Tag Archives: Travel

I Dream of Kyoto

I have a soft spot for the beauty that is Kyoto. This fairytale land is quiet, strikingly beautiful, and oh so clean. With it’s countless temples, lush scenery and colourful vistas, the city feels like one big amusement park, except much cooler than man-made scream coasters and cotton candy.

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It’s a tourist city that attracts outsiders as well as their own kind, the Japanese from all parts of the country flock to this amazing place. I ran into a lot of tourists from Italy, they were everywhere.

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To experience Japanese lifestyle and hospitality, I booked a traditional Ryokan guesthouse instead of a hotel. This is where you sleep on tatami matted floors. Spending four days in Tokyo prior and getting to know Japanese culture made me totally at ease for this sleeping on the ground business. As expected, it was very comfortable, quiet, and spotless.

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There’s so much to do and see in Kyoto. Some people do a day trip from Tokyo but I strongly suggest spending three or four full days. You will cheat yourself with just one day.

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Some of the places we visited included Fushimi Inari Shrine – an endless shrine of beautiful orange gates spread across a thick wooded mountain. The Golden Pavilion, Arashiyama Bamboo Grove, Philosopher’s Walk, Gion District – famous entertainment and geisha quarter and an unforgettable day trip to Kibune and Kurama-dera which included hiking in the mountains and an even more unforgettable onsen experience.

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I think about Kyoto with a warm heart. A must see for anyone visiting Japan.

A few more pics from the day trip to Kibune and Kurama-dera. LUSCIOUS!

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IMG_0355There’s a big waterfall along with restaurants perched on top of the water!
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Tokyo Memorable Moments

There were so many highlights in Tokyo, it’s tough to narrow it down to a few. Here are four that stand out the most:

RAMEN AT THIS PLACE
Talk about a taste bud EXPLOSION. And I’m not just saying that. Apologies I have no idea what it was called. A friend sent a text message pin and we found it through google maps (somewhere near Shibuya). My eyeballs grew a little larger with every bite of the most delicious spicy miso ramen that has ever graced my mouth. I savoured every sip not wanting the dish to end.
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PACHINKO ARCADE
This was one of the most amazing things I have ever seen. It looks similar to slots at a casino, but it’s more like an arcade. Gambling for cash is illegal in Japan but Pachinko balls won from games can be exchanged for tokens and prizes.  The place is insanely loud and they are serious about these games. It was most definitely a movie moment, I couldn’t get over it.

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TRADITIONAL WEDDING
My guide book said if you’re lucky when visiting Yoyogi park, you just must stumble upon a traditional wedding. Low and behold I did!! It was amazing and very serious. There were intense drums informing us that something was about to happen and the wedding procession walked through the court yard very slowly. I had no idea this is what they wore. I was blown away.

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TSUKIJI FISH MARKET
The Tsukiji fish market is the largest fish market in Japan and it’s wild. We arrived at 4 am to see the famous tuna auction. Yes you read that right. They do a huge auction every day for tuna. I thought getting there at that hour was ludicrous but guess what? It wasn’t early enough because we missed it! But we did get to see the men in action and zipping around in their little carts, all dressed the same in chinos and white rubber boots, looking stylish. We then lined up for sushi breakfast and waited for 3 hours! By 7:30 am the most amazing chefs served the freshest fish I’ve ever experienced, one little piece at a time. A truly unforgettable experience.

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My Thoughts On Japan

When I booked my trip to Japan, friends told me “Japan will blow your mind.” I didn’t understand how or why it was going to blow my mind, but I was excited to find out. Upon arriving in Tokyo, we found ourselves completely lost and unable to find our hotel. We stopped in a store and asked for directions. Without hesitation four people gathered around trying hard to figure it out and show us the right way. They were serious about helping and they smiled a lot. When I attempted to cross the street I stopped in my tracks to an oncoming car, but low and behold – the car stopped and waited for me to cross. It didn’t take very long to realize just how efficient, polite, proper, stylish, and cool the Japanese really are.

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In a city of 30 million people you would expect a lot of chaos, but there are rules and people follow them. One of the most shocking things is that you don’t see any garbage cans but yet the city is so clean that you wouldn’t flinch if you dropped an apple on the ground – you would pick it up and eat it.

Another interesting thing is the bewildering amount of very convenient convenience stores and vending machines! You want new underwear? Buy it at the 7-11. You need to pay a bill? you can do that too. You want healthy and delicious snacks stocked every hour on the hour? yep, no problem. Socks, Muji products, beer, cell phones, umbrellas. Yes, Yes, Yes, Yes. Convenience stores and vending machines are EVERYWHERE and they’re exciting.

JAP_39So many convenience stores I can’t explain. Family Mart was my favourite

IMG_0069Vending machine culture is HUGE. I loved the iced coffee

I really got that movie scene vibe with all the lights and people filling the intersection at the famous Shibuya crossing. When the scramble light comes on it’s like the flood gates open and people don’t stop appearing.

