The end of 2017: Europe

Our last post took us through the Baltic states up to November 3rd and the six month mark of our trip. Now, I’ll run down how we spent the rest of 2017 traveling through Eastern Europe and the Mediterranean. I promise I’m working to getting the blog more current for our last couple months in South America!

Leaving Lithuania we took an overnight bus to the port town of Gdańsk to begin twelve days traveling in Poland. As the starting point of World War II and, in many ways, the epicenter of the Holocaust, much of our time in Poland focused on these subjects. That being said, we also experienced a lot that modern Poland has to offer. In Gdańsk, Ryan and I participated in a half marathon and 5k run that let us see a non-touristy side to the city. Our kebab obsession also began here. What more could a budget conscience traveler want than this filling and cheap meal? Behind the train station we found a great viewpoint from atop some old WWII bunkers; now a park and museum called Krzyż Milenijny.

At the finish line

Finish line at Gdańsk half marathon and 5k.

Kebab. Drool.

All across Poland we found incredibly modern and well done museums and Gdańsk was no exception. Here we spent two afternoons at the Museum of the Second World War and the European Solidarity Centre. In Europe we also began seeking out the free days and hours offered by many museums so we could visit them and stay in budget. We also took a daytrip to Malbork Castle, built by the Teutonic Knights in 1406. Malbork is the largest castle in the world by land area and the museum entry included a really great audio guide!

From Gdańsk we continued on to Warsaw. We toured more immersive museums like the Warsaw Uprising Museum and the Museum of the History of Polish Jews. The Warsaw city center was quite imposing with its Soviet architecture, but our AirBnB was near the bike and walking path along the Vistula River that was quite nice.

Wawel Cathedral in Krakow.

Our last destination in Poland was Krakow. Atop the hill in the center of town is the Wawel Castle and Cathedral where many Kings of Poland are buried. We spent a day walking around the Old Town and Kazimierz, the Jewish Quarter. From here we also took a day trip to visit the Auschwitz concentration camp. While difficult, it was a very meaningful trip and I strongly believe in the mission of the museum to keep this history in our collective memory.

The infamous “Work Sets You Free” sign in Auschwitz.

The end of the rail line that transported cattle cars full of people to the gas chambers.

On a lighter note, we also found the Krakow Pinball Museum. For a few bucks we drank beers and played unlimited games on over 100 pinball machines from across the decades. The last highlight of Krakow for me was seeing Leonardo Da Vinci’s Lady with an Ermine painting on display at the National Museum of Krakow.

Next we continued by overnight train to Ukraine and the city of Lviv. Lviv is a totally cute city in western Ukraine close to the Polish border. It was full of these really innovative and fun themed restaurants created by a local company called !Fest. We went to an underground partisan bunker themed bar called Kryivka off the main square. To enter you had to knock on an unmarked door in the back of an alley and proclaim “Slava Ukraine” to gain entrance. After making sure we weren’t Russian spies, the doorman handed over a shot of honey vodka and then let us in. It was totally kitschy but still a lot of fun. There were also a lot of breweries and beer joints here that we enjoyed.

Lviv Beer Museum and pub.

Inside the partisan bunker bar in Lviv.

Next we headed over to Ukraine’s capital city of Kyiv. There was really so much to do here and its a very lively city. From our hostel we walked all over town. There are a LOT of churches in Kyiv. We went to a few but spent the most time at the Pechersk Lavra, or cave monastery. This Russian Orthodox Church and Monastery was built atop catacombs filled with the bodies of saints and underground chapels. We saw a lot of little old ladies praying and even a few mummy looking saints in their final resting places. We were in Kyiv over Thanksgiving and celebrated the day by gorging ourselves on Georgian food (see my last post) and going to the ballet to see The Snow Queen at the National Opera of Ukraine.

Sunset and the Motherland Monument in Kyiv.

Typical cafeteria food in Eastern Europe.

The main feature of our time in Kyiv was our day tour to Chernobyl. This is just one of those subjects that is endlessly fascinating and had been on our “must do” list since we started planning this around the world trip. Not the most likely tourist destination, there are now a number of tour companies that offer a day trip to Chernobyl’s exclusion zone to see the sight of one of the worst nuclear meltdowns in human history.

The sarcophagus covering Reactor No. 4 at Chernobyl.

Ryan and I both have a passing interest in urban exploration, one of our first dates was wandering around the abandoned Fulton Gas Works plant in Richmond before a round of frisbee golf, so visiting Chernobyl checked a lot of boxes for us. While the villages and towns inside the exclusion zone have now been abandoned, I was really surprised to see how many people are still working and living (at least part-time) here. We toured through Pripyat, the town where power plant workers and their families lived, and saw how the forest has begun to retake the area. We were able to go quite close to the reactor now covered by a brand new “sarcophagus” where the cleanup effort will continue for decades. While very safe to visit for the day, we did see a few radiation hot spots on our tour that sent the Geiger counters wailing.

The original sign entering Chernobyl town.

Abandoned fair grounds in Pripyat inside the exclusion zone.

