What’s left? Hong Kong.

Hong Kong was the last leg of our 2 week trip and after 10 days of traveling, we were almost ready to go home.  What I was looking forward to in Hong Kong was 1) more family time and 2) Chinese New Year in Hong Kong (a first for me!).

What we didn’t realize is that being in Hong Kong leading up to CNY and the actual day are just PART of the 2 week long festivities, only the tip of the iceberg.  It’s all about the days after when the fireworks and multiple feasts really begin.  Unfortunately, we left on CNY night.

I did love seeing all the colors in preparation for the holiday:

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What did we do in Hong Kong? To sum it up, we ate wonton and beef brisket noodle soup pretty much everyday:

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Also this pineapple bun that Aziz Ansari ate on The Getaway (hilarious episode btw) and listed on this fantastic list of eats.  But seriously… why was the butter in pineapple bun not a tradition in my household?  The ratio of butter to bread makes so much sense.

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We also found this sushi joint where you order everything on a tablet!  The sushi isn’t the best but good for the price.  It’s also super fun to press all the buttons and have your food magically appear.

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Two of those are beef.

Finally, a picture of just us two on the Kowloon side.

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And my extended family.  Basically, my uncle and dad, next to their aunt (my great aunt) and cousins (whom I call aunts).  Two of my aunts here, I last saw them at my wedding 2.5 years ago but one had a stroke in Hong Kong (she isn’t able to travel back to the states until she’s a little more self-sufficient) but I was eager to see her.  Throughout my mom’s sickness and even my dad’s recent condition, they’ve all been so supportive, more than his own sisters, and I am so thankful for them.

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For our stay in Hong Kong, we rented out a studio from Airbnb which worked out pretty well because it was less than a mile away from my uncle’s house Sai Ying Pun, modern and clean (nice change from Myanmar), and sometimes you just need to be able to walk out onto the patio and get fresh (or not so fresh) air.  Sai Ying Pun wasn’t originally a hip area but Soho seems to be moving west so now there are a bunch of bars on his block.  Our apartment was also down the street from a 24 hour McDonald’s and you all know how much I like Asian McDonald’s!

 

Would we ever move to Hong Kong?  For the past couple years, I’ve been entertaining the idea of moving to Hong Kong.  We never made actual plans because of my dad’s health condition but I totally romanticized the image of Terry and I exploring a bustling city, walking around late at night, country hopping on the weekends, all those goodies.  Terry said he would keep an open mind but for us to see how we feel about the city after this trip (good idea because we also thought we’d love Portland but it ended up being too weird for us).  After this past trip, I will have to say a big fat N-O to living in Hong Kong.  It is busy as hell, all the time.  All people do is shop.  A view of the harbor is ever decreasing due to an exponentially growing rate of high rises.  Three days in our studio was nice but I was quickly starting to feel claustrophobic.

Maybe it’s very American of me to want more space but that’s not it; I want more natural space.  I want to be able to take a nice walk with the dogs and see some green.  I don’t want a heart rate that increases every time we go out because I have to constantly be ON (we missed our bus stop by a lot because the both of us were just staring out the windows for way too long).  I also want to be able to have a wide array of hobbies that don’t involve accumulating more possessions; that’s the exact opposite of what I’m trying to do now.  What I do love about Hong Kong though and I’m sure this is stating the super obvious, is being able to eat noodles and drink Hong Kong milk tea everyday.  All day, everyday.  But as much as I love to eat, I cannot fully love you, Hong Kong.

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What’s left? Hong Kong.

Shannon’s Burmese Family

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Newlyweds with my aunt to the right

It was so good to see my mom’s side of the family.  They are actually complete opposites (like my parents were) from my dad’s side.  Mom’s side = crazy, outgoing, loud (<–I basically just listed synonyms).  Dad’s side = reserved, intellectual, polite.  I appreciate both sides equally but seeing my mom’s side always reminds me of my mom.  I only have 1 aunt in Myanmar and she is 2 years older than my mom. I didn’t realize how similar their personalities were.

For example, here is a conversation between my cousin (daughter of a different aunt) and my Myanmar aunt:

Aunt: (looks at cousin’s belly)  how many months?
Cousin: OH MY DAMN!!!
Aunt: (bends over to retrieve something from the fridge)
Cousin: (slaps aunt on butt)
Aunt: I’m going to fart in your face.

I’m pretty sure that my being there made it really sentimental for my aunts and uncles, especially back in their hometown where they all grew up together.  I loved whenever they shared something about my mom; her favorite foods, how the bottom half of my face looks like hers, how perverted her jokes were, etc.  Even when we went to HK later on in this trip, my dad’s side would share things about her too, like how warm and what a great cook she was.  It’s amazing to see how different your parents can be but how much of both of their personalities you have.

Here is a bunch of us at dinner on Friday, the night before the wedding.  We have been eating at this Thai restaurant because my aunt rents out the land to the owner.

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The beautiful couple in their traditional garb, in the most distracted looking picture ever.

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I wasn’t sure if I’d be able to get a picture with my cousin so I took a quick selfie when she passed by our table.  It made us laugh so hard that now all my cousins are doing it.

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The night after day 1 of the wedding.  Out and about on 19th street where all the expats hang out.  $1 USD mojitos!

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Okay, so… kids usually don’t like me.  They LOVE Terry, perhaps because he’s persistent, has a friendly face, and/or comes up with intriguing games.  But two of my cousins kids latched on me to pretty quickly.  That made me happy.  One of them, Maya, who was on a drawing rampage and requested them from me like I was some Chinese factory worker on a deadline, asked me to draw a portrait of her so I did.

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Day 2 of the wedding and Sandy’s 3rd outfit!

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Girl cousins: California, NY, Australia, and Myanmar represented here

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Also, my aunt has 8 dogs.  I will include them in this post since they are part of the family.  They’re actually really passive except for when Terry and I snuck into her property through the back gate.  All 8 of us approached us at once, growing and snarling; I thought it was my last day.

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Shannon’s Burmese Family

Yangon, Myanmar

After a sufficient 2.5 days in Singapore, we hopped on a short 2-hour flight to visit my mama’s hometown, Yangon, Myanmar.   This would be a very special leg of the trip for me because 1) It will be my first time in Myanmar, 2) my mom lived here for the first 20 years of her life, 3) my cousin/childhood pen-pal, Sandy, will be getting married, and 4) it will be the first time I meet a bunch of my relatives or have seen them in about 15 years.

We were in Myanmar for 7 days but stayed only in Yangon because Sandy’s wedding was smack dab in the middle.  I will need to come back to take trips to Mandalay and Bagan, especially since my aunt gave me a wad of kyat which can literally ONLY be exchanged in Myanmar (you should have seen the looks I got at the exchange counters at the Singapore Airport).  Yangon is such a raw place.  There are still no chains; no McDonald’s to satisfy any non-Burmese food cravings, no Starbucks to conveniently access wi-fi (and wi-fi is a serious luxury there), and basically no easy peasy way to get around like you still lived in your first world home country.  I’m sure things will change in the next couple years so I urge you to visit Myanmar as it is now and experience the beauty of a mostly untouched country along with the nuances of traveling with only PAPER maps and a language barrier.  Truth be told, there is some fun in getting lost especially if you are with friends and/or your S.O.

Most of the hotels in downtown Yangon are surprisingly a bit high end (costing $200+ USD per night) because of people traveling for business so we opted for AirBnB.  We booked a master bedroom in an apartment that was in a central part of downtown, overlooking the Bogyoke Aung San Stadium.  We actually saw a couple soccer games from our balcony!

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Close to the railway, but God forbid you ever take that beautiful mess.

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Just take the taxi, they said.  It’s actually not a bad idea because it costs roughly 1,500 kyat (~$1.50 USD) to get almost anywhere you’ll need to go in Yangon.  The drivers… mmm…. they are another story.  They do whatever they want.  They play chicken with oncoming traffic just to pass cars in front of them.  They will stop within inches of pedestrians (pedestrians’ fault too).  They will drive at death-defying speeds, although the breeze does feel nice when it’s a hot day.  And don’t let me forget, they LOVE to honk.  Honking is like breathing to the Burmese.

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Our first Burmese meal (below), and I have to specify Burmese, because our first meal was actually Japanese.  The reason being that our first half-day-evening in Yangon was just nuts.  We couldn’t connect to the wi-fi in our apartment so we went out looking for a cafe.  After walking aimlessly in the frenzy of the crowds and being totally irritated at one another, we finally found a cafe that had wi-fi that also didn’t work!  It was getting really dark and there were non-working street lights so we just walked back to our vicinity and went to the Japanese restaurant that our host recommended.  I’m sure he had good intentions for recommending this place because I look Japanese (and it is actually my favorite cuisine but he didn’t know that) but that doesn’t mean I want to eat that all the time.  To my surprise,  it was ALL Japanese people in there (businessmen again).  Now that I look back at it, we really did pay way too much for our meal.  It was around $20-25 USD for both of us when later on we would discover that meals should cost less than $5 USD for two.

