Month: May 2016

Chiang Mai in 5 Days

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Spending this past week in Chiang Mai, Thailand, has been an absolute dream! It is everything I was hoping for and more, so I wanted to share a few of my experiences for anyone looking to visit this wonderful city in the future. Disclaimer: I have only spent 5 full days here, so I’m sure there is a TON I am missing. To find more activities and sites to see, I’d definitely check out TripAdvisor, Lonely Planet, local tourist offices, other blogs, and by asking locals what to see. I can only hope these recommendations do Chiang Mai justice!

Background on the city: Chiang Mai sits in the mountains of northern Thailand and is famous for being a religious and cultural center. Home to hundreds of temples, CM is a Buddhist-centered city with tons to offer and a rich history dating back to the 13th century. The old city or “square” of Chiang Mai is surrounded by four “walls” with moats, making it extremely easy to navigate. Most of the temples and things to do are within the square, but there is a ton to see outside of the square as well.

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Weather: The weather is almost always warm to hot, but it can get colder than the rest of Thailand during the cool season (Dec-Feb). Hot season is April-June and is considered a low tourist season because of the tropical heat and humidity (also means less crowds). Rainy season in Chiang Mai is June-November and is actually not a bad time to visit because rain usually lasts for only an hour or so and helps cool you down. This week (end of May), the weather report said to expect thunderstorms every day, but it only rained twice for about an hour each while we were there, which was a wonderful relief from the heat :). Even if there is a short, torrential downpour, you can always buy a plastic poncho from 7/11 for 30 baht (less than US $1). In my opinion, rain jackets and umbrellas are not necessary, so I’m very glad I left mine at home!

How long to stay: At minimum, I would definitely stay 6 days, but I think you can hit the major sites and activities in 7-8 days. Obviously, the longer you can stay, the better! We went at a very fast pace and squeezed in a ton in our 5 days, but it would’ve been nice to take our time. Trust me, there is no way you can do everything you’ll want to do in only a few days!

Where to stay: We booked a nicer hotel in advance a bit south of the square, which was nice to be able to head straight to after 28 hours of traveling. I am super glad we only booked the first night because we were able to find a cheaper place to stay in a better location. We stayed at the Singha Montra Lanna for the first night, which had an amazing pool, Jacuzzi tub, and huge suite, but it was definitely unnecessary and we got a way better deal elsewhere. Luckily, our friend Lexxi lives in Chiang Mai, so she and her friend took us around on their scooters to find accommodation for the rest of the week. Shout out to Lexxi for being a wonderful tour guide!

There are three basic types of accommodation in Chiang Mai: hotels, hostels, and guesthouses. I didn’t do much research, but it really wasn’t necessary because there are hundreds of awesome places to stay, many of which do not have websites and are not on Hostel World. We stayed at an amazing hostel called Give Me 5 Hostel on the north side of the old city, on one of the two main roads which stretch across the entire square. A private room with ensuite bathroom was only 800 baht/night (about $22) for the both of us, which is still a lot for Chiang Mai! The location was great (we could walk basically anywhere we wanted to go in the old city and even to the night bazaar), it was clean, and very reasonably priced. We decided on Give me 5 after looking at a few other places, so don’t settle for the first place you find! Extra tip: You can always ask to see the room before you decide to stay at a place, so make sure to take a look to see if it’s clean and has air-con (we would’ve died without it). Another tip: It is very easy to get around, so you can always switch your accommodation throughout your stay to experience different parts of the city!

What to wear: I won’t write an entire packing list here (you can read my other blog post for that if you’d like), but I wanted to make sure to emphasize a few things about packing:

