Tuesday, September 7, 2010

Banyan Tree Bike Tours in Bali, Indonesia: ★★★★★

As the top rated activity for Bali on TripAdvisor.com, the half-day experience with Banyan Tree Bike Tours is one of the few things that lives up to the hype. The day starts off with breakfast at a hilltop restaurant with a spectacular view of Ubud. Participants chose between a Western style breakfast of banana pancake or an Indonesian style breakfast of nasi goreng, which is a delicious fried rice topped with an egg and seasoned with a little local spice to kick things up a notch. The carb-heavy breakfast ensures that everyone has enough energy to last through roughly a 15-mile bike ride.

Bagi, the owner and tour guide, started Banyan Tree with the hopes of introducing the "real" Balinese life to the many tourists that trickle through his town. The tour takes cyclists through village streets and vast rice paddies, with stops at a plantation and temple, where Bagi educates riders about traditional Balinese customs. Upon reaching the final destination, bikers are rewarded with a lunch prepared by Bagi's wife at his own plantation (save room for dessert!).

For those whose knees wobble at the thought of 15 miles, fear not; Bagi's gang of helpers are always nearby to help push your bike through mud and rice terraces. Also, there's an air-conditioned vehicle following each group to ensure an exit plan for those who do not wish to continue.

Banyan Tree Bike Tours allows vacationers to change it up a bit from the endless spa treatments and massages that Bali offers. In addition to the magnificent landscape, the connections that you will make with the fellow trekkers, villagers, and Bagi's team is what makes the experience unforgettable.

- All you'll need is ample sunscreen, a camera and sunglasses. The tour provides transportation to and from your hotel, breakfast, lunch and water throughout the ride.
- As the genius who did the tour in sandals (who brings anything but flip flops to Bali??), I can attest that it can be done, but it is NOT recommended. Most of the ride is not strenuous, however, wearing sneakers will make things much easier on you, especially when you're schlepping your bike through mud.
- Be flexible with dates. Check the weather report to book a date without rain.
- Make sure you use the bathroom at the breakfast restaurant to avoid having to use nature's bathroom.
- If cycling isn't your thing, Bagi is available for custom tours throughout Bali, including snorkeling, hiking and white water rafting.

Banyan Tree Bike Tours

additional photos:
Banyan Tree Bike Tours

Sunday, April 18, 2010

Peking Gourmet Inn in Falls Church, VA: ★★★

Pitch black. Dirt two-lane road. Your headlights sweep across a sign that reads: Road Ends Ahead. Having yet to reach your destination, you forge ahead only to see a second warning. Refusing to accept reality, you eventually pass a third and final sign "End of the Road" while flying off the cliff into the canyon, Thelma and Louise style.

Though not quite as tragic, warning signs abound for those seeking authentic Chinese food at Peking Gourmet Inn.

Warning #1: The fact that Peking Gourmet Inn is the only Chinese restaurant I have ever been to that has a bar.
Denial response: Owners just trying to entertain the never ending flow of guests awaiting a table at the popular restaurant.

Warning #2: Aside from a large table celebrating a birthday, our table was the only other table of Chinese people.
Denial response: Falls Church, VA is no San Gabriel Valley (in Los Angeles).

Warning #3: The restaurant is said to be a favorite of the Bush family.
Denial response: Hey, everyone's gotta eat.

Those brave enough to continue down the road to Peking Gourmet Inn despite the warnings will be rewarded with a rather authentic Peking Duck dish for $38. With the restaurant serving roughly 500 ducks a day, the carvers have developed the masterful skill of shaving the skin off the duck without leaving an ounce of fat.

For customers new to the dish, the wait staff is more than happy to assemble a "taco" (pictured below) for you as an example. The duck itself was impeccable: warm, crispy skin with the right amount of flavoring. However, the bing (thin pancakes for wrapping) was overly moist, which as it lost heat, became slightly soggy. A plate of cucumbers can be added for an additional $3.

After the duck, the road took a wrong turn. The sauce for the fresh shitake mushrooms with Chinese baby greens (bok choy) was excessively sweet. Chilean sea bass Peking style, a recommendation from our waitress, was the culinary equivalent to a hot tranny mess; barely tasting like Chilean sea bass, it did not blend well with the sauce

In the end, Peking Gourmet Inn can only be classified as a one-hit wonder (or a marketing marvel). For the unfamiliar, the restaurant is the simple way to experience the Beijing tradition of duck without hopping on a plane. My recommendation is to just order the duck, and save the rest of your money for Panda Express, which offers the same inauthentic Chinese food for a third of the price.

