Southeast Asia, Travel

Travel Guide: Luang Prabang, Laos – Where to Stay?

Laos – the tiny, land-locked and least touristy Southeastern Asian country – first made it onto my radar after watching an episode of Anthony Bourdain’s No Reservations back in 2008. A visit to Laos is, in may ways, a trip back into the past. Although it opened up to tourism in the past decade, there is still little of the rampant commercialism and vibrant entertainment industry which characterizes nearby Thailand and Vietnam.

Travel, Southeast Asia

Photo: Chritiques in Luang Prabang, Laos

Laos is also set apart from its more popular neighbors by the French influences seen in its architecture and food, due to French colonization in the 1800’s, which lasted well into the 1900s. French colonial design elements, excellent coffee, and fresh baguettes and croissants can be found throughout Laos, and especially in the city we visited, Luang Prabang, the ancient capital of Luang Prabang Province in northern Laos, which lies in a valley at the confluence of the Mekong and Nam Khan rivers.

Southeast Asia, Travel

Photo: Chritiques at 3 Nagas Hotel, Luang Prabang, Laos

When looking for place to stay in Luang Prabang, we wanted somewhere that evoked this rich history and cultural influence. The 3 Nagas Luang Prabang combines French architecture and Lao design, which come together to create an elegant, timeless boutique hotel. With just 15 spacious and well-appointed rooms, 3 Nagas is situated in three beautiful buildings, all built over 100 years ago, perfectly restored, and which are a part of a UNESCO World Heritage Site.

Travel, Hotel

Photo: 3 Nagas Luang Prabang, Laos

3 Nagas, which is an M Gallery by Sofitel hotel, is perfectly situated to explore the city’s main sites by foot, or by bicycle, including lovely street markets and boutique shopping, intricately designed temples and cultural sites of the historic district, as well as for a lovely cruise down the Mekong River, in addition to day trips to nearby spots, including the Kuang Si Waterfalls.

Hotel, Travel

Photo: 3 Nagas, My Gallery by Sofitel, Luang Prabang, Laos

Each guest room and suite at 3 Nagas is unique, and are all beautifully furnished with dark, exotic wood, featuring authentic Lao decor and French colonial furnishings. Spacious balconies afford perfect views of the early morning Alms ceremony, one of the most sacred Lao traditions wherein monks collect rice, fresh fruit and traditional sweet snacks from the locals which are enjoyed during each monk’s one meal of the day.

Alms Ceremony, Travel

Photo: Chritiques at 3 Nagas Hotel, Luang Prabang, Laos

The charm of 3 Nagas is undeniable, and only made better by the exquisite service, one of the best restaurants in Luang Prabang, and plush amenities, which are shared with the nearby Sofitel Luang Prabang Hotel.

Travel, Southeast Asia

Photo: Chritiques at Le Spa at Sofitel, Luang Prabang, Laos

Airport transfers are also available on request, and include an air conditioned, comfortable vehicle, complete with WiFi, cold towels, chilled water, and delicious snacks.

Travel, 3 Nagas Hotel

Photo: Chritiques in Luang Prabang, Laos

Stay tuned for more about 3 Nagas Restaurant and the Spa at the Sofitel coming later this week, when I talk about what do do and where to eat during your visit to Luang Prabang.

For more about 3 Nagas Luang Prabang, please visit its website.

Tastefully,

Christina

Custom Song, Gift Idea

Songfinch Custom Songs – For Any Occasion!

When my Mom recently celebrated a milestone Birthday, I wanted to give her something unique – more of a story-worthy moment rather than a material item. Enter Songfinch.

Custom Song, Gift Idea

Photo: Songfinch

Songfinch is a Chicago-based company that brings stories, feelings and memories to life through one-of-a-kind, personalized songs. Songfinch has a community of songwriters and musicians who take your ideas and preferences, and write the lyrics and record the perfect song, all within 7 days. Best friend getting married? Have a sweet song written about all of your favorite memories. Want to propose in a special way? What about a custom song? Your favorite boss is retiring? Why not gift a song that makes him laugh and reflect? After reading about Songfinch and listening to some sample tunes, I knew this was the perfect unique gift for my Mom.