  1. Do not worry if you forget anything. Literally anything you could need can be bought in Chiang Mai for much cheaper (everything from clothes, to toiletries, to sandals, to backpacks- it’s all there).
  2. Unless you are coming during the cool season, do not bring jeans or pants other than maybe one pair of leggings for travel days, which are really not even necessary because you can buy elephant pants here for USD $2-3. I cannot even fathom putting on pants other than elephant pants, even though somehow locals do (who are used to this weather). As far as makeup and good hair goes, forget it. Just accept that you don’t need to do your hair or put much makeup on- it’s not worth it with the heat and humidity. I’d bring tinted moisturizer, waterproof mascara, and maybe some hair texturizer, but generally, it doesn’t matter anyways. Au natural is the best!
  3. Bring at least one sarong/sweater/shawl/scarf for temples (or you can just buy one there), as you must cover your knees and shoulders to go inside. Elephant pants are the easiest, but I did wrap a big scarf around my legs as a skirt one day to cover my knees- up to you. Please be respectful of the culture and values of Buddhism and do not show up in a tank top and shorts at a temple. Even though there are signs everywhere, you’d be surprised by what some people show up looking like.
  4. Pack what you think you need, then cut it in half. You do not need more than a few outfits and even though I used this tactic and brought minimal clothes, I still could’ve done with less. I literally could have shown up with one outfit and bought the rest there. Trust me- you will want the extra space in your backpack for souvenirs!

 

Getting around the city:

Songthaew (song-tao) or red truck: The name songthaew literally means “two benches” after the seating in the back of the truck with room for 8. This is basically the “Uber pool” of Chiang Mai, but just a lot less safe (sorry mom) and no need for a smart phone :). Generally, a trip inside the city is about 20 baht per person, but drivers may ask for more, so make sure to negotiate a price ahead of time. Also note, drivers can pick up other passengers on the way, so it may take longer to get to your destination. I would give more information about this, but another blogger wrote a detailed article all about getting around Chiang Mai you can check out here.

 

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Tuk-tuk: These three-wheeled scooter carts with room for 3 people (2 comfortably), are also very popular in Chiang Mai, but are a bit more expensive at around 50-100 baht per ride. However, they are faster, can weave through traffic easier, and you won’t be picking up anyone else on the way. Tuk-tuks are the equivalent to UberX :).

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Scooter: Though traffic can get pretty crazy and aggressive in Chiang Mai, I’ve heard it is one of the best places to rent a scooter in Thailand. We did not rent one this week, but we rode on the back of our friends’ scooters, which worked perfectly fine for us. There are tons of places to rent bikes, most of which I saw charge about 100-130 baht/day, but I’m sure you can negotiate a good price :). If I were to rent a scooter, I would get one for the day and drive up the mountain to Doi Suthep temple or for a few days to take a trip to Pai a few hours away. If you choose to rent a scooter, make sure to always wear a helmet, be very careful, and make sure you are confident riding one before getting out on the road. Side note: In Thailand, they drive on the left side of the road, so just keep that in mind!

What to do:

See the elephants: All I will say is this is a MUST do. Seeing elephants was my absolute favorite thing we did in Chiang Mai and I highly recommend it. There are plenty of companies who take groups outside of the city to see elephants, and even some who offer longer volunteer programs. If you have your heart set on going with a particular company, you may want to reserve a spot a few weeks in advance to make sure you get in, depending on the season. We booked Dumbo Elephant Spa a few days in advance and had an amazing experience! This was mostly because we got to interact with the elephants in a close setting (feeding, mud baths, etc.) without riding them, it was cheaper than other options such as Elephant Nature Park, and we learned a ton about the elephants from the locals. To reiterate, there are a lot of companies you can book with, but please make sure to do your research and make sure the elephants are well cared for and they do not allow riding, as it is unhealthy for the elephants, especially when working long hours. I won’t preach about not riding elephants here, but a quick Google search will give you plenty of information :). Here are some photos from our experience with Dumbo Elephant Spa:

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This “mud” bath was mostly elephant poop, but it’s definitely great for some exfoliation!

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Cooking school: This is another must do in Chiang Mai! We had a wonderful experience with Asia Scenic Cooking School, which was a small class (9 of us) at a local farm, which included a tour of their garden and a trip to the market on the way to learn more about the ingredients. I definitely recommend doing a full day class at the farm (as opposed to in the city) with Asia Scenic, but again, there are several companies who run similar classes that have pamphlets at tourist offices, hotels, and hostels. Here are some photos from the 6 amazing courses we cooked:

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Temples: Chiang Mai is home to over 270 temples, all of which have something unique to see. Rather than wandering the city checking as many out as possible, I would recommend hiring a tuk-tuk driver to take you to the most significant temples and other popular sites around the city, such as the umbrella village, silk factory, other markets, etc. We paid our driver 600 baht (USD ~$17) to take us around all day, and it was well worth it! When you do visit the temples, make sure to be respectful of Buddhist customs and dress appropriately, even though it will be hot. This website has some great information about the do’s and don’ts.

