Exploring the Rocky Coast of Yehliu Geopark (Taiwan)

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The coast of Yehliu Geopark (captured with GoPro).

Located on the north coast of Taiwan, Yehliu Geopark contains uniquely-shaped rock formations such as the Queen’s Head and Fairy’s Shoe making it a popular hiking and sightseeing destination.  Besides the famous Taroko Gorge, this is one of my most favorite parks in Taiwan.  Since this park is a bit remote from Taipei City, I decided to book a cheap bus tour through GetYourGuide that stopped here and the famous lantern towns of this area (Jiufen and Shifen).  The tour was extremely laid back and you could freely wander around all the areas, so I would recommend it to people who are trying to make the most of their day.  I came here on the 2nd day of January, but the weather was sunny and I managed to take some decent photos despite the crowds:

Though I have been to a number of parks similar to this in Asia, the architecture here really amazed me!  The surface of the rocks reminded me of craters on the moon so I felt as if I was in my own sci-fi adventure.  Definitely be sure to follow the guideposts to the elegantly-shaped Queen’s Head rock (fortunately most of the signs are written in English).  The hike around the cape was very pleasant and it was awesome to see the ocean.  The entire park is walkable within 2 hours so you can definitely fit in other activities if you plan your day out.  The signs below indicate the major points of interest in the park (as you can see, there’s quite a lot):

I asked my guide on how these rock formations were formed because I was curious, and apparently it was due to seawater erosion.  Each layer of contains a different level of hardness (I recall learning this long ago in primary school), so the unique shape of the rocks is caused by the ocean waves weathering them over time.  It’s amazing how flat some of the surfaces are, yet others look like they have circular shapes in them like coral.  You can get a great view of the entire park if you follow the trail to the lighthouse:

Located next to the park is Yehliu Ocean World if you’re interested in seeing dolphin and sea lion performances among other aquatic lifeforms.  Unfortunately I didn’t have time to see them, but I’ve had the chance to see them before in Thailand and Japan.

This was a fantastic 2nd day in Taiwan, and I will be covering the lantern towns in my next post!  Yehliu Geopark was the first outdoor area where I used my GoPro, so it will always have a special place in my heart!

A Magical Journey to King’s Cross: The Harry Potter Cafe in Seoul

Laughter is timeless.  Imagination has no age.  And dreams are forever.

I never thought that I’d be spending the first night of my third trip to Seoul dressing up in Slytherin robes at a Harry Potter cafe, but recently life has been taking me to some interesting places.  943 King’s Cross Cafe is located in the Hongdae district and features magical concoctions, beautiful Hogwarts-inspired interior decor, and costumes you can borrow and dress up in.  Immediately I was seduced by the Dragon’s Blood and eyeball cocktail upon entering (fortunately no advanced reservations were required).  After my long flight, sipping on some vodka and relaxing at this 5 floor cafe seemed like the perfect way to relax.

I have been to the Harry Potter cafes in both Tokyo and Singapore before, but Seoul’s by far was the most extravagant.  I appreciated the long boarding school-like tables they had on one floor, but they also had couches and tables for small groups on other floors.  Each floor had a unique theme and the top floor even had a Christmas tree since I came here during the winter.  Many paintings were hung on the walls mimicking the Hogwarts portraits.  Although they couldn’t talk, under the fluorescent lighting they almost looked like they could!  A dementor was hidden in one of the stairwells and gave me a great surprise.  Luckily I didn’t stare it in the eyes, or else my trip would have ended there.

The menu had a lot of desserts that you could order individually, but unfortunately the food menu was designed for large groups (like many restaurants are in Seoul).  Fortunately I wasn’t bothered by this because cocktails and desserts were all I wanted anyway!  The main draw of this cafe is the free robes that you can borrow on the 5th floor.  I had so much fun taking pictures and all of the people around me were genuinely thrilled to be here.  There’s also a gift shop with some very cute Slytherin earrings that I almost bought (but I decided to look at the night market instead).

Experiencing childhood memories in a foreign country is truly something special.  I would recommend coming here if you are a fan of the series because it is truly something magical.

Address

Sageun-dong, Seongdong-gu, Seoul, South Korea

Experiencing the Raccoon and Meerkat Cafes in Seoul

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Raccoons are surprisingly friendly creatures–not home wreckers!

