Thursday, April 25, 2019

Hong Kong & Macau - Spring Break Trip 3/3

Update - midterms went well! Teachers have yet to grade and return the exams, but I am feeling decently good about them. In other news, one week ago the island of Taiwan experienced a 6.1 magnitude earthquake near Hualian, which our city felt roughly a 4.5 magnitude earthquake. Sadly, I was napping and slept right through it (which I would have really liked to experience it if it is going to happen😅). Friends and others said that things really shook, enough for some things to fall over. But there was really no damage as it only lasted for about 20 seconds. In talking to the locals, earthquakes are just common things here on the island. They just said that thankfully there was no tsunami or flooding that followed it. Typhoon season is June - October, so I think I will be missing most of that.

     But back to my travels... The last part of the journey took us to Hong Kong and Macau. Which are independent countries but still parts of China as I came to find out. Each has their own currency, and it is a 1:1 trade. (So if you visit, don't worry about paying to exchange money... they accept both in both places and you'll just waste money to convert - which I learned the hard way, haha.) Hong Kong is a beautiful city. It is a big city, like New York, but much cleaner. Lot's of development was happening there, and it just felt like walking into a beautiful movie.

      First, right after we flew in, we stopped at a giant buddha. It was really gorgeous - right in the middle of the mountains. Here there were feral cows roaming, and they were very sweet. After this we headed into the heart of the city, and viewed the Monster building where one of the Transformers movies was filmed. At night the sky line of the city was a site to die for, and they had a light show where the buildings lit up and shown lasers to music from across the harbor. After this we viewed the Hong Kong Space Museum, because of your's truly, and it was very lovely. I would have loved to see what other museums had to offer in Hong Kong. Next we went to a night market, which sold fabulous knock-offs of any name brand item you could ever think of! I didn't take any pictures there because I was too nervous, haha. But I definitely picked up a few souvenirs.😉After this we went to the world's second tallest sky bar, the Ozone on the 118 floor of the Ritz Carlton Hotel. It was an amazing site looking down at all of Hong Kong in the night.

      After this amazing day, we really slept hard. This was the end of the journey, and we were both beginning to become very tired from the late nights and early mornings. But we got up the next day and headed to Victoria Peak, which has a very famous view of the city. And then we headed to catch the ferry to Macau. The ferry ride was about one hour, and the boat was very nice - set up just like an airplane with air-conditioning and all. Macau meets its expectations as "the Asian Las Vegas". It is just like a newer version of Vegas. Full of large lavish hotels full of gambling machines. Macau is also under development, and you can see many different large hotels being built. At the Wynn there was a fountain show, similar to the Bellagio in Vegas, and it was a truly gorgeous site, see video. From there we headed to the airport, and stayed the night there. By this time we were both feeling a little under the weather, so we didn't have a very restful night there. And upon returning back to Taiwan we slept for 12+ hours straight! It was truly a great trip, and so much fun.

Currently I have two more flights booked to different countries, and hopefully I will visit a few more after these as well. Stay tuned to hear about what's next!

Tuesday, April 16, 2019

Vietnam - Spring Break Trip 2/3

Last week I had two exams, and this week I have two more exams! Half way through midterms, stress is fully activated... but now I am taking a good break to blog and reminisce on much more relaxed times in Vietnam. 😌

     After traveling solo in Thailand for a few days, I flew from Bangkok into Hanoi, Vietnam to meet up with a lovely new friend who was willing to adventure to three countries with me. Upon arriving we took in Hanoi. It is the home of pho (the noodle soup), which were really good. Tried egg coffee, which is like a latte drink, but subbing the milk out for whipped egg white - tasted just like creme brûlée dessert. And spent the rest of the day relaxing before we headed off to our next adventure early the next day. 

     Early in the morning we woke up to go to Halong Bay, which is known for its "emerald green waters and limestone islands" (taken from wikipedia)... but our experience was equally as beautiful but much different. We boarded a boat, with 12 other foreign travelers and headed out to see the hundreds of islands up close. The weather was very cloudy and rainy, and stayed the same way for the entire trip. It wasn't like we had seen in the pictures online, but had a spooky and eerie feeling about it will all the fog, which made it seem more mysteriously beautiful. Island after island had its head in the clouds, and far in the distance you could make out rough shapes where other islands would be. It was all very enchanting. That day we explored a very large cave on an island, and hiked to the top of a different island that had a beautiful overlook of the foggy bay. 



     That evening we were set to stay the night on the boat and anchored in the bay in the middle of the amazing islands. We went squid fishing, and a woman from France caught one! It was amazing to see one changing color and spots up close. After resting for the night, we headed out bright and early to kayak around more islands. This was probably the highlight of my time in Vietnam. Sadly, I didn't bring my phone to take pictures, wouldn't want it to fall in the water, but going in and out and through these gorgeous islands was really magical. At one point, we paddled into a narrow channel which let us into the center of an island. We were far from the sound of boat motors and human laughter, and were completely encircled by the solid island. Amidst the newfound silence the sounds of birds and the light pat of rain on the water flooded into our ears. It was peaceful. It was breathtaking. I could have stayed there for hours. Absolutely lovely.

     After this, we headed back to the mainland, and back to Hanoi. We finished our time off in Vietnam by chasing food, souvenirs, and a train that famously goes through the town. (We had to talk a tuk tuk, or rickshaw, driver into pedaling us across town to catch it, haha.) Overall, I found Vietnam to have the most confusing currency conversion and the craziest traffic.

