travel

Tips for Attending the Sundance Film Festival

Tips for Attending the Sundance Film Festival

This year, I had the opportunity to attend the Sundance Film Festival and it was easily one of the most fun trips I've had. If you're planning to attend Sundance, here are some tips on how to have the best experience possible. 

How to Get an International Driving License Permit

How to Get an International Driving License Permit

Quiz: What do you need in order to drive a car abroad? If you answered "International Driving Permit," or IDP, you're correct! If the thought of getting a driving permit sounds intimidating, don't worry. It's actually quite simple to get one. Read on to learn what an IDP is, when and why you need it, and how to get one.

Day Trip to Orcas Island

Orcas Island San Juans Travel Guide
Orcas Island San Juans Travel Guide

Planning a trip to Seattle and wondering what else there is to do besides visiting the Space Needle and Pike Place? If you have a few days to spare, make plans to head up north to the San Juan Islands! This little enclave of Pacific Northwest Islands is a popular vacation spot among local Seattleites. But it's a lesser known region to those who haven't traveled Washington State. Below, we'll tell you how to get to the San Juans, as well as some suggested activities!

How to Get to the San Juan Islands

By Car and Ferry

Located a little over 100 miles north of Seattle, the San Juan Islands aren’t particularly far away. But they do require crossing a body of water. For many, this means driving two hours north from Seattle to Anacortes and catching a Washington State DOT ferry the rest of the way. The good news is that ferries can take passengers traveling on foot, bicycle, or motor vehicle. But the bad news is that ferries tend to sell out in high tourist season. When all is said and done, you can spend 3 or 4 hours getting the San Juans, one way. This means you’d best stay a night or two to make the most of it.

Orcas Island San Juans Travel Guide
Orcas Island San Juans Travel Guide

By Seaplane or Landplane

From Seattle, most seaplanes are run by Kenmore Air. The company runs both scheduled and chartered flights daily, and they operate both seaplanes and land planes. This last bit is important: if you want to ride a seaplane in particular, you must fly in and out of specific areas. Some cities are only accessed by landplane, and vice-versa. Seaplanes can seat up to 10 adults, plus luggage (stored in the lower floats).

Orcas Island San Juans Travel Guide
Orcas Island San Juans Travel Guide

Finding accommodations on the various San Juan Islands is relatively easy. Popular islands such as Orcas, San Juan, and Lopez Island have at least one main hotel or lodge catering to visitors. Advanced reservations are always recommended.

Kenmore Air Seaplane Orcas Island
Kenmore Air Seaplane Orcas Island

Getting Around Orcas Island

Once you arrive on Orcas Island, you will probably need transportation of some sort. If you are flying into a resort where you intend to stay overnight, such as Rosario Resort or Deer Harbor, you can probably get by without a car. But if you have plans to explore the island, you will want to reserve a taxi or a rental car in advance. Our advice is to rent a car from Orcas Island Shuttle. Simply give them a call and they'll set you up with some wheels. Orcas Island is big enough that you can't quite walk from one part to another, yet it's small enough that you'll want to see as much of the island as possible.

Orcas Island San Juans Travel Guide
Orcas Island San Juans Travel Guide

Where to Stay on Orcas Island

There are three main resorts on Orcas Island that welcome visitors. All resorts are spread out on their own corners of the island, and they can fill up fast in the summer. Reservations are recommended. Alternatively, there are also Airbnb rentals, but you will definitely want to have a car and GPS to navigate. There are also some camping sites located throughout Orcas Island. It's best to reserve your camp site in advance and make sure you bring proper camping gear.

What to Do on Orcas Island

Here at Gemini Connect, we're keen on creating the best travel experiences possible. On Orcas, there are many experiences to keep you fresh and occupied. There are several key reasons why people flock to Orcas in particular.

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1.To see Orca whales

What's a place called Orcas Island without Orca whale watching opportunities? Opt for a charter boat that will take you to sea for a few hours to find Orcas in the wild. Or simply park on the beach and look out towards the sea. It's not unusual to spot these giant killer whales from the shore.

