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Last week, I surprised the BF with a trip to Joshua Tree National Park for his birthday. The day started off a little rocky when I picked up a little bit of a stomach ache, but the day turned out to be more perfect than I could have imagined.

Things to do at Joshua Tree

1. Key’s View: This very short .2 mile walk up the side of a ridge gave us an opportunity to see a panoramic view of the San Andreas fault, Cochella, Palm Springs, and Mexico. How’s that for seeing all the sights? We ended up bringing our packed lunch and parking ourselves on a bench.

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2. Ryan Mountain: The park ranger at the West Entrance suggested that we check out a short hike at Ryan Mountain. From there, you can see the Colorado desert and the Mojave (?) desert on the other side. It wasn’t the most beautiful hike I’ve seen, but I think that perhaps I’m just not as into desert hikes. However, since it’s a short hike (3 miles ), it’ll still be worth your time.

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2. Skull Rock/ Jumbo Rocks: The rock formations are beautiful here. It’s amazing to see how rocks can form into these large round shapes. Nothing you’d expect in the middle of a desert. You almost feel like you’re in a movie with the way you’re surrounded by these globs of rock.

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3. Cholla Cactus Garden: We hit this place by sunset and it was definitely the best way to end our day trip. A rather strange looking cactus garden seemingly just pops out of no where! It really made you wonder how Mother Nature plans these things. There’s a warning sign on the front warning visitors not to touch the cactus b/c they’re poisonous. From the looks of it, it’s a pretty good idea.

There were so many other places to see that I’m certain I’ll be back especially since it’s only 2.5 hours from Los Angeles. On our way there, we stopped by Cabazon Outlets for a quick shopping trip and on our way back we hit the prime rib buffet at Morongo Indian Casino. It was definitely a fun-filled day trip!

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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.

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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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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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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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My friend recently asked me what to do on a 10 hour layover in Taipei. While 10 hours is hardly enough time to experience Taiwan, I did offer up a few suggestions.

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Things to do on a 10 hour layover in Taipai, Taiwan:

1. Taipei 101: For the sheer fact that for the next few seconds it’s the world’s tallest building (that is until Dubai finishes their building in which even Yao Ming is going to say… whoa.), Taipei 101 is one of those buildings that’s cool for it’s novelty effect of seeing people the size of ants. They have a very extensive food court from Shabu Shabu to Indian to the beloved KFC (apparently fried chicken in a bucket is universal). After, head up to the observatory for approximately $12 USD and get a view of all of Taipei and the Damper baby..

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2. Xin Beitou: Just off a the MTR subway stop, Xin Beitou is known for their Japanese-style hotsprings. After a long plane trip, it’s nice to be able to soak in hot springs and relax. Be prepared to see lots of old naked saggy skin.

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3. Shilin Night Market: If you happen to have a night layover, you must stop by Taiwan’s biggest and most well known night market. There you can do a little bargain shopping from clothes to phone accessories and eat tons of foods unique to Taiwan. For $12 USD, my bf and I went from stall to stall eating as if we were cows with 4 stomachs. Food is VERY cheap in Taiwan. If you don’t speak Mandarin, don’t be scared to order if you see something you want to try. Be friendly and point. Taiwanese people are generally very friendly.

Unfortunately, Taipei/Taoyuan Airport is roughly a 40 minutes drive into downtown Taipei. So even with a 10 hour layover, it’s very unlikely you will be able to do a lot. To save time, take a cab (set a price first, approx $9 USD per person). To save a buck, take the shuttle that takes you directly from the airport to Taipei Main Station (approx. $3.50 USD per person).

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A little bit ago, a bunch of my friends from the Bay Area flew in to join the inauguration festivities in Washington, D.C. We woke up at 5 am to stand in 20 degree weather WITH wind chill for 7 hours to watch the inauguration which was an amaaaaaazing experience that everyone should do once!

Anyhow, we packed in a TON of activities for the 3 days they were here and I thought it was a great itinerary for any visiting tourist who wants to see the DC sights.

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(images by Sang L.)

1. Day One:  Washington Memorial,  Georgetown, Adams Morgan

  • Washington Memorial: If you get there early enough, you can get a ticket to visit the top of the memorial and see the entire National Mall. Tickets are available starting at 8am and run out pretty quickly, but it goes on til 4:30pm.
  • Georgetown: Since we didn’t want to fight the crowds in the metro after the inauguration, we walked very far (very very far) to Georgetown. I wouldn’t recommend this if you aren’t much of a walker. There, grab a quiche at La Madeline’s French Bakery and Restaurant. Afterwards, head 1 block over to see the 185 year old  C & O Canal and 2 blocks over to the Potomac River. From there you can snap pictures of the Kennedy Center, the Rossyln Bridge, and Watergate Hotel. Afterward, shop at one of many shops and boutiques in the area. If you’re lucky, you’ll see George Stephanopoulos, who’s a resident of the area.
  • Adams Morgan: After dinner, head over on the Red Line to Adams Morgan where there’s a lot of great bars and nightlife. Grab a caipirinha at Bossa Bistro & Lounge where there’s live music and lively dancing.

