Book of Lists

Best and Worst

[Note: Not all of the pages linked to from this page are done, but since this page has a lot of interesting stuff to read, I decided to put it up anyway.]

Best and Worst

Divided as follows...

  • Tour 1 — 05-Dec-2000 to 05-Dec-2001 (365 days)
  • Tours 2-4 — 28-Dec-2001 to 02-Oct-2006 (1685 days)
  • Tours 5+ — 23-May-2007 and beyond (2786 days)
Journey by Plane
Tour 1
Best:  Delhi, India to Athens, Greece on Emerates Airlines - upgraded to business class for free - great food and the friendliest service I've ever had. Worst:  Delhi, India to Athens, Greece on Emerates Airlines - yes, the same flight as the Best Journey, but it was the start of our Worst 72 Hours. (read story)
Tours 2-4
Best:  Dallas, Texas to Tokyo, Japan - three movies, two meals and a snack, and unlimited drinks, served up by beautiful Japanese flight attendants - all for only $33(US), plus a few thousand frequent flyer points - what more could a person want? Worst:  Kunming to Xiaguan, China - flying through the mountains of southwestern China.  On approach into Xiaguan, we encountered the worst turbulence I've ever experienced (the only time I've ever been nervous on an airplane).  And during the landing, we actually bounced and almost ran out of runway before getting the plane down and stopped.
Tours 5+
Best:  Melbourne, Australia to Hobart, Tasmania - for my second New Year in Tasmania..  Went with Pao, my (former) girlfriend from Laos (our first time to fly together).  We enjoyed sampling all the goodies at the Taste of Tasmania festival. Worst:  Bangkok, Thailand to Melbourne, Australia via Manila, Philippines - this trip took TWO DAYS!...  Starting with a late night flight to Manila, arriving early in the morning.  The next flight was at 8pm so I had all day to kill in Manila (couldn't justify getting a room just for a half-day).  Add to that the fact that I had a horrible cold complete with hacking cough, so I was quite miserable indeed.  By the time I got to the airport in Manila for my flight to Melbourne, I was not in a great mood.  After a run-in with airport security over a bottle of water I took into the "secure" area which almost got me barred from my flight (not to mention arrested), I was finally allowed to board and made it to Melbourne 9 long hours later. :(
Journey by Train
Tour 1
Best:  Butterworth, Malaysia to Bangkok, Thailand on the Oriental Express (view photos) Worst:  Guilin, China to Hanoi, Vietnam (read story)
Tours 2-4
Best:  Shanghai to Beijing, China - soft sleeper (1st class) and no one else in my compartment...
a private berth!
Worst:  Any of the five train trips on the Most Difficult Day. (read story)
Tours 5+
Best:
1st:  Eskisehir to Selcuk, Turkey - This was an overnight train, but not with proper bunk beds, only reclining seats.  Sounds like the "worst" instead of the "best", eh?  But there was a Turkish family occupying the eight or nine seats across the isle from me.  They were very friendly and shared their snacks with me.  The youngest member of the family was a cute girl of about nine who took a shine to me.  No one in the family spoke much English, but fortunately there was a young guy sitting behind me who did, so he acted as interpreter for the duration of the trip.
2nd:  TranzAlpine - Greymouth to Christchurch, New Zealand - Beautiful scenery along the route through the mountains of northern central New Zealand - with a little excitement thrown in by a stop to watch firefighters battle a forest fire. (view photos) (view photos) (view photos) (view photos)
Worst:
1st:  Qingdao to Shanghai, China - I usually try to get a bottom bunk when I travel by train, but on this occasion, only the top bunk was available.  Ok, no problem (I think)...  But when I boarded, I found that the bunks on this particular train were three-high - and mine was on the very top.  When I finally was able to climb up into my bed (no easy feat for someone of my size), I discovered there wasn't enough headroom for me to sit upright and work on my laptop as I usually do on long train trips, so all I could do was lie in my bed and read... for 19 long hours!
