Things to Do in Phoenix—Mountain Trails to Magnificent Malls

With its sunny skies and endless outdoor activities, Phoenix has no shortage of things to do. Whether you’re looking to hit a round of golf, hike a mountain trail, shop til you drop, or take in the local arts and culture, you’ll find it all in Phoenix.

The Camelback East Village area is the perfect place to stay during your Phoenix city break. Choose from a variety of budget-friendly hotels that are close to many prime tourist attractions as a base for your stay. From there, you can easily access all the great things to do in Phoenix.

Golf
Things to do in Phoenix
Image via Flickr by rutiful

The Phoenix area is home to dozens of golf courses, including five championship courses. The Arizona Biltmore Golf Club offers two world-class courses in the heart of the city, close to Camelback East Village. World leaders, celebrities, and business elite have been known to hit some balls at this prestigious club. Just a short drive away in Scottsdale, Camelback Golf Club has two lush courses that will challenge even the most experienced golfers.

Hike
Things to do in Phoenix
Image via Flickr by laszlo-photo

Phoenix is home to more than 41,000 acres of desert, mountain parks, and preserves. Part of the Phoenix Mountains Preserve, Camelback Mountain is one of the top 10 things to do in Phoenix. It’s also one of the nation’s highest-ranked hiking destinations. Located just 20 minutes from the heart of the city, it’s an ideal hike for tourists. Choose from one of two trails, each with its own unique challenges and majestic views of the city.

Shop
Things to do in Phoenix
Image via Flickr by combusean

There’s no shortage of shopping in Phoenix, and the Camelback East Village area is no exception. The Biltmore Fashion Park offers everything from high-end retailers, such as Saks Fifth Avenue, Macy’s, and Cartier, as well as some of the finest dining in the area. In addition to the Biltmore Fashion Park, Old Town Scottsdale provides a one-a-kind boutique shopping experience. Just 15 minutes south of Phoenix, you’ll find deep discounts at Phoenix Premium Outlets.

Arts and Culture
Things to do in Phoenix
Image via Flickr by kevin dooley

If arts and culture are what you’re after, you’ll find them at the Phoenix Art Museum. Boasting 18,000 objects of modern and contemporary art, fashion design, and photography, this is the largest art museum in the Southwest. Exhibitions at the Desert Botanical Garden offer a glimpse of the area’s natural landscape and highlight the research being done to protect and preserve it.

Learn all about American Indian art and culture at the Heard Museum, where you’ll find both traditional and contemporary works of art. Round out your visit to Phoenix with a stroll along Roosevelt Row in the city’s downtown core. Here you’ll find live music, award-winning restaurants, cultural events, and boutique shopping.

From golfing to hiking and shopping to culture, there are tons of amazing things to do in Phoenix. Whether you want to get some sun in the great outdoors or stay inside the shops and museums, you’re sure to have an amazing time no matter what you choose to do.

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5 Tips for Finding the Perfect Souvenir

Everyone wants a souvenir that will remind them of the fantastic time they had on vacation.

 

But finding the perfect token to represent your travels is harder than it sounds. You want a keepsake that brings a smile to your face every time you see it. But I bet more often than not you end up with something you found in the hotel lobby as you were rushing to flag down a taxi to the airport. When we don’t find the right thing, we tend to settle for anything. And when we get home, we toss it aside and forget about it all together.

As you’re flying, driving, or cruising to your next destination, consider these five tips to help you choose the best souvenir.

souvenir-doll

1. Collectibles

One of the easiest ways to avoid getting bogged down in the search for the perfect souvenir is to start collecting a specific type of object. Key chains, magnets, postcards, spoons, and shot glasses can be found in pretty much any place you visit. They’re small cheap, and easy to pack. My personal favorite: thimbles. That’s right…thimbles. I’ve been collecting them since I was 12, and I have one from just about every place I’ve ever been, which means I have hundreds and hundreds of them. They’re super small, can be found pretty much anyplace, and usually cost less than $2—unless you’re in Norway, where they cost $20. I also love “I ❤” shirts, which you can often snag for only $5 to $10. I plan to make them into a quilt one day…as soon as I make a friend who can sew.

souvenir-magnet

2. Destination

What is the place you’re visiting best known for? Canada is infamous for maple syrup. And let’s not forget about Belgium and its delicious chocolates. Do a quick Google search to find out what people in the area are known for producing and bring that back as a memento. And don’t worry too much about how much you’ll have to spend on your destination-dependent souvenir. You’ll find a range of prices, from cheap knockoffs to handcrafted keepsakes. It all depends on how much you care about authenticity.

When I was in the Black Forest, I shelled out a couple hundred dollars for a traditional cuckoo clock made by a local wood carver. But a few weeks later when I was in Istanbul, I bought a pair of $10 mosaic glass lanterns that were probably made in China. I love them all equally despite their varying levels of authenticity, and I think of happy times whenever the clock strikes the twelve or I flip the switch on one of those lamps.

souvenir-lantern

3. Budget

How much do you want to spend? Give yourself a budget and stick to it. This will help you decide what’s really important to you and what’s not. If you want to put the majority of money toward your actual travels, you may have a more limited budget. A key chain or magnet may be right up your alley. But if you’re all about authentic reminders of the places you’ve been, you’ll want to set aside a loftier budget.

One of my favorite things to do is find an article of clothing made by a local designer. I try to minimize the amount of money I spend on any other items so I can put my money toward one fabulous piece. To aid this endeavor, I avoid chain stores that I can find back home and only venture inside one-off boutiques. In the end, I probably spend less overall because I’m not buying a bunch of stuff I don’t need. I focus on that one item.

souvenir

4. Size

If you’re like me, you don’t have a lot of room in your suitcase to bring things home once you’ve packed all of your gear. So, size matters. Consider how you’re getting your special souvenir home. If you want something you can tuck into the side of your suitcase, a shot glass is perfect. But if you’re open to paying for shipping or are willing to lug around an extra bag for the rest of your trip, it can open up a whole new world.

I can fit two or three thimbles in my change purse, so they are the ultimate keepsake when I’m looking for something small. But remember that cuckoo clock I got in Germany? I was too cheap to pay shipping and duty charges, so I made my husband lug it all over Germany, Switzerland, and Turkey. I won’t be doing that again.

souvenir-eiffel

5. Use

Before you buy that neon fiber-optic Eiffel Tower ask yourself what you’re going to do with it when you get home. I know, you’ve always wanted a pair of wooden clogs from Amsterdam, but maybe a clog key chain will do the trick. A good souvenir is something you will cherish forever. It fits your décor or is a perfect addition to your wardrobe.

I know you’re dying to know what I did with that cuckoo clock. Do I cherish it, or has it been tossed aside? Before I even considered spending a single penny, I knew exactly where I would display it in my house. It’s the first thing you see when you walk in the door. Now that’s money well spent.

souvenir-clog

Over the years, I’ve had my fair share of buyer’s remorse. I just had to have that sailor hat with my name embroidered on the side from Disneyland, even though I only wore it for the three days I was in the park. And don’t even get me started on that olive oil shampoo from Greece that dried out my hair. You win some, you lose some. But nowadays, I try to follow these five tips to make sure I come home with a souvenir that’s right for me.

What types of souvenirs do you look for? Are you someone who buys gaudy knickknacks only to regret it when you get home? Or have you finely honed your souvenir shopping skills? Share your stories with the Wanderlust Wayfarer Facebook group.

 

 

Five Hours in Portland, Maine: From Lighthouses to Little Towns

Portland, the largest city in Maine, is a common port for East-Coast cruises starting out of New York City.

 

This charming seaside city is filled with fun things to do. But when you only have five hours to see it all, it’s hard to know where to begin. To make the most of your short time in Portland, consider taking a tour from a local company. If you’re cruising, there will be plenty of shore excursions offered through your ship. Typically, you’ll find an itinerary that covers all of the hottest local attractions.

For example, Carnival offers a tour called Portland Highlights and Kennebunkport. In just five hours, you get to take in the top sites, and you’ll still have a bit of time afterward to wander on your own. Here’s what you’ll see.

POrtland

Portland Overview

Your tour begins with a drive through Portland itself. You’ll coast along the seaside in a motor coach, taking in the local streets, including some of the most affluent homes in the area. Your guide will tell you about the rich history of diversity and how the homes along the water were once considered undesirable for this exact reason. Today, they are some of the most sought-after abodes in the state.

As you drive along, you’ll catch a glimpse of the stone fortress built to defend the city against the Red Coats, as well as the observation tower that boasts views of the entire city, though you won’t get a chance to test that theory for yourself, as there simply isn’t time to stop here.

As you drive through the heart of the city, you’ll see the home of Henry Wadsworth Longfellow, as well as hear old folk tales of other homes in the community, such as the heavily adorned Wedding Cake House that was built for a bride as her wedding gift many moons ago.

POrtland

Portland Head Light

The first official stop on the tour is to the most photographed lighthouse along the East Coast, Portland Head Light. Looking as picturesque as the many postcards on which it’s been featured, the little lighthouse stands tall as a beacon to sailors passing along the coast of Maine.

portland

You’ll have about 30 minutes to take pictures amid the craggy canyons and rushing waves. A small gift shop offers trinkets and a few locally crafted items at shockingly affordable prices. Snap a few photos, grab, and souvenir, and head back on board the motor coach for the next leg of your five-hour tour.

Kennebunk and Kennebunkport

Next, your tour will take you on a rural drive to see the summer homes of the rich and, well, richer. A few decades ago, the state offered plots of land for $20,000 each. While the land was reasonably priced, it came with a catch: You had to build a home with a certain price tag. The intent was to attract only the upper-middle class to the area. The plan was successful, and most of the homes exceeded the expectations.

POrtland

After about a 45-minute drive from Portland Head Light, you’ll arrive in Kennebunk. The charming little community looks like something out of a Nicholas Sparks novel, and you half expect to see Ryan Gosling strolling the streets hand-in-hand with Rachel McAdams. Colorful cottage-like shops and restaurants line both sides of about a three-block radius and include everything from candy and coffee shops to kitschy souvenir stores and upscale artists’ havens.

POrtland

You’ll get a chance to take in the shops after a short drive through nearby Kennebunkport. If you’re here in the summer months, you’ll see surfers riding the waves on the local beaches, while families gather outside their summer homes for a bonfire and a glass of wine. The brightly colored “cottages” are far more lavish than any typical upscale community and make you long to be one of the next generation of family members who are sure to inherit the tradition.

POrtland

Perhaps the most notable—okay definitely the most notable—local family is the Bushes, who have been spending their summers here for many decades, long before father and son took on the presidential roles of numbers 41 and 43. Like everyone else, they paid $20,000 for their plot of land that stretches like a peninsula into the ocean. The locals tell stories of spotting the secret service in town and George Sr. jumping from airplanes like they are part of their own family histories. It’s just a fact of living here. You will run into one or the other at some point in your lifetime.

Once you’re done your drive, you’ll get about an hour or so to sweep through the Kennebunk shops. If you don’t dawdle, this should be plenty of time. There are an obscene number of stores catering to fashionable canines (my own got several new shirts). And we even had time for a quick snack at one of the popular coffee shops.

portland

Pro Tip: Be sure to have a whoopie pie, the state dessert. Rumor has it the famous cakes came to be after a woman, tired of the icing coming off the top of the cakes she would wrap in a kerchief for her husband’s lunches, placed an extra piece of cake on top of the icing. When her husband opened his lunch to find the icing still in place, he yelled, “Whoopie!”

Back in Portland

Once you’ve wrapped up your visit to Kennebunkport, you’ll arrive in town with about two hours to spare before you need to be back on board the ship. This will give you plenty of time to walk around the Old Port, which is only about a 10-minute walk from the cruise ship terminal itself. You’ll find lots of one-of-a-kind shops, as well as plenty of places to try the local seafood.

portland

If you’ve only got five hours in Portland, Maine, this is the perfect way to take in the best the area has to offer. What other must-see sights do you recommend? Visit the Wanderlust Wayfarer Facebook group to share your ideas.

 

One Day in Siem Reap: Adventures Beyond the Temples

You’re in Siem Reap, so there’s no doubt you’ve already planned on touring the nearby ancient temples. But what else is there to do in this inspiring city? The short answer is plenty.

 

After booking a river cruise through the Mekong Delta, I decided to plan a few extra days in our departure port, Siem Reap. Short on vacation time, I allotted only two full days here. Aside from the obvious—a one-day visit to the majestic Angkor Wat—I didn’t know how we would spend the rest of our time.

I began surfing the net and planning the perfect jam-packed itinerary for our extra day. And packed it was. Here’s how to spend a day so crammed with fun you won’t want it to end.

siem reap



Booking.com

Before You Go

One of the best things about traveling to Southeast Asia is that your money stretches a lot further than it does in North America or Europe. You can get five-star accommodations for under $100 a night. And they often come with a few added-value extras, like free dinners, cultural shows, and massages. The biggest challenge will be choosing one—so many sound amazing.

My recommendation for luxury accommodations is the Golden Temple Residence. I took a chance and booked this brand-new hotel while it was still in construction. And boy did I luck out. Within its first year of operations, it was one of TripAdvisor’s top two hotels in Siem Reap. Not only is it beautiful, it’s located only a few steps from main the attractions, such as the night markets and Pub Street. And the staff are eager to help make your visit the best you’ve had at any hotel.

Siem reap

In fact, a few months before our vacation, I emailed the hotel with some questions about area activities. Before I knew it, they requested a list of the things I wanted to do while I was in Siem Reap so they could put together an appropriate itinerary for me. Aside from researching the activities, I didn’t have to lift a finger. Upon arrival, they handed us a schedule of events. It was that simple.

Morning

Our day started bright and early at around 7:30 a.m. We had a wonderful breakfast right at our hotel, which was included at no extra charge. While there was a buffet-style selection of pastries, meats, and every fruit you could imagine—and many others that were new to me—you could also choose from a made-to-order menu.

siem reap

After breakfast, we met with the sous chef, who took us on a private tour of the local market. We’d signed up for a Cambodian cooking class later in the day, and this was part of the deal. The idea being that you shop for all of the fresh ingredients needed to make your meal.

By 8:30 a.m. we’d boarded a tuk tuk for the quick ride to the Phsar Chas, or the Old Market. Whipping through the side streets, we arrived about five minutes later. And just when we thought our morning couldn’t get more chaotic than the ride over, we entered the hustle and bustle of the active marketplace.

Though there are many stalls geared toward tourists, much of the market caters to locals. They come here to buy fresh fruits, vegetables, meats, and breads for their meals. It’s not quite like anything you’ll find in North America—not by a long shot. Women sit barefoot on the floor, gutting fish or preparing meals. Poultry and beef are exposed to the elements, no refrigeration to be found. Love it or hate it, the sights, sounds, and aromas are spectacular scene.

siem reap

Be prepared. It’s dark, crowded, and stinking hot inside the market. But it’s something everyone should experience, especially at this early hour. As we made our way through the narrow aisles, our chef guide pointed out local delicacies and gave us samples of exotic foods to taste.

Pro tip: It’s extremely easy to get turned around once you’ve walked down a few of the market aisles. Pay careful attention to the route you take and where you enter the market so you can find your way back.

After about an hour, we returned to the hotel, where the reception staff greeted us with cool cloths and a glass of water. You’ll sweat buckets in Siem Reap. It’s important to hydrate often, and since it’s not reasonable to shower every time you return to the hotel, the cloths are a nice way to freshen up.

Mid-Morning

Since there’s no rest for the weary, we turned right back around and started walking toward the market area. We decided to skip the tuk tuk to get a closer look at the local life. Our hotel was only about a 15-minute stroll to the central area, and while it was hotter than Hades, it was worth the trip.

Siem Reap

In the area surrounding the Old Market, you’ll find plenty to do. There are shops of every kind. Whether you’re looking for standard souvenirs, like shot glasses, magnets, and key chains, or high-end fashions, including hand-woven silk scarves, you’ll find lots of ways to spend your money. We picked up a few cheap trinkets for friends, and I bartered for a pair of harem pants and two tanks. The grand total was $7.

Pro tip: Pack light if you’re traveling to Siem Reap. Everything is so cheap you can buy just about anything you’ll need upon arrival. And if you don’t want it at the end of your trip, you can donate it to the locals.

Siem Reap

There are so many side streets and back lanes that it’s hard to keep them all straight, especially since they expand randomly in various directions. One you don’t want to miss is Alley West. It’s at the end of Sivutha Boulevard, and whether you’re looking for it or not, you’ll likely stumble upon it if you wander around enough. You’ll know it immediately by its upscale boutiques that have a less touristy feel. There are also cute street cafés, jewelry shops, art galleries, and more. Some favorite boutiques to check out include Wanderlust, Wild Poppy, and Poetry.

One of my favorite shops in Siem Reap was Old Forest. It’s filled with hand-sewn treasures and whimsical costume jewelry. I picked up a beautiful blouse made from a hand-stamped fabric. Unlike other parts of Siem Reap, it will cost you a pretty penny to shop at the higher-end boutiques. I paid about $70 for my one-of-a-kind find.

siem reap

After an hour or two of walking around the Old Market area, we ventured a little farther off the beaten path toward the water. If you cross one of the bridges over the Siem Reap River, you can check out the market on the other side. It won’t have anything different to offer than Phsar Chas, but it’s worth checking out anyway.

I picked up some wooden mala beads for $7 from one of the vendors, and since fewer people hit up this area, I think it made the woman’s day to have a sale. I think I way overpaid by local standards, but the prices are so low to start with, I felt like a thief going any lower. I would have paid at least five times as much back home.

Mid-Day

By now, you’ll be a hot, sweaty mess. You’ll likely also be a little bit hungry and a whole lot thirsty. Since we had scheduled a cooking class later that afternoon, we decided to head back to the hotel for a dip in the pool, but you could also head toward the main market area for a bite to eat. You may want to try Khmer Kitchen. It’s got a great selection of local delicacies, is easy to find, and is highly recommended by both tourists and locals alike.

Afternoon

By the time 2 p.m. rolled around, I was so hungry I could eat a horse (which is saying a lot since I haven’t eaten red meat in more than 20 years). That’s when our cooking class commenced. I wasn’t really sure what to expect since the hotel was so new that it didn’t have any detailed information on the website. In fact, in retrospect, I think we may have been the first people to take the class.

The class took place in dining room at the Golden Temple Residence, and we were the only two people in it. We arrived to find a table set with knives, bowls, aprons, and all of the ingredients we’d purchased at the market earlier that day. And the entire restaurant staff was there to greet us. They gave us hats to wear and took our pictures as the chef showed us exactly what to do. The hotel had given us the choice of two appetizers, three entrés, and two desserts to choose from a few weeks before we arrived, so we knew exactly what we would be making.

Siem Reap

Pro tip: If you have special dietary needs, they are more than willing to accommodate. Since all of the meal choices included red meat, they were happy to offer a poultry selection when I let them know my situation. As well, I’m allergic to coconut, so they modified the dessert menu especially for me.

After about two hours of chopping, rolling, dicing, and frying, our meal was complete. I’m the worst cook in the world, but even I managed to prepare a gourmet meal that was to die for. While everything was wonderful, the class itself was a little long. If I thought I was hungry when we started, I was about ready to pass out by the time we got to eat. Still, I would do it again in a heartbeat. The meal was the most delicious I’ve ever had, and we were stuffed full for the rest of the evening.

Siem reap

After eating a huge meal, anyone would be ready for a nap, but when you only have one day to experience Siem Reap, there’s no time for rest. We wolfed down our meals and ran upstairs to change for our next activity. A tuk tuk was arriving at 4:30 p.m. to take us to a sunset ATV tour.

Early Evening

My husband loves off roading, but I’m not super adventurous. Still, I decided to surprise him with an ATV trek through the rice paddies. Our hotel made all of the arrangements with a company called Quad Adventure Cambodia. I’d read all about them online and knew they were both safe and reliable. They also catered to beginner drivers, like me.

Siem Reap

Since it was just the two of us on the tour with a local guide, we could go as fast or slow as we wanted. But once I got the hang of things, I knew the faster I went, the more we’d get to see. The terrain was easy to manage since Siem Reap is pretty flat. We sped through rice fields and past small villages. We got to see a side of the area we wouldn’t have been able to see any other way.

After a half hour or so, we stopped at a Buddhist temple. It’s peaceful serenity was one of my favorite experiences. We watched young monks play and wandered around the site for a few minutes. The pace of the entire tour was at our leisure, and while we didn’t want to dally and miss out on other stops, we also wanted to enjoy the moment. We spent about 15 minutes here before carrying on with our adventure.

Siem Reap

For the next hour and a half, we trekked through the countryside along gravel roads and grassy fields. We saw locals fishing, herding cattle, and tending to their homes. The tour culminated in a roadside stop to watch the sunset. It was a highlight of our entire Southeast Asia adventure. But our day was still far from over.

Bellies still bursting from our self-made meal, we decided to skip dinner and instead take the time to rest for an hour before our scheduled massages. The hotel provided one free massage per person with our stay, and we thought a great time to take them would be after we’d beat up our bodies on the ATV tour. We’d opted for the couples Thai massage, and we were thoroughly relaxed afterward. I felt like I was walking on clouds.

When we arrived back at the room, we found the hotel staff had been busy putting together a special surprise. I was celebrating a milestone birthday during our time in Cambodia, and they had decorated the room in honor of my special day. They even made me a cake.

Siem Reap

We enjoyed a slice of cake and decided our night still wasn’t over. We opted to go for one last stroll along Pub Street. The night markets are a must-see when you’re in Siem Reap, and seeing as though they were right outside our door, we simply couldn’t resist.

By this time, we’d been on the go for more than 14 hours, so we weren’t out long. We grabbed a quick snack from Blue Pumpkin and looked at a few different vendors. It was all of the same kitschy stuff we’d seen earlier in the day, but now we were seeing it in a new light—literally, it was quite dark outside. The streets come alive when the lights go down. Music pumps through the speakers of local pubs, and tuk tuk drivers stand on every corner waiting to whisk you off to the next party.

siem reap

But there would be no partying for us. After an hour or so, the night was wearing on us. We finally decided to call it a day. We needed to be up before sunrise the next morning to explore the temples of Angkor Wat, so we headed back to the hotel and crawled into bed. It had been the ultimate day in Siem Reap.

How would you spend the perfect day in Siem Reap? Join the discussion in the comments.