Beach Vacation

Discovering Oahu

The week that my husband and I spent in Oahu was nothing short of enjoyable. After three years from our first visit, we finally made it back to the Aloha State. My skin was thankful to feel the warmth of the sun tempered by the trade winds. Oahu is the most populated of the islands with a population of just under a million and a third of this figure can be attributed to urban Honolulu. Known as “The Gathering Place,” this island is culturally diverse and has quite a lot to offer visitors with varied interests. From foodies to nature lovers, to shopaholics, to thrill seekers, to culture vultures — Oahu has something for you.

I have already posted a dedicated entry for Oahu food experience, and now, here are the highlights of what we did and the beaches and attractions that we visited.

Walking Waikiki Beach at night + Friday night fireworks

For our first 4 nights, we stayed at one for the rental units at the Ilikai, which is located on the quieter end of Waikiki right across the Hilton Village and the Duke Kahanamoku lagoon. It is no secret that Waikiki can get way too crowded for some people to really enjoy, but at night, it becomes more tolerable. Stuart and I went for a stroll as the sun was setting and witnessed a gorgeous display of natural colors.

A stunning Waikiki sunset.

Every Friday night, right after the luau that the Hilton holds, fireworks are then launched from the lagoon for every one on the beach to enjoy. Locals and tourists gather on the beach to watch the show. It’s a great way to mingle and be out on the beach. I ended up watching the fireworks further down the beach outside the Outrigger hotel since we were about to have dinner at the Shore Bird, which by the way, is a pretty awesome place for food and cocktails. They don’t skimp on the booze! Don’t get me wrong, Waikiki Beach is beautiful and fun during the day, but I personally liked the pace at night better. A lower count of screaming children might have something to do with it too.

Visiting Pearl Harbor and the Arizona Memorial

When we were planning for this trip, Stuart made clear that we had to go see the Arizona. It was the only required point of interest for him. It was a very moving experience, and we were so glad that made it out there. We both agreed that every American should pay a visit if they can. I am not saying that only Americans can truly appreciate the significance of this place. After all, the Pearl Harbor attack was a pivotal moment, not just in U.S. history, but also of the world. While there, we also took the opportunity to visit and explore the battleship, USS Missouri. To stand at the same spot where the document that officially ended World War II was signed was memorable.

Visiting the Arizona Memorial was a heartfelt experience.

Snorkeling Hanauma Bay

About 10 miles east of Waikiki, Hanauma Bay has become a snorkeling mecca over the years.  With breathtaking views from the lookout to the fantastic marine life, this nature preserve is one of the most popular destinations on the island. Stuart and I spent a good amount of time swimming in the bay and observing tropical fish in their habitat.

Hanauma Bay

Viewing Hanauma Bay from the lookout.

Tip: Bring food and water and a few singles. Parking is $1, and if you take the trolley up the hill, that’ll also cost you another dollar.

Sailing & Snorkeling Kaneohe Bay

Born and raised on the island of Cebu, I spent many summers with my cousins at my grandparents’ and we would take an outrigger to go fishing or go to the pasil or sandbar. I came across Captain Bob’s Picnic Sail while researching for activities, and I knew we had to give it a shot. We spent a good day aboard a catamaran and cruised Kaneohe Bay and anchored at a sandbar that stretches over 5 miles. Equipped with a grill, burgers were served for lunch … in the middle of the ocean! After the sand bar, we headed to a reef in the middle of the bay for some more snorkeling.

Barefoot 1: That’s the boat that took us around Kaneohe Bay anchored along the sandbar. Can you spot Stuart?

Lanikai Beach

On our way to the North Shore, we made a stop to enjoy one of the most beautiful beaches I have ever been to. We found street parking in front of someone’s house, crossed the street, walked between two houses, and poof! We found ourselves on a beach that I thought only existed on postcards and calendars. Crystal blue water, fine, white sand, azure skies, and two islands in the background … it is the perfect example of a tropical beach. And even better, it was significantly less crowded compared to Waikiki Beach.

