I love traveling. I have been to a plethora of countries spanning 6 continents and 100+ cities of the world. Being a world traveler, I realize, however, that what I enjoy most isn't just the beautiful landscapes or delicious cuisines, but my interactions with local people; those experiences were like stamps, carved in my mind and served as a permanent reminder of optimism, aspiration, and motivation in my life. I still vividly remember when I visited a rural area in Yunnan China, where a 7-year-old boy worked full-time in doing chores meant for adults, in order to ease the family burden. My heart squeezed. Wanting to help out, I offered him some food and books so he can temporarily supplement nutrition to the body and brain. At the end, when I was about to leave, he said: "I had a good time, can you please stay with me?" It touched my heart. I extended my stay for another hour or so. Before my departure, he hugged me tight and told me to come back again. I left devastated, wishing that I could stay with him or had a more sustainable way to feed him and release him from the shackles of physical labor. I know there are many more people like him out there. In another time, I met these sisters in a small village in Shaanxi China. It was late summer, where the weather was scorching hot and full of mosquitoes. The little sister's whole body was bitten by the mosquitoes and I felt so bad. I asked her if it was very itchy, and she said yes but that she was accustomed to it since she has to deal with it every day of the summer. I gave her two bottles of mosquito spray and showed her how to use it. After I left her, my heart ached -- their parents make a living by recycling the trash, their house is a few meters away from a giant dumpster, and the kids are raised with a bad-smelling environment with flies and mosquitoes everywhere. But even so, they are happy and optimistic. I am grateful for everything that I have today, but knowing that there are many others who lack basic life essentials and have unfortunate lifestyles, I am motivated to make a difference in the world and change people's lives.
Many people have the Northern Lights as one of their items on their bucket list. I will talk about my absolutely amazing experience and how I was fortunate enough to see this phenomenon; I hope to inspire you and also provide some advice on how to see it! The Northern Lights, also known as the Aurora, is a breathtaking natural event that happens in the sky during night time. They are extremely unpredictable -- I heard of many friends who went twice in an attempt to see the Aurora, only to go back home without ever seeing it! Because it is triggered by disturbances in the atmosphere, it can happen at any moment. What’s exciting about the Aurora is that it can be seen from many parts of the world. I highly recommend going via Alaska because you will be able to view it at essentially anywhere in this state. My trip started by flying into Anchorage where we rented a car. Our first agenda was driving to Fairbanks, stopping by Denali National Park and staying at an Airbnb in Healy. Note that you are able to check online on the likelihood of experiencing the Aurora. That night, in particular, said there was a small chance of seeing it. And so, we decided to stay awake until 3 a.m., only to be disappointed because the sky was empty and pitch dark. The next day, we went to Chena Hot Springs Resort (highly recommended) to stay for the night and relax in a soothing outdoor hot spring. The same night, we were told by the front desk that they will notify us if the Aurora would end up appearing. We relatively early this time, at 11 a.m. A few hours later, we jumped out of the bed, getting a phone call from the resort to immediately go outside. And there it was, green lights flashing through the sky at rapid speeds. It was unbelievably spectacular. It made me awe at the various moving parts in the natural world that allowed the Aurora to happen. At this moment, we were completely satisfied because otherwise the whole trip would be ruined. For us, it only lasted about 10 minutes, barely enough time to take some photos and admire its beauty. In addition to seeing the Aurora, we were able to see two more phenomena in our time at Alaska. We went during the fall season, so we could see the fall foliage, the period when leaves change color from green to brownish-orange. We would stop occasionally on the road to admire the natural scenery. Next, we visited Wrangell-St Elias National Park, which is known for its glaciers. It was an unforgettable and unique hiking experience, to walk on ice the whole time! Last, but not least, we made sure to make our way to the North Pole, because who doesn’t like Santa Claus? So, the next time you think about seeing the Northern Lights, consider going to Alaska to make your experience as remarkable as mine!
