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Hong Kong Travel Itinerary

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Hong Kong is a truly incredible city that is definitely worth putting on your travel bucket list. In December 2015, Martin made a sudden business trip to Hong Kong, and he returned to Seattle raving about the sci-fi city. After viewing his photos from the trip, we decided to make Hong Kong the first destination on our month-long trip to Asia a few months later. Below is our Hong Kong travel itinerary for a one-week trip, along with our thoughts on visiting this interesting Asian city.

Further Reading:

Hong Kong travel guideHong Kong Travel Stats

Hong Kong was the very first destination on our tour of Asia throughout the month of April. We flew direct from Seattle to Hong Kong on Delta Airlines at a steal of an airfare price and immediately set about exploring the area on our first day in. Why Hong Kong? Martin had been sent here on a business trip in December and came back raving about the bustling activity, built up infrastructure, and overall high level of business activity in the region. While there were certainly many tourist attractions in Hong Kong that we frequented, the objective was to experience Hong Kong living as a local to see if it was a city we'd like to return to at a later date. The answer? Tiny living spaces and high humidity aside, absolutely!

  • 7 Days
  • 56.06 Miles Walked
  • $105 USD Average Airbnb Cost Per Night
  • 77°F Avg Temp
  • 94% Avg Humidity
  • Item Lost: Kindle

7-Day Hong Kong Travel Itinerary

First Day: Arrive in Hong Kong International Airport. Check into Airbnb rental in Central Hong Kong. Spend the day exploring Central by foot.

Second Day: Day trip to Kowloon and Mong Kok.

Third Day: Work day in Central with a hike up to Victoria Peak at sunset.

Fourth Day: Hike and day trip to Repulse Bay.

Days 5-7: Overnight trip to explore Macau.

Travel Hong Kong Map

Hong Kong Affordability

Hong Kong is easily the most expensive city we visited. Hotels were on the spendy side, averaging at least $100 USD per night. Hostels were also on the spendy side between $15-40 USD per night. Since we wanted to experience Hong Kong from a local's perspective, we opted for a private Airbnb rental. Although spendy, Airbnb apartments granted us access to an entire living space. This sounded great in theory but disappointing in reality.

Travel Hong Kong DollarIt turns out Hong Kong living spaces are indeed very expensive and tiny, so this may affect your overall Hong Kong travel itinerary. Cheap food could definitely be found in Hong Kong, but eating out at hip Westernized restaurants was pricey. Cocktails were also spendy, averaging $15-20 USD per drink, and even abundant hookah bongs were in the $40 USD range. For comparison, hookah in Bali only cost $5 USD for the same quality. Despite the extravagant pricing, transportation was very cheap, making it an easy decision to take taxis around town.

Hong Kong travel photography

Quick Observations on Hong Kong

Women on the street

We were startled at the wide number of women camping out on the sidewalks of the city. They were splayed out on cardboard boxes in large groups, engaged in various activities from braiding each others' hair, reading books, sharing meals and bottles of wine, and just socializing with each other. After inquiring on Google, we discovered that these women weren't homeless, but instead housemaids. Being mostly of Filipina descent, they work six days a week and have Sundays and holidays off. Since they tend to live either in the houses the work in or in dorms, they have no place to gather and socialize, so they take to the streets, with the permission of the Hong Kong government to do so.

Hong Kong travel photography

The true city that never sleeps

There is always an incredible display of hustle and bustle throughout the streets at (almost) all hours of the day. Hong Kong is truly a city that never sleeps and is fittingly dubbed the "New York of Asia." If you're looking for an active nightlife scene, be sure to make it a part of your Hong Kong travel itinerary.

Diverse demographic

Hong Kong's demographics are diverse and varied consisting of high-rolling professionals (usually in banking or finance), international expats of young and old, and native Hong Kongese residents. Seeing these groups of people clash was a puzzling sight and was always apparent in the party areas of Soho and Lan Kwai Fong. It wasn't unusual to pass a raucously drunk crowd of street party-goers being watched warily by old Hong Kongese grandmas sweeping, cleaning and gathering the piles of booze bottles that accumulated streetside every night.

Hong Kong Travel Photos-37

Not many personally owned cars

The streets of Hong Kong were filled mostly with taxis and very few personal cars. Most Hong Kongese get around by taxi or public transit. The personally owned vehicles we did see were mostly shiny new Tesla, Lamborghini, Porsche, or some other extremely high-end sports car. More often than not, the stunning vehicle was manned by a 20-year-old millionaire.

Very clean city

Despite not being as shiny new and clean as Singapore, Hong Kong had a penchant for cleanliness and order in other ways. Every public space and bathroom had a cleaning attendant on hand along with signs declaring how often the area was sanitized daily. All public restrooms were spotless with ample soap and tissues and no charge to use. There were also frequent signs urging denizens to wear a surgical mask if they had any signs of illness.

Hong Kong apartments

Tiny living spaces

"Our wardrobe at home is bigger than this bathroom!"

Those are words you never want to utter, especially when inspecting an apartment that you'll be spending the next 4 days in. To my utter horror and dismay, those were the exact words that came out of my mouth when I first stepped into the Hong Kong Airbnb apartment that Martin had booked us. Wanting to experience life like a local and thinking that an apartment rental would include more space than a hotel, we opted for an Airbnb experience.

We ended up in a 130 square foot studio apartment in the bustling entertainment area of Central Hong Kong, known as Soho. Located near the top of the famous Central-Mid-Levels escalator, Soho was full of restaurants, bars and nightclubs galore, making it our ideal home base for our first few days in Hong Kong. Unfortunately, living like a true HongKongese local also came with the acceptance of living in an incredibly tiny living space. The most difficult room to comprehend was the tiny closet of a bathroom and shower room. It was so small and narrow that even my 5' 3" frame could barely turn around or bend over in. Thus, you should be prepared for tight and cozy living quarters whether you opt for Airbnb or a hotel.

Where to stay in Hong Kong

A blast from the past

As a kid, I got in my possession a vintage keychain photo of my parents in a Hong Kong restaurant. Originally taken in 70's, that keychain has been a favorite of mine throughout the years of adulthood. It immediately came to mind when we started planning this trip. Thus, that same restaurant in Kowloon was among the main priorities of our Hong Hong Travel itinerary. Pretty cool to see that La Taverna is still standing!

Kowloon Hong Kong

In Conclusion

Our week of traveling in Hong Kong made us fall in love with this unique Asian city. We wouldn't hesitate to return in heartbeat, whether for business, pleasure, or both. What do you think of our Hong Kong travel itinerary? Let us know in the comments below!

Two Days in Macau

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I must confess, I love casinos like the ones in Las Vegas. Even though I don't drink or gamble, there's something about the bright lights, glitz, and glam that make casinos like Vegas and Seattle's Tulalip Resort Casino attractive. Thus, our Asia 2016 tour had to include a stopover in the Las Vegas of Asia: Macau (also spelled Macao). Indeed, more revenue from gambling is generated here than anywhere else in the world, reportedly seven times the revenue of Las Vegas, and many of the iconic Vegas hotels and casinos can also be found here.

Walking through The Venetian in Macau really didn't feel that different from its Vegas counterpart; everything was the same, including the faux painted skies and gondola rides. But apart from similar aesthetics and designs, Macau has an entirely different vibe, and it's actually quite tough to compare it to Vegas. Some travelers might find this disappointing, but I found the surprising charm, character, and history of the former European colony to be fascinating. It's a place I'd love to return to someday and explore further.

See more travel photos of Macau.

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Macau Travel Stats

  • 2 Days
  • 28.46 Miles Walked
  • 80°F Avg Temp
  • 94% Avg Humidity
  • Item lost: cell phone

Where is Macau

Located on the continent of Asia, Macau is a dependent territory of China. With a population of around 650,000 spread over an area of 11.8 square miles, Macau is considered the most densely populated region in the world. Despite the density, this region is also among the richest, thanks largely to being the world's largest gambling centers. Most visitors come to Macau as a day trip from Hong Kong.

Macau Weather

Thanks to its southern location, Macau has a very humid subtropical climate. Average humidity is generally around 75% to 90%. The warmest month of the year is July, where the average temperature is 84°F. Meanwhile, the coolest month is January where the climate can be as low as 58°F.

Travel Macau Map

Currency and Affordability

The official currency is the Macanese pataca, which was first introduced in both Portuguese Macau and Portuguese Timor in 1984.

Macau currency Macanese Pataca

Getting to Macau

Entering Macau is very easily done via a ferry from Hong Kong. Ferries from Hong Kong to Macau run 24 hours a day, at intervals of 15-30 minutes during the day and each hour at night. Thus, ferries are the easiest and most affordable ways to get into Macau. Economy class tickets on a modern Turbo Jet (with free Wi-Fi!) that will get you from Hong Kong to Macau in about an hour will cost around HKD 164 (~ $21USD), with ticket prices being slightly higher during the evening and on weekends.For many years, this was the main way for visitors to get in and out of the country. In recent times, however, direct flights have made it possible to fly directly into Macau.

