Travel Diaries: Amsterdam

Hi friends! Today’s post, FINALLY, is my last installment of our trip to Europe – this one is all about our 3-day stay in Amsterdam. This post is way overdue, but I wanted to get it up before the new year – just in the nick of time, literally. Everyone who has visited Amsterdam comes back with raving reviews, so we were very excited to check the city out. We took the Eurostar from London to Amsterdam, which was only about three hours and $50. Travelling by train around Europe is such a fast and affordable way to get around the continent.

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Travel Diaries: London (British Museum, Westminster Abbey, Hamilton, and More!)

Hello, my friends! I don’t know what’s wrong with me, but I keep forgetting to upload my travel blog posts. This was supposed to go up on Tuesday! Today’s post is the last post on our trip to London, which includes days 4-5 in the city. I have one more travel blog post, which will be about our three days in Amsterdam. It should be posted sometime in the next week, if not this one!

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Travel Diaries: London (Harry Potter Studio Tour, Camden Market)

Hello, friends! You guys, I have literally forgotten to post this entry for five days in a row. It was supposed to go up last week, and I just kept forgetting to post it. But better late than never! Today is a continuation of our travels in Europe at the beginning of fall, and this one covers the third day of our stay in London. Read Part 1 here to see the first two days of our trip, including Tower Bridger, Tower of London, Borough Market, and visits to a few museums!

DAY 3

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Our third day in London was going to be a long and exciting one for us. We started the day off at the Museum of Natural History, which wasn’t originally in our itinerary. As I mentioned before, my husband and I are big into museums, but this was another one that I was reluctant to visit. I feel like once you’ve visited one Museum of Natural History, you’ve visited them all – and we’ve seen several throughout over our years of travelling. I always think they’re a great place to bring children, though, and to be fair, the collections and exhibitions at the Museum of Natural History are quite extensive. The architecture of this building is gorgeous, too.

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Regent Street

After the museum, we headed off to Regent Street, specifically for their Summer Streets festival. For the last seven summers, London has closed off Regent Street to cars on a few select Sundays to encourage pedestrians to enjoy the festival. We just so happened to be in London on the last weekend of the festival, so we decided to check it out. Regent Street is a street with beautiful, curved buildings, and it’s a great place if you’re in the mood for shopping, as it includes both high street (affordable) and luxury brands. There were a few food stalls and some live music, and some of the stores along the street were also giving discounts. In terms of the festival, I would say if you’re in the area, you should stop by and see it, but otherwise it’s not a must-see. I would love to see Regent Street at Christmas one day!

By the time we finished at Regent Street, it was lunchtime, and we headed off to Camden Market for some food.

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Camden Market

Camden Market is both a food place and an activity. Unlike Borough Market, this place doesn’t really sell produce, but similar to Borough Market, it is also packed full of delicious food stalls. Besides eating, there are tons of little boutiques to browse – craft booths, art shops, vintage clothing shops, handcrafted jewelry, and such. The larger area that Camden Market is located in is called Camden Lock, and the shops in the greater area are definitely more edgy and punk than what you see in central London – they all give me Hot Topic vibes, haha.

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As we walked by each food stall, we wanted to try everything here! I wish we had planned our trip here a little better, because we could have spent a lot more time checking this area out, but we were in a rush to get to our next attraction (which we had arrive on time for). We did end up coming back here for more food another day, but it was a little out of the way for us. We ate a bunch of really yummy things, but unfortunately forgot to take a photo of most of them because we were so hungry. Everything we had here was scrumptious!

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I have no idea what this is (I think it’s a Middle-Eastern grilled pita) but I remember it being absolutely delicious
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This model of Hogwarts takes up a large room, and in the movies they actually use it in all of the close-up external shots of  the school!

Warner Bros. Studio Tour

This was the moment I was waiting for! The reason why we were in a rush to leave Camden Market was because we had purchased tickets to visit the Harry Potter studio tour. The tour was the first thing I booked after we had decided we were going to London, and one of the things I was looking forward to the most on this trip.

