I get a lot of requests for my itineraries, so I have created a section of my website where I will start to post them. For starters here is the itinerary of my recent trip to Southeast Asia, followed by an itinerary for the San Francisco/Bay Area, Hawaii, a soft adventure tour of Jamaica and two round the world trips that I took. More itineraries to come!
Southeast Asia (Thailand/Cambodia/Vietnam)
This is one of my favorite parts of the world!!! If you are thinking of visiting here, I suggest you stay a minimum of three weeks and see all three countries. I was there for 5 weeks in 2015 and that worked pretty well. It was a bit rushed but doable. Six weeks would be an ideal minimum. Fly into Bangkok Thailand then after touring Thailand fly into Siem Rep, Cambodia and after touring Cambodia, fly into Ho Chi Minh City, Vietnam and after touring Vietnam fly out of Hanoi. Be sure to try to travel to Thailand in late November so you can attend the remarkable Chiang Mai Lantern Festival.
Hotel -Phranakorn Norn Len Boutique Hotel
http://www.phranakorn-nornlen.com/ Neighborhood based, great food, smart helpful staff, eclectic décor, has free cooking classes/field trips and is fairly quiet.
Massages – While in Bangkok and Thailand in general be sure to get lots of massages which average about $5 an hour. Thai massages are amazing and we got one almost every day. Thai massage reminds me of a combination of yoga, dance, chiropractic and Swedish massage. Its established formula and its movement ritual process takes about 90 minutes and is done with you clothed in a loose pajama like outfit.
Touring – Take a basic city Tour to get the lay of the land.
Below is the itinerary of a 3 day Bangkok visit. (I actually got there 2 days before my much younger travel pal so I could rest up and acclimate to climate, overcome jet lag and time difference.
Day 1 – Our first day of touring happened to be on a weekend so we went to the weekend Floating Market, the one outside of town, where Thai people go (we saw very few foreigners there). I think it was called Khlong Lat Mayom. Along with a great selection of food and a nice atmosphere, another reason I think Khlong Lat Mayom Floating Market (ตลาดน้ำคลองลัดมะยม) is one of the best floating markets in Bangkok is because of its boat ride tour. At the center of the market along the canal they offer long tail boat tours, which are communal, and very affordable. We visited a temple community, saw local villages and an orchid farm.
Next stop the Chatuchak Weekend Market – my fav market. It massive. Bring lots of money and energy. You could buy all your souvenirs and keepsakes here and mail them home. Its a real slice into Thai life!
Day 2 – Phra Chan Amulet Market is a massive and fascinating place and gives you an interesting insight into Thai culture. In Thai society, amulets remain very important sacred objects, believed to ward off negative events, illness, evil spirits, and other misfortunes, as well as bringing the owner prosperity and good fortune. Visitors to Thailand will see the amulets hanging from vehicle rearview mirrors, or on dashboards of cars, and buses. Thais also wear them and/or collect them.
- Massage at the Wat Pho School of Massage which was founded in the 1500’s and has remained faithful to the ancient principles and techniques of massage
- Afternoon Cooking Class @ Phranakorn hotel (the hotel offers a number of free classes and excursions – just ask their staff about them
- Jim Thompson House which is the former home of an American businessman and adjoining silk fabric store.
- Thanon Khoa San Market –stroll through the centre of the backpacker’s universe in Bangkok
- We took a water ferry and a Tuk Tuk for a tour of the Grand Palace. A tuk tuk is a is a three-wheel motorcycle open air car type taxi. Beware of con artists tuk tuk drivers telling you that the place you are going to is closed and that they will take to a sight that is open which will end up being their friend’s store.
- Old City Bangkok’s Flower Market (Talad Pak Klong). It was hard to find but worth the effort. It was fascinating to see the arrangement, leis, the unusual types or flowers and the sheer volume of flowers. They are obviously a big part of the culture.
- Afterwards we checked out the Yodpiman River Walk which is a lifestyle mall focusing on a heritage theme inspired by the architecture of Thailand’s Ayuthaya period. The River Walk is directly behind the Flower Market.
- We then walked to China Town and also saw Golden Buddha temple (Wat Traimit). Located at the end of Chinatown’s Yaowarat Road, near Hualampong Railway Station, it houses the world’s largest massive gold seated Buddha measuring nearly 16 feet in height and weighing five and a half tons.
- Walked around Silom Rd. (gem area), great place to buy precious stones
- Then we visited the Banyan Tree Hotel for their ab fab moon bar sunset happy hour. A must do!!!! Its conveniently located in the Sathorn/Silom area and it is one of the best roof top bars in Bangkok with 360-degree view of the city atop the hotel’s 30 floor building. Can be crowded, noisy and expensive but worth it. OMG we were there on a full moon night!!
