Dr. Hsinchun Chen’s Most Memorable Trips and Bucket List (as of August, 2022)
Since my first international trip at the age of 24 (study abroad in US), I have enjoyed much international traveling with my family, friends, and by myself. I enjoyed visiting foreign and exciting countries and cities, meeting interesting locals and fellow intrepid travelers, and experiencing local cuisines and exotic street foods. As a “Pigasus” (a pig that wishes to fly; my Chinese Zodiac sign) who visited 60+ countries over the past 38+ years, I am listing some of my most memorial trips/places by Continent. For most Continents, I include 3-5 trips/places/countries for each Continent, with some personal notes and selected photos. As a devoted train buff, I also include some of my longest and most interesting international railway trips. I am sure more will be added in my remaining (10+) traveling years! Many trips and places are on my personal Bucket List.
Completed trips to 7 Wonders of the World, 7 Continents, and 70 Countries in February 2022: after traveling to Petra, Jordan in November 2021 and Chichen Itza, Mexico in February 2022. (New 7 Wonders of the World, based on a 2000 survey: Great Wall of China, Petra, Machu Picchu, Chichen Itza, Colosseum, Taj Mahal, Christ the Redeemer; based on my ranked order of significance).
RTW Trip Tip Flying via the OneWorld Alliance “Round the World” (RTW) Plan
- AA + OneWorld RTW: I have used the OneWolrd Alliance RTW tickets to successfully cover multiple continents and many destinations in past summers. If you are an American Airlines frequent flyer, this is an excellent travel arrangement for you. United Airlines has a similar arrangement with the Star Alliance. Online planning and booking is cumbersome with a dated system (needing trial-and-error); but you can reach AA RTW help desk at 1-800-247-3247 (a magical hidden number, needed for payment and flight change support); it’s worth the trouble!
- 3-4 Continents, Business Class: You need to travel east or west and not backtracking. You can visit 3-4 continents, with 3-4 local flights in each continent (different counting methods). Fares run from ~4,000 for economy class or ~$10,000 for business class (my personal preference; cheap for 10+ business class flights, with elevated frequent mileage bonus, total flight mileage reaching 100,000 miles, almost another free international round-trip ticket; excellent airport lounges RTW).
- Which Airlines: Among the OneWorld member airlines, Qatar Airways the best (Q-suite; best service, airplanes, lounges, foods, everything good; #1 in the world), followed by Japan Airlines and Cathay Pacific (used to be better; both top 10 still); American Airlines, British Airlines are bad (service and foods); others are even worse. So choose wisely when booking specific flights (many choices).
- My 2018 itinerary and selected highlights: TUS-DFW-LHR-VIE (cycling Danube)-DOH-DEL (India golden triangle)-HKG-TPE (meetings and such) -HKG-JFK-GYE-UIO (Galapagos Islands)-MIA-DFW-TUS è 14 flights, 4 continents, 106,000 miles, $11,052
- My 2019 itinerary and selected highlights: TUS-DFW-LHR-NBO (Serengeti)-DOH-HKG-TPE (meetings and such)-HKG-HCM (Angor Wat)-BKK-HND-NRT-DFW-TUS è 11 flights, 3 continents, $11,483
- My 2022 itinerary and selected highlights: TUS-DFW-MAD (Camino de Santiago)-DBV (Croatia islands)-LHR-DOH-KTM (Kathmandu valley)-KUL-DPS (Bali temples)-TPE (meetings and such)-NRT-LAX-TUS è 11 flights, 3 continents, $9,699
Some of my Once-in-a-Lifetime Experiences: (in rough ranked order)
- Kayaking and polar plunging in Antarctica: cutting through floating ice and near glacier, penguins swimming nearby (4 days); polar plunging in shorts only into ocean (30 seconds) and then tequila shots warming
- Tran-Siberian Railway ride: through birch trees, lakes (Lake Baikal), mountains (Uri), deserts, etc. over 8 time zones in 8 days, from Moscow to Beijing; a must for Dr. Zhivago movie fan (8 days)
- Camping in Serengeti: yes, real nylon tent in open camp grounds, with hyenas howling and elephants roaming at night; real safari experience (5 nights)
- Cycling along the Danube River: from Vienna to Budapest, many villages, vineyards, pubs, and warming Danube river fish soups; Danube river swimming too (5 days)
- Watching live Lucha Libre wrestling matches: front-row seat viewing at a small local gym in Puebla, Mexico; exciting fans, great masks/costumes, and fun (fake) flights
- Swimming underneath a waterfall and in a cenote (sink holes): gushing waterwall and deep blue/green sink holes, a Predator movie moment in Central/South America
- Riding (and eating) camels: camel riding in Gobi Desert in China, Sahara desert in Morocco, Giza pyramids in Egypt; camel burgers and stews in a Nile River inn and camel Tagine (chimney clay pot) in Morocco; like goat/lamb, flavorful and tasty!