2nd:  Bangkok to Chiang Mai, Thailand - Already tired from a 12-hour overnight train from Vientiane, Laos to Bangkok (which was late and would have made me miss my connection to Chiang Mai if not for some helpful Thai passengers who figured out which station I should get off before the final stop in order to catch the northbound Chiang Mai train), the normally 12-hour trip to Chiang Mai was made even longer due to a large tree that had fallen across the tracks. (view photos) (view photos)
Journey by Bus
Tour 1
Best:  Tripoli to Olympia, Greece - through lush, green mountains of the central part of the Peloponnese peninsula.  Most of the trip was around the rim of a long valley.  We passed through Lagadia, the cutest Greek village of any we visited, and wanted to stop but we were booked on a ferry departing that evening. Worst:  Iraklio to Rethymno, Crete - the ticket agent on the bus was quite possibly the smelliest human being on the planet (and one of the largest).  And for most of the trip, he stood next to me, leaning against my seat with his arm resting on the back of the seat in front of me, in order to radiate the maximum amount of underarm odor possible.
Tours 2-4
Best:
Mountains:  Sapporo to Furano, Japan
Coast:  Great Ocean Road, Australia
Tour:  Southwest Australia
(read story)
Worst:
Intercity:  Guilin to Yangshuo, China
Day-Trip:  Yangshuo to Xingping, China
Sleeper:  Guilin to Guangzhou, China
(read story)
Tours 5+
Best:  Buson to Kyoung Ju, South Korea
(read story)
Worst:  Kunming, China to Luang Prabang, Laos (read story)
Journey by Boat
Tour 1
Best:  Pozzallo, Sicily to Valletta, Malta - high-speed catamaran ferry (nicer than most airplanes I've been on). (view photos) (view photos) Worst:  Santorini to Crete, Greece - our departure was delayed 30 hours due to high winds.  When we finally did depart at 6:30pm, we only went as far as the leeward side of the island to hover until the weather improved.  Finally arrived Iraklio, Crete at 5:40am. (view photo)
Tours 2-4
Best:  Hobart, Tasmania to Melbourne, Australia aboard Yoko - a 17 meter (52 ft.) sloop built and skippered by Robin Hewitt. (read story) Worst:  Railey Beach to Phi Phi Island, Thailand - very windy, very rough seas.  At times it seemed as if the boat was going to break up as it would crest one wave and crash hard into the next.  Many people on board were seasick and the stench of their vomit in the main cabin was overwhelming.
Tours 5+
Best:  Fukuoka,Japan to Qingdao, China - a huge ship with, get this... only four passengers.  I didn't just get a berth to myself, I had an entire section of the ship to myself. Worst:  Down the Nile by felucca (read story)
Lodging
Tour 1
Best Hotel:  Royal Palace Hotel - Pushkar, India - our driver helped us get it for one-fifth the going rate.  It had a good-sized room, nice garden, large pool (a blessing in 40+ (104F) degree weather), and we got to meet the Maharaja (who was also the owner). (view photos) (view photos) (view photos) (view photos) Worst Hotel:  Plakias, Crete - can't recall the name, but it was a small place above an equally small store (both run by the same couple).  We had a small room with the tiniest shower I've ever seen ("small" is the operative word here!).  We had to stay in the room all evening because of a violent storm.  The lights kept dimming due to a brown-out (which was a regular occurrence and not a result of the storm).  The owners let us leave some breakfast items (juice and stuff) in the cooler in their store and told us they would open at 9:00a.  The next morning we waited until after 9:00a to depart but they didn't open on time, so we had to buy breakfast again.
Best Hostel:  Chalet Martin - Gryon, Switzerland - with a wonderfully cozy atmosphere (you take off your shoes as you enter and run around in your socks), co-ed dorms, movie and reading rooms, puzzles, and, of course, breathtaking views.  We nicknamed it "Hotel California" because people check-in, but they never leave, or at least wish they didn't have to. ;-) (read story) Worst Hostel:  Youth Hostel - Iraklio, Greece - the smallest room, with the most uncomfortable beds of any hostel I've encountered, no sheets or towels (not uncommon for hostels), no hot water, no toilet seats, no outside food or cooking allowed, a rather unfriendly staff, and, worst of all... not all that much cheaper than a hotel. :( (view photo)
Best Apartment:  St. George's Court - Marsalforn, Gozo, Malta - a 2 bedroom apartment with a full kitchen and great view, for only $30(US) per night. (view photos) Worst Apartment:  None - the only other apartment we stayed in was in Cala Gonone, Sardenia, and it was quite nice as well, owned by the sweetest elderly lady you'd ever want to meet.  She didn't speak English at all, but we got along just fine with only gestures and smiles.