2. To explore Eastsound

The biggest town on Orcas Island and second most populated in all of the San Juans is Eastsound. It's located smack dab in the middle of Orcas, and it even has a small airport for land planes (not seaplanes). Within Eastsound are several hotels, grocery stores, restaurants (including Hogstone and Aelder), and even a summer farmer's market.

Orcas Island San Juans Travel Guide
Orcas Island San Juans Travel Guide

3. To climb Mount Constitution

Orcas Island is home to the tallest peak in all of the San Juans: Mount Constitution. Sitting at an elevation of over 2,300 feet, this summit offers stunning views of all of the San Juans. On a clear day, you can even see the Canadian cities of Vancouver and Victoria in the distance! You can Mount Constitution summit either via a traditional hike or with a wheeled vehicle (bicycle or car).

Orcas Island San Juans Travel Guide
Orcas Island San Juans Travel Guide

4. To Hike

Besides Mount Constitution, there are a few other nature parks on Orcas Island that offer hiking trails. Moran State Park, which contains Mount Constitution, has shorter hikes near its base including a waterfall trail to Cascade Falls. Further west on the island is Turtleback Mountain Preserve, offering less populated hiking trails and equally stunning views.

Orcas Island San Juans Travel Guide
Orcas Island San Juans Travel Guide

Over To You

Have you ever visited Orcas Island or any of the San Juan Islands? How did you get there, and what did you do? Let us know in the comments below!

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Looking for more travel planning inspiration? Follow our Best of the Pacific Northwest Board on Pinterest for more ideas for your next adventure!

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Easy Hike in Deer Valley, Utah

Easy Hike in Deer Valley, Utah

When you think of Park City, Utah, you probably think snow and winter. That's a fair connection considering the 2002 Winter Olympics were hosted here. But there's so much more to Park City than its superb snow sports conditions.  Here are some easy hiking trail ideas for your next trip to Utah!

Is Airbnb Worth It?

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Airbnb has become one of the most popular ways for modern travelers to find unique accommodations around the world. As avid travelers, we've found everything from an organic farm stay in Belize to a studio apartment in the heart of Hong Kong on Airbnb, and it has certainly enhanced almost all of our travel experiences. We also manage a property in Belize and have experienced the pros and cons of being Airbnb hosts. We'll share our thoughts on the platform from both a guest and host experience and help you answer the question, "is Airbnb worth it?"

What is Airbnb?

First off, let's define what Airbnb stands for. It's short of Air Bed and Breakfast and was founded in August 2008 as a startup. Today, it is a company worth over $1 billion and is present in 192 countries worldwide. An online community marketplace, Airbnb is part of the sharing economy and it helps connect people looking to rent out their homes to travelers looking for a place to stay. At first, Airbnb appealed mainly to budget travelers, but today it is used by everyone from couch surfing tourists to savvy business travelers looking for a memorable experience.

There are two types of Airbnb users. One is the host who lists his or her property on the website. Property types can range from a couch in a home, a single room, apartment, moored yacht, houseboat, or even an entire house or estate. Hosts can create a listing for free and they determine how much to charge on a nightly, weekly, or monthly basis. Airbnb profits by taking a percentage of the total cost paid by the guest, who is the other type of Airbnb user.

Is Airbnb Worth It

How does Airbnb work?

As a marketplace, Airbnb has a database of property listings from around the world. Guests can search this database at any time to find a suitable property and submit a request to stay there. Hosts can approve or reject the request by examining the guest's profile. This is what establishes trust and safety, so it is important to have a thoughtful and honest profile as either or host or guest. If the host approves the travel request, the guest makes a payment online. Airbnb will then hold the payment for 24 hours after the guest checks in before releasing payment to the host.

