Sunday, May 28, 2017

Death Valley Travels

Hello everyone,

I recently got to go on a weekend adventure through Death Valley National Park.
It was so beautiful and of course, hot. Since we only really had one full day at the park, we checked out popular points we were interested in that were all fairly close together. It was perfect to just stop by all the points in order and then head home.

The overall drive through the park itself is stunning and checking out some of the popular stops along the way is easy since the roads/places are labeled and paved (for the most part).

If you plan to visit it soon, make sure to bring a hat, sunglasses, lots of drinking water, sunblock, snacks, and phone chargers for the car!

The entrance fee is $25 for a 7 day pass. They don't have anything for a shorter duration of time. I wasn't expecting a paved road/high accessibility to all of these places we wanted to check out, but they have them. Major stops all of restrooms too.

We drove in and started with Zabriskie Point in the evening. We got to see the sunset here and it doesn't take long to explore this one unless you go off hiking.

Since we got there in the evening, we went to our hotel to sleep early and wake up at 2:30AM to go see the stars. I know, it sounds so early but it was SO worth it. We drove into the park, heading past Zabriskie Point to Dante's View and saw the most stars I have ever seen. Since it's far away from any major city lights, we even saw the milky way. It was beautiful. I never knew how many stars were really in our night sky. I highly recommend you do this if you can! 

After seeing the night sky, we parked at Dante's View and took a 30-45 minute nap in the car. During this time, the moon came out and the stars were all gone. We were woken up by little bats that were fluttering around our car. From the parking area, there is a clear route to hike up the mountain. It's not a hard hike but I would still categorize it as easy-intermediate because it's very rocky. Once we got up here, we got to see the sunrise. It was really stunning because one side looked like this below...

While the other side looked like this:

It was pretty seeing the sun lightening up this side of the valley too. 

After that, we went back to our hotel to eat breakfast and checkout. Then we headed back into the park and stopped by a few places that were all near one another.

This isn't the best picture of it, but it's called Artist's Drive. This is it from the parking lot. You can step out and walk through it to see shades of pink, green, etc. that are colors from the oxidation of different metals. We didn't really see too many vibrant colors but read that in afternoon sunlight, it looks different. It wasn't our favorite but I have seen lovely pictures of it online.

After that, we checked out Devil's Golf Course. This was absolutely stunning to me because of the repetition of mineral chunks (salt) from the remains of Badwater Basin before it dissolved. I guess this is the prettiest salt pan I have ever seen. There were so many little details and there were endless amounts of these "rocks" everywhere. The road to drive in however was the only non-paced road we drove on. It wasn't long but there was a lot of gravel.

After that, we checked out Badwater Basin. It was SO hot at this point in the middle of the afternoon. I felt my legs literally baking under the sun. All the white you see below is a dried up lake of salt that existed 2,000 years ago. 

Due to our time limit, we headed back home after that. The drive out was just as beautiful. So glad that I got to go with my person. :) Enjoy.

Wednesday, April 19, 2017

Hong Kong Day 1-5: Exploring Hong Kong

Hi everyone,

My friend and I had a one week adventure in Hong Kong purely for leisure, culture, and food. I will post a daily breakdown here with tips and photos from my travel.

The first day in Hong Kong was a nice and relaxing evening. Our flight got in at early evening.
We took the MTR express train to Hong Kong, then transferred to a subway line to the station five minutes away from our hotel in Sai Ying Pun. It's a nice fairly quiet but still busy area with a lot of food and markets nearby. We appreciated that everything was in walking distance from the MTR station as well.

Here are some things I noted:
The cost to catch an MTR from the airport is much more expensive than than regular subway fares. It was about $10 USD to catch the airport MTR express. Consider looking into purchasing an Ocotopus card depending on which locations you will be going to and if your trip is longer than a week.

