Buenos Aires

My original plan to fly from Bangkok to Rio De Janeiro was foiled because of a Brazil visa issue, so I decided to fly to South America via Buenos Aires, Argentina instead. Typically, before I arrive in a new country or city I'll do a little online reading ahead of time, watch a movie with the setting in the city I'm traveling to, or maybe listen to some advice from a podcast, but I'm not the type create a list of fifteen must see tourist attractions. I like for my experience of the city to unravel naturally. 

I think that one of the best ways to understand a city is to reach out to your network, people you already know. Some of the best advice I've ever received has come from people who live or have lived in the city I was traveling to. What better recommendations than that of a local or someone who gets all nostalgic about a place they use to live. Social media makes this extremely easy, and you'll be surprised by the places your third cousin, work colleague, or high school sweetheart have lived. 

I was lucky enough to tap into a connection I had from my previous job back home. Here are some of his recommendations, and if you're reading this Mark, I appreciate the pro tips! Your love for Buenos Aries made my experience there that much more enjoyable. 

A visual of the many recommendations I received, plus a few spots of my own I wanted to explore. 

A visual of the many recommendations I received, plus a few spots of my own I wanted to explore. 

Pictured above is the neighborhood of San Telmo. It's the oldest barrio in Buenos Aires. It's filled with cafes, antique markets, parrillas, tango shows, and plenty of art. To me it's the heart beat of the city and a great place for travelers to instantly understand what BA is all about. If you happen to go, a great place to stay is Hotel Bolivar. It's got character and stories for days, and is cheap with rooms around $12-20 USD a night. If you're looking for a nightcap, hit up The Gibraltar. It's got tasty food (big shout out to Tom!), stiff drinks, and you can't beat the atmosphere. And since it's a traditional British Pub, you'll find expats, locals, and bartenders who speak english or will work with you on your español.

Also in San Telmo, this little gem of a Parrilla (grilled meat house). It's said that you can cut your steak with a spoon. I'll second that. 

Also in San Telmo, this little gem of a Parrilla (grilled meat house). It's said that you can cut your steak with a spoon. I'll second that. 

Beef is incredibly delicious and incredibly cheap in this town. The cuts of steak are a little different than the traditional US cuts so do a little research before you hit the Parrilla. 

Beef is incredibly delicious and incredibly cheap in this town. The cuts of steak are a little different than the traditional US cuts so do a little research before you hit the Parrilla. 

Maté. It's slightly caffeinated, grassy-earthy tasting, herbal drink that's always sipped in a social setting among friends, family, and travelers. This was my first go at it. 

Maté. It's slightly caffeinated, grassy-earthy tasting, herbal drink that's always sipped in a social setting among friends, family, and travelers. This was my first go at it. 

Empanadas. A cheap, goto meal for locals and travelers alike. 

Empanadas. A cheap, goto meal for locals and travelers alike. 

The Thinker, situated at Congressional Plaza. It's one of twelve copies in the world. 

The Thinker, situated at Congressional Plaza. It's one of twelve copies in the world. 

Eva Perón. She came from humble beginnings and when she died it's said that she had more power and influence in Argentina than her husband who was president. 

Eva Perón. She came from humble beginnings and when she died it's said that she had more power and influence in Argentina than her husband who was president. 

The beautiful, european influenced, Av. Pres. Roque Sáenz Peña.

The beautiful, european influenced, Av. Pres. Roque Sáenz Peña.

Pope Francis' barber.

Pope Francis' barber.

Plaza de Mayo with Casa Rosada in the background. 

Plaza de Mayo with Casa Rosada in the background. 

Teatro Colón. It's one of the most beautiful man-made structures I've been in. 

Teatro Colón. It's one of the most beautiful man-made structures I've been in. 

Teatro Colón. This picture was taken during a tour that I took. We were allowed to sit and listen to the orchestra practice for an upcoming opera. It's suppose to be one of the top acoustic buildings in the world. Luciano Pavarotti said, "its acoustics are perfect! Imagine what this signifies for the singer: if one sings something bad, one notices immediately."   Ask for tickets for a show. The opera may not be in town, but they hold regular local shows. They're less formal and the tickets are super cheap. I actually got tickets for a Sunday show for free!

