Angkor Wat Half Marathon, Bali, Bo Innovation, Dim Sum, Four Seasons Bali Jimbaran Bay, Hong Kong, Mandarin Oriental Hong Kong, Potato Head Beach Club, Raffles Grand Hotel d'Angkor, Seminyak, Siem Reap, Sofitel Phokeethra, Sukhothai Bangkok, Ubud, Vertigo Restaurant
Yesss!! At least I’m wrapping up the series just one year later, rather than two. (After I published part 2 last night, the hubs read it and was like, “Wait, didn’t you go to Hanoi, like, two years ago? And you’re only writing about it now?” Cue embarrassed face).
August: Hong Kong
I flew through Hong Kong once before, but this was my first legit trip there. I went for a couple work meetings, then the hubs flew up to meet me so we could explore the city over the weekend.
Where we stayed: Mandarin Oriental Hong Kong. As you may have gathered by now, the hubs and I kind of have a thing for staying at great hotels. In Hong Kong we figured that meant staying at either The Peninsula (the original!) or The Mandarin. While we might have slightly preferred The Peninsula because we love the whole historic grandeur thing, it was undergoing renovation and the open part was fully booked, so our decision was made for us anyway (guess we’ll just have to go back some time!). Anyway, our room was very nice (favorite amenity: the roll-on relaxing jet lag balm), service was excellent, and the location is ultra-convenient to Central Hong Kong. There was a lot of construction going on around the hotel so that was kind of a drag, but we still had a very nice stay.
What we did: Took the Star Ferry across Victoria Harbour; walked around Kowloon; rode the crazy-long Escalator up through the Mid-Levels; had Friday night drinks in totally nutso Lan Kwai Fong (I’ve not seen so many sloppy drunk British people since I went to uni in Edinburgh); had shoes (Jimmy Choo & Christian Louboutin knock-offs) made to order at Lii Lii; took a taxi to the top of The Peak and rode the tram down.
What we ate: I went out to a fabulous dim sum lunch (pictured at the top) with my co-workers, and also enjoyed some ultra-delicious black sesame soup (one of my very favorite desserts these days!). The hubs and I enjoyed what I would consider probably a Top 3 meal of my lifetime at Bo Innovation, which I initially heard about through No Reservations. Every single dish on the tasting menu was so incredibly inventive (and tasty!). Finally, on the Sunday morning before we left we also had traditional Sunday morning dim sum with my colleague Rainbow. It was fun eating at a big round table and seeing all the families getting together around us.
I enjoyed Hong Kong, and was certainly eager to visit since it so often seems to be compared with Singapore as the other great Asian financial capital for expats. While it certainly feels a bit more like a real city and had the energy and grittiness of New York that I sometimes miss, I still prefer the tropical languor and greeness of Singapore, I think. (I also like our airport better). I love the gorgeous views afforded by Hong Kong’s hills, though, and envy the hiking they can do on nearby Lantau. And I loved being able to check the baggage for my flight at the Airport Express counter right in the middle of the city. The multiple typhoon warnings and never-ending subway tunnels (seriously, it takes like 10 minutes to get from the street to a subway platform)? Not so much.
September: Boston (with a quick stopover in London).
I covered my trip home for my Grandmother’s funeral last year so won’t re-hash it again, but who would’ve ever thought the 7-hour flight between London and Boston would come to feel so brief?
The hubs and I went back to Bangkok for a weekend lacrosse tournament, played with the Singapore Lacrosse Association (which is totally booming these days if any players out there are keen to join in!). The men’s team won both their games, while unfortunately us women lost in overtime to Hong Kong, 9-8. Ah well, it was still fun to get out there and run around. We stayed at Sofitel So Bangkok again (I told you I loved it!). The only thing I don’t like about the hotel is that it’s on Sathorn Road, where traffic can often grind to a painful standstill (like, sit at the same light for more than an hour), and it’s not convenient to the Skytrain. It’s an easy walk to the subway and Lumpini Park, though.
November: Bangkok again & Siem Reap, Cambodia
Thank goodness Thailand gives visas on arrival; I can’t imagine traveling there as often as I do and having to go through the annoying process of, like, Vietnam or something. Anyway, the hubs and I went for yet another weekend for his firm’s Asia-wide lawyers’ retreat.
Where we stayed: The Sukhothai, a lovely resort-like hotel that’s actually right down the street from Sofitel So on Sathorn Road. (Jackpot! I could walk to Health Land!). The hotel is low-rise and has a very mellow, boutique feel that makes you forget you’re surrounded by skyscrapers in a business area. I thought our room was very comfortable, and the breakfast buffet was great.
What we did: While the hubs was in meetings I got a couple massages at Health Land (seriously, THB 280 / ~$8 for an hour-long foot massage?! THB 500 / $15 for a 2-hour traditional Thai massage?! In an upscale, comfortable setting that all my Thai clients personally recommend?! YES PLEASE!). If you should find yourself in Bangkok and looking for a good foot massage, get thee to Health Land asap.
