We’ve Finished our RTW, so What Were Our Favorite…. Drinking Experiences?!

We’ve finished our RTW trip. We get a lot of questions about our favorite things on the trip. We’ve decided to start a new series called “So, What Was Our Favorite…” We visited 29 countries on our RTW: Egypt (just 1 day), South Africa, Botswana, Zimbabwe (just 1 day), Namibia, Germany (just 1 day), Czech Republic, Poland, Slovakia, Hungary, Croatia, Slovenia, Bosnia Herzegovina, Montenegro, Albania, Greece, Turkey, Ireland, USA, Myanmar, Singapore, Indonesia (just Bali), Cambodia, Laos, Thailand, Vietnam, Hong Kong, Macau, and Nepal.

As many of you know, we are not really big partiers- but we definitely like a good drink/drinking experience. As we traveled around the world, we tried as much of the local alcohol as we could, but there were a few “drinking experiences” that really stood out. These were times that we remembered best for being somewhat alcohol centered, however, we think you’ll notice that often it wasn’t just the alcohol that made the experience so memorable.

This edition looks at our top 10 favorite “drinking experiences” around the world. These are not in order from best to worst. They are just our top 10 favorite in the order in which we visited them.

Chobe Safari Lodge, Kasane, Botswana

For three nights on our self-drive safari, we stayed at Chobe Safari Lodge in Botswana. The campsite itself was a little substandard. But the benefit was that we were less than 100 feet from a bar overlooking the river, where we spent multiple afternoons drinking beers and watching elephants graze. The sunsets were gorgeous and we enjoyed some local beer. The beers themselves weren’t wonderful, mostly pretty boring lagers, but the setting and sights were awesome!

Groot Constantia Wine Estate, Cape Town, South Africa

We visited here during our city sight-seeing tour in Cape Town, and we wish we could have spent the whole day there! It is the oldest wine estate in South Africa. It was started in the late 1600s by members of the Dutch East India Company. It took awhile but it then began to compete with all the fine wines in Europe and has continued to make excellent wine since then. We took the cellar tour and participated in a delicious wine tasting. We then wandered the vineyard and explored the historical buildings. The location was lovely and historic and we felt like we had a nice connection because we had just read James Michener’s Covenant which was about the history of the Cape and we had learned about a similar winery in the story. Definitely an enjoyable day!

Valley of Beautiful Women, Eger, Hungary

Just over the hill, about a 25 min walk from the Old Town of Eger, is the Valley of Beautiful Women. We’re not sure why the name, especially because we saw almost no one in our time in the valley. It was a miserably rainy day. But, the bad weather didn’t deter us from our reason for visiting Eger: the ~ 50 wine cellars all right next to each other, clustered in the valley. Tastes are free and glasses were as reasonable as 100 forint (about $0.50)! We really enjoyed striking up a conversation with a bored Hungarian working in the first cellar. We chatted about wine, Hungary, language, and her life. We also enjoyed trying the Eger special wine: Egri Bikaver or Bull’s Blood. The wine gets its name because in 1552, the people of Eger withstood a siege by the Ottoman Empire for a month. 2000 men from Eger against 100,000. They held! The king Istvan Dobo helped his troops by giving them wine which stained their beards red. This lead to rumors through the Turkish army that the men of Eger were so strong and vicious because they were drinking the blood of bulls! Every cellar has their own variant of this famous Eger wine. They also will fill up a plastic bottle of wine for cheap prices. We filled our 1 liter nalgene bottle of our favorite wine for only 500 forint (a little over $2.00!!) There are many cellars to try, but the rain and the alcohol caused us to only get to 3. We wish we lived close by cause we would go back regularly!

Buza Bar, Dubrovnik, Croatia

Buza means hole in the old Dubrovnik dialect. That’s just what this bar was – a hole in the wall. Literally, you walk through a hole in the city walls of Dubrovnik. The bar was quite crowded, but it was still an absolutely beautiful view out over the ocean. We had a few drinks there at sunset, enjoying our last evening in Croatia. Gorgeous!