Best Camping:  Bern, Switzerland - beautiful green lawns, lots of shade trees, a good restaurant, located on the banks of the river with very cold water that was such an amazing aqua color.  I didn't get a photo of the campsite, but here's a (view video) of some locals jumping from a pedestrian bridge into the river.  [Notice how fast the river is flowing.]  We didn't jump off the bridge, but did brave the cold water long enough to float downstream to a nearby park, ready to walk back and do it all over again. Worst Camping:  Near Northampton, England - I can't recall the name, but it was a huge place, which means it was a long walk to go anywhere (toilets, showers, store, etc.).  They closed the showers at 5:00p, which meant that for late arrivers like ourselves, a shower before bed was out of the question.  Worst of all, the place was downwind from a sewage-treatment plant, so we got to sleep (and eat!) to the pungent odor of raw sewage.  Yuck! (view photos)
Tours 2-4
Best Hotel:  Central Hotel - Shanghai, China - the photos speak for themselves... (read story) Worst Hotel:  Red House Hotel - Beijing, China (read story)
Best Hostel:  Underground Backpackers - Perth, Australia - large and clean, with lots of amenities, including a swimming pool and the best TV room I've seen in any hostel. Worst Hostel:  Aberdeen Lodge - Perth Australia - small and dingy, with ants and roaches running rampant.
Best Guesthouse:  Home of Merla Grabner - Alona Beach, Philippines - a large, well-kept room with lots of windows, nice porch (with outdoor kitchen), and a swimming pool five steps from the front door - all for a very reasonable price. (read story) Worst Guesthouse:  Budyong Beach Resort - Bantayan Island, Philippines - I really had to think to come up with a "worst" guesthouse, and even this one wasn't really all that bad; there just wasn't anything all that special about it (especially considering how expensive it was).
Tours 5+
Best Hotel:  Airline Hotel - Shenzhen, China - nice and clean, with a good location near the places I want to be.  The only downside... a bit high-priced for my budget. Worst Hotel:  Qingdao, China - can't recall the name, but it had matchbook-sized rooms that were desparately in need of refirbishing.
Best Hostel:  Hokitika, New Zealand - I can't recall the name of this one either but it was, without a doubt, the cleanest hostel I've ever stayed in.  And the best part was: Pao and I got an upgraded room (bigger, more secluded, with private bath) at no extra charge. Worst Hostel:  Taipei, Taiwan - a small, dingy room with one tiny bed, a microscopic-sized night-stand, and no windows.
Best Guesthouse:  Sunshine Pensionne - Panagsama Beach, Philippines - the rooms are fairly basic, and there's no hot water in the showers, but the pool more than makes up for the deficiencies of the room. (view photos) (view photos) Worst Guesthouse:  Hong Kong, China - an ultra-tiny room (hardly enough space for my backback on the floor), and the tiniest bathroom I've ever seen (smaller than what they put in camper trailers in the U.S.).
Best Apartment:  Foreign Residence Dorm - Pukyong University - Busan, South Korea - small, but tidy, with 24/7 Internet access.  And the best part was the price... it was FREE! Worst Apartment:  Glenferrie Road - Melbourne, Australia - this was an old place that had mostly been turned over to student housing.  As such, in the unit I stayed in with Pao, the living room had been converted into a third "bedroom".  And, as you would expect from a place that sees students come and go every few months, everything was covered with a permanent layer of filth.  There was no heating or aircon, only two of the burners on the stove worked, and the faucets dripped constantly.  The only thing in the plus column was the ultra-hot water.
Best Chalet:  La Cave - Laudinie, France - the home of my good friends, Andy and Sue, who are actually British, but have been living in south-central France for longer than they care to admit.  Their humble home is (er, was) a 12th century villa affectionately known as "La Cave".  I stayed with them there for two months during the summer of 2007 and helped them move to temporary quarters (for the next two years) while thier new custom-designed house was being built. Worst Chalet:  None - La Cave is the only chalet I've stayed in so far since leaving Korea.
Meals
Tour 1
Best:  All meals on the Oriental Express. (view photos) Worst:  Taverna Poseidon (aka: Taverna Poison) - Nafplio, Greece - I got three grilled shrimp on a small plastic plate (no side dish, not even garnish), but they were so bad I could only eat two of them.  Kumiko had really bad calamari (again, nothing else with it).  We split a mediocre Greek salad (I didn't think they could screw that up, but they did).  Even the bread was bad (which they brought out as if it was complimentary and tried to charge us for - even though we didn't order it).  Only the beer was good.  [I was in such a hurry to get away from this place, I didn't even take a photo of it.]
