Incredible Mumbai 

I’m back!! Hello everyone, how are you? So the past week I was away from the blogging world because I was in India – Mumbai to be exact. Read this post to find out why.

I actually just came back last night and had to go back to work this morning so I don’t have time to write all the stories yet, so for starters I’m going to share what I felt after returning from the trip.

I’ve heard stories of how people find peace, or revelation, inspiration, or some sort when going to India. Eat pray love, anyone? But I always thought that it must have something to do with Yoga or some mountains. While I was visiting Mumbai – a big city, for a wedding, so I did not expect to find any. But still I left Mumbai feeling inspired. Here’s why.

1. I learned to make peace with Jakarta’s traffic. 

You know how frustrated I am with Jakarta’s traffic, right? But let me tell you, Mumbai is worse. Everywhere I found cars honking, people crossing the street, bus, motorcycles, taxis, they’re just crazy. Even I came from Jakarta but it was still hard to get used to Mumbai’s traffic during my 6 days visit. Then I realised that Jakarta’s traffic is way more acceptable, and at least I should be thankful because my daily traffic does not involve cars honking (they drive me really crazy!).

2. I learned to appreciate my culture more.

I found it very inspiring that the people I met still appreciate their culture. I mean I saw ladies in the street doing mundane routines wearing saree. I saw men in turban. They embrace their culture without limiting themselves from globalization and the “western world”. In fact, they blend it and make it an interesting fusion. Especially that I was there for a wedding, I got to experience how rich the culture of India is. It makes me a bit sad because I don’t see that much of culture here in Jakarta anymore. In Mumbai the culture is still very visible, which I really love. So here I am making a promise to myself (and let you my dear readers be witnesses) that I will make sure that my future child(ern) will know and understand their roots and culture no matter where I will raise them. Sounds like a plan?

3. I learned to dance. 

I love dancing, I really do. But I felt nothing compared to my Indian friends when it comes to dancing now. Man, they really know how to dance! In almost every functions I went, dancing was involved. From cocktail party to the wedding day, I danced. They danced. We danced. And by dancing I mean dancing – Non stop, full of energy. You may ask what is so special about dancing? But having seen how Indian people danced, I see it as a way to let loose – be happy, be merry, and blend in with the society. I mean, while dancing everyone is equal – no one will judge the way you dance so you don’t need to feel awkward. Dancing brings you closer with your surroundings, so it’s always a good idea! 😀

So that’s the three things I learned during my trip to Mumbai, and I can tell you that I ❤ India! It is indeed, incredible and I will definitely come back and explore more. Now I am going to end this post with a selfie in front of Gate of India. More pictures and of course stories later! Stay tuned! 😀

 

Hello from Gate of India!

 

Btw, have you been to India? Did you like it? 🙂

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This time next week…

This time next week I’ll be doing something out of the ordinary.
I will wake up very early in the morning and put on my comfy clothes.
I will probably skip breakfast at home and will have it later, on my way to the destination.

This time next week, I hope the traffic will be in my favor.
To think of it again, I would have to leave my house before the sun sets so I guess there won’t be any traffic. *fingers crossed*

This time next week, I will be traveling….. to India!!!!

Woohoow! The trip is actually rather unplanned for this year. You probably have known that I will be going to the US in April – so what’s up with this India trip, all of a sudden? Hint: a wedding.

Sometime around December last year, my former classmate back in Bournemouth sent me and a couple of other friends an invitation to attend his wedding in his hometown, Mumbai – Maharashtra. The wedding will be held early March (a.k.a next week!).

Mumbai_TajMahalHotel
Image from: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Portal:Mumbai/Selected_picture/Archives

You see, after graduation, I received similar invitations from my former classmates, but I haven’t been able to attend any because they were all held in Europe – it was hard for me to come. Since this one will be held in India, and India is still in Asia, and the groom-to-be was my first ever friend in class… I felt like I really really really need to go.

