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2019 World Travel Awards

From My Fab Fifties Life

And the Winner Is…

If you’ve been following My Fab Fifties Life for awhile you will remember our 2017 World Travel Awards  and our 2018 World Travel Awards from previous Januarys.  I definitely feel with all of our travels in 2019 (covering 40,000 miles and 12 countries) we are well positioned to once again deliver our World Travel Awards 2019 on many people, places and travel experiences that have touched us this past year.  Just like the Oscar movie awards, we have seen a world of real life drama, fantasy, comedy, mystery, nature and animation.  Enough to last a lifetime. This annual blog is one of our favorites to write and one we always create together. And in past years it has also been one of our best read – so we really hope you enjoy it once again.

This is a long blog. But I believe it offers some valuable travel insight to the world. I hope you will find it informative and entertaining. Please enjoy our third annual World Travel Awards, Best and Worst of 2019 – My Fab Fifties Life.

Cenang Beach Langkawi

For reference – our 2019 countries visited were; Costa Rica, Belize, El Salvador, Guatemala, Dominican Republic, USA, China, Taiwan, Malaysia, Myanmar, Oman and Kenya. Due to our efforts for much slower travel, this is half as many countries as 2018.

DESTINATIONS

12 Countries

Favorite Overall Country – Guatemala with honorable mention to Myanmar (title photo above, Lake Atitlan Guatemala)

You’ll find a clear pattern through out the awards this year with Guatemala winning several awards. It is just a very unique and special country, with few tourists, fantastic food, gorgeous scenery, amazing history and quiet and hard working people. And it’s cheap.

This all can be said for Myanmar as well. We hope to return to both of these countries in the future.

Aantigua Guateamala
Semana Santa, Antigua Guatemala

Favorite City – Antigua

Well there it is again – Guatemala. Antigua is a remarkable city of ancient history in the shadow of a live volcano and for us visiting the weekend of Semana Santa gave us the most unique and incredible experience we could ever hope for.

Most Beautiful City – Shanghai China

Shanghai China
Shanghai China

Shanghai is the antithesis to Beijing – brand new, sparkling clean, stunningly beautiful (especially at night), easy to maneuver and very pedestrian friendly, Shangahi was our favorite beautiful city of the year.

Cutest Town – Big Fork Montana USA

We spent four months in the USA this year, getting out to visit some new places and some old favorites. Big Fork Montana was a new addition to our travels and it is just so quintisential America; cowboys, artists, wildlife and good food too. We hope to visit again.

Big Fork Montana
Big Fork Montana USA

Most Expensive Country – Oman and the USA

Oman and the USA tie for most expensive, although neither was outrageously expensive and should not deter anyone from visiting.

Oman
Oman

Least Expensive Country – Malaysia

Malaysia doesn’t feel poor like some African countries, but the cost of visiting there is dirt cheap. One of the least expensive destinations per day we have visited and we enjoyed all four of the Malaysian areas we visited.

Kuala Lumpur Malaysia

Most Disappointing City – Mandalay Myanmar

Although Myanmar lands at the top of our list this year for many things, the city of Mandalay was a disappointment and I would skip it when recommending a Myanmar tour.

ACCOMMODATIONS

15 Airbnbs, 19 hotels, 1 boat

Best Airbnb Overall – Mal Pais Costa Rica. We spent two weeks with our friends Randy and Sue in this gorgeous beach front Airbnb on the southwest coast of Costa Rica far from the crowds. We were well cared for by an onsite staff person, we witnessed the most incredible wildlife right in our own front yard, and had the most perfect nightly sunset show I’ve seen anywhere in the world. See it here.

Mal Pais Costa Rica
MalPais on the beach, Costa Rica

Best Airbnb for Service – Diani Beach Kenya. Our lovely little cottage in Diani Beach Kenya came with daily maid service (she even washed the dishes), laundry service (a tiny additional cost), wonderful onsite owners who helped with tours and questions. We spent Christmas with these people and enjoyed having them around us for the holidays. See it here.

