Asia

Hotel Review: Four Seasons Chiang Mai

I'm always amazed at how some hotels truly use their hotel to transform your experience into something you have never experienced before! This was 100% true about my stay at the Four Seasons Chiang Mai in Thailand. This has to be one of my favorite hotels I have ever stayed in and it didn't disappoint on any level. 

IMG_6580.JPG

Resort: 

I want to start by sharing a little about the resort. It is somewhat secluded and not in the city-center of Chiang Mai. This isn't a huge deal but we aware that if you want to eat dinner outside of the resort and for any activities you will need to organize transportation (the hotel is, obviously, happy to do that for you). We went out to eat one night at David's Kitchen and it was no big deal to head out there. 

The most important thing to note about staying here is that you need to leave a day open to enjoy the resort! This is hard because there is a lot to do in Chiang Mai (tons of cooking schools, elephant sanctuary, Doi Inthanon, night markets, etc), but it would be a shame to spend so much money on a luxury hotel and not fully enjoy it one day. 

The resort is absolutely gorgeous and looks over beautiful rice paddies on the property. The pool has a spectacular view of the rice paddies and the entire property. You will definitely want to spend a little time relaxing by the pool and enjoying the scenery. There were tons of daily activities offered, but we were definitely more interested in lounging than participating. There were a few fun ones like buffalo bathing (exactly what it sounds like, you can watch and help bath a buffalo) and a morning monk offering (very nice to experience). If you are into fitness there were a lot of fitness classes available too. 

IMG_0523.JPG

My favorite thing about the resort is just how beautiful the outdoor spaces were. You could always find fresh flowers, candles, torches, floating flowers everywhere you went. So, so gorgeous. 

Food: 

We ate breakfast each morning in the main buffet area and enjoyed it...a lot! Breakfast was included as a part of our room rate (I believe if you book through a Virtuoso agent this is one of the benefits you get through them- I can't remember what breakfast costs without it). They had a ton of freshly squeezed juices available each morning along with great coffee drinks (I drink a cappuccino daily on vacation!). Breakfast had a ton of variety and we usually ate so much at breakfast that we didn't each again until dinner. My husband's favorite thing about breakfast was the noodle station (think like an American omelette station, but with Thai noodle dishes). Keep in mind that breakfast can be a little bit crowded and chaotic, but the service was fast and there was plenty of food. 

We did not eat dinner at the resort, but the restaurant options did look fantastic at the hotel! 

Room:

We upgraded our room from a regular view to a rice paddy view. It is absolutely gorgeous to look out onto the rice paddies each morning. The room has a beautiful outdoor space with a swinging bench and dining table. You could definitely have drinks right outside your door and enjoy the view (or have room service breakfast there each morning).

IMG_6579.JPG

Rooms are big (they are all villa style so feel pretty private) with a gorgeous shower and bathtub. The room had everything you would expect. 

Service: 

The service was incredible at the hotel and VERY personalized. I felt like we saw a lot of the same staff over and over again and they started to get a sense of what we liked and were interested in. I'm sure this only gets better if you stay longer. 

Spa: 

Even though you can get cheap massages pretty much anywhere in Thailand, we decided to splurge and get a Thai massage at the Four Seasons. The spa is very gorgeous with (more) fresh flowers everywhere. 

IMG_0532.JPG

We indulged in tea and got ready for our Thai massages. I highly recommend asking for softer pressure if you aren't sure what pressure level you like. My massage was absolutely perfect, but a Thai massage can be a little rough if you aren't used to it!

Overall the spa was totally worth the experience and you can't leave Thailand without getting a real Thai massage.

Did the TripAdvisor reviews mid-lead me? Nope! I found that the TripAdvisor reviews for this hotel were pretty spot on! This is a great hotel, highly recommend!

 

What To Do With 24 Hours in Singapore

We just got back from an incredible trip to Southeast Asia and I was shocked to find out how much I loved Singapore!

