Country #107 - Palau

Day 1 – The Island Relaxation

I landed in Palau a little after 4am and very ready to go to sleep. I had transportation waiting for me at the airport to head to my hotel, Palau Carolines Resort. Once at the reception area I was driven by golf cart to my bungalow style room. It was pitch black outside so I couldn’t see much, but I could tell that I was up in the center of the island and should have a good view of the water in the morning. And boy, did I!

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The view from my room looked out over the luscious island from up in the trees. It was amazing! A huge thank you to Palau Carolines Resort for sponsoring my stay in Palau - it was truly amazing. When I woke up I called to make my breakfast order and just a short while later I had breakfast on my patio with an amazing view. It was definitely a breakfast to remember. After getting very little sleep yet again I had, unfortunately, started to catch a cold. I have two days in Palau so I decided to spend my first one resting up and trying to fight the sickness so it hopefully doesn’t get worse.

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I had great internet so I was able to get work done with a view, watch Netflix on the TV, and also take a few naps as well. For dinner I ordered a tasty pizza and, all around, it was a perfect restful day. I was able to go to sleep early before exploring more of Palau tomorrow.

Day 2 – The Island Museum

My second day in Palau was definitely a little more adventurous. I was feeling better, though not completely, and after another beautiful and delicious breakfast I headed down to the lobby to get a ride into town. At first I had planned to visit a local beach but on the drive learned from the driver that there were not many good local public options. We drove up to a few restaurants that had beach access but those options were all either closed or having a private event.

After no luck finding a beach I decided on plan B - a visit to a museum, the Belau National Museum! The museum itself was quite small but very comprehensive at the same time. It covered all of Palau’s history (and all of its colonial past, including Spanish, German, Japanese, and US occupation), its local traditions and lifestyle, art and early literature from the island, and much more. One of my favorite things that I learned is that Palau is a matriarchal society as women have been in charge on the island throughout its history. I spent a few hours reading as much as I could before visiting the gift shop and then enjoying the outdoor aspect of the museum. Outside there were many artifacts and even a local traditional building. It was very cool!

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After the museum I headed to eat dinner at a restaurant near the hotel. Elilai Grill and Bar has another great view out over the island and I had some more tasty ribs. I was a bit annoyed that they wouldn’t let me sit by the edge since they had reservations even though they weren’t going to start until way after I left, but whatever. My food was still good and so was the view. After dinner I walked back the rest of the way to Palau Carolines Resort where I explored the property for a bit. The views are all over and they are building so many new villas. I cant wait to visit again someday!

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That goes for Palau as a whole, actually. The main draw for tourists to Palau is diving and taking a boat out to see the Rock Islands. Unfortunately, I don’t have the funds to do either of those things right now, but I would love to come back and spend more time here someday! I had a great time and after my enjoyable second day I went to sleep around 6pm to get a few hours before having to head to the airport for my 2am flight to Guam.

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107 countries down, 88 to go.

To learn more about Palau Carolines Resort click here.

Country #106 - Philippines

The Manila Madness

From the very start my time in Manila was hectic, but I had a very enjoyable stay as well. When I landed at Manila’s Ninoy Aquino International Airport it was one of the absolute worst immigration lines that I have seen. Actually, I take that back. It was much less a line than a giant bunch of people making their way towards the immigration booths in no discernible order. So, chaos, basically. After about an hour I finally made it through where my driver to my hotel, Amelie Hotel Manila, was waiting out front. The traffic was crazy because I think it is always crazy but eventually we made it to my hotel.

It was so late by the time that I finally arrived but I had a quick and welcoming check in and loved my large and comfortable room high up in the hotel. I loved the design of the room and felt very at home even after a crazy start to my time in Manila. I cannot thank Amelie Hotel Manila for sponsoring my stay in the Philippines! 

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I ended up sleeping in much later than I had anticipated but still had time to get out and see Manila today. I took an Uber from Amelie Hotel Manila to the Intramuros area of the city, which is the historic Spanish area that was built during Spanish colonization starting all the way back in the 16th century. The ride over was quite interesting in itself. Manila is a crazy place and just driving through the streets was eye opening. Once I was in Intramuros I spent a bit just walking around and appreciating the architecture. My favorite site was the beautiful San Agustin Church, which actually had a wedding going on inside that you could see from the street since they left the doors wide open. It was so cool!

