The port of the day – Cozumel, Mexico. My family all booked the Chichen Itza Mayan ruins tour ($130CAD). The Chichen Itza is one of the 7 Wonders of the World. We were all to eat breakfast then meet at the Royal Theatre at 745AM. We were all quarreled in the theatre and put into our rightful tour groups and given stickers to label us. They went over some rules and we waited for everyone to come in. We left by tours and disembarked off the ship to line up to take the ferry. Chichen Itza is in the Yucatan by Playa Del Carmen which is a 45 minute ferry ride followed by a 2-2.5 hour bus ride to the site. I can tell you that being on a floating island for a week, you barely feel motion sickness but this ferry was absolutely brutal. Headphones in and trying to sleep to keep from thinking about the motion and puking. They do hand out plastic bags just in case.
We arrived at the ferry pier in Playa Del Carmen beside Parque Fundadores and the iconic Portal Maya Statue. We were led to our specific tours and taken to our tour bus. Our tour guide gave us all tablets for the 2-hour ride and told us information about the Mayans. There is a toilet on the bus but bring your own toilet paper. Before we got off the bus, our tour guide handed us these audio devices that he will use to keep contact with us during the tour at the site.
We parked at Hotel Mayaland’s Chichen Itza entrance. We stopped to use the washroom and then walked over to the entrance. Cameras are allowed but recording devices such as GoPro’s must pay a $5USD fee. No drones allowed.
Mayan / Chichen Itza / Yucatan Information
-Place of the red fish – exact location of the asteroid impact that killed the dinosaurs.
-Land of the wood turkeys.
-Yucatan is the named the Europeans gave 15 centuries after Jesus was born.
-The Spaniards colonized. Ohyatan – Mayan – listen how they talk. Miscommunication thus Yucatan means in Mayan – I don’t understand.
-All the Mayan books were destroyed by Spaniards to convert to them to Catholicism.
-Only 3 books left of Mayan culture as the Spaniards punished the Mayans and burned almost 100% of all their books saying it was the words of the devil.
-The first book is on Astronomy. That book is housed in Germany.
-The second book is on Mathematics and housed in Paris.
-The third book is on the afterlife housed in Spain.
-The books unfortunately don’t speak of anything of the collapse of the Mayans.
-The Mayans could be the survivors of the lost city of the sea or that they came from outer space. 5 days after birth, they put tablets and elongated the heads to make them “beautiful”.
-The Mayans were advanced and knew about 5 of the planets. They recorded and could predict the solar and lunar eclipse.
-December 21, 2012 was end of their calendar, not end of the world. It is also when 6 of the planets was to line up.
-The Mayans used 10 numbers including 0. They created the calendar with 0.
-The Mayans made 3 calendars – An Agriculture (18 months), a baby calendar and the 365 calendar.
-The origins of the Mayans are unknown but the working theory is that they are descendants of an Asian bloodline. They hold similar features such as facial structure, skin tone and many Mayans last names are Chinese.
-Mayans are born with a purple mark at the base of the spine. All natives are born with the purple marking of sort. This purple mark is also known as a Mongolian spot.
-The Mayans most likely crossed over from Asia via the bearing strait of Siberia.
-What happened to the Mayan people? They abandoned their cities possibly over politics or over population. The Spaniards came to discover empty cities and then went further inland to conquer the Aztecs.
-The name Chichen Itza:
Chi – mouth
Chen – sinkholes/well
itza – clan that built the city.
-Chichen Itza is divided into 2 sections.
-The new Chichen itza and old Chichen itza.
-They were built at different times and by different cultures.
-The Old Mayans never did human sacrifice but new Chichen Itza did as influence from other cultures.
When we arrived at Chichen Itza, it was overcrowded. The main pyramid we saw is called El Castillo and it is the temple of the Kukulkan (Snake in Mayan). The tour guide led us over to the the giant courtyard which was a sports field. They would play a life or death game where the winners would sacrifice their lives after they won thinking it was an honour.
The tour guide gave us about 10-20 minutes to take photos and buy souvenirs. The precious stone that the Mayans are known for is the obsidian stone that refracts different colours in the sunlight.
Back the route we came with one more toilet break before heading back on the bus. Our tour includes snacks and we got a package with packed sandwich, apple, banana, a snack bar, a bottle of coke and a bottle of water.
2 hours on the bus and what felt like the longest 45 minutes ferry ride back to our ship. We got back really late and missed volleyball at 5PM (got back at 6PM). All of us felt nauseated so we all went back to our rooms to rest up. We for the most part had attended all the entertainment on the ship so we took it very easy that night and relaxed. There was an all white party where the solarium got turned into a dancing area. The top floor was blocked off and you had to scan your card or pass to get in. The party started at 11PM but it was very lackluster so we left.
Our final full day of cruising passing Cuba to head back towards Fort Lauderdale. 830AM breakfast then 5 hours in the sun (without really noticing). Windjammer for lunch then we took the Mini putt. We figured we might as well try the giant slide – The abyss however, you need to have a top with sleeves to avoid sticking. To try the zipline or Flowrider, you need to sign a waiver and get blue wristband to do so.
Not many activities worth doing, we all split up. I ended up re-watching the Hideaway Heist aquatic show because I didn’t have my camera with me for the first show and I wanted to capture some cool diving shots. Went to worked out one last time then to the Jacuzzis. Out of the cruising days, that day in particular was super windy and all the Jacuzzis were jam packed but I was able to find a spot but then 2 older asian couples got into my space so I left.
We had reserved our final dinner on the ship in the Fine dining – Silk. Really cute to see the staff come out to sing us a song to thank us for being patrons with the patrons swinging our napkins in response of celebration. I ordered the crab cake, 2 entrées – tempura cod fish and shrimp ravioli with carrot cake to finish.
