Author: kimdotron

We’re Meowied!

Clint and I just hit our one-year wedding anniversary on November 12th, so I thought this would be a great time to walk down memory lane! Though we got engaged in 2013, we were still living in Japan and trying to plan a wedding that would take place in Dallas, TX – difficult is an understatement. I’d never been one to think about a wedding, so I had to start plans from scratch. It took many nights of Pinterest boarding and inspirations from friends and family to get to the final day!

We at least had a theme (astronomy) and colors (midnight blue, blush and hints of gold).

Venues

Wedding

I’d been eyeing the Marty Leonard Chapel for a long time. They were booked for our original date, but worked out for the new one. Glass walls are my dreams come true.

Reception

Although the original plan was to host a fairly large wedding (well, large for Caucasian families and average for Vietnamese families, I learned) for 200 guests, we learned Clint was going to deploy in January 2018; so we had to push it up and scale it down to 75. We may have lost some friends through this down-scaling.

We were lucky to find Fearing’s at the Ritz Carlton was available, but they’d only be able to host 60. It was going to be a tight squeeze!

 

Sweets

The Wedding Cake

As an amateur baker, cakes are almost an obsession for me. I knew the wedding cake had to taste good and meet the two design criteria: astronomy-inspired and understatedly dramatic florals. We went for the requisite tasting and Butch, the baker from Delicious Cakes, drew up a plan: a three-layer cake, each with its own flavor (orange marmalade, fresh strawberry and raspberry liqueur). What do you think of the final product?

Galaxy Donuts

It wouldn’t be a Kim Do wedding without some DOnuts, would it? The moment I saw Sweet Daze‘s galaxy donuts on Instagram, I knew we’d have to feature them at our wedding. I mean, look at how fun they are!

Graphic Design

You can’t hand a graphic designer a wedding and not expect some custom prints! I had a lot of fun designing different pieces: from invitations, signage and even our very own Snapchat geo-filter!

Other Details

Though this wedding was small, I wanted the various aspects to captivate the imagination. When Clint’s dad commented on how he loved all the details in the wedding, it was the best compliment I could’ve received. All the hard work paid off!

Pre-Wedding Festivities

Bridal Shower

My younger sister, Jane Do, was the maid of honor; which meant one of her biggest tasks was to plan a bridal shower. And though I’d fired and rehired her (in jest) as the MoH many times throughout the pre-wedding period, she really came through with a magnificent tea party at the Four Seasons Resort in Las Colinas. It was truly a sweet day with my Bà Ngoại (grandma), mom, sisters and closest gal pals.

Pre-Wedding Photos

So many of the photos you’re seeing on this post is thanks to the uber-talented Thanin Viriyaki. On top of capturing our wedding day, he also threw in a pre-wedding shoot. Here are a few fun ones from that day:

Rehearsal Dinner

To commemorate our years in Japan, we wanted our family to get together for sushi. Sushi Axiom was a great spot, and delivered tasty dishes that catered to both the Asian and American palate. We discovered a few family members from Clint’s side had never had sushi before, and ended up liking it. Win!

Pampering

My gracious older siblings offered an afternoon of pampering by way of manicures and pedicures – even Clint got a treatment! Look how cute my older sister, Tyty, was with her constellation toes. Even cuter is my brother taking his time to perfect my nails.

I also elected to get lash extensions for the first time. They’re sooooo pretty, but takes a lot of effort to maintain. Still glad I didn’t have to deal with the glue-on ones though.

 

The Big Day

Photography: Thanin Viriyaki Photography

Videography: Petit Four Films

Make-Up & Hair: AKP Artistry

Flowers: The Orchid-Luxury Flower Design

Getting Ready

Lucky me, a great childhood friend has a side bridal makeup and hair business. She offered her hair services to me and the bridal team gratis! She also recruited her partner to do our makeup.

My dress was the Essence of Australia Gatsby-inspired Illusion Back  from Circle Park Bridal Boutique. Only for this occasion, I spoiled myself with a pair of gold Jimmy Choo Romy heels. The bridal party all wore varying shades of blush, while the MoH opted for a navy.

And here are shots of the guys getting ready.

First Look

One of the best things about Clint is how he always makes me feel like I’m the prettiest girl in the room. It was no different during our First Look. Even when I’m critical of details, he was blown away and you can see it all in his face.