Lanikai Beach: my happy place.

Turtle Bay Resort

The only major hotel in the North Shore, the Turtle Bay was our base of operations for exploring the north end of the island. I did consider renting another condo unit somewhere in Haleiwa, but I found a great rate for the resort. We didn’t have cooking facilities in our hotel room, but we didn’t really feel the need for them either. We did, however, had access to all the resort amenities like a nice pool, the restaurants, spa, golf course, and beach right outside the hotel. We watched beautiful sunsets right on our lanai facing the ocean. I loved waking up in the morning and hear the rolling waves.

the hotel at Turtle Bay as seen from the beach.

Waimea Bay and the North Shore

About an hour’s drive from the hustle and bustle of Honolulu, Oahu’s fabled North Shore offers more of the laid back island vibe that most people expect of Hawaii. Known for the epic waves during the winter months, the North Shore is synonymous for world-class surfing. By the time of our visit, there were no giant waves, but they were still the right intensity for a good ride on the board. I’m not a surfer, but we saw plenty of them especially in the morning and late afternoon. We spent a showery afternoon at Waimea Bay Beach Park swimming, lounging on the beach, and watching people jump off the rocks and into the water. We erred on the side of caution especially after seeing the sign that said, “No Jumping.”

Here’s a group of people taking turns jumping off the rock at Waimea Bay Beach Park while some are content beach bumming like us.

Stuart’s grandma tipped us about Turtle Beach. We basically just parked our car on the side of the road and walk down the beach where turtles love to hang out. We saw at least five of them swimming around. It’s not a clearly marked beach or park, but it’s right before you get to Haleiwa (coming from Turtle Bay). A number of cars parked by the roadside for seemingly no good reason is your tip-off.

Saying hello to the honu!

We often hear from people who have been to most or all of the major Hawaiian islands how Oahu is not their favorite because it’s too busy and and not as relaxing as the other islands. Then I would learn that they spent most –if not all — of their time in Waikiki, which I think should not be the basis of people’s general assessment of Oahu. There is so much more to Oahu than Waikiki Beach and Honolulu’s urban sprawl. Spend time in Kailua. Explore the windward side and marvel at the Ko’olau mountain range. Take in the slower pace of Haleiwa. Oahu is the heart of Hawaii, and I can see why this island holds a special place in our Grandma Kim’s heart. There is so much to learn about this place, and I left even more fascinated by it. No promises as to when I’ll come back, but I know that I will be back.

A hui hou, Oahu!

Categories: Beach Vacation, Explore, Hawaii, Photography | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , | 5 Comments

Eating Oahu

I love food. I mean, who doesn’t? So to me, traveling means getting my fill on local grub and exploring the culinary hotspots. My first post about our trip to Oahu is rightfully dedicated to food. This is truly the first trip that we took that we had pretty clear ideas on what we must and want to try to eat.

Oahu’s food scene is incredible. At the height of Oahu’s plantation days, laborers from China, Japan, Russia, Korea, Puerto Rico, Portugal, and the Philippines brought with them their unique culinary traditions, thus resulting in a very diverse food culture. Having grown up in the Philippines, I was looking forward to the flavors that one can only naturally enjoy in the tropics like guava, coconut, mango, and pineapple.

So here are some photos from our gastronomical adventures while visiting the island of Oahu:

Malasadas from Leonard’s Bakery: soft and squishy fried donuts brought to the island by the Portuguese

Chirashi Bowl at Morimoto Waikiki: like having a party of the freshest fish in a bowl. AMAZING Iron Chef quality.

The town of Kahuku at the northern end the island is known for their shrimp farms. They grow all the shrimp and supply all of Oahu’s restaurants. Shrimp trucks and shacks have boomed in recent years, and based on our research, we had to stop and try the famous garlic butter shrimp.

