Holiday Travel Plans

It’s official! I booked my trip to Asia for the holidays.  I have decided that since my family has left the states for the holidays, I am going to follow them to Asia rather than going completely solo this year. The plan right now is that I will get some time in Taiwan to spend with family and family friends.  As of right now, from what I can tell, my parents have planned out my short time in Taipei and it will be filled with seeing relatives that I haven’t seen or spoken to in years.  As much fun as that is, my Chinese is terrible so I am slightly dreading this because I’m not sure how great of a communicator I will be.  But it is what it is at this point.

Following the short stint in Taipei, I will make my way to Seoul, South Korea.  Yup.  I’m finally going to South Korea!  I’ve flown through the airport so many times but have never stopped, I’ve been to Asia so many times and have not been to Seoul so here it is. It’s finally happening.  I’m going to spend a few days in Seoul and check out the wonders of this giant city.  I am absolutely terrified of it because I am concerned that I won’t get to see as much as I should and I won’t fully live it up like I should but I am still going to try regardless.  If you have any recommendations for Seoul, let me know.

After that, I will head to Tokyo.  Tokyo is another place that I have flown through more times than I can count and I have never left the airport.  In fact, I’m pretty sure I’ve only ever flown through Narita and have never left it.  I am so excited to finally go to Tokyo and see what this place has to offer.  One of my bucket list items is to take a photo in Shibuya so that will happen while I’m there.  It has to happen.  When my few days in Tokyo are up, I head to Kyoto. I’ll be in Kyoto for a few days exploring and checking out what it has to offer and I cannot wait.

I’ll be gone for just under three weeks. It’s not going to be as long of a trip as it was last year but that’s okay.  I am still just as excited and cannot wait to be wandering the world again.  It’s been almost a full year since I last left for an international trip so I am definitely getting antsy.

If you have any recommendations on things to do or where to go, let me know!

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Booking holiday travel

I am officially getting ready to book my next major international trip. I actually haven’t left the country since I returned in January and I have been itching to get on a plane again for an international trip. Due to the fact that I travel so much for work, it’s hard for me to find time to do an international trip and luckily, I managed to make time for it over the holidays.

I actually didn’t really know where I wanted to go for my trip but I knew that I needed to book something.  My vacation was racking up and I needed to actually make use of it before I hit the point where I stop accruing vacation.

Usually my parents and I do this thing where I go to them for Thanksgiving and then I head somewhere international for Christmas and New Year’s. My parents actually decided that this was the year that they would leave the country for Thanksgiving and so rather than spending Thanksgiving with them, I’ve decided I’m going to follow them to Asia.

So now it’s time to start planning my trip to Asia.  I’m thinking that I’m going to spend some time in Taiwan and then check out Japan and Korea. To be honest, I have only ever flown through the airports in both those countries and it is finally time for me to actually go visit.  If everything goes as planned, I will get to my 33rd and 34th country on my list which is so exciting.

I am not sure what my plan is for the trip but I know that it is time to get the trip planned and ready.

Any suggestions for Korea or Japan?

Episode 14: Landing in Taipei, Taiwan

To be 100% honest, I have never actually taken public transportation into Taipei from the airport.  The first time I went to Taipei, I had a family pick me up from the airport and the second time, I arrived at midnight so my dad met me at the airport and took me in a taxi. This time, we were traveling in a giant group and we landed around 6 PM so we could utilize the public transportation option.

When we landed, we made our first top at the currency exchange to get rid of our Thai Baht for New Taiwan Dollar. After exchanging our currency, we stood in line for passport control.  Being super excited and ready for our last portion of the adventure, we cut under the ropes to avoid weaving in and out of the lines.  This is not easy to do when your backpack adds about 8 inches to your back and weighs about 15 pounds.  It makes you a little unbalanced and you may or may not get trapped on the elastic rope separating each row of the line…

We actually had a few ladies follow suit and ended up splitting our group up evenly.  Throughout the line, we were those obnoxious tourists that kept sneaking people up in front of them so that we could keep our group as close to get as possible.  What ended up happening was all 15 of us got together except 1. He was trapped behind the ladies behind us and they refused to let him rejoin us.  So obviously that led to us poking fun at him the entire time.

