The Occasional Traveller http://theoccasionaltraveller.com Occasionally Travelling, Always Inspiring Mon, 20 Apr 2015 02:00:00 +0000 en-US hourly 1 http://wordpress.org/?v=341 What to do on a Weekend Getaway to Koh Samuihttp://theoccasionaltraveller.com/2015/04/20/what-to-do-on-a-weekend-getaway-to-koh-samui/ http://theoccasionaltraveller.com/2015/04/20/what-to-do-on-a-weekend-getaway-to-koh-samui/#comments Mon, 20 Apr 2015 02:00:00 +0000 http://theoccasionaltraveller.com/?p=16825 Need a quick getaway? Koh Samui is just 2 hours away from Singapore - here's what you can do if you have just one weekend to enjoy this beachy paradise.

The post What to do on a Weekend Getaway to Koh Samui appeared first on The Occasional Traveller.

]]>
As a working person with limited number of leave days, I’m always happy whenever I manage to do a quick weekend getaway – it may be short and doesn’t leave much time for exploration, but sometimes you just need that quick rejuvenation.

So when Skyscanner Singapore invited me up to Koh Samui for a quick weekend getaway, I was pretty stoked! While I have been to Bangkok multiple times and Phuket twice, I haven’t actually seen that much of Thailand, so definitely YES to adding a third city to my list!

GETTING TO KOH SAMUI

Koh Samui (aka Samui Island) is just 2 hours away from Singapore along the southern tip of Thailand, so it makes for a convenient spot for a quick weekend jaunt. Surprisingly though, not many airlines fly direct to Koh Samui from Singapore, so prices aren’t as competitive as spots like Bali or Bangkok which have many more options for you.

Skyscanner Cheapest Day to Fly
Quick tip: What I usually do is check prices on Skyscanner Singapore just to get a sense of how much I need to spend on flights. There is a function that also lets you see when is the cheapest time to travel, so if you have more flexibility with dates/times, this is an easy way to see your options! Also to consider, the price alert which emails you when the prices drops to your desired level so you don’t even have to constantly monitor… score!

I flew up courtesy of Bangkok Airways on Friday evening around 9pm after work and reached Singapore on Sunday evening around dinner time, with time to unpack and rest enough to head back to the office the next day. Ideally I would take an additional day off on Friday morning so you have more time to relax, but this is helpful if you’re out of leave days to take!

  • Bangkok Airways PG 0962: SIN > USM 2010 – 2105hrs
  • Bangkok Airways PG 0961: USM > SIN 1630 – 1920hrs
Koh Samui - Bangkok Airways Plane
I kinda like this shot with the sunset glinting off the plane body that I caught as we were getting on the plane and leaving Koh Samui

Even if you’re booked on another airline, it’s pretty likely you’ll end up on Bangkok Airways as they have the most flights to Koh Samui (they do own the airport after all) and code-share with several of the larger airlines. It was my first time flying this boutique airline (read: boutique does not equal budget) and I was quite impressed overall with the service.

Koh Samui - Bangkok Airways Food
You know you’ve been flying budget too long when you forget that you can get served food on the plane without having to dig out your wallet!

Also, Samui International Airport is adorable – the moment you step off the plane, you feel like you’re in a resort already, from the open-air, little hut like buildings, to the very happy looking trams that transport you to and from the planes. Also, they have complimentary food both on and off the plane for guests, which is always a plus point!

Koh Samui - Bangkok Airways Tram
Look at these little resort like trams!
Koh Samui - Bangkok Airways Free Food
You can help yourself to the food and drinks! Our Bangkok Airways contact managed to give us lounge access, where you have the same free food/drink access but in a quieter area with more comfortable seating

 

 

STAYING IN KOH SAMUI

Skyscanner kindly put me up at the Renaissance Koh Samui Resort & Spa which is a quick 20 mins drive south from the airport. It was at the hotel lobby where I met my fellow travel blogger Ally of Allyoffduty who would be my travel companion for the weekend.

Koh Samui - Renaissance Welcome Ice Cream
First time I had Welcome ice cream, which is such a good idea given the heat~ it was home made and awesome

I was in Room 310, a Deluxe Garden View room, and this room was pretty large and comfortable, spacious enough to walk around. There’s a bedroom with a separate open concept bathroom. There is also a balcony with some chairs and a jacuzzi! I spent a lovely time that first night reading and soaking in an absolutely hot bath. If there had been a sea view, I probably wouldn’t have wanted to leave my room at all…

In case you’re wondering, internet room rates for Deluxe rooms are going at about 4,900 – 6,800 THB last I checked over the weekend, which is about S$200 – S$280 per night depending on whether you want breakfast or a sea view. If you spring for a villa, you’re looking at 8,000 – 22,800 THB (approx S$300 – S$950). One odd thing though is that they charge for wi-fi (in this age? I know right) unless you’re a Marriott Rewards member, so sign up before you go (it’s free to sign up)

Koh Samui - Renaissance Bed
King sized bed! It was huge and made for sprawling
Koh Samui - Renaissance Bedroom
The curtains on the left open up to the balcony
Koh Samui - Renaissance Balcony
Balcony from the bedroom. It connects to the Jacuzzi patio on the right.
Koh Samui - Renaissance Balcony Panorama
View from my room – it was fairly private because it didn’t seem like anyone walked along that particular path that lay just under my balcony – one of the pools in the resort is off to the right hand side
Koh Samui - Renaissance Jacuzzi
The jacuzzi on the balcony. note the blinds that do not go down all the way and the balcony overlooks a public area, so keep your bikini on!

Service at the hotel in general was very pleasant, very polite and cheery staff. They also kept us very well fed on this trip – generally every time I’m in Thailand, whether it’s Bangkok or Phuket or Koh Samui, I always leave feeling like I’ve put on a few kilos from eating awesome Thai food. We ate breakfast and lunch at Banana Leaf Restaurant, and had dinner outdoors at TawaNN to the setting sun.

Koh Samui - Renaissance Mango
Mango snacks courtesy of the hotel delivered to the room. Soooo yummy!
Koh Samui - Renaissance Breakfast
Definitely go for the breakfast buffet which is held in the Banana Leaf restaurant. There is a huge selection of fresh foods (one of the better hotel breakfast buffet spreads I’ve seen) and definitely try the Samui Eggs Benedict, a house special which involves some Thai curry sauce which is amazing.
Koh Samui - Renaissance Lobster
Saturday night was LOBSTER NIGHT at Tawann, and this behemoth of a Thermidor Lobster was really good and so, so, so filling. I managed like half of that >_<

I managed to explore the hotel grounds a little on Sunday morning when we had a bit of time to ourselves. Sadly the sun was not so cooperative so it was pretty grey all around, only choosing to get sunny as we were leaving, boo~

Koh Samui - Renaissance Pool
The infinity pool by the beach – hardly had much time to do anything, so I could merely lounge by the pool >_<
Koh Samui - Renaissance Spa
We were treated to a lovely Thai massage in Quan spa. Nice spacious rooms and good masseuses, definitely what I needed after all that walking in Hong Kong the week before!
Koh Samui - Renaissance Beach Shore
Walking the beach at the Renaissance. I walked all the way to the edge of the headland in the upper right corner. There are some other hotels/bars along the stretch, but it’s pretty quiet in the day.

1-DAY SIGHTSEEING OF KOH SAMUI

Since we technically only had 1 full day to do any sort of sightseeing, Renaissance arranged for us to tour the island via their RNavigator programme, which basically involves a guide (the Navigator) creating a customized programme to bring you around the island. I like that it’s not a fixed itinerary and there’s no need to liaise with a separate operator, and our guide Aod managed a pretty good mix of touristy and more local things to do here, so I quite enjoyed our day tour around the island!

You can visit most of these places on your own if you hire a driver to get around or take private tours, but according to Aod, the hotel does offer pretty competitive prices so definitely something for consideration. Here’s where Aod took us:

 

Chaweng Viewpoint

Aod explained he usually liked to stop at this viewpoint for guests coming from the airport to enjoy a great view of the island as a warm welcome. It was pitch black by the time we reached Koh Samui the night before, so it was nice to take in quite a majestic view of the Eastern shore of Samui. To the left, you can actually see a hint of Chaweng Beach.

Koh Samui - RNavigator Viewpoint
All that water! It was kinda cloudy though
Koh Samui - RNavigator Viewpoint Pavilion
Pavilion to mark the viewpoint. You can walk down some stairs to the beach/water’s side here

 

Hin Ta and Hin Yai

We headed back south past our hotel till we reached Lamai to see the famous Hin Ta (grandfather) and Hin Yai (grandmother) rocks. There were lots of tourists there – you had to enter a rather narrow lane which led to the beach, and as with all tourist attractions, a little lane of shops surrounds the entrance to the area.

There’s a whole love story legend about how these rocks came to be named, but lest you think that you are going to look at rocks shaped like loving little old people, I’ll warn you first that it’s a little more graphic and genitalia like than that… The rocks are the main attraction set amidst a beautiful sea view, but other than that and poking around the little shops, that’s not much else to do here.

Koh Samui - RNavigator Hinta
You should be able to make out Hin Ta, standing erect in the distance
Koh Samui - RNavigator Hinyai
and you should also be able to see why this one is female. For some context, Hin Ta is on a small outcrop to the left of this picture, less than 100m away. It’s quite remarkable that such aptly shaped rocks are so close to each other!
Koh Samui - RNavigator Hinta Hinyai Puffer Fish
This puffer hanging ornament was for sale, it’s kinda scary but cute

 

Namuang Waterfall

We drove further inland, leaving the sand and sea behind and headed to Namuang reserve, a forested area which was pretty humid in the afternoon. There are two waterfalls located here, and we headed to #1, a short walk from the car park. Aod used to live around here and talked about how he used to swim in the waterfall pool here quite frequently as a child. You can still do that, and we spotted the more monkey-like people climbing around the trees there. The pool makes a nice respite from the humidity of the forest!

Koh Samui - RNavigator Namuang Waterfall Sign
This way to Namuang
Koh Samui - RNavigator Namuang Waterfall Shops
The tourist shops at the entrance
Koh Samui - RNavigator Namuang Waterfall
Namuang namtok, or the purple waterfalls, so called because of the tint of the rocks beneath it. The falls were rather dry when we were there – Aod says there is usually more water!

 

Peak Eye View Restaurant

Moving even further away from the beaches, Aod took us up towards the central more hilly parts of the island. We headed up, up, up along winding roads until we came to the Peak Eye View Restaurant. Perhaps it was the odd timing, but there was no one there that day but us. The restaurant is famous for its location perched on top of the hills which gives you a fabulous 360 view of the island below.

Koh Samui - RNavigator Peak Eye View Restaurant
Look out for this sign and take a short walk up a path to the restaurant.

It was kinda cloudy when we were there unfortunately so our view wasn’t great, but on a properly sunny day I can imagine it being quite impressive. You can have lunch there and the view comes for free – if you’re just there to go up to their viewing platform, there’s a small charge.

Koh Samui - RNavigator Peak Eye View
Looking out of the treetops, pity about the grey clouds looming

 

Think & Retro Cafe Lipa Noi

Finally it was lunch time, and we headed over to the cutest little cafe over on the west coast of Samui called Think & Retro Cafe (not a typo there). From the outside it looks like a bunch of containers stacked together, but it really is quite a charming place by the beach side with an absolutely beautiful white sandy beach. The water was super calm and glass like, so of course I had to have a bit of a wade.

Koh Samui - RNavigator Think Cafe
Think Cafe from the beach
Koh Samui - RNavigator Think Cafe Beach
The sun came out at the right time – the beach was super lovely and uncrowded
Koh Samui - RNavigator Think Cafe Dog
And of course this little cutie called Lucky who belongs to the cafe and took a nap under our table

 

Magic Alambic Rum Distillery

Something a little bit unexpected in Thailand is the Magic Alambic rum distillery (now going by the name Koh Samui Rum Distillery as per their website) in Ban Thale, the southern bit of Samui. It doesn’t seem to have any official tours and it was quite empty when we were there – you can taste the rather unusual rums that they make on site though.

