Alaska is a diverse place. The most diverse neighborhood in the United States is in Anchorage. I know, I was surprised to learn that fact too. From Alaska Native people to Samoans, Ethiopians to Koreans, there’re lots of different culture groups we encounter every day in Alaska. Visiting Fairbanks, I got to travel around the world. It felt even more special because we’re still in a pandemic when we haven’t been traveling for more than a year. This is the longest I’ve ever stayed in one place but my time in Fairbanks gave me this joy. I want to take you around the world, in Fairbanks, Alaska.
Travel back to the early 19th century in America at Fountainhead Auto Antique Museum. It’s one of the most popular places in Fairbanks but I never had much interest to visit since I wasn’t really into cars. But this museum is so much more than that. It’s a museum for the history of automobiles, a collection of antique clothes, and the automobile history in Alaska which is quite unique.
We met Willy, the manager of the museum. He represents the soul and spirits of this museum. He lives and breathes antique cars. He was working on a few different vehicles in his garage next to the museum exhibit hall. There are some of the first cars and the very first car in Alaska which was hand-built by Bobby Sheldon.
The most amazing about this museum is that most of these antique cars still run! You can see video footage of the cars running behind the museum. My absolute favorite automobile at the museum is the 1926 Fordson Snowmotor. It looks and sounds like what it does. Look at the recent videos to see this amazing machinery running in the snow!
Finish the tour of America at Sophie Station Suites, located near the University of Alaska Fairbanks. Locally owned and operated, Sophie Station captures the essence of the Fairbanks experience and provides guests style and comfort in the Golden Heart City.
During breakfast, one morning, our friend at Wedgewood Resort casually mentioned that there’s ‘Moldovan restaurant’ next door. Thought I heard her wrong. Moldovan restaurant in Fairbanks, Alaska?
I traveled to Moldova just a few years ago and absolutely loved it. It was at the end of a long journey in Eastern European countries. Traveling in this small country wedged between Romania and Ukraine, I was blown away by this raw, authentic, and vibrant culture. There are still lots of remnants of the Soviet Union but it’s part of the charm. Did you know I had some of the best wine I’ve ever had in Moldova? We traveled all corners of Moldova and experienced authentic cuisine at homes, wineries, and restaurants.
We had to check out SOBA. Moldova is one of those countries that you leave and don’t encounter anything until you visit the country again. It’s not like going to a Japanese restaurant to re-live the fun memories of traveling in Japan. The memory of Moldova lives in my photos and in my mind. I walked into Soba and it was like back in Moldova again. The dishes, decorations, tablecloths, everything about it was Moldova.
The restaurant is, of course, run by the Moldovan family. And most of the staff are also Moldovan. Our server was quite surprised to hear that we’ve traveled to Moldova, saying that she doesn’t meet many people who know about Moldova. We shared fond memories of her home country, ate authentic food (mamaliga!), and re-lived the fun time in Moldova.
When you’re in Fairbanks, make sure to check out SOBA for some authentic Moldovan food. It’s strange to even say it but it’s true, there’s a Moldovan restaurant in Fairbanks, Alaska. That’ll be one of the first stops when I’m back to Fairbanks next time.
Fairbanks is well known for excellent Thai food. I’m not sure about the history but I’m not complaining. Thai food is one of the best cuisines out there and I’m sure no one will argue with me. There are many great Thai restaurants but one place, in particular, stands out is Lemongrass.
Run by the Navachai family, Lemongrass has been serving authentic Thai cuisine since 1996. We ordered a few signature Thai dishes that we had in Thailand often; Panang curry, Larb, and Khao Soi. Every bite reminded me of hot, humid, and sweaty Thailand. We haven’t been back to Thailand in many years so this was heavenly. I haven’t had really good Khao Soi in a while and it was spot-on.
Japanese savory baked good is a simple pleasure. Growing up in Korea, we were never really big on sweet taste. Red bean paste would be about the sweetest thing. That’s why I tend to like Asian baked goods. When I heard there was a Japanese bakery in Fairbanks, of course, I put it on my itinerary.
Oishi Bakery is located in downtown Fairbanks. It’s quite small but full of delicious goods. Ah, the curry pan, how I missed it. Biting into the curry pan was pure happiness. I also picked up milk bread, sweet rolls, and onigiri (Japanese rice balls). They also have hot dishes that you can order to go. Hot tip; if you go after 5 pm on Saturdays, everything is 50% off! Of course, I went back on Saturday after 5 pm to pick up a few more goodies.
I was recommended to visit Sipping Steam because I have a passion for tea. Jenny Tsi, the owner of the brand is an energetic and entrepreneur who lives and breathes tea, I heard. I was intrigued.
The amount of knowledge and experience Jenny has is astonishing. I was so fascinated talking with her, we must have spent more than 30 minutes together talking about tea and travel. She’s visited many places that I’ve been to (thanks to tea) and it was so fun to talk about travel when we can’t go anywhere right now.
I bought some of her award winning tea (and she won lots of awards!) and enjoyed through out my time in Fairbanks.
This is the power of tea and travel. Jenny and I got connected through social media after my visit and she invited me to be on her popular podcast, The Essense of Tea. I’ve done a few podcasts but never about tea! We recorded it a few days ago and it was really fun. Tea was one of the strongest driving factors of our travels but I never thought of it that way. China, India, Nepal, Sri Lanka, England, Malaysia, Kyrgyzstan, Mongolia, and many other places, I have strong memories connected to tea. It was great to tie them all up and talk about it. The episode will be up soon and I’ll share here!
Learn all about the natural history of Alaska and rich Alaska Native culture at two institutions in Fairbanks: Museum of the North and Morris Thompson Cultural and Visitor Center.
If you’re new to Alaska, the Museum of the North can teach you a lot of different facts about Alaska. The number of artifacts and displays is rich. I especially enjoy the old video footage of Alaska Native people’s singing and dancing, that’s near the qayak exhibit.
My favorite place in this museum is The Place Where You Go To Listen. Unfortunately, it was closed due to maintenance this time but my last visit was transformative. The Place Where You Go to Listen is a unique sound and light environment created by Grammy and Pulitzer Prize-winning composer John Luther Adams. This ever-changing musical ecosystem gives voice to the rhythms of daylight and darkness, the phases of the moon, the seismic vibrations of the earth, and the dance of the aurora borealis. It’s scheduled to open at the beginning of this summer. Make sure to go to Listen.
Morris Thompson Cultural and Visitor Center has a free exhibit featuring culture and history of the Alaska Native people in the region. There are full size dioramas displaying the traditional and modern lifestyle of Alaskans, as well as a display about Morris Thompson, the namesake of this place.