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How to Spend 3 Days in Denver, Colorado – Quietude

Time we visited: End of March-Beginning of April

Type of travel: Weekend getaway with the best friend

(scroll down for itinerary/tips)

SET THE SCENE

The clouds were thick and pregnant with rain. They covered the sky completely and not a peep of sunshine was to be seen. Despite the clouds, the city didn’t seemed to be blanketed in darkness but a certain light that seeps into the smiles and cheery laughter of the people. Jackets, hats, scarves, and boots blanket our bodies and puffs of air materialized in front of us. Each breakfast place welcomed us with heat and sends one vibe: homey. The light rain and gusts of wind dropped the degrees lower as we popped in and out of shops in Larimer Square. The string of lights from building to building twinkled in the rain, but the cold seems into our bones. We found ourselves huddled away from the cold in a bookstore with my favorite smell of books lingering in the air mixed with java. The wind and rain continued to persist, but it was nothing a good cup of coffee or a pint of beer won’t solve! Breweries dot the city and you get a true appreciation of beer after a walking tour. The smell of fermentation is in the air, and there was joyous laughter and a bachelor celebrating his last glory days in the midst of it all.

Then quietude. A little yellow bug driving itself through the snowy forests and mountains of Golden Gate Canyon National Park. The emerald trees are half covered in frosty white and deer mingled their way through peeking curiously at travelers. The air was still and quiet, only broken by the sound of crunching leaves, our small breaths of air as we descended up the trails, and the chirps of blue and orange birds. The peaks of the mountains were covered in fog and from the top we could see the lonely winding road we traveled on. It felt like you were the only person in the world.

Giant red rocks. Literally. Towering, impressive, encompassing. Drive out further and you stumble upon a garden of them. In all sorts of formation. It’s like a garden that giants would frolic through. And with the sun finally shining, the view was breathtaking and even more so when we climbed and seated ourselves on top of the rocks, laying out and letting the sun soaked into our skin. When you can only see miles and miles of more rock formations and greenery, it’s easy to forget the rest of the terrors making stride in the world.

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SUGGESTED 3 DAY ITINERARY OF DENVER

DAY 1:

  • My friend and I arrived around 7AM so we had a lot of time to kill the first day. We spent the entire day basically roaming around the city of Denver and getting to know the city and the food! Of course Denver is filled with amazing eats but the following are the places we were able to hit in three days.
  • Brunch: Sassafras American Eatery. It was actually a close walk from our AirBNB and recommended by our AirBNB host as well. This place did not disappoint! We ordered the Eggs Sardou, Chicken Fried Eggs & Buffalo Hash, and the Mimosa Flight. Seriously everything was so incredibly delicious! The mimosa flight was also great – they have some really interesting combinations as well as Bloody Mary combinations. Not to mention, the restaurant is in an old home and thus gave off such a homey vibe; great way to welcome us to Denver. The heat inside the restaurant definitely helped off-set the cold that was seeping into our bones when we were walking outside.
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Sassafras American Eatery
  • Larimer Square: With our bellies full and warm, we caught an Uber to Larimer Square to wander around between the shops. The square is a beautiful area with twinkling lights and the Colorado flags are strung up in rows. At this point, the rain started coming down and the wind was blowing through, so we ended up trying to find coffee for some warmth.
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Larimer Square
  • Coffee Break: Little Owl Coffee. Cute coffee shop, friendly workers, and great coffee!
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Little Owl Coffee
  • Bookstore: Tattered Cover Book Store. This bookstore native to Denver has a couple locations around the city. I recommend checking it out for any bookworms like myself! There’s also a coffee shop inside. Get yourself a cup and wander between the bookshelves! I love that there are bookstore recommendations and why they love the books written on little notes stuck to the shelves. This bookstore was a pretty close walk from Little Owl Coffee.
  • Breweries: There are so many great breweries around Denver! We chose to go to the Great Divide Brewing Company and we arrived right on time to hop onto one of their free brewery tours which I recommend! It’s pretty cool to see how the beer you’re drinking is made. The Great Divide offers free tours on M-F at 3,4,5PM and weekends at 2,3,4,5,6PM. Each tour is around 20-30 minutes and also free to the first 20 guests! After the tour, I recommend getting a flight of their different beers! For those who want something different – there is the Strawberry Rhubard Sour – fruitier, different, and delicious!
    • You can make a whole day out of brewery hopping! Here are other options: Breckenridge, Wynkoop Brewing Co, Ratio Beer Works, Prost Brewing, Denver Beer Company
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Great Divide Brewing Company
  • Hot Dogs: Biker Jim’s Gourmet Dogs. After feeling full and warm of beer, we started feeling hungry again and decided to go for a really quick, early dinner instead of a long sit-down. We ended up finding this place a couple blocks away in the Larimer Square area and decided to check it out. I recommend this place if you are craving a good hot dog – there are all sorts of meat combinations such as beef, vegan, reindeer, rattlesnake, veal, etc. with plenty of toppings and sides like fried mac-n-cheese. We ordered the Alaskan Reindeer and topped it with the El Diablo (tomatillo green chile, salsa, sriracha lime mayo, and smoked bacon bits with a side of fries). Soo perfect for post-beer food. And my best friend has never had reindeer, so we had to get that meat choice.
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Biker Jim’s Gourmet Dogs
  • Concert: The Grizzly Rose. My friend is a fan of country which is basically how we ended up at a Chase Bryant concert that night at The Grizzly Rose. If you are looking for some fun concerts, I definitely recommend this place! I’m okay with country music but I still had such a good time at the concert! He was a great performer and I recognized like half of the songs anyways!
    • Suggestion: If you visit Denver in the summer time, I highly suggest booking a concert at the Red Rocks Amphitheatre. The venue is amazing and the acoustics is apparently amazing. And going to a concert in the middle of Mother Nature’s geological creations? Once in a lifetime.
  • Bars: Williams & Graham (speakeasy), Forest Room 5 – these were the bars recommended to us. Unfortunately, we didn’t get a chance to check them out but I’m leaving them here as recommendations!

