Saturday #79: The Best of 2015 (ish)

So, let me guess – you’re laying in bed, even Rex Murphy’s monologue didn’t put you to sleep, and now you’ve fired up your phone or iPad and plan to read my blog for a few minutes rather than popping a pill. Well, have I got good news for you! Saturday #79 was a bit of a dud so rather than write a short piece about a ho-hum day, I’ve put together a very, very, very long list that is guaranteed to have you nodding off within minutes. On the flip side, it might come in handy should you ever decide to follow in my footsteps. (And don’t pretend you haven’t at least thought about that!)

The reason I call it “The Best of 2015 (ish)” is because I have moved the goalposts a bit. Most bloggers do some type of a year-end list, but I’m too lazy to separate out the parts of my trip that actually fell in 2014. It would accurately be described as “The Best of The Second Half of 2014 and All of 2015 and Two Weeks and Two Days of 2016” but that just doesn’t have the same ring to it.

So here goes. Let me know if you get through it before you drop that phone on your forehead. 

CITIES

Friendliest People – Various cities in Rajasthan, India 

     Above: The many friendly faces of Rajasthan

Most Indifferent People – Beijing, China​

Most Menacing People – Alice Springs, Australia

Most Selfie Requests Per Minute – Xi’an, China 

Best Live Entertainment – Calgary, AB (during Stampede Week)

 Best Dive Bars – San Francisco, CA

Fewest Bars – Pushkar, India

Fewest Working ATMs – Buenos Aires, Argentina

 Best Overall Food – Bangkok, Thailand

 
Best Overall Shopping – Istanbul, Turkey (western brands, antiques, crafts, local items, markets, shopping malls, world’s largest bazaar, etc.)

Best Western Style Mall (tie) – Siam Centre, Bangkok / Istinye Park, Istanbul, Turkey 

 

Most Scam Attempts Per Minute – Varanasi, India

Most Fun to Say Out Loud – Ashgabat (Best said with an Arnold Schwarzenegger accent.)

 Best Street Art (tie) – Melbourne, Australia / San Francisco, CA

  Craziest Traffic – Hanoi, Vietnam

 Hottest Temperature – Turpan, China (46C at 4:58 p.m. on July 21; 52C in the back of the big aluminum box that is a Dragoman truck) 

Best Modern Skyline That Came As A Complete Surprise – Baku, Azerbaijian

  Boldest Fashion Statements – Beijing, China. (Above: The Haida-Inspired Hipster Jumpsuit as seen in Tiananmin Square and some Haida poles in Stanley Park, Vancouver.)

Most Grand But Crumbling Buildings – Buenos Aires, Argentina

  Most Old Ladies per Capita – China

      Most Cats purr Capita – Baku, Azerbaijan (See what I did there?)

     Most Dangerous Large City with Great Street Art That Makes it Worth Braving – Rio de Janeiro, Brazil

Safest Large City – Hanoi, Vietnam

Worst Air Quality (tie) – Beijing, China / New Delhi, India

Worst Litter – New Delhi, India (And I don’t mean where the guy below came from.) Most Wild But Friendly Dogs – Copacabana, Bolivia (Could a mother even love that one?)

Most Feral Cats – Buenos Aires, Argentina

 Most Cows Roaming Freely – Agra, India  



FOOD AND BEVERAGE

Hardest Place to Get a Steak – Agra, India

Worst Menu Translation (tie) – Dead Grandmother / Scallop meat smell of urine burst (Western China)   Worst Restaurant Name – Flesh of a Donkey (Beijing, China)

Best Restaurant Name – Eat At Mike’s (Carmel, CA)

Best Street Meat – Crackling Pork on a Stick with Hot Sauce (Xi’an, China)

Street Meat That Looks Awful But is Actually Okay – Chicken Feet (various locations in China).   Canadians will spend $15 and scarf down a dozen wings at Kelsey’s but won’t even look at chicken feet for about 2 cents per foot. What’s the difference between a wing and a foot?  

  Okay, I’ll eat chicken feet when cooked and served with hot sauce. I’m not yet sold on pickled and/or vacuume packed chicken feet sold at room temperature.    

Worst Street Meat – Chicken Heads (Agra, India)  I firmly draw the line at severed heads. 

 Best Breakfast – Steamed buns in a Beijing hutong (60 cents for two large meat-filled buns served with pickled something and sauce)

 Worst Breakfast (tie) – Boiled cabbage and watery gruel (various truck stops and $10 hotels in China) / Spiced Rabbit Head (China)

  Most Memorable Lunch – Lamb and vegetables cooked over a fire in a sealed cream can during a snow storm on June 9 (Tsenker, Mongolia)

 Worst Snack Food –”Arul” (Various locations in Mongolia). I swear that Arul is another name for Milkbone. It’s a rock hard piece of dried and fermented yak milk that Mongolian people chew for hours to clean their teeth. Dr. Ballard must have travelled to Mongolia at some point.