- Then we visited the Patpong area, internationally known as the main red light district at the heart of Bangkok’s sex industry. They also have a night market.
- MBK Mall – Bangkok’s largest indoor mall
If time permits, consider checking out the restaurant/resort – “Cabbage and Condoms” a business set up to make money to help buy condoms and do sex education for Bangkok’s sex workers.
Consider taking a day trip to the historic City of Ayutthaya, founded in 1350, which flourished from the 14th to the 18th centuries. It’s a UNESCO World Heritage Site. While you are there you can also visit the King’s summer palace. Its just 52 miles from Bangkok.
CHIANG MAI – 3 days (Northern Thailand) minimum
Day 1 – flew there via Thai airways, got situated in a hotel. Wish I could have gotten one inside of the moat.
Went to the Loi Krathong parade and lantern festival which was one of the most fascinating events I have ever been to in my life. It is held every year on the full moon of the twelfth month in the Thai Lunar Calendar. (late November)
This Thai Festival is held all over the country, but the epicenter is in Chiang Mai. I have been to Thailand 3 times and this was my most fun experience yet. If your schedule permits, I would strongly recommend that you schedule your trip to include attendance at this amazing festival. Monks, commoners and tourist place thousands of floating lanterns in the river the day after the famous Sky Lantern Release where they release thousands of air born lanterns into the sky. Imagine sky covered with thousands of lanterns. The lantern releases are done to show respect to Buddha and to the ancestors. There are also fireworks and cultural performance in open air pavilions. The scene is festive and big fun. Check it out on google images for the wow factor.
Day 2 – Spent a 1/2 Day in an Elephant Park – try to find an Ethical elephant encounter. Some advertise that they are but are not really.
In the evening we attend part two of the Loi Krathong Festival night and went to the Night Market
Day 3 – We took a full day cooking class at smartcook thailand. smartcookthailand.com – The experience was fabulous and included a trip to the local market to buy food. We learned to cook four different dishes then got to eat them afterwards. Big fun.
In the evening we went to the Open mic night at the The Tea Tree Café and hung out with lots of expats.
Day 4 or more. If you have more time available be sure to take a tour/trek to see the hill tribes. If you have even more time, visit the nearby Doi Sut Hep national park, visit the city of Chiang Rai and consider even getting a day pass to the border town of Tachileik Burma/Myamar.
KRABI – 3 days (Southern Thailand)
Day 1 – Flight on Bangkok Airlines from Chiang Mai to Krabi then a bus and van to Ko Lanta’s Mermaid boutique hotel – http://www.lantaresort.com/hotels/lantamermaidboutique/
Ko Lanta was too far and complicated to travel to and was not worth the effort. As much as I didn’t like touristy Phuket, it is easier to get to and you can just take boat excursion to the Krabi area.
Day 2 – Four Island Tour from Ko Lanta, Massage, Dinner
Day 3 – Tour of Phi Phi Island. We did not like the Phi Phi tour bc it was way too touristy and the other islands we visited as part of the tour were too busy and crowded. That night we went to the night market in Ko Lanta and I worked on getting my online visa to Vietnam.
If you have more time, I wish I had volunteered at the local animal shelter instead. They have a shelter that welcomes tourist volunteers and after a day of service you get shelter t-shirt. Its like a badge of honor around the country. You see people with the t-shirts everywhere. What a win-win situation. If I had a lot more time I would have like to have visited the Ko Sumai area.
Vietnam – Flew from Krabi to Bangkok to Hanoi. Getting the online visa to Vietnam was a borderline nightmare. (pun intended) Don’t wait until the last minute and try to find a reputable company. It would make more sense to fly to Cambodia first from Thailand but I was meeting a friend in Hanoi so I ended up going to Vietnam then Cambodia.
I absolutely loved being there. The friendly people, amazing culture, varied terrain, magnificent food, wonderful beaches and great adventure opps were amazing.
Hanoi – 3 days
We stayed at the CALYPSO SUITES HOTEL and really liked it. The rooms were super clean and modern, Be sure to ask for a room on the back side of the hotel to avoid the street noise. They not only have a fabulous breakfast but also their staff planned our whole northern Vietnam excursions and they went off without a hitch. I know it sounds touristy but sometimes it just makes more sense to be a tourist instead of an adventurer. This was a case in point.
The hotel had excellent and friendly service. Its in Hanoi’s Old Quarter, also known as the “36 Streets.” Its near the Hang Be Market and Hoan Kiem Lake. Great shopping around that area and there is huge night market on Friday nite.
