The Real Answer to the Question “What was your favorite place?”

When people hear about my trip to Southeast Asia, the first question out of their mouth is, “What was your favorite place?” Now anyone who has gone on an extended traveling spree will understand that that question is basically impossible to answer. How can you sum up such a large portion of your life and so many experiences into just a one word answer. Sure I could say Thailand since it felt like home by the end of the trip, but that would do a disservice to Indonesia’s beauty. Sure I could say Japan because of their perfected cuisine and uniquely odd culture, but that would do a disservice to Myanmar’s untouched rawness. I know the person asking the question is just showing interest and making conversation, but that doesn’t change my inability to give a short response. So here is an answer with a little more substance, breaking down a few of my favorites.

Favorite People: Burmese
The Burmese were simply a joy to be around. While I always felt welcome wherever I went, the Burmese hospitality was on another level. I think this has everything to do with the history of this country, their long period of isolation and their joy of sanctions being dropped with the recent changes in government. You could feel a buzz in the country. Everyone wanted to talk of the terrible government of the past and the hope of the future. Travelers and the increase in tourism were a sign of that bright outlook. An added bonus was that locals jaded from tourist overloud and tourist scams which plague most tourist destinations were virtually non-existent as of yet.

Favorite Local: Tom, Green Discovery Laos
Tom the Man
Arriving in Laos’ trekking capital, Luang Namtha, Austin and I found a three day trek that fit our agenda and booked it. One of our guides turned out to be a little harder to say goodbye to then we anticipated. Only an intern at Green Discovery, Tom literally took us under his wing, introduced us to his friends and showed us a more real side of Laos. We played some pickup soccer, taught Tom and his friends how to shotgun beers, karaoked Hotel California and got a private cooking lesson at his friend’s birthday party. Thanks for everything Tom.

Favorite Island: Derawan, Indonesia
One of the hardest countries to travel in also happened to be the most beautiful. Indonesia is massive and getting from island to island is no easy task but those adventurous enough to give it a shot will be rewarded. The Derawan Islands sit on the eastern side of Borneo and present a daunting and laborious journey in order to pay them a visit (it seriously took me a week to get there), but in the end I found the island I dreamed about. A small village situated on an island you can circumnavigate in an hour. The ocean could be seen through the cracks in my room’s floorboards and a morning swim had me beside 3, 4, 7 massive turtles feeding on the island’s sea grass. Care for a swim with manta rays, a dive with massive cuttlefish or a snorkel in one of the world’s only stingless jellyfish lakes? As if the beforementioned wasn’t enough, I did all that too.

Favorite Bar: MAC Bar, Hiroshima Japan
Mac Bar
Rock fans rejoice. Also, head to an unassuming corner of Hiroshima where the coolest bar you’ll find in all the land resides. Owned and tended by Makoto and his lovely wife, MAC Bar has the CD version of every song that comes to your mind and Makoto knows exactly where to find it. The plethora of CDs running floor to ceiling made me dizzy in this sweaty and dimly lit bar, but I didn’t let that stop me. Makoto happily threw on a few classics my ears were craving. I even contributed to the decor leaving some Malaysian ringgit on his wall of foreign currencies personalized with a sharpie message. See if you can find it.

Favorite Traveler: Shea
How can I forget Shea? The guy is 7 feet tall and standing in the middle of every party Southeast Asia has to offer. I met him in a hostel as he recovered from an infection in his leg that nearly killed him. Don’t worry. He called his mom right before they put him under for surgery. The next story he told was about some rich guy befriending him at a spot on Khao San Road and telling him he was in charge of buying Jager for the whole bar. Thirty bottles later and he’d lost the guy’s number and a slept through the promised ride on his private jet. You can’t make this up. Down for anything, hilarious and extremely social, it’s impossible not to have a good time with him. We crossed paths 3 or 4 times throughout our respective travels before he ran off in search of more beaches.

Favorite Hostel: Siam Journey Guesthouse, Bangkok
Some hostels provide you a place a sleep, a wifi password, a pointer in the direction of the nearest tourist attractive and call it a day. Siam Journey Guesthouse is not that hostel. Founded by Nathan, half Thai with a LA education, Siam Journey is run more as a community than a hotel. The staff plan events throughout the week to make sure you have every opportunity to befriend fellow travelers all while simultaneously seeing a more real side of Bangkok (it’s in the middle of a local Thai neighborhood). I used my hands as silverware to partake in a home-cooked Thai dinner, visited a Sikh temple for a morning ceremony and breakfast, and hit the town on mellow and wild nights, all with whole hostel in tow. Semi-related bonus, I met Jon G there.

Favorite Food: Thailand and Japan
Late Night Ramen
This one is impossible to make a decision on, so I won’t. Sorry, but I’ll take Thai curry for lunch and Japanese curry for dinner and call that a great day. Drunken late night ramen or drunken late night pad see ew. Is there a wrong choice? I say no. Sitting down for dinner with friends? I have fond memories of watching Hiroshima’s Okonomiyaki cook in front of me as my appetite grew, as well as getting filled to the brim with Thailand’s deceivingly simple Khao Man Gai, more simply referred to as, chicken and rice. I told you there were no wrong choices.

Favorite Outdoor Adventure: Climbing Mt Rinjani
See my full account of the trek here

4 thoughts on “The Real Answer to the Question “What was your favorite place?”

  1. PJ,

    I now find myself in Fresno, heading up the USDA effort to coordinate GAP&GHP Audits for the western region. My experience at EBF proved useful for this gig. I’ll be heading off to DC next week for a stint in HQ, in the shadow of the Washington Monument and with an interlude of kayaking on the tributaries of the Chesapeake Bay, another week at the USDA bunker in Fredericksburg, VA, training USDA folks in military audits of fresh vegetables.

    I’ve met some of the nicest folks in Fresno and DC and had the good fortune of traveling in America’s heartland as well. The focus has been on tasting great regional food and beer and chatting up the locals to compare and contrast their lives with my own life experiences.

    I must say that I miss travel in the Asia Pacific Region and look forward to being there again. Thanks to your travelers tales, I feel the vibe from the east and look forward to reading more of your adventures. I have not tasted a bowl of pho or plaate chile verde since returning to California. Perhaps when we see each other and Miguel again. Till then, happy trails.


    • Always great to hear from you Mike and also good to see you’re still doing well and moving about exploring the country. You can never run out of new experiences. Asia is always waiting but I don’t think the USDA ever makes it over there haha.

      I do miss our favorite lunch spots and my dad and I pay them a visit whenever we’re in the area, always reminiscing about those summers we spent cruising over in your scion and getting a steaming bowl of pho at least once a week.

  2. BTW Phil,

    My favorite watering holes are Jimmy D’s in Yuma and Country Roads II on Soi Cowboy in Bangkok.


  3. After a lifetime of traveling, What I’ve learned is that it is totally about the people. When you get to the hostel, be it Amsterdam, Helsinki or Perth, you are dealing with the people who got up off the couch, did what they had to do to get the money (A lot of 80 hour weeks for me) and then went and did it. They are special people; every good travel story I’ve got is about them and the fun we had looking at the Louvre, strolling the Reeeperbahn, or toking away at the hash den in Kabul. Such kindred spirits. Travel well my friends, travel well.

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