CALIFORNIA 2018 // SAN DIEGO

SAN DIEGO 2018
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I had planned on writing something of decent length about our 4 day trip to San Diego, but after thinking long and hard about it, I decided to forego the effort. Now that we have a little one in our lives, time is really of the essence and I have to use my time wisely, if not more efficiently. I'm not sure how long I'll keep this up, this not writing thing. Probably for a few years. So I'll just let the photos do all the talking in the meantime. Don't worry, I'll still add the logistics and recommendations to all our travels!

This was actually our first out-of-town trip with our 3 month old infant. We got invited to a wedding in La Jolla and thought it would be the perfect opportunity to test out the waters with baby in tow. Due to several requests, I wrote about our 4 Day Infant Travel Experience here.

And of course, I would like to thank those who have sent recommendations my way. Especially from the locals! It's been over a decade since I've been in this wonderful city, so it's much appreciated that the Instaworld stepped up and delivered on what's hip and new these days. As that saying goes, "Ask and you shall receive!"

Special Thanks: Heather + Martin, Akula Kreative, Ashley Cho, Jacob Fu, Ahline, Rizmash.


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TIME: July 2015
TEMP: 75-85F
CITIES: San Diego, La Jolla, Coronado
DURATION: 4 Days
TRANSPORTATION: Rental Car
STAY: Residence Inn by Marriott

INSTA SPOTS in NORTHPARK: Holy Matcha, Communal Coffee, Pigment, San Diego Mural
INSTA SPOTS in LA JOLLA: Sunset Cliffs Natural Park, Scripps Pier, La Jolla Cove, Torrey Pines State Natural Reserve, Torrey Pines Gliderport, Salk Institute for Biological Studies, Ho Chi Minh Trail, Windandsea Beach
FOOD in LA JOLLA: Bobboi Gelato, Shorehouse Kitchen, El Pescador, The Cottage
FOOD in SAN DIEGO: Taco Stand, Kindred, Donna Jean
HAVE TIME? CHECK OUT CORONADO: Coronado Island, Hotel del Coronado
LOOKING FOR MORE INSTA PLACES TO CHECK OUT?: Old Town San Diego, Carlsbad Flower Field (Seasonal), Chicano Park, Potato Chip Rock, Old Point Loma Lighthouse, Botanical Garden and Lily Pond in Balboa Park, Museum of Contemporary Art

FIRST TIME INFANT TRAVEL TIPS

SAN DIEGO 2018
As first time parents and avid travelers, we've always wondered what it's like traveling with a 3 month old infant. Then the perfect mini vacay opportunity came our way in the form of a wedding invitation to San Diego. We couldn't resist saying "Heck YES!"

But wait - What to bring? What to expect? How to prepare?

These were the questions that I had asked fellow mamas in the Instaworld. Many thanks to these amazing mamas: Ahline, Emlyn, Yi Xuan, Carmelita, Janie, Elaine, Sandy, Jade, Meg, Jensine.

With these mamas' personal experiences, coupled with our own, our 4 day mini vacay to San Diego from Austin turned out better than expected! Traveling with an infant isn't all that bad. In fact, many have said that there's no better time to travel than RIGHT NOW! It's so much easier to carry an infant everywhere (Everyone says a walking baby is an added travel challenge, especially a 1 year old with a short attention span!), an infant tends to sleep more at this stage, plus, it's free to fly for kids under 2 years old. Sure, you won't be able to zip through things as fast and you'll be taking more breaks than ever before. But you'll find that it's a different, slower kind of enjoyment.

Here's how we did it!
SAN DIEGO 2018
// WHAT TO PACK + BRING //
- 1 Medium-sized Luggage
- Packing Cubes
- Car Seat
- Car Seat Travel Bag
- Stroller (Optional: Carry-On friendly, Stroller Cover Bag)
- Pump (Mostly for Pumping and Dumping)
- 1 Baby Bottle
- Baby's Clothes in 1 Large Ziplock Bag
- Mama + Papa's Clothes / Basic Toiletries
- 2 Muslin Blankets
- Baby Changing Pad (Also stores 2 Diapers, Wipes and Extra Onesie)
- Baby Wipes
- 20-30 Diapers (Depends on how often you change infant per day)
- 1 or 2 Baby Covers (To avoid blow outs)
- Baby Wrap
- 2 Carry-Ons for HER (1 Small Backpack + 1 Large Shoulder Bag)
- 1 Carry-On for HIM (1 Backpack)
- A copy of Baby's Birth Certificate (A hard copy or a cellie photo)
- OPTIONAL: Laptop and DSLR (For V's work + My Travel Photography)

We are minimalist packers and only pack what we need. Mix 'N Match clothing and basic toiletries all went into the luggage, with extra room to spare for other baby things like diapers and wipes. This is our first time packing EVERYONE'S clothes in the same luggage and it totally made our life easier, as we also had to carry the Car Seat and Stroller AND Baby. Both the Car Seat Travel Bag and Stroller have shoulder straps to make carrying easy. I had 2 Carry-Ons: A backpack to carry my DSLR and Changing Pad, as well as a big purse for travel necessities (cellphone, wallet, chapstick, muslin blanket, baby socks). Vince's Microsoft Surface Book and Baby Pump went into his own backpack.

SIDE NOTE: We also brought along a baby bottle filled with milk for a "Just In Case" moment to the airport/airplane, but honestly, we could do without it. We didn't use it and ended up dumping it once the milk reached the 6-7 hour Room Temperature mark. Though we did fill the bottle with milk throughout the trip, for times when Vince took over feeding while I needed to nap in our hotel room.

WHAT OTHER MAMAS SAY: Hold off on packing diapers and just buy them at final destination! Also, most major airlines don't check weight on Strollers or Car Seat Bags, so fill them up with other items to avoid a heavy luggage. Speaking of Car Seat Bags and Stroller Bags - some come with wheels for added convenience.
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// BEFORE AIRPORT //
Since our flight was at 8am, we had to get up extra early (~5am) to feed baby and beat morning traffic. I had the Baby Wrap tied over my comfortable travel clothes, ready to pop baby in and out at a moment's notice. Why the Baby Wrap? Out of all 4 Baby Carriers we had (Ergobaby Baby Wrap, Moby Ring Sling, Baby K'tan, Lillebaby Airflow Carrier), the Baby Wrap was the only one that me and Vince could both use. We both didn't like the Moby Ring Sling (I ultimately had to return it). The Baby K'tan only fits me as it is size specific (I got XS). And the Lillebaby Carrier is too bulky and inconvenient to store for travel. Once my friend came over to pick us up, all we had to do was load our bags in her car and strap in the Car Seat via seatbelt. Off to the Airport we go!

// AT AIRPORT //
We arrived at the airport with our Luggage, Car Seat, Stroller, My 2 Carry-Ons, Vince's Carry-On, AND Baby. We attached the Car Seat to the Stroller, plopped baby in it, and strolled over to the Southwest Check-In counter, where we checked in our luggage. We then headed over to Security with Car Seat, Stroller and Carry-Ons. TSA had me break down the Car Seat and Stroller combo for X-ray, so I had to take baby out and put baby in the Baby Wrap. While all our things slowly made their way down the X-ray conveyor belt, I had to go through the Metal Detector with baby and immediately had my hands swabbed for testing thereafter. TSA also took the bottle of milk and quickly tested it. And that was that. Easy Peasy.

We had about an hour til the flight, so we moseyed on over to the gate to wait. I went straight to breastfeeding. While I was feeding the baby, Vince wrapped up the Car Seat and Stroller in their respective travel bags. He then went to the gate counter to Gate Check the Car Seat. (You can also Gate Check the Stroller if your stroller is not Carry-On friendly.) When time came for Departure, we waited til Boarding Group A is all boarded before Family Boarding (That's us!) could get on. Before we actually entered the plane, we left our tagged Car Seat by the plane entrance. Gate Checking the Car Seat is recommended as the Car Seat will be handled with more care, therefore less likely to get damaged.