As an animal lover, I have been to every single animal cafe in Japan so during my first trip to Korea I decided to visit all of the ones that Japan doesn’t have.  My research led me to find two separate animal cafes for raccoons and meerkats in two of Seoul’s major districts.  In this article I will be reporting my experiences from both cafes as part of my ongoing Korea article series.

Meerkat Friends

Before being locked in a cage with dozens of these creatures and having one try to crawl up my skirt, I had no idea that meerkats were such feisty mongooses.  I thought they would behave similar to ferrets–finicky but overall pleasant and holdable.  Instead these meerkats loved play-fighting with one another and could never sit still so it was very difficult to interact with them (and also take photos, but that’s beside the point).

Upon further research I discovered that they are actually carnivores, so this kind of behavior completely makes sense!  They are so entertaining to watch and this is a rare opportunity to see them up close, so I would recommend coming here if you get the chance.  Just be careful of what you wear because it may get stuck on their claws!  You will be lent an apron when you enter the meerkat playpen.

In addition to the playful meerkats, this cafe also has cats and wallabies in separate areas, so it really is worth the money!  The wallabies were a lot more friendly and could easily be pet and fed.  I was happy to see that the cafe was clean and that all the animals seemed to get along with one another.

Meerkat Friends Address

364-3 서교동, Mapo-gu, Seoul, South Korea
Entrance Fee: 10,000KRW

Blind Alley

Blind Alley is one of the best animal cafes that I’ve been to!  In America, raccoons have quite bad reputations as animals that break into houses and are quite greedy with stealing food.  However, the ones at this cafe were very calm and relaxed.  The store asks that you do not pick them up, however, if you offer them food they will likely come to you.

A sign at the store reads:

Do not try to hold or put the raccon on your head, it’s the raccoon’s choice, not yours. Only lucky people will be able to enjoy that kind of moment. Sorry

I thought that was very funny!  Fortunately I was one of the “lucky people” and the raccoon climbed on my head for a brief second.  It surprisingly did not hurt at all.  The raccoons have a lot of space at this cafe so they can choose to climb into the rafters or freely interact with visitors.  I think that Blind Alley had a pretty good setup.

In addition to raccoons, there was one baby pig there as well when I visited in 2018.  I was able to hold him in a blanket for a while.

Overall both of my animal cafes in Seoul were very pleasant and the system was similar to Tokyo.  At the raccoon cafe, I was able to stay as long as I wanted so I was very grateful for that.

Blind Alley Address

76 Cheongpa-ro 47-gil, Cheongpadong 2(i)-ga, Yongsan-gu, Seoul, South Korea
Entrance Fee: 6,000KRW

Hanging out at the Imperial Palace of Cambodia

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The Imperial Palace Brightly shines brightly in Phnom Penh, Cambodia.

On my last day in Cambodia, I decided to take a walk to the Imperial Palace in Phnom Penh and try some aesthetic food at the cafes nearby.  What an amazing trip this was!  I had the opportunity to visit the killing fields and learn about the brutal history of Cambodia, rave in a jungle on Koh Rong, volunteer with bears, and also see the historic temples of Angkor Wat.  I ended my trip by coming to the capital city to see how it has reshaped itself since the rule of the Khmer Rouge.  Phnom Penh reminded me of a smaller Ho Chi Minh City because there were a lot of motorcycle commuters and international travelers with tiny shops that lined the streets.  It was a bit harder to traverse on foot compared to Siem Reap with all of the traffic, but it is definitely worth checking out.

Since I had done a lot of traveling in this country, I spent a lot of time relaxing in my room at Lovely Jubbly Villa, which I highly recommend staying at.  They have an excellent bar by the pool with a happy hour every night and the staff are extremely friendly.  Plus the panda mascot is so adorable!  The perks of coming during the off season is that it is very easy to make friends and go out with the Cambodian locals here.  My hotel was able to help me book cheap tuk tuk rides and a ride to the airport, and they had cheap tours you could book the day of.  It was such a pleasant stay and I was sad to leave, but 10 days here was enough for me to see everything that I wanted.

Overall I was extremely impressed by the warmth and friendliness that everyone showed me here.  Most people that come to Cambodia have already been to Thailand and are looking for a different experience.  I was able to meet a lot of cool people that inspired me to travel to other Asian countries as well.  It’s amazing how much this country has built itself back up since its destructive civil war in the 1970s.

