Posts tagged Traveling
5 Reasons to Visit Singapore (That Have Nothing to Do With Crazy Rich Asians)

Ivan here.

Singapore was the first country on our RTW trip.

When Jennie and I told people we were staying in Singapore for a week, the first thing they asked was, “Why? A week is too long for Singapore.” Then the follow-up question: “is it because you saw Crazy Rich Asians?”

No, we still haven’t seen Crazy Rich Asians.

 
Crazy Rich Asians Source:  EW.com

Crazy Rich Asians
Source: EW.com

 

Whether a movie boasts an all Asian-American cast or an all Somali-American cast is beside the point. In the final evaluation, Crazy Rich Asians just isn’t the kind of movie I’d go out of my way to see. Then again, I’m also the kind of asshole who resents being told what I should see based solely on what I look like. It’s almost as if the studio is saying, “This movie’s Asian. You’re Asian. What’s the problem here? Where’s my money?”

Don’t sell me on something being Asian or (insert minority identity), and therefore, groundbreaking and significant by default.

Instead, sell me on the actual work being groundbreaking and significant.


The First Stop on our RTW Trip:

Why We Traveled to Singapore


The iconic Marina Bay Sands building at night. Singapore is much more than meets the eye.

The iconic Marina Bay Sands building at night.
Singapore is much more than meets the eye.

Jennie and I had a very practical reason for why we wanted to spend a week in Singapore:

We’re looking for the next city to live in once our RTW trip is over. And Singapore is on our list.

On paper, Singapore checks a lot of our boxes:

  • It’s a financial services hub with a growing technology and cybersecurity industry.

  • Singaporeans are well-educated, speak multiple languages and have an entrepreneurial spirit.

We also got the sense that Singaporeans actually felt the rest of the world had something to offer them. That different countries, cultures and ethnicities could *gasp* learn from each other and get along.

I know, truly groundbreaking stuff.


5 Reasons Why You Should Visit Singapore Now


1. You can have a good time on almost any budget

Singapore enjoys a higher standard of living than most cities in the world, with a GDP per capita ($55,235) that’s slightly higher than the U.S ($53,128). That said, you arguably get much more for your money relative to other places. You notice this right away as you land in Changi Airport, rated the world’s best airport by Skytrax. Immigration was a breeze and the subway (MRT) to the city center took 40 minutes and cost less than $2 USD. The public transportation system is so efficient that we never had to take a taxi or Grab (Singapore’s Uber equivalent) during our entire week-long stay.

The only thing that could break your budget is accommodation. Jennie and I were lucky in that a friend let us use his apartment while he was away on sabbatical, but it’s possible on the low end to get a dorm bed for $15-20 USD a night or a private room for around $50-60 USD a night.

Outside of rent, there’s a wide range of things you can experience on any budget. Hawker centre meals cost $3-5 USD each. If you want to live the expat lifestyle during your stay, you can - for a price. Free tours are available in different neighborhoods across the city and local meetups and the dating scene (so we hear) is quite active and diverse.  

Jennie’s Note: We highly, HIGHLY recommend Monster Tour and their free walking tours. They are truly high quality and filled with a lot of personality.

If I could describe Singapore in one word for visitors it would be: seamless. Everything about Singapore is perfectly held together and without you knowing it, there were years of thoughtful planning behind it.

2. Singaporeans are great conversationalists, ambitious, career-driven, and that’s stimulating

One of the things you hear often about Singapore is the idea of the city-state being a “meritocracy.” This means that from a young age, the education system segregates students based on test scores into different “streams,” leading to intense competition and an overemphasis on study.

Predictably, this has had negative consequences, including mental health issues and growing inequality between different “streams” of students. But what the visitor actually experiences are well-educated, highly ambitious people who are knowledgeable about the world around them. Combine that with a dry sense of humor and their own brand of English (Singlish), and it’s almost impossible to have a dull conversation.

3. Foodie and hawker center culture is king in Singapore

Singaporeans live to eat - and the options in the city are limitless. A quick Google search will turn up hundreds of Singaporean food blogs dedicated to a specific niche. Everything else a visitor does in Singapore can be considered filler for the next meal.

This is a true food haven for people who want great quality food at an affordable price point. There are few places in the world that can match Singapore’s quality. More on this in an upcoming post about Singapore’s hawker centre food culture next week.

4. Exploring different neighborhoods and public spaces

Arguably, outside of the famous Supertree Grove at Gardens by the Bay (arrive well after dark), the other “tourist attractions” in Singapore are pretty sanitized and unimpressive. The appeal of the city is actually in picking one or two neighborhoods to explore for the day, choosing a few local food spots and just lounging at a cafe from midday to mid-afternoon to escape the oppressive heat. Then as night falls, join a group of locals for conversation and drinks.

This might not sound like a fun, action-packed way to spend a trip, but as two type A personalities, Jennie and I never felt close to being bored during our one week stay.

5. Singapore has modern conveniences and infrastructure that actually works

If you’re unfamiliar with Singapore’s history, you should know one thing: Singapore became an independent country in 1965; it’s a little more than 50 years old.  

Whatever the downsides of Singapore’s government (and there are downsides), it just feels refreshing to step off a plane and arrive in a city where public infrastructure actually works the way it’s supposed to. To experience even the semblance of competence and streamlined government was a huge revelation to us, and raises some questions about the American model.


5 Places in Singapore We Recommend


1. Our favorite Singaporean hawker centers & stalls

A delicious meal from A Noodle Story

A delicious meal from A Noodle Story

Learning how to order coffee at a Singapore kopitiam. Lime juice and barley drink from any drink stall.  A Noodle Story in Amoy Street Food Centre, Hong Lim Centre near Chinatown, wan tan mee at Old Airport Road Hawker Centre, and satay skewers with Tiger beer (satay stalls No. 7 and 8) outside Lau Pa Sat food court were some of our favorite food experiences. More details in a coming post.


2. Tiong Bahru neighborhood

Singapore’s hipster neighborhood. Highlights include lunch at Loo’s Hainanese Curry Rice and BooksActually, a vintage and independent bookstore store that publishes local Singaporean writers. It opened my eyes to a talented and hugely underrated Southeast Asian literary scene.

3. Bugis & Kampong Glam neighborhood

A Thursday evening starting with craft beers at Good Luck Beerhouse on Haji Lane ($18 USD), dinner at Michelin-starred Hill Street Tai Hwa Pork Noodle ($16), followed by a Korean movie (Burning) based on a Haruki Murakami short story at the The Projector ($20) - barely scratches the surface of a night out in Singapore after a long day of work.

Check out this guide from Click Network and a Singaporean local. It was actually really helpful when we planned for this neighborhood!

4. Geylang Serai district after dark

Red light district of Singapore. Grungy shophouses and late night eateries with plastic chairs and outdoor seating - all under the glare of fluorescent lights and electric ceiling fans. Cheap, delicious food, beer, and people watching in a “seedy” part of town, in a country with one of the lowest crime rates in the world.  

5. Little India

We joined a free walking tour with Monster Day Tours to get more context and local recommendations on Little India (they do tours all across the city. You should tip the guide afterwards). It was also an opportunity for us to chat with other visitors over some roti canai.


3 Places in Singapore We Avoided


Singapore Orchard Road - all high end shopping.

Singapore Orchard Road - all high end shopping.

1. Orchard Road

Orchard Road is Singapore’s 2.2 km stretch of shopping malls. Unfortunately, we can’t (and don’t) really shop because we have to fit everything we own inside two 40L backpacks. So for us, malls are only good for two things: air conditioning and clean bathrooms.

2. Marina Bay Sands

Marina Bay Sands (or MBS as locals call it) is owned by Sheldon Adelson’s Las Vegas Sands Corp. Mr. Adelson is known for other tasteful establishments like The Venetian in Las Vegas and an entire strip of casinos in Macau. MBS provides the essential service of redistributing wealth from the bottom 99% to the top 1%, as well as populating Instagram with infinity pool shots which, by some miracle, manages to crop out the other 976 people in the pool trying to take the exact same photo.