Diani Beach Kenya
Diani Beach Kenya

Best Airbnb for Authenticity –Antigua Guatemala

Our one-room loft with small kitchen in a historic Antigua home included an outdoor patio that overlooked the traditional inner courtyard as well as the ACTIVE volcano which at night we could see shooting lava into the sky. Wow. Unforgettable. See it here.

Antigua Guatemala
Antigua Guatemala

Least Expensive Airbnb – Diani Beach Kenya (see above for Best Service Airbnb) at $65 a night. We spent three weeks in a darling cottage with pool. It was an incredible value for everything we got and we felt right at home.

Most Unique Airbnb – Lake Atitlan Guatemala. Hands down one of the most beautiful yet also somewhat strange accommodations I have ever stayed in. We lived for 8 days in a cave basically, with the kitchen, living area and deck built in and around the boulders of the cave, a bathroom one level below in another cave and the bedroom, another level below that. Unforgettable. It was 270 steps to access the cave house from the road below. But oh what a view. See it here.

Lake Atitlan Guatemala
Cave House Lake Atitlan Guatemala

Favorite Hotel – Inle Lake Myanmar, The Myanmar Treasure Resort. Far and away above any other hotel we stayed in this year, the beauty and uniqueness of the Myanmar Treasure Resort had us giddy with joy during our two week stay in our over-the-water bungalow. And the staff and service was impeccable. See it here.

Inle Lake Myanmar
Myanmar Treasure Resort, Inle Lake

Worst Hotel – Crooked Tree Resort Belize. I’ve tried to block the one horrible night we spent in this dirty and rodent infested house with broken furniture and mold, from my mind. We were supposed to be there for four nights. We packed up at first light and disappeared.

FOOD

Favorite Country Cuisine – Guatemala

Healthy use of local and fresh vegetables and beans with just enough protein I fell hard for the unique spices and flavors of the Guatemalan people’s cuisine.

Cuisine of Guatemala
Vegetarian meal in Guatemala

Best Meal – Myanmar Treasure Resort offered a wonderful menu of local specialties and the local “Butterfish” was my favorite meal of 2019.

Butterfish from Inle Lake Myanmar

Best Cooking Class – Antigua Guatemala and Hopkins Belize. We couldn’t decide between these wonderful experiences. In Antigua I had a private class at La Tortilla Cooking School from a Mayan woman with an English interpreter. We made at lease 8 dishes and all were spectacular. In Hopkins my entire family enjoyed an afternoon with Garifuna Chef Gloria where we learned so much about the local Garifuna traditions, local produce and fish and gorged ourselves on the delicious cuisine.

Cooking Class in Belize
Cooking in Belize with Chef Gloria

Best Beer – USA all the way on this one, particularly since we didn’t spend any time in Europe, the beer of the USA is hands down the best.

Best Coffee Guatemala. There is Guatemala again (I bet you really want to go there now dontcha?). I loved the coffee in Guatemala where they produce the best from the America’s – a deep rich and almost chocolaty brew. Kenya rivals it with their mountain grown beans that are often touted as the best in the world. For me though I preferred the dark beans of Guatemala over the lighter somewhat fruity Kenyan roasts. Both however got the job done and the smell was heaven on earth.

Guatemalan Coffee
Guatemalan Coffee

Best Food Experience/Tour – Taipei and Kuala Lumpur Two of the all-time best food tours we have ever taken happened this year, the first in Taipei Taiwan with Taipei Eats and the second in Kuala Lumpur Malaysia with Food Tour Malaysia . For both these tours the food was beyond abundant but it was the guides who really made sure our experience was remarkable and unique.

