Dec 052017
 

Hello, hello! How is your week going so far? As I mentioned on Thursday, Fabio and I had a really, really fun weekend in New York City. Like, really fun. I have a lot to share with you guys, so I’m splitting my weekend recap into two posts! Here’s part one…

Thursday

On Thursday morning, I headed up to New York City via Amtrak, and once I arrived, I spent a few hours working remotely from Aunt CC and Uncle Steve’s apartment on the Upper West Side. Fabio arrived around 4 p.m., and since he hadn’t eaten lunch he said he wanted to head out for a pizza “snack.” (One slice of NYC pizza is a snack to him, even though they are big slices!) I teased him because he had literally been in NYC for less than an hour and was already devouring pizza. Of course.

Then it was time to get ready for the Ad Council Awards Gala! For those who aren’t familiar with the Ad Council, it’s an organization that makes public service announcements (PSAs) for a variety of good causes. I’ve worked with them to make a type 2 diabetes prevention PSA, which is how I got invited to their annual awards dinner. It’s black tie and kind of a big deal – 1,500 people were there and there was even a Saturday Night Live skit about the dinner a few weeks ago.

I was lucky enough to have Fabio join me for the event, especially since tickets at the normal rate cost $3,000. Wow!

When we arrived, we spent the first hour or so at a cocktail hour hosted by Google!

I was excited to see our Type 2 Diabetes Prevention campaign on some signage throughout the room. 🙂

Very cool!

While we were getting drinks, we wound up meeting a woman from Twitter, who actually works with one of Fabio’s fraternity brothers! It was great meeting her and networking a bit, and funny how the world is so small and you run into people with shared connections everywhere.

Once we took our seats, I got to meet some of the people who I’ve worked with for the last year or so on our PSA. It was nice meeting them in person after so many email exchanges and conference calls!

Then the presentations began, and I have to admit I totally drank the Ad Council Koolaid. Ad Council’s slogan is “Together for Good” and they’re all about making a difference in the world. Through the presentations, they honored the CEO of Unilever – who apparently has done a lot of great work with corporate social responsibility and helping those in need – and then showcased a few of their PSA campaigns.

Here’s a sampling of the types of people we heard from: A woman who survived the Pulse nightclub shooting and talked about survivors’ guilt; a young woman who was in the foster care system until age 14 when she was finally adopted, who then started her own nonprofit to make welcome kits for newly adopted kids; and a woman who had trouble feeding her family, and when she got back on her feet she started volunteering at a food bank. That’s not even all of the presentations, but it gives you a sense of the kinds of stories we heard.

I was especially impressed with the CEO of Ad Council, Lisa Sherman, who talked about how we were all there to make a difference in the world and if we work together, we can create change. Yep – totally drank the Koolaid here.

After the dinner, it was time for the after-party, which was sponsored by Facebook! There was a really fun band with a trumpet player, and then a really fantastic DJ who played every song I would have requested to hear. Fabio and I made some friends on the dance floor, and I wound up dancing with a really flamboyant new friend. 😉 As one does.

At the end of the night, the DJ closed out the dance floor by playing All I Want for Christmas Is You, and for some reason, everyone stormed the stage and started singing into the (thankfully turned off) microphones. Somehow I wound up right next to the Ad Council CEO Lisa Sherman during this, and totally fan-girled out about being next to her.

Once the dancing was over, I saw her by the coat check and told her how inspired I was by her speech. I think we were both a bit tipsy – open bars will do that – but I thought we had a nice little conversation. What a fun night! 🙂

Friday

The next day, Fabio and I headed out for a fun NYC adventure! (With an itinerary suggested by Uncle Steve, of course.)

First up, we hopped on the subway and got out at Hudson Yards, a brand new station in Manhattan where they’re building a ton of new skyscrapers. The station was really beautiful and featured lots of awe-inspiring mosaics on the ceilings. I can’t even imagine how long it took someone to put all those little tiles up there.

Then we walked over to the Highline where we were able to get a great view of Hudson Yards. All of these buildings are built on top of where they store the subway trains, and each one had tons of people working on them. There were lots of cranes and little elevator things moving all around!

It will be so interesting to see what this area turns into once they’re done with the construction.

Then we continued walking along the Highline and took in the cool sites of the city. 🙂

It was a beautiful day for a walk, and we didn’t feel too chilly as long as we stayed in the sunshine.

Eventually Fabio’s best friend Hayden met up with us, and we wandered around Chelsea market.

We popped into a bunch of stores, including a pop-up Etsy store with a bunch of different vendors. I wound up buying myself a pair of really pretty earrings and could have easily left with a bunch of other gifts. Everything was so nice!

Eventually we got hungry for lunch and stopped for some delicious tacos.

Yummmm.

Plus some mini donuts to share for dessert!

After Chelsea Market, the three of us headed to The Standard beer garden for some mid-afternoon drinks and a few games of ping pong for the boys.

After sitting around and chatting for a while, the boys headed back to Hayden’s apartment and I met up with my best friend Bianca for a girls’ night out!

She came into the city from Port Authority, so we met up at the nearby Heartland Brewery for some beers and sandwiches.

After dinner, we walked around a bit until we found another cute bar (can’t remember the name!) and we spent a few more hours catching up. Having girl time with my best friend was so, so nice, and it made me wish we still lived close to each other.

I was back at Aunt CC and Uncle Steve’s place by around 12:30 and instantly fell asleep. I was exhausted! Fabio came home quite a bit later (he and Hayden stayed out at the bars until 4 a.m….) and then we both were happy we were able to sleep in a bit on Saturday. 🙂

Part two coming later this week!

Questions of the day: How often do you get one-on-one time with your best friend? Have you heard of the Ad Council?

 Posted by on December 5, 2017
Aug 242017
 

Hi friends! Today I’m popping in with the very last recap of our amazing honeymoon trip to Thailand! It was such a fun experience, and writing these posts has allowed me to relive it, which is such a nice bonus.

In case you missed my first six (holy cow!) posts, you can find them here:

Today I’m highlighting a few of the activities we really loved in Ko Samui. If you ever find yourself in that part of the world, here are some things I recommend doing during your stay!

1. Take an all-day speedboat tour of Ang Thong Marine National Park. This was an excursion we knew we wanted to do, so we booked a tour through the concierge at our hotel. We might have had more options if we had booked online before our trip, but with coordinating the rest of this vacation and – oh yeah, planning a wedding – I decided winging it and booking upon arrival would be fine. And it was! 🙂

When we arrived at the tour’s starting point, I knew we were in for a fun day!