If you’re planning on going to the studio, The biggest tip I have for you is to leave yourself adequate time to arrive at the studio – I would say allocating 2 to 2 1/2 hours if you’re coming from London is safe. Because your (mostly self-guided) tour is scheduled to start at a specific time, you need to arrive on time. The studio is located in Leavesden, which is 20 miles outside of the city center and requires visitors to take a 30 minute train (not the Underground) from Euston station to the closest station to the studio, then a 20 minute shuttle from the station to the studio. It can be confusing to find the right train to take out of the city center, so give yourself a few extra minutes to get your oriented, too.

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The set that was used for the Gryffindor common room scenes, as well as the costumes that Emma Watson, Daniel Radcliffe, and Rupert Grint wore in Prisoner of Azkaban.

The Leavesden studio is where they filmed the Harry Potter movies, and the tour contains a ton the actual movie sets, props, and costumes they actually used during filming, in addition to “behind-the-scenes” information such as concept art and special FX makeup. For kids (or even adults who want to try it), there are also things like a green screen set up behind a broom, so it looks like you’re flying. As a huge Harry Potter nerd, I was obsessed with this place. There is SO much to see and learn. Instead of being busy taking photos, put the phone down to take in ALL the details of the sets! My husband is not big HP fan (he’s watched the movies but hasn’t read the books), but he thoroughly enjoyed the studio tour as well. They have the iconic Butterbeer available at the cafe, as well as a huge gift shop where you can get pretty much any HP product your heart wants!

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Lily and James Potter’s House in Godric’s Hollow!

Leave yourself at least 3 hours to go through the entire studio – we could have spent probably 5 hours here, but our tour was booked for 4:30pm, and we didn’t want to get back to London too late at night.

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It was quite late by the time we got back to London, but that didn’t stop us from getting dinner at one of the most popular restaurants in the city. Dishoom is an Indian restaurant that was recommended to us by a friend who visited London a few years ago (and then again by my blogging friend Poutnplay on Instagram). The restaurant has become so popular that they’ve now opened up several locations, but we had our minds set on eating at their original location in Covent Garden. Wanting to eat there the night before, we had passed by and saw a HUGE lineup outside, but we chalked it up to it being a Saturday night. We thought Sunday night might be better because people would have to work the next morning, but the line was just as long. However, the employee manning the line told us it doesn’t really get any better on the weekdays, so we just decided to wait it out.

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This is only half of the line waiting to get a table for dinner – there’s another long line to the right of this photo!

We were told the wait would be an hour and forty minutes long, but I think it only ended up being half that! They passed out shot glasses of chai while we were waiting, and it was the yummiest chai I have ever had, no joke – so rich and fragrant. And let me tell you, the wait was so worth it for the meal. It was by far the best Indian food we’ve had in our life! You would think with the huge amount of traffic they get, and also likely having to deal with tourists, the people working there would be grumpy, but they were all so, so nice. I would gladly come back and eat here any time.

Even though we were stuffed and it was getting really late, I had a lot of dessert places I wanted to try in London, so we had no choice but to grab some before heading back to the hotel for some much-needed rest. Our dessert for the night was at Mamasons Dirty Ice Cream, a Philipino dessert shop located in Chinatown. This place itself was super cute and Instagram-worthy. We ordered their signature dessert bilog, which is essentially a hot ice cream sandwich – ice cream placed inside the middle of a warm milk bun. We got the flavours ube (sweet purple yam) and black buko (which we thought would be black sesame, but turned out to be coconut with activated charcoal).

Mamasons

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That’s it for Part 2 of our visit to London! In our next post, I’ll be talking about Buckingham Palace, Westminster Abbey, and Hamilton!

Travel Diaries: London Part 1 (Including Covent Garden, Tower of London, Borough Market, and more!)

Hello, everyone! Today’s post is the first installment of my travel blogs all about our trip to London and Amsterdam back in September. I’ve split our visit to London into 3 different blog posts, and hopefully Amsterdam will only take one. Today’s post covers he first two days in the city.

