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Bill

The 5 Best Night Markets in Taipei

Posted on February 26th, by Bill in eating out, StreetFood, Taiwan. 1 Comment

Taipei is inarguably one of the top street food cities in the world. Taiwan is known as the land of snacks: they have literally invented and re-invented genre after genre of snack food over the years. From pearl tea to fried chicken, the Taiwanese are all about inventing and perfecting the ultimate snack foods. Think Chinese-influenced foods created with the ingenuity and dedication to perfection that (you would think) only the Japanese would bring. While Taipei isn’t quite as famous with local Taiwanese as Tainan for their snack culture, they’ve got it covered and will most likely be your first stop in Taiwan. The sheer volume of street food options available alone are enough but, matched with the quality and price of the food available on the streets, it’s pretty much unbeatable. The catch with Taipei street food though, is … Read More »



8 of the Best Cafes in Hanoi

Posted on February 3rd, by Bill in Asia, Coffee, Vietnam. No Comments

The big cities in Vietnam have a cafe culture that is virtually unknown to the rest of the world. Don’t expect a Chemex of Ethiopian Yirgacheffe with hints of blueberry and strawberry or an Aeropressed Kenyan. You might be able to locate one eventually, but not before tripping over scores of cafes serving up tumblers of coffee so dark it looks like used motor oil and smells like the most intense mocha you’ve ever had. It’s no secret that we love Vietnamese coffee and as a follow up to our very popular Saigon cafes list, we offer a list of some of our favorites in the northern capital city. Also be sure to check out our handy guide to ordering coffee in Vietnam.

So, in the event that you can’t find this guy rolling around town, keep scrolling and we’ve got … Read More »



How to Order Coffee in Vietnam Like a Local

Posted on June 18th, by Bill in Asia, Vietnam. 6 comments

Vietnam is a country that runs on coffee. There is a cafe on just about every block in Saigon and Hanoi and they’re packed most of the day with a mix of locals leisurely sipping away enjoying the day and others grabbing a quick fix on their way to wherever they’re headed. The cafe culture in Saigon is why it’s one of our favorite cities in the world. To see the list of our favorite Saigon cafes, check out our post on it.

Coffee is brewed differently in Vietnam. It’s sort of a mix between the French press and pourover methods and despite producing great coffee, it’s surprisingly “low tech”. You won’t see any chem-lab looking siphons or giant blown-glass drip towers. Coffee is brewed in a little metal filter called a “phin”. Grounds go in, water goes in, and coffee … Read More »



10 THINGS I CAN’T TRAVEL WITHOUT

Posted on June 23rd, by Steven in Travel Tips. 3 comments

Recently I’ve taken a four-month break off of travel to settle into a comfortable life in a quiet town. It’s been nice, mostly.

I do miss packing and unpacking the bags. I miss tossing away ripped up socks, giving away paperback books, and moving what’s left of my big shampoo into a small little shampoo thingy.

Some things are essential to have packed and ready to grab when I’m on the road. I will not include the obvious things like a camera, computer, passport, etc. These following are the little home run hitters that are easy to forget about, but always needed:

1. DENTAL FLOSS

I like to eat. I like to eat meat. I like eating late. My teeth are spaced fairly far apart from laughing too much. Stuff gets in there and I need to get it out. I’ve often been wandering … Read More »



LIVE LIKE A LOCAL: RENT A SHORT-TERM APARTMENT WHILE TRAVELING

Posted on June 5th, by Steven in Travel Tips. No Comments

If you want to experience the true life of a place, experience it like a local: get an apartment in a true neighborhood. Wake up to the sounds of street vendors and garbage trucks. Be recognized with a smile by your local noodle-slinger.

If a city strikes your fancy, rent an apartment for a month and stick around for awhile.

Another advantage of worldwide Internet networking is that it allows us to exchange short-term apartments without going through an agent or company. Check the New York City craigslist sublet page and you’ll find plenty of Parisians happy to exchange their Left Bank apartment for a little temporary stepping stone on the Upper West Side. Though apartment exchanges are rare in Asia, there are plenty of expats and locals alike who will be vacating their adobe and happy to have someone trustworthy in … Read More »



SIEM REAP’S 10 BEST BARS: CLASSY, HIDDEN DIVES JUST OUTSIDE OF ANGKOR

Posted on May 6th, by Steven in Cambodia. 2 comments

Every year I find myself in Siem Reap, Cambodia for a week. It’s inevitable, and always enjoyable.

Angkor Wat is, along with Bagan in Myanmar, one of the two most spectacular temple sites in Asia, if not the world. I’ve come back again and again with friends, or by myself. Although lately I barely spend time in the temples of Angkor Wat, I love the cafe and bar scene of nearby Siem Reap, a charming little French colonial town adjacent to Angkor that now serves as the tourist-amenity center of the region. Though a tourist town, it’s far from a tourist trap. There is something about the clear blue sky, slow clouds and that long twilight that I love here. And, there’s the drinks.

Pub Street is famous here. It is the center of Siem Reap and the fulcrum of activity in … Read More »



‘A STOP AT WILLOUGHBY’: THE TWILIGHT ZONE EPISODE THAT EXPLORES OUR NEED TO TRAVEL

Posted on May 1st, by Steven in Film. No Comments

“a place around the bend where he could jump off”

Created during a time (1959-1964) when American television seemed eerily clean and domestic, The Twilight Zone challenged viewers to examine a possibility of uncertainty beyond the comforts and assumptions of contemporary life. It was my favorite thing on TV. One episode in particular always stuck with me- A Stop at Willoughby. It brings up questions. How could such a ‘successful’ man working in a New York tower and living in an upscale suburb be so miserable? Why would he dream of escaping to a sleepy village where the streets have no name and the children wear overalls and go fishing?

A STOP AT WILLOUGHBY is the story of an advertising executive named Gart. Gart feels endless pressure from his pugnacious boss and his minion-like coworkers at his New York City office during … Read More »



SURVIVING BORACAY ALONE

Posted on April 24th, by Steven in The Philipines. 2 comments

In March of 2012, I was nearly finished with a 3-week journey moving west through the Visayas region of The Philippines. Visayas is famous for beach and diving destinations. I have never been very interested in beaches, so I was focused on the cities of Cebu, Dumaguete, Bacolod, Iloilo and Kalibo. I did, however, have a beach destination as my final stop before flying out of the country. That beach was the most famous beach in all of The Philippines- Boracay. I was all by my sad self during these weeks in the Philippines. I’d met people here and there along the way, but I didn’t join a backpacker caravan or fall in love. So, how is it traveling to Boracay alone, anyway?

Often beach destinations entice travelers of impossibly clear turquoise waters bookended by eternal sunrises and sunsets. So often, … Read More »



NEVADA’S ROUTE 50: AMERICA’S LONELIEST ROAD

Posted on April 2nd, by Steven in Nevada, United States. No Comments

Highway 50 is one of those generous, eternal American roads that goes from coast to coast (nearly). It begins in Sacramento, California and ends in Ocean City, Maryland, spanning over 3,000 miles in the process. It’s most isolated, most desolate stretch passes through the heart of Nevada’s nearly-uninhabited desert moonscape. One section of the highway is particularly mysterious. Should a driver attempt to make it from Carson City, NV to central Utah, the route will beckon past lonely brothels, ghost towns, vintage casinos, sand, dust and endless blue skies. It’s the most desolate part of the continental United States and traversing it by car takes a certain commitment and endurance. It is 381 miles from Carson City to Great Basin National Park. This is Nevada’s Route 50, a stretch of asphalt that Life Magazine famously declared America’s Loneliest Road.

I made … Read More »



WHAT IS THE SAFEST SEAT ON AN AIRPLANE?

Posted on March 5th, by Steven in Travel Tips. 1 Comment

I grew up in 1980s America. I remember the bombing of Pan Am Flight 103, which exploded over Scotland in 1988. I remember the Challenger space shuttle disintegrating over the Atlantic Ocean in 1986. I remember that airplane crashes just seemed to be on the news regularly, giving me an irrational fear of flying that I still have today.

It’s encouraging to know:

Airplane accidents occur at a rate of: 1 crash for every 1,200,000 flights.

The dark part of our imagination tells us that no one can survive a plane crash. This is wrong. 95.7% of people involved in a plane crash survive, actually. Even in the most tragic and serious of airplane crashes, over half of the passengers survive.

So, what can you do to increase your chances of survival? First, pick the right seat to sit in.

SIT IN AN EMERGENCY EXIT ROW, … Read More »



VISITING THE TSINGTAO BEER FACTORY, HOME OF CHINA’S ICONIC BREW

Posted on February 28th, by Steven in China. 1 Comment

Some travel destinations are tied to beer. Think: Munich, Milwaukee, Dublin, Sapporo. The seaside city of Qingdao, on China’s northeast Shandong coast is forever bound to it’s local brew, Tsingtao Beer, which is now one of the most-consumed beers in the world.

When traveling to new cities, visiting a beer brewery is consistently one of my favorite activities.

Bill and I, along with our friends Hye Mi and the Shameless Traveler, recently had the chance to visit the Tsingtao Brewery Museum in Qingdao, China. It was one of our “sober” activities during the week of the Qingdao Beer Festival. We get credit for a cultural destination, even if it’s filled with beer.