Teatro Colón. This picture was taken during a tour that I took. We were allowed to sit and listen to the orchestra practice for an upcoming opera. It's suppose to be one of the top acoustic buildings in the world. Luciano Pavarotti said, "its acoustics are perfect! Imagine what this signifies for the singer: if one sings something bad, one notices immediately." 

Ask for tickets for a show. The opera may not be in town, but they hold regular local shows. They're less formal and the tickets are super cheap. I actually got tickets for a Sunday show for free!

Pictured above is Cemerterio de la Recoleta. You wouldn't think a cemetery would be a must do, but the different types of mausoleums range from super expensive to neglected. It's such and interesting place to spend an afternoon. Oh, and Eva Parón is also buried here. 

Buenos Aires has a history of revolutionaries and protesters. Many people came out to Plaza de Mayo to show there displeasure for present Obama's first visit to Argentina.   The visit is controversial here because it comes on the 40th anniversary of the March 24, 1976, military coup that the U.S. initially supported, and resentment still lingers over the tens of thousands of people who disappeared or were killed under military dictatorship. (@usatoday.com)  Note: The building to the right is where Bishop Francis, now Pope Francis, held mass on Sundays.

Buenos Aires has a history of revolutionaries and protesters. Many people came out to Plaza de Mayo to show there displeasure for present Obama's first visit to Argentina. 

The visit is controversial here because it comes on the 40th anniversary of the March 24, 1976, military coup that the U.S. initially supported, and resentment still lingers over the tens of thousands of people who disappeared or were killed under military dictatorship. (@usatoday.com)

Note: The building to the right is where Bishop Francis, now Pope Francis, held mass on Sundays.

Located on the famous Av. 9 De Julio, Obelisco de Buenos Aires. It's often been used as a political prop or to gain awareness for certain issues. In 2005 it wore a giant pink condom for World Aids Day. However, on the day I took the picture you can see the sign "40 years of Justice". What you can't see is the other two sides of the obelisk, "Memory and Truth" So, all together it reads, "40 years... (asking for) Memory, Truth, and Justice"  

Located on the famous Av. 9 De Julio, Obelisco de Buenos Aires. It's often been used as a political prop or to gain awareness for certain issues. In 2005 it wore a giant pink condom for World Aids Day. However, on the day I took the picture you can see the sign "40 years of Justice". What you can't see is the other two sides of the obelisk, "Memory and Truth" So, all together it reads, "40 years... (asking for) Memory, Truth, and Justice"  

I was determined to go to a tango show, that is before I realized you could find street performers in just about every neighborhood in Buenos Aires. It's fun to sit and watch people so passionate about their craft. 

I was determined to go to a tango show, that is before I realized you could find street performers in just about every neighborhood in Buenos Aires. It's fun to sit and watch people so passionate about their craft. 

The locks along the Rio Dique. It's just a short walk east of San Telmo. 

The locks along the Rio Dique. It's just a short walk east of San Telmo. 

One of my favorite things to do while traveling in a large city is to check out their urban parks. I believe I found this charming group of trees on my way up to Palermo. Palermo is a little more roomy and much more modern than San Telmo. It's got great restaurants and a hip nightlife. 

One of my favorite things to do while traveling in a large city is to check out their urban parks. I believe I found this charming group of trees on my way up to Palermo. Palermo is a little more roomy and much more modern than San Telmo. It's got great restaurants and a hip nightlife. 

Another import from Italy, Fernet-Branca maybe the most popular alcoholic drink in BA. Picture credit: lifeandthyme.com

My new favorite type of wine. Malbec. 

My new favorite type of wine. Malbec. 

Want a fútbol game? You can find it weeknights after work or weekends every where. 

Want a fútbol game? You can find it weeknights after work or weekends every where. 

Angkor Wat

If you're traveling to Southeast Asia, Angkor Wat is a must do. Depending on which direction you go, it's roughly 300 miles from Bangkok in the west or Ho Chi Minh in the east. You'll be rewarded with a completely different world, and the Khmer people are some of the most gentle and beautiful I've met. 

Come get lost with me on my two day adventure through the temples of Angkor Wat. 

