A Couple of Tourists https://acoupleoftourists.com Wed, 27 Mar 2019 15:19:00 +0000 en-US hourly 1 https://wordpress.org/?v=4.9.10 https://acoupleoftourists.com/wp-content/uploads/2016/03/cropped-favicon-100x100.png A Couple of Tourists https://acoupleoftourists.com 32 32 44918110 Mardi Gras World https://acoupleoftourists.com/mardi-gras-world https://acoupleoftourists.com/mardi-gras-world#respond Wed, 27 Mar 2019 15:18:24 +0000 http://acoupleoftourists.com/?p=4324 We saw some billboards for Mardi Gras World at the airport and decided to pay a visit (further proof that advertising is very effective on people who already work in the industry). It’s a little far from our hotel, but while we were having breakfast at Cafe Du Monde in the French Market, we spotted a bright blue shuttle bus that goes to Mardi Gras World. Tie called the number on their site and voila, we got free transportation there. The driver was real friendly, too.

We paid the admission price ($22 for adults, $17 for seniors and students, $14 for children) and received some plastic beads as our ticket. They show an introductory video every half hour and we made it just in time. It basically covers the history of Mardi Gras and ends with a serving of king cake, which is a ginormous oblong purple, yellow and green donut cut into multiple slices. They generally hide a little baby figurine inside one of the slices to decide who will buy next year’s cake. Seemed like it would be a choking hazard?
Anyway, after watching the video I finally understood the real size of a major Mardi Gras parade (and we were already so impressed by the small walking one we saw earlier). Definitely want to grab a few friends and attend an actual one by one of the larger krewes. They’re basically different organizations whereby the members participate in the parade and pay membership dues to fund all the floats and costumes. Meaning no corporate sponsors! I love it. Really helps maintain the spirit of Mardi Gras.
Following the cake feeding, our group was led on a tour around the on-site factory. They make a bunch of floats for the parades (plus some other special corporate projects). We got to see artists at work, along with partially finished paper mache pieces. They ranged from mythical creatures to New Orleans Saints players to RuPaul. Floats that featured people were often recycled, which is probably the why Drew Brees ended up looking kind of like Tom Cruise. The colors were all super vibrant and looked great on camera. It seemed like such a cool job to create floats, especially since you weren’t allowed to repeat anything so there is always something fresh to view each year (except for a few “classic” floats like the one featuring Rex, the king of Mardi Gras).
The actual float vehicles were massive. Imagine having beads rain down on you from up top! While beads are a pretty popular throw, some Krewes also hand-make their own signature throws, which can include shoes, sunglasses, hats, and masks. It seems plushies and go-cups are pretty popular, too. There are toilets on the floats since krewes can end up staying on the parade route for 6-8 hours at a time. It’s not out of the ordinary for them to be indulging in libations.

After the tour, we walked to the back to enjoy the view of the Mississippi River for a bit before heading back to the shuttle bus. I’m really glad we were able to get a deeper respect and understanding for Mardi Gras after this. Having only heard stories, I was always under the impression that it was just a giant drunken debacle with women flashing themselves for beads. Now, seeing how much artistry and history is part of the parade, I really hope we get to return with a first-person account of it.

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Chewbacchus 2019 https://acoupleoftourists.com/chewbacchus-2019 https://acoupleoftourists.com/chewbacchus-2019#respond Mon, 25 Feb 2019 16:11:26 +0000 http://acoupleoftourists.com/?p=4321 6 six years ago, Tie and I went on our first trip together (albeit not as a couple) to New Orleans. As our first wedding anniversary is approaching, we went back to where it all (almost) started. Didn’t quite make it in time for Mardi Gras, but they do have a number of smaller walking parades leading up to Fat Tuesday. We managed to catch one that totally appealed to the nerds within us. If you’re a fan of sci-fi, pop culture references, cosplay, and puns, then the Intergalactic Krewe of Chewbacchus is for you.

We took a street car and walked down Frenchman Street to reach the middle of the parade route. With an hour to spare before the festivities begun, we waited in line to grab some fries and an alligator sausage at Dat Dog. Due to higher-than-usual traffic in the area, they only had a limited menu. Womp womp. Would’ve loved to try the crawfish sausage and their loaded fries, too.

I’m glad we got a bite to eat beforehand, though, because the parade actually started nearly an hour late. The crowd spilled out into the streets as our legs grew more and more tired. Many spectators were dressed up so it made for some good people-watching (lots of Princess Leias). When the parade finally came around, we saw what all the hype was about.

There were individual smaller krewes, each with a theme. Some dressed up as specific characters (Storm Troopers, Princess Leias, etc) or from a particular franchise (Game of Thrones, Harry Potter, etc). Others just fused together different fandoms or were based off puns (Han Solo Cups, anyone?). There was dancing, marching bands, sticker tossing, and homemade floats with LED lights and smoke machines. I was extremely impressed with how much DIY-ing went into all of this and how creative everyone was. A huge thumbs up for prop and costume designs.

Crowds piling up by the sidewalk
Cool headpiece
Jellyfish cosplay
Waldo and Carmen San Diego
There were a lot of Leias…
Lots and lots of them
Interesting take on Storm Troopers

Pimped out instrument
Totally lost it when he rang the bell and everyone started chanting “Shame! Shame! Shame!”
Dany and her dragon
Left shark!
Was this supposed to be Trump? I thought they paraded this around Europe as well

Pink-themed Star Wars krewe

Frozen in Carbonite

Trap queen cooking pies
Yeah, they were still bitter
Very bitter
Han Solo cups!

Cool hamster wheel

Programmed LED float

Do you believe…?

Sailormoon krewe
Harry Potter krewe
The characters you love to hate
Smash Bros characters
Nicholas Cage’s tomb (also located in NOLA)

We caught two hours of the parade before the crowds started to thin. It was still going strong past 10pm, the references were becoming more obscure, and our stomachs were calling for help. So we walked to Acme Oyster House for a late night dinner. There’s nothing quite like garlic and butter chargrilled oysters. Great way to end the night.

Chargrilled oysters…yum
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An Underground World at Carlsbad Caverns https://acoupleoftourists.com/an-underground-world-at-carlsbad-caverns https://acoupleoftourists.com/an-underground-world-at-carlsbad-caverns#respond Sun, 28 Oct 2018 16:11:47 +0000 http://acoupleoftourists.com/?p=4113 The day we drove to Carlsbad Caverns, the temperature dropped significantly to the low 40s. It was cold and windy, but fortunately the drive was scenic as we curved around the bends up the mountain in Lincoln National Forest. I wish we had more time, because this was definitely worth a stop on its own. In some parts, you’ll see lush forests partially covered by clouds. Or you might see rocky mountains or snow-covered grass. Plenty of hiking trails and scenic outlooks, too. Sure beats the barren land we keep driving past during these long car rides.

After a 3-hour drive, we arrived in Whites City around noon. We drove another 7 miles in to get to the entrance of Carlsbad Caverns (no restrooms along the way). Again, another scenic path into the mountains. The Visitor’s Center offered a warm respite. Tickets were $12 per adult. We had the option to either take the hour-long steep hike down to the caverns from the Natural Entrance on the side of the building, or take the elevator down from the inside to the Big Room, which is the main attraction. With the former option, you do get to check out a couple of other rooms along the hike. But it was freezing out, and we were already tired from the drive and waking up early. So shortcut it was!

The Natural Entrance at Carlsbad Caverns that we decided to skip

The elevator descends 750 feet in a minute, which really gives you a sense as to how deep the caves are. About 250 million years ago, there was a reef in the surrounding area. Over time, water seeped into the limestone to form the present day caves. It was very important that we stayed on the trail, as touching any of the delicate formations can stop growth due to the oils in our skin. They did allow tripods, although I didn’t see anyone else with one. It definitely helped with taking these low-light pictures. If it weren’t for the bulbs placed around the caverns by staff, we wouldn’t be able to see our hands in front of our faces. Because water is constantly dripping in to the cave, the ground can get a bit slippery, too.

Seeing the Carlsbad Caverns in person was truly something special. The “Big Room” was aptly named, as you could fit several football fields in there. From the high ceilings with stalactites hanging from the roof of the cave to the still largely unexplored Lower Cave that looked like an endless abyss, it was hard to wrap my head around how all of this was formed by water and time. It almost looked alien-like and slightly grotesque in a beautiful way, if that makes any sense. On average, it takes 1.5 hours to complete the path around the Big Room, but we ended up spending 2.5 hours there, stopping every once in a while to take pictures and absorb our environment. We were all instructed to keep quiet since you can imagine any noise will reverberate across such a huge area, but the stillness only added to the peaceful but eerie atmosphere. Crazy to think how early explorers ventured into the pitch darkness with only a bit of light and some wire ladders, unsure of just how deep any of this went.

Looks like a skull

On warmer nights, you can view bats taking flight in the amphitheater by the Natural Entrance. They no longer roost inside the Big Room, but you can still see their poop, called guano, on the ceilings.

Guano on the ceiling!

After we finished our self-guided tour, we headed to the city of Carlsbad to stay the night and had a hearty barbecue dinner at Danny’s Place. It’s close to a bunch of oil fields, so you’ll see workers around during breakfast and dinner. There weren’t too many food options, but Pecos River Cafe did make a good huevos rancheros for the morning. The next day, we drove another 4 hours back to Albuquerque to head back home (on a 4-hour delayed red eye flight no less).

Ribs with coleslaw and potato salad
Brisket with smothered mash and fried okra

New Mexico might not be a super popular tourist destination outside of the Balloon Fiesta weekend, but we found a number of gorgeous natural wonders and sweet people here. Enjoying a slower pace of life for the week was welcomed, and I long to travel to a place where I can wake up to see a sprawling mountain view before me again.

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White Sands National Monument – A Snow-Like Landscape https://acoupleoftourists.com/white-sands-national-monument-a-snow-like-landscape https://acoupleoftourists.com/white-sands-national-monument-a-snow-like-landscape#respond Fri, 26 Oct 2018 14:00:08 +0000 http://acoupleoftourists.com/?p=4106 On our third day in New Mexico, we drove to the famous White Sands National Monument early in the morning. As the name suggests, the sand dunes compose of beautiful white gypsum sand that make them look like snow-packed hills. It is about a 3-4 hour drive from Albuquerque. Along the way, we made one interesting pit stop and one that was, well, unexpected.

White Sands National Monument is by the town of Alamogordo, southeast of Albuquerque. We first went down Interstate 25, where there were gas stations aplenty. Naively, we continued on east on Highway 380 before panic started to set in. There wasn’t enough fuel in the tank to take us to the next intersection. Over the 70+ mile stretch east-bound, there was not a gas station in sight. Eventually we had to stop in the middle and wave for help at passing cars. Thank goodness it was daytime, and thank goodness for the generosity of strangers. It did not take us long before a pair of kind ladies and their big doggo stopped to give us a lift to the Valero in the town of Carrizozo. Even though they were going in the opposite direction and taking us to get gas would be 40 miles round trip. The least we could do was fill up their tank, and even then they kept thanking us for that as they had only asked for a few dollars of gas in return.

We were already feeling incredibly humbled and grateful for their selflessness. They sympathized with us and said they’d been in similar situations before. We also got to chat a bunch along the way, sharing our differences in lifestyles in the city versus here in the countryside. We told them all about New York City and how there were skyscrapers all over Manhattan without a mountain in sight, different kinds of seafood on the East Coast (and how they sounded like something out of Fear Factor), and what jobs we have in the city compared to the ones in New Mexico (for example, there are lots of oil field workers in Carlsbad while we have a bunch of office jobs). The ladies we spoke to have never heard of sashimi and were stunned to learn about how physically close houses in our neighborhoods are, but it was really not that surprising. New Yorkers are truly spoiled with choice when it comes to global foods and you’d never go for miles and miles without seeing a house like we did in New Mexico. We laughed over our own definitions of what “bad traffic” was based on our hometowns, and we discussed how Tie and I spoke Chinese with our families, while they spoke Navajo. Also how we rarely visit tourist attractions in New York, while they haven’t gone to the Grand Canyon even though it was only an hour away.

When we returned to our car, they taught us how to use the gas canister as the lady who drove used to work in an oil field, too. To be honest, the New Yorker in me was anxious that someone might’ve raided our car while we were away. You can’t leave a bike unattended for long in the city or you’ll come back to missing tires. But there it was in one piece. As we bid farewell to the two ladies, both Tie and I could not help but feel touched by this experience. Not only did we receive help when we were most desperate, but we also learned so much about our own cultural differences, despite living in the same country. I don’t want to bring up politics here, but in our current political climate it is more apparent than ever that communication between dissenting opinions can get real difficult based on the environment you were raised in. I’d say we walked away from this incident learning that sometimes, it just helps to listen and try to understand, regardless of whether or not we share the same ideals or beliefs. Everyone we’ve come across in New Mexico have been super hospitable and friendly; I did lament how New Yorkers can have such short tempers sometimes over the smallest things.

Anyway, we were back on the road and made sure to fill our tank up this time. About half an hour away from White Sands National Monument, we stopped by Pistachioland, owned by the McGinn family. You can tour around the pistachio orchards and vineyards, and they also do wine tastings. I’ll be honest – I mainly wanted to get a picture with the giant pistachio out front. They also have some fantastic ice cream in a massive waffle cone for purchase. The gift shop had all sorts of knickknacks that were pistachio-themed, but the best part was being able to taste a variety of pistachio flavors including green chili, lemon-lime, bacon ranch and more. Of course we had to bring some home.

Finally, it was time to arrive at White Sands National Monument. Due to our little detour, we got there around 3:30PM. Admission is $5 a person. We didn’t get to explore the Visitor’s Center and promptly started on the self-guided driving tour. There are several stops along the way with picnic areas and hiking trails, but I daresay they all seemed somewhat similar – just lots and lots of white sand dunes with desert plants. We went all the way down to the Amphitheater area where there were fewer people to take some pictures there. We walked about a mile out to get to areas without any footprints, where all you see are the natural waves on the sand created by wind. It wasn’t too hot that day, but sunblock and shades are still recommended as the white sand is highly reflective. Many families go there with plastic sleds and slide down the dunes. You can purchase the sleds at the gift shop, and I hear they even buy them back afterwards. We found one laying on the ground and tried it out. It was actually kind of scary, but Tie wanted to do it with a snowboard some time. Trust me, you’ll find sand all over your body when you get home. The white sand was actually not hot to the touch so you can walk around barefoot, and it was packed densely enough that your feet won’t sink in.

Is this even real?
Save me…

As the sun set behind the San Andres mountains in the west, we drove along the loop to the “Heart of the Sands” area to see it. The sky turned a gorgeous pink-purple hue as the temperature started to drop. There were a couple of impromptu photoshoots going on – evidently, girls love dressing up in bright-colored flowy dresses to get their pictures taken here 🙂 I only wish I had worn one, too. Oh well! White Sands National Monument was truly unlike any other place on earth. Standing there, we saw nothing but endless gypsum sand dunes and jagged mountains on the horizon. It was actually pretty romantic and lots of fun to run around on. As with many things, pictures alone don’t do it justice. You really have to be there to feel the wide expanse of the place while keeping track how far you’ve gone in the back of your mind – it can be easy to get lost, especially after sunset!

Sunset stroll

Talkin to the moon…

We stayed overnight at the Holiday Inn Express in Alamogordo, which felt very new and clean, with a decent free breakfast. For dinner, get a hot dog with green chili and shredded cheese from the Hi-D-Ho Drive In nearby. I devoured it so quickly, I forgot to take a picture. Great tater tots and sandwiches, too. We got a good night’s rest to prepare for another long drive to Carlsbad the next day.

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Flying High at the Albuquerque Balloon Fiesta 2018 https://acoupleoftourists.com/flying-high-at-the-albuquerque-balloon-fiesta-2018 https://acoupleoftourists.com/flying-high-at-the-albuquerque-balloon-fiesta-2018#respond Wed, 24 Oct 2018 17:39:14 +0000 http://acoupleoftourists.com/?p=4178 I first found out about the Albuquerque Balloon Fiesta after watching a timelapse video covering the event on Vimeo. Since then, it has remained on our bucket list for several years. Tie and I have been to another hot air balloon festival in New Jersey, but it was nowhere near as big and organized as this was. People came from all over the world, which explained why hotels, flights, and rental cars experienced surge pricing that weekend. Luckily, we had booked our stuff seven months in advance and were able to use points on Jet Blue and Holiday Inn. On the day we went, there must be have been at least 100,000 attendees total for the day and night sessions. We bought tickets to both (it was only $10 a session).

That morning, we woke up around 3:30AM and headed out around 4:30AM. Traffic was already backed up by then (parking opened at 4:30AM), but we had no issues finding a spot. It costs $15 to park, and it doesn’t include in-and-out privileges. From getting through traffic to getting our bags checked and tickets scanned at the door, it was all quite organized and went as quickly and smoothly as a busy festival could. There were even shuttles leading from the parking lot to the entrance and school buses that make several stops within Albuquerque to take guests to the park. We were on the field by 5:30AM, as crew members started setting up balloons all around us. Since this was all before sunrise, it was pretty chilly so I’m glad we bundled up a bit with extra layers. I actually brought my tripod but it turns out that wasn’t necessary. The sky got bright real quick and it was easier to walk around the massive field rather than lugging a tripod along. We also brought along a blanket, but there were many picnic tables out there so finding a place to sit wasn’t an issue.

The mass ascension in the morning session was the main event, where 500+ balloons float up into to the sky (not all at once, though, because that would be total chaos). We got lucky with the weather – not too windy, lots of clouds but no rain, with that crisp October air. The next day it rained, so this would’ve been the last one to witness the liftoff. We had never been able to get so close to the balloons. You can literally reach out and touch them. I loved the sound of the fire breathing in to inflate the balloons. It was our only source of light, and felt kind of like a car revving up before a race. Everyone was excited and cheered when the first few balloons flew up. There were many that included company logos, but we were chasing after the abnormally shaped ones – mostly in the form of animals. Our bewilderment at seeing these massive colorful balloons take to the skies brought back a childlike sense of wonder. Soon they drifted further and further out until they were just a dot.

Lighting up the first balloons
So many balloons!

The mass ascension ended around 9AM. We then scoured the festival grounds for some food. The prices weren’t exorbitant and the lines weren’t long, but we decided to get something we actually wanted to eat outside, additional parking fee be damned. The night session started around 4PM so we had too much time to kill anyway. We left the fiesta for the time being to get lunch at Slapfish. Some people might be doubtful about eating seafood when New Mexico is a landlocked state, but let’s be real. Anyone can get fresh seafood sent to them these days. And Slapfish was frickin’ delicious. A casual restaurant where you seat yourself anywhere and order at the counter beforehand. I wish I could’ve taken it back home with me. Ugh. Just look at this spread. Unique chowder-soaked fries. Hawaiian bowl with garlic shrimp, grilled pineapples, and an amazing bed of garlic-smothered rice. Perfectly battered fish tacos. Melt-in-your-mouth crab and lobster (“clobster”) grilled cheese sandwich. My mouth is watering again. Not to mention, the manager (or owner?) there was super friendly.