Upon arriving at the main ferry terminal in Macau, you'll then need to taxi or bus to your final destination, which will likely be one of two major entertainment zones in Macau. Many hotels and casinos provide free shuttle bus transportation.

Entry Requirements

Even though Hong Kong and Macau are officially part of the People's Republic of China, both are designated as Special Administrative Regions (SAR), meaning that a Chinese visa is typically not required to enter either Hong Kong or Macau. This, of course, does depend on which passport you hold and how long you plan to stay, but it was not a problem for two Americans with a 2-day trip planned.

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Where to Stay in Macau

Government regulations do not allow hostels to operate in Macau. As a result, it is is not an easy travel destination for backpackers and travelers on a budget. Luckily, you can easily afford a day trip to Macau from Hong Kong at the very least.

In our case, we got extremely lucky and found a private, modern Airbnb apartment rental close to many of the attractions. Conveniently located across the street from the Emperor Palace Casino, the apartment was reasonably priced. But best of all, it had a walk-in bathroom that wasn't the size of a tiny closet. This was a big luxury after experiencing the cramped quarters of accommodations in Hong Kong. Still, it was pricey enough that we only planned for a two-night stay before heading back to Hong Kong.

Macau Airbnb
Macao Peninsula Macau travel photography

The antithesis of Sin City

Our Airbnb was in the older Macau Peninsula area where the Grand Lisboa, Wynn Macau, and MGM Grand Macau were found. We spent the bulk of our first day debating about whether the shape of the Casino Lisboa's building was an onion or a pineapple (it's a lotus) and strolling through all of its surrounding casinos.

Visually, casinos here trumped those of Las Vegas in terms of newness and overall impressive grandeur. They had a "no photos in the casinos" rule that was very strictly enforced, so there are no images for proof. But we saw some of the most impressive chandeliers and interior designs in the casinos. Many hotel lobbies were also very stunning, especially those of Galaxy Macau. There were also lots of impressive hotel shows such as the unveiling of a 24-carat golden Tree of Prosperity at the Wynn, and the 3-meter Fortune Diamond that rises from a waterfall at the Galaxy Macau.

Fortune Diamond Galaxy Macau travel photography

A Tame Party and Nightlife Scene

But for all of the grandeur and the incredibly spotless shine of Macau's casinos, it was severely lacking in the crazy, chaotic, "party all night" vibe that is only found in a place like Vegas. The reason was cultural appropriation. Definitely not a drinking society, don't expect to see the booze-fueled advertising behemoths and the enormous half-yard drinks that dominate Vegas. In fact, we actually struggled to find a lively bar serving any sort of alcohol in certain casinos in the Macau Peninsula.

Instead, the throngs of older Chinese men and women crowding the baccarat tables (poker was nowhere in sight) were sipping hot water and tea. And while some women were scantily clad, there were no go-go dancers and streetside performers. Speaking of entertainment, there were very few advertisements for big-name performers and shows, so the typical Vegas-style entertainment factor was also missing. Take all of this away, and you have a place that looks like Las Vegas but hardly feels like it. In many ways, Macau is the antithesis of Sin City.

chandelier Macau travel photography

Seeing the effects of the anti-corruption crackdown

Adding to the puzzling vibe was the observation that all luxury shops and malls were empty. Even the many upscale, Michelin-starred restaurants and casinos of Macau Peninsula were like eerie ghost towns. There were absolutely no patrons, yet each venue was fully staffed. This led to awkward moments as tuxedoed security guards warily eyed our camera bags, daring us to snap a photo so they could reprimand us.

In the newer Cotai district, we finally found a much busier scene. There was a more normal flow of people going into casinos and shops, yet the high-end boutiques remained empty. Upon returning to Hong Kong, we reported our findings to our local friend who confirmed that the mainland Chinese have tightly reigned in their spending due to a corruption crackdown in which any obvious displays of wealth triggered an investigation over possible bribery and abuse of power.

The Real Macau

After leaving behind the strange casinos, we ventured into the "real streets." It was out here in the bustling city that we finally fell into our stride. This was the only country we visited in Asia this time around where we couldn't use English. Dining was particularly interesting as we pointed cluelessly menus we couldn't read, attempting to order food. Being robbed of our ability to communicate made our travels here feel the most exotic and authentic.

Macau travel photography

While Macau isn't that large, it is very condensed and full of tall residential buildings and busy streets. Yet compared to Hong Kong, it was significantly less chaotic and more peaceful. Since it was once a colony of the Portuguese empire for over 400 years, Portuguese influence remains. Many of the buildings, especially in the old part of town, retain colonial architectural design. Street signs are in both Chinese and Portuguese. However, Cantonese is the most widely spoken language and it's questionable how many residents know any Portuguese language.

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Overall Thoughts

All-in-all, two days was the perfect amount of time to spend in Macau. Our first day gave us time to stroll through the casinos to admire the glitzy, unique architecture that can't be found even in Las Vegas. And our second day let us explore the real streets and people of Macau. From a tourist perspective, there may not be many attractions or activities, especially if you've been to Las Vegas. However, experiencing Asia's version of Sin City is definitely worth a visit.

Personally, I feel that our visit during the low season had an impact on our experience. It's strange to visit a place where tourist attractions are practically lifeless. I would love to return when it's full of more people. I'd also love to get a local tour guide's perspective of Macau. It possesses a mysterious charm that can't quite be cracked in just a two-day stay.

Eastern Washington and Bend, Oregon

Ever since Martin and I purchased our new car in May, we had been dying to break it in on a proper road trip. Our shiny Subaru Impreza Sport was the first brand new car that either of us had ever owned, and we were stoked to take it out on the road. With this in mind, we began devising plans for our annual 4th of July trip. Instead of heading out of state, we decided to stick (somewhat) closer to home and explore more of Washington. After pouring over Google Maps one evening, Martin devised the perfect route. Over the course of 4 days, we would take our new car into uncharted territory for all of us by hitting up Tri-Cities in eastern Washington, and Bend, Oregon. What followed was a pleasantly relaxing trip around the Pacific Northwest.

Travel Mission: Explore the Tri-Cities of Washington and Bend, Oregon.

Eastern Washington and Bend Oregon road trip

Our Trip By the Numbers

  • 4 Days
  • 800 Miles driven
  • $350 Cost per person
  • 16.39 Miles walked
  • 50,594 Steps Walked

Eastern Washington and Bend Oregon road trip

Many First Times

This trip was full of first times for both of us. We were thankful to have two cameras with us to document these moments. Half of our photos were taken with a Canon 6D camera, and the other half with the Olympus Tough, which was great for taking jet skiing and inner tubing.

Eastern Washington and Bend Oregon road trip

The Pacific Northwest had been experiencing a freak heat wave and early summer, with temperatures in Seattle creeping up to and even slightly surpassing 100 degrees Fahrenheit. And this was all prior to July, in a coastal city. Thus, we were expecting record heat when we headed inland, and yet the 100+ degree heat hit us like none other.

Our first day and a half in Tri-Cities saw sweltering temperatures at 110 degrees. It was pretty much inevitable that we would end up touching the chilly, refreshing Columbia River. But I not only wanted to jump into the water, I wanted to jet ski for the first time. Luckily, we found an affordable, friendly local business conducting jet ski rentals at the river's bank, and thus Martin and I ended up jet skiing together, pushing our poor machine its limit of 60mph.

A summary of our first times:

  • visiting Tri-Cities and Bend
  • experiencing 110-degree heat
  • riding on a jet ski
  • inner tubing down a river
  • touching the Columbia and Deschutes Rivers

Tri Cities WA July 2015-7

Tri-Cities, Washington

Our trip began bright and early Friday morning when we drove directly east to the Tri-Cities. A mid-sized metropolitan area east of Seattle, Tri-Cities encompasses the three cities of Kennewick, Pasco, and Richland. All in all, the Tri-Cities make up the fourth-largest metropolitan area of Washington. Tri-Cities have been getting national recognition lately for being among the top 10 best places to raise a family, as well as one of the areas for the best gains in housing value. Thus, Martin and I were curious to visit this part of the state that neither of us had ventured to.

We used Airbnb to find lodging, staying overnight in a guest room on the lower level of what looked like a nearly brand new 4+ bedroom house in West Richland. Seeing this new house from the inside as well as exploring the virtually brand new neighborhood it was located in made it apparent as to why this area appeared to be a middle-class American mecca.

It was ultra suburban, yet still on the newer side, with warmer, less rainy weather than Seattle, as well as decently priced homes. Young families could afford the "American dream" style middle-class houses that at the time seem so out of reach in other parts of the country. Overall, we really enjoyed the Tri-Cities, yet were sad to not be able to fully experience some of its outdoor activities due to extreme heat.

Eastern Washington and Bend Oregon road trip

Falling Head Over Heels in Bend

After leaving the Tri-Cities, we made a beeline for Bend, Oregon. Sadly, many of our desires to indulge in outdoor activities were again squashed by the heat. Staying in an immaculately Southeast Asian designed cabin not far from Sunriver Resort, we fell fast and hard for Bend. As the largest city in Central Oregon, Bend has become a paradise for young adults and lovers of outdoor activities and sports such as fishing, hiking, camping, rock climbing, rafting, skiing, and more. It also has a strong microbrew industry and affordable housing market, making it more than obvious why so many college students and young Millennials flock to Bend.