While in Hanoi we visited the following:
- Temple of Literature, built in 1076 and Vietnam’s first national university. Happened upon a massive high school graduation ceremony that was a wonderful cultural immersion experience.
- One Pillar Pagoda.
- French/Vietnamese restaurant, Hoa Sua, a training place for Vietnamese disadvantaged youth. The food is wonderful and the service delightful.
- Women’s museum on Ly Thuong Kiet Street, near the central Hoan Kiem Lake and the old quarter. It is a fascinating look into the role of women in society and their history.
- Art district where we went to numerous galleries and fashion designer near Ly Quoc street,
- The Vietnam Museum of Ethnology is a museum which showcases the 54 officially recognized ethnic groups in Vietnam. It is located in the Cầu Giấy District. Bought lots of stuff in their gift shop.
- Went to water puppet show which we hated – be sure to avoid it at all cost.
- Be sure to pick up lots of cute pop greeting cards!! They are on many corners!!!
- Consider taking a food tour. The food is soooo delicious there. Hanoi Street Food Tours is a good but expensive tour, we saw lots of groups being let by their staff or try the Hanoi cooking center tours and an art tour – perhaps check out sophie’s art tour, art and fashion are a big thing in Vietnam so be sure to make time to check them out.
Hanoi Side trips – 6 days Hanoi is launching pad for visiting two amazing northern regions – Ha long bay and the Sapa region. Unfortunately, you can go from one to the other, you have to come back to Hanoi before you can get to the other.
Ha long bay – Our two day trip there was planned by the hotel and we toured the area via their sister boat – halong flamingo cruises -http://la-beautehanoihotel.com/en-us/hotels/vietnam-tours/tours/detail/flamingo-cruise-recommended/88.html
Hay Long Bay has towering limestone pillars and tiny islets topped by forest rise from the emerald waters of the Gulf of Tonkin. Halong translates as ‘where the dragon descends into the sea’ and legend tells that this mystical seascape was created when a great mountain dragon charged towards the coast, its flailing tail gouging out valleys and crevasses. As the creature plunged into the sea, the area filled with water leaving only the pinnacles visible. The geological explanation of karst erosion may be more prosaic, but doesn’t make this seascape any less poetic.
Designated a World Heritage site in 1994, Halong Bay’s spectacular scatter of islands, dotted with wind- and wave-eroded grottoes, is a vision of ethereal beauty and, unsurprisingly, northern Vietnam’s number one tourism hub. Magnificent. You will see rock formations with such names as Sail, Dog and Dinh Huong (incense pot). Toward the end of the day, you will anchor for the night as the sun sets and then have a cooking demonstration and dinner on board the boat.
The hotel made plan for our taxi and bus travel there and the cruise provided meals and tours, including a hike into the Surprise Cave one of the widest grottoes in Halong Bay, so large that the Viet Cong used this as a hiding place during the American-Vietnam War.
Back to Hanoi for a day or so then off to the Sapa Region for a 3 day two night experience. http://la-beautehanoihotel.com/en-us/hotels/vietnam-tours/sapa-tours/1.html
We traveled from Hanoi – Lao Cai via sleeper train and then a mini-bus to Sapa.
The hotel Sapa Lodge was top-knotch. http://sapalodgehotel.com. You can also try the Sunny Mountain Hotel (http://sunnymountainhotel.com) Be sure to get a mountain view room.
Sapa is northern Vietnam’s premier trekking base where hikers launch themselves into a surrounding countryside of cascading rice terraces and tiny hill-tribe villages that seems a world apart. Once you’ve stepped out into the lush fields you’ll understand the Sapa area’s real charm. We trekked for a ½ day on first day and a whole day on the second in the rain and didn’t mind it a bit. Totally fascinating. The hikes were relatively hard so you need to be fit and hardy. No whiners allowed. The guide was phenomenal and prepared us wonderfully for both of our hikes – ½ day and a whole day hike. She even took us to her hillside home and introduced us to her family and village folks. One of our meals was hosted in their community center. Unfortunately, the local women can be aggressive sellers and it can mar your experience if you guide does not protect you. She helped us with our negotiation so that everybody ended up happy and the third day she actually took us a souvenir warehouse so we could stock up at an affordable price. It located near the china border. The dry season is from January to June with March to May being the best time to visit. We were there in early December and it was raining a lot but there was cheap raingear to rent/buy and guides to help us so.
Hanoi to Hoi an (Central Vietnam) – 4 days
Hanoi for the night and then took a sleeper train to Danang. It was a long hard 14 hour trip but the amazing scenery of the South China Sea made it worth it. Be sure to pack your own food and water because the food on the train has the reputation of not being safe to eat. Once in Danang you can arrange for a taxi to take you to Hoi an or you could luck up and get there in time for a public bus. Great place to stay in Hoi an is the Hanging Garden or if money is no object stay right in town at the Hoi An Historic Hotel.