IMG_0076My pic doesn’t do justice, but check these out here

Tokyo is just so big that if you don’t know where you’re going, you’ll miss all the good stuff. It’s a city filled with hidden gems and underground places. Luckily we had help from friends who lived there so we got to see a super cool side that we would have missed. My all time favourite neighbourhood was Nakameguro. I could have lived there.

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In 10 days I visited Tokyo, Kyoto, and Osaka and that just grazed the surface of what this beautiful country has to offer. There’s so much more to see. Next up, I’ll share my highlights.

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Things I Miss About Shanghai

I haven’t been away from Shanghai for that long but it feels as though I didn’t live there for a year. Kind of like when you return from a trip and the next day it feels like a dream. As I reflect on the fastest year of my life, these are the things I’ll miss the most.

Cheap Taxis
I would take a taxi to work for no joke $2.85. I lived in the French Concession and worked in The Bund area, all the way across town, usually sitting in traffic, and it never failed – it was only a few dollars. Talk about great value!

The Fabric Market
Since I was little, I always wanted my clothes made. I would imagine bringing a picture of a designer coat to someone who would measure me and make it happen for a fraction of the cost. My dream came true at the South Bund Fabric Market. I benefited from living in Shanghai and having access to it year round, because it’s actually hit or miss. Sometimes they make it bang on, and other times your item has to be re-worked. Sometimes you can barter a good price and other times they won’t budge. It takes practice. I got practice and great clothes.
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Real Chinese Food
We all know that the Chinese takeout we get in Canada is NOT real Chinese food. I don’t get it! Why don’t they stay true to their food? It was a learning curve discovering the different types of Chinese food. The variety is huge and I will miss the dumplings the most – more specifically xiaolongbao. The most delicious little soup filled dumplings. I’m on a mission to find good ones in Toronto, although I’ve been told I have to go to Markham for the good stuff.
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Door-to-Door Delivery
You can get anything delivered to your door in Shanghai – groceries were a big one for me…and McDonald’s blizzards! They would actually deliver one blizzard. The sites were user friendly, affordable, and offered free delivery. I will miss it dearly because grocery shopping is one of my least favourite chores.

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Seniors in the Park
I loved seeing old people dancing in the park and doing all sorts of activities like singing, playing checkers, tai chi, basketball, walking their dressed up dogs, eating, everything happens in the park. It was a spectacle every morning and evening, and especially on weekends.

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KTV
You’ll see KTV signs everywhere in Asia and that means karaoke! It’s not like the karaoke we’re used to in the Western world where you sing in front of the whole bar. No. Not this. KTV takes place in a building with hundreds of private rooms. You need to make a reservation and when you show up, it’s like checking into the front desk at a hotel. They bring you to your room where you can sing your heart out until 7 am. They serve drinks and food and there’s a disco ball. So much fun!
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Back in Canada

I left wild China and I’m back in glorious Canada. As an open minded, curious, and travel savvy person, living in Shanghai was nothing short of adventurous with ups and downs. It opened my eyes to a world I really didn’t know much about. I learned so much about different cultures, expat life, the working world in China, the digital world, the shopping world, and a lot more that I could tell you about over tea one day.

China is a hard place to adapt to, but my experiences will stay with me forever. I gained true life and work experience and I learned to tap into patience in times of chaos. The best part was that I got to see a lot of Asia including Hong Kong, Japan, Taiwan, Singapore, Indonesia, Malaysia, and Philippines. I look back on my pictures and I still can’t believe I saw all of that.

It’s difficult to describe everyday life to friends and family. I’ve shared some stories, but nothing could truly capture the daily things I saw, unless I had a video camera glued to my forehead. I should have tried that.

Seeing a family of three zip by on a motorbike is a daily sight I’ll definitely miss. Not to mention indulging in the local food stalls. Chinese food will never be the same.

Even though you were crazy Shanghai, I’ll always hold a special place for you in my heart.

IMG_9365Quite possibly the hottest day of my life. There are no words.IMG_9554The side car tour of Shanghai is an interesting and really fun way to see the city

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Ladies in the park doing their thing
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The historical staircase at my work
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Old roof tops that give Shanghai its charm
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Exploring one of the many areas being torn down for new development
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An amazing participatory art project I organized for work
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Roof top view
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Last night celebrating before taking off to tour Asia

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Travel: Beautiful Yangshuo China

One of the greatest highlights of China was our trip to Yangshuo. I heard it was beautiful from friends and I checked out pictures online, but being there in person was an amazing breath of fresh air and the views are spectacular.

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If you’re thinking about going to China, Yangshuo should definitely be on your list. It’s a 2 hour flight from Shanghai and you need 3 or 4 days, no less. Here’s a bit of advice on how to navigate the area:

Fly into Guilin and take the ferry to Yangshuo (down the Li River). It’s a key highlight and takes about 4 hours. If you fly in at night, stay the night in Guilin and take the ferry the next morning.  The ferry only goes from Guilin to Yangshuo (not the reverse) so don’t miss it!

The town center of Yangshuo is kind of ugly, so you should stay in the country side. Two good places to stay are The Giggling Tree and Secret Garden. Both are very charming.

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This trip is all about making the most of your day outdoors, so I would pack workout clothes and good trainers. Get a map in advance – try printing online. We had a hard time finding a map…our B&B only had one so they couldn’t give it to us and we got a little lost.

Rent bikes and ride around the country side. Your hotel will tell you the route and you’ll see a lot of people on bikes. Take a bamboo boat ride along Yulong river – you’ll come across this on your bike ride. Splendid!

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The next day, take a local bus to Xingping (takes about 45 minutes). Walk around Old Street, hike up Laozhai hill, visit the fishing village (by boat or hike), or hike around the Li River. There’s a really good restaurant on Old Street called Warm Cafe – definitely worth it.

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Back in Yangshuo, if you’re into something different, there’s a live show called Impression SanjieLiu that takes place every night along the Li River. You have to buy tickets in advance and it’s great! It was kind of like watching an Olympic opening ceremonies.

Another friend suggested visiting the rice terraces in Longli but it’s 3 hours outside from Guilin (the other direction of Yangshuo), so you would need more time. It’s a day trip. We were there for 3 days and didn’t have time. This is where the fourth day would have been nice.

Overall the trip to Yangshuo gave me a whole new appreciation for China. I was so impressed with the vistas and the overall look and feel was unmatched by other experiences. Definitely worth the trek.

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Malaysia: Land of Food and Friendly

Over the Chinese New Year break we ventured out to Malaysia. It was a much-needed escape from the never-ending traffic noise and air pollution of Shanghai. I didn’t know much about Malaysia when we booked our flights, except that I tried a Malaysian dish in Australia some years ago and it was terrible. Beef Redang. Wasn’t a fan.

But we love to travel to a place of good food and we were told Malaysia would not disappoint. It most certainly did not disappoint and I realize that the restaurant in Australia was probably crap.

We started the trip with a big FAIL by missing our flight!!!! Despite being super organized with all hotels booked in advanced, everything printed, and an expert packing job, we arrived at the airport for our 1:30 flight only to realize, it left at 1:30 am! Worst!!!! What kind of flight leaves at that hour? Air Asia.

We bit the bullet and booked another flight (price not to be mentioned). After waiting in the airport all day, and getting delayed again, it was 4 am by the time we got to our hotel in Kuala Lumpur. Luckily our hotel was in a bustling part of the city, right near the famous outdoor food market Jalan Alor, and it was still going strong. We ate dinner…er breakfast at an amazing Tandoori place nearing 5 am. But who cares, vacation means no real schedule.

A few hours later we were off to Melaka, a UNESCO World Heritage site that’s rich in history and heritage. We toured around by foot and admired the pretty buildings. At night we went to the Jonker Walk Night market. A long street selling food, trinkets, and more food.

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Our next stop was Georgetown in Penang, another UNESCO World Heritage site, but much bigger than Melaka. Penang is known as THE food capital of Malaysia, so it was here that we sampled all the dishes you’re supposed to try in Malaysia, including the strangest fruit we ever did eat – durian. We’re pretty open to trying new foods and liking them, but durian wasn’t one of them. It’s about the size of a melon but with a prickly outside. When you open it up inside, it looks like play-doh and smells like garbage. I watched DT eat it first and his face was priceless. I wish I filmed it. To give you an idea of the offensive smell, many hotels have signs banning durian be brought on their property. Keep in mind – it’s a fruit! Strange I know.

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Penang was really nice, it’s part historical, part brand-new city, and a short 30 minute bus ride brings you to the National Park and beaches.

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The last leg of the trip was spent on the island of Langkawi, the jewel of Kedah. It was beautiful and quaint and a perfect way to end the trip. There are a number of beautiful beaches, mountains, parks, and it’s so close to Thailand that you can do day trips there. Wild.

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One of the best things about Malaysia is how friendly the Malay people are. We loved them! Their accents are awesome, they smile a lot, they’re laid back, and just overall seem like a happy bunch. The weather was perfect every day and the food was so interesting with Indian and Thai influences.

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I highly recommend checking out Malaysia, and if you’re interested in doing the loop we did, we stayed at excellent places – The Yard Hotel in Kuala Lumpur, Wei Far Guest House in Melaka, Glow Boutique Hotel in Georgetown, and La Pari Pari in Langkawi. All awesome, affordable, and highly recommended.

Dreaming of the beach now. My happy place, always and forever.

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