The Occasional Traveller http://theoccasionaltraveller.com Occasionally Travelling, Always Inspiring Wed, 17 Dec 2014 02:00:00 +0000 en-US hourly 1 http://wordpress.org/?v=4.1 2014 Round Up – Travelshttp://theoccasionaltraveller.com/2014/12/17/2014-round-travels/ http://theoccasionaltraveller.com/2014/12/17/2014-round-travels/#comments Wed, 17 Dec 2014 02:00:00 +0000 http://theoccasionaltraveller.com/?p=16389 A look back at the past year and where I've been to. 52 days of overseas travel with a full time day job and just 18 days of leave? Here's how I managed to maximize travel in 2014

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TOT Round Up 2014

It’s that time of the year where I take a look back at how and where I’ve travelled this year. It’s always fun to reminisce and see where I’ve been so far, and see how I might be able to squeeze in my travel in the year ahead!

Penang
Penang, Malaysia – Getting up close and personal with Ernest Zacharevic’s works in George Town

The first trip of 2014 was a short one up to Penang mainly to eat, eat, and eat. It was also the first place that I really started taking interest in hunting street art as a way to explore a place. See the Penang recap here>>

 

Bali with Family
Bali, Indonesia – en route to the Rock Temple where I got blessed for good luck!

I spent my 30th birthday in Bali once again, but this time with my family. It was my 3rd trip to this little island paradise in 2 years. We stayed in quite an awesome villa in Seminyak, but besides lazing on the beach, I got to see Ubud as well as some of the famous temples on this island. More on Bali here>>

 

Margaret River
Margaret River, Australia – awesome wine and amazing sunsets

The Easter holiday in April was spent down in Margaret River and Perth with my friend S, where we stayed on a remote but charming house in a vineyard, and spent most of it in places no telephone network could reach (grapevines eat telephone signals I swear~) indulging in a lot of good wine and great food. See more Margaret River stories here>>

 

Shanghai
Shanghai, China – it absolutely poured on the first day we were there, thank goodness i brought my boots

Then a quick weekend jaunt up to Shanghai, my first trip to China ever, with a bunch of other bloggers thanks to Spring Airlines. We spent a rainy day exploring this city together and eating xiaolongbaos and visiting a rather interesting Korean-style bathhouse, and also meeting another blogger based in Shanghai who introduced me to the wonderful