16 places I traveled to in 2016

In terms of travel, 2015 was tough to beat. This year included traveling to Africa for work, planning a group trip to Peru, and returning to Paris on my annual another solo trip. A new job even led to a few opportunities for business travel. Five continents, seven countries, and 40 flights later, 2016 was quite an adventure.

1. Tokyo

“Hey mom, do you want to go to Japan in three days?” It was her first trip outside of the U.S. and Canada! We ate a lot of ramen and sushi as soon as we got there.

tokyo ramen

2. Kyoto

Beautiful temples, the bamboo park, Fushimi Inari Shrine, and my squad at the Arashiyama Monkey Park. Kyoto is my favorite city in Japan.

arashiyama bamboo park

arashiyama bamboo park

3. Hakone

Hello, Mount Fuji! What a view from the Shinkansen (Japanese bullet train) en route to Hakone’s hot springs.

mt. fuji - lesley siu

4. Chicago

Is your first trip to the windy city complete without this picture?

chicago - lesley siu

5. Honolulu

My annual trip to the homeland included a quick hike to Manoa Falls.

manoa falls - lesley siu

6. Malawi

A visit to the “warm heart of Africa” and fulfilling my professional goal of Snapchatting traveling abroad for work. Here’s the 5:30 a.m. sunrise at Lake Malawi.

lake malawi

7. Amsterdam

When you have a long layover here, you go into the city on a quest for stroopwafels.

amsterdam - lesley siu

8. Las Vegas

My favorite part was renting a car and driving out to Red Rock Canyon.

las vegas red rock canyon - places traveled 2016

9. Lima

The ceviche and sunshine make up for a terrifying non-taxi experience and having to purchase a new flight to Cusco (note to self: never fly Copa Airlines again).

lima peru - lesley siu

10. Cusco

We took a cooking class and made pisco sours, walked around the Maras salt mines, wandered through the markets, and met the best driver, César.

pisco sours - lesley siu

maras salt mines - lesley siu

11. Aguas Calientes

Pro tip: take the bus up to Machu Picchu. Always take the bus.

peru machu picchu -- places traveled 2016

12. New York

I always stop by Maison Kayser for a little taste of Paris, even on a 24-hour trip to NYC to shoot a video.

maison kayser new york - lesley siu

13. Paris

Then I actually went to Paris, because, you know… It’s Paris. Galeries Lafayette was dressed up for Christmas!

galeries lafayette - lesley siu

14. London

Crossed the Tower Bridge and another thing off my London bucket list.

london tower bridge - lesley siu

15. Oxford

I’ve missed the history and charm and studying in the UK.

oxford - lesley siu

16. Austin

A conference, UX class, and coffee at Dominican Joe.

dominican joe austin - lesley siu

 

Cheers to more adventures in 2017! Where should I go next?

video: a week in peru

Peru is a beautiful country with wonderful people and amazing food. I traveled through the country last week with a few friends. My favorite moments: hiking at Machu Picchu, taking a cooking class in Cusco, and eating all of the ceviche in Lima.

15 places I traveled to in 2015

When work gives you extra vacation days, you take them. I was lucky to find affordable airfares and fortunate to have the flexibility to take time to travel. Six countries, two continents and 33 flights later, 2015 took me to some of my favorite destinations to date. My favorite trip? Solo traveling through Vietnam, where I perfected skills in dodging motorcycles, negotiating at markets and finding the best street food. It was a year of fulfilling travel adventures, and I wouldn’t have it any other way.

1. Paris (twice)

The city I’ll travel to again and again and still be excited to return to every single time.

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2. Amsterdam

Wandering around the canals will never get old.

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3. Brussels

A city that feels like the European version of D.C. is even better at night.

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4. Ho Chi Minh City

A crazy and energizing city where it is 100 percent necessary to play Frogger in real life.

HCMC

5. Hoi An, Vietnam

My favorite place in Vietnam. Biking to An Bang Beach was a highlight of the trip.

Hoi An, Vietnam

6. Hanoi, Vietnam

A magical place where I discovered the French Quarter, Old Quarter, egg coffee and life-changing bun bo nam bo.

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7. Singapore

Clean and efficient, a bright city with a fascinating mix of cultures.

