In this ongoing post, I will document my travels in regard to the minutia of recording my flights, hotels, food, visas, lounges and other travel trivia.

January 7 – Thailand

Checking in at O’hare’s international terminal with Korean Air.

The first flight of the year was a long and uncomfortable ride from Chicago to Seoul.  Sitting in the second to last row in economy, but was able to watch a couple of movies.

My ticket to Seoul.  At least it was an aisle.

Thankfully, before this unpleasant flight I was able to get some free snacks before the flight at the Air France/KLM Lounge.

air france lounge in ORD

air france klm lounge air france klm lounge What also made this an interesting flight was I brought my dog, Khan Mak from the states back to Bangkok.

January 8

I made it to Seoul where I had a layover as I waited for my next flight to Bangkok.  Around 60,000,000 passengers pass through this airport.

Incheon International AirportIncheon International AirportAnd since I had a couple of hours to kill, I found my way to the Matina Lounge in Terminal 2, which was a much more updated lounge than the one at ORD.

matina lounge seoul

Not the best way to start of the new year, but these chocolate things in the right hand corners were delicious.

matina lounge seoul

Then six more hours to Bangkok in economy.

January 21 – Uganda

My exit stamp, leaving Thailand.

This was my start to my East African roadtrip.  I departed Bangkok.  Anyone who has been there, knows this statue at BKK.

And late at night, I headed to the Miracle Lounge to relax before my flight.

My flight was at 2 am, departing Bangkok to Addis Ababa on Ethiopian Air, part of Star Alliance.  I sat next to a difficult guy, who was originally sitting in my seat that he did not want to give up.  I managed to sleep on this flight.

I arrived in ADD in the early morning to catch my connection to Entebbe Airport in Uganda.  The airport is under construction/renovation, opening up a new terminal.

I had now arrived in Uganda.

uganda visa

Applied for my visa and paid online.  Presented my letter at immigration and quickly got my visa on arrival in Uganda.  Country number 131.

I stayed the first night just ten minutes from the airport at the Saffron Beach Bistro and Cottages, it was right on Lake Victoria, which was nice.  But at this hotel, the AC and hot water did not work.  Not too good for $50.

And for lunch, I had some Indian curry.  Not bad.

And you can guess here that I stayed at Forest Cottages in the capital of Uganda, Kampala.  I took an Uber from Entebbe to Kampala for about $20, the ride was an hour.  

I had some more curry and some vegetables for dinner here.  The cuisine has some Indian influences here.

I don’t bring shampoo with me when I travel, hoping that the hotel will provide.  Forest Cottages did not, so I picked up this shampoo at the market near the hotel.

 

I found a great Lebanese restaurant next to the only western mall in Kampala.  Ended up eating here twice for chicken shawarma.  Quite good.  

And just in case you are curious what license plates, currency, and newspapers look like.

Next, I left Kampala and headed to Fort Portal and stayed at Kluges Guest Farm.  As you can see it was a tent, set on beautiful grounds.  The hotel was owned by a long term German ex-pat.

And I had a cold beer after the long drive at the farm.

Next up was the Queen Elisabeth Bush Lodge.  This one had some room for approval.  But it was very close to the Queen Elizabeth National Park.  I was here for two nights.

I then stayed two nights at the Rushaga Gorilla Camp, set in the mountains.  This hotel was just minutes from Bwindi National Park, where I hiked for gorillas.  And also had a giant bathroom!

February 1 – Rwanda

 

Above is no-man’s land between Uganda and Rwanda.  I crossed overland.  And here is my visa for country number 132.

This is my room at the Kigali View Hotel, which is in the capital of Rwanda.

And I had a giant private patio outside of my room.

It overlooked Kigali, which is a very hilly city.

I lived it up and ate at the Italian restaurant at the very big Marriott in Kigali.  I was getting a bit tired of the food in Uganda.

February 3 – Democratic Republic of Congo

Rwanda has only two airports.  I flew to the SW corner of Rwanda to the Kamembe airport.  But I was not staying there.  I flew with Rwanda Air for the first time.

I then headed to the airport in Kigali and stopped into the lounge.

It was about a five hour drive in a taxi for $150 one way, or a 20 minute fly for $150 round trip.  Easy choice.

I was not staying in Kamembe, Rwanda, but I was heading to the Democratic Republic of Congo.  Kamembe was right on the border.  So I grabbed this taxi at the airport for a quick 15 minute drive at $10.

Exiting Rwanda.  Easy and quick.

I was going to the Kahuzi National Park to trek gorillas.  The park was able to issue this document so I could get a visa on arrival at the border for $100.  This process went quite smoothly and professionally.  I was a bit surprised at how easy it was.

Its official … my DRC visa.

I walked over the border and it was like two different worlds, leaving Rwanda and entering DRC.  The poverty was immediate when entering DRC.

I took a $10 cab from the DRC border to Lodge Coco.  I found this lodge on TripAdvisor Forum.  The owner is a German expat who has been in Bukavu for a couple of decades.  He was a decent source for information on the ground.  The hotel was an oasis in Bukavu with a ton of UN and NGO people hanging out in the restaurant.  This place was not cheap, $120 a night, but things in DRC are a but more difficult.  Lodge Coco had its own water system and generator since the government can not consistently provide these services.

A yummy breakfast.

February 5 – Rwanda

A left DRC after two nights and crossed back into Rwanda.  I ended up spending one night on Lake Kivu waiting for my flight the following morning.  I stayed at the Peace Guest House, a newer hotel around $30.

I had an avocado for dinner.  Cheap and tasty in Rwanda.

A flight back on this prop to Kigali.  It even left early.

