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-

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!


--


// 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-

PHILIPPINES 2017

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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

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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-

JAPAN 2016

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Hang on to your hats, ya'll. This is gonna be a long one! As if the loads of Japan photos didn't already tip you off! (And that's whittled down from 2,000+ images!)

One blissful month in Japan. Per Vince's wishes. He's never been to Japan, and being the Anime/Manga fan that he is, as well as all things Japanese, he made it clear that we have to - have to - extensively travel through Japan.

Fine by me! I felt that my last visit to Japan was way too brief. I've only spent 5 short days in Tokyo back in 2009 and even then, that was still not enough to do anything and everything in such a massive city! So I was eager to revisit Tokyo and get to know her better. As well as explore other parts of lovely Japan that I've been dreaming of seeing with my own eyes.

But yah, a whole month in Japan! Yet still not enough time to get around! Next time I'm staying here for a year, lol!


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// TOKYO //
When people ask me if a few days is enough in Tokyo ... NO! Aim for at least 5 if it's your first time in the city. A week would be better. Tokyo is a HUGE city with TONS of things to do and eat. We stayed 2 weeks and took our sweet time. But all that time was only devoted to a small fraction of Tokyo. Mainly Shinjuku, Shibuya, Harajuku, Asakusa, Akihabara, Ebisu, Roppongi and Ginza. By all means, do all the touristy stuff! Get it out of your system. And fill the in between times with unusual Japanese experiences, like themed cafes and restaurants. Or take day trips to nearby cities: Miyagi, Kamakura, Odawara, Takasaki, etc. Although the only day trip we had time for was Miyagi to see Fox Village. We also had the pleasure of hanging out with some friends while in Tokyo, both locals and expats, which added an appreciative depth to our trip. Always eye-opening to get the insider's scoop of Japanese culture! All in all, Tokyo is not just another big city. It's a metropolis filled with hidden gems.

>> SHINJUKU : Walk around KABUKICHO. (Pseudo Red light district with a bumpin' night life). While there, see a show at ROBOT RESTAURANT (Pricey show. Weird stuff! Ditch the mediocre food and stick with your free drink ticket!) and grab some craft cocktails at world reknown BEN FIDDICH. Check out the free panoramic views of Tokyo at night from the TOKYO METROPOLITAN GOVERNMENT BUILDING. (The actual buildings closes early, but the towers should still be open til ~11:30pm. Find stairs off to the side of the buildings to access the observatory elevators. The stairs heads down below the street level. Do either tower. Or do both!)

>> SHIBUYA : HACHIKO! And while your visiting the dog statue, walk the famous SHIBUYA STREET CROSSING at least a few times. Head over to Starbucks' 2nd floor to get an 'aerial' view of the street crossing. Explore the streets of Shibuya - especially down DOGENZAKA! There is no shortage of good eats and urban eye candy here! On a side note: we stumbled upon one of the ALICE IN WONDERLAND themed restaurants here. (If you visit, ditch the over-priced food and just get a drink or two!)

>> HARAJUKU : Explore TAKESHITA DORI for all things kawaii. Grab a 3D cafe latte art at REISSUE. (It's a little hidden. Not located on the main street and you have to go up a set of stairs to the 2nd floor.)

>> ASAKUSA : Walk down NAKAMISE DORI for souvenirs and street food. It leads to the SENSOJI TEMPLE. While in the area - explore the many nearby streets! The nooks and crannies are full of little shops and quaint eateries!

>> AKIHABARA : Get your inner gaming geek on and head straight to SUPER POTATO! It has 3 floors of all nostalgic video games from the 80s and 90s. Super Potato is conveniently located in the main part of ELECTRIC CITY, so you can easily explore the area before/after Super Potato. The OWL CAFE is a 10-15 minutes walk from this area.

>> ROPPONGI : Stunning panoramic city views from TOKYO CITY VIEW SKY DECK in ROPPONGI HILLS. Admission is 1800 yen.