Our stomachs filled, it was time to visit The Candy Lady. Tie and I are both fans of Breaking Bad, for which Albuquerque is also known to be the setting of. Seriously, we passed by so many lawyer billboard advertisements with the headline “Better Call (Insert Name Here).” Anyway, The Candy Lady is the shop that provided all the prop meth used on the show, so of course we had to check it out and get ourselves a little baggy to taste. The store actually got the rights to sell Breaking Bad merchandise, so I’m sure they were making a killing for some time. They also have a bunch of other sweets (including some shaped like genitalia) for sale. In the backroom, there is a tray of the aforementioned blue crystal meth, which is just rock candy. I managed to snap a picture of the “operation” before the hired Walter White impersonator came in and blocked the door. You can get a picture with him, and he really did look a ton like Bryan Cranston, but the creepy Heisenberg vibe we got was too much. I was convinced he wanted to blow us up Gus Fring-style.

The Candy Lady is actually located in the Old Town part of Albuquerque, which reminded us a lot of Sedona, Arizona. It was a quaint ol’ Western-style town with Mexican influences. Performers singing in Spanish and playing guitar outside, Dia de los Muertos stuff hanging everywhere (to be fair, it was October), and Native American art for sale in the tiny shops. It was all very touristy but also kind of charming.

Since we woke up early that morning, we decided to head back to the hotel and take a quick nap before attending the night session. So glad we did that and regained some energy. The traffic wasn’t as bad for the night session, and we paid the $15 parking fee again. This time we walked around the festival some more. There were stalls selling food and souvenirs, and a discovery and artisans center on the right-side of the field that we didn’t get a chance to check out. We instead went to the left side of the field to grab free swag from Bimbo (mostly just pastries) and Canon (pins and a stuffed fox toy). I should’ve signed up for the free lens cleaning at the Canon tent during the morning session. It was already completely booked. You can also rent zoom lenses for free, which was pretty cool. Too bad they didn’t have the EOS-R. I wanted to see just how big it was!

Okay, enough nerd talk. Outside, we saw a Native American rain dance, but it was quickly overshadowed by professional skydivers up above. They spiraled downwards, emitting some colored smoke and carrying a ginormous American flag. Imagine being a professional skydiver. I wonder how many gigs they get a year?

Rain dance
Whee! Colored smoke fills the air

As night fell, balloons that had been deflated earlier during the day re-inflated, but this time they stayed on the ground. Every couple of minutes, there would be a countdown and then they’d all light up at the same time. Pretty rad.

Light ‘er up

It might’ve taken a while to inflate the balloons, but they were down again to make room for the fireworks show. The professional skydivers reappeared for the opening act, shooting fireworks in the air as they descended. Seemed pretty dangerous, but hey, they were pros. The fireworks actually started on the right side of the field, followed by a second half of the show on another side of the field. It was one of the more spectacular ones we’ve seen, with a good range of huge, colorful, and varied fireworks unobstructed (except partially by the giant Canon hot air balloon that was still up). The weather was perfect, everyone’s energy was still up, and it was a fantastic conclusion to the fiesta. We go to our fair share of festivals, and this was definitely up there amongst the best. A huge thanks to the event organizers and civilized attendees for not shoving people around even when it was packed.

Bonus! After the festival, we went to get some soul food at Nexus Brewery. It might be a bar atmosphere, but the gumbo they served was the best I’ve ever tasted. They did not skimp on the okra, sausage, shrimp and beans (and it’s more of a dry-ish gumbo). Plus their take on the Nashville hot chicken was no joke in terms of heat – just look at how dark it was! If this was around where we lived, I’d probably go there regularly for the gumbo and to down a beer while catching a football game.

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Getting Trippy at Meow Wolf https://acoupleoftourists.com/getting-trippy-at-meow-wolf https://acoupleoftourists.com/getting-trippy-at-meow-wolf#respond Tue, 23 Oct 2018 03:16:40 +0000 http://acoupleoftourists.com/?p=4117 On our first day in New Mexico, we drove about an hour east to Sante Fe from Albuquerque to check out Meow Wolf. All right, I’ll admit that I first heard about it because George R.R. Martin bought the bowling lane that now houses the exhibition. It’s a bit difficult to describe exactly what Meow Wolf is, but it’s kind of like a mix between a fun house and an interactive art installation. The theme centers around what they call “The House of Eternal Return.” From the outside, it looks like an ordinary house, but each room feels like it’s own unique art piece. Indeed, it’s a giant collaboration of many mixed-media artists. The whole place made us feel like we were tripping on acid; bright, neon colors and bizarre paintings, props, and sculptures that don’t seem to make any sense at all but were entertaining in its oddity nonetheless.

Before we get to Meow Wolf, if you’re in Sante Fe and hungry for some good Mexican food that we don’t have enough of in the northeast, Casa Chimayo is the place to go. The posole, a hearty Mexican stew, is some quality food for the soul. And I’d order any of their plates Christmas style so you get to try a mix of the green and red chili. Really, when we were in New Mexico, I tried to have green chili on everything. It’s got just the right amount of kick to it that isn’t overpowering and for some reason goes great with anything cheesy. Maybe they balance each other out.

Anywhos, we bought tickets to Meow Wolf in advance and waited in line for about ten minutes on a Friday afternoon to pick them up. Outside, a few ginormous sculptures gave hints to the even stranger things we were about to find inside. We also bought some 3D glasses for a dollar each, but most of the exhibitions do not really make use of it. There isn’t a map and we could’ve started the self-guided tour from anywhere. If you buy the corresponding AR (augmented reality) app from the App Store, there’s a mystery you can solve involving certain “anomalies.” But we didn’t bother. Too much reading involved.

As mentioned, each of the rooms led us back to the House of Eternal Return (hence the name). But they were reachable via some unexpected places – inside a fireplace (a la Harry Potter?), a fridge, a washing machine, etc. If this all sounds confusing, that’s because it is. I don’t necessarily feel Meow Wolf is a place to be understood, though. Children and adults were having fun regardless as much of the installations were interactive. You can crawl in and around rooms, play with a xylophone made of bones, scan your hand to open up a door like you’re aboard a spaceship, and play a laser-powered harp. There was even a free arcade with classic games like Mortal Kombat, Street Fighter, Crazy Taxi, and Simpsons. Obviously Tie could not resist playing Street Fighter, for which he was known back in Chinatown, before getting frustrated and blaming his losses on the controls.



So many neon lights
Quoth the Raven, “What are ya lookin’ at?!”
Waiting for fairies to pop up any second now
Like a mystical fantasy land
The giant tree house
This room was filled with toilet flushing noises, but looked like a cool sci-fi set.
I’ve always wondered what it’s like to live in an RV
Washing machine? Or slide that I was too big to fit through?
This was one of the coolest things ever. It’s a harp made out of lasers, and it plays when you graze your fingers through the “strings.”
Tie in his element

By the way, one of my favorite rooms in Meow Wolf was stepping into this “Ice Box,” which feels a bit like a Yayoi Kusama infinity room without the long queues. And you can change up the colors of the lights.

On some nights, Meow Wolf hosts live music by underground/independent bands and DJs. The place definitely had the right kind of vibe – I wish we could’ve stuck around for a rave. Also, I can’t imagine having a wedding there but if you have a pretty chill guest list, it sounds like that would be sick. Actually, hosting a Halloween party there would be even cooler. Hopefully no one gets too drunk and gets stuck in any of the narrow, windy staircases leading up to the treehouse in the center.

Band playing music as our ears rang

It took us about 3.5 hours to complete touring the whole place, making sure we didn’t miss any secret rooms. I’m sure one can easily spend an entire day there just checking out all the little details like the titles of the books in a little kid’s room or falling asleep in one of the rooms that played soft, atmospheric music. There’s really nothing quite like it. Well, except for the other Meow Wolfs they later opened up in Las Vegas and Denver.

If you have some extra time to kill in Sante Fe, you can also check out the Miraculous Staircase in Loretto Chapel, but it’s in the historical district usually crowded with cars and tourists. Plus they now charge a $4 admission fee just to view a cool spiral staircase (created by a master carpenter using no supports!). Too bad we were too cheap and in a hurry to stop by.

So glad we finally got to visit Meow Wolf, though! It had been on our bucket list for a couple of years now.

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Our Week in Kauai https://acoupleoftourists.com/our-week-in-kauai https://acoupleoftourists.com/our-week-in-kauai#respond Wed, 03 Oct 2018 22:52:50 +0000 http://acoupleoftourists.com/?p=3949 Having been to Maui and Oahu back in 2014, we knew that one day we’d return to Hawaii to visit the other islands. Well, 2018 might not have been the best year to go given the volcanic eruption on Big Island and then Hurricane Lane shortly after. Somehow we lucked out and flew out the week after the hurricane. Nonetheless, it’s true what they say: it’s always raining somewhere in Kauai. Mount Waialeale is amongst one of the wettest places on earth, averaging about 450 inches of rain a year! We always had an umbrella in the trunk and tried not to let a little downpour put a damper on our plans.

Compared to the other islands we’ve visited, Kauai is one of the more laidback and sparsely populated. It definitely did not look super developed like Honolulu, which is part of its charm. Most places closed around 9-10pm and on Sundays. There weren’t too many sit-down restaurants, so most of the time we’d order food to go and then eat in our car or back at the resort. We stayed at the Grand Hyatt Kauai, which I’ll write more about in a later post. Most of the time we were out and about with our friends Ray and Vanessa. As I had mentioned before, traveling with a group definitely allows you to try out a greater variety of food without feeling like you’re over-ordering! Plus, it was fun being each other’s “Instagram husbands.” Also a huge thanks for hooking us up with dinner when we arrived from the airport late at night.

Day One

As Hurricane Lane was coming to an end when we first got there, the initial few days were still raining nonstop. Not wanting to be stuck in the resort and develop cabin fever, however, we ventured out anyway. The last time we were in Hawaii we played a driving tour by GyPSy, which was informative and helpful as it recommended some places we might’ve never known about without it. This time we did the same thing – well worth paying the $7. Our first stop was Wailua Falls, perhaps Kauai’s most famous waterfall (and they have a ton). Usually you can see two narrow streams of water plunging down, but due to the amount of rain we’ve gotten recently, this time it was gushing and brown. Quite an abnormal sight to behold. Wish they had cut the shrubbery a bit for a better view. There’s only about 7 parking spots there, but because of the weather we had no trouble finding a space. There are some people who hike down to get a different view, but I hear it’s muddy and slippery, with one of the paths involving scaling down on a rope. Probably best to stand behind the railing and view from up top.

Wailua Falls

Finally, it was time to have lunch! Mark’s Place came highly recommended by Ray and Vanessa, as they’ve been to Kauai before. It’s in an unassuming blue building in Lihue, and serves mostly mixed plate lunches for around $11-$13. Tie went inside to order the food while I had a phone interview in the car. Service is really spotty on this island, so it’s best to stay in one spot if you have to take a call and load up the GPS while you still have some WiFi. Anyway, back to the food! We’ve had loco moco before, but this one in particular was freakin’ delicious. It’s basically a bed of rice doused in gravy with a hamburger steak and overeasy egg on top. Everything was seasoned so perfectly, and the hamburger steak was flavorful, which is not always the case with this dish as oftentimes it can end up dry and bland. I give it a 10/10 stars. The spam musubi was great, too, but the mixed plates are definitely where they excel.

Loco moco from Mark’s Place
Spam musubi from Mark’s Place

And because we simply cannot get enough Hawaiian food, why not go for a snack right after lunch? In recent years, poke bowls have become very popular back on the mainland. But if you live in New York like we do, you might find that they are overpriced and overrated. In Kauai, there were so many options for poke. One of our favorites is Konohiki Seafoods, also located in Lihue inside a shopping complex with ample parking. Their wide selection of seafood is around $16 a pound, so we ordered a quarter pound each to try some different poke. No rice, no toppings. Just good ol’ fish. Go for the spicy ahi poke.

Spicy ahi poke from Konohiki Seafoods
Salmon poke from Konohiki Seafoods

Taking advantage of the rainy weather, we also stopped by the Opaeka’a Falls and Wailua River. There’s parking spots a few feet away. The waterfall was not particularly spectacular and somewhat far away from the lookout point, but still cool to see nonetheless. On the other side of the street you’ll get a good view of the Wailua River, where people go on kayaking tours (probably when the weather is better).

Opaeka’a Falls
Wailua River

We tried venturing up north, but the roads were closed due to flooding so we had to turn around. On our way back to the resort, we stopped by the Spouting Horn blowhole in the Koloa area. I loved hearing the ocean rumble underneath before shooting out a blast of water. Only requires a few minutes of your time. Right after I took this picture, it started to pour again.

Spouting Horn

Luckily, our resort is close to the Kukui’ula Village Shopping Center, which has a handful of restaurants and shops like Malie (looove their fragrant lotions) and Tommy Bahamas. We decided to get dinner at Kiawe Roots, which serves Hawaiian and Texan barbecue fusion. Normally I’m not a huge fan of ribs, but this is fall-off-the-bone sweet and tender juicy goodness. Everything we ordered here was fantastic, even though it’s located in a tourist area.

Brisket at Kiawe Roots
Ribs at Kiawe Roots
Kimchi Fried Rice at Kiawe Roots

Day Two

We attempted to head up north again, this time stopping by the town of Kapaa. It has a number of boutique shops and food trucks. If you’re hungry for poke, Pono Market is a good place to grab a bite. We also enjoyed some delicious shaved ice, made with real fruit. Unlike the snowcone carts we see during the summer back at home, the shaved ice here are actually soft and not flavored with syrup. It was so good, even the chickens were slurping it up. Fun fact about Kauai: you’ll see a ton of free range chickens roaming about in parking lots, streets, parks, etc. Apparently there was a hurricane back in the day that freed a bunch of them from their cages and since then they’ve been multiplying like crazy. It’s rumored that there are 44 chickens to every person in Kauai. They’re closer to the fighter chickens in Asia, so the meat is actually better for soups than for eating straight up. We always had to be careful not to run them over while parking.

Wailua Shave Ice
Wailua Shave Ice
Chicken getting some shave ice scraps

Okay, let’s go get more food. The Sleeping Giant Trail is nearby, but with the unpredictable rain, we weren’t ready for a muddy hike. Instead, we went to get some Ono fish tacos, grilled and mochi-style (fried with mochi). Both were great and flaky, but grilled seemed to be the winner here.

Ono fish tacos from Sleeping Giant Grill

We relaxed in the resort for a bit before picking up dinner at Mark’s Place (again). This time we tried the special, which included Katsu, teriyaki beef, and beef stew. The beef stew was great, but I would recommend getting just the beef stew next time (not the special plate) so you get more sauce. Then we finished off with some manjus for dessert. Ube (purple yam) on anything is good. That concludes a day filled mostly with food.

Beef stew mixed plate
Ube (purple yam) manju
Coconut manju

Day Three

By Wednesday, the skies finally started clearing a bit so we were west-bound to see Waimea Canyon. It’s touted by many as the “Grand Canyon of the Pacific” and it was obvious why those comparisons were made. I found that although Waimea Canyon did not have the same expansive feeling one gets when standing at the edge of the Grand Canyon, it was much more lush, which also made for beautiful pictures. Generally the clouds start rolling in after 8:30AM so we wanted to get there before then. There are several lookout points including the Pu’u O Kila Lookout (the highest one), Kalalau Lookout, Waimea Canyon Lookout, and Pu’u Hinahina Lookout. They belong in either Koke’e State Park or Waimea State Park. It’s a windy and narrow road up the mountain, so it’s important to slow down as there are no mirrors letting you know if there’s a car around the bend. Just keep driving along – the signs are hard to miss for each lookout. From the highest point you’ll see the Kalalau Valley below. If you want to do the Kalalau Hike, it’s an expedition that takes a few days but offers spectacular views of the Napoli Coast. Maybe we’ll attempt it next time with the right gear. Also, please don’t be a fool like us and forget to wear sunblock. We thought we’d be in and out of the car between lookouts but still got burnt. I’m peeling as I’m writing this.

You can see the Kalalau Valley below
Waimea Canyon
Waimea Canyon
Canyons with friends!
Waimea Canyon
Waimea Canyon
We even found some lumpia for sale at one of the lookouts 🙂

After a whirlwind morning of enjoying the views, we were ready to fill our stomachs. Kalua pork is a staple food in Hawaii, and Porky’s is a food truck that sells some of the most scrumptious pork and sausage buns with sweet and spicy sauce. We ordered all three items on the menu, which included pork with sausage on a bun, grilled cheese with pork, and pork with hot dog on a bun. All three were tasty, but the first one really hit the spot.


Vanessa and I made a quick pit stop to the Glass Beach. The road in there is quite bumpy, narrow, and filled with holes, so I wouldn’t recommend driving a rental car in there unless you have a jeep. There’s supposed to be a bunch of tiny, colorful glass fragments in the sand, but it wasn’t too impressive. You have to look pretty hard and there wasn’t really anything else there. I’d say it’s skippable.

Glass Beach
Glass Beach

Though it’s said that Kona has the best coffee in Hawaii, I think it was still worth our time visiting the Kauai Coffee Company. There is a free mini self-guided plantation tour. Gotta admit, I had no idea that coffee grew on branches and looked like olives. Inside, there is also a gift shop and free coffee tasting. Some of the flavors were interesting, such as anything involving fruits, macadamia nuts, or chocolate. At that point it doesn’t taste much like coffee anymore though.

Kauai Coffee Company
Finally found out how coffee is grown
Coffee bean harvester
Sampling coffee

With no more torrential downpours, we were finally able to visit the north. Kilauea Lighthouse and Wildlife refuge is located at the northernmost point. The attraction closes early at 4pm and sometimes offers tours inside the actual lighthouse. We didn’t see a lot of wildlife in there, but the smell was definitely present. You can see a bunch of birds perched on the nearby small, uninhabited islands. Aside from looking out into the ocean, there’s not much else to see.

Kilauea Lighthouse and Wildlife refuge
Kilauea Lighthouse and Wildlife refuge
Kilauea Lighthouse and Wildlife refuge
Kilauea Lighthouse and Wildlife refuge

Also up in the north is Hanalei Bay. The views are definitely more spectacular with a drone so you can see the actual crescent shape of the bay, but it is a nice beach to chill in with a bunch of small shops and eateries nearby. The parking lot wasn’t very rental car-friendly, though. Again with the bumps and holes. I have to say, Tie and I are not really beach goers even though we enjoy being near the water. Nor can we swim, yet we keep returning to tropical islands. Sorry we can’t really give surfing tips!

