Outdoor Cooking Made Easy and Gourmet

Cooking in the great outdoors without your usual kitchen essentials can be intimidating! You might be tempted to default to some basic dishes like chili, soups, and stews because you can cook ahead, freeze and just reheat when it’s time to eat. But with a few easy tricks and some great recipes, you can whip up gourmet and even exotic dishes in the wilderness without much fuss.

Last weekend, we joined a few friends on the South Fork of the American river for a kayak/raft trip. Part of this boating trip involved camping on the side of the river – all part of the outdoor experience! Honestly, I am not a “roughing it” kind of girl but I am a lover of a good outdoor adventure! Just because we were camping, it didn’t mean we had to settle for canned beans and weenies by the camp fire. With my passion for food and wellness, my husband has come to expect delicious healthy food anytime I cook, in and out of my own kitchen. I created 2 recipes that are easy to pull off anywhere as long as you have a heating element and a cast iron pan or a Dutch oven.

Preparing the dish ahead

  1. Slice and dice at home with your chef’s knife to make it fast and easy.
  2. Marinade and season the meat ahead.
  3. Pre-measure and package seasonings and herbs for finishing touches.
  4. Precook ingredients partially.
  5. Assemble the dish as much as possible without affecting taste and texture of the final product.
  6. Chill all perishable ingredients separately to avoid co-mingling different flavors.
Pear and Fig Gorgonzola Torte

Pear and Fig Gorgonzola Torte

  • Servings: 4-6
  • Difficulty: Easy
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Ingredients

  • 1 8-inch cornmeal crust (Vicolo)
  • 1/4 cup gorgonzola cheese
  • 1 large pear
  • 3-4 fresh figs
  • Balsamic glaze (Trader Joe’s)

Directions

  1. Warm gorgonzola cheese slight on the stove or microwave to soften.
  2. Spread the cheese on the cornmeal crust to cover the base. Wrap the crust with foil and keep chilled.
  3. When ready to cook, remove foil and place the cornmeal crust on a cast iron skillet or a Dutch oven. Thinly slice pear and figs lengthwise (do not do ahead to avoid discoloration). Arrange slices of pear and fig in alternating pattern on top of cheese.
  4. Cook covered with a lid or foil on a camp stove or fire over medium high heat for 10-15 minutes or until cheese is melted. You can also cook this in your oven or gas grill at 400F when at home.
  5. Drizzle the torte with balsamic glaze before serving.

Asian Soup Noodles

Asian Noodle Soup

  • Difficulty: Easy
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Ingredients

  • 1 small yellow onion, thinly sliced
  • 1/2 lb. ground pork
  • 1 block (3.5 oz.) Organic Baked Tofu, teriyaki flavor, julienne cut
  • 2 carrots, julienne cut
  • 1/4 lb. sugar snap peas
  • 2 Tbsp. olive oil
  • Salt to taste
  • 1 Tbsp. soy sauce
  • 1 lb. dry Asian noodles (wheat or rice)
  • 4 green onions, chopped
  • 2 (1-quart) boxes of chicken broth (Pacific organic bone broth)

Directions

  1. Precook meat and vegetables at home according to directions below and store in a container or freezer bag and keep chilled.
  2. Sauté yellow onion in oil.
  3. Add ground pork and cook until no longer pink.
  4. Season with salt and soy sauce.
  5. Add carrot and cook until almost tender.
  6. Add sugar snap peas and cook for a minute but still crisp.
  7. Cook noodles according to package directions and do not overcook. Store in a container or freezer bag and keep chilled.
  8. When ready to eat, bring chicken broth to a boil in a cast iron skillet or Dutch oven. Add meat and vegetable mixture to the broth and bring it back to boil.
  9. To serve, place a small amount of cooked noodles in each serving bowl and ladle soup over noodles. The soup will heat up the noodles. Do not add noodles to the soup in the skillet because it will absorb too much liquid.
  10. sprinkle chopped green onions on top of soup to garnish.


Recharge with a Vacation Day!

With no end in sight to this pandemic, many of us are looking for staycation ideas. Summer vacation doesn’t have to be far away from home nor does it have to be for long. However,  it does have to refresh my mind with a sense of escape from my daily routine and recharge my body with some delicious healthy food. Why not consider a vacation day close to home? If that speaks to you, read on! 

Last Sunday, my family and I went out to Bolinas beach, Marin County, for a little surf and sun. It was only a little more than an hour from home but it felt like miles away from the urban center of the San Francisco Bay. The beach was relatively uncrowded so families were able to play together but still keep sufficient distance from others.  As I soaked up the sun on the beach, it felt as if the ocean breeze was gently sweeping away my anxiety from being sheltered at home. At the same time, the sound of the crashing waves carried my mind far away to the Hawaiian shores for a little mental escape. It only took a couple hours to forget how the Coronavirus has constricted our daily lives for the last 5 months. 