Just as a note, I am horrible at travel blogging – besides the fact that I only travel 1-3 times a year, there’s a reason why I’m not a travel blogger!

This was my second trip to London, but my first time was with my high school when I was 17, so I’m not sure the first time even counts. To be honest, the first time I visited, I wasn’t entirely impressed and didn’t think I’d ever go back, but when my husband suggested it for our vacation this year, I was down for giving it another shot. It was 1000% more fun this time, and my husband and I were even saying it’s a place we could totally see ourselves living in for a year or so.

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Asia Travel Diaries: Hong Kong

Hi everyone! Today’s post is all about our trip to Hong Kong. To be honest, our stay here was super chill because we didn’t do too much. My parents are actually from Hong Kong and we’ve been back in previous years to visit family before, so we spent most of the trip eating, shopping, and visiting family. To be honest, most of the photos I took of this trip were of food, LOL. However, at the end of the post, I’ll list some places we visited during prior trips that I would highly recommend!

Hong Kong is such a fun city with so much to see. The official language is Cantonese, which I can speak, but you’ll easily get away if you only speak English. Hong Kong was a British colony up until 1997, so there are English signs everywhere, and those in the service industry can usually speak English fairly well. I find the culture in Hong Kong a very unique and distinct blend of East and West, moreso than any other Asian country we’ve visited so far.

Out of all the places we’ve visited, Hong Kong has my favourite public transit system (MTR) EVER. Not only is it very clean, but it’s by far the easiest for tourists to understand, it’s extensive, and it’s extremely efficient. Each of the 10 MTR lines have a name, but the colours are much easier for tourists like me to remember.

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Hong Kong is made up of three main regions: Kowloon, Hong Kong Island, and the New Territories, and they are all connected by its MRT system so that it’s easy to travel between the regions. Most tourists tend to stay in the Kowloon area because it has it closer to all of the main attractions and is more trendy. We stayed on Hong Kong Island because it’s closer to where our relatives live, and one good thing about it is that it’s quieter and farther away from all the crowds. While we would often have to switch trains to get somewhere, I didn’t find it to be a huge hassle because the city is so compact and the train systems are so efficient.

The hotel we stayed in was called iClub Fortress Hill. It was a really convenient location because it was a 5 minute walk to two MRT stations, as well as 5 minute walk to the bus station where we took the bus to and from the airport. The hotel itself was decent – quite new and modern-looking, clean, but very small. This isn’t unusual for Hong Kong, because the city is so crowded!

FOOD

One of my favourite things about Hong Kong is the food. After we dropped off our bags off at the hotel early afternoon, we went off for lunch at the famous Hong Kong establish, Tim Ho Wan. This is a dim sum place that is the second cheapest Michelin star rated restaurant in the world, which is what makes it popular with tourists and locals alike. It was our first time there, even for my parents. They’re known for their BBQ Pork Buns, which were absolutely phenomenal – crispy on the outside and gooey and hot on the inside.

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One thing to note about the service industry in Hong Kong is that the service isn’t great, at least in my experience. Hostile service is generally what I expect, and anything better than that always feels like a bonus! One thing that may also be a shocker to tourists is that a lot of restaurants may also give you a large bowl and a tea pot full of boiling water at the beginning of the meal. These are meant for rinsing all of your bowls, teacups, and utensils. I doubt that quickly rinsing all of your eating tools in hot water is going to help all that much without soap and a sponge – at this point you’re just sanitizing your stuff. But if it makes you feel any better, we never got sick from eating out…

Another affordable restaurant we tried was Australia Dairy Company. The owner of the restaurant worked on a farm in Australia in the 40’s, and when he returned to Hong Kong, he started this restaurant (hence the name). Similar to Tim Ho Wan, Australia Dairy Company is an establishment that is popular for both locals and tourists. We went at around 3pm so it wasn’t too busy, but this place usually has really long lineups if you go in the morning!

