Watch me on Travel Channel’s new TV show: Could I Live There? Karisma El Dorado restaurants, cooking classes.
Welcome to a new edition of my Mexican travelogue. Yukiro and I ate like queens at Karisma Hotels & Resorts… I hope you’re hungry, as there are a lot of food photos ahead!
(I’m sure you are curious about my Basil Farrow cat top (above). It’s by LA-based designer Lili Chin, who custom-makes shirts and drawings to look like your pets! There’s info on her site, and I’ll be posting more images soon.)
But first, some quick updates about my upcoming TV appearances and travel destinations.
Perhaps you’ll recall that I was in Tokyo last spring, to shoot a show with Travel Channel. Now, I can officially reveal details about the series, called “Could I Live There?“
In each episode, a couple considers moving to a new country — and makes the decision after exploring it with a “relocator”. I’m the on-camera host for the Japan show, titled “Tokyo’s Cute Culture.” Above is a scene from a Shinto temple, where I took the pair before they decided whether to stay in the US or move to Tokyo.
I had a terrific shoot with the production team, and hope you’ll tune into Travel Channel to watch me on TV! “Could I Live There? – Japan” premieres Monday, February 8 at 9:30 pm (8:30 pm Central), and repeats the next day at 12:30 am (11:30 am Central).
If you’ve been following my Instagram and Snapchat (@lacarmina), you’ll have seen me in Los Angeles.
Now, I’m boarding a flight on Turkish Airlines… and heading to Istanbul for the first time! I’ve dreamt of visiting “Constantinople” for years, and finally got the chance to go — thanks to a generous invitation from the World Tourism Forum. I’m honored to be one of about 20 international bloggers chosen to participate in the event. Can’t wait to share images of the Blue Mosque, Hagia Sophia and more.
Right after, I’m excited to be doing a project with Brussels Tourism! My filmmakers Borderless Media and I will be shooting travel stories in Belgium, including coverage of the decadent Binche carnival. I’m looking forward to a taste of chocolates, surrealism, street art and underground culture.
(Above is a still from their Rene Magritte inspired video featuring cats taking over the city.)
And now, back to our Riviera Maya escapades at Karisma El Dorado. As I mentioned in the first article, Yukiro and I had full access to their three resorts.
We found this Ganesha elephant god statue in a little garden, hidden between the Casitas and Generations properties.
My t-shirt of the Hindu god, Shiva, turned out to be the perfect match for this mural! It’s by 1991NewYork, a newly launched clothing line by designer and tattoo artist Hiten Damodar. The striking style pays respects to his Indian background, but with an Americana feel.
Hiten says: “We chose the name 1991NY because that is the year my family and I moved to this country. The style is influenced heavily by my tattoo background as well as imagery from mythology, religion, and symbolism.”
In addition to Shiva the Destroyer, 1991NewYork has eye catching t-shirts featuring Ganesh, Kali and more. Everything is made in the USA and sure to turn heads. Pick out your favorite shirt here and check out @1991newyork on Instagram.
Now that our fashion vogue-ing is complete, Yukiro and I are ready to eat!
Each of the Karisma resorts has a different focus (Casitas is for couples, Generations Riviera Maya is for all-ages and families). We enjoyed aspects from each of them.
There’s a suite and experience for every type of traveller. At the newest property, Generations, guests could walk right out into their own balcony swimming pool.
Between El Dorado Royale, Casitas and Generations… we had over a dozen all-inclusive restaurants to choose from!
The cuisine offerings included: Caribbean, Italian, Mexican, Japanese, American. Yukiro looks like he’s strangling himself out of amazement.
I knew that Karisma had a reputation for excellent food. However, I confess I didn’t expect their restaurants to be quite this good.
Wine Kitchen (at Generations Riviera Maya) set the mood with chandeliers and candles. We loved the amuse bouche with watermelon and spices, and the special wine pairings that came with each plate.
When everything comes at no extra cost, you can live out your foodie dreams. We ordered a large range of plates to try… and dessert, always.
If only we had time to try each Karisma dining room! Jade Restaurant has an Asian menu, and the decor to match.
Karisma encourages guests to participate in the food experiences. At the Jade “tea bar,” you could create your own unique blend of tea.
The resorts had several entertaining “dinner theaters” where you could watch guest chefs prepare meals — and take part in the cooking too. Several volunteers came up to help create Mexican dishes, which we then ate with pairings from Jackson Family Wines.
Fuentes Culinary Theater is one of the most popular attractions. The venue is set up like a Food Network TV show, and the chef riffs and jokes around with the audience — which teaching them how to make authentic Yucatan dishes.
