Tuesday, June 21, 2016

Raspberry Chocolate Cupcakes

It has been quite some time since I have put up recipes but this one was too good not to post.  This past Sunday was Father's Day and we enjoyed spending time with my Father-in-law.  We spent the day relaxing and the boys did some house work, but in the middle of the day we decided we had to make a desert.  After playing 10 questions we decided on a chocolate and fruit combination.  Joe did some research and this is the recipe we settled on.  This has to be one of my all time favorite recipes.  It turned out perfect with a couple tricks here and there.  It's not the easiest recipe but definitely worth taking the time to make it.  With it being summer time, raspberries are super sweet and the flavors are amazing!  Enjoy!

Ingredients

For the Cupcakes:

1 1/2 cups all-purpose flour
1/2 cup granulated sugar
1/2 cup brown sugar
3/4 teaspoon baking soda
1/4 teaspoon salt
4 tablespoons butter, cut into cubes
2 ounces semi-sweet baking chocolate, chopped
1/4 cup cocoa powder
1/2 cup boiling water
1/2 cup buttermilk
1/3 cup sour cream
1 teaspoon vanilla
2 large eggs

For the Frosting:

1/2 cup fresh raspberries
1/2 cup butter
4 ounces cream cheese
3 1/2 to 4 cups powdered sugar
1/4 teaspoon vanilla

For Ganache:

1/2 cup whipping cream
4 ounces semi-sweet chocolate

For Garnish:

15 raspberries

Directions

For the Cupcakes:

Preheat oven to 350 degrees F. Line a muffin tin with 12 to 15 cupcake liners.
Mix flour, sugars, baking soda, and salt together and set aside.
Place butter, chocolate, and cocoa together in a bowl and pour boiling water on top. Cover with plastic wrap and let sit two minutes. Mix until smooth and then add in the buttermilk, sour cream, eggs, and vanilla. Mix the liquid ingredients into the dry until smooth.
Pour 1/3 cup batter into each paper liner. Bake for 20-25 minutes or until toothpick comes out clean. Leave cupcakes in tin for 5 minutes before removing onto a cooling rack. Meanwhile, prepare the frosting and ganache.

For the Frosting:

Puree the 1/2 cup raspberries in a food process, blender, or with a hand blender. If you blend more then you will simply need to add more powdered sugar until frosting is desired consistancy.
Beat butter and cream cheese together until smooth. Add powdered sugar a little at a time while beating and cream for 2-3 minutes. Add raspberry puree and vanilla and beat until completely combined. Add more powdered sugar to bowl if you feel like the icing is not thick enough.  Place frosting into a pastry bag fitted with a piping tip.  If you feel the icing is runny, place in fridge for 10 minutes.

For the Ganache:

Heat whipping cream in the microwave for 40-60 seconds until hot.  Place chocolate in a bowl and pour hot whipping cream on top. Let it sit for two minutes and then stir until smooth.  Let the ganache come to room temperature (about 10-15 minutes) before applying to cupcakes. If you would like for it to thicken more you can put it in the fridge but make sure to mix periodically so it does not harden.

To Assemble:

Once the cupcakes have cooled, spoon 1-2 teaspoons ganache onto each cupcake, spreading it to almost the edge of the cupcake. Pipe frosting on top of each cupcake and then spoon 1 teaspoon over the top and press a berry in. Serve immediately. Cupcakes with berries on that are not eaten within a few hours should be refrigerated. Another option is to store the cupcakes at room temperature in an air tight container and add the raspberries just before serving.

Thailand - Bangkok, Chiang Mai, Phuket

Travel 
The trip seemed to sneak up on us somehow.  With me getting a new job and Joe being busy at work, the craziness of life seemed to allow Memorial Day weekend come out of nowhere which meant another trip for us.  Thursday morning, we got up bright and early to catch our 5:30 AM flight.  We were very grateful for my younger brother for getting us to the airport a bit before 4:30 and then we dropped off our luggage and made our way through security.  Before we knew it, we were off to our first leg of the trip.  We had two layovers this time around, and on the way there we flew up to DC.  We got to see a beautiful sunrise as the plane was landing with was pretty fantastic.  Once we got to DC we were both hungry so Joe grabbed a bagel and biscuit and I had a sandwich.  We had quite a long layover, 5 hours, so Joe got busy getting some work done while I read, got some steps in so I wouldn’t get behind on my fitbit challenge, and worked a little bit.  Before we knew it we were boarding our 12:00 flight to Tokyo!  We got incredibly lucky to snag some bulkhead seats so we had leg room for days!   
Once we got situated and took of it was time for lunch.  We got got the Japanese style meal which had some noodles, Spanish Mackerel with some unknown veggies and rice, smoked salmon and chicken, and more.  They passed out some Haagen-Dazs ice cream for desert which Joe loved! After we ate we both enjoyed some time watching movies and playing games before taking some zzzquil to help us sleep.  We were pretty tired since we got up so early but it was hard forcing yourself to fall asleep for the “night” at 5PM!  The Zzzquil helped though and before I knew it, I had been sleeping and tossing and turning for 8 hours!  Once they turned the lights back on it was time for another meal.  This time I had some fried chicken and noodles and some fruit while Joe got the lasagna.  Interesting choices for what they called “breakfast” but it was pretty good food!  ANA air did not disappoint.  After that Joe watched another movie while I read up for the remaining couple hours of the trip and before we knew it we had made it to Tokyo.  Once in Tokyo we had a 3 hour layover so we got to catch up on social media, Joe got some work done, and I got some steps in while exploring the airport.  There are so many good cultural experiences inside the airport walls!  There were beautiful art displays, great little shops and amazing looking restaurants.  Before we knew it it was time to board the last leg of our flight to Bangkok. 
 The flight to Bangkok boarded a little bit late, and then we sat on the airplane for a while before we finally took off about an hour later. Once we finally took off, the flight was only about 7 hours.  We got a snack and meal within the first couple of hours on the flight.  Joe and I both got basil chicken with some veggies and they were good.  The plane was not as nice as the previous one but it was comfortable leg room wise.  Joe dozed on and off during the flight while I tried to stay awake since I had slept so much on the previous flight and read.  Before we knew it we had one more snack of a croissant and then it was time to land.   
Once at the airport we went through customs pretty quickly.  It was one of the easiest customs we had done which was nice since it was almost midnight!  After that we headed to to grab a taxi.  A nice gentleman who was very familiar with the airport was also getting a taxi so he walked us to where they were at.  We got a cab quick and hit the road.  It was about a 45 minute drive to the airport and Joe had done his research with how much it cost, so we opted for the meter running and paying the tolls instead of the 600 Baht flat rate (which can be a rip off).  We ended up paying under 600 which was nice and before we knew it we were checking it. 

