Guess what? I’ve been tagged in another one of those fun little games that’s been working its way through the travel blogosphere! This one works its way through the alphabet, posing questions about my travels. I hope you enjoy getting to know me a bit better! I was tagged for it by Ali of Ali’s Adventures.
My apologies about this being such a long post. What can I say? I like answering questions! And I like putting in lots and lots of pretty pictures! So enjoy!
My Travel ABC’s
A – Age you went on your first international trip:
When I was 4, my mom had a midlife crisis, the end result of which involved my family moving to Ecuador for 5 years. In that time, we visited the Mitad del Mundo (equator), the Galapagos Islands, the Amazon Rain Forest, Machu Picchu and many other sites in Ecuador, Peru and Colombia. It was my first time out of the U.S. and given my young age, it had a huge impact on my life.
B – Best (foreign) beer you’ve had and where:
I haven’t got a clue what it was called, but I had some absolutely amazing wheat-based creation at one of the beer halls in Munich (not Hofbrauhaus).
C – Cuisine (favorite):
D – Destinations – favorite, least favorite, and why:
My favorite destination remains Bhutan as a whole, as nowhere else have I felt like I’ve literally stepped into a fairy tale. It will always hold a special place in my heart as the final resting place of my grandmothers ashes. And, seriously, where in the world can you randomly encounter the King??
I also seem to have a thing for cities that are completely and utterly crazy! Bangkok, for example is one of my favorite cities in the world. I absolutely adore it for the sheer madness of its streets (though I adamantly say that I’d never want to live there). And after my recent Middle East adventures I can definitely add Cairo and Istanbul to that list. So vibrant and so very alive! Oh and Indonesia. I would go back there in a heartbeat!
My least favorite is by far the Lao backpacker haunt of Vang Vieng, a stunning example of just how drastically tourism can change a place for the worse. I really, really hated Vang Vieng for its total lack of Lao culture and seemingly endless stream of drunk-of-their-ass backpackers making complete fools of themselves. I quickly skipped town after partaking in its signature activity, tubing, where I skipped the bars lining the river and got to witness of a herd of wild buffalo bathing themselves.
E – Event you experienced abroad that made you say “wow”:
Oh wow….so many! One thing in particular that sticks in my mind is watching the sunrise at Angkor Wat in Cambodia, which is a truly stunning sight. When the sun first creates a reflection of the temple in its reflecting pools, it’s an unforgettable experience! Perhaps this is one of those moments where pictures say more than words:
Experiencing my parents’ surprise wedding at a Buddhist temple in Bangkok was pretty amazing, as was the 2006 coup d’etat in Thailand. And, of course, nothing quite lives up to meeting the King of Bhutan or the thrill of traveling in Iraq!
More recently, I came upon one of the most spectacular and unexpected things I’ve ever seen abroad! I was in the mountain town of Kalaw in Myanmar’s Shan State when I heard drumming from the local Buddhist monastery. I wandered over just in time to see this!
This was actually the fourth one I saw take off, as I was diving for my life for the first 3 as the fireworks went off prematurely!
F – Favorite mode of transportation:
I really love taking trains. The routes tend to be so much more scenic than roads and you can move around and be social! It can also be a great way to interact with the locals, particularly if you ride Chinese trains in “Hard sleeper” class…that proved to be one of my favorite train rides ever! Oh and ferries! Though that might have changed during my last trip to Malaysia… More on that soon!
G – Greatest feeling while traveling:
I love challenging myself, particularly physically. Translation: I like to hike up to difficult places. Is it tough? Sure! Does it at times make me feel terribly out of shape? Yep! But there’s nothing quite like the sense of accomplishment when you reach your goal, be it an incredible view, or just the top of a famous peak.
Take, for example, China‘s Emei Shan, a holy Buddhist peak that takes a day and a half to hike up, which I did. When you get to the top there’s a ton of Chinese tourists who simply took the bus up, giving you a much greater sense of accomplishment! Or the hike up to Bhutan‘s “Tiger’s Nest” monastery, perched dramatically on the side of a cliff. There, there is no alternative to hiking up because it’s supposed to be a difficult, spiritual journey! And in an incredibly rewarding one!
