Great Heights in Kuala Lumpur

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When traveling from Thailand to Bali, I decided to make a few quick stops in Singapore and Kuala Lumpur. I knew that if I was only going to be spending roughly 48 hours in KLL, I needed to stay in a place that was close to the sights and the nightlife. The Trader’s Hotel was a perfect fit, which offered amazing views from my room, perfect service, and a complimentary happy hour with tea and biscuits (perfect to catch up on some blogging). They are one of the few hotels where you can actually see the full view of the Petronas Towers, and the rooftop bar, SkyBar,  is particularly popular, meaning a short commute back to your hotel room. The cherry on top? It’s centrally located, meaning you’re close to tons of great culinary options including Shanghai, Bijan, and Cilantro.

For my one full day, I decided to trek out to the Batu Caves. I had heard mixed reviews, but I am a sucker for anything that gets me outside. If you’re staying close to City Central, which you likely are, you will need to arrange a cab to take you to the caves. Have your concierge strike a deal for a ride there and back, so you don’t have to hassle with a cabbie for a ride home. An added bonus: it will usually save you a few bucks, too. Once you arrive at the caves, you’ll see a giant set of steps and a massive gold statue of Murugan, a Hindu deity, identifying the caves as a place of worship. Because of that, it is important that you dress appropriately. I err on the side of covering up. I kept on a long sleeve top and a skirt that hit below the knees, just to be safe.

Once inside, it’s a little dark and dingy, and for the most part it’s not all that interesting. Because of this, I can see why people would be disappointed. I decided to stick around and check out every nook and crany, and after a period of time, chanting and prayer began. For me, this was the real treat. As much as I try to be respectful of the people around me, I do still find religion in general quite fascinating, so I stood back and spectated from afar. I didn’t take any pictures because I feel like that’s pushin’ it. Afterwards, I journeyed back to my hotel and treated myself to a solo dinner and then drinks upstairs at the bar. I ended up meeting a group of MMA professionals in the city for a tournament, and we stayed out until the wee hours of the morning. Just proof that you never know who you are going to meet when you travel.

So, if I had to leave you with three tips for a quick trip in Kuala Lumpur: 1) Book a hotel in City Central with a great view. Trader’s would be my pick. 2) Spend more than 15 minutes at the Batu caves and enjoy the people watching (remember to dress appropriately!), and 3) Enjoy the burgeoning food scene with a dinner at Bijan for traditional Malay cuisine.

Do you have any tips for a long layover in KLL? Leave me a comment!

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What to Wear: Thailand

what to wear thailand

Around this time last year I was wading in the water on the beaches of Thailand. Now that summer is slowly slipping away, and the whole world is planning their winter escape, I figured it was fine time to put together the necessities for any Thai vacation. Below are a few rules for packing that I found helpful when traveling to the Land of Smiles.

Keep it easy breezy. While this goes without saying, it is smart to reiterate to importance comfy, loose fitting clothing. Imagine getting a sun burn and having to wear tight jean shorts. Eek! Also, it does get hot and sticky during the day, so any help you can get to keep the breeze flowing will make a big difference.

Pack your maxi. If you plan on visiting any temples at all bear in mind that you need to be covered up in order to enter. At more popular temples in Bangkok, they will provide clothing for a retainer fee, but you’re better off avoiding the lines and showing up prepared. As long as your shoulders and shins are coverd, you’re good to go.

Stop the sun. Don’t hesitate to pack multiple beach cover ups and a hat. Sun burns are no fun and you’re better off shielding yourself from the rays for most of the day. Your skin is the ultiamte accessory and the last thing you want is to look like a lobster in Koh Samui.

Ditch the stilettos. More times than not, walking in heels is going to be incredibly difficult in Thailand. If you crave shoes with some height, swap out your stilettos for a cute pair of wedges. Not only will they be more comfortable, but you won’t have to worry about sinking in the sand.

Be selective with your jewelry. There are going to be plenty of cute little shops to grab jewelry, so I recommend just packing a few statement pieces. Thailand is full of color and glitter, so don’t be afraid to go big! Costume jewelry is a better option than your favorite treasured pieces. I always say, when you travel, don’t bring anything you would be afraid to lose, so leave the family heirlooms at home.

These tips are a good jumping off point, but be sure to check the weather conditions during your visit.

Leave any of your favorite Thailand packing suggestions in the comments below!

Bali Bungalow

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When I was looking for a place to stay during my few weeks in Bali, I wanted the best hospitality without separating myself from the energy and culture of the town. The White Villas, in the heart of Ubud, is a beautiful oasis fit for any intrepid traveler that gives you the best of both worlds.

