La creme de la creme – Our top 20 list

It’s been already 6 months since we returned from traveling. Today is my last day of “early retirement” and the last cycle of this trip is ending. To finalize the trip, we put out some ideas for you who want to travel one day to really nice places. This came about after almost everyone who knows about the trip asks us the same question: “So, what was the place you like the most?” Well we traveled 60,343 miles for 1,015 hours in planes, trains buses, trucks, cars, boats and motorbikes and it’s a hard choice to make. A total of 11 months and 3 weeks.

Yes, I think we have a favorite place, but we also believe that some of the cities, towns and beaches were so different from one another that it was a little silly to make that choice. To be fair we decided to go into categories, because it makes more sense to us and because it was not about the country, the city, but rather about the whole experience around us.

So here is our superlative list. You may agree or disagree with our list if you have been in one of these places. If you have never been I hope it inspires people to visit in the near future.

1. Best Beach – It was a difficult choice, but Baía dos Porcos in Fernando de Noronha Island – Brazil won the prize

Baía dos Porcos - Noronha - Brazil

2. Best long hike – Nothing compares to the 76 miles cultural-landscape trekking at Annapurna circuit in Nepal

11 day hike around the Annapurna mountains in Nepal

3. Best short day hike – El Chalten – Argentina. But we had to say that to see Buracão Waterfall at Chapada da Diamatina in Brazil was a close second.

El Chalten - Argentina

4. Best country for food – Thailand. Mexico and Vietnam could fight it out for second and third places.

Fried Morning Glory at Chatuchak Market in Bangkok

5. Best fruit selection – Vietnam and the delicious fruit shakes in Saigon

Fresh and variety are the name of the game

6. Best eye-candy city – I think it is in São Paulo. Jason thinks it was in Salvador during Carnaval. Unfortunately we have no pictures, just memories…

7. Most memorable bus ride – From Jomson to Pokhara in Nepal. Unforgettable for the scenary and for being the scariest drive we have ever been.

Hair-raising bus trip from Jomson to Pokhara in Nepal

8. The most amazing man-made construction site – It is hard to beat the ruins of Angkor in Camboja.

This is one small part of the complex that it spreads for miles

9. Furthest point from our high-tech Western lives – The small village of Muang Sing in Nothern Laos.

Little monks offering us some nice fresh worms in Laos

Little monks offering us some nice fresh worms in Laos

10. Best place to get sick – Kathmandu in Nepal or doing a 36 hour cruise in the Amazon river.

Chaotic Kathmandu - Nepal

11. Best place to dream of an AC unit – We could not decide between these two places: Presidente Figueiredo in Amazonas (Brazil) and Chitwan in Nepal. In Figueiredo at least we could go to some rivers and waterfalls. But in Chitwan we felt like we were going to melt at any point.

The only refreshing moment of the day in Chitwan - At least it was memorable

12. Best dessert – Ice cream in Belém – Brazil. And the delicious cream of Cupuaçu in Fernando de Noronha.

Yummy!!!!! Cupuaçu cream and açaí together in a bowl in Noronha - Brazil

13. Nicest people – Mexicans. But we wish we were able to speak with the people in Asia. Because they seemed really nice as well, especially in Laos.

Nice, fun and easy going the Mexicans won our heart

14. Biggest cultural clash – Visiting Nepal. Fascinating, scary, different, noisy and busy Kathmandu and even small towns in Nepal work in a very different way from us in the West.

Men holding hands in Kathamandu

15. Worst experience – my dislocated shoulder while rafting in the middle of nowhere in Nepal and Jason’s little paranoia dive in the middle of Laos


16. Best Market – This one was very easy. Nothing beats Chatuchak Market in Bangkok

According to Wikipedia is the world's largest weekend market. You can find anything there.

17. Best country for sports and adventures – We have three winners here Costa Rica, Nepal and Vietnam

Full of activities in la Fortuna - Costa Rica

18. Best party – This one was easy as well. Carnaval in Salvador – Brazil. It is hard to stay quiet and not dance.

SALVADOR- BAHIA during Carnaval

19. Best place to feed the spirit – Nepal, the Nepalese and their love of spirituality envelops you

The eyes of the Buddha

20. The most beautiful place we visited – After much talk there was a place that was the most awe-inspiring: The French Valley in Torres del Paine National Park – Chile. You don’t know where to look in this magnificent place that has ice, snow, vegetation, rocks, lakes and mountains with very unusual shapes and colors. The place is just stunning! If you haven’t been there, please put on your list.

