Preparing for the Trip

February 28th

We've picked the destinations, booked the plane tickets, and now we're planning the logistics...
  • Hotels...in progress.
  • Visas...waiting on China!
  • Vaccinations...complete (but my arm still hurts...I guess that's better than Typhoid Fever.)
  • Rental Cars...for New Zealand and Australia.
  • Sub-Trips...Our only true stops on the round-the-world ticket were Dubai, Bangkok, Hong Kong, Beijing, Tokyo, New Zealand, and Australia.  All the other stops are trips within trips, plus we added a few extra destinations within New Zealand and Australia.
  • Baggage Allowance...What?!? Only 8 kg...that can't be right!  Apparently, some of the international airlines aren't quite so nice when it comes to luggage!
  • Packing...We bought 2 new suitcases, and are slowly gathering our stuff together for the trip.  I'm still looking for the perfect pair of walking shoes to bring with!

We're looking forward to finishing up the logistics, and moving on to the fun part of the planning...the day-to-day activities of what we're going to do in each city!  Any ideas of "must-do's" that we should add to our itinerary?  Let us know!

Route Map Animation

February 29th

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Route Map Animation
with commentary by Kristen

Kristen apologizes ahead of time for the lack of quality.

*Note: The plane does not fly in circles around each city, but I needed time for my dialogue!
Also, I couldn't switch between airplanes and cars, but we are indeed driving while in New Zealand and Australia.

New York

Flight 1 of 17
Thursday, March 15 to Friday, March 16

The journey around the world has begun!  It's so hard to believe the trip is finally here.

All our bags are packed...we're ready to go!
Kristen's sister Terrie, her husband Ryan, and baby Sawyer stayed with us in LA.  We left LAX (United) and arrived in EWR (Newark) Thursday night.  Kristen's brother-in-law, Mike, picked us up from the airport, and we headed to Yorktown Heights for the night.  Kristen's 1.5 year old nephew Braden was already asleep, but we had a great time catching up with Mike and Susie.  We awoke Friday morning to see Braden, who's grown so much since our wedding in December.  He's such a bundle of energy and so cute!

Leaving for the airport...Braden wants to come too.

Vienna, Austria

Flight 2 of 17
Saturday, March 17

Before we knew it, we were off to JFK (New York), on our way to Vienna, Austria (Austrian Airlines).  It was so hard to say goodbye to everyone, but we were excited to get the honeymoon in motion.  One Tylenol PM later, we woke up in Vienna.

We arrived early in the morning and took advantage of the five hour layover to leave the airport and explore the city of Vienna.  A short 16 minute train ride brought us to the heart of the city.  We explored on foot, passing by a beautiful park and very picturesque European streets.  Suddenly, we rounded a corner and St. Stephen's Cathedral appeared.  It was a towering church, and gave us a chance to take some nice pictures and prove that we did, in fact, explore Europe on our "Round the World" trip, even if it was just a few hours.

St. Stephen's Cathedral
On the walk back to the train, Kristen picked up an Austrian pastry and Ryan found a delicious Vienna sausage.

Mmmm....Vienna Sausage!
Back at the airport, we enjoyed snacks at the Lufthansa Senator lounge.  Before we knew it, it was flight time again.

Dubai

Flight 3 of 17
Saturday, March 17 to Saturday, March 24

Top of the mornin' to ya!  Happy St. Patrick's Day, from Dubai!

Riding "Rocky" the Camel
We arrived late Saturday night, and Kristen's parents (Kate & Chris) picked us up from the airport.  The Dubai airport (DXB), complete with a gold palm tree and the largest Duty Free shop we've yet to see, was a great introduction to the grandeur that is Dubai. In the coming week, we drove next to Bentleys, Ferraris, and even a few Rolls-Royces.  Cranes were as much a part of the sweeping skyline as skyscrapers (including the tallest building in the world, the Burj Khalifa).  The malls were like cities, with every designer outlet that ever boasted a handbag.  This is a city where indoor ski slopes, Seven Star hotels, and man-made islands actually exist!

Burj Khalifa - the tallest building in the world!
Burj Khalifa...At the bottom.
Burj Khalifa...At the Top.
We took plenty of time to explore the main highlights, but what we enjoyed most was spending time with Kristen's family, exploring Dubai with our two new friends, Francine & Tanya (Kristen's brother-in-law's sister & her friend, who happened to be visiting Dubai at the same time), and relaxing at the infinity pool at Kate & Chris' high-rise condo on the man-made Palm Jumeirah "Palm Tree" island.