Stained glass from the port of Pripyat town.

Getting a radiation check before we can leave the exclusion zone.

Lastly in Ukraine we visited the Black Sea town of Odessa. We saw some famous sites around town like the Opera House and the Potemkin Steps. I know its supposed to be really nice here in the summer but the weather was a bit dreary in November. That being said, we did have some excellent food and drink and the highlight of our stay was a private tour inside the Odessa Catacombs. Not real catacombs, these tunnels were originally limestone mines used to build the city of Odessa that have been repurposed and reused over the last century for everything from a Soviet fallout shelter to a gangster hideaway.

Inside our tour of the Odessa Catacombs. Thank goodness for our guide; we didn’t want to get lost down there!

Ok, I’ve only got four (or five depending on how you count…) countries to get us to the end of 2017. Thanks for sticking with me through this marathon blog post!

From Ukraine we took the bus to the Moldovan capital of Chisinau (pronounced kish-ih-now). Moldova is actually a big wine producer and so we took a day trip to the Cricova wine caves. Like in Odessa, there are old limestone mine tunnels here that are now used for wine storage and production. The constant temperature underground makes it an ideal spot. The Cricova tour was super professional. Our group was driven around the tunnels on a little tram making stops to see different parts of wine production before going to our tasting. One of my favorite parts was stopping at the small theater to watch Cricova’s promotional video. Its super cheesy and I am obsessed with it. Watch it here.

The other big thing we did in Moldova was take a day trip to the breakaway region of Transnistria. After the fall of the Soviet Union, this Russian-speaking region opposed the potential merging of Moldova and Romania and an armed conflict broke out as they declared independence from Moldova. Now a “frozen conflict,” Transnistria isn’t a recognized country, but is essentially operating as such. To visit we took a shared van from the capital and had to go through an immigration checkpoint to get our day pass. Walking around the main city, Tiraspol, was like stepping back in time. They have their own currency (including some funny looking plastic coins) and all around are remnants from the Soviet Union that are still standing, while in the rest of the former bloc most of these things have been destroyed or moved. It made for a really interesting day.

Religious building and military monument in Tiraspol.

Visiting Transinistria can feel like a step back in time.

Next up: Romania! Here we really started to get into the Christmas spirit. It snowed a bit while we were in Brasov and we saw our first big Christmas tree and market in the main square in the Old Town. From Brasov we went to tour Bran Castle. Bran was not home to Vlad the Impaler (the real-life Dracula) but it did inspire Bram Stoker’s descriptions of Dracula’s Castle. Built in the 1300s to defend Transylvania, the castle is now a museum donated by Romania’s former royal family. It was really foggy when we visited. The spooky weather was great for a Dracula sighting but not so great for photos! Oh well, you can’t win them all.

Also in Bucharest we went to the Christmas Market a couple of times and enjoyed mulled wine and a tasty grilled Chimney Cake called Kürtoskalàcs. On our last afternoon we visited the Muzeul Antipa, or Romania’s Natural History Museum. The museum was founded in 1834 and is full of floor-to-ceiling dioramas of stuffed animals and habitats from around the globe. We went thinking it would be a bit kitschy, but the museum ended up being really enjoyable.

At this point we’re now into December and we flew from Bucharest to Athens to meet up with my parents and travel around Greece with them for fourteen days. We took an epic road trip around the Peloponnese peninsula spending two nights in the seaside town of Nafplio and visiting the ancient ruins of Mycenae, Epidaurious and Olympia. After stopping at ancient Olympia, we continued on away from the Peloponnese to spend two nights in Meteora. Meteora is known for Greek monasteries dating back to the 1300s that were built high into the rock formations. You can hike between the seven main monasteries on a mix of trails and road for amazing views of the area.

Can you spot five of the Meteora monasteries?

Obligatory family photo at the Parthenon.

After a marathon 4 day road trip, we drove back to Athens for a few more days to take in the city. Since we got into Europe, we’ve been stying in more AirBnBs, which has given this part of our trip a residential feel and the ability to cook more. Our location in Athens was perfect. We were literally steps from the Acropolis and the Acropolis Museum. We were also staying right next to Filopappou Hill, which was a park full of walking trails and the city’s best overlook with a full view of the Acropolis.

I can’t recommend visiting Greece in the winter enough. The museums and archeological sights are all half price during the off season and the weather was still stunning. While not warm enough for a swim or anything it was more than pleasant to spend our days sightseeing.

Enjoying the Greek sunshine in Santorini.


Island hopping on the Blue Star Ferries.

Lastly, we had to visit a couple Greek Islands to complete our tour of Greece. We stayed in an amazing historic cave house in the village of Oia on the island of Santorini and had the perfect postcard-worthy view of the white village and caldera from our patio. I drank too much wine and Ryan got to do a trail run from one end of the island to the the other. Happy times. We spent three relaxing days here before moving on, via ferry, to Naxos. Naxos was a much more down-to-earth island with even fewer tourists and a quaint port. Naxos was the kind of town where our waitress at dinner always came by with a complimentary carafe of wine. Needless to say we come back the next night.

