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-

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-

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!


--


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!


--


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!


--


// 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.



--


// 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.



--


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-

TURKEY 2016 // PAMUKKALE

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Travertine fail.

They were nothing like what the posters had promised. No pristine bright blue waters filling the terraces to the brim. Every single travertine - all dry!

Except the man-made ones, but what's the point?

Nothing like crossing an ocean, flying into Istanbul, flying to Kayseri, taking a van to Cappadocia, catching an overnight bus to Denizli, then hopping on a minivan to Pamukkale - only to find out the hard way that every terrace dried up. The hot spring water redirected. My excitement crushed. I don't think I've ever felt this so disappointed about a tourist sight falling short.

But ya know, not all was lost. This way, with no water, the travertines actually looks like the 'Cotton Castles' that Pamukkale is known for. Everything is just so insanely white. Yah, it was still a nice dreamy vision.

The city itself doesn't have much to offer. It's so small and full of restaurants and hotels geared toward tourists. I can see why most people only do day trips here. We were probably the 1% who decided to stay overnight, all for photography purposes. Glad we stayed an extra day, because our 2nd visit to the travertines ended up being a photo gold mine, despite no water. Once we've hiked to the top of the mountain, rounded the corner - lo and behold - an expanse of dry travertines with no tourists. We even walked upon them, taking our photos with ease, not having to fight for elbow space.

Overall, I wish there was a website that tells you whether or not the travertines are full. That be nice. Otherwise, I would have redirected our travels elsewhere in Turkey!

--

When: May 2016
Temp: 60-75F
Stay: Sahin Hotel, $35/night for private room.

Bus ride from Cappadocia to Denizli: $55/person.
Entrance fee to Travertines: $30/person.


-jin-

TURKEY 2016 // CAPPADOCIA

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The land of Fairy Chimneys and sunrise hot air balloon rides. Cappadocia/Kapadokya is every bit as charming as everyone says it is! V and I woke up very early for 2 days in a row to catch these hot air balloons in their pre-dawn flight. (Opting out of riding in one due to the expensiveness, but those who've ridden it says it's worth the $$$!) Our 'cave hotel' is located on the side of a small mountain in Goreme, making the 20 minute scamper up to the top quite convenient. It's absolutely magical, seeing these balloons float over the fairy chimneys, whilst the sun peaks over the faraway mountains, the sky slowly changing hues of pinks to oranges.

Totally worth waking up at 5am for!

Goreme isn't very big - in no time we knew our way around. And it's super cheap here! The sole reason why we decided to stay a week. Mainly to catch up on work and to wait out the rain which lasted a few days. During this time, we've met a handful of people in our hostel, most notably a woman from Uruguay, who's been traveling nonstop for 7 years! Yowzers. My wanderlust hero. Her never-ending travels pretty much confirms my suspicions - there's no way we could see the world in just a year or 2! Oof.

Aside from the fairy chimneys and hot air balloons of Goreme, we did a few mini hikes around the area to Pasabag and The Open Air Museum to see various other fairy chimney shapes, in addition to taking the 'Green' tour. It's an all day, exhausting tour - but it's nice to learn about the lengthy history of the area. The underground city tour is one of the many interesting highlights included with the package - it's actually quite cool.

Traveling to Cappadocia is no easy feat. We took a 1.5hr flight from Istanbul to Kayseri, then hopped on a van provided by our cave hotel. That took another hour to Goreme. But once here, it's an instant visual feast! Fairy chimneys galore!

--

When: April 2016
Temp: 50-70F
Stay #1: Divan Cave Hotel, $60/night for private room.
Stay #2: Terra Vista Hostel, $8/night for 6 bed dorm.

Green Tour: $60/person. All day, lunch included.


-jin-

ISRAEL 2016 // JERUSALEM

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Jerusalem was more of a pilgrimage rather than a fine art photographic journey for me. I didn't really have a need to take pictures other than show proof that I was actually here! And it felt good to put the camera away for a bit and just look. And feel. Feel the overwhelming religious history of Judaism, Christianity and Islam in one of the world's most oldest cities.