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8. Honolulu

Annual trip to the homeland.

ala moana

9. Haleiwa, Hawaii

Driving to the North Shore and around the island is one of my favorite things to do.

matsumoto shave ice

10. Charleston, South Carolina

The architecture. The history. The charm. The food!

charleston city market

11. London

Even in a quick 36-hour trip, there’s always time for tea.

tea in london

12. Reims, France

Santé to Veuve Clicquot for teaching me how to properly open a bottle of Champagne.

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13. Virginia

Just your average day trip to the vineyards with great friends.

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14. San Antonio, Texas

Congrats, grad!

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15. Washington, D.C.

Traveling and discovering new places within your city counts, too. There’s no place like home, right?

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my adventure on contiki’s asian adventure

angkor wat - lesley siu

I wrote a guest post for Contiki’s official blog about my experience on their Asian Adventure tour. I had an amazing time traveling around Thailand, Laos and Cambodia, and I’m so grateful for the opportunity from Her Campus and Contiki Holidays!

My Adventure on Contiki’s Asian Adventure

I always said Asia would be my next adventure. After completing a summer internship in Australia and a semester studying in Europe, it was next on my travel to-do list. With the help of Her Campus and Contiki, I finally did make it to Asia—Thailand, Laos and Cambodia, to be exact.

As the editor-in-chief of Her Campus American, I wrote a series of travel articles for Her Campus and Contiki’s TravelHER contest. By writing and sharing my posts “No Regrets: Top 5 Reasons You Should Travel Now,” “How to Document Your Travels” and “Chic Travel Essentials,” I was chosen as the winner of a Contiki tour and airfare credit for two!

So on August 30, my friend Kelsey and I set out for Southeast Asia to spend two weeks on the Asian Adventure tour.

Thailand

grand_palace

First stop: Bangkok. On the first night, we attended an orientation meeting and dinner with the group of about 30 like-minded travelers from Australia, New Zealand, Canada, England and the U.S. The next day, we toured The Grand Palace and Temple of the Emerald Buddha (Wat Phra Kaeo) with our local guide who also led our canal tour. I was in awe of the beautiful architecture, colors and detail of the Palace. With the afternoon free, Kelsey and I explored Khao San Road where we had delicious pad thai from a street vendor and tried a fish spa.

grand_palace_siu

padthai

Then, the group headed toward the train station where we boarded an overnight train to Chiang Mai. I was skeptical about the sleeping accommodations, but it was actually quite comfortable! In Chiang Mai, we pet tigers at the Tiger Kingdom, took a Thai cooking class and explored the night bazaar.

tigerkingdom

We spent most of the next day on the bus to Chiang Rai. My favorite part of that trip was stopping to see the White Temple, Wat Rong Khun. After we got to the hotel, we had the night free. Kelsey and I had planned to explore the night markets, but they were closed since it was raining. We got Thai massages instead—less than $10 USD for an hour!

whitetemple

Crossing the border from Thailand to Laos was quite the experience. Lucky for us, it wasn’t just raining, it was pouring. After all, it is rainy season. We drove to the border crossing, prepared our documents, loaded our luggage and boarded tiny boats to cross the Mekong River to Laos.

Laos

scenicviews

Scenic lunch stop on the way to Vang Vieng.

After going through border control and getting our visas, we met our local guide and rode in tuk-tuks to get to the boat that would take us to Pakbeng. It was a leisurely cruise to the guest house we stayed at and had a group dinner that night. I enjoyed exploring the small village, which was such a contrast from the bustling cities in Thailand. We spent a day traveling on the boat again and stopped by a cave filled with tons of Buddha statues.

cave

pak_beng_guest_house

pak_beng_boat

Once we got to Luang Prabang, we all took a bike tour where we explored a temple and sampled snake whiskey (yes, it’s as gross as it looks). The next day, we got to ride an elephant, swim at Kuangsi Waterfall Park and explore the night markets. Riding an elephant was an amazing experience. I was a little nervous sitting on the elephant’s neck (a.k.a. the driver’s seat) as we crossed a small part of the river, but it was something I’ll never forget. Luang Prabang was one of my favorite places we visited.