DAY 2:

  • We spent our day dedicated to exploring hiking areas right outside Denver!
  • Brunch: Jelly Café. This was a cute brunch place that specializes in their donut bites. If it’s your first time there, then it’s definitely fun to get the large variety size with 8 donut bites (8 different flavors). If you’re looking for just one of the donut bites to try, then I recommend the Thai Peanut flavor – it was my favorite. There was a wait for brunch so my friend and I passed the time by ordering coffee and the donut bites from the bar to munch on and get our caffeine kick in. For actual brunch, they have a large menu and we ended up ordering the Haco Chili Benedict which we recommend! I always tend to lend on the side of ordering a unique benedict.

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Jelly Cafe
  • Golden Gate Canyon State Park: This was recommended to me by a friend and I am certainly passing on that recommendation! The drive is around 50 mins – 1 hr from Denver so not that bad for a day trip. My friend and I got a rental car, water, and bundled ourselves up since it was cold outside and headed over. The drive up to the state park was absolutely beautiful. There was snowfall the night before and all the dark green trees were decorated beautiful with untouched, white snow. When we would reach clearings, there would be a group of deer peering at our car curiously.
    • Now this park is very large so definitely keep driving until you hit the visitor center where you pay a small park fee and then grab a map. Ask the very friendly people who work there what trails you suggest for hiking in the allotted time frame you have. My friend and I only wanted to hike for a couple hours so they suggested a combination of two trails.
    • Because we went during off-season, the park was not overcrowded and the hike was quiet and very peaceful. The only sounds that could be heard were the leaves crunching underneath our feet and the chirps of the birds. The view from the top was also beautiful – miles and miles of forested mountains and glimpses of the road. Unfortunately the day we went, the peaks of the mountains were covered in fog but I imagine the views would be even more spectacular if it was sunny!
    • You can also hunt and go biking in this park!

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  • Red Rocks Park and Amphitheatre: As I mentioned before, if you visit Denver in the summer time, I definitely recommend getting a ticket to a concert out here. We were there in off-season but still wanted to see the Red Rocks. It was only a 35 minute drive from Golden Gate so we decided to drive up there, and I recommend it. The red rocks were impressive to view. Driving in there are other gorgeous red rock formations you can take photos of.
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Entrance to Red Rocks Park and Amphitheatre
  • Dinner: Queen Sheba Ethiopian – Ethiopian food is one of my favorite cuisines to eat and I highly recommend it to anyone who has not tried it yet like my best friend. I was super excited to bring my friend here especially since my other friends highly recommended this restaurant to me. We ordered the vegetarian and meat combo for two and topped it off with a glass of honey wine! Starving from our hikes, the meal absolutely hit the spot and the portions was enough for us to take home leftovers!
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Queen of Sheba

DAY 3:

  • Coffee Run (+ice cream!): Garden of the Gods has been on my America bucket list since forever and I was super excited to see it. Since we had leftovers from the Ethiopian place the day before, we decided to take lunch on the road and just grab coffee before we leave. We went to 2914 Coffee and was able to also kill two birds with one stone by trying Little Man Icecream which happened to be selling in the coffeeshop. My friend decided to get the Salted Oreo flavor which ended up being some of the best ice cream I’ve ever had in my life honestly. Little Man definitely lives up to its reputation. I only wish I got the time to visit its location so I can taste the other different flavors.

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  • Garden of the Gods: The drive from Denver took about one hour and twenty minutes. We got lucky weather wise compared to our hike the day before at Golden Gate Canyon. That day there was a slight chill in the air but the sun was high in the sky brightening the colors of the Garden of the Gods. We spent most of the day stopping at the different, gorgeous view points and climbing up the variety of rock formations. With the fresh air and beautiful weather, it was a sight to behold.

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  • The Source: We had about two hours to kill before our flight when we drove back to Denver so we decided to check out this place for a pre-airport snack. The Source, which is an urban, culinary market, is a really cool place to check out. Immediately before entering, you’re greeted with a bright blue door that is quite picturesque and then followed with a hallway and then a giant area with a bar in the center and different places to drink beer and wine on the sides. My friend and I decided to go for a glass of white wine and a small cheese board. The charcuterie board amount/quality was a great deal for the price of $10 but the wine prices here are steep.
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The Source

Other Things to Do:

Here is a list that you can add to modify your itinerary that I didn’t get around to doing:

  • Biking the Cherry Creek Bike Trail
  • Horseback riding
  • The bars mentioned above under Day 1
  • First Friday Art Walk

 

Happy traveling! Anymore Denver suggestions? Leave them in the comments below!

-Monica

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Travel - Asia

How to Spend 3 Days in Phuket – Elephants, Boat Noodle Soup, Magic, Oh My!

(scroll down for itinerary/tips)

SET THE SCENE

White sand beaches that trail into ocean water reflecting the pale sand underneath – the make-up of the line of beaches of Phuket. Standing with your feet in the crumbly sand and the taste of ocean in the air, you can see the pretty coastline from any angle. In the distance, there are green trees covering certain parts of the coastlines and parasailers floating languidly in sky. The waves oscillate between gentle and bursts of power hinting of potential thunderstorms and larger waves to come. If you come around June and July, be prepared for low cast clouds and occasional days of pouring rain with peeks of sunshine on your lucky moments. The beaches are lined with umbrellas, mats, and the occasional random tree swing. There are swimmers enjoying the warm water and people on jetski’s moving around. In the distance you can see the further islands of Thailand looking remote in all of its glory.