Of course, I had thought about it carefully. I calculated my leave days at the office – I still have some left. I checked the ticket price – Hmmm, so – so, but still within my budget. I checked the visa requirements – turns out that Indonesians are qualified for tourist visa on arrival scheme and Mumbai is one of the ports of entry that has the facility. Yay! Then I read Zilko’s posts about his India trip. He did not go to Mumbai though, but his experience was interesting! Of course I also thought how wonderful it will be to meet again with my old friends, and the thought about attending an Indian wedding really excites me.

So I bought the ticket last month, and kind of forgot about it until two weeks ago my friend set up a Whatsapp group for the guests from overseas. Fast forward to today when I realised that the trip is happening next week!!!! Waaaahh!!! 😀

I will fly from Jakarta to Singapore and then Singapore to Mumbai directly. To be honest I haven’t prepared any itinerary except going to the wedding functions – in fact I think I will only have 1 spare day during my 7 days trip there, in which I think I will spend in Mumbai only. It will be great to be able to visit Taj Mahal.. but let’s just focus on the wedding this time and who knows maybe I’ll come back to see the rest of India.

More posts about this trip, soon! have a nice day! 🙂

Why I think Ho Chi Minh City is not for me

Back in fall 2011, I found an online promo for Air Asia which gave very good deal. Without thinking carefully, I bought one return plane ticket from Jakarta to Ho Chi Minh City for Spring 2012, simply because that destination was the cheapest I could find for that time frame. If I’m not mistaken, it cost me IDR 800,000 for that ticket. Not bad, right? I was scheduled to spend a 5 days 4 nights vacation there. Time passed and on early 2012 I realized that I was scheduled to go soon.

I started to do some research about the city. Where to stay, what to see, and whether it’s safe for female solo traveler. Based on my research I found that it’s sort of  a waste of time to spend 5 days just in Ho Chi Minh. It’s very advisable to use the time I had to travel to other cities. However, as it was going to be my first time traveling solo in Asia, I was kind of afraid to travel to other cities and after some considerations I decided to travel to Bangkok instead. The plan was to stay in Ho Chi Minh for 2 nights and Bangkok for the remaining 2 nights. I had to spend an extra IDR 2,00,000 for Ho Chi Minh – Bangkok round trip airplane ticket so the trip was not that cheap anymore, but in total was still within my budget. Lucky I have some good friends from the university living in Bangkok and one of them offered me a place to stay so that helped my budget 🙂

Then came the time to go. I was excited! I did travel solo several times while I was in the UK, but never too far (mostly day trips). Plus, it’s the first time in Asia and first time in a non-English speaking country. I booked a hostel in Pham Ngu Lao street – a popular tourist area. The hostel is called Saigon Backpackers Hostel and it has 8.0 ratings on Agoda.com.

The hostel's lobby
The hostel’s lobby

Just because I was trying to be careful, I opted for a female only dorm and surprisingly stayed in the same room with another Indonesian female solo traveler! She lives in Australia though, and she seems like a very pro backpacker compared to me 🙂 We got along well and went for a meal together, had nice conversations and happened to leave our hostel at the same time – she was continuing her journey to north of Vietnam while I was departing for Bangkok.

So what else did I do in Ho Chi Minh? Why I think it’s not for me?

Well.. the reason is simple. I think the city is just like a much older version of Jakarta. It’s crowded (but not as crowded), it got traffic here and there (but not as much), and humid as well. Let me elaborate further…

I spent my first night exploring Pham Ngu Lao street with a local I knew from Couchsurfing. He was very nice and polite,  and based on my request took me to eat Phở. The restaurant’s atmosphere and service was questionable, but definitely not the food. It was the best Phở I had in my life! No joke.

Enjoying the best Pho I've ever had!
Enjoying the best Pho I’ve ever had!

However, that night I began to realize Ho Chi Minh’s similarities to Jakarta. Because it’s Friday night, many youngsters were seen hanging out and there were many tourists as well, mostly Caucasian. They travel in groups and seemed to be having fun.

The next day, I went for a day tour. It’s easy to book one – most hostels would be able to arrange it but I remember that it’s cheaper (forgot how much it cost me though, oops!) if you use the local travel agents found mushrooming on Pham Ngu Lao street. My travel agent had two day trip options – one was to explore the Mekong river and one was to go to Cu Chi Tunnel. Without knowing much of the latter, I chose it because I thought was more interesting than seeing just a river.

