Malaysia is home to over 30 million people and is a country filled with diversity in cultures, food, and cityscapes. During my trip to Asia, I made a stop over in Kuala Lumpur, the modern and unique capital city. Upon landing, I noticed the Malaysian flag everywhere - people carrying flags, flags on buildings, flags along the streets. I thought - wow this is a very patriotic place. Then I realized it wasn't just a normal day - it was Merdeka Day, or independence day! What are the chances that I land in Malaysia on this special holiday? Malaysia was celebrating their 60th anniversary of their independence from British rule.
With only 24 hours to spare in the city, I wanted to catch the Merdeka celebrations and hit the city's top highlights: the Batu Caves and Petronas Towers. Check out the behind the scenes video:
1. Merdeka Day
On Merdeka Day, August 31st, we woke up to the sound of military planes flying over the city. A group of fighter jets flew in unison across the unique cityscape.
2. Batu Caves
The Batu Caves are one of the most unique sites, easily accessible by the metro. We took a 30 minute metro ride from KL Sentral directly to the Batu Caves, a sacred Hindu site that features limestone caves and mischievous monkeys. As soon as I exited the metro, it felt like we were in India. Outside the cave is an Indian market, which is a feast for the senses. It smells like incense, there are fresh coconut stands, people making durian crepes, mukukku (an Indian snack), marigold flower necklaces, among many other shops.
The caves are accessible by a large staircase, lined with many mischievous monkeys. There are so many monkeys that we have to dodge them as we climb up to the caves. Finally, we reached the cave entrance - which was dark and filled with Hindu deities. It was magical and mysterious.
3. Petronas Towers
The Petronals towers are the Iconic symbol of Kuala Lumpur and the tallest twin towers in the world. The towers have an impossing, gun metal grey color that dominates the skyline. At one point, they were the tallest buildings in the world, but that title was taken by the Taipei 101, and other buildings. There is an observation deck, but it has extremely limited availablity of about 1000 tickets per day, and it is time slotted. Be sure to purchase tickets in advance. Otherwise, you can enjoy the towers from the outside, which includes a large water fountain and park.
Next, we take the train back to the airport - off to other adventures. Terima Kasih Malaysia!
Layovers present a unique opportunity for travelers. With a few hours to spare between flights, you can visit a new city that you otherwise would not have seen. During my trip from Los Angeles to Hong Kong, I experienced just that – I had a six-hour layover in Taipei. With only six hours to spare, it was just enough time to see some of the top sights in the city. Here is how I did it.
From the airport, I took the airport MTR train to the red line metro, which conveniently stops at many of the city’s highlights including Chiang Kai-Shek Memorial and Taipei 101. I purchased a metro day pass and the trip took roughly 45 minutes to get there. Even though I was short on time, the metro was easy to use and efficient which enabled me to maximize my stay in Taipei.
1. TAIPEI 101
I wanted to hit the most obvious tourist spot first: Taipei 101. It is the tallest building in Taipei’s skyline and an engineering marvel. In fact, during the time of its construction in 2004 to 2010, it was the tallest building in the world at 101 stories and 508 meters tall. The building dominates the city with its unique tiered design, resembling bamboo, which is a symbol of growth.
The tickets to the observation deck can be purchased inside Taipei 101 at NT$600, granting access to the 89th floor. To get to the top, I rode in the fastest elevator in the world, which took about 37 seconds. The ride was smooth and felt more like 10 seconds. Once the elevator doors opened, I found myself in a large room with floor to ceiling glass windows. The views from the top are absolutely jaw dropping.
2. DIN TAI FUNG
They say Taiwan is the country that never stops eating, which I found to be true. I took the elevator down to the bottom floor of Taipei 101, which had a sprawling food court. To my surprise, I spotted Din Tai Fung, one of Taiwan’s famous restaurants conveniently located in the building. Here, you can sample the soup dumplings, or Xiaolongbao, which originated in Taiwan. The dumplings are as tasty as they are photogenic. The restaurant has many locations around the world, but nothing can substitute enjoying it in the country of its origin.
3. CHIANG KAI-SHEK MEMORIAL
Next, we visit the Chiang Kai-shek memorial, who was the founder of Taiwan. We view the beautiful architecture of his memorial. Chiang Kai-shek was a Chinese political leader who served as president of the Republic of China on Taiwan. The plaza consists of a theater, memorial site, and historic gate and the architecture is impressive.
After visiting Taiwan's tallest building, eating at its most iconic restaurant, and visiting is important historical sights, we headed back to the airport on the train. Even though our trip was brief, we were able to see much of the city thanks to the modern high speed rail.
What are your favorite places in Taiwan? Comment below.
Welcome to Taiwan! In this 24 hour layover trip, we scope out the top most instagramable places to photograph. We cover the northern coast, then head into the mountainside to Jiufen where we try street food, and finally Pingxi to make the magical sky lanterns. We booked our tour with MyTaiwanTours which took us to all these amazing sights.