WHAT OTHER MAMAS SAY: Skip strolling baby - just Baby Wear throughout Airport and Security to have free hands. (Though some places will have you take off Baby Wear before going through Metal Detector.) Speaking of Strollers / Car Seats, they can be checked in for free with all major airlines. (But beware! They aren't often handled with care. Gate Check-In is a better option to ensure no damages.) As far as breast milk goes, make sure to print out the TSA info. Most airports will test your milk, but you have the right to refuse that process, and instead, a full body pat down will be conducted.
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// ON AIRPLANE //
Once we chose our seats on the plane, we put the Stroller in the overhead bin and our Carry-Ons underneath the seats. Surprisingly (and thankfully!) our baby had no issues during Take Off or Landing! None! Wide awake, no crying, oblivious to the loud plane noises. Didn't even have to pop the boob to alleviate pressure. In fact, the baby wanted to play the entire 3 hour flight! There were a couple of instances where he got fussy and I had to breastfeed, but essentially, baby had no idea he was on a plane!

SIDE NOTE: Apparently, you can Baby Wear up until you sit down in the plane. I seatbelted myself, while happily Baby Wearing, minding my own business when the Flight Attendant came over to tell me that I had to put baby on my lap during Take Off.

WHAT OTHER MAMAS SAY: Ask Flight Attendant if there's extra seating on plane for a Car Seat. (Most mothers I've asked have never used a Car Seat on the plane.) Have baby suck on boob/pacifier during ascent and/or descent to help alleviate ear pressure. Though it seems most babies just spend all their time sleeping on planes!

// GETTING AROUND TOWN //
The second we got off the plane, our Car Seat was conveniently waiting for us by the plane entrance. We proceeded to the gate area, unfolded the Stroller, quickly attached the Car Seat, plopped baby in and wheeled baby straight to our Rental Car. Hence the need for a Car Seat.

We opted to stay at Residence Inn by Marriott because we needed a fridge to keep the milk cold. (It was also one of the cheaper options close to the wedding venue.) The free continental breakfast and complimentary coffee added a nice touch to the stay!

In general, we often had slow starts in the morning, making sure that baby got fed decently before exploring around San Diego. Once on the road, it was pretty much a breeze getting from Point A to Point B. Most of the time we'd plopped baby in the Baby Wrap or simply just carried him while walking around. A few times we actually busted out the Stroller. Sometimes we took just the Car Seat (with sleeping baby in it) into a restaurant. If baby got hungry, I'd try to find a secluded place or simply head back to the car to breastfeed. But overall, our 3 month old infant spent most of the day napping, making it even easier to get around.

SIDE NOTE: We didn't know that we had to take a shuttle to the Car Rental area from the airport. On top of that, we didn't know that we couldn't just wheel baby right into the shuttle. The driver had us breakdown the Car Seat and Stroller combo, and thus, I had to Baby Wear. If we had known all that, I would have just Baby Wear the second I got off the plane.

WHAT OTHER MAMAS SAY: If you decide to not bring a Car Seat, most Car Rentals offer one. (Though bringing your own is the same cost as renting one. Bringing your own Car Seat also ensures that you don't have to count on Car Rental to have a nice one.) Some cities you don't need to rent a car if public transportation is easily accessible. If going by Taxi/Uber, most likely they are new enough to have locking seatbelts for Car Seat. Depending on country, some mothers just put baby in Baby Carrier for a quick cab ride. But please do research before opting to do this. Baby Wearing on public transportation seems to be the easiest and popular consensus. As far as sightseeing, it's easy as long as you know the baby's feeding schedule. Lastly, most hotels and Airbnbs offer a crib.

NEVADA 2017 // LAS VEGAS

NEVADA 2017 // LAS VEGAS
NEVADA 2017 // LAS VEGAS
NEVADA 2017 // LAS VEGAS
NEVADA 2017 // LAS VEGAS
NEVADA 2017 // LAS VEGAS
NEVADA 2017 // LAS VEGAS
NEVADA 2017 // LAS VEGAS
NEVADA 2017 // LAS VEGAS
NEVADA 2017 // LAS VEGAS
NEVADA 2017 // LAS VEGAS
NEVADA 2017 // LAS VEGAS
** UPDATE: THE INSTALLATION HAS BEEN EXTENDED TO THE LATER PART OF 2018. **

This wonderful art installation opened up in May 2016, during my year long world travels. It would be an agonizing year until I got back on American soil, then another 6 months to finally seize my opportunity to make it out West. The long wait was well worth it! These rainbow towers of giant rock are both a curiosity and conundrum. Def a jaw dropping sight to see in the middle of the desert!

We actually came on a Sunday afternoon, at the peak of the desert heat and unrelenting sun. Turns out it was also peak time for the tourist crowds. Turned off from the masses swarming all around the Seven Magic Mountains, me and the hubz decided to come back early Monday morning.

That did the trick!

Arriving bright and early the next day, it was just us two for the next 2 hours with barely anyone around. We even had time to bust out the drone, despite the windy conditions, but we made it work! Couldn't have asked for a better time in Vegas, even though that was all we were there for!

If you're planning on visiting the Seven Magic Mountains, you must hurry! It's only around for 2 years, with the 2 year mark quickly coming to an end. Perhaps sometime in early 2018? Yes, hurry!

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SEVEN MAGIC MOUNTAINS
by Ugo Rondinone
Expected exhibition closing: Early to Mid 2018



-jin-

CALIFORNIA 2017 // PALMDALE

CALIFORNIA 2017 // PALMDALE
CALIFORNIA 2017 // PALMDALE
CALIFORNIA 2017 // PALMDALE
CALIFORNIA 2017 // PALMDALE
CALIFORNIA 2017 // PALMDALE
CALIFORNIA 2017 // PALMDALE
CALIFORNIA 2017 // PALMDALE
CALIFORNIA 2017 // PALMDALE
CALIFORNIA 2017 // PALMDALE
CALIFORNIA 2017 // PALMDALE
CALIFORNIA 2017 // PALMDALE
CALIFORNIA 2017 // PALMDALE
Did you know that you can find fun and local activities through Airbnb? Thanks to Airbnb Experience, we had THE best time hiking with the wolves, while receiving the occasional wolf kiss, and learning about each pack member’s story. Such an eye-opening experience!

Up until that trip, I had no idea wolf dogs existed. Let alone illegal to breed and own in The States. Neither full wolf nor full dog, they are caught between 2 worlds where they don't belong. So this is where they go when rescued, to a cozy wolf sanctuary to live out the rest of their years. Some of the wolfies have a pretty sad story, so it's good to know that they are in a better place now.

By the way, the entire wolf pack really do howl in unison! (Just like in the cartoons!) When one starts, the rest follows ... and they don’t stop howling! Arooo!

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Check out the experience if you're ever Airbnbing in the Los Angeles area!

Walk With Wolves!
$150 / person
29063 Aliso Canyon Road, Palmdale, CA 93550

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** This Airbnb Experience was sponsored by Airbnb and Collectively.
Though all thoughts and opinions are my own. **



-jin-

SARANGHAE 5 STEP ANTI AGING SKIN CARE ROUTINE REVIEW

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As a self-employed Travel Photographer, I've spent a good chunk of 2016 and 2017 traveling abroad. 6 months in Middle East / Eastern Europe, 5 months in Asia. The travel schedule was grueling, yet exhilarating, and I loved every second of it! But because of the on-the-go lifestyle, taking care of my skin took a backseat. My 36 year old self with combination skin started to feel the effects of travel fatigue and aging.

When I got back to The States, I needed a refreshing skin care routine that will bring life back to my skin. Fast. So that's where Saranghae entered the picture.

Upon initial research, everything about Saranghae looked promising and legit. I was actually really surprised at the amount of helpful information (not mindless fluff) on the Saranghae website. Always a bonus when a company is uber transparent about the process and ingredients that are implemented and used. Detail goes into literally everything! It's like skin care demystified! I've learned so much on how to take better care of myself!

