mountain getaway {mammoth}

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“Going to the mountains is going home”. This John Muir quote was posted on a sign for departing visitors of Mammoth and as we drove past it – leaving behind an incredible weekend of reconnecting with friends and nature – I smiled and thanked Mr. Muir for the reminder. The mountains have never felt more like home than they do right now and I’m really relishing the opportunity to enjoy them while we’re in LA. For Christmas they were just one and a half hours away and for this long weekend, it was six. One day I want to actually live in the mountains, but for now our current proximity is just right to satisfy my nature longings.

It’s been a very dry winter so there was hardly any snow in the area and the snow on the slopes was mostly man-made. Not perfect for avid skiers but perfect for me as a newbie. I had only snowboarded four times prior to trying skiing on Saturday and since I never quite got into having my feet strapped into one single unit while facing sideways, I figured that skiing was worth trying. Joe, being the pro that he is, spent the day with me playing instructor and after only four runs (with breaks in between because my legs were giving in!) I think I’m on a good track. I have some balance and speed issues to deal with but at least the giant tennis ball size bruise on my left hip proves that I tried.

When we weren’t on the slopes we relaxed at the condo/cabin. There were ten of us so it was perfect for playing a variety of card games, one of which was totally new for me: Cards Against Humanity. Have you ever played that? It’s pretty awful/hilarious. You really need to be in comfortable company for it, and that we were.

On day two we took a break from the bindings to watch the US Snowboarding Grand Prix for the Olympics. There’s nothing like watching pros to make you realize how much of a beginner you are…it all would have been so simple had I learned when I was five like all the other kids doing the “pizza” stance with me…

Luckily the rest of the day included a hike around Convict Lake, something that I felt very comfortable doing on my feet. It was beautiful and just the right time of day to watch the light change on the lake and surrounding formations. I say formations because every side looked different from the other – one with pine trees, one with jagged rock walls, and the other like an uphill prairie. We took our time making the loop, oooing and awwing with every turn that we made. Unfortunately on the last leg there were multiple stretches where the trail was covered in ice, and I slipped and fell on my right hip. Had to balance out the bruise from the previous day, right?! It was worth it though, to get that time in nature with friends, to be out breathing the fresh air, and to simply be surrounded by something so majestic.

Can’t wait to go ‘home’ again.

 

 

a mighty good year

wedding in colombia
kota kinabalu
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Ubud, Bali
Alaska by Ana Maria Munoz
Redang, Malaysia
Melaka, Malaysia
Takayama, Japan
Tokyo, Japan
by Clare Barker Wells shot in KLCC Park, Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia
hiking in sedona, arizona
Route 66

2013, you were one GREAT year. Challenging, adventurous, stimulating, inspiring, loving, and beautiful…definitely one of the best yet.

In January I could have never imagined that I’d be sharing 90% of the year’s highlights below. Every new year brings new experiences and opportunities and seeing them unfold one-by-one is truly a thing of beauty. Every challenge you overcome, every time you say ‘yes’ instead of ‘no’, every time you let your self get out of your comfort zone (personally, professionally, and physically), they’re all worth recognizing and celebrating.

So cheers – cheers to reflecting on and celebrating the journey had while looking forward to the adventures that await. Have a very happy new year! xx.

2013 Highlights

Launching Ring Cozy

Getting married in Colombia + exploring it with friends

Being featured by Cuyana

Going off the beaten path in Kota Kinabalu, Sabah, Malaysia

Photographing the beautiful bags by KAYU

Stay-cationing in KL

Ditching the glasses and getting LASIK

Fishing in Phu Quoc and riding like a local in Saigon, Vietnam

Celebrating one year of living in Kuala Lumpur

Jetting off to Bali for the weekend

Getting married again in Alaska and exploring the Last Frontier

Launching the Love Malaysia Collection with Gin & Jacqie

Snorkeling in Redang Island, Malaysia

Learning to cook our new Malaysian comfort food at LaZat

Park strolling in Bangkok

Exploring and eating in Melaka, Malaysia

Falling in love with Rio De Janeiro in three days

A dream trip to Takayama and Tokyo, Japan

Loving and leaving our flat in KL

Posing for the camera for lasting memories of our time in KL

Road-tripping to Sedona via Historic Route 66

Wrapping up the year with a cozy cabin getaway

 

 

 

 

a cozy cabin christmas

Christmas 2013

Hi guys! How have your holidays been? We spent our Christmas in the mountains just outside of LA and it was perfect. We booked a great little cabin via Airbnb, rented a car, and loaded up on firewood and groceries for plenty of cooking, drinking, and snacking. The plan was simple: relax and indulge.