After island hopping, our group traveled on to Italy, parting ways for a few days before reuniting in Rome for Christmas. And I am almost done with this epically long blog post. Ryan and I went down to Sorrento for a few days so we could hike the Sentiero degli Dei or “Path of the Gods” above the Amalfi Coast. We did this amazing walk as an out-and-back hike from Positano so we could make it a little longer and take in all the views. We also did another day hike directly from Sorrento to the town of Massa Lubrense following a trail of painted tile markers that I found utterly charming.

Hiking between villages on the Amalfi Coast.

Then, we headed to Rome for the holidays. On Christmas Day we were joined by Ryan’s brother and sister-in-law. The next day my parents continued on their Italian adventure without us and we traveled with Matthew and Nikki in Italy for the next week in Rome, Florence and Milan. We took in all the quintessential sights from the Colosseum, the Roman Forum and the Vatican in Rome to the Duomo in Florence. We had some of our best food in Florence and Matthew and Nikki introduced us to the Rick Steve’s Europe audio guide app. Wish we’d known about these free walking tours sooner! In Milan we went to the famous Stadio San Siro to see an Inter Milan football game and ring in the New Year together!

Even the rainiest day in Rome didn’t stop us!

Crostini Misti.

Finally, we made it through 2017. On New Year’s Day we separated from Matthew and Nikki. They continued on to Venice for a few days before returning home and Ryan and I went to stay in Perugia for the week. I studied abroad in Perugia in 2007, so visiting my Italian home away from home brought back a lot of fond memories. This medieval hilltop town has both changed and stayed exactly the same in so many ways. Staying in one place for a week also gave us a much needed break to be lazy and plan the final four months of our trip. From here we were able to plan out our treks in Patagonia and flesh out our time in South America.

And finally on January 10th we left Italy and flew to Marrakech, Morocco. We weren’t totally done with Europe yet as we also visited Spain, but I’ll leave Morocco and Spain for another post!

Hacking Russian Travel

We’ve just passed our 6 month travelversary! I can’t believe it. Ryan and I are already halfway through this crazy year.

In mid-October we completed the Trans-Mongolian Railway and arrived in Moscow. In one of our upcoming posts I will write about that epic train journey. But, for now, here’s a bit about our time in Moscow and St. Petersburg.

Moscow. Moscow really kicked off the “European” part of our world tour. The mix of Soviet and baroque orthodox architecture across the city really stood out. The metro stations around the city are amazing. Each one was designed by a different Russian architect during the Soviet era.

We spent our first full day wandering around the city center, taking in the Cathedral of Christ the Savior and beautiful views while walking along the Moskva River. Along the Moskva, we walked through the Muzeon Park of Arts next to the Tretyakov Modern Art Gallery. The park is now home to many Soviet-era statues featuring Stalin, Lenin and other figures.

We also went to GARAGE Modern Art Museum while in Gorky Park, like Moscow’s Central Park, to view an exhibit of Japanese artist Takashi Murakami. After the park we made our way over to the Музей советских игровых автоматов or the Museum of Soviet Arcade Games where for only $7.50 you can step back in time and play some whacky 80s games.


Cathedral of the Annunciation inside the Moscow Kremlin

Of course we went to the Moscow Kremlin and Red Square. I found the collection of the Armory Chamber inside the Kremlin Museum to be particularly interesting.

Cosmonaut Monument

Tsiolkovsky Monument

One of the best parts of our time in Russia was visiting with my buddy Nick, an old friend from DC who now lives and works in Moscow. Thank you for hanging out with us and taking us to eat delicious Georgian food!

On our last day in Moscow, I spent the day recuperating from a nasty cold and Ryan headed off to the Cosmonaut Museum. In his words: “The best part was the dogs. The remains of the first two space dogs have been stuffed and mounted. I learned that the Soviet Union had a shuttle program.”


St. Petersburg. After spending literally weeks on trains across two continents, it felt incredibly luxurious to catch the high speed train between Moscow and St. Petersburg. Only a few hours later and we were at our destination.


The Peter and Paul Cathedral inside the Peter and Paul Fortress in St. Petersburg. The imperial tombs at the cathedral house the remains of almost all the Russian emperors and empresses from Peter the Great to Nicholas II.

A highlight of St. Petersburg for me was visiting the Fabregè Museum. For some reason, my mom and I are both pretty obsessed with the imperial Fabregè eggs. It probably started when I was a kid and we visited the Hillwood Estate in Washington, DC, which has two of the eggs in its collection. Between 1885 and 1917, the House of Fabregè manufactured 50 imperial Easter eggs for the royal Romanov tsars and family. The Virginia Museum of Fine Arts in Richmond also has the largest collection of eggs, five in total, outside of Russia and Ryan and I used to live across the street from the museum. After our time in Moscow and St. Petersburg I can happily say I’ve now seen 25 of the 43 eggs still around.