We watched Spiderman on the big screen at the Boardwalk and went back to the room to pack. Usually on this night, people would pack their luggages and leave it in the hallway for the staff to take away and sort for check-out the following day. We opted to carry our luggage out with us for faster check-out.
We grabbed breakfast at the Bistro and then met up with the rest before leaving the ship. You can stay on the ship until 10AM but must vacate the rooms by 830AM because they need to clean all the rooms and get it ready for the next cruise where the new patrons would arrive as early as 1030AM. Self carry checkout was really quick.
We took a taxi to airport and my parents decided to stay while the four of us headed over to Enterprise to rent a car to goto Sawgrass Outlets. Our flight was scheduled for 10PM that night (we departed the ship by 9-930AM) so we wanted to kill some time and not sit in an airport all day. We arrived at the outlets just before it opened at 10AM.
I finally bought new shoes from Nike (replaced my worn out shoes from 2014) and went to Super target for M&M’s. We ate lunch at the Cheesecake Factory – Mac & Cheese burger. Got back to the airport around 430-5PM and waited around as our flight was the last scheduled flight out.
So many delays due to snow in New York and Boston but unfortunately the plane for the flight to Halifax had some technical problems with the temperature gauge and needed 4 mechanics to come in to repair it, which delayed that flight by multiple hours. By the time our flight was to leave, we left on time but there were a few that were delayed further due to the weather. So happy our flight was on time but not happy to leave 17-30C degree to -19C degrees (felt like -30C) weather.
We took a cab to Kyoto station to meet Cassie at Kyoto Station. Such a large station with multiple JR offices to book tickets but we eventually found Cassie. We got there in time to reserve seats for the shinkansen bullet train to Osaka. It literally took 14 minutes for us to get to Osaka from Kyoto. Local JR would take about 30-60 minutes – so insane. It was so fast that the ekiben that I purchased I had to inhale and almost didn’t finish in time to get off the train. We arrived in Osaka rather early to meet our Airbnb host at 1130AM so we put our bags in the lockers and went shopping at Tokyu Hands. Turns out our 20 minute limit turned into an hour. I purchased about 114,000y but what sucks is that at the tax free counter, i only got 633y back because my purchased items didn’t qualify for a tax exemption. By this point of seeing Osaka, everyone had talked ourselves out from leaving for Nagoya the following day to leave a little bit more time in Osaka.
We left Tokyu Hands and walked through Shinsaibashi street to America-mura where we would meet our Airbnb host Yuta and be staying. Cute apartment in a nice building with a coffee shop at the bottom. Yuta let us check in early and leave our stuff but the apartment still needed cleaning. He recommended a place to eat in Shinsaibashi called Daruma(1-6-4 Dotonbori, Chuo-ku, Osaka). Daruma is a kakushikatsu which basically means everything is fried. There was also a train the food would come on after ordering on the ipad/computer and a person would come around and place it on the heated plate for us. There is a sauce we can use to dip our skewers in but only dip once.
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I had to meet my friend Kayo at a Namba station but my maps brought me to the JR Namba line instead of the local trains so Kayo met me on a corner while my friends were in Loft. Loft is a design store and a dangerous store in terms of wanting to purchase everything there. After Loft, we went to the Daiso store which is also filled with things we don’t need but fun to look at.
When we came out of the Daiso store, Kayo pulled out these little brown bags from her bag – she got us gifts! We opened it up to reveal that she gave us personalized (she personalized it herself) key chains with our names on it from her workplace – Business Leather Factory. So sweet of her! We told her we wanted to see her store so she took us to the Namba station branch of the store as she works at Umeda Station location. Cassie bought a wallet and Mike & Manwai purchased passport cases and Kayo was so sweet to give us 5% friends & family discount + tax free savings. I would’ve bought a new wallet but I am very particular about the things I want from a wallet. On our way to the store, we were eyeing Mister Donut and she stepped out and bought a box for us – she is way too sweet!
We walked from there through Shinsaibashi street to the Glico man sign and we went a little further down the river to find so benches to enjoy the donuts. Along the way, we also stopped and grabbed ourselves Croissant Taiyaki – croiyaki? 1000y for 5. There was azuki red bean, custard and sweet potato filling – the sweet potato was delicious! We hung out on under the bridge and on ate then walked back to our area of America-mura – it is very hip and so many colourful characters especially in clothing style. Very much American influence on clothing style but more so the 90’s wears and hip hop influence. Since they were cleaning the apartment when we dropped off our bags, we went back to the apartment to hang for a bit and saw the sunset from the balcony. There was a giant bowling pin just outside our building and we decided to go bowling at Shinsaibashi Sun Bowl 心斎橋サンボウル. It was 950y/pp for shoe rental and 1 game. Kayo put our names in kanji and off we went. My first bowl was a strike! Kayo was pretty precise in her bowling. In the end, Manwai, Kayo and myself were part of the strike club while Cassie and Mike were in the spare club. We even bowled with the bowling pin costumes at one point. I won!
After bowling, we returned to Shinsaibashi to see the Glico Man sign at night then went to Aburiya Dotonborimidosuji あぶりや 道頓堀御堂筋店 for Yakiniku – all you can eat 4380y with option for all you can drink for 980y. We ate so well in the 2 hour time limit plus we all get 1 dessert included. We of course treated Kayo. It was such a good night. We did stop and get takoyaki beside the large Don Quijote near the Glico man sign while we waited for our reservation for Aburiya.
Woke up early to meet the gang at a train station to head to Arashiyama for the day. Cassie had been recommended this coffee place called %Arabica Kyoto % アラビカ京都 嵐山(Japan, 〒616-8385 Kyōto-fu, Kyōto-shi, Ukyō-ku, Sagatenryūji Susukinobabachō, 右京区嵯峨天龍寺芒ノ馬場町3ｰ47) (Opens at 8AM). It was started by Kenneth Shoji and he bought a coffee farm in Hawaii and started a green bean trading company and became the sole-exporter of a Japanese roasting machine and became the distributor of one of the best espresso machines in the world. He then partnered up with a latte art champion, Junichi Yamaguchi and talented architect Masaki Kato to open % Arabica. I don’t drink coffee but aesthetically, I approved. My friends did line up and get coffee and they said it was really good. The actual Arashiyama location is really tiny and doesn’t really have seating inside (there is a booth you can rent per 30 minutes) but there are benches outside and you can sit by the river.
Once everyone had their morning coffee, we walked over to the Bamboo Forest. Along the way we kept seeing these vintage cars taking over the streets and whizzing by us as we darted to the bamboo forest. Apparently it was the annual Rally Nippon where classic cars are showcased on a 700-mile route or something similar to it as they took over the streets of Arashiyama and there was media coverage. They drove through the bamboo forest while we were there and to be honest, it ruined it for me. I have never been to this bamboo forest and yes it is more dense the further you go in but its also only 100m long. With such a small area but these vintage cars coming though, the exhaust from these cars smother you and at one point I started to cough and almost gag. The photos I’ve seen of the bamboo forest make it appear much larger than it is and we found it very difficult even though we went somewhat early to have a clear shot.
At this point, Karen & Chi decided they wanted to go into the villa garden while the rest of us (Cassie, Mike, Manwai & myself) opted to skip the garden and the temple to head to the Iwatayama Monkey Park. On our way to the park, we passed the small train station that had the kimono forest and took some photos. It is literally poles with real kimono fabrics in them that create a tunnel like the bamboo one but I think it would’ve been nicer to see at night as they do get illuminated. Back on our ways to Iwatayama Park – the park is 550y and it is a uphill climb to even get there. Be prepared. It is about 20 minutes uphill and yes there are benches along the way to rest. Once you arrive to the top, there are just monkeys everywhere. Take your photos but don’t get too close and I guess don’t look them in the eye as the signs keep telling us. There is a room you can enter and pay 100y for a bag of fruits you can then feed the monkeys . Yes you are in the cage while they are hanging from the wired windows of the human cage feeding them. There are park rangers around that the monkeys seem to respond to so everything is safe. We even saw a mother monkey who just gave birth 2 days earlier with her baby holding so tight to its mother. We spent a good while here and another perk – the view of the city was beautiful.
We hiked back down (another route back down but it does reconnect to the trail we started at the beginning) and walked back into town to meet Karen & Chi for lunch. Karen had chose a place called Otsuka STEAK おおつか(Japan, 〒616-8376 Kyōto-fu, Kyōto-shi, Ukyō-ku, Sagatenryūji Setogawachō, ２０−１０). We arrived into this dead end of a suburban street to find a covered car park just filled with people and stools and a stand with a waiting list. We immediately put our name down and took a seat. A minute later, it started to pour. We commenced our sitting and waiting for a good hour and half playing would you rather and looking at the menu deciding what we wanted. This place is very popular and closes at 2PM or whenever they sell out.
When we finally got in, There are 3 large tables that are lowered where your feet hang in a lower area and of course seating at the bar. Each table can hold about 6 people. I ordered the 4A Waygu Beef (4200y) and it was delicious but didn’t compare to the hida steak we had a few days before. Still butter though.
Since it was raining, we went to see the owls (680y) and we got to pet them. Unlike the other location in Tokyo, we were unable to carry them. They were cute but I felt bad because they sleep during the day and one owl in particular in my photos looked incredibly sad. You pet them using only the bad of your hand and only on their head and backs. There was one that got nippy but hey, i would too if I have random people touching me.
We took the JR to Kyoto station and that is where our night ended. Kyoto station is so large in size and the main area reminded us of Eatons Centre in Toronto but on a different scale. We were looking at the dessert floor in CUBE for so long with its free samples and we all got enticed to purchase snacks and gifts. So good but so deadly. We ended up in Aeon mall and shopped some more. It got late and by 9PM we were looking for somewhere to have dinner. We ended up eating at the station – Sushi no Musasahi(Japan, 〒600-8214 Kyōto-fu, Kyōto-shi, Shimogyō-ku, Higashishiokoji Takakuracho, 8−3 京都駅八条口構内アスティロード) – (JR Kyoto 8-jo south entrance) conveyor belt sushi – 146y a plate – I ate 11 plates – 1550y – the conveyor belt sushi in Shimokitazawa was still better and you could also order off a iPad. No Musashi would just make certain things and when we asked about unary they said eventually it will make it onto the belt (but they never made more of the unagi). We tried the melon shake at McDonalds – worst thing I consumed this whole trip – don’t do it. We got turned around in the station and ended up walking in the rain the same route we took when we arrived in Kyoto hoping to catch the bus home but we couldn’t figure out where the bus stop was so we hopped in a cab to take us the rest of the way.
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Once we got settled in, we drove over to James Beach (60 N Venice Blvd, Venice, CA 90291) where we intended to have dinner but in the end, we went across the street to Plancha (2024 Pacific Ave, Venice, CA 90291) for tacos. James Beach has many reviews and is known for their fish tacos and made famous from the movie I Love you Man featuring Paul Rudd. At Plancha, I ordered the Tiger bowl ($6.95USD) which consisted of garlic tiger shrimp and the contents of a burrito.
After dinner, we decided to drive over to LACMA (5905 Wilshire Blvd, Los Angeles, CA 90036) to see the Urban Lights by artist Chris Burden. His installation is located at the Wilshire Boulevard entrance of the LACMA and consists of lamp posts that at one point in time have lit the streets of Southern California before being restored and installed in that one location. We spent a lot of time here just taking photos and just hanging out. It’s a great atmosphere to be in with friends.
After a late night, we drove over to Hermosa Beach for surf lessons. My friend JP created a website called GOJPGO that makes exploring LA so much more accessible with helpful tips and advice. My group wanted to go for surf lessons and JP had recommended us to go with his friend Kawika at Pier Surf (21 Pier Ave Hermosa beach, CA 90254) and we were not disappointed. 8 of us took part in the 2 hour surf lesson that Kawika along with Ryan another instructor took us to the beach and taught us the basics before hitting the waters. The waves were perfect for beginners and they explained to us that the waves are about 5-10 miles per hour and we want to reach that speed to catch a wave. It was a tiring but a very rewarding experience for sure and we definitely recommend them!
Right beside Pier Surf was Hooked where we ordered Poke bowls. You can customize your own bowl and I decided to go with a large ($12,50USD) with Kelp noodles, spicy tuna, sunomono cucumber & fish roe. If I were to go again, I would change my base to rice as the kelp noodles texture was strange and a little too tasteless for me. Otherwise, the poke was tasty with a little kick of heat to it. We ate and recovered from our surf lesson and just laid out on the beach for a few hours before a few of our friends headed to LAX to head home. I couldn’t leave the beach without getting myself a acai bowl. As the gang napped on the beach, I walked over to Paradise Bowls (1246 Hermosa Ave, Hermosa Beach, CA 90254) and got myself a mini $6.95USD (the small is massive) Guava Pipeline acai bowl (blended acai, banana, mango, guava juice with strawberries, bananas, granola and honey as the topping) delicious.
After a little more time lounging on the beach, we packed up and drove back to our Airbnb area in Venice beach but not before stopping off at Trader Joe’s to pick up some groceries and also my favourite – Unsulfurated Dried Mangoes – sad to say my other favourite – dark chocolate edamame beans have been discontinued!
After everyone showered, we drove over to Little Tokyo for dinner and dessert. Since we arrived late, we went for dessert first at Mikawaya (Japanese Village Plaza, 118 Japanese Village Plaza Mall, Los Angeles, CA 90012) for Ice cream mochi. I fell in love with ice cream mochi 7 years ago from this place. The Ice cream mochi is fresh and comes in multiple flavours that rotate through. They are about $1.30USD ea but well worth it. I had the Pistachio, Guava, Toasted Almond & Raspberry (my favourite). Once we finished devouring these tasty pieces of heaven, we walked across the street from the plaza to the well known yellow awning ramen restaurant – Daikokuya (327 E 1st St, Los Angeles, CA 90012). I fell in love with this ramen place 7 years ago and to this day, I still think this place makes the best ramen (and I’ve been to Japan before). It could be an overstatement but the line outside proceeds me and from memory, the broth, the atmosphere, the taste still lingers and just makes it my top notch choice for best ramen I’ve ever eaten. With a group of 9, we walked in to write our name down and waited outside as they slowly went down the list. Trust me, it is worth the wait. I ordered the Combo meal – Daikoku Ramen with beef bowl ($9.95 USD for the regular ramen) and that is more than enough food. The ramen on it’s own is filling enough and you can also customize it with their special broth (Kotteri flavor from the back fat extracts). The soft-boiled egg just adds to it.
With our trip to Trader Joe’s and going across the street to the dollar store, we gathered enough ingredients to make a big family style breakfast that consisted of coconut pancake mix from TJ’s, cookie butter ice cream, cookie butter, eggs, bacon, bananas, grapes, apples, cereal and beer. It was a great bonding experience and also a great use of the outdoor patio we had.
After breakfast, we all went to Venice Beach and of course one of the main attractions ( I could’ve just stayed there all day) was the Venice Beach Skatepark. Not only were the locals out in full force skating, a few did intricate tricks which were great to see front row centre. We also walked over and tested our ability at the free muscle beach which consists of a few bars and rings. You can also pay $10USD/day to use the actual outdoor Muscle Beach gym but looking at the equipment, everything was wrapped in saran wrap and not my cup of tea.
Our main group then said our goodbyes to Susan and Kevin and off we went to drive east of Los Angeles to Joshua Tree. We made a stop at Toys R Us that detoured us south before heading east. Since we didn’t go according to our original plans, we started our drive to Joshua Tree really late and we got stuck in traffic. We made one more stop at In-N-Out (well done fries and a animal style cheeseburger are the way to go). What is so mystifying and entrancing are the wind turbine fields. The drive does get a little windy as you drive through mountains. Once we arrived by the main Joshua Tree visitor centre (which was closed when we arrived) the sun was starting to set. We drove in and stopped off on the side of the road to climb some rocks and take photos of the trees. Our end goal since we didn’t really have a chance to hike especially with the remaining light was Key Views Road which is the highest point in the national park that overlooks the park and the city. We took in the remainder of the sunset and light before laying down on the ground and gazing up into the sky as it darkened and the stars glistened and covered the sky. Incredibly sad that I wasn’t able to spend the day there and hike. I also hear and have been recommended to check out Cholla Cactus Garden.
After taking in all the stars and the vastness that we were surrounded by, we made a run for it back to LA. Koreatown was our end point for dinner at Tangji Gamatang (3470 W 6th St, Los Angeles, CA 90020) for a family style meal with our group before calling it a night.
We ended up switching from our 6 person dorm to a 4 person dorm on the first floor of housing. We journeyed to the Grand Palace but it’s 500baht to enter and we didn’t want to pay that to go in. SO many tourists there and also Amy and myself brought clothes to throw over our shorts and tanks but Adam wouldn’t have been allowed in with his shorts so we moved on and went to Wat Pho. It is 100baht to enter and the ticket gets you a free water. There are tons of buddhas around so you should dress modestly. The temple complex houses the largest collection of Buddha images in Thailand, including a 46m long Reclining Buddha. The temple is also the earliest centre for public education in Thailand, and still houses a school of Thai medicine. It is known as the birthplace of traditional Thai massage which is still taught and practiced at the temple. Wat Pho is one of Bangkok’s oldest temples; it existed before Bangkok was established as the capital by King Rama I.
Earlier on this trip, we watched a bit of television in Koh Samui and saw this one commercial with one small yet cute ice cream parlour called Farm to Table in which we checked their Instagram and website and saved their location for later. We walked down to the Farm to Table Cafe and I grabbed a matcha tea latte – 52baht and then i picked up a little map that showed there was indeed another location – the main spot which we saw in the commercial. We walked just around the corner and found Farm to Table – Hideout and it was so adorable and the interior decor was great. Here is where the real homemade gelato is made. I grabbed a grass jelly with real grass jelly, brown sugar and jackfruit – 72baht and it was so good! The grass jelly gelato flavour was so intense and tasted better than the actual grass jelly. We walked through a food market which then brought us to the flower market.
All the blogs I’ve read had said if you want to experience what Bangkok was probably a decade ago, you need to visit Chinatown to get a picture of what the old city looked like. We walked from Farm to Table Hideout all the way to Yaowarat aka Chinatown and it was very visually stimulating. Mix of old and new and so many colours. I had read on a blog about a place that sold satay skewers dipped in coconut milk called Jay Eng but the address I saved wasn’t the right location so we ended up wandering around gun street and then walked onward to fabric street. We somehow found ours going into a huge mall complex of just fabrics ensued – Sampheng Centre. There was a food court located on the top floor and there we ate. You have to buy coupons in order to actually order from the stalls. You give them 60baht and then they give you a packet of tickets and if you have some remaining, you can return it for baht. I went to Blue-Taiwan and got myself a fried rice green curry – 45 baht and then at the corner a thai tea for 15baht – both so flavourful and delicious.
We continued to wander and eventually made our way to Yaowarat Rd and walked that street for a bit to visually capture the life that is chinatown. Adam and Amy were getting tired of walking so we hailed a cab to Siam Paragon – It was rush hour so all the cabs were off meter – we settled with 100baht. Siam Paragon is one of Asia’s largest malls and it sure was.
There are so many food courts but we ate in the enormous one on the main floor. I got a huge matcha strawberry daifuku mochi for 100 baht – Incredibly tasty from Tokyo Sweets. We had only eaten maybe an hour previous but they were hungry and got cheese gyoza from 7-time Gyoza Champion before we grabbed ramen from Nantsuttei. I got the Kara-Miso Ramen – 210baht. Not bad but not the best I’ve had – Daikokuya still wins out for me. So much selection – The main food court looked like Eaton’s Centre revamped food court but quadruple the size and that was only one of them. Each floor had it’s own food selection and I wish I had a bigger stomach.
We walked all the floors of Siam Paragon to notice that there was still another complex – Siam Centre. We tried to get over to Siam Centre but it took us a while to figure out how to get out of the mall. We also went to the basement where there is a Madame Tussade and Ocean Discovery – You can literally dive with sharks in a mall. We went over to Siam Centre and it was huge as well. We wanted to goto Siam Discovery and tried very hard to get there but it was closed for renovations. We decided that was it and we should leave. It was still rush hour so we decided to crossed over the bridge looking at the traffic to end up on another street filled with people selling merchandise to locals.
We grabbed a Tuk tuk from outside Siam Centre to Khao San Rd – bargained 150baht – fun and fast ride.
We woke up at 4AM and went to hail a cab to take us to the airport. We had to walk down the street a bit to a busier street at 430AM to find a cab. We found one on a street nearby but as we were getting in a ladyboy came over and was propositioning Amy then Adam. The ride was fast and smooth. There were actually quite a few people out and about at that time of day either ending their day or starting it.
We flew out of BKK and the airport reminded me of Toronto YYZ which is strange because Bangkok reminds me of Downtown Toronto. Adam and myself were flying with ANA airlines in partnership with United and Amy’s flight was slightly later leaving for Hong Kong where she will be for a bit before heading to Shanghai then finally back to Toronto. After Adam and myself checked in, I had to walk to the end of the airport to get my VAT Refund forms stamped – she barely looked at them and stamped – easy enough. Once we got through the security check and what not, I followed the signs to VAT refund only to find out halfway through the walk there was another sign further down that pointed to another VAT refund on the other wing of the terminal which our gate was on. Anyways, got there and the lady didn’t even say a word to me but i got my refund in Baht. I brought the remaining baht to convert to USD and off we went.
We got onto our flight from BKK to Narita which took about 5-6 hours. Arrived and had 2-3 hours there which were well spent. We went to McDonalds and I got the Teriyaki Burger combo + 15 piece chicken McNuggets – 1240yen then went to the origami store and grabbed a few more snacks which added up to 1600yen for myself. These 2 purchases alone were roughly $30CAD which is more than what I had spent the entire week on meals in Thailand but well worth it. When I travel I come back with souvenirs in the form of consumables – coffee beans for my father and then candies especially if I get a chance to goto convenient/grocery stores. I’m still surprised how much I actually fit in my duffel bag considering I only got rid of 3 items.
Onto the next flight with United to Denver – 10 hours. Flew by quickly and watched a ton of movies. Then following flight from Denver to Chicago just felt brutal. It was only 2-3 hours but felt the most uncomfortable and also my movie screen didn’t even work. Outside was -7 degrees celsius. Arriving in Chicago was a good feeling as we were one step closer to home and also in terminal F we found Garrett’s popcorn! I bought 2 medium bags of Garrett mix and Cashew CaramelCrisp – $15USD. Our flight got delayed by 30 minutes because the flight attendant was on another flight and couldn’t come over until the people left the other aircraft and after doing post flight protocol. We got in the air and just went. We actually landed on time. The plane quite small ( single window seat or 2 chairs together).
Overview of my trip:
23 days of non-stop travelling is great when things are planned out. I find that when places or tours are booked and planned ahead of time, things go smoothly but when nothing is confirmed we end up wasting more time than anything trying to figure out what to do. Crocs are the preferred footwear or similar sandal/croc imitations. Deet and tiger balm will be your best friends. Toilet paper roll will save you in Lao & Cambodia. Recycling isn’t something they really do out there unless it’s a person going through the trash and removing the bottles themselves. Garbage cans don’t really exist either (Vietnam had some though) but you kind of just make a pile when you see an open garbage/plastic bag as you walk around. They also have a large assortment of plastic bags and plastic furniture is plentiful here. Plastic chairs/stool/tables are prime tools of people’s trades as they can set up and clean up pretty easy anywhere. Vietnam, Laos and Cambodia are more reserved – women stay covered in long sleeve and pants. Thailand – more likely to see tatted people, tank tops on local women but also the whole long sleeve cover up but booty shorts. Also tons of pretty ladyboys everywhere. Get use to smog and smell of diesel as well as dirt/dust. I’ve heard stories of people on motorbikes snatching phones and purses by the side of the road but never saw it happen – just be vigilant and keep your purse on the opposite side away from the road. Otherwise, I felt safe everywhere I went. I had my camera attached to my hand but otherwise everything was out of sight. Ho Chi Minh is very populated so just be cautious when in big crowds or when people are too close. The men there will just keep looking at you though especially if you are wearing tank top and shorts. Siem Reap – same thing, big crowds especially in the night market just be cautious. Bangkok – the only real place we really saw any homeless people – they will leave you alone for the most part… ladyboys will be more aggressive than them.
Mr Ek and Mr Od picked us up for our private tour. We stopped by a local fruit market to pick up a few things for our trip and then another stop at Orchid restaurant to look at butterflies and orchids. From there, we drove to Wangnumyard resort – to visit the Karen Longneck tribe. Considering it is called a resort, I don’t know how well the people are treated and unfortunately it feels a little exploitive. We gave out little treats to the children (our guide purchased them and gave them to us to give to his “little friends”). I fully respect different cultures and traditions but it looked like we were just going from station to station to take photos with these women. Mind you, each one was in their own hut where they were selling products – some of which they made and some you can purchase in any market. Nonetheless, very interesting experience to say the least and beautiful tradition that is a sacred ritual which has been modernized. Mothers can choose for their daughters to either undergo the process at age 5 with a starter necklace that is 2 piece that can be taken off and on with ease OR if they decide that they don’t want their daughters to continue that tradition and go pursue academics and whatnot. Mr Ek was very knowledgable and sassy but told us that it’s not impossible for them to reconsider late in life they don’t want to continue wearing the necklaces but that there will be leftover scarring and their necks may feel uncomfortable and weak. The village itself is pretty but once you get to the bottom, its is ‘all catered to the visitors. Ethical or not, its a beautiful tradition and there were so many people still continuing it. But don’t be “that” tourist who doesn’t acknowledge the women as humans and treat them like animals – acknowledge the person and ask permission to take a photo with them.
We drove a bit more into the mountain area so we were at a higher elevation of the Mae Tang River for our white water rafting. The rapids weren’t too bad and easy to sail through. My whitewater tubing experience was more intense even in low tide season. When we arrived at the bottom, we got out and climbed up to a buffet lunch – tasty food – the fried chicken was so tasty! We changed into our mahout blue elephant outfits (XL) with our swim suits under. We had to wait a bit as there was a backlog with people and the elephants so we played ping pong on a cement table with a deflated ball. When it was our turn, we hopped back into the van and off we went to Makha Elephant Village. We arrived and Mr Ek was teaching us the basic words we should know to ride the elephants.
Pai – forward
Sai – left
Qua – right
how – stop
yea – don’t do that
bonbon – treats!
dede- good boy/girl
We all got a chance to get familiar with the proper way of getting on an elephant and riding an elephant – either bend your knees and tuck them on the ears or straight legged behind the ears with both hands on the top of the head. That way you can balance and after saying a command you can pat the elephant on the head and say dede – good boy/girl. It is also good to call them by their name so they get familiar with your voice. We made sure to choose a place where the elephants are treated well and are ethically riden (as ethical as it can be for riding an elephant) which this place showed signs of both. We had to wait until 2 people on one elephant to come back because we needed one more elephant for us. We rode individually on each elephant but the group before us had 2 women on one but at least no harness/seat apparatus like we saw earlier with 4 grown men a top of a elephant in a seat. Also, getting on a elephant when they are bowing puts strain on their knees when they get up so you should technically climb on from a higher height. My elephant is the oldest elephant in this sanctuary and her name is Mec-Ham. They add “Mec” in front of the female’s names which means mother to show respect. For a bit she would stop listening but for the most part, very chill, very hungry pulling at vines but listened. The ride was fun and the mahouts are great with them. Elephants don’t like cars and get frightened by them as we found out on our hike with a car passing through. Once we arrived back from our little hike in the jungle with them, we got to feed them bananas then Mec-Ham went back out immediately with another group. Luckily, Mec-Ham didn’t throw mud on herself when I was riding her but she did with this new girl and she was basically given a mud bath. We got to bathe them as well and it was really sweet. Mr Ek prepared some food for us and so we ate and talked a bit before our adventure back home in rush hour.
We all showered and then decided on dinner options. Andrew had looked up a place with a food market – Chang Phueak (ช้างเผือก) that had 30 baht pad thai and we literally walked on Salmon all the way north gate of the old city. We got there and couldn’t read all the menus but we settled on one place and I got myself chicken khao soy – 60 baht and it was so delicious but that spice hits the back of your throat and lingers. I also grabbed a passionfruit shake – 30 baht. Along the way there, there was one stall we passed that sold fried ice cream for 20 baht; we returned and I got the lemon with the strawberry sauce, whipped cream and sprinkles, it reminded me of a donut.
I asked Stella if there were any places around we could play some volleyball and she said there wasn’t any. The schools have volleyball courts but I doubt we can use them especially seeing some of them we saw yesterday with armed soldiers at the gate. So sad.
I couldn’t go the rest of the trip without a DSLR so I decided I need to purchase a new one here. Denchai is the #1 camera store here in Chiang Mai although, they do not stock all camera models. They do however do repairs. I called them and unfortunately they don’t stock the Nikon D610 and only the D600. Instead, we walked over to Central Plaza – Chiangmai Airport mall. The mall opens at 11AM. It took about 20-25 minute walking south of our hostel. When we got in, I went to information and got a tourist discount card which I applied for earlier in the morning online. This mall is 4 floors and has a Uniqlo. I purchased the new DSLR camera at Photobug but had to wait 30 minutes as they had to deliver it from their other location so we all wandered the mall to met back up at Uniqlo.
I feel better knowing I have a DSLR in my hand. We ended up going down to the Northern Village side of the mall where there is a food court that is indoors, clean with tons of stalls selling food cheap like the night market stalls. I ended up at one place where I got a fried egg on rice with chicken thigh in oyster sauce which was 50baht and delicious. There was also a ice cream stall called Paton Ice Cream which serves you 3 scoops for only 20baht – they also add coconut jelly to the bottom and any toppings you want.
We ended up sharing a tuktuk back to our hostel with a family visiting from Malaysia and one guy actually lived in Toronto back in the day near Dundas Station. Amy & Adam were so wiped and in a food coma that they napped for a bit. After their nap, we went to Akha Ama Coffee (Si Phum, Mueang Chiang Mai District, Chiang Mai) so I could pick up coffee beans. I’ve read online about it and I love the story behind it and all the effort it is in sourcing locally. The name comesfrom the Akha village of Maejantai. Ama means mother in Akha language and it is that face that graces the logo as she convinced her village to combine strengths and produce, process and market their own coffee. The beans are grown in Northern Thailand and the proceeds of the coffee beans sold here go back to that community. I grabbed a small bag of italian roast for only 180baht and a green tea latte 50 baht.
We then proceeded to do a temple run today starting off with วัดพระสิงห์วรมหาวิหาร Si Phum, Mueang Chiang Mai District then continuing on to Phonon Rachadamnoen Alley stopping by some smaller ones and watching sunset at Wat Chedi Luang before making our way to Wat Phantao (which was closed until 730PM) so we continued and made our way to the 3 Kings Monument Si Phum which was once city hall but is now serves as a cultural centre. The city is getting decorated for the festival as the bigger ceremonies and festivities are in full swing the 25th & 26th. We returned to the North Gate market on Manee Nopparat Road – Chang Phueak (ช้างเผือก). The cheapest and best pork is served here by the Thai cowgirl – she is known for her Khao Kha Moo – pork served with rice and a hard boiled egg for only 30baht! I got shrimp pad thai beside it for 50 baht as Amy and Andrew both got Khao Kha Moo. After dinner, we continued walking and made our way to the Ping river near the US Consulate where people were lighting floating krathong (boats made out of bamboo and flowers) and sending them down the river with their wishes and bad luck. It was pretty and tons of people were there. There was one man I thought was saving the drowning boats and re-lighting them but he was actually taking the money in them. We watched for a bit but the smoke got intense so we continued on down the river which brought us to Warorot Market then continued walking and made our way back to Wat Phantao and it was perfect timing. You enter to see a row of lanterns and people purchasing candles with wishes or blessings on them. They bring them to one of the larger monuments where they hand it off to monks to place higher up – that in itself is visually stunning. At the back corner you see giant trees with lanterns lit up and young monks sitting on the ground surrounded by candles as an elder reads off something in thai. There is a bridge made out of bamboo which we are not to suppose to stand on but of course chinese tourists “can’t read signs” and proceed to do so. The crowd got huge and somehow I got my way in front row to watch. The young monks got up and together lit paper lanterns and tied it to a string so they could make it float but not release them into the sky as they are saving that for tomorrow so they can do it all together. It was absolutely stunning.
8AM – Meet at Office (Green Discovery – Sales Office – No. 10 Rd & No. 46 Rd) – Store our luggage in the Office. Drive an hour to Tree Top Explorer at Jungle Hotel Paksong (Paksong); hike 1-2KM to site
11/14 – Pakse
-Tree Top Explorer
-4-5PM – Drop off at office/hotel
-HOTEL: Salachampa Hotel – Lakmeung Village, City Center
-Dinner option – Champady – restaurant off the main st – good pad thai; passion fruit and strawberry shake are amazing.
-Sunday street market – Nightmarket – 4-5PM-11PM – the market starts at Tha Pae Gate and goes all the way along Ratchadamnoen Road until Wat Phra Singh in the center of the old city (about 1.5 km). This is the place for souvenirs, t-shirts, artwork, hand made items and just about everything in between.
-Siam Rice Cooking class – 800 baht – evening session
–Blue Elephant – Thailand Tours – One Day Chiang Mai Elephant bathing & riding bareback + Whitewater rafting + Longneck Tribe. 830AM pickup – 630PM drop-off – Mae Rim, Longneck Karen & Big ear Kayor Hill tribe village, Muang Kud Valley and raft along the Mae Tang River, Makha Elephant Village – 22000THB – 4c pp – BRING CASH TO PAY ON SPOT! (http://www.blueelephantthailandtours.com/package/tour-detail.php?id=107)
-Akha Ama – Ahka Hilltribe Coffee – Hussadhisewee Road Soi 3 in Santhitham or Rachadammoen Road near Wat Phra Singh
– Graph Café – one of city’s best coffee – nitro cold brew coffee on tap -9AM-1PM – Rathvithi Soi 1
-Mao Coffee – mao gafaae – drunk coffee -8AM-5PM – Kankhlong Chonprathan Road heading south towards Hang Dong
– Chiang Mai has a beauty contest as well that is preceded by the Loy Krathong parade that begins at Tha Pae Gate the first evening of the festival. The temples also feature their own private celebrations where the devotees release khom loy and float their krathong and they welcome visitors to share in this deeply intimate event.
-Tha Phae Rd / Praisanee Rd / Chaoroen Prathet Rd and Thanon Charon Mueang – epicenter for paper lantern festival
FLY – CHIANG MAI -> BANGKOK – $73CDNpp – Air Asia – 125PM-245PM
As a full group of 15, we visited Aloha Stadium (99-500 Salt Lake Blvd) bright and early for their swap meet. We caught a bus that apparently went the long way around (should’ve caught the 42 but caught the 20 instead). Took about an hour to get there. The swap meet takes over the exterior perimeter of the stadium with tents set up and vendors sell everything and anything. Similar to ladies market in Hong Kong and any other markets you have ever been to.
Picked up souvenirs and lots of trinkets as well as some locally made foods. I also was able to find a beautiful double infinity bone necklace from the auntie who was selling real authentic Hawaiian costumes.
Back to Ala Moana mall for lunch – I had this amazing acai bowl ($7.95USD) from Grylt. Acai bowls are similar to a yogurt parfait but replace the base with acai frozen yogurt and place granola, honey, banana, strawberries and blueberries on top. And of course, went to Foodland for poke and also to grab mochi ice cream from Beard Papa. My friends wanted to visit some local stores like Fitted and Kicks / HI (1530 Makaloa St) where I bought my first 5 panel hat – Publish Gold Motif ($40 USD) which is this nice dark blue with gold floral. Headed over Walmart and bought everything macadamia nut then we caught the bus home and met up with our friend Justina who just arrived after major delays.
For dinner, went made reservations at Sansei Seafood & Sushi Bar by the beach at the Marriott. I ate the cucumber and wakame salad and Sansei Special Roll ($2.95 & $9.95USD). Went to Lawson (2255 Kalakaua Ave) where they also have Bubbies Ice cream mochi. So far on this trip, I’ve had 14 mochi’s and I still haven’t tasted every flavour and have only doubled twice. We didn’t want our night to end so we walked the beach at night to the end with the huge rainbow mural on the Hilton Hotel.
I travelled to Seattle for a weekend trip (2 days, 1 night) with my friends Christian, Joanne, Yolande, Joseph & Stanley. We rented 2 cars and drove down from Vancouver.
We made it to the border by 9AM and first stop along the way was the Seattle Premium Outlet mall. Nike was on everyone’s mind and everyone left with a pair of shoes. When in the states, you can’t go wrong with McDonald’s for a meal. They had this deal called Feast Mode $10USD (2 cheeseburgers; in our case 3, 20 McNuggets, 2 med fries) that we got which fed 3 people. Seattle’s facade reminds me of Vancouver by the water but the highways and the actual downtown core like Toronto with a mix of New York. We stayed at the Paramount Hotel at 8th & Pine St (Paid parking across the street). Then straight to the Niketown and Nordstrom Rack (Designer goods at non-designer prices).
By the time we were finished shopping, it was already 8PM. We Yelp’ed a couple of places to eat and our first option that was open that late was Taylor Shellfish on Melrose. We walked up Pine St to Melrose St (this area is the Cap Hill neighbourhood) and walked into the establishment. It is not meant to hold big parties and is first come first serve on seating where you pick an item and they will grab it fresh from their selection. Unfortunately, it was already packed so we left and right beside it was Sitka & Spruce which was recommended that we check out. During the day, it’s a deli/butcher shop in the front and they serve coffee but in the back is the restaurant. The decor was very lovely and somewhat hipster looking. It was also very packed and they said they had multiple reservations however they did recommend other eats on the same street. We finally settled at the corner restaurant called Terraplata. It’s an earth to plate type of restaurant and is open late night. It is very cute corner restaurant with a solid oak door and windows on all sides with a huge bar and long communal table type of seating. I was fortunate enough for my dear high school friend Katrina to join us for dinner. For dinner I had the Quinault river steelhead (cauliflower, harissa, cilantro, pinenuts, salsa verde). Crispy skin and the combination with the cauliflower made the meal. Presentation wise, they plated on these long and somewhat narrow plates which was okay but also at the bottom of their menu, it mentions their meals are made to be shared family style which is not the case.
After dinner, Katrina wanted to take us to Molly Moon for ice cream but it had just closed when we finished paying the bill so next best option – Cheesecake Factory. Pineapple upside down cheesecake for me and I don’t regret a single bite of it. As we were walking along Pike St, we passed by another recommendation – Rumba which is Caribbean dining.
The rain never stopped falling during our visit. But it didn’t stop me from exploring. We walked over to Pike Place Market (Similar to Granville Island and St Lawrence Market) with the booths for fresh farmers market, meats, flowers, jewelry etc. We grabbed lunch at Pike Place Chowder for bread bowls – I grabbed the smoked salmon chowder and we all found a place to sit and eat where we were accompanied by a dog from one of the stalls. We also saw the first Starbucks that also had a huge line. Katrina recommended we try some Russian pastries at Piroshky Piroshky. I had the Cinnamon cardamom twist. A rainy Sunday but otherwise a fun little walk and great food.
Our last stopover before heading north of the border was to Trader Joes (2410 James St, Bellingham, WA 98225). I absolutely love this store and if I had one closer I would’ve bought so much more from this store. I loaded up on the Unsulfurated Dried Mangoes and the Dark Chocolate Edamame Beans because they are that good. We made it back in to for some good old volleyball and to the usualy spot for late night pho – Pho 99.
If we had time, we would have like to try these restaurants that were highly recommended: