Hola amigos! I guess thanks again to the flight gods (who may be a little mad at us this year since I haven’t been able to find cheap flights for February or April break trips!), Hubby and I were dictated to travel to Mexico City for our February break last year (~$300/pp on Interjet). Mexico City is vibrant, warm, and culturally and historically immersive, and best of all – super affordable for budget-minded folks like me. In efforts to prepare to be more legit travelers, we both upped time on our Duo-Lingo apps and ultimately got by fine using our basic Spanish and handy Google Translate for additional support. I also binged watched “Made In Mexico” on Netflix… if that counts as preparation as well (I mean, I did take note of the attractions they went to, guey!). More after the jump.
Day 1 – Sun
Flew from JFK -> MEX; landed at 3:35PM
Check-in to AirBnB in La Condesa
Dinner at La Casa de Toño
Day 2 – Mon
Breakfast at Panificadora Condesa (Bakery)
Zona Arqueológica de Teotihuacán (Teotihuacán Pyramids)
Pyramid of the Sun (Pirámide del Sol)
Pyramid of the Moon (Pirámide de la Luna)
Palace of the Quetzal Butterfly (Palacio Quetzalpapalotl)
Patio de los Jaguares y Caracoles Emplumados
Museo de Sitio Teotihuacan
Lunch at La Gruta (Restaurant inside a cave!)
Dinner at El Tizoncito
Day 3 – Tue
Tianguis de Condesa (Farmer’s Market in La Condesa)
Mexico City Metropolitan Cathedral
House of Tiles
Churreria El Moro (Chocolate Churros)
Lunch at random street cart near Chinatown
Dinner at El Pescadito
Lucha Libre at Arena México
Day 4 – Wed
Chapultepec Castle (Castillo de Chapultepec)
National History Museum (inside the castle)
Lunch at El Huequito (Condesa Location)
Museum of Anthropology (Museo Nacional de Antropología)
Dinner at El Califa
Day 5 – Thu
Floating Gardens of Xochimilco
Lunch at “Burrito Y Taco Chu-Chin” near train station
We flew into Bangkok from New York and stayed there for one night before flying to Chiang Mai (you can read about that here!) the next morning. Our last leg of the trip was also spent in Bangkok before flying back home. Bangkok is a busy bee city, full of people, cars, bikes and tuk tuks. Super interesting stuff to do… More info after the jump!
Day 0 – Tue (Before Chiang Mai)
Arrival 12:40PM atairport, used Grab app (Thai Uber) to order a car
Checked into Aloft hotel
Walked around area at night
Went to Terminal21 mall and ate dinner at Thai Street Food Express in Food Court
Day 1 – Mon (After Chiang Mai)
Check-in to Royal Orchid Sheraton Hotel & Towers
Walked to Chinatown
Dinner at 511 Cafe
Day 2 – Tue
Breakfast at 7-eleven
Water ferry from hotel to Wat Arun Rajwararam
The Vihara of the Reclining Buddha
The Grand Palace
Temple of the Emerald Buddha
Lunch at Ama Art & Eatery
Rest in hotel
Dinner at Sukishi Buffet at MBK Center (all you can eat – hot pot belt go around)
I’ll keep this post brief as I didn’t do that much in Koh Samui.
This was the last island before we headed back to the mainland and honestly, we could’ve skipped it. We primarily came to break up the travel between Koh Tao and Bangkok (as Koh Samui was the closest island that had an airport). It was fine for 2 days but I would’ve rather stayed at Koh Tao or Koh Phangan longer instead. Koh Samui was much more noticeably tourist-run, lots of people on the beach and just higher priced than the other islands. Drinks, food, taxi, hotel rooms – overpriced and not that much better. We ended up just hanging out at the beach most of the time, which is fine for a day but we would’ve wanted more (affordable) adventure the rest of the time. The only special things we really did was see an amateur Muay Thai fight one night and walk a street market, which you could do at other cities/islands.
Day 1 – Sat
Arrival at hotel via taxi from the port (no grab app)
Lunch at Harry’s Restaurant (medicore)
Went back to hotel to relax as it was raining
Dinner at Made In (better than lunch). Friendly service.
Walked around Downtown Lamai
Lamai Muay Thai Boxing only on Saturdays at 10PM
Free admission but you have to buy an overpriced drink at a bar (could just get soda)
1/2 price juices and smoothies at neighboring hotel’s beach bar. Get the watermelon smoothie – I’m obsessed.
Lunch at The Cuisine
Dinner at Lamai Sunday Street Market – good, cheap street food. Definitely try the skewers.