Qingdao is perhaps the most beer-soaked city I’ve ever been to. Throughout the year, and especially in summer, the old streets of colonial Qingdao are lined with informal sidewalk ‘cafes’ serving … Read More »



TEMPLES OF BAGAN: BURMA’S WAYWARD WONDER OF THE WORLD

Posted on February 23rd, by Steven in Burma. 2 comments

“They make one of the finest sights in the world, being exquisitely finished, splendid and costly. When illuminated by the sun they are especially brilliant and can be seen from the great distance’

-Marco Polo, upon visiting Bagan’s temples in the 13th Century

Cambodia’s more-iconic Angkor Wat complex may be the most famous of the Hindu / Buddhist temples, but many (including myself) would argue that the temples of Bagan, in central Myanmar, are the most spectacular to visit. While Angkor Wat has increasingly become a saturated tourist hotspot over the last 20 years, Bagan is still comparatively untouched.

With Myanmar finally opening up to tourism, this is going to soon change. Bagan will become the next Angkor Wat and you will not be able to experience it in solitude. Go now before the Chang Beer tanktops take over.

I’d heard great things about … Read More »



BOTTOMS UP AT ASIA’S BIGGEST BEER FESTIVAL

Posted on February 17th, by Steven in China, Uncategorized. No Comments

Beer festivals generally conjure up images of clangy, repetitive oompah bands, sausages, vaulted beer halls, and busty beer maids. In America we have our share of beer festivals, but they tend to be small caricatures of European festivals. I was surprised to find out that China actually does the beer festival pretty well, albeit with skewered, mysterious meats instead of sausages; and shirtless, busty men instead of busty waitresses.

The largest beer festival in the world is Octoberfest in Munich, Germany. The largest beer festival in Asia is The Qingdao International Beer Festival.

Qingdao is the home of the plentiful and cheap Tsingdao beer, which was founded by Germans when the city was under German control in the late 1800s. It’s an amazing seaside city, a great place to visit any time of year and an even better place to visit in … Read More »



15 CRAZY THINGS I’VE EATEN IN ASIA

Posted on February 8th, by Steven in Asia, Cambodia, China, Japan, South Korea, Taiwan, The Philipines, Uncategorized, Vietnam. 5 comments

There is an old saying that:

“the Chinese eat everything that flies, except airplanes; everything with four legs, except tables; and everything that swims, except submarines”

Food is central to Asian culture, not just the Chinese, but throughout all of Asia. Asian food is generally delicious, and often very strange, to an American traveler. Asians tend to use the whole animal. Sometimes the results are great, sometimes not so.

Here are 15 of the strangest foods I’ve had:

15. CHICKEN NECK
Qingdao, China

It’s the neck of a chicken, skewered on a stick and served with cheap drafts of local Tsingtao Beer. It’s mostly skin and bone. I actually like spicy duck neck, as there is some meat to enjoy on there, but the chicken neck is just not much of anything.

IS IT GOOD?  2/10

14. GOAT BRAIN
Ho Chi Minh City, Vietnam

Goat brain came served in a hot … Read More »



HOW TO TRAVEL WITH PRESCRIPTION MEDICINE

Posted on February 3rd, by Steven in Travel Tips, Uncategorized. No Comments

Q: What do Rush Limbaugh, Big Boi of Outkast and Oakland Raider Louis Murphy have in common?

 

A: They have all been arrested for traveling with Viagra without a prescription.

 

Viagra is an ‘erectile dysfunction’ drug that could help make it easier for 50.24% of us to do something harmless. While Viagra’s effects are not quite as bad as crack cocaine, crystal meth or a Big Mac, many countries around the world, including the USA, have strict rules regarding its possession without the pills in their proper container with a proper prescription. Even if you legally purchase Viagra over-the-counter in Taiwan or Mexico, if you bring it back to the US, or Singapore, or the UK, you may find yourself in jail for an evening, with criminal charges leveled against you. It’s not just drugs like Viagra, but also sleep medications, painkillers, sedatives, … Read More »



WHY IS ‘THE PHILIPPINES’ CALLED ‘THE PHILIPPINES’?

Posted on February 2nd, by Steven in Uncategorized. 2 comments

The Philippines is a cool name. It’s one of the few countries (the Gambia, the Netherlands) that have that approachable “the” in front, as if the country is standing right in the same room as you.

So, how did these islands come to be called ‘the Philippines’?

It happened gradually and it began with the arrival of Ferdinand Magellan, a Portuguese explorer, in 1521. He was killed while attempting to convert a local ruler to Christianity. Magellan’s crew, mostly Spaniards, spread interest in the islands back in Spain. In 1543, before a permanent Spanish colony had been settled on the islands, explorer Ruy López de Villalobos presumptuously named the two islands of Leyte and Samar as Las Islas Filipinas (The Philipine Islands). Over the next 300 years, the Spanish would colonize the additional islands we now know as the Philippines. The entire archipelago would come … Read More »



WHY IS TOKYO’S SKYLINE SO BORING?

Posted on January 29th, by Steven in Japan, Uncategorized. 3 comments

Although Shanghai now has the largest population of any single urban jurisdiction, Tokyo is still by all means the largest urban area in the world, and has been for some time. The sum of Tokyo’s greater metropolitan population is over 36 million, which still dwarfs its competitors for now. Tokyo overtook New York as the world’s biggest city in the mid-1960s and since then, Tokyo has remained at the top.

In addition to size, Tokyo is rich. Tokyo has the largest total economic output (GDP) of any city in the world, even adjusting for income vs. the cost of living (PPP).

Despite Tokyo’s huge population and economic development, the city cuts a rather unknown visual image in most people’s minds. Images of blinking lights, crowded crosswalks and bustling noodle shops define Tokyo. The skyline is rather nondescript. Shanghai has its iconic, twisting futuristic … Read More »



10 THINGS I’VE LEARNED ABOUT PEOPLE BY TRAVELING

Posted on January 26th, by Steven in Uncategorized. 1 Comment

The human animal easily distinguishable from other species, largely based on our use of cell phones and the clothes we wear. I have no problem distinguishing humans when I’m at a zoo, or on a hike.

Once you’ve identified a human, there are many ways to learn about human behavior. You can study it at a university; you can go to a nightclub or a playground; you can even make (with some teamwork) little humans of your own.

The way I most enjoy learning about humans, or “people”, is by traveling. People are different everywhere, in each country and continent. Discussing cultural and behavioral differences in people is fun. But, no matter where I go in the world, some human characteristics remain the same.

Here are ten things I have learned about people in my travels:

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WE GET OUR PICTURE TAKEN IN FRONT OF … Read More »



5 GREAT SONGS ABOUT MEN TRAVELING TO FIND THE WOMAN THEY LOVE

Posted on January 21st, by Steven in Music, Uncategorized. No Comments

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WHOLE WIDE WORLD, Wreckless Eric

Pasty, imperial and reckless- Eric is ready to go the whole wide world to find his tropical goddess with “warm brown skin”. His mother suggested he take this journey and, though his heart may be in the right place, his plans seem rather reckless to me.

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SISTERS OF MERCY, Leonard Cohen

Cohen’s delicate Sisters of Mercy was written about an encounter in Edmonton with two traveling sisters. Apparently it was written on the chair which he slept as the sisters shared the hotel bed. Cohen claims the song is strictly platonic, though it contains a underlying yearning.

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I’M GONNA BE (500 Miles), The Proclaimers

Sincere, dedicated and desperate, the Reid brothers frighten away the woman of their dreams in this fun, anthemic hit song from 1993.

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HERE, THERE AND EVERYWHERE, The Beatles

One of the most mature and perfectly-crafted songs The Beatles … Read More »



25 THINGS TO KNOW BEFORE TRAVELING IN VIETNAM

Posted on January 19th, by Steven in Vietnam. 86 comments

Thailand enjoys a 50% return rate for foreign tourists. In contrast, Vietnam only pulls back 5% of visitors.

Personally, I feel that Vietnam walks all over Thailand in almost every travel category except beaches. So, why do so many people have such bad experiences and never return to Vietnam?

I hope the list I have made below helps out first-time visitors. It may seem cynical and anti-Vietnamese. It’s not. I love this country; I want you to love it, too. I’d just like to alert travelers to beware of the common first-time mistakes that may sour their experience of the local people and the country overall.

Do your homework, know what to expect, and this is the most rewarding country in Southeast Asia to explore.

Here goes:

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TAKE YOUR VISA SERIOUSLY, VERY SERIOUSLY INDEED

Yes, it seems like common sense, but I have seen tourists turned … Read More »



MY 10 FAVORITE CITIES

I love cities. As a traveler, I never feel alone in a city I enjoy, as cities themselves are a bit like people- slowly revealing their personalities, all imperfect and forever changing. Some are beautiful, some are ugly, but none can get by simply on their fine appearance or lack thereof. A great city needs a great personality; something that makes it truly unique and irreplaceable.

Beach destinations often disappoint, with promises of crystal clear waters, blue skies and smiling faces. The truth is often overcast skies, brown murky water, first-time tourists on pre-paid packages, and little adventure. A city, however, cannot lie. It is what it is and it will always be there, ready for you to engage and explore 24 hours a day, in whatever weather or budget.

