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! 

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. 

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