A little downtime from the adventure-filled Jordan trip was also on the agenda in Israel. Doing short stints of sightseeing and exploring per day def helped on that path to mental recuperation. And the fact that it was Passover, many places closed down really early anyway (or close down all together!) and went Kosher, so finding beer and bread was like a needle in a haystack. The same gameplan in Jordan was also followed in Jerusalem: wake up really early, travel to certain sights, spend time at sight, then scamper back to the hostel to wait out the hottest part of the day. This usually meant we made it back in time for free breakfast. This also meant we had an uber long stretch of hours to kill before evening time.

Which we productively took advantage of.

While Vince worked remotely away in his makeshift office in the lounge, I did things like napped and showered and caught up on photog projects from past travels. That alone was one of the main reasons why we stayed a week in Jerusalem. It bothered me to have all these photos queued up - at least 3,000 images! - and not enough time to research upcoming travel destinations! So it felt more like crunch time during those downtime opportunities.

With the gift of time came along the unexpected plethora of fellow travelers we've befriended. And honestly, my favorite part of our Jerusalem trip. I don't think I ever made this many friends at a hostel other than the time I lived in those residencias in Spain. It was refreshing, if not reminiscent of my college days or Spain days, to easily talk hours on end or even get into odd adventures with these fellow wanderlusters with no care in the world. Literally, no care - no 8-5 job, no errands, no appointments, no nothing.

This is why I love traveling. And this is one of the many reasons why I love this particular hostel. But Israel is a pricey place! As much as I want to stay here longer - Israel, you're taking all my money! It was time to move on to the next country!

--

When: April 2016
Temp: 60-85F
Stay: The Post Hostel. (~$27 for 10 bed dorm, ~$30 for 8 bed dorm.)

Places we visited: Mechane Yehuda Market, Old City, Church of the Holy Sepulchre, Western Wall, Mount of Olives, Temple Mount, Dome of Rock, West Jerusalem.


-jin-

ISRAEL 2016 // DEAD SEA + EIN GEDI

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Siraj, our boisterous English hostel roomie, swooped in one Saturday morning with a spontaneous proposition: He'll rent a car, we'll all go to Ein Gedi, do some waterfall hiking. Him, Vince, Marcela (the Polish roomie in our 10 person room) and me.

In a few hours time, we were in that rented car with our swimming gear and off on a 2 hour roadtrip to Ein Gedi, with Siraj taking the front seat. Siraj, we collectively found out the hard way, is quite the aggressive driver. Borderline loony driving skills, really. Think most of us spent the car ride fighting off dizziness and nausea. But despite all that, we somehow still marveled at the passing, arid desertscape, watching it transform into the soothing Dead Sea scenery. That Dead Sea. It's all kinds of serene. With a hazy (salt?) cloud looming over the waters, filtering the harsh sunlight. We stopped at a cliff to take in the Dead Sea serenity for a quick minute before getting back on the road.

Now I'm fairly certain we got to Ein Gedi in 1 hour instead of 2, somehow making it in one piece, thanks to Siraj. Or thanks to God - I don't know who to thank! But nevertheless, ready to see the waterfalls that Siraj made a big fuss about. Only an hour or so hike up the mountain. In the heat. At high noon. Double oi. Luckily, there were many little waterfalls along the upward climb, each time we stopped to cool off in the waters and shade before moving on. My kind of hikage. In a few hours time, we were back down the mountain and wondering what to do next.

The Dead Sea. It's just right there! Yeah, why not?

There are a few places along the Dead Sea to enjoy the waters, just that most of them cost money to access the beach. Which kinda blows. Luckily, about 30 minutes south of Ein Gedi there's a free beach. Ein Bokek. It's not the nicest beach and it's quite crowded. But, it's free. Spent a solid hour or so, floating around in the waters and hanging out on the beach by the time dinnertime rolled around.