These are my favorites:

-10-
BEIJING, China

I like how Beijing remains unglamorous amidst China’s … Read More »



SAN GIMIGNANO: a MEDIEVAL MANHATTAN

Posted on December 22nd, by Steven in Italy, Uncategorized. No Comments

(photo by Miheal Grmek)

Located in the Tuscan region of Italy, San Gimignano is a small, medieval (largely built in the 14th and 15th centuries), walled town. It is perched timelessly on a perfect little Tuscan hill and features a perfect little skyline of medieval stone towers, built due to a perfect little pissing contest between the local merchant families. In an attempt to outdo each other, the towers rose higher and higher, up to a height of nearly 70 meters (200 feet). At its peak, 72 towers graced the skyline. Today, fourteen remain. Tuscany was the world’s Manhattan 700 years ago and San Gimignano is the best place to experience its past heights.

I’d seen a picture of San Gimignano is one of my urban planning textbooks when I was a freshman in college. It was the “Skylines” chapter of The … Read More »



10 CITIES TRAVELERS LOVE TO HATE

Every good traveler should have, and is entitled too, his or her own unique opinion about what makes a certain place good or bad, likable or repulsive, worthwhile or overrated. Opinions are fun. I like hearing them as much as I like giving my own.

Some of my own opinions are atypical:

I have never enjoyed the Thai islands
I have not left my heart in San Francisco, even after visiting hundreds of times
I am not moved by high, jagged mountain ranges
Nebraska has the best landscapes of any American state
Chongqing, China- a polluted, hazy mess of a city- is spectacularly gorgeous and worth returning to again and again (I miss it as I type…)
I have a hard time finding a good meal in Italy

Throughout the globe, when groups of travelers meet up to discuss travel, opinions and superlatives often come out (I hate…..I … Read More »



10 AMERICAN CITIES THAT DESERVE MORE LOVE

Posted on December 17th, by Steven in Uncategorized, United States. 9 comments

The United States of America, the second-most visited country in the world, is rather sparsely populated. In contrast to rapidly-urbanizing developing countries, the US been reverting back to a more solitary, anti-urban lifestyle since the Second World War, leaving many of our cities with lack of investment and population.

However, America still has it’s fair share of great cities- even if some feel like relics in 2013. Generally, a first-time tourist to the US may include in their itinerary Boston, New York, Philadelphia, Washington, Miami – a stop in Chicago – and onto San Diego, LA, San Francisco, maybe Portland and Seattle. Those with less time will generally stick to the east or west coast only.

Those aforementioned places are our global cities and, of course, some of the best to visit. But just as no month in China is complete without … Read More »



SO, YOU WANT TO VISIT BURMA (MYANMAR)?

Posted on December 12th, by Steven in Asia, Burma, Uncategorized. 1 Comment

Hi. What’s your name?

“Before 1989, I was known as Burma. To separate me from my colonial past, my military government now calls me Myanmar. Both names come from the local Bamar ethnic group. The local intelligentsia and socially conscious travelers will still refer to me as ‘Burma’ to make a point. You can call me either.”

Do you speak English?

“Quite well. The British were here from 1824 to 1948. Today, English is widely spoken along the tourist routes and most locals are happy to communicate with you in basic English.”

When should I visit you?

“I hope you like the sun. Southern Burma, including the largest city of Yangon, is hotter and generally wetter, while northern Myanmar gets cool in the wet season and is generally drier. The hottest months throughout Burma are March and April. May to October comprises the ‘wet season’ … Read More »



THE WORLD’S 15 TALLEST PYRAMIDS

Posted on November 17th, by Steven in Uncategorized. 3 comments

The pyramid began as the best way to build tall, massive structures using only stone blocks. Less weight on top and more weight on the bottom meant less cracking and crumbling and less sophisticated engineering necessary; the sturdiest method to build with only raw materials. Modern pyramidal forms, now exceeding 1,000 feet, are today utilized for their visual qualities, not out of building necessity.

The earliest ancient pyramids are still mysterious. Methods of construction in ancient Egypt were subsequently lost to later builders. But, consider the simplicity of the design and construction of a pyramid (not that it was easy) and you can understand why the most exploitive and demonstrative of early civilizations built them- societies from Egypt to China to Mexico. They are a representation of hierarchical order and dominance.

Many buildings on this list may not be “true” pyramids. They may … Read More »



THE 10 MOST BEAUTIFUL COLONIAL CITIES IN CHINA

Posted on November 10th, by Steven in China. No Comments

European colonialism has at one point affected most of the world geographically. Entering the 21st Century, developing countries are still dealing with the affects of colonization. While stunting the development and involving centuries of exploitation, it is undeniable that many of the world’s most beautiful cities are European colonial, today blending traditional European urbanity with local culture and food. Today’s colonial cities are some of the most fascinating to visit.

In the early 1800s, China continued to dismiss trade with Britain, assuming that the China, or The Middle Kingdom, was more advanced and needed nothing else from outside. Growing frustrated, the British introduced opium and instigated the Opium Wars, defeating China militarily and opening up the coast and waterways for foreign trade. Foreign powers moved in and kept China fragmented until the Communist Party took power in the late 1940s. However, … Read More »



OLD SAN JUAN, PUERTO RICO: RENAISSANCE WITHIN REACH

Posted on November 5th, by Steven in Puerto Rico, Uncategorized. 3 comments

When living and working in a major North American city, it’s natural to want to experience some exotic, cobblestoned location when things get dull. Sometimes you have only a 3-day weekend. With no time to fly to Spain or Argentina, a more accessible option is necessary.

Old San Juan, on the fingernail of Puerto Rico’s capital city, is not the most beautiful Spanish colonial district in the Caribbean Sea (that would be Old Havana, Cuba). Old San Juan is, however, the most accessible.

In January of 2007, when Ohio was at it’s coldest and bleakest, my sister and I planned a vacation to Puerto Rico for our family. San Juan won over Mexico due to it’s accessibility from the US, lack of passport requirement (for US citizens), European heritage, and hot sun. My sister and I bought the flights and booked an … Read More »



STING’S 7 BEST SONGS ABOUT THE SEA

Posted on October 24th, by Steven in Music, Uncategorized. No Comments

I’ve been on a Sting kick of late. Nothing wrong with that.

Many reoccurring themes run through his songs: angels, love triangles, loss of religious faith, commitment, winter; but one theme has remained constant in Sting’s writing for 35 years: the sea.

Though he sang in a Jamaican accent from 1978 to 1981, Sting actually grew up in seafaring Newcastle, England- just a few blocks from the shipyards that built the world’s largest ships. Being lost at sea has been a useful metaphor for loneliness, death and rhythm. It is a theme Sting has successfully gone back to many times. The most memorable:

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THE WILD, WILD SEA, The Soul Cages (1991)

This song is obviously not about a hooker.

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VALPARAISO, Mercury Falling (1996)

Set in Chile’s romantic bohemian port city of Valparaiso, this song follows two lovers traveling over the sea to meet.

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LOVE IS THE SEVENTH … Read More »



EXPLORING THE CALIFORNIA DELTA ON 1850cc

Posted on October 23rd, by Steven in California, United States. 2 comments

“Manmade deltas and concrete rivers. The south takes what the north delivers.”

-Pavement, Unfair (1996)

In the fall of 2007, Bill and I were working and living in Berkeley, California. The environment of rose gardens, soy lattes and meatless pizzas was a far cry from our Midwestern hometowns. On weekends, we needed a break from Berkeley’s froufrou.

Plunging headfirst into a mid-20s crisis, we both bought motorcycles. Bill – a purple Harley Sportster 1200cc; and myself – a cherry red Yamaha V-Star 650cc.

Riding our motorcycles in the city didn’t quite satisfy us. Going west was impossible, due to an ocean. North and south too hair-raising; so we often headed east, regressing back into true American farmland, across the Coastal mountains and into the pastoral California Delta; the Midwest of the West.

 

 

The journey would begin in Berkeley with 24 miles of freeway to get out of … Read More »



Český Krumlov and Kutna Hora: BEARS, BEERS AND BONE CHANDELIERS

Posted on October 12th, by Steven in Czech Republic, Europe, Travel, Uncategorized. No Comments

In October of 2004 I was living in Holland and keeping an eye on the budget flights that were springing up around Europe at the time. A relaxed schedule at the Universiteit van Amsterdam allowed for 4-day weekends and few deadlines. One day a 39€ fare (each way) from Amsterdam Schipol to Prague opened up on the new Germanwings airlines. For the following weekend, I booked a four-night trip into Prague with no particular plan in mind. Onto the Czech Republic.

I’d been to Prague, the Czech capital, once before in the previous year. So, I had little want for more than a night there. A Hungarian flatmate of mine recommended a small town (pop: 13,000) called Český Krumlov, a 3-hour bus ride south of Prague. I looked at one picture, learned of a museum devoted to artist Egon Schiele and … Read More »



THE BEST BAR IN ASIA

Posted on October 6th, by Steven in Asia, Booze, South Korea, Travel, Travel Tips, Uncategorized. 3 comments

Last week, I arrived back in Taichung- a very livable and pleasant Taiwanese city. Also, a city with no great bars. I’ve searched. Amazing food, cozy cafes, some nice parks, even some decent places to have an outdoor beer from 7-11- but not one great room to have a friendly quaff and good conversation. For a city of 3 million, this is criminal. And so, I begin feeling nostalgic.

