Summer 2013 | Destination: NEW ZEALAND

DEPT: The Good Life
AUTHOR & PHOTOS: Ada Tseng
ISSUE: Summer 2013

“Honeymooning could be full of long walks on the beach and relaxing couples spas — or you could explore the adventurous outdoors in New Zealand’s South Island to see how much excitement you can really take.”

 

A travel agent had advised us against the campervan. She told us that approximately a third of her American clients who campervan through New Zealand end up crashing into something. You’re driving on the left side of the road, steering from the right side of the car, and operating a vehicle bulky enough to fit a makeshift sofa-bed, kitchen and bathroom inside. She didn’t even mention the windy mountain roads, the absence of street lights outside the tiny towns, and the wonder that is the “one-lane bridge.”

We didn’t listen to her. Other things we ignored: the campervan customer service representative’s concerned look after he saw we were headed toward Arthur’s Pass for our first time left-lane driving; the recommendation we not drive at night (unfortunately at sunset, we were still three hours away from our destination); the red light we accidentally missed that resulted in us driving toward oncoming traffic (the driver was surprisingly understanding when we apologized); and that sign for “Death’s Corner” I drove past that I thought best not to mention to my husband, his eyes closed, dizzy from carsickness in the passenger’s seat.

As I was cruising along in the darkness, I kept repeating to myself some advice I had gotten about driving in New Zealand. Most of the time, there’s no traffic, so you’ll get used to driving on the left side. But if you see another car on the road, just remember: your instinct is always wrong.

If you’re a tourist visiting the gorgeous, wild islands of New Zealand (all in full, jaw-dropping display while you’re driving during the daytime), you’re not there to follow your everyday instincts. You’re there to jump out of a plane, catapult yourself off a bridge, swim with wildlife, kayak for five hours in the pouring rain, ride a high-speed jetboat as it whips around boulders, and hike a slippery glacier with terrain that looks a bit like one of those slot canyons in 127 Hours, where James Franco’s character got trapped and ended up sawing his arm off.

You’re here for adventure. And whatever happens, you’ll have the time of your life. Here are a few recommendations for a trip to South Island.

HIKING FRANZ JOSEF GLACIER
Located on the west side of the South Island, Franz Josef Glacier descends from the Southern Alps into the rainforest of Westland Tai Poutini National Park. You can either walk up from the Franz Josef village to see the glacier or even better, you can take a helicopter to actually hike on the glacier. The latter tour provides you with the requisite clothing and footwear, including crampons to ensure your boots have good grip on the ice, as well as a strapping, young male guide who leads you around the glacier and chips away at the glacier floor with an ice ax to make it less dangerous to climb. Be prepared to crawl under ice caves, shimmy your way through narrow passages, and climb up and down steep cliffs with the help of a rope swing. Afterward, stop by the village’s Glacier Hot Pools for some rest and relaxation.

KAIKOURA
Located on the northeast coast of the South Island, Kaikoura is popular for whale watching, and visitors come specifically to see the sperm whale, which legend says led Maori ancestor Paikea to New Zealand many centuries ago. Because it’s in the middle of two tectonic plates with high cliffs and ocean currents, Kaikoura is a great place to find marine life in general, including southern fur seals and ocean seabirds such as albatrosses, petrels and shearwaters. But most exciting of all, there are tours where you can go swim with dusky dolphins in their natural environment. So put on your wetsuit, jump in, and resist the urge to ride one into the sunset.

BUNGEE JUMPING AND SKY DIVING
The Kawarau Bungy Centre in Queenstown is regarded as the world’s first commercial bungee, set up in 1988 by pioneer AJ Hackett, who has broken six Guinness records for his bungee stunts. Queenstown also boasts New Zealand’s highest bungee, the Nevis Bungy, set 440 feet above the Nevis River. But if that’s not enough adrenaline for you, New Zealand is also a very popular place to sky dive, as some locals see jumping out of an airplane as a rite of passage.