After we finally made it through security, picked up our bags and got through customs we headed out to the bus station.  The bus station is at the furthest end of the terminal outside of arrivals and there you pay for your tickets and hope on the bus. The bus will take you to the Taoyuan train station and from there you can pick up the high speed rail train to Taipei Main Station.  This journey is only a few dollars and actually quite quick. You can actually take a bus all the way into the city but taking the Ubus 705 to the Taoyuan station and then picking up the HSR is a lot faster. While you’re in the HSR station you can stop by Moos Burger which has amazing rice patties instead of bread buns.  Delicious.

Once we arrived at the Taipei Main Station, we separated for our different hotels.  A few people were staying at the hotel connected to the Main Station.  It seemed to be a pretty good deal, a little bit on the pricier side but there are elevators that take you directly to the station. A few of us were actually staying outside of the station at a different hostel called Chaiin which was about a 10 minute walk from the station. One thing to note about this area is that it isn’t a super touristy area.  It’s a good location to stay if you want to be close to the main station because you can take the MRT (public subway) anywhere and the buses are located there too.  But in terms of things to do around that neighborhood, there’s not much.  I think there are better districts to stay but we needed to be close to the main station for our trip to Taichung in a few days.

We walked to our hostel and checked in.  When I had booked everything, I didn’t pay close attention to the fact that I had booked a room without a window.  So I thought, hey I speak Chinese, I’m sure I can get an upgrade.  So I asked for one in Chinese. It worked!  We got a room with a window for only $15 USD a night and I was so excited.  We walked into our room, opened up the curtains and looked out the window. To the concrete wall 3 feet away from our window.  And not just any concrete wall, one that actually looked bigger than our entire hostel. Great. Our “window view” was of a gray wall that at night blocked out any form of light so we might as well have been in our windowless room and saved the $15 USD a night. But it’s okay, we still pretended that we had a view.

After finally getting settled into our rooms, logging onto wifi, we finally connected with our group and decided to make plans to meet up at 9PM at the main hotel for a train ride to Raohe Night Market.

 

Episode 12: Flying to Taipei

For those that have flown out of Thailand you know that you have quite a few questions to answer to when you leave. Our group left for the airport in two hired taxis because when you get to split 2000 Thai Baht (aka $55 USD) between about 8 people, it’s totally worth it. We arrived at BKK and checked in for our Eva flight.  One of the fun things about this is that we all bought our tickets separately but managed to all pick the exact same flight to Taipei even though there were about 5 or 6 pretty decent options.

We checked in for our flight and had to deal with the 7 kg rule that Eva has imposed for their carry-ons.  I’m find that this is a more common thing now days.  We also had to go through the hassle of confirming that we were actually leaving Taipei and not staying.  We had to do the same thing when we flew into Thailand.  Tip: When you’re flying outside of the U.S. and Europe (have yet to experience this in Europe) be prepared with a copy of your flight confirmation home.  It can be a real hassle when you’re standing at the counter trying to get access to the internet so you can pull up the flight information to confirm you are actually going home. Flight numbers don’t 100% do it so an email confirmation or the website booking helps avoid any confusion.

After checking in, we all made our way to security and passport control.  When you first enter Thailand, you get an arrival and a departure card.  You need to remember your departure card.  Otherwise, you have to fill it out at the airport and there aren’t a lot of reminders that you need to do this.  Some of the passport control agents you get when you arrive in Thailand will staple the departure card to your passport so you can’t lose it. Others will just hand it back to you and leave you to fend for yourself.  Luckily I had it stapled in mine and now I have a random staple to mark my time in Thailand. Thank you Bangkok passport control.  We stood in line and the competitive side of us took hold.  We stared at the lines, split up and tried to decide who was going to make it through first.  The most entertaining would be the people who thought they had picked the right line only to realize they didn’t fill out the departure card and had to step aside to fill it out.