Food Tour Kuala Lumpur
Arne on our food tour in Kuala Lumpur

CULTURAL AND NATURAL EXPERIENCES

Best Sunset – Mal Pais Costa Rica. For fourteen glorious nights in a row we sat on a log on the beach, gin and tonic in hand, and watched the show…a fiery blend of orange, pink and purple as each day in Mal Pais came to an end. It was truly remarkable.

Mal Pais Costa Rica
Sunset Mal Pais Costa Rica

Most Authentic Cultural Experience – Muscat Oman dining with a local family. We were lucky to stumble onto the Website of Zayr, a local organization who brings visitors together with local Omani’s. Our experience dining in the home of a lovely local family included delicious food, but more importantly wonderful conversation and cultural exchange. We enjoyed it immensely. Shukran to our new friends.

Cultural exchange Oman
Dining and cultural experience in Muscat Oman

Best Beach – It’s a tie!  Cenang Beach Lankawi Malaysia and the greater Diani Beach area of Kenya both deserve the gold statue this year. Diani’s baby powder fine white sand and turquoise blue water is one of the reasons it shows up so often on lists of the most beautiful beaches in the world. But Langkawi’s Cenang Beach, is a clean, long expansive golden beach with incredibly warm waters all with easy access and lots of restaurants and services to make your beach visit comfortable. We loved them both.

Diani Beach Kenya
Galu Beach – Diani Beach Kenya

Best Tour – Inle Lake Myanmar. Our favorite one-day tour was our all day tour in a local boat seeing all of the beautiful and historic sights around Inle Lake. It was truly unforgettable.

Inle Lake Myanmar
Traditional Fisherman, Inle Lake Myanmar

Best Driver – Alehandro in Guatemala was our favorite driver who was not only a safe and exceptional driver, but was a great tour guide, passionate about his country and understanding when I was dealing with severe motion sickness. We became friends. If you need a driver in Guatemala let me know and I can get you in touch with him.

Antigua Guatemala
Our friend Alehandro at Semana Santa Antigua Guatemala

Best Tour Company – China Connections China we don’t use many tour operators, but for our time in China we were taken great care of by several operators and guides secured for us by China Connections, who also booked and organized our Yangtze River Cruise. Everything done without a hitch.

China

Best Bucket List Historic Site – Bagan Myanmar. I had read so much about Bagan and the unique and ancient temples there but I still was not prepared for it’s ancient religious beauty and the reverent and dedicated Buddhists who come to this place.

Bagan Myanmar
Monks in Bagan

Best Natural Site –  Glacier National Park, Montana USA. For wildlife spotting in the United States you can’t beat big and beautiful Montana and our visit to Glacier National Park did not disappoint. A top site in the USA you should not miss.

Glacier National Park Montana
Big Horn Sheep, Glacier National Park Montana USA

Best Waterfall –  Mayan King Waterfall Belize. When our two adult sons visited us in Belize this waterfall was one of the unexpected and fun things we did just outside of Hopkins Belize.

Hopkins Belize
Mayan King Waterfall Belize

Best Manmade Site – Tikal Guatemala. When I first started researching visiting Guatemala it was because I had heard so much about this remarkable Mayan site. And it was very remarkable. And we were surprised by all of Guatemala but the fascinating Mayan history here was the cherry on the sundae.

Tikal Guatemala
Mayan Ruins of Tikal, Guatemala

Best Mosque– Muscat Oman, Honorable Mention Kuala Lumpur Malaysia. The Sultan Qaboos Grand Mosque is one of the most beautiful if not the most beautiful (better than the Blue Mosque in Turkey even??) I have ever seen. Only a few years old the tiles, hand-knoted carpet and astonishing chandeliers are phenomenal. Our honorable mention goes to the Wilayah Mosque in Kuala Lumpur for the incredible customer service provided visitors there. Where we had a private tour for free and an opportunity to watch the mid-day prayers.