On a side note, and something that just dawned on me ... throughout high school, a good friend of mine would periodically visit family in Korea and come back to The States with tons of beauty products for me to try. At the time I didn't know why Korean products were all the rage, but now I know: Natural ingredients are primarily used in Korean makeup. NATURAL IS GOLDEN and the key to the anti-aging regimen.

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Final verdict after 2 months of using the products:
On-the-fence now turn firm believer. My skin is soft and balanced. Because of the fresh face feeling, the only makeup I wear on a daily basis is lipstick and mattifying face moisturizer. And if I do decide to put on foundation, I have a great base to start off with! It might be too soon to notice if Saranghae wards off wrinkles, but so far, I'm liking the results!

My only complaint:
I wish there's a light-weight SPF face moisturizer!

Would I recommend?:
A resounding YES!

Learn more about Saranghae here!

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Below I reviewed each individual product in the 5 step skin care routine.

// NOURISHING + MOISTURIZING CLEANSER //
This is probably one of a handful of face cleansers that I've tried in my life that doesn't leave your skin dry! I use it twice a day, once in the morning and once at night. Thanks to the oil-based cleanser, I get that utterly clean feeling and much needed hydration at the same time.

// DEEP RADIANCE ESSENCE + SERUM //
Immediate improvement was seen with my skin and I believe it's all because of this nifty essence and serum concoction. It's full of nutrients and benefits that gets really deep into the skin. For years, I thought slathering cream after washing my face was enough. But now I know that all that is ineffective, because the cream doesn't penetrate the outer skin layer! Serum is needed to really get in there and get the job done before applying any cream!

// FIRM AND LIFT CELLULAR REGENERATION CREAM //
This cream is kinda heavy so I use it before I go to bed, right after I wash my face and apply the serum. The following morning, I awake to a noticeably plump and glowing complexion. Def a great way to start off the day!

// FOCUS RENEWAL EYE CREAM //
Here's another product that I'm a huge fan of! The skin around our eyes are incredibly sensitive, so it totally makes sense to have something that caters for it's needs. My eye bags aren't as prominent after continued use, making me look more awake than I really am!

// ELEMENTAL ESSENCE MASK //
Whoa, this mask packs some serious punch to the beauty routine! Use only as needed. And I only needed it once these past 2 months. But wow, I'm still reaping the benefits after using the mask a few days ago! My skin is super velvety and hydrated and glowy!

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To learn more about Saranghae, visit www.lovesaranghae.com.

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** This is a sponsored post by Saranghae. Though all thoughts and opinions are my own. **

COLOMBIA 2017

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Third time in South America and it def didn't disappoint!

I've been wanting to go to Colombia, in like, forevers. But the timing never seem to be right. Until me and Vince got back from our 5 month stint in Asia and had time to really consider Colombia.

Should we go to Colombia in July? How's the weather? Isn't it winter there?? How badly do you want to go to Colombia?? Oh, it's a major Bucket List item - so pretty badly, eh? Looks like the plane tickets are cheaper to get there than Cuba ... should we just do it?

Such questions went through our heads. Ultimately, we went for it and wholeheartedly committed by buying plane tickets on the spot. A couple days later I got an offer for a sponsored 3-day influencer trip to Palm Springs. I LOVE PALM SPRINGS! I can't believe my luck! I also can't believe the ill-timing of it all! The Palm Springs trip coincided with the Colombia trip. Unable to cancel or postpone our Colombia tickets, I had to unwillingly turn down the offer. BUT the bummed out feeling only lasted 2 seconds, because - I'm finally going to Colombia!

HAPPY DANCE!

Unfortunately, we could only stay in Colombia for a week. Some unexpected major life expenses popped up. Bah. Adulting. Thus, our list of must visit Colombian places got narrowed down to 2 cities. =/ But I know I'll be back to this wonderful country! Would love to visit Medillin, Santa Marta, Minca, Guatape ... and, of course, Cano Cristales!


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// BOGOTA //
To be honest, we didn't expect Bogota to be such a joy to walk around! Not many travelers rave about Bogota and there didn't seem to be much to do in the city upon research. Who knew that one could spent hours exploring La Candelaria and Monserrate? The charming rustic street scenes of Candelaria are full of colorful buildings and intricate grafitti. The city views from Montserrate are gorgeous, with an equally gorgeous plot of land to wander about. Yes, Bogota, you were a pleasant surprise!
>> STAY : AirBnB, ~$20/night
>> RECOMMEND : La Candelaria, Monserrate, Walking Tour, Grafitti Walking Tour, Food Tour, Museo Botero, Museo del Oro
>> FOOD : Bandeja Paisa (originally from Medellin, but next best place to have it is Bogota), Ajiaco, Picada, Arepas, Sancocho, Chocolate Completo, Almojabana, Chucula, Obleas, Arequipe, Juan Valdez coffee


// CARTAGENA //
This colorful Caribbean coastal town is every bit the hype that every traveler claims it to be. Sure, it's crowded and touristy, but for good reason. The walled Old Town houses a network of tiny streets and alleys all lined with vividly colored colonial buildings; imbuing romantic vibes and inspiring one to explore every nook and cranny. And that's exactly what we did most of the time! With paleta in hand, we walked all over Old Town and San Diego, straight into Getsamani where it's famed for its street art. Everywhere we look - instant photo moment. Definitely a photographer's playground here!
>> STAY : AirBnB, ~$80/night
>> RECOMMEND : Walk all over Old Town aka Walled City, Watch the sunset at The Wall, San Diego, Getsemani for street art, La Popa for city views, Bocagrande
>> FOOD : Ceviche, Posta Negra Cartagenera, Colombian Pizza, Any Colombian soup, Arepas, Empanadas, Fresh Seafood, Mote de Queso, Mojarra (Pargo Frito), Patacones, Bollos, Pan de Bono, Paletas, Limonada de Coco, Fruits



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WHEN: July 2017
TEMP: 65F in Bogota, 90F in Cartagena
CITIES: Bogota, Cartagena
TRANSPORTATION: Taxi to/from Airport, other than that, we virtually walked everywhere.
STAY: AirBnB



-jin-

MEXICO 2017

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I would never have chosen to come to Mexico in May, knowing how hot it'll get. As a native Texan, I'd say Texas is pretty dang hot in May. I can only imagine how much hotter it is in Mexico! But my little sister. She decided to get married in Mexico. In May, of course. Well, since I'll be in the area, might as well come a week before the wedding to explore around the Yucatan! Bring on the loads of cenotes, ruins and beaches! Yes, it was super humid. Yes, I was super miserable. Yes, I still had a great time!

NOTE: Cochinita Pibil, Poc Chuc and Chaya are some of the trademark dishes and drinks of The Yucatan.

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// TULUM //
Where me and V started our Yucatan adventures. Far from uber touristy Cancun and Playa del Carmen. Though it seems Tulum is likely heading in that direction in the near future, seeing as things have cleaned up quite nicely in Tulum Centro. But one can still find a few hole-in-the-wall restaurants scattered about. It's these very places that we did not hesitate to venture into. After all, if loads of locals go here, it must be good and affordable! Other than the pleasant cheap foodie finds in Centro, it's a pretty chill life in Tulum. Tulum Ruins is only a 15 minute colectivo bus ride - followed by a 15 minute walk - from Centro. And nothing but beaches, beaches, beaches with endless resorts and hotel boutiques along the coast. By taxi alone, it takes over an hour to get from north to the southern part of the beach! All in all, it's a great beach getaway alternative from Cancun and Playa.
>> STAY : Secret Garden, Howlita
>> RECOMMEND : Beaches!, Tulum Ruins, Gran Cenote, Spend a day at Nomade.


// VALLADOLID //
This little town is a joy to walk around! With it's little pastel colored buildings and rustic Spanish colonial architecture. There are many cenotes to explore in the area, conveniently, there's one in Valladolid! Only a 10 minute walk from plaza mayor! Chichen Itza, of course, is the main Mayan ruin attraction in these parts, although Ek Balam is the less crowded (and better) option to check out. By night, we caught street performers doing a cultural dance (Jarana yucateca) in plaza mayor! Such a treat! Yes, Valladolid is a nice mix of authentic nuances and touristy vibes. We enjoyed it here!
>> STAY : El Meson del Marques (Highly recommend!)
>> RECOMMEND : Many beautiful cenotes in the area! (Def check out Cenote Zaci because it's actually in town), Chichen Itza, Ek Balam, Tienda Chocolate Shop for their cold chocolate drink, Cafe del Profesor Pitagoras for a quaint place to chill.