Day 3 – Mon
Breakfast at hotel
Hotel van to airport for flight to Bangkok
Stay: Lamai Coconut Beach Resort Busy beach front resort at Lamai Beach. Great for its close vicinity to the beach as well as restaurants. Plus it had free breakfast (but food was mediocre). We stayed in a room with a balcony that had a slight ocean view- there is a wooden bench on the balcony but no loungers to fully relax on. The hotel provided free sun beds at the beach. All sights/restaurants were walkable from hotel.
Koh Tao, aka Turtle Island, was my favorite island and my favorite other place visited besides Chiang Mai. This island screams IM SUPER CHILL BRAH AND EVERYTHING WILL BE ALRIGHT. I loved Koh Tao because everything was pretty much walkable in the part where we stayed (Sairee Beach). It was like a beach town but there wasn’t really a beach to hang out at… at least no sand area. Koh Tao is known for scuba diving and snorkeling and there are many areas on the island to do just that.
Day 1 – Tuesday
Check in to Sairee Cottages
Lunch at Sairee Cottage Restaurant
Walked around the area
Dinner at Farango Pizzeria (dude…$90 baht/$3 USD magherita pizzas here for happy hour)
Day 2 – Wednesday
Breakfast at PermPoon Coffee Bar by the Pool (part of our hotel)
Hung out at the pool
Rained so we hung out at our balcony and read or played games
Went to go check out different snorkeling and scuba diving places
Dinner at 995 Roasted Duck (BEST FOOD OF THE TRIP)
Dessert at Butter I-cream (ice cream at our hotel)
Day 3 – Thursday
Breakfast at PermPoon Coffee Bar by the Pool
Oxygen2 Snorkeling Tour (Full Day)
Snorkeling at Nangyuan Island, Shark Bay, Mango Island, Lighthouse Bay and Aow Leuk. Lunch, snacks and beverages included.
BBQ dinner at Sairee Cottages Restaurant
Day 4 – Friday
Breakfast at PermPoon Coffee Bar by the Pool
Scuba Diving Lesson and Open Water Dive at Ban’s Diving Resort
Dinner at Roasted Duck (yeah this place was freaking awesome, we went twice)
Pronounced “Ko Pahng Yun”, this island is famous for its wild full moon parties or half moon parties (or any parties) at Haad Rin. We just missed the full moon party so we opted to explore the quieter sides of the island. It’s a bigger island, one where you even by motorbike, it may take you an hour to ride somewhere because of the roads. We only planned to stay for 1.5 days but we would’ve like to add on another day to check out more of the island. I’ll include a list of things recommended but we didn’t have time to do.
Day 1 – Sunday
Thai Smiles flight from Chiang Mai to Koh Samui
Ferry from Koh Samui to Koh Phangan
Taxi to High Life Bungalow & Check In
Dinner at Zots Resto @ Tantawan Resort
Day 2 – Monday
Breakfast at Tantawan Resort
Motorbike rental at My Hut
Mae Haad Beach
Haad Khom Beach
Lunch at Haad Khom Bungalow Restaurant
Pool at High Life Bungalow
Dinner at High Life Bungalow
Day 3 – Tuesday
Breakfast at High Life
Check out and took their taxi to the pier for Koh Ta
When I first night we touched down in Bangkok, I was super overwhelmed. It’s a crazy city with tight sidewalks, heavy traffic in the streets, and aggressive vehicles. To be honest, even though I’ve lived in NYC all my life, I was uncomfortable. Thankfully, the very next morning, we flew to Chiang Mai because that was the scene I was ultimately looking for. Chiang Mai is a smaller city, north of Bangkok. When I was doing research, Chiang Mai was the most mentioned city besides Bangkok to visit so I knew I had to go. There are tons to do here – from cheap eats and massages to Temple hopping to seeing elephants to street markets to cooking classes. Chiang Mai to me was the chill, adventurous, spiritual sister of Bangkok.
Day 1 – Wednesday
Arrival at Hotel at 1:00pm
Walk around area
Lunch at Its Good Kitchen (actually pretty good)
1-hour Thai Massage at Lila Thai Massage
Wat Phra Singh Waramahavihan
Walk down Rachadamnoen Road to Old Gate, window shopped
Swasdi! We just got back a few weeks ago from our honeymoon in the land of smiles, Thailand. We went for about 19 days (the longest we have been out of the country) and it was nothing short of spectacular. We decided to do Thailand for our honeymoon because (1) it’s much more affordable for a long trip, (2) we wanted nice beaches, and (3) we wanted good food. We’ve only heard great things about Thailand from friends and knew it was the place to be.