It turned out to be a mistake. It was a war memorial, and I’m not much of a war history person. Our funny and lovely tour guide explained about the war and despite his sense of humor I was feeling sort of depressed when imagining the war. Really.

Cu Chi Tunnel
Cu Chi Tunnel

Lucky me the tour only took me half day and I got time to explore more parts of Ho Chi Minh after I came back to the hotel. I spent my last night with another local I met from Couchsurfing and she took me to see other tourist attractions like Notre Dame Cathedral and Saigon Opera House. I think they were pretty but not new for me as the sort of architecture can also be found in Jakarta.

Notre Dame Cathedral
Notre Dame Cathedral

The next day I managed to go to Ben Thanh Market in the morning and had brunch with my Indonesian friend mentioned previously before leaving for Bangkok. Again, the market is interesting but not something new. It looks like Indonesia’s traditional market although I agree that the products sold can be very cheap if you master the art of bargaining!

Ben Than Market
Ben Than Market

To end my story, I understand that Ho Chi Minh can be very interesting to those from Western countries as it’s cheap and exotic – something that can’t be found in where they came from. But to me, it failed to offer me something new. Yes it’s safe, yes it’s cheap, yes the food were delicious and the people I met were nice, but it did not give me enough reasons to come back again.

Motorcycles everywhere!
Motorcycles everywhere! Just like Jakarta :p

Have you been to Ho Chi Minh? what did you think?

Bits of England in Singapore

Last weekend I went to Singapore with my friends, Yovita and Poppa. We went to the same university in the UK and live very close to each other. This was our first holiday together after returning home to Indonesia, so despite the short visit, we were so excited! Our main intention to visit Singapore was to go to Universal Studios’ Halloween Horror Nights. During the event, the theme park opened until 2AM and there were special sections, i.e mazes, scare zones, etc.. all with the intention to make us scared! hahaha. None of us are actually that brave, but we just wanted to have fun! Unfortunately I was too caught up with excitement and forget to use my camera that often so I don’t have a lot of pictures with me… here’s one group picture with our new “friend”, the creepy creature, hehehe.

Halloween Horror Nights
Group picture with our creepy new friend :p

Now although the trip to Universal was fun and entertaining, surprisingly, that’s not the highlight of the trip for me. What makes the trip so memorable was the fact that I got to find bits of England in Singapore! Yayyyy! It started with our lunch right after we arrived in Singapore on Saturday afternoon. We went straight to Bugis from the airport, only to eat at Nando’s. This used to be our favorite restaurant back in Bournemouth – we looooove their peri – peri chicken!

Nando's
Peri – peri heaven!

After going to Universal on Saturday night, we were scheduled to go home on Sunday afternoon. Since our flight was not until 6.20 PM, we had enough time to wander around town. We chose to wander around Orchard road, being purely tourist, hahahaha. When we got off the bus from our hotel at Somerset station, I was sooo surprised to find a Costa Coffee branch! Costa Coffee is a British coffee shop and they have one branch at my university. I used to go there almost every day just to buy coffee of hot chocolate to bring to class, or spend some time working on our group projects with my friends. I didn’t know that they opened a branch in Singapore already. So I immediately went inside the store and bought my all time favorite – vanilla latte and butter croissant. So happy!

Costa Coffee
Reunited with Costa!

Not only Costa, Singapore surprised me again when I found Muller yogurt in a supermarket when I was going to buy bottled water. The yogurt brand was my favorite and it used to be my daily snack back in the UK! I don’t think they have this flavor back then, but it tasted soooo good. Plus, they were on sale because they’re about to expire next week. I bought one and ate it immediately, consider it as my dessert after lunch.

Muller
Used to be my daily snack…

Last but not least, I found a Ben’s Cookies outlet in Wisma Atria – another popular mall in Orchard Road. Again, this is another favorite snack from my UK days. They simply have the best cookies, soft and chunky! I used to go to their London’s Oxford Street branch whenever I was in town.. finding their branch in Singapore  really made me happy. I don’t mean to be exaggerating but having a bite after all these years almost bring me to tears! hehehe.