- Jogging in beautiful foreign cities in the dawn: circumnavigating the entire Vatican City (2.1 miles) by slow jogging in an hour; morning jogging and photo-shooting in many beautiful cities, e.g., Rome, Venice, Santorini, Istanbul, etc.
- Harley bike morning riding in Arizona National Parks: my weekend rides on my Harley Sportster 883 (833 CC), with cool Harley leather jacket and helmet; looking the part, but not in skill; weekend rider!
- Karaoke in Asia: my favorite after-work activities in Asian cities, e.g., Taipei, Hong Kong, Beijing, Shanghai; hanging out with friends and students; I control the microphone and song list (due to seniority)!
I. Antarctica: Penguins, Kayaking, Polar Plunging
- Arriving Ushuaia, Argentina, the southmost city of the world and having the best Argentina open-fire grilled (gaucho style) Patagonia lamb ribs and steaks
- Excellent 10-day Expedition Cruises, minimum $8,000 per person (inner cabin), plus reserved activities; needing much Polar preparation (e.g., clothes, gloves, socks) in advance
- Abundant gentoo and chinstrap penguins sighting and nostalgic abandoned whaling stations; great National Geographic type photo-shooting
- Most exciting 4-days open-ocean kayaking (with protecting dry suits for heavy-duty kayaking; 6 hours per day for 4 days for only 14 travelers signed up earlier for additional $900; exhausting but super fun and special; floating ice and swimming penguins close by) and one-day SUP (Stand-Up peddle Boarding; not recommended, too unstable in the sub-zero, rough ocean)
- Polar Plunging a must (don’t jump too far into the ocean, which was what I did, hard to swim back), with whisky to warm up afterwards
- Number #1 on my Bucket List!
Ushuaia, Argentina, November 2017
II. Asia: Old Cultures, Civilizations, and Great Foods
- Taiwan: Train Rides, Charming East Coast, Hualien, TaiDong, Sea Foods and Street Foods
- Selection somewhat biased since I came from Taiwan, with many memorable visits across the island; most Taiwan sites are small but charming with abundant green forests in the west coast and clear blue ocean in the east coast
- Best travel with highspeed trains for the west coast and slow traditional trains (with great bento boxes; pork and chicken) for the east coast; beautiful green (summer) and golden (winter) rice paddy fields viewing from trains
- Sea foods are great and cheap everywhere: fresh squids, abalones, cuttlefish, crabs; Street foods in night markets the best in the world, including Keelung MiuKou, my hometown
Taiwan, NCTU Visit, September 2018
Taiwan Hualien Taidong, July 2011
Taiwan ICIM Conference, May 2010
TungHai University Meeting, March 2010
IEEE ISI 2008: Taipei, Taiwan, June 2008
National Dong Hua University, Taiwan, October 2003
- China: Beijing, Great Wall, Silk Road, Tibet/Lhasa, Mongolia, Chengdu/JiuZhaigou, ChongQing/Three Gorges
- China has the most exciting natural wonders, cultural sites and great foods among all countries. I include many highlights from trips over 20 years, from the coastal cities to interior historical minority sites.
- Great Wall (13K miles) is called “Ten Thousand Miles Long Wall” in Chinese, from the West in Silk Road to the East at the Yellow Sea; majestic for history and scale!