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Phi Phi Coast

SUGGESTED 3 DAY ITINERARY

DAY 1: My family arrived around the afternoon and we were still recovering from Bangkok so we decided to chill at our hotel which had a great pool and poolside bar! Then we went out looking for a Thai massage to finish off the relaxing day (and you can find plenty of massage parlors everywhere!)

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Poolside Bar (rec: get a hotel with one!)

DAY 2: Chilling at Patong Beach! And booking the Phi Phi Tour and FantaSea show.

DAY 3: Phi Phi Tour and FantaSea show at night

PHUKET TRAVEL TIPS:

-BEACHES: Phuket is located on the coast so you have plenty of beaches to choose from. I honestly just walked to the nearest beach from my hotel which was Patong Beach. When you get to the beach, there are going to be a lot of locals that will try and get you to buy a chair or umbrella from them to sit under – avoid the cost and just spread out a towel unless the sun is absolutely horrendous that day. Many of the locals also offer kayaking, parasailing, jetskis, etc.

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Patong Beach

-MARKETS: There are plenty of markets to shop in and eat at in Phuket but the following two are where I went:

Phuket Floating Market: Think of this as a more modern, clean floating market. When I went with my family on a random weekday morning, a lot of the shops were closed so I recommend maybe coming on a weekend afternoon. WHAT TO EAT: I found the BEST fried chicken I have ever had in my life here! The flavoring on the chicken was unbeatable! You also have to try the boat noodle soup and the duck noodle soup!

Night Market outside Banzaan Fresh Market: Plenty of food to stuff your face! You can also go inside the Banzaan Fresh Market and buy fresh seafood, have a restaurant on the second floor cook it, and eat it super fresh! WHAT TO EAT: Thai rolled ice cream, ice cream in a coconut, meat skewers, fish maw soup, papaya salad

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-NIGHTLIFE: The famous Bangla Road. It’s pretty fun to walk through at night!

-THAI MASSAGE: I completely forgot to mention this on my Bangkok blog, but do not leave Thailand without getting a Thai massage! They are so cheap for 1 hour. My cousins and I spent our evenings post-beach getting massages that completely relaxed our muscles.

-LEAVING PHUKET: Phuket is a tourist trap so you will see a million flyers to do tours to different islands off the coast of Thailand such as Phi Phi and James Bond Island. Since I had limited time with my family, we booked a tour through a travel agency that let us go see Phi Phi Island and snorkel for a day. It was great feeling the wind in my hair my feet over the ocean on the boat but the part of Phi Phi the tour company took us to was pretty touristy and the beaches were dirty. If you are craving some good island time, a lack of tourists, and untouched beaches, I suggest actually spending a few nights on Phi Phi like one of my friends did. And taking one of these boats below:

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-SHOWS: Phuket has a couple famous shows. The one I went to see was FantaSea. There is a park surrounding the stage where the show happens and the park is like Thailand Disneyland. There are a ton of fun games to play and elephants walking around. The show was also pretty entertaining to see – complete with elephants, acrobats, and magic! We also got a deal through a tour company in Phuket. Oh you can buy tickets for just the show or show + buffet dinner (since my family are notorious buffet eats, we went with the buffet package and the food was decent).

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FantaSea (outside the stage)

-WHERE TO EAT: Phuket is a tourist trap. You will see endless of pad thai and not so great quality. I do recommend one restaurant that truly wowed me with their food – No.9 Restaurant. Probably why it has great TripAdvisor ratings and a line outside the restaurant.

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To find a complete list of what to eat in Thailand, check out my Bangkok blog!

 

Happy traveling!

-M

food, Travel - USA

The San Antonio Ultimate Where/What to Eat and Drink List

Dedicated to my med school friends who’ve been with me on this food adventure!

As my four years of medical school comes to a close at San Antonio, I decided to write a master post of one of my favorite topics and hobbies: FOOD.

From first year to these very last weeks, my friends and I have done our best with our limited time and money to sample what’s the best of San Antonio. I’m known in my class to have an Instagram that is basically a food Instagram, and I just wanted to close off my year with a compilation post of the best places to eat and drink in SA (in my opinion)!

(These aren’t full reviews – just my recommended places, hours, what to know, and what to order!)

NEW AMERICAN

Biga on the Banks

What to Order: Do a tasting menu! Around $70-80 depending on 5 or 6 course meal. Really, really fills you up and gives you a good view of what their menu is like!
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Bliss

What to Order: Oyster sliders, George’s Bank Sea Scallops (some of the best scallops I’ve ever had! So buttery and tender)20140820_211612

Cured

What to Order: Pig cheek poutine, charcuterie boards
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Boudro’s on the Riverwalk

What to Order: House guacamole (they make it at the table for you!)
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Alchemy Kombucha and Culture

What to Order: Ramen. The great thing about this restaurant is that the menu changes often and by season so there is always something new to try.

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Cullum’s Attagirl

What to Order: Southern fried chicken, 3 piece hot

Max & Louie’s New York Diner

What to Order: Pastrami chili cheese fries, philly cheese steak, reuben sandwich
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Mash’D – The Rim

What to Order: The menu often changes and you can usually find something good on there to order.

