It was the best of times, it was the BLURST OF TIMES?!!
One of the questions I get asked a lot is “what is the best/worst place you have been to on this trip?”. Answering that question is a bit impossible. Comparing countries is usually an apples to oranges comparison. How do you compare a place that is big on history, like India, to a place that is big on nature, like New Zealand? You can’t. However, I’m a quantitative person. I still like to rank things. So here is a set of more fine-grained comparisons, best-ofs, and worst-ofs of the trip. Keep in mind these comparisons only involve the ten countries I have visited on this trip: America, Australia, New Zealand, Indonesia (Bali, primarily), Vietnam, Laos, Thailand, Nepal, India, and Sri Lanka.
The Best – America
Many people, particularly Europeans, will laugh at the idea that America is the best country for beer. Those people usually make this judgement based on the quality of American beers that are exported. When you consider the huge number of micro breweries in America, it’s not even close. America has the biggest diversity of quality beers of anywhere in the world. Every region of the country has a whole new world of local brews that you can always try. Every beer style, color, taste, strength, and price is covered. It’s a beer lover’s paradise.
The Worst – Any Southeast Asian Country Except Laos
All the beer in Southeast Asia is pretty much the same. Every country has its own national beer that is light yellow, tasteless, and pretty terrible. In the end, I judged them by their only difference – the price per alcohol ratio. Laos is the one exception. They have a Laos Dark beer that is the only dark beer we found since leaving Australia. It’s not terribly good, but at least it’s not the same as every other beer in SE Asia.
The Best – Vietnam
No other country even comes close to the quality and price of Vietnamese food. This is the easiest ranking in this whole post. Vietnamese food incorporates the fine flavors of french cooking, the soy/salty/spice combination of Asian food, and the price of Indian food. And unlike Indian food, it’s a whole lot less likely to give you a tapeworm. Banh Mi! Pho! Shrimp spring rolls! Cau Lau! Just writing this makes me miss the place.
The Worst – Australia
Take the British pallate, mix it with a wannabe American menu, and remove bacon, and you have the Australian food scene. That’s right. There is no bacon in Australia. They have something they call “bacon”, but it’s realy just a strip of ham. The day they get real “streaky” bacon, as they call it in New Zealand, it’s going to blow their minds. Until then, they will just be stuck eating the only native Australian foods they have – Vegemite and meat pies. Fail.
Not Real Bacon
Best Single Meal of the Trip
Eating lunch in the chili pepper fields of India. Spontaneous, spicy, unexpected, and awesome.
Worst Single Meal of the Trip
“Pizza” in Periche on the Everest Trek. It was made by a teenage girl that was scooping up yak poo earlier. It included cabbage and ketchup and no cheese. I’m pretty sure she had never seen an actual pizza in her entire life.
The Best – America
I swear, I’m not going to rank American number 1 in everything. But for coffee, it deserves its number 1 ranking. There are coffee shops everywhere, and they make everything from espresso, to flavored coffee, to drip coffee, usually with free wifi included. Other countries, such as Australia, come close, but drip coffee only seems to exist in America, so the selection is not quite as good.
The Worst – India
India is a tea country. Most coffee is weak instant coffee. It’s tough to find a “real” coffee. I just switched to Chai tea while in India, for the most part.
Honorable Mention – Vietnam
Vietnam has coffee that is unlike coffee anywhere else. It’s a completely different drink and it’s delicious when done right. You must drink it iced, with condensed milk that makes it very sweet. I tried drinking it hot and black, and it’s undrinkable. But when done the Vietnamese way, it brings it!
The Best – Vietnam
Cell phone service quality is almost entirely dictated by population density. When there are thousands of people everywhere, it justifies building cell towers everywhere. And if there is one thing Vietnam has in spades, it’s people living everywhere. You may look at a hill and see nobody, but in reality there are 500 people living up there. This is how they win wars. Unlike other countries, there was no paperwork to fill out to get a SIM card. We spent $10 bucks on a SIM card, and it never stopped working for the 2 months we spent there. And this included 3G data too! Nerd heaven!
The Worst – America
You’re telling me I have to sign up for a 2 year contract and pay $100 or more a month?!! And even if I do that, my “unlimited” data is limited, and I won’t get service on major highways that stretch across the middle of the country? Fail fail fail.
Hotness of Girls
The Best – Australia
Go to Bondi Beach. Australia wins.
The Worst – New Zealand
I’m pretty sure all the cute girls in New Zealand moved to Australia.
Worst Person We Met on this Trip
Her name is Natalie and she lives in Sydney. She rented us a room in her place for a week. The room was not as advertised, and she was strange about everything. After we moved in, she kept advertising the rental online, and when she found somebody to take our room for a higher price, she left us a note saying that we had to move out, as if we had an understanding we were renting for 3 days instead of 7. Then she tried to charge us for 4 days. She was a liar.
We got the last laugh however. The night before we were kicked out, I downloaded about 5 gigs of data on her internet connection, which caused it to shut down for the rest of the month. Nerd justice!