St. Petersburg is obviously known for The State Hermitage Museum, the largest art museum in the world. Ryan and I wandered around the Hermitage for over 5 hours and still didn’t get to see the whole thing. Its an incredible collection and enjoyable peek into the opulent imperial palace. I also found the information on how the museum protected its collection both during the revolution and WWII of great interest.

Bowling through Laos

There are a lot of reasons not to travel in Laos during the rainy season. The best laid plans can be derailed by a monsoon. The roads can get really muddy. Its shockingly humid. But, in my humble opinion, the beauty outweighs these obstacles. It’s cheaper and less crowded. And I’ve never in my life seen a green so vibrant as the rice fields after a rain shower. Our twenty days in Laos were magical and I hope to return.

Rice field in Xiang Khouang province

Luang Prabang. We flew from Chiang Mai, Thailand. While we’re doing a lot of our travels by ground transport, the convenience of a one hour flight won out over a 24 hour bus over mountain roads. The old town of Luang Prabang is an UNESCO site filled to the brim with temples, bakeries, restaurants and shops. The French influence is really felt here. This was our first stop in Indochina and has been interesting to see the French food/architecture throughout Laos, Cambodia and Vietnam. The town is situated on a peninsula between the mighty Mekong and smaller Nam Khan rivers. Its a real treat to wander through LP and our inexpensive guesthouse had a lot of perks: excellent banana pancakes, a fresh fruit drink each afternoon and two adorable puppies who patrolled the patio. Across the street was Manda de Laos, an upscale Lao restaurant where food is served next to a beautiful Lotus pond. Thanks to a generous send-off gift from my former DC co-workers, we had a wonderful date night here. On the opposite end of the food spectrum we also went to an all-you-can-eat $2 buffet in an alleyway.

We took a songthaew (benches in the bed of a pickup truck) to Kuang Si waterfall. The waterfall is known for bright blue pools of water because of mineral deposits. Because we’d had a big rain the day before the water was moving too fast to have the turquoise color, but the falls were impressive nonetheless. We also spent an afternoon bowling at one of only 3 or 4 bowling alleys in the entire country. It had been years since either of us had gone bowling and a great way to escape the afternoon heat!


Kuang Si Falls

Phonsavan. From Luang Prabang we took a bus to the town of Phonsavan in Xieng Khouang province. This area, known as the Plain of Jars, has thousands of megalithic stone jars scattered in dozens of sights around the region. Xieng Khouang is also known as one of the most heavily bombed areas by the United States during the Vietnam War. We visited sites of the “Secret War” with our guide, Mr. Vang. The legacy of the war is still visible today in bomb craters across the landscape and thousands of unexploded ordinance that continue to injure and kill in the community to this day.

Vientiane. The capital of Laos. Unlike other big cities in the region, Vientiane doesn’t have a ton going on. For me, that’s kind of the charm of Laos. There’s a nice night market and strip of restaurants along the Mekong. We found some really good and cheap ex-pat food. The “sights” like the historic Sisaket Temple and Patuxay Monument can all be seen in about half a day. At this point in the trip we needed a place to spend a day with good internet to plan out the next couple months and Vientiane was a great location. We also knew there was another bowling alley here! We can now proudly say we have bowled in at least half of the alleys in Laos.


Wat Si Muang

Pakse and the Bolevan Plateau. From Vientiane we took the “King of Bus” (see on our instagram!) overnight to the town of Pakse and launched into a 3-day motorbike loop around the Bolevan Plateau. This is a popular backpacker loop and the Bolevan Plateau is known for beautiful scenery, waterfalls and coffee. The Plateau is also a higher elevation and so was an escape from the heat and humidity. We visited the ancient city of Champasak and Wat Phou. This Wat (temple) is from the Angkor period and was actually built before Angkor Wat. Our first full day on the loop we drove through rain and fog, obscuring the waterfalls. However, it felt great to be off the tourist path and we found a small guesthouse in the tiny town of Paksong. The next day the weather cleared and we were treated with spectacular views of rice paddies and coffee fields. We stopped at a homestay in an ethnic minority village for a cup of coffee (hand round in mortar & pestle and served in a bamboo stalk pour over) and stayed the night by the Tad Lo waterfall.


Wat Phou, Champasak


On the road on Bolevan Plateau

Si Phan Don. Si Phan Don, or 4,000 Islands, is an archipelago in southern Laos along the Mekong River. A French couple we met in Tad Lo had just come from here and recommended the guesthouse Mama Leauh on the island Don Det. In all our travels so far, I have never heard people recommend a place more vehemently than this couple so we knew we had to stay here. It did not disappoint. We stayed in a charming riverside bungalow and just relaxed and explored the islands for five days. The food was phenomenal. Not all traditionally Lao (their specialty was Schnitzel!) but super scrumptious. Despite the humidity, Ryan was able to get some runs in around the island and I rented a bicycle with no brakes for $1 to explore.