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I had very spotty cell service in the city for some reason so it took a while to finally call an Uber to take me back to Amelie Hotel Manila. When I arrived back at the hotel I met with Pia, the resident manager of the hotel, along with other members of the hotel staff. We sat down for an absolutely lovely local meal at the hotel restaurant, Braska. I got to try so many new things and they were all quite tasty! I also really enjoyed spending time with Pia and asking her all about Manila and the Philippines. I learned so much and she was the absolute sweetest. She has promised to send me a video of her dancing with pom-poms when I finish breaking the record - I can’t wait!

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While I had a very short stay in Manila I really enjoyed it. I would absolutely love to come back to the Philippines in the future and spend more time visiting the beautiful islands. I really enjoyed being able to at least see Intramuros and learning all about the Philippines with Pia. After our late lunch I took the long, traffic-filled ride back to the airport to catch my next plane. Immigration was not nearly as bad leaving the country, thank goodness. I was a bit early but finally boarded my plane around 9pm. I’m really looking forward to my next stop as it is my first Pacific Island and the only one that I will make it to for quite some time. I can’t wait to get to Palau soon!

106 countries down, 89 to go.

To learn more about Amelie Hotel Manila click here.

Country #105 - Taiwan

Day 1 – The 777

It was a quick flight from Mongolia to Beijing where I had a two hour layover before heading on to Taiwan. It was a pretty routine flight other than the fact that it was my first time ever flying on a Boeing 777 - aka a double decker airplane. While they are no longer flown by any the US airlines many other carriers around the world continue to use them. It was cool to be able to finally fly on one! The experience was pretty similar to a normal flight but I could definitely tell that the aircraft was much bigger and my seat was also right near the staircase.

The flight was not too long and when I landed in Taipei I took the public transit system into the main train station. Once again it was quite easy to use! It was unique, though, in that the transit card was actually shaped like a coin. You tap the coin on a sensor to go through - pretty cool! I ran into a bit of difficulty finding the uber pickup area in the main station. It was poorly marked but I eventually found it and took the quick ride to my hotel, Inhouse Hotel Heritage. Inhouse Hotel Heritage is a uniquely modern little spot in the very heart of the city. Thank you so much to Inhouse Hotel Heritage for sponsoring my stay in Taiwan!

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After a crazy few days of travel I was really looking forward to a great night of rest and Inhouse Hotel Heritage definitely delivered. I went to sleep around 7pm and was definitely well rested for day two!

Day 2 – The 101

After a great night of sleep I had a full day today in Taiwan! My first stop was Lungshan Temple. While I had seen many different temples so far in Asia this was definitely the most colorful one so far. It was filled with people and quite amazing to walk through. It was also all decorated for the Chinese New Year (year of the dog) which was cool too! 

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My next stop was the Chiang Kai-Shek Memorial Hall area. It is hard to describe but there is basically a giant square with massive buildings on two sides, a memorial on one side, and a monument on the other. All of which, I cannot emphasize enough, are massive. The monument was very impressive and I then walked across the entire giant square to the memorial hall. You can go inside of the memorial hall which is open to the public at the top. It was very interesting and overall very unique and impressive. I then walked back through the square and through some of the gardens along the side of it. 

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I had taken Uber for my first two stops for times sake, but the next few stops would be via public transit. It is a super efficient and easy system and went straight to my next destination, Taipei 101 Tower. It is one of the tallest buildings in the world and is amazing to see in person! There are no other tall buildings around so it really stands out. The bottom of Taipei 101 is home to a shopping mall while the rest of the building holds offices (and a super secret Starbucks that you have to make a reservation for - crazy!!).

I was very excited for lunch today and it more than met my expectations. Din Tai Fung is a restaurant that was founded in Taipei but now has many more locations, including in the western US. I’ve never been before and was definitely looking forward to trying it in its home city. Din Tai Fung is famous for their xiaolongbao pork dumplings. And let me tell you, I can see why! I loved them so much that if I had had time I would have ordered a second helping. They are so juicy and the soy sauce and vinegar combination that they tell you how to make at the table is so good. Definitely give them a try if you ever get the chance!