Despite the fact that we hauled our bicycles to Bend to take advantage of its many biking trails, we never rode once due to heat. Instead, we opted for a "lazy" experience of inner tubing down part of the Deschutes River. We quickly discovered that when it's windy, inner tubing can be hard work.

Smith Rock

Ask any rock climber in the Pacific Northwest where the best place is to go climbing, and Smith Rock is bound to come up. Towards the end of our trip, we took a detour to Smith Rock to finally see the popular national park in person. Pro tip: hike up the Misery Ridge trail to get some epic panoramas. The climb is steep, but the views are breathtaking and the path isn't terribly long.

In Conclusion

Our 4th of July weekend was the perfect opportunity to explore parts of the Pacific Northwest for the first time. We plan to return, perhaps during the winter to experience a whole other world.

Check out some photos from our adventures below.

What to See and Do in Maui, Hawaii

When the time came to choose a winter travel destination in 2014, Martin and I were stumped. Originally, we had planned to visit the Dominican Republic. However, a sudden mosquito virus outbreak around that time caused us to change plans. At the end of the day, we decided to spend our tropical holiday in Hawaii. We're no strangers to Hawaii. I grew up on Oahu and have visited not only my home island with Martin but also the Big Island in 2013. Of the Hawaiian islands, we really had only a few more to choose from when it came to discovering new areas. We decided to spend our time on Maui. This would be my fourth trip to Maui, and the very first of all for Martin.

Travel Mission: (Re)discover the Hawaiian island of Maui.

Maui Hawaii road trip map itinerary

Our Trip By the Numbers

  • 10 Days
  • 624 Miles driven
  • 69.5 Miles walked
  • 172,079 Steps Walked

Maui Hawaii travel photography

A Personal History with Maui

The second largest of the Hawaiian Islands, Maui has the third-highest population, falling behind Oahu and the Big Island. Growing up on Oahu, it was common for friends to spend weekends or summers over on Maui. We always knew who had recently gone to Maui as they would return with a box of Krispy Kreme donuts, as their only Hawaii location was in Maui. My own maternal grandmother had even been born and raised on a sugar cane plantation in the Maui town of Lahaina.

As a child, I recall making several weekend trips to Maui via family-sized Cessna airplanes flown by my dad, a former F-14 Navy jet pilot. I also visited Maui for high school cross country meets, and once with my grandmother to revisit her childhood home.

Returning to Maui in my late twenties without family definitely proved to be a different experience and a welcome change of pace. The goal of this trip was not to go slow and leisurely enjoy the island, but rather do everything we possibly could in 10 days' time.

Wailuku to Kihei

Our trip began with a red eye direct flight from Seattle to Kahului. We picked up our rental car close to 10:00 pm and jetted to a cheap hostel in Wailuku. Dinner that night was, to my delight, at a local Zippy's restaurant, the most popular local fast food chain in Hawaii. The next day, we woke up early and beelined directly to Kihei, where we would end up spending most of our time.

Staying in a simple yet conveniently located condo we'd found on Airbnb, Kihei was by far our favorite area of Maui. While rather touristy in many ways, we appreciated the calmer waters on this side of the island that allowed for stellar paddle boarding and sailing, as well as the expansive and clean-kept beach parks. We also took a couple of trips down to the famous Grand Wailea hotel.

Maui Hawaii travel photography

Whale Watching in Lahaina

After a couple of nights in Kihei, we ventured north to Lahaina, staying at Kahana Falls resort. The bulk of tourist activity in Lahaina in concentrated on the waterfront, meaning Martin and I took one quick jaunt down it before deciding it wasn't to our taste. We did, however, manage to hop aboard two marine boat tours in the area, including a sunrise whale watching cruise, and a half day snorkeling tour. Maui, I love you deeply, but the snorkeling just isn't up to par with Belize.

What was very impressive about the Lahaina side of the island was the extreme prevalence of breaching humpback whales that you could see from the shore. No matter how many times you've seen whales in the wild, it never gets old seeing these great creatures in their native habitats. The abundance of whales was at one point explained to us by a guide who said it was the result of long-time conservation efforts finally paying off.Maui Hawaii travel photography

Kula and Haleakala

Our time in Lahaina was very leisurely, despite cloudy, rainy weather. From there, we headed inland to the mountainous up-country town of Kula, where we stayed in a cute studio apartment we'd found on Airbnb. Most of Kula's residential areas are between 1,800-3,700 feet in elevation, meaning much cooler temperatures and stunning views. While small in terms of size and dining choices, Kula was the perfect base for ascending the formidable Haleakala.

A now dormant volcano, Haleakala is on the east side of Maui. It forms more than 75% of the entire island of Maui. We did the traditional routine of waking up before dawn and watching the sunrise. However, the tourist pack was quick to leave after sunrise, so we were among the few who did a hike down into the crater and back. If you want to know what Mars looks like, do this hike! It's incredibly desolate yet unique with a very photogenic terrain.

Maui Hawaii travel photography

The Road to Hana

A traditional tourist trip to vacation is not complete without attempting the road to Hana. A 64.4-mile stretch, Hana Highway is enjoyable to some and formidable to others. The road (paved, thankfully) is extremely winding and narrow through lush, wet tropical rainforest terrain. For a sense of driving difficulty, consider that the path includes passage over 59 bridges, 46 of which are only one lane wide. As a result, driving the 52-mile road can take upwards of 2 hours to complete. We were fortunate to not hit a ton of on-coming traffic and enjoyed driving this road's windy twists and turns. For us, the total drive time was in one hour, much less than expected.

One we got to Hana, we discovered it was the one town in probably the whole state of Hawaii without cell phone reception, which seems foreign in this day and age. Located on the eastern end of Maui, Hana is among the most isolated communities in Hawaii, but it is incredibly lush and green. We stayed at a dated but cute Hana Maui Bed and Breakfast we'd found via Google (alas, nothing affordable on Airbnb). Our free time was spent exploring local parks and attractions including Hana Lava Tube, Wai'anapanapa State Park, and Kōkī Beach Park.

Maui Hawaii travel photography

Paia

From Hana, we could either traverse the Hana highway in reverse to reach our next destination. Or we could drive in the opposite direction, down the dirt road to Kaupo and then back through Kula. The problem with this second option was a warning we'd heard from other travelers. This route, while faster in some ways, would require driving a stretch of poorly maintained, unpaved road. Due to the road's condition, it uncovered by our rental car agreement. Despite these warnings, we drove the road anyway without any problems, making it back to Kula; after stopping at Grandma's Maui Coffee Shop for coffee, we went to our final Maui destination: Paia.

A small, "hippie" town of sorts, Paia is known for its surfing and windsurfing spots, including those of Ko'okipa and Spreckelsville. Also located not far from Paia is the Jaws surf break, known for its bumpy, unpaved roads and enormous north shore surf in the winter.

In Paia, we stayed at a modern Airbnb house rental near the famous Mama's Fish House. Much of our time was spent lounging and boogie boarding on the nearby Baldwin Beach Park. We also made frequent trips to Mana Foods for fresh organic foods. It was the perfect chill ending to our 10-day Maui vacation.

Maui Hawaii travel photography

 Maui Travel Photo Gallery

Comic Con Weekend in Portland

With Portland being a hop away from Seattle, it's a fun city to escape to for a quick weekend trip. This trip in particular was aimed at mixing work and tourism, and we were lucky to score a super central Airbnb studio apartment rental to facilitate our experience. While I photographed and absorbed the third annual Wizard World Comic Con at the Oregon Convention Center (a mere block away from our Airbnb place!), Martin was even LUCKIER to spend the day in Portland during their warmest day of the winter. With temperatures reaching 60+ degrees, he wandered around the Lloyd district and Burnside, discovering a plethora of Portland eateries that even Yelp wasn't diligent enough to thoroughly document. This served as the perfect reminder that exploring a city by foot is definitely the best way to stumble upon treasures that the Internet may not have covered yet.

Mission: Experience Wizard World Comic Con in Portland and EAT!

Seattle to Portland map

Our Trip By the Numbers

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2

Days (1 full, 2 halves) [/tw-column] [tw-column width="one-fifth"]

198

Miles one-way from Seattle to Portland [/tw-column] [tw-column width="one-fifth"]

1

Time we got pulled over by a cop [/tw-column] [tw-column width="one-fifth"]

11.25

Miles walked [/tw-column] [tw-column width="one-fifth" position="last"]

5

Eateries we visited [/tw-column]

Portland Oregon lifestyle travel photography

Accommodations

We truly lucked out with accommodations thanks to Airbnb. I found a rental for $80/night. A studio, it was located in a modern apartment complex right across the street from the venue where Comic Con was held. Syncing up with our host was simple, and we easily parked our vehicle and then traveled by foot for the rest of the weekend. Above is a snapshot of our industrial view from the rental.