Muscat Oman
The Sultan Qaboos Grand Mosque, Muscat Oman

Best Day Hike – Wadi Shab Oman. After not being able to do this on our first try because of a big flood and mudslide the day before, we are so glad we returned a few days later to try again. I think most people would be pretty surprised at the rugged yet beautiful terrain of Oman, and it makes for exceptionally challenging and beautiful hiking.

Wadi Shab Oman
Wadi Shab Oman

Best Multi-Day Hike – Hiking from Inle Lake to Kalaw. This two day hike was longer and harder than I thought it would be (I should read the fine print) but the experience was amazing. Our guide was great, the food was surprisingly abundant and delicious and even sleeping on the floor in the home of a local Myanmar family with no electricity or running water was a memorable experience.

Kalaw Myanmar
Hiking across the rice fields Myanmar

Most Unique Outdoor Experience – Learning to Goeduck Even though I was born and raised in Goeduck country, I had my first experience this year in Gig Harbor Washington USA.

Key Peninsula Washington
Goeyduck Hunter

Expensive but Worth it – Sunrise Hot Air Balloon Ride over Bagan Myanmar $700. Ridiculously expensive. Once in a lifetime memorable.

Bagan Myanmar
High above the temples of Bagan

Best Wildlife Experience  Orangutan watching in Borneo Malaysia with Honorable Mention to seeing sloths and toucans in Costa Rica. We love it when we can see wildlife in its natural habitat.  Our time in Borneo was all and more than I ever could have dreamed of seeing up close and personal the endangered orangutans as well as proboscis monkeys. In Costa Rica a lifetime goal of seeing sloths in the wild was fulfilled.

Borneo
Sharing a walk way with a wild orangutan, Borneo Malaysia

Most Moving Experience – Journey for Purpose Kayak Trip Belize. If you have a chance, you should do this experience. It was such a wonderful way to stop and appreciate my own self-worth, while getting to know and rejoice together with a group of women I had never met before. The kayaking was hard but the scenery was beautiful with weather that challenged us. And such wonderful memories were made with these women as we held each other up when a family tragedy back home for one women gave us a unique opportunity to show our female nurturing strength and come together as one. I will never forget it. This trip happens annually, learn more here.

Kayak in Belize
Journey for Purpose Belize

Best Performance Marionette Show Mandalay Myanmar. Although Mandalay was not my favorite place, the best thing we did there was attend the Myanmar Puppet Theater and enjoyed exceptionally talented puppeteers who have kept this Myanmar art form alive. Who knew marionettes’ could be so lifelike?

Myanmar Marrionettes
Myanmar Marrionettes

Least English Spoken – Guatemala wins again. Although we were always able to find people who spoke English when necessary, a large portion of the Mayan population in Guatemala who are older than a teenager do not speak any English. English has only been taught in the schools for the past ten years.

WEATHER

Hottest Day: Diani Beach Kenya 91 degrees F and 77 degree dew point.  We swooned.

Coldest Day: Port Orchard Washington USA. During our time in the USA we had a couple of very chilly and wet weeks in June that kept us decidedly indoors

Cold and wet with my son in Washington

Wettest Day: Waking up in Placencia Belize to water all over the floor of our Airbnb and sewer bubbling up out of the holding tank after a torrential downpour all night long.

EXERCISE

Best YogaBalance Yoga Retreat El Tunco El Salvador. I enjoyed a lot of great yoga around the world this past year with memorable moments in Kota Kinabalu Malaysia (where I did sound healing for the first time) and in La Fortuna Costa Rica, and Punta Cana Dominican Republic but my favorite of possibly all time was the ten days I enjoyed yoga both morning and evening at Balance Yoga Retreat in the tiny paradise of El Tunco El Salvador. Who would have thought?

Yoga as part of My Fab Fifties Life
Balance Yoga Retreat

Best Place to Run Cenang Beach Langkawi. Getting up early before the heat of the day and running on the safe, flat and fabulous ring road and along the beach boardwalk of the small town of Cenang Beach gave us an entire month to really get back in running shape.

