Elephant Jungle Sanctuary in Chiang Mai, Thailand

If you are considering a trip to Thailand, you can’t leave out a visit to play with elephants outside of Chiang Mai. I’ve been to Chiang Mai twice, visiting the elephants both times, and each time that was the highlight of my trip. Elephants are the sweetest and most playful creatures, and spending a day with them is guaranteed to become a memory you’ll never forget.

Elephant Jungle Sanctuary, Chiang Mai Thailand

The sad truth about elephants in Thailand is that so many places will torture and abuse the elephants to make it possible for the elephants to be ridden. An elephant’s spine is not naturally strong enough to carry a little hut for humans to ride in, and they have to go through so much pain and abuse to be able to carry those.

Elephant Jungle Sanctuary, Chiang Mai Thailand

If you’d like to visit and play with elephants without contributing to their abuse, I would highly recommend visiting a sanctuary! I’ve visited two elephant sanctuaries, my favorite being Elephant Jungle Sanctuary.

Elephant Jungle Sanctuary Chiang Mai Thailand

When you book a trip with the Elephant Jungle Sanctuary, you’ll have the opportunity to play with elephants in a loving and caring environment. You’ll have the chance to feed them bananas and sugarcane (their favorite!), pet them, bathe them, and take loads of photos with them. These elephants have been rescued from the abusive environments of parks, and now have a loving home.

You get the option of many different tour packages with the Elephant Jungle Sanctuary, the most common being a half day or full day. You can even stay multiple days if you have the time! I opted for the half day, but that quickly became a regret, as I only was with the elephants for a few hours (the park is about an hour and a half drive outside of Chiang Mai). I would recommend splurging on the full day tour (still only about $70 USD). The tours usually include a ride to and from the park, and a meal, plus a couple bottles of water per person.

Elephant Jungle Sanctuary, Chiang Mai Thailand

The elephants at the Elephant Jungle Sanctuary are well taken care of and happy – you can see it on their faces. If you’re planning a trip to Thailand, I highly recommend booking a tour with the Elephant Jungle Sanctuary!

Elephant Jungle Sanctuary, Chiang Mai Thailand

For more info on Chiang Mai (and to see why I made it my home for three months!), check out my Ultimate Guide to Chiang Mai.

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A Yoga Retreat in Bali: Shanti Toya Ashram

After a very busy couple of months at the beginning of this year, I already needed a break. I decided to gift myself with a calming yoga retreat in Ubud, Bali. I found a room on Airbnb at an yoga ashram, and booked myself in for the week.

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When I got to the ashram, I was very pleasantly surprised. It was in the middle of the jungle and it was incredibly natural and stunningly beautiful. The little plot of land had stone walkways, a little collection of buildings housing the rooms, an adorable communal dining hall, and an outside yoga studio. I scored the budget room at the yoga retreat, coming in at $10 a night, which included two yoga classes a day, 2-3 activities a day, and breakfast (with balinese coffee!!) in the morning. The room was simple with a detached bathroom, and was an incredible value for what I paid.

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I spent my days eating breakfast with the other retreaters, getting to know each other. We would sit at the dining tables and chat for hours over coffee, fruit, and oatmeal. After breakfast, I would try to fit in some pool time if I could. How could I resist this?!

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After working on my tan, I’d head back up to the dining hall for lunch. All meals were made at the ashram by some adorable local women, and I could choose to eat breakfast and lunch there for 50,000 rupiah per meal, which is about $5 USD. All the food was vegetarian, and about 95% of it was vegan. After lunch, I would either work a bit or head off to one of the activities. Over the week, I learned how to dance Balinese style, I did my first Satya (like a group therapy truth circle situation), I took an intro to massage class. I watched sunsets over rice paddies, took a trip to a waterfall and an incredible temple (separate post coming), and got to know people from different countries and cultures. I learned how to say thank you in Balinese, and I heard truly inspiring stories of how the people there came to be at the ashram.

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The yoga classes were so much fun, and I got to learn and work on poses that I’d never tried before. I had never been to a yoga class where I’ve laughed so hard, where I’ve fallen on my neck, and where I’ve mastered poses that I didn’t know I could do.