Wedding Ceremony

The Marty Leonard Chapel was such a perfect space for an intimate ceremony. The high ceilings and glass panels allowed for a natural illumination that lends itself delicately to the romance of the day. The pianist played, “Clair de Lune” as Poppa Do walked me down the aisle. Clint’s earnest vows made everyone cry – so much so that no one heard mine, but it didn’t matter. (Mostly because I made my entire family sit down and listen to me recite them again at a later date. Haha.)

Reception

Everyone’s right, your wedding day goes by so quickly! The reception zoomed by especially fast. We introduced the wedding party to various Chromeo songs. My dad gave a bilingual speech that was adorable! Jane and Minh Thu gave endearing speeches with tears and laughter. There were even games! So much love all around, it’s hard to come down from that high.

One Year Later

We made it through our first year of REAL marriage unscathed!

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Tokyo Eats

Friends are often asking for food recs while in Tokyo. I can’t believe I’ve never made a decent list before. I should preface we only scratched the surface of the food scene in Tokyo. This is not a best-of list, nor is it comprehensive. I honestly had to go through my Facebook posts and photos to recall all the good ones. My feeble brain may have left out some really great contenders!

Chains

Don’t dismiss chains in Japan. Each restaurant takes pride in being consistent and living up to its parent-company name. You’ll always get good food and impeccable service. Here are just a few we frequented over the years.

Nabezo – 鍋ぞう

Great hot pot chain. Opt for the kimchi broth, you won’t regret it. For about $30/person, you get all the good shabu shabu meat, veggies and noodles you can handle.


Yamachan’s – 世界の山ちゃん

Peppery wings and a fresh-squeeze citrus Chūhai are the perfect bar complements. But if you’re like us, you’ll order 50 wings and make it a meal.

Yamachans


Isomaru Suisan (磯丸水産 渋谷道玄坂店)

This seafood izakaya has a lot of great grillable seafood options, but the miso crab (green paste in crab shell in photo below) is a very distinctive experience you can’t leave Japan without trying. Super buttery and flavorful.


Coco Ichibanya

While I’m not a huge fan of Japanese curry, everyone else adores this place. It’s a quick meal that’ll get you through your afternoon trek across all the districts.

Coco


Pepper Lunch

Steak on a piping hot skillet that you cook your way. That garlic sauce you pour over the dish really brings this over the top. So good for a cheap meal.


Kushi Jin (権八すみやき家串陣)

Hands down, the best habanero wings in the Eastern hemisphere. And Clint is obsessed with the mentaiko potatoes. They have tons of great izakaya (pub food/tapas) offerings. Thankfully, the main dinner menu has photos. As for the yakitori, you’ll just have to do your best to Google-image translate. And no, you didn’t do it wrong, it says, “chicken butt,” and it’s darn delicious!


Roppongi

Gatten Sushi

〒106-0032 Tōkyō-to, Minato-ku, Roppongi, 6 Chome−1−3 六門
Below the Outback Steakhouse, tucked in corner.

If you’re like me and can’t bring yourself to eat raw fish, well, expect to be judged in Japan, but also check out this sushi place. There are rolls! And nigiri for the intrepid diners.


Gonpachi Nishi-Azabu (権八 西麻布) – Kill Bill Restaurant

Japan, 〒106-0031 Tokyo, 港区西麻布1 丁目13−11

Everyone knows Kill Bill, and if you’re going here, you’re probably looking for that epic experience. While you won’t get any legendary fights, you will get fantastic food and a festive atmosphere. The tables are arranged in a way where you’re very close with your neighbors in all directions, but you still have your “space.” Try the wagyu and foie gras skewers – melts in your mouth.


XEX ATAGO GREEN HILLS (ゼックス愛宕グリーンヒルズ ) 

Japan, 〒105-6290 Tokyo, 港区Atago, 2 Chome−5−1 MORIタワー

XEX epitomizes fine dining on multiple levels: the food, of course, but also the service and the view. This one has it all.


Roti Roppongi (ロティ 六本木) – Brunch

Japan, 〒106-0032 Tokyo, Minato, 六本木6−6−9 ピラミデビル1F

Got a hankering for some western breakfast? More specifically, eggs benedict? Roti Roppongi is a great brunch (or lunch) spot. Look at that perfectly poached egg.