TRAVEL

28 flights, 1 train ride, 2 small boat rides, one river cruise

Smallest Airport – Punta Gorda Belize. I am not joking when I say the terminal was a shack about 10’x10′.

Punta Gorda Belize
Arriving in Punta Gorda

Worst Flight Experience – Getting sever motion sickness on a tiny plane from Florez to Guatemala City and then needing to do a three hour drive on winding roads to our final destination of Antigua.

Airport Most in Need of Upgrade – Heho Airport outside of Inle Lake Myanmar. It’s actually pretty busy, but very rundown. The check-in counter looked like something used as a ticket booth at a carnival.

Best Airport – Muscat Oman was shiny and new and very comfortable.

Worst Day of Travel – We had to spend one night in Nairobi before flying on to Mombassa where we would go by car for the 40km trip to Diani Beach. We didn’t know that due to a ferry, that 40km trip usually took 4 hours and on the day we were doing it took 6 and half because of high traffic from the Kenyan holiday of Jamhuri the day before. Not sure how we missed that information in all of our research but it made for a very long and exhausting travel day indeed.

AND FINALLY

Just Because It’s Unusual CategoryDental Work in San Jose Costa Rica. I didn’t have a category to fit this in but I needed to mention it because it was quit unusual. But I had a wonderful experience at Meza Dental having an extraction and implant done for a third of the cost of doing this in the USA. A year later it is perfectly healed and I would do it again in a heart beat.

Dental work in Costa Rica
Implant in Costa Rica

Sad But True CategoryPhotographer Death in Belize While our sons came to visit us in Belize we did some family photos of all of us on the beach with a female photographer I found online. She did a wonderful job and she was creative and nice. We received all the photos via email about a week later. Tragically just a few days after that, she died of a stroke. Rest in peace Marian.

Family portrait in Belize
Family Portraits in Belize

So there you have it.  The winner of the Fab Fifties version of the Oscars for 2019.  What a great year full of incredible experiences around the world.  We are the luckiest people on the planet. Who needs a little gold statue when you have a Fab Fifties Life?

What a fabulous life it is. WATCH OUT! 27 countries planned for 2020!

Please comment and share.  We appreciate your love.



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30 Comments

  • Reply Angela

    Such an interesting post to read. I have got to say that on seeing your pictures on Myanmar it has made me want to visit, I would love to see the fisherman on Inle Lake and the long-necked tribeswomen. The rat-infested hotel in Belize was awful!

    January 17, 2020 at 7:21 am
    • Reply Laureen

      Thank you so much. If you decide to go to Myanmar I’m happy to answer question.

      January 17, 2020 at 7:58 am
  • Reply Poole

    Wow!
    Fantastic Haydock.
    Thanks for paving the way for us!

    Miss you

    January 17, 2020 at 8:37 am
  • Reply Amy

    Love your annual summary! And so many good recommendations. What country did you visit that you’d put on a must-visit list? And was there one you’d skip?

    January 17, 2020 at 8:41 am
    • Reply Laureen

      Namibia and Bulgaria are two of my all time favorites. I can’t think of any I would skip…something to love about all of them!

      January 17, 2020 at 5:30 pm
  • Reply Nicky

    I love travel, if only because everyone sees places completely differently. For instance I understand what you mean about Mandalay, but I was quite ill there and the people were so kind to me, I will always have fond memories of them! A great selection and I have Oman on my must-visit list so thank you for the insight!

    January 17, 2020 at 8:47 am
    • Reply Laureen

      You are so right about how each travelers perceptions are so different. We really try to be open minded everywhere we go. Thanks so much.

