Thailand! Part 2

Part two of our Thailand adventures takes place in Chiang Mai. I was very excited to see the northern part of the country as well as eat one of my favorite foods, khao soi, and the city did not disappoint! We loved walking around in the walled city, exploring the alleyways and eating more delicious foods. We also got to witness the lunar new year celebrations — Matt even wore a red shirt for the occasion! Continue reading for more of our adventures in Chiang Mai!

Part 2: Chiang Mai

Our trip to Chiang Mai started off with a small hiccup due to Vietjet moving our flight to the next day, so I needed to find a new flight with a different carrier to get us to Chiang Mai on the original date. The flight I found was a bit earlier than we normally take, but it allowed us to get off the plane and go directly to get some khao soi for lunch! I basically just picked the best reviewed location near our B&B and it was a small local spot with only a handful of seats. The Khao soi was everything I had hoped and I loved the pickled cabbage that they served with it.

After lunch we headed to our Airbnb and waited out the heat while looking up things to do in the area. We were pretty tired from our early flight but I was pretty determined to get our hands on one of our favorite desserts: kanom krok! Its a super delicious coconut pudding with a crispy outside that is a popular evening snack/dessert. We found a street vendor not too far from our place and she did not disappoint! What we didn’t realize about the dessert was that it is usually filled with more savory items, so we tried all three of her flavors — green onion, corn, and plain — and all of them were great!

Post pre-dinner snacks, we wandered around a bit since it had cooled off and ended up at a more touristy location for dinner. It was still delicious, just a little more money than the local joints. We went back to the BnB after dinner and planned out a little more of our stay in Chiang Mai.

One of the main things people visit in the area around Chiang Mai is a large mountainside temple with views of the city and the surrounding area. There are two options for getting there: driving and hiking the monks trail up the mountain. After reading a lot of reviews and guides, we opted to not go to the main temple, but instead we would hike to the lower, smaller temple in hopes of it being less crowded. We took a grab to the start of a road to take us to the trailhead but it was a bit further than we thought (i.e. I complained the whole way). Once we got to the trailhead, it was only about a 25 minute hike to the temple.

The temple itself was super picturesque and felt like something out of an Indiana Jones movie. There were not many people there and we enjoyed walking around the whole area. After our hike down, we took another grab ride to get more khao soi! We opted for a new, very highly rated place that had THE BEST khao soi we had ever tasted. It was spicy and flavorful and pickled cabbage was so so good.

It was super hot out after lunch, so we went looking for a cold beverage and found a vegan restaurant with lassis! They were so good and exactly what needed to fuel the walk across town back to the B&B. We spent the afternoon just cooling off in our room and then went out to get some dinner. We opted for a local, sort of hole in the wall place to get some stir fry and noodles. It was an early night because we had to wake up early for a special activity the next day…visiting the Asian elephant sanctuary!

Our trip to the elephant sanctuary called for an early-ish pick up at our B&B. We piled into an open back truck for the nearly three hour journey to the sanctuary in the hills southwest of Chiang Mai. It was a kind of cold, uncomfortable ride but we made some new friends (hi Esther and Michael!). Once we arrived, we hiked over to the pavilion and got an orientation for the day’s activities before heading off to meet the elephants.

We first got to feed them their favorite snacks of bananas and sugar cane. They were very friendly and the caretakers told us all about their personalities and their families. After feeding the first group and spending some time with them, we hiked to a different part of the sanctuary to meet another family group and seeing some babies(!). Matt and I spent time with a sweet girl elephant who recently lost her mom to old age before heading over to see the babies. Those guys were very busy destroying some banana trees and didn’t want to hang out so we went back to the pavilion to eat some lunch.

We made some elephant medicine balls by hand after lunch and fed them to the elephants before taking some pictures. Then we got to wash the matriarch elephant with water and brushes before heading to the mud pit. The mud provides them with protection from the sun and bugs and we got to spread it all over those who would tolerate it. Finally, we went to play in the mountain stream. All in all, it was a great experience and we loved getting to interact with the elephants up close. I know that these types of places are a bit controversial but they are able to remove the elephants from a life of hard labor in logging camps and provide them a safer and more restful home.

The next day was Lunar New Year and we walked to Chinatown to check out the festivities. There were tons of food vendors, decorations, and music playing all throughout the streets. We grabbed some street waffles, bought a cute coin purse for $1USD, and enjoyed the parade.

For lunch we opted for another trip to our favorite khao soi place and then settled into our B&B room for an afternoon of trip planning and napping. We went back to the vegan restaurant for dinner and enjoyed massaman curry (and another lassi!) before going in search of a rooftop bar to watch the sunset. Unfortunately we couldn’t get to the bar because of road construction, but we wandered around and found another location to grab cocktails. After some pretty delicious cocktails, we headed toward the Sunday night market. The walk there was through an interesting neighborhood full of bars with ex-pat old men and young Thai women yelling at people to come in. The market itself wasn’t great either because it ended up just being full of foreigner-friendly food stalls and kitschy souvenirs — we headed back to the B&B after one lap around.

Our last full day in Chiang Mai was spent exploring a different part of the city, outside the walls. I wanted to check out some coffee shops and a vegetarian restaurant in the digital nomad part of town. I call it that because a lot of the authors of travel blogs I was reading at the time had spent months working/living in that part of Chiang Mai because Thailand had a pretty generous visa extension policy and its a relatively cheap place to live.

We walked around the area and found a pretty delicious vegetarian restaurant to have lunch. We got to sit on the balcony and people watch while enjoying some veggie noodle pad Thai and papaya salad. Afterwards, we headed to a nice coffee shop to hang out and stare at our phones for an hour or so. Then we headed back to the B&B before getting ready for our cooking class (that I almost napped through!).

The cooking class was so fun! We were the only two who signed up for that evening’s class and it was great to have the closely guided instruction. We learned SO MUCH about the different sauces and bases of Thai cooking. One of the dishes we made was our favorite, khao soi! I cant wait to buy a nice mortar and pestle to recreate some of the dishes we made with Ahn. I cannot recommend her class enough (we found it on Airbnb) and it was the best way to finish off our trip to Thailand.

Thailand was a fantastic and beautiful country. We had a great time fighting the crowds in Bangkok and enjoying the more laid back vibes of Chiang Mai. The country was full of rich history and culture and was a joy to explore. Top highlights for me were experiencing the floating market, our monk blessing (I am still wearing the bracelet 3 months later), and spending an entire day petting Asian elephants. Thankfully, it wasn’t our last adventure in Thailand during our Southeast Asia tour (hint: we spent a lot of hours on ferries in February). Our next blog post will be the first part of our trip to Vietnam! We flew to Hanoi from Chiang Mai and were surprised by the big change in climate and culture…more to come soon!



Isolation updates!

Hey there, long time no blogging. So the last two weeks on the road were a bit of a doozie and I didn’t get to finish a lot of posts I was working on but I’ll update you quickly on what’s been going on with us!