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Shanti Toya Ashram is about 30 mins by motorbike outside of Ubud, Bali. It’s possible to rent a motorbike from the ashram and head into Ubud if you’d like to explore, but I chose to stay at the ashram mainly and spend a few days in Ubud following the retreat. If you’d like to do the all-inclusive version of the yoga retreat (including all meals and one free coconut a day, plus an upgraded room), the cost is between $30-$40 USD per night (or you can book the Airbnb that I stayed in here).

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It was so amazing to feel connected to nature again and let my inner hippy come out a bit. I walked around barefoot, lived in my bathing suit, and lived off fruit, coffee, rice, tempeh, and vegetables for the week. Living in such a simple way can truly help reset the mind and did wonders for my mental state. I highly recommend checking out a yoga ashram while in Bali!

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[This post is not sponsored; all opinions are my own. I paid for my stay at the retreat and was not asked to provide a review, the owners had no idea that I was a travel blogger 😉 #incognito]

 

 

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Where To Stay and What to Eat In Bali: Sanur

Wondering where to stay in Bali? I recently spent a week in the adorable little town of Sanur, where I booked an adorable airbnb. Sanur is a great spot for digital nomads, vacationers, or anyone looking for a place to spend some time relaxing in Bali.

If you know me, you know that I LOVE driving motorbikes. This little place that I booked was remote enough to warrant a necessary motorbike rental for the week. I rented one from my airbnb host for 50,000 Indonesian rupiah per day, which is $5 AUD or $3.50 USD per day.

I spent the week driving the motorbike and discovering new restaurants.

My favorite vegan-friendly restaurants in Sanur are:

Malaika Secret Moksha

I ate here nearly every day. The owner is an incredible gourmet chef. They have a vegan menu, which is only one page out of the maybe 10-page menu, but everything I tried on the veg menu was amazing. Definitely go for breakfast and get the coconut granola, and also you must try the Balinese coffee.

Nalu Bowls

I am not sure if this one counts, since I actually drove about half an hour away (all the way to Seminyak) to try this place out. I’ve been following them on Instagram for a year now and was so excited to have my very own Nalu bowl, I went there the first day I was in Bali. It cost about $7 USD; totally worth it. All of their bowls look absolutely incredible, and it’s a really cute place to hang out. They have locations all over Bali and I highly recommend trying them out at least once!

Bali Buddha

Good for smoothies and raw foods, also THEY HAVE COLD BREW COFFEE. Heads up, they don’t have wifi at their Sanur location. They are a chain and have other locations throughout Bali.

Genius Cafe

Great for beach vibes. Located right along the beach, this is a fab place to watch the sunset with a coconut or a raw dessert. They have loads of vegan options but also cater to omnivores. It’s not cheap, but the quality is good.

Tasty Vegan

This place was hidden along the main road. This is where I found vegan versions of local Balinese food, and tried the national dish, nasi goreng. It was good, but a little oily for my taste 🙂

If you are in Sanur and looking to get your Facetime on, the best wifi I found was located at this adorable little coffee shop that was hidden down a little alley – it was called Dusk Blue.

I definitely recommend Sanur for part of your stay in Bali, but there are so many great places to stay in Bali that I’d recommend going to a few if you can!

how cute are the local kids?! 

sunsets outside of Genius Cafe

 

 

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The Ultimate Guide to Chiang Mai, Thailand

Chiang Mai is a magical place that stole my heart. I consider Chiang Mai my second home – it’s full of sweet, caring Thai people. It’s easy to fall in love with this city, as it is full of history and culture, but is also very easy to travel through as a Westerner. Most Thai people in the city speak decent enough English. You can find Western food among the hundreds of Thai restaurants if you are feeling homesick; you can find a restaurant that caters to any culinary desire. I fell in love with Chiang Mai for the people, the markets, the food, the restaurants, and the architecture. The moat that encircles the city is surrounded by greenery, the famous Doi Suthep mountain is close by, and there are dozens of natural wonders that you can see just outside of the city. [PLEASE NOTE: this is still a third world country, and some Thais will do whatever they need to do to make money. Sadly, this can include animal cruelty. Please practice responsible tourism and do your research before visiting any place that uses animals as attractions.]