On our way home,  we surprisingly discovered a farm stand that had a pre-COVID personality of a farmers market. The quintessential experience of the farmers market – leisurely roaming through the farmer stands, chatting to the vendors, touching and smelling the freshness of the fruits and vegetables, and food sampling – were mostly intact here! From the street, it appeared to be just another roadside produce stand. The sign advertising fresh wild king salmon was the initial hook that pulled us off Sir Francis Drake Boulevard. Unknowingly, it turned out to be the farmers market outing that I was starving for.  Abiding social distancing and face mask rules, we chatted with The Farm Stand owner, Jim, about the source of his local products – an array of organic produce from CSAs in Marin county and Salinas area, fresh seafood from the bay, and grass-fed meat from local farms. As we were talking, crates of fresh local strawberries arrived so Jim threw one to us from a distance for sampling. We were sold!!! The woman who delivered the strawberries stepped up to a table in front of us with a picnic basket to assemble a couple of strawberry shortcakes, made with freshly baked biscuits and crème fraîche. I thought they were for sale but no such luck. They were for Jim and his co-worker as an expression of gratitude for selling her strawberries at the farm stand. With all this wonderful distraction, we had to redirect ourselves back to the the question about their King salmon. Jim excitedly told us that it was line-caught, wild and sushi-grade. We were sold again as soon as he pulled out a  piece of fresh King salmon with glistening red flesh – not a sight you see in the supermarket. He then up sold us once again with Hog Island oysters from Tomales Bay by shucking one for me to taste on the spot. By this point, I felt like an endless summer had just descended upon us with bountiful of fresh fruits, vegetables and seafood. 

Armed with all these fresh ingredients, it was easy and fun to create a farm-to-table meal in our own home! The highlight was the make-you-own sushi and bowl with salmon sashimi. An interactive meal with conversation about the beach action, the farm stand activities, the fresh local organic food and the art of making sushi rounded out this enjoyable vacation day for us!


Quarantine Menu and Food Shopping Tips

If you find yourself in the unfortunate situation of quarantining alone, having some healthy and delicious food on hand can bump up the reading on your happiness meter. With the recent explosion of grocery delivery services, you shouldn’t have to rely on canned and dried goods. Choosing a good delivery service and having a comprehensive shopping list are key to well-balanced and creative meals. 

Today is the last day of my 14-day quarantine imposed on travelers entering Canada. The experience of managing my food during this time brings a great appreciation for the value of a reliable food delivery service that provides high quality food. Up until the start of my quarantine, I have not ordered groceries online because I wasn’t confident that they can deliver freshness, quality, and suitable substitutions if my items were out of stock.

A Canadian friend had referred me to SPUD, a local delivery company in Vancouver. Their service has impressed me in more ways than one. They offer a wild selection of food including plant-based and gluten-free, high quality products such as local, organic and sustainable, and a reliable delivery schedule. This post is not about promoting food delivery services but SPUD may have converted me into a believer of online grocery shopping. I can shop anytime of the day and night – something to do when stuck at home, read food labels for ingredients and nutrition information – can enlarge font size on the screen for readability, see my total cost before the checkout, and discover new products. I may never go back to in-person shopping in the grocery store!

If you are an online shopper for apparel, you know it is really easy to spend too much money and still result in mismatched outfits. Online grocery shopping is the same. You can click away with adding food to your shopping cart and still end up missing ingredients to assemble some well-balanced meals. You can avoid wasting money and food with a planned menu and a well curated shopping list. 

I am sharing my 7-day menu and grocery list for the first week of my quarantine. This can serves as a template for weekly menu planning. Plan well, eat well, and stay well!

Grains:

Oatmeal

Organic Love Crunch Granola

Organic Ready-to-Bake whole wheat croissants, 6 heat-and-serve

Organic Corn Tortilla – 6” – 1 doz.

Roasted garlic & asiago sacchettini

Brown rice

Organic black soybean spaghetti (200 g)

Fruit:

Organic Gala apples – 3 lb. bag

Organic Mango – 2

Organic Black berries – 2 x 6 oz. box

Vegetables:

mushrooms – 1 lb.

Organic Avocado – 2

Organic Broccoli crown – 1 lb.

Organic Red Local peppers – 1

organic tomatoes – 1 lb.

Plant-based milk:

Unsweetened Almond milk – 1.89L

Organic coconut milk – 1 cam

Protein:

Pacific cod portion – 2 (4 oz. pieces)

Ocean Wise wild sockeye salmon portion – 1 (4 oz. piece) 

Organic medium firm tofu – 350 g

Organic eggs – 1 doz.