Roti Roppongi


Akihabara

Tori King Ramen

Japan 〒101-0021 Tōkyō-to, Chiyoda-ku, Sotokanda, 1 Chome−3−4

While there are millions of ramen options in Tokyo, this one specializes in chicken ramen. It’s so hard to find, but patience will pay off.

 

 


Harajuku

Kebab Box

1 Chome-8-8 Jingumae, Shibuya, Tokyo 150-0001, Japan

Cheap and good! And there are many kebab options around Tokyo, but this one has a sauce that knocks it out of the park.

Wolfgang Puck Express

Japan, 〒150-0001 Tokyo, Shibuya, Jingumae, 1−17−1 義富ビル

If you’re in the mood for more Western food, this is a great stop on your way around Harajuku’s Takeshita Dori. I swear that chicken gravy is made of unicorn tears and children’s souls.


Shinjuku

Sushi-Zanmai (すしざんまい 東新宿店)

Address: Japan, 〒169-0072 Tokyo, 新宿区Okubo, 1 Chome−1−13, ベルバウム

This is where everyone goes for real sushi. Otoro and sea urchin’s your jam? This is the place.

Sushizanmai


Fussa

Toraneko

ピースフル福生1 3-, 2 Chome Kamidaira, Fussa, Tokyo 197-0012, Japan

Must have items: jerk shrimp and nasigoreng (Indonesian fried rice). It could easily be a contender for my last meal.

Toraneko


Amiyakitei あみやき亭 福生店

Yakiniku so perfect, it makes kids cry. Took my nieces here and they can’t stop dreaming about it. You can get A4 level wagyu at a decent cost.

Amiyakitei


Ishikawa Brewery

You go for the brewery experience, but you keep coming back for the misplaced and delicious Italian food. Our favorites were the prosciutto and arugula pizza and seafood pasta. As for the beverages, try the cherry blossom sake, if it’s available, the pale ale and Munich dark beers.

The brewery has two restaurants, you’ll want to keep walking til you get to Fussa no Birugoya.


Desserts

Cozy Corner

This bakery chain has a great staple of pastries, but every season brings a new, delightful taste. My favorites include: strawberry shortcake and tiramisu layered crepes. You can find these at pretty much every train station and shopping center.

Hawaiian Pancake Factory

You thought pancakes were just for breakfast. In Japan, they’re for elaborate dessert feasts.

HI Pancake Factory


ARTNIA Square Enix Cafe

For you bonafide nerds out there, you have to go here only to say that you’ve been to a Square Enix Cafe.


Others

Kamayan’s Tachikawa

Filipino food in Japan? Unheard of. But very delicious.

Kamayan's Tachikawa


Ukai Toriyama

This place is not for the frugal. You’ll spend a pretty penny, but the sensory memories are forever. Your dining area is actually a private thatched teahouse. The whole thing is a formal, Japanese affair. You’ll get service commensurate to the check.

Per Kobi-san, the ayu is a must-try!

 

Maui Wowee

One of my best friends’ wedding gave us the perfect excuse to see Hawaii for the first time. Since she’d been there several times before, it was the ideal spot for them to tie the knot. Beautiful wedding aside, we also got to experience the quintessential tourist and food spots.

Road to Hana

Would a trip to Maui ever be complete without this experience? I researched the stops, consulted with friends and selected what I thought were the best options for us. There’s so much to see, and so little time! We had to choose a few key stops to maximize our exposure.

But first, breakfast! On the way was Paia Bay Coffee. They rate high on Yelp, and for good reason. Though the options are limited, the quality of the food and atmosphere amply made up for it. Tables were hardly empty for long. The ladies who ran the place were especially friendly – which always heightens a restaurant experience for us. We enjoyed a lovely and casual meal, picked up some fun postcards and went on our merry way.

People aren’t lying when they tell you there are so many distractions along the way. The adorable town of Paia alone could easily keep you for a couple of hours. Tons of quaint shops and restaurants. There, you’ll also find Paia Fish Market Restaurant. Our friends are obsessed with their fish sticks. I know, fish sticks. But they really were good! If Gorton’s is your staple, you may want to rethink trying this. It will change your life.

I asked Clint to find a beautiful cliff for a photo with our Jeep rental. He spotted one, and we commenced to be very touristy. At least I was. Turns out, it was the parking lot for Mama’s Fish House! If their parking lot was already this scenic, what were we in for with reservations the following day?

