The best travel documentaries on Netflix


Escape into the real world with some of our favourite travel documentaries showing on Netflix. Our globe has more adventure and magic than any fictional show. We have delved into the world of wanderlust to discover astonishing sights waiting to be explored. From the islands of Japan to treasure hunting in South India’s Golconda diamonds mines, ignite your imagination and let the tales below be a catalyst for planning an adventure of a lifetime.

Children of the Snow Lands

Telling the moving story of children in the High Himalayas of Nepal, this documentary follows the footsteps of young students returning to their mountain homes after over a decade spent away at schools in Kathmandu. Filmmakers Zara Balfour and Marcus Stephenson tread lightly alongside this emotional pilgrimage home, never moving from sensitivity and a deep bond forged with the subjects.

Himalayas of Nepal2

We meet one girl who was carried on her aunt’s back to Kathmandu aged four and her emotional reunion, now aged 16, with her mother, alongside 17-year old Nima whose journey home is fraught with danger, travelling through high avalanche-risk valleys to his village in the highest inhabited region on Earth. This is an unforgettable story, called “incredibly inspiring” by Bear Grylls, of hope, endurance, family and sacrifice played out against the starkly breathtaking scenery of the Land of the Gods.

Parts Unknown: Myanmar

The late, great Anthony Bourdain set off on a journey with CNN to sample some of the best dishes to be found in lesser-known regions of the world. His unique style, infused with wit and a deep passion for food, takes us on a magic carpet ride of ingredients and personalities.

Myanmar Pegona Bus

Travelling through the still relatively undiscovered landscape of Myanmar, Bourdain has a series of breakfast and lunch dates with an intriguing cast of characters as a backdrop to the highlighted dishes. From a breakfast of mohinga (fish-based soup with rice noodles) with a veteran Burmese journalist, to savouring chicken necks and cold beer with New York restauranter Philippe Lajaunie, and tea leaf salad in Yangon with renowned astrologer and ex-prisoner San Zarni Bo, this smorgasboard of stories brings Myanmar alive in a most memorable way.

Chef’s Table: Asma Khan

Asma Khan is nothing if not a one woman phenomenon. From first ventures into the world of food, hosting successful supper clubs at her Kensington home to opening a string of critically acclaimed Indian fusion restaurants across London, the lawyer-turned-entrepreneur is passionate about both sharing her culinary heritage and empowering women. Her kitchens are all-female and Khan travels the globe supporting and sharing the cause of women’s rights.

Lucknow India Building

As the first British chef to be featured on Netflix’s famed series Chef’s Table, Khan takes us to her native city of Lucknow, India. We sit in the arching drawing room of her family palace and travel through time to worlds of purdah, dignity, family pride and a deep-rooted sense of belonging. “When you share food, it builds a bridge between you and the other person, who may be from a different cultural background from you,” says Khan. We delve deep into the nuanced layers of Muslim Indian society led hand in hand by the gracious and warm chef who brings an effortless magnetism to the screen.

David Attenborough’s Our Planet

Opening with a line from one of the most famous voices on earth, David Attenborough, “For the first time in our history, the stability of nature can no longer be taken for granted. All across our planet, crucial connections are being disrupted, the stability that we and all life relies upon is being lost. What we do in the next 20 years will determine the future for all life on Earth”.

Deforestation2

Newly released and a heart cry for the urgency of conservation, David Attenborough’s Our Planet is an 8-episode explosion of some of the most awesome photography ever seen. At its core is a message we all need to hear – every species on earth, including humans, are interconnected and the destruction of any poses a grave risk for all. Weaving the issues of today’s planet, including global warming and environmental degradation is deeply impacting and a bold move away from the familiar cosy Attenborough narrative into darker territory. Lines such as “we have destroyed half the forests on earth” cannot fail to shock. This series has a clear purpose to shake all of us out of passivity and engage with the struggle to help our planet rebalance itself for future generations. A must-see!

Wild Japan – BBC Earth

Michelle Dockery, of Downton Abbey fame, takes the viewer on a memorable trek through some of approximately 6,800 islands of the sometimes mysterious Japan. Beginning at the largest island Honshu, home to Tokyo, where 100 million people live in an area one-sixth the size of France, we discover the central Japanese Alps, balmy summers and sub-zero winters alongside Black Bears and unique species.

People Crossing the Road in Tokyo, Japan3

Further afield lie a jewel box of scattered islands, each with a unique quality and identity, Kyushu has an active volcano, Yakushima sports millenia-old cedar tree forests, utterly magical and given UNESCO world heritage status while Okinawa has the world’s smallest wild boars, green turtles and hauntingly beautiful Iriomote mangrove forests. Hokkaido, once part of Siberia, is another intriguing subject explored, formerly ruled by the indigenous Ainu tribes until 19th century Japanese settlers created an agricultural paradise. These far eastern islands are a scenic and dramatic destination with many stories uncovered.

Street Food – Netflix Original

There is surely no better way to get under the skin of another land and people than through the scents, tastes and zing of street food. Called “a chaotic paradise of food”, this fast-paced and emotive Netflix Original series, from the creators of Chef’s Table, traverses the lanes and alleyways of Hanoi, Mumbai, Manila, Bangkok and other pulsating cities.