Hanoi to Ho Chi Minh - A 15 Day Tour

It was around in December, right before Christmas when I got a message from my cousin Chad that him and his wife Ivy wanted to meet me somewhere in the world. After a few back-n-forth messages we decided that we'd meet in Vietnam. A few more messages with Ivy and we carved out a travel itinerary that started in the northern capital of Hanoi and ended in the southern city of Ho Chi Minh. The two cities were over a thousand miles away and we had 15 days to do it. It was an aggressive timeline for any time of year, but Chad and Ivy's arrival date coincide with Tet, which made our schedule all the more challenging. Here's a 15 day account of our whirlwind tour of Vietnam. 

Day 1, 2 - Hanoi

My cousin Chad and his wife Ivy. This picture was actually taken at the end of our trip, but it's a great intro photo. 

My cousin Chad and his wife Ivy. This picture was actually taken at the end of our trip, but it's a great intro photo. 

After a 20+ hour flight from Chicago and completely deleting a day of their life from the time change, they arrived just in time for the Tet celebration. 

After a 20+ hour flight from Chicago and completely deleting a day of their life from the time change, they arrived just in time for the Tet celebration. 

After a little recon, we sniffed out a western style hotel that was playing Super Bowl 50. At 7:30 in the morning we were in Hanoi, Vietnam enjoying eggs benedict, bloody Marys, and watching Payton Manning's last game.  

After a little recon, we sniffed out a western style hotel that was playing Super Bowl 50. At 7:30 in the morning we were in Hanoi, Vietnam enjoying eggs benedict, bloody Marys, and watching Payton Manning's last game.  

Hanoi barber. 

Hanoi barber. 

Hot pot, cheap plastic seats, Bia Sigon, and good company. Ahhh... Vietnam. 

Hot pot, cheap plastic seats, Bia Sigon, and good company. Ahhh... Vietnam. 

Day 3 - Ha Long Bay Crusie

HLB selfie. 

HLB selfie. 

Ha Long Bay is a UNESCO world heritage site. With its limestone towers shooting up out of the South China sea, you can see why. 

Ha Long Bay is a UNESCO world heritage site. With its limestone towers shooting up out of the South China sea, you can see why. 

Day 4 - Back to Hanoi

There maybe more Cafés in Hanoi than in Paris.  The coffee in Vietnam is some of my favorite. It's slightly sweet and chocolatey. You can get it many different ways, but usually iced, either black ( cà phê phin ) or with sweetened condensed milk ( Cà phê sữa da ).    Quick fact: Vietnam is the worlds second leading exporter of coffee. 

There maybe more Cafés in Hanoi than in Paris.  The coffee in Vietnam is some of my favorite. It's slightly sweet and chocolatey. You can get it many different ways, but usually iced, either black (cà phê phin) or with sweetened condensed milk (Cà phê sữa da).  

Quick fact: Vietnam is the worlds second leading exporter of coffee. 

Bia Hoi. It's fresh, it's local, and probably the cheapest beer in the world. I think one 12oz glass cost around 13,00 dong (60 cents USD). 

Bia Hoi. It's fresh, it's local, and probably the cheapest beer in the world. I think one 12oz glass cost around 13,00 dong (60 cents USD). 

Just another day in Hanoi. Everyone in Vietnam seems to be an entrepreneur. 

Just another day in Hanoi. Everyone in Vietnam seems to be an entrepreneur. 

Day 5 - Overnight Train to Hué

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Day 6 - Hué

Pictured above is of the Citadel. It's surrounded by a moat and this giant brick wall. It was the imperial city of the Nguyen Dynasty where emperors use to rule the region.  It use to be the capital city of Vietnam until they moved it to Hanoi in 1945. 

Pictured above is of the Citadel. It's surrounded by a moat and this giant brick wall. It was the imperial city of the Nguyen Dynasty where emperors use to rule the region.  It use to be the capital city of Vietnam until they moved it to Hanoi in 1945. 

Tu Duc Tomb. It was constructed in 1864-1867 and served as the second imperial city. It's such a peaceful place where you can't help but to reflect on the past. 

Tu Duc Tomb. It was constructed in 1864-1867 and served as the second imperial city. It's such a peaceful place where you can't help but to reflect on the past. 

Hué is known for having some of the best food in Vietnam. No, this is not pho, it's bun rieu (noodles with tomato broth and crab). 

