Tag Archives: solo travel

An invitation to Vietnam

 

During my contract in Asia on my ship it was exciting to be given the chance to take tours in new countries and see things that were brand new to me. We docked in Da Nang, Vietnam which was about thirty minutes from the popular tourist areas along the beach. All I knew was that I was finally going to eat something out of my own comforts of pho.

Getting out of Da Nang

En route to Hoi An for some free time in the town and lunch at one of the best Vietnamese restaurants I really didn’t know what to expect. Before reaching Hoi An we stopped in the outskirts for a small town walk visiting a temple and a local neighborhood. Following my group from the back of the line I just soaked up everything. How people live. What their houses look like. What people wore. Listening to their language. We reached a huge space of what seemed to be rice paddies. Well this view was not so foreign to me because I once lived in the countryside of Korea and this was all that I saw!

Hoi An
Finally reaching Hoi An my mind was playing tricks on me. Wait, was I back in Bali again? Am I in Ubud? As both Hoi An and Ubud appeared to have many similarities I knew that I was in Vietnam. Hoi An reminded me so much of the heart of Bali; Ubud. With small art shops, beautiful pottery shops, locally made arts and crafts, colorful and exotic fruits on the side streets, small local venders cooking up noodles and dumplings I felt like a spell was put on me. I was truly in love all over again. With exquisite colors of fabrics, paintings, lanterns flowing down the street I felt helplessly in love. There was no turning back at this point. I was completely, magically, and helplessly in love with Hoi An. Walking past me was an older woman carrying large fruit baskets hooked onto a long rod that she held over her shoulder. Colorful dragon fruits, snake fruits, and star fruits jiggled in the basket as she walked past me. Lunch time was around the corner.

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As I thought that Pho and spring rolls filled with shrimps and basil were all that Vietnamese cuisine was all about, I was completely wrong.

Reaching our restaurant the chefs were preparing the dumplings, soups, and fresh salads in the entrance. As I made a special request for a vegetarian meal I was hesitant what I was going to be fed. As the other guests in my tour had the same meal I was the special case and I was hoping that I would get just as delicious food as them. Soon, warm dumplings filled with veggies and shrimp with a dipping sauce was placed in front of me. It looked too beautiful to eat at first then I slowly took my first bite. Then a big bowl of soup that looked like a combo of curry and pho was delicately placed on my table. Have you ever eaten a meal so delicious, ingredients so fresh, that you almost feel sad to finish your food? Each bite I took was small as I soaked in all of the flavors from this soup. I was sad to see it go.

 

Love at first sight

When I fall in love with a place sometimes I fall in love with every bit. The cafes, the people, the smells, the sights, the pace, and the nature. This happened to me once when I visited Bali and now I was experiencing falling in love immediately with Hoi An. Why? Because there is no place quite like it that I have ever been to. Korea doesn’t look like Hoi An. Singapore doesn’t have a small town like this that offers you everything to fall in love with.

I found Hoi An an enchanting town with the river that flows through the city with small fishing boats locals sail on and the yellow and red lanterns that line the town. The little touches the locals put into your experience. With my last thirty minutes of free time I sat and enjoyed what was the largest and most delicious coconut I ever drank out of. With that came a full bladder where I had to find a bathroom immediately for the bus ride back.

Hoi An is a place that made me fall for it all. It’s a place that I always recommend. It’s a place that when I think of it, it brings me peace and a smile on my face. There was so much solitude and joy I experienced by walking around just on my own, just as I like to. There is something to be said about places that immediately make you feel like you’re invited even though you never received an invitation. I think that is called grace.

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Have you ever traveled to a place that you fell in love with at first sight? I’d love to know. Share your comments below to get this conversation started!

How I fell in love with Singapore

 

 

I love Singapore

I am a self-proclaimed Singapore junkie. I love many things about Singapore. Starting with the food. Food always seems to fascinate me especially when it is delicious and available for vegetarians. I love the vibrancy of colors at night in Chinatown. I love testing my taste buds in Little India trying new Indian dishes. I love getting  lost inside the Mustafa Centre with all the latest electronics, clothing, shoes, and wellness products at the best prices. Don’t believe me? Check out my video on Youtube where I explain a bit more.