Day 1 – Start your Hoi An visit with a walking tour of the central area. Discover the charming, old-world trading port of narrow streets, traditional houses, former merchants’ homes, the town’s iconic 400-year-old Japanese Covered Bridge and the colorful market where an array of fresh ingredients are on offer. Love hanging out in the food market and eating at the stalls with the locals.
They also have a fun night market but mainly resellers and not a lot of actual artisans.
Not sure if its every Thursday night or if it was a special holiday but I was totally amazed at the elaborate ancestral altars that people put in front of their homes and businesses when we were there.
Day 2 – consider taking one of the country day tours that includes a visit to a rice paddy, a ride on a buffalo, cooking class and boat ride with net toss. That might require different two tours or perhaps you can find one with all of that. I only took the ½ day boat trip and cooking class with ba tran eco coconut cooking tour. Another popular one is jack tran eco tours.
Day 3 and 4 were relaxing ones. We actually rented bikes and road to the beach and hung out at the beach all day. You have to pay to park your bike and then walk the beach. Super relaxing scene. You can rent a chair for the day and get yourself a fresh coconut. Get a chaise lounge away from the restaurant noise.
We went to an amazing seaside restaurants, one that catered to the locals. One of those evenings we went to Morning Glory restaurant in town for their famous white rose dumplings. Utterly amazing. Yummo.
You can also take a cooking class at Morning Glory that includes a market tour and an overview of ingredients common in Vietnamese cuisine. The class ends with each participant making their own multi-course meal. It is a great way to see all the nooks and crannies of a Vietnamese market and understand the secrets behind Vietnamese cooking.
You can also check out a special tour with the Lifestart Foundation and enjoy a fun, interactive workshop learning traditional Vietnamese painting and lantern making. Lifestart Foundation is a non-profit charity that helps the disadvantaged create a community, learn life skills and obtain vocational livelihoods through handicrafts.
Be sure to check out the store called Chula. Beautiful clothes by a Vietnam based designer.
Hoi An – Danang – Ho Chi Minh City (Southern Vietnam) – 5 days
We took a taxi to Danang Airport and then flew to Ho Chi Minh City. I think it cost about $38 dollars.
I don’t have a recommendation for a hotel in Ho Chi Minh or a lot of general recommendations for Ho Chi Minh City because we only stayed there two days. We were busy figuring out how to do a Mekong delta tour.
In Ho Chi Minh city be sure to check out the:
- Ben Thanh Market area – they also have a makeshift food scene and night market that is created after the brick and mortar market is closed down. Really good food and lots of locals.
- Vietnam Designer house – an amazing collection of clothes by Vietnamese fashion designers
- Bihn Jazz Club
- See what’s playing at the Opera House. Its rarely opera, we went to dance performance that gave us a fascinating insight into Vietnamese culture.
- Cu Chi Tunnels
Ho Chi Minh City to Mekong Delta excursion
- We took a 3 day 2night tour and I think the name of the company was Viet fun travel (http://vietfuntravel.com/mekong-delta-tours) which included bus and boat travel and hotels. You can also get a type of tour where you stay on boat e.g. Cai Be Princess Boat Cruise. I also read good things about Scenic Spirit river cruise.
On our trip we took a bus to the city of My Tho and a boat ride to visit a bee farm, coconut candy factory and also got a canal tour. At some point we got bikes and cycled on tranquil winding lanes, through villages and crossing canals to a sacred forest site. I think we overnighted My Tho and next day took the bus to Can Tho were we got a chance to visit the region’s largest floating market (Cai Rang). It was utterly amazing to see the plethora of boats laden with fresh fruits/vegetables as well as traditional sights such as rice barges, wooden ship building yards and even fruit drying along the Mekong’s banks. Then we went to rice noodle factory, which was fascinating and went somewhere for lunch were we got a chance to hear a variety of traditional Vietnamese musical performances and get some locally caught and freshly prepared fried fish. Yum. Got a chance to walk across a traditional hand made bamboo bridge and then went to a totally boring crocodile farm. Then off to Chau Doc where we spent the night and I left there and took a boat to Phnom Penh, Cambodia but my travel buddy stayed for the 3rd day of activities and loved her experience where she visited sam mountain, cave pagoda and Tra Sue forest then the bus brought them back to Ho Chi Minh city.
