Phang Nga Bay Speed Boat Day Tour (Honeymoon Pt. 2)

While in Phuket, we went on a fun speed boat tour of the very scenic Phang Nga Bay. In eight hours, we hit up six diverse stops in the Bay, including canoeing, caving, and of course beaching. Oh yes, we also did a sail-by of the famous James Bond Island, but thankfully didn’t go ashore to that tourist trap!

I found the sailing company Phuket Sail Tours based on multiple good reviews online. The price (3900 baht/adult, ~$112USD) was higher than many other similar tours, but it well worth it for the reputation, communication, and organization. The tour price included a cab to pick up and drop off directly at our hotel. A simple breakfast, a large lunch, and snacks were also included.

After arriving at the the departure point (around 40 minutes from our hotel), we waited for the rest of our tour group. There were around 20 people total. Our tour guide Jack went through introductions and showed us the tour path on a map. He had a great sense of humor and seemed to have a joke or fact about each country and/or state the tourists were from.

Then we were off! You were required to take off your shoes while on the boat, and the shoes were kept in a central basket. Easy footwear to slip on was key as we left the boat frequently. Being a germaphobe, I was a little worried about being barefoot but quickly got over it!

Sailing to our first stop - a small strip of beach poking out of the ocean near Krabi.
Sailing to our first stop – a small strip of beach poking out of the ocean near Krabi.

Stop 1: A small strip of white sand beach near Krabi Island. We hung out here for 30 minutes and enjoyed the sun, surrounded on three sides by ocean as far as the eye could see. This was also the first time the sun came out in the first four days of our trip. How perfect!

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A Luxurious Stay in Phuket – Banyan Tree Spa Sanctuary (Honeymoon Pt. 1)

Greetings from the married side! After a magical four-day celebration in Carmel Valley, CA, we packed our bags and went to South East Asia for an 18-day honeymoon.

We started with a relaxing three days at the luxurious Banyan Tree Phuket. We stayed in the Spa Sanctuary area, where each private pool villa comes with unlimited massages(!) and 6000 sq. ft. of indoor and outdoor space. I normally wouldn’t dedicate a whole blog post to a hotel, but this one deserves the mention!

Wake up with this view
We woke up with this view!

This was my first Banyan Tree experience, and they delivered. Every single detail was carefully curated, the user experience was wonderful, and the service was fantastic. The only area of improvement for service would be the slow check in and out process – 15 minutes each time. Also the wifi was really buggy – but we shouldn’t be on our devices anyway!

The In-Villa Massages – We had unlimited massages, and these were literally the best massages we’ve ever had! The standard massage started off with a green tea & honey foot scrub, followed by 60 minutes of a strong Swedish massage, ending with ginger tea, fruit, and yogurt. This massage goes for 5000 baht ($145) at their spa, so the unlimited option was a great deal. My husband had three in one day even. We switched it up on the last day and asked for a traditional Thai Massage. This was also very good, albeit a bit painful! It’s a good amount of stretching, and “light” pressure is still fairly strong.

In-villa private massage tables next to waterfall
In-villa private massage tables next to waterfall

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Wagyu – A cure for the flu? (Dinner at Hiroshi, Los Altos)

After having pneumonia in 2011, I don’t get sick too often. So imagine my surprise when I got a tingle in my throat earlier in the week, which escalated to a fever the next night (during a coding exam no less – which I aced!), and then full blown coughs, 102°F fever, and aches the next day.  Hi Flu, it’s been a while.

Luckily, flus for me tend to go hard for a day or two and fizzle out. This one was no different – I currently have major congestion and occasional coughs left. I’ll take that over aches, fatigue, chills, and fever any day. Hopefully I’ll be back to 100% by my wedding this weekend!

During the worst of it, I had dinner plans at a new restaurant, Hiroshi in Los Altos. This wasn’t just any dinner, this was a semi-secret wagyu dinner with a private dining room concept – one seating a day, for a party of eight. There was minimal information about the restaurant online, and I only heard about it from a chef friend of Mr. A’s. The thought of missing this dinner was beyond tragic, so I eeked out the small amount of energy I had and stuck to plan. Whether I was being responsible to my fellow non-sick diners is another matter…

When I entered the dining room, I knew I made the right choice. From the stunning dining table made from an 800-year-old Japanese keyaki tree to the hand cut crystal collection, it was clear that this would be a fine dining experience. Chef Hiroshi Kimura came from Kobe, Japan, home to the finest kobe strain of wagyu.

The place setting. Notice the 800-year-old wood table.
The place setting. Notice the 800-year-old wood table.

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My 15-day No Added Sugar Challenge

I kicked off 2017 by resolving to remove all added sugar from my diet for two weeks.

I have an insane sweet tooth, and I noticed my sugar cravings were getting worse and worse. I’ve been acutely aware of how sugar negatively impacts long term health and how it’s essentially empty calories. After one too many holiday indulgences, I was inspired to give my system a reset and try the no sugar challenge.

The trickiest part of the challenge for me was not giving up sweets, but actually avoiding the savory sauces and condiments in a typical restaurant meal. I let myself eat fruit, but I avoided high sugar to low fiber ratio fruit such as grapes. I also stopped snacking on the dried mango and pineapple that we stock at work, as well as the rest of the prepackaged snacks since almost all had added sugar.

I tried to avoid high glycemic carbs in general such as white rice and white bread, though I had pizza and homemade wheat sourdough loaf in my diet.

I wasn’t perfect during the two weeks, but I ate cleaner, definitely had withdrawal symptoms, and noticed a reset of my tastebud sensitivity to sweetness.

Day 1

I had a minor headache, but it was probably from dehydration. I felt good otherwise. My first meal of the New Year was white pizza for lunch. For dinner we had cheese, homemade bread, and homemade Zuni chicken. Not a bad diet when you can indulge in pizza and cheese!

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2016’s Top Three Restaurant Experiences

In contrast to my recap of the most memorable dishes this year, it was surprisingly easy to pick my top three favorite restaurant experiences. 2016 was a weak year for new restaurants in the Bay Area, so the standouts were established, proven destinations. Excellent food was just the baseline, and what made them my favorite is a combination of uniqueness and personal significance.

Let’s get right to it!

Number Three – Benu, San Francisco, California

This was our second visit to Benu, two-and-a-half years after our first. The meal was actually the backup birthday dinner for Mr. A. My first pick, SingleThread Farms in Healdsburg, kept encountering opening delays. Luckily, I had the foresight to reserve a backup 60 days in advance!

I knew this would be a standout surprise dinner. We are big fans of Chef Corey Lee, and our first Benu meal was one of our favorite meals to date. Their xiao long bao (XLB) soup dumplings are literally perfection – the thinnest skin, millimeters from bursting, and the most amazing, rich broth center.

The first time we had the foie gras pork XLB, and the second meal was lobster coral XLB. I preferred the first, but both were leagues better than any other XLB I’ve experienced.

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2016’s Most Memorable Dishes

It seems like 2016 was a tough year for most people, including myself. World news and politics aside, it was stormy in my own life at times. But I now find myself at the end of another year, reflecting on the many positive moments. One of my favorite memories was sitting on a pebble beach near Hualien, Taiwan, watching my fiancé and my dad walk along the water and collect pebbles.

Chishingtan Beach (七星潭), Hualien, Taiwan

2016 was also full of delicious food experiences, both new and old. I visited Japan for my first time and had not one, but three kaiseki meals in Kyoto. I highly recommend experiencing Kyoto kaiseki at least once, but definitely not three back-to-back like I did. My belief about Japanese portions being small? Definitely not true with kaiseki.

To send off 2016, here were the most memorable dishes of my year:

Most Adventurous Dish: Seared Raw Chicken – Ichimatsu (市松), Osaka, Japan

Seared Raw Chicken
Seared Raw Chicken – Ichimatsu, Osaka, Japan. Not my scene, but I did take a bite! This yakitori meal introduced the most new dishes to me and helped me appreciate using all parts of a chicken.

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What I’m Thankful For In 2016

As I fly back after a long Thanksgiving weekend, I feel inspired to post not about the food (though there was plenty!) but about what I’m thankful for.

I spent four wonderful days with my future in-laws, meeting dozens of new faces and old. The entire time, I was embraced and surrounded by love.

With each new family member I meet, from all sides and branches, I’ve felt comfortable immediately. And I recognize that I have something special in our connection, something not to be taken for granted.

I’ve experienced my share of bad people – people that hold selfish motives or just can’t share in mutual joy.

And I’ve come far enough to know that life is too short to have negative people in your life.

With that said, here’s what I’m thankful for this year:

1. My health. I’ve experienced minor ruts before. It just makes me that much more appreciative of being healthy. I’m learning to take care of myself – my oxygen mask first.

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