What to see and do in Ho Chin Minh City (Saigon) in 5 days.

To a casual traveler, the city of Ho Chi Minh ( Informally referred to as Saigon) is simply the most populous city in Vietnam. However, there is more to this city than probably meets the eye and it takes a gutsy and adventurous traveler to discover Ho Chi Minh City. Being a first-time visitor in Ho Chi Minh City, I felt overwhelmed as everything appeared “complicated” and rather “in a jumble”.  However, I knew I had to begin somewhere and just dive into it in order to make the most my visit. With only 5 days and 4 nights to spare, the following are the places that I visited:

  1. Ben Thanh Market;
  2. Independent Palace;
  3. The Saigon’s Post Office;
  4. The War Remnants Museum;
  5. The Saigon Notre Dame Cathedral;
  6. The Jade Temple;
  7. Ba Thien Hao Temple;
  8. The Chu Chi Tunnel; and
  9. Mekong Delta.

The Ben Thanh Market 

The Ben Thanh Market is what I would call your “typical bargain market” and it is clear to see why. The market is the city’s biggest and busiest and you can find literally anything here. Of particular interest to me was the variety of indigenous Vietnamese food items. There are sections in the market where you can sample these dishes and the list is endless.

However, many vendors have exactly the same things. Most products do not have any price tag and they were overinflated. The products are very expensive relative to its quality. You have to bargain and I hate fighting over prices so, to me, totally not worth it. On the flip side, if you enjoy bargaining, you may be lucky and pay what the goods are really worth. Furthermore, vendors are pushy and they will rip you if you are not alert. So visitors before and shop at your own risk.

Personal Opinion:  

Good market to have a look, but don’t shop. Don’t barter if you aren’t intending to buy. A good place to spend 45 minutes browsing and take some pictures. That’s it – move on.


The Independent Palace 

This palace, also referred to as the Reunification Palace sits where the Norodom Palace used to be. It is a glorious landmark to behold. It played home and workplace to the South Vietnamese president during the infamous Vietnam War and when Saigon fell on April 30, 1975, this site marked the end of the war as a North Vietnamese tank crashed through the gates. Evidently, there is so much I learned aside from simply treating my eyes to this amazing landmark.


The Saigon’s Post Office 

The Saigon’s Post Office is at number-2 along the Paris-Commune St, District 1. Now, before you wonder as to why I even thought of visiting a post office despite my short stay, there is something about this post I would like to share with you.

The post office is housed in one of the city’s oldest buildings. The Central Post-Office was built between 1886 and 1891 and the architecture was based on the famous French architect Villedieu. This was the first time [and probably the last] I ever came close to any of the intimate works of Villedieu.


The War Remnants Museum 

My visit to this museum on Sunday 13th of August taught me something – there is no better way to share in the grief of those who lost their loved ones on the front lines than being in the war zone itself [or in a situation that is reminiscent of one].

The museum is located in District 3 along 28 Vo Van-Tan St and of special interest to me was the war crime exhibits section. Here, I came one on one with huge military artillery that was used in the 1961 to 1975 wars as well as some graphic photographs of the infamous chemical Agent Orange and phosphorous bombs aftermath.


The Saigon Notre Dame Cathedral 

The Saigon Notre Dame Cathedral is one place to go to if you are looking for religious emancipation. The building was constructed between 1863 and 1880 and is another great evidence of French involvement in the city and the country at large. I was particularly taken by its two belt towers that extend to about 58 meters high. Its huge size coupled by its spiritual significance is the reason I wouldn’t miss a visit on my next trip to Ho Chi Minh City.

Tips:

If you visit on Sunday, you can attend the mass in the cathedral. However, no pictures are allowed inside. Keep your camera away and do not state that you are a tourist. They did not allow tourist to go in for sightseeing as it will disrupt the mass proceeding.


The Jade Temple 

This temple is located in 73 Mai Thi-Luu St in District 1 and goes by many names including the Ngọc-Hoàng Điện or the Chùa Ngọc-Hoàng. Aside from the fact that this is a religious shrine, I found it to be a cool place to experience the Chinese heritage. The temple was constructed by the Chinese community in 1909 and its iconic pagoda designs make it a perfect go-to for any Chinese wishing to connect to his higher power away from home.


