Tag Archives: travel

In #AlohaBeijing, ‘Aloha’ can mean goodbye

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So if you haven’t already noticed from my Instagram feed, I’m not in Beijing.

In fact, I didn’t even get near the country.

Turns out, the travel agent who told me I didn’t need a visa because I wouldn’t be in China for 72 hours was wrong.

Here’s how it went down:

I went to the travel agent’s office with just enough time to get a visa to China, which is required in most cases. He told me as long as I wouldn’t be in the country for more than 72 hours, I didn’t need one. He had clients who had done it before, so I shouldn’t worry.

I trusted his advice. I mean, who was I to go against a guy who makes his living scheduling vacations and business trips?

Last night I picked up Melissa Chang and got to the airport with about an hour until boarding. As I was checking into the flight, the Hawaiian Airlines worker asked for my visa. I told her I didn’t have one.

After several huddles among employees, the woman came back and said I wasn’t going to be allowed on the plane. It was company policy that everyone had to have a visa. So I was out of luck. (She was very apologetic about it, though.)

I’ve gotten a lot of flack online — primarily on Facebook — about what I did. I even got called stupid, which was bit overly harsh. Look, I went with information I thought was valid. Did I know you needed a visa to enter China? Yes. Did I know about the policy allowing foreigners into the country for less than 72 hours? Yes. But did I know about the minor stipulations — like you had to be transiting through China, yada yada — that an expert like a travel agent would know? Absolutely not.

It’s not like I was trying to circumvent getting a visa — or trying to get out of this trip to Beijing, as was also implied. It was a simple but disastrous mistake — and one that I will likely regret for awhile.

So that’s what happened.

I went to Chinatown this morning and grabbed a box of baked manapua from Royal Kitchen. I took it to my surfing buddies, who were meeting for breakfast, and told them this was their omiyage from China.

Because that’s as close as I was going to get!

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#CatTravels: 67 hours in Beijing


This trip has already been, well, a trip.

Awhile back, Hawaiian Airlines invited me on its inaugural flight to Beijing, the capital of the People’s Republic of China and one of the most populous cities in the world. The airlines is starting this new route Wednesday morning, with a departure just after midnight.

I had months to prepare for this — and I was preparing. Fellow blogger — and one of my favorite travel partners — Melissa Chang (@melissa808) and I had started mapping out a 10-day trip to China, which included a stop in Shanghai to visit her niece.

But then I got sick.

And then I was hospitalized.

And then three doctors advised me not to travel to China anytime soon.

So here I was, with a coveted invitation to travel on this landmark flight to a mysterious city I really know nothing about.

I’ll be honest, Beijing wasn’t high on my list of Places to Visit Before I Die. But that doesn’t mean it didn’t have its allure.

The fact that there are more than 21 million people living in this uber-metropolis is reason enough to go. But it’s also the hub of all things Chinese, from its politics to its culture.

This is the site of Tiananmen Square, the focal point of pro-demoncracy protests in 1989 that ended with the declaration of martial law in Beijing and the death of hundreds of people.

It’s also where you can access the Great Wall of China, which stretches for more than 13,000 miles.

There’s the Beijing Zoo, the Forbidden City, the Ming Tombs and the various hutongs (or small streets lined with shops and restaurants), not to mention the venues built for the 2008 Summer Olympics, which the city hosted.

So there’s a lot to see and do.

But I was sick — and the healthcare system, air quality (@BeijingAir) and overall cleanliness of China are all suspect, especially to first-time visitors like me.

But that’s not the only reason this trip almost never happened.

I didn’t get a visa in time.

This may sound dire, maybe even downright crazy, but here’s the thing: According to one travel agent I spoke to and a dozens of sites online, China instituted a visa-free transit policy in 2013, which allows passengers with passports from certain countries — U.S. included — to stay for up to 72 hours without a visa if entering and exiting Beijing (and a few other airports).

I had three people — the travel agent, a Hawaiian Air rep, and my CPA friend — to calculate the exact number of hours I’d be in China.


I would just make it.

And if, by some reason, I don’t, I’ll be stuck in China for at least another week — or I might have to start learning Mandarin. (Melissa did promise to bust me out of a Chinese prison, so I’m counting on that.)

So stay tuned! Follow me on Twitter (@thedailydish), Instagram (@catherinetoth) and on YouTube to see what happens to me!

Special thanks to Hawaiian Airlines who graciously invited me on its inaugural flight to Beijing! Learn more about Beijing here.

