Get extra countries



David Whitley takes a look at the extra countries you can easily add to your tally from popular round the world destinations

Travel isn’t a competition. There is something pathetically childish about people who measure their importance by how many countries they’ve been to. But, let’s face it, sometimes it’s nice to be able to say you’ve been somewhere – even if it’s just for a day or two. And there are a few countries that are tantalizingly close to popular round the world flight hubs that you can easily sneak off to without taking a massive detour. Such as…

Macau (from Hong Kong) 
Whether Macau counts depends very much on your definition of what a country is. But, hey, if it’s allowed its own football team, that’s got to count for something, huh? A short ferry ride away from Hong Kong, Macau can easily be tackled as a day trip and it’s a weird, weird place. It’s part Chinese and part European – it wears its Portuguese heritage rather strongly – but it’s also the world’s biggest gambling centre. Macau’s casinos take in far more than those of Las Vegas, and there’s a very different atmosphere inside them. There’s less of the fun, and more deadly serious gaming. The most common sound is that of angry men thumping tables.   

China (from Hong Kong) 

Again this depends on how liberal your idea of separate countries is, but Hong Kong hands off the end of China like a fat icicle. A cross-border jaunt is fine, if you’ve got the visa sorted. The problem is what’s at the other side of the border. Shenzhen is possibly one of the most soulless places in the world – it’s essentially just a giant shopping centre.  

Mexico (from Los Angeles) 
You’re only a few hours away from the Mexican border in Los Angeles. The first city you’ll come to on the other side is Tijuana, which isn’t exactly a charming Cotswolds village. It has a reputation for drug and gun crime, but keep your wits about you and it’s also a raucous place to go drinking and bar hopping. About 100km further south is Ensenada, a far more gentle seaside city that’s popular with surfers and cruise ship passengers alike.   

Swaziland (from Johannesburg) 
Buses from Jo’Burg take around four hours to get to Swaziland’s main cities of Mbabane and Manzini, though self-driving it and going to the Malkerns or Ezulwini Valley is likely to be a more rewarding experience. These two areas have a nice mix of nature, museums and cultural attractions.   

Uruguay (from Buenos Aires) 
Uruguay is just over the admittedly huge mouth of the River Plate from the Argentine capital, and regular ferries will take you there. Budget four to six hours to get to Montevideo, which is arguably South America’s most relaxed, agreeable capital city, or two-and-a-half hours to get to Colonia del Sacramento. It’s a fabulously pretty town, crammed with a cracking fortress and – as the name would suggest – colonial era buildings.   

Malaysia (from Singapore) 

Singapore is just an island. Head north along the causeway and you’ll find yourself pretty quickly in Malaysia. The first introduction to the country is the largely charmless Johor Bahru, so you’re better off heading further north to Melaka. This historic trading port city has Portuguese, Dutch and British heritage. It’s a gorgeous place where exotic charm meets temples, colonial buildings and palaces. Oh yes, and anyone who likes gawping at boats should be in heaven. 

Indonesia (from Singapore) 
You can’t do it by land, but if you head the other way from Singapore by ferry you’ll end up at Indonesia’s Riau Archipelago. Of these islands, Pulau Bintan has the best combination of accessibility and pleasantness. The beaches aren’t amazing, but they’re decent enough – and the stilted buildings and markets make it an enjoyable day trip escape from Singapore’s claustrophobic feel. 

Oman (from Dubai) 
There are a couple of odd Omani enclaves within the UAE’s borders, but the best spot to head for is the Musandam Peninsula, which is cut off from the rest of Oman by the Emirates. This wild region is regarded as Arabia’s take on Norway, and the dhow cruises through the fjordy landscape, accompanied by numerous show-boating dolphins, are an absolute treat. 

Canada (from New York) 
You’d be mental to attempt to do Toronto or Montreal as a day trip from New York, but there are daily trains to both, and you could easily make a couple of days of it. Both cities are ace in their own way – Toronto has lots to do and has in immense likeability, whilst Montreal has the party factor, a gorgeous old town and a bilingual culture that draws you in instantly. 

Cambodia (from Bangkok) 

It’ll take you the best part of a day to get there by land – a combination of bus to the border and share taxi on to Siem Reap is best. Ignore the numerous too-good-to-be-true cheapo options that go all the way through – they’re invariably scams. It’s a bit of a faff, but you can spend a few days exploring Siem Reap and the Angkor temples before heading back. Mercifully, the road between the Poipet border post and Siem Reap has improved markedly in recent years – the journey isn’t as painful as it once was.