Before my first trip to Asia, I imagined there would be a huge lack of bars on this continent. Shopping malls, food stands, pollution- yes. But cozy, smart bars built with carefully with love? Not what pops into mind when an Ohioan thinks of Asia. I was wrong:

Bangkok – Parking Toys
Beijing – Mao Mao Chong
Yangon – The Strand
Siem Reap – Laundry
Tokyo – Ace’s
Manila – Mogwai
Saigon – Era Cafe

Handmade, friendly, stylish and … Read More »



MAKING THE JOURNEY BETWEEN XIAMEN, CHINA AND TAIWAN VIA KINMEN ISLAND

Posted on October 1st, by Steven in China, Taiwan, Uncategorized. 11 comments

From 1949 to 2008, travel between China and Taiwan was not allowed, with the majority of trips between these two using Hong Kong as a stepping stone into mainland China, or vice versa. Since relations between Taiwan and China have improved, numerous flights between Taiwan and the mainland have been introduced, but most of them at a high cost to budget travelers ($300-400 usd) considering the proximity between the two.

One worthwhile option of travel is to make the trip of the beautiful colonial port city of Xiamen, on the east coast in Fujian province and one of the great unknown cities of China, to the Taiwanese island of Jinmen (about 13km off Xiamen island) and then onto the main island of Taiwan by plane. This trip can be made in either direction, though a Chinese visa is not easily obtained … Read More »



FINDING INDONESIA’S TOILET-SIZED RUFFLESIA FLOWER

Posted on September 30th, by Steven in Asia, Indonesia, Travel, Uncategorized. 1 Comment

“On the twenty-third day of the month of September,
in an early year of a decade not too long before our own,
the human race suddenly encountered a deadly threat to its very existence.
And this terrifying enemy surfaced, as such enemies often do, in the seemingly most innocent and unlikely of places…”

-prologue to Little Shop of Horrors (1986)

September always has a hint of change and danger. On September 30, 2009, my first full year of travel in Asia had just finished. I was tired. I was also in northern Sumatra- the largest, and most wild island that makes up the dramatic archipelago of Indonesia.

Specifically, I was on a bumpy bus from the amazing Lake Toba to Bukittinggi exactly one year after I had first flown into Tokyo and found my apartment there. I was reflecting on the year, when … Read More »



HOW TO GET A BAD HAIRCUT WHEN TRAVELING

Posted on September 22nd, by Steven in Travel, Travel Tips, Uncategorized. 2 comments

Alongside a visit to a foreign doctor, getting a foreign haircut is one of the most daunting tasks a traveler must overcome. Many will let their hair grow out simply to avoid this confusing, and potentially very disappointing, challenge. But, having your hair cut is as urgent as appendicitis. Sometimes you gotta get rid of it, hippie.

To get a good haircut, you will need a photo, a smile and the ability to give the stylist confidence. To get a bad haircut, you need only say these three words:

“I am traveling.”

or…

“Viajo aquí.”
“Tôi đang đi du lịch”
“我在旅行.”
“저는 여행중 입니다.”

…etc.

I consistently lie to two groups of people: tailors and hairdressers. To the tailor: “I live here.” To the hairdresser: “I just moved here.”

A smart tailor knows that local customers will result in good or bad word-of-mouth. A smart hairdresser knows that someone new … Read More »



IS ASIA EXPENSIVE?

Depends on what you’re here for.

 

Different countries = different prices for different things.

Do you want to explore cities, see the big attractions, or experience the food and drink? For example, if you’re here to party, the Philippines generally has the cheapest drinks at restaurants and bars. In contrast, Chinese bars and clubs are expensive- comparable to North American prices, but the daily Chinese necessities (subway, street food, bottled water) are damn cheap, so if you’re here to take photos and explore the city life, China will be cheaper than the Philippines. Accommodation also varies in quality, type and price. Your sleeping standards could make or break your budget. In Vietnam, $10 may get you a comfy room with A/C, wifi and free breakfast. In the Philippines, a $10 room is nearly impossible to find.

Asia is a place that people … Read More »



RETHINKING NEW DESIGN FOR URBAN SAIGON

Posted on September 5th, by Steven in Asia, Design, Vietnam. No Comments

This is an exciting time to walk through Saigon (Ho Chi Minh City). The feeling on the street is upbeat, fast and fun. The city’s economic transition is apparent both physically and in essence. However, much of Saigon’s once-engaging urban character is being overshadowed by cold, out-of-scale development which fails to build on the established urbanity of the city. Such transformation calls for a cautious reconsideration of how new projects are designed and approved.

Hurried growth amidst economic transition has left an unpleasant footprint on many Asian cities. An example of fast, irresponsible development can be seen in Shanghai. There, the development of the Pudong District began during the economic boom of the 1990s and continues today, with the design having little regard for Shanghai’s physical urban history. When viewed from across the Huangpu River, the Pudong district rises like a … Read More »



RENTING A BEACH HOUSE IN MENDOCINO, CALIFORNIA (2006-2007)

Posted on August 25th, by Steven in California, United States. 3 comments

I’ve never had much desire to be financially rich. The simple luxuries that I enjoy are generally limited to the proletarian chic and rainy mornings with no obligations. Six bedrooms, a Dodge Viper, anything first-class/VIP, a young second wife, a doorman, toothy children with middle initials- those things just don’t interest me much.

However, no river long enough doesn’t contain a bend. My lifelong fiscal complacence was rocked in February of 2006, when I first stepped foot into what my friends and I still refer to as simply ‘The House’. The House that Philosophy Built. One day it will be mine.

It was a rainy February in the San Francisco Bay Area. Most Bay Area Februaries are. The late winter may be gloomy and damp, but as a result, the surrounding California countryside ripens from its summertime brown into a spectrum of electric … Read More »



WHAT DO DETROIT AND SAIGON HAVE IN COMMON?

Posted on July 30th, by Steven in Michigan, Uncategorized, United States, Vietnam. No Comments

Ol’ hollowed-out Detroit is in the news again, as it has recently become the largest-ever US city to file for bankruptcy. I’ve spent a lot of time in Motown and I still think about Detroit a lot. Surprisingly, I think about its odd connection to Saigon (Ho Chi Minh City), Vietnam.

Tropical, pastel Saigon and gray, post-industrial Detroit may appear polar opposites on the surface. However, they are connected in two interesting ways.

1. Fifty years ago, Detroit led the world in personal vehicle ownership. Saigon is most likely #1 today , with 92% of trips taken on a personal vehicle, overwhelmingly the motorbike.

1950: Detroit created the automobile industry, and automobiles became a necessary part of life in Detroit; as they still are today. In the 1950s, Detroit was the USA’s wealthiest city. During that time, it’s prosperity had made it the … Read More »



STREET FOOD IN ASIA: MY 5 FAVORITE CITIES

Posted on July 28th, by Steven in Uncategorized. 3 comments

When Americans return from their first trip to Europe they invariably rave about the transportation there: “it was so clean and efficient”. They suggest that the USA could adopt the same system, and then go on to show you some pictures of a cathedral. First-time visitors coming back from Asia generally first mention the fast, affordable and varied food they ate on the street or at the open markets found in every country they visited. They’ll roll their eyes back in ecstasy and describe the pad thai of Bangkok or the grilled pigeon of China. Call it what you want: ‘street food’; ‘hawker fare’; ‘stall food’; ‘food vendors’, there is no formality with this style. Its all about flavor and love. Skip the food courts and five-star hotels in Asia, no care goes into the food there. The street vendors … Read More »



5 THINGS TO SHOP FOR IN ASIA

Posted on June 18th, by Steven in Uncategorized. No Comments

Asian tourists often fly to the United States to visit our outlet shopping malls and buy the kinds of luxury items that we don’t want. I like to fly to Asia and buy the kind of stuff they don’t want.

Here’s five things I’m always on the hunt for:

-5-
VINTAGE EYEGLASSES

Asia is a fast-changing place and the fashion (and often flimsy materials) reflects this. Each season, shoppers are out chasing the latest trends and designs. Unlike in the west, vintage, second-hand, clothing and accessories have not yet come around in Asia. Without the demand for these old treasures, there are many great finds waiting on dusty shelves throughout the continent.

Without much effort or money, I have purchased over a dozen unique pairs of eyeglasses in the little shops of Asian cities. Generally, the more modern, upscale eyeglass shops will only offer newer, more expensive … Read More »



WHAT IS THE SAFEST SEAT ON THE BUS?

Posted on June 15th, by Steven in Travel Tips. 8 comments

In the middle, in an aisle seat on the side opposite of oncoming traffic.

I would estimate that I have “enjoyed” 20,000 miles on buses. I’ve survived a 36-hour ride from Beijing to Kunming, a sweltering broken-AC ride from Mulege to La Paz, Mexico, a grueling “third time’s a charm” ride from Siem Reap to Phnom Penh in which I rode on three different buses on one ticket due to the breakdowns of the first two, and an all-out air conditioning assault each time I’m in Malaysia.

To get the seat I want, I go in prepared. I have a little graphic showing the ticket seller of which seat I request.

Here’s a breakdown:

SAFEST

• Passengers in the front of the bus are vulnerable in a head-on collision. Yet, the drivers’ seat is sometimes believed to be the safest seat on the bus, due … Read More »



EXPLORING 10 GREAT CITIES THROUGH ICONIC MUSIC VIDEOS

Generally clocking in between three and five minutes, a good music video is a wonderful little escape from wherever we’re sitting. Many videos just feature bouncing cars, bouncing women and sleeveless drummers. However, some take us on fun journeys around the world. Let’s take a look:

———————————————–

-10-
CAPE TOWN, SOUTH AFRICA:
Solange, Losing You (2012)

The city as fashion. Inspired by the colors and textures of Cape Town’s townships, Solange and her video-friends are looking like beautiful curtains while bouncing around at the pool, the tailor, a barbershop and other ramshackle Cape Town locales. They explore local transportation in a taxi van and from atop the handlebars of a bicycle. Looks fun, eh?