Hanalei Bay

For dinner, we headed to Smiley’s Local Grinds, a small restaurant in Lihue. The beef stew was delicious, as well as the kalbi. I still preferred the loco moco in Mark’s Place. The one here was a little too bland for my liking. Oxtail soup had good flavor. Not our best meal in Kauai, but I’d order that beef stew to go in a heartbeat.

Beef stew
Loco moco with kalbi
Loco moco with chicken
Oxtail soup

Day Four

Okay, now for the highlight of our trip. I had watched some travel video previously about helicopter tours in Kauai. Admittedly, that was what first drew me into visiting the island. Indeed, there are many mountainous regions that are simply inaccessible by car, which is why you have to drive around in a giant incomplete circle to get from end to end on the island. Luckily, you can still fly over it to check out all the areas you missed on land. The tours aren’t cheap, running at around $350 per person for a private one-hour flight. But we’ve never had an experience like this before and it really is the best way to see Kauai. So to hell with it, we booked the tour. We went with the Mauna Loa Helicopters company and our pilot Blake was a real friendly British chap. They have doors on and doors off options – we went with the latter to get the best views and best pictures. We were securely strapped into our seats and I had my camera around my neck, so it never felt frightening even though I’m usually afraid of heights. It’s extremely windy up there with the propellers spinning, so we kept our gear and limbs inside at all times.

The tour was absolutely stunning. I never dreamed that we would one day be flying over canyons and out over the ocean, looking back at the gorgeous Napoli Coast. We lost count of how many waterfalls there were all over the island. The pilot pointed out where they filmed Jurassic Park and Pirates of the Caribbean. That soft morning light hitting the mountains is a sight I would never forget. I had thought it might be something like looking out the window on a plane, but it was on a whole other level. Imagine being so close to the mountains that you can see the goats on them. I felt like I was in the second 50 Shades of Grey movie, but without the crash.

Tie looking like a pilot here. Just missing some aviators.
Kauai helicopter tour
Beautiful morning light
Flying over the canyon
Napoli from up top
Mountains mountains mountains
The coastline is surreal
Take us back
So lush
Flat top trees
Had a lot of fun!

For lunch, I had been anticipating trying out saimin ever since the driving tour guide recommended it. It’s a soup noodle dish that’s a fusion of Filipino, Japanese, and Chinese origins. Supposedly Hamura Saimin is the best place to get it. Sadly, I was uber disappointed even though we were super hungry. The egg tasted like dirty socks (or something like that), the wontons were bland, the noodles were over-cooked. The whole thing was just kind of sad. Maybe it’s an acquired taste? But I didn’t see the appeal of it at all. It was kind of devoid of flavor and even the skewers weren’t that good and tough. I wasn’t able to finish my meal because it was so unappetizing. If you’re curious, go try it anyway, but I’m still trying to erase the memory of the taste from my mouth.

Chicken and beef skewers

With some time to kill, we drove to Hanapepe Town. There’s a handful of shops and dining spots that reminded me a bit of the old wild west. We’ve heard good things about Bobbie’s Restaurant for comfort food but sadly already filled our stomachs with that disappointing saimin. This tiny town is also known for its Eleele Swinging Bridge, with a small photo gallery on the other end.

Eleele swinging bridge
Eleele swinging bridge
Clowning around

Finally, it was time for our 4-hour catamaran sunset tour of the Napali Coast. We went with Holo Holo Charters at $130 a person. There were light snacks (crackers, dip) onboard and a DIY taco dinner with meat, beans, salsa, all that good stuff. The crew was very friendly and attentive, making sure I was getting my fill of Mai Tais. I wouldn’t recommend drinking too much, though. As we went out to the ocean, it got really rocky and windy; people were falling all over the place. Thank goodness for seabands! There were about 40 passengers, so sometimes it was difficult getting pictures without anyone in it. There was a guy who dropped his phone into the water and a crew member actually jumped in to retrieve it. The coast was gorgeous up close, with water splashing everywhere and forming tiny rainbows by the side of the boat. We even rode up to a cave and heard a bunch of bats inside. The colorful mountainous formations really looked like giant feet sticking out onto the ocean. As the sun set quietly while the captain played Sweet Caroline, it felt very romantic, even with so many other people onboard.

Admittedly, Tie and I rarely spend much time inside the resorts when we travel and are usually out and about exploring. But since Kauai is such a small island, we checked many things off our list rather quickly and were able to take it easy the last two days. Between lazing around in the pool with our friends, we also drove nearby to fill our bellies. The next day, we stopped by Dim n Den Sum, located in a small food truck lot with outdoor seating on the grass. Excellent fried spam musubi and coconut fried shrimp (I’m a sucker for crunchy things). On a particularly rainy day, the owner even delivered food to our hotel because the truck wasn’t open. 5 stars for service alone! I also recommend the garlic noodles from the adjacent food truck.

For dinner, we went back to Mark’s Place (can you tell we’re obsessed?) and ordered their amazing loco moco for the very last time. Then we brought our dinner to Koloa Landing, where we watched the sunset inside Ray and Vanessa’s Ford Mustang with the top down. And right afterwards, it started pouring. Kauai, the island where it’s all about timing.

Sunset by Koloa Landing
Sunset by Koloa Landing
Sunset by Koloa Landing

The next morning, we woke up earlier to catch the sunrise. Outside of the Grand Hyatt Kauai is a short hiking trail called the Maha’ulepu Heritage Trail. We walked along the beach and up the cliff where several other early birds await. Guess we never quite got over our jet lag. It was a spectacular view – the clouds looming above and the waves crashing below as the sun arose and cast a warm orange hue over the sky. We even saw a couple getting their wedding pictures taken on another cliff. Definitely worth the climb!

A Kauai sunrise
A Kauai sunrise

The best part about waking up early is getting in before the brunch rush starts! We chose to eat at Anuenue Cafe, located inside the Poipu Shopping Center. While everything was fantastic, I must say the Triple Crown (banana macadamia nut pancakes with Portuguese sausage) was especially impressive. Not overly sweet and with a crunchy texture atop from the crushed nuts. I’m normally not much of a pancake or sweets person, but damn it was good. Same with the Kalua pork fried rice, which was sweet and spicy with pineapples and jalapeños. The line does fill up quickly. I only wish we had also ordered Anuenue, which has tomato jam, hollandaise, eggs, and crushed bacon.

On Saturdays, the Kauai Community College hosts a farmer’s market open to the public. Parking gets filled up fast, so we got there around 9:30AM when it opened. There were beautiful tropical floral bouquets filled with plants I’d never seen before. Wish we could’ve brought it home…would have been a real showstopper. There were also lots of local produce we don’t have back at home, such as Apple Bananas that actually tasted like apples. The fruits and vegetables all looked ginormous and healthy, probably thanks in part to Kauai’s incessant rain. Most notable were the sugarloaf pineapples. When we visited Maui in the past, we brought back some golden pineapples, but these white sugarloaf ones in Kauai were way sweeter. No acidity so no itchy tongues! They were also much more expensive at $16 for a medium-sized fruit, but…it was worth it. They were perfectly ripe and delicious – they even had sugarloaf soft serve! Technically you can still buy them online…for $60 apiece. We brought two home with us, making sure to run the leaves through water so any bugs that got trapped in there got washed off, lest you want to see the head lobbed off by Agricultural Inspection.

Following another relaxing afternoon of wading and getting burnt in the hotel’s swimming pool, we went back out to get dinner at Da Crack, which is close to the Poipu Shopping Center. It’s a Mexican hole-in-the-wall where you just place your order and eat outside on the benches. This. Place. Puts. Chipotle. To. Shame. I mean, not that Chipotle is a high bar to begin with, but it really chokeslams it and throws it to the ground. I am truly heartbroken that I cannot taste that perfect garlic shrimp burrito bowl with the works back in New York. I scarfed that thing down so fast. Please, if you happen to be in the area, have a bowl for me.

Fish tacos at Da Crack
Garlic shrimp burrito bowl at Da Crack

All right, that just about wraps up our week in Kauai. As expected, it had been filled with some amazingly scrumptious island food and picturesque views everywhere. I can see why Ray and Vanessa went back twice. You find yourself falling in love with the place all over again whether you view it by air, land, or sea. I’m not a huge fan of rain, but I guess it comes with the territory. Next time we’ll consider visiting Big Island and perhaps returning to hike the Kalalau Trail (hopefully not in the wake of any major storm).

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What We Ate in Thailand https://acoupleoftourists.com/what-we-ate-in-thailand https://acoupleoftourists.com/what-we-ate-in-thailand#respond Sat, 09 Jun 2018 16:22:43 +0000 http://acoupleoftourists.com/?p=3869 Get ready for some serious foodporn because we pigged out all across Bangkok, Chiang Mai, and Chiang Rai. I love Thai cuisine and had been fantasizing about it weeks before our flight. Even after the trip, I cannot wait to go back and indulge some more. While writing this post, I could feel myself drooling and entering some next-level bliss, living vicariously through pictures we took ourselves. So here is a summary of our food recommendations (cooking class will be a separate post). Let the salivating begin!