Floating effortlessly in the Dead Sea is quite the mixture of feelings. On one hand, it's amazing how freakishly easy it is to just float. No fear of drowning here. On the other hand, that high salt content is quite fierce. Every open skin, cut, scratch - you will instantly feel with a vengeance. It stings beyond what you'd expect. Stepping out of the waters is equally just as interesting. A layer of white, flaky salt residue appears on your skin as you're drying, the swimsuit hardening along the process. It might take a few douses underneath the open-air showers to feel somewhat clean.

But to say that you floated on one of the saltiest and lowest places on Earth? Cross that off the bucket list!

--

When: April 2016
Temp: 50-80F

Car Rental in Jerusalem: Middle East, 190NIS/day, only certain cars are allowed and insured in Palestine.
Dead Sea Hike/Waterfall Mountain Trail: Ein Gedi, 1.5hr drive from Jerusalem.
Free Public Dead Sea Beach: Ein Bokek, 2hr drive from Jerusalem.


-jin-

JORDAN 2016 // WADI RUM

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Why is everyone so interested in Wadi Rum? And how much can you really do in the middle of the desert? We had to see for ourselves. So we booked a 1 day excursion (finding it hard to justify to stay any longer as we are not hardcore adventure travelers) and hopped on a 4 hour monotonous bus ride from Petra to Wadi Rum. Once there, it was straight into the bed of a truck, straight into adventure, straight into Bedouin country. And right away it was clear why Wadi Rum is so, so popular.

The dramatic landscape.

It's quite cinematic with the red hues and irregular rock formations. You never know what desert scene is coming up, every turn equally surprising and different from the last. The random pack of rogue camels seems to complete the fascination. In between traversing the desert, we occasionally stopped to hike through canyons that are lush and green. We even "snowboarded" down a sand dune and lunched in the shade of a mountain.

But at night was when all the magical things happened. The faint silhouette of the majestic mountains against the dark sky, sounds of night creatures in the far distance, the subtle glow of the moon bathing everything below. All this just immediately outside our tent. Enveloping us in the middle of nowhere. Perfect spot for stargazing. Unfortunately I passed out right after the traditional Bedouin dinner.

In the wee hours of the morning I could hear Vince troddling about outside our tent. For quite awhiles, it seems. Finally, he awakes me with a giddiness in his voice, "Babe! Wake up! You have to see the stars! You can actually see the Milky Way!" I threw the blanket over my shoulders and scurried outside, where he shows me a faint strip of an intergalactic dust cloud.

Ok. Not as colorful and dramatic as the galaxy dust clouds I've seen in Lake Titicaca of Peru, but I can still appreciate the night sky here. At this hour - 4:30ish? 5ish? - the moon has already descended, the sky lit up with at least a billion twinkling bright stars. As far as the eye could see. Quite dreamy stuff.

Was it worth coming out to Wadi Rum? Oh, heck yes. Undoubtedly. But a full day of the basic package was enough for us. We've actually met a girl in our Amman hostel who's done a horsebacking tour for a week in Wadi Rum. A week! Wow. Just goes to show they cater to anyone! There are even niche tour packages for mountain climbers and hikers. So whatever your heart desires, they got it. You'll leave satisfied, no matter what.

--

When: April 2016
Temp: 50F LOW / 80F HIGH
Tour Company: Rum Stars (55JD/person. 1 Day + 1 Night. Jeep Tour and Bedouin Camping.)

Bus ride from Petra to Wadi Rum: 7JD/person. 4 hour.
Taxi from Wadi Rum to Aqaba: 25JD. Find people to split cost.
Bus ride from Aqaba to Amman: 6JD/person.


-jin-

JORDAN 2016 // PETRA

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And thus starts Jincent's Non-Stop World Travels!

For at least an entire year.