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After my meal and a quick walk around the mall I headed back to the metro to head toward my next stop, the Taipei Confucius Temple. It was a beautiful Temple complex that offered a lot to learn about Confucius. It was very interesting and well worth the stop. From there I headed right nearby to the Dalongdong Baoan Temple. It was yet another impressive temple and featured a very unique park across the street that is definitely worth a visit. It has lots of unique figures and animals and was definitely fun to stroll through!

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After visiting both temples I then made my way back to Inhouse Heritage Hotel to grab my bags and take the train back to the airport. At the airport there was a Hello Kitty check in area which was pretty funny, and I enjoyed checking out a few different lounges during my wait for my flight to Manila, Philippines. It was a short visit to Taiwan but I absolutely loved it! Also, just to verify, Taiwan is technically not one of the 193 UN countries but is recognized by most countries (and myself) as an independent nation. It might be small but it definitely deserves a visit!

105 countries down, 90 to go.

To learn more about Inhouse Hotel Heritage click here.

Country #104 - Mongolia

The Coldest Asian Country

After telling Edward goodbye this morning it was a little strange to be back on my own at the airport. By the time I finally boarded my incredibly delayed flight to Ulaanbatar, Mongolia he was all the way back home! The flight was a few hours and when I arrived it was, as I had been expecting, really, really cold. I had a few layers on but that didn’t help too much when there was snow on the ground! After going through immigration I met Khangarid from Best Western Gobi’s Kelso where I will be staying for the night. He drove me into the city which took about thirty minutes. 

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He was so great to talk to! I was able to learn a ton about Mongolia and complain about how my delayed flight meant that I wouldn’t be able to see anything. But he definitely has me convinced to come back! The weather does supposedly get much nicer in the summer and I would love to visit then. There was not a lot to see on the drive in until we all the sudden were in the heart of Ulaanbatar. I was amazed with how many people were out and about at 2am! 

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When we arrived at Best Western Gobi’s Kelso I met Tsolmon, Khangarid’s wife. She was very kind and helpful with getting me all set for the night. She also gave me some scissors to un zip tie my suitcase. Long story short, I accidentally left an external battery charger in my checked luggage, and China does not play around when it comes to confiscating them. I was just confused as to why they had to zip tie my suitcase back! It was quite the relief to find that nothing else was missing and that my suitcase still works as normal. I guess I’ll never know but I’m just glad to have everything!

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My room was so nice and very warm which was much appreciated. I cannot thank Best Western Gobi’s Kelso enough for sponsoring this night of my trip! Even though I was only able to get about five hours of sleep before Khangarid had to take me back to the airport, it was a very restful night. The timing was quite unfortunate, as I really wanted to see Mongolia but flight delays struck again. While it was quite cold I was very impressed with how nice everyone was and can’t wait to come back someday. I got some pictures of the Ghengis Khan airport (very appropriate name) before heading out and then got on my flight back to Beijing to connect to my next country - Taiwan!

104 countries down, 91 to go.

To learn more about Best Western Gobi’s Kelso click here.

Country #103 - China

Day 1 – The Disney Welcome

The flight to Shanghai went by quite quickly and I was so excited to start my time in China with Edward. It will be the longest time I have spent in a country so far, and we get to start it off with a day at the newest Disney park in the world! Immigration was a breeze and afterwards we used Didi Chuxing for the first time. It’s basically the exact same thing as Uber, but in China. My favorite feature was how it automatically translated chat conversations with the driver – hopefully Uber will do this someday!

It took about twenty-five minutes to arrive at Disney from the airport. By this time it was dark outside so we couldn’t see very much, but I was very excited. We finally pulled up to our hotel, the Toy Story Hotel, and I was just blown away by everything from the very beginning. The hotel uniforms were adorable Woody outfits, the design of the hotel was impeccable Disney, and our room was just like Andy’s! Yes, I was way too into it but Edward was enjoying it as well. To show just how easily amused I can be, the honest to goodness best part of the hotel was how every time you used the elevator the green alien guys would announce which floor you were going to with a funny quip. It got me every time!

