Thursday, December 18, 2014

Turn Down for Wat

Even the most generous of schedules, would not allow enough time to cover visiting all the temples in Bangkok. Given that in the city of Bangkok alone there are upwards of 4oo temples, better known in Thai as "Wat," we needed a little direction as to which ones to see and how to get there. 

So we looked to the front desk at the Hansar Hotel and they arranged for a private tour for the three of us. While we are usually a chatty bunch and love to meet new people, when it comes to visiting tourist attractions, hiring a private guide provides flexibility in schedule and the elimination of waiting on long lines. Plus, it kept the staff at the Hansar on their feet as the concierge already dubbed me as an American celebrity.

We were graced with the effervescent Mimi whose English skills didn't leave for any moments of silence. When she wasn't briefing us on the backstory of the Grand Palace, she was offering up bottles of water and moist toilettes to cool us down. In and around the Buddhist temples, we had to be covered up, in long sleeve everything, sweating through the Thailand heat.

The only thing we were short of was a selfie stick. But we had Mimi, our trusted tour guide who would willingly take our photos when asked and voluntarily offered to take ones where she saw fit. My personal favorite of the tour was Wat Pho, the largest reclining Buddha. At roughly 15 feet high and 141 feet long, this budda is completely covered in gold leaf. To visualize that, it would take 20+ New York Knicks basketball players to lie down from head to toe across an entire building to span the length of Wat Pho.

Taking selfies all day and admiring the intricate details can be tiring for most people. We felt a traditional Thai massage was the best way to cap off our day. Ashley and Jaclyn had a couples' massage in the other room while I was left to my own devices. Little did I know, that this was no gentle Swedish rub and just as I was starting to doze off as I typically do mid-massage, I turned my head back to confirm that yes, there was a little Thai woman crawling on my back, digging her knees in. Turn down for what?!

Stay bitten ;)






Wednesday, December 17, 2014

Just One More Night

I was told by my well-traveled friend, who we appropriately call "Bangkok Mike" as he met my friends there, that you only need one full day in Bangkok. One full day? I questioned him as that's his nickname-sake and shouldn't his city be the one you want to miss your flight and extend your stay for?

Well, according to him, he said head straight to the Phi Phi Islands and if you have time, visit neighboring Cambodia. 

I technically had two nights. One to sleep off the across-the-globe, long distance travel, the other to explore the city. Given the name of the city, our night could have gone one of two ways. We opted out of the infamous ping pong show and prioritized cocktails with a view followed by an exceptional meal. What we failed to do was make a reservation for dinner, forgetting that like most cities, the best restaurants require at the very least, two weeks. So next time, in Bangkok, we'll dine at Nahm, ranked as one of the "World's 50 Best Restaurants."

So we settle for one of "Asia's Best 50 Restaurants" instead. Dinner at Issaya failed to disappoint with Thailand's first celebrity chef as the restaurant's founder. As an appetizer, we wet our appetites with over-priced drinks on the rooftop of the Banyan Tree Hotel. I take it we paid for the sprawling view of the city lit up. 

After our elaborate first Thai meal, we attempted to then head over to Lebua's Skybar, the rooftop where the Hangover was filmed, but we noticed that we were being driven around in circles, a quick reveal that our cab driver was not as "lost" as he led on to be. Tough to believe it's hard to miss a skyscraper, not to mention, a popular request from tourists alike.

We got stopped our meter short to be dropped off at our hotel and headed next door for a nightcap at the St. Regis, don't mind if we do. With only one full night in Bangkok, we had to do up right.

Stay bitten ;)

Tuesday, December 16, 2014

The Itch

I recently learned that the term "itchy feet" is the British equivalent of being bit by the travel bug. It may be from across the pond but it's something I commonly have here at home in New York.

How did three friends end up taking a trip to Thailand? On a summer evening in July, I decided to meet up with Jaclyn before my dinner date. She swayed me to stop on by as Ashley was in town on business, all the more reason. Nothing like a little afterwork bubbly to blur the Mondays from the Tuesdays.