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The country you’re most fascinated with


Ever since I can remember, I’ve always been fascinated by Greenland.

Well, to be honest, I thought Iceland was the coolest country in the world — until I discovered Greenland in probably the World Book Encyclopedia.

There was just something dazzling about the world’s largest island smack between the Arctic and Atlantic oceans. It’s mostly ice — in fact, more than three-quarters of it is covered by the only contemporary ice sheet outside of Antarctica. And yet, more than 56,000 people live in this autonomous country within the Kingdom of Denmark.

And I have no idea why.

The fishing should be good, I suppose. And according to the official tourism site of Greenland, the country is a “land of milk and honey when it comes to food and drink,” with numerous gourmet restaurants that combine Greenlandic ingredients with French, Thai and Japanese cuisines. There’s “brættet,” or local game and fish markets, found in all towns. And the “boards,” or supermarket freezers, are full of meat from whales, seals, reindeer, muskoxen, lamb and fish.

I’m not kidding when I say this: I’m dying to go.

Yes, the average temperature in Nuuk, the country’s capital, ranges from 18 to 45 degrees. And yes, there are dangerous land mammals about, including polar bears, musk oxen, wolves and the arctic fox.

But it just seems like a place you need to visit to figure out.

I’m curious about the Greenlandic Inuit, which make up about 88 percent of the population. I’m interested to see how far-reaching Dutch culture is. (I happen to be part Dutch.) And I can only imagine the hiking and kayaking here are mind-blowing.

So what country are you completely fascinated by? And are you putting it on your 2015 travel list like I am?

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#CatTravels: Planting koa trees in Honokaa


The coolest part about my job is getting to travel to interesting places to do interesting things.

That was basically my assignment for this trip to the Big Island.

I was going to visit the operation of Hawaiian Legacy Hardwoods, a company that’s looking at the timber business and sustainable reforestation in a new and innovative way. Here’s what happens: you can buy a legacy tree for $60 and plant it on the 1,200 acres fenced off for this project. For every four trees that are planted, three are legacy trees that will never be harvested. (The other trees are available for purchase as sustainable timber investments — meaning, they will be cut down. Trees must be ordered in lots of 100. The current pre-planting price is $9,950 per 100 trees for koa.)

In addition, the company offers eco-tours, too, that help fund its mission. These tours — which cost $110 for a 1.5-hour tour or $180 for three hours (adult pricing) — offer a complete experience, from driving around the forest reserve to planting koa trees to feasting on a meal prepared by the co-founder’s wife, Diana Fox.

That’s what we were going to do. Tour around, plant a tree, eat.

Here’s what our Saturday looked like:

We left Volcano at around 6:30 a.m., the roads empty and quiet. We had to drive back through Hilo and up the Hamakua Coast to the Hawaiian Legacy Hardwoods headquarters on the 10,200-acre Kukaiau Ranch adjacent to the Mauna Kea Forest Reserve.

Driving through Kukaiau Ranch to the remote village of Umikoa, where HLH is located — and the start of our eco-tour. We were going to plant koa trees on the 1,200 acres here that have been fenced off specifically for this project. Already, more than 220,000 of these native trees have been planted here in the last four years, many of which are legacy trees that will never be harvested.

Here’s the company’s headquarters, a cozy house in Umikoa village.

Our tour started off the right way: with homemade cinnamon scones, fresh out of the oven.

Before you head into the forest to plant a tree, you get to pick one out first. You can browse the more than 350 trees in the nursery just outside to find the tree that “speaks” to you.

We drove via ATV through the forest reserve, stopping at various spots to look at koa trees in different life stages and learn more about the importance of reforestation.

One of our stops was this grove of old koa trees called the Tanglewood. These six or seven trees are literally tangled up, creating a very beautiful weave of branches and leaves that got me to take about two dozens photos of it.

The area on the slopes of Mauna Kea is stunning and spiritual. It’s hard to believe the Islands were once blanketed in koa forests with the largest trees being sought out for dugout canoes.

We got to one of the forests — where the company is planning to put in a man-made pond surrounded by picnic tables and benches, maybe in the next two years — to plant our trees. Our knowledgable guide, Rich Lindberg, dug out the hole where we were going to place our little trees and will them to grow.

This family from Japan came all the way to Honokaa after seeing a program about HLH on TV two years ago. The woman was pregnant at the time and named her son Koa in honor of the tree. (That’s him about to plant his tree.)