// LAS COLORADAS + RIO LAGARTOS //
The sole reason why we made a visit in Valladolid - the famed man-made Las Coloradas pink lakes are a mere 2 hours away! We contemplated about renting a car in Valladolid, but waited til the last minute to rent one and, instead, opted to hire a driver for the day. A much more expensive option, but hey, how often do you see pink lakes? Ever? After a quick stop at Ek Balam Ruins (30 minutes from Valladolid), we were well on our way to Las Coloradas. Happily speeding along with a broken speedometer towards pink lakes and pink flamingos. Now upon first sight, gosh, it's a stunner! To be greeted with epic salt mines and the whitest beaches, flanking these giant pink lakes ... it's mesmerizing, simply put. A pain to get to as they are in the middle of nowhere. But so worth it!
>> HIRED DRIVER FROM VALLADOLID : ~2,000 Pesos

// PLAYA DEL CARMEN //
Aside from quickly checking out the touristy markets of 5th Avenue, I've spent all of my time at the equally touristy The Royal Resort prepping and partying it up for sister's wedding. Life sure was good at The Royal! Who doesn't like all-inclusive luxury resorts? With a jacuzzi in the middle of your bedroom?? Bluntly put: No, I didn't do any exploring in Playa del Carmen!
>> STAY : The Royal Playa del Carmen

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When: May 2017
Temp: 85-95 F
Cities: Tulum, Valladolid, Las Coloradas, Rio Largartos, Playa del Carmen
Transportation: We flew in and out of Cancun. Rode buses (ADO) to and from each destination. Once at the desired destination, we try to save money and not take an overpriced taxi to our hotel, opting to walk the 10-15 minutes in the heat with our luggages instead.
Stay: Refer to individual cities above.



-jin-

AUSTRALIA 2017

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Coming to Australia after 5 months in Asia was an unexpected surprise. We really, really, really didn't see this coming. I'd thought we'd end our Asia travels somewhere in India or South Korea. Even Dubai was an option. But alas, after thoroughly checking our credit card points, the 'cheapest' route back to Houston just so happens to be through Sydney.

So Sydney it is.

We arrived at the airport and headed straight to the ticket counter to check in. Next thing we knew it, we got turned away! Well, dang. Flight leaves in 2 hours! Turns out us Americans need an Electronic Travel Authority (which basically works as an online visa) to get into Australia. Who knew? So we hurriedly applied on our phones, received an email confirmation 15 minutes later, and scurried back to the same check-in attendant to get our situation squared away.

Besides that minor snafu, our week in Sydney was a little on the underwhelming side. We wanted to go to other parts of Australia. Whitsundays, Brisbane, Melbourne!! But truth be told, we were mentally and physically drained. Back to back adventuring for months is almost like a job! So you can imagine the usual touristy bits around town were perfect for that much needed R&R. Nice and leisurely. Though, we really enjoyed the coastal nature scenes while hiking along Bondi Beach and Coogee Walk. Probably our favorite experience in Sydney!

Overall, there's really not much to do in Sydney. 3-4 days max is enough. A week -- you'll be bored and wishing to be elsewhere!

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When: April 2017
Temp: 75-80 F
City: Sydney
Stay: Bounce Hostel
Recommend: Sydney Opera House, Sydney Harbour Bridge, Walking tour, Bondi Beach, Bondi Icebergs, Coogee Walk, Manly Ferry, Newtown, The Rocks.



-jin-

MYANMAR 2017

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Another major bucket list item checked off! And not just any ol' bucket list item. Top 10! So you can imagine how excited I was when we finally made our way to Myanmar after 4 months of aimlessly wondering around Southeast Asia.

I made sure we set aside an entire month for this particular adventure!

Everything about Myanmar captivated me ever since the country officially opened it's doors to tourism back in 2012. The culture, the food, the off beaten traveler's path, the people's resiliency to the crazy military regime. The latter, of which the Myanmar people opposed quite candidly and openly everywhere we went. But they also happened to be the kindest and sweetest souls on this planet, and because of their generosity and kind-heartedness, coupled with some of the most wondrous sights I have ever seen on Earth - Myanmar is now one of my most favorite countries in the world.


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// YANGON //
Our first introduction into Myanmar! And it's exactly what I had expected it to be, the typical Southeast Asian city full of nitty gritty charm and chaotic street vibes. It's amazing how certain aspects of Yangon, and I suspect most of Myanmar, is still kind of backwards. Like the rundown public transportation. The buses and trains look decades old! Many of the taxi drivers didn't use GPS, relying only on instinct and help from the locals. But the city's ancient landmarks, incredibly large night market and pleasantly guided food tour immediatly takes you on an exotic sensory journey, conveniently overlooking some of the country's lack of funds and slow update into the modern world.
>> STAY : Shwe Yo Vintage Hostel
>> RECOMMEND : Shwedagon Pagoda, Sule Pagoda, Kandawgyi Lake, Governor's Residence, Yangon Circular Railroad Ride, Yangon Food Tours.
>> FOOD : Mohinga for breakfast, Laphet Thok, Nasi Briyani, Prata, Burmese Tea, Burmese desserts.


// INLE LAKE + NYAUNG SHWE //
I've never seen so many villages on one lake! Thus making it a very interesting place to explore. Make an early morning boatride to watch the sun slowly rise above the mountainous backdrop and see the famous Inle Lake fishermen pose for you, although there's a little caveat: these may not be the real Inle Lake fishermen, as tourism is more lucrative than their normal day jobs. Make a 2nd boatride to tour all over the lake. This can be done through a group boat tour or a private tour, which we ultimately chose because we wanted more time to explore on our own. These all day boat tours generally take you to the main attractions: Cat Village, Lotus Weaving Village, Floating Gardens, Long-necked Paduang women, etc. Now there are places on the lake to stay on, but we opted to stay at the nearby city of Nyaung Shwe solely because it's cheaper and there are more things to do during downtime. When we're not on the lake, we especially enjoyed biking to the winery, as well as around town. (I know, right? A winery in Myanmar of all places!)
>> STAY : Ostello Bello Nyaung Shwe Hostel
>> RECOMMEND : Sunrise Boat Ride, Inle Lake Boat Tour, Bike around Nyaung Shwe (if you choose to stay in that city), Red Mountain Estate Vineyards and Winery.
>> FOOD : Burmese pancakes, Shan noodles.


// BAGAN //
Ah! The creme de la creme of Myanmar! I've never seen anything like it. 2,000+ temples and pagodas, everywhere, dotting the vast countryside. To make things even more picturesque, a handful of hot air balloons journeys across the pagodas at sunrise. By sunset, it's an equally impressive sight to behold, as the setting sun gets curiously bigger before disappearing behind distant mountains. Me and the hubs stayed a week in Bagan, slowly savoring the magical Bagan vibes day by day. Each morning we'd wake up super early to watch the balloons. Yes, every morning. By mid morning, we were e-biking our way around, or so to say, temple hopping through the lands. Then comes evening time, out and about once again searching for a temple to watch sunset. Essentially, we had explored most of the temples near Nyaung U in an attempt to find an unknown temple that's not overrun by tourists during sunrise or sunset. Eventually we did find one and had gone to it every morning thereafter. But wow, this was my favorite part of Myanmar, and could easily spend another week e-biking around in search of more pagodas!
>> STAY : Zfreeti Hotel
>> RECOMMEND : Rent an e-bike to go temple hopping. Explore OLD BAGAN, NEW BAGAN, NYAUNG U. Go on a Hot Air Balloon ride. Taxi cab ride to Mount Popa. Avoid Shwesandaw Pagoda - full of tourists.