Making Money on Airbnb

When hosting on Airbnb, there is certainly a decent amount of profit to be made. Most hosts will charge at least $50 per night, but the cost depends on location and the quality of your offering. You should also factor in other costs of hosting such as:

  • cleaning costs
  • higher utility bills
  • taxes
  • providing guest amenities (soap, toilet paper, etc)
  • Airbnb's host fee (3% for payment processing)

At the end of the day, being an Airbnb host can certainly bring in a substantial amount of money. But it can also be a part-time or even full-time job when you account for the time and money needed to be a rave-worthy host.

making money on Airbnb

Pros of Airbnb

All in all, Airbnb can be beneficial to both hosts and guests.

Host Benefits

For hosts, Airbnb provides property owners the opportunity to make use of extra space or property while earning side income. Some Airbnb hosts can make a lot of money just by renting their properties out. Airbnb also fosters a new kind of travel that encourages travelers to venture outside of comfortable tourist zones and off the beaten path. This is definitely our favorite aspect of using Airbnb.

As Airbnb hosts, we love the opportunity to get to know people from other parts of the world and share our unique travel insights with them. I mean, who better to ask for travel recommendations than someone who actually lives there? Airbnb is currently pushing this benefit in the form of its new experience hosts service that allows locals to create, sell, and host experiences for travelers.

Airbnb experience host

Guest Benefits

Airbnb also offers many benefits to travelers, namely those looking for a unique experience outside of traditional hotels and motels. This was our key reason for using Airbnb during our month-long trip to Asia. We wanted to visit different cities in Asia while getting a chance to experience life as a local. You definitely can't achieve this by staying in a hotel in a touristy area, but you totally can by staying in an Airbnb. Sometimes, we lucked out by renting out an entire apartment to ourselves. However, we also valued renting out a room where our host was present. The interaction with a local is definitely a unique aspect of using Airbnb.

Cons of Airbnb

For all of the pros of using Airbnb as both a host and guest, there are also some drawbacks or things that might make you wonder is Airbnb worth it?

Host Drawbacks

One of the biggest drawbacks of being an Airbnb host is the fact that you really have to get into the hospitality mindset. Hosting Airbnb guests definitely is not as a simple as hosting close friends or family. Many guests are seeking top notch accommodations including a clean room and bathroom, clean sheets and towels, and easy access to the host if problems arise. Some hosts might thrive on this, while others may find the hospitality aspect to be more than they bargained for. If the host doesn't perform to guest expectations, host profiles can get bad reviews that will deter future travelers from booking the listing. Guests may even be eligible to receive a refund for bad service, so you could also lose out monetarily. Luckily, Airbnb introduced the ability for hosts to hire a local co-host to help out.

Airbnb co-host

Airbnb hosts also need to make sure they are following local laws for renting their properties out. Some cities such as New York don't permit short-term renting, while others might require you to obtain special licenses or pay a specific tax.

The best way to avoid a negative Airbnb hosting experience is to be honest and upfront about your hosting style and what you have to offer in your profile and listing. Take photos and write descriptions that will help guests frame their expectations. If you can't guarantee a sparkling clean and organized rental for every guest, don't publish picture-perfect photos. Some guests will be ok with this, but it's all about giving them a sense of what to expect.

Guest Drawbacks

As a guest, the main risk in using Airbnb is no guarantee of what to expect. Unlike a major hotel chain, it's often hard to know if the host will be attentive and easy-going, or lazy and hard to get a hold of. A majority of our Airbnb experiences have been overwhelmingly positive, but we have had a few situations where the host was difficult to get along with. It was never a bad situation, but it certainly wasn't as easy as interacting with a hotel concierge who does the job professionally.

Another risk of using Airbnb to find accommodations is the fact that some property listings are illegal. State and local laws vary when it comes to renting a property. For example, in New York, it is illegal to sublet a home, apartment or room for less than 30 days unless you are a resident. Many other cities and countries have similar laws. While Airbnb issues this warning to hosts and guests on its website, there are no guarantees that the listings are 100% legal. Personally, we have rented out several Airbnb units where these laws were pretty clearly being violated. By the time we figured it out, it was too late to cancel, so we just had to roll with it. While nothing bad has ever happened to us, it's always a big risk.

