Bus Bar, Chiang Mai Thailand

 

Outside of Bus Bar

Outside of Bus Bar


We love to travel and part of the fun for us is researching all of the places we want to eat/drink at, or walk to.  After so much wasted time, disappointments, and failures, we have come to depend on our self-published travel guides and maps to structure our exploring locally, nationally, and internationally. As I sit here, on a rainy and gloomy night, I am fondly remembering how we stumbled upon Bus Bar in Chiang Mai, and all the fun we had there this past November.

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View of the seating area from the roof

Shortly after arriving in Chiang Mai and checking in to Le Meridien, we did what we usually do, head out for a walk to a grocery store to pick up some essentials.  As we made our way towards the river in Chiang Mai, we spotted a big red bus, parked in a small lot by the river, with signs advertising Chang Beer and Johnny Walker, and the sign Bus Bar.  This had to be a bar?  As we walked by a little later, our suspicions were confirmed as people were setting out tables and chairs. After dinner, we decided to head back to Bus Bar to see what was going on.  As we arrived, we were greeted with a lovely scene; an art show to benefit the Typhoon Haiyan, people lighting and releasing lanterns, and 2 Thai men playing acoustic guitar and singing (They sang “Little Talks” by Of Monsters and Men”.  We immediately ordered a few beers and grabbed a table, lit by candlelight.  There are tons of bars on Thailand, but Bus Bar was very unique in its casual, calm and low-key setting.  It seems like a place people go to escape the other bars with loud music and flashing lights to enjoy an outdoor setting and good company.    Sitting there with J., looking at the stars, listening to music, and talking, all the stress and sadness melted away, and was replaced with a general sense of well-being and connection to things beyond our immediate reality and community.  It made the world seem smaller and reminded me once again that we are not that unique and you can find and experience most things anywhere in the world.

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Lantern/candle on the table

We returned every night we were in Chiang Mai, and it became our “night cap”.  While the live music was not available each night, we did get a kick out of the 90′s hits and love song soundtrack that played every night.  Eventually, we got brave enough to climb to the top of the bus but didn’t stay long since it got very hot up there due t the kitchen in the bus below.  We were also relieved that we did not witness the abominable swamp man, who caused quite a stir when he jumped into the river in a drunken mess and proceeded to accuse people of stealing his cellphone, as detailed on Market of Eden Blog.

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Sitting on the roof

Often, people ask us: “Why do you travel to all these place? What do you do there?”.  Well, this is what we do!  We just walk around, enjoy the surroundings and scenery, and culture, and check out places that offer good food and good beer. Through our routine of planning and mapping things out, we stumbled across an awesome place not on our map.  That tends to happen a lot during our travels and I am as thankful for those moments as I am for the “planned and scheduled ones”.  I don’t feel guilt about seeking out the best before a trip and neglecting the usual tourist activities because we find surprises and special moments along the way when we least expect them.

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Location of Bus Bar

Teaching Les Mills RPM: My Experience and Tips

On December 24, 2006, my mom dragged me to GoodLife Fitness to get a membership. She had enjoyed her experience and wanted to help me get into shape. I was about 45 pounds heavier then, suffering from depression, and generally did not feel well.  Over the next year, I progressed to lose weight, increased my energy level, and overcame depression.  Not only was there great equipment, but the Les Mills brand of classes made fitness fun and I made like-minded and health oriented friends along the way.  My favourite program though was always RPM.  This indoor cycling program had such great music and instructors, and gave me such great results both in weight loss and enhanced fitness level, that it became central to my routine.

“RPM™ is the indoor cycling workout where you ride to the rhythm of powerful music. Take on the terrain with your inspiring team coach who leads the pack through hills, flats, mountain peaks, time trials, and interval training. Discover your athlete within – sweat and burn to reach your endorphin high. Like all the LES MILLS™ programs, a new RPM™ class is released every three months with new music and choreography.”

Duration Avg. Calorie Burn Exercise Type
45
MINS
675
CALORIES
MODERATE TO HIGH
INTENSITY INDOOR
CYCLING

Source: http://w3.lesmills.com/global/en/classes/rpm/about-rpm/.

This YouTube video gives you a good idea about what a class might be like and the coaching style: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=sPbrouaEYqE.

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Studying before getting on the bike

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Practicing on the bike

In 2008, my favourite instructor asked me if I had ever thought about teaching the program, and the answer was yes, I had but it didn’t seem like something that I would be capable of.  With his help and mentorship, I started building up my cycle fitness and studying general fitness instruction.  I was so nervous about my audition but they saw potential in me and off I went for training.  The training is grueling; it’s 2 days and you end up riding most of the day.  After training, you go back home and start team teaching with other instructors to prepare to film and submit a video to be Les Mills certified.  I have always been nervous and public speaking terrified me, so team teaching was fun but very difficult.  The warm-up is just a warm-up but sometimes I found my heart rate accelerating way beyond what it should be, and this happened throughout the class.  After 1.5 months of team teaching, I submitted my video, passed, and starting teaching shortly after.

So many members have helped me along the way and I dedicate a lot of my time to make each class memorable, fun, challenging, and rewarding for them.  While there is a stigma about instructors shouting and being really aggressive, this has not been my experience in any RPM class I  have taken or taught.  As an instructor who is also pushing myself through the workout while teaching, I believe it is important to earn the trust of their participants, and to mentor them to push themselves and go beyond their perceived limits by coaching them to face their fears and giving them options based on their fitness level.  I also try to help the participants to gauge their progress based on how they are performing now, vs when they started, i.e how long can you sprint? how long does it take you to recover?

Being a fitness instructor is a big responsibility and you definitely have to lead by example, so it keeps me honest and dedicated to my health goals. For each class I teach, it takes me about 2 hours of prep, so practicing the choreography, learning and creating coaching cues, and riding to the playlist to figure out where members will need help and may feel disengaged.