We hit up 2 cities and 3 islands which I’ll make separate posts about. Overall, Thailand was beautiful and full of interesting and new things for us to try. I’d highly suggest it as a honeymoon destination for any couple… heck, I’d suggest it for anyone – there were a lot of backpackers and families. We got by just fine with only English and at no time did I feel unsafe (just be smart and aware of your surroundings). Thai people are usually very, very nice people and they don’t scam you. The people that are more likely to scam you are the foreigners living in Thailand. I was pretty anxious and worrisome about going to an Asian country just the two of us for the first time but it really was pretty easy.
We used Hopper to track flights from JFK to Bangkok (seemed to be the cheapest city for us to fly into) and ended up booking Korean Airlines with a layover in South Korea. I think it was around $850 round trip. There are no direct flights form JFK to BKK. Next time you need to do a layover in Asia, please do yourself a favor and do it in South Korea if you can. Incheon Airport in South Korea was the best airport I have ever been to – it looks gorgeous, is really clean and bright and has ton of activities for grumpy waiting passengers. Tons of shopping, food, rest areas with comfy lounge chairs, a “sleeping” area, “digital” gyms which I definitely played in, free showers, different exhibitions to check out, apparently a movie theatre, and more. All of this definitely made my 5 hour layover much better. There are also multiple FREE tours into Seoul depending on how long your layover is.
Things To Get Before the Trip
My best friends Mike & Matt backpacked across South East Asia (check out Backpack Bros for their experiences) and loved using their backpacking packs. I took note and put two Ospreys packs on my wedding registry and luckily got both of them. I used the Osprey Packs Fairview 55 Travel Backpack and the hubby used the guy version, Osprey Packs Farpoint 55 Travel Backpack. Somehow I was able to channel whatever minimalism I had and pack for 3 weeks in one backpack. You’re darn right I was super proud of myself! Using these backpacks instead of suitcases made commuting around, hopping around cities/islands, just so much easier. We saw many families (including little kids) use them too. Plus laundry is cheap in Thailand.. we only had to do it once and it was like $6 for 2 pounds of laundry (came back neatly folded too!). Plus those Osprey packs come with detachable day packs, which were used very often.
Another new thing we got before our honeymoon that has definitely been a game changer for us during our trip is our Chase Sapphire Reserve credit card. There are a ton of websites that talk about the benefits of this card, despite its steep annual fee, so I won’t go into detail. NerdWallet does a great article with a spend calculator to see if it’s worth it (luckily my husband and my spend combined makes it worth it). We have used this card for booking our flights, ferries, and hotels (3x points and included insurance/piece of mind), restaurants and shops in Thailand that take CC (no foreign trans fee), and something that my husband is now loving – access to many airport lounges. Free food, drinks and wifi + quieter and comfier atmosphere to wait = happy Eileen (+ hubby). The Skyteam lounge in Incheon Airport also has massage chairs.
One old thing we used very frequently was my Charles Schwab debit card (no foreign ATM fees) (I talk about it more here). I was not comfortable carrying so much cash on me at once so this came quite handy, saving me ~$7 of ATM fees per transaction. At the end of the trip, I only had $9 USD in Thai baht left so I didn’t have to lose that much out on converting back to USD.
In Thailand, my most used apps were Google Maps for directions, TripAdvisor for food and activity searching on the spot, and Grab (in Bangkok & Chiang Mai). Grab is like the Uber of Thailand.
I enjoyed Munich slightly a little more than Berlin. While Berlin was much more history-rich, Munich was much more of the walkable, beautifully decorated, “loved-getting-lost” kind of city. It reminded me of Prague, where every street was just so lovely to look at. We absolutely did not realize we booked our trip in Munich over Good Friday weekend so we kind of limited ourselves to doing most things on Thursday and not being able to do some things, like go to the top of St. Peter’s Church. But everything worked out and I think we saw everything we wanted to- luckily because a lot of it was just visiting public grounds.
Wednesday, Day 1
Berlin Hauptbahnhof -> Munich Central Station
Dinner at Wirtshaus zum Straubinger
Thursday, Day 2
Dachau Concentration Camp
Lunch at saray imbiss
Snack at Der verrückte Eismacher und der Froschkönig (Ice Cream)
Hallo! On my day off from grad school and after a failed attempt at making Thai Iced Tea Ice Cream this morning, I’m finally getting around to writing about Germany. We flew from JFK to Frankfurt Airport but the first city we actually went to was Berlin. Berlin is awesome. It’s not “beautiful/scenic” (as it was destroyed during WWII) or a major foodie spot but it’s super filled with so much to see and embrace. Plus, as it was rebuilt, commuting around Berlin was pretty easy walking-wise and with its train system… once we figured out how ticketing worked. More details after the jump.