Singapore Universal Studios

Singapore Universal Studios

3. Sentosa Island & Universal Studios

Sentosa contains two of our least favorite activities: paying a lot of money to wait in line for a two minute ride - and being anywhere in the vicinity of a casino.

Look forward to our full travel guide to Singapore over the next couple of weeks. We’ll update the link here as well once it’s live.



Travel Diary: A Week in the Life in Kauai, Hawaii & An Unfiltered and Comprehensive Couples’ Trip Report

Couples Travel Diary - Kauai, Hawaii:
First Stop on our Global Long-Term Travels


Ivan here.

Over the two weeks Jennie and I spent in Kauai, Hawaii, we worked for roughly three days. But instead of commuting home to our Los Angeles studio, we drove along scenic coastlines in a small Nissan Versa, back to our small Kauai cottage by the jungle.

If I could describe Kauai in one word, it would be lush. The Garden Island was much greener and the landscape more diverse than we’d expected (not just palm trees and beaches!). Time moves much slower on Kauai. Two weeks living there felt like months.

Exactly the type of place we were looking for to start our RTW trip!


A Week in the Life:
An Unfiltered Couples’ Travel Diary in Kauai, Hawaii


Travel Guide Banner Images (1).jpg

Since we manually record every transaction we make, I’ve recreated the first week of our trip, leaving in both the good and the bad parts. The second week is pretty much a variation of the first - except we’re hiking and snorkeling at different trails and beaches.

Day 1 (Sunday) in Kauai: Breakfast at jungle Airbnb cottage, cleaning gecko poop, showering outdoors, and biking along the East Shore

We’re staying at a rustic cottage near Kapaa on the East Shore of the island. I booked the place on Airbnb back in February for $75 a night ($975 for 13 nights), which is insanely cheap for Kauai. Other listed budget options here run almost double that. The cottage is located on a chocolate farm right on the edge of a tropical jungle. From our patio, we can hear the sound of the river flowing a couple meters below us.

Features of the cottage include a huge shelf of vintage books, no wifi, and an outdoor bathroom and shower, located about five feet from the cottage. I chose the place specifically for the experience, but Jennie for some reason was not as enthused. Also, the cottage is inhabited by a half dozen geckos. They mainly leave us alone, but in the mornings, they leave droppings we have to clean up. No big deal.

We wake up bright and early (6 AM) - partly due to the army of wild roosters who run free on the island - and take our first open air shower. Jennie insists on showering together because she’s deathly afraid of spiders. I’m a romantic and a gentleman, so I agree.

We make the 10 minute drive to Kapaa and grab breakfast at the first place we Yelp, an artsy coffeehouse called Java Kai ($17). The place reminds us of West Los Angeles/ Santa Monica - and not in a good way. We promise each other to do better.

We walk around Kapaa and rent a pair of island bikes from Hele On Bike rentals ($25 for three hours). We bike along Ke Ala Hele Makalae trail. The weather is humid without being unbearable. Tradewinds blow in regularly from the coast. In the afternoon, rain clouds move in and there is a brief, cooling shower. We return the bikes and cap our afternoon off with some Ono Ono shave ice ($6).

Shave Ice from Ono Ono Shave Ice - Sour cherry, mango and pineapple with an ube-flavored ice cream center is called an East Side Sunrise.

In the evening, we drive to Walmart ($55) by Lihue airport to pick up a week’s supply of water and groceries. Our plan is to eat out every day for lunch and cook simple dinners at our cottage.

There’s not much nightlife on Kauai. Locals typically turn in before 10 and wake up with the sun. That schedule sounds great to us.

Day 2 (Monday) in Kauai: Exploring Kapaa, morning run, poke lunch at Pono Market, and Kalapaki Beach

6 AM. Simple breakfast at the cottage. Jennie is working on a profile/interview of a senior exec for a client and needs to do a one hour phone interview, so she breaks out our pocket Wifi. I have no work planned, so I go for a morning run in Kapaa on the same route we biked along yesterday. Every runner/biker I pass by smiles and says aloha to me, which catches me off guard. The trail is less than four miles roundtrip and the scenery is stunning.

Jennie and I rendezvous for lunch at Pono Market ($21). It’s a cheap local spot that also serves Hawaiian plate lunches and other traditional dishes (amazing Lau Lau), but we decide to have poke bowls today. We order a spicy Poke bowl and a sesame Poke bowl and wash it down with a can of Hawaiian Sun Guava nectar. The ahi (tuna) is chewy and fresh.

In the afternoon, we pack up our beach towels and our green boogie board we bought at Ross ($10) and decide to hit our first beach. We pick Kalapaki Beach by the airport Marriott. We take turns swimming in the ocean, but grow bored quickly just laying there on the sand.

Turns out we’re not a do-nothing-at-the-beach type of couple.

A sample of our conversation:

“How long have we been lying here?”

“Only…(checks phone)...forty five minutes.”

(long silence)

“Feels like hours.”


Day 3 Tuesday: Kayak and hike to Secret Falls on the Wailua River and half day of “digital nomad” work at Starbucks

We’ve booked an early bird kayak and hike tour with Kayak Wailua ($50 per person, excluding tip). Our guide is Renee, who’s originally from Indiana but moved to the island 16 years ago and is now raising a family. She has a spacey, hippy vibe that reminds me of some people I know in Vancouver, British Columbia.

The first part of the tour is an hour-long kayak up the Wailua River. I’ve been solo kayaking before, but somehow I can’t seem to steer the double kayak in a straight line. We zigzag our way through the first part of the river. Renee slows down to give me tips. She says I’m over-correcting the kayak by turning too sharply. I take her advice and end up under-correcting. We do the second half of the river at a glacial pace. We trail the 10-kayak group, but thankfully, with the current, only by a few minutes. However, Jennie is not impressed by my navigational skills and my ego is bruised.

Secret Falls in Kauai, Hawaii


Side note:
I have a tragic sense of direction. My instincts always point in the opposite direction of where I should be going. This makes for entertaining stories to tell friends after the fact, but in the moment, it’s very discouraging.

The second part of the tour is a hike to the “Secret Falls.” The waterfall is not so secret anymore because every tour group on the island brings billions of people there each day. Thankfully, we’re the early bird crew so we get the waterfall to ourselves for a while. Taking a swim underneath the waterfall helps my self-esteem recover and Jennie learns the power of forgiveness.

In the afternoon, Jennie and I both have billable work to do, so we decamp to a Starbucks and work until sunset. Jennie would like you to know that if you pay with your Starbucks card you can get unlimited free refills on any non-frappe coffee or tea drinks ($5) in the U.S.. Over the course of four hours she asks for five refills, and a different drink each time #shameless #winning.

Day 4 Wednesday: Sleeping Giant (Nou Nou West Trail) early morning hike, “digital nomad” work afternoon at Starbucks, Chicken in a Barrel BBQ

Early morning hike up Sleeping Giant Mountain (also known as Nou Nou). We take the less frequented Nou Nou West trailhead up the mountain, as recommended by our kayak guide Renee. In terms of effort-to-reward ratio, Nou Nou West Trail is the best trail ever. It’s only 1.6 miles and starts under a shaded canopy of ginormous trees and ends on a rock cliff with a panoramic view of the entire East Shore.

A panoramic view of the entire East Shore from the top of Sleeping Giant.

A panoramic view of the entire East Shore from the top of Sleeping Giant.

Back at Starbucks after lunch at Hamura Saimin ($23). We have two extra large portions of Hawaiian saimin and split a piece of lilikoi (passion fruit) pie. Today, Jennie is polishing off some presentation slides and I have to revise and edit a whitepaper. We also take time to set up coffee meetings for when we arrive in Asia. I shoot off an email to friends in Singapore and Malaysia to ask for some introductions.

For dinner, we stop by Chicken in a Barrel on our way back to the cottage, a local spot that specializes in Kauai-style barbecue chicken. The chicken is smoky, tender and tastes even better cold. We order two 1/2 chickens to go ($28), head back to our cottage, microwave some Uncle Ben’s Spanish rice and a packet of frozen broccoli. We split half a chicken and save the other half for dinner tomorrow. One less decision to make!