This past fall, I celebrated my 5th year as a Les Mills RPM Instructor, and I still feel challenged by the program.  New releases, so classes are released each quarter and they offer new music and choreography to keep participants challenged and motivated,  With each release, I learn something new and try to share that with members.

Here are some tips to help you make the most of your Les Mills RPM class:

1)  Not sure if your club offers it? In Canada, only GoodLife Fitness Clubs has the program.  A full list of clubs with Les Mills RPM, and the other programs is available here.
2)  Is there a song you really like?  After or before class, talk to the instructor and request it. If they have the music, most instructors will gladly oblige.  I have releases all the way from 15 and love to mix it up or create themed mixes for my participation.  Lately I have been riding to songs to balance out the focus of the effort to push my participants through different challenges, ie long climbs with shorter but more intense sprints. Track lists from all releases are available here: http://www.totallylesmills.com/site/RPM.
3)  Do you feel like pain or discomfort?  Talk to the instructor and get some help with the bike setup and technique instruction before or after the class.
4)  ALWAYS have a light snack at least 1 hour before class! An apple works great!
5)  Bring a friend!  Choosing to do something daunting with a friend can be a good way to ease into it.  Also, if you are new, let the instructor know so they can keep an eye on you through the class and give you tips discretely.
6)  Have fun and let loose!  If you knew me outside the studio, you would know that singing along to Katy Perry music is not my thing, but it’s all in the name of a fun workout and to bring a smile to your face.
7)  Introduce yourself and don’t be scared to connect with other members. We can all “woohoo” and high five each other for motivation and support.

Often participants will come up to me and ask if RPM will make their legs bulk up and be less feminine.  My experience has been that no, this is not the case.  It will tone and strengthen your legs but to get very bulky, you have to be really working towards that.

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One of the greatest and more rewarding things I have done in my life is to become certified to teach Les Mills RPM.  I encourage everyone to try or a class and to eventually consider becoming an instructor.

InFlight Entertainment: Passport to Culture

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A vast and diverse inflight entertainment library is like a well curated library, museum, or wine cellar; it can offer you experiences out of the norm.  As a frequent flyer who doesn’t particularly enjoy being enclosed in a cabin for numerous hours, inflight entertainment makes the trip enjoyable and in some cases leads to the discovery of films I may never have seen otherwise.

I still remember how profound it was to watch “Never Let Me Go” on a Singapore Airlines flight between Singapore and Taipei. I sat there, on the flight beside my boyfriend, who held my hand and paused the movie at the same time, and wiped my tears as they fell.  We were travelling for 3 months together at that time and it is our most cherished experience.

I got a glimpse of life, culture, and the scenery in Istanbul Turkey.  On a Turkish Airlines flight from Singapore to Turkey, I stayed up to watch “Izstambul” a film about a middle aged woman who leaves Hungary after her husband leaves her for a younger woman. She makes her journey to Istanbul where she meets a man and acquaints herself with the cultural norms in Turkey.

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Screen on the Turkish Airlines A330-300

I have to really commend Air Canada though; their enRoute inflight entertainment surpasses all of the airlines I have flown on.  In addition to the usual popular films and sitcoms, they have specilaty collections of short films through their film festival program and showcase many films from festivals around the world.  I have had the chance to watch Quebecois films and sitcoms to acquaint myself with my French Canadian cultural roots, in addition to other great Canadian films.  From “One Week“, which has the main character ride a motorcycle across Canada instead of staying home to battle cancer, to Sarah Polley’s “My Life Without Me” about a mother who comes to term with cancer and has an affair, to “C.R.A.Z.Y” a film about a catholic boy who grew up in a traditional Quebecois home and his struggles with coming out.  Last year, I was super excited to watch “The World Before Her“, an acclaimed documentary that follows the divergent path of two young women from very backgrounds in India.  As I settled in to watch it, the inflight entertainment system broke down. Unfortunately, on my next flight it was not available.

Finding this film became my mission for the next little while, and while Netflix, Hulu, and rental places did not have it, thankfully it was available at the Vancouver Public Library.  Due to the demand, it has taken me 1 year to get the copy!  Yes, I could have purchased it but I can’t commit financially t purchase each film I want to see that’s not available on Netflix, Hulu or to rent.

All of this to say, I am truly thankful for the art I have gotten to experience on flights.  It is become harder and harder to access things that are not necessarily mainstream, and I hope people keep producing interesting and unique films.  That is not to say that it was not fun to cuddle up in my Smartium seat, sip champagne and watch Twilight on the Asiana flight from Los Angeles to Seoul though.  ;)

Travel is a journey and having and watching films or reading on the flight encapsulates the experience for me. In the absence of inflight entertainment, I have read Ayn Rand’s “Atlas Shrugged” and ”The Fountainhead”, which were also experiences in their own.  I really cannot imagine finding the time and effort to read such long and heavy reads in any other circumstance.

When tickets are roughly the same price, I will always opt for the airline that is known to have the best inflight entertainment library.  Sure, I could load movies on my tablet and watch them, but what’s the fun in that?  It’s like turning on the radio and listening to the songs someone chose for you; it’s kinda magical.

Of all the airlines I have flown, Air Canada, Turkish Airlines, and Singapore Airlines are definitely the best.  Inflight entertainment should not be underestimated because a well-branded airline can become a cultural ambassador through their inflight service.

Los Cabos: Giving Mexico Another Chance

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Happy Hour at Baja Brewing in Cabo San Lucas

In early February, we decided to take a long weekend trip to get some sun and heat.  After many deliberations, and narrowing down locations to Maui (Hawaii), Austin (Texas), San Diego (California), Los Cabos (Mexico), and Puerto Vallarta (Mexico), we chose Los Cabos.