We boarded a boat with about 20 other people and then zoomed across the ocean. Our boat’s first stop of the day was snorkeling!

Fabio and I are lucky enough that we’ve both snorkeled in plenty of places around the world – though mostly in the Caribbean – and this snorkeling was pretty similar to other snorkeling trips we’ve done. Lots of coral and plenty of fish!

Our next highlight on the boat was riding around the National Park itself, which allowed us to view tons of cool rock formations that came right out of the water.

We even got to see “Monkey Rock,” and this one that’s out of a James Bond movie.

After that, we had a couple of other stops including one to eat lunch and one to climb up some super steep steps to check out a blue lagoon!

There was also a great view of the National Park’s rock formations from up there. Oh, and we got some Thai beers from a little refreshment stand to enjoy while we soaked in the views!

Our last stop of the day took us to a nice relaxing private beach (there was no one around except for the people who were on our boat) where we were able to take out some kayaks, play beach volleyball, and soak up the sunshine.

It was definitely a fun day-long excursion!

2. Eat dinner at The CliffI already told you guys about our super romantic, delicious dinner at Six Senses’ Dining on the Rocks, but we also enjoyed a nice dinner out at The Cliff restaurant.

This one wasn’t quite as nice as Dining on the Rocks and the food definitely wasn’t as good, but it was much cheaper, still tasty, and had a really nice view! And I guess you can’t eat like a king every night, right?

3. Eat all the mango sticky rice. This tip really goes for all of Thailand, but since we visited Ko Samui during the end of our trip, we really felt the need to enjoy this amazing dessert as much as we could before it was time to head back to the U.S.

The mangoes were always perfectly ripe, and the warm, sweet rice was perfection. Yum! I think I need to recreate this dish sometime soon.

4. Attend a party on Chaweng Beach. There weren’t any crazy full moon beach parties happening when we were down by Ko Samui, but there was still plenty of beach entertainment! One night we walked up to famous Ark Bar and enjoyed an amazing fire-throwing show on the beach.

There were lots of people trying to sell us stuff which was kind of annoying, but it was still fun to listen to good music, sip deliciously cold beer, and watch the show. Afterwards, we walked over to the Green Mango club area of Chaweng Beach and enjoyed a really fun night at a couple of different bars! Green Mango is a really big, crowded club, but we had just as much fun at a smaller bar next door with an awesome DJ! Lots and lots of dancing happened that night. My favorite! 🙂

5. Go to the Thai ExperienceThis is something you absolutely, positively MUST do if you’re ever in Ko Samui! Our friends Brian and Daria (who we met up with in Chiang Mai) did this during their stay, and they signed us up for it as a wedding/honeymoon gift for us. They’re the best!!In a nutshell, the Thai Experience was created for people who have outgrown staying in hostels during vacation but still want an opportunity to get to know other travellers and bond over shared experiences.

In a nutshell, the Thai Experience was created for people who have outgrown staying in hostels during vacation but still want an opportunity to get to know other travelers and bond over shared experiences.

A van picks you up right from your hotel and takes you to the Thai Experience location where a friendly host for the evening explains that you’re going to wear silly hats, drink lots of booze, talk to other travellers from around the world, learn about the Thai culture, and eat TONS of delicious Thai food.

We also got to learn how to make Thai cocktails!

The food was incredible, and we ate SO much of it. We also had a blast getting to know a family from New Zealand that was seated next to us. And now we’re all friends on Facebook!

Plus, as promised, there was an endless supply of cocktails. 🙂

We wound up doing this on the last night of our trip, and it was such a fun way to end our vacation! Apparently there’s another “Experience” location in Argentina, so if we ever make our way down there (which we plan to!) we will definitely add that to our itinerary.

After all that fun, we spent 30+ hours traveling back home to the states. Womp womp. Oh well, at least our two-week vacation was a blast and one we will never forget!

Question of the day: Do you like dancing at big clubs or smaller bars?

 Posted by on August 24, 2017
Aug 162017
 

Fabio and I knew we wanted part of our honeymoon to be filled with lots of adventures – like hiking through the forests of Chiang Mai to get to secluded temples, swimming in waterfalls, and walking with gentle elephants – but it was also important for us to take some time to relax and remember that we are on our honeymoon and are supposed to be enjoying romantic time with one another as husband and wife. (Eek! Those words still seem unreal to me.)

We decided to end our trip with a stop in Ko Samui, one of the beautiful islands off the southeast coast of Thailand (FYI – we picked the east coast because we read it was supposed to be less rainy in June). And while I truly enjoyed every moment of learning about Thai culture and exploring new places, there is something so calming about plopping in a chair on the sand and just soaking up the sun to the sound of the waves.

And, in addition to spending some time relaxing in the sun, we enjoyed the most romantic dinner of our trip in Ko Samui. In fact, it might have been the most romantic dinner we’ve ever had!

When we arrived at Ozo, our Ko Samui hotel in Chaweng Beach, Fabio wasted no time in asking the concierge for dinner recommendations. Thankfully she recommended Six Senses’ Dining on the Rocks restaurant as one of the places we had to visit during sunset, and I’m so incredibly thankful that she did.

We took a cab from our hotel to the Six Senses luxury resort, and then took a golf cart up to their Dining on the Rocks restaurant. Before we headed up to the main part of the restaurant, we were whisked onto a patio just in time to watch the sun set over the ocean.

Our table was right along the edge of the patio so we were treated to an amazing view!

With the mountains in the distance and the beautiful ocean in front of us, this wound up being one of the prettiest sunsets I’ve ever seen! It didn’t hurt that I was so relaxed and happy about spending a romantic evening with my husband. And you can’t see our faces here because of the sun, but I promise you we are grinning ear to ear.

As soon as we sat down, we ordered two glasses of champagne. Cheers to a honeymoon in paradise!

After the sun had gone down, we headed up to the main part of the restaurant where we’d eat an amazing meal.

It was still beautiful up there, but we were facing slightly away from the sun so I’m glad we enjoyed happy hour on the smaller patio first.

Instead, we got to take in beautiful views of the ocean!

(With more champagne, obviously.)