For those of you who don't know, Singapore gained independence from the UK in the 60's and has been growing as a wealthy nation ever since. There are a lot of interesting rules, but the country is clean, safe and absolutely gorgeous. If you find yourself with only a short time in Singapore, this is what I recommend you do. 

Experience Gardens by the Bay and Marina Bay Sands: Our very first stop of the day was to see the Marina Bay Sands hotel. It is an absolute monstrosity and is a beautiful addition to the Singapore skyline. You can go up to the top of the hotel to have a drink at the bar to see an incredible view of Singapore.

A short walk from Marina Bay Sands is Gardens by the Bay. These are two incredible bio-domes that include extremely unique flowers and a 6-story-tall waterfall. 

gardensbythebay

We explored both domes and I absolutely loved walking down the six stories to see the entire waterfall and bio-dome. It was a really neat experience. There is also a huge mall in Marina Bay Sands if you want to do a little shopping while in Singapore. 

Visit a Hawker Centre: I already wrote about the amazing food tour we took in Singapore, but you have to visit a Hawker Centre while in Singapore. 

The food inside of the Hawker Centres is very cheap and so delicious! There is even a Michelin star restaurant inside the one we visited. Try the local food and drink without fear, because Singapore is a very clean city and the food is entirely safe to consume. 

Explore the National Orchid Museum: The National Orchid Museum is located inside of the Singapore Botanical Gardens and it is incredible! Our first day we walked through the botanical gardens and enjoyed all of the beautiful views. The gardens are free, but they are huge so bring your walking shoes! 

You must buy tickets for the Orchid museum, but they are SO worth it. I have never seen so many beautiful orchids in one place. They have a green house area and many orchids are just growing everywhere. If you love flowers, this is a must see!

Sip a Singapore Sling: Everyone told me we had to visit the Raffles Hotel to try the original Singapore Sling. Just warning you, these drinks are pricey and very sugary! My husband and I split one and frankly that was enough for me. 

It was still really cool to visit this historic hotel and sip a cocktail in the Long Bar. 

Walk Down Orchard Road: Orchard Road is the home of high-class shopping in Singapore. There are hundreds of beautiful stores and the road was decorated beautifully when we visited around Christmas time. I am not a huge shopper, but you really do have to walk around here to experience it. 

You can tell from my post that 24 hours in Singapore is definitely NOT enough, but we really, really enjoyed our time there. The food is fantastic, the flowers and greenery are unreal and you can experience both the beauty and culture of Singapore in a short time. 

What are your favorite activities in Singapore?

How To Find The Best Hawker Centre Food in Singapore

When we visited Singapore last month I knew I wanted to visited a Hawker Centre to try the local Chinese food. A Hawker Centre in Singapore is similar to a food court, but some have up to 200+ stalls making it super challenging to pick out the best dishes. I was also a little concerned about cleanliness, because there were so many stalls and I wasn't positive which ones had good ratings.

Since we had a limited amount of time to explore the Hawker Centres, I decided to look a food tour with Urban Adventures.  The tour was $61 a person, but included with the tour is an english speaking guide and A LOT of food. The individual dishes are only about $2-3 a piece in the Hawker Centre, but you definitely get more than your fair share of food with your ticket. We met our guide Rene at the metro station (super easy to get to) and there was only one other person besides my husband and I on the tour. 

I figured since there were only three of us on the tour that we may not try every food, but I was totally wrong! We began our tour in the Chinatown Complex that has 220 food stalls. 

Chinatowncomplex

The first thing our guide bought for us was a delicious drink of pressed sugar cane juice. I was really thirsty already and it was so delicious (and of course sweet). 

sugarcanejuice

While enjoying our drink, Rene brought over our first batch of food!

This batch of food included the famous Singaporian chicken rice, which was SO good. According to our guide they cook the chicken by dipping it into boiling water over and over again until it is perfectly cooked. Not sure if that is true or not, but it was sooo good! 

We also tried poh piah, which was one of my favorite dishes aka a spring roll. We also tried a really interesting water rice cake called a chwee kueh. It was one of my other favorite dishes.