Consistently Good Bathrooms – Starbucks (various locations)

 Consistently Disgusting Bathrooms – Highway truck stops in western China (Above: A similar men’s washroom at the port of Turkmenbashi, Turkmenistan.)

Worst Restaurant I Returned to After 32 Years – Bonanza Steakhouse (Saskatoon, SK) It hasn’t changed and the prices are about double what they were in 1982 but considering inflation, they must be cutting food costs to keep them that low. 

Best Restaurant I Returned to After 32 Years – Rae & Jerry’s (Winnipeg, MB) Loved this place in 1982 and it hasn’t changed one bit! Still the same decor, menu and drinks. I had the steak sandwich and a Caesar while seated at the bar. The only difference was that June Sifton (newspaper heiress) was no longer propped up on stool #3.  

 Something I Learned to Like – Vegemite on toast (Australia) 

Best Airport Food – Oxtail Soup at Warung (Sepang, Malaysia) To get to this restaurant you’ll have to buy an airline ticket as it’s located behind security on the International Departures Level at Kuala Lumpur International Airport. 

Best Airline Food – none

 Best Buffet – Wicked Spoon inside the Cosmopolitan Hotel (Las Vegas, NV)

  Best Fried Crickets and Scorpions – Beijing Night Market (Beijing, China)

  Best Knockoff Candy – iKi Kat (Uzbekistan)

 Worst Meal – Duck Bones at La Qin, Beijing, China.  I mistakenly thought there might be some meat on the “duck bones” but they were in fact just dried duck bones. As I was finishing a dad wanted to take photos of his son with the crazy white guy who ordered duck bones. 

 Best French Fries – Dusty’s (San Francisco, CA)

Best Club Sandwich – Small cafe opposite State Department Store (Ulaanbaatar, Mongolia) 

Best Pulled Pork Sandwich – SoMa BBQ (San Francisco, CA)

Best Hotdog – Japadog (Vancouver, BC)

Best Hamburger – Fergburger (Queenstown, New Zealand)

Best Barbecue (other than beef) – Kangaroo meatballs (while camping in the shadow of Uluru, Australia)

 Best Serving Dishes – various locations in Uzbekistan 

Best Steak – 14 once sirloin at Steaks by Luis (Buenos Aires, Argentina). Trip Advisor rates Steaks by Luis as #2 out of 3210 restaurants in Buenos Aires. With 14 ounce sirloins including potato, salad bar and three beers for about $10, I’d rate it one of the best values in the WORLD!

Best Fish Tacos – Red Fish Blue Fish (Victoria, BC) A few morsels of fish and some pita bread for about 2-1/2 times the cost of a complete steak dinner with three bottles of beer in Argentina but still pretty good!

  Best Lunch with Meat (Yak?) From a Sketchy Market – Murun, Mongolia 

 Best Collection of Food Trucks in the World – SoMa StrEat Food Park (San Francisco, CA)

Second Best Collection of Food Trucks in the World – Osborne Village (Winnipeg, MB) Who knew?

Best Spring Rolls – Boc Nguyen (Hanoi, Vietnam)

  Best Ice Cream – Giapo (Auckland, New Zealand)

 Best Draft Beer – “Fresh” beer from various sidewalk vendors (Hanoi, Vietnam) 

Best Craft Beer – Mikkeller Tenderloin Pale Ale (Bar Mikkeller, San Francisco, CA)

Best Bottled Beer – Chingiss (widely available in Mongolia)

 Warmest Beer – 9,457-way tie between various locations in China (This cat absolutely loved his daily warm beer!) 

Best Wine – Virtually all wine produced in Chile (good, cheap, plentiful)

Worst Wine – Virtually all wine sold in Western China (makes nice paint thinner though)

Best Experience With Champagne – Veuve Clicquot with friends Randall and Freddy and some of their friends, consumed on New Year’s Eve from the balcony of their Sydney home, overlooking the Harbour Bridge and what is unquestionably the world’s best fireworks display.

And If You Don’t Get Invited to Randall and Freddy’s Parties – Cheap champagne from a field following a sunrise hot air balloon ride over Cappadocia, Turkey  

 Most Expensive Cocktail – $32 Cosmopolitans on the 56th floor outdoor terrace of Lebua State Tower where scenes from Hangover II were shot.  (Bangkok, Thailand)

Cheapest Drinks – Free rum and gin on my Dragoman Silk Road trip thanks to Duncan who had purchased cases of booze in Malaysia for $1.50 a bottle

Worst Experience with Alcohol – Rice wine in China on my birthday

  Most Accurate Menu Description – A restaurant in western China that advertised “hot dog” and I suspect that’s exactly what it was.