But I digress. We also had a very nice private dinner at Vertigo Restaurant on the roof of Banyan Tree Bangkok (right next to The Sukhothai) — fortunately it didn’t rain. The rooftop definitely offers some of the awesomest views of anywhere in Bangkok.
We also did an “Amazing Race” team building activity that took us down the river and through some interesting markets. The overly-competitive side of me took issue with a few parts of how the company runs the competition, but it was still an enjoyable way to spend an afternoon (until a torrential downpour flooded the streets and we had to ride through them in tuk tuks — but that’s Bangkok for you). It was nice of the firm to include spouses and children in the activity, and I enjoyed getting to spend time with some of my husband’s work colleagues.
At the end of November we returned to Siem Reap, Cambodia to run in the Angkor Wat Half Marathon (10k) again. Because the race is so popular, flights from Singapore sell out months in advance so we actually had to leave on Wednesday even though the race isn’t run until Sunday. Not that I’m complaining; we got a chance to re-visit one of our very favorite hotels, ate lots of good food, and hit up some further-afield sites we hadn’t seen before.
Where we stayed: For the first three nights, the hubs and I stayed at Raffles Grand Hotel d’Angkor (which we visited on our pseudo-honeymoon in 2009 and absolutely LOVED). I’m happy to report that the hotel still has the lovely lobby filled with tinkling music and the scent of lemongrass, and that the gorgeous pool is still a picturesque and lovely place to while away an afternoon. And the staff is just superb — so friendly and gracious (and they gave us a cake to welcome us back on our “anniversary”!).
Because the Raffles was filled up over the weekend during the race, we moved down the street to Sofitel Angkor Phokeethra Resort. I think we just might be spoiled by the Raffles, but neither the hubs nor I was a huge fan of this hotel, despite its ace ranking on TripAdvisor and tons of accolades from Conde Nast Traveler and Travel + Leisure. Granted, the grounds are beautiful, and I was really impressed that the pastry chef left good luck cookies and chocolates in our room on the night before the race, but our room was nothing special, and we had trouble finding open chairs by the pool (which was also less-than-relaxing due to a preponderance of screaming kids). I don’t object to kids playing at a hotel pool, it’s just too bad there aren’t separate areas for kids and adults as there are at many other resorts we’ve visited.
What we did: Aside from the race itself (the hubs’s very first race — I was so proud of him for running it! And I came in third!), we enjoyed a number of delicious meals with some of our friends who’d also come over from Singapore to run the race. I also visited the “River of 1,000 Lingas” with our old guide friend Tek, and we enjoyed a lovely evening of all-you-can-eat Cambodian BBQ with Tek, his wife and daughter. I was hoping to volunteer again with the Ponheary Ly Foundation, but unfortunately the kids were out on school holidays. All the same, Siem Reap is such a fun town and such a pleasure to simply walk around.
Since the hubs and I knew we’d be going home twice in 2013 for his siblings’ weddings, we decided to stick close by for Christmas. Since he’d never been to Bali, and since the weather seemed like it would be OK (compared to Vietnam and Borneo, which are also on our list), we gave it a shot and were quite happy with how it worked out.
Where we stayed: The Four Seasons Jimbaran Bay. I’d visited here once for work and have to admit I was pretty enchanted. Every room is a private pool villa overlooking the ocean, and of course the Four Seasons is renowned for its topnotch service. We loved our villa — between the outdoor living room with daybed (perfect for naps!), the spacious plunge pool, the sumptuous canopy bed, and the outdoor shower, I would have been perfectly content to spend our entire 4-day vacation here. (Don’t worry — we did leave occasionally). Our room rate also came with a free massage, and the spa is amaaaahzing. The downsides: it takes forever to drive anywhere in Bali, and Jimabaran is a bit isolated if you want to go to Seminyak (anywhere from 30 minutes to an hour away) or Ubud (1.5 – 2 hours). The resort has a few restaurants (expensive for Bali, as you’d expect) but Jimbaran’s famous strip of on-the-beach seafood restaurants are also a short walk down the beach (be careful, these prices can add up too, as we learned when eating lobster on Christmas Eve!).
What we did: Visited BARC Animal Refuge in Ubud with my friend who lives in Bali; went for a light trek around Jimbaran (so beautiful); took a guided bike ride around nearby Ayana Resort (and its famous Rock Bar); enjoyed sunset drinks at Potato Head Beach Club in Seminyak; went shopping in Seminyak (the world’s best destination for cute dresses, I’m convinced); ate delicious babi guling at Ibu Oka in Ubud; spent 90 minutes waiting to get a visa at the Bali arrival (I’m happy to report that the new airport has finally opened and the visa situation is now much-improved).
Whew! I made it. Fortunately I’m a bit more caught up on 2013 (having already written about my trip to Shanghai in February and a bit about my trek in Nepal in April/May), but hopefully at some point I can recap the wonderful trip we took to Beijing and the Great Wall in July, or even our two trips home in May and August. We’ve got a bit less travel on tap for 2014, but I’m still hoping to visit at least one new country to keep my streak going.
In the meantime, we will continue to be thankful for all the wonderful opportunities we’ve had to travel here, and wish everyone out there a happy, travel-filled 2014!