 

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Reasons to love this beloved city-state

As one of the busiest city-states left in the world Singapore (located in southeast Asia) has many things to offer to a hungry traveler. With a little over five million people living on this multicultural island Singapore marks itself as “The Lion City.” Rest assure as there are no lions roaming the city however at the Promenade you will be sure to see the Merlion fountain spitting water into the bay. With many waiting in a que for a selfie with it.

What attracted me to want to explore Singapore started over six years ago when I settled into my new job in South Korea. Many of my  expat friends were visiting Singapore on short layovers with AirAsia on their way to and from Bali or Malaysia. But for me I wanted to dig a bit deeper to really get the full picture of what Singapore is really like. With mentions of great foods at the hawker stalls, the pristine flora inside Gardens by the Bay, and enjoying the views of the city from the top floor of the Marina Bay Sands I was hooked.

The organization and system that this country follows was very apparent to be when riding the MRT. Singaporeans que up in the proper lines when getting on and off the trains. There are some interesting rules that people must follow in order to not pay a heavy fine. Take for example the exotic fruit, the durian. As this prickly fruit is compared to eating ice cream out of a toilet bowl, the smell in fact is atrocious (to me). With strict fines of up to $500 SD people are banned from carrying this fruit with them onto public transportation, into hotels, and restaurants. There is a reason why nobody wants to smell this fruit! Gum chewing is another rule that you really don’t want to be caught partaking in.

singapore.JPGGum Chewing in Singapore

As our ship was preparing to dock in Singapore our HR team on board trained us the rules of the land. Starting in the early 90’s bans on gum chewing were enforced because of the vandalism it created around the city with people sticking their used gum in many places.  With that said, “No gum chewing!” If you are caught chewing gum anywhere in Singapore you can be charged a hefty fine.  I found the sidewalks so pristine with zero garbage anywhere. The ques that people follow an the organization of the city really drew me into immediately falling in love with Singapore. People really care about keeping it clean!

Super Accessible Mass transit!
With the convenience of cheap and accessible trains you can literally visit the most popular destinations without paying more for taxis. Gardens by the Bay located near the Promenade and Marina by Sands at MRT Bayfront. It is a place that I highly recommend to travelers because the exotic flora from all corners of the world is so magnificent. To keep cool you can browse and check out the flora inside the domes for a small fee ($12 for one conservatory)  for the day or you can check out the gardens outside free of admission. Either the early morning or later in the evening is the best time to go to beat the sun and heat midday.

I would come back just to eat!
Chinatown was quite impressive with a monstrous food scene. Whether you like noodles, laksa, Chili crabs, soups, Chinese food, Malay, or Indian fare you are sure to find it all in Chinatown. As a multicultural island-state with four distinct languages (English, Malay, Mandarin, and Indian) you are sure to find all the foods that represent these languages: Western foods, rice, spicy dishes, meats, dumplings, ramen, fried rice, curry, lassis, briyani, and the list will go on and on.

Hawker Stalls
As a lover of international cuisines I was in food heaven (soon to be food coma). Once I arrived at the MRT in Chinatown there huge food stalls everywhere. From specialty Chinese dishes, to fresh juices, to sliced fruits, to noodles, I had so many choices of delicious things to eat. From there I did some souvenir shopping, sampled Chinese teas, ate some dumplings, watched monks pray in a Buddhist temple, and people watched by snacking at Maxwell Food Court with a cold local Tiger beer.

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Inside Gardens by the Bay

Singapore is highly user friendly. I find it super easy and accessible to find my way around the island and it can all be done by the MRT. As a traveler who loves creative cuisines, night markets, hawker stalls, and ease with getting around Singapore is a touchdown for me.