Just when you think maybe you have already tried enough amazing food...out came oysters and omlettes. 

And then noodles...

The food was insane, but it didn't end there. We took a little break there to learn more about Singapore's history and culture. From there we headed to our second Hawker Centre and did what any normal food-lover would do...we ate more! 

This stop included roti pata, more noodles and even more delicious Singaporian dishes. At this point, I was literally stuffed to the brim, but we made room to try one last unique dish...Durian!

If you aren't familiar with Durian it is a very, very smelly fruit that is popular in South East Asia. You can't travel with it because it smells so bad, but we HAD to taste it. I didn't love the taste or texture, but was really happy to have tried it.

Overall, this is one of the best food tours I have ever been on. Our guide was super knowledgable, helped us find and try the best foods and kept us healthy by making sure we ate from good food stalls. Overall, I highly recommend checking out the Hawker Centres in Singapore using Urban Adventures. 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Singapore Airlines Houston to Manchester to Singapore

My husband and I are planning a trip to Southeast Asia this year and I am SO excited. Since I own a small business, it is really hard for me to make time to travel internationally. I usually get to do one big trip a year and this is it! I can't wait for some much needed exploration. 

We have been saving our Chase Sapphire Preferred points for some time now and we were able to redeem them for first class tickets on Singapore Air. 

When we originally booked our tickets we had a layover in Russia and our flight looked like this: 

Singapore Airlines Houston to Singapore (with a layover in Russia): 187,000 points and $544 in fees and taxes. 

Singapore Airlines Singapore to Houston (with a layover in Russia): 187,000 points and $617 dollars. 

However since we booked our flights, Singapore Airlines announced they are canceling that flight and adding in a stop over in Manchester instead of Russia. I received an email from Singapore Airlines letting us know that we would now be flying through Manchester. The flight time is around the same (31 hours or something around there), but I am much happier to be flying through Manchester. I didn't really want to fly over Russia (or to Russia), so this is a great change for me. 

I am really excited for this upcoming trip! Let me know if there is something specific I should do in Singapore!

Booking Flights on Singapore Air With Points

My husband and I are planning a trip to Southeast Asia this year and I am SO excited. Since I own a small business, it is really hard for me to make time to travel internationally. I usually get to do one big trip a year and this is it! I can't wait for some much needed exploration. 

We have been saving our Chase Sapphire Preferred points for some time now and we were able to redeem them for first class tickets on Singapore Air. Here is the breakdown for both my Husband and I (so two tickets). 

Singapore Airlines Houston to Singapore (with a layover in Russia): 187,000 points and $544 in fees and taxes. 

Singapore Airlines Singapore to Houston (with a layover in Russia): 187,000 points and $617 dollars. 

The fees are definitely a little high, but for first class tickets all the way to Singapore it is really amazing! We are extra lucky that we can fly out of Houston too since that is very close to our home in Austin (and we drop off our dog with my in-laws in Houston). 

Usi (1).png

Of course, we won't be flying the A380 on this route, I can't wait to enjoy my lay flight bed on the way to Asia. 

This is one of my favorite point redemptions to date. What are your favorite destinations you have booked on points? 

Taking a Viking River Cruise in China

Today I am linking up with the #sundaytraveler linkup! Thanks to Pack Me To! A few years ago I begged my parents to take me to China. They are a little bit more "plan your trip in advance and have a guide who takes you everywhere," and I am a little more "plan some, walk around by yourself, explore."

Pack Me To

I finally convinced them to go to China by agreeing to go on a Viking River Cruise, which would satisfy their need to have a language-speaking tour guide while we were there. I was a little concerned that the ship would be full of old people and that I would be the only young person on the tour. But I was totally wrong!! There were a lot of families with kids my age who were doing the same exact thing we were doing.