I had one night in Kigali, waiting for my flight the following day to Burundi.  The plans was to stay in a “real” hotel. I opted for the Hotel des Milles Collines.  This hotel is “famous” since this is where Hotel Rwanda actually took place.  My plan was stay at the hotel for 24 hrs and catch up on work.  This plan was dashed since the internet was quite shitty.  Disappointing for a $120 hotel.

I had four meals here before I left for the airport again.  The avocado salad hit the spot.

This compact airport was professionally run and had great security.  They had an area far from the airport where they screened each car individually.  Impressive. 

One of those sobering warnings that Ebola is the region, specifically DRC during my visit.

Customs will check your bags and confiscate your plastic bags.  Rwanda was the cleanest country in Africa I have seen.

February 7 – Burundi

Another flight on Rwanda Air.

Time for country number 134.  Heading to Bujumbura.

Arrived at the international airport in Bujumbura, the largest city in Burundi, and former capital.

Typically, I will try and get a local SIM card when I get to a new country.  My guide picked me up at the airport and brought me to the Econet store.  The store had officially closed at 5 pm, but awesome customer service prevailed and they unlocked they store, let me in, and gave me a Carte Sim.  $12 got me 5 GB of data.

I stayed three nights at Safari Gate, which was on Lake Tanganyika.  The hotel was a but dated and set me back $75 a night.

This is from the view from the third floor, open-air restaurant run by a woman from Belgium.  I ate three meals here, a recommended restaurant.

And … what a Burundi license plate looks like.

Not exciting, but on the last day I picked up 48 passport photos for $10.  A but cheaper than home.

February 7 – Thailand

Checking in to fly home to Bangkok in this dated airport.

My first of two flights on Ethiopia Air to get back to Bangkok.

My second flight back to Bangkok.  Too bad they forgot to put my bag on the plane, which I got three days later.

February 15 – Myanmar (Burma)

That was quick, after five days in Bangkok, I was back at BKK to catch a flight to Yangon.  My fifth time in Burma, one of my favorite countries.

For less than $5 I got almost 8 GB of data at the airport.  And only took five minutes.  Great job Telenor!planes, trains and visas I took Grab (South East Asia’s answer to Uber) from the airport to my hotel.  It was nearly an hour ride for less than $10.  Notice my driver multi-tasking.

I checked in for one night at Botahtaung Hotel, about $45.  Good central location and great staff.  A newer hotel.

planes trains visas

planes trains visas

Up early in Yangon, and took a Grab back to the airport.  A prop-plane to Bagan, one of the most amazing places in the world.

planes trains visas

Arriving in Bagan, and walking to the small airport.

planes trains visa

Checking into the Temple View Hotel Bagan with a great (for the view) rooftop restaurant.  You can see the hot air balloons in the morning float over the horizon.

planes trains visas

Had a lunch of curry after checking into our hotel at an open air restaurant.

planes trains visas

We stayed one night in Bagan, and then a five hour drive or so to Mindat in Chin State.  I stayed four nights at Hotel Mindat, “the” hotel to stay at in Mindat.  The Burmese couple who owned this and spoke fluent English were great hosts.

planes trains visas

OK…I am not really a foodie.  I ended up eating dinner at the hotel four nights in the row, and I ate the same meal four times.  A really delicious chicken potato curry which was quite oily.  This was only a couple of dollars.  The only catch, is you needed to put in your order two hours before.  But of course, the owners already knew my order.

I guessed wrong here … man or woman for the bathroom.

A street sign, and I believe the 0 k mark.

planes trains visas

I rented bikes to drive around Mindat.  That was the only real way to get around.  No taxis.  And a very hilly place with one very long road for the center of town.

planes trains visas

Filling up the tanks of the motorbikes.  She spoke fluent English, but definitely she did not like my jokes.

planes trains visas

In a small village in the mountains, we went to a temple and we were invited to have a meal with the monks and adherents.

planes trains visas

This was the dessert, and was so tasty!

planes trains visas

After our four nights in Mindat and we drove back to Bagan for two nights.  I checked into Hotel Yadanarbon Bagan.  Bad internet and a very poorly designed shower.

planes trains visa

planes trains visa

OK, I did have the same meal for dinner four nights in a row in Mindat, but decided to take advantage of the different options in Bagan which is a lot more touristy.  Awesome pizza and tiramisu at La Pizza 2.

planes trains visa

planes trains visas

planes trains visa

planes trains visa

After two great nights in Bagan, we headed to the Bagan airport to fly to Mandalay.  It was supposed to be a direct flight, but the canceled the flight, and put us on a different flight with a connection.

planes trains visas

Welcome to the Mandalay Airport which is an international airport, hence newer and more modern.

planes trains visas

In Mandalay I stayed at Hotel Yadanarbon, same brand as in Bagan.  This hotel was much nicer and gave me a late check out.  Nice pool on the roofdeck as well.

planes trains visas

 

I was only here one night, but surprise, surprise, I ate the same meal three times (chicken tikka masala) at the same restaurant in Mandalay.  The restaurant is Indian Tadka.  Ironically, they have a branch literally the next street over from my apartment in Bangkok.  I had no idea.

planes trains visas

I took an hour ride on this boat to see an amazing temple.

planes trains visas

Leaving Mandalay to the airport, I took another Grab for the one hour ride.  This driver was a classic, besides texting and calling the whole ride, driving with his knees, and driving in the middle of the road, he decided to drink beer as we neared the airport.  Way to go Grab Taxi!

planes trains visas

planes trains visas

planes trains visas

Back at Mandalay Airport to fly home to Bangkok.