Negative guest experiences typically have to do with unrealistic expectations. If you're expecting a 5-star luxury Airbnb experience, you should read the listing in its entirety and closely examine the photos before making a commitment. Airbnb requires host listings to be extremely honest and accurate, so what you see should be what you get. If not, you could appeal to Airbnb for a refund.

Singapore swimming pool

Is Airbnb Worth It?

The answer depends entirely on why you're trying Airbnb in the first place. If you're a host looking to meet new people and make some income off of an extra space or property that you have, Airbnb can be extremely beneficial. Just make sure you get into a hospitality mindset and that you get the necessary licenses and permits to legally rent your space out. Curious about how to become a stellar host? Check out these Airbnb tips for hosts. If you're a guest seeking a unique travel experience, Airbnb can definitely help you find something special. Just read the listing very carefully to understand what you're in for.

Have you tried Airbnb before? What was your experience like, and is Airbnb worth it to you? Let us know in the comments below.

Bonus: Airbnb Promo Code

Airbnb has enhanced our travel experiences, and we'd love for you to try it out for yourself. Use the promo code in this link to get a $20 credit toward your next Airbnb adventure.

Things to Do in Hong Kong

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Despite the relative expensiveness of Hong Kong, there are plenty of cheap or free things to do in Hong Kong. In fact, taking a long walk around the city with no particular destination in mind often led to beautiful parks and gardens, and even a free zoo and aviary. Many of the city's sightseeing attractions are free, and getting to them via a taxi or the metro is very affordable.

Getting Around Hong Kong

Between the MRT metro and incredibly cheap local taxis, Hong Kong is can be traversed very easily and affordably. There are also many walkways and paths throughout the city, so it is easy to traverse by foot. Perhaps the biggest initial challenge is getting from the Hong Kong International Airport to the city center (Central) since they are located about 25 miles apart.

The quickest cheapest way to get into Hong Kong from the airport is to take the Airport Express train. It leaves directly from inside the airport and connects to Hong Kong's larger metro station layout. It's about $100  Hong Kong dollars ($12 USD) for a one-way ticket, and trains run every 10 minutes. Another option is to catch a taxi from the airport to your final destination, which can cost $200-300 Hong Kong dollars ($25-39 USD).

9 Things to Do in Hong Kong

  1. Ride the world's longest elevator
  2. Party on a Friday night at Lan Kwai Fong
  3. Eat your heart out in SoHo
  4. Take a ride on the Hong Kong Observation Wheel
  5. Photograph Hong Kong's skyline at Victoria park
  6. See the birds at Edward Youde Aviary
  7. Take a day trip to Kowloon
  8. Escape to the beach at Repulse Bay
  9. Go for a hike

Things to do in Hong Kong

1) Ride the world's longest outdoor escalator

Spanning 2,600 feet at an elevation of 443 feet from top to bottom, the Central-Mid-Levels escalator in Hong Kong is the world's longest outdoor covered escalator. It was constructed in 1993 with the intent of helping commuters get around the city. Today it is also a tourist attraction and a practical solution for traversing some of the incredibly steep hills.

Mid-Levels Escalator in Hong Kong.

2) Party on a Friday night at Lan Kwai Fong

Hong Kong's loud party zone is Lan Kwai Fong. Located in the heart of the Central Business District, Lan Kwai Fong's roads are blocked off and locals and tourists alike emerge to party the night away. The busiest nights by far are Friday and Saturday. Featuring cobble-stoned streets, the area is full of trendy restaurants, bars, and nightclubs, surrounded by the city's nearby skyscrapers. While bars will charge quite a bit for cocktails and booze, it's perfectly acceptable to get cheap drinks at 7-Eleven and drink in the streets. In fact, that's probably one of the cheapest and easiest ways to socialize and really experience the full party scene at Lan Kwai Fong.