Ben's Cookies
My favorite cookies!

Although the trip was very short, I had lots of fun, from wandering around Bugis, going to Universal, spending some quality time with my friends, and of course.. finding British foods which bring me happy memories! Thank you Singapore, looking forward to my next visit! 🙂

Where should we go?

Me and a group of friends are planning to go on a vacation early next year. There are four of us – we’ve known each other since we all started working in the same company back in 2011. They are more than just colleagues though.. I’m glad I can call them best friends.

We actually started to become close after we went on a tour to Karimun Jawa islands back in 2012. Afterwards, we have been to Mt. Bromo, and Derawan islands.. and we also hang out very often. One of us has gotten married and one of us might be leaving the company soon.. so we think it’s a good idea to go on a “quality time” kind of trip.

The thing is, our past travels have always been adventurous, backpacking style. The place was all special and beautiful, but the itinerary was always packed, leaving us with very little time to chill. Thus, this time we want to go somewhere relaxing.. or at least not that adventurous.

Now here comes the “drama”. It’s soooo hard for us to agree on a destination. We’ve agreed on a budget and timeline. We want to spend maximum IDR 7.000.000 for a 4 days trip around February – March next year… ideally abroad because we’ve never been abroad together and we think it will be nice to have a different kind of experience. With that budget and time limitation, South East Asia seems the only feasible region to go to. The four of us each proposed a “to-go” and also “no-go” destination.

For me, the choice is Singapore for “to-go” and Vietnam for “no-go”. Singapore is basically an obvious choice. It’s so close to Indonesia and I think we would enjoy the city getaway plus chillin’ at the hip cafes… a different kind of vacation from the ones that we’ve always been. That 7 million budget would suits us nicely, I think we can even splurge a little while we’re there. Why no Vietnam? I’ve been on a solo trip to Ho Chi Minh City and I have to say that it’s not for me. My friends might enjoy it though, but I think it will be another backpacking/adventurous kind of holiday… so I’d prefer not to go there.

The problem is.. Singapore is on one of my friend’s “no-go” list! Hahaha. Though I love her dearly, I still don’t get why she doesn’t like to go to Singapore. I mean… it’s Singapore! (Okay just like her, I’m prolly being totally subjective hahaha). We discussed about Hongkong.. which quickly sent to no-go destination because we think it would not suit our budget. We also discussed Manila but my Filipino colleague told me it’s just like Jakarta. She recommended the beaches though.. Boracay, Palawan.. which we are very much interested to go but kind of unsure about the weather. Kuala Lumpur was quickly sent to no-go as well because two of us spent college years there and would very much prefer to go somewhere else. But, I recently read Noni’s post on Penang and it looks like a very nice town to visit.. Hmmm.

Seems like first world problem? hahaha kind of! :p

Of course there are tons of wonderful destinations in Indonesia that we can visit. An easy one, Bali. I’m pretty sure we can do a lot with that budget and time allocation. Exploring East Indonesia? for sure! We are always talking about going to Ora Beach. Reading Fe’s post on Maluku makes me want to pack my bags and leave ASAP! Of course we can’t forget about Komodo Islands and Nusa Tenggara. West Indonesia is a charm as well.. none of us has been to Medan and its surroundings (Again, Noni’s post kind of inspires me to go!).

So many destinations, so many inspirations, minimal budget and time allocation…. Hahahaha.

Can you help us? where do you think we should go? 😀

 

Hello Taipei!

To Indonesian travelers, Taiwan  might be a less popular destination compared to its Asian neighbors –  Mainland China, Hong Kong, South Korea or Japan. Japan has been a popular tourist destination for so long, while South Korea are beginning to grow its popularity thanks to K-Pop culture boom. Of course, Hong Kong is famous as a shopping destination, while Mainland China .. well.. I guess is famous for its scenery and culture.

Now let’s talk about Taiwan. Before I made a proper research on this country, I only knew two cities – Taipei and Kaohsiung. That’s because some of my uni friends are from there. So  basically I had zero knowledge. But, since the last two years, Taiwanese food are getting more common in Jakarta – there are more and more Taiwanese food restaurants opening here, especially dessert house and boba tea joints. They are mushrooming in Jakarta, and very often you have to queue to get a seat.