On the two big screens, we could see close-ups of the ingredients. The chef walked us through each step of the preparation. As soon as he finished making the dish, a team of servers came out and served it to each table.
That evening, his menu was based on traditional Yucatan Peninsula flavors. To start, we had a fantastic soup made from avocado, octopus, radish, apple, and X’catic pepper.
I particularly enjoyed the segment where the chef introduced us to masa (corn dough), and showed us how to build it into tortillas, tamales, pupusas and more.
After three small bites inspired by street food, we devoured the mahi mahi (with pumpkin seed puree, corn, beans and crispy achiote tortilla). Above is the pork loin marinated in charred chilies, sweet potato and tamal. We had never tried these types of flavors and combinations before — what a meal to remember.
Karisma also had dozens of all-inclusive bars. We took the advice of this swing — “Enjoy” — and cooled down with salt-rimmed margaritas.
Since we were in Quintana Roo, Yukiro and I mainly ate Mexican food. We particularly are fans of avocado, mahi mahi and ceviche (raw marinated fish),
All of the above were on the menu at “La Carreta” in El Dorado Royale. Once again, if all the food is included, why not order one of everything…
… and a double serving of the outstanding ceviche?
We ate our fill of fresh berries, including in this strawberry dessert with avocado cream.
For lunch, we usually hit the Health Bar. In North America, I always cringe at the price of a fresh green juice (usually around $7-10). But at Karisma, everything is included… I think we must have ordered 25 smoothies and juices between the two of us!
The Health Bar had a long list of drink concoctions, and we also could create our own. We paired them with fresh salads and sandwiches made with whole grains.
Thanks to Karisma El Dorado, we were able to relax and enjoy the Riviera Maya.
No need to stress over anything… it’s all taken care of here.
I hope you are enjoying these Mexican posts. Don’t forget to watch me on Travel Channel (Feb 8), and check out my Snapchat and Instagram @lacarmina for the latest updates from LA, Istanbul and Brussels.
It’s no secret that I’m a cat-lady… so I might as well dress like one! I hope you enjoy this CatWoman-style photoshoot, taken right before New Year’s Eve in Brooklyn, NY.
To further this theme, I’ll review Catfé: the newly opened Vancouver cat cafe that encourages adopting animals in need.
My photographer Joey Wong and I were in New York right at the end of 2015. I was staying at my favorite spot, NU Hotel in Brookyn (near Hoyt St station, right across the water).
We felt energized by the street art and brownstones around us, and wanted to shoot images that reflected the feeling of Brooklyn. Read on for a breakdown of my outfit, and where to get these items.
Cats are fuzzy… so I wore my new faux fur coat, from Pretty Attitude! It’s animal-friendly, and has a striking ombre fade from black to lavender-grey. Perfect for a pastel Goth look.
Here’s a similar ombre faux fur jacket, and more selections below — I love this style. Click to shop:
Cat-Woman, head to toe. My black heels with silver chain detail are by Michael Kors, who makes these exact same shoes in an ankle boot version too.
These types of shoes are a worthwhile purchase, since they are versatile for all types of outfits.
My stretchy, cut-out bodysuit is by Black Milk Clothing, one of my favorite alternative fashion brands. Once again, this is an item that you can dress up or layer in a variety of ways.
I may not have claws, but I have appropriately feline mittens from Hong Kong!
You won’t be able to find these online, as they are sold only in Asia. But Karl Lagerfeld makes cat face gloves that are just as adorable.
I’m sure you are curious about my necklace: it’s from Maison Birks. I got it in the 1990s, rediscovered it recently — and still love it. Plus, the silver dangling pendant looks like a subtle version of a BDSM slave collar…
Three cheers for my hair stylist and colorist, Stephanie Hoy. She’s the best in the business for alternative cuts, vivid dyes, editorial styling and more. You can make an appointment with her at Stratosphere Hair Salon at Granville and Davie, in downtown Vancouver.
I think Joey Wong nailed the mood of the neighborhood, in his images. In the background, you can see ‘Love Letter to Brooklyn‘, a series of quotes painted by Stephen Powers.
My tight black pants are by Armani, who makes these leather leggings too.
Dreaming that I live in one of these brownstone apartments…
… and ready to pounce. This eclectic street art is part of the Groundswell Community Mural Project.
What do you think of my DIY Cat-Woman outfit? Find the same or similar fashion items, by clicking below:
And now, a different type of meow! I was excited to visit Catfé, the first cat cafe to open in Vancouver, Canada.