Day 5 Thursday: First argument, snorkeling on the North Shore. Sea turtles at Anini Beach, Princeville Hideaway Beach, and Hanalei Bay

While parked at a beautiful scenic lookout on the way to the North Shore, Jennie finally has a minor meltdown about the outdoor bathroom and shower situation. The first couple of days, we ignored our host’s advice about applying mosquito repellent, so our legs have been ravaged by mosquito bites. This is the first argument of our trip.

Jennie learns in this argument that part of the reason I chose the cottage (aside from having an authentic Kauai jungle experience), was because she would always make fun of my sheltered childhood (she’s not wrong). So when I saw the outdoor bathroom, a part of me thought: “Oh yeah? We’ll see about that.” Technically, I win, but I feel bad about Jennie’s mosquito bite-ridden legs. Also, very unsexy, so that’s some self-sabotage right there.

Both our clients have reviewed our deliverables and requested some minor last minute changes while we’re snorkeling with sea turtles on Anini Beach (gear rentals are $15 per week at Kapaa Beach Shop). We break out the pocket wifi and make the changes in 15 minutes.

Onward to Princeville and Hideaway Beach.

Hideaway Beach turns out to be at the bottom of a cliff we have to climb down via ropeway. On the way back up, while carrying all our water and snorkeling gear, I slip on a muddy step and land hard on my ass. Jennie laughs way too hard (and for way too long) at this, which annoys me. I’m further annoyed we had to park with the valet at the nearby St. Regis hotel. I understand why valets exist - I just think that reason is really dumb.

We arrive at Hanalei Bay. I’m still grumpy about my fall, but my misery is Jennie’s sustenance so she’s feeling chipper again. The Bay is not how I imagined it in the short story I read by Haruki Murakami, where a Japanese woman loses her son to a shark in Hanalei Bay and returns to the place every year for the rest of her life.

I hope Jennie gets eaten by a shark (I kid). That evening, I read her the short story.

Day 6 Friday: Hindu monastery, snorkeling on the South Shore. Sea turtles and lazy seals at Poipu Beach, Mak’apela Cliff Trail

In the morning, we visit the Hindu monastery (free) near Kapaa. You ring a small bell at the entrance to announce your arrival. Beyond the entrance, you can write down a personal obstacle or struggle you have on a piece of paper and set fire to it at the altar.

I write down “ego and my arrogant attitude,” but I’m having trouble with the lighter.

“What’s the matter, you’ve never played with matches as a kid?” asks Jennie.

“No, my mom never let me,” I say. “You?”

“Yup. There’ve been some close calls...”

I wonder what she wrote on her paper.

Beyond this point, there’s the temple grounds and a gorgeous banyan tree. I’m sitting on one of the five flat rocks underneath the banyan tree, trying to meditate. A mosquito is sucking blood from my ring finger. I’m tempted to kill it, but that would defeat the whole ‘every life is sacred’ thing.

Checkmate.  

For variety, we go snorkeling on the South Shore (Poipu Beach) in the afternoon. We swim with more sea turtles and walk past a fat and lazy monk seal sunbathing on the beach.

Day 7 Saturday: Hiking at Waimea Canyon (Awa’awapuhi and Waipo’o Falls and Canyon trails) and the best sunset drive

It’s the weekend, so no chance of last minute work requests. We take the 1.5 hr drive to Waimea Canyon National Park. Today is an ambitious day, so we’re doing two trails for over 10 miles roundtrip. Over the years, we’ve learned that it’s almost always worth it to sweat for your view, rather than just park at a scenic spot and take the same pictures as everyone else.

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The first trail is the Awa'awapuhi Trail, which seemed deceptively easy and boring, since it was mostly downhill all the way there with not much to look at. But at mile 3, the trail suddenly opens up to a 360 degree view of the Kalalau Valley. There’s also a narrow strip of rock jutting right out into the ocean.

The second trail is the Waipo’o Falls and Canyon hike, which leads to a closer view of the Waimea Canyon rock face. Maybe we were spoiled by the view from the first hike because Jennie rates this trail a ‘meh’ out of 10.

A panoramic view of the Waimea Canyon.

A panoramic view of the Waimea Canyon.

We cap our first week in Kauai off with a view of Waimea Canyon from the main lookout point and then a lengthy sunset drive from Waimea Canyon back to our cottage.


What We Would Do Differently with a Week in Kauai


1. An outdoor bathroom is now a dealbreaker for Jennie.

Jennie has made me swear a blood oath never to book an Airbnb with an outdoor bathroom again. In all honesty, I thought it contributed to the experience. It’s not like we’re talking about a squat toilet with no running water. As for mosquitoes, we learned to deal with them after our initial mistake of not using repellent. Just wear long sleeves in the early mornings and after dusk, and apply repellent regularly. Our bites healed up after the first week, and everything turned out fine.

2. Too many visits to Starbucks

We found a better alternative in the second week with Ha Coffee Bar, but we should’ve made more of an effort to support local business. Sometimes when it comes to work, we just had to go for a sure Wifi connection and clean bathrooms.

3. Talk to more locals

The cottage is fairly secluded from the main residence and we were always driving off early for some hiking or snorkeling, but we wish we could’ve made an effort to chat with our Airbnb host. Her name is Charlotte and she’s originally from Germany and her story sounds really interesting! I really enjoyed her late husband’s book collection. During our stay, I read an obscure text called The Leisure of An Egyptian Official by Lord Edward Cecil, describing the day-to-day minutiae of a British colonial administrator.

Origami Guides: Camping in Joshua Tree National Park

Jennie here!

It’s becoming a little tradition of ours to go camping during major fall and winter holidays. Last year, we went to Death Valley National Park and this year, we decided to get away from the city life and go camping in Joshua Tree National Park for Thanksgiving 2017. We got a bit of a reprieve from the frustrations of our daily life...while others spent time at large family dinners or shopping on Black Friday. Ignorance is bliss.


Who Should Use This

Joshua Tree National Park Guide?


This could be you at Joshua Tree National Park. AKA - BAMF..

This could be you at Joshua Tree National Park. AKA - BAMF..

This guide is meant for solo travelers and couples who are looking to do some digital detox from our crazy world.
Oh, and travelers who are really into scrambling, hiking, or star gazing.


WHAT ARE THE BEST TIMES IN THE YEAR

TO VISIT JOSHUA TREE NATIONAL PARK?


It depends on what you want to do.

Spring is best for checking out the blooming desert wildflowers and the Fall and Winter are best for cooler weather and stargazing. Scrambling and hiking is available year round.

Avoid summer at all cost. It’s the desert so daytime temperatures from June through August hover around 100˚F (38˚C). If you plan on going during the summer, just plan your activities early in the morning or late afternoons; drink lots of water.

Note: Thanksgiving weekend was crowded. Since most campsites inside the park are first-come, first serve, we lucked into a spot as a family was leaving. Keep that in mind if you’re planning on come out during the holidays.


HOW DO I GET TO JOSHUA TREE NATIONAL PARK?

Do I need a car for Joshua Tree?


Yes. Unfortunately, your only option is to drive. We came out from Los Angeles but the closest airports include the following:

  • Palm Springs International - 45 minutes from park headquarters

  • Ontario International - an hour and a half from the park

  • Los Angeles International, Burbank, and Long Beach Airports are all about two to three hours away depending on traffic

Regardless of where you come in from, you eventually have to hop in a car to get around.

Since we got rid our our car last month, we opted to rent a car from Sixt car rentals and only paid $178 for five days for unlimited mileage on a full-sized car. So, we spent about $35.60 per day on a car (split between four people).


WHERE SHOULD I STAY IN JOSHUA TREE NATIONAL PARK?


Going to a place like Joshua Tree means that you’re looking to reconnect with nature a bit. And there’s no better way to do that than straight up camping. Choose any available campsite in the park. Most of the campsites are either $15 or $20 a night and operate on a first-come, first serve basis.