Hainanese Chicken

Southeast Asia has the best Hainanese chicken, no doubt. We stayed at the Grand Hyatt Erawan in Bangkok and on our first night, roamed outside to look for some dinner across the street from The Palladium World Shopping Centre. There was a short line outside Kai Ton Pratunam (Go Arng) and it looked like a popular restaurant for both locals and tourists. The service is fast and the ambience low-key with steel tables, many of which were communal. One step above eating directly from the sidewalk. A plate of Hainanese chicken with chicken stock rice was only 40baht (~$1.25). Though the chunks of meat were relatively small, it’s hard to beat that price. I also recommend getting the herbal chicken soup, which was very rich in flavor (didn’t skimp out on the herbs).

Name: Kai Ton Pratunam (Go Arng)
 960-962 Phetchaburi Rd, Khwaeng Makkasan, Khet Ratchathewi, Krung Thep Maha Nakhon 10400, Thailand

Operating Hours: Open every day 6AM–2PM, 5PM–2AM

Hainanese chicken rice
Hainanese chicken rice
Herbal chicken soup
Herbal chicken soup


Perhaps the most popular dessert in Thailand is mango sticky rice, which is exactly what it sounds and looks like. It comes with a little bag of coconut milk that you pour on top of the rice and is paired with crunchy fried mungbeans (the little yellow dots on top of the rice). It’s only 30-50 baht (~$1-$1.50) and can be found everywhere, usually sold by street vendors.

Mango sticky rice
Mango sticky rice

Another dessert you can find street vendors selling everywhere is crepe. We loved the banana and nutella one. Kind of like a Belgian waffle, but I much prefer this!

Banana nutella crepe
Banana nutella crepe

All Things Coconut

A staple refreshment in Thailand is coconut juice. We don’t really get to savor tropical fruits like this in New York City, so every time we’re in Southeast Asia, that’s our go-to drink. This can also be found everywhere for about 40 baht, sold either straight from the fruit or bottled up.

Fresh coconut
Fresh coconut

Thailand is known for its many vibrant night markets, but one of the most popular ones you can visit during the day is the Chatuchak Weekend Market. Aside from an insane amount of souvenirs, art, and home goods you can buy, you’ll also find many food options. There are coconut-flavored things everywhere, but my favorite was the ice-cream. Whether it’s soft-serve or in an actual coconut shell (my fav), you gotta try both. We got the coconut shell ice cream, which contained actual coconut shavings, at Khao San Night Market. The rowdy Bangkok night market is full of backpackers and is where you can find many street vendors selling all sorts of edible bugs. Even if you just want to take a picture, many sellers charge a fee.

Ice cream in a coconut shell (sorry for the lo-res iPhone pic)
Khao San Night Market

Khlong Lat Mayom Floating Market

When it comes to floating markets, most tourists flock to the popular Damnoen Saduak or Amphawa Floating Market to hop on a boat and tour the place. But if you want to go somewhere closer to city center (30-40 min away) with lots of delicious food options, Khlong Lat Mayom (ตลาดน้ำคลองลัดมะยม) is the spot. Locals go there on weekends to enjoy lunch with their families and friends. You can also book an affordable boat ride to check out the surrounding guesthomes, but other than that there wasn’t much to see. Just stuff your face.

Name: Khlong Lat Mayom (ตลาดน้ำคลองลัดมะยม)
30/1 หมู่ 15 Bang Ramat Rd, Khwaeng Bang Ramat, Khet Taling Chan, Krung Thep Maha Nakhon 10170, Thailand

Operating Hours: Open Saturdays and Sundays 9AM – 4PM

Grilled shellfish
Grilled shellfish
Grilled pork with jaew sauce
Grilled pork with jaew sauce. Kinda puts regular cha siew to shame.
Vermicelli with large prawns
Vermicelli with large prawns – one of the best things we ate in Bangkok and it was only 150 baht (~$4.50)
Damnoen Saduak Floating Market Damnoen Saduak Floating Market Damnoen Saduak Floating Market Damnoen Saduak Floating Market

Food Courts

That’s right. If you’re looking for variety and cheap bites, shopping centers like Terminal 21, Siem Paragon, and CentralWorld in Bangkok have food courts that can satisfy any craving. Personally I enjoyed the food and options at Paragon Food Hall the most, but Terminal 21 is by far the cheapest. Some prices even rival what you can find on the streets (hello, loss leader!), at 30 baht for a plate of pad thai. Not to mention, it’s pretty comfy having a meal inside an air-conditioned mall on a sweltering day. You’ll want to walk around each food court and see what your options are first because oftentimes, you can’t just pay cash directly to each stall. Make a mental note of how much each item you want would cost, total it up in your head, and then head over to the customer service counter to purchase a food voucher card. Put the amount you’ve calculated into the card and then order it from each stall by giving them your voucher. Don’t worry if you have any remaining balances – you can always get a refund back at the service counter after you’re done.

Name: Terminal 21
88 Soi Sukhumvit 19, Khwaeng Khlong Toei Nuea, Khet Watthana, Krung Thep Maha Nakhon 10110, Thailand

Operating Hours: Open every day 10AM – 10PM

Name: Siem Paragon
สยามพารากอน 991 Rama I Rd, Khwaeng Pathum Wan, Khet Pathum Wan, Krung Thep Maha Nakhon 10330, Thailand

Operating Hours: Open every day 10AM – 10PM

Name: CentralWorld
4/1-2, 4/4 Ratchadamri Rd., Pathum Wan, Bangkok 10330, Thailand

Operating Hours: Open every day 10AM – 10PM

Pad thai
Pad thai
Tom yum noodles
Tom yum noodles
Fried oyster pancake
Cream puff at Beard Papa's
Cream puff at Beard Papa’s in Paragon Food Hall – they have a good selection of food chains

Have a Zeed

Terminal 21 also has a number of great restaurants spread across several floors (note: each level of the mall has a different theme like London, Tokyo, Rome, Carribean, etc. Pretty cute if you’re looking for a photo op). Our personal favorite is Have a Zeed, which serves authentic Thai cuisine at affordable prices, between 130 – 300 baht (~$4 – $9). There will likely be a wait outside, but if you have the time, the food is worth it.

Name: Have a Zeed
2,88 Terminal21 ชั้น 4 ซอยสุขุมวิท 19 ถนนสุขุมวิท แขวงคลองเตยเหนือ Bangkok 10110, Thailand

Operating Hours: Open every day 10AM – 10PM

Nam sod – Warm and spicy minced pork and vermicelli salad
Crab curry – the pre-picked meat is perfect for my lazy ass
Grilled pork

Somboon Seafood

Somboon is a popular chain restaurant known for their crab curry. They have several branches in Bangkok, which you can find here. Apparently due to its popularity, there are also knock-off Somboons, so reference their official web site to make sure you’re going to one of their actual restaurants. We went to the CentralWorld location. It’s a bit pricier than food you can get elsewhere in Bangkok, but the crab curry is definitely worth a try. I should’ve gotten the shell-less version… Anywhos, remember to order a bowl of rice to pour that thick, decadent curry all over. Oh, and their watercress is really, really good (even better than all the Chinese restaurants I’ve been to). I got overambitious and ordered two. The shrimp vermicelli was all right, but not as good as the one in the floating market.

Curry crab
Shrimp and vermicelli bowl
Sauteed watercress – the perfect blend of spicy and savory
Inside Somboon

Outside the Grand Palace

If you’re planning on visiting the Grand Palace, you’ll probably find yourself pretty hungry after walking the massive palace grounds. There are lots of mediocre touristy restaurants right outside, but if you go a little further, you’ll find a charming spot that serves some delicious curry and fresh pad thai. I didn’t notice a sign indicating the name of the restaurant, but they do post a menu outside with their logo on it.

Green curry
Pad thai

Baan Buri Cafe & Restaurant

One afternoon after lots of window shopping in Chiang Mai, we stumbled upon the cutest restaurant that’s part of the Buri Gallery House, a Lanna style hotel, and right beside a gift shop that’s worth a visit for handmade art. We opted for the outdoor seating, where there was a beautiful, intimate garden. The presentation of the food was top notch, too. We ordered the lunch special, which came with salad, spring rolls, and fruity drinks. The pineapple fried rice was cooked with spicy curry. So. Good.

Name: Baan Buri Cafe & Restaurant
102 Rachadamnoen Rd., Sripoom, Muang, 50200 Chiang Mai, Thailand

Operating Hours: 8AM – 10PM every day

Stir fry chicken and cashew
Pineapple fried rice

Khao Soi

When in northern Thailand, one of the staple dishes to try is Khao Soi, which is a mix of boiled and deep-fried egg noodles in a curry soup base. Though the broth looks flaming red, it actually wasn’t spicy. We first went to Khao Soi Islam, a Muslim-owned restaurant in Chiang Mai that also served some kickass goat curry and amazing spring rolls, then to Por Jai Khao Soi, which is known for their khao soi.  If you’re having difficulty looking for the latter, it’s the place that is blue all over (interior and exterior). Both were delicious and great options for a quick and cheap meal.

