Amongst many things in life, I really cannot get enough sushi and Japanese food in general. I thank my old college friend Andrew for this, who took me out for my first Japanese lunch in Chicago one Sunday afternoon in 1996. It became our little tradition and before you knew it, I knew all the names of all the fish in Japanese. I still get the occasional weekend hankering for sushi. Or well, weeknight hankering. Or well, okay okay, any time of the day hankering. Here’s where I’ve been eating sushi lately.
Oliver Maki, Soho: Hah! I spent £70 quid on lunch! £70 just for my food and drink! Hah. Heh. I don’t know how that happened. OK, I do know how that happened. SUSHI at a Bahraini/Kuwaiti restaurant in Soho and I am so not an oligarch. I liked the modern clean-lined space, and I liked how friendly the proprietor and waiter were. I liked the loos. And the origami chopstick holder. I also liked the sushi. But I really can’t go around London splashing out £70 on lunch all the time now, can I? (To be fair, this did include a small £15 sake and I may have over-ordered food-wise. Also, they did give me a free umbrella, which I prefer to think of as a £35 umbrella so maybe I just spent £35 on lunch.) The Verdict: Only for special occasions or when someone else is paying. (Get the Jewel Box!) Or when you need an umbrella to go with your meal. Or well, when I make the millions that I deserve.
Sakana Sushi: Aldgate East: In contrast, I’ve eaten at Sakana Sushi on Commercial Street a couple of times now and I always waddle out for £20. (It probably helps that they are BYOB, but still, even with a £15 tiny bottle of sake, that’s £35.) (Note Yelp says they are not BYOB so call and check. They were BYOB in November and December of last year.) This space is super tiny and super brightly lit, but the service is sweet and the menu is interesting and the prices are very easy on the wallet. Help a sister out and go eat there. Bring your friends. If I had any criticism, it’s that the lights are too bright. The Verdict: The prices are so right, it’s a no brainer.
Tajima-Tei, Leather Lane: Why have I not eaten here before?? This is the most Japanese-feeling Japanese place I’ve eaten at in a while. The staff do that Japanese greeting shouting thing when you enter and the lunch special list is super-long…a cornucopia of bento box and combo options. (I am a sucker for any combination of anything that arrives in small amounts.) I arrived early but by the time I left, the place was packed with local city workers, including many Japanese-speaking ones. The mackerel in my bento box was particular delicious. I quickly fell in love with the restaurant, the staff and the food and I will be back many times. The Verdict: Fun for everyone.
I’ll admit it. I’m a sucker. And I believe what I read on the internet. After a gushing post about Little Viet Kitchen over on The Londoner, I put this new bijou Vietnamese on my list. My plan was to enjoy a leisurely lunch there yesterday but well — I actually went to the gym yesterday — so I was running at bit behind. By the time I got to Little Viet Kitchen, it was 1 pm and I had a conference call at 2 pm. It would have to be takeaway.
I eat a lot of Vietnamese food in London. I like Vietnamese food. I like trying new restaurants. These things should all be clear to the most loyal of my readers. I also make a good living, so I don’t mind spending money.
But I do mind getting ripped off. No matter how cute the restaurant is or how sweet the staff are.
Because Little Viet Kitchen is VERY cute. It’s all shabby chic inside and cozy and sweet. And the staff were hospitable and welcome and brought me a lovely jar of tap water with cucumber and lemon while I waited for me food. I LIKED IT. I was very happy with everything at Little Viet Kitchen for a while there.
And then I asked for my bill. And my beef bun (Vietnamese rice noodles with salad, beef wrapped in betel leaf, and two spring rolls) was £16.50. I was embarrassed. I was stunned into silence. I should have said something, but at that point, I had already placed my order, sat at their table, and drank their delicious cucumber water. How had I missed the price on the menu? Why had I not paid closer attention? The number was right there in front of me. I’m an idiot. And now I’m a poor idiot.
£16.50!!! For the love of God. In CHAPEL MARKET.
Granted, my food was tasty enough. But it was not £16.50 worth of tasty.
If you want some bun, you can get some at Song Que on Kingsland Road for £9.50, although they may not have beef. Ngon Ngon in Clerkenwell does beef bun for £8.50. Both places are definitely not as cute — and in fact, you may get yelled at by the staff at Song Que — but they deliver good, tasty value for money.
The Verdict: Little Viet Kitchen is cute and tasty, but not THAT cute and tasty. Head to Kingsland Road instead.
Hah. Just kidding. But you totally want to sing the song now, don’t you? I actually spent three nights in Bangkok. And I loved it! I mean, I’ve been to Bangkok before, but I was in my early 20s and I was with my parents so I didn’t get to really experience the craziness. Because this city is crazy. Crazy huge, crazy crowded, crazy with traffic. I don’t think I could live in Bangkok — the traffic would seriously make me want to die and public transport isn’t the greatest — but visiting is fun. It’s chaotic, but fun.
My hotel, the Lit Bangkok, was a centrally located oasis of modern, fabulously designed calm. I really loved it here and would gladly return. I loved the hotel bed — excellent mattress and excellent linens — and the marble bathroom and the lovely linen bathrobe and the staff in the bar and restaurant and the spa. Did I mention the spa? The spa was amazing. After a long day of walking, I had a one hour foot massage — lying down — and it did me a treat. I felt like a brand new person afterwards. (The spa is also deliciously beautiful.) The hotel is located a two minute walk (but a very long staircase) away from the National Stadium Skytrain stop, making it convenient for most things. In fact, if there’s one lesson I learned during my time in Bangkok, don’t sit in a taxi in traffic. Just have the taxi take you to the nearest Skytrain or subway stop and go from there. Visit the Lit Bangkok website.
Here are my main recommendations for Bangkok…
Top Floor of the Paragon Department Store: I have always loved fabrics — pashminas, wraps, sarongs, blankets, scarves…you get the picture. I read online that the top floor of Paragon was the place to go for Thai silks and cottons and all sorts of handcrafts. I had to be dragged out of the store, so enthralled was I with everything Thai and handmade. I picked up a ton of sarongs for all my gal pals as gifts. Beautiful and inexpensive to boot. Highly recommended. Note that you’re looking for something called Paragon Passage on the 4th floor. Visit their website.
Bangkok Rice Barge Afternoon Tour: This tour was crazy but it was still a highlight of my trip. They dumped six of us into a traditional Thai long boat and then we headed out into the main river, where we jostled for position with barges and ferries and all sorts of maritime vehicles. I come from a big family of boaters and we take boating pretty seriously, so the fact that we were not provided with life jackets while we were zipping around so many other boats and barges sort of bothered me. (The boat pictured is the type of boat we were on.) Specifically, there didn’t seem to be any rules on the river about right of way or port-to-port passing, which was a little crazy. Maybe the lack of life jackets wouldn’t have bothered me if I had felt safe, but I did not feel safe! Living on the edge, I tell you. After about 45 minutes of this, we pulled into a quiet canal where we were transferred to spacious rice barge and treated to an amazing selection of fruits and nuts as we put-putted at a much more leisurely pace around the rivers and canals of Bangkok. This was a much calmer experience and I felt a lot safer and my heart rate returned to normal. I still think you should do this tour! But just bring a PFD! View this tour on Viator.
Expique Bangkok Night Lights Tour: More crazy fun. Definitely a huge highlight of my trip. We piled into a bunch of tuk-tuks and zipped all around Bangkok…at NIGHT. I didn’t get home til midnight. We had Wat Po all to ourselves, which was amazing. Also, a visit to the flower market. Lots of very tasty snacks throughout. Visit their website.
Village of Love Food Tour: Delicious with great stops — this lady making fresh fishcakes was a definite highlight — but this tour was problematic because there were three children under three and they just should not have been on a 4 hour walking tour of Bangkok. Firstly, Bangkok is not great for baby strollers/prams. Secondly, kids have to go to the bathroom a lot. Thirdly, kids just shouldn’t be on a four hour walking tour. (Just to be clear.) We spent a lot of time standing around, waiting for everyone. I was extremely distracted frustrated by the time this tour ended and escaped as quickly as I could. Our tour guide was very nice though. Visit their website.
Not enough time, for all that I wanted to do. Not enough delicious Thai food. So if you go, spend more than three nights in town. So much good stuff. Must go back. Must!
I don’t know what I was expecting, but Chiang Mai wasn’t it. I wasn’t expecting the coffee shops or the coworking spaces or the expat community or all the restaurants and bars and FOOD. Chiang Mai is a city that likes to eat. A lot. Everywhere, on every corner, there’s a guy and a barbecue and FOOD. There are locals at the stalls and expats and tourists and everyone seems to be getting along swimmingly. How the Thai people stay so slim, I do not understand.
