Thursday, April 28, 2016

Some Stuff to Share

In February I went to Nanjing and the Philippines, in March I went to Malaysia and Thailand, and in April I already went to Taiwan but I am leaving for Beijing tomorrow. So my travel schedule is pretty crazy, obviously. Before I can sit down and sort through all of my photos and thoughts and memories and try to string them together in some semblance of order for this blog, I figured I'd share some stuff I made recently.

Firstly is a compilation I made for my friend Joep, who moved to London last month. This is pretty much our whole gang in Hong Kong and it took me awhile to compile all this footage and put this video together.


ALSO! I've been recording ukulele stuff. Like taking it up a notch with loops and special effects and layering and harmonizing with myself and having a blast messing around with Garageband. If you want to check it out, here is my soundcloud account where I have been uploading some covers and some original stuff (much more to come on this front...)
 

If I'm being honest, I've been too busy listening to Lemonade on repeat to update this blog. No regrets here.

Sunday, February 28, 2016

Water Activities in El Nido

Lest you think I succumbed to a beach stupor during the Chinese New Year holiday and accepted my fate to rot in the sand for a week in a pile of coconuts and rum, I am here to say that there is so much more to El Nido. In fact, if you are a more active beach-goer, there aren't many places I have been that top it. Unfortunately, all scuba diving shops were completely booked up because of the holiday, but my friends and I found loads of other activities to sign up for during our time in El Nido.

Then again, I could easily spend a week 
lounging around in the sand...

Hands down my favorite activity of the week was Stand Up Paddleboarding. SUP! This was new to me, and despite falling on a pile of rocky coral and shredding my leg, was the most fun I had on this recent trip to El Nido. We found an expat Canadian couple located next to Happiness Cafe in Corong Corong beach that just began running day trips using local guides. Although they offer a few different tours, my friends and I chose the river tour, which took us through mangroves and out to the open ocean. If you are lucky enough to stumble upon this activity in the few months a year that they are open in El Nido, DO IT.

Mangrove river where the paddleboard tour began

Stunning scenery all around

This was a private beach we were only able to access 
because of our paddleboard tour

Kayak rentals were available every couple of feet in Corong Corong, and since we were spending so much time stuffing our faces with hummus at Happiness Cafe, it made sense to rent kayaks from them one afternoon. After accidentally paddling up to the wrong beach and having attack dogs threatened in our direction, we ended up on Papaya Beach for the afternoon. This place was pure bliss, and was the most beautiful beach I saw in all of El Nido, which is saying something considering the entire region looks photoshopped. Papaya Beach was uninhabited and wild, save for a single juice stand offering only coconuts and rum (here we go again...). The only downside? Realizing you have to paddle back to civilization eventually.

Still smiling after a half hour of paddling in open water

Cool rock formations we paddled under

Upper body strength from yoga pays off sometimes

We paddled right up to Papaya beach


Perfect spot for some beach yoga and acrobatics

Yes, this is real life

The boat tours are super popular in El Nido, and in the end, I don't think it really matters what company you go with- they all offer the same locations. We signed up with a group called Caera, and while they packed a few too many people on the boat (it was Chinese New Year holiday, after all), the food they served us was amazing and the boat experience was very idyllic. This day trip took us to a few different lagoons and more inaccessible beaches. There are no piers or docks, so for every location on the boat trip, you just jump off the side of the boat and swim to shore. This proved to be an issue when two Chinese girls on our boat couldn't swim. Our guide dragged them around on inner tubes, which provided a lot of entertainment for the other guests. I've gotta hand it to them, those girls showed resilience- they were not going to let a little thing like not knowing how to swim stop them from having a good time on a rickety boat tour.

Hanging off the end of our boat


The gang recovering from some jellyfish stings, yikes!

Saturday, February 27, 2016

Palawan Paradise

Every good vacation needs a balance between adventure and unwinding. El Nido, on Palawan Island in the Philippines, is a great place for finding that balance. While there are a lot of options for day trips and water sports and other activities, simply wandering up and down the beach can provide just as much entertainment.

Beach babes and travel buddies for CNY


Approaching our beach bungalow

Corong Corong beach was where my friends and I stayed recently for Chinese New Year holiday. It is about 10 minutes south of the actual El Nido town, or a 1 USD trike ride. This area is veerrryyy chilled out, and while it's not the most perfect white sand beach, the ruggedness felt more natural and undeveloped. Beach bungalows here were cheap and plentiful, although they are very local, which may not be for the weak of heart. My friends and I heard loud squeals one morning from our patio that went on for about ten minutes, only to stumble upon a pig roast that evening on the beach... Yes, the shrieks we heard were a slaughter. Good thing only one of us was a vegetarian!