The General Public

What to Order: Bone marrow, Fish ‘n’ Chips

Pam’s Patio Kitchen

What to Order: Chicken saltimboca
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Didn’t Get to Try (but heard good things about from other people): Bella on the River, Restaurant Gwendolyn, Periphery, Picnikins Patio Café, Southerleigh, Supper, Josephine Street, Signature, J Alexander, The Fig Tree, Luce

Continue reading “The San Antonio Ultimate Where/What to Eat and Drink List”

Travel - Asia

The Complete Guide to Bangkok, Thailand – Serenity and Spice

(scroll down for itinerary/tips)

SET THE SCENE

Just landing in Suvarnabhumi Airport and walking around the luggage pick-up area gives you the first glimpse of just how visited Thailand is. Left and right there are backpackers, family, and friends from all over the world, the different languages filling the air, moving around. You already feel a rush of excitement being in the midst of it.

You get to the streets and realize just how populated the city is. Taxi and random cars dot the highways, each following each other in a slow crawl. The July air is thick with humidity and the random spaces where shade lingers provides a much needed coolness. But beyond the sunshine are the thick gray clouds waiting to roll in and sprinkle droplets on the pavement and roofs. The Skyrail system whistles as it soars through the rails above the buildings and people shuffle in and out at rapid paces, destinations in mind.

Then there’s the Chao Phraya River, the major body of water flowing through Bangkok, and it’s a magnificent view. Hotels dot the side of the river – not so much like towering skyscrapers in New York or Hong Kong, but more so like scattered tall towers, each unique in architecture. With sunrise or sundown, the sky lights up in magnificent shades of red, orange, and yellow – the streaks going for miles and the rays peeking behind buildings. The boats and ferries on the river move merrily down and become illuminated when darkness lays its blanket over the city. Quiet and strong – tis the river spirit.

On one side of town, the streets and tiny alleyways are bustling in markets. Crates of overflowing dried shrimp, dried squid and street carts of noodles being fried or sausages cooked and served on sticks. The aroma of fresh spices and fried food punches through the air calling all locals and tourists. Shops with jewelry and shoes are in between everything else. Jumping on the Skytrain takes you to another part of town – one surrounded in four corners by glorious shopping malls. The malls are an attraction itself with several floors, some of them differently themed. There is a mall called Terminal 21 that transports you to different parts of the world. Then there are the four big shopping centers glittering with its expensive brand names and grocery stores equivalent to Whole Foods back in the states.

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Take a taxi or ferry to an area of town filled with Wats. Forward and backward, you see the magnificent towers of Wat Arun and the sparkling colors of the Grand Palace. There’s tourists all around you filing in lines to get in these areas and wander the sacred grounds. Tall, thick white walls surrounding some of the temples, hiding away the precious Buddhas from passerby’s eyes. The sides of the streets are lively with souvenir shops and carts pushing around fresh coconuts to enjoy in the blazing sun.

And that is Bangkok in a nutshell.

SUGGESTED 3 DAY ITINERARY OF BANGKOK

DAY 1

-I always say the first day in any city after a period of travel should be devoted to exploring the area nearby and relaxing. If it’s your first day of your entire trip, you may feel more energetic to go further but I just got done with a couple days in Hong Kong so I needed a day to rest my legs a bit.

-My family and I spent time wandering around the streets around Chinatown and sampling different street food. You can scroll down below to see what you should eat in Thailand!

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-SILAM AREA: You can take the Skytrain or MRT to this area. What can you do in this area? Explore Lumphini Park which is Bangkok’s biggest park.

-Also take time to wander around any market you see. While there are some famous ones, there are little ones in alleyways everywhere!

-At night after dinner, my cousins and I spent some time at a bar near the Chao Phraya River – I highly suggest this place – the Long Bar at the Shangri-La Hotel. The views of Bangkok and the river at night are something you cannot miss so check it out at night whether at a river side bar or a rooftop bar!

DAY 2

-You need to spend one day dedicated to exploring the temples in Bangkok. They are absolutely beautiful and pretty cheap to get in. They are also all clustered around each other and thus an easy walking distance from one to one. Must not miss:

  • Grand Palace and Wat Phra Kaew (Temple of the Emerald Buddha) – you can walk in for free and explore the grounds around the two areas but to walk around the Grand Palace and go inside Wat Phra Kaew.
  • Wat Pho – this is where you will see the gorgeous, spectacular giant Buddha.
  • Wat Arun – Temple of the Dawn
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Wat Pho – Giant Reclining Buddha

DAY 3

-Before you leave Bangkok, you should definitely check out the shopping areas. There is one spot in Siam that is the shopping center of the city – contains Central World, Siam Paragon, Siam Center, Siam Discovery, MBK, and Terminal 21.

-I ended up at Terminal 21 – a pretty cool mall built to mimic an airport! Every floor is a different terminal at a different city around the world! There’s also a great mall food court on the 6th floor I think (or some floor near the 6th) – it’s the only floor not dedicated to an airport terminal. You’re probably thinking that you don’t want to eat at a mall, but trust me, the food is delicious, cheap, and there are so many options to choose from!

OTHER THINGS TO DO (that I didn’t get to):

  • Wat Prayoon
  • Markets: Klongsan Plaza Night Market, Flower Market, Klog Toey Fresh Market, Pratunam Market
  • Lumpinee Thai Boxing Stadium to watch a Muay Thai Show – the VIP ticket is ringside but second and third class tickets still give good view and the whole arena has A/C.

BANGKOK TRAVEL TIPS:

-CURRENCY: Baht. Can exchange at any airport and plenty of currency exchangers everywhere.

-HOTELS: If you can, I would suggest booking a room with a view of the Chao Phraya River. It is absolutely beautiful at sunrise and sunset.