The Ba Thien Hao Temple 

I must say I wasn’t so lucky as my trip to the temple did not fall in the Lunar New Year when the temple literally comes alive. However, I was still treated to some of the rarest experiences in this part of the world – the burning of spiral incense. Armed with coils and incense sticks, I can still remember the enchanting smells that rent the temple immediately I, along with those in attendance, began burning our incense. This is not just a ritual to behold; it is the essence of spiritual connection.

 


The Chu Chi Tunnel

A staple tourist attraction in Ho Chi Minh City. The Chu Chi Tunnel is an immense tunnel network that connects major underground tunnels of this great city. The tunnels were first popularized during the Vietnam War as they played perfect military hideouts. However, in addition to that great heritage, I found the Chu Chi Tunnel an ideal escape route from the noisy life of this city. A temporarily detached from the hustle and bustle of the city. Trust me, you need a little break from Ho Chi Minh City center.


The Mekong Delta

My trip to Ho Chin Minh City wouldn’t have been complete without a visit to Mekong Delta.  The delta is basically a southwestern Vietnamese region where the Mekong River flows into the sea through a series of distributaries The many water channels created by the river are indeed food for the eyes but there is yet another marvelous activity to take part in here – boat rides. I realized that there was no better way to access the orchards, the swamplands, the paddy fields and other enchanting vegetation dotting this vast delta. And even better, the boat rides are availed at local rates so I didn’t have to worry about breaking the bank to enjoy this wonderful cruise.

 

 

 

Island Hopping in Krabi, Thailand.

This year, I was quite desperate for a beach holiday after completing almost a year of the rigorous process of getting called to the Singapore Bar. After much research, I decided to head off to Krabi Island for a 2-week island hopping itinerary.

Krabi has some really fascinating and unique islands. Hidden within many of these islands are lagoons filled with mangroves that give way to waterfalls and dramatic sea caves.  Krabi is very laid back and perfect for honeymooners or for those who would like to find peace and tranquillity.

Below, you will find my recommendations for the top 5 islands off the Krabi coast, including some side activities within Krabi itself. I believe it can be a basic guide for anyone’s first trip to Krabi.

Suggested Main Itinerary – Island Hopping*: 

  1. Hong Island (Koh Hong);
  2. Tub & Mor Island sandy causeway;
  3. Poda Island;
  4. Chicken Island; and
  5. Railay Beach.

Suggested side activities within Krabi island*: 

  1. Weekend Night Market;
  2. Meditation at a local temple – Ban Khlong Muang (Bureau of Monks);
  3. Trekking at Khao Ngon Nak National Park; and
  4. Stroll down Tubkaek Beach.

Where we stayed*:

Sofitel Krabi Phokeethra Golf & Spa.

*Below are the details and my original pictures for your reference. 


Hong Island (Koh Hong)

Hong Island is part of a group of stunning island in the Andaman sea. There are several spectacular beaches on Koh Hong itself as well as a hidden lagoon which, at low tide, reveals stunning coral and an array of tropical fish. The best way to see this island is with either long-tail or speed boat depending on the weather and go on a kayaking tour around the island. The sea around this area is perfectly clear and wonderful turquoise hue. This island is an ideal place to relax and escape on holiday.

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Tub & Mor Island 

An exotic tropical island, ideal for snorkeling and exploring on foot and, if the tide is low (usually in the morning), you are able to walk along the white, sandy causeways which connect the islands. Very touristy. I would suggest going as early as possible to beat the crowd.

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Poda  Island 

Poda is a beautiful island with a fine beach. The Charm of this idyllic island lies in its crystal clear water and powdery sand, a place perfect to find a secluded spot for sunbathing, swimming and be with yourself.

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Chicken Island 

A famous landmark, named after the shape of its unique limestone rock jutting out into the sea. Excellent snorkeling and open sea swimming opportunities in the warm, inviting waters all rich in coral life and with plenty of tropical fish.