The tricky part about Road to Hana is the lack of visible signs. You have to rely on your pre-planned itinerary and coordinate the mile markers. But a mile is pretty darn long! How do you know where along the mile it is? You don’t. You just have to see if there are other cars parked along the road that could be it. Not to mention, there’s pretty much no reception so Google Maps is out. But it’s supposed to be an adventure, right?

And for this reason, we didn’t get to our first real stop until Keane Peninsula. And to be honest, we thought we were stopping at the banana bread shops at the Halfway to Hana Stand. Ha! It all worked out beautifully. We witnessed a beautiful shoreline of lava rocks and relentlessly crashing waves. And thank goodness, right outside was a snack stand that sold one of the best banana breads I’ve ever tasted. Even better, it was still hot!

We tried a couple of other spots, but kept missing them! It was aggravating and hilarious at the same time. How is it this difficult for us? All the blogs warned me about driving back in the dark, so I suggested we just try to make our final stop and get back in a timely manner. So we skipped everything else and went straight for the Waimoku Falls & Pipiwai Trail. (Btw, free passes into National Parks for military. Score!) It’s a mile hike to reach the Bamboo Forest and then another mile to the falls. The bamboos were mesmerizing! At some points, it was just us two and these thoughts entered my head: 1) I wish we had planned ahead to dress up as ninjas and jump out at people; 2) This would be the perfect spot to film a horror flick. The waterfall wasn’t crazy impressive, but at least the locals had warned us the rainfall was minimal the past few months. Oh well. It was still a fun day overall!

We wrapped up the day with a couple of friends at Three’s Bar & Grill. Late happy hour was wonderful; but the absolute best menu item was the Red Curry Clams & Mussels. Still dreaming about this.


Mama’s Fish House

IMG_5320

That’s right, this restaurant deserves its own section. From the minute you walk in, it’s a five-star tropical paradise. The kind of five-star where there are two check-ins and a wait at the bar; and a tropical paradise where every angle was a perfect photo op.

The menu and its prices are definitely commensurate with its five-star status. Our meals were delicious, but the star of the show was the Black Pearl Chocolate Mousse. It’s the dessert of the gods, I know it. Liliko’i chocolate mousse sitting in a pastry seashell. Everything’s edible, and we definitely licked the plate clean.

And if you’re curious, here’s everything else we ate there:

  • started with an asparagus bisque amuse bouche – Clint’s favorite
  • I had the mahimahi stuffed with deep sea red crab and baked in a macadamia nut crust – really fresh!
  • Clint had the bouillabaisse – mahimahi, Kona kampachi, Kauai prawns, scallop and clams simmered in a saffron broth, with traditional garlic rouille – super fresh seafood, but not a spectacular dish.
  • We also ordered a guava cheesecake to go, because… gluttons.

And then we took a million photos outside the beachfront property.


A Haleakalā Sunrise

The pinnacle (get it?) moment out of the entire trip (other than my friend’s magical wedding, that is) was going up Haleakalā. We woke up at 2 a.m. and rode with friends to the summit. It was freezing! Even though we’d been warned, nothing prepares you for that wind – especially coming from the tropical climate at the base.

Even at the midway point, Clint could already see tons of stars out the window. And as soon as we got to the top, we looked up and there it was: the Milky Way. My dreams had come true. It was breathtaking. Millions of stars beamed down on us and I beamed at them in a trance. But alas, iPhones cannot capture such monolithic beauty. Thanks to professional photographers, though, you can get a preview of what you’ll see when you go. Check out out Andreas Habermehl’s photo here!

The sunrise was equally stunning. And a wonderful respite from the bitter cold, if only slightly.


Nakalele Blowhole & Star Noodle

We spent the rest of the day with friends getting breakfast from Gazebo (a 1.5-hour wait), driving the charming Lahaina coastline and exploring the Nakalele Blowhole. The blowhole wasn’t active, but we got some great photos of the iconic heart-shaped rock. The trek down was very hairy and the sun blasting on your skin doesn’t help. Definitely bring better protection than we did if you go.

After racing back up the hill, we were ready to eat again. Friends and the internet told us we couldn’t miss Star Noodle, so off we went. And it was amazing! (How many times can I say, “amazing?” in this post, you think?) The garlic noodles are everything people say. But every other dish was equally tasty. The Thai nuoc cham wings were so flavorful. The tempura shrimp was made with colossal prawns, and they really were colossal! They also tasted like lobster meat.

And because we’re ridiculous, we went back another time. Yum!