- Silk Road from Wulumuqi to XiAn with great Muslim and Buddhism cultures and history; excellent grapes, raisins, honeydews, and grilled lambs; great Muslim foods
- Potala Palace at Lhasa, Tibet, great Tibetan history and ancient Tibetan Buddhism relics; young red-roped monks debating in temples super cool; foods not so much
- XiAn, Chengdu, ChongQing fascinating Chinese old cities; great JiuZhaiGou Lakes, relaxing Three-Gorges Cruise after new dam construction; best lamb dishes and hot pots in XiAn, ChongQing, and Silk Road
- Great Wall, Silk Road and Tibet on my Bucket List!
IEEE IS ChongQing Three Gorges China, July 2019
CSWIM, Chengdu, China, June 2014
YunGang, SanXi, China, July 2013
ICADL, Beijing, China, November 2011
Wulumuqi Turban, XinJiang, Silk Road, November 2011
BI Conference, Kunming, LiJiang, Dec. 2010
China, Dunhuang, September 2009
Mongolia and China, September 2009
PAISI 2007, Chengdu, China, April 2007
ICADL 2004: Shanghai, China, December 2004
- India: New Delhi, Varanasi, Agra, Japiur
- Busy chaotic noisy streets, green-yellow tut tuts in New Delhi; crowded Taj Mahal, still a must visit
- Fascinating Varanasi, the City of Light on Ganges River; people bathing and preying at layered ghats; more authentic than Taj; my favorite Indian site
- Over-night sleeper train to Japiur, 12 hours delay, slept on Varanasi train platform with cows eating trash nearby; most memorable!
India, Delhi Varanasi Agra Japiur, September, 2018
ICDL 2004: New Delhi, India, February
- Cambodia/Vietnam: Angkor Wat, Siem Reap, How Long Bay, Ho Chi Minh City
- Vibrant HCM city, with many crazy motorcycles; War Remnants Museum a must; strolling markets and having great pho and street banh mi
- Touring How Long Bay on a house boat and meal on board; floating, relaxing
- Siem Reap with cheap local hotels ($30 per night), great BBQ, and beers (Angkor beer); Tut tuts $25 whole day to Angkor Wat leisure viewing, need 4 days to see all sorts of temples; great photo-shooting; my personal Lara Croft (Tomb raider) moment
- Angkor Wat and How Long Bay on my Bucket List!
Angkor Wat Vietnam Cambodia, July 2019
Hanoi, Vietnam, HawLong Bay, October 2011
- Japan: Kyoto, Nara, Hokkaido
- Many old and well-preserved temples in Kyoto and Nara; great local ramen shops
- Hot thermal spring baths in beautiful Hokkaido in the winter, with hot pots and great sakes
Kyoto and Osaka, Japan, June 2008
- Nepal: Kathmandu Valley, Hindu and Buddhist Temples
- Many UNESCO sites (temples) in Kathmandu Valley; crazy traffic, crowded lively streets; many Buddhists and Hindis; great authentic and cheap Indian foods
- All temples charming and majestic, great photo ops; many young local visitors and families; some temples still under repair after the 2015 earthquakes
- Local hotel charming and affordable, breakfast included; walking the streets and taking photos pleasant; capital of "fake North Face" apparels (hats, jackets), from adults to babies
- Nepal on my Bucket List!
- Bali: Hindu Temples and "A Great Leap"
- Stayed at Ubud town in the center of Bali island (one hour away from DPS airport), away from the crowded beaches and resort hotels; Ubud closer to many famous Hindu temples in the north and east of island, a more local joint; stayed at a local resort hotel (Komaneka at Rosa Sayang) with pool and good breakfast, large charming room, $40/night, a steal! Great service, got work done in my room with wifi and front desk printing!
- Found a small local restaurant (Garasi "Garage Restaurant"), with a mom-cook and spicy, tasty local dishes (eels from local rice paddy; the famous Indonesian Mi Goreng, stir fry noodle); became my regular dinner place for almost all nights in Ubud, $5-$6 per meal, a feast (soup, meal, large beer, desert)!