Literary Pub Crawl, Dublin, Ireland

This was a new adventure for us! Dublin has a very rich literary history- writers such as WB Yeats, Jonathan Swift, Oscar Wilde, and and James Joyce made Dublin their home. Neither of us knew much about any of these authors, nor had read anything by them. But, Della thought that maybe this would be the perfect way to learn more about them, especially as we were in Dublin… and it couldn’t hurt that beer was involved. We really enjoyed the pub crawl! We went to 4 different pubs throughout the evening. At each one, we enjoyed our guides. They made sure to tell us stories either about the history of Dublin or about one of the many authors that contributed to that history. They also sprinkled in several small performances, either scenes from different plays or books, or from letters from the authors. It was an entertaining way to spend an evening exploring Dublin’s past and Dublin’s beer!

Red Mountain Winery, Inle Lake, Myanmar/Burma

On our first full day in Inle, we rented bikes and headed out of town toward a winery! The Red Mountain Winery is about 5 miles outside of Nyuang Shwe (the main town for Inle which we were staying in). It was a glorious day and we really enjoyed the ride. It was quite a push up the hill to get to the winery, but it was so worth it. You can get a taste of 4 wines for about $2. The wine was OK though not fabulous. We each found one we liked well enough to enjoy a glass of while we nibbled on an appetizer and took in the view. We waited around for the free tour and ended up being the only 2 on it for a little while. It was a short tour and we learned how the winery is quite new, imports most of its plants from France, and has mostly broken machines so they do things like label by hand. The glorious views and lovely day make this a fantastic place for a drink!

A Riverside Bar, Vang Vieng, Laos

Many people talk about the joys of tubing down the river and stopping for crazy party drinking at the riverside bars in Vang Vieng. We weren’t really into that, but on our last day in town, we headed down to the river where there were a few small riverside huts and a small bar with music playing. It was past the crazy, tubing part of the river so it was really quite calm. It also helped that we hung out there during sunset. It definitely felt like spending a day at the beach (without the icky sand and salt!) We had nice shade and shelter from the sun in our bungalow. We took turns going for a quick dip – the water was pretty cold – and relaxed and read our books while sharing a Beerlao. The bar also had some speakers playing Western pop music, many of which we recognized and had fun singing along to. We also enjoyed watching the huge air balloons floating above us as the sun sank down to the horizon.

Beachfront Restaurants, Ko Lanta, Thailand

We had a short time on the beach during our trip to Thailand. (Short was just the right amount of time for us!) We stayed near Khlong Nin beach, which was quiet and restful. There were lots of beachfront restaurants where you could sit and enjoy a drink. We ate many lunches, using the restaurants as sun blocks while we enjoyed our beer and looking out on the beach. Many of the beachfront restaurants offered happy hour deals on beer, which was great since the beach faces west. We took advantage and made sure to find a good seat to watch the sun fade below the horizon.

Sampling Fresh Beer, Hoi An, Vietnam

In Hoi An we had our first chance to sample “fresh beer,” a classic beverage that is unique to the country. The beer is called fresh because it has just recently been brewed and is served without preservatives. It has less alcohol than normal beer and less carbonation, but is very cheap. We paid only 3000 dong (about 15 cents) per glass! It was also extremely hot during our time in Hoi An. Stopping in at a restaurant or stand to enjoy a cheap, quick, and refreshing fresh beer was a great way to cool down and rest out of the heat!

Wine in Our Own Lodging, Anywhere Around the World

In several countries (though most notably: Croatia, Montenegro, Greece, and Hong Kong), the most affordable option for drinks was to buy a bottle of wine (or retsina) and take it home for an evening in. There were many a bottle that we enjoyed while lounging on a balcony of our hotel or in the sunroom of an airbnb that bring back some wonderful memories. There is something special about spending time together, remembering the new and exciting experiences of the day, planning our next moves, and relaxing – with no stress of job (or calories). It’s a freedom we will try to remember often as we restarted our jobs this last week.