Sunset on the Mekong

Northern Thailand

In the back half of our stay in Thailand we headed north to Chiang Mai and Pai. We had a lot of firsts in Northern Thailand. Ryan had his first experience on a sleeper train as we took an overnight ride from Bangkok to Chiang Mai. I had my first taste of Khao Soi, which became my favorite Thai dish. And we both rode motorbikes for the first time!

Chiang Mai is an incredibly charming city. The Old City, where we stayed, is one square mile surrounded by ancient walls and packed to the brim with temples. Its also incredibly walkable compared to the much larger Bangkok. Because the canal and square city walls were flanked by wide sidewalks it also made a great running loop (something that can be hard to come by in hectic Asian cities). Northern Thailand is also generally less expensive than the coast or Bangkok.

We spent the better part of our first day just wandering around the Old City. There are literally hundreds of temples in this small geographic area. We visited:

  • Wat Chedi Luang. Temple complex includes ruins of a chedi from the old city.
  • Wat Phan Tao. The teak temple. Smaller temple made from beautiful teak wood.
  • Phra Singh Temple. Biggest temple (I think) in Chiang Mai. Several buildings on the complex, including gold covered stupa with elephants.
  • Wat Srisuphan. The silver temple. A one of a kind temple that is made from silver. Apparently the area it is located (just south of the Old City) was known for silver smiths. Gorgeous outside, but the inside is off limit to women.

There are a couple small museums in the city center. We spent about an hour looking through the Chiang Mai Historical Center. The museum goes through the history of the region chronologically and was a nice way to get out of the afternoon heat.

One of the most quintessential things to do in Chiang Mai is to take a Thai cooking class. We took the full day course with the Asia Scenic Cooking School. We made Pad See Ew and Pad Thai, papaya salad and spicy chicken salad, fried bananas and mango sticky rice, ground red and green curry paste, and rolled and fried our own spring rolls. I’m probably forgetting something but we left the day completely stuffed and satisfied.

Chiang Mai was also our jumping off point for a full day excursion to Doi Inthanon National Park with a trip to an elephant park. When you book these tours usually you expect to be accompanied by a van full of other people, but we lucked into getting the tour all to ourselves this time! I think it is a perk of traveling in the low season is that that is more likely. We went on a nature walk in the national park with our guide Nop and and then spent the afternoon feeding and bathing a group of elephants. I have some mixed feelings about the exploitation of animals, but we went to a park where they explicitly don’t let guests ride the elephants and they seemed to have a lot of land to roam. In any case, it was absolutely incredible to get up close with the animals and play with them in the stream.


The other thing I have to mention about Chiang Mai is the Sunday Night Market. Night markets in general have been one of our favorite things in Asia. The Sunday Night Market in Chiang Mai is one of the biggest night markets I’ve seen yet. It sprawls through the old city and there are so many items for sale. In addition to a lot of food there were clothes and lots of knick knacks and souvenirs for sale. It was quite an experience and I think not to be missed on a trip to Chiang Mai.

After 5 nights in Chiang Mai we ventured further north to the town of Pai. What to say about Pai. Its a really, really popular backpacker destination. That means the town and surrounding area is very touristy and there are a lot of hippies. The countryside is beautiful. Once you get a bit outside of town, everywhere you look you can see lush green rice fields and rolling hills.

Our first day in Pai we decided to hike to the Mae Yen waterfall. Out of the several waterfalls around Pai, this is the only one you have to hike to get to. The hike to the waterfall took about three hours and we had to wade across a river to get to the trailhead.

The trail follows a river upstream and criss crosses the stream throughout the whole hike. I bet we spent 50% of the time wading across the stream vs. walking on land. The last bit involved a pretty steep and slippery uphill climb but in the end, we made it!

The other amazing activity we did in Pai was learn to ride motorbikes. We rented scooters for the day from Vespai (the businesses in town are really great at making Pai puns) and paid a little extra to get a proper lesson. 30 minutes on the side road in front of our guesthouse and we were ready to go! There is a loop around Pai that hits up some of the super kitschy tourist attractions that line the highways around Pai. The loop takes only 45 minutes, so its a great place for beginners. We stopped at “Coffee in Love” (one of the uber kitschy roadside stops) and Pai Canyon before looping back around to the main town. We also biked up to a sunset overlook but only had an overcast view of the valley below.

In the end, I have really fond feelings about our short stay in Pai. Its probably less because of the town itself and more because of the motorbikes. There was also a really good burger place.

The Beach and Bangkok

Ok, we've been in Laos for ten days and I am finally getting around to posting about our time in Thailand! Here's a bit about the first half of our 20 day trip…

After a quick overnight stop in Krabi Town, we set off for a relaxing few days on the Andaman Sea. Though not an island, Railay Beach is still only accessible by boat. The iconic karst cliffs that cut off Railay from the mainland are formed through the erosion of limestone and can be found throughout the region. We waited around the dock until another backpacker joined us to share a longtail boat to Railay.

