Travel tops

An overview of my favorite things from each country we’ve been to for anyone who might want some ideas for places to go, things to do, hotels to stay at or delicious food to eat. 🙂

(Please note: This page will grow as we continue to travel / I continue to catch up with where we’ve been.)


(notes from September – December 2010)

Top destinations/sights
Amritsar: The Golden Temple, heart of the Sikh faith, and Flag Down Ceremony at the Pakistan border
Varanasi: Chaos and celebration, life and death in the winding alley ways
Hampi: Surreal, ancient landscapes and ruins mesmerize
Jodhpur: Dazzling blue and amazing history, at Mehrangarh it’s totally worth getting the headphones
Jaisalmer: Stepping back in time at the Golden City
Mcleod Ganj: home to the Dalai Lama in the wonderful nature of the foothills of the Himalayas
Agra: The Taj Mahal. Cliche, yes, but for a reason – it’s a must see
Kumarakom: Overnight on a houseboat in the Kerala backwaters. Pricey but the food, scenery and experience are worth it if you can spring for it.

Top hotels
Amritsar: Indus. Amazing views of the Golden Temple from the simple but lovely rooftop restaurant
Mumbai: Chateau Windsor Hotel. Get the quirky room on the roof for your own private rooftop terrace
Palolem (Goa): Ciaran’s. Beach hut chic
Jaisalmer: Shahi Palace Hotel. Great fort views and a super soundtrack make up for the mediocre food at the rooftop restaurant. Rooms have a nice desert vibe.
Ramnagar: Motel Corbett. We stayed in a tent but it was possibly the cleanest bed we had in India! Awesome food served under the lovely mango trees.
Jaipur: Karni Niwas Guest House. Breakfast delivered to our own private terrace was a nice perk. 🙂

Top eats
Delhi: My friend Ritu’s house. If you can get a home cooked meal in India, go for it!! Bengali Sweets for amazing Indian desserts – there is nothing I tried from that shop that wasn’t dangerously delicious.
Mcleod Ganj: Tennor Restaurant. Best. Garlic nan. Ever. Green Hotel cafe. Super cake, comfy vibe and a library of books to borrow. What more could you want?
Jodhpur: Cafe Sheesh Mahal. A slice of the west in Jodhpur, rockin’ coffee.
Jaipur: Natraj Restaurant. Super veg thalis!
Mumbai: Trishna – LP recommends the king crab with butter & garlic sauce with good reason! Basilico – pretend you’re at a Manhattan bistro!

(notes from February 2011)

Top destinations/sights/
IWT Ferry:
Travel by freight boat up the Irrawaddy River – an unforgettable experience and some great Burmese food on board!
Bhamo: Enchanting northern town with stunning scenery
Bagan: Ancient pagodas as far as the eye can see!
Yangon: Spend time soaking in the atmosphere at impressive Shwedagon Pagoda
Overnight train from Myitkyina to Mandaly: A ride like no other! I’d never do it again, but I’m so glad I did it once!!
Markets: Where ever you are in Myanmar, check out the fascinating local markets!

Top hotels
Yangon: The Classique Inn remains one of the most lovely hotels we’ve stayed at during our entire trip. Lovely building, rooms, ambiance, food and hospitality!
Bhamo: Friendship Hotel. Cozy and clean with great service.
Inle lake: May Guest House: Simple rooms with very friendly service and a lovely garden for breakfast outdoors.

Top eats
IWT Ferry: The cook on the ship was an awesome guy and his food was probably the best we had in all Mynamar
Mandalay: Nepali food – sweet wait staff (the owner’s teenage kids), yummy flavors of India
Yangon: Classique Inn – simple but delicious, high quality meals served in a beautiful setting
Inle Lake: Smiling Moon: A family run place with good food and cute kids running around

(notes from May/June 2011)

Important caveat – I only spent time in central and southern Laos. There’s plenty to see and experience in the North; I was just back in the States getting to know my nephew while Roman explored this part of the country. If you need recommendations for the North, you’ll have to talk to Roman. 🙂

Top destinations/sights/
Vientiane: Wat Si Saket, a peaceful spot filled with hundreds of contemplative buddhas. Buddha Park – so surreal you have to see it to believe it. Plus Vientiane itself: country’s sleepy capital has all the charm of an overgrown village, which is exactly what it feels like.
Ban Phon Sim: Sweet village outside the Dong Natad National Protected Area. We had a magical home stay experience there.
Champasak: Wat Phu. Incredibly atmospheric Khmer temple ruins.
Southern Laos: The southern swing bike trip. Awesome adventure on two wheels!
Don Khong: Biking around and through the beautiful scenery on the island to the chorus of dozens of children’s “Sabaidees”.