Other than driving ten minutes to Lake Arrowhead for a brief visit, we stayed cozied up inside with a roaring fire (Joe is a great Boy Scout) and ate whatever we wanted, whenever we wanted. Christmas Eve dinner was just right but the food highlight of the holiday was my batch of Colombian buñuelos. I made them for Christmas in London but last year we sadly had to go without the traditional fried cheese balls of goodness since the cheese we needed simply didn’t exist in KL. However, it only made them taste that much better this time around, especially since I got to share them with my family! My sister, brother-in-law, and nieces joined us on Christmas Day, just in time for my girls to help me roll the maza into little balls. After tamales and buñuelos, my nieces and I did Christmas arts and crafts and roasted marshmallows with Tio Jojo using sharpened branches he collected. Needless to say, those girls were two very happy campers!

And so was everyone else. Joe had been happy since we arrived because he finally had an excuse to use the hatchet I bought him three Christmases ago (couldn’t take it to London with us) while my sister and bro in-law were happy to kick up their feet and relax while Tia Mu (me) entertained the girls with activities.

It was absolutely perfect. The family time, the quiet time, the nature time. I can’t think of a better Christmas gift than the gift of an experience with the ones you love. So happy.

get your kicks

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There’s nothing more American than a road trip and our trip to Sedona last month was the perfect welcome back experience.

We’ve been car-less for nearly four years now (counting when I last lived in LA and got rid of mine) and currently have no plan to buy one. So when it was time to head to Sedona for a friend’s wedding, renting a car and hitting the open road felt like a big adventure.

Growing up in LA I’d notice historic markings all over town indicating that X Y Z street was a part of ‘Historic Route 66′. I knew where the route ended (the Santa Monica Pier) but I had no idea what the rest of it looked like. The Sedona trip was the perfect opportunity to see what was east of Los Angeles and California on the ‘Mother Road’ that invented motels and created (once thriving) small towns around it.

We used the freeways leaving LA but as soon as we passed Barstow and had our required In-n-Out meal, Route 66 was it.  It was quiet, there were no trucks, and it was right next to the landscape. When we saw something we liked, we stopped and enjoyed it for a minute or two. Some sections of the road were in need of repair but for the most part it was easy driving.

The photos above are from Amboy and the surrounding area.  Before we stopped for a coffee break at Roy’s, we saw the landscape change to a beautiful mix of volcanic rock and white sand. We wondered how long ago the eruption happened and how far away and got our answer when we followed a sign into the National Park for Amboy Crater. What a cool spot. Not only did we get great view of the cinder cone (you can hike to its rim if you have the time) but it was the site of the raddest picnic table I’ve ever seen. I took at least a dozen photos of it from different angles! We really wanted to hike the trail and just be in the stillness and silence that was all around it but it was getting late and we still had our overnight stop in Kingman ahead.

We hit the road, back on Route 66 where every hour or so was a new possibility of experiencing something from the past: a retro motel, a greasy diner, a scenic view. Had it not been for a meeting I had to come back for, we would have extended our trip by at least a week. The short stretch of Route 66 that we did was a tease but it reminded me of the diverse landscape that we have here. In other parts of the world you can drive six hours and pass through one or two countries with fairly similar looks and feels but here in the States, it’s possible to feel like you’ve been in three or four different worlds all in one day. Same country, no passport required. As much as I love working my passport, a good ol’ American road trip was just the ticket.

sedona rocks

hiking in sedona, arizona
hiking in sedona, arizona hiking in sedona, arizona
hiking in sedona, arizona

We’re back from our mini road trip where we drove on the Historic Route 66, stopped in a few towns along the way, and took in the beauty of Sedona, Arizona. At first I thought “I can’t believe that I didn’t take more pictures!” but then I realized that I was enjoying just being there too much. The red rock formations, the sun light, the blue sky … everything was awesome in every sense of the word and I didn’t want to interrupt the moments by taking my camera out. However, during our hike on the last day I did make sure to get some snaps in. We had hiked at least four miles every day since arriving so by that point I felt more comfortable taking the DSLR out knowing that the trails were easy to navigate.

We had the most gorgeous morning sun and the air was perfectly crisp and cool. It was so nice to be outside and be active, a far cry from our activities in KL. There were groups of locals running along the paths and whizzing by on their mountain bikes … can you imagine having Sedona as your back yard playground? What a treat.

I was surprised with how small the city was (and how sleepy it was at night) but they have done a great job at keeping the area’s spirit and beauty in tact despite it’s growth and popularity. With imposed height restrictions for buildings and signs, paint colors, and very few commercial chains, you can hike up to any vista point of the city and barely notice the city beneath it’s famous rocks. For example, Sedona is so committed to maintaining its natural beauty that the city forced McDonalds to change their Golden Arches into the worlds only Turquoise Arches in order to open!

Also surprising was how much of a forest Sedona is. I had imagined just the red rocks and then maybe red desert sand everywhere else but no, the area is covered in trees. Mostly evergreen types, and of course varieties of cacti, but even more surprising was the location of the wedding we attended. It was creek-side and between the scores of ducks swimming around and the yellow leaves falling off some of the trees, it felt like we could have been in Colorado or anywhere else that wasn’t (what I thought) just a desert. Sedona was full of surprises like that. Beautiful beautiful beautiful surprises. Pack your bags and road trip there asap.