- Chau Doc to Phnom Penh, Capital of CambodiaI traveled from Chau Doc to Phnom Penh via speed boat and it took four hours with stops for immigration. Again I recommend flying into Thailand then going to Cambodia then visit Vietnam and fly home from there. The only reason I went from Thailand to Vietnam was because I was meeting an experienced southeast asia traveler in Hanoi who was going to let me tag along with her.Phnom Penh to Siem RepI did not tour Phnom Penh bc I was recovering from food poisoning. I pretty much just stayed in my hotel and then took a bus to Siem Reap (Mekong Express or Giant Ibis) for 5 hour trip for about $15. You can also take a boat during certain seasons $35 and a flight is about $100.Siem Rep – The hotel where I stayed was modern, quiet, cheap and near the action – sonyn retreat.
Recommended itinerary for Siem Reap. I have listed them in order of importance so if you only have 2 days do 1 and 2, etc. I used siem reap shuttle company for my tours and was very satisfied. www.siemreapshuttle.com.
Day one: Angkor Wat, ta phrom, bayon temples and the south gate. I recommend that you take a tour otherwise you may not know what you are looking at. It is the largest religious monument in the world, 402 acres). It was built by the Khmer King Suryavarman in the early 12th century.
Day two: Kulen Mountain Tour where you will see an amazing waterfall, fascinating sacred sites and river of a thousand lingas. The place where King Suryavarman launched his plan to create Angkok Wat.
Day Three: Floating Village Tour, you will also see Sap Lake
Day Four: Visit Banteay Srie also called the “Citadel of Women” which remains one of the best-preserved temple in Cambodia. A 10th-century Cambodian temple dedicated to the Hindu god Shiva and the only one not created by or for a monarch. It is called the Citadel of the Women because the carvings are so intricate that it is said that only a woman’s hand could have carved them.
Day Five – take a cooking class at Cassia Restaurant which begins with a guided trip to the local market where we will learn about Cambodian vegetables, herbs and other ingredients before returning to the classroom for a hands-on culinary experience. Another cooking class I read that was good is Cooks in Tuk Tuk.
Then you could visit: Golden Silk Farm and Artisans d’Angkor.
After returning from your tours be sure to check out the three different Night Markets, Old Market, The Siem Reap street food tour, and Cafe Central. My third night there I actually found a night market that had lots of local artist selling their wares at reasonable prices and not just resellers as most of the night market vendors are. It was kind of hard to find because it was behind one of the most popular night markets, down an street and around a corner or two…keep trying until you find it!!!
Siem Reap had lots of good and cheap massages.
Another fun evening activity – take an Angkor Gondola paddleboat at the moat of the Angkor Thom compound, while watching a spectacular sunset at Prasat Chroung Temple. Cocktails, champagne, canapés and soft drinks will be available on the boat.
I saw the following itinerary for Thailand on the Black Travel Movement facebook page and thought I would share it with you. Hi All, I visited Thailand in March for about 9 days. I booked through China Eastern for $374 round trip out of NYC. It wasn’t so bad for me because I’m small, so I don’t need leg room, but I also slept for most of the plane ride.
Planning can feel overwhelming, so if you’d like to see my itinerary I have all of my hotels, flights, excursions listed out with pricing, descriptions and links to sites to book your trip. I am very ambitious on vacation and like to see and do everything without feeling like I’m rushing through things to check it off a list. I was able to do most things on my initial agenda, but changed some things based on feel as we went along. We visited Bangkok, Phuket and Chiang Mai and had a great time in each place. We used Air Asia to fly between the different areas on one way tickets totaling about $110. Here are my highlights from each location:
Bangkok (did this in one day but I highly recommend at least 2 days. One for floating market and maybe to go to Catuchak Weekend market and another day for temples exploring the city.)
-Khlong Lat Mayom Floating Market – only open on weekends. This is a locals market so you will see fewer tourists here and it was closer to the city. We spent less than $5 using the Grab app to get here.
-Grand Palace/Emerald Buddha
-Khao San Road
–Old Phuket Town (great for shopping and delicious coffee shop called Bookhemian. There’s an outdoor restaurant two doors down that has delicious food)
-Chalong Bay Rum Distillery (take the tour)
-Bangla Road in Patong for nightlife. (We did the ping pong show. It was interesting ??)
-Sunrise tour to Phi Phi Islands
– Staying at a Mushroom House made of clay for $22/night!