>> GINZA : This is a nice part of Tokyo! Full of high-end stores and stunning artsy architectural buildings so keep LOOKING UP. You might miss something photo-worthy! Grab a night cap at world reknown cocktail bars BAR HIGH FIVE and STAR BAR. But really, the main reason why we stayed in Ginza is because of the TSUKIJI FISH MARKET. (But it will change locations in the near future and no longer be in Ginza!) Come super early (3-4am) and prepare to stand for hours if you want to grab uber fresh sushi at DAIWA SUSHI or SUSHI DAI. The line can be utterly long and they do cut off the line after a certain time.



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// MIYAGI //
Loves me some cute chubby foxes! And there are hundreds of them at the Miyagi Fox Village! This was a quick day trip from Tokyo. Used our JR Pass, rode the bullet train straight to Miyagi (~1 hour), and grabbed a taxi directly to Fox Village (~40 minutes and ~$40 ride EACH way). Literally spent the entire day stalking the little guys until the closing time of 4pm. Damn, they're so photogenic! As nocturnal creatures, they are quite sleepy by day and thus look very dopey. Except if you have food, then all hell breaks loose! The chaos that ensues looks a bit comical. Even when they're fighting and screaming at each other, they still look utterly cute. On a side note, foxes do bite and are quite skittish so only feed and pet them at designated spots. Other than that caveat, we walked freely amongst the foxes. Def one of my favorite experiences in Japan!
>> FROM TOKYO TO MIYAGI : Bullet train via JR Pass. ~1 hour trip.
>> RECOMMEND : MIYAGI ZAO FOX VILLAGE. Admission fee of 1,000 yen.

// HAKONE //
Some people come here for day trips from Tokyo. Not us! We stayed a few days mainly for convenience sake. We wanted to do it all! On Day 1 we toured the Hakone countryside by Hakone Ropeway Tour. It was an exhausting all day tour only because of the insane weekend crowds that we had to fight through. Other than that minor detail, we saw spectacular country views covered in snow. (It had snowed on Thanksgiving Day.) Highlight views include Mt. Fuji, pockets of rising volcano smoke, and the famous floating Hakone torii gate. Try the famous Hakone Black Egg, steamed to perfection by the volcano heat. Day 2 had us acting all kinds of silly at the Yunessun Onsen Spa. We've spent the whole day hopping from the wine onsen to the coffee onsen to the sake onsen to the green tea onsen. Yes! Actual beverages! Insanely fun stuff! I'd do it again if I ever come back to Hakone! On Day 3 we relaxed in a traditional, slightly romantic, private onsen. Traditional as in go all out naked. A little pricey, but something to experience at least once in Hakone. Was it worth it? Yes. Yes it was.
>> FROM TOKYO TO HAKONE : Take 'Romancecar' using the JR Pass. 2 hour trip.
>> STAY : K's House Hakone.
>> RECOMMEND : Hakone Ropeway Tour, Hakone Shrine, Hakone Kowakien Yunessun, Hakone Yuryo.


// HIROSHIMA //
2 words: Miyajima and Bunnies. Hiroshima is a good base for those 2 reasons. Although there's not much to do in the city itself, all the touristy sites (Hiroshima Castle, A-Bomb Dome, Peace Memorial Museum, etc.) in Hiroshima can be accessed by the Hiroshima Sightseeing Loop Bus within an entire day. Maybe a day and a half. Probably a good thing to do as a 'break' when traveling to and fro Miyajima Island or Rabbit Island. Speaking of Miyajima Island, set aside an entire day for this trip! There's so much to see here! From the inquisitive deer to THE famous floating torii gate in all of Japan to the massive Daisho-in temple complex. If you're lucky enough to catch low tide, you can even walk out to the torii gate! It's utterly touristy here, but worth checking out the hype. In contrast, it's a totally sleepy vibe on Rabbit Island, but your entire day will whiz by in a jiffy because you'll be spending hours upon hours feeding the bunnies. (And you'll be wishing you had more food, so buy an extra bag of rabbit food at the ticket counter! They're super cheap anyways!)
>> FROM TOKYO TO HIROSHIMA : Bullet train via JR Pass. ~4 hour trip.
>> STAY : AirBnb
>> RECOMMEND : Miyajima Island, Rabbit Island in Okunoshima, Hiroshima Sightseeing Loop Bus, Hiroshima Castle, The A-Bomb Dome, Hiroshima Peace Memorial Museum.


