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Wat Arun, also known as the Temple of Dawn, is located along the Chao Phraya river in Bangkok. Many say the nickname came from ancient times when traders would sail down the river and approach Bangkok. The first thing they saw was the morning light reflecting off the temple, so they knew they were heading towards their destination.

The temple itself is quite exquisite and grandeur in stature. Porcelain ceramics cover the entire temple, creating a colorful and enchanting feel to it. You can climb the stairs to the top of the temple for 50 baht, but beware, it is quite steep! It is not an easy climb.

There are a number of ways to get to Wat Arun: bus (number 19, 57 or 83), water taxi, or by car. My friends and I took the water taxi up the river to Tha Tien Pier. Ferries come every 10-15 minutes from the pier to take you to the other side, which is where Wat Arun is located. Since it’s a Buddhist temple, women must cover their shoulders when entering the premise out of respect.  Most temples in Thailand are like this – you must have your shoulders covered at all times. For those who forget about this, or are simply unaware, you can pay money to rent a sarong.

At Tha Tien Pier, ready to board the ferry to cross the river to Wat Arun

About to board the ferry to cross the river. You can see Wat Arun in the background.

View of Wat Arun from across the river

While climbing up, we decided to sit for a photo-op.

Exquisite detail. Porcelain mosaics cover the temple

We made it to the top!

It's very steep. Make sure to hold on to the sides!

It's very steep. Make sure to hold on to the sides!

View from the top

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Maeklong Market
Samut Songkhram, Thailand
[Located approximately 1 hour outside of Bangkok]

A commuter train runs right through Maeklong Marketplace - 8 times per day!

There’s one big difference between Maeklong Market and any other outdoor marketplace in the world: a train literally (yes, literally) runs through it 8 times a day! In order to wrap your head around this, let me explain. Maeklong Market, located 1 hour outside of Bangkok, looks like any other open-air marketplace in Asia: people sell locally grown fruits such as lychee, durian, and mango, freshly caught seafood, dried spices and peppers, and other local foods. Locals weave their way in between vendors, picking up whatever they need that day, while tourists curiously marvel at the more unique foods at the market such as fried frog on a stick. The only (big) difference? Train tracks run right through Maeklong Market.

One moment, it’s a normal marketplace. The next moment, you hear a piercing siren on the loudspeakers, signaling to vendors that the train is approaching. They hurriedly pull their goods to the side, pull up their canopies and get ready for the commuter train to come through. Within minutes, the train is literally passing straight through the market. It is such a tight squeeze that the train is touching the fruits, vegetables and everything else at the marketplace.

Once the train passes, everything goes back to normal. It is surely a sight to see! It’s a jaw-dropping experience, leaving you with the question: “did that really just happen?” You’ve got to see it to believe it.

Just your average marketplace..right?


You’ll notice that train tracks run right through the market:

Dried spices and peppers:

A popular snack: fried frogs:

Move out! The train is coming…


It’s coming through…Stay to the sides!

Move out for the train!

The train literally touches the fruits and vegetables at the market…

Too close for comfort?

Believe it or not, bike riding does exist in this city. Sure, Hong Kong is a bustling metropolitan city with tall buildings and skyscrapers, but there are trails out there for people like you and I who want to take in a good, relaxing afternoon ride. Your best bet for actual bike trails is in the New Territories, for the most obvious reasons: space. It is very rare to see anyone bike riding in the more popular areas of Hong Kong such as Central or Tsim Sha Tsui because everything is so compact. But fear not! The New Territories has plenty of trails for those yearning to ride a bike.

My friends and I rented bikes just outside the MTR stop at Tai Wai. There are several bike rental shops in this area, so you’ll be able to find them easily once you exit the station. It’s pretty simple. You rent a bike at Tai Wai for around $35 HKD (approx. $6 USD), and return it in Tai Wo. They’ll give you a map with directions of where to return the bikes, so you don’t have to worry about making a round-trip back.

The distance from Tai Wai to Tai Wo is approximately 8 miles, and it’s a paved pathway. On the way, you’ll be strolling right along the water with tranquil scenery. Plus,  It’s the perfect afternoon activity for those looking for good physical exercise in Hong Kong!

