You can read about part 1 of my travels here (featuring Vegas, Spain, Portugal, and a generally good time). After Lisbon, I flew to Bangkok and was shocked by how long the flight time is. As my dad kindly reminded me, “the world is round and flying Europe to Asia would take as long as flying North America to Europe or Asia.” Yes, noted.
- Bangkok, Thailand – There is a Thai food place down the street from my old apartment in Menlo Park called Bangkok Bistro, and then there is the city that is Bangkok, Thailand. Bangkok is a real city, a city-city, a honking horns and fragrant street food and wild tuk-tuk rides and no pedestrian cross walk kind of city. I visited with my best friend who lives all the way back in Georgia, so Thailand was our last hurrah before real adulthood traps us on our respective coasts. After 2 months of already being on the road, I found myself jaywalking without fear, haggling aggressively for every baht, and relaxing with some phenomenal massages. When I remember Bangkok, I am hit with sensory fragments – smells, sounds, and bright flashes of color.
Highlights: House of Thai Cooking School provided an excellent experience complete with market tour and explanation of the ingredients that are foundational to all the delicious Thai food we were happily shoveling down.
- Koh Lanta, Koh Phi Phi, Phuket, Thailand – A trio of islands kept us busy hopping between lush green coasts and beautifully blue but horribly choppy crystal waters. I was slightly jarred by the overwhelming number of tourists and the number of backpackers just looking to have a good time. Of the three, Koh Lanta was my favorite. We stayed in the old town which was quieter and reminded me of where my family is from in rural China. Our island visits was most remarkable because my friend crashed a scooter into a tree and spent the rest of her trip sporting an embarrassing variety of bandages.
Highlights: Lanta New House was a dream of an Airbnb and by far my favorite place I stayed in Thailand. The hammocks and ocean view created such a feeling of peace.
- Chiang Mai, Thailand – Strikingly full of cute coffee shops and a whole bunch of markets, Chiang Mai is the low-key cousin to Bangkok. We spent a decent amount of time dodging the heat by sipping espresso and munching on cake in between sweaty wat visits. There is also an amazing amount of nature surrounding the city and can easily be arranged through day trips. At this point in my travels I developed a bad cough and spent many nights in Chiang Mai hacking up grey-green phlegm. Yum.
Highlights: Day trips to the Bua Thong Sticky Waterfalls and Baan Chang Elephant Park were unforgettable experiences. You can clamber up the waterfall and there are very few tourists, and the Elephant Park is an ethical sanctuary that lets you feed and interact with the elephants.
- Shanghai, China – My odyssey ended in the motherland where both my parents are from. As a fluent speaker of Shanghainese, I feel a deep connection when I return to this city. The smoke and noise and relentless push of people feel like a home that I knew before I was even born. I’ve watched the city grow and change at a remarkable pace, yet I know I can always return and eat my favorite xiao long bao and sheng jian bao. Lately if you don’t have WeChat pay, it is difficult to pay for things – imagine if your social media account was the primary way of paying for just about anything – transportation, food, clothes, you name it. I felt like a country girl as I tried to pay for everything in cash.
Highlights: Sheng jian bao are technically fried soup dumplings made from leavened dough but metaphorically they are little pieces of heaven that I can never eat enough of. Dahuchun on Yun Nan Road is my go-to for these iconic dumplings.
- Beijing, China – I haven’t been to Beijing since I was eight, and there are a number of pictures of iconic locations featuring an angry, grumpy, and exasperated eight year old me who is so totally over all that Chinese history. This time I brought my (very American) boyfriend who was more than happy to see the Great Wall, Forbidden City, and Summer Palace. Surprisingly, I was awed by these locations that barely left an impression 15 years ago. Apparently 20-something year old Hali is much easier to impress. We also indulged in a fantastic Peking duck. The saying goes “If you haven’t climbed the Great Wall, you aren’t a real man,” but I say “if you haven’t eating a Peking duck, who even cares about the Great Wall.”
Highlights: Dadong is known for its Michelin star and its fantastic Peking duck. 100% celebrity (and Hali) endorsed.
- Suzhou, China – Suzhou is known for its iconic gardens, and once again I was duly impressed by the level of detail and intricacy. As a city crisscrossed with canals, its sometimes called the “Venice of China.” Personally, I found it to be much cuter, cleaner, and less smelly though rather painfully warm at the peak of summer. On another fun note, we missed our train because there are actually two Suzhou train stations – so check your ticket and double check Google maps before you ship yourself off to the wrong place.
Highlights: The Lion Grove Garden awed me with its maze of natural rock formation that seemingly took up very little space but also had a never-ending maze of winding paths.
- Hangzhou, China – Hangzhou is so beautiful it is said to be heaven on Earth. And yes, it was beautiful. But it was also boiling hot and at one point I sweat so hard I left a sweaty butt print on a stone bench. I don’t know how the Chinese girls manage to stay so pristine with their flawless make-up while this Chinese-American girl melted like the Wicked Witch of the West.
Highlights: West Lake is the number one destination in Hangzhou and for good reason. Walking around the lake at night provided romantic views and reduced temperatures.
- Huangshan, China – Western artists draw mountains like triangles while Chinese artists draw the sloping precipices of Huangshan. Rather than taking the trolley up, we hiked all 180 floors (according to my iPhone tracker) up the mountain and were rewarded with expansive views misted with just a touch of rolling fog. I unfortunately learned that I’m scared of heights when we hiked such a steep peak that I was too frightened to come down. Treed like a cat, I had to slowly scoot down on my butt.
Highlights: The Celestial Peak was recently opened after renovations to improve safety. Yes, its scary, but its also worth the treacherous climb.
2018 was an incredible year for travel, and I’m thankful for the opportunities to welcome new people into my life and learn from a myriad of experiences. It’ll be harder now that I’m working, but I can’t help but wonder, where will I go in 2019?