// MANDALAY + AMARAPURA //
By the time we made it to Mandalay, a whole month in Myanmar has gone by! We were utterly drained at this point! Needless to say we got really picky with the sightseeing. We rented bikes to get around town, although I'm still not sure if it was a good idea. Heavy street activity kind of made it difficult to navigate around. Though there is one sight that we had to see before leaving Myanmar and that's the U Bein Bridge! An hour long taxi drive will get you to the oldest and longest teakwood bridge in the world. A pleasant end to our Myanmar journey, I'd say!
>> STAY : Ostello Bello Mandalay Hostel
>> RECOMMEND : U Bein Bridge, Kuthadow Pagoda to read the world's largest book, Mandalay Hill, Mandalay Palace, Boat ride to Mrauk U if you have the time.
>> FOOD : Gold Leaf Rice, Mont Lin Ma Yar aka 'Husband and Wife snacks'.



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When: March 2017
Temp: 80-95 F
Cities: Yangon, Inle Lake, Nyaung Shwe, Bagan, Mandalay, Amarapura
Transportation: Getting around Myanmar is notoriously slow and cumbersome. Be prepared to suffer a little bit. Boat rides will take all day and lack any luxury. Train rides are equally lengthy, if not more dirtier, bumpier, and unreliable. Bus rides are incredibly rough rides, but definitely faster than the previous options.
Stay: Refer to individual cities above.



-jin-

Engagement // Jo + Chris

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Not only is this one of my fave engagement sessions ever, it's with one of my fave couples ever! Meet my little sister and brother in law, and I'm extremely lucky to have siblings that are silly and laidback and fun to hang out with. So you can imagine how the morning went. Hint: it involved a lot of laughing and joking. Love you, seester and bro!

Also, I want to quickly say just how much I'm in love with this venue. It's unique. It's inspiring. It's so unconventional. Another dream venue to check off my photography list!



-jin-

MY TOP 5 EUROPE SPOTS (WEST TO SOUTH)


The most asked question I get every time I come back home from Europe:

"What's your favorite European destination?"

This is no easy question to answer! For someone who has traveled extensively to Europe for the past 20 years - there's never just one favorite! And of course, the list of favorites continually changes every time I go back. I have many, many more faves! But I've listed the best of the best below from the Western to Southern regions of Europe. For now.

Special thanks to Go Euro for making it uber easy to plan a Eurotrip these days! Finding the best route or the cheapest mode of transportation has never been easier. Or more straightforward. Def a lifesaver!

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MY TOP 5 EURO SPOTS - ITALY

1. VENICE, ITALY
I've been completely and whole-heartedly blown away by everything in Venice. This centuries old city, majestically perched on water in all it's pastel glory, is quite the visual wonderment. Utterly romantic and insanely Old World Renaissance idyllic at every turn, you really can't take a bad photo here. And all that charm exists on 118 small islands connected by 400 bridges. 400! No cars. Just water ... everywhere! Hard to believe people actually live here!



MY TOP 5 EURO SPOTS - FRANCE

2. MONT ST. MICHEL, FRANCE
This abbey island commune, surrounded by high tide waters and, in turn, curiously surrounded by exposed sand at low tide, is probably one of the more magical places I have ever seen in Europe. Til this day I'm still not even sure if it's real. And I've stayed there for 4 days! But I assure you that everyday I was there, I awoke giddy and eager to see this dreamy motif off the coast of Normandy.



MY TOP 5 EURO SPOTS - HOLLAND

3. KINDERDIJK, NETHERLANDS
An hour drive south of Amsterdam will find yourself in the countryside with the most picturesque clad of iconic windmills. All 19 of them. As far as the eye could see. It's a massive place to explore and one can easily spend an entire morning windmill hopping. It's zen, peaceful, and remote. Perfect place to find that inner balance with a furry four-legged friend.



MY TOP 5 EURO SPOTS - CROATIA

4. DUBROVNIK, CROATIA
Don't get me wrong. I absolutely loved the photogenic waterfalls in Croatia! Some of the finest I've seen on my world travels. But there's something about touristy Old Town Dubrovnik that I find exotic. It's unlike any other European Old Town that I've been to. Pristine white marble streets, orange rooftops, Baroque facades. All surrounded by the stunning Adriatic Sea with amazing views inside, outside and above the city. Picturesque any way you look at it! I can see why 'Pearl of the Adriatic' is a deserving title for this gorgeous Balkan city!



MY TOP 5 EURO SPOTS - ITALY

5. CINQUE TERRE, ITALY
Colorful pastel buildings huddled together and artfully situated on rocky hillsides overlooking the Ligurian Sea. They definitely look exactly like they do in those postcards. Almost too pretty to be real. But it is very real. And there are five of these very real picturesque villages carved into the rugged landscape. Such a visual treat to hike to all five and take in the unique panoramic vista that town offers.



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** This is a sponsored post by Go Euro. **

THAILAND 2017

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Chiang Mai is everything that everyone says it would be. The total opposite of crazy Bangkok. Now there's not much to do in the actual city itself, other than temple hopping. (And coffee hopping!) Ultimately, Chiang Mai is often treated as a base point for day trips in North Thailand. Or a quick rest stop in between travels before embarking to one's intended destination. And we are no different from the masses. Like Luang Prabang, Chiang Mai was more of a transitional city for us as me made our way from Vietnam to Myanmar.

The one week we've spent in Chiang Mai was rather underwhelming, to be honest. Don't get me wrong. We much prefer this laidback city over chaotic Bangkok, but when it comes down to it:

Temple, Coffee Shop, eat, sleep. Repeat.

I don't want to under sell Chiang Mai. It's a great city to chillax and take it easy. It absolutely excels in that. There are tons of cheap foodie and coffee options to choose from. More so than Luang Prabang or Hoi An, in my opinion. By all means, please do visit this wonderful little city! It will not disappoint!

If you don't believe me, and all the other travelers who has passed through Chiang Mai, then take it from an expat. A travel buddy of mine, Henry Wu, who has lived in Chiang Mai for quite a bit and swears by the unpretentious charms of this place. Henry kindly provided an extensive list of must sees and must dos. Check the list out below!


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When: March 2017
Temp: 85-95 F
Cities: Chiang Mai
Stay: Hostel by Bed
Recommend: Any Coffee Shop (Ristr8to Lab, Taa Peng Cat, Fern Forest Cafe, My Secret Cafe in Town, etc.), Night Bazaar, Saturday and Sunday Walking Street Market, Nimmanhemin, Wat Chedi Luang, Wat Pan Tao, Wat Phra Singh, Wat Muen Ngen Kong, Wat Phra That Doi Suthep, Wat Phra That Doi Kham, Tiger Kingdom.

// Chiang Mai List per Henry Wu //
Places To Visit: Lake at Chiang Mai University, Nong Buak Haad Public Park
Things To Do: Get a massage at ITM Massage School, Have a walk around The Dhara Dhevi Chiang Mai hotel grounds
Coffee Shops: Birds Nest Cafe, The Barn Eatery and Design, Akha Ama Coffee, Marble Arch
Night Life: The North Gate Jazz Co-op, Zoe in Yellow
Venture outside Chiang Mai: Pai, Play with elephants at Chai Lai Orchid Eco Resort, Moncham, Motorbike around Mae Sa Valley



-jin-

LAOS 2017

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Truth be told, we didn't spend a lot of time outside Luang Prabang.

*quickly hides face with hands*
*tentatively peeks out between fingers*

Still with me? Okay, good.

A slew of reasons, really. Although the Kuang Si Falls was the only recreational activity that piqued my interest. Ultimately it was Vince's voice of reason that won: We just saw a bunch of waterfalls in Croatia! True. Scratch that. The rest of the choices were nixed for obvious reasons. The Elephant Village and Mahout Training. We probably had a better elephant experience in Sri Lanka. Although that Mahout training does sound mighty interesting. Riding elephants? No, thanks. Pak Ou Caves. A lazy boat ride down the Mekong River and stumbling upon a cave filled with thousands of Buddhas? Sure! But alas, further research proves that it has become a tourist trap.

