Exploring Closer to Home: A Week in Northern New Mexico

We arrived home in Denver about 1 month earlier than we had intended. Because of this, we had one more month of summer to figure out. We were feeling a bit antsy and were working through a lot of feelings related to our experience in Nepal during the earthquake. We knew that Eric’s parents already had a short vacation planned in Red River, NM. We decided to drive down and join them and give ourselves a little bit more time to explore a bit closer to home. If you’d like to learn more about how to support Nepal after the earthquake, there are a few ideas here.

We loaded our car, making sure to be extra prepared. Our recent experiences in Nepal made us super aware of the variety of things that could possibly go wrong. We made sure to carry extra gas, extra warmth, extra food, etc. We drove through some excellent scenery south from Denver towards New Mexico. We arrived to Red River right around sunset and right before a downpour started.

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It turned out that May in Red River was a low time for visitors. We were reminded of our experiences with walking dead tourism in Turkey as we had to go to 3 different places to find an open restaurant for dinner!

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Taos

The next day we headed out to visit Taos. We were excited to add another UNESCO site to our list as well as explore a town we had never really seen. Our first stop was the town visitor center where we picked up a self-guided walking tour guide and got more information about things to do in the area. But, our first stop was Taos Pueblo.

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Taos Pueblo is an ancient Pueblo about 1 mile outside of Taos. It is designated a UNESCO world heritage site. The site is made up of several multi-story adobe buildings that have been continuously inhabited for more than 1000 years.

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When visiting Taos Pueblo, you pay an entrance fee which includes a tour of the site by a native of the Pueblo. We enjoyed this tour, on which we learned a bit about the history of the Pueblo and more about the culture and traditions of the people who have lived there for so long.

We learned that the oldest buildings were built perhaps sometime between 1000 and 1400 AD. Currently there are about 150 people who live in the pueblo. The Puebloan families own a home within the Pueblo that they use for holidays and religious ceremonies, though they often live outside the Pueblo. The Pueblo and about 48,000 acres of mountain land above the valley belong to the native people. They structure their own government and education system within the Pueblo.

We learned a bit more about how the adobe structures are built and maintained. In addition, we toured St. Jerome’s Church and learned more about the religion that the Puebloan people practice. They are about 90% Catholic, but ancient (and secretive) native rituals are performed alongside the Catholic traditions.

We were surprised to learn that they are a very secretive people. Our guide was not allowed to describe any of the private rituals, ceremonies, or holidays observed in the Pueblo. He was also not allowed to describe much of the native religious beliefs or education practices.

Please check out the Taos Pueblo website to learn more about this fascinating site.

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After our visit to the Taos Pueblo, we headed back into modern Taos. We spent the rest of the afternoon exploring there. First we visited the iconic St. Francisco de Asis Church, which was made famous by artists such as Georgia O’Keefe and Ansel Adams who painted/photographed it. Then we headed back downtown to follow our self-guided walking tour. We walked up Kit Carson Avenue past art shops, through Taos Plaza and inside the old courthouse to see some murals. Then we headed through Guadalupe Plaza and up LeDoux street. At the end of LeDoux, there was a winery tasting room. Della was intrigued and Donna and Steve had never been to a winery, so we headed inside to take a break and get a few tasters. We enjoyed most of them, though Donna decided that she really doesn’t enjoy most red wine. We finished the tour at an old settlement a few blocks away, enjoying the lovely light as the sun started a slow descent.

We then drove out to the Rio Grande Gorge Bridge, which appears in the middle of a flat plain way over the Rio Grande below. We parked and walked out on to the bridge. A bit scary looking down, and when it vibrated with trucks passing by. But the views were really incredible.

We started to head home, but made a last minute decision to stop at Taos Mesa Brewing Company on the same road. It seemed to be in the middle of nowhere but it was packed with people for trivia night! We got a bunch of samplers of beer and dinner.

Wild Rivers Recreation Area

The next day we decided to head to Wild Rivers Recreation Area which was about a 1 hour drive from Red River. Again, the park seemed mostly empty. In fact, when we first headed to the ranger station, it was closed. Luckily, a ranger showed up a few minutes later to give us some advice. He recommended checking out the confluence of the Rio Grande and Red Rivers and then doing the Big Arsenic Springs trail. We ate lunch at the confluence, enjoyed the windy view and then headed to the trailhead. We hiked a mile down on some rocky trail (making us cross our fingers for no earthquakes). Near the bottom we moved through a campground and on to some petroglyphs. After a quick snack, we headed down the river to Little Arsenic camp and then head up the canyon from there. It was a little longer than anticipated, so made for good exercise.

Valles Caldera National Preserve

We were heading to Chaco Canyon next, so had a couple hours driving to get there. We left after brunch and made a few stops along the way. We enjoyed a quick wine tasting at La Chiripada Winery in Dixon. This was a much less structured tasting than the last, but enjoyable as well. We stopped for lunch in Los Alamos. The on and off rain we had been experiencing all day lead us to keep driving. We headed out of town toward the Valles Caldera National Preserve. We arrived late afternoon in some mist and rain without much of a plan of what to do. Fortunately, the park wasn’t busy and a ranger offered to give give us a guided tour of the Caldera in his van. He was able to give us lots of information about the caldera’s geology, history, and status as a park. The park is unique because the land is owned by the Federal Government but is managed by a trust. This has created an interesting experiment in land management. The trust does continuing ranch operations while opening the preserve to visitors. We also stopped at an interpretation cabin and listened to another employee tell us more about the area and about some of the movies and TV shows that have been filmed in the preserve. These include the 2013 version of The Lone Ranger with Johnny Depp and the TV series Longmire.