 

 

 

Monthly Recap: Month 10

Well, this monthly recap is very late! It would have come out, should everything have been normal, on May 2nd. However, as many of you know, we were actually getting ready to come home after experiencing the Earthquake in Nepal on May 2nd. Because of that earthquake, Month 10 turned out to be the last month of our trip… We had been planning on making it until Month 11, but the world had other plans for us. Month 10 had some great times as well as some not so great times (see aforementioned earthquake). Let’s recap, shall we?!

Here are our stats for this month.

Countries visited:  3 (Vietnam, China, and NepalSpecial Administrative Regions: 2 (Hong Kong and Macau)

Beds Slept In: Tarps Slept Under:Embassies Slept In: 1 (Hopefully the first and last of our life.)

UNESCO Heritage Sights Visited: 7 (My Son Sanctuary, Complex of Hue MonumentsPhong Nha – Ke Bang National ParkCentral Sector of the Imperial Citadel of Thang Long – HanoiHa Long BayHistoric Centre of MacaoKathmandu Valley) *** As of July of 2015, there are have been many new UNESCO sites added! We were pretty excited that two places that we visited on our RTW were now recently added! YAY! Those include Singapore Botanical Gardens (visited in Month 7) and Ephesus (visited in Month 5). Total on RTW: 49

We traveled by 3 planes this month.

We traveled by 4 boats this month.

We traveled 4 long distance buses/minibuses.

We traveled by 1 train this month.

We traveled by 2 helicopters this month.

Top Moments:

~ Our biggest emotional high was when we were rescued by helicopter from Bamboo Village in Nepal. We had never ridden in a helicopter before and on that day, we rode two. We couldn’t have had better scenery: the beautiful Himalayas of Nepal. Despite the destruction caused by the earthquake and landslides, Nepal is a gorgeous country, well worth a visit! If you are interested in supporting Nepal after the devastating earthquake, check out some ideas here

 

Runners Up for Top Moments:

~We had an absolutely lovely day biking through the outskirts of Hoi An. We went a bit off the beaten track and biked through rice fields to a great beach! Good day all around.

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~We rushed through Phong Nha National Park in order to see some of the renowned caves there. We struggled with which tour to choose, but ultimately went with a general tour of three caves. It was all amazing, but our favorite part was experiencing swimming through a mud bath in the Dark Cave. It was hard to explain the feeling of floating through a pool of mud – how we imagine it would feel to be on the moon – almost weightless! Overall, a lot of fun!

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~We really enjoyed lots of places in Vietnam, but another great day was when we kayaked through the karsts in Lan Ha Bay. We had a lovely day in great scenery!

Getting used to the kayak

Getting used to the kayak

~Another great day was when we took the funicular up Hong Kong Peak. Great weather – it wasn’t too hot way up there, and  you just couldn’t beat the views!

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Items Missing, Broken, Discarded, or Added:

 

Honestly, we don’t really remember… Sorry!

Packing Update:

We were glad that we had held on to our colder weather gear because we used every bit of it in Nepal. It was particularly good when we hit an emergency situation and ended up having to sleep outside for 5 nights.

Books Read: (Have you read any of these??)

Della has read All the Pretty Horses by Cormac McCarthy (4)

Eric has read Overkill by James Barrington (2), Gods of War by John Toland (4)

Eric and Della have BOTH read Tai-Pan by James Clavell (4)

The rating system is for Della’s mom who is refusing to look at Goodreads. It is 1 to 5, 5 being the highest.

Make sure to catch up on all our monthly recaps: Monthly Recap 1, Monthly Recap 2, Monthly Recap 3,Monthly Recap 4, Monthly Recap 5, Monthly Recap 6, Monthly Recap 7, Monthly Recap 8, Monthly Recap 9

The Lantern-Lit Streets of Historic Hoi An, Vietnam

Hoi An, our second stop in Vietnam was a large contrast from our first stop of Saigon: instead of wide lanes clogged with motorbikes and fronted by modern buildings, there were narrow streets that were pedestrian only and featured quaint old buildings that looked like they haven’t changed in hundreds of years. We spent three days exploring the atmospheric streets of Hoi An and the scenic sites of the surrounding region.

