New Zealand: Itinerary + Photos!

Happy Thanksgiving everyone!

I just got back from New Zealand this week and everyone's been asking for my itinerary, so here it is. I went with two friends (Jen and Judy) and Judy had to leave around the 1-week mark so this planning took that into account.

If you are planning to go and only have a week or so, I'd focus the trip on South Island, which is so beautiful and has lots of different activities to do!

In the next couple of weeks, I'll try to do individual posts on some of my favorite places, but here's the overview =)

North Island:

  • Day 1: Fly into Auckland in AM: hike One Tree Hill, great brunch at Sierra Cafe, tried to visit the Auckland Art Gallery (free admission, but closes at 5pm), dinner at Depot Eatery and drinks nearby
  • Day 2: Drove to Waitomo Caves for a tubing adventure in an a cave with glow worms; great dinner at Huhu Cafe; spent the night in Rotorua
  • Day 3: Drove to Hobbiton to visit The Shire film set on a tour; drove back to Auckland; listened to an awesome band called the Mix Tape Bros at Brew on Quay St. 

South Island:

  • Day 4: Flew to Queenstown in AM; visited Queenstown market next to the lake, ate a Fergburger, spent the night at the Winery bar eating cheese/charcuterie and sampling wines
  • Day 5: Drove out to Milford Sound - had meat pies at Miles Better Pies; took a Jucy Cruize on Milford Sound; drove back and had dinner at The Cow in Queenstown
  • Day 6: Drove out to Franz Josef Glacier; took a helicopter and guided hike with Franz Josef Guides
  • Day 7: Drove out to Hokitika and spent the day jade carving at Bonz n Stonz (great experience!), drove to Christchurch after dinner
  • Day 8: Walked around the city to see the cool street art but everything is very much under construction. We learned a lot about what happened there back in 2011. Visited some cool shopping areas made out of shipping containers
  • Day 9: Spent morning in Christchurch exploring the Christchurch Botanic Gardens before flying to Bay of Islands, which is a beachside area north of Auckland. Spent the night eating, drinking wine, and visited a hostel bar with new friends we made

Back to North Island:

  • Day 10: Took a cruise from Paihia in Bay of Islands to view the islands and see tons of dolphins (10 at a time!), had dinner in Russell in the oldest building in New Zealand, the Duke of Marlborough hotel, saw the sunset on the ferry back
  • Day 11: Took bus (nakedbus) back to Auckland and checked into our hostel. Spent the day at various bars while waiting for our CA Bar Admission results (we all passed!) Checked out the EDM scene in Auckland at Club Kong. 
  • Day 12: Took a ferry to Waiheke Island. Had brunch at a beautiful cafe overlooking the cliff/ocean and then visited Cable Bay Winery -- the most beautiful winery I've ever visited!
  • Day 13: Flew out!

SF: Visiting the City by the Bay

[November 2014 Update]

I figured now that I finally live in San Francisco, I should update this post! Please feel free to comment if you have any questions for your particular visit. I hope you find this useful =)

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Lately, a lot of people have been asking me about things to do (and eat) in the Bay Area. I've had these long emails written out for a while now and think they are worth posting since people have found them pretty useful! Please keep in mind that I've never lived in SF before, only visited myself and that this is a short list I've compiled and for people coming in from outside of CA.

I have to say special thanks to my best friend Judy C. for her advice on how to get around + restaurant recommendations, Nick C. for sending me his list of awesome restaurant recommendations and my boyfriend Jing for taking me to some of these places!

Hope you guys find this useful. And for those of you native San Franciscans please leave comments with some of your suggestions!

How to get there / around

  • In SF, the most convenient way to get around is by using ride sharing apps such as Uber, Lyft, and Sidecar. My personal favorite is Lyft (first time users can get a free $10 ride by entering code JESSICA623 – I get $10 when you use it too!). 
  • My favorite way of getting around SF though is WALKING – you get the best views and a real feel for neighborhoods. Just don't/be careful about walking through the Tenderloin (the area west of Union Square, north of Market, east of Van Ness) – it's an area with a lot of homelessness and many tourists would find it unpleasant. Also, I usually walk only in the daytime.
  • Public Transit: Options in SF include MUNI (the bus), and BART (Bay Area Rapid Transit – like a subway). However, be warned that MUNI can be slow and unreliable. I use Google Maps to route which buses to take.
  • To/From SFO: From SFO, I've heard of a new service called Wingz dedicated to affordable rides to/from SFO ($35 to/from SF to SFO). Their website says that the drivers also track your flight so they know if you're delayed (which happens often in/out of SFO because of all that fog!) Otherwise, all yellow cabs and ridesharing apps also work to/from SFO! You can also take BART. 

What to Wear

I know this isn't a fashion blog and I'm not about to give any fashion advice, but here are some tips on attire when touring SF

  • A note about SF seasons: SF is odd because summer is very very cold! I am always amused seeing European tourists wearing tank tops/shorts/flip flops in the summer here when it's 50 degrees and foggy. Also, fall is VERY HOT – like 80's hot! So do check the weather forecast and remember it gets windy!
  • Wear comfortable flat shoes: it's hilly, and it's often windy/cold. That's why instead of flats, I prefer comfortable walking boots. Many girls wear booties instead of heels at night too. 
  • LAYER UP! I think because SF is near the water and gets lots of wind, the weather can change pretty quickly. Even if it's hot during the day, it's probably going to be cold once the sun goes down, so layer, layer layer!