We finally made it to our gate and the way that BKK is set up, you need to present your passport and boarding pass to get to the actual boarding area.  So only do this if you’re ready to board and you don’t need anything else. Otherwise it’s a hassle because you have to do it every time you leave and come back.  We shopped around for a bit, and then hung out in the boarding area and waited our turn to board the plane.

When I travel alone, I try my hardest to make myself as inconspicuous as possible.  I know that it sounds a little bit ridiculous but I hate drawing attention to myself when I travel alone.  It’s my way of trying to avoid the spotlight and helps with my own sense of safety.  Plus, I don’t want to be THAT person.  I love that when I’m in Asia, I can actually blend in and not stand out completely like a tourist.  Granted, this is just when I’m walking around. As soon as I open my mouth, it’s game over and everyone knows that I’m completely clueless.

That being said, when we boarded the flight, it was like a scene out of a movie.  People were poking fun at each other, talking loudly and it was like a reunion on a plane because we’re cool and we were excited.  This was the last flight we needed to take before our friend got married.  And that started the last full leg of our journey, we took off and made our way to Taipei, Taiwan.

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Episode 9: Pattaya to Koh Larn

The next morning, we decided that for our only full day in Pattaya we weren’t going to hang in Pattaya, we were going to go to Koh Larn which is an island off the coast of Pattaya. We went down to the beach and caught a water taxi over to Koh Larn.  The taxi cost about 30 Baht which is about $0.83 USD in the current exchange rate.  One thing to keep is in mind is that, personal safety is just that.  Your own personal safety.  If you don’t feel comfortable jumping onto an old boat that has 2 people for every 1 life jacket, then you may want to wait until the next taxi shows up. We put all 16 of us on the water taxi and began the half an hour boat ride to Koh Larn.

We arrived at Na Ban Pier, walked around a bit and then decided we wanted to go somewhere a little less crowded so we caught a beach taxi to the smallest beach on Koh Larn, Tayaiy.  We arrived and realized that there was no one there which is the reason why it was probably the smallest beach.  They don’t have many options for food and there isn’t much to do there.  So we hopped in our taxi and headed to Nual beach which is known as the Monkey Beach on that island.

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We spent most of our day here. Relaxing on the beach, checking out the monkeys (really just staring at them from a distance because they were at the top of the mountain), eating, swimming, and napping.  I’m not usually into beach days and relaxing on beaches, mainly because it makes me sleepy and I’m terrified of sun burns. But this ended up being a great day with a great people.  After we were finally ready to go, we found the owner of one of the speed boats docked at the beach and negotiated a good deal to have him take us back to Pattaya without us having to go back to the water taxi.

We boarded our speed boat and made our way back to Pattaya. We got back to the house, relaxed and then got ready for our dinner. There’s a restaurant in Pattaya on the beach called “The Glass House”  which is this adorable place hidden off the main road.  You can eat in what looks like a glass house or you can eat your dinner on the beach.  We decided to eat on the beach and stared out into the water with adorable hanging lights as we ate our dinner.

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The food was eclectic and had something for everyone.  Many of the dishes were seafood based but they had lots of rice and noodle based dishes.  The drinks were delicious and very tropical which is what you would expect for great weather.

After the food, we separated boys and girls.  The 4 girls (yes, cause there were only 4 of us at this point) headed back to the house to have a girls night and the boys went out to do what boys do on a bachelor party.

Our time overall in Pattaya was super relaxing and what you would expect from hanging out in a coastal city.  Unfortunately, since we were technically there for a bachelor party – the girls nights were not as interesting as the boys nights but I still loved hanging out and relaxing.

The next day, we headed back to Bangkok for our last night in Thailand.