Butter Garlic Shrimp from Romy’s Shrimp Shack served with spicy shoyu. I’m drooling right now as I write just looking at this photo.

Another North Shore establishment is Ted’s Bakery. Apart from their amazing baked goods, they also serve some legit local faves.

Loco Moco at Ted’s Bakery: a hamburger patty on a bed of rice topped with a fried egg then slathered with savory gravy. Ono!

Guava Smoothie at Ted’s Bakery: no doubt about it — guava flavor through and through!

Chocolate Haupia Pie at Ted’s Bakery: I’m not the biggest pie fan, but this one is out of this world! These layers of heaven is comprised of chocolate, coconut pudding, and whipped cream. You owe it to yourself to have a slice… or have the whole pie! Photo courtesy of Foodspotting.

In Hawaii, small plates and appetizers are what they call pupus. I know, right? You might question the edibility since it sounds like something you would find in the toilet. But hey, don’t worry, when someone mentions bringing you a pupu platter; it is a tray of Hawaiian style hors d’oeuvres. Here’s a couple of pupu photos. 😉

Calamari Steak

Panko-breaded Calamari Steak at Lei Lei’s Bar & Grill: it’s like calamari katsu served with tangy and mildly spicy cocktail sauce.

Ahi Poke at Lei Lei’s Bar & Grill: it’s melt-in-your mouth, lightly seasoned ahi tuna. WANT!

After a long day of beach bumming, there’s nothing like a giant helping of Shave Ice. It’s the Hawaiian take of  snow cones. We went to Matsumoto’s General Store, a North Shore institution famous for their shave ice. Although we heard that Aoki’s, which is spitting distance from Matsumoto’s, is also comparably good.

Stuart and his Rainbow shave ice. — Yes, I had to make fun of his choice. It’s actually a cocktail of strawberry, lemon, and pineapple.

This is my shave ice from Matsumoto’s, which I believe has passion fruit, lilikoi, and guava flavors. Quite festive and yummy!

SPAM and rice for breakfast is a Hawaiian thing, and we love it. We admittedly were excited to go back to a place where the local McDonald’s has rice, SPAM, and eggs in the breakfast menu. (Don’t judge!) Of course, we didn’t have that every morning for breakfast. I knew I had to have some breakfast staple with a Hawaiian twist to it: Macadamia Nut French Toast.

Macadamia Nut French Toast: warm and rich french toast sprinkled with toasted macadamia nuts.

Let’s not forget the fruit stands peppered around the island. While on the North Shore, I made my husband stop by one, so I could buy some fresh mango, pineapples, and star apples.

Kahuku Land Farms Fruit Stand: Wished I had multiple stomachs. Being there sent me back to my childhood visiting my grandparents’ farm in the summer time.

And these are what I got: a mango, three star apples (known as kaimito in the Philippines), and pineapple.

I apologize for the photo quality. All of these were taken with my iPhone. Some of them I left out for this post because they were too blurry and wouldn’t give the food any sort of justice. But as you can see, Stuart and I ate our way around the island of Oahu, and we are quite pleased with the damage we’ve done. 🙂 Every time we think of this trip, remembering all the great food we had always brings smiles to our faces. Mahalo!

Categories: Eat, Experience, Hawaii, Photography | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 2 Comments

Hawaii: The Big Island

My husband, Stuart and I went to Hawaii last month for a week, which was our second time visiting the Rainbow State. However, before I can write about this most recent trip, I would like to recap the experiences we had during our first visit back in 2009 to the island of Hawaii, AKA the Big Island. We took a direct flight from Seattle to Kona and spent 6 nights there. Stuart had been to the Big Island before when he was about 6 years old, so he didn’t remember much of it. I recall being super excited to experience a tropical island other than the one I had called home for 15 years. I was looking forward to great weather, spending time on the beach, swimming in the ocean, and eating fresh fruits that only grow in the tropics. Well, those were all accomplished plus a whole lot more.