I tried several different flavours – coconut, pineapple, orange and lemon rum. I liked the pineapple best of the lot, but I think it tastes even better when mixed with this special home made cane sugar juice (you can buy it in a bottle – our guide did!). They also serve up French food here, though we didn’t get to try this time around, so it makes a nice spot to consider having a meal and some rum tasting.

Koh Samui - RNavigator Rum
All the rum! It’s not a particularly fancy or touristy place, just a bunch of tables under shelter and a counter with rum on it

 

Coconut Farming

I have no idea where this place was, but it doesn’t look like very much from the outside, just a whole pile of coconuts alongside a few huts. You’ll see a few monkeys nearby the trees on a leash, and they are trained to pluck coconuts from the trees and loosen it. One of the owners gave us a bit of a demo – they train the monkey to hang off your arm and using its feet, it spins the coconut and tadah! One loose coconut falls to the ground. The unhusking work still is a matter of human labour, and it remains one of Koh Samui’s top exports.

Koh Samui - RNavigator Coconuts
I’ve got a lovely (huge) bunch of coconuts!
Koh Samui - RNavigator Coconut Farm Monkey
The monkey does a very efficient job of loosening the coconut. I elected not to have it hang off my arm as a demo though, I felt a bit sorry for them as they were leashed up, and this one in particular was a bit aggressive (still in training apparently) and very intelligently managed a strategic jumpkick or two at us (poor Ally) even though it was leashed at the neck

 

Fisherman’s Wharf

Finally we end the tour by heading up north to Fisherman’s Wharf or Fisherman’s Village in Bophut. They’ve built a very fancy open air mall called The Wharf which makes for nice shopping if that’s your thing, or you can walk down the road to the ‘original’ Fisherman’s Village stretch, which is a row of bars/restaurants facing the beach so you can enjoy a great view with your nosh. We were pretty tired from all that travelling (we literally covered all ends of the island!), so I happily sat down for a Chang Beer.

Koh Samui - RNavigator The Wharf
Fancy new mall. Doesn’t feel like Thailand at all but it is very pretty

 

Koh Samui - RNavigator Chilling
Waiting for our drinks. Ally is failing to look candid

Here’s my handy dandy map of all the places we visited. I didn’t list the Peak Eye View and Coconut Farm because I couldn’t find any location information on them >_< If anyone has recommendations on what else you can do in Koh Samui with just a weekend to spare, drop a comment and share! I’d love to go back there again, it’s so nearby and so, so lovely :)

 

Thanks again to Skyscanner and the lovely Pamela for sponsoring and organizing the entire trip. Also to the lovely Stephanie from Renaissance who took good care of us throughout the trip, and Aod our trusty navigator who knows all the shortcuts on the island. Thanks to Golf from Bangkok Airways who also took the time to hang out with us.

The post What to do on a Weekend Getaway to Koh Samui appeared first on The Occasional Traveller.

]]>
http://theoccasionaltraveller.com/2015/04/20/what-to-do-on-a-weekend-getaway-to-koh-samui/feed/ 2
The Dawson and Alexandra Heritage Trail – a walk through Singapore’s historyhttp://theoccasionaltraveller.com/2015/04/17/dawson-and-alexandra-heritage-trail/ http://theoccasionaltraveller.com/2015/04/17/dawson-and-alexandra-heritage-trail/#comments Fri, 17 Apr 2015 02:00:00 +0000 http://theoccasionaltraveller.com/?p=16883 Exploring Singapore's history along the Dawson and Alexandra Heritage Trail by My Queenstown. From curved blocks to hidden bunkers and more!

The post The Dawson and Alexandra Heritage Trail – a walk through Singapore’s history appeared first on The Occasional Traveller.

]]>
I often marvel at the fact that while Singapore is comparatively so small to many other places, there are still a surprising number of places in this little country that I haven’t visited despite living here all my life.

While I was away in Bali over the long Easter weekend, I got my good friend Pet to check out the launch of the Dawson and Alexandra Heritage Trail by the Queenstown folk, which happens to be conveniently in her ‘hood.

This little township in the Western part of Singapore has a surprising amount of history tucked in its midst, and just reading her account makes me wish I could have experienced the tour for myself! I’ll let her tell you more about it below.

Dawson-Alexandra Trail - Poster


 Pet:

Last weekend, J (Jac>> that’s Pet’s friend J and not me) and I spent our Saturday morning on the Dawson and Alexandra guided tour, jointly organised by My Community, The Other Sites of Singapore and Queenstown Citizens’ Consultative Committee.

Having spent a good half of my life growing up in Queenstown, I was pretty excited to take the tour. I must admit, I’ve become so accustomed to the scenery in my neighbourhood that it kind of blends into the background whenever I pass by. I was looking forward to revisiting these familiar sights and viewing them with new eyes.

We gathered at Queenstown MRT at 8.20 in the morning (J wilting a little at the early morning wake-up call). There, the organisers quickly distributed some handy dandy audio guides and earphones (like the kind you get in the museums in Europe) together with a nicely put together brochure detailing the places we would be later be visiting.

Dawson-Alexandra Trail - Audio Guide
The audio guide transmitted what the guide and interviewees were saying up to a pretty wide radius (around 300m, according to our guide). Fantastic for those of us who fell behind while taking photos – it saved us from missing a thing.

Our first stop was at the former Forfar House. What is now a towering 40-storey HDB flat used to be a modest 14-storey building in 1956, which was then the tallest residential building in Singapore, and earned the nickname “Chap Si Lau” (???, or “fourteenth storey” in Hokkien). Forfar House also broke ground in other ways, having modern sanitary systems and lifts that were not seen in Singapore in the 1950s.

Dawson Alexandra Trail Forfar Heights
Like most street names in Queenstown, Forfar Heights has a royal connection. In this case, Forfar was apparently a small town in Scotland near the childhood home of Queen Elizabeth the Queen Mother.

According to our guide, being the tallest residential building in Singapore also had the unintended consequence of attracting some troubled people with suicidal tendencies. For the superstitious, this was chalked up to the building bearing the unlucky number 14 (which, in Chinese, means “sure die”. Apparently this is even worse than just the number 4!).

 

Our next stop was Princess House, a 7-storey building along Commonwealth Avenue. Princess House was the first dedicated headquarters for the Housing Development Board (HDB), later becoming a multi-purpose building in 1957 which housed both government departments and offices open to the public.

Dawson-Alexandra Trail - Princess House
Check out the unique U-shaped roof which can also be used as a viewing deck. Water is somehow able to drain from this, though I’m not entirely sure how…

As the headquarters for HDB, Princess House hosted several foreign dignitaries such as Prince Phillip, Princess Margaret (for whom the building and the entire former Princess Estate was named), and former UK Prime Minister Edward Heath.

 

En route to our next stop, we paused briefly at the seemingly unremarkable junction of Dawson Road and Alexandra Road, close to where the Hyundai building now stands. I must have driven past this spot more than a hundred times without realising that this was the starting point of the infamous Hock Lee bus riots, a major riot in Singapore during the 1950s (and one we all were made to read about in history class).

Dawson-Alexandra Trail - Hock Lee Bus Riot Spot
Innocuous spot with a whole lot of history behind it

For those who didn’t study in Singapore (or fell asleep in history a lot like I did), on 23 April 1955, disgruntled bus drivers from Hock Lee Amalgamated Bus Company staged a peaceful demonstration at the bus depot located at the junction of Dawson Road and Alexandra Road to protest against their poor working conditions, long hours and low pay. Unfortunately, this turned violent when the riot police stepped in to break up the protests using water cannons and tear gas on 12 May 1955, leading to a riot which ended in the tragic death of two police officers.

 
Turning in towards the Strathmore estate, our guide, Eu Chai, stopped to show us some pictures of the old HDB flats that used to line the streets. Now, massive blocks of HDBs dominate the skyline.

Dawson-Alexandra Trail - Eu Chai
Such a stark contrast to the behemoth new blocks that tower behind!
Dawson-Alexandra Trail - Sky Terrace Skyville
Sky Terrace and Skyville @ Dawson, privately built HDBs that look so impressive, it’s hard to believe they’re public housing.

 

A short walk along a gorgeous tree-lined road later, we reached what was definitely the highlight of the tour! This was the first stop that was truly new for me – the hidden barracks along Kay Siang Road. I must confess, it came as a real surprise that there were unexplored barracks tucked away so close to “civilisation”. (jac>> unfortunately, you might not be able to see this on your own as it is apparently located on private land…)

Dawson-Alexandra Trail - Gated Entrance
The gated entrance – look at how close it is to Sky Terrace!

We scrambled through the fence with some help from Eu Chai, and the reason behind the ominous “thick vegetation” warning in our pre-tour email became immediately clear. We entered into a mini-forest of sorts, where the vegetation was indeed so dense that the ground was wet even though it hadn’t rained in a couple of days.

Dawson-Alexandra Trail - Hidden Barracks Bush
Definitely not for those with mobility issues.

There was no marked path, so we followed the guide in single file and tried to keep from slipping on the wet leaves or getting smacked in the face by branches. If you are me and emit a supernatural beacon for all stinging, biting creatures (jac>> you should see her reaction to jellyfish stings when we go diving! Truly amazingly frightening.), you will also have the additional challenge of “not tripping over a tree root while walk-stomping on the ants and mosquitoes” to overcome.

(Bring repellent. I cannot stress this enough.)

Dawson-Alexandra Trail - Hidden Barracks Trail
Parts of the trail were too steep, so they tied ropes to a tree for us to brace our weight against while crossing over

Thankfully, the bunkers were only a short distance away. Oddly enough, to-date, no one has any idea why the bunkers were built at all. “Most likely storage bunkers during the war… but still, nobody really knows…” Eu Chai mused. *cue X-Files music*

Dawson-Alexandra Trail - Hidden Barracks
Two of three bunkers on the trail. The first bunker had more or less rotted away, leaving only the front facade and some side beams held together by tree roots and prayer. The second bunker, built into the side of a hill (most likely to keep the contents of the bunker cool), was more intact.

We could enter the second bunker, but while waiting my turn, I heard some faint screeches of “lizard!” emanating from inside, and wasn’t convinced that my trusty aerosol repellent could overcome that. There was also a third bunker further up, but the next group arrived and we got shooed out to make way for them :(

Emerging from the trail slightly scratched, sweaty and sticky, we were all pretty happy to see that the nice people organising the tour had mini buses and water waiting for us. We hopped in gratefully and were driven to our next stop.

Dawson-Alexandra Trail - Bus
Thank goodness for transport and water!

 

Along the way, our guide Eu Chai, who grew up along Stirling Road, treated us to some trivia about Queenstown. Queenstown was the first satellite town created by the government, back when these things were pretty much experimental. Consequently, Queenstown is the only town in Singapore without a town centre. Unlike other towns in Singapore, Queenstown also doesn’t have very clear boundaries and it’s difficult to say exactly where it begins and ends.

Dawson-Alexandra Trail - Tiong Ghee Temple
Tiong Ghee Temple entrance

We then alighted at Tiong Ghee Temple along Stirling Road. The temple is Queenstown’s oldest Taoist temple, although the temple that stands at the present site was only built in 1973. Prior to that, the temple stood where Mei Ling estate currently stands.

Dawson-Alexandra Trail - Tiong Ghee Temple Lanterns
The many lanterns hanging from the entrance of the temple

We then moved on to the Butterfly Block (Block 168A Queensway), so called because the twin curves of the blocks resemble a butterfly. This was one of the first curved-shape blocks constructed by HDB.

Dawson-Alexandra Trail - Butterfly Block
Curved blocks with the ‘body’ of a butterfly
Dawson-Alexandra Trail - Paul Fernandez
Mr Paul Fernandez, who has been living in the Butterfly Block for more than 40 years now, regaled our group with lively stories of his memories of living in Queenstown and the nearby Alexandra village.