Episode 6: Ho Chi Minh food adventures

After our fairly eye-opening day, we headed to a local restaurant that does pho from north Vietnam.  If you’ve ever had pho, you’ll know that it is predominantly beef based.  The soup is made out of soaking bones for a long period of time to create the flavor.  North Vietnam takes a slightly different spin on their pho, they use chicken instead.  So the flavor isn’t as heavy, it’s a little on the lighter side.  The noodles are a little thicker in width than you see in America but it’s still a very thin noodle overall.  It was just as flavorful as regular pho but it didn’t feel as heavy and I didn’t go into my usual food coma afterwards.

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From there, we continued our food adventure.  I think the theme of this trip was eat until you couldn’t move…

We took a cab over to GA 3A which is an alleyway in Ho Chi Minh.  I highly recommend you stop by if you have the time.  This alleyway is adorable and full of character.  There’s walls of graffiti that change every so often and you’ll find local teenagers doing photo shoots in front of the artwork. There are adorable shops and cafes lining the street including my personal favorite, Pacey Cupcake Shop.

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We took a walk through the alley, checking out the artwork and then spent an hour or so drinking local teas in Pacey.  They have a delicious sweet tea that was a combination of green tea and hibiscus tea.  To be honest, I’m not entirely sure what was in it because my friend ordered it for me in Vietnamese and he hadn’t made any bad decisions on food.  The tea wasn’t too sweet and I feel like it was a green tea base with a hint of hibiscus and some sort of flavored syrup.  Either way, it was delicious.

After hanging out there, we made our way to dinner. My friend was all about ensuring we experienced as many rooftop restaurants as we could.  We went to a tiny little place with a great rooftop but the view was surrounded by more buildings so it wasn’t a spectacular view but that wasn’t what mattered.  It was the food.  The food was amazing.  We, once again, allowed our friend to order and the way that this place does food would be a bunch of small plates – almost tapas style.  Each dish came out with some sort of seafood on it.  We had things ranging from calamari to blood clams to balot.  I couldn’t bring myself to eat the blood clams because they can be really difficult on one’s stomach if you’re not used to it and I wasn’t ready to take the risk.  And balot… not my thing.  As a vegetarian for 10 years, balot was way too out of my comfort zone.

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After dinner, we headed out to a local bar where the music was loud and the long island ice teas were served giant beverage dispensers brought to each table.  We hung out there for a bit and people watched and then made our way home around midnight in the pouring rain.

Overall, Ho Chi Minh is one of those places I cannot wait to visit again.  It is a beautiful city and full of so much history.  There are hidden treasures everywhere and the food.  Oh the food…

The next day, we began our journey to Thailand.

 

Episode 4: First night in Ho Chi Minh

We only had two actual nights in Ho Chi Minh.  You would have thought we would have lived it up and we did…in a way.

We started walking through the city, past the opera house, past where their train is being built (looks like it will be pretty awesome when it’s finally complete) and to the Sheraton in District 1.  The boys had stumbled upon this hotel the day before and found that it has really nice public restrooms.  I know it’s weird, but at the same time sometimes you have to take advantage of bathrooms when you can. Especially when you’ve experienced paying for restrooms or exceptionally dirty bathrooms. After exploring the Sheraton and trying to pretend like we belonged we made our way to dinner.

I need to figure out what this restaurant is called but one of the great things about going to eat with locals is that they know great little places to eat that have more of a local flavor.  We went to this adorable noodle restaurant with a rooftop area.  It was still very hot in Ho Chi Minh at the time so eating outside was a little rough but sometimes you just have to deal with the heat so that you can eat amazing foods.  In this case, the outside terrace was cooler (but not by much) than the downstairs restaurant.  This was a great little local place that is known for it’s noodle soup.  It is like the perfect combination of beef noodle soup and pho.  It sounds slightly strange since beef noodle soup has a tendency to be a bit thicker but it was amazing.

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This place is also famous for their various desserts and beverages.  My beverage was a dessert within itself.  I had a coconut, grass jelly concoction that required an ridiculous amount of self control to not chug it. Especially since it was iced and I was burning up with all the heat and the noodle soup.

