Technology is a curious thing, isn’t it? Even if we’ve grown up with it, even if we were born with a dang smartphone in our hands and 10,000 Twitter followers, it’ll still manage to surprise you.
Not a day goes by on social media when we aren’t presented with one of those do you feel old yet? posts. Jurassic Park is 25 years old, you say? Yes, yes I do feel old. Thanks for asking. Then there are those videos where children are presented with a cassette tape or something, and gaze in wonder at this forgotten artefact from the 14th century.
I’m about to hit the big 3-0 later this month, and I’m already considering dyeing my hair jet black and buying a Harley at the very thought. Over the course of my short lifetime thus far, though, I’ve seen technology do all kinds of weird and wonderful things, all in the name of progress. As industry analysts will tell you, you’ve got to keep up with said progress, or you’re going to be left behind.
So, there’s the rub. Around the world, there’s a huge and stark contrast between the places that have embraced our technology-obsessed world and those that have not. We’ve got smart cars and whole smart cities, and we’ve also got places that embrace their traditional (ancient, in some cases) roots.
For this beautiful and vibrant world of ours to thrive, we need both extremes. On that note, let’s take a look at some of the most (and least) futuristic places on Earth.
20 FORWARD IN TIME: You Call That An Island? THIS Is An Island (Dubai)
As all keen travellers will know, the United Arab Emirates is one of the most decadent areas on the planet. Dubai, in particular, is a super popular (and super expensive) destination, famous for all kinds of extravagant engineering projects. It’s home to the Burj Khalifa, for instance, the tallest building in the world.
You’ll also find the Palm Islands there, a luxurious system of man-made islands off the coast of Dubai. As CN Traveler reports, they were a labour of astronomical proportions, involving the dredging of three billion cubic feet of sand from the seafloor. Even the smallest of the Palm Islands took a decade to finish! Today, though, they’re the site of the very last word in luxurious, futuristic hotels and malls. A staggering proposition.
19 FORWARD IN TIME: South Korea’s Luxurious ‘Canal Project’
Don’t go running away with the false impression that only super-decadent places like the UAE can pull these kinds of feats, though. I mean, sure, South Korea may not be extra enough to pull billions of tons of sand from the seabed, just because grandpappy fancied an island in the shape of a palm tree, but they’re doing some amazingly futuristic things of their own.
This little doozy is the Songdo Canal Walk, a stretch of man-made canal that links the residential and business neighbourhoods of the Songdo International Business District. The blocks are characterised by luxurious restaurants and stores, KPF reports, and ingeniously designed to cut out traffic and noise to give it a pedestrian, urban feel. It’s quite a sight.
18 FORWARD IN TIME: When Amsterdam Gets Smart
Now, I don’t know about you, but I’ve seen the Terminator movies. I know exactly what happens when man-made things start to think for themselves. It’s not pretty, in short, and I want no part of it. Arnold Schwarzenegger being teleported back through time with no pants on is not something the world needs right now.
Snark aside, though, smart, eco-friendly solutions are certainly something we’re going to need going forward. On that note, there’s something remarkable underway in the north of Amsterdam. De Ceuvel, as the official site explains, is a sort of technological playground where creativity reigns. They’re trying to harness all kinds of sustainability ideas and possibilities, It’s a smart city in miniature, and it’s super encouraging for the future.
17 FORWARD IN TIME: Seattle Takes Its Groceries To Go
Now, I’m not averse to technology. Far from it. As an avid gamer and writer, I’ve got to take a laptop, a tablet, a console with me wherever I go. That sort of thing, I’m totally on board with. Some things do seem a little extra to me, though. I’m not sure I’m ready to live in a world where drones are buzzing around delivering our packages to us.
Over in Seattle, though, that’s clearly a life the people are down for living. The beautiful Emerald City is home to one of three operational Amazon Go stores. As the retailer explains in this video from their YouTube channel, this is the world’s most advanced shopping technology. What a time to be alive.
16 FORWARDS IN TIME: Man, Those Are Some Impossible Trains (Tokyo)
So, as I say, I’m a fan of technology more as a necessity. I’m not really one to actively seek out the latest product or upgrade, just because. I can be tempted, though, and that’s really the reason that Tokyo, Japan will always occupy a darn high spot on my travel bucket list.
The high-speed Shinkansen trains are a huge part of that, I’m not going to lie. As a regular train commuter, these magnificent specimens are just fascinating to me. Just look at that design! If that doesn’t look like it could send you straight up to Mars for a couple of orbits, I don’t know what does.
Most futuristic of all, the service is incredibly punctual. With its speed and separation from slower traffic, a Central Japan Railway Company report from 2016 indicated that the average delay was no more than 24 seconds. Truly, this is the future of train travel.