The meal itself was also amazing! I started off with some prawn and sea bass ceviche with “sweet potato sheets” which was delicious and refreshing, especially since it was pretty hot out.

For my entree, I enjoyed the scallops! Fabio got a steak, and we also shared a few side dishes.

Dessert was probably my favorite dish – I got the mango yogurt roll which was a mix of the most perfectly ripe mango and frozen yogurt. Yum!!

This restaurant is not cheap by any means – in fact it was the most expensive meal we had during our trip – but it was so romantic and relaxing and so perfect for a honeymoon. I loved every second!

Question of the day: What’s the most romantic dinner you’ve ever had?

 Posted by on August 16, 2017
Aug 142017
 

This past weekend, Fabio, Jack, and I drove up to Aunt CC and Uncle Steve’s house in Otis, Massachusetts (in the Berkshires) for a weekend of fun in the sun! We were joined by my friends Hana and Britt, which made the trip extra amazing.

Here are some scenes from the weekend, with a few notes of commentary here and there. 🙂

We hit the road on Thursday evening after work!

After a long car ride, we arrived in Otis to quite the welcome spread!

We stayed up until around 4 a.m. before throwing in the towel. We were exhausted.

Friday

We slept in a bit on Friday and then had breakfast outside. I made this lemon blueberry “bread” (aka – cake) and it was fantastic!

My plate:

Then it was time for some fun!

Water activities are the best. 🙂

We recently bought this life vest for Jack so we don’t have to worry about him when he jumps off the kayak or paddle board in the middle of the lake. It worked perfectly!

Steve took Jack on his kayak, and the rest of us used the stand-up paddle boards. Poor Fabio had to work on Friday so he stayed at the house, and Britt didn’t arrive until Friday evening. (That pesky day job.)

But the rest of us had fun!

After paddle boarding, we hung out in the back yard enjoying the sunshine and playing lots of lawn games.

Jack wanted to join us in playing bocce. 🙂

Steve was on cocktail duty and made us some amazing concoctions!

Later in the afternoon, the sky began to look a little ominous so we moved our games inside. Steve showed us how to play Gobblet, and we were all instantly addicted.

Once Britt arrived, it was dinner time!

We called it a night around 1 a.m. after playing lots more board games. We were pooped!

Saturday

Saturday morning started off pretty gray and cold, so we huddled inside and went through our wedding pictures together! Then we made a stop at the farmer’s market.

Lunch featured wraps on the deck, and then we headed off for a four-mile hike!

Which of course, meant more swimming for Jack.

The sun was fully out by the time we got back to the house, so we put on our swimsuits and headed over to the lake.

We spent the rest of the afternoon hanging out at the house playing lots and lots more games.

The games didn’t stop when the sun went down – night time bocce, kan-jam, and badminton for the win!

We finished up the evening sitting around the fire pit and called it a night around 1:45 a.m. (Dinner was also in there somewhere, but I was too busy having fun to take any pics!)

Sunday

We stuck around for breakfast on Sunday before packing up to head home.

It was a long drive, but the fun weekend was worth it!

The end.

Question of the day: What’s your favorite game?

 Posted by on August 14, 2017
Aug 022017
 

Hey friends! I’m back today with another recap of our amazing honeymoon in Thailand. If you missed any of my earlier posts, you can find those here:

I already told you about the main things we did in Chiang Mai, namely visiting wats and walking with elephants, so today I thought I would tell you about some of the other fun things we did in the city.

1. Drink pandan leaf (bai toey) tea. Fabio and I were greeted with this refreshing welcome drink at almost every nice establishment we visited (hotels, spas, etc.), and it was always served icy cold in cute little tin cups.

It’s hard to explain what this tea tasted like, but it was sweet, lemony, and so refreshing after being out in the hot and humid Thai climate.

Fabio and I actually found some of these tin cups at a local market in Chiang Mai and wound up buying them as souvenirs! We’re going to try to recreate this drink at home the next time we have guests over — it was such a nice way to be welcomed to a new place!

2. Get a massage. Massage places can be found all over Thailand and compared to massage places in the U.S., they are incredibly affordable. Fabio and I each got one-hour aromatherapy massages at Phurin Thai Spa in Chiang Mai for about $20!

There are also plenty of places that are cheaper than this one, but we wanted to pay a little more for an upscale spa experience. Plus, it was still just $20!! Take me back!

Note: When selecting a massage place, make sure the women out front look like real masseuses and aren’t wearing clothes that are too skimpy, or you might wind up in the wrong kind of establishment. 😉

3. Go to a fish spa. Being the tourists that we were, Fabio and I had to try out a fish spa, which is one of those places where you drop your feet into the water and little fish eat your dead skin.

Thank you to the nice lady from Chicago who offered to take this picture for us!

Fish spas are everywhere in Chiang Mai, and when selecting one, you’ll want to make sure it looks clean and is registered with the Thai government or else you could be at risk for a nasty infection. Yikes! The spa we picked looked clean and had official-looking signage on the door (it was in Thai so we couldn’t read it, but it looked ok), so we gave it a shot. It cost about 200 baht ($6) for a 20-minute session, so Fabio and I paid the fee and dunked our feet in the tank.

It was SUCH a weird experience and tickled like crazy. It was really hard not to pull my feet out and squirm away from the fish!

Even though it was a really weird feeling, I would definitely recommend this as something you must try when in Thailand.

4. Eat khao soi, preferably with a view of the river. Khao soi is a traditional northern Thai noodle soup that’s made with a coconut/curry broth. It is incredibly delicious and comes with crunchy noodles on top.

We first tried khao soi at the Riverside Bar & Restaurant outside the Old City in Chiang Mai, and we were treated to lovely views of the water in addition to our tasty soup.

Side note: Why do the Thai people like spicy soup when the climate is so hot??

I was lucky enough to have khao soi again at a no-frills, more traditional (read: less touristy) restaurant called Aroon Rai that I had read about online.

I really liked both versions of khao soi, and I am now on the hunt to find a place in the U.S. that serves it!

Note: iced coffee is also a huge thing in Thailand and is available everywhere, so we had a lot of iced coffee with our meals.

5. Check out the night bazaar. Fabio and I had read a lot about the night bazaar in Chiang Mai, and it did not disappoint! The streets are full of vendors selling everything under the sun, and the shops are open super late. We wound up buying some cool souvenirs for our family and friends, including some one-of-a-kind art!