So how did I end up going to Taipei? Well,  early this year I went to a travel fair in Jakarta – wanted to find cheap airline tickets for my next travel. There were a lot of booths from different tourist agencies and travel agents, including those popular Asian countries I mentioned before. Then there was a Taiwan booth as well. My initial reaction was.. “Well wouldn’t it be nice to go to Taipei where I can eat authentic Taiwanese food? It must be nice to have boba tea all day long!” Hahaha, not exactly like that but I was interested to go , I wanted to try authentic Taiwanese food. Plus, with my valid US tourist visa, I don’t need to apply for Taiwan Visa, just need to register online as they have some exceptions program. Long story short, I bought the ticket (50% off with China Airlines!), and was scheduled to go in May for 3 nights.

Then came May. The trip was scheduled right a week after my Derawan trip, but I was so excited to go. Though I was traveling alone,  I have made some arrangements to meet with my university friends who live in Taipei. I arrived Sunday afternoon after a 5 hour flight from Jakarta, and went straight to my hostel – Mr. Lobster’s Secret Den Hostel which is located within walking distance from Taipei Central Station. I’ll probably write a separate blog post about this hostel but I would gladly recommend it if you’re traveling to Taipei on a budget like myself.

After I checked in and had quick shower, I went to Taipei 101 mall to meet with my university friends for dinner at the famous Din Tai Fung restaurant. The restaurant is famous for its Xiao Long Bao (soup dumplings) and although it has chains all over the globe now, still worth to try when in Taipei.

The next day, I traveled across town – by foot and by their excellent MRT system. It was sooo easy to get around despite being a non-Chinese speaker. No worries, almost all directions I saw are written in both Chinese and English language.

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Inside the MRT … clean and comfortable!

My first destination that day was Chiang Kai-Shek Memorial Hall (tip: they have changing of the guards parade every hour – similar to the one in Buckingham Palace!), then  Dr.Sun Yat-Sen Memorial Hall which is not far away. Besides having pretty architecture, I enjoyed visiting both sites for quick history crash course! 😀

Afterwards, I went to Taipei 101 building again to have lunch and went to the observatory deck. Did you know that Taipei 101 used to be the world’s tallest building until there’s Burj Khalifa in Dubai? It was fun to be able to see beautiful Taipei scenery from the indoor observation deck at the 89th floor. There’s also an outdoor one at 91st floor but I only managed to make it to the stairs hahaha.. too afraid to went outside!

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Taipei – seen from Taipei 101’s observation deck

Now, as you can see from the picture above, Taipei has both tall buildings and hills as well as mountains. So.. my next destination was to hike Elephant Mountain! It’s not far from Taipei 101 and it’s included in almost Taipei travel guide I read. The trail is not too long.. I finished it in around 35 minutes one way. They said it’s best to go there in the afternoon, close to sunset time as you would be able to see magnificent Taipei view. Too bad it was cloudy when I was there.. So I did not bother to wait for sunset nor did I managed to get a spectacular shot of the city view I saw. But still, it was worth to visit. And if you decided to visit, hopefully you’ll be able to take a better shot than what I got here…

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View from the top of Elephant Mountain, you can see Taipei 101 for a far!

From Elephant Mountain I went back to my hostel, had a quick shower and managed to browse the neighborhood real quick before going to my next destination. Here’s a picture I took :

Taipei
Q Square – next to Taipei Main Station

My next destination was Ximending. I met another friend from university and she took me for a sightseeing/window shopping around the area. Popular to teens, this place is similar to Shibuya in Japan or Times Square in New York (never been to New York but I think it is indeed similar from the pictures I saw!), full of shops and neon lights. There are a lot of shops selling cute accessories and clothes.. also Taiwanese snacks. Do visit for a little shopping spree 🙂

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Ximending. Looks like Shibuya or Mini Times Square!

My day did not end there as before I went back to the hostel, I managed to find Eslite 24 hour bookstore.. just because I’m curious to see if people really visit bookstores after 10 PM. Turns out they still do! It was still crowded even when I got there at past 10.30PM! Wow!

