Vancouver: Richmond Night Market Food Adventures!

The Low-Down

If you are in Vancouver between May and October, and love street food, you cannot miss the Richmond Night Market located at the River Rock Casino. There are multiple night markets in Greater Vancouver but this is definitely our favourite. Sure, they sell new fads, like fidget spinners and old favourites, like cell phone cases, but we all know that most of us only come here for the food. Over the years, this night market has gotten a lot more sophisticated with free parking onsite with attendants guiding you to minimize chaos. There is now also a nominal admission fee of $3.75 per person. If you are coming in a big group or planning to make multiple visits, I would suggest getting the Zoom Pass. With this pass, you can have 7 admissions for $25. The best part is you can bypass the large line up by going through an express gate. Don’t head towards the long line. There will be staff standing around the entrance and the parking lot selling these. At the entrance, there are ATMs available since most vendors on site are cash only.

Intro to the Food

For my foodies out there, once you enter the gate, you can take a few seconds to gawk at some of the ridiculous “trendy” items being sold, then just head all the way to the back of the market for a culinary adventure. There are usually a few rows of stalls for you to explore. Just like the merchandise sold here, there are more traditional stalls (such as the takoyaki, dimsum, rotato and bubble tea stalls), as well as the new stalls that open up (such as the glowing lightbulb cocktail, Thai fried ice cream and rose popsicle stalls this year).

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The food stalls @ Richmond Night Market.

Deep Fried Squid

We started off our night with some reliable spicy garlic deep fried squid. It comes with curry leaves, so you can tell that it’s legit. Don’t you worry about the squid being chewy because this some of the most tender squid I’ve ever had in my life. The flavours are perfectly tasty without being too salty.

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Deep fried squid. Photo credit: Aaron.

Dimsum + Hotdog

Next, we had some dimsum with some super spicy curry fishballs, shrimp dumplings, and rice rolls. Because we spent more than $12 here, we even got an order of chow mien for free. The fishballs definitely had heat, so I would not recommend for those who cannot take spice. I prefer my fishballs less spicy, so next time, I would probably get the regular curry fishballs, also available here. The shrimp dumplings were shrimp dumplings. Good, reliable flavour. No surprises. Same with the rice rolls. The chow mien was not the best. The guys decided to dip it in the spicy curry sauce, which apparently significantly improved the flavour of the noodles. Aaron also was craving some hotdog, so he got one with nori and mayo, which basically made it a Japadog. It was not bad. You can’t go wrong with nori and mayo. The only complaint is that he had ordered the cheese-stuffed sausage, but we did not see or taste any cheese. Disappointing, I know.

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Shrimp dumplings, chow mien, super spicy curry fishballs, rice rolls, and hotdog. Photo credit: Aaron.

Korean Fried Chicken

We decided it was time for some Korean fried chicken and chose the one with melted cheese topping or “cheese fall” as they called it. I thought it would be too heavy but it was amazing. The cheese was not too overpowering but at the same time added just the right amount of creamy flavour to the boneless deep-fried chicken in sweet and salty sauce.

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Korean fried chicken in sweet and spicy sauce with “cheese falls”. Photo credit: Aaron.

Thai Fried Ice Cream

After ingesting all this salty food, it was time to change things up by getting some Thai “fried” ice cream. Basically, they pour the cream over this cold plate, put in some syrup depending on the flavour you choose, then roll these frozen sheets of ice cream up. These rolls are then placed into a cup for your consumption. We choose the strawberry and oreo flavour, which in hind-sight was not a good choice. The strawberry syrup was terribly sweet. On top of that, they drizzled chocolate sauce and added fruit loops. It was definitely sugar overload.

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Thai fried ice cream – strawberries and oreos.

Fried Fish Stick

It is time to switch back to something savoury. We chose the fried “fish stick”, which is basically deep fried fish fillet on a stick. The amazing thing was it was 90% batter so it was so fluffy and light. We had the terimayo one with shredded nori, which made it that much more delicious.

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Fried fish stick. Photo credit: Aaron.

Strawberry Lemonade

At this point, we were super thirsty with all the deep fried food we’ve consumed. However, when I look around, I find that most drink options are full of sugar. We decided to get some strawberry lemonade with soda, which was actually quite refreshing. If not, there was also a matcha stall, that sold iced matcha without sweetener. I would recommend bringing your own water bottle if you do not want to have this yo-yo between deep-fried salty then super sweet attacks on the taste buds.

