Southeast Asian Adventures II: Angkor Wat

If you haven’t read part I of my Southeast Asian adventures post, make sure to check it out here first.

Part II: 

Our whole trip to Southeast Asia was such a surreal and incredible adventure, I’m still not over it. My only regret is not spending more time in Cambodia, which in a mere 24 hours, completely stole (and broke) our hearts. There is so much to say about the strength and grit of the Cambodians, and I’d really love to spend a longer time learning more about this beautiful and resilient country. While things in the United States were sort of unraveling while we were away, being in Cambodia gave us a lot of perspective and taught us so much about acceptance, diversity, and generosity of heart.

Even though we weren’t in Cambodia for long, I’m so very glad that we got to spend a day at the awe-inspiring temples of Angkor, beginning at sunrise. Angkor Wat is the largest religious monument in the world, with Hindu and Buddhist influences. The various temples in the complex have been damaged and deteriorated over the years, but you can still get a sense of the incredible art and architecture. Some parts of the temple have literally been taken over by trees and plant overgrowth, and somehow this intersection of nature & religion just makes Angkor Wat even more magical. Here are just a few of my favorite pictures.

Angkor Wat at sunrise. Even though we didn’t get the clearest sunrise, there was something so spiritual about marching into the complex along with hundreds of other tourists vying for the best sunrise spot. We weren’t alone by any means, but I’ve never felt so serene and at peace.

 

Tales of daily life on temple walls


The Bayon temple, with morning light shining on the spectacular faces of past kings, was my absolute favorite. Unbelievably beautiful. 

The Tomb Raider temples! Nature crawling its way through temple ruins. 

Thank you, Cambodia. We’ll be back! 

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Southeast Asian Adventures: Thailand

Thailand & Angkor Wat in Cambodia have been on my bucket list for years now. I spent a good chunk of my adolescent years growing up in Jakarta, Indonesia and did an internship during college in Kuala Lumpur. I’m completely obsessed with Southeast Asian culture – the food, the rich history, the people, the weather, the energy is just all so ridiculously amazing. I’ve been blessed to live in many cities around the world – eight to be exact – and nowhere else in the world have I met such genuinely warm, hospitable, loving and generous people. Southeast Asia is just mesmerizing, and I’ve been dying to explore more of it.

I finally had the chance to experience Thailand & Cambodia last month and I’m so happy that my trip reaffirmed my love for the region. I was worried that Thailand would be too touristy and overrun by Full Moon party-seeking backpackers, but it truly did not disappoint. Sure, there are parts of Thailand that can be crazy touristy, but there are so many different experiences that you can choose to have in this diverse country. We began our trip in bustling Bangkok (which for some reason gets a bad rep for being too busy and overwhelming, but I loved it); continued onwards to the lush, beautiful, boho-chic Chiang Mai; spent three days soaking up the sea and sunshine in Krabi; and ended our trip taking in the unbelievably magical Angkor temples of Siem Reap.

Here are some of my favorite pictures from the Thailand leg of the trip – Angkor Wat will have its own post soon!

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Sunset over magnificent Bangkok from Lebua at State Tower (of Hangover 2 fame) – definitely one of the most luxurious hotels I’ve ever stayed at! Beautiful balconies and views. 

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Day 1: Exploring Bangkok’s Chatuchak (weekend) market which was such a fun experience. We spent hours walking around the different souvenir, food, and clothing stalls, completely mesmerized by all the beautiful antiques and souvenirs. We had to buy an extra suitcase for all the souvenirs we bought home!

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The Grand Palace – a must see when in Bangkok. It was hot and incredibly crowded, but beautiful nonetheless. 

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Wat Pho, Temple of the Reclining Buddha

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We stayed at the Khum Phaya Resort & Spa in Chiang Mai, which was a bit far from the old city and the tourist attractions but such a gorgeous sanctuary. I mean, just look at all that greenery. This was our breakfast view for four days straight. HEAVEN! 

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One of our most memorable experiences in Chiang Mai was a cooking class, where we made a delicious assortment of fresh Thai dishes. It was so much fun grinding up all the spices and making all the food from scratch!

