August 2016, Progress Report

August 2016 was pretty solid! Here goes the summary (numbers are aggregated).

Income* Expenses Assets 529s Debt
August $113.8k  $52.2k  $346k  $31.6k  $141.9K

Income: The income side of the equation helped a lot ($14.9 – post tax and post other deductions, including 401k, etc.), as one of us received an extra paycheck and a significantly larger amount of over time than usual. We don’t expect any more of that through the rest of the year, rather the opposite as November and December usually bring in some unpaid time.

Assets: Our assets grew by $12.5k ($9.4 were adds, $3.1 market gains) and hit $346k, which is ahead of where we expected to be by now. That said, I am also bracing for some drop in the market, so hopefully that leaves enough buffer.

529s: Our 529 accounts grew by $5.1k, where $100 of that amount was gains vs $5k of additions.  We are actually rethinking our goals in this regard and may now only put the $25k on each by end of this year and don’t add anymore and forget about our $100k  for EACH goal by the time they reach college. Instead we will leave it at $25k each in 529s and try to accumulate around $100k extra (total) in next decade or so in post-tax accounts for college expenses for both kids to keep a little more flexibility.

Expenses: I think we did pretty well this month ($5.4k) considering we had to pay car taxes and inspection and extra activities for kids before starting school. We kept groceries under $500, and restaurants about our usual $240, not bad for us. This expense level should keep us on track for the under $80k goal by end of year (so far $52.2) even though September will come in high due to travel plans. Most importantly, this is helping us slowly adapt to spending levels that are more aligned with our lower, future goals without feeling like we are making any drastic life changes.

Debt: Slow and steady wins the race here. Our interest for our two outstanding loans are zero on our car and low 3s% on our mortgage so we are not currently trying to aggressively pay this down. It may change in the future.

Check out our consolidated progress here.

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Singapore

This is it, Part III or the last part of our journey, which started in Hong Kong and Penang, Malaysia.

We quite enjoyed our time in Singapore, and were lucky enough to have a friend to house us during this time (and point us in the right direction).

My advice to you is to hit the main attractions (which you can do in a few days especially if you exclude Universal Studios, like we did), walk around as much as you can (early, it gets hot and humid!) and then look at this list of food and Hawker Centers and go eat all of it (yes, yes, even the chendol). Do it.

The Itinerary

Day 11: We started off right by eating some delicious roti prata and kopi at Mr. and Mrs. Mohgan’s then making our way to the Botanical Gardens Dome and Mandalay Tower. We checked out the food court (not bad!) before heading to the roof deck for spectacular views of the city (pricey though but I thought worth it especially if your first time – not sure I would repeat the experience). We then made our way to the nearest hawkers market – Lau Pa Sat – amazing (I would repeat this experience over and over and over) before doing a metro/taxi to the Singapore Zoo to experience the popular (and totally worth it) Night Safari.

Day 12: Today we took the bus to CBD, had some traditional Singaporean toast breakfast called Kaya Toast. Not bad but a little bit of a waste of calories given all else that I wanted to eat, in my opinion. We then pretty much walked around and ate noodles in any place that looked decent, walked through Chinatown and tried fried sausage, bbq pork, and later hainese chicken rice at the famed Tian Tian Hainanese Chicken at the Maxwell Food Centre. Next we hopped a metro to Orchard Road to see what that area was like and do some shopping. That night we hung out with my friend’s family and went out to dinner to a seafood place (sadly, the name escapes me). It was a feast! Delicious steam crabs, yum.

Day 13: Today we walked along the pretty East Coast Park and grabbed breakfast at the Marine Parade Food Center. Later that day we went to Little India and had lunch at Banana Leaf Apollo – fish head curry, some fish cakes, biryani, chicken. Deeee-licious. Then we wobbled through Little India to Mustafa Centre – a crazy place that sells EVERYTHING. You can even exchange money right outside. Good luck not getting lost inside.  Afterwards we walked to super cool Arab Street to check out that section. Amazingly we did not eat anything (probably a mistake, in hindsight). From there we walked along North Bridge Rd to Clarke Quay, poked around there for a bit. I can see this being fun at night if drinks is what you are after. After resting for a couple hours, we went out to Jumbo Seafood at the East Coast Seafood Centre. Tasty (and messy) crabs as well as other amazing, assorted items (some kind of fish on crispy chicken skin). Then some durian by the beach. I must admit, the second time trying them was less bad. They do grow on you! I still would not want them hanging out at my house however – would hate to open the fridge to that smell.

Day 14: Started with a walk along East Coast Park again. Then we cabbed over to Tiong Baru and started the day right with some tasty eats at the Tiong Baru Food Centre. Carrot cake! We dawdled around Tiong Baru for a while then hopped in a cab to Roxy  Square for laksa – well worth it. Back in a cab to the Raffles Hotel – a friend was keen to visit the Raffles Long Bar to pay homage to the birthplace of the Singapore Sling. Take your wallet as the Singapore Sling there will set you back more than a few pennies. The peanuts are “free” though. Perhaps glamorous in its day, the Long Bar experience isn’t much different than being at TGI Friday’s. More walking ended us up at a Vietnamese place in Clarke Quay. This was followed by some rest. And then more food. The stalls at East Coast Lagoon Food Centre deal out some of the best satay you can find. Satay…mmmmmm.

Day 15: A very un-fun 4am wake up call (is there anything worse than waking up that early? I don’t think so) to get us to the airport for our super sweet business class flights to Hong Kong, then to the USA. These flights were amazing but the highlight for us was trying every single possible Cathay Pacific lounge that we could. We visited the departure Lounge in Singapore – Dnata Lounge and then three different ones (The Wing, The Cabin (mmm noodles!) and The Bridge. Sadly The Pier was not open but it is on my list if I make it back!) before leaving for NYC.

Work time. Boo!!!

How Many Continents Are There? Depends Who You Ask!

One of the most fascinating things I discovered when I started traveling when young is that, depending on the country of your birth, you would have been taught there are different number of Continents.

Did you know that? Crazy right?

According to Wiki (hey don’t judge my source…I am lazy) there are indeed different models to teach this. Check out this animated graph with the different models or the chart below.

4 to 7 continents

  • The seven-continent model is usually taught in China, India, Pakistan, the Philippines, parts of Western Europe and most English-speaking countries including Australia and the UK.
  • The six-continent combined-Eurasia model is mostly used in Russia, Eastern Europe and Japan. 
  • The six-continent combined-America model is used in France and its former colonies, Italy, Portugal, Spain, Romania, Latin America and Greece.
  • A five-continent model is obtained from the six-continent combined-America model by excluding Antarctica as uninhabited. This is used, for example, in the Olympic Charter.

“The terms Oceania or Australasia are sometimes substituted for Australia to denote a region encompassing the Australian continent and various islands in the Pacific Ocean that are not included in the seven-continent model. For example, the Atlas of Canada names Oceania, as does the model taught in France, Italy and Greece, the Ibero-American countries (Spain, Portugal, Brazil and Spanish-speaking Latin America), China and South Korea.”

See why Latin people look so confused when you explain about North America? And let’s not even get into the debate of Central America being a region, etc.

There you have it. Your random post of the day and something to bust out next time you find yourself with a group of people from different countries and want to spark up conversation. Be warned it may lead to hours of cultural exchange, so get some coffee!

 

 

 

New Zealand, One Month Self-Drive Tour (2005)

Ah, New Zealand. Probably my favorite overall country in the world. We were fortunate enough to be able to do a self-drive tour for about a month while taking ‘summer off’ from our grad school studies (2005). Actually this is the very first time  in our lives we ever said ‘when we retire, we want to move to Wanaka’ (random town in New Zealand – Heaven was probably created after this place or Coromandel Peninsula).

You must experience a Haka in real life – gives you the chills. I always get teary.

No one really talks much about New Zealand food or its beaches as compared to other countries – we were incredibly happy about both. Plus, no snakes. Beat that Australia!

We worked with an amazing travel agent – best we have ever had, but sadly google tells me he is no longer available (so I will share the details below – have no idea if some of these B&Bs and hotels, or even attractions are still there).

The actual trip below was quoted at NZD$7,773.31 for both of us plus our flights and extra meals/entertainment, and we included this in our overall ‘grad school expenses’.  Must definitely a highlight in our lives.

Itinerary

Auckland

This city has a population of over one million people and sprawls over 60 extinct volcanic peaks, between two harbours and coast-lines. The area had seen Maori settlement, especially around mid 18th century.  European settlement commenced 1840; the city was named after a Lord Auckland who was Viceroy of India.  This was New Zealand’s capital until 1865.

Auckland is regularly voted one of the best lifestyle cities in the world, with the cosmopolitan city centre complemented by great escapes within half an hour of downtown. Whatever your interests, you’ll never be short of things to do in the City of Sails.

Things to do in and around Auckland (2005, so check these things are still there!)

  • View the busy town centre area of Queen Street.
  • Check out the upscale shopping districts of High Street and Vulcan Lane for New Zealand’s big name designers. Visit the nearby Durham Lane and Little High St.
  • Ride to the top of New Zealand’s tallest building – Sky City Tower and Casino and enjoy a meal in the revolving restaurant high above the city.
  • Stroll through the Viaduct Basin, home of America’s Cup.
  • Take a short cruise from Auckland’s waterfront to the seaside village of Devonport.
  • Escape to Waiheke – Just a 35-minute cruise from Auckland, Waiheke Island has beautiful beaches, native bush, vineyards, olive groves and laidback seaside villages.
  • The Auckland Art Gallery, Toi o Tamaki, has the largest and most comprehensive collection of New Zealand and international art in the country. The Gallery is a venue where New Zealand stories are told through the visual arts. Take a free, guided tour of the collection  or visit one of the 32 exhibitions on display throughout the year.
  • Auckland Museum, located in the middle of the Auckland Domain, a few minutes east of the city centre. Overlooking Waitemata harbour and occupying one of New Zealand’s finest heritage buildings, is Auckland War Memorial Museum. First established in 1852, the Museum tells the story of our nation’s evolution, from Pacific migration and early nationhood, to our natural and military history.
  • Mt Eden, just a short drive from the CBD and view the city’s sights from its summit – you can even walk down into the volcanic crater! Auckland’s volcanic landscape provides plenty of landmarks with spectacular summit views.
  • Sail in the fast lane on board a genuine America’s Cup racing yacht.  NZL 40 offers the unique opportunity to experience sailing an America’s Cup yacht. Passengers become the crew and are encouraged to participate. Suitable for all ages, experiences and abilities, the experienced crew will ensure you get the most out of your two-hour sail. The ideal activity in Auckland: ‘City of Sails’ and ‘Home of the America’s Cup’. Sailing everyday, departing from the Viaduct Harbour.
  • Take a bus to Parnell.  Parnell Village is an historic shopping area just 10 minutes east of the city with charming and exclusive boutiques, where you can find original gifts, art and clothing. Dotted along Parnell Road are art galleries that house local New Zealand artwork, both for sale and to admire.
  • Hammerheads Seafood Restaurant is situated along Tamaki Drive, right on the Auckland waterfront. With stunning views from its covered deck and art deco windows, the spacious restaurant is the perfect place for dinner and drinks after a day on the water, or to break the day’s activities with a leisurely lunch. Sample New Zealand’s world famous seafood and wines at one of Auckland’s leading restaurants.
  • Take a 5 hour Wilderness Experience. Only 30 kilometres from downtown Auckland is the cities largest regional park the Waitakere Ranges. Visit the Arataki Centre where you have spectacular  views of both coasts and magnificent Maori carvings. Then continue onto KareKare beach, the location for the award winning movie “the Piano” where  your guide will explain all about the fascinating local history, flora and fauna of the region and you get the opportunity to stroll on an unspoiled black sand beach. Your journey then takes you into dense rainforest, giant Tree Ferns and New Zealand’s famous Kauri trees. Along the walk native birds and magnificent Waterfalls gives you a true insight and feel for our unspoiled native bush – a classic kiwi experience.

Accommodation:  Airedale Hotel. These chain of hotels are the best 3 star hotel we have stayed in, ever.

Bay of Islands

After a lovely few days in Auckland, we went to Budget Rental Car, got our Toyota Corolla 1.6L Automatic and headed to the Bay of Islands  (4hr 15min, 240 km). The Northland region is the birthplace of the New Zealand nation, where the British made their first permanent contact with the Maori. Your journey takes you north across the Harbour Bridge, and along the Hibiscus Coast, with its beautiful long sandy beaches. You continue through small farming towns to the Bay of Islands. The bay’s 800-kilometre coastline embraces 150 islands and is steeped in historical association with the early history of New Zealand.  Captain Cook discovered the harbour in 1769, and gave the bay its present name.

Travel to the small town of Paihia and explore Paihia at your leisure. The town was founded in 1823, when a missionary, the Reverend Henry Williams, built a reed hut here. In 1834 a printing press was brought here from England to produce the first Bible in Maori.  Places of historical interest along the red-sand seafront are marked with bronze plaques, and New Zealand’s oldest tree, a Norfolk pine, stands here. There is also an interesting aquarium, called Aquatic World (which we skipped). Just north of Paihia is the town of Waitangi, where the famous Waitangi Treaty was signed in 1840. A visit the historic Treaty House is an option.

Activities in and around Bay of Island

  • Fullers Cape Brett- ‘Hole in the Rock’ Cruise. Board the luxury catamaran for the most popular cruise in the Bay of Islands. The high speed vessel will whisk you on a comfortable journey out through  game fishing waters to the Cape Brett Lighthouse.
  • Next is Motukokako Island and the famous “Hole in the Rock”; the excitement grows as you make a passage through the Hole and on to the majestic Grand Cathedral Cave. On the return journey we take our time and meander through the inner islands. View sandy beaches, beautiful bays and marine wildlife as your skipper gives an informative commentary. Included is an island stopover on beautiful Urupukapuka Island where there are numerous activities. Enjoy one of the scenic walks, a swim or ride the Subsea Adventure.
  • Browse through the Maori Arts and Crafts centre or relax in the cafe. Enjoy the magic that is the Bay of Islands.

Accommodation:    Pt Veronica Lodge  B&B room w/ ensuite. Continental and cooked breakfast.

Guests can relax in the gazebo or wander along the garden paths with two small decks built into the hillside. From the garden a bush track leads to the coastal pathway that connects Opua to Paihia, one of the best short walks in Northland. It takes around 45 minutes to walk to Opua wharf or go the on the way and it’s about an hour to Paihia wharf.

Bay of Islands  – Coromandel Peninsula  

Leave Paihia and drive back south through the Northland region, 6 hr 5min  354km Paihia to Thames.  The mild climate here allows trees, shrubs and flowers to thrive all year round. Coromandel was visited in 1820 by the HMS Coromandel, which called in to the harbour for kauri spars. The ship brought the town, and the Peninsula, its name from the Madras coast of India. In 1852 the discovery of gold at Driving Creek brought a boom to Coromandel Town. A lot of history dating from that time is still evident in the Town today: old buildings, artefacts and atmosphere.

Things to do in and around Coromandel

  • The Waterfall of Wentworth Valley.  Wentworth Valley offers several walks – the old mines walk (30 minutes),   the five hour walk – Maratoto-Wentworth), or the ever-popular walk to the waterfall (two hours). This walk follows a well-maintained track that meanders beside a stream. You have to cross the stream a couple of times (it’s only ankle deep) before you reach the viewing platform, but the spectacular waterfall is well worth the effort!
  • Driving Creek Railway and take a ride on New Zealand’s only narrow-gauge mountain railway. (we skipped this)
  • Hot Water Beach is one of the region’s most fascinating places. For two hours either side of low tide, one can dig in the sand for hot spring water and make spa pools. (Observe the ‘dangerous swimming’ signs.)
  • Whitianga Wharf, which is the centre of the town’s boating and fishing activity. You can take the passenger ferry to Ferry Landing and Flaxmill Bay and walk around.
  • Drive into the town of Whitianga from the south and divert to Whangapoua – a 20-minute walk, which takes you to New Chums Beach, one of the Peninsula’s most beautiful, unspoiled golden sand beaches. (I mean, wow!).

Accommodation:    Drift In B&B    Room on BB Basis

Coromandel to Rotorua via Tauranga

Tauranga is located in the Bay of Plenty.  This region seems to have it all – a mild, sunny climate, some of the country’s most popular beaches and an abundance of orchards, especially kiwifruit, avocado and citrus. The uniqueness of the Bay of Plenty centres around a relaxed holiday atmosphere.

The clear pristine waters of the Bay of Plenty offer the ultimate marine encounter, the opportunity to swim with, or just observe, dolphins in their natural environment. Other oceanic-based activities include diving, game fishing, underwater photography and surfing to name a few. You may also wish to sample award-winning wines at some of the region’s vineyards.  Enjoy some beach activities at Mt Maunganui or indulge in a soak at Mt Maunganui hot salt-water pools.

Rotorua is known for its embrace of traditional Maori culture.  This is a place of lush forests, green pastures, and crystal clear lakes.  Rotorua lies on a volcanic rift, which stretches 124 miles from White Island off the coast of the Bay of Plenty to Lake Taupo.  Here nature’s antics can be fascinating, odd and even scary.  Every now and then you will catch a whiff of pungent sulphur gas escaping from subterranean fires not too far beneath your feet. Even steam wafting from cracks in the pavements is not unusual.

Yes it is VERY smelly. We did not enjoy that, at all. Still worth the visit at least once.

Things to do in and around Rotorua

  • Hangi & Concert Evening (highlight here for us!) Home of the Ngati Rongomai tribe located at Rakeiao Marae, Lake Rotoiti.Spend an evening with the Maori people and share their culture through song and dance, then partake in a Hangi feast. The food is cooked on hot stones, in a specially prepared hole in the ground
  • Rainbow Springs and Farm Show – Rainbow Springs and Farm Show is located just before you reach Rotorua.  Rainbow Springs is a showcase of New Zealand’s natural flora and fauna.  It is set in beautiful native bush, traversed by crystal clear freshwater streams and deep fern-fringed pools.  These waterways are home to thousands of impressive Rainbow, Brown and Brook Trout which you can come face to face with in the underwater observatory.  The highlight of your visit to Rainbow Springs is New Zealand’s own living national icon, the Kiwi.  View these shy, flightless birds in their nocturnal kiwi-house.  The Farm’s wildlife sanctuary affords an insight into New Zealand’s sheep farming industry as you watch a show.
  • Whakarewarewa Thermal Reserve, or “Whaka” for short.  Here paths lead you around turbulent mud pools, gushing geysers and boiling streams.  In thermal areas like Rotorua, nature uses lava or superheated rock to raise water to temperatures, forcing it upwards to the surface and creating geysers or bubbling mud pools. Here you can see boiling mud pools and gushing geysers. On Geyser Flat is Pohutu (‘Big Splash’), New Zealand’s most famous geyser. It erupts roughly once every 20 minutes, and shoots hot water up to 20 metres into the air.
  • You can also visit the Maori Arts and Crafts Centre on the reserve, where you can watch craftspeople at work, see a replica Maori village and ‘kiwi’ house and enjoy an art gallery. Located at the NZ Maori Arts & Crafts Institute.
  • Wai-o-tapu Thermal Wonderland is a geothermal sightseeing attraction just outside of Rotorua. The area is known as New Zealand’s most colourful and diverse geothermal sightseeing experience.  Visitors to the area can view a wide range of features including: – Geysers (10:15 am) and Mud pools – Mineral terraces – Colourful hot and cold pools – Steaming Volcanic Lakes.Walks are from 1/2hr to approx 1 hour along well-maintained pathways.
  • Rotorua Museum located in the old Bath House.  Displays of ancient and recent history, art, and locally made videos.
  • Buried Village – located 15 minutes from the city on Tarawera Rd.  Wander through he remains of te Wairoa, buried in lava in 1886.
  • Waimangu Volcanic Valley – Created June 1186, Waimangu is the only hydrothermal system in the world wholly formed within historic times as a result of Volcanic eruption.
  • Lakeland Queen – Cruise the lake for breakfast, lunch or dinner with an expert guide to point out landmarks and historical sites.
  • Skyline Gondola – Conveniently located just kilometres from Rotorua’s town centre, on the side of Mount Ngongotaha, Skyline Skyrides can carry you to 487 metres above sea level to a fun park environment.  Providing panoramic views of Rotorua City, Lake Rotorua and the surrounding area, Skyline Skyrides is an all weather attraction, and is open every day and night of the year.

Accommodation:    Ventura Inn Rotorua, standard studio room. Nearby attractions include Polynesian Spa, Government Gardens, Rotorua Museum and the Convention Centre.

Rotorua to Tongariro (Mt Ruapehu) via Taupo

Driving south to Taupo are the spectacular Huka Falls. The Huka Falls are famous for the speed and volume of water rather than the height of the falls, as the Waikato river pumps nearly 300,000 litres of water per second through this narrow gorge.  The Craters of the Moon thermal reserve is located on the opposite side of the main highway in the Wairakei Tourist Park.

Nearby the Geothermal Power Field harnesses underground steam to make electricity.  Lake Taupo is the country’s largest lake, located in the centre of the North Island. The lake was formed by a dramatic volcanic explosion in about AD186 and is especially famous for its rainbow trout.

Things to do in and around Taupo

  • Steamboat Lake Cruise – Two hour scenic cruise on the Ernest Kemp to Jerusalam Bay and Maori rock carvings.
  • Trout catching – aboard the White Striker.  Professional help to catch that monster trout.  (we skipped)
  • Huka Jet – A half-hour action-packed spin to the spectacular Huka Falls, the Aratiatia Dam and more.
  •  The Woolshed – Stock up on your winter woollies.
  • The Merchant of Taupo – A food shop
  • Breakfast – Replete Food Company – Not to be missed, great kitchen shop.
    Lunch – Prawn Park – New Zealand’s only prawn farm.
  • Tongariro One of the things we were most looking forward to doing was completing the Tongariro Alpine Crossing. I mean, when else do you get to say you hiked through Mt Doom, for those Lord of The Rings fans out there? This hike is not the easiest but it was beautiful. Highly, highly, highly recommend it!

Accommodation:    Skotel Mt Ruapehu,  standard Room.

Tongariro to Wellington

Wellington’s deep harbour is surrounded by steep, green hills, dotted with white      wooden houses. The city has many good shops, boutiques and pedestrian streets. From the numerous vantage points on the hilltops surrounding the city you can look out across the harbour to the nearby South Island. Wellington is such a compact city that one of the best ways to explore it is on foot.

Things to do in and around Wellington

  •  Catch the Cable Car up to the Wellington Botanical Garden for spectacular views.   Follow the Thorndon heritage Trail and wander down through NZ oldest suburb.  Allow two hours.
  • Look inside beautiful Old St. Paul’s Cathedral on Mulgrave Street.   The church is built in the ‘Selwyn’ style, with a beautiful high ceiling. Then take a guided tour of the majestically refurbished Parliament Buildings, which include the distinctive “Beehive” building.  Allow one hour for the Parliament tour.
  • Enjoy a meal among the politicians at the Backbencher Pub and Café, across from Parliament Buildings.
  • Make your way to Lambton Quay for some great shopping.  Stroll over to Manners Street and Cuba Street and then over towards Courtney Place.  Courtenay Place is located on the waterfront and has a good selection of cafés and entertainment.
  • Stop at Te Papa Tongarewa, Museum of NZ.  Enjoy touring this wonderful showcase of treasures and discover the stories of a nation.  Allow at least two hours.
  • A drive up to Mount Victoria is a must as you get spectacular views of Wellington’s deep-water harbour and the city centre.

Accommodation:    Rawhiti, Room on B&B basis

Wellington to Nelson

We woke up really airly to take the 8:00 am    The Lynx Fast Ferry – Wellington to Picton. This is a delightful journey, as the ship crosses to the South Island through a maze of     sheltered waterways, known as the Marlborough Sound.  The sound is a myriad of inlets and bays with steep hills plunging straight down into the sea. You can sit out on deck and enjoy the views, or relax in the lounge. The comfortable ferries have a bar and café, a self-service restaurant, snack bar, souvenir shop and cinema.

Disembark in Picton, where you will be able to pick up your new rental car. From Picton drive west along the Queen Charlotte Drive to Havelock, skirting the edges of Queen Charlotte and Pelorus Sounds. Highlights include lookout points over beautiful Sounds, easy walking tracks and safe swimming beaches. In Havelock stop and taste the locally grown mussels or browse in the art galleries. At Havelock stop at Pelorus Bridge to take a short, unguided bush walk through native forest in the Mt Richmond Forest Park.

Your journey will take you to Nelson in the afternoon. The Nelson region is known for its year-round sunshine, golden beaches, accessibility to three national parks, 300-plus working artists and craftspeople, boutique wineries, fresh local produce and seafood, historical streetscapes, waterfront cafes and restaurants, and a thoroughly relaxed lifestyle.

Nelson is the urban centre of the Nelson region, a compact city of 40,000 people. From Nelson you can organise an adventure, begin an arty shopping spree or start a survey of the Nelson fresh food feast. Spend the afternoon in Nelson city surrounds.

Things to do in or around Nelson

  • Harbour cruises: appreciate the city’s seaside setting
  • Walk to the centre of New Zealand and view the city in its entirety, or try one of the many other short walks in and around Nelson city
  • Art and historic trails: pick up a map or brochure from the visitor information centre
  • Visiting local beaches: Tahunanui Beach, Rabbit Island and Cable Bay are all safe beaches within a short distance of Nelson city
  • World of Wearable Art: experience Nelson’s internationally renowned Wearable Art phenomenon at the World of Wearable Art Complex
  • Abel Tasman National Park. Do NOT miss this. Abel Tasman National Park is the smallest of New Zealand’s National Parks but no doubt one of the most beautiful places on earth.  Abel Tasman is a compact treasure house of nature with glittering beaches, turquoise water and spectacular ocean views. A range of wildlife inhabits the area, including penguins and a seal colony in the Tonga Island Marine Reserve.  There are also day cruises and nature tours that include walking through the Park.

As an optional you may want to look at a cruise and walk day excursion with Wilson’s Experiences.  The Swing Bridge is a popular option. (we skipped this but leaving for your review).

Accommodation:    Grove Villa,    room on BB basis

Nelson to Christchurch via Kaikoura 

This 6hr 15min drives takes you to the seaside settlement of Kaikoura, overlooked by majestic mountains that are snow capped for many months of the year. The township is located on a rocky peninsula protruding from lush farmland beneath the mountains. In the waters off this peninsula, a complex marine system provides an abundantly rich habitat for marine mammals and seabirds, making it an ideal place for getting ‘close to nature’.

Things to do in and around Koikorua

  • Kaikoura is world renowned for whale watching (some quite rare and only found in the Southern Hemisphere) and is one of the few places in the world where these magnificent creatures can be seen year round. Dolphin and seal swimming, sea bird watching, fishing, diving and a large number of other land- and water-based activities are also available. Enjoy the gazillion dolphins in such cruise that wil no doubt come and play with you. AND enjoy the fellow pukers on the whale watching boat :). Still worth it!! (hello black sand beaches with caribeann light blue oceans, what?).

Things to do in and around Christchurch

  • Hop aboard one of the beautifully restored vintage trams
  • Enjoy a gentle punt on the Avon River or simply explore on foot.
  • Stroll through Victoria Square, just north of the City’s central business district, then along the riverbank to Worcester Boulevard.
  • Head towards Hagley Park, the Botanic Gardens and the Canterbury Museum
  • Stop at the Arts Centre to purchase the handcrafts and artworks.  Enjoy a snack, lager, or espresso while you enjoy the ambience of the Center’s Gothic architecture.
  • Head to the City Mall to experience the atmosphere.  Also on Oxford Terrace along the riverside you will find cafes and bars, which are popular venues for lunching and brunching by day – and partying by night.
  • Visit Cathedral Square and climb the 134 steps of the cathedral tower for a fine view over the city.

Accommodation: The Grange Guest House, double room on B&B Basis with cooked breakfast

Tranz Alpine Train Journey and Fox Glacier

TranzAlpine for one of the most spectacular rail journeys in the world. Cross the Canterbury Plains after departing Christchurch. En-route you will stop at Arthur’s Pass, which is over 700 metres above sea level, making it the highest railway station in New Zealand.  Travel through virgin forests and mountains, lush even farmlands, and across to the West  Coast.

The Franz Josef Glacier was first explored in 1865 by an Austrian, Julius Haast, who named it after the Austrian Emperor. Nowhere else in the world is a glacier so close to the sea. You can either walk to the base of the Glaciers themselves or join one of the guided glacier walks, which accommodate every level of fitness and experience.

Depart Greymouth for Franz Josef Glacier on the way to Fox Glacier.  Shantytown is located 13km south of Greymouth and is the recreated gold-mining attraction. It features restored buildings, an old saw mill, steam train, and gold prospecting.

Things to do around here

  • En route stop in Hokitika, the third largest centre on the West Coast.  Here you can shop at one of the many craft galleries for jade, hand-blown glass, gold nugget jewellery, woodcrafts and wool products.
  • You may also stop in Ross, a town that still has working goldmines, including one of the deepest operations in the Southern Hemisphere. A tour is available from the Ross Goldfields (information at centre). Another option is to stop at Whataroa to visit the white heron (kotuku) sanctuary on an organised tour.
  • Drive to Lake Matteson.  This is probably the most photographed lake in New Zealand and made famous due to its reflective mirror images of the mountains on the water, especially early morning and often too at sunset.
  • Hike Fox Glacier.

Accommodation:    Fox Glacier Lodge, Queen room with Ensuite – Continental Breakfast

Fox Glacier to Wanaka       

Carry on with some more self-driving (5hr 25min,  257km) and continue south from Fox Glacier and over the Haast Pass, into the heart of the beautiful South Westland Region. This is one of the least populated parts of New Zealand (most definitely more sheep than people, though I head these days they are being replaced by cows…but I digress), and after passing tiny Haast village there is a long stretch of road with no settlements of any size, as you skirt Mount Aspiring National Park.  The journey through this area is very rugged and scenic.  Entering the Central Otago region, you pass beautiful Lake Hawea before reaching Lake Wanaka.

Wanaka is defined by its lake, which is edged by poplars and willows, and mirrors the surrounding mountains.

Things to do in and around Wanaka

  • Day walk into Mt Aspiring National Park.
  • Plan your retirement or wonder if life will ever be topped after this trip. Cheer with some wine.
  • Just walk around and be happy.
  • Tour The New Zealand Fighter Pilots Museum and see a collection of flyable World War II fighter aircraft.
  • Visit Puzzling World and get lost in a world of jigsaw puzzles and a maze.
  • Take a tour of Wanaka Beerworks a boutique brewery, which is located next to Wanaka airport.

Accommodation:   Harpers B&B,  double room with ensuite and breakfast.

Wanaka to Queenstown

This drive takes about  1hr 50min, 117km. Travel to Arrowtown via the Crown Range and Arrowtown.  Visit the historic Cardrona Hotel when travelling the Crown Range.  The hotel was built in 1868 just as the area’s short-lived gold rush was ending.

Arrowtown was built as a gold mining village on the banks of the Arrow River.  Incredibly picturesque, its gentle nature defies its rugged location.  Many of the town’s historic buildings have been restored and are in use today.

Queenstown is a favourite destination of people from all over the world.  Located on the banks of Lake Wakatipu, Queenstown is set among great glacier-shaped mountain peaks. Take some time to walk the boutique shops.

Things to do in and around Queenstown

  • Adventurous activities, which are arranged in Queenstown, include bungy jumping, white-water rafting, river sledging and parachute jumping.
  • See New Zealand’s most famous native birds in the Kiwi and Wildlife Park
  • Travel by the Skyline Gondola cable-car to the top of Bob’s Peak, for a superb view of the town and lake. There are also plenty of good walks in the area.
  • Kawarau Jetboat Ride.  It’s an absorbing 43km’s of adventure: past lakeside homes to the deep  turquoise waters of the Kawarau River then onto the narrow shallow braided  waters of the gold rich Shotover River. The trip  also includes entry into Queenstown’s Underwater World.
  • Hike around town – plenty of breathtaking spots.

Accommodation:   A Line Hotel,  Standard Room (Heartland hotel I think is called now).

Queenstown to Manapouri 

Travel south along the east shore (2hr 45min, 170km) of Lake Wakatipu to Kingston. On your left, you pass the mountain range called The Remarkables. The road follows the track of the Kingston Flyer, a historic steam train that once connected with the Earnslaw to provide a passenger service between Queenstown and Lumsden. The train now operates summer tourist services over a short stretch of preserved line. You continue past the Eyre Mountains, via Mossburn to Manapouri.

Things to do in and around Manapouri (including accommodation)

  •   Real Journeys , Doubtful Sound Overnight expedition. Absolutely stunning. Following a short cruise across beautiful Lake Manapouri and a coach trip over Wilmot Pass, you will board the Fiordland Navigator at Deep Cove, Doubtful  Sound. There is plenty of time on your overnight cruise to enjoy the stunning views and to discover the hidden arms of Doubtful Sound.  Fur seals and bottlenose dolphins are often seen and at times, rare penguins can be observed.  There is also time for you to kayak around the shoreline or go exploring in the tender craft with our nature guide.  As the shadows lengthen we’ll drop anchor at a favourite mooring for the night.  After the days activities, enjoy a delicious evening buffet meal in the spacious dining saloon.

Manapouri to Te Anau (via Milford Sound) 

After departing from the Doubtful Sound overnight, drive north through Te Anau (2hr 20min, 121km) and make a quick stop at the B&B  before heading to Milford Sound.  This way you will be familiar with where the B&B is upon your return.

The Fiordland covers three million acres of wilderness, and is one of the biggest national parks in the world.  Everything here is on a grand scale, with waterfall tumbling thousands of metres into virgin, forested valleys, and lonely fjords indenting the coast. The road to Milford Sound cuts through Fiordland and is considered to be one of the best alpine drives in the world.  It follows Lake Te Anau, passing through dense forests, along small lakes and river flats, and through the Homer Tunnel, nearly one-and-a-half kilometres long, which took 12 years to construct.  Finally you reach Milford Sound via the awe-inspiring Cleddau Canyon.

Things to do in and around Te Anau

  • Milford Sound Day Trip.  Milford Sound was described by Rudyard Kipling as ‘the eighth wonder of the world’ and it is easy to see why, as you cruise the dark waters of the fjord under the gaze of the one-and-a-half kilometre high Mitre Peak. This is one of New Zealand’s most distinctive mountains, and was named because of its resemblance to a bishop’s mitre.

Accommodation:  Loch Vista,  Queen bedded room with ensuite with breakfast.

Te Anau to Dunedin  

Time to hit the road again,  4hr 15min, 290km. Dunedin is a small, thriving city set amidst a magical landscape edged by the sea. Here the streets hum vibrantly with colour and culture, and the beauty of nature can still be found – everywhere. An historic university town, Dunedin spreads around a sheltered harbour. The Victorian and Edwardian spires and towers of notable neo-Gothic buildings and stately homes punctuate Dunedin’s cityscape. The city centre is compact, with a surprising array of kerbside cafes, high quality local craft, art, jewellery and fashion design outlets.

The city is renowned for its proximity to incredible wildlife. The Otago Peninsula, a brief drive from the city centre, is home to a colony of the world’s rarest penguins, the only mainland breeding colony of the royal albatross, rare New Zealand sea lions and the magnificent Larnach Castle. A world of recreational opportunities awaits the active at heart.

Things to do in and around Dunedin

  • Royal Albatross Colony. The site of the only mainland, breeding colony of royal albatross in the world.
  • The Yellow Eyed Penguin Reserve. This unique reserve is a private conservation effort to save the world’s most endangered penguin from extinction.  View and photograph the penguins at close range through an ingenious system of hides and tunnels.
  • Monarch Wildlife Cruises and Glenfalloch Gardens.
  • Cadbury World – Visitor Centre and Chocolate Factory Tours
  • Historic Speights Brewery Tour – 90 minute guided tour of a working brewery and heritage centre, complete with beer tastings.  One of the world’s only gravity-fed breweries.
  • Olveston- a 35-room mansion that tells a story of a gracious age and  that gives a glimpse of a lifestyle of a well-to-do family at the time of the Great War.

Accommodation:    Larnach Castle Lodge,  Premium Room on a B&B Basis. Whle totally a unique and cool experience, should I ever make my way back to Dunedin I would stay here instead.

Dunedin to Lake Pukaki (Mt Cook)     

Travel along the west shore of the long Lake Pukaki, to the Mount Cook National Park (3hr 55min, 272km). At 3,765 metres, Mount Cook is the highest peak in New Zealand. Sir Edmund Hillary took advantage of this, and used the mountain as practice for his historic 1953 ascent of Everest.  The National Park contains 140 peaks over 2,135 metres high, as well as five of New Zealand’s glaciers. Nudging one side of Mt Cook is the mighty Tasman Glacier, a 30-kilometre/18-mile giant and one of the longest outside the Himalayas.

What to do in and around Lake Pukaki

  • Hike, hike and hike. There are short day walks around Mt Cook village and into the main valleys. The most popular are to Kea Point and Hooker Valley, offering great views of mountain peaks, glacier lakes and alpine flora. The Department of Conservation Visitor Centre can provide information on walks in the area.

Do not miss Mt Cook hiking and this area in general!

Accommodation:  Rhoborough Downs, double Room on B&B basis. Continental breakfast. Not sure if still around but look how awesom this place looks, instead (though I have not been).

Lake Pukaki (Mt Cook) to Christchurch

Last leg of our trip, noooo! (4hr 5min, 272km). Lake Tekapo is a glacial lake giving it a deep aqua colour.  Located on a lake promontory is the much-photographed stone chapel, the Church of the Good Shepherd.  The nearby bronze statue of a sheepdog commemorates the dogs of the district – vital aids for high country shepherds.

Arriving Christchurch this afternoon, discover the pleasures of the central city and get ready to depart the next day.

The end.

 

Peru: 15 Days/14 Nights

This trip was actually way before kids (August 2007 actually, so cheating a little! shhh don’t tell), but it was so fabulous and I so recommended as a getaway that I am adding here to the list.

I did my typical extensive (weeks of scandalously obsessive planning!) research at the time and I wanted to go with a local tour operator and yet remain independent in my travel (private vs group). I found the perfect combination by going with Inka Explorers. They were great!

Hotels

Again, this was a while back but I will give you the names of hotels we stayed and places we visited, as we thought the entire team was extremely well planned (but see what has happened in over a decade ;)!). We flew in and out of Lima, and stayed at:

The Details

The cost was around USD$1,700 per person in 2007 (we traveled with a friend for the first portion of it so had triple accommodations), plus generous tips, international flights and meals not included below.

Even though I am sharing the plan in detail, for Peru I still really highly recommend going with a travel company (as I said I loved the one we used but not sure how it is now) – I remember being slightly less expensive (or the same of booking on my own) and things were totally resolved for us AND they hired locals and just fantastic guides.The guides made a huge difference in the sites! (plus if something does not work out they figure it out for you).

The trip included  all accommodations including breakfast and first class transportation: Lima to Huaraz and return, Huaraz to Lima, private transport from Huaraz to camping/hiking start point Cashapampa and private transport return from Vaqueria to Huaraz. It also included all meals while on the treks (breakfast, lunch, and dinner), and professional English speaking guides on all treks and tours (they were really top notch!).

The cost of the trip also included the entry fee to the Inca Trail and Machupicchu, visitors pass to all sites in Cusco and Sacred Valley, entry fee to Museum in Lima, upgrade Tourist train from Cusco to Aguas Calientes and return to Cusco (Vistadome) and the bus from Aguas Calientes to Machupicchu and return down to Aguas Calientes.

For the Cordillera Blanca camping section of the trip, things were really first class including ample 4 season tents, tent for dining, tent for kitchen, latrine, thermo rest, oxygen (which I totally had to use the first day, along with the emergency horse to walk me a few miles lol, then it was totally fine!), first aid kit. They also brought treated water while on the hike.

On the hike we even had a cook and assistant all to ourselves (yuuum!), mules on the Santa Cruz Trek, horse – tender, and entry fees to Huaraz Park.  I mean hello fancy hiking!

The Itinerary

Day 1.  Met at the airport by a staff of Inca Explorers (this driver was so lovely, we miss him even today!) and transferred to our hotel in the lively district of Miraflores (Lima). We walked around the city a little bit, exchange money on the street (literally people on the street changing money, kind of fun and super convenient) and had some Pisco Sour in a hipsterish looking small bar near the hotel.

Day 2. We woke up early and had a lovely hotel breakfast  early morning flight to Cusco, the capital of the Incas. There we were met by a  staff of Inca Explorers and taken to our hotel where we were immediately offered taste a Coca tea (Andean leaf) while the guide filled us in on the travel itinerary and Cusco overall. Today we had a free day to walk around the city and explore. I tried llama meat for the first time (delicious, and almost no to zero cholesterol?!) but sadly the altitude sickness hit shortly thereaftear. After taking some pills and taking it easy a little bit, I was good to go and continued exploring. One of the things I loved the most about this city is the amazing modern restaurants mixed with such a charming old city. Small enough to walk around it on your own, absolutely lovely spot, but be warned of the altitude if that affects you! (though please do not let it stop you from going).

Day 3.   Today our tour guide took us to the Sacred Valley for a full day visiting Pisac,
a typical Indian market and the ruins above the town. Afterwards we traveled to the Incan Fortress of Ollantaytambo exploring the Inca site in town.

Day 4.  Inca Trail / Machupicchu: We had an early morning start from Cusco by train to Km 104 (2,200 mts), our starting point for (shorter hike version (you could do a longer walk, not sure if still available as space was limited) the Inca Trail. At Km 104 we started our trek along the Royal Path of the Incas, an ancient stone trail linked one time from the capital of the Inca empire, Cusco, to the fascinating sacred city of Machupicchu. On route we stopped at the Inca Site Wiñaywayna (forever Young) to then continue and reach the Sung Gate from where we had our first (and totally breathtaking) view of Machupicchu. We explored for a little bit then continued to Aguas Calientes town for dinner and sleep.

Day 5. After breakfast we took the first bus up to Machupicchu where we had about 6-7 hours to explore this remarkable archaeological site on our own. We decided to also hike climb Huaynapicchu for an unparalleled view of the lost city of the Incas, which we highly recommend. An alternatively it is possible to visit the hot baths of Aguas Calientes, but we chose to skip this and instead spend more time in Machupicchu. Sadly it was time to return, which we did by going back to Aguast calientes and taking the or 3:50 pm. train for Cusco, passing through the scenic Urubamba valley.

Day 6.  Today we had a free day to further explore Cusco and visit the nearby ruins at Sacsayhuaman, Qenqo, Pucapucara and Tambomachay, or try local cuisine. You must try the guinea pig while there.

As for places to eat, a definite highlight was the MAP Cafe for dinner, which is inside the Museo de Arte Precolombino courtyard that has as super modern glass box within it (virtual tour of the restaurant here) – I recommend the splurge here if you can! (another review here). Sadly I cannot remember the other places we ate but I am telling you, you will not worry about good options!

Day 7.  Today we basically just went back to the airport so that we could go back to Lima and  prepare for our trip to Huaraz. Again here I am so upset I cannot find the restaurant we visited near the hotel that was SO delicious and inexpensive…I wish I had started my blog back then because of my poor memory!

Day 8. Time to take the fancy bus towards to Huaraz.We watched some movies in our reclining seats, then spend that day at Huaraz to get acclimated for our longer hike. We had quite an adventurous day doing a smaller hike to get us used to the altitude, but then we found ourselves in some random minivan that stopped every few seconds and a person opened the door and popped out saying ‘vamoooos!’ (let’s go!), getting yet another local in for a few cents (there were like 16 of us haha, I was waiting for some chickens to join).  Within about 40 mins, we stopped and they told us ‘the bridge’ in front had collapsed (by bridge I mean like a wooden plank that was just a couple of meters long lol). Thankfully we were almost at the start of our hike so we just started our hike earlier which was great as we passed through a very small village and someone local (that knew our guide) showed us their house and invited us to have some guinea pig and potatoes baked on their home made oven. Now I speak Spanish but these people not so much, sorry no Quechua for me! The fun of traveling at its best, rubbing your belly and smiling is all the communication you need!

Day 9/13: We made an early start from Huaraz down the Callejon de Huaylas by bus to start our Santa Cruz hike at Cordillera Blanca the highest tropical mountain range in the world). The walk combined lots of glaciated scenery with high water meadows and Andean villages. The ascent is  gradual until the last 500 meters arriving at a pass of 4750 meters (yeah it is REALLY high so take your time!). The food they cook for you along the way is so good, you will totally feel like royalty all the time.

In this trip, our guides used pack mules on this trek (which simultaneously made me feel extremely grateful AND guilty). It is also possible to take horses, as an option (as I stated above I had to do this for a few miles until my sickness passed (altitude) but they gave me some oxygen and then good as new for the rest of the trip!).

Cashapampa the starting point for the popular Santa Cruz Trek, had incredible views of the glacial mountains, Alpamayo (5,947m), considered to be the most beautiful glaciated peak in the world (according to Peruvians at least :)) and Huascaran (6,768m), the highest mountain in Peru. We then climbed through three ecological zones; Quechua, Yunga and Puna with beautiful lakes. Our highest point on the trek was Punta Union Pass (4,750m) – felt so good to reach it!

  • Cashapampa – Met the lovely arrerios and mules and set off for an afternoon’s walk climbing the steep-sided valley, Quebrada Santa Cruz, because of the presence of Mt Santa Cruz on our left (6259m). As we reached our first campsite, Llama Corral (3760m), the terrain flattened out to a wide glacial valley with a flat bottom
  • Llama Corral – Taullipampa – This was a whole day of classic high Andean valley trekking. Moderate in grade, with fantastic vistas of snow and ice clad peaks around every corner. Our route took us past the famous Alpamayo (5947m), Caraz (6025m) and Quitataju (6036m); stopping for lunch by a confluence of glacial streams we arrived at out campsite, Taullipampa. Here we pitched camp at 4,250m nestled under the awe inspiring peaks and ice covered ridge of Taulliraju (5830m). Beautiful stars at night no one else around!
  • Taullipampa – Punta Union – Paria A hearty breakfast (giant pancakes never tasted so good!) provided fuel for the super stiff 500m ascent to the watershed shared with Quebrada Huaripampa. Punta Union is a small hole punched through the rock at 4750m (15,000 feet) which provides pictures with stunning backdrops in both directions (if you feel like you are dying, you are doing it right). The (glorious) descent was full of small glacial lakes and streams that gradually combined into rivers. We started heading away from the icy peaks, down into meandering rivers and wide ribbon-like floodplains, home to cattle. Our last campsite was at Paria (3,600m) among colorful vegetation, including “the Devil’s trees”.
  • Paria – Vaqueria – Llanganuco – Huaraz –  We were into high Andean village life as we passed through hamlets without running water or electricity, where people keep guinea pigs and rabbits on their bedroom verandahs. A short ascent from quebrada Huaripampa brought us to our waiting vehicle in Vaqueria. However, the highlights are not over as the pass through the mountains to Llanganuco reaches 4,600m. The road either side winds up and down near vertical slopes (and I do mean SLOPES in very narrow passages! (I had to remind myself that millions of people live here and they have survived so just focus on not looking down) amongst majestic views of more icy peaks, including Yanapaqcha (5347m) and Chopicalqui (6254). The view from the pass down to the lakes above Llanganuco is truly breathtaking. We finally then made it back to Huaraz first passing by Yungay, a town that was burried by a rock fall in the 1970s.

Day 14/15.  Full day bus trip back to Lima, a scenic ride through the countryside and mountains. Early next morning a quick visit the Gold Museum, which houses a great collection of pre-Columbian jewelry  with the largest collection of pre-Inca and Incan artifacts then off to the airport.

End of tour, time to go home. So sad.

Other Tips

  • If you want to do the Inka trail please check way ahead of time for regulation and limits on visits (and don’t forget your ID!).
  • Check extra fees for international and local travel at airport (like departure fees or random taxes (maybe one day I will share the story of how I had to sell clothes at an airport in South American to get out when I was like 16 years old lol)
  • Mountains are cold, dress appropriately (mmm we brought a light sweater only despite knowing this haha (what were we doing?) so we had to get jackets there for the hike in August).
  • Take it easy with the altitude, come prepared and drink lots of water starting on the plane. Try the coca tea.
  • Pack really lightly
  • Bring good solid hiking shoes
  • Careful with the water (I just bring stomach pills lol)
  • Bring your own toilet paper. Your welcome.

Penang, Malaysia

We covered Hong Kong, as Part I of the three stop journey on our trip to Asia, from which we moved on to Penang, Malaysia, Part II.

Now, let me just stop right there for a minute and tell you – if you love food, like, really, really, really, really love food, this place HAS to be on your list (as wiki states, an exotic mix of Malay, Indian, Chinese and western cuisine). Period. (Bonus – not getting sick though I tell you it would have still been worth it!).This city also beautifully displays examples of daily living of different cultures and religions peacefully co-existing, which was lovely to experience.

I have no idea how this city was not even on my list of places to visit. The ONLY reason it made it there is because we realized we had planned for too many days in Singapore and were looking for a third place to visit for a couple of days while there. What a jewel to discover!

Trip Goals

After our research was done, we decided the goal of this short stop to Penang, Malaysia was to accomplish three main things:

  1. Eat, eat and then eat. Visit as many hawker markets as humanly possible. There are so many ‘top street places to eat in Penang’ results, that instead of compiling a list (like I tend to do) I said ‘screw it’ and instead literally ate every two hours trying absolutely everything that we could possible eat.  Forgive me if I cannot tell you some of the things we ate – for some, we actually still have NO idea (it may have included things like coagulated blood and fish eyes, who knows, it all went down amazingly well with some mystery sweet drink of unknown ingredients to me). Suffice to say, months later I have literally found myself daydreaming about some of these dishes.
  2. Street art.  I was so excited about this when I discovered it. If you are not familiar with the street are situation, take a read. I know, it is kind of uncool that they did not get a local artist to do this, but that aside (since we cannot change it) it should not stop you from enjoying the uniqueness of this city art. I absolutely loved to walk around everywhere taking pictures of the art. It gives such charm to an already soulful city.
  3. Temples and Heritage Trail around George Town. We were excited to  walk around everywhere to hit the highlights and immerse ourselves a little more in the culture, even for a few days.

The Itinerary

To recap, our tickets from Singapore and back where like US$80 dollars for two adults round-trip. We stayed at what is considered one of the best if not the best hotel there called Easter & Oriental. Not cheap usually but we found a rate under $150 per night (hotels.com) – absolutely worth it especially with the amazing international breakfast included (plus we were lucky enough that the next leg of our trip would be staying with friends, so we decided to splurge here for 2 nights).

This is what our time there looked like.

Day 8: We started our day (in Singapore) at a hawkers center for a tasty bowl of noodles shrimp and pork and some coffee tea (breakfast of champions, that thing was amazing!), then off to the airport for our short flight to Penang. After checking in in our fancy hotel, we walk through old town and tried some amazing char quay teow and some rice blanket wrap thing with delicious goo (I believe called Chee Cheong Fun). Bellies full (for now), we moved on to check out the Khoo Kongsi House, and proceeded to do some more walking to check out the street art, hit the hotel happy hour, shower and get ready for dinner. We found our nearest hawkers market (where we ordered like 10 dishes for $10 bucks or something crazy), walked back to the hotel and called it a night.

Day 9: Woke up early, had some awesome international breakfast at the hotel, did some more walking in search of street art, had the best noodle soupy ground prawn dish EVER (my husband, who strongly dislikes seafood devoured it). We visited a Clan Jetty, then, in between a gazillion more street food stops, we ended in Penang Hill (but decided against making the line) then on to the beautiful Kek Lok Si Temple.

Later in the day we tried some smelly durian (eww! but hey, when in Rome…), visited the Reclining Buddha, known as Wat Chayamangkalaram and other temples around the area, and found another hawkers market to rest up and eat, eat, eat.  We made our way to the touristy/beach area called Batu Ferringhi and did a nice little walk in a nature reserve there. Back to the hotel for some rest, showers and dinner – you guessed it, another hawkers market where we tried sting ray, snails and I don’t want to know what else. I want to eat that again so bad.

Day 10: On our last half day here we did a little more walking for the last pieces of street art that we wanted to check out, and found a local place that served malay lunch. We later tried the one thing I did not like in our trip a dessert called cendol, which is a like a soupy sweet green noodl-y with random beans dessert (see this post for more on sweets there).  That said, I still ate it, because food. In Penang, Malaysia. Just do it.

Back to the hotel for packing and make our way back to the airport, stopping first at the Snake Temple (yes there are real snakes there) and off to fly back to Singapore for our last part of the trip…

Conclusion: Come here, eat, walk, eat, walk, eat, walk.  Check out the art and the amazing temples. Stay at a super swanky hotel for under $200 bucks. Repeat.

Stay tuned for the last leg of the trip in Singapore!

 

Will & Life Insurance

With so much planning about living and retirement, it is a little disheartening to talk about planning for when we are no longer here. While my husband and I have started some estate planning, we have not gotten around to getting that notarized and I must say it makes me stressed so hopefully we can complete that soon and get all our documents in order.

Now, as for life insurance – we currently have 2 kids under 8 and each of us parents have a $1 million dollar policy, plus a 1x our salary policy from our work (as benefit). We were recently discussing when to stop having this insurance and our answer was probably in 4-5 years when we hit 1 million in assets (liquid), the house is getting closer to being paid off, we have more college savings and the kids are a little older. Then we will pull the plug.

How about you – what is your plan? Do you have a will, a guardian for your kid(s) or pets and a plan for your assets? How about life insurance?

Gah!