Japanese Fried Chicken + German Pork Hock

With only limited stomach space left, we decided to get the classic Japanese fried chicken as well as some German pork hock. I’ve had the fried chicken before at this stall and knew it was good but it was the pork hock from the adjacent stall that really amazed me. It was so tasty and tender, it reminded me of good Chinese roasted pork. The portion size was definitely not small but luckily they cut it up into small bite size pieces for easy sharing with a group. It came with a size of sauerkraut and you can drizzle your choice of sauce on it.

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Japanese fried chicken and German pork hock. Photo credit: Aaron.

Outro

I am actually quite impressed by how much the Richmond Night Market has evolved over the years. There are benches and standing areas for you to eat but usually we just grab and eat while standing in front of the stall or walking around. They have even gotten pretty high-tech, where you can scan the QR codes at the stalls to vote for your favourite food items. The winners are posted on signs around the market for you to reference when you are making those difficult food decisions, since we all know that stomach space is valuable. There is a stage onsite for live performances, but we did not catch any during our stay there on a Friday night. For those who have little ones and/or can stomach a ride after eating all the good food, there are amusement park rides on site as well. Before we left, we had to end the night with Aaron’s favourite fried squid. I was not disgustingly full but at this point, I couldn’t actually take anymore deep-fried food, so I had to pass. Shocking – I know.

Vancouver: Korean Desserts Obsession

After returning home from Korea, we have been longing for some good Korean desserts. Our opportunity has finally arrived once we set foot in Vancouver.

My favourite place for Korean desserts would have to be Snowy Village. There are multiple locations in Greater Vancouver: Vancouver, Richmond and Coquitlam. They must be doing well because they are planning to open stores in Langley as well as Surrey. For those who have never tried Korean shaved ice AKA bingsoo, let me introduce you to this lovely, super light and fluffy dessert. North American snow cones, Taiwanese shaved ice, Chinese red bean ice, Vietnamese che ba mau and Malaysian ABC cannot compare to this amazingly tasty dessert. In the aforementioned shaved ice, it is literally shaved ice pieces. The ice itself has no taste. It relies entirely on the syrups and toppings to give it flavour. Once you eat all the toppings, the ice is not that appetizing. The chunks of ice can sometimes been so big and hard, that the experience can be quite unpleasant at times. Here, the bingsoo is not only made with frozen milk. It is so finely shaved, that it feels like you’re eating creamy snow. The closest thing I’ve ever had to it was the shaved ice we had at Lot 10 Hu Tong in Kuala Lumpar . As for toppings, you can choose anything from mango to green tea, oreos to the traditional red bean. The serving size even for a regular is quite impressive, so I would recommend sharing one between 2 people. I’ve tried both the green tea and mango and I would have to say my preference is towards the mango one. The downtown location can get quite busy, so you can always get the bingsoo to-go, as they package the dessert in an insulated bag which keeps the dessert frozen for 45 minutes! Haven’t tested this out for myself though since I usually couldn’t wait to consume it right away.

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Mango bingsoo @ Snowy Village.

Not only is Snowy Village well-known for its bingsoo, it is also known for its croissant taiyaki or bungeo-ppang (in Korean), which is apparently not available at all locations. It is definitely available at the downtown location. Those who have followed me on my Asia adventures, would recognize this dessert. Taiyaki is a Japanese fish-shaped dessert most commonly filled with red bean paste. The pastry itself has the texture of waffles. Now imagine that the pastry is transformed into a flaky croissant crust. And voila – the croissant taiyaki! Unlike some of the street vendors in Korea and Japan, these are made to order so they are fresh and hot which makes them even more delicious. The pricing is quite reasonable and you can even get 3 for the price of $10.

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Croissant taiyaki @ Snowy Village.

For those to live in the Hastings-Sunrise area, My. Frosty1 recently opened with pretty comparable bingsoo right close to home! We actually had this the day after we had Snowy Village (for science…), which allowed us to compare the two more easily. I prefer Snowy Village for its taste but for the days/nights that you do not feel like venturing downtown or to the burbs, this is a great alternative in Vancouver East.