Name: Khao Soi Islam
24 หมู่ 1 ซ.เจริญประเทศ 1 (ตรงข้ามกับจวนผู้ว่าฯ) Mueang Chiang Mai, Chiang Mai 50100 Thailand

Operating Hours: 8AM – 5PM every day

Khao soi
Goat curry
Plump spring rolls

Name: Por Jai Khao Soi ข้าวซอยพอใจ
1023/3 ถนนเจ็ดยอด เมืองเชียงราย อำเภอเมืองเชียงราย เชียงราย 57000, Thailand

Operating Hours: 7AM – 4PM every day

More khao soi – look how read that soup is!
Grilled pork – yes we really dig this stuff
Inside Por Jai Khao Soi

Around Chiang Mai Night Bazaar

This area is always crowded with tourists and chain restaurants like McDonald’s and Starbucks. But every now and then, you come across something good. Lemongrass Thai Food is one such restaurant, with a very hip vibe and serving up good food, even if it’s still filled with tourists. Sorry in advance for the lo-res iPhone pictures again – didn’t feel like carrying around a heavy DSLR that night.

Name: Lemongrass Thai Food
Loi Khor Rd. (btwn Chang Khan & Loi Khor Soi 6) Mueang Chiang Mai, Chiang Mai 50100 Thailand

Operating Hours: Mon – Sat 10AM – Midnight

Sweet and savory fried fish
Grilled squid and calamari

Also in the center of the main Chiang Mai Night Bazaar is the Pavilion Night Bazaar (when you roam the area a bit, you’ll find that it’s just made of a bunch of different night bazaars). Here you’ll find a handful of vendors selling skewers, stir fries, drinks, and desserts. Luckily, unlike night markets back here in the states, they don’t tend to charge you an arm and a leg to be well-fed. There’s also an indoor area with performers on stage. I suggest sitting further away if you don’t want to lose your hearing.

Name: Pavilion Night Bazaar
ถนน ช้างคลาน ตำบล ช้างคลาน Mueang Chiang Mai District, Chiang Mai 50100, Thailand
Operating Hours: 24 hours (supposedly, but you’re more likely to find something open in the evening)

Pavilion Night Bazaar
Stir fry noodles
Seafood pancake
Lotus and mushroom skewers
Free performance
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Going Home to Guangzhou https://acoupleoftourists.com/going-home-to-guangzhou https://acoupleoftourists.com/going-home-to-guangzhou#respond Thu, 29 Mar 2018 14:00:14 +0000 http://acoupleoftourists.com/?p=3590 I haven’t been back to Guangzhou, my birthplace, in over a decade. When I was younger, my family used to return every five years or so to visit relatives during the summer (bad time to go unless you’re a fan of the heat, by the way). Since they have mostly immigrated to America and sold off their homes in the mainland, there hasn’t been much reason to go back. This was my first trip to Guangzhou without my parents, but the wave of nostalgia I thought I would have was noticeably absent.

China is changing at such a rapid pace that every time I return, it feels like an entirely different place. My mom’s ancestral home has been torn down to erect new apartment buildings. If you’re lucky, the government will displace you to a new home in a well-developed part of the city. Few street vendors can be seen anymore since the major crackdown right before the 2008 Beijing Olympics, in an effort to improve the image of the country. Sadly, that’s one of the things I miss most. Ordering fish ball skewers dipped into hot sauce from metal carts, sipping Mexican coke for 1RMB a bottle before recycling them into a plastic crate, or shopping for stationery with my cousin as vendors lined all sorts of pretty pens, notebooks, and art supplies along the road. All vestiges of a past China.

Our primary purpose this time was visiting my eldest uncle and his family, who remained in China as the rest of his siblings moved to America. We’re getting married in May and since we happened to be in the area, I wanted him to meet Tie. My Lai Yee (youngest aunt) is also in China at the time to avoid the cold of New York winters. Her husband, my Yee Jern, graciously drove us around during the three days we were there. I was really happy to meet him for the first time and see that my Lai Yee has found someone who treats her and her family so well. Tie and I stayed at the Holiday Inn in Shangxiajiu (上下九), which coincidentally turned out to be right across the street from Guangzhou Restaurant (廣州酒家), where my parents got married.

The first order of business, obviously, is to satiate our stomachs. I usually plan our trips pretty well in advance, but I left most of the food spots up to my Lai Yee, who would probably know where the tastiest restaurants are. She and my Yee Jern took us to a dim sum place called 心点港式茶楼. Unlike yum cha in New York, here you won’t see ladies pushing dim sum carts; everything is ordered on a piece of a paper which you hand back to the waiter. We also had to boil our own water for tea (they provide packets of leaves) and wash our own utensils. On the upside, there’s no service fee and you can sit as long as you like. Between the four of us, we had a hearty meal for only around 100RMB (~$16USD).

DIY water boil for tea
DIY water boil for tea
XO sauce rice noodles Radish cakes Scallion pancakes Custard with whipped cream Boiled radish Chicken feet

It’s true that there isn’t much to do in Guangzhou except eat until you drop. Shortly after, we were getting ready for dinner with my Dai Kauh Fu (eldest uncle on mom’s side) and his family, but not before stopping by his apartment. Even at 60+ years of age he rode his bike around making deliveries. I wondered if it was by necessity or if he just wanted something to occupy his days. He noted that there were CCTV cameras everywhere now, some hidden in trees, and the city’s crime rate had dropped significantly. “They can now track a criminal straight to his home,” he said. “There’s no escaping.” Though many here in the western world are very critical of “Big Brother” watching our every move, my uncle stated that the safety and peace of mind it brought was worth it. The last time I was in Guangzhou, we weren’t allowed to wear any jewelry out and had to clutch onto our handbags. There had been numerous cases of groups of thieves brazenly robbing people in broad daylight, knocking them unconscious from behind with a brick to the head. It was a time when many northerners from poor villages emigrated down to the city and resorted to stealing. There were even news that some would climb telephone poles to cut the wires and resell them, even if it meant the risk of electrocuting themselves to death.

Being the bad Chinese person I am, I completely forgot to bring gifts to my uncle’s home and instead opted to treat the family to dinner. My Lai Yee recommended a seafood restaurant, 盛苑酒家, and off we went. At the front of the restaurant were many ginormous tanks of seafood, which we picked out for the meal and discussed how we wanted the dishes to be cooked (steamed, fried, with soy sauce or with lots of garlic, etc). In many Chinese restaurants at home and abroad, what you order is not always what you get. Some sneakier establishments would swap out your live seafood for something that has been dead for a while, so my Lai Yee insisted we go to one with a better reputation. It was a delicious meal and a memory I would cherish forever. My uncle told us to visit more often. How many decades do we all have left?

Choosing the seafood
Choosing the seafood
Clams with vermicelli and garlic
Clams with vermicelli and garlic
Chicken Giant prawns Worms that look like socks flipped inside out. Actually didn't taste bad. Giant Crab Mini lobsters cooked with vermicelli and garlic Freshwater fish
Family photo
Family photo

As I had mentioned, China is developing at an extremely rapid rate. The last time I was in Guangzhou, the Canton Tower had not even started construction yet. Now here it was in all its rainbow glory, with a giant complex of shops, office space, theatres, etc. We didn’t go up to the observation deck, which had different tiers of pricing depending on how far up you go. Tickets cost 150RMB and up ($23+). Just popped by for a quick photo as every other tourist struggled to capture the entire height of the tower and laid on the ground with their phones. It really is meant to be viewed from afar, so we stopped by a park across the river to admire the scenery before calling it a night.

Canton Tower and Sports Stadium at night
Canton Tower and Sports Stadium at night
One of the most expensive areas in the city
One of the most expensive areas in the city

The next morning, we had dim sum at Guangzhou Restaurant across the street from our hotel. The interiors were really beautiful – I love the contrast the red lanterns and indoor greenery provided against the white walls. I wonder if it looked the same way when my parents were married here? The food was on par with the earlier dim sum place, even though my aunt insisted her spot was way better.

Guangzhou Restaurant Guangzhou Restaurant
Chern fun
Chern fun
More chicken feet Lai Fun Spare ribs (pai gwut) XO sauce radish cakes Spring rolls 白糖糕

Again, our meals weren’t timed out very well. Almost immediately after, my uncle drove us to the foot of Baiyun Mountain, where a famous noodle shop (沙河粉村) resides. It is said that Baiyun Mountain had some of the clearest water, which is a key component to making excellent 河粉 (rice noodles), so I was eager to try some. As expected, it was extremely smooth and the broth in the noodle soup was also delicious. Definitely recommend stopping by for a quick lunch if you’re on your way up to Baiyun Mountain. Parking was cheap and they also have dinner service. Tie didn’t really like the pigs’ trotters, though – overall bland. Check out the vendors selling chestnuts outside the restaurant – the smaller variety was delicious and cheap, perfect for a snack.

Rice noodles
Rice noodles 河粉
Rice noodles Pig's trotters 豬手
Inside the restaurant
Inside the restaurant
Front of the restaurant
Front of the restaurant

Stuffed, it was time to digest. We walked over to the nearby Yuntai Garden 云台花园. The rainbow florals definitely appealed to tourists. In China, you’ll often seen hedges trimmed into the shape of Chinese characters. This place was pretty bizarre. There were so many random sculptures scattered throughout the garden and whether or not it’s considered “art” is questionable. Felt almost like they were put there strictly to appeal to selfie-takers and couples taking wedding photos. My aunt noted that Guangzhou doesn’t have too many popular, natural tourist attractions, so the city creates artificial ones like this. We didn’t spend too much time there as the sun was going to set soon and we still wanted to check out Baiyun Mountain.

My uncle and aunt!
My uncle and aunt!
Rando windmill? This fertilizer smelled real bad A look of skepticism Creepy ass rings with faces Isn't Miffy copyrighted? Hm...