Here are a few campsites to consider:

  • Campsites at the edge of the park can be reserved in advance: Black Rock, Indian Cove
  • Campsites inside the park are all first-come, first-serve: Hidden Valley, Ryan, Jumbo Rocks, Belle, Sheep Pass, White Tank, and Cottonwood. 

If you’re not that big into nature and prefer the comforts of city life, there are a ton of nearby motels, hotels, and Airbnbs that you can seek out on your own.


HOW SHOULD I PACK FOR CAMPING AT JOSHUA TREE?


If you’re camping, these are the things you should be aware of:

  • There are washrooms AND toilet paper. Unless you’re backcountry camping, most J-Tree campsites come with bathrooms with toilet paper. However, these bathrooms are basically glorified porta-potties, meaning there's no running water or sink. Hand sanitizer is an absolute must!

  • Showers are accessible for campers right outside of the park. If you want to camp but also need to shower, there’s a souvenir shop right outside of the west entrance of the National Park and and it offers quick showers for $4.00.

  • There is NO, I repeat NO cellular service once you enter Joshua Tree National Park. Yeah, let that one sink in. Just let the smartphone go.

Most of my items for Joshua Tree camping are fairly similar to my Death Valley camping list

Here are a few items I recommend you pack:

For Your Comfort:

  • Fleece or vest jacket
  • Hand sanitizer (!)
  • Baby wipes (one pack for the face and one for...the nether regions)
  • Climbing gloves (for scrambling) - we bought cheap pairs from Daiso
  • Light blanket/throw for cooler evenings
  • Camping chairs or lightweight folding chairs
  • Wine because you don’t need to keep it cold
  • Ingredients for S’mores

Packing Food:

If you don't feel like cooking - we found the following food items worked:

  • Pita chips
  • Bagels
  • Instant oatmeal
  • Bananas or apples
  • Granola bars

J-Tree Necessities:

  • Lots of water. At least 1 gallon per person per day
  • Sunscreen
  • Sunglasses
  • Hats

Note: If you don’t have everything - don’t worry. There’s actually a Walmart Supercenter in the neighboring town. It’s less than 10 minutes away from the western entrance of the national park. And you can easily purchase any camping necessities (e.g. firewood) or modern conveniences (e.g. batteries) you might need.


HOW DO I USE THIS JOSHUA TREE GUIDE?


For simplicity’s sake, this guide assumes that you’ll be based mainly inside Joshua Tree National Park and you’ve got a car to get around.

The map is divided into the following color-coded areas:

  • Outdoor activities are in Green

  • Foods spots are in Blue

  • The Yellow markers are for optional, more obscure sites

  • Camping sites are in Purple


Outdoor Activities in Joshua Tree National Park (in Green)


  • Rock scrambling and climbing. One of the park rangers at Joshua Tree mentioned that Joshua Tree should actually be re-named “Jumbo Rocks” because that’s what is really unique about the area. Many people from all over will come out just to spend the entire weekend scrambling or climbing at this rock “mecca”.

    Here are a few suggested areas to do some light scrambling:

    • Skull Rock: Often crowded but still cool for some beginner’s scrambling (and family friendly).

    • Hall of Horrors: Steeper drops but supposed to be pretty thrilling…

    • Hidden Valley: A ton of scrambling and climbing spots.
       

  • Hiking all over the park. The terrain is significantly flatter than I’ve seen at other places but still a pretty pleasant hiking experience. We saw lots of families hiking together along several paths. For the full list, check out the National Park Service website or ask a park ranger when you get there.

    Here are a few notable hikes you shouldn’t miss:
    • Fortynine Palms Oasis: Fortynine Palms Oasis Trail is 3 miles round trip with 350 feet of elevation change. Once you get into the canyon, you’ll see a cluster of Californian palm trees with boulders and pools of water threaded throughout this strange oasis. It’s a strange sight to see.

Note: We also did the Lost Horse Mine Loop...but the payoff was not worth it. It was a pretty flat and dull trail for the majority of the hike.

Because sunsets in Joshua Tree are that gorgeous. #nofilter

Because sunsets in Joshua Tree are that gorgeous. #nofilter

  • “Garden” viewing at the Cholla Cactus Garden. I actually found this view to be the most breathtaking outside of the sunsets at Joshua Tree. There’s something unexpected about seeing a vast stretch of these prickly cacti at J-Tree. Walk through it and tread lightly. You’ll probably get some needles stuck at the bottom sole of your shoes.
     
  • Sunsets at Joshua Tree National Park. My favorite moments were sitting on some large rock/boulder and just watching the sun slowly set after a long day of hiking and running around. And with no internet or cell service, I felt even more relaxed about the entire experience. It’s the type of beauty that makes you think about the big questions in your life.
     

  • Stargazing in the winter and spring months. If you can plan your trips around meteor shower events, I highly recommend spending it at Joshua Tree. There are also guided stargazing experiences at the Sky’s the Limit Observatory & Nature Center on most Saturdays. Check out the NPS website for their tips and tricks on stargazing at Joshua Tree.


Where To Eat At Joshua Tree (in Red)


We came during Thanksgiving so...unfortunately for us, nothing was open on Thanksgiving day. Our group ended up eating out at IHOP when we arrive and cooking food the rest of the trip.

Here are a few notable spots that came highly recommended:

  • Joshua Tree Coffee Company: Organic coffee roasted in only small batches. From what I’ve read this cafe is the perfect way to kickstart your morning. Sip your cup of joe on the attached patio deck as you get caffeinated and plan for a full day in Joshua Tree.

  • Crossroads Cafe: I got several recommendations for Crossroads Cafe from several trusted Angelenos. This place is right outside the west entrance of the park and offers filling meals, friendly service, and great options for lunch or breakfast.

See the shared map for a few more food suggestions. 


Stranger, More Obscure Activities

Near Joshua Tree National Park (in Yellow)


Everything I’m listing below are just free experiences because...why the hell not?

  • World Famous Crochet Museum: Essentially, a small shrine dedicated to the cozy art of crochet.

  • Noah Purifoy's Outdoor Desert Art Museum: 7.5 acres of "Environmental Sculptures". There’s something extremely sad and strange about the entire experience in the middle of nowhere.

  • Desert Jesus Park: A 3.5 acre sculpture garden park; I only found out after but the statues were moved here in 1951 by the local church. Words I’d use to describe this place: eerie, odd, creepy, strange...

  • Bob’s Crystal Museum: An eclectic “cave” with decorated crystals by Bob Carr in the middle of the Sky Villages Swap Meet. Worth a gander.

  • Cactus Mart: Eclectic and you can create your own mini-cacti garden at $0.59 a piece. A steal if I ever saw one.

* * *

Have you been camping at Joshua Tree National Park before? 

What did you and your group do differently?

Did you come across any unique experiences?



 

 

October 2017 Money Diary: Everything We Spent on Our Train Trip Across America
 
 
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The Origami Life - October 2017 Money Diary-2.png

In October,  Jennie and I took 15 days off and traveled from Los Angeles, California to Boston, Massachusetts - by Amtrak rail.

Here’s what we spent on this long train journey:


Everything We Spent on Our 15 Day U.S. Train Journey with Amtrak


Our Travel Spend Priorities

Before I lay out the expenses for the trip, I should provide some context on what Jennie and I value when we travel. The following are not hard and fast rules, but I think it paints a pretty accurate picture of what our spending priorities are

  1. We dine out for a light breakfast (usually just coffee + pastry) to go over our plans for the day.

  2. We dine out for one of lunch or dinner (and buy groceries for the other meal).

  3. We choose one paid “attraction” per day and plan several free ones around it.

  4. We plan our meals around relationships we value. If we’re staying with friends, we will always pay.

  5. How a restaurant looks, ‘its vibe’ and the attentiveness of its waitstaff are of minimal importance to us.

  6. Whenever possible, we will ride public transit at least once. It’s not just cheaper, but you get to see a cross-section of society interacting (or not interacting).

  7. We don’t believe in souvenirs or other knick knacks that can’t be immediately consumed.

  8. We don’t do ‘fine dining’ (our definition is any meal over $35 per person incl. tax and tip), fusion cuisine, or places that advertise farm-to-table ingredients. These are just personal preferences.

