Get Local: Great Travel Initiative in Asia

WithLocals Market

Hit the local market with your guide!

What are your favorite travel memories?

My guess is that most of you will immediately think of an experience with locals. You were invited for dinner in a new friend’s home, or met some local people in a bar and spent your evening together playing traditional card games? These moments seem more special, since while on vacation, it’s easy to spot all of the other tourists at the major sites, but the locals can be hard to find.

So often we follow a tourism handbook to an awesome old local café and arrive to find it overloaded with tourists from our home country!

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Daydream of the Week: Macau

Macau SkylineBring on the bright lights!

Seven years off and on in Sin City, and I never tire of neon. So imagine my excitement when I was able to squeeze in a long weekend in Macau during my most recent Asian adventure. After a week in Hong Kong, where I took in such sites as the Big Buddha, I headed with my mom and two brothers to “Asia’s Las Vegas.” One of my brothers has been a professional poker player in China for years, so has spent “some” time in Macau. And my mom, herself a savvy gambler, had met him there before. Me? I was ecstatic to see if for the first time! Having edited three local Vegas magazines, I’ve written/edited a lot of stories about Macau over the years. (My favorite: Bridging the Gap between Vegas and Macau by Steve Friess.) For Vegas locals, watching Macau explode has been fascinating. It’s no secret that the area’s passion for games of chance fueled mega-winnings for the casinos over there — and helped keep the Vegas outposts afloat during the US recession.

We stayed at Venetian, and it looked so much like the one in Vegas (that I know like the back of my hand) that I often found myself headed to a bathroom or something that didn’t exist. I had been told that Macau was small, and I really needed only a day or two. WRONG! We were there three days, and I wanted even more time! It’s true that there are less restaurants (and only one show!), so some non-gamblers might get bored. But not this one — I wanted to see everything!

Other than that, the biggest difference was the weather. You’ve heard of the smog in some parts of Asia — the skies in Macau were indeed grey, a far cry from the bright sunny dessert weather I’m used to in Vegas.

Next up? Mainland China!

Daydream of the Week: Big Buddha

Big Buddha Hong Kong monkAfter visiting friends in Austin, Seattle, Victoria, and Vancouver, my big post-Leaving Las Vegas trip was to Asia. While I was there, my youngest brother very nicely agreed to join me on an excursion to the “Big Buddha” (Tian Tan) outside of Hong Kong. The only thing was, he sleeps in and then I lingered way too long over lunch with old friends. When our trip out to Lantau Island, where the Buddha and Po Lin Monastery are located, took a bit longer than we thought, we began to worry that we would miss the whole thing. The lovely subway seemed to barely creak along the later it got, as dusk (closing time) seemed to rapidly creep in. The ride up the mountain is stunning, as you float in cable cars that offer spectacular views in all directions. The Big Buddha is enormous, and everyone inside our car (my brother and I were the only non-French speakers) started pointed and shrieking when we turned a corner and spotted it for the first time. When we arrived, we were in a bit of a hurry. The sun was already setting, and I was determined to get some good photos before everything shut down. So we practically ran towards the Big Buddha, passing all shops, statues, and tourists along the way. Looking up at the steep final staircase, I lurched. Tripping on stairs happens to be a phobia of mine, and these were no joke. Climbing as fast as we could, I at one point glanced over at the other side. As I was heaving and out of shape, plus staring straight down to make sure I wouldn’t fall, I couldn’t help but notice a monk practically running down the stairs without even looking. His concentration? Texting on his cell phone, of course.

With one hand.

My poker-playing, China-living brother checks in

My parents sure raised some adventurous kids! My youngest brother, Steven, lives in Zhongshan, China and recently disappeared from email for weeks; I knew only that he was headed to Macau with some friends. When he finally resurfaced, he sent me a casual email: “Hey, sorry it’s taken me so long to reply. I’ve pretty much been out of town for a month.” A month?! Can you imagine me not near a computer for a month? He and I are nothing alike – although he definitely has the travel bug. When I was his age, I was backpacking through Europe! Also, he told his tale of poker tournaments in the Philippines and an embarrassing sunburn with, if I say so myself, Abby-worthy dramatic flair. And now he’s officially been to one country his big sister hasn’t yet made it to! Hmmph.

My brother’s recap email, in his own words:

Macau was great. I ended up winning a poker tournament to play in the Philippines for a week. There, I won about 7000 dollars, or about 75% of the money I earned all last year teaching in China. Best 20 bucks I ever spent.

Philippines was a lot of fun, and we had free hotel rooms for the tournament. We had three days of elimination rounds, leaving the 450 of us down to 120. We then played for 10 hours and ended that day with only 42 finalists, which meant that everyone there had made at least $2000.

On day three, I started with about 200,000 in chips. I worked it up to about 300,000 with 30 people left. I ended up all in against someone who had about 200,000 in chips. I was a slight favorite to win but lost. Thankfully, I got really lucky, and in about 30 minutes I had more than 250,000 again. About 25 people left now…  All in against someone with 200,000, again a slight favorite, and… lost. This left me with only 50,000, and I was soon out, in 23rd place, making 6,8000 dollars. I was happy to win but disappointed I didn’t win either of those hands. Had I’d won either, I would’ve made the last 10 players, been on TV, and made at least 11,000 dollars with a chance at the grand prize of 270,000 dollars. Maybe next time.

After exploring Manila with some of the younger players from the tournament, Tom and I went to Puerto Gallera, a small island. This did not go as smoothly as our time in Manila. Continue Reading »»