Ken’s Worst Travel Awards

As usual, try to laugh before losing your temper—I was inspired by a book I saw in Thailand about the 50 worst places to travel to, and decided to make my own list of places or accomplishments so sublimely wretched that they deserve their own web page, decorated with vomit orange wallpaper and pixilated clip art. Feel free to agree or violently disagree if your home is on this page, but again, it’s only my very subjective findings. As usual, if you don’t like my site—take your money back!

Nowhere here am I ridiculing anyone’s ethnicity. To me making fun of a country’s quirks is fair game, and I do it to Canada too.

Yell at Ken:


Filthiest Bathrooms: Hue, Vietnam

Ariel and I were hard pressed to find a restaurant open in Hue, Vietnam, during the accursed Chinese New Year, a wonderful holiday for tourists which involves the ancient tradition of closing everything. We found a dingy diner for supper, and I went to what I believe is the dirtiest bathroom I have ever seen: crumbling, stained plaster falling on a rusting urinal falling off the wall in a dimly lit corner as a rat ran by. The kitchen was relatively clean, in case you’re wondering; I sure wanted to check it out before staying!
2. Scummiest Hotel: Down Town Hotel, Johor Bahru, Malaysia

Just across the border from Singapore, Johor Bahru seemed a good stopover until we flew back to Thailand. This downtown hotel, with the imaginative name of Down Town, was next to traffic jams and 24/7 horn-honking from the border crossing, and a park where Indian dance music was screeched until late night. We tried to sleep while guarding our beds against the bugs on the floor. Perhaps we should have been warned when the only people we saw in the hotel were prostitutes.
3. Sleaziest City: Pattaya, Thailand

Speaking of prostitutes, I don’t think I’ve ever seen a city whose economy was entirely devoted to them like Pattaya, a few hours southeast of Bangkok. (Later we stayed in Phuket and Phi Phi; does every major city in Thailand have a sexually suggestive name?) Patong’s bad too for working girls, but at least there are other things to do as well; it’s pretty obvious why anyone comes to Pattaya... the great museums? I stayed in Pattaya for a day to see the spectacle, but it was too much to see crowds of fat, balding old Germans with (admittedly) hot women. I reminded myself that not all of the women are women.
4. Most Corrupt Airport: Denpasar, Bali, Indonesia

Bali airport has recently initiated a "visa charge" of about $25 US, and has justified it by replacing their old ink-stamp in your passport with a giant color hologram sticker that wastes a whole page. I just don’t get the feeling that people on the street see much of that money; when leaving Bali, at first officials made a big deal about my work visa to re-enter Korea, fishing for a bribe. At the emigration counter, when I’d lost my departure slip, there was no fishing; the official asked me for ten dollars to 'find' another, although there was a pile on his desk. I gave him a thousand won—worth one dollar—and told him it was about equal. I suppose I was fitting in too quickly around there.
5. Worst Food: England

Canada’s local cuisine, if we have one, is pretty limited. Anyone for moose stew and poutine? But no one’s traditional food is as bad as England’s. I lived there for a few months, and can only thank English cuisine for giving me a taste for Guiness after being desperate for some nutrition from some source. Has anyone ever actually been to an English restaurant other than a pub, or eaten anything other than a few coasters after having too many pints? All England’s best and famous dishes, moreover, come from somewhere else; is anyone in the Canterbury Tales eating curry or drinking tea? The edible food in England is unaffordable; what’s left is boiled in a pot for eighteen hours and then served with tasteless salt, pepper that flies into the air as you apply it, and an unidentifiable pudding that you’re best off not identifying. All this with a glass of warm beer. No wonder football fans riot.
6. Most Annoying Hawkers: Hanoi / Bali, Indonesia (Tie)

Damn, they’re irritating. You can’t stop to check a map or look at a beautiful building or site without someone hassling you to buy a plastic surfboard keychain, or have a massage, or take a taxi tour in these places. "Where you from, my friend? Cheap price! Special deal for you!" In Hanoi it never ends, anywhere; even hotel clerks bugged us with sales pitches. And as much as I love Bali, it’s my number one complaint. Every time I went for a swim, I had to ignore or say no sixteen times to a gauntlet of people pushing junk. And if you sit on the shady part of the beach, you’re a sitting duck. I just won’t go back to some places again after being treated like a money tree. Great business plan, guys. If you’ve ever encouraged this industry by buying something non-food or drink from these people on the beach, please stop reading now and go take some poison. Yes, I know they’re simple people just trying to earn a living. So are collection agents and heroin traffickers.
7. Worst Drivers: Las Vegas, USA

Lots of places have bad traffic, and future centuries (if there are any) will be amazed how much time we wasted in traffic jams. There are times of the day in Bangkok when you’re just not going to move. The Tijuana-San Diego border crossing is also incredibly crowded. But for traffic and inconsiderate, impatient, incompetent, intoxicated drivers, the prize goes to Las Vegas. There simply is no concern for anybody else, ever: "I want to do a U-turn NOW so I’ll drive backwards across the median and block three lanes of traffic. Then I’ll sit at the entrance to the parking lot and idle my SUV to wait for a spot, because I might die if I had to waddle more than sixty feet to Wal-Mart." And these are the people who are sober. The city is considering putting concrete barriers in front of bus shelters because of the number of fatalities caused by drunk drivers hitting them. I tried to stay off the roads when I could at night—except that someone drove their car through our garage wall in the summer of '08. The policeman shrugged and said "Happens all the time.."

