Vietnam

The last place I went during my 2016 sister trip was Vietnam. A majority of our time was spent on a boat in HaLong Bay but we also stayed in Hanoi for a few nights. IMG_0910

Important Tip:

You need a visa to enter Vietnam if you are from the US (you can apply for the visa online). Upon arrival in Vietnam you will have to pay $25 dollars (USD) to get the physical visa for your passport. Make sure you have CRISP new bills. They will not accept old or crinkled money! My sister and I were almost denied from the country because our $20 bill was wrinkled (we both had slight panic attacks). Thankfully,  a few nice Irish women in line in front of us gave us some new money and we were able to get into the country. 

Along with crisp dollar bills you will need a passport photo (bring extras just in case but they only used 1 photo for us)

Don’t be alarmed when they don’t give you your passport back before you pay for the visa. After they read our visa on arrival paperwork and took our passport photo they kept our passports behind the counter. Then we had to wait in another line until our passport photo appeared on a screen to pay the $25 dollar fee and get our passports back.

Moped Tour of Hanoi:

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The first thing we did in Hanoi was the Hanoi Night Lights Food Tour lead by Paloma motorbike tours. All of the drivers are females which according to their website is because females are more cautious drivers (pretty funny since I am definitely known to have some road rage now and then). We got picked up at our hotel around 6pm and headed out to a  coffee shop to have a Vietnamese egg coffee. It sounds really weird but it was actually pretty good.

After coffee we rode around Hanoi’s Old Quarter and HoanKiem Lake. We happened to be there during EARTH Hour which was being held in front of the Opera House. I wasn’t familiar with Earth hour since we don’t do it in America, but its a really cool concept. The event is held worldwide annually encouraging people to turn off their non-essential lights for one hour as a sign of commitment to the plant.

After that we stopped at the Ho Chi Minh Mausoleum which is located in the center of Ba Dinh Square. For those who don’t know, Ho Chi Minh was the Chairman of the Communist Party of Vietnam. Across from the Mausoleum there is a park with large speakers all around it  (I am assuming there is where propaganda would play).

IMG_0816IMG_0827After exploring the city we stopped at a restaurant to get some traditional Vietnamese snacks (which was essentially a meal) and later a full Vietnamese dinner.

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Boat Cruise on HaLong Bay:

After a 4 hour bus ride from Hanoi we arrived in HaLong Bay. We boarded our ship called the Paloma and took off cruising for the next 3 days.

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On our first day we went to Bai Tu Long Bay and explored the Thien Canh Son Cave. Our weather wasn’t great (Halong Bay is in Northern Vietnam so it was a little bit chilly in March) but it was still fun to do a little exploring.

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The next morning we started out the day out with a Ti Chi class on the sun deck followed by breakfast. After breakfast we transfer to a smaller boat and cruised to Bai Tu Long Bay where we kayaked through the Cong Dam area. The scenery was great but I was a little surprised on how polluted the water was. It was not somewhere I would recommend swimming.

Later that night we had a spring roll cooking class / competition on the boat. I was up against a Vietnamese lady next to me…so needless to say I did not win the competition.

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Floating Fish Market:

On our last day we went to the Vung Vieng floating fishing village. To get around the fish market we traveled by bamboo boats. I felt extremely bad for the woman pushing our raft. It’s hard to imagine that she does that all day.

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Out of everything we did in Vietnam, my favorite part of the trip was getting to know the people we met on the Paloma. We had few fellow sister travelers (who my sister and I want to be when we are older), as well as some awesome Irish folks. Traveling is always more fun when you are surrounded by great company!

Xoxo,

Kirsten

Singapore

As I said in my Thailand post, my sister and I took a “sister trip” to visit one of my friends who moved to Singapore for work. It was the perfect excuse to visit Southeast Asia for the first time. Singapore is HOT and HUMID (you can’t walk anywhere without sweating through your clothes) but definitely worth the heat to explore. You don’t really get the “Asia” feel that you do in other places in SE Asia but I think that’s part of its charm.