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After we finished having fun exploring the hotel we headed down to the cafeteria area to grab a quick bite. The main restaurant was already closed as it was after 10pm, but we got some cute Mickey shaped pastries and a tasty lemonade/ice cream drink. We then headed back to the room to get a great night of sleep before inevitably walking ourselves to death tomorrow!

Day 2 – The Disney Shanghai Experience

I set out with the mindset that today would be an amazing day and it even surpassed my expectations. After a great night at the Toy Story Hotel I was already enthralled and couldn’t stop smiling from ear to ear. I had spent about an hour before going to sleep last night planning out our day today so we would be able to see as much of the park as possible. As we were staying on property we had a special gate to enter through to help save time. Once in the park we headed straight to, in my opinion, the main attraction – Tron! If you have never seen the ride in action definitely look it up. Even the line to wait was super futuristic. We did not have to wait long, though, and before I knew it we were sitting on the bike style coaster. It was absolutely incredible! My only complaint is that it was not longer. It was the smoothest and most fun coaster that I have ever ridden, and I cannot wait for it to come to Disney World in a few years!

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After Tron we spent the morning riding as many rides as we could, including Soaring, the Mine Train, and more. Yes, we have some of the same rides at home, but it was still so fun! We stopped for breakfast at Chip and Dale’s, where we had some adorable treats for breakfast, along with a nice and toasty hot chocolate. It was actually pretty chilly outside since it was early so that warmed us up. From there we headed for some more rides! One of the most interesting rides of the day was the Pirates of the Caribbean ride. It is completely different from the one in Orlando, and is touted by many people as one of the best theme park rides in the world. Needless to say, that made our expectations quite high. The line finally wasn’t too long and we decided to give it a go. I will say this - the ride was visually very impressive, but it wasn’t the best ever. That’s not to say it wasn’t amazing, because it was, but I think it is a bit overhyped.

For lunch we ate at Barbossa’s Bounty where we split some tasty ribs before continuing on with the day. Our next stop was to go up inside of the castle which was a very unique experience! It is basically a walk through ride where there are animatronics and projections throughout. Next, I was able to grab an ice cream cone (there is no Dole Whip in Shanghai, sadly) and then afterwards we fit in some lower intensity rides, such as Winnie the Pooh! It was so fun to hear the story told in Chinese throughout the ride (every ride was in Chinese) and see all the classic characters. We also did the Buzz Lightyear Planet Rescue ride and after a heated battle I pulled out the victory. Another fun part of the day was the parade! It was cool to see which characters got the most reaction from the crowd and how some characters were more popular here than at home. Unsurprisingly, I would say, Mulan was the highlight!

Our next stop was to buy souvenir Disney Shanghai Mickey ears. We were super touristy and got our names written on the back in Chinese because, well, why not! Mickey ears were not super common in the park (but Minny ones were everywhere) so we were glad to find them in our size and wore them proudly for the rest of the day! We were able to ride so many rides and see so much of the park throughout the day. Before finishing, though, we sprinted the park minutes before closing, in typical Demonbreuns visiting a Disney park fashion, to be able to ride Tron one last time. It was amazing to ride at night and I’m so glad that we did! We then made our way to the center of the park for the Ignite the Dream nighttime show. Unlike at home the show focuses more on lasers and lights instead of fireworks to help with air pollution. It was quite an impressive show! There were still a few fireworks but it was actually really cool with the lasers, and I enjoyed it a lot. 

By this point we were both struggling to walk even though we knew our hotel was nearby. We tried to stop for food but everywhere in the Disneytown area was packed with people, so after I bought a Disney Shanghai sweatshirt we dragged our feet to the shuttle bus and just ended up just snacking at the hotel. It was a very fulfilling exhaustion because we had had such an incredible day. We enjoyed every aspect of the park and had so much fun at Disney Shanghai. It was a highlight of my trip for sure and just such a fun day!

Day 3 – The Day in Shanghai

We were about as exhausted as possible after our magical day at Shanghai Disney. While it goes against my nature when traveling in a new city, there was no fighting the necessity to sleep in today. We both needed it so much - and our feet definitely did! We got a great night of sleep at the Toy Story hotel before we unfortunately had to check out. I’m going to miss it! Before we headed out though we were in luck. Jessie and Woody were doing a meet and greet outside - couldn’t leave without a picture! 

