Travel Tips

Two decades of being a travel junkie equals lots of tips and tricks for staying happy and healthy away from home.

A Triathlete’s Guide to Navigating Asian Airports

Airports.. same, same, but different

Racing in Asia may at first seem very expensive, confusing, and intimidating. Really, the airports aren’t that challenging as long as you prepare for all the hiccups you might face along the way. In fact, the flights locally (jumper flights) can be quite inexpensive with the local airlines. Below I outlined some nuances I learned both after traveling with my bike for races and on holiday with my husband.

Leave Extra Time

There are so many reasons you will need extra time in Asia. The wildly unpredictable traffic. The very small local airports with a large volume of people trying to move through. The actual flight desk closes and the people are simply gone as soon as they’ve started boarding. I’ve experienced it all – missed a flight due to trains not being on time, ran like a banshee for a flight because the customs lines were so clogged, and gone to the wrong airport because of a language barrier.

While the people in Asia are very friendly and want to help the language barrier and not being able to read can really slow down your navigation. Typically in the states I arrive at the airport 1 hr before a domestic and 2 hrs before an international. I know everyone has different comfort levels with this. In Asia I would recommend at least 3 hrs from when you want to leave your destination.

Call the Airlines Ahead of Time

One big factor about racing overseas that I learned from my friend Jayme is that the smaller jumper flights have a weight limit. So they will only take so many bikes and then cut it off because they can only handle so much weight. So if you are flying say, into Seoul, and then taking a small plane down the Jeju for Ironman 70.3 Jeju, I’d recommend calling the smaller airline and making sure they can accommodate both the size and weight of your bike. It was so cool watching all the triathlon bikes get unloaded in Taitung when I was in Taiwan in March 2018. This is also a good opportunity to ask about hidden bag fees.

Long Slow Lines

Like I mentioned before the lines at the airports in Asia can be EXTRA. There isn’t the same sense of urgency and efficiency there like there in the USA. In the US, everyone is go, go, go and move them through! Then add in the language barrier and it can take a long time to get your boarding pass and bags checked. We’ve also found security can take a longer time than you’re used to because each country has different standards. In many countries in South East Asia you can expect to go through security at the entrance, before your gate, and before you board the plane! It’s a lot.

Your Bike Is To Big For… Everywhere

Cabbie assured me it was fine…

Your bike bag is too big for pretty much everywhere in Asia. The trains, the elevators, the hotel rooms, the cabs… see the picture above haha I have never been so stressed. Luckily, I knew we didn’t have too far to go. Try to ask your hotel concierge to order you a mini van if possible. Or do like I do and make new friends by asking a fellow English speaking triathlete to share a cab because chances are you’re going to the same place. I made friends with the most lovely Laura Jane Dennis, an Aussie Pro, this way! And saved money in the process!

Expect Asian Food!

Most triathletes are pretty clean eaters. I typically don’t eat meals on flights but when you’re flying 11, 12, 14 hours you must. If you’ve chosen an Asian airlines such as ANA, Korean Air, or Asiana Airlines expect your menu to be different. A lot of times you’ll get noodles or rice with a meat (usually chicken). You’ll also typically get a miso soup, kimchee side, maybe a side salad and a dessert.  So, if you love these foods – you’re in luck! If you don’t (like me!) be sure to pack a heavier snack load or buy a meal to pack ahead of time. Snacks, lots of snacks.

Hotel Review: Victoria Sapa Resort & Spa

Hotel Review: Victoria Sapa Resort & Spa

This trip was preplanned with friends and it fell directly between IM Taiwan 70.3 and the United Guam Marathon. So for me, it was only important that I found time to get some milage in on this holiday. Keeping my legs fresh and in shape was the only real goal. I had illusions of running outside in the Vietnamese country side but while researching the trip it became clear that wasn’t an option. So started my research into the Victoria Sapa Resort & Spa…

If you haven’t been to Vietnam the streets there are chaos with motorbikes and cars going in every direction. There are sidewalks, however, they are crammed full of parked bicycles, motorbikes, and bar stools for drinking beer and coffee. The mountain town of Sapa was the last stop on our Vietnamese journey. Having already spent a day in Hanoi, 3 days cruising Ha Long Bay, and taken the sleeper train overnight to Sapa we were ready to get checked in and explore the area.