Chaco Culture National Historical Park

We drove from Valles Caldera to the small town of Cuba, which we had read was the closest town to our next destination, Chaco Culture National Historical Park (also known as Chaco Canyon). We got one of the last rooms at one of the few motels in town, the Frontier. We had a nice New Mexican dinner at El Bruno’s just down the road – much better than what we expected for such a small town!

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Getting to Chaco Canyon requires quite the journey. The last 13 miles of the road are unpaved and rough, but our Subaru handled it well. The main attraction at the canyon is visiting the extensive ruins built by the Chaco culture between 900 and 1150 AD (a little before the well-known cliff dwellings at Mesa Verde), now a UNESCO World Heritage site. We picked up some maps and headed out to hike the different self-guided trails through the best-preserved of the ruins.

The first set of ruins, called Una Vida, is just outside of the visitor center. It was windy and cold, so we bundled up and set out on the trail. A small brochure described how the structures we were seeing were part of what seems like a pueblo or some other gathering place for a large group of people, with ceremonial kivas scattered throughout. One of the most interesting parts was the masonry: the walls were built with many small flat rocks stacked on top of one another. We also took a side trail up the canyon wall to see some petroglyphs.

We drove through the park and stopped at the trailhead for the two biggest sites: Pueblo Bonito and Chetro Ketl. We had just started our tour through Pueblo Bonito when a hailstorm hit, leading us to take shelter pressed up against one of the ancient walls. Once the storm passed, we continued our tour of this massive example of what archaeologists call a “Great House,” since it seems to be a living structure for a large number of people. This one, a large multi-story complex, had at least 650 rooms at its height. The path took us through some small doorways and into some of the structures.

The sun came out as we passed by more petroglyphs on of walk to Chetro Ketl, another Great House. This one was a little smaller, having about 500 rooms.

We were running out of time in the day, so we rushed over to our final stop, Casa Rinconada. The attraction here is a massive Great Kiva, a ceremonial structure seen in all Ancient Puebloan sites. When in use, it was covered with a roof and had a fire going inside in a large fire pit. It functioned as a place for religious and cultural ceremonies.

Around 1140 AD, the Chacoan culture collapsed, perhaps caused by a severe drought. Archaeologists think that the people migrated to neighboring communities, but do not know definitively. Many of the Native American tribes in the area, such as the Hopi and Pueblo, have oral traditions that describe the people from Chaco Canyon as their ancestors.

As we left the park, the sun came out again, and a beautiful rainbow crossed from one side of the canyon to the other.  It was a picturesque end to our time in New Mexico. We split from Eric’s parents; with them headed back to Texas and the two of us headed north to Colorado for a visit to another UNESCO site. It was an enjoyable time, and a good way for us to get another small taste of traveling as we adjusted to life back home.

What Were the Cheapest Places We Stayed?

Over the course of our round-the-world trip, we stayed in quite a variety of accommodations, from campsites to dorm rooms to AirBnb apartments. The price range varied widely as well. We ran some numbers and came up with a list of the 10 cheapest places we stayed. The price shown is the total cost for the two of us.

This does not include the nights where we had free accommodations by staying with friends and family, or when our parents treated us, or when we were on an overnight form of transportation.

10. Tie – AirBnb in Sarajevo and Emerald BB in Battambang, Cambodia – $15.33/night

When with Della’s parents in Sarajevo, Bosnia and Herzegovina, we got a nice two-bedroom unit with a large living room and kitchen for very cheap. Spoiler alert: this is the only place on the list that is not in Asia!

The living room of our Sarajevo Airbnb

The living room of our Sarajevo Airbnb

In Battambang, Cambodia, we got a nice room with an ensuite bathroom at the Emerald BB. Despite the name, breakfast was not included, and the building felt more like a hotel.

Our room at the Emerald BB in Battambang, Cambodia

Our room at the Emerald BB in Battambang, Cambodia

9. TopSky Hostel in Siem Reap, Cambodia – $15/night

We switched to this place for our last three nights in Siem Reap. Despite what the name implies, this felt more like a guesthouse. We got a private room with an ensuitre bathroom and A/C, which was nice to come back to after long days exploring the temples of Angkor.

Topsky

Topsky

8. Easy Tiger Hostel, Phong Nha, Vietnam – $14.85/night

We each got a bunk in the 4-bunk dorms at this popular hostel in Phong Nha. The dorm did have its own bathroom. Surprisingly, this is the only dorm that makes the list (since as you can see, private rooms are still pretty cheap in Asia).