Cabo had been on our radar for awhile but as we know we will love Hawaii, we are always hesitant to try new tropical destinations.  It was an article in Vancouver magazine, decent flight options that maximized time there, and a promotion at the recently opened Hyatt Place Hotel that helped us make our choice.

“If you think Los Cabos is about tequila, all-inclusive resorts, and impulsive back tattoos… you’d be right. But for the discerning traveller, cool hotels, amazing chefs, and modern art lurk just below the surface.”

Los Cabos means “The Capes” and it is located at the southern tip of the Baja Peninsula.  Hotels options are divided up mostly between San Jose del Cabo, Cabo San Lucas, and in between.  The Hyatt Place is in San Jose del Cabo which is more quiet than Cabo San Lucas, but it is Cabo San Lucas that is home to the beautiful Medano Beach and stunning views of the “rock”.  Cabo’s landscape is essentially a desert by the sea, which means you are almost guaranteed to have clear weather every day. Each day, we got to see the most stunning sunrise and the sunsets were pretty spectacular too.

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The garden at Huerta Las Tamarindos

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Somewhere in between San Jose Del Cabo and Cabo San Lucas, waiting for the bus

Much like when we arrived in Cancun and proceeded through customs and to find our arranged transportation, I was hesitant and a little uneasy.  Compared to Hawaii, you definitely feel more of a party vibe in Cabo, and you are greeted by this as soon as you emerge from the airport, as people sip drinks from the arrival bar and smoke cigarettes. (**While we enjoyed our time in Cancun at the Westin Laguna Mar, we did feel that it wasn’t the type of vacation we would pursue again. Back then, the beach was not swimmable and it was difficult to find interesting dining options and culture. )

Once we checked into our hotel, we decided to walk around and go check out the beach.  The beach in San Jose is nice to walk on but not the nicest to swim as the surf is a little rough and choppy and the water was a little murky.  Most of the hotels on the beach are time shares and all inclusive resorts so it’s not easy to find a nice place to sit and grab a drink beach side, like it is in Cabo San Lucas.

While we did enjoy our stay at the Hyatt Place due to the friendly and helpful staff, room setup and cleanliness, and location, we will probably stay in Cabo San Lucas next time.

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The beach in San Jose Del Cabo

In San Jose del Cabo, there is an “old town” that has restaurants, cafes, art galleries, souvenir shops, and pharmacies.  We did enjoy the vibe and taking in the architecture.  Due to reviews on TripAdvisor, we decided to have dinner at Salsita’s but it is definitely not worth the hype. The food was pretty pricey and so-so; the fish tacos were really greasy and more batter than fish, and the jicama tortilla did not go well (jicama tasted better on its own).  That being said, we did enjoy the guacamole and chips, and the house drink (a little expensive), which was tequila poured over ice with whole pieces of grapefruit, lime, and orange. We also checked out the Baja Brewing location here but found it to be lacking compared to the other ones;  did not have all the beers on tap and the washroom was pretty dirty.

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The house drink at Salsita’s: Tequila over ice, with fresh pink grapefruit, lime, and orange.

Our favourite places in San Jose were:  La Michocoana for Paletas, the Saturday Farmer’s Market, and Los Guacamayas.  La Michocoana es Natural is a chain that makes water and milk based paletas. Some of the flavours have English translations but the more unique ones are unmarked so you have to have some knowledge of Spanish to understand. Our favourites were the “Pina ” (chili pineapple) and the “Coco”.  The Saturday Farmer’s Market reminded me of the type of market you would find in Hawaii, or anywhere on the West Coast. You had lots of vendors and great food options.  We had ceviche from the family that sells fresh seafood, and a tostada of sorts from Las Cazuela’s del Don.  Our best meal in San Jose was at an outdoor taco restaurant called Los Guacamayas.  While we loved all the tacos and the salsas were great, it was the tacos al pastor and chorizo that won us over; they were probably some of the best tacos we have ever had. Compared to back home, in Mexico you garnish your tacos to your taste.

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La Michocoan Paleteria in San Jose Del Cabo

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The pineapple chili and coconut paletas

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The Saturday Organic Farmer’s Market in San Jose del Cabo

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The chicken stew with bacon at Las Cazuela’s Del Don

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The tostada from Las Cazuela’s Del Don

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The Mexican ceviche from the seafood shop

Another good option in San Jose Del Cabo is Cynthia Fresh. It’s an organic cafe/bistro with lots of vegetarian options and healthy meals. I had the grilled fish sandwich with a salad and it was super filling and tasty; a great meal before starting a long flight and drive home. The staff are also very friendly and the outdoor patio is comfortable. After having lunch here, we concluded this would have been a better dinner choice than Salsita’s.

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The fish sandwich and salad at Cynthia fresh, and fish tacos in the background.

You can definitely get around without a car by using the public transit system, walking, and/or taxis.  We got around by walking and taking the public bus.  It takes about 30 minutes to travel between Cabo San Lucas and San Jose Del Cabo on the public bus and it costs about $2.50US per way. In the town, you can hop on an Urbano bus, usually school busses that will stop when you flag them down and let you off wherver you want on the route for $1.00US.

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The Urbano bus for travel within the city

On our way to Cabo San Lucas, we decided to get off the bus to try Asi y Asado, a renowned taco restaurant featured on Diners, Drive-ins, and Dives. You will want to get off the bus about 30 seconds after the Costco if my memory serves me right. They have a good selection of seafood and meat based tacos, options for vegeterians, and the most impressive salsa/condiment bar I have ever seen.  We had the fish, octopus and shrimp tacos, and had fun experimenting with the different salsas and pickled vegetables.  After ordering the Agua fresca with fruit, I was a little concerned but the pineapple and cucumber combination was definitely worth it for the taste and I didn’t get sick.

