Author Archives: Coley Nelson

Fantastic Flavors of Southeast Asia

Now that our time in Southeast Asia has come to an end, it’s time to look back on the spectacular sweets, eats, and food from the street.

Papaya salad: A classic Laos dish packed with complex flavors and tons of heat. It is mixed with shredded unripe papaya, lime, chili peppers, garlic, sugar, green tomatoes, and a variety of other ingredients. This dish is prepared with a mortar and pestle and mixed right in front of you. This is so you can give input about how many chili peppers to add, how much sugar, and how you’d like it to taste.  Sour, spicy, and perfect for sharing with friends at the local night market.

Thai iced tea: Heaven in a glass. This tasty treat is quite different from the American style. It is rich, thick, orange in color, and served with milk poured right on top. We may have ordered one of these bad boys at every coffee shop in Thailand. So when you have the chance to try this super sweet concoction, you may want to make it two.

Mango and sticky rice: Rice as dessert? Yeah, that’s what I originally thought, but don’t shoot it down until you try it! One of the best times we had this dish was with fresh mango fruit, coconut milk ice cream, and black sticky rice. Refreshing, sweet, and rich.

Thai fruit: We could probably write an entire post about this category, but we’ll keep it brief. You may see some familiar fruits here such as bananas and mangos, but head to the market and prepare to be blown away by variety. Thai fruit is just as beautiful to look at as it is to eat. Vibrant purple dragonfruit and deep plum mangosteens line the street markets luring in customers with their intoxicatingly sweet scent. A popular fruit you’ll spot at the markets is rambutan. Don’t be fooled when you see it though. It appears to be a sea urchin-like creature but is actually a sweet fruit with a clear center. If you’re not a fan of eating whole fruit, we would recommend it in a fruit shake.

Yakult: This intriguing little drink actually hails from Japan. After spotting kids on the street and people on the train sipping this mini drink, I had to find out what it was. It’s actually a nutritious drink filled with tons of bacteria for good digestion. It tastes like melted sherbet and is devilishly cute.

Thai seasonings: When you sit down at a restaurant in the US you’ll expect to see salt, pepper, and ketchup at the table. In Thailand, this is not the case. At basically every restaurant and food stand you’ll spot a basket filled with condiments for 4 flavors: sweet, spicy, salty, and sour. As you taste your food it’s common to add whichever flavor you prefer.

Well, there you have it. Our favorite bits and bites from Southeast Asia. Can’t wait to go back and try some more!

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Totally Tube-ular

Tell any backpacker that you’re visiting Laos and they’ll fire this question at you: “are you going tubing in VangVieng?!” What started off as a few travelers floating on inner tubes down the river with local children has turned into an infamous floating bar crawl. How it works is you stop by the tubing office to pay admission and a deposit for renting an inner tube. A tuktuk drives up to the start of the Nom Song River and drops you off. At this point you can hop on your floating device and coast along the rapid river to find a specific bar or just follow the crowd. The first bar on the water was pretty bumping, so we decided to stop. As we climbed the stairs, we saw a water gun filled with whiskey to welcome the party people in. The crowd consisted of fun-loving backpackers decked out in neon colored clothing, spray-painted bodies, and buckets of drinks in hand. Everyone was chilling and talking when someone shouted “whiskey train!” We stepped back and observed a mass of travelers assemble into a line sitting on the floor while bar employees ran up and down the train pouring Tiger whiskey into the thirsty travelers’ mouths. When the crowd started dwindling, we grabbed our tubes and crossed to the second bar where Lao guys threw out ropes to pull us in. We spent a bit of time here dancing in the rain before our crew moved on to the next spot. We decided to travel to the “bar with a slide” so our group could give it a go. This bar had a huge waterslide, lots of dancing platforms, and a volleyball mudpit. After getting the waterslide fix, our final bar stop was at Mr. LaoLao where the rain was pouring and the music was rocking. Kim and I started the party by dancing on the platforms to lure tubers in. Mr. LaoLao’s was cranking out a killer playlist filled with Chris Brown, Katy Perry, and Ke$ha and passing out headbands sporting “I Love Laos.” When the sun started to set, we organized our group to cross the river, get a tuktuk back into town, and return with tubes in hand to receive our $40,000 deposit back. Let’s just say easier said than done. We made it back muddy, soaked, and exhausted after surviving our totally tube-ular adventure.