 

The Easy Tiger

The Easy Tiger

7. Nonni Guesthouse, Chiang Mai, Thailand – $14.68/night

We stayed here on our first two nights in Chiang Mai but moved to a different place for a little more space, as the room was a little small and we had a shared bathroom across the hall. It had friendly and helpful staff.

Our first accommodations in Chiang Mai

Our first accommodations in Chiang Mai

6. Gieng Ngoc Hotel, Cat Ba, Vietnam – $14.60/night

Impressive because we even “splurged” for a room with a balcony overlooking the scenic Cat Ba harbor!

The view of Cat Ba harbor from our balcony

The view of Cat Ba harbor from our balcony

5. Hotel Bright Star, Kathmandu, Nepal – $12/night

This family-run hotel had a nice location in the tourist area of Kathmandu, and the owner was very kind and helpful. We really hope that he is able to rebuild his place that was damaged after the neighboring building collapsed in the earthquake.

Hotel Bright Star on its quiet street

Hotel Bright Star on its quiet street

4. Sunny Hotel, Hue, Vietnam – $11.97/night

We had a nice but small room on the top floor of this friendly hotel in Hue. We got a lot of exercise walking up and down the stairs to get there!

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3. Vadsana, Pak Beng, Laos – $9.92/night

This was where we stayed on our first night of our trip on the slow boat from Luang Prabang to Thailand. It was a basic room but decent-sized room, and we didn’t spend much time here anyway.

Della and Eric's hotel room

Della and Eric’s hotel room

2. Thanomsub, Huay Xai, Laos – $8.68/night

This was our room the second night of the slow boat trip in this border town. We were able to lower the rate slightly by negotiating as a group with other people on our boat. Again this was quite a bit of room for a small fee.

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1. Surya Peak Guest House, Syabru Besi, Nepal – $2/night

By far our cheapest room of the entire trip was at this guesthouse at the start of our Langtang Trek. It was pretty basic, with thin walls and a very rustic bathroom down the hall, but there weren’t many other people staying there so it was quite comfortable.

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It’s interesting to us to look back over this list and realize how many of these “cheap” places were actually very comfortable to stay at. Many people think that to afford a long trip you have to only stay in the rattiest dorms, but as you can see, in many parts of the world you can get your own room with its own bathroom and not have to break the bank.

 

We’ve Finished our RTW, so What Was Our Favorite… Food?!

We’ve finished our RTW trip. We get a lot of questions about our favorite things on the trip. We’ve decided to start a new series called “So, What Was Our Favorite…” We visited 29 countries on our RTW: Egypt (just 1 day), South Africa, Botswana, Zimbabwe (just 1 day), Namibia, Germany (just 1 day), Czech Republic, Poland, Slovakia, Hungary, Croatia, Slovenia, Bosnia Herzegovina, Montenegro, Albania, Greece, Turkey, Ireland, USA, Myanmar, Singapore, Indonesia (just Bali), Cambodia, Laos, Thailand, Vietnam, Hong Kong, Macau, and Nepal.

This first edition will cover our 5 favorite cuisines from the countries we visited. These are in order!

5th Favorite: Greek

We spent almost a month in Greece and we only just barely got sick of eating the same kind of food every day. We loved eating delicious Greek salads, and particularly enjoyed slurping up tzatziki sauce. Della, in particular, loved the constant access to delicious olives. Souvlaki wasn’t bad either =)

4th Favorite: Singaporean

We were delighted with the huge variety of food available in Singapore. It is a combination of Indian, Indonesian, and Chinese flavors. We also particularly enjoyed one of their national dishes: laksa.

3rd Favorite: Bosnian

We had been a little tired of some of the food we had been eating in Central Europe which consisted of a lot of heavy meat, starches, and very few vegetables. We were thrilled when we arrived in Bosnia and found much more variety than we had been expecting. We had the best of the meat with cevapi and easy, quick food with burek. But we also suddenly had access to stuffed green peppers. In addition, the food was considerably more affordable than all of our prior countries. Yum!

2nd Favorite: Vietnamese

Overall, the best part of our trip food wise the second half in SE Asia. We really enjoyed all of the noodle and curry dishes in most of the countries in 2015. However, Vietnam really stood out. We had some really great pho, which is one of our go-to foods here at home. But, we also had access to a variety of other delicious Vietnamese foods including spring rolls, bun cha (vermicelli), and many other great soups! Basically, there was very few things we tried in Vietnam that we didn’t love. And, to top it all off, it was quite affordable.

Favorite Food in the World: Thai

This wasn’t unexpected. Thai food is Della’s favorite ethnic cuisine here at home as well. But, the ease of access to really great, really affordable food made Thailand the clear best. They have a wide variety of delightful noodle dishes including some of our favorites: pad thai and pad see ewe. On top of that, we often enjoyed delicious curries of all varieties. Street food was easy to come by and we found several great spring rolls as well. We were excited enough to take a cooking class to learn how to make it easily at home!

RTW Budget: Under $100/day??

This is one of our Budget series of posts to give you an idea of how much we spent traveling around the world. This is our wrap up post which will answer the questions you’ve all been dying to know: How much did we spend on our 10 month RTW trip? Did we meet our goal of spending an average of $100/day?

Let’s find out!