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-TAXIS: to avoid being ripped off, agree on one price for the trip or have the driver agree to use the meter. Some drivers will try and rip you off by letting you get into the car and overcharging you for a price or charging each person per luggage. Do not take no for an answer! Don’t get into those taxis that do that. Also, you will find a lot of taxi drivers do not know where they are going (I don’t know why but this made for many amusing stories for us). Lastly, the traffic in Bangkok is insane – especially around peak time starting around 3-4PM. It will take forever to get from one place to another so be wary of that and take the Skytrain, tuk tuk, ferry, or walk.

-SKYTRAIN: a really useful and inexpensive way to getting around Bangkok – it is their above ground metro system. Unfortunately, it does not cover all of Bangkok yet – their goal is to be able to access all parts of the city using this system in the future. Take this route of transportation if you are trying to get to the mall areas and Silam area. If you are trying to get to the WAT AREAS, there is no skytrain that takes you there – you will have to taxi, tuk tuk, ferry, or walk. HOW TO USE: you can either buy a ticket at the window or exchange money into coins you use to buy at the machine. You have to decide your ending stop in order to buy the ticket (how far you go will determine how much the ticket is). Watch the trains to see which way the train is going. Some platforms have trains that run in either direction of the lines.

-WATS: remember to dress appropriately. This means no tank tops and all pants, dresses, or skirts must be long enough to brush the top of your feet. Just below the knee won’t cut it. Wat Phra Kaew (Temple of Emerald Buddha) is 400 baht (you get to see the Grand Palace too). Wat Pho and Wat Arun are 100 baht.

-RIVER CRUISES: there are several river cruise lines on the Chao Phraya River and I suggest doing one of them. It’s a great way to travel the river at night and see the beautiful lit up buildings and take in some fresh air. Most of them include dinner and entertainment. Some lines are buffet and some are a la carte. Some also might have bars and others won’t. Just do your research! My family and I took the Riverside Bangkok Cruiseline. It was a buffet that included pretty decent food and unlimited prawns as well.

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View from our river cruise

-ROOFTOP OR RIVERSIDE BARS: there are some famous rooftop bars that will give you a gorgeous view of the city: Muse Hotel, Bangkok Marriott Hotel, and the Moon Bar at Banyan Tree Hotel. My cousins and I didn’t get around to going to the rooftop ones, but there is one riverside bar we recommend: the Long Bar at Shangri-La Hotel. With its expansive windows and plush seats, you feel as though you are sitting right by the Chao Phraya River. It’s a gorgeous view and not to mention, the drink menu is extensive and made well there. They also give complimentary taro chips and peanuts!

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Long Bar at the Shangri-La Hotel

WHAT TO EAT IN THAILAND

Every restaurant, especially in tourist trap areas, will serve the typical Thai fanfare you think of: pad thai,  pad see ew, curry in every flavor, and tom yum soup. But below is my list of local foods you should consider trying!

-Fried chicken – I know, I know. This is not something you would think of ordering in Thailand but I swear I have had some of the best fried chicken I’ve ever had in this country. Of course, it depends on the stall you’re getting it from but try to find a street stall or a stall in a market that is making golden crispy fried chicken with a ton of seasoning on top.

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-Pandan – This is a dessert I discovered at a street cart. I bought it on a whim as it looks like a golden brown cake rolled in some green paste and I discovered how delicious it was. The green paste which is made from pandan is a hard taste to pin down but I highly encourage everyone to give it a try!

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-Papaya Salad or Som Tam – made of shredded green papaya, tomatoes, toasted peanuts, and chili! Can have it not very spicy to very spicy!

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-Meat Skewers – Usually they are skewers of grilled pork or chicken and they are fantastic, juicy snacks while browsing the streets of Thailand. Sometimes it even comes with sticky rice!

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-Larb – This is one of my favorite Thai dishes ever. It’s basically minced pork salad but what makes this dish delicious are all the spices the pork is cooked with. The pork is usually combined with lime juice, different herbs, and onions.

-Steamed Lime Fish – This is a huge dish to share amongst family or friends. Many seafood restaurants will let you pick out the fish you want and then the fish is brought out in a fish dish and heated throughout your dinner with a flame. The fish is topped with fresh chili, lime, and garlic!

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-Grilled Fish – Made on a grill with lots of salt and stuffed with lemongrass – dip it into different dipping sauces!

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-Duck Noodle Soup – a great dish in the markets – the soup is so flavorful and the duck is tender!

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-Thai Boat Noodle Soup – If you happen to find yourself in a floating market, then this is a fantastic dish to eat for lunch or dinner. The soup is incredibly flavorful and some places will add liver in as well (which is super tasty if you haven’t tried it). Really one of my favorite dishes to eat in Thailand. Apparently the secret to this broth is a dash of pig’s blood (hope that doesn’t turn anyone off!).

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-Kuay Jab – or basically rice noodle roll soup

-Radna – Basically noodles with gravy. The brown gravy with red chili flakes over the noodles is a fantastic dish to try! You can get it really cheap at the Terminal 21 mall food court.

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Radna is the bottom dish with the fried egg

-Cockles – For those of you more adventurous and a lover of clams and oysters – this is something you have to try. I ate a ton of these on my Bangkok river cruise and each piece was incredibly flavorful. You just can’t stop eating them! Beware: could cause the runs – I got lucky but I think it was because I didn’t eat it off the side of the street.

-Thai Tea – although a cliché thing to have, I have to suggest it just because every single Thai tea I had in Thailand was delicious and not overly sweet or bland.

-Pad Thai – I’m only including this on the list to suggest that if you see someone frying pad thai on the side of the street, then get it – it’s fresh and usually a great snack to munch on while you walk around. The best pad thai I had in Thailand though was in Phuket at No.9 restaurant.

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-Tom Yum Soup – this is a very common dish you will find in every restaurant and surprisingly no matter where I went, I found the soup to always be extremely flavorful and really spicy (if you want it to be!)

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-Mango with sticky rice – Mhmm. The best dessert ever!

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-Thai Rolled Ice Cream or Ice Cream in a Coconut – can be found at street carts! They are both delicious and a must try!

-Fruit off the street carts such as pineapple and coconuts!

Happy traveling in Bangkok!

-M

Travel - Asia, Travel - China

Mash-Up

Imagine Portugal and Las Vegas smashed together into one city, and there you have Macau. For those of you who haven’t been to either place, let me paint a picture for you.

Cotai Strip
Cotai Strip

Standing in Cotai Strip, the strip of hotels and casinos that mimics Las Vegas, I look left and right, up and down to see that despite being in Asia, I am overwhelmed with structures that transport me back to Europe. The Eiffel Tower stands above me awaiting it’s opening of The Parisian, an upcoming hotel/casino, and beckoning to all those who arrive. Scattering the sky front are magnificent buildings, varying in architecture, all glistening in the sunlight like tiny jewels in the east corner of Asia. Wandering around more, you’ll wander into a piece of Venice represented by a replica of Doge’s Palace. The gothic architecture impresses and shadows in the dusk light with its smooth salmon and pale colored tiles illuminated by the lanterns. The walkways along the street are also dotted with greenery from the high trees to the shrubs.

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Wandering around The Venetian just transports you to another world. With the expansive hallways and high ceilings, it’s easy to get lost within this glorious hotel. Soon the hallways leads to what seems like a painting of the Venice canals. Gondolas float languidly beckoning visitors and shops dot the sidelines with big brand names lighting up the tops. Doors to the buffets let out delectable smells of aisles of international cuisine and sounds of coins and the jingling music of slot machines reverberate through the halls.

That’s just half of Macau. Then over the long white bridge to what they call “old town” is the other half influenced by the Portuguese. It’s a whole other world. Once again, I am transported to the towns I wandered through Portugal many years ago. The buildings are painted in vivid colors of golden yellow, sea blue, and crimson. The windows and shades are splashed with similar colors and against the vivid blue sky, the architecture is a stunning sight to see. The Largo de Senado Square is booming with people enjoying the sun, strolling up to see the famous landmarks such as Church of St. Paul, or piling towards Koi Kei Bakery to enjoy a variety of jerky or a mouth-watering Portuguese egg tart.

Portuguese Egg Tart
Portuguese Egg Tart

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Now my family and I basically experienced Macau in less than 24 hours. Probably a little poor planning on our part because to truly experience every part of the city, you have to stay at least 2 full days – perhaps 2 full days is enough. Regardless, here are my travel tips to this city:

-If you are coming from Hong Kong, you can easily buy a ticket on any ferry. There are two ferry lines, but we chose the Cotai Water Jet which got us there in 1 hour. Buy the tickets ahead of time and yes, you can buy online! You do not have to check any baggage in no matter the size. Just wheel it with you through security and onto the ferry! Have your passport on you since you do go through immigration.

-You can use Hong Kong Dollar (HKD) in Macau (widely accepted) – no need to exchange currency.

-If you’re staying at a hotel on Cotai Strip (where all the casinos are), then you can take a shuttle from a hotel or take a taxi to “old town” which is on the other side of the bridge. The “old town” is the Portuguese influenced area. Ask your hotel about free bus shuttles!

-Also if you are staying at a hotel on Cotai Strip – most of them have free arranged buses that transport you from the ferry to the hotel. Just ask your hotel about it.

-If you take a taxi to “old town”, they drop you off at this taxi drop-off line-up place if you tell them

Tiny Eggrolls
Tiny Eggrolls

you want to go to Largo de Senado Square. From there you will have to turn right onto the upcoming street and keep walking down until you see a big square on your right.

-Largo de Senado Square contains the famous Koi Kei Bakery – go inside and you can taste many samples of their treats, snacks, and famous jerky. There you can taste the famous Portuguese Egg Tart – an egg custard that is crème-brulee like in a flaky crust. One of my absolute favorite desserts ever since I tried one in Portugal many years ago. I was so happy to be eating it again.

-And at this bakery, I found one of my favorite childhood snacks that seemed to have disappear from Asian grocery stores’ shelves in America: these tiny eggrolls. I couldn’t find them anywhere else when I looked at other grocery store in Hong Kong and Thailand so if anyone knows where I can find this again, please let me know!

-From the square, you can walk up and immediately get to Igreja de Sao Domingos. From there, there are more signs taking you up to Church of St. Paul.

Igreja de Sao Domingos
Igreja de Sao Domingos

-Other landmarks to see: Guia Fort (highest point that you can see the city from), A-Ma Temple, Taipa Village

Until the next adventure,

M

Travel - Asia, Travel - China

Dim Sum to Skyscrapers

How to Explore Hong Kong in Less Than 3 Days

Being in Hong Kong is like being in the NYC of Asia. The streets are bustling with cars, taxis, buses, and people (citizens and tourists alike) are crossing the streets in masses with their eyes looking forward towards a destination or looking upwards at the massive skyscrapers that dot around Hong Kong. The underground metro system roars with the bustling crowds, and ferries glitter as they glide across the waters shuttling people and goods. There are countless places to eat and many things to see. Yet, in the span of 3 days, my family, cousins, and I managed to experience most of Hong Kong. So where do we start?