// KYOTO //
By the time we made it to Kyoto, towards the end of our trip, we were utterly templed out. And just plain tired. Yet we reserved a ridiculous amount of energy solely for the impressionable Fushimi Inari torii gates. Like, waking up early two mornings in a row to beat the crowds and get that epic torii gate shot. And scaling this massive place is no easy task, either! When you think you're at the top ... you're not. You're only half way. But you do get a good morning workout out of it all. We also set aside some energy for day trips to Naga (for the deer!) and to the Arashiyama Bamboo Grove, as well as explore nearby notable temples. Other than that, we didn't really do much in actual Kyoto. Just took nightly strolls down Shijo Dori in search of local Kyoto cuisine, taste all of the Matcha Green Tea delicacies, and watch the many random street performances.
>> FROM HIROSHIMA TO KYOTO : JR Pass. 1 hour.
>> STAY : AirBnb and K's House Kyoto Hostel
>> RECOMMEND : Fushimi Inari Taisha, Gion (for geisha sighting), Shijo Dori, Nishiki Market, Shinkyogoku Shopping Arcade, Higashiyama District, Pontocho, Naga, Arashiyama Bamboo Grove, Kinkaku-ji Temple.



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When: Mid November to Mid December 2016
Temp: 40-60F
Places: Tokyo, Miyagi, Hakone, Hiroshima, Miyajima Island, Okunoshima, Kyoto, Naga, Arashiyama.
Stay: Mostly AirBnbs. But recommend hostels if you can find one that is not full. K's House hostels are all over Japan. Try a capsule hotel if you really want to splurge!
Transportation: Metro and walking is the best method to get around a city. Highly recommend a JR PASS to travel throughout Japan. Buy it BEFORE you get to Japan, as you won't be able to get it once you're in the country. It's pricey, but uber convenient.

Things to keep in mind when in Japan:
- No tipping!
- Accept/Give money or things with both hands.
- Learn some very basic Japanese words.
- Most places only accept cash!
- Japan is not a cheap country. If you're on a budget, try 7-11 or other convenient stores for cheap, decent quality food.
- Trash bins are scarce. Be mindful of what you bring along!
- Speak quietly on public transportations. It's rude to be loud or even talk on cellphones in trains/buses.
- A bulk of the Japanese cuisine does not include veggies.



-jin-

COLLABORATION // PARABO PRESS PRINTS

Parabo Press Collab
Hi Frands and Framily!

I've teamed up with Parabo Press to give y'all a little something fun and free for the holiday season! 25 Free Square Prints - of your own photos - are waiting for you to play around with!

Freebie Code: JCFSQ

That's my initials, with SQ for Square Prints. Easy to remember! It is good for First-Time Customers to get a Free set of 25 Square Prints. You'll just have to:

1. Upload the app.
2. Choose your personal photos from your phone.
3. Pay for shipping.

I wouldn't promote anything that I don't like. I actually have used their products a couple of times in the past and I can attest, quality is top notch. Photos are printed on extra thick matte paper. Details are not lost and colors are unbelievably wonderful. I've used these square prints for various creative purposes, from personalized Christmas Gift Tags to simple wall decor taped down with washi tape. If you love curating your life - if you love to have your photos beautifully printed - then you'll love Parabo Press!

Check out more sample prints of my travel photos below. And, please! Let me know what you think of your prints, if you do decide to order a set!


-jin-
Parabo Press Collab
Parabo Press Collab
Parabo Press Collab

SLOVENIA 2016

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SLOVENIA 2016
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We felt that Croatia should not be the last stop of our epic Eastern European tour. We weren't quite ready to come back to The States! I mean, how did 6 months just whiz by out of the blue? Surely it's not time to head back home already!

With that said, Slovenia seemed like the perfect place to end our Balkan Tour. The weather was getting colder, but not terribly cold. And we still had 7-9 days left in the Schengen region. We asked ourselves, 'When's the next time we'll ever be in Slovenia? In this part of Europe?' The likelihood - very slim. Definitely not in the near future. So ... we went for it.