Total Spent (309 days): $29,827.38

We visited 29 countries on our RTW trip and were on the trip for 309 days. Egypt (just 1 day), South Africa, Botswana, Zimbabwe (just 1 day), Namibia, Germany (just 1 day), Czech Republic, Poland, Slovakia, Hungary, Croatia, Slovenia, Bosnia Herzegovina, Montenegro, Albania, Greece, Turkey, Ireland, USA, Myanmar, Singapore, Indonesia (just Bali), Cambodia, Laos, Thailand, Vietnam, Hong Kong, Macau, and Nepal.

We did return to the USA for a few weeks in December, so we were actually out of the country for 282 days.

A few other things to remember while reading these stats:

1. Our parents visited us several times along the way. This screws with the numbers a little bit because they did choose to “play the parent card” a number of times which lowers our cost. However, there were certain situations where we stayed in slightly higher quality places, or traveled at a faster speed when they were with us which might have slightly increased our cost.

2. When we were at home in the States our accommodation cost/food cost were very low.

3. When were in the states, we bought Christmas presents for friends and family which we did include in our final numbers.

Accommodation: $7,869.29

This was 26% of our total cost of the trip.

Activities: $3,456.50

This was 11% of our total trip cost.

Alcohol: $593.38

We only count alcohol costs when it is not purchased with other food. This was 2% of the our total trip cost.

Food: $5,401.19

This was 18% of our total trip cost.

Miscellaneous: $1,768.08

This category includes any costs that don’t fit into the other categories. It could be things like postcards, souvenirs, laundry, bathroom, our wordpress costs, etc. This was 6% of our total cost.

Transportation: $10,129.86

This was 34% of the total cost. This is surprising to us because we used airline miles for the majority of our large flight costs, which means that this is significantly lower than it could have been!

Visas: $609.07

This is 2% of the total cost.

This divides out to $96.53/day including our time at home! We were so thrilled that we met our $100/day average for the two of us!

 

RTW Expenses

Monthly Recap: Month 10

Well, this monthly recap is very late! It would have come out, should everything have been normal, on May 2nd. However, as many of you know, we were actually getting ready to come home after experiencing the Earthquake in Nepal on May 2nd. Because of that earthquake, Month 10 turned out to be the last month of our trip… We had been planning on making it until Month 11, but the world had other plans for us. Month 10 had some great times as well as some not so great times (see aforementioned earthquake). Let’s recap, shall we?!

Here are our stats for this month.

Countries visited:  3 (Vietnam, China, and NepalSpecial Administrative Regions: 2 (Hong Kong and Macau)

Beds Slept In: Tarps Slept Under:Embassies Slept In: 1 (Hopefully the first and last of our life.)

UNESCO Heritage Sights Visited: 7 (My Son Sanctuary, Complex of Hue MonumentsPhong Nha – Ke Bang National ParkCentral Sector of the Imperial Citadel of Thang Long – HanoiHa Long BayHistoric Centre of MacaoKathmandu Valley) *** As of July of 2015, there are have been many new UNESCO sites added! We were pretty excited that two places that we visited on our RTW were now recently added! YAY! Those include Singapore Botanical Gardens (visited in Month 7) and Ephesus (visited in Month 5). Total on RTW: 49

We traveled by 3 planes this month.

We traveled by 4 boats this month.

We traveled 4 long distance buses/minibuses.

We traveled by 1 train this month.

We traveled by 2 helicopters this month.

Top Moments:

~ Our biggest emotional high was when we were rescued by helicopter from Bamboo Village in Nepal. We had never ridden in a helicopter before and on that day, we rode two. We couldn’t have had better scenery: the beautiful Himalayas of Nepal. Despite the destruction caused by the earthquake and landslides, Nepal is a gorgeous country, well worth a visit! If you are interested in supporting Nepal after the devastating earthquake, check out some ideas here

 

Runners Up for Top Moments:

~We had an absolutely lovely day biking through the outskirts of Hoi An. We went a bit off the beaten track and biked through rice fields to a great beach! Good day all around.

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~We rushed through Phong Nha National Park in order to see some of the renowned caves there. We struggled with which tour to choose, but ultimately went with a general tour of three caves. It was all amazing, but our favorite part was experiencing swimming through a mud bath in the Dark Cave. It was hard to explain the feeling of floating through a pool of mud – how we imagine it would feel to be on the moon – almost weightless! Overall, a lot of fun!

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~We really enjoyed lots of places in Vietnam, but another great day was when we kayaked through the karsts in Lan Ha Bay. We had a lovely day in great scenery!

Getting used to the kayak

Getting used to the kayak

~Another great day was when we took the funicular up Hong Kong Peak. Great weather – it wasn’t too hot way up there, and  you just couldn’t beat the views!

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Items Missing, Broken, Discarded, or Added:

 

Honestly, we don’t really remember… Sorry!

Packing Update:

We were glad that we had held on to our colder weather gear because we used every bit of it in Nepal. It was particularly good when we hit an emergency situation and ended up having to sleep outside for 5 nights.

Books Read: (Have you read any of these??)

