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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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 😜.

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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!

Status

A Year Around the World — Our travel itinerary

Its so hard to believe that in two days we’ll be flying to Bermuda for our friends’ wedding and kicking off our year of travel!

We’ve been talking about this trip for years, so our planned itinerary came together really organically. After kicking off our adventure in Bermuda for a few days we’ll be flying across the Atlantic (through Amsterdam and Delhi) to Kathmandu, Nepal. From there we’ll spend our first month trekking in Nepal around the Annapurna Circuit and heading up to Annapurna Base Camp. After a month in Nepal we’ll fly to Singapore to kick off a couple months in SE Asia. 

Nothing is 100% set in stone, but here’s our plan:

  • May 3 – May 8: Bermuda (Lisa & Steve’s wedding!)
  • May 10 – June 9: Nepal
  • June through August: SE Asia! (Singapore, Malaysia, Thailand, Laos, Cambodia, Vietnam)
  • September: Hong Kong & China (We’re planning a route from Shenzhen to Beijing looping counter clockwise through western China)
  • End of September/beginning of October: Trans-Mongolian railroad from Beijing to Moscow with stops in Mongolia
  • October: A couple weeks in Russia
  • Mid-October – November: The Baltics & Eastern Europe (Finland, Estonia, Latvia, Lithuania, Poland, Ukraine, Moldova, Romania)
  • December: Greece & Italy
  • January: Morocco & Spain
  • February: Fly to South America to start last leg of trip
  • February – March: A month in Argentina and Chile mainly in Patagonia
  • Mid-march – May: Bolivia, Peru, Ecuador
  • Mid May 2018: Home!

We appreciate any thoughts, suggestions, contacts in these places!

I have also thought about posting a packing list because I know that’s something a lot of people have asked us about and I see it is a popular topic on other travel blogs. But, I think it makes more sense to hold off until we’ve been on the road a bit because I bet things will change.

With that, we’ll try to post every week or so with photos and what we’re up to and do a recap of each country.

And now, back to packing. See you on the other side!

Eight Richmond things we’ll miss most

Three days ago, we finished packing our bags and drove off to spend the next week and a half with our families before we takeoff on our round the world trip. We wanted to share some of our favorite things about the River City that others may enjoy and hope more folks will visit Richmond, Va. (If you’re local and we missed one of your favs, add it in the comments!) Here are eight things (in no particular order) we’ll miss the most of Richmond:

1. James River Park System – Its hard to think of a week that we weren’t on the James River. The park system connects so many neighborhoods in downtown Richmond, the Fan, and on the Southside. In the summer you can go swimming or lay out at Pony Pasture or Texas Beach, the new pedestrian bridge on Brown’s Island connects downtown to the Manchester Climbing Wall and hooks up to the Buttermilk Trail making it easier than ever to walk or run a loop around the river. Belle Isle is a great place for a walk or a little urban exploration. 

2. Richmond’s many festivals – There have got to be over 100 festivals that happen in Richmond every year and no matter when you visit, there is probably some event happening. A long list of some of the best: the Richmond Folk Festival, the Greek Festival, the Richmond Jewish Food Festival, Oktoberfest at St. Benedicts, Carytown Watermelon Festival, the Churchill Irish Festival, the RVA Earth Day Festival, the Armenian Food Festival, Friday Cheers (or any concerts on Brown’s Island downtown)… the list could go on.

3. The Capital Trail – The Virginia Capital Trail, just over a year old, is a 50+ mile dedicated pedestrian and bike trail that connects downtown Richmond to historic Jamestown. Its a new addition to Richmond but quickly became a favorite in our household. Ryan has twice biked the entire trail (and some) to camp overnight in Southeastern Virginia. The trail starts at Shiplock park along at the end of the Canal Walk that goes along downtown and goes right by the Boathouse area where there are lots restaurants. From here you can also hop off the trail to easily get up to Stone Brewing. About ten miles down the trail there’s a great BBQ place that makes a good lunch and turnaround spot if you’re out for a weekend bike ride. 

