My year living in Honolulu was short, character-building, and enlightening. I learned a lot about myself, my travel style, and what I want out of life. I also learned a lot about Hawaii.
A day when I didn't have to work included going to Chinatown to stock up on fresh produce, tidying up my apartment that over looked the royal palace, and then heading to the beach to swim with sea turtles. In the evenings there would be pineapple rain (when it's raining lightly but still sunny so everything looks golden) which would then fade into vibrant sunsets that changed every single night.
I got to see Hawaii at its most stunning beyond just the guide books because I got to live it. Now I'm offering up my tips on how to get the most out of a vacation to Oahu with only three days. The sites, foods, and activities I selected for this itinerary were chosen for several reasons including a) easily accessible even without a car b) completely free or worth the cost c) of great historical value and d) unique to Hawaii.
Below are the things I think would genuinely make for the best trip to Oahu that will cross off many of the must-see sites as well as some things only locals know about.
Day One: Historical Honolulu
I'm a firm believer that whenever I visit a new place that I should learn some history to get some perspective. So, I recommend taking a quick minute to tour the city before hitting the beach.
1//Start your morning with a trip to Pearl Harbor. I've already written about the top four things to do at Pearl Harbor so click over there for a more comprehensive break down on what to see and how to get tickets. Though there are many things to see at this naval base, the Arizona Memorial is the highlight so you should at least make time for this monument to show your respect to those who have served in the military. It's best to go first thing in the morning when there are still tickets.
2// In the mid-morning, make your way over to Chinatown in downtown Honolulu. During my travels I've been to a lot of Chinatowns (and, you know, lived in China) and many of them are just kind of meh but the one you'll find in Hawaii is so next level. I had a friend from China visit me in Honolulu and even she said "This place is so legit! I feel like I'm back home!"
In Honolulu's Chinatown you can go to traditional, open air markets and also visit Kuan Yin Buddhist temple but I especially love this part of town for dining options! My favorite place for dim sum was Golden Palace Seafood Restaurant (110 N King St) because the food was cheap, delicious, and made me feel like I was actually in China. Locals also love The Pig and the Lady (83 N King St), a trendy, Vietnamese-fusion restaurant.
3//Once you've had lunch, walk down the street to see the beautiful I'olani Palace (364 S King St). It's a stunning relic of Hawaii's history and the only royal palace on US soil. I've written a longer history of the palace here before. Just across the street is the famous statue of King Kamehameha and next to that is Kawaiahaʻo Church (i.e. the Westminster Abbey of the Hawaiian royal family).
4// Ok, I've had you running all over Honolulu so now you can finally head over to Waikiki and just relax on the beach; I understand that this is a vacation after all. I considered not including Waikiki on this list, because, honestly, it's just packed with tourists but I gotta be real- sometimes you just wanna sit on a beach with a mai tai and this is the place to do it.
Day 2: North Shore
My beloved North Shore is a great escape to experience old Hawaii and definitely warrants an entire day of travel. I've already written about the top things to do on this part of the Oahu which ranges from Hale'iwa to Waimea to Kahuku but here are a couple more things to nosh on if you have the time between surfing, snorkeling with sea turtles, and swimming in waterfalls:
5// Get some grindz! Like, you don't understand. It's so hard to pick my favorite food from Hawaii because they're are so many unique and delicious things to try. One thing I see becoming popular here on the mainland are acai bowls which can be picked up at Hale'iwa Bowls (66-082 Kamehameha Hwy). It's kind of like frozen yogurt but way healthier cause it's topped with granola and all those healthy bits and bobs.
Just down the street you can try Hula Dogs (66-230 Kamehameha Hwy). I've tried explaining these to people but it's so hard to convey how delicious they are. Imagine a hot dog but it's not on a regular bun- it's more like a tube. Oh, and the bun is made from taro and bacon. And instead of your typical toppings you add tropical relishes like pineapple or coconut and the mustards are all fruit based as well. Ugh, I miss these so much!
Finally, the North Shore is a great place to pick up some poke (pronounced poh-kay) from a food truck. Poke is a generic term so you wanna go for the ahi poke which is tuna. Yes, it's raw fish but the sesame oil and soy sauce marinade it amazing. You'll quickly get over any reservations once you try it.
