2017 in review: Our first six months

2017 is over. It’s easy to say we’ve had a truly amazing year. To commemorate, we’re looking back on the highlights of our trip so far and starting with the first six months from May 3 – Nov 3. We’ve created a list of our favorite foods, drinks, museums, activities, etc. We got three picks apiece plus an honorable mention for each category. It was really fun to relive some of our best moments as we put together and we can’t wait to share details about the last couple months as well. But, for now, our answers draw on our experiences from Bermuda through the Baltic countries.

Favorite Museum
Ryan’s Picks
1. Hong Kong Museum of History. This free museum provided an overview of history of Hong Kong through beautifully designed exhibits. Amazing value.
2. Lennusadam Seaplane Harbour and Maritime Museum in Tallinn, Estonia. Brand new museum with many interactive exhibits built inside a huge, fortified seaplane hanger. Highlights were getting to tour a 100+ year old Russian icebreaker and World War II era submarine.


Inside the giant airplane hanger that now houses the Tallinn Maritime Museum

3. International Mountain Museum in Pokhara, Nepal. This museum covered geology, worldwide mountain cultures, and mountaineering. It was interesting to see how climbing equipment has evolved. My favorite exhibit explored the search for the Yeti.
Honorable Mention: Kunming Railway Museum. This museum provided an overview of railroad development in Western China with colorful English translations. Whoever created the signage was not a fan of the “stupid and feckless Qing Dynasty.”

Sarah’s Picks
1. The State Hermitage Museum in St. Petersburg. Created in 1764 by Catherine the Great. One of the greatest art collections in the world. Need I say more?
2. Islamic Arts Museum Malaysia in Kuala Lumpur. Showcase of architecture, calligraphy and artifacts from the Islamic world. The building’s own architecture is a work of art.
3. Baba & Nyonya Heritage Museum in Melaka. This museum is an entertaining tour of the private home of a wealthy Pernakan family from the 1900s.
Honorable Mention: Kunming Railway Museum. This little off-the-beaten path museum at Kunming South Railway station wins a place in our hearts for the best Chinese to English signage translations.

Favorite Place We’ve Stayed
Ryan’s Picks
1. Mama Leauh’s in Don Det. Super relaxing stay in a bungalow along the Mekong River. The food was so good that we ate all our meals here during the 4 days we spend on Don Det. Loved the complementary Lau Lau with caramel shots served with meals.
2. The Golden Gecko in Siem Reap. Incredibly friendly owner and staff have created an oasis away from the hustle and bustle of Siem Reap. So nice to have a pool to escape the brutal Cambodian heat.
3. Mama Naxi’s Guesthouse in Lijiang. We stayed here before and after our Tiger Leaper Gorge Trek. Very friendly staff and amazing home cooked, family style, dinner.
Honorable Mention: Chengdu Lazybones Poshpacker Hostel. They had kittens.


View from the restaurant at Mama Leuah’s. Not pictured: Chaise lounges and hammocks

Sarah’s Picks
1. Lazybones Poshpacker Hostel in Chengdu. Best name. The hostel had a very hip vibe, great restaurant and an enthusiastic staff that planned events and helped with excursions.
2. Mama Leauh’s in Don Det, Laos. Our room was a private, primitive bungalow on stilts jutting out over the Mekong River. We spent four relaxing days at this popular guesthouse swinging lazily in our hammocks and eating every meal at the delicious restaurant. German-born Lutz and his wife Peng (Mama Leauh’s daughter) run an incredible place.
3. Gorkhi Terelj National Park, Mongolia. One of our “must dos” in Mongolia was to spend the night in a Ger (or Mongolian yurt) and we had the chance at the Terelj Lodge. This tourist camp came recommended by our host, Oyuna and the ger was surprisingly toasty!
Honorable Mention: Hotel Mount Kailash in Upper Pisang, Nepal. Some of our best views on the Annapurna Circuit trek. There’s nothing quite like drinking a cup of tea in a wooden dining hall staring directly at the peak of Annapurna II.