It only took 2 hours from Zagreb to Ljubljana via bus. Not knowing what to expect from Ljubljana, we wondered around the city for a few days. Our first impressions - very surprised at how modernly quaint and wonderfully walkable this city was, with pockets of delightfully weird hipster spots and cute little European Old World nooks. We absolutely loved checking out the huge variety of food stalls at the daily Farmer's Market!

Ljubljana isn't a very big city, and we often find ourselves back at the hostel by 2pm. Maybe 3pm. The rest of the day was spent catching up on work and photo editing. And because the hostel isn't very big, it was super easy to chat it up with fellow travelers over tea. Honestly, the best part of our stay in Ljubljana! Spent hours upon hours just sharing personal stories and I loved it!

After leisurely wondering Ljubljana for days, we decided to day trip it out to Lake Bled. Now Lake Bled, itself, is a delight. Simply put. The mini island in the middle of the lake, complete with a church on top, is certainly a picturesque scene. Like a page out of a fairytale book. The walking route around the lake takes about 2 hours, with a little detour up a nearby mountain for those into a little adventure. We opted to take this upward path to get a top-down view of the lake. Unfortunately, the Fall colors have not settled in yet, but nevertheless, the views from atop were stunning. Def worth the mini hike! Other than that, there's not much to do in the town of Bled. However, there are these typical cakes of the Bled region to try out, nothing really special, but certainly a must if you're there.

Although we didn't do terribly too much in Slovenia, I felt that we've done enough to make our stay worthwhile. We may not have toured the country's caves, but it's okay, because Texas' Hill country is home to some of the most amazing cavern systems in The States. So I didn't fell like we've missed out on too much. But if you're looking for more activites in Slovenia - then this is def something to consider!

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When: October 2016
Temp: 50-65F
Cities: Ljubljana, Bled
Stay: Hostel Tivoli. $12/night for 8 bed dorm. Free breakfast. Free Tea/Coffee. 10 minute walk to Old Town.
Recommend: Walking Tour, Old Town Ljubljana, Metelkova, Lake Bled

-jin-

CROATIA 2016

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I knew before we started our 6 month travels through Middle East and Eastern Europe that I wanted to spend a lot of time in Croatia. There's something about this country. Something magical. All these travel shows and Instagram photos - they totally did Croatia justice, painting a surreal beauty of one-of-a-kind waterfalls and well-kept seaside landscapes. I was instantly smitten! I had to go and see these gorgeous wonderments with my own eyes! So I psyched myself up. Waited and waited and waited. Finally, it was the last leg of our Balkan tour. Let's do this.

Fast forward to 3 blissful weeks in Croatia.

And it didn't disappoint! All that waiting - did not go to vain! Croatia really is the stunning Pearl of The Balkans that every traveler we've talked to has hailed it to be. A bit of a pricey country, but utterly beautiful.

Yah, I'mma say it: Croatia is my absolutely favorite Balkan country. For now. (But honestly, this might be hard to beat. Greece, you have competition!)


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// DUBROVNIK //
Our first stop in Croatia! And instantly blown away before we even set foot in the city! The bus ride along the rocky seaside offered stunning views of the Adriatic sea. A perfect set up for the Wow moment that is Old Town Dubrovnik - the iconic giant cluster of orange roofs jutting out into the sea. King's Landing of Game of Thrones!! The entire bus abuzzed with delight. It was a gorgeous sight to behold! Nevermind that we were stuck in traffic to get to Old Town. And that it was stupid crowded once we walked into Old Town. And that Old Town itself is mostly covered with a network of steep stairs. It was all worth it. Even the annoying travel setbacks that we've encountered during our 5 day stay in Dubrovnik. Experienced bed bugs for the first time and caught an unknown respiratory virus that has been spreading around like wildfire. All at the same hostel. Overall, Old Town really is quite pretty and a joy to explore!
>> Hostel Stay: Will remain anonymous, only because the owners were really nice and hospitable.
>> Recommend: Rampart Walk, Cable Car Ride for panoramic views, Ferry Ride to nearby beautiful Lokrum Island for leisure mini hikes and THE IRON THRONE.

