Paradise in the French Polynesia

Joe and I spend 8 days recently in the islands of Tahiti. It was a truly magical vacation…living in an luxury overwater bungalow over crystal clear water full of lagoon fishes, sipping on fruity drinks with our toes in the sand, dining (more like pigging out) on exquisite five stars French and island cuisine, indulging in hot volcanic stone massages, swimming and paddle-boarding with swarms of lagoon fishes in the coral garden….I mean, this was as close to paradise as we can get, except there would not be any mosquitos in paradise.

A side note and fair warning to anyone who’s thinking about vacationing there, it is very expensive. Everything is imported in so be prepared to shell out big bucks and pay double and triple of what we are used to in the States. Also speaking of money, it is not customary to tip in the French Polynesia. The employees and staffs all receive good wages and benefits, unlike waiters in the States who make minimum wage and have to depend on gratuities from customers. However over the last decade or so, the American tourists really brought the gratuity-giving custom over to the islands, so most resorts and restaurants’ receipts will have a separate line for tips, but nobody will care if you don’t tip. We did tip our busboys, room service delivery staff, and tour guides, though I could tell from their genuine expressions that they were not expecting tips. To tip or not, we received the warmest hospitality from the locals, it was such a happy and friendly environment. But I have been told that the tipping situation might not be the same over at Bora Bora since it’s completely packed with high end resorts, and that the service wasn’t as friendly as the ones we’ve encountered.

Joe and I had the best time of our lives on the island of Moorea and Taha’a. I seriously contemplated about moving to the islands to just live a simpler life. Anyway, we decided we won’t survive on the islands due to the amount of mosquitos (and that scarily large mutant bee that Joe had to strategically remove from our bungalow. No joke, that bee was more than 2 inches in length.) But pesky insects aside, we were so adapted to “island time” (aka SLOOOOW) that when we came back to the bay area, I was really put off by the crazy tailgaters on the freeway and that impatient customer in line at the grocery store. All good things come to an end, but now we will have this amazing memory that will be cherished for years to come. It’s going to be hard to top this one, but where to next?

Here are some highlights. Enjoy 🙂

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Fresh off the plane at 5am, we were presented these beautiful leis made with gardenias and jasmines in the Papeete airport in Tahiti, before stepping out to the very humid and hot outdoor.

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We had some time before the ferry took us to the island of Moorea, so we walked a few blocks over to the famous Le Marche (market).

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It was Monday morning so the market wasn’t very happening. The best day to go is on Sunday, bright and early. We picked up some souvenirs here and went back to the ferry dock.

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After a 40 minute ferry ride and a 45 minute car ride, we have arrived at the Intercontinental Resort of Moorea. It was 10 in the morning, and we were exhausted from the lack of sleep, the long travel, and the heat and humidity. We were treated to fresh mango and orange juice and a nice iced cold towel, vacation starts now.

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Checked into our bungalow for the next 3 days. It was situated right next to the lagoon and we can see the waves of the ocean from our patio. There were lots of fishes in the water, it was fun swimming with them. We didn’t snorkel as I tend to get seasick very easily, but we could see the fishes just fine.

Tuna tartare with mango, and that scoop of green thing is vanilla wasabi ice cream. WOW!
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Poisson Cru, a Tahitian raw fish salad, marinated in coconut milk and lime juice. This is my favorite Tahitian dish and I order it everyday from different restaurants.
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Our first sunrise in the French Polynesia. The 3 hour time difference from California ensured us to be awake every morning for the glorious sunrise.

The sunset is equally magnificent. This was taken at the Le Sunset restaurant inside Hotel Hibisbus in Moorea. We went for the sunset dinner seating and were seated on the patio, right next to the open water and this glorious view of the colorful sunset. This was the best sunset we saw all trip, the location was perfect!

