Category Archive for Fims + Videos

Hosting a Travel Channel TV series in Tokyo! Using Happn app to meet new people through everyday coincidences.

tokyo travel tips blog

Tokyo remains one of my favorite cities on the planet. There’s always something new (and usually cute!) to discover here.

I recently filmed in Japan with a new Travel Channel TV series, and am delighted to finally share behind-the-scenes from the shoot.

As we whiz through Tokyo’s coolest districts, I’ll also introduce you to a fabulous French app called Happn, which seizes everyday coincidences and lets you meet the people you cross paths with!

Last month, I revealed I’m the host of a new Travel Channel TV series (Japan episode) called “Could I Live There?” Above is a teaser clip; you can also see it on YouTube.

(“Tokyo’s Cute Culture” airs again on March 29th at 8:30am. Soon, the show will be available for download on Amazon.)

tokyo street crossing

The Travel Channel team and I filmed all over Tokyo. Can you imagine how many people I must have walked past, during this TV shoot alone?

I snapped this photo in busy Akihabara, and it made me think. People are always on their phones, and yet, it can be hard to start up a real-life conversation.

shibuya beauty makeup

I was excited to learn Happn was launching in Japan, as it’s a brilliant way to bridge these gaps.

This free app lets you give a second chance at a first encounter. It first launched in Paris in 2014, and is now is in over 35 cities worldwide.

happn french app

Happn is all about facilitating real-life connections. Every time you cross paths with another user, their profile appears on your app: a starting point for getting to know someone new.

travel channel woman tv host show

On a busy day like my Travel Channel TV shoot, I’m sure I walked by or near tons of interesting people. (The app connects you with users within a 250m radius.)

However when we’re caught up in work, or in a hurry to reach the next location, there’s no time to interact.

hachiko statue shibuya station

We filmed an intro at Hachiko dog statue, near the busy Shibuya crossing. As many as 2500 pedestrians cross this street every time the light changes!

tokyo busiest street crossing shibuya

So many people gather here in Shibuya — but are often too shy to strike up a conversation.

Happn lets them see the number of times they’ve crossed paths with someone, as well as the time and approximate location of the last encounter.

shibuya station meeting point

Wouldn’t it be fun if the fellow behind me was checking his phone, and finding me on Happn?

namie amuro face makeup

If there’s a user who you want to get to know better, you can Heart their profile (the person doesn’t get a notification, so it’s private). If that person Hearts you too, you can then start up a conversation.

You never know… one of the people you cross paths with could be a special guy or girl destined for you!

travel channel tv cameraman crew

I love how Happn lets me meet new friends with common interests. As you know, I’m an animal lover… and was in my element when we filmed at Deco’s Dog Cafe.

japanese poodle cute

Owners bring their puppies here to dine on gourmet food, and see other dogs.

deco dog cafe tokyo

In Japan, locals can be reticent about conversing with people they don’t know. An app like Happn breaks the ice.

“Hi, I was at Deco cafe too! Where did your poodle get her cute dress from?”

dog food recipes cookbook

“Perhaps we can exchange cooking tips for organic dog food!”

Akihabara buildings streets

I have a feeling Happn will be especially popular in Akihabara, the high-tech otaku district. 

maid cafe akiba tokyo

Maid cafes are big here, since they let customers talk to the staff about manga, anime and other “nerdy” interests. 

anime shops tokyo

No need to be shy when you can first chat about shared hobbies on the app.

odaiba onsen Oedo Monogatari

As you can see, I went to all types of neighborhoods for my Travel Channel shoot. We filmed a segment at the Odaiba hot springs, Oedo-Onsen-Monogatari. 

tokyo shinto temple gates

The final “decision scene” took place at a verdant Shinto temple.

japan buddha statue

In the end, did my “relocation” clients decide to move to Japan? You’ll have to tune in to find out. (“Could I Live There”? airs regularly on Travel Channel.)

asakasa modern architecture

I think anyone new to Japan would have fun using the French app Happn. It’s a charming way to meet people, from real life encounters.

japan travel instagram

Who knows — you could bond over your passion for kawaii mascots, creepy accessories, or a heaping plate of pasta!

happn app japan logo

Perhaps you’ll even cross paths with me! (If you’re intrigued, here’s where you can find out more about Happn.)