We came just after the high season, so while we had more rainy afternoons, there were also smaller crowds and cheaper accommodations. The coast was probably the most expensive part of our Thailand trip. We splurged and stayed at the Avatar Railay Resort. A splurge for our budget was $45/night. In real vacation terms it was a total steal and the pool alone was well worth it. Railay is tiny (the walk from East Railay to West took 4 minutes) but there is still a lot to do. Beside relaxing by the pool or on the beach we rented kayaks and spent two nights hanging out at Kamar Bar where the wildly entertaining owner Ning had us laughing all night.

On our last full day, we went on a Phi Phi Islands Tour. We snorkeled, swam in an absolutely stunning lagoon and stopped for a photo op at Maya Bay where the movie The Beach was filmed.

From the beach we took a night bus from Krabi to Bangkok. On our first day we hit up some of the quintessential sightseeing spots like the famous temples Wat Pho and Wat Arun. These temples are across the river from one another so there is a ferry that runs between them every couple of minutes.

Our first night in Bangkok we walked around the famous backpacker area Khoasan Road. Right next to Khoasan Road is the street Soi Rambuttri. Soi Rambuttri is basically a older, tamer version of Khoasan Road. For example, Khoasan Road is where you go to see young drunk people get stupid tattoos on the street. On Soi Rambuttri, the 30s crowd is still knocking back Chang beers, but they at least get their tattoos inside actual parlors.

We also explored several Bangkok markets and night markets, visited the Jim Thompson house, and even went to a free Sunday taping of Muy Thai boxing at the Chanel 7 Stadium. My favorite meal in Bangkok was seafood barbecue at the Ratchada Night Market. It was basically a Thai-style Louisiana boil. They dumped a pile of saucey seafood on our table and handed us each a pair of plastic gloves. No utensils required.

Next up… we take a Thai cooking class, play with elephants and learn to ride motorbikes in Northern Thailand! Stay tuned…


4 Days in Singapore

After our month in Nepal, we flew on to our next destination. Singapore! From here we launched the SE Asia portion of our adventure that will take us to Malaysia, Thailand, Laos, Cambodia and Vietnam through the end of August.

We arrived in Singapore on Friday, June 9th and stayed through the 13th when we took a bus a few hours north to Melaka, Malaysia. Coming from Nepal, one of the least developed countries either of us has ever traveled in, we had a bit of reverse culture shock landing in a big modern city like Singapore! I have to admit it was very nice to be in a place with sidewalks and street lights and very good public transit after trying to cross traffic in Kathmandu.

Singaporeans are a mix of Malay, Chinese and Indian people and culture. As you can imagine, that meant the food was absolutely amazing and there was a ton of variety. We tried satay, chicken rice, noodles galore, roti for breakfast, dim sum… We ate most of our meals at hawker centres, which are food markets with lots of different stalls and types of dishes. My main strategy was to find the longest line at the hawker center and just get that.

A big highlight from our time in Singapore was meeting up with Gim, a friend of a friend back home. Gim was gracious enough to spend all day Saturday with us showing us around Singapore, touring The National Gallery Singapore and Gardens by the Bay, treating us to some delicious local food and even letting us relax and swim at her pool! I can’t say enough what a great time we had. Thank you, Gim!

Since we had such a whirlwind couple of days, I think the best way to share our experience is to share some of our favorite photos:


Our first night in Singapore we had dinner at the Lau Pa Set food center (satay and dim sum!) and walked around Clarke Quay and the Marina Bay Area.


View of Clarke Quay (pronounced “key”). We followed the lead of some other tourists & locals and bought beers at the 7-11 and chilled on the bridge rather than at one of the overpriced bars.


Our first view of Singapore’s famous Gardens by the Bay. You can see the domes and one patch of “Supertrees.”


Inside the supertree grove around 10 PM. The outdoor area of the gardens are free and open until 2 AM.


On Saturday we met up with our new friend Gim. Our first stop was The National Gallery Singapore. Lucky for us a new exhibit of Yayoi Kusama’s work had just opened! This is the second Kusama exhibit of our trip!


The exhibit was titled “Life is the Heart of a Rainbow.”




…and polka dots!


Ryan and Gim in one of Kusama’s infinity mirror rooms.


Venus de Milo covered in Kusama’s hallmark colored nets.


After the museum and lunch we headed to Gardens by the Bay. Here are the supertrees by day!


Inside the Flower Dome at Gardens by the Bay. You can see the Marina Bay Sands Hotel in the background through the glass.


Gim, Ryan and me at the Flower Dome.


Waterfall inside the Cloud Forest Dome.


Walkway around the cloud forest.


Example of peranakan style homes in Singapore.


View from Gim’s balcony overlooking the pool. We took a late afternoon dip!


Chili crab! As a grand finale to our amazing day, Gim took us to the East Coast Food Village to chow down on chili crab, veggies, BBQ stingray, salted egg chicken and more! It was a delicious feast.


This is the entrance to the Ramadan Bazaar on Geylang Street. Thousands of people, lights and vendors selling everything from unicorn milkshakes to carpets and clothes.


On Sunday we went to lunch in Little India. Ryan enjoyed his masala dosa and mango lassi.


Umbrella tree art installation in Little India.