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More poisson cru, of course! I couldn’t get enough of it. (Le Sunset Restaurant in Hotel Hibiscus)

catch of the day (lagoon fish) wrapped in banana leaf. served with coconut milk sauce and carrot flan. (Le Sunset Restaurant in Hotel Hibisbus)

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A great “Safari” tour in a 4×4. We arranged the tour with our hotel concierge but if you call the tour companies directly, it will probably save you a few bucks. There were at least 4 other 4×4 tours that we saw on our half day tour. Each 4×4 can comfortably seat 6-8 people.

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We climbed on very narrow and almost none-existent mountain paths to the very tippy top of the mountain for a breathtaking panoramic view.

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Drove up to the Belvedere for a view of both the Cook Bay and Opunohu Bay.

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Lots of pineapples alongside the road. Moorea pineapples are so sweet! Even better than the ones from Dole. Too bad they don’t export these.

Beef carpaccio with vanilla oil and balsamic. The presence of vanilla is in everything, Tahitian vanilla is world famous and the quality is really incomparable.

We ventured outside on a lazy morning, with the goal of purchasing some manoi oil from a specialty shop down the street. We ended up caught in a 10-minute tropical downpour, completely drenched from head to toe but it felt so good to be walking in the cool rain, it was like being hit with a cold shower in the 95F weather. We stopped by a convenience store to pick up some beverages (since the resorts charge a lot more), had to try the famous Tahiti Hinano beer.

Another great tip for any potential travelers who like their liquor – Pick up your spirit or wine of choice at your departure airport’s duty free shop. If you are traveling from the US or Europe, pick some up at LAX since you are most likely to fly out to Papeete directly from LAX. Alcohol is very expensive, just like many other things there. We saw that almost half of the passengers on our flight purchased alcohol from the duty free shop in LAX and since we did very little homework prior to the trip, we had no idea why until we arrived in Tahiti.

Another beautiful sunset.

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Attended a BBQ + traditional dance show completed with talented fire dancers.

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The Intercontinental has a dolphin center on site as well as a sea turtle rescue center. We visited this cutie everyday.

We ordered the “iced cup” dessert with tropical fruit, and this gigantor plate showed up. Fruity cocktail and a plate of ice cream, with a view like that? What a nice way to spend a couple of hours.

Our next destination is to a private motu off of the island of Taha’a (AKA the vanilla island.) Le Taha’a Resort owns half of the motu and can only be accessible via helicopters or boats. We flew from Moorea to Raiatea, from there we got picked up by Le Taha’a Resort’s private shuttle.

It was about a 40 minute boat ride from the Raiatea airport, pretty smooth ride, but the anticipation was killing me. But hey, check out this view when we arrived.

The ladies get a beautiful crown while the gentlemen get a jasmine lei. This was so beautiful and fragrant and I wished we could’ve brought it home with us.

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Our awesome overwater bungalow has the cutest sign out front. We rotate it to show “do not disturb”, “cleaning needed”, or “ok to enter”. It has a wooden stick attached for knocking.

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The inside of our bungalow. The view directly in front is the main island of Taha’a. There is also a glass panel at the foot of the bed so we can look down into the water.

The resort has 3 restaurants. One is open for breakfast and dinner, one is the poolside casual restaurant for lunch and snack, another one is the gourmand restaurant that offers 3 or 5 course prix fixe menu for dinner. Plenty of delicious choices on the menu. The aboved picture is a coconut ice cream dessert with vanilla angliase and dark chocolate, from the poolside restaurant. Everything was top notch and very tasty, and they know how to do fries very well. Potato is one of the few things they grow on the island and is an important part of daily meal. We also enjoyed burgers and club sandwiches that put some restaurants back home to shame.

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If you know me well, you’ll know that I most likely will never order a vanilla sundae from restaurants. It’s just so plain. But we gotta ordered one from the vanilla island. It..was…AMAZING!!!!!

One of our many leisurely walks on the resort ground.

Yes we could’ve went outside and enjoyed the view of the sunrise over the beautiful island of Taha’a, but why go outside to fight with mosquitos when we could watch from our bed?

