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I finally found a halfway decent website that answers the time old question of “where is nice this time of year”? Of course, weather isn’t an exact science but this website let’s you fill in criteria about temperature, humidity, region and rates countries against your preferences. Ideally they would go down one more level to region so that a country wouldn’t get a bad rating because only part of it has rainy season where other areas may be very nice that time of year. Weather2Travel

Another ultra successful holiday! Despite some tricky logisitics (coordinating people from Sydney, Chicago, Shanghai) we pulled it off. It was my first time in Phuket and it was nice, but I prefer less developed and a bit quieter.

HOWEVER, it can’t get much quieter than sailing around the Andaman for 4 days. We booked the Seraph through Latitude 8 Yachts for 3 nights/4 days  – we started in Chalon and went down to Racha Yai and Racha Noi, then headed up to Kai Nok and Rang Yai  and then back to Chalon. We decided to spring for the crew and a cook – Ooi did an PHENOMINAL job of catering for us – every meal was amazing: seafood, curries, veggies, papaya salad.. any dish that was put down disappeared pretty much immeadiately. It was a splurge, but well well worth it.

While in Phuket we stayed at a new Boutique Hotel that is still in soft opening, but clearly will be one of the most interesting places to stay in the near future: B-Laytong. It’s at the very end of Patong beach (well away from the heart of it) with a gorgeous pool and beautiful rooms. Geared more towards the party crowd (club to open downstairs), this is not really a hotel for families. All the rooms have double-glazed windows so despite being on a busy road, the rooms are very very quiet. And the hotel restaurant is also impressive – we had a fabulous last lunch there and one of the best hotel breakfasts on offer each morning.

On recommendation from our boat capitain some of us went up to Rang Yai for the last 2 nights – we stayed in clean but very basic bungalows that were more like camping than a hotel (which is what we wanted). We had some “visitors” (nothing poisonous, but big enough to unsettle more than 1 member of our entourage). Not for everyone, but we loved hearing the waves at night and the beaches were beautiful and empty. Cost of a bungalow (1000THB) includes free use of sea kayaks, snorkel gear and breakfast. The restaurant isn’t cheap (about 400THB/pp for dinner), but the food is decent enough.

I just got back from 6 days in Salta. It was some of the most spectacular scenery I ever saw. 4 days of driving around the different canyons and gorges and every day the scenery was different. I could have easily stayed another couple of days and seen more.
Salta city is very cute and worth spending a day walking around in. Try to squeeze in a visit to MAAM (Museo de Arqueologia de Alta Montaña) to see the artifacts and 500-year old mummy of a young Incan girl which is amazingly well preserved and lifelike. There is some debate about whether or not this should be on public display and I can see both sides of the argument, but it´s an incredible experience none the less. The museum shop is also the best shopping I found in Salta, high quality craftsmanship using traditional methods and a great selection of prints, handicrafts and weaving.

There are tons of tour companies in Salta. Be sure to book with one that does small groups so you are in a 4×4 or minivan. There are some places the big busses can´t go (and obviously, it´s less pleasant). I arranged some of my tours beforehand and went with Nordic Travel.  The English guides were great and they were very flexible about stopping for picture taking as we went along. There are lots of excursions available, I did 4 one-day trips (in order of favorites):

  • Tren de los Nubes with Salines Grandes – the salt flats are incredible. 25 square miles of blinding white salt. The trip to get out there is also breath taking and follows the path of the currently benched Tren de los Nubes. It´s an 11 hour tour but totally worth it. Originally I was disappointed he train wasn´t working but I now think it´s much better to do by car.  You see 90% of the same scenery and you can make stops.
  • Humuacha – more details on this and the other tours later, I´m tired
  • Cachi
  • Cafayate

My mom and I had a GREAT time in Mendoza. Mendoza is a hot destination so I recommend arranging your hotel in advance (unlike we did) in order to get a spot at one of the cute boutique hotels. We ended up in a sub-par hotel that I won´t bother to mention. The city itself is cute and nice to walk around in for a half a day, but there isn´t a ton to see or do in the city itself.
We arranged tours with Grape Vine Tours beforehand (My mom had seen them mentioned in a NY Times travel article). They were great, the groups were never more than 4 (unlike some other companies that use large tour busses). The guides were extremely knowledgeable and fun. The tasting lunches in the wineries were excellent (make sure your tour includes a lunch at Ruca Malen)! They took us to see mainly small boutique wineries (or micro-wineries). We did 2 one-day winery tours broken up with a daytrip into the mountains to see the Inca bridge, the national park to catch a glimpse of Aconcagua (the largest peak in South America) and Seven Colors Rock- also arranged by Grapvine.