 

the door is open!

Finca La Hamaca, Pereira Colombia Bed & Breakfast, Coffee Zone

Happy Friday, guys! Joe and I are road-tripping to Sedona, Arizona for a friend’s wedding and while there, we’ll be staying at a place we booked via Airbnb.

Airbnb is all about Mi Casa es Su Casa so I thought that today was perfect for sharing some fun news from the Muñoz family. If you caught this post from our wedding/holiday in Colombia then you might remember that my parents were planning on opening up our family country home, aka finca, as a bed & breakfast for travelers. Well, the day has come and their door is open – they’re now official Airbnb hosts!

If Colombia and the coffee region have ever been on your hitlist, do consider staying with my folks. My mom is crazy for hospitality (her breakfasts have gotten rave reviews!) and my dad loves nothing more than to share his beloved Colombia with people. Seriously, he kept a stack of Colombia related books on the coffee table that he would open up to show to everyone who came by our house.

Now he and my mama are back in Colombia and they can share the real thing from Finca La Hamaca ( thehammock country house’). All of the info is on their Airbnb page where they also list some recommended sights to see and things to do. In addition to a hearty breakfast, the price per night includes transportation and guided day trips by my dad – a huge plus in the coffee region where things are spread out and most locals don’t speak English.

I could talk the finca up for days but I’ll stop myself now in case you do find yourself there. I wouldn’t want to spoil all of the surprises ;)

Happy Travels!

 

taking tokyo (japan part II)

Tokyo, Japan
Tokyo, Japan Tokyo, Japan
Tokyo, Japan
Tokyo, Japan
Tokyo, Japan

Tokyo: expansive, bustling, organized, efficient, clean, convenient … I could go on. What an impressive city!

With so many different neighborhoods each with their own character and things to do, I feel like we needed at least two weeks to really see what Tokyo is all about. Kinda like when people tell me they’ve visited LA but only hung out in one or two neighborhoods – it’s simply not enough.

We had three days to work with so we spent them taking on some of the busiest train stations in the world, enjoying some sun at the Imperial Palace Park, and shopping at one of the newest malls in town filled with awesome Japanese brands and products.

At night, between dinner and drinks, we people-watched in Shibuya.  The sushi was as amazing as expected but surprisingly harder to find than Italian and hamburger joints. I’m sure it was just our location but the Japanese restaurants we did see seemed to be mostly grilled meats and veggies, not the sushi and ramen we were so desperately craving. I guess that the Hida Beef in Takayama had satisfied that end of the protein spectrum! I think the reason we were so surprised at the quantity of western dining options is because when living and traveling in South East Asia it’s easy to forget just how western Japan is by comparison. Not that I’m complaining – next to our hotel was a Tribeca, NY sister restaurant called Bubby’s and OMG did I relish a proper American pancake for breakfast!!! Not one place we’ve tried in KL has come close.

A typhoon during our last full day and night messed with our plans to check out the architecture in Omotesando and visit a few temples. So, back indoors we went, to Tokyu Hands, a long-standing DIY store that we had heard a lot about. Though small in square footage, it has everything you could need from laundry detergent to leather hides and supplies for making purses. It was a plentiful but well curated one-stop-shop dream for someone who’s been without a Target and Michael’s Craft Store for some time (don’t ever take those two for granted, US readers).

Abundance of stuff aside, the other things we experienced were very neat. Heated toilet seats in nearly every public and private restroom (don’t knock it ’till you’ve tried it), easy traveling with Japan Rail Pass, and generally very gracious and pleasant shop keepers, bartenders, and restaurant servers, despite communicating in sign language half the time. Even the taxis were great.  Drivers wore ties and white gloves, and their car doors…they’re automatic!  So don’t you dare try to open or close them yourself – it’s taken care of for you.

With a service-minded culture, delicious food, and incredibly clean and organized streets and transit, Joe and I left feeling like we had to add Tokyo to our “cities to live in” list. Or at the very least return to spend some quality time immersing ourselves. We’ll be back, Japan!

taking takayama (japan part I)

this post features interactive captions – hover over each image for the ‘dot’ to appear.Takayama, Japan
Takayama, Japan Takayama, Japan
Takayama, Japan
Takayama, Japan Takayama, Japan
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We’ve all heard that sometimes it’s not about the destination, but about the journey. In this case, visiting Takayama, Japan was about both. The high-speed train ride up the mountains showed glimpses of rice paddy fields, communal and family farm plots, homes with traditional glazed clay tile roofs, and some mountain scenery to rival anything we’ve seen in places like Alaska. I could have just done the train ride and been happy!

