Tag: travel

2017 – A Year in Review

2017 – A Year in Review

2017, it’s been a crazy year.

January

Our China adventure started in January with a look and see trip to Shanghai. We spent 5 days and half the time I thought Thorben was crazy for wanting to move here. I got used to the idea when we visited Jing’An, the Bund and Xintiandi and our relocation agent showed me where to get Nutella and cheese 😉

February

In February we started our preparation with an intercultural seminar followed by a 2 week intensive language class, which made my brain hurt and showed me how difficult learning Chinese is. While Thorben got over this traumatic experience and started studying again towards the end of the year I still haven’t recovered quite yet 😉 I also got my job offer and started the visa process.

March

My host sister got married in California and I was happy to be part of the wedding as a bridesmaid. We also used the time to visit San Diego, Joshua Tree National Park and spent time with my American family in Ventura.

April

Thorben turned 30 in April and we took the chance to celebrate both his birthday and a farewell party. We also packed all our stuff into 25 boxes, handed over the key to our apartment and I dropped him off at the airport at the end of the month.

May

While Thorben was busy starting this blog, a new job, exploring China and finding us an apartment, I spent the month saying good bye to family and friends. I also took a trip to Budapest and celebrated my birthday winning at mini golf before hopping on a plane to Shanghai.

June

During my first week in Shanghai I met Pearl and we visited Zhujiajiao together.  We also received our air freight, which helped us settle into our new apartment. Thorben went to Japan with his coworkers while I discovered the avocado lady and spent a day exploring the city with Shane.

July

In July it was a bit rainy at times so we had fun playing board games and making travel plans. I also visited some touristy places as a friend from university was in town. Thorben went on his first business trip to Germany and we saw “Sleep no More” which he loved and I hated. We also faced some crazy temperatures – above 40! – but that didn’t keep us from trying lots of different restaurants and seeing the Lion King in Chinese.

August

During the summer we went to quite a few brunches and also cooked for the first time, not at our home but someone else at a home-style cooking class. In August we also met Ellie (at a brunch) and had some adventures with her and Pearl at a murder mystery dinner and trying to eat lung. At the end of the month Thorben and I took our first trip out of the country together and spent a long weekend in Seoul.

September

September was a mix between food and culture: I tried hot pot for the first time, we went to see the musical Sister Act. I hoarded cheese after hearing of a coming ban while Thorben took some pretty pictures at night. During our trip to Beijing we visited famous sights such as the Forbidden City and the Great Wall and had some delicious Peking duck.

October

The month started out with a week long break – Golden Week – which we used to travel to Hong Kong and visit Jana in Taipei. I also had an epic scone bake-off with Ellie. Most of our weekends we spent at brunch, shopping for tailored clothes and getting Christmas presents at the Pearl Market.

November

Thorben tried some hairy crabs while they were in season and I indulged in yummy breakfast street food. I also got some more Christmas shopping done during Single’s Day. After months of eating out and Sherpa deliveries I finally cooked for the first time. We got to check off a big item on the travel bucket list and explored the magnificent temples of Angkor. After 4 beautiful days in Cambodia we also visited Singapore.

December

In December we had to say our final good bye to Ellie at the airport. The rest of the month was much more festive: We ate Raclette, baked some Christmas cookies and went to a Christmas market. After a crazy half a year we got on a plane to Germany to celebrate Christmas with our families and catch up with friends.

Thanks to everyone who made 2017 so fun. Let’s see what 2018 has to offer!

Our Cambodia trip: Exploring the Angkor temples

Our Cambodia trip: Exploring the Angkor temples

As promised, here is the full run down of our time in Cambodia.

I’ll start by saying it again: We finally did it! We saw the beautiful temples of Angkor. It was amazing. It’s been on my bucket list for a long time but somehow it never worked out during my Asia travels. Warning: Long post with lots of pictures ahead.

According to the internet the best travel time aka dry season is from November to March. I booked our flights, hotel and a 2 days of temple touring with a driver and guide back in July. There are lots of tour operators so I went with one out of TripAdvisor’s Top 10: Happy Angkor Tour. I opted for their tour “to avoid crowds”, which meant that we visited some smaller, less busy temples and tried to go to the really famous and popular ones at not so busy times. It worked out pretty well for the most part 🙂 Our guide was also a fan of panoramas and cheesy tourist photos, so there are some good ones in there.

Day One

The itinerary: Angkor Wat, Ta Promh, Ta Nei, Angkor Thom incl. Bayon, Sunset at Phnom Bakhen

Angkor Wat is the most famous one and really big, with lots of detailed carvings and different layers but unfortunately also lots of people. We had to queue for almost half an hour to be able to climb to the top. The Tomb Raider temple Ta Promh was also great, I love how the trees grew over the temple, almost like someone forgot about them for several hundred years 😉 At Angkor Thom we mostly focused on Bayon, the temple with the big faces.

However, my favorite temple of the first day was Ta Nei. It’s reachable only by a dirt road which goes through the jungle and when we arrived we were the only tourists. During the whole time there we only saw a couple of people. It kind of felt like we were the first people discovering it and the atmosphere was really cool.

Day Two

The itinerary: Sunrise at Angkor Wat, Preah Khan, Neak Poan, Ta Som, East Mebon, Banteay Srei (Lady Temple), Banteay Samre, Pre Rup, Banteay Kdei, Krovan

The second day was really great because we saw such a variety of temples. All of them were beautiful in different ways but I think my favorite that day was Preah Khan. Maybe that’s because we got there before 8 and had it almost to ourselves and walking there through the jungle gave me that explorer feeling again 🙂

Overall, I’m really happy with the way we saw the temples. We hit the big, famous ones but also saw some hidden gems. Having a guide and an air conditioned car, cold water and washcloths was very worth it. Especially because of the cold wet washcloths 🙂

Other Cambodian activities: Pool and cooking class

We stayed at the Hillocks Hotel & Spa in Siem Reap for 5 nights, which gave us 4 full days. The two days when we didn’t tour the temples, we spent hanging out by the pool and relaxing. After all the busy city trips we took this year and the everyday craziness of Shanghai it was nice to do nothing for a bit.

To not get too lazy we signed up for a cooking class which our hotel offered. Contrary to the description there wasn’t much activity involved. First we went to the market which was more of a sightseeing trip, because they had already bought all the ingredients. It was similar to the wet markets we’ve seen in China. Then they sent us back to our room to relax and when we showed up again at the announced cooking time, all the prep work had already been done. No peeling, cutting, curry paste or dressing making for us, we just got to mix, heat and stir a bit. While we didn’t really learn much, the 4 course lunch was delicious: We had green mango salad, sour soup with shredded chicken, Fish Amok (Cambodian fish curry) and banana tapioca sago.

Golden Week Travels: Hong Kong

Golden Week Travels: Hong Kong

Last week was Golden Week in China. It’s the week around the National Day and the whole country gets a week-long holiday. Like it is the case for many holidays here, part of the time away from the office has to be made up by working on a Saturday or Sunday. For this Golden Week we had to work from Monday to Saturday and then we had time off from Sunday, October 1st until Sunday, October 8. Not a bad deal really, especially since office already closed at 2:30 on Saturday.

We were warned that traveling is crazy during Golden Week, that everything is super expensive and really crowded and just a big hassle. 8 free days and you don’t have to use a single day of vacation time, so of course we still went. I booked the flights in July already and they were twice as expensive as usual but hotel prices were pretty normal. We originally just wanted to go to Taiwan but because it was a bit cheaper I booked Shanghai – Hong Kong – Taipei – Shanghai. 2 destinations for the price of one, why not?

Hong Kong

We’ve both been to Hong Kong before so I didn’t plan much ahead of time. I just made a note where to buy the Octopus card (can be used for public transport including ferries and can be bought at the airport) and downloaded the metro map. We only had 2 full days and for the second day I booked a Hong Kong foodie tour. Like almost every time we go on vacation one of us got sick. In Beijing it was me, in Hong Kong it got to Thorben (and I was still coughing a bit) so besides that tour our itinerary was really light.

Hong Kong Skyline

Our hotel was on the Hong Kong side of the harbor and we took the ferry across twice to see the skyline, once by day and once by night. I love the Hong Kong skyline, it just goes on and on and on …

At night we went to the “Symphony of Lights” which is a light show they do every night at 8. I don’t think it’s really worth it unless you happen to be there at that time. The buildings are lit up anyway and except for a bit of music and some lasers there isn’t anything extra to see, so I wouldn’t wait around for it again. The skyline by itself at night is really impressive, so any time is great to see it 🙂

Flower Market

We also wanted to check out some of the markets and did the flower market. It’s a street with lots and lots of stores and booths which sell tons of plants and pretty flowers. If we lived in Hong Kong I think our apartment would now have orchids on every window sill. It also smells really good, I didn’t want to leave. Here is the colorful picture overload:

Foodie Tour

I booked the “Central & Sheung Wan Foodie Tour” which wasn’t too far away from our hotel. We had 6 stops on the tour and the group (there were 9 of us) was a mix of people from the UK, US and Australia and Germany of course. Besides eating lots of food, it was fun seeing a bit more of Hong Kong and hearing some interesting stories about the local life and crazy rent prices. The wet market visit was not for the faint-hearted – we saw some freshly butchered fish and the cut up parts were still twitching. Our guide said that to get the freshest fish you buy the parts where the heart is still beating …

We tried Wonton Noodle Soup, barbecued pork with rice, preserved fruits and candy, Dim Sums (which included different dumplings, buns and spring rolls) and Egg Tarts. I really enjoyed the tour and the food. Most of the places we went I wouldn’t have gone by myself and it was great to have someone point out all the goodies I would have missed. So overall it was a fun way to spend an afternoon and it was so much food I couldn’t even think about dinner.

Traveling during Golden Week really wasn’t bad. On Sunday we had no trouble taking the metro and maglev to the airport and the lines at the airport were also normal. Hong Kong was fine as well, it didn’t seem any more crowded than during my last visit. The mystery were everyone was, was solved by our friend Ellie: Everyone was stuck in traffic on the way to the Great Wall 😉

Eating Beijing Duck in Beijing

Eating Beijing Duck in Beijing

One thing I really wanted to do in Beijing was to eat Beijing duck. Because obviously 🙂

There are many restaurants to choose from, the most famous restaurant is called Da Dong and has many locations in Beijing. In walking distance from our hotel we found a “Taste of Da Dong”. It belongs to the chain, serves the same food, it’s just easier to get a table, the decor is more modern and apparently the food is also cheaper. So that is where we went.

We had some okra as an appetizer and ordered a whole roasted duck with condiments. First, we got some duck broth which was really good. Then the duck came out already sliced up and evenly distributed on 2 plates – so no fighting over food in this restaurant ;).  The way to eat it is to wrap the duck meat, together with sauces and veggies, into really thin pancakes. On the condiment plate there was also a compartment with sugar you can use for dipping. I was skeptical but surprisingly the combination of crispy duck skin and sugar is delicious.

I read they bring out the whole duck and slice it at your table at the original Da Dong, so we missed that part of the experience. The duck was still very good and that’s what matters 🙂 Apparently the duck menu also includes cotton candy as dessert, so we had some fun with that.

The next day, I read that there are even 2 Da Dong’s in Shanghai which have a Michelin star. So next time I’m craving some yummy roast duck I know where to go.