Back in the Summer 2011, when I first joined forces with my consulting company; SERJ, we discussed many things from company direction and marketing strategy to new client engagement. I wasnâ€™t yet deployed so when our conversation got to where to market me, the first thing out of my mouth was: I want to go to Hawaii! TwoÂ years later I am on contract on the island of Oahu for one year. Boy did my CEO deliver!
Stepping off the plane in August 2011, the first thing I notice is the dÃ©cor. Everything is â€˜island-inspiredâ€™. A lot of wood carvings, floral patterns, wicker or wicker-like furniture. I immediately sense a healthy amount of Island Pride. As I make my way through the airport, which is enclosed in some areas and open to the elements in others, the warmth of the weather seems to gently engulf you and invitingly infiltrates your senses-Aloha!. It feels very tropical!
After collecting my luggage, I find my way out and taxi towards my hotel in Waikiki.
There was (and still is) a LOT I didnâ€™t know about Hawaii. Here is a miscellaneous list (I find these things quite humorous as well as interesting) outlining what I have learned so far:
- Muumuus originated in Hawaii:Â Â Hawaiianâ€™s are quite proud of their heritage and therefore Muumuuâ€™s are a definite must-have. On the islands (as opposed to on the Mainland), the muumuu designs touted around town are quite pleasing to the eye. Most are adorned with a variation of Hawaiian and island inspired designs in all colors. The Polynesian-style muumuu being more colorful while the Hawaiian designs slightly conservative in color and pattern.
- Casual Fridayâ€™s originated in Hawaii:Â Â In the 1930â€™s, a Chinese merchant created the Aloha shirt. Later, in 1945,Hawaii instituted Aloha Week. According to Wikipedia: â€œThe Honolulu Chamber of Commerce funded a study of aloha shirts and designs for comfortable business clothing worn during the hot Hawaiian summers.â€Â Â Aloha Week began in April and lasted through to October. Aloha Fridays took root in the 1960â€™s and the custom spread across the mainland starting inCalifornia and spreading Eastward. Aloha Friday eventually evolved into Casual Friday. However â€“ InHawaii â€“ most men wear the traditional Hawaiian shirt for everyday business and on Fridayâ€™s, women more freely tout their muumuus to work.
- Hawaiians Love Spam! Â Spam is a major staple in this state. Wikipedia also reports that the Hawaiian population is one of the top 3 areas in the United States that consume the most Spam per capita. Burger King serves Spam on the menu inHawaii and Spam Masubis are to die for (I eat these almost every day!)
- Living the Aloha Culture:Â Â The Aloha culture is difficult to describe: In a nutshell, people are nice and courteous, but nothing is done in a hurry. Aloha meansÂ affection,Â love,Â peace,Â
compassion andÂ mercy. Try doing all those things at once but on your own time and in your own way with every task on youâ€™re to do list and maybe we are somewhere close to how things get done here. The Aloha lifestyle is very laid-back and in direct contrast to our mainland hustle and bustle of time tables, deadlines and assertive-in-your-face day-to-day behavior. Aloha is the reason why most of us are drawn to the islands. Aloha and vacation truly go hand-in-hand.
- Diversity!Â Â On my first trip to Hawaii, I definitely noticed the cultural make-up of the population. I expected it to be different but initially dismissed the profound number of Asians and expected more Hawaiians. Anytime you venture out of California, diversity is less prevalent; However, here I found myself on the other side of the spectrum. By day 3 â€“ I had an epiphany: I look like I belong here! The island is 58% Asian or of Asian descent or mix. (I am Korean and Caucasian mix). According to About.com: â€œHawaii is clearly the most racially integrated state in the United States. It is also the only state where whites are not the majority but rather only a third of the population.â€
- Dog the Bounty Hunter:Â Â His office is on the island (Oahu) atÂ 1381 Queen Emma Street in downtown Honolulu. Feel free to drive by or walk by and take pictures. Many of the tour companies on the island take their patrons by the office and point it out as they drive by.
- President Obama:Â Â President Barack Obama grew up on Oahu. There is a travel website (Frankoâ€™s Guide Map to Obamaâ€™s Oahu) dedicated solely to everything on the island and its significance with relation to Barack Obama.