We chose Takayama by accident. Finding an available ryokan in Kyoto proved challenging (and grossly overpriced) so we expanded our horizon and looked for a similar, culturally charming town with easy rail access. Takayama fit the bill perfectly on paper and exceeded expectations in experience.

It was a quiet time in Takayama: mid-week, after the popular autumn festival, and before the colourful fall foliage. I can only imagine how gorgeous the city looks when the leaves turn to bright reds and yellows. The backdrop of Edo Period homes and shops, all in shades brown and black, would really make those autumnal colors pop. But even lacking the seasonal changes, Takayama was breathtaking. During our first walk in town we went to the main temple, but got sidetracked on an older, obscured stone stairway.  It led to a smaller and more modest temple perched on a hill surrounded by tall cedar trees and peek-a-boo views of the city. After reaching the top, the wind started blowing, leaves started bustling, and music started playing on loudspeakers mounted in the trees. It sounds silly but it felt like such a magical spot. I know that the music was for the ceremonial performances happening down below but it felt like it was meant just for us to hear at the top of that path. From that moment on we knew that we were in for a great couple of days.

We spent the rest of our time strolling the streets stopping to indulge in local specialties like Hida beef, sweet dumplings (mitarashi dango), buckwheat soba noodles, and lots of locally brewed sake. We drank sake like water and it was wonderful. Also wonderful were all of the shops filled with locally produced goods in wood, ceramic, and paper. We didn’t hold back in buying souvenirs as we’re big fans of the Japanese design aesthetic. Okay, we did hold back a little because there were plenty of hand-crafted chairs that I would have liked to take home with us. It’s amazing how they work natural materials so beautifully, everything is treated with the utmost respect and love.

That’s the way the entire area felt. The locals were proud of their heritage town and treated it with respect and love. Everyone from our ryokan hosts to the cashier at the riverfront snack shop showed genuine interest in, and gratitude for, our patronage, offering nothing but smiles and good cheer. The streets were pristine and clean, centuries old homes and shops were well maintained and revered, and every effort was made so that visitors had all the info they needed for a positive visit (i.e. directional signposts, tourist info desks among the shops). Even with all the helping hands, Takayama didn’t feel overly touristy. It was just right. Just the right amount of traditional charm, ease, and comfort.

At the end of our trip I couldn’t help but think “Thanks, Kyoto, for being so popular that we couldn’t book ya’”. Takayama, may have been a second choice but it sure came out on top.

 

 

 

happy friday

ryokan

We arrived in Takayama yesterday. Tired from the red-eye flight and multiple train rides but happy to find a peaceful, friendly, and charming town. Our Ryokan is perfectly traditional and modern with everything we need for a Japanese home stay experience, low door frames and all. I don’t know how Joe has managed to go this long without a few bumps on his head, old Japan just wasn’t built for a man of his stature (he’s 6’3″)!

We just finished a traditional breakfast of fish, miso, and local veggies in the room, while sitting on tatami mats and wearing our yukatas. It’s all been pretty great so far so I can’t wait to have a full day of exploring. Maybe we’ll even wear our yukatas out as the locals do … or save them for a sake pub crawl tonight ;)

Have a great weekend!

 

 

reminiscing rio

Old Rio De Janeiro Centro

Back from Rio and major jet lag aside, it was a great trip. We went for Joe’s work so we stayed in a business hotel in the old part of Centro, far from the more recognizable beach side spots like Copacabana and Ipanema. I was hoping to be by the water – not gonna lie – but our location ended up being perfect. Had we stayed in a tourist hotel by the beach I might have never been forced to use my Google translator app to speak Portuguese with the staff.  I might have never had lunch with local office workers in a tiny well-kept restaurant overlooking a building facade of decorative hand painted tiles. And on Joe’s day off, we probably wouldn’t have spent an entire morning walking around the downtown city streets discovering little alleyways full of old European charm. It was quite the surprise. We never expected to come across such a neighborhood in Rio since all we’ve ever been shown are the parts of Zona Sul that look more like Miami Beach with a tropical backdrop. We went back for dinner and what a different scene it was from the morning…tables and chairs filling the alleys, office workers enjoying beers and baskets of fries, and every other restaurant blasting their stereo or showcasing a local band – we opted for the spot with live samba music. As we ate, I danced in my chair, shoulders shaking, making elaborate plans to be in Carnaval one day (I did say elaborate). It was a short and sweet trip but I’m already longing to spend more time there exploring its many facets. What an interesting little big city…I’m sure it’s full of surprises.

 

melaka

Melaka, Malaysia
Melaka, Malaysia
Melaka, Malaysia Melaka, Malaysia
Melaka, Malaysia Melaka, Malaysia
Melaka, Malaysia
Melaka, Malaysia Melaka, Malaysia
Melaka, Malaysia Melaka, Malaysia
Melaka, Malaysia Melaka, Malaysia
Melaka, Malaysia

Hello from Rio De Janeiro, Brazil! Can’t believe that we’re on the other side of the world. It was a twenty four hour trip but all things considered, it’s freaking amazing that it’s possible.