Awesome Eats Aussie Edition

We brought you the best of the best eats from New Zealand, so here’s our top tasty treats from Australia.

#1: Pancake Manor

Are you a breakfast person? You’ll love this place. If not, Pancake Manor will turn you into one. Flip right through the lunch menu items and go for the gold: perfect pancakes in epic proportions. With flavors like Black Forest Cherry, Bavarian Apple, and Bananarama, be prepared to be “wowed” with breakfast delicacies that will fulfill your appetite and your sweet tooth. Pancakes aren’t your thing? There’s always “The Ultimate” crepes. Pancake Manor regular Adam Hutchinson said the joint is open 24 hours and a popular spot for late night drunkies. Way classier than Taco Bell, right? Kim and I were sad to leave Pancake Manor behind in Brisbane but to our excitement found Pancake Parlour in Melbourne. More fantastic flavored pancakes topped with heaps of ice cream. Lovely.

#2: Koko Black

A dream come true for chocoholics anywhere. After hearing from a Melbourne local that it has “hot chocolate to die for” we made it a priority to find this slice of heaven called Koko Black. Here’s a challenge: try not to drool when you look through the menu. The beloved Belgian hot chocolate (also available in flavors like chilli, chai, and hazelnut) shared the page with “spoil” treats including chocolate cake, shortbread cookies, chocolate mousse, ice cream, and divine individual chocolates. After one sip of the Belgian hot chocolate, it became clear why the chocolate parlor was packed. As if the sweet treats weren’t enough to lure you in, the décor of Koko Black matched the items on the menu perfectly-rich and luxurious. Perfect pick for a romantic evening with a significant other or for a girl’s afternoon.

#3: Lord of the Fries

A Melbourne staple that claims to have the “best fries you’ll ever try.” Its niche? Authentic international sauces to top your cone of salty potato treats. From the thirteen flavors available, Kim and I tried Persian, Vietnamese, and Thai . Persian is an aioli garlic mayo sauce, and Thai is a golden satay sauce. Our favorite? The sweet chili mayo referred to as the Vietnamese sauce. A little sweet, a little heat, a lot of goodness. Open to the wee hours of the a.m. for your late night fry fix.

#4: Issus Café

This low-key café is nestled sweetly in the middle of Center Place laneway of Melbourne. Serving up lattes, sandwiches, breakfast, and most importantly- homemade ricotta cheese donuts. These bad boys are fried to golden perfection and topped with heaps of powdered sugar. The warm chocolate sauce and strawberry compote compliment the dish fantastically. So good we made Issus our café of choice for breakfast the next morning.

#5: The Soup Place

While dining at Issus Café one day, we noticed a teeny restaurant tucked away in Center Place with a line out the door and half way down the street. Obviously, when we see a line like that filled with Melbourne locals, we knew we had to check it out. So cleverly named “The Soup Place” this gem offers a huge variety of hearty and healthy soups. They are all made daily free of preservatives, colors, and additives. Kim asked to have the best selling soup and was served a huge bowl of Spicy Moroccan Chicken soup.  To compliment the soup, they also offer fresh (and free!) olive bread. Great choice for a cold winter afternoon in Melbourne. Luckily, “The Soup Nazi” was nowhere to be seen.

#6: Manly Grill

Did we see a kangaroo in Australia? Only on our plate. Kim and I had the opportunity to try a kangaroo fillet at Manly Grill in Manly, Australia. So, what is kangaroo like? It’s a very gamey meat best served medium rare. The taste is most comparable to a super lean steak. One bonus about switching up a normal steak dinner for kangaroo is the great nutritional value. Kangaroo is high in protein and iron, low in fat content, and big in flavor.

Now that we’ve left behind traditional Western style cuisine in New Zealand and Australia, it’s time for Thailand and Laos to bring full on flavors at ridiculously low prices. Yum!

Nom, Nom, Nom New Zealand Style

As our time in New Zealand comes to an end, it seems only fitting to look back on some drool-worthy moments we experienced in kiwi country.

Yum #1: Fergburger

This place is infamous. Ask anyone for a food recommendation in Queenstown, and you’ll hear the resounding response “Fergburger.” Serving up dishes such as the “Cockadoodle Oink” and “The Codfather,” it is a packed house any day of the week at all hours of the night. Kim and I had the luxury of visiting this popular joint twice while in Queenstown. Round one we tried the Bombay Chicken sandwich topped with mango chutney and smothered in aioli sauce, and round two was the Cockadoodle Oink sandwich sporting bacon and avocado. Huge portions, great fries, crowd favorite.