- Had my best travel photo ever: "A Great Leap at the Gate of Heaven" in Lempuyang Temple of East Bali; the travel was long (2 hours car ride from my hotel) and most temple buildings closed to foreign visitors (local Hindu visitors only), waited for 30 minutes for the photo op (pre-COVID wait 2-3 hours); I leaped into the air in my sarong and ASICS sneakers and looked into my iPhone, operated by the experienced local guide (same guy for all photos), with an iPhone mirror trick to capture the (fake) pool reflection; it was my perfect 2 seconds (my time in the air) during Bali travel!
- All Hindu temples are quiet (due to COVID), charming, and unique (structurally), scattered all over Bali. My hired private driver got lost a few times on local roads because he had not been out for more than 3 years since COVID!
- Visited beaches a bit -- crazy, chaotic, dangerous scooter drivers (including many young Australians) everywhere! A poor-man's Hawaii!
- Bali on my Bucket List!
III. Middle East & Africa: Wild Lives & Old Civilizations
- Jordan: Wadi Rum, Petra
- A great one-week trip of Jordan, from Amman to Wadi Rum (desert), and Aqaba (red sea) to Petra (the famed lost “Rose City,” as shown in Indiana Jones movie, the Last Crusader)
- Jordanian Airline flights crowded with Jordanians even during COVID; but tourist sites are 20% of pre-COVID traffic. Great relaxing experience.
- Jeep/Toyota trucks trekking through Wadi Rum desert, fun and free. Many memories of “Lawrence of the Arabia” (a movie that I watched several times), from the Turkey train line to the Battle of Aqaba. Camping at desert tent (wooden structure), enjoying Bedouin teas, grilled chickens, and live Bedouin music under the dark and starry desert night.
- Petra is the highlight of the entire trip, a deserving 7-wonders of the world. Dating 300 BC, it was the capital of the Nabatean Empire (ancient Bedouin people). A narrow slot canyon called Al Sig leaves into a vast city hidden inside. The rose-colored Greek-style facades, The Treasury and The Monastery, are the most photoed sites.
- Walked for more than 12 hours in two days, jogging part of the way. So many ruins, theater, temples, facades, etc. to see. A vast ancient city with many trails to wonder around. Also enjoyed the Petra at Night with a few like-minded fellow travelers (candles, music, great company).
- Also my first, floating on the Dead Sea for one hour on a storming day. Water so salty, scream if getting into mouth or eyes! Jerash, the Roman Ruins, is also vast and well preserved. So many historical and biblical sites to see! Foods are less interesting; cannot find good lamb or camel stews.
- Petra on my Bucket List!
Jordan, Wadi Rum, Petra, November 2021
- Tanzania, Kenya: Serengeti, Ngorongoro, The Big Five
- Most fascinating wildlife national reserve (Safari Park) in the world; cutting across multiple counties (Kenya, Tanzania) for annual migration
- Witnessing large herds of wildebeest and zebra crossing in Serengeti, wild and free; Ngorongoro crater with self-contained eco-system of many wild lives; Viewing the Africa’s Big Five: lion, rhino, elephant, leopard, and buffalo
- Camping and cooking in camp sites; an once-in-a-lifetime experience; elephant scats and hyenas roaming at camp sites (still safe); winter camping in Africa, cold, needing heavy horse blankets for nights; freezing in Africa?
- Serengeti and Ngorongoro on my Bucket List!
Serengeti Ngorongoro Kenya Tanzania, June 2019
- Egypt: Cairo, Pyramids, Mummies; Nile, Luxor, Felucca, Temples
- Egypt has the most ancient and fascinating civilizations of all countries (China included): ancient pyramids, temples, hieroglyphs, mummies, etc.; got a great knowledgeable Egyptologist as local guide for the whole trip
- Cruising and sleeping overnight on a felucca (small sail boat) on Nile; great camel riding (around Pyramids) and “camel eating” with stewed meaty flavorful camel shanks/tendons (much like goats) and home-made pink guava juice
- Cairo, Nile, and Luxor on my Bucket List!