Lan Kwai Fong Hong Kong

3) Eat your heart out in Soho

Located next to Lan Kwai Fong, Soho is the main entertainment district of Hong Kong, featuring an array of hip and diverse eateries and bars, all contained within colonial architecture. It's also the hipster area of town, full of Western food and drink options including craft beer from Oregon! Curious about other foodie hotspots in town? Check out the Hong Kong Food Guide for ideas and recommendations.

hong kong restaurants

4) Take a ride on the Hong Kong Observation Wheel

A very distinct marker on the harborfront is the flashy ferris wheel. Fun to take photos of and a ride as well if you're willing to shell out for the ticket.

Hong Kong things to do5) Photograph Hong Kong's skyline at Victoria Peak

Hike up by foot for free, or pay to get up quicker via tram. Go up for sunset and stick around until around 7:00 pm to see the city come alive with the nightly light show. Word of caution: if the weather is overly foggy, hold off and visit on a clear day. The whole point of Victoria Peak is to enjoy the expansive city view, so a foggy day will be a waste.

Victoria Peak Hong Kong skyline

6) See the birds at Edward Youde Aviary

Nestled in the south corner of Hong Kong Park, is a large 32,000 square foot walk-through aviary. Free to the public, the aviary houses 600 birds that are indigenous to Southeast Asia, Indonesia, and New Guinea. Named after one of the city's late governors, Edward Youde Aviary is considered the largest aviary in Southeast Asia.

Edward Youde bird aviary7) Take a day trip to Kowloon

Located on the peninsula north of Hong Kong Island, Kowloon is one of the most densely populated places in the world. However, compared to Soho and the rest of "downtown" Hong Kong, Kowloon feels less chaotic and much more livable. Two key areas of Kowloon include the budget hotel district of Tsim Sha Tsui and the shopping markets of Mong Kok.

hong kong food guide

8) Escape to the beach at Repulse Bay

Hop aboard a public bus or take a taxi about 30 minutes south of downtown Hong Kong and you'll find yourself in a cluster of urban beaches. This urban retreat features modern shopping malls and dining facilities. There are also outdoor recreation areas including a designated swim areas and even an outdoor golf course.

Repulse Bay

9) Go for a hike

While Hong Kong is indeed a crazy concrete jungle, it also has its fair share of nature hikes. One of the most scenic and relatively easy hikes begins at Parkview and ends at Wilson Trail Stage One. It's an incredibly scenic hike with stunning views of Hong Kong and Repulse Bay. Unfortunately, the weather was foggy on the day of our hike, so we did not get a clear view. To get to Parkview, take bus 6 or 61 from Exchange Square Terminus in Central to Wong Nai Chung Gap. Or you can simply take a taxi directly to Parkview.

Hong Kong hikingOver To You

Share your favorite things to do in Hong Kong in the comments below!

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.

meat-market-1.jpg

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.

How a Business in Belize Bought Us a Brand New Company Vehicle

This past May, our travel company Gemini Connect achieved its biggest milestone yet: pooling together all of our profits and buying a brand new Subaru Impreza in cash. It was a moment that was two and half years in the making and a success story in itself as it not only allowed our company to prosper, but also help transform a small family-owned business in Central America to triple its sales. How on Earth did we end up doing business in a tiny town in Belize, and what skills could we possibly have to offer? Read on to find out!

How It All Started

Today, we have collectively visited Belize three times. Our first trip to Belize took place in 2012, and we ventured from Caye Caulker (one of the islands), all the way inland to San Ignacio and Tikal. In 2014, our second return trip occurred, consisting of a trip to San Pedro island, San Ignacio, and a fishing village of Placencia. But we weren't always this familiar with Belize.

"Wanna do business in Belize?" It's not very often someone utters those words to you, but in June 2012, that was the million-dollar question Martin was posing for me. He had just returned from a vacation in Belize that was initially spurred by a Groupon voucher, and he came bearing not only a great tan and vacation photos, but a business prospect on hand. While visiting the mountainous town of San Ignacio, he happened to go on a horseback riding tour with Santiago Juan, a charismatic Belizean who had just returned to his home country after spending his youth traveling the world. He was taking the reins at his family business, a lodge known as Nabitunich Stone Cottages and Hanna Stables horseback riding outfit, both located on a 400-acre spread of organic farming land located just a few miles away from the main tourist attraction in town, Xunantunich Mayan ruins. Both businesses were active in the 1980s and 1990s, but had been shut down when Santiago's parents decided to retire. Santiago was now on a mission to revive the operations for tourists, beginning with offering horseback rides, and eventually re-opening the cottages to guests.