Anyone can come to drink tea and play with kitties. Plus, you’ll be supporting a great cause — all the resident felines are from SPCA shelters, and available to adopt.
Cat cafes originally started as a novelty in Japan, but they found a passionate clientele (especially among people who cannot keep pets at homes, or couples looking for a fun date activity). Now, these cafes are found worldwide.
Catfe is located inside downtown Vancouver’s International Village Mall, above the Starbucks. (Address: Shop 2035, 88 W Pender St, Vancouver, Canada). There’s free parking in the lower levels.
Visitors can make advance reservations through their site to guarantee entry, or drop-in at any time if there’s space.
I liked the cafe’s bright, minimal design incorporating wood and glass. First, I went through the doors on left to pick up drinks and snacks. The cute cupcakes with cat-faced fondant were irresistible.
Then, I entered the glass doors on the right — this is the area that contains the cats. Usually, there are about six of them roaming around.
Catfe’s owner, Michelle Furbacher, warmly greeted me. She told me spent years researching cat cafes and visiting existing ones, including Oakland Cat Town (where I shot an ABC Nightline segment).
Like the Oakland cafe, Catfe has the meaningful goal of encouraging adoptions. All of the fuzzy residents are from the SPCA; many came down from shelters in less populated areas, such as northern British Columbia.
Many visitors come here to play with the kitties, and end up connecting with one of them. The re-homing has been so successful that the cafe had to bring in new cats at a rapid rate!
We couldn’t resist getting these chocolate cat-face cake pops, which were scrumptious. (Although we felt bad biting into the smiling face.)
We spent over an hour at the cafe, petting the cats and amusing them with the toys provided.
We also played the funny Exploding Kittens card game (highly recommended), and browsed the cat-themed merchandise on the shelves.
The space holds about 18 people, and the staff make sures that the cats never feel overwhelmed. High open ceilings, big windows and platform shelving: the ideal environment for cats to enjoy.
So much fun interacting with the sweet cats. You’re allowed to take photos, as long as they are without flash.
Best of all, we knew we were supporting a great cause: Catfe doubles as a foster home, and gives back to animal charities. Now that is the cat’s meow!
If you’re in Vancouver and looking for a cute alternative activity, come to this cat cafe with a heart.
And why not dress up as a pussy-cat too? Rowr!
Here’s a full-body shot of my Cat-Lady outfit again, featuring faux fur, pointed ears and a skin-tight black bodysuit.
Shop my look at:
More photos from NYC to come, including a Goth party and visit to the Morbid Anatomy Museum.
But wait — how could I write about cats without including my Scottish Fold baby, Basil Farrow? I’ll let his sweet round face wrap up this post!
(Enjoy more photos on my social networks @lacarmina, linked on the right top sidebar of this blog.)
2016 is already becoming a year of globe-trotting! I spent the first half of January at the sunny Karisma El Dorado Royale in Mexico.
My travels are typically quite gruelling, but this one was different. For once, I got to kick back and enjoy the beaches, wellness, and all the avocado smoothies I could drink.
And I was overjoyed to reunite with my partner in crime, Yukiro Dravarious. Enjoy our Mexican photo diary, which describes 10 reasons we had a royal time at El Dorado Royale!
1) The warm weather. Even an icy Goth queen brightens up under warm skies and palm trees. What a treat to wear sun-dresses in early January, while we saw our friends battling the snow in Tokyo and suffering from -15 degree temperatures in Sweden…
2) Easy access. We flew into Cancun from NYC, a quick and inexpensive flight. Karisma’s partner Lomas Travel picked us up, and within an hour, we were settled into our rooms.
I put on my white sun hat to walk around, and came across a cute white pagoda that matched my outfit. Which brings us to reason number three…
3) There’s so much to explore. The grounds of El Dorado Royale are huge, and all guests have access to the adjoining resorts too (Casitas and Generations Riviera Maya). If we didn’t feel like walking all the way, we could call for a shuttle or hail one down.
4) This ocean view! Our room was steps away from the private beach and waterfront.
Yukiro wore appropriate shoes for the sand — giant, studded platforms (similar to these black platform shoes.)
This photo says it all. I loved walking barefoot in the sand, and watching the birds fly over the ocean.
In January, the weather was warm, but not overly hot or humid. (I wore a white cut-out dress similar to this one by Cushnie et Ochs.)
5) Healthy food galore. We had all-inclusive access to the restaurants here — and especially loved the Health Bar. It was our type of dream scenario: you could order as many green juices, smoothies and salads as you wanted!