Accommodation

I booked with Agoda to sort through the best deals in Singapore. I stayed at the Intercontinental Hotel in Bugis and it was beyond awesome. The breakfasts that were included in my room rate each morning were exceptional.  Starting with the fresh pressed juices of my choices (beets, orange, watermelon, ginger), an array of Indian fare, omlettes, and fresh fruits, it was excellent. The staff were great and it was very luxurious. I would gladly stay at the Intercontinental in Bugis (MRT) because of the location (very close to the Sultan Mosque) and the proximity to shops, dining, and entertainment.

Have you ever been to Singapore before? What did you think?

Taking the unplanned route: Thailand on my own

I knew that I always wanted to visit Thailand, it was just a matter of getting myself there and having a plan. I was in love with my favorite Thai restaurant back home, Bangkok, and because of my curiosity I knew that I would eventually find myself there sooner than later. Looking around at all the beautiful deco and photos that the restaurant owners carefully placed around the seating areas I knew that I would pick Thailand as my travel destination during my winter vacation after settling into South Korea.

Sidenote: I recently found out that the owners of Bangkok in Danbury, Connecticut who inspired me to take my first journey to Asia on my own died in an airplane crash in 2015. I want them to know that because of their restaurant I was deeply inspired and moved to venture to Thailand on my own.

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Na Muang Waterfalls, Koh Samui

Fast forward five months later and there I was on a bone chilling morning still dark outside finding my way through the underground in Seoul on my way to Incheon Airport. I was so ready to be in a warmer climate, eat the delicacies of Thailand, find myself in  night markets soaking in all of the culture in Bangkok, and enjoying a proper Thai massage. In the midst of my own excitement I had done little planning because this was my first trip traveling Asia by myself. Two years prior I had backpacked my way around South Africa on the Baz Bus from Jo-burg to Cape Town but planning was minimal because all I did was have to pick my accommodation from the guidebook and I would be dropped off door to door.
There was something so scary to me at first about traveling to Thailand by myself without a plan. I didn’t know the language, transportation system, most visited destinations, and I felt entirely self conscious and overly nervous about this adventure that I found myself in a panic on the plane. With only my first night booked at a highly recommended backpackers in Bangkok, I had no outside knowledge of where I would be traveling to next or how I would get there.

 

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After checking in and dropping off my luggage I was out on the town riding a tuktuk and enjoying local pad thai at a night market with a fresh mango smoothie. On Ko San Ro there was so much to take in. Lots of street eats, massage parlors, shopping, and more. My first night was cool to take in but I knew that I wanted to get out of the capital and discover beautiful beaches and scenery. With Christmas and New Years only days away I browsed for accommodation online and found that most places were sold out. With a little more last minute research on a whim I booked at I-bed in Ko Samui not knowing exactly how I would get myself there. Following the sketchy directions from the hostel desk workers I arrived on foot to a bus station that would take my first to Cha-Am then onto Ko Samui. I spent my four remaining days meeting really cool people at I-Bed, toured around the island visiting the waterfalls, and enjoyed as much curry and Thai food as my body could handle.

I want to say that I fell in love with Koh Samui at first sight. This island is lush, beautiful, and has gorgeous beaches. The Celebrity Millennium tenders in Koh Samui and I so deeply hope that one day soon I can work on that ship with the chance to return to my type of paradise.

#Choose Philippines: Why I keep coming back

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Intramuros, Manila

Mabuhay!

I’ve traveled throughout the Philippines on four separate trips now and to this day I still recommend the Philippines as an excellent travel destination in southeast Asia. Why? Because Filipinos are warm and embracing people. Food is cheap and delicious. You can never run out of destinations to visit. The landscapes vary as you travel around. Nothing looks the same. You can ride a caribou in Puerto Galera. Come on people! There are 7,107 islands to be exact.

The Philippines offers cooler environs outside of sticky Manila such as delightful getaways such as Baguio, Sagada, and Banaue where you can enjoy caving, hiking, and explore the different cultures that the northern mountainous lands offer.

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Hiking in Banaue

Okay, so maybe I have a boyfriend who is from the Philippines but there must be a reason why I keep coming back and making travel arrangements near and far.

My first trip there was to the island of Bohol and it was this venture that I traveled there alone back in 2013 with one intention in mind: to see for myself Chocolate Hills. Bohol exceeded my expectations beyond measure. It is a place I hope to return to.