Top hotels
Vayakorn Inn. Upscale midrange – very classy, comfortable, lovely!
Pakse: Sang Aroun Hotel. Simple but clean and comfortable, and right across the road from Bolaven Café!
Don Khong: The hotel formerly known as Phoukhong Guesthouse. Wonderfully massive windows and a balcony facing the river.

Top eats
Noy’s Fruit Heaven, delicious shakes and great, fresh eats. Le Banneton for real-deal pastries.
Savannakhet: River-side “Laos fondue”, Bounnam Natalie for simple food with a real family-style welcome.
Pakse: Bolaven Café – Caffeine, comfort and free samples courtesy of Mama Tan!
Attapeu: Johnny’s Restaurant. No menu, just “fish” and boy is it delicious!

(notes from June/July 2011)

I mentioned that we chose to only visit 5 places in Cambodia – the whole beach scene in the South is an unknown to me and there are probably many other locations worth exploring. Here are my picks from the places we did go.

Top destinations/sights/
 Walking the road from Kratie to or towards Kampi, taking in farmlands, village life and endless smiles. Peaceful Phnom Sombok Wat, also between Kratie and Kampi, is definitely worth a visit!
Phnom Penh: Tuol Sleng. Not easy but important. The National Museum is beautiful and a great place to spend a couple of hours soaking in Khmer history and culture.
Kampong Chhnang: The floating villages are unbelievably cool – just make sure to cover up and bring water against the sun! The farmlands around the area were picture perfect and the views from the top of the hill at Wat Santuk were great. Driver Channy can show you everything: 077357361.
Battambang: Phnom Banan and Wat Ek Phnom are great preludes to Angkor. Plenty of other amazing sites around Battambang too!
Siem Reap: Beatocello concert/presentation. Cambodia Landmine Museum and the Angkor Butterfly Centre are right down the street from one another and worth visiting.
Angkor: If you’re going to Siem Reap, you’ll be seeing Angkor Wat, Bayon and Ta Prohm anyway, so here’s where else to visit: Preah Khan, the wooded path between Baphoun and the Terrace of Elephants, Kbal Spean, Banteay Srei, Beng Mealea

Top hotels
Phnom Penh:
 Golden Gate Hotel. Friendly service, clean and comfortable room and a great location with tons of good restaurants nearby.
Kampong Chhnang: Sovannphum Hotel. Simple but clean and excellent value for what you pay!
Siem Reap: Angkor Pearl Hotel. New so it’s in great shape, super comfortable and clean, excellent value for money!

Top eats
 Balcony Guesthouse has some of the best food I’ve had in all of southeast Asia! The krolan in Kratie is also delish!
Phnom Penh: Anise for a lovely outdoor place to hang out. Their brownie is the bomb! Saffron for upscale and totally delicious Middle Eastern food. Mount Everest for REAL Indian!!
Battambang: Gecko Café – good espresso, nice place to relax above the streets and they do a really decent job with their very broad menu.
Siem Reap: Curry Walla for Indian – not quite as amazing as Everest in Phnom Penh but we were happy! 🙂 Café de la Paix for expensive but excellent espresso and custom made sandwiches and salads.

(notes from July/August 2011)

Top destinations/sights
Saigon: There’s plenty to see in Saigon but my favorites were the Reunification Palace for its fantastic design, the post office for it’s colonial glamor, the People’s Committee Building all lit up at night and Cholon, the city’s China town.
Hoi An: A Disney-esque take on old Vietnam, but what a beautiful illusion it is.
Hue: The Citadel at Hue is worth a visit. Make sure to be there towards the end of the afternoon to catch all the kite flying action! Take the time to walk around the lovely residential area behind and around the Citadel too for something other than the tourist strip.
Cu Nam: Gorgeous farmlands and the awesome Phong Nha cave were a welcome and wonderful change from spending time mostly in cities!
Hanoi: The old quarter is endlessly active and interesting. The Lonely Planet suggested walk will give you a good overview of the area. The Temple of Literature is also worth a visit.