Two years ago, I visited Europe for the first time in my life. It was a spontaneous trip -- my family and I went simply because the cost was a great deal for the experience that you get. It was an 11-day cruise for only $1000 per person (taxes included) in addition to a $400 roundtrip ticket from Oakland to Copenhagen. The cruise enabled us to visit a total of 7 countries: Copenhagen (Denmark), Oslo (Norway), Berlin (Germany), Tallinn (Estonia), St Petersburg (Russia), Helsinki (Finland), Stockholm (Sweden). Before boarding the ship at the Copenhagen dock, we were able to enjoy the beautiful scenery that Copenhagen has to offer. I highly recommend visiting Nyhavn and seeing its famous colored houses. My absolute favorite part of Copenhagen was simply eating their Danish pastries. Compared to what America has to offer, the pastries in Denmark are cheaper, healthier, and significantly more delicious! The cruise offers many activities, from entertainment shows, rock climbing, swimming, dancing etc. I was delighted to see that there was an obstacle course ending with a zipline at the end. There is always high-quality food to eat at all times. So, cruises really get your money’s worth -- visiting new countries, unlimited food, and a place to sleep for a hundred dollars per day. Some downsides of cruises are that you have less time to explore the destination and see tourist areas. Also, if you easily get seasick then cruises may not be right for you. All of the countries that I visited each had their touching attributes; however, I loved Sweden the most. The metro stations, in particular, leave a mark on my heart. Each metro station is decorated in a unique way and feels like an attraction on its own. There are art, mosaic, and sculptures by various artists. It is refreshing to see and a stark contrast to the grimy metro stations in America. Because we only got a half-day to visit each destination, at times, it felt a bit too fast-paced, however, it was nevertheless an unforgettable experience. Overall, I would recommend the cruise experience for those who want to relax while getting the opportunity to explore a new country!
If you were ever looking for a fantastic weekend getaway, I highly recommend visiting Chichen Itza, another of the Seven Wonders of the World. My work schedule is extremely busy but nevertheless I was able to make this trip happen without missing a day at work! I will give you a quick overview of how I made it in three days. I departed SFO on a late Friday night, arriving at CUN on Saturday at about 7 a.m local time. The weather was stunningly beautiful and warm, a stark contrast to windy and chilly San Francisco. Chichen Itza is a two hour drive from Cancun, so I recommend picking up a car near the Cancun airport, as it is the most convenient and inexpensive option. Make sure to book it advance, which costs only $5/day. On the way there, you will be required to pay tolls in cash(pesos), the local currency, because other currencies and credit card are not accepted. I grabbed a hearty breakfast at a nearby hotel, called Bel Air Collection Resort & Spa, which had an amazing view of the ocean at the beach onsite. After breakfast, I began driving to Mayaland Resort & Bungalows, the hotel that I would stay for the night. The drive is very simple and involves driving on a straight road for the majority of the time. Mayaland Resort provides not only free parking but also its own entrance to Chichen Itza to avoid the long lines. There is also a buffet here for those that want to grab something to eat. The next destination was visiting Cenote Ik Kil, a short drive from the hotel, and one of the most breathtaking places I have ever experienced in my entire life. Feel free to bring swimsuits and spend time swimming in this gorgeous cenote. After admiring the beauty of nature that the cenote has to offer, I headed back to the hotel to watch a night time show. It was a unique 360 immersive experience that you watched on the ceiling of the room. It provided a historical perspective of Chichen Itza and various mythological stories that revolved around this landmark. I got up in the morning at 7 a.m. the next day to eat breakfast and prepared to visit Chichen Itza, which opens from 8 a.m. to 4 p.m. Chichen Itza itself is a city built by the Mayans and was critical from about 600 AD to 1200 AD. When entering Chichen Itza, I first encountered what was known as the Group of a Thousand Columns. Divided into three separate regions and with a roof previously on top, these columns served both civic and religious purposes. The main attraction to see at Chichen Itza is the pyramid El Castillo, also known as Temple of Kukulcan. A fun fact about this pyramid is that each of the four sides consists of 91 steps, meaning that these steps, along with the temple platform on top, results in 365 steps! Other places of interest worth visiting in Chichen Itza are the Great Ball Court, Sacred Cenote, the Osario, and El Caracol (observatory). Note that the cenote here is only for viewing purposes and not for swimming. Overall, about 3 hours was spent visiting Chichen Itza. While at Chichen Itza, I left my luggage in the hotel room and returned by noon for check out. I then drove to Playa del Carmen to take the ferry to the charming island of Cozumel. At Playa del Carmen, I had one of the most delicious meals at a must-try restaurant called Carnitas y Barbacoa Silao. Unfortunately, most of the beaches were closed on Sunday, but it was still wonderful to breathe the air of Cozumel. After taking the ferry back, I ended my day by staying at Courtyard by Marriott Cancun Airport, a nice hotel that provides a free shuttle service to and from the airport. My flight was 6:45 a.m. the next day, so I was able to arrive in San Francisco and continue with the rest of my day. Although my trip was relatively short, it was a fulfilling and productive weekend spending it in Mexico and completing another of the Seven Wonders of the World!