Converting HongKong dollar (HKD) to USD was a little more math than I was used to since most of the places I traveled were closer to a 1:1 conversion ratio. It's currently a 7:1 so everything in HKD needs to be divided by 7 to be USD. An easy rule of thumb we went be by was of course everything under 70 HKD was under $10 USD. I anticipated that I would get better at math after this trip but I just got better at using my calculator. :'D

A few things to note:
  • You do not have to tip in restaurants, but if you feel you had exceptional service, 10 percent.
  • Many people can speak some English. Thank goodness.
  • Traditional breakfasts are very British due to Hong Kong's history of British colonization. Bring on the eggs and toast.
  • If you don't speak Cantonese like me... here's a good tip. Ask for an English menu first just in case they have one. If not, if you find photos of food you want on the outside of restaurant windows, take a picture and go in to order. It's easier than tying to track down the item name in a foreign language on mostly extensive menus! A lot of restaurants don't have English on their menus so this will be helpful.
  • Have a coin purse, pockets, or system for your money. Hong Kong has coins for everything between .50 cents to $10. I spent a lot of time shuffling through coins in my wallet so be prepared if you plan to use cash!
  • Bring a water bottle. Its already easy to get dehydrated during travels but Hong Kong was worse because they often dont serve water at restaurants, but tea instead. Have a water bottle on you and fill it up at water fountains (which were also rare) or at the place you are staying before you leave.
Here is my trip! Enjoy.

This was the amazing view of the mountains during my plane's landing. I was blown away.

We mostly explored and ate during this trip. No surprise there either.

The food the first night was pretty good. We stayed nearby and got some noodles. This mango pudding from a nearby bakery was delicious. Food is relatively the same cost as the U.S. as well. I feel like some places are pretty cheap though, especially some of their simply breads. This mango pudding was 11 HKD.

We paid ~$85 HKD to take to tram and go up the roof to get this view of Victoria Peak. It was really lovely but also really windy. Make sure to bring a jacket if you plan on going at night. The tram only takes 5-10 minutes but we waited in the line to get on for about an hour. It moves fast because 40-50 people get on one tram at a time. Trams run every 8 minutes so be prepared to do some waiting heading up and down. The trams apparently run until midnight but if I were to do this again, I would try to book tickets in advance so I wouldn't have to wait in the line and go around 5:30PM when it's still bright out to get the day time to night time view transition.

This is a view from Kennedytown that I was really pretty. We went to get some dessert afterwards but most places were opening at 6-7PM. 

Wow. Kowloon Park was really pretty. Someone recommended checking out the park but this was more than a park. This park was very big with an aviary, art, flowers, small mazes, and even places to see flamingos. I was pleasantly surprised at how much there was to do here! It had a urban jungle feel to it with all the greenery surrounded by skyscrapers.

It wouldn't be Hong Kong without tea and dimsum. I had so much dimsum during this trip!
I thought I had enough during my trip but now I'm not sure...

We checked out the different night markets and ladies markets which included a walk through the goldfish and pet streets. They had so many puppies out. Too bad I couldn't take pictures. The escalator is from Langham Mall in Times Square. It has the longest escalator in that territory! 

Speaking of markets, get comfortable haggling. There are SO many strips of clothes, bags, souvenirs, etc. that you can buy for yourself or gift. You can haggle in English by asking how much it is or asking if they will take it for a cheaper price. Based on my experience, even if they say no to $20-30 less, walk away at their offer and most of them will call you back to accept your lower offer or meet you with a lower one. I got a purse from $50 off, which was pretty lucky because I was that booth's first customer. But overall, my friend and I were able to get anywhere between $5-30 off the original price they stated. :) I also saw a lot of random cats everywhere... hah!

We went to a cute Shen Restuarant in Sai Ying Pun right by the HKU station for very cute dim sum twice. It was well priced and so adorable. My friend and I loved the fried taro duck on the left the most!

It was always a treat to just walk around in areas like Mongkok to eat yummy treats like fresh egg tarts and to browse around. These are very typical sights from our trip.

Of course, our trip wouldn't be complete without a day at HongKong Disneyland. It was my first time at any Disneyland and it was so much fun! The park was so empty on a weekday so we didn't have to wait for lines at all. The max we waited was 15 minutes for one boat ride towards the end of the day. The fireworks were beautiful and they had cute Easter egg characters hidden throughout the park!
Its also about $10USD cheaper than California's current Disneyland ticket price. The park has less rides but is still a good size to explore on a nice day. All the workers were handing out cute stickers too.

This is random but I was very amused by this Hello Kitty pop up supermarket in Sai Ying Pun area of Hong Kong. A lot of their packaging was hello kitty themed and she was all over the shop! 

Here are some more pictures from Times Square. I tried my first egg tart. It's basically like a waffle but sweeter. The inside of the ball shapes are hollow. 