Singapore is a very safe and clean place to travel. They have almost no crime because the penalties are so bad. Also, contrary to belief it is not illegal to chew gum there… but they are not allowed to sell gum so no one does.

When you arrive in Singapore I recommend taking out cash at the airport. Taxis and some restaurants only take cash. We also ran into issues with places not taking Visa.

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Getting Around Singapore:

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The easiest way to get around Singapore is Uber (yes they have Uber in Singapore). It is very safe and you don’t have to worry about having cash. 

Another easy way to get around is the MRT (Mass Rapid Transit). It is very easy to navigate (everything is in English) and is very clean! There are signs all over the trains that say no smoking, eating or drinking, flammables or durians (I never had one, but apparently this fruit smells like rotting garbage… why people would eat that I am not sure).  You may wonder why I am telling you about a sign on the train, but it is because people actually abide by the rules. I never saw anyone doing any of those things. People also stand in actual lines to wait for the train based on when you arrived at the station (this blew my mind). We could learn a thing or two from them.

Taxis are also an easy way to get around. You can hail a cab on the street like you would anywhere else. 

Things to do:

Gardens by the Bay:

Flower and Cloud Dome

The flower and cloud domes are really fun to walk around (the cloud dome was my favorite)! It’s only $20 to see both. 

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SuperTree Grove:

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The SuperTree Grove has free light shows twice every night with different themes of music. When we were there the theme was Chicago the musical. Definitely something to see when you go to Singapore. 

Merlion on the Bay:

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The Merlion is located right on the bay (you can’t miss it). There are a ton of restaurants in that area. We stopped at a place called OverEasy to grab a burger and some drinks. Our burger (which we split) and the 2 drinks we got ended up costing $60. Singapore is one of the most expensive cities I have ever visited.

Orchard Street:

12920490_10154066842734283_1940490164701011269_nOrchard Street has amazing shopping. You can find every store you can imagine from Prada to Zara (there was even a Garrets Popcorn). Around this area is a restaurant called Curry Culture. I’m drooling just thinking about it. If you like Indian food it’s a must. 

Chinatown:

12923309_10154090917743384_5933403112453652799_n1936518_10154090917663384_2020660297915399563_nChina town was the same as what you see in any other city. We did get some adorable (cheap) floral robes and chopsticks. I wish I would have bought more to bring home as gifts 🙂

Shopping on Haji Lane Street:

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Haji Lane street is full of cute little boutiques and restaurants! There is even a place called Selfie Coffee that will print a selfie of you on your coffee foam.

Places to Stay:

Marina Bay Sands Hotel (MBS):

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At the very least go to Ce La Vie bar at the top of the hotel for a drink! The city views are amazing!

Fullerton Bay Hotel:

Across the bay from the Marina Bay Sands Hotel is the Fullerton Bay Hotel which is smaller and more personal.  This is also an expensive hotel (pretty much everything is expensive in Singapore) but my friends parents stayed there and loved it. 

Xoxo,

Kirsten

 

Thailand

In March of 2016 my sister Lauren and I took a “Sister Trip” to Asia to visit a friend of mine that was working in Singapore. It was the first time that either of us had gone to Asia and we absolutely loved it! One of the 3 places we went during this trip was Thailand.

Phuket:

Where to stay:

The Slate: A Phuket Pearl Resort

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The Slate Resort is located in the Northern part of Phuket about 10 minutes from the airport. It’s a beautiful boutique hotel that’s a perfect place if you want to get away and relax. It was a true 5 star resort and we loved everything about it. I highly recommend getting a massage at the Coqoon Spa (AMAZING!) and eating dinner at the black ginger restaurant.

We found this hotel on Jetsetter which I highly recommend using. You get great reviews of the hotels including things you may not know from a typical hotel website. For instance, our hotel provided complimentary pool bags and flip-flops.

There were only a few downsides to this resort. There were a lot of families, however there are two adult only pools with nice swim up bars which we hung out at everyday. The Slate hotel is also slightly more expensive than other hotels in Phuket (which it’s worth) and it was about an hour drive from Old Town Phuket which is where a lot of the tourists activities and shopping are.