The Wedding

IMG_5680

Ah, the wedding. Everything about the entire affair was perfectly coordinated. From the copious amounts of delicious meals (a luau and a rehearsal dinner) to the releasing of butterflies after the ceremony, the gorgeous bride really spoiled her guests. Everyone cried at the wedding, which pretty much means they did an amazing job.

I’m so happy for the newlyweds, and just immensely grateful they let us share that special week with them.


The Mill House & Baldwin Beach

You thought it was over! We had another day, and spent it with food. Of course.

We started at the Mill House with a couple of friends. What a delightful plantation! We had reservations for the restaurant, but didn’t realize it sat on a tropical plantation – a complex that also houses an expansive gift shop and picturesque walkways. We didn’t have enough time to explore everything, but certainly recommend blocking out a few hours for future visitors. I also want to note that we got some of the best deals on jams and butters here. Definitely worth a look!

We then had to race over to meet up other friends to check out Baldwin beach. Can you believe it? An entire trip to Hawaii, and it was our first time at a beach! Baldwin doesn’t have a lot to offer in terms of beachfront shops or foods. But it’s really meant to be an open-park that just happens to have a beautiful beach attached. The waters are really as blue as the photos!


Phew! I’m sure we still have a lot to see; but according to my iPhone, we covered a decent amount. 🙂

IMG_5984

Happy Third Birthday, Clémentine!

I can’t believe our little baby girl is turning three already. To commemorate, I’ve photographed her doing her favorite activity: staring out the window at the rain.

Also, I made her a glamping tent. As expected, she couldn’t care less when I first presented it to her; but later in the night, I didn’t hear from her for a while and finally found her inside the tent. It made my heart happy.

Happy birthday, baby girl. May you live to be 100. Because my heart can’t handle it otherwise.

Da Lat, Vietnam

It has been getting cooler in our part of the world, and it’s making me reminisce our trip to Da Lat this past summer. Da Lat is a highland city redolent of many countryside European cities (or what I’ve seen in photos anyway, since I have never been to Europe) – perhaps that’s why so many westerners come to this part of Vietnam. That and the temperate climate that has resulted in its name, “City of Eternal Spring.”

Ana Mandara

We stayed at the Ana Mandara Villas Dalat Resort & Spa, a verdant and picturesque property. Upon arrival, the staff greeted us in their open-air reception gazebo. It was already quite cool from the rain, so the welcome ginger tea was a nice treat. After checking in, the bellhop took us to our villa by golf cart. The ride gave us a chance to see the enormity of the resort (well, enormous compared to surrounding hotels anyway). Our room was one of a four-part villa; but even then, it’s spacious and comfortable. (See video below.)


While in Da Lat, we also partook in a quick photoshoot with Da Lat Trip. They picked us up, took us to three locations (Ankroet Stream, Golden Valley and a tea plantation) and worked their butt off. I’m talking about carrying a ladder through some rocky terrain down into a river. We got some great images that really captures some of the beauty of this wondrous land!

But take heed, readers: f you’re looking to do something similar, remember to bring comfortable shoes to change in and out of between takes. Bring galoshes if you intend to navigate through a stream. And definitely bring an umbrella – rain visits on a whim!


After a long day of “modeling,” we had a newfound respect for those who pursue this as a professional career and were unpleasantly wet from the rain. The hotel was very accommodating and let us sit by the fireplace in their restaurant until our ride to the airport came. Since we arrived after the lunch rush, we had the entire restaurant to ourselves. They opened the high-ceiling door to let in fresh air while we dined on a hodgepodge of canh chua, cá kho tộ, mini burgers and margaritas by the fire. For some reason this memory has stuck with me for the last two days. I can’t forget the comforting feeling of being in my homeland, enjoying food that reminded me of mom’s home-cooking, surrounded by so much beauty and sharing it exclusively with the one I love.




Okinawa

We spent a beautiful weekend in Okinawa, an island south of Japan. Had we known, we would’ve been here earlier and back many times. On a sunny day, the waters along the coast were emerald blue. The drive from our resort in Manza Beach to the Churaumi Aquarium was a treat in itself.

Renting a car was a great idea because everything was 45 mins to an hour away from each other. Also, tolls weren’t so bad! We’re used to paying $20 here just to get to Tokyo, but it ranged from $3-6 there for about the same distance.