Hué is known for having some of the best food in Vietnam. No, this is not pho, it's bun rieu (noodles with tomato broth and crab). 

Hué street food. Meat on a stick anyone?

Hué street food. Meat on a stick anyone?

Hué was one of the major battle grounds of the Tet Offensive. It was a series of surprise attacks launched by the North Vietnamese with the cloak of the Tet holiday. Pictured above is small portion of a ceiling mural from a bar in Hué.. 

Hué was one of the major battle grounds of the Tet Offensive. It was a series of surprise attacks launched by the North Vietnamese with the cloak of the Tet holiday. Pictured above is small portion of a ceiling mural from a bar in Hué.. 

Day 7- Overnight Train to Nah Trang   

Being in Vietnam a week before and on the day of Tet was a unique experience. The energy level of the country is hard to explain. However, after the actual day of celebration everything shuts down and everyone travels home to visit their families. I would not recommend planing a trip to Vietnam after the day of Tet. Trains will be packed and stores will be shut down for up to a week after the holiday. 

Being in Vietnam a week before and on the day of Tet was a unique experience. The energy level of the country is hard to explain. However, after the actual day of celebration everything shuts down and everyone travels home to visit their families. I would not recommend planing a trip to Vietnam after the day of Tet. Trains will be packed and stores will be shut down for up to a week after the holiday. 

Day 8, 9, 10 - Nah Trang

The beach! Nah Trang is know for it's beaches and cheap diving. We dedicated a full day here. 

The beach! Nah Trang is know for it's beaches and cheap diving. We dedicated a full day here. 

Po Nagar hindu temple. 

Po Nagar hindu temple. 

Nah Trang, also known as little Russia. 90% of the tourist, and bartenders, here seem to be Russian. Pictured above is Chad's Russian doppelganger.  

Nah Trang, also known as little Russia. 90% of the tourist, and bartenders, here seem to be Russian. Pictured above is Chad's Russian doppelganger.  

Nah Trang charcoal salesman.  

Nah Trang charcoal salesman.  

Small fishing neighborhood within Nah Trang. 

Small fishing neighborhood within Nah Trang. 

Day 11, 12, 13 - Mũi Né

Our little motorcycle gang. We took a full day and toured the coast of Mūi Né.  If you live in Vietnam, or are traveling there, riding a motorbike is a must. There's a population of 90 million and 37 million registered motorbikes. 

Sorry for the sound quality in the video. The wind was brutal on the dunes. I'm still picking granules of sand out of my cameras. 

Poz-Gambill Motorcycle Club. 

Poz-Gambill Motorcycle Club. 

Small fishermen boats, South China Sea. 

Small fishermen boats, South China Sea. 

Tourists trying to get the perfect "jumping" shot with the sunset. 

Tourists trying to get the perfect "jumping" shot with the sunset. 

Chad and Ivy taking in the views. 

Chad and Ivy taking in the views. 

Day 14, 15 - Ho Chi Minh

Chad and I at the War Remnants Museum. It's one of the most difficult museums to walk through. It's hard to image that the Vietnam war happened in a country we are now enjoying to travel through. 

Chad and I at the War Remnants Museum. It's one of the most difficult museums to walk through. It's hard to image that the Vietnam war happened in a country we are now enjoying to travel through. 

The largest post office I've ever been to. 

The largest post office I've ever been to. 

The Lunch Lady. Another Bourdain recommendation in the north of Ho Chi Minh. 

The Lunch Lady. Another Bourdain recommendation in the north of Ho Chi Minh. 

Ivy getting her tourist pic on. 

Ivy getting her tourist pic on. 

Hotel Majestic. An old French colonial style hotel on the Sigon River. 

Hotel Majestic. An old French colonial style hotel on the Sigon River. 

A parting shot. You guys made a huge effort to join me! Thanks for the company in Vietnam. 

A parting shot. You guys made a huge effort to join me! Thanks for the company in Vietnam. 

Tết (2016) - The Year of the Fire Monkey

February 8th, 2016 was the start of the Chinese new year. It's based on Chinese astrology and each year represents an animal sign and one of the five elements: Metal, Water, Wood, Fire, or Earth. 