      January 17, 2020 at 5:32 pm
  • Reply Claudia

    Thanks for taking the time to put this together. We have always traveled a lot but recently my husband has been diagnosed with multiple myeloma, going from completely healthy to NOT in a very short time. We may get out again but not in the way we were used to traveling for multiple months at a time. We are in our early 70’s and did 45 years of travel but still had so many places left to visit or re-visit. It is sad for us but we are so glad for all we did. You are smart to go now. I love reading your posts.

    January 17, 2020 at 10:10 am
    • Reply Laureen

      I’m sorry you get travel as much as you used to. Hold on to those memories…travel is the great provide!

      January 17, 2020 at 5:33 pm
  • Reply Dennis White

    A great list. It looks like you are giving Guatemala and Myanmar the hghest marks I visited Guatemala many many years ago, and I’m sure it has changed in almost every way. Still have Myanmar to vist. It was difficult to get into during the bulk of my travelling years (so far). I wonder why the town in Guatemala is called “Mal Pais”. Perhaps it’s local idiom…or maybe they just wanted to keep tourists away! Happy Travels!

    January 17, 2020 at 1:41 pm
    • Reply Laureen

      We learned when we were in Mal Pais that it was named for the extreme rough and barren landscape created from ancient lava flows. It was a remarkable place. Thanks for commenting!

      January 17, 2020 at 5:35 pm
  • Reply Dana Berezowitz

    Love the idea of this post! Definitely got some new destinations on my radar including Guatemala !

    January 17, 2020 at 7:31 pm
    • Reply Laureen

      Thank you. I enjoy doing it every year!

      January 17, 2020 at 7:51 pm
  • Reply Alison

    Wow. Amazing post. Loved loved loved Myanmar, even gritty grubby Mandalay (we also went to the puppet show there – fun!). How fabulous for you to be in Antigua for Semana Santa. We’re off to Malaysia soon. Will check out your Borneo post!

    January 17, 2020 at 7:48 pm
    • Reply Laureen

      Borneo! So amazing!! Thanks for commenting.

      January 17, 2020 at 7:50 pm
  • Reply Megan

    So many adventures! Thanks for sharing and giving us all ideas to add to our travel lists!

    January 17, 2020 at 8:16 pm
    • Reply Laureen

      Thank you Megan!

      January 17, 2020 at 8:19 pm
  • Reply Ruth Murdoch

    What a great way to wrap up your year and share such wonderful experiences with us. Such a pity about your photographer but it was nice that you can still enjoy her work after she has passed.

    You’ve inspired me to write a similar style of post in the future, about our 30 countries in 30 months, thanks.

    January 17, 2020 at 8:38 pm
  • Reply Jill Young

    Great post and although long it doesn’t involve too much reading. Love your photos. Your experience of travel it so different from my own. I am an extreme budget traveller and a slow traveller but it’s lovely to read of all the experiences you have had.

    January 17, 2020 at 10:32 pm
  • Reply Ashley

    I loved this post. We currently live in Kuala Lumpur and I really enjoyed your parts of Malaysia! Thanks for all the tips all over the world.

    January 18, 2020 at 2:23 am
    • Reply Laureen

      We loved Malaysia!

      January 18, 2020 at 6:34 am
  • Reply Maya

    Great idea for a post! In terms of culture, sights and overall unique experience, Myanmar has so much to offer, though I must confess, generally speaking, I wasn’t too keen about Myanmarian cuisine. But I still dream about the magical Inle Lake and the beautiful temples of Bagan!

    January 18, 2020 at 3:53 am
    • Reply Laureen

      I loved the tea leaf salad but the rest not inspiring. But it’s a great country.

      January 18, 2020 at 6:33 am
  • Reply Nancy | MapandFamily

    Fabulous list! I’m even more keen to visit Guatemala now! I’m going to go thru this round up again later and read some more about the places you visited.

    January 18, 2020 at 4:31 am
  • Reply Jessica Redler

    Such a great post! Now I want to visit Guatemala 🙂 It wasn’t on my radar but I think you’ve convinced me.

    January 18, 2020 at 7:29 am
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