Traveling with a ukulele attracts all sorts of types

Night disco on the beach at Le Plage


Any relaxing beach vacation needs proper island cuisine, right? Eating the fresh catch of the day with my toes in the sand is one of my favorite parts of an island getaway. Food in El Nido (and all other expenses, to be honest) is stupidly cheap, so you can feast like a queen even if you are on a tight budget. Every meal we had during our stay in El Nido was delicious, from Art Cafe to Republica Sunset.

Coconnuuuuttttsss on Papaya Beach

Seafood lunch on our boat tour of the nearby lagoons

For that picture perfect beach experience, hop in a trike and go 45 minutes north to Nacpan beach. This is THE place for beach lounging. The ride out there is not for the faint of heart, but this beach is worth the bumpy road and dust inhalation. For 3 or 4 bucks, you can rent an umbrella and lounge chairs directly on the beach, and spend the day alternating between crystal clear waters and soft fluffy sand. There are palm trees to sit under, juice stands, and long stretches of prime postcard real estate.

Jumping for joy at Nacpan Beach

Not a bad way to spend an afternoon, eh?

Wednesday, February 3, 2016

Outdoor Festivals in Hong Kong

I've written about Hong Kong's biggest music festival before. Clockenflap is a jam-packed party at the West Kowloon waterfront that brings in huge headliners as well as local talent. But it's not the only outdoor festival in Hong Kong! In a city this naturally lovely, it would be silly not to take advantage of the stunning scenery for a range of events. Here are a few I have really enjoyed:

Outlook Festival was held in north Ma On Shan in the fall. This featured many local bands, DJs, and artists, and definitely attracted some characters. By characters I mean people that were running around covered in glitter and sequins and clearly tripping balls. The location could not be beat- it was way out on a secluded piece of property in the middle of nowhere, so you felt like you were in on a secret.

Panoramic views at Outlook Festival

Beertopia is an annual craft beer festival on the Central waterfront. I love the atmosphere at this one- beer nerds from all over unite to sample and sip our way through as many beers as possible. There is a stage with fun acts to keep it lively, and you can buy a 5 or 10 beer pass. The food trucks here are slamming as well.

Temporary panda tattoos at Beertopia

Picnic in the Park in Discovery Bay is a more low-key event, but still energetic with a lot of variety. There are a couple different stages, although some more local acts like little kids from a dance studio might not interest everyone. But it's always nice to be able to sit outdoors on a blanket with friends, especially with fog covered mountains in the background!

Food stalls at Picnic in the Park

Finally, this isn't really a festival, but if you want to chill with your friends outdoors, the horse races at Happy Valley on Wednesday evenings have an energy that can't be beat. Every half hour the siren rings and the horses take off, and in between races jovial betting crowds yell and dance and crush beers. This is one of my favorite activities for people watching in Hong Kong, and it happens weekly, so you will have many opportunities to check it out.

The stadium at Happy Valley Racecourse

Thursday, January 28, 2016

Exploring My City

Visitors can be exhausting. Playing tour guide can be a drag when you have work obligations and routines and everything goes out the window. You get home in the evening and just want to sink into the couch and watch Jessica Jones for the umpteenth time in your pjs.

BUT.

Every once in awhile someone comes along that reinvigorates you and inspires you to get out there and explore, renewing a sense of pride in your city and lifestyle. Seeing Hong Kong through that lens confirms what I already know deep down but mostly take for granted- this is a special place. And my guest was a special person.

Day 1 in Hong Kong- The Udderbelly Festival!

Hiking on the beautiful Dragon's Back trail

A good friend from Chicago came to visit recently, and what I thought was going to a fun weekend showing him around turned into 18 days crawling into the underbelly of this eclectic city.

Chili crab in the night market

We ate all the dumplings and noodles we could get our hands on

Australian circus? check. 2 AM reggae show on the dark side? check. Toy museum that smelled like cat piss? check. Sophisticated jazz concert? check. Island days and foot reflexology and rooftop drinks and mountain hikes? check check check check.

