December of 2015, I went on an 8 Day solo trip through Japan hitting up Tokyo, Kyoto, Mt. Koya, and Osaka. By more one of the most exciting and impulsive trips I’ve ever taken. In this video, I hit up Akhibara, Asakusa, Ueno Park, and of course, a Maid Cafe (If you don’t know what that is, Google it). Stay tuned for my next video on Mt. Koya, and praying with Buddhist monks in the hills of Japan.
During my Hong Kong trip this past winter, after a short soiree through Japan, my friend and I decided to take a quick trip to the Sin City of the East, Macau. As in my usual attitude towards “nothing but the best”, we decided to stay in one of the best hotels we could muster in the Las Vegas of Asia, the Ritz Carlton. We booked the Carlton Suite with a 1 King bedroom, 1.5 marble bathrooms, complimentary wine, and a fully automated bidet, which I’ll get to in just a minute.
No joke, this hotel room was 13,500 HKG for one night, which converts to about $1700 USD a night. Using my Chase Sapphire Reserve points, we were able to reserve this room for only about 40,000 points.
Getting to the hotel was a challenge in itself, as we navigated the maze that was the Galaxy Macau complex with 6 different hotels, 3 Michelin star restaurants, and a massive casino.
We took the elevator up to the 51st floor to check into the hotel. In front of us were two large desks, occupied by two receptionists, and surrounded by rather large vases. Towards the back were sweeping views of downtown Macau. You could see the Macau Tower, MGM Macau, and Wynn Macau, amongst a few. I sat down at the desk as a woman checked me in, asked for the usual information (although a bit skeptical at what a 23-year-old such as myself was doing at a resort like the Ritz Carlton), and proceeded to give me details about the room.
We took the elevator down to the 35th floor, walked down a long, calmly lit hallway lined with even more large vases, and stepped into the Carlton Suite.
The king bedroom had it’s own chandelier, love seat, tv, automated curtains and blinds, and was connected to the luxurious, top to bottom, marble bathroom.
The bathroom was covered in marble, had its own chandelier, hot tub, his and her’s vanities, a rain shower, a powder room, and a fully automated bidet with a remote control. This was the most advanced toilet I’ve ever seen, even compared to Japan, with buttons to lift up the seat, light-up the bowl, and even air it out.
The living room had more vases, a little study area, a half bathroom, a wine cabinet, and another bed.
Before arriving, the staff had laid out a welcome package for us, complete with a complimentary bottle of red wine, and assorted fruits, chocolates, and macaroons.
They even wrote me a hand written letter to welcome us to the Ritz Carlton. Now that’s some VIP service!
Overall, we had a great time in Macau. The Ritz-Carlton was one of the nicest hotels I’ve ever stayed at in my life. It’s unfair to compare Macau to Sin City. It’s another animal entirely, and definitely a city worth visiting again!
“Each complex is a small town, and their numbers make up this enormous capital. Like cells in a body, each contains identical elements, and the resulting pattern is an organic one.” – Donald Ritchie
The nighttime lights in Tokyo are overwhelming. Billions of bright bulbs and boards begging for your attention, yearning for your Japanese yen. You think: ‘With all this brilliance, the rumors must be true: this must be one of the most expensive cities on Earth. How else could they afford their electricity bills?’ But I’ve got a little secret for you: Tokyo isn’t as expensive as everyone says it is.
This past winter, I decided to take a solo trip through Japan, visiting Tokyo, Kyoto, Mt. Koya, and Osaka along the way (videos to come soon). Unlike my previous, way over the top trips, like spending a Weekend in Stockholm, visiting the Avenue of the Dead, flying First Class from Hong Kong to San Francisco, or staying at the Ritz Carlton in Macau, I decided to a take a more down to earth approach to Japan, staying in hostels and meeting locals. Over the course of 4 days in Tokyo, we grew our squad to 3 Americans, 2 Australians, and 1 Malaysian, visited some of the best spots and bars in Tokyo, and found what it truly meant to visit the Land of the Rising Sun. Below I’ve compiled a list of the top 10 affordable places you should visit in Tokyo.