What to do:

Elephant Trekking:

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It took a little persuading to get my sister to do this, but it was well worth it. The ride itself kind of felt like you were riding an elephant at the circus, but the views were amazing and it was overall a cool experience. We did our tour through Siam Safari Nature Tours (30 minute trek) which we booked through our hotel. 

I have heard that the best place to ride elephants is in Northern Thailand where there are actual elephant sanctuaries.

Speedboat Tour of Phi Phi Islands

IMG_0420IMG_0346IMG_0353IMG_0351IMG_0367Our first stop on our speedboat tour was Maya Bay where Leonardo DiCaprio filmed the movie “The Beach”. This place was absolutely breathtaking.

IMG_0379The second stop was at Viking Cave. You can’t go into the cave because there are Swiftlet birds which make their nests in the cave. Their nests are believed to have healing and health properties in Asian culture. Because of this the nests can be sold for up to $200,000 on the open market.

IMG_0384.JPGIMG_0298The third stop was at Monkey Beach (Ko Phi Phi Don). It was pretty clear where it got its name from as soon as we got there.

10628153_10154066839229283_7093103756123729927_n12525530_10154066839154283_5940718074148977136_oOut last stop was at Bamboo Island where we had a full Thai lunch on the beach. The meal was actually pretty good,  which surprised me because I normally hate eating hot foods while I am sitting in the sun.

Our tour was through the Adventure World Tour Group (which we booked through our hotel) 

Bangkok:

Where to stay:

Aetas Lumpini

Aetas Lumpini is located in the financial district in Bangkok. It reminded me of a typical american hotel chain but a little more high-tech. The rooms were great and had amazing views of the city (which is huge!!).

One general tip about hotels in Bangkok is that you should not go cheap. I found Bangkok to be a little sketchier than other places I have been. It’s relatively easy to find a 5 star hotel for under $100 a night (we booked out hotel on Gilt Travel).

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What to do:

Skybar at Lebua Hotel 63rd Floor

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We decided to get super touristy and visit Skybar which is where the Hangover 2 movie was filmed. It is worth doing to see the views from the rooftop but it was extremely windy!

They were not strict about dress code (no flip-flops, tennis shoes etc.) when we went, however we went on a weeknight which may make a difference. Most reviews said they weren’t allowed in unless they were a little more dressed up.

Personal Tour Guide

I HIGHLY recommend getting a personal tour guide. It is the best way to see the entire city and it’s fun going around with someone who knows where to go and the history behind everything. Our guide paid for everything we did during the day including our tickets and transportation and we settled up the bill at the end. It ended up only being the equivalency of $30 per person for the entire day…doesn’t get much better than that!

We booked our tour through a man named Mr. Chob that I found on Trip Advisor. Our guides name was Nong – She was amazing!! 

You have to be fully covered to go into a lot of places at the Grand palace. I recommend buying the elephant skirts that are sold right outside the Grand Palace – they are $3 and amazing. We wore them around all day and even bought some for our parents to bring home.

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Longtail Boat Ride:

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Tuck Tuck Ride:

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A tuck tuck ride is a must do!  Terrifying but a must do. It was our last Hangover 2 moment in Bangkok.

Lumpini Park:

If you are in Bangkok over a weekend go to Lumpini Park on Saturday morning (we went at 6:30am). It was crazy how many locals were out running, doing Thai Chi, Zumba and lifting weights at the park. 

Traditional Thai Massage:

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We got a massage at BUA, a Thai massage place right around the corner from our hotel.The massage was amazing, but in an extremely painful kind of way. I don’t think I have ever been in that much pain and then felt so great afterwards.

Xoxo,

Kirsten

 

 

Ireland

At the end of  2015 I had the pleasure of spending over a month in Ireland for work. Whenever I travel for work I try to take advantage of any free time I have to explore (I mean why not?). Ireland has always been on my list of places I’ve wanted to go and it definitely lived up to my expectations with it’s lush countryside and historic charm. It also had me singing “hello from the other side” way too often (thanks Adele).

