T is for Trouble: A to Z with Johnny Vagabond


T is for Trouble: A to Z with Johnny Vagabond

So there’s a new travel blog round-robin, tag-you’re-it kind thing going around. My buddy Kevin over at The Mad Traveler was evil kind enough to tag me so here’s my A to Z of Travel.

A: Age you went on your first international travel
I’m a late bloomer and didn’t escape the US until I was in my early 30’s, visiting Amsterdam, Italy, Malta and India. There were a few trips to Mexican border towns as a kid but those don’t count. Besides, what happens in Tijuana stays in Tijuana — even for five year olds.

B. Best foreign beer you had and where
A buddy introduced me to In de Wildman in Amsterdam and I can never thank him enough — it’s one of my favorite bars in the world. It’s been in business since the 1400’s –so the sign says– and they have about 200 Belgian ales to choose from. It’s nestled deep in a twisting alley and sees little tourist traffic, despite being close to Centraal Station.

C. Cuisine
Thai food has to rank pretty highly, though I did get a little tired of it after spending 6 months in the country and was craving Mexican food. Now I’m in Central America and craving Thai. I think I’m just a difficult person.

T is for Trouble: A to Z with Johnny VagabondD. Destinations, favorite, least favorite and why
Oof, that’s tough. In terms of “most fun for your buck”, I’d have to say Laos — rent a cheap scooter and go nuts. I could spend (and have) days just watching the Mekong flow by. Least favorite: Malta. The ruins at Hagar Qim were interesting but the week I spent in Valletta was about five days too long.

E. Event you experienced abroad that made you go Wow
The annual Camel Fair in Pushkar, India was overwhelming. 50,000 camels and horses, thousands of families from small villages all camping in the desert for a week. It’s an experience quite unlike anything else I’ve seen. Photos here and here.

T is for Trouble: A to Z with Johnny Vagabond

F. Favorite mode of transportation
Two wheels, all the way. I spent a month riding a motorbike across Vietnam and it was exhilarating, exhausting and downright terrifying at times but I’ll never forget a moment of it. Train would have to be my next choice — loves me a good train ride, especially in India.

G. Greatest feeling while traveling
Finding my passport and bank card after tearing my room apart, convinced I had lost them. I do this about twice a month.

H. Hottest place you traveled to
Pretty much anywhere in SE Asia in the summer (except for Dalat and Sapa in Vietnam — lovely mountain towns). I spent summer in Asia, winter in Nepal and northern India, then visited Austin during the hottest summer on record. I definitely need to work on my timing.

T is for Trouble: A to Z with Johnny VagabondI. Incredible service you’ve experienced and where
Getting my ears cleaned in India was pretty fun. The craziest table service I ever had was in Cambodia, where both of the waiters fell asleep on a nearby platform while I was having dinner. I had to wake them to get the check.

J. Journey that took the longest
Something like 30 hours on an Indian train, back in 1999 when they never bothered to clean the bathrooms. I’d rather not do that again.

K. Keepsake from your travels
I like to pick up little stuff along the way: a small Buddhist amulet from my first trip to Thailand, an arrowhead I found in Big Bend NP, an old Tibetan coin I bought in India…

L. Let down site: when and where
Halong Bay in Vietnam. The only way I could go was to book a tour and it turned into a bit of a nightmare. Gorgeous scenery but it’s a real tourist treadmill.

M. Moment where you fell in love with travel
Waking up in the desert camped next to my motorcycle on my first ever adventure, a 1,500 mile run to Chaco Canyon in New Mexico. I never made it — the next day a major cold front rolled in and my bike started misfiring. I turned back just outside Albuquerque and rode for 16 hours to get back home, planning my next trip on the way.

N. Nicest hotel you stayed in
The fanciest place I’ve stayed at in the last 2 years was the Hilton in San Pedro Sulas, Honduras, but that was more of a bunker than a resort. The best experience I had was probably staying at Hotel Everest in Pushkar, India. Run by an amazingly sweet family that really took good care of me, even that time I got loaded on a bhang lassi.

O. Obsession – What photos are you obsessed with taking pictures of while traveling
I like it all, from wide expansive shots to close-ups of the tiny details. There’s color, texture and pattern to be found anywhere you are. You just have to look for it.

T is for Trouble: A to Z with Johnny VagabondP. Passport stamps, how many and from where
Not enough! Netherlands, Italy, Malta, India, Mexico, Canada, Thailand, Laos, Cambodia, Vietnam, Nepal, Burma, Korea, Honduras, Belize and Guatemala so far.

Q. Quirkiest Attraction you have visited and where
The Love Castle Sex Museum in South Korea rocked my world. Giant chicken-headed Wonder Woman statue? Unicorns getting it on? Yes, please. NSFW photos here.

R. Recommended sight, event, or experience
Songkran, the Thai New Year, in Chiang Mai is a crazy, fun experience. Three days of utter madness as the entire town goes to war with water pistols and buckets.

S. Splurge: Something you have no problem spending money on while traveling
The one thing I consistently spend more money on than I would like is food. After a week or two of the local fair I’ll usually give in and kick down the cash for some over-priced and poor-quality comfort food, like pizza, pasta or a burger.

T. Touristy thing you’ve done
I rode an elephant in Chiang Mai because my sister-in-law wanted to. It’s the most ridiculous form of transportation ever, even worse than riding a camel. I spilled my beer twice.

U. Unforgettable travel memory
When I first visited McLeod Ganj, India –home to the Tibetan Government in Exile– you could sign up to meet the Dalai Lama. Every month or two, he would greet tourists and Tibetan refugees. He’d look you in the eye, smile and shake your hand. The whole experience lasted about 3 seconds but I’ve never forgotten it.

V. Visas: how many and where
I hate visas because they usually take up a full page in your passport. I’ve got several from Cambodia and Laos (border runs), and one each from Thailand, Nepal, India, Vietnam and Cambodia.

W. Wine, best glass while traveling and where
Best ever was a $4 bottle of Chianti bought in a supermarket in Sienna, Italy while enjoying mushrooms and pasta cooked on a camp stove.

X. eXcellent Views and Where
The Tioga Road in Yosemite, Going to the Sun Highway in Glacier NP, Highway 12 in Utah all have amazing views (and make for great motorcycle rides, too).

Y. Years spent traveling
A month in Europe, 3 months on a bike in the US, 2 months in Amsterdam, 6 months in India, and approaching 2 years on this trip — call it three years, I reckon.

Z. Zealous sports fans
Travel tip: learn a bit about football (the round kind) and you can make friends anywhere in the world. Picking a “favorite” team is even better.

That’s my A to Z. I hereby nominate Chris from The Aussie Nomad , Ryan at Pause the Moment and Marsha at Single Occubancy. Tag!

{ 13 comments… read them below or add one }

Ryan @ PauseTheMoment.com January 16, 2012 at 12:45 pm

Thanks for the nomination. I actually posted my Travel ABC’s three days ago! Check them out here: http://bit.ly/z0nKY4


wes January 16, 2012 at 12:59 pm

Doh! I looked on your site and didn’t see ’em :/


Stephanie - The Travel Chica January 17, 2012 at 7:43 am

I see that you and I share an appreciation for a good, cheap bottle of wine :-)


wes January 17, 2012 at 10:35 am

Damn straight. The $2 Dalat wine in Vietnam is surprisingly drinkable too, considering that any other wine in Asia is 5-10 times that price…


Maggie January 17, 2012 at 8:18 am

I’m so sad to hear Halong Bay was such a let down! It looks so glorious in all the pictures and I’ve been dreaming of going. Do you think it’s still worth seeing even though it’s infested with tours?


wes January 17, 2012 at 10:37 am

I think so. My advice is to splurge and go for the higher-priced tours. I tried to go for the midrange and got burned. Another choice, if it isn’t high season (and what I had hoped to do) is to go to Cat Ba island, get a hotel for a couple of nights and take day trips onto the bay. Rent a scooter and tour the island — it’ll be a lot more fun than the cheesy cave tours, etc that they foist upon you…


wes January 17, 2012 at 10:37 am

And yes, Halong Bay is gorgeous :)


Maggie January 18, 2012 at 6:47 am

Oh, good to know. Thanks for the tips, Wes!

Barbara February 25, 2012 at 10:09 am

I found Halong Bay to be a total letdown as well. I didn’t splurge on my tour, I actually found a great last-minute bargain while wandering around Hanoi. But even though I only spent $60, I still felt ripped off because the food sucked, the tour guide wouldn’t take us kayaking and the bikes we were given were totally crap. Other people on the tour paid more than $300 for the same three day two night cycling and kayaking tour. They were a LOT more pissed off than me, I can tell you.

Tom @ ActiveBackpacker January 17, 2012 at 7:26 pm

Hey Wes,

Thanks for the bar tip about In de Wildman, I’m living in Rotterdam at the moment so will definitely check that out next time I’m in Amsterdam!

It’s always great finding new and awesome bars.


wes January 17, 2012 at 7:46 pm

Oh man, I am jealous. Great spot: sand on the hardwood floor, a zillion beers, and locals talking football. You’ll dig it. :)


Daryl 'the brit' Burt February 9, 2012 at 12:07 pm

Nice read buddy! I’ve booked my flights to India in September to start ‘my big trip’ and im glad you mentioned the big camel festival! definitely will head there once i arrive. hope everything is going well. Daryl


wes February 9, 2012 at 3:03 pm

Thanks, Daryl. Pushkar is a nice town — I stayed at Hotel Everest – it’s a little pricier than a bare-bones backpacker –about $10 a night, I think) but it’s a great place and very sweet people there.

Have fun!