15 FORWARD IN TIME: 'Electric Town' Comes Alive
While we’re in Tokyo, there’s another place we’ve just got to pay a visit to. If you’re an aficionado of all things tech-tastic, you’ve probably already guessed where it is: the Chiyoda ward’s fabled Akihabara region, affectionately known as Electric Town.
Travelers come to Akihabara from all over the world, to see the region’s famous parade of gadget shops, luminous arcades and other attractions. At night, the region glows in bright technicolour, and it’s easy to see why it’s so revered by fans of all things manga and anime. If you’re looking for gadgetry, bright lights and an incomparable atmosphere, this is your place.
14 FORWARD IN TIME: Because Size Isn’t Everything (Singapore)
Oftentimes, the largest and most popular cities around the world are the ones that greedily syphon all of the limelight. They’re big, flashy and in your face, boasting the kinds of impressive numbers that people pay attention to.
There’s more to the equation than just that, though. Singapore isn’t all that big a city, comparatively speaking, but it’s dang flashy, and it wants you to know it.
According to Channel News Asia, this small island is the ‘smartest’ region in the world, a true global powerhouse and technology hub. Just a quick glimpse of its magnificent skyline will tell you that.
13 FORWARD IN TIME: When You’ve Just Conquered The Sky Completely (Hong Kong)
For me, nothing quite defines technological prowess and advancement like a skyscraper. It’s just an at-a-glance status symbol, a because I can sort of declaration. If you look at the skyline of a big city like New York, it has an awe-inspiring effect.
To that end, our next stop is another Asian country: China. The densely populated Hong Kong is a huge technological and financial hub, and boasts the most skyscrapers in the world.
As is the case with Singapore, the region’s reputation for technological prowess precedes it. As a result, it is also home to a highly-advanced public transportation network, and rates very highly in the Human Development Index ranking.
12 FORWARD IN TIME: Nobody Does Buses Like Sweden Does Buses
We’ve already touched on the technological advancements of big cities, and how some are trying to harness this technology for the greater good. To find more environmentally-friendly answers to our problems.
Much of this centres around cars and other vehicles. Around the world, electric cars are becoming gradually more popular. Another fledgling technology is that of driverless vehicles, which Sweden is demonstrating in Stockholm right now.
As of January 2018, the nation’s capital is home to two amazing self-driving buses. As The Local reports, they can be operated manually, and legislation dictates that a driver must be on board in case of emergency, but still. They hold twelve passengers, travel at a set speed of 20kmph, and are loaded with sensors to ensure they keep to their path.
Is this what the future of public transport looks like?
11 FORWARD IN TIME: Ahead In More Ways Than One (Copenhagen)
While we’re in Scandinavia, let’s take a quick hop over to the left. Our next stop is Denmark, whose picturesque capital city, Copenhagen, is futuristic in some crucial yet very different ways.
Denmark itself is known as one of the world’s happiest, least corrupt nations, and Copenhagen reflects some of that. It’s not a vast, busy capital city, as many are, but it certainly has its technological marvels.
On top of that, it’s incredibly green and bicycle friendly, with an official policy stating that no resident or visitor can be more than fifteen minutes from a park or beach, by foot, from anywhere in the city. What a policy.
10 Backward IN TIME: Walking Like An Egyptian (Thebes)
As far as I’m concerned, there’s no more fascinating period of history than Ancient Egypt. When I was researching universities, I was hoping to find one that offered ancient history, but it’s a super niche topic these days and it’s dang tough to find courses.
As a result, I can only continue to travel and see some of the world’s remaining ancient wonders for myself. Right there at the top of the wishlist is Luxor, Egypt, the site of the ancient city of Thebes. Found east of the Nile river, the city is like a magnificent open-air museum, offering bounties like the remains of the Luxor and Karnak temple complexes.
9 BACKWARD IN TIME: Thus Speaketh The Oracle (Delphi, Greece)
Towns that wear their ancient roots proudly on their sleeves, like Luxor, can be tough to come by. After all, a lot of these ruins have largely disappeared now. My own hometown in Britain is relatively famous for its Roman origins, though only the slightest hints of that still remain. This is why the likes of Luxor make for such valuable treasure troves.
On that note, our next stop is Delphi, Greece. The modern town is situated close to the ancient one of the same name, which was revered as the home of the Oracle of Delphi. This seer’s word was of crucial importance to the Hellenic people, and many of the shrines and relics constructed in her honour can still be visited today.
8 BACKWARD IN TIME: When In Rome…
Speaking of my lifelong enthusiasm for ancient history, then, there’s a certain other city that you’d probably think would be a shoo-in for inclusion in this list. I aim to please, so here it comes: all aboard for Rome.
If there’s one big blockbuster name of the ancient world that everybody knows, it’s the Romans. Their city may have moved on a little since the days of togas and chariots, but this glorious town never forgot its roots. When visiting the Eternal City, guests can gaze at the legendary colosseum, the remains of the forum and much more, the magnitude of it all instantly transporting them to a time long since passed.
7 BACKWARD IN TIME: Now That’s A Palace (Taj Mahal)
For the next stop on our world tour, we’re off to Agra, India. There, on the south bank of the Yamuna river, is the breathtaking marble mausoleum that Mughal emperor Shah Jahan created as the tomb for his favourite wife, Mumtaz Mahal.
Its name means ‘Crown of the Palace,’ but it’s more famous all around the world as the Taj Mahal. As the monument’s official website states (not many buildings have their own official websites, but that’s the Taj Mahal for you), its beautiful façade changes colour throughout the day, from a pinkish hue in the morning to stark white in the evening. To visit is to truly be transported back to the past.
6 Backward IN TIME: It’s Called ‘Great’ For A Reason (Great wall of china)
I see you there, Great Wall of China. I see you, proudly spreading the rumour that you’re visible from space when you’re actually not (well, depending on whether you count low Earth orbit, in which case NASA reports that it’s no more prominent than other manmade objects). You sneaky old wall.
Let’s not get snarky, though, because the Great Wall of China is still largely considered one of the most impressive feats of human engineering ever. One of the country’s (and the world’s) finest tourist attractions, much of the extensive remains of the wall date back to the Ming Dynasty (1368-1644).
5 BACKWARD IN TIME: The Incredible Incas (Machu Picchu)
For a lot of people, the more obscure historical sights and references tend to be lost. This is totally understandable, of course, as dusty old relics aren’t to everybody’s taste. That sort of thing is for the more discerning history buffs.
Many travellers are all about the big-ticket items. They’re liable not to recognise an obscure Incan artefact, but Machu Picchu? Oh heckles yes.
This acclaimed Incan citadel is found in modern-day Peru, in the Machupicchu District. Now regarded as one of the New Seven Wonders of the World, the site consists of three main buildings: the Temple of the Sun, the Room of the Three Windows and the Intihuatana. A truly mystical place, as anyone who’s been there can attest.
4 BACKWARD IN TIME: So Famous, It’s On The National Flag
There’s an intriguing trivia question. Can you name a monument so iconic, so grand, that it appears on its home nation’s flag? If you’re struggling for an answer, here’s one: Angkor Wat.
This magnificent monument is situated in Angkor, Siem Reap, Cambodia. It’s the world’s largest religious monument, covering a colossal 402 acres. It was constructed in the 12th century, by King Suryavarman II, who clearly had a taste for being a bit extra on the weekends.
It’s a true revelation to walk through the extensive site today, admiring its elaborate architecture and numerous bas reliefs. Angkor Wat is the midst of restoration at the moment, making a visit all the more poignant.
3 BACKWARD IN TIME: Isn’t It Romantic? (Neuschwanstein Castle)
Straight from Angkor Wat to Bavaria, Germany, for our next entry. If you’re a fan of iconic, historical monuments that make you feel some type of way, this castle straight out of Disney’s movie intros is one for you.
You’re looking at the opulent Neuschwanstein Castle, perched on a hill above the village of Hohenschwangau. It was constructed in the 19th century, its style a combination of romanticism influences and Ludwig II’s love for the operas of Richard Wagner.
Access to the castle is permitted only for guided tours of thirty minutes or so, but that’s more than enough to appreciate this lavish building’s charm.
2 BACKWARD IN TIME: The Beauty Of Rose City (Petra, Jordan)
As I say, many of the places and monuments we’ve seen over the course of this rundown have been real headliners. The big-ticket items. There’s nothing at all wrong with that, of course, but what if you’re looking for a real world-class attraction that is still a little underappreciated?
The historical city of Petra, Jordan is for you, friend. Situated on the Jordan River, this fascinating city settlement is known as Rose City for the distinctive stone it was carved from. As with Luxor in Egypt, there are numerous tombs and other archaeological finds to see throughout Petra, which is believed to have been settled as far back as 9,000BC.
1 BACKWARD IN TIME: The Timeless Galápagos Islands
Petra is a bit of an undiscovered haven for some, but we’re going to finish up with one last big tourist name. Who hasn’t heard of the exotic, fascinating Galápagos Islands?
The islands are found off the coast of South America, where they are officially designated as part of Ecuador. As is quite common of these smaller, distant regions, there’s an oddly timeless quality about them. You won’t be getting a super-fast fibre-optic broadband connection around here, friends.
As such, the Galápagos Islands are a wonder to visit, for those who want to appreciate nature and tranquillity. They’re home to those iconic giant tortoises, among many others.
References: CN Traveler, KPF, De Ceuvel, Channel News Asia, NASA