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Another experience I will never forget: playing with elephants at Chai Lai Orchid, an elephant sanctuary that also serves as a social business with a mission to serve women at risk of human trafficking. A one-day trip included a three hour hike (more like a leisurely walk) through the jungle, bamboo rafting, feeding elephants, riding elephants bareback, and bathing a baby elephant in the river. Yes, it was as fun and surreal as it sounds. I was squealing the entire time. 

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Such a precious moment! 

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Meeting the grandmama of the sanctuary ❤ She was so sweet and gentle. 

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If you’re too scared to try street food in Thailand, you’re seriously missing out. We only had one ‘nice’ sit down meal on our whole trip, because we were determined to eat our way through all of Thailand’s amazing night markets and street food. They say the cheaper the food in Thailand, the more delicious and we found that to be so, so true! One of our FAVORITE meals was Anthony Bourdain-approved khao kha moo (pork leg & rice) from ‘The Cowgirl’ stand in Chiang Mai. We ordered two small plates first, which we devoured within seconds, and promptly ordered another large plate to share. YUM. Chicagoans, make sure to check out JJ Thai Street Food for a pretty solid version of khao kha moo. 

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Another favorite meal – khao soi from Khao Soi Khun Yai. Spicy & flavorful, we INHALED these little bowls of happiness.

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Ahhh, Krabi. Truly PARADISE. We stayed at the gorgeous Amari Vogue resort on Tubkaek Beach, which was so serene and utterly beautiful. The Andaman Sea is so still and warm as bathwater. Like nothing I’ve ever experienced before. Every morning, we would venture out to Ao Nang to get our fill of local seafood – the best places to eat were the little halal street stalls with amazing chili crab, coconut shrimp curry, crab fried rice, garlic squid, and more. So delicious. 

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Venturing out on a snorkeling trip to the Hong islands. 

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Crystal clear perfection. 

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More snorkeling views on Hong Island.

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Quite possibly my favorite picture of my entire trip. They say that sunsets on Tubkaek Beach are pure magic. They weren’t wrong. 

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My husband and I had a moment of immense gratitude during this sunset. Hope to be back here with our kids some day. 

Authentic Thai Green Curry – straight from Chiang Mai!

Even though we’re in the thick of winter here in Chicago, my mind is still in beautiful Thailand. My husband and I recently got back from an incredible adventure to Thailand & Cambodia (blog post coming soon) and my heart still aches for the beautiful people, culture, and FOOD of Southeast Asia. It continues to be my absolute favorite part of the world.

One of our favorite memories of the trip was a half-day cooking class in Chiang Mai through Zabb-E-Lee Cooking School. We had such a great time exploring Thai markets, picking up fresh ingredients (still can’t get over the fragrance of kaffir lime), and then spending a few hours in a gorgeous outdoor, bohemian-style kitchen whipping up over six dishes. Such a delightful experience for a couple who loves to cook together.

I’m excited to share the recipe from our culinary adventures for Zabb-E-Lee’s chicken green curry. It was absolutely delicious and SO easy to make (well, once all the spices were ground up). I made it once at home too with store-bought green curry paste, and it was still pretty damn good. Obviously not as fragrant and fresh as the Chiang Mai version, but still a great recipe to quickly whip up when you’re craving some curry. Got my hubby hooked on Thai food now. Enjoy!

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Starting off the day picking fresh ingredients from the market with our awesome instructor

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Literally the cutest space for our cooking class. So boho chic! 

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So proud of our culinary creations!

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Silky smooth green curry. Nothing like that fresh taste of coconut cream and kaffir lime. 

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My version at home – more veggies, low fat coconut milk, and store bought green curry paste. Sorry for the poor picture quality – alas, not much natural lighting in Chicago right now. Still delicious, and SO easy to make! 

Thai Green Chicken Curry (recipe adapted from Zabb-E-Lee Cooking School)

Ingredients (serves 3-4) 

2 tbsp canola oil
6 chicken thighs, cut into bite-sized pieces
1 can coconut cream (highly recommend the Aroy-D brand)
1.5 tbsp green curry paste* (I used the Thai Kitchen brand, but see below for the recipe to make this from scratch)
1 eggplant, cut into squares
1 zucchini, cut into squares
Handful of green beans (per your liking)
2 tbsp sweet basil
3 leaves kaffir lime leaf, torn in half
1 tbsp pea eggplant (optional – I didn’t use this)
2 red chilis, sliced diagonally
2 tsp palm sugar
2 tbsp fish sauce

Recipe

Let the oil heat on a wok or non-stick pan on medium high. Stir the green curry paste for a few minutes until fragrant and the oil surfaces. Add the chicken thighs and stir until fully cooked. Gradually add the coconut milk and add in the eggplant, zucchini, and green beans. Cover and let simmer. When the veggies are cooked, add palm sugar, fish sauce, sweet basil, kaffir lime, and red chilis. THAT’S IT – you’re done! Enjoy with rice or noodles.

