Category archives: Vacations

Merced, day 3 – Cheese Factory, going home


Last day in Merced.  We checked out of the hotel at about 10am.  Our first target is the Hilmar Cheese Company. Hilmar is 30 miles north of Merced.  Hilmar is the largest producer of cheese in the US.  For every 5 domestic cheese sold in the US, 4 of them are Hilmar’s. At the visitors center, you can taste some of their cheeses.  Unfortunately the ‘sharp’ chedar was not available.  I love  sharp chedar.  Apparently, they are in the process of re-inventing their process for making sharp chedar.  There’s a 30 minute tour at the center.  It started with a ‘cheezy’ movie presentation about milk/cheese processing and making. Then we moved to the upstairs area for some live presentation and a peek into part of the factory.  Our tour guide today was Brean.  Once the tour was done, we went back down to try their ‘cheese cream pie’ which was just sooooo delicious and also their ‘french onion’ soup which was very very tasty.


Before we headed home, we stopped in Turlock for lunch.  I’ve heard about this old style diner called Hot Rod.  This diner started in 1959 and has kept its originality till today.  Inside, you’d find all kind of pictures and memoribilia from the old days.  The food is excellent and very reasonably priced.  My wife had the Philly cheese steak, Jessi and Prianka shared a plate of chili cheese fries and I had ‘baja baja’ … a roast beef, grilled mushroom, green chili sandwich with curly fries … yum.  Service was fast and our waitresses was awesomely friendly and attentive. I would definitely recommend this diner to all of you who’s driving by Turlock on route 99.  It’s on 130 S Walnut Rd., which is just off 99 (take Main St exit).

Photos album: Merced Trip

merced, day 2 – competition day


In the morning, we went for the free breakfast at the hotel. It’s pretty much the standard free hotel breakfast consisting of mini muffins, croissants, cereals, breads, milk, coffec, etc.  They just about good enough the get us started this morning.  We then left for Merced’s County Fairground where the Kiki Raina Tahiti Fete takes place. We were told that the opening was going to be at 9am and the we should have arrived there by 8:30am to check in.  We were on time, however, as it turned out, the door did not open until 10am … what a mess.

At checked in, Prianka was given a tag as dancer number 309.  Wow, that’s Ani’s birthdate and so we thought that it would have been a good sign of luck.  There were about 500 solo dancers competing today.  I think about 40 or so dancers were in Prianka’s age group (10-12 yr). They were all good dancers and Prianka did an awsome job herself.  However, it’s not her day today.  She did not make to to the final.  Thank Goodness, she also took the loss quite nicely.  She’ll have to practice more and a bit harder and hope to do better in July at the Reno, Nevada, competition.  As for now, we were heading back to the hotel to take a refresher and a little break.


By about 5pm, we went out again and drove around the downtown area of Merced, along Main St.  Merced is actually quite large in size and really nice looking.  We saw a well blend of old and new buildings architecture which makes Merced interesting. We found an inviting Mexican Taco shop called Cotija on 61 W Main St. We stopped by to have a few tacos … and boy what a good taco place we have found.  The ‘lengua’ (cow tounge) taco is sooo good! The taco is just $1 ea … what a deal.

We then headed for the University of California Merced.  UC Merced is the 10th and the youngest UC campus in California.  We’ve seen pictures of the campus and was interested to see it ourself.  It is located about 5 miles east of downtown Merced in a secluded but beautiful surroundings.  The campus is indeed beautiful.  It also, as it turned out, located next to Lake Yosemite.  We stopped by the lake and were just in time to catch the sun set over the lake … awesome view, breathless.  We took pictures and I will upload the pictures for you all to view when I get home.

Tomorrow we will be heading back home.  On the way, however, we plan to stop by and take a tour of Hilmar Cheese Company.  So, till tomorrow …

Photos album: Merced Trip

Merced, Day 1

For a couple days we will be in Merced for a dance festival – Kiki Raina Tahiti Fete.  Merced is located in the Central Valley of California, the heart of California farm land, about 120 miles south east of San Francisco, on Highway 99.  We left home right after lunch.  It took about 2 hours to reach Merced.  When we arrived, the temperatur in Merced was at 78F (~25C), dry, very windy and dusty.  You can smell the typical farm country scent, the mix scent of hays and farm animals’ musk.


We are staying in Ramada Inn. I booked the motel thru RCI poin exchange.  When I made the booking, I thought RCI was giving me a suite room, but at checked in, today, I was given a 2 queen beds room.  Ugh … I have to deal with RCI later about this.  We also had to wait for about 45 minutes before we could actually get to our assigned room because the cleaner was still working and cleaning the room.  The room is a good size room.  The bathroom though is very small and a little smelly … not the best. Next time we need to be in Merced, we definitely will stay away from this particular Ramada.

We asked one of the ‘Mexican’ cleaning lady for a good Mexican restaurant for dinner.  She pointed out that Mi Casa, which is just accross the street from the motel is very good.  That’s where we headed for dinner.  The restaurant was quite empty when we get there.  You get a choice to go for the buffet or order from the menu.  We took a peek at the buffet and saw the options are limited for us.  Most of the dishes on the buffet table were pork based.  We opted for dishes from the menu.  My wife had soft taco, Jessica and I had a burrito and Prianka went for the Nachos Grande.  The quality of the food is just so so.  We could get a much tastier Mexican dishes close to home for less.  Dinner cost us $24.

By the time we got back to the motel from dinner, the hotel parking lot has become full.  When we came in earlier today, we saw the sign at the front of the motel welcoming ‘dancers’ of the Tahitian fete.  So I assume a lot of dancers are staying at the same place as we are.  It’s time to wind down.  We need to wake up really early tomorrow and go to the Merced County Fairground so Prianka can check in for her dance competition on time.

Photos album: Merced Trip

The Gifts of Lights

This is a Las Vegas’ Christmas drive-through light affair, the Gift of Lights at Sunset Park.  A few years back, by incident we found this park on the way to visit Ethel M Chocolate Factory (  A couple days ago we wanted to let a friend know about this park so he could visit the park on his vacation trip to Vegas.  I was having difficulties remembering the park’s name and address.  Fortunately, after ‘googling’ a bit, I found the information and I’m putting that info on this blog.

By the way, located in Henderson, Ethel M Chocolate Factory and Cactus Gardens is quite the adventure. Only 15 minutes away from the Strip, it is said to attract more than 700,000 tourists a year. Guests get to see chocolates being made, sample gourmet treats and meander through the maze of paths at the Botanical Cactus Gardens at no charge.  During Christmas time, the cactus garden is lighted and that creates a nice evening walkthrough experience.

Featured China Pictures

I have a selection of good pictures from China that I posted on Here’s the link: Beijing 2008 set, and enjoy!