Hearts for all of you — I wouldn’t have these opportunities in Japan without your support. More Tokyo coverage to come, and I hope you enjoy the Travel Channel show that I hosted.

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Modern art & architecture in Spain: new travel show video! Gothic Quarter shopping in Barcelona.

skull cut out white dress

There’s no better place in the world to wear a skull cut-out dress… than the Gothic Quarter of Barcelona.

My filmmakers and I got to explore this fascinating neighborhood, thanks to Visit Spain and Eurail. As we walked through the narrow streets, we came across Star Wars stormtroopers, twee murals, and retro indie fashion.

spain tourism travel video commercial

But first, as my speech balloon indicates… Our Spain travel video is out today, on Business Insider Travel!

From Las Ramblas in Barcelona to the Alhambra of Granada, watch as I dive into the country’s art and culture.

Produced, filmed and edited by Borderless Media. I’m always amazed at how they capture our adventures and make them come to life.

Please take a moment to watch our Spain tourism video above, on Business Insider, and on @LaCarmina YouTube.

spiderweb cobweb goth dress print

Perhaps you’re eyeing my outfit of the day. I adore this dress from Pretty Attitude Clothing, featuring a white cobweb print, lace skull cut-away back, and dangling bell sleeves.

My necklace is from an LA company, Vidakush Jewelry. The pendant is the word “universe” in Sanskrit.

Plaça Reial, barcelona famous square

Most tourists start at Las Ramblas, the main shopping street of Barcelona that holds the famous market (Mercat de La Boqueria, or St Joseph’s Market). It’s worth checking out Ramblas, but I found it too tourist-driven and commercial for my taste.

cool underground street art murals spain

Instead, I encourage you to explore two of my favorite Barcelona neighborhoods: El Raval (see my travel guide here), and the spooky-named Gothic Quarter.

gothic quarter square, royal plaza

To get to the Gothic Quarter, you can start at Plaça Reial square near Las Ramblas, and keep on walking east.

This grand, “royal” plaza was designed in the 19th century, and features lanterns by Gaudi. Many people meet up at Placa Reial, and the atmosphere is especially abuzz at night.

El Barri Gòtic stone walls

We wandered into the El Barri Gòtic, the center of old Barcelona. Many of the walls and buildings date back to Medieval times, or even further back when the Romans occupied the city.

art nouveau balconies barcelona

The Gothic Quarter is famous for its narrow, labyrinthine, cobblestone pathways. It’s great fun to stroll around, and take in the stone walls and art nouveau buildings on the way.

gothic quarter street art

Similar to El Raval, there’s an artistic, indie feeling to this district. We spotted cheeky street art on the century-old walls.

barcelona graffiti, hipster doors

These old-fashioned Roman door knockers got the graffiti treatment, next to a striking mural that makes use of the doorway as a canvas.

spain gothic quarter shopping

The Gothic Quarter is my favorite area for shopping. It’s filled with quirky, independent local boutiques — especially on the street Calle Avinyo.

spanish home design lighting stores

Instead of commercial brands, you’ll find innovative design shops. Like this one, which lets you customize your own lamp from a rainbow of colorful balls.

basketball lights lamps

The artists turned unexpected materials, such as basketballs, into hip lighting fixtures. 

picasso modern portrait painting

We popped into artisan shops that sold handmade purses, crafts, and other design objects. I think Spanish Cubist artist Picasso would be pleased with the creative scene here.

stormtroopers fashion mannequin

The Force is alive and well… in the Gothic Quarter! This clothing shop paid homage to Star Wars. 