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After the dinner, we took a stroll to Ho Chi Minh Square which was full of people.  It’s the place to hang out at night.  There’s fountains, buskers, people walking around with samples, things for you to buy and so much for you to see.  At the end of the square is the Parliament building with a statue of Ho Chi Minh standing in front of it.  Surrounding the square are shops, hotels and bars that you can check out if you don’t feel like strolling through the square and would rather just people watch.

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After walking around the square and trying a few samples of coffee, we headed to the backpackers district.  This is the most common area for backpackers and it’s covered in hostels, tour buses and tour offices.  It’s super hectic but if you need a cheap place to stay that is fairly central, it is definitely a good place to check out.  There’s also a huge park across in the center of the district that has live performances and great little restaurants to check out.  We went to one of the tour offices and booked a tour for the next day to go to the Cu Chi Tunnels which is about two hours outside of the city.

We people watched for a bit and decided that we were tired since it had been a jam packed day and headed back to our hotel to pass out for the evening.

Episode 1: Flying to Vietnam

Seattle, Washington is a great location to fly to and from Asia because the airport is the perfect size for navigating, the distance to northern Asia is a bit shorter than if you were going from LA and the customs lines are easier because it’s all automated for U.S. passports.

We decided to fly Eva Air direct to Taipei, Taiwan and then connect to Ho Chi Minh, Vietnam.  There’s one direct flight out of Seattle to Taipei which leaves the city at 1:05AM and you fly through the night to arrive at about 530AM the next day.  My friend took a sleeping pill and slept for 10 of the 12 hours without moving.  I struggled on the other hand to stay consistently asleep or awake.  I watched a lot of the beginning of movies but never got to finish them because I would pass out.  I’m not sure if this is a sign that the movies were terrible or I just couldn’t hang.  I’m not sure but regardless, the flight moved fairly quickly.  You’d think that 12 hours would be a rough experience but it actually wasn’t too bad.  The food on Eva Air wasn’t terrible, not my favorite but not something that I hated.  We arrived in Taipei and found ourselves at almost a completely empty terminal.  We found ourselves outside of our gate and just ready for the last leg of our flight. On thing to note is that from what I have seen, the actual gates that you board at are the next level down and there are couches and stuff that you can hang out at on the second story.  The gate that we were at had electrical outlets which meant that we had the chance to charge everything before we flew out to Ho Chi Minh.

I was very pleased with our decision to fly Eva Air because I have always wanted to fly on the Hello Kitty airplanes. If you don’t know what these are, they are amazing.  Essentially they are airplanes that are painted in Hello Kitty and her friends.  The long haul flights have Hello Kitty themed interiors which is awesome.  Unfortunately our plane was only painted Hello Kitty on the outside but the inside was the regular Eva Air green.

We boarded our plane and made our way to Ho Chi Minh.  When we arrived, we got our luggage and then began our journey to the arrival gate.  One thing to note is that the arrival gate of the airport is essentially a set of sliding glass doors and when you walk out, everyone stares at you.  I’ve seen this more often with London Heathrow than anywhere else but it is definitely an experience.  We found our friend and began to make our way into the city.

One thing that is really interesting about the Ho Chi Minh airport is that the airport is literally right at the edge of the city.  Typically you see some level of separation between the airport and the city but Ho Chi Minh was built right up to the edge of the airport.  It’s a strange experience walking out and seeing sky scrapers the instant you set foot in the outside world.

And that began our Asian adventure.

Until next time…

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Travel: 2015 Plan

Seattle –> LA –> Seattle –> LA –> Seattle –> LA –> Seattle –> Reykjavik–>Metz –> Luxembourg City –> Vienna –> Melk –> Salzburg –>Copenhagen –> Seattle –> LA –> Seattle –> San Diego –> Seattle –> LAs –> Seattle –> LA –> Seattle –> Vancouver –> Seattle –> LA –> Seattle –> Barcelona –> Brussels –> Budapest –> London –> Southend On Sea –> London –> Cheltenham –> London –> Prague –>Seattle –> San Francisco –> Seattle –> LA –> Seattle –> Vietnam –> Pattaya –> Bangkok –> Taipei –> Taichung –> Taipei –> Seattle.