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The salsa and condiment bar at Asi y Asado

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A grilled octopus taco at Asi y Asado

There is also a Los Guacamayas in Cabo San Lucas so we had dinner there and found it to be just as good as the location in San Jose del Cabo. This time, we ordered the Molcajetes, which is a stone bowl with grilled meats, cheese, veggies, and nopales (cactus salsa). It comes with tortillas and various salsa’s. It reminded me of fajitas but way better.

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The pastor tacos from Las Guacamayas

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The molcajetes (meat) from Las Guacamayas

Medano Beach is right in the centre of things and despite being busy, it doesn’t feel crowded or dirty; its a great place to swim and just walk to enjoy all that Cabo has to offer; sunshine, warmth, stunning landscapes, and beautiful sea.

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Medano Beach

While in Cabo San Lucas, we had great happy hours and got to enjoy craft beer!  On the bus, I spotted the word “brewery” and asked J. to walk with me to see what it was all about.  It turns out a new craft brewery based out of Tijuana had opened recently. Ramuri Cerveceria was a great place to enjoy some IPA and snacks; the foccacia and chimichurri combo was incredible. Happy hour runs from 4-7 and it’s by 1 get 1 free. Our favourite though, had to be the Baja Brewing location in the Cabo Villas due to its stunning views. The beer is pretty good too; their Peyote Pale Ale is hoppy and drinks more like an IPA.  Happy hour also runs from 4-7 and drinks are half off.

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Beer list at la Cerveceria Ramuri

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Baja Brewing by the marina

While in Cabo San Lucas, we decided to try Los Tres Gallos, an authentic Mexican cuisine restaurant set in a beautiful courtyard.  The food here was excellent, and this is what we were expecting at Salisata’s. The ceviche, grilled cactus, and cochinita pibil did not disappoint and gave us more insight into the complexities and ingredients used in Mexican cooking.

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Los Tres Gallos in Cabo San Lucas

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The grilled cactus dish with black bean sauce

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The ceviche tostada

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The cochinita pibil plate

Overall, Cabo met and exceeded our expectations.  We had such a lovely time and are definitely hoping to go back sooner than later to explore more and to re-visit familiar favourites.  If you are looking to enjoy tasty Mexican food, enjoy a beautiful and safe beach, enjoy craft beer, and want to wander safely, then it’s a great place for you!  All inclusive options are also available, but it’s worth venturing off the resort to take part in the culture of Cabo.

Recipe: Garlicky Kale Salad from Whole Foods

It was love at first bite when I tried the garlicky kale salad from Whole Foods. The crunchy kale, soaked in the nutty and creamy tahini, the citrus of the lemon, the pungent garlic, and the mild saltiness of the soy sauce make it quite a unique salad and nutritional power house.

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In Canada, you can buy the salad at Whole Foods but a tiny container with a small portion, enough for 1 person runs at about $4.50 at the cheapest, which is about 30% more expensive than in the USA.  This prompted me to see if there was a way we could make big batches of this to enjoy at home and at lunch more regularly, while preserving our pocketbook.  After a few tries, I have succeeded and will share the recipe with you.  You will be very pleased at how easy it is to make this salad and how tasty it is!  The batch made below cost $4.00CAD and we had 4 servings as a dinner side salad.

Recipe:  Garlicky Kale Salad 

  • 1 bunch of kale (preferably organic)
  • 2 Tablespoons tahini
  • 2 Tablespoons apple cider vinegar
  • 4 Tablespoons lemon juice
  • 2 Tablespoons Bragg’s liquid aminos (tamari or soy sauce would work too)
  • 4 Tablespoons nutritional yeast (optional)
  • 2 teaspoons minced garlic (1 – 2 cloves of garlic)
  • sesame seeds or seaweed gomaiso, to taste as garnish (optional)
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The ingredients

  1. Wash and de-stem the kale and then break into bite sized pieces.  Please the kale in a large bowl.
  2. Combine all the ingredients except the kale and sesame to make a dressing. You can use a blender or place them in a jar, stir, and shake.
  3. Pour dressing over kale and massage into the kale with your hands until all pieces of kale are coated.
  4. Let the salad sit in the fridge for an hour or so to marinate.
  5. Add some sesame seeds or seaweed gomaiso.

Adapted from here.

“A Supposedly Fun Thing I’ll Never Do Again – Shipping Out” – David Foster Wallace

I recently read David Foster Wallace’s, “A Supposedly Fun Thing I’ll Never Do Again” (Harper’s, 1996, under the title “Shipping Out”).  In this essay, David Foster Wallace (DFW) provides an account of his life for 7 days on a luxury cruise through the Caribbean. While it is a short essay, it did take me a lot of time to read it, as there are footnotes that keep you flipping back and forth, and there were many nuances that needed to be digested and assimilated with my own psyche.

Here are some of the memorable quotes:

“I have felt as bleak as I’ve felt since puberty, and have filled almost three Mead notebooks trying to figure out whether it was Them or Just Me.”

“I am now 33 years old, and it feels like much time has passed and is passing faster and faster every day. Day to day I have to make all sorts of choices about what is good and important and fun, and then I have to live with the forfeiture of all the other options those choices foreclose. And I’m starting to see how as time gains momentum my choices will narrow and their foreclosures multiply exponentially until I arrive at some point on some branch of all life’s sumptuous branching complexity at which I am finally locked in and stuck on one path and time speeds me through stages of stasis and atrophy and decay until I go down for the third time, all struggle for naught, drowned by time. It is dreadful. But since it’s my own choices that’ll lock me in, it seems unavoidable–if I want to be any kind of grownup, I have to make choices and regret foreclosures and try to live with them.”

“I have now seen sucrose beaches and water a very bright blue. I have seen an all-red leisure suit with flared lapels. I have smelled suntan lotion spread over 2,100 pounds of hot flesh. I have been addressed as “Mon” in three different nations. I have seen 500 upscale Americans dance the Electric Slide. I have seen sunsets that looked computer-enhanced. I have (very briefly) joined a conga line.” 