During my stay, I have never felt so well taken care of and so at home. Every morning, complimentary breakfast of your choice is delivered to your door — or even better, your patio. I chose traditional options like nasi goreng paired with fresh local fruit and yogurt, which was always the perfect start to my day. Another great touch is that they have passion fruit growing in the garden that you’re welcome to pick and snack on. It doesn’t get much better than that!

Because there are only three villas on the premisis, the service has loads of personal touches and works around your schedule. The staff would help me choose great tours, like this one, and would take care of arranging all of the transportation. In addition, they would often check in to make sure I was doing well and taking advantage of all the activities and restaurants in downtown Ubud. Because I was traveling alone, they took extra care to make me feel safe and welcome, which I really appreciated.

Often times, friends and family ask where I would like to return to in Asia. While I have seen so many beautiful places, my first answer is always Ubud, and I have to credit the amazing people at The White Villas for making my experience a memorable one! If and when I return to Bali, you can bet your bottom dollar I will be staying in The White Villas again.

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Tower of Victory

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While the Taj Mahal is the hot destination in India, if you plan on spending any time in Delhi, there are several other landmarks worth checking out, including Qutb Minar and India Gate. Qutb Minar is the tallest minaret in all of India, which is made of red sandstone covered with intricate carvings and verses from the Qur’an. Back in the 80’s you actually used to be able to climb to the top, but according to my guide, a serious of unfortunate incidents, including several suicides have consueqently resulted in the minarets interior to be closed to the public. Regardless, the minaret and surrounding courtyard provide some interesting insight on what Delhi was like back in the early 1100’s.

Most tourists travel with tour guides, which is a smart move if you have no connections in Delhi. Luckily, my friends offered to let me use their car and driver, who would pick me up and drop me off at different locations that I wanted to visit day to day. Because of this, it was necessary to get a guide for all of the major monuments once I arrived. I payed 400 rupees (roughly $7) for a guide who was waiting outside of the entrance. This is normally quite high, but after having a quick conversation, it was easy to determine that his English was impeccable, and he could answer my wierd questions without any problems. As I mentioned in my Taj Mahal post, often times guides have a limited list of facts and their English can be difficult to understand at times, so when I’m looking for a guide, I am quite picky and willing to pay an extra 100-200 rupees. And let’s be honest, in the grand scheme of things, it’s only a few more dollars for a much better experience.

When visiting India Gate, it is not necessary to have a guide. If you are just swining by to snap a few photos, you would be like the majority of tourists who stop by. But, if you find yourself with a little more time, the gorgeous courtyard does offer a nice place to sit and enjoy a late lunch and a good book, as well.

Qutb Minar and India Gate are great to schedule on the same day. They are relatively close to each other, and they are both close to Connaught Place, which is important for someone who enjoys to shop as much as I do. From pashminas, to jewlery, and art, this is the top place to go and hunt for treasure. It takes a bit of persistence to find the gems hiding in the shops, and once you do, as a tourist be prepared to negotiate, otherwise you are going to pay substantially more for an item. For eample, I negotiated several pashminas down from 34,000 rupees ($575) to 9,000 rupees ($150). Persistence is definitely the key!

So, if shopping and sightseeing are on your to-do list for your time in Delhi, this itinerary including these two monuments and some shopping at Connaught Place, can make for a perfect day!

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Posh Pit Stop

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Between Thailand and Bali I couldn’t help but make a quick stop over in Singapore for a night. There were a few things that I wanted to check out, including some rooftop bars that offer some incredible views of the city. But first, a little history. I stayed at the New Majestic Hotel, which is a hop, skip and a jump from Chinatown.

On the walk over to Chinatown, I stopped at the Sri Mariamman Temple, which is Singapore’s oldest Hindu temple. This architecture was so impressive, and to be honest, this picture really doesn’t do the craftsmanship justice. Once you turn down Pagoda Street you will find the Chinatown Hertiage Center. Inside are diaramas that help you relive the days where Chinese migrants were coming to Singapore. Most people whizz through in 15 minutes, but if you take the time to read every label and watch all of the videos, you can learn a lot. It still only lasts about an hour, but the quick stop was one of the highlights of the day. Bonus: it only costs $10.

Once I was ready for the evening, it was time for a night on the town. I started with dinner with a fellow traveler at Esquina then headed to the Marina Bay Sands Hotel to check out Ku De Ta and the sunset. After Ku De Ta, we finished the night at 1-Altitude for some music and dancing with one of the best views in the city.

While I wish I could’ve spent more time in Singapore, my first 24 hours gave me a good preview of all the city has to offer, and now I can’t wait to go back.