So I kinda fell a little in love with Chiang Mai. It’s so fun! And so cheap! And so delicious! (Did I mention the food?) I could happily stay here forever. I was sad I didn’t have more time here. In hindsight, I would have skipped Phuket (although it was nice to get some sunshine) and stayed up north. Ah well, next time. Here’s what I got up to while I was in town.
De Naga Hotel: Sometimes, I get lucky. I booked this hotel on the edge of the old town and whenever one of my tours picked me up or dropped me off, there were envious “oooohhhs” from the back of the car. De Naga is a gorgeous, gorgeous hotel. If they just upped their service, amenities and Internet speed, they could easily be five star. I really enjoyed my stay here. Great location, sweet staff, delicious food and drink. On the downside, the wifi was SUPER SLOW. Visit their website.
The Khao Soi I made in cooking school
Zabb-E-Lee Cooking School: I spent an enjoyable evening at this centrally located Thai cooking school. Ann, our instructor, managed to make cooking fun (always hard for me). We made so many things…spring rolls, hot and sour creamy soup, green curry, red curry, massaman curry, Khao Soi (the dish of Chiang Mai), sticky rice with mango and I forget what else but it was all in abundance. Lots of Brits in attendance so I felt right at home. Highly recommended. Visit their website.
Mmmm massaman curry.
Ugo: Foursquare directed me to the restaurant at this small guesthouse by Thapae Gate and I am so glad. The massaman curry was ACE. And beautiful to boot. I liked the food and the service so much, I went back the next day. Visit their website.
Fah Lanna Spa: The spa treatments in Chiang Mai are deliciously cheap so I headed over to one of the bigger and bolder ventures, Fah Lanna, for a scrub, massage and facial and enjoyed my visit immensely. (It was a trifle chilly though.) The facilities are beautiful, modern but rustic at the same time. I loved the sarongs they used so much that I bought two. The ginger tea at the end of my treatment was particularly delicious. I made my appointment online via their website, and they sent a car and driver to pick me up! (They would have also driven me home but I decided to walk so I could check out the street art.) Highly recommended. Visit their website.
At Nail: Continuing my tradition of flying 8000 miles to get my nails done — you can take the girl out of Long Island but you can’t take the Long Island out of the girl — I dropped in here for a quick pedicure and it was perfect and inexpensive. It’s a small space so perhaps best to call ahead. Visit their Facebook page.
Mandara Massage: After a busy day of touring, my dogs were barking. I forget now if it was Foursquare or TripAdvisor that sent me here, but it took me a while to find it — it’s actually located within a shabby looking hotel complex, The Top North Hotel. Service was sweet and the almond cookies at the end of my treatment (along with more tea) were also very nice. A good value and it did the trick, but perhaps not work seeking out.
Totally lifelike wax figurine!
Chiang Mai Mind & Soul Tour: The tour I just could not stop talking about. This was an absolute surprise. Super early morning pick-up — 6:15 am — and then we sped off into the mountains to bring gifts to the monks. This was followed by a STELLAR breakfast at a place by the airport and military base — all the movie star handsome Thai pilots in their jump suits — and then more monks and more gifts and more blessings and well, by the end, I felt very blessed. A real highlight of the tour was monk chat, where I spent an hour with a monk, chatting about how they live. (Yes, they do use Facebook. No, we couldn’t be Facebook friends.) Highly, highly recommended. Visit their website.
Chiang Mai Food Tour: While the food that we tried was great, our guide wasn’t the most interesting guy. I learned more from the other American on my tour that I did from the guide. I would give this a miss but then again, maybe you’ll get a different guide who will be totally awesome. Visit their website.
I can eat Pad Se Eu all day long. Her’s Dash’s version.
Dash Restaurant: On my last day in Chiang Mai, I decided to just randomly walk around and see where Foursquare sent me. Well, they sent me here, to Dash, and it was interesting. Firstly, it’s a lovely space and someone has obviously thought about the decor. Oddly, everyone there was Chinese but me. OK, maybe not so oddly. The Chinese are all over Thailand. China has a new middle class…have passport, will travel…and travel to Thailand they do. In droves! Where they all eat at Dash, apparently, and enjoy the tasty pad se eu. Visit their website.
When can I get myself back to Chiang Mai? How? Anyone, anyone??