Walking in the desert.
Jumping in the desert!
 Over the seven days in Dubai, here are some of the notable experiences:
  • Scaled (via elevator) the tallest building in the world (Burj Khalifa).
  • Went on a Desert Safari...where we rode a camel, named Rocky, and went sand-duning in a SUV.
  • Ate Cheesies, Kristen's all-time-favorite food in the world (Lebanese bread, filled with Lebanese cheese).  Ryan enjoyed fresh shawarmas next door.
  • Visited Kristen's childhood house, when they lived in Dubai before it was a global hotspot.
  • Enjoyed drinks in the Burj Al Arab, the world's only Seven Star hotel.
  • Watched the dancing fountains, in front of the Burj Khalifa.  They made Vegas' Bellagio fountains look like little more than a limp lawn sprinkler.
  • Shopped in the Gold Souks, and ventured into a back alley, to a secret shop of knock-off handbags, to a secret room of even nicer knock-off handbags.
  • Explored several malls, shopping areas, and hotels, including the 1,200-store Dubai Mall, Mall of the Emirates, Atlantis Hotel, Dubai Marina, Madinat Jumeirah, Al Qasr Hotel (complete with boat ride on the canal) and many more.
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Sand Duning!

Despite the wind storms that made national news while visiting (not quite as bad as the one experienced by Tom Cruise in MI3), we had a fantastic time and will keep memories of Dubai with us.  (Literally – every time we open something, we find more sand!)  Thanks so much to Kate & Chris for being fantastic hosts, and thanks to Francine & Tanya for being such great travel buddies!

Bangkok: Part 1

Flight 4 of 17
Sunday, March 25 to Monday, March 26

As the Tylenol PM again wore off, we awoke in Bangkok (BKK, via Thai Airways).  We had left the land of mosques for the land of Buddhist temples.  We took a train to the city and walked the last few blocks to our hotel.  (Actually, we walked past our hotel several times before a helpful masseuse saw us struggling to read the road signs and personally walked us to the hotel.)  Ryan found his way back to the same masseuse and had a relaxing one hour massage for about $16 USD (฿400 Thai Baht).

Later that first day, we took a guided tour of Bangkok, which included a personal tour guide and driver…all for a whopping $23.  We saw two temples (Wat Mahathat – one of Bangkok’s oldest temples, and Wat Benchamabophit aka the Marble Temple), drove by the royal family’s estate, ate local Thai food (rice with duck and pork on a stick), saw the Chao Phraya River, browsed a jewelry shop, and made a final stop at a custom tailor.  Ryan decided to have his measurements taken for a custom suit and eight custom shirts, and we picked out the exact fabrics with a tailor.

Our first visit to a temple
Kristen with our tour guide, Seni
The Marble Temple

We returned to the hotel, and explored the Bangkok nightlife on foot in an area called Siam Square.  We saw street markets loaded with sunglasses, purses, and rip-off everything, and we picked out “honeymoon rings” for each other.  (We didn’t bring our real rings on the trip, and these were much less risky at 60 cents each.)  We stopped by the Grand Hyatt for a pastry, came across locals praying to the Four Headed Buddha, then found a glow-in-the-dark “swanky” bowling alley and had dinner while bowling.

The next day, we ventured to the Grand Palace, where the Royal Family used to live but is now a public area and occasionally used for celebrations.  Inside, we saw the Temple of the Emerald Buddha.  (The funny thing was the Emerald Buddha is only a few feet tall; the real feature was the towering, ornate golden throne the Buddha sat on, along with the hand-painted walls and elaborate architecture surrounding it.  Sorry, no pictures were allowed.)  We returned to the tailor for the first fitting of Ryan’s suit, and we made our way to the airport to continue to Cambodia.