Day Two: DC’s Cheap Eats, National Portrait Gallery, Newseum, National Archives Museum, Night Walks

  • Potbelly is a great DC chain that serves sandwiches, soups, and milkshakes. It’s a quick and cheap option for people who, like my friends, were anxious to get to the museusm.
  • National Portrait Gallery: It sounds like it’s filled with pictures of stuffy dead men, it actually does a great job of exhibiting photographs and contemporary artists,  along with pictures of… well, stuffy dead men. It recently purchased Shepard Fairey’s Obama Hope portrait as well as the newly added G.W. Bush’s presidential portrait in the Presidential exhibit.
  • National Archives & Newseum: After, we headed down to the National Mall, where the group split up to see the museum of their choice. Half went to Newseum, DC’s newest museum dedicated to news and media ($20 admission fee) and the other half headed to the National Archives Museum (free). Take your pick of all the museums in DC. It’s impossible to do them all in 3 days!
  • Night Stroll down the National Mall: Afterwards, we regrouped at the National Sculpture Garden Cafe and headed out to into the National Mall. The sun was sinking slowly into the horizon and made for AMAZING pictures. It is absolutely breath taking and highly recommended!
  • Five Guys: After we were thoroughly frozen, we tried to get a table at one of my favorite DC spot, Matchbox, but the hour wait turned us to Five Guys. Five Guys, another beloved DC chain, looks amazingly similar to Cali’s In and Out burger. And while I have my loyalties to In and Out, I have to admit that 5 Guys is pretty tasty!

Day 3 (half day): Air and Space Museum, Capitol Building, and Ben’s Chili Bowl

  • Air & Space: By day three, it was a mad rush to see anything else on their must-see-museum list. So, we headed to the National Air and Space Museum where my space junkie friends ooh-ed and awww-ed about rockets and spaceships.
  • Capitol Building: Afterwards, we took a walk down the Mall to check out the Capitol Building. HEYYYYYY CONGRESS!
  • Ben’s Chili Bowl: After, we headed to U-Street to grab a half-smoke, at a DC landmark, Ben’s Chili Bowl. Unfortunately, the line was REALLY long and they had a plane to catch, so we opted for another restaurant.

Additional Reading and Resources:
Solemn Dignity: Nighttime on the National Mall

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When I was researching hotels, I found that a TON people seemed to always have a problem with staff service. Actually, the more I read them the more it seemed that Macau’s  hotel industry didn’t really give a rats ass about customer service.  So, after consulting TripAdvisor, I narrowed it down to two places I wanted to stay at: Fousada de Mong Ha and StarWorld Hotel. Unfortunately, the Pousada de Mong Ha was booked for the entire month, so I opted for the StarWorld Hotel.

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Let me just say… The StarWorld. Is. The. Best. Hotel. For. Your. Buck!!!! This super chic and amazing hotel and casino was an amazing experience! Not only were the staff amazingly nice and super helpful, but this hotel is more than reasonably priced. For $130 USD a night, we had a gorgeous and super spacious room overlooking Macau. I thought the room and service we got was easily worth $300 a night (not that I’m complaining). We were definitely impressed! I highly recommend this hotel. They even have bizarrely tall and gorgeous women greet you in every room. We weren’t sure what they did other then look stunning and make you feel bad that you just ate a bazillion egg tarts. But, hey, they were definitely gorgeous.

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Part One: Macau: Walking through the Suburbs of Macau from Temple to Church

We got up early  a super rainy morning to finish our walking tour. So unfortunately, a lot of these pictures are really dreary looking! Oh, how I wish I was better with photoshop!

Macau Walking Tour (Part II):

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1. Largo Do Senado: This town square is also known as the “Square of the Senate”. It’s a really gorgeous town square surrounded with very distinctive Portuguese architecture. It’s a great place to start.

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2. Church of St. Dominic & Macau Cathedral: The Church of St. Dominic is gorgeous with stain class windows and icons of Jesus and Mary. The definitely represents the strong Catholic presents in Macau. The Macau Cathedral, on the other hand, is not as impressive, but it’s prime location is worthy of a quick stop. macau-ruins1

3. Ruins of the Church of St. Paul: The most famous tourist destination in Macau is the Ruins of the Church of St. Paul. Originally built in the seventeen hundreds, this Jesuit church burnt down in the nineteen hundreds and all that’s left is this amazing facade. We were able to climb to the to top and catch a breathtaking view of Macau.

