Some Highlights from Siem Reap Cambodia

After leaving Saigon (sadly!), it was time to head to our next destination – Cambodia. We had three-ish days in Siem Reap and I was looking forward to more warm weather and a lot of temple viewing. So – warning. This post will be mostly pictures of temples. Or me and temples. Or selfies with really old temples. Because that’s pretty much what we did in Cambodia (besides check out the Siem Reap night market – because let’s face it … we did that in every city)! And it was worth it – such a great experience.

wall carvings siem reap

One of my faves - Bayon!

One of my faves – Bayon!

We got in one afternoon and had time just to head to Angkor Wat, the most famous temple of them all, to catch the sunset before it closed at 5:30. During the next two days we made sure to stop off at as many temples as possible – each unique in their own way. Some were very large, city-like and impressive, others were smaller but with greater detail, others were old and in near ruins as they hadn’t been repaired yet, others had trees growing through their impressive structures.

The famous Angkor Wat

The famous Angkor Wat

trees at Ta Prohm

trees at Ta Prohm

To get around, we hired a tuktuk (essentially a motorbike with a cart with seats behind it) who drove us from temple to temple each day.

in the tuktuk

in the tuktuk

Our list of temples included (I apologize in advance if I am mixing any up – they are all running together in my head now!):

  • Angkor Thom – a big city with a large gate and elephant terrace AND includes Bayon- a temple inside the city of Angkor Thom and has huge faces carved into the buildings
  • Préah Khan- another city with a huge temple
  • Nêak péân- a smaller temple on water
  • Ta Som- a smaller temple
  • Pre Reb-reddish bricks with steep steps
  • Mebon- similar to Pre Reb but had big statues of elephants
  • Ta Prohm- big temple with lots of trees growing all over everything and in the walls and bricks. The trees were pretty amazing themselves – their huge roots looked like large snakes, growing in and out of the old building. It’s famous for being in the movie Tomb Raider – I’ve never seen it but I think I may have to now!
  • Angkor Wat- the most famous temple of them all. It is massive and you could spend hours and hours there. We went there twice!
  • Banteay Srei- a little further from the other sights, this temple was not as large but  wow – what detail! The carvings on the buildings here were incredible.
Ta Prohm

Ta Prohm

Angkor Wat

Angkor Wat

ta prohm selfie

ta prohm selfie

Obligatory Cheesy Photo

Obligatory Cheesy Photo

I’ve heard of some people getting templed-out  and I can see how – I can’t believe how many temples we went to and most of them were in one day. Still, it was an amazing experience to see these famous and grand buildings up close and in real life. They were all so different looking and all have different histories. The whole time we were in Cambodia I was counting my blessings and felt so lucky to be able to witness and experience it in person!

angkor thom

angkor thom

banteay srei

banteay srei

Haven’t had enough? Read about the rest of our Asia trip, here.

Some questions for you:

  • Do you have a travel bucket list? What’s on it?
  • Have you ever visited any old temples? Or what about the pyramids? Or Colosseum?

 

WIAW – my first one!

I’m excited to share with you my first What I Ate Wednesday post! So many of the bloggers I follow (including Peas and Crayons and Heather Runs Fast) share a glance at what they eat in a day on Wednesdays and I love reading about it – so I decided to join in.

Full disclosure: Yesterday’s food was pretty planned out and not what it’s like EVERY day. For example, as you read this post I’m likely driving to a meeting 2 1/2 hours away from home and in meetings most of the day, so my breakfast (and lunch and dinner) will likely be mostly takeout, sadly. I love home-cooked meals!

Breakfast: A whole lotta egg whites (I don’t even want to know how many) cooked with hot red pepper flakes and some frozen veggies – mostly Brussels sprouts. B makes me breakfast every morning (yes, SO LUCKY) and as long as I’m not traveling, this is usually what I eat.

my typical work breakfast

my typical work breakfast

A whole lotta tea with honey and 32 oz water bottles filled with Crystal Light. I have a CL addiction and am trying to limit myself to 1 packet a day. #cryforhelp

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Lunch:

Leftover stuffed acorn squash from Saturday’s dinner at Flying Fig, along with half a chicken breast (B had roasted a whole chicken for lunches on Monday night) and half a Japanese purple sweet potato with cinnamon. My coworker had given me the sweet potato to try out and let me tell you – if you’ve never had a Japanese sweet potato before, you MUST try them. They’re so good!

lunch!

lunch!

Afternoon snacks (yes there is more than 1): Apple, almonds and carrots – I swear I didn’t eat them all at once … I love afternoon snacks!

my three snacks - almonds, carrots and apple

my three snacks – almonds, carrots and apple

Additional snacks, unphotographed during the day:

I also snacked on half a granola bar, some peanut butter (with the granola bar of course) and some hard candy – a few Werthers and ginger chews. YUM!

Dinner:

B and I bought a pork tenderloin at the West Side Market from our favorite pork stand and I cooked it with the other stuff we got at the Market – Brussells sprouts, asparagus and more sweet potato. Yes, I love me some sweet potatoes – if you’re counting that’s the second time I’ve had some today.

Dinner!

Dinner!

Also, I got a fitbit so I thought I’d share with you yesterday’s progress. I ran about 5 1/2 miles in the morning and walked about 8 min to and from work, so that’s where the majority of those steps come in. During the day, my steps are awful – I know I’m slowly killing myself just sitting at my desk all day and not getting up for a walk or doing a lap around the office. This fitbit is definitely going to make me be more cognoscente of that!

So that was my day! How’d my first WIAW post go?

Questions for you:

  • What’s your go-to work day breakfast? Mine is exactly what you see, above. If I’m in the office, it’s egg whites, veggies and sometimes beans and/or avocado.
  • Are you a snacking person? Um, yes! Can’t you tell my my photographed and unphotographed snacks? :)

It’s My Birthday!

I had a somewhat big birthday this past weekend. That’s right – I officially am no longer in my twenties.

me at 20

me at 20 with my friend and roomie Cait at BC. Look the same, right? Ha!

I don’t know if it has hit me yet – I know a few of my friends who had minor freakouts when they hit thirty. Other friends at 29 set up “30 before 30″ checklists and in a year tried to check everything off their list. Maybe it was the fact that we just got back from a big vacation and I honestly hadn’t had time to think about it, but none of that happened to me. In fact, I somewhat forgot about my birthday (I know, yipes!) until about a week before and then didn’t really have the chance to process it and then it was here! Don’t worry, if I have a freakout or something I’m sure I’ll share it with you. Maybe when I hit 31?

Anyway, thank you to all the friends, family and coworkers that made my birthday celebration SO special. B originally wanted to plan a trip somewhere warm and while I wouldn’t normally turn down a weekend warm weather getaway, we had just gotten back from Asia and I was happy to have the weekend to spend in Cleveland. And it was a pretty fabulous weekend! Some highlights:

Going out to dinner at Flying Fig. B and I split their bread board, bacon wrapped dates, a goat cheese salad and homemade fig ice cream. We also had our own dinner entrees. Needless to say, I was stuffed!

Going out to dinner at Flying Fig. This was my stuffed acorn squash. It was amazing.

Going out to dinner at Flying Fig. This was my stuffed acorn squash. It was amazing.

Grabbing drinks with friends and coworkers downtown.

drinks!

drinks! part of the group

A trip to the West Side Market and Soupermarket. Pretty much my favorite way to spend Saturdays and I’m so glad B knows this :)

soup and bread at Soupermarket!

soup and bread at Soupermarket! (not pictured- apple fritter from the West Side Market)

Some shopping, getting my nails done AND seeing a movie! We saw American Sniper which was SO good but not the best birthday movie to see … it was sad on so so so many levels.

freshly done nails and tea!

freshly done nails and tea!

Enjoying my favorite salad at The Stone Oven. Yes, more food-related highlights. Confession: I’ve had this twice in the week we’ve been back … It has feta, couscous, tabbouleh, amazing croutons, roasted red pepper and chicken. And comes with more bread!

Jaina's Salad at The Stone Oven

Jaina’s Salad at The Stone Oven

Some runs, of course! I started off my birthday with 5 indoor miles (it was too icy and cold to be outside alone in my opinion) and realize I am slowly getting back into my running groove after our vacation. Because it was my birthday, B ran with my TWICE this week. An easy 3.75 mi run and then a not-so-easy (but should have been) 6 miler on Sunday. It was icy, there were patches of snow, and it was windy and cold. I was not having it and actually asked B if he wanted to turn around after 1 mile and try indoors, but he made me keep going. I had planned on doing 5k fast (as part of the Runs For Cookies Virtual 5k) but that didn’t happen. I still made it 5k+3 so I was happy in the end.

This week's  runs, courtesy Dailymile

This week’s runs, courtesy Dailymile

Enjoying a suite for the Cavs game – and they brought home a [big] win against the Charlotte Hornets.

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We ended the weekend with some reading and relaxing at a local coffee shop, a brisk (brr) nature walk (anything outside of downtown=nature walk) and then Sunday family dinner with my in-laws.

beautiful and snowy day for a run and walk

beautiful and snowy day for a run and walk

Some questions for you:

  • Do you make lists of things to do before a certain date/time? Or perhaps a list of things to do in a year? Or a bucket list? What’s on your list?
  • Any other winter babies? How do you spend your birthdays?
  • Tea or coffee? Both! Sometimes. I like coffee drinks if I need a boost, otherwise I just drink herbal tea.

 

Vietnam Part Three – Hanoi

In addition to spending time in Saigon and in the Mekong River, while in Vietnam we also got a chance to head north and spend a few days in the capital, Hanoi.

In comparison to Saigon, Hanoi is somewhat more walkable, at least some of the regions are. The sidewalks are wider than Saigon and the traffic and streets seem slightly less crazy and packed with people and motorcars (but there is still plenty of them, for sure!). Not that we didn’t walk around Saigon – Hanoi is just less spread out and somewhat less trafficky.

We stayed in the Old Quarter, a part of town with many windy streets and small sidewalks. The streets’ names change and rarely go in a straight line; however, thanks to a map (and B’s sense of direction) we somehow never got lost.

hanging out on a rare quiet street in the Old Quarter

hanging out on a rare quiet street in the Old Quarter

Some fun things to do in Hanoi:

-Check out the Dong Xuan Market- an indoor market with lots of clothing and other stuff for sale. We didn’t buy anything, but it was fun to walk around and people watch.

– View the old Opera House (like Ho Chi Minh City, there’s a pretty opera house here)

– Walk around Hoan Kiem Lake or others- there are quite a few lakes throughout Hanoi but this seems to be one of the largest. There are many locals walking around (some doing Tai Chi!) and old ladies selling donuts as well. B bought some of the donuts but they weren’t to his liking.

ladies sitting around the lake

ladies sitting around Hoan Kiem Lake

one of the many lakes in Hanoi

one of the many lakes in Hanoi

– Check out St. Joseph’s Cathedral

Hanoi

– Walk around the outside (or inside, if it suits you) of the Ho Chi Minh Mausoleum- we didn’t go inside, but instead walked around outside and saw the changing of the guard.

hanoi

– View the Flag Tower

– Check out some old pagodas- We visited the Tran Quoc Pagoda as well as the One Pillar Pagoda

1420954607430 20150111_003600

– Visit the Temple of Literature – this place was cool – it had a pagoda with a gold statue of Confucius inside. There were also a bunch of statues of turtles with old student essays on them from ages ago.

20150110_025700

– Checked out the night market (so many of these cities have night markets!)

– Visit the Hoa Lo Prison (also called the Hanoi Hilton)- This is where many POWs stayed during the Vietnam War, including John McCain. I’m not going to lie, like some of the other Vietnam War attractions, this was somewhat weird to see. The prison was originally built by the French and they had photos and statues of the Vietnam prisoners during the French imperialism being tortured, starving, etc. But then they also had photos of American prisoners playing games, playing with pets, eating gourmet meals, decorating Christmas trees, etc. during their stay. Thus it’s called the “Hanoi Hilton.”

– See a Water Puppets show. This was really cool! They have performances throughout the day with people doing puppetry in an indoor water theatre. It’s a live performance with traditional music playing and all in Vietnamese.

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– Drinking Vietnamese coffee. It’s super strong and super sweet- they put in a ton of sugar and condensed milk. It tastes like coffee ice cream.

Vietnamese coffee

Vietnamese coffee! Mine was traditional, B’s was black.

And of course, we loved  trying tons of local food. Much pho for breakfast and dinner, as well as spring rolls for snacks (and appetizers), fruit (my favorite is the jack fruit) and the best street food – Bun Cha, a specialty of the north of Vietnam which is noodles, broth, different types of beef that’s cooked on a grill on the street and fried clam spring rolls. SO good. We even made it to KOTO one day, a restaurant that employs local former at risk Vietnamese teenagers, similar to Homegirl Cafe in the U.S.

Best street food ever.

Best street food ever.

breakfast!

breakfast! fresh fruit, bread with meat and cheese and also fruit juice.

More pho. Of course.

More pho. Of course.

Overall, the trip was incredible. Vietnam, Hong Kong, Cambodia and Macau – I can’t believe we finally did this trip. It’s been one of the trips we’ve talked about but also one of those trips we thought would perhaps stay on our bucket list forever. Check out some more of our Asia trip, here! If you have the chance to go to any of these places, I highly recommend it.

 

BROWNIE TIME …. Trying out the Special K Brownies

I love to bake – but you knew that, didn’t you? Whether you know me and I’ve brought you treats, or you read my blog and know that the posts are either baking or running-related, I think it’s obvious. Baking (and desserts!) are my happy place.

So when I got asked to try the new Special K Brownies I was excited but skeptical. I love a homemade treat, especially a good cookie bar. And after dinner (or before, who am I kidding) when the dessert craving hits, a soft gooey cookie holds a special place in my heart any day. How would the Special K treats compare?

Some info about Special K Brownies- they’re pre-portioned (so you don’t eat the whole pan!) 80-calorie treats that satisfy chocolate cravings ad come in two flavors: Divine Fudge and Heavenly Caramel. They’re available at grocery stores in the US right now!

The good:

  • The CHEWY-factor: Oh, it’s there. These brownies are chewy and in my opinion, the perfect texture. The caramel one has bits of caramel chunks throughout and a drizzle throughout.
  • The taste: I liked these! I thought they tasted pretty good, and a nice alternative to other ways of satisfying your chocolate craving …

The not-as-good:

  • The size: These bars are bite-sized – just a few inches square. At only 80 calories I suppose that’s what you get, but when you eat two together with peanut butter in the middle like a sandwich (I’m not saying I DIDN’T do that) they’re more filling but obviously more calories.
  • The variety: I’d love to see more variety of flavors! Perhaps a chocolate chunk flavor with a blondie-type cookie? Or a peanut butter flavor? Or mint? I know these are NEW so who knows – maybe it’s coming!

Visit www.specialk.com or Special K on Facebook for more information on the new Special K Brownies.

This post is sponsored by FitFluential on behalf of Special K.

 

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Vietnam Part Two – A Day on the Mekong River

One of my favorite parts of our Asia trip and trip to Vietnam was our day trip to the Mekong River. Our day started off early – it was about a 2.75 hour drive to the boat station where our adventure would begin.

b and i on the boat

b and i on the boat

Around 10:30, Brian and I got onto a sampan boat for a ride down the Mekong river.It was just me and him, our guide (who spoke English and would translate for us) and our driver. We first rode down to a floating market where we bought some fruit to enjoy as a snack. I bought some jackfruit – it’s my newest favorite fruit after visiting the area. I just can’t get enough and wish I could find some good ones in the U.S.! Anyone know where I can? So delicious!

buying fruit from one boat to another!

buying fruit from one boat to another!

Then we stopped off at a local honey farm to try some tea, queen bee cream, honey and pollen. They put the pollen and honey in our jasmine tea and it was so good! I’m so happy I was able to bring some back.

After about an hour boat ride we made it to our lunch stop for a traditional lunch- elephant ear fish made into spring rolls with homemade rice paper, pineapple and shrimp soup, prawns, egg rolls, rice, beef and chicken with fried flowers. It was a feast- seriously too much food.

this is elephant ear fish.

this is elephant ear fish.

After lunch we got to hear a performance from a few local Vietnamese- they were singing and dancing and playing some local instruments and even ended with a Vietnamese rendition of Auld Ang Sine for the New Year!

Then we got back on the boat for a ride to a place where local men and women were making puffed rice, turning it into rice candy and also making coconut candy and rice paper. Both processes were really interesting (everything was done by hand) and we got some pretty good samples and some more traditional tea. We of course bought some candy for us to bring back :) We also got to try some snake wine which looked wild – it was big jars and bottles of wine with full pythons just sitting in there, dead. We did not bring any of that back.

watching a woman make rice paper

watching a woman make rice paper

snake wine!

snake wine!

We were supposed to go on a canoe ride down a small steam but it started pouring so we had to wait a little before getting back onto the bigger boat for our return trip. Our driver got a few fresh coconuts from a tree and cut them open for us- fresh coconut milk!

mekong delta trip in vietnam

view from our boat

view from our boat

Then we rode back on the river to the car and it was time for the 3ish hour return trip to Ho Chi Minh City.

What a cool experience. I love traveling and felt so fortunate to have gotten to be part of this adventure! This was definitely a highlight of the trip.

(Part Three, Hanoi, coming soon!)

A Few Days in Saigon

As part of our recent trip to Asia, B and I spent a few days in Vietnam. Our first stop was Ho Chi Minh City, or as the locals still call it, Saigon.

I’ll admit it – when we first got off the plane in Vietnam, I was overwhelmed. We had flown in from Hong Kong, where everything was so orderly and many things were even in English. Suddenly we were at a strange airport where signs were in Vietnamese and everyone was speaking a different language.

But as we drove into the city from the airport, I became at ease. The sky was just getting dark and the streets were lined with beautiful holiday lights, making a grand archway for our entrance.

Overall, I really enjoyed Saigon. B and I were lucky – our hotel turned out to be really nice, clean and in a great area for us tourists. All of the people that we met were nice. And we had nothing but good food the entire time. Here are a few things we did during our visit:

Walk all around downtown Saigon.

Yes, taxis were cheap but B and I love exploring cities by foot (we even went for a short run along the water one day!). Our first day in town, we took in so many of the sights:

view downtown

view downtown

– The post office (I know, it looks too pretty to be a post office!)

saigon post office

-Notre Dame cathedral

notre dame vietnam cathedral

– The parks

ho chi minh saigon vietnam

one of the many parks downtown – check out the people working out!

– Some markets

ho chi minh saigon vietnam

See a few museums.

I’ll admit, B and I don’t make it to local museums a lot when we travel. Especially if the weather is nice (and it was sunny and 80s in Saigon! In January!). But there were two museum-like stops we made that were worthwhile- the local Vietnam War Remnants Museum and the Reconciliation Palace. Both offered a really interesting view of Vietnamese history- one we don’t often (or ever) see.

ho chi minh saigon vietnam

Enjoy (and make!) local food.

I love Vietnamese food. In Cleveland, B and I make it to our favorite spot, Superior Pho, a few times a month. Saigon was heaven! Thanks to the years of French influence we enjoyed some fresh French pastries for breakfast some days. We also feasted on pho (yes even for breakfast), bun and banh mi sandwiches.

me and the best bun

me and the best bun – i had it at the market!

spring rolls

spring rolls

amazing bun

amazing bun

B and his pho

B and his pho for breakfast

bakery we ate at a few mornings

bakery we ate at a few mornings – yay for french pastries!

On our last full day in town, B signed us up for a cooking course where we learned how to make spring rolls, a green mango salad and fried rice in a lotus  leaf. I can’t wait to try some of the cooking at home!

on the menu ...

on the menu …

first we made spring rolls

first we made spring rolls

my finished meal - fried rice in a lotus leaf!

my finished meal – fried rice in a lotus leaf!

Take trips outside the city.

Outside of downtown Saigon are the somewhat chilling Cu Chi tunnels, Mekong Delta River and more. We made it to the tunnels and they were hard to see I admit. Especially the Vietnam propaganda video about the brave women killing evil Americans … but thats another story. The Mekong Delta River day trip was amazing- we escaped the crowded, loud and smoggy city for a boat ride along the peaceful river, more local food, local tea and candy and so much greenery. More about that to come – yes, it warrants its own blog post.

cruising along the mekong

cruising along the mekong

Explore off the main path.

Since we had a few days in the city, we were lucky enough to have time to do some exploring of non-tourist attractions. We walked down side streets and saw families eating dinner in alleyways behind their crowded homes. We visited an American University in Vietnam and heard all about the amazing things they’re doing. We walked around a children’s hospital that serves the lower class and that was hard to see. We found markets only locals frequented (I presume at least- they weren’t in our guide book, we were the only white people there and we got stared at). Sure, we saw some rats and other things not worth mentioning, but we saw the city for what it is.

Meeting up with a friend in Vietnam - the priest who married B and me and our former BC professor!

Meeting up  in Vietnam – the priest who married B and me and our former BC professor!

Some questions for you:

  • Have you ever traveled to Vietnam? Or other nearby areas?
  • How do you like exploring cities?
  • On your trips, do you prefer cities or countrysides?
  • Do you enjoy Vietnamese food? What’s your go-to order? In the US, cabbage salads and spring rolls. Salads were hard to come by in Vietnam – so bun, pho and banh mi. And course spring rolls!