That night we enjoyed fancy cocktails from a rooftop bar. Here’s the view of Lantern, the bar on top of the Fullerton Hotel on Marina Bay.


Enjoying a cocktail overlooking Marina Bay Sands.


Ryan and his Singapore Sling.


On our last full day in Singapore we started out with a tour of the Tiger Brewery.


I was happy to see that Tiger has several solar arrays on their facility! I’ll drink to that.


Ryan and his inner tiger.


Tourguide Mark showing us the ropes. Ryan and one of the other participants got to try their hand at the perfect pour. Cheers!


The tour ended with a beer and 45 minute tasting in Tiger’s pub. Singapore is pretty expensive so these were probably the cheapest drinks in town!


After the brewery we headed over to Bukit Timah for an afternoon walk.


We reached the summit! This is the end of our pics from Singapore. The next day we caught a bus to Melaka and began our tour of Malaysia!

Thanks for a great time, Singapore!

Our Annapurna Trek Part Two: Manang – Tatopani

Sorry for the delay! We’ve been seriously enjoying our time in SE Asia. So far we’ve spent time in Singapore, Melaka and now Kuala Lumpur. More to come on that, but first here’s the second part of our Annapurna trek:

We made it up and over the Thorung Pass during the second week of our Annapurna trek. This was a really interesting couple of days because we took a 2-day sidetrip up to Tilicho Lake, made it over the pass, and entered the region of Mustang.

Day 7: Manang to Tilicho Lake Base Camp. After two nights in Manang we headed back out on the trail. From here we took a side detour from Manang to Tilicho Lake. Instead of hiking from Manang to Yak Karka (our next stop on the main Annapurna trail) we took a side trail to the Tilicho Lake Base Camp. The hike probably took us 8 hours (incl. breaks and lunch). It was pretty steep getting up to Shree Karka (a small enclave of a couple guesthouses on the trail) but we were rewarded with spectacular views. After the lunch spot we got to an infamous landslide area on the trail. We’d read about this on other blogs. While mostly fine, there were definitely a few treacherous spots. You can see our pics from this section! After such a long day, when we finally made it to the base campe, I rewarded myself with a chocolate pancake for dinner. I really wish I had a picture of it. Sleeping at this elevation and hiking to Tilicho Lake the next day also helped us acclimate before tackling Thorung La pass.

 Day 8: Tilicho Lake Day Hike. Tilicho Lake is one of the highest lakes in Nepal and the world. The lake sits at an elevation above 16,000 ft. While the hike was fairly steep, it felt amazing to spend a day hiking without having to carry our full packs. The views of the valley, the mountains and the lake were absolutely amazing. I don’t think this is something I’ll ever forget.

Tilicho Lake Hike

Water break on the hike up to Tilicho Lake


Tilicho Lake Hike


Tilicho Lake Profile


Tilicho Lake. One of the highest lakes in the world at almost 5000 meters. Absolutely stunning.


Snow and ice feeding Tilicho Lake. We witnessed 2 small avalanches in the distance while at the lake.

Day 9: Tilicho Lake Base Camp – Yak Karka. Fortunately we did not have to trek all the way back to Manang to get back on the main Annapurna trail. From base camp we backtracked through the landslide area again (how fun!) and stopped for lunch at the same restaurant in Shree Karka. From there we were able to take a new path on to the village of Yak Karka, cutting over to a new section of trail. I don’t have pics from this section because, to be honest, I was pretty exhausted. The village of Yak Karka is quaint and one of the last real settlements we went through until we hiked to the other side of the pass. Fun fact: At this elevation hot showers aren’t really available!

Day 10: Yak Karka – Thorong Phedi. Yak Karka to Thorung Phedi is a relatively short day. At this elevation, you should only gain so much elevation in one day to avoid feeling sick. At this point there are two sleeping options before tackling the pass. You can sleep at Thorung Phedi or Thorung High Camp. High Camp is about an hour or so past Phedi and there is a very steep climb between the two. The benefit to continuing on is that you can start your ascent with a bit of a head start the next day. The downside is its colder at high camp and your quality of sleep with probably be diminished. We decided to stay at Thorung Phedi for the night. The food here is actually decent! Better than I expected. We had soup, spring rolls, lots of tea and a tomato pasta dish for dinner. The vibe here was also the most backpacker-y/hippy-dippy so far because its not an actual village where Nepalese live but instead just an outpost on the trek.

Day 11: Thorong Phedi – Thorong La – Muktinath. Today was the big day! We got a very early start at 4:30 AM with a breakfast of cinnamon rolls, boiled eggs and tea. There were actually really good baked goods up here. The most difficult part of the day physically was the first hour or so getting from Thorong Phedi to High Camp. From there it was a few more hours to reach the pass, but the grade was much more gradual. The weather was incredibly foggy and overcast and so it was difficult to see more than a few yards ahead at a time. But we finally made it to Thorong La! It felt like an incredible achievement. For me, mentally, the more difficult part of the day was getting down to the village of Muktinath. I think I had a lot of adrenaline flowing to get me over the high point and then it all vanished as we started making our way down. I’m sure a touch of altitude sickness played a part too. It felt like it took forever to get to Muktinath. It also didn’t help that we were still shrouded in fog. Once we broke through you could see the layer of fog hanging over the mountains and then the sun shining on the lower villages. Muktinath is a really interesting town because its the site to several important Buddhist and Hindu temples. Lots of Indian folks make a pilgrimage here. It was really interesting to see a lot of tourists and pilgrims around when for days we’d only seen locals or other trekkers.