The video was filmed around the neighborhood of Langa in Cape Town. Langa was established in the 1920s as a designated black African community and is today both poverty-stricken and colorful, as seen in the … Read More »



GEOGRAPHY AND TIME: THE SEARCH FOR PLACE IN ‘PARIS, TEXAS’ AND ‘WINGS OF DESIRE’

Posted on May 29th, by Steven in Uncategorized. 2 comments

“Europe forgets too little. America forgets too much”

-David Martin,
The USA in Central European Perspective

 

Geography is often the most important, or at lest pivotal, character in a Wim Wenders film. The environments in which his films take place: be it the road, the city or the desert, play a crucial role in reflecting and inspiring the hopes, fears, losses, pasts and futures of the characters within it. Wenders is a filmmaker examining and exploring both European and American film traditions. His films, when not international in scope, examine both Germans coming to terms with their past and Americans piecing things together in the vast frontier to assemble a future. In all of Wender’s films, the setting is not merely a backdrop, but also metaphor and a starting point for the films’ and the characters’ identities.

 

Wenders has a reputation for disdaining … Read More »



MY 15 FAVORITE CAFES IN SAIGON (HO CHI MINH CITY)

Posted on May 28th, by Steven in Asia, Vietnam. 19 comments

Vietnam is the 2nd largest producer of coffee in the world. Surprisingly, domestic consumption eats up only 8% of the beans produced here. Unlike in North America, the Vietnamese rarely grab coffee to go. When they do caffeinate, they tend take a break from the heat and relax in one of the country’s ubiquitous cafes dotted throughout the city.

 

Busy, modern Saigon (Ho Chi Minh City) is a city I love to visit. Saigon has maintained its strong cafe culture even amidst its growing responsibilities as Vietnam‘s economic center.

There are thousands of great cafes spread out over the city. My favorites are all located in Districts 1 and 3, which offer the best collection of historic buildings from which a great cafe can be built within. You can find me any day of the week in one of these. If you visit, … Read More »



THE LAYCATION: HOW TO TURN YOUR LAYOVER INTO A VACATION

Posted on May 22nd, by Steven in Travel Tips. 1 Comment

Direct flights are generally more expensive, hence most of us have been through layovers. For years, layovers have been accepted as an unwanted inconvenience of air travel. Internationally, a trip from San Francisco to Saigon may involve a stop in both Beijing and Bangkok, especially if you’re on a budget and searching for the lowest fare between these two cities.

What many travelers don’t know is that you can arrange for a few days (I’ve stayed up to 12 days) in your ‘layover’ city. Some airlines may let you stay up to a year. Let’s call it a laycation. Instead of having a cup of coffee in London, have a pint at The Mayflower.

So, how can you find and arrange it? Using www.kayak.com, which I use for my international flights, I can click and open up the “details” box of the flight … Read More »



YANGON: BURMA’S EXOTIC GATEWAY

Posted on May 19th, by Steven in Asia, Burma. 5 comments

Once considered the “rice bowl of Asia” for its wealth, Burma is now one of the most economically poor countries in the world. Despite the poverty, it is a stunning travel destination, filled with golden pagodas, colonial towns, beautiful beaches, and friendly, smiling locals along the way.

The largest city and gateway to all of Burma is Yangon (formerly Rangoon). Few large cities are as exotic as Yangon. This will be soon be changing, however. In the not-so-distant future, all of those sleepy, colorful, and crumbling British colonial buildings lined amid dark, quiet streets will be housing Japanese-Burmese fusion restaurants and British pubs playing six football games at a time via satellite. Thousands of tourists will swarm the city each day wearing Chang Beer tank tops and getting psyched up for their obligatory pub crawl. The sounds of LMFAO will be … Read More »



DRIVING IRELAND’S SEASIDE ‘RING OF KERRY’

Posted on May 17th, by Steven in Ireland, Travel. No Comments

Few places on Earth meet all of a traveler’s expectations. In my imagination, Ireland was colored by impossible greens, canopied in rainbows and peppered with clouds of tiny white sheep and gray, crumbling castles. Could it all be true?

I picked up my rental car at Hertz in Dublin City Centre. My requested Bentley had not yet arrived, so I settled on a little Opel. Disappointments aside, I had a nice talk with the guy working at the Hertz:

“Never ask for directions when you’re outside of Dublin” was his first piece of advice. I was intrigued. “You’ll be seen as shrewd. Instead, say to someone: ‘Good afternoon! Have you ever been to Castle Donovan? ‘ or ‘Would there happen to be a castle near here worth having a look at…?’”.

I knew I was going to like the Irish countryside before I even got the keys. … Read More »



KAUAI IN 36 HOURS: DRIVING AROUND THE ISLAND

Posted on May 13th, by Steven in Hawaii, United States. No Comments

Mark Twain wrote that Hawaii is “the loveliest fleet of islands that lies anchored in any ocean.” Of the eight major Hawaiian islands, Kauai is most often considered to be the most beautiful. I’m a rain-lover, and Kauai is also one of the rainiest places in the world. I’d always wanted to check it out if I had a free weekend. As I’ve always found islands to be a kind of soft prison, 36 hours would be enough. In and off.

When I was working an an urban designer in Berkeley, California, I was part of a team redesigning and regenerating US military residential neighborhoods on the island of Oahu, just east of Honolulu. I liked working on the projects, as the many sites had an interesting history, dramatic location, great vistas and the overall project had a social justice in improving … Read More »



A WEEKEND IN MEXICO’S MOST BEAUTIFUL CITY

Posted on May 6th, by Steven in Central America, Mexico, Travel. No Comments

When I was working in Berkeley, California between 2005 and 2008, I often took advantage of cheap weekend flights to Mexico City ($300 RT / 3 hours each way). Taking Friday or Monday off would give me three nights and days to explore a little bit of Mexico City (“the DF”) and to discover a new city in central Mexico (thanks, cheap rental cars).

I took about five of these weekend trips down to Mexico City and I was able to explore the central colonial cities of San Miguel de Allende, Zacatecas, San Luis Potosi, Querétaro and the most beautiful of all, Guanajuanto. Guanajuato is a six hour, 390km drive northwest of Mexico City.

I would recommend taking side roads to see the little towns between. Each town has its own little zocolo (town square) and cathedral. Remember that Mexican tolls are high and … Read More »



5 QUIET PLACES IN ASIA TO TAKE A BREAK AND REGROUP

Posted on April 28th, by Steven in Asia, Cambodia, China, Indonesia, Laos, The Philipines, Travel Tips. No Comments

“I was driving myself, pounding out the miles because I was no longer hearing or seeing. I had passed my limit of taking in or, like a man who goes on stuffing in food after he is filled, I felt helpless to assimilate what was fed in through my eyes. Each hill looked like the one just passed. I have felt this way in the Prado in Madrid after looking at a hundred paintings—the stuffed and helpless inability to see more. This would be a time to find a sheltered place beside a stream to rest and refurbish.”

–John Steinbeck, Travels with Charley (1962)

Travel can be hard work. Adrenaline may keep our heads spinning and our feet moving, but it’s important to consider the hidden exhaustion of long trips. Weeks of momentum, scheduling and packing/unpacking will take its toll on your body and dull … Read More »



10 BEST LOST-IN-A-FOREIGN-COUNTRY MOVIE CHARACTERS

 

10. DAVID LOCKE (Jack Nicholson); The Passenger (1975)

Native of: USA
Lost in: North Africa and Spain

Travel may be defined by leaving one’s established location. For some, it offers an opportunity to also leave oneself.

David Locke (Nicholson) is a cynical American journalist stuck in a North African desert struggling to make a documentary on political rebels. After a frustrating day of failure and now back at his sandy ramshackle hotel, he finds his new Englishman friend in the next room has suddenly died. Wanting a change, he decides to check out of the hotel, but only after stealing the Englishman’s passport and identity. As the movie trailer cliché goes “he would soon find out that he got more than he bargained for”. Finding an appointment book in the Englishman’s belongings, he soon goes on a bizarre, rather subdued (for Nicholson) adventure through urban Barcelona and … Read More »



TOURISM MEETS URBAN PLANNING: OUR LONG, HOT SUMMER IN CRETE

Posted on April 17th, by Steven in Europe, Greece. No Comments

Way back in 2003, when a young Nelly was still making hits (Hot in Herre was barely a year old and slamming the speakers in the Hersonissos clubs), Bill and I spent a long summer on the island of Crete in Greece. We were there with faculty from our university (the University of Cincinnati’s DAAP program) as part of team to define, and provide solutions for, a fast-growing coastal municipality of 10,000 called Hersonissos.

Civilization on the island of Crete had prospered for thousands of years in a climate of blue skies, pristine beaches and time-honored olive groves. The traditional towns and villages had withstood centuries of colonialization and more recent changes in economic modes. When we arrived with the team of planners, the island was facing a new challenge – the onslaught of 10 million rowdy European tourists flocking to … Read More »



DISCOVERING (by accident) THE PALIO DI SIENA IN TUSCANY, ITALY

Posted on April 17th, by Steven in Europe, Italy. No Comments

Back in college I visited Sienna, Italy during a car trip through Tuscany and got much more than I expected.