Things to do / see

  • Union Square - Park in the center of downtown SF with fancy shopping, beautiful hotels and department stores all around. Especially pretty around Christmas with the tree in Union Square park!
  • Ferry Building - It's like an indoor farmer's market with lots of boutique breadshops, cheeseshops, olive oil shops, etc. One of my favorite restaurants to visit there is Hog Island Oyster Company – super fresh oysters and great clam chowder! Great place to grab a coffee and sit outside to soak in the sun and view of the Bay Bridge too. 
  • Ride a Cable Car - I've always wanted to do this! They start on Market Street and go north/west from there. Refer to this map! The one at Union Square is always super packed and I heard a less crowded version is to get on at Van Ness and California and it'll take you across Nob Hill and to the Financial District. It's $6 per ride.
  • Coit Tower - Another great view. I've never been up the tower, but I have brought a croissant from the Ferry Building and came up here to reflect on life =P This is a great place to "hike" up to – hilly and lots of stairs! 
  • Ghiradelli Square / Pier 39 / Fisherman's Wharf - I think these are all along the same street near the ocean. Get some clam chowder from the alley way at the wharf, hot chocolate from Ghirardelli, and stop by Hooter's too if you want some delicious fried chicken sandwiches. There's also an In n' Out here! 
  • Bike Across the Golden Gate Bridge - I think this is a MUST DO if you're up for it! Rent a bike from Blazing Saddles in Pier 39 or Ghirardelli Square and they have directions that take you to Sausalito. Once you get to the other side, you can take a ferry back. You get some awesome views of SF and the Golden Gate bridge from the ferry station in Sausalito too. Sausalito is also a super cute town to explore. 
  • Visit Alcatraz Island - hop on a ferry from Pier 33 (great views on the way there) and explore the island. I just visited recently and blogged about it here. There's also an Ai Weiwei exhibit going on there through April 26, 2015. The visit takes 4-5 hours. 
  • Twin Peaks - Great place to get a super nice view of the city! Gotta get lucky with the fog though and you need a car to drive up. 

Neighborhoods to Explore / Shopping

  • The Mission - If you want to see the hipster side of SF, definitely visit the Mission! Around Valencia and 17th Street is where all the gentrification is going on (or is completely done). Clarion Alley is an alley between Valencia and Mission that has tons of mural artwork that you should check out if you're in the area. Also visit the famous coffee shops and bakeries there (Tartine Bakery, Sightglass Coffee, Ritual Coffee, Bi-Rite Ice Creamery). Sunny Dolores Park is also THE place to hang out, especially on the weekends! On Valencia Street, there are lots of boutiques that sell more unique/hipster clothing/gifts. 
  • Union Street and Chestnut Street - Super cute streets with tons of boutiques, fun restaurants, and bars. On Union St, I love Roam Burger and consignment shops like Fillmore & 5th. On Chestnut St, you get more mainstream stores like Gap and Apple, but also lots of restaurants (see below)!
  • Fillmore Street in Pacific Heights: Similar to these shopping areas (perhaps a bit more high end) would also be Fillmore Street in Pacific Heights (between Sutter St. and Pacific St.) Pacific Heights is one of the most affluent neighborhoods in SF (read: Old Money), so this shopping area is catered for them. There's a froyo shop that I love going to there too called Fraiche – organic ingredients and fresh fruit toppings. 
  • Explore Hayes Valley – Hayes Valley is a really cute neighborhood – it's fairly new b/c the area used to be under a freeway, but it collapsed during the 1989 earthquake so there's been a lot of rebuilding there. Things to see include Patricia's Green park where you can check out the sculpture art and people watch. The stores near the park are super unique because they are all made out of shipping containers – there's even a clothing store made out of 4 stacked containers where they retrieve clothes with this mechanical rack! Must check out: Smitten Ice Cream (made to order ice cream using liquid nitrogen), Blue Bottle and Ritual Coffee (super popular), and Chantal macarons (my favorite)! There's also an awesome beer garden too (great German beer and food, but expect a line on weekends Biergarten). There are also tons of cute boutiques in the area too (LavishAzalea, Rand Stratler, Cary Lane, Acrimony)! Start exploring at Hayes and Octavia Streets. 
  • Haight-Ashbury - Hippie area that's fun to see and shop around. I've been a couple times in a tourist capacity, but don't really visit the area as a local. There's some really interesting history about the neighborhood though (more info on the Summer of Love here).

Nightlife

Below are some ideas on things to do at night in SF. There are of course the usual bars/clubs, but these hopefully give visitors a different perspective on SF city life! Also, there's an app called Sosh that has current events and uses your location to give you suggestions on things you can do. I've used it many times to figure out my weekend plans!