Location

Sapa is located around 236 miles northwest of Hanoi near the Chinese boarder. Originally a French hill station that was established in 1922 for wealthy French colonists to escape the oppressive heat of Hanoi. The air and climate was thought to have health benefits. Sure enough, it was significantly cooler when we got off the train. After arriving at the train station we were picked up by a shuttle which took us up a winding mountainous road to the Victoria Sapa Hotel & Spa.

The Staff

They were wonderful. The check in process was super easy and efficient. We were worried they wouldn’t have a room ready for us since our train got in at 6:30 am. However, we only had a short wait and they were able to get us into our rooms. We had plenty of time to drop our bags and take a quick cruise around town before our afternoon spa appointments. My husband and I quickly found a large pond to run around and stretch our legs after the travel. This region of Vietnam has cool weather usually in the upper 50’s – low 60’s F. It is also usually overcast with some drizzle which is why it is a popular rice growing region. Our first day however we got lucky and there was some lovely sunshine to warm things up. As a side note: there are many groups of gypsies around Sapa waiting to swindle or pit pocket unsuspecting tourists. Keep an eye on your belongings and pockets at all times and only carry what you really need.

The Room

The rooms here were beautiful. Candidly, we didn’t spend much time in the room as we tried to do many day trips, runs, and spa time! Complete with a very comfortable king bed with a small loveseat and coffee table, the room was nice for kicking back at the end of the day before dinner. Very importantly, the room had aircon and heat which helped us keep the room comfortable. I loved our room location for the views! Our balcony looked out over the courtyard and the valley. In the mornings, a beautiful and magical fog was always settled in the valley and brought with it this sense of calm.

Hotel Amentities

The Victoria Sapa is set up as a true resort & spa. The Ta Fin bar is complimented by a few crackling fireplaces that are the perfect place to warm up and relax after a mountain hike. The concierge will organize any day trips you need to the surrounding rice villages or for a hike up Mt. Fansipan. The gym is located in the same side building as the spa. It consists of a small pool – you *could do laps here but it’d be pretty short. The photos on-line make it look more lap capable than it really is, as you’ll read later on. The gym however is well working. It has cardio and free-weight equipment but it is the view that really sets it apart.  The spa is complete with facials, massages, and a Vietnamese herbal bath. Perfect for unwinding after a long chilly hike in the mountains!

The Restaurant

Ta Van, the hotel’s restaurant, offers the full chalet style dining experience from the high vaulted ceilings, to the vintage lighting, to the crackling fireplace. The views of Mount Fansipan don’t disappoint either (if it is visible!). It operates from 6:30 am to 10pm and on Saturday nights offers traditional dancing from 8-9 pm. The breakfast buffet was the best part of the day – everything you could dream of! You could get everything from omelets and pancakes to hot ramen. The warm room, delicious food, and hot drinks were particular highlights.

The Spa

Our group thoroughly enjoyed and used the spa. From head & neck massages, to herbal baths, to facials and full body massages, to a foot massage after a day of hiking in the hills we sampled it all!

Spa & Gym Building

The spa and gym are located just up the hill about a 100m walk. It can be a little tricky to find in the haze but the yellow building is hard to miss. My husband got a head and neck massage the second night we were there around 9pm simply because he could and it was so affordable ($20 for 30 min)! The spa is open for services until 10pm and seemed to have a pretty flexible schedule while we were there. He had nothing but great things to say. Our real half-day spa time we had scheduled for the first afternoon we were there. After arriving at the spa complex we checked in, changed into our robes, and sipped some tea while we got ready to get our zen on.

 

 

First up was our dip in the traditional Vietnamese herbal bath. Girls and boys went to their separate sides to soak together. First off, the water, it’s HOT. They’re not joking. The Red Dao bath is a mix of medicinal herbs and bark from the surrounding mountains. It smells like you’re sitting in a nice cup of tea. The ladies lasted longer in the hot bath than the boys but we reconvened afterwards for some ice water. We once again went out separate ways for the massages. They were amazing, the Vietnamese ladies were truly gifted in finding the creaks and bumps (this athlete has a LOT) and working them out!