A short walk from the Butterfly Block brought us to Queensway Shopping Centre. Having always played one form of sports or another, this was definitely a familiar sight to me (I just went there yesterday, in fact).

Queensway Shopping Centre was built in 1974 and was one of Singapore’s first multi-purpose shopping complexes (the others are Golden Mile and Katong). Its distinct octagonal facade is thought to have links to fengshui practices (ba gua).

Just across the road from Queensway Shopping Centre stands Anchorpoint Shopping Centre. To my delight (and slight dismay), I learnt that that was where the former Archipelago Brewery Company used to stand. The site was chosen due to its close proximity to the old KTM railway tracks, providing convenient transportation links for the export of beer.

Our guide informed us that after the brewing took place at the main plant (where Anchorpoint now stands), bottled beer was then transported via a wooden overhead conveyor belt across the road to the canning line (where IKEA now stands). How awesome is that? Friends, for my next birthday, I would like a conveyor belt to bring freshly brewed beer to my house please.

 

Our last stop was the idyllic Alexandra Hospital. For those of you who have been there, I think you’d probably agree that the general feel of Alexandra Hospital is quite a far cry from the usual sterile atmosphere that people think of when they think of hospitals. The grounds are lush and green, and the entire thing looks more like a colonial-style resort rather than a hospital compound!

Dawson-Alexandra Trail - Alexandra Hospital
Dawson-Alexandra Trail – Alexandra Hospital

 

Unfortunately, Alexandra Hospital has had a rather brutal history. As a former military hospital, it was the target of an attack that has been described as “the largest and most awful massacre of British troops in World War II”. Within a short 30-minute span, more than 200 patients and personnel were killed by attacking Japanese platoons.

Today, the hospital still operates as a civilian hospital, and is affectionately known as the “Hospital in a Garden”. Interestingly enough, we were told at the end of our tour that an extensive network of tunnels exists under the hospital. Previously thought to be a means of escape from the hospital, the tunnels are now understood to be confined underneath the administrative block, suggesting that they were most likely used to get around within the hospital or for storage.

The Alexandra Hospital Tunnels will be most likely be opening up to the public (and featuring on the trail) later this year. Something to look forward to, for those who take the tour later!

Alexandra Hospital marked the end of the tour, after which the mini buses popped up again and dropped us back at Queenstown MRT.

All in all, it was a thoroughly enjoyable morning out. I was reminded that despite having lived in Queenstown for a cumulative 15 years, there was still so much I didn’t know about the place. While I’m not sure how much interest this would hold for someone completely unfamiliar with the area, I definitely had a blast learning about the (admittedly brief) history of my ‘hood.


 

The Dawson and Alexandra Guided Tour operates on the last Saturday of every month, and is free and open to the public. You can register for the tours at www.myqueenstown.eventbrite.sg, by email at myqueenstown@gmail.com, or call Queenstown Community Centre at 6474 1681. Do note that, according to the latest update on the My Queenstown Facebook page, all 900 slots for 2015 have been snapped up and the waiting list is half as long, and the next available tours are in 2016!

Would love to hear any stories if you were/are a resident there now or just enjoying exploring the area! Do share here. :)

The post The Dawson and Alexandra Heritage Trail – a walk through Singapore’s history appeared first on The Occasional Traveller.

]]>
http://theoccasionaltraveller.com/2015/04/17/dawson-and-alexandra-heritage-trail/feed/ 0
Hong Kong Street Art – Sheung Wan and Centralhttp://theoccasionaltraveller.com/2015/04/14/hong-kong-street-art-sheung-wan-and-central/ http://theoccasionaltraveller.com/2015/04/14/hong-kong-street-art-sheung-wan-and-central/#comments Tue, 14 Apr 2015 02:00:00 +0000 http://theoccasionaltraveller.com/?p=16755 Watching street artists transform walls at HKwalls and discovering mural and street art goodness in Hong Kong's Sheung Wan and Central district

The post Hong Kong Street Art – Sheung Wan and Central appeared first on The Occasional Traveller.

]]>
Before heading over to Hong Kong, I did a little research on the street art scene and reached out to Stephen over at Longzijun to find out more about where I could find any good art areas to check out. The bad news? Stephen said I probably wasn’t going to find the mural-type street art works that I prefer and that the Hong Kong street art scene tends to be more graffiti-writing and paste-ups.

Hong Kong Street Art - Wan In Fong St West
Not the most artsy street art – there is a lot of graffiti

The good news? He did tell me that HKwalls was happening right at the tail end of my trip so I was quite happy to pop by the Sheung Wan area to check it out, and I am immensely glad I did!

Sheung Wan can probably be described as a gentrifying hipster area, and HKwalls – a street art festival in its 2nd year invited various street artists from local and international circles to take over many of the walls in this neighbourhood and beautify them.

Hkwalls

The artists mostly painted over 14th and 15th March – I was there on both afternoons watching them at work, so one thing a little different from my usual street art hunting is that I actually got to see the artists at work and watch the artworks progress, instead of just seeing the final art pieces. It’s amazing how much the artwork can evolve over just one day! Here are a couple of the works in progress that I caught. You can head over to HKwalls Facebook page to see how the actual final works turned out – they also painted at Stanley Market so if you’re headed to that area, maybe check it out!

Hong Kong Street Art - Ladder Street
At the junction of Caine Street and Ladder Street, which is apt as it’s on top of a steep stairway and there is a noodle store at this corner too

I also spotted other older street art and graffiti works in the area as well alongside the HKwalls works, I haven’t been able to identify all the works, but here’s where you might see some of these works! Scroll down right to the bottom for the Google Map!

 

TAI ON TERRACE / PO HING FONG LANE

I suggest starting from the top along Caine Road and then climbing down the stairs of Upper Station Street. Tai On Terrace is on the left as you descend – explore the walls around those blocks and then head down to Po Hing Fong Street and walk along the side of Blake Gardens back to the bottom of the stairs at Upper Station Street.

Hong Kong Street Art - Idrawalot
HKwalls: Idrawalot aka Addison Karl (Germany) @ LEAD, 1 Tai On Terrace. I like the hatching – reminds me of colour pencils and art in school somehow
Hong Kong Street Art - LEAD
tp @ LEAD, 1 Tai On Terrace – I think this belonged to the 1st edition of HKwalls
Hong Kong Street Art - Xeme
Xeme (HK) – stairs on stairs
Hong Kong Street Art - 4GET
HKwalls: 4GET (HK) @ Yoga Bam Bam, 28 Pound Lane. There were chairs here for some reason, so I took a seat and a break here
Hong Kong Street Art - Tanks
these random tanks are close to Yoga Bam Bam
Hong Kong Street Art - Bao Progress
HKwalls: Bao (HK) @ 8 Tai On Terrace – this looks like painstaking work, but I love the detailing
Hong Kong Street Art - DEMS
HKwalls: Dems (Spain) @ 9 Tai On Terrace – this was a giant piece and there was some sort of mini party taking place, with drinks and ice cream on sale. The Gallery was just around the corner on the left
Hong Kong Street Art - Stern Rockwell
HKwalls: Stern Rockwell (USA) @ AFFECT-T, 28 Po Hing Fong Street – this is very gangsta~

 

HKwalls had a special gallery set up in an empty space at Tai On Terrace which had works by several of the artists for HKwalls on sale, I took a gander but nothing in particular caught my eye…

Hong Kong Street Art - HKwalls Gallery
Checking out sellable works by participating street artists

 

BETWEEN TAI PING SHAN STREET AND HOLLYWOOD STREET

On the opposite side of Blake Garden lies the hipster Tai Ping Shan Street – you can find several works along this street and on the many perpendicular roads and back alleys that line it. Most of the action was happening in the alleyway between Sai Street and Upper Station Street. A mix of cute little shops, artsy type shops as well as eateries around here – a nice place to chill out in the afternoon or evening.

Tai Ping Shan Street

Hong Kong Street Art - Peter Yuill
HKwalls: Peter Yuill (Canada) @ RJMD, 14A Tai Ping Shan Street. The deep blue colour is quite striking
Hong Kong Street Art - Tai Ping Shan Street
I was more intrigued by the pasted up blue pipes than the larger artwork on the left!
Hong Kong Street Art - Felipe Pantone
HKwalls: Felipe Pantone (Spain) @ Tai Ping Shan Street – If you see the final work, that reads ‘Pant’
Hong Kong Street Art - Good Day
Not street art per se, but fun and happy nonetheless

 

Upper Station Street

Hong Kong Street Art - Rukkit Progress
HKwalls: Rukkit (Thailand) @ Upper Station Street – you can see in the bottom left photo that Rukkit is using some sort of ruler/stencil to achieve those straight lines. You couldn’t quite tell how the final piece was going to look like at all, somehow I imagined something akin to a tube line. Imagine my surprise to see this fox face appear!

 

Alleyway between Upper Station Street and Sai Street

Hong Kong Street Art - exld Progress
HKwalls: exld (Philippines) – is the dog shooting an… eyeball?
Hong Kong Street Art - Artime Joe Progress
HKwalls: Artime Joe (South Korea) – something about this was really cheery and preppy. I kept thinking of M&Ms
Hong Kong Street Art - Egg Fiasco Progress
HKwalls: Egg Fiasco (Philippines) – This guy seemed to be working quite quickly – the middle picture was his progress when I left on Day 1, which I thought was almost complete. Was quite surprise to see the sheer amount of detail piled on the next day (top and right pix!)
Hong Kong Street Art - Barlo Progress
HKwalls: Barlo (Italy) – You couldn’t quite tell what the work was going to look like from the initial sketch! What’s really cute is that lady who’s peering out her door and watching the artist at work. She was really into the artwork, coming out and taking pictures and giving all smiles to the artist!
Hong Kong Street Art - Jay Flow
HKwalls: Jay Flow (South Korea) – very graphic shark jumping out of the wall
Hong Kong Street Art - Gantz5 2
HKwalls: Gantz5 (Macau) – This is actually part of a larger piece that stretches along the wall
Hong Kong Street Art - Gantz5
HK Street Art – Gantz5 (Macau) – work in progress

 

Water Lane

Hong Kong Street Art - Sinic
HKwalls: Sinic (HK) – I think it’s an exploding boat?
Hong Kong Street Art - Water Lane Colourful
This also seems to be part of the first edition HKwalls. Sorry about the dude photobombing this picture but he was filming something else and just would not budge~
Hong Kong Street Art - Water Lane Random 2
More random works along the lane
Hong Kong Street Art - Water Lane Random 1
more random works

HOLLYWOOD STREET

Hollywood Street has a whole bunch of art and antique shops along it. Take a walk all the way up it from the Tai Ping Shan Road area towards Aberdeen Street where you can pop into the revitalised PMQ (Police Married Quarters) which is an uber hipster creative hub these days with lots of very cool shops. Pop into the various alleyways along the way to discover some surprises within!

Hong Kong Street Art - Eyes
Look who’s watching~
Hong Kong Street Art - Shing Wong St
Another face at the junction of Shing Wong Street

Tank Lane stairway between Square Street and Hollywood Street

Hong Kong Street Art - Hopare
HKwalls: Hopare (France) – this piece is really striking and bound to catch your attention as you walk along Hollywood Street. One of my favourites of the trip!
Hong Kong Street Art - Tank Lane
Not sure who this was by – it’s opposite the Hopare work, but it’s kinda cute
Hong Kong Street Art - Gas Progress
HKwalls – Gas (China) @ Little Square, 21 Square Street – I’m trying to figure out what word that is exactly – Gas’s schtick is writing in Chinese characters
Hong Kong Street Art - Rookie
HKwalls – Rookie (Taiwan) @ Little Square – cool octopus! – to the right is Square Street which has some random bits of graffiti along it too
Hong Kong Street Art - Xeva
HKwalls: Xeva (South Korea) @ Cawah Arts Gallery, 23 Square Street – can you tell who that famous face is?
Hong Kong Street Art - Dustbin
One of the walls along Square Street. The dustbin was quite intriguing somehow.