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This is actually a wax statue of a monk that I was fully convinced was real:

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This was a temple made of entirely silver!

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Doi Suthep is a must-see temple at the top of the mountain. It’s a huge complex and has incredible views as well:

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Lady boy show: I don’t want to spoil anything for you, so I won’t say much about this other than you should DEFINITELY go to one :). We went to the show at the night bazaar, which started at 9:30 p.m.

Night bazaar: This is where you’ll find the best markets and live music! Make sure to go Ploen Ruedee International Food Market across the street as well :).

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Markets: There are tons of markets all around the city, where you can buy almost anything for very cheap- everything from shoes to electronics to trinkets and clothes. Many shops sell similar products, so definitely barter to get a better price. A good rule of thumb is to offer half of what the vendor is asking for, then meet somewhere in the middle. Have fun!

River cruise: One way to see another side of the city is to go on a river cruise on the Ping River. We did a dinner cruise through Riverside Bar & Restaurant for 150 baht (USD ~$4) and ate as we watched the sunset. There are several companies who run these boat rides, so I’d compare them online or at a tourist office if you’d like to go.

Massages: You will never find a massage this cheap in your home country! USD $5 will get you an hour long Thai massage at any of the hundreds of massage parlors which seem to be on every corner in Chiang Mai. Be prepared for a little pain and lots of stretching, but it feels amazing!

Night life: Chiang Mai has plenty of cool bars and restaurant, but does not have a big clubbing scene like some other big cities. Going out typically involves beer with ice (avoid Chang and go for a Leo or Singha instead) and live music, so definitely be sure to check them out.

Fish “massage”: This is one of the most disturbing and hilarious experiences ever. You can pay a small fee to dip your feet in a fish tank full of sucker fish to clean the dead skin bacteria/dirt/gross stuff off of your feet and legs. I was laughing so hard and squirming the entire time that I could hardly enjoy it, but it was definitely an experience. The night bazaar is a great place to do this, especially after a long day of walking around.

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Day trips: Doi Inthanon and Pai (try to stay overnight if you can) are great trips to take out of Chiang Mai. Unfortunately, we did not have time, but if and when I come back, I will definitely go to both of these places!

Ethical considerations:

  • When many people think of Thailand or Chiang Mai, they imagine getting close to a tiger like they see in many tourists’ pictures. I strongly urge you to think critically about whether you’d like to visit Tiger Kingdom, a popular activity in Chiang Mai. Just know that these tigers are drugged/sedated and it is not natural for humans to interact with these wild animals in such close quarters. Even if employees tell you the tigers are not drugged, just know that they are, and in my opinion, this industry should not be supported. If you do choose to go to Tiger Kingdom, make sure to educate yourself on the facts beforehand.
  • Another popular “site” to see is the Karen long neck village near Chiang Mai, which you may have seen pictures of online or in magazines like National Geographic. Karen women wear traditional brass rings around their necks, smashing their shoulders and rib cages down to make their necks seem longer for both beauty and tradition. Although the long neck women are famous and fascinating, I also urge you to consider whether you’d like to visit what can be considered a “human zoo”. I did not personally visit the Karen long neck village because I didn’t want to gawk and take photos of people who could be exploited for their traditions and culture for tourists. If you do choose to go, I’d encourage you to buy the goods they are selling, interact with the locals, and learn more about their culture, rather than just walk through and take photos. Whatever activities you choose to do in Chiang Mai, just make sure to do your research!

 

Other helpful tips:

  • 7/11: Normally an overlooked convenience store in the states, 7/11 is a godsend in Chiang Mai. After about a day, I realized how amazing the A/C is inside and how you can get pretty much anything you need there. If you go to CM, you will definitely find yourself going inside more 7/11s than you’d ever imagine, especially since there is basically one on every corner!
  • Screen shots: Make sure to screen shot a pin of your hotel/hostel/guesthouse to your phone to show to a tuk-tuk or songthaew driver, as many of them speak very little English and it is easy to point out on a map. Also, find a common landmark nearby because they will most likely be more familiar with the landmark, such as a temple, rather than a location on a map.