2016 is the year of the Fire Monkey. It's a big deal. Most of Asia celebrates the Chinese new year in some form or another. Vietnam calls their new year Tết, but they follow the same principles. Tết is short for Tết Nguyên Đán, which stands for "Feast of the First Morning of the First Day". I was lucky enough to experience the build up and celebration of their most important holiday. To me it felt like one part Christmas, one part New Year's Eve, and one part spring cleaning, all wrapped into one.  

Laos And The Secret War

I knew about the Vietnam war, everyone has, but I really had no idea of the scale of the war and what that meant for the surrounding countries. There were a bunch of proxy wars happening all along the region, to "fight against the spread of communism". While in Laos I realized that the Vietnam war had no boundaries.  

I visited Phonsavan and the Plain of Jars. The cultural significance of the jars didn't get lost on me, but what really sunk in was the second half of the tour. Among hundreds of other sites in Laos, this area is well known for being heavily bombed by the US between 1964-1973. This was part of the Vietnam war I knew nothing about. It was known as the Secret war.  

The Plain of Jars. Thousands of stone jars used for prehistoric burials dated from 500 BC. 

The Plain of Jars. Thousands of stone jars used for prehistoric burials dated from 500 BC. 

Stone jar with lid. 

Stone jar with lid. 

Mine Advisory Group (MAG). This marker lets you know the boundaries that have been cleared and are now bomb free in the area. 

Mine Advisory Group (MAG). This marker lets you know the boundaries that have been cleared and are now bomb free in the area. 

Bomb crater from a US mission in 1969. 

Bomb crater from a US mission in 1969. 

Local entrepreneurs make key chains and spoons from bomb scrap metal found in the area. 

Local entrepreneurs make key chains and spoons from bomb scrap metal found in the area. 

Bomb shelter used by locals in the Xiangkhouang province from 1964-1973. 

Bomb shelter used by locals in the Xiangkhouang province from 1964-1973. 

Inside the bomb shelter. 

Inside the bomb shelter. 

In Vientiane (the Laos capital) I heard about this museum called COPE that displayed bombs from the Vietnam war, so I was curious. COPE stands for the Cooperative Orthotic and Prosthetic Enterprise. At the time I had no idea what an impact the museum would have on me. 

For me the Vietnam war was terrible, yes of course, but it was generations ago, in a small country far away I knew next to nothing about. The COPE museum was a powerful realization of the horror of war. The tons of bombs we dropped were real. The destruction we caused was real. The people we killed had names. People actually lost their arms, legs, and other body parts, sadly, they still are. The blunt force of our tactics was on full display and it was hard for me to keep watching.

A Laos chid's drawing of their village during the secret bombing missions. 

A Laos chid's drawing of their village during the secret bombing missions. 

Mural made from cluster bombs. These terrible bombs are still exploding today. More than 270 million cluster munitions (or ‘bombies’, as they are known locally) were used; up to 80 million failed to detonate, remaining live and in the ground after the end of the war.

Mural made from cluster bombs. These terrible bombs are still exploding today. More than 270 million cluster munitions (or ‘bombies’, as they are known locally) were used; up to 80 million failed to detonate, remaining live and in the ground after the end of the war.

Here's a trailer for the documentary that plays on a loop at the COPE museum. It's an eye opening video that shares stories of the past destruction caused and current state of a bomb's life cycle. 

 

Bomb Harvest Facts (pulled from maginternational.org):

• There were more than 580,000 bombing missions on Laos from 1964 to 1973 during the Vietnam War.  

• That's equivalent to one bombing mission every eight minutes, 24 hours a day, for nine years.  

• Over two million tons of ordnance was dropped on the country, with up to 30 per cent failing to explode as designed.

• Approximately 25 per cent of the country's villages are contaminated with unexploded ordnance (UXO).  

• All 17 provinces suffer from UXO contamination.  

• More than 50,000 people were killed or injured as a result of UXO accidents from 1964 to 2008.

• From the end of the war in 1974 to 2008, more than 20,000 people were killed or injured as a result of UXO accidents.  

•  There have been approximately 300 new casualties annually over the last decade.  

•  Over the last decade 40 per cent of total casualties were children.

 

Khao Sok, Koh Samui, Chiang Mai - A Picture Tour

After being in Bangkok for so long it was time for me to go exploring and see more of Thailand than just its capital.