- Morocco: Casablanca, Fez, Marrakesh, Essaouira, Medina
- A peaceful and cultural (liberal Muslim) country with ancient sites and charming medinas (old part of a town or city in North Africa); most cities have a medina with charming old shops and craft vendors
- Got snowed in at the Great Atlas Mountains for 2 days; wet and cold in Marrakesh, with most shops closed; rode camel and slept in Sahara camp overnight; freezing in Afrtica?
- Amazing Moroccan Tagine (clay pot with chimney cover) with slow stewed meats, vegies and fruits; had chicken, beef, lamb, goat and camel in the first five days (cannot have another bite after that); fatty flavorful camel the best
- Essaouira a mixed (western + Morocco) charming city with good craft shops, grilled seafoods, and charming restaurants
IV. Australia/Oceania: Young/New
- Australia: Sydney, Cairns, Great Barrier Reef
- Enjoy waterways and ferries around Sydney, great photo shots of Sydney Opera House and bridge; watched Turandot at the opera house
- Cairns a nice clean tourist town; did scuba diving at Great Barrier Reef, not much to see in the water (vs. Hawaii or Galapagos); vomiting (holding on tight to the toilet bowl) all the way during ride to diving site due to storming weather (not advised)
JCDL ICADL, Australia, June 2010
EPI/VET Conference, Australia, August 2006
V. Europe: Great Cultures, Arts, History
- Italy: Venice, Florence, Pisa, Rome, Vatican, Naples
- Italy is one of the most fascinating European countries, with rich history and heritage. Easy to take EuroStar from Milan to Naples
- Jogging in Venice (canals) and Rome (city and Vatican) at dawn a great personal experience; jogging around Vatican completely took less than one hour!
- Best Italian seafood in Florence in a local restaurant at a gym, an accidental find. Took local train/bus to Pisa and Pompeii great experience
- Venice, Florence, Rome, and Vatican on my Bucket List!
ICIS, Milan, Italy, December 2013
- Greece: Athens, Santorini, Mikonos
- Walking the city, changing of the colorful guards a must-see; touring the Parthenon temple
- Early morning jog and photo-shooting of beautiful Santorini and Mikonos before the crowds and cruises
- Island-hopping ferries easy and local bed-and-breakfasts convenient; great family touring sites
- Athens, Santorini and Mikonos on my Bucket List!
Santorini Mykonos, Greece, September 2011
European ISI Conference, Athens, Greece, September 2011
ASONAM Social Network Workshop, Athens, Greece, July 2009
- Turkey: Istanbul, Pamukkale, Cappadocia
- Great family trip with wife and kids; fascinating history and natural wonders; great Ottoman civilization and history, the Blue Mosque a must
- Hosted by the family of a Ph.D. student, great hospitality and friendship
- Istanbul city dawn jogging and Turkish bath house experience unique
- Istanbul, Pamukkale, and Cappadocia on my Bucket List!
- Czech/Australia/Hungry: Prague, Vienna, Budapest, Cycling Danube River
- Great Austro-Hungarian Empire and cities with architectural wonders (bridges, castles), history, and foods/beer
- Music/Waltzes and schnitzel in Vienna; Pork knuckle and dark beer in Prague; Danube fish soup and vast outdoor thermal bath in Budapest
- Easy travel via EuroStar; Danube cycling from Vienna to Budapest (4 days, 150 miles) memorable; swimming/diving in Danube, with cold beer and hot fish soup afterwards
- Prague, Vienna, and Budapest on my Bucket List
Cycling Danube, Vienna Budapest, September 2018
ITSS Conference, Vienna, September 2005
- Croatia: Dubrovnik, Hvar, Split, Islands Hopping
- Charming old town, white marble streets; sites for "Game of Thrones" (GOT); great wedding and honeymoon spot
- Old town bed-and-breakfasts difficult to find (on Google Maps), impossible to carry luggage on cobbled stones (can't roll); rooms charming and quiet once settled in (no cars allowed in old town)
- Dubrovnik has the best marble streets, old churches, local artist shops, seafood restaurants, red-tiled roofs, clean harbor swimming; stayed at a charming BnB (reasonable priced, ~$60) close to "walk of shame" of GOT
- Hvar is a charming small island with great swimming spots and seafood; not so much for Split (old castle, not impressive); ferry transport pleasant and easy to book; clearest and most beautiful water in Europe!