Travel Apps:

  • Maps.me: I highly recommend downloading maps.me offline map and downloading each city you are in when you get Wifi. There is literally no need for a physical map anymore with this awesome app! It’s basically Google Maps without using data, so it is very helpful for navigating around anywhere you don’t have cell service/Wifi/data.
  • Currency app: This is extremely helpful for when you want to check how much something costs in your own currency. It automatically converts any amount in any currency you choose!
  • Rome2Rio: This free app lets you type in any destination and it tells you your different options to get from A to B. For example, if I type in the CNX airport and our hostel, it tells me four different ways I can get there with all of the pricing. It also works for longer distances, too! I typed in Krabi to Koh Samui, and it showed me that I can either fly, take a combination of bus/ferry/taxi, or take a train/ferry, etc.

Wow, that was a TON of information! I would love to talk more about Chiang Mai if you’ve been, have anything to add, or if you’re looking to visit in the future. Again, I know I missed a ton of stuff, so make sure to do some additional research if you go :). Thanks for reading! We are off to Bangkok, Phuket and the islands!

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Today’s the Day: One-Way Flight to SE Asia

Today is the day! I will be leaving tonight on a one-way flight to Thailand and I have no idea when I’m coming back. This is one of the most exciting things I have ever done, but I’d be lying if I said I wasn’t a little scared. Traveling alone is an empowering, freeing, terrifying, and invigorating experience, and I can’t wait to explore a new part of the world solo for these next few months.

I wanted to share my loose itinerary, a few pre-trip thoughts and goals, and a packing list in case you are ever thinking of backpacking in Southeast Asia. Thank you to my wonderful support system of family and friends who don’t think I’m crazy for purposely staying unemployed and packing my life into a backpack :).

  • 5/21: Redeye flight to Chiang Mai
  • 5/23-5/28: Chiang Mai, Thailand (accompanied by my friend, Lauren, for the first two weeks)
  • 5/28-5/30: Bangkok, Thailand
  • 5/30-6/1: Phuket, Thailand
  • 6/1-6/3: Koh Phi Phi, Thailand
  • 6/3-6/4: Krabi, Thailand (Lauren leaves 6/4)
  • 6/4-6/7: I will most likely stay in Krabi
  • 6/7-6/16: Contiki island hopper trip to Koh Samui, Koh Tao, and Koh Phangan (ending on my 25th birthday!)
  • 6/17-?: I have no solid plans after this date, but I plan to travel throughout Cambodia, Laos, Vietnam, the Philippines, Singapore, and Bali. I have several friends who will be in the area who I will try to meet up with, but I’m sure I’ll meet plenty of people along the way :). If you have any recommendations for can’t-miss spots, accommodation, or if you’d like to meet up, please let me know!

As you can imagine, packing for a long-term trip in one backpack is challenging, but luckily, living out of a suitcase for the past two years has taught me that you can survive on much less than you’d think. I’m sure I’m forgetting plenty of things, but here is a list of what I am bringing broken up into categories:

Backpack:

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  • After extensive research, I bought the REI Women’s Grand Tour 80 backpack, which comes with a removable day pack and has tons of storage compartments. I am super happy with my purchase and would definitely recommend this backpack to others! I could go on and on about the features of this pack, so let me know if you are thinking of buying one :). Depending on the airline (probably not for budget airlines in Asia), I should be able to carry this on the plane when I remove the day pack, which is amazing for how much it holds! I tested it out on my recent flight to Austin, and it easily fit in the overhead compartment on JetBlue. Woohoo!

Clothes:

  • 3 pairs of shorts
  • 6 shirts (loose-fitting, non-wrinkle, and lightweight material)
  • 3 casual dresses
  • 1 pair of leggings
  • 1 sweater
  • 1 hoodie
  • 1 scarf
  • PJs
  • 2 regular bras, 1 sports bra, 1 bralette
  • 4 bathing suits
  • 2 weeks worth of underwear
  • 3 pairs of socks
  • 1 hat
  • 1 headband

Shoes:

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  • Chacos sandals (waterproof, comfortable, versatile, strappy, bought them at REI here)
  • Clark’s Tennis shoes (These were the BEST in Europe, good for walking/hiking and they are lightweight)
  • Cute, strappy sandals
  • Cheap flip flops

Toiletries/Liquids:

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  • Toothbrush/toothpaste/floss
  • Razor with extra blade
  • Medications
  • Shampoo bar (from Lush, good for 80 washes and it’s amazing!)
  • Travel size conditioner and body wash
  • Travel size dry shampoo (because let’s be real, I might go a few days without a shower…)
  • Travel size lotion and sunscreen
  • Face moisturizer with sunscreen
  • Lip balm with sunscreen
  • Bug spray, wipes, lotion, and insect repellent bracelets (yes, I get eaten alive by mosquitos)
  • Anti-itch cream and antihistamine pills
  • Washcloth
  • Microfiber towel (folds up to the size of a sock and is super lightweight, this is the one I bought on Amazon)
  • Wet wipes (for when things get gross)
  • Contacts with 3 travel size bottles of solution
  • Glasses and sunglasses
  • Laundry detergent strips (Thanks, grandma! You can buy them here)
  • Hand sanitizer
  • Deodorant
  • Tampons (not widely accessible in SEA)
  • Travel size Febreeze spray (for when clothes get nasty)
  • Small mirror (for hostels)
  • Travel size toilet paper (I hope I don’t have to use this…)
  • Tissues
  • Small scissors (these always come in super handy)
  • Ibuprofen, Imodium, Tums, anti-jet lag pills (thanks, grandma!)
  • Minimal makeup
  • Hair ties

Technology:

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  • Phone with extra charger
  • Lifeproof waterproof phone case
  • GoPro with accessory kit (yes, I will be THAT person)
  • Microsoft Surface Tablet with keyboard
  • Portable waterproof speakers
  • Portable charger
  • Adaptor
  • 2 sets of headphones
  • Power strip (for when I need to use more than one plug)

Documents/Safety:

  • Old flip phone (I will buy a SIM card there for emergency calls)
  • Copies of ID/passport/credit cards/medical card (with me and copies at home)
  • Travel insurance (this is ABSOLUTELY necessary for long-term trips!)
  • Multiple bank accounts (in case one card gets stolen/lost, I don’t want to be in a bind without a way to access money)
  • Two debit cards (B of A and Charles Schwab, which reimburses me for all ATM fees)
  • Two credit cards (no international transaction fees, extra points for travel)
  • Physical copies of itinerary/flights/hotel bookings
  • Health Care Directive from Kaiser (in case something goes wrong, it is a verified document with my medical wishes and who to contact in case of emergency)
  • Cash in U.S. dollars stashed away in case of emergency

Miscellaneous:

  • Snacks
  • Gum
  • Eye mask
  • Inflatable pillow (thanks, grandma!)
  • Ear plugs
  • Tons of Ziploc bags (super handy for everything from wet or dirty clothes/bathing suits to organizing liquids and other small items)
  • 3 small locks
  • Book
  • Pens
  • Notebook
  • Umbrella
  • Travel blanket (folds up small, for cold flights)
  • Reusable fork (food on the go doesn’t always come with silverware)
  • Small bag for shopping or the beach
  • Reusable water bottle (I bought this one on Amazon, which rolls up very small when not full)

Planning on buying there:

  • Sarong
  • Cheap poncho for rain
  • Loose elephant pants
  • Beach towel
  • Lots of souvenirs!

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It still hasn’t quite hit me that after months of planning and excitement, I am actually leaving! This will be my first long-term solo trip (other than work travels) and I’m sure it will change my life in more ways than I can imagine. I realize how truly lucky I am to be able to embark on a trip like this, and I never want to take that for granted. Yes, I have worked hard to fund it completely on my own, and have sacrificed having a place to call home for the past two years to travel full time, but not everyone who wants to travel has that ability. I hear too many people say things like “Anyone can travel if they want to!”, but there are many factors than come into play that someone from a privileged background may not think about. Maybe it’s socioeconomic status, disability, family obligations, passport restrictions, student loans or debt, or plenty of other reasons, but being able to see the world and having this kind of freedom is not something I take lightly. In the grand scheme of things, I have not yet had to face true hardship in my life and have been incredibly lucky to have access to education, support from my family, talented and connected friends, and of course, technology.