Tip: If you see a painting you like at the bazaar but it’s too big or not the right size, you can ask the artist to make you a different size painting and pick it up a day or two later.

There’s also a really cool open area near the night bazaar with live music where you can grab a beer or a cocktail bucket and enjoy the evening outside.

Or if you’re not feeling a cocktail, you can get some rolled ice cream! I got a Kit-Kat, banana, and vanilla ice cream mixture, and it was as fun to watch them make it as it was to eat.

6. Check out the bars. The night life in Chiang Mai is pretty great, and there’s something for everyone!

If you want a rowdy, college-type of bar scene, check out Zoe in Yellow. There you’ll find blasting music, strobe lights, cheap cocktail buckets, and lots of drunk, young people. We went with two of our good friends who happened to be in Chiang Mai at the same time as us, Brian and Daria, so we had a good time, but I don’t think we would have enjoyed ourselves that much if it was just the two of us. We were feeling a little old for this crowd!

One place we did really enjoy going to though was the Jazz Bar by the North Gate of the Old City. We watched a couple of different bands play and had a good time sitting around and enjoying the live music.

7. Go to a cooking class. This was something that lots of people recommended that we do, and I’m so glad we did! After reading lots of reviews on Trip Advisor, I made a reservation with Asia Scenic Cooking School before we arrived in Thailand, and Fabio and I had a ton of fun cooking Thai dishes one night.

We got to make a stir fry, spring rolls, soup, and a curry dish, and each of us got to choose which ones we wanted to make.

We also got to put on silly hats and take a trip to the local Thai market (this is where we found our tin cups!).

I could have easily bought more at the market, and am now regretting that I didn’t purchase these soup packets. We had so much good Thai soup on our trip!

The market was really cool because there weren’t a lot of tourists there even though it was in the heart of the Old City. It was down a small road that wouldn’t have been easy to stumble upon, so I’m so glad we went with the cooking class!

Then it was cooking time!

Making the curries took a lot of work – we had to chop all the ingredients really finely and then pound them for while using a mortar and pistil.

Curries!

Eventually it was time to eat!

Yum!

All in all, we had a really fantastic time in Chiang Mai, and it was probably my favorite city that we visited during our trip. There’s just so much to do and see, but it still doesn’t feel like a crazy busy city. We loved it!

Question(s) of the day: What’s your favorite Thai food? Would you let fish eat dead skin off your feet?

 Posted by on August 2, 2017
Jul 312017
 

Every year, my college girlfriends plan a weekend trip to Fire Island, New York.

I wasn’t able to go last year because Fabio and I had a wedding that weekend, but you better believe I wasn’t missing it this time!

Fire Island is a small island off the coast of Long Island in New York and is only accessible by boat. It’s also a pain in the butt for me to get to since I have to get up to New York, out to Long Island, and then over to the ferry. There are also no cars allowed on the island, so we take public transportation to get there. It takes forever, but is so worth it!

My friends and I all shared our locations with one another on Snapchat, and I got a kick out of seeing our bitmojis hanging out together on the beach. 🙂

To get up and out to Fire Island, I began my journey after work on Thursday with a 6:00 p.m. Amtrak train. My friend Megan lives outside of Baltimore, so she hopped on the train from there. We treated ourselves to a seriously overpriced train dinner (I got a chicken wrap) and some wine. Vacation time!

When we arrived in New York City, we spent the night at our friends’ apartment and in the morning we all made our way out to Fire Island. Before we knew it, we were on the ferry!

There were 13 of us on this trip, including my friend Catrina who lives in California. It was so good to see her!

Hi, ladies!

After quickly stopping by the house to drop of four bags and unload groceries, we made our way to the beach! Friday was a great beach day, and we spent the afternoon soaking up the sun and catching up.

At one point, a deer made its way onto the beach! (Deer are pretty prevalent in Fire Island.)

Oh deer! 🙂

We stayed on the beach until the sun started to dip in the sky, at which point we headed back to the house to shower and start making dinner. Our house had an awesome rooftop with a big table and chairs, so we enjoyed our meal outside! We also got really lucky with a beautiful sunset.

Our chefs of the evening (Vic, Malena, and Layne, mostly) made us burgers, hot dogs, corn, pasta salad, and salad. Yum!!

We spent way too long sitting outside in the dark chatting before moving our party inside.

We thought briefly about getting ourselves dressed up and walking to the bars in town, but we decided sitting around and creating bitmojis for each other was more fun. 🙂

We clearly missed each other and enjoyed the chance to catch up!

Saturday

Sadly, we woke up to rainy skies on Saturday which pretty much killed any plans we had of going to the beach. We made ourselves a delicious breakfast of eggs and bacon (mine was enjoyed on an English muffin) and sat around talking over coffee for a while.

Eventually the rain let up and we decided to walk into town for some shopping. I didn’t buy anything, but it was still nice to look around. The town in Fire Island where we were is called Ocean Beach, and it’s so cute!

Later in the afternoon, my friend Kristen told us that her parents would be stopping by for happy hour. They live in Long Island and were planning to be in Fire Island this weekend anyway (just a different part of the island), so we planned to meet up with them for drinks at around 3:30.

Our happy hour wound up turning into an epic dance-party/sing-along day drink at the bar, which was easily the highlight of the weekend for me. It was so fun!

The music at the bar we went to (called CJ’s) was spot-0n and we enjoyed popular songs from lots of different time periods. We were all singing and dancing loudly and definitely made a scene at the bar, but no one seemed to mind. 🙂 It’s the beach, after all!

I can’t think of any way I’d rather spend a rainy day at the beach!!

After the bar, we all headed back to the house for another rooftop dinner. We were treated to another gorgeous sunset!

On Saturday night we had chicken and steak with the most delicious glaze that my friend Vic made. Yum! I can’t wait for her to share the recipe.

We also had more salad and pasta salad. My plate:

After sitting around and having another sing-along/dance party in the living room after dinner, a group of us decided to head to the bars. We didn’t get too crazy since we were all tired from day drinking, so luckily I woke up on Sunday morning without a hangover at all. Woohoo! We are definitely getting older, haha!

Sunday

Sunday was the most beautiful day we’ve had in months, so we woke up early to pack up our bags and then head to the beach. Megan, Kristen, and I stayed on the beach until around 1:00, at which point we had to go back to the house to get ready to go home. Wahh!!