Underwhelmed by the touristic atmosphere of Florence, I opted to rent a litte VW Golf (expensive for a 21 year old, at 90 Euros with insurance) to explore Tuscany and its famous hillside towns of San Giminiagno and Sienna, along with the wine region of Chianti.

I had no idea I’d be accidentally stumbling upon Tuscany’s biggest event, the biannual Il Palio horse race. Before I’d even arrived in the main square of Piazza del Campo, I could see the other spectators dressed up to represent their district of town walking through the side streets in the direction of the center. Passionate viewers were already crying and becoming emotional. Celebrities were arriving in limos and paparazzi were snapping away. I still had … Read More »



25 THINGS I LOVE ABOUT SAIGON (HO CHI MINH CITY)

Posted on March 31st, by Steven in Asia, Vietnam. 22 comments

When someone embraces a person they love, it manifests on the brain a mappable sensation of electricity that can actually be seen on an MRI scan. Love affects the brain in the same way that stimulants such as alcohol or drugs affect our physiology and physchology. Love, like whiskey, is addictive. And cities, like love, can cause us to be irrational and abandon our plans and direction to return back again and again.

There are many cities I love, but there are only two cities in the world that I just can’t quit.

They are both sweltering delta cities with a French colonial history. One is at the mouth of the Mississippi and the other at the mouth of the Mekong. This week, I returned to my favorite place in Asia. How do I love thee? I count (and photograph) the ways.

 

25. … Read More »



WHERE IS YOUR HOME?

Posted on February 26th, by Steven in Travel, Uncategorized. No Comments

 

Steven in transit, 1985

“Where are you from?”

This question gets tossed around guesthouses, bars, bus stations and just about anywhere else people with unfamiliar faces and accents congregate. I’ve answered it so many times that I sometimes lie just to keep myself from walking away.

However, someone recently asked me a more poignant question:

“Where is your home?” 

Instinctually, that question should also be an easy one. Everyone needs an address. It’s 2013. Humans no longer chase deer across continents.

But I couldn’t answer it.

Since the first time I read it at 16, I have always remembered Thomas Wolfe’s You Can’t Go Home Again: “You can’t go back home to the old forms and systems of things which once seemed everlasting but which are changing all the time.” Surely, home must be able to evolve with you for it to not just be merely a memory, or … Read More »



MURDEROUS TIGERS, HEADHUNTERS and SLASHED JUGULARS: a travelogue from my grandfather

Posted on February 25th, by Steven in Asia, Burma, China, The Philipines, Travel. No Comments

(the elder Steven Muzik, on the left, about to do something cool)

Recently, I was back in Ohio for Christmas. In the midst of my curious snooping, I came across a bit of a travelogue that my grandfather (by chance also named Steven Muzik) wrote in 1988 for a reunion. It recounts his time in Asia with the military and touches on his travels for his engineering firm.

Writing this, I have now been to many of the places he traveled to. However, with no mention of karaoke, high-speed trains or Macbooks, it’s apparent his time abroad was a bit different from mine.

____________________________________________________________________________________________

I’ve transcribed his travelogue. In his own words:

 

“On January 9, ’45 boarded the USS Gen. C.G. Morton with my unit of 214 men. A “quality” outfit comprised of mostly “jail house lawyers”, four of whom never did get abroad. We … Read More »



7 ALBUMS I CAN’T TRAVEL WITHOUT

Posted on September 22nd, by Steven in Music, Travel Tips. No Comments

Not all the music I love is appropriate to pair with travel. For instance, I can recite any song by The Smiths, but I can’t admit that “I Know its Over” is a great soundtrack as my train pulls into Beijing. There is some music that has always seemed like it was made for exploring landscapes or cityscapes. I keep coming back to these when I’m traveling down the road, rails or sidewalks.

 7. Pavement, Crooked Rain, Crooked Rain (1994)

With their second album, Pavement explored the Delta conduit of their world-famous home state of California.

This is not the familiar image that the Beach Boys or 2Pac may have introduced you to. Pavement explore the changing farm towns and “manmade deltas and concrete rivers” of rural and suburban California. He reminisces about evenings roaming a subdivision on his skateboard in “Range … Read More »



6 UNIQUE FORMS OF TRANSPORTATION IN ASIA

Posted on September 22nd, by Steven in Asia, Burma, Cambodia, Indonesia, Laos, Thailand, The Philipines, tips, Travel, Vietnam. 1 Comment

Upon my first visit to any new Asian city, I am most excited to try the local food. Perhaps the second-most interesting feature unique to each new destination is the creative ways that people are transported across the city. Below are some of my favorite modes of transportation across Southeast Asian cities:

BAJAJ: JAKARTA, INDONESIA

A bajaj, named after the Indian Bajaj motor company, is a motorized rickshaw. There are an estimated 20,000 of these in Indonesia’s “Big Durian” capital of Jakarta. They will seat two comfortably and even accommodate five or six with a little motivation. The drivers are generally upbeat and fairly honest, though a little negotiation is necessary. Just ask a young local what you should pay to your destination before getting in.

The ride can be fun. These guys will fearlessly make a … Read More »



YOU DESERVE A ONCE-A-MONTH 5-STAR HOTEL SPLURGE

Posted on September 22nd, by Steven in Asia, Burma, China, Indonesia, tips, Travel, Travel Tips. No Comments

Long-term budget travel can be strenuous and take its toll. In addition to the long bus rides, the heat, and the constantly-changing environments, your accommodations will generally be modest and sometimes downright uncomfortable. Many budget travelers try to keep to a $1,000-a-month budget, which comes out to about $30 a day, accounting for cross-border flights and visa fees. When considering this budget, it is generally wise to keep accommodation around $10/day, which will allow for a modest guesthouse or dormitory, depending on the country.

When budget allows, I recommend finding a sweet deal on a luxury hotel, arranging a 10 a.m. check-in and just spending the next 26 hours relaxing on the premises. It will give you the chance to take a steaming  bath, clear your head, get excellent sleep and even wear a damn robe. You will likely get a … Read More »



NEW ORLEANS: STILL MY FAVORITE CITY IN THE WORLD

Posted on September 19th, by Steven in Louisiana, Travel, United States. 2 comments

Even the truss-like diagonals and curvature of the letters that make up the words ‘NEW ORLEANS’ exude a feminine, wrought-iron elegance. There is architecture even in the name here.

A pianist/singer I heard at LaFitte’s on Bourbon Street once informed us, “I’ve played in two countries: the USA and New Orleans.” It seems New Orleans doesn’t really belong anywhere. While New York and Los Angeles remain a patchwork of influences, there has never been a definitive style that comes from either city. As the common notice goes, San Francisco has been “yuppiefied” and sterilized for years. Boston and Philadelphia, though physically stately, were never the most emotive of places. Chicago is an athlete with a strong chin, indifferent to its style. New Orleans, however, is of its’ own.

Everywhere I go in the world, I still see New Orleans. It’s there in … Read More »



COCKFIGHT! SOME WILD BIRD-ON-BIRD ACTION IN VIGAN, PHILIPPINES

Posted on September 18th, by Steven in Asia, The Philipines. No Comments

I once believed cockfights to be a somewhat-mythical ‘sporting’ event that was confined to old late night movies and Hunter S. Thompson novels. Like others my age, the term ‘cockfight’ really burrowed it’s way into my vocabulary in 1997 with the “Little Jerry Seinfeld” episode of Seinfeld. Yep- the episode in which Kramer buys what he thinks is a hen (for fresh eggs) only to find it’s a rooster (cock), and then the whole group subsequently gets taken on a journey through the New York City cockfighting underbelly. Must.resist.temptation.to.simply.write.about.Seinfeld…

My good friend Stephen (the Shameless Traveler) and I recently caught a cockfight in Vigan, on the island of Luzon, Philippines. It was an anticipated event for both of us. Before we could arrive, we needed the ultimate cockfight viewer’s accessory: not a fistful of cash, but rather a badass cockfighting hat. … Read More »



THE 5 BEST ROOFTOP BARS IN ASIA

Posted on September 17th, by Steven in Asia, Beijing, Booze, China, Malaysia, Thailand, tips, Travel, Vietnam. 2 comments

“Come Quickly. I have tasted the stars.”– 19th century champagne print add, often attributed to Dom Perignon

5. LUNA BAR, Kuala Lumpur

Located just across the street from the KL Tower (the city’s unmissable ‘space needle’) on the 34th floor of the Pacific Regency Hotel, the Luna Bar offers a spectacular view of the Petronas Towers and Kuala Lumpur skyline. After 10pm, secure a spot on the upper deck for the best view of KL available. Unfortunately, the tempting swimming pool in the middle is only for hotel guests. But, what’s the worst that can happen- you get kicked out? Finish your drink and hop in.