KAYAKING ON MILFORD SOUND
Milford Sound is New Zealand’s most famous tourist destination (English author Rudyard Kipling called it the Eighth Wonder of the World). Located in the southwest of the South Island, Milford Sound is a fjord, which is an inlet carved by glacial activity, a peaceful bay surrounded by rock cliffs. Visitors can marvel at the breathtaking landscapes on a boat tour that will last one to two hours, or alternately, you can do what we did: kayak on the waters of Milford Sound to get up close to the waterfalls. The half-day tours run from sunrise to sunset, and after five hours in a kayak, you’ll feel like you got a pretty good arm workout.

THE LORD OF THE RINGS TOURS
It’s hard to quantify how much the Lord of the Rings trilogy has done for New Zealand tourism, but there are so many Lord of the Rings tours that it’s a shame to not at least attend one of them. Although the Wellington movie production hub and the sets of Hobbiton are on the North Island, the South Island is filled with memorable landscapes as well. The aforementioned Franz Josef Glacier was used for the lighting of the beacons; Queenstown is where you will recognize locations such as Isengard, Lothlorien and the Ford of Brunein; and you can even book a horseback riding tour to Paradise, where you’ll see Amon Hen, the Wizard’s Vale, and the mighty peak of Methedras. Also, many of the tours will let you play with replicas of LOTR’s costumes and swords, so as a bonus, you can dress up as Gimli, play with Aragorn’s sword, and take the dorkiest photos of your lives.

 

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Dream Destinations | Asia’s “Newest Wonders” & Its “Best Islands”

This past July, Travel & Leisure released the list of the “Newest Wonders of the World,” a list, compiled by UNESCO, of World Heritage sites, or places around the globe that have “cultural, historical and environmental importance.”  In addition, the well-known travel mag released their picks (with the help of readers) of the “World’s Best Islands,” complete with white-sand beaches and romantic get-aways. Seeing these lists will spark the travel bug in anyone, and we’re very happy to say that Asia is well-featured on the list.  Take a look below for the newest additions to our travel bucket-list in Asia.

The Newest World Wonders

Honghe Hani Rice Terraces, China
Located in southern Yunnan and over 1300 years old, the Honghe Hani Rice Terraces are a complex system developed by the Hani people to channel water from the Ailao Mountains to their as-equally sophisticated terraces and farms.

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Hill Forts of Rajasthan, India
Found in the Aravalli Mountains lies six forts that are “a standing testament to the power that Rajput princes enjoyed from the 8th to 18th century.” These series of eclectic forts utilizes the natural surroundings, such as hills, deserts and rivers, as defense while also using fortified walls to protect temples, palaces and other structures.

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Mount Fuji, Japan
Also known as “Fujisan,” Mount Fuji has become an icon of Japan, serving as an artistic muse as well as a site of sacred pilgrimage. As described by UNESCO, “The inscribed property consists of 25 sites which reflect the essence of Fujisan’s sacred landscape” including Shengen-jinja shrines, natural volcanic features, lakes and waterfalls.
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Kaesong’s Historical Sites, Korea
Located in the often-elusive DPRK and near the demilitarized zone, Kaesong is made up of 12 different sites that tell the story of Korea’s Koryo Dynasty.
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Xinjiang Tianshan, China
Taking up over 600,000 hectares and part of Central Asia’s Tianshin mountain range, Xinjian Tianshin is made up of a four geographically diverse components (Tomur, Kalajun-Kuerdening, Bayinbukuke and Bogda), ranging from snow-capped mountains to forests and meadows to wide-spanning deserts.
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World’s Best Islands
Palawan, Philippines (No. 1)
A favorite get-away of both local and foreign celebrities (including Mariah Carey, Pretty Little Liars’ Shay Mitchell, and Rachel Weisz), Palawan has a pure, almost surreal beauty that is something out of a movie.  When you’re there, go diving in the area’s warm waters and find yourself surrounded by natural coral reefs and abundant tropical fish or check out the world’s longest underground, navigable river.