    Even though the weather was poor on this leg of the journey, we didn't let it dampen out spirits. After all, there was more adventure to be had in more countries! ...Which I will write more about after my two tests! 😄

Looking forward to the weekend,

Tuesday, April 9, 2019

Thailand - Spring Break Trip 1/3

I am back from my extended travel! And there is so much to share, so I will try to give some highlights - fun, struggles, and all! My spring break trip included countless adventures over ten days, seven flights, six cities, five hostels, four countries, three boats, and with one good friend. 😊

Itinerary included: solo in Thailand (Phuket, Bangkok) --> meet friend in Vietnam (Hanoi, Ha Long) --> Hong Kong --> Macau, China

      Like any true adventure... it starts out completely wrong. My first set of three flights were to take me to Phuket, Thailand where my solo adventure would start. This included flying through Vietnam. A U.S. citizen needs to have a visa for any amount of stay in Vietnam, and through my online research I found a (what I thought was a credible) source that said I didn't need a visa to just fly through the airport. So I applied for a visa for just the days I was going to be in Vietnam, which was four days after just flying through. Upon arriving at the airport in Taiwan to take off, they asked for my visa and upon examination said it would not work. I needed my visa dates to include a fly through. 😬 Good thing I showed up to the airport two hours early (I will forever be early to my flights now!), because I sat in the airport and ordered an expensive new one-hour-rushed multiple-entry online visa through my phone. After a tense waiting period, with just minutes to spare before the check-in time closed I received the okayed email, asked reception to print out the paperwork, and made it on my flight. I thought I wasn't going to make it! 
      The flight was great! Landed in Ho Chi Minh City, Vietnam, and followed the queue to get the visa on arrival. Which was pretty simple, stand in line, hand in paperwork, sit and wait, get called to the front, pay $50 for stamp, then proceed to next flight. The only issue is I only had a couple hour layover... and had already spent a significant amount of time walking off the airplane on the tarmac and then piling on a bus to take us to the airport (which is common in Asia I came to find, instead of parking the plane at the gate). After I got the visa, they wanted me to leave through customs and then come back in and go through security again - but the time!! I already didn't think I was going to make it for a second time. So, I asked questions (which asking questions is the key to traveling!) and I was moved to a desk that got my tickets and allowed me in through a back security. I hustled to my gate... only to find it was delayed! What. 😐 I even had a shorter layover period at the next airport in Bangkok. How would I make it? Delayed 15 minutes, 30 minutes, 45 minutes, gate switch, 1 hour... 
       Thankfully I didn't need the visa process for Thailand, but I was now getting worried a third time that I may miss my connecting flight. Finally we lined to board... and thankfully I like to print my flights and hotel confirmations because they needed my confirmed flight out of Thailand before I flew into it. 😅I was on my way. I landed in Bangkok, Thailand and ran through the airport asking workers which way were the connecting flights, and then going through a pass through security again... and them asking where my departure stamp was for Vietnam... 😳After explaining the situation, I again sprinted gate past gate, backpack zippers jingling, and was the second to last significantly late person on the flight. But I had made it. Flew into Phuket late in the evening, was too drained to try and figure out the bus system, and asked a tour service to call a car for me. Bless the car guy for calling my hostel to tell them I was on my way, and upon making it to the hostel, I just laid down and slept. 
     After all this... Thailand really was amazing. In Phuket I went to an elephant sanctuary where I mud bathed, swam, and showered with elephants. It was a truly a beautiful experience! Elephants are giant puppy dogs with sweet playful personalities! 😍

     I made friends some people in my hostel, and we headed out for the evening to Patong Beach and enjoyed the nightlife there. (Though I now know why Asian countries call it "table tennis" and not "ping pong"... for that explanation I will let you figure that our for yourself... be warned!) After this the next day I went on a boat tour of some of the famous Phi Phi islands in Thailand. Including the place where James Bond: The Man with the Golden Gun was filmed - which was stunning! We were able to kayak around at one point, and it was really one of the most beautiful places I have ever been too! Of all the places, I would have liked to have spent more time there in Phuket. 

     After roughly two days there, I flew to Bangkok for just one afternoon. Yes, the song "One Night in Bangkok" by Murray Head was playing over and over again in my mind the whole time, sadly I didn't play any chess though, haha. Here I went to a few different large temples, which were like large complexes full of magnificently decorated buildings and large buddhas. There are many gigantic buddhas in Bangkok. 

After this I went to have dinner and met another person solo traveling, and we went to one of the night markets where I ate a scorpion! 😱Weirdest thing I have ever eaten, and I've eaten some weird things. Very crunchy, and tasted like bland jerky... but I really was so worried about my teeth breaking I didn't really pay attention to the flavor, haha. 
Thailand definitely had the best food I had on my whole trip, and the street massages were so cheap and so worth it! 

Yes, yes, I do understand stranger danger. And I stay away from people who I don't feel comfortable around, I feel like there is a gut feeling that you get. And even when I am with someone I have just met, I try to make it a group of people, I still have my guard up. But I do feel like part of traveling is meeting other travelers as well. And more than not I have found people are more good than bad, and are as equally as wary of other strangers as I am, haha. Nonetheless, it's good to lock your things up in hostels (looking back I would have liked to have traveled with a small lock, but most places have locks you can rent for cubbies), good to always have an emergency plan, and good to always err on the side of caution. 
This concludes the first leg of the journey. The next, 2/3, is coming after I finish my Chinese language exam tomorrow! 

Wish me luck,