6) Meeting new friends. We said hello to this big, sleepy iguana. And we enjoyed chatting with the staff, some of whom went out of their way to make our stay a pleasure.
There’s never a dull moment when we travel together. Yukiro dominated this game of chess, naturally.
Ding dong, the Queen is dead.
Meanwhile, I lazed on the lounge beds — and sipped a margarita or two.
7) Wellness activities. Every day, there were at least a dozen classes we could participate in, for free.
Yukiro and I felt energized after a Pilates routine that incorporated large exercise balls. We aimed to do yoga every morning on this pier… but to be honest, we never managed to wake up in time for the 8am session…
8) Tequila tasting. We learned about the various types of tequilas and sipped each of them. Energizing, in a different kind of way!
Our daily schedule looked something like: berries and yogurt for breakfast, Pilates class, fresh fruit smoothies and salads for lunch, 80-minute massage at the spa…
… followed by a nap by the ocean, margaritas and tacos for dinner!
And all this took place in this beautiful beach environment. (This is the east coast of Mexico, in the Riviera Maya.)
Guests often come here for a destination wedding. Yukiro pretended to be the evil mistress of ceremonies.
9) Day trips to Tulum. While we had fun vogue-ing and relaxing, we also wanted to experience the Mayan ruins and Mexican art near us. The resort’s location made it convenient for us to explore the culture of Tulum. (I’ll show you our excursion in an upcoming article.)
Gracias to Karisma El Dorado Royale for inviting us to stay with them in Quintana Roo, Mexico! I’m not usually an “all inclusive resort” type of traveller, but Karisma changed my mind.
But wait: what’s the final reason to come here? The food is above and beyond anything I expected. It’s worth dedicating an entire post to the restaurants, so this is what I’ll do next.
I leave you with this sunrise shot, with the silhouettes of palm fronds.
Have you vacationed in Mexico before — if so, where? Aren’t you glad to see Yukiro back on the blog?
Cambodia was one of the most inspiring countries I’ve visited.
I’ve long been fascinated by Angkor Wat — and the mysterious temple more than lived up to my expectations.
However, there’s more to see in Siem Reap than just the archaeological ruins. I’ll give you a glimpse of the nightlife of Pub Street, where you’ll find bars like “Angkor What?” (Couldn’t resist taking this photo!)
You also must stop by my favorite craft cocktail bar, innovative restaurant and Phare, the Cambodian circus… read on to find out why!
I’m not a morning person, but it’s worth it to wake up at 5am to see the sunrise over the reflective pool at Angkor Wat. (I’ll show you more photos in an upcoming post.)
After the sun rises, many tourists go on to explore the main buildings of Angkor Wat. However, to avoid the crush, I recommend seeing other temples in the morning and early afternoon — and coming back later, when it’s less busy.
Angkor Wat’s lighting conditions are also better in the afternoon. You can capture dramatic light and shadow-play such as above (in this long hallway that feels like an infinite portal).
We loved incorporating the ancient architecture of Angkor Wat into our photography. This image is by Ken Yuen, who didn’t realize until too late that Sniper Chau was in the frame!
Angkor Wat is one of the world’s most mysterious archaeological sites. There were rumors of a great Khmer stone city, but the West was unaware of its existence until the late 19th century.
Shop more nu-Goth fashion below:
Can you imagine how French explorer Henri Mouhot must have felt in 1860, when he stumbled upon this view? There are over a thousand temples here, filled with images from Hindu mythology and Cambodian legends.
The unusual architecture made my imagination run wild. I imagined that this thin, rectangular door was a portal into an alien universe.
Inside the central sanctuary, we saw a monk offering blessings to visitors.
The 12th century temple design reflects Hindu conceptions of the universe. We were glad to have our guide (provided by Le Meridien Hotel) with us, to answer questions about this fascinating place.
Visitors are free to climb and explore most of the temples. I went up this stepped terrace in the main Angkor Wat hall.
We walked down the long covered galleries, which were decorated with exquisite bas-reliefs. Most of these carvings depict the Hindu epic tales, Ramayana and Mahabharata.
Our guide also pointed out depictions of hell tortures, elephant warriors, martial artists, and much more.
An outside view of one of the long galleries, which surrounds the central sanctuary. My pose was inspired by the carvings of apsaras (celestial dancers).
Of course, there is much more to see at Angkor Wat. We wished we had more time to see the outer-lying temples, such as Banteay Srei (dedicated to the god Shiva).