Custom Song, Gift Idea

Photo: Songfinch

My experience with Songfinch was smooth and effortless. I wanted to create a light-hearted yet meaningful song for my Mom that was would make her laugh with reminders of all the things she did to embarrass my sister and me growing up. The process starts with completing a fill-in-the-blank “Mad Libs” of sorts, followed by the opportunity to tell stories and describe the person to whom the song is directed. One has the option of a male or female artist, the mood of the song, as well as the type of genre – or you can leave these options to the songwriter to decide. The mood I chose was comical and lighthearted, and the songwriter controlled the rest.

Custom Song, Gift Idea

Photo: Songfinch

Once I submitted the easy-to-use online questionnaire, my custom song was delivered via email within 7 days, and the outcome was perfect! The songwriter picked up on all the little details provided, and created the perfect song that made my Mom both laugh and cry. She immediately wanted to share the song with her friends and family. The song, titled “Wine and Water,” plays off the point that sometimes we laugh so hard that wine or water comes out my Mom’s nose – sorry Mom!

Feel free to have a listen to or read the lyrics of the song written and recorded for my Mom. It is a pretty catchy tune!

Interested in having a personalized song written? Head to Songfinch and use the code CHRITIQUES25 for $25 off. It will be the most unique and meaningful gift anyone has ever received.

Tastefully,

Christina

While I received a complimentary product to facilitate this post, all opinions expressed herein are my own. 

River North, Mediterranean

Ēma River North

Working in the Loop, I am always looking for new lunch destinations – especially those located outside of the business district. Lately, I have been finding myself finding any excuse to make my way to Ēma in River North for its delicious Mediterranean-inspired cuisine and clean, minimalist decor, which always seems bright and sunny, despite the gloomiest of weather.

River North, Mediterranean

Photo: Ema

While dinner at Ēma focuses on shareable small-to-medium plates, the lunch menu focuses more on individual entrees – salads, sandwiches and kebabs. However, if sharing is your thing, plenty of spreads, mezze and large plates are available to share.

On any visit, a sampler of Ēma’s spreads must be ordered. All six of the options are flavorful and fantastic, but among my favorites are the Spicy Hummus, topped with marinated Fresno peppers and sweet roasted chilies, the Avocado & Sweet pea, with jalapeño, lime, cilantro and mint, and the Toasted Almond & Garlic, with Castelvetrano olives and fresh herbs. If nothing else, order at least one just to have the warm and addicting house bread – essentially the best pita bread ever tasted.

River North, Mediterranean

Photo: Chritiques at Ema

Of the salads, the Mediterranean Chopped is my favorite, especially when topped with the perfectly cooked grilled salmon or green falafel. Made with arugula, romaine, shaved cauliflower, capers, dates, Parmesan, olives and red peppers, the salad is sizable and filling, but will not put you in a coma when you return to your desk.

River North, Mediterranean

Photo: Ema

The Grilled Octopus is a must as a shared plate, appetizer, or side dish. Tender octopus is served with fried kale, fingerling potatoes, and topped with a zesty preserved lemon vinaigrette.

The Winter Squash Risotto is another perfect sharing plate. The current iteration includes Parmesan cheese, crispy sage, and a butternut squash vinaigrette. Naughty in the health department, but so nice in taste.

River North, Mediterranean

Photo: Ema

Other lunchtime favorites are any of the kebabs – chicken, lamb, beef and salmon are all available, and are served with rice and an Israeli vegetable salad.

River North, Mediterranean

Photo: Ema

If dessert is an option, do not pass up the Frozen Greek Yogurt. Smooth and creamy, and topped with a drizzle of California Olive Oil and a sprinkle of sea salt, it is a refreshing end to the meal and combines a perfect balance of sweet, salty and savory.

I hope that Ēma will eventually serve breakfast and brunch, but for now, lunch is offered Monday through Friday, and dinner is available seven days a week. Reservations are accepted, and encouraged, especially during the busy lunch and dinner hours.

Ēma

74 West Illinois Street, Chicago, Illinois 60654

Tastefully,

Christina

Brunch, Lincoln Park

Brunch at Taco Joint

Taco Joint has always been a favorite spot for a quick, casual dinner of well-executed guacamole, tacos and margaritas. In fact, I previously wrote about some of my favorite things on the dinner menu. And now, brunch is served on the weekends, complete with two hours of bottomless drinks and an entrée for $32 per person!

Brunch, Lincoln Park

Photo: Chritiques at Taco Joint

Given my proclivity to the Grapefruit Margaritas, a bottomless brunch is a dangerous proposition. Good thing plenty of hearty food options are available to soak it all up. On my visit, we went with the Chilaquiles, which can either be served vegetarian or with pulled chicken. It had fantastic flavor and was quite filling with whole black beans, Tomatillo salsa, crema, queso fresco, and a perfectly fried egg with a runny yoke. Crispy hash brown were served alongside.

Brunch, Lincoln Park

Photo: Chritiques at Taco Joint

Equally as good, but even more filling, was the Breakfast Burrito, stuffed with scrambled eggs, hash browns, grilled Canadian bacon, pico de gallo, and queso fresco. Mexican rice and chipotle black beans complete this dish.

Brunch, Lincoln Park

Photo: Chritiques at Taco Joint

The entrée options are limited – Steak ‘N’ Eggs, Carnitas Pancakes, Chorizo ‘N’ Eggs and a taco platter round out the menu, but most dishes can be prepared vegetarian, as well.

Service can be a tad aloof. On my visit, my drink was served in a very dirty glass which the server did not notice, and it took about 10 minutes to finally flag someone down about it. But, the food was satisfying and it is a good spot for a casual Mexican brunch with tasty drinks.

Brunch is available weekends from 11:00 a.m. until 3:00 p.m. All entrées are priced at $11 per dish, and the Bottomless Brunch Package is offered at $32 per person.

Taco Joint

Two locations: Lincoln Park and River North

Tastefully,

Christina

While I received a complimentary meal to facilitate this post, all opinions expressed herein are my own. 

Museum, Tours

Museum Hack Renegade Museum Tours

This isn’t your grandma’s museum tour. It is fun, interactive, engaging, and insightful. And gets you in and out of museums in Chicago, New York City, D.C., and San Francisco in two hours. And there is laughter, games, prizes – and candy. This is Museum Hack.

Don’t get me wrong, I love visiting museums and acting cultured and taking in the newest touring exhibit. But sometimes those visits are boring, and you get shushed by serious-acting visitors, and you don’t have any fun. And then there is that nasty side-effect of museum fatigue. Museum Hack wants to change all that, along with people’s perceptions of art and museums. It wants you learn in a fun environment.

Museum, Tours

Photo: Museum Hack

Our guide, Elise, was awesome. She was lively, passionate and entertaining, and our group was laughing and smiling and engaged the whole time, even as we were rushing through the Art Institute of Chicago trying not to lose each other.

Each guide personally picks out 5-10 pieces in a museum and tells stories about the artist, the painting or the sculpture. Some of the pieces are connected in a theme, while others are random. We took pictures of our own favorite paintings that we then told stories about at the end of the tour, and also stopped in a hall of sculptures that we each imitated and had captured by way of old-school Polaroid picture.

Museum, Tours

Photo: Museum Hack

Day time tours are perfect for tourists and locals alike, and niche group tours can be arranged for families, VIPs, youngsters, and corporate team building outings. Museum Hack even offers a 110% money back guarantee – if you don’t love it, you get your money back, and then some.

Museum, Tours

Photo: Museum Hack

While we had fun and made new friends running around the Art Institute and annoying people along the way, we left with a new appreciation for the diverse art housed in the museum, the stories behind each piece, as well as certain details that we would otherwise not have noticed had our guide not pointed them out.

Museum, Tours

Photo: Museum Hack

So, on that next bad weather day, or when looking for something new to do around town, check out Museum Hack. You’ll enjoy it. Guaranteed.

Museum Hack

Tastefully,

Christina

While I received complimentary tickets to a Museum Hack tour to facilitate this review, all opinions expressed herein are my own.