I’ve been to Hong Kong twice in my life, once with my parents in 1998 — Asian currency crisis time so everything was bargainous — and then again in 2000, at the tail end of my two week bike trip through China. There’s something about Hong Kong that makes me feel at home. I felt the same in 1998 and 2000 and I felt it again in 2016, 16 years after my last visit.
In 1998, I had my palm read at the Temple Street Night Market. “You will live outside the United States for many years,” the fortune teller told me. How much has been self-actualization since then? I don’t know. He also told me, “When given the chance to move, move. Moving is good for you.”
Moving IS good for me. Me and London get along very, very well, but maybe I should move to Hong Kong! (Apparently the expat tax situation is wonderous.)
Hong Kong was my first stop of my Asian sojourn because the flight was cheap — a Finnair business class bargain — and well, because of the crazy pull on the heartstrings. Also, my friend Eugene is there and it was time for a catch-up.
Besides coming down with an awful cold on the flight over, getting my credit card number swiped at one of my hotels, and living through the coldest day in Hong Kong in 60 years without a coat (34 degrees F, 2 degrees C), here’s what I got up to…
Hong Kong Foodie Tasting Tours, Sham Shui Po: I didn’t do much my first night in town — um, OK I paid $70 USD for a gel manicure at a place by my hotel — but I was up bright and early my first morning to join my guide Fiona for a food tour of Sham Shui Po, an older part of Hong Kong that I absolutely loved. I honestly can’t say enough great things about this tour. Fiona was lively, personable and funny and all the stops revealed a new little bit of old Hong Kong. We started off with a huge pineapple bun and milk tea, and then I ate all the rice rolls somewhere and all the roast duck and roast goose somewhere else. I would do this again and I would also try their other tours as well. Visit their website.
Good Evening Kowloon, Walk in Hong Kong: This tour took me to a bunch of cool places that I probably wouldn’t have gone to on my own. The craziest bit is when we walked into a singing parlour off of Temple Street and watched the old folks sing their favorite tunes. We also visited a parking garage for a great view of Temple Street Night Market. (Pictured at top of post.) We stopped at a pretty average place for dinner though, and our guide was not helpful in ordering. (I would rather a guide tell me what’s good than hand me a huge menu of unfamiliar dishes and ask me to choose.) This outfit has great reviews, so I think I just got a bum guide. (She was nice. Just nothing in comparison to the lively Fiona from the previous day.) Visit their website.
PMQ: A design-destination with lots of small little boutiques and interesting things to look at. Maybe it was the weather — freezing cold, raining — but there was no one there when I visited, which felt a little odd. I had about 13 people stop me and ask me to take a survey about why I chose to visit PMQ, which got a little annoying after about the fifth time. I really wasn’t in a shopping mood, but if you’re a shopper, you should go here. Visit their website.
This is the view from the ladies’ loo at Cafe Gray Deluxe…
Cafe Gray Deluxe, Upper House: I stopped in for lunch and drinks on my last day in Hong Kong, when the sun had finally decided to shine and the skies were a perfect crystal blue. It’s not cheap and I thought it a little odd that they sat me next to the only other full table in the place, but I enjoyed the views and my soup and I also really liked the loos. Go if you like expensive things and eavesdropping on private equity professionals. Visit their website.
Chungking Mansions: This building was fascinating! I wish there was a tour just about this space. To quote from Wikipedia, “Chungking Mansions features guesthouses, curry restaurants, African bistros, clothing shops, sari stores, and foreign exchange offices. It often acts as a large gathering place for some of the ethnic minorities in Hong Kong, particularly South Asians (Indians, Nepalese, Pakistanis, Bangladeshis and Sri Lankans), Middle Eastern people, Nigerians, Europeans, Americans, and many other peoples of the world. I wish I had taken more photos here. If you like slice-of-life stuff, this place is for you! Read more about Chungking Mansions.
Aberdeen Street Social: I know, I know. Don’t kill me. I went all the way to Hong Kong and went to a Jason Atherton restaurant. BUT…I was freezing cold and it was raining and I needed a rest. (Aberdeen Street Social is at PMQ.) So I dropped in here and had a glass of wine and caught up on social media. It was nice, cozy and warm. I did not have anything to eat here. Visit their website.
Din Tai Fung, Miramar Shopping Plaza: I ate all the XLB at Din Tai Fung, plus all the sesame noodles. There is nothing left now. Sorry about that. Maybe one day, they will open in London. One day… Visit their website.