Fall foliage surrounding our camp in Terelj National Park

Favorite Activity
Ryan’s Picks
1. The Annapurna Circuit. I had been wanting to hike in Nepal ever since I had gotten interested in backpacking and the Annapurna Circuit did not disappoint. Such a great mix of epic mountain scenery and interesting villages.
2. The Trans-Mongolian Railway. I’ve become addicted to rail travel over the course of our trip. The 5,000+ mile journey for Beijing to Moscow has been our most epic rail journey. It was amazing to see the changes in the landscapes and cultures along the way, as well as spend time in Mongolia and Lake Baikal.


Getting ready to start our TransMongolian journey in Beijing

3. Phare Ponleu Selpak; Battambang Circus. Cirque du Solei style performance put on by students in school run by a non-profit. Amazing performance that far exceeded our expectations.


Incredible acrobatics on display at the Battambang Circus

Honorable Mention: Tiger Leaping Gorge Hike. 3 days of trekking was a nice break from 5 weeks of touring mega-cities in Vietnam and China.

Sarah’s Picks
1. The Chengdu Research Base of Giant Panda Breeding. My lifelong obsession is well documented. It was a joy to spend the day walking around the best zoo in the world. All pandas, all day long.

2. The Bolevan Plateau motorbike loop. I loved the freedom of riding scooters around rural Laos. The Bolevan Plateau is known for its coffee growing and waterfalls. While we got rained out of most of the waterfalls these three days were so memorable. I especially loved the big family dinner at the Palamei Guesthouse in Tad Lo village.


Screenshot from a GoPro video of our Bolaven Plateau motorbike loop

3. Finnish Sauna at Löyly in Helsinki. Löyly is a relatively new sauna experience catering to both Finns and tourists. The staff were extremely kind and I’ll never forget our dips into the freezing Baltic Sea.
Honorable Mention: The Annapurna Circuit. This was a once in a lifetime experience. We spent nearly three weeks trekking from one mountain village to another. I have countless priceless memories from the trek. One of the best will be going to the “cinema” in Manang village to watch Seven Years in Tibet.

Favorite Historical Sight

Sarah’s Picks
1. Plain of Jars. I wrote about these ancient and giant stone jars in our Laos post, but they were so randomly incredible they top my list. We lucked into a great tour group for the day led by our wonderful guide Mr. Vang.


Jar site No. 2 in Phonsavan

2. Angkor Wat. This is one of those places that is impossible to overhype and is WAY bigger than one expects. I really liked the Bayon with its thousands of faces looking every direction.
3. Terracotta Warriors in Xi’an. Like everything on this list, it’s really difficult to convey the scale of the Terracotta Warrior pits through either words or even pictures. Just imagine a giant ongoing archeological dig covered by a giant airplane hanger and multiply.


Terracotta Chariot on display in Xi’an

Honorable Mention: Great Wall of China. It feels silly to give the Great Wall of China an honorable mention. We’re so fortunate to have seen all these incredible sights.

Ryan’s Picks
1. S21 and the Killing Fields. Very sad but interesting overview of recent Cambodian history. The audio guides were incredibly well done and included personal accounts the helped visitors understand the history.
2. Plain of Jars. Fields full of 2000+ year old giant stone jars near Phonsavan, Laos, Not something that I was aware of prior to our trip. Very interesting to see as part of a group day tour.
3. Angkor Wat. Churches and temples are usually not my favorite attractions but this was an exception. The scale and variety of the temple complexes is truly impressive.


Viewing the main Angkor Wat temple complex from the reflecting pool

Honorable Mention: KGB Prison in Riga. Great guided tour. Provided a very interesting overview of the hardships faced by the people of Latvia during soviet occupation.

Favorite Transportation Experience
Sarah’s Picks
1. Flagging down songtheaws in Luang Prabang. A songtheaw is a kind of taxi in parts of SE Asia. Its a covered pickup truck bed with benches. While not the most comfortable ride, we honed our bargaining skills while arranging a ride to the Kung Si Waterfall.
2. Trans-Mongolian Railway. See Ryan’s favorite activity pick No. 2.
3. Longtail boat ride in Thailand. Its like a ride to get you in the mood for “the beach” but it’s real life.
Honorable Mention: Getting to the start of the Annapurna Circuit. The “local bus” in Nepal felt like a backpacker’s baptism. Our trip to the start of our trek involved crowds, motion sickness and a lot of laughs and side eyes between Ryan and I.