4. Mekong – Its the #1 beer bar! Mekong is a Richmond staple. In a strip mall off Broad Street, Mekong (and the connected Answer Brewpub next door) has delicious Vietnamese food and a huge selection of beer. They seem to always have a selection of Sour beers too and not every bar has those on tap.
5. Richmond’s many breweries – Speaking of beer, Richmond has become a craft beer aficionados dream. There are dozens of breweries around. If you’re looking for a day to taste a few, we recommend going to the Scott’s Addition neighborhood (lots of old warehouses being turned into apartment buildings and breweries) to hop around a few. Our favorites are Ardent (great outdoor seating), Blue Bee (for cider) and, a little farther away, Strangeways, known for their sour beers. This area is also where Hardywood is (the OG in the area) and Veil and a handful of others. We also frequented Garden Grove in Carytown, Final Gravity in Lakeside (this place is also a home brew supply store!), Triple Crossing and many more.

6. VMFA – We lived across the street from the Virginia Museum of Fine Arts for a year together so it feels more like our backyard than a destination. I was more likely to wonder through an exhibit for 20 minutes on the way home from Carytown than to make a whole day of it. But, the museum and garden is one of my (Sarah) absolute favorite places in Richmond. Just looking at it while sitting on the porch made me happy. They have a phenomenol collection. My favorite room is the French room with lots of impressionist works. They have a section with Art Deco furtinute, Tiffany’s glass work and a wing with Asian and ancient art. There’s really a little of everything. The museum is also home to 5 fabrege eggs from Russia that are worth a trip. Music and happy hour on Thursday and Friday and the best place to lay outside in the sun with a book. The best part, its free! Special traveling exhibits cost $.

7. Maymont & Byrd Park – Maymont is another free thing in Richmond. Its a historic home and gardens (they also have a small collection of animals) that’s along the James River and is a great place for a walk, for kids, to have a picnic or catch some rays. Byrd Park and Maymont are nice spots to go running.

8. South of the James Farmers Market – There are several farmers markets in Richmond but I think this one is the biggest and the best. Its in Forest Hill Park (another great park and neighborhood) on the south side of the River. One of the best things about SOTJ is that its year round. Though its obviously best in the spring and summer when there is lots of sunshine, good weather, and fresh fruits and vegetables. There are also food vendors including the Mennonite Donut truck. I have yet been able to stop myself from getting a hot and delicious donut while at the market. Last summer we also had a CSA (community supported agriculture) share with Victory Farms so we didn’t go to the farmers market as much because we were getting our produce and eggs from Victory Farms. Their farm stand is very close to the market off of Forest Hill Avenue and 44th Street in the parking lot of the Presbyterian Church. One of the things I will miss the most is the farm stand.

Grayson Highlands Family Camping

So… we’re just over 1 month away from our around the world departure date of May 3rd! Ryan and I are beginning to say our goodbyes to family & friends as we start packing up our life, finish up at work, get our shots and fulfill some Virginia/Richmond wishlist items. Most of my “must dos” before leaving Richmond, VA are eating at our favorite restaurants. But, this past weekend, I got to kill two birds with one stone by both visiting with my family AND hanging out in the Mt. Rogers area of Western Virginia and hiking in Grayson Highlands State Park with its adorable wild ponies.

It was wonderful to spend the weekend camping with family and great to be with Joe and Amber (brother & sister-in-law) who we don’t get to see often enough.

Key takeaways from the weekend:

  • On our way to Marion, VA, from Richmond, Ryan and I stopped for a quick hike on the Dragon’s Tooth Trail in Catawba. This day hike (its a 4.3 mile out and back) is beautiful, has a couple fun rocky parts, and is just off the highway. It’s close to McAfee’s knob and some other popular hikes in Western VA. The “dragon’s tooth” rock formation is pretty cool.

  • I cannot recommend visiting Grayson Highlands State Park enough. The landscape is unique and gorgeous. The ponies are adorable and worth the hype. There are a number of accessible trails, including the AT.
  • We car camped about an hour north at Hungry Mother State Park and had a great set up. Really nice camp ground. Way to go Virginia state parks! (www.dcr.virginia.gov/state-parks/)
  • Visit the Grayson Highlands General Store on your way out of the park. The owner is a DC metro area transplant who opened the store/gas station a little over a year ago and is building out an inn and backyard music venue. It looks amazing and they had ice cream that really hit the spot. (www.graysongeneralstore.com)


This weekend was also the first time I took out my brand new GoPro Hero 5 Black for a test run! I’m really excited about this purchase for our big trip and can’t wait to take photos and videos around the world.  Right now I am definitely still in practice mode and just learning the ropes of the camera and software. So, to commemorate the weekend, and get some pratice clipping and putting together a video, I made this super cheesey vid from the weekend.  Check it out:

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