- Croatia on my Bucket List! (Good to travel with family and loved ones.)
Dubrovnik, Hvar, and Split, Croatia, May 2022
- Spain: Camino de Santiago Pilgrimage Spiritual Walk
- 7 days, 100+ KMs walk from Sarria to Santiago (the minimum); 20-25 KMs walk per day, 7-8 hours brisk walk each day, from 8AM till about 4PM each day; pleasant beer and lunch breaks each day
- Great, calm local trails through quiet small Spanish villages with many random walking buddies of all sorts; 2+ pilgrimage stamps each day required at restaurants, shops, and churches to verify walks
- "Buen Camino" - "Good Journey" as greetings among pilgrims; tour group arranged luggage transport between hotels/BnB, breakfast included
- Best grilled octopus and grilled steaks in charming little restaurants throughout the walks
- It's a once-in-a-lifetime experience!
Spain, Camino de Santiago, May 2022
VI. North America: Young & Vibrant
- US, Southwest National Parks: Grand Canyon, Zion, Bryce, Antelope Canyon, Yellowstone
- US National Parks the best in the world, especially in the Southwest
- A family 7-day trip, from Arizona to Utah to Wyoming; staying inside of the parks (park cabins) with careful planning the best
- Antelope Canyon in AZ reservation a hidden gem, needing advanced online reservations; best photo shots with lights around noon
- Grand Canyon, Zion, Bryce, Antelope Canyon, and Yellowstone on my Bucket List!
Grand Canyon, Zion, Bryce, Yellowstone, Antelope Canyon, June 2018
NAU, Arizona; Utah, August 2016
- US Cities: NYC, San Francisco, Amtrak Rail, Alaska Cruises
- Many fascinating US cities, NYC and San Francisco among the best and most unique
- NYC, Status of Liberty, Empire State Building, Macy’s Parade; SF, Golden Gate Bridge, Fisherman’s Wharf
- Unique Amtrak experience for visiting US cities, e.g., Los Angeles, San Francisco, Seattle, Chicago
- Alaska Cruises relaxing, from Anchorage to Juneau; glacier viewing, dog sledding
ICIS, San Francisco, December 2018
NYC Macy’s Parade, November, 2006
- Canada Cities: Toronto, Vancouver, Rocky Mountaineer Rail, VIA Rail Canada
- Toronto and Vancouver both clean and lovely
- Unique Rocky Mountaineer Rail and VIA Rail Canada for visiting Canada from Toronto to Vancouver
Rocky Mountaineer, Canada, September 2015
POLCYB Conference, Vancouver, September 2008
Joint Conference on Digital Libraries, Vancouver, June 2007
VII. Central & South America: Great Latin American Cultures and Fascinating People
- Mexico: Mexico City, Puebla, Oaxoca, Palenque, Chichen Itza
- A wonderful two-week trip of Southern Mexico, from Mexico City to Playa del Carmen (close to Cancun), mostly on buses; amazing pyramids and ruins (of Aztec and Maya civilizations), pretty Spanish colonial towns (Puebla, Oaxaca), great Mexican foods (tacos of different flavors)
- Mexico has the 7th most UNESCO sites of all countries (surprising) and first among all American countries. It has much to offer for intrepid international travelers (despite its image problem). Felt safe, vibrant, and fun during the entire trip. Very limited COVID protocol (no PCR, only vaccination needed), but safe in general (mask wearing).
- Visited four majestic pyramids/ruins: Teotihuacan of Mexico City, Monte Alban, Palenque, and Chichen Itza, from desert to rainforest. Great photo ops.
- All Spanish colonial towns are charming and well preserved. Great photo ops as well. Many nice and creative restaurants for tourists. Tried all types of tacos: from typical beef and chicken, to seafood and pig head tacos (street foods with the locals)
- Several firsts for me: watching my first live Lucha Libre (Mexico masked professional wrestling) matches in a Puebla gym (fun, excited local crowds); swimming in a pool under a large rushing waterfall (currents too strong, got cut); swimming/diving in a deep, blue cenote (sink hole, calm/relaxing)
- Southern Mexico on my Bucket List!