Roasted garlic & asiago sacchettini -350 g

Smoked Salmon & Dill quiche – 2 

Extras:

Baba Ganoush eggplant dip

Thai Kitchen Green curry paste

Organic Pasta Pomodoro

Breakfast

Granola with mango slices and almond milk

Oatmeal with chopped apple 

Scrambled egg tortilla wraps drizzled with pomodoro sauce

Whole wheat croissant stuffed with scrambled eggs and avocado slices. 

Granola with black berries and almond milk

Tofu scrumbled with apple wedges

Oatmeal with black berries  

Whole wheat croissant stuffed with scrambled eggs and avocado slices

Lunch

Smoke salmon & dill quiche with apple slices

Homemade tortilla chips with Baba Ganoush. Fruit salad

Whole wheat croissant sandwich filled with sliced hard-boiled eggs, tomato and avocado slices.

Mediterranean Fish taco – panfried sliced cod, topped with chopped tomatoes and Baba Ganoush

Sacchettini and red pepper salad (tossed with your favorite dressing)

Smoke salmon & dill quiche with tomato salad

Black soybean pasta salad with chopped mushrooms, tomatoes and red pepper, tossed in soy and sesame dressing.

Dinner

Green curry pan-fried cod with mushroom and black soybean spaghetti

Stir-fry tofu and broccoli with steamed brown rice

Roasted garlic & asiago sacchettini with mushroom pomodoro sauce

Thai vegetable curry (curry paste and coconut milk) with brown rice

Mushroom and red bell pepper pomodoro with pasta

Grilled salmon with sauté  broccoli and brown rice

Tofu and vegetable fried rice


Traveling During the Pandemic

Traveling has always given me a sense of freedom and adventure in my life! When my recent travel bug was squashed by COVID-19, traveling was reduced to trips between my home and the grocery store. Every now and then, I would get a taste of freedom when I don’t have to stand in line outside Trader Joe’s. My new adventure is hunting and that’s hunting down flour and toilet paper. No wonder all I dream about are the most recent trips to Paris, Thailand, Cambodia, Vietnam, Hong Kong, and Sayulita.

Now that travel bans are starting to lift around the world,  I can hear a distance voice calling out to me in multiple languages to get back in the air again. I love a good adventure but honestly, I am a little scared to travel internationally with so much uncertainty. But then again, fear is part of the fun in any good adventure! So I thought I would spread my wings just a little with a trip to Vancouver – my favorite city in Canada. It’s an international flight but only 2 hours from San Francisco. This would give me a window view of the “new normal” in air travel. 

My Experience

I arrived at SFO 2 hours before my scheduled flight as suggested by the airline. There was no line at security check – a very unusual sight! With so few passengers,  my flight could have been the only one departing from the international terminal at that time. There was absolutely no need to check in this early, but there I was with 2 hours to kill and nothing to do. The terminal was like a ghost town. All the shops and food establishments were closed. Seats were marked to encourage a 6-foot distance between them. 

I was prepared for touchless document check at security and at the airline counter but that was not their protocol. Since the agents had gloves on, they were conducting business as usual with no fear of possibly touching a virus-contaminated passport and spreading the contagion. To protect my passport, I didn’t let it leave my hand – see but don’t touch!

Face mask was required for all! Be prepared to have your face mask on from the time you walk into the departure airport to the time you leave the arrival airport. I wore my mask for over 5 hours for a 2-hour flight. 

Prior to boarding, the airline agent conducted a temperature check on everyone. If your temperature was over 100.4F, you were not permitted to board. Anxiety can elevate body temperature and who doesn’t feel anxious these days. My anxiety was elevated by the fear of a false positive and being banned from my flight. Then I remembered to practiced my yoga breaths  to keep calm and carry on. Carryon applied to my approach with baggage as well. Why increase my risk of exposure through a checked bag handled by multiple people! 

Upon boarding the plane, the flight attendant handed me a small care package including water, face mask, disposable gloves, hand sanitizer and antiseptic towelettes. You can think of it as an air travel survival kit.  The plane was a little more than half full. All middle seats were vacant by design. Even with a less than full plane,  it was impossible to keep 6 feet away from other passengers inside an airplane cabin. I chose a window seat to keep a distance from aisle traffic. I was able to avoid using the bathroom onboard since it was a short flight. During deplaning, I sat back to let all the type A passengers go before me to avoid any tailgating.

After the plane landed, the agent announced that Canada mandates a 14-day isolation period for all arriving travelers. So glad I did my research prior to booking the trip. There was a requirement to file your 14-day isolation plan so the government can monitor you. This country is very serious about protecting its citizens! 

After this flying experience, would I spread my wings and fly away to the other side of the globe? The “new normal” for air travel is stifling. Until I feel that sense of freedom in flying, I think I will trade my wings in for some wheels. I am currently in day 6 of my self-isolation and may have a different perspective once I am able leave my place of isolation on day 15. If you must travel, you can absolutely do it safely with proper precautions and I hope my travel tips will help you. Travel safe!