Beginning our journey in Tai Wai

Taking in the scenery!

That's me!

A view from the bike path

Resting in Tai Wo

Hanging out in Tai Wo

Tsui Hang Village Restaurant
G/F, Miramar Shopping Centre
132 Nathan Road
Tsim Sha Tsui, Hong Kong
Tel: 2376 2882

Shrimp

This is one of my absolute favorite restaurants in Hong Kong, and I would highly recommend eating here if you are ever in this city. My friend Kitty introduced me to Tsui Hang Village a while back, and since then, I’ve come back on numerous occasions with friends and family. There are three locations: Tsim Sha Tsui, Central and Sai Kung. I’d suggest going to the Tsim Sha Tsui location because it has the nicest atmosphere and the food tastes slightly better, in my opinion. Everything at Tsui Hang Village restaurant is so flavorful and unique in its own way.

The baked crab.

Tofu, Scallops and Vegetables

Whenever I’m here, I always order the baked crab. It takes around 20 minutes to cook, but it is well worth the wait because it has such a distinct, flavorful taste. The crabmeat is shredded, mixed with other ingredients, and baked to perfection. I’d also recommend the sweet and sour shrimp. This doesn’t seem like the typical dish you’d eat at a Chinese restaurant in Hong Kong – especially since it seems a bit Westernized – but it is absolutely mouth-watering. Its rich and savory taste will make you wanting to come back for more! Another recommendation is the tofu, scallop and vegetable mix. It is a wonderful combination mixed with a delicious sauce that blends everything so well together.

I could go on and on about other wonderful dishes here, but I can honestly say that mostly everything tastes delicious. It’s one of the many reasons why Tsui Hang Village is one of my top restaurants in Hong Kong!

My friends eating the delicious food!

Chow mein noodles

Duck tongue

Spring Deer Restaurant
2/F, 42 Mody Road
Tsim Sha Tsui, Hong Kong
Tel: 2366 4012

Our chef preparing the Peking duck

Spring Deer is located on the second floor of an old, run down building in one of the less crowded areas of Tsim Sha Tsui. It’s not hard to find, but don’t expect a fine-dining Peking duck experience. Once you walk up the stairs to the second floor, you’ll see people sitting on round tables with plain white tablecloths while chefs carve the duck on rolling metal carts. My friends and I ate here on a weeknight, but it was quite crowded nevertheless. We ordered a whole Peking duck, vegetables and noodles. The thinly sliced duck skin tasted delicious in between the warm Chinese pancake. In my opinion, the pancake is just as important as the duck skin – it needs to be a perfect pairing. Many restaurants have different types of pancakes, but Spring Deer’s was thicker than most. Because of this, it slightly took away from the crisp, delicate flavor of the duck, which should be most prominent when eating Peking Duck. However, we had an overall delicious meal. I would recommend making reservations a few days before you dine here because it is known to have long waits. Some people even make reservations a week or two before!

My friends and I - ready to eat a delicious meal!

The exterior of the building. Spring Deer is located on the 2nd floor.

Today, 23 years ago, I was born in a hospital on Sunset Blvd in Los Angeles. Flash forward more than two decades, and here I am, ready for yet another phase in my life. The past year was by far the most exciting times of my life. It was filled with adventures and changes, self-discoveries and enlightening moments.

As I continue to grow and move into the next phase of my life, it is filled with many uncertainties and unknowns – a stark difference from last year. Where will my career endeavors take me? Where will I be in one year? For the first time in my life, I simply do not have an answer. But I do not take this as a negative. I look at it as an opportunity. I am excited for what my 23rd year has in store. After all, the adventures that I experienced this past year were unbeknown to me as I sat here…one year ago.

Baby Lauren

With that being said, here are some highlights from the past year. Usually, around the New Year, you’ll see newspaper and television pieces that are all along the lines of “A Look Back at 2009” or “2009 Year Review.” Well, here’s my 22nd year review!