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Redbean injeolmi bingsoo @ My Frosty. (We also had the mango bingsoo that day, for direct comparison with Snowy Village.)

Hope you enjoy these sweet delights!

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1. N.B. Many people, including myself, have mistakenly called this shop Mr. Frosty, which I have decided is actually a better name, so I will continue to call it as such. However, for the sake of accuracy, so you can actually find it, I will reluctantly call it My. Frosty here.

Vancouver, BC, Canada: Hiking the Chief

Vancouver, BC, Canada: Hiking the Chief

Photo of the day: The view from the Stawamus Chief.

Coming back to hike the Stawamus Chief made me very nostalgic, as it reminded me of my high school days when we would start off our camping trips with this hike. It is classified as an “intermediate” hike, but it can definitely feel challenging for beginners. The only route that I’ve ever taken is up to the first or the south peak, which is only 500m in elevation but the trail is quite steep so it will definitely get your heart rate up to get you huffing and puffing. The hike takes around 3 hours to complete round-trip at a good pace. On our drive to Squamish, it was pouring, which made me really worried since we will be hiking up a large granite dome, which can get quite slippery when wet. Luckily, the ground was dry when we arrived.

You can find free parking right at the trailhead. Just follow the signs to “Stawamus Chief”. Here you there are simple toilet facilities to use as well as a campsite. The first part of the hike is probably the most difficult. It consists of many steep wooden steps to really give you a good cardio exercise. The rest of the path is less manicured, mostly consisting of dirt paths and large rocks.

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The terrain of most of the trail.

There was only one true lookout point along the way, looking at Shannon Falls, so it can get a little monotonous. As soon as you see the ladders and chains to help you up the smooth granite surfaces, you are near the summit!

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Climbing up the chains near the top.

The unbelievable view at the top is definitely worth the climb. There are no facilities at the top. It’s just you, the view and some friendly chipmunks. There are also no lifts or gondolas here, so once you go up, you are committed to hiking down. Because the hike is quite steep, you need to be very careful.

 

Overall, I found this to be a nice challenging hike. Those who would like even more of a challenge can try to hike up the second or third peak as well.

Vancouver, BC, Canada: Top 5 Tourist Attractions

I recently came back to my hometown, Vancouver, BC, for a visit and coincidently, my relatives from out-of-town were visiting at the same time. While showing them around, I was able to be a tourist in my hometown for a few days, which allowed me to compile a list of top tourist attractions in Vancouver, BC.

1. Queen Elizabeth Park

If you like beautiful gardens and views of the city and want to make good use of your newly-purchased camera, this is the place to go. It is so picturesque that many people decide to hold their wedding ceremonies and snap their wedding photos here. If you enjoy tropical plants and birds, you should pay the Bloedel Conversatory a visit. Feeling hungry after all the walking around the park? Want to indulge in a nice meal while further embracing the view? Check out Seasons in the Park.

2. Stanley Park

This park is truly versatile and meant to be enjoyed by people of all ages. For those with children, there are waterparks, outdoor pools, and the Stanley Park Train. Those who love the outdoors and staying active can jog/skate/bike around the seawall while enjoying the beautiful coastline of Vancouver. Those who prefer to relax can lounge on the several beaches in the park. The park is situated right beside downtown so finding good food nearby is never a problem.

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The totem poles in Stanley Park.
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The view from Prospect Point in Stanley Park.

3. Downtown and surroundings

First time Vancouver visitors can probably spend a few days here. The waterfront is one of my favourite parts of Vancouver. Here, you can enjoy views of the water with the mountains as a backdrop. You can also see the huge cruise ships docking and the seaplanes taking off. It is also where our Olympic Cauldron is from hosting the 2010 Winter Olympics.  For my shopaholics, there is plenty of shopping either at Pacific Centre or along Robson Street. For those who like gorgeous architecture, you should head over to the Central Library, again a hot spot for wedding photos. For my hipster friends out there, you must check out Gastown with its various local coffee joints and eateries. For those looking for a more snazzy dining experience, head over to Yaletown. Mister is a hip liquid nitrogen ice-cream place to check out here. We were lucky enough to be here on their first year anniversary where all of their ice-cream are ONLY $5. You can deduce what their regular prices are.

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Central Public Library in downtown Vancouver.

4. Granville Island

Another popular tourist spot for first time Vancouver visitors, Granville Island is a great place for everyone to visit – especial lovers of local arts, crafts and food. There is a kids market for those with little ones. There is a local brewery on the island as well as a boutique Japanese Sake winery for some 19+ fun. Take a stroll along the public market to try some fresh produce and goods. Don’t forget to stop by Lee’s Donuts for some deliciously fresh donuts. I personally really enjoyed the honey-dipped one. If you get tired, there are plenty of benches on the island for you to sit and enjoy the street performances. Just watch your heads in case the seagulls decide to give you a little present.

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Enjoying a honey-dipped Lee’s Donut in Granville Island.

6. North Vancouver/Squamish

If you venture to this part of Greater Vancouver, you can visit the famous Capilano Suspension Bridge. If you want to opt for a similar experience without paying the exuberant prices, you can go to Lynn Canyon Suspension Bridge instead. By heading further north, you can also visit Squamish. Depending on your preference, you can either hike up the Stawamus Chief or pay $40 to take the new Sea to Sky Gondola up and then do some light trails at the top while soaking in gorgeous views from the viewing platforms. The views from both are surreal but I would highly recommend the hike for a more rewarding experience. Check out my next post for more details about the hike itself.

These places are nice to visit at least once as important landmarks to check out but there are definitely other neighbourhoods that I frequent for food. Stay tuned for the food posts to come!

 

St. John’s, Newfoundland, Canada – Food and Drinks Reviews

St. John’s, Newfoundland, Canada – Food and Drinks Reviews

Featured Image: Beer flight @ Quidi Vidi Brewing Company.

You know I wouldn’t visit a place without reviewing its food, so here is the post you were looking for. St. John’s has a surprising number of fine dining restaurants, as well as more laid back pubs and microbreweries.

Raymond’s

Last year I had the chance to visit Raymond’s, which was at some point rated the number one restaurant in Canada. We ordered the 5 course tasting menu along with the wine pairings and it definitely did not disappoint. Regretfully, I did not take any notes during my visit, so I really don’t have too many details for you. I just remember that there was a lot of thought put into each dish and the wine pairings were perfect.

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Starter @ Raymond’s.

Basho Restaurant and Lounge

Those who know me will know that I will not choose to eat Asian food randomly at a new place, unless I’ve heard really good things about it. Growing up in Vancouver and having just spent 2 months in Asia, I am quite spoiled in terms of good sushi. I’ve heard great things about Basho and I reasoned that the seafood in the maritimes should be amazing so I really should give it a try. The ambience was really nice and upscale for a Japanese restaurant. Looking at it’s menu, there was a variety of Japanese and non-Japanese dishes. Some dishes did have a fusion flare, such as using Yuzu as an ingredient. I decided to try their Nigiri and Sushi special but was advised that this was mainly tempura and cooked sushi rolls. As if the server could read my mind, he encouraged me to get the “exotic” special instead if I was looking for raw fish. I paired my sushi with a glass of pinot noir, in keeping with the loungey ambience. The sushi were nicely presented on a large plate, with the nigiri, wasabi and ginger on a banana leaf and the soy sauce on the side in a nice asymmetric bowl. The rolls were definitely on the smaller side. I didn’t catch the names of the rolls but I believe one was an avocado tuna roll and the other was a negi-hamachi roll. They both very tasty and did not require dipping of soy sauce as they had enough flavours as is. The nigiri were also very good, with pretty good quality fish, especially the butterfish. Overall, I would say it was above average sushi but with an incredibly over-inflated price tag.

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Sushi @ Basho Restaurant and Lounge

Rocket Bakery

This was a cute cafe and bakery great for getting some work done. I didn’t have too much time to blog during my trip but I did end up coming here to try their latte while listening to some locals perform at their open-mic. Apparently their bread is very good here but I did not get the chance to try. Their latte was definitely tasty, comparable to the ones I get at Bridgehead (who makes the best lattes in my opinion). I only caught the end of the open-mic but I was very impressed with the talent. Definitely come by to check this cafe/bakery out if you have the chance to visit St. John’s.