1. GOLDEN GAI
Golden Gui was, by far, one of my favorite places to visit in Tokyo. A subset of the Shinjuku neighborhood, Golden Gui is composed of a small network of 6 narrow alleys, barely wide enough for a single person to walk through with over 200 tiny, shanty-style bars, clubs, and eateries in one square block. Many of the bars are restricted to “foreigners” and are reserved for regulars only, while others are open to new visitors and feature various themes ranging from old-school speakeasies to straight up Hello Kitty.
Shinjuku is the larger neighborhood that contains Golden Gui and is one of the largest neighborhoods for nightlife and bars when compared to Hong Kong, London, or even New York. This neighborhood is just as busy as the popular shopping district, Shibuya, but with more millennials and some of the craziest sites in Tokyo, like the Robot Restaurant shown above.
Shibuya is the largest shopping district in Tokyo, with more neon signs per square block to compete with Times Square in New York. There are more two-story televisions in this neighborhood than anywhere else in the world. It’s a popular shopping and eating destination among many Tokyoites (Yes, that’s actually what they’re called). Beautiful lights at night, and hundreds of shopping options, make this a classic destination of choice in Tokyo.
I stayed in a hostel in Asakusa during my visit to Tokyo. One of the more affordable locations for solo travelers, and also home to Sensoji Temple, Tokyo’s oldest and most significant Buddhist temple. During the day, you can walk by the hundreds of restaurants and tourist shops lining the path leading up to Sensoji Temple.
5. UENO PARK
Take a stroll through the beautiful Ueno Park, and watch families soaking in the sun, observe street performers, and find locals painting some of the beautiful scenes that can be found within the park, like the old man painting Toshogu Shrine above.
6. OWL CAFE
You’ve probably heard of the many cat cafes throughout Japan, allowing weary travelers to grab a coffee while enjoying the company of cats from around the world. Owl Cafes, on the other hand, are a whole nother animal (pun intended). Take a break by checking out the Owl Cafe in Asakusa, grab a coffee, and pet a Barn Owl.
7. MAID CAFE
While lesser known, Maid Cafes are a subset of the many cosplay restaurants in Tokyo. Waitresses dressed in maid costumes act as servants and treat the customers as masters. Definitely one of the more interesting experiences in Tokyo, and a must for groups!
8. TSUTA RAMEN RESTAURANT
Enjoy Ramen? Then definitely stop by Tsuta, a tiny ramen restaurant located in the Sugamo neighborhood, and the only ramen restaurant to receive 1 Michelen star. I got there early to get a ticket with my reservation time for 1pm, allowing us to explore the city and come back at our specified time. Once inside, you go to the vending machine, select the type of ramen you would like to order, and pay. Needless to say, it was some of the best ramen I’ve ever had in my life.
9. TOKYO SKYTREE
The Tokyo Skytree is a broadcasting, restaurant, and observation tower just north-east of the Asakusa neighborhood. While traditionally more touristy, you can get sweeping 360 views of Tokyo from the upper decks, and American tourists can get priority access. I would suggest going to the Skytree right before sunset to catch a glimpse of why Japan is called the Land of the Rising Sun.
10. MT. FUJI
Mt. Fuji is a must see if you go during the summer. I made the mistake of going in the winter when amateur hikers are discouraged from making the trek due to limited amenities and guides available. The mountain itself may look more attractive from afar than from close up, but the views on clear days and the experience of climbing through the early morning hours among hundreds of equally minded hikers from across the world are very rewarding.
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Interested in taking a trip to Japan and would like more advice or places to see, things to do, and food to eat, shoot me a message at firstname.lastname@example.org
I travel quite a bit, but usually it’s either for work or I’m trying to find the cheapest, budget flight I can, but for my recent trip from Hong Kong to San Francisco I wanted to do something impulsive, so I booked First Class with Cathay Pacific. The retail cost of this flight is over $23,000 one-way. Naturally, I couldn’t afford a $23,000 ticket (far more than my student loans) so I redeemed 110,000 miles on my Chase Sapphire Card.
