Art in Shanghai: The Power Station of Art and TeamLab:Borderless

The Power Station of Art and TeamLab:Borderless are conveniently located next to each other on the banks of the Huangpu River. Shanghai is famous for many things, but modern art isn’t really one of them. Modern architecture, sure. Maybe even modern shipping? It is the world’s largest container port, after all.

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You Can Pet the Elephants at the Samui Elephant Haven

Okay, so even though it wasn’t quite as magical as seeing elephants in the wild, seeing elephants at the Samui Elephant Haven was still pretty magical. We were able to get up close and personal with these weird, giant animals. We got to feed the elephants. Elephants have thick, rubbery skin, covered with stiff bristly hair. I know because I got to pet them, too.

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The Best Chinese Food You’ve Never Heard of

Chinese food in China is nothing like Chinese food in America. In America, the best Chinese food is a little takeout joint that serves paper boxes full of cream cheese wontons and sweet and sour chicken. You try and fumble with some wooden chopsticks and you get a little fortune cookie at the end.

As with most things, Chinese food in China is way different than our Americanized expectations. There are no cute little paper take-out boxes, cream cheese wontons, or fortune cookies. In fact, fortune cookies first came to America from Japan.

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The Longjing Tea Village in Hangzhou

The Longjing Tea Village in Hangzhou is a sort of holy land for tea drinkers. Longjing tea is smooth, mellow, and can be ridiculously expensive. If you’d asked me two years ago whether I thought I would become a tea drinker or even care about the subtle differences in types of tea, I would’ve spit black coffee right in your face. Now, after living for a year and a half in the land of tea, I can say I’ve been converted. I’m a tea drinker. And my heartburn’s much better now.

Hangzhou, and the Longjing Tea Village, is only an hour or so away from Shanghai by fast train. It was an energizing, non-jitter inducing day trip.

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Oriental Land: on the far edge of Shanghai

Archway in Oriental Land, Shanghai

Oriental Land is a large park located, ironically, on the far western edge of Shanghai. It’s about a two-hour subway ride from the center of the city, dangling on the shores of Dianshan Lake. The metro station has its own Wikipedia page. Oriental Land is full of obstacle courses and is a prime destination for corporate team building delegations from Shanghai. It also has some jets and a replica of an aircraft carrier.

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Lantau Island: The other side of Hong Kong

Lantau Island is not the Hong Kong you expect. When someone says “Hong Kong” you probably think of glistening skyscrapers stretching towards the heavens, and densely packed urban life. Or, maybe you think of protests. Or maybe even Bruce Lee. I don’t know what goes on in that head of yours.

Lantau Island is Hong Kong, but it’s not that Hong Kong. The airport’s there, and so is Hong Kong Disney Land. But I didn’t go to Disney Land, and I’m not really into hanging out in airports. Instead, we took a taxi to a charming little village by the sea.

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Inside a Chinese Wet Market

Chinese wet market in Shanghai

Chinese wet markets are large open markets where vendors sell fresh fruits, vegetables, and meat, unpackaged and unprocessed. Ever since the Huanan Seafood Wholesale Market in Wuhan was identified as an early source of the COVID-19 coronavirus, they’ve been vilified in the Western media. Numerous U.S. politicians and officials are calling for wet markets to be shut down. They’re portrayed as grimy, vile, places full of viruses and disease; seedy dens packed with suffering doe-eyed animals waiting to be slaughtered.

So, of course, I wanted to go see for myself.

Spoiler alert: it was great.

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The Weird, Colored Temples of Chiang Rai

black house, blue temple and white temple Chiang Rai, Thailand

Most temples in Thailand are beautiful but pretty standard. Sharply pitched roofs with carved decorations, often covered in gold leaf. Inside, you take off your shoes and sit under the high arched ceiling looking at a carving of the Buddha. They’re cool, but honestly, they all started to look the same to me after the first two weeks. But then, I went north to see the three colorful temples of Chiang Rai.

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Chasing Elephants in Khao Yai National Park

Khao Yai National Park is full of animals. Despite being only three hours or so from Bangkok (or almost a full day if you go the way we did), the park is still a relatively pristine wilderness. It’s home to an astounding variety of wildlife; monkeys, lizards, snakes, hornbills, gibbons, and one of the last remaining populations of wild Asian elephants.

Do I like cool wild animals and jungles? Yes. Yes, I do very much. Sure, I could go to the zoo, (or an elephant sanctuary, which I did) but the zoo’s got nothing on seeing an animal in its natural habitat.

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How the hell do you get to Pak Chong, Thailand?

lonely motorcycle outside Pak Chong, Thailand

Pak Chong, Thailand is only about two and a half hours away from Bangkok. It’s the gateway to Khao Yai National Park, which may be one of the top national parks I’ve ever been to anywhere. The park’s one of the best places to see animals like gibbons, hornbills and wild elephants. So yeah, of course we wanted to go there during our month in Thailand.

We were up in Chiang Rai at the time, doing our research in a lovely little guesthouse. “It’s easy to get to Pak Chong” said all the blogs. Just go to the Mo Chit Bus Station in Bangkok, catch a bus and you’re there. Boom, no problem. Easy peasy, as the kids say.

It turns out there was nothing easy or peasy about it.

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