Category: Traveling

A Weekend in Yangshuo!

A Weekend in Yangshuo!

This last weekend we went to Yangshuo in Guangxi Province. For longtime readers of this blog, you might recall that we began our China journey in Yangshuo almost seven years ago. Yangshuo was where we went for our TESOL training before we were sent to Lixian for our first teaching assignment. We have been in love with YS ever since that first visit. We went back in 2012 for an anniversary trip, but that was five years ago!

So much had changed in that time!

Sadly, many of the traditional artisans are gone. It looked like West Street had been majorly updated, so it is missing a lot of the authenticity it had before. There are still some artisans, but not nearly as many as before and there are no antique dealers, which was sad. However, I have heard that there are still some traditional villages outside of YS, so I am hoping to visit some of those places in the future.

There was also a whole new addition to West Street that wasn’t there before. Along with a ton of new Western and international restaurants! When we were there before, there was only one Western restaurant, and it was expensive and not very good. Now, there are tons of Western restaurants and cafes. There are German, Italian, Thai, and Indian restaurants – and they are all AMAZING! The food was so good, and so affordable. The Indian restaurant was about half the price of the Indian restaurants here in Shenzhen and the German restaurant was quite affordable as well. The restaurants also had surprisingly good cocktail menus, with cocktails for only 35RMB. They are also getting a Starbucks!

The mountains are still beautiful, but there is so much light pollution from West Street, you can’t see them very well at night.

All in all, it was a really nice weekend away and because Yangshuo is now accessible by the fast train, we will probably be visiting there with a bit more regularity.

Have you been to Yangshuo? What did you think? Let me know in the comments!

Two Americans in China in Japan – Foodie Fun!

Two Americans in China in Japan – Foodie Fun!

As our last hurrah before the baby comes, we went to Japan for the National Day holiday. We went to the Kansai area – Osaka, Kyoto, Kobe. It was amazing. I’m going to have to break up the trip report into different posts because there is just so much to talk about. The first thing I want to share is the food!

Japan in a foodie paradise. Any kind of food you want, you can find here, and so much more! I thought that I would be eating sushi and sake every day, but 1) sushi is not popular in the Kansai area and was surprisingly hard to find, and 2) there is just so much more to eat than that. I wanted to try foods that are unique to Japan, so here are some of the highlights.

Kobe Beef

I’m not a big steak fan, but I’ve been told it’s because I’ve never had “a really good steak.” Well, I can now say I have had the best steak in the world. Many people claim to have eaten Kobe beef before, but Kobe beef is almost impossible to find outside of Japan, and even in Japan it is prohibitively expensive outside of Kobe. So since we were staying in Osaka, we hoped on the fast train and thirty minutes later we were in Kobe, Japan. We went to a restaurant called Steakland and, OMG, the steak was AMAZING.

It really was as delicious and tender as people have claimed. It is melt in your mouth good. If you are ever in Japan, take a trip to Kobe and try this beef of the Gods. Your mouth will thank you for it. There were also a lot of other good looking places to eat, but we were so stuffed with meat, we couldn’t eat anywhere else.

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Fugu

I really wanted a T-shirt that said “I ate fugu and survived!” but couldn’t find one. My husband refused to eat the poisonous sea creature with me, but I was determined to try it.

Fugu is the Japanese word for pufferfish and it is a specialty in Japan. The intestines, liver, and ovaries of a pufferfish contain a deadly toxin – one that is 1,200 times more deadly than cyanide. Specially trained fugu chefs undergo years of training to learn to cut the fish just right. Realistically, you are not going to die from eating fugu. The odds of you dying from fugu poisoning are lower than the odds of you dying from food poisoning in general. But the myth and the mystique of eating fugu persists, and I had to try it.

I opted for the raw fugu sashimi because I wanted the fugu flavor to be as pure as possible, but you can get fugu in almost any style, including inside dumplings or in hotpot. I went to a famous fugu restaurant in Osaka called Zuboraya. I thought the fugu was pretty good. It has a very light flavor and a bit of a rubbery texture. It was very good with the green onions and citrus wasabi they served with it. I would definitely eat it again.

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Whale Sushi

When I finally made it to a sushi restaurant, I was surprised to find whale meat on the menu. I had to try it. Whale meat is pretty easy to find at restaurants in Japan and is usually the meat of sperm whales. It is a dark, beefy kind of meat. I wouldn’t try it again though. I didn’t really like it.

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Ice Cream Parfaits

Japan is famous for these beautiful and delicious layered ice cream desserts. If you have spent time in China, you might be kind of leery to try them, but don’t be. Unlike Chinese ice cream, Japanese ice cream is delicious. The parfaits come in all different sizes and every flavor combination you can imagine. There are ice cream shops that just serve parfaits and have hundreds of examples on display. If you come across one of these shops, be sure to go in!

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Fast Food

Of course, in order to save time and money, and for some creature comforts, we did check out a few fast food restaurants. I know some people scoff at eating at a McDonalds or Starbucks when traveling internationally (“you should try local food!”), but the fun thing about these restaurants is that they often have very localized foods that you can’t get anywhere else in the world, so we often pop in to at least look at the menus, even if we don’t eat there.

In China, it is very hard to find good donuts (we don’t have any donut shops in SZ or Hong Kong!), so we had to go to the Krispy Kreme in Osaka. They had some Halloween donuts that were cute and delicious. They had pumpkin pie at Starbucks. And we had chocolate pumpkin french fries at MacDonalds.

We actually spent most of our money in Japan on food. If you ever go to Japan, plan to eat EVERYTHING!

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Have you been to Japan? What were your favorite foods? Let me know in the comments.

Your Local Cousin Helps You Travel Like a Local

Your Local Cousin Helps You Travel Like a Local

Hi everyone, I came across this really cool company and wanted to let you know about it!

What Is Your Local Cousin?

cousin1Your Local Cousin www.yourlocalcousin.co, is disrupting travel and is part of the sharing economy. We have been in business since February 2015 and match travelers looking for customized advice with actual locals in over 80 countries and 200 cities. Travelers looking to get a local perspective on where to find the best beaches in Maui, shop in the Grand Bazar in Istanbul or where to find the best paella in Madrid can choose to text, e-mail or speak with a local. We typically charge between $15 for a 30 minute Skype call and also offer customized itineraries for $25 – $60 and travel maps for $10. We pay locals 70% of revenue and vet all of them over Skype.

How to Use Your Local Cousin

Travelers can find locals by the city or country that they plan to visit and then pick the one that they feel will be best able to plan their trip. Each local’s profile mentions their interests, in other words what they can advise you on and also includes the kind of traveler they can help i.e. families with kids, expats, business traveler, senior citizens and backpackers etc. Travelers can decide to speak with a local, connect with them over text message or whatsapp or ask them to prepare detailed itineraries depending on the duration of their trip. Once connected, the traveler can provide further detail about their trip and ask any questions from the local. The more detailed your questions the more useful are the recommendations! Once don with the interaction, travelers also rate locals on the quality of information provided and responsiveness.

How to Become a Local Cousin

Local experts, aka ‘local cousins,’ are individuals from various backgrounds who should be fluent in English (additional languages are always a big bonus), love to talk about their city and are passionate about helping others have a great experience when they’re visiting and of course don’t mind getting paid for giving advice :). Our local are individuals who live in a city, went to school there recently or own a business / home there, thus they possess in-depth information about a place and are not passers-by or outsourced agents. Locals get paid via Paypal and are also rated by travelers. Locals and travelers do not have to meet in person or provide any personal details to the traveler other than perhaps their Skype handle or email address. If you want to become a local, please register on www.yourlocalcousin.co by clicking on “Become a Local Cousin” on the top right of the home page and complete your profile.