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Sticky shan noodles
Terry slurping away at his soupy shan noodles
Terry slurping away at his soupy shan noodles

There are HOW MANY pagodas in Yangon?  Too many to count.  Everyone will tell you to at least go to Shwedagon Pagoda which is the biggest in Yangon.  Go at night because it’s cooler and they light up the pagoda.  It’s so pretty!  You’ll get charged a foreigner fee of about $8 USD.  Be sure to cover up your arms/legs or they’ll give you a shawl/sarong to do so.

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Let’s be honest now that you are reading our blog and I want to further our digital friendship.  I am a 100% type-A traveler.  I one time took Terry through all the significant rides in Disneyland and CA Adventure in one day (he still cries about this trip).  Before heading off to Asia, I spent hours upon hours coming with an itinerary for our trip.  I made a list of eats and sights I wanted to go to, and since there was no 3G available in the countries we visited, I took screenshots of maps (this was before I learned I could cache maps), saved pictures of restaurant fronts that I found online, wrote down the specialties of each place, and determined the distance from our lodging and in what direction.  I could probably sell these itineraries for some chump change or if you’re nice, I may give it to you.  If you are new to Burmese food, one of the places you must eat at is: Feel Myanmar Food.

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The ordering style here is unique because you’ll sit down and they’ll give you a plate of the greens (pictured above). When you’re ready, a waiter will go up to the counter with you and explain to you what each item is (there are what? 100?).  At any time, there could be 20 people in that crowd up there with you and it will be MADNESS.  Madness is the theme of Myanmar so get used to it.  They’ll usually recommend the safe stuff to you so doing some research before will help you be able to distinguish new things to try.

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How can I describe Burmese food?  A mix of Thai, Chinese, and Indian.  I almost feel that it is stronger than Indian food with more sour, more fermented, and more pungent dishes.  I don’t know if you can see it on that plate of greens but there were pieces of raw bitter melon (*high five* Chinese peeps!) to dip into that sour sauce.  Sometimes they will include straight up wildflowers (looks-wise and taste-wise) in the greens for you to dip too.

After roaming around downtown Yangon for a whole day, I asked myself “where are the non-businessmen tourists?”  They are at Inya Lake, far from downtown, away from the madness.  Boy, they are totally missing out.

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Come on? This?

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Over this?!

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That was full Day 1.

Next up:  Shannon’s Burmese family.

Yangon, Myanmar

We are back!

The last 2 weeks have been a whirlwind of flights, family time, and fun.  We finally got back a couple days ago, on Friday night, only to rest enough to attend a wedding the following day.  Jet lagged, you ask?  Not in the sense that we’re staying up in the middle of the night wishing for sleep but we are INCREDIBLY tired.  We’ve been sleeping an average of 10 hours each night in addition to having 6 days of diarrhea and counting.

I’m going to assume that most people want to see FOOD pictures.  So I will end this post with some highlights from our Singapore eats:

Cereal prawns, oyster omelette, and meat skewers (Newton Circus Food Centre) – Vendors at Newton are incredibly aggressive and can overcharge, so be ready.

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Lychee juice – Although if you are in Singapore, soursop juice is the way to go.

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Hainanese Chicken (Tien Tien in Maxwell Food Centre) – Overrated.  White meat was dry!

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Chinese New Year Salad (No Signboard Seafood Restaurant) – Each item represents something prosperous, lifelong, full of fortune, etc.  Also, the higher you mix this, the BETTER.

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See all that mixing?

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Singaporean Chili Crab & Black Pepper Crab (No Signboard Seafood Restaurant)  – You pretty much cannot come to Singapore and not eat this.  You’ll see Singaporean chili crab on every menu at the hawker centres but I’ve been told it is one of the best at No Signboard.  The outdoorsy, rugged ambiance can’t be beat at the Geylang location either.

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Deer Murtabak (Zam Zam) – This joint was on Arab Street which everyone should check out when visiting Singapore.  Lots of small shops and shisha.

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Teppanyaki Grilled Chicken Burger, Double McSpicy, and Curly Fries (Mcdonald’s) – Nothing beats Asia McDonald’s.  Ever heard of the double Big Mac?

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A terrific first trip!  I’m sure there were tons of goodies I missed out on but that will have to wait until next time.  To access my small list of Singapore Eats on Yelp, get on over here.