I'm beyond excited! If not whole-heartedly relieved to live this kind of nomadic lifestyle on a much longer stint. (My husband's reasons are slightly different from mine, and I may even let him blog his perspective on here. It's always good to see both sides of the story!) I've touched on the Why's in past travel posts years ago, and I would LOVE to go into more depth about it in a future post, but til then - sit tight, kindred spirits. =)

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So, why Jordan? Because things were getting a lil too hot for our liking in Egypt. If we had started our world travels 2 weeks prior, then it wouldn't have been a problemo. But we like to travel somewhat comfortably, if not smart, and the weather sounds reasonable in The Middle East. There, we began our journey.

Petra is much more of an adventure travel than leisure travel, as is most of Jordan. Be prepared to spend a lot of money on tourist sights. Be prepared to walk/hike A LOT through rough terrain. (This is not an understatement!) Bring a hat and plenty of water. And be prepared to have vendors constantly try to sell you stuff. (But they're polite and unaggressive, unlike other countries we've visited. A simple 'No, Thank you.' is good enough for them to leave you be.)

The 3 days we've spent at Petra were utterly exhausting. I ain't gonna lie. But the picturesque canyon views makes the hours of hiking/climbing well worth it. If done right. We woke up quite early everyday and began our hikes to various parts of the canyon around 6:30am. Mainly to beat the heat and the crowds. It's much more leisurely this way, with way more photo ops in the canyons, as well as with the camels hanging out in front of The Treasury. Not to mention an unobstructed view of The Treasury itself. Around 10am is when it gets stupid crowded around The Siq, making picture-taking a horrendous experience. By this time, we are already coming back down from our various canyon hikes and heading back to our hostel to wait out the hottest part of the day until dindin time.

There. Our not-so-secret way to enjoy Petra. A much more leisurely approach, but isn't that how it's suppose to be? To feel connected, body and soul, on all levels of travel and culture without feeling the weight of tourism? When stripped down to the basics - it's an amazing experience. The stunning desert canyon formations. The incredible history of past civilizations. The centuries old relationship between the two, nature and human. It will all mesmerize you in an instant. I promise.

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When: April 2016
Temp: 60F LOW / 80F HIGH
Stay: The Saba'a ($30/night for private. Center of town. To the Visitor Center: 15min walk, 5min by Taxi.)
Transportation: Taxi, 2-5JD. (Haggle if you have to.)

Treasury Night Tour: 17JD/person, ~2hr.
2 Day Petra Hikes: 55JD/person.

Walk from The Visitor Center to The Siq: ~25min. Rough Terrain.
Walk from The Siq to start of The Monastery 850 step stair climb: 30-40min. Rough Terrain.
Hike up the 850 step stair climb to The Monastery: 30-40min.
Walk from The Siq to Royal Tombs: 10min.
Hike from the Royal Tombs to view The Treasury from above: 30-40min.


-jin-

INDONESIA 2012

 Pictures by Jin Chu Ferrer of Contradiction of Sorts.

7 months later and I'm finally DONE plowing through 500+ visuals of Indonesia!  D-O-N-E. Huzzah! So here it is, the third and final leg of our epic Eat Pray Love journey in Bali, Indonesia. And what better way to celebrate new year's than to experience it in another country and culture with a loved one! This was def a more leisurely trip compared to India and Sri Lanka, where we did over a month of nonstop adventure trekking and getting down n' dirty with the local customs, so by the time we hit up Bali, we were ready to chillax, breath, and enjoy the good island life. Oh! I must share one of the more memorable moments in Bali - I had the pleasure of dining at the table NEXT to Miss Tyra Banks. Nevermind that she caught be staring at her, gawking, really.  But, wow! Indonesia of all places! IloveyouTyra!  And I love you, Indonesia!

besos ... jin.

SRI LANKA 2011

Pictures by Jin Chu Ferrer of Contradiction of Sorts.