Santiago Juan leading a tour in Belize.

Santiago Juan leading a tour in Belize.

How would Martin and I get involved? By offering our technology-based services of web design and development, and online marketing to help increase awareness of Santiago's newly revived business, and thus increase sales as well.

Sales marketing email
Sales marketing email

Lesson 1: Choose good business partners.

Since the bread and butter of the business we were selling relied so much on the in-person experience, it was crucial that everything about that service was topnotch off the bat. During subsequent trips to Belize when we attempted to replicate this model with other sub-par small businesses, we became even more appreciative than before of Santiago's hospitable yet highly entrepreneurial personality that it turns out is very hard to find. With Santiago's business, this wasn't a problem, given his extremely high rating on Trip Advisor, one of the biggest lead generation platforms for us today. There's a reason why pretty much every guest review written about Hanna Stables and Nabitunich is rave-worthy, and that reason is Santiago.

Lesson 2: Other countries have different standards when it comes to doing business.

You'd have thought I learned this in my international business courses in college, but it's entirely different to learn this lesson in real life. Given that Belize is located in Central America, accepts US dollars, and even has English as its official language, there have been expected twists and turns while doing business in Belize, some for better, and others for worse. Our first big surprise came in the form of the state of online business in Belize. We were relieved to find out that pretty much every tourist establishment in Belize does indeed have a website, and not too surprised to learn that every single website was a couple years behind in design and technology. This lack of technology was how we quickly identified the problem we were out to solve.

Here in the United States, particularly in Seattle, we've become accustomed to instant gratification. When booking a trip, for instance, we expect to know within seconds if there's availability at a lodge or on a tour, and book and possibly even pay for that service online without a third-party intermediary. These same luxuries of instant feedback and confirmation are largely non-existent outside of the USA, particularly in Belize, where the booking process for a prospective guest goes something like this:

Step 1: Fill out a guest inquiry form.

Step 2: Submit it online.

Step 3: Vendor on the other end receives the booking request and must manually check calendars and confirm availability (or lack thereof).

Step 4: Vendor confirms availability and quotes a rate to the guest.

Step 5: Guest receives rate and either accepts, counter-offers, or asks more questions.

There are many problems with this older model, such as waiting a long time for availability to be confirmed, and then having to make sense of email strings and unrelated forms to properly piece together and organize the guests' final itinerary. Our main mission was to address these inefficiencies and help bring online booking best practices to Belize. We did so using the techniques described in the next section.

Lesson 3: There's no need to reinvent the wheel (even as an entrepreneur)

This is one of Martin's favorite sayings, and it's one that we have applied to many aspects of our business. While our premise of developing an online booking system for Hanna Stables was (and still is) revolutionary in Belize, it's a problem that has been solved in many other parts of the world. We ideally planned to develop a custom booking platform from scratch, but quickly realized that this method would take us a significant amount of time. In the meantime, it was December - the beginning of busy season for tourism in Central America, and it was best that we adopt tried and true methods to create an immediate solution that Hanna Stables could begin benefitting from immediately. Those solutions came to us in the form of WordPress, WooCommerce, and PayPal, costing us a grand total of just $150 a year in web hosting. Our new and improved online booking process allows guests to find, book, reserve a room or tour, and receive a detailed itinerary and receipt all within a matter of minutes. It may sound basic to most, but this was and still is a revolutionary solution for a small business in Belize. This solution was engineered and implemented in less than a month, and we officially began collecting online reservations and payments in December 2012.

Hanna Stables Airbnb listing
Hanna Stables Airbnb listing

Another way we made use of other existing platforms was in deciding to take advantage of Nabitunich accommodations by listing them on Hostel World and Airbnb in early 2013. Being listed on these highly popular directories gave us visibility to a whole new market of potential guests, and Airbnb in particular has become a huge lead generator, even during our perceived low seasons.