elephant

elephants

We woke up early the next morning to give rice to the monks, then it was off to Vang Vieng. We had the day free, so we walked around the backpacker town and took some much-needed time to relax. Traveling nonstop is both exhilarating and exhausting!

monks

Our next stop was Vientiane, the capital of Laos. We toured a temple and the Laos “Arc de Triomphe.” We also visited the COPE center where we learned about the devastating effects of UXO (unexploded ordinance) still in the country. I had no idea Laos is the most heavily bombed country in the world per capita.

laos_arc

cope

Cambodia

angkorwat

The next morning, we boarded a flight to Cambodia. Once we arrived in the capital Phnom Penh, our local guide led a tour of the Killing Fields mass graves and Tuol Sleng Genocide Museum. It was interesting to learn about the Khmer Rouge and Cambodia’s history. For dinner, we all headed to Friends restaurant, where students are trained in hospitality.

floating_village

Our next and final destination was Siem Reap. We toured the floating villages by boat and explored the restaurants and shops on Pub Street. On the last day, we left at 4:45 a.m. to see the beautiful sunrise at Angkor Wat. In the afternoon, we toured two of the hundreds of temples in Siem Reap with our local guide. One of the temples, Ta Prohm, is where the Tomb Raider was filmed. The next morning, it was time to say goodbye to the group as some continued on to Vietnam on the Big Indochina Adventure tour while we began the long journey home.

pubstreet

angkor_wat_landscape

Traveling with Contiki was a great way to experience Southeast Asia for the first time. With the iteneraries mapped out, accommodation and some meals provided, inside information from local guides and opportunity to meet travelers from all over the world, the Asian Adventure tour was an unforgettable trip.

day trip to amsterdam

Amsterdam canals - lesley siu

7 hours on a bus + 10 hours in Amsterdam + 7 hours on a bus = 24 hours in the life of a crazy solo traveler. I went to Amsterdam to see my friend Inge, who I met while studying abroad at the University of Glasgow in Scotland.

It all started with an overnight bus ride on the good ol’ Megabus. You see, Megabus and I have a complicated relationship. I love that I could get from DC to NYC without breaking the bank, but it was almost always delayed a few hours. This was my first time using it in Europe, so I was hoping for the best. Only $20 USD to get to Amsterdam? Sold. The catch? Seven hours on a crowded bus… overnight. I’ll deal.

The Megabus stop in Paris is at Porte Maillot Coach Park, near the Porte Maillot metro on line 1. My bus was scheduled to leave at 11:30 p.m., so I arrived around 10:45. I read that the metro had clear signs leading to the bus, but I think I exited from the wrong side of the station… I walked around like I knew where I was going, even though I had no idea. After a few minutes of following the signs to the airport shuttle, I found the bus. There was a handful of other frugal travelers waiting for the driver to open the doors, so I didn’t feel like it was too sketchy waiting in a dark parking lot.

I boarded the bus around 11:15, and we promptly left at 11:30. The overnight ride wasn’t bad at all. If you can sleep on a bus like I can, it’s definitely a good option to travel and save money. We arrived in Amsterdam around 6:20 a.m., 20 minutes earlier than expected. To get to the city, I got on a tram to the train station. The bus stop is conveniently located next to the tram, and the one to the city is the only one that stops there.

I met Inge and her friend Lotte at the train station around 8. We walked around the city, which was so quiet early in the morning.

amsterdam - dam square - lesley siuThe Royal Palace in Dam Square

We went on a boat tour of the canals, stopped for lunch, then went on the free walking tour. The canals are beautiful!

amsterdam boat tour canals

amsterdam canals

amsterdam

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dam square - amsterdamNational Monument on Dam Square

amsterdam canals

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amsterdam canal tour - lesley siu

I amsterdam

park RijksmuseumPark by the Rijksmuseum

I wanted to eat Dutch food for lunch. Inge and Lotte insisted that I try the pancake with bacon and cheese. They said whenever they make pancakes, they always eat them with bacon and cheese! It is served with syrup—Buddy the Elf would be proud. So good, yet so bad (for my health).

dutch pancake bacon cheese

They also bought me stroopwafels to take home. Stroopwafels are two thin waffles with caramel in between. I dream about these.