star wars clothing fashion, storm troopers

Have you ever seen Stormtroopers looking so fabulous?

vintage retro clothing stores barcelona

I spent the afternoon browsing Spanish retro and vintage fashion boutiques. Their items are one of a kind, and not expensive.

barcelona fashion blogger, shopping

My Pretty Attitude lace dress would fit right in with the cool fashion found here.

hip design art galleries barcelona

With an edgy creative culture and skull street art, the Gothic Quarter lives up to its name. 

catalan modernisme building architecture

And now, we have to say “adiós”… because this is my last post about Spain, at least until I visit again! If you missed my previous stories about Barcelona and Granada, see them all here.

Gracias for watching our Spain travel video here!

 

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Watch me on Travel Channel’s new TV show: Could I Live There? Karisma El Dorado restaurants, cooking classes.

purple hair asian girl fashion

Welcome to a new edition of my Mexican travelogue. Yukiro and I ate like queens at Karisma Hotels & Resorts… I hope you’re hungry, as there are a lot of food photos ahead!

(I’m sure you are curious about my Basil Farrow cat top (above). It’s by LA-based designer Lili Chin, who custom-makes shirts and drawings to look like your pets! There’s info on her site, and I’ll be posting more images soon.)

travel channel, could i live there?

But first, some quick updates about my upcoming TV appearances and travel destinations.

Perhaps you’ll recall that I was in Tokyo last spring, to shoot a show with Travel Channel. Now, I can officially reveal details about the series, calledCould I Live There?

In each episode, a couple considers moving to a new country — and makes the decision after exploring it with a “relocator”. I’m the on-camera host for the Japan show, titled “Tokyo’s Cute Culture.” Above is a scene from a Shinto temple, where I took the pair before they decided whether to stay in the US or move to Tokyo.

I had a terrific shoot with the production team, and hope you’ll tune into Travel Channel to watch me on TV! “Could I Live There? – Japan” premieres Monday, February 8 at 9:30 pm (8:30 pm Central), and repeats the next day at 12:30 am (11:30 am Central).

istanbul bloggers world tourism forum

If you’ve been following my Instagram and Snapchat (@lacarmina), you’ll have seen me in Los Angeles.

Now, I’m boarding a flight on Turkish Airlines… and heading to Istanbul for the first time! I’ve dreamt of visiting “Constantinople” for years, and finally got the chance to go — thanks to a generous invitation from the World Tourism ForumI’m honored to be one of about 20 international bloggers chosen to participate in the event. Can’t wait to share images of the Blue Mosque, Hagia Sophia and more.

brussels tourism board surreal cats

Right after, I’m excited to be doing a project with Brussels Tourism! My filmmakers Borderless Media and I will be shooting travel stories in Belgium, including coverage of the decadent Binche carnival. I’m looking forward to a taste of chocolates, surrealism, street art and underground culture.

(Above is a still from their Rene Magritte inspired video featuring cats taking over the city.)

ganesha elephant god statue

And now, back to our Riviera Maya escapades at Karisma El Dorado. As I mentioned in the first article, Yukiro and I had full access to their three resorts.

We found this Ganesha elephant god statue in a little garden, hidden between the Casitas and Generations properties.

krishna tattoo shirt

My t-shirt of the Hindu god, Shiva, turned out to be the perfect match for this mural! It’s by 1991NewYork, a newly launched clothing line by designer and tattoo artist Hiten Damodar. The striking style pays respects to his Indian background, but with an Americana feel.

hindu gods art mexico

Hiten says: “We chose the name 1991NY because that is the year my family and I moved to this country. The style is influenced heavily by my tattoo background as well as imagery from mythology, religion, and symbolism.”

el dorado casitas couples resort

In addition to Shiva the Destroyer, 1991NewYork has eye catching t-shirts featuring Ganesh, Kali and more. Everything is made in the USA and sure to turn heads. Pick out your favorite shirt here and check out @1991newyork on Instagram.

honeymoon cancun resort

Now that our fashion vogue-ing is complete, Yukiro and I are ready to eat!