 

 

4. XIU, Beijing

Another sprawling Grand Hyatt rooftop bar, Xiu is modestly located on the 5th floor of the hotel. The design is a combination of sleek contemporary and traditional Beijing architecture (recreated, of course). The … Read More »



HARAJUKU SUNDAY

Posted on September 17th, by Steven in Asia, Japan, Travel. No Comments

A surge of Tokyo pedestrians doesn’t shuffle.  A Tokyo crowd moves like a current, its unity seamless and sychronized. On a rainy day, from above, the umbrellas of Tokyo drift like leaves in a stream, independent and incongruent, yet guided by a common momentum. Down the narrowest alleys and side streets, these lids flock together like birds, graciously careful to not encroach or collide. Even for the most urbane first-time visitor to the city, swimming in a Tokyo crowd takes guts and determination. Observing it from a vantage point is often more pleasant, and far less embarrassing.

I remember exiting the Harajuku JR station on a Sunday afternoon in September, expecting to photograph the over-the-top fashions of the gothic Harajuku Girls. What I saw instead were hundreds of other downcast, yet eager faces peering from beneath the rims of their umbrellas. … Read More »



ROAD TRIP USA: LOS ANGELES to LAS VEGAS via MOJAVE DESERT BACKROADS

Posted on September 17th, by Steven in California, Nevada, Travel, United States. 4 comments

For tourists to the USA, one of the most often-traveled routes is Los Angeles to Las Vegas. We have seen it in countless movies, including The Hangover, Very Bad Things and Swingers. I have spoken to many international tourists who have made this drive. Almost always, they travel straight along Interstate 15, making the 4+ hour drive as fast as they can, seeing power lines, billboards and truck stops along the way.

However, if you take a full day and the initiative to push your car off the restrictions of the 4-lane Interstate and into the depths of the desert, you will find a rewarding journey filled with surreal desertscapes and highway ruins, exposing layers of forgotten Americana that few international travelers can experience in American cities. Additional time may allow for some exploration of Joshua Tree National Park, famous for … Read More »



BANGKOK’S CHATUCHAK WEEKEND MARKET: the limitless multiplication of unnecessary necessities.

Posted on September 17th, by Steven in Asia, Thailand, Travel, Uncategorized. No Comments

It has been estimated that over 35,000 shoppers come here, to Southeast Asia’s largest market, each Saturday and Sunday. On the Saturday that I visited, I didn’t count 35,000- but I did see quite a few sweaty faces.The 35-acre Chatuchak Weekend Market has been selling expendable horseshit to travelers for over 30 years. It contains an estimated 5,000 unnecessary stalls of needless horseshit, all of which could be yours. In addition to all of the inessential horseshit, the Chatuckak Market has become a hub for the trade of crucial endangered species. Enjoy.

 

Since I’ve exhausted my use of “horseshit”, along with synonyms for “needless”, I’ll leave it at that.

 

 

To visit, travel north all the way up the BTS skytrain to Mo Chit Station and follow the masses toward the market. The dispensible market offerings begin the second you exit the station.

View … Read More »



LAKE TOBA, INDONESIA: TAKING A BREAK

Posted on September 17th, by Steven in Asia, Indonesia, Travel, Uncategorized. 1 Comment

Lake Toba is a place where people come for a week but end up staying for a month, sometimes never leaving at all. Located in northern Sumatra, the largest of Indonesia’s many islands, Lake Toba sits at a high altitude that gives it a year-round cool and comfortable climate. One hundred kilometers long and thirty kilometers wide, Lake Toba is the largest volcanic lake in the world. Not only is the lake of importance in archeological history, it is also a spectacularly beautiful and peaceful travel destination which offers an alternative to the thumping pop music and traffic-filled beach destinations of southeast Asia.

My trip to Lake Toba offered me the chance to take a break from the hectic pace and thick air of many Asian cities. The lake water is clean, warm and perfectly inviting for swimming. The lake also … Read More »


VISITING THE TSUKIJI FISH MARKET IN TOKYO

Posted on September 17th, by Steven in Asia, Japan, StreetFood, Travel. No Comments

The Tsukiji fish market is widely known to be the largest fish market in the world, as well as one of the largest markets of any kind, anywhere. No visit to Tokyo is complete without a smelly pre-dawn wandering. Bring your camera and plenty of battery, as the vivid colors and juxtapositions here are amazing. The market is set to move locations in early 2016 so if you want to see it at the current location, be sure to plan your trip soon.

Remember that bar in Star Wars? Yes, the cantina with all the crazy creatures jamming and fighting. The Tsukiji market is something akin to this, except that the characters are soon to be traveling down an esophagus rather than sailing through space. You will see creatures you could never imagine on a plate. They are squirming, spitting, twisting … Read More »



WHY YOU SHOULD NEVER EAT AT YOUR GUESTHOUSE

Posted on September 17th, by Steven in Asia, eating out, StreetFood, tips, Travel, Travel Tips. No Comments

I understand: you’ve just arrived from the airport. You look like hell. You really do; you’re sweaty, tired, hungry and you’re wearing sports pants. You just want to check in, put down your bag, shower and eat. You don’t yet want to go out exploring your new city, scouring for the best hidden place to get your first meal. Again, I understand. I’ve seen you looking anguished in countless hostels, hotels and guesthouses across the world, and I have been in your sandals before.

Be patient. I don’t believe I’ve ever eaten at a guesthouse, hostel or hotel eatery that could survive on its own as an independent restaurant. The food is always dumbed down for tourists and built to fill a hole and make a buck, not to cherish. Food is one of the joys of travel, so fight the … Read More »



WHY IS ASIA SO SAFE?

How is there so little street crime?

Don’t get me wrong, there is crime in Asia. There is government corruption, bribery, domestic abuse and organized crime. However, a traveler is highly unlikely to get caught up in this. “Street crime” such as robbery, assault, rape and murder are astonishingly low, especially in North Asia (Mongolia somewhat excluded). In large Asian cities, I have no fear listening to my iPod and walking home through unknown neighborhoods for two hours in the middle of the night.

Travelers and expats appreciate this quality over here, yet can’t seem to explain exactly why it is. Rich and poor are living together. Surely, there are plenty of “opportunities” for crime walking down the streets. So why is Asia so safe?

Here are a few factors that likely influence the low street crime of Asia:

THE SHAME FACTOR

In the USA, … Read More »



5 BOOKS THAT INSPIRED ME TO TRAVEL AND LIVE ABROAD

Posted on September 16th, by Steven in Travel, Travel Tips, Uncategorized. No Comments

5. Malcolm Lowry, UNDER THE VOLCANO (1947)

In On the Road, Dean and Sal head down Mexico way to get their kicks- and experience little else in the process. For contrast, in the less-manic Under the Volcano, alcoholic British consul Geoffrey Firmin stammers through his accepted hometown as his beloved urban purgatory- the somewhat mythical Quauhnahuac, Mexico (based on Cuernavaca, where Lowry spent much of his own life).

Under the Volcano is not a book concerned with travel, but is instead features a fascinating examination of place; particularly how it can mirror our own personal standing in life, or vice versa. Lowry paints a vivid picture of the small city, with its dirty cantinas, disappearing (and reappearing) volcano, overgrown gardens, and luminous circus spinning eerily in the night. Anyone who has traveled through Latin America will feel these places vividly on each … Read More »



AIR CONDITIONING ASSAULT: STAYING COOL IN MALAYSIA

Posted on September 16th, by Steven in Asia, Malaysia, tips, Travel, Travel Tips, Uncategorized. 2 comments

Upon my death, I hereby request to be sat upright in the back of a long-distance Malaysian bus. Then, when the day comes and they find a cure for whatever it is that I succumbed to, I can be unfrozen and enjoy a nice bowl ofHokkein mee in Penang.

Buy a ticket on a Malaysian bus or ferry and you may just get a seat next to Walt Disney. Yes, Malaysia is a sweltering tropical country, and the nation’s relative prosperity now allows for some extra travel comforts. This certainly includes air conditioning, which is heavily utilized and paraded out for travelers, allowing for us to experience a bit of the Andes right in the heart of Southeast Asia.

Some tips for surviving a bus or ferry trip in Malaysia. Remember that women constitute 2/3 of all cold-related deaths. So, ladies- take note:

 

The stages of … Read More »



GOODBYE, GOD. I’M GOING TO BODIE

Posted on September 16th, by Steven in California, Nevada, tips, Travel, Uncategorized, United States. No Comments

“Goodbye god, I’m going to Bodie” – diary entry of a little girl moving from San Francisco to Bodie

My favorite California destination to come back to again and again, Bodie is an eerie ghost town that once housed 7,000 residents and is now home to a few helpful park rangers and some squirrels. Located 8,000 feet in elevation, near the California / Nevada border, about 75 short American miles (120km) southeast of Lake Tahoe, Bodie is a perfect tie-in to any trip to the more-famous lake. Getting there is half the fun, as you drive south through some canyons and finally veer off onto a hairy 13-mile dirt road into the heart of the high desert landscape.

Bodie thrived in the 1870s, when prospectors predicted it would bring enormous amounts of gold. While the town did produce some gold, production quickly declined. At … Read More »



6 LESSER-KNOWN REASONS TO STAY IN ASIA

Posted on September 16th, by Steven in Asia, eating out, StreetFood, tips, Travel, Uncategorized. No Comments

Travel guides and websites entice westerners with the images of serene temples rising over a jungle fog, shining skylines, pristine beaches and elephant rides through the jungle. These Asian attractions exist, and you’ll enjoy them. But if you ignore your return flight home and stick around here- as so many do- you can get to know this continent in a way that the casual tourist could never begin to. Here are six little-known reasons to enjoy, and stay in, Asia.

 6. URINARY FREEDOM

The American Age brought with it armies marching out into the world and “spreading democracy”. Perhaps, as China and East Asia emerge, we can look forward to regular “pee-freeing missions” as the 21st century progresses. It seems men can pee everywhere in Asia. It almost feels encouraged. Picnic-tabled streetside restaurants stay open into the late hours (offering large bottles of cheap beer, of course) … Read More »



6 THINGS YOU NEED TO KNOW BEFORE TRAVELING IN CHINA

Posted on September 16th, by Steven in Asia, China, Travel, Uncategorized. No Comments

With the gradual rise of the Chinese yuan, paired with domestic inflation, China may soon no longer be considered a budget destination. Now is the time to visit. My first visit in 2008 was far cheaper than our last visit this year in the summer of 2011. As the infrastructure improves, along with overall prosperity, the cost of travel in China may soon be more comparable to Korea and Taiwan than to Southeast Asia.

For the traveler, China is a country of idiosyncrasies, paperwork, language barriers and overall confusion. For some, this may add to the country’s exotic charm, but often makes it a daunting and frustrating country to visit. As we’ve visited here over eight times now, we’ll now pass along some essential information.

6. “DUO CIAO CHIEN” (“Dow Shou Chi-en”) 多少钱

In China, be careful of getting into financial exchanges without a set price … Read More »



IS PHNOM PENH SAFE?

Posted on September 16th, by Steven in Asia, Cambodia, tips, Travel, Uncategorized. 9 comments

Phnom Penh has a bit of a dangerous reputation among travelers, even though most guidebooks tell us it is safer than it looks. No doubt, the place feels a bit unsafe upon a first visit. Is it?

At night, many of the city streets are dimly lit, and shadowy silhouetted figures gather on the street corners. I am accustomed to utilizing the same judgment I would in an American city- where dark, empty streets are suspicious alone after dark, especially with others loitering about. However, coming here from other Asian capitals, I am so accustomed to walking freely with little fear. Is Phnom Penh different?

Given the amount of guns and Cambodia, along with the discrepancy between the income of the locals and the value of a tourist’s backpack, it is a wonder that there is not actually more crime in Phnom Penh. Certainly, the kindness of local strangers … Read More »



NORTH ASIA OR SOUTHEAST ASIA: WHICH IS RIGHT FOR YOU?

So, what’s the difference?

To a non-Asian, the divide between Northeast Asia and Southeast Asia is a curious one that takes much time to understand. But as a first-time traveler may find out, there are obvious differences in the people, the traditions, the daily lives and the social and political characteristics between these regions. Let’s try to break it down a bit:

Northeast Asia (China, Hong Kong, Macau, Mongolia the Koreas, Japan and Taiwan) and Southeast Asia(Vietnam, Laos, Cambodia, Thailand, Burma, Malaysia, Philippines, Indonesia, Singapore) are both extraordinary places to visit- with thousands of years of history, crowded metropolises, warm people and wonderful culinary traditions.

Generally, North Asian countries, while all having unique characteristics, are largely influenced by Confucianism and ancient China. With the recent economic rise of China, the continuing growth of South Korea and Taiwan and the established prosperity of Japan and Hong Kong, North Asia is one of the world’s most prosperous regions and also one of its … Read More »



EARTHQUAKE! TAKING A LOOK AT THE 2009 EARTHQUAKE IN PADANG, INDONESIA

Posted on September 16th, by Steven in Asia, Indonesia, Travel, Uncategorized. No Comments

My month in Sumatra, in September of 2009, could not have been more relaxing and uneventful. I remember long afternoons with various books, sitting by Lake Toba and thinking of what kind of fish to have for dinner after the sun made its way down. There were days spent building a makeshift fishing pole and making failed attempts at catching my own fish. I had little else to do. Eventually, it was time to leave the fantasy and head down to Jakarta overland from Lake Toba. I anticipated a bit more excitement in the 30-hour journey ahead. It wouldn’t take long for things to get tumultuous.

 

On the evening of September 30, I made my way back to the lobby of the Orchid Hotel in Bukittingi, a pleasantly-sloped town in which I had stopped for a few days to check out Rafflesia, the world’s largest flower (another … Read More »



THE EPHEMERAL MAGIC CARPET: VISITING CALIFORNIA’S SPRINGTIME WILDFLOWERS

Posted on September 16th, by Steven in California, tips, Travel, Uncategorized, United States. No Comments

California’s nickname, The Golden State, comes not only from the gold rush of 1849, but is also inspired from the autumnal golden and yellow hue of the fields and hills, and the springtime poppy blast that rewards residents for surviving the soggy winter rains. This annual flower explosion could only be described by The Insane Clown Posse as a “miracle”.

You should visit; and, first things first: it’s all about timing. The bloom will only last a few weeks and often peak unexpectedly, depending on the amount of rain received in the weeks and days before the flower season. The impressiveness of the flowers is different each season, but the flowers do tend to consistently gather in the same locations each year.

I have two favorite places that I return to each spring season when I am in California:

Death Valley – The flowers … Read More »



IS SWEDEN A ‘THIRD WORLD’ COUNTRY?

Posted on September 16th, by Steven in Asia, Europe, Sweden, Travel, Uncategorized. No Comments

‘Third world’ is a term that came to use during the Cold War. The term was applied to delineate nations that were not aligned with capitalism, and also not aligned with communism. Today, this geopolitical stratification has become outdated.

FIRST WORLD: capitalist, NATO-oriented nations (USA, UK, Canada, etc…)

SECOND WORLD: communist nations, aligned with the USSR (Russia, Vietnam, Cuba, etc…)

THIRD WORLD: those nations unaligned with the 1st or 2nd Worlds (all others)

Considering the amount of open anti-Americanism I encounter abroad, I believe that most travelers who use the term ‘Third World’ would certainly cease to, if they were to become aware that the ‘rankings’ were drawn from a US-centric perspective.

The 1st, 2nd and 3rd Worlds were divided so not by their wealth or industrialization, but rather by their political alignment. For example, at the end of the American War in Vietnam (1975), Sweden and Finland were considered third-world countries, … Read More »



VISIT ASIA. GET NAKED, SWEAT, REPEAT

Posted on August 6th, by Steven in Asia, Japan, Laos, South Korea, Thailand, Travel, Vietnam. No Comments

The health benefits of a sauna are many. Saunas help open the pores of the skin and release toxins. Warm steam helps the flow of blood and relieves joints and muscle aches. You will leave looking and feeling refreshed, relaxed and ready to hit the town again.

No trip to Asia is complete without visiting a sauna. So, experiencing rooms full of (mostly) old, naked Asian men, or women, is not what inspired you to buy that expensive ticket over here? You’re feeling a bit of unease about stripping bare and flapping around, perhaps protected by only a little towel? Well, we’ll try to help you get your toes wet with confidence:

1) ALL Asian saunas from Tokyo to Vientiane will require you to disrobe and shower before sampling the sauna rooms or hot tubs. So, first you will lock your shoes … Read More »



FINDING CONFUCIUS IN QUFU, CHINA

Posted on August 6th, by Steven in Asia, Travel. No Comments

I hear and I forget. I see and I remember. I do and I understand. – Confucius



SIX CHINESE CITIES YOU’VE NEVER HEARD OF BUT SHOULD VISIT

Posted on August 6th, by Steven in Asia, China, Travel. 2 comments

Before visiting China, like most other Americans I was familiar with Beijing, Shanghai, and Guangzhou (as Canton). I was soon taken aback by the enormous size and endless number of Chinese metropolises. “12 million in a city called Shenzhen”? “Wuhan? It’s bigger than Paris? That can’t be right…”

What most of us don’t know about Chinese cities could fill a book as tall (333m) as the Wenzhou World Trade Center (“wait: Wenzhou? Where? Yep, and it’s bigger than Chicago…”).

While Beijing and Shanghai are certainly worth visiting, don’t leave China without spending some time in the “smaller”, more provincial cities. The ones you’ve never heard of. The ones that roll past you at 120km/hr on your train ride. Hop off the train and hop in.

Here are some of our favorite lesser-known Chinese cities:

1. Harbin

(har – bin)

If the winter cold hasn’t rendered your … Read More »



EXPLORING DOWNTOWN LOS ANGELES: AMERICA’S FORGOTTEN URBAN FRONTIER

Posted on August 6th, by Steven in California, Travel, United States. No Comments

Los Angeles is a big valley full of mystery. Most Americans have grown to view Los Angeles as an uncomfortable patchwork of suburbs and expressways. Images of riots, earthquakes, and endless traffic have given the city a notorious reputation throughout the states. Tourists unfamiliar with the city’s physical dysfunction will often make overambitious itineraries and then quickly find that getting around is half the schedule. So, how can you simplify your visit and make the most of LA’s complexities?

One great place to start is downtown Los Angeles, as it is compact, walkable, fascinating, and regularly overlooked in guidebooks and discussion of LA.

Some history:
As Eastern and Midwestern Americans flocked west to Los Angeles in the early 20th Century, they built the young new city to resemble what they had back home: tight, organized urban grids with well-defined sidewalks, street trees, squares … Read More »



THE 5 CHEAPEST BEERS IN ASIA

Posted on March 16th, by Steven in Asia, Booze, Burma, China, Laos, The Philipines, Vietnam. No Comments

And by cheapest we mean cheap and worth wasting your time to hunt down.







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