Yum #2: Kaffe Eis

Best. Gelato. Ever. Seriously, Italy should be worried. Kim and I managed to conquer the following flavors during our time in Wellington: golden kiwifruit, forest fruit yogurt, bon bon, caramel, chai, pannacotta, mixed berry, passionfruit, caffe latte, chai (take two), coconut, and chocolate. Whether it’s in a cup or a cone, the only word to describe these decadent treats: heavenly. Next time I see a shooting star, I’m seriously wishing for a Kaffe Eis opening in Chicago.

Yum #3: Cookie Time

Warm cookies in a variety of flavors. Insanely good. Gives Mrs. Fields a run for her money. Stop by during cookie “happy hour” and get two for the price of one!

Yum #4: Golden kiwi fruit

Everyone knows the kiwi fruit from back home–furry skin, green on the inside, tart taste. Well, the golden kiwi fruit is like the awesome cousin of the green little guy. Smooth outside, golden inside, and deliciously sweet.

Yum #5: L&P

This Kiwi classic is a soda with loads of fresh taste. The L&P stands for “Lemon & Paeroa,” and the drink began back in the early 1900s when local blokes found an underground spring in Paeroa, New Zealand. The taste could be compared to a mix of ginger ale and lemonade. Sorry friends, but this baby can only be purchased in New Zealand.

Overall, it’s been quite the treat sinking our teeth into the sweet, salty, and savory dishes of New Zealand. Now we’re off to see what culinary delights Australia has to offer.

How Sweet It Is

As a child, I always dreamed of being one of the golden ticket winners in Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory, so you can imagine my excitement when I found out we were visiting a real life chocolate factory in Dunedin, New Zealand. Labeling myself as a chocoholic would be an understatement. A more accurate title would be something along the lines of “self-proclaimed chocolate connoisseur.” My qualifications? Gobbling down an obnoxious amount of sweets for twenty-one years. So obviously, I was pumped. Kim and I ventured out to find the Cadbury Chocolate Factory. When we saw it, it was like one of the moments in movies when the choir of angels sings “Hallelujah”, and there is golden light surrounding the prized object. The purple banners hanging from the building were waving triumphantly, luring chocolate lovers passing by to its entrance.

When Kim and I entered the building we checked in for our tour and took a lap through a mini maze showcasing the history of chocolate. It started with chocolate’s humble beginnings as a mere cocoa bean and continued on to the spectacle it has become today. When the clock struck three, our tour guide Pat appeared. Pat was a jolly lady rocking purple overalls, pockets overflowing with an assortment of candies. She equipped us with hairnets (yet another flattering piece of clothing) to wear throughout the factory. She also gave us a purple bag of numerous Cadbury confections (including one of my Easter favs: crème eggs). At different points of the tour Pat would ask chocolate trivia questions and the winner would receive (what else?) chocolate. In the Easter egg wing, we saw workers handling delicate chocolate eggs in preparation for next Easter holiday. At the end of this wing stood a replica of the world’s largest chocolate Easter bunny…basically a dentist’s worst nightmare. Pat said the oversized figure still holds its placein the Guinness Book of World Records. Perhaps the most impressive and “Willy Wonka”ish moment of the tour was the voice-activated chocolate waterfall. As we screamed “we want chocolate” gallons of melted chocolate cascaded into the vat below.

The sweetest part of the day? The goodie bags. Cadbury sent us home with heaps of chocolaty treats to enjoy and offered more options in the outlet store. So the moral of the story is: follow your sweetest dreams. Just beware of cavities.

Ice Age: Glacier Hiking 101

When did I think I would hike a glacier? When hell froze over. Appropriate, right? Okay, don’t feel bad if you didn’t realize glaciers were still in existence. There are actually only a handful of locations around the world to climb one, so today, Kim and I hiked the icy paradise in Franz Josef, New Zealand. Before letting us hellions loose on the ice, the guides provided us with some ultra stylish equipment. From head to toe this included: hat, rain jacket, gloves, over trousers, wool socks, hiking boots, crampons, and fanny pack (aka bum bag).

To reach the glacier itself we took a shuttle bus, hiked a steep inclining path through a rainforest area, walked across a flat glacier valley covered in rocks, and finally, conquered a winding mountain path to reach the terminal face of the glacier. It’s strange to be in such an environment because one minute you’re walking on rocks and the next minute you feel like you’re in Antarctica. Surprisingly, the time spent actually getting up to the glacier was probably the most strenuous part of the day. Another surprise was how warm it was on our way up. Many hikers (including myself) shed a few layers and hiked the mountain in just a t-shirt. (Don’t worry, Mom. I put my coat back on when we reached the ice.) The path we took included several sets of chiseled ice stairs and a path that resembled an ice maze. Blue ice caves, glistening ice crystals, and sparkling waterfalls made the scene more picturesque than a postcard.

The secret to walking on the glacier without tumbling down the slick sheets of ice was our crampons. These little guys are metal shoe spikes (resembling a bear trap) that attach to your hiking boots for traction on the ice. By putting your weight on the shoes with each step the cramp ons were able to dig into the ice for a stable walking surface. We felt quite like little wilderness trekkers while walking around with these on. Our buddies at REI would be proud.

So after trekking, hiking, and stomping on ice all day, we saw something incredible. It truly was like a scene straight from the movie Ice Age as the glacier sparkled in the sunlight. It was nearly perfect. The only thing missing? That lovable crazed squirrel.

Cave Crazy: Black Water Rafting

Caution: black water rafting is not for the faint of heart. I know what you’re probably thinking…black water rafting? Isn’t it called white water rafting? Well, not if you’re in a cave 300 meters below the ground. Black water rafting (also known as cave tubing) is a popular activity at Cave World in Waitomo, New Zealand. Naturally, Kim and I decided to give it a go, despite the estimated 10 degree Celsius temperature of the cave water. Our guide leaders hooked us up with a wet suit, jacket, helmet, and gumboots for the trek and loaded us up into a truck to take us to Waitomo Cave.

When we neared the cave entrance, we picked up inflatable inner tubes and felt the air around us getting colder as we descended. We started the journey by walking through the caves to admire the glowworms’ dazzling galaxy. The scene looked like a dark sky filled with tiny green lanterns glowing brilliantly. Not as cute when you find out the “beautiful glow” comes from glowworm poop. Fun fact: glowworms can only be found in Australia and New Zealand. When we waded deeper into the water we got situated in our tubes. Our whole group was linked together by putting our legs on the tube of the person in front of us to connect together.

Now, we thought this journey would be comparable to a lazy river ride or wave pool, letting the current carry us gently through the caves. This was definitely not the case. Once we came up to the first waterfall, these thoughts were quickly dismissed. Our guide instructed us to hold our breaths, close our mouths, close our eyes, and hope for the best. Then we jumped backwards off the ledge with our inner tubes under us. This was one of the most terrifying parts of the experience because we thought we were done with jumping off of ledges yesterday. Next, we had to individually swim through a dark passageway barely big enough to fit our inner tubes through. The second unexpected moment was the hydro cave slide. I’ll admit, it’s a bit frightening speeding down a slide into a black abyss. Our next feat was to lead the pack of cave crazies on a trail lined with ropes to hang on to. This path led us to the end of the cave, and about 300 steps later, we emerged back into the real world feeling accomplished, yet physically exhausted. When we returned to the site, we were treated with hot showers and hot chocolates, which were much needed after the frigid two hours spent in the cave. So if extreme adventures are your fav, go ahead and brave the cave!

Ice, Ice, Baby

This is as chill as it gets: Freddy’s Ice House. That’s where we spent our afternoon in Auckland. Here’s how it goes down: you are given an oversized winter coat and gloves and led into the ice bar. The bar consists of ice sculptures, including an ice moose to take shots of Jagger out of! Literally everything is made of ice (minus the floor…otherwise they’d have to supply you with iceskates.) You can enjoy a drink (in a glass made of ice) from the fully stocked bar, dance to the techno beats, or play ice hockey if your heart desires. The average person can probably spend 20-30 minutes max in the bar, but surviving Chicago winters have prepared us for this very day. During our time inside the icehouse, our awesome Kiwi bartender Kaine mixed us up some passionfruit drinks and answered all of our questions about the establishment (how it is maintained, how you’re trained to work there, etc.) Once you finish your drink, you can slide your glass across the bar to smash it at the end. We also had a mini photo shoot (see below) and enjoyed the -6.6 degree weather. Ultimately, if you want to a pretty cool experience (no pun intended), Freddy’s Ice House is where it’s at!

20 Ways to Spend 12 Hours in the LAX Airport

On the day of our departure, Kim and I had two remarkably different experiences leading up to our flight to New Zealand. We were booked on different flights from Chicago to LA, both scheduled to allow us more than enough time for check in. However, severe weather caused Kim’s flight to be unexpectedly delayed 4 hours leaving her quite stressed out, literally running through the airport to baggage claim, and checking in for our flight only 5 minutes before check in closed. It was a extremely close call. I, on the other hand, had a lot of time to waste. After getting some Oreos and shut-eye on my 7:00 AM flight, my time at the airport was spent lollygagging. So if you’re ever in a similar situation, here’s 20 ways that I spent my 12 hours in the LAX airport.

1. Prime time people watching

2. Getting travel advice from the nice English chap from the Travel Aid info desk

3. Starbucks = iced chai latte

4. Writing blog posts…

5. Wandering around with a heavy backpack on…do-able, but not recommended.

6. Clear up delayed flight scenarios (thanks Amy Griffin from AirNZ)

7. Get lost…a lot.

8. Play Sudoku on your mini Sudoku player *NERD ALERT*

9. Charge your phone in a really inconvenient spot and get curious looks by all who pass by

10. Organize your purse/carry-on to be productive and pass the time

11. Help an Australian man read his plane ticket since he forgot his glasses (He should have read our blog Making a List and Checking It Twice)

12. Spot the most adorable kid’s luggage ever, toted by the cutest lil’ travelers imaginable

13. Have a phone convo with your Mom, Dad, boyfriend, best friend, etc. Exhaust your contact list…hence #9

14. Wonder why people travel in 5 inch stilettos

15. Pick the cutest flight attended uniforms (Winner: purple skirt suit combo with matching hat and green/purple ascots!)

16. Witness movie worthy goodbye scenes at the departure gate

17. Walk outside and enjoy that Cali weather

18. Secretly hope that I’ll spot the TMZ camera crew

19. See the airport staff interact when changing shifts

20. Eat a ridiculously overpriced sandwich, go to the bathroom, brush your teeth, and prepare for the trip of a lifetime

Making a List & Checking It Twice

No, we’re not referring to the beloved yuletide hit “Santa Claus is Coming to Town.” We’re talking about a document crucial to all travelers in the planning stages of their trip: the packing list. Sure, you can buy toothpaste or a new pair of flip-flops at your destination, but do you really want to leave home without your contacts or most comfortable walking shoes? Being blind and blistery in a foreign country doesn’t sound like the most rockin’ time imaginable. Hence, why creating a precise packing list is a must. So, where do you start?

 1: Pick your pack

What brand? What size? What color? These are all questions to take into consideration when choosing your backpack. It’s all about your personal preference and traveling style. Kim and I fancy ourselves to be “fashionable/flashpack” travelers, so after three separate trips to the REI store, hours of research, and several fittings later, we decided to go with the Women’s Gregory Jade 60.  Durable, stylish, and the perfect size for our 7 week expedition.


Step 2: Yes, No, Maybe

Once you pick out your backpack, you have to pick what goes in it. Luckily, my BFF Kim and I wear the same size clothes. This means twice the wardrobe selection on the trip (remember this perk when choosing your travel partners!). To choose what clothes to bring we went through our closets and assigned every item a “yes”, “no”, or “maybe.” It was kind of like the Sorting Hat in Harry Potter…only not. Then, we compared our lists to prevent similar items on our lists from making the cut. The key to picking the right clothes are to determine if they’re low maintenance in terms of care (no dry clean only, sequins and beading, etc.) and versatility (can you wear that cardigan with at least 75% of the other clothes in the backpack?). If the answer is no, then it’s probably not worth bringing. Essentially, we just picked a lot our favorite clothes because we knew that’s what we would wear the most.

Step 3: Dry Run

Try to fit everything on your list into your backpack. More than likely, not everything will fit. This just means you’ll have to make adjustments to your packing list and remove items. Kim and I went through our packing lists several times before choosing the right amount of items. It turned out that nothing on the “maybe” list even made the final cut and only 50% of the items on the original “yes” list did either. Try putting different items into different compartments on the pack to find the best fit. Put items used most in easy-to-reach spots. Also, don’t forget to leave some room in the backpack for souvenirs and other items you’ll want to purchase on the road. Just figure out what works best for you; you’ve got this in the bag.

So I’m sure you’re curious exactly what we brought on our 7 week trip to 4 countries with vastly different temperatures? Check it out!