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My Best Stuff in the World

Currently, your Guide has been in one place longer than ever before. So I took a moment to reflect on some of my favorite places, experiences, and things around the world. What would your list of best stuff look like?

Favorite Espresso: Água no Bico, Lisbon, Portugal

I have sipped, chugged, and bathed in a lot of coffee around the world, and this was one of the best. While in Lisbon to facilitate a workshop at Outsite, I loved sitting in the quiet courtyard of Água no Bico to refuel and prep for the sessions. From Outsite, walk west to the first major street on your right: Rua Gaivotas. Turn up there. Agua no Bico is on your right, a few doors up.

Close up photo of a beautifully dark espresso in a glass cup on a white plate
A small glass cup of deep black espresso with rich brown crema sits on a picnic table beside a design thinking worksheet, in front of some potted plants

Favorite Snack: Yatsuhashi, Kyoto, Japan

Of all the omiyage snacks in all of the towns of Japan, the best snack also happens to be in the most amazing town. It is not a cliché to fall in love with Kyoto. Walking up Sannenzaka, the steep, store-lined street to Kiyomizu Temple, in time to catch the sunset on a brisk December evening, the cinnamon scent of fresh yatsuhashi wafting through the air, is a memory that’s forever baked into my brain.

See above. Catch it from the temple’s famous wood balcony as the sun sets behind the western hills bordering Kyoto. Buy more yatsuhashi on the way back down because you’ve already eaten all the gifts you bought on the way up.

Favorite Beach: Basata, Sinai Peninsula, Egypt

Wake up on the beach, swim, play chess, eat fresh flat bread, play more chess, snorkel until the lionfish come out at dusk, eat a big meal with a whole fresh caught fish as the centerpiece, the lights in Saudi Arabia across the sea, twinkling in the distance, marvel at the stars blanket of stars laid out overhead in time to fall asleep on the beach again. And repeat.

Tiny huts on a beach with swimming gear hanging off of them. Behind is a small village of white plastered domed homes and a mosque with the brown cliffs of the Sinai looming in the background
Facing west from the shore of the Gulf of Aqaba, towards Basata Village and the mountains of the Sinai.

Favorite Tourist Attraction That’s Actually Amazing: Alhambra, Granada, Spain

When I woke up at 5am, rolled out of my cave, and climbed up to Alhambra in the dark, hoping to snag one of the few tickets released each morning, I was only going to check it out because it was close to my cave. But wow, that is a special place. There are moments when you’re standing in a garden, all alone, surrounded by intricate, gently trickling water works, clouds of flowers, tiled pathways laid down hundreds of years ago, and it’s easy to understand why living there made people feel like they were floating in heaven over Granada below.

Favorite Place to Get Lost: Vietnam

Just to clarify: I don’t get lost. But when I’ve chosen to wander without the constrictions of direction, I have never been so generously helped anywhere in the world as I’ve been in Vietnam, on so many different occasions. For example, when I took the train from Hanoi down to Ho Chi Minh City, I shared a cabin with a guy that turned out to be a police officer. When we arrived in HCMC, he pulled out his gun, loaded it, and offered me a ride on his motorcycle to my hostel. I don’t generally recommend people hop on strangers’ motorcycles after they’ve pulled a gun out in front of you, but in this case, it worked out fine! And there were other times people helped me in Vietnam without guns.

Favorite Hot Drinks: Indonesia

Indonesia wins this category for two reasons.1) The coffee. There is something about Indonesian coffee. I don’t know if it’s the rainforests, the volcanic soil, the mountains by the ocean–whatever it is, Indonesian coffee tastes so good and goes down soooo smooth. I can drink buckets of it. And then, in the evening: 2) The herbal teas. Big steaming mugs of herbs and cinnamon bark and spices and fresh ginger root. Friends of this Guide know my go-to herbal tea in the evening is Red Bull, but not in Indonesia. Relaxing at a café in Yogyakarta in the evening, exploring the vast variety of herbal teas from the archipelago, is an adventure through the medicine garden of our planet.   