Ryan’s Picks
1. Don Det to Phnom Penh. Our most epic day of travel thus far. ~15 hours on a boat, 3 separate vans, and a bus. Prior to this trip I was not aware that 25 people could fit in a van.
2. Long distance local busses in Nepal. We used local buses for 2 of 3 long distance trips in Nepal. Aggressively cruising through the mountains on a 30 year old bus on the verge of falling apart is an experience not to be missed.
3. Moscow metro. The best urban transit system I’ve ever experienced. Beautiful platforms. $0.50 to go anywhere in the city. Trains every 90 seconds at peak times.
Honorable Mention: “King of Bus” I just like the name of the bus company. Used for an overnight trip in Laos from Vientiane to Pakse.

Favorite Dining Experience
Sarah’s Picks
1. Eating with the Tran family in Vietnam. Travel is always best with local friends. We were so delighted to spend time with our friends from Maryland and their family in Ho Chi Minh City and to eat so much delicious food with them!
2. Sichuan Hot Pot in Chengdu. The spices in Sichuan food are legendary and this meal was even more memorable because it was so interactive!
3. Georgian Food. If I could go back in time and replan our trip we would be going to Georgia. We got hooked on the cuisine in Moscow (thanks Nick!) and have been seeking it out all over Eastern Europe. Pkhali, Khachapuri, Khinkali and more! The bread, the cheese, the use of pomegranate and garlic and spices… I could go one. We love it!
Honorable Mention: Cooking class in Chiang Mai. Our instructor helped us control the spice level of our dishes by asking us how “sexy” we felt. They made everything easy, entertaining and, most importantly, delicious.

Ryan’s Picks
1. Chendol. Who knew that a mix of coconut syrup, rice flour, red beans, and shaved ice could taste so good. I ate this every chance I had in SE Asia.


Chendol. A strangely addictive dessert.

2. Dim Sum in Guangzhou. It was great getting to sample the wide variety of dishes during single meal. Navigating the challenges of ordering after 3 months of English-friendly travel in SE Asia was an added bonus.
3. Hawker Center Experience in Singapore and Malaysia. Hawker centers are giant food courts that are ubiquitous throughout Singapore and Malaysia. They are very affordable and allow you to sample different styles of cuisines during a single meal.
Honorable Mention: Georgian Food. Amazing soup dumplings, cheese breads, and eggplant rolls. We’ve been seeking this out since we first discovered it in Irkutsk.

Favorite Drink
Sarah’s Picks
1. Cá phê dá. Vietnamese iced coffee. Its so special and delicious and, luckily, ubiquitous. Its both strong and refreshing. Get it sua da (with sweet, condensed milk) for a sugar rush too.
2. Seabuckthorn Juice. We first encountered this drink in Nepal and were delighted to find it again in Mongolia. This orange berry is found in semi-dessert areas of Eurasia and is a great source of Vitamin C. Best of all its delicious both hot and cold. Thanks to Oyuna, our host in Mongolia, we stocked up on the concentrate version in Ulaanbaatar.
3. Hõõgvein. Literally “hot wine” in Estonia, mulled wine began popping up once we hit October in the Baltics. I love a good and cozy cup of warm wine spiced with cinnamon, cloves, ginger and orange.
Honorable Mention: Tiger Brewery Tour. Our most affordable drink in Singapore! 🍻 😂

Ryan’s Picks
1. Rum Swizzle. The Swizzle Inn lived up to it’s “Swizzle Inn, Stagger Out” moniker the day after Steve and Lisa’s wedding. Enough said 😜.


This photo was taken after a few too many swizzles!

2. Vietnamese Coffee. The best coffee I’ve had on the trip so far. I especially like it iced with condensed milk.
3. Beers at Pasteur Street Brewing Company. American style micro brewery with locations in Hanoi and Ho Chi Ming City. It was was nice to get a break from macro lagers. I especially enjoyed their coffee porter.
Honorable Mention: Seabuckthorn Juice. Discovered this orange, berry juice while we were hiking in Nepal. Made for an amazing pick-me-up during hiking breaks.

While coming up with this list was a ton of fun, it was actually hard to narrow down our selections! We’ll surely have to do another post about our favorite outdoor adventures from the year, including some amazing national parks and protected areas around the world.

Stay tuned for a run down of November & December soon!