We were staying at the Hilton Millennium since it was inexpensive and I could use my miles. Once we got checked in we got to our room which had a beautiful view of the river and the downtown lights.  After a quick shower we were ready for bed since we had a long day planned the next morning! 

Day 1 – Bangkok 
We had set the alarm for 7:30 but were both up well before 7:30 since the sun rises before 6 AM here!  We relaxed a bit before getting moving.  Once we got up and got ready for the day we packed up our stuff and checked out and stored our luggage before spending the day exploring Bangkok.  The front desk also had our train tickets which we picked up before heading out.  The staff was great in telling us how to get to the two palaces we wanted to get to.  The Hilton has a shuttle that gets you across the river and to the main boat taxi.  We paid 40 Baht each for the water taxi which took us to The Grand Palace.   
 The first stop was food since we hat eaten in the morning.  Joe did some research before hand so he knew where the restaurant was that we wanted to go to.  Krisa Thai Food was a small restaurant right next to the grand palace, and the best part was that it was air conditioned.  Although the temperatures were cooling down, it was still over 90 our and VERY humid!  It felt like Atlanta in the middle of the summer but we normally don’t spend that much time outside!  I got soy chicken noodles and Joe got pad thai which were both amazing!  With the two meals and water our bill came out to 230 Baht which is under $10! 

You have to cover your knees and shoulders to get in so we put a deposit down (200 Baht/article) and got dressed to enter.  You get the money once you return the clothes so it’s not a huge deal.  Entrance was 500 Baht each which was a bit expensive for Thailand but since it’s really the only tourist attraction in Bangkok I guess they can get away with it! 

We started exploring the Wat Phra Kaew first which is a stunning and huge temple before walking around the Grand Palace (which was closed inside).  We spent a couple hours exploring the whole area before heading to Wat Pho which is a much smaller palace down the street.  This was nice to because it was less expensive (100 Baht) and a lot less crowded.  

We finished up exploring there before heading to walk through the streets of Bangkok a bit and wonder around China Town.  Since it was the weekend the food street vendors were not out which was a it sad but Joe had a back up plan again and he made a pit stop at Nai Mong Hoy Tod which was one of the top 10 street foods on CNN.  They are known for their oyster omelets which seems strange, and it was, but honestly super tasty!  I wasn’t super hungry so we only ordered one omelet (more like fried egg with oyster and duck sauce) and two bottles of water so it came out to 120 Baht.  While we were eating the owner came by and asked us if we could help his daughter with her English homework which was really cute!  Here homework was hard!  After that snack we decided to head back to the Hilton to relax for an hour or so before collecting our bags.  Since we had to cross back over the river and we didn’t really feel like walking (it was getting super hot out!) we grabbed a taxi for 300 Baht and headed back to the hotel.  At 4:20 we took the hotel shuttle back across the river with all of our luggage and started making our way to the train station. 

When we made it across the river we decided it was only a 1 mile walk to the station so we would go ahead and do that instead of a taxi.  That was a terrible idea and Joe and I arrived at the train station dripping in sweat. We had planned to grab dinner before we got to the station because there was one of the best noodle places right next door but it was not open at 5 like we though, so we just made our way to the station.  We were lucky that the train was already there even though it was an hour early so we went ahead an found our cabin since it was air conditioned.  After cooling off a bit Joe got back off and grabbed some waters from the train station, then it was time to relax.  Before we knew it the train was off!  We departed around 6:10 and had a 13 hour train ride ahead of us.  We chose to go 1st class in a sleeper cabin so we had our own compartment and an air conditioned room.  The room was quite roomy with the two beds and we had our own sink which was nice!  Since we did not grab dinner at the restaurant we opted for dinner on the train.  They brought by menus and we ordered from our cabin and got it delivered to our room so we didn’t have to worry about leaving our luggage.  Joe and I decided to split two meals, the cashew chicken and the sweet and sour chicken.  Both came with a duck curry, fruit, rice, and a salad so it was plenty of food.  After dinner we relaxed a bit more and then they came to make our beds.  Once the beds were made and the sun had set we decided the day was long enough and we could go to bed.  