We caught up on each others' lives, weekends at the beach, the men, the careers, and so on. Jaclyn spoke of a potential business trip and she suggested us meeting her there. We nixed the business and opted for pleasure. 

How about we meet up in Thailand? 
In the fall? Let's say November. 

The next morning, when the prosecco bubbles wore off, I questioned if that was just the happy hour talking or could we, would we potentially go to Thailand? An email later confirmed I wasn't the only one itching for a getaway.

Stay bitten ;)


Tuesday, December 2, 2014

No Sleep Til Bangkok

Thursday night, I returned to New York after two back-to-back editorial photo shoots in Los Angeles. Friday afternoon, I was on a plane to Europe. Saturday evening, I left Vienna and arrived in Bangkok the following day. It would be safe to say that I officially had no concept of time, checking in and out of airports all the while adjusting the timezone on my iPhone until I arrived at my final destination.

The best decision after an extensive stint of travel was the arrangement for a car service through our hotel. Upon arrival to the appropriately named Land of Smiles, there was a cheerful representative of the Hansar, a boutique hotel, situated in good company, next door to the likes of the Four Seasons and the St. Regis. The Hansar blends modern with sophisticated without losing the influence of the Asian culture and design. With rave reviews on Trip Advisor, in addition to being named a "Best New Hotel" on Conde Nast Traveler's Hot List, I was more than ready to check-in. 

At the front desk, the kind man at the front desk looked at me and paused. Sheepishly, he smiled with the kind of smile that makes you in return smile. He turned to me and shly said "You look familiar. I know you. You're on television show in America?"

I used the language barrier to my benefit and just laughed it off and proceeded with my check-in. My friends rolled their eyes at me when I told them that the front desk may or may not think they're rooming with a celebrity when they arrived later in the evening to our suite, fit for an expat's extended stay as it was equipped with a washer/dryer, a small kitchen and a living area.

For the record, I'm not on tv and while it's questionable that the hotel either has really great service (which they do) or this was how they treat all their television actresses, well, I didn't question it. I'll just made myself a little more comfortable with some green curry delivered to the room and a blissful first night sleep in Bangkok. Hansar means "to be in the moment of full joy and happiness" and with the start of our vacation, that definition was coming to fruition.

Stay bitten ;)



Friday, November 28, 2014

#blessed

It would make my sister's skin crawl to say #blessed but returning home after this recent trip, I feel that hashtag is only appropriate (even if we continue to laugh at the use of it). 

I never question why I travel. It's a choice I make of how I want to spend my free time (and money) and for me, it fulfills me like turkey and mashed potatoes on a day like yesterday. The pursuit of happiness is different for all of us. A winding path, that's for sure, with inclines (and yes, declines, too), all in search of that extra something that will make a smile feel a little more permanent. But I'll let you in on a little secret: happiness isn't just one destination.

For me, it's manyPlanning a trip is half the fun of it, knowing that something new is around the corner. With much to look forward to, the reading and research before any departure unleashes my wild curiosity. To learn more about this great big world, the way others live and the way some live with much less. I can't predict how I'm going to feel or how a certain experience will change me. I can only take it all in and be thankful.

So this year, I feel #blessed for these recent experiences:
to lose sight of my fear and place trust in an elephant in Chiang Mai
- to watch my friends take part alongside me on an elephant of their own
- to explore the islands of Thailand in a longboat with Hu, a man who replaced talking with smiling
- to have quality time with my father in his homeland, balancing family visits with watching kite surfers
- to have dinner with my 94 year young grandmother and have her not care where I just came from, only that I'm there to be with her
- to gift my mother her mother's favorite Belgian chocolate and see her sweet reaction doesn't change
- to return to an office where the Monday blues are replaced with a pie baking celebration, revealing that my coworkers' talents extend far beyond launching an innovative startup
- to be greeted with open arms by nephews, belting out "Luli" in the driveway of the house I grew up in, with their happy-to-be-home parents in tow 

For this, and much more, I am thankful.
With gratitude, stay bitten ;)


Wednesday, November 26, 2014

The Layover: Vienna

The transition from jetset to jetlag was immediate but I managed to power through so I could explore a city featured in one of my all time favorite movies, Before Sunrise. I opted out of reliving this film, following the couples' path to the record store, along the romantic winding streets, as I for one, was a solo traveler and I already had lived out this movie fantasy of poor timing, connecting with a total stranger, two Septembers ago on a train back from Montauk. 