Just one view of the French Valley. Everywhere you look is different but equally stunning



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11 reasons why you should quit your job and travel for months

And we are finally at the end of the year. This is the time that some people refocus their lives, and analyse of what they have done and what they hope to do in the near future. What I like about this time of the year is that some people finally realize that we live in a community and that we are all responsible for what happens around us. But enough with the cheap philosophy and let’s talk about what some people often say to us: your trip! WOW! I would love to do that! I think it is everyone’s dream!

Our #1 place - Torres del Paine in Chile

Well, this past year was a year to remember for the rest of our lives. It was a unique opportunity, and we learned way more than staying home. So, trying to persuade other people to do the same, we decided to list 10 reasons why all of us should try to leave work at some point and do what we did. You don’t need to go away for a year. Believe us, a few months will do just fine. But consider doing it at some point; you will be happier and a different person when you come back.

1. The world is bigger than you think – Globalization is a word from the 90’s that we don’t hear that often anymore. It is so easy to talk, communicate and even work and study from a distance that we believe these distances have been shortened. But a mile is still a mile and our world is gigantic. There is so much to explore, to absorb, and feel all the different places and cultures that we sincerely needed more time. Yes, the world is slowly creating a unique way of living, but we can still find the exotic and the unusual in smaller towns, especially in poorer countries.

Back roads in Laos, one can see the real life happening on every corner


2. You are constantly reflecting about your life – Traveling does that to most of us. Everything that is different catches our attention and we immediately correlate to our reality back home. What we see what is good is an example of what we could eventually have at home. What is bad it’s a realization that we have accomplished a lot and that this community could in fact have a better life.

Ah, I wish I could see this every day

3. There are more good people in the world than bad people – Yes, sometimes we focus too much on the bad experiences. Everyone who tried to scam us, the violence and the bad service. But this is a really tiny minority. Most of the locals are really good people, who are as much interested on you as we were on them. They usually nice and gentle, they want to help out and they want to make you feel home as well. They want you to come back and tell your friends that their country/city is a place to visit.

Bike broken, help on the way

4. There is more to life than just work – I know this sounds like a self-help book, but we live in a society completely obssessed about work. We spend more of our awaking time at work than with family and friends. And this is primarily because we are always trying to buy more (even things we don’t need) and we end up as slaves to our debt. Staying away from everything and having only a backpack for a year, was one of the most liberating experiences we have ever had.

Hammock in the water and a beer is pure perfection

5. You realize that people are just people no matter where they live – To observe locals in their communities made me think about the concerns of families in Laos and Manhattan (especially after the Hurricane). People want to make sure they have food, shelter, clothes, some sort of power and security. In NYC though, you have to have another bazillion things in order to live. In Laos, life has a different pace as long as the basic goals are fulfilled.

They were just working, but selling some interesting things...


6. You could spend less money than you think – If you go to the right places and make a few compromises you can spend around $30/day in some countries. But if you go to Europe, North America, Japan and Singapore you can add another zero to the number very easily. By the way, you can include Brazil in that row of countries.

Cooking class the whole day + all meals for $40


7. When you go back to reality you are re-energized – Different from your co-workers who are tired and unmotivated. Your boss will be happy when you come back to see you so fresh. Now you are ready to go back to start working and saving some money to travel again in the near future.

Local Vietnamese


8. People who travel more tend to be more valued in their workplace – Only stupid people will not like the fact you spent a long time abroad. In a world where we can easily speak to people from the 4 corners of the planet, knowing a little about other cultures is the best way to relate to someone you are getting to know. This empowers you! Makes your relationships stronger. You become more open-minded too.

If you go to Carnaval in Brazil, I bet you are going to go back home exhausted!


9. Your taste buds you never be the same – International food as we know in America most of the time has a very different taste than when you eat in the country of origin. This might be because of the ingredients, the chef, maybe is the whole atmosphere. The fact is we know exactly how a dish of Chilaquilles, Tom Yum soup or Dal Bhat should taste like now.