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Pagoda Street Singapore    

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Taking on the Taj

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Oh, India! There are so many amazing places and things to see, but the ‘number one’ on my list has always been the Taj Mahal. On my first full day, I was pleasantly surprised by some homemade poori and curry for breakfast, made by my friends who graciously took me in to their home during my time in India. After that, the car that we scheduled the night before (through http://www.olacabs.com), picked me up for my five-hour drive to Agra. My friends assured me that Ola was a very safe cab company and they trusted that I would be safe on my ten-hour round trip journey to see the Taj. My driver spoke very little English, but my friends made sure that we at least had each other’s phone numbers to be able to schedule my pick-up after my tour. It was definitely very helpful that I had a burner phone with an Indian sim card; it saved me on several occasions! We struggled through a bit of conversation, but I eventually learned some helpful Hindi phrases and a little about my driver, who just recently became a father. We took the recently completed Yamuna Expressway, which cuts close to four hours off of the trip from Greater Noida to Agra. My driver said he was grateful for the new road because it made the trips down to the Taj Mahal much better for him and for his customers.

Upon arrival in Agra, we parked at the West Gate where you are instantly bombarded by ‘tour guides’. If I had to give one tip, I would say, be picky! Make sure their English is impeccable and ask how long they have been giving tours. Usually, the older the tour guide, the better. Mine had been doing it for 16 years (or so he says). Regardless, I made a good choice because he was a wealth of information and very willing to help take photos of me. Once you choose a guide, you hop on a tut tut and they zoom you down to one of the the main entrance gates. You pay the 750 Rs entry fee and then tourists are expedited to the front of the security line, which is great because the line is huge! For those curious, women are searched and checked separately from the men. Another thing to keep in mind is that this is a Muslim monument, and while a dress code isn’t strictly enforced, it’s curteous to be covered. I wore long pants and a kept my shoulders covered to whole time.

Once inside, you will be fighting other tourists for some of the best photos. This is when it’s great to have an knowledgable tour guide because they know where all the great vantage points are, and they can run a little defense while you are trying to get your shot. They are usually pretty experienced with a camera as well, and mine managed to capture some great pictures of me. While initially I was reluctant to hand over quite an expensive camera, he probably knew how to operate it better than I did. No joke!

One of the things I noticed about being a Western tourist is people will want to take pictures with you. Yes, complete strangers. I was a little surprised and taken-aback by the fascination that locals had with fair-skinned Westerners. My tour guide mentioned that being 5’11 and traveling alone as a female probably piqued their interests. I was included in pictures with lots of different people including entire families, but most commonly other people’s children. Everyone was very kind and I even had my tour guide take photos of me with them as well. All part of the experience, right?

Soon, the sun started to set, and the Taj slowly started to take on an orange glow. The three best times to visit are during sunrise, sunset, and a full moon, according to my guide. Pretty incredible that the Taj changes colors from pink to orange, to a milky white all in the course of a day.

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Towards the end of the day the fountains are shut off so you can see the reflection of the Taj in the infinity pool that sits in front of it. This was probably one of the toughest times to take a photo, but you just have to be persistent. At the end of my trip, my guide accompanied me back to my car and asked for a donation as opposed to a set price. I gave him 1,000 Rs. Take note: that is  a LOT for a tour guide, but mine was so great I felt compelled to give him more than what he is used to. 200-300 Rs usually does the trick, but if you think your tour guide did a great job, don’t be afraid to give more as well. Soon, it was back in the car and back to Gurgaon. Be prepared to sit in traffic in Agra, but don’t stick your nose in a book. This is one of the best times for people watching! At one point, I saw a family of six on a motorbike and another driver had stacked about 10 feet of boxes on top of his scooter. Once you’re back on the Yamuna Expressway, have your driver stop at one of the pit stops and pick up some somosa chaat. After you’ve had a quick bite to eat, you can rest your eyes until you’re back at your final destination.

 

Pearl of the Orient

My first meal in Hong Kong was on Gough St. at Kau Kee Restaurant (九記牛腩 ). They are famous for their beef brisket noodles, and for good reason! A line typically forms about 45 minutes before Kau Kee opens, and everyone in that line would agree the wait is well worth it. Also noteworthy, diners can expect to share their table with others. Kau Kee’s policy is to fill every seat, serving as many people in there as possible. Not a bad system if I do say so myself. I’m pretty sure the two people who ate with us were thinking I was an obnoxious gweilo the whole time considering how many pictures I was taking. Luckily, I had my friend Christy to guide the way. She made sure I was comfortably settled in Hong Kong by hooking me up with an amazing apartment in Central and also turned me on to a new company called Handy, where you can rent a device that’s phone, travel guide and more. A definite must if you are visitng Hong Kong! For about $10 (US) a day you get unlimited 3G and international calling. You can also set up the phone as a WiFi hotspot so you can blog, work, or cruise the internet wherever you are! Each Handy device comes with a built-in city guide, with categories covering restaurants, shops, experiences, bars, and attractions. With just a few clicks, you can pinpoint your exact location on a map, reserve a table at a waterfront restaurant, or navigate your way to the nearest attraction. Genius!

