One To Nothin'

#OTNTravels: Ha Long Bay

Continuing on with the recap of my solo trip to Vietnam over Thanksgiving. See Days 1 & 2 here.

Day 3 - Thanksgiving

I woke up at 6am to get ready and hit up the continental breakfast at the hotel before getting on a bus to Ha Long Bay. It was not your average cold scrambled eggs and crappy coffee, friends. It was incredible, super strong Vietnamese coffee plus an array of delicious, fresh lychees still in the shell, mango, egg rolls, mini hotdogs, AND eggs to order. Next level. I'm big on breakfast, if you didn't already know. Then I got picked up from the hotel in a bus complete with ornate seat covers and a hilarious female tour guide named Linda, who assured us that we'd be eating rats on the cruise ship (she might not have been joking--I ate a lot of things I didn't recognize on this trip--but I laughed anyway). The bus was full of tourists, none of which were from America and none of which were traveling by themselves. I sat in a row by myself and zoned out listening to music the whole way there, feeling a little bummed that everyone else seemed to be coupled up, but also very zen meditating to the sounds of my offline music library and the bumpy, twisty 4+ hour ride there.
Once we arrived we lugged our suitcases onto the small boat to take us to the cruise ship. I made friends with an amazing couple from England, a couple from France, three friends traveling from Australia, two friends from Greece. We all ate lunch together after checking out our cabins--we were all pleasantly surprised by our 3-star boat. Aside from the ant-sized blankets and the freezing winds ripping through the boat, it was pretty nice! The staff brought out a giant feast that we had to eat at very specific times to stay on schedule. Our first excursion was to Ti Top Island which was described as a hike. It was actually a giant clusterfuck of tourists trying to follow this 15-min path up to a pretty view. Normally at least half the folks would be sunbathing on the beach or playing in the water, but it was freakin' cold. Needless to say I wasn't entirely impressed with this island, but luckily we didn't stay long--had to stick to the schedule! 
Next we stopped at "Amazing Cave" and thank the lawd we went after prime tourist time, so we got to enjoy the cave in all its glory. It was pretty cool to see the formations, but let's be real, the highlight of the cave excursion was absolutely the giant phallic formation BATHED IN A PINK SPOTLIGHT. We. could. not. stop. giggling. Then we headed back to the ship for a "sunset party" even though it was way too foggy to actually see the sun setting. We learned how to say "Cheers" in Vietnamese and toasted our vinegar-tasting red wine before turning the jams up and getting tipsy. We ate dinner and bonded over beers (I heard rumors, that were later confirmed through experimentation, that liquor is often 'watered down' with a cheaper alternative that gives you the worst hangovers ever), karaoke, and stupid American pop songs, specifically Britney Spears's "3". Happy Thanksgiving! 'MERICA!
The rest of the night consisted of me getting up randomly throughout the night to layer more of my clothing on to prevent myself from freezing to death. Did I mention there was no hot water either? All part of the experience, y'all.
Day 4

The next morning we woke up bright and early for breakfast and our next adventures (some of my new friends were too hungover to make it... woops). We headed out to the pearl farm to learn about how cultured pearls are made (I got to pick which oyster they cracked open and watched them pull the pearl out of it--gross and awesome) and kayak around the bay. Kayaking was by far my favorite part of the cruise--the water was SO green, the rock formations so beautiful, the company so lovely, and the quiet so, so peaceful. I could've stayed out there for a few more hours, but unfortunately we were still on a strict schedule. We headed back to the boat, ate lunch, learned how to make spring rolls, and had to say goodbye to our new friends. Luckily I ended up meeting back up with some of these folks later on though. Next up was the 4-hour bus ride back to Hanoi where I stayed at that same hotel from the first two nights. I definitely looked at the hot water and human-sized blankets with a renewed sense of appreciation this time though. 

Day 5

On day five I didn't have a plan or much motivation to explore, TBH. I went bright and early to get THE BEST crab noodle soup at Gian Truyen (also recommended by a friend) and iced coffee at Cafe Lam. It was v strong and tasted a bit like beer. I then checked myself in for an all-day massage at La Belle Spa. #selfcare I legit spent five hours getting massaged from head (AND FACE) to toe all for about $100 USD. Like, what is life? Everyone there was amazing, so sweet and chatty (before and after the massages) and brought me amazing tea, dessert, mango juice and dried fruit. I was a full-on jelly fish when I left that place, but my friends from the cruise were in town that day so I went off to find them. It took a while because I got distracted by a free outdoor concert going on by the lake and gave in to buying a faux North Face in preparation for Sapa the next day. 
When I finally met up with them, we drank beers at an American gangster-themed bar (lolz there were giant murals of Tupac and Biggie). Eventually we went off to explore the touristy spot--they blocked off the streets from motorbikes and cars on Saturdays and it's glorious. I bought some rice dish that I still have no clue what it was but it was incredible. Finally I had to head back to the hotel to catch a ride to the overnight train to Sapa. That was quite an interesting experience as well. I roomed with three other solo travelers. They were super friendly and I saw them throughout my stay in Sapa too. I didn't sleep much though because the train is v loud and without Advil PM I don't do well in loud train cars with strangers snoring around me. It was exciting nonetheless and I'd highly recommend it for adventure-seekers who a) don't want to waste a day to traveling and b) don't want to waste money on lodging for a night. I felt very safe and, let's be real, I didn't go to Vietnam so I could be comfortable.
Up next: Sapa... TBC.

