Category Archives: Travel

Travel: Angkor Wat

What images float through your mind when you think about Cambodia? Do you see images where nature meets technology, and the ancient meets the modern? If so, then you’re already on your way to understanding a piece of Cambodian culture.

If you’re going to travel to Cambodia, then there are lots of places to go that are both entertaining and meaningful. The top choice for travelers is Angkor Wat in Siem Reap.

Angkor Wat

Angkor Wat is an ancient Hindu temple city complex built in the early 1100’s (1115-1150). The entire complex sits on about 500 acres of land with different temple sites spread out within the thick forest of northern Siem Reap.

Entering Angkor Wat through the stone bridge, over the Siem Reap river is akin being transported through time. The complex is far from the hustle and bustle of the city. The atmosphere is charged and you’ll feel the irrevocable sensation that you are a tiny blip in the fabric of the universe compared to this ancient place. The stone towers spiral into the sky, towering above you and everything else within hundreds of miles. Although there are hundreds of tourists from around the world admiring the structures with you, it’s quiet. You can easily hear the sounds of nature against the backdrop of the low murmur of speech.

Recommendations

I recommend that you take your time here. Some people prefer to visit most sites in one day, but I recommend getting a two or three day pass. There is much to see, as Angkor Wat is the world’s largest religious complex.

Angkor Wat is very hot and dry, so you’ll be tempted to wear more summer friendly clothing. It is important to keep in mind that at some sites, you cannot enter with bare shoulders and exposed thighs. Certain sites allow you to enter and stay on the ground level. If you wish to explore higher, then you’ll have to cover your shoulders. In most case, wrapping a simple scarf around your shoulders should suffice.

Bring lots of water. Although most of Angkor Wat is low-level hiking, it is a big place with little shade.

Don’t forget to live in the moment. When I traveled to Angkor Wat, I was one of several hundred tourists walking around in awe. Many of the tourists, I noticed, were so consumed by snapping photos that they missed some of the important bits. Angkor Wat was a social and religious center of the Khmer people. There is not one space in Angkor Wat that is bare of symbolism. You’ll notice the many different asparas (female spirits) carved along the walls.

Getting There

If you’re travelling alone, or with three other people, then getting a Tuk Tuk ( a motorized rickshaw) is the fun and cheaper option. Tuk Tuks can be found everywhere. If you inquire about it at your hotel, the staff will undoubtedly help you. If you’re with a big group, then booking a van is the best option.

Related:

Take a look at this short, artistic collection of images from Angkor Wat.


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Travel: The Dwell Hotel

Overview 

Chattanooga, Tennessee is known for many things. From the beautiful Tennessee river that runs through the city, to the beautiful Appalachian mountains that frame it, it is truly a tourist’s playground. Chattanooga is also well known for being the site of many battles during the Civil War. As a result, Chattanooga has a wealth of historical museums and battlefields that the tourist can visit.

For the tourist looking to stay in a unique hotel, then my recommendation would be The Dwell Hotel. The Dwell has a long and rich history. Before it was ever a hotel, it was Fort James. The Fort played an influential role during the Civil War.

Decades later,  Chattanooga experienced an industrial explosion so spectacular that the moniker ‘Dynamo of Dixie’ was created to describe the sudden influx of businesses and money. During this time, Fort James became the ‘Colonial Hotel.’

The style and name of the hotel would continue to change, until 2016, under the innovative leadership of  Seija Ojanpera.

The Dwell 

Stepping inside The Dwell is like stepping inside of a fairy tale book. Think Alice in Wonderland meets The Great Gatsby. The Dwell has 16 uniquely designed rooms, all with bright and bold colors, accompanied with retro, but comfortable furniture.

The design of the hotel is honestly the best I’ve seen, as far as boutique hotels go. The Dwell is almost like a hotel that doubles as an art museum, which is obviously what all hotels need to be like.

If you didn’t think it was possible for the staff at a hotel to look as if they’re apart of the design, then you’ve been visiting the wrong hotels. The staff are extremely friendly and helpful.

Pros: 

Rooms are cozy and elegant.

The bathrooms are fantastic, spacious.

Staff is helpful.

Unique, and comfortable.

Cons:

Parking is a bit weird, but they have a complimentary valet service.