So for the what could have been, it was time to ignore those what ifs and open my eyes to what was in front of me, to see what lies within the historic walls of Vienna. It's a twenty minute drive into the city and for 8 euros, I hopped on a bus right outside baggage claim. Be sure to pick up a brochure, labeled "Vienna in 3 days." Not only does it provide you with a map of the city but it highlights the main attractions for someone on a tight schedule, like me.

My first stop, Cafe Hawelka, to warm up and dry off from the rain. And to ask for directions to the majestic Hofburg Palace, amongst the artists, writers and creative types in this authentic cafe, a scene right out of the 1930's. They could have very well been tourists like me but today, they weren't.

Up next, get my culture on and take in the modern art at the Albertina Museum, featuring the exhibit of Catalan artist Joan Miro. It was quite the confidence boost for this overtired traveler as it was a easy fix to feel young and refreshed amidst the senior citizen groups as I managed to use my much expired college ID to join their tour. Thank you, Vienna. 

And thanks to my family friend Jacob and his 36 hours in Vienna list, I made sure to cap off my afternoon with what he quotes as  the "best schnitzel" at Figlmuller. He warned me that it might take up too much of my time. At first, I didn't understand that but once the plate of breaded chicken cutlet arrived to the table, I thought the waiter must have mistaken my table of one for a table of three. A good third of the schnitzel, ok fine, half of it, was consumed by me and a doggy bag for the other half was taken with me in hopes of a better in-flight meal to Bangkok.

As I walked back through the streets of Vienna, I opted to give the leftovers to two homeless men as this layover had already filled me up in more ways than one piece of schnitzel. 

Stay bitten ;)





Tuesday, November 25, 2014

Travel Tip Tuesday: Carry On

At this stage in the game, I've become a bit of a pro at packing. I boast that I carry-on only and can fit the necessities (and then some) in one little suitcase. My friends raise an eyebrow, call me low maintenance but I've come to understand what I truly need. Of all the things I take with me (and some of the things that I pick up along the way), I've learned overtime not to forget to bring a positive attitude. There is so much that is out of my control - flight delays and cancellations, unpredictable weather, the annoying guy who insists on sharing my arm rest, oh, the list goes on. But it's the response to it all that matters.

The month of November was a good one as I revisited a few old favorite destinations from California to Israel and made my way to new ones, Austria and Thailand. While the blog collected dust, I absorbed as much as I could each and every day. On a Wednesday in Chiang Mai, my friend Ashley told Jaclyn and myself of a quote that she swears by, one adopted from her dear family friend.

Every day is a good day. Some are just better than others.

Whether abroad or in my hometown, life has taken me in many directions. One moment, I feel like I'm on top of an elephant and the next, I'm handed elephant poop. The best thing I (and we) can do, wherever I (and we) may go, is to embrace it wholeheartedly, with a big 'ol smile. 

Stay bitten ;)
photos courtesy of Patara Elephant Farm


Tuesday, October 28, 2014

Reconnect

Facebook is and has always been a time suck. These days, my newsfeed is filled with baby announcements, engagements, political comments and the occasional adorable puppy. What a day it was when those Burning Man photos switched things up.

As much as I'd like to disconnect myself from the time lost on the social network, I find that for me, it best serves its purpose as a means to reconnect with old friends. It's odd, I see photos of friends from all paths of life, from elementary school to college to my first job out of college and so on. All the while, I feel in tune to what is going on in the lives of others - this one got married, this one ran a marathon, traveled to Greece, moved cross country, had twins, and so on...

