I drank a piña colada. I rocked gently in a hammock, enjoying the late-night sea breeze. I dug my toes into the sand and gawked at a school of striped fish swimming between rocks. I watched crabs scuttling out of the waves. I slept on a bamboo bed in a chic treehouse-style resort. I only inhaled a little bit of salt water. It was the perfect tropical getaway thanks to the Viking Nature Resort on Koh Phi Phi in Thailand.
The Phi Phi Islands are located to the west of the Thai mainland just before you reach the large, well-known island of Phuket. Koh Phi Phi Don is the most famous and most populated, although Koh Phi Phi Leh has also gained notoriety (the 2000 Leonardo DiCaprio movie “The Beach” was filmed there, and everyone you meet will mention this a million times).
To get there, I took a ferry ride from Phuket that entertained us with “Mr. Bean” reruns for the entire three-hour journey. The ferry makes a few stops on the Phi Phi Islands, but I got off at Tonsai Bay, where Viking Nature Resort had a longtail boat waiting for me.
We jetted off across the most gorgeous, turquoise water I’ve ever seen. After spending so many years seeing unappetizing mustard-colored foam wash up on Venice Beach, I didn’t realize the ocean could still be this beautiful. The water at Koh Phi Phi Don is clear and calm, surrounded by huge limestone cliffs covered in thick greenery.
Slowly, the Viking Nature Resort materialized out of the foliage. It’s also beautiful: there is a rustic wooden swing out front, and someone was getting a massage underneath some palm fronds. No sooner had I hopped off the boat into the perfectly temperate water than I had a jar of sweet tea placed in my hand. While I waited for my room, I sampled the sweet and sour fried fish (delicious!) and cocktails (delicious!) from the onsite restaurant. I splashed around in the water on the secluded beach out front and wondered how I’d gotten lucky enough to experience this.
Finally, I was led to my room. I stayed in Makmai 3C, one of two upstairs rooms in the luxurious Makmai villa. The room is a brisk walk from the lobby and restaurant that involves steep inclines, dirt paths, dodging tree roots and a formidable flight of stairs up to the actual treehouse — but the payoff is incredible!
There is a large wooden balcony equipped with a personal hammock, several sets of bamboo tables and chairs, and a fabulous view of the ocean through the trees. The interior was equally impressive: rustic wood and bamboo furniture, high ceilings, a beaded shell curtain in the doorway, a spacious bed, a shower that I wish I had known produced salt water before I stuck my entire face into it.
The room came with complementary breakfast and great service from all members of the staff. One night’s stay in the Makmai room was 2,800 THB, which is roughly $77. Pretty wildly expensive by Thailand’s standards, but an incredible deal for the lavish experience.
I could have spent weeks basking in the luxury of the Viking Nature Resort, and I hope I’ll get the chance to go back.
Sushiro is my favorite restaurant in the Yeonsu Square 1 shopping mall. It is a Japanese chain — the first overseas Sushiro was opened in Seoul in 2011. I love conveyer belt sushi mainly for the privacy of the high booths and (surprise!) the lack of human interaction it requires.
The most popular types of sushi are prepared behind a glass window at the back of the restaurant and then sent on their way past the tables on a rotating shelf. If you see something delicious, you grab it off the shelf as it passes your table.
The different plate colors signify different prices, but it’s all pretty reasonably priced — even if you eat excessively, as I do.
If you’re not seeing anything that appeals to you, you can order specific dishes using a touchscreen menu fastened above the table.
Everything I’ve had at Sushiro has been delicious, which differs wildly from my experience with other conveyer belt sushi restaurants. Usually, the fish is poor quality and the freshness is very doubtful when it’s been going around and around the room on the little belt all night. But Sushiro’s dishes are always freshly prepared and tasty.
I always have several orders of the butter octopus: two pieces of nigiri that are warm and savory, covered in delectable buttery goodness. I am also a fan of the fried eel and the wide variety of salmon.
Sushiro also offers some more unusual dishes: rice topped with egg, beef, corn, something that looks like old meatloaf? But I can’t bring myself to try them even for novelty when the rest of the sushi is so good.
Convenient, scrumptious and private: Sushiro is definitely one of my favorite restaurants in Incheon for obvious reasons.
As promised, I did indeed make it to the Los Angeles County Fair to finish up my 2014 to-eat list of fried fair foods, as well as to check out Cher Lloyd and Neon Trees at the End of Summer Concert Series.
The verdict: the LA County Fair is way cooler than the OC Fair.
I immediately started by requesting a deep-fried cheesecake on a stick be made fresh. The cheesecake center was still cold from having been refrigerated, and it was wrapped in crispy deep-fried breading, sprinkled with powdered sugar and drizzled in chocolate syrup. It was everything I hoped it would be.
Another item I checked off the list was an order of deep-fried chicken skins. What a time to be alive! We all know that the skin is the best part of fried chicken, so why not skip the middleman? These were the perfect blend of crispy and chewy with a hint of chicken flavor, highlighted by the greasiness of the deep-frying process.
Finally, I insisted on trying the deep-fried frog legs just because. My theory was that people wouldn’t eat something so odd if it wasn’t delicious, and these turned out to be the best things I ordered at the fair. The presentation was a little disconcerting because it definitely looks like a frog sliced in half. But once you accept that, it’s not too different from eating chicken wings. The consistency is very tender, similar to scallops. And they are juicy and tasty — kind of tasted like fried catfish. I loved them.
The LA Fair is about three times the size of the OC Fair, and it’s a million times more fun. There are your run-of-the-mill fair sights (deep-fried foods, clearly rigged carnival games, rides, etc.), but there are also a dozen specialized areas full of unique exhibitions.
I spent a lot of time checking out the wilderness area, where they gave camping lessons, allowed visitors in the fire lookout tower, and taught us about California history and westward expansion. Another great exhibit was the Hall of Heroes, an entire hall dedicated to science fiction (and a few real-life heroes, like firefighters), from Dr. Who and Batman to Thor and Harry Potter.
After dark, the grandstand was opened for the evening’s show: former “X Factor” contestant Cher Lloyd opened for pop-rock group Neon Trees of “Everybody Talks” fame.
The sound was mixed terribly for the show. Lloyd’s backing vocals were way too loud, and the first couple of songs from her set were completely unintelligible. The stage was also set up in front of a very scenic large mound of dirt on the horse track. But I guess that’s what you get when you play the county fair.
Lloyd was still adorable while playing her upbeat pop hits, “I Wish,” “Oath” and, my favorite, “Want U Back.” She seemed truly grateful to be playing, and asked the audience if we would be darlings and sing along to “With Ur Love.” So cute.
Neon Trees took the stage in some flashy outfits: lead vocalist Tyler Glenn wore black sequined pants and a sparkling, fringe-covered jacket, both of which I want to own.
The band has a couple of excellent, catchy songs (“Everybody Talks” and “Love in the 21st Century”), but a lot of filler tracks that were quite boring to sit through, exacerbated by the really uncomfortable benches we were sitting on.
The concert tickets were obviously too expensive, since the majority of the audience sat in the stands and left the $100+ seating area near the front of the stage pretty empty. But it was still a great time, and I ended up staying at the fair from noon until after 10 p.m.
Basically, it doesn’t get much better than a day with fried food, comic books, wild animals, rock ‘n roll and a little history lesson. Well, for me, at least.