We had been monitoring the whole corona virus situation fairly closely because we were in Southeast Asia when the announcement was made by WHO in early January. We followed along with mandated measures in Vietnam (like mandatory masks while riding the train to and from Hanoi) and went through lots of fever/health screenings at airports. Everything seemed under control and we were never worried about getting sick.

By late February we were in our island hopping paradise in the Andaman sea and gearing up for our trip to India, not thinking too much about countries closing down. However, our first indication that things were escalating was our flight to Delhi — it was nearly empty. At that point, India had only a dozen cases and they were isolating everyone that they came into contact with, so it all seemed fine. Our first few days were great and then while visiting the Taj Mahal, we hit our first big roadblock — Bhutan closed its borders to tourists three days before we were supposed to fly there. We worked with our travel agency to come up with a plan and we ultimately decided to reroute that week to southern India.

Our flight to Delhi

Everything was booked for a week of exploring the state of Kerala and we hopped on the plane from Dehli super early in the morning. When we arrived, the state of Kerala had just discovered 12 new cases of COVID-19 and they shut all tourist attractions down (as well as schools and a lot of businesses). So basically we had no where to go since most of our bookings were based on exploring those types of places. At this point, the cases in the US were doubling every day and Europe was in a state of emergency.

Local wildlife in India..a preview of a future blog post

The second day in Cochin was spent monitoring the news in our hotel room and discussing/researching our options for the next few weeks. We were booked to go to Indonesia for the rest of March and we thought maybe we could swing it, but it was such a remote location that we opted to cancel. We couldn’t afford to be away from the news for as long as we had planned given how quickly the governments around the world were making decisions. Then that evening, Trump announced he was closing down travel from Europe and the state department issued their first warning to citizens abroad about returning home. All of that sealed our fate and we booked a flight back to the US for the next day.

On March 13th, we started our 30 hour journey back to Portland, OR from Cochin, India. It was a very bittersweet moment getting on the long haul flight from Singapore to San Francisco. I knew that coming back to the US was the best decision but I was so upset that we had to end the trip the way we did. It was also mildly disturbing that there were no health screenings to get into the USA upon arrival at SFO. Also all of the airports we were traveling through were very empty. We had flown through Singapore four times during our trip and seeing the Jewel closed was pretty eery.

A lot of contemplating our future with large Kingfisher beers took place at our hotel pool in Cochin

We had grand plans for our arrival to the US, including staying in Portland for our two week voluntary self-isolation, but while we were in the air everything changed. Portland had shut down everything and groceries were hard to come by. So after a few days of sleeping off our jet lag and watching states all over the US shut down and issue stay-at-home orders, we decided to head east to where our families are and try to figure out a long term (less expensive) living arrangement. We grabbed the Subaru out of storage, along with some more cold weather clothing options and my vitamix (haha), and embarked on a road trip to Florida. Matt’s sister and her family were amazingly kind enough to offer us their weekend home near Tallahassee to stay in while we figure things out. A month later, we are still here but no closer to figuring out what to do next. I’ll keep you all updated on what we decide, but ideally we go back out later this year. It’s an unpredictable time and I am going through a lot of emotions as of late about the whole thing.

At least the roads were mostly empty for our drive across the US!

So long story short, we are in the US, safe and sound and thankful for family. I plan to restart my efforts of working on the posts because we went to so many amazing places and only maybe 30% are documented here at the moment. I hope you all are well and staying safe in your respective isolations!


Thailand! Part 1

Hi Friends! Sorry it’s been awhile since my last update — I guess we have been having too much fun? Or more likely that it hasn’t been on my radar to write recently. But I am hoping to crank out the rest of the posts from Southeast Asia before we head to India. I decided to break up the Thailand post into two parts for ease of reading. We did a whole lot of activities while we were there in January. I hope you enjoy reading about Bangkok!

Part 1: Bangkok

I was excited and nervous when we touched down in Bangkok after a later flight into the city. Our Airbnb host sent a car to get us from the very hectic airport and we just called it a night after that.

The view from our Airbnb (pollution was really bad the whole time)

The next day we hit the ground running with an early morning trip to the floating market. We met up with our guide, Paul, and were taken to eat a local breakfast from a lady making noodles in a boat! Breakfast was delicious — I had some rice noodles with coconut milk and lime and ginger — but (spoilers) we might have regretted eating because Paul really hooked us up along the way with ALL OF THE SNACKS. He gave us a fish patty from two ladies in a boat freshly frying them to order and they were super spicy and delicious. Rice cakes, fried thin cookies, and oranges were also given to us to eat while we were walking around. The guide seemed to have a very good rapport with the people in the markets because we didn’t have to pay for any of the samples or fruits we were given. We learned about how the market was mostly food, local produce, and some clothing — but it had only a few stalls of souvenirs that we came across. Once we made it through part of the market, we got on a long tail boat to take us through the canals and to the temple market.

Boating through the canals was quite an experience. The boat is really loud and goes very fast for the canal only being 10 meters wide. We slowed down for passing boats and in more populated areas. Our guide taught us about spirit temples (a small temple building just outside the house for prayer) and local life in the area. Most people living in the area of the market work on large farms along the canals. The temple market was much much smaller than the main floating market and its mostly for locals. Paul took us to the temple, where we got some lotus flowers, incense sticks, and gold leaf before taking off our shoes and heading inside. We learned how to do a traditional Buddhist prayer where we light the incense sticks and place the lotus flowers for offering. Then we took the gold leaf (not real gold) and applied it to a specific Buddha. People usually put them in a place needing healing but you can put them wherever you want. After the temple, we set some fish and turtles free into the canal. I chose to release two “doctor” fish to represent good health in the future and Matt released a super cute baby turtle to represent long life.

We got back into the boat and headed to an orchid farm. Our boat held just me, Matt, Paul, and the driver while most boats we passed had about 12 people in them — it felt a bit luxurious. The orchid farm was really pretty. Paul told us about how some of the flowers are cut and sold for religious practices and a lot are sold for florists. You can buy the whole plants for about 25% of the prices in the US. They had so many varieties and including ones they sell to make fragrance.

We finished the tour by returning to the floating market and having a delicious Thai lunch with mango sticky rice for dessert (the ripest, most delicious mango I have ever eaten).

The rest of the day was spent relaxing the heat of the day away at the Airbnb. We then headed to the mall by BTS skytrain and find a restaurant boasting the best pad Thai in the city. I found the whole dish way too fishy and really didn’t like it. After the mall experience, we took the train a bit further away to check out the Artbox weekend market. It was nice but it was pretty clear that it was geared toward foreigners/tourists. We walked around and grabbed a couple of Thai beers to people watch a bit before ordering curry at a booth. Overall it was a good first dip into markets, but all in all it was full of foreigners and the food wasn’t super authentic.