Another unforgettable dessert, probably the best and my favorite of the whole trip – classic vanilla creme brulee. We probably cleaned this up nicely in under a minute and a half. There was so much vanilla bean seeds used in the dessert.

A nice surprise from the resort. A massive and very delicious chocolate mousse cake to celebrate our anniversary.

A side note: I usually do the hotel reservation booking so it’s always under my name. I did not change my last name when we got married, so somehow hotel staffs always refer to my husband and I by my last name, even though they have my husband’s full name on file. It is always very awkward, but whatever, no big deal. Le Taha’a resort is the first place we’ve ever been to that addressed both of our last names, and all the staff knew us by the second day and addressed us using my husband’s last name. This is really insignificant but showed the amount of care and attention to details from the resort staff’s end.

Dinner at the gourmand restaurant. Both Joe and I ordered the 3-course dinner.

battered egg with asparagus puree.

Beef tartare!!!! Just give me some baguette and a big bowl of this, I’ll be forever grateful.

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We went on another “Safari” of the main island of Taha’a. We saw some very cool tropical plants and fruits, sampled a few along the way. Also visited a black pearl farm and vanilla plantation.

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ladies and gentlemen, this is what vanilla bean looks like! Just like string beans, right? Vanilla is a type of orchid and the workers have to hand pollinate every single flower. A lot of work! The beans will start ripening in the fall. Once they are ripened, that’s when they are picked and dried, and that’s when the fragrance of vanilla flows through the whole island.

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We picked some star fruits and guavas along the way.

Daily breakfast buffet. Assortment of french pastries, smoked meats, fresh jams, eggs and crepes cook to order…I was obsessed with the raisin pastry and the vanilla yogurt. And yes, they have poisson cru at breakfast too. These two piggies were so happy, but four days of this can really do some damage to one’s figure.

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What’s this? Uhh…more poisson cru, duh! Served in a coconut shell.

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One of the best mahi burgers I’ve ever tasted, completed with slices of crunchy fresh coconut inside. I loved every bite of this.

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Our daily dosage of fresh mixed fruit juice.

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The resort has kayaks, paddleboards, and snorkeling equipments for the guests to use, free of charge. (There are also tennis and volleyball equipments too, as well as the gym. But we didn’t use either.) Here is a picture of me, resting on the paddleboard, admiring that cool-looking storm in front of us that’s probably heading our way, debating whether we should get out or not. Interestingly no one else in the water looked concerned so we stayed, and experienced our first tropical downpour in the water. The little cluster of storm passed after a few minutes and the sun was back out in no time.

There is also an amazing coral garden on one side of the island. It’s mostly for snorkelers as no kayaks are allowed there. We did see a little bit of it, very well maintained and gorgeous!

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Fresh coconut water is best enjoyed iced cold, after a fun kayaking session.

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The spa at Le Taha’a was also top notch. We splurged and got a nice hot stone massage. The staff offered us five choices of scented manoi oil to choose from.

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Our last sunrise in the French Polynesia.

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On the shuttle back to the airport, long journey home ahead. The island in the far back is the famous Bora Bora.

Au revoir Tahiti, we will miss thee!

 

To read more about a few of our other adventures, click away!

Maui Eats

Pigging out in Portland

Eating the Big Apple

Bali Part 1, Part 2, Part 3 (Cooking Class)

Italy Part 1 (Rome), Part 2 (Orvieto, Assisi), Part 3 (Siena, Lucca), Part 4 (Pisa, Florence)

Weekend in Vancouver

Enchanted in Santa Barbara

Another Paradise – Pulau Macan in the Thousand Islands

Shortstop in Singapore

 

 

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One thought on “Paradise in the French Polynesia

  1. oh Emily! I’m so jealous. But if I ever want to go to Tahiti, you have such a great itinerary here for me to steal. By the way, I get the same last name confusion with the hotel staff because I make all the reservations!

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