Portland Oregon lifestyle travel photography

Dining Around Portland

Both Pok Pok and Salt and Straw are longtime favorites in the Portland dining scene, but oddly enough neither of us were totally familiar with them. Thus, this was a great trip to sample two of Portland's very best. Unfortunately, we lacked the time to stop and dine at one of Portland's famed food trucks.

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Pok Pok

A Thai restaurant with locations in both Portland and New York City, Andy Ricker is the head chef and founder of this popular Thai eatery that opened in the Northwest in 2008. His extremely refined technique toward Thai cooking, he serves incredibly flavorful dishes. The menu includes delectable items including muu paa kham waan (boar collar meat grilled with garlic, coridander, root and black pepper) and Vietnamese fish sauce wings. The meal and atmosphere here were inspiring, and we would definitely return on another trip.  [/tw-column] [tw-column width="one-half" position="last"]

Salt and Straw

I always think of Salt and Straw as the equivalent of Seattle's Molly Moon's ice cream. It's rich, creamy stuff that comes in pretty luxurious flavors, and it's served in a freshly made waffle cone. Flavor varieties here can seem mind-boggling. Avocado and strawberry sherbet, black olive brittle and goat cheese, almond brittle with salted ganache...these are some sophisticated, yet extremely likable flavors for the adventurous. Each bite is sweet, creamy, and full of natural ingredients and flavors. Highly HIGHLY recommend.

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Winter Weekend Getaway to Vancouver, B.C.

For those of us who live in the north,  the winter season can be a bit tough. There are only so few exciting options for driving and plane tickets are notoriously expensive starting with Thanksgiving all the way past New Year's day. There is a kind of travel, though,  which is exciting even in the winter - visiting a modern metropolis. Here at Gemini Connect, we enjoy living and traveling in Washington. Typically, winter gets to our nerves by January and we're itching to make a quick trip to break up the winter slump. Vancouver has become our local getaway destination in Canada. This modern metropolis is located just a quick two and a half hour drive away. Our mission this January was to spend a weekend in Vancouver to discourage us from spending another weekend working away at our computers, to take advantage of the huge post-holiday retail sales, and of course stuff ourselves with ethnic cuisine.

Mission: Refresh winter wardrobe and relax for a weekend in Vancouver, B.C.

Seattle to Vancouver Canada map

Our Trip By the Numbers

  • 2 Days
  • 286 Miles driven
  • $194.50* Cost per person
  • 44,4381 Steps walked
  • 17.93 Miles walked

*Cost per person is in USD and includes accommodations, roundtrip gas and dining out. **Steps and mileage were tracked by FitBit Flex

Vancouver British Columbia Canada Lifestyle photography

Besides the proximity and easy drive up I-5, there are more reasons to visit Vancouver. Here are a few:

1) Gorgeous urban setting and architecture

Downtown Vancouver is surrounded by water on 3 sides and mountains rise immediately to the north. The city itself is famous for its city planning -  using residential towers as the standard and is often called the 'North American Hong Kong'. The combination of the two makes it an amazing places to be even if all you do is look. Another great benefit of this city planning is that downtown there are very many offerings on AirBnB which let you experience what it's like living in one of those towers and are quite affordable!

While searching for a place to stay in Vancouver, our one requirement besides proximity to town was a stellar view of the city. We lucked out with a lovely one-bedroom Airbnb apartment located just a few blocks from Vancouver's main strips, Granville and Robson. The apartment was an ideal base for our weekend trip and it came with a stunning 180-degree view of the city.

Vancouver British Columbia Canada Lifestyle photography

2) Abundant, diverse ethnic food

Almost half of  Vancouver's population is foreign-born. One of the results of this diverse population is in some of the most authentic ethnic food we've been able to find on our travels. In two short days we dined on ten dishes at a traditional Japanese izakaya restaurant, Japanese-style hot dogs, traditional Bulgarian pastries, Transylvanian desserts and Malaysian curries and roti. All made by people from those countries, all very good, and all reasonably priced.

Vancouver British Columbia Canada Lifestyle photography

Dining Around Vancouver

We approached this trip to Vancouver plotting out how many meal and snack times we had available and specifically determining which eatery to be at each time. This time around, our standout choices revolved around what we each deemed to be comfort food. [tw-column width="one-half"]

Our first meal was at Guu Original on Thurlow. Located just a few blocks away from our Airbnb apartment, Guu Original is credited as being the very first Izakaya (a type of casual Japanese drinking establishment) in Vancouver. It first opened in 1993 and is famous for serving classic and authentic Japanese foods. Guu's immense success is noted by its long line of customers awaiting tables even before the restaurant has opened. The dishes we tried at Guu included Kabocha squash croquette, kimchi udon, tuna tataki, beef tataki, and oden, the latter of which strongly reminded Suzi of her grandmother's cooking.

Guu Original 838 Thurlow Street Vancouver, BC http://www.guu-izakaya.com

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For brunch the next day, our dining choice revolved around Martin's Eastern European roots. We made our way on foot through Vancouver's West End to Acacía Fillo Bar, a family-owned restaurant specializing in Bulgarian pastries, particularly the banitza. A savory pastry made of fillo dough and stuffed with filling such as leeks or feta cheese, the banitza is similar to the Greek spanakopita, but made with thicker pastry dough. Acacía Fillo Bar's banitza was the best and closest to his own grandmother's recipe that Martin has been able to find in the Pacific Northwest.

Acacía Fillo Bar 1103 Denman Vancouver, BC http://www.acaciafillobar.com [/tw-column]

Vancouver British Columbia Canada Lifestyle photography

3) Constant economic growth

Vancouver is regularly noted as an esteemed city. It constantly tops "Best cities in the world" kind of charts like this one by the esteemed Economist Intelligence Unit  where it got #3, making it one of the most coveted cities to live in the world. Because of this, since its founding Vancouver's metropolitan area has seen constant high growth of population, often near 10% or above, and constant economic growth accordingly.  Being in Vancouver you often get the ritzy vibe and accordingly in downtown, you're never too far from a Prada, Burberry or Hugo Boss store. Shopping is a big draw for American, Asian and European tourists alike, and if you go early in the year like in January, you'll enjoy some of the huge post holiday markdowns and sales that for some reason aren't as common in the USA. As another plus, the drive from Seattle to Vancouver goes right by Seattle Premium Outlets, which makes for a great pit stop while on your shopping binge.

Vancouver British Columbia Canada Lifestyle photography

BONUS: Foreign currency values

Vancouver is only 30 minutes away from the US border, but it is still in another country. This means that besides all the cultural differences which give you a feeling of novelty, you are also using a different currency. At the time we went - mid-January 2015, a Canadian Dollar to a US dollar (CAD - USD) was 0.85. This means that if you're using your American card, everything you buy is automatically 15% discounted! This is why AirBnB options in the towers were so affordable and why we didn't sweat covering whole tables in delicious food or shopping in the shiny malls. We still ended up spending in reasonable limits as you can see in the breakdown.

Weekend in Sedona and the Grand Canyon in Arizona

The Southwestern United States is a region of the country that until recently we had not been very acquainted with. Long fascinated by Wild West tales and history, the Southwest has been an area of intrigue that we finally got to properly explore during a long weekend escape in November 2014. Booked a mere month in advance, we found decent travel and accommodation deals and were able to enjoy our 4 day trip with efficiency and leisure. We wasted no time, packing in a full day of touring from the moment we arrived, speeding up to the Grand Canyon and making it down to Sedona all within a matter of hours. Overall, we left Sedona highly impressed and determined to return again soon.

Weekend to Explore Sedona and see the Grand Canyon.

  • 2,930 Roundtrip miles traveled on this trip.
  • $465.60 Total cost per person when split two ways.
  • 3 Hikes
  • 4 Days Total time of our trip
  • 26.81 miles walked

Things to do in Sedona Arizona

Modern West Photo Shoot

The mission of this trip was to step foot into the American Southwest for the first time and take in the majestic Grand Canyon and red rocks of Sedona. Our theme was heavily influenced by Martin's admiration for Mad Max and desire to simulate some Mad Max-inspired photo shoots in the desert. The night before the trip, Martin visited the barber's shop and shaved his full head of hair into a mohawk; he then donned a black leather jacket and black pants throughout all of our hikes in Sedona for the sake of the photo shoots.

Route and Itinerary

  • Friday (Day 1): Flight from Seattle to Flagstaff. Arrive in Flagstaff and drive to Grand Canyon, then to Sedona.
  • Saturday (Day 2): Day hiking and overnight stay in Sedona.
  • Sunday (Day 3): Day hiking and overnight stay in Sedona.
  • Monday (Day 4): Drive to Flagstaff for lunch and fly back to Seattle.

Sedona Grand Canyon travel

Driving to the Grand Canyon

From the Flagstaff airport, we picked up a small rental car and drove 90 minutes northwest on route 180 into Red Rock Country. A UNESCO World Heritage Site, the Grand Canyon is a natural landmark that is an easy day trip from Flagstaff or Sedona. It's ideal to spend at least a full day here, to do the historic Watchtower climb and explore the lesser known East Rim Drive. However, if you're like us and don't have much time to spare, an hour or two or exploration is well worth the trip.