The Gym & Pool

I was deceived by the photos online and thought I’d be able to swim some laps in the hotel pool. However its pretty short. Probably, around 10 meters by 10 meters. Definitely comfortable for splashing around but for putting in time for a swim work out not so much. Since I had already done a couple swim workouts in the chilly waters of Ha Long Bay I felt okay skipping out here.

Instead, I put time in on the ol’ dreadmill. Luckily, my view was top notch. The beautiful trees and mountain hills with the rolling mist was like running amongst the clouds. The gym was all glass windows so you could appreciate the vistas from all sides. So, depending on our agenda for the day I would sneak up the hill and run for 3-5 miles on the treadmill just to keep me legs in shape. I considered doing another run in town but between the vespas, cars, and gypsies I just didn’t feel safe out there by myself. The gym is open from 7am to 10pm so there are no excuses for no time!

A particularly foggy morning

General Hotel Information

Price Point: $$

Check In: Upon Arrival (usually around 7 am if you arrive on the 6:30 train)

Check Out: 12:00 pm

Free wifi in room, lobby, common areas, and gym

Business center and concierge services for arranging tours

 

Stomp The Pedal Review #stompthestyle

There’s not a cyclist out there who doesn’t feel giddy when a new kit arrives in the mail! I am no exception to that rule. I was so excited when a new package arrived with some goodies from a new company called Stomp The Pedal. My IG friend Natarsha Tremayne, of @irontarsh and irontarshweekendwarrior.com ,  followed her dream and stepped into the competitive world of cycling apparel. And, she’s killing it.

Stomp The Pedal \ Options

Image courtesy of stompthepedal.co

Right now, STP has four main design options available. The ‘Flor Flor’ is a bright yellow, pink, and blue kit that has some flowery and plant inspiration. The ‘Signature Logo’ is covered in their bike wheel logo (and one of my favorites!) and comes in a couple different bright highly visible colors. In addition to plain black for girls like me who consider black THE only color.  The newest is the Spring/Summer Botanicals collection. This has a beautiful fern & flower print designed by a university student in UK. It comes in two color options – red and a mint/pink. Finally, there is the Gatsby collection which is the one that made me stop in my tracks and buy immediately. ‘Tallulah’ which is a pale pink base with 1920’s inspired geometric print in navy and gold is what I bought. The other two options are the ‘Greta’ which is the inverse of this – navy base with pale pink and gold pattern. Lastly, the ‘Evelyn’ which is pale pink with a gold outline of the geometric pattern. Honestly, they’re all gorgeous and it is hard for me to pick a favorite.

The Gatsby Collection: Tallulah

Stomp The Pedal \ Fabric

I have heard the term buttery soft a few times before but didn’t really get it. Then I felt this kit and the sleeves are buttery soft. The sleeves are so delicate and comfortable I could walk around in it all day. The cut of this kit is super flattering with a slightly longer back and taper in the front. The jersey is primarily made out of bi-elastic polyester and polyester fibre with yarn finess of 50. Candidly this means little to me but what I do know is this jersey is so comfy to ride in.

Stomp The Pedal \ Fun Features

This jersey looks so classy on and one of the reasons it does is its invisible zipper. The camlock concealing zipper means the front of this jersey looks super streamlined.  There are three back pockets for snacks, phones, or small water bottles. One of my favorite features is the small zip pocket on the side for valuables like keys or cash.

  

 

Overall I love this jersey! I was super impressed and this kit definitely exceeded my expectations.  I rode in it through Park City, Utah with my friend Matt and definitely worked up a sweat with the climbs. Never did I feel sweaty or too hot/cold. The breathability and comfort of this jersey meant I felt great both during our ride and during our coffee stop. I can not wait to order more jerseys from Stomp The Pedal and the matching cycling bibs! Stay tuned to find out how the bibs match the top in comfort and design!

