Paris (Supertramp)

•February 27, 2013 • Leave a Comment

Following our 1 week stay in London, we boarded the Eurostar for Paris. Around 2 hours of picturesque view of the French countryside from our windows before reaching Gare du Nord. Citadines Prestige Saint-Germain-des-Prés Paris was our stay for the first 5 nights followed by our last night at Mercure Terminus Nord. The former offering convenience right in the centre of Paris along the Seine, whereas the latter is just across Gare du Nord, leading to the airport. We didn’t purchase the Paris Pass since the price didn’t justify the places that we intended to cover. Almost everything was within walking distance from our hotel or was just a few metro stations away. I almost wanted to buy a ticket to the Champions League match between Paris St. Germain and Porto at Stade de France on our arrival day but the timing was just not feasible. It would have been cool to watch Ibrahimovic and company in action.

We walked to places like Notre Dame de Paris, Centre Georges Pompidou, Pantheon Paris and even managed a short stop at La Grande Mosquée de Paris. The iconic Tour de Eiffel was amazing especially after dusk. Arc de Triomphe Paris was another stop which was located at the top of The Avenue des Champs-Élysées, the French version of Orchard Road, where more bags were bought by Fadelinah and even I succumbed to one from Lancel, before heading to Printemps and Galeries Lafayette for more variety. Prices so much cheaper than the boutiques in Singapore that it would be almost sinful to return home without buying one. Food-wise, not as much as what London offered us and apart from the occasional stops at Mediterranean eateries, we indulged more on the macarons from Ladurée and Pierre Hermé. Fadelinah prefers the former but I prefer the latter. A stark contrast in quality between theirs and the all-too-sweet ones we ate in Singapore. And it seems Ladurée will be opening a branch in Singapore soon.

One cannot come to Paris and leave without appreciating the famous art pieces that the city contains. A visit to Musée du Louvre is a must to see most of them, especially the one and only Mona Lisa. So as we wondered through the different parts of the humongous museum, lost in paintings, sculptures and ancient artefacts, the feeling that even staying inside the museum for a month was not enough dawned, so beelines were made to only the important ones. True enough, the only display that had a really big crowd in front of it was the Mona Lisa. So you smile as she smiles back at you and you ask yourself “That’s it?”.

One of my primary objectives in Paris was to try and visit the underbelly of the city, so to speak, Catacombes de Paris, where human remains are stacked forming boney mounds and hanged along the earthy walls. Alas, upon reaching the discreet little hut that forms the main entrance to the macabre, the sign informing that the place is closed for maintenance was still hung. Disappointed, I returned to join Fadelinah at the hotel for more retail theraphy. At least I managed to visit Cimetière du Père Lachaise prior to that, to visit Jim Morrison’s grave, on what would have been his birthday.

Paris, the City of Lights, lived up to its name, and we are glad to have made the journey and experience the culture and surprisingly, friendly people. Not too sure if a return to Paris is on the cards but I still cannot get over missing out on the catacombs and besides … Fadelinah has something to settle with one Mr Julien from St. Laurent.


London Calling (The Clash)

•January 25, 2013 • Leave a Comment

Something that has been on my mind the past year finally came into fruition last November 28th. Having Ooyah passed her endurances for 4 and 7 hour flights, we boarded Singapore Airlines for a 13 hour flight to London. Fadelinah wanted to shop her heart out and I wanted to be inside Emirates Stadium watching an actual live match, rather than just make do supporting Arsenal from the couch at home. It was fuss-free booking the essentials a few months in advance and to have them delivered to Singapore, like the London Pass, which proved very useful throughout our stay in London. Be it going into the tourist attractions without having to queue and unlimited travels on the Tube and buses. The actual cost of the London Pass was recovered halfway through our journey and there is absolutely no way for anyone to cover everything, even if it is a 2 week stay.