Della has read All the Pretty Horses by Cormac McCarthy (4)

Eric has read Overkill by James Barrington (2), Gods of War by John Toland (4)

Eric and Della have BOTH read Tai-Pan by James Clavell (4)

The rating system is for Della’s mom who is refusing to look at Goodreads. It is 1 to 5, 5 being the highest.

Make sure to catch up on all our monthly recaps: Monthly Recap 1, Monthly Recap 2, Monthly Recap 3,Monthly Recap 4, Monthly Recap 5, Monthly Recap 6, Monthly Recap 7, Monthly Recap 8, Monthly Recap 9

Budget: Hong Kong

This is one of our Budget series of posts to give you an idea of how much we spent traveling around the world. Here we will look at Hong Kong and Macau. Check our posts to see what kind of activities we did and where we stayed!

In Hong Kong we used the Hong Kong Dollars. We converted to US dollars using the current conversion rates at the time of our visit. It was approximately 8 Hong Kong Dollars to $1.00.

Total Spent (6 days): $649.26

Accommodation: $258.43

This felt very expensive compared to the prior countries we had been visiting in southeast Asia. It was a tiny room for a lot of money!

Activities: $59.41

This included taking the peak tram, cable car to the Big Buddha, and a few museums.

Alcohol: $5.16

We only count alcohol costs when it is not purchased with other food. This was only 1 beer! Very different from Vietnam!

Food: $151.24

Again, we had a big of sticker shock comparing the food prices to those of our prior countries of Thailand and Vietnam. We ate out only once a day at the most. We bought snacks from the grocery store for breakfast and dinner. Dinner was a bit hard as we didn’t have a kitchen in our small hotel room. We only bought things we could heat in a microwave!

Miscellaneous: $21.89

This included some postcards, a few souvenirs and a load of laundry. We also had a little cost of currency exchange.

Transportation: $153.12

It was quite convenient to use the public transportation system in Hong Kong. We purchased an Octopus Card at the airport which covered all forms of transit! The only extra we paid was for our boat to and from Macau and the buses there.

This divides out to $108.21/day which is over our $100/day budget. Hong Kong was much  more expensive than the countries we had visited previously in SE Asia. We had a short time in Hong Kong so we tried to do a lot quickly. We also spent quite a bit so that we could do a day trip to Macau. We tried to keep our costs down by eating out rarely and doing a lot of self-guided walking tours. But, we did choose to pay a bit more to stay in a nicer place. We had heard reports of cheaper places but those all seemed quite sketchy. Overall, it was a bit challenging to stay to our budget, but we are still happy with our time in Hong Kong.

Meandering through Macau

We were really enjoying Hong Kong, but we also wanted a chance to visit another Special Administrative Region (SAR) of China: Macau. We really knew very little about this tiny place. Much like Hong Kong, Macau is a city that was once administered by a colonizing country, despite being attached to the China. Hong Kong belonged to Great Britain, but Macau belonged to Portugal until 1999.

Despite now being officially part of China, it still has two languages: Chinese and Portuguese. Also, similarly to Hong Kong, Macau falls under a policy of “one country, two systems.” This means that while it is a part of China, Macau maintains its own legal system, the public security force, monetary system, customs policy, and immigration policy. It also has established itself as something of a “Vegas in the East.” A lot of its economy focuses on gambling, and huge casinos dominate the city. We also had heard that it had a lovely, Portuguese-influenced, old town. We were quite excited to visit Macau and experience the diversity the city had to offer.

Getting There

Getting there proved to be a bit more difficult than we had hoped. We had read that it was an easy process: take a ferry. The ferries supposedly left from Hong Kong every 30 min. That sounded pretty simple, so we didn’t really rush in the morning and left our hotel around 10.

We rode the metro to the Sheung Wan station, then worked our way through a mall to the TurboJet offices. We arrived at the ferry terminal only to find that, while it was true that the ferries left every 30 min, you couldn’t necessarily buy a ticket for the next upcoming ferry! They were full! The next available ticket wasn’t until 11:45.

We went ahead and went through Hong Kong exit immigration and went downstairs to the waiting area. At this point, it really felt like we were in an airport, waiting in the lobby and boarding at certain times. We boarded on time and found our assigned seats in the lower part. The ferry was quite fancy – felt like an airline interior. The ride over took about an hour. A little choppy but not so bad that we couldn’t read.

Once in Macau, we had to go through immigration to get in, pretty much like we were arriving in another new country! They didn’t actually stamp our passport though. We couldn’t decide if we were happy or sad about this. We did want the stamps, because its definitely fun to look back at the stamps in the passport, but we were a little worried because we were both running out of pages in our passports!

Outside we found the tourist information desk. They weren’t super helpful but we did pick up some maps (and even a walking tour brochure made by UNESCO) and get the bus number that we needed to take. Luckily Hong Kong dollars are 1-to-1 with the Macau patacas and are accepted there so we didn’t need to get money.

We rode the #3 bus which took us into the historic part of town.

What We Did

We focused our efforts mostly on completing the UNESCO walking tour. We ended up starting in the middle though, so we had to do it out of order.

We had taken the bus to Senado Square. It was quite pretty, with wavy white and black cobblestones and colonial buildings. But it was also full of tourists, which detracted from the effect.