In addition to being thankful for this opportunity of a lifetime, I also want to make sure I make the most of my trip and accomplish the goals I have set for myself. To hold myself accountable, I will list a few of them here:

  • Mindfulness: I want to work on being completely present in the moment, wherever I am, and appreciating the little details we often ignore in our day-to-day lives. I would also like to slow down my pace of life and way of thinking, so I am focusing only on one thing at a time, since I am so used to always multi-tasking.
  • Connections: I know I will meet a ton of people on this trip, and I want to make sure I stay in touch with those I build friendships with. I want to learn at least one new thing from each person I meet and hopefully teach them something, too!
  • Appreciate alone time: Though I will be with Lauren for the first two weeks and with my Contiki group for 9 days after that, I would like to appreciate the time I will have alone on this trip. Knowing myself, I will spend most of my time hanging out with new friends I meet, but I also want to take intentional time out each day to do something on my own.
  • Try new things: A big reason I love to travel is to push myself out of my comfort zone. A few things I have in mind are: getting Scuba certified, swimming with whale sharks in Cebu, getting close to elephants (animals freak me out), trying exotic foods (specifically, scorpions and other insects), staying in a bungalow, and renting a motorbike.
  • Make a video: When I get back, I’d like to compile my photos and video footage from my GoPro into a video to document my trip!

Can you think of anything else I should do?! Let me know!

I hope this blog inspires and impacts at least one person and is not interpreted as elitist or “braggy”, as that is not the intention. I am happy to connect while I’m on this trip or after if you’d like any advice or want to hear more about my experiences! Please let me know if you have any feedback or ideas for documenting my trip and future travels on this site, as I am still trying to find its true identity. Thank you for reading! Wish me luck :).

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A Guide to Maui

After visiting Maui more times than I can count and exploring just about all that this piece of paradise has to offer, I could argue with anyone that Maui is the best Hawaiian island. If you’re planning to visit or just want to learn more about the turtle-shaped island, check out this guide to Maui!

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I spent this last week in Maui with my friend Lauren, who graciously took me as her plus one to a work-sponsored trip she won through a sales contest for being in the top 5% of sales reps in the company (way to go, Lauren!). Shout out to Indeed.com for an incredible week at the Andaz Resort we will never forget! Though I was inspired to write this guide from this trip, my love for Maui began when I first started visiting with my grandparents growing up. Throughout the week, I was reminded of the years of memories I have with them here and how lucky I am to have such incredible, adventurous grandparents who can keep up with five crazy grandchildren! (G&G, I know you’re reading this, so THANK YOU for opening my eyes to Hawai’i at such a young age and exposing me to all that Maui has to offer on every trip we’ve taken. I love you!)

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This must be where I get it from (my grandma):

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Maui has so much to offer, it cannot be possibly explained all at once, so I have broken it up into different areas with photos from this trip as well as others from my professional camera Google images :).

The airport (and only Costco) is located in Kahului, which is at the “neck” of the turtle-shaped island. Most tourists stay on the west side of the island in Ka’anapali, or on the south side in Wailea. Both areas have a totally different feel and have lots to offer.

Wailea is home to some of the most upscale resorts on the island, which have all the amenities you could ever need on a vacation. I’m sure some people don’t even leave their resort! The Grand Wailea is perhaps the most famous of the hotels on Maui, and is a lavish, over-the-town to stay here, and if you ever get a chance to stay at the Grand Wailea, be prepared to spend a pretty penny, but also have an incredible vacation! There is an ocean front path connecting all of the resorts in Wailea, which is popular for runners and those just looking for a relaxing walk. Just a few resorts up the road is the Andaz Maui, where we stayed this week. Here are a few pictures from this picturesque hotel:

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Kihei is another great spot on the south side, where many locals and people trying to avoid resorts go. There are spots for beginner surf lessons, plenty of local restaurants, and public beaches many of the locals go to. Kihei is more commercialized than some of the resort areas, but it’s also much less expensive (I paid $5 for a Bloody Mary at a restaurant in Kihei that would’ve cost me $17 at our hotel). Here is a picture from “The Cove”, the beginner’s surf spot we went to this trip:

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Ma’alea Harbor is where many of the snorkel tours and sunset cruises begin and is home to the famous Maui Ocean Center. Though it is a pretty central spot on the island, I’d only really recommend heading there for a snorkel tour to Molokini Crater:

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Lahaina is a famous harbor with lots of history, a giant Banyan tree, gourmet restaurants, shops, and even a movie theater. If you’re staying in Ka’anapali, this is the place you’ll most likely go to dinner and go shopping. I’ve done everything from mini golf, to getting a toe ring, to shopping at the Lahaina Cannery Mall, but there’s always more to check out in Lahaina. Kimo’s, Leilani’s on the Beach, Lahaina Fish Co., and the Aloha Mixed Plate are some of my favorite restaurants in Lahaina.