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One thing to note if you ever decide to take a trip to Ireland is that it rains ALL THE TIME. From the end of November through the end of December I saw a total of 4 hours of sun (sort of depressing).  However, I was also there over labor day weekend and had amazing weather so don’t let this discourage you from planning a trip. It is still amazing in the rain. 

Getting around Ireland:

If you ever find yourself in Ireland I recommend renting a car. It is the best way to explore the countryside and get lost in your surroundings. It takes a little time getting used to staying on the right side of the road, and by the right of course I mean the left. It also takes some time getting used to driving on the right side of the car. I may or may not have sideswiped the mirror of a parked car at one point during my trip (my depth perception on the left is horrible). But trust me, if I can do it you definitely can do it. Below is a picture of the cute little guy I drove.

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Where I worked:

I worked in two different places while I was in Ireland. The first place was called Lough Rynn Castle in Mohill, CO Leitrim. Let me tell you.. this place was amazing! If you want a true castle experience this is the place to go. The wifi wasn’t bad and they had Taylor Swift on replay in the girls bathroom. What more can you ask for?

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The second place I worked and spent a majority of my time was Longford. Longford is located in central Ireland about an hour and a half drive from Dublin. While I was there I stayed at Keenan’s Hotel Bar and Restaurant in Roscommon county in a village called Tarrmonberry (10 minute drive from Longford). This adorable hotel is right on the River Shannon. Barry and Annette Kennan, the couple who own the place, are extremely accommodating and operate the attached restaurant which serves great food (I personally loved their seafood chowder and homemade brown bread.. YUM!). They also make an excellent breakfast in the morning!

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Because we had to work over thanksgiving, the people from work took all of the Americans out to a nice “Thanksgiving” dinner at a boutique hotel called Viewmont House. The food was amazing but there was a LOT of it. The courses consisted of an appetizer, middle (essentially a main course before the main course), the real main course and dessert. Needless to say they had to roll me out of there.

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Favorite places I visited:

Galway:

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Quay Street

Quay street is a great place to walk around. On this street you will find a lot of great pubs and  restaurants. One bar I recommend is The Quays Bar. This place has an awesome vibe with stained glass and wood interior.

Galway Cathedral

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The Galway Cathedral is right on the banks of the River Corrib in Galway City

Cliffs of Moher, Co Clare

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About an hour and a half drive west from Galway are the Cliffs of Moher. I highly recommend going here if you have a sunny day. Not only are the views from the cliffs amazing but so are the views of the countryside on the drive there.

Places to stay in Galway:

During my time in Galway I stayed at the Clayton Hotel as well as the Park House Hotel and Restaurant. Both places were very nice. The Clayton is a little more outside the city (about a 5 minute cab ride), where the Park House is walkable distance from anything you would want to do.

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On the way to Dublin:

Kilbeggan Distillery

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I stumbled upon Kilbeggan distillery on accident during my drive from Galway to Dublin. It is the oldest licensed distillery in Ireland dating back to 1757. I’m a pretty big whiskey fan so it was fun learning about the process of making it. This was also a great stopping point halfway to Dublin. Even if you are the person driving it’s fun to see and they will give you some whiskey taste testers to go!

Dublin:

Guinness Storehouse

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The Guinness Storehouse tour is one of my favorite brewery tours. Each floor has its own special charm where you can learn about how the beer is made, the history behind how it has been marketed through the years and how to drink it correctly (because apparently there is a wrong way to drink beer). When you buy your ticket you get one free drink coupon which you can use at either the second floor bar which is a classic Irish bar with live irish music, or the 360 degree bar on the top floor.

Jameson Distillery Tour

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Sadly I did not go on the actual tour because I got there too late at night and their last tour was already booked (poor planning on my part), but I’ve heard it’s fun and there are some great photo opportunities. Also.. Whiskey..Yum!

The Brazen Head Bar

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Irelands Oldest pub dating back to 1198..do I need to say more…

Dublin Castle

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Dublin Castle was beautiful to walk through. But with that being said, if you are short on time and have visited other castles I personally don’t think it’s worth going in. It’s nice, don’t get me wrong, but I didn’t find it to be anything spectacular.