Behold! Me and V's 2nd leg of our epic EatPrayLove honeymoon in late 2011. To be honest, we didn't know what the heck is in Sri Lanka, despite receiving tons of info on the country from 2 of my Sri Lankan coworkers. It turns out, it seems, that Sri Lanka is a smaller, cleaner and more laid-back version of South India with hints of the quaint island vibe. Yes, life here is a little bit more breathable and leisurely. Tea bushes are abundant and I could get away with knee-high skirts without the fear of exposing too much skin! Hallelujah! Good thing, too, 'cause the rising temps were nearing borderline misery. It's like I had never left Texas!

Anyways, the rest of the Sri Lanka pictorial spread can be seen here.

Coming soon the last and final leg of our EatPrayLove-inspired honeymoon: Indonesia.

besos ... jin.

INDIA 2011

Pictures by Jin Chu Ferrer of Contradiction of Sorts. 

Indelible. Impressionable. Intoxicating. Insane.

We spent one whirlwind month in India back in November/December 2011 as part one of our EatPrayLove-inspired honeymoon. OK. Notsomuch praying. But a whole lot of eating and loving! Hah! ;-) But, oh, India! She's something else, with her colorful moods and rich history and eye-opening lifestyles and chaotic scenes. She was mostly confusing, at times frustrating, but surprisingly lovely to the core.  There's so much more to her majestic story and we are definitely coming back to get to know her better. Thanks, India, for the resilient sass and adventurous spunk. You've kept us on our traveling toes!

And because you've noticed that it took me six months to post these photos, I finally got around to tackling the daunting 1,500+ pizzix we've snapped of India. This country is a photog's playground!  Inspiring visuals left and right and left again.  (I maaay be, just a taaad bit trigger happy. Future reference.) But for your viewing pleasure, I've whittled it down to a select handful. The rest of the visuals can be seen here.

Coming soon, the 2nd leg of the EatPrayLove journey: Sri Lanka. Til next adventure!

besos ... jin.

PHILIPPINES 2009

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It's a bit weird visiting the motherland without visiting my side of the family, or even without my sister, for that matter. First time for everything, I guess. So what the heck were we doing in The Philippines, you ask? George + Annie's nuptials. Which was conveniently planned at the end of me and V's epic 6 country Asia tour. Our leisurely stay in Metro Manila most welcomed after backpacking and trekking our way through Asia. And man, did we veg out. We've spent an insane amount of time hanging out with friends, both near (Yi-Xuan of Singapore and Yvette of Makati) and far (Wassap, Mantaring sibs of Texas!), almost the entire time we were in the PI. Usually at the massive Ayala Center. We ate and drank and shopped and danced and lounged. And had a really, really good time. All day. Everyday. When a commercial development that size comprises of several smaller malls linked together and your hotel is smack dab in the middle of it, why leave the area? Ever?

Okay, so we did leave Makati for a bit. Sight-seeing is kinda inevitable even on vacation, no? With V and Yi-Xuan in tow, we went on a mini roadtrip to view the Taal volcano with Yvette and her hubsters as tour guides. Now, Yvette and I go way back. Like 14 years back. We had 2 semesters of Español together at the good ol' University of Houston and shared many memorable and hilarious misadventures with our fellow classmates. One of them getting lit at Tamara's (unintentionally of course =D), then somehow acing a major Spanish exam the next day. Huzzah! But anyways, shortly after the UH days, Yvette moved back to Manila, became a well-respected photographer, and kept in touch ever since. Fast forward to 2009, and here we are, hiking and lunching at various viewing points around the picturesque volcano. Occasionally stopping at a small food shack on the side of the dusty road to load up on more dried mango and chicharron and polvoron and various other yummy Filipino treats. Yeah, it was a nice lil get away from the conveniences of city life with great chats thrown in along the way. My kind of adventuring.

So what do I have to say about experiencing PI solely with friends and no family this time around? No obligations, uninhibited, random. I ain't gonna lie - it was pretty awesome. The different point of view of a familiar country is always refreshing, especially one you've been to many times. Probably the first and only time this will ever happen!

besos ... jin.

THAILAND 2009

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For those of you not in the know, that lil red dragon is my traveling gnome. Given as a Christmas present back in 2000 (2001??) by my Thai bestie, Mr. Ricky, so it's only fitting that I'd bring the lil guy along to Thailand. And may I add, Thailand is insanely dragon-friendly ... nothing but first-class treatment for Mushu! Lil dude was popular in the land of Thai!

Anyways, I would have to keep this post on the short side due to birthday planning and photog deadlines. I don't want to undermine the mystical and adventurous spirit of Bangkok by not giving it the full testament it deserves ... but I am. Time is of the essence and I know I'm definitely not giving Bangkok justice with the little synopsis I'm about to give. Oi. Conundrum. But here goes anyways. The gastronomy adventure here is insanely ah-mazing (Street-side crickets, anyone? Didn't try, but still so curious!), the Buddha-inspired visual scenes with tons of color pops are simply breathtaking, and THE down n' dirty backpacker's trekking dreams with the constant foot/boat/tuktuk travel through Bangkok's chaotic and mirky roads. Like Cambodia, there are virtually temples at every corner of the city so getting lost is inevitable. One thing that Ricky and my other good Thai friend, Joy (also a traveling kindred spirit who've I met through a mutual friend in an airport ages ago), had constantly brought up: Beware of scammers. They're everywhere! Left. Right. Up. Down. And these aren't your typical scammers you'd see, like in the street markets of Marrakesh or Peru. No, these are world-class, smooth-talking scammers. They will quickly identify and relate with you, know your story, follow you, give you 'evidence' of why their story is 'true'. In the end, your trust is easily gained (maybe), but not us thanks to V's exhaustive travel research! (I don't research, V does research. It's a match-made in heaven relationship, I tell ya!) We found that 95% of the people offering to 'help' us had an ulterior motive for money! Many of them textbook scenarios as mentioned in Trip Advisor.

So heads up. Mother of all ultimate scammers - Thailand for sure.

Ok, this is quickly becoming quite contradictory to 'keeping it short'. Obviously I have a lot to say about Thailand but that's for another day, another time, another travel story yet to be told.

besos ... jin.

CAMBODIA 2009

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Who knew Preăh Réachéanachâk Kâmpŭchéa (Quick translation: Kingdom of Cambodia. Mind-boggling, am I right??) is insufferably humid in April?? As is the case in all the other countries we've visited on this tour of South East Asia 2009. Cambodia being the 4th leg of 6. I've only been in Asia during the monsoon season prior to this epic tour, having spent a handful of summers in The Philippines and Hong Kong as a child. Those were some humid, humid times, man. And I hated it. So, yeah, I wasn't expecting it to be so hot so early in the year. Even Texas doesn't get this hot in April!

I know, I know.

Suck it up. (April! It's just not right.) But really, as much as this Texan complains about humidity, it's all a minor inconvenience. Really. When you're zipping through the countryside in a tuk-tuk for a few days, the wind delightfully tousling your hair, occasional out-stretched arm beyond the tuk-tuk perimeters pretending to fly as ancient ruins and countless temples blur past you - it really, really, really doesn't matter. A backpack of essentials, camera for visual evidence, front row seats to a grand view - life is pretty good. Often times you forget just how hot it is when there's so much adventure around you. Trekking through Angkor Wat and playing amongst the Banyan trees and seeking refuge in a leaky temple from a sudden torrential downpour and chasing off hungry monkeys and searching for the source of mystical music when on a hike and following the many orange-robed monks just because you're amused that they are taking pictures with their cellphones. All once in a lifetime memories made possible by me and V's tuk-tuk driver! Like, what humidity?

Last picture. That's Sukoon. The awesomest driver in all of Cambodia. Look him up. He'll take care of you! Tell him Jin and Vince sent ya. =)

besos ... jin.