Getting There

For most ways of travel, to get to Hoi An, one first has to get to the major town of Danang, where there is an airport and train station. We debated between taking a cheap flight that would arrive late or taking an overnight train, and in the end chose the train partially for a slight cost savings and partially just for the novelty of an overnight train.

Based on the advice from the very helpful Seat 61 blog, we hoped to book beds in the “soft sleeper” class, which have 4 bunks to a cabin. But, by the time we tried to book, all of these were taken, so we had to settle for bunks in the “hard sleeper” class, which have 6 bunks to a cabin. We had to take the middle bunk, which wasn’t ideal.

Our train pulled out of the station promptly at 7:30, and we headed north. Our bunks were not as spacious as we would have hoped; there wasn’t enough room to sit completely up, so we just had to lay down. Our cabin was full, with two older gentlemen in the bottom bunks and a young married couple in the top bunks. Unfortunately none of them spoke English so we couldn’t really discuss the logistics of moving around and going to bed in the tight space.

They went to bed fairly early, but we had reading lights so we could read for a while longer. We got some fitful sleep, but then were woken up early when the gentlemen in the lower bunks decided to have a full strength conversation at 5:30 in the morning.

We arrived in Danang on time at 12:30. Della’s parents had arranged their travels from Siem Reap (Cambodia) so that they were also in Danang and we could continue our trip through Vietnam with them. We caught a cab to the hotel where they were waiting.

They had arranged for a private van to transport us the 30 minutes to Hoi An. They also set it up so that the driver stopped for us to sightsee at the Marble Mountains, a tourist attraction in between. We went up the most popular of the mountains, and visited a few of the Buddhist pagodas and caves found on top.

Where We Stayed

We stayed at a recently opened guesthouse called the Viet House Homestay just outside of the Old Town. The family that ran the place was very nice and made sure that we were enjoying our stay. The rooms were nice and large, and the included breakfast was cooked to order. We also enjoyed the location, as it was within walking distance of Old Town but also on a more local street with some very affordable restaurants.

What We Did

Explore Old Town – The town of Hoi An was once a major center of trade, and now definitely shows the influence of the different cultures that were the trading partners: China and Japan. There are also many French influences. It is scenic just to walk through the streets and admire the sights, but to really get a feel for the history you need to purchase a ticket to go into some of the historic structures. Each Old City ticket gives you five vouchers to visit a choice of more than 20 buildings, so we made sure to structure our visit to see the five that seemed most interesting.

Our first stop was the Handicraft Workshop, where we made sure to arrive in time to catch the first showing of the twice-daily arts performance. This was a nice overview of different Vietnamese arts, including music, dance , opera, and a special bingo game in which the winning combinations are sung out.

We also went to two assembly houses. These structures were built by groups of Chinese immigrants from the same part of the country to be used as a place to gather for social events and a place to pray to their gods. We visited two: the Assembly Halls of the Chaozhou  Chinese Congregation and the Fujian Chinese Congregation. The former was smaller, but with nice wood carvings and a party going on as were were visiting. The latter was pretty elaborate and fronted with a nice pink gate.

Hoi An also has many private residences which can be visited for one of the vouchers on the Old City ticket. We first went to a small one, the Quan Thang house. We didn’t see the fancy carvings that the guidebook promised, but we did enjoy chatting with the proprietor and having the place to ourselves. Our final stop was the Lonely Planet top choice, so we knew we wouldn’t be the only ones inside. It was quite pretty inside, and we were able to eavesdrop on a tour and get a little bit more information about what we were seeing.

It wasn’t a part of our ticket, but we definitely wanted to make sure and visit the iconic Japanese Covered Bridge, built in the 1590s to link the Japanese side of town with the Chinese.  We went on our first night, and then returned after sightseeing one afternoon to make sure we got good pictures.