Day 3: Honolulu with out the crowds
6// Getting back to Honolulu, start your morning with a scenic hike. It's hard to choose but if you only have time for one hike I would pick Manoa Falls. The jungle is lush beyond belief and at one point it becomes a thick bamboo grove. At the end of this easy hike you come to a towering waterfall which you can swim in.
Second place for must-do hike would be Diamond Head. The dormant volcano is not exactly a scenic hike but it does offer great views of Waikiki at the end.
7// Just one valley over from Manoa Falls is Mu Ryang Sa Temple. This Korean Buddhist temple (2420 Halelaau Pl) is breathtakingly beautiful and so under the radar that many locals don't even know about it. If you've never been to Asia before, this would be an awesome way to experience it right here in America. Enjoy the zen atmosphere in this tranquil temple, all while viewing the skyscrapers of Waikiki in the distance.
8// For lunch, head back into the city and hit up the iconic Rainbow Drive Inn (3308 Kanaina Ave) for a loco moco. This meal really embodies Hawaiian food to me; a mash up of East and West, a loco moco is a plate of rice with a hamburger patty and fried egg on top and then smothered in gravy. You also have to get mac salad on the side. It's not the most photogenic meal you'll have in Hawaii but it sure is ono (delicious).
9//So, after spending time on Waikiki beach you're probably ready for something a bit more secluded. Head over to the South Shore (a stunning, winding, ocean road from Honolulu) to swim at Halona Cove (8699 HI-72). It's right next to a major tourist spot- Halona blowhole- and has a parking lot conveniently located right next to it so I don't know why this beach is almost always empty. It's pure tropical paradise and even has an ancient lava tube that leads to Koko Head (a dormant volcano).
If you still have time, consider...
+Swimming with dolphins in the wild. This is definitely out of the way as there isn't much else on the west side of Oahu for tourists.
+Movie buffs, should check out Kualoa Ranch on the Windward side of Oahu where such things as Jurassic Park, Hawaii 5-0, Lost, and 50 First Dates were filmed. Plus, the sheer cliffs are just gorgeous.
+ Grab some Dole Whip from Dole Plantation on the way up to the North Shore. This is no regular ice cream!
+If you have a fourth day, I would consider doing some island hopping! Depending on when you visit Hawaii, a round trip flight to another island can run around 100 USD. There's kind of a monopoly, though (there's only two airlines that fly between islands and there are no ferries) so the price can sometimes be way more than that. But if you have the time and the funds, I would definitely recommend a trip to Big Island to see some volcanoes and see another side to Hawaii other than Oahu.
What's on your Hawaii to-do list?
*WOC- abbreviation for woman of color. Used to describe any woman who does not identify racially as white.
Firstly, I would like to state that the following recounts are 100% anecdotal and based on my own experiences during my travels. I'm sure some people will read this and think "What?! That would never happen in X country!" Others may see this and proclaim "It certainly could have been worse!" Either way, I would like to use my blog as a venue to share the experiences and view points that are so rarely heard in the travel community; that of a solo, black, female traveler.
Secondly, I feel like I need to address the question that people so often ask me in my daily life here on American soil: "What are you?"
|Living in Hawaii was the only time I didn't feel like a minority in America|
When I was little, my classmates would look at my mother and then me and say "Oh, I didn't know you were adopted!"
"I'm not." And then in the cutest, I-don't-understand-race-and-that-concept-doesn't-exist-in-my-mind way, I'd say, "My mom is white, my dad is black, and I'm brown!"
But being brown always seemed to need to be clarified. Now that I'm older, people are much more tactful about how they broach the topic. Some people, I see in their eyes, are just so curious but don't know what words to use. Some people just turn it into a guessing game.
"You're so exotic. Are you Latina? Moroccan? Part Korean? Native American?" I've really heard everything.
So here in America, with my ambiguous beige hue, my identity as black is contested every day but the fact remains that I'm definitely not white!
At the time that I studied abroad, I was a lot less aware of race. Or at least, wanted to be less aware. It's only now in reflection on my time in France that I realize "Oh, wow, I think some racist shit went down."