These weekends are always so much fun, and I hate when they’re over. I miss my friends so much and really appreciated having all this time to catch up with them. Can I do it over again, please?

Question of the day: Do you have annual trips with your friends? If so, where do you usually go?

 Posted by on July 31, 2017
Jul 272017
 

Hey friends! How was your week? I’m sorry I didn’t get my act together to get a real post up this week (other than my weekend recap). I started pulling together another honeymoon post that I wanted to schedule for Wednesday, but it took me a long time just to get the photos together, and by the time I was done with that I ran out of time and energy to write anything. Next week!

Work should also be much slower next week – two of the big projects that have been stressing me out and keeping me in the office late wrapped up this week – so I should have more time and energy to sit down and blog in the evenings. Woohoo!

As for today, I am heading off to Fire Island this evening for a weekend with my college girlfriends!

This is a trip my friends (aka, sloppytown) plan every year, but I haven’t been able to go for the last couple of years due to weddings and being out of town. I’m so excited to get out there again this year!

And even though I can’t wait to relax on the beach (and am praying for good weather — it looks kinda crappy right now…), what I’m most looking forward to is sitting around with my friends and just catching up. I feel like I barely got to talk to them during the wedding!

I’ll be arriving back into town late on Sunday night, so we’ll have to see how much energy I have for posting right away. You know I’ll get to it eventually, and I thank you for your patience! 🙂

Question of the day: Do you have any kind of annual trips with your friends?

 Posted by on July 27, 2017
Jul 192017
 

Hello there! Today I’m popping in with another recap of our amazing honeymoon in Thailand, this time with the details of our quick trip to Pai! If you missed my previous recaps, you might want to read those first.

After spending a few very fun days in Chiang Mai, Fabio and I checked out of our hotel (for now) and hopped on a van to Pai. Pai is a smaller town north of Chiang Mai and is known for its natural attractions like waterfalls and hot springs, and also for being a popular spot for backpacking tourists.

The ride from Chiang Mai took us only three hours, but unfortunately the winding roads were very hard on people who get car-sick easily, which is usually me. Luckily I bought some motion sickness medicine at a 7-11 in Chiang Mai and took some before we got into the van, but one passenger got sick on the way to Pai and then another (different) passenger got sick on our way back from Pai. One was outside the van after the driver pulled over, but one was…not. And she didn’t have a bag. Gross. But anyway, just a word of warning for anyone looking to travel to Pai!

Once we arrived, we saw cute little streets with lots of shops and restaurants.

We also saw lots of dogs in Pai, and most of them were really friendly. Fabio fell in love with this little lady, who followed us around during our whole time in Pai even though we never fed her any food. If she didn’t have a collar on we definitely would have looked into adopting her!

After getting our bearings, we walked over to our hotel, Pai River Corner. Although there are tons of incredibly cheap accommodations in Pai (you can find places for $6 per night), we decided to go with a nicer hotel option – it was our honeymoon, after all. We had the top floor of this bungalo all to ourselves!

(Please excuse the candidness of that one!)

The room was nice enough, with clean bathrooms and wifi. Plus it was still a steal compared to hotel prices in the U.S.!

And our balcony had a nice view of the lush greenery and the pool. Beautiful!

Pai River Corner is also located – you guessed it – right along the river. The restaurant and bar had a great view of the mountains and the river!

Once we dropped off our bags, Fabio and I decided to do a little exploring via scooter! We had read that Pai is a great place to rent scooters since it’s a lot smaller of a city than Bangkok or Chiang Mai, and the roads are pretty tourist-friendly. The scooters themselves are also really cheap, so you can rent them for 24 hours for just a few dollars.

Then again, I had also read about how dangerous the scooters could be, and we saw plenty of tourists walking around with bandages from scooter accidents. I do think most of these were from people driving the scooters after having too many drinks at the bar, but it made me nervous regardless. In fact, I was pretty much dreading climbing onto that thing, and was really regretting my decision at this point.

In the end, Fabio and I decided to take the scooter over to Pai Canyon, a cool lookout spot that was, most importantly, not too far away. I’m pretty sure I gripped Fabio and the scooter for dear life the entire way there, and I was so relieved when we arrived safely just about 15 minutes later.

Pai Canyon featured lots of narrow, winding peaks, and we could see other tourists who were climbing around on top of them. I walked to a relatively easy area of the canyon before realizing I’d have to get down on my hands and knees/crawl on my butt to go any farther, and I decided that was enough for me. There was a huge drop on the side of the peaks, and it seemed like one misstep could leave you very badly hurt. No thanks!

We did see some dare devils who rode motor bikes all along the cliffs, and Fabio and I agreed they were crazy. Again, no thanks!

Once we were done exploring Pai Canyon, Fabio and I scootered (safely) back to the hotel and then enjoyed some happy hour cocktails by the river. I think I earned it for facing my scooter fears!

There was also a cool bamboo bridge near the restaurant, so of course we had to check that out.

It was really rickety, but cool!

While we waited for our cocktails to arrive, it started drizzling and then we saw the most beautiful rainbow!

It was actually a double rainbow and if you look closely you can see the second one above the brighter one. It was so beautiful, and Fabio and I took it as a honeymoon gift from our grandparents who are no longer with us. 🙂

After happy hour, we walked into town for some dinner (we went to the Witching Well per some recommendations I had read online – it was pretty good but not amazing) and then waintod in to Boom Bar since it seemed like one of the more lively bars on the street.

Any place that serves up its cocktails with a slice of water melon is a-ok in my book!

Boom Bar had all kinds of lounge areas, a dance floor area, a pool table, and a couple of tables for beer pong! Fabio and I watched a couple of games of beer pong, but ultimately decided not to play. Instead, we hung out at the bar and made friends with some other travelers, two of whom were from Colombia!

They were so, so nice and we had a great time talking to them throughout the evening.

Oh and just a quick side note: When we got back from the trip I had a hard time explaining to my friends and family what the people in Pai were like, and would usually just say they were mostly Western hippies. Then I saw this drawing in the bathroom at the bar, and thought it described the average Westerner in Pai perfectly:

Precicely!

The next morning, Fabio and I set out for a full day of tours around the Pai area! We opted to do a private tour instead of one of the big group ones, mostly because we wanted to set our own schedule for the day. We had planned to see a water fall, a hot spring, and a cave, but we really wanted to go to the cave in the evening because I had read that’s when all the bats come out. None of the big tour groups went to the cave at that time of day, so we hired our own tour guide to take us. It was a little more expensive than the group tours, but still relatively cheap and definitely worth it.