These are some pics from our recent overnight in Melaka, Malaysia, just a two hour drive from KL. Melaka is a World Heritage City so all of the touristy things you’d expect were present: loads of tour groups and buses, souvenir shops, and of course, a Hard Rock Cafe (we skipped the t-shirt).

From a local’s standpoint, we’ve heard that you only really go to Melaka to eat Nyonya food (a mix of Straits Chinese and Chinese/Malay cuisine) but we thought it would be interesting to see what a World Heritage City in Malaysia looked like. The food was as amazing as promised (we went to Riverine, a Nyonya kitchen, twice!) but the architecture was what stood out for me.

In KL there are sadly far too many beautiful old buildings rotting away or being torn down to make room for new luxury malls or condos. The condo we live in is on a street where there used to be traditional homes and I can imagine how gorgeous they must have been based on the last remaining structure on the street. I feel like such an a-hole for lamenting the past while living in modern KL but if I ran the city, I would find a way to do it all better.

In Melaka, the heritage buildings seem to be a priority. Not all of course but a decent amount. It was awesome to see the different influences in design based on the location and date that the structures were built. Being the key port city of the Straits way back when, Melaka has buildings that reflect the Chinese, Dutch, Portuguese, British and of course, Malay aesthetics. I loved the colonial stuff but my favorite was seeing the mid-century modern influences in their Chinatown and government buildings. It made this LA girl very happy.

Now here in Rio, I’ve already spotted a ton of cool old buildings that I can’t wait to check out. I’m not sure I’ll take my camera out too much since I’ll be exploring solo most of the time but I’ll capture and share what I can. Have a great week!

a walk in the park

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Happy Friday, guys! Did you know that Bangkok has a giant park in its city center? It was a nice surprise during our visit last week. Our awesome little hotel was just up the street from Lumphini Park so we took a morning stroll through it on the way to the metro station. There were school groups playing games on the basketball court, three old couples dancing to swing music underneath a giant tree, and plenty of locals getting in their tai-chi exercises for the day. It definitely felt like a proper civic park.

Aside from people watching, a few colors, patterns, and textures caught my attention. Particularly a large type of palm tree that was unlike any I had ever seen. It looked like the palm fronds were cut off as it grew, leaving sturdy slanted stumps begging to be climbed. And yes, I did climb one. Just a few feet up (ssshhh)!

If you can this weekend, do take some time to go for a walk and see what you see. I had forgotten how much I enjoyed doing that.

Something I can’t forget – announcing a winner for the Gin & Jacqie Love Malaysia Collection giveaway! Congrats to Alicia – you’re the lucky pick! Please keep a lookout for an email with details.

I’ll be Instagraming (and blogging) from Rio next week…hopefully I’ll have some news to share after that trip. Have a good one!

 

redang-culous sun and sand + here we go again

Redang, Malaysia
Redang, Malaysia Redang, Malaysia
Redang, Malaysia
Redang, Malaysia
Redang, Malaysia
Redang, Malaysia Redang, Malaysia
Redang, Malaysia

Hey guys, I hope you had a nice weekend. I know I know, it’s Tuesday already but I’ll explain why I’m so off with regular posts in just a moment. First, these are a few snaps from our recent trip to Redang Island off the east coast of peninsular Malaysia. The hotel’s food and density were disappointing but the real reason we were there exceeded expectations: THE BEACH! The sand was unreal, completely white and soft like flour, while the water was incredibly clear. It was warm, calm, and the snorkeling was the best we’ve had yet. We swam with turtles, saw a baby shark, and found ourselves following (or being chased by) schools of tropical fish of many varieties. All that beauty just a one and a half hour flight from where we live…so crazy, so lucky, and so we better take of advantage of it while it lasts.

And by “while it lasts” I mean until the end of October – yep, we’re moving once again! Not sure to where just yet but until our boxes are packed and our apartment keys are turned in, we’re fitting in as much travel and local activities as we can. That’s why we rushed to make a trip to Redang as soon as I returned, did a quick two nights in Bangkok last week, will be in Melaka this week, and have more planned. I know that traveling is a crazy luxury so I’m not complaining, but it does make keeping a solid work (and blog) schedule pretty difficult. But I’m here and I can’t wait to see where the next several months take us, on and off-line!

hump day island hop

woven wall

The rainy season has come early so before it gets too wet to enjoy Malaysia’s beaches, we’re taking advantage of a last minute deal and heading to Redang Island off the east coast. We haven’t been to that part of the country yet but we’re told that the snorkeling is some of the best in the world. While in LA I bought this adventure camera (I was beating up my DSLR waaaay too much) so I can’t wait to give it its first dip in the sea.