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Ka’anapali is a long strip of picturesque beach scattered with five-star resorts and time shares. There are tons of restaurants, shops at the Whaler’s Village, water activities, and awesome hotel pools with water slides and swim up bars. I grew up going to the Maui Ocean Club by Marriott, which I highly recommend, but all of the hotels in Ka’anapali are fantastic and are frequent wedding destinations. If you’re looking for fun activities, you can go jet skiing, parasailing, snorkeling, cliff jumping, surfing, boogie boarding, banana boating/tubing, and much more, all on one fantastic beach. Even if you aren’t staying in Ka’anapali, it is definitely worth checking out for a day!

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Napili is a few miles north of Ka’anapali, and is one of my favorite spots on Maui. I’ve stayed at Napili Point condos several times growing up, which is a great alternative if you are looking to get away from resorts and to truly unwind. Turtle Bay, directly in front of Napili Point, is perfect for snorkeling, and there are plenty of less-frequented beaches in the area, as well as a small gazebo restaurant on the beach with the best macadamia nut pancakes you will ever have!

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The Road to Hana is one of the most famous drives in all of Hawai’i and is one of the best experiences you’ll have on Maui. The 64 mile long road is extremely narrow and windy, but leads to the Seven Pools, the iconic swim spot at ‘Ohe’o Gulch that you cannot miss. There is also a black sand beach on the way, and what seems like a never ending rainforest with all kinds of plants and wildlife. Whether you’re looking for a gorgeous road trip, amazing photo spots, swimming, cave exploring or checking out old churches, the Road to Hana has it all. If you can’t stay overnight, this is definitely an all day trip, and I recommend leaving as early as possible, preferably by 8:00 a.m., to avoid being out there in the dark (which has happened to me before!). Take a picnic lunch and enjoy the amazing east side of Maui! This website lists some of the top stops on the Road to Hana, so definitely check it out if you go :).

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Upcountry is an often forgotten, but amazing part of the island that I cannot leave out. Most tourists don’t get a chance to explore upcountry, but there are so many great places to check out! Luckily, I have a friend, Ella, who is from Makawao, and when I visited a few years ago, took me out to some local spots I would’ve never found on my own. Check it out if you can!

Here are a few recommended beaches on Maui:

  • Makena Beach (Big Beach)
  • Ka’anapali Beach
  • Honolua Bay
  • Olowalu Beach
  • Kapalua Bay (my personal favorite for a relaxing day)

Photo from a trip with my grandparents in 2010:

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There are tons more; these are just a few!

Other activities on Maui:

Zip Lining– Skyline Eco Adventures: there is a regular tour and a zip n’ dip, which we did this trip (pictures below) and was fantastic! They have awesome guides and it’s very easy to sign up with them (here is their website). You can also go ATV riding here, which looked super fun! Crucial tip if you decide to go: you will get VERY dirty, so make sure to wear old shoes, preferably not white, and clothes you don’t care too much about because the red dirt gets everywhere! Also, if you do the zip n’ dip tour and decide to attempt a flip off the dock, make sure not to do a back flop (me: not pictured) :).

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Bike down Haleakala at sunrise: this 23 mile road is probably the best bike ride you will ever take! I did this once with my grandparents and it was unforgettable. Here are the websites for two popular companies: Bike Maui and  Adventure Maui.

Golfing in Kapalua: I don’t personally golf, but if you do and are looking for a great spot, Kapalua is one of the best!

Snorkel tour to Molokini or Lana’i: I have done several tours to both of these spots and a few others, and it is an absolute must in Maui! I recommend taking a morning tour if you can because the water can get choppy in the afternoon. Several companies run tours, like Four Winds and Pride of Maui, but your hotel concierge can also recommend some good ones and maybe even get you a deal. Here are some pictures from the Four Winds trip we did this trip:

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Fancy dinner: The Plantation House at the Kapalua Resort is one you can’t miss if you’re looking for a romantic and/or splurge dinner. Make a reservation for sunset and you will not regret it!