Nepali everyday meal : rice, lentils, kale and potatoes. Delicious!


10. Everything will be the same when you come back – Even though we were away for a while, very little has changed. We were often wondering how was life back home.  This past year for us was way more than 12 months, it gave us more perspective and realization about the important things in life.

Will be the same, but you can learn how to scuba dive, hike, cook and motobike


11. Extended travel is possible – In the US or in Brazil, this might be a joke. But in Europe, Israel, Australia and New Zealand it is almost like a ritual that you should travel for several months before you get settled. And even after that, people have sabbaticals at work and can go away for several months. We met people of all ages doing what we did and that was inspirational.

She can travel anywhere she wants. Isn't she lucky!!!!

So, if you plan to go away one day, prepare in advance. We saved money for 3 years and organized our lives in a way that it could work out. It was a little complex, but worth every penny. This is an investment that nobody could take away from us. After all:  Travel is the only thing you buy that makes us richer.

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Final days in Asia and the American Road trip

Hong Kong

It’s been some time we came back home. By now we have seen already most of our friends and life is slowly going back to normal. But  there are still some stories to tell. Right after Vietnam we spent a few days in Bangkok, our central hub in Asia. 5 days of shopping, eating, exploring every single corner of bustling Bangkok. The result was an extra suitcase, full of fitted shirts, suits and pants.

We finally left Southeast Asia and headed towards one of the most expensive places on the planet: Hong Kong. 2 days in the city was enough for our budget. Hong Kong is beautiful, full of islands and bridges, impressive highways cutting through the mountains and the most organized public transportation system we have ever seen. It works so well, that is hard to believe that the 4th most densily populated “country” in the world has so few cars on the streets. We also have never seen so much commerce tailored to high-end buyers. There is a lot of money in that city and the prices are over the top. Especially when you come from Thailand, Laos and Vietnam. At night the skyline is breathtaking and three times a week there is a light show with music on the waterfront. A very disappointing show at the end of our trip in Asia. Bad music, too long and cheesy.  Our last two days in Asia were hot and humid and most of the times it was difficult to see Hong Kong’s natural beauty. We had to imagine how was the scenary because of the intense fog on the city.

The longest indoor escalator in the world - 2,600 ft

After Hong Kong our next stop was a lay-over in Chicago and finally Boston. On arrival in the US we already have forgotten how big and fat Americans were. After spending so many months in Asia we got used to their bio type and the typical XXXL American size was somewhat unusual for us.

And, then we were finally HOME. The first few days in Boston were hard core. Home is always the best place on Earth, right? But for some reason our place looked stale, somewhat empty, almost sad. The next day it was time to work and move our clothes, books, computer and personal stuff 4 flights of stairs from the basement. There were so many boxes that we were wondering what was in them. After spending so many months with a backpack only, why did we need so many things to live? And sure enough we had to get rid of some clothes, shoes, towels and linens because some of them were full of mold. We spent the next 3 days washing clothes with vinegar, laying in the sun and cleaning with products to get rid of the mildew. A complete mess!!!!!

The next morning we talked to our neighbors and the at night we had time to see some friends who organized a welcome party for us. It was great to see their familiar beautiful faces. A memorable night to remind us that we are finally back home.

UFOs in the USA

UFOs in the USA

But the trip was not over. We decided to get in our car and travel in the US visiting some friends and family. First in Cleveland and Iowa City where my good friends from medical school in Brazil live. After that we headed to Texas to visit Jason’s family and friends for a few days and finally New York City to see some other great friends. Of course we  decided to do some tourism on the way and went to Niagara falls and visited Elvis Presley House in Memphis, which by the way was the touristic highlight of the American tour.

I have to say that blogging is not as much fun as before, but I will try to write sometimes just to document what has been happening in our life recently the days after we came back.

The final pictures are here.


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Vietnam: a picture of Asia

A Symbol of Vietnam - The Scale

Dorchester, the neighbohood we live in Boston is a true ethnic melting pot. Irish, Cape Verdeans, Haitians, Polish, Hispanics, Blacks and a sizable population of Vietnamese live in the largest neighbohood in “Beantown”. Most of the Vietnamese came from the South. That migration started after the communist party took control of the country at the end of the war. Today it is easy to see the signs of Vietnam all over Dorchester. It was nice to come to a country where some of its culture was all around us. However the opportunity to have a deeper contact with a community in their own country was completely different story.