Travel Tips for the Covid Era

  1. Research safety of your destination and the country’s port of entry restrictions and requirements. Do online submission of required information prior to departure if possible.
  2. Don’t use paper boarding passes. Download your boarding pass on your phone so you can scan it yourself at security and at the gate.
  3. Go touchless at all times, unless you can wash your hands or sanitize properly.
  4. Pack food for your trip if you don’t want to go hungry.
  5. Wear a comfortable and breathable mask with materials that won’t irritate your skin. Bring extra masks for long flights to refresh.
  6. Bring sanitizing wipes and gels to clean surfaces, such as armrest and tray table at your seat before use. Airlines are not sanitizing between flights during the day. 
  7. Choose an aisle seat and avoid walking in the aisle.
  8. Don’t rush to deplane and keep your distance from the passenger in front and behind of you.

Vietnamese Specialty Dish – Earth to Table

Hoi An, a charming ancient city on the central coast of Vietnam, is a foodie’s haven. The menu goes way beyond the ever popular banh mi and pho. It’s time to try something new! Three local dishes I had for the first time in my life were cao lau, white rose dumplings and fried wontons (not the Chinese version). They were all delicious but the highlight was the cao lau that I ate multiple times during my 5-day stay here. Wonder why?! It is because cao lau is truly unique to Hoi An and you can’t make this dish elsewhere without a native ingredient, unless you literally bottle it yourself.

Cao lau is a noodle dish with meat topped with fresh greens, bites of fried wonton, and the desired amount of spicy sauce. The noodles have a unique taste and a chewy texture. These flat noodles are yellowish and much denser than the average rice noodles because they are made with the water from Ba Le Well, the town’s ancient Cham water source. Cao lau is as core to the diet of the Hoi An people as croissants are to the French. You can find a bowl of Cao lau at every street corner, but the best was found at Miss Ly’s restaurant.

I was so impressed by this true example of the “earth-to-table” practice continuing for centuries in Hoi An! Following google maps, I set out to find this well. A posted sign pointed me down a little alley leading to the Ba Le Well.

The Ba Le well is a cold water well that is authentically preserved. It was built around the 10th century. It was constructed specifically as a vertical prism with a square bottom and built with big bricks. The well bottom was paved with a frame of four thick iron-wood boards that have two functions of protecting its bottom and filtering its water. Apparently the local inhabitants still use its water for their daily activities, as well as for cooking Hoi An specialties. 


Best Vegan Food in Cambodia – a recipe from the chef!

Finding good vegan food while traveling in developing countries appears to be a bit easier than ever before! With growing interest in veganism, more restaurants are advertising vegan options to attract travelers. Although meat is often used sparingly in many Southeast Asian cuisine and vegetable dishes are abundant, there’s no guarantee that you can find vegan suitable meals when you step into a Cambodian restaurant. If you are a pure vegan, don’t forget fish sauce and shrimp paste are wildly used in many vegetable dishes in Southeast Asia.

During my last 3 days in Cambodia, I ate in 3 very different styles of vegan restaurants that were all fantastic. The first and most notable one was Chamkar Vegetarian Restaurant in Siem Reap. The food, the setting and the hospitality were all fabulous. Since this is not a TripAdvisor review, I will only focus on the great food that I discovered. Once I learned that  the owner/chef, Nicolas, is French it became clear that French cooking techniques were infused into his dishes. The attention to detail that I love in French cuisine was on full display with the presentation of food as well. They claimed to use locally sourced fresh ingredients such as fresh coconut and I could truly taste the difference. The authenticity of the Khmer cooking with a French twist would be my best description of the food at Chamkar.  We had several dishes: Ratana’s spring rolls, Wedding day dip, Mad Eggplant Lovers (Grilled eggplant and loofah in coconut milk sauce and holy basil), Rediscovering Tofu (Stuffed tofu), and Chocolate cake with ice cream, drizzled with dark chocolate sauce. It’s impossible to pick one favorite dish but the one I would cook at home is the classic Cambodia dish, Mad Eggplant Lovers, which is so fitting for my daughter and me. Nicolas was kind enough to share his recipe (see below) with me when I asked so I hope you will enjoy it too. 

The second restaurant was Masala Dosa Street Kitchen, in Phnom Penh, serving a variety of nutritious dosa. Mmm….Indian street food in Cambodia, how odd, right? Surprisingly, this was a hit! The menu offers many international fusion flavors, such as Szechuan Dosa and Tom Yum Dosa. I chose to try the Eryngii mushroom & coconut cream dosa and it did not disappoint. Dosas are made with lentils & rice, naturally fermented, so no starch, no gluten, high protein and low fat. According to the owner, with roots in India, his mission is to create the healthiest food possible based on Ayurvedic principles. I highly recommend trying this restaurant for an extremely heathy and inexpensive meal.