Hanoi, Vietnam2

Real stories are shared through the lick of flames, the cracking of beer bottles and the joyful smiles of nocturnal street diners. This is humanity stripped of pretense and barriers, coming together to share the olfactory and taste pleasures of some of the most authentic and best food on the planet. Voices and eyes narrate tales of hardship, perseverance and success against all odds. This is inspiration and the purest form of travel – that of sharing a plate with a stranger and joining in his journey. A star!

Tales By Light

“Behind every powerful image is a powerful story”. This is the premise behind this extraordinary documentary by Sydney cinematographer Abraham Joffe who spent 12 months travelling the world with five prominent photographers as they journeyed in search of the perfect image.

Papua New Guinea People Dancing3

From Buddhist monks and fire ceremonies in Bhutan to tribal life on Papua New Guinea’s remote Sepik River, Humpback Whales in Tonga and lions in the African deserts, this is an enthralling and sometimes heartstopping reveal into what it takes to be a travel photographer. Following the likes of National Geographic’s Art Wolfe, Lonely Planet’s Guide to Travel Photography author Richard I’Anson, Tales By Light is a true showing of masters in action.

The Lost Treasure Hunters: Golconda

Imagine embarking on an Indiana Jones-style escapade in search of diamonds at the world’s former greatest mine. This is exactly what Sam Speerstra does in the Discovery Channel show “Lost Treasure Hunters” as he ventures into the heart of India to the famed Golconda Mines, a place of legend, curses and untold wealth.

Krishna River2

Along with Rob Towner, an expert gold miner and diamond hunter, Speerstra takes on deadly vipers, cobras, local superstition and an impending monsoon to search for the precious stones at a source that has produced more diamonds than anywhere on earth. From vacuuming diamonds off the bottom of the Krishna River, one of the longest rivers in India, to dredging waters with an elephant barge, translating Sanskrit maps and overseeing an animal sacrifice to appease river gods, this is an action-packed, compelling and occasionally close to the bone glimpse into the world of extreme prospecting and India’s real life lost jewels.

Jack Whitehall: Travels With My Father

Comedian Jack Whitehall kidnaps his conservative father, theatrical agent Michael Whitehall, for a true “odd couple” escape across the glorious landscape of Southeast Asia in this six-part travelogue. A joyful, madcap whirlwind where Whitehall senior packs his Garrick Club tie “in case I meet an ambassador” and confesses that his idea of an odyssey is crossing Putney Bridge.

Angkor Wat3

The episodes reveal as much about the father and son dynamic, revelling in their contrasting characters and shared sense of the ridiculous, as the pair navigate the landscapes. From elephant polo to ladyboy entertainers, the Orient Express and the mystical Angkor Wat, Jack and Michael are game for anything and the cultural differences are made even more hilarious by the soundtrack of dry British humour.

James Jayasundera is Founder and Managing Director of Ampersand Travel. Ampersand Travel create bespoke and luxurious travel experiences to Asia, the British Isles and Southern Africa.

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Comments (8)

  1. Nick Dougill says:

    I have only just signed up for Netflix so I’m still finding my way round. Obviously I’ve got a lot of catching up to do. I wasn’t aware of all the great travel documentaries that they do so many thanks for the tip.

    I will definitely watch the street food one. Whenever I travel I like to take in some street food, though I’ve got to admit that after one bad bout of illness I’m a lot more cautious than I once was. The beauty of street food is that you get to eat what the ordinary people eat and you come to understand the city and the people more.

  2. Gerald says:

    Many people talk of today as a Golden Age of Television. As someone who grew up with just two black and white channels available I wholeheartedly agree with that opinion. Though nowadays with all our subscriptions we are paying quite a lot of money for that privilege.

    Recently we have been fortunatr to be able to watch some great programmes, my personal favourites having been Chernobyl, The Handmaiden’s Tale and Big Little Lies. We tend to forget just how good some of the travel documentaries are too. I’m not sure that they always get the audiences that their quality warrants.

    • Roger says:

      I tend to agree. I can probably access somewhere around 200 to 250 channels on my television. In all honesty I’ve probably never watched 90% of the channels and never will. But amongst the dross there are some real gems like these travel programmes. Hopefully, developing technology will make it possible to take cameras to even more inaccessible corners of this great planet.

  3. Jen says:

    I didn’t know that Parts Unknown: Myanmar was on Netflix. Definitely worth watching,

  4. Rob says:

    I’ve got a feeling that there could be more pieces like this. Many people simply don’t have the time or money to travel so they have to get their adventures from watching some travel documentaries. I think we will be seeing a lot more of these travel programmes. Netflix is going to grow and grow. So far they seem to be putting much of the money into making quality programmes. Travel programmes can eat up the dollars.

  5. Carolyn says:

    What we watch and how we watch is definitely changing and evolving. There’s so much choice nowadays. It is ridiculous when I think back to how excited I was when we got our first VHS video-recorder.

    Everyone sitting about watching their own device is fine by me. I will lap up all of these travel documentaries nowhere that I know that they are out there. Sadly my husband is into neither documentaries or travel but there’s no reason why I can’t download and enjoy.

  6. Simona Williams says:

    I hadn’t realised the Bourdain documentary was on Netflix, nor had I heard a few of the other shows that are available to watch aside from Our Planet. There’s certainly a lot for general interest and to appeal to foodie lovers. I think the Jack Whitehall one is what I read about a few months ago and it sounds like a more lighthearted and casual adventure, so I would quite like to check that one out, too.

  7. I love watching documentaries on Netflix. Have been watching ‘Our Planets’ for quite sometimes now. Thank you for sharing this amazing list.

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