The South Rim is one of the most popular viewpoints at the Grand Canyon. Open all year, the area has paved walkways and is accessible by all. Just be careful how close to the edge you get as there are certain areas without railings that can be potentially hazardous.

Grand Canyon Arizona

Traveling to Sedona

After a stop at the Grand Canyon, we ventured 2 hours (about 108 miles) south on US-180E to Sedona. This scenic desert town is very distinct as it is surrounded by red-rock buttes and steep canyon walls. Maybe it's the dust in the air, but Sedona truly feels magical. There are lots of outdoor activities to do here such as hiking, biking, off-roading, or visiting scenic vistas.

Sedona has a moderate climate, so it is great to visit at any time of the year. However, spring and fall are the best and most popular times to visit thanks to the mid-60s to low 80s temperature. Summer tends to be much hotter in the mid-90s, while winter can even bring snow.

Sedona Lodging

We spent our entire stay in the luxurious Diamond Resorts of Sedona Summit, a modern resort tucked away a few miles from the main town. Normally reserved for timeshare guests, we found an amazing deal here for only $119 per night. Our accommodations were a spacious studio with a King sized bed, couch, dining room, and full kitchen. The grounds were incredibly spacious and well-kept with 7 pools and hot tubs on site and a game and entertainment room.

Diamond Resorts Sedona Arizona

Things to Do in Sedona

Go for a hike

There are over 200 trails in the Red Rocks National Park. Easily the most photogenic and popular hikes in the area include Courthouse Rock, Cathedral Rock, Bell Rock, and Bear Mountain.

Drive to Oak Creek Canyon

Take a short drive northeast on Highway 89A for a scenic, unforgettable drive to Oak Creek Canyon. This river gorge lies between Flagstaff and Sedona and is located within the Coconino National Forest. There are several campgrounds and picnic areas in the canyon, as well as many miles of hiking trails. Many fishermen also venture here to fish the 49 miles of creek teeming with several types of trout, bass, and catfish.

Shop for Art and Souvenirs

Sedona boasts 80+ art galleries and boutique stores carrying mystic and New Age products. If you're seeking a rhodochrosite, chrysoprase or other crystals that promote metaphysical well-being, you'll definitely find them in here. The shops and galleries along Highway 89A are a great place to start. Also be sure to hit the Tlaquepaque Arts and Crafts Village, a colonial-style shopping center with plenty of shops.

Things to do in Sedona Arizona

Seek Out Spiritual Vortexes

Speaking of spirituality, Sedona is full of vortexes, where the earth radiates physic energy. Whether you're a believer or a skeptic, taking a guided tour or exploring vortexes on your own is a popular activity. One such vortex also contains another worthy attraction that was built on top: the Chapel of the Holy Cross. This modern chapel looks like something out of a science fiction film and offers spectacular photo opportunities.

Go Stargazing

Sedona doesn't have much of a nightlife, and many of its restaurants and bars close rather early. So take advantage of the city's restrictions on light pollution and turn your eyes towards the heavens and enjoy the constellations.

Rent a bike, ATV, or Tomcar

Off-roading is another popular activity in Sedona, with miles of backcountry roads to traverse. Most companies offer half day or full day vehicle rentals that will send you off the day with a map to choose your own adventure.

Take a Helicopter or Hot Air Ballon Ride

The Sedona valley is stunning from a high viewpoint, which you can reach by hiking or man-made vessel. Helicopter tours run frequently, as do hot air balloon companies. Aim for a sunrise or sunset ride for the most spectacular, photo-worthy experiences.

Over To You

Have you visited Sedona or the Grand Canyon? Share your travel tips below!

Walking the City of New York

How does one even begin to describe New York, the concrete jungle where dreams were made of? In October 2014, Martin and I decided to venture east to New York City for a quick trip. While this was my 4th trip to the Big Apple, it was Martin's very first time in the big city. I was quite excited to show him around and ride the subway. But true to form, we ended up conducting our own walking tour of New York City.

New York Trip By the Numbers

  • 4 Days
  • $410 Basic costs per person (airfare + lodging)
  • 2,869 Miles flown one way
  • 47.27 Total miles walked
  • 115,846 Steps walked

New York vacation tourism travel photography

Where to Stay in New York

My first time I visited New York, it was with my high school history class, and thus I remember being put up in a Hilton or Sheraton hotel. But in New Jersey, of course. When I visited in my early twenties, nights were spent sleeping on couches or floors at friends' artist lofts in Brooklyn (basically, the Millennial hipster's dream come true). Visiting New York in my late twenties saw a shift in accommodations.

We were lucky enough to score an Airbnb in New York for our stay this time. However, laws in the city are making it more difficult for New Yorkers to rent their homes out to travelers. So just in case Airbnb doesn't work, here are some affordable New York City hotel options.

New York City Walking Tour Companies

While we opted to conduct our own informal tour, there are many tour companies in New York City that offer guided tours.

Walking Tour 1: Harlem to Chelsea

On our first morning in New York City, we wasted no time setting off on our walking mission. Beginning on the edge of Harlem, our tour took us through most major New York City boroughs including the Upper East Side, Central Park, Midtown, and down to Chelsea.

New York Walk

Midtown

This part of New York is arguably the city's most famous district. Located just south of Central Park, Midtown includes many iconic New York City venues including those mentioned below. As a result of its fame, lodging in Midtown is pricey. However, stay here and you're definitely in the center of the action.

  • Times Square
  • Broadway Theater DistrictRadio City Music Hall, St. Patri
  • Radio City Music Hall
  • St. Patrick's Cathedral
  • Rockefeller Center
  • Grand Central Terminal
  • Fifth Avenue Shopping District

New York vacation tourism travel photography

Central Park and the Upper East Side

To the east of Central Park is one of the most prestigious neighborhoods in the world: the Upper East Side. While the area is largely residential with many admirable apartment buildings to swoon over, there is also lots of culture along Museum Mile. And of course, the city's 843-acre Central Park is in the area.

  • Metropolitan Museum of Art
  • American Museum of Natural History
  • Guggenheim Museum
  • Carl Schurz Park
  • Gracie Mansion
  • Madison Avenue Luxury Shops

New York vacation tourism travel photography

Greenwich Village and Union Square

In Lower Manhanhattan, you'll find one of the city's most laid-back yet urban neighborhoods in Greenwich Village. Also known simply as The Village, there's a strong bohemian past in the area that lives on today in the many artists and writers who have flocked here. Today, visitors come to The Village to enjoy its charming community feel, view art galleries and relax in Washington Square Park. Not far from Greenwich Village is Union Square where regional growers and artists sell goods at the local market, while major shopping and dining centers also take center stage.

  • Washington Square Pak
  • New York University
  • Jefferson Market Library
  • Bleecker Street clothing boutiques
  • Nighttime jazz in the park
  • Meatpacking District (hip clubs and restaurants)

New York vacation tourism travel photography

SoHo

South of Green Village is the art and designer part of town known as SoHo. The bustling street of Broadway is full of shops, restaurants, galleries, and boutiques, while Little Italy takes over nearby Mulberry and Mott Streets. Canal Street is New York City's massive Chinatown were electronics, produce, and other trinkets can be bought.

Walking Route 2: Brooklyn to Wall Street

We decided to lay low on the second day and went sightseeing in Manhattan mostly via subway without a planned walking tour. On the third day, however, we embarked on another long walking tour, this time from Brooklyn to Wall Street.

Brooklyn

Situated across the river from Manhattan, Brooklyn is its own unique part of New York. The main tourism area is in Downtown Brooklyn where the walkable Brooklyn Bridge connects to Manhattan, offering a stunning view of the New York City skyline. Meanwhile, Williamsburg is a community of hipsters and artists with its fair share of ethnic communities as well. Finally, the far side of Brooklyn is home to Coney Island where amusement parks and a boardwalk continue to attract visitors.

Wall Street and the Financial District

Located at the southern tip of Manhattan is the home of the New York Stock Exchange and many other major financial institutions. During weekday business hours, the streets bustle with business men and women in power suits while tourists flock to notable attractions including the brand new One Wold Trade Center complex.

  • New York Stock Exchange
  • One Wolrd Trade Center
  • Museum of American Finance
  • New York City Police Museum
  • Battery Park
  • South Street Seaport - where you can walk across the Brooklyn Bridge
  • Ferry to Statue of Liberty and Ellis Island Immigration Museum

New York vacation tourism travel photography

New York vacation tourism travel photographyWhere to Eat in New York City

We were incredibly excited about the prospect of delicious and inventive dining in New York, but alas, we didn't do much of it. Part of it was because we knew many of the rave-worthy eateries were also very pricey and popular. Katz's Delicatessen sandwiches are now nearly $20 a pop! The other part was simply being overwhelmed with too many choices and not being able to find many gluten-free options for Martin. Thus, we had some delicious ethnic food (mainly Malaysian and Chinese), but other than that found ourselves at Halal Brothers' food truck and even Whole Foods when push came to shove. Perhaps we'll better plan our NYC dining adventure on another trip.