 

Railay Beach 

Railay is one of Thailand famous and sought after beach areas. Just south of Ao Nang Beach, around a dramatic rocky headland and accessible only by boat, Railay presents an exciting beach. Further to the end of Railay beach, you can find a shrine where fishermen, before going out to the sea, made offerings to the symbolic Phallus of Shiva (Palau Khik in Thai). It is believed to be the home of a mythical princess and fishermen bring their offerings and pray for success, protection and fertility.


Side Trips within Krabi Island: 

Weekend night market – only available on Friday, Saturday and Sunday. 

Meditation at a local temple – Ban Khlong Muang (Bureau of Monks) 

Meditation (2 of 3)

Trekking at Khao Ngon Nak National Park (3.6 Km)

Stroll down Tubkaek Beach

Tubkaek Beach (5 of 7)


Where we stayed:

We checked into Sofitel Krabi Phokeethra Golf & Spa shortly after we arrived. Sofitel Krabi has located approximately 45 minutes drive from the airport. We were amazed by the kind hospitality of the hotel and the concierge and receptionist were super helpful and friendly. Special thanks to Ashley, Picky and Noori for their warm hospitality.

Fun facts:

  • Sofitel Krabi has the largest swimming pool in Thailand.
  • Approximately 20 mins drive to Ao Nang and 45 mins drive to Krabi Town.
  • Tubkaek Beach and Khao Ngon Nak National Park is 30-45 mins bicycle ride away from the hotel.
  • Sofitel Krabi offers hourly activities fit for any age within the hotel.

Day trip from Tokyo to Kamakura, Japan.

Kamakura is located south of Tokyo, this exquisite seaside Japanese historical city features dozens of Buddhist Zen temples & Shinto shrines.

I visited Kamakura from Tokyo. I had only half a day to visit the prominent landmarks of this sumptuous coastal town. Needless to mention, Kamakura is widely acknowledged as an extremely popular tourist destination. Moreover, Kamakura offers numerous shrines, temples, and historical monuments that attract worldwide travellers and enthusiastic tourists to this place. It even features a laid-back, peaceful, tranquil, and earthy vibe atmosphere. In this article, I’ll share my personal travel journal and top 5 things to do in Kamakura, Japan for a day trip.

1. Kotoku-in (Kamakura’s Great Buddha):

Kotoku-in is a top-notch tourist destination in Kamakura. The bronze statue of Amida Buddha is present on the grounds of famous Kotoku-in Temple. The Amida Buddha statue is the 2nd tallest bronze Buddha statue in Japan, featuring a height of around 13.35 meters. Once housed in a large hall, the statue is now situated in the open-air, since the hall had been washed away by a devastating tsunami in 1498. From my personal opinion, Kamakura’s Great Buddha statue is one of the most iconic sights that I have ever observed.

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2. Hase Kannon (Hase-dera):

Hase-dera is a temple of the Jodo sect. It is widely famous for its unique eleven-headed statue of Kannon that is also known as “goddess of mercy”. The largest and gilded wooden statue (present inside the premise of Hase-dera) is regarded as one of the tallest wooden sculpture in Japan. Plus, I have visited Kannon Museum which is situated adjacent to the main hall. This place comprises of various temple’s treasures, such as Buddhist statues, picture scroll, and a temple bell. Sculptures of Benten (goddess of feminine beauty & wealth) and other gods can be found inside a small cave (Benten-kutsu) next to the main hall. Hase-

Hase-dera was originally built along the slope of a primaeval hill. Therefore, it also offers an incredible view of the entire temple from the top of the temple hill.

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3. Prefectural Shonankaigan Park:

This beach features a stunning coastline with beautiful rocky areas. I really enjoyed the amazing scenery of this place. Shonankaigan is well-known for its spectacular beaches. If you really love surfing, don’t forget to visit this place.

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4. Kōmyō-ji: Kōmyō-ji: 

Kōmyō-ji: Kōmyō-ji, situated in the Northern Higashiyama district, features to be one of the favourite places among the tourists. It has some truly lovely halls & a fine pond. From my perspective, the Kōmyō-ji temple efficiently combines the elements of serenity and peace.

