Sunday, November 25, 2018

Long Weekend By the Bay

Trip date: May 2018

A friend was finishing a week of business in San Francisco and invited me down for the Memorial Day weekend.  I flew down on Alaska Air on Thursday afternoon, the plane was one of the Virgin Aircraft. I didn't love having to order and pay for my drinks via the seat-back entertainment device, but other than that it was fine.

The city was fairly quiet when I landed that evening so I took an Uber and met him at the W where we would be staying. We had a great big corner room, with a cute little seating area, and nice views. The W is a great central location as well.

We walked to Liholiho Yacht Club, put our name in for a table, and then walked to The Progress Hotel for drinks at their rooftop bar Charmaine's. It was a gorgeous night to sit outside next to the fire pit.
Liholiho called well before the 1 1/2 time they told us our wait might be. We had a great dinner, including the game hen katsu, japanese curry, crimini mushrooms, chinese eggplant, daikon kimchi! Believe the hype, highly recommended.
The next day we did a little tour of the Salesforce towers. It's quite a compound they have with towers on 3 of the 4 corners. One of the large offices is called Puppyforce and you can bring in your dog for the day (also great for people who are allergic or don't want to be around dogs). And the park that they are building looks incredible.
We walked over to The Treasury for lunch, which had just opened on my last trip down but I hadn't had time to check it out. The space is absolutely gorgeous! And the cocktails were great! Lunch was ok. I'd say come for the cocktails and eat somewhere else. Not bad, there is just much better food in the city.
We decided on a little day drinking bar hop and made our way down to the waterfront. After a quick shop through the Ferry Plaza Market, we grabbed seats at Hard Water.
I don't know how this bar hasn't been on my radar! It's owned by the Slanted Door group, is visually stunning, and has a huge selection of whiskey as well as some excellent cocktails. I really liked it, if you are down by Pier 3 I'd definitely stop in!

We grabbed a trolly, cuz San Francisco! and continued down the waterfront to the wonderfully touristy Buena Vista. The home of the Irish Coffee never disappoints!
Dinner that night was in Chinatown so we wandered around a bit as the window shopping here is always great. We ended up stopping inside the Buddha Lounge which I've walked past so many times but haven't ever been inside. What a throwback! Cash only, family owned, very fun.

Dinner was at Mister Jiu's, where I'd eaten on my last visit, and it was just as delicious this time around, although the menu was different as it didn't have the tasting menu style from before. All dishes were great and the space is still lovely. One of my favorites!

The next morning we walked next door to the SFMOMA for the special exhibit of René Magritte. It was a great showing of about 70 pieces of his work. I especially liked the outdoor paintings "within paintings".
A friend had told me about a new champagne cafe in Hayes Valley so we headed there to have brunch at The Riddler. Absolutely adorable spot with an amazing menu of champagnes by the glass or bottle. They don't have a full kitchen but offer tater tot waffles, like this one with smoked salmon and caviar.
It was good, but both of us thought there was a bit too much topping, which took away from the crunchy tators. I'd recommend The Riddler mainly for the bubbles and maybe just a snack.

The neighborhood here is great for shopping so we spent some time wandering before walking across town (and up the hill!) to the Cable Car Museum.
I had never been! It's small, wasn't crowded, is very interesting, and free! I thoroughly enjoyed it!

That night we had a great seafood dinner at Anchor & Hope followed by drinks at the newly opened True Laurel.  The cocktails were interesting and good but our service was a bit off and the couples next to us at the bar were actively trying to squeeze 4 into a space for 2, so basically halfway sitting on our laps.

We were a bit annoyed so left and went to my favorite San Fran bar, Trick Dog. The menu here is always so fun, and this time the theme was worldwide airports. Very clever.
Best of all our bartender was Katie, who was my bartender the first time I went there, and she is awesome. Such a great bar!

The next morning we took BART to Oakland. We had tickets to the A's baseball game and it was a fantastically sunny and warm day! On the advice of our server at The Riddler we had a delicious brunch at Hopscotch before. Absolutely wonderful service, very good Ramos gin fizz, corned beef hash, all while sitting outside. Highly recommend.

We arrived at the stadium by Uber and had the best seats, 2nd row at 1st base. The stadium is so old and it's pretty bare bones but the game itself was very fun!
Still full from brunch, we skipped eating at the stadium. But after it ended we both were wanting a little bite so we grabbed BART and took it to 12th street and then walked up to Starline Social Club. Another excellent recommendation from our Riddler server.
This area of Oakland is super cool! Lots of nice little spots and a real hipster vibe. I'd never been and was happy to spend a little time here.