  • Speakeasy Bars – SF has tons of speakeasy bars. Most are located in the Tenderloin district so I advise taking a cab / Lyft there. 
  • Museum Nights – lots of SF museums open up at night for adults only and play music and serve drinks. 
    • Exploratorium After Dark – first Thursdays of the month from 6-10pm. The theme changes each month so check out their website and buy tickets online!
    • California Academy of Sciences Nightlife – awesome museum that has events every Thursday night! Theme also changes so check out their website. They usually have interactive exhibits where you get to make /create something. There are have long lines to get in when I've been, but don't be shy about walking up to the front to ask them which line you should be in (skipped the entire line once doing this... I guess everyone else wanted to wait?)
  • Off the Grid – Off the Grid is an organization that has food truck gatherings all over the city. Check out their website to see where they will be. The Twilight in Presidio one is awesome because they set up campfires and tents during the summer/fall months.
  • Embarcadero to see Bay Bridge LED Art Installation – SF recently spent some money getting an artist to install LED lights on the bridge so it sparkles ever so nicely at night! Video here about the art installation. 
  • Lookout point at Golden Gate bridge - Another bridge you might want to see at night is the Golden Gate. This article has specific directions on how to get one of the best views of the Golden Gate at night. 
  • Bar hopping on Polk Street – most locals I know love bar hopping on Polk Street. The bars span from Russian Hill all the way down to Civic Center (between Sutter and Union, closer to Union being nicer and closer to Sutter being a little more divey). Some cool bars I've been to: UpCider (more like a restaurant bar, tons of ciders!), Playland (2 story bar, dancing upstairs, can be super super crowded though), Nick's Tacos (taco stand connected to Rouge bar. Has TVs playing sports (at least on weekdays..). LOVE the Nick's fish tacos so delicious! Discounts on Tuesdays), Lush Lounge

Restaurants

Here are the restaurant recommendations I've compiled from places I've been to and from friends. Take a look at all their yelp reviews before you go and I hope you enjoy =) When in doubt, just fire up your Yelp! app in whatever neighborhood you're in and try something new! 

Restaurants (mid-range)

The House's sea bass is a MUST ORDER

The House's sea bass is a MUST ORDER

The House (North Beach, 1230 Grant Ave)

This is one of my FAVORITE restaurant in SF. Asian influenced dishes. The Seabass is their most famous dish and what I get everytime. Also heard they have amazing Ahi Tuna Taretare and Pork Chop. A small place so make reservations. Saw Patrick Dempsey there once too!

Wayfare Tavern (Financial District, 558 Sacramento St)

Just ate here last Christmas break -- see my post here

Salt House (Financial District, 2 Shaw Ally)

"Organic American cuisine that is awesome. The place has a great drink list and again a really good raw oyster bar. Must get the Poutine as a starter. Really like the ambience, has some cool murals and easy lighting." -Nick C. 

Marlowe (SoMA, 500 Brannan Street)

Took my mom here on her birthday and everything was super delicious and well made! Busy though so do make a reservation. Across the street from the Caltrain station. 

Mission Beach Cafe (Mission, 198 Guerrero St)

BEST and most delicious brunch ever! They don't take reservations, so be prepared to wait. They do have a coffee bar you can grab a drink from while you're lounging around for your table. See my post for photos and food recs =)

Foreign Cinema (Mission, 2534 Mission St)

"French and Italian influenced organic foods. Great raw oysters but a bit over priced. They show a classic movie during dinner. Great ambiance." -Nick C. 

Isa (Marina, 3324 Steiner St)

"Organic French small plates -- amazing food. Ask for a table in the back atrium / courtyard area." -Nick C. 

Chapeau! (Inner Richmond, 126 Clement St)

Small French bistro in the Richmond district -- haven't been here in years, but LOVED it when I went! Great food, decent prices and very friendly staff. 

Burma Superstar (Inner Richmond, 309 Clement St)

SF has a large Burmese population and many like to say that Burma Superstar made Burmese food cool. The line here is always ridiculously long, but if you call ahead, they can put your name on their list and then you show up closer to when your table will be ready. BStar is their other restaurant (same food I believe). I usually just go to other great Burmese restaurants in SF though like Mandalay and Burmese Kitchen (I'd rec Burmese Kitchen for lunch only b/c it's on the edge of the Tenderloin). Definitely get the tea leaf salad at any of these restaurants!


Local Cheap(er) Eats

San Tung Chinese Restaurant (Inner Sunset, 1031 Irving Street)

Best dry-fried chicken wings in SF! They are sweet, savory, and sticky and OH SO DELICIOUS! So delicious that there's always a wait! PRO TIP: If you have a party of 6+, you can reserve a table. So even if your party isn't that big, just grab a couple people in line to join you when you arrive (I'm sure they wouldn't mind skipping the wait!)

Yummy Yummy next door is also good if the wait is too long and you're down for some vietnamese food / noodles. The family's kids opened a branch in SoMA called SO Kitchen, but definitely call ahead because that place is ALWAYS closed... once my friend made a res for a birthday dinner and they confirmed, but when we arrived, they were closed! 

Photo from The Big Eat

Photo from The Big Eat

Roam Artisan Burger (Pacific Heights and Cow Hollow locations)

Delicious burgers, love the one with an egg in it!

The following restaurants are all in one corner area in the Little Saigon neighborhood of SF – it's part of the Tenderloin so be prepared for some interesting smells and homelessness. That said, because of the neighborhood, most of them are not open for dinner and close around 5pm. I've noted that below. 

Turtle Tower (Tenderloin, 645 Larkin St) - not open for dinner

This place is like a San Francisco institution. Ask any young person who lives in SF where they go on Saturday/Sunday mornings after a night out and I guarantee you that Turtle Tower will get lots of mentions. The pho here is a little different as it's Northern Vietnamese pho – most places in California serve Southern Vietnamese pho. Northern Vietnamese pho emphasizes chicken broth more than beef and some condiments are different (you'll see no Sriracha sauce here). If you come here, get #9, Pho Ga (chicken pho).

Hai Ky Mia Gai (Tenderloin, 707 Ellis St) - not open for dinner

Around the corner from Turtle Tower, this place has Chinese/Vietnamese noodle soups. Very delicious and inexpensive and they have nice service too! Most people love the braised duck leg noodles with soup on the side (you can specify dry). I like #7 the house egg noodle soup with thick noodles. 

Ha Nam Ninh (Tenderloin, 701 Larkin St) - open for dinner!

This is the newest restaurant on the block near Turtle Tower and Hai Ky Mia Gai. It's been around since 1958 though, just in a much smaller location on Jones Street. Anyway, this place is famous for their dry pho noodles which is SO addictive and delicious! It's #25 and you can get it with the rice noodle or ask for half egg noodle, also +$1 for large and +$1 for fried egg on top. The only problem is that their service is super inconsistent and quite terrible. I think they are still working out the kinks of having a restaurant 5x the size of their old one... It's also kind of expensive compared to the other places (~$10-11 per bowl vs. $8 at Hai Ky Mia Gai). 

Lers Ros (Tenderloin, 730 Larkin St) – open for dinner!

One of the most popular Thai restaurants in SF. They have many dishes beyond the typical Pad See Ew and Pad Thai – just ask them what's popular. My favorites are the Pork Shoulder appetizer, 5 Spice Duck, Crispy Pork Belly, and they also have this dry noodle that's very good. The normal things are super delicious too though (green curry chicken, pad see ew/pad thai, etc.). 

Burmese Kitchen (Tenderloin, 452 Larkin St)

Delicious Burmese food at an affordable price!


Fine Dining

  • Recent 3 Michelin Star Winners: Saison and Benu – heard amazing things about both, though slightly better things about atmosphere at Saison

  • Gary Danko (Fisherman's Wharf, 800 North Point St) Yelp Reviews: Almost 5 * and 2,500+ reviews


Other Suggestions from Nick C.

Terzo (Marina): 3012 Steiner St

Organic Italian influenced new American cuisine, great wine list.

Chaya (Downtown): 132 The Embarcadero

Asian and French influenced plates. Pricey but very classy and a great view of the bay.

Zuni Café (Civic Center): 1658 Market St

Organic, very popular but definitely one of the best restaurants in the city...If you have time (1 hour) get the chicken for two, it is amazing. Great bar, wine list and raw oyster bar.

Blue Plate (Castro): 3218 Mission St

Hidden gem, organic American cuisine. Must ask for a table in back courtyard area if possible. Very hip and cool place.

2223 (Castro): 2223 Market St

Delicious food and very fun atmosphere. Good wine and drink list and always good for "sightseeing" in the Castro for out of towners.

Sushi Bistro (Richmond): 445 Balboa St

Best sushi in the city...I started going here before that Apple commercial came out. Great place if the you like sushi but atmosphere is less romantic.

ChouChou (Twin Peaks): 400 Dewey Blvd

Owner Nick is very gracious and fun guy. The food is phenomenal and the environment is perfect for a date.

SF: Alcatraz Island and Ai Weiwei's @Large Exhibit

I grew up in the Bay Area, but I never got to visit Alcatraz on a school field trip like many of my friends. It's okay though because on this visit, I was able to explore Alcatraz Island and see Ai Weiwei's @Large exhibit all in one trip (exhibit at Alcatraz until April 26, 2015). 

seejessicagoalcatraz.jpg

JUMP AHEAD: Alcatraz Island Tour | Ai Weiwei's @Large Exhibit | Information to Help Plan Your Trip

What's Alcatraz Island?

Alcatraz Island (often called "The Rock") is located in the San Francisco Bay about 1.5 miles off the shores of SF.  It originally was used as a military base, and then a military prison. In the 1930's, it was turned into a federal penitentiary. When funding ran out and the prison fell in disrepair, it was abandoned and became the site of a protest by Native Americans about the return of sacred land to them. Now, it's designated a national park and is a very very big tourist attraction. 

Remnants of the protest by Native Americans in the 1960's still evident on Alcatraz today

Remnants of the protest by Native Americans in the 1960's still evident on Alcatraz today

To visit the island, you have to take a ferry from Pier 33 (Alcatraz Cruises is the only operator to the island) – book in advance because they do sell out! The ferry ticket includes the audio tour of the prison cell area. The tour was actually super interesting because it is narrated by correctional officers and prisoners in Alcatraz and details the history of the prison, the escape attempts made, and describe what living conditions were in the prison. 