Ho Chi Minh in Ho Chi Minh City aka Saigon

Perhaps after the two World Wars, the Vietnam conflict was the most emblematic war of the last century. A visit here was a lesson to understand how all that played out on the world stage. Two economic philosophies and the world divided. Every single country, no matter how small, was important in the game the US and Soviet Union were playing. Unfortunately the price was very high and millions of innocent people died because of the governments and politicians hunger of power. The war is over and the country seems to be doing amazingly well 37 years after the war ended. A sign of the resilience of a people who are known by their neighbors as extremely hardworking.

The Favorite Stance

It is no news that the communist party maintains an iron fist on the country’s organization and is no surprise that resonates badly with a lot of the people we talked to during the trip. Facebook and certain sites were not even allowed in certain places and the comments about corruption were widespread. Despite that, the sight of a country without civil liberties like we think a communist country is, was overshadow by the people’s entrepreneurship. We’ve noticed that the Vietnamese are always ready to make some business. So, instead of the big chains that are the hallmark of a typical capitalist society, Vietnam has a lot of small and family business that make a big chunk of its economy. We were wondering what is best for the people: work in your own business or for a state-owned corporation? Take a pick, but it seemed to us, the Vietnamese were doing pretty well.

All the 91 million of Vietnamese form a very homogenous community and this is true even though they were occupied by different nations not only recently but also in the past. Today along with Thailand they are one of the most powerful countries in the region and its economy forms a new group of countries that are bound to grow even higher than the known BRIC (Brazil, Russia, India and China). The prospects are good and although we saw a lot of poverty, it was less than what we saw in Laos and Cambodia.

Before coming here we were advised to be careful because the Vietnamese were often trying to rip you off. However this attitude was not any different from other places we have been. Everything is negotiable and bargaining is a must. Fortunately the farther you get from touristic areas the nicer and friendlier are the people . This is roughly true in almost every single place we have been. So when visiting a place, we will tried to also go to more distant areas where you can have a “real feel” of a city or country.

As soon as we got here something caught our attention. Most of the women worn pants, long sleeve shirts, hats, facemasks and sometimes even gloves. Even though the temperature reaches 90-100 degrees at times with humidity, women are all covered up. At the beach they are all dressed up as well. Was this a religious reason? No! They just don’t want to get dark. It is interesting to see ads and the huge amount of whitening skin products available in drugstores and grocery stores. Meanwhile western people are going to the beach, use tanning booths and tanning lotions to become darker. I guess people are never happy with whom they are…

Beach Close to Nha Trang

Buddhism is also the main religion, although we noticed that is seems to be more subdued than in its neighbors, Thailand especially. Business frequently have small shrines where offerings and candles are placed but the amount of monks walking around like in Thailand, Laos and Cambodia is minimal. We have the feeling that there were less Buddhist temples around and more temples of different religions like Taoism, Confucianism and Cao-Dao. 10% of the population is catholic and it is no surprise that concentrates in the south, around Saigon.

Delicious Pho

As for natural beauty, we think Vietnam beats Laos and is the most beautiful country we visited in the region. This is because Vietnam has pretty much everything Laos has (mountains, caves, waterfalls, rice-paddy fields) and on top of that has a stunning and unique coastline that can make any vacation a real paradise on Earth. Transportation has its deficiencies. Roads are great, but we’ve heard a lot about accidents. The buses are not very comfortable. Trains are reasonable but it is nothing compared to US or European standards. Planes are a good option and can be cheap specially if one buys tickets in advance.

The food in Vietnam was also a good surprise. We were only used to have the famous Pho (noodle soup) and fresh spring rolls in Boston. But there is so much more to try. And the fun part was to take advantage of the different regional cuisines as we cruised along the country. The unusual dishes with frog, chicken feet, baby duck egg , pork intestines, pigeon soup and dog (WE DID NOT EAT DOG) were more eccentric. However the main noodles dishes, barbecued pork, beef stews and the fresh noodle dishes were absolutely amazing and we cannot wait to explore the Vietnamese restaurants in our neighborhood when we get back.