My favorite wine is Melipal, which also is a great visit and the best tasting (sit down with olives, raisins and walnuts) but my other favorite winery visits were:

  • O.Fournier – a crazy space age facility with amazing views.
  • Tapiz – I´m not a huge fan of their wines but the tour is excellent and you really get to witness the whole process (tasting the grapes from the different varietals, tasting the wine during different stages of fermentation).

Shadow Puppets

The Sovanna Phum group is a non-profit in Phnom Penh, Cambodia aimed at preserving and promoting traditional Khmer culture that was nearly wiped out by the Khmer Rouge (Shadow Puppet Theater, Classical Dance, Folk Dance, Traditional Music and Circus). When we went they were performing a story from the Ramayana with live musical accompaniment using shadow puppets – very very cool. Definitely worth a visit.

Now that I have been here for a few weeks, I think I can confidently make recommendations of where to stay. Keep in mind that taxis are pretty cheap (a 10 min ride usually costs me about $2.50) and the Subte is user-friendly, cheap and can get you pretty much everywhere during the day. I´m still intimidated to take the bus on my own, but that´s because my Spanish is so bad.

Las Canitas – a little bit out of the way, but v cute with lots of trees, cafes and restaurants. Nice for a longer stay and more bang for your buck if you´re renting a vacation apartment.

Palermo – yes, this is where a lot of the expats hang out however there are weekend markets, nice bars, the best shopping I have found in the city and tons of restaurants. It also the largest (by far) neighborhood in BA: I prefer Palermo Viejo to Palermo Hollywood, personally but it doesn´t make a big difference.

Barrio Norte – I think this is the best bet if you´re on a budget. There´s not a whole lot going on in Barrio Norte itself but it borders with Parlemo Viejo and Recoleta. You get a great location and it´s a lot cheaper than staying in either of those. I can get pretty much wherever I want to go by walking for 20 minutes.

A word about San Telmo – this is where you want to walk around during the day, but not where you want to stay. It´s cute but v touristy and not that exciting at night. I don´t think it would enhance your visit to stay here.

If you´re here for a week or longer, it´s worth it to get an apartment. Not only is it less expensive, it´s nice to have some space and a kitchen (and many incl made service). I found my place on craigslist, however is also a good place to look.

Cicerones is a non-profit that matches proud Porteños with visitors to go on 4-hour custom walking tours. You fill in a form outlining the kinds of things you are interested in (art, architecture, sports, etc), the area(s) of BA you are keen to see and they match you with a volunteer. I had a great time with my Cicerone, Ariel. He picked me up and we took the subte down to San Telmo and then continued on to La Boca and took the bus back up to Barrio Norte. Because the guides are volunteers they are not professionally trained, they are sharing ´´their´´ Buenos Aires with you. It is free, but the visitor is responsible for covering costs (transportation costs, any entrance fees and in my case, beer).

Someone asked about recommendations for Vietnam, which got me thinking (and searching through old emails). Anyway, this place is SOOO good. Some local friends took Jeanette, Dave and I there and we went back again (and again). Traditional Vietnamese dishes are served on beautiful china in a three-story old building. I would say it´s in the high-middle in terms of price.

Restaurant: Com Viet
Adresse: 13 rue Ly Thai To, Arr. de Hoan Kiem, Ha Noi
Tél.: 8240637

Expat connection (yeah…the name isn´t so creative) is an organization in Buenos Aires that hosts a variety of social events: winetastings, dinners, paragliding.. these are open to visitors as well as Porteños and foreign residents. For someone like me who came to BA without knowing anyone it´s been a fun and easy way to meet people. In my experience (I have 2 events under my belt) it´s been predominately Americans (who all seem to come from the Bay area..) — just sayin. Anyway, check their online calendar, a lot of the events require RSVP.

Every friday night a group of Portenos get together to practice their English. They invite native English speakers to join them (local expats as well as travellers). I went last Friday and had a really nice time, we chatted for a couple hours and then went to dinner. They are a lovely group, very friendly and welcoming. They are not partyers.. this is not a pub thing but it is a nice way to get to meet some locals. To get the address you need to contact them directly (this is too weed out the sexual deviants): Grupo de Ingles

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