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0 In wander

Five Coffee Shops in Oakland to Visit

Two and a half years ago, I made the drive from Philadelphia to Oakland. And this upcoming Monday, Will and I are going to making the drive back! Yes, if you haven’t heard already, we are going to move back to Pennsylvania, at least for a few months. Now that we’re leaving, I’ve been discovering a ton of places that I want to explore and eat at. I keep wondering to myself, “HOW have we been here for three years and we never went to THAT place?!” But then I remember – cooking at home saves money, and we actually like to cook! I guess it always happens like that, though. You sort of hate the place you live but then once you’re about to leave, you start meeting new people you could have been friends with and you start finding new favorite restaurants. Womp womp.

One of the things I really loved about being in Oakland is that it actually reminds me a lot of Philadelphia. I find the people in Oakland are more down to earth, and there are pockets of culture all around the city. Many neighborhoods here also remind me of specific neighborhoods of Philly, which is pretty cool. Oakland has a lot to offer, and is a great place to visit or live. There are so many local businesses and definitely many coffee shops in Oakland! I love spending time working in cafe’s, and this year, I’ve learned to enjoy my coffee black, which also means I’ve learned to appreciate the flavors of different types of coffee. There are so many places one could visit, but here are a few of my recommendations for coffee shops in Oakland 🙂

Black Spring Coffee Company

I stumbled across this coffee shop on a walk around the area as I waited for Will to finish a doctor’s appointment. It’s spacious and a great place to come work on your computer, read a book, or meet a friend. If you stay in and get a coffee mug (instead of a to-go cup), you get free self-serve refills! They have two or three canisters that are different types of coffee, so you can try a mug of each flavor if you really wanted to. I’m not a big fan of coffees that are too sour or acidic, and apparently, neither is the store owner, who serves an Indian roasted coffee that is known to be the least acidic. I’ve found the coffees at Black Spring to all be really great! They are also known for their Malabar drink, a shaken drink involving 2 shots of espresso, sugar syrup, and milk. Even though I didn’t get to frequent this shop as often as I’d like, I would consider Black Spring to be one of my favorite coffee spots of all time.  2930 Telegraph Ave, Oakland, CA 94609 (Pill Hill Neighborhood, near Piedmont Ave) Continue Reading →

0 In wander

Six Days in Hong Kong

It’s been a couple of weeks since we’ve returned from Hong Kong, and I am still thinking about that dim sum. Seriously, I didn’t even know I could love dim sum even more than I already do!

English is one of Hong Kong’s national languages, so it’s a great place to travel to if you’re an English speaker who is worried about language barriers. I really enjoyed my time in Hong Kong, and I would love to come back again soon.

Hong Kong has the modern qualities of Seoul, but the craziness and intensity of Vietnam. The streets and crowds can get pretty crazy, and people are always moving! Everyone’s always in a hurry, and even the escalators are running at top speed. You think I’m joking, but actually – be careful on those escalators!

Accommodations

The real estate in Hong Kong is limited, but it’s still a hoppin’ city and it was as expensive as being in Seoul or LA or SF. We stayed at an Airbnb right on Sneaker Street in Mong Kok and got moved around a few times. The first night, our room was tiny. Will and I had two suitcases and a backpack each, and there wasn’t room for them! We ended up stacking all our suitcases into a tetris tower for the first night. On the second night, our host moved us to a bigger room (for our honeymoon :D) and it was a lot more comfortable. They ended up moving us a third time to accommodate a bigger party they had – it wasn’t ideal and we could’ve said no, but we just tried to be nice about it. It was poor planning on their part, but eh, I’ve had worst hotel experiences.

Just like Seoul, it’s good to stay within walking distance of the metro. The metro and bus’ are very convenient here! If I had to rebook, I might’ve looked on the Central side rather than Tsim Sha Tsui because we ended up crossing the river a lot, but I’m also not sure if it really made that much of a difference. Actually, now that I’m thinking about it, we were in a pretty good location. We were in walking distance of many good restaurants and bakeries, and just a couple blocks away from the Ladies Market, which ended up being a great place to shop and bargain.