Each row of cells were 3 stories tall

Each row of cells were 3 stories tall

Each prisoner was confined to a tiny cell

Each prisoner was confined to a tiny cell

Those who violated prison rules were put in solitary confinement cells

Those who violated prison rules were put in solitary confinement cells

The sun streamed directly into this part of the prison cells – prisoners said that they could sometimes hear parties going on in SF when the wind blew in their direction

The sun streamed directly into this part of the prison cells – prisoners said that they could sometimes hear parties going on in SF when the wind blew in their direction

Boats can be seen sailing from the prison yard

Boats can be seen sailing from the prison yard

The views of SF from Alcatraz are amazing – this punished prisoners even more knowing that civilian life was so close yet so far...

The views of SF from Alcatraz are amazing – this punished prisoners even more knowing that civilian life was so close yet so far...

Ai Weiwei's @Large Exhibit

Ai Weiwei is a Chinese contemporary artist and political activist. He was born in Beijing, but lived in the US (mostly New York) for 12 years before returning to China when his father became sick. He is mostly known as being targeted by the Chinese government because of his criticism of the government with regards to human rights violations and cover-ups. He was also arrested and detained without charges for a period of time, which relates to this current exhibit on Alcatraz Island. There's a great documentary about him called Never Sorry, available on Netflix that describes his background in more detail if you're interested – it's very good!

The exhibit has 7 works of art incorporated into various parts of the prison and have themes that tie directly with prison life. Some works are focused on personal freedom (With Wind and Refraction) while others shed some light on those who are imprisoned, whether justly or unjustly so (Trace). The pieces were all made in China and then shipped here to be put together under the direction of Ai Weiwei's team and a liason. It was all done without Ai Weiwei actually visiting Alcatraz because he cannot travel outside of China.

Piece called With Wind – dragon kite representing personal freedom and also showing a creature who can fly, trapped in a building. The dragon's "body" also had many quotes painted on it

Piece called With Wind – dragon kite representing personal freedom and also showing a creature who can fly, trapped in a building. The dragon's "body" also had many quotes painted on it

Piece called Trace showing portraits of people imprisoned – all made out of LEGOs

Piece called Trace showing portraits of people imprisoned – all made out of LEGOs

The portraits were all made out of LEGO pieces in amazing detail. Each portrait was also very unique and incorporated so many different styles. 

The portraits were all made out of LEGO pieces in amazing detail. Each portrait was also very unique and incorporated so many different styles. 

This portrait of a little girl caught our eye

This portrait of a little girl caught our eye

This mother and her two daughters were imprisoned when their husband/father defected from North Korea to Denmark.

This mother and her two daughters were imprisoned when their husband/father defected from North Korea to Denmark.

This exhibit had portraits of people imprisoned all over the world. Podiums in the room had binders that described why people were in jail.

The portrait above of a little girl caught our eye (green background, orange words). Why was this kid in jail? Turns out the woman Shin Suk-ja is the mother and her two daughters are shown (Hae-won Suk-ja and Oh Kyu Won Suk-ja). The three of them were imprisoned when Shin's husband defected from North Korea to Denmark (wikipedia article here).

Piece called Refraction – Gigantic metal wing made of reflective panels originally used on solar cookers by Tibetans (more info here)

Piece called Refraction – Gigantic metal wing made of reflective panels originally used on solar cookers by Tibetans (more info here)

Piece called Blossom – ceramic flowers fill the toilets and sinks of hospital ward cells (more info here)

Piece called Blossom – ceramic flowers fill the toilets and sinks of hospital ward cells (more info here)


Plan Your Trip to Alcatraz

  • Buy ferry tickets in advance online at Alcatraz Cruises
  • Ferry ticket includes audio tour of prison cell and the Ai Weiwei Exhibit
  • Ai Weiwei's exhibit there until April 26, 2015
  • I'd budget 4-5 hours for the visit. We took the 10:30am ferry and took the 1:55pm ferry back to arrive around 2:15pm. Plan accordingly because we were starving! Grabbed take-out lunch at Sammy's Aloha right next to Pier 33 afterwards and sat outside to eat. Or you can walk over to Pier 39 to eat (but beware of the tourist traps!)
BBQ Chicken bowl at Sammy's Aloha

BBQ Chicken bowl at Sammy's Aloha

Bar Trip Series: Guide to Karaoke (KTV) in Taipei

KTV boxes in Taiwan are usually giant highrises. Though it seems like overkill to have so many rooms, they can be surprisingly busy so book ahead! [Photo from City 543]

KTV boxes in Taiwan are usually giant highrises. Though it seems like overkill to have so many rooms, they can be surprisingly busy so book ahead! [Photo from City 543]

During our recent trip to Taipei, Taiwan, we ate almost non-stop, but we made some time to karaoke -- Taiwanese style.

Karaoke, or KTV, is an extremely popular activity or some may say, sport, in Taiwan. KTV places are called "boxes." KTV fits in perfectly with the Taiwanese culture's emphasis on nightlife (they love night markets and clubs and no one seems to be out unless it's past 9pm!), its indoor nature is great for typhoons and the bad weather that plagues this tropical island. People of all ages KTV (my mom goes when she visits and even brings my grandpa), but late at night, it's mostly a younger crowd. 

Karaoking in Taipei is an all night affair. Unlike in Korea where people may make the noraebang their last stop of the night, in Taiwan, karaoking is THE stop -- everything you need is all included under one, 10+ story tall, roof. And unlike American karaoke bars where people usually sing on stage to a room full of strangers, KTVs in Taiwan (and Korea and Japan) usually have private rooms that groups of friends rent out by the hour. My favorite part about KTVs in Taiwan is how they are quite luxurious as well!

JUMP AHEAD: Setup + Pro Tips | In The Room | Locations | How Foreigners and Taiwanese KTV Differently


KTV boxes in Taiwan are pretty luxurious and look like fancy hotels. [Photo from Wikipedia]

KTV boxes in Taiwan are pretty luxurious and look like fancy hotels. [Photo from Wikipedia]

Setup and Pro Tips

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KTV boxes will also have a buffet where you can eat dinner. This is the one we went to at New CB Party KTV in Ximending (near Ximending MRT stop, shown in map below).

KTV boxes will also have a buffet where you can eat dinner. This is the one we went to at New CB Party KTV in Ximending (near Ximending MRT stop, shown in map below).

Book Ahead!

Once you decide that you want to dedicate a night to KTVing in Taiwan, it may be a good idea to call ahead to book a room! It's usually done by the hour with option to extend. Our group ran into the problem of only reserving for 4-hours -- we extended it once for 1 more hour, but when we wanted to extend again, they said they had a reservation coming in (at 2am in the morning!). So again, because it's so popular, book ahead!

The Setup

In Taiwan, KTV places will have a floor dedicated to a huge buffet where you can load up on delicious food that will be delivered to your KTV room via dumbwaiter (or some more modern version of a dumbwaiter -- a miniature elevator?). You also order drinks when you first rent the room and they are delivered to your room -- this includes hard liquor, cases of Taiwan Beer, and non-alcoholic beverages.

The price and amount of food/liquor you can order will vary depending on the "package" you pick. Also, some places let you bring your own alcohol, which is way cheaper because you can probably find a 7-11/Family Mart across the street and buy liquor and beer there (more on the wonders of 7-11 and Family Marts in Taiwan in another post). If you are on a budget, you can easily sneak alcohol in. Just buy some liquor at a nearby 7-11/Family Mart and sneak it in with backpacks or in purses. This is probably not worth doing with beer as Taiwan beer a karaoke places is pretty cheap.

In the Room

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Depending on which chain/location you visit, the KTV rooms can be pretty fancy! This one looks like it's for a HUGE group and it's at a New CB Party chain (unknown location).   [Photo from City 543]

Depending on which chain/location you visit, the KTV rooms can be pretty fancy! This one looks like it's for a HUGE group and it's at a New CB Party chain (unknown location).   [Photo from City 543]

Once you get up to your room, you can spread out over leather banquettes, use your private bathroom, or start picking songs via the touchscreen monitors on the wall. If you ever need any service (something's broken, you don't know how to use things, you want to order more drinks), you can always pick up the phone in the room and someone will be up ASAP. Most places I've been to have a decent selection of English songs!

The great thing about some KTV places is that the rooms will have mini-stages inside it, so you can sing like a star, with the privacy of your own room =P

Many people spend upwards of 6 hours in KTVs and I've heard some stay all day/night especially during typhoons!

Eating dinner before the singing gets started!

Eating dinner before the singing gets started!

Look Ma! I'm a star!

Look Ma! I'm a star!

Where to KTV in Taipei

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Where Are KTVs?

They are almost everywhere! Unlike some things like hair salons, clothing shops, etc. KTVs in Taipei aren't confined into any certain district. Ximending is a really popular area with lots of shopping, street food, and three huge KTV boxes there as well (in the below map, the 3 pins located on the left side, next to the Tamsui river). 

How To Choose a KTV

PartyWorld is known to be more upscale while Holiday KTV is a more affordable option. On our most recent trip, we went to 星聚點 KTV (New CB Party KTV) in the Ximending district, which I thought was quite nice! We heard that this place had the best buffet and was unique in that it had the standing mics shown above. Apparently, there is also this "Secret KTV" that foreigners visit a lot because they have more English songs -- however, it's secret because it's a tiny place and foreigners want to keep it to themselves! Anyway, wherever you end up going, you will most definitely have a great time!

When in doubt, you can always just ask locals where the closest Holiday or PartyWorld KTV (if you don't speak Mandarin, just say "KTV" and they should get it... People in Taiwan are very very friendly and most of the younger ones seem to speak at least some English. We found that when we asked locals questions about where things are, they go out of their way to walk you there, call and make an appointment for you, and all kinds of nice things!). Alternatively, if you have data/wifi, you can even just type in KTV on google maps to find the one closest to you.

Foreigners vs. Taiwanese

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I hope those of you curious about Taiwanese KTV or are thinking of visiting Taiwan found this post useful! 

Just to note, my experience KTVing in Taiwan has been from a "foreigners" perspective. Some have surveyed foreigners and Taiwanese locals about their KTV experience and found many surprising differences (I naively thought everyone KTVed the same way!). 