It was an easy ride back to the city on BART where spent our evening playing the free Frogger, PacMan, and Galaxy game in our hotel bar.

And when we boarded our flight home the next morning,  I knew to order my mimosa on the seatback screen before the carts came down the aisle! Always a great time in San Francisco!

All San Francisco photos here.

Sunday, November 18, 2018

Stationed in Siem Reap

Trip date: January 2018

Like most travellers who come to Cambodia to explore the temples of Angkor, we based ourselves in Siem Reap for 4-days. We arrived via the Giant Ibis bus from Phnom Penh, a 5-hour drive through the Cambodia country. It’s always surprising to me when I travel around countries that don’t have train options or quick domestic flights. So here were were on a tourist bus heading north past really nothing but rickety shack-style homes, on stilts, with dirt yards, a few had a cow in front. I found the scenery fascinating.

The bus had comfortable seats and intermittent wifi. We made a few stops along the way, one was basically a rest stop where we could use the toilets and buy snacks. I grabbed a few cold beers. The next was a roadside restaurant that also seemed specifically there for travelers, serving fine and quick meals.

When we arrived at the bus station in Siem Reap we were met by tuk tuk driver Kong, who fellow blogger Lara from Gran Turismo Travels kindly arranged for us (she can also arrange tours of the area, check out her site!) Since there were four of us, and all with luggage, he ended up hiring an additional tuk tuk in order to get everything to fit.

It was a quick ride to our Airbnb, a 3 bedroom/ 2 bath apartment right on the river that winds through town.

We headed up to the rooftop terrace with some champagne and sausage we had brought with us, for a toast to this new location and to take in the views and the sunset.

We had hired Kong for our entire stay, so each day we would discuss our plans with him, he'd quote us the price and would then be waiting at the agreed upon time. That evening he met us in front of our apartment and we took off for the Elephant Bar in the Raffles Hotel. It was fine, but it wasn’t as nice as the one in Phnom Penh.

Kong was waiting when we came out and he took us to a big night market that was happening right down the street. It was a maze of street food vendors, crafts, and games.

We ordered an assortment of skewers and also some banana crepes, which were similar to the ones I fell in love with in Thailand.

Our next stop was at Asana, which is a really cute restaurant housed in the only remaining Khmer wood house in the area. Unfortunately the drinks were pretty actively bad, I don’t think any of us finished ours. I can't speak for the food.

Just around the corner, Miss Wong was much better. Dark wood and red Chinese decor gives an atmosphere of a speakeasy (or opium den). The manager kindly sat us at a great table straddling the inside and terrace.

We had a couple of rounds of drinks and also some dim sum bites and everything was pretty good.

We weren’t in town much, and after full days at the temples we weren’t up for big nights out, but we found a few good places for drinks and dinner.

We all really liked our drinks at Menaka, a funny speakeasy style bar with big map scrolls as menus. The staff was eager to please but it still felt relaxed and fun.

Downstairs it is a cute little coffee bar & cafe, but none of us tried it so I can't report.

Another friend had raved about The Sugar Palm restaurant and how their traditional dish of fish amok is a bit different. We loved the restaurant and the other dishes we got as well. By far the best restaurant meal we had in Cambodia!

The FCC had also been recommended to me, so one day after the temples we stopped in for a late lunch and some much needed cold beverages. It's a bit worn down but still a fun place to relax and check out the old decor and photos lining the walls. The food was fine, it's more about the history here.

On our last day, after we packed and spent a couple of hours at our rooftop pool, we had a very good lunch at Nest. It looks like it might turn into a bit of a club atmosphere at night, but during the day it was a good choice.

But mainly we ended our big days of exploring the temples with martinis, snacks, and Exploding Kittens around our air conditioned dining table.

Food was just ok in Cambodia. We had better meals in the restaurants vs in Vietnam we thought the street food was better.

We also found some great shopping! Artisans Angkor sells gorgeous and upscale clothing, art, and house decor. I bought some beautiful ceramics as well as a silk pillowcase with a cute little partridge on it.

At Mekong Quilts (which also has a shop in Phnom Penh) I picked up hand-embroidered placemats and napkins for my dining room. I'd highly recommend both shops as they sell from local artists, who in many cases are women.

And of course there is a big fun tourist market filled with scarves, T-shirts, tchotchkes, etc.

Siem Reap isn’t large but in the heat and humidity we were glad to find tuk tuks easy to flag down. We noticed that there were hammocks hung everywhere, entire restaurants where hammocks were hung near tables so you could snooze after eating! Even the tuk tuk drivers had hammocks they would set up for when they waited on customers. That heat makes you sleepy!