Luau: You can’t go to Hawaii and not go to a luau! The Grand Wailea Luau is a splurge, but was so worth it on this trip (pictures below). There are several other great ones, like the Old Lahaina Luau, so be sure to do some research and make a reservation in advance through your concierge. Typically, they roast pigs on site, have fire dancers, hula performances, share a bit about Maui’s history, and much more. Here is the unveiling of the pig from this trip:

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Helicopter Tour: there are many companies out there that do awesome tours around the island. This is definitely a big splurge activity, but is worth doing once in your life!

Hike the Iao Needle: Located in central Maui, the Iao Needle is a 1,200 foot landmark surrounded by lush rainforest. Leave early in the morning to avoid the fog and see amazing views of the island!

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And last, but not least… you MUST get famous Maui shave ice! Available pretty much everywhere on the island, this refreshing treat will make your day :). (Just don’t dump it upside down like I did the first time I had it!)

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If Maui isn’t already on your bucket list, add it now! I promise you won’t regret it :). Aloha!

Did I miss anything?! Let me know if you have anything to add in the comments section!

Hamilton Pool: Austin’s Not-so-Hidden Gem

 

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When most people think of Texas, they think of cowboy hats, southern hospitality, BBQ, dry desert land, and football. If you’re lucky enough to visit Austin, Texas, you’ll be amazed at all that it has to offer, like swim spots, incredible food, a huge music scene, and tons of fun activities. One of my favorite places was Hamilton Pool, a collapsed grotto with a waterfall 30 minutes outside of the city. Here are a few photos from this surprising oasis in Travis County:

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In addition to the beautiful swimming hole and waterfall, there are some great hikes in the park. Based on the looks of it, you’d never guess that this lush, fairytale-like area is in the middle of Texas:

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If you’re thinking of visiting, here is some additional information about Hamilton Pool:

  • Entrance fee: $15 per car to park
  • As of May 15, 2016, online reservations will be required for an additional $10. Luckily, I just missed this date and walked right in! During high season, the pool can get extremely crowded, so it makes sense to limit the number of people admitted at one time.
  • Make sure to get there early! By some miracle, the pool was almost completely empty when we went (around 11:30 a.m.), and it was absolute bliss. From what I’ve read online and what others have told me, Hamilton Pool gets super crowded in the afternoons in the summer. In my opinion, early May is the perfect time to go, because it’s right before swim season and the weather is still beautiful :).
  • The park rangers test the water in the pool for bacteria levels each day to see if it is safe for swimming. If you have your heart set on swimming, make sure to call or check their website to see if swimming is permitted. When I checked before we went, it said swimming was not allowed that day, but when we got there, the ranger said we could go in- another miracle! Either way, it is definitely worth checking out.
  • Make sure to hike the river trail as well! It is in the opposite direction of the pool and follows a gorgeous river through tons of trees and wildlife. We saw everything from fish to butterflies to dragonflies! Here are a few pictures from the river trail:
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If you’re looking for more swim spots in the Austin area, I would also recommend heading to Barton Springs, which is very close to downtown. The entrance fee is $7 per person, but you can also go to the “free side”, which has more rocks and lots of dogs (not permitted on the other side), but is still awesome! Jacob’s Well is another spot about 30 minutes past Hamilton Pool, which is cool to see, but in my opinion, not worth the long drive. The well is over 300 feet deep and supposedly is a great spot for experienced scuba divers, but the water is not as clean as Barton Springs or Hamilton Pool and there isn’t much else to see in the area. Do you know of any other swim spots in the area? I’d love to hear about them in the comments section!

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Unrelated to swim spots: if you’re looking for a place to stay in Austin, I HIGHLY recommend HK Austin. This hostel is about $34/night, walking distance from tons of activities, a great way to meet new people, and the manager, Alejandro, is really cool and helpful. I had an amazing experience in Austin and a lot of that was thanks to the people I met at HK Austin. If you’re visiting for the first time or traveling solo, let me know and I’d be happy to give you recommendations for bars, breweries, food trucks, activities, and sights to see :). Thanks for reading!

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