The Basics
• Currency: Hong Kong Dollar (HKD) – there are many currency exchange places wherever you look and can be even found in hotels and definitely airports

• Transportation from Airport: The airport is located far away from most things in Hong Kong. You’ll probably need to airport shuttle to Hong Kong or Kowloon area depending where you want to go or where you are staying. You can buy the Airport Express Shuttle Card at the airport to whatever destination (Hong Kong or Kowloon).

• Transportation Around City: Best and cheapest way of getting around is the MTR system (their underground metro system) – basically covers all the places you need to get to in Hong Kong and beats the traffic. I recommend buying an Octopus card (similar to the card in London). This can be bought at the airport or any MTR station. When buying the card (you’ll need one card per person), you will have to make a 50HKD deposit and then I suggest adding 100HKD on top of that for around 2-3 days of travel. So total = 150HKD/person. At the end of your trip, you can refund for money at the airport or any train station. Then you just scan the card every time you get in and out of the station. Train runs from 6AM-12:30AM. TIP: you can download the MTR maps onto your phone – there’s an app.

What to Do?
So Hong Kong is kind of divided into two main areas: Hong Kong Island and Kowloon. Because of this, I divided up our itinerary based off things to do in each area. My family and I didn’t get to do everything because you always have to consider the constraints of time to travel to places, etc.

The following is my suggested itinerary my cousins and I made together – feel free to switch and swap!

Day One: Hong Kong Island by day and Kowloon Markets by night
• Spend the afternoon by wandering through the magnificent city structures!
• Central: (MTR: Central stop) Here is where you find the skyscrapers, huge shopping malls with big designer names, and massive financial buildings left and right. First of all, the shopping malls here are insane – way bigger than the ones in the states. You can literally get lost in them which we did and had to use a map to get out. The malls have grocery stores inside as well and I suggest just walking through and taking a look – one of my favorite things to do in a new country is peruse the aisles of their grocery stores. If I can buy a new interesting snack, I will.
• View of Hong Kong Waterfront across Victoria Harbor and its skyscrapers – you can go to the IFC mall and go outside onto its balconies and rooftop garden.
• Causeway Bay: (MTR: Causeway Bay) – this is a giant shopping area with so many streets to wander through. If you have time, I would suggest just getting lost in this area and exploring.

Hong Kong Waterfront from IFC Mall
Hong Kong Waterfront from IFC Mall

• Places I didn’t make it to (but maybe you can!):
o SoHo: you can wander up to this area from the Central area through the outdoor escalators – which are the longest outdoor escalators in the world! My family and I didn’t get to explore this area since we spent most of the day exploring Central and eventually Causeway Bay.
o Man Mo Temple on Hollywood Road – filled with burning incense coils and worship idols.

• Use the night time to explore night markets!
• Because our hotel was in Kowloon, we thought it was easier to just go ahead and explore the night markets in the area and be an easy couple of MTR stops away. We headed to Temple Street Night Market that night and was met with ups and downs. This is definitely on the list of many traveler’s guides to explore, but upon reaching the street, I found it was just quite a tourist trap (which of course, I did expect). The street is lined with tents of souvenirs and clothing. For food, you have to wander between the streets where you will find different restaurants that allow you to pick your seafood on their market price or different stalls selling fishballs, milk tea, sausage on a stick, pork buns, etc. BEWARE: the restaurants will hack up their prices once they realize you’re a tourist and not a local. I would actually suggest buying little foods from different stalls and trying different cuisines than actually sitting down and be ripped off.
• Other famous night markets to check out: Mongkok Market (includes many streets of markets including the Women’s Market, Fish Market, Flower Market, Goldfish Market, etc.)

Day 2: Lantau Island by day and Victoria Harbor by night
My family did not get to go to Lantau Island due to the fact we ended up taking off for a day to Macau (another blog) and one of us got sick and we needed to take a rest day. Regardless, I am sharing what should’ve been the itinerary!

• Lantau Island features one of Hong Kong’s most famous attractions: Tian Tan Buddha which is the largest seated Buddha in the world. There are several ways to get there. You can take a ferry or the most popular way: the cable car, which I recommend since you will also get to see magnificent aerial views of Hong Kong. You can easily get to the cable car by taking the Tung Shung MTR to the last stop.
• Victoria Harbor: (MTR Tsim Sha Tsui Station Exit E) and head right towards the harbor. This is a great place to check out at night, especially if you come around 8-9PM and see the Symphony of Lights which is a slow light show that the buildings on the waterfront put on. Really, it’s a beautiful view to watch the sunset over

Victoria Harbor
Victoria Harbor

the waterfront and see Hong Kong’s lights come to life. You can also choose to board the Star Ferry to see the show from boat but it’s around 150-200HKD.
o Around the Harbor, you can also walk the Avenue of Stars which is basically Hong Kong’s Hollywood’s Walk of Fame. However, when we were there this summer, it was shut down for reconstruction and apparently won’t be open until 2018.
Day 3: Hike Victoria’s Peak and enjoy a relaxing day hitting the sights you might have missed before
For us, our day three was cut short since we had a flight out that evening. Thus I only had one activity down, but I would say if this is your last day of traveling, you should take it easy the rest of the day, eat some good food, and go to the places you haven’t checked off yet!

• From Victoria’s Peak, you can see the all of Hong Kong Island which is another spectacular view. There are several ways of getting up to this peak. You can hike, tram, or taxi. I suggest getting there early in the morning to get a refreshing view while the weather is still cool (especially if it’s summer) and to beat the giant crowd – that way you can take a taxi up and then take the tram down (if you don’t plan on walking a lot of it).