March 2 – Pattaya Thailand

planes trains visas

I got back from Myanmar and several days later I went to Pattaya (about a two hour drive) for two nights.  Mirabel Resort was a bit interesting

March 26 – Istanbul

After a month in Bangkok, it was time to get back on the road.  I was leaving for a multi-week trip to West Africa and Portugal.  My first stop after checking in was to head to get my VAT refund.  My 24-70 lens broke several days before my trip, forcing me to buy a new lens.  The only upside was a nearly $200 refund in the VAT.

Most tourists get a 30 day visa upon entry to Thailand.  My problem was I stayed 31 days in Thailand.  Very nice immigration official who made a simple notation and let me on my way.  There seems to be a one day grace period.

Taking advantage of Priority Pass, I stopped into the Lounge and yes, got some fresh hot pancakes.

 

Now to board my flight which was at 11:50pm.

And now for another fun flight in economy for 10 hours.

Arrived in the morning in Turkey, where you need to apply for an evisa which you show to the immigration official.

When Uber works, it works great.  Before arriving to Turkey, I searched if Uber was available in Istanbul.  There was conflicting info, so I was glad to see them there.  For half the price the hotel quoted, I arrived in style in the Mercedes van for about $14 for a 45 minute ride.

Great little boutique hotel, which gave me an early check-in which was appreciated.  Great location…the room was a bit on the small side.  But good choice.

Then taking some time for some great food.

I am back at the aiport.  This was a 24 hour city break in Istanbul to break up the long flight.  Now onto the next location.  Any guesses?

Time to go to Nouakchott the capital of Mauritania.

March 28 – Mauritania

Mauritania offers visa on arrival for most nationalities.  It is 55 Euro in cash.  This was an easy process.  Only a couple people in line, and the official processed in several minutes.

I exited the airport looking for my pre-arranged driver from the hotel.  Unfortunately, he was not there.  The new airport is isolated and over 45 minutes from the city.  It is recommended to arrange a driver beforehand since there are no taxis hanging around.  With Google Translate and some patience, I spoke to some airport officials about my situation.  One official offered to drive me to the hotel for a cool 30 Euro.  This was a bit disappointing, since the hotel was going to charge me 13 Euro.

I got to Hotel Iman, which was grossly overpriced at $100.  The hotel refused to pay for the difference in the airport transfer price.  Avoid Hotel Iman next time you do a long weekend in Nouakchott .

Hotel Iman breakfast.

My “home” for the next week.  The plan was to drive around Mauritania.

Here is my guide, Baba, overviewing the route.

What do you eat in Mauritania?  Some of this.  All meals are basically the same … a lot of goat or camel stew.  And of course, some cous cous.

Second night in Mauritania was at this campground in this tent in Terjit.  Surprisingly, there was a giant rainstorm that night, thankfully the tent was dry.

Chef Bobo making lunch … we stopped at an oasis.

The exterior of my auberge (inn) in Chinguetti, a Saharan town.  I stayed here for two nights.

And I get a photo with the Mayor of Chinguetti, a town of 5,000.

And I met this other tour guide, cool guy.  And a Red Sox fan.  He married a girl from Maine.

The next auberge in Oudane, a four drive through the desert from Chinguetti.

Time for dinner with the crew … Baba, Elboo (the driver), and Zaida, owner of the Oudane auberge.  Every meal had bread.  The Mauritanians know bread.  They made great, fresh bread.

Next I found myself camping at Ben Amera, the third largest monolith (giant rock) in the world.  More bad luck … another big night of rain in the desert in the tent.

Lunch time.

And for the next night … I slept in a train.  It is the Iron Ore train, leaving central Mauritania to the coast.  I slept in one of the containers … freezing with another sprinkling of rain.  I got on the train around 130am, after waiting since about 5pm.  I arrived the next day at 3pm Nouadhibou.

Another hotel, another night.  I am in Nouadhibou, the second largest city.  And note, the sign to let you know what direction to pray in.

Avoid this restaurant.  After eating the same meal for lunch and dinner for a week, I was excited to eat something different.  Instead, I went to this awful restaurant.  So next time in Nouadhibou.  I ordered the mixed salad and spaghetti.  I was a bit surprised when the mixed salad came with a giant scoop of tuna (I hate seafood).  The manager ensured me that this was quite standard.  I was under the impression the salad with tuna, might actually be called tuna salad on the menu.  One star on Yelp.  If they had Yelp.

This is what the currency looks like by the way.

My last day, leaving Mauritania and entering Western Sahara (Morocco) via land.  I took a taxi ($30) for one hour to the border.  I got my exit stamp.  There was then a several mile No Man’s Land, which the taxi took me on.   There was no road, just rough desert.  The sides of the roads are mined and you can see in the photo above, many abandoned vehicles.

April 5 – Morocco

A bunch of people formed a scrum around the one immigration official stamping passports to Morocco.  After a short wait, he grabbed my passport off the stack and presented me with this stamp.  Moments later another official went through my bags, questioning me if I had a drone (left it at home) and then questioned me about my camera.  I have one long lens (70-200) and he took note of it, in fact, he called his supervisor, who allowed me to enter the country with my “professional camera”.

There were several shops after I entered Morocco, where I bought a SIM card, paid $3 (was supposed to be $2, but the shopkeeper slipped in a Mauritanian coin when making change, making the card cost $4.  In Morocco, like Mauritania, you would buy credit for the phone, and then scratch off a code, type it into the phone and then you would receive the credit.  It was about $2 or so for 1 gigabyte.

I took this shared taxi from the border to Dakhla, a large town in Western Sahara, a disputed territory under the control of Morocco.  I sat next to a soldier with bad breath for the relaxing four drive.