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Eslite 24 hour bookstore

The next day was my last day in Taipei. I visited MOCA Taipei which is located near my hostel then traveled far north to Tamsui District… still using MRT – a 40 minutes ride only. I visited the old street and waterfront, as well as the fisherman’s wharf. Again, weather was not on my side as it was cloudy – even raining for a bit! However, I loved wandering around the area, which I think has a perfect mix of culture and modernisation.

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Tamsui Old Street

In the afternoon, I had an appointment with my friend as I asked her to take me to the best beef noodle soup in town. Her choice was  Lin Dong Fang‘s beef noodle soup and I could not agree more with her! The restaurant was small, basically people just come there to eat. My friend told me that during lunch time and after working hours, people would have to queue to eat there. Lucky we came there at 5 – right before people got off from work so there was no queue at all and we could eat happily 😀

Beef noodle soup
BEST beef noodle soup I’ve had!

From there we traveled south to ride Maokong Gondola to went up the hill. My friend told me it’s a nice place to sit and drink some tea as there are a lot of tea houses. The interesting part about my gondola ride is that they are decorated in Hello Kitty theme, plus some of them has crystal cabins!

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Hello Kitty themed gondola at Maokong Gondola… cute!

After spending some time in the hill, we went to Shilin Night Market. I think I don’t need to explain much about this place as the name sort of explains itself. Of all the night markets in Taipei, I think this one’s the most popular.. especially for hawker food. Trust me everything I had there is super delicious.. and cheap. Going there was definitely a feast! Lucky as I went there with my friend and she understands that I don’t eat pork , she chose only the foods that do not contain pork for me. If you don’t speak Chinese and don’t eat pork as well – it might be handy to write down some phrases to be asked to the food seller before you buy something.. as the sellers there speak very limited English, if not at all.

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Yummy street food at Shilin Night Market

So that concludes my 3 nights in Taipei, as I left the city very early in the morning the next day. I really love Taipei for its perfect mix of modernisation, traditional culture and nature. I went there only for the food but was able to see so much more even in my short visit. Definitely will go back at some point! 🙂

The US Trip: Transit in Hong Kong

This is the second post of “The US  Trip” series. To read other posts in this series, click here.

As a took Cathay Pacific airline, I had to transit in Hong Kong on my way to Los Angeles from Jakarta. I took the morning flight from Jakarta and it took me around 4,5 hours to get to Hong Kong. My flight from Jakarta to Hong Kong was rather delightful, I slept almost all the time (only woke up when it’s time for a meal :p), and I liked the meal served to me.

As soon as I got off the plane , I immediately searched for transit guide. I could find it easily, but I had to go through some immigration and security check before I was able to enter the departures terminal. I remember queuing for quite a while for these checks, which made me began to feel tired. Walking slowly, I had no expectation when I entered the terminal. Guess what “greeted” me in front of the elevator? This.

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Zara outlet

Wooohooo the airport has Zara outlet! That moment my expectation went up drastically. I began to love the airport already.. and forgot my tiredness, hahaha. My love increased when I found out that it has free wi-fi (with super speed!) everywhere! Near my departure gate, I also found a MAC outlet, two bookshops, some retail shops, and a lot of chairs. That way my transit period was almost like a leisure! I had no problem in killing time at all. Even though I did not shop, but at least I got to enjoy window shopping while killing time.

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Departures terminal

Now, feeling hungry after all those window shopping? no worries at all! the airport has a selection of fast food joints (I think there are some restaurants too.. but I didn’t see it) which can keep you full in between your flihgts. My favorite – the one which also confirmed my super duper love for this airport – is Popeyes! This fast food joint, located in Departures area level 7, used to have some branches in Jakarta, but closed a couple years ago. I loved their biscuits soooo much and I couldn’t help but buy a pack for my snack while waiting for my next flight 😛 Let’s just say my 15 hours flight from Hong Kong to Los Angeles went realllly smooth , partly because of my happy tummy after eating those biscuits 😀

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Popeyes’ biscuits !!!

So.. that’s all for my transit in Hong Kong experience. I’ll start writing my US experience soon 🙂