For instance, in my entire year abroad I only made one white French friend. And to be honest, she was getting an English degree so the fact that I was a native English speaker probably influenced her choice to befriend me. Other than that, the only French friends I made were all first generation immigrants from Morocco and Ivory Coast. They were lovely people and we often got together to enjoy home-cooked couscous and cheap champagne that tasted like candy but it makes me wonder, how come other foreigners were the only ones who wanted to be my friend?
|Picturesque France was a lonely experience for me|
To be fair, I had a very boho vibe going on with my outfit (long, striped maxi dress and a red scarf) but I guess when you add in brown skin that suddenly makes you a thief? Over and over again, I would ask other people to take my picture (because I was traveling alone) and they would look at me so suspiciously. They'd squint their eyes and look around like they were looking for my accomplice who was out to mug them once they were distracted. I was so embarrassed that I never wore that outfit again while I was abroad,
|Solo travels in Beijing|
Let me recount: When I first started looking to work in China, I initially applied to a school in Changsha. Everything went great during the interview process and it seemed like they were about to hire me. Then they asked for a photo of me. I complied and suddenly they went silent.
Meanwhile, my friend who was white was applying to the same job. He didn't have any experience working with children and he didn't speak Chinese but, alas, he was hired.
My friend agreed that it seemed weird that they had stopped replying to my emails when they were responding to all of his right away so he asked them directly "What happened to my friend Aryn's application?"
And would you believe the direct quote from their email was "We're only interested in hiring white people."
I was a mess of emotions when I read that. At first a laughed at the ridiculousness of the statement. Then I started crying when I realized I was being denied my goal simply because of my skin color. I knew that, culturally, light skin was preferred in China but I didn't realize that they would extend this to foreigners as well. It never even crossed my mind that I would have to deal with racism on the other side of the world.
I gave myself that night to grieve and in the morning I applied to another job which is how I wound up teaching English in Wuhan for the summer of 2012.
|The beautiful Wuhan University|
One time some of my coworkers and I went to a local swimming spot. When we arrived, a child looked at me, pointed, and screamed "Waiguo ren! Waiguo ren!"
For many of my friends who didn't know Chinese before arriving, this is the one word they learned quickly. You are a waiguo ren. You are a foreigner.
Conversely, I also enjoyed a lot of great friendships that were not affected by my race. Not a single one of my students ever made a comment on skin tone (other than when they were asked to describe me in English to which they would usually say "Aryn is tall, skinny, and tan.") My students were so wonderful and the absolute best part of my job. Several of them even asked to hang out with me after class and we became good friends since they were pretty much the same age as me.
|Burton Coffee, my favorite bar|
If you can stomach strangers asking to take pictures with you (or not asking!) then China is pretty fun as a black woman.
For France, I think its own turbulent history with racial tension and discrimination against immigrants created a subtle, ingrained prejudice in the French people that made it harder for me to make friends.
As for China, I feel like the bigotry I encountered while applying for jobs was actually exported from the USA. Because where else would Chinese people get the notion that blacks cannot speak English well? Probably from the media created right here in America.
In the end, though, it all comes down to individuals and how they decide to treat you. They can choose to judge you based on preconceived notions or they can decide to just look at you like another human being and get to know you beyond racial boundaries. There's really nothing you can do about this as an individual person other than try to have an optimistic outlook.
In general, my travels have taught me that people are nice and caring- even to a stranger. Across Europe and Asia I've been offered housing and food many times just out of the goodness of people's hearts. I have been judged for being black but I've also been taken care of for being human.
Have you ever experienced a moment of racial tension abroad?
Let's start with a quick math lesson. Actually, it's not a lesson because this is something you already know- something that is innate to every human that you unlearned at one point.
If you were raised in a culture that makes schooling mandatory you were probably taught additive math as an introduction to the world of mathematics. This approach states that if you are counting you would start at 0 and then add one and then add one and so on for infinity.
However, this is not how the human mind is actually programmed to understand the world. In fact, all across the natural world, you will find that logarithmic math is actually much more applicable. This approach to math proposes that we count in a recursive manner; 1, 1, 2, 3, 5, 8, 13, 21, 34, and so on. You may know this sequence as Fibonnaci's number.
This logarithmic thinking plays a crucial role in how we discern things because it causes us to look at the world as proportions.
If you live to be 80 years old, by following additive math, each year is 1/80th of your life. But that's not how we actually perceive things. Instead your mind looks at time like a logarithm:
To expound, going from 3 to 4 years old is way more apparent than going from 79 years old to 80 because when you are 4, that last year is 1/4th of your entire life. But going from 79 to 80? That last year is hardly discernible at all from the other 79 you've experienced.