Each of the Karisma resorts has a different focus (Casitas is for couples, Generations Riviera Maya is for all-ages and families). We enjoyed aspects from each of them.

generations riviera maya rooms

There’s a suite and experience for every type of traveller. At the newest property, Generations, guests could walk right out into their own balcony swimming pool. 

riviera maya all inclusive restaurants

Between El Dorado Royale, Casitas and Generations… we had over a dozen all-inclusive restaurants to choose from!

The cuisine offerings included: Caribbean, Italian, Mexican, Japanese, American. Yukiro looks like he’s strangling himself out of amazement.

generations karisma wine kitchen

I knew that Karisma had a reputation for excellent food. However, I confess I didn’t expect their restaurants to be quite this good.

Wine Kitchen (at Generations Riviera Maya) set the mood with chandeliers and candles. We loved the amuse bouche with watermelon and spices, and the special wine pairings that came with each plate.

el dorado resort dessert

When everything comes at no extra cost, you can live out your foodie dreams. We ordered a large range of plates to try… and dessert, always.

jade asian restaurant mexico

If only we had time to try each Karisma dining room! Jade Restaurant has an Asian menu, and the decor to match.

chinese customize tea bar

Karisma encourages guests to participate in the food experiences. At the Jade “tea bar,” you could create your own unique blend of tea.

el dorado royale cooking demo

The resorts had several entertaining “dinner theaters” where you could watch guest chefs prepare meals — and take part in the cooking too. Several volunteers came up to help create Mexican dishes, which we then ate with pairings from Jackson Family Wines.

fuentes restaurant chef cooking

Fuentes Culinary Theater is one of the most popular attractions. The venue is set up like a Food Network TV show, and the chef riffs and jokes around with the audience — which teaching them how to make authentic Yucatan dishes. 

cooking tv show closeup

On the two big screens, we could see close-ups of the ingredients. The chef walked us through each step of the preparation. As soon as he finished making the dish, a team of servers came out and served it to each table.

karisma gourmet food

That evening, his menu was based on traditional Yucatan Peninsula flavors. To start, we had a fantastic soup made from avocado, octopus, radish, apple, and X’catic pepper.

mexican cooking show chef

I particularly enjoyed the segment where the chef introduced us to masa (corn dough), and showed us how to build it into tortillas, tamales, pupusas and more.

yucatan mexican recipes

After three small bites inspired by street food, we devoured the mahi mahi (with pumpkin seed puree, corn, beans and crispy achiote tortilla). Above is the pork loin marinated in charred chilies, sweet potato and tamal. We had never tried these types of flavors and combinations before — what a meal to remember.

karisma casitas beach bar

Karisma also had dozens of all-inclusive bars. We took the advice of this swing — “Enjoy” — and cooled down with salt-rimmed margaritas. 

romantic honeymoon mexico

Since we were in Quintana Roo, Yukiro and I mainly ate Mexican food. We particularly are fans of avocado, mahi mahi and ceviche (raw marinated fish),

mexican food at resort

All of the above were on the menu at “La Carreta” in El Dorado Royale. Once again, if all the food is included, why not order one of everything…

avocado tuna ceviche

… and a double serving of the outstanding ceviche? 

strawberry avocado cream dessert

We ate our fill of fresh berries, including in this strawberry dessert with avocado cream.

tulum juice bar

For lunch, we usually hit the Health Bar. In North America, I always cringe at the price of a fresh green juice (usually around $7-10). But at Karisma, everything is included… I think we must have ordered 25 smoothies and juices between the two of us!

healthy food wellness resort mexico

The Health Bar had a long list of drink concoctions, and we also could create our own. We paired them with fresh salads and sandwiches made with whole grains.  

indian elephant god statue

Thanks to Karisma El Dorado, we were able to relax and enjoy the Riviera Maya.

buddha statue mexico

No need to stress over anything… it’s all taken care of here.

hindu art t-shirts

I hope you are enjoying these Mexican posts. Don’t forget to watch me on Travel Channel (Feb 8), and check out my Snapchat and Instagram @lacarmina for the latest updates from LA, Istanbul and Brussels.