Favorite Meditation Hall: Dharma Drum Mountain, Jinshan District, Taipei

There are many beautiful meditation halls in the world. And in terms of age, the Dharma Hall at DDM is a baby compared to others in the world. Less than 50 years old! But wake up before the first bell, and walk mindfully around the outer corridor, bare feet on cool, smooth wooden planks, until the hall begins to fill at 5:30 am, and then take your seat on your cushion, still surrounded by darkness, throw your mind down the well in silence, and when you open your eyes again, marvel at the deep, lush greens erupting in the windows that surround hall, and then you will start to feel why this is such a beautiful, practical place for doing the hard work.

Bilingual retreats are currently on hold at DDM while travel restrictions remain in place. To stay up-to-date on future events and retreats, visit: Dharma Drum Mountain Global Website

Cushions arranged for chan meditation practice at the chan hall of Dharma Drum Mountain
The Chan Hall at Dharma Drum Mountain - photo courtesy of Dharma Drum Mountain

Favorite Island: It’s a Secret, Somewhere in Okinawa Prefecture, Japan

I’ll probably share about it in the mailing list at some point: 

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Favorite Place That’s Like A Video Game Level: Golconda Fort, Hyderabad, India

A fortress built to protect the diamond mines that produced some of the world’s most famous and most cursed jewels. And once you’re through those front gates, you have free reign. It is like being in an open-world Tomb Raider video game. With broken floors you can fall through, deep wells of green water you can disappear into, steep stairs you can fall down. And you progress up the levels of ruins to the shrine at the very top of the hill. There’s no level boss at the top, though. The jewel you win is an expansive view of Hyderabad. It’s a spectacular fortress, but do be careful if you’re wandering around.

Mark sitting at the ruins of Golconda Fortress with a black t-shirt with Have Feelings written on it
Sitting near the entrance to Golconda. You can have a lot of feelings there, especially in your legs after walking uphill for an hour

Favorite Place to Canoe: The Massasauga Provincial Park, Ontario, Canada

I once solo-canoed here and the wind was so strong when I set off, I was pushed backwards up an inlet onto rocks. But then I put some of those rocks into my canoe, and that held the bow down for a wild trek to the campsite. Still, it’s my favorite place to canoe. I’ve been back several times and no two trips are ever the same. The park is 131 square kilometers of wind swept, pine covered islands, rivers, lakes, meandering trails, and perfect swimming holes to float in as the Georgian Bay sunset paints the sky pink and purple.

Favorite Place to Walk in Autumn: Gyeryongsan National Park, Daejeon, Korea

I love weekend trips in Korea during the autumn. There are so many festivals going on, combined with an active hiking culture, hills blanketed in colors, and special foods you can only find at this time of year. If you’re in Seoul, take the train to Daejeon early in the morning, hike up to Donghak Temple in Gyeryongsan National Park, marvel at the bursts of color around the stony pillars of rock, like you’ve wandered into a painted scroll from the Joseon Period. When you get back to the bottom of the mountain, near the entrance to the park, there are many tea shops and inns. Pause to drink warm sujeonggwa, a ginger, cinnamon, and persimmon tea. It is autumn in a tea cup.

Favorite Place for Chocolate: Oaxaca, Mexico

Those familiar with my work in mental health and fitness know this Guide is a stickler for implementation. It doesn’t matter if you say you care about something. I want to see it in practice. This also applies to chocolate. Many people around the world say they like chocolate. Many places tell you they’re a chocolate capital. But Oaxaca truly is. Chocolate for every meal. Chocolate crafted with cousins of the cacao bean you can’t get anywhere else. Shops on every corner (that’s only a slight exaggeration) that sell cacao beans in bulk and grind them in front of you to your exact specifications of sweetness, shaped into perfect pucks of bliss to melt for your champurrado (hot chocolate) at breakfast (as nature intended it to be consumed).

Buckets of mole displayed in a market in Oaxaca
Buckets of chocolate mixed with hot peppers and spices! Don't forget a trip to the market to cook with all 7 of Oaxaca's moles.

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