Our first stop was Mo Paeng waterfall.

This was a really lovely waterfall for swimming in, and we slid down the wet rock next to the waterfall and splashed into the pool. We also met a couple of other nice tourists here, and spent some time talking to them while splashing in the chilly water.

Up next was Sai Ngam hot springs – aka Pai’s “secret” hot springs – which featured a couple of pools of warm water. It wasn’t as hot as hot tob water (and pretty different from the hot springs we swam in at Yellowstone) but it was the most perfect temperature for relaxing and I’m pretty sure we could have staying in the hot spring all day. Plus, our tourist friends from the waterfall joined us, so we got to talk to them some more!

Our last stop of the day was Lod Cave, which was probably the coolest thing we did in Pai.

When we arrived, we bought some food to feed the fish and were amazed at the swarm of them that jumped up to get the food. This water was teeming with them, and some of the fish were huge!

Then we wandered into the cave while following a woman who spoke no English and was carrying the cave’s only source of light, which came from a wind-up lantern. I’m pretty sure Fabio and I were sprinting to catch up with her at some points – if she walked away, we would have been completely in the dark.

We spent some time climbing up into the caves and observing all the interesting shapes in the stalactites and stalagmites.

Then when we had seen two of the caves, we climbed onto a narrow bamboo raft that would take us over to another cave.

It was so narrow and flimsy, and all I could think about was that all those giant fish that we had seen were swimming right below us. Eek!

While we were going down the stream, we kept noticing drops in the water. Fabio and I both assumed it was condensation dripping down until our guide shined her flashlight up to the huge ceiling of the cave, and we saw hundreds of thousands of bats above us. Ok then, those drops are clearly bat poop.

Soon we emerged near the mouth of the other cave, and we saw thousands and thousands of bats swarming around the entrance. It was just about sunset, so it was time for the bats to go eat their dinner, I suppose. It was really, really cool, and definitely worth hiring the private tour guide to see. It was incredible!

You can see our raft in the background here – it really was tiny!

All in all, it was a really fun day exploring the sites around Pai!

When we got back to our hotel, we cleaned ourselves up and then got some dinner from the street vendors. I started with a mango smoothie, and then got green curry and brown rice for my meal.

(Yes, I joined the crowds of tourists and bought myself a pair of elephant pants.)

This was probably my favorite Thai dish that I had during the whole trip, and it came from a food truck!

Fabio got stir fried noodles with hot basil and chicken, and his was equally delicious.

The street food in Pai did not disappoint!

After dinner we walked around for a while to do some shopping and then called it a night as we had to hop on the van back to Chiang Mai early the next morning.

All in all, I would recommend a visit to Pai for anyone who’s interested in seeing a smaller, unique Thai city with all the creature comforts that we tourists enjoy. It was wonderful!

Question(s) of the day: Have you ever been in a cave? Would you ride on a scooter?

 Posted by on July 19, 2017
Jul 122017
 

Well friends, it’s time for another recap of our amazing honeymoon in Thailand, and this time we’re talking about my favorite part of the whole trip: visiting Elephant Nature Park! If you missed my first two honeymoon recaps you can read about our day in Bangkok here and our Chiang Mai hike and wat tours here.

When Fabio and I first started researching where we wanted to go for our honeymoon, we knew we wanted to go somewhere where we could see animals (we are huge animal lovers, if you couldn’t tell that by now). We thought about the Galapagos because of its amazing marine life (I’ve heard the sea lions are incredibly friendly!) and we thought about an African safari (how cool would it be to see lions and giraffes in the wild?). But after reading this review about Elephant Nature Park and hearing lots of other great things about Thailand, our decision was made and we booked our trip!

I did a lot of research before booking any activities for our vacation, and I learned that while riding elephants is an extremely common tourist attraction in Thailand, it’s actually really bad for the elephants. And the crazy thing is that everyone does it! In fact, there are so many tour companies offering elephant rides that most tourists have no idea that it’s not good for the animals. In the U.S. something like this would absolutely be regulated, but every country is not like the U.S., and Thailand relies heavily on its tourism industry so they let this practice continue. Tourists ride the elephants all the time (so don’t feel bad if you’re reading this and you’ve done it!), but more and more elephant sanctuaries are starting to pop up in Thailand to educate people about the right way to interact with elephants.

Elephant Nature Park is one of these places, and they rescue and rehabilitate elephants that have been abused through the tourism industry, kept as pets, or hurt during the nearby Burmese civil war. The park is housed on 250 lush, hilly acres (it looks a lot like Jurassic Park!) and serves as a home to elephants, dogs, cats, water buffalo, and other animals. It’s enormous!

On the morning we were scheduled to visit the park, we were picked up from our Chiang Mai hotel and then rode in a comfortable van for the 60-kilometer (37-mile) drive north to the park. (Warning: If you’re ever getting picked up from a Thailand hotel for an excursion, make sure it’s for the right excursion. We had a language mix-up that could have ended with us driving ATVs around instead of seeing the elephants, which I would not have been happy about. Luckily it worked out fine in the end.)

On the way to the park, we watched a horrifying video showing what trainers do to elephants who are used for things like trekking with tourists and performing in the circus. It was really terrible, and I had to look away at certain times. I understand why they make us watch this video though; it reaffirms our commitment to supporting elephant sanctuaries instead!

When we arrived, we entered a large, open-air building. And we instantly saw elephants!

Our first activity of the day was feeding the elephants some watermelon. Apparently this is just their appetizer, as they eat 10% of their body weight each day. That’s a lot of food! We stood behind some protective bars to feed the elephants since some of them can be unpredictable around food.

I watched a couple of other people from our group feed the elephant, and then it was my turn! The elephant gripped the watermelon in its trunk and then easily transferred it to its mouth.

Then it was Fabio’s turn!

We were both a little hesitant the first time around, but got more comfortable once we got to the second and third pieces of watermelon.

Here you go, big guy!

After the watermelon was gone, the elephant hung around for about 30 seconds to make sure he got all the food, and then he walked away. Clearly he wasn’t hanging around for our company! Ha!

Then we walked over to a hospital area where our guide explained the elephant rehabilitation process. When the owner of Elephant Nature Park hears about an elephant that’s injured, old, or just needs help, he will buy it off of other tour companies or owners.