About Your Local Cousin

I founded Your Local Cousin with my actual cousin, Aarti Kanodia (based in New York) and have a CTO also based in NY. I have traveled to more than 30 countries and decided to help travelers solve the problem of wading through information overload online, heavy and outdated guidebooks and sifting through biased reviews on review sites like Yelp and TripAdvisor only to get stuck in tourist traps. We want travelers to get customized advice from real locals who share common interests at price points that are affordable. We allow travelers to get the “inside scoop” on where to find all the cool places locals love to visit and avoid the tourist traps. We want to bring the old-school back into travel planning which is seriously missing the ‘human element’ these days. We are YOUR next best thing to speaking with a friend who lives in the city you are visiting.

Press:

We have been featured in Travel and Leisure
http://www.travelandleisure.com/articles/your-local-cousin-travel-startup
and USA Today
http://roadwarriorvoices.com/2015/08/21/these-startups-help-travelers-explore-the-local-side-of-the-city/
and Chicago Tribune
http://www.chicagotribune.com/lifestyles/travel/sc-trav-1229-sharing-economy-20151216-story.html

Social Media:

Two Americans in China in Bali

Two Americans in China in Bali

This year, for the one week national holiday, Seth and I went to Bali, Indonesia. While we didn’t get to stay as long as we wanted and didn’t see nearly all the island has to offer, we had a great time and would love to go back.

We mainly stayed in Ubud. Ubud is in the center of the island, surrounded by jungles and nestled deep in Indonesian culture. The area is not nearly as developed as other parts of the island, which is just the way I like it. Ancient temples and traditional craftspersons are everywhere.

The first thing you need to know about Bali is that the airport is crazy! It was so much worse than any airport I have been in in China. The taxi drivers are very aggressive and will massively gouge you on rates. If you are going to Bali, make sure you book a hotel that provides an airport shuttle so you can get to your hotel safely and at a good rate. Taxis in general, though, are expensive compared to how cheap everything else on the island is.

The first thing we did was go to Monkey Forest. The forest delivers what it promises. There were monkeys everywhere! They are used to being fed by humans, so they will jump on you and take food from you (or your water bottle, or earrings, or Disney pins, or anything else they can grab) with no fear. The monkeys are free range and could leave the walled area if they wanted to, but they generally don’t because of the food. The forest isn’t very big, though, so it is a cheap, fun way to spend half a day.

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The next day we went for some water fun! Bali is an island, so it is famous for its beaches and water sports. We did this really cool thing called a sea walk where you walk along the bottom of the ocean and wear a big dive helmet. It is great for people who wear glasses and can’t wear regular goggles or have problems using snorkels. We also did some snorkeling and a glass bottom boat ride, but those kind of sucked in comparison after the sea walk. If I ever go back, I really want to try some proper scuba diving.

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After that we went to Sea Turtle Island. This made me a little uncomfortable. I mean, sea turtles don’t live on islands. After they are born, they go to the ocean and most never return. Male sea turtles never return to the land and females only return to lay eggs. The people running the island claimed they were all about sea turtle education and preservation, but it still made me feel squicky. I wouldn’t do it again. But they were super cute. We also got to hold a python, a toucan, and a big bat. So that was cool.

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After that, we pretty much hung around the Ubud area, which is gorgeous. We did lots of shopping and eating! We also discovered my new favorite thing: the barong!

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The barong is similar to the lion dancers we have here in China. The Barong is a lion-type of creature that is the King of Spirits and the Host of Good. We went to see a traditional Balinese dance/opera show that featured the barong, and it was so cool. If you ever go to Bali, there are dance troops putting on shows every night all over town. If you ever go, make sure you choose one that features the barong!

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Bali really has a lot more to offer than we experienced. I hope to go back someday!

Have you been to Bali? What did you think? Let me know in the comments.

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