Ibis London Blackfriars was booked for the initial 2 nights as it was just built in October. Simple clean interior with competent staff and located right in the centre of London, with Halal food available just a street away and the nearby Southwark station made travelling a breeze. On hindsight, we should have just stayed there throughout our stay, if we knew that the second hotel we booked for the next 4 nights, Studio 2 Let at Cartwright Gardens, was utter crap. Never have we stayed in a more deplorable place than that. Just a night was enough for us to foresake the cost of the remaining 3 nights and head straight to Pullman London St. Pancras across the road. A lesson learnt, never stay in a typical building to have the feel of the locals, unless it is run by a reputable hotel chain.

We managed to cover a few tourist attractions during the first few days. H.M.S. Belfast, permanently docked along the River Thames, offered an insight into the living conditions of the crew that went through various wars in it before the ship was turned into a museum in 1971. The Tower Bridge offers a learning experience into the history and mechanics that makes the amazing bridge works, unlike the London Bridge featured in the nursery rhyme that just looks boring, until lit at night. The architectural buffs would definitely appreciate the Millennium Bridge that spans from St. Paul’s Cathedral to Tate Modern. Tower of London is interesting in a medieval and spooky kind of way, but we enjoyed it nonetheless. Basically we stopped by any interesting spots along the River Thames, including Shakespeare’s Globe, and managed to board a Citycruise boat in the evening from Big Ben.

The highlight of the trip, at least for me, was sitting inside Emirates Stadium watching Arsenal’s match against Swansea City. Even having signed up as a Red member months ahead, I couldn’t manage to get extra tickets for Fadelinah and Ooyah, but given the constant swearing and seat-slamming Gooners around me, perhaps it wasn’t a good idea after all to bring them along. Anyway, both of them were busy shopping at Oxford Street while I was watching the match. Arsenal eventually lost through 2 late goals from Michu. Even in defeat, I would gladly do it all over again if given another chance. The 3 of us returned the next morning for a proper tour of Emirates Stadium. Ooyah decked in her Arsenal gear had fun running around the place and posing beside statues of Tony Adams and Thierry Henry.

We visited a few more places like the Portobello Market, Piccadilly Circus and the Household Cavalry before spending the remaining days in London hopping in and out of the London cabs shopping at places like Harrods and Primark. Fadelinah also got her much-awaited English scones at The Tea Room. We love London and we will be back. It is just a matter of when.

Osaka (The Kickovers)

•December 23, 2012 • Leave a Comment

Truth be told this trip should not have happened. It seemed like a good idea to book the flight tickets a few months ago due to Jetstar’s promotion but eventually became too close to our main holiday to London and Paris; just a day apart.

We reached Osaka on 23rd November and just did an exploration of Osaka rather than venture out to Kyoto or Nara, which were less than an hour’s train ride, during our full 3 day stay. Sheraton Miyako Hotel Osaka was our base. Osaka is not as tourist-friendly as Tokyo when it comes to directional signs and network maps in English, took longer than usual to figure out things but we somehow managed in the end. We went to Osaka Castle on the first day, which proved to be a nice place to appreciate fall albeit a drizzling weather, surrounded by the yellow and orange leaves of the many trees.

The entire second day at Universal Studios Japan was for Ooyah. I guess the main thing that separates Japanese theme resort attractions from their counterparts would be the parades, held during the day and night. We didn’t see such things at Singapore’s Universal Studios. The cool weather helped reduce tiredness as well.

Our final day coincided with the Osaka Marathon and the front of our hotel just happened to be part of the route. I had fun taking pictures of some of the runners in their quirky outfits, from Doreamon to Ultraman. After that, we headed to Osaka Aquarium Kaiyukan, that just resemble any other aquarium attractions in the world, before taking a ride on the Tempozan Ferris Wheel, offering panaromic views of the whole of Osaka. The night before our departure was confined to the Dotonbori area, where we had some food which Osaka is famous for, apart from the typical sushi.

We foresee transitting at Osaka in the future … before heading to Kyoto and Kobe.

Kids (Folk Implosion)

•September 14, 2012 • Leave a Comment

The recent week-long September school holidays was the perfect opportunity for Ooyah to embark on the Kidzania experience, that she had been clamouring for ever since missing out on it during her Jakarta trip with Fadelinah. Whereas for us parents, a good time as any for another food fest in Kuala Lumpur. A few quick bookings and we found ourselves onboard a double decker Transtar coach heading towards the city.

Kidzania is the brainchild of one Mexican genius, basically a family entertainment centre where the kids are given a small token of in-house currency called KidZos, to start their careers, earning and spending their way through the various ‘companies’ and ‘organisations’ within the Kidzania compounds. Thoroughly enjoyable for the kids as they run around working for hours on end. Ooyah took no less than a dozen jobs throughout our 7 hour stay there, including the much-coveted fire fighter, spraying down an ablazed hotel. A surgeon at a specialist hospital was also one of the jobs, the irony. Other jobs at places like Merrybrown and Sushi King would have the kids making their own burgers or bento sets. It is highly likely that we go to Kidzania again before she turns 10, before it all gets to be too lame for her.

The Royale Bintang Damansara, not to be confused with the nearby notorious The Royale Bintang The Curve, was our stay throughout the trip. A decent hotel with nicely furnished rooms and facilities, including an in-house ice skating rink, that Ooyah and I had the chance to skate and fall on the night before our departure. I sure hope that the ongoing courtesy campaign for their staff work, since the front desk staff might be the ones bring down the name of the hotel soon.

Riot On The Gold Coast (Ease The Medic)

•July 6, 2012 • Leave a Comment

We seldom have any problems during holidays when it comes to the flights themselves, be it low cost or full fledged carriers. But trust our own Singapore Airlines’ new budget airlines venture, Scoot, to be the first to actually activate our travel insurance plan. We already heard the news about the screw up for their maiden flight to Sydney, a few days before our own flight to Gold Coast. So it was with much trepidation that we made our way to Changi Airport in the evening of 12th June, hoping that things would be different. Any new airline would have worked harder to make sure of no repeated delays given the reputation at stake, but it seemed the CEO right down to the staff had other ideas. Our flight to Gold Coast itself was perhaps deja vu for the airline crew. Our sickly plane, Barry, had to make a U-turn due to a faulty door. It took roughly more than an hour for them to rectify the problem while we waited in the plane. But that paled in comparison to our return flight which was delayed for six hours because of a computer advisory message that needed investigation and a fuel tank seal that needed replacement. It was bloody Barry yet again.

Yes they put in a lot of effort for the fanfare surrounding their maiden flight to Gold Coast, from the moment we checked in to our arrival at Gold Coast Airport. The Noose’s ‘Pornsak Sukhumvit’ and ‘Barbarella Posh-Beckham’ were on board to entertain the passengers and some complimentary items were given. We even spotted ‘The Voice’ himself, Brian Richmond, who was gentlemanly in his ways, with his son, Mark, who I couldn’t care less about. After touching down, the plane was given a salute of sorts by a couple of of fire engines that doused it with water while it was approaching for disembarkation, as a welcoming sign for new airlines that use the airport. Upon passing through the Australian customs, there were also roving entertainers with some people from the press waiting and Fadelinah was interviewed by one of them.

Meriton Broadbeach was our choice as the base for our stay in Gold Coast. Seeing the expansive beach from our 24th storey balcony was a sight for sore eyes. As usual, we started the first day by just exploring the nearby areas and went to Pacific Fair for some shopping respite and meals. The only bad thing about Autralian shopping centres is the fact that they close early around 5 pm and only open till 9 pm on Thursdays. We headed to Sea World Resort & Water Park the next day and stayed a night since they were having a joint promotion for both accommodation and park tickets that was too hard to resist. The hotel looks very dated, more suited to the days when Farrah Fawcett hairdos were the fad, and kind of set the standard for things to come. Having visited Tokyo’s Disneyland and Disneysea, every single theme parks we went to after them no longer seem attractive, even the ones in Singapore are miles ahead of those in Gold Coast. Ooyah had a blast in Sea World though, especially when she had her own personal time interacting with a dolphin.

I guess no trip to Gold Coast is complete without a visit to the famed Surfers Paradise. We were there for their night market and some beach lounging during the day. As our stay at Sea World also covered Movie World, we just had to give a try and after a few hours seeing whatever there was to be seen in that little place, ventured next to Paradise Country, which is just behind it and Wet ‘N’ Wild. It was a toss between Paradise Country and Currumbin Wildlife Sanctuary for some close encounters with the furry kind, and we opted for the former due to its proximity. A sheared sheep and sip of Billy Tea with damper later and we were back at the hotel.

The final day was just spent within Broadbeach, enjoying the food and more playing by the beach. Comforting especially in the chilly weather. If only we had more days to spare. There are actually loads of things that can be done in Gold Coast, like riding hot air balloons and whale watching, but we just couldn’t cover them within 5 days. Really regretted not doing the whale watching part, as there was a reported sighting of a rare species in the news while we were there. Definitely see us returning to Gold Coast in the future, just not with the bloody Scoot airline.

Hong Kong Phooey (Sublime)

•December 6, 2011 • 1 Comment

How does one ruin a nice place with undulating hilly peaks, watery surroundings and modern architecture? By letting irritating tourists from mainland China, Taiwan and South Korea roam free all over the islands. A week may have been a bit too long to spend in Hong Kong, but given it’s an end-of-the-year holiday, I thought it was alright since I didn’t foresee us returning. Having experienced the whole culture there, that’s a certainty.

The whole itinerary was divided into 2 nights in Lantau, 2 nights in Hong Kong Island and the final 3 nights in Kowloon. Hong Kong Disneyland Hotel, South Pacific Hotel and Novotel Nathan Road Kowloon were our bases respectively. Hong Kong’s version of the Disneyland Resort, even with their latest Toy Story Land attraction, pales in comparison to the Tokyo one we went to last year. Perhaps the many rushing ‘tourists’ that made me want to shove Mickey Mouse figurines up their asses played a part in the underwhelming experience. The local Singaporeans’ kiasuism can’t hold a candle to these idiots. Taking them away from the whole scenario, Hong Kong Disneyland Resort and its 2 hotels are still enchanting enough for people new to the whole Disney magic. The Enchanted Garden Restaurant at our hotel was an enjoyable experience for Ooyah as the popular Disney characters dropped by our table for some photo-taking sessions. The maze within the hotel’s compound is also an interesting feature where the children can play hide-and-seek.

It was initially a half-hearted decision to select South Pacific Hotel as our second accommodation due to some less than favourable comments from former guests of the hotel but given its close proximity to some Halal eateries and attractions, I booked it. Masjid Ammar and Osman Ramju Sadick Islamic Centre is just a stone throw away, where Halal dim sum, apart from other dishes, could be had. Singapore’s Razack’s Seafood Kitchen and Tang Tea House Hong Kong Cafe come to mind, so no need for any bated breath. Any Halal eatery in a foreign land is still God-sent no matter the quality, so regulars we were while within the Wanchai area.

Ocean Park is one place anyone who goes to Hong Kong must visit. It’s definitely much better than Disneyland Resort, offering lots of attractions suitable for both adults and children, be it at the base or on top. And a visit there is not complete without a cable car ride up the steep slopes of the park, offering stunning views of the ocean and cliffs. Nerve-wrecking yet enjoyable. Love it.

Traversing both sides of the Victoria Harbour on Star Ferry was a cheap and enjoyable transportation option, rather than taking the MTR, which we only used once to travel from Disneyland to Hong Kong Island. Around only a couple of HKD, we were treated to stunning views of either sides of the harbour. We went to The Peak twice, the first accidentally all the way up by a double-decker bus and on The Peak Tram the following day. So much for the hype over the tram ride that only provided blurry views of seemingly 45 degrees inclined buildings. The tram was packed and the ride was over within minutes. The bus ride turning corners around cliffs was so much more interesting. We had fun posing with the various ‘stars’ inside Madame Tussauds Hong Kong located within The Peak, especially Ooyah who did an impromptu dance in front of Lady Gaga’s wax figurine, entertaining the many tourists close by. The Peak’s a location worth staying till evening for as one can see Hong Kong lit up in its full glory.

If there’s one lesson I’ve taken from this trip, it’s to avoid destinations frequented by tourists from China, Taiwan and South Korea. The last basically put paid to our intention of visiting their country. No more loud-mouthed people ever again.

Khmer (Nils Petter Molvaer)

•July 6, 2011 • Leave a Comment

The ‘Land of Smiles’ title should rightfully be handed to Cambodia instead of Thailand, as we came to realise throughout our 6-day trip to Siem Reap starting 10th June. Be it the welcoming staff of the hotels or the many ordinary folks we encountered daily, wealthy or poor; the latter more frequently. Tara Angkor Hotel was deemed a suitable base to start our explorations of the temple grounds, especially the majestic Angkor Wat and Angkor Thom. Rated #1 by Tripadvisor but with surprisingly modest room rates, we weren’t expecting much as we would be out often throughout our 2-night stay. It was alright with competent staff nonetheless.

Same, the driver whom we had engaged to bring us around for most of the time, proved reliable with his knowledge of the various temples and assisted with whatever information I had gathered prior to our trip, particularly with regards to restaurants serving Halal food, like D’Wau and Muslim Family Restaurant. He was always on time, even when called upon to bring me to Angkor Wat for a sunrise shoot at 5 in the morning. Not early enough it seems as daylight was already rampant by the time I reached the favourite photography spot. Having visited Borobudur, Angkor Wat is miles ahead in terms of scale and grandeur, the intricate carvings throughout the complex would take years to appreciate and decipher. So equipped with just a 3-day pass, it was somewhat of a rush trying to visit as many temples as possible, especially those in the outskirts of Siem Reap, like Banteay Srei.

Templed-out by the third day, we headed to Hôtel de la Paix for our next 3-night stay, a contemporary hotel decked out with Art Déco elements, housing some of Siem Reap’s world-class restaurants under its roof. Apart from being visually stunning with its many architectural details, it’s also a socially-responsible hotel, judging by its support for the less-privileged community. With staff remembering you by name, it’s hard not to be repeat guests.

Trips out of the town area are what Cambodia is all about, as French colonial-inspired buildings give way to acres of paddy fields interspersed with water buffaloes and the locals going about their daily lives. Along the way one will also see many non-governmental organisations, with the typical foreigner sticking out like a sore thumb amongst the Cambodian kids; volunteering as teachers throughout their stay in Siem Reap.

We visited Puok Silk Farm to learn about the process of making silk, where Ooyah valiantly held a chunky silk worm, and Artisans d’Angkor, where the Cambodians’ excellent craftsmanship was put on display for sale. We also managed to catch an Apsara dance performance at Sophea Angkor Pich Restaurant, not exactly a great venue to appreciate one of the prides of Cambodian culture, with its bustling surrounding of people making beelines for the buffet tables.

The fourth day was set aside for some horse-riding at The Happy Ranch Horse Farm, with stables of well-groomed horses and managed by the hands-on and friendly Mr Sary Pann, who also entertained Ooyah’s love for horses by letting her feed and bath Geronimo. An hour’s worth of ride through the scenic countryside affording close encounters with the local villagers, that cost as much as the 15-minute ride Ooyah had in Langkawi. Needless to say I had to join in.

The highlight of our trip was the almost 2-hour boat ride at Tonlé Sap, a massive freshwater lake where many Vietnamese and Cham communities live on floating villages around it. It was indeed an eye-opener for us to see their living conditions first hand. We stopped for a while at a school for the poor and also a floating platform where a restaurant was located next to a few seemingly hungry crocodiles. We were making our return trip from there when dark clouds loomed above and a storm took place. Caught in a storm with the boat stuck among thick water hyacinths is hardly much to call a holiday, but having seen the faces of those around us trying to live normally amidst such conditions was mesmerising. One image that’s forever etched in our minds is that of the drenched young boy above trying with all his might to help his family push their sampan through the water hyacinths. Whatever hardship we may face in our lives back in Singapore don’t even come close.

We spent the following 2 days just relaxing in our hotel and enjoying the Cambodian people’s friendliness and hospitality. Same sent us back to the airport on the final day and we promised to use his services again when we return. How could we not?