 

 BELOW HOLLYWOOD STREET

I turned down Shin Hing Street and walked towards Gough Street. There are a bunch of lanes that you can explore around here with lots of little shops along the stairways and Gough Street, which is also where you can get the famous Kau Kee beef brisket noodles and Sing Heung Yuen noodles.

Hong Kong Street Art - Parents Parents
HKwalls: Parent’s Parents (HK) @ La Cabane, 97 Hollywood Road / Shin Hing Street – I quite liked this work too, striking visual
Hong Kong Street Art - Callixto
Callixto @ 11 Mee Lun Street – to the right is a little alleyway with some graffiti and street art works. I thought the Einstein was funny
Hong Kong Street Art - Fin Dac
@ 2 Mee Lun Street and Gough Street – You don’t normally see this Lovers & Friend’s work by Fin Dac in its entirety as it’s usually blocked by Sing Heung Yuen, a ‘da pai dang’ or roadside stall which is popular for tomato noodles. Sadly, didn’t manage to try the noodles >_<

 

OTHERS

Other works I spotted randomly…

Hong Kong Street Art - Little Bao Chung Wo Lane
Little Bao @ 66 Staunton Street and Chung Wo Lane – it’s not a bun shop, but an Asian diner of sorts
Hong Kong Street Art - Central Market
Right at the start of the Mid Level Escalators is Central Market – I’m not sure if much is still open there, but a lot of the shop shutters have artworks on them! so if you’re taking the escalator, perhaps pop by and check it out.
Hong Kong Street Art - Make A Wish
This was en route up the Mid Levels Escalators – what I did one time was take the escalator up to the top and from there walk across towards Tai On Terrace, so I wouldn’t have to climb the slopes!

Anyone have other street art spots in Hong Kong to recommend? Share them in the comments here so I know where to go if I ever head back to Hong Kong!

Added later: Check out this Chinese calligraphy-type work by Phil Akashi at Deepwater Bay

The post Hong Kong Street Art – Sheung Wan and Central appeared first on The Occasional Traveller.

]]>
http://theoccasionaltraveller.com/2015/04/14/hong-kong-street-art-sheung-wan-and-central/feed/ 1
What is the best way to connect to internet on the road?http://theoccasionaltraveller.com/2015/04/11/what-is-the-best-way-to-connect-to-internet-on-the-road/ http://theoccasionaltraveller.com/2015/04/11/what-is-the-best-way-to-connect-to-internet-on-the-road/#comments Sat, 11 Apr 2015 02:00:00 +0000 http://theoccasionaltraveller.com/?p=16754 What is the easiest & cheapest way to connect on the go? Comparing the pros and cons of portable wifi devices, local prepaid SIM cards and roaming services.

The post What is the best way to connect to internet on the road? appeared first on The Occasional Traveller.

]]>
As a travel blogger and a busy working professional, one of the things I’m quite concerned about when I travel is being connected on the go. Yes, I agree that travel should be as carefree and uninterrupted as possible, but with a full-time job and having to update the blog frequently, making sure I can connect to the internet on the road is always an important thing.

 

Portugal - Lagos Street Art Aryz
Travel blogger at work, posting on the go!

You’ve probably seen some mentions in previous posts about how I’ve stayed connected on the go, usually through portable wi-fi devices and local pre-paid SIM Cards, but I thought I’d give you a more detailed rundown of the pros and cons of each method which might help those trying to work out which might be more effective and worthwhile for you.

Onward! Thanks to the folk at Changi Recommends who provided me with a SIM card for my experiment while I was in Hong Kong and helped inspire this sponsored post. Also props to the folk from Wi-Ho who continue to sponsor my wi-fi devices on trips and keep me connected.

 

Local Prepaid SIM Card

You purchase a prepaid SIM card with a certain amount of minutes/data from the country which you are visiting, usually in the airport when you land or a local phone shop. Usually you need to swap out your current SIM card on the phone, unless you have dual SIM or you carry a spare phone around because you’re very concerned about losing your current SIM card and try not to touch it where possible (like me >_<)

Hong Kong SIM Card
My Hong Kong SIM Card courtesy of Changi Recommends – the card format definitely helps it from getting lost in my bag >_<

PROS

  • Not just data – depending on the plan that you buy, you usually have some minutes on your phone which can be helpful if you need to make a booking to an overseas number or check for directions with your hotel on the go.
  • Convenient – It’s just you and your phone, no additional devices to carry around or having to worry about charging. You’re connected all the time – you don’t have to worry about switching on the device or it running out of battery. If your phone is kaput you can’t use your data anyway so that’s one less thing to think about with a SIM card.
  • Pay as you need – you control how much data/minutes you use and it’s usually quite easy to top up additional minutes or data if you’re in a city. You don’t run the risk of bill shock because no money = no connection, simple as that. The Hong Kong PCCW Tourist SIM Card I used cost S$13 for 5 days/1.5GB of data and unlimited local calls, which is relatively affordable for most travellers.

CONS

  • Foreign Number – you can’t get phone calls or smses directed to your original line when you are using a prepaid SIM card with a foreign number. Thankfully this doesn’t affect data-dependent programmes things like whatsapp and facebook messenger as your contacts are saved on your phone
  • Limited by what you have on the card – if you don’t budget for it in the beginning or judiciously monitor your phone usage for data-eating apps, costs might start racking up when you frequently have to top up your card! Having to top up the card can also be quite a hassle
  • Limited by the SIM card – Most SIM cards have an expiry date or specific time period that they will work once activated, so unless you’re visiting the same country fairly regularly, your SIM card is mostly like a one-time use only. And also, the SIM card is so tiny I have a tendency to misplace it >_< You also need to take time to purchase your SIM card when you land – in the case of Changi Recommends, you can pick up a SIM card from Changi Airport for Thailand, Hong Kong and South Korea before you even check in at the airport, so that’s convenient!
  • Tethering is draining – you can use your phone as a hot spot for your tablet/laptop/other people’s phones quite easily these days, but it will drain your phone’s battery more quickly

I’d recommend Local Pre-Paid SIM cards for:

  • People who aren’t expecting any urgent call-ins (i.e. not your business/sales folk), and are mostly using this to conduct local calls or just for data
  • Those who don’t use data very heavily, or will have wi-fi access during their trip so they aren’t completely reliant on data from the SIM card (if you don’t have unlimited data that is)
  • Those who want something fuss-free – just pop the card in and you’re connected for the rest of your trip!

Where to get your SIM cards

Most of the time you buy them from the telco store of the country you’re visiting. Often, there are booths located right in the airports as well, or you can often find these prepaid SIM cards in convenience stores like 7-11 too.

  • Changi Recommends [sponsor] – for those in Singapore, you can pick up SIM cards for Thailand, South Korea and Hong Kong at any of the Changi Recommends booths in Changi Airport, so you can pick it up while waiting to check in, and you don’t have to bother looking for a store when you land (S$13 – S$45)

 


Portable Wifi Devices

These are usually separate devices sometimes referred to as ‘dongles’ or ‘eggs’. They connect wirelessly to the local 3G/4G network and you tether your phone/laptop to the device via a unique ID/password for online access. Most commonly I use Wi-ho when I travel because of their kind sponsorship for the blog, so I’ll use those experiences as a basis for reference here, but there are other companies offering similar services and the general use is pretty much the same across the board.

Wiho
A typical portable wifi device – it’s usually around palm size or smaller and doesn’t need to be plugged in to work

PROS

  • Tethers multiple devices easily – Wi-ho lets you tether up to 5-10 connections at once as long as you have the ID/password (printed on the back of the device) so it’s useful when you have several devices like a phone and tablet and/or laptop running at the same time. Multiple tethering is also good when you’re with friends – I was quite popular during the Shanghai trip with other travel bloggers last year because they got to be connected around me!
  • Control from 1 central device – I like this because you don’t have to be connected 24/7 and that lets you concentrate on your holiday. I usually take ‘social media breaks’ on the go, so I only turn on the device when we’re in transit or having meals/rest breaks. For groups, it also means that you don’t have situations where people are perpetually checking or updating their statuses and ignoring the rest of the group, as you do when you are connected 24/7.
  • Retaining your original number – No worrying about whether you are missing any important calls to your original line. It’s useful for smses, but note that you still need data roaming to receive any calls while overseas.
  • Unlimited/High amount of Data available – I’ve never had to worry about my social apps using up all my bandwidth or data plan to date! The speed has generally been quite decent.
  • Security – the unique password for each device gives you more security as compared to using open free wifi networks where you are more vulnerable to hackers, which protects your online accounts and passwords

CONS

  • Short battery life, requires separate charging – You don’t have 24/7 connectivity – the device only lasts 4-5 hours if you leave it on continuously so I usually only turn it on when I need it. Also, my device tends to get really hot if you leave it on for too long!
  • Additional device to carry around – if you’re trying to streamline your packing, this might be annoying. The device isn’t very big (palm size), but if you’re the sort to just stuff things into your pockets, it’s still an additional device to worry about.
  • Charge based on per day rental – the device usually costs anywhere from $8 – $25 per day rental, so this can be add up to be quite expensive if you are on a longer trip. Also, each device is usually tethered to just one country, so for those doing multi-country travel, might not be such a practical option. The bonus is you know how much you are paying upfront so it helps with budgeting, so you don’t get one of those crazy bills that you see only when you get back home!
  • Getting and returning the device – you are just renting the device, so you need to make sure you don’t lose it or you will be liable! The cost of a wi-ho includes an additional $16 charge for courier of the device before and after your trip.

I’d recommend portable wi-fi devices for:

  • Travellers who have multiple devices that they need to be connected all at once – blogger, techie or business types usually
  • Business travellers who need the security and connectivity the dongle offers, and can also charge it to their company’s bill so costs don’t matter
  • People travelling in groups who are a little more budget focused – so you can split the costs

Where to get your wi-fi devices:

Here are some of the sites where you can get the devices in Singapore pre-trip. I’ve found that prices and services in general are similar across the board, though some sites offer you more choice of countries, daily data caps or have seasonal promotions so pick one that fits your needs. You can sometimes pick up devices at the airports in the countries that you are visiting too.

  • Wi-Ho by Telecom Square [sponsor] – they’ve given me great service all this while, and the best part is that my readers get $1/day discounts as well as free shipping (save S$16!) – check out my Perks page to get the unique link so you can get the discounts. They have a large number of countries available including a world travel plan if you’re visiting multiple countries (S$8 – S$25/day)
  • Global Wi-fi by Changi Recommends – they have wi-fi devices for overseas and for Singapore too, and you can grab and return the device at any of their booths in Changi Airport, so you save on delivery fees (S$10 – S$20/day)
  • XCom Global – They claim to have the most coverage with 170 countries available including South America and Middle East (S$9 – S$27/day)
  • Y5 buddy – Quite a large range of countries available including Israel and Egypt. Needs a S$150 deposit though (S$9 – S$18/day)
  • Visondata – 14 countries available including Russia, Canada and USA (S$9 – S$25/day)
  • GotY5 – Only Singapore, Malaysia and Hong Kong available (S$13 – S$15/day)
  • Rentalfi – Singapore only (S$15/day, unlimited)

(if anyone knows of any other companies, let me know in the comments so i can add to this resource list!)

 


Roaming

The most traditional way to be connected when overseas is to have roaming services enabled on your phone with your telco so you can get calls and use data from the local networks of the country you are visiting. I use Singtel and I do have pay-per-roam (so only pay per use) though I never use it – I turn off my mobile data when overseas so I don’t get any roaming data charges, and I don’t make any calls as far as possible from my phone. If I do, it would need to either be a very short call or an emergency.