El-Nido-Resorts-Activities-Kayaking-at-the-Big-Lagoon

Boracay, Philippines (No. 2)
An hour’s plane ride away from the hustle and bustle of Manila, Boracay offers visitors white-sand beaches, crystal clear blue water and a well-developed nightlife scene.

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Bali, Indonesia (No. 6)
With its myriad of landscapes, ranging from rice terraces to rugged coastlines (not to mention to the world-famous beaches), Bali has become one of Indonesia’s largest tourist attractions, drawing in people from all over the globe for its “world-class surfing and diving, a large number of cultural, historical and archaeological attractions, and an enormous range of accommodations (Wiki).”
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Koh Samui, Thailand (No. 9)
This 13-mile wide island, referred to as simply “Samui” by locals, is a favorite of beach-lovers and backpackers alike with its numerous and beautiful natural resources, perfect beaches, clear water and coral reefs.

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Phuket, Thailand (No. 15)
The largest island in Thailand, Phuket is the Southeast Asian country’s most developed isle with world-renowned beaches, affordable (and more expensive) dining, fancy resorts and much more.  Be sure to make your way to the almost-undiscovered Mai Khao Beach or the visually stunning Phang Nga Bay.

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For more information on this year’s additions to UNESCO’s World Heritage Sites as well as a complete list of all World Heritage Sites, visit UNESCO.

[All images courtesy of Google]

Audrey’s Days of Summer | Summer Hotspots of Honolulu

With America is still stuck in one of the biggest recessions since The Great Depression, days and nights of eating out have been hard to come by. We get it, so we pulled out some of the hottest restaurants and bars out of our little black book that has some of the happiest of happy hours around. Whether the hotspot is a chill bar to hang out with your friends or it’s an upscale restaurant to lure in a love interest, we got your back!

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Audrey’s Days of Summer | Summer Hotspots of Washington D.C.

With America still stuck in one of the biggest recession since The Great Depression, days and nights of eating out have been hard to come by. We get it, so we pulled out some of the hottest restaurants and bars out of our little black book that has some of the happiest of happy hours around. Whether the hotspot is a chill bar to hang out with your friends or it’s an upscale restaurant to lure in a love interest, we got your back.

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Audrey’s Days of Summer | Summer Hotspots of Chicago

With America is still stuck in one of the biggest recessions since The Great Depression, days and nights of eating out have been hard to come by. We get it, so we pulled out some of the hottest restaurants and bars out of our little black book that has some of the happiest of happy hours around. Whether the hotspot is a chill bar to hang out with your friends or it’s an upscale restaurant to lure in a love interest, we got your back!

Audrey’s Days of Summer | Summer Hotspots of New York

With America still stuck in one of the biggest recession since The Great Depression, days and nights of eating out have been hard to come by. We get it, so we pulled out some of the hottest restaurants and bars out of our little black book that has some of the happiest of happy hours around. Whether the hotspot is a chill bar to hang out with your friends or it’s an upscale restaurant to lure in a love interest, we got your back.

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Audrey’s Days of Summer | Summer Hotspots of San Francisco

Courtesy of Sustainable Sushi

With America still stuck in one of the biggest recession since The Great Depression, days and nights of eating out have been hard to come by. We get it, so we pulled out some of the hottest restaurants and bars out of our little black book that has some of the happiest of happy hours around. Whether the hotspot is a chill bar to hang out with your friends or it’s an upscale restaurant to lure in a love interest, we got your back.

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Summer ’12 Extra | Hangin’ Out in Hongdae

DESTINASIAN:Hongdae

Vietnamese American Mai Nguyen, 21
Exchange Student at Yonsei University
about 2 months

One of her favorite places to hang out in Seoul is Hongdae, the neighborhood around (and short for) the art-oriented Hongik University. With no shortage of cafes, dance clubs, and street performances, Hongdae has become a magnet for expats, exchange students and locals alike. Here, her hotspots to hit in this Seoul hotspot.

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Editor’s Rant: Flying to Asia

They way we used to fly. Passengers on a Pan Am 307 Boeing in the 1940s. Photo courtesy of State Library and Archives of Florida.

 

It’s been a dozen years since I trekked around Asia for 100 days. Back then (those pre-9/11 days), airfares were relatively affordable and service in-flight still decent. I remember getting to know a flight attendant fairly well on one of my frequent flights on United as I flew from Hong Kong to Hanoi to Manila to Singapore, all via Narita Airport in Tokyo. He’d give me full bottles of wine from first class and move me to empty rows.

Five years ago, I was on another United flight, this time to Seoul. Relatively roomy seats, even in economy, and individual video monitors filled with games, movies (even Korean ones) and TV shows helped pass the time quite pleasantly on the 13-hour flight. They even offered paper menus to let us know what the “chef” had prepared for our flight. Things were still pretty good.

Ah, those were the days.

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Philippines Bound: The Simple Life

The seaside nipa-hut style restaurant where Libagon students spend their lunch break eating and singing karaoke.

I have always wondered how my life would be like had my parents never left their hometown of Libagon, Southern Leyte for the United States. Having spent the last two weeks here in this town (where it’d only take you 15-20 minutes to walk from one end to the other),I’ve gotten a taste of what that life would be.

The best word to describe the lifestyle of Libagon residents is simple. Students attend school from 8 am until 4 pm. During their lunch breaks they’ll either get snacks from the street vendors, play computer games at the Internet Café, or sing a couple songs on the karaoke machine at the seaside restaurant (designed to look like a nipa hut).

Libagon can be compared to the city of Las Vegas because it is a town that never sleeps. From sunrise until sunset the town is alive with people who always have something to do. If they aren’t working, parents will pass the time by visiting friends and relatives to make kwnetuhan (share stories and gossip). Fishermen will get on their boats to catch fish or squid to sell. Young boys climb up palm trees to gather coconuts for a refreshing snack.

Even though I am not completely worry-free and have my Audrey assignments (like these series of posts) to do, I cannot help but feel calm and relaxed in this town. Everyone is so friendly and quick to help others out. Everyone knows each other and if they don’t they do not hesitate to introduce themselves.

I may not have been born here or know every family and their history like my parents, but Libagon is a very special place to me and I do feel at home.

However, I know I won’t ever be able to relate to the impoverished life that most people in this town live. Both my father and mother’s families are fairly well off, but they have always managed to stay humble and know that the best way to really give thanks to God for their blessings is to help those who are less fortunate than them.

The children of Libagon.

My brother has celebrated his 5th, 13th and (most recently) his 18th birthday in Libagon. I can recall on the day of my brother’s 5th birthday, my mom and aunts were running around decorating the area along the beachfront where we would be holding the celebration. My brother started to cry because he noticed there were no gifts for him to be found. He sobbed to my mother, “Mommy, where are my presents? It’s my birthday!”

My parents took my brother aside and explained to him that here in the Philippines many children are not as lucky as him. They don’t have closets full of clothes or bedrooms full of toys. Some children aren’t even able to go to school because their parents do not have enough money to pay for their education.

As with all of his birthdays that have been celebrated in Libagon, my family invited many children to the party so that they could enjoy the many delicious food we had prepared: lechon (roasted pig), pancit (noodles), fried chicken, and fish among other dishes. It may just be one day out of the whole year that they can enjoy this kind of feast, but you can see in their eyes how happy and appreciative they are.

Once all the children are fed my parents distribute “presents” we brought for them from the United States. This year they brought a box full of various types of shoes for boys and girls and another box filled with notebooks, pens, pencils, calculators and other school supplies.

My mother passing out notebooks, pencils, and other school supplies to children.

Living in the U.S. it can be easy for me to get caught up in my daily routine of working and worrying over petty things like a friend not returning a call right away, but when I see the big smile on a little boy or girl’s face over something as simple as a pack of pencils, reality hits me. My so-called problems are nothing in comparison to what many people deal with day in and day out in the Philippines. At the age of 5, my brother may have cried because he wasn’t receiving a table full of presents, but we both now know (thanks to the example set by our parents) the importance of sharing one’s blessings.