5. Roaming Around Random Streets in Kamakura:

It took approximately 5 – 6 hours for visiting the aforementioned destinations. For the rest of the day, I roamed around random streets in Kamakura. I was deeply impressed by its laid-back, relaxed, tranquil, and peaceful atmosphere.

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How to get to Kamakura from Tokyo: 

The Shonan Shinjuku Line (湘南新宿ライン, Shōnan Shinjuku Line) has a direct connection from Shinjuku to Kamakura. The Shonan Shinjuku Line runs parallel to the Yamanote Line but stops only at Shinjuku, Shibuya and Ebisu Stations. If you are from Shinjuku or Shibuya, take the Shonan-Shinjuku Line to Ofuna. Change at Ofuna to Yokosuka Line to Kamakura. From Tokyo, take the Yokosuka Line train straight to Kamakura, or the Tokaido Line and change at Ofuna.

No advanced tickets required.

It is a regular commuter train, so you have a bunch of them per hour, more options if you include taking the Tokaido Line with a transfer at Ofuna, but you can also take the Yokosuka Line direct from Tokyo Station as well. Just take any available free seat in the regular portions of the train.

Top 5 tips that will take your travel photos to the next level

Have you ever thought that your travel photos would be better if you had more expensive, high-end camera or lenses? Your equipment doesn’t make the photo. The tips below may seem like the most obvious advice you’ve ever read. But for some strange reason, a lot of my friends believe that everything revolves around the equipment they have. Nothing is further from the truth. Let me share with you the tips of subtle editing and how to create “insta-worthy” photos from your phone or just a pocket camera.

Tip #1: Editing Whites and Blacks – Adjust the white and black points of your photo to avoid “flatness”.

I use Lightroom to adjust the white and black points of my photo in lieu of contrast or exposure (You can also adjust using “black point” tool on the iPhone).

White & Black Vs. Shadows & Highlights

White and Black points are different from shadows and highlights. The Whites and Blacks adjustment tools control the very brightest and very darkest parts of your image. We can think of highlights as the brightest points in an image where you can still find details of your photo, which means your photo is not washed out to completely white. Similarly, shadows are the darker areas of your photo where you can still see most details without being a pitch black image.

It helps to think of blacks is tied with shadows. The highlight tool will not adjust the white point of your photo, the shadow tool will not adjust the black point. So I usually set my black and white points first, then use the shadows and highlight adjustment tool to control the range the brightness of points that are too dark or too bright.

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Tip #2: Editing Shadows & Highlights – Adjust shadows and tone down the highlights for better balance.

All photo editing apps should have adjustment tools for shadows and highlights. To improve the quality your photo, balance out the exposure by increasing or decreasing the shadows and reducing the highlights to increase the brightness of the darkest parts of your photo. The result is a brighter, more even-toned photo. I usually avoid increasing the brightness of my photo purely through “brightness” adjustment tool, which may result in overexposure.

For the photo below, I increase the “vibrance” a little to emphasise the colour in the photo with no filter.

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Tip #3: Rule of Thirds – Composing your photo using the Rule of Thirds.

I go by the “Rule of Thirds”. I break my photo down into thirds horizontally and vertically, so it’s split into different sections. The aim is to place key points of the photo into those sections and help frame the whole image in a way that’s appealing and more focused or less cluttered. You can use your camera’s “grid” feature, which displays a rule of thirds grid directly on your camera screen.

Before you take a photo, ask yourself: What are the key points of interest in this shot? Where should I place them on the grid? Paying attention to these details will improve the look of your photo.


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Tip #4: Viewpoints – Perspective, perspective, perspective. Let it be your mantra.

Ever heard a saying: “a picture tells a thousand words”? Perspective creates the stories. It’s easy to create flat images. Since photographs are two-dimensional, it’s your job to use the elements to add depth to your images.

Don’t be afraid to try new angles, lenses, and techniques, and have fun experimenting with ways to add a sense of perspective to your images!

Here are some examples:

Using people to create a sense of scale.  

Try different angles and avoid basic compositions.

Pick up on interesting shapes and textures 

Blend in with the people and culture, and don’t carry your huge backpack (or a fanny pack) to avoid unnecessary attention. 

Tip #5: Filters- Choosing the perfect filter that fits the narrative of your photo.

I love VSCO app. VSCO is best known for its preset filters, a similar concept to the filters on Instagram, but much more varied and easier to control. A1, A2, A8, HB1 and HB2 are my favourite filters in VSCO. I use VSCO in conjunction with Lightroom to get the best end result on my image (with a few adjustments of course).

However, the whole idea is not to over-do it. Please don’t go crazy with filters. It has to match with the story you are trying to convey through your picture. It has to flow with the tone and feel of your picture. Remember, less is more.

Example #1: 

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Example #2: 

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Example #3: 

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Bonus Tip! 

Be daring and creative. The only way to find beautiful, unexpected epic places is to simply be curious and explore. If you’re visiting a place, explore every nook and cranny of the place (Safety is a priority though!) and drive away from the tourists. Push your own boundaries to go further.is to, simply be curious and explore. If you’re visiting a place, explore every nook and cranny of the place (Safety is a priority though!) and drive away from the tourists. Push your own boundaries to go further.

 “The world is full of wonderful things you haven’t seen yet. Don’t ever give up on the chance of seeing them.” – J.K. Rowling 

Why you should get lost while travelling.

Travelling is always an exciting endeavour. It is the aim of every traveller to get the most of their trip. This is why most people tend to plan each and everything trying to cover all areas of the intended visit. Though this is highly advisable, it is at times better to just get a map and discover the area. Going to specific areas mentioned in travel guides and site tend to limit activities. In fact, some of these areas tend to be highly similar. Getting to view the culture in different areas as they are practised in real life is just one of the many benefits as to why you should get lost travelling.

There are various benefits of getting lost when travelling. However, it is very important to take note that you should always ensure that you take the necessary safety precautions. There are two main ways to ensure that you are always safe when you travel. One of them is having a full travel insurance cover and the second is to ensure that you update people on where you are. Having a satellite phone is also highly advisable when travelling to remote areas (make sure you bring your portable battery).


Benefits of getting lost when travelling 

Unexpected adventures

Travellers that choose this form of travel get the thrill of not knowing what to expect in the next destination. This makes the trip more interesting. In the case of planned trips, you will have an idea of what to expect. For adventure seekers, this is the best way to make you adrenaline flowing.

Culture in its real form

As you randomly follow your map, you get to experience how different cultures are in real life. Most of the venues labelled on travel guides and tourist destinations do not provide this experience since they are in a controlled environment. Go talk to the locals and ask where do the locals hang out or eat traditional meals. You will get to enjoy the real traditional food and drinks from authentic restaurants or eateries. Apart from that, it helps you save more money since you will not be following the common tourist trail, which usually can be rather overpriced and exploited.

Bonding with your travel companion

As mentioned above,  safety should always be the first thing to take into consideration. This is why it is advisable to always have a travel companion. When travelling as a group of friends or family, it becomes more exciting. You can even come up with simple group activities to make the trip more adventurous. Apart from that, it is an exciting way to bond with your family and get away from your busy schedule.

Creating a different kind of memories

Getting lost while travelling actually makes the best travel stories. It helps creates memories out of the norm. Apart from that, you get to relax since you do not have to follow a specific travel plan.

Build your confidence

These types of trips help build your confidence. You will be able to understand that you have the ability to surpass anything and understand your limits. You get to learn how to speak up when conversing with locals and know how to express yourself. This is the best way of learning new cultures and languages.

Forget about travel guides or tourist pamphlets. Open your google map and go with the flow.  Keep an open mind and as long as you ensure that you practice all the necessary safety precautions it always becomes a story worth telling.

Here is what Christmas in New York City was like for me!

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Some places live up to your expectations, while some will keep you wanting more. You can just never get enough of such places, and one such place is New York City. I had visited NYC once and experienced a slice of the city’s touristy stuff. For the place that it is rugged and the unique charm that it flaunts, I wanted to explore it during Christmas. I chose my second visit to NYC for December 2016 Christmas celebrations.

Things that matter when you travel to a place are lodging and food. I happened to get lucky with both. To start with, I chose an Airbnb at Grand Street, Williamsburg. So, what next? I obviously started mingling with the locals to learn about the various traditions and events that highlight Christmas in New York City. Here are a few places that made my trip memorable.