Mexico, Puebla, Oaxaca, February 2022
- Cuba: Havana, Trinidad, Che
- A fascinating visit during Obama time (a window of rare opening); a different time/world experience (a country frozen in time)
- Visa obtained at Miami airport (cultural exchange, not tourist); young Cuban custom girl official with short skirt and fishnet stockings (a bit of shock as a Communist country)
- Old, run-down Spanish-styled city buildings but happy and friendly people; feeling very safe
- Fascinating Havana and Trinidad; old colorful US and Russian cars for tourists (very photogenic); festive Caribbean music/band in many restaurants and enjoying 2-3 great mojitos every day
- Swimming in the Bay of Pigs, with mojitos afterwards; much Che Guevara influence and admiration (on 3-dollar bills and coins)
- Havana and Trinidad on my Bucket List!
- Brazil/Argentina: Rio, Bueno Ares, Iguazu Falls
- A long trip to Antarctica via Brazil and Argentina; Brazil needs separate visa, very inconvenient and expensive; Bueno Ares city sight fading, disappointing, return flight airport delay 24 hours; poor service & worst airport overnight stay ever, sleeping on floor with 200+ stranded customers (even with first class ticket)
- Fascinating Rio with famous beaches (Copacabana, Ipanema) close to my hotel, exciting beach activities all day/night
- Visited Chris the Redeemer and the Sugar Loaf Mountain; dinner at Fogo de Chaos the famous Brazil steakhouse (many locations in US); all fun
- Iguazu Fall visits from both the Brazil and Argentina sides via private car; staying in Hotel da Cataratas inside of Iguazu Park the best (expensive but worth it), with no crowd in early morning; the most amazing fall in the world!
- Iguazu Falls on my Bucket List!
Brazil, Rio, Iguazu, November 2017
Ushuaia, Argentina, November 2017
- Peru: Cusco, Machu Picchu, Lake Titicaca
- Arriving Lima with family, disappointing city; Cusco fascinating old town, with colorful local Indian festival and parades going on
- Machu Picchu sight amazing, great photo shots; Lake Titicaca charming with few local residents for tourists on floating straw islands
- Grilled guinea pig and potatoes over-rated; needing coco leaf teas at all times (for mountain sickness) in Cusco; alpaca sweaters nice souvenirs
- Machu Picchu on my Bucket List!
- Ecuador: Quito, Galapagos Islands, Marine Iguanas
- Ecuador another fascinating South American country; safe and vibrant
- Quito old town much like Cusco, charming old Spanish buildings and busy local activities; use US currency, with many one-dollar US Pocahontas Indian coins circulating
- Flight to Galapagos Islands, then living on a chartered small cruise boat (14 passengers; each $3500+ for good cabins, expensive but worth it) for 4 days; best mode of visit/stay, close to islands, sights, and snorkeling (better than Hawaii and Great Barrier Reef)
- Unique sighting and photo-shooting of marine iguanas and great Galapagos tortoises; both unique species according to Darwinism
- Galapagos Islands on my Bucket List!
Ecuador, Galapagos, October 2018
VIII. Most Memorable Train Rides: Long, Unique, Sleeper Trains
Most of these rail trips are on multi-day sleeper trains. The longer the better, if you can sleep like a baby in a sleeper train berth/cabin (me)! Slow, long train rides put you in a different time and different place -- nostalgic, foreign, and romantic!
- Trans-Siberian Railway: The Longest Train Ride, Doctor Zhivago
- A romantic “Doctor Zhivago” trip through Siberia (no Tonya or Lara though); I re-read the novel during the longest 7-day train trip from Moscow to Beijing, 4,735-miles non-stop
- From Moscow thru birch-tree forests, Siberian steppes, Lake Baikal, Mongolian desert, to Beijing
- Best slow train travel ever; reading, music listening, and chatting with fellow travelers (mostly Europeans)
- Poor Russian and Mongolian train meal cars; needing adventurous station stops (30-40 mins) and quick food buying at train shops
- Trans-Siberian Railway on my Bucket List!