If you have any questions about traveling to Cambodia, please see my original itinerary, or feel free to ask me in the comments.

Aesthetic Food Finds in Cambodia

As an avid lover of all things that are aesthetic, searching for unique restaurants and trying the most colorful foods around the world is one of my life goals.  Besides the infamous Happy Pizza this country is famous for, here are some of the best foods that I tried in Cambodia:

Siem Reap

Though Siem Reap is mostly famous for Angkor Wat and its other historical monuments, there are actually a surprisingly decent amount of delicious and healthy restaurants around.  My personal favorite was Artillery that had falafel waffles and vegan dragon fruit cake.  They were both amazingly satisfying after a long day of exploring ancient temples and working up an appetite.

I also recommend heading to the Fresh Fruit Factory which is nearby.  They have amazing fruit parfaits and shaved ice you can try with a friendly and welcoming atmosphere:

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My favorite street food that I tried near the night market here was hands down the Strawerry Hokkaido Cheese Toast.  Since I’ve been to Hokkaido twice this year, I felt obligated to try it.  Say cheese~  Surprisingly, I liked the flavor and texture of it.  They also have green tea and other unique flavors here, along with bubble tea.

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Koh Rong

Koh Rong Island is a lot more rural than other areas in Cambodia, but I still managed to find some great food in the small village of Koh Touch!  I tried a falafel wrap from Sky Bar which was extremely fulfilling, and also ate a lot of my meals at the Treehouse Restaurant where I was staying.  I had some delicious seafood noodle soup, muesli with yogurt and fresh fruit, and also some chocolate pancakes with banana.  I was impressed with how fresh the food was and fortunately was able to eat healthy every day while I was here.  They are a number of western-style restaurants that serve pizza and burgers here as well.

Phnom Penh

The capital of Cambodia has no shortage of food options.  My favorite restaurant  was a cozy cafe near the imperial palace called VIBE.  Here I had some delicious avocado flatbread and a delicious chocolate smoothie bowl served out of a coconut.  This gave me a lot of energy for the day so I was very happy to have stumbled upon it.

As far as fast food goes, I found a wonderful cafe called J’ADORE where I had a huge avocado shake and mini prawn burgers.  They were easy to eat and were surprisingly packed with flavor:

Though Cambodia is less-developed than other Asian countries, you can definitely find a restaurant or cafe here that suits your taste, and most food is very affordable.

Amanohashidate: An Eerily Beautiful Beach in Northern Kyoto

Over the weekend I had a wonderful trip to obscure fishing villages, islands, and beaches in northern Kyoto and Shiga Prefecture.  One of my favorite places that I discovered was this sandbar in Miyazu called Amanohashidate (try saying that three times fast)!

Amanohashidate is a 3 hour train ride from Kyoto Station with four different transfers, but its scenic atmosphere and remote location make it the ideal getaway for hotspring vacations or even just day trips away from the city.  Due to my bus itinerary, I arrived here around 7pm just as dusk fell.  I wasn’t sure if I would be able to walk across the entire sandbar this late at night, but surprisingly it’s open 24 hours, which is often rare for public beaches in Japan.

When I reached the southern tip of the sandbar (which is just a short walk from the station), the beach was illuminated with backlights in stark contrast to what it would normally look like during the day and some serene music was playing from a speaker.  It was like being at a rave, but with calming music.  I felt as if I was an alien that had landed on another planet!

Though I’ve been to many wild beach parties in Thailand, my stroll on Amanohashidate was something I’d had yet to experience.  I’ve never seen such a thin and beautiful beach lit up like this.  In the middle of the sandbar is a shrine, and there are lookout points on both ends of it.  It takes about an hour to cross the sandbar by foot, but bike rental is available during the day.  I was extremely tired from all of the travel, but during this trek I felt rejuvenated by soaking my feet in the water.

I’d recommend for most people to visit Amanohashidate during the day so you can ride the cable car, but unfortunately I did not have time to do this.  However, I was pleasantly surprised by the experience I had here, and would recommend it to people who have already been to Kyoto and Osaka and are looking for something different.  Walking across a sandbar is definitely a unique experience for most people traveling in Japan!