On my second trip I was actually more impressed by the beer scene than the actual food:

Quidi Vidi Brewing Company

We decided to stop by this brewery on our way back from our iceberg hunting adventures. One of us was very well-prepared and called ahead to find out they had tastings on Saturdays during the day only (when we had to work) but they invited us to come on a Friday night anyway to enjoy some of their beer. They opened at 6pm and ran out of food by the time we got there around 7pm but it was not a big deal because we were able to enjoy some flights of good local beer (see featured image). Usually with beer flights, I find I only enjoy 1 or 2 of them. I was pleasantly surprised that I actually quite liked all 4 of the beers I was presented with. And the price was very reasonable! They were all pretty light and easy to drink. I, of course, preferred the British IPA and ended up getting an extra pint of that. My advice would be to come here on a Saturday during the day to enjoy a beer tour with beer tasting!

Yellowbelly Brewery & Public House

We decided to visit another highly-rated brewery on our last night in St. John’s. For food, I decided to get the seafood chowder, again with my assumption that it’s a requirement to eat seafood when you’re in the Maritimes. To be honest, I was disappointed with this, as it was just too salty. My favourite seafood/clam chowder would still be either the one I’ve had in Boston or at Art-Is-In Bakery in Ottawa. More importantly, though I wanted to try their seasonal beer. They were very generous to give us both a sample of of their seasonal, which was apparently made from bread from Rocket Bakery. I quite liked the taste. It was flavourful but very easy to drink. My suggestion is to come here to try out their beer. As for food, they did have good reviews for that too, so perhaps don’t order the seafood chowder and go ahead and try something else on their menu.

And that ends my review of the food/beer scene in St. John’s! I heard other good food picks are Mallard Cottage, St. John’s Fish Exchange and Oliver’s. These will remain on my “go to” list to visit in the future.

St. John’s, Newfoundland, Canada – What to See

St. John’s, Newfoundland, Canada – What to See

Featured Image: Lighthouse at Cape Spear.

This is my second time in St. John’s and both times, it was for business purposes. Unfortunately, for that reason, I am always here during the end of April, when the weather is not the most pleasant, especially compared to Ottawa, which is starting to warm up during this time of year. You can expect to possibly see some rain, freezing rain or snow during this time of year. It was definitely cold (hovering around 0 degrees celsius) and at times wet, but it was not enough to deter me from explore this nice gem on the east coast of Canada.

I’ve managed to hit a few of the main sights mostly during the evenings when I was free.

Signal Hill

If you enjoy nice walks or runs, you would appreciate this hill with a nice view of the city as well as the harbour. From downtown St. John’s, it is around a 45 minute walk. If you happen to come during the warmer months, it would probably be a lot more enjoyable as you appreciate the nice view while getting some steps in. While here, you may want to stop by the Geo Centre, especially if you are interested in geology. The exhibits here are great for people of all ages and are quite interactive. You could probably spend a couple of hours here if you wanted to read everything in detail. We had a tight schedule with a food stop for some infamous fish and chips, as well as a plane to catch so we only had an hour to spend here to quickly browse the exhibits.

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View from Signal Hill.

Cape Spear

This was probably my top attraction in St. John’s and a must-see for those who love beautiful scenery. Despite being very windy and cold, I had no regrets with stopping by here during my first trip to St. John’s. You will most likely requiring a car to get here as it was a 1 hour drive away from downtown but it was well worth it. As the most eastern point of North America, you will be able to catch the first sunrise here. We went during sunset and it was still very gorgeous. The view was almost surreal (see featured image).

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Sign @ Cape Spear.
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Sunset @ Cape Spear.

Iceberg Viewing

This was an impromptu trip but I’m so glad I went. Again, a car is required as it was another 1 hour drive away from downtown. There was apparently a huge iceberg off the coast of Ferryland (which I erroneously thought was named “Fairyland” feeling that was quite appropriate for the location of such a miraculous sight). This was a cute town with a population of around 500 people. As we entered the town, we saw sheets of ice as well as little blocks of ice. We feared that the once large iceberg has melted. We kept driving along the highway and finally found the iceberg seen in so many new articles! Unfortunately, it seemed terribly far away compared to the images online. We tried to find routes which led us closer for photos; however, we were only able to take a few shots from the distance. It did not help that it was raining at the time and visibility was affected. We later realized that the iceberg probably moved from its previous location closer to the coast, resulting in a less impressive sight. I’ve previously seen towering glaciers in Alaska, which also affected my impression. I still find it was a nice adventure and worth the drive. It’s interesting that it is not a stationary sight and will depend on your luck and when you choose to travel here.