  • Taqueria Diana - NYC meets California in this Mexican food joint. Multiple locations in Manhattan.
  • illi Box - Lebanese street food to-go. Definitely try to falafel beiruti sandwich. Multiple locations in Manhattan.
  • Pye Boat Noodle - Thai street fare at under $11 a dish. Multiple locations in Manhattan.
  • Crif Dogs - Juicy hot dogs at $5-6 each. Open late. 113 St. Marks Place.
  • Baohaus - Authentic yet afford Chinese bau (steamed buns). 238 East 14th Street
  • BZ Grill - a mountain of Greek food at affordable prices. 27-02 Astoria Blvd
  • The Meat Hook at Threes Brewing - Brewery with tasty bar food in Williamsburg, Brooklyn. 333 Douglas Street

Final Thoughts on Walking New York City

Our challenge of walking New York City was both difficult and invigorating. Nothing could have prepared my feet for the long hours and miles of walking that we did each day. I quickly learned the importance of a solid, comfortable pair of shoes. Ultimately, exploring New York by foot rather than subway or taxi yielded new perspectives of the city.

Photo Gallery

Improving Business in Belize

Here at Gemini Connect, we're united by a love of traveling far and wide, not necessarily to repeat destinations. However, we break this rule constantly when it comes to two countries in particular: Mexico and Belize. On that note, we made a decision in late 2013 to spend our winter holiday doing a big mission in Mexico and Belize. This would be our second trip to Belize since the first one in 2012. The inspiration was mainly related to our business with Hanna Stables in Belize. Our online booking and payment system had led to huge successes, seeing almost 50% more bookings thanks to the ability to complete the entire transaction online within minutes. However, it had hit a major hurdle in that Western Union was no longer allowing us to transfer funds to our business partner in Belize, so we desperately needed a solution. The trip was intended to meet with banks and other financial institutions to address this problem, as well as check in with other potential business prospects in Belize. As for Mexico...what reasons are there NOT to visit, if only for a heavenly bite of cheap al pastor tacos?

Update: In May 2015, Gemini Connect and Hanna Stables achieved a huge milestone in business. Find out more about how we built a profitable business in Belize with no upfront outside investment.

Mission: Improve our business in Belize. And find cheap, authentic Mexican tacos.

Belize Mexico digital marketing agency

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500

Miles traveled

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[tw-column width="one-fifth"]

21

Days of traveling

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8

Major cities traveled to

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2

Countries traveled to

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6

Beaches seen

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Belize Mexico digital marketing agency

Martin and I first visited Belize together in winter 2012, so this would be our second visit in approximately one year. Intending to use this extended 21 day trip not only for business but pleasure and relaxation as well, we spent the first chunk of the trip in Quintana Roo, Mexico. Initially landing in Cancun, we only spent a brief night in the city before jetting off to Playa del Carmen, a costal resort town that was more our speed in terms of activities and overall culture. We met our friend Arnold there rented a fabulous vacation house in the exclusive neighborhood of Playacar via Airbnb.

After a few days in Playa, we bussed down to the smaller, more remote town of Tulum, staying at a fun hotel, La Zebra. We took an obligatory quick trip to Tulum Mayan ruins, ate amazing fish tacos by the beach, and even briefly ran into Macklemore and fiancee before we packed up and headed further south to Bacalar.

Photos by Gemini Connect

A hidden gem on the Yucatan peninsula of Mexico, the town of Bacalar is centered around the Bacalar Lagoon and its incredible azure blue fresh water. We spent several enchanting nights at Casa Caracol b&b and even took an extremely memorable boat ride and snorkel tour of the lagoon.

Our stay in Bacalar was the last in Mexico before we took a ferry to Belize, entering the country via la isla bonita, San Pedro, or Ambergris Caye. The larger of two main cayes or islands off the coast of Belize, San Pedro is a highly popular tourist destination that in all honesty was a bit...much. Especially when compared to some of the more intimate and special travel experiences we'd had in other smaller, off the map towns in Belize. Worth visiting? Sure. But if you want a more authentic Belizean experience, Caye Caulker or better yet San Ignacio is a better bet.

Belize Mexico digital marketing agency

From San Pedro, we water taxied to the mainland of Belize where from then on the rest of our trip was gratis. We were privately shuttled the 90 minute drive from Belize City to San Ignacio, where it literally felt like we were coming home, especially after a somewhat disappointing experience on San Pedro. We were delighted to return to Nabitunich and see that many improvements had been made to the cottages, and that Hanna Stables was being rebuilt in the form of a brand new barn located closer to the accommodations. During our stay, we did indeed resolve our financial issue (although in a very roundabout way), and even got to experience what most people come to San Ignacio for: an intensive underground caving adventure to Actun Tunichil Muknal (ATM) cave.

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Upon my insistence that we end our trip on a beach, we left San Ignacio after about a week and jetted off down the Hummingbird Highway to the coastal town of Placencia. Small, charming and very laid back, Placencia is a fishing village that has become our favorite beach town in Belize. We stayed at the pristine One World Apartment Rentals, experienced the town's famous sidewalk (the narrowest in the world), and had an unforgettable day at sea when we boated off to the dreamy Silk Cayes island where we had the best snorkeling experience of our lives.

Belize Mexico digital marketing agency

We have done such extensive traveling in Belize that we wrote a whole online travel guide of the region on the Hanna Stables website. If you're curious about any of the above-mentioned destinations, check out the Belize travel guide.

Hawaii Sustainable Agriculture Documentary

Hundreds of years ago, Hawaii’s natural resources from the land to the sea sustained a population of over one million ancient Hawaiians. An ancient system known as the ahu’pua’a provided resources for all by giving daily contribution tasks to everyone who lived in the communities. Centuries later, Hawaii’s natural resources no longer provide enough to sustain the vastly growing population of the islands; in fact, the islands only produce 10-15% of the foods consumed by the local population. Most consumable foods and goods are imported from the mainland United States as well as from international countries. As a result, most modern people do not spend any time physically cultivating their own food and may not even know where the food they eat even comes from.

Wow tomato farms Big Island Hawaii
Wow tomato farms Big Island Hawaii

In October 2013, two teachers and five students from Kapolei High School on Oahu spent five days on the Big Island of Hawaii to visit 13 local businesses promoting local farming and ranching. The goal was to produce a 20-minute multimedia documentary that explores how local farmers are helping Hawaii become an agriculturally sustainable state where more locally grown food is produced. During the five days on the Big Island, students and teachers enjoyed not only seeing where food was coming from but also experiencing it in local restaurants. We sampled pancakes and locally made coconut syrup, goat cheese salad, grass-fed all beef burgers, freshly caught island fish, Kona coffee, and fresh fruit salads.

Throughout the experience, it was that there are many challenges and roadblocks to agricultural sustainability in Hawaii, but there are also lots of people who rise to the challenge each day. Here are some of those people.

12 Sustainable Agricultural Programs in Hawaii

Beekeeping in Hawaii at UH Hilo on the Big Island

As part of a week-long road trip touring farms on the Big Island of Hawaii, we made a stop in Pana'ewa to learn about beekeeping. The University of Hawaii College of Agriculture at Hilo maintains an 110-acre agricultural farm where students put theory into practice with hands-on learning. They conduct educational projects in an area dubbed the Farm Laboratory where they study vegetables, fruits, greenhouse learning, hydroponics, aquaculture, forestry, raising livestock, equine science, and beekeeping. Our particular interest was in their latter program.

UH Hilo Beekeeping Program

  • 110-acres at the University of Hawaii at Hilo for agricultural use.
  • 2011 is the year of the inaugural Adopt-a-Beehive with Alan Wong program.
  • $300 is the minimum cost to participate in the Adopt-a-Beehive program.
  • 40 beehives (about 500,000 bees) at UH Hilo.
  • 66 Pounds of pollen per year collected in one beehive.
beekeeping in Hawaii honey
beekeeping in Hawaii honey

UH Hilo is instrumental in bringing greater awareness to the plight of the honey bee on the Big Island. Recently, two major predators, the varroa mite and hive beetle, have been threatening the local bee population. As nature’s primary pollinators of plants and producers of one of the best natural sweeteners, honey bee protection is the main goal of the program. As a result, the Farm Laboratory is home to about 40 beehives making there around 500,000 bees in total. Students maintain the apiary as a way to apply what they learn in class.

Upon our arrival, we were greeted by student intern Leslie Sugawa who would be our guide for the day. Afer learning about some beekeeping safety basics, we donned bee suits and went to closely observe the active beehives on campus. We watched her carefully interact with the beehives with a natural sage herb smoking gun to calm the bees. This is important to do before cracking open a beehive. She even pulled out an oozing chunk of fresh honeycomb for us to sample.

beekeeping in Hawaii honey
beekeeping in Hawaii honey

What does Hawaii honey taste like?

Similar to wine, the flavor of honey is impacted by the tastes of the land surrounding it. At UH Hilo, honey bees collect nectar from flowers and plants nearby, and the resulting flavor tends to be floral. Some Hawaii honey like that of UH Hilo is kept pure and traditional. However, some farmers like those of Rare Hawaiian Honey infuse theirs with natural fruits for unique flavors.