Before I went back to central Kyoto, I decided to try a course meal at a restaurant near the station called 310 Amanohashidate Japanese Table.  Since I do not eat meat, I requested a fish and vegetable course a received avocado, salad, tofu, sashimi, and some delicious grilled fish and rice:

If you have the time, please consider exploring northern Kyoto.  You will find less tourists and a lot more culture here!

A Reflective Day at Sky Mirror Beach (Malaysia)

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Feeling enchanted at Sky Mirror Beach, Kuala Selangor.

In Malaysia, there is a magical beach that will display a perfect image of your reflection in the water during certain times of the day due to the low tide.  Kuala Selangor Beach, better known as Sky Mirror Beach, is a natural phenomena that attracts many creative photographers and those who wish to see this rare occurrence.

Though the official website states that you can only see this twice a month during the full moon and new moon phases, you can actually see it daily with the assistance of lighting.  At times the beach is completely submerged underwater and appears uncharted, which is why it is required that you book a tour to go to Sky Mirror Beach.  The beach is quite remote and requires a speedboat trip to reach it, but once there you can take in all of its rare beauty!

I booked my tour through Veltra, and I found the tour to be overall satisfactory.  Though I road the speedboat with a group of people, I had my own private driver to the pier that was included in the price.  He picked me up right from my hostel and got me there early so I could relax for a bit.  Once arriving at the beach, they will also help you take pictures with optimal lighting.  I brought my portable tripod, but they had light boxes set up on the beach already.  You are free to walk around and explore the beach on your own too.  Though it’s not really ideal for swimming, there are a lot of interesting sea snails and tiny crabs you can see (and they’re harmless).

Overall, most tour packages are about $100 to see this beach, but I think the experience is worth it.  The trip includes snacks, water, and transportation to an extremely rare area of the country from central Kaula Lumpur, so I think it’s justified.  I’m not sure where else in the world I can see a magical beach like this, so I’m happy that I took this opportunity!

Exploring Kuala Lumpur: Temples, Caves, and Chinatown

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The city of Kuala Lumpur comes alive at night.

Malaysia is a country where you can find an abundance of places such as remote beaches, penthouses with infinity pools, markets, skyscrapers, temples, and more amazing architecture.  I loved the diversity that the city of Kuala Lumpur had to offer.  Though the center of the city is quite fancy, the country itself is actually very affordable to travel in, making it a popular destination for backpackers.  I traveled here via bus for three days after exploring Singapore, and was extremely happy with all the sights I was able to see.

I recommend staying at least three days in KL to make sure you have time to see everything.  Much of the city is reachable on foot or via train, but since it was cheap I used the Grab app to call taxis around the city.  With the tropical weather, delicious food, and affordable accommodations, you really can’t go wrong traveling here!  Here are the places that I definitely recommend seeing:

Petaling Street & Chinatown

The Chinatown district of KL is always very lively and has a ton of cultural aspects to enjoy.  When exploring a new country, my strategy is always to usually start with the local market to see what the downtown area was like.  That is why I chose to come here early in the day, though most places are usually open until around 11pm or later.  The market on Petaling Street had an array of knockoff handbags and interesting items.  I managed to score a seemingly authentic-looking Ted Baker bag for less than $50.  Prices here are open to negotiation, and I recommend that you look around!

If you’re not into shopping. there is still a lot to see around this area because it’s very close to KL’s central transit station.  I explored the local Sri Mahamariamman Temple, which is the oldest Hindu temple in the city.  I also got some local street food that tasted amazing!  I recommend that you try the local fried rice dishes and curry here.

I also tried “ABC Ice”, which is a very unique Malaysian spin on shaved ice:

The top of it tasted like traditional shaved ice you find in Japan–it was topped with condensed milk which made it extremely sweet and delicious.  However, at the bottom it was filled with jelly cubes, sweet beans, and this mysterious green noodle sweet I had never tasted before!  It was refreshing, but the texture of the toppings they placed at the bottom as a bit too much for me…  However, I was happy that I tried it!