We stayed at the Hapuna Beach Prince Hotel in the Kohala Coast. It’s set right on a stretch of a beautiful golden sand beach. After years of living in the rainy Pacific Northwest, this area was nothing short of paradise to me.

Hapuna Prince Hotel

The Hapuna Beach Prince Hotel and the beautiful beach just steps from our room.

We rented snorkel gear for the whole time we were on the island, so we were able to take advantage of the great snorkeling spots. We saw a group of Hawaiian green sea turtles, locally known as honu, frolicking around the reefs near our hotel. Timed around Stuart’s birthday, his parents sent us on a snorkeling tour aboard the Fair Wind II, a well-equipped catamaran for a fun day out at sea. We sailed to the Kealakekua Bay Marine Preserve, which is also the site of the Captain Cook Monument. We had an incredible time observing the diverse marine life and making use of the boat’s 15-foot water slide and high dive jump.

Beautiful Kealakekua Bay and the Captain Cook Monument

Since it was our first trip to Hawaii together, we felt that we had to experience a luau, and so we did. Everyone told us that these luaus are pretty much tourist traps, so we were sufficiently warned. Our research pointed us to attend the luau at the Marriott Waikoloa, and we were glad we did; they put up a pretty good show, had an open bar serving stiff cocktails, and the food was great. It was where I first tried poi, haupia, and kailua pig. Best of all, this was where I discovered the awesome-ness that is the Hawaiian guava cake. OMG.

A luau is not complete without the thrilling fire dancer.

The youngest of the Hawaiian islands, it’s called the Big Island because it is the largest one of them and still growing! As my birthday present to Stuart, I took him on a helicopter tour allowing us to witness the creation of new land as we flew over the Waikupanaha ocean entry. This refers to the area where lava enters the ocean straight out of the vents. Before getting to this point we hovered over the Puʻu ʻŌʻō vent, which has been active for as long as I have been alive. My fear of heights is no secret, and flying over an active volcano in a helicopter was terrifying. I only held on to my sanity because I found that looking through my camera lens tricks my mind blocking thoughts of impending doom. Oh, the things you do for your loved ones :)!

The Puʻu ʻŌʻō vent reminded me of Mordor from Lord of the Rings

Lava hitting the ocean creating new land

While on the Hilo side of the island, we stopped by to check out Rainbow Falls, but we didn’t see any rainbows because we got there in the afternoon, and apparently, rainbows are more likely to form in the morning. It was still pretty scenic, and it felt like an oasis in the relatively bustling city of Hilo.

Cave beneath Rainbow Falls

We then took the infamous Saddle Road that cuts across the island back to Kohala. This road was used for transporting supplies across the island, and there were definitely rough parts and we only hoped that our rented Jeep Wrangler would not lose any of its parts. There are no rest stops, so if you really have to relieve yourself, you’ll have to do it out there in the wild, so you might as well take it as an opportunity to commune with nature. Driving down Saddle Road offers great views of the gigantic volcanoes: Mauna Kea and Mauna Loa.

Somewhere along Saddle Road, where portions of it don’t have any cell service.

In all of the exploring that we did around the island, I would have to say that Waipio Valley is the most scenic. The view from the lookout is breathtaking. It was like looking at a painting. I was in such awe staring at the majestic green cliffs rising above the ocean, and it was impossible not to feel small and insignificant.

Stuart taking a photo from the lookout

Referred to as the Valley of the Kings, we explored the mystical Waipio Valley floor on horseback passing by taro fields and crossing streams. We did this excursion with our friends at Na’alapa Stables. The guides were fun, and took great care of us who had never ridden on horses for a significant length of time. Stuart is not a fan of horses, but I made him do it anyway especially after I went on that helicopter ride with him. 🙂 After all, marriage is supposed to be about compromising, right? Fortunately for him, Sally — his horse —  did not run wild and throw him off, and he enjoyed our little trek.