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Icebergs in the distance off the coast of Ferryland.

If you enjoy nice drives, you could rent a car for a scenic drive along the coast, like Aaron did while I was at work one day. There are still many other sights here that can be explored, but due to my schedule, I have not yet had the chance to see everything St. John’s has to offer. Perhaps in the future, I will be able to return for more.

Top 5 Useful Apps While Traveling

Top 5 Useful Apps While Traveling

Featured Image: Screenshot from Google Maps.

With one of us being in the tech industry, we relied heavily on technology during our most recent Asia trip. We spent the extra money to get data or wifi almost as soon as we landed in order to make our lives easier. Some may say this is not a true adventure and/or it doesn’t allow us to truly experience exploring a new place, but to each their own. For those who appreciate the use of technology, I thought I would share the apps I found most useful during our recent Asia trip. Please note they are in no particular order. Also, I did not receive sponsorship from any of these companies, so I have no conflict of interest to report here.

1. TripAdvisor

Those who travel with their laptops can easily access TripAdvisor on their browser but for those who travel with only a mobile device, this app provides a better interface than using a mobile browser.

Pros

I found I used this most often to check out the top “things to do” in each city we went to. It also allowed me to select the most highly rated tours to sign up for. With its review function, I was able to see what I was getting myself into, compared to signing up for random tours at a local tour agency. For example, we had an excellent experiences during our cooking classes in Chiang Mai and Hanoi, which I attributed to the fact that we selected the classes with the highest ratings on TripAdvisor. This was also great for selecting hotels and spas as well.

Cons

On the other hand, I wouldn’t rely on this app for food recommendations. The reviews were not as useful and their list of restaurants was not as comprehensive as some other apps, which I will discuss below. I also tried booking hotels through this app, and it saved my booking on the app; however, it only showed mostly a static page with minimal booking details. I wish it linked back to the original hotel listing for me to get more information (e.g. amenities, reviews) about the hotel after I’ve already booked it and prior to checking in. I found myself having to go back to search for the hotel in a cumbersome way when they could’ve just easily linked it back with one quick click. Of note, Airbnb has a much nicer user interface with sleek design and allows you to link back to the original listing. The “directions” function is also limited as it only links to Apple Maps and doesn’t have an option to link to Google Maps, which I prefer.

2. Lonely Planet Guides

Although I downloaded this app prior to our trip, it wasn’t until the latter half of the trip that I started using this.

Pros

I appreciated how I was able to download the “City Guides” beforehand, which allowed me to browse even when I had no access to wifi or data. Compare this to TripAdvisor, which did have a “download” button, but I realized it gave me error messages when I try to scroll through their content. Not only is their photo quality and design more aesthetically pleasing than TripAdvisor, they also had better content relating to the information presented about the points of interest. TripAdvisor just took information straight from Wikipedia, which I found more dry and less relevant. I liked their “neighbourhoods” reviews to give me a quick overview of each area, so I can decide where I wanted to visit. This was particularly helpful in big cities like Korea and Japan. My favourite function of all was the “Near this Place” list at the end of each article. I am able to group top attractions and coffee shops/restaurants I want to visit to efficiently plan my days. I can bookmark places to the “My Favourites” tab to view everything on a map. That was how I realized that Tsukiji market is close to the Hama-Rikyu Onshi-Teien which also housed the Nakajimi no Ochaya teahouse. It is also how I found out about Chihira Junco and that she is located on the 3rd floor of Aqua City.

Cons

Compared to TripAdvisor, they only had a limited number of “City Guides”. It also does not have reviews, so the rankings of the listings are based on Lonely Planet itself. I preferred to get the perspectives from different travellers, especially those who recently visited for more up-to-date information. In addition, unlike TripAdvisor, it did not allow me to easily make reservations directly in the app for accommodations or activities. It did provide a link to the company’s website though to do the booking there. Again, I wouldn’t rely on the Lonely Planet Guides for their food recommendations. For that, I would rather use Foursquare, which I will talk about next.

3. Foursquare

As foodies, this was probably the most important app for us. Aside from reading/watching travel and food blogs/vlogs from our favourite bloggers and vloggers, this was our most used app to find good food.

