Hong Kong

Monday, March 25, 2013

Hong Kong is said to be the bunny slopes for Asia beginners. It is very developed city with some great features and tasty food. I visited HK twice for visa runs from Mainland China. Each time I went, I was in need of some pizza, English movies and books, and a spot of shopping. I had been working in very rural areas, so Hong Kong felt like such a treat!


If you are interested in architecture, Hong Kong is the place for you. You can see a mix of temples with traditional Chinese features next to huge, shiny skyscrapers. The mixture of old and new is really amazing. 


Mmmmm I love Asian food. I'd suggest trying some Dim Sum in the morning -- it is a great way to taste several types of food without filling up. There are also these amazing baked (or fried?) sesame balls, which I would suggest not missing. During my trip to HK, I had a hankering for pizza, and luckily I was able to find numerous pizza spots, unfortunately I can't remember the name of the restaurant I enjoyed the most.


I was living in Mainland China during my two visits to HK. Instead of taking an expensive flight directly into HK's airport I flew to Shenzhen and took a train from SZ to HK. You can also take a bus from SZ airport into HK and get dropped off at popular locations throughout the city. Both options were easy and inexpensive. Packing light for the bus/train option is imperative though as you may end up schlepping your luggage through the city's public transportation.

Have you been to HK? What is your favorite spot?

Vientiane, Laos

Thursday, March 7, 2013

Vientiane is a gorgeous vacation spot. Be prepared for delicious food, hot weather, and silk shops galore! Vientiane was probably one of my favorite visa runs that I took from mainland China. I loved taking in the Lao culture with a mix of French influence. Oh, and I missed bread and coffee, and both were incredible in Vientiane.

Packing tip: female travelers - be sure to dress conservatively despite the heat. Long dresses, t-shirts, or longer pants worked well for me. I only wore shorts during a kayaking trip.


Visit Buddha Park which is right outside of the city. The hundreds of statues are eerily stunning and set over a lush green park. This is one of the most unique parks I have every seen and is certainly worth a visit. To get there you can take a bus from the central bus station or hire a driver who will wait outside the park for you. 

Talk to the Green Discovery Tours to learn about tours throughout Laos. They have a quality mission of involving local people in their company to provide well-paying jobs that protect the environment.  Through Green Discovery Tours I took a once in a lifetime kayaking trip along the Mekong River. I even lucked out and had a one on one guided trip as I was the only one that had signed up for that particular day. Lucky me! FYI the ride to get to and from the kayaking spot was a bit long and convoluted, but I felt safe as a solo female traveler.


Lao coffee is dark and smooth- a perfect gift to bring home for friends. I picked up coffee and other local treats to bring home from the Phimphone Market. In Vientiane I also found streets lined with gorgeous silk shops and couldn't resist brining home a few special items including a purple silk dress, some embroidered fabric to make a skirt, and a bright yellow embroidered tie for my dad. The Riverside Night Market was also a fun spot to shop, as it was set along the Mekong River, which looks across to Thailand. It was a picturesque spot to spend an evening outside. Saoban Village sells goods made by local crafts makers.


After spending many months living in China, eating in Vientiane was a special treat. Everything I ate was delicious and inexpensive. Near the bus station you can find a bunch of unidentifiable and delicious street food for cheap. Try the amazing French bread and desserts. Those who need a caffeine fix rejoice; cafes abound! Search for fresh mangosteens and other tropical fruit from local vendors.


I loved my stay at the Chanthapanya Hotel. The hot afternoon weather of Vientiane was lessened by a soak in the outdoor pool. The hotel had free breakfast, air conditioning, fast internet, was centrally located, and had airport pickup. You get all of these amenities for a very reasonable price. I loved this hotel!


Riverside night market

Buddha Park

Buddha Park

Kayak trip along the Mekong
Have you been to Vientiane? Are there any other places in Laos that I should visit?

Lijiang, Yunnan Province, China

Lijiang is a very touristy city that is composed of a new city and an old town, both of which highlight Naxi ethnic culture.


Lijiang is split into an Old Town and a New Town. The Old Town is a recreation of what a Naxi community could have looked like in the past. New Town is a typical city full of stores, restaurants, and universities. Lijiang Old Town is the first place to head to learn about Naxi Culture. Black Dragon Pool (Hei Long Tan), right outside of Old Town, is a perfect place to spend a sunny afternoon and check out the local flora.


Old Town had numerous stores where you can purchase trinkets to remember your trip by. I’d suggest silver jewelry or paper made following the traditional Naxi process. This paper is particularly beautiful when it has Naxi Dongba (Naxi religion, which is a mix of animist and other Eastern religions) script on it. 

Local Munchies

For a taste of Naxi culture, try snacks available in Old Town or outside of Old Town. Mama Naxi’s is a great restaurant where the cook makes food with whatever she finds fresh at the market that day. Get there early or make reservations because the restaurant is small but delicious. (2014 update: Mama Naxi's has since closed) There are a couple of colleges in Lijiang, so there are some popular food places with cheap options for meals and snacks.


The hotels on the edges of Old Town are the cheaper and quieter than those in Old Town. Stay in a Naxi style hotel with rooms around an open courtyard.