In July of 2013 I set off to Bohol because I was dying to see the beautiful mounds of Chocolate Hills and the tarzier creatures with the big bug eyes.  After a short flight from Manila, Bohol greeted me with the dreaminess of Alona beach and all of the beautiful people, surroundings, and foods on  “White Beach” similar to Borocay. I fell in love with it at first sight. Dining solo with tea lights on my table I never truly felt alone. In fact, all of the waiters kept asking me where my husband was. The Philippines is a bit obsessed with coupling. Don’t you think?

Chocolate Hills

Why I keep coming back! (Travel longer-travel cheaper)

Compared to many other southeast Asia destinations the Philippines offers cheap travel around the country through ferries and buses, exotic and tasty food, and beyond affordable accommodation throughout the country. Think cheap massages, simple food (very inexpensive), beaches never too far away, many English speakers, and sincerely kind people. I’m pretty sure that when I was in the Philippines last September I was getting some sort of spa service on a daily basis for under $5 per hour. Back home it’s at least $60 minimum for an hour massage. Imagine that.

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Lunch @ Leslie’s in Tagaytay

Just a short list of my reasoning alone makes me want to plan my next trip to the Philippines because there is always something new to learn about Filipino culture, new places to explore, and unlimited foods to try. There are still regions even more north of Sagada that I haven’t explored yet.

It is the Philippines as a travel destination that I highly recommend to anyone who is thinking about jet setting to southeast Asia. If you are searching for something off the beaten path from what many tourists have done include the Philippines in your future travel plans.

Batad Rice Terrace
Batad Rice Terrace

Fast Facts

Culturally speaking the list of what you can experience in the Philippines is endless. From the delicious cuisine with exotic fruits to yummy street foods such as lumpia, ice cold halo-halo, loads of smiles from the locals (especially upon walking into a store) fried bananas, and buko (coconut) juice.

The landscapes of the Philippines drastically change as you travel from the overpopulated capital of Manila to the outside provinces and to the islands. The Philippines consists of  7,107 islands! With these many islands you are never bound to get bored or run out of places to see. If you thought that seeing Borocay was all the Philippines has to offer guess again.

What truly has highlighted my experience of traveling the Philippines has been caving in Sagada and walking through Echo Valley to witness the Hanging Coffins up on the mountain  to quiet Alona Beach in Bohol . The Filipino people have truly made each trip to the Philippines of mine very special to me. Oh gosh, now I am salivating thinking about lumpia.

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Enjoying a birthday celebration in Bohol

The dark side of paradise

It’s very easy to let the negative side of stories of  getting scammed, robbed, or getting a bad first impression of Manila upon arrival (the traffic, air pollution, and the overwhelming poverty). I can admit that yes I have been scammed by taxis and tricycle drivers before but that has not deferred me from wanting to keep coming back to the Philippines to see what else is out there.With that said, I’m here to shed the light on what the Philippines really has to offer as a travel destination. There are all good people in the world near and far. I have met all different kinds of people throughout the world and all throughout southeast Asia, however I haven’t met such  accommodating people in all my life since discovering it in the Philippines. The people of the Philippines has stuck with me as my main reason for what sets this destination apart from other places.

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hiking in Mt. Tapyas

With every destination you visit of course there is always the good and bad parts. For example someone can love the cuisine in India but the traffic and pollution in the cities could be the deal breaker from coming back. I loved cycling around Kyoto on my own but I felt very frustrated by my two trips there when I really couldn’t find my way around Kyoto because there really weren’t many English speakers to talk to. In Manila the traffic, overpopulation, poverty, and smog that fill the capital is such a pity and downer to me but I still love the people. The Philippines truly has to much to offer in terms of sightseeing, landscapes, diversity, languages, and cuisine. It’s been four trips now and I am starting to think when I will be back. As much as I have been offered the chance to live there it is much better for me to visit. The Philippines will always be a place that I can visit and I have many reasons why I can keep coming back.

For more information about travel and life in the Philippines check out my vlogs on Youtube here.