The Food

Mak's Noodles
Mak’s Noodles

Anyone who knows me will know that one of the reasons I travel is to try the different cuisine, but while in America, we have apps like Yelp and Google Maps to direct us precisely to what places we want to go, we usually don’t have these luxuries when traveling. You can argue that you can buy data and have those luxuries, but one of the best parts of traveling for me is the separation from the internet – being able to explore and get lost and maybe find a treasure somewhere. So most of the times, I won’t be recommending exact places unless one place really stood out to me.

• First beware, most restaurants will always set out a cup of tea for each person that comes in immediately. Whether the restaurant charges you or not depends. You can ask. Sometimes, they will even charge you for the tea even if you didn’t drink it (certain restaurants in the Hong Kong International Airport)
Mak’s Noodles: this is one place my cousin and I were determined to find and hunt down. We have heard so many things about this small noodle shop and really wanted to try it out. Definitely didn’t disappoint – the soup was tasty, the noodles were fresh, the dumplings were plentiful in shrimp – my only thing is that the portion size is incredibly small! Would probably need 2 bowls to be full. Service was excellent though – they are all incredibly friendly!

Egg Tart with Hong Kong Waffle behind
Egg Tart with Hong Kong Waffle behind

Egg Waffle: these are sold everywhere – I recommend getting them fresh off a hot griddle from a stall – they’re crispy, fluffy, and really, there’s nothing on it but the batter has the right touch of sweetness making it a perfect snack to walk with on the streets.
Egg Tart: also same as above – find at any bakery and should be eaten hot.

Milk Tea
Milk Tea

Milk Tea: the milk tea I bought from a random stall was honestly one of the best I’ve ever had. Lightly creamy, sweet, with a good hint of tea – it was the perfect combination. I know for travelers, some people are wary about the ice so I would say this one is just up to you. Also hot milk tea is something definitely to be tried since Hong Kong has their own tea time just like you would see in London.
Curry Fish Meatballs: also a popular street snack – served in a Styrofoam cup with wooden sticks – really a good but SPICY treat. There are probably some non-spicy options but the one I got had all of our mouths on fire

Curry Fish Meatballs
Curry Fish Meatballs

Dim Sum: you can’t miss this in Hong Kong! This is where you get to taste so many different types of dishes and dumplings in bamboo baskets.
Other different things you should try that I missed out on (oh the constraints of time): Australian Dairy Company, stinky tofu, typhoon crab

Until the next adventure,
M

In The Moment, Life Musings

Airport Stragglers

I think the world is more suspicious now. We have neighbors living next to strangers, not neighbors. People are still friendly to one another – they nod or give a wave if they pass by a neighbor – but neighbors do not really know each other. People sit in a bar or anywhere public and if someone taps on their shoulders or asks a question or tries to start conversation, people become irritated. They become suspicious. Why are you asking me that? Who are you? What do you want with me?

People are shying more away from each other, putting up boundaries. Everyone seems to walk around with these circles and borders nowadays. We can’t blame people. Today’s circumstances have made the attitudes of alertness and suspiciousness a safer attitude for people to adopt. We are taught as kids to never trust strangers, and as adults, we now walk around with that mentality stronger than ever.

And how could we not? The media is plagued with the most recent victims of shootings, murders, city attacks, and more.

I’m not an exception to this attitude. But then there are moments where circumstances bring strangers together, and I find myself relearning the beauty of communication. The joys of hearing another’s story and learning a little bit of what defines the person. The following story I write is just to remind myself and others what a gift it is to discover a new person.

A couple weeks ago I was at the airport after a weekend of visiting one of my best friends in NYC. Unfortunately instead of waiting at my terminal, I was in a long line of angry customers. It was just announced that our morning flight had been cancelled, and there was no other flights out today. People were on their phones, exchanging hard words with the people at the counters, or huffing and staring angrily into the distance.

As I stood there texting my family the news, my impatience grew inside of me. I had been traveling non-stop without breaks ever since my STEP 1 board exam ended, and all I wanted to do was go home and sit on the couch and not move. As the minutes ticked by and the line failed to move, my irritation grew rapidly.

Managing to keep my frustration abate, I was able to be rerouted to a different city where I would be set up with a hotel to rest before taking the next flight out to my last destination. During that time, I also met a mother and her son. I only had time to inform her of what was going on before leaving the line and heading downstairs to wait until my night time flight.

I spent the rest of the day reading before going through security to wait at the terminal for my 10PM flight. As I sat in my chair exhausted, the same mom and son pair sat near me. Staring at them, I decided on a whim to start conversation with her, wondering if she remembered me from this morning. To my surprise, she did and for the next few hours, I had some travel companions. As the hour near our flight (already delayed) drew near, another family joined our conversation, and we spent the next 30 minutes lamenting about our horror flight stories as the family’s two pretty daughters jumped up and down near me asking me if their outfits are pretty.

Soon I was on my flight, and as the plane took off into the sky, I passed out. Landing and waiting for the hotel shuttle, I realized there was a small group of stragglers all from NYC in the same position as me. We all came from different backgrounds and were in NYC for different reasons. The mother and son were visiting family, one girl was there for her best friend’s wedding, and another group was there for a fun break from school. We all laughed and lamented over our situation as we sat on our luggage in the light drizzle falling from the sky. Despite not really knowing each other, we agreed to make sure we were all awake by 6AM to catch the hotel shuttle back to the airport.

We were all squashed in the van, and at this point it was 1AM and a thirty minute drive to the hotel awaited us. Despite my utter exhaustion, I found myself surprisingly without irritation. I was in good company. I knew that most likely I would never see these people again, but for that one night, we were each other’s familiar faces.

-M

New York City