Vietnam, Cambodia & Laos 2016

 

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I am so happy that we finally made it to Southeast Asia! As I am sure some of you know I wasn’t sure this trip was ever going to happen, but I am thrilled it did. Vietnam, Cambodia and Laos did not disappoint. I can say without a doubt that this trip exceeded my expectations. I long to experience something new each time I travel and this trip fulfilled all of those desires. Everything about Asia, the countryside, the people, the smells, the food, the culture made this trip unique and truly memorable.

My dear friend Molly moved to Ho Chi Minh City last summer for her husband’s work and I knew I must visit her during her brief time in Vietnam. What a lovely place to arrive on our first stop in Vietnam! Josh and I were able to visit with Molly and her family, get over our jet lag and explore HCMC with an insider’s guide. Molly and her family live inside of the French Consulate which is wonderful and in the center of HCMC where we could explore the city on foot.

 

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VIETNAM

 

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Ho Chi Minh – Chaotic, Hot, Melting Pot

Highlights – We had the best food on our trip during our street food tour with Saigon Street Eats. We rode through the night on scooters to District 3, a less touristy area of the city, where we dined an Banh Xeo, pork and broken rice, and an amazing seafood stall with my favorite dish Ngheu Hap Xa  – steamed clams in lemongrass broth. All the while sitting on plastic stools and tiny tables. I never fully understood how important and diverse the herbs used in Vietnamese cooking are until this tour. Their cuisine revolves around the contrasting flavors of the herbs. We also learned that in Vietnam they do not cook with chilis like the Thai because their food is of the utmost freshness. Our guide told us that the Thai spice can be used to cover up the actual flavor and freshness of the food whereas the Vietnamese use spice on the side that you can add at your own choosing. (I love how it doesn’t matter where you travel in the world, each country has such strong opinions about their neighbors!)

 

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Station 3A is a cool side street near the river that houses smaller boutique stores with graffiti lined walls and cafes. We wandered through the stores wishing we had more space in our carry-ons to buy gifts!  Sadec District has gorgeous ceramics that I am still dreaming of.

 

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Hoi An / An Bang Beach – Peaceful, Stormy, Authentic

Hoi An was one of our favorite stops. This is what you imagine Vietnam to be. The old quarter is full of beautiful old colorful houses on streets that are pedestrian only (well except for the scooters!). You can wander through the city which sits on a canal popping in and out of stores and markets and get the feel of what life could have been like in Vietnam 100 years ago. The homes are narrow and long with a shop in the front leading into an actual home where families have lived for hundreds of years.

 

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The best Banh Mi of the trip was at Phuong 2… apparently recommended by Anthony Bourdain which we did not know until later.

We stayed in An Bang, a tiny beach town 4km from Hoi An. Luckily we had 2 days without rain during our stay, but the weather was not warm enough for beach time. This adorable beach village is worthy of a trip during their warmer months for sure! But Josh and I enjoyed the stormy weather and the gray skies. It was a bit magical.

 

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I fell in love at Ava’ Na – a clothing shop in Hoi An. They make beautiful clothes with locally sourced silk and designed on site. I spent a long time in this shop deciding what to buy! I ended up with a long grey sheer silk dress.

 

Hanoi – Ancient, Delicious, Complex

In Hanoi, we stayed in the Westlake neighborhood which is slightly off the beaten path and was quite nice. Apparently this is the upcoming neighborhood and full of expats. We found a wonderful coffee shop called Maison de Tet Decor. Where the owner roasts his own beans locally in Vietnam and makes delicious baked goods… the space is gorgeous as well and overlooks the lake Ho Tay.

 

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Hanoi provided the same chaos as Ho Chi Minh City, but also gave us a chance to look at the city’s historic architecture influenced by the French. You can sense the old and the new blending together in this crazy city. The old quarter “36 old streets“ are named after the goods that were sold on them. Now it is a mish mash of stores, but occasionally you could have your option of where to buy the best pipes for plumbing or socks or chickens.

 

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We ate the most insanely good Bun Cha on the street and then followed it with the famous egg coffee – Caphe Trung at Cafe Pho Co. It sounds like this could be pretty gross, but it is delicious! Of course, the egg is whipped with cream and sugar so really how bad can it be?

 

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The next day on our food tour in Hanoi (Hanoi Cooking Center) we were taken to “Lunch Lane”, an alley connected to the market lined with street food stalls where old women and their families have been cooking the same specialties for decades. Here we sat down to try the snail soup – Bun Oc – which has a broth of sour, sweet and spicy flavors. The way the Vietnamese blend and build the flavors is quite complex. The snails themselves were a bit chewy and this was not my favorite dish, but when in Rome ;).

 

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CAMBODIA

 

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Siem Reap / Angkor Wat – Mythical, Distinct, Sacred

After a harrowing day of food poisoning we arrived into Cambodia and to the Rose Apple B&B by tuk tuk at night. I was unable to make the sunrise at Angkor Wat due to my stomach, but I rallied for the rest of the day. There was no way I was going to miss the temples of Angkor Wat, Ta Prohm and Bayon. There is an amazing mix of Hindu and Buddhist designs decorating every wall and temple. We hired a private guide to help us navigate the temples which was necessary to understand the history of these epic structures. These gorgeous temples were built by kings and the carvings tell stories of the gods which were intended to guide the people with symbolic significance.

 

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LAOS

 

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Luang Prabang – Magical, Colorful, Charming

Luang Prabang is a charming city and another Unesco Heritage Site and we are so happy we made the trek here. Laos was one of the highlights of our trip!

The first morning we woke up at 5:45am to watch the monks walk the streets of Luang Prabang to take alms from the people. This religious ceremony dates back to the 14th century. There are 34 Buddhist temples in the city which is extraordinary. After waking up that early, I decided I needed to move and took a yoga class at Utopia overlooking the Nam Khan river. What a location! The yoga class was nothing special, but who cares when you get to look at that scenery and move your body.

 

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We spent the rest of the day wandering the streets, exploring the temples, climbing Mount Phousi, drinking Lao coffee and watching the sunset over the Mekong River. Not a bad a day in my book.

 

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The next day we spent at the Elephant Village Sanctuary & Resort which was awesome! This lovely refuge is just outside of Luang Prabang. Our wonderful guide Sack was adorable and really made the experience special. The day was spent riding the elephants bareback and bathing them in the Nam Kham river and visiting the Tad Sae Waterfalls. These elephants have been rescued from their logging work and now train with mahouts who do not use the hooks or spears on them. First, we learned our Lao elephant commands – Pi Pi , Sai Sai, Kwa Kwa etc (forward, left, right) – which you must give in a strong voice in order for the elephants to listen. I am going to be honest, if elephants could roll their eyes at the white people yelling these commands they would. We tried our best, but the elephants just did their own thing and took us for a ride which was totally exhilarating.

 

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Overall, I feel like I could go on and on about this trip, but instead I have comprised a list below of the best shops, restaurants and activities we experienced. Please feel free to reach out with any thoughts or questions or stories of your own!

Until the next adventure!

 

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VIETNAM

HO CHI MINH CITY

Shop – Station 3ASadec District (high end home goods)

Rooftop Drinks – Hotel des Arts (beautiful rooftop bar and lounge with views of HCMC)

Food – Kokois (concept store & cafe in District 2), HUM (elegant vegetarian restaurant)

Food TourSaigon Street Eats (Awesome! Ask for Binh)

HOI AN

FoodMorning Glory, Phuong 2 – Phan Chau Trinh (Best Bahn Mi of the trip)

Shop – Ava’Na (gorgeous clothes and accessories with fabrics sourced from local Vietnamese tribes)

Cooking Class – Red Bridge Cooking School (wonderful market tour and then boat ride to the cooking school)

AN BANG

StayAn Bang Beach Bungalows

HANOI

Food – Cafe Pho Co – 11 Hàng Gai, Hàng Trống, Hoàn Kiếm, Hà Nội – Caphe Trung (delicious egg coffee), Madame Hein – Chef Didier Corlou (a chic and delicious restaurant  – the Cha Ca – grilled fish was amazing and cooked right at the table), Cafe Duy Tri – Cafe Sua Chua (homemade frozen yogurt & delicious vietnamese coffee…local spot where the yogurt is made fresh daily), Maison de Tet Decor (incredible cafe with delicious coffee, organic juice and food)

Drinks – Metropole Hanoi (the legendary 5 star hotel has a wonderful bar to have a drink)

 

CAMBODIA

SIEM REAP

Visit – Angkor Wat and surrounding temples

Food – Pages Cafe (cute little cafe with Cambodian and western food)

Coffee – The Little Red Fox Espresso (delicious espresso)

Explore – Kandal Village (a cute street in Siem Reap lined with boutiques and cafes)

 

LAOS

LUANG PRABANG

Food – Tamarind (delicious high end Lao food), Le Bannetton (lovely boulangerie), Coconut cakes (any of the ladies baking them on the street)

Shop – Ok Pok Tok (amazing shop selling textiles from Lao tribes as well as supporting the women who create the art)

To Do – Elephant Village Sanctuary & Resort

 

Russian River Valley

 

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It was finally time for a weekend away and the Russian River Valley did not disappoint! Josh and I were so happy to get out of Los Angeles which was perfectly planned during the miserable heat wave and the Santa Ana winds. I have been to Napa, but never to this particular area of Sonoma Valley. Right away it was perfect! Our dear friends Julie and Scott who were in town from London picked us up at the Sonoma County Airport and the adventure began.

 

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I made our first wine tasting reservation right after we arrived at the divine Copain Winery. What a gorgeous location to do a wine tasting! The views are unbeatable as are the boutique wines that Copain creates. The region is known for their Chardonnays and Pinot Noirs. I am kind of a Chardonnay snob, preferring my French whites from Burgundy, so I was super excited to learn more about California Chardonnays. Bob, our tasting guide, was adorable and gave us a ton of information about Copain and the Sonoma wine region.

 

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We then headed onto Iron Horse Vineyard where they specialize in sparkling wines with a gorgeous hill top view. Who doesn’t love a tasting of sparkling wines? After enjoying our wines, we quickly realized we needed to eat and headed to the cute town of Guerneville to have dinner at the highly recommended Boon Eat + Drink. But of course we had to grab happy hour oysters at the delicious Seaside Metal before our meal. Finally at Boon we were told it was mandatory to order the brussel sprouts. I have no idea what they do to them but they are so insanely good.

 

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We stayed in this adorable 100 year old cabin called Camp Noon near Forestville and we could not have been happier. There was a fireplace and a record player and it was in the middle of the woods. It was wonderful to feel like we were far away from it all and breathing fresh air.

 

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The next day we decided a canoe down the Russian River was a must! We headed to Burke’s Canoes, which is the go-to in the area. Just a headsup, Burke is a character, get ready! We brought lunch with us and spent a leisurely time canoeing down the river. It was a lovely and relaxing 4 hours enjoying the beauty of nature. We even saw a river otter which I swear looks like weasel and not as cute as you would think.

 

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After our daytime detox we headed into the delightful town of Healdsburg where we started our evening with more oysters and more wine tasting. Surprising, I know. This was followed by a kickass dinner at Barn Diva which I will absolutely go back to on my next visit. The space is exquisite and the sommelier helped me choose the perfect Failla Chardonnay to accompany our food. The other must do in Healdsburg is SHED. A fabulous restaurant, shop and market for all local gourmet needs. I could have stayed in there all day eating, browsing and shopping, but Josh made me leave. I will be back.

 

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The following day we headed into the tiny little town of Forestville where we grabbed brunch and a cinnamon roll at Nightingale Breads – the local bakery. Josh is on a mission to try every cinnamon roll that exists so of course we had to stop by. This day ended with another special meal at Revival which was a last minute surprise as we were invited by friends in town from San Francisco. They are good friends with the restaurateur Crista Luedtke who created Revival as well as Boon Hotel and Boon Eat + Drink. We were lucky enough to experience first hand the new fall menu and chef Ben Speigel’s creations in this gorgeous renovated space. The menu is unexpected and divine with local ingredients from the garden on the property. There is also a vermouth tasting bar if you choose. Run to this restaurant on your next trip!

 

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This weekend was such a blast and I felt so happy to have breathed the fresh air of the Redwoods and visited with old friends all the while enjoying delicious food and boutique local wines. My appreciation of Californian wines has grown and I look forward to my next (hopefully soon!) visit to the Russian River Valley.

 

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LA’s Best Fall Events

 

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Every year when fall arrives I feel such excitement for what’s to come! Summer is totally fun, but I love when the routine returns and all my favorite things are in full swing. I start getting organized in the summer to plan for what’s ahead. The trick is to keep track of the different theatres, dance companies and artists you love so you know when they are in town. Buying a subscription to your favorite spot is a great way to save money on tickets, plus there are usually great additional perks to becoming a member like free parking (ex: Wallis Annenberg).

The culture in Los Angeles is getting more complex with each passing year and finally I can say that I feel excited with my options. (Even though I still will be planning a trip to NYC at some point in October, I need a fix!)

 

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Here’s a list of my top 5 choices for Fall 2016 in LA:

 

SEPTEMBER

THEATRE

A VIEW FROM THE BRIDGE

Sept 7 – Oct 16 – Ahmanson Theatre

I have been dying to see this play since it premiered on Broadway and the West End in London. How can you go wrong with a classic play by Arthur Miller and directed by Ivo Van Hove? This play won the Tony this year for Best Revival of Play and for Best Director. This is a must see if you love American theatre directed by a Belgian with a radically stripped down interpretation.

 

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ART

CINDY SHERMAN

Now until Oct 2 – Broad Museum

I went to see this exhibit in June when it opened and it is one of the most immense collections of Cindy Sherman’s work. This exhibit allows the viewer to explore her process and evolution of her artistry. She is one of the most important female artists of our time. Go see this before it closes.

 

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OCTOBER

DANCE

FALL FOR FORSYTHE

Month of October – Various locations in LA

This is an exciting time in the dance world, especially here in LA to have William Forsythe teaching at USC Glorya Kaufman School of Dance. Starting at the end of Sept and into October, USC has organized a month of events revolving around the importance of Forsythe’s choreography on the future of dance. Forsythe has changed the landscape of choreographic exploration over the last four decades. There are lectures at USC, site specific works showing at LACMA and the culmination of the month at the Dorothy Chandler Pavilion highlighting 3 of our national ballet companies – San Francisco Ballet, Pacific Northwest Ballet and Houston Ballet. If you prefer more classical ballet technique to the avant garde, the show at the Music Center is the one for you.

 

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NOVEMBER

THEATRE / DANCE

Robert Wilson’s LETTER TO A MAN

Nov 18 & 19 – Royce Hall/ UCLA

First of all, if you have never seen Mikhail Baryshnikov on stage just do yourself a favor and buy a ticket. This concept theatre piece is directed by the iconic avant garde director Robert Wilson and is based on the life of the legendary dancer and choreographer Vaslav Nijinksy. After seeing THE OLD WOMAN starring Baryshnikov and Willem Dafoe a couple years ago, I knew this current collaboration between these two artists was not to be missed.

 

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NEW RESTAURANT

FELIX

Opening late November (I hope!) – Abbot Kinney, Venice

This new restaurant by Evan Funke will be taking over the old Joe’s restaurant space on Abbot Kinney. I live in Venice so I am thrilled that we are adding another top notch restaurant to our regular spots. I am hoping that Felix will stay with a strong Italian influence and not fall into the boring “new american” cuisine which seems to be all the rage on the Westside.

 

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This list only skims the surface, but I hope this will inspire you to try something new. Go see a dance piece or explore the Broad Museum if you haven’t been yet. Always feel free to reach out to me with any questions. I would love to help you decide on shows or organize your adventures in any way I can. My concierge service Jette Sette goes far beyond just booking your pilates and fitness classes while you travel. I am also available to create a custom itinerary of things to do specifically for you. Inquire for more info!

Happy Fall!

 

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