- Pirates of the Caribbean -Â The Black Pearl: Â The Black Pearl calls Oahu home (for the time being). Upon some of the islands boat tours and cruises, the Black Pearl can be sighted on the North side of the island. A Pirates of the Caribbean movie or two back, some of the filming was done right here in Oahu. I heard that sometime in the future, it will be moved to down south (in the Caribbean?) in preparation for the next sequel. This is total hearsay so donâ€™t quote me on that.
- Lost:Â Â The TV Show â€“ Lost was filmed on the island of Oahu. One can visit all the filming locations during an 8-hour tour.Â Daniel Dae KimÂ who played JinÂ on the TV show now solely lives on the island. You may run into him!
- Hawaii Five-0:Â Â Hawaii Five -0 the original and the new version (TV Show) are all filmed on theIslands. Hawaiians are very proud of this fact. Recommendation: It would do a visitor good to watch a few episodes before your trip. You will be asked if you have seen the show.
- Movie: The Descendents:Â Â TheÂ story-lineÂ for The Descendents (I watched this movie) takes place in Oahu. And since I have been working here the past 4 months â€“ the movie was a trip to watch because what would have been unfamiliar to me (culture, island scenery and overall dÃ©cor) were now very familiar and relevant. I would recommend watching the movie and taking note of these things before visiting the islands to simply add more relevance to your experience. Pretty good movie too. (definitely a Red Box movie though â€“ not very action packed).
- Banyan Trees!Â Â I am no botanist but I canâ€™t write an article aboutÂ Oahu and not mention this tree. I noticed it immediately because it truly stands out. These guys grow up like any other beginning as a nut to a sprout to eventually a full fledged tree â€“ but then something unique and awesome happens. Long tendrils start growing down from the branches to the ground and then rooting. It is almost like forming another tree, but it is all still the same tree! (I saw somewhere that Banyans originated in India) On Maui, there is a large one that spans about 12 trunks and covers approximately 2/3 of an acre. (Reminds me of the tree on Avatar).
- Birds of a feather:Â Â There are tons of exotic birds living freely on the islands. Beautiful birds flying all over the place. Parrots, finches, waxbills can be encountered while eating, walking or laying out in the sun. (Seriously, on the mainland, I have only encountered finches in pet stores, here â€“ I find them in meadows, parks and along the sidewalk as I stroll on in to work). I love nature and being able to see birds living happily amongst us just lifts my heart. So precious.
Side note: Also â€“ outside ofWaikiki â€“ all over the island, there are free range chickens. What do you mean? You ask? Literally: chickens walk freely inOahuâ€™s local neighborhoods! I think it is awesome. Just saying.
Back to my new adventure aka Operation Hawaii: Being new to the island, I was excited to kick start all the things on my bucket list. As expected, there are the standard things most of us think about when planning a trip to Hawaii: Beaches, Resorts, and Luaus etc. Here are my experiences, observations and recommendations:
On the island of Oahu,Waikiki is the spot where most tourists hang out. Shopping is a major component of the Waikiki experience. All of the designer stores are here as well as a number of popular places to eat. One can spend an entire visit centered in and around Waikiki and feel thoroughly vacationed.
Beware the Time Share!
They are ALL over the place! Every corner of Waikiki is inundated with activity booths. Most will advertise reduced rates for a select number of activities from chartering boats, sailing, snorkeling and the like – all in exchange for a few hours sitting through a Time Share presentation. If you are up for that sort of thing and would like to take the opportunity to save some money â€“ go for it. If not â€“ then here are a few tips to find deals:
- Through out Waikiki, one can find brochures that include coupons for some of the same activities. Grab as many as you can and then read through them. Make sure you compare pricing across brochures and advertisements. When calling, see if you can talk them down a bit. I was told the Luau was $95 at full price but was able to get it at $65 once I did enough research.
- See if your hotel has packages that are part of your stay
- Sometimes contacting the activity directly (as opposed to through an activity dealer) can gain you savings as well.
International Market Place:
The International Market Place is located centrally in Waikiki. Just ask around and people will point you in the right direction OR you will eventually stumble upon it the more you explore. You canâ€™t miss it. It is like a permanent flea market littered with booth upon booth of island ware. T-shirt shops, island-inspired jewelry, Wooden Tiki statues are just some of the treasures that can be found here. Shop away!
- Top of Waikiki:Â Located inWaikiki. Food was decent. The novelty of the experience was nice but nothing to brag about. I suspect at some point in the past â€“ this restaurant might have been â€˜the place to beâ€™ however, now â€“ it seems to be more of a â€˜has-beenâ€™ location to eat.
- Sarentoâ€™sÂ at the Top of the IlikaiÂ â€“ Fine Italian dining. The Fondue was awesome! It is best to put in a reservation. The food was about an 8 out of 10. The atmosphere and experience is more the reason to eat here. The Ilikai is located towards the end of the Waikiki strip (KalaKaua Ave.) towards downtown.
- Onoâ€™s:Â For you Foodieâ€™s out there, Onoâ€™s is for you. Authentic Hawaiian food is what is on the menu. This is a hole-in-the-wall spot that deserves to be raved. Patrons are asked to wait outside until a table is open for sitting inside. About 10-15 tables total make up the small restaurant without much room beyond that to move around. Auntie will gesture you in and seat you without much more than a nod and a smile. The menu is simple and the food comes fast. I recommend trying one of the combination plates and tasting everything. I thoroughly enjoyed eating here and will take all who visit to this spot to truly experience Hawaii.
- Leanardâ€™s:Â Another â€˜insideâ€™ spot for you folks that want to venture off the beaten path: Leanardâ€™s is a local hot spot. Malasada Puffs are the signature item here. And although I have been trying to watch my calorie count lately, they were worth a whirl. Kind of like a donut with filling, these tasty treats cost me my allocated calories for dinner â€“ oh wellâ€¦.I will trade the experience any day over a full stomach.
- Kaewâ€™s Thai Villa:Â For some good food while on the island, I would highly recommend Kaewâ€™s Thai Villa. The menu touts authentic Thai food and the over-all quality of the food stands out over the other Thai food restaurants on the island.
- Puka Dog:Â For fly by eating, i.e. grabbing a bite while site seeing or shopping, Puka Dog is quick, tasty and definitely a Hawaiian experience. To eat here â€“ you must read the instructions. Located on Kuhio street (parallel to KalaKaua Ave), after you place your order, expect a short wait time for them to toast your bun. While waiting, take some pictures with tropical birds! The Bird Guy is behind the Puka Dog store.
- Diamond Head:Â A popular tourist destination, a Diamond Head hike can replace your planned work-out for the day. For those of us who are not as fit as we would like, this hike is not too strenuous but still a good workout. About 30-40 minutes total to make it to the top and there is no cost. Recommendation: If you want to make a day of it, you might want to pack a lunch. Sometimes â€“ there is a lunch truck parked near the beginning of the trail but the selection is limited. Also â€“ be sure to bring or buy water to stay hydrated.
- Makani Catamaran:Â I highly recommend the Makani. I do this only because this is the company I tried first and I like them a lot. A Co-Worker actually recommended them to me and every experience has been absolutely top notch. I have taken the afternoon Sun â€˜n Fun package a few times and I tried the Morning Breakfast Cruise once with my Niece (I lost my hat and we got pretty wet!) and plan on trying out the Friday Night Fireworks trip sometime soon. Recommendation: Donâ€™t wear a hat â€“ it can get windy and the wind is faster than your hands. Also â€“ the trip provides a few snacks and some drinks â€“ however â€“ should you desire eating something not on their menu â€“ it is perfectly fine to bring your own food.
- Germaineâ€™s Luau:Â Â Germaineâ€™s Lluau is awesome. Wait â€“ what is a luau? Here is the definition:Â a feast of Hawaiian food â€“according to the free dictionary website. I hear there are about 3 main luau companies on Oahu and I also hear that Germaineâ€™s is the best. I have gone 3 times so far and have enjoyed it every time. You can sign up for a tour or you can drive yourself to the location on the other side of the island (from Waikiki).Â Recommendation: The full experience though is taking the tour bus. Upon arrival at the luau, photographers will take a photo of you and your party on the beach so be sure to doll up a little for the memories. And then expect to be thoroughly entertained by the traditional Hawaiian and Polynesian dancing, (here is where you find hot island men and women!) Your luau photos cost $20 each so be sure to bring some cash.