All About that Balance

You know how at the beginning of the year everyone's all pumped up about fitness and the gym is new form of crowded AF torture? Well, normally I hop right on that train because I love any excuse to ramp up my fitness anyway, but this year I started 2018 with one of the worst plagues I've had in years. It took me out for about three weeks, like, I missed several days of work because my coworkers (rightfully) gave me death stares when I came in coughing all over their desks. I don't do well with being stuck indoors without the option of getting in more than 100 steps, so my year got off to a bit of a rough start. My weak immune system miiiight have coincided with traveling to FL for Christmas and NYC for new year's where I barely slept and drank a bit more than the doc would recommend (AKA that phenomenon where I get sick every single time I travel).
When I finally got healthy again, I was invigorated and oh so grateful. I am fully committed to getting my money's worth out of my *expensive* gym membership (even if that means slathering myself in a gallon of Kiehl's products after every workout). I've been in it for the past few weeks and it feels GOOD, but I always struggle with being social AND healthy. When I'm kickin' it healthy-style, I avoid making weekday plans because friends usually mean staying up late, drinking, eating junk, and missing morning workouts as a result (and don't even get me started on dating...). I really enjoy evening workouts, but with my lengthy commute, that leaves me starving and not wanting to cook healthy dinners by the time I get home (ramen noodles again? Why not?). It's a conundrum, but balance is everything
Lately it's been about getting a good mix into each week. I'll make plans for happy hour or a concert one night, and I'll be sure to go to bed extra early the night before so my workout will be done by 7am. The next day I'll try for an evening workout and if I need a break, a break I'll get. The best evenings are when I can convince a friend or two to do a workout with me and we go grab sweaty drinks together afterward.
For me, weekends are sacred. They're all about enjoying not being inside, so I don't make myself run on a treadmill, do a spin class or eat kale. Instead I'll take Ziggy for a run and stop to grab lunch halfway through, do a yoga class before binging on brunch, or, like this past weekend, go on an epic hike with my girls in Tahoe and simply bring the bevvies along for the ride (hey, the extra lbs in the backpack = weight training). 
I've done enough cleanses and gone on enough party tears that I know the pendulum doesn't swing to one side for too long before launching back to the other side. Striking a balance is my way of getting ahead of it. I've never been one to turn down a good time, but who says you can't be healthy AND fun? CHEERS to balance, my friends.
How are you reaching your fitness AND good time goals? Am I the only one who struggles with this?
If you're looking for new ways to shake up your fitness routines, Michelob ULTRA is throwing the 95K Sweepstakes where they're giving away 95,000 fitness experiences. Check out the details and enter here.


Galentine's Day

Happy Galentine’s Day, you poetic noble land mermaids!
In honor of the quintessential best friend, Leslie Knope, my roommates and I decided to throw a Galentine's Day brunch at our apartment. It was the ultimate celebration of female friendship (and no, we did not hate on Valentine's Day, we had some taken ladies there, but we did have productive discussions about how to best get out of Bumble dates we no longer cared to go on after a mimosa or four). 
We provided giant pans of strata, homemade waffles (obviously) and Costco (JUMBO) sized bubbly while our beautiful friends brought everything from sour gummy hearts and vegan doughnuts to salami and crackers. I considered creating scrapbooks commemorating every moment of each of our friendships, but realized that I have to sleep a lot more than our beloved (fictional) Leslie. 
We had so much fun eating, drinking, laughing, and singing along to this playlist while the rest of the world fussed about some football game on TV and some baby (who has no chance of looking anything like her mom) being born. It was an amazing time, and I highly recommend having your own Galentine's Day celebration.  
This was my first official Galentine's Day, but actually, my sister and I made February 14 about sister time, wine, and candy long before I ever watched Parks and Rec. Boys have come and gone from my life (if you've been reading for a while, you may think that's an understatement--ha!) but regardless of my relationship status, I LOVE love. As cheesy as it may be.
I love watching rom coms, I love writing cards, I love sending flowers and I love making the people who make my life better feel loved. And of course I love falling in love, but for me, v-day isn't about romance. Some years I'm more bitter about it than others, but for the most part I've never felt sad about this weird day that seems to divide the population (except for maybe my first one in California when I couldn't hang out on the couch with my sister giggling at "She's the Man" and didn't yet have a squad of badass gals to spend it with. Even then my parents sent me flowers--my family is the best). 
So if there's a day next week that feels triggering to you, I suggest inviting some gals (and/or guys) over to drink champagne and laugh at all the losers in crowded AF restaurants choking on engagement rings in their champagne flutes.
Be sure to put on this playlist while you do it, and remember that you are a beautiful, talented, brilliant, powerful musk-ox. Happy Galentine's Day!