Chiang Mai has the feel of a large city because there is so much to do, but the city itself is not as big as most typical American cities. There is lots of hustle and bustle in this city. You can get around via tuk tuk or songthaew (aka “red truck”). The tuk tuks are always fun, but a songthaew will usually be your best budget option. If you are staying in the old city, you’ll be able to walk most places. The old city is big enough that if you want to get from one end to the other, you’ll need to take transport (unless you love long walks in hot, humid environments). Taking a tuk tuk anywhere within the old city should cost you about 150 baht (roughly $5 USD), a red truck will set you back about 20 baht (about 60 cents USD). If this is your first time visiting this amazing city, I would recommend staying within the Old City, as that is where most everything is happening. If you’ve been to Chiang Mai before, I’d recommend trying out a new area (I stayed near Nimmanhaemin the second time I visited, and I loved it).

 

Accommodation

Accommodation in Chiang Mai is vast. There are so many choices, from super budget-friendly, to super luxurious. Personally, I like to snag a private place that still contributes to the local economy, but I don’t want to sleep in a 10 bed dorm room. My top recommendations (I’ve personally stayed at both of these places for more than a week) are as follows:

  • Sleep Guesthouse: This is the first place I ever stayed in Chiang Mai and it is still one of my favorite places I’ve stayed to date (after traveling to over 20 countries). Sleep is an adorable little place, owned by a Thai woman and her European husband. They are so sweet, personable, and super accommodating. The guesthouse is in a great location, just inside the Old City. This guesthouse is absolutely incredible – the only bad thing about it is how well-known it’s getting. It can be booked out months in advance, so I would recommend booking ASAP. Rooms in this guesthouse will set you back about $30 USD per night – this includes a private room, your own bathroom, AC (necessary in Thailand at any time of year), and breakfast every morning.

 

  • The Bliss Hotel: This is where I lived for three months. They do long term and short term leases, plus rooms by the night. You can see a video tour of my room here – this is one of the long term lease rooms. If you are getting a room by the night, you will get a different style – more like a one bedroom apartment instead of a studio. This hotel is a bit more hotel-like, though it is run by Thais and has a great atmosphere. I had a kitchen and living room area, with a couch and a kitchen sink and counter and everything. This place is more apartment-like and less short-term feeling. If you are looking for a place to feel at home and you are staying a bit longer, I would recommend The Bliss. I paid $280 USD for a month here, or you can stay by the day for roughly $35 USD per night. This hotel is near Nimmanhaemin Road, which is another touristy area, full of shopping and incredible restaurants.
[NOTE: There are so many amazing places to stay in Chiang Mai. The two listed above are places that I can recommend because I’ve stayed there personally, but there are so many other amazing places to stay. You can do a simple google search to find something that works for you. I would highly recommend staying in the Old City if it’s your first time to Chiang Mai.]

 

Stuff to Do: In the City

  • Wat Suan Dok: There are so many temples in the Old City – a simple search on Trip Advisor will show you at least 20. My favorite one was Wat Suan Dok. It’s a bit out of the way, but it’s absolutely stunning. The whole temple is white and it is just incredible. I’d highly recommend a trip here, and after you take your photos and ring the bells (it’s good luck!), you can have lunch at the authentic Thai restaurant next door, Pun Pun.