- Dolphin Quest:Â Â Swimming with dolphins accomplished a major milestone in my life. I absolutely LOVE dolphins (along with elephants, lions,Bengal tigers, gorillas, McCaws, Cockatoos, and horses) so swimming with them, touching them let alone kissing them had me on cloud 9. I was having lunch at the Kahala Resort (I highly recommend eating Sunday Brunch here too, a little expensive but the food is to die for) and after our meal, we began exploring the premises. I turn a corner and fall in love with the dolphins swimming in the lagoon. What I like about Dolphin Quest is that the staff seem to take very good care of their dolphins. These guys are not over booked, they take care to make sure the dolphinâ€™s lives are filled with fun and excitement and that their experiences are different from day-to-day. I was told that the dolphins are asked to play with us and that if they chose, they could opt out of interacting. I like and support that approach one hundred percent. I signed up on the spot and about $225 later that same day I was in the lagoon with Hoku (one of the dolphins) and his friends. We kissed, I hugged him, I brushed his teeth and then we raced and he splashed me with water. It was a perfect date! I cannot rave more about it. I think everyone has to do this at least once in their life.
A few other activities to note:
- Ala Moana Mall: Standard mall. Quite large. Great shopping and includes a few nice restaurants as well.
- Paddle Boarding
There are many beaches all over each one of the Hawaiian islands. Here are descriptions of the few that I have been to and recommend:
- Koâ€™Olina:Â Â Located on the NorthShoreâ€“ this is where you want to go if the weather is not ideal in Waikiki. The NorthShore tends to be dryer than the rest of the island. Less populated, this area is sprinkled with a few high-end resorts and gorgeous beaches. Ko Olinaâ€™s beaches are lagoon-like in structure, look and feel. The lagoon layout removes large ocean waves out of the equation for a low-key day of tanning and fun in the sun on calmer waters. Bathrooms and a small convenient store is available within walking distance. There are no activity booths here leaving your time with the sun and the water more private and intimate.
- Lani Kai:Â Â My favorite beach so far-Lani Kai. This beach is on the wind-ward side of the island. The sand is fine and soft and the look and feel is tropical, private and local. This beach is off the beaten path so there arenâ€™t very many tourists. Houses sit right on the beach which give it an at home feel. While people walk their dogs and others canoe out to one of the two islands off in the distance, homeowners might be bar-b-queuing in their yards right behind the public beach area. The main part of the beach invites patrons to park and utilize the beach, the park and the bathroom facilities. Yet â€“ some may prefer parking in the neighborhood area and venturing through one of the paths between the local houses. This would make your experience a little more private and secluded. The only set back is here there are no bathrooms and if necessary, one would have to take a short walk to get to one.
- Hanama Bay:Â Â HanamaBayis a must do on the island. Here you can get up close and personal with natural coral and the tropical fish that go along with it. Item of note: I loved this experience and at the same time was a little saddened by it. The coral has definitely been damaged over the years. Expecting a flourish of color and diversity in plant life and fish, I found the coral to look abandoned and the fish population low and sparing. So although I couldnâ€™t recommend passing this experience up â€“ I would strongly urge that we pay attention to the presentation (required before being allowed on the beach) and that we respect nature and be careful not to further damage the habitat.
I wouldnâ€™t say that Hawaii is known for its nightlife. However the club scene is not bad. The main nightclub in Waikiki is Zanzibar and if there are others, I have not yet been exposed to them. I did notice a Senior Frog and I have heard about additional clubs in the downtown area that the locals go to.Â Â But for a short visit â€“ Zanzibar will suffice. I enjoyed the music and the atmosphere and recommend it for the week-long tourist.
I have about 8 more months left to explore Hawaii (my contract at the hospital is scheduled to end in December 2012) and plan to do just that â€“ continue to explore. As I sit in my condo on the 32ndÂ floor I hear the fireworks booming outside my window (every Friday â€“ Waikiki sets off fireworksÂ Â simply for our enjoyment), I contemplate what experiences I want to take advantage of next. I have a few friends and family planning to visit this summer and later in the fall and want to save some activities to share with them. I am sure there is some horseback riding, hiking, parasailing and paddle boarding in my future. I hope everyone gets to experience the spirit of Aloha sometime in their lives and recommend vacationing in paradise!