- Make a reservation. Do not attempt to visit on the weekends without one.
- Research beforehand so that you know what to order besides the Peking duck. You can only count on Chinese waitresses to recommend the most expensive item on the menu.

Peking Gourmet Inn
6029 Leesburg Pike, Falls Church, VA

additional pictures:
Peking Gourmet Inn

Wednesday, April 7, 2010

Tiger Woods? Meet Kobe Bryant

Say what you will about Kobe Bryant, but the man works well under pressure. Seven game winning shots this season alone, 2000 NBA Finals Game 4 overtime, and beyond basketball, successfully rebounding from character assassination. Hey, the guy's got the fundamentals down.

The same, unfortunately, cannot be said about Tiger Woods, who insists on sporadically reminding the public of his private issue. Yes, private. What happened should be between him and his family. Instead, he gives a late press conference "performance," and then, references his debacle in the commercial (below) that is meant to jump start his comeback:

Using his late father in an attempt to garner public affection? Not exactly a class act.

The story stays alive only because Tiger keeps feeding the media machine. He should take a lesson from the Kobe Bryant playbook: shut up, and let your game do the talking.

Wednesday, March 24, 2010

Half Smokes at Ben's Chili Bowl in Washington, DC: ★★★★★

If you've never tasted a half smoke, consider yourself lucky. Why? Because then you'll be satisfied with the normal, everyday hot dogs that people outside of Washington, DC are subjected to. Granted, there are some decent ones, but none like the quarter pound of half pork and smoked beef sausage topped with mustard, onions and the infamous spicy chili sauce over a steamed bun. If that sentence didn't make you drool, then congratulations, you are a robot.

The half smoke is meatier than a normal hot dog and tastier than a normal polish dog. The spicy kick juices things up to blend everything together perfectly.

$5.50 buys a half smoke with chili and a side of chips. Not the cheapest or healthiest option, but your taste buds will give you a standing ovation upon consumption.

Recognize the man below? That's right. The leader of the free world cleared his schedule for a visit, which can only mean it's gotta be pretty darn good. Granted the President lives only about a mile away.

Ben's Chili Bowl is located across the street from the U Street stop on the Metro Green Line. Within walking distance for tourists visiting the White House, or a quick bus/metro ride away. No excuses. Go visit now!

- Do not, I repeat DO NOT, order anything but the half smokes. We saw a burger patty being microwaved. Not sure what's going on there.
- I have heard that if you develop a rapport with the servers (by tipping well), your new friend will let you skip the line on your next visit.
- Another way to bypass the line is to sit directly at the counter, provided there are open seats. The only downside is that you'll have to tip for service.
- The line moves pretty swiftly.
- Only medium-sized drinks priced at $2.20 are refillable.

Ben's Chili Bowl
1213 U Street NW, Washington, DC

additional pictures:
Ben's Chili Bowl

Friday, February 19, 2010

Tiger Woods Needs a New PR Team

If I were to grade Tiger's PR team based on their most recent project, I would give it a big fat F. Underlined twice. Circled with a red marker. With a note that requires a parent signature.

First, the silence. We are living in an information age where news is constantly pushed through to the public via a variety of traditional and non-traditional channels. By staying silent, you opened the door to speculation and forced the media to dig up their own stories. Annihilate that snowball early and you wouldn't have had to deal with the avalanche of public frenzy.

Second, the sex rehab (euphemized into "therapy"). I'd sooner believe that aliens are living amongst us than Tiger is addicted to sex. Unless that "therapy" session is led by real-life-almost-40-year-old-virgin AC Green titled "How to Manage Temptation," I can't imagine how helpful it would be. Only poor deluded individuals would fall for this scheme.

Lastly, the scripted press conference. Made us wait for nearly three months and that's it? Reality shows at least try to pretend that they aren't scripted! The 15 minute speech followed by the hugs from family and friends is so textbook that PR professors are thanking you for the material for next week's class. The apology lacked any sign of emotion, and therefore, was completely unconvincing.

Next time, schedule the press conference earlier, take some speech/acting classes instead of sex rehab, and bring the wife instead of the mother. Then America will undoubtedly welcome you back with open arms, because the only thing we like more than kicking people when they're down is watching them get back up.

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