Next to Yuntai Garden was the cable car up Baiyun Mountain. It was a short ride that terrified both my aunt and uncle, who are afraid of heights. Sad to say, and perhaps not very surprising, but the views up there were pretty much non-existent due to pollution. My uncle said you can easily count the number of days with a blue sky each year. Yeesh. Now I know why some people say they need to clear their lungs out when they return from a trip to China. There were some food stalls, “amusement” rides and a 5D cinema (similar to Sanya – I’m seeing a pattern here, China). I watched a YouTube video where some visitors were able to slide down a metal tube on a little cart and thought it looked fun, so we wanted to try it. Turns out it’s on the way down the mountain so you actually have to walk down halfway to reach the ride. From there on, the disappointment only escalated. There was no one on the ride except a group of 5-6 teenage employees lounging outside, bored and playing on their phones. It was about 30RMB (~$5) each ride for one lane, quite expensive by Guangzhou standards. They didn’t allow any photos or video recording (er, where that YouTube video come from?) so we couldn’t commemorate our waste of time and money. We had to follow behind one of the teenage employees and it was super slow and as non-exhilarating, total opposite of what the promo photos would have you believe.

You can still see the city for a bit before disappearing into the smog Free foot massage False advertising

With nothing left to do up on the mountain, we walked the rest of the way down. My aunt did it in heels, so props to her for coming along since I know she doesn’t engage in many physical activities, haha. Now that we got a bit of exercise in, it was time for dinner. My uncle drove us to a seafood district (海宝湾水产市场-美食城酒楼) where you can pick out your own fresh seafood from a bunch of shops. It was much cheaper here than in Hong Kong, but my aunt and uncle still had a tendency to over-order. We walked over to a nearby restaurant 荷香居 to get our food cooked. Just take a look at how much we had to eat between just the four of us! I gotta have a much larger family reunion next time.

Looking for customers Take your pick Conch Small crabs Freshwater fish More crabs "Little" lobsters with vermicelli. Definitely got one too many of these. Opened shrimp with (guess what?) more vermicelli and garlic

The next morning, Tie and I went downstairs to Shangxiajiu to get some breakfast. There were lots of vendors selling food traditionally from outside of Guangzhou – mostly Sichuan and Hunan. In fact, it felt like there were now more Mandarin speakers than Cantonese speakers in Guangzhou, the largest city in the Guangdong province! Both my friends and relatives have expressed concern that the government was suppressing Cantonese culture and forcing us to assimilate to Beijing. My aunt even encountered people reprimanding her for speaking Cantonese and commanded that she spoke Mandarin so they could understand. Look, I am not opposed to knowing either dialect, but I definitely feel it’s wrong to attempt wiping out an entire sub-culture of the country. In this way, I can definitely understand Hong Kongers being opposed to the government having too much clout over their way of life – there have been reports that they are also trying to eliminate traditional Chinese writing altogether. Personally I prefer traditional Chinese and besides, Cantonese came before Mandarin. But I digress.

Morning stroll around 上下九
Morning stroll around 上下九

Another reason we visited Guangzhou was because I needed to buy a kay po 旗袍(or qipao in Mandarin) for my wedding tea ceremony. My aunt took us to a long street of bridal shops called 江南婚纱街 to look for one. They have western and Chinese wedding attire, as well as a ton of bridal accessories like shoes, jewelry, veils, etc. The storefronts closest to the street are fancier and pricer with better quality clothing while the ones in the back alleys are cheap in both ways. The “fancier” places, which is like any mid-to-low-range boutique in New York, make you take off your shoes before entering. I quickly picked out a simple kay po, which the seamstress was able to alter within an hour. My aunt managed to haggle the price down to 250RMB (~$40). We shopped around some more (while Tie played on his phone) to look for an evening gown for my mom. With much difficulty, I must say. Honestly I did not like the style of these wedding dresses or formal attire. They all looked too tacky, flowery, and overly shimmery. Perhaps I’m just accustomed to more Western tastes, but if you’re also considering shopping in Guangzhou because it’s cheaper…maybe reconsider?

旗袍...I choose you!
旗袍…I choose you!

Quickly approaching starvation, we went to grab more dim sum with my aunt and talked politics for the next few hours. I know…we’re just a bunch of fun people. As night fell, Tie and I bid goodbye to my aunt and went in search for dinner in Shangxiajiu. Instead of going to a sit-down restaurant, we just snacked on a bunch of street food while doing some last-minute shopping. Dessert shops are everywhere and are great places to shop for souvenirs. Hands down, though, the most worth-it item was grilled chicken stuffed with rice, with chili powder sprinkled on top. It was only 20RMB (~$3) and freakin’ delicious. Tie even had some to go the next morning. Trust me, I tried to replicate this back at home and deboning chicken is just no fun. Next time we are gorging on this. Pro-tip: Go to the guy around Liwan Plaza.


Squid that I was really bad at chewing
Squid that I was really bad at chewing
Mm...savory pastry
Mm…savory pastry
Potato spiral with ketchup
Potato spiral with ketchup
Some bomb ass chicken stuffed with rice
Some bomb ass chicken stuffed with rice

My uncle’s cousin was kind enough to drive us to Baiyun Airport, about a half hour away, the following day. There are always business people coming in and out, as Guangzhou is one of the country’s main commercial centers. Would I recommend visiting for sights and attractions? Maybe not. But do it for the food. Do it for the food.

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Review: The Andaz Maui https://acoupleoftourists.com/review-the-andaz-maui https://acoupleoftourists.com/review-the-andaz-maui#respond Wed, 28 Mar 2018 02:57:04 +0000 http://acoupleoftourists.com/?p=3330 Back in September of 2014, we took a trip to Hawaii and visited Honolulu and Maui. This trip was actually a continuation of a previous trip we took to Europe in November of 2013.  At the time, American Airlines allowed one stopover at a North American gateway city for international AAdvantage awards provided that itinerary be completed within one year of the first flight. Living in an American Airlines gateway city, this policy essentially gave us a free one-way to anywhere in the United States, including Hawaii, within one year of the original flight. So the return flight itinerary was basically Europe -> NYC (stopover for 10 months) -> Hawaii. In April 2014, American Airlines changed their policy and no longer allowed any free stopovers, killing the free one-ways. So luckily, we got to take advantage of it before it was gone. In this post, I will be reviewing the resort we stayed at in Maui, the Andaz Maui At Wailea.

The Andaz is part of the Hyatt brand chain of hotels and this was hotel where we started our loyalty to the Hyatt brand. At the time, Hyatt offered a Diamond challenge, where they give you 60 days of Diamond status in the Gold Passport loyalty program, and if you stay 12 nights at any Hyatt property within those 60 days, you get to keep the status for a full year. For us, it was until February of 2016. You were eligible for the challenge if you can show that you have top tier status at a competing hotel loyalty program. As part of the Diamond status, I received 4 suite upgrades that allowed us to upgrade our room to a suite. Hyatt has since changed the name of the of their loyalty program to World of Hyatt and their highest tier is now called Globalist.

When we first arrived at the resort, we were greeted with leis placed around our necks. They had different ones for males and females. The one for males were made out of large wooden beads and the one for females were made out of flowers. They also provided us with water and a cold towel to cool off as we waited to get checked in. There was also a sort of sandbox area in the lobby where you can sit down and place your feet in the sand. The property looked very new and modern. All the computers used by the hotel staff and in the business center were Macs. It opened in September of 2013, so it was only a year old when we visited. Since it opened, it has been a very popular resort to do the diamond challenge at. Unfortunately, due to that, they had restricted the diamond breakfast benefit to only include the cold buffet and a few side dishes from the menu rather than the full buffet. This was implemented shortly before we arrived. But even without the full buffet, we enjoyed the breakfast very much each day we had it. There was a selection of restaurants available on the resort. The most notable one was Morimoto.

The hotel lobby
Some of the breakfast items

We had rented a car to travel to different destinations around the island. For parking, the only thing available was the valet parking service provided by the resort. There was also a complimentary car service that can take you to and pick you up from locations close to the property. We had used this service at least twice to take us to a nearby restaurant and a nearby spa. The car was very clean and comfortable. Because we had wanted to see the sunrise at Mt. Haleakala, we asked them to have our car ready at 2am and for some blankets stay warm. They got our car ready promptly at the desired time with the blankets inside.

Our room was a suite with a partial ocean view. The suite consisted of a large living room area and a sizable bedroom. There was a large bathroom that included a walk-in shower area and a tub. There were also 2 sinks so we didn’t have to fight for the sink in the morning. An iPad mini was provided for us to use in the room and there were speakers in the living room area so that we can play music. There was a mini fridge that was restocked every day with some complimentary snacks and non-alcoholic drinks. The shower amenities provided were from Malie Organics. They actually smelled like Hawaii. In fact, we liked them so much that we decided to buy some to use at home.

On the resort grounds, there were 3 cascading infinity pools. The bottom one technically isn’t an infinity pool, but it’s where the first 2 cascades into. There were towel shacks by the pools, so you don’t need to bring your own from the rooms. There was a private beach for you to lounge at, tan, or watch the sunset. They also provided snorkeling equipment if you wanted to snorkel at the beach. We decided not to snorkel since the waves were a little choppy at the time.

An incredible sunset every night

Andaz Maui Pool
Andaz Maui Pool

This was one of our favorite places that we had stayed at and would have loved to come back if we are ever in Maui again. Unfortunately, as of the time of writing this post, I had read some reviews of the property and have heard about how the quality and service had declined due to the large amount of guests that stayed there. If we ever come back to Maui, I will check more recent reviews and see how the place is doing and will still consider staying here again.

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