I’ll be back here on Monday with an exciting announcement and giveaway but in the meantime you can come along with me via Instagram. Have a great rest of your week!

photo woven wall, bali  by Ana Maria Munoz

frontier land

Alaska by Ana Maria Munoz
Alaska by Ana Maria Munoz
Alaska by Ana Maria Munoz Alaska by Ana Maria Munoz
Alaska by Ana Maria Munoz
Alaska by Ana Maria Munoz
Alaska by Ana Maria Munoz
Alaska by Ana Maria Munoz
Alaska by Ana Maria Munoz
Alaska by Ana Maria Munoz
Alaska by Ana Maria Munoz
Alaska by Ana Maria Munoz
Alaska by Ana Maria Munoz
Alaska by Ana Maria Munoz

I’m going to try keep this one short and sweet because I’m not sure that words can compete with scenes like this. That and it’s Friday!

The trip was incredible. Getting to be with Joe’s family, eating delicious local fish (and the best sweet bun of my life!), and simply seeing the places and things that Joe grew up with. He may have left Anchorage for bigger cities and new experiences but I think it’s really special that he knows all about the rugged stuff us city people are typically clueless about … I also think that it makes him extra hot, too.

Aside from being smitten with my man, I was in love with being in the great outdoors. I spend so much time in air conditioning in KL that being out in the purest of pure air was well, a breath of fresh air! We hiked, I got eaten alive by mosquitoes (didn’t love that part so much), we picnicked, and even got married again. Yep, we had a second ceremony with his family who couldn’t be with us in Colombia. It was awesome to stand and say our vows on the back deck that Joe built years ago. One time at his family’s home and one at mine – perfect.

The final big day was spent out on a boat seeing glaciers, icebergs, sea otters, and American bald eagles. There was beauty everywhere. The varying colors of the water from deep turquoise blue to green and the purples of the mountains brightened by the hovering grey fog … it felt magical and peaceful beyond belief. I was so thankful for Joe’s brother for hooking us up with an amazing captain and guide who let us get close to it all – we got off the boat to get a better view of a glacier and also pulled up to an iceberg to rub it for good luck. I made up the part about good luck but c’mon, something that has particles from the last ice age has got to have amazing energy behind it!

I already can’t wait to go back. Everyone who’s ever been there and told me that it was a beautiful and amazing place was absolutely right. The last frontier does not mess around.

ubud we do bali?

Ubud, Bali
Ubud, Bali
Ubud, Bali
Ubud, Bali
Ubud, Bali Ubud, Bali
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Ubud, Bali
Ubud, Bali

Other than Thailand, Bali was always the first place that came to mind when thinking of this part of the world (that is before we moved here). Bali seems to do an incredible job at promoting tourism and those who go there seeking a spiritual destination can definitely find something amongst all of the temples – old and new – and the never ending green landscapes.

Our destination was Ubud, a town made famous by the film Eat Pray Love. Though we didn’t partake in sunrise yoga, meditation, or scenic bike rides, we did fill up on local food, drinks, and sights. With only 50 hours on the clock (including sleeping), we knew that we weren’t going to see and experience everything, so we made a conscious decision to take it easy and enjoy whatever we came across and felt the urge to do.

The town center was perfect for our time allowance – lots of restaurants, shops, and great spots to relax with a cold drink and a view of rice paddy fields. Our hotel was right in the heart of it all but still felt remote and peaceful. The yummy breakfast delivered to our room every morning and enjoyed on the balcony was perfection.

Just a short walk off of the main roads gave us a glimpse of how new mass tourism development really is in Ubud; there were villas and small hotels being built on dirt roads that were being primed for cement. Ubud has been uber discovered and I can imagine the town center being crazy-packed with visitors and locals alike during the high season. We got lucky by stumbling into the low period because it felt like we had the whole place to ourselves. Not counting the reggae bar on Saturday night (a very impressive Bob Marley tribute, fyi), most restaurants and bars were empty. Not good for them but great for us.

For our only full day there, we booked a tour through our hotel so that we could get out of town and visit Mount Batur, see rice paddy terraces, and check out a temple or two. I had it in my head that “tour” meant guide, but really we just got a driver. It would have been great to have a guide share details about Hindu symbolism and discuss the local economies but that’s precisely when having a smart phone and Google comes in handy – on the spot knowledge! Of course I could buy guide books but I’m way better at understanding something on the spot when it grabs my attention rather than reading it in advance. I would just be like “you know, that thing that means that thing when it’s pointing right or left…”

The temples and rice paddy terraces were definitely worth a visit (gorgeous and green like you’ve probably heard a bazillion times) but Mount Batur was my standout favorite. We had lunch at a restaurant looking out at the largest caldera I have ever seen in my life. I’m talking Land Before Time status with three active volcanoes (Mount Batur) in the dead center. It’s the kind of thing that makes you think “damn, nature is crazy.” My photo hardly does the area justice because it truly is a giant bowl of sunken land and it is awesome.