kau kee restaurant hong kong

kau kee restaurant hong kong

After lunch, one of Christy’s friends took me over to Kowloon (or more commonly known in Hong Kong as TST). While he was getting a suit tailored, I walked the Avenue of Stars which is their version of the Walk of Fame. There are a couple of fun statues, but the real treat is the view of the city!

avenue of stars hong kong

avenue of stars hong kong

After taking in the views, I grabbed an egg custard (a HK staple) and stook the Star Ferry, which is the oldest form of public transportation in the city, back over to Central.

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Later that night, Christy and her boyfriend, Ben, took me up to the Peak for one of the best views of the city. After a leisurely stroll, we cabbed back down to Duddell’s where we shared a few delicious cocktails.

the peak hong kong

duddells hong kong

I fell in love with the city of Hong Kong that first day. While Hong Kong is not a particularly large city, there is much to explore and experience. Can’t wait to share my adventures in the days to follow.

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On a separate note, here’s to the Red Sox demolishing the first game of the World Series! I was that weird American cheering at 8AM down at the breakfast buffet. It was a little reminder that while I am having a blast on the other side of the world, there are still some things I miss about home.

Get the Look: Shirt, Joie // Scarf, Old Navy

Typhoon Tangents

My last few days in Shanghai were punctuated by a typhoon. While there were still sights that I wanted to see, I had no intention of soaking through three layers of clothes in the process. So, I moved on to plan B: eat my way through Shanghai. Collin, a recent friend, introduced me to some delicious takeout and probably the best soup dumplings I have ever had in my life. Miraculously, the takeout was hand delivered in the pouring rain, but I guess to the people of Shanghai, the typhoon was less than extraordinary.

I ate my last meal in Shanghai at Jia Jia Tang Bao with Collin.  Jia Jia Tang Bao is a no frills dumpling house producing made to order dumplings of all kinds. Wanting to capture the dumpling operation on film, I peeked into the kitchen and managed a few shots. I don’t think I’ve ever seen fingers move that fast! I’m pretty sure Collin and I consumed five trays of dumplings on our own. And while I was practically rolled to the train on my way to the airport, my taste buds hadn’t been that happy all trip. Besides, I’m sure the dumplings were calorie free…

I confess I ate up to the very last minute before I boarded the Maglev, which hits speeds hovering around 400 km/h (roughly 230 mph). And because I had only enough time for a sneak peek into this amazing city, a feeling of sadness came over me as I left. There remain plenty of sights for me to see in Shanghai, so I guess there will just have to be a next time.

Don’t Fail to Prepare: Part III

Tomorrow, the journey begins! First stop, L.A. and a brief visit with my dear friend Malcolm, then it’s off to Narita Airport—Tokyo. I’ve been running around today taking care of last minute details. So here’s the skinny on what needs to be done the last few days before your trip.

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Grab any last minute necessities. After a few days in California, I noticed a few things I was missing: socks, converters for my electronics, and I also needed to pick up an exchange order for a Japanese Rail Pass. First stop, I snagged some climatecool socks from Adidas that are odor resistant; they will be perfect for those hot days hiking around Thailand and Vietnam, and Bali. Next, I went to RadioShack where I picked up a pack of travel adapters that hopefully work in every country I am going to over in Asia. Fingers crossed that I have them all covered. The Japanese Rail Pass exchange order is very important. As a U.S. Citizen you cannot purchase an exchange order overseas, so it must be procured in the U.S. I bought mine on http://www.jrpass.com. They deliver it Priority Overnight via FedEx, so you get it quick and easy.

Make copies. One of the next things to do is to make copies of your passport photo page and all of your visas. Obviously, you aren’t planning on losing your passport, but storing copies of your passport and visas through your luggage is helpful just in case. I also left a copy with my friend Malcolm. It is also important to take digital copies on your phone, and keep them on your computer as well. The more places you have them, and the more people who have access to them, the better off you are.