Eryngii mushroom & coconut cream dosa

The third restaurant was Vibe Cafe, serving high caliber vegan food that you might find in California. It is definitely not a cultural experience but a welcome treat if you’ve been away from home for an extended period of time. For a brief moment, I forgot I was in Phnom Penh until I looked out the widow and saw the poverty on the back streets of the cafe. The food and drinks are all freshly crafted creatively and super yummy but be prepared to open your wallet just a tiny bit wilder. I had the Nourish Sandwich there because I was really missing some wholemeal bread after eating white rice and rice noodles daily for the past couple weeks. The sandwich had a beetroot hummus spread, filled with roasted pumpkin and almond feta, which created a tasty combination of flavors that made me wonder why anyone would need meat or cheese in their sandwich. If you want to try some of the recipes, you can find Vibe Cafe’s cookbook on Amazon.com.

Nourish Sandwich

I was truly inspired by the food I had in these 3 restaurants and can’t wait to expand my vegan cooking repertoire when I get home in a couple weeks.

Grilled Eggplant and loofah in coconut milk sauce and holy Basil

Ingredients for 1 serving

2 Tbsp vegetable oil

1/8 Onion

1 tsp Chili paste

1 tsp Palm sugar 1

Salt to taste

1/2 Tbsp Soy sauce

100 ml Coconut milk

1 Eggplant

50 g Loofah (may substitute with zucchini)

1 handful Bean sprout

1 handful Holy Basil leaf

1 handful Long parsley

1 Tbsp Fried Shallot

1 Tbsp Toasted Coconut

Instructions

STEP 1

First toast the dried coconut in a pan on low heat. Stir it constantly in order to prevent burning. Stop fire when the color is getting golden brown.

STEP2

Put the eggplant on the grill ( BBQ or gas) for 5 min turn over after 2 min. Remove from fire when the skin is slightly burned. Cool down for a while.

Meanwhile prepare the other vegetables. Chop onion finely. Peel the loofah and cut in slice.

STEP 3

Heat vegetable oil in a pan then fry onion for 1 min. Add loofah, chilli paste, palm sugar and stir again, then add coconut milk and salt. Peel the eggplant and cut into bite size then add eggplant, bean sprout and stir 30 seconds (add little water if too thick). At the end, stir in Holy basil for few second 

Remove the pan from the heat, transfer to a plate and serve immediately topped with deep fried shallot, shredded long parsley and toasted coconut.


A Journey Back to Paradise

Few of us get to recreate a life changing travel journey! I feel so lucky to have done just that this past week in Thailand. The love of my life swept me away on a 4-month travel adventure in Southeast Asia 26 years ago which led us to marriage and 2 kids. On the eve of celebrating our 24th wedding anniversary, I boarded a plane and traveled 18 hours to meet our daughter in Bangkok to kick off our mother-daughter Southeast Asia adventure for a month, in celebration of her 22nd birthday. The first week of this journey is a replica of the itinerary her dad and I followed, but in a much less primitive way. Hard to believe anyone could ever travel with no cell phone, no public wifi, no GPS, and no Vloggers giving you advise on the do’s and don’ts on your anticipated destinations. We were just armed with our Lonely Planet guidebook for backpackers and a sense of wanderlust. We mapped out our route on public transportation and set out to find our way to the remote islands of Koh Tao and Ko Nang Yuan. Yes – we used a paper map!

After spending 3 days in Bangkok visiting the usual tourist attractions, my daughter and I took a cheap flight, on Air Asia for $56.77US, from Bangkok to Chumpon, a fishing village which is a jumping off point to Koh Tao. The train ride we took years ago is still a popular option for backpackers these days but it really doesn’t make sense to suffer an overnight train for 8-10 hours when you can fly there in 1.5 hour for a few dollars more. 

Transportation systems to these heavenly islands are more well-organized than ever before. We were able to purchase a shuttle ticket from a kiosk at the Chumpon airport and immediately jumped into a minivan scheduled to whist travelers to town. On my previous visit, finding transportation was difficult to say the least and usually at your own risk. Not able to speak Thai meant that we didn’t always know for sure if we were going to end up at our intended destination. The ride my husband and I took with the questionable “taxi” from the Chumpon train station to the pier, via a dirt road in the dark of night, still sends shivers up my spine when I think back. 

After spending an overnight in Chumpon, my daughter and I boarded an early morning ferry boat headed to Koh Tao. I was so excited about the little less than 3-hour ride with toilets onboard. So glad I didn’t have to ride a little wooden fishing boat, and I mean little, with Mr. Dang’s family to the island like my last visit here. I don’t remember how long it took but it felt like a lifetime as I was throwing up the entire time.