Getting to and from all of these spots was my second favorite. The drive alone was interesting in that you get to see how much craft is still happening in the country. We drove past countless wood carvers, masons, potters, weavers, you name it, all with road side stores and workshops. Aside from some questionable items that were everywhere – you know, the kind that could be mass produced somewhere else and branded locally – you could be sure that most of the goods for sale were genuinely made in Bali. If only I could have packed one of those large ornate wood doors into my carry-on … they were stunning and crazy enough, a dime a dozen. That’s how many skilled hands are still working there. At least that’s the impression I got compared to other places we’ve been to, I could be totally wrong. I should Google it.

With all of the above on offer, the only shopping we did was at Ikat Batik – a beautiful shop full of naturally dyed and hand woven textiles. I think we were so satisfied with our purchases there on the first day that everything else didn’t seem appealing enough to bring home. That means that I didn’t find anything to share with you like last time but I trust that you’ll understand the main reason for it: with limited time just before leaving for the airport it was either A) experience a traditional Balinese massage for $18 (mid-range price if you can believe it!) or B) walk around in the heat to shop. It just had to be A. If I didn’t do the yoga, the meditation, or the bike riding, I was sure as hell going to partake in the art of the Balinese massage :)

 

phu quoc & saigon

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… a few weeks later and we finally have photos from our trip to Vietnam! It was our second time there (remember our early honeymoon?) so we mixed in some beach time with city culture.

Most of the trip was spent at Mango Bay Eco Resort, in Phu Quoc. It was a complete 180 from our experience in Con Dao in that even though they both boast an eco-friendly environments, Mango Bay was bare bones. No A/C, no phone in the room for room service, outdoor toilet, and unfortunately really crappy bed and pillows. However, the setting was gorgeous and it still felt indulgent with it’s own grown-up summer camp vibe. We ate, lounged, and ate some more but my favorite part was spending the day out on the water while Joe and other guests snorkeled. I stayed on board due to my recent LASIK surgery so instead of swimming with the fish, I was invited to join the guides in catching them instead. I did pretty well – four total! The water was beautiful and warm and that night I went to sleep still feeling the rocking of the boat. Luckily it was more soothing than it sounds.

After three nights in Phu Quoc we headed to Ho Chi Minh City, or as tried and true locals still call it, Saigon. My first impression was “wow, it looks like a mini Europe but with all Vietnamese people!”. The French influence and architecture is still very much present in the old districts as are the wide streets lined with trees – a rare sight in South East Asia. When Joe and I hopped onto motor bikes with our guides for a night tour we were instantly impressed with the ease of getting around. Everyone was so relaxed about riding motorbikes and most of all courteous. I’m sure locals might think differently (or even other tourists visiting SEA for the first time) but now coming from KL where people (mostly male) drive their bikes at crazy speeds and seem to always try to hit you, Saigon felt more like a pleasant bike ride in the park. There were so many more women on the road, even ones dressed up in fancy work clothes. It’s just the norm and it’s awesome.

The biggest treat was the next day when our guide took us to the building where an American helicopter evacuated people during the fall of Saigon. It was crazy to think of the iconic image and then look up/down and realize that we were standing on top of history. The location isn’t advertised to tourists nor is it generally open to the public so if you want in, give Bao a call.

We had to catch our flight home that afternoon so with other cultural spots to see, the day was jam packed but well worth it. It was our first time hiring a guide during holiday and I don’t think it will be the last. We did it mainly because we had less than 24 hours in the city and expected that there would be a lot to see. And unlike traveling in Europe where we’re more familiar with the history, culture, and where cities tend to be easier to navigate, we’ve realized that we need a little extra help in this part of the world. Ubud, Bali is next for a long weekend so we’ll see how we do there!

Have you ever traveled with a guide? What was your experience?

 

 

weekend, we <3 you {kk}

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Hi guys, I hope you had a great weekend.

Things got so hectic that I wasn’t able to do a Friday post but if you follow me on Instagram, you know that we snuck away to Kota Kinabalu, in Sabah, Malaysia, on the island of Borneo.

We’re on a mission to take advantage of living in Southeast Asia before we wake up from this dream and realize that it’s too late to explore it all. So, we’re trying to do and see as much as we can during the weekends while still enjoying our home in KL. Not the worst challenge in the world, right? Game on!

Kota Kinabalu, or KK as locals call it, is the capital city of Sabah. Because of that I expected a big city like KL but to my delight, the downtown area where we stayed was really small, walkable, and best of all, right by the ocean. We’ve heard amazing things about hiking Mount Kinabalu but since we only had two full days there we decided that we’d save the jungle trekking for another trip and enjoy the islands.