We stayed at the ANA InterContinental Manza Beach Resort, and it was a magnificent spot! Surrounding the resort were the clearest waters and luscious green flora. The beach was clean and offers an aquatic playground for kids (and some adults). We even ventured for a night stroll one evening since the grounds were well lit. We did run into an area where we suspect bats were hanging about, but they didn’t bother us. (It was more like Clint was trying to bother them.)

The aquarium is pretty standard for the most part, except for their famous gentle giants: the whale sharks. It was pretty mesmerizing to watch them swim back and forth amongst sharks, rays and tons of other fish. Best of all, Emerald Beach is right outside. So once you’re done admiring ocean biota, go for a quick dip.

Now we get to the good stuff: the food! We tried really hard to stick with local offerings, but ended up enjoying mostly foreign food. Pizza in the Sky was a must for the view. The pizza was good mostly because we waited over an hour to get a table. I even managed to sneak in a nap in the car. We also found a cajun chicken joint called Warren’s Place. By all appearance, it’s truly “hole-in-the-wall;” but judging by their popularity on social media and how quickly they book up, they’re well on their way to becoming something much bigger. The chicken was delightfully tasty. The infused flavors grab on to your every tastebud. Warren wasn’t kidding when he talked about his passion for every single dish. We loved it so much, we canceled existing reservations to a teppanyaki restaurant and went back the next night. This time, we tried the sizzling steaks and a smoked duck caesar salad. I can’t stop thinking about it. I’m currently trying to find this duck so I can make my own. Yum yum yum!

 

Singapore + Bali (Part 3/3)

marina_kim2
For a while, our vacation objective was to chase the ultimate pool. I’m not really sure where else to go after the Marina Bay Sands. Sitting impressively atop three, 57-floor buildings, the Skypark’s infinity pool overlooks the city below and the skyscape beyond. Even for someone with a fear of heights, it was an exhilarating experience. There were a lot of people, but since you had to be a hotel guest to partake, it wasn’t  over-crowded.

Since the complex houses a casino, a mall, a museum and God knows what else, you’re never out of entertainment options. We wandered into a bistro for dinner and tried the wagyu out of curiosity. Mediocre at best. Can’t quite beat Clint’s wagyu steak! However, we did get to taste the most tender squid we’ve ever had the pleasure of trying. And if you’re a glutton for marina_clintpunishment, they also offer a $12 bottle of water!

Singapore is notorious for being expensive, and it can be if you spend all your time around this area. But it was the $3 food-stall noodles and longan drinks that stays in our palate memory bank the most! Definitely a fun surprise around every corner.

Singapore + Bali (Part 2/3)

We traveled here back in December 2014, but just now posting. I know, it’s outrageous. Someone should fire me!


I had a really hard time writing this post. The cop-out would be that I never had enough time, but the truth is that the subject matter rendered me uninspired.

Bali is a destination famed for its portrayal in Eat, Pray, Love as a haven for soul-searching and wallpaper-worthy scenery. But the truth is, Bali isn’t as idyllic as it appears in movies. And perhaps it was because I didn’t see all of it. I didn’t even make it to Ubud – so there goes my credentials. The thorn that sticks out the most is that there was trash everywhere – I mean an obscene amount! It was difficult to appreciate the rice field landscapes when you turn around and there’s trash in the gutter all alongside the roads. I’m utterly surprised by the fact that Bali is such a tourist destination, but the government doesn’t dedicate more resources to cleaning up the land. (I’m sure that’s my naivety speaking. What do I know about how a government should use its resources.)

With all that being said, we always try to make the best of our travels and did find beauty in the nuances of the island.

Astana Batubelig VillaWe stayed in a private pool villa in Seminyak’s Astana Batubelig. The staff were very attentive, and made us feel very comfortable. The room was spacious, and having our own kitchen was particularly useful for our late-night ramen cravings. The staff arranged transportation for each day trip we requested. Having your own driver was a nice luxury not only because of the privacy, but the accommodation for random durian stops made me pleased as punch.

MozaicWe were advised to stay away from Kuta, as it had become engulfed with tourists. Seminyak is definitely quieter, but the beach was mediocre. We didn’t spend too much time there, and opted for a poolside afternoon at the Mozaic Beach Club – conveniently located beachside so we got plenty of that sea breeze. We happily sipped our fruity drinks and enjoyed dipping in and out of the pool.