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Travel: Chateau Elan

Chateau Elan Winery and Resort is a luxury, 18th century french style chateau. It is located in Braselton, GA. It’s about an hour north of Atlanta.

The Chateau sits on several hundred acres of land. Upon entering the road to Chateau, you’re met with a grand building, and a magnificent sculpture of a woman, with her arm raised over her head and the other holding the ends of her dress. The artist who created the sculpture is incredibly skilled, which can be seen by their attention to detail in the hair and the creases in the clothing.

Wine tours

Behind the statue stands one of the main buildings of the Chateau. This building is the Winery building, but I’m not aware of what the official name for it is. Upon entering this building, you’ll see a fairly wide space to your left, with long, elegant curtains covering the far wall. Many people take pictures in front of the curtains, as it makes for a nice backdrop.

To your left, you can see several “U” shaped bars that guests go to taste different wines.
The wine tastings are officially called “Wine tasting tours” and there are different offerings based upon different, general palates.

The wine tour will start once everyone who is participating gathers near the center of the room, near the curtain. In all, they will take you out to the vineyard and inform you about the beginning process of creating wine. Once finished, you’ll follow your guide inside to see the room where the actual wine making process takes place.

The wine tour is abruptly short, but pleasant. Afterward, you’re free to continue tasting different wines, lounging at one of the many tables inside or right outside the building.

Dining
Chateau Elan offers several dining experiences, ranging from casual to intimate fine dining. They offer seven cuisine types from Irish to Mediterranean and All- american. It’s a lot to choose from, but the restaurants all have extremely friendly staff and delicious food.

Breakfast is buffet style guests are free to choose from a wide range of breakfast items. My personal favorite was their frittatas.

Room

Everything about the Chateau is breathtaking. It is plain to see that the architects took their times with the designs of the lobby and the outward structure. However, the room itself was a bit lackluster.

You can expect a standard looking hotel room. The ceiling wasn’t as high as it should have been, given the 18th century style theme.  The room was a bit on the small side, but the furniture was nice. It seems that they put more attention into the furniture instead of the room itself. It was a tad disappointing, but everything else didn’t disappoint. I just wished they’d put more attention to detail in the rooms.

The bathroom was nice, and did not disappoint. It was spacious, with a separate bath and shower. The water pressure was standard, and the water ran quite hot. The bathtub was large and had jets.

Conclusion

Chateau Elan is a great place to go if you’d like to go on a mini-vacation. It’s just an hour away from Atlanta, making it a great place to stay if you’d like to see some places there but prefer to be away from the big city. The staff are friendly and professional, and the hotel is well-kept. In all, I’d rate this place 4 out 5 stars, but only because some aspects of the ’18th century theme’ disappointed me.

 

7 Recommendations of Burger Joints in Beijing

by 罗子禾

 

I’m a food lover. The thing I enjoy the most is inventing new on-the-edge, experimental recipes. But at the end of the day, there is barely anything more satiating and emotionally fullfilling than a good burger. If you, too, are a burger lover, let me make sure you don’t find yourself deprived of good burgers when you travel to my hometown, Beijing. It may be important for you to have a list of trusted restaurants because burgers are not that well understood in China. Most restaurants get it wrong in one way or another.

No. 7 Grandma’s Kitchen (near Beixinqiao)

Grandma’s Kitchen isn’t the most amazing restaurant, but it has a nice, quiet, cozy ambiance to it. Their burgers are decent. They understand what a patty is, how melted the cheese is supposed to be. It basically satisfies your craving, and they have decent fries to go with your burgers.

No. 6 Grey Hound (inside Taiguli)

Fun fact, Grey Hound’s logo is a flipped version of the bus company’s logo. I smell a conspiracy theory cooking. Grey Hound’s burgers are a bit small. Even though they are slightly better in quality than Grandma’s Kitchen, they are overpriced. So if you are looking for a boujee restaurant with a decent burger, Grey Hound is a decent choice.

No. 5 Hooter’s (on Hongjie St.)

Even though they lack slightly in variety, Hooter’s make some really satisfying burgers. You can trust them to make your patty juicy and salty. Sometimes I think they go slightly overboard with their salt. But I guess that’s a personal preference. So, if you like your patty slightly saltier than usual, hit up Hooter’s. To make things better, Hooter’s has pretty decent curly fries and a long cocktail menu.

