Tuesday, April 21, 2015

2 days in Hong Kong


How has it been 6 months since I have posted? How am I so far behind on life?  I don't even have kids to blame for that. Since I last posted I haven't done any fun traveling but have been to Hong Kong/China 3 times for work.  On my last work trip I stayed two extra days in Hong Kong to do some exploring and try to learn the city a little bit more.  When I'm there with co-workers I usually follow them around and do what they want and that does not allow me to learn where I am and how to get from A to B.  This post is a combination of my last few trips, most of my activities were totally tourist based but still thoroughly enjoyable nonetheless.

First thing, the Big Buddha, I actually did this solo back in November.  I found my way from Tsim Tsa Tsui where I was staying to Tian Tan Buddha on the subway, it was easy as pie.  I love the Hong Kong MTR, it is so simple and a great way to get around for cheap. The Big Buddha is a tourist destination on Lantau Island by the airport and Disneyland.  Yes, that sounds horrible, but it absolutely is not.  You have to get through the looong line to get on the cable car to Ngong Ping Village up in the hills.  But once you are on that cable car it is so enjoyable.  The views are absolutely gorgeous, you head first out over a bay then into the green tropical hills. It is quiet you can hear the wind against the car.



As you approach the top of the cable car ride you get a glimpse of the Buddha
You get dropped off at the start of Ngong Ping Village which is basically a street of tourist trap type stores trying to get you to buy crap you don't need.  I quickly made my way through that and to the staircase up to the statue.  There were people everywhere but that didn't seem to matter, there was still a quiet like zen around the place.



Now Tan Tian Buddha is there as the major center of Buddhism in Hong Kong.  And right next to it is Po Lin Monastary.  I wish I had read more about it beforehand and explored the tea garden and explored the "wisdom path."  Instead I wandered around and enjoyed the amazing scent of incense in the air which will forever remind me of Bali.  There are large pots everywhere where Buddhist light packets of incense and it smells like heaven.



Tourist destination or not I loved it, and I will go back and explore that tea garden and wisdom path.

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When I decided to stay solo in Hong Kong I had to find a hotel that didn't break the bank. When I'm there for work I usually get treated to very nice accommodations but on my own I can't afford those accommodations. So the question became, where can I stay that I can afford.  Hotels.com and Trip Advisor helped me find Butterfly on Morrison which is in Causeway Bay on Hong Kong Island.  I had to decide between the "Hong Kong Side" and the "Kowloon Side" and I think I made the right decision.  Hong Kong Island is what could be considered the nicer side of the city so I suppose it depends on what you're there for.  The Kowloon side is considered more gritty and authentic. Butterfly on Morrison was in an awesome location.  I think I paid about $160/night for three nights.  My room was tiny but that didn't matter.  It was clean and modern and I could walk to the Causeway Bay MTR station and there was all kinds of shopping close by. Because when in Hong Kong you shop.

One of the main things I wanted to do was to go to street markets because those are always fun.  I took the subway from Causeway bay to Mongkok to go to the Ladies Market on Tung Choi Street which is not exclusively for us ladies.  I enjoyed the experience, walking through the crowded street with people yelling "copy handbag, copy watches?" at you.  But it was all junk, junk you could get in Chinatown in LA.  I walked away with nothing which is always good for the wallet.  I also visited Sneakers Street which is parallel to Ladies Market on Fa Yuen Street and known for it's insane amount of footwear and sportswear.  And it was insane and full of sneakers. I might have caved and bought some workout clothes.

Ladies Market
All in all a cool experience worth doing once.

And here's where I get to the food.  I am a vegetarian, and being a vegetarian in China is SO hard.  They eat SO MUCH meat and they really do not understand the concept of vegetarian.  My stomach literally just shuts down when I am in China and all I eat is fruit and the granola bars and trail mix I packed in my suitcase. Oh and Starbucks every day because it is a taste of home. So after a week of work in China it was nice to come back to Hong Kong and eat good food.  I was lucky enough to have some hosts, the sales manager for our distributor in Hong Kong and his wife found me vegetarian food and took me out to dinner two nights in a row.  It was nice to have the company of locals (he is from Hong Kong, she is German) and to get their perspective on everything.  I love talking to people from other countries. We went to Kung Tak Lam in the World Trade Center and I stuffed my face.  It was so good. The ambiance of the restaurant left a bit to be desired, it was too bright and the staff was pretty bad.  But I didn't care, I was eating.

The second night we went to Happy Veggies in Wan Chai and I loved it even more.  It was fun and cozy and the staff were all special needs people which was so nice to see.  Apparently it is very difficult to get a job in Hong Kong when you have disabilities.