“Organized shuffleboard has always filled me with dread. Everything about it suggests infirm senescence and death: it’s a game played on the skin of a void, and the rasp of the sliding puck is the sound of that skin getting abraded away bit by bit.”

The process to board the cruise seemed very chaotic and time consuming, which probably helps to indoctrinate people to the cruise experience they are embarking on, in a sort of pilgrimage to relaxation, excessive consumption, and general leisure.

One of the most interesting parts of the essay is when he talks about an incident that happened when he was boarding the ship and wanted to grab his bag  to take something out of it.  The policy is that people on the cruise are not to carry their own bags to their room and so when he attempts to break this rule, chaos ensues and leads to one of the porter’s getting in trouble and him having to explain the whole thing to the supervisor. I can relate to this as someone who refuses to have anyone carry my own bag.

He also feels that if he doesn’t participate in all the activities like the others, that he is setting himself apart, that he isn’t just another typical running shoe wearing American tourist. I can also relate and when we stay at hotels, I find myself pretty much cleaning and making up my room as to not burden the cleaning staff.

In this instance, they even have assigned seating for meals and you have to sit with the same people everyday.  The thought of having to sit for 3 meals per day with random people terrifies me.  I travel to limit the amount of forced interactions I have to endure.

During the cruise, he starts to worry about re-entering real life, and having to run errands, make his own meals, etc. , as everything on the cruise is choreographed to exclude the individual from having to make decisions.

I love travel so much because it takes me out of situations where decisions have already been made for me and forces me to wake up, you could say.  Most of the time, we embark on long independent treks, mostly by foot to avoid taxis organized tours.  Sometimes, the pay-off is big and other times the suffering really makes you question if it was worth it.  I think it is worth it. And one of the reasons why I will never endure the experience of spending a week confined on a cruise.

“Can you “choose” something when you are forcefully and enthusiastically immersed in it at an age when the resources and information necessary for choosing are not yet yours?”

What’s Good Thai Food?

Som Tam AKA Papaya Pok Pok from Pok Pok in PDX

Som Tam AKA Papaya Pok Pok from Pok Pok in PDX

What’s good Thai food?  This is a question that has many answers and many people  will have different opinions. The first Thai dishes I ever had were Pad Thai, Chicken with Cashews, and Mango Salad.  It was a chance encounter with Larb Gai (Chicken Salad) and Som Tam (Papaya Salad) that sparked our love for Thai cuisine and our pursuit of  tasty Thai meals at home and prepared by others.

After 12 days exploring Thai food in Bangkok, Chiang Mai, and Koh Samui, we feel that we have a better idea of what good Thai food is.  The meals we ate from restaurants, street vendors, markets, malls, and prepared food products have all been good.While some have een better than others, we have not had any bad meals, other than the food on the airplane.  As harash critics, this is a big surprise.

In November 2013, we spent 2 weeks exploring Thailand and Thai food in Bangkok, Chiang Mai, and Koh Samui. The meals we ate from restaurants, street vendors, markets, malls, and prepared food products have all been good. While some have been better than others, we did not have any bad meals, other than the food on the airplane (Sorry Thai Airways, your food is gross, even in Royal Silk Class; soggy sandwiches with mystery meat, overcooked fish, and greasy noodles just don’t cut it).  As harsh critics, we were quite surprised and delighted about how satisfied we were with all our meals during our recent trip, considering we had so-so meals in Thailand in 2008 and 2010. So, what’s changed in the last few years?

In 2010, I travelled to Portland, Oregon and decided to try Pok Pok. The food was so good that I ate there 3 times during my stay, trying new dishes each time. Pok Pok’s menu deviates from the standard dishes you would find at Thai restaurants; it was my first time having Khao Soi, Chiang Mai Sausage, Boar collar, and their Papaya Salad was to die for. In 2011, my husband and I travelled to Portland, and I was very excited to take him to Pok Pok to see if he would like it just as much and he did. We ended up eating there 2 days in a row to sample as much as we can, and since then, we have been back a dozen times or so. As I read through Andy Ricker’s Pok Pok Cookbook, it is easy to see why the food is so tasty; he goes above and beyond to re-create and create flavours common Northern Thailand. Since our introduction to Thai food via Pok Pok, we are baptised and converted and it is now the standard by which we hold all Thai food.

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Yam Tuna from Pok Pok

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Whole Steamed Fish from Pok Pok

Muu Paa Kham Waan

Muu Paa Kham Waan

Khao Soi from Pok Pok

Khao Soi from Pok Pok

Ike's Fish Sauce Wings from Pok Pok (Farang Food)

Ike’s Fish Sauce Wings from Pok Pok (Farang Food)

I will highlight some of the things we ate and learned during our trip:Back in Vancouver, we tried the most renowned Thai restaurant, as it has Northern Thai items on the menu, and was recommended by a friend. We were quite disappointed with the meal and found the flavours to be bland, the execution of the dishes was poor, and the quantity and quality were not in-line with the prices charged. Bad night? Perhaps, but we will not be going back, considering I can make better at home.

1) Som Tam Nua: We spent some time walking around to find this place, but it was worth it! While it was a little dirty inside, mostly from the age of the building, we found the som tam and larb to be outstanding and very reasonably priced. We arrived just before the line-up started and when we tried to eat there again at Food Republic later, the wait was about 30 minutes.