The hotel’s location turned out to be perfect with its easy access to the beach/resorts along with the local streets for restaurants and boutiques. We made it a point to try different restaurants along that road, but ended up returning to the Crab Bar since we liked it so much.

temple

On our first day trip, we saw the Tanah Lot, Monkey Kingdom, Clint held a bat and the driver detoured us to a local tea/coffee farm. Tanah Lot was overwhelming with visitors and underwhelming in presence. Blame it on hanger or the heat, but I ended up very disappointed. It’s hard to enjoy a temple, a signature of peace, when you’re battling hundreds of tourists just to walk across the grounds. An unfortunate cost of being an international landmark.

tanah

monkey_momI did enjoy the Monkey Kingdom, even though they built it so you had to walk through a shopping area to exit. I like shopping, but I don’t like being told what to do. It was a constant barrage of, “Please help me open business, it’s for luck.” I just wanted to hang out with some monkeys.

We also had an opportunity to take photos in traditional Balinese headpieces whilst holding a giant bat. We couldn’t really pass that up.

And as we were headed home, the driver said, “I have a surprise stop for you.” When strangers say things like this, my paranoid brain automatically goes to a dramatic scene of being sold for body parts. Fortunately, he just took us to a tea/coffee farm. surfFor a nominal fee, they sat us by a beautiful landscape and gave us a flight of teas and coffees to try. It was a remarkably simple, yet beautiful experience. Oh, and we tried kopi luwak, AKA the most expensive coffee in the world, aka poop coffee. Clint said it’s better than most coffees. I don’t drink the poison, so I have no valid opinion on the matter.

The next day, we checked out Padang Padang and Dreamland – upon the suggestion of our driver. Clint got some snorkeling and surfing in and I basked in the sun. I’ve never been one for water sports.

The rest of the time, we tried local fare, drank a lot of guava juice and ate tons of tropical fruits. Our favorites being longan and red guava. And of course, durian.

rock_bar

The last couple of days, we spent our time at the Ayana Resort, otherwise known as heaven on earth. We were spoiled with one of the the most famous infinity pools in the world. It’s actually the reason we booked the hotel in the first place, and it did not disappoint. We also had access to their Rock Bar – which was a lot of fun. From our seat at the bar, we watched a thunderstorm brew miles away and caught lighting on camera. It was surreal.

Everything is a haze now, but there was a lot of poolside drinking and snacking. Attentive pool boys were always nearby to pick up your towels and bring you complimentary bottles of water. They’ll even let you order items from the restaurant and bring them to your new poolside home. I think back at that chocolate cake and realize gluttony is my sin, but a damned tasty pleasure. During lunch, we took the free shuttle to their private beach, where they arranged a beach picnic just for us. It was all so romantic. We were truly spoiled.

Does a single resort warrant a visit to any country? For the Ayana, a resounding yes!

30th Birthday at Gonpachi Nishiazabu

Happy birthday to me! One of my favorite restaurants in Roppongi is Gonpachi Nishiazabu. The festive environment is perfect for a 30th birthday celebration. Everyone knows this restaurant for one reason, but what I love most is the staggered layout that forces you to get infectiously happy by other groups’ celebrations as well.

On this particular evening, they helped me usher in my new decade by blasting Tomoyasu Hotei’s “Battle Without Honor or Humanity,” which instantly gives you all the feels. You don’t know what’s going to happen, but you know something will. And it did! Their team brought me the traditional birthday treat, and everyone sang. It was the best way anyone can receive a restaurant birthday experience.

The last note I have is that I feel really good about turning 30. I’m in a really good place in my life. Not quite where I want to be yet, but that’s the whole fun of it.

 

Tanabata Matsuri in Fussa

It’s our last Tanabata Festival in our beloved town of Fussa. We had to leave with a big bang! We prepared our yukatas and enlisted friends to do the same. It was so much fun to immerse into the spirit of the “Star Festival.” Originally, the celebration commemorates the annual meeting of a pair of star-crossed lovers. But for us, it’s a chance to revel in the local foods and enjoy some traditional performances.

It was hot, but the snow cones made it bearable. This year, crazy fries (long fries drizzled with your choice of cheeses, mentaiko or chocolate syrup) were a big hit. The guys were wild for the steak yakitori. They’d get a couple, walk three steps and return for five more.

But my absolute favorite thing was watching the kids in their tiny human yukatas enjoying the games and cotton candy. They were so cute!