Day 12: Muktinath – Kagbeni. The next day we walked along the road from Muktinath through the town of Jarkhot to Kagbeni. Kagbeni is an incredible village. Its medieval, decently large, has a large monastery and beautiful views of the Mustang region. Mustang is more desert-like than Manang (the region we were in before crossing over the Thorung Pass). Kagbeni is also the entryway to Upper Mustang, which is a restricted region in Nepal. To trek further into Upper Mustang you need a guide and a special permit that runs $50 USD/day/person. We were really excited to stay in Kagbeni to get just a taste of Mustang and its certainly an area I would return to. Upper Mustang is formerly the Lo Kingdom and was off limits to foreigners until 1992. Because of this its cultural heritage is incredibly well maintained. Very Tibetan.

The other big draw of Kagbeni is the Yac Donald’s! Ryan had read about this restaurant online and we had even heard a few positive reviews from others on the trail so we were very excited to eat here. The food did not disappoint! We ended up staying at the guesthouse attached to Yac Donald’s and had yak burgers with cheese for lunch and dinner. Kagbeni was a bit more expensive than some fo the other villages we have stayed in. For example, our room at the hotel was 500 rupees (or $5 USD). It was actually a very nice place and we had a private bathroom with a shower attached to our room. Comparatively, many of our guesthouses in Manang did not charge for the room itself (assuming we ate dinner and breakfast there) or were only $2 or $3.

Day 13: Kagbeni – Marpha. Today we planned to trek to the village of Marpha where we would have a rest day. The day started out great as this was supposed to be a pretty light day or hiking. However, in this area, most of the trek is along the road, which is not as enjoyable as hiking on a trail. We had the idea to try and find the alternate trail on the other side of the river for a more scenic hike. This did not go well. After four extra hours of losing the trail, backtracking, finding the trail, finding out that the trail had been washed out, backtracking again, we had to give up and go back to the road. Of course at this point it started raining and our spirits were low. Luckily, once we’d gotten ourselves going the right way, we ran into a lovely Scottish fellow named Colin. His company could not have come at a better time! We finished walking to the village of Jomsom with him and his company was entertaining and diverting. Jomsom is a relatively large village as it is a transit hub and there is an airport here. It didn’t seem like the most pleasant village, so I would recommend continuing on to Marpha, which is incredibly charming.

Day 14: Rest day in Marpha. It was so nice to spend a day relaxing in Marpha! We wandered around town, we did laundry, we drank the local brandy. Marpha is known for its apple orchards and so apple cider, apple juice and apple brandy are all local. Ryan also tried apricot brandy, which was very good.

Day 15: Marpha to Ghasa. Pretty uneventful day. Right after Marpha there is a Tibetan village where people settled after the Chinese annexation of Tibet.


Yak head seen in Tibetan village outside of Marpha.

Day 16: Ghasa to Tatopani. In Nepalese the words tato and pani literally mean hot water. Tatopani has hot springs! We settled into a charming little guesthouse right by the hot springs that seemed very popular with trekkers and went out to enjoy the hot springs pools. The water was super hot and felt amazing after over 2 weeks trekking. At the hot springs we also met three Nepalese guys on a mini vacation. They were so nice and we sat with them for a few hours enjoying some beers and chatting. It was super fun to talk to them about Nepal, the US, look at pictures of their kids and just hang out. We had a great time!

Day 17: Ghorepani failure, back to Tatopani. Our original intent was to walk the entire Annapurna Circuit trek, which ends in a village called Nayapul. Our plan was to trek to the village of Ghorepani on this day, get up early the next day to hike up Poon Hill (known as a wonderful view point) and then onto the end. However, to get to Ghorepani you have to hike up some major hills. We were back in the humid forest area and at this time of year its getting hot and rainy. It was just too hot and humid for me so after an hour or two of trekking we decided to head back, call it a day, and take the bus to the lakeside town of Pokhara the next day.

So, our Annapurna Circuit trek came to an end. This was one of the most amazing adventures. We met some great people and saw incredible landscapes. I would recommend this trek in a heartbeat.

Day 18: Bus from Tatopani to Pokhara. Another 6 hour bumpy bus ride! It felt amazing to pull in Pokhara. After nearly 3 weeks of trekking it felt incredible to relax in this lakeside town for a few days and take a load off.



A couple photos from Pokhara:


Sunset over Phewa Lake from the river walk


View of Pokhara and Phewa Lake from the Peace Pagoda


Peace Pagoda in Pokhara