Pros

The reviews are concise and tips are useful when deciding where and what to eat. This was were we found out about Pizza 4P’s, where I had some of the most amazing pizza I’ve ever had. I would never have considered trying pizza in Vietnam if it wasn’t for the amazing ratings. The photos are a good overview of what to eat even if there is no menu available online. You can also use these pictures to point to when they do not have an English menu. Previous customers usually also note down wifi passwords as a tip in the app, so you do not need to ask for it everywhere you go. This was super helpful when we were working in a coffeeshop. Aaron was also really into their sister app, Swarm, which allowed me to track all the places we’ve been to for blogging purposes.

Cons

I found this particularly useful when I am already at a location and looking for food to eat by using the “Nearby” ranking option. It is more difficult to use this to look for places that I plan to go to. This app’s usefulness really relies on it being popular in the location of choice. For example, we found more people used Foursquare in Vietnam and Japan, whereas, it was less popular in South Korea and Thailand. This lead us to many places that have closed down, as well as made us almost miss out on great places which had no reviews in the app.

4. Google Maps

With the advent of GPS equipped phones, one should in theory be able to locate anywhere they choose to go to.

Pros

I prefer Google Map’s interface over Apple Maps. It is more robust and provides more information on nearby attractions and restaurants. I sometimes find great places to see using the other apps mentioned above then save all my favourites onto my Google Maps, which gives me an overview of the city I am visiting and allows me to group my visits to several points of interest. I really appreciated it telling me how long it will take and how much it will cost to get somewhere by foot, public transportation and Uber. I can even book an Uber directly on the app! The bus/train route function, which has colour coding for different subway lines (see Featured Image), allows me to navigate the public transportation systems of a foreign city. For the points of interest itself, it provides reliable opening hours, for the most part, and well as some reviews, although not as extensive as TripAdvisor’s reviews. I particularly appreciate the graphs of the busiest times to visit the point of interest, based on historical and live data, so we can plan our visits and change our plans accordingly. This was how we were able to avoid a ridiculous line at T&K Seafood in Bangkok.

Cons

Google Maps has an offline function but this was not available for most of the places we visit this trip. From what I read, as long as there are non-alphabet characters used on the maps, the map cannot be downloaded offline. In addition, when searching for points of interest in Thailand and Japan, we found that just using the English name may lead us to the wrong location. It was much more reliable to use the actual Thai or Japanese characters to locate places. Of note, even the online version Google Maps is pretty useless in South Korea. The train routes were not available at all and the locating of points of interest is very unreliable. For hiking and more remote paths, Google Maps is again not too useful. We relied on Maps 3D Pro to keep us on track for our hiking trips. I also noticed that in a recent update, there are now multiple options when trying to save a point of interest (i.e. “favourites”, “want to go”, “starred places” or your own customized list). For my purposes, I preferred the simple star vs. no star before.

5. Google Translate

It was pretty much impossible for us to learn and be fluent in 4 new languages prior to our Asia trip, so we needed a way to communicate other than hand gestures. Here was where Google Translate came in handy.

Pros

The camera function available in Korean and Japanese was very helpful in understanding menus, labels and instruction sheets. This is a lot more effective than trying to write out the characters myself. It allowed us to translate specific characters as well as whole labels. When trying to search for one word translations, I feel more comfortable using this, as grammar is less of an issue when it comes to just a noun I want to use. In times of desperation, e.g. when talking to the employees at Def Dance in Seoul, it actually was able to allow me to have a reasonable conversation with others who did not speak English. There is also a mic function which I have not made too much use out of. Has anyone tried this? Let me know if it’s useful.

Cons

As someone who reads/writes another language (Chinese), I understand that Google Translate has its flaws and the translations can be comedic most of the time. Don’t rely on it being absolutely accurate. I.e. don’t make any business deals or do important negotiations based on this. The “live” camera function was not good. It often did not pick up on characters and display the translation properly. It was just floating psychedelic characters which made me nauseated. I also did not appreciate how there is a reminder for me to download this function every time I use the camera function. I knew I didn’t want this feature and was not interested in downloading it. I wish there was a way to stop this message from popping up!

So those are the apps I found most useful during my travels. Again, this is just my opinion. Let me know if you have any other apps you prefer or if there are any other functions of these apps that I have yet to discover!