Our third day was spent exploring on our own so we decided to head to Chinatown. We tend to always end up in Chinatown areas of the cities we are visiting because they have really good food. First we visited the very shiny golden Buddha at Wat Traimit before heading into Chinatown for lunch. The temple was super busy and a little expensive to get into, but the Buddha statue was pretty impressive. It used to be covered in stucco and colored glass to conceal how valuable it was so that it wouldn’t be stolen. When they went to move it in the 1950s, the stucco was chipped and revealed the gold beneath. Once we were finished at the temple, we went to get some very highly rated crispy pork and it did not disappoint. We were able to get seats relatively quickly and ordering was easier than anticipated (I am always worried about the language barrier). The crispy pork and the noodle soup were both SO GOOD. I still think about it sometimes and it was over a month ago!

So the city was super smoggy and the pollution levels were off the chart. After the first day of being outside, I got a sore throat and was very uncomfortable. I purchased a disposable particulate mask to see if it would help while I tried to find a more long term solution that was more comfortable than the super stiff and hard to wear disposable version. We decided to spend the afternoon inside our Airbnb because of the heat and pollution, but we found a super promising dinner to go to later.

For dinner we went to a nice restaurant that was recommended to us called Supanniga. The tea was so good that I actually bought a jar of the loose leaf tea from them when we were paying the bill. All of the food we ordered was incredible and we ordered a little bit of every category from the menu. I highly recommend their restaurant if you are in Bangkok— they have a few different locations.

Our dinner at Supanniga

Our final morning in Bangkok was spent taking another tour exploring the temple of the reclining Buddha and the royal grand palace. Our guide, A, was really great and navigated us through these super touristy and crowded places much better than I would have if we were on our own. The reclining Buddha was first on the agenda and it was gigantic. Our guide explained a lot of the different areas of the temples while we were walking toward the main attraction. For me, the most impressive part of the whole temple were the feet of the reclining Buddha. The mother of pearl inlay was incredible! I felt a bit rushed through the reclining Buddha room and trying to get a picture without tourists’ heads proved to be an exercise in patience.

Before heading to the royal palace, we took a boat ride through the canals on the loudest long tail boat. Since we had ridden through the canals on our previous tour, we didn’t really see anything new — just maybe more people and more trash in the water. When we were done with the boat rides, we headed to the VERY crowded palace. A taught us about the different stupas and the different kings who helped to build the palace complex. I think that visiting the palace is a great way to spend a few hours in Bangkok, but maybe go first thing in the morning before the tour buses get there — that place was insanely crowded, to the point of being really unenjoyable. It turns out that I don’t like being sweaty and hot and being surrounded by other tourists. We learned a lot about how we want to visit big tourist sites in the future.

After our big tour, we had lunch at a pretty touristy place nearby the palace so that we could make time to visit Wat Arun, a very famous temple across the river from the royal palace. It took us awhile, but we found the ferry to get across the river and walked over to the beautiful temple. One of the main reasons I wanted to go there is that they do traditional Buddhist blessings for anyone and I wanted to see how they did it. We wandered around the large white stupas decorated with china and colored glass pieces. Afterwards, we found the main temple (using what we learned from A about how to spot it) and walked inside after removing our shoes. There was a monk inside who beckoned us over and gave us a blessing. He chanted and spritzed us with water before tying yellow bracelets around our wrists. I still have mine on a month later! It was a pretty unique experience and I was glad we trekked over there for it.

Afterwards, we went to pick up our new pollution masks and then rested until dinner. For dinner, we headed to a nearby neighborhood to get some local non-touristy Thai food. Only locals were there and it felt much better than the super tourist ridden lunch spot we were at earlier. While we were eating dinner, I was watching a lady outside making what looked like super thin bread with egg and bananas and we decided to try some for dessert. The lady was nice and our minimal Thai got us what is called a roti with banana and Nutella and it was delicious.

Our time in Bangkok left me with mixed feelings. I wanted to be excited about our first city in Thailand, but the pollution sort of ruined it for me. Also the number of tourists that we encountered during our tours was not anticipated but maybe that was a rookie mistake. The other cities we were in before didn’t have the concentration of foreigners that we experienced in Bangkok. We learned a lot about the country from our guides and I still would recommend visiting but maybe not during the time of the lunar new year holiday. We also ate a lot of great food and the culture of Thailand was new and exciting. Stay tuned for part two where I talk about our time in Chiang Mai (spoilers: we played with elephants!).


Thoughts while traveling…part 1

So I was thinking of maybe documenting some interesting thoughts or things we reflect on while we are traveling. I am not sure if this will stick, but lets see…

  • How did people travel before google maps and ride sharing services?!? I am happy to be doing this trip with those apps my phone. That being said, I find myself too attached to google reviews for restaurants…maybe we need a more local gossip approach but who knows how that even works when we are staying in places by ourselves.
  • We had a conversation with a grab driver in Penang about MYR to USD and he was very surprised to learn how far the US dollar went. He commented that he would have to drive around a whole afternoon to afford one meal in the US. It got me thinking that you really don’t see tourists from southeast Asian countries in the US and it could be because of this enormous difference in economy.
  • Coronavirus fear is strong in Southeast Asia at the moment. The student guides we had for our food tour in Saigon even got a week extension on their new year holiday due to fears of it spreading through campus once everyone returns. I try not to get too caught up in it and considering I am a worst case scenario human, I think I am doing alright. We are being cautious but not letting it interfere too much with our travel choices or excursions. We will have to wait and see how it all pans out.
  • Pollution here in Southeast Asia is at a level I have never experienced. The US is a seriously clean country compared to most of the places we have been. Even Singapore had its fair share of polluted waterways. Matt thinks its likely because they are about a decade behind us industrially and it shows in the pollution in the creeks, rivers, and streets of the countries we have visited. When we were biking through Penang, I wanted to just start collecting the trash or organize a river clean up effort because it distressed me so much. It is one of the things that I have had to just look past but also do my best not to contribute to during our travels with more single use plastic waste.



I’ll admit, Malaysia wasn’t a country that I thought we would spend any significant amount of time in during our travels, but I am so glad that we did. We explored two different cities, Kuala Lumpur and Penang. We learned so much about the different cultures living together and experienced our first temples.

Kuala Lumpur

Our flight into Kuala Lumpur from Singapore was later in the day, so we didn’t have too much time on our first day to wander around. Once we were done exploring the Airbnb and taking in our views, we went to a restaurant nearby and had some Indian food.

The view from our Airbnb of the Petronas Towers

The second day in the city was spent exploring all over with a guide. We found a super great breakfast at Feeka with delicious pancakes and oat milk lattes! In the afternoon, we met up with our guide Thina at the central station and headed out to Little India, Chinatown, and to see some temples. Our first stop was lunch at a local Indian restaurant where we got the traditional banana leaf lunch. The locals were all eating theirs with their hands, but luckily we were served ours with forks and spoons — I would have made a mess. After lunch we went through little India and chatted with our guide about the different cultures living in Kuala Lumpur. I was surprised to learn about how conservative the culture is due to the major religion being Islam though the city is more liberal than the other areas of the country.