  • Wat Phra Singh: I love this temple because it’s beautiful, but another wonderful thing about it is that it is located right near Sleep Guesthouse AND it’s right in front of the best pizza place in Chiang Mai – By Hand Pizza. If you get a craving for a good pizza and beer night, look no further than By Hand. They have a pizza oven and you can watch the whole process, plus they make vegan pizzas (for veg heads like me). I would recommend looking on Tripadvisor to find some temples, and spend a whole day checking them out. Make sure to dress appropriately – women must cover their shoulders and legs. A long dress with a shawl would be appropriate, and will be much more comfortable than jeans in high humidity.
  • Sunday Night Market: If you are only going to be in Chiang Mai for a few days, PLEASE make sure that one of those days is a Sunday. The Sunday night market is not to be missed – a large portion of the old city gets filled with street vendors selling souvenirs, food, little trinkets, soaps, candles, oils, you name it, it’s there. My favorite way to tackle the market is to go early (seriously like 4 or 5, as soon as they start setting up, because this place gets packed), look around at the goods, stop at the foot massage booth for a foot massage, and then head over to the food area. There are a few food courts, where you can try all kinds of exotic foods. I ate so many things there that I didn’t even know what they were, but they were all fun and delicious. It’s especially fun to go with a few people, so you can all get different foods and share. This is also an ideal spot to pick up souvenirs for your friends or family (if you’re into that kind of thing). You can buy shirts, pants, dresses, scarves, hats, seriously pretty much anything here.
  • Massages: It’s well known that Thailand is the land of cheap massages. You can find massage parlors anywhere and everywhere, and a typical Thai massage will cost you roughly 200 baht, or $6 USD. I’ve never had a bad massage, and I’ve been to quite a few massage places in Chiang Mai. I recommend whichever you would like to try!
  • Doi Suthep: Hike up the Pilgrims trail to the top of Doi Suthep if you’re brave; it’s a difficult and grueling hike. It takes about an hour and a half, but it’s steep uphill. If you’re feeling lazy, get a red truck to take you up (250 baht round trip is a good price). At the top of the mountain, you’ll see the incredible temple. You’ll also get a great view of the city. Be prepared to walk up the stairs to get to the temple, and as always, dress appropriately when visiting a temple. Or you can pull an Amanda and wear shorts and borrow some fisherman pants. Note that you will need to take your shoes off to walk inside the temple.

 

Stuff to Do: Day Trips/Tours

  • Elephant Jungle Sanctuary: I’ve been here twice and can easily say it has been two of the best days of my life. There is nothing that can compare to spending your day playing with elephants. When you book a tour with this sanctuary (which rescues elephants – you do not ride them), they will pick you up from your accommodation, take you on a scenic hour and a half drive to the sanctuary (don’t worry, you’ll stop at a coffee shop on the way), and you get to spend a half or full day (depending which one you book), playing with elephants. I bathed them, walked with them, and fed them. Seriously, do this. [Note: I did loads of research and found that this is one of the only sanctuaries in Northern Thailand that truly does not harm the animals. It is common for elephant farms to call themselves “sanctuaries” to get more tourism. The elephants at Elephant Jungle Sanctuary are treated with love and respect and it’s easy to see that they are not mistreated in any way.] See my full post on the Elephant Jungle Sanctuary

  • Doi Inthanon: “Doi” means mountain in Thai. Doi Inthanon is the highest peak in Thailand. Take a ride via airport taxi (with AC, a private tour will cost you about $40-$50 per person), or book a red truck the day before (will cost you about 500 baht per person, about $14 USD). The mountain is also about an hour and a half from Chiang Mai, but well worth the drive. You’ll get to go on a little hike, you’ll see the King and Queens temples at the mountain, and you’ll get to have lunch at a super cute authentic Thai restaurant at the base of the mountain. I took the luxury route and splurged on an airport taxi, and our driver took us on an extra stop to the rice paddies and a really amazing waterfall. It was an incredible experience and I highly recommend it.

  • Grand Canyon: I visited the Grand Canyon on my first trip to Chiang Mai. It was surreal. You can swim in the water at the base of the canyon. When I went there, we were allowed to jump from the cliff, but I believe that has been banned. There is still an area that you can jump from, it’s just a bit lower. You can get here via red truck (the more people you can fit in, the cheaper it will be per person). I highly recommend spending a half day swimming at the canyon. There is also a restaurant here if you get hungry. Bring cash, because there is a 50 baht entrance fee.