Lesson 4: Some business problems are out of your control, but there's (almost) always a solution.

Even after we developed and implemented the online payment system, we quickly ran into a BIG problem. Our system was such that guests were paying the full balance of the tour or accommodations online, leaving Gemini Connect with thousands of dollars that we had to somehow wire transfer to Santiago's bank account in Belize. Online banking is but a dream for Belizeans, so direct deposits or web-based transfers weren't possible. Instead, we spent that first year going to Western Union to wire non-trivial sums of money to Belize, until they eventually grew suspicious and blocked us from doing so. Using traditional methods, there was no easy way to get Santiago's money. That's when we developed a rather simple solution: having guests pay an online deposit to secure their reservations, giving us peace of mind that they are committed to showing up, and also serving as a commission payment to Gemini Connect. The remaining balance was then collected in Belize once the service was rendered, eliminating the need for wire transfers. Simple, yet it solved a slew of problems for  all parties.

Lesson 4: Know your value, but be flexible when it comes to having it fulfilled.

This point relates similarly to lesson 2 since it has to do with understanding cultural and economic differences in other countries. Martin and I highly value and price our services according to U.S. standards, but we had to seriously reconsider our rates when dealing with a country like Belize, where cost of living is such that many people can live comfortably off of a few thousand dollars per year. We never harbored illusions of being paid in cash hourly  even part of what we'd normally charge, and instead worked with Santiago to develop the above-mentioned deposit system. It would be a series of small, gradual payments, but as we soon saw, it didn't take much to start getting sizable profits.

Lesson 5: You don't need a big operation to make a big difference

One of the biggest takeaways that we are continually mystified by was how seemingly simple yet highly effective our work in Belize has been, and all it took was a friendly in-person chance meeting and a few emails to initiate. Since then our 2-person team has been able to repeatedly sell out a resort in Central America. As we've pointed out, this doesn't mean doing business internationally is a cake walk, but it truly doesn't take much to begin solving and profiting from real business problems anywhere in the world as long as you have the motivation and skills.

Lesson 6: To scale an ambitious business you need real software

So far so good, this experience has been rewarding in many ways, but to truly become something beyond a part time business for 2 people, this venture has to scale.We've estimated that to afford to be dedicated full time to this endeavor which we love, we need 40 partners like Hanna Stables. This is of course impossible with the hastily put together solution which relies on third party product - it can only service  a few clients at a time. For this we need a custom proprietary software tailored to our exact operation.  The monetary reward is nice, but by far the most important thing we have gained so far is the opportunity to invent a scalable business model which can let our company grow indefinitely.

Conclusion

This in a nutshell is our success story of doing business in Belize. To get started core of the business strategy was rather simple, including the way it was initiated, although it certainly provided its own set of challenges, but not without great reward. Based on our first 2 years of operation we are now actively developing software to satisfy a much broader model which when finished will put our company on the travel industry map alongside the biggest players.

Below is a brief timeline summarizing our main business accomplishments:

Gemini Connect Business Timeline

  • May 2012: Martin's first trip to Belize when he met Santiago/Hanna Stables.
  • July 2012: Agreed upon a business deal with Hanna Stables.
  • August 2012: The brand new Hanna Stables website debuts online.
  • November 2012: Gemini Connect LLC is formed; we venture to Belize to capture multimedia footage for web.
  • December 2012: Online booking reservation system and payments were introduced, along with a revamped website full of shiny new photos and content.
  • February 2014: Online deposit payments are introduced, eliminating wire transfers.
  • March 2014: Scalable business model invented and software development on it begun
  • May 2015: Gemini Connect reinvests profits and buys a brand new company car in cash to foster a US West Coast expansion
  • (Projected) January 2016 - Release of Gemini Connect's scalable software
Taking our new Subaru Impreza for a spin!

Taking our new Subaru Impreza for a spin!

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

[/tw-column] [tw-column width="one-half" position="last"]

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.

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