Fun Facts About Thailand:
  • Crazy drivers, but nobody honks
  • Remove shoes before entering temples
  • Traffic suddenly stopped, as the princess’ convoy passed us
  • Taxis are hot pink
  • Motorbikes everywhere
  • The lion creatures (aka Singha) we saw everywhere are lucky

Ryan and Buddha
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Cambodia

Flight 5 of 17
Monday, March 26 – Thursday, March 29

We arrived in Phnom Penh, Cambodia in the early evening, at the same time as (who we believe) was an important diplomat or maybe even a Cambodian pop star.  As we left the plane about to enter immigration, Ryan was following the crowd and just about boarded the diplomat’s private bus.  Luckily, Kristen stopped him before the security guards intervened.

After we checked in to the hotel, we met up with Veronica & Keith, Ryan’s friends from high school.  They are working in Cambodia to establish the Bronze Lake Resort, which is a huge waterpark and recreation complex in Kampong Thom, halfway between two major Cambodian Cities – Phnom Penh and Siem Reap.

Outside the new Bronze Lake Hotel, with Ryan & Veronica
Veronica and Keith took us on a tour of Phnom Penh via tuk tuk.  We had Thai/Cambodian fusion for dinner as we sat on the floor on an outdoor terrace catching up.  Later, we enjoyed dragonfruit and passionfruit cocktails on a rooftop bar, walked the streets of Phnom Penh, and stopped by a few bars where we tried the local favorite, Angkor Beer.  We continued the tour with Angkor Beers in-hand as we rode around town on the tuk tuk, while Veronica and Keith pointed out local landmarks.

We woke up to breakfast on the top floor of the hotel, with great views of the Mekong River.  We met Veronica and Yo Yo (the family driver), and we visited the S-21 Geoncide Museum.  This is the actual site where 20,000 people were killed by the Khmer Rouge, in a high school turned death camp.  The Khmer Rouge was in power in the 1970’s and led by Pol Pot, who believed Cambodia should be returned to its agricultural roots by purging the nation of its educated people.  Over two million Khmer people were killed during its reign of genocide.  The rooms in the high school were eerie and powerful, and it was almost hard to believe this was a site of such inhuman acts that happened less than 40 years ago.

After a somber start to the day, we had lunch at an all-you-can-eat Cambodian buffet.  We tried many traditional foods, and Ryan ordered a fresh coconut with a straw sticking out.

It was time to head to Kampong Thom to see the resort.  The best travel option was by taxi.  This is not your normal taxi, however.  Imagine a Toyota Camry with up to five passengers in the back and four in the front.  The three of us (Veronica, Ryan, & Kristen) paid a premium fare of $20 total so we could reserve the entire back seat for ourselves.  To our dismay (or relief?), only three full-grown men occupied the front seats that morning.  Had another person squeezed in, one would have sat on the far left, the driver would have straddled the gear shift, and two people would have shared the right seat.

The journey took us through the Cambodian countryside, as we listened to the driver’s mixed CD with the song we can never fully get out of our heads…. “I Am Sorry.

Three hours later we arrived at Bronze Lake, and Veronica gave us a tour on a surrey (foot pedal-powered bike for four).  We saw the lake, pool, gallery (for Veronica’s upcoming photography exhibit), giant waterslides, hotel accommodations, and the restaurant under construction.  We can’t wait to come back and visit once more sections are complete!

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It was time to head to Siem Reap.  We were joined by Thoik, Veronica’s Cambodian co-worker who had never visited Siem Reap.  Thoik knew about as much English as we did Khmer, so it was fun watching her and Veronica communicate.  (Note to self: Always be on Veronica’s team for charades.)

Yo Yo’s brother picked us up and we visited his family’s gas station, where we figured out how to get to Siem Reap.  As they were talking, we watched the last bus of the night fly past us.  We jumped in Yo Yo’s brother’s car and sped down the street, waving down the bus which finally pulled over to let us in. The whole event lasted about three minutes, but it was exhilarating!  We were on our way.  After a few hours, we reached a bus stop and bought some fresh mango and delicious banana chips.  (Thoik talked them down to about 8 cents per mango… go Thoik!)

We arrived at Siem Reap about 10pm.  After some bargaining with the Tuk Tuk drivers, as well as bargaining with the hotel (Who knew 4 people couldn’t share two twin beds?), we were down for the night.  We also learned Kristen’s sister, Susie, was having a boy – Yay for nephews!

Temple Time!


Kristen & Ryan Exploring the Temples
On Wednesday, we woke up at 5am and traveled to Angkor Wat to watch the sun rise above the 900 year old temple complex.  Seeing this Wonder of the World was truly a sight we’ll never forget.

Sunrise at Angkor Wat (~5:30am)
Over the day, our personal tuk tuk driver Juan (not his actual name, but it sounds close) took us from temple to temple.  Siem Reap is actually a huge area with dozens of enormous temples.  Who knows how many thousands of steps we climbed that day!  We visited only a handful, but spent from 5am to 5pm exploring the grounds.

Kristen at the 900 Year Old Temple of Angkor Wat
Bayon Temple: Faces Everywhere
("Legends of the Hidden Temple," anyone?) 
Some of the temples we visited were:
  • Angkor Wat (featured in Lora Croft: Tomb Raider 3)
  • Angkor Thom
  • Bayon, and surrounding temples
  • Phnom Bakheng (temple on top of mountain – we rode up on an elephant!)
  • Ta Prohm (temple entangled in trees, also in Tomb Raider)
Ta Prohm Temple: Trees Everywhere
We ended the day with a swim in the hotel pool, and then went with Veronica & Thoik to the Night Market/Pub Street area to see modern-day Siem Reap after hours.  We introduced Thoik to her first slice of pizza, and then distributed flyers to the locals to promote Bronze Lake.  We said goodnight/goodbye to Veronica & Thoik and prepared for an early morning of travel back to Phnom Penh.
Our Transportation Up the Mountain to Phnom Bakheng Temple
The six-hour trip back to Phnom Penh was long, hot, bumpy, and painful – a true adventure!  The best way to describe it is a mix between the Knight Bus from Harry Potter and off-roading with ATVs.  (We literally collided heads a few times!)  We definitely took the road less traveled back to Phnom Penh … since at times, we weren’t driving on the road!

When we made it back to Phnom Penh, we visited the yellow Central Market to shop for souvenirs.  We took a tuk tuk to the airport, and then we were on our way to Singapore.

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Singapore

Flight 6 of 17
Thursday, March 29 – Saturday, March 31

Arriving late Thursday night, we had time for just one attraction – enjoying a “Singapore Sling” at the Raffles Hotel, while throwing peanut shells on the ground!

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We started out Friday by walking to the Swissotel Hotel Singapore to get a beautiful view of Singapore from the 70th floor lookout, followed by breakfast at Raffles City Tower.  We then walked to the Singapore River to see the statue of Sir Stamford Raffles.  At this point, a torrential downpour began.  Unfortunately for us, the obedient taxi drivers of Singapore follow the rules, meaning they only pick up passengers at designated areas…none of which were close to us!  By the time we made our way to a taxi, we were drenched!  After changing at the hotel, we decided to hit the city again, this time with umbrellas in hand.

Cityscape of Singapore, from atop the Swissotel.
We made our way to Sentosa Island, grabbed some lunch, explored a bit, then continued on to Singapore Zoo Jurong Bird Park.  Seeing all the birds was fantastic, but the best part was inside “Lory Loft” where we fed the birds.  See for yourself in the picture below of “Ryan the Bird Whisperer.”  After the Bird Park, we made our way to the Singapore Zoo Night Safari.  The Safari included 4 walking tours, 2 tram rides, a show, and walking through a cage filled with bats.  It was incredible seeing a zoo after dark. By the end of it, we had seen everything from lions, elephants, and a baby giraffe to mousedeers, fishing cats, and binturongs!

Ryan: The Bird Whisperer
Kristen: Not So Much
Early the next morning, we were on our way to the airport once again.  Our quick trip to Singapore was over, but we were ready for the next stop…the beautiful beaches of Thailand!

Ryan vs. the Tiger Skull, at the Singapore Zoo Night Safari

Krabi, Thailand

Flight 7 of 17
Saturday, March 31 - Tuesday, April 3


Beach Time!

Beautiful view from our resort!

You know in the movies when they show a beautiful ocean view with moss-covered cliffs emerging from the water?  That was our view from Krabi.  We stayed at Railay Bay Resort & Spa, which is on a peninsula jutting out from Krabi (just southeast of Phuket).  This is a place you can only get to by water, so we traveled via longboat to get there.  The resort was beautiful, as was the view.  Our favorite spot was enjoying the view from the warm pool, often with fresh pineapple or mango smoothies in hand!  Here are a few of our experiences from the 4 days we were there…

Great service from the moment we arrived!
Swimming:
--Swimming in the pool, while gazing at the view of moss-covered mountains in the ocean
Great pool...great view!

Fruit Smoothies:
--Ordering different flavored fruit shakes & smoothies at every meal & in between by the pool (passion fruit, banana-pineapple, mango-strawberry, dragon fruit…)

Thai pancakes:
--Discovering Thai pancakes (delicious banana filled crepes covered in chocolate or nutella, made to order)

The View:
--Staring at the amazing cliffs (which sometimes had rock climbers)
Another view...also beautiful!
Perfect Weather:
--Enjoying the perfect weather (missed the tsunami warning by a week or two)…it was sunny most of the time, and only rained at night when we were already in the room…one time it rained while we were in the pool which scared away most people, but we discovered how fun it was to swim in the rain…and that the pool was actually warmer than the rain drops!

Reading:
--Reading Hunger Games & Outliers IN the pool!  Kristen finished Hunger Games and Ryan finished Outliers, so we decided to switch books!

Movies:
--Renting movies at the resort video store each night (Tree of Life, The Change Up, Super 8)
Amazing room!
Exploring the Island:
--Getting lost while exploring the other side of the island, and ending up at the totally wrong beach and resort
--Walking down “Walking Street” for smoothies, pancakes, drinks, and people watching
--Wandering around the neighboring resorts & trying their restaurants
--Eating at different outdoor restaurants for each meal…each with an ocean view
--Exploring a cave, and seeing 7 monkeys just a few feet away from us (we didn't have our camera for this)
Long Boat - how we got to our resort!

After 4 days, we were back on the longboat leaving Railay Bay.  We had such a wonderful time, and it was definitely the most relaxing part of the honeymoon so far.  By the way, if you’re looking for the most beautiful beaches in the world, it’s true...Thailand is the place to go!

Bangkok: Part 2

Flight 8 of 17
Tuesday, April 3 - Thursday, April 5



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Back in Bangkok, we had a couple more days to explore the town.  On Wednesday, we started out the day at 9am with another private tour -  this one was the “Canal Tour” of Bangkok.  The driver and our tour guide (Som) picked us up at our hotel and took us first to the Bangkok canals, part of the Chao Phraya River.  We boarded our private longboat (this was extra loooooooong, much longer than the Krabi longboats).  For over an hour, we explored Bangkok via boat, which included seeing Thai homes, shops, and a small version of the Floating Market, where we purchased a Happy Laughing Buddha figurine!  We also stopped to feed the fish, who eagerly ate the two loafs of we gave them.  The last stop on the boat ride was the Temple of Dawn, also called Wat Pho, a Khmer style temple.  We climbed to the very top, which gave us a beautiful view of the river.  We then crossed the river and hopped back in the car, driving by the Giant Swing and several temples, as well as government buildings.  After visiting a few shops, we had the driver take us to the suit shop to pick up the Emperor’s New Groove (aka Ryan’s new suit), then headed back to the hotel.  We made our way to the same massage place from a week before, where they remembered us!  Ryan had a foot massage, while Kristen got a pedicure.  We also found a place to get Thai pancakes, although they weren’t as delicious as the ones in Krabi…but still…they were delicious!

Buying our "Laughing Buddha" from a floating store
We spent the evening in the Siam area, and even happened by a Thai boxing match.  We wandered into the MBK Mall, which was enormous, but not what you’d expect from a mall (imagine an indoor street market with lots of little vendors instead of stores).  We found a place to eat while Ryan finished the last few chapters of Hunger Games.  We perused the many vendors of the night market, selling anything and everything, and eventually made our way to the Siam Paragon complex for a night at the movies!  For 100 baht ($3.25) each, we got 2 tickets, a large popcorn, and 2 huge soft drinks, not to mention the theater was quite nice!  After the previews, we had to stand for the Thai National Anthem which included a photo montage of the king’s life and ends with the words “Long Live the King.”  

     
Getting good luck from Buddha at the Temple of the Dawn!

Oh, and if you’re wondering what movie we saw…I’m sure you can guess correctly…Hunger Games!
Katniss speaks Thai!
Thursday morning meant the end of our time in Bangkok, and we headed once again to the airport, this time on our way to Hong Kong.
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Hong Kong

Flight 9 of 17
Thursday, April 5 - Sunday, April 8

We arrived Thursday afternoon to the Hong Kong airport, definitely one of the nicest airports we’ve seen (so nice in fact, that we saw a bride and groom taking bridal portraits inside the airport).  One bus ride later, we were at the hotel (we were amazed we were able to make it to our destination once we realized nothing on the bus, nor any of the street signs, were in English).  We were surprised to see how tiny our room was – although it made more sense later when we saw how “tall” Hong Kong is, and that’s its common to have a small footprint!  We were also surprised by the 2 twin beds…we’re still not sure if that’s part of the culture, or just all they had left!

Ryan searching for dim sum amid the bright lights of Nathan Street
We ventured out of our hotel and stumbled upon the Temple Street Night Market.  There were hundreds of stalls, each selling small trinkets, handmade goods, and cheap knock-offs.  (However, there were no Disney knock-offs to be found, and if you asked you were immediately told “No Disney.”  …perhaps a police crackdown?)

Kristen at the Temple Street Night Market
We were getting hungry, and Ryan was determined to find a Dim Sum restaurant.  After a mile or two of walking along Nathan Street (bright lights & crowds of people) and a few failed attempts (menus not in English), we finally found a Dim Sum restaurant with a picture menu!

Disney Time!

Blending in with the locals at Hong Kong Disney
The next morning, Ryan shaved (first time in weeks!) and we hopped on the subway to Disney Hong Kong.  The first train was your run-of-the-mill subway, but the second—it was awesome!  Disney has a special subway line that runs directly to the resort, and it was decorated throughout with Disney touches!  Mickey-shaped windows, Disney figurines, Mickey subway handles…the works!

Aboard the Mickey-fied subway to the park
Once we got to the park, as you can imagine, we were extremely excited!  After eating Mickey-shaped waffles for breakfast, we had an amazing time exploring Main Street, Fantasyland, Adventureland, and Tomorrowland, which were all very similar to Disneyland and to Magic Kingdom.

So excited to get inside the park...
We really enjoyed exploring Toy Story Land, which is unique to Disney Hong Kong.  The rides were well done and we enjoyed each of them (Toy Soldier Parachute Drop, RC Car ride, and Slinky the Dog ride).

Ryan's having more fun than a barrel of monkeys in Toy Story Land!
We also enjoyed two shows – The Golden Mickeys & Festival of the Lion King.  Both shows were a mixture of English & Cantonese, and the Golden Mickeys was an “awards show” which recapped many classic Disney movies.  We had a great view of the Flights of Fantasy parade and the evening fireworks, which looked awesome with the Hong Kong mountains in the background.  Despite a gloomy day with a bit of rain, we were ecstatic the whole day and had a wonderful time!  The park wasn’t crowded, and we didn’t even need to use all of our fast passes!

After the park closed, we explored both hotels – The Disneyland Hotel (very similar to The Grand Floridian) and The Disney Hollywood Hotel (an upscale version of All Star Movies).  That night, we gorged at the best dinner buffet…ever.  The Chef Mickey International Buffet was exactly what we needed after searching for familiar food for weeks.  We ate made-to-order pasta, meat from carving stations, seafood (crab legs & shrimp, for Ryan), Indian, and tons (and tons!) of desserts!  We were literally the last people in the restaurant and ate everything we could!
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On Saturday, we did a whirlwind tour of Hong Kong via a Big Bus Tour.  We experienced Hong Kong from the top of our double-decker bus, and started on the Kowloon part of town.  We saw skyscrapers, the DHL balloon (you could ride it up a few hundred feet), the fourth tallest building in the world, Canton Road, the clock tower, and a nice view of Hong Kong Island – our next stop.

Taking the quick ferry ride from Kowloon to Hong Kong Island
We took the ferry to Hong Kong Island, where we saw (more) skyscrapers and learned that Hong Kong has twice as many skyscrapers as New York City!  (This explains why our hotel room was so small!)  We even saw Wayne Tower, used in Batman: The Dark Knight.  The buildings sit with mountains in the background, which makes for a unique cityscape.  Next we saw the Golden Bauhinia Statue, which marks where the ceremony in which Britain handed over control of Hong Kong to The People’s Republic of China.  We saw Victoria Park (similar to Central Park), Victoria Harbor, shopping areas, and Man Mo Temple.  Next we took the Peak Tram for a fantastic view of the city.  (Ryan’s parents took this same tram about 10 years ago on their Asia trip!)

Soaring above the city after taking a tram to the top of the mountain
The tour ended, and we took a return ferry to Kowloon and visited the Space Museum, which was a nice recap of the one class Kristen & Ryan took together in college—“History of Spaceflight.”  We hopped on the night tour bus and saw a laser-light show that takes place on the skyscrapers themselves!  We visited the Ladies’ Market, shopping areas, and enjoyed seeing the city by night.  We hopped off at the Temple Street Night Market, bought a few souvenirs, and walked back to our hotel to get some sleep before our early-morning flight to Beijing.

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Beijing, China

Flight 10 of 17
Sunday, April 8 – Thursday, April 12

Happy Easter from the People’s Republic of China! We woke up early in Hong Kong, took a train to the airport, and hung out at two of the lounges (Air China no so great, Singapore lounge oh-so-great). We didn’t have Easter baskets, but Ryan celebrated by enjoying some eggs for breakfast! Kristen was unsuccessful in her quest to find either Cadbury cream eggs or Kinder chocolate eggs in the Duty Free stores.

Ryan & Kristen at the Great Wall of China 

We arrived in Beijing and immediately booked our Great Wall tour for the next day. We took a cab to the hotel, had some drinks at the bar, then took a nap in our room. After getting re-energized we walked to 11th Street (Wongfujung Street), a modern street filled with lots of shops, restaurants, and locals. After perusing through a store that sold $100 chopsticks (no souvenirs here!), we stumbled upon a church with people dancing out front in what seemed to be a flash mob rehearsal! We searched endlessly for something to eat, but in the end, we were drawn to the Golden Arches of McDonald’s and enjoyed some familiar food. Back at the hotel, in an effort to plan the next few days, we discovered a problem with the Internet…something known as the Great “Firewall” of China. Almost every site we tried to visit (including blogspot.com, Facebook, and most tourism sites) was blocked by the Chinese government. With no Internet available, we hit the sack so we could get some sleep before our exciting adventure the next day!

Wangfujing Street 

On Monday, we met our tour guide (Johnny – a girl) at 7:30 am. We boarded the tour bus, and set out for a one hour drive to the Ming Tombs. Similar to the pharaohs of Egypt, the Ming Dynasty emperors built elaborate tombs to house them in the afterlife. The Ming Tombs were known for their architecture and are actually 27 meters underground with secret entrances. Each emperor was buried with items for the afterlife, as well as his concubines. We even saw the chute we they would drop the concubines’ bodies into the tomb. As we entered one of the buildings near the tomb, we passed a threshold where we learned that men should step over thresholds with their left foot first and women with their right, otherwise they come back in the next life as the opposite gender…think about that next time you cross a threshold! We also learned how to tell “old” Great Wall from restored Great Wall by looking at the mortar. “Old” wall had mortar made of egg whites, sticky rice, and limestone, whereas restored wall has concrete looking mortar. Also, each brick of the “old” wall was stamped by its maker, so that they would be accountable if the brick was faulty.

In front of the Ming Tombs 

Our next stop on the tour was a jade factory, where we saw people carving jade and found a jade ox pendant for Kristen. (We were both born in the Year of the Ox.) We ate a family-style Chinese lunch with a bunch of strangers from our tour, where food traveled around the table on a lazy susan, and no one spoke to each other. Needless to say, it was a little awkward, and not what you’d expect for a family-style meal.

The Great Wall of China! 

Enjoying a wonderful day at the Great Wall 

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Next stop…the Great Wall of China! We visited the Badaling part of the Great Wall, where we took a gondola to a high point. We had about two hours to explore on our own, where we walked up and down a few different sections. First of all, we were amazed at its sheer size and length. There are over 6,000 kilometers of the wall throughout China, and even though we saw only a sliver, we could instantly see why it is such a marvel. Before we visited, we never realized where the wall was built – it’s the spine of the tallest mountains as they roll across the landscape. We visited one of the steepest sections, and it’s hard to imagine a construction project (even in the present day) across a mountain ridge. The wall was originally constructed to deter the Mongols from invading China, but if they dared to cross it, the wall doubled as a communication tool. Guards would signal the attack by lighting a fire in the guardhouse, which would trickle across the length of the wall as guards would light each successive flame.

Some friends we made at the wall...they asked to pose with us! 

Racing up the wall! 

After our two hours were up, we rejoined our group and we could see other parts of the wall from our bus. The last stop on the tour was a silk factory, where we saw silk worms and watched women spin and stretch silk into blankets. After the tour ended in Beijing, we walked to Tian'anmen Square to watch the nightly ritual of lowering the national flag at sundown. (This sounded better than a 5:45am wakeup call to watch the flag rising!) We stood at the location where Mao Zedong declared the country the Peoples’ Republic of China, right outside the Forbidden City.

At Tian'anmen Square waiting for the flag lowering ceremony 

We walked to Wangfujing Street (same as the previous night), and we visited a recommended “hot pot” restaurant, which is a mix between Korean barbeque and fondue. It was fun, as we cooked our thinly-sliced meats and vegetables (lamb, beef, tofu, noodles, & mushrooms aka “black fungi”) in boiling water. We walked around to the nearby shops, grabbed some dessert, and headed back to the hotel with aching feet from a day filled with walking. This was our first time to watch a movie, and we enjoyed “How to Lose Friends and Alienate People.” (We recommend it.)

Ryan at the Hot Pot restaurant 

On Tuesday, we slept in and traveled to the Temple of Heaven. It was a gigantic park and a great place to walk around. We took the subway back and somehow got stuck for about 20 minutes while the driver kept us up to date with announcements in Chinese.

Having fun at the Temple of Heaven! 

We went back to Tian'anmen Square, where we entered the Forbidden City grounds. We walked around the moat of the entire complex (it was HUGE!), and after some rain and aching feet, we continued walking until we finally found a cab. We tried asking the driver to take us to a Peking Duck restaurant, but after a few strange locations and many obvious miscommunications, we decided to try a standard Chinese restaurant instead. We decided against the “chicken and turtle” soup (which included the full chicken head and entire turtle, cozied up together), and we settled on the spicy pork, beef, Chinese pancakes, rice, and salad. (We have come to truly appreciate picture menus!) After dinner, the waiter took us upstairs and wrote our name in Chinese calligraphy and showed us some of his artwork. After a bit of negotiation, we left with paintings of cherry blossoms for the “elegant lady” and growing bamboo for the “successful man.” After walking home, we watched another movie, “Inside Man,” which we highly recommend!


Exploring the Forbidden City grounds 

The next day (Wednesday), we slept in again and visited Tian'anmen Square again, but this time we went inside the Palace Museum. This is the actual Forbidden City, filled with countless buildings which have all been converted into museums. We saw throne rooms and many artifacts from Chinese history. When our feet needed a break, we took a train to The Summer Palace, where the emperors would vacation. It reminded us of a giant version of Pasadena’s Huntington Library & Gardens, filled with beautiful landscapes and flowers. (If you haven’t visited Hungtington, come see us in Pasadena and we’ll take you!)

Inside the Palace Museum 

As the day drew to a close, we were hungry and stumbled upon the nicest Pizza Hut in the world. For those who have never visited a Pizza Hut outside the US, they are way nicer and upscale. It’s a sit-down restaurant with a large menu (not just pizza). However, the portions are a bit different (or we were really hungry), since we ate two pizzas advertised to feed 2-3 people each!


Taking in the sights of the Summer Palace...where the emperors used to vacation 

Beijing was host of the 2008 Summer Olympics, so we made our way to Olympic Park to see many iconic buildings. We saw the Bird’s Nest Stadium (opening & closing ceremonies), Olympic Torch (changed colors – really cool!), and the Water Cube (where we reminisced about Michael Phelps winning eight gold medals).

        
Kristen & Ryan at Olympic Park where Beijing hosted the 2008 Summer Olympic Games

We also came across another flash mob rehearsal and a local chorus rehearsing in a subway station.

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Joining a flash mob rehearsal

During our time in Beijing, we saw many wonderful sights, experienced all sorts of interesting foods, and had an amazing time exploring the city by foot (although at some points, it felt like we walked the length of the Great Wall). China is a country rich in history, and we were glad to experience as much as we did.

Taking it all in!