 

Overnight Trips from Chiang Mai

  • Chiang Rai: To be honest, I never made it to Chiang Rai, but it’s still on my list of places to go. Catch a bus up here, stay for a night, and see the absolutely incredible White Temple.
  • Pai: Pai is an adorable little mountain town, about three hours by bus from Chiang Mai. It’s a great place to be surrounded by greenery. I’d suggest renting a scooter and driving to the big buddha, where you can walk up a LOT of stairs to get to the buddha and get a wonderful view of the city. The nightlife in Pai is pretty full on, with markets and bars opening after dark. Lots of tourists and locals go out for drinks. There is a great little beer bar that serves beers from around the world – you can buy a beer from America if you are getting homesick (it will cost you though – I paid $8 USD for a Stone IPA). I stayed in an ADORABLE bungalow in Pai, called Pai Chan Cottages (see below). A two-bed bungalow set us back $15 USD per night.

 

Restaurants

If you’re a health nut like me, check out these restaurants for the best food in Chiang Mai.

  • Food 4 Thought: Easily, hands down, my favorite restaurant in Chiang Mai. It’s also called Bay’s Cafe. They serve amazing coffee and breakfast, but also do not miss a chance to try their lunches. They have happy hour if you’re into wine/beer/drinks, they serve kombucha, smoothies, and juices, and they have good portion sizes (Thailand is known for small portions). The owner, Bay, and his staff are incredibly friendly. If you want a place to chill out for a bit, this is your best bet. Bay sometimes has rescue kittens that can be super sociable, and you are always welcome to stay for hours (a lot of people do just that). The only downside to this restaurant is that it is a bit outside of the city. Catch a red truck if you’re staying in the Old City, or you can walk from Nimmanhaemin Road.
  • By Hand Pizza: As mentioned above, this is a fab pizza place if you’re craving a good pizza and beer night. This place is super cute and in a great area. The pizzas are fantastic, and it’s a really great place to catch up with a friend and chill out after a day full of touristing. Bonus: It’s right down the road from Sleep Guesthouse.
  • May Kaidee’s: This place has authentic vegetarian Thai food. It’s located close to Sleep Guesthouse (within walking distance). It’s amazing, the food is outstanding, and they even offer cooking classes if you’re into it. Just make sure you book in advance. 🙂
  • Aum Vegetarian: Aum is well known for their veggie burgers, but they also make an incredible curry and some great pad thai. It’s located right by the Tha Pae gate, which is something you will definitely want to see on your trip.
  • Taste From Heaven: Go here, get the pumpkin curry, and thank me later. They also have killer brownies that go great with their coconut ice cream.
  • Rustic and Blue: When you’re craving something healthy and fresh, head to Nimmanhaemin and hit up Rustic and Blue. They offer salads, acai bowls, and some heartier healthy options if you’d like.
  • Imm Aim: Amazing pad thai and super cute place. Definitely sneak up the stairs for a great table with a view down the street and a nice, casual ambiance.

  • Tidmor: Down Soi 7 off Nimmanhaemin, it’s a great spot to stop off for some potstickers, if you’re in the mood.
  • Any of the markets will offer traditional Thai food. If you are a pad thai lover, try the market outside of Maya mall (it only happens Thurs-Sat) for some incredible pad thai.
  • Ristr8to: If you are a coffee drinker, YOU MUST GO HERE. This is my favorite coffee shop in Chiang Mai, and perhaps in the entire world. They offer traditional coffees, complete with latte art, but they also have some alcoholic coffees if you are feeling wild.

 

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What to Do for a Week in Hong Kong

I planned to spend a week in Hong Kong. I just picked this amount of time based on flights, and I like to spend about a week in each city. It gives me enough time to do everything I want to do and then some. It gives me time to wander aimlessly and go to so many coffee shops. Here is how I spent a week in Hong Kong.

Day 1: I arrived at the Hong Kong International airport in the morning, around 10 am. I got some breakfast and coffee in the airport and then took the bus (14 HK dollars) to my couchsurfing hosts apartment. His maid met me and brought me in. I worked a bit on editing (I had slept two hours the night before and was in no shape to go out) and then I wandered around the area. I was staying in Mei Foo, which has a little shopping center. There is a restaurant in that shopping center which seemed like a popular place for the locals. I went in and had to ask for an English menu and ordered a curry. Don’t kill me for not ordering Chinese food immediately – I didn’t know how to veganize it yet!