Trinity College

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Walking around Trinity College was beautiful and made me want to go back to school.  But then I remembered I would have to take classes and study, not just enjoy the beautiful campus… so no thanks.  It’s located in the heart of Dublin city right around great shopping and restaurants.

Temple Bar

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Temple bar is probably one of the most, if not the most iconic bar in Dublin. Bono, Bill Clinton, Billy Joel and actor Chris O’Dowd are some of famous people who have enjoyed a pint (or two) there.

Saint Patrick’s Cathedral

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Also known as “The National Cathedral and Collegiate Church of Saint Patrick, Dublin” and is the largest church in Ireland

Irish Dance Show and Dinner

The first night I arrived in Dublin my friend and I went to Celtic nights at the Arlington Hotel. I highly recommend this place. It’s located right in the city centre of Dublin and is a fun experience with traditional Irish dance rhythms, amazing dancing and iconic Irish songs. At one point in the night I got pulled up on stage and just about fell over from being spun around in circles too many times. I will leave the dancing to the professionals. 

The Church Bar & Restaurant

Exactly as it sounds – church is the former Saint Mary’s church of Ireland which was converted into a restaurant. A fun fact is that Arthur Guinness (founder of Guinness brewery) was married at this church in 1761.

Places to Stay:

I stayed at the O’Callaghan Davenport Hotel. As you can see below the outside of the hotel is beautiful and it is a close walk to Trinity College and the center of Dublin.

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Belfast (Northern Ireland):

Donegall Square

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Due to an intense rain storm on my trip to Belfast, I did not get to explore as much as I would have liked to. Long story short, one of my co-workers cars got washed away in a road flood and we got stuck in a town called Balleyconnell for almost the entire day. By the time I finally arrived in Belfast it was very late, but I did get a few hours to enjoy the nice christmas market that was set up in from of the parliament building.

Note: Because Belfast is located in Northern Ireland (which is part of the UK) they use Pounds as their currency, not Euros.

Giant’s Causeway

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Giants Causeway is one of the most beautiful places I have ever been. The polygonal shaped basalt rocks are stunning and fun to climb around on. If you visit I recommend wearing rain boots because 1) as stated previously it is always raining and 2) the rocks get pretty wet and slippery from the waves.

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I’m not a big risk taker, so this was a little stretch for me but the views from the bridge were breathtaking (have I said that enough times??). It’s only a short 15 minute drive from Giant’s Causeway so if you have the time it’s worth doing. One thing to note is that its about a mile walk from where you park the car to the bridge so be prepared to get your exercise in.

Xoxo,

Kirsten

 

 

 

Let the Blogging Begin

After many years of blog stalking I have officially decided to start my own! Yayay.. how exciting.

First things first – a little about myself:

My name is Kirsten and I am 25 years old. I’m originally from Grand Rapids, MI, but moved to Chicago, IL after I graduated from Miami University in 2013 (Go Redhawks!).  I absolutely LOVE living in Chicago! The summers are filled with rooftop pools, rooftop bars and tons of fun activities going on all around the city. The winters are…well the winter, but I am a midwestern girl at heart so I’m pretty used to it.

When I’m not dreaming about my next travel destination, online shopping, reading up on my favorite bloggers or hanging out with my amazing friends I work as a technology consultant (exciting…I know). But in all seriousness I am a little bit of a nerd / workaholic and actually enjoy what I do.

I am the youngest of 2 kids (I’ve got 1 older sister). I’m extremely close to my family and would consider my parents and my older sister my best friends. I love to travel (which I can thank my parents for) and am fortunate to have been able to go to a lot of amazing places for both work and pleasure.

I think the most exciting part about starting a blog is having a place where I can document my life. I am a pretty sentimental person and am constantly looking back through old photos to reminisce. I’m hoping this can be a place where I can share my favorite things and get feedback from amazing people like YOU to live my best life possible (and help you do the same).

Enjoy!

Xoxo,  Kirsten