I've done a few nights out in Hong Kong.  I went to Lan Kwai Fong on Halloween last year, it was madness.  That's an area where there's lots of clubs and upscale restaurants.  This time I went out in Wan Chai and I think I enjoyed it more since I made it to 3am. I met people from 10 different countries, sat in a bar where all the bartenders were obviously Filipino hookers while it got raided by the police (they didn't even glance at me) and learned there's plenty of Thai lady boys in Hong Kong as well.  To me, a very fun night.  I don't know the names of the places we went, I wasn't paying attention.  But I will definitely do another night out in Wan Chai.

I was also lucky enough that my host took the time out of his Saturday to give me a tour of Hong Kong. We started the day at Kam Shan Country Park to see the monkeys.  I would like to go back and hike there...when I haven't stayed out until 3am the night before. Then he drove me all the way around Hong Kong Island which was amazing.  The amount of money there is mind blowing and it is so beautiful and scenic. Unfortunately I did not take a lot of photos. My favorite part of Hong Kong Island is Stanley.  It's a beautiful little area with bars and restaurants along the water and is home to Stanley Market, yet another place where you can buy cheap stuff, from electronics to handbags.

Stanley
After Stanley we circled around and went to Shek-O Beach and stopped for tea.  It was January and chilly so not really a day for the beach.  But when it is warm and sunny in Hong Kong the beaches can be a nice getaway from the city. I paid a visit to Big Wave Bay last summer.

All in all my 2 days in Hong Kong was fun and full and I left to get on my plane exhausted and wanting to see more.  I'm headed back in a few weeks so I'm sure I'll have more info.


Sunday, August 24, 2014

El Salvador-El Tunco/Sunzal


While I have been fortunate enough to travel a good deal in the past year (I just got back from another trip to China for work) husband-face and I had not had a vacation alone together since our honeymoon which was 3 and a half years ago.  We decided to book a trip to El Salvador for a warm surf getaway in May.  We had a variety of friends that had been down there and it came highly recommended.  After some research and conversations we decided to stay 4 days in El Tunco so husband-face could surf Sunzal and the many other breaks in the area.

I'm a huge fan of Trip Advisor and do a lot of my travel research on there.  After looking at every hotel in the El Tunco area we landed on Kayu Resort.  Kayu is just outside El Tunco and right across the road from the Sunzal point break.  It is a small hotel with 4 large rooms and 2 smaller ones.  We ended up in the Punta Mango suite on the top floor.  The location couldn't be beat, our top floor room had great views of the waves.  It has a pool deck and an outdoor restaurant area that serves food all day.  I wouldn't call the food amazing but to be honest I didn't have any amazing food while I was in El Salvador.  It was a short walk along the beach into the small town of El Tunco where there were plenty of restaurants and bars and a couple little shops. We had a friend down there at the same time that stayed at Casa de Mar, a little more expensive and probably the nicest hotel in the area.  It's right on the beach and when you come in from a surf they have your towel ready for you and either a water or a beer, now that's service.

Of all of the surf trips we have been on (not that we can boast too many) husband-face liked El Salvador the best.  The long point breaks were his little version of heaven that left his legs burning. One of these days I'll learn...

The view from the deck of the Punta Mango suite at Kayu

Kayu, our room was the top left

Sunzal point break, heaven for husband-face

Surf check
Exploring the coast

Looking east as we drove west up the coast

The main road of El Tunco with bars and restaurants





A couple of tips about El Tunco:
1. Don't rent a car.  Driving in El Salvador is tough without GPS as very few of the roads are marked. We got lost...a lot.  In hindsight just hiring a driver to take us places would have been easier.  But getting lost is part of the adventure right?

2. El Tunco is safe!  Don't let the armed security fool you, it's a part of the culture in El Salvador and employs a lot of people.  We stayed outside of town and felt perfectly safe walking around at night. We wouldn't have done that in the city of San Salvador but the beach communities are perfectly safe

3. If you have a hard time with the local (headache inducing) beers try the bar at Hotel Mopelia.  It's a hostel style hotel owned by a Belgian guy named Jil (He says "like the woman" when he tells you his name and you don't understand) who does his best to get good beer imported. He's gained quite a following and people bring him beers from all over which he displays in the bar. He had quite a few San Diego brews on display there.

4. If you are a vegetarian like myself try the papusas (local dish) with queso y frijoles.  I was a big fan.

5. Also for vegetarians Take a Wok in town had a veggie curry fried rice which satisfied by vegetable craving one night.

6. There's a couple swanky restaurants just east of Kayu, one called Beto's and once at a little hotel called Sunzal Hills. We happened to stop at Sunzal Hills on Mother's Day and it was hopping.  The views were beautiful with waves crashing in the rock pools below the restaurant and pool deck.