Hotel Review: Sheraton Taitung

On this trip since I was unfamiliar with the area and didn’t speak the language I opted to stay at the official race hotel: the Sheraton Taitung. Definitely on the pricier side of race travel it was well worth the money for this athlete. The added novelty of being around so many other athletes from other countries was pretty cool as well. Hong Kong, China, Japan, Singapore, and Australia were all represented well.

Location

The Sheraton, previously named the Queena Plaza Hotel, was located less than a mile away from the race site in Taitung Forest Park. Located only a 15 minute drive from the Taitung Airport it was very easy to get a cab over from the airport. Less easy was fitting three bikes, five people and luggage into two cabs. English was spoken minimally at the airport.  However, we were able to pull up Apple Maps which showed the hotel in its Chinese characters. The hotel normally offers free pick up and drop off but with the volume it was unavailable this trip. A novel feature of this location was the Taitung Night Market was located on the street in front of the hotel. A great place to try out some Taiwanese street meats, but maybe not the night before race morning!

The Staff

               

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The staff was fantastic – they were everything a 5 star hotel should be. They removed the bike bags quickly from the cabs and whisked them up the stairs into the lobby. Then added them to the 20 other bikes waiting while their owners got checked in. The lobby is a beautiful open atrium style with gorgeous bookshelves across from the front desk. Check in was incredibly easy and the staff were efficient even with the language barrier. They even accommodated my request to have a bucket of ice sent to my room every evening to help me keep inflammation down.

The Room

My king bed room far exceeded expectations. It was very open with a large flat screen TV (that I never turned on) and an open plan bathroom. The bed was enormous and much bigger than a king. It was very comfortable with really plush pillows and the comforter was the perfect weight. The in room amenities included two free bottles of water a day (important for athlete’s traveling South East Asia) as well as the usual toothbrush, razor, loofah, and robe. I really enjoyed that the room was quiet and you could not hear your neighbors or people in the hallway at all.

Hotel Amenities

This hotel had everything an athlete could hope for both for training and recovery. Since I was staying for a race I tried to do my workouts on the course. However, if your travel buddy wanted to check out the gym they had a great little open fitness center. Just past that was the sauna(s) / spa. The mini spa, no treatments were offered, was set up as a traditional onsen. Onsen being the Japans word for hot tub. Normally an onsen is a hot spring but this was just a very, very, hot tub sitting at around 100 F.

The custom is to take off all of your clothes and then take a mini shower to prep. You will see mini cubicles to your left where you rinse. There is no body modesty in Asia and you will like see two women just chatting and showering next to each other. While you could wear your bathing suit to the baths you will be the exception not the rule. This soak felt great on my legs the day before the race. I also used the dry sauna each night because I LOVE sitting in the sauna. It has so many health benefits from sweating out toxins, to increasing circulation and improving cardiac health.

There is also a nice outdoor pool that could be seen from the check in desk. About 5ft deep and around 25 meters long. Definitely not full lap pool material but it could do in a pinch. I checked it out as soon as I checked in and you could already see athletes doing lengths loosening up. The pool was clean and warm with a covering that kept direct sunlight off of swimmers. Other useful amenities include a laundry service, helpful for traveling athletes, a business center and theater space for meetings (where our race brief was held).

Restaurants

I tried to eat outside of the hotel to save money, those places will be covered in another post, but if you did not want to leave there are a few options within the Sheraton. HoYea is a Chinese restautant open for dinner from 5:30 to 9:00 pm.  ALiHi is located on the ground floor behind the elevators and is the main restaurant open for all day dining. We enjoyed the breakfast buffet here each morning as it was included with our rooms.

Asian breakfast tends towards bowls of noodles, fish, kimchee and rice. Foods often associated with asian lunches and dinners! Luckily, there was some yogurt, breakfast breads, and hardboiled eggs for me to throw together. While not my perfect breakfast at some point calories are calories! There was also a fantastic coffee station which always had a long queue infant of it so most people would get two cups at a time.

General Hotel Information

Price point: $$$

Check In: 3:00 pm (However they were very understanding for the athletes)

Check Out: 12:00 pm

Free wifi in room, lobby and common areas

Business center and ATM in lobby