  9. We don’t (really) drink and avoid bars, breweries and nightclubs designed specifically for that purpose. The only exception are jazz clubs (i.e. the drinking should be the secondary objective to whatever the main point is).

  10. We will pay a (significant) premium for a quiet coffee shop or bookstore with fast wifi, strong coffee, and a clear view of the passing scenery (hence, 100 hours over 15 days on trains).

With that out of the way, here’s what we spent:  


Before the Trip


Amtrak USA Rail Passes (x2): $918 ($459 each)

28L Patagonia Refugio Backpacks (x2): $0 (swag from Jennie’s company #privilege)

20L Packable Eddie Bauer Daypack: $25 (Bought on sale from Amazon. Waterproof and super useful to stow our valuables! We’re bringing this on our RTW trip)

Day 0 Total: $943

For the USA Rail Pass, a 15 day trip works out to around $30 a day per person, with stopovers in up to eight cities. Keep in mind some segments are overnight so you can actually save on accommodation. 

The Amtrak USA Rail Pass guarantees you a coach seat (roomettes are extra), but you’ll still have to call or show up at your nearest station prior to your trip to pick up your pass and reserve tickets for the individual segments. 

You can learn more about how to plan your trip using Amtrak USA Rail Passes here:


Leg 1:
The Coast Starlight
(~12 hours from Los Angeles to Emeryville)


The Coast Starlight goes from Los Angeles to Seattle. Our favorite segment of the trip takes you along the coast of California. 

The Coast Startlight follows along the Pacific Crest Highway (PCH); it's gorgeous.

The Coast Startlight follows along the Pacific Crest Highway (PCH); it's gorgeous.

Day 1: Los Angeles Union Station to Emeryville

  • Groceries: $40 (Two bento boxes and snacks for the 12 hour journey)
  • Dining Out: $0 (There is a dining car onboard that we tried on another leg of our journey. The food was...edible)
  • Sightseeing: Free (We sat in the observation car working, reading and chatting until it was dark and the stars came out and the ocean was illuminated by moonlight) 

Day 1 Total: $40

Watching the sunset from the train.

Watching the sunset from the train.

Day 2: Emeryville, California (NorCal)

  • Accommodation: $0 (Arrived in Emeryville at 10 PM. Stayed with a friend for the night)
  • Dining Out: $36 (Treated friend to early morning breakfast before leaving for Salt Lake City)
  • Groceries: $30 (Hummus, pita chips, and fruit from Safeway for the next leg)
  • Transportation: $10 (Two Lyft rides to and from Emeryville Station)

Day 2 Total: $76


Leg 2:
The California Zephyr
(~50 hours from Emeryville to Chicago) 


Checking out the  Mormon Tabernacle Choir  at 8am.

Checking out the Mormon Tabernacle Choir at 8am.

Day 3: Salt Lake City, UT

  • Accommodation: $0 (We got off train at 3 AM and we boarded the next one 24 hours later. We were tired. Would not recommend).     
  • Groceries: $15 (Clif Bars, crackers and cheese from Trader Joe’s)
  • Dining Out: $65 (Ruth’s Diner in the mountains for dinner and Village Inn because it was either that or Denny’s at 4 AM on Sunday)
  • Transportation: $30 (A lot of Lyft rides)
  • Sightseeing: $24 (Ensign Peak and Mormon stuff were free. Paid for Red Butte Garden)
  • Other: $15 to leave our packs at the station and $10 worth of coffee to keep us awake

Day 3 Total: $159

Someplace between Utah and Colorado...

Someplace between Utah and Colorado...

Day 4 - 6: Denver, CO

  • Accommodation: $0 (We stayed with family for two nights)
  • Groceries: $20
  • Dining Out: $80 (Paid for as many meals as we were allowed to by family)
  • Other: $30 (Edible gummies from marijuana dispensary and Popeye’s Chicken)

Day 4-6 Total: $140

Wandering around Downtown Omaha, Nebraska

Wandering around Downtown Omaha, Nebraska

Day 7: Omaha, NB

  • Accommodation: $0 (Hyatt Place Old Market for 8,000 points, transferable 1:1 from Chase)
  • Groceries: $15
  • Dining Out: $50 (Two meals worth of BBQ at Smoking Jay’s)
  • Transportation: $10
  • Sightseeing: $46 (Henry Doorly Zoo and a special exhibit at the Joslyn Art Museum)

Day 7 Total: $121

Having a classic Chicago deep dish pizza at a local shop before we left.

Having a classic Chicago deep dish pizza at a local shop before we left.

Day 8 - 10: Chicago, IL

  • Accommodation: $210 (Airbnb for two nights)
  • Groceries: $15
  • Dining Out: $170 (Because Chicago)
  • Transportation: $10
  • Sightseeing: Mainly free stuff and hanging out with friends

Day 8-10 Total: $405


Leg 3:

Lake Shore Limited & the Northeast Corridor
(~21 hours from Chicago to New York to Philly to Boston)


Nom Wah Tea Parlor, Chinatown, New York City

Nom Wah Tea Parlor, Chinatown, New York City

Day 11: New York City, NY

  • Accommodation: $0 (Stayed at friend’s $300 a month apartment in Chinatown)
  • Groceries: $15
  • Dining Out: $65 (we were only in New York for 16 hours) 
  • Transportation: $5

Day 11 Total: $85

Looking out into downtown Philadelphia from the famous "Rocky" steps.

Looking out into downtown Philadelphia from the famous "Rocky" steps.

 Day 12: Philadelphia, PA

  • Accommodation: $82 (Airbnb for one night)
  • Groceries: $10
  • Dining Out: $64
  • Transportation: $15
  • Sightseeing: $28

Day 12 Total: $199

We went running along the Charles River in Boston and it was perfect.

We went running along the Charles River in Boston and it was perfect.

Day 13 - 15: Boston, MA

  • Accommodation: $0 (Again, we lived in Boston and have several close friends)
  • Groceries: $45
  • Dining Out: $140
  • Transportation: $15

Day 13-15 Total: $200


Flying Home
 (~7 hours Boston to Los Angeles)


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$25 for two one way tickets from Boston to Los Angeles: flights were paid for with miles through United (transferable 1:1 from Chase)


The Origami Life Cross Country

Train Trip Summary


Total all-in spend for the 15 day trip
was $2,393, or $1,196 per person


Jennie and I were fortunate enough to have friends and family living across the country, which saved us anywhere between $300-500 on accommodations

However, even if you add those costs back in, you could still travel quite comfortably across the U.S. for well under $1,500 a person, or less than $100 a day. If you traveled in a larger group of say 4 people, and split the cost of accommodation and food, that number would be closer to $1,000, which is about as much as you’d spend for just one week in Europe. 



Death Valley Camping Essentials (Winter Edition)
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Jennie here.

Ivan and I are headed out in a few days to Death Valley for some winter camping. Seeing as we spent the majority of our travel budget for the year on our wedding, we figured it would be a great way to still get a “vacation” in.

And yes, we’re perfect aware that we’re going to a place with the word ‘death’ in it -- doesn’t sound promising but who knows? Also, bear in mind that “winter” in Death Valley is pretty mild. We’re headed out in late December and the temperatures during the day are a mild 60-ish degrees fahrenheit and 35 degrees in the evening.

When I put together this list, I was thinking about necessities that would make our entire road trip and winter camping trip comfortable and relaxing. To be clear, Ivan and I are not avid campers -- in fact this is the first time we’ve gone camping in over a year. But fortunately, we’re staying at a camping site that will have running water.