-Wat Pha Lat
-Wat Chedi Leung
-Doi Suthep/Touring Hill Tribe Gardens
-Chiang Mai Night Safari
-Thai Secret Cooking School for a full day class
-Chat with a Monk at Wat Suan Dok
-Front row at Muay Thai Fight at Night Bazaar
-Elephant Nature Park
-Saturday Walking Street at Wualai Road
-Nimman road for shopping and cute drink spots Pencil for coffee and Rustic and Blue for drinks (*they can’t serve alcohol til after 5pm I believe)
Back to Bangkok for last night:
-Sky Bar to try Hangover drink (filmed a scene from Hangover II here)
Let me know if you have any questions about my trip and I’ll try my best to answer. Would also be happy to forward my itinerary. I’m limited to 40 pictures on this thing so feel free to request me to see my other photos or follow me on IG @wintertymecold_
San Francisco/Bay Area 3-day immersion experience
Drive to Napa Valley and visit:
Domaine Chandon champagne company for a tasting
Opus one winery – which has amazing Egyptian style architecture and a great expansive view from its 2nd floor terrace
Francis Ford Coppola’s winery, tasting room, store and movie memorabilia center
Dean and Delulca gourmet store.
Dr. Wilkerson’s for mineral bath, steam and massage
On your drive back, take the Silverado trail and visit Auberge De Soliel, hillside French restaurant for an amazing view of Napa Valley, yummy snacks and fabulous dessert.
Drive to/through San Francisco/Marin
Tour downtown SF and Union Square (if weekend visit Ferry Bldg’s Farmer’s Market)
Chinatown to get souvenirs
North Beach, the Italian neighborhood – get pastries at Stella’s
Fisherman’s Wharf/Pier 39
Lombard Street, the Crookest Street in the World
Mission, the Latino neighborhood, take a mural tour
Castro, the Gay neighborhood and business district
Haight Asbury neighborhood
Golden Gate Park
Cliff House restaurant: has mediocre food but a wonderful view
Drive across the Golden Gate Bridge
Check out Sausalito city and house boats
Muir Woods Redwood Forest
DAY THREE – Monterey/Carmel
17 mile drive
Walk around Carmel
Eat at the Clint Eastwood’s Hog’s Breath Cafe
If you have loads of energy, drive on down to Big Sur
If you have EXTRA TIME consider the following:
Visiting some of the areas fabulous restaurants and nightclubs
For culture clues, pick up a copy of the Bay Guardian, East Bay Express and San Francisco Chronicle’s Sunday Pink Entertainment Section
Visit the East Bay cities of Berkeley and Oakland.
Have breakfast at Bette’s Oceanview in Berkeley’s Gourmet Ghetto
Visit Albany Waterfront Park to see the lost art park
Tour the University of Cal campus/Telegraph Ave
Take a drive or walk around Oakland’s Lake Merritt
For more help planning your travels in the Bay Area, visit: www.OpenRoad.TV.
Hawaii is one of my favorite places to travel. Since it is easy to get to from my home base in the San Francisco Bay Area, I have been at least 15 times. Unfortunately this guide only covers Kauai and the Big Island. I have been to the others but these two are my favs.
Here’s a scooplet on my most recent Kauai adventure.
Day One: I drove to Waimea Canyon (Hawaii’s version of Grand Canyon). I reserved a nice cabin in the woods, made a big fire in the fireplace and curled up with a page-turner “Drinking Coffee Elsewhere”.
Day Two: I hiked to the Ni Pali Coast to view where its 4,000 foot jagged sea cliffs meet the ocean,
Day Three: Was a mellow down day at Donkey beach, which is ultra beautiful and secluded, yet easily accessible.
Day Four: Made a jungle trek to the top of Sleeping Giant Mountain.
Day Five: We kayaked up a river near Hanalei and hiked to a gorgeous waterfall. Afterwards we visited some of Chris’s friends who lived in that area and went out to dinner.
Day Six: We went to the local Farmer’s Market. We scored a few coconuts full of water and strolled through one of the most amazing markets I had ever visited. The fruit, vegetables and particularly the greens were so fresh they seemed to be dancing on the table, vibrating with the chi and vibration of life.
Day Seven: Back to Honolulu and ground zero in San Francisco.
Big Island travel tips
- The highlight of my trips there have always been swimming with the dolphins at Kealakekua Bay and Ho’okena Bay. We just jumped in the bay and swam a mile out to encounter them but i did go with an experienced person. I understand that might have changed and you may need to arrange things through a company???
- Most first time visitors feel the need to visit the volcano state park, but once was enough for me. The volcano is rarely active in a major way but you can always walk for miles on the hot lava, melt your shoes and watch a tiny stream of hot lava ooze into the sea. I understand that the boat rides are better but they are expensive and you have to make sure the lava is running big time to make it worth your while.