After little India we walked to a Buddhist temple and saw statues of the Buddha from all over Southeast Asia. Then we headed to the train to Chinatown to check out the knock off clothing and taste some street food. We tried some putu bambu — a steamed coconut and palm sugar treat, Doufu Hua — hot sweet tofu pudding, and Air Mata Kucing — a dark drink that is made from melon, rock sugar and longan fruit. The last spot we visited with the guide was a Hindu temple where we learned about different gods and how the locals come to pay homage to them.

After our great tour around the city, we headed back to our place and cooled off (I was sweating buckets for the whole tour — the humidity is no joke). We had such a full day that we ended up just going across to the Petronas Towers mall for some quick dinner and a little bit of shopping before calling it a night.

We went to the same breakfast place again on our third day. Honestly when you find a delicious oat milk latte, you just have to keep going. Afterwards, we headed to the KL Tower to try to get some good views from the observation deck. It was a super hot day so our walk to the tower was very sweaty…but it turns out that’s just the theme of Southeast Asia! We also saw some little monkeys on the hike up. The line was pretty long to get to the observation deck but it was worth the wait. They also had a glass floor area you could take photos in when you were up there but I was a little too scared to get fully out there on the platform — Matt loved it.

On the same grounds of the tower is a park where they have a canopy walk. We had hoped to walk through the park to the bottom of the hill, but they had one entrance open and it was of course at the top of the hill. Also they decided that the week before we visited to charge for the park, so it ended up not being as great as we had hoped. I honestly wouldn’t recommend visiting now that you have to pay.

Kuala Lumpur was the city where we decided to embrace the afternoon nap. Basically its way too hot and humid after lunch to really do anything so that’s when we decided to just embrace hanging out in our Airbnb in the afternoons. We are still using this afternoon time to nap, book more travel, write blog posts, and just chill out.

Our dinner that third night was a nice Malaysian food restaurant where we tried a famous dish called beef rendang. It was super flavorful and really delicious. Matt also got a curry dish with durian that wasn’t as bad as I had predicted. For those of you who don’t know, durian is a super smelly fruit that is used in southeast Asian cuisine — it really smells like poopy gym socks.

The last full day in Kuala Lumpur was spent exploring the Batu Caves. It started at our favorite breakfast place (yes again) and then we grabbed a car to get to the caves. Batu caves are a series of Hindu temples in limestone caves just outside of the city. It was one of the most colorful places I have ever been. There are a whole bunch of stairs to get into the main cave area and Matt was my monkey spotter for the way up so I could dodge them on the way up (in case you didn’t know, I really don’t like monkeys). The cave itself wasn’t very big, but the temple inside was really pretty with peacocks adoring the entrance. More monkeys were hanging out inside the caves but they were better behaved than the cheeky guys on the stairs. On our way out to the train, we stopped inside the main temple and Matt got some sort of blessing for men by a man inside. The train ride back to the city was nice and air-conditioned (and very cheap). We spent the rest of the afternoon hanging out by the pool and in hindsight we should have taken advantage of the super nice pool before our last day!

Our final day was spent packing and eating at our favorite cafe before checking out and heading to the train station to catch a 5 hour bus to Penang. We opted for the bus in this case because it was much much cheaper than flying and we didn’t have to cross any borders, so we figured why not.


After our long but uneventful bus ride (tip: stock up on downloaded Netflix shows), we ended up on the island of Penang and took a Grab ride to our Airbnb. We arrived a bit later in the day and didn’t have lunch, so we headed out for an early dinner at a Chinese restaurant just down the street from the place we were staying. After dinner, we just hung out in the Airbnb and learned that we were staying next to a karaoke place that was very loud (spoilers: they had it every night until 11pm).

We woke up early for our second morning to get picked up for a bicycle ride in the countryside of the island. Our guide was really great and taught us a lot about life on the island. We went to a Malay fishing village and a Chinese fishing village to explore how the locals live. There was a pretty big difference between the two villages — the Malay village was not as tidy as the Chinese village but the water in both was pretty dirty and polluted. Our guide told us about the government subsidies for fisherman and basically all you do is register a boat and collect a couple hundred ringgits a month. But really there isn’t much of a market for fisherman so they need the subsidies to live.

The countryside was really nice and we saw the palm oil farms up close and personal. We also went to a goat farm and had some goat milk ice cream. The goat farm had dogs that guard the farm and the fruit trees. Penang has some of the best land for growing durian and one durian can fetch a couple hundred ringgits, so they need to make sure people aren’t stealing them from the trees.

Our bike ride through the countryside at two times speed!

After the tour, we went for some Indian food for lunch because I really wanted to eat some dosa. It was super good and I am probably happy until we head to India in March. I still cant get over how good the food was in all of Malaysia. On our walk back to our Airbnb, we walked through some famous street art areas and enjoyed the scenery.

We went to a nice dinner at a fusion place for Jawi cuisine. It was super delicious and apparently very popular because we got the last table and lots of people came by to try to eat dinner. One of the big draws for Penang is the food scene as it is supposedly some of the best in Southeast Asia. I guess we will have to keep traveling around to see if it lives up to the hype, but the food we had was very good.

Early the next day we were picked up by a chef and headed to the market to buy ingredients for our cooking class. The morning market was FULL of people and we got a pretty local perspective of how to shop at the market. Our first stop was to get chicken wings for a recipe and it was a little too real for me because the chicken is killed and defeathered right there in front of you. I don’t think I will ever forget the smell of that particular booth in the market. After that we grabbed some herbs, noodles, and veggies before grabbing some food for breakfast.

We then headed back to his apartment to learn how to cook some traditional Penang dishes — a fusion of Malay and Chinese flavors. Both us of used woks for the first time, learned how to combine flavors, the purpose of MSG, and how to use bean sprout paper. It was a really nice experience and I think we will be able to make some good stir fry when we come back. The best part was eating all of our food for lunch! Thanks again Chef Samuel!

Our afternoon was spent relaxing and then we headed to the beach for sunset. The beach is called Batu Ferringhi and was a pretty nice spot on the island about 25 minutes from the Georgetown city center. We went to a beachside bar and enjoyed some nice beers as we waited for sunset. While the sun was setting we walked down the beach before heading back to Georgetown for the night.

Our last day on the island was spent wandering around for most of the day before our late afternoon flight to Bangkok. We headed up to Kek Lok Si temple in the morning to take in the views from the top and enjoy the beautiful colors of the temple decorated for lunar new year. I wanted to get some of the duck broth noodles we ate the day before at the market, but apparently it was a breakfast food because once we came back down from the temple, the booth was closed. So we headed back to the city center and grabbed some very delicious Indian food for lunch at the same place we had dosa. Afterwards, we had a few hours to kill before our flight so we spent our afternoon in an air conditioned coffee shop.

Malaysia was a really beautiful country that was full of culture and great food. We had a great time there. Kuala Lumpur was a little rougher around the edges than Singapore, but we were still able to get around easily and the people were very nice. Penang was a bit surprising in that it wasn’t a picturesque island getaway destination, but a very industry-centric area with a nice town for tourists to visit. We actually saw the first overseas manufacturing site for Intel while driving to the countryside and it wasn’t the only semiconductor company site in the area. I think overall we really enjoyed our time there and it was a fascinating country. Maybe next time we head to the Cameron Highland and explore more of the jungle.

The next post will be all about Thailand! I am a bit behind, we are actually in Vietnam now and heading to Cambodia in a couple of days. But we are all booked up for the next month so its nice to not have to be spending a lot of time planning at the moment. Until the next one…



Singapore was so great! It was a great way to dip our toes into Southeast Asia. The city was so clean, easy to get around, beautiful to look at, and had super delicious food. Oh and the signs were in English most of the time! Really, what more could I have asked for. Let’s get into what we did with our three-ish days in the city.

After we landed in Singapore, we headed for the train to take us to our Airbnb. This became our first hurdle because the train ticket machines only took cash and we didn’t have any. (Side note: we try not to get cash out at the ATMs in the airport because the fees are a little ridiculous.) So we went back to try to find an ATM, but could only get large bills so we then had to find something to buy to get some change. A really nice cashier at the market gave us lots of coins when we told her we needed change for the train. The train itself was really nice and easy to figure out, so we got to the airbnb with no issues (except copious amounts of sweat).

Once we got settled, we ventured out to get some dinner in Chinatown. Every street and business was beautifully decorated for Chinese New Year! Our dinner was fantastic and since our flight was so early out of Australia, we opted to just relax in the air conditioning until the next day.

Our second day in Singapore got started with a great breakfast not too far from our airbnb. We then spent the morning in the airbnb while I did some computer work for our upcoming trip to India and Bhutan. Once that was finished, it was time for lunch and we headed for the Maxwell hawker. A hawker is a food court that has lots of food and drink stalls. I had done a little bit of research and picked out three places for us to try on our first trip. This was going to be our first street food experience, so I didn’t really want to just show up and try to figure it out on our own. We enjoyed some hianese chicken rice, fried pork dumplings, and tapioca cakes/mango sweets for dessert.

After lunch, we headed out of Chinatown toward the marina for a grand tour of the city of Singapore. We walked along the river toward the main waterfront area. The river itself wasn’t the cleanest, but the views of the buildings and the cute riverboats were nice. We did learn that maybe doing the walks in the city in the middle of the afternoon was definitely not the best idea considering how hot it was.

The waterfront area was very picturesque and we got to see the merlion fountain! Once we walked around the main waterfront area, we headed toward the Marina Bay Sands resort complex. We stopped in the mall area for the air conditioning for a little while before heading to the Gardens by the Bay.

I was most excited about seeing the Gardens by the Bay when we decided to go to Singapore. We were trying to time our visit to the gardens with sunset because the super trees light up and there is a cool show after it gets dark. Our timing was a little bit off, but it gives us lots of time to relax in the gardens before heading to the super trees. We toured through the Cloud Forest, Flower Dome, and the super tree grove. There were tons of people everywhere but it was still super enjoyable. The light show was pretty impressive and I am glad we stayed for it even though we had to lay on concrete for an hour.

After the beautiful light show, we got on the train to head to one of the oldest hawkers in Singapore, Telok Ayer. We had heard that this was the place to get satay in town, so that’s what we set out to do. When we go there and were looking for the satay, a lady came up to us and gave us a menu for some satay so we just went with it. I am still not sure if it was the best stall to get it from, but the mutton satay was so so good. After dinner, we walked back to the airbnb for the night.

The last day in Singapore we went out for breakfast a new place and then spent the morning working on more travel planning. Since we last minute booked this leg of our trip, I still had to spend a fair amount of time working on the computer booking accommodations and excursions. For lunch, we headed out to the Maxwell hawker again to try some barbecue and rice dishes. We sat with some nice old men who told us we got a good deal haha. This time around we had a better grasp of how choosing seats worked and the general ordering of food.

After lunch, we walked to the National Museum of Singapore to learn more about the country. They have a cool set up where you basically tour different time periods in the country’s history. We learned SO MUCH about Singapore and Malaysia — from pre colonization to when Singapore gained its independence. I felt pretty ignorant not knowing about the war atrocities that happened during WWII in Southeast Asia (I blame the history books in America). It also explained how the country became so multicultural and how it became the powerhouse little country it is today.

After the museum, we headed back to the airbnb to figure out dinner. We ended up going to a place called Dumpling Darlings and stuffed our faces with super delicious dumplings. They even had a pierogi ones that were really good. I also had a pretty nice cocktail with salted plum sauce in it.

Overall, I loved our time in Singapore. I keep talking about how I miss it and I really want to go back at some point, but I am not sure if it will happen — maybe after India? The city was such a joy to explore and I highly recommend a visit if you are planning a trip to the area. Our two-ish days spent there were great but I think maybe two more days would have been good to explore more areas outside the main city. The next post will be about our week in Malaysia!


Australia Week 2: Kangaroo Island and Adelaide

Our second week in Australia was much more exciting than we bargained for — we had originally planned on spending more time on the southern coast but our trip was cut short by the bushfire crisis, but more on that later. We still had a great time for our last week: Matt saw his first wild koala, we slept in our car, and we petted some kangaroos!

Kangaroo Island

Our journey to Kangaroo Island started with a flight from Sydney to Adelaide, then a two hour drive, and ended with a ferry ride to the island.

We headed to the airbnb to get some rest since our flight out of Sydney called for a 4am wake up call. Our host greeted us and even made us homemade bread! While we were unpacking the car, we spotted our first wild koala whom I later named Sweet Pea. We spent the rest of our first evening finding more koalas, watching birds, and eating some good fish and chips.

We knew going to the island that a fire had started near the north western end on December 30th, but didn’t think it would interfere too much with our trip but we kept an eye on it during our trip over from Sydney. We couldn’t go to Flinders Chase national park because there was a fire nearby, so we spent our first morning heading over to Seal Beach. The beach is home to one of the few colonies of Australian Sea Lions and we did the tour that lets you head down to the beach to see them up close. A monitor lizard also made an appearance while we were heading down to the beach.

After the seal beach trip, we headed to Vivonne beach — one of the best rated beaches in Australia. It was a super hot and windy day, so we beelined it to the cold water to cool off. We didn’t hang around for very long because the wind was blasting you with sand when you weren’t in the water and it was so hot that you basically flash-dried when you got out of the water. These conditions are what led to the next part of our adventure….hint: the hot dry weather is really bad for fighting fires.

Vivonne Beach

Our next plan was to head back to the airbnb, make lunch, then nap/cool off before heading to Stokes Bay for bird watching and sunset. Our Airbnb host was talking with us and agreed with our plan but then came back an hour later and told us that they were evacuating Stokes Bay due to fire. As the afternoon and evening wore on, the fires kept spreading and our plans for the next day were also in jeopardy because they also evacuated Vivonne bay and the surrounding area (we were going to try to go to the koala area near Flinders Chase). After dinner, things kept escalating and a new fire had started near the Rescue command center for the western part of the island so they were moving the whole thing over to the eastern city Kingscote. It was very surreal to watch all of the fire trucks, rescue SUVs and residents driving by the Airbnb toward the other part of the island.

This is how the island looked the night we slept in the car. Our Airbnb was just 5 miles from the Eastern evacuation line shown.

At this point I was in full panic mode because we were now pretty close to the action — way closer than I wanted to be. The winds shifted toward the east and I became extremely worried about the possibility of having to leave quickly so we packed up the car in preparation. Our host was also doing the same and he was updating us as the news came in from other parts of the island. Around 9pm, we made a hard decision to leave the Airbnb and go to Kingscote to spend the night. Unfortunately the accommodations were not easy to find, so we ended up sleeping in the car in a neighborhood at the edge of town. I switched our ferry ride from Sunday morning to Saturday early morning to get us off the island as soon as possible. I didn’t want to be stuck and be in the way of the efforts to keep people safe — they didn’t need tourists to worry about while also trying to protect peoples homes.

The next morning we headed to the ferry bright and early (I didn’t actually sleep at all) and we finally got to see the kangaroos on the way there. We found a hotel to stay in just outside Adelaide while we tried to sleep and decide what our next move was going to be. I was still feeling shaken by the whole evacuation experience and when I thought about how we would continue in Australia for another 11 days, I was nervous. I would likely spend every day looking at the fire forecasts and watching the terrible events unfolding on the news. We found out on the news that day that two people died trying to evacuate the evening that we slept in the car and people had to be rescued on the south east coast by the navy. After weighing the options, we decided to leave Australia early and head to Southeast Asia. But first, we booked some accommodations in Adelaide to prepare for our trip to Singapore and enjoy some activities during our last few days in Australia.


After spending our first day off the island making last minute cancellations and rerouting our flights, we headed to Adelaide for a few days. There were a few errands we needed to take care of before we left for Southeast Asia so our first day was spent shopping at the outdoor mall and walking around the downtown area. I had one of the best beers I have ever tasted at a Belgian beer house near the mall and our first dinner was a really great pizza place near our Airbnb — they are accredited by an organization in Naples!

Our second day was spent in the hills of Adelaide, with our first stop being a wildlife park! I was super excited about getting to pet some of the kangaroos and other marsupials so we went early hoping they would still be hungry enough to let us close to them. The koala experience alone was worth the trip out there! We loved interacting with the animals so closely and saw a lot of cool birds there too.

After the wildlife park and lunch, we went wine tasting a bit further into the hills at the Landhouse cellar door. We did a 19 wine (!) tasting for ten bucks each. The proprietor was very nice and taught us a lot about the differences in the wine growing regions around Adelaide and we discussed a lot of what we had been seeing on the news. The evening was spent eating the most delicious Greek food and finalizing our last minute trip details.

The last day in Adelaide was spent walking to the Adelaide central market, enjoying some Columbian street food for lunch, touring around the botanical gardens, and started packing up. Our last dinner there was at a great burger place — we figured it would be the last western food we would have in a while, or at least that was my justification for onion rings.

We loved our time in Australia and are definitely planning to go back to do our great ocean road trip and Great Barrier Reef exploring. This post was a hard one to write and I had started/stopped it a few times because I was overcome with emotion. I cry every time we see news with the devastation that country is facing right now. I keep thinking of my koala babies on kangaroo island (Sweet Pea and Big Boy) and hoping they are ok. We are in Malaysia now but I still keep up with the news of what’s been happening down under since we left and we hope they have a reprieve soon. I am also hoping for no more natural disasters in our future traveling — this one was all too excited. Our Singapore adventures are the next up so stay tuned!


PS: If you are able to, please consider donating to some of the many relief fund efforts to help the people and wildlife of Australia. Here are a couple of them if you need a place to start:

Kangaroo Island Wildlife Sanctuary:

Blaze Aid:

Australia Week 1: Sydney

Our first week in Australia was spent exploring Sydney and the beaches. We wandered around gardens looking for parrots, enjoyed the waterfront, hiked between beaches along the coast, and enjoyed the New Years Eve fireworks shows in the harbor. A lot of our days were spent in smoky haze due to the fires west/south/north of the city and you can see it in some of our photos, but it was mostly very nice and warm weather.

Botanic Gardens

The first two days in the city, we spent the morning walking to and around the botanical gardens. I had read it was great place to see some of the local bird life and the park did not disappoint. There were large sulfur crested cockatoos, lorikeets, ibises, and lots of smaller birds around. The views in the park of the bridge and harbor were beautiful and the days we went the weather was very clear.

There was a tree in bloom that was full of lorikeets and you could hear it from pretty far away. I dubbed it my favorite tree in the gardens and probably could have sat there for a couple of hours watching those noisy birds eat the fruits.

I was surprised that the gardens weren’t more crowded considering it was holiday time, but it made for relaxing walks before heading into the city center for some shopping.

Exploring the Harbor

On our second day, we walked through the botanical gardens to the main harbor area to check out the opera house and the bridge. The opera house is a pretty impressive building, but I believe it is best viewed from afar with the harbor in the background. When you are up close, it is a bit dated and super crowded — I am also likely not the target crowd for the institution since I have never seen a play or an opera. It was also incredibly crowded that day with lots of queues for tours and tourists from the cruise ship that had just moored in the quay.

We continued our walk through Circular Quay past the ferries and cruise ship to The Rocks, a nice shopping area with a Saturday Market. Our luck would have it that it was a Saturday and we browsed the vendor areas — I bought a hat because the Aussie sun is a force to be reckoned with and my pasty skin needs protecting.

From The Rocks, we climbed to the harbor bridge to check out the views. You can actually climb to the very top of the bridge, but its pretty expensive and I am scared of heights. The views from the bridge were really great and it helped us realize how big the city really is. There are smaller towns all the way along both sides of the harbor to the Tasman Sea.


On our third day, we hopped on a bus to the coast to do the coastal walk from Coogee beach to Bondi beach. We started at Coogee beach and headed north along a nice paved path with lots of stops at smaller beaches along the way. It seemed like everyone else had the same idea that day because it was incredibly crowded, despite the considerable haziness/smokiness that day. The water was beautiful and clear but a bit cold for me (about 68 degrees).

We stopped at Bronte beach for swimming and to eat our picnic lunch. The waves were pretty big and it isn’t the best beach for swimming, but there were areas that were marked as ok for taking a dip. There is a pool there that is filled from the sea that you can swim in but it is mostly a lap pool and it didn’t look very appealing at the time. Overall the beach walk was nice and we got to experience the main famous beaches of the Sydney area in one day. After our walk, we got some beer at a nearby bar before catching a bus and the train back to our Airbnb.

New Year’s Eve

Our New Year’s Eve started out pretty slow with breakfast at our Airbnb and a lot of organizing of our stuff. We had opted to get rid of a fair amount of our belongings to be able to fit it all into new smaller backpacks that will be easier to carry around for the rest of the trip. Matt is better at this than I am — what can I say, I like outfit options. (:

We picked up some picnic supplies for the evening ahead and then headed to Yarranabbe Park to watch the fireworks in the harbor. Around 7pm we set up our towels and waited for the first firework show around 9pm. The park just kept getting busier despite the gusty and chilly wind we were contending with the whole night. I ended up wearing both towels to keep warm. Though no alcohol was allowed at the park (and they checked bags), there were a couple of groups that clearly weren’t sober upon arrival and decided to sing karaoke style for a good three hours straight. It was all in good fun and we got some free entertainment!

The midnight show was spectacular with fireworks being shot off from the bridge as well as the several barges in the harbor. Sydney knows how to do a fireworks show! We really enjoyed the whole thing, though maybe we wouldn’t have gotten there as early as we did knowing what we know now.

Watson’s Bay

Our last day in Sydney, we wanted to get on a boat in the harbor, so we took a ferry to Watson’s Bay. Watson’s bay is a nice area where the harbor meets the Tasman sea with views out to sea as well as nice views of the inner harbor (on a clear day you can see the city skyline). The weather that day started out pretty hazy and you could smell smoke in the air, but by the time we left the bay the wind shifted to clear out the haze and it was a very nice afternoon.

We walked around the tip of the peninsula at Gap Park and to the Hornsby lighthouse. Our picnic was in the park near the lighthouse with a view of the Manly peninsula and the Tasman Sea — it was really nice. There were a lot of war memorial sites and old bunkers available to explore. Oh and a nude beach! We wanted to grab a beer on the way back but the beach bars were in full New Years party mode and therefore super busy. The ferry ride back was nicer since the weather had cleared. Also the ferries are super efficient and quick in Sydney, not to mention reasonably priced. We were able to finish off our Opal transit cards with our trip that day. It was a great way to end our adventures in Sydney.

King’s Cross Neighborhood

I thought I would just mention quickly the neighborhood we stayed in, Pott’s Point/Kings Cross. We had a nice time exploring the area every day and ate at some great cafes. We were only an 8 minute walk to the train station and there was a bus stop right outside our airbnb, so it was very convenient. It is also a pretty backpacker friendly area with lots of hostels, so the food wasn’t super expensive and there were lots of convenient stores around. One of the highlights was eating a nice dinner at Yellow, a prix fixe menu restaurant that is all vegetarian/vegan and seasonal. We had great wine and the dishes were superb. My favorite was the second dessert with cacao crumble and coconut yogurt soft serve. I would recommend that neighborhood for a first timer staying in the city.

We loved spending time in Sydney. The city is very easy to get around using the transit system and there are some great neighborhoods to explore. I wish the weather/smoke had been a bit better but with the current fire situation in the country, it was to be expected. Speaking of the fires, we had a much too real encounter with the fire crisis while on Kangaroo Island during week two in Australia that I will recount in the next blog post, so stay tuned!


New Zealand Week 3: Wine, seals, mountains, parrots!

Our last week in New Zealand was yet another whirlwind of driving, new cities, and taking in the sights. Some highlights include wine tasting, hanging out in seal colonies in Kaikoura, taking a helicopter ride over the glaciers, and luging in Queenstown.

South Island Wine Country

Our South Island adventure started with a ferry ride to Picton and a drive to Nelson. We drove directly to a winery that Matt had picked out for its renowned Pinot noir, Brightwater — and the tasting was great (good wines and a cute puppy).

The next day we went to Blenheim to a couple more wineries. New Zealand is known for its Sauvignon Blanc and Pinot Noirs and they did not disappoint. I also fell in love with the Pinot Gris we tasted and ate the best chicken of my life. We also tasted a couple of low alcohol Rieslings that were surprisingly tasty. I couldn’t get over how cheap the wine tastings were — only $7 for tasting seven wines!


Post wine tasting we headed toward our accommodations on the eastern coast. One the way down, we stopped to check out the baby seals at the Ohau colony. The weather that day was pretty terrible so we didn’t do much once we got to our Airbnb, but we did visit the Airbnb’s farm with the cutest sheep and goats.

The next day we went to Kaikoura to enjoy the scenery and see the large seal colony on the peninsula. We hiked along the cliff sides and looked for baby seals, but there weren’t as many in the Kaikoura colonies. We got lucky that the clouds lifted and we could enjoy the mountains.


When we had to reroute the South Island road trip due to landslides on the west coast, it allowed us to spend time in Christchurch. We stayed in a centrally located airbnb and were able to walk to most places. Our full day in the city was spent wandering around the free museum and the botanical gardens. There is also a gondola that affords great views of the peninsula and the city itself. It was my first gondola experience and it was a windy day, but overall it was nice ride. We also had a delicious dinner at Strawberry Fare and we brought one of our nice bottles of wine from Nelson to enjoy (my first BYO experience!).

Lake country and Mt. Cook

On the way to Fjordlands, we had a few stops along the way: Lake Tekapo, Lake Pukaki, Mt. Cook, and Wanaka. It is an absolutely gorgeous part of the country with snow dusted mountains and blue lakes aplenty. Lake Tekapo was the first stop and we were lucky enough to be there during peak lupin blooming. When we stopped the first day, the mountains were covered in clouds, but we we drove by the next day it was a beautiful clear day and we got to really soak in the blue waters. There is also a nice hot spring there that we had a soak in during the cooler, gloomy weather (these didn’t smell up our clothes so that was a win!).

Our second day in the area was our helicopter ride starting from Mt. Cook. Another consequence of the road closures was that we had to cancel our glacier hike in Franz Josef, but we were able to book a different flight that just toured the glaciers from the air. It was a 50 minute flight of Mt. Cook, Franz Josef glacier, Fox glacier, and a few other lakes in the area. Our flight was great and the weather could not have been any better — plus a snow landing!

After our helicopter flight, we headed to Wanaka for the night. We walked the lakeside trail into town from our Airbnb to grab some drinks before heading to a nice food truck corner for burritos(!). Really though, the burritos were super delicious and a nice reminder of home.

Fjordland National Park

Post our adventures in lake country, we drove to Te Anau — the gateway to Fjordlands. Our first evening was spent hiking the Kepler track to Brod Bay before having dinner in town. The next day was spent heading toward Milford Sound and enjoying the stops along the way. The only road to Milford sound is one of the most beautiful drives I have ever been on and it was another perfect weather day.

Along the way, we stopped to hike at Key Summit and look for keas, a rare parrot species native to New Zealand. If you haven’t figured it our by now, a lot of the activities we do involve me looking for birds. The hike was not the easiest, but the views were a good reward for our efforts. Unfortunately we saw no keas, but we did see a couple of kaka parrots enjoying the trees.

We then headed to the harbor to catch our boat for the two hour cruise around the sound. Our boat was much smaller than most and because of that we got to get up close and personal with the waterfalls. The views were great and there was a lot of wildlife — seals and seabirds. Even though the boat was smaller, we still had to kind of work around people to be able to get photos of everything we wanted, but overall it was a nice cruise.