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Here is our (tentative) list of packing essentials for our upcoming camping trip in Death Valley:

Camping essentials:

  • Tent
  • Sleeping bags (warm enough for 30 degree weather)
  • Sleeping mats (or a yoga mat will do)
  • Camping chairs/folding chairs
  • Portable gas stove
  • Cooking pan/pot
  • Flashlights
  • Headlights
  • Cooking 
  • Utensils
  • Paper 
  • Plates
  • Trash Bags
  • Disposable Cups
  • Disposable eating Utensils
  • Ice cooler
  • Firewood
  • Matches
  • Roll of toilet paper
  • Hand sanitizer
  • Lighter fluid
  • First aid kit
  • Binoculars (we couldn’t find a pair to borrow in time but I’d highly recommend this)

Food essentials:

  • Water (at least 1 gallon per day, per person) 
  • Granola bars
  • Mixed nuts
  • Hot chocolate packets
  • Coffee
  • Tortillas
  • Spam (yup, mystery meat in a can)
  • Eggs

The other important things we’re taking -- for comfort-sake:

  • Body wipes and cleansing wipes (for non-shower days)
  • Moisturizer (unscented)
  • Sunscreen
  • Hats
  • Boots
  • Hiking shoes
  • Extra blanket (for warmth)
  • Towels
  • Camera
  • Waterproof jackets/vests
  • Long-sleeved heat-tech shirts (for potentially cold evenings)
  • Extra socks
  • Airplane pillow
  • A book or two

Contingency essentials after plans A, B, and C fail:

  • A few filled gas containers (for when we run out of gas in the middle of nowhere)
  • Tweezers (for cacti needles)
  • Saline nasal sprays (to avoid a bloody nose)
  • Artificial tears (for the super dry climate)
  • Duct tape (for any potential issues)
  • Eyeglass wipes

And of course, there needs to be contingency items such as extra cash, printed maps of the Death Valley area, and external batteries.

Stay tuned for our next post! We’ll let you know how our trip went and make some alterations to this list if we’ve left anything out.

Happy holidays from the desert!

Our Taipei Trip in Pictures

In late October 2016, Ivan and I traveled from Los Angeles to Taipei for our wedding ceremony.


Wedding receptions, street food, and shrimp fishing all in one day...

The two of us, waiting awkwardly as the reception room filled up.

The two of us, waiting awkwardly as the reception room filled up.

We had our wedding reception at Taipei 101's Ding Xian 101 (頂鮮101) seafood restaurant.

Ivan's family actually arranged the entire reception. We had fancy seafood as well as other delicious Taiwanese influenced dishes. I'd say the biggest highlight of our wedding (reception) day was that we finally had a chance to relax and unwind. And it was my family's first time in Taiwan; my siblings first time abroad. Everything was new for them and I wanted to share all the great things that I'd come to love about the city. So, let me warn you -- there's a lot of food. 

Since I wanted to share my love of Taipei, I thought -- what better way to enjoy a new country than by eating more Taiwanese food? So, we headed over to Shilin Night Market

And what was I most excited about?! The Hot Star Large Fried Chicken. It was hot, crunchy, fatty, and oozing with hot oil. The hype around this snack is definitely worthwhile to check out. 

Another fun thing that we did in Taipei after my wedding reception was shrimp fishing. We stayed up a little late, had a few beers, and caught a few shrimp. Sadly, the owner felt so bad for how little we caught that they gave us some free shrimp on the house. 


Another beautiful day in Taipei...

We took the subway with my family to one of our favorite areas in Taipei's Zhongzheng District

Ivan grew up in the area around the National Chiang Kai-shek Memorial Hall (中正紀念堂). Every time we've been back to Taiwan, we come and visit this area. I love it because I get a peek into Ivan's memories and past. We could easily spend hours wandering around this area...

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A visit to this area also means that we have to visit our favorite soup dumpling place, Hangzhou Xiaolong Tang Bao (杭州小籠湯包)

We actually enjoy this place a lot more than Din Tai Fung (鼎泰豐) because it's still a family run restaurant and tastes great. 

Hang Zhou Xiao Long Tang Bao 杭州小籠湯包
Opening hours: 11:30am - 9:30pm (Opens daily)
Nearest MRT: Chiang Kai Shek MRT Station (Exit number 5 and walk about 5 mins)

If you're stopping by, I highly recommend checking out the cold side dishes, the crab roe xiao long bao, and the seasonal dishes. When we came out they had sweet pumpkin buns.
 

Jiufen (九份)

On our last day with my family, we took an hour long (and rickety) bus ride up a mountain to check out Jiufen (九份)

The views were spectacular but it was really crowded in the narrow alleyways, which were filled with delicious Taiwanese snack and memorabilia vendors.

If you want to see what foods you should eat in the area, I'd recommend checking out this guide from Food Republic. My favorite snack was the grilled snails!

Our last days in Taipei...

Our last days in Taiwan were spent together, wandering the streets for my favorite foods, hanging out with Ivan's family, and running last minute errands before we had to leave Taiwan again. 

Beef noodle soup from a local shop near Taipei Main Station.

Beef noodle soup from a local shop near Taipei Main Station.

We both got new bracelets from the Taipei Weekend Jade Market 台北市建國假日玉市.

Each time I come back to Taiwan, it becomes a little bit more difficult each time to leave it. At the airport before our departure, we had Mos Burger before we went through security. We sat around, thinking about our time in Taipei and we felt exhausted...and a little sad to say goodbye again.

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If you're thinking of visiting Taipei, check out some of our latest posts below.


How To Travel Without Murdering Your Spouse

Jennie here. 

Ivan and I have been together for almost eight years now. It’s insane to think that we’ve spent the majority of that time apart; it’s no surprise that during our short stints of traveling together, we’ve come to the realization that we have fairly different traveling styles.

Ivan enjoys dropping into a new place with the minimum amount of planning. He likes to explore a new city methodically, moving glacially from one neighborhood to the next, with no set itinerary outside of a handful of “must see” sites. On the other end of the spectrum, I like to know the where, when, and how of my trip down to the hour. Then I draw up a map of the most efficient route that will help me avoid the tourists and save time. Then I’ve got contingency plans just in case plan A and B fail. Because having a back-up plan to the back-up plan is totally normal, right?

You can imagine that our different travel styles have led to many arguments during our trips abroad.

Here are some tips on how to keep your sanity:


Tell each other your travel preferences.


And yes, you need to communicate this. If you’re the type of traveler that loves luxury travel (e.g. nice hotels, spas, etc.) and your spouse loves slumming it in eccentric hostels with limited amenities -- you’re going to have to find some common ground. 


Understand each other's triggers and warning signs. 


For example, do you get “hangry” when you haven’t eaten in a while? Do you snap at your wife when she interrupts your reading (*cough* Ivan)? It’s good to know what sets the other person off so you can learn to give each other space and avoid a nightmare situation. Because it will be much harder to ignore these habits and eccentricities once you’re together all the time.


Compromise. Seriously, figure out a middle ground.


One thing we’ve found that’s worked for us is to divide up our travel days so that we can each take turns being “in charge” of our travel. On Jennie days, Ivan has to go along with my militant itineraries without complaining. And vice versa. That way we each get what we want without feeling like we’re not getting the full experience.


Create an itinerary that accommodates
to both of your needs / likes / dislikes.


Create an itinerary that accommodates to both of your needs/likes/dislikes.

In our case, Ivan loves bookstores and I love cafes. So, we make it a point to try and check out at least one or two places that we love going to.

Below, are a couple of things I listed that Ivan and I both enjoy/like/dislike:

 
 

Understand each other's strengths and use them.


Ivan is the worst navigator, ever. He reminds me of P-Chan / Ryoga from the 90’s anime, Ranma 1/2. When we used to travel together, I’d let Ivan lead us...and nine times out of ten we’d end up getting lost and in an argument. In recent travels, Ivan has left most of the navigating to me. Conversely, I have let Ivan take over when my Plan A, B, and C falls through and my brain starts to shut down in panic. I don’t do well without a plan.


Schedule some time alone / apart. 


I believe in setting aside personal time for yourself. Because before becoming a couple, you were individuals first with different needs, desires, and interests. Setting aside some personal time to explore or relax and read with during travel is going to be crucial in traveling together. This way, you have time to actually miss one another and enjoy each other’s company more.


Build in relaxation days where you don't need to do anything.


Days like this are usually our cafe days together. We’d hang out in cafes, just working or surfing the net -- holding onto some piece of reality that is a normal part of our daily lives at home. This also gives you a chance to appreciate how some locals might live/work and to savor your time a bit more than usual but with a nice cup of coffee.