This was an all desert drive, good roads, and all open.  The ocean was on the left, and a giant sand berm on the right, acting as a wall to the neighboring de facto state of Sulawesi.

And they love tea in Morocco just like Mauritania.  Note a pinch of sugar.

And after the food in Mauritania,  this chicken sandwich was awesome, only 20 Dirham about $2.

Breakfast by the ocean with fresh squeezed OJ.

A perfectly good salad ruined by my disgusting nemesis, mayonnaise.

A cool looking Moroccan coin.

After two nights in Dakhla time to go to Marrakech.  It was a 15 hour bus drive or 2 hour flight for $100.  Easy decision.  An awesome cab ride for 50 cents to the airport from the hotel, less than 5 minutes.

My AirArabia ticket.  Ironically I paid extra for my seat online, and then I was not given those seats.  Class act.

This tiny airport had a lounge.  Thank god for Priority Pass!

The flight to Marrakech.

Arrived at the new and modern airport in Marrakech.  You had to produce your passport before getting your bags, as you would when you enter a new country.  But no stamp.

My tiny, tiny room at the Riad Ajebel in the medina.  A riad is a traditional home with a courtyard in Morocco.  Some of these places are amazingly restored.  The bathroom also drove me crazy, so small, and just a curtain for a door, which was bizarrely started at waist high.  Also, a strange manager who was extremely tough to communicate with.

This is the interior of the courtyard at the riad.  Very cool!

Do to scheduling issue, I had to switch to a different riad for the 4th night in Marrakech.  Riad Loudaya was a much better option.  Bigger room, good management.

 OK…this place was awesome, Naranj restaurant.  Great Lebanese food.  Came here twice for dinner, sitting on the roofdeck.  Met the owner a Lebanese woman, who grew up in Europe, but is now making great food.  Hummus, fatoush salad, and shish tavouk.

Stopped at this amazing riad for lunch followed by tea.  Totally relaxing.

Time to leave Marrakech, and head off to Fez.  This time via train.

This was a full day train ride.  The train was comfortable sharing a six person first class cabin.

Another town, another riad.  Here is my room in a riad right outside of the medina.  Riad Les Remparts De Fes was a decent choice.

Breakfast time at the riad.

An awesome fresh salad for lunch.

A tasty Lebanese dinner.

And a local lunch for a couple of dollars.

Hotel Casa Khaldi

Hotel Casa Khaldi

Looks can be a bit deceiving.  I checked into Hotel Casa Khaldi, in the Blue City formally known as Chefchaouen.  My room was basically an apartment with two bedrooms and a big living room.  But things went from good to bad.

But the room had not been cleaned when we arrived.  And I saw the bed was unmade, being the distrustful type, I wrote my initials inside the pillowcase.  When I arrived back that evening, the room had been cleaned.  I checked the pillowcases, and as I suspected, the same dirty sheets.  The maid had simply made the bed, not cleaned it.  I brought this attention to the manager, bit instead of being embarrassed, he became … aggressive and threatening.  After being dressed down by the manager, Yusef, I decided to cut my losses not knowing what this guy would do and who he knew in town.  Avoid this hotel at all costs.

 

Dinner time in Chefchaouen.

Time to switch cities … leaving Chefchaouen and heading off to Rabat on the Atlantic Ocean.  CTM bus line was a good option, comfortable and priced well.  It was a 7 hour bus ride.

I arrived at Riad Dar Jabador in the medina in Rabat.  There are two medinas in Rabat, the Rabat Medina and the Sale Medina.  This riad was at the Sale Medina, which was a very local, non-touristy area.  The family lived in the riad, and were friendly and helpful.

Time to leave Morocco!  I need to get to the Casablanca airport which was about 90 minutes plus from Rabat.  This fine gentleman drove me.

A look at the Casablanca airport.  Now time to fly to Porto, Portugal.

The view from above … getting ready to land in Porto.

buratta cheese

OK…there is a reason that A Despensa is rated 4.5 stars with over 1000 reviews.  The food is awesome.  If in Porto, stop in here.

At dinner the next evening, I ate this light meal known as a Francesinha AKA Little Frenchie.  It is made with bread, wet-cured ham, fresh sausage like steak or roast meat, and covered with melted cheese and a hot thick tomato and beer sauce.  This is a treat from the north of Portugal, and you will note many signs on restaurants that they serve Francesinha.  I have to thank my two Portuguese friends, Nuno and Cisco, who I met in Bolivia the other year for bringing me here.

Time to leave Porto to begin a road trip! The plan was to drive to Tomar, Bathala, and Alcobar, three towns in central Portugal.  All three have a UNESCO monastery/church.  It was about a two hour drive to Tomar.  Unfortunately, all three were closed since it was Easter, but I admired all three from the outside.

Well, today was Easter, and there were not a lot of dining options.  But McDonald’s was bizarrely packed.

I stayed in Alcobar, which had an incredible view from the room, looking at the Alcobar Monastery.

I dropped off the car, and checked into Aguamel Sintra, a small boutique located in the center of this town.  I only spent one night here, and needed several days in Sintra.  They had one of those “trendy” bathrooms which was partially open with a lot of glass so there was limited privacy.

And this is what breakfast looked like.

And always time for gelato in Sintra.

Took an Uber for 25 Euro from Sintra to Lisbon, the capital and checked into the Czar Lisbon.  A good choice.

Pastries and sweets are everywhere in Portugal.  This is the most popular, Pastel de Nata.  It is a custard tart with its main ingredient being egg.  It was good, but not my favorite.   