Day 2 – Chiang Mai 
We both woke up periodically since the train was stopping, things were squeaking in the room, and on occasions the AC would slow down so we would get hot, but all in all since we were asleep for 10 hours we woke up well rested around 6. That gave us about an hour to open our window and enjoy the country side and watch the sun rise.  We arrived at the station sometime after 7 and got off.  The station was really pretty and clean!  On our way out we stopped by the tourist desk to grab a map and they offered us a taxi to our hotel for 150 Baht.  That was less than expected so we hopped into a guys car and headed to our hotel.  After he stopped for directions a couple times we finally made it to our hotel around 8.  We stayed at the Bodhi Hotel which was inside the old city walls.  We wanted to make sure we were walkable to things so it was a perfect location.  Once we got checked they took our luggage since our room wasn’t ready and we headed to breakfast at Chiang Mai breakfast world which was one of the best breakfast places near us.  Shockingly there were so many breakfast options open!  
 We got to the restaurant and the menu was super long!  After looking over it I opted for the fruit of the season and a baguette with fresh jelly.  The fruit of the season platter was HUGE and amazing!  Joe got the Greek Plate which came with prosciutto, bree, olives, tomatoes and feta, and some toast.  He also got tea and complimentary campaign since his meal was over 200 Baht.  Between that and two bottles of water our total came out to 470 Baht which was very reasonable!  After breakfast we wondered our way back to the hotel where we researched what we wanted to do that day.  While we were researching, they told us our room was ready so we got settled in and showered since we hadn’t showered in over a day and had sweat a lot in our day in Bankok since it was so hot!  The shower felt amazing and we were ready to hit the road around 11 to explore. 
 We decided to go to Wat Chedi Luang, Wat Phra Singh, and Nong Buak Haad Public Park.  The first two were local temples which were beautiful to see.  We love wondering around the temples and surrounding areas and seeing all of the beautiful sculptures.  Wat Chedi Luang was one of the oldest temples and very different from all of the other ones so it was really neat to see.  Both were so different from the ones we had seen in Bali and even the ones in Bangkok. After the two temples we decided on lunch at Taa Pang Cat.  This was such a cute restaurant that reminded me of a European cafĂ©.   I started my meal with a passion fruit smoothie and Joe started with a cinnamon roll.  After that I got a glass noodle salad with chicken and Joe got a chicken curry Panini.  Both were absolutely amazing.  We also split an order of spring rolls and some waters, and our total was only 330 Baht!  You can’t beat that price and the staff was incredibly friendly.  Once we wrapped lunch we headed to the park.  The park was beautiful and it was really cool to see some locals around as well as some tourist just relaxing.  We strolled around the park for a bit but it was getting to be later in the afternoon so we were getting hot.  We decided to head back to the hotel and then spent some time relaxing at the pool.  The hotel pool is very pleasant and has a nice shelf to sit on so we enjoyed a couple hours there before cleaning up for dinner.   

On Sundays in Chiang Mai there is a market that closes down a lot of the streets in the old city walls.  We wondered that way for dinner since it was only about 2 blocks away.  We spent a couple hours wondering the streets.  There are so many things to see that it is nearly impossible to see it all.  There are food vendors, some for tourists, a lot of local vendors that the locals shop at, and music and entertainment around every corner.  We loved just wondering around the streets, snacking on whatever sparked our interest since it was all between 10 and 20 Baht, and picking up some souvenirs to take home.  E food was amazing and we had some pad thai, chicken wings (which Joe thought were the best ones he has ever had!), spring rolls, pork skewers, and so much more! We had walked quite a bit exploring so once we had finished shopping and eating we wondered back to the hotel to call it a night.  We couldn’t stay out too late since we had a packed schedule the following day! 


Day 3 – Chiang Mai – Elephant Farm 
This was the day I was looking forward to the most on this trip.  We decided to pass on the elephants in Bali in hopes that we would get to experience them if we ever came to Thailand, so here we were 6 months later.  Elephants are native to Thailand and in the past 40 years the population has been cut nearly in half.  They are supposed to live for 80+ years but because they have been abused for so long, they are no longer living out their life span.  When in Thailand, you have to make sure you pick an elephant farm that meets your needs.  We really wanted to go to one that rescued elephants and took care of them instead of just going to a tourist attraction.  Patara Elephant farm was just that!  They are only open 3 days a week and only allow 12 visitors a day.  You become an elephant “owner” for the day and are paired with an elephant for the duration of your time there.  This was a magical experience. 

After we woke up we headed downstairs to grab breakfast at the hotel since it was complimentary.  They have a little bit of everything, fruit, pancakes and waffles and bacon, pastries, and then an assortment of Thai food.  Joe got a little of everything but I opted for some fruit and toast before heading out.  Patara Elephant Farm comes and picks you up at the hotel so we headed out around 7:45.  We got picked up and there were two other couples in the car.  The drive is about an hour and a half so it was great getting to see the country.  The two other couples were fascinating to talk to so the drive went by super quick.  One lived in Mexico but had spent some time in the states as well.  They were on their 3 week honeymoon trekking through SE Asia and were very entrepreneurial minded.  Mauricio worked for Amazon Mexico and his wife was an graphic designer.  The other couple just moved to Austin after Nick finished his MBA at Vandy and Molly was a counselor for young kids. They were on a 8 week trek through SE Asia before he starts working for Dell.  It is always great meeting people that love to travel as much as us, hearing about where they have been so we can pick our next trip, and sharing our experiences in Thailand.  We are so jealous of their extended trips!  

We arrived at the farm before we knew it and the drive was a bit rough through the winding mountain roads and dirt driveways but it was so beautiful.  Once we arrived we started learning about the elephants.  We learned random facts like moms are pregnant for 2 weeks.  We learned some words like open (to feed the elephant) and good elephant, then we got dressed in our shirts and walked down to the elephants.  First we were introduced to our elephants and guides.  Every person gets paired with an elephant which was wonderful.  We stayed with our group of 6 people which was really nice to have such a small group!  Mine was an 11 year old female while Joe’s was 32 and HUGE!  Our group also had a 1 year old baby elephant companion that already weighed 420 lbs and had the cutest personality!  After introductions it was feeding time.  We started with a basket of sugar cane which we fed them one by one.  They were so grateful.  After that we got bunches of uncut sugar cane which we watched them eat.  They are quite skilled at taking off the ends of the sugar cane with their feed and only eating the parts they want! 
 

Next up was learning if our elephant was healthy.  To start, if they are wagging their tail and flapping their ears they are happy.  You also have to look if they have dirt on them because that means they laid down to sleep and got a great night sleep!  After that you look around their cuticles (by their toes) and if it is wet around them they are sweating which is a good sign!  They only sweat around their cuticles!  Last, you check their poop, and yes our guide checked the pool!  The poops come out like coconuts and they must have more than 4 coconut sized poops so you know they are eating enough.  The poop must be yellow and not black, because if it is black then they eat too much mud.  It also doesn’t smell if they are healthy which is crazy!  Last, there must be a lot of water in the poop, so our guide demonstrated by wringing it out (so gross!).  Once we checked to make sure our elephants were happy and friendly it was bath time! 

We hopped in our bathing suits and jumped in the water with our guides and elephants using the commands like come, stop, down, which we had learned.  You have to make your elephant sit down in the water then you crawl on top and start scrubbing away!  After you finish up the top part, you get them to stand up and start scrubbing the bottom half.  Luckily we had our guides help us or it would have taken all day!  The elephants have tough skin so you can scrub as hard as you want and they love bath time!  Some of them even rolled around in the water!  We wrapped up bath time then we got a quick shower before starting out trek. 

We started by learning how to get on an elephant.  Because our elephants loved us by now, they helped us get on.  You can get on by grabbing their ear then they lift their leg to make a great stepping ladder to get on.  You can also stand in front and they will lift you up on their trunk to their backs! Once we all got up we started trekking through the river.  The first ride was about 45 minutes through the river to our lunch spot.  Lunch was the most amazing spread I have seen!  There were so many beautiful fruits that I had no idea what they were, the best crispy chicken, and then a lot of different rice and coconut concoctions and deserts including fried bananas.  I was obsessed with the fruit and enjoyed the best banana I have ever had!  We ate for about an hour before our elephants were called back and we got to feed them our left overs!  The baby loved getting the bananas and fried bananas while the adults got the rest of the left overs that were wrapped up in packages of banana leaves which were our table clothes.  Once fed they got rinsed off again before we started the trek back.   

The trek back was more through the jungle and was a lot of up hill so it was a beautiful site with the mountains in the background.  This one took about 30 minutes before we arrived at the car.  We said goodbye to our guides and elephants then headed back.   
The ride back we were all pretty worn out from the day so Joe and I were grateful to have booked a spa appointment.  The driver dropped us off at our spa right at our appointment at 5.  We had an appointment at Fah Lanna Spa which was the second best rated spa in Chiang Mai.  Once we arrived we got an amazing tea that we sipped on then headed back for 2 hours of painful heaven.  They had a couples room for us which was really nice and once we got changed we laid back and enjoyed the music as the masseuses did their job.  It started with a 1 hour foot massage which was much needed after all of the walking we had done.  After that the next hour was a traditional Thai massage.  If you have ever had one, you know they are so painful but feel so good at the same time.  The masseuses really got into it and were on the tables stretching us, putting their elbows and feet into in, and leaving us feeling like a million bucks after 2 hours!  The experience was only 1200 Baht a person which is a steal of a deal! Once we finished up we received more tea and some rice cakes before the driver took us back to a restaurant near our hotel.   
 

Dinner was at Dash Teak House which was right down the street from our hotel and one of the best places to eat here.  The place was super crowded but we got seated right away.  Joe got a beer while I got water and then we got to ordering.  We ordered Samosas which are flaky, crunch Thai  samosas with potato and vegetable filling.  Then I ordered phad Thai  and Phad Het Ruam which is stir fried mixed mushrooms and Joe got Tom Yam Gai and Panang Curry. Needless to say it was way too much food but the best phad Thai I have had and Joe said the best Panang Curry he had had! When we were wrapping up the owner came and sat with us and chatted for about 30 minutes.  We loved hearing about her experiences in the US where she taught cooking classes for a while, her 5 ½ year old restaurant that had flourished so quickly, and her hints on making amazing phad Thai!  It was after 9 once we headed out so it was time to walk back to the hotel and go to bed for another fun filled day!  The day was absolutely perfect and we could not have asked for a better experience!   

