Tuesday, November 17, 2009

The Trip In Review

Carlsbad, California - Well we've been home now for a few months and in some ways the trip seems long ago and in others it feels like it was just yesterday that we were hopping on buses and moving from town to town.

It was a wonderful trip with many more high points than low points so without further ado here are the highlights and lowlights:

Favorite Cities:

Singapore - Multicultural, great food, easy to get around, great food, excellent shopping and oh did I mention the great food?

Saigon, Vietnam - Very cool city, cosmopolitan, good sites, good food, nice mix of the modern and old school.

Phnom Penh, Cambodia - Might be a bit of a surprise to be on the list but again great food (do you sense a pattern), a gritty feel to it, sobering historical sights like the Killing Fields, Tuol Sleng, friendly people as with everywhere in Cambodia

Favorite Towns:

Hoi An, Vietnam - Full of tourists but just like Venice, one can see why. Very cute town, nice restaurants, good market, great cooking school, very chill place to hang out. Excellent happy hour drink specials.

Koh Tao, Thailand - Not really a town but again a very chill place, excellent diving, beautiful scenery. Not much to do but dive but we still ended up spending 3 weeks there.

Favorite Restaurants:

Friends Cafe, Phnom Penh, Cambodia - Run as a Co-op to train orphaned kids in the restaurant business, a good concept but even better food. Staff was very friendly and the food was some of the best we had.

FCC (Foreign Correspondents Cafe), Phnom Penh, Cambodia - A journo hangout during the various wars this place reeks of colonial charm. Great views from the second floor of the chaos below and locals walking along the river. The pizza is the best we had on our trip. The Martini's (Stacy) were a nice change from beer and the White Sangria (Betsy) definitely quenched one's thirst in the Cambodian heat.

Kafe Batan Waru, Bali, Indonesia - Next to a big shopping mall in Tuban this place served some wonderful Indonesian/Balinese food. Our favorites included: Karedok - Bandung style vegetable salad with peanut tamarind dressing and Ayam Rica-Rica - One half chicken de-boned and grilled and simmered in a manadonese chili sauce with shitake mushrooms

Texas BBQ – Nha Trang, Vietnam - Great BBQ as good as anything from home and a nice break from all the rice/noodles etc we’d been eating on our trip up to that point. Easily the best burger I had on the whole trip.

Favorite Experiences:

Halong Bay Boat Trip, Northern Vietnam – Did the 3 day 2 night trip which was much better than the traditional one night trip as you don’t just follow all the other boats but instead head to the quieter areas of Halong Bay. Excellent food, good company and great scenery this trip was well worth busting the budget for.

Mahout Experience, Luang Prabang, Laos - Mahouts are elephant trainers and we got to spend a day training to be a Mahout. We got our own elephant that we learned to command, and that we took down to the river to bathe. It was an amazing experience and highly recommended.

Scuba Diving, Koh Tao, Thailand and Gili Islands, Indonesia - Scuba diving was a revelation to both of us and we enjoyed it immensely. It is something we will definitely be doing again.

Esala Perehara Festival, Kandy, Sri Lanka - Amazing festival with hundreds of decorated elephants lighting up the street for 4 nights.

Favorite Bars:

FCC, Phnom Penh, Cambodia - See favorite restaurants above

Any of the cheap beer/2 for 1 cocktails places in Hoi An, Vietnam

Windansea Resort Bar/Restaurant, Koh Tao, Thailand - Good food and a great place to watch the sun go down in Koh Tao

Best Trip:

Two day boat ride up the Mekong River, Laos - From Luang Prabang upstream to the Thai border. Amazing scenery, interesting villages, feeling very remote and cut off from the rest of the world.

12 Hour bus ride from Vientiane to Luang Prabang, Laos - Long, stomach churning trip but unbelievable scenery for most of the trip.

10 Hour boat ride from Chau Doc, Vietnam to Phnom Penh, Cambodia - One of those trips that was not much fun at the time but very cool in hindsight. Long day, hot, uncomfortable transport but seeing an area that not many tourist venture by was fun as was waving at all the children on the banks of the river. A very remote feeling!

Best Hotel:

Silq Bangkok - Bangkok, Thailand – One of our most expensive hotels at $50/night but worth 3x that!

Manta Dive Bungalows, Gili Islands, Indonesia – No TV, no internet, no problem. Beautiful setting, and cold beer was all we needed and the beautiful outdoor bathroom was cool as well. No motorized vehicles anywhere on the islands was a bonus.

Now for some of the worsts:

Worst City: Hanoi, Vietnam – Maybe because it was our first stop and we were still getting over the culture shock, Hanoi just didn’t do much for us especially compared to other SE Asian cities like Saigon and Phnom Penh.

Most overpriced country: Sri Lanka - Hands down this was the most expensive place, could have been an interesting place but so much more expensive than any of the other places we had visited it just wasn't worth the extra cost.

Worst Hotel: Polonnarurawa, Sri Lanka - Overpriced, mosquito infested, dirty sheets (thank god we had sleep sheets!) for our now long forgotten hotel in Polonnarurawa. The swimming pool was so dirty I wouldn’t let my dog swim in it and the room was worse. We checked out after 1 night.

Worst Night: 1 night we spent at Don Khone (4000 Islands, Laos). Nice bungalow, idyllic setting, very peaceful and beautiful but 100+F and no power except from 6pm-10pm each night so the locals could watch their Thai soap operas. That meant no fan let alone no AC so we spent the whole night sweating under our mosquito net listening to all the bugs buzzing around our heads. I would highly recommend the 4000 islands during cool season would give it a miss during hot season, though they were in the process of putting power lines out to the islands so that may change.

Worst Experience(s):

Stacy: 11 hour Overnight Bus from Pakse to Vientiane. Beds comfortable for one 4 foot person had to accommodate two of us

Betsy: Overnight Train from Hanoi to Hue in Vietnam. Within minutes of getting to our carriage Betsy started noticing all the cockroaches scurrying around the room. She spent the whole night wrapped in her sleep sheet with only her eyes showing, wide open with the light on watching the bugs run across the walls.

Honorable Mention: Boat from Gili Islands back to Bali – Only a 3 hour trip but lets just say within 10 minutes of leaving I was scouting out where the lifejackets were located.

Worst Restaurant – Tum Tum Bamboo – Luang Prabang, Laos – Food was indescribably terrible. It had obviously been micro waved as some parts were cold, others hot. Terrible, Terrible, took about 2 bites and walked out.

The highlights of our trip greatly outnumbered the lowlights, after hearing so many stories about people being ripped off around SE Asia we were happy to say that we had very few problems. Southeast Asia is a wonderful place and we really enjoyed our time there. The food, people and culture were all wonderful and we look forward to going back and exploring the region even more down the road.

1 comment:

Michaela said...

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Cheers,
Michaela