On the way to an elephant gate topped by a Buddha, we saw this row of Buddha and demon statues. Some had been restored, hence the different conditions of the faces.
In the previous post, I showed you the famous “tree roots Tomb Raider” temple, Ta Prohm.
We also stopped by Bayon, the richly decorated structure that is famous for its serene, smiling rock faces.
These depict the Buddha, or King Jayavarman VII — or perhaps both.
Similar to the temples in Bali, there is a lot of flow between Buddhism and Hinduism. Angkor Wat was originally dedicated to Hindu god Vishnu, but later became a Buddhist holy ground.
An ancient civilization, hiding in the jungle… Angkor Wat truly captured my imagination.
A closeup of my Disturbia UK long sleeve shirt with mesh cut outs. The symbol is the Necronomicon gate symbol, from the Lovecraft mythology.
There’s more to see in Siem Reap, Cambodia than the legendary temple. At night, the city center comes alive with night markets, street food and bars.
We crossed this bridge, lit up with X-lights, and John found a stuffed crocodile to take home.
Pub Street is the center of the nightlife (including the Angkor What? pub that you saw above). It’s a cacophony of tuk tuks, partiers and bars, many of which are geared towards foreigners.
So many bars, so little time…
Pub Street was fun to walk through, but these tourist-oriented bars and shops aren’t our type of scene.
Fortunately, we found a place where we felt we belonged: Miss Wong. This retro Shanghai-themed bar is located a little off the main roads, tucked away from the crowds. Look for these glowing red lanterns at the entrance.
(Address: The-Lane, Krong Siem Reap, Cambodia)
Inside, the decor is ravishing: elegant red walls and vintage Chinese art. Dean (the owner who is originally from New Zealand) gave us the warmest welcome. We could sense that he runs Miss Wong with passion, always taking the time to make his visitors feel at home.
Miss Wong is known as the best cocktail bar in Siem Reap. It deserves this accolade: the rose petal and mocha martinis were as amazing as they sound, and look.
We were impressed by how Miss Wong infuses spirits with Asian flavors. The Lemongrass Collins, made from vodka heated with fresh lemongrass, was one of the best drinks I’ve had all year. We were also wowed by the black pepper infused vodka, delightful on its own or as a Bloody Mary.
Miss Wong also serves Chinese dim sum bites, and has a top selection of liqueurs from around the world.
If you’re all about handcrafted cocktails and a classic, relaxing atmosphere, Miss Wong Siem Reap is a gem. You can’t miss out on this bar; tell Dean that we sent you, when you visit!
We had a wonderful set-menu dinner at Cuisine Wat Damnak, a restaurant that merges Cambodian flavors with French culinary techniques. It is on my cousin’s list of top 50 restaurants in Asia (we are trying to go to each one).
(Address: Wat Damnak village, Sala Kamreuk Commune, Siem Reap 17000)
The open kitchen and lush dining area set the mood for this special meal. Chef Joannès Rivière changes his six-course menu every week, focusing on seasonal ingredients sourced from local farms and foragers.
The unusual ingredients and creative preparations — like frog legs with Cambodian spices — were magnificent. The chef does an outstanding job of balancing modern and traditional, French and Khmer.
Six sophisticated plates for under $30 US — only in Cambodia! Be sure to make a reservation in advance for Cuisine Wat Damnak, since this restaurant is often booked up.
Finally, you can’t leave Siem Reap without seeing the Phare, the Cambodian Circus. Inside a big top, we saw young Cambodian performers tumble, leap, juggle, balance, dance and clown — while wearing the biggest smiles on their faces.
The show drew upon Cambodian folk storytelling, and pushed it forward with avantgarde antics and sky-high acrobatics. We watched these young performers tell a narrative that took us from primordial times to colonial conquest and beyond.
Phare is more than just entertainment: it has the social mission of educating Cambodian youth (through their NGO school), helping them find employment, and furthering the Cambodian arts.
The crowd could sense the passion and determination of the young artists, who all overcame difficult socio-economic backgrounds.
Phare, the Cambodian Circus has performances daily; you can find out more on their site. We loved watching these young talents, especially knowing that it was in support of Phare’s meaningful programs.
Cheers to Cambodia! From Angkor Wat to the bars, restaurants and circus, I had a blast here.
I leave you with a sunset shot. Cambodians are known as some of the friendliest people, and I’d have to agree. (Photography by Sniper Chau and Ken Yuen)
Are you as fascinated by the “Tomb Raider” temples as I am? Coming up soon — I’ll unveil the photoshoot we did amidst the archaeological ruins!