 Waiter Who Blushed The Most – A restaurant in Karakol, Kyrgyzstan called one dish “Besh Barmak” but after much quizzing the teenaged waiter admitted that it was braised horse penis. It wasn’t exactly filet mignon but it was tender and edible.

   Most Lethal Drink – Cha Cha (Georgia)

Best Coffee Experience – Starbucks (24,697 locations). I’ll probably hear about this one but I know what I like and Starbucks delivers every time, unlike hundreds of hit and miss cafes in the world where the coffee might arguably be better but the washrooms are gross, there’s no wifi, no air conditioning, no electrical outlets, etc. 

Best Tea Experience – Masala Chai from a chai wallah in India (several million locations)

 Best Bread and Bread Delivery Service – Uzbekistan

Weirdest Restaurant Setting – I had a decent sirloin steak with Garry & Jessie Woods while seated in the vault of the old Royal Bank in Cloverdale, BC. I banked at that branch when I owned a business in Cloverdale in the late 1980s.

Best Overall Dish – Chilli Crab (No name sidewalk restaurant located beside The Plot Hostel, Singapore)  

Most Consecutive Dishes Sampled Without Disappointment – 12 from random hawker stalls in Newton Circus (Singapore)

 Best Overall Meal – Seafood Dinner on Saturday #45 with Dolly & Patrick (Singapore)




HOSTELS

Best Replica of a Boutique Hotel – Siamaze (Bangkok, Thailand)

Best Replica of a College Dorm – USA Hostel (San Francisco, CA)

 Best Replica of a Wild West Saloon – Railway Hotel (Bathurst, Australia)

Best Replica of a Morgue – YHA (Newcastle Beach, Australia)

Best Replica of Faulty Towers – Trip Inn (Westport, New Zealand)

Best Replica of Bates Motel – YHA (Penneshaw, Kangaroo Island, Australia)

 Best Stoner Hangout – Sereia do Mar (Paraty, Brazil)    

Best Hostel Cat – “Leche” the cutest black and white cat at Discovery Hostel Rio (Rio de Janiero, Brazil)

Best Hippy Hangout – Green Tortoise Hostel (San Francisco, CA)

  Best Pool – YHA Alice Springs (Alice Springs, Australia)

 Best Common Area – Hostel Inn (Puerto Igauzu, Argentina)

Best Chance of Finding Bedbugs – Nomads Hostel (Auckland, New Zealand)

Best place to sleep until 2 a.m. then go to a bar with a group from the hostel and drink until 9 a.m. – Puerto Limon Hostel (Buenos Aires, Argentina)

 Best Rooftop Bar – #bunk (Istanbul, Turkey)

Best Hostel Attached To A Bar – Nomads Hostel (Auckland, New Zealand)

Best Mattress – Siamaze (Bangkok, Thailand)

Best Linen & Pillows – Siamaze (Bangkok, Thailand)

Best Bunk – Siamaze (Bangkok, Thailand) (Sturdy bunk beds with a solid ladder to the top bunk, a heavy privacy curtain and electrical outlet, shelf and reading lamp inside each bunk. This place ticks all the boxes on my hostel rating system.)

Best Shower – The Plot (Singapore)

 Best Bathrooms (tie) – #bunk (Istanbul, Turkey) / Wake Up (Sydney, Australia)
 Best Kitchen – Wake Up Hostel (Sydney, Australia)

Best for Meeting an International Ring of Computer Hackers – The Point (Lima, Peru)

  
Best for Party People – Any hostel in or near Queenstown, New Zealand

Highest Concentration of Senior Citizens – Mongolian Steppe Guesthouse (Ulaanbaatar, Mongolia) I shared the 12-bed hostel with one person – the 86-year-old handyman / front desk clerk who spoke no English but who made me a nice herbal tea every morning and brought it to my bed.

Best Hostel Chain – YHA (New Zealand) 

New Hostel Chain to Watch – Zostel (various locations, India) They are improving existing hostels and opening new ones throughout India. As India’s rapidly growing middle class discovers travel within their own country, this chain of high-end hostels will do well.

Worst Hostel Chain – Bothy Hostels (various locations, South America) I have nightmares thinking about the Bothy Hostels. Don’t go. Don’t even think about it.