When traveling there are not a lot of trips to the gym, but most days are comprised of a lot of walking.

Portugal in its heyday was a seafaring nations, with colonies throughout the world.  One of those places was Goa, on the west coast of India, which was a colony for over 450 years.  Portugal and Goa shared a lot of ties including cuisine.  So, when in Lisbon, stop in at Sabores de Goa, like I did so you can meet the owner, great guy!

April 25 – Cape Verde

I took a direct flight from Lisbon to Praia, the capital of Cape Verde, country #137.  Cape Verde is an island nation of the west of Africa.

Stayed at Hotel Santa Maria in Praia, which is on a pedestrian walking street.  A nice outdoor balcony for eating breakfast.

I stayed in Praia for 3 nights, and then was off to another island.

I took a quick flight for about 45 minutes on Binter Airlines, about $200 for a roundtrip.

And I arrived at the Sao Vincente airport.

I checked into Morenos Boutique Hotel, which was in Mindelo, the cultural city of Cape Verde.  It was only 15 minutes from the airport.  The room was a suite, new and spacious.  Unfortunately, the AC did not work and the elevator was coffin-like.

An hour on this ferry, brought me to the beautiful island of Santo Antao, for a day trip.

And then three days later, I was back to the airport to fly back to Praia.

Planes, Trains, and Visas

May 2 – USA

Back to Praia, but I switched hotels.  A bit cheaper, nicer, and virtually the same location. Hotel Santa Maria has a musical highlighting Cape Verdean musicians.

Planes, Trains, and Visas

I then flew from Cape Verde to Boston, a nice direct flight about 7.5 hours.  I went to visit my Dad for a couple of days.  I also spent one night in Newport, RI for my friends birthday party, making a surprise visit.  Newport is a very popular place to visit, especially in summer.  I ended up at the Carriage House Inn, which wasn’t even in Newport was still $150 a night in off-season.

Planes, Trains, and Visas

I then went to Chicago for a couple days, and then caught a flight to Bangkok.  I checked into the lounge at O’Hare.  I caught up on the last season of the Killing, a coke, and some hummus.

Planes, Trains, and Visas

I flew Eva Air for the first time.  Trans-Pacific.  I have flown through gateways of Hong Kong, Seoul, Tokyo, Beijing … Eva was a decent solution.  Tokyo and Seoul are 6 more hours to BKK, while Taipei and HK are about 3 hours.  A big difference.  Also, Star Alliance which isn’t a bad thing.

Planes, Trains, and Visas

Checking out the lounge in Taipei, while nice, I did not like the food.  Mostly Asian type food.

Planes, Trains, and Visas

Looking for my gate.

Planes, Trains, and Visas

My plane to BKK.

Planes, Trains, and Visas

About to board.

Planes, Trains, and Visas

Planes, Trains, and Visas

The view from the economy.  Could be worse

May 11 – Thailand

Planes, Trains, and Visas

Back in Bangkok.  And time to save some money.  There is a movie theater about 10 minute walk from my apartment.  With a discount provided by my mobile phone company, my ticket was about $4.  Not bad.

Planes, Trains, and Visas

Only a week in Bangkok.  And back at BKK to fly to Armenia.

Planes, Trains, and Visas

Planes, Trains, and Visas

Back to the lounge in BKK thanks to my Priority Pass Card.  I love, love, love the pancake maker at some of the lounges.  Fun to make and very tasty.

Planes, Trains, and Visas

My chariot to Dubai.

Planes, Trains, and Visas

Planes, Trains, and Visas

99.9% of the time I never drink on an airplane, but was tempted when I saw the flight attendant with a bottle of Amarula.  I had for the first time in South Africa.  It is like Bailys but with a cool elephant.

May 20 – UAE

Planes, Trains, and Visas

I had a 12 hour layover in Dubai.  Enough time for lunch and dinner with some friends.  This is a partition blocking the food court in the Dubai Mall.  My visit coincided with Ramadan.  This means Muslisms fast from sunrise to sunset.  But, foreigners are allowed to eat, just not in public.  Hence, the partition.

Planes, Trains, and VisasA food of convenience in the food court.

Planes, Trains, and Visas Pictures of the leaders of Dubai, which you will see often.

Planes, Trains, and Visas

Planes, Trains, and Visas

Back to the airport around midnight.  Checking out the lounge.  Was too late and I was too full from dinner, but took a quick nap instead.

Planes, Trains, and Visas

My plane to Yerevan.  It is a 3.5 hr flight that leaves at 130am and arrives at 5am.  Just awful.  No way to get a full sleep and you arrive exhausted.

May 21 – Armenia

Planes, Trains, and Visas

Picked up a rental car in Yerevan airport and drove staight to Dilijan, the “Switzerland” of Armenia.  Unfortunately, I needed to sleep ASAP and lost half of the day to reset my clock.  I got there around 830am.

Planes, Trains, and Visas

Planes, Trains, and Visas

Planes, Trains, and Visas

Ate at Kchuck highly rated on TripAdvisor.  Nice restaurant, but food could have been a bit better.

Planes, Trains, and Visas

OK, I was impressed.  This was the breakfast at the Casanova Inn (awful name).  This included breakfast was aesthetically wonderful.  A good way to start the morning.

Casanova breakfast Dilijan Casanova Inn sat on the edge of a mountain.  Here is the view.

Casanova breakfast Dilijan

Casanova breakfast Dilijan

I spent the next night in Vandazor at the B&B Maghay.  They had just built a second home to expand.  Nice and new big rooms.

Casanova breakfast Dilijan

Here is the breakfast.  Not as good as Casanova, but still worked.