#OTNTravels: Hanoi

You guys! I haven't powered on my personal laptop in, like, months. My bad. I've been talking about my trip to Vietnam with anyone who will listen and yet here we are, MONTHS later (+ a couple more adventures under my belt) and I haven't given OTN a single update.
The most important thing is I FREAKIN' SURVIVED all alone in a foreign country where I don't speak a single word of the native language. The second most important thing is IT WAS SO MUCH FUN. I have lots of thoughts about solo travel, tips to pass on and lessons learned to reflect on, and I’ll hopefully get to them later, but for now I just want to travel log this shit because I never want to forget the details of this trip. Luckily I'm a big ol' dork, and I took notes full-on diary style every day I was there, so let's do this. Here's what went down in Hanoi for the first two days of my trip.
 Day 1:

After a very long flight from San Francisco to Taiwan, seated between a married couple, who chose to let me sit between them for 12 hours rather than give up the coveted aisle and window seats, I hopped on a connecting flight to Hanoi. My taxi dropped me off at my cute little boutique hotel called the Golden Moon Hotel (a friend of mine recommended it to me, and it did not disappoint). I arrived around 10:30am, but I couldn't check into my hotel until 2pm, so my sleep-deprived zombie body was forced into the bustling city sooner that it was prepared for. Not only had my feet swollen to, like, three times their normal size, but I bought new sneaks for the occasion that obviously were going to give me blisters. The first thing I did was try the famous egg coffee at Giang coffee just a couple blocks from the hotel. It's this delicious sweet and creamy egg white concoction you mix into the highly caffeinated coffee. I was pretty nervous after trying it knowing that I wouldn't be able to explain that I was lactose intolerant to anyone, but surprisingly my stomach behaved (more on that later). 
After egg coffee, I had no idea what to do. I wasn't hungry yet, I was so tired, and WAY too overwhelmed by the kazillion motorbikes that don't stop for pedestrians to actually find touristy stuff to do, so I ducked into another coffee shop to hide until I could check into my hotel. Not my proudest moment, but just tryna keep it real. This was my first time out of the country since I was 15, and it was starting to feel like a lot. This coffee shop was called Analog and it totally could've been a hipster coffee shop in the Bay Area, except no one in there understood me at all and the WiFi wouldn't work. Classic. So I ordered iced coffee (by pointing at the menu, pretty much all of which surprisingly had English translations on them) and read in that dark little shop until I could check into my hotel. It was all young women working there, and one of the servers kept bringing giant balloons to this girl lying in a booth. I thought maybe they were planning a party until I realized that Nitrous Oxide balloons are totally a thing. lolz.
After getting into my hotel with this adorable view and rose petals on my bed, I showered, took a nap, and got ready try to see the city again. This time, the amazing folks at the front desk of my hotel pointed me in the direction of a sit down restaurant because I wasn't mentally prepared to sit on the sidewalk for street food just yet. The restaurant was called Redbean, and while it was clearly made for tourists, I was so happy to enjoy a six course meal with a variety of local dishes that only ended up costing me about ten US dollars. #blessed Afterwards, I walked around a bit, but I was still terrified of crossing the street, so I decided to give myself a break, go back to the hotel, and be braver the next day.

 DAY 2:

I woke up early and was determined to make the most of my day. I took a screenshot of Google Maps directions to the lake in the center of town, and figured I'd follow the front desk folks' advice on where to get breakfast. Of course I got lost immediately and never did find that elusive breakfast spot, but as I moseyed down streets that changed names every few feet, I began to feel the hanger rising. It doesn't take much to make me start questioning every life decision when I'm hangry, and as I was dodging motorbikes from every direction and not any closer to the lake (or so I thought) than I was when I first left the hotel, I decided I could have an anxiety attack or I could just walk down a slower street to find food. I went with the latter, which brought me to a cozy little restaurant where a sweet old lady sat reading the newspaper to another sweet old lady.