The bizarre ass toy museum of Yau Ma Tei

Evan has travelled onto Vietnam now, but his visit reinvigorated me and reminded me of everything I love about Hong Kong. I will probably be moving away from Hong Kong in the summer of 2017, but I’ve still got plenty of time to keep exploring the city and surrounding region.

Overcast day at Cheung Chau Island

The friendlist bridge troll there ever was

This spring, I have trips planned to El Nido, Nanjing, Taipei, and Beijing, and haven’t even decided where to go for spring break yet! Having Evan here got me so excited to hit the road. Bring it on, world!

Tuesday, January 26, 2016

Backpacking SE Asia: Highlights

When backpacking in South America, you can expect empanadas, perilous bus rides, and salsa dancing. SE Asia has a few of its own highlights that you are going to encounter whether you are in Malaysia, Vietnam, Thailand, Cambodia, or Laos. Here's what you can expect if you are traveling in the region.

Street Noodles- The more street noodz the better, in my opinion.

Tuk Tuks- How many adults can you shove into one of these? Six.

Elephants- Please be careful that you are visiting elephant reserves that respect these majestic creatures and don't force them to perform/carry humans. There are options.

Temples- New or old, each one is completely unique.

Monday, January 25, 2016

Backpacking SE Asia: Our Route

I didn't really write too much about this on my blog, because it held such a sacred spot in my heart that I didn't want to share it and dilute the experience at all, but some months ago I backpacked SE Asia with some friends in what quickly became known as 'The Summer of Dong.' Geez, ya perv. Not literal dongs! Vietnamese dong, the currency.

#summerofdong

The Dongers quickly settled into our rhythm as a traveling quintet, and I truly couldn't have asked for better travel buddies. We started in Hong Kong together, where we acquired some matching shirts for the trip, as one does. Then it was off to Bangkok! We pretty much just ate our way through this city, and didn't try to 'do' too much of anything. Our street noodle habit began in Bangkok, which would prove to be a hard habit to break.

We travel in style

Happily tricked into renting an overpriced private boat

From Bangkok we opted for an overnight train to Chiang Mai, in northern Thailand. We had our hearts set on cooking classes and elephants, and Chiang Mai did not disappoint. We clicked with Chiang Mai so much, we actually extended our stay here an extra night because we weren't ready to leave.

Handling the cutlery during our cooking class

From Chiang Mai, it was off to Siem Reap and Angkor Wat. Siem Reap was such a pleasant surprise! I figured it would be a home base for exploring the region's better known sites, but the city in itself was really fun. From the epic Bar Street, to yoga classes, a trip to the history museum, and eating silk worms at a non-profit restaurant, Siem Reap was three days well spent.

Ta Phrom in Angkor

We did a quick one night stopover in Phnom Penh, which was meh, moving on to Sihanoukville very excitedly from there. Papa Pippo's in Otres Beach became our base for a few days of lounging around, more yoga, passing around bottles of wine on the beach, and ukulele sing-a-longs in the sand.

My final stop with the Dongers before they continued on to Vietnam and I headed to the Pacific NW was Palm Beach Resort on Koh Rong. Imagine the feeling if you walked in to a bar and your favorite celebrity was sitting there waiting for you with a glass of your favorite whiskey and your favorite album was playing in the background and someone was lined up to rub your feet and a purring kitten jumped in your lap and they started frying bacon behind the bar at that exact same moment and you received a text message that a distant relative left you a sizeable inheritance and you never had to work again. That kind of describes the feeling of walking up to Palm Beach. Sort of.

Our sunset boat ride to Koh Rong

Our stay in Palm Beach was completely happenstance- I emailed a bunch of different hotels on Koh Rong and they were the first to respond! We had reserved the family bungalow for 50 bucks a night, unaware that it also came with a hostel dog, welcome beers and cocktails, and a hammock overlooking the bay. The water there literally sparkles at night because of a native algae, just to up the magic factor in case Koh Rong didn't have you convinced already. Palm Beach hosts evening seafood barbecues, lets you plug in your iPod at the beach bar, and aims to help you completely disconnect from whatever demons you left on the continent. Koh Rong was koh, koh right.

The pier to enter Koh Rong's Palm Beach

Beaching it up in Koh Rong

This is where I reluctantly parted ways from the group. They tore up Vietnam, and I ventured off to Canada for the first time. We did all of this in three weeks but you could surely slow it down and spend a lot more time in the region.

A final snap of The Dongers

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