And with a thumbs up, a like, it becomes clear that beyond that point, I haven't actually spoken to this friend in a week, a few months, a year. I start to do math and discover it's been longer than either of us ever anticipated. With that, I feel disconnected in a platform meant to connect people.

While I was in San Francisco, I decided that even though it had been ages, pardon my French, f*ck it, I was going to reach out instead of liking another photo from afar. So I put my qualms aside, the worst they say is they're busy or the classic, don't respond until after the fact. I'm very glad that I didn't let my hesitation get the best of me as I ended up catching up with old friends all throughout the weekend, from a picnic in Golden Gate Park to locally inspired cocktails at Trick Dog in the Mission. It's comforting to know that even when our lives go separate ways our paths can cross again and at these intersections, I'm happy to hear and see that they're doing well. I left San Francisco, a little fuller, from my gluttonous food intake but more so, from the reminder that it's never too late to reconnect.

Stay bitten ;)




Monday, October 27, 2014

Left My Heart (again)

I left my heart in San Francisco. Again. 
It happens every time.

There's something about this city that gets me with every visit. Maybe it's that within my first day I reached 3x my regular steps on my fitbit. I think (and joke) that there's a balance of fitness and lifestyle as every weekend in San Fran is a triathlon of some sort. This was confirmed as I made my way on a morning run towards the Golden Gate Bridge, a sight that floods my heart as Karl the Fog opened his arms up again. He has a way of wrapping himself around me, hugging me and making me feel like the Bay Area is a place that maybe one day I'll call home. For now, I'll play tourist and eat my way through this tech-savvy, environmentally conscious, culinary destination.

I was spoiled this trip. So much so that I contemplated deliberately missing my flight for the first time ever. Can you blame me? I was staying with my friend Dave from college and his wife, Steph, who is a talented food blogger. I woke up to enjoy a barefoot brunch on their patio: 75C eggs made with a sous-vide machine, Acme smoked fish, brown butter hollandaise, heirloom cherry tomatoes on fresh focaccia. Spoiled.

And that's just how I started my day. The rest of my culinary conquests made it hard to leave and even harder to button up my pants.

My fill on San Francisco:
Park Tavern for dinner just outside Washington Square Park
Lai Hong Lounge for Dim Sumdays
Tartine for well, everything
The Ferry Building for Hog Island Oysters
Yummy Yummy for family style Vietnamese
Trick Dog for drinks and snacks
La Taqueria for the best burrito

Until next time:
State Bird Provisions
Souvla
Flour + Water

Stay bitten ;)



Friday, October 24, 2014

The Hangover / The Layover

I had one of the above. Vegas is synonymous with The Hangover but for us the only headache we had was to figure out how to spend the free time before our flights back home. The morning following our incredible hike of The Narrows, we headed west of Springdale, drove through a landscape that reminded me of an early episode of Breaking Bad. 

Like most people who visit Sin City, Eric and Liz immediately took to the tables. I joined them for a hot minute, won $36 and walked away. You've got to know when to hold them, know when to fold them...

Or in my case, I wasn't much of a gambler and after a 13 mile hike, all I really wanted to do was relax poolside, put my feet up before my redeye flight. I called a couple hotels only to receive the quick reply of "hotel guests only." I blame (and thank) my grandmother, the former Vogue model, for instilling this stubbornness in me. She taught me that behind every no is a yes, you just have to ask the right person. I'm sure she batted her lashes and flirted just a little bit. Either way, that tenacity and the distance a smile will go, was passed on to me and come hell or high water, I was finding a lounge chair!

I contemplated booking a hotel room for the day but came across this Travel + Leisure feature on the "Best Pools in Las Vegas." I left the tables in The Venetian and headed next door to The Palazzo as I read that I could crash the day party at Azure for a small fee. After chatting up concierge, I was headed in the right direction to make use of one of their pools. 

Just my luck, free of charge.
Stay bitten ;)