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Bayon, Siem Reap, Cambodia

There are a few things that travel guide books, blogs and friends’ personal stories had forgotten to mention to me about visiting Angkor Wat temples in Cambodia. If you end up in that part of the world, you should be aware of the following:

  1. It is (nearly twice) cheaper to get a tourist visa for Cambodia once one lands in the  country than obtaining it ahead of time through the Cambodian embassy.

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    Leper King Terrace, Siem Reap, Cambodia

  2. American dollars are well accepted, ATM machines dispense them too, but the prices, despite haggling, also seem to be quite westernized in Siem Reap.
  3. Regardless of where one stays, dust is everywhere, and it is very easy to get congested.

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    Southern Gate of Angkor Thom, Siem Reap, Cambodia

  4. Sunrise over Angkor Wat is pretty, but unfortunately it left me disappointed because I expected a more dramatic sight as I have seen with sunsets around the world. Therefore, if you are not a morning person, you can skip the 4.30 am wake-up call.

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    Lotus Flowers at Sunrise in Angkor Wat, Cambodia

  5. Despite everything that you might have heard about Cambodia, nothing will truly prepare you for the stunning, nearly indescribable beauty of Khmer temples engulfed in jungle. They have endured the forces of nature, time, pillage and conflict. Just as human faith, they have remained deeply rooted in spirituality. It is in these awe moments that one will ask oneself how cool it would have been to be Lara Croft, and to reenact a movie scene where the natural setting already allows one to do so.

 

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The Beach

27Apr16

Have you ever seen a picture of a place and made it your own mission to visit it one day? That’s exactly what happened to me over a year ago when I stumbled upon a photograph of Koh Nang Yuan, an astounding island in the Gulf of Thailand. The island is composed of three little islands connected with sand strips, surrounded with lush palm trees, glistening white sand and turquoise clear waters.

History, culture, cuisine and natural beauty are just a few reasons why tourists visit Thailand. My personal one was a desire to be a beach bum and to chase sun across the Pacific while the temperatures in Toronto were dropping below -35C. And so I did.

For over two weeks my friends and I travelled through Southeast Asia experiencing Thai and Cambodian culture for the first time. The last eight days we spent living the dream – we beach and island hopped. The natural beauty of Thai islands is remarkable and worth every praise that one has ever heard – from the emerald lagoon enclosed in the middle of Hong Island, to infamous neon blue waters of Maya Beach on Phi Phi Islands that Leonardo DiCaprio put on the world map in his film “The Beach”… the list goes on and on. One could say that a beach is a beach, but in Thailand each beach offered a new, different experience in a distinguished natural setting. There were more than just a few moments that left me stunned by natural beauty; the very last one was the one that made me come to Thailand in the first place. After taking a ferry for two hours from Koh Samui to Koh Tao and then a water taxi for 30 min, I finally landed on that picture perfect tropical beach of Koh Nang Yuan. The weather was slightly overcast but that did not matter because there was I on that photograph from a year ago, taking it all in as a sense of personal accomplishment and awe.

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Map of Visited Thai Islands & Beaches

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1. Krabi, Thailand

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2. Hong Island, Thailand

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3. Maya Beach, Phi Phi Island,  Thailand

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4. West Railway, Thailand

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5. Samui Island, Thailand

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6. Nang Yuan Island, Thailand


Tapaç 24

14Feb16

If one was to name a chef who has left the biggest global culinary impact on modern gastronomy, it would be Ferran Adria. Although his infamous El Bulli restaurant has been gone for nearly six years now, Adria’s eccentricity and knowledge have been disseminated across all five continents by his former apprentices – one of them being Carles Abellan.

Tapaç 24 has been my favorite restaurant in Barcelona for several years now. It is a small, simple, basement restaurant owned by Abellan that is bustling with patrons elbowing each other while tasting some of the most delicious Catalan dishes. It is also the only restaurant where I had everything off the menu in one seating, and where I shall always return.

When Chef Abellan decided to open Tapas 24 location in Montreal, I was overwhelmed with joy. After a couple of unsuccessful attempts to eat at the restaurant during my weekend trips to Montreal, I finally got an opportunity last New Year’s Eve.

Restaurant Tapas 24, Montreal

Restaurant Tapas 24, Montreal

Tapas 24 Menu

Tapas 24 Menu

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The restaurant design with its contemporary lines and Catalan accents is an adaption to North American standards, while the menu touches slightly on Quebecouis cuisine with fois gras and game meat selection. But what truly interested me on the menu were the typical Spanish dishes. Croquetas and bombas are done exactly as expected – crunchy from outside, soft and slightly chewy from inside, with the right amount of spiciness coming from chorizo. Neither chorizo nor jamon iberico were disappointing. In-house pickled salad surprised me because it was served with fresh raspberries. It’s tartness balanced the sweetness of tender braised beef and mashed potatoes. The only disappointed was a squash dish that did absolutely nothing for me. The server said that it was the closest dish to a lentil with chorizo stew, which is served in the Barcelona location, but she was wrong. Very wrong. Just like a fairytale with a happy end, a good meal needs to finish with a chocolate dessert, which in this case was filled with olive oil and sprinkled with sea salt. This was a perfect way to end 2015 and start 2016.

Tapas 24, Montreal

Tapas 24, Montreal

At the end of the meal, I realized that it might have been wrong of me and my friend to compare Tapas 24 in Barcelona and Montreal. But we could not help ourselves. Just as Romans say that the water in Rome makes pasta taste differently, perhaps it is the subtle saltiness of Medittereanean air that makes me prefer the Barcelona location. Nevertheless, for those who may not get a chance to eat at Tapas 24 in Barcelona, the Montreal location is definitely a place to visit.


There are two types of people in this world – those who like Las Vegas and those who dislike it. Therefore, for anyone who is going to Vegas for the first time, the trip is nothing else but a gamble. Here are some misconceptions about the Sin City, which I realized after my first visit in November.

  1. Las Vegas is warm all year around. The city might be in a desert, but temperatures can drop to single digits in winter months.
  2. Cigarette smoke in casinos makes one’s eyes red and watery. While this may hold some truth, dry air in the region can also cause watery eyes, skin peeling, and nose bleeds.
  3. The Strip is not walkable because casino resorts are huge. Many casino hotels span several city blocks, but the Strip can easily be explored on foot. The best is to break the visit, and explore the Northern Strip on one day, and the Southern Strip on the second day.

    Las Vegas Strip

    Las Vegas Strip

  4. It does not matter where one stays for as long as it is on the Strip. There is some truth to this statement; proximity to the Strip allows for a lot of convenience. However,  not all hotels are the same, and the accommodation cost dictates offered comfort, ambience, quality and service. For example, the scent in each hotel may span from the smell of stinky feet or of burned grease to sweet vanilla scent.
  5. White lion and tiger cubs at Mirage Casino Resort must be seen. Upon the retirement from showbussiness, Siefried and Roy created a secret garden at Mirage where they host their animals. At first this tourist attraction sounded appealing, but after visiting it, all I wanted to do is escape it. Many if not all these animals look malnourished, unhappy and some toothless. After seeing lions roam majestically in African high grass, the scene of a toothless lion at Mirage broke my heart. Although I met Siegfried in the Secret Garden, I did not have enough voice to raise my concerns about these animals. Furthermore, I do not think that it would have mattered. After all, by visiting the garden and paying the entrance fee I did somewhat endorse this tourist attraction unfortunately.
  6. Bus tour of Grand Canyon is exhausting. Grand Canyon can be visited in a day, and although sitting in a bus for approximately five hours each way may sound tiring, the journey is so well-organized that time passes by quickly. After seeing majestic vistas of Grand Canyon, any effort to get there will be worth it! Bare in mind that in winter months, some ice and snow might be found in the canyon. Therefore, a proper hiking shoes might be needed to explore the area for a couple of hours.

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    Grand Canyon, Arizona

  7. Food is overpriced. Food is more expensive on the Strip than just a few blocks away from it, but buffets, which is something that Vegas is known for, are relatively affordable.
  8. Guys always pay to get into clubs. Dress to impress when you go for an evening stroll, and you may score a free entrance into a club from a promoter on the Strip. In addition, clubs that also have restaurants, such as Hakkasan, offer to its dining guest a VIP entrance into the club but the club admission still has to be paid.

    DJ Calvin Harris at Hakkasan, Las Vegas

    DJ Calvin Harris at Hakkasan, Las Vegas

  9. Slots are the easiest way to win money. As much as slots may seem fun and “harmless”, they actually have the lowest return on gambling. Furthermore, they might be the quickest way to lose money without noticing!

    Casino on Fremont Street, Las Vegas

    Casino on Fremont Street, Las Vegas

  10. Vegas is just not that fabulous. Las Vegas is what one makes out of it. Fine dinning, spectacular shows, luxurious shopping, and memorable clubbing with world-renowned DJs definitely add to the city’s fabulousness, offering something for all generations.

    Celine Dion at the Colosseum (courtesy of C.J.)

    Celine Dion at the Colosseum, Caesar’s Palace (courtesy of C.J.)


New York City View from Brooklyn Bridge

New York City View from Brooklyn Bridge

This summer I ventured off to New York City for an extended weekend.  While I did all typical things one does when in NYC (eat, shop, stroll along avenues, and go to theater), one thing distinguished this trip from so many others. I noticed the change in customer service.

I do not know what happened, but the days of f*ck off attitude are gone amongst New Yorkers. While waiting for a shop assistant to find the right denim wash that I was looking for, I was treated with tentative care, making sure that I don’t dehydrate on a hot summer day. On a Saturday night, my friends and I walked into one of the hottest restaurants in Meatpacking District without a dinner reservation. Although fully booked, the restaurant staff made sure that we were accommodated. Whether the reason for these customer experiences was me or the chance, I was impressed. So well done New York!

Oh and if you wonder who has better Peking duck – Tao restaurant or Buddakan, the answer is Buddakah! For the stunning décor and service both places should be on the list of upscale Asian restaurants to visit in the city.


I’ve been pondering for a while how to describe Mexico City and the time that I spent over there. But all tourist sites and experiences are overshadowed by people who surrounded me for those four days. Many have expressed safety concerns about this city of 21 million inhabitants, yet once in it, one understands that there is nothing to worry about. This is a hidden gem of North America full of energy, great food and friendly people; a place with most museums in the world and greenery that engulfs urban development. As to me, the city is nothing else but 5 things: happiness, friendship, chaos, traffic, and unforgettable times.


What happened in the next 12 hours following the news of leopard sighting deserves a blog entry on its own. It was National Geographic worth material, and the experience that defined awesomeness of my safari trip.

12 hours of leopard’s life in Sabi Sands

In the late afternoon, a male leopard was taking a nap hidden in the tall savannah grass before heading for a stroll, marking his territory, and coming to a clearing to look for a prey. His meticulously planned hunt went well into the night until he interrupted our dinner. Around 9.30 pm as we sat down around the lodge fire, our guide started shouting at us to jump back onto the truck and head into the bush because killing sounds were heard. Not even 100 m from our camp, same leopard that we spotted earlier today, was dragging a baby deer. Grabbing the deer by its neck, he dug his claws deep into the tree bark, and in few jumps, climbed up, securing the prey on the branches right above me. Deer’s urine and blood started dripping right in front of us while ripped deer’s hair flew in the air like fluffy feathers. The leopard moved from the deer’s neck to buttocks, and the feast finally began. So there I was – in the deepest part of Africa and away from civilization – witnessing something that only a few get to see. At this point there were only two sounds that I could hear – crickets in the distance, and leopard’s teeth ripping deer’s flesh, fiber by fiber. As grotesque as it sounds, it was one of the most beautiful things one could experience and the act of nature at its finest. Mesmerized with the view, we all watched the leopard eat for over 40 min. before heading back to the camp to have our dinner. 

Many say that an African safari is one of the lifetime experiences. But once you experience it, you realise how addictive it becomes, and how one safari is not enough. After visiting Kruger National Park and Sabi Sands, I want to experience this continent so much more. I want to go to Namibia where red desert sand dunes collide with the Atlantic and where lions roam on the beaches, to Botswana where hippos and crocodiles fill up river banks, and to Tanzania where thousands of wildebeest and zebras create stampedes that are earth shattering.

Two weeks in South Africa overwhelmed me with beauty, and very often I had to take a moment to grasp where I actually was and what I was seeing. My business venture was unsuccessful, but at the end of the trip, this mattered the least because of everything else, expected and unexpected, that I experienced. As much as I want others to witness natural beauty of this country, that much I want to keep it only for myself, as a well-known public secret.

African Penguins on Boulders Beach, Simonstown

African Penguins on Boulders Beach, Simonstown

Nowhere else in the world did a leopard interrupt my dinner because he caught his too. Nowhere else in the world did I get stuck between lions and jeopardized being late for my flight. Nowhere else in the world did I have a chance to swim with penguins, or walk on the beaches surrounded with ostriches. Nowhere else in the world sky is so vast, unobstructed, animated and enigmatic. Nowhere else but in Africa.

God's Window, Mpumalanga, South Africa

Above the Clouds in God’s Window, Mpumalanga, South Africa