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We headed north, finding more of the sights marked on a UNESCO walking tour book. This took us by a the small Sam Kai Vui Kun Temple, the Lou Kau Mansion – a traditional Chinese merchant’s house that we could go into for free, St. Dominic’s Church, and “The Cathedral,” set in a calmer square. It felt in a way like we were back in one of the Croatian coastal towns, with the shiny cobblestones and pretty architecture, but also with the crowds squeezing you at every turn.

After this we were getting a little hungry so we saw a bakery on a side street. We shared a snack of fried wontons, a fried dumpling, and the Macau classic egg tart.

Eric with an egg tart

Eric with an egg tart

To get to the next stop required us to go up a narrow lane past places selling beef jerky and cookies. These were quite popular with the Asian tourists, so we had to squeeze through very crowded spaces around those who had stopped to get free samples. Brought back some memories of the Spice Market in Istanbul!

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We finally made it to the iconic image of Macau, the façade of St Paul’s church. The rest of the church burned down in a fire, but the intricately-carved façade remains. We maneuvered around crowds to take pictures on the stairs and the platform below. We had an interesting time trying to find the Asian and Western influences in the artwork.

We then went up onto Mount Fortress, one of the many fortresses built by the Portuguese in defense of the city from the sea. We got great view over the city from the top. It was interesting to note that many of the residential buildings looked run down, but the fancy casinos gleamed in the distance.

From here we could enter the Macau Museum. It started out promising with an interesting comparison between the history and culture of the West and East before they met up in Macau. They then sped through the history of how Macau was actually founded, but had large displays on life, trade and religion during the early days of the colony.

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On the second floor they had set up facades of different types of houses in Macau. It was pretty fancy like in the Hong Kong Museum – guess they like their faux-towns here! We waited a bit for a show about the fisherman in the inner harbor but left before it was over since it was slow. We then went through exhibits on life and traditions in the later part of the colony, with displays about the different types of shops, mannequins representing the street hawkers, setups showing typical dining and living areas, and wedding traditions. The final floor was a bit random, with sketches of life in early colonial times, a movie about modern Macau, a few displays on Macau clubs abroad, and then very brief information about it rejoining China in 1999. Overall, we quite enjoyed the museum. It was just about the right size; you felt like you could read everything without spending days. However, the lower floors were the best.

We headed back out and continued the walking tour. Back near St Paul’s we saw a section of the old city walls and a tiny Chinese temple. We walked down to a much quieter street and walked further north to the Camoes Square, which was filled with people playing and relaxing. We peeked in the nearby Protestant Cemetery where there were a good number of Americans buried.

We were getting hungry, so we went a little further. We didn’t see any restaurants that looked like a good fit for us, although we did see an ice rink! We backtracked through the crowds to near St Dominics. We then went down a random side street and saw a place advertising Macanese food, and decided to go for it. We each got a Macau beer, which wasn’t too bad. For meal, Eric got chicken in Portuguese sauce with rice, and Della got broad noodles.

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We walked past Senado Square to see a few more of the sights on the tour. The bulk of them were found on St Augustine’s Square, including St Augustine’s Church, and the very green Dom Pedro V Theatre. We were getting tired, so we decided to find one more sight: St. Lawrence’s Church.

From here we cut down to the water and walked to the casino area. Eric wanted to make sure to experience to glitzier, modern side of Macau in addition to the old town. So, even though we were pretty tired, we went into the fancy Grand Lisboa. We walked around the interior and gawked at their gaudy pieces of art on display. We also went into the casino floor, where we just strolled through. The minimums were very high so we didn’t play anything. We did pause to watch a burlesque show that randomly happened on the main floor.

Outside the casino, we had hoped to take a free shuttle back to the ferry pier, but the line was incredibly long. Instead, we saw a bus station across the street. It was a little confusing but we eventually found a bus that took us back to the ferry pier.

Getting Away

It was about 7:30. We hoped to not to have to wait too long for a ferry, but the only ticket they were selling was not until 9:45! We bought it before completely thinking it through and were pretty bummed. The scalpers near the window had earlier tickets but wouldn’t trade. Della was furious, knowing that the scalpers had purposely bought up all the upcoming tickets. Feeling disappointed, we found a quiet place to sit and read books for a while.

Then we decided we might as well go into the departures area and see if we could get on an earlier boat. We went through Macau exit immigration and made our way inside. As it turns out, getting on an earlier boat is a standard thing. Each gate has a separate line for standby passengers. You have to gamble a bit as to which line you choose, since the lines don’t roll over to the next ship. At first we thought about getting on the 8:45 line, but we would have been a little further back. Instead we just went to the 9:00 line since we would be some of the first in line. We were pretty nervous when 9:00 rolled around, but we made it on just fine.

We were assigned seats up top. The ride back was smoother than the ride there and also took about an hour. We had to go back through immigration to get into Hong Kong.

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Final Thoughts

In the end it seemed like quite an ordeal to get there and back in one day! We should have maybe spent the night there, or left earlier, or gone on a day when it would have been less crowded. The old town was simply lovely, and we really enjoyed feeling like we were in Europe again for a time. However, the crowds did ruin it for us a bit. We suspect it might be really lovely in the evening, when some of the day trippers have left!