We are back!

Portland: The Scenic

The Chinese in Portland have a sense of humor
Elephant in downtown Portland park
Elephant in downtown Portland park
The Nines - view from the 11th floor
The Nines – view of the dining area
Scenic drive along Columbia River Highway
Driving along Columbia River Highway
Multonomah Falls - bottom view
Multonomah Falls – bottom view
Multonomah Falls - top view; can you see how tiny those cars are?
Multonomah Falls – top view; can you see how tiny those cars are?
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Living Room Theater – indie movie theater where you can order food & drinks!
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Living Room Theater – view of the outside from the inside
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International Rose Test Garden
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Cardboard box and black clips display in a random apartment building
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Cascade Brewing Barrel House – sour beers
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Jeld-Wen Field
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Terry: I want to see what this mask is looking at.
Portland: The Scenic

Portland: Hipster Fare

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Pok Pok – boar collar, coconut chicken noodle soup, fish sauce chicken wings
Salt & Straw - mint, meringue & sea urchin
Salt & Straw – mint, meringue & sea urchin
Mother's Bar & Bistro - blueberry pancakes, spanish frittata
Mother’s Bar & Bistro – blueberry pancakes, spanish frittata
Pambiche - Rabo Endendido (oxtail)
Pambiche – Rabo Endendido (oxtail)
Nong’s Khao Man Gai – Thai style chicken, liver, and rice
Blue Star Donuts - creme brulee, almond ganache, blueberry bourbon basil
Blue Star Donuts – creme brulee, salted almond ganache, blueberry bourbon basil
Grassa - Strozzapreti (white anchovy, smoked olives, capers, chilis, oven dried tomatoes)
Grassa – Strozzapreti (white anchovy, smoked olives, capers, chilis, oven dried tomatoes)
Grassa - meatballs
Grassa – meatballs
Deschutes Brewery - beer flight & pretzel
Deschutes Brewery – beer flight & pretzel
Kenny & Zuke's Deli - P.L.T.
Kenny & Zuke’s Deli – P.L.T.
Stumptown Coffee - mocha
Stumptown Coffee – mocha

Need a list of food and activities in Portland? Here you go! 

Portland: Hipster Fare

Portland: The Many Faces of Terry

For our 2 year anniversary, Terry and I decided to take a trip to hipster mecca, Portland.  In the past year, many people in our circle of friends have visited and RAVED about the city of roses.  We enjoy traveling anywhere new together but this city was not what we expected at all.  It was probably wrong of me to expect something so massive in terms of size, culture, and everything like SF but what I ended up with was really great donuts (not Voodoo), the land of the young & homeless, and a super mellow vibe all around.
Now I present to you the many faces of Terry on vacation, in sequential order of our trip:

1. Hungry-off-the-plane Terry

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2. Stains-all-over-my-shirt-from-being-too-hungry Terry

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3. Morning Coffee Terry

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4. Smelling? Kissing? Lip-Puckering-the-Roses Terry

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5. Afternoon Beer Terry

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6. Post-afternoon-beer Terry

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7. Caveman Terry

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8. Seductive Terry

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Portland: The Many Faces of Terry

Review: Villa del Palmar Beach & Spa Resort (Cancun, Mexico)

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View from the ferry (coming back from Isla de Mujeres)

Overall Rating: 4 out of 5 stars

This resort is perfect for big groups or families who aren’t into the downtown Cancun scene.  Remember MTV’s Spring Break in Cancun?  That is exactly what I DID NOT want.  Sure, you don’t get to eat at Bubba Gumps or Señor Frog’s, but the all-inclusive package deters you from eating outside anyway.  The food was better than I expected and you get a good variety with a steakhouse, Japanese restaurant, Greek restaurant, and Mexican restaurant.  You cannot go wrong with ordering the catch of the day or shrimp at any of these places.  Meat needs a bit of work.  There are plenty of free activities for you to do and if you don’t want to do these, then you can book excursions through the onsite travel center.  I booked 1 all-day excursion and spent half a day at a nearby island during my 4.5 day stay here and that was the right amount.   The rest was dedicated to laying out and eating endlessly.  I would say laying out at the pool trumps laying out at the beach because the water on this side is a little murky and the beach needs to be combed.  Don’t over order (at least not all the time) because you’ll start to stand out amongst the older patrons who don’t do that sort of thing.  If you start to feel fat, there is a gym on the basement level so you can work out to justify your eating.  I would recommend this resort to people who want to have a really relaxed vacation with no set schedule and maybe a few excursions.

10 HELPFUL TIPS:

1. Roll with the resort’s inconsistencies.  You will soon learn what I mean by this.  The schedule will tell you that paddleboarding starts at 11am, the activities guy will tell you that you can just show up, the instructor will tell you that the class is full and that you can just stop by later.  This does throw a wrench if you’re a strict planner but these activities are included in your package so you might as well take advantage of them.

2. Make reservations at the restaurants if you’re eating at peak times or going with a group. Depending on how busy the resort is, it may be hard to get a table.  Note that dress code for dinners does not allow for sandals, board shorts, and the like.  I believe you have to call x500 for reservations at any of the restaurants.

3. When eating breakfast/lunch buffet at Davino’s, visit the Mexican lady in the corner.  She often gets overlooked but that’s perfect because you can have her all to yourself.  Every day, she will make fresh empanadas, sope, taquitos, etc. which you can customize.  Choose the meat or vegetable of your choice and she will mold your item from fresh maize and deep fry it right in front of you.  I liked all the restaurants at the resort except La Castona STK (the steakhouse) which was pretty bad.  Burnt veal sweetbreads and incredibly chewy steak.  If you’re doing all-inclusive, you should try it but if not, I would skip this.  Room service food was also not as good as the restaurants.

4. Wi-Fi is not available in the rooms as the deal states. It was only available in the lobby.  One employee told us it would cost money while another employee freely gave out the wi-fi credentials (a prime example of #1).  Every night, we would sit in the lobby to do our email/social media business.  It can be a pain but if you have tech-addicted kids, this might be a nice vacation to restore their brains to life.

5. Use the bidet in the lobby restrooms.  My highlight of the trip!

6. Drinks are watered down but drink it halfway, then ask them to add more alcohol into it.

7.Take the $3 USD ferry to Isla de Mujeres for a day.  Because the resort is not located near anything with reasonable walking distance, you may start to get cabin fever.  Take the ferry that’s behind the resort.  It leaves every couple hours, more frequently on the weekends.  The water at Isla de Mujeres is MUCH more clear, the sand much more white, and you can do all your souvenir shopping there as well.  We ate at Rooster Cafe which is really good cafe food (I had a chorizo sandwich, strawberry salad, and chaya juice) which is a nice change from all the sope and empanadas I was eating at the resort.

8. Do the timeshare presentation (approximately 90 minutes unless you show serious interest) because it will get you a discount off excursions and spa services.  We went on the Chichen Itza/Cenote tour for over 50% off.  $34 USD (not including tip) for an entire day plus lunch.  If you’re deciding on what excursions to do, I would highly recommend choosing things you cannot do elsewhere.  Next to Chichen Itza (Mayan ruins) and if you can resist motion sickness, swim with whale sharks.  I was told that there are few places in the world where you can do this.

9. To pay for things, you can charge most things to your room.  If not, there is a currency exchange window in the lobby and you can also use most major credit cards.  Amex requires they do a temporary charge for approval.

10. Buy the Living Social deal if you can!  The deal cost $935 USD for 2 adults/2 kids for four nights.  If you buy 3 deals, you basically get 1 free so after our group split the costs, it was $780 per 2 adults.  If we say the average hotel cost is about $150 per night (and this would be a conservative estimate for the actual suite), then we basically paid $7 per all-you-can-eat meals per person (based on 13 meals).  The one-bedroom suite was 200 square feet bigger than our first apartment!  It included a jacuzzi in the bedroom, a hammock on the patio, two full bathrooms, a king size bed and a murphy bed, full kitchen with all the dishes, utensils, Tupperware, etc. and a semi-stocked fridge.  See our room tour video down below!

living social deal

VIEW FROM OUR ROOM ON THE 8TH FLOOR:

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ROOM TOUR:

 

If you need any more information, leave a comment!

Review: Villa del Palmar Beach & Spa Resort (Cancun, Mexico)

Cancun: In Collages

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Lunch at a Mayan village
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Tequila Museum
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Day at Isla de Mujeres
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We loved playing at the pool all day every day.
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Resort food. Clockwise: sope, shrimp skewers with mashed plantain, fish tacos, mango tango, ceviche
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Clockwise: sope & empanada from my Mexican mama, steak, chorizo sandwich, espresso Magnum, my Meixcan mama
Arnold and Shawn
Arnold and Shawn
Cancun: In Collages