The tourist boom on Koh Tao slapped me in the face as soon as we stepped off the ferry boat. Drivers holding name signs of guests they were picking up, tour excursion offices and restaurants lined the street in front of the Maehaad ferry dock. For a moment, I thought we were on the wrong island. Tourist transport and accommodation options are endless these days, unlike our only option back then of staying at Mr. Dang’s cottages because we were able to catch a ride with him. 

My daughter and I stayed at the Sairee Beach Cottage which was reminiscent of the little tiny beach cottages owned and operated by Mr. Dang. There was also a restaurant on the beach but with one big difference – when they made a smoothie, the lights didn’t go dim like it did at Mr. Dang’s.

For better or worst, many things have changed on the islands with the passage of time. As expected, with the ease of access to the islands comes over development in hotels and resorts. There were only a few dive shops 26 years ago as compared to over 80 dive centers now. There are more spas offering cheap massages ($10 US/hour) than I can count on one hand. But the most shocking of all were the changes on the Koh Nang Yuan island, a piece of paradise I have kept in my memory bank as “heaven on earth” all these years. It still has powder white sand on a sand spit but I had to share this beach with many. The newly established fee of 100 baht (approximately $3 US) to enter the island has not deterred boatloads of tourists making the very short trip from Koh Tao to Koh Nang Yuan, nor has it helped to keep human trash from the ocean.  

With the popularity of these islands bring greater variety and higher quality of food, especially the western options that we might miss while traveling. The good cup of caffe latte that I was yearning for on my previous visit is now on every restaurant menu on the island.

The old adage of “take the bad with the good” rings true for me on this second trip to Koh Tao and Koh Nang Yuan. They may not be the purist island escapes they once were but they will remain on the top of my travel list. In light of posting this blog on Thanksgiving, I want to express how thankful I am for the opportunity to revisit this paradise with my daughter, and be able to share my passion for diving and traveling with her. 


A Wellness Itinerary in Bangkok

Is it possible to achieve wellness in this polluted city with constant traffic congestion? I am up for the challenge! Wellness can be found in many places and the key is to plan your activities around the city’s cultural attractions. I set out for my day of wellness focusing on the highlights of the city so I can see the sights and experience the culture at the same time.

Bangkok is known for its street food! There’s a huge selection for cheap, some healthy and some not so much. Around the corner from my hotel, there were fruit carts and BBQ meat stands. Nothing is more refreshing than the delicious locally grown mango, all peeled and sliced for only 70 baht (approximately $2.30US). I grabbed a box of mango and walked a few steps to this adorable little dumpling shop, Feng Zhu Pork Shop & Co., run by mom, pop, bro and sis. This savory breakfast is nutrient-dense, high in protein, low is simple carb and sugar which is far better for your blood sugar than breakfast cereal, toast, or pastries. Ten little bite-size treats were only 160 Baht (approximately $5.30US). This beats the continental breakfast for $17US at my hotel in more ways than just my pocket book.

Dumplings from Feng Zhu Pork Shop & Co.

After I filled my tummy, it was time to head out for some exercise. Bangkok streets are far from walkable. Sidewalks, if any, are packed with street vendors and often have little puddles of filthy water that you may accidentally step into if not careful. A better way to travel is on the Chao Phraya River which runs through Bangkok, dividing the city into the east and west banks. The east banks are where some of the world’s most beguiling temples are located. There are 34 piers that ply this 21 km route. Once you figure out which pier to catch your boat, it’s easy to hop on a boat that will take you close to your destination. For a fare of 15 baht (approximately $0.50US), you can enjoy the view of the city and all the local life along the river banks rather than sit in traffic when you travel by car.

There are more than 400 temples in Bangkok so visiting one is a must. The grounds of the Thai temples and palaces are usually enormous so better be prepared to do some serious walking. I took a boat from pier 3 to pier 8 which brought me right to the entry gate of Wat Arun (Temple of Dawn), located on the west bank. Given the beauty of the architecture and the fine craftsmanship, it’s not surprising that Wat Arun is considered by many as one of the most beautiful temples in Thailand. The 70 meters high prang (spire) by the Chao Phraya is one of Bangkok’s world-famous landmarks. It is beautifully decorated with tiny pieces of colored glass and Chinese porcelain placed delicately into intricate patterns. Climbing the very steep stairs on the central prang is a sure way to increase your heart rate. At the highest point you can see the winding Chao Phraya River and the Grand Palace and Wat Pho on the opposite east bank.