Minced beef salad

Minced beef salad

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Som Tam Special with Seafood, Keropok and Sausage

2) Supanniga Eating Room: We had some unique dishes here, and they were all good for different reasons. With each dish, our taste buds were introduced and excited by the blending of unfamiliar and familiar flavours. As appetizers, we had the Ma Hor (Minced pork stir-fried with garlic and peanuts served
on tangerine). The Yum Cha Plu Sardine was one of our favourite dishes; it has sardines mixed with cha plu leaves, tomato sauce, herbs and spicy chili dressing. A recommended dish was the Ka Lum Tod Nam Pla (Fried Chinese cabbage gravied with premium fish sauce from Trad province) and it was definitely interesting and I would get it again. We also had a really tasty curry with pork but it is no longer on the menu and I do not remember what it is. I also credit this restaurant for the best curry I have ever eaten, Moo Cha Muang (spicy curry made with a tender cut of pork and cha muang leaves), which were told is very rare.

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Ma Hor

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Ka Lum Tod Nam Pla

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Yum Cha Plu Sardine

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Moo Cha Muang

3) Nahm: We have been so excited to eat at Nahm for a long time. Our plan was to go for dinner, but you need to book about 1 month in advance to get a dinner reservation, so we opted for lunch. While it was a lot quieter, I think this was what led to a negative experience for us. While the food was tasty, and the blue swimmer crab and canapes were some of the best things we ate on the trip, the main dishes were confusing. The dishes arrive and you need to add the components to them yourself to bring out the flavours. Unfortunately, our waiter did not do a good job of explaining this to us and we didn’t know how to incorporate all the components to create the dishes, as it was intended.

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Blue swimmer crab salad on home-made rice cakes

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At the table

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The spread; what goes with what?

4) I Din Klin Krog: We are not quite sure what this place is called as the name was in Thai so it was a little tricky to find. It is a small casual and modern restaurant away from Chiang Mai’s tourist section and old city. The Tom Sap, a spicy pork soup was awesome and very unique.  While these were the smallest chicken wings we had, the flavours and dipping sauce were pretty good. The mistake we made here was to ask for the food “less spicy” due to how spicy they usually make it. The result was that they did not add any red chili. I recommend asking for 1 chili.

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Chicken wings

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Tom Sap

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Beef Larb

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I Din Klin Krog

5) SP Chicken: SP Chicken is one of Andy Ricker’s recommendations for Chiang Mai and the inspiration for his roasted game hen. This small restaurant is very low-key, casual and very clean. We shared a roasted chicken and sticky rice. The chicken was moist, with hints of lemongrass and the charcoal which imparted flavour. It goes very well with a Singha.

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The chickens

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Our lunch

6) Mae Hia Market: Our cooking class included a tour of the Mae Hia Market and this stands out as one of my favourite activities on the trip. This was the best Chiang Mai sausage I have ever had and while they have it at Pok Pok, it pales in comparison and is my least favourite dish. Heavy with lemongrass and chili, the sausage is bursts with flavours each bite. We also tried some Thai custard which is more gelatinous and has a nice coconut flavour without being overly sweet. We were really surprised and impressed by the freshness of the produce, the price, and the quality of the prepared products here. We were told people only go to large and indoor supermarkets for packaged goods, as the quality and price of these markets is better, i.e cilantro at the market costs 5 Thai Baht vs. 15 at the supermarket.

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Thai Fast Food for Take-Away

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Chiang Mai Sausage

7) Pantawan Cooking School and Restaurant: We spent half a day learning to cook Thai food at Pantawan Cooking School and Restaurant, in the outskirts of Chiang Mai. I also learned a lot about Thai culture and about the food culture. Each dish we made showed us how easy Thai cooking is, and while the same components are used, how they are used will determine the taste and flavour of the dish. For example, in the Tom Kha Gai, the lemongrass is pounded and roughly chopped in large pieces to season the broth, while in the Grilled Pork Neck Salad, it is thinly sliced to add the flavour and texture to each bite.

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The lunch we prepared at Pantanwan

8) Cafe 69: Never in my life would I have seeked out a place called Cafe 69 and its funky decor with silver sequins and disco appearance but it was the most highly reviewed place in Bophut, Koh Samui, on Trip Advisor. The owner, Vivian has put together an eclectic and fun Thai fusion menu at reasonable prices. His Som Tam is a unique twist on a classical dish and ensures you get all the flavours in each bite. Our other favourite was his mango and sticky rice; it was the best we had in Thailand.

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The owner, Vivian and I

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Mango with Sticky Rice, and Ice Cream

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Som Tam; so good, you get to taste the flavours with each bite

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Cafe 69, from the street

9) Nirvana Restaurant: We ate here 3 times during our stay in Koh Samui as the quality and the taste of the food was outstanding, the setting by the ocean under a palm tree was spectacular, and the service was excellent. While the menu has western dishes, we stuck with the Thai food knowing we would be going home soon but I will go back one day to try his piri piri chicken. The owner and his wife came to Bophut about 1.5 years ago an opened up the restaurant in Fisherman’s Village. Each night, we ordered the som tam talay, as the seafood was so fresh and added a new dimension to our favourite dish, som tam. Our second favourite dish was this whole fish steamed with Thai herbs and spices. We also liked his Pad Krapow and the Massaman curry.

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Beach-front dining

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Som Tam Talay

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Steamed Fish with Thai Herbs and Spices

As you can see, we ate very well during our trip to Thailand, met some interesting and nice people, and learned a lot too. I do worry that Thai food culture is following the trends of the West, with more packaged foods being used to save time. The ritual and practice of making coconut milk and curry paste with the traditional tools is reserved for the old and the young are abandoning it to save time. Interestingly, there is no compromise when it comes to certain ingredients; Thai food needs Thai limes and the taste cannot be re-created using anything else.  In Pok Pok The Cookbook,  David Thompson praises Andy Ricker’s reverence of Thai ingredients and practices: “I admire the canny way he doctors his lime juice to approximate the taste of lime juice in Thailand, the resourceful way he finds and secures Thai produce, and his faithful adherence to Thai recipes, techniques, and tastes. “

Larb Gai in a Mortar and Pestle

Larb Gai in a Mortar and Pestle

By understanding and seeing the importance attached to certain key ingredients and their freshness,  I feel better equipped to seek out and eat good Thai food and how I can improve the dishes I make.