Things to consider when looking for accommodation: being walking distance of metro or bus stop, stay in a walkable area to reduce commuting times

If you’ve never used Airbnb before, feel free to ask me any questions about my stays, and sign up using my referral code to get $40 off your first booking! Continue Reading →

8 In wander

Five Days in Seoul, South Korea

me nerding out in front of the coffee prince coffee shop 😀

Seoul is a lot like being in LA, but with a convenient metro system. Everyone is really stylish and it sort of makes you embarrassed to not look your best. It was such a different feel from Vietnam, where we flew in from, which was raw and grungy. Seoul is hip, fresh, and modern…not to mention, the traffic-laws seem more up to date!

The first thing I noticed when we got off the place in Seoul was the temperature. It was cold! Thailand, Singapore, and Vietnam were all hot and humid, and that was the type of weather we had packed for. Fortunately, we had our new custom-tailored jackets that we had just bought in Hanoi. We planned our trip here to match up at a good time to visit his Uncle, and we also got to catch up with my friend, Zoe, whom I hadn’t seen since I met her…6 or 7 years ago? Crazy. As always, I love meeting up with friends in new places; actually, I’ve come to realize that I generally like going out to eat with more people than just Will and I, because that means we can order a wider variety of food 😀

As with every trip that’s under a week, I regretted not being able to stay in Seoul longer.  We stumbled upon a lot of random street fairs and festivals, so there’s always something going on and always something to see. There are so many other parts of Korea that I want to visit, and things to see/do/eat, but I can safely say that I had a good first-round this time. I ate all my favorite foods, bought enough skincare products for a whole year, and got to spend time with some of the best people.

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3 In wander

5 Tips for Haggling at Nightmarkets

One thing I love about Asia is the markets, from Weekend markets in Thailand to the Night markets of Taiwan. The closest thing in America would be a flea market, but the markets I’m talking about aren’t flea markets. They sell “brand name” products, toys, bags, clothes, wallets – basically, any souvenir you’d like, you can probably find at these markets.

Western tourists are the best types of shoppers for these vendors, mostly because many Westerners aren’t as aggressive at haggling. Since many Asian countries have these types of markets, most will know the drill to bargaining. Haggling, though, is certainly an art form! I’m certainly not always great at it; there are times when I’ve paid too much, and other times when I got a really great deal.

Actually, the times I pay too much are enough to empower me for my next shopping trip. A few days ago, I paid a little too much for a few items, because I was feeling too stressed out and shy to haggle. I know it sounds insane, but it was really agonizing for me to think about, and I was filled with buyer’s remorse. So when Will and I went to shop tonight, I was ready to learn from my mistakes, and it was great. Today, I will also share with you the tips that I use when I’m at my highest level of haggling, with examples of how I used them to negotiate 😀 Continue Reading →

4 In wander

Nine Days in Hanoi, Vietnam

the balcony view from l’etage cafe

Cost Breakdown: 9 days, 9 nights in Hanoi, Vietnam(?)

One way flight ticket DAD to HAN – $55.72/person
Accommodation – $197.79 total for 9 nights
Transportation – $30 total (Ubers to and from Airport/Airbnb, various around the city)
Food/Drinks for 9 days – $140.25/person
Attractions/Activities – $1.75/person (Admissions for Women’s Museum and Heritage House)

Total: $425.51/person

Our last stop in Vietnam was its capital, Hanoi, which was a great balance of Ho Chi Minh City and Hoi An. In my early research, I embarrassingly kept mixing up Hanoi and Hoi An because, to the uninitiated, their names look similar. In fact, the cities are quite different from each other!

People may compare being in Ho Chi Minh City to being in New York, and Hanoi to being in Washington, D.C. I definitely prefer Hanoi to HCMC. Hanoi is still pretty crazy and crossing the street is still an ordeal, but I didn’t feel as anxious or “on-guard” all the time like I did in HCMC.

Many other people prefer HCMC over Hanoi because they say more people speak English there. Thus, they claim it’s a little easier to navigate through the city as a foreigner. Truthfully, Uber is so cheap it was easy for us to go anywhere we wanted! Personally, I prefer cities where the people are more stand-offish and ignore me, haha. I feel it’s easier to feel a city’s essence and “live like a local”. I mean, when you’re a local, no one bothers you! Anyway, if I had to choose one over the other, I would recommend Hanoi over HCMC. But since many people think the opposite, it’s worth visiting both if you’re planning a trip! Continue Reading →

0 In wander

Five Days in Hoi An, Vietnam

Cost Breakdown: 5 days, 5 nights in Hoi An/Da Nang(?)

One way train ticket HCMC to Da Nang – $38/person
Accommodation – $101.31 total
Transportation – $45 total (Ubers to, from, and around Hoi An/Da Nang)
Food/Drinks for 5 days – $70/person
Attractions/Activities – $19.50/person (Hoi An Bike Tour, Marble Mountain ticket, Massage)

Total: $273.81/person

Hoi An is known for being a romantic and relaxing getaway, but historically it’s a city of tailors. It’s still quite touristy, but I don’t necessarily find that to be a bad thing. A local told us that, not long ago, it was a very poor area, and only relatively recently has it become a popular stop for foreigners. This was definitely a much needed break for Will and I after being in crazy Ho Chi Minh City. Flights from HCMC into Da Nang, which is 30 minutes away from Hoi An, were about $70 per person. The train was half the price, so we decided to embrace adventure and give it a go.

Oh boy. Dat train ride doe.

First of all, the country of Vietnam may not look too big on the map, but it’s long. It’s an 18 hour train ride from HCMC to Da Nang, and that’s only going half way up Vietnam! A lot of people recommend taking the train not only because it’s cheaper, but it’s a pretty scenic route. The scenery was definitely beautiful during the daytime, and the sleeper car really wasn’t that bad…I mean, if you’re tired, anywhere will be comfortable, right? The soft sleeper, which is what we booked, has four beds. At some point about 2/3 of the way there, a polite couple from New Zealand took the top bunks. I was ecstatic about bunking with other English-speakers, and Will put up with it without any complaints.

If I’m being honest, I probably wouldn’t take a train so far again unless absolutely necessary. While some could handle it, the condition of the train’s bathroom was too much for me. It was just dirty and there was a river of mysterious liquid flowing along the perimeter. As I struggled to open the door around 3am, my foot took a plunge I’ll never forget. I’m getting older – too old for a ride this rough. Anyway, on to Hoi An.

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0 In wander

Extra Patê, Please – Five Days in Ho Chi Minh City, Vietnam


Cost Breakdown: 5 days, 5 nights in Ho Chi Minh City, Vietnam
(?)

One way ticket SIN to SGN – $70.50/person
Visa (approval letter + visa stamp) – $31/person
Accommodation – $147 total for 5 nights
Transportation – $35 total (various taxiing around city)
Food/Drinks for five days – $63/person
Attractions/Activities – 66 cents/person (War Remnants Museum)

Total: $347.16/person

First thing’s first: if you’re an American booking a trip to Vietnam: you need to get a visa first! If you’re smart, you probably already know. If you’re dopey like me, well, you might’ve booked a one-way ticket to Vietnam and are panicking about what to do. Fear not! You can learn from my mistakes~

I was immediately overwhelmed when we stepped out of the airport in Vietnam. We took an Uber to our Airbnb, located between District 1 and 2 (D1 being the heart of the city). The ride took almost an hour because of the crazy traffic! After getting settled in, we decided to try and explore the surrounding area and find an evening meal. I thought I knew what it was like to navigate the crazy roads of an Asian country, but the roads in Ho Chi Minh City (HCMC, formerly Saigon) are really something else. When you watch others cross the roads it’s almost like watching Jesus walk on water. We braved the roads to find the first banh mi of our trip from a little street vendor. Softly toasted bread with melt-in-your mouth meat and pickled vegetables? That’s what dreams are made of.

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1 In wander

Getting Your Vietnam Visa (7 Steps)

When Will and I first booked our tickets to Vietnam, we didn’t know we needed a visa. I know, how embarrassing, right? The good news is, even though it felt like last minute, it wasn’t really last minute. You could probably use the method I used 5 days before you decide to go to Vietnam, but meh, do you really wanna procrastinate at the risk of not being able to get into a country?

Before you read on, not everyone needs a visa to get into Vietnam. Check here to see if you require a Vietnam visa. Then do another Google search to double-check 😀

There are actually three different ways to get your visa:

  1. Obtain the visa at the Vietnamese Embassy or Consulate in your home country. I’ve heard this is the more expensive way to do it, and they also discourage people from using other options to obtain a visa. Supposedly it’s the most secure way? I was in a foreign country when I decided to get a visa, so I didn’t do much research into this method.
  2. Apply on the newly implemented e-visa website. This might end up being the best way to get your visa later on,  but since it is a new system that started this year, there are still some kinks that need to be worked out. I’ve seen a few people on travel forums say this worked fine, but I’ve read even more people saying they went through a lot of trouble, so I decided to pass. Plus, there were a lot of websites that were pretending to be the “right one”, and I didn’t want to risk getting scammed.
  3. Visa on Arrival. This is the method I used to get my visa. Basically, you pay for a tourism company to invite you into the country by a visa approval letter. Then, having the proper documents provided by them, you get and pay for the visa after arriving at the airport.

If an airline does it’s job right, you shouldn’t even be able to get on an airplane without the proper visa-related documents. However, we did end up witnessing a man at the the Tân Sơn Nhất International Airport without any knowledge of needing a visa. They weren’t letting him in! Don’t be like that guy. So, anyway, here’s a step-by-step guide on how to get your Visa on Arrival. Continue Reading →

7 In wander

Three Days in Singapore

Cost Breakdown: 3 days, 3 nights in Singapore(?)

One way ticket HKT to SIN – $50/person
Accommodation – free with Hilton Honor points
Transportation – $53 total (various taxi’s around the city)
Food/Drinks for 3 days – $50/person
Attractions/Activities – $28/person (Art Science Museum)

Total: $181/person

“Eat laksa, eat bak kut teh, eat kaya toast, eat radish cake Luo bo gao bc the way they make it is different from like what we think of…” Wise advice from my platonic soul mate.

Singapore has been on my travel list for quite some time. Main mission: obviously, eat all da foodz.

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3 In wander

Street Markets of Old Phuket Town + Last Day Lagoons


Cost Breakdown: 5 days, 5 nights in Old Phuket Town, Thailand
(?)

Accommodation – $126 total for 5 nights
Transportation – $42 total (taxi from Thalang to Old Town; tuk-tuk to weekend market; taxi to airport)
Food/Drinks for five days – $45/person
Attractions/Activities – $160/person (3 massages + John Gray’s Hong by Starlight boat tour)

Total: $373/person

Will and I spent the remainder of our time in Thailand in Old Phuket Town. Our first day was uniquely rainy – the river next to our hotel actually flooded and spilled into the roads! The water blocked off the happening part of town for a couple days, but we found things to do in other directions. When we booked our initial flight to Asia, we knew that we were coming during rainy season, but this was only the second time in our whole trip we had a day-changing downpour. The silver lining, though, is that the rest of our time in Thailand felt just a little bit cooler temperature than the rest – still grossly humid, just not as sunny.

A lot of people visit Phuket for its beaches and islands. Old Town is, by contrast, an inland city, but it’s walkable and has a lot of character. Five nights in Old Town might be a little bit much for some vacationers, but we’re not bar people or partiers and it was perfect for us. We love the markets in Asia, and there are a few different night and day markets that happen on different nights of the week in Phuket Town. The colorful buildings in Sino-Portuguese architecture style are charming to stroll past as well. Also, this week Will was getting over some food-illness, so we were more relaxed about our daily activities.

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