – a city I expected to be generally agreeable.


It’s not fair; it’s just the way it is. I’m sure people I know who grumble about the rubbishness of the Pyramids and the Great Wall of China aren’t being entirely fair either. And in terms of reputational management in travel, it pays to fly under the radar somewhat.


Go on – get it off your chest. Which places to you have a perhaps unjustly harsh view on just because they weren’t what you expected?