I arrived at the MTR check-in counter in Hong Kong about 5 hours before my departure time. I’d heard about the new First Class lounge at HKG and didn’t want to miss a minute exploring it. After hoping on a quick train to the airport, checking-in, and passing through security, I headed towards Cathay Pacific’s new, The Pier First Lounge.
After arriving at the lounge, I headed to the restaurant for a 3-course dinner. I ordered the Pasta Salad, Walnut Pesto Linguini, and Creme Brulee.
After dinner and a quick nap, I boarded the flight and got settled into seat 1A. My first impression of the seat was just how insanely big it was. Cathay Pacific only has three seats per row, making them one of the widest airline seats in the air today. The first class suite also doesn’t have sliding doors, with Cathay preferring to have an open layout, unlike Emirates.
However, it is more than made up by the fact there are only six seats in the entire cabin, making it one of the smallest and most exclusive first cabins in the sky. Overall, there were only two flight attendants serving three paying passengers and a Cathay Pacific pilot. This was going to fun!
After I sat down, my two first class flight attendants and the pilot introduced themselves. Surprisingly, the entire crew was San Francisco-based, instead of Hong Kong-based and have been doing 2 flights a week for several years. I almost felt like I shouldn’t be there. I was surrounded by people more than double my age.
A young gentleman then asked me what I would like to drink. I asked for a glass of champagne and he quickly brought over a glass of Krug. Soon after, the doors were closed and I was off to San Francisco. After a quick champagne refill, I was ready to order supper.
The server came over and set the table with a table cloth, silverware, and glassware. I ordered the Mushroom cream soup as an appetizer,
and the Grilled Eggplant Stack along with a glass of Pinot Noir.
After dinner and a few movies, I was ready for bed. I put on my complimentary Cathay Pacific pajamas,
while the flight attendant came over and made my bed.
Emirates may have the enclosed suite, but the extra width and open design made my seat feel like a real bed that I could stretch out in. The bed lining was perfect and I had probably the biggest pillow I’ve slept on so far on a plane. I had the most comfortable sleep on a flight I’d ever had.
I woke up as we were somewhere over the pacific, 3 hours from San Francisco. The flight attendant came over and gave me the breakfast menu. I started with a plate of fruit, croissants, and orange juice.
and ordered the Breakfast Egg Scramble.
We then began our descent into San Francisco and landed shortly. I spent the next couple minutes talking with The flight crew, thanked them for their amazing service, and deboarded.
Overall, Cathay Pacific’s first class lives up to the hype. Although their seats are not the most groundbreaking, what stands out is the level of sophistication and elegance at every turn. The service was top notch and you can easily tell they paid attention to the minor details.
*If you’re interested in earning flight miles or credit card points, check out my other article 3 No-Brainer Credit Cards Everyone Must Have in Their Wallet.
I’ve been asked by numerous people time and time again what credit card they should get next, so I’ve decided to compile a list of the 3 credit cards I have in my wallet and why it’s a no brainer to get these cards! As a disclaimer, I may receive compensation when you click on links to these products. Everything in this post is of my sole opinion.
As a background, I’ve spent the past 2 years analyzing, double checking, and cross-referencing the top credit cards out there. As a consultant, I’ve analyzed loyalty cards for airlines (American, United, Southwest, Delta), hotels (Marriott, SPG, Hilton), and bank credit cards (Chase Sapphire Preferred, Freedom, Freedom Unlimited, Citi Double Cash Back), and more. After reviewing each credit card, I’ve narrowed it down to the following 3 credit cards that I carry in my wallet today:
Check back next week for a thorough review of the new Chase Sapphire Reserve credit card. Now let’s get started!