- See the stunning Waipio Valley and its amazing waterfalls via the White Trail. The entrance is near Waimea – drive on Hwy 19 and head east It’s a short 3 mile drive from the center of Waimea to White Road. Be on the look out bc the sign for White Road is pretty easy to miss. Drive to the end of the road t and you walk to the valley from there. There are lots of “Kapu” (D0 not enter) signs. The land is run by a nice guy named Juni. Sometimes he sits at the gate, he is happy to let you in if you slap a $5 per person in his hand – for a “donation”. The 3 mile trail is through a jungle that gets you into a valley where long skinny waterfall cascade off cliffs into deep deep lush valleys. When you get to the valley, turn left and walk along the valley path for 15 minutes to watch people cascade down a waterslide.
- Unless you have 4 wheel drive, you might want to skip this bc the road there can be rough. I often spend a day at my fav beach – Makalavena Beach. It is a remote beach, with few crowds. Prepare yourself for a 45 minute hike just to get to this beach. It is one of the most beautiful beaches on the Big Island and well worth the little bit of effort it takes to get there… The trailhead is in Kekaha Kai Beach/(Kona Coast) State Park, off Route 19, the Queen Ka’ahumanu Highway. The rough dirt road there is between the 90 and 91 mile markers. Once you park then you will go to North on the path through a lava field for about another 30-45 minutes until you get to the sand dunes. Wear sturdy shoes, e.g., sneakers or chaco type sandals but don’t wear flip flops!!!
- Other beaches – my fav one that is easy access is kua bay (across from veteran’s cemetery), otherwise i usually just try a different beach everyday along highway 19. some of the hotel beaches are nice—all beaches are public but some hotels make it hard to access them. I recently discovered and enjoyed the south kohola beach of Mau’umae which is only a half-mile to the south of Spencer Beach and 1/2 north of Mauna Kea Resort.
- I love to hang out at the Kava Bar at the Coconut Grove Marketplace for a cup of kava. Kava, or Hawaiian Awa, is a natural relaxant with a mildly euphoric properties. Made from the root of a species of pepper plant known as Awa (Piper methysticum, which is “intoxicating pepper”), Awa has been used by people indigenous to the South Pacific for over 3,000 years. The Kava beverage is a central part of Polynesian Society, and has been used for centuries as a ceremonial, medicinal and also recreational drink.
- To find out what’s happening in kona check out https://www.konaweb.com and go on facebook to kona town today & tonight.
- I always visit the Place of Refuge and spend an afternoon sitting by the ocean and playing the tidepools off the 1871 Trail trail. When you get there is is best to pay the 5 dollars to park but don’t park in front of the museum and make your way south to find the sandy road that leads to coastal parking then walk a short distance some nice secluded coves. Of course if you haven’t explored the National Historical Park it is worth your while and if you like snorkeling they have a nice area called the Two Step Beach which is located just north of the City of Refuge, and a perfect spot to explore the crystal clear waters and sea life of Kona’s coast. This is not a sand beach and its a bit tricky to enter but worth the effort.
- Every month on the Saturday evening before the full moon rises, Mauna Lani Resort hosts an enchanted evening of storytelling and entertainment on the lawn of the resort’s oceanfront Eva Parker Woods Cottage. Join Danny Kaniela Akaka for “Twilight at Kalahuipua‘a,” a night of music, dance and storytelling. Danny is Mauna Lani’s Cultural Historian, he is a kahu (Hawaiian priest), speaks fluent Hawaiian, performs as a musician and dancer. Call Mauna Lani Concierge at 808-881791 to confirm the dates and time (usually 8pm) MAUNA LANI DRIVE ∙ KOHALA COAST, ISLAND OF HAWAII
- First Fridays check out the little art village in Holualoa where they have their “art after dark” party. It worth a visit even if you aren’t there for a first friday. I almost always buy some beautiful locally crafted pictures, cards or jewelry there.
- The best places to shop in Kona is Walmart, Costco, Kta Market, Sack and Save and Foodland.
- For healthy fare check out Island Naturals Market & Deli ,74-5487 Kaiwi St.
- Fav restaurants are Shimaichi sushi near downtown kona, Hayama Japanese Restaurant 75-5660 Kopiko St Ste D1, Poi Boy Deli across from Walmart, Umeke’s Poke Place, 75-143 Hualalai Rd #105, Pine Tree Cafe 73-4040 Hulikoa Dr (great for picking up something to take on the plane or to the beach – off highway 19 near airport), orchid thai restaurant, 74-5563 Kaiwi St, fav restaurant/bar to watch sunset – Huggos near downtown kona for sunset drinks.