Bike Ride to An Bang Beach

Our plans to do a guided bicycle tour fell through, but after consulting a map we decided we could just rent bikes and head to some of the sights ourselves. The Viet House provided two bikes for free, and then our host suggested a place across the street with cheap options to rent more.

We followed a vague plan that was a scenic route towards the beach. As we got away from the city, we saw large rice paddies and shrimp farming. Everything was an impressive shade of green. Our maps program led us down what turned out just to be a tiny path through shrimp fields, but we made it though just fine.

At An Bang Beach, we found a place that had chairs under an umbrella, called the Banyan. In hindsight, there were plenty of places down the beach that were probably cheaper, but the Banyan was a comfortable, convenient place for us to base ourselves for an afternoon of relaxation. The water wasn’t as warm as in Thailand but was still refreshing.

Day Trip to My Son – Before the Vietnamese people moved south into the area, the dominant power was the kingdom of Champa. At the site of My Son, there are the remains of a large number of temples built by the Cham people. The temples are primarily dedicated to the Hindu god Shiva, and there are many examples of linga and yoni that are shrines to him. The Cham built their temples using bricks with no mortar in between, and we found it impressive how well the structures and carvings had held up. Parts of the site, though, were seriously damaged during the war when the US bombed the area to try and destroy the Viet Cong forces using it as a headquarters. We were glad to be able to add another UNESCO World Heritage site to our list, but the heat and humidity in the jungle setting was so oppressive that they detracted from the experience a bit.

We booked a cheap tour through a travel agent we found in Hoi An. Our transport to the site was a 30 minute minivan ride, but for the way back we “splurged” and paid a little bit extra to return by boat. This was a little misleading, as we drove back about two-thirds of the way before getting on a boat for the final stretch. The boat did make an extra stop at an island that is a center of woodcarving. This would have been more impressive if we hadn’t already seen the process in every other Southeast Asian country we have visited.

Lantern Festival – On the night of every full moon (well, really the 14th day of every lunar month), the old town of Hoi An throws a Lantern Festival. The streets are lit just by lanterns (most normal lights are turned off), businesses put out shrines for their ancestors, and on a few corners there are special music and theatrical performances. The most impressive part is the launching of lit candle boats onto the river for good luck. You can actually do this every night, but on the night of the Lantern Festival it is ramped up and the river is filled with the illuminated rafts. We felt a little guilty contributing to the pollution but still decided to do it once. Honestly, we were a little underwhelmed by the festival itself. The atmosphere wasn’t that much different in the Old Town than on the other nights, and the hassle of the crowds was harder to deal with.

Where We Ate

Hoi An specializes in a few  good dishes that aren’t found anywhere else in the country, notably cau lau, a dish made with a unique type of noodles and served with roasted pork, and “white rose,” a small shrimp dumpling. We made sure to sample these at multiple restaurants in the area. Our first night in town we headed to a slightly fancy place in the Old Town that presented a more refined take on these Hoi An classics. It was a bit pricey though, so the other nights we ate at the cheap restaurants on the same street as the Viet House, including one that was strictly vegetarian so had slightly different versions of the dishes.

In Hoi An we also had our first chance to sample “fresh beer,” a classic beverage that is unique to the country. The beer is called fresh because it has just recently been brewed and is served without preservatives. It has less alcohol than normal beer and less carbonation, but is very cheap. We paid 5000 Vietnamese dong (about 25 cents) at one place, and then at the restaurants near us it was only 3000 dong (about 15 cents)!

Final Thoughts

The town of Hoi An is quite charming, with great history and beautiful architecture, and we loved the streets lit up by the colorful lanterns at night. On the other hand, it felt a bit like an amusement park version of Vietnam, with more tourists on the streets than locals and quite a few vendors wherever you turned. Our favorite day was probably when we took our bikes out to the beach and got to see more of the everyday life of people in the area.