- Swiss Rail: Golden Pass Line, Glacier Express, Bernina Express, The Most Scenic Trains
- Arguably the most scenic train ride in the world; Swiss rails are clean, comfortable, and carefully engineered rides across blue lakes, majestic glaciers, beautiful mountains, and post-card worthy villages; a fairy tale tour
- Swiss rail pass ($500) covers 4-days trip of all trains; still needing seat and food reservations; Everything can be planned and arranged by yourself online.
- Arriving Zurich from Munich via air, train to Lucerne, Golden Pass to Montreux on Lake Geneva, snow-capped mountains and charming villages
- Local train to Zermatt a ski resort for one night stay, then Glacier Express to Chur (slowest “express” train, 300 kms for 8 hours) for another night; small Xmas market and many glühwein (hot, spiced Xmas red wine); 19 train tunnels and 291 stone bridges to the Alps; 5-course first-class set meal ($60) over-rated, white bubbly wine ok
- One night stay at Cur then Bernina Express to Tirano on Italy border; great blue sky and snow-capped Alps; excellent train meals with Swiss cheeses, Italian hams and sweet bubbly white wine (had too much; needing frequent toilet breaks); then crowded local Italian train (“peasant class”) to Milan and then airport back to Munich
- Swiss Rail on my Bucket List!
- US Amtrak Railway: Coast Starlight, Empire Builder, California Zephyr, Slow US Travel Experiences
- Coast Starlight (LAX-SEA), Empire Builder (SEA-CHI), and California Zephyr (CHI-SF) are the most relaxing and scenic US sleeper train rides (40 hrs to 60 hrs each); across Pacific coast, Glaciers, mountains, prairies, and deserts
- Comfortable sleeper trains with large windows and good meal cars; excellent steaks and desserts, but all the same for all trains (had 3 steak meals during trip); each segment $500-$700, a bit over priced
- Coast Starlight, Empire Builder, and California Zephyr Train Rides on my Bucket List!
- VIA Rail Canada, Rocky Mountaineer: Across Canada, Oldest Passengers Train
- VIA Rail Canada 5-day 4,466 kms non-stop train ride from Toronto to Vancouver with my mom, second longest train ride train in the world (Trans-Siberian Rail the longest)
- Also the “second” most non-punctual train (Indian trains the most non-punctual in my experience; 24 hours delay) in the world; cargo trains have the “right-of-way” over passenger trains, thus 4-6 hrs delay common; relaxing but not very scenic
- Rocky Mountaineer from Jasper to Vancouver, Gold Leaf class the best, with 20+ passengers served by 4-6 chefs and attendants on each train; great fresh meals/salmon and local wines; expensive ($1700 per person, all included for 2 days), somewhat scenic; many retirees, Bucket List travel for many US and Canadian seniors, thus the Oldest Passengers Train
Rocky Mountaineer, Canada, September 2015
- Norway Oslo-Bergen Line, Flam Railroad: Rails Across Scenic High Plateaus and Fjords
- Most scenic local trains from Oslo to Bergen over high snow-capped plateaus and charming/isolated mountain cabins
- Stop-over at Flam after 5 hours from Oslo, green pretty local Flam Rail to Sognefjord for overnight stay; Fjords are quiet and mystical, great in Norway and Iceland, a must in Viking saga
- China Qinghai-Tibet Railroad: The Highest Permafrost Railroad, Lhasa, Tibet
- A rare and difficult trip in China (among international train buffs), needing special entry permit for foreigners to Tibet from XiNing at Qinghai province
- Completed in 2006, with over 1956 KMs across permafrost in the high elevation (5000 meters) QingZhong Plateau; the 24-hours sleeper train (4-person berth) is clean, punctual (to the minutes); passing scenic Qinghai Lake, Tibetan steppes, yurts, yaks, and Tibetan prey flags in the wind
- Majestic and mystical city of Lhasa and the Potala Palace; temples, Tibetan Buddhism, monks; fascinating cultures and Tibetan history; a different world from China
- Qinghai-Tibet Railroad and Tibet on my Bucket List!