August 2009
I said my last goodbyes to everyone at home, and flew halfway across the world to Hong Kong. We also traveled to Phuket and Bangkok, Thailand and had a wonderful time! After this trip, I settled into my new dorm in Xuesi Hall at the Chinese University of Hong Kong where I would spend the remainder of the year!

Victoria Harbor in Hong Kong

Riding elephants in Thailand

My exchange school, the Chinese University of Hong Kong

September
Soon after arriving at my university, I met some of the most amazing people who would become my “second family” in Hong Kong. We spent so much time together eating, exploring and traveling around Asia. One of our first trips was to Seoul, South Korea and we had the best time!

October
Celebrated Halloween in Hong Kong with my “second family.” Traveled to Thailand with this same group of people and had a wonderful time.

We still had to dress up in Hong Kong!

On the beaches of Pattaya, Thailand

The Temple of Dawn in Bangkok, Thailand

November
The traditional American holiday, Thanksgiving, could not be forgotten – no matter how many miles away from home! We also went to Taipei and ate lots of delicious food and enjoyed the nightlife!

Our Thanksgiving dinner

Taipei

December
An action-packed month of traveling for me! As you all know, I went backpacking in Vietnam and Cambodia, then engulfed on a journey throughout China with my family!

Angkor Archeological Park in Cambodia

Vietnam

Bird's Nest in Beijing

January
We rang in the new year in Hong Kong. My sisters and I were on the outside level of the IFC building (located on the Hong Kong Island side), and saw the fireworks as they were blasted off the top of the building. This month, I also said a tearful goodbye to Hong Kong – a place I now call my second home.

New Years Eve at the IFC Building

My last night in Hong Kong

February
Well, during this month I got back into the swing of things at school as I finished my final semester!

March
Spent my last Spring Break with my three friends on a cruise to Mexico. We went to Cabo San Lucas, Mazatlan, and Puerto Vallarta!

Cabo San Lucas, Mexico

Mazatlan, Mexico

April
Finished producing a 20 minute documentary with two other USC students. Our documentary was based on the dog rescue efforts of Bonnie Sheehan from Hearts for Hounds, based in Long Beach, California and Seaaca Animal Shelter in Downey, California. Also met my journalistic hero, Lisa Ling.

My roommate Kristina, Lisa Ling, and me

May
I graduated from the University of Southern California with a degree in broadcast journalism and a minor business entrepreneurship.

June
I worked on my resume reel almost the entire month of June. A reel is what i’m going to be sending out to TV news stations in hopes of getting a job! It’s a highlight of all of my past work in reporting.

July
It was my cousin’s wedding in Seattle, so I made a stop in Vancouver earlier to visit my study abroad friend Brenda!

Downtown Vancouver on Canada Day (July 1st)

August 2010
Celebrated my 23rd birthday! Thank you everyone for the birthday wishes.

Japa Dog
899 Burrard Street
Vancouver, BC V6Z2K6, Canada
Website: http://www.japadog.com/en/

The original Japa Dog on Burrard Street in Downtown Vancouver

I’ve always been a fan of street food. From the small food stalls at night markets in Taiwan to the roving food trucks (aka “meals on wheels”) in Los Angeles, I’m always on the lookout for something new. Japa Dog originated as a small hot dog stand on the streets of downtown Vancouver, and has since spread to different locations throughout the city. It is literally a Japanese hot dog. Their most popular hot dog is the “kurobuta terimayo hot dog” – which is a hot dog with teriyaki sauce, Japanese mayonnaise, and seaweed. Another popular item is the “okonomi hot dog” – topped with Japanese cabbage, special okonomi sauce, bonito flakes, and Japanese mayonnaise.

The fusion between a traditional hot dog and Japanese flavors is an unconventional mixture, but it works. The teriyaki sauce combined with the piping hot, fresh hot dog is a tasty combination. When all of the toppings are added to it, it tastes delicious! Although Japa Dog is on the more expensive side for hot dogs – kurobuta terimayo at $6.75, okonomi at $6.25 – I would recommend trying it at least once while you’re in Vancouver. It’s very close to the main downtown area, so you can grab a quick bite to eat and get back to your shopping!