The elephant then goes into the park’s vet center for all kinds of testing, and if needed they have a hospital where elephants can stay. Our guide told us about two elephants who stepped on land mines after their owners made them climb over the mountains from Burma to escape the civil war there. Those elephants had to be in the hospital for two years because they kept stepping on their injured legs and breaking their plaster casts. Poor things! It’s so nice to know there’s a place like Elephant Nature Park to take care of them.

Once the elephants are deemed healthy, they are matched with a trainer who will take care of them and help them find their herd. Some elephants match up with a herd right away, and others take years to find their new “family.” It has to be a mutual acceptance all around, and it was nice to realize that all of the elephant families we saw throughout our stay were really adoptive ones.

After learning about this process, we walked over to a female elephant with an injured foot. Sadly, her foot will never be able to heal fully and she will have to live in the enclosed vet area for the rest of her life so she doesn’t injure it more. She didn’t seem to mind though, as she was super friendly and got lots of food to herself.

This was the first elephant we got to interact with up close, and I think we were all a little nervous at first. These creatures are just so big!

Our guide reassured us that she was a gentle and friendly elephant, and encouraged us to get really close to her and pet her. Ok then!

Her skin had course prickly hairs all over it, which was surprising to me. She was really sweet and didn’t mind having us there at all!

FYI – those cement cylinders are there so the elephants can scratch up against them, like cats!

After we were done visiting the sweet injured lady, we walked over to another area of the park where an elephant family (remember, they’re not actually related) was enjoying another snack. This time we got to see an adorable baby!!

The family was really cute, and I loved hearing that there was a grandmother, mom, and big sister elephant that all stayed close to the baby. (Meanwhile the dad was way off in the distance…apparently they’re more like dogs and don’t stick around to take care of their offspring.) You can tell which ones are the older ones based on how deep their temples are – cool!

These elephants were also friendly, and we got to get up close to them.

We even got to pet the baby, which might have been the highlight of my whole trip.

Here’s a screenshot of the video Fabio took of the interaction. It was so amazing! The baby was small compared to the other elephants, but was still really big and strong next to me.

At one point when I was walking away from him, he decided he wasn’t quite done with me and reached out his trunk for me. He almost grabbed my leg and I would have gone flying! These creatures are pretty funny and I don’t think this little guy even knew his own strength.

Amazing!

As I mentioned, there were also tons of dogs at Elephant Nature Park–more than 400!–most of which were rescued after the 2004 Thailand tsunami. They get along with the elephants pretty well, and it was cool to see them hanging around together.

There were also lots of water buffalo, which was both cool and scary. I was happy keeping my distance from these guys. 🙂

After we were done petting the elephant family, we walked them down to the river to watch them swim and spray each other with water sucked up through their trunks.

And after they were clean from the river, they rolled around in the mud!

We learned that elephants have sensitive skin, and they use mud as both their sunscreen and insect repellent. Interesting!

After the mud bath it was time for us to eat lunch, and we headed back up to the building to enjoy a delicious vegetarian Thai buffet-style lunch. We got to know the rest of the people in our group much better during this time, and we had a nice time talking to them!

After lunch we spent some time with another elephant family, which had another baby.

Right when Fabio and I squatted down for a photo, the little guy turned around so we got more than just his butt in the picture. What a little ham!

At this point we could see another elephant tour group (a riding kind by the looks of it) making their way down to the nearby public river. As soon as the elephants near us smelled them, they got really nervous and protective. The mom elephant made the baby go with her into their enclosure where they knew they would be safe if anything were to happen. The elephants from the other group were still pretty far away, but it was amazing to see how protective this group got as soon as they smelled them.

Once everything settled down, we said goodbye to this group of elephants and then headed down to another section of the river. It was elephant bathing time!

Each elephant got another basket of fruit (watermelon and bananas this time) and they contentedly ate their snack while we splashed them with buckets of water from the river.

They seemed to really enjoy this, and used their ears as fans to blow cool air on their damp skin.

This was a perfect way for us to wrap up our amazing day with the elephants!

Soon it was time for us to say goodbye to the park, and we climbed back in the van for the drive back to our hotel in Chiang Mai. It was such an incredible experience that I will never forget, and I’m so glad we were able to support such an amazing organization. If you ever go to Chiang Mai, you absolutely have to visit Elephant Nature Park, and please don’t ride any elephants!

Question of the day: Would you enjoy this or be scared?

One guy in our group discovered that he was afraid of elephants (something he didn’t know until he got close to one!) and decided to skip out on most of the activities for the day. Poor guy!

 Posted by on July 12, 2017
Jul 072017
 

Hi friends! Today I’m back with part 2 of my honeymoon recap, which included visiting lots of beautiful wats (temples) in Chiang Mai! We even hiked up a really cool monk’s trail to get to two of the temples, which I’ll get to in a minute. First, if you missed my Bangkok recap you can find that here! And, just a warning, this is a looooong post, so get comfy. Here we go!

After spending just over a day in Bangkok, Fabio and I hopped on a flight north to the second largest city in Thailand, Chiang Mai. We flew through Nok Air and it was very comfortable and quick!

When we arrived at around 10:30 a.m., we got in a cab to take us to our hotel which was inside the old city near the East Gate (Tha Phae Gate). We were staying at The 3 Sis, a boutique hotel/bed and breakfast right in the heart of the city. When we pulled up, we were in awe of the massive mango tree out front. Wow!

The lobby was peaceful and inviting, and we were greeted with the most amazing Thai iced tea. Ahh! I could use a glass of that right now.

Our room was comfortable and spacious (we stayed for four nights total), but my favorite part of the hotel was the view of Wat Phan Tao (one of the temples) right across the street. This was what we saw when we ate breakfast every day!

Amazing!

After we checked in and dropped off our bags (our room was ready early, thank goodness), we decided to walk around the old city of Chiang Mai. On our maps this part of the city had appeared to be pretty small, but we soon found out it was much bigger than we thought. We spent quite a while walking around the streets and still didn’t cover everything.

The first thing I saw that piqued my interest was all the monks! They were everywhere, much more so than in Bangkok. We knew there were lots of wats in Chiang Mai so this wasn’t surprising, but it was still really cool to see. There were even lots of monks shopping in our local 7-11!

After getting our bearings, Fabio and I decided it was time to see some of the wats! The dress code for these was definitely enforced more than in Bangkok, and I made sure to wear pants and a top with sleeves whenever we were exploring the temples. It was super hot, but I didn’t want to be disrespectful!

There were ornate decorations everywhere – on statues, walls, the roof, and even the ceiling – and everything had so many beautiful details.

Like with Christianity, Buddhists believe that making beautiful temples to worship God is a way to get into Heaven. It sure was beautiful!

It was cool seeing some of the older wats too – this one is part of Wat Phan Tao, which was the one that was just steps away from our hotel. Check out the monks! (Obsessed.)

As we were wandering around admiring the beautiful temples, we saw a sign in English that said “Come Meet a Monk.” We noticed a bunch of other Westerners sitting at tables talking to young monks, so we decided to see what it was all about.

When we sat down, we started talking to a 16-year-old monk who was interested in interviewing us for his English homework. Cool! He asked us where we were from, what our jobs were, and what we thought of Thailand so far, among other things.

In turn, we asked about his life and found out that he’s from a very small village in northern Thailand and that he decided to come to monk school to help out his family. He said his father passed away a few years ago, and he has many brothers and sisters. His mom works multiple jobs – all of which are about two hours from their home – and she can’t afford to pay for high school for all the kids (it’s not free in Thailand, apparently).

This monk (I forget his name!) was really dedicated to his studies and has a dream to go to college, so he decided to become a monk for a while so he can get his education for free. Though he doesn’t want to stay a monk forever, he said that once you learn the Buddhist monk values, you’re always a monk at heart. This was one of the highlights of our trip for me, and I loved hearing his story! Also, his English was great! What a smart kid.

Side note: He wasn’t allowed to sit or stand next to me since I’m a woman. Interesting. He also was amazed at how tall Fabio is. Ha!

After that, we checked out a few more wats inside the old city before calling it a day. (I’ll write another post highlighting all the other stuff we did in Chiang Mai like restaurants, bars, and massage places, but today’s post is about the wats!)

The next day, we had plans to hike up to see two more wats: the quiet, remote Wat Pha Lat and the busy, touristy Doi Suthep. This hike was recommended to me by a friend, and I was excited to get to the two wats by climbing up an old monk trail instead of riding in a car or tuk-tuk.

We relied heavily on this blog post with step-by-step instructions for following the hike, so if this is ever something you’re interested in doing, definitely check out that post!

Anyway, after taking a tuk-tuk out of the old city one morning and walking uphill a ways from our drop-off point, we arrived at the entrance to the trail.

There we met a fellow American (who took this picture), who has been living in Thailand for a few years. She warned us that the hike was not easy at all and asked how much water we had with us. *Gulp* What did we just get ourselves into?

We aren’t quitters though, so we forged ahead with her word of warning swarming in our heads.

The trail itself was made by monks who needed to climb up the mountains to get to the different wats. They still use it today, and do the whole climb in sandals! The path is marked by pieces of their customary orange cloth, which served as reminders that we were in a serene and sacred place.

Some areas of the trail were absolutely covered in cloth, and other times we would walk for a while without seeing any.

One tip for this hike is to put on lots of bug spray! The hike takes you through some really dense woods and there were lots and lots of bugs. Sometimes the bugs would also be super loud, and all you could hear were bug noises and the rushing water of some small waterfalls along the way.

After hiking for about 45 minutes and seeing a couple of other hikers along our path, we crossed a somewhat rickety bridge and then arrived at Wat Pha Lat.

Wat Pha Lat is a very quiet temple that was built next to a waterfall. Apparently it used to be a resting point for travelers on their way to Doi Suthep, but when they built the road to Doi Suthep this place became a quiet retreat accessed only by monks and hikers.

The only real way to get to Wat Pha Lat is by hiking to it since it’s located deep in the forest. This, of course, limits the number of tourists who go there which allows you to really soak up the beauty and serenity of the place.

Since it was pretty hot and humid during our hike, I packed some light-weight pants and a shirt in our backpack and just put them on as we walked around the temple. Again, I wanted to be respectful, but it was too hot to wear those kinds of clothes during the whole hike.

Wat Pha Lat was beautiful and so peaceful! Fabio and I really enjoyed our time walking around and taking in the calm atmosphere. It felt like we were in a movie!

Then it was on to part two of our hike, which was the much steeper and much longer climb up to Doi Suthep!

This is the part of the hike we were most worried about and although we were fine, it definitely was a little challenging at times. At one point it started to drizzle and the clay trail got wet, making it super slippery to walk up. We were able to find some walking sticks though which really helped us keep our balance! Better hiking shoes would have been helpful here, but we only had our sneakers.

We also met a really nice Swiss girl at this point and spent lots of time getting to know her during the hike. It made the time fly by, and before we knew it we were close to the top! (Not before we made a wrong turn and Fabio had to climb a waterfall in search of the trail. Oops. Wrong way!)

We also spotted this crazy blue Lion King-esque bug when we were almost at the top. Gross! Its body was probably four inches long.

Right after the giant bug sighting, we arrived at the end of the trail! Woohoo! The second half of the climb took us about an hour and fifteen minutes and was definitely more challenging than the first half, but not as impossible as that other American woman had made it sound. Thank goodness!

At the top, we rewarded ourselves with fresh mango smoothies and then headed in to visit the famous Doi Suthep. (There were lots of tourists and carts selling things here. Very different from Wat Pha Lat!)

Doi Suthep is pretty famous for its dragon stairs, which are intricately decorated all the way up to the top.

It was a pretty long climb to the top, but nothing compared to the hike we had just done!

The view from the top was definitely beautiful, but it was pretty crowded and made me appreciate the peacefulness at Wat Pha Lat all the more.

Still, it’s worth a visit when you’re in Chiang Mai!

Once we were done at the temple, we hopped in a songthaew (a red pick-up truck that acts much like Thailand’s version of Uber pool) back to the old city. During our ride, we met some interesting tourists from Los Angeles and the UK, and it was nice to hear about their respective trips.

When we arrived back at the hotel, we took some much-needed showers since we were coated in bug spray and mud. Yuck!

All in all, I would absolutely recommend checking out the wats in Chiang Mai, and would especially recommend doing the hike and trying out the “Meet a Monk” program!

Question of the day: What would you ask a monk?

 Posted by on July 7, 2017