Day 4 – Chiang Mai – Cooking Class 

We woke up pretty early again and relaxed for a bit before heading down to breakfast around 8.  After breakfast we both got dressed for the day since we had a cooking class to go to!  The cooking class we decided on was Thai Farm Cooking School which is an organic farm that also has cooking classes.  We were picked up around 8:45 and then picked up another couple people before heading to the farm. Again, we had quite a great crew, two girls who were heading on vacation before both going to grad school, one to Harvard Med School and the other to Duke.  Another was a mother daughter pair who was in Thailand for her daughters graduation trip and the mother was a consultant to some fortune 500 companies and professor and the daughter was heading to a really cool startup.  We love listening to people’s backgrounds, where they have traveled, and just discussing their lives.  It is so cool hearing from others that love to travel just as much as us. 

The drive was about 45 minutes but we stopped at the market on the way.  The market was a local market and we learned about a lot of the ingredients that we will be using.  

 After that we got to wonder around the market a bit before hitting the road to the farm . Once we arrived we got dressed up in our hats and aprons and started learning more about the ingredients.  They showed us different plants that we would be cooking with like the different types of basil, tumric, etc.  It is always really neat to see what you will be using to cook your meals.  After that it was time to start your meals! 
 We started with our “appetizer” which was Phad Thai for me and Spring Rolls for Joe.  They gave you a couple options in each category so Joe and I tried to pick different things so that we could taste more. It is shocking how simple a lot of these recipes were and how quickly we made things.  After the appetizer it was time for the soup course.  For soups, both of us opted for the Tom Yum Gai since neither of us are fans of coconut soup.  Honestly I’m not a fan of Tom Yum Gai but then Joe could eat my serving as well.  From there it was time for the chicken curry serving.  Joe made red curry while I made yellow curry.  This was made from spices and we used a mortar and pestle to grind them all into a paste.  After that you add some water and veggies and chicken and you have your curry curry chickens.  Again, not a fan but Joe got a lot of food!  The next course was for me!  We made basil chicken and cashew chicken which were both amazing.  This was served with jasmin rice.  After that it was finally time for desert.  Desert was sticky rice with mango and it the mango was super tasty! All of the courses were so much fun to make and we loved cooking, chatting with the other members of our group, and strolling around the property when we had a little down time.  We were back at the hotel around 4 so we relaxed for a bit since it had been a long day on our feet. 
 

It started raining shortly after we got back to the hotel so we just hung around at the hotel for a couple hours.  We had left overs from dinner the night before so we snacked on that since we weren’t super hungry after eating all day at the cooking class.  Around 8 we decided we would head out for a little bit even though it was still drizzling and walked down to Hot Chilly which was a restaurant down the street from our hotel that had good reviews. It is decked out in decorations and has really cool swings for chairs and a great atmosphere.  I had a fruit smoothie while Joe had a couple beers.  It was nice to just get out of the hotel for a bit and enjoy the night life.  After we finished up it was time to head to bed since we had a flight to catch the next day! 

Day 5 

We woke up early like we did every other day and since it was a full work day that Joe missed, he got some work done.  After lounging around for a while we headed down to breakfast before heading back up to the room to pack.  We were heading to Phuket in the morning and wanted to make sure we got to the airport with plenty of time.  Once we got checked out we took a taxi for 180 Baht to the airport.  The drive was quicker than we thought but it was nice getting there without any rush.  Once we got there we dropped off our checked bags with AirAsia.  We prepaid our luggage per kilo since I know it is much cheaper that way and only cost you a couple dollars for 55 kilos of luggage.  Since we had enough luggage allowance we checked our roller board as well.  For a low cost Asian airline, everyone was very pleasant and the lines were quick and easy to get through.  We had about an hour once we got through security before boarding so we relaxed a bit before boarding. 
We got on board quickly and although the plane was nice, there was absolutely no leg room for Joe.  This was definitely the smallest leg room plane we had been on but that’s what you get for paying under $100 for two flight tickets and luggage!  We took off on time which means after a quick hour and 45 minute flight we landed about 15 mintues early.  After retrieving our luggage we walked out of the security area and were picked up by a driver from our hotel. 

We were staying at the Surin which we were super excited about since it was one of the best rated hotels in all of Phuket.  The drive was about 45 minutes from the airport but traffic was light so we got to the hotel in no time.  Upon arriving we got some tea and lavender towels then got checked in incredibly quickly.  The resort was absolutely stunning and checking in with a  view of the crystal blue water was amazing.  After getting our flower bracelets to welcome us we walked to our villa.  At this hotel we had opted for a private villa with a beach view which gave us a bit of privacy since it was up a bit from the beach but we still had a stunning view.  



 The villa is breataking and we have decided besides the over water bungalow in Moorea, this is the most amazing hotel we have stayed at.  The lounge area has paneled windows that we can open up and listen to the ocean, the toilet has a wonderful salt candle thing that makes the whole room smell like a spa constantly, the amenities in the bathroom are amazing from all natural bug spray to organic exfoliating soap and shaving kits.  There is a his and hers side to the closet so we can both unpack our stuff.  Let me tell you, for the small space that the villa has, this is a stunning room!  Once we got settled in we enjoyed our assorted fruit plate (again I have no idea what I am eating but it is all amazing) and then got dressed and headed down to the beach.  We weren’t there more than about 30 minutes when the storms rolled in, so we walked back up to our room.  Before we knew it, the storms had passed so we headed back down to the beach for some more sun and beach walking.  Around 5:30 we headed up to complementary tea and appetizer hour where they had some fruits, Thai bruschetta, and various other bite sized Thai snacks and tea.  We munched on some snacks since we hadn’t eaten lunch and then headed back to our room.  We got showered and changed for the night and then headed back to the pool bar to watch the stunning sun set.  Since the storms had passed there were beautiful clouds in the sky making for an amazing sun set while Joe enjoyed a drink.  Once the sun had set (around 7) it was time to head to dinner.  The resort has two dinner spots and since we booked directly with the resort we got a free dinner for two.  We decided to eat dinner at the beach restaurant which was pretty empty when we arrived.   
The meal that we got was a traditional Thai meal that was hands down the best meal we had in Thailand thus far.  We started with a pre appetizer which was some sort of beef.  After that was a huge appetizer serving where we got prawns wrapped in crispy fried noodles, a ground pork type lettuce wrap, and some green bean type lettuce wrap.  Then we got some tom yum goong soup which I had asked to make non spicy which was perfect because then they did not put curry in it which is what I don’t like on Thai foods!  From there it was time for the main course.  We got servings of rice, yellow curry duck, cashew lobster dish, vegetable salad, and sweet and sour snapper.  Everything was so different from what we had during our stay in Thailand that we enjoyed every bit of it!  Then we finished with desert which was a crepe that wasn’t too sweet!  Needless to say, we were super full when we got back to the room that we ignored the cookies that had been brought during our turn down service.  All in all, we were super excited that there was only 30 minutes of rain and are hoping that this is what happens the remainder of our time here since we are technically in rainy season!  After we got back to the room I read a bit while Joe worked and then headed to bed in hopes that we would be able to go on our island tour in the morning! 
 Day 6 – Phi Phi Island Tour 

We woke up at 5:45 not knowing what the day would bring.  We came to Thailand knowing we were in the heart of rainy season.  In Chiang Mai it starts the end of May/June so we knew there was a chance we would get no rain, but in Phuket rainy season starts in May so June is already in the heart of rainy season.  So, yesterday only having 30 minutes of rain in the afternoon was amazing.  We also heard that it was supposed to rain all day the next couple of days so we were kind of bummed but there wasn’t much we could do about it.  When the alarm went of in the morning we looked at our emails and there was no message so our tour was on!  It is hard to tell if it is raining outside or not unless you look outside since the beach waves are quite loud.  We peaked outside and were pleasantly surprised that the rain had passed!  We got ready to go and headed out at 6:15. 

Our hotel packed us a wonderful breakfast with pastries and fruit since we would be missing out on breakfast.  We used Phuket Sail Tours for our excursions since they had such amazing reviews.  They were friendly when they picked us up then it was about a 45 minute drive across the island to the dock were we departed from.  Once we got there it started raining pretty hard for 30 minutes but they provided a light breakfast and drinks so people snacked while we waited it out.  Once the rain stopped we loaded a huge boat (it fit about 40 but they only allow 20 or so passengers so you have plenty of room.   

This tour was a boat tour around the Phi Phi Islands.  The first was an hour boat ride to the first stop, Maya Bay. This is the image that most people see when they reference the Phi Phi Islands and is also where “The Beach” was shot.  We arrived before all of the crowds arrived which was really nice because as we were leaving the beach was already getting to be incredibly crowded.   We had about 45 minutes to walk around the island and look at Lo Sama Bay which is on the other side of the island.  The view is absolutely stunning and I’m so glad we got there before all of the crowds to take it all in! 
 

The next stop was Pilea Lagoon which was where Jurassic Park 2 was filmed.  We all got to jump into the water there and swam to a small grotto which was stunning.  Once we got back on the boat the crew had put together some food for us to much on, some Thai candy bars, fruit, chicken, and drinks.   From there we headed to a snorkeling spot where you can see both Phi Phi Le and Phi Phi don and has great snorkeling.  This was right next to Viking Cave where people actually live in year around!  This is a cave right on the water and they make a living by selling birds nests.  Bird’s nests are an age old ingredient of Chinese medicine and cuisine and they can run you up to $30K!  The nests are made from the saliva of swallows!  From there we drove by a small beach where we saw monkeys that our guide threw bananas at and they would catch them.  We did not get off because the monkeys are quite aggressive, but if you threw a banana in the water they could swim to it! 

After that was lunch time so we headed to a small restaurant on the main Phi Phi Don Island.  They served massaman curry, green chicken curry, stir fried veggies, spicy seafood cashew nut, rice, French fries, and fruit.  Most importantly, they had chicken wings, which apparently Thai Land is super good at making!  After lunch we had about 30 minutes to stroll along the beach before heading out again.  After lunch we went to one more snorkeling spot where there were so many schools of fish! The last stop was a very pretty undeveloped island, Bamboo Island.  This island was STUNNING!  The water was so blue and the cliffs made for a very unique look.  Although it was drizzling on the drive to the beach once we got there the sun came out for the hour that we had to relax on the beach and we soaked it all up!  After that it was time to head home.  
 

Somehow, we got incredibly lucky and avoided all the rain that was over all of Phuket!  Seriously as we would leave places the rain would come and then we would head to sunshine!  The only time it rained was we were snorkeling and then the boat ride home.  When we got onto the boat to head home we knew we were in for a rough hour and 15 minute ride.  The waves were 10 feet waves that we had to make our way through, but I have to tell you the captain of the ship was amazing!  I have never seen someone navigate waves like he did and although it was rough, it was as smooth as he could possibly make it!  We made it back eventually, and then made the trip back home.  We got back a little after 4 and were greeted by the friendly hotel staff.  It was now officially raining so we headed back to our room to shower and relax for a bit before dinner.  We couldn’t have asked for a more perfect day to explore the islands! 

Before dinner we stopped in on the Manager Reception in the library.  There were free drinks (so who can pass that up) and super yummy passed hors d’oeuvres like the prawns from the night before and other things to much on.  We loved talking to the two general managers and I think I should probably just go into hotel management and live in super cool places!  It was great hearing about how their kids are growing up (both are from Switzerland) and that they hold English classes for the staff during low season to further their education.  You could tell how much they care about the staff and the hotel! 


After we stayed much longer than we expected we went downstairs for dinner where I had Phad Thai and Joe enjoyed Phad Krapow Goong which he absolutely loved.  The best part about the hotel in the main common area vs. the beach restaurant was that you got free bread!  You also get to oversee the ocean and the pool which is really nice.  Once we wrapped up with dinner it was time to head to bed since we had another early morning! 

Day 7 

Just like the previous day, we woke up not knowing if we would go on our excursion.  We were surprised to find that we were heading on a boat tour!  We got up and at it pretty quickly but were very excited that we weren’t getting picked up until 6:45 so we had a quick 15 minutes to grab some breakfast before heading out the door.  We had read a lot of raving reviews about breakfast and let me tell you, we were not disappointed!  There were 4 different types of freshly pressed juices, 10 or so home made preserve options, 15+ Danish and pastry options, 10+ different sauces to put on your waffles and pancakes, so many different fresh fruits, and meats and cheeses galore!  There were so many options we had no idea where to start!  We definitely stuffed our faces for the next 15 minutes before heading out. 

We got picked up by Phuket Sail Tours again and headed to their office where we relaxed for about 30 minutes while the remaining 12 or so people arrived and snacked on the breakfast.  Then we were off!  Right as we headed out the rain started coming down which was a bummer but we were still excited.  

The day starts with a 40 minute boat ride and started at Krabi where we explored a beautiful lagoon and then headed to Paradise Beach which was in a quiet little cove.  The lagoon was stunning and although it was drizzling, it was so cool to see all of the colorful rock formations.  We learned that all of the formations were made during earthquakes where the water settles but the limestone rocks remain. On the beach they had swings and incredibly warm water so even though it drizzled a bit during our time there, the over hangs of the rocks kept us dry if we were not wading in the water.  We also snacked on some chicken and fruit while we stayed there for about an hour.  

After that we headed to view some more birds nests in the caves.  This one was much smaller than the Viking Caves yesterday but still such an interesting site to see.  From there we headed north to Kho Yao Noi where there is a small settlement of Sea Gypsy people who live a nomadic live.  They were not home when we passed by but they live on bamboo platforms in rock overhangs.  The government recently gave them an island to live on but there is still a handful that enjoy the live of a gypsy and still live in the cave from time to time.   
The next stop was a special canoeing stop where we were paddled around by men for about 30 minutes and we got to see the mangrove forests.  Where we stopped there were also fish farms so we got to see how they set up the fish farms, see some of the fish including a baby shark up close, and feed the fish!  This was such a unique experience and our kayaker was very entertaining.  From there we swung by James Bond Island where Man With The Golden Gun was filmed.  We did not go ashore because the island is packed with tourists but we took our standard tourist picture before going on our way.   
James Bond Island 

After that it was lunch time. Lunch was at Kho Panyi fishing Village wich is the village on stilts.  There are 1,800 people living in the village that is almost entirely over water.  For lunch we ate at a quiet little restaurant where we had massuman curry, tom kha guy, stir fried vegetables in oyster sauce, curried crab, fresh battered prawns and chickens, chicken and cashew nut, and French fries.  All of the food was super tasty and we were incredibly full after!  After lunch our guide walked us through the village that is Muslim so you are not allowed to drink in the whole village.  There are shops you can buy souvenirs from and the famous floating foodball field.  The history of the island is amazing to hear and so inspirational.   

After lunch we went past the ancient cave paintings on  Kao Kee-un which are over 1500 years old.  There are paintings of a person dancing, alligators which use to live in Thailand but were all killed off, fish, and so much more.  It is really neat to see something that is that old!  After that we went to one last stop, a cave off the beaten path.  You can only access it during low tide because during high tide the door is under water.  We arrived just in time and we got our flashlights and walked into the cave and explored a bit.  It is huge so it was really cool to see some of the old paintings and great stalactites and stalagmites.   


After that the rain had died off so we hung around the beach since we were the only people there.  Joe and I tossed the football and relaxed, taking in the beautiful view.  After that we had some pinapple and watermelon before heading on the 20 minute boat ride back to the island.  We were back in no time and then headed back to the hotel.  Although it rained on and off the entire day and we didn’t see much sun, we were incredibly happy to get out of the hotel room on a day we were sure to be stuck inside.   

After we got back to the room we showered and then headed to happy hour at 6.  I enjoyed a fruit smoothie while Joe had a couple cocktails.  After watching the sun set and listening to the waves of the beach for a while it was dinner time.  The beach restaurant was closed for a wedding so we headed to the main hotel restaurant again where Joe ordered Phad Krapow Goong like the night before and I had Phad See-Ew.  Both were amazing as we are quickly realizing all of the food is here.  From there we headed back to the hotel to get some reading and relaxing in before calling it a night.  We wanted to make sure we were well rested for our last day in Phuket! 



Day 8 – Phuket  
We tried to sleep in as much as we could but we were both awake pretty early.  Joe had some work to do so I went on a walk along the beach before going to breakfast around 8.  This time, we did not have to rush during breakfast so we took our time.  I started off with assorted fruits and pastries while Joe had some cold cuts and pastries.  After that we decided to get a waffle made since there were so many topping options.  We made sure to split one since we knew we wanted a couple other things so we put chocolate sauce, whipped cream, and mixed berries on top.  After that we had some dim som which was all amazing.  We wrapped up with some more fruit, cold cuts, and pastries before we were sufficiently stuffed.  Once we got back we both put our swim suits on and went to relax by the beach and pool.   

We knew we had to start packing up around 3 so we enjoyed a lazy morning and afternoon around the pool and beach, Joe took a nap while I took some walks along the beach.  The weather was perfect and sunny so we were so glad to be able to enjoy the last day in the sun.  Around 2 we were both pretty warm and I could tell that I had not applied sun screen soon enough so we headed to the indoor restaurant for lunch.  I got som pad se-Ew while Joe got some green curried seafood with rice.  Both were amazing as was all of the food at the restaurant.  After a relaxing lunch I knew I needed to stay out of the sun so we headed back to the room to get packed up and get showered.  Around 4:30 we called to get our bags taken to the front desk while we headed to get checked out.  It was really nice for them to let us stay in our room so late since we had a 7:00 flight to Bangkok that evening.   

Once we got checked out we took the hotel taxi to the airport that took around 45 minutes.  On the flight back we were taking Bangkok Airways which we knew was a bit nicer of an airline from Asia Air.  The Phuket airport is really small and you can see all of the gates once you get past security.  It seemed that all of the flights were going out of the one gate so it was a bit of a mess figuring out who was boarding and when.  We kept getting delayed for a couple minutes at a time but before we knew it we were off and ended up landing on time.    

We headed to get our luggage before heading to the hotel.  Since we were coming in pretty late and leaving at 6 AM we were staying at the airport hotel which was just a 5 minute walk from the terminals.  We were quickly checked in and in bed before 10 so we could get a decent night sleep.  The room was clean enough and very convenient so it was nice not having to worry about anything the following morning  

Travel  
We set both our phone alarm and alarm clock to make sure that we did not miss our flight.  The alarm clock wanted to go off 20 minutes early so at 3:40 we were already awake.  We got dressed and packed up and headed downstairs to breakfast.  Breakfast starts at 3 at the hotel since there are so many layover people staying at the hotel.  Breakfast was quite a spread of pastries and fruits and cold cuts like before so we had a wonderful breakfast before heading to the airport.  They have a shuttle already waiting so we decided to take the shuttle instead of walking this time around. 

The airport was already busy and bustling early in the morning but we got checked in and through security with about 30 minutes before we needed to board.  Once we got on board we got a meal pretty early on that was beef ribs and tongue which was OK.  After that we both slept on and off the remainder of the flight to Tokyo.  Once in Tokyo we sat in a crazy security line for a while that had no order to it.  We didn’t worry about it too much though since we still had an hour to relax before our next flight took off to Chicago.  

Once on our way to Chicago we had another meal of chicken and veggies before it was time to try and get some more sleep.  We both slept surprisingly well which made the trip a whole lot quicker.  It was also nice that the long flight back was 4 hours shorter than it was on the way there!  We had one last meal of chicken and gnocchi before we landed in Chicago for our last layover.  This was our first time using global entry for customs and it was a breeze!  We didn’t wait in any line and had our own kiosk which went super quick.  Between global entry and having TSA precheck we were back through customs in no time.  We sat down at Stanleys for a meal which was very slow paced but that was OK since we had 3 hours to spare.  We had landed early and customs had be so quick that we had plenty of time to grab some burgers to welcome us back to the US.  Our last leg took off on time to Atlanta and we were glad to finally make in home by 9 PM!  Another successful vacation and trip home!  

Summary  
  • We took a risk going during rainy season but it paid off.  Hotels were less expensive and all of the tourist sites were less packed. We had some rain here and there but I think all in all it was worth getting better pricing on flights, hotels, etc. 
  • The boat tours were amazing and the staff were incredible even though the weather wasn’t ideal.  The kept everyone laughing and in good spirits even while dodging huge waves on the boat rides and it was worth paying a bit more for a smaller more personalized experience.  
  • The elephants were the highlight of our trip and suggested to everyone.  Make sure you do your research before booking the trip because not all elephant resorts are created equal and you want to make sure it is one that treats the elephants well.  Having the full day with them and learning about them, bathing them, and riding them bareback so they aren’t hurt was a memory we will never forget  
  • Bangkok is overrated and we had heard that before but if you are limited on time, this is the part I would skip.  We flew in at night so there was no missing it but if you fly directly to another city then it’s worth skipping  
  • The low cost airlines are what you would expect from a low cost airline, no frills, but worth it to save a ton of money!  
  • The train was such a unique experience and we were very comfortable so it is another way to see the country and not spend too much money  
  • Chiang Mai is so rich with culture, when we took a minute to slow down there was always someone willing to chat with us about the city and what it means to them.  The Sunday Market is a must if you are there on Sunday, but go early as it gets super crowded around 8!  
  • It’s hot and there is a humidity you cannot explain.  You will constantly be sweaty and sticky so prepare and dress accordingly!  
  • The Surin hotel is hands down the nicest hotel we have stayed in (besides the unique overwater bungalow) and worth every penny!  It was only about $240/night and we had our own villa with a beach view, and every detail was perfect from the friendly staff, spa like smell every time we  entered the room, home baked goodies at night, and an amazing breakfast