7. We did a trip up to Boqueron National Park to check out the crater.  It was beautiful and I'm glad we did it but there was not really any hike to speak of.  If you want to hike down into the crater you have to arrange a local guide in advance.  I wish we had been able to do the Santa Ana volcano hike but the rain didn't permit that during our time there.  When we go back that is definitely on the list.

8. The beach in El Tunco is not really a "lay out white sand" sort of beach.  It's a little dirty and there's usually a lot of people walking up and down it, soccer games happen a lot and it gets rocky right when you hit town

9. There's a waterfall hike up in one of the towns inland from El Tunco called Tamanique.  I WISH we had done it but we ran out of time.  We will do it when we go back!


The beer wall at Mopelia

A gloomy day walk down the beach from Kayu to El Tunco

Beach fútbol 

Waves crashing into the rock pools at Sunzal Hills

Boqueron with Boqueroncito inside


Volcano kitty!

My Mom's favorite photo

There has already been much talk of returning to El Salvador so I'm sure we will head back within the next few years.

Saturday, August 16, 2014

Amalfi Coast Boat Trip - Scrapped

I was SO good there for awhile, keeping up with my posts.  And then summer in California happened and I have been distracted by one of the best summers the San Diego coast has seen in years.  Very little gloom, perfect temperatures, long days at the beach turning into long evenings of wine and laughter.  Pretty much bliss in my book.  Oh yeah, and I work...all the damn time.

I made these pages months ago and this day is still one of the best days of my life, our Amalfi Coast boat trip. If you're ever there, please seek out Salvatore...and give him a big hug from me.

A wise man, that Salvatore

The kissing elephants

One of the most enjoyable lunches I've ever had

Hill being a babe











Sunday, July 6, 2014

Italy - Positano Scrapped

For my Italy travel partners birthday I hustled through a scrapbook of our trip. I don't think I've ever made a scrapbook this quickly.  I think I got a good 30 pages done in 6 weeks  Revisiting all the photos of this trip made me yearn for another trip to Europe.  Without further adieu my favorite ages from the first half of our trip to Positano.











Tuesday, May 27, 2014

Paso Picacho Campground

Our last camping trip in October got cut short by a family emergency so in February we decided it was time to redeem ourselves.  Our go to campground is closed for the winter so we found Paso Picacho Campground in Cuyamaca State Park south of Julian that is open on a first come first serve basis year round (note you need reservations April-October). We drove out on a Saturday morning, took about an hour and 15 minutes from the coast. It was a great, quiet little campground.  I swore I'd remember this but I'm not sure if it's correct, I think we chose site number 34.  It had a great peek view of a meadow down below where we saw tons of white tail deer and amazing views of Stonewall Peak across the road.  However the best (to us, most private) sites looked like they were at the back of the campground but that area was closed for some reason.

Site #34?

View of Stonewall Peak

We had hiked Stonewall Peak before so we decided to do Cuyamaca Peak, out the back side of the campground.  It's a longer hike with a steady incline, I think about 6 miles round trip.  We ended up taking the fire road the entire way up because we couldn't find another path that we were sure went where we wanted to go. The lower half of the hike was through the still burnt out trees of the fires that swept through this area a few years ago, kind of eerie looking at times but beautiful.  Once we got up a little higher the greenery started filling in.

Happy Hikers

Almost to the top, looking west

Husband face

This is definitely a campsite we'll come back to.  We also want to try Green Valley Campground right down the road, it has a little stream running through it but it closed in the "winter." Julian is about 10 minutes up the road if you want your apple pie fix.


Wednesday, May 21, 2014

Italy-Ischia

I realized that I never posted about the second half of my trip to Italy. After Positano and the Amalfi Coast we ventured out to Ischia Island for 3 nights. Ischia Island is known for it's natural hot springs and thermal baths which are said to have healing properties. They have a big hot springs garden there (called Citara)  but we didn't visit that. We took a ferry from Positano directly there. It left bright and early and we were a little hungover due to overindulgence in wine (weird) so we napped on the boat.

Napping on boats, Ischia bound. One of my favorite photos from the trip

The ferry took us to the main port (Ischia Porto) on the northeast side of the island.  After some searching online we decided to stay in Forio which is on the west side of the island. Forio has a sort of laid-back, village vibe.  There's some shopping and restaurants and bars but it's not a late night sort of place.  We found Hotel Providence online after a lot of TripAdvisor searching. It had good reviews and was across the street from the beach.  It had a wonderful outdoor pool with amazing views.  The rooms are nothing special but clean and we didn't spend any time in them except to sleep. The staff was friendly, it was definitely a very quiet hotel that seemed to cater to an older crowd. It's also slightly outside the center of Forio but it's a beautiful walk along the water to get into Forio, takes about 10-15 minutes.