Wat Arun

After getting in 5,000 steps walking the grounds of Wat Arun, it was time to get some lunch before clocking the remaining 5,000, towards my wellness goal of 10,000+ steps a day. Besides, it was time to get out of this 92 degree temperature before I got dehydrated. To find a cooler spot, I rode the boat back down the river to ICONSIAM, an ultimate shopping destination on bank of Chao Phraya River. As expected by the flashy exterior, this vast complex is filled with high end designer shops. But what sets ICONSIAM apart from the other shopping centers is an area called SookSiam which brings the best of Thailand’s provinces into one “village”. There is no better place to try Thai street food than in this clean, air-conditioned mall. The authenticity of the experience was impressive, not only in the food but in the decor as well. I grabbed a bowl of Thai curry for 80 baht (approximately $2.65 US) and ate it squatting down at the miniature table and chair. With 5,650,000 sq ft of shopping space, I decided this is a great place to get in my remaining steps.

After unbelievable sensory overload, it was time to wind down with a traditional Thai massage. Rather than visiting the spa in the hotel, I opted for one of the many local massage spas. Magic Hands Massage is the nicest of the 6 massage spas on Si Phraya Road. The setup of these spas are all very similar – a row of very comfy reclining chairs for foot massages and massage mats for body massages. For 300 baht (approx. $10US), I had one of the best and most rigorous massages in my life. My body hasn’t felt so loose and limber in months.

It was a fun day, packed with sightseeing and good eats. All that’s left to complete a day of wellness is a good night sleep!


How to Find the Best Spa Experience

We are not talking about the top 10 destination spas you drool over in the Travel and Leisure magazine. There is no doubt that you will get the best spa experience when you open your wallet to these top-rated spas. If not, you can probably ask for your money back. For novice spa goers, it can be confusing to know what to expect for the money you spend at a spa. Below are the three S’s to consider when choosing a spa that will give you the most bang for your buck.

Setting

The spa decor and atmosphere will set the tone for your spa experience. You can think of it as a prelude to your treatment! It doesn’t have to be an ultra luxurious space but it should be clean and give you a sense of calm. An esthetically pleasing setting will feed many senses and start your relaxation immediately. Does it have soothing colors, soft music and a pleasant scent? Even the most basic spas should provide these elements, since it is relatively inexpensive to do so . If the spa owner doesn’t have a discerning taste in creating the spa setting, I would question the calibre of their treatments and staff.

The amenities available will definitely add value and enhance your experience. Do you have access to a pool, sauna, steam room, locker room or a relaxation lounge? You can expect higher prices with more amenities, due to the cost of the spa operation. Decide what is important to you and worth the extra money. No point paying for amenities that you won’t be using. Personally, I find a comfortable relaxation lounge with tea and filtered water as a minimum to help me unwind before, and refresh after my spa treatment. Wet amenities are worth the money if you have enough time to enjoy them prior to your treatment to loosen your mind and body so you can get the most out of your treatment.

Size does not matter when it comes to sauna, steam room and whirlpool, as long as it is appropriate for the volume of traffic. My recent spa experience at LE SPA SOTHYS PARIS RÉPUBLIQUE confirmed this for me. Surprisingly, this spa only has 2 treatment rooms so it has a low volume use. The sauna, steam room and whirlpool were petite (see photo) but well-designed and provided privacy and exclusivity. Always ask for a tour of the spa to see if it brings you a sense of tranquility. Is that why we visit a spa?

Spa Services

An extensive spa menu is fun to read! I love oohing and aahing over the treatment descriptions. But if all you want is a really good deep tissue massage, too many fancy treatments on the menu may be a detractor. Just think about all the spa protocols the therapists need to learn and perform rather than focusing on delivering excellent massages. However, if you are planning a full spa day or in search of innovative spa treatments, then it’s a different story. Just like spa amenities, it is irrelevant if you are not taking advantage of the offerings.

Staff

Spa is a hospitality business so having warm, caring, and friendly staff is a must. If you don’t get that feeling when you call to make your appointment, it is likely that you will be disappointed with your overall experience. Spa therapist qualification, training and experience are most critical to the quality of the treatment. Estheticians and Massage Therapists should have professional training to properly treat the face and body, respectively; they are licensed or certified in the US. Spa industry certifications are specific to each country so be aware of varying standards and regulations, if any, when traveling to foreign countries. Do not hesitate to ask about therapists’ training and certification before you book your appointment.

To sum it up, reviewing the setting, spa services and staff at a spa will help you find the best spa experience in any country!


What to expect at your travel clinic appointment

Congratulations – You booked your flight and you’re off on your next adventure! 

Not so fast. Before you leave, take a few simple steps to stay healthy on your trip. By taking the time to understand the health risks at your destination, you’ll keep those around you healthy too. If you’ve never been to a travel clinic, here’s what to expect.

Before you go to a travel clinic

Make an appointment with your family doctor. Your primary healthcare provider and pharmacist may be able to take care of all your travel health needs, including vaccinations. If your doctor doesn’t have expertise in travel health or you need Yellow Fever vaccination, they will refer you to a travel health specialist (for example, Yellow Fever vaccination is only available from certified travel clinics). You can also book an appointment at a travel clinic if you don’t have a family doctor.