We bid Disney farewell and took the shuttle bus to the main transportation hub. From there we took the subway system, which was adorably Disney themed, into the city. It took a little under an hour and was quite easy. We just found a cheap place to stay in the heart of town to be able to see as much as possible with our one day in Shanghai. After we dropped off our bags we made our way to the first stop, a tasty dumpling lunch. The service was so fast it was amazing! Afterwards we headed to the Shanghai Museum. We only had about an hour but hurried through to be able to see most of it. It was very impressive! There were so many artifacts and I learned a lot in a short amount of time. After finishing the museum we walked over to People’s Park. People’s Park is crazy because it is basically a marriage market where parents go to basically advertise their single children to try and find them a partner. I’ve never seen anything like it!

After the park we walked down the Nanjing pedestrian street. It was filled with tons of shops and we made sure to stop at plenty of interesting ones. Edward bought more candy to take home and it was a very enjoyable walk down Nanjing to the Bund area. The Bund is arguably the most famous part of Shanghai. It is a walkway along the water that allows you to look out at all of the amazing Shanghai buildings. They are all lit up at night and it was quite spectacular to take in! We timed it just right because we were able to get there at sunset: the buildings were normal when we got there and lit up before we left. It was great! We enjoyed the Bund for a while before deciding to find dinner. We struggled a bit to find somewhere to eat but we finally found a very good Italian restaurant of all places. It was a bit pricey but some of the best pizza that I have had in a while. We wanted to find a Chinese spot but once again our stomachs got the better of us and we didn’t want to walk all over the city to find a restaurant that we would both like. So tasty Italian won out and it ended up being a great, if unorthodox, decision.

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After dinner we ended up being close enough to our hotel to be able to walk the rest of the way back. It was a very enjoyable walk back getting to see more of Shanghai at night. We fell asleep right away when we returned as we have a very early morning tomorrow - we are taking the bullet train to Beijing!

Day 4 – The Bullet Train

We woke up super early to get a Didi ride to Shanghai Hongqiao station for our 7am bullet train bound for Beijing. Our train, the D10, would hit speeds up to 217mph. It is fastest scheduled train in the world! It really was so fast and such an interesting ride through the Chinese countryside and the outer suburbs of both Shanghai and Beijing. It took a little over four hours for the entire journey - it was quite impressive!

When we arrived in Beijing we took a Didi to our hotel for the next few days. We stayed at another cheap place in the center of town that worked out quite well for our purposes. After checking in and resting for a few minutes we headed out for our day in Beijing. Our first stop was an unexpected visit to APM mall after the place Edward had chosen for lunch had closed down. After trying in vain to find it we were now running out of time to make it to the Forbidden City before it closed. So we, unfortunately, we had to eat at McDonalds. In China. We did at least get foods unique to the Chinese market so it actually ended up being fine. It was just unfortunate at first, for sure!

After grabbing a quick bite we made our way to the Forbidden City. It was still open and we ended up having a good amount of time to see it all. It was, truly, amazing! It is massive and just keeps going, and going, each section as impressive as the last. After walking through it all, and walking all the way back to the entrance, we tried to walk towards Tiananmen Square. However, we weirdly kept having to wait in really long security lines. After waiting for a while, and hearing some faint chants in the background, we finally realized what was going on. This morning China ruled to give its president the possibility to rule for life by removing term limits, and we think what we heard was protesters. So, for safety reasons, we gave up on that pursuit and instead walked along the street for a while until we decided to take a Didi to the Hongqiao Market, also known as Pearl Market.

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We had so much fun at Pearl Market! Yes, the place was just teeming with counterfeit goods and we were constantly being asked to buy things, but I loved bargaining the prices on everything we bought and finding so many fun things. We bought a suitcase (because we literally are now out of room for Edward to get everything home), some fun dog shaped pillows, presents for family, a waving solar powered cat, Nashville Predators jerseys, and even more. All of which I was able to haggle down to reasonable prices. We were like kids in a candy store, which is appropriate because that evening we went back to the hotel and tried all of the crazy candies that we have picked up on this trip. It might not have been exactly the night that we planned, but we had a great time anyways!