Of note, while a majority of foreigners drink alcohol at KTVs, only about a third of locals do at KTVs! Also, more foreigners sing Chinese songs than Taiwanese sing English songs (foreigners cited using KTV to practice their Chinese). Foreigners also most like to sing 月亮代表我的心 (because of its simple lyrics), Jay Chou, Wang Leehom, Backstreet Boys, The Eagles, etc. It's an interesting read and the post can be found here: KTV in Taiwan: Foreigners vs. Taiwanese. Also interesting, another blogger also recounts his encounter with a shadier kind of KTV experience

Bar Trip Series: Busan's Jagalchi Fish Market and Korea's Most Outrageous Spa

Busan is a city on the southeastern tip of Korea with about 3.6 million residents. Many describe it as Seoul by the beach. We wanted to visit Busan mostly for the fresh seafood and because of a movie called Chingu (Friend). It was set in Busan and was also the highest grossing movie of all time in South Korea. Because we didn't have much sightseeing planned, we only did a quick overnight trip there.

JUMP AHEAD: Haeundae Beach and its Love Motels | Busan's Jagalchi Fish Market | SpaLand - Korea's Most Outrageous Spa

My friend Jay didn't have many great things to say about the beach there, only that it was extremely overcrowded especially in the summer (as you can see in the photo below). [Photo from World Tourist Attraction.] 

My friend Jay didn't have many great things to say about the beach there, only that it was extremely overcrowded especially in the summer (as you can see in the photo below). [Photo from World Tourist Attraction.] 

Haeundae Beach and Love Motels

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Haeundae Beach is the main beach in Busan. It reminded me of a really modern and trendy boardwalk with fancy coffee shops, bars, and roadside boutiques. While there, we were able to get liquid nitrogen ice cream, Italian coffee, and Korean desserts! In the smaller alleys, there were still more traditional looking hole in the wall restaurants and mom and pop shops.

It was rainy and empty when we visited though, so it was actually quite peaceful!

It was rainy and empty when we visited though, so it was actually quite peaceful!

There were also quite a few "love" motels around the beach too with cheesy names and rainbow neon lights like they were in Las Vegas. I thought they sounded really seedy when I was there, but I read that they started because traditionally, Koreans live with their parents until they get married, so young couples need places to get away from parental scrutiny. Yes, those conducting affairs also use them and they can be rented out for 2-hour stays, but it seems like families and business travelers also rent rooms. For tourists, these love models can also be a great deal, as long as you're ok with some sexy decor.

Example of a love motel room from Southerner Abroad. Good article explaining Love Motels on Waegukin.

Example of a love motel room from Southerner Abroad. Good article explaining Love Motels on Waegukin.

Busan's Jagalchi Fish Market

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Our main focus was to visit the fish market so we went straight there after getting off the train! We wanted to eat live octopus (like in Old Boy -- one of the craziest movies EVER, a must watch) and other fresh seafood!

Gigantic octopus! We didn't eat this kind though haha

Gigantic octopus! We didn't eat this kind though haha

Navigating the outdoor portion of the fish market in a storm wearing sandals was quite difficult... I think I stepped into puddles of fish entrails a couple times =T

Navigating the outdoor portion of the fish market in a storm wearing sandals was quite difficult... I think I stepped into puddles of fish entrails a couple times =T

In the indoor portion of Busan's Jagalchi fish market. 

In the indoor portion of Busan's Jagalchi fish market. 

This was in Busan fish market's "indoor" market. There were so many kinds of seafood! We told the vendor how many of each thing we wanted, and they put it on a platter and led us upstairs to an "eating" area where they slice/cut up the food for eating.

But before we got to eating, she was nice enough to let us play with our food first!

Live octopus a la Old Boy

Live octopus a la Old Boy

They call it a sea squirt

They call it a sea squirt

Upstairs from the market, there are tables covered in thin plastic sheets. This is where you are served the prepared seafood, and of course, when eating raw seafood for lunch, we have to order beer and soju!

Upstairs from the market, there are tables covered in thin plastic sheets.

This is where you are served the prepared seafood, and of course, when eating raw seafood for lunch, we have to order beer and soju!

Sea urchin and abalone

Sea urchin and abalone

Another seafood feast in Busan, immediately after our fish market meal! We had live shrimp, an eel stew (the eel wiggled around while it was being cooked at our table) and a fish stew. All so delicious! (Note everyone diligently capturing photos of our feast while Jay digs right in!)

Another seafood feast in Busan, immediately after our fish market meal! We had live shrimp, an eel stew (the eel wiggled around while it was being cooked at our table) and a fish stew. All so delicious!

(Note everyone diligently capturing photos of our feast while Jay digs right in!)

Korea's Most Outrageous Spa - SpaLand

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Korean spas are like public bathhouses, except 10x more awesome than any other I've ever heard of. They usually consist of separate locker rooms for men and women. In these separate locker rooms, there are bathing areas, and then at least a few different hot tubs with varying temperatures and using different types of water. Then you put on uniforms they give you to go to the unisex areas where there are usually saunas that look like little igloos. There are usually at least a few different ones with different temperatures and different "purposes" (i.e. salt rooms, rooms that make wave sounds, etc.) In addition to all this, you can get all the different massages AND they even have movie rooms and a Korean restaurant!