I pointed to a photo of soup and she brought me some. I still have no idea what the protein was, but I was so grateful in that moment for food, for the patience of this lady, and for the young boy who understood me saying "WiFi" and typed the password into my phone for me. I enjoyed every last drop of that soup and at some point the lady brought me hot tea because she (and all the other locals on that mid-60-degree day) was "lạnh." She thought I must be freezing in my little windbreaker, and the simple gesture of handing me warm tea even though I couldn't properly thank her touched my heart. With my newfound wifi access, I was able to access my translator to tell her how delicious the soup was and ask how much the food was (she found the translation to be hilarious, so who knows what I actually said). This was definitely a turning point--just one more example of food and human kindness completely changing my attitude about life.
From there I figured out how to download Google Maps to access it offline (what a newb I was) and found my way to the lake. I walked around, bought some souvenirs and found my way back to the hotel to start my motorbike food and city tour with Alice (I booked it through the hotel that morning). I spent the next four+ hours exploring Hanoi with this sweet tourguide--don't worry, she drove the motorbike, I just rode on the back. It was pretty terrifying being in that chaotic traffic, but she got us everywhere safe and sound. We saw the Opera House, Temple of Literature, the Ho Chi Minh Mausoleum, West Lake, and several temples. Alice spoke English very well and by the end of the tour we were taking selfies together and gossiping about boys. It was pretty great. I'm so glad I booked this tour especially since I was still so shy about crossing the street at this point.
We ended the tour eating at her favorite street food spot, which I unfortunately can't remember the name of. We sat on the tiniest plastic stools and I was served bun cha--grilled fatty pork with vermicelli noodles, fresh herbs and lettuce, plus fresh garlic and chilies to top it with. Omg, guys. It was incredible. I was in street food heaven. THEN she took me to get dessert. I was pretty jet-lagged and convinced that I'd be going straight back to the hotel afterward, so when they brought out fresh fruit with crushed ice and what I could only assume was sweetened condensed milk on top, I decided to go for it without asking questions (kind of like with that egg coffee from day one). I hugged Alice goodbye and went back to my hotel room expecting my lactose intolerant stomach to explode at any moment and was, once again, surprised to discover that I was... fine.
It was crazy, but I was still too tired to venture out again, so I chilled out and turned on the TV. To my delight I found a station dedicated to American pop music videos from the early to mid 2000s with hardly any commercials. The coffee shop next door was poppin' with club music, but I drifted off to sleep with the lovely sounds of Pitbull echoing in my head.

TBC: Day 3 and 4 in Ha Long Bay coming soon...

A Unique Wooden Watch for Your Galentine

Happy 2018, friends! How do you feel about new year's resolutions? I have mixed feelings. On the one hand, I'm all about setting goals and dedicating the beginning of the year to self-reflection and self-improvement is a great habit. On the other hand, I swore I'd see my abs in 2017 (HA!). And as for the other things I wanted to accomplish in 2017... I can't remember what they were. And therein lies the problem. They probably had to do with reading more (I did), traveling more (oh hey, I still have to tell you guys about Vietnam), and getting in shape.

So, I've been mulling this over lately and I realized that a lot of the resolving to do more or less of things for me doesn't necessarily happen in January. It happens whenever I realize there's a need for it. Without much documenting or conscious decision-making, I resolved to be more present. It's resulted in far fewer Instagram posts, obviously fewer blog posts, and a lot more connecting with humans. I rely on my phone daily for entertainment, news, weather forecasts, directions (I seriously couldn't function without Google maps), and, of course, the time. It's my security blanket when I don't know what to do with my hands or eyes, and while sometimes it's a welcome distraction, other times it's a crutch. It was time to put it down, so for the past few months I've left my phone in my backpack or at home on hikes, at concerts, and walks with Zig.

It's been great stopping to smell the flowers and all, but I realized that not knowing the time = anxiety, aka the opposite of the desired effect. I haven't worn a wrist watch (or many accessories in general...) in years, so when JORD asked if I'd like to try one of their gorgeous wooden watches and give you guys a chance to win $100 toward your own, I was psyched. I love the beautiful, hand-carved details and the wood grain makes a great neutral that goes with lots of patterns, textures and colors. I chose the Frankie Series in Zebrawood and Champagne because of its minimalist design and elegant color scheme. But there are tons of styles to choose from, including men's styles in case you're looking to gift one for Valentine's Day--this single lady, however, will be celebrating Galentine's Day only this year. 

Click here to enter the giveaway

I love the way it looks, and it actually fits my child-size wrist because they customize the wristband to your measurements. Big win.

Besides the whole disconnect to reconnect thing, my goals for this year include:
  • FINALLY getting conversationally fluent in Spanish
  • Becoming a big sister/mentor to a local child 
  • Paying off my credit cards
  • Going on another international trip 
Doable, no? And if I happen to be able to see my abs in 2018, that'll just be a nice little bonus. 
Don't forget to enter here
The giveaway ends January 21st. 
What are your goals for 2018?

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