Tuk-tuks, temples and tours in Thailand

Following an hour drive to the airport, a 13-hour flight to Beijing, a four-hour layover plus a two-hour delay, a four-hour flight plus an additional two to three hours going through customs, finding our Affordable Asia pickup and driving to our Bangkok hotel, we had a two-hour sleep before waking up and hopping on the tour bus for a full morning and afternoon of touring.

Despite my delirium as we toured the Temple of Golden Buddha and the Temple of the Reclining Buddha, otherwise known as Wat Pho which is home to the world’s largest Buddha which measures 10-feet high, weighs over five tons and is worth an estimated $14 million, I realized as we walked around how accessible this trip really was.

Temple of the Golden Buddha. (Photo by Jenna Intersimone)

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Bangkok, a city of contradictions

Most cities, like people, have a distinct, characterizing personality that can be summed up in short, among from their several other outlying characteristics. Florence is an ancient, romantic city flooding with culture, the arts, history and luxury. New Orleans is a carefree, jolly city of free-flowing drinks, food and hospitality. San Juan is a colorful, sunny city made for those both looking for a big meal and big spending.

When my boyfriend Mike and I booked a 11-day trip to Thailand via Affordable Asia that included trips to Bangkok, Ayutthaya and Pattaya, I immediately got to work doing research on our various destinations, pouring over blogs, guidebooks and the few firsthand accounts I could find. However, I very quickly found myself running in circles. Information was few and far between and through all of the pieces that I read, I couldn’t define a clear picture of what it would look like in my head.

The streets of Bangkok. (Photo by Jenna Intersimone)

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Lake George for the autumn tourist

Before New Jerseyans are forced to deal with our never-ending winter, we are blessed with fall, a season so packed with colors and activities that I refuse to go on any long-distance trips during September or October – to me, fall weekends are precious, and needed for pumpkin picking, apple picking, haunted hay rides and cider donuts.

However, for the last two years, my family and I have been taking a trip designed for fall – a long weekend getaway to Seneca Lake, the largest of the Finger Lakes. For a few days, we check out fall foliage, visit wineries throughout the Seneca Lake Wine Trail, stay in a rustic cabin and sail down the lake.

This year, however, Seneca Secrets, our usual hangout, was all booked up and we figured we would mix it up and head to Lake George, which has always seemed to be a favorite destination of New Jerseyans.

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The day of the downtowns

Even though Monday was a pretty rainy and dismal day, with a busy week ahead, I was determined to visit Clinton, a small, picturesque town in Hunterdon County, to at least get a taste of it to prepare for my upcoming column about it.

With fall (supposedly) on the horizon, I figured it would be a great destination feature, and I could get some nice photos, of the town nestled in the deep Hunterdon woods with a 1950s-feel and the signature Red Mill Museum Village overlooking the river.

Photography by Michael Politz
Photography by Michael Politz

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Get away from the grind at Lake Ariel

Having grown up in Long Valley, N.J., which is possible the most boring place in the entire world, I usually can’t appreciate towns that run a little bit slower and take a journey just to make it to the nearest supermarket. Instead, my Long Valley upbringing has simply made me into a bona fide city dweller who needs to constantly be within 15 minutes to the nearest mall, plethora of restaurants, gas stations, airport, bars and other attractions.

However, when my boyfriend, Mike, invited me to visit his parents with him in Lake Ariel, Penn., a small village in Wayne County about an hour and 45 minutes away from my home in Morristown (which is about my cap for time I can spend in the car) I was pretty psyched. It had been a stressful couple weeks and I figured it would be nice to spend a relaxing few weeks in the countryside.

Cobb's Lake. (Photo by Jenna Intersimone)
Cobb’s Lake. (Photo by Jenna Intersimone)

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Taking a trip back in time through Wilmington

Although I can’t recall much about staying in my grandmother’s outdated bungalow in an area of Carolina Beach full of stumbling drunks and cigarette butts about six years ago, I do recall, quite vividly, our one day trip to Wilmington, about a half an hour drive north.

I remember strolling through the residential historic district, and, even though I couldn’t have cared less about what the tour guide had to say about iron gate styles or wraparound porches, I do recall feeling pretty mesmerized by these stately, colorful homes full of personality and bursting with history, intricate details, elaborate flowers and a deep, cool shade.

I also remember making our way to the commercial historic district, where we flitted in and out of niche boutiques and wandered throughout the cobblestone streets. For someone well acquainted with busy, modern cities like New York, I was pretty enamored with true-Southern Wilmington and its ancient charm at a time when I had yet to visit any other Southern destination.

The streets of Wilmington. Photo by Jenna Intersimone
The streets of Wilmington. Photo by Jenna Intersimone

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Pallin’ around Philly – in the daylight

Now that I’m 25-years-old, most of my friends (and I) are starting to find their way. Finally, those closest to me are escaping from the one-traffic-light town that we grew up in and are heading to New York City, across state lines, to small cities throughout New Jersey, and, of course, to Philadelphia.

Whenever another one of my friends packed up for Philadelphia, I cringed a little inside. It’s an uncomfortable hour-and-45-minute drive from my house and, possibly since I’ve mostly only been there under the cover of night, I’m used to odd happenings on shady streets and staying in dirty apartments. It’s a big, hipster change from my existence in ritzy, clean Morristown.

However, with not much else going on during a boring Sunday and having spent way too much time without seeing my best friend, Aaron, I buckled down in the car for the long journey to visit him for the day.

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Disney, all grown up

Walt Disney World in Orlando, Florida has never been on my must-see list. In general, I try to avoid places that are filled with children.

However, when my best friend, Dona, invited me there for her birthday to stay in a timeshare that her family owned, I couldn’t really think of a reason to say no. I wanted to celebrate Dona’s 25th birthday with her, I wouldn’t have to book a hotel room and I could go for just a portion of the week that Dona was staying for with her college friends, so I could only take two days off of work. Plus, things have been stressful lately, and I figured I could use a few days away to decompress.

For only $250, I snagged a round-rip flight to Orlando. I can’t remember the last time that I felt so relaxed.

Dona (left) and I.
Dona (left) and I.

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Durham: Feeding its tourists with dignity

As a classic clutcher of a glass-half-empty, I’m always aware when visiting a new city that I’m probably not going to eat quite as well as I do at home in New Jersey, where I know my fair share of hidden gem restaurants as well as what spots are grossly overrated.

Unfortunately, when traveling, I don’t have this kind of advantage. Instead, I’m at the whim of what restaurants are within walking distance of my lodging, passing recommendations from Uber drivers and how many stars a particular eatery as garnered via a quick Google search.

However, during my recent stay in Durham, North Carolina, for a wedding, I have to say that for one of the only times in my life, every restaurant that we sampled was simply fantastic. Here’s my recap.

Carolina-style ribs.
Carolina-style ribs.

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When I was a Phish head for the weekend

Although I’m a seasoned backpacker, I’m definitely not a camper. After a long day of traveling, getting caught in the rain, being stuffed into crowded bars and wandering dirty streets, I appreciate a hot shower, a warm bed and indoor plumbing.

The only time other time I went camping before last weekend, I went with three other people and we all stuffed ourselves into a two-person tent and ate hot dogs for every meal. It wasn’t exactly ideal. So, I was a little hesitant to go camping with my boyfriend, Mike, and his friend Adam to see Phish for three days in Saratoga Springs while camping at Lee’s Campground, about seven miles away from the Saratoga Performing Arts Center (SPAC).

Mike and I before the show.
Mike and I before the show.

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