Top hotels
Lac Vien Hotel. Very decent room with a great central location and breakfast.
Hoi An: Hai Au Hotel. A short walk from the center of the action, the staff here is friendly and the breakfast selection was good.
Hue: Hue Holiday Hotel: My favorite hotel of all the places we stayed in Vietnam. Spotlessly clean, super friendly staff, decent price.

Top eats
Fanny’s – ice cream paradise on Earth. Huong Lai was also quite nice, especially as proceeds go towards a good cause.
Hoi An: Miss Ly Cafeteria 22: Best food we had in all of Vietnam. Everything we ate was great but the local specialties really stood out. Casa Verde is the place for your espresso fix!
Hue: Vegetarian Restaurant Bo De: Huge menu with plenty of familiar, well made favorites plus many things I’d never heard of before. We ordered some of both and everything was tasty.
Hanoi: There’s a Fanny’s in Hanoi too!


(notes from September – November 2011)

Top destinations/sights
Kashgar: The weekly livestock market is a must see! Also Kashgar’s quickly disappearing old town. Both are like stepping into a portal to another world, another time.
Karakorum highway: Get on that road. See as much as you can. Stay in a yurt. Eat yak cheese. It’s not the most cushy travel but it’s worth it. Trust me. We did so with Abdul Wahab Tours and were happy with them. However you do it, just do it! 😉
Yangshuo: A great place to learn Chinese and some amazing landscapes. Rent a bike, go for a ramble among the beautiful farmlands and between the surreally beautiful karst hills.
Dazhai: Dragon’s Backbone Rice terraces – one of the loveliest farming landscapes I’ve ever seen.
Tiger Leaping Gorge: certainly a good work out but not as daunting as some make it out to be, this trek is well worth it!
Zhongdian: Get a little taste of Tibet in this city not far from the border! An amazing monastery, a cute old town, delicious food and a temple of 100 chickens!
Beijing: The Great Wall. Duh. 😉
Pingyao: Travel back through time in this atmospheric, ancient city.

Top hotels
Note: Beds in China often leave a lot to be desired. They’re not awful but they’re not particularly comfortable either. These hotels are among those with the better mattresses in my opinion. 🙂

Yangshuo: Riverview Hotel. Not the cheapest but good value for what you get which includes being just outside the hustling, potentially loud tourist strip, a lovely balcony, a comfy bed and a nice clean room!
Dazhai: Wisdom Inn. Special recommendation as one of my most favorite hotels from the entire trip. A peaceful, rustic, cozy gem of a place in a stunning location.
Lijiang/Shuhe: We found it worthwhile staying in Shuhe instead of Lijiang. Bruce’s Chalet was a lovely location with decent access to both Shuhe and Lijiang. The rooms were cozy, clean and tastefully appointed, with good quality beds.
Pingyao: Yide hotel. A renovated courtyard house, it’s atmospheric and beautiful. On the expensive side, but too gorgeous not to!

Top eats
Kashgar: Karakorum Café will be a welcome break from Uighur food. I thought it was a joke when I read it in the Lonely Planet but the joint really DOES have the cleanest, most nice bathroom in all of Xinjiang.
Yangshuo: Pure Lotus Vegetarian Restaurant. An incredibly varied menu – we ordered as much as our stomachs could handle and everything was delicious! Kelly’s. Simple but good quality backpacker-type food with really friendly service. MingYuan café. We practically lived at this place. Excellent espresso drinks; check the cheese cake.
Lijiang/Shuhe: Well Bistro – funky little café tucked away in Lijiang’s old town with good eats and GOOD coffee! Huzzah!
This place:







in Shuhe – NO idea what it is called – for it’s hilariously translated menu, friendly service and good food. Good luck. 😉
Zhongdian: Arro Khampa for a delicious interpretation of local food, Rebgong Tibetan Art Studio & Restaurant for to-die-for veggie momos, Compass for a toasty warm place to get your western-food fix, and Heat Nest Football Club for a pint, a game and hot coke with ginger!

2 thoughts on “Travel tops

  1. Thanks for this great list of travel tips!! I live in Shanghai and have been meaning to make it to all of these places and with real tips from a real person (i.e. not a travel website), I’m more motivated to actually make the leap… Thanks for this!

    All the best

    • Thanks so much CPHNS! Watch this space, the China entries and tips will make it onto the blog eventually. Shanghai is actually in our plan as our last stop in China – so if YOU have any suggestions I’ll love to hear them. 🙂 I’ll be keeping an eye on – have really enjoyed all I’ve read and seen so far (even the ensembles that clash so bad it makes my eyes hurt! 😉 ).

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