Behind the Scenes Video:
We travel from Taipei to visit the northern coast at Jinguashi. We visit the Yin-Yang Sea and a copper and gold mine dating back to the era of Japanese rule over the island. The ocean even turned a copper color from the mine. We also visit the Gold Waterfall which is right next to the copper mine.
We travel a few miles north into the mountains to visit Jiufen, the town that inspired the classic anime movie "Spirited Away" by Hayao Miyazaki, Japan's equivalent to Walt Disney in film making. Jiufen is a lively and quaint area that includes tea houses decorated with lanterns and winding allies filled with street food. It can get quite crowded here during the weekends, so try visiting during the weekdays if you can!
3. Night Markets / Street Food
Taiwan is a foody nation. Some call it the country that never stops eating. There are numerous night markets in the city selling everything from sweet, savory, and exotic snacks. We wander the cobblestone streets and alleyways filled with food vendors and try the bubble tea and Taiwan's traditional dish - stinky tofu.
4. Pingxi / Sky Lantern
Pingxi is a unique area where you can make sky lanterns and release them in Shifen Old Street to send the wishes to the heavens. Our lantern's wish was "Peace Love and Taiwan!". Even if you don't make a sky lantern, they are fun to watch as the sky is filled with glowing lanterns which look like mini hot air balloons. The tradition combines culture and art and draws tourists from all over the world. There is also the famous Sky Lantern Festival in February.
5. Elephant Mountain
Many people go to Taipei 101 observatory for the skyline view, but the only problem is that Taipei 101 will not be in the photo! The best way to get the iconic Taiwan cityscape photo is from Elephant Mountain which is a relatively short and steep hike. We didn't quite have time to do this hike during our layover, but the Elephant Mountain hike offers one of the best (and free!) views of the city.
What are your favorite places to photograph in Taiwan? Comment below!
During my trip to Israel, I had a 5 hour layover at the Ataturk Airport in Istanbul and did not want to miss seeing this amazing city. I applied for my Turkey e-visa ahead of time so I could make a mad dash to the city after landing. With a long list of spectacular sights, it was challenging to figure out what to see in a limited time. I felt like I was in the show The Amazing Race. Here's what I was able to see in the city on a time crunch.
Istanbul In Hours Layover Tour Video:
There were many different options to get to Istanbul quickly from the Airport.
1. Blue Mosque (Sultan Ahmet Mosque)
We drove along the Bosporus ocean front and about a half hour later, we reached the Blue Mosque. This is one of the architectural crown jewels of Istanbul. It was built in 1616 by Sultan Ahmet when he was only 19 years old. It was built in Islamic late classical Ottoman style with 6 minarets, as opposed to the usual two to four for mosques. The interior consists of 260 windows and 20,000 blue tiles, hence the name.
Before going inside, visitors must remove their shoes (they provide plastic bags for them) and also adhere to the dress code (there are scarves to rent). Basically, shoulders, knees, collarbones, and hair (for women) must be covered. There is no entry fee as this is a practicing mosque to this day.
2. Hagia Sophia
Adjacent to the Hagia Sophia is the Blue Mosque. This is a UNESCO World Heritage Site and one of the architectural wonders of the world. The enormous domed building and towering minarets can be seen from afar. It was originally built as an Eastern Orthodox church in 537 AD, then converted to a mosque in 1453 adding Islamic disks and minarets, and has now been secularized into a museum starting in 1935. Many symbols from the original church were covered and not removed during the conversion.
There is an entry fee and optional tours (they take credit cards). Seeing this building in person is truly magical. The massive dome is the epitome of Byzantine architecture at 180 feet high. This church has been standing for over 1400 years.
3. Basilica Cistern
Last but not least, we walked across the street to the Basilica Cistern. Unfortunately, the Cistern only takes Turkish Lira for the entrance (no credit cards), so I wasn't able to get inside. Instead, we visited the bazaar and got some street food.
Istanbul is one of the most unique cities in the world. Demographically, it is one of the largest cities at roughly 15 million people and has a 99% Muslim population, although it maintains neutrality between church and state. It was ancient Byzantium and straddles two continents - Europe and Asia. It used to be known as Constantinople thanks to Roman Emperor Constantine. However, it is not the capital of Turkey (that is Ankara). It is also one of the most photogenic cities with colorful markets everywhere.
- Outside the Blue Mosque- Beware of aggressive shopkeepers at this mosque who will offer to be a tour guide for exchange for a visit to their shop. The Blue Mosque website warns about this.
- Outside the Hagia Sophia - People will offer you different tours with the promise of allowing you to skip the line. If you want a tour of the Hagia Sophia, make sure to go with a reputable guide.
- Wear appropriate clothing - This means cover up and wear a headscarf in mosques for women. Also, wear shoes that are easy to take off for the mosques.
- Ataturk Airport Turkish Airlines Lounge -Allow for extra time to get to the airport. And if you have extra time, don't miss the Turkish Airlines business class lounge. It is one of the most architecturally beautiful lounges where you can get a taste of the Turkish cuisine.
What are your must see places to see in Istanbul?
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