Last stop: Lunch by Diana Fox. She made chicken salad wraps with peppers, cheese and a homemade bacon jam that was so good, I could have died in the kitchen and been totally OK with it.

These pickled cucumbers and onions were stellar, too. (And yes, I got the recipe!)

While the entire tour took about three hours — including lunch — it was well spent in the forest, learning about the importance of sustainable reforestation, looking at beautiful koa trees, and listening to the native birds like apapane and elepaio singing in a habitat that is slowly, but effectively, being restored.

Easily one of the best experiences I’ve had on the Big Island. And since our trees have GPS chips in them, it’s one I can experience again — either on Google Earth or in two years when the pond is completed.

I plan to return with a bottle of Riesling, for sure.

If you want to learn more about Hawaiian Legacy Hardwoods or interested in planting a koa tree — either for yourself or a loved one — call 877-707-TREE or click here.

Follow me on my #CatTravel adventures on Twitter @thedailydish and Instagram @catherinetoth.

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#CatTravels: A weekend in Volcano


Even though I travel to the Big Island fairly often — oh, about three times a year — I rarely make it to Volcano, the sleepy little village that borders Hawaii Volcanoes National Park.

When I was attending the University of Hawaii at Manoa, I took a ton of geology classes. (In fact, I worked in the department office for several years.) I was completely obsessed with rocks growing up, so geology tapped into that passion. I took as many classes as possible — without having to take four semesters of physics and a mineralogy class that most majors dreaded — and seriously considered ditching my dreams of being a writer for a career in rock science.

(Plus, I dig science guys.)

That didn’t happen, clearly, but I did satisfy my desire to play with rocks during college.

And part of that was tagging along with the Geology 101 class field trip to the Big Island to witness the world’s most active volcano.

After college, though, I probably only visited Hawaii Volcanoes National Park maybe once since. That had to change.

So when I got an assignment to do a story on the Hawaiian Legacy Hardwoods forest project in Honokaa, I decided to find a place in Volcano for the weekend.

And I couldn’t have a more perfect place to relax and unwind than at the uber tranquil Volcano Village Lodge. This luxe bed-and-breakfast opened in 2006 with just two guest rooms. Today, there are five beautifully designed lodges that sprawl over one acre of land, surrounded by koa and ohia lehua trees and 200-year-old hapuu ferns. You feel like you’re camping — in luxury, of course — in the middle of a Hawaiian rainforest.

This was our lodge, Hale Manaluna, nestled amid ohia lehua trees and hapuu ferns. This is the newest addition to the B&B’s suite of lodges and includes a private jacuzzi bath, in-room breakfast, a fireplace and a great covered deck where you can listen to the native birds singing in the trees around you. (Rates are about $320 a night here.)

This is what our front porch looked like. We ate dinner here on the first night, with views of the rainforest just outside.

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Here’s what inside one of the lodges looks like. I love that the dining area is set up right at the large picture window. There’s nothing better — save for an ocean view — than eating dinner with a bottle of wine with views of the forest.

Here’s what it looked like just outside our lodge. Talk about secluded! And we woke up to the singing of apapane, a Hawaiian honeycreeper endemic to the Islands.

The in-room breakfast is stealthily placed in the room during the afternoon, ready to be warmed up in the morning. On the first day, we had a spinach frittata with a plate of fresh fruits. On the second day, we had French toast (above) with chicken-apple sausage and fruits.

The lodges come equipped with all the amenities you need: private bath and shower, robes and slippers, a kitchenette with a microwave and toaster oven, covered lanais with views of the forest, large picture windows that invite the outside in, umbrellas, flashlights, a basket of snacks like bananas and cereal, a bottle of wine (with opener), and one of the most comfortable beds I’ve ever slept in.

Oh, and did I mention free WiFi?

It was the perfect place to recharge before spending an entire Saturday morning in Honokaa, about a two-hour drive away.

And I couldn’t think of a better place to crash after planting koa trees in the forest.

But that’s tomorrow’s blog!

Thanks to the Volcano Village Lodge for putting me up for two nights! If you’re interesting in booking a lodge at the Volcano Village Lodge, call (808) 985-9500 or click here. Rates start at $280 per night based on a two-night minimum stay. Includes breakfast.

Follow me on my #CatTravel adventures on Twitter @thedailydish and Instagram @catherinetoth>.

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