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This place serves a pretty traditional Hong Kong breakfast: buttered toast, eggs, milk tea, and macaroni with ham. The food is good, the service is abysmal – as soon as we sat down, one of the servers came over to our table and proceeded to STARE AT ME with a completely blank expression. For about a very long 10 seconds, we just stared at each other until he finally walked away. I mean…what?? It was probably the most awkward experience I’ve ever had in a restaurant. That was weird, but the service here was just hostile in general. ANYWAYS. The food here was good, but nothing I would line up for – they are known for their scrambled eggs, which are admittedly super buttery and creamy, but everything else was pretty average.

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On one of our last evenings in Hong Kong, we went to Social Place for dinner. I think I randomly found this restaurant through Instagram several months before our trip, and after showing my mom some photos, it didn’t take much convincing for her to be on board with us all going to eat here. This place is SUPER popular – we had a reservation at 8:00pm and we still had to wait until 8:30 to get our table. The food here is so freaking Instagram-worthy – I think they’re most known for their adorable baos (buns) that are so cute and aesthetically pleasing. I thought that the food might be more beauty than substance, but it was actually really unique and delicious! This place is pricier than your average dim sum restaurant, but it was so worth it.

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Hong Kong’s skyline is iconic, and you must take a trip to Victoria Harbour in Kowloon, where you get a beautiful view of the skyline. It also has a laser show in the evenings, although to be honest, I didn’t find it particularly impressive. This is also the place where you can take the Star Ferry to Hong Kong Island – it’s a short ride, but something I think you should experience!

View of Victoria Harbour in Hong Kong

You may have seen a lot of “influencers” posting photos outside these apartment buildings that have become very iconic in the last few years. When I first started seeing these on Instagram, I was like “WHY.” People live in these apartments, and it would be SO annoying to have tourists come and take photos of the place you live. How would you feel if there was a  never-ending parade of tourists outside YOUR apartment, causing a ruckus?? However, I was kind of curious about these apartments because they look very similar in style to where my relatives live, so I asked my parents if these apartments looked familiar to them, and they knew exactly where these apartments were located! Apparently my aunt and uncle used to live here when my cousins were young, and they still live about 10 minutes away now.

We went to see them in person while we were exploring the Hong Kong Island side – I was kind of curious to see how big the crowds would be. There was actually only one other couple there and they were being pretty quiet, so we decided to stay. BUT they did have a sign saying that you need permission and a permit to take photos there, and to respect the tenants and keep the noise down. I doubt that people follow the rules (we sure didn’t), but it just goes to show you that the noise and crowds is probably unbearable at times!

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We did not go to a ton of touristy places this time since we had already done most of them on our first trip, but if you are going to Hong Kong, here are a list of suggestions for places that are fun to visit, and pictures from our last trip (if I have them):

Victoria Peak: Gorgeous lookout point with views overlooking the Hong Kong skyline from above. Gorgeous at night, too!

View of Hong Kong from Victoria Peak
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Ngong Ping 360: One of the most scenic gondola rides I’ve ever been on, where you get to get away from the hustle and bustle of the city and enjoy the lush green hills of Hong Kong.

Tsim Sha Tsui: Trendy area on Kowloon with great shopping, food, and close to tourist areas like Victoria Harbour. Also has great night life because most of the night markets area located here (see below). Also close to Mong Kok, which is a bustling area that is fun as well.

Night Markets: The two biggest night markets are Temple Night Market and Ladies’ Market. I’ve found in recent years there’s less food vendors and more vendors selling random things like cheap clothing, and fake luxury bags. I don’t really buy anything from these night markets, but it’s cool to look at.

Lantau Island: Lush island that also holds the Tian Tan Buddha, which used to be the world’s largest outdoor Buddha; although it’s no longer the largest, it’s still pretty dang impressive to see.

Lan Kwai Fong: If you’re looking for a place to grab a drink, LKF is Hong Kong’s bar district and is full of trendy restaurants, nightclubs, and bars.

