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!
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!
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!
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 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.
#13 lobster coral xiao long bao – Benu, SF, Oct 2016
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.
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
I had a grand total of one birthday party as a kid and it was a joint celebration months ahead of my actual birthday. I’m also not one to expect extravagant gestures. Having said that, it does feel nice to be spoiled once in a while. My birthday this year was all that and more, thanks to my amazing partner!
I was whisked away to Chicago, and the itinerary was a complete surprise. Once in Chicago, I guessed that one of the meals would be Grace, 42 Grams, or the legendary Alinea. Well lucky me, it was Alinea!
Alinea recently transformed their dining experience with a new menu and interior decor. I wasn’t able to visit pre-renovation, so I can’t compare, but the new “2.0” menu was ridiculously delightful. They excel at incorporating all senses, and the performance aspect was far above my other 3-Michelin star experiences. The food itself was also very good and in my top three.
We had the upstairs Salon menu, which was the shortest of the menu options. With 11 complex courses, I left thoroughly satisfied. I can only imagine what the Gallery or Kitchen Table menus must be like. A future trip for sure!
Now that we are solidly in the second half of 2016, I’ve been reminiscing about the previous six months. With all the travel, change, and excitement, it feels like a full year already! One of my favorite days was a sightseeing car trip along the north coast of Taiwan.
I’ve been to Taiwan about six times prior, but this was my first time experiencing the natural beauty and diversity of the northern coastline. I saw sights I have yet to see elsewhere in the world. If you are visiting Taipei, I highly recommend doing this day trip. It’s an easy getaway and nice change of pace from the city.
While planning my first ever trip to Japan, I knew I had to stay in a traditional ryokan inn. Ryokans are a good way to experience Japanese hospitality. Common elements include traditional tatami mat rooms, yukata garb (pictured above), and communal baths. Most ryokans include an elaborate multi-course dinner in the kaiseki style, as well as breakfast, with both meals served in your room.
Kyoto was the ideal city for this experience as they are known for their upscale ryokans and the ultimate in kaiseki ryori cuisine. We stayed in Arashiyama, a scenic town 20 minutes outside of central Kyoto. Ryokans usually have limited capacity, so I booked months in advance. Ryotei Rangetsu was well reviewed and offered online booking through English travel sites, making the process straightforward.