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In love with the Philippines

Why it’s better to travel alone

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Dragon Tiger Tower, Taiwan

Traveling alone makes me feel like I am in control of what I want to see, explore, eat, and do all at my own pace. Wanderlust is something that has taken control over me ever since I took my first trip abroad to Mexico at the ripe age of seventeen with my  best friend. Since then I have explored more than forty countries on every continent except for Antarctica.

I can say that I have traveled a lot by myself in the past six years. Bali, Thailand, Taiwan, Japan, Korea, Australia, Hong Kong, and  South Africa. Many of the other countries I visited were on my cruise ship with shore excursions and friends. The travel I did on my own taught me so much about self reliance, how to read a map, figuring out the public transportation system (trains, buses, high speed rail), trusting my instincts, and being guided by my own natural intuition.

Top reasons for why you should travel solo NOW !

  • Build your problem solving skills
  • Learn to navigate the public transportation routes
  • Eat and dine whenever you want
  • No negotiation because you aren’t in a group
  • Mingle with more people at your own pace
  • More flexibility for last minute changes
  • See more, Do more!
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Taking a rest of cycling in Kyoto, Japan

Look. Traveling solo isn’t for everyone but it is something you should try at least once in your life when planning to see new places. Some people feel funny sightseeing alone and looking at magnificent places without someone special along side them but you don’t have to look at it that way. For me there is nothing more celebrating than making plans of places I want to visit without negotiating with others along the way. “What time do you want to eat? What do you want to do next? What do you want to do tomorrow? Do we have enough time there? Well if you don’t want to go there, I will go and meet you later” I seriously cannot imagine having these conversations when I travel because it will just complicate my plans and ideas. Trust me that you will meet really cool people during your travels. Once you take those baby steps and prepare your trip you will look back and realize that traveling alone was the wisest decision you have made. And in the case that it’s not for you at least it’s something you can add to your list of things you did in your life that you learned from that you can share with others!

 

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Monkey Forest, Ubud, Bali

 

 

My personal travel style: super ‘travel’ savvy

A local kimbap shop in rural South Korea

My personal travel style would have to be titled “travel savvy” while still being on a budget. Enjoying local foods, cafes, markets all at the local level instead of finding “western” places. When I am traveling I cannot afford to plunge into expensive hotels however I steer very far from backpackers and cheap hostels to my favorite, airbnb.. Let me explain.

There are a lot of places to see in the world. There are a lot of things that I have done and more that I want to do. With that said, whenever I am traveling I find unique ways to cut back on travel costs while still traveling in comfort while enjoying all that’s around me. Let me give you a perfect example.

Two years ago I spent a week in New South Wales, Australia on my own and my main focus was Hunter Valley and seeing the Blue Mountains. First thing first I did a little research on public transportation in that area. Renting a car, organizing a private tour and hiring a taxi was out of the question. In the Sydney Tourist Information Center they actually recommended me joining a tour but when I found out what that would cost me I refused. I knew there was a much cheaper way.

I began my adventure in Sydney Central Train station with a one way ticket booked to Katoomba which was roughly a two hour train ride through gorgeous scenery and mountains before reaching my final destination. The train ticket cost me no more than 20$ Australian dollars. I pre booked a youth hostel ( but now I always travel with Airbnb) that had good reviews right in town near the train station and a two day hop on hop off red bus that toured me all around the Blue Mountains regions. Two days was the perfect amount of time to see all of the beautiful highlights that this region had to offer.  My rule of thumb is to always compare my dining options and find the best deal to get the most for my “bucks”.

I never cut back my spending on foods to eat a cup of noodles or cheap snacks instead of local meals to save a couple bucks. However, you will see me eating in s super fancy type restaurant. Instead what I do is sort out all of my options of places to dine locally by asking around and using tripadvisor to steer me in the right direction. As a lover of food and fresh ingredients I absolutely love trying all the foods that are native to where I am visiting.

Do you travel on a tight budget? What kinds of goods do you find your cutting back on? What do you not mind spending money on?  I would love to know!