Side note: Bangkok is the most traveled to city in the world.

BUT, the country has so much to offer, from the beaches in the south, to the mountains in the north. You can spend months... years here, and some do. My goal was to see a little bit of everything without growing roots and staying in one place for too long like I did in Bangkok. 

Here's a picture tour of my time in Khao Sok, Koh Samui, and Chiang Mai. 

Khao Sok (the far southwest), Koh Samui and Ko Pha Ngan (southeast - Gulf of Thailand), Chiang Mai (far north).

Khao Sok (the far southwest), Koh Samui and Ko Pha Ngan (southeast - Gulf of Thailand), Chiang Mai (far north).

Cheow Lan Lake, just outside of Khao Sok national park. Its a man made lake with giant limestone pillars that rise above the water line. For some reason I took very little pictures on this trip and the few that I have don't do it justice. 

Cheow Lan Lake, just outside of Khao Sok national park. Its a man made lake with giant limestone pillars that rise above the water line. For some reason I took very little pictures on this trip and the few that I have don't do it justice. 

We stayed on the lake in little floating houses. You can see them in the far right of the picture. The water was so clear and clean. After a long day of caving and hiking it was nice to take a dip. 

We stayed on the lake in little floating houses. You can see them in the far right of the picture. The water was so clear and clean. After a long day of caving and hiking it was nice to take a dip. 

My next door neighbor at Jungle Huts Resort in Khao Sok. I took this picture from 25 feet away and used all of my 30x zoom.  

My next door neighbor at Jungle Huts Resort in Khao Sok. I took this picture from 25 feet away and used all of my 30x zoom.  

Aboard the traditional Thai long tail boat. This is how everyone gets around the lake since there are no roads.  

Aboard the traditional Thai long tail boat. This is how everyone gets around the lake since there are no roads.  

Welcome to Koh Samui Island.

Welcome to Koh Samui Island.

Big Buddha Temple (Wat Phra Yai). Shout out to Tracey for being my travel buddy while touring the island. She may be the goofiest most fun person I ever met. 

Big Buddha Temple (Wat Phra Yai). Shout out to Tracey for being my travel buddy while touring the island. She may be the goofiest most fun person I ever met. 

The terquious waters of Koh Samui. 

The terquious waters of Koh Samui. 

Ko Pha Ngan Christmas day full moon party. Haaawwwwool!  

Ko Pha Ngan Christmas day full moon party. Haaawwwwool!  

This picture isn't anything artistically special, but to me it represents the most difficult bike ride of my life. It's significant because I road from Lisbon to Berlin and this is the one that I struggled with the most. I went from my guest house, in the heart of the city center, to Wat Phratht Doi Suthep. It's a 30km ride almost straight up. It took me 3 hrs to climb the "mountain" with a 45 minute decent. The climb had me almost in tears, but the decent was exhilarating. Can't wait to get back in cycling shape. 

This picture isn't anything artistically special, but to me it represents the most difficult bike ride of my life. It's significant because I road from Lisbon to Berlin and this is the one that I struggled with the most. I went from my guest house, in the heart of the city center, to Wat Phratht Doi Suthep. It's a 30km ride almost straight up. It took me 3 hrs to climb the "mountain" with a 45 minute decent. The climb had me almost in tears, but the decent was exhilarating. Can't wait to get back in cycling shape. 

Chiang Mai is a digital nomad hub. I know many people that call this place home, if only for part of the year. It's dirt cheap (check out the sign above, that comes out to about $1,000 PER YEAR for an apartment). You can be entrepreneurial and not worry about your living expenses. 

Chiang Mai is a digital nomad hub. I know many people that call this place home, if only for part of the year. It's dirt cheap (check out the sign above, that comes out to about $1,000 PER YEAR for an apartment). You can be entrepreneurial and not worry about your living expenses. 

Chiang Mai is said to have the best food in Thailand, although every region would argue, I would not. This is the famous Cowboy Lady. She serves up some great street food. Thanks Mr. Bourdain for the recommendation.  

Chiang Mai is said to have the best food in Thailand, although every region would argue, I would not. This is the famous Cowboy Lady. She serves up some great street food. Thanks Mr. Bourdain for the recommendation.