Sunday, Day 1
Arrived at 9:45AM at Frankfurt Airport
Took a train from Frankfurt am Main Flughafen Fernbahnhof (Frankfurt Airport Main Train Station) to Berlin Hauptbahnhof (Berlin Train Station)
Dinner at Stadtklause
Monday, Day 2
Train to Flakturm Humboldthain (Flak Tower)
Underground Bunker Tour at Berliner Unterwelten e.V.
Train to & Lunch at Curry at the Wall
Berlin TV Tower
Bebelplatz (Memorial to the book burning of 1933)
Topography of Terror
Führerbunker (the location where Hitler’s bunker was (just a parking lot now))
Dinner at Mustafa’s Gemüse Kebap
Tuesday, Day 3
Reichstag Building Tour
Lunch at Cafe Bondi
Berlin Wall Memorial & Visitor Center
Train to Eastside Gallery
Train to Brandenburger Tor (Brandenburg Gate)
Dinner at Mabuhay (Indonesian)
Wednesday, Day 4
Berlin Hauptbahnhof (Train Station) -> München Hauptbahnhof (Munich Central Train Station)
Hallo! Exciting things have happened since my last blog post… I got engaged! It is both super exciting and weird at the same time even though 2 months have already past since the proposal. If you’re curious as to my true thoughts on how the proposal went (knowing that I am a surprise ruiner), it went perfectly; even though we have been together for almost 10 years, I was 100% surprised when he asked on a beautiful 65 degree day, on our favorite beach during sunset. Wedding planning games have begun since then, and I’m sure I’ll be writing (or venting haha) about some of those #CHENCHALLENGES in the near future. There already has been a few.
My fiance (weird calling him that.. okay, my partner? significant other? less weird) and I also took a 8 day trip to the beautiful, history-rich lands of Germany recently, specifically Berlin, Munich, and Rhineland area/Frankfurt. It was an awesome trip filled with many firsts including renting an AirBnB place instead of a hotel, navigating the German rail and local train systems, eating German food, and driving (or in my case, being a passenger) 125mph on the autobahn.
Why Germany? Honestly, it was just fate… thanks to the flight pricing gods. We used Google Flights‘ Discover Destinations to check out which places would be cheap to fly to during specific dates. We saw that a few European cities were fairly cheap like Zurich, Amsterdam, Frankfurt and used the app Hopper to track flight prices. One day, we saw Frankfurt have $450 direct round trip tickets from JFK and immediately booked it. So, that’s how we chose Germany.
Of course me being a planner, I planned out my itineraries for the trip beforehand. I used a bunch of different sources for “the best things to do in X city” but mainly from TripAdvisor and friend recommendations. I used Sygic Travel to plot all my points of interest on a map so I could group PoIs close in proximity together, then used TripHobo to plan out my day to day itinerary. I liked that Trip Hobo included suggestions on what’s in the area as well as included commute time (walking, car, train).
Before my trip, I also wanted to get a no-foreign-transaction-fee card to use abroad. I used to have the Starwood Preferred Guest AMEX (which had this and I miss dearly because it was awesome earning SPG points) but after the first free year, I couldn’t justify the $95 annual fee with my current spending habits – maybe we’ll meet again some day my friend.. Anyway, TLDR – I needed a free card that provided this benefit. There are a few no-annual-fee credit cards out there that include the no-foreign-trans-fee but I ended up going with the Charles Schwab Debit Card. I usually use cash abroad (many smaller shops and restaurants do not accept credit cards) and Schwab will reimburse any ATM fees. It is an online bank, so it is annoying that you can’t deposit cash directly and any money transfers from external bank accounts will take about 4 business days, but the customer service has been great so far, no annual fees, 1.0% interest for your checking account… it’s pretty sweet for an abroad card option. I do have to warn you that they do a hard pull on your credit (meaning their inquiry into your credit score will affect your score). So if you’re looking to get a loan in the near future, might not be a good idea to get it now. I didn’t have any problem using this card in the German ATMs BUT DO call them before your trip to notify them; I didn’t do this and I couldn’t charge anything to the card as they thought it was fraud.. ATM worked though.
I hope these few tips are helpful in planning your next trip! Stay tuned for more posts on what we did in Germany. Guten tag!