And enjoy we did! There are five islands just off of the mainland and with one main jetty to book a water taxi from, it was super easy to get to and from any of them. A fifteen minute ride on a speed boat took us to Pulau Sapi, or Sapi Island. Most of the people there were part of package deals that include a catered BBQ so with all of them crowded by the main beach, Joe and I set off to find a place of solitude elsewhere on the tiny Island.
Our first attempt at following a designated trail was a miss so we decided to try something different. Instead of walking through the jungle we made our way through the rocky shores around the southwestern part of the island. It was easy to do but we were definitely thankful to have our Ring Cozies on since we had to climb up and over some really rough rocks (yes – had to plug Ring Cozy since it works SO well!).

All was good until Joe pointed out a cool prickly aloe-type plant growing out of a rock wall. I looked, said “wow”, and then my eyes instantly went to a GIANT lizard right underneath it!  I’m talking 6ft long, prehistoric, big bodied, long-tongue looking lizard. I flipped out and ran into the water. It took Joe about ten seconds to see it because when I screamed “lizard!” he thought that I meant a small one like we’re used to seeing – that’s how well camouflaged that thing was. Once Joe saw it too, we were both outta there and he said that I should have yelled “GODZILLA!” instead.

Godzilla was immediately forgotten as soon as we walked a few more feet and found a slice of heaven. Aside from a woman who swam up from her privately chartered boat for a bit, we had a little stretch of sand all to ourselves. We joked about all the suckers we left behind on the crowded main beach. But, it wasn’t total perfection. There were jellyfish particles in the water that stung like a really bad case of razor burn when I swam for too long, so I stuck to beach-side lounging.

When it was time to leave I was on high lizard-alert and while we didn’t see the big one we first saw, we saw another one in the water just beneath the rocks we were climbing (eeekkk!!!). Joe took some photos as I pleaded “okay hunny, I think you got the shot. Let’s gooooo!”. It was only after that, on our return back to the main beach, that we saw an old rusted sign on the ground that read “AWAS” which means “BEWARE” in Bahasa Malay. Whomever put that sign there probably knows about the Godzilla family that stalks the shores…

At the end of the day were lucky that we got to enjoy that gorgeous little private beach without any real problems. Otherwise, we could have ended up being the suckers who left the main beach! Totally worth it. During lunch at another island, Pulau Mamutik, we Googled ‘the lizards of Sapi’ and learned that the ones we saw were Monitor Lizards. I think we’ll stick with calling them Godzilla.

 

show & tell: souvenirs from colombia

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What’s a trip without bringing home a few souvenirs?

These treasures from Colombia – a beautiful representation of the weaving done by indigenous women of the country – are adding so much life to our home … and my wardrobe.

The blue cross-body bag’s leather was stitched in Bogota but the colorful strap was woven by the Wayuu women who are known for their large bucket-style purses and skillful hamacas. The home accessories were made by women of the Waounan tribe in the department of Choco. The palm fibers used to create these beauties are woven so tightly that the vase piece we bought could hold water without leaking! Amazing.

The one store we loved unfortunately doesn’t have a website. Such a shame since their products were all so modern leaning and tastefully done and displayed. But, if you find yourself in Cartagena, their address and phone is below. If you’d like to shop for a vase of your own online, here are some shops that carry an assortment: one, two, three.

Colombia Artesanal
Centro, Callejon De Los Estribos
No. 2-40, Cartagena
301-788-8108

stay-cation, we <3 you

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Hi guys, how was your weekend?

We had a great little getaway … down the street. Literally, we could see our apartment from our hotel room!

Have you ever done a stay-cation? This was our first one and we loved it. One bag for the both of us, a five minute cab ride door to door, and plenty of time to enjoy the hotel without having to be anywhere else – it was the easiest trip ever.

We stayed at the new Grand Hyatt here in KL, a place that we’ve grown very fond of. We find ourselves dining at one of their restaurants at least once per week (the Malaysian restaurant, JP Teres, is ridiculously good and affordable) and we’re big fans of the spa.  The only thing left to try was staying there as hotel guests so we figured, why not! The service there has always been great and the photos of the rooms looked really inviting.

And also, a main motivation to go for it was a deep desire to make up for our experience at the Sofitel Santa Clara in Cartagena, Colombia. That place was so overrated. Between the underwhelming rooms and the lackluster customer service, the value was simply not on par with what we paid for it (and I felt awful that our friends also stayed there with us). I’ll give them the nice big pool but otherwise we’ve never been so disappointed. Please don’t ever waste your money there.

Perhaps we’re spoiled now by South East Asian hospitality but regardless, we were left feeling like we needed to have a good experience elsewhere ASAP. Thank god that the Grand Hyatt delivered because otherwise I would have been shattered. I’m seriously so in love with that hotel that it’s creepy! I guess that sort of thing is bound to happen when you live in a city-center like KLCC where most services and dining options are either in a shopping mall, a business/residential tower, or in a hotel. When in Rome right? In this case, when in KL – home of the cheapest 5-star hotels in the world.

Where have you stay-cationed before? Or, Where would you want to go and what would you do in your city?

 

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