Review: Conrad Koh Samui

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Located in the South-Western part of the Island of Koh Samui, near Taling-Ngam, in Thailand, the Conrad Koh Samui is revered as an “aspirational” property for many travellers.  Perched over a lush hillscape/hillside, each room is a private villa with a private pool, boasting of stunning views, while providing guests with a relaxing and private experience. 
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As we planned our trip to Thailand, we decided to add Koh Samui to the itinerary to stay here and use our Hilton HHonours points before the devaluation.  While there were limited options, we were able to use points + cash to stay there for a few nights.  It was the most beautiful hotel I have ever stayed at and I will tell you why. 
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It is quiet and you do not have to deal with screaming children and “cashed up bogans” that overtake Thailand and South-East Asia in general.  The villas were built so that you can’t really see the guests beside you, above you, or beside you. The only time you see other people is if you go to the common amenities; pool, bar, restaurants, and excursions. We booked out stay for the last leg of our trip to relax and unwind before making the long trek back home.
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The view and the pool were outstanding; the villa combines the best of indoor and outdoor living.  From the bed, bathub, shower, pool, patio, and couch, you get a view of the “the view”. That being said, I would avoid villa 126, as the view is partially blocked by a palm tree.  When we spoke to the Director of Operations, he did offer us a room on the 3rd level.  I spent a lot of time in the pool, getting a workout, leaining on the ledge to just stare off into the distant, and floating on my back to look at the sky. 
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The bathroom; with its toiletries, shower, and bathtub, you have everything you need to create a spa-like experience without leaving your villa. You get a menu of toiletries that you can request, and the aromatherapy is well-suited to induce relaxation and calm. Each day, they replenish the bath salts for the bath, which is shaped like a noodle bowl.  I also took many naps in the cozy bed with pillows that were soft but firm. 
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Breakfast; the buffet had a great selection of food, service, and food. As Hilton HHonors Gold Members, breakfast was free for us. I was very impressed with the local and Western food options; I was able to load up my plate with veggies, salads, and get my daily egg white omelette with veggies and chillies.  We learned that Koh Samui was in fact the coconut capital (coconut plantations) from the guide book, and so I ordered a coconut juice from the fresh juice menu.  Due to some rain fall, it delayed the supply of coconuts.  The Director of Operations ensured we had coconut juice the next day, and delivered to our villa which was a nice touch.  The coconuts in Koh Samui definitely have a unique taste; light and fresh, with a hint of sweetness.
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Here a few tips/things to know to help plan your stay:

1)  Getting there:  To get to the Conrad Koh Samui, it is about 45-60 minutes from the airport and costs about 1000 baht (per way) if you book Mr. Samui.  Once you arrive at the property, you drive up a very steep, one way road, which shows how remote the property is.  On the property, you can walk around but they recommend you use the cart service. ** The hotel charges 3,000 baht per way for airport transfers. It is very expensive and unreasonable if you consider that the hotel provides limo service for people who make a reservation to dine at Jahn, the restaurant on the property. 
2)  Snacks and Drinks:  Snacks, meals, and drinks are expensive on the property and unless you have a motorbike or rental car, you pay 500 baht to get to the restaurants near there (** Supposedly, Five Islands restaurant provides free transportation).  I also do not recommend the hotel bar since the cocktails are overpriced and mediocre.  They do have a nice wine selection so that is definitely worth a splurge.  As for the beer, very standard options and 10 times more expensive compared to the Super C ( a beer at the hotel is $8CAD Vs $1CAD from the Super C) In anticipation of this, we loaded up on snacks, beer, and wine from the Super C prior to our arrival.  We had a nice fruit plate, macaroons, and cookies as a welcome amenity and we snacked on those during the stay.  We also had a pod coffee maker with a nice selection of coffees as there isn’t a cafe on the property.
3)  In Villa Dining: Most guests venture out to Nuch’s Green Talay for dinner, but we were happy to enjoy our villa and order room service. We ordered 3 dishes each night and it was sufficient for us.  Each meal was about $45CAD-$55CAD, and while it was expensive for Thai standards, the portions and quality were decent.  We liked the som tam and the Penang curry (ordered rice on the side), the tuna laab was so-so and we would not recommend it.  We did order a pizza and it was okay but not outstanding.
4)  Activities:  There is a nicely appointed gym, a common pool by the bar, free kayaks, and a boat excursion to a private island to swim (3 times daily).  I used the gym each day and was the only one there which was nice. We did sign-up for the speedboat excursion but it was cancelled due to rolling thunderstorms.  They did try to take us out one day but we had to turn back due to storms.  The beach is not very swimmable so it is best to enjoy the pool. If beach is your thing, Bophut is a better destination.
5)  Technology:  The wifi works well on the property and each villa has Apple TV. I do think they need to replace the keyboard in our villa as it was not working well.
6)  Bugs:  Due to the setting, there are lots of geckos and other bugs, but they only really come out at night.  The rooms do not have screens so you have to close everything up at night or else your room will be infested by bugs.  We tried having dinner outside one night but there were frogs, geckos, mosquitoes, and other creatures all over. 
7)  Hilton HHonorsGold: The type of perks you get vary.  In some cases, people have gotten bottles of wine, free massages, and drink vouchers.  Not many gold members get upgraded from what I can see.  For us, we got breakfast, drink vouchers, and options to get more points for $ spent on the property.  As we used cash + points before the devaluation, we were satisfied since the rooms go for about $700CAD-$1,000CAD per night. 
8)  Weather:  We knew that it was rainy season on Koh Samui and decided to add it to our itinerary nonetheless.  We did not get one full sunny day at the Conrad and one day was a write-off due to the rain and storms.  I am disappointed that we did not get to see the spectacular sunset that shows up on Instagram when you search for the #conradkohsamui hastag but it’s okay.  In 6 days on Koh Samui, only 1 was a full write-off due to the rain and the other days were fine, with 2 full days of intense sun and heat. According to Mr. Samui, August is the best time to go; milder, but sunny, and quieter than high season, which starts in mid-December.