Lung Kee Wanton, Tsim Sha Tsui: I dropped in here for breakfast one morning and boy was I glad. A huge bowl of noodles, pork wontons and fishballs. For cheap! Delicious. They didn’t speak much English but sign language and pointing worked perfectly well. Cheap and cheerful. Visit Open Rice.
As always, I only scratched the surface during my short visit to Hong Kong. My cold and the absolutely freezing cold weather that I was not prepared for also put a bit of a damper on things. No problem though because I am pretty sure I will not let another 16 years go by before visiting again…
Gatwick, in April on my way to the Dominican Republic
If you, like me, are going to spend umpteen hours on a plane this holiday season — and in the back of the plane no less — it helps to be prepared. Over the years, I’ve flown hundreds of thousands of miles all around the world and I’ve really learned that you can never be too prepared. One of my worst flights was a few years back, when I loaded up my iPad with movies and TV shows for the long flight from Chicago to Amman Jordan, only to get on the plane and realize I had no battery left on my iPad. Also, the entertainment system on the plane was also broken. (#firstworldproblems, I know.)
The long stretch of boringness during that Amman flight still serves as a powerful, simple lesson for me all these years later. So starting with that, let me give you this gift. My holiday travel tips for 2015..
1. Make sure your iPad is full of good stuff — movies, TV shows, books, and games — before you get on a plane. (I like logic problems, myself.)
2. Make sure your iPad is also fully charged before you get on a plane.
3. Stop saying “It’s impossible for me to sleep on planes.” Try to sleep during your flight. My mindset now is “I must sleep!! I must sleep or I will die!” My family lives in Florida, so by the time I get from London to Florida, I am exhausted. (Especially when I have to connect through Newark like this upcoming flight.) I like to think I am a relatively calm person, but I can tell you that family squabbles are not infrequent within an hour or two of my arrival. I don’t know whose fault this is, but I’m much calmer about it all if I’ve had some sleep. So now I make sure to take two Tylenol PM when I get on a plane and try to rest for an hour or two.
4. Fly on Tuesdays and Wednesdays for maximum space in Economy. Stretching out is NICE. My work schedule means that it is hard to get away mid-week. BUT! Whenever I can, when I am flying long-haul economy, I try to book tickets on Tuesdays and Wednesdays. Flights just seem to be less crowded then, and if you are are really lucky, you will get an entire row to yourself!
5. Nylon tote bags are your friends. I bought a bunch of these puppies and boy am I glad. My normal routine when I get to the airport is to head to the newsstand and buy all the trashy magazines, snacks and the biggest bottle of water I can find. (Hydration, people.) Rather than use one of the plastic bags from the store — the plastic bags ALWAYS rip — I unroll my nylon tote bag and in everything goes. Tip: Get one in a bright color. Otherwise, you may accidentally leave your new nylon tote bag behind. eBoot makes nice ones.
6. I’ve learned the hard way that some coach seats may have the plane’s audio/visual equipment under them, making it hard to stretch out. So check Seatguru before you board and choose your seat carefully.
7. Check your passport in advance. One of my most stressful travel experiences was a few years back when Virgin Atlantic threatened not to let me on my flight to New York because my passport expired in exactly six months. (I defeated them with logic.) So make sure you are always travel ready. Last minute getaways are brilliant, but not so brilliant if you realise your passport has run out. If you need to renew your passport in a hurry the Passport Office offers urgent passport services to UK citizens and you can have your new passport within a week or even a day depending on your needs. So if you need your passport quickly visit www.passports-office.co.uk/booking.asp for more information. Find out more about your travel destination’s requirements by visiting the Foreign & Commonwealth Office website here: www.gov.uk/foreign-travel-advice before you book.
8. Compression socks are your friends. I don’t care how dumb you might feel or look wearing them. For a long-haul flight when you are sitting down for hours on end, they are very important for circulation. GET THEM.
9. SIGN UP FOR HEATHROW REWARDS. I spend a lot of money in airports. I don’t know why. Actually, I do know why. I am a captive audience. You are too. If you plan on buying magazines and having a meal in Heathrow, sign up for Heathrow Rewards. Like seriously. (They should pay me for saying this, but they’re not.)
10. Most importantly, relax. Don’t stress out if the guy in front of you puts their seat back. Don’t stress out when the US airlines charge you for booze. (Thank you, United Airlines, for providing wine for free again.) And don’t stress out when your flight is delayed eight hours. Just try to relax! Really.