No. 4 Blue Frog Bar and Grill (inside Taiguli)

Blue Frog is a chain. You can find at least one in almost every major city of China. They have a large selection of burgers and a few house specialties. I recommend trying a few if you ever get a chance. Their ambiance tends to land on the loud side. However, the venues are clean and high-end, and their burgers are something you can stuff your face with.

No. 3 Lily’s American Diner (near Sanlitun)

Lily’s American Diner lacks variety, but for its price vs. quality ratio, it beats every place that came before. The burgers here don’t try to be fancy or sophisticated or clever, they are just plain good. Lily’s also serves a burger with cole slaw, which isn’t exactly my thing. But if you like cole slaw, Lily’s is the only place that serves real, legit cole slaw on one of their burgers.

No. 2 The Irish Bar (across the street from Lido Plaza)

The Irish Bar is tied number two with Lily’s. I wanted to give the Irish Bar a slight edge because Lily’s is more of a breakfast restaurant or a diner whereas the Irish Bar is a Bar and Grill. The drink menu is long; the burgers are satisfying; the fries are better than most.

No. 1 Home Plate (Sanlitun Soho)

Homeplate is my undisputable top choice in burger restaurants in Beijing. The long list of burgers cater to a variety of burger lovers, moods and appetite. My personal favorite is the “Itis”. It combines just the right amount of cheese, a juicy and chewy patty, refreshing veggies, and a perfectly toasted bun. 

This list isnt meant to be complete or universal. I’m just trying to give burger lovers out there a head start. Stay full and happy!

The Tianjin Escape

Over the weekend we made some last-minute plans to get away from the everyday hustle and bustle of Beijing. We love our little apartment, and the surrounding neighborhood, but sometimes a break from the things you love is pretty refreshing.

So, yes, if you’re reading this. Take a break. No, the world won’t end if you check out for a few days. Yes, you will feel refreshed, and ready to resume the hustle and bustle of life.

If you’re in Beijing, and planning to go to Tianjin, then this article should be a good reference for places you might want to visit. If you’re planning to travel around China, and you plan to stop in Tianjian, then this should be a good supplementary guide. It’s important to know that a lot of hotels in Tianjin apparently don’t host foreigners. We have no idea why, perhaps some governmental regulation of international travelers. Whatever the case, you will want to be sure that your hotel accepts foreigners. Some 3rd-party agencies will not have that on the hotel’s page.

If you’re traveling from Beijing, and not driving, then travelling by Bullet train is really convenient. It takes about thirty minutes from Beijing to Tianjin. (Honestly, it’s so fast, it won’t even feel like thirty minutes). Unlike flying first class, riding first class in the train is extremely cheap, so treat yo’self! Ride first class! I promise you will not regret it, especially since the rest of the train is extremely crowded.

We arrived in Tianjin on Sunday afternoon. Immediately upon our arrival, we decided to eat hotpot (my favorite Chinese meal). If you’ve never eaten it, you’re honestly missing out. The place had a nice atmosphere, and the food was good. They didn’t have English menus, or pictures, which is typical of most hotpot restaurants. Unless you’re the type that likes to try new, exotic foods, I wouldn’t try guessing with menus like these. You could be ordering anything from a slice of regular beef, to intestines, or cow tongue.

After hotpot, we decided to walk to our hotel, Holiday Inn. (A lot of the attractions are within walking distance of some hotels.)

Joy City

Joy City is a nice mall that has a lot of stores to choose from. Mostly they are brands I never heard of before China, but there were some I recognized. It has a really nice Starbucks, with a lot places to sit (unfortunately, not many are available sometimes because there are so many people.)

As far as shopping malls go, this mall is pretty standard. On one of the floors it has a phone charging station, which is powered by peddling. It’s pretty cool!

The mall also includes a restaurant complex outside, in addition to restaurants within the buildings itself. The complex is pretty interesting, but kind of annoying when the weather is frigid.

Blue Frog

We ate dinner at a restaurant called Blue Frog. They serve really good comfort food, and steaks. They have a pretty good selection of alcoholic drinks, and really cool seasonal ones too. As of now, there are two: pumpkin latte and mulled wine. I tried the mulled wine and was not disappointing. It has an interesting taste, to say the least. It was spiced with cinnamon sticks, an orange peel and anise.