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After dinner, I went back to the house and met up with the two other people who were staying there. We all took the MTR (subway) to Jordan, where we met our host, Dennis, who showed us a great noodle place. Dennis openly admits that he is obsessed with noodles – we ate noodles every time I ate with him. We walked around the ladies market, which is a market that sells knockoff luxury brand products, like purses and iphone cases.

We walked down temple street and passed through a road where people were getting their fortune read. I can be a pretty spontaneous person, and I was feeling wild, so I decided to get my fortune read. It was my first time getting my fortune read and it was really interesting. The woman told me a lot of stuff I already knew about myself, but she also said that I’ll live to be 84 and my first child will be a girl. One of these is a big surprise – if you know me well, you know that I don’t plan on having children. I guess time will tell if either of these come true 🙂

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The next day, I went and touristed with my new friend Marijs. She has a website that you can check out here. She takes amazing pictures, so I was stoked to spend a day with her where we can both be super tourists, taking pictures and videos for each other. We spent the day trying chinese food (vegan, of course – luckily she is veg so it worked out perfectly!). We started out with some veg dumplings for breakfast at DIN TAI FUNG. It’s an amazing, Michelin starred restaurant. The dumplings were amazing and we finished it off with some sesame dessert buns. Delish!

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We spent a lot of the day walking around. We went to the harbor and took the ferry across the water to Hong Kong Island. We walked around the botanical gardens and through the aviary where we saw some really beautiful exotic birds. I definitely recommend the botanical gardens if you go to Hong Kong – it’s a great getaway from the busy-ness of the city. We took the tram to get to the peak next – but soon realized that was not going to work out. There is only one tram that goes to the Victoria Peak, and it had a two hour wait. We decided to go out for a drink instead. 🙂 We went to a really cute place (I totally didn’t get the name of it), with a really sweet and informative Australian expat who had lived in HK for ten years. She told us to go to Aqua for a great view of the city at night. We headed over there (it’s a bar/restaurant, so we had to buy a pretty expensive drink to stay there). It was a fancy place and a great place to hang out and talk. The view was great as well.

The next day, we were determined to get to the Victoria Peak. The Aussie woman from the bar the night before had told us to get a taxi from Soho to the Peak – it’s roughly the same price as the tram if you have two people. We did this and split the price of the taxi – 80 HKD. It was totally worth passing up that two hour wait.

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And we got the view! The view from the top was incredible. Definitely one of my favorite things that I did in Hong Kong. I could have stayed up there all day, but Marijs had a flight to catch, so we headed back.

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The next few days were spent wandering solo through Central and Soho. I went to lots of coffee shops, restaurants, and dessert places (so much vegan ice cream!). Soho was my favorite place to wander. It was full of shops, healthy restaurants, and lots of people watching. There are so many great coffee places in HK as well. Check out this post for my favorite restaurants in Hong Kong. IMG_1389.JPG

One day, while I was bored in Soho, I even popped into a salon and got my hair colored. I was having a pretty wild week.

IMG_1332.JPGraspberry sorbet at Emack & Bolios in Soho 

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coffee at Holy Chef with Jeremy

Overall, Hong Kong was an amazing city to explore. I loved the huge variety of health-focused restaurants, and I love that I can get whatever I want to eat. It was so exciting to go to my first Michelin-star restaurant, get the best city view I’ve ever seen, and meet so many amazing people. Hong Kong has EXCELLENT public transportation, and they even have a really fun ferry service that you can take to HK island if you feel like being a little more adventurous than just taking the ferry. Hong Kong is a great place to go if you feel like spending some money. There is so much shopping, so many amazing places to eat, and so much to do.

 

A big thank you to Dennis and Jeremy for hosting me during my stay in Hong Kong!

 

Have you been to Hong Kong? Did you go to any of the same places I went? Let me know in the comments below! Also, don’t forget to check out my Hong Kong video here.

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