Our last couple of days in New Zealand were spent in Queenstown. This corresponded with Christmas and we booked a nice dinner to celebrate. On Christmas we also went to the skyline gondola and luge for a few hours. Since it was my second gondola ride, it wasn’t as scary and we even saw some mountain goats rutting on the way back down! I was a bit nervous about the luge but it ended up being a huge highlight of the trip — I loved it! I would have wanted to ride it 10 more times but the lines were too long and we needed to get to dinner. Oh and I rode a chairlift for the first time and didn’t fall on my face, so overall the skyline area was a real win.

We also couldn’t go to Queenstown without eating at Fergburger. It is an institution in the city and known for its delicious hamburgers. We thought it was good but not life changing. In addition to the main restaurant, they also have a bakery where we got pastries the next day and those were quite good.

Overall the city itself was really nice with beautiful lake views, but it was one of the more crowded and touristy places we went to during our trip. Likely it was because of timing with the holidays, but I think that city is just much more busy than others on the South Island because of its vistas and adventure sports.

Our trip to New Zealand was a whirlwind of adventures and beautiful sights. I will have a post coming soon with trip summaries, numbers, and our favorites/least favorites of the three weeks we spent driving the entirety of New Zealand. Happy New Years!


New Zealand Week 2: Blackwater rafting, Kiwi sightings, geothermal mud baths, and more!

Happy Holidays everyone! It’s been awhile since week one update, but we have been pretty busy and when we get back to our accommodations I just want to sleep. Week two was pretty packed with activities and lots of driving to finish up our north island portion of the road trip.

Waitomo Cave Blackwater Rafting

After our adventures in the Coromandel peninsula, we drove to Hamilton for some errands before heading to the waitomo caves the next day. I was particularly nervous about our booking for Blackwater rafting and cave adventures because I am not the best in confined spaces, but Matt was pretty excited. We got there early in the morning and got all suited up into our wet/cold wetsuit and helmets before heading down to the cave. The instructor/guides were very nice and helpful in getting us ready for the waterfall jumps in the cave.

Once we were in the caves, we hiked, swam and squeezed our way through each area. There was a pretty tight tunnel that wasn’t awesome for me, but it was a pretty short part. We had to jump off of two waterfalls but only one was sort of high and you really have no choice but to do it, so I just did it. I was pretty proud of myself overall haha. The glow worms in the cave were pretty awesome and floating through the main tunnel with what looked like blue constellations above you. I would definitely recommend this adventure to anyone who wants more than a short boat ride through a cave. However, be prepared to be tired after it — hiking in a cave/water in heavy/bulky wetsuits is pretty exhausting.

Kiwi House

Post our cave adventure and refueling (i.e. all the caffeine), we headed to the nearby kiwi house before driving out of town. It was really nice to be able to see the kiwis in the dark rooms but they were sort of hard to find and we couldn’t take any photos. They also have a lot of other native birds that were very cute and it was a nice stop over near the caves.


To end the very busy day — yes this is still on the same day as cave adventures— we headed to Hobbiton! It was one of those places that we just had to go to but you definitely don’t need to visit if you’re in New Zealand. The day was super sunny and warm and the tour overall was great. We learned a lot about how they filmed the different movie series (LOTR v Hobbit) and the grounds were so effing picturesque. They have four full time gardeners! We also got to have a nice cold beer at the end of the tour in the Green Dragon pub.

Rotorua and Hell’s Gate

After our very busy day caving and learning about hobbits, we headed to Rotorua. Rotorua is a nice, but smelly city that is known for its adventure sports and hot spring activity. We headed to a place called Hell’s Gate to visit the sulphuric hot springs and get a quick spa treatment since we only had one day in the area. When we arrived, we had a tour through the series of springs and mud pools and learned how the Maori people in the area used them in their daily lives. After the tour, we had a mud bath and then soaked in the sulfur pools. It was pretty relaxing, but our eyes were very sensitive to the gases in the air there and it made it hard for us to drive after because we could barely open them. But we were able to make it to the famous pie shop in town and enjoyed those for lunch on the lakefront.

One thing I wish they would have told us was that everything we wore was going to smell horrendous and the proper way to clean it. The bathing suits we wore are unwearable and we are actually about to try soaking them in a baking soda bath in our hotel haha. The issue was mainly that we washed our clothes that we wore on the tour with our other clothes, so now everything we washed smells low level like rotten eggs — not ideal when you only have 4 shirts. Let’s see how the washing goes and I’ll update you in the next post.

Lake Taupo and Mt. Urchin

We headed to Lake Taupo after seeing the hot springs and eating pie. It is a really nice city on the edge of the largest lake in New Zealand. The whole area is really gorgeous with the lakes surrounded by mountains and is the gateway to a very popular hiking area called Tongariro. We mostly just relaxed in the Airbnb and had some delicious Indian food.

The second day in the area, we went hiking up Mt. Urchin near Tongariro. I think most people end up hiking the Tongariro Alpine trail (9 hours of about 3000ft elevation gain but epic alpine views and lakes) but I knew that I would be a miserable human if I tried to do this and I would like Matt to keep hanging out with me. So I found a hike that overlooks that whole area with half the elevation gain and could be done in about 3-4 hours. Since its light our here until almost 10pm, we started later in the afternoon and there were only about 4 other people on the trail (compared to the hundred I assumed did the alpine crossing that day). The hike up Mt. Urchin was pretty grueling and I stopped A LOT, but we made it up there. The views were totally worth it and seeing the mountain that inspired Mount Doom in the Lord of the Rings movies seemed fitting after visiting Hobbiton.

Zealandia and Wellington

One of the attractions I had been the most excited about seeing was Zealandia. It’s a large fenced in area of land just outside of Wellington that is home to a large number of native birds of New Zealand. The fence keeps out the introduced mammals that are harmful to the birds, so it is sort of like a glimpse into how plentiful the birds were before colonization. We walked around looking for birds and enjoying the native forests, but were a little rushed since we needed to drop off the rental car that same afternoon. We got to also see the Tuatara, which is basically a living fossil lizard. The views were really nice and the birds seemed pretty used to people, so they didn’t fly away too far. I am still trying to get a photo of the fantail bird — it NEVER sits still long enough for my camera to get it and I had to sort through a lot of photos of just branches…

Since our ferry to the South Island was out of Wellington, we decided to stay for two nights in the capital city. I loved the charm of the smaller city and the food scene was really good. We had heard that Wellington was a good place for craft beer, so we made sure to go to a small craft brewery while we were there. Our full day there was spent going up the hill in the cable car, walking around the botanic gardens, and walking around the waterfront. It was incredibly windy that day so I don’t think there were as many people out and about as a normal Sunday which was nice. We did finally have the famous green lipped mussels, which were absolutely gigantic but very delicious. I loved the feel of the city and the cute neighborhoods.

Our second week was really fun but a bit grueling if I am honest. We changed our city almost every day which is hard, but we are good at packing and unpacking efficiently now. Week three’s post will be all of our adventures of the South Island, since we took a ferry down there after our stay in Wellington.