Asia Travel Diaries: Taiwan

Hello, everyone! You may or may not know that I spent two weeks in Asia last month. We spent about a week in Taiwan, and a week in Hong Kong. My parents are from Hong Kong and it wasn’t my first time visiting the city, but it was my first time in Taiwan. Today’s post is specifically about our time in Taiwan. We were there for about 6 fulls days and we stayed in Taipei, which is the capital city. If you’re anything like me, you probably don’t know much about Taiwan. There’s definitely a lot of controversy in terms of the political status of Taiwan and whether or not they should belong to China – I can’t pretend to be an expert on the matter, but I do know that the Taiwanese people are very passionate about this topic. As a tourist, I do think Taiwan is very uniquely Taiwan, and nothing at all like the cities I’ve been to in China, nor like Hong Kong!

GENERAL

The hotel we stayed in was called Just Sleep Ximending, and we loved this hotel. Not only was it clean and comfortable, but we liked the layout of the bathrooms, which had the toilet, sink, and showers separated so that my husband could use one while I could use the other. It was also a super convenient location: a five-minute walk to Ximen Station and about a 10 minute walk to Taipei Main Station, which is a major hub station. In terms of entertainment, it was a five minute walk to Ximen Night Market, which is a bustling attraction in Taipei.

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What I’m Bringing on Vacation

Hello, everyone! Today I’m doing another post on what I’m bringing with me on vacation. I can’t believe I’m doing another one of these so soon!

As you’re reading this, I am on my flight to Hong Kong. This time, I’m bringing a checked bag instead of only a carryon like I normally do, and I have so much more space than I’m used to that I don’t know what to do with it all! Yet with all this extra space, I feel like I’m bringing even less skincare and makeup than usual. Read on to see what I am taking with me!

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Japan Travel Diaries: Tokyo (Part 2)

Hello again! Today is a continuation of yesterdays’ travel post, where I’ll be talking about the second part of our stay in Tokyo.

DAY 4

We started Day 4 in Asakusa, another district of Tokyo. It is well-known for the Senso-Ji Temple, as you can gather by all of the tourists gathered here even though it was really early and drizzling out.

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Up next was Ueno Park, which is situated near the Akihabara area. I thought of it as a mini Central Park, because like Central Park, it has its own zoo and some museums around it. The day we visited Ueno Park was a rainy one, so we avoided a bit of the rain by going to the National Museum of Nature and Science, which was inside the park. The museum ended up being a lot better than we both expected!

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Japan Travel Diaries: Tokyo, Japan (Part 1)

Hello, everyone! Today I am continuing my Japan travel post and writing all about our stay in Tokyo. I feel like it’s taken forever for me to get through my travel posts, and it’s because I’ve only posted one a week to spread them out and not inundate you guys with them. However, this means it feels like I’ve been dragging them on, so I’m going to try to finish them up this week. Tokyo will be the last installment, but I have split it up into two posts as there’s just so much to talk about. Part 2 will be up tomorrow! I also have to work on replying to comments soon, which I’m so behind on!

When people think of Japan, they most likely think of Tokyo. While a city like Kyoto is historical and traditional, Tokyo is a bustling modern metropolis. I especially loved Tokyo for all of the eating and shopping, but we visited a lot of interesting places here too! We spent 5 full days here, and two half days at the beginning and end.

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Japan Travel Diaries: Nara and Osaka

Hi everyone! Today is another installment of our Japan travels. This time, I’m talking about our day trip out to Nara and Osaka, both of which are just a short bullet train ride away from Kyoto. Our original plan was to visit these places on separate days to allow for more time to look around, but because we missed a day due to our cancelled flight, we had no choice but to do them together. It would’ve been nice to spend some extra time in both places, but I think it general it worked out just fine.

Our first stop of the day was Nara. There are a few different ways to get to Nara from Kyoto, but we took the bullet train, which took about 50 minutes. Once you arrive, the main attraction, Nara Park, is about a 20 minute walk from the station.

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NARA

If you’ve heard of the city of Nara, you probably know it for Nara Park, which is a huge park that is also a home to hundreds of deer. Before visiting Nara, we thought there would only be a few deer lounging around, but they are roaming freely everywhere! At the park grounds, standing around on the middle of the sidewalk, crossing the intersection right in front of cars…everywhere! Not surprisingly, the mascot of this city is a deer.

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