The Batu Caves

The Batu Caves is a beautiful area with rainbow stairs leading to a limestone cave with temples inside.  There are actually a total of five caves, but the central ones with the golden statue of Lord Murugan are the most frequented.  Though the hill looks steep, it actually only takes approximately 8 minutes to climb.  The caves are extremely gorgeous, and this trip is a relaxing escape from the city that only takes approximately 30 minutes to reach.  I enjoyed sipping on some fresh coconut juice while going on this short hike.  To reach the Dark Cave, it is required you book a tour, but you can see the majority of the area without one.

Petronas Towers

The Petronas Towers are an iconic landmark of KL and are currently the tallest twin towers in the world.  At night they light up and you can find groups of people gathered around them because they are in the heart of the city.  When you first enter them, you will find an upscale shopping district called Suria KLCC.  However, on the 41st and 42nd floor, you will find the skybridge that connects the two towers.  You can go up to the top and take some stunning photos.  This is an ingenious design because it saves a ton of time walking through here rather than from one building to the other.  This very well could be the future of architecture!

Bukit Bintang

Bukit Bintang is the main bar street of KL, and there’s a lot of adventures to be had here!  Though I only had two nights to explore it, I came across this upscale Asian bistro called Opium that I really enjoyed.  They had a ton of Asian cuisine (Thai, Maylasian, Japanese, Vietnamese), as well as some fascinating cocktails.  I tried the spiced rum and coffee cocktails.  Though they were a bit pricey, just two of them got me pretty tipsy.

I then briefly popped into the club called Zion (Sieg Zion)!  The pro was that it was free, the con was that it played mainly American hiphop music with no variety, but I was bought a handful of drinks by locals so it was a night well spent.  The club was big enough to dance, and I’m curious to know what the music selection is like on other nights.

Final Thoughts

Though this might not be the first trip on your itinerary, as someone who’s lived in Asia for a while, I can definitely say traveling here is like a breath of fresh air.  The country is extremely safe, and I enjoyed experiencing the culture of the people that live here.  It feels familiar because everyone speaks English, but also extremely foreign at the same time.  The biggest culture shock for me was that people eat rice with their bare hands!  However, people were extremely polite and kind to me, and it reminded me of Thailand at times.  Please consider taking a trip here.

 

Backpacking through Canal City (Otaru, Japan)

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I’ve never been to Hokkaido in the summer, but since it’s the only main island of Japan where I haven’t gone swimming yet, I figured I’d explore one of the port towns over the weekend.  The advantage to coming to this island in the summer is there is a lot of flower farms in bloom, the weather is near perfect, and there’s tons of fresh ice cream everywhere!  Well, actually there’s ice cream here year-round since Hokkaido is known for its dairy, but this is the optimum weather for it.

I took a discount flight through Jetstar by booking it a few months in advance from Tokyo to New Chitose Airport, then took the express train from there to reach Otaru.  Otaru is a historic port town with amazing seafood and ice cream.  Almost all of the major attractions are within walking distance from the main station, and it has a very bubbly shopping street.  There are a number of landmarks and famous buildings, as well as the relaxing stroll down canal street!

I started my trip with a stop at Popura Farm Otaru to try their famous melon bowl ice cream.  It did not disappoint.  With newfound energy I wandered to the canal street for some photography.  It truly looks like something out of a Venetian movie!  They offer boat rides here, but since I was trying to steer away from crowds, I opted not to go.  Being in this pleasant weather was sure relaxing though.

Next I traveled to the shopping street right down the road and saw some interesting shops!  You could buy almost anything here: crab buns, green tea, music boxes, sushi, Sniw Miku goods, art, and more.  They also had Peanuts and Hello Kitty themed  restaurants.  What a happening place.  My favorite shop here was LeTAO, because they were giving amazing free samples of cheese cake and cookies here.  Shops on this street close around 7pm, so be sure to come early so you can see everything.

At the end of this street was a very unique music box museum!  They had adorable sushi cake music boxes for sale, as well as the Orpheus music box you could see (not for sale), which is one of the oldest and most famous in Japan.  Although the first floor was a bit of a tourist trap with nothing but souvenirs on the tables, the upper floors had a lot of rare music boxes and were exciting to see.  This museum is very small but has a homey feel.

Afterwards I decided it was time to go to the beach!  The weather was perfect and I was in an elevated mood that comes with traveling to a new place.  I grabbed my swimsuit and took a local bus to to Higashi Otaru Beach, which was one of the closest swimming beaches to Otaru Station.  From the photos and reviews on Google Maps, it looked like quite the promising place for a swim.  However, I was quite disappointed its overall condition and how small the swimming area was.

