Exploring

Vietnam Trip 2015 – Halong Bay

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When people ask me what my favorite part of my trip was, I tell them for sure Halong Bay and also Trang An. I spent a lot of time researching the various Halong Bay cruises since there are so many out there that range from different prices and different itineraries.  I heard horror stories of food poisoning, trash floating in the water, and seeing views of just other cruise ships.  Fortunately, I stumbled upon Indochina Junk which is a company  that has its own route in Bai Tu Long Bay.  For all I know, Bai Tu Long Bay is next to and the same as Halong Bay, but has less cruise ships and tourists around.  This was definitely the one big splurge of our trip but it was 100% worth it.  The staff, food, rooms, activities, and views were all beyond amazing.

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Our luxurious room!

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Just chillin’ in a bathtub

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360 degree gorgeous views

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Kayaking during sunset

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Kayak views

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Cheers!

I can’t wait to do this cruise again. I’d love to take my parents someday!

Vietnam Trip 2015 – Ninh Binh


When I was doing research on nature excursions in the north, I saw gorgeous photos of hikes next to lush green rice patties in Sapa and people boating on deltas through the rice patties in Ninh Binh.  However, I found out that November isn’t the best time to see rice patties since they will be yellow and harvested.  Luckily, there is still plenty of pretty scenery to see in November around Ninh Binh.  So we opted for a scenic hike at the Mua cave and a boat ride through limestone karsts and caves of Trang An.

A bus picked up our large group of eleven and drove us two hours south, escaping the busy city of Hanoi.


First stop- Mua Cave. There wasn’t anyone else around as we walked towards the cave except for a few chickens.  There were a lot of pretty trees and this bridge.


500 steps doesn’t sound like a ton, but when they are super steep and it’s 80+ degrees out, it’s tough!


View along the way. There’s the bridge we walked by.


Made it to the top! The view of the Tam Coc rice patties and limestone karsts was so nice and I liked that there weren’t a lot of other people around.

Grantland going back down the stairs.


After lunch, we went on a boat ride through Trang An. People call Trang An “Halong Bay on land” because you get to go through the limestone karsts and see them up close. When I was doing research, I noticed that a lot of people commented on how Trang An isn’t as touristy as other areas such as Tam Coc. Because of this, we didn’t experience anyone pushing for us to buy things. I’d recommend going here for sure. We booked our Mua Cave and Trang An tour through Vietnam Awesome. Yes, it was indeed awesome! har har ..


About to go into one of the caves.


It had just rained the day before, so the water was high this day. Because of that, we had to duck quite a bit in some of the caves. Unfortunately my camera is bad with low lighting photos, so I didn’t get any good photos inside the caves.


Pit stop so Grantland could go to the bathroom. Each boat is rowed by a woman. A small Asian woman. They must be so strong to be able to row up to four people for two hours! This type of work for sure deserves a tip.


We encountered these men along the way. I think they were making sure there wasn’t any trash or anything on the water.


The men were rowing their canoes with their feet! I saw some women doing it too but mainly when they were in the caves and less visible.


The group! We met Tony’s two friends and hung out with them in Hanoi and Halong Bay. We also all met Petra through Tony who was traveling solo at the moment while her friends were still on their way. And then we met up with James from Cal Poly and his girlfriend. It was fun hanging out with everyone!

Next up, Halong Bay.

(Also, I’m figuring out how to customize this WordPress theme so that my photos captions look more like captions that are directly under the photo and not just regular text.  If I use the caption code, it’s too small.  Can I edit WordPress themes?!  And then when I change the permalinks to text, my blog dies, but I think Grantland can fix this one (:  Oh yeah and how do you have the shorter blog posts that people can click to see more?  And lastly, I’m not sure if my photos take forever to load, but maybe there’s an easier way to put photos from flickr onto WordPress. Guess I should look into plugins. #noob #halp)

Vietnam Trip 2015 – Hanoi

Wow, I haven’t updated my blog in a while!  I’ve decided I want to post about my recent trip to Vietnam so I can remember all the details later on.  This trip meant a lot to me as both my parents are from Vietnam and I grew up with some Vietnamese culture, however, I’ve never had the opportunity to visit the motherland.  When I started to plan this trip, I thought about also visiting bordering or close-by countries such as Thailand or Hong Kong. But after doing research, I found out that Vietnam itself already has a lot to cover.

Get ready for a lot of food pictures!  (I used my old and refurbished Nikon J1 and shot on JPEG Normal, so the quality is not so great)

We traveled from North to South, so our first stop was Hanoi.  First things first, we checked off some food and coffee off our list.

Bun Cha is a Hanoi dish of grilled pork meatballs over vermicelli.  I don’t know what’s in the broth, but it was really good.  (And yep, I really did bring my own disposable chopsticks!)


Fresh pressed sugar cane juice.. without ice just in case!

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So many flowers on her bike.


Unique to Hanoi- egg coffee. Egg yolk+condensed milk+coffee. The small cup is served inside a bowl containing hot water to keep the drink warm.


I really liked the iced version of the egg coffee.


With the crew at Cafe Giang! Small but cute space with lots of natural lighting and plants.


I was having camera issues this day, so this one’s from my iPhone 5. So blurry lol. Banh cuon- ground pork inside a thin rice flour wrapper with fried shallots on top. It was really good.


This was at the Temple of Literature and also from my iPhone 5. A lot of students had just graduated and came here to take photos. So cute.


Banh mi! Out of all the Vietnamese sandwich places we tried, this one was my favorite.


Something about the baguette was to die for! I got the combination: pate, BBQ pork, and ham.


This was one of the places Anthony Bourdain visited in No Reservations, Cha Ca La Vong. Fish gets cooked right in front of you with turmeric and dill. You eat it with vermicelli and fish sauce or shrimp paste (which is soo smelly but I love it). I personally didn’t enjoy the fish here because it was really chewy. And the prices are pretty high compared to other hole in wall shops. But it’s a dish unique to Hanoi and I’m glad we tried it.


Really good popcicle from Kem Trang Tien. I think this is taro flavored. Some of the other flavors included green bean and rice (lol).


Night stroll at the park next to the lake.


Fried eel noodle soup.


I already love Vietnamese yogurt but when we found this Vietnamese yogurt and COFFEE combination, Grantland and I were so happy.


At Cafe Dinh where the yogurt coffee is from. They also serve egg coffee here.


Tropical smoothie at City View Cafe. Great place for views of the lake and getting videos of motorbike traffic.


You can see women selling snacks, fruit, souvenirs, etc. everywhere on the streets. This was taken while we were having beers at Fat Cat Bar in the alley of hostel bars. It gets super fun (and packed) at night.


There were actually a ton of locals out, not just backpackers.


Even kids were out hanging out at the bar…


Fresh squeezed (green) orange juice! From the ground. In a plastic bag. My dad freaked out when I showed him this photo haha.


Fresh fruit.


Near West Lake.


We saw a lot of people eating from this street vendor across the street from our hotel and finally decided to try it on our last night. It’s spring roll wrappers that are cut up with soy sauce, a mix of dried seafood, beef jerky, herbs, and quail eggs. I’ve never heard of this and still don’t know what it’s called, but it was one of my favorite things I ate on the trip. (Even though I bit into the spiciest pepper I’ve never had and was dying for 20 minutes) Edit: I’ve been told that this is called banh trang tron!


Dry pho which reminded me of my favorite from Ha Nam Ninh in San Francisco. (Go eat there and order #25 dry!)


9 person cyclo race. Luckily I didn’t have a complaining biker Susan’s or Grantland’s haha.

Overall, I loved the old charm in Hanoi. Although it’s also a big city, it’s not modern like Saigon and I liked that we got to experience a more old-school, conservative town. Everyday we’d walk through small streets that sell different categories of goods. For example, one street only has motorbike part shops, and the next street over sells only baby clothing and supplies. There was a street with only Christmas and holiday decorations, and then there was the street with all the fake Nikes and Adidas shoes.

Next up I’ll post about our day trip out to gorgeous Trang An!

Maui

I know I’m overdue for a baking post, but in the mean time, here are photos from my recent trip to Maui. It was amazing to escape from the “cold” San Francisco winter and spend a week relaxing and exploring in 75-80 degree sunny weather.

Walked across the street from our airbnb to look at this beautiful sunset on our first day.  Wish I didn’t get water on my lens for this shot!

On our second day, we went to Big Beach. The water here was not ideal to swim in because of the intense shore break, but the beach was one of the most gorgeous ones we visited.

We woke up one morning at 4am to drive up to the Haelaleka volcano to catch the sunrise.  Being 9,000 feet above the ground and watching the sun rise over clouds and mountains was unforgettable.  The one drawback is that it’s FREEZING up there!

I was having a really hard time breathing at such a high altitude but my boyfriend somehow convince me to take a short hike.. in the 40 degree weather.  Even though I could barely take a few steps without having to stop to catch my breath, it was worth it because it truly felt like we were on a different planet!

On Mars.

Sunset across the street from our place again.

We spent a day on the Road to Hana. This is a must-do in Maui. Even though it’s a long and windy drive, it’s worth it to see all the stops. This is a natural pool that was really cold but we braved up and swam in it for a bit anyway!

One of my favorite scenes.

Black Sand Beach

Hike to Waikomu Falls

Bamboo forest on the hike to Waikomu Falls

Hamoa Beach

One of my favorite activities during the trip was snorkeling. I’m hoping to post some of my boyfriend’s GoPro photos of snorkeling and paddle boarding when I get the chance.

I’m already looking forward to my next tropical vacation- whenever that will be! (:

Ici

I finally got to explore some of Berkeley for the first time last weekend.  I mainly wanted to try the famous Cheeseboard pizza, but happily got to taste this delicious ice-cream at Ici and do some shopping as well!

Yums

Pear quince sorbet

Such cute decorations

Instagramming Europe

I recently went on a backpacking trip through London, Paris, Cinque Terre, Florence, and Rome.  It was my first overseas trip (not counting Hawaii!) and I had the most amazing time.  While I took quite a few photos on my Nikon1, here are the Instragam photos I managed to snap along the way.  Who knows when I’ll be able to get around editing the Nikon1 pictures!

Can’t remember the street name, but this was where the huge Topshop was

High tea at The Chesterfield

Airbnb in Paris

Bad cropping of the Eiffel Tower

Notre Dame

Crepes and coffee with the Pantheon on the background

My favorite view- on the Arc de Triomphe

L’arc de Triomphe

Versailles

Gorgeous Versailles

The Louvre at night

I saw so many cute bikes in Florence. Can’t wait to edit those photos!

Trevi Fountain

Colloseum

Colloseum

Cappuccinos from Tazza D’oro

Rome airport. I was sad to go home

New toy: 35mm

After waiting quite a while for a good deal on a 35mm lens, I finally caved in and purchased one.  I figured the price wasn’t going to go down any further, so might as well take advantage of Amazon.  I took it out on a test run last weekend and I love it so far!  I still need to get used to cropping the photos correctly, but I’m absolutely loving the bokeh and food photography. Theses photos were taken on a rainy Sunday morning in my neighborhood, Hayes Valley.

Pretty macarons at La Boulange.

Chicken and arugula baguette.

My boyfriend’s cheese danish.

Latte at Ritual Coffee.

My hot chocolate and his latte. T

True dat. Awesome travel shop.

On Octavia. Minimal editing. Look how bright the flowers turned out! Love the bokeh.

All taken with a Nikon D90

I can’t wait to take this baby out for more photos!

NYC. Part II (the food)

Of course I have to dedicate a whole blog post to just for the food I ate in NYC.  Although my trip was fairly short (3 days, 4 nights) I definitely wanted to try as many restaurants and foods as I could!  Pulling pictures from my Instagram feed, Camera+ (and one photo from my friend’s camera), here are some pictures as well as a list of what I ate in NYC.

Thursday

I arrived in NYC Thursday night and met up with two of my high school friends.  They took me to a Korean restaurant called Pocha 32, located in Midtown West.  Unfortunately, the only photo I have is from my Instagram, but this was a very interestingly decorated restaurant with soju bottle caps hung from nets on the ceiling.   We ate a spicy stew and savory pancakes, both which were delicious.  Everyone around us had watermelon soju served in watermelon shells– that’s something I’d definitely want to try try if I come back.

Pocha 32 interior. Taken with Instagram on iPhone 4.

Friday

Part of Friday was a solo adventure since my friend Linda had to go to school during the day.  My first stop was SOHO to of course, do a bit of shopping.  When I got hungry for a mid-morning snack, I ducked inside of Dean & Deluca, a specialty grocery store I only heard of from my friend who jet-setted to NYC all the time and came back with all sorts of scrumptious goodies.  I decided to try the lemon poppy muffin but before digging in, I thought, wow this is way too pretty to eat!  When I finally did take a bite of the muffin, I was surprised at how delicious a simple muffin could be! I love lemon pastries and the sour yet sweet frosting was perfect for me.

Dean & Deluca’s lemon poppy muffin. Taken with Camera+ on iPhone 4.

For lunch, I somehow ended up near NYU in Greenwich.  I stopped at a super casual middle eastern joint called Eva’s Restaurant and got myself the vegetarian platter.  The food tasted very authentic– and this restaurant made me like falafels!  (Sorry for the blurry picture.  It’s the only one I have and I really like the lighting)

Eva’s Restaurant’s vegetarian platter. Taken with Instagram on iPhone 4.

When Linda got out of class, we met up and decided to try cheesecake at Carnegie Deli, as recommended by our other friend.  This place was surely a tourist trap as we were charged all sorts of fees for wanting to share one slice of cheesecake.  We ordered the Truffle Torte Cheesecake which was so humongous and so bad for my lactose intolerant tummy– and I didn’t even like it.  But it did look pretty.

Carnegie Deli’s truffle torte cheesecake. Taken with Camera+ on iPhone 4.

Dinner on Friday was probably the most memorable meal of my trip.  Which is ironic because it’s the only dish I don’t have a picture of.  My iPhone died too early, but fortunately, I was was able to borrow my friend’s camera for a quick snapshot.  Ippudo‘s ramen.  We waited TWO HOURS for a seat but I think it was worth the wait.  I’ve tried a few ramen places in the Bay Area, but the broth somehow all tastes the same to me.  However, Ippudo definitely stood out. (I mean, for $15 a bowl, it better stand out!)   I ordered the Akamaru ModernThe original “Tonkotsu” noodle soup topped with Ippudo’s secret “Umami Dama” miso paste, pork chashu, cabage, kikurage, scallions, and fragrant garlic oil. And it was DELICIOUS.  I’m usually pickier about the noodles than the broth, so when I saw that I received thin noodles while my friend got thicker noodles, I thought I was going to be bummed out.  But nope, everything about this was perfect.

Ippudo ramen. Taken with my friend’s point and shoot camera, edited with Camera+ on the iPhone 4.

Saturday

On Saturday, I wanted to explore Chelsea Market, which closely reminds me of SF’s Ferry Building.  It’s a long stretch of restaurants, specialty foods, and all sorts of odd and ends.  On top of all of the food, the building itself was also very interesting.  According to wikipedia, the building used to be a biscuit factory where the Oreo cookie was invented and made.  Here, I purchased two of the famous Fat Witch Brownies, tried Amy’s Bread, sipped an americano at Ninth Street Espresso, and ate lunch at The Green Table.  Oh, and I almost forgot–we discovered The Filling Station which had all sorts of odd flavors of olive oil, vinegar, and salt.  The white truffle salt was extremely tasty.  Gosh, my taste buds were blown away with that salt!

Fat witch brownies. Taken with Instagram on iPhone 4.

Amy’s Bread. Taken with Camera+ on iPhone 4.

Amy’s Bread. Taken with Camera+ on iPhone 4.

Ninth Street Espresso. Taken with Camera+ on iPhone 4.

Ninth Street Espresso americano. Taken with Camera+ on iPhone 4.

Exterior of The Green Table. Taken with Camera+ on iPhone 4.

Burger and sausage at The Green Table. Taken with Camera+ on iPhone 4.

Salt from The Filling Station. Taken with Camera+ on iPhone 4.

Sunday

Before going to the the Natural History Museum we visited Levain Bakery in the Upper West Side as suggested by our friends.  This place was literally a hole in the wall that produced AMAZING and gigantic cookies.  I bought the chocolate walnut cookie that took me two days to eat, and it was soooo good.

From inside of Levain Bakery. Taken with Camera+ on iPhone 4.

Chocolate walnut cookie from Levain Bakery. Taken with Camera+ on iPhone 4.

All weekend, Linda had been telling me about the famous chicken & rice from the Halal carts found at every street corner.  I finally had the chance to try  it on Sunday.  All I remember is trying to eat this on the sidewalk while my hands were completely numb, and our food going instantly cold.  But nevertheless, it was still quite delicious.

Chicken and rice from the Halal cart. Taken with Instagram on iPhone 4 and edited with Camera+.

Next, we had Magnolia Bakery‘s banana bread pudding.  This was introduced to me during my previous trip to New York and during this trip, I knew that I HAD to come back for this.  I can’t further explain how much I love this pudding which unfortunately I don’t even have a picture of.

Magnolia Bakery’s banana bread pudding. Taken with Camera+ on iPhone 4.

And finally, my last meal was at Joe’s Shanghai in Chinatown, famous for their xiao long bao (soup dumplings).  Linda and I had to awkwardly share a large round table with six rowdy boys, but nevertheless, we had way too much good Chinese food.

Xiao long bao from Joe’s Shanghai. Taken with Camera+ on iPhone 4.

Overall, I think I had a pretty good taste of the local NYC food.  One thing I didn’t eat (but did have during my previous trip) was New York pizza.  I think the cheesecake and the pudding were more than enough lactose for my tummy to handle.  Even though I overly complained about the freezing cold weather, I do want to go back to NYC to explore again.  Good thing my friend’s optometry schooling lasts a few years (:

One thing that I have to do next time is to use my DSLR.  I should probably stop ditching the thing for my iPhone.  I keep using different apps and filters so all my photos aren’t uniform which bugs me.  But hey, that’s the trade off for not having to carry an extra three pounds with me everywhere!

For the complete set of my photos, click here.

My trip to NYC. Part I (The sights)

A few weeks ago, I visited my long time friend who is studying optometry in NYC.  I had a great time when I visited another friend three years ago, so I was pretty excited for this trip.  I’ve always been intrigued by the hustle and bustle of the urban city life with all of the tall skyscrapers, different types of people, and oh-so-many foods to try.

HOWEVER, despite all of the great activities I did while in the city and the fun times I had with my friend, I have now discovered that I would never be able to live in NYC!  I could barely stand the (sunny) late-March weather.  40 degrees + wind is not so cool.  My ears were frozen, my hands were numb, and my feet were freezing even with my super thick socks!  I’ve always had bad circulation so I thought I was prepared with my big coat and gloves, but my body doesn’t seem to like the cold no matter what.  Guess I’m a CA girl for life (:

So bringing my DSLR around to places is always a conflicting decision for me since I hate carrying around heavy items.  For this trip, I made up my mind to squeeze my camera into my carry-on and committed to taking nice photos to document my trip.  However, when it came time to bundle up to leave my friend’s house and to trek onto the subway and into the jungle, I did not whatsoever want to carry around an extra three pounds.  Thankfully, the iPhone 4’s camera was a perfect and convenient replacement.

Here is a photo journal of my favorite picks.

Part I- the sights.  Part II will be the foods I ate.  These were all taken with my iPhone and edited with Camera+.

Plane ride SFO->JFK

The lovely view from Roosevelt Island where my friend lives

Lomography store that I was really excited to find

NY MOMA

Warhol at NY MOMA

Beautiful Grand Central Station

Interesting architecture

I loved Chelsea Market

High Line

A nice walk on High Line

View from High Line

American Museum of Natural History

Display at the American Museum of Natural History

View looking towards Central Park

Flight back home

Wonderful SF (:

For the complete set of my photos, click here.

Sutro Baths with the Diana Lens

Over the three day weekend, my boyfriend and I also explored Sutro Baths and the surrounding area.  I’ve never been around Cliff House before but have always wanted to see the Giant Camera.  It was SUCH a beautiful day out and was nice to climb around and explore the burnt down Sutro Baths.  I brought both my normal lens and my Diana Lens.  The Diana produced much more interesting photos–enjoy!

Taken with Diana lens on Nikon D90

I’m falling more and more in love with San Francisco each day!

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