Origami Guides: A 3 Day Itinerary Through Okinawa (Without a Car)

Naha, Okinawa
那覇市, 沖縄

Jennie here!

After our wedding reception, Ivan and I went on a three-day honeymoon to Okinawa. Okinawa is like Japan’s younger, more easy-going brother. The language and the traditional Japanese politeness are the same, but Okinawans are also more laid back in attitude with a slower pace of living. For us, the experience was like visiting a completely different country.


Who should use this itinerary?


Solo travelers and couples who are time constrained and prefer to get around by public transportation.


What are the best times in the year to visit? 


We recommend visiting Okinawa in late October/early November to avoid typhoon season, which runs from July to early October in some years. It still feels like summer this time of year, and you avoid the tourists and salarymen who flock to the island in the spring (from March to June). 


How do I get to Okinawa? 


If you want to avoid a 40+ hour ferry ride, your only option is to fly. From Tokyo, it’s a 2.5 hour flight. Most likely, you’re going to begin and end your trip in Naha International Airport. 


Where should I stay in Okinawa? 


For the Budget-conscious:

  • Myplace Guest House - If you’re comfortable staying with shared rooms, then Myplace Guest House is the place to be. And at a hard-to-beat price of ~$24 USD per night, it’s hard to complain. Also, it’s great to keep in mind that these hostels also have fantastic partnerships with diving/snorkeling tour groups and plans that often include island hopping, rental gear, lunch, and transport back to your hostel.

Moderately Budget:

  • Estinate Hotel - For a single standard room, the prices in November ranges between $70 to $79 per night. This being our honeymoon, Ivan and I were looking to take it easy and go a little bit above our normal budget. We booked our stay with Estinate Hotel (through Agoda.com) for three nights in Naha. The total (including taxes) came to $77.80 USD per night. The room was small, clean and had everything we needed.


How do I use this okinawa guide? 


The map is divided into three color-coded areas:

  • Day 1 attractions are in Blue
  • Day 2 attractions are in Pink
  • Day 3 attractions are in Orange
  • The grey markers are for optional sites

For simplicity’s sake, this itinerary assumes that you’ll be based in Naha City.

Note: Feel free to add this map to your own Google Map list. You can also filter out different days of this guide on the map by clicking the top left icon on the map title bar.


Day 1: WWII, Soba, Castles, and Gardens in Naha, Okinawa (BLUE)


Note: Remember to show your Yui Rail Day Passes to get admission discounts for several attractions in Naha. Discounts will vary, but you will save a few dollars at each attraction.

Morning

  • Purchase the Yui Rail One Day (~$6.40). When you arrive at Naha airport, the first thing you should do is follow the signs to the monorail station and purchase your Yui Rail Day Pass from the machines outside. This pass not only gives you 24-hour access to the monorail but also provides discounts to several attractions. There’s also a two-day option for those that are less time constrained.
  • Begin your day early and get to the Former Japanese Navy Underground Headquarters (Tomigusuku) (opens 8:30am - 5:30pm). Out of all the attractions, this was probably our favorite. The only word to describe it is eerie. It’s also not for the faint of heart. You can actually walk through the system of underground bunkers and tunnels where the Japanese made their last stand in WWII. The bullet holes on the walls are from the soldiers who committed suicide. A lot of local Okinawans died here and it’s a disturbing reminder of the horrors of war.
    Note: This place is a bit of a pain to get to because it’s not close to a monorail station. I’d suggest taking a taxi from Onoyama Koen monorail station. 
  • Lunch at Shuri Soba ($4 - $6, opens at 11am - 2pm -- or until they run out; closed on Sundays). Hop on a train and head over to Shurijo (aka Shuri Castle) station to grab a bowl of Okinawa soba at Shuri Soba (首里そば). Okinawa soba is like the best of both worlds between ramen and udon. The broth is light, the noodles chewy, and it’s usually topped with marbled cuts of pork.
  • Stop by Sairaiin Temple (Free). Located right across the street from Shuri Soba. This Buddhist temple is not a tourist attraction so much as a window into the spiritual lives of Okinawan suburbanites.
  • Shurijo (Shuri Castle) (~$7.50; opens 8am–6:30pm) and the Tamaudun Mausoleum (~$3, opens 9am - 6pm). Honestly, we weren’t all that impressed with Shuri Castle. The majority of the castle was completely ‘modernized’ and rebuilt due to the destruction from the war. It’s an obligatory stop more than anything. The Tamaudun Mausoleum (玉陵) on the other hand, which houses the royal family of the Ryukyu Kingdom, is well worth seeing.

Afternoon

  • Stroll through Fukushu-en Garden (Free; opens 9am to 6pm, closed Wednesdays). Hop back onto the monorail and head towards Kencho-Mae Station (県庁前駅) and take a five-minute walk to the garden. It’s nice to get away from the hustle and bustle and you won’t come across many other tourists.

Evening

  • Stroll around Makishi Market (Free, unless you buy stuff; opens 8am–9pm). For anyone interested in checking out souvenirs, I’d check out this market. But I’d definitely urge anyone to beeline straight to the Fish Market. You can check out vendors and fresh seafood; you can also buy seafood and have it made right in the building! I actually saw the largest lobster that I’d ever seen in my life in one of those tanks.
  • Dinner at Yunangi (opens 12–3pm, 5:30–10:30pm, closed on Sundays). If you’re up for trying anything, you should order the dinner set menu for about $27. You’ll get everything including: chanpuru, pig ears, tofu, grilled fish, braised pork, miso soup, and rice. It’s very filling and is a perfect amount for two people.  Get there early, it gets crowded early and often.
  • Get a Single or Double Scoop of Blue Seal ice cream (hours vary by location). The quintessential Okinawan ice cream chain. A daily of our visit. Our favorite combination was Okinawan salted cookie and beni imo.
  • Check out Parker's Mood (opens 10pm - 1:30am). A jazz club hidden on the 5th floor of an apartment complex. There’s usually live music between 9:00pm and 12:30am, but I think the owner, who’s an amazing jazz guitarist, just plays whenever he feels like it. We love jazz so we sat and listened for a few hours and chatted about our lives together while enjoying a local Orion beer and ume-shu (plum wine).

Day 2: Going Outside of Naha - Aquarium, Aimless Wandering, and Simple Meals (PINK)


Morning

  • Take the Yanbaru express to Northern Okinawa (~$18 one-way).  The two hour bus ride will go from Night Takahashi (Tomari Port Tomarin) at (departing at 6:56am) to Churaumi Aquarium (arriving at 8:58am).
    Note: If you miss the scheduled bus, there won’t be another one for about two hours. Check the bus schedule here. And the last departing bus headed back to the Naha area is around 4 - 5pm.
  • Arrive at Churaumi Aquarium (~$17 admission; opens 8:30am–5:30pm) Get there early to check out the main highlight of this aquarium: The Kuroshio Sea Tank. It’s Japan’s largest aquarium and is full of diverse marine life.

Afternoon

After staring deeply into one of the world’s largest marine tanks, try wandering around the area and villages outside of the aquarium.

  • Grab a quick lunch at Coco Shokudo (コッコ食堂 ) (~$10; opens 11am - 5pm, limited hours on the weekend). The humble family-owned restaurant serves dishes centered around eggs.
  • Walk along Emerald Beach and take in the ocean scenery (Free).
  • Enjoy the gorgeous gardens at the Tropical Dream Center (~$6.30 and ~$3.30 if you visited the aquarium; opens 8:30am - 5:30pm).
  • Bise is a small village by the Aquarium and known for is its little alleyway that is flanked by Fukugi trees (Free)
  • Take a 20-minute walk to Bise no Warumi to experience a private beach where the Gods first descended. (Free)

Evening

  • Head back to Naha via the Yanbaru Express bus (~$18 one-way). Leave around 4:30 to 5pm and get back into the city around 7pm.
  • Grab a simple dinner at Mikasa near the hotel (less than $10). Huge portions and the restaurant is open relatively late; finish up and get ready for an early day tomorrow morning.