H – Hottest place you’ve traveled to:
Laos in mid-March is definitely the hottest time of the year and nowhere seemed hotter than Si Phan Don (4,000 Islands), located right on the Cambodian border. There’s little to do there but lounge around in a hammock watching life gently go by on the Mekong River that surrounds the islands. It’s a wonderfully relaxing destination, but at that time of the year it was so hot that it’s the only place I’ve been to where I’ve actually wanted to take a cold shower!
I – Incredible service you’ve experienced and where:
My grandmother was big on indulging in “High Tea” (Afternoon Tea) at the fanciest hotel in town wherever she visited. The last one we did together was at the Oriental Hotel in Bangkok, a shining example of the high life kind of service one would expect from such a high-class establishment.
J – Journey that took the longest:
Depends on how you define that…
Longest Air Trip: Getting home from Australia in the summer of 2016. I was in transit for a whopping 36 hours!
Longest Non-Stop Flight: Los Angeles to Sydney–15 hours
K – Keepsakes from your travels:
Perhaps it has to do with the fact that I travel with no extra space, but I’m really good at not buying souvenirs. That said, I collect lapel pins (odd, I know…). They’re small and can be found just about anywhere.
And I have a tendency to save tickets to museums and other sites.
L – Let-down sight, why and where:
My biggest disappointment was spending Christmas Eve in Bethlehem (no, not the one in Pennsylvania, the real one), which I did on my first Middle East trip. You can read more about that in Part I: The Good and Part II: A Very Wet Night.
M – Moment where you fell in love with travel:
It was 2006 and I was off on my first solo backpacking adventure. I had a moment where my plans completely fell apart thanks to the sheer difficulty of getting anywhere in Laos by road in the midst of their monsoon season. What should have taken 6 hours took a day and a half and involved 5 vehicles, a boat and a collapsed bridge. It was one of those experiences that kind of sucked while it was happening, but as I stood there in the rain watching ingenious Lao villagers build a bamboo footbridge over a flooded river in the pouring rain, I knew I was hooked!
N – Nicest hotel you’ve stayed in:
A writer friend of mine and I got comped for a US$800 per night hotel suite in Washington, DC once. That was amazingly epic (particularly since there was no checkout time)! But, if the question is international, then….
Kyichu Resort near Wangdue Phodrang in Bhutan. The rooms are these individual cabins, per say, that open out to this gorgeous stream flowing through the grounds. It is an amazingly peaceful place in a beautiful setting!
O – Obsession – what are you obsessed with taking pictures of while traveling and why:
I have a thing for funny signs (remember my “Say What??” series?) and if I see one that makes me chuckle, I will definitely take a picture of it! China was a true goldmine for them, but they can be spotted just about everywhere, like this one, seen in a Jerusalem Men’s Room:
P – Passport stamps – how many and where from:
In my last passport I have 64. They are:
Austria–2 (Entrance/Exit), Bhutan–2 (Entrance/ Exit), Cambodia–2 (Entrance/Exit), China–4 (Entrance/Exit), Egypt–2 (Entrance/Exit), Germany–2 (Entrance/Exit), Hong Kong–2 (Entrance/Exit), Indonesia–2 (Entrance/Exit), Iraq (Kurdistan Region)–2 (Entrance/Exit), Israel–6 (Entrance/Exit x3, including 1 Transit entrance stamp), Jordan–1 (Entrance only), Laos–4 (Entrance/Exit), Malaysia–4 (Entrance/Exit x2), Singapore–4 (Entrance/Exit x2), South Korea--2 (Entrance/Exit), Taiwan–2 (Entrance/Exit), Thailand–14 (Entrance/Exit x8), Turkey–2 (Entrance/Exit), USA–5 (Entrance only x4), Vietnam–2 (Entrance/Exit)
I renewed my passport in August 2015 and it has 48 stamps so far. They are:
Argentina — 2 (Entrance/Exit) Austria–2 (Entrance/Exit), Australia — 1 (Entrance only), Brazil–4 (Entrance/Exit x2), Cuba — 2 (Entrance/Exit), Italy–2 (Entrance/Exit), Japan — 2 (Entrance/Exit), Kenya — 4 (Entrance/Exit x2), Kuwait–2 (Entrance/Exit), Morocco — 2 (Entrance/Exit), Myanmar — 2 (Entrance/Exit), Oman–2 (Entrance/Exit), Philippines — 2 (Entrance/Exit), Portugal–2 (Entrance/Exit), South Korea — 2 (Entrance/Exit), Spain — 2 (Entrance/Exit), Tanzania — 2 (Entrance/Exit), UAE–10 (Entrance/Exit x5), United Nations HQ — 1 (Souvenir)
Q – Quirkiest attraction you’ve visited and where:
There’s no shortage of cheesy roadside attractions on interstate highways in the U.S. Like the “World’s Largest Thermometer” (don’t worry, it’s digital) in Baker, California, or Wall Drug in Wall, South Dakota, probably one of the ultimate tourist traps which is probably better known for their far flung billboards then for what’s there! I also went to a rather quirky, yet surprisingly normal amusement park in Iraq!