The Chase Sapphire Preferred is the best overall credit card out there. It’s marketed as a travel credit card, but if you’re eating out and ubering around the city, this card more than pays for itself. If you’re a recent grad or a college student, the majority of your expenses will be on transportation or dining. Even bars that sell food are considered dining and many are eligible for the 2x points. I’ve had this card for almost 2 years and redeemed over $2000 worth of points through just this card. I’ve booked a round-trip flight to New York, redeemed $1000 for a 4-night stay at the JW Marriot in San Francisco, and even redeemed for special events in any city, including the Hunger Games Exhibition in San Francisco.
You get 50,000 points after you spend $4000 in the first 3 months (worth $625 with Chase Ultimate Rewards®) and 2X points on Hotels, Flights, Taxis (Ubers, Lyfts), Restaurants, and any other travel related expenses. You also get access to Chase Ultimate Rewards, allowing you to redeem 25% value in points. At just $95 a year, this card is a no-brainer. As always, there are no foreign transaction fees, no blackout dates, no travel restrictions. I’ve booked numerous hotels and flights through Chase Ultimate Rewards and have never had a problem.
Whether you’re a traveler or not, the Chase Sapphire Preferred signup bonus alone more than pays for the card and is a no-brainer card to have in your wallet! To all of you post-grads and college students out there, this is the card for you!
You can check out a great review of the Chase Sapphire Reserve credit card at ThePointsGuy.com.
*I have also started checking out the Chase Sapphire Reserve card. Check out my post next week for a thorough review.
The Chase Freedom credit card has been my oldest card. With no annual fee and the easiest credit card to attain with good credit, it was a no-brainer. You earn $150 after spending $300 in the first 3 months and earn up to 5% on combined purchases (up to $1500) in specific bonus categories that you activate each quarter. These categories include restaurants, grocery stores, gas stations, and wholesale clubs. Who doesn’t love getting an extra 5% at the gas station or on your next meal?
What makes this card a no-brainer is that it costs no annual fee and you use it only on bonus category expenses. Want more… transfer these points to your Chase Sapphire Reserve account to redeem points at a 50% bonus and transfer points 1:1 to Chase partners, included United and American, and even Southwest.
Pair this card with the Chase Sapphire Reserve and the Chase Freedom Unlimited, and you’ll have a perfect House of Cards.
When the Chase Freedom Unlimited card was announced a few months ago, I didn’t think much of it. At just 1.5 points per $1 spent on every purchase, it’s not the most valuable card out there with no annual fee. But after analyzing my expenses on my Chase Sapphire Reserve, I realized that I’d only been earning 1 point on over half of my monthly expenses. Grocery stores, gas stations, and drug stores are just a few places where the Chase Freedom Unlimited Card shines!
The Chase Freedom Unlimited card is currently offering $150 after you spend $500 in the first 3 months and has no annual fee. For every dollar you spend on the card, you get 1.5 points, simple enough, but here is where the card becomes truly powerful. You can transfer points from your Freedom Unlimited to your Chase Sapphire Reserve account. This allows you to redeem points at a 50% bonus, and transfer points to partners including United and American 1 for 1.
I’ve had numerous times where I found flights on United for far fewer points than Chase. With just 2 clicks, I can transfer my points to my United MileagePlus account, and BAM!!! Flights booked!
Combine this card with your Chase Sapphire Reserve and Chase Freedom, and you’re golden!
There are numerous great credit cards out there. These are just a few that I’ve chosen to carry with me. Depending on your traveling lifestyle and spending habits, certain cards may be better than others, for example, getting the Marriott Rewards Credit Card if you’re a loyal Marriott Member, or getting the United MileagePlus card if you solely fly United. Have I missed any credit cards? Do you have a different opinion? Let me know what you think in the comments below.
Took an impulse trip out to Stockholm a couple weeks ago and took the DJI Phantom 3 Pro to film the cobblestone streets and ochre-colored buildings of Gamla Stan (the old town). You can see Storkyrkan Cathedral, the Kungliga Slottet Royal Palace and the Nobel Museum. Check it out!