1. Flatiron- The reborn neighbourhood

The Flatiron District is between the Lexington Avenue and the Sixth Avenue. This district boasts a history of being the commercial and residential hub in NYC 100 years ago. Today, it is known for its flawless architecture filled up with historic charm. Shops, restaurants and nightlife in this place make this chic and bustling! If that is the scenario normally, imagine this place during Christmas! Don’t forget to try the Nutella crepes. Relax in the hammocks and arches of this spectacular district’s amazing skyline.

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2. Central Park- A place everyone can relate to

Ice skating in Central Park during the Christmas season should never be missed. This park is filled with snow, and the sight is magnificent during winter. After that, I took a walk through the West Central Park to the American Museum of History and the sunset was a wonderful sight.

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3. American Museum of History- A journey through America’s history

This museum is set up to depict American history and culture. The American Museum of History has collectables of more than three million artefacts and lets you explore America’s history. Various programs like demonstrations and live theater experience tours are held at this museum. The dinosaurs exhibitions were my favorite.

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4. Rockefeller Tree- Symbol of Christmas in NYC

This well-lit tree marks the holiday season in NYC and is the first thing that comes to mind when Christmas in New York City is considered. This tree was lit on November 30, and live performances took place in that area. This was witnessed by thousands within the city and was also telecasted.

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5. Dyker Heights Christmas Lights- Rare sights

Apart from Rockefeller tree and window displays of Midtown Manhattan, the Dyker Heights Christmas lights steal the show in NYC during Christmas. Christmas is celebrated bigger, brighter and merrier in Dyker Heights, Brooklyn (Avenue 83 to 86). I was awestruck by professional light displays in this place.

6. Brooklyn Flea and Smorgasburg Winter market- Food and fun

Brooklyn Flea is a popular weekend market in NYC. Brooklyn Flea and Smorgasburg Winter market are one of the best winter markets. This indoor market has all you can ask for. You can treat your taste buds to local delicacies as there are more than a hundred local vendors. I loved this Christmas market as it was one of the best experiences.

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7. Prospect Park, Brooklyn- Free celebrations

One of the best places to have fun in Brooklyn is the prospect park. If you have kids, this is the place you should head to. There are a lot of free programs, and you can witness Santa’s parade in Green-point. I could see a lot of kids dressed as elves, reindeer and Santa. It’s a great place to take a stroll along the frozen lake and enjoy the view too.

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8. Train show at Brooklyn Botanical Garden- Heights of creativity

The train show at the botanical garden in Brooklyn swayed my heart. Train models with natural materials show what creativity truly is! This is a must visit place in NYC.

9. Jane’s Carousel- A flutter in my heart

Imagine a ride on an antique carousel! My heart fluttered when I chose to experience this pleasure. It was built in 1922 and is in a glass pavilion. This experience is worth the hype.

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10. Union Square Christmas market- Where quality meets affordability

This market is adorned with more than 100 white and red booths, and you can get quality products without a hole in your pocket. This is where you should be for your Christmas shopping.

As I said earlier, lodging and food are vital aspects for the success of a memorable trip. A lip smacking delicacy that still makes me drool is the Pomodoro Pizza at SoHo. You will not forgive yourself if you leave NYC without trying this Pizza.

On Christmas Eve, I decided to have a home cooked meal instead. Nothing beats a homey Christmas dinner with your love one. We exchanged presents and watched a movie in bed. The perfect way to spend my Christmas!

The Brooklyn Bridge is beautiful, but so unbearably crowded that you’ll either mow down a tourist trying to run or slow down to a crawl. The Williamsburg Bridge is a nice compromise: It’s not too crowded, and the blend of hipsters on bikes, families out for a stroll, and runners is manageable. The view of the lower two bridges can’t be beaten, especially in the early morning. Williamsburg Bridge made me fall for it the second I passed through it and so I decided to take a jog. There’s also great graffiti to be seen on the pedestrian side. This was another memorable thing during my trip to NYC.

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So, that was how Christmas in 2016 went for me. Light tours, ice skating,  C, parades and delicious local cuisines made Christmas merrier!