Eight countries you will never forget travelling to

Some holidays disappear in the blink of an eye, like they never even happened. They're just not that interesting, and certainly not life-changing. You find yourself with memories you can't even put a physical location to – a thing took place but you can't remember if it was in Thailand, or in Vietnam, or maybe it was even Canada?

Not every destination sticks with you. Not every country leaves such an indelible mark that you never forget it, you never find yourself wondering where exactly some particular thing happened because you already know, and will always know. Not every place lodges in your memory like that for the rest of your life.

Some, however, do. And if you're looking for a truly memorable trip away, to a destination that will change your world view and stick in your mind for the rest of your days, then these are the places to go.

India

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Photo: AP

No one leaves India unaffected. It's just not possible. You might depart the country charged with a new sense of purpose, with a glowing passion for all that humanity has to offer, or you might leave deflated and horrified, but the fact is that you will be changed, and that change will stick with you for good. India is something else. It's not the world you're used to. It's a place where things work – or don't work – on a totally different plane. It's a great tide of humanity. It's spiritual but intensely physical. It's heady and emotional, joyous and yet wildly frustrating. And it's unlike anywhere else.

Kenya

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Photo: Shutterstock

Your first safari experience will always stick with you. It's the cups of tea around a pre-dawn fire. It's the silhouette of an acacia on the far horizon. It's the excitement of finding animals, of tracking footprints and spotting a flash of fur or leathery skin and knowing you've found it. Kenya offers that experience a million times over, but it has something more, too. It's the mass of humanity who call this country home, the tribal cultures of the Masai, the Kikuyu, the Kalenjin and the Luo, as well as influence from Arabs and Europeans. It's the classic landscapes that range from the lush Rift Valley to the aridity of Meru to the blue ocean of Lamu. And it's the edge, the sense of danger that you never forget.

Laos

<i>Luang Prabang, Laos</i>

Luang Prabang, Laos Photo: Shutterstock

If you haven't been to Laos you're probably a little baffled at all the rave reviews. What is there to do there, anyway? Visit a few temples? Lie in a hammock? Eat food that's definitely not as good as in Thailand or Vietnam? How is this a place you would go to instead of other south-east Asian countries? And then you visit Laos, and you understand. Laos has a gentle rhythm to it that visitors quickly embrace. It's friendly, without the scams. It's beautiful, without the pollution. And it's so completely different, in attitude and in lifestyle, to anything you've seen before.

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Mexico

<i>Palenque, Mexico</i>

Palenque, Mexico

The things that stick with you about Mexico are the things you never really considered about the country before. This place has a reputation, but its most memorable aspects have nothing to do with that. What's memorable, instead, is the artistic culture, the music that's constantly playing, the public artworks, the legacies of Frida Kahlo and Diego Rivera. It's food that's so much more than tacos and burritos. It's festivals such as Day of the Dead, colourful celebrations rooted in thousands of years of history. And it's the people you meet, friendly, funny, interesting people who are nothing like the gangster cliches.

Italy

Italy is extremely easy to romanticise, which is probably why it sticks with people long after they've left. It's easy to ignore the down sides to "la dolce vita", to forget about the chaotic political system, the ongoing influence of organised crime, the lack of attention – and possible corruption – that can lead to a tragedy like the Genoa bridge collapse and focus instead on the good things: the long lunches, the amazing food, the high fashion, the passionate people, the long history, the beautiful landscapes, the charming towns. As a tourist, those good things are Italy. The place is paradise. How could you not fall in love?

Japan

<i>Osaka, Japan</i>

Osaka, Japan Photo: Shutterstock

There are few places in the world that define the concept of "foreignness" like Japan. Certainly none as modern and developed as the Land of the Rising Sun. To experience Japan is to experience a completely different world, where the culture is so strong and defined and unique. Everything about Japan is just so Japanese. Everything you do every day, from the first subway ride in the morning to the last whisky at night, is so obviously a product of this amazing place in which you stand. Everything works. Everyone is polite. Everything is clean and tidy. The realisation that there's this other way of living will always stay with you.

Iran

<i>Isfahan, Iran</i>

Isfahan, Iran Photo: Alamy

Iran will completely change your world view. This country will transform itself in the space of an afternoon from an arch enemy to a best friend. And it's not just your idea of Iran that will be altered after a visit here. This country is so different to the way it's portrayed by the rest of the world that it will make you think: where else have we got wrong? Never again will you accept the perceived wisdom of a country. You'll always know there's more to the story. You'll always believe you need to see it for yourself. And you'll always want to return to Iran.

China

<i>GUANGZHOU, CHINA</i>

Guangzhou, China Photo: Shutterstock

This is another country that, like Iran, defies expectations, and like India, bowls you over with its sheer weight of personality. China is huge, a continent of its own. Its people are so diverse as to be impossible to define – sometimes fun and charming, sometimes drunk and raucous, sometimes blunt and officious. You begin to get an idea of just how much of the world remains unexplored when you visit China. You realise you can get by in places where no one speaks English. You realise you can be both excited and revolted by a country, love elements and hate elements and still want to return.

Which destinations have never left you? Why were they so memorable? Any that you will never go back to?

Email: b.groundwater@fairfaxmedia.com.au

Instagram: Instagram.com/bengroundwater

See also: The country that should be at the top of everyone's bucket list (but it's not)

See also: The holidays travel writers don't tell you about

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