R – Recommended sight, event, or experience:
Oh man, there’s no way I could possibly pick one, or even a handful! There are so many amazing things to experience in this world… I like to experience incredible historical sites, like Machu Picchu, Angkor Wat, or Petra. And I also can’t get enough of incredible natural beauty, so there I’d say the Himalayas and China‘s Yangshuo.
In terms of events, I tend to think that most of those “must experience” events tend to be incredibly overrated (like spending New Year’s Eve in Times Square or Christmas Eve in Bethlehem…), so sadly no recommendations there.
As far as experiences go, I have one word for something everyone must experience: travel. And I don’t mean a trip to some Caribbean beach resort. I mean an actual trip to a far off land that’s dedicated to broadening your vision of the world.
S – Splurge – something you have no problem forking over money for while traveling:
This is a tough one, as I’ll be the first to admit that I’m pretty cheap, particularly when it comes to traveling. Though if possible, particular financially (read: if I’m in a cheaper country), I’ll usually take a private room over a hostel dorm bed.
I’ll splurge on attractions too. I shelled over 55 Jordanian Dinar (US$77.57) for a 2-day entrance ticket to Petra on my recent Middle East trip. And it was totally worth it!
T – Touristy thing you’ve done:
I live in NYC and grew up in Las Vegas, so what touristy thing haven’t I done at least once… Most recently, I did take one of those ridiculous pictures posing at the Great Pyramids of Giza in Egypt. That’s pretty touristy…
U – Unforgettable travel memory:
Meeting the King of Bhutan, spending a night in a Buddhist monastery, witnessing a sacrificial funeral in Indonesia and so many, many others. Though most of all I’d have to say meeting so many incredible people from every corner of the globe on the road. That’s a real highlight for me.
That, and experiencing the world through my grandmother’s eyes…she was incredibly special to me.
V – Visas – how many and for where:
My last passport has 11 visas. They are:
Bhutan, Cambodia, China, Egypt, Indonesia, Jordan, Laos (x2), Thailand (student visa), Turkey and Vietnam.
My new one only has 2 so far for Oman and Tanzania.
And not sure if it counts, but the back cover of my old passport has acquired a few stickers along the way… One from security at Bangkok‘s Survanabhumi airport, one from an Israeli border crossing and the last is one of those infamous bar codes from Tel Aviv’s Ben-Gurion airport. My new one has security stickers from London Heathrow, Nairobi and Ponta Delgada airports.
W – Wine – best glass of wine while traveling and where:
X – eXcellent view and from where:
That, and I hiked up to the ultimate viewpoint at Petra, the imposing Umm al-Biyara, one of the highest peaks in the park. To say that the view was incredible is an understatement!
I also once saw the Northern Lights from a plane. That was pretty damn cool!
Y – Years spent traveling:
Well, I started traveling when I was 4. And there was never really a big break without traveling because my grandmother retired in Mexico and I was an exchange student in the Ukraine in high school.
Though if you combine my total time spent outside the U.S., it’s equal to slightly over 6.5 years of my life.
Z – Zealous sports fans and where:
Hands down it was the Stanely Cup finals in Vancouver in 2011. It was impossible not to catch hockey fever there, from the extreme highs of the Canucks winning Game 5 to the riots that followed their ultimate loss in Game 7. It was sports fanatics at their best (and worst).
To continue this project, I tag:
Your Turn to Sound Off!
What do you think of my Travel ABC’s? Have any similar experiences? Or do you just think I’m a little crazy?