Bonus Tip- Read Forgotten Kingdom: Eight Years in Likiang by Peter Goullart for an account of Lijiang as it was in 1900.  

The view from Jade Dragon Snow Mountain

A statue of Mao right outside of Old Town

The best food can be found at Mama Naxi in Old Town (2014 note - its not open anymore :()

Jade Dragon Snow Mountain
Have you been to Lijiang? Do you have any tips?

Niagara Falls

I was very disappointed with what Niagara Falls has to offer. Although the falls are beautiful, the surrounding towns on the New York side and the Canada side were similar to a deranged Disney World. Cheap souvenirs, fast food, and amusement park-style-everything abounds.

Have you been to Niagara Falls? Was I just missing something? Where are the cool places to see?

Edinburgh, Scotland

I was lucky enough to visit Edinburgh, Scotland twice for work. I absolutely love Edinburgh and hope to visit again vacation rather than a work trip. The architecture is amazing and it and it is a great starting off point for visiting elsewhere in Scotland. During my first visit to Edinburgh, my stay accidentally coincided with the Edinburgh Fringe Festival. This festival is totally awesome and you should really add it to your must-experience list. If you have no idea what I'm talking about, the Fringe Festival is a celebration of arts and music, where plays and musicals are taking place constantly for relatively cheap prices. There are street performers and musicians and just general fun. I loved the festival so much that I planned my second work visit to Edinburgh to also be during the Fringe Festival.


The Edinburgh castle is historically significant and offers great views. Visit the coffee shop where JK Rowling supposedly began writing the first Harry Potter books. A short walk from Princes Street is the Royal Botanic Gardens, Edinburgh with their fabulous collection of rhododendrons and many alpine Himalayan plants (Yea botany nerds!). The Museum of Modern Art has the best collections of local and foreign artists and the lawn in front of the museum is perfect for a short picnic. The main collections at the National Art Museum of Edinburgh are free and worth a visit to see local painters’ works.


Princes Street is jam packed with shops such as H&M, Topshop, Office (the best shoes!), and book stores. Head to the Royal Mile for local brands and souvenirs like kilts, bagpipes, scotch, and tartan blankets.

Local munchies

Bangers and Mash! Yum. To wet your whistle try Scotland’s famous scotch. Indian food is also good here and easy to find.


Hostels and hotels book quickly during the Fringe Festival so I’d suggest booking early.  I stayed at the Caledonian Backpackers Hostel twice and have always found it pleasant. Check hostelworld.com for deals and hostel ratings.

edinburgh art museums
I love this museum!

the dean gallery in edinburgh
The Dean Gallery

lawn sculptures outside of the Dean Art Gallery
Outside of the Dean Gallery

lilac with bees

Edinburgh Streets
The winding streets of Edinburgh

The Edinburgh Castle
The Edinburgh Castle

The Edinburgh Castle
Another view of the Edinburgh Castle

Edinburgh streets


Old Cars
An Old Car

The Edinburgh Fringe Festival
The Fringe Festival Crowds

The Edinburgh Fringe Festival
An Entrance to the Fringe Festival

The Royal Mile

Chalk art of the Mona Lisa
Chalk Art


Edinburgh at dusk

A cow sculpture

Have you traveled to Edinburgh for work or play?

Auckland, New Zealand

Auckland is a large city in north island of New Zealand. The Maori, the indigenous people of New Zealand, have shaped the landscape using hills that were used for defense. Mount Eden is one of these hills that have been fortified for defense and now is a popular place to visit. 


Auckland has a great art and music scene. Check out the Auckland Art Museum to see local and foreign artists. The Auckland Natural History Museum is situated in the Domain (a large park) and is a must see. The beautiful traditional carvings by the Maori make the visit worth-wile. The Auckland Art Museum and the Auckland Natural History Museum have free admission. For more about the Maori visit Mount Eden, which is a short walk into the suburbs of the city. I also spent a leisurely day wandering around Waiheke Island. It is really easy to get to Waiheke from Auckland. All you need to do is grabbing a ferry from the port. Waiheke Island has white sand beaches, delicious wine, and small town vibe.


I was surprised by how pricey the shopping was in Auckland. I really wanted to pick up some souvenirs for family and friends and ended up finding some better prices at museums and music shops. I’d suggest museum gift shops for books and small trinkets. Bringing home some music is a great souvenir and you can pick up some cds for reasonable prices at JB-HiFi. I really like Gin Wigmore, Gotye, and the Checks. Asking one of the helpful staff for suggestions led me to these two gems.

Local munchies

Mussels served with a variety of sauces are a huge hit and huge meal for a small price. Japanese food is ubiquitous and fresh.


1) Take the bus to the airport. The trip is quick and is much cheaper than a cab. 

2) Be really careful to not bring any not packaged foods (e.g., fruits and vegetables) out of the plane. If you do, you could get heavily fined...yikes!

shells at Waiheke Island
Waiheke Island

sand dollar at Waiheke Island
Waiheke Island

A boat on Waiheke Island
Waiheke Island

Garden outside of the Natural History Museum

a statue with a lipstick print
Statue outside of the Aukland Domain

Auckland Domain
Greenhouse in the Aukland Domain

Waiheke Island

White sand beaches of Waiheke Island
The gorgeous white sand beaches of Waiheke