 

Chan Su (Zen Vegetarian)

We ate here for lunch on Monday. Out of all of the restaurants we dined at in Tianjin, this was the best one. Meat lovers may scoff at the idea of eating at a vegetarian restaurant but food is food. And this food was amazing. I would definitely return to eat there.

This place also has a very nice atmosphere. It’s very clean, and has soft lighting. The waiters and waitresses have excellent customer service. Upon entering the establishment, there is a large buddha off to the side. It’s overall a great place to visit.

To see the buddha, visit my Instagram simply_bernie.The link is on the homepage.

Besides the restaurant itself, the complex it sits in is quite engaging. We recommend going to any of the vendors and shops within the complex. You may find some interesting stuff. Remember to bargain!

 

Canal

During the Summer and Spring, tourists can probably ride in ferries along the river, but the water is frozen during the winter. Don’t let that stop you from taking a walk along the water, and even getting on the ice with the locals (if you deem it safe enough).

Ferris Wheel

There is a Ferris Wheel on a bridge that traffic routinely drives on. Yes, you read that right. The wheel overlooks the river in both directions, and the view from the top is amazing. Because it was under maintenance all day Monday, we were only able to ride during the day. We recommend riding during the day and at night, because both views must be breathtaking.

Beware, the workers may try to stuff you into a car with strangers, because of the riding limit of 8 people. But I think if you are persuasive enough, you may be able to get away with riding with only friends/ family.

To see the time lapse video of our view, see either his guuklife Instagram, or mine simply_bernie.

 

Ancient Culture Street

There are tons of these streets throughout China, and I recommend seeing as many as you can. They often have some historical architecture somewhere nearby, or really cool merchandize.

We bought Tibetan tea, two traditional children’s outfits (for my nephew, and baby cousin).

 

Riverside 66

This is a HUGE mall. It’s incredibly spacious, and extremely clean. You could pretty much see yourself in the reflection of the floors here. No lie!

There are obviously a lot of stores. NOT recommended for the lazy shopper, OR the female who is already fatigued by wearing high heels (writing from experience). This place is definitely worth a visit, especially since it sits right next to/on top of an outdoors shopping complex.

The architecture here is really amazing, shops aside. So even if you’re not looking to spend money, walking through this area should be pretty engaging.

Chuan Fu Lao Ma

We ate dinner here. It’s nice restaurant, with a good atmosphere. The waiters and waitresses are very professional. Although, we did begin to refer to our waitress as ‘the warden’ because she stood right across from our table, with her arms behind her back and feet spread apart. In all, I recommend this place too, but there are many other restaurants in the mall that look just as good. Be sure to look around!

 

Here are the highlighted songs from our trip:

Passion Flower- Jon Gomm

Bed of Lies—Matchbox 20

I’m yours—Jason Mraz

I see Fire—Ed Sheeran Remixed by: Kygo

Thinking Out Loud—Ed Sheeran

Macanese Adventure

On November 17th, we boarded a flight to Macau, China. The flight from Beijing to Macau was about two hours long, but like all flights, it felt more like an eternity.

We decided on Macau because we were interested in the historical legacy of the city. Even though friends warned us of its miniature size, we weren’t deterred. Some friends insisted that Hong Kong would make for a better weekend trip, but Hong Kong didn’t offer a scenic clash between East and West like Macau did.

I’m not a history buff, but I appreciate historical architecture accented by a rich oral or written history. Johnny also appreciates the same, so it wasn’t a hard decision at all.

Macau is a former Portuguese colony that was returned to Chinese authority in 1999. The city maintains its local currency, and the official language is Cantonese (I’m not entirely sure here. It could be Mandarin, but almost everyone spoke Cantonese. Not many people we spoke to spoke Mandarin fluently.) Johnny had a hard time communicating with locals, due to the huge difference between Cantonese and Mandarin. In fact, it was impossible for Johnny to communicate with them, unless they understood Mandarin or English.

I am not ashamed to admit that I was secretly satisfied by his frustration with not being understood. There, in Macau, I was the one who was better at communicating with people whose native language wasn’t my own. Johnny, on the other hand, had to learn to be patient.