This beach is right next to the railroad tracks, so you need to walk a long distance down the side of a highway to get to an area where it’s safe to cross.  When I finally got there I noticed the sand was very rough, and there was litter on the beach.  I tried to go swimming but I couldn’t get far–there were a lot of rocks and it just didn’t live up to my previous expectations for it.  Instead, I decided to make up for it by drinking two mini bottles of wine that I had stored in my backpack and relaxed for a while.  This was the first time that I’ve been disappointed by a beach in Japan, but I wasn’t about to let it ruin my trip.  I found a rock to sit on and gazed at the beautiful horizon while I rested.  From this point of view, it looked like a stunning beach:

Not wanting to accept disappointment, I decided to make my way back to the central city and find a hotspring.  Except I was slightly buzzed and couldn’t find the bus stop.  I decided to walk on the side of the highway until I found a taxi.  But I was on the wrong side of the road.  How to cross… That’s when the free shuttle to Otaru Kourakuen miraculously arrived and stopped for me.  I decided that’s where I was going next!  Adorable otters greeted me at the door, and a dip in the hot springs was exactly what I needed to regain my spirit.  I was back again!  Back from disappointment.

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I owe my life to this hotspring.

Afterwards, it was getting to be dusk so I decided to make my way back to the center of the city and grab dinner.  I decided on a seafood place near the melon ice cream restaurant and ordered some delicious crab leg avocado sushi.  If you’re going to try seafood, Hokkaido is the place to do it!

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It looks American!

Feeling extremely satisfied I decided to make my way back to Sapporo where I was staying, just because it has cheaper guesthouse options.  I had a very good time here in Otaru though!  After living in Tokyo for over three years, I am always glad to spend my time in the scenic countryside.

Visiting Baan Teelanka – The Upside Down House & Phuket Fantasea

It was a stormy day in January when all boats were forbidden from leaving the harbor in Phuket that I decided to venture to the Upside Down House.  Having all my previously booked island tours cancelled was a real bummer, but I decided to make the most of it by exploring the the current island I was stranded on and heading to a spa.

I took a motorbike from Patong because the storm hadn’t hit Phuket yet, and made my way to this crazy wayward house in the middle of the island.  A sign greeted me with “Sorry, we’re open” and a bright pink house that looked like it tipped over was sure enough there.  I would definitely do a home stay in this house if I had the chance.

They also have a garden maze and an escape maze here adding to the weirdness of this location.  I paid 350 Baht to get in, and was immediately impressed with the artistic displays that Baan Teelanka had to offer on its three floors.  This place is ideal for silly family photos, but is also fun to just look at the amount of detail that was put into each room:

My favorite rooms were probably the kitchen and the bathroom.  It’s absolutely hilarious to take pictures of the open fridge and upside down toilet.  If you’re a good photographer, you can really get creative with angles and make it look like your model is balancing off the surfaces of some of these rooms.  This was actually the perfect way to spend a rainy day and I was happy that I came here!

Right down the road is a Thai IKEA that is worth checking out.  I decided to go in and try their pineapple smoothie, and they also had pastries available.  It was incredibly delicious!  Phuket really does have a lot of nice gems.

Another great thing to do on a rainy day is to go to Phuket Fantasea!  This theme park is essentially Thailand’s version of Disney Sea but instead of rides, they have an expansive arcade targeted at children, a famous buffet, and a Broadway-esque performance with acrobatics, dancers, and a dazzling display of lights.  Though it might not be as big as other themeparks, it’s still fun to check out.  It has both indoor and outdoors areas with live performances and a lot of fun areas to explore.  Tickets for the show start at 1,800 baht which I recommend seeing because it definitely brightened my stormy day!

The storm fortunately cleared up within 3 days and I was finally able to fly to Chiang Mai to see the most aesthetic temple in the world without having to change my flight.  Listening to the thunder at night alone in my business hotel on the beach, but I still felt safe.

Regardless of weather, Phuket is a great place to explore and the people are very accommodating!  Though parts of it like Patong have an excess of expats and tourists, you can find private beaches away from them to the south, and also catch a ferry from one of the piers to go to other tropical islands.