stroopwafels amsterdam

Before I knew it, it was time to catch the 5:00 p.m. iDBUS back to Paris. At 50€, it’s less crowded and much more expensive than Megabus, but it runs much more frequently. It’s more comfortable than Megabus, but I wouldn’t say it’s worth the extra money. It’s also further out from the city center—about 30 minutes walking from the Rijksmuseum.

idbus

IMG_7273Passing through the Dutch countryside

I arrived at the Bercy station in Paris around 11:30 p.m. (also 30 minutes earlier than expected), and took the metro home. The bus stop is about a 5-minute walk from the metro, but it was also a little sketchy difficult to find in the dark… I made it home around 12:30. It was an exhausting day of traveling, but I’m glad I got to see the beautiful city of Amsterdam.

day at the museums

I have been waiting for this day for a while… The first Sunday of the month means free entry to several museums in Paris. Free entry means long lines, but I prevailed. And conquered.

I planned to be at a museum when it opened, but I snoozed a little too long and arrived at Musée d’Orsay at 10:15 a.m. I only had to wait in line for about 30 minutes—a pleasant surprise considering it’s tourist season and free entry day. I was the girl in a bright, floral dress reading Glamour Paris among a sea of tourists in socks and sandals (why? why?) studying maps or Paris guidebooks… yeah…

musee d'orsay - paris - lesley siu

It was my first time to this museum, and I have to say, it’s my absolute favorite in Paris (that I’ve visited so far). The collection of Impressionist works is amazing. I was in awe of the beautiful paintings by notable artists such as Van Gogh, Manet, Renoir, Monet and Degas. I also learned about the Neo-Impressionism era and loved the paintings made up of bright, tiny dots of color by Georges Seurat, Henri-Edmond Cross and Paul Signac.

henri-edmond crossHenri-Edmond Cross, Les Iles d’Or

As I was making my way to the exit thinking that the museum couldn’t get any better, I stumbled upon a photography exhibit! I saw photographs I recognized by Alfred Stieglitz, Eadweard Muybridge, Edward Steichen and Eugène Atget, who is known for documenting the streets of Paris. Whenever I’m out taking photos, I think of this summer as “my Atget moment” (yep, I’m a photography nerd). The exhibit is small, but I was pleasantly surprised to find photography among the paintings and sculptures. There’s nothing like that feeling you get when you see a photo or painting you’ve learned about up close for the first time.

There is also an incredible view of Paris from the top of Musée d’Orsay. You can even see the Sacré Cœur in the distance.

musee d'orsay view - paris - lesley siu

After nearly three hours at the museum, I decided to walk over to the Louvre (also free entry) and see if the Porte des Lions entrance was open. I was skeptical because I tried to go on Bastille Day when it was also free, but that entrance was closed.

I got to the entrance and saw that it was open, but I was confused. There was no one in line. Does that mean it’s a special entrance? If I walk in, will they tell me to go around to the main one?

I walked in, went through security, and boom. Done. No line, no problems. What? At 2:00 p.m. on a free entry day? I couldn’t believe it. I still can’t.

I peeked out of a window to check the line…

louvre line - paris - lesley siu

VICTORY! So, Porte des Lions is my number one secret of the Paris museum scene. Here’s where it is (bottom left):

image credit

I was still in shock for a good 20 minutes as I wandered through the first floor of Italian paintings. I had been to the Louvre once before, and honestly, it’s not my favorite. I’m more interested in the architecture than the art itself. The details are incredible!

louvre - paris - lesley siu

louvre ceiling detail - paris - lesley siu

louvre - gallerie d'apollon - paris

louvre - lesley siu

louvre - paris - lesley siu

I stopped to say hello to the Mona Lisa (still as small of a painting as I remember) and then spent about an hour and a half wandering around. Going to two museums today made me realize how much I love going to museums alone. I can take as much (or as little) time as I want looking at the artwork. I can skip sections I’m not interested in. I don’t have to worry about anyone else waiting for me, and I don’t have to wait for anyone else! I can be the awkward person who sits on the bench in the middle of a room and stares at the paintings. It’s totally fine.

Have you ever been to a museum alone? What’s your favorite museum in Paris?

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