The view from the pool deck at Hotel Providence

We only had 3 nights and two full days in Ischia so we didn't get to do as much as we wanted to. Looking back I am really disappointed that we didn't find the time to hike up to the peak of Mt. Epomeo.  When we arrived we relaxed at the pool at the hotel for a few hours and then walked into the town to eat and drink more.  There's a little row of restaurants across from the water, all of the ones we tried were delicious.

The next day we took the bus over to Ischia Ponte to check out Castello Aragonese, one of the main tourist attractions on Ischia.  It's an old medieval castle just of the northeast side of Ischia and connected to it by a foot bridge.  We spent hours wandering around and taking in the amazing views...and checking out torture chambers. We even went for a dip in the water off the foot bridge on our way out. 

Magnificent Castello Aragonese

The view down onto Ischia Ponte from Castello Aragonese

The beautiful gardens


Our last day on Ischia was spent at the beach across the street from our hotel, Cava dell'isola.  We were told by the bartender at our hotel that it was the "young beach" and he was right. It seemed like the "high school hangout" with many over-groomed dudes in speedos playing soccer. I can't say I'm a fan of the speedo look but the beach was beautiful.  The water was extremely calm and warm but still cool enough to be refreshing. We baked all day then ate a late lunch at the restaurant on the north end of the beach.

Cava dell'isola

Speedos!

That night we ate and drank as usual and accidentally went on a date with two Italian dudes who quickly fell in love with us. What an uncomfortable evening that was. We went to a small romantic town called Sant'Angelo and got gelato.  It was a beautiful and classy little place however we were under the impression that we were going dancing at a club and I think we were dressed a little too risqué for the crowd there.  We got quite a few disapproving looks and I'm fairly certain that the crowd there thought we were paid companions. By the end of the evening we couldn't wait to escape back to our little hotel room.

The next day we took a ferry back to Naples where we had to spend the night for our 6am flight home. We got a little hotel room near the airport and Naples is not a safe place for 2 chicas to be walking around at night so we settled in, got some takeout and attempted to sleep before the long flight home back to reality.


Tuesday, May 20, 2014

Hong Kong

The fun part of my work trip to China was the day and a half we spent in Hong Kong.  China works 6 days a week so on Saturday afternoon we headed across the border into Hong Kong to spend the "weekend" there. We arrived and checked into our hotel and then wandered around Hong Kong.  I am not a city person and HK is crazy and hectic and crowded but I still thoroughly enjoyed it. I didn't get to do much in my short time there but at least I got to see it.

The amazing bridges of Hong Kong

Hong Kong streets

Dorky selfie, HK

After wandering and eating (oddly) at an Irish bar in Ocean Center, a massive mall on Victoria Harbor, we took a ferry from Ocean Center across the water to...well I don't know where to.  I was with two people that spend a lot of time in Hong Kong so I just followed them around. We wandered for hours and by the time we caught the ferry back to Ocean Center it was dark and cloud were hanging low and it made for some AMAZING photos.  We sat at a bar along the water with the thousands of people milling around and watched the light show, A Symphony of Lights,  they play on the buildings on the bay there.






On Sunday we took the tram up Victoria Peak to see Hong Kong from above, a really awesome experience.  The tram leaves out of this little building and goes up, up, up, very steep.  There's amazing views and the top and gardens to wander around.

The tram goes up


Hong Kong from Victoria Peak
Back view, Victoria Peak
High above Hong Kong

When we got back down we were supposed to head back to Dongguan but the bosses decided we should stay in HK for one more night.  We moved hotels to the W on Kowloon Bay.  Let me tell you, if you every have a chance to stay at this hotel DO IT.  It costs a fortune but if I ever go back to HK I will stay there.  It's the epitome of luxury and good design with amazing views and a rooftop pool. I', not normally a luxury traveler but I got a taste of the good life here. and I definitely wouldn't mind doing that again. We spent the afternoon at the rooftop "pool party" where they split the pool area in half, a quiet area for guests staying at the hotel and a party area with a DJ for people coming in to drink too much.  It was a bit gloomy but still plenty warm

The view from our room at the W

View from the rooftop pool at the W

I'm on the 76th floor, so that building behind me is TALL

After an afternoon and evening in the hot tub high above Kowloon Bay we paid a visit to Ozone, touted as the tallest bar in the world (118th floor). It's on the top floor of the Ritz Carlton it was swanky and big and man was it high up.

The rainy view from Ozone

After our night at Ozone (and maybe a few too many glasses of wine) we woke up and had to go back to the reality of work in China. Until next time Hong Kong.