Delicious Crab & Beer

The country’s currency is called dong and 1 US$ is valued at 20,000 dongs. It is strange to go to the ATM and leave as a millionaire with several millions dongs in your pocket. A bottle of the local beer is usually around US$ 1. A meal during lunch or dinner can be bought easily for US$ 3 and a budget hotel room is usually between US$ 15-20.

Cao Dao

Vietnam was the last major country we visited. We are glad we ended our trip here. Why? Because this country is a true picture of what Asia is all about. Walking on the streets with people wearing their iconic conic hats and carrying the huge “scale” selling their products was a unforgetable site we will never forget. Now is time to revive our Vietnamese experiences in our local area. How lucky are we?
The next post, our return to the US

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Karst Formation

Halong Bay along with Cat Ba Island is described by travel guides in such a way that you would feel like an idiot for not visiting. The adjectives utilized to describe this place are quite lofty and loaded and one wonders if a place like that can actually exist. As we got to the ferry drop off point on Cat Ba island the lansdcape was flat, ugly and the surrouding area was filled with what we thought were fish farms. But as the bus drove towards Cat Ba City we were finally able to understand what all the hype about it. The only road takes you along the edge of the island for a bit and you get to see this tropical paradise in all it’s splendor. Surrounded by karsts jutting tens to hundreds of feet out the emerald green sea, Cat ba is a lush green tropical island is that is just shy of perfection. It is like Rio de Janeiro’s coast on steroids.


Ha Long Bay

We took our preferred mode of transportation, motor scooters, and visited about every inch of available road on the island. It’s beautiful and unique! Along the way we stopped and visited a hospital that was created inside a mountain. It was 3 floors, had a kitchen, some offices, and operating room and quick emergency exits for the North Vietnamese officers should the Americans try to bomb the area. Granted some of the mountain was a cave that made construction easier, but we were both suprised at the size of the hospital and the number of rooms all inside a mountain.

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Swimming in Ha Long Bay

We spent 2 days on a boat cruise which gave us an opportunity to explore Halong bay and some local caves both large and small. Halong Bay has thousands of karsts which double as small islands in and of themselves. Some of the caves were formed from sea water and sea wind erosion while others simply had the their formations created from the drip drip drip of fresh water. Getting to sleep out under the stars on the deck of the boat was a treat and something I won’t soon forget. The activities ranged from kayaking into caves sometimes in complete darkness to rock climbing and a lot of swimming in small beaches along the bay. I would reccommend do a little research prior to coming because there are some times of the year which are not good and certain ways of seeing the bay and islands which could leave you disappointed. As a matter of fact there was a Typhon alert as we got in the region, but the storm changed course and never affected us.

I Think I Can, I Think I can

Onward to Hanoi…. Even though the city stretches on for miles, we spent nearly all of our time in the Old Quarter. There you have access to anything a tourist might want to visit and to watch the real life of people who live and work in the capital. It’s setup as a grid with diagonal streets overlayed, think Washinton DC minus the super wide streets. The commerce here is the center of this bustling area for more than 1,000 years. Most of the buildings are a few stories high and the streets and lined with trees. It’s a quaint, walkable city neighborhood with lots of little shops to visit. A real sight of what is Asia.

Ho Chi Minh Masoleum
We got to see the Ho Chi Minh Masoleum. It seems strange that his dying wish, that he be cremated, was not honored. For a person to be so revered and yet his wishes for his own body to be discarded is rather odd. The place opens at 8 AM and if you don’t arrive early, you are likely to be standing in line for quite some time. I would say this part of the tourism in a authoritarian country met my expectation. Having the “dear leader” embalmed and kept at cool temperatures so that “the people” can have chance to have a glimpse of how he looked the final days prior to his death is downright creepy.

Church Attendee Parking Lot

We also got to see something you wouldn’t expect in a communist country, a catholic church service. We were a bit disppointed with the cathedral, but the number of people attending the Sunday evening service was impressive. The number of motor scooters parked along side the church was site to behold.

The Streets of Hanoi

One of the best things about Hanoi was wandering through the streets of the Old Quarter is discovering some little hole in the wall restaurant or food stand that serves some of the best food we had in Vietnam. We’ll give some more details in the next and final blog.

Delicious Bowl of Fried Eel

In the mean time, one of our last picture albums.

Up next is our impression(s) of Vietnam

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