Most Overpriced – Original Backpacker’s (Sydney, Australia) To be fair, I paid a premium for a private room over Christmas, but like many things in Australia, it was at least three times the price of similar accommodation in South America.

 

Best Staff (4-way tie) – Zostel (Jaipur, India) / The Plot (Singapore) / Discovery Hostel Rio (Rio de Janeiro, Brazil) / #bunk (Istanbul, Turkey). Very warm and welcoming people who bent over backwards to help everyone, not just me. I appreciate good customer service and the staff at these four hostels went beyond the call of duty. 

Most Invisible Staff – Stanley’s Guesthouse (Patong Beach, Thailand) The woman who let me in and took my money left after handing me the key. I didn’t see her for the next three days and I was the only guest. I let myself in and out through the bar, helped myself to beer (left the money under the bar) and as I left the key on the bar when I left, the door was left unlocked.  

Strangest Dorm Mate – Klaus from Saturday #38

http://100saturdays.com/2015/03/26/saturday-38-oops/

 Best Wood Stove Within a Dorm – Gunn’s Camp (Milford Sound, New Zealand)

   Best Rural Location (tie) – Rangitata Rafting Base (Rangitata, New Zealand) / Blue Duck Station (Whakahoro, New Zealand) / Arses Ears Wilderness Camp (Australia)

Best Beach Location – Karioi Lodge at Raglan Surf School (Raglan, New Zealand)

 Best Urban Location – Wake Up Hostel (Sydney, Australia)

Worst Overall Rating (tie) – Bothy Hostel (Cuzco, Peru) / The Point Hostel (Lima, Peru)

Best Overall Rating – Siamaze (Bangkok, Thailand)

OTHER ACCOMMODATION

Best Hotel – Vivanta by Taj (Mumbai, India)  I haven’t stayed at many decent hotels so this place would not be included in any legitimate “Best Of” list.

Worst Hotel – Hotel Sunder (Tsetserleg, Mongolia)

 Best Chance To Meet a Real Cowboy – Rosedeer Hotel  (Rosedeer, Alberta). As opposed to the weekend Cowboys you find in Calgary.  

Best Caravanserai – Tash Rabat (At-Bashi District, Kyrgyzstan) A stone structure dating from the 9th century, even before the Silk Road was at it’s busiest.

Best Pension – Rock Valley Pension (Goreme, Turkey)

Worst Guesthouse – Bata’s Guesthouse (Murun, Mongolia)

 Best Guesthouse – Nelly’s Guesthouse (Telavi, Georgia)

Best Camping – Various locations in Mongolia. We were the only people for 100 miles, camping in the midst of rugged, unspoiled scenery, and drinking water from a stream, orange juice from the carton and vodka from a bottle.  

Worst Camping (tie) – Various locations in Mongolia (cold, rocky ground, no infrastructure, hard to find or even buy firewood) / Jeti-Orghuz Valley, Kyrgyzstan (rocky ground, cold, wolves howling in the night, big animals sniffing around outside my tent)

Best Camping In a Shadow – Jiayuguan, China. We spent a few days in very remote parts of China, camping right beside the Great Wall.  

 Best Homestay (3-way tie) – David & Jane Rees, Cobble Hill, BC / Barb Tyson, Vancouver, BC / Andy & Kerri Hamilton, Moose Jaw, SK

Creepiest Hotel – Grand Orzu Hotel (Tashkent, Uzbekistan). I officially began to feel old when the secret service agent that was assigned to tail me for three days turned out to be crippled and using heavy metal crutches that you could hear from a block away. 

Best Building Converted To a Hotel – Karavansary Hotel (Sheki, Azerbaijan)

Biggest Hotel Ripoff – Airport Holiday Inn (Santiago, Chile) ($240 for a 29 minute phone call to Canada)

Best Sleep – Royal Saigon Hotel (Ho Chi Minh City, Vietnam)  

Worst Sleep – Nana’s Guesthouse (Georgia)  My roommate was extremely intoxicated and talking in his sleep so I slept outside on an iron balcony with dogs barking below me all night.