Casanova breakfast Dilijan Casanova breakfast Dilijan

Now I am in Gyumri, the second largest city, and sat down for a late lunch, almost dinner.  The restaurant was Gyumri Hatsatun, good food and good prices.

My kryptonite. Cafe Glace.  A combination of coffee and vanilla ice cream.  I try to limit myself to one a day.  These will run you around $2-$3.  Good luck!

This was the third hotel of my three night road trip.  Three great hotels all between $40-$50.  The last hotel Tomu’s Hotel, was right in the center of town.  The room was new and giant.  Totally comfortable.

Some of the roads in the north were in pretty bad shape.  I had to take it very slow at times.

Heading back to Yerevan.  I picked up some road side strawberries.  Three kilos (about six pounds) was 3000 Dram about $6.

My apartment building in Yerevan.  A renovated one bedroom for $30 a night.

The fruit stand next to my apartment.

My bi-annual visit to Daddy’s Optical and a visit with Armine.  I buy my eyeglasses here, since they are the half of the price in the US.

Meet my barista Hamlet who makes a mean Café Glace.

Eating some delicious Lahmajoun, very thin crust with minced meat with a glass of tan, a yogurt drink.  This is under $3.

A great meal for lunch!  Grilled chicken, olive salad, and a fresh summer salad.

This new restaurant is great.  I went here three days in a row.  Adzoukh is owned by my friend Zak, tell him hi.  I really liked the hamburger, but loved the Shish Tavouk roll up.  Delicious.

Celebrate Yerevan, one of the world’s oldest cities.  2800 years and counting.

Keush champagne

I briefly met the founder of Keush Champagne in Armenia.  He lived in Italy for many years and had a vineyard.  He moved to Armenia and started making champagne in Armenia, the only one.

smoking chef armenia

I had the Keush champagne at a legitimately excellent steak house, the Smoking Chef.  But they had awful murals of angry crabs, chickens, and this bull.  They put the cheesy into fromage.

glace

And I had some more Glace.  Don’t worry, I only drank one of these.

traditional armenian dinner

I always catch up with my friend, Armen, for a traditional Armenian meal of dolma and of course too much vodka.

yerevan lounge

Time to leave Yerevan after a great stay.  I arrived at 230am.  I stopped in at the lounge, but left immediately.  The food options were really weak.

yerevan airport

Yerevan’s Zvartnots opened a new airport in 2006.  It is a compact but excellent airport.

yerevan airport

So many of the flights in Yerevan leave at un-Godly times.  This flight was supposed to leave at 445am, but delayed to 520am.  That is important.  This also means I did not go to sleep and arrived at the airport around 230am.

lot airplane ticket

I flew Lot meaning I was connecting through Warsaw on my way to London.

June 7 – Warsaw

lot ticket

I arrived to Warsaw, but missed my connection due to the delay in Yerevan.  The reason give, they had to take out a handful of 737 Maxes out of their fleet.  This now meant I had about 10 hours to kill in Yerevan.

lounge warsaw

Hello and thank you lounge!

warsaw lounge

This was a pretty decent lounge.  Thanks Priority Pass!

 

Getting ready for my flight on Lot, now leaving at 330pm instead of 730am.  Oh, and this flight got delayed as well.

lot airlines

My chariott to Heathrow.

lot airlines

Getting comfy in economy as usual.

June 7 – UK

alma inn

I eventually made it to England and then my hotel Alma Inn in Harwich which is on the North Sea and about 2.5 hours from Heathrow.

alma inn

I was happy to be staying here for two nights, my room was right above the pub.  Comfortable room with a great shower.

dinner

And then a healthy dinner at around 10pm.  It was a long day.

mayflower

Harwich is well know for a famous ship.

lexham garden hotel

Now back to London for six nights.  I stayed at the Lexham Garden Hotel for about $100.  Very good location in Chelsea.

lexham garden

But the room was tiny, and the bathroom even smaller.

dinner in london

Right down the street from my hotel were several Lebanese restaurants.  Every meal except three for the week was Lebanese.  I was happy.

dinner

I caught up with a lot of friends in London, including Per.  We had some excellent Georgian (the country) food.

gloucester tube

Now it was time to leave London.  I headed to the tube which was about 10 minutes from my hotel.  And after three trains, I then had to head to the train station.

thames link I was now on the train to Gatwick.

tube ticket

All good plans go to waste.  My ticket to Gatwick was 16 pounds.  After 90 minutes I was still in the city circling around on the tube.  Some of the lines were down due to construction.  And then I went to the wrong station to pick up the Thames Link.  After riding the Thames Link for about 30 minute I realized I was on the wrong line.  It has been over 2.5 hours, and now I was headed in the wrong direction.  In frustration I got off the train and hailed an Uber.  One hour in Uber set me back over $100.  But at this point, I needed to get to the airport.  So, even “veteran” travelers screw up.

norwegian air

Flying Norwegian Air which typically has some reasonably priced tickets and newer planes.

gatwick

Waiting to board my flight.

norwegian air

Getting ready for 7.5 hours to Boston.

August 6 – Osaka

planes trains and visas

I left Boston late at night at nearly 2 am.  It was going to take me three flights to get to Osaka on Cathay.  Boston – Hong Kong, Hong Kong – Taipei, and Taipei – Osaka.  This flight take place during the protests at the airport in Hong Kong, so there was a bit of an X factor of a cancelation.  Thankfully there was not, and even better, I had two empty seats next to me for my 15 hour plus flight.  Almost like business class for an economy price.  Well, close enough.

taipei lounge

I arrived early in the morning at Taipei and made my way to the lounge (thank you Priority Pass)! So early, breakfast had not been set up.

cathay

My steed to Osaka, the final leg.

japanese visa

Welcome to Japan with a visa on arrival.

on TV

As fresh as a daisy.  After coming out of immigration in Osaka, I was interviewed by these guys.  I found out after the fact, this is for a reality travel show in Japan.  But apparently I did not make the cut.  This was not the first time I have been interviewed on TV in Japan.