8. Worst Architecture: Korea

Lots of places are expensive—New York, Moscow, Scandinavia. And any schlub country can have nondescript cities with traffic gridlock and boring, colorless architecture. But to have both—and to promote your country as the hub of Asia—well, that takes chutzpah. There’s things I like about Korea, and the people can be very kind, but it’s disheartening to see the exact same grey concrete apartment buildings and grey shops and markets beneath them everywhere. There are a few pleasant antique temples in Korea, but they’re pretty uniform, and most parts of them are not original as the Japanese burned them down. I’ve noticed lately a few civic attempts to put brighter hues on sidewalks and beaches, but for the most part, if you’re color blind you will not miss much in the cities until the neon comes on.
9. Worst Weather: Winnipeg, Canada

I have relatives in Winnipeg, and it’s great to see them, but otherwise I would never go to the city without compulsion. When I drive through the city I feel as though I’m in a KISS rock video; much of the city looks like a train yard, and nothing seems to have changed since the 70’s. And then there’s that—coff—bracing Canadian weather. It never seems to warm up in 'Winterpeg,' and when it does it’s windy anyway; nevertheless, the wind is a blessing anyway as it keeps down the bugs. How many cities get to be on CNN’s disaster alert for mosquitos?
10. Most Depressing Place: Cape Breton, Nova Scotia, Canada

Again, I write carefully; I stayed with really nice people in Cape Breton from my dormitory days. Cape Bretoners are fiercely independent and proud of their northern tip of the province. But overall, I’m sorry, it’s a hole. Unemployment is over 30%; there’s really nothing to see other than the hyped Cabot Trail; and much of the area is collapsing into abandoned coalshafts underneath the towns. And then there’s those friendly, welcoming natives. Someone nearly blinded me in one eye when I was attacked while exiting a nightclub in Glace Bay. Perhaps he was bitter over not getting that Tim Horton’s job; not everyone is bound for the big time, I suppose.
11. Worst Airport: Tr*deau, Montreal, Canada

Canadians are thought of as polite, perhaps even sometimes too passive. There are exceptions, such as the hatred western Canadians had for Prime Minister Pierre Tr*deau in the 70s. The man basically ruled on the principle that only Quebec and Ontario were valid provinces, and the rest of Canada was a backwood of colonies to be exploited. To this day in Canada I will not buy gas from Petro-Canada, one of his legacies. So what did I expect from his airport in Montreal? As much as Tr*deau was an arrogant a—hole, at least he dressed with style. Thus it’s an even more diabolical irony that when I was there in '04 the airport was a disorganized, dingy, faded dump. The walls had thirty-year old televisions with the picture tubes so faded that the print was blurred. Sections were connected with walkways covered with duct tape and aluminum piping hanging out. I've ranted about this elsewhere as well, but places like Malaysia have clean, efficient airports with free amenities and Canada has one where the your flight gate is written on a piece of paper stuck on a board.
12. Worst People: Las Vegas, USA

I tried really hard not to be an ugly Canadian with a bad attitude to Americans. I’ve had good friends from all over the US and met friendly, polite people. But Vegas tested my resolve every day. Before I moved there, I assumed that a city comprised of exotic dancers, problem gamblers, drunks, spoiled teenagers, bums, lazy SUV-driving mothers, ex-convicts, and police was the setting of a FOX series. Now I know that when filling out government forms in Vegas, it is assumed that I am a criminal for a reason. In a city of 1.9 million, there are no substantial civic festivals, recycling programs, galleries, or museums (other than one for Liberace). There are slot machines in supermarkets and gas stations. The "cultural" aspect is entirely comprised of phony fiberglass imitations of Venetian architecture. At our apartment complex, I could even hear the security people shout obscenities as they drive. I was sworn at by policemen. It is usually simple to recognize foreigners in Las Vegas. They don’t comform to the city’s dress code of snake tattoos, sweats, and t-shirts, and they say bizarre things such as 'please' and 'thank you.'
13. Most Dangerous City: Mexico City

Again, my personal bias colors my list, because I was attacked and robbed on the subway early one morning in Mexico City in '02. But the city is legendary for crime; I taught a doctor who estimated that his car was stolen at least once a year in 'el D.F.' I love other parts of the country, but if social planners in a bad mood got together, they couldn't design more of a car wreck of a city than Mexico City. Surrounded by mountains which trap the pollution and turn the air grey, Mexico City sits on soft, spongey land out of which the water is gradually being pumped. Thus if you aren’t mugged, you can either asphyxiate or wait for the ground to crumble underneath you. Esta lugar es un infierno; como se va a Puerto Vallerta, AHORA?—This place is a hellhole; how do I get to Puerto Vallerta, NOW?

Besides, Mexico City obstructs my view of Venus!