Day 3: Beautiful Beaches, Relaxation, and More Okinawa Soba  (ORANGE)


Morning

Early Afternoon

  • Pick an island and go snorkeling. If it’s still warm enough to swim, I’d suggest checking out one of the Kerama Islands for some snorkelling or diving. The islands are so beautiful and the water is super blue and clear. Choose any of the islands to settle into and you should be able to rent snorkeling gear for about less than $10 USD. Ivan and I spent $80 USD for an umbrella, chairs, and snorkeling gear.
  • Relax for a few hours. It’s vacation after all. Swim, snorkel, and soak in the beautiful son, clear waters, and likely a sparse/tourist free beach.

Evening

  • Take a ferry back to Naha and walk towards Makishi Market for a bonus Okinawa soba round (~$3.60, opens 11am - 5 or 6pm, depends on the mood of the owner). Soki Soba (aka Country Side Public Market on TripAdvisor). The place is small and seats about 10 people. A bowl of soba is super cheap! The broth is light and fragrant and the pork meat practically melts away in your mouth.
    Note: If Soki Soba is closed, head over to our alternative soba restaurant here: Gabusoka Shokudo Miebashi Ekimae
  • And to finish off the evening -- do whatever floats your boat after swimming and travelling for several hours. In our case, we grabbed some more delicious Blue Seal ice cream. Yes, it’s that good. And a perfect ending to our Okinawa trip.

We hoped this was helpful! If you liked this post, be sure to check out a related Okinawa post we published titled "11 Things We Like and Dislike About Okinawa"



What We Miss About Taipei

Jennie here!

Taiwan has really rekindled my love for travel. Recently, I’ve noticed that I’ve gotten too comfortable and forgotten how much I miss the feeling of getting lost in a foreign city. Last Sunday I landed back at LAX, but my mind was still back in Taipei, wandering its hurried streets. 

I wanted to share with you some of the things I miss about the city:

  1. The ease of getting around (without the need to drive). 

    The Taipei MRT System is pretty much the best thing about the city. Seriously. I’ve thought about this a lot.  It’s a modern, award-winning subway system that will take you almost anywhere you want to go in this city within minutes. Navigating it is simple, convenient, and cheap. And it’s never late. If you’re staying near Taipei Main Station, you’re never really more than 30 minutes away from any point in the city. And the best part? You’ll get a chance to rush through crowds, people watch, and occasionally get a little lost in the excitement. You could never do this sort of thing in Los Angeles. For me, I spend more hours in LA traffic than I do living in the moment. Being in Taipei gave me back some valuable hours of my life.
     
  2. Feeling safe, even at night in Taipei.

    On the second day of my trip, I woke up at 5 am, unable to fall asleep from the jet lag. So I wandered around the streets near Taipei Main Station alone. I could feel the heat and humidity seep up from the dark pavement. The streets, which are usually teeming with people and speedy scooters/mopeds, were completely empty. The only people I saw were the ones camped out at a nearby 24-hour Mcdonald's; it was full of sleepy patrons -- likely homeless or students waiting for sunrise. Taiwan is probably one of the few countries in the world where you’d catch me wandering around alone at 5 am.

    Clearly, I’d only do this because the crime rate is extremely low and street crime (pickpocketing, mugging etc.) is practically unheard of. As a woman, I feel especially safe, and I have no problems with walking around the city proper at any time of day or night without reservations. Keep in mind, though, that I’m comparing this to American cities that I’ve lived in like Los Angeles and Boston. Without a death wish, you’d never catch me wandering alone around LA past midnight.
     
  3. Taipei’s hectic city vibes.

    On the surface, Taipei may seem like your typical modern city filled with skyscrapers and busy/hard working commuters, but at night Taipei turns into a city packed with wandering locals and food stalls. The often crowded night markets leave you wanting much more than what you had initially set out to eat. You could never find this sort of foodie hub in the U.S. Also, maybe I’ve got some deep rooted masochistic tendencies but I enjoyed crossing the busy intersections as fleets of scooters chaotically and gracefully weaved in and out of traffic, nearly taking down pedestrians down in the process. The congested streets only add to the quick-paced ambiance and perfection of the hectic city of Taipei.
     
  4. Communicating in a foreign language. 

    Despite my year of training in Mandarin during high school, I’ve clearly retained little to nothing in my conversational and negotiation skills. Things that I actually enjoyed in Taiwan was constantly hearing a new word or sound while nervously ordering food items from busy street vendors and convenience stores; oh, and horribly failing at negotiating the price of an item of clothing. You don’t need to know everything that’s happening but you can definitely enjoy the experience of being lost and vulnerable. It was also strangely fun to wander the streets with Ivan, conversing in English and knowing that no one else had any idea what we were talking about. Now that I’m home in Los Angeles and back in my comfort zone, it feels strange to be among people who can understand every word I say. Where did all that confusion and excitement go? 
     
  5. The diversity (and accessibility) of food in Taiwan.

    Taipei is probably one of the top street food cities in the world. Any Taiwanese night market is going to be packed with people. I enjoy walking through the narrow walkways and looking for the next Taiwanese snack that I’ve never tried before. There are endless possibilities. You can even find some pretty bizarre options like snake blood or turtle soup. And although there are some diverse food hubs peppered throughout L.A. (e.g. Koreatown, Little Tokyo, Little Ethiopia, etc.), it’s just not the same because of the distances I’d have to travel (by car). It’s a 45-minute drive just to get a decent bowl of pho.
     
5 Reasons We Want to Travel (and Live) Abroad

How dull it is to pause, to make an end,
To rust unburnish’d, not to shine in use!
— Ulysses, by Alfred, Lord Tennyson,

Ivan here.

The only fate worse than death is spending a lifetime waiting on the sidelines. Ironically, that’s the exact situation I found myself in a year ago, as I tried to navigate the Kafkaesque bureaucracy of (legally) immigrating to the United States.  

Before that dark place consumed our lives, everything was going according to plan. Jennie and I were lucky. We both landed decent paying jobs straight out of college, her in Boston and me in Toronto. While we weren’t thrilled about working for corporations, we made the best of our situations by building one of the most unassailable f*ck off funds imaginable

We were also working towards a very specific goal: to sign the marriage paperwork within a year, and start the US immigration process in the second

That’s when US Citizenship and Immigration Services happened, and a process that should’ve taken 10-12 months ended up taking 17 because of lost paperwork, a government shutdown, and garden variety incompetence. 

A shot from Terry Gilliam's 1985 film BRAZIL, a dark comedy about living in a dystopian, bureaucratic society.          

It was around this time that we first started talking about a round the world trip. Initially, we were just joking around, imagining a life where we’d leave everything behind for a nomadic lifestyle. But after the immigration debacle, we turned dead serious. After six years apart and 17 months squirming in bureaucratic limbo, we had lost our sense of humor. We dreamed about a life without restrictions. The ability to come and go as we pleased. 

In short, we were tired of waiting. 

As two ruthlessly practical, Type A personalities, we immediately started planning and setting goals. We would save $40,000. That was going to be our cushion. In the meantime, we’d also try to generate $2500 a month in remote income to make a sustainable living abroad. 

We promised ourselves that we would be gone before September 2018. That’s one of the main reasons we started this blog. To keep ourselves accountable. 

There will be no Eat, Pray, Love up in this bitch.

We’re not traveling to find ourselves. There will be no Eat, Pray, Love up in this bitch. On the contrary, we understand ourselves too well to be restricted by mortgages, kids, and to be tied down by a mountain of things we could live without. More than anything, we just want to be ourselves completely, and to accept no compromises for what we want. 

So when friends ask us why we want to travel, here are the five reasons we give:


1. Because discomfort is the best education

2. Because standing still is moving backward

3. Because we enjoy the challenges of new places, people, and things

4. Because life’s too short, time moves too swiftly to allow ourselves to be governed by the wishes of others

5. Because years from now, we don’t want to look back On a life not lived


Do you ever wonder what your life would be like if you took a slightly different road? Don't waste time wondering.

Start today.