Yes, our entire week was spent in the ancient city of Luang Prabang itself. Early mornings and late evenings were the times when we ventured out into the city. Temple hopping and sightseeing by day, sunset chasing and market haggling by night. During the hottest part of the day was when we dutifully worked away until the heat became bearable.

I really like it here in Luang Prabang. I would even go as far as to say that it has stolen Jin's Favorite Asian City title from Hoi An. Don't get me wrong! I still very much love Hoi An. It's one of the prettiest Asian cities I have ever laid my eyes on. But when it really comes down to it, Hoi An's mass tourism and elbow-to-elbow crowds is off-putting. What part of Old Town Hoi An is even authentic anymore? It's hard to tell.

Not to say that Luang Prabang isn't touristy. But it's nowhere as super crazy touristy as Hoi An. I love the fact that Luang Prabang's Night Food Market still has that nitty gritty adventurous spirit. The chaotic scene is a treat for the foodie senses. The Night Market (aka Hmong Night Market), on the other hand, is one of the cleanest in SE Asia. Shopping and haggling here is a joy! No pushy vendors and the tourist crowds is a right kind of crowded. And of course, you only have to venture outside the touristy area to find really affordable restaurants. (Go to Atsalin Restaurant for cheap eats!)

Though that Phousi Temple is a nightmare to be at during sunset. Stay clear of it! We thought we could find a good spot to catch that sunset glow. We were wrong. Not only did we exhaust ourselves from the 15-20 minute climb up, we also wasted money on the entrance fee. We found the hard way that the temple complex at the very top is uber small. And so crowded that we didn't even get to see the actual sunset! Save the effort and money. Go instead to the nearest boat port. Views are free! There, you have a clear view of the sun dipping below the mountains AND you get to watch the locals ride the water taxi to and fro.

Oh, Luang Prabang. There's something about this place. Touristy, yes. Super duper touristy? Getting there. But before it does, I'm glad we came. I know it'll only become even more crazier in the near future.

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When: Late Febrary / Early March 2017
Temp: 85-95 F
Cities: Luang Prabang
Stay: Nocknoy Lanexang

Food: Food stalls, Night Food Market, Atsalin Restaurant
Recommended in Luang Prabang: 5am Tak Bat (Morning Alms Ceremony), Temple Hopping (Wat Xieng Thong is a must), Bamboo Bridge, Walk along the Mekong River, Morning Market, Phousi Market, Night Market.
Recommended Day Trips: Elephant Village and Mahout Training (Or do research to find an elephant company that is right for you. Riding on top of elephants is a controversial topic among travelers.), Kuang Si Falls, Pak Ou Caves.



- jin -

VIETNAM 2017

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2009. Vince and I. We were ambitious then. And super curious, as it's been awhile since either of us has been in Asia. Yes, we were all bright-eyed and bushy-tailed and young! So it was quite easy to withstand the fast paced travel itinerary that we had set out for ourselves. Looking back on it now, it was one heck of a whirlwind Southeast Asia trip. 6 countries. 3 weeks. We squeezed in Vietnam for the sole purpose of seeing the famed beauty of Ha Long Bay. And wow. Just wow. Honestly one of my fave sights and scenes on that Asia trip. Not to mention the whole experience was a true backpacker's adventure! From the second we landed in Hanoi straight into Ha Long Bay. Everything along the way was infuriatingly laborsome, but delightfully different.

2017. We're back! This time we explored other parts of Vietnam. Started off in the South, made our way up North. Took our sweet, sweet time. 2 weeks in Vietnam suddenly turned into 4. Unexpected rain had slowed us down a bit, as well as travel fatigue. But not complaining, though! We did eat tons of good (cheap!) food in the meantime as we figured out alternative rainy day activities. In between the adventuring, we noticed a massive onset of trendy cafes. Something we didn't see much of in 2009. (A recurring theme all over Southeast Asia, it seems!) Things looked more touristy nowadays, but the essence of the Vietnamese spirit is still very much prevalent. After all, isn't that why so many of us travelers fall in love with Vietnam?

More of Jincent's 2017 Vietnam adventures down below!


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// HO CHI MINH CITY //
Coming to HCMC was purely out of curiosity. None of the travelers we've talked to placed this city high on their Vietnam Must-See list. Nobody raved about the Mekong Delta or the Cu Chi Tunnels. Yet, I had to see what's down in The South! A few days spent in HCMC proved all the naysayers right. It wasn't much different from the chaotic big city vibe that we had experienced in Hanoi back in 2009. If anything, it almost kind of felt like we were back in Hanoi! But the food - Ah, the foodie street scene! - was HCMC's saving grace. Forgoing the idea of hitting up the Mekong Delta and the Cu Chi Tunnels, we instead, opted to do a few sightseeing stops around the city before moving on. We had to prioritize and allocate more time elsewhere in the country. HCMC was not the place for us to do so, unfortunately.
>> STAY : Sigoong Hostel
>> RECOMMEND : Independence Palace/Reunification Palace, Saigon Notre-Dame Basilica, Saigon Central Post Office, Ben Thanh Market

// HOI AN //
Now this is a city that every traveler raved about on our Asia journeys. The more we explored Old Town, the more prettier and quaint the city got. It really felt like we were in a fairytale village scene! But at night is where all the magic happens. The river fills with boat rides and floating candle-lit paper flowers, the streets aglow with numerous colorful silk lanterns, the tourist crowds swell to insane numbers, engagement photoshoots are everywhere. The Most Romantic City in Asia has certainly earned the title hands down. No doubt, Hoi An is a very touristy place, but with sights and scenes unlike any other Asian city - I can see why everyone LOVES it here! When we're not busy haggling street vendor finds and getting suits/dresses done for a cheapish price (Honestly, I thought it would be cheaper!), we were working away in the MANY various coffee shops around town. Motorbiking to Hue, bicycling through the countryside, checking out the beach - we did not. I know, I know. Sad. It rained half the time we were in Hoi An. And we were there for nearly 2 weeks! But we did enjoy a cooking class (despite getting rained on), spent a nice Valentine's Day here, and even starred in a friend's Youtube video of local cuisine finds.
>> STAY : Ngo Homestay
>> RECOMMEND : Cooking classes (See your Hotel/Hostel for recs), Haggle with the Street Vendors, Get a suit/dress tailored, Take a 20-30 minute boat ride (Tip: Haggle the price to ~50,000 DONG per person), Bike ride to the beach and nearby countryside.
>> MUST TRY LOCAL CUISINE : Cao Lau, Mi Quang, Com Ga, Banh Vac, Banh Dap, Banh Beo, Ban Xeo, Xi Ma. Check out the Anthony Bourdain-approved Banh Mi restuarant (Banh Mi Phuong).

>> HOI AN YOUTUBE VIDEO #1 by CupofTj
>> HOI AN YOUTUBE VIDEO #2 by CupofTj

// HANOI //
Coming back to Hanoi after all these years felt a bit deja vu-ish. In 2009, we stayed in Old Quarter - which oddly enough, for a touristy place - felt like we were the only foreigners walking the streets! "Where did all the tourists go?" question stayed with us well into the Ha Long Bay harbor, where we've spent an adsurb amount of time scrambling up and down the port in search of our junk boat. That was then. Fast forward to 2017, we opted to stay in a different part of Hanoi. Aptly called Food Street. It's lively. But nothing compared to the craziness of Old Quarter night life, which surprisingly, is the total opposite of how we've remembered it to be! Full of tourists AND young locals - loud, chaotic, crowded. Hanoi is fast-paced and bustling, but a great city as a base for Ha Long Bay.
>> STAY : Soft Pillow Hostel
>> RECOMMEND : Food Street, Old Quarter, One Pillar Pagoda, The Huc Bridge, Hoan Kiem Lake

// HA LONG BAY and BAI TU LONG BAY //
Ha Long Bay port itself was another surprise for us, as it is now a well-oiled operation. Gone are the days of laidback communication with the actual tour guide and getting picked up in a rundown truck and finding our own way to the junk boat like chickens with their heads cut off. Now, all the cruise companies pick you up in fancy vans and personally walk you to your junk destination. This time around, we opted for a full tour of the quieter Bai Tu Long Bay, steering clear of the now super touristy Ha Long Bay. We loved everything about our small and intimate Bai Tu Long Bay 3D/2N package. It was quite similar to our Ha Long Bay cruise in 2009 in terms of number of people, boat size, nature visuals, itinerary, and activities. The only major difference is that all the boats are WHITE now! (They all used to be RED and looked absolutely stunning against the turqouise waters!) Also, there's now a very high standard of organization and etiquette. If we had to choose which cruise experience was our favorite - we slightly preferred Ha Long Bay 2009. We missed the laidback backpacker adventure style! But overall, both experiences, 2009 and 2017, were quite enjoyable. Visually and mentally.
>> BAI TU LONG BAY JUNK CRUISE : 3D/2N package through Indochina Junk


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When: February 2017
Temp: 80-89F in the South, 60-80F in the North
Cities: Ho Chi Minh City, Hoi An, Hanoi, Ha Long Bay / Bai Tu Long Bay
Stay: Refer to individual cities above.



-jin-

COLLABORATION // EASTPAK x PAUL&JOE

COLLABORATION with EASTPAK + PAUL&JOE

Eastpak and French fashion powerhouse, PAUL & JOE, recently unveiled a collection of unique luggage designs that captures the carefree essence of travel.

This is where I come in.

My 2nd collaboration with Eastpak and it's by far my favorite one. This time around I get to combine my 2 passions in life: Travel and Photography. AND to make this an even more of a dream collab for this wanderluster, I've always been a fan of Eastpak! Since high school!

Check out Eastpak's Instagram and Facebook to see my travel story of The Philippines' Kayangan Lake in Palawan. As well as my product photos on the newly launched #EastpakxPaulandJoe luggage collection.

Rest of the awesome collection can be seen here: http://www.eastpak.com/eu-en/paulandjoe/

#collaboration #sponsored


-jin-

HONG KONG 2017

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The last time I was in HK, it was a British Colony and home to one of the (then) most dangerous airport landing strips in the world. I have fond childhood memories of flying into this crazy ass airport on numerous occasions to visit family in Kowloon. Such a euphoric feeling to be thisclose to skyscrapers in the air! As if you could reach out the airplane window and touch one!

That was 25 years ago.

The old Kai Tak Airport was one of my favorite reasons to come to HK back then. If not the only really vivid memory I have of Hong Kong. Everything else is a bit fuzzy and hard to recall, unfortunately.

Fast forward to 2017. The husband expressed high interest in checking out HK. Me, not so much. I mean, if the old airport isn't there anymore - what's the point?? =P But alas, HK is kinda en route to Vietnam from The Philippines. Chinese New Year was fast approaching. We put the two together. Besides, it would be interesting to experience such a holiday, well, in China, for once!

Speaking of Chinese New Year, the city did go dead and quiet like we were told it would. Most locals go on vacation for CNY. The only souls left in the city were foreigners. Like, us. As awesome as that sounds, having the whole city to ourselves, we found out the hard way that almost everything is closed! So not much happened for us on the first official day of CNY, aside from the big parade at night.

The days before and after CNY were filled with insane foodie hunts. As well as hunting down many noteworthy Instagram hot spots. Yes! You've read that right! In fact, most of our sightseeing itinerary was just that - popular Instagram locations.

Digressing a little here, I have to storytell about one of the aformentioned Insta-spots: Sai Wan Swimming Shed. In my opinion, it's the most understated of all the HK Insta-places. Can't get more unassuming than a simple wooden pier jutting out into the waters. The picture of serenity. Quite a number of ships can be seen in the distance. At first, I didn't get the hype. Why were so many photographers going nuts over this place? It's so ordinary. But then a massive wave came and crashed violently around the pier. OH. Ordinary just turned poetic.

ANYWAYS, the hubs and I woke up quite early to make the journey out to this particular pier. Just when we thought we were the first ones there, the faint sounds of drones could be heard in the area. 2 drones. We quickly ran down the steps to the pier and found 2 guys (one dressed in outdoorsy gear, the other in a business suit) already enjoying the sights and scenes of the waterfront. Via their drones. Lucky ducks! No time to be sheepish, I threw on my flowy skirt and ran out on the pier to do what any Travel Instagrammer would do. Full on UNABASHED MODE for the cam. Twirling around and around, running back and forth, standing still like a statue for a hot second. ALL FOR THE 'GRAM! Just when I thought I had overstayed my welcome on the pier, 2 drones buzzed overhead, flanked both sides of me and nonchalantly filmed away as I twirled and hopped and skipped along. The drones followed my every move! I couldn't help but laughed into the drones' faces - this has never happened to me in the past 10 months of our world travels! Eventually, I switched places with the hubs, becoming the person behind the camera. At that point, the 2 guys walked past me with drone cases in hand, "You are very beautiful! Your dress is very beautiful! Thank you!"

Well, glad to add interesting footage to what they had initially thought, I'm sure, would be a normal drone flyover!

All in all, our quick week in HK was a nice leisurely pit stop in between Philippines and Vietnam. A week was all we could afford, as HK is not a cheap place to hang out. This doesn't mean it's the last we will see of Hong Kong. Oh no! We'll def be back for the food, the (other) Instagram worthy spots, the colorful architecture at every turn, and most definitely, the stunning harbour urban views!


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When: January 2017
Temp: 65-70F
Stay: Inn Spirit
Recommend (aka Instagram Worthy Places): Sai Wan Swimming Shed, Victoria Peak, Mong Kok Flower Market, Victoria Harbour, Nathan Road neon signs, Choi Hung Estate, Yick Cheong Building, Montane Mansion, Innovation Tower, Temple Street, Lai Tak Tsuen, China Hong Kong City buildings, Ping Shek Estate, Tsim Sha Tsui Promenade, Instagram Pier, 1881 Heritage, Garden Hill.



-jin-

Business // Cup of TJ

Business // Cup of TJ
Business // Cup of TJ
Business // Cup of TJ
Business // Cup of TJ
I've known TJ for quite sometime as a fellow Travel Instagrammer, but we haven't actually met until our paths crossed in Vietnam. Who woulda thunk we'd spent 4 blissful days hanging out in Hoi An, laughing it up and hunting down foodie stuff? TJ needed some social media photos for her YouTube empire, thus culminated a collaboration. I do her headshots and she'll cast me and the hubs in one of her videos. It's a win-win situation!

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CUP OF TJ
Solo Female Travel Vlogger and Overall Badass




-jin-

PHILIPPINES 2017

PHILIPPINES 2017
PHILIPPINES 2017
PHILIPPINES 2017
PHILIPPINES 2017
PHILIPPINES 2017
PHILIPPINES 2017
PHILIPPINES 2017
PHILIPPINES 2017
PHILIPPINES 2017
PHILIPPINES 2017
PHILIPPINES 2017
PHILIPPINES 2017
PHILIPPINES 2017
PHILIPPINES 2017
PHILIPPINES 2017
PHILIPPINES 2017
PHILIPPINES 2017
PHILIPPINES 2017
PHILIPPINES 2017
PHILIPPINES 2017
PHILIPPINES 2017
PHILIPPINES 2017
PHILIPPINES 2017
PHILIPPINES 2017
PHILIPPINES 2017
PHILIPPINES 2017
PHILIPPINES 2017
PHILIPPINES 2017
PHILIPPINES 2017
PHILIPPINES 2017
PHILIPPINES 2017
PHILIPPINES 2017
PHILIPPINES 2017
PHILIPPINES 2017
PHILIPPINES 2017
PHILIPPINES 2017
As many times as I've been to the motherland (8? 9 times? I've lost count!) - this is really my first time coming as a tourist.

Growing up, my family visited Philippines quite often. Every few years or so. I would spend my entire summer vacations here. Can't say I was terribly too thrilled in visiting, due to the fact that it was always summer when we came. Insane humidity. Tons of mosquitoes. Baking in the sun - bleh. Why would I want to come to a place that's not much different from Houston? Though, all my complaints are superficial. I really do have many, many fond memories of The Philippines that easily overshadows the cons. The cultural traditions and family social interactions and street scene vibes. The village life, the food, the cousins - I loved it all!

This time around in The Philippines, it was all about that hostel life in Makati. To be fair, we did spend the beginning of our trip with V's family for Christmas and New Year's in the outskirts of Manila. That, in itself, was a whole 'nother new experience in the motherland. Considering most of my previous visits to The Philippines were just for my family!

But, yes, the majority of our one month stay mostly involved life in and around Junction Hostel. In 2 weeks time, we soon became very familiar with our little bubble of Metro Manila. When we're not out and about scavenging for food or hitting up one of Makati's many malls, we were spending an obscene amount of time at the hostel's lounge area. Trying to catch up on work and talking endlessly with the many fellow travelers passing through. The conversations with these travelers were, at the very least, highly interesting. Hearing their version of The Philippines. Totally opposite from The Philippines that I'm familiar with!

Anyways, if you're wondering why we'd stayed in Makati for so long ... rain. Unseasonable monsoons everywhere we wanted to go: Kawasan Falls, Caramoan, El Nido, Banaue Rice Terraces. Everywhere, rain! But we did eventually find a place with less chances of showers. Coron. 30% with mostly clouds. I can live with that! So we caught a flight from Manila and found ourselves in Coron an hour later.

Coron got moved up high on our list after extensive research. Less tourist crowds, not overdeveloped with luxury hotels (yet), still has a small village vibe. After hearing how overcrowded El Nido and Borocay are from other travelers - something off the beaten path sounded very attractive. And Coron did not disappoint. The visit felt more like a leisure adventure, with the streets full of tricycles and cute stray dogs and typical street vendor bustle. It felt very familiar, like being back at my parent's villages in Cebu. The fact that the dock itself (and certain parts of town leading to other popular sights) is still covered in dirt, and not pavemented, shows just how off the beaten path Coron is. (For now.)

We opted to do a boat tour for our island hopping between Bulog Dos, Banana Island, and Malcapuya Island. Nothing too terribly out of the ordinary except the good beach life - snorkeling, swimming, napping - with insanely clear water and white sands. It's nice being one of the firsts to arrive at these islands (even if it's just for a little bit!) before all the other tourists get in the way.

A side story on Malcapuya Island, while V was snorkeling, I was snapping photos of these baby chickens trying to eat a bunch of coconuts next to a hut - the guy in that particular hut popped his head out and said, "Only in The Philippines, huh?" And thus, started small talk between me and him. He also used to live in Houston, but wait!, in League City of all places - where I'm from! Then he mentioned an unusual name, and I'm like, hold up I actually do know someone with that name. It's his half sister. No way! I grew up with her! More excited talk followed. SMALL WORLD. Anyways, nice guy. He hooked us up with his private tour guide so we could do more island hopping to other notable places, like Kayangan Lake and Twin Lagoon. Awesome.

We didn't expect to stay in The Philippines this long. 2 weeks stretched into a month. And I really was looking forward to visting more places on my Bucket List! Stupid, stupid rain. Although things didn't work out, Coron ended up quite an enjoyable experience. Highly recommend to visit now before it gets super touristy!


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When: Late December to Late January
Temp: Mid-High 80s
Cities: San Pedro, Makati, Coron

MAKATI Stay: Junction Hostel
MAKATI Shopping: Greenbelt Mall, Power Plant Mall, Century City Mall
MAKATI Food: Nightly Filipino street food market next to A.venue Mall. Gourmet food court called Hole In The Wall (located on top floor of Century City Mall). Many food options at Greenbelt Mall.

CORON Stay: Haven 1916
CORON Sights: Mount Tapyas, Maquinit Hot Springs, Kayangan Lake, Twin Lagoon, Bulog Dos, Banana Island, Malcapuya Island. ** For island hopping, consult hotel/hostel for boat tours. If you prefer private tours, the hotel/hostel will help.**



-jin-

TAIWAN 2016

TAIWAN 2016
TAIWAN 2016
TAIWAN 2016
TAIWAN 2016
TAIWAN 2016
TAIWAN 2016
TAIWAN 2016
TAIWAN 2016
TAIWAN 2016
TAIWAN 2016
TAIWAN 2016
TAIWAN 2016
TAIWAN 2016
TAIWAN 2016
TAIWAN 2016
TAIWAN 2016
TAIWAN 2016
TAIWAN 2016
TAIWAN 2016
TAIWAN 2016
TAIWAN 2016
TAIWAN 2016
TAIWAN 2016
TAIWAN 2016
It's true what they say about Taipei. You'd be doing A LOT of eating. 90% of the time - that's exactly what we've done. Eating to our heart's content as the food here is insanely cheap! We had this food routine thing down everyday for a week, grabbing our daily boba drinks and visiting one of the many street night markets. Even when visiting family - we've spent most of our time food hunting for local delicacies!

When we're not eating, we're busy meeting up fellow Travel Instagrammers. Now turn real life friends. =) Yas! And both meet ups turned out to be all kinds of fun! So how was it? Meeting strangers from the internet?? Honestly, not much different from meeting and hanging out with people at hostels. The only difference is that we know all these things about that certain person before even meeting in person. The pros of the Travel Instagram community. Is that. A community. It's very easy to keep in touch with like-minded travelers for an extended period of time - without even meeting in real life!

But seriously, fellow travelers are one of the most carefree and open-minded people I know! So I knew we'd had plenty to talk about on these insta-meets, exchanging travel stories and photography pro tips. And it seems I always get into random fun and laughs with fellow wanderlusters! Without fail! It's like adventure naturally follows us everywhere. Must be in the stars!

So these insta-meets. Who'd we meet? What we do?

We met Wendy (@nomadicfare) over typical Taiwanese soybean breakfast. Weirdly enough, it felt as if we've been friends for years as we chatted the morning away! Then things got crazy good at Banqiao Stadium where we had a mini photoshoot sesh. Lots of laughs. Lots of dancing. Lots of weird looks. Ya know. All for the 'Gram! Afterwards, we had a ridonkulous Dim Sum dinner spread with Wendy's relatives (Yup. More food!) and that in itself was a whole 'nother level of fun! (And funny!)

Unlike the meetup with Wendy, meeting with Karen (@kckicksit) was an uber last minute thing. But the best last minute thing ever! I haven't known Karen as long as Wendy, in terms of IG years, but again - it felt like we've known each other for a long time! Had the pleasure of chatting with Karen over late night shaved ice. Chatted so much that we missed last call for the metro! Thus began a very LONG night of adventures by foot through Taipei ... and eventually ended up at one of the best beef noodle soup restaurants in town at 3am!

Gah, the Travel Instagram community never ceases to amaze me. Y'all are beyond awesome! But ok, back to TAIPEI itself. There's really not much to do in this city! Aside from all the eating, me and Vince did everything related to Taipei 101. We went inside it. We viewed it from a few nearby streets. We hiked up Elephant Mountain to get a panoramic view of the city, with Taipei 101 commanding the sprawling cityscape scene. I wish we had more time than a week here! We would love to rent a car and explore other parts of Taiwan!


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When: December 2016
Temp: 75-80F
City: Taipei
Stay: Houze Hostel, Eight Elephants & Dreaming Dragon Hostel.

Recommend for Sightseeing: Taipei 101, Elephant Mountain, Rainbow Bridge, Banqiao Stadium, Four Four South Village.
Recommend for Food: Shilin Night Market, Raohe Night Market, Ice Monster, Modern Toilet Restaurant, Lin Dong Fang.
Recommend for Must-Try Taiwanese food: Stinky Tofu, Lu Rou Fan (Pork Rice), Beef Noodle Soup, Oyster Omelette, Gua Bao (Pork Belly Bun), Flaky Scallion Pancake, Ribs Stew in Medicinal Herbs, Fried Chicken, Shaved Ice, Pineapple Cake, Boba Drinks.



-jin-