A Cooking Boat Cruise of Ha Long Bay! Sailing to Halong caves with Vietnam Food Tour.

halong bay market

No Instagram filters needed, when you’re traveling in Ha Long Bay. The humidity naturally gives you a blurred vignette effect.

Vietnam remains one of my favorite destinations of 2015. I got to live my dreams of being a Pirate… by taking a boat trip through Halong Bay, with Vietnam Food Tour!

Cooking Class on Boat in Halong Bay

We had our very own private ship, thanks to Hoa Binh Cruises. Keep on reading to see how we climbed the mast, dined on seafood, and drifed through Vietnam’s misty mountains.

ha long bay mountains, islands

I’m sure you have seen photos of Ha Long Bay before. This UNESCO World Heritage Site is famous for its green, funny-shaped islands.

The name Halong translates to “descending dragon bay” because legend says it was created by a charging dragon.

halong bay mountain backdrop, scenery

My tank top with silver pentagram symbols is by Rat Baby Clothing — get it here! I paired it with a skull scarf.

Shop more Gothic fashion by clicking below:

hanoi traffic jam

If you’re in Hanoi, going east to Halong Bay is a must (it’s a 3-4 hour drive away).

We recommend hiring a reputable driver and guide, as we did with Vietnam Food Tour. They arranged everything for us — the car, hotel, boat tour, activities. It’s absolutely worth it. We could sit back and soak everything in, without having to haggle or stress about logistics.

wet market ha long bay

Since we were on a food-centric tour, we began by visiting the local outdoor market. Like on our Hanoi tour, we saw vendors selling all sorts of fresh seafood that came straight out of Halong’s waters.

street food, vietnamese vendors

A colorful group of vendors. Our guide, Bao, told us about the special squid pie sold here. She picked up a few specialties for us to try during our cooking boat cruise.

vietnam motorcycle tour

Motorcycles zipped around us, as we took in all the colors and action.

fish market vietnam

The wet market section was full of live oddities from the sea. Locals come here to pick up the catch of the day.

halong bay limestone islands

This view is even more majestic in person. Ha Long Bay is dotted with thousands of limestone islands like these.

vietnamese fishermen, boats

We saw Vietnamese boat people refilling their supplies of water. They live and work in these floating homes.

vietnam famous islands, mountains

We learned that according to another legend, a family of dragons spat out jewels, which formed these islets and protected Vietnam from invaders.

vietnam food tour, tourists with cameras

My mate John Skeleton and I took photos non-stop — Ha Long Bay is the definition of photogenic! 

(This skull print scarf protected me from the mosquitoes.)

private cruise ha long bay

We were looking forward to the boat tour of the bay, on a Hoa Binh cruise. However, we were amazed to find… that we had the entire Pirate boat to ourselves! 

 Hoa Binh cruise boat halong bay

Vietnam Food Tour is all about custom, personal experiences — so they book their clients on private boat tours. Now that’s the life for a Pirate.

boat tour vietnam halong bay

Spreading my arms wide as we sailed, I felt like Captain Carmina. The only other people onboard were Long John Skeleton, our first mate Bao, and a few cabin members who served food and drink. (And actually steered the ship.)

vietnam boat dinner cruises

“Yo ho, there be a pirate’s cove of treasure ahead!”

climbing boat mast

John climbed the mast, all the way to the top — as you can see in our fun travel video!

boat to halong bay caves

Before long, our boat was nearing these jewel islands. We prepared for plunder.

(My tank top is by Rat Baby Clothing — more picks below.)