// SPLIT //
Another gorgeous seaside city with an equally gorgeous Old Town. Split is easily covered in just a couple of days, with panoramic views from Saint Domnius Bell Tower as one of the city's main highlights. But the real 'jewels' are actually off the Dalmatian coast. Daytrips via catamaran tours to Hvar, Blue Cave, Green Cave, etc., are totally worth it. Also highly recommend checking out the famed Krka waterfalls, only a couple of hours away via bus.
>> Hostel Stay: Tchaikovsky Hostel. $13/night for a 4 bed dorm.
>> Recommend: Day excursions to Hvar island and/or Blue Cave via Catamaran tour packages. Daytrip to Krka Waterfall via bus. Consult hostel to RSVP.

// KORENICA + PLITVICE LAKES //
No trip to Croatia is complete without seeing the grandiose Plitvice Lakes! Easily accessible from Split or Zagreb as daytrips. We, on the other hand, opted to stay in Korenica for conveniency. Korenica is a very small town, but as a base, it's only a 15 minute drive to the lakes. Go early to avoid the crowds! And be prepared to be blown away by the stunning scenery. The surprisingly awesome walking trails through the lakes makes the experience quite enjoyable. But beware, these same trails will be uber crowded if you mis-timed your walk!
>> Hostel Stay: Falling Lakes Hostel. $28/night for a private room.

// ZAGREB //
Ended our Croatian tour in none other than the Capital! I ain't gonna lie, we vegged out hardcore here! Mostly walked around City Centre for a few days until we met up yet another friend of mine from the good ol' Spain days. It was super fun catching up with Bernarda and her boyfriend over late night drinks and finger food. For 5 hours! =D Bernarda happens to be a certified tour guide, so she kindly gave us a tour of her hometown on our next meet up and, wow, I totally see Zagreb in a whole different light now! Hearing personal stories from the Communist era, sharing tidbits of life in Croatia vs USA, receiving good foodie recs - this is why I love getting the local's POV! Thank you, Bernarda, for everything!!
>> Hostel Stay: Hostel Bureau. $14/night for 6 bed dorm.
>> Recommend: Walking tour with Bernarda, City Centre, Funicular, Upper Town, Lenuci Horseshoe, Museum of Broken Relationships, Museum of Illusions, Etien Street Art, Cathedral of the Assumption of the Blessed Mary


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When: Late September / Early October
Temp: 70-75F in the South, 50-65F in the North
Cities: Dubrovnik, Split, Korenica, Zagreb
Stay: Refer to individual cities above.


-jin-

TRAVELS AND CHILL FEATURE

Travels and Chill feature.
Dear Frands and Framily,

Instahusband and I recently got featured on an up and coming relationship-based travel blog called Travels and Chill. So honored to be part of their blog launch! Totally lovin' their motto:

"Redefining relationship goals and inspiring couples to travel the world."

Yasssssss!

Read our interview here --> The Story Behind Us: Jin & Vince.

This article wouldn't have been possible without the love and support and enthusiasm of all our friends and family who've followed our 6 month journey through The Middle East and Eastern Europe. It's a relief knowing that so many understands and respects our life choices, even though it doesn't fit the mold of societal norms. THANK YOU, again, fellow daydreamers and wanderlusters for accepting us for us. =)

Love,
Jincent <3

BOSNIA & HERZEGOVINA 2016

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BOSNIA & HERZEGOVINA 2016
BOSNIA & HERZEGOVINA 2016

On our way back into Croatia from Montenegro, we hit up a cute little town in Bosnia called Mostar. It was a blind decision, as we had never heard of Mostar, and honestly it's conveniently placed between Kotor and Split. So, why not?

We didn't know what to expect in Mostar, but we were pleasantly surprised. And a little shocked. Mostar is not just another quaint Balkan town. Instead, it turned out to be a bit unusual for us as we had never expected Mostar to be heavily influenced by the Ottoman Empire. It seriously felt like we were back in Turkey! Most of Old Town looked like a mini Istanbul! Albeit, a more quiet and cleaner version. The welcome coffee that was offered to us at the hostel, which they affectionately called Bosnian coffee, is essentially Turkish coffee! More or Less!