Overall, we loved our stay here and feel very fortunate to have had the opportunity to stay at such a beautiful villa property.  The amount of points you need to stay here has increased alot so it will take us awhile to build them back up.  That being said, we would definitely consider paying for 1-2 nights and using points for the other 1-2 to enjoy this property.  For us, a 3 day stay is the amount of time we would probably stay.  While it is nice to be away from everything, you are away from everything and we didn’t come to Thailand to be secluded the entire time.  The Conrad Koh Samui was the perfect place for us to relax and unwind after a pretty packed itinerary and we left feeling refreshed and relaxed, with fond memories and an itch to return again one day.

Post – Travel Reflections: Cast Away

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Trying to not think about the time too much to beat jetlag

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After a long from from PVG-SFO, Blue Bottle coffee was a necessity

After an intense and mobile 5 weeks, I knew the first week back home would be difficult. In my last job I used to counsel people on post-travel culture shock/depression.    I made sure to prepare for our return prior to our departure and did things during our trip to maintain a sense of routine and life back home.  I even made the mistake of thinking it would be easier to come home to a city that we love to live in, compared to when we travelled for 3 months 3 years ago and arrived home in the middle of winter in a city we didn’t really like….It has been 2 weeks to the day and I’m still struggling.

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Turn down service at the Grand Wailea in Maui.

Prior to us leaving, I knew it would be busy and it made me a little anxious; 1 week in Montreal for work which had me switch my wedding date about 3 times, 3 days home before leaving for Hawaii, followed by the long trek to Thailand for 12 days, and our return home would include 1 day in San Francisco before arriving home late Sunday night to be at work first thing Monday morning. The jet-lag coming back was a little more felt and my productivity at work was somewhat reduced.

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Christmas spirit in Bangkok, along with a bit of PDX; Rogue beer?

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Our first weekend back in North Vancouver; it was -8C

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Enjoying the Coconut Life at the Conrad Koh Samui

I love to travel; from being in transit to exploring new places, it’s something that I find fun and fuels my creativity and passion for living.  Sometimes though, I struggle with being uncomfortable when it comes to language barriers, food, and traffic rules.  Going from Hawaii to Thailand had its challenges; we were leaving a place that was safe and the closest thing on paradise, for Thailand, a place that overloads your senses due to its intense contrasts.

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Our first IPA in 2 weeks, at 21st Amendment in SFO city. Hoppy Times!

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Tuk Tuk 190 in Chiang Mai; our ride around the city and to the airport

My routine somewhere new is always the same; analyze, complain, but go out and adapt, and get comfortable.  Out of our 23 days on this trip, I managed to workout 20 times and was at the gym before 06:00 each day for 45-90 minutes.  Now, I am finding it really difficult to get back into the routine of my 05:00-06:00 workouts and have been skipping them. My clothes feels a little tighter and I bet the scale would show a 5 pound weight gain. I also have to get back on track to lead and teach inspiring spin classes.

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Flight path from LAX-ICN on Asiana

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Testing out the new bag AKA WIlson in Bangkok.

During one of our last night’s in Koh Samui, I felt a little trapped since we either walked or got taxis since we were not brave enough to rent a car or motorbike to get around; I craved some of our freedoms back in North America.  I also knew that I would feel trapped as soon as I got home by my schedule, chores, and Blackberry. It was at this point that I dreaded the question all my coworkers would ask me as the welcomed me back to work:  “How was your trip?”.  Thankfully, the morning of my return to work, I was able to be honest with my co-workers that I didn’t really want to be there and was finding it hard to come back. Trips like these make me realize how silly and pointless certain things that I deem important and fret over are, and how many other things I take for granted each day.  It’s probably why I am relating more to Cast Away than National Lampoons Christmas vacation these days.  My backpack became my Wilson and now it’s unpacked and in the closet.

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Treats from the Gourmet Market at Siam Paragon in Bangkok

Some days, I think there is something to be said of the chaos and rules of the road in Thailand. Some days, I feel freedom knowing all I have is my backpack.  Some moments, I wonder if there were life jackets on that speedboat trip we took during a thunderstorm. Sometimes I wonder if the coffee really was that weak or if I am just used to strong coffee.

Things are starting to feel a little less foreign as I get back into my cooking projects, connect with like-minded people I can trust, acclimatize to the weather and force myself to walk more, plan our next trips, signed up for a work-related course to improve at capacity planning, get on the spin bike and teach more, blow-dry my hair and dress a little nicer, get acupuncture treatments and start yoga again, and gear up for renovations/repairs to the condo in a couple of weeks. Strangely enough, watching the Christmas episode of Bob’s Burgers made me laugh and get into the spirit of the holidays better; Jingle in the Jungle, anyone?

I am posting this to be honest and transparent and as a footnote to my Instagram feed.  It’s harder to show the struggles of travel and to be honest about the culture shock that accompanies you when you come back to your comfortable life back home. 

Our SEA to SAN Weekend: San Diego in 2.5 Days

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Gaslamp Quarter

Since we have moved back to the West coast, we’ve been exploring places, old and new, with a different perspective.  In 2007, we went to San Diego for  long weekend and found it to be a nice place to explore.  So, we decided to take advantage of great flight fares to SoCal and book tickets to San Diego from Seattle, the morning after The National concert at the Paramount Theatre.

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