IBIS Styles Osaka Namba

Here is my first hotel in Japan, IBIS Styles Osaka Namba in a very good area, but like a lot of Japanese hotels if you are not in the 5 star category, a bit on the snug area.  I felt like I was in an airplane when in the bathroom

Eating Kushikatsu Osaka

Eating some tasty and friend food known as Kushikatsu.  Read my story here.

cable car to koyasan

Japan has an unparalleled public transportation system.  It is efficient, organized and fast.  But … nonetheless, in many ways it is not quick.  In some cases, to go from one city to another, it might be five different modes of transportation.  And in this case, a cable car was required to visit Koyasan.

ekoin temple

After leaving Osaka, I arrived at the Eion Temple which provides rooms in a traditional Japanese minimilist style.  My room was virtually empty, and at night they brought in and set up a bed roll.  This is the area of Koyasan, on top of a mountain with many temples.

HOTEL NEW HIRODEN

Next up was the Hotel New Hiroden.  Another snug room.

Okonomiyaki

OK … many foodies love Japan.  Me?  Not so much, I don’t like seafood or sushi.  But I did enjoy Okonomiyaki as well as the preparation.  I will just say it is sort of like a pancake.  A must try when you are in Hiroshima.

the b kyoto sanjo

Another small hotel in Kyoto,  The b Kyoto Sanjo.

Japan agenda

And here is my agenda in Japan with G Adventures, my sponsor.  So take a look at their trips in over 100 countries, and book one.  I will earn some money!

Hakone Pax

Next up was the Hakone Pax hotel in Hakone.  A popular place to visit with a good view of Mt. Fuji if weather cooperates.  This hotel was great, roomy and comfortable.

traditional japanese meal

At the hotel, I dined on a multi-course traditional Japanese meal.

sake

And if you are eating a traditional meal, you might as well have sake.

The b Tokyo Asakusa

Checking into The b Tokyo Asakusa, another compact room, but new and neat.  Some of these rooms are so small, you need to walk around sidewise to get around the beds.

dennys in tokyo

Breakfast for lunch, of course!  I came in here for a couple of pancakes.

maid cafe

maid cafe

OK, this is a very unique experience, that is visiting a maid café.  This is a whole subculture of Japan.  It is sort of like a strange, childlike, sometimes creepy Hooters.  Read an explanation of what this is all about.

japanese peaches

Peaches definitely take a distant back seat to well-known food items like sushi, but adding some peaches to your diet should be a requirement.  These peaches while expensive ($2-$5 a peach) are incredibly fresh, juicy, and delicious!  This gentleman was selling peaches out of his truck outside of my hotel.  Win!

Citadines Karasuma-Gojo Kyoto

Back in Kyoto, I checked into the Citadines Karasuma-Gojo Kyoto.  While not in the most central of locations, this room was very comfortable and quite spacious with speedy wifi.

Rigoletto Smoke Grill & Bar

This was a win … great Italian in Kyoto.  Check out Rigoletto Smoke Grill & Bar; great food, service, and price.  Also, excellent burrata cheese.

Indian Restaurant Khajuraho

Another win in Kyoto … Indian Restaurant Khajuraho with naan bread bigger than your hand.
scoot airlines
Flying Scoot Airlines from Osaka to Bangkok about five hours direct.
scoot business
This was a win … for about $50 I could sit in their pseudo business class.  Totally worth it.

September 5 – Amritsar, India

Bangkok airport

Back to the airport in Bangkok after nearly two weeks of rest after my Japan trip.

priority pass lounge

I have said it before … but God bless Priority Pass.  I stop in the lounge before my very reasonable 11 am departure to Delhi.

pancake maker

pancakes

OK, I shouldn’t not be surprised/delighted but I love this little pancake maker.  I should get one for my house.  But you press the button, and out pops some fresh silver dollar pancakes.

spice jet

OK, I am always lamenting about sitting in economy.  But this is my second time flying in “business” in a row.  I received an email from Spice Jet to upgrade for $100, that is cheap money for a 6 hour flight.  But then, you get what you pay for.  The phone number listed on the email was incorrect, and it took nearly an hour to process my upgrade.  Pretty pathetic.

business class Spice Jet

I did say this was “business”, but for $100 and 6 hours it was a no brainer.  Only three people total in business class.

spice jet menu

spice jet meal

This was my meal … did the trick.

delhi airport

delhi airport

I arrived in Delhi, and had to switch to another airline to fly to Amritsar.

indian visa

Here is my Indian stamp.  I have a 10 year, multi-entry Indian visa in my expired passport.  That means I need to carry my old expired passport with the visa in it, as well as my new one which will get stamped.

delhi lounge

delhi airport lounge

delhi airport lounge

I had a couple of hours to kill, and headed off the lounge, thanks to Priority Pass.  Some good Indian food.

air india

Boarded my evening flight (delayed of course) on Air India for the short flight to Amritsar.

hyatt amritsar

I checked into the Hyatt Amritsar for under a $100 a night.  Nice, newer hotel, but with awful wifi.  Under 1 MB per second.  I was not happy about this.  Response from the hotel: “sorry”.  Not good enough.

hyatt amritsar breakfast

Good breakfast in the hotel, including freshly made masala dosas.

mcdonalds amritsar

I love McDonalds.  I went there all the time as a kid.  And still visit many when overseas.  I have been to other Indian McDonalds in India, which as you might know do not have hamburgers.  Hindus do not eat meat (cow).  But this McDonalds next to the Golden Temple was vegetarian.  I hadn’t seen this before.