Anyways, the great Mostar bridge, Stari Most, is really the city's main attraction. A beautifully constructed hump-back bridge of Ottoman design, connecting both sides of Old Town. At 24 meters, it's quite a popular diving spot. In fact, Red Bull was hosting a diving competition the weekend after we left! Unfortunately, it's not the original Stari Most, which hung around for over 400 years until the Croat-Bosniak War destroyed it.

Speaking of the Bosnian War, remnants of the aftermath could be seen outside Old Town. Random buildings bombed to disrepair, peppered all over the city. Kinda weird to see them wedged between occupied buildings, all eerily calm in Modern Day Bosnia.

Like Montenegro, we've stayed in Mostar longer than most people would. 4-5 days? As opposed to the recommended 2. Stupid common cold and/or flu. Being sick WHILE traveling - ain't no joke! Thus, the very reason why we extended our stay in Mostar. Had the very nice hostel workers worried sick about me, wondering why I'm holed up in our private room, coughing and wheezing away. Ugh. Not my finest moment! But I really did like that hostel, like, really really really liked it. It's clean, intimate, easy to meet travelers. Had a chance to conversate with quite a handful of people from around the world, during one of the few times I would escape my room to make myself tea. Felt bad for the guests who had to stay in the room after us, though!

Overall, Mostar is a great place to relax and chill for a bit. Also another popular town for day trips. Such a shame that we weren't able to do some day excursions! Would have loved to make our way to Sarajevo!


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When: September 2016
Temp: 70F
Cities: Mostar
Stay: Guesthouse Taso. $11/person for 2 bed private dorm.
Recommend: Old Town, Mostar Bridge


-jin-

MONTENEGRO 2016

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Towards the end of our stay in Dubrovnik, we started wondering what course we should take. Hop over to Montenegro? Continue our way north through Croatia? At the very last second, we went for it: We hopped on a bus and found ourselves in Kotor hours later. Why not? Heard from fellow travelers in our Dubrovnik hostel how much they prefer Kotor over Dubrovnik. I mean, Dubrovnik's Old Town is pretty nice, but something nicer? Such testimonials had us intrigued. We just had to see for ourselves!

Upon arrival to Kotor's Old Town, it's clear why most travelers rave about this place. It has more personality. More quaint nooks and crannies with many hidden little shops. A LOT more cats here. Most of Old town is thankfully flat - not covered with long, steep uphill stairs like Dubrovnik.

But the one important thing that separates Kotor from Dubrovnik: Less tourist crowds. Don't get me wrong. Kotor Old Town is nothing but touristy, but there's a stark contrast with the amount of foot traffic between the 2 cities. Dubrovnik is stupid crowded. So crowded that the city officials have thought about capping the number of guests entering it's Old Town walls by way of purchasable tickets. Oof. Kotor does get crowded, but it comes and goes in waves. When the cruise ships dock - the city is suddenly alive. By nightfall, the cruise ships are gone and Kotor is back to a sleepy town.

Overall, there isn't much to do in Kotor. It's a great base to do day trips to other parts of Montenegro and Albania. Which we probably would have considered if I hadn't gotten sick. So Kotor, for us, was more of a place to chill out and recover asap. I did, however, muster enough energy to hike the rather steep fortress walls to the top of the mountain. Had to wake up quite early to avoid paying the 3 Euro fortress entrance fee, but so worth it as we beat the tourist crowds AND caught a glimpse of the beautiful early morning light bathing the city of Kotor. Avoided the heat, too! But let me tell ya, the views were insanely spectacular from the top! Only takes an hour to get to the top. (2 in our case if you're anything like us, stopping every 5 minutes for photo ops!) Honestly, probably the only thing worth doing in Kotor if the Old Town scene bores you!

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When: September 2016
Temp: 75F
Cities: Kotor
Stay: Old Town Hostel Kotor. $13/night for 10 bed dorm.
Recommend: Old Town, Kotor Fortress Hike (Go super early in the morning, around 6-7am, to avoid paying 3 Euro entrance fee).


-jin-

FRANCE 2016

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Hostel Greeter: "First time in Paris?"
Me: "No. 1st time was 8 years ago. But yah, I guess it's kinda like the first time."
Hostel Greeter: "Ah, it's been so long that it's like the 1st time?"

Exactly!

