As you might’ve already figured out by now, we love having Japanese omakase meals for birthday celebrations. Tie’s was no different. Having heard great things about Kura, we headed to St Marks that night with two friends. There’s a single table for a party of 4-6 people by the window, but every other seat was by the counter watching Chef Ishizuka carefully prepare each course. I loved how intimate the setting was and it felt like an authentic Japanese restaurant, from the minimalist noren outside to the wooden sake boxes inside. Although we made reservations weeks in advance, if you’re lucky you may be able to secure some walk-in seating as we’d seen some people do.
Santorini is just as beautiful when viewed from atop the caldera and within the caldera itself. On our second day there, we decided on a whim to go on a yacht tour. Winnie had already booked the morning semi-private cruise with her friends and, without telling her, we booked the same one. It was about 135€ per person on Vista Yachting, which ended up being one of the best-valued activities we did during our entire trip. The company picked us up by our AirBNB and drove us to the port, where we were surprised that it was just going to be us and Winnie’s friends. Normally a private tour would be way more expensive (200€+), but we lucked out because no one else booked the same cruise!
A few years ago, Tie and I got to check out Dale Chihuly’s glass exhibition in Seattle during one of our layovers. After we heard there was going to be another Chihuly exhibit right here in the New York Botanical Garden, we leapt at the chance to go. As it is currently summertime in the city, this was the perfect chance for a nice evening stroll to enjoy art in the park. In August, every Thursday night the NYBG stays open past its normal hours for visitors to revel in the glass structures when they are all lit up. Tickets are a bit pricier at $35 apiece (or $31.50 if you use your Mastercard). There’s a parking structure nearby for $15, but we found street parking a few blocks away. We went shortly before sunset and stayed until after dark, which was when it got more crowded and became selfies galore. It was a nice, romantic date despite the mosquitoes attacking Tie’s legs. There were musical performances and a modern dance troupe that rather confused me. When it was still light out, we were able to read the giant posterboards placed around the garden, which contained poetry written by local students inspired by Chihuly’s work.
Visiting Greece was always something on our bucket list, and this May/June we were able to travel internationally with a group of friends (Winnie, Kacey, Daniel, and Albert) for the first time. It turned out to be one of my favorite trips so far. Having friends to laugh and do stupid things with while exploring a foreign country took us out of our usual hotpot-and-board-game-at-home situation. Not to mention, we ate so much delicious food! One of the best things about traveling with a group is being able to family-style every meal and try as many dishes as possible without breaking the bank. Outside of Astoria, New York lacks an abundance of amazing Greek food so of course we had to stuff ourselves given the chance.
Although Tie and I usually plan a pretty thorough itinerary for our trips, this time we decided to be a bit more spontaneous as we were traveling with a group and understood that some of us would have conflicting interests. I admit that not having a solid plan made me kind of stressed out in the beginning, but I eventually accepted that this should feel like a real vacation so just lounging around sometimes should be okay.
This past weekend, Tie and I went to Pennsylvania with our friends to check out the annual Lantern Festival. We’ve seen others post their pictures and videos of the event from previous years and it looked beautiful. Props to Winnie for organizing!
We bought our tickets from Eventbrite months in advance. I didn’t realize just how popular the Lantern Fest was, but it was completely sold out in the few weeks leading up to it. Some friends had to turn to social media to ask for additional tix. Early bird gets the worm! Tickets were $37 and includes one lantern and a smores kit. Kind of pricey, but someone’s gotta clean everything up.
I was inspired to do a self-guided photography tour of Hong Kong after watching one too many old DigitalRev videos on YouTube. After doing some research online for interesting places to shoot, we embarked on our adventure (which ended up taking about two days – Kowloon on the first and Central on the second). I wish we had explored the neighborhoods instead of just snapping a pic and moving onto the next spot. Maybe next time when we have more than 2-3 days in HK. My feet started hurting after a while since we were walking to and fro each place, so bringing comfortable shoes is a must. Now on to the list!
The next day we were originally supposed to go to Haikou, which is north of Hainan. We got up early and headed to the railway station, which was quite far from our resort. Just our luck, it turns out that even when traveling within the same country (in the same province!), we needed our passports to buy tickets and we had left them in our hotel safe. Darn it! Went all the way there for nothing. So instead we rode all the way back to the hotel and came up with a contingency plan for the rest of our time in Sanya.
On our second day in Sanya we went to Yalong Bay Tropical Paradise Forest Park (what a mouthful). It was only 11 minutes by car from our resort so we took a cab. At the park, our taxi driver purchased a group ticket for us and two other strangers who hopped in for a carpool to the entrance. Cabbies would always offer to buy tickets because they get a kickback (price is the same for us), but what we should’ve done is held onto the physical ticket instead of letting the two strangers hang on to it. More on that snaffu later. It was just the beginning of what would become a long, long morning.
Tie and I decided to visit Sanya, Hainan (part of China) from of our love for Hainanese chicken. As it turns out, the best Hainanese chicken is found in Singapore, which is an adaptation of the original dish, Wenchang chicken. More on that in a later post. Nonetheless, Sanya is often regarded as the Hawaii of China. Now, having been to both, I can say that the two are totally different aside from the tropical climates. I haven’t been back to the mainland in almost a decade. Like most of China, Mandarin is the common dialect in Sanya. It felt strange being regarded as foreigners since Tie and I either spoke English to each other or spoke Mandarin with a Cantonese accent. But it was easily the most memorable leg of our Asia trip, as it felt at once familiar and like unexplored territory.
When I was looking for a place to stay in Sanya, I checked American Express Fine Hotel and Resorts (FHR) and decided on the St. Regis Sanya Yalong Bay Resort. I decided to use FHR for our booking due to the many benefits that were provided: fourth night free, complimentary room upgrade, daily breakfast for two, and the additional benefit this property provided was a free private one-way airport transfer. We decided to use the private airport transfer for when we arrived. It feels great not having to figure out transportation to your hotel after getting off from a long flight. When we landed, after going past immigration to the arrival area, our driver was waiting there holding a sign with my name on it.