Tours 2-4
Best:
1st:  Beijing Duck Restaurant - Beijing, China
2nd:  Barbie on Coogee Beach - Sydney, Australia
(read story)
Worst:
1st:  First Kitchen - Tokyo, Japan
2nd:  A&W Root Beer - Bangkok, Thailand
[If it weren't for the truly awful meal Kumiko and I had at the restaurant in Greece in 2001 (described above), I might nominate either of these two meals as the worst I've ever had.]
Tours 5+
Best:
1st:  Pukyong Winter Overnight Camp -
Kyoung Ju, South Korea (read story)
2nd:  Most of the meals at Tony Roma's in Bangkok, Thailand
Worst:
1st:  Jollybee - Cebu City, Philippines - locals just love eating at this popular fast food chain, though I don't know why; I had a burger that was so bad it was all I could do to force it down.  Let me just say that the quality of the meat they use is somewhat less than the standards to which I am accustomed.  Perhaps that's why I see the locals eating only chicken and rice.
2nd:  Kop Kap - Vientiane, Laos - after a thirty-minute wait, our food came with additional (unwanted) ingredients in the form of a rubber band in mine and a fly in Pao's.  Yuck!
Places
Tour 1
Most Amazing Sight:  Taj Mahal - Agra, India - 20,000 people worked day and night for 22 years; all for one dead body.  And it's just as amazing up close (to see the detailed work). (view photos) (view photos) Most Disappointing Sight:  Tiscali, Sardenia (read story)
Most Interesting Sight:  Angkor - Siem Reap, Cambodia (read story) Least Interesting Sight:  Five Fairies Temple - Guangzhou, China (view photo)
Most Interesting City:  Prague, Czech Republic - incredible architecture!  After doing only two and a half days of the six full-day walking tours outlined in the guidebook, we were overwhelmed. (view photos) (view photos) (view photos) (view photos) Least Interesting City:  Butterworth, Malaysia - a truly ugly city.  And the only place so far where we really felt unsafe walking at night.  It seems that the only reason it exists at all is so trains and buses will have a place to stop for people going to and from Penang.
[Not worth the effort to photograph.]
Cleanest City:  Singapore (view photo) Dirtiest City:  Jaisalmer, India (view photo)
Most Colorful:  Cala Gonone, Sardenia - Maybe it was simply that the timing of our visit was perfect, but at every turn in this quaint little seaside village, houses were bursting with color. (view photos) (view photos) (view photos) (view photos) Least Colorful:  Guilin, China (view photo)
Best Country for Pedestrians:  Norway (followed closely by Sweden) - in both of these countries, if you are within 10 meters of a crosswalk, cars will stop just on the off-chance that you might want to cross the road. Worst Country for Pedestrians:  India (followed closely by Vietnam) - India has about 70,000 pedestrian fatalities each year.  The Lonely Planet guidebook for Vietnam actually has a section describing how to cross the streets.
Tours 2-4
Most Amazing Sight:  Terracotta Warriors - Xi'an, China (read story) Most Disappointing Sight:  Kegon Falls - Nikko, Japan (view photo)
Most Interesting City:  Hobart, Tasmania - I've been twice... both times during the Taste of Tasmania festival that coincides with the Sydney-to-Horbart and Melbourne-to-Hobart sailing races. (view photos) (view photos) (view photos) (view photos) (view photos) (view photos) (view photos) (view photos) Least Interesting City:  Zhuhai, China - with dirty, brown water in the bay that matched the dirty, brown buildings and sidewalks (with gaping holes big enough to lose a leg in), it's just not a place I'd ever want to visit again.
Cleanest City:  Perth, Australia Dirtiest City:  Cebu City, Philippines
Tours 5+
Most Amazing Sight:  Abu Simbel, Egypt (read story) Most Disappointing Sight:  High Dam, Egypt - I can describe this place in one word:  Boring! (view photo)
Most Interesting Sight:  Pamukkale, Turkey (read story) Least Interesting Sight:  Sculpture Park - Nong Khai, Thailand (read story)
Most Interesting City:  Dahab, Egypt - A great place to hang out, relax, and do nothing all day.  In contrast to Sharm el Sheikh, which is crowded and touristy (not to mention expensive!), this place is still fairly small and not too over-developed... yet!  But the secret is getting out, and it is growing quickly. (view photos) (view photos) (view photos) (view photos) (view photos) (view photos) (view photos) (view photos) (view photos) Least Interesting City:  Pireas, Greece - let's face it... it's just a port city - utilitarian, ugly, boring!
Cleanest City:  Kunming, China (view photos) (view photos) (view photos) (view photos) (view photos) Dirtiest City:  Cairo, Egypt (view photos)
Most Colorful:  Kunming, China (view photos) (view photos) (view photos) (view photos) (view photos) Least Colorful:  Cairo, Egypt (view photos)
Best Country for Pedestrians:  Australia or New Zealand Worst Country for Pedestrians:  Egypt - on one occasion, I actually had to run/jump out of the way of an oncoming car to keep from getting hit; not an easy task while carrying full packs.
Activities
Tour 1
Most Exciting:  Paragliding - Chamonix, France (view photos) Least Exciting:  Elephant ride to the Amber Palace - Jaipur, India (view photo)
Most Enjoyable:  Hill Tribe Tour - Chaing Mai, Thailand - rode an elephant and bamboo raft (though not at the same time). (read story) Least Enjoyable:  Perfume Pagoda Tour - Vietnam (read story)
Best Treks:
Gorge:  Samaria Gorge, Crete - the longest in Europe (read story)
Mountain:  Mont Blanc, Chamonix, France (view photos) (view photos) (view photos)
Worst Treks:
Most Difficult:  Tiscali, Sardenia (read story)
Worst Weather:  Volcano Island - Santorini, Greece.  35-40 knot winds, no vegetation to keep dust from blowing, and a long hike uphill to see a tiny bit of steam seeping out of the rocks. (read story)
Tours 2-4
Most Exciting:  Bungee Jumping - Shanghai, China (read story) Least Exciting:  Amusement park - Shanghai, China - I think I've been spoiled by all the amusement parks I've been to in the U.S., with state-of-the-art roller-coasters guaranteed to provide a good adrenalin rush.  The one in Shanghai was somewhat more sedate, with the most enjoyable activity being the laser target shooting game.  But even that was a bit too easy - I got twenty-three hits out of twenty-five shots.
Most Enjoyable:
1st:  Shhhh! (It's a secret)
2nd:  Snow skiing - Furano, Japan (read story)
3rd:  Diving with sharks - Malapascua Island, Philippines. [Sorry, I did't have an underwater camera, so no photos.]
Least Enjoyable:  Boat excursion on Ear-shaped Lake - Dali, China - went to an island in the middle of the lake, didn't want to pay to see the temple.  Went to another island, had to run the gauntlet of souvenir shops to go see another temple, still didn't want to pay to see it.  The only thing that made the trip bearable was meeting and chatting with Julia, another tourist from Germany.
Tours 5+
Most Exciting:  KyoungJu World - KyoungJu, South Korea (read story) Least Exciting:  Helping Andy and Sue move (read story)
Most Enjoyable:
1st:  Shhhh! (It's still a secret)
2nd:  Pi Mai Lao - Luang Prabang, Laos (read story)
3rd:  Swimming with "the girls" - Cebu City, Philippines (read story)
Least Enjoyable:  Night out with what's-his-name - Goreme, Turkey (read story)
Best Trek:  Hobart, Tasmania (view photos) (view photos) Worst Trek:  Abel Tasman NP, New Zealand - this wasn't really a bad trek; it was just longer than we had expected, with more hills.  And it was quite hot and humid that day.  That said, though, we were treated to nice views of sand and sea along the way. (view photos) (view photos) (view photos)
Miscellaneous
Tour 1
Best 30 Hours:  March 8-9 - Oriental Express (view photos) Worst 72 Hours:  April 24-27 - Delhi, India to Athens, Greece (read story)
Tours 2-4
Easiest Day:  February 6, 2002 - Kobe, Japan to Shanghai, China by ship (read story) Most Difficult Day:  February 4, 2002 - Five Hard Rock Cafes in one day (read story)
Tours 5+
Easiest Day:  The train trip from Qingdao to Shanghai, China (see "Worst Journey by Train" above).  The sleeper berth was so cramped, I didn't even have enough room to sit up on my bunk and work on my laptop.  All I could do was lay down and read (or sleep) for 19 hours!  Not the most enjoyable trip, but definitely the easiest day. ;-) Most Difficult Day:  Two days, actually - the trip from Bangkok, Thailand to Melbourne, Australia (by way of Manila, Philippines).  My flight to Manila was in the wee hours of the morning, so no sleep that night.  I arrived in Manila just after dawn, hung out at Starbucks all day, and caught another late-night flight to Melbourne, arriving just after dawn the next day, after 40 hours of NO sleep.