*Green Curry Paste (from Zabb-E-Lee’s cookbook)

Ingredients

10 fresh green chilies, finely chopped
1 tsp salt
1 tbsp galangal finely chopped
1 tbsp lemongrass, finely chopped
5 cloves garlic, finely chopped
3 shallots, sliced
1 tsp kaffir lime ride, finely sliced
1 tbsp coriander roots, chopped
1 tsp fresh turmeric or turmeric powder
1 tsp shrimp paste (this is the secret sauce!)
1 tsp black pepper
1 tsp roasted coriander seeds
1/2 tsp roasted cumin
1 tsp ginger

Directions

Combine coriander seeds, cumin, black pepper in a mortar, pound well. Add chilies and salt to the mixture and continue pounding. Add remaining ingredients (except for the shrimp paste) and pound again. After everything is smooth, add the shrimp paste and continue pounding until the mixture is a smooth paste.

Two-Week Itinerary for Italy & Santorini

Ever since my husband and I got engaged, we’ve been dreaming about an extended honeymoon somewhere in Europe. We’ve both traveled to Europe separately, but couldn’t wait to experience its magic together. I spent four years in Paris growing up and planned a trip to Barcelona after graduating from college, while he had studied abroad in Madrid. With our hectic schedules, we couldn’t make a honeymoon work right after the wedding, but boy was it worth the two-year wait.

We explored a couple different countries while researching for our trip, and almost decided against Italy. We were worried it would be too touristy, and it just felt so cliched to travel to Italy for our honeymoon after seeing so many of our friends doing the same. We’ve both also been to Italy during our younger years, and considered traveling somewhere more off the beaten path. Alas, our love for fresh pasta, vino and Italian culture was too strong, and I’m SO glad we decided to spend the majority of our trip in Italy. It’s simply exquisite. Santorini has always been at the top of my bucket list, so I convinced my husband to spend the last few days of our vacation there since we were going to be so close. I definitely need to plan a separate trip to Greece to experience its culture in its entirety, but we’re incredibly grateful that we got to spend a few days in Santorini during our honeymoon. It is beyond words.

Here’s how we laid out our two weeks in Italy & Santorini. September is the perfect time to visit Italy, because it’s at the end of tourist season and the weather starts to cool down ever so slightly (but still warm enough for beaches). We wanted to get a good feel for the country by visiting a variety of different cities, but we also didn’t want to be overwhelmed by packing our bags every 1-2 days. We wanted a good mix of beach towns, wine country, big cities, culture and adventure with things to constantly do. We like to be on the go when we’re on vacation rather than beach bumming for a week straight, so this itinerary worked really well for us and gave us a sense of places we want to visit again for a longer period of time. We also LOVED all the hotels/B&Bs that we stayed at, so I’ve linked details to our accommodations. Okay, enough rambling – here we go!

  • DAY 1: Fly into Naples, rent a car (with a driver – you don’t want to be driving on your own here) and drive directly to the picturesque town of Positano for two days. We’re not huge beach people and wanted to spend more time in other places in Italy and in Santorini, so we decided to spend all our time in Positano rather than town-hopping around the Amalfi Coast.
    • Positano accommodation: Villa La Tartana  (cute little no-frills B&B steps away from the Spiagga Grande)
    • Tip: Visit Le Sirenuse for a gorgeous view of Positano’s colorful homes. Rent a private speed boat at Spiagga Grande (super affordable for just an hour or two) for the most breathtaking and luxurious views of the Amalfi Coast. You can drive around the coast with a bottle of Prosecco, visit private beaches, and go swimming. The views of Positano from the boat just can’t be beat.
    • Foodie highlights: We weren’t super adventurous with food in Positano because we were there for such a short period of time but we liked Chez Black for fresh seafood and a stellar waterfront view. Yes, it’s super touristy and on the pricey side, but worth it for one meal.
  • DAY 2: Positano – sight seeing, beach bumming
  • DAY 3: Positano in the morning, then take a car back to Naples and a train to Florence
    • Florence accommodation: Le Stanze di Caterina (steps away from the Duomo with beautiful, art-inspired rooms)
  • DAY 4: Florence – sight seeing (Uffizi Gallery, Scuola del Cuoio – Florence’s leather school with amazing leather products, and sunset at Piazzale Michelangelo)
    • Foodie highlights: Osteria Santo Spirito for a more local feel and Trattoria ZaZa for unbelievable truffle pastas.
  • DAY 5: Florence – sight seeing till the late afternoon (Mercato Centrale for fabulous lunch options and Accademia for the gorgeous David), then rent a car to drive to Tuscany
    • Tuscany accommodation: Fonte de Medici (We got an incredible deal through Jetsetter– the most gorgeous Tuscan villas EVER! A little remote, but totally worth it for the property)
    • Foodie highlights: Lamole di Lamole. Must visit for the most mouthwatering Florentine steak ever. Amazing spot.
  • DAY 6: Tuscany – wine tasting and visiting little Medieval towns
  • DAY 7: Tuscany/day trip to Siena
  • DAY 8: Tuscany, then drive to Rome
    • Rome accommodation: Augustana House (Super clean, no-frills B&B located on a quieter, less touristy part of the city. Nicest staff!)
    • Foodie highlights: We arrived in Rome with pretty low expectations (“It’s too hot! Too touristy!”) but we absolutely LOVED the city. The food in particular was absolutely stellar; the best we had in the country. Highly recommend following Romewise.com for restaurant suggestions and making reservations EARLY – I’m still dreaming about my pasta dishes from Osteria del Sostegno and Roberto e Loretta. Rome is heaven for pasta, bacon and tiramisu lovers. Mmm!
  • DAY 9: Rome – sight seeing (Trevi Fountain and the Caesar Shuffle – Colosseum, Roman Forum, and Pantheon)
  • DAY 10: Rome – sight seeing (the Vatican – absolutely incredible)
  • DAY 11: Rome in the morning, then flight to Santorini
    • Santorini accommodation: The Majestic Hotel (just outside Fira)
    • Tip: Best way to explore the entire island is by renting an ATV! So much fun, and you come across so many lovely little private beaches with family-owned seafood restaurants. Some of the spots we stumbled upon were just magnificent. Santorini is too beautiful for words.
  • DAY 12: Santorini – sight seeing (Sunset Cruise)
  • DAY 13: Santorini – sight seeing (exploring the towns of Fira, Imerovigli, and Oia)
  • DAY 14: Santorini, then flight back to the U.S. via Rome

Sigh, can I please go back already? Hope this itinerary was helpful for your planning – leave me a comment if you have any questions! And just so this post isn’t ALL words, here are some of my favorite pictures from our trip:

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The adorable town of Positano in the Amalfi Coast

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Sunset in Florence from the Piazza Michelangelo 

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View of Firenze from the Uffizi Gallery

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Rolling hills of Tuscany. View from Fonte de Medici. No words. 

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Trevi Fountain, Rome

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Santorini views from Imerovigli 

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Sunset at Oia, Santorini

Travel Diaries: Kauai

The lush, amazing, beautiful Garden Island of Kauai was Part II of my recent Hawaii adventure. If you haven’t read Part I yet, go read it first!

While Maui was all about family, Kauai was perfect for some alone time with my husband. I knew that Jurassic Park was filmed here, so I was expecting greenery, but was still completely blown away by how visually stunning this island is. I’m talking palm tree after palm tree, gorgeous waterfalls everywhere, and the most unbelievable scenery I have ever seen in my life. It’s true what they say – Kauai is just the prettiest.

We stayed at a vacation rental at the Hanalei Bay Resort, which we absolutely loved. It looks like a five star resort with a beautiful lagoon-style pool, has the most stunning views of Hanalei Bay, and shares its beach with the St. Regis (minus the St. Regis prices). I mean, you really can’t beat that. Every night, we would pour ourselves a glass of white wine, sit on the hills facing the bay and enjoy the most spectacular sunsets. I so wish we could be back there!

I’m so excited to share some of my favorite images from the trip – it was incredibly difficult to edit these down, because every part of Kauai is so picturesque. These pictures do a great job of highlighting some of our favorite things about the island – Hanalei Bay sunsets, hiking part of the beautiful Napali coast, kayaking to the secret waterfalls, feasting on incredible sushi, and just the sheer amazingness of Mother Nature.

The beautiful grounds at Hanalei bay resort
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Admiring the bay at sunset, just steps away from our room at the resort…truly breathtaking. 

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The view from St. Regis’s outdoor patio – an amazing place to grab a glass of champagne right at sunset

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We hiked the first two miles of the Napali Coast. The full 11 hike mile is considered to be one of the most scenic (and dangerous) hikes in the country and requires overnight camping and permits. The first two miles to a secluded beach is supposed to be the “easier” portion, but it was still challenging for me – lots of ascending and descending on muddy trails with absolutely stunning views. Many hikers do an additional two miles to the waterfalls, but this takes the entire day. We were plenty satisfied with our three hour adventure and recommend this for less experienced hikers.

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I mean, just look at those turquoise waters – just gorgeous! We were lucky to do this hike on a clear, sunny day. 

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The delicious sushi burrito from Sushi Girl! A must visit for anyone visiting Kauai- it’s a little hole in the wall stand en route to the Napali Coast with the freshest selection of take out sushi. We went here three times in four days – that’s how good it is (plus the food selection in Kauai is pretty limited). Especially good after hiking. 

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Our third day in Kauai, we signed up for a kayaking tour with Ali Kayaks on the Wailua River. This consists of fairly easy and relaxed kayaking for two hours, a moderate hike through a VERY muddy rainforest, and splashing around in a pool by the beautiful secret waterfalls that’s only accessible by kayaking. Such a fun morning adventure!  

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Lazing around on Hanalei Bay beach on our final day in Kauai 

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Shave ice from Hee Fat, considered to be the best ice on the island! I had no idea what to expect, but this stuff is AMAZING. We got the strawberry and coconut real fruit syrup with macadamia nut ice cream on the bottom. So, so good. 

Hope you enjoyed this peek into our Hawaii trip! Be sure to follow me on Instagram @mrsgcg if you’d like to see more snapshots from our trip. And don’t hesitate to leave a comment if you have any questions or need advice about traveling in Maui and/or Kauai.

Travel Diaries: Maui, Hawaii

Aloha! I just got back from an incredible eight-day trip to Hawaii (four days in Maui, four days in Kauai), and have never felt more refreshed and rejuvenated. Aaand…depressed about being back in concrete jungle Chicago. I. love. the. island. life. Take me back already!

This was my first trip to Hawaii and my expectations were set pretty high, for obvious reasons. Having spent much of my formative years in Indonesia, I felt completely at home in the tropical climate the minute we landed in Maui. The warm air, the exquisite greenery, the dynamic landscape–I just couldn’t wait to soak it all up. The Maui leg of the trip was spent with my immediate family to celebrate my dad’s 60th birthday, so it made the whole experience all that more special. My parents and brother love traveling as much as we do, and we were adamant about making the most of our four short days on the island.

In no particular order, I’ve recapped my top five moments in Maui below. Not featured but also deserving special mention: sipping on Mai Tais and listening to the sound of crashing waves from our Maalaea Banyans lanai every night, sunset dinner at Kimo’s, and just the beautiful quietness of island life. Such a necessary break from a busy, stressful summer.

The Old Laihana Luau: Rated one of the best and most authentic luaus on the island, the Old Laihana Luau was a fantastic family experience. We booked the luau for my dad’s actual birthday, and it was the perfect celebration. Gorgeous venue right by the water with a spectacular sunset view, incredible service, traditional Hawaii cuisine (which was pretty good for a buffet meal), fabulous entertainment, and an open bar. All for hundred bucks per person. Not a bad deal and definitely worth it, especially during your first few days on the trip to really get in the Hawaiian state of mind.

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The feast at Old Laihana Luau: Fried rice, roasted pork, mahi-mahi, ahi poke, and stir fry veggies

Snorkeling on Kaanapali Beach: I’m a snorkeling newbie, so my husband and I were really, really excited to to check out Maui’s beaches. We didn’t want to waste a whole day on a snorkeling trip (though I now regret not doing Molokini Crater), but we heard that Kaanapali Beach’s Black Rock is perfect for a quick morning snorkeling dip. We had so much fun swimming side by side and saw a ton of little colorful fishies, including a baby sea turtle! It was amazing and an experience I’ll never forget. I just wish we had a GoPro!

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The unfiltered beauty of Kaanapali Beach – no underwater pictures, but you can see the Black Rock in the distance

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Giddy after encountering a baby sea turtle!

Road to Hana: Road to Hana is probably the most popular drive in Maui – I have major motion sickness and can barely drive, so I didn’t think I would enjoy the long, winding roads as much as I did. With some Dramamine in tow and my road trip-loving husband behind the driver’s seat, the entire fam left early in the AM for the spectacular journey to Hana. As my dad kept saying “it’s about the journey, not the destination” because the various stops along the way are just awesome. My favorite stop was the black sand beach at Wai’anapanapa National Park – we even brought home a lava rock for our home 🙂 Nature is so freaking cool, especially in Hawaii.

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Salted caramel coconut ice cream from Coco Glen, the cutest little stand on the Road to Hana. So delicious and necessary after the winding roads.

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Feelin’ victorious after reaching the black sand beach!

Sunrise at Haleakala Crater: This was actually a little disappointing for us, because the morning we decided to make the one hour drive up to Haleakala Crater was a foggy one and we didn’t see the full sunrise that most tourists rave about. BUT, the experience is still one that I’ll fondly look back on – we all woke up at 2:30 am, bundled up in sweaters and blankets (it’s 40 degrees up there, especially in the early morning!) and drove up to the crater in eager anticipation of sunrise. The atmosphere was really cool and we felt like we were floating in the cloud with other freezing cold tourists. If we could do it again, I’d go for sunset or check it out during the day so you can actually see the crater. Oh, well.

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…Ahi Poke: Is it weird that one of my top five moments is food-related? If you know me at all, then no. One of our first meals on the island was at Maui Fish Market, after snorkeling on Kaanapali Beach. The food options in Maui and Kauai (especially in Kuauai) are limited–at least compared to big cities in the mainland–but the seafood is incredible. We feasted on baja fish tacos, shrimp, and AHI POKE. Maui Fish Market is where we first tried ahi poke, and it became our standard go-to meal for pretty much the rest of the trip. You just can’t beat that fresh island taste. Nom nom.

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So. fresh.

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Mahi-mahi sandwich. Drooling again.

Hope you enjoyed the pictures and stay tuned for my Kauai post, coming next!

Midwest Road Trips: Madison, Wisconsin

Last weekend, the hubs and I desperately needed a getaway from Chicago, so we decided to visit his sister in Madison, Wisconsin. I was just excited to have a low-key weekend playing with our adorable nieces, and we ended up having such a wonderful time exploring Madison with the family. It’s such an adorable college town, the weather was AMAZING (seriously, how does the Midwest go from being in the 70s to low 40s in the span of a week?!), and the food was so fresh and delicious.

Having grown up in major cities overseas, I’ve always been bit of a big city snob, but I’m really starting to appreciate the slower pace and natural beauty of smaller towns in the US. Maybe it’s because I’m entering a new phase in my life, or maybe it’s because I’m just getting older, but the thought of moving out of a big city like Chicago doesn’t freak me out anymore. There’s so much to appreciate about small towns! Madison in the fall is simply stunning with all its biking and hiking trails. I definitely want to come back in the summer/next fall to explore all its natural beauty.

The highlight of the trip was a visit to Dane County Farmers’ Market, right at the heart of Capitol Square. I’ve been to many farmers markets in Canada and California (a post about our recent Cali trip coming up soon!), but this was one of the best markets I’ve been to. So many amazing stalls with delicious cheeses (it’s Wisconsin, after all), fresh vegetables, warm baked goods, and more. We picked up some homemade jam, gouda, rhubarb pie, and the most authentic Indonesian Nasi Goreng I’ve had since my years in Jakarta!

My favorite pictures from the trip:

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Still. dreaming. about. that. rhubarb. pie. *drool*