Hanging Out in Hong Kong

We’ve switched the blog back to talking about some of our other travels on our round-the-world trip, but are hearts are still with Nepal. If you’d like to contribute to help the people of Nepal recover from the devastating earthquake, please visit our page collecting some worthy causes.

After our enjoyable time in Vietnam, we said goodbye to Della’s parents and to Southeast Asia, where we had been since January. We had originally intended for our next stop to be in Nepal, but it was easier to fly to Hong Kong next instead. Also for airfare reasons, we ended up staying in Hong Kong for six nights, which was one more than we had planned for. We hoped that we would find ways to occupy our time… and we certainly did!

Getting There

We were able to use credit card rewards to get a cheap flight on Vietnam Airlines from Hanoi direct to Hong Kong. We were surprised when we discovered that our seats were on the exit row! We hadn’t put in a special request or anything. The flight went fairly quickly, and we enjoyed the free wine that came with the lunch that was served.

Upon arrival in Hong Kong, we bought our Octopus cards, which can be loaded with cash and used for all sorts of public transportation in the city. The helpful staff at the tourist information center told us how to use public transportation to get to our accommodations. The airport is quite far from the city center, so we knew it would be a long journey.

As it turned out though, it was quite pleasant. The bus was a fancy, new-feeling double decker bus. There was even a closed-circuit tv system so we could monitor our bags stored on the lower level as we took in our first views of Hong Kong from the upper level.

Where We Stayed

We had a pretty hard time finding a place that was both affordable and looked comfortable. We had been spoiled in Southeast Asia with big rooms for cheap prices, but Hong Kong felt like Singapore, with even tiny rooms being very highly priced. The cheapest rooms were in the Chungking Mansion (big apartment blocks are called mansions in Hong Kong) in the Kowloon area, but those were tiny, with most being around 5 square meters (about 54 square feet). We expanded our search area and found a place advertising 10 square meter rooms (about 108 square feet). The reviews were OK, so we went ahead and booked at the Yesinn Fortress Hill.

It was located in the North Point area on the main Hong Kong island. None of the major tourist attractions are within walking distance, but there is a subway station very close, and the trains run so frequently that we didn’t feel like it was that hard to see the sights.

The check-in process was a little convoluted. We found the Continental Mansions and rode the elevator up to the 15th floor where we located the reception. Here we were told that our room was actually in a different part of the building, so we had to ride the elevator back down to the ground floor, walk to a different elevator bank, and ride up to the 3rd floor. Luckily when coming or going we didn’t have to go back through reception, but the downside of this was that we couldn’t take advantage of some of the shared facilities that we near the reception.

The room was as cozy as advertised, but we actually found it a manageable size. The bed was a little smaller than normal but still big enough for two. They managed to squeeze a desk, dresser, and mini-fridge in, which were all helpful. The bathroom was very small, with the shower above the sink, but you could actually angle it in such a way that it felt like a normal shower.

What We Did

Hong Kong is a huge city, and we found plenty of ways to spend our time. It was very easy to get around between sites using the fast Hong Kong public transportation system.

Avenue of Stars and “A Symphony of Lights” – Our first night in town, we headed over to the southern tip of the Kowloon neighborhood to watch the free nightly multimedia performance called “A Symphony of Lights,” during which the buildings across the bay on Hong Kong island light up in time to music. We arrived a bit early so we spent some time exploring the Avenue of Stars, the Hong Kong film industry’s version of the Hollywood Walk of Fame. Bruce Lee and Jet Li were the main names we recognized. As for the light show, it was interesting, but we think we actually preferred the show in Singapore’s harbor for pure spectacle.

Hong Kong Museum of History – We didn’t know much about Hong Kong going in, so we made sure to stop at this museum to hopefully get more background. They were running a special that day, so admission was free, but we splurged on an audio guide to help guide us through. We diligently went through the natural history and prehistoric sections, stopping to listen to every entry, but then we realized that the museum was way bigger than we had anticipated and decided we had to move faster, so we basically stopped using it. The museum had very nicely put together displays, especially in the section describing life as a British colony, where they had recreated entire storefronts. We did feel the information was a little lacking, especially at the end where they only briefly described how control was returned to China (and what it meant that it was a special administrative region that retains some autonomy).

A Night at the Happy Valley Horse Racessee separate post

Victoria Peak – The weather was bright and sunny the next day, so we decided to head to the vantage point at the top of the peak that overlooks the harbor. We rode the historic funicular up the steep ride to the top. We didn’t pay to go to the fancy observation deck, but instead walked along a nice path to either side of platform and were able to get great views.

Walk Through Hong Kong Park and Wan Chai – After coming down from Victoria Peak via the funicular, we walked through the large Hong Kong park found in the middle of downtown. We were impressed with the large amount of green space and the variety of activities within the park. Our favorite was the aviary where we spotted a number of interesting birds. After the park, we followed the Lonely Planet walking tour of the Wan Chai neighborhood, where we saw a mix of historic and modern structures.