- Places to stay: If you can find a local who would be willing to check you in with his/her local ID, the Kona Islander Inn. The number for this very cute hotel/condo is 1(800) 244-4752. The Manago Hotel and it is very clean (and quiet) for the money. Be sure to specify that you want a private bath. There number is (808)323-2624. All of these places can be “goggled” for pics and more accurate prices. This is the best I can think of, price-wise for the Kona side. Otherwise just use air b&B or VRBO. I like to stay at the Kona Isle apts because they are close to town and has great ocean views.
- New Jazz Club in Kona – Gertrude’s has music nightly – salsa night on thursdays.
- Fav – shave ice place – aloha shave ice -75-5711 Kuakini Hwy Kailua-Kona
- Snorkeling company: https://www.fair-wind.com/
- Surf gear/surf lesson (family owned/BIPOC-mixed) https://
- Pizza: https://blackrock.pizza/
Be sure to check out the Puna side of the Big Island!!!
While in Puna be sure to get a watsu water massage and waterdance. The name of the practitioner whose services I use is, Dwight Stevens. The treatment I received from him felt like a rebirthing…it was amazing and one of the highlights of my Big Island visit. His phone number is 808 965 8500 and you can find more info at http://www.hawaiilalala.com.
Post covid – not sure about this. Be sure to check out the Kalani on Sunday mornings for estatic dance. There is usually a cool picnic afterwards at the bluff a mile or so south of Kalani. http://www.kalani.com.
I absolutely loved the Puna Farmer’s market that happens every Sunday morning.
On our soft adventure tour of Jamaica – our journey took us from Kingston to Port Antonio to Ocho Rios to Montego Bay to Negril and back to Kingston.
Day one – Imagine barreling down a sparsely used country road on a mountain bike through the Grand Rio Valley of Jamaica’ Blue Mountain range. The coordinator of our tour arranged for us to join a group organized by Blue Mountain Bike Tours. After serving us breakfast, the trip leader assigned us to van and drove us into the Blue Mountains, unloaded and parceled out the bikes and helmets and away we went, coasting through lushly covered hillsides, past pristine streams, waterfalls, misty slopes, a wide variety of Jamaican birds and wildflowers, through local villages and the welcoming waves of the residents.
About half way through our 10 mile journey, we stopped at a coffee plantation where we got a primer on the cultivation and processing of the world renowned Blue Mountain coffee bean as well as a chance to check out their tasting bar. The trip was crowned with a river swim under and around a gorgeous pristine cascading waterfall. What a refreshing and invigorating conclusion to our hardy biking excursion.
One part of the trip that had been planned but time did not permit us to experience was the bareback horseback riding in the sea. That really looked like so much fun and its something I look forward to experience on my return trip.
Day two and three. After scaling Dunn’s River Falls in the Ochos Rio section of Jamaica, imagine the thrill of zooming through the rainforest on a zipline or bobsled. I got a chance to try both of them at Jamaica’s Mystic Mountain Resort Center and they were a blast. Then we went swimming with dolphins and sharks at Dolphin Cove Park located in Treasure Reef
Day Four – Near Montego Bay, we went tube rafting down the picturesque Martha Brea River. This outing was orchestrated by the Chukka Adventure Center, which also offers a wide variety of soft adventure options such as ziplining, dune buggy rides and kayaking at their Falmouth facility which is located on The Good Hope Estate, a 2,000 acre former plantation and their operation was smoothly run by smart and gracious staff members. After our water tubing safari, we were loaded onto an open-air jitney and were driven up to the “Great House,” the palatial hillside home of the plantation’s former owner, John Tharpe, which was built in 1700’s and recently restored in its entirety, replete with paintings, period furniture and antiques. After our tour of the home and lush surrounding we were served scrumptious gourmet meal on one of the patios. How ironic, for the sons and daughters of former slaves to find ourselves dining in elegance, on the estate of a former slave owner and operator of Jamaica’s largest plantation.
Days five and six – Negril – where we jumped off the cliff near Rick’s Café and took a yoga class and had dinner at Jackies by the Reef. We traipsed around her spacious and serene compound in search of perfect Kodak moments and many were easily found in her beachside sculpture garden, saltwater pool, meditation center, octagon yurt and bee farm.
Then finally traveled back to Kingston to fly home.
Two Round the world itineraries taken by Elaine Lee
- France, Spain, Italy, Greece, Egypt, Thailand, Singapore, Bali, Hawaii, San Francisco then a circle the Caribbean tour: British Virgin Islands, Dominica, Martinique, Guadeloupe, Carricou, Saint Lucia Saint Martin, Anguilla, Barbados, Trinidad/Tobago and Jamaica.
- France, South Africa, Seychelles, Dubai, Thailand, Australia, New Zealand, San Franciso then Belize, Guatemala and Costa Rica.