I clearly ate too many cute dimsum things. The pigs were a pork bbq bao and the green frog like guys were green tea custard. They were really good but this place was a pricey chain restaurant. Oh well. I still enjoyed it. :)

I had a good leisurely time in Hong Kong. They don't serve much water at restaurants and their escalators move really quickly. They call elevators lifts and never see say bye but say "byebye". Every place I visited had large construction sites and their subway stations have touchscreen ticket purchasing. The weather at this time was sort of gloomy yet humid. And they really like mango... which made me happy because I really like mango. This concludes my random facts about Hong Kong and my trip. Where to next... maybe Europe! :D


Friday, April 14, 2017

South Korea Days: 7-12

Hey everyone!

Here is part 2 of my South Korea travel blog. Enjoy.

We checked out the Trick Eye Museum at Hongdae and eat a delicious meal there too. The Trick Eye museum was so such a fun and interactive museum. It's a whole bunch of  2D art that looks 3D in photos that are set up for you and your friends. I didn't want to include pictures of my friends here without their permission so I will refer you to their site here. They have a cool app that you can download that adds effects to your pictures too.

They also had an ice museum that was part of their ticket price of $15. We easily spent 3 hours there. Come prepared to jump around and get on the floor if you decide to go!

This meal... it's beautiful isn't it? It's apparently very popular and well known restaurant in Korea (Hongdae) called Honkaz. But the prices were very affordable and we ordered so many things between 4 people to share. There is the cheese katsu again. Seriously, there was cheese in everything. Everything was pretty good though. 

We also checked out a meerkat cafe. My friend showed me a video and pictures before we went and said there was a random racoon at the location she went to. She was right. Haha! But no one played with a raccoon that was on the loose in the shop. The meerkats are in a closed space with toys, mats, and beds. Small groups go into the area and are allowed to gently interact with them for 10 minutes at a time. The entrance fee was to buy a drink at their cafe. All the drinks were between $9-15 USD. They are super cute and little. They like to dig at your pockets and jump on your shoulders. Pretty neat experience!

Of course, Hongdae had a lot of street food and shops to offer us as well. I got a phone case and socks here. Prepare to shop for cheap and cute souvenirs, accessories, and more! Variations of hotdogs on a stick and waffles with sweet toppings were very popular. This deep fried hotdog was covered in corn with sugar sprinkled on top. It was really good. :)

Here are more pictures of food. Specifically ssambap. We had duck and different types of greens to wrap the duck, rice, and side dishes into what we call "ssam" or wrap. It's healthy and delicious.

The bulk of this post is food. No surprise there. But the street food looks like this and the bakeries always look full like this. So much food  eye candy.

Korea also likes to combine popular dishes that go together into abbreviated slang. Chicken and beer is merged into "Chimek" for chicken and "mekju" for Korean beer. It's pretty delicious! They also mix soju and beer into "somek". You even stick a chopstick into the cup after you pour them in together and hit the side of the chopstick with enough force to make the liquids bubble and mix inside. 

This is the Oeam folk village in Asan. When we looked it up, it showed up as a single hut in the middle of nowhere. We were very confused. Turns out it's an entire village of giwa and straw houses from the Joseon period. It was very pretty to walk through but very empty during this winter season. We read in the brochure that there are fun crafting and cultural events that take place during the summer. The pictures of saw were full of flowers during the warmer season too. Nonetheless, it was still a cool and scenic adventure.

We also explored a huge Kakao Friends shop in Hongdae. So cute! Who knew these characters were so popular in Korea. I didn't because I didn't know how popular their app was! They had a "Ryan Cafe" too upstairs.

We also found the Coffee Prince cafe from the oldie but goodie kdrama. I think the sign by the door clearly says don't take pictures if you aren't a guest but I totally read it after I took the photos and didn't buy a drink. Oops. I can't help that I don't like coffee!

There's part 2 of my Korea adventure. I had a great time connecting to my Korean culture as an adult. It was very different from my experience visiting 6 years ago as a undergraduate student. I have never eaten so many red and spicy foods in such a short duration of time. No regrets. Also, I wish their bakeries and soju were as cheap here in the States as they are there. Oh well! It was fun while it lasted. I won't miss struggling to cross my legs in skinny jeans while eating on the floor but will miss the heated floors. :D

Thanks for reading!

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