Here’s looking at the Singtel roaming plans available. It is honestly quite confusing because some of these are plans, while others are subscription services. You have to be subscribed first before you can use a plan, so while it may seem reasonable at first glance, it can add up. If M1 or Starhub have better plans, do feel free to chime in here.

For data:

  • There is a subscription that you need to activate called Easydata Roam so you can use data overseas for $1/month
  • For plans, there is a prepaid dataroam pass for S$15/day for certain countries, which seems comparable to the portable wi-fi device (but only available for Singtel subscribers). But it also means you have to be connected to a particular partner telco which hopefully has wide enough coverage, or risk getting charged a bomb if you use the wrong network.
  • Another plan is the travel pass option that gives you 100mb of data for S$45 in 30 days – I don’t know about you, but I’d bust the 100mb cap really quickly!

For calling and SMSes:

  • Subscription-wise, there is the option of pay-as-you-roam (pay per use, +25% surcharge) or auto roam (S$10/month)
  • There are overseas call/SMS rates as well, which vary from country to country which is a whole other kettle of fish

PROS

  • Less hassle – no need to change SIM cards or tote around another device. Activation happens on the phone directly and billing is through your usual monthly bill

CONS

  • Can be hard to monitor – we’ve all heard the stories about people coming back from trips to find that they’ve racked up thousands of dollars in roaming charges! You can use the Singtel app now to keep track now though. With regards to the select network, you can now also lock your network to a particular telco, which helps.
  • Complicated – I spent a really long time trying to figure out the plans on the Singtel roaming page to try and understand them, and I still don’t quite know if I’m right honestly, so I wouldn’t actually try to use them overseas for fear of billshock!
  • Expensive – none of the plans seem particularly attractive to me, except for the prepaid dataroam pass, but it’s only limited to particular countries

I’d recommend roaming for:

  • Very frequent travellers who don’t want the hassle of having separate devices or changing their SIM cards. Ideally they can charge these costs to their business accounts so they don’t feel the pinch. Quite frankly, I wouldn’t recommend roaming at all as I think you can get far cheaper and better deals with  the other options or just using free wi-fi services
  • For emergency purposes, I would suggest just having pay-per-roam so you only use when necessary

 


Hope you found the breakdown of pros and cons useful in deciding what might work best for your travels – what’s your preferred way to stay connected on the go? Share in the comments and maybe we can exchange useful tips and help each other save some money and hassle :)

Cover Image: Connecting the World by Michael Summers via Flickr CC

The post What is the best way to connect to internet on the road? appeared first on The Occasional Traveller.

]]>
http://theoccasionaltraveller.com/2015/04/11/what-is-the-best-way-to-connect-to-internet-on-the-road/feed/ 0
Going Far East – a review of Village Hotel Changihttp://theoccasionaltraveller.com/2015/04/06/village-hotel-changi-review/ http://theoccasionaltraveller.com/2015/04/06/village-hotel-changi-review/#comments Mon, 06 Apr 2015 02:00:00 +0000 http://theoccasionaltraveller.com/?p=16730 Looking for a staycation with a difference? I spent a weekend in Changi Village to check out the Village Hotel Changi.

The post Going Far East – a review of Village Hotel Changi appeared first on The Occasional Traveller.

]]>
For all that i say that Singapore is a small island, there are a surprising amount of places that i haven’t visited properly. So when the Village Hotel folks invited me to check out their Changi Village property, i was more than happy to. Changi Village is on the North-Eastern end of Singapore, quite close to Changi Airport, and I have rarely ventured out here for any reason just because it’s not the easiest place to get to.

Village Hotel Changi - Facade
My room was in one of the white boxes on top!

 

LOCATION

Changi Village is not on the MRT line, so you’ll need to either drop on the East-West (Green) line at:

  • Tanah Merah station – take bus #2 to Changi Village Bus Depot
  • Tampines station – take bus #29 to Changi Village Bus Depot

Alternatively if you want to save yourself the hassle, take a cab or drive there.

 

THE ROOM

Village Hotel Changi - From Doorway
The room from the doorway

My room was on the 7th floor, the second highest floor in the building. It faced towards the straits and was high enough to have quite a pleasant sea view and even a glimpse of nearby Pulau Ubin. The room had a balcony of sorts that you could stand it, though it was all enclosed.

Village Hotel Changi - Balcony View
Village Hotel Changi – Balcony View

I had a Superior room with a king sized bed, and had a chair by the window which was quite comfortable and spacious. Nothing particularly fancy about the room design, but it’s serviceable and clean.

Village Hotel Changi - Room Bed
Standard amenities – TV and all
Village Hotel Changi - Toilet Bath
The bathroom is a tad snug though it did come with a bathtub
Village Hotel Changi - Toilet
The other side of the toilet

 

THE HOTEL

The hotel itself isn’t that large – 8 floors with 380 rooms in total. Itwas undergoing refurbishment in certain spots while I was there – you can tell it’s not the newest kid on the block, but they are upgrading it in bits and pieces.

Village Hotel Changi - Lounge
Looking down from the lifts with glass walls

There are two pools in the hotel – one is on the first level outside Saltwater Cafe and is right next to the golf course.

Village Hotel Changi - Lower Pool
Village Hotel Changi – Lower Pool

But i definitely preferred the rooftop infinity pool on level 8 – it has the same view as my room but higher up, so you get an even better view of the straits. La Cantina restaurant is also located up here, which would make for a nice picturesque dinner. You can see the planes flying to the right side as they head towards and away from the nearby Changi Airport. I spent some time reading up here and playing with my niece who had fun in the pool.

Village Hotel Changi - Pool View
Beautiful weather for sitting by the pool

There aren’t that many deckchairs available though, and this pool does get popular in the evenings especially. There wasn’t anyone actually manning the pool while I was there, so do be considerate and clear your towels and trash when you are done! There is also a jacuzzi area in the pool.

Village Hotel Changi - Pool
View from my deckchair
Village Hotel Changi - Underwater
Playing around with my sister’s Sony phone which has underwater camera function!

Also on site that I didn’t have the chance to check out – a branch of Wine Connection which serves up good wine at friendly prices, a gym at level 5 and a small spa and nail outlet.

 

AROUND THE AREA

Changi Village is famous for its hawker centre which draws Singaporeans to it even though it’s out of the way. The most popular dish here is the Nasi Lemak, a Malay dish that includes coconut rice with common side condiments like deep fried fish, anchovies (ikan bilis), fried egg, chicken wing, bergedil… lots of different versions, and topped with sambal chili in particular.

I’ll leave the food recommendations to the experts!

There are also a bunch of hipster cafes and eateries popping up in the area within walking distance of the hotel – Chock Full of Beans is famous for its 3D latte foam art (though you might have to wait an hour for it during peak period), and further down Netheravon Road where the hotel is (bit of a walk), The Coastal Settlement is also a popular place with its collection of nostalgia in its premises, and where I had dinner with my family that night.

Once again, more expert views on eateries and cafes in the area. You might need to travel a little bit to get to some of these places, but if you are lazy, there is sufficient entertainment within walking distance.

The hotel does have regularly hourly free shuttle bus services to the airport. It also connects to Changi Business Park and Loyang for the business travellers, and for those who want to check out downtown Singapore, it links to Village Hotel Bugis and Far East Plaza in Orchard Road.

GATEWAY TO NATURE

Village Hotel Changi - Keycard View
You can see Pulau Ubin across the straits from my room

Changi Point Ferry Terminal is where you catch a ferry to the nearby surrounding islands, and is literally across the road from the hotel.

The closest island is Pulau Ubin, which is just a cheap 15 mins ride away by bumboat. Village Hotel Changi has a promo Ubin Adventure package (till Jul 2015) which allows you to rent a bicycle on Pulau Ubin for 3 hours so you can spend the morning exploring the island, and late check out at 3pm so you have time to come back and wash up. I had that package but unfortunately woke up late in the morning, and it was starting to get quite hot so I decided to skip the cycling. I really do want to check out Chek Jawa, one of Singapore’s last remaining natural wetland areas, but parts of the boardwalk were also closed that day. I definitely want to go back soon!

If you get seasick and rather stay on the mainland, I recommend walking to Changi Boardwalk as well, which links up Changi Beach and Changi Point and has several different sections. It’s an easy, pleasant walk and generally quieter than East Coast Beach which is more popular with families!

This guide gives you a pretty good idea what else you can explore in the area if you are interested!

 

THE COST

Rack rates list the Superior rooms at S$270, though based on current rates in April, they drop to around S$170 – S$230 for the Superior room. Check out the rates at fareasthospitality.com

Thanks to Far East Hospitality for providing the comped stay. All views and opinions are purely my own.

The post Going Far East – a review of Village Hotel Changi appeared first on The Occasional Traveller.

]]>
http://theoccasionaltraveller.com/2015/04/06/village-hotel-changi-review/feed/ 0
Is Travel Insurance worth it? Figuring it out on Common Centshttp://theoccasionaltraveller.com/2015/04/03/is-travel-insurance-worth-it-figuring-it-out-on-common-cents/ http://theoccasionaltraveller.com/2015/04/03/is-travel-insurance-worth-it-figuring-it-out-on-common-cents/#comments Fri, 03 Apr 2015 10:45:00 +0000 http://theoccasionaltraveller.com/?p=16850 I was invited to be a part of Mediacorp Ch5's Common Cents and figure out what and how travel insurance works. Check out behind the scenes photos and thoughts!

The post Is Travel Insurance worth it? Figuring it out on Common Cents appeared first on The Occasional Traveller.

]]>
Does your pre-travel routine include buying travel insurance? It’s a habit I picked up from my parents and personally I have been quite thankful for having travel insurance when stuff went missing and baggage got delayed (over 24 hours in my flying attire with a bunch of brand new travel blogger friends? That’s one way to leave an impression…)

So when I was approached to be a part of Common Cents, a weekly TV series on Mediacorp Channel 5 to be that layman representative on screen who helps the audience learn more about what exactly travel insurance entails, I was quite happy to do so because I was honestly quite curious to learn more. Even if it meant spending an entire day filming from morning to evening straight after a week of travel in Hong Kong!

You can watch the episode right here thanks to Toggle TV, but I thought I’d tell you a little more about what I learned from the whole process. Read on! Sorry about some of the low quality shots, but Toggle only plays the low res version for some reason…

EVERYTHING STARTS FROM HOME

I already knew this from my times in school when we did video assignments and an entire day’s work gets edited down into a 3 minute clip. This time around was no exception – I got back home from the airport around midnight and after unpacking, slept at around 2am (which is actually normal for me). The next morning I had to wake up early to run some errands and make myself look presentable (as compared to looking rather bleary eyed which is my normal morning look) as the film crew came over to catch this blogger in her natural habitat.

Common Cents - Interview at Home
My mother took this picture and sent it to the family, spying on me from upstairs
Common Cents - Filming
Me filming the filmers

My mother in particular was very amused by all these on-goings and that her daughter was gonna be on TV. She even set the record-function on the home TV so she could catch this episode when she’s back from her quick jaunt to Bangkok.

Common Cents - Magnets arranging longshot
One of the more unique features in our house is our collection of magnets from all over the world. I can spot some of my contributions – Taiwan, Lisbon, Bali, Montpellier…
Common Cents - magnets arranging
Close-up of the magnets

You’ll see bits of my house throughout the first intro segment, and the design is largely my mother’s doing (no interior designer!) and you should know too that the magnet wall is her brainchild and represents our travels as a family (they’re not all mine!)

Common Cents - in Room
Observing the blogger in her natural habitat – this is where you’re likely to find me at home! I will admit my room isn’t usually so neat though

My room however, I can proudly say is all me. Notice familiar items from The Occasional Traveller Shop? You can clearly see that I started that as an excuse to buy all these pretty items for myself 😛

Common Cents - Blogging Bed
Yes this is how I blog, though I’m not usually so well dressed and sitting so daintily. I’m really fond of my world map bedsheets that I pondered about getting for so long (got them with Black Friday discounts from Deny Designs, designed by Bianca Green!)
Common Cents - Bookshelf
My room’s main feature is my bookshelves, which unfortunately do get a tad dusty but I like being able to see all my books. Can you spot the Geografia globes?
Common Cents - Wall Map
My felt Pinworld wall map and a bunch of my instagram shots printed out. Usually you’d see some of my niece’s drawings on the wall but it was a bit distracting for this shot
Common Cents - Photos Calendar
More of my printed instagram shots! Recognize where they are from? Also, vintage maps calendar was an xmas gift thanks to Y

 

TALKING TO THE EXPERTS

We had lunch and then adjourned over to Bras Basah to do some cutaway shots that you’ll see at the end of the clip. Ostensibly it’s me doing trip research for my next trip, though I’ll be the first to say that I do everything online these days and rarely pick up a guidebook before a trip (I find them more useful on the trip itself when you’re figuring out what there is to do in the area). We were running early and I had some time to do some writing before we headed off to the next location.

Common Cents - Book store longshot
Recognize the store? We’re in Knowledge Book Centre
Common Cents - Book Store Browsing
Here I am, ‘casually browsing’ as I head over to the travel guides section

Thanks to Hansel who loaned me the dress for the shoot – the polka dot halter is from designer Jo Soh’s newest collection A Vase of Flowers – A lot of the dresses you see me wearing in my photos are Hansel dresses as I’m a big fan, though I haven’t shopped this latest collection yet. Sadly I didn’t get to keep the dress but I really like it, it’s very comfortable and quite flattering. You can get it online at wearto.com or form her boutique store at Mandarin Gallery.

Common Cents - Puerto Rico
I’m apparently researching for my next trip. To be honest, Puerto Rico hasn’t really been on my radar, but I guess I have to go check it out now, right? 😛 I randomly pulled a book from the shelf

Firstly we headed over to Sushi Airways in Kampong Glam where I spoke to insurance agent Yen Yen about why travel insurance is important and how one could pick the right travel insurance for themselves. The video tells it better than I do, but the short version is that there’s no real short cut to picking what’s right for you except by looking at the fine print and making sure the important stuff pertaining to the way you travel isn’t excluded! Bummer~

Yen Yen did tell me though that it might be better leaving all the work to your insurance agent – it doesn’t actually cost more to go through an agent than it does to buy online, so if you are lazy and rather have some one pore over the fine print for you, that might be worth exploring!

Common Cents - Yen Yen Interview
I mostly spend these segments asking questions and nodding like I’m listening. My sister spent a lot of time laughing at my ‘earnest nodding’ and weird facial tics
Common Cents - with Yenyen
More relaxed after the interview – the edamame peas were purely for show hahaha

Then we went over to 1925 near the Jalan Besar area which is one of those old-new hipster looking joints with distressed walls and artfully scuffed furniture. Cool vibe though~ Here I met another insurance agent called Joe. Nice guy who was definitely more relaxed when the camera was off him, but then again who isn’t more comfortable that way? We talked about how to go about making claims (make sure you have official reports and best to start making a habit of keeping receipts of more expensive stuff!), and that insurance doesn’t completely cover your losses, just lessens the pain some.

Common Cents - Joe
Joe on camera – he set up his own insurance company
Common Cents - with Joe
Chilling out after the interview, smiles of relief
Common Cents - with Joe 2
Here we are showing that we can do casual and candid shots hahaha

CONCLUSION: TRAVEL INSURANCE IS NOT THAT STRAIGHTFORWARD

Finally we ended up at Witbier Cafe along Kandahar Street where host Steven Chia swung by to do a wrap up of what I learned – while the crew was setting up, we rewarded ourselves with a pint or two. He’s a nice dude and we hung out finishing our drinks while the crew zoomed back to the studio. He’s also really natural at being all casual, which I suppose comes with being on screen everyday~

Common Cents - Steven Chia Interview
Can you see the beer mug in the lower left corner? that was mine~
Common Cents - with Steven Chia
It’s a wrap!

After all that, I decided to check out my own existing travel insurance policy – I bought an annual plan from UOB because it was convenient and seemed fairly inclusive at the time. I was a bit tired at having to remember to buy my insurance, especially on these last minute trips that I went on for the blog and all, so having an annual plan made it one less thing to check off the list before leaving. I did look for clauses and exclusions – there didn’t seem to be any with regards to scuba diving, which is something I’m always looking out for, so that’s something to take note when I review.

Cost wise, my 5-7 trips in a year means that the annual (worldwide) and per-trip premiums are more or less the same, but I think if you’re a business traveller or only travel regional (in Asia), annual plans might be cheaper for you.

Anyway I hope you guys found the episode and these additional insights useful, am happy to try and offer some casual advice, but you’re better off speaking to your insurance experts for serious questions! My only advice is BUY IT – it’s a small price to pay for peace of mind and in case stuff happens (Murphy dictates that it WILL at some point)

Big thanks to the crew of Vertigo Pictures who contacted me, shepherded me around all day and did the heavy lifting – Mark, Joanna, Alexander, Calvin, Elvin, Jason and Eve. Also props to the insurance experts Yen Yen and Joe for their insights, and it was fun hanging out for a pint with host Steven Chia too at the end!

The post Is Travel Insurance worth it? Figuring it out on Common Cents appeared first on The Occasional Traveller.

]]>
http://theoccasionaltraveller.com/2015/04/03/is-travel-insurance-worth-it-figuring-it-out-on-common-cents/feed/ 0
A reflective birthday – Thinking about Lee Kuan Yew and Singaporehttp://theoccasionaltraveller.com/2015/03/30/a-reflective-birthday-thinking-about-lee-kuan-yew-and-singapore/ http://theoccasionaltraveller.com/2015/03/30/a-reflective-birthday-thinking-about-lee-kuan-yew-and-singapore/#comments Mon, 30 Mar 2015 02:00:00 +0000 http://theoccasionaltraveller.com/?p=16840 A surprisingly reflective mood and thoughts on Singapore after a week of national mourning as the first Prime Minister Lee Kuan Yew passes on.

The post A reflective birthday – Thinking about Lee Kuan Yew and Singapore appeared first on The Occasional Traveller.

]]>
Singapore Flag by RaymondBPhotos
Photo by raymondbPhotos via Flickr CC

I wasn’t really planning to write anything for my birthday this year – I did have a fun post about travels you should take in your 20s as I reflected about leaving my 20s behind last year, and I had 29 life lesson musings in the year before that.

This year, what with the passing of Singapore’s founding father Lee Kuan Yew on 23 March, and the week of mourning leading up to my the state funeral on my birthday today, the general mood has been kinda somber all around. Writing it down is helping to straighten up the many thoughts rolling in my head somewhat.

I’d never met Lee Kuan Yew, nor can I say I was a particularly big fan of his – I was cognizant of politics and government in an era where he was already the Senior Minister, Minister Mentor and then finally just Mr Lee Kuan Yew. What I knew of his work was what we were taught in schools and National Education efforts that was all very positive in nature, almost propaganda-like some would say. I would later learn more and see the consequences of some of his policies as I grew older, but most of the time, he existed in the periphery of my mind.

So I was a little surprised to find myself heavy-hearted this whole week when his passing was announced, and actually heading down to the Lying In State and spending 6 hours in a queue without wanting to throw up my hands and complain all Singaporean-like. I’d never really cared before, so why now?

I’m still not sure how to answer that, but I have been much more reflective this entire week – The documentaries and news that have been rolling non-stop on the mass media and my social feeds reveal stories about our history and the man’s personal life I didn’t know before, but truly what I valued most is seeing my countrymen rally in a way I’d never seen before. Truly folk from all walks of life turned up to pay their respects; there was a sense of stoicism, graciousness and unity which is often lost in the face of other less desirable Singaporean traits like kiasu-ism and complaining about everything – we are a country of government campaigns and manufactured initiatives but this was more uniting than any National Day rally or SG50 campaign could do.

I’ve been thinking about what it means to be a Singaporean and the truly remarkable progress my country has made under his leadership – My mother tells me stories about attap houses and being poor in the early days of Singapore’s independence, something I will never truly understand myself because I grew up in a country of fortune that’s since been transformed; how genuinely lucky I am in the grand scheme of things, to be born and raised in a country that works so my biggest concerns are about bonuses and public holidays and not about whether my economy is going to collapse; to be successful into a system that’s prepared me to compete with the world, even if it isn’t quite so forgiving to everyone.

Closer to heart, Singapore has allowed me the privilege of travel, and while I often yearn to get away and fly off somewhere, just going on vacation, talking to people in other countries and learning about other cultures and histories has made me much more appreciative of my homeland. Singapore is not for everyone, but it is home to me. Perhaps this is what has made me less apathetic about my country.

So all in all my birthday was a quiet one – My present to myself today was to sleep in till noon, something I haven’t had the chance to do because of travels and work commitments on the weekends. Most of the afternoon was watching the live telecast of the state funeral at home and a simple family dinner to celebrate my birthday at night. A rather somber way to see in my 31st year, but perhaps a more contemplative one.

There is a sense that Singapore is in for big change as it celebrates its 50th jubilee this year and LKY’s passing is perhaps the tip of that iceberg. General elections are impending, and the people are more determined than ever to have their say. I’m curious to see where Singapore goes from here, let’s see what happens.

The post A reflective birthday – Thinking about Lee Kuan Yew and Singapore appeared first on The Occasional Traveller.

]]>
http://theoccasionaltraveller.com/2015/03/30/a-reflective-birthday-thinking-about-lee-kuan-yew-and-singapore/feed/ 0
Cheung Chau – an island retreat from bustling central Hong Konghttp://theoccasionaltraveller.com/2015/03/25/cheung-chau-an-island-retreat-from-bustling-central-hong-kong/ http://theoccasionaltraveller.com/2015/03/25/cheung-chau-an-island-retreat-from-bustling-central-hong-kong/#comments Wed, 25 Mar 2015 02:00:00 +0000 http://theoccasionaltraveller.com/?p=16756 Checking out Cheung Chau - the little island getaway from busy Hong Kong with great seafood, awesome scenery for a fun day trip.

The post Cheung Chau – an island retreat from bustling central Hong Kong appeared first on The Occasional Traveller.

]]>
In this latest trip to Hong Kong, one of the things I was determined to do was check out the outlying areas of Hong Kong, away from the busy city centre. One of the places I heard a lot about was the island of Cheung Chau and that I had to go eat seafood there. Armed with no other knowledge, I hopped on one of the Central Pier Ferries and spent an afternoon on the island of Cheung Chau.

Hong Kong Cheung Chau - Sunset
Beautiful Cheung Chau in the late afternoon

 

HOW TO GET THERE

Take the MTR to Central station, and from there walk to the ferry terminals which are near IFC building. The Ferry to Cheung Chau leaves from Pier #5. There are fast ferries and slow ones – see the full fare schedule and pricing here, but overall the fast one costs about 2x as much and takes just over half the time compared to the slow boat which I took at 11.15am for HK$13.20 that took about an hour (the fast ferry costs HK$25.80 on a weekday). You can use your Octopus card for ferry fare, or buy a ticket in the window with cash.

Hong Kong Cheung Chau - Ferry Pier 5
Head to Pier #5 to catch the ferry to Cheung Chau – if you’re coming from the MTR, there’s a huge circular pedestrian overpass that you can take, Pier 5 is closer to the non-IFC building side
Hong Kong Cheung Chau - Ferry Boat
The ferry service is run by First Ferry – the boat is mostly covered though if you are lucky, there are seats right at the back that are facing the water and open air, so it’s a nice way to get a good view!
Hong Kong Cheung Chau - Ferry Interior
This is how the ferry looks like inside in the slow boat, ordinary class. You can shell out more for deluxe class which apparently gets you a higher deck and air-conditioning

 

WELCOME TO CHEUNG CHAU! NOW WHAT?