The Tian Tan Buddha and Po Lin Monastery on Lantau Island – We enjoyed a day trip out to one of the more far-flung islands of Hong Kong, Lantau. The big attraction here is a big Buddha statue and monastery in the village of Ngong Ping on top of the mountains on the island. The cheap way to get to Ngong Ping is to take a bus, but we splurged and took the cable car – and were definitely glad we did so. The views were amazing, if not a little scary! The village at the top is very touristy and felt fake, but the Buddha statue was impressive, and the monastery buildings were pretty as well. We also spent an hour or so hiking into the mountains beyond the tourist facilities, where we found a path decorated with a poem written on wooden poles.

Walk Through Sheung Wan – We also followed a Lonely Planet walking tour through this neighborhood, which was originally the hub of the Chinese community and still shows many of those influences. We walked past interesting dried seafood weird herb shops – not sure even what we were seeing half of the time!

We stopped for a snack break in a small park where we found a path made of upraised stones that you were meant to walk on barefoot, like the one we saw in Battambang. This time, we took off our shoes and tried it ourselves. It hurt! We still aren’t sure what the exact purpose is.

The final stop on the tour was the most impressive: the Man Mo Temple, one of the oldest Taoist temples in Hong Kong. The air inside was thick with the smoke of dozens of mazzive incense coils burning at the same time. Outside there was a furnace for burning (fake) money offerings, just as we had seen in Vietnam.

After the walk, we continued into another neighborhood and took a ride on a non-traditional tourist attraction: the longest outdoor covered escalator system in the world, the Central-Mid-Levels escalator. This series of escalators goes straight up a hill from the Hong Kong harbor to a road on the top of the hill, with many restaurants and shops along the way. The elevation gain is 443 feet, and it took us about 20 minutes to get up. Unfortunately, the easiest was down is to walk, but it made for good exercise.

Star Ferry – The classic way to get across the Victoria Harbour from Hong Kong island to Kowloon is to take this old double decker ferry. It opened in 1888, and is still popular and cheap today. The ride was brief but gave us great views.

Temple Street Night Market – We didn’t do very much shopping in Hong Kong, but decided to check out the most famous night market in town. We abstained from getting a selfie stick, but Eric did decide to purchase one of the “beckoning cat” figurines, thinking it was a nice traditional Chinese item. He was later disappointed to learn that it is actually Japanese in origin!

Where We Ate

We had a bit of a mixed experience with food in Hong Kong. After Vietnam, the food seemed very expensive, and much harder to find. There were hardly any street food options, and many places that looked cheap only had Chinese menus. Over the course of our time in the city, we gradually began to find some places that interested us though.

Our favorite place was the renowned Tim Ho Wan, the dim sum eatery known for being the cheapest restaurant in the world to have received a Michelin Star. We had read about the lines being out the door, but the location located conveniently close to our hostel had available tables. The surly waitress just dropped a paper checklist down on our table and didn’t provide any further guidance, but we were able to discern that we needed to check off the items we wanted to try on the paper. Dim sum is characterized by small servings of Chinese food items, usually dumplings or other steamed delicacies. We tried to get a mixture of dumpling, steamed buns, and steamed cakes. It was all quite good, and we were stuffed! We enjoyed it so much that we went back on our last morning in town to get another round of our favorites and try a few items that we had missed the first time. It definitely merited the hype.

Another meal that stood out to us was lunch at the restaurant in the Hong Kong History Museum. Our expectations were low for a cafe in a museum, but it turned out to be a cheap and friendly place. It was decorated to resemble a diner in Hong Kong in the 50s and 60s. Another nice feature was that it employed some people with developmental disabilities. We both got a set lunch which included a soup and a large entree.

Nice meal after a long time on our feet in the museum

Nice meal after a long time on our feet in the museum

The other meals we had while eating out were good, just maybe not as affordable or tasty as we had hoped.

Because everything was pretty expensive in Hong Kong, there were a few nights that we decided to just “cook” our own dinner. You may be wondering how we could possibly cook in our tiny room, but luckily there was a shared microwave in the hallway. We went to a supermarket by the subway station and bought different frozen dumplings to heat up. Not as good as Tim Ho Wan, but cheaper and pretty convenient!

Enjoying dumplings and carrots in our room. Another benefit of eating in is cheaper beer!

Enjoying dumplings and carrots in our room. Another benefit of eating in is cheaper beer!

Final Thoughts

Our initial worry that we would be spending too much time in Hong Kong turned out to be wrong – if anything, we wish we could have had more time! There were a lot of interesting sights to see in the big city. We regret that we didn’t connect more with the food scene and find cheap local options, but think with more time we would have been able to figure it out. Hong Kong was a good way to get a quick dip into Chinese culture and the unique culture of Hong Kong on our world trip.

Flashback Friday: Leaving the Country/Layover in Egypt

Flashback Friday is a picture series where we “flashback” to some of our memories – from either from our prior travel or from home. We hope you’ll enjoy some of our remembrances!

One year ago today we left the country. We left our home in CO on June 29th, but had the opportunity to spend a few days with Della’s uncle in New York state.  Then we headed abroad! We were pretty excited to have found a plane ticket with a long layover in Cairo – long enough for us to leave the airport and explore the pyramids! Talk about an exciting first day on the road!

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