Additional Reading and Resources:
Ruins of St. Paul- Macau Travel Tips

Macau Walking Tour: Historical Churches near Senado Square- Asiahotels.com

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One of the highlights of my trip to Macau was a simple walking tour through the suburbs of Macau. With my Lonely Planet guide in hand and their suggested walking tour, I had a fantastic time walking through the streets from landmark to landmark and through narrow sidewalks where parents were walking their kids home.

Stops on Our Walking Tour of Macau Peninsula:

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1. A Ma Temple: We actually skewed off Lonely Planet’s perfectly planned out itinerary and ended up taking our time (re: two days) to finish their itinerary. We started off at A-Ma Temple, which is a smallish Chinese temple dedicated to A-Ma or Tin Hau. While it’s not the most impressive temple I’ve seen, it’s interesting to see how the temple is incorporated into the side of a hill.

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2. Moorish Barracks & Largo Do Lilau: Built in 1874, this old, beautiful building looks like a millionaire’s home in Portugal. However, it actually houses the  maritime police and can pass for a modern day home with it’s high ceilings and gorgeous black lanterns. Near by, the Largo Do Lilau is in a beautiful public square with old trees and the famous fountain. If you drink from the fountain, you’re destined to return to Macau.

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3. Church of St. Augustine & Leal Senado: Unfortunately, we weren’t able to go into the Church of St. Augustine, but that really didn’t stop us from taking in it’s beautiful architecture. One of the beautiful things about Macau is the juxtaposition between bright, colorful Portuguese style buildings, older buildings that the locals live in, and the narrow hilly roads.

By this time, it was already late in the day, so we decided to head back to our hotel to clean up for dinner. Luckily, we were able to walk to downtown from here and grab a Portuguese egg tart before going back.

Up next: Largo do Senado, Church of St. Dominic, Macau Cathedral, Lau Kau Mansion, Monte Fort, Ruins of the Church of St. Paul

Resources and Reading Material:

A Ma Temple – Macau Heritage Net

He Who Drinks From the Lilau Never Forgets Macau -Articles Base

Macau Moorish Barracks- Ola Macau Guide

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Apologies for the lack of posts lately. The times… they are tough. I haven’t been able to do too many trips lately since I’ve needed to save some money in case… you know… the economy crashes. But you know, that’s crazy talk, right?

Anyhow, as much as I tried to curtail the traveling, I couldn’t! This past week, my good friend from San Francisco decided to celebrate her birthday in NYC for a week… and so did I!!!!

Although, I made a very conscious attempt to do more budget activities and still enjoy my time out in NYC. SO… here goes! BUDGET NEW YORK CITY!

First up! Budget Broadway!

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My friend and I really wanted to watch a show, but since 50% off tickets at TKTS would still set me back $60+ I couldn’t do it. So we decided to take our chances with the Lottery. The Lottery varies from show to show, but basically, you show up a few hours before the show, put your name into a bin, and hope they call your name half an hour later. If they do call your name, you get a front row (YES, FRONT ROW) discounted ticket for $20-$30.

As a result, we saw Avenue Q front row center for $21.50 and Wicked front row for $26.50. Yes. Envy me.

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Tips for winning the lottery tickets or rush tickets:

1. Be on time: You only have 30 minutes to put your name into the bin. So make sure you get there to hear them call out the names. No brainer, right? Apparently there ARE some people with no brains out there. Check the show’s website to see what time they draw names.

2. Bring your ID: No kidding. When I went, Wicked pulled 13 people names from the lotto bin and one person didn’t have his ID. Even with his credit card, he wasn’t allowed to buy his winning tickets. FORTUNATELY FOR ME, my name was the next one drawn for in his replacement! Sucka.

3. Cash only

4. Texture: I really hate to give this one away, but at Ave Q, my friend crumpled up her paper so that it would have more texture for the person to draw it. So simple, right? Right. Her name was the first one drawn.

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5. Student ID: Some shows actually don’t do lotteries. They only do student rush tickets. Which means students w/ school IDs can show up the day of the show and try to get tickets for under $30. Unfortunately for me, since I’m old as fart, I couldn’t watch August: Osage County , Equus, and Speed the Plow with a student discount. All plays that I really wanted to watch. Next time maybe!

6. Low Periods: A Broadway veteran that was running Wicked’s lottery told us that the best time to get tickets is the time between New Years and Valentines Day. No wonder, t’s colder than a snow cone in Antarctica then.

Additional Resources and Reading

Everyone’s a little bit racist- Hypen

Avenue Q Lottery Ticket Information

Wicked FAQ — Ticket Tips

Mama Doesn’t Feel Well, but Everyone Else Will Feel Much Worse — NYTimes Review of August: Osage County

Do you speak Hollywood? — NYTimes Review of Speed the Plow

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