Here’s a list of the places we went to. It’s important to note that even though we visited in November, the temperature was in the 70’s (Fahrenheit). In contrast, the temperature in Beijing was in the 30’s.

  • Ruins of St. Paul
    • The only thing left standing from this marvelous structure is the front wall. For this reason, it’s also referred to as St. Paul’s Facade too. Unfortunately, the church and school was destroyed in a fire, but it was once home to dozens of monks.
    • Even though only the facade remains, we both agree that if you’re in Macau, then it’s a must-see. The detail in the stone pillars is something you won’t want to miss. Toward the very top, there are carvings of the Holy Spirit, Mary, and a figure we cannot remember accurately. There are many intricate designs of skeletons, balance scales, and other interesting depictions. Ascribed upon the stone over the arching doorway are the words, ‘Mater Dei.’
    • Behind the facade, there is an open square that leads to an accompanying Museum. The museum is small, and only offers a very short walk-through. the first room holds the bones of what we assumed were some of the monks, but there are no descriptions anywhere in this room. After this room, we were able to look at many interesting artifacts encased in glass. Pictures were prohibited, but I managed to snap a few of the most interesting pieces.
  • A-Ma Temple
    • This was a very interesting place. The temple is dedicated to the goddess of the sea, who is kind of like the patron goddess of Macau. The name Macau, (A-Ma-Gau) is named after her.
    • The temple consists of many different small shrine-like structures. Once you step over the threshold, it’s almost as if you’re transported into another place–not quite Macau and not quite heaven.
    • Part of the sense of escape from the rest of Macau, is the overwhelming smell of temple incense. After visiting several temples, I’ve grown accustomed to the smell, and I love it. It’s a fresh, organic scent that I haven’t ever smelled before. This was the first time I saw spiraling incense sticks hanging from the ceilings. The giant incense sticks that were as wide as my leg were also an amazing sight to see. If we could have managed a way to bring them on the plane back to Beijing, Johnny would have wasted no time in doing so. Instead, we settled for incense sticks that were about the length of more than half my arm.
    • Here, we got our fortunes told by an old man dressed in traditional attire. I marveled at the length of his pinky nail. Johnny didn’t.
  • Monte Forte (Macau Fortress)
    • This structure sits right across from the Ruins of St. Paul. After we walked around the ruins for a bit, we decided to go there. This is a pretty cool place that lets you walk along, and sit upon the roof to gaze out at the crowd of people in front of the Facade. There is also an extremely small museum underground, but there isn’t much to see. It includes information about the fortress.
  • Macau Musuem
    • This was a standard place, in my opinion. It included interesting information about general Chinese and Portuguese culture. The place has about three levels, with a plethora of information about the city, and the cultures that mixed within it.
  • Macau Tower
    • This was also a pretty standard touristy place. We only went because we ended up taking long walk by the sea where we wound up ten minutes from the tower.
    • We were looking forward to eating at the 360 degree cafe, but by the time we made it up there, even with fast passes, the place was on the verge of closing. Not to mention, for us both to eat it would have cost around $500. 500 American dollars that we weren’t willing to pay, especially not after we were led to believe we purchased tickets for it.
    • The cafe had professional and kind staff, and one of them saw to it that we could eat at another cafe (180 degrees). However, due to the horrible service at the 180 degree cafe, we decided not to stay. This cafe had been on the verge of closing as well, but the staff we ran into wasn’t as kind or professional about it. Overall, we’d rate our time at the tower as incredibly underwhelming. Tokyo Tower, and Willis tower effortlessly  top Macau tower.
  • Macau Food Festival 
    • One of the best things we did, after visiting the Facade and the Temple. There were hundreds of vendors there selling their seafood to a dense crowd of hungry people. We bought tickets that we then exchanged for super delicious seafood.
    • It was pure luck that we happened upon this festival, as we had no idea it even existed. Apparently, it may be an annual festival, and as such,we would recommend this event to everyone! If you’re a seafood lover, then this is your paradise. We were overwhelmingly amazed by all the fresh seafood.

Macau was a nice place to visit. It’s incredibly small, but there are things to do there. If you’re not a gambler, don’t worry.

Ps. We stayed at Emperor Hotel. It was clean, and had good service.