Caitlin flew out of SR back to London but Thibault, Forest, and I had to get back to PP for our flight. Kong had arranged a private car and driver for $90 for our 5 hour drive back.

It was an experience, made even more interesting by the fact that our driver spoke zero English. It took us a while to communicate that we wanted to stop at a convenience store to grab beers and snacks. The car was an older sedan style car and for whatever reason there were mosquitos inside of it! We spent the first few hours spraying bug spray in the car and swatting at the hungry fuckers!

Again, the landscape was fascinating to me. The poverty of the country is shocking. Not because the people don’t work hard, but because of the government and lingering results from wars and coups.

At one point we had to stop for a herd of water buffalo crossing the road.

Another time we let our driver know that we needed to stop for a toilet and he found a gas station of sorts. We didn’t feel comfortable leaving him alone with the car full of all our stuff so Thibault stayed while we went. The bathroom was a cinderblock room with no light and a water filled cistern used for flushing the toilet. Also there was a large frog on the wall ledge watching while I peed. That’s a first. When we warned Thibault about the peeping frog he elected to go around the side of the building.

We finally made it to Phnom Penh airport. I snuck Forest into the Business Class lounge with me where we had wine and foot massages. Then we met Thibault for a cocktail before flying on to Seoul. After that car ride we deserved some big cold martinis!

We had different flights into Korea but met up in the airport where Forest and I booked into the spa for 70 minute full body and foot massages. They were great but it cost us $144 which in Asia is like a million dollars!

We said goodbye and I headed to the Business Class lounge to wait for my flight. Originally I had planned to take one of the free city tours that the airport hosts but it was only 33F outside and I didnt even have a jacket with me so it would have been pretty uncomfortable. If you have a long layover I'd totally check it out though.

I was very happy to be in business class on my flight home, it was an absolutely fantastic trip, but I was tired and the comforts of the lay-flat bed and champagne were welcome!

All Siem Reap photos here.

Other posts from this trip:
Ten Things To Do in Ho Chi Minh City: Part One
Ten Things To Do in Ho Chi Minh City: Part Two
Cruising the Mekong River

Sailing Away; Vietnam to Cambodia
Ringing in 2018 Phnom Penh Style
Wat a First Day
Temples Take Two

Wednesday, November 14, 2018

Temples Take Two

Trip date: January 2018

Just like the day before, Kong was waiting outside our Airbnb in the morning, ready to take us back out to the temples. I can't stress enough how great it was to have such a reliable driver who was friendly, interested in sharing info on the region, and also spoke English. My #1 tip in this area, hire a driver the first night and if you like them, book them the entire time!

Today's trip, although it would be a shorter day, would cost us $30 as we were going further outside the Angkor area. To start though, Kong drove us to the village of Preah Dak for a traditional breakfast of num banh chok or Khmer noodles. These homemade rice noodles are served with either a fish broth or chicken curry style sauce. It's a simple dish until Kong showed us all the herbs and chili options and how to build our noodles to our tastes. It was a great way to start the day!

Banteay Srei is 20-miles from Siem Reap, which doesn't sound too bad but when you are in a tuk tuk it takes a while. No worries as the countryside was pretty and it wasn't too hot yet. The temple dates from AD 1000 and is a shrine to the Hindu god Shiva.

When they refer to this temple as a little jewel, they aren't kidding. The carvings are absolutely amazing! And the sandstone sculptures are a slightly pink color. It was also only discovered in 1914! It was absolutely beautiful and there weren't too many people visiting. A favorite of all of ours.

Another thing about Banteay Srei is that you can take the trails that lead around the area for a gorgeous walk. It's a really nice area to explore.

From here Kong drove us to Pre Rup, which is right on the road and super easy to explore. It's small, just 5 lotus-shaped towers, and you climb straight up the front steps to the top.
This site dates from 962 and was widely thought to have been a crematorium. It was another really interesting site. They are all so different from each other!

Our final temple was the well known Ta Prohm, or Tomb Raider Temple. The temple is famous for the aptly named Strangler Fig trees, which have wrapped themselves around and over various structures at the site. It's pretty amazing, it was also the most crowded of the temples we visited.

There's a lot of preservation going on, including bracing up roots of trees so they don't topple entire buildings!

Of course the temple is also known as a location shoot for the movie Tomb Raider, we couldn't pass up having a photo in front of the famous doorway!

I had read about the animal carvings throughout the complex, including one of a dinosaur! We didn't leave until we found it (no small feat)!
And with that we finished our 8 (out of 70 in the area) temple tour!