September 9 – Pakistan

pakistan evisa

pakistani stamp

Now it was time to leave India to head to Pakistan.  I was doing a land crossing at Wagah, the only open border between the two countries, and home to the amazing evening closing cermony.  Pakistan has been know as a difficult visa to get.  This year, Pakistan transitioned to a evisa system.  So much easier.  Filled out a form online, and five weeks later got my evisa emailed to me.  The border crossing was straight forward, but took a little while.

chichekn dinner

Lahore is a large city of 10 million, only an hour from the Indian border.  This was my first dinner, great chicken seasoned with ginger.

lahore breakfast

A simple streetfood breakfast in Lahore … naan, dal, eggs, and tea.

chaman ice cream

chaman ice cream

It was literally over 110 F in Lahore.  Chaman is a well-known oasis for shakes and ice cream for the locals.  Ended up here twice to cool off.

mobile phone pakistan

12GB for only 1000 rupees ($6)!  But my tour guide was stupid, he didn’t know the process for a tourist getting a SIM card.  I ended up buying a SIM card, but never had a connection to the network during my entire trip.

Haveli

Badshahi Mosque

Badshahi Mosque is a 17th century mosque built during the Mughal area, a fantastic place to visit.  Make sure you go for dinner to Haveli for sunset, which overlooks the mosque.  Very good dinner on the open air roofdeck for under about $12.

hotel margala

This is the Hotel Margala in the Islamabad, the capital. This was the best hotel I stayed in during my two plus weeks in Pakistan.  Comfortable room with working AC and bathroom.  Sucky wifi and breakfast.

PTDC hotel naran

Heading up to northern Pakistan, I stayed for one night in Naran at the PTDC hotel.  This is the Pakistan Tourism Development Corporation, a government organization, that owns some hotels and transportation systems.  A simple, dated room set in cottages.

tourist car pakistan My steed.  I was with my guide and driver in this car about 10 days plus.  Some long days of multi-hour drives.  Not that comfortable for a 6 hour drive.

restaurant gilgit

Stopped at this restaurant for a later afternoon lunch/dinner on the river.  One of the nicer restaurants in town.  I ate chicken handi, sort of like chicken tikka masala.

pizza pamir

In Hunza Valley, I ate one of my few non-Pakistani meals, some really average pizza.

hilltop hotel

Here I am at the Hilltop Hotel in Karimaba, a town located in the mountains, in Hunza Valley.  A simple hotel without a desk and shitty wifi.  I had to improvise my desk.

pakistani rupee

This is what Pakistani Rupees look like.  It is about 150 rupees for $1.  This is a cheap country to travel in.

grand continental hotel

Another simple, dated hotel in Gilgit, called the Grand Continental Hotel.

lunch

A basic lunch … some mixed vegetables and bread.  Food is cheap here.  Naan bread is only 20 Rupees, like 17 cents.

Fairy Meadows Guest House

fairy meadows guest house This is the Fairy Meadows Guest House.  To get here, you need to ride in a 4×4 for over an hour on perilous cliff hugging roads.  Then you need to hike 3 hours plus to about 3000 meters plus.  Not the best of hotels, in fact a bit depressing, but the views were magical.

fairy meadows guest house bathroom

The hotel needs to put in a bit of effort.  Toilet did not flush.  Water did not run in the sink.  No showerhead.  And hot water only on the first night.

dinner pakistan

A meal of dal and mixed vegtables at the hotel.

pakistan car accident

The roads in Pakistan and especially in the north are quite dangersous.  This road was shutdown after an accident.  I had to wait here about 45 minutes.  Could have been a lot worse.

mcdonalds pakistan

Yup, at McDonalds in Pakistan.  This is in the town of Abbottabad.  This town might be familiar to you.  It is where Osama bin Laden hid for years until he was thankfully killed.  I wonder if he ever had UberEats from McDonalds.

abbottabad

In Abbottabad, infamous for Bin Laden.  I was in Pakistan on September 11th, and thought about this often.

Hotel deManchi

Hotel deManchi

Another somewhat depressing hotel in Abbottabad called Hotel de Manchi.  I think the hotel was empty besides me.

islamabad guesthouse

I stayed in this guesthouse in Islamabad.  It seemed like a good option at 4000 Rupees (about $27).  There were about 6 rooms in the guesthouse and a common room.  Great wifi!

But then … I pulled back the covers to see the sheet.  Not good.  Dirty, stained.  And a bunch of long hairs.  I had a word with the manager.

safilo islamabad

This place was awesome.  If you like mango lassis you got to come here.  It is open until 2 am.  I had three of them!

pakistan lunch

Stopping for lunch with my driver and guide.

Emaraat Hotel

I stayed in the Emaraat Hotel in Peshawar.  No hot water and a non-functioning AC.  5000 Rupees a night about $32 a night.

islamabad airport

Flying back to Bangkok in the Islamabad airport.

Benazir Bhutto International Airport

At the airport which began operations in 2018, spacious and modern.

airport lounge Benazir Bhutto International Airport

Stopped at the lounge, bad food but comfortable.

thai airways ticket

My ticket back to Bangkok.  A shitty, uncomfortable seat.  Left at 1140 pm, a 4.5 hour red eye.

sunrise

Sunrise from the sky as we approach BKK.

 

 

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