Amazing right?!

Oh, did I mention you have to be completely naked in the single sex bathing areas? Yea, that's the only thing that may be difficult to adjust to.

We were lucky to find out that the craziest and most luxurious of these types of spas was Spaland located right in Busan! Because we were staying in a hostel with shared restrooms, we decided to go to Spaland after dinner to relax, unwind, and shower and get ready for bed before returning to our hostel. It was probably our best night in Korea =P

(If you want to experience a Korean spa without visiting Korea, just go to one in Los Angeles!)

SpaLand is focused on a more refined spa experience, so children are not allowed during certain hours. This may sound like a superfluous rule, but surprisingly, a ton of families visit the spas together with kids, which sometimes disrupts the relaxing atmosphere... I even went to a Korean spa in LA once to stay overnight (most are open 24/7) and a lot of kids were sleeping there too!

SpaLand is focused on a more refined spa experience, so children are not allowed during certain hours. This may sound like a superfluous rule, but surprisingly, a ton of families visit the spas together with kids, which sometimes disrupts the relaxing atmosphere... I even went to a Korean spa in LA once to stay overnight (most are open 24/7) and a lot of kids were sleeping there too!

This movie theater room was so relaxing I almost passed out completely here! The massage chairs are so soft and the speakers are nestled into the headrest so only you can hear what you're watching (in surround sound!). The night we went, it was raining, so the glass window looked like a waterfall (or maybe there is always a waterfall?)

This movie theater room was so relaxing I almost passed out completely here! The massage chairs are so soft and the speakers are nestled into the headrest so only you can hear what you're watching (in surround sound!).

The night we went, it was raining, so the glass window looked like a waterfall (or maybe there is always a waterfall?)

We didn't get to eat at the restaurant in the spa because we went late at night, but here's a picture of it. Beautiful!

We didn't get to eat at the restaurant in the spa because we went late at night, but here's a picture of it. Beautiful!

Saunas -- they look like igloos! There must have been at least 10 different themed ones at SpaLand

Saunas -- they look like igloos! There must have been at least 10 different themed ones at SpaLand

The women's locker room had this outdoor natural looking hot tub that was awesome because it was also sprinkling a bit when we went out there. I confirmed that the men's locker room didn't have such a cool pool.

The women's locker room had this outdoor natural looking hot tub that was awesome because it was also sprinkling a bit when we went out there. I confirmed that the men's locker room didn't have such a cool pool.

This is the inside of the woman's locker room. Note the stalls in the back for SEATED showering/bathing. To the left (not pictured), there are stalls for those who prefer to bathe while standing. All the photos above are from CNN

This is the inside of the woman's locker room. Note the stalls in the back for SEATED showering/bathing. To the left (not pictured), there are stalls for those who prefer to bathe while standing.

All the photos above are from CNN

Now that you've seen how amazing SpaLand is, here are some tips on how everything works. I know I was pretty nervous and confused the first time I went to a Korean spa.

Here are some pointers about how this Korean spa business all works!

  1. Pay and receive spa uniform and locker key (usually an RFID tag)
  2. Take off shoes (put into a shoe locker associated w/ the number on your RFID tag) and enter changing room. There, you take off your street clothes. 
  3. Shower and bathe BEFORE getting into any hot tubs -- feel free to bring your own products and also those sheet face masks! At SpaLand, the bathing area felt like a gossip corner, with many women (friends, mother/daughter, etc.) all scrubbing and bathing each other whereas my friends and I all split instantly once we got into the locker room. SpaLand also had a vending machine that sold toothbrushes/toothpaste/mouthwash too.
  4. Enjoy the hot tubs in the area until you... 
  5. GET A BODY SCRUB! My favorite thing to get at Korean spas is the full body scrubs. Korean women with these rough loofah gloves scrub all the dead skin off your body -- you can literally see clumps of gray around you as they're doing this. Just so you know though, it's usually just a wide open room off the side of the locker room area with plain tables. You just lay on the table in the middle of the room while they scrub you down. Oh they also gave us a little massage and put something on our faces (not sure what? some kind of facial stuff?). At SpaLand, we just approached that area and pointed to what we wanted and the ladies wrote our numbers down on a whiteboard and yelled for us when it was our turn. 
  6. Onto the unisex relaxation room ("Fomentation"): After you're properly scrubbed and hot tubbed out, you can enter the unisex relaxation area that usually looks like a big room with marble or wood heated floors. There are wooden blocks with a semicircle cut out that you can use to support your neck while you sleep on the floor. 
  7. From this room, you can also visit the 10+ saunas, ice rooms, movie room, massages/facials, restaurant, sometimes there are PC areas, or even gyms!

What to bring to the spa:

  • Any bathing/skincare products you want to use
  • Toothbrush if you dont want to buy one there
  • Change of underwear and clothes (since you'll be so clean!)
  • They have hair dryers, body lotion, shampoo, conditioner, body wash, etc. 
Jon modeling SpaLand's uniform

Jon modeling SpaLand's uniform

Information on hours, location, pricing for SpaLand found on Visit Korea's site!