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Call your cell provider. If you’re like me, you’ll want to make sure you can stay connected to friends and family to check in on the road. In addition to my dummy phone that I can insert different SIM cards into, I am bringing my iPhone. Even though you have a phone that works internationally, you still need to call your provider to tell them to activate your international antenna. Without doing so, you could be disconnected a little longer than you would like. Try to do this three days in advance of your trip.

Purchase Travel Insurance. Even if you are perfectly healthy and in good physical shape, travel insurance is a necessity. It’s important to note that travel insurance is far beyond just medical coverage, it also covers cancellations, lost or stolen goods, legal expenses, and emergencies beyond medical emergencies, such as military conflict in the country you are in. The insurance provider I chose to go with is World Nomads. The great thing about World Nomads is that you can purchase your policy online in less than 5 minutes. Seriously! My 3-month coverage plan only cost me $187, and that covers up to $100,000 in medical expenses. Trust me when I say, this will be the best money you have spent on your trip. You never know what can happen, and it’s always better to be prepared for the worst case scenario.

Can’t wait to start posting abroad soon.

See you on the flip side, xoxo.

Don’t Fail to Prepare: Part II

Tomorrow, I will start my trip! First stop will be in L.A. to visit my dear friend Malcolm for a few days before he drops me off at the airport to head to Narita Airport in Tokyo. I’ve been running around today to take care of some of the last minute details. So here’s the skinny on what you should be taking care the last few days before your trip.

Call your bank. I have three bank accounts, and one credit card. What do they all have in common? They need to know you are going out of the country. Make sure you have your itinerary all set, as some banks or credit card companies want to know exact dates. For some of the countries I’m going to (Vietnam and India in particular), it took over two weeks to get the holds released on more than one of my accounts, so make sure you plan in advance for certain countries. You don’t want to be stuck without any way to pay for your delicious Pho in Hanoi, or fabulous salwar kameez in Delhi.
Pack pack pack. I thought packing for three months would be difficult. I was wrong. Picking out outfits for 90 days was the easy part. The tough part was fitting it into one piece of checked luggage, one carry and a personal item (aka, the biggest bag I could imagine would fit underneath the seat in front of me). I had to do a lot of editing. Apparently, four pairs of heels was a little too much. While some people can live off of 20 articles of clothing for 3 months, I choose not to, and I have no problem paying for a checked bag for a little more comfort. One of the big problems I faced was packing for multiple climates. Within the same three months I will be facing 40 degree weather at night in Beijing and 90 degree heat in Phuket. Layers were definitely the key! While I don’t want to get into the specifics of my checked luggage, I will touch on the important stuff that should be going with you to your seat on the flight.
All of my electronics I’m bringing with me. I’m packing my MacBook Air, Kindle, Canon DSLR camera, iPhone 4S, iTouch, Nokia dummy phone, electric toothbrush (not pictured), and all of the chargers to go along with it.
My carry-on bag holds all of my essentials to make me comfortable god forbid my luggage gets lost. This includes: all of my medications needed for the trip (which has everything you might need just in case), a small bag of my liquid toiletries, shampoo, conditioner, toothpaste, hairspray, body wash, lotion, face wash, shaving cream, and sunscreen. Tampons, which are hard to find in some countries in Asia. Peptobismol and Immodium (definitely needed for India!), protein bars for travel snacks, neutrogena face wipes, a baseball cap, Kate Spade sunglasses, my favorite 3.1 Philip Lim crossbody bag (in it’s dust cover), a pair of blue jeans, shorts (not pictured), and a couple tank tops (not pictured), a bathing suit, bra, sports bra, couple pairs of underwear, sandals, and flats.
The all important personal item! This Lulelemon bag is great for all of your essentials that you don’t feel comfortable putting in the overhead compartment. It is filled with all of my electronics, a couple extra protein bars, my passport (with visas), my wallet, my Chanel sungalsses, kleenex, hand wipes, face wipes, a pen (to fill out forms on the plane), a scarf, Nyquil (to help me sleep on the plane). I’m wearing my Jimmy Choo sneakers on the plane with a sweater, pair of jean shorts, and a jacket in case I get cold. Also packed in here are the few pieces of jewlery I won’t already be wearing.
Double check! Go through your packing list. Make sure you have everything you need. Worse comes to worse, you can pick it up in another country, but some things you just can’t get anywhere else. Medications, passport, and visas are all a giant pain in the butt to get elsewhere. Make copies of your prescriptions, passport photo page and all of your visas just in case.
Say thank you. If you’re like me, there are a lot of people who helped you get ready for this trip. Show them your appreciation with a fun card! I still love getting snail mail, and I know my friends and family will be grateful for my effort. As Oscar Wilde says, “The smallest act of kindness is worth more than the grandest intention.”

 Until next time! xoxo