Where to find Hawaii honey

The Adopt A Beehive program only distributes honey to its sponsors and doesn't sell it to the public. Other forms of Hawaii such as the above-mentioned Rare Hawaiian Honey can be bought online.

There are several ways to learn about beekeeping at UH Hilo. The first is an option mainly for college students who can earn a Beekeeping Certificate. Non-university students can get involved by enrolling in a Continuing Education course on the Benefits of Beekeeping.  Another way to get involved is via the Adopt A Beehive project, which is sponsored by local Hawaii chef Alan Wong. This program is important to increase local awareness of the beekeeping process, understand the huge role that honeybees play in the agricultural process, and encourage sales of local Hawaiian honey.

*This is a multi-part installment as part of the Hawaii Sustainable Agriculture Project. Learn more about the project and the 12 participants here

UH Hilo Beekeeping Photos

 

Hoehn Bend Farm Stay Vacation

After a whirlwind Labor Day weekend in which we photographed a wedding and a multi-day music festival, we were in need of a farm stay vacation. Not wanting to travel too far away from Seattle, we found our rustic getaway in nearby Sedro-Woolley. Located just a short hour and a half (65 miles) north of Seattle, Sedro-Woolley is a sleepy town that we re-discovered during our prior weekend adventure to find Taylor Shellfish oyster heaven. We fell in love with the area so much during that trip that we decided to search for a farm stay in the area. That is how we happened upon Hoehn Bend Farm.

Hoehn Bend Farm Stay in Sedro-Woolley, Washington

About Hoehn Bend Farm

A 30-acre working farm, Hoehn Bend Farm is run by Jean and Terry, two retired Washingtonians who currently love working on the farm raising their herd of heritage Irish Dexter cattle. In addition to the cattle, Jean and Terry also keep a handful of fluffy Shetland sheep that love to have their chins scratched. There is also a very curious and sociable pot bellied pig who, we learned, is actually among the cleanest animals on the farm.

The newest additions to the farm are 3 miniature donkeys that you'll want to bring home with you! Unlike large donkeys, these miniatures are like oversized dogs--they love affection and keep their braying and stubbornness to a minimum. A flock of hens also call the farm home; every day, they ride the chicken transport to move from their indoor coop to an outside coop, and vice-versa. They deliver fresh eggs regularly, and some will be available for your consumption. Head into the barn and you'll find several friendly barn cats who keep the farm's affairs in check. Lastly, the farm's lovable guardian is Maggie the collie who is full of energy and loves to run across the large expanses on the farm!

Working Farm Stay Vacations

Farm stays vacations, they provide travelers the opportunity to spend a period of time sleeping and helping out at a farm. This can be done as a volunteer arrangement, or as a form of tourism. In the case of Hoehn Bend Farm, their farm stays are geared toward tourism. Guests pay a fee to sleep in a bed and breakfast style farm house and are invited to shadow Jean and Terry during their daily chores. Jean and Terry are passionate about farm stays as a way of providing a country-side retreat for locals and visitors, and especially kids. did what we expected in that they

Hoehn Bend Farm Stay in Sedro-Woolley, Washington

As one might suspect, farm chores are never the same each day. They vary according to the season and what's going on with the animals. For example, if you stop by during calving season, you might just get to see a little calf being born, or meet a herd of newborns. During our early September visit, we did see some relatively young calves in the herd, but no bonafide newborns.

Our Farm Stay Vacation

During our farm stay, we got to help out with the feeding of all the animals.  We also watched as a bull was loaded onto a trailer and transported over to Hoehn Bend Farm to get acquainted with the female cows in time for mating season. Despite having been relatively close to cows before, this was my first time watching a cow roundup in action! We also had a great time going on a hayrack ride through Jean and Terry's other, older farm property. Touring this property is limited due to the on-site residences. But if you stop by at the right time, you might be lucky to get to poke around the other farm!

Hoehn Bend Farm Stay in Sedro-Woolley, Washington

After a solid half day of farm action, we retreated into Hoehn Bend Farm's lovely Farm House, where we would be spending the night. I admit, I expected that we might be sharing the Farm House with Jean and Terry, but it turns out they actually live out in La Conner, so we had the entire place to ourselves!

Farm House Accommodations

The one-story Farm House was originally built at the turn of the century. It was recently remodeled with great amenities to really make you feel at home. There are 3 bedrooms and 1 bathroom in the house, so it comfortably sleeps up to 8 people. The house also has lots of open communal spaces in the living room and the outdoor patio. An expansive yard with a picnic table is also nearby. I can totally imagine hosting a mini family reunion or college classmate get-together here.

Hoehn Bend Farm Stay in Sedro-Woolley, Washington

Eating on the Farm

We were left with a half dozen fresh eggs, some bottled water, and an otherwise pretty well-stocked kitchen. Although food is not provided, the Farm House's huge kitchen comes with basic cooking supplies. We cooked up some store-bought food for dinner. The next morning, rose with the sun early the next morning to whip up the fresh eggs into omelettes.  We enjoyed our breakfast with plums and apples picked fresh off the trees outside. What a way to start the day!

Hoehn Bend Farm Stay in Sedro-Woolley, Washington

We only stayed at Hoehn Bend Farm for one night. The next morning, we fed the animals and then jetted back to Seattle via a stop in the nearby Mount Baker National Forest for a picnic lunch. Hoehn Bend Farm is a great location for enjoying not only a farm stay experience but also nearby outdoor activities. We highly recommend Hoehn Bend Farm to be experienced by anyone, especially children and families craving a quick countryside escape from the city!

Hoehn Bend Farm Photos

 

 

 

 

Things to Do on the Big Island of Hawaii

There is certainly no shortage of things to do on the Big Island of Hawaii. During a recent 7 day trip, we started in Hilo, went down to Volcanoes National Park, up to Kailua-Kona, inland to Waimea stopping by Hawi, back to the coast in Waipio Valley and Honokaa, and then back to Hilo. It was a nicely paced trip full of some of the best Airbnb stays we've had. Below are some highlights from the trip. To read about our food adventures, click here. Visit the full photo gallery here.

Mission: Explore and circle the entire Big Island of Hawaii.

  • 7 Days to explore the Big Island
  • 7 Towns we visited
  • 240 Miles driven
  • 3 Airbnb accommodations
  • 2 Hotel accommodations

Where to Stay on the Big Island

Accommodations are plentiful throughout the whole island, but options will vary depending on what area you're in. During our trip, we were able to find 3 Airbnb rentals in Waipio Valley, and Hawaii Volcanoes National Park, and Kailua-Kona. However, we didn't have any choice but hotels in Waimea and Hilo. Generally speaking, accommodations are pricey due to the mandatory hotel-tax. However, there are many affordable hostels in populated areas such as Hilo.

Big Island Hawaii map

Hilo

The largest city on the Big Island, Hilo is home to the Mauna Loa Macadamia Nut Corporation and the annual Merrie Monarch hula festival. It is also one of the least expensive cities in Hawaii to live in. I first visited Hilo almost exactly ten years ago at the age of sixteen to compete in a state canoe racing competition, and remember Hilo being extremely lush, but as a result very wet. Indeed, it was a little on the cloudy and rainy side during our stay in Hilo, but the 80-degree weather made it tolerable. Hilo is rather touristy with lots of small shops and restaurants along the Hilo Bay strip. Being more attracted to outdoor exploration, we didn't find Hilo too appealing beyond the food (ahhh, Cafe Pesto) and a quick sweep through the local Hilo Farmer's Market.

Hawaii Volcanoes National Park

The Big Island itself is made up of five volcanoes: Kohala, Mauna Kea, Hualalai, Mauna Loa, and Kilauea. The last three are still active, and the last two are located within Hawaii Volcanoes National Park. This might be one of the United States' coolest national parks as it has two volcanoes within it: Kilauea, the most active volcano in the world, and Mauna Loa, the most massive volcano in the world. The park is very easy to drive through and makes for a very scenic trip since the whole park has an extremely diverse landscape. From the lush, wet jungles near Thurston lava tube to the dry forest and rocky beaches, there are tons of calderas, crevices, craters, and geothermal vents to be explored. Lava flows can be seen in person, but this is not encouraged by the park and often requires long hikes across hot, dry volcanic rocks.

Most people visiting the Big Island have one thing on their agenda: to see lava from an active volcano. There are two popular yet pricey ways to do this: via a lava boat tour, or from above via a helicopter ride. We initially tried to book a lava boat tour, but the trip was canceled due to rough water. That left us with one final day on the Big Island, which was also my birthday, meaning lava had to be seen somehow. I ended up having my biggest dream fulfilled: I got to ride in a helicopter! And see lava. I admit the helicopter part might have been a little more exciting to me.

Hawaii Big Island lava volcano helicopter

Kailua-Kona

Considered to be the center of commerce and the tourism industry in West Hawaii, Kailua-Kona (aka Kona) is a relatively new town on the Big Island. It is also dry and hot compared to the likes of say Hilo. Besides the world-famous Kona coffee, the town is also known for being the start and finish location of the Ironman World Championship triathlon, which felt all too evident with the masses of cyclists and roadrunners we saw. Cruise through the waterfront to enjoy the tourist shops and restaurants or hele on to the larger chain stores--even Costco, Target, and Ross have arrived in Kona.