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Day 5 – The Great Wall

Today Edward and I embarked on yet another adventure, and this one was one of the best yet - today we visited the Great Wall of China! The Great Wall is obviously huge and we had to decide which segment to see. We ended up choosing Mutianyu Great Wall, as it had some of the best reviews and a fun way to get back down, though it is a bit more difficult to get to. We took the metro to the bus station where we took a bus for about an hour to Huai Rou Bei Da jie bus station about an hour out of the heart of the city. It was a bit cramped but otherwise it was a really good bus ride. It was interesting to see China outside of the city and see more of the smaller towns. From the bus station we called a Didi to take us to the actual Mutianyu Great Wall center.

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Once we arrived at Mutianyu Great Wall we purchased our tickets and walked to the cable car entrance. I had never envisioned taking a cable car up to the Great Wall, but then again I really had no idea how people got to it. Once we got to the top it was incredible. It stretched so far and was really just breathtaking. There is a reason it is a wonder of the world, I guess! We took plenty of pictures, FaceTimed our parents, and just enjoyed taking it in for a while. We turned right at the top and walked along for about an hour. It was always interesting to go in each tower along the wall and look around inside. There were lots of stairs but thankfully there was only one section that really made us out of breath. We decided to FaceTime our Grandmother because she has been to the Great Wall before and we wanted her to see us there. It was a very normal phone call until she blew us away: based on the FaceTime video she knew exactly where we were on the Great Wall and had been exactly there before. She listed off all the things that we would have just passed and everything - we were so impressed with her memory! I guess that’s where I get mine from?

After we walked a bit more and took some more pictures it was time to head down. And I was so excited for our method of transportation - we would be tobogganing down the Great Wall of China! We each had our own toboggan and sped down the side of the incline. It was so much fun! It was an incredibly unique experience and the views on the way down were fantastic. I only wish we could have gone again! Once we reached the bottom we went in a few of the gift shops before, grabbed a snack at Burger King, and then called a Didi to take us back to the bus. It took a long time for someone to pick us up but eventually a car came. We timed it very well because a bus picked us up right when we got to the stop. 

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Once we were back in Beijing we took the metro to try and see one last sight, the Temple of Heaven and the Hall of Prayer for Good Harvest that’s inside. We had been right next door yesterday when we visited Hongqiao Pearl Market but it was already closed, so we were excited to have enough time after visiting the Great Wall. The Temple of Heaven was basically a really nice park to walk through and, though we couldn’t see inside the Hall of Prayer for Good Harvest for some reason, it was an amazing structure to just see from the outside. After walking through the park we made our way back to APM mall to eat at a restaurant Edward had wanted to go to yesterday. We had a very tasty final meal in China and got to try a few different things. It was a fun dinner and great end to another great day in China.

Day 6 – The Day Off

This morning I, unfortunately, had to tell Edward goodbye. It has been the absolute best time having him along and I only wish he could have missed more school and stayed for longer – silly college! We had such a fun time and were able to see and experience so many things. I have a long trip through Asia ahead of me and I’m so glad that I was able to start it off with him.

We figured it would be easiest and not horribly cost-ineffective to call a Didi for Edward to take straight to the airport. He had to leave very early, while my flight was not until the evening, so I woke up to send him off before I went back to sleep for a few hours. I actually had quite a few things to work on today before my crazy schedule takes me to a different place every day, so it was quite a relief to get a bit of a late check out. I was able to sleep in, work for a bit, and they even allowed me to use the lounge upstairs to easily print a few things. 

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I left for the airport in the early afternoon and was not a happy camper when I found out that my already unfortunately short time in Mongolia would be cut even shorter – my flight was delayed by hours! I had originally planned to go to Mongolia in the morning but due to a change in dates the flight was only offered in the afternoon, and now it was going to be delayed until late at night! It was not ideal at all. All I could do was let my hotel know and just sit and wait. There was a nice lounge to wait in in the airport, at least, but it wasn’t much consolation.

I finally boarded around midnight and after a few hours I was in Mongolia – and it was so cold! I knew it would be freezing, but after Mongolia I will be incredibly hot for the rest of my trip so I sent almost all of my cold weather clothes home with Edward. My hotel, Best Western Gobi's Kelso, arranged to pick me up at the airport

103 countries down, 92 to go.