Not just Paris, but all of France. Has it really been 8 years since the last we were in France? Oof. Def a way overdue trip. And a much needed break from the Eastern European and Scandinavian adventures! Something about familiar grounds that puts comfort in the heart. I mean, I really really really love it here in Western Europe. At one point (okay, several) I seriously thought about moving out here. Visiting family in these parts since 1992 can do that to ya. Western European gal stuck in an American body! That's me!


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// PARIS //
Ah, Paris. The City of Light and The City of Love - all for good reason. If you've visited this city, then you know what I'm talking about when I say this city is absolutely the loveliest and beyond vibrant and insanely Old World inspiring. We came as tourists so, so many years ago. This time around we came as old friends. We overstayed our welcome, ya know, to really get to know Paris. We took our time. Explored less touristy parts. And revisited the touristy ones for old times' sake. Paris is one of those cities I can't get enough of! Always photo ops at every turn!
>> Hostel Stay #1: Le Village Hostel. 26Euro/night for 4 bed dorm.
>> Hostel Stay #2: Generator Hostel. $27/night for 10 bed dorm.
>> AirBnb Stay: Saint Lazare Terrace. $166/night.
>> Recommend: Le Marais, Montmartre, Rue Cremieux, Eiffel Tower, Louvre, Champs Elysees, Merci, Canal Saint-Martin, Laduree, Pierre Herme, Catacombs, La Grande Roue.

// MONT SAINT MICHEL //
A place where I wanted to have a destination wedding, oh, 5 years ago. None of it came into fruition. Until now. I may not be here for my dream wedding, but I gots to admit, not a bad way to spend my birthday and bid adieu to the last day of August! This magical place surrounded by high tides and low tides - this island commune with an abbey in the sky - is so freakin' surreal. Even more surreal (and stunning!) in person. I think we've stayed here longer than most people would. But honestly, every morning for the 4 days we've stayed here, I awoke giddy and eager to see this dreamy motif off the coast.
>> Hotel Stay: Hotel Gabriel. $98/night.


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When: Late August to Early September 2016
Temp: 75-80F
Cities: Mont Saint Michel, Paris
Stay: Refer to individual cities above.


-jin-

DENMARK 2016

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Copenhagen was a welcomed break from the 2 weeks of adventure in Norway. A much needed breather before we head into another 2 weeks of photography fun in France. So dare I say, we didn't do much in Copenhagen.

Ooo, I can feel the judgement emanating from the other side of this screen. Lol.

Honestly, Norway took all our money. People weren't kidding when they say it's one expensive country. Scandinavia as a whole is pretty pricey, but Norway takes the cake. The whole freaking cake. So by the time we made it to Denmark, we were done with the Scandinavian region in general. Don't get me wrong, we're coming back. Next time with a better game plan.

So what the heck did we do in Copenhagen? In an attempt to save $$$ on public transportation, we opted to walk to most of the tourist sights and scenes. Tons and tons of walking. All while constantly revisiting Nyhavn. It's a GREAT place to chill and people watch: the vibrant colors, the canal action, the large lively cafe crowd. Nyhavn also happens to have over-priced eateries, but there is ONE hotdog stand that's fairly cheap. Needless to say we were regulars. We took our hotdogs, found a spot to sit along the canals, and watched the view pass us by.

We also 'splurged' a little bit on a boat tour, ya know, just to get a different view of the city from the canals. Aaaand we cracked one night and splurged on a decent cocktail bar. At this point in our world travels, about 4 months in, the constant moving around ain't no joke. Another reason to leave Scandinavia asap into cheaper territory where we could just veg out ... for at least a week.

Oh! And a cool thing happened while we were in Copenhagen. The Gay Parade. Oddly enough, there was one in every Scandinavian capital that we've been to WHILE we were in those cities, but somehow the parade times eluded us. Thus, weren't able to catch any of them. Until now. In Copenhagen. Always love Gay Parades - they exude unity and love than any other parade I've been to. Glad we caught it!

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When: August 2016
Temp: 70F
Cities: Copenhagen
Stay: Generator Hostel. $49/night for 8 bed dorm.
Recommend: Canal Tour, Nyhavn, The Little Mermaid.


-jin-