Music: Jetta – I’d Love to Change the World (Matstubs Remix)
Gazing below at the Avenue of the Dead, once the cultural center of the ancient Mesoamerican city of Teotihuacan established over 2 millennia ago, you could only imagine how the 125,000 inhabitants of the city went about their daily lives. We had reached the summit of the Pyramid of the Sun, built over the tombs of early Teotihuacan rulers. We were standing at the center of the once, vibrant Aztec civilization.
In just over 72 hours, I had embarked on one of my most impulsive trips yet, a weekend trip to Teotihuacan and Mexico City. It was the Thursday morning before the trip, I was planning to head back to San Francisco and I felt a sudden urge to explore Central America. It would be a great experience to add to my Experience Bank and I’d never been to Mexico. The only other time I’d been to Central or Latin America was my winter trip to Quito, Ecuador. 5 hours later, I had canceled my tickets to San Francisco, booked a round trip flight, and had landed in Mexico City.
I’d arrived at the hostel without knowing anyone in the city and with no plan. This was my first, truly solo, world trip. The following morning I’d met a Canadian traveler, Taylor, who had just arrived after a 2-week trek through Cuba. We left the hostel with the intention of exploring Chapultepec, one of the largest city parks in the Western Hemisphere. It’s home to the Castillo de Chapultepec, built during the colonial period and has housed Mexican heads of state until 1940.
Over the course of the weekend, we had visited the Museo Nacional de Antropología, the Palacio de Bellas Artes, and the Basílica de Nuestra Señora de Guadalupe, among much more. The Museo Nacional de Antropología is the largest museum in Mexico and contains significant archaeological and anthropological artifacts from the Mexico’s pre-Columbian heritage, such as the Stone of the Sun and the Aztec Xochipilli statue. The Palacio de Bellas Artes is one of the most prominent cultural centers in Mexico City, housing murals by Diego Riviera, Siqueiros, among others. On our last day, we visited the Basílica de Nuestra Señora de Guadalupe, a Roman Catholic church and national shrine of Mexico. Thousands of people visit the historic religious site every day. I would highly recommend visiting these sites if you ever take a trip to Mexico City.
It wouldn’t be fair to talk about Mexico without mentioning the food. Besides a few bad experiences with a Chinese buffet and an American restaurant, Taylor and I had made a plan to solely eat street food, namely the hundreds of taquerias scattered around the city. For breakfast, lunch, and dinner, with a few exceptions, we had eaten tacos, gorditas, and sopes, but mostly tacos. At about 9 pesos a taco, we had some of the best food in the city. Every taqueria had their own blend of spices and sauces that made their tacos unique. We would often go “taqueria hopping”, stopping by several taquerias trying out different tacos at each one. These street vendors aren’t for the faint of heart, or stomach, but we didn’t have any issues and it was some of the best food we had on the trip. Highly recommended!
On our last day, we booked a tour to check out the pyramids just outside of Mexico City. Within an hour, we were at the site of the ancient city of Teotihuacan, a name I still can’t pronounce. We started at the base of the Pyramid of the Moon, the second largest pyramid in the city, and serves as a direct contrast to the Pyramid of the Sun. Once at the top, you can gaze down the Avenue of the Dead. On either side, you can see several complex, multi-family compounds. At the far end of the plaza, you can see the Pyramid of the Sun, towering over the rest of the city. I’d always been a big history fanatic, but it felt unreal being at the site of a once flowering, ancient civilization, and imagining what the avenue may have looked like during one of the city’s many festivals. I would highly recommend checking out Teotihuacan if you’re planning a trip out there.
I was only in Mexico City for about 3 days, and I feel as though I still have not experienced a majority of what the city has to offer, with its numerous museums, parks, and historic sites. It was a very impulsive trip, but one I am glad to have added to my Experience Bank. I’d met many great people, made some new friends, and spoke more Spanish than I ever have in my entire life. Mexico City is definitely an experience I won’t forget.
Check out the short video I made while I was there: