UPDATE:  Congrats to the winners, Denise, Alice, and Nancy!

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This week I’m giving away THREE copies of Fodor’s Thailand Guide with side trips to Cambodia and Laos, 11th Edition.   It has tons of gorgeous full color pictures and would be a great  resource to have! Check out the “8 Essential Experiences” to have in Thailand on Fodor’s.

Thailand

If you’ve seen the movie The Beach, you’ll know exactly how gorgeous Thailand is! Interested in winning? In the comments section, share with me which movie has you dreaming about a destination! Giveaway ends this Friday at 8pm pst.

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(Ferry Building @ Embarcadero)

When I first moved to San Francisco, I really had no idea where and what all the neighborhoods were. So as a tourist, it’s really helpful to have a sense of the different types of neighborhoods so you can customize your visit.

1. Fisherman’s Wharf: This is obviously where the famous Fisherman’s Wharf, Pier 39, Ghiradelli Square and Boudin’s Bakery is. With that said, this is a huge tourist trap! The parking is atrocious and expensive (i once paid $25 for 3 hours in a lot!). Is it worth visiting? If you’re a first time visitor, always. Jump on the SF’s Muni F line and sit back on one of their historic street cars. Walkable.

2. Financial District: This busy neighborhood houses a lot of big financial companies on the west coast. It’s fun to get caught up in the hustle and bustle on the week day, but it’ll be a ghost town on the weekends. Walkable.

3. Union Square: Another popular tourist and shopper’s destination. Hands down, this area is the best shopping area. If you can think of a store you like, there’s probably a 3 leveled one here in the neighborhood. After a tough day of shopping, head over to the Westfield food court and get some fresh cream puffs from Beard Papa. Walkable.

3. SOMA: An acronym for SOuth of MArtket, SOMA is a youngish area filled with lofts, furniture stores, art spaces, tech companies, and warehouses. The Museum of Modern Art housed here near the Yerba Buena Gardens. Personally, I don’t think there’s much to see after 4th street, unless you’re going to the famous Folsom Street Fair… which… well… you’ll probably see more than you want to see.

4. Civic Center/Tenderloin: As Dave Chappelle puts it: “There’s nothing tender about the Tenderloin”. There are a few bars, art galleries, and Vietnamese restaurants that are worth going to, but it’s definitely a tough neighborhood. The Civic Center also houses city hall, the SF opera, and the Asian Art Museum. Is it the best area to walk around in? Probably not.

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5. Nob Hill: Be prepared with your good walking shoes! Nob Hill is one of the hilliest neighborhoods in San Francisco, but it houses a lot of SF landmarks. You can still see a lot of the old buildings from SF’s early gold rush history.

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6. The Mission: Personally, this is my absolute favorite neighborhood in SF. A slightly down and out neighborhood, this quickly gentrifying area has a lot of great (and cheap!) dive bars and restaurants. Grab an ice cream cone from Bi-Rite Creamery and head over to Dolores Park and people watch. If the day is nice, you’ll be able to catch a great view of SF from the top of the hill. Walkable.

7. Chinatown: Aside from NYC’s Chinatown, SF’s Chinatown is actually really interesting and full of Chinese people (I’m looking at you DC Chinatown. Where are all the Chinese people there?)! I personally don’t think that the Chinese food is very good here, but Golden Gate Bakery (nob hill?) makes the best egg tarts in the city. It’s shockingly good. Walkable.

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8. The Castro: Surprisingly, this neighborhood isn’t very big, but it’s definitely a lot of fun and great people watching.  This vibrant area is  SF’s LGBT neighborhood. It is also the place that Harvey Milk got his start and where the historic Castro Theater is housed. The restaurants are good and the bars are plentiful. Walkable

9. North Beach: Adjacent to Chinatown, this area is the little Italy of San Francisco. A very cute neighborhood has lots of cute restaurants and bars. After a long brunch at Mama’s On Washington Square, head over to City Lights Bookstore and soak up all of it’s literary goodness. Walkable

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10. Embarcadero: On a sunny day, this waterfront area has a gorgeous view of the Bay Bridge and the water. Locals and tourists alike head to the Ferry Building every Sat morning for the best farmer’s market EVER. Things might be a little expensive, but you can graze from stall to stall for free samples. After, head over to Hog Island for fresh oysters and a grill cheese. Walkable

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11. Haight-Ashbury: The famous Haight is what people always think about when they think about SF in the 60s. Today, it’s still fun walking from boutique to boutique (although a little more touristy). Walkable

12. Japantown: A small Japanese neighborhood, Japantown is a good place to get some mochi, ramen, and little Japanese knicknacks. Tired from a long day? Head to Kubuki bathhouse and soak in their same-sex communal bathhouse for the rest of the day. There are also free walking tours starting at Japantown’s pagoda.  Walkable.

11. Sunset/Richmond: Both Sunset and Richmond district has a lot to offer, but it is mainly a residential area. I’ve combined these two neighborhoods because the beautiful Golden Gate Park separates the two districts. GG Park is a great place to walk through and is even home to buffaloes (seriously!). After visiting the DeYoung Museum and the California Science Museum, head over to either of these two neighborhoods and grab a bite to eat.

12. Hayes Valley: This neighborhood is ridiculously cute. It has lots of great brunch places and small boutiques.Walkable

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So many more neighborhoods! (Marina, Noe Valley, Pacific Heights, Potero Hill, Alamo Square, etc etc) There’s tons of other neighborhoods I didn’t cover, but if I did this post would be huge! Have fun and explore SF’s many many diverse neighborhoods.

(all photos courtesy of Kevin W: thanks!!)

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Check out these amazing pictures of Milford Sound, New Zealand from Kevin W. I didn’t even realize this place existed before I saw these pictures and now I have to go!!!

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*all pictures credited to Kevin W. please do not copy pictures without permission

Additional Reading and Resources

Milford Sound- Fiordland.org.nz

Milford Sound- Wikipedia.com

Milford Sound- NZescape.com

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On our way back from SF to LA (post on that soon), the BF and I decided to make a quick one day trip to Sequoia National Park. We’ve always wanted to go and it was such a beautiful day for hiking. Unfortunately for us, we left a little too late and only had time to hike a short trail. So, we picked Moro Rock, which is an easy and windy 2 mile hike (from Generals Highway) through giant sequoia trees and to the top of a mountain for a 360 view of the park.

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(on the trail to Moro Rock)

11(view from the top of Moro Rock)

I really wish we had more time to see other stuff, but I’m sure we’ll be visiting Sequoia again. Next time, here are some other things I’d like to do:

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1. Crystal Cave: This was the first thing we wanted to do, but by the time we got there it was sold out. So go early in the day to buy tickets! You can only get tickets at Foothills or Lodgepole Visitor Center.  It’s a 45 minute tour through different rooms in the cave. Adults are $11, children are $6.

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2. Cedar Grove Day Hike: One of the most popular trees here is General Grant’s Tree. From the Visitor’s center it’s about a 1 mile hike. Fairly easy for new hikers. The hike ends at General Grant’s Tree which is one of the largest living trees.

3. Mineral King Valley: Monarch Lakes and Crystal Lakes are both approximately a 4 mile hike.  These look a lot flatter than mountain hikes, but the views must be incredible between two mountains.

14(It’s a good thing the BF loves it too…)

On a side note: It’s bizarre to me how much I really love hiking. I was commenting to my friends the other day how one day you wake up and you realize…. I’m not hungover… what is this crazy feeling… how come my head isn’t in the toilet… why am I getting up at 7am to trek up a mountain? Oh my god. I’m old and I’d rather hike than get blasted at a bar.

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Just read this interesting New York Times interview with Ben Bachelder a contributor to Digihitch.com. Personally, I would never consider hitchhiking because I’m a big wussy, but would you? Sounds like a great adventure, huh?

Q: First things first. Is hitchhiking dangerous?

A: Yes. But I’ve got to qualify that. It’s dangerous in the sense that you’re putting your life, your trust, in someone else’s hands. But that could also be said for a lot of other things: like your trusting that the cars are going to stop at a stop sign when you’re crossing the street; your trusting that the pilots are not going to fall asleep at the stick of the plane…

Check out the full interview here.

Additional Reading and Resources

Digihitch.com- Hitchhiking, backpacking & Budget Travel

Hitchhikers.org-The worldwide hitchhikers agency

The Ultimate Hitchhiker’s Guide- Douglas Adams (Book)


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It’s been awhile since I’ve posted! Life was a little hectic in La La land, but everything has finally slowed down. I haven’t been traveling too much lately, but I have been able to enjoy a little bit of the S. Californian life. I’ll be posting on that soon!

There’s been lots of great deals lately. Every time one pops up, the BF and I look at each other and for a brief second there’s a silent understanding that one of us is going to leap across the room to grab out credit card and book it ASAP. But it seems to always end in sadness…. financially responsible sadness.

I saw this slide show on The New York Times titled: Why We Travel. Check it out. It’ll put the travel bug in you!

I thought about why I travel and it always comes down to a few things for me:

1. Gained Perspective: Whether it’s Baltimore or Cuzco, I always gain new perspective about life and the world around us.

2. The FOOOOD: Travel with an open mind and an open stomach, I say. Who knows, you might make a great memory or two. I once shared a bag of fried crickets with a few of my closest friends while driving down a dirt road in countryside of Cambodia. How’s that for a memory.

3. Unpredictable Spontaneous Life Changing Events: The BF and I actually met on vacation on a boat in Sai Kung, Hong Kong. Sure, he had a terrible haircut courtesy of a local barber and ignored me for most of the night despite repeated attempts on my part to chit chat, but 2 years and 3 cities later we’re still together.