One of the shallower stream crossings that we did.

On our last full day, we drove out to Hawaii Volcanoes National Park, where we learned more about the volcanic activities that created the island and continues to add more to its area. We stood by the gaping Kilauea caldera imagining how it was filled with hot lava not too long ago. It was a sight to behold. The terrain around the caldera was wild, and we almost forgot that we were in Hawaii because of the volcanic rocks around us and the permeating smell of sulfur coming from the steam vents.

The Kilauea caldera at the Hawaii Volcanoes National Park

My first Hawaiian experience was memorable. There were certainly other attractions that we missed and activities that we could have done, but that just means we have things to look forward to the next time we find ourselves there. While lazily lounging at Hapuna Beach watching stunning sunsets was something we got used to easily, we knew that our next Hawaiian vacation would be on one of the other islands.

Mahalo Hawaii!

Categories: Attractions, Beach Vacation, Explore, Hawaii | Tags: , , , , | 2 Comments

Riviera Maya in May

So here I am again, consciously pushing myself to write something on this blog sitting in it’s little corner of the ether “collecting dust.” I was motivated to get my butt in gear and consolidate some boxes containing old stuff, and while doing so, I found receipts and tickets from the trip that Stuart and I took to Mexico. Neither of us had visited our neighbor to the south, and Stuart especially was skeptical about this destination. We ended up spending a spectacular week in the Riviera Maya at the Secrets Silversands, an all-inclusive adults-only resort.

This vacation was much needed after Stuart’s challenges with losing a job and the daunting task of job hunting. The week was an escape from reality, and we have our Grandma Kim to thank for this jaunt.  We timed it that we were there on Stuart’s birthday, so it was nice to celebrate at such a beautiful place.

We ate so much great food at the resort. I had plenty of cocktails beach side.

Fresh ahi tuna salad

We also ventured out to see Chichen Itza, and marveled at its mysterious structure and history. This was also where we had the most delectable pork tacos — even the ones that Stuart accidentally laced with some seriously potent habanero salsa. I am now a huge fan of Yucatecan cuisine — bold flavors, colorful, and sublime!

the famous pyramid in Chichen Itza: El Castillo or the Temple of Kukulcan

We also visited the ruins of Tulum. What a view the Mayans had! We learned so much about the social classes of the ancient Mayans and how this walled city atop the cliffs overlooking the Caribbean played a tremendous role in politics and trade back then.

Mayan Ruins of Tulum

After Tulum, we hit a water park at Xel-Ha. We floated down the lazy river, snorkeled, and ate more wonderful Mexican food. One thing for sure I will remember this trip is the embarrassing amount of margaritas I consumed. Good thing we also didn’t shy away from doing water activities and exploring the ruins to burn those calories.

That would be me cruising down the river.

The natural lagoon at Xel-ha where we snorkeled.

As a birthday present for him, I got us intro to scuba diving lessons and went scuba diving in the Caribbean! We had the best time especially with us as the only people on the boat. The underwater world is so magical. We encountered giant manta rays and a few sea turtles.

Stuart and I during our dive joined by a friendly sea turtle

It was interesting to learn that for a lot of people, going to Mexico is habitual. It is a part of their lifestyle. Many of the couples we met at the resort find it surprising that it was only our first time being there. Some of them come back to that very same resort more than once a year. For someone who wants to go see and experience much of the world, I had to consciously refrain myself from commenting on their choice to just keep going back to one place. After all, the Yucatan is such a beautiful place with the turquoise Caribbean on one side and the Gulf of Mexico on the other. The area is riddled with Mayan mysteries topped with fascinating colonial history. I can’t fault them for falling in love with such a spectacular place. I, for one, would easily find myself going back for another round of fun in the sun. But maybe not before I clear a few more destinations on my list.

Hasta luego, Mexico!

Categories: Beach Vacation, Mexico, Photography, Uncategorized | Tags: , , , , , , , , | 2 Comments

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