Since my return home, I realize that there are questions everyone wants to know (What was your favorite country?) and then there are questions everyone REALLY wants to know (Where did you see the hottest people?).
During one particularly lengthy leg of the USA road trip, Ayaz and I pondered every aspect of our trip – the good, bad and ugly (or hot, as the case might sometimes be) – and created our very own travel awards, which we catchily coined the V & A’s (any similarity to those VMA thingy’s is purely, um, intentional).
Please note, this list is totally limited and proudly biased. And now, drumroll please!
THE V&A TRAVEL AWARDS
Our Overall Favorite Place: India. Hands down, this was the country that challenged me the most, on a constant, daily basis and I loved every minute of it. The experience of traveling in India – the beauty, the chaos, the wondrous, the awful – called into question everything I once believed I understood about the human experience. And I am grateful.
Favorite Natural Wonders:
1) United States, The Grand Canyon: Lived up to every photo I’d seen, every expectation I had. Wow.
2) New Zealand, Tasman Sea Coast, South Island: It’s like Mother Nature on steroids here. Every dramatic landscape feature is here, only bigger and better than you ever realized was possible.
3) Thailand, Beaches and Islands: Paradise, plain and simple.
Favorite Manmade Wonders:
1) India, Taj Mahal: The first glance at the Taj Mahal will stop you in your tracks, take away your breath.
2) Cambodia, Angkor Wat: I was strangely underwhelmed by Ankgor Wat, itself, but the smaller surrounding temples were extraordinary.
3) United States, The Hotels of Las Vegas: These are so over-the-top, so cheese-a-rifically opulent – we had to give them props.
1) Railay, Thailand: A magnificent slice of sand, and perfect turquoise waters are made even dreamier and dramatic by the looming limestone cliffs.
2) Komandoo, Maldives: This was one of top bucket list destinations, and it met all my most divine expectations. Were it not for the uber-high prices, it would’ve been #1, easily.
3) Koh Jum, Thailand: Just sit right back and you’ll hear a tale … Oh, I seriously could talk about Koh Jum for a good while, but truly, it’s isolated beauty was Gilligan’s Island heavenly.
Favorite City: Sydney, Australia.
1) Hanoi, Vietnam: Git in mah belly – clams in a Lemongrass, Pineapple and Chili broth were truly pitch perfect in flavors: sweet, tangy and spicy spicy. Fresh and delicious and cost no more than $1.
2) Udaipur, India: Mushroom Curry and Paneer-Stuffed Tomatoes: To quote Ayaz, “Two very simple dishes that were made into something special by a talented chef working at a nameless restaurant at the top of a rundown hotel. The ultimate compliment: we returned to eat these dishes three times over the span of four days.”
3) Koh Mook, Thailand: Massaman Curry. Ayaz ordered this dish and asked that it be “Thai style” in regard to spiciness. Normally in a thin, yellowish broth, this came out in a thick, red-brown broth with pools of chili oil swirling on top. I sweat like a beast (a sated beast, at least) over this bowl and loved it.
Favorite Street Food:
1) Hanoi: “Restaurants” pop up on street corners for breakfast and dinner with food so delectable and well-executed any James Beard Award winner could be put to shame. A true culinary delight time and again, street corner after street corner.
2) Kuala Lumpur/Penang, Malaysia: So many hawker stalls, so little time.
3) Darjeeling, India: It was spicy, it was fresh, it was a tongue twirling blend of Indian, Nepalese and Tibetan cuisine and it was … delicious.
1) India, Train Chai: Few sounds are sweeter the morning after a night’s sleep on a train than a hawker crying out, “CHAI! CHAI” as he moves through your train car.
2) Vietnam, Iced Coffee: Take strong coffee, add thick, sweet condensed milk and ice and you will sip heaven through your straw.
3) Asia, Lime Soda: In my personal dictionary one may just find a picture of the delightful combo of soda water and fresh lime just next to the definition of “refreshing.” Take that, Asian humidity!
1) Australians: I soon learned that any interaction with any Australian would take no less than 5 – 10 minutes because the other party would immediately engage in the warmest, friendliest, funniest conversation – I could count on it. And I loved it!
Best Looking People:
1) Russian Kite Surfers in Mui Ne, Vietnam: Nope, that’s not a supermodel in her string bikini, that’s our bungalow neighbor.
2) Australians Outside Australia
3) The Ladyboys of Bangkok
Most Heard Song: Titanic Theme, Celine Dion: Every country, and I would swear every bar, restaurant and shop inevitably played this song, at least once – usually twice.
Best Rock: Australia, Ayers Rock/Uluru
Worst Diet: United States of America. Throughout the majority of middle America, I would have paid good money for a salad that wasn’t sopping wet, slimey and brown – or for a salad that didn’t have loads of rubbery cheddar and bacon bits strewn across. Or actually, for anything edible with even a shred of fiber. God help their cholesterol.
Most Traumatic Alcohol: Royal Stag. Indian Whiskey. A hangover for the ages.
Most Underrated Accommodation: The Motels of the United States: For less than $50 a night, we had clean, decently-appointed rooms, free wifi, and free hot breakfasts. I thumb my nose at you, fancy chain hotels!
Best Toilets: Singapore Airport: The folks at the airport are so confident that their toilets rule (and they do) that they have touch screen computers in the loos allowing users to rate their experience.
Worst Toilets: The Country of India. Yes. The whole country. Time after time – toilet after toilet.