Try to book your travel clinic appointment at least 6 weeks before your trip. At busy travel clinics, it may take a week or two to get an appointment. It’s important to book early since many vaccines come in a series and need to be administered according to a specific schedule. Currently, there is also a shortage of Yellow Fever vaccine (expected to last until the end of 2019) so it may take longer to get an appointment.

A travel health specialist will provide medical advice, vaccinations, and medications based on your overall health status and your travel itinerary. They can help you prioritize vaccines if you are short on time or on a limited budget, give you tips about how to avoid common travel-related illnesses, and answer your questions about staying healthy abroad.

Before your travel clinic appointment, make sure to familiarize yourself with the health risks at your destination (our Country Health Advice tool can help). Knowing the risks can help you and your doctor make decisions together about which vaccines and medications are best suited for your trip.

What to bring to your appointment

Bring your immunization records and your detailed itinerary, including travel dates, planned activities, who you’re travelling with, and exactly where you are going – the more specific, the better. This is important because the nurse or doctor’s advice will be tailored to your health needs and the places you’re visiting. Make a list of any health conditions and medications you are taking.

During your appointment

A travel nurse or doctor will ask you detailed questions about your itinerary and your plans for the trip. Common questions include:

  • Where are you going? Which cities, towns, or rural areas are you planning to visit?
  • How long are you travelling for?
  • What is the purpose of your trip? Are you going on vacation, working, studying, volunteering, or visiting friends and relatives?
  • What type of accommodation will you be staying in (such as hotels, hostels, local homes, camping, or on a ship)?
  • What medications are you currently taking?
  • Are you up-to-date with your routine immunizations?

Many travel clinics use travel health information databases to identify local health risks, such as Rabies, Malaria, Dengue, Zika Virus, and other infectious diseases. Based on this information, your travel plans, and health status, your practitioner will identify key health risks you need to be aware of and protected from.

Vaccination is an important part of a travel clinic appointment. This is because many common travel-related illnesses are vaccine preventable. Depending on where you’re going and which vaccinations you’ve had in the past, you may get one, two, or several vaccinations during the same appointment. The majority of travel clinics are licensed to offer the Yellow Fever vaccine, which comes with a proof of vaccination certificate (here is a list of Yellow Fever centres in Canada and the United States). Common travel vaccines include Typhoid, Rabies, Japanese Encephalitis, and Hepatitis Aif not already immune. These vaccines are safe and getting vaccinated will go a long way toward keeping you healthy. However, many illnesses don’t have vaccines. For example, there is currently no Dengue vaccine for travellers. If you’re going to an area with Dengue, your travel health specialist will advise you on how to prevent mosquito bites and when to see a doctor if you suspect that you have Dengue.

Another example is Malaria. There is currently no commercially available vaccine against Malaria but there are antimalarial medications that can be used with bed nets and mosquito bite prevention measures to significantly reduce your risk of infection.

Antimalarial medications can have side effects, but there are several options available (check out our blog Malaria medication: your questions answered for more information). Your health provider can recommend the best option for you based on your health status and your destination.

No matter where you’re travelling, your travel health provider will explain how to choose safe foods and drinks, and how to reduce the risk of Traveller’s Diarrhea and Hepatitis A. The nurse or doctor may give you printed information about other health risks so you can read it at home. They may also recommend travel supplies, like a mosquito bed net if you’re visiting a place with Malaria or Japanese Encephalitis.

It’s important to give your travel health provider detailed information about your travel plans and your health status, particularly your mental health status, so that you can get the most out of your appointment. Some health and mental health conditions can be affected by travel or medication. Your provider can also give you tips and advice on managing your condition abroad and what to do in case you need a refill of your prescription, need to access a local doctor, or have a health emergency since some pre-existing conditions, including mental health, may not be covered by your insurance provider.

A note about fees: Travel clinics charge a fee for the consultation and additional fees for travel vaccines. These fees are not covered by government health plans in Canada and the United States. They may or may not be covered by private insurance. Read our Travel Vaccines on a Budget series for tips on prioritizing vaccines.

After your appointment

Go to a pharmacy to fill prescriptions from your appointment, such as antimalarial medication or antibiotics to treat severe Traveller’s Diarrhea. This is also a good time to assemble your first aid kit and refill other prescription medication.

If a mosquito bed net was recommended for your trip, you can purchase one from travel retailers or outdoor equipment stores. Box-style nets that can be tucked under your mattress offer the best protection because they keep netting (and mosquitoes) away from your skin. Bed nets treated with the insecticide permethrin provide better protection than untreated nets. (Some Canadian travel clinics sell permethrin-treated bed nets but permethrin is not currently available to consumers in Canada.)

Don’t let the precautions discourage you: Using common sense with prevention in mind is the key to a safe and healthy trip. Enjoy!

Source: International Association for Medical Assistance to Travelers