Dau Go Cave island bridge

Most of these islands are uninhabited, and lush with tropical vegetation. I imagined them to be hidden with secrets and chests of gold. We docked on Driftwood Island, climbed up the path…

dao go cave, grotto

.. and found ourselves in the famous Dau Go Cave (Wooden Stakes Cave).

ha long bay famous caves

The humongous grotto is filled with hanging stalactites. The shapes seemed like something from a sci-fi movie, reminding us of bones and Giger’s Alien.   

vietnam underground caves

Different parts of the cave are dramatically lit so that visitors can admire the details. Or in this case, “Hail Miffy!”

stalactites vietnam cave

That’s me at the bottom, arms raised. Like a bat in a cave.

My tiny scale of the photo conveys how grand it feels to be inside this grotto, which dates back to the Pleistocene era around 2 million years ago.

caving, cave tour vietnam

Doesn’t this look like the set from an alien horror movie?

Vietnam Food Tour organized our visit so that we came during a less busy hour– so we were able to avoid the tourists.

islands of ha long bay

I flew our flag, upon exiting. I hereby claim these caves for my crew!

luxury boat tour vietnam

A hook for a hand. Arr, there’s nothing like the Pirate’s life.

steering pirate boat wheel

We continued to explore Halong Bay. Our boating adventure is among my favorite memories of the entire year.

vietnamese seafood, mussels

Time to plunder the ship’s seafood. Our crew helped us to grill fresh clams, prawns, sea snails and other delicacies of the ocean.

cooking class halong bay

What a treat, to dine on fresh seafood while taking in these grandiose views of Halong Bay.

 

kayaking halong bay

For a closer look at the grottoes, we piled into a kayak.

islands ha long bay

What can I say? It’s an absolute dream to paddle right up to these mysterious islets, and duck through hidden tunnels that open into lagoons.

kayak tour caves vietnam

But let’s give credit where it’s due… John did pretty much all of the rowing work!

(Watch our Pirate cooking cruise in action, above and here in this video.)

lobby ha long plaza hotel

Some visitors choose to stay overnight on a boat cruise. We chose to only do a day tour, and spend the night at the top-rated Halong Plaza Hotel

ha long vietnam hotels

I was glad to sleep on a stable surface, and in a spacious room. We also enjoyed hanging out at the hotel’s lobby bar, which offers a nice selection of cocktails.

vampire afraid of garlic

Halong Plaza also had an impressive buffet breakfast, which was included with our stay. I tried the steamed rice noodles, a traditional way to start the day.

The restaurant also hangs garlic to keep vampires away!

vietnam hotel swimming pool

John took a dip in the outdoor swimming pool. The large hotel also has a sauna and gym.

ha long bay hotels view

Our room had a magnificent view of the bay and bridge, which lights up with rainbow lights at night.

Halong Plaza Hotel view

The manager took us to the rooftop — what a view!

vietnamese small fish

For dinner, our guide took us to a classic seafood restaurant. As always, Vietnamese food was full of fresh, healthy flavors. We had soup with ginger and this small fish found only in Ha Long Bay. 

ha long bay night market

Then, we went to the Halong Bay night market to shop. The night market has a new location, with a modern setup.

knock off hello kitty

The vendors sell everything from Vietnamese loose tea, to beaded Hello Kitty purses…

stuffed goat head devil

… to a stuffed goat head! Mr Skeleton shows his appreciation for the horned one.

green skull ashtray

The goat was a bit too large to take home, so he decided on this green skull. Pop the top, and there’s a space to keep treasures.

halong bay 4-star hotel

Thanks to Halong Plaza Hotel for the excellent service and big rooms. They’re one of highest rated hotels in Ha Long Bay for a reason.

north vietnam cruise tour

And of course, to our guides Vietnam Food Tour. Their Savor Vietnam package, which includes sailing around Halong Bay, let us see the best of Northern Vietnam.

halong bay unesco heritage site

Have my Vietnam travel stories convinced you to come here yet? If you have questions about traveling, or anything at all, please let me know in the comments! 

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