Kua Bay

A short drive away from Kona is scenic Kua Bay, also known as Maniniowali beach. With its pristine white sand and clear, glassy blue-green water, you could swear this is the beach said to exist only in dreams. The only con is the lack of shade, so it is recommended to bring your own umbrellas or tents if you plan to stay long.

Kailua Kona Kua Bay Hawaii

Puuhonua o Honaunau

Located just south of Kona is Puuhonua o Honaunau, this national historic park spans 180-acres. Histoically, it was once known as the place of refuge for ancient Hawaiian lawbreakers. Very quiet and peaceful, Honaunau has an almost meditative natural quality to it. Also in the park are the Royal Grounds where the ali'i (kings) once lived.

Ka Lae (South Point)

The southernmost point of the 50 United States happens to be on the Big Island of Hawaii. Registered as a National Historic Landmark District under the name South Point Complex, this area is a large rocky cliff with blue ocean below. Wind currents are extremely strong in this area, causing many of the trees to bend and practically grow horizontal. Many fishermen will hang out here to catch the plentiful red snapper and ulua. Occasionally, a brave cliff diver will take the plunge over the edge, although strong winds make it a dangerous sport in this area.

Hawaii Kaena Southern Most Point

Green Sand Beach

Also known as Papakolea or Mahana Beach, Green Sand Beach is in the Ka'u district of the Big Island. It is one of two green sand beaches in the entire world, the other located in the Galapagos Islands. Green sand is so unique that it is illegal to take any away with you. This is a beach that must be hiked to via a nice stretch through dusty sand dunes. Alternatively, you can opt to grab a ride with locals for a fee or take your own four-wheel drive, but it is (supposedly) illegal to do so. On the bright side, the hike is rather short and makes for great photos.

Punalu'u Black Sand Beach

One of many black sand beaches on the Big Island is the famous Punalu'u Black Sand Beach. The distinctly darker sand is created by lava bursting as it flowed into the ocean. Although these beaches are popular among tourists, it is dangerous to swim since the surrounding rocks are sharp. On the bright side, turtles love to beach themselves here, so it is common to see Hawksbill or green sea turtle on the shore. Just keep your distance as these turtles are endangered species that are protected by state law.

Hawaii green sea turtle

Waimea

After a couple days of frying ourselves in the intense heat of the Volcanoes National Park and Kona, we sought cooler climates. We retreated to the rainier north end of the Big Island. Located inland, Waimea is known for its ranches and paniolo (Hawaiian cowboy) culture. Characterized by lush rolling hills, the center of town is Parker Ranch.  the largest privately owned cattle ranch in the United States. Beyond visiting the ranch and driving around to view the hills and cattle, there isn't much to be done in Waimea. However, it is a very relaxing town thanks to the lack of touristy activities in the area.

Hawi

The charming town of Hawi is the biggest little town in North Kohala. Full of boutiques, restaurants, art galleries and coffee shops, Hawi is actually quite a small town but we were delighted to find a kava bar here to make for a chill afternoon after running out of things to do in Waimea. Not far from Hawi is the small town of Kapaau where you can find the original statue of King Kamehameha I.

Polulu Valley Lookout

While Ka Lae is the southernmost point of Hawaii, its opposite is North Kohala, the northernmost point of the island. Polulu (meaning 'long spear') Valley is the first of five majestic valleys stretching across the coast. The lookout spot offers a comprehensive view of the cliffs and coastline, but a hike to the bottom of the valley and the black sand beach below is possible. We didn't attempt it this time around, settling for the gorgeous view instead.

Big Island Hawaii vista mountain range

Waipio Valley and Honokaa

From Waimea, we made the short drive over to the Waipio Valley, which was once the capital and permanent residence of the early Hawaiian ali'i (kings). Given the rich beauty of the valley, it isn't hard to see why kings chose to live here. On the downside, getting to the valley is a feat in itself. The road leading to the valley floor gains 800 vertical feet in 0.6 miles with a 25% average grade. Only 4-wheel drive vehicles are allowed, but it's a risk to attempt going down the extremely narrow.

Interestingly, Waipio Valley is one of the only places in the United States where wild horses still roam. But a handful of domesticated horses are kept in stables for horseback rides. Much of the inland part of the valley is still occupied by locals who keep taro farms. The beach side is open to the public where visitors can enjoy the majestic black sand beach.

In Conclusion

Of all the islands in Hawaii, the Big Island is one of the best to visit if you're seeking a glimpse into its rustic history. Its large expanse offers a variety of climates and environments to discover without the throngs of tourists and developments that you'll find on other neighboring islands.

Big Island Photo Gallery

 

Mission: Journey to Belize to Meet Santiago

Nearly nine months after we first met, Martin and I took our first international trip together to Belize. If you're wondering where in the hell Belize is, don't worry--it's definitely not an easily recognizable country for a lot of people. Located in Central America, Belize is sandwiched between Mexico, Guatemala, and the Caribbean sea. As a result of its unique placement and colonial history with Britain, Belize is a blend of hispanic, Creole, and European influences, making it among the most diverse regions of Central America. This was our first official Gemini Connect company trip to Belize to initiate our business with Santiago Juan, owner and operator of Hanna Stables and Nabitunich.

Mission: Visit Belize and collect multimedia for Hanna Stables.

Belize travel photography guide toucan

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2

Countries Visited [/tw-column]

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400

Miles traveled [/tw-column]

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16

Photo shoots completed [/tw-column]

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121.54

Miles walked [/tw-column]

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12.3

Miles ran [/tw-column]

Belize Guatemala trip itinerary

How We Ended Up in Belize

Several months earlier in May 2012, Martin ventured to the country via a Groupon Voucher, when he serendipitously met Santiago during a horseback riding tour of Hanna Stables. In an effort to revive his family's legendary tourism business, Santiago had begun by offering horseback rides to the Mayan pyramids, which was how he and Martin first met. However, Santiago intended to also re-open the lodge and cottages on his property to tourists and guests, but he needed some multimedia materials to promote this side of the business. Thus, Martin and I were among the first guests to stay at Nabitunich, and our trip was dedicated to photographing, filming, and documenting every single tourist service that Hanna Stables and Nabitunich would offer to businesses.

Our trip to Belize also came during a major transition point for Martin and I. Not only was it our first trip as company partners, but it also served as a bit of a career break before he accepted a new job role and I began my journey of self employment. As a result, we spent the first part of the trip apart. Martin went on vacation in Mexico, while I ventured to Las Vegas and Orlando; we reunited a week later in Belize to begin our shared adventure. This was Martin's second trip to Belize (in that same year!), and my first to Central America in general.

Belize travel photography guide

After reuniting at the airport in Belize City, we quickly hopped aboard a water taxi and were whisked 20 miles away to Caye Caulker, one of the most magical islands I've ever visited. A rather small limestone coral island off the coast of Belize and the Caribbean Sea, Caye Caulker spans just 5 miles (north to south) by 1 mile (east to west). There are just about 30 small hotels on the island, as well as small shops and restaurants in the main town of Caye Caulker Village. It's very walkable (we walked the entire island by foot), and no vehicles are allowed except for golf carts. During the day, we enjoyed water sports including kayaking, watching for manatees and dolphins, and snorkeling the famous Shark  Ray Alley and Belize Barrier Reef, the second largest barrier reef in the world. It was truly among the best ocean-related experiences we've had (and yes, I held a real shark). By night, we enjoyed the lazy nightlife scene on the island, sipping Belikin beers and eating fresh caught $5 lobsters.

Belize Mexico digital marketing agency

We spent several days in blissful paradise on Caye Caulker before we packed up and headed back to mainland Belize. From Belize City, we hopped into a private car and headed 90 minutes inland to the mountainous town of San Ignacio, where Hanna Stables and Nabitunich are located. The next 2 weeks were also a whirlwind of adventures, as we received the best hospitality from our host, Santiago. With a goal of sending us on every major tourist attraction in town for the sake of documenting it for his website, we did pretty much every tour known in San Ignacio.

  • Signature Hanna Stables Tours: Xunantunich Mayan ruins, San Lorenzo Organic Farm, and Actun Kan Mayan ruins by horseback.
  • Other famous attractions in the region: Mayan ruins (Caracol, El Pilar, Cahal Pech), Mountain Pine Ridge, ATM Cave, Martz Farm Treehouse Cabañas; and a day trip to Guatemala to stay in Flores and explore Tikal ruins and national park.

Santiago Hanna Stables Belize

In addition to seeing and experiencing all major tourist attractions in San Ignacio, we also spent a signifcant amount of time shadowing Santiago and documenting life at Hanna Stables and Nabitunich. The resulting product was not only a huge collection of images, but also a refreshed website for Hanna Stables, complete with an online booking system. Success!

Updates as of 2015:

Check out a recap from our second trip to Belize in 2014

Learn how we created a profitable business in Belize with no outside investment