The tour is part land-based, part-ship based and each part was equally as fascinating. Of course on the land-based part we hit all of the highlights in Beijing, Xian and Shangai. My favorite parts of course were climbing the great wall of China, seeing the iconic Tiananmen Square. In Xian the Terracotta Warriors were beyond incredible. After we finished the land portion of our journey, it was time for the cruise!

I really enjoyed the cruise portion because it took me to many places in China that I probably wouldn't have seen otherwise. We cruised through the Three Gorges Dam and a bunch of cities with interesting pieces of culture.

A couple other highlights of the cruise included:

1. The food- Honestly I was excited to try local Chinese food and the tour did not disappoint. In each region we had the local cuisine and it was all fantastic (ok, there were a couple of weird things, but I like that).

2. The entertainment- I don't expect to be entertained 24/7 on a trip, but the nighttime entertainment on land was really fascinating. We saw a tradition Beijing Opera and the Shanghai acrobats.

3. The guide- Our guide was beyond amazing for this trip. It actually made me consider getting part-time guides for some of my upcoming trips. He was able to teach us so much about the history and culture of China. His information played a huge role in making this a great trip.

I still have dreams of going back to China (and Japan...and the rest of Asia), but I do feel that this trip gave me an amazing intro to an amazing country.

Have you been to China before? Would you ever consider going on a river cruise?

The joys of travel: Connecting with people

To say that I act differently when I travel is a HUGE understatement. When I'm at home, I like to be at home, work, visit with my friends and generally live a quiet, homebody-ish life. Because I work from home, I often really crave human interaction outside of my employees and my husband. Yet, when I'm home in Austin I still have trouble connecting with new people. I find when I meet new people I often don't spend much time getting to know them. For some reason, it's really hard for me to connect with people when I'm home. When I'm traveling, it is a totally different story. I crave meeting and getting to know people. I actually seek out actively connecting with new people. Like Armando, the owner of a sandwich shop I ate at everyday the entire six months I was in Italy.

Or these schools girls in China, I met during my trip through Shanghai. Even if we don't speak the same language I love just seeing them interact and experience life.

I also love learning from new people, like our tracker from Londolozi, Derek.

Derek helped us find and experience the most amazing animals while we are on safari. He also somehow talked me into taking a picture right by the hippos (an animal I am very, very afraid of). He promised to bring the rifle with him just in case, but as you can see in the picture, he lied :)

I can only hope that on my next adventure I continue to meet new, amazing people who open my eyes to new world views, customs, languages, ideas and more.

Five Must See Spots in China

A few years ago I somehow convinced my parents to take me on a trip to China. It was only surprising because my Mom basically said she never, ever wanted to go to China (in case you are wondering, she ended up loving it). We took a cruise with Viking River Cruises, which took us to the following places: Beijing, Xian, Chongqing, Shibaozhai, The Three Gorges, Jingzhou and all the way to Shanghai. There were my top five must see spots in China (PS. there are about a million must see spots we didn't get too, but I know there will be another trip). 1. The Great Wall of China- 4,000 miles long, a world heritage site and an absolutely breathtaking experience. It was really foggy the day we went, hence the awful picture, but this was one of the most incredible sites I have ever seen.

2. Visiting Tiananmen Square (hi MOM!)- Palaces, gardens, courtyards, history, movements and another world heritage site. I loved Beijing (more than any other stop on the trip) mostly because of this experience.

3, Embracing the local culture- Everywhere we went I tried to find one hot spot to embrace the local culture. This was in Beijing at a local night-food market. I didn't try any of the delicacies (starfish or seahorse on a stick), but it was beyond fascinating to explore.

4. Xian Terracotta Warriors- Thousands of life sizes warriors, one of the most interesting museum-type environments I've ever been in. We spent almost the entire day exploring the warriors, horses and infantry there.

5. The Bund in Shanghai- This was a chance to explore the most incredible views of historic and modern buildings together I have ever seen.

Most people don't consider China in their travels and instead venture to Japan or SE Asia, but I absolutely loved my trip to China and would return again in a heartbeat. A unique historical, but modern country with so many must-see spots.