So what does all this math have to do with traveling? Well, I'd like to postulate that there's a way we can "trick" our minds.
|Trying chicken feet for the first time in Hong Kong|
To quote one of my favorite songs of all time:
"What begins as an unguarded
train of thoughts slowly can become
an addiction to the slumber
of disconnection and the resonance
of memory that no longer has a shape
but keeps you numb through
the hours till gone is another day"
- Half Asleep, School of Seven Bells
A bit poetic but basically it reaffirms that as time progresses we become "half asleep". Our bodies are alive but we're not really conscious anymore. We fall into ruts and become numb.
We stop questioning. We stop perceiving. Everything becomes a blur until another day/week/year is gone.
Benjamin Franklin said it much more succinctly: "Some people die at 25 and aren't buried until 75."
But travel can revitalize the mind and "wake" us back up.
An hour trying to figure out the subway lines of Tokyo will feel longer than a week of your usual routine. The meal you have at a tiny street cafe will suddenly be so much more satisfying then the lunch you pack every day for the office. Each new scent in the open air market will be invigorating.
Your brain will become stimulated when you throw yourself into a new and challenging environment. Like a child, you'll feel the wonder of learning something new when all your senses are activated again. Your mind's natural thirst for knowledge will be quenched.
So that's why I say I'm going to live longer; because I am going to perceive so much more of my life and not settle into comfortable ruts.
Travel isn't the only way to perceive more and even constant travel isn't necessary to start "re-proportioning" your life. Maybe it could be a new hobby or a career change. Anything that shakes up your typically routine will help you slow down time and enjoy every moment.
Source on how humans perceive logarithms.
Japan is one of the most expensive countries in East Asia and after a week of traveling in Taiwan (where the American dollar does very well) I felt the weight of the yen even more once I arrived in Tokyo. Talk about sticker shock!
From hanging out with locals and by my own ingenuity I found a few ways to cut down on the cost of traveling Japan for two weeks. Here's the techniques I employed:
1 | Use couch surfing
|My host, Yuki, showing me Osaka|
2 | Sleep in unconventional places
Some nights I purposefully stayed in the airport and slept there. As I see it, if my flight arrive at 12 am in a foreign city, I might as well just find a comfy chair and rest until day light. Another option in most major cities through Japan are internet cafes which are open 24/7. In Kyoto I used Tops Cafe which offered my own cubicle, wifi, and unlimited drinks and ice cream. It only cost me 30 USD for the night! You can typically find internet cafes around major train stations.
Convenience stores (konbini) in Japan are so next level. You can get good, warm meals from 7/11 that are perfect for enjoying in a park on a cool Autumn day. Plus you don't even have to pull out cash, just use your Pasmo (Tokyo subway and bus pass) to pay. My favorite konbini snack was hot, salted lemon-lychee water and pickled plum rice balls.
Street food, like most Asian countries, is also abundant in Japan. Make a meal by picking up a few cheap things here and there.
4| Follow the free samples!
Want a mug of hot, authentic green tea? Kyoto has got you covered. Many of the shops in the tourist areas offer free samples of their wares. Kyoto is also known for yatsuhashi (glutinous rice wrapped around a sweet center). Black sesame is a traditional flavor but there are many other flavors in the shops of Ginza that one can try for free.
5 | Take in some eccentric culture
People watching is completely free and there's nowhere better to do that in Tokyo, Japan. Rockabillies in Meiji Park, lolitas in Harajuku, and cosplayers in Sunshine City are just some things you can spy. If you'd prefer to be inside, passing some time in a manga shop reading "boy love" comics can be fairly entertaining. If that's not your thing, it only cost a couple yen to play vintage video games in Akihabara.
|Mt Fuji from the bullet train|
7 | Enjoy local festivals
|Good fortune rakes|
8 | Take your beers and head to the park
In Japan it's perfectly legal to drink and be drunk in public as long as you're not being disorderly. That's why many locals will go the cheap route and skip the bars, opting instead to buy a pack of beers with friends and taking them to the park. Japan is such a safe country so no one has any reserves about going to the park at night.
9 | Collect free souvenirs
I personally I am not much of a souvenir person. Even when I am in a shop, it's hard to come by something that will pique my interest enough to purchase it. I do, however, have a penchant for collecting things. Vibrant fall leaves, curvy liquor bottles, and seashells can all be found on the ground for free and make beautiful souvenirs.
10 | Skip the temples with an entrance fee
What are your money saving tips for travel?