4. New Friends: I’ve found that travel is a quick way to make new friends. Whether through the travel adventures itself or through conversation. There’s been quite a few times where I entered a conversation with: “Oh! You’re going to…?”

5. The Fun Factor: Of course, traveling is FUN!!!! Whether it’s  sitting on a local tour bus with aging octogenarians in tour of Taiwan or searching all day for the best egg tarts in Macau, traveling is FUN. For me, I can never predict what my experiences will be!

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The BF and I recently went to Seattle, WA to attend a wedding. Since I’ve never been there before, I made sure that we saw as much as I could in the one free day we had. It turns out that the very chill Seattle is a great city! We hit a lot of must see tourist sites and ate at a lot of local places.

Tips for Seattle in One Day:

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1. Breakfast at Macrina Bakery & Cafe: We had to wait 40 minutes to eat at this little breakfast/brunch spot, but we figured that it must be worth it if the locals are waiting for it. The savory egg sandwich served with roasted potatoes is surprisingly tasty! We also had the French toast which is served with a side of chicken sausage. Definitely a popular item on the menu.

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2. Pike Place Market: Of course, no first-time visit to Seattle can go without a trip to Pike Public Market. A lively market place with fresh seafood (to be eaten or tossed in the air), it’s a great place to do some light grazing. Hit Piroshky’s Piroshky for a potato and mushroom stuffed bun and then meander your way to the first original Starbucks for a latte (it’s the one that’s crowded with tourist!).  Afterwards, with a cup o’ joe in hand, strike up a conversation with the local artist selling their craft or smell bouquet after bouquet of freshly cut pink peonies. It’s a great place to spend a few hours by the water.

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3. Underground Tour: Full? Walk off it off in a 90 minute underground tour of Seattle’s past.   The tour guide spiels out a very informative history of Seattle’s past when the city burnt down and the city decided to just built a new city right on top. Was it the most amazing tour ever? Probably not. There’s only a few ghost stories and a few deteriorating store signs, but we all agreed it was interesting to learn a little bit of history and see a unique piece of Seattle’s past., especially for $15.

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4. The Harvest Vine: After a long day of walking around, we ended the day with a lovely dinner at The Harvest Vine. This Spanish/Basque restuarant dishes organic/ free-range/no-antibiotic/no-hormones tapas. Just take a look at the picture. Pork belly doesn’t get any sexier than that.

Additional Reading and Resources:

Travel and Outdoors- Seattle Times

36 Hours in Seattle- NYTimes

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Arches

At the last minute, we decided to skip Monument Valley and drive out to Arches National Park. Afterall, how can we leave Utah without seeing the Arch??

Hiking Trails at Arches National Park:

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1. Delicate Arch (Long): This really isn’t a tough hike at all. However, I venture to guess that on a hot day, this could be very difficult since there’s no shade anywhere on the way up! Personally, I would’ve considered this an easy-moderate hike since a good deal of it was flat. Other recommended long hikes: Fiery Furnace, Double Os, Devil’s Garden

2. Moderate Hikes: We actually drove through Park Avenue. I’m not sure what this hike is like on foot, but I’m sure it would be gorgeous in the morning and at sunset.

3. Balanced Rock: See below… you’ve got to see this in person.

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Zion National Park is relatively close to Bryce Canyon National Park, but it couldn’t be any more different. While Bryce had its beautiful hoodoos, Zion had magnificent mountains. I would randomly snap pictures on the camera while the car was moving and this is what I’d get:

DSC00203FREAKEN AMAZING!!!!

Anyhow, we only spent half a day at Zion, so we did one hike and moved on. It was a gorgeous day for hiking! We huffed and puffed up Angel’s Landing, a 5-mile strenuous hike takes about 4 hours to complete.

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Tips for Hiking Angel’s Landing

1. Strenuous– Angel’s Landing is mostly paved but can be difficult for people who are new to hiking. It can be very difficult on a hot day since it’s all uphill (duh). A lot of people stop at the landing right before the last half mile. It looks like a very daunting and slightly frightening vertical hike, but it really isn’t that bad. The most difficult part of it is navigating your way up in a single person pathway. Don’t be scared! The view is well worth it!

2. Water- Bring water. Bring lots of water. You’ll need it!

3. Bring a light lunch- The weather was so gorgeous and the view so breathtaking! I packed a very light lunch and we had a picnic on top of the mountain. Highly recommended.

One last picture: DSC00172

SO AMAZING!!!!!!

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My friend just sent me this link about Sakhr Mobile Speech to Speech Application for the iPhone. Basically, you speak into the phone and it will translate your sentance in to Arabic. It’s not out for the general public yet and I’m unsure if they translate other languages… but here’s to hoping that one day I’ll wander through the windy plains of Mongolia walk into yurt and ask for a double shot espresso w/o a Mongolian phrase book! (JK)

Thanks Kreisler!

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