SPORTS, ACTIVITIES & ENTERTAINMENT

 
Best Bike Ride – Death Road Bike Ride (near La Paz, Bolivia)

 
 Best Dune Buggy Ride and Sandboarding – “Some guy named Joe” (Huaucachina, Peru)

 Most People In or On a Tuk Tuk – 9 (China)

   Best Skydiving – Skydive Taupo (Lake Taupo, New Zealand)

Best Balloon Ride – various operations (Cappadocia, Turkey

Best Helicopter Ride – 12 Apostles (Great Ocean Road, Australia)

Best Scenic Plane Ride – Nazca Lines (Nazca, Peru)

   Best Bungee Jump / Swing – Shotover Canyon Swing (Queenstown, New Zealand)

 Best Festival – Burning Man (Nevada)

Best Concert – Impromptu set by an unknown band in the middle of the playa during a blinding dust storm at Burning Man (Black Rock City, Nevada)

 
Best Race Involving 4 Wheels and 16 Hooves – GMC Rangeland Derby (Calgary Stampede)

 Best Day at a Racetrack – Derby Day at Hippodromo Argentina de Palermo (Buenos Aires, Argentina)

 
Worst Day at a Racetrack – Wandering through the abandoned barns at the defunct Sandown Raceway on Vancouver Island. I spent four summers there in the 1980s when it was thriving. Very sad to see what has become of the place.

 Best Horseback Riding – Various locations in Kyrgyzstan and Mongolia

 Strangest Live Sporting Event – Sheep Polo (Songkul Lake, Kyrgyzstan). Polo played with the still warm but headless carcass of a sheep.

Best Dance Show – Patrons at Celebrities on last night of Pride Week (Vancouver, BC)

  Best Stage / Variety Show – TransAlta Grandstand Show (Calgary Stampede)

Worst Dance Show – Tango at a Dinner Theatre in Buenos Aires, Argentina (It’s essentially the same dance to the same music, repeated 57 times.)

Best Bridge to Walk Across – Lion’s Gate Bridge (Vancouver, BC)

Best Bridge to Drive Across – Golden Gate Bridge (San Francisco, CA)

Best Fireworks Display – New Year’s Eve off the Harbour Bridge (Sydney, Australia)

   Most Fun with a Super Soaker – Songkran Festival (Bangkok, Thailand) 

Best Fishing From a Boat – Piranha fishing (Brazil’s Southern Pantanal)

 Best Fishing From The Water – Eel fishing after midnight in New Zealand

 
Best Record-Setting Event – World’s Longest Road Hockey Game (I was in Nanaimo, BC for the final few hours of the Guinness World Record-setting game in July 2014.)

 Most “Authentic” Experience – Lunch of lamb and vegetables cooked over a fire in a sealed cream can during a snow storm on June 9 about 40 km north of the small town of Tsenker, Mongolia

Least “Authentic” Experience – Visiting a family on a floating island on Lake Titicaca. (They said they lived on the island yet they didn’t have any food or clothing in their hut and an aluminum boat with a Mercury engine was moored out back, hidden by reeds.

  Hardest Place To Get a Kid To Smile  – Uzbekistan  (The two boys in new suits and with new toys may have had a legitimate excuse – they’re on their way to be circumsized.) 

Best Encounter With a Wild Animal – Kissing a camel that was standing on the side of the road (near Ashgabat, Turkmenistan)

Best Encounter With a Rodent – Sharing a cookie with a rat at the Karmi Temple (Rajasthan, India) 

Best Encounter With a Dead Animal (Bird) – Cutting the talon off an eagle that had been shot by a farmer in Mongolia (He shot it as it had been killing the newborn lambs that are his main source of income.)  

 


TRANSPORTATION & TOURS

Best Overland Company – Dragoman Overland (Rio de Janeiro > Buenos Aires; Mongolia Loop; Beijing > Istanbul; Delhi > Mumbai) 

   

   

I’ll Say That Again, Best Overland Company – Dragoman Overland

      

Strangest Train Journey – Ulaanbaatar to Beijing (The train stops for about 8 hours at the border between Mongolia and China and they change the wheels on each train car as the tracks are a different gauge in each country.)

 Best Train Journey – VIA Rail’s “The Canadian” from Saskatoon to Vancouver, Canada

 Best View from a Vehicle – Driving through the Mongolian Steppe while riding in the roof seats of a Dragoman Overland truck

Best Airline Experience – none

Worst Airline Experience – LAN Airlines flight 842 from Comodoro Arturo Merino Benitez International Airport, Santiago, Chile to Hanga Roa (Easter Island), Chile when they oversold the flight, switched gates, announced the change only in Spanish, and quickly left a dozen English speaking passengers at Starbucks

Worst Parent on a Plane – Father seated behind me who gave his 4-year-old boy a pitch pipe to play with and then put on a set of Bose noise cancelling headphones and went to sleep (Quantas flight from Perth to Darwin, Australia)

Fastest Boat – Hamilton Jet Boat on the Shotover River (Queensland, New Zealand)

Scariest Boat – Midnight crossing of Lake Titicaca on a boat with 6 life jackets, 28 people and several live chickens in a sack (which I intended to wrestle from the old lady who held them should we capsize).

  
Best 2-Night Cruise – Ha Long Bay, Vietnam (above)

Most Scenic Day Cruise – Milford Sound, New Zealand

 Best 4 Days on a Small Island – Easter Island, Chile

Worst Hangover on a Boat – After drinking vodka on the deck of the truck ferry Bestekar Qara Qarayev while crossing the Caspian Sea between Turkmenbashi, Turkmenistan and Baku, Azerbaijan 

Best Metro/Subway System (tie) – Beijing, Istanbul, Singapore, Bangkok (All four are cleaner, cheaper, and much more exstensive than the TTC.) Above: Typical Singapore subway station 

 Best Seat Mate on a Truck – Bayaraa, the 23-year-old guide on the Dragoman trip through Mongolia. (When not showing us how to survive in Mongolia he could be found climbing a volcano, building a yurt, riding a horse at top speed on a beach, starting a fire with two sticks, cutting the talon off a dead eagle, plugging the hole in a ruptured diesel tank, or swimming in a lake that still had some ice on it.)

Best Airport – Singapore Changi (Rated #1 in the World in 2014 & 2015)

 Best Airport / Rail Link – Beijing Capital Airport (Toronto’s UP Express is a joke compared to direct subway access in Sydney, Istanbul, Beijing, etc.)

Best Road Trip – Five days in New Zealand with my nephew Andy

Best Day Tour – Dharavi Slum, Mumbai, India  

Best Nature Tour – Ballestas Island Boat Tour (Paracus, Peru)

Best Bird Watching (tie) – Condors in Colca Canyon, Peru / Kiwi in Invercargill, New Zealand (best time to spot them is around 3 a.m. on the grounds of the airport or golf course)

Most Harrowing Bus Ride – Skipper’s Canyon Road, Queenstown, New Zealand

Worst Bus Driver – InterCity Bus, Auckland to Wellington, New Zealand (The driver had bad attitude and wrongly accused several young passengers of breaking his bus rules, etc.)

    Best Camaraderie On A Bus (tie) – Stray Bus, New Zealand / Green Tortoise Bus (California)


   Best Day Hike – 19 km Tongariro Alpine Crossing (Tongariro National Park, New Zealand)  

   

Best Ecoturismo / Farmstay – Fazenda San Francisco Agro Ecoturismo (Southern Pantanal, Brazil)

Most Personable Country Guide – J-Lo (7 days in Uzbekistan)

   Hardest Working Country Guide – Bayaraa (30 days in Mongolia)  (Shown above raking wet, cold sheep manure in his bare feet simply because it was a job that had to be done.)

Worst Guide – Ricky (3-day Colca Canyon Tour, Peru)

MISCELLANEOUS

Most Complex Scam That I Avoided – “The Teahouse Scam” in Beijing, China (Google it.)

Most Obvious Scam That I Saw Someone Fall For – A fake piece of jade the size of a loaf of bread was being sold off the back of a motorcycle adjacent to a rockslide that closed a highway in Western China. I saw a Japanese tourist pay about $3000 cash (which he borrowed from people on his bus) in the belief that it could be sold back home for about $100,000. The massive piece of jade was almost certainly resin and green food colouring.  

 Best Basketball Player Who Will Never Make The NBA But Who Wanted Photos of Me!  – Chinzorigt Tsogtbayr (Tsenker, Mongolia)

  Most People with Cellphones – China (even nomads and monks have iPhones)

Best Wifi Access – Canada (free high speed wifi at many cafes, hostels, airports, etc.)

Worst Wifi Access – China (many sites blocked, slow connections, not always free, big brother is always watching)

Most Expensive SIM, Data Plan, Wifi – New Zealand

Cheapest SIM, Data Plan, Wifi – Vietnam

 Best Local Markets – Kyrgyzstan

 Closest I Got To a Kangaroo or Wallabee – Hall’s Gap, Victoria, Australia

Best Bazaar – Grand Bazaar, Istanbul, Turkey

Best General Merchandise Market – Black Market, Ulaanbaatar, Mongolia 

Best Antique Market – Panjiayuan Antique Market, Beijing 

Best Drugs Sold Openly in Bars – Bang Lassi (various locations in India)



Best Piece of Art That Was Later Burned – “Embrace” at Burning Man 2014

Nicest Celebrity I Had a Beer With – Guy St Jacques, Canada’s Ambassador to The People’s Republic of China (at Hockey Night in Beijing)  

Best Pride Celebration – Sydney, Australia (The parade is held at night, under bright and colourful lights, in perfect weather, and for me it was a chance to hang out with good friends old and new.). Pride in Phuket, Thailand was also good but on a much smaller scale. (below)   

 

Worst Karaoke Performance – Me performing Johnny Cash’s I Walk The Line at the Iron Door Saloon in Groveland, CA (The oldest continuously operating drinking establishment in California — and not even I could shut it down.)

Biggest Thrill – Jumping from a perfectly good plane over Lake Taupo, New Zealand 

Best Wake Up Call – Camels walking through our lakeside campsite (China)  

 

Best Trip Down Memory Lane – Walking the streets of Vancouver’s West End, dancing at Celebrities, drinking Molson Canadian at Numbers and coffee at Canada’s first Starbucks. (I lived at Bute & Barclay in the 1980s.)

Best Urban Park – Stanley Park (Vancouver BC)

 Best Urban Trail – Vancouver Seawall (Vancouver, BC)

Most Profitable Day – Day trip from Buenos Aires to Colonia, Uruguay where I withdrew US Dollars from an ATM and sold them for about double the value when I returned to Buenos Aires

 Most Moving Experience on a Riverbank – Hindu funeral and cremation on the banks of the Ganges (Varanasi, India) 


Best Experience with Fire – Watching “Embrace” burn at Burning Man 2014

Best Experience with Smoke – Smoking a hooka with Neeraj Gupta in Istanbul, Turkey

 Best Experience with Natural Gas – Darvaza Gas Crater AKA “The Gates of Hell” near Derweze, Turkmenistan (Photo: Jill Potter)

Best Experience with Propane – Dancing to techno under giant flame throwers at Burning Man 2014

Most Kids Posing for Photos per Capita (and asking for 10 Rupees) – India 

Best Sunrise / Sunset – Easter Island, Chile (particularly from behind a row of 15 giant moai)

Best Sunset (tie) – Haucachina, Peru (from high atop a sand dune overlooking the oasis town of Huacachina) / Sugar Loaf Mointain (Rio de Janeiro, Brazil)  

Most Handsome Mugger – Abercrombie & Fitch model who stole my gold chain on Ipanema Beach in Rio de Janeiro Brazil

Most Inept Mugger(s) – Taxi drivers in Lima, Peru who got nothing but left me stranded in the middle of nowhere

Best Livestock Market – Kashbgar, China

 Best Sandwich Board – Zambrero (Adelaide, Australia)

 Best Sign in a Restaurant  – “Big chef, honest boos” (Beijing, China)

Costliest Surprise – $60 to park overnight in an underground lot in Sydney, Australia 

Biggest Coincidence – I met a Globe & Mail travel writer at “The Gates of Hell” in Turkmenistan. We were wearing identical clothes (black golf shirt, khaki cargo shorts, Nikes) and we had previously lived on the same small street in Toronto, me at #90 and he at #190

Best Scenery (Shirts Optional) – Ipanema Beach, Rio de Janeiro, Brazil

Best Country for Backpacker Travel – New Zealand

 Best Country for Overlanding – Mongolia

Best Country for Foodies (tie) – Singapore / Thailand

Worst Country for Foodies – Mongolia

Best Country for Carnivores – Argentina

 Worst Country for Vegetarians – Mongolia

 Fastest Photo To Get 100 Likes on Facebook – “Shirtless Man With a Big Cock” (Ho Chi Minh City, Vietnam)

Worst Border Experience – Uzbekistan / Turkmenistan land border

Dumbest Thing I Did – Wearing a gold necklace on Ipanema Beach (Rio de Janeiro, Brazil)

Something I Didn’t Think I’d Enjoy but Ended Up Loving – Horseback riding in the cold in Mongolia

Worst Red Tape (8-way tie) – Indian Consulate in Istanbul / Brazilian Consulate in Toronto / border crossings between China, Kyrgyzstan, Uzbekistan, Turkmenistan, Azerbaijan (port of Baku), Georgia, and Turkey

Worst Day – December 26, 2014 when I learned that my old boss, mentor and good friend Rod Donlevy had passed away on Christmas Day in Saskatoon, SK

Most Listened To Song – Dwight Yoakam’s A Thousand Miles From Nowhere which became the theme song of the Dragoman Silk Road trip.

Something I Dreaded But Turned Out Well – Trip to a mixed public shower in Mongolia. It turned out to have private stalls and plenty of HOT water for our first shower in about 10 days. 

Something I Attempted and Failed – I attempted to place a $100 wager through Betfair on the proposition that the Canadian election would produce a majority Liberal government. The Libs were mired in 3rd place at the time and the odds were 80-1. My account had lapsed and it was impossible to reactivate from within China so I didn’t get the money down before the proposition  closed. 

 Best Waterfall – Igauzu Falls (Brazil-Argentina border)

Best Canyon – Grand Canyon (Nevada)

 Best Glacial Scarring – Yosemite National Park (California)

 Best Mountain Range – The Canadian Rockies (Above: Lake Louise)

 Best Earthquake To Wake Me – 6.0 quake centered just north of San Francisco, California

Best Man-Made Stone Structures – Pre-Incan burial chambers (Sillustani, Peru)

Best Man-Made Stone Carvings – Nazca Lines (Nazca, Peru)

 Best Man-Made Stone Statues – Various Moai (Easter Island, Chile)

VALUE FOR MONEY
Worst Overall Value (7-way tie)

• Bribe paid to a border official after I was ALREADY in Turkmenistan ($11)

 • Evening at the National Ballet in Ulaanbaatar, Mongolia (I was sawing logs within 5 minutes) ($61)

• Rental of a tiny storage locker in Toronto for things I don’t miss and may never use ($90 monthly)

• Half Day Whale Watching from Victoria, BC (cold, light rain, many boats, never got close to a whale, several people on the boat were idiots) ($120)

• FedEx charges to ship a laptop from Istanbul to Toronto ($270)

• Vodaphone SIM card and data for about 40 days in New Zealand ($371)

• Flights within Australia to track down a lost passport ($698)

Expensive But Worth Every Penny (7-way tie)

• 24-hour access to the VIP Lounge at Santiago Airport ($94)

 • Sunrise balloon ride over Cappadocia, Turkey ($185 with champagne)

• Used bike, lock, lights and spare tire for Burning Man ($265)

 • Shotover Canyon Swing near Queenstown, New Zealand ($267 with video)

• 7 days at Burning Man ($383)

 • 4-day Tour from Alice Springs to Darwin, Australia ($325) (above)

• Skydive Taupo near Lake Taupo, New Zealand ($470 with video)

• iPhone 6S and case in New Delhi, India ($1563)

Best Overall Value (22-way tie)

  • Day Trip to Darvaza Gas Crater in Turkmenistan (free)

• Wash, Dry and Fold Laundry in Thailand ($1)

• Deck of Steve Jobs playing cards from a street vendor in China ($1)

  • “Nelcome to Fabdau Las Vegas Nevada” belt buckle, including 2 typos, from a flea market vendor in Ulaanbaatar, Mongolia ($1)

 
• Third Class Sleeper on a 7-hour train from Ajmer to Agra, India ($4.40)
• Full day of horseback riding through mountains and meadows in Kyrgyzstan ($6)

  • Full day of herding yak (on horseback) in Mongolia ($7)

• 3 Ventolin asthma inhalers in Uzbekistan ($7)

• Delta Airlines (Los Angeles > Lima, Peru) ($7 after redeeming $300 in points)

• 6-hour outing on back of motorcycle to fossil field in Rajasthan, India ($8)

• 8 pieces or turquoise from a roadside vendor in China ($9)

• Leo Hostel, Beijing ($10)

  • Millhouse Hostel, Cusco, Peru ($10)

• 3-hour Night Safari on camel near Pushkar, Rajasthan, India ($10)

• Hotel Karma Palace, Pushkar, India ($12)

• Siamaze Hostel, Bangkok, Thailand ($12)

• Rio Forest Hostel, Rio de Janeiro, Brazil ($17)

  • 4-hour boat tour around the Balestas Islands (Peru) taking you within one meter of thousands of seals, sea lions, and penguins ($14)

    • Front Row Ticket to Hockey Night in Beijing ($19)  

• Death Road Bike Ride near La Paz, Bolivia ($89)

• One-Year Pass to Peru Hop, a hop on / hop off bus traveling the length of Peru ($149)  

7 Responses to “Saturday #79: The Best of 2015 (ish)”

  1. hillerup1962

    Loved reading every bit of this Mike. If you read over coffee first thing on a Sunday morning you will not fall asleep!

    Sent from my iPad

    >

    Reply
  2. Paul Geary

    Loved it. This is my first quiet morning this year and thoroughly enjoyed your list. . I remember many of the stories behind the list and it reminded me of my trips through India, Thailand and Vietnam. I can’t wait for the weeks to come. Blog-on, Mike!

    Reply
  3. Karen Hauver

    Loved it! Read most of it with my granddaughters and they loved it too. What great adventures you have had!

    Reply
  4. Karen Fry

    Fantastic, avidly read it to the end. Likewise it has reminded me so much of so many of the places I’ve been to over the years as well. Thanks a heap Mike, look forward to more Saturdays!

    Reply
  5. Ellen Harvey

    Lying in bed reading it on the first snowy night of 2016. Thank you so much for sharing your adventures.

    Reply

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