Unfortunately we ended up exiting on the opposite side of the complex from where Kong was waiting for us, and it is a very large area with no easy way to cut back. So we negotiated with another tuk tuk to take us over to the other side and found Kong who had cold beers waiting for us, just what we needed after a hot, sweaty jungle adventure!

I saw so much more than I expected in the Angkor area. An absolutely fantastic bucket list adventure!

All photos from the Angkor area temples here.

Other posts from this trip:
Ten Things To Do in Ho Chi Minh City: Part One
Ten Things To Do in Ho Chi Minh City: Part Two
Cruising the Mekong River

Sailing Away; Vietnam to Cambodia
Ringing in 2018 Phnom Penh Style
Wat a First Day
Stationed in Siem Reap

Friday, November 9, 2018

Wat A First Day

Trip date: January 2018

When Angkor Wat is the least interesting thing you see in a day, you know it's been a good day!

Don't misunderstand, the entire day was amazing! But we saw other temples that we loved even more than Angkor Wat, which I think is really saying something about the area!

Our private tuk tuk driver, Kong picked us up in Siem Reap for our first day exploring the temples of Angkor, the ancient capital of the Khmer people. He would drive us around all day for $20 (total, not each!) as well as give us tips at each temple, and have cold beers/water waiting for us when we returned.

We stopped at the ticket office for our 3-day pass ($62) and then drove straight out to Angkor Wat. We hired a guide at the site for $6 each, but ultimately he had limited information to share, and was extremely long winded about it, which was tough in the heat.

It's undeniable that the Khmer architecture and sculpture at this temple, dating from AD 1080, is shockingly impressive. It is just also the largest and most trafficked, which can take away some of the mystique. It was incredible to see this bucket-list sight!

This area actually is home to around 70 temples of varying sizes, Angkor Wat is obviously the most well known, but we were excited to explore some of the others as well. Kong took us to a nice little noodle place for lunch, the restaurants are in palapa type buildings, and then we took off for Preah Khan. 
Walking from the parking area near the lake to the temple of Preah Khan, we had many little children trying to sell us an assortment of things for "just $1!". It was hard not to just give them $1 but education is free in the country and we all really felt that handouts like this deter families from getting their little ones into school. Hopefully, so that they can use an education to do something other than hawk souvenirs. Things to think about while in third-world countries...

We passed some gorgeous relics on our walk, and passed over a bridge where the river was clear and beautiful on one side, murky and spooky on the other, before entering the temple grounds.

There were hardly any people at the site which was amazing. There are trees growing over buildings, they look like they are grasping them with their roots. And the apsaras, which line the Hall of Dancers, were gorgeous!
This is what we had come for! Crumbling temples with amazing bas-relief, in the middle of the jungle! We all loved this stop! An absolute must in my opinion.

It was a really short drive over to Preah Neak Pean where we had an easy walk across the reservoir to a grouping of ponds. This monument sits in the middle of the largest pond with coiled snakes at its base.

When we finished walking around, we found Kong and drove into the entrance of Angkor Thom.
This was the last capital of the Khmer empire, and is a large complex with four entrance gates. There are a variety of sites to explore here, similar to Angkor Wat, including the Terrace of Elephants.
But the most well known, and incredible site in Angkor Thom is The Bayon. A temple which rises up with 54 towers, all with huge smiling stone faces! Truly an incredible sight!
You can climb up and around the towers, into small turrets, and past walls of intricate carvings. Awesome. We were suppose to check it out pretty quickly, as we still had one more stop! But we all loved it so we ended up being a little late in getting a good spot at Phnom Bakheng for sunset.

Once Kong dropped us off at the trail we had a bit of a walk up to the top of the hill, we didn't take the elephants as others did, but the views were lovely. One thing to note is that there are no bare shoulders or knees allowed at any temple sites. When we started to walk up the hill, there were "spotters" who sent people back. You can buy scarves and paros but make sure you have them with you!

Only a small number of people are allowed at a time on the temple, which looks out over Angkor Wat and the lake Tonlé Sap, so sunset is prime time. And although we didn't get a spot at the top, it was still a very pretty way to end the (very full) day.

All photos from the Angkor area temples here.

Other posts from this trip:
Ten Things To Do in Ho Chi Minh City: Part One
Ten Things To Do in Ho Chi Minh City: Part Two
Cruising the Mekong River

Sailing Away; Vietnam to Cambodia
Ringing in 2018 Phnom Penh Style
Temples Take Two
Stationed in Siem Reap

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