The Best Person We Met on this Trip
Ian!! Ian in Maui put us up for more than two weeks, when we would otherwise have been camping. He gave Geraldine a safe place to stay while I returned home for my Grandpa’s funeral. He gave me a welcoming place to get my head straight after the funeral. And he did it all simply because Geraldine had been a coworker of his childhood friend. He also predicted the NY Giants would win the Super Bowl in October, which is a pretty incredible feat, in hindsight. It was at Ian’s house where the whole 2pm Experiment idea was hatched.
His roomates were great and took us surfing and provided boards. I ended up taking them flying along the Molokai cliffs. It was the least I could do.
I hate this superlative because it implies other people weren’t great as well. That’s not the case. But Ian is somebody I would hang out with anytime, anyplace. I can’t wait to see you again, buddy. And next time, I’m taking you down at Monopoly.
Big Runner Up to: Kim, Brad and Kirsen, Rhea, Elise and Lloyd, Morris, Shay and Dan, Eva and Bruno, Tariq and Marantha, Ben, Lee, and Dan, Rawia and Matthew. Let’s do it again soon!
Biggest Disappointment of the Trip
We never created a location independent business that could forever fund our travels, even if we chose to stop traveling. We tried with GigaBadger, but the adoption is just not there. It will be a great code sample for future job interviews, but it will probably never be a moneymaker. So it’s back to the corporate grind when I return home.
Biggest Good Thing to Come of the Trip
My relationship with Geraldine. We have spent nearly every hour of every day for 15 months side by side. That can make or break a relationship, even a marriage. But now we face an enviable problem. We must remember how to coexist when we are both running around doing our own separate things when we get home. It’s an amazing problem to have. If it weren’t for Geraldine, this trip never would have lasted this long. Solo travel can be tough, and having another partner in crime makes everything flow easier when you figure out how to divide the work and fun without driving each other insane. I love you Geraldine!
Worst Place We Visited
Varanasi, India. This is not a tough decision.
Place I Most Want to Go Back To
Lombok, Indonesia. After spending so much time in Bali, we didn’t have enough time to really explore the place. I can’t wait to go back and see more of it.
Best Overall Country
OK, I said I couldn’t compare countries because it’s an apples to oranges thing. But screw it. Let me at least try. I think I can break this down into an A, B, and C list. So here goes.
A List – Sri Lanka, Indonesia, Thailand
I’m a sucker for beaches. So it’s no surprise that the A List is full of countries that have excellent beaches. Sri Lanka and Indonesia actually feel quite similar. They are cheap, but not dirt cheap. The beaches are great for surfing. The food is spicy and delicious. And the people are beyond nice.
Thailand doesn’t have surfing, but it has amazing diving and exceedingly idealic, crystal clear water. It also has Bangkok, which is the one Asian city I could live full-time in. Bangkok has the best of the east and west, a thumping nightlife, amazing shopping and food, and endless stuff to do all in one place. It’s by far my favorite city we visited on this trip.
B List – Australia, New Zealand, Nepal, Vietnam
Australia should be on the A list, but the Aussie dollar is doing too well. This makes it a very expensive place, which, like it or not, affects how much I could enjoy it. Otherwise, Sydney is one city I would love to live in one day. Along with Bangkok, Sydney is the only other place we visited on this trip that I could see myself living permanently.
New Zealand was cool and has some of the best natural sites you will find in the world. But it just felt a bit behind the times for a western country.
Nepal was also amazing. It’s one of my favorite countries on this trip. However, it shrinks itself down to 2 cities, Kathmandu and Pokhara, and a ton of hiking treks. We did two big treks, and that satisfied my curiosity of what Nepal has to offer. If I were to go back, it would be more of the same, which is why it ranks in the middle of the pack.
Vietnam started off rough, but improved over time. The locals are nice, but you have to stand your ground on negotiations. I would love to go back to ride more motorcycles. But the natural beauty doesn’t compare to the A list countries.
C List – India, Laos
The C List is nothing to be ashamed of. C is a passing grade, and even C students can become President (see: George W. Bush). OK, forget that last sentence. George Bush gets a failing grade, while these countries certainly don’t. What I mean to say is that I do not dislike these countries. They just ended up not being amazing for different reasons.
India could be great, but it’s not, and it didn’t grab me.
My feelings on Laos are greatly affected by our misadventure there. By the way, Vang Vieng was shut down a few weeks after we visited and the bars on the river were recently bulldozed. It’s funny to think of how different this trip would have been had we visited a few weeks later. But such is life.
But What About America?
Well, I can’t wait to get home. I never seriously considered setting up shop outside the States. Because despite its flaws, the US offers the most economic opportunity of any country in the world. If there is one thing that I have learned on this trip, it’s that all freedom is economic. As my Grandpa used to say, “no money, no funny.” So it’s time to return home and try to take over the world from within the US borders.
So I guess that puts it at the top of the list, even though the cell phone situation sucks! USA! USA!