About an hour later, we finally arrived in Cheung Chau, and it has a completely different vibe from Central Hong Kong! No tall buildings or overwhelming greyness in sight.

Hong Kong Cheung Chau - Boats Bay Panorama
Panorama shot of life along Saiwan, the Western bay of Cheung Chau.

It was crowded though – you emerge from the ferry terminal right onto the main street and it feels like a mini market place because the guesthouse booths, shops and tourists are all clustered there. Vehicles aren’t allowed on the island, but they have these small trucks that carry building materials and other large bulky items that trundle along the walkways so loudly and cause quite a racket every time they zoom by.

Hong Kong Cheung Chau - Main Street
Slight marketplace insanity along the main thoroughfare

Here are a couple of things you can do once you emerge from the ferry terminal. Scroll to the bottom for the handy dandy Google Map with all my suggestions pinned on it!

Hong Kong Cheung Chau - Signpost
Where to first?

 

1) TURN LEFT AND GO NORTH

If you go this way up Pak She Praya Road, I highly suggest you stick to walking (and not rent a bike) because at certain points this way, it gets so hilly I don’t think you will want to deal with a bicycle then!

Eat seafood – New Baccarat Restaurant

There is a row of seafood restaurants facing the bay that you can check out and grab some good seafood in. A cursory look at menus looks like most of the food offered along the stretch is similar, though some of the restaurants are more aggressive with inviting you in. We decided to walk on till we reached New Baccarat Restaurant at the end of the row, which was one of the names I came across when doing some research the night before, and one of the few who didn’t have someone stationed outside to entice you in.

Hong Kong Cheung Chau - New Baccarat Exterior
New Baccarat is the furthest restaurant from the Ferry Pier
Hong Kong Cheung Chau - New Baccarat Tables
I highly recommend sitting outdoors so you can get a view of the sea as you eat.

There is a Chinese menu and one with English translations, though if you can read Chinese you should give the all-Chinese menu a look even if it’s harder to read (like it is for me) – the Mantis Shrimp that we ordered seemed to be cheaper on the Chinese menu (HK$70 vs HK$98 on the English menu) We ended up ordering between the two of us: Mantis Shrimp in Salt and Pepper, Squid in Garlic Sauce and Steamed Egg, topping it off with a Blue Girl Beer.

Hong Kong Cheung Chau - New Baccarat Food
All our lunch! The mantis shrimp came first, so we were about halfway through the dish when the rest of the food came.

Mantis shrimp is the most combative food I’ve eaten! I’ve put in effort for foods like prawn and crab, but man, mantis shrimp is POKY and its shell really discourages you from taking a chomp out of it. My friend A managed to swallow down most of the shell, poky bits and all, when it was crispy; I took the wussy way out and slowly peeled off the shell on all my shrimps. It was quite delicious though – the seasoning was very tasty. The squid and garlic sauce was also quite a stellar dish, the steamed egg was also a decent dish. Man, the two of us were stuffed after that meal!

Hong Kong Cheung Chau - New Baccarat Mantis Shrimp
Check out the poky bits!
Hong Kong Cheung Chau - New Baccarat Mantis Shrimp Live
If you’re wondering how Mantis Shrimp looks like alive, this is how it’s stored in the restaurant. I’ve seen the colourful peacock version when diving, but these are just boring grey

New Baccarat Restaurant
9A Pak She Praya Road (Ground Floor)

 

Grab some local desserts at Wan Sing Desserts

Also found through my online research, this little place Wan Sing is apparently quite famous for its desserts, in particular the mango ones. We had a bit of trouble looking for this place until we realized that the road it was on – San Hing Road – actually ran parallel to Pak She Praya Road which was the one we had been searching on, doh~ San Hing is in the lane behind the one where all the seafood restaurants are on.

Hong Kong Cheung Chau - Wan Shing Dessert Store
This tiny little shop gets quite packed, just hang around and wait for a seat if it’s full!

We ordered a mango mochi each and a mango sago to share. The mochi was quite large and notable for the solid juicy piece of actual mango fruit in its center, not some paste or filling. The mango sago was pretty good as well – the portion of mango in this dessert was very generous indeed! They did have other mango desserts, as well as other fruits/fillings, but we were way too full to eat anymore at this point!

Hong Kong Cheung Chau - Wan Shing Dessert Food
Giant powdery mango mochi and our mango sago
Hong Kong Cheung Chau - Wan Shing Dessert Mango Mochi
Seriously the burst of mango juice when you bite into that? Incredible.

Wan Sing Desserts
3 San Hing Road

 

Touring the Temples – Pak Tai and Tin Hau Temples

Further down from the seafood restaurants, you’ll come across an area with a basketball court and football court – behind these community spaces lies Pak Tai Temple. It’s pretty small and unassuming, but around May every year (5th to 9th days of the 4th month in the Chinese Lunar Calendar) it is the center of Cheung Chau’s famous Bun festival, where several steel towers are covered with buns and people go scrambling up these towers to get the top-most one for good luck. It’s quite a sight to see and I would love to check it out if I were ever in the area just because it sounds so bizarre~

Hong Kong Cheung Chau - Pak Tai Temple Exterior
Pak Tai temple is for those to pay tribute to the Northern Emperor who is also the god of the sea
Hong Kong Cheung Chau - Pak Tai Temple Lion
Usually the temple guardian lion has a pearl in its mouth, but this one naturally has a cheung chau bun instead!
Hong Kong Cheung Chau - Pak Tai Temple Interior
Inside the temple it’s pretty small – as per usual lots of burning incense as temples go

Pak She Tin Hau temple is up the slope to the left of the Pak Tai Temple – it’s situated within an elderly centre, and there were a bunch of residents milling around it that day so we decided not to intrude, which is why I don’t have any pictures on hand for you.

 

Hike up to the North Lookout Pavilion for a birds-eye view

To the left of Tin Hau temple there is a sloping path and stairway that leads you through residential areas to a more wooded pathway that turns to the right. This is the Cheung Chau Family Walk and will lead you to a great lookout point if you follow the path.

Hong Kong Cheung Chau - Stairs
Houses to the left and right of the staircase – man I do not want to climb up and down every day!
Hong Kong Cheung Chau - Fire Beater
Along the path you’ll see occasional stands containing fire beaters – wonder if that means they’re prone to bush fires in summer?

This is where it gets super slopey, so take your time climbing up the stairs and steep slopes. This is also why I don’t recommend a bicycle! You’ll pass by a playground, a cemetery, even a path to a reservoir before you finally reach the North Lookout Pavilion. From there, it’s one last climb up a short (but slopey) path to get this pavilion with the beautiful view

Hong Kong Cheung Chau - Northern Lookout Pavilion
the end in sight!
Hong Kong Cheung Chau - Northern Lookout Selfie
this is the highest point of Cheung Chau! Enjoy the view of the sea and the city below! obligatory selfie shot
Hong Kong Cheung Chau - Northern Lookout Panorama
Panoramic shot of the view – there’s a path that takes you closer to the sea, but we decide do just enjoy the view from up top

 

 

2) TURN RIGHT AND GO SOUTH (WEST)

If you turn right from the ferry terminal and head south, you’ll find yourself in the centre of the town of Cheung Chau. It’s more bustling here, with many little shops and eateries here, including bigger brands like McDonald’s and Mannings just to name a few. Continue down Cheung Chau Sai Tai road and follow the coastline of Sai Wan and you’ll leave the town behind to a nice peaceful walk.

The land is much flatter here, and it is some distance to walk to the main attractions in the south-west corner of the island, so consider renting a bike or a tricycle/trishaw here to speed up the time it takes for you to cover the distance. We walked all the way, and were kinda tired in the end!

Pretend to be a pirate – Squeeze through Cheung Po Tsai Cave

Cheung Po Tsai was a notorious pirate back in the day, and this little cave on the south-west end of Cheung Chau was apparently one of his hideouts, and you’ll see why exactly it was such a good hideout. Sai Tai road leads you to Tsan Tuen road, and from there you’ll follow another uphill (yes, here’s where you put bike aside) slope along Cheung Po Tsai road. there’s a picnic area here where you can have a BBQ or just sit around.

Hong Kong Cheung Chau - Cheung Po Tsai Cave Sign
These days it’s much easier to locate – just follow the signs

The path starts to slope down a bit, and we hit the end of the path, which leads into a wall of rock. Where is the cave?

Hong Kong Cheung Chau - Cheung Po Tsai Cave Entrance
Can you see where the cave entrance is?

So apparently, the cave is literally a hole in the rocks – like I would not have known if I hadn’t seen people gingerly lowering themselves into the hole in the first place! Imagine it without the markers pointing towards it or the pathway and you can probably see why it would have been quite the effective hiding spot for hiding from the authorities.

Hong Kong Cheung Chau - Cheung Po Tsai Cave Hole
No ladders or handholds at this part – you kinda lower yourself down

You literally lower yourself into a dark hole and climb down a short steel ladder – bring a torch or use your phone light because there is no lighting at all in this cave! I thought it was going to be a seaside cove of sorts with one entrance, but this cave is more rightly a tunnel where you walk/stoop to get through it. Claustrophobic people, the walls are very narrow and the ceiling quite low in certain spots, so don’t go in if small tight spaces make you nervous!

Hong Kong Cheung Chau - Cheung Po Tsai Cave Tunnel
Here’s A standing close to the exit. This is actually quite spacious considering the rest of the cave/tunnel where you can’t quite stand up straight at points!

And finally… finally you climb up another ladder and emerge to quite a lovely view!

Hong Kong Cheung Chau - Cheung Po Tsai Cave Exit View
Rewarded with a great view when we climb out!

Along the path to the Cheung Po Tsai cave, there is a fork that brings you to the Reclining Rock, which are several large rock formations, but we were getting lazy at this point so we skipped that.

 

3) WHAT I DIDN’T DO – HEAD EAST

One thing I might have done in future would be to head there earlier, and perhaps spend the morning checking out Tung Wan Beach and Kung Yam Beach on the Eastern coast. It was too cold for us to consider swimming, and starting to get dark by the time we were done with the south western end, so we skipped the beach this time around. Also in that direction is the rather oddly named Mini Great Wall which is also quite scenic.

Here’s the Google Map for your easy reference! According to this map we walked around 7km that day, and with the crazy slopes in spots, no wonder I was so freaking tired!

BRINGING HOME THE DOUGH

We didn’t get to witness the Bun Ceremony, but we (or actually A) ended up buying a whole bunch of little Cheung Chau bun magnets back as souvenirs. Naturally we attempted making our own bun tower, to… well… minimal success.

Hong Kong Cheung Chau - Magnet Buns
Only one of these buns belongs to me!
Hong Kong Cheung Chau - Magnet Bun Tower
tadah! bun tower!

 

Till next time, Cheung Chau! I definitely recommend anyone heading up to Hong Kong and looking for somewhere a little different to check out this island!

Hong Kong Cheung Chau - Leaving
bidding goodbye to the island

The post Cheung Chau – an island retreat from bustling central Hong Kong appeared first on The Occasional Traveller.

]]>
http://theoccasionaltraveller.com/2015/03/25/cheung-chau-an-island-retreat-from-bustling-central-hong-kong/feed/ 0
Hong Kong just isn’t my place – a Post Trip recaphttp://theoccasionaltraveller.com/2015/03/19/hong-kong-just-isnt-my-place-a-post-trip-recap/ http://theoccasionaltraveller.com/2015/03/19/hong-kong-just-isnt-my-place-a-post-trip-recap/#comments Thu, 19 Mar 2015 02:00:00 +0000 http://theoccasionaltraveller.com/?p=16736 Some musings on my feelings about Hong Kong and a post-trip recap of my artsy week and trips to the outlying islands.

The post Hong Kong just isn’t my place – a Post Trip recap appeared first on The Occasional Traveller.

]]>
First trip of 2015! I was pretty stoked to pull out the renewed passport and get packing for a brand new adventure in 2015, and it’s been quite a week that I spent in Hong Kong! I walked so much and had some pretty amazing experiences and new discoveries. But one thing I’ve realized is just that some places just resonate with you more than others, and while I’ve loved each and every one of my travels so far, Hong Kong just isn’t my place.

Hong Kong Buildings Looking Up
My impression of Hong Kong in a picture – overwhelmingly grey and full of super tall buildings with too many windows in them

Right from the start – Hong Kong wasn’t actually where I wanted to go at first. The initial plan was for me to return to one of my favourite countries – Taiwan, but it just so happened that this period we chose to travel was the week of Art Basel and other artsy events happening in Hong Kong which my travel buddy A had VIP access to, so it seemed like a pity to miss it. Taiwan became a Taiwan-Hong Kong trip, but with just one week to travel, I wasn’t really keen on doing transit flights and spending hours in the airport instead of travelling, so it eventually became just a trip to Hong Kong.

Hong Kong Ferry Wake
Leaving the city behind

I was a little excited about Hong Kong though – after I did my research and realized that while I had visited the city twice before (once with the family, once with friends), I had pretty much only seen the central touristy bits like The Peak and Ocean Park. I was curious to see what else Hong Kong had beyond its typical offerings of food and shopping, which seemed to be pretty much what every one does when in Hong Kong. Most people had recommendations on where to shop and where the good food places in the city were, and that was pretty much it.

Hong Kong Sun Kee Cheese Noodles
Cheese covered noodles with tender pork jowl from Sun Kee in Tsim Sha Tsui. Really quite yummy especially if you love cheese, super tender pork!

So I ended up spending a full 8 days in Hong Kong, which is a pretty long time for a small city. I also ended up walking a LOT – my feet were aching every night. We also hit a bit of a cold snap – I was expecting weather to be in the low 20s but on many days it was around 15 – 18 degrees on average, so I have to thank my mum for making me bring her waterproof windbreaker.

 

Hong Kong is actually a collection of several islands, and I used central Hong Kong as a main base to explore these other islands. You won’t see recs on must-eat dim sum places or a list of fabulous shopping centres in my upcoming Hong Kong posts, but you’ll see some ideas on places that you can visit around the city centre if you want a bit of a break from the fast paced city life. People in Hong Kong seem to move at such a fast pace, even on their off time I feel like I have to run to catch up with them.

Hong Kong Cheung Chau - Sunset
View from Cheung Chau as the sun set – one of the rarer sunnier days that we had, most of the time it was pretty overcast

Cheung Chau is about an hour away by ferry and known to have excellent seafood. It also had a pretty beautiful sunset which resulted in my most liked instagram photo ever.

 

Hong Kong Lamma - Bay view
View of the bay of Sok Kwu Wan after a long arduous walk (well it felt like that)

Lamma Island is a little smaller and just half an hour away by ferry, which is one of the main ways you get to the islands around Hong Kong. This little island is actually quieter than Cheung Chau and has some great walks too. Lantau Island was on the cards as well, but the big Buddha and Ngong Ping cable car were not accessible at the time so we skipped that this trip.

 

Macau St Pauls Ruins Front Facade
The famous ruins of St Paul’s – it looks so empty because I deliberately cut out all the tourists milling in the bottom bit – it’s nigh impossible to take a selfie without some tourist photobombing you!

We took a ferry up to Macau and spent a night there, and quite monumentally we didn’t spend any time in the casinos, instead exploring the outskirts and checking out the nature and cultural landmarks of the Taipa and Coloane regions.

 

Hong Kong Traveling Spoon with Grace
Hong Kong Traveling Spoon experience with Grace who runs her own private dining kitchen Choy Choy

Also, big props to the folks from Traveling Spoon who set me up with a Hong Kong host who lived in the New Territories, which is one way of getting out of the city centre without having to take a ferry. Besides teaching us to cook some Cantonese dishes, she cooked up an amazing array of seafood for lunch and introduced us to some local curiosities in her neighbourhood like the walled village of Kut Hing Wai. (See my Singapore Traveling Spoon experience here, and check out the perks page if you want discounts on your own experience!)

Hong Kong Art Basel - Pink Bear
One of many curiosities at Art Basel

Of course there were the artsy nights where I attended the art fair Art Basel and apparently shared the same air as some famous folks (I say sharing air rather than actually star spotting because in some cases, I didn’t even know I’d brushed by anyone famous until A told me later on) like Hong Kong actors Edison Chen and Shaun Yue, and Japanese artist Yoshitomo Nara. But what I enjoyed most out of all the artsy stuff was checking out HKwalls – a street art festival in its second year where they decked out the hipster Sheung Wan neighbourhood (thanks Stephen Richards for the tip!).

Hong Kong Street Art - exldmanila spray cans
exldmanila at work during HKwalls!

But still, despite all these great discoveries, Hong Kong still continues to feel overwhelmingly grey to me. The buildings still feel like they’re too close together with too many windows and people packed together. Maybe my mind will change some day, but Hong Kong isn’t the place for me, not right now.

Are there places you’ve visited that you know just aren’t spots you resonate with?

Shoutout to Changi Recommends who provided me with a Hong Kong SIM card as well as my usual Telecom Square folks who kept me connected with portable wi-fi device Wiho – I’m working on a post that gives you various options of staying connected when overseas,  stay tuned for that!

The post Hong Kong just isn’t my place – a Post Trip recap appeared first on The Occasional Traveller.

]]>
http://theoccasionaltraveller.com/2015/03/19/hong-kong-just-isnt-my-place-a-post-trip-recap/feed/ 1
Cabo Da Roca: What it looks like at the Western-most point of Europehttp://theoccasionaltraveller.com/2015/03/05/cabo-da-roca-western-most-point/ http://theoccasionaltraveller.com/2015/03/05/cabo-da-roca-western-most-point/#comments Thu, 05 Mar 2015 03:30:00 +0000 http://theoccasionaltraveller.com/?p=16159 An unplanned detour to Cabo Da Roca while heading to Cascais from Sintra gave us the most perfect sea view.

The post Cabo Da Roca: What it looks like at the Western-most point of Europe appeared first on The Occasional Traveller.

]]>
We hadn’t planned to visit Cabo Da Roca at all (not that we did much planning prior to the trip). We were just going to spend the day at Sintra checking out the fairytale castles, and then go see the beaches in Cascais, but since Cabo Da Roca was along Bus #403’s route, we decided to do a quick stopover and see what it was about.

Portugal - Cabo da Roca Plaque
Touristy photo with the Crucifix monument – it has the coordinates of this western most spot 38º47’N 9º30’W and a rather poetic quote by Portuguese post Luis de Camoes that translates into ‘Here where the land ends and the sea begins’

All I knew from the travel brochures that I picked up was that Cabo Da Roca, aka Cape Roca, was the western most point of Europe, thus making it the western most point of the entire Eurasian continent. I didn’t know what there was to see, nor if there was any historical significance to the place, nothing much at all.

Portugal - Cabo da Roca Pano
Does anything matter when you have a view like that? This panorama shot is pretty amazing

But none of that mattered as we stepped off the bus 45 minutes later, into blustery winds and one of the most amazing views clifftop sea views I have ever set my sights upon. The blue waters of the Atlantic stretch endlessly into the horizon, and the weather was just about perfect that day – sunny with clear blue skies.

Portugal - Cabo da Roca Coastline
I hadn’t seen Lagos or Tavira yet at this point, but the coastlines of Portugal are pretty diverse

Some research post-trip: This area is actually part of Sintra-Cascais Natural Park, so it would be a very scenic walk for the nature and trail lovers. For those less keen to tramp like Me and Y, you don’t have to go far to get away from the tourist crowds – just a short walk down one of the cliff paths to put some distance between us and the hordes, and let us admire the view somewhere quieter and take all the ridiculous selfies that we wanted against this glorious backdrop.

Be warned – up ahead are lots of beautiful picturesque reasons you need to visit this place!

Portugal - Cabo da Roca Silhouette Sea
Me looking all backlit and mysterious
Portugal - Cabo da Roca Fisheye Feet
Playing with my Photojojo wide-angle lenses and bending that horizon
Portugal - Cabo da Roca Fisheye
Here’s one with the fisheye lens!

And if you turned around and faced inland, you were rewarded with views of green rolling hills, though the greenery around the paths isn’t your usual type of grass, instead a succulent sort of plant that has squishy ‘leaves’ and probably stands the strong winds better than your usual flimsy plants.

Portugal - Cabo da Roca Succulent Plants
I like the red tinge of the succulents
Portugal - Cabo da Roca Shadow Selfie
Shadow selfie as I look out towards the hills
Portugal - Cabo Da Roca Grass Selfie
I took this with the Oppo camera I was testing (with the wide angle lens) and forgot to switch off the flash, which is why my face looks so damn bright here. However, I can’t explain what Y is doing in the background

It was only later while doing my blog research that I realized I had actually read about this spot before coming – I read a bit of news about a Polish couple who plunged to their deaths in front of their children while trying to take a selfie on a cliff, and I remembered that it was in Portugal, but I hadn’t realized it actually happened right there in Cabo Da Roca.

Portugal - Cabo da Roca Fence Post
Here is the fence. Cross with caution.

It’s a pretty sobering thought for sure – I had wondered about the seemingly insignificant barriers, but I guess people have short memories, or are too distracted by the view to bother. Most people ignore the barriers, and so did we at some points, but use your common sense and be careful – those cliffs are a steep vertical drop into pounding surf below, I suggest you take your selfies inland where it’s a little safer because you never know how crumbly these rocks get…

Portugal - Cabo da Roca Past Barriers
All these people? Way beyond the erected barriers to the right. There are some people paths that go quite precariously close to the edge… we tried to stay on those a little more inland

Concerns about cliffs didn’t stop us from doing our jumpshots though!

Portugal - Cabo da Roca Jumpshot Kickup
Let’s go! Lighthouse in the background, thanks Ms Y for always encouraging the crazy photos. I definitely don’t get these sorta shots on my own!
Portugal - Cabo da Roca Jumpshot Pair
Considering we used a timer for this, not bad indeed!

Other than the view, there isn’t really anything else there to visit. The lighthouse on the hill but it’s locked up. It does have a really friendly resident dog

Portugal - Cabo da Roca Dog
This friendly cutie mutt took a nap and let us snap a couple of shots. Pity the lighthouse compound was all locked up

And according to the internet, there is a tourist office right where the bus stops where you can buy a souvenir certificate to commemorate your visit to Cabo Da Roca if that’s what floats your boat. We didn’t though we mainly mooched around, and spent about an hour or so there before deciding to head off to Cascais.

Portugal - Cabo da Roca Sunset Silhouette
Silhouettes and sunsets while waiting for the bus

The bus however, had different ideas. We were supposed to catch the 6pm bus and head to Cascais for the sunset, but it was 645pm by the time the bus came properly, and dark by the time we reached Cascais, ah well. We did manage to catch some of that evening glow before we left this pretty spot though!

Portugal - Cabo da Roca Sunset Doorway
Through the open doorway. I have no idea why there is a doorway and no walls.

 

Getting There

Take bus 403 from Sintra Train station or Cascais Bus station. It’s about 45 minutes from Sintra and about 20 minutes from Cascais. There’s a Scotturb bus guide here if you can read it!

What we did was to get a single bus day pass for 15 euros – it covered the CP trains to get you from Rossio Station in Lisbon to Sintra, and the Scotturb buses (which is what you use to get around Sintra’s attractions and to Cabo Da Roca/Cascais) for unlimited rides within Sintra. I like that it gave us some spontaneity in moving around despite being confined to bus/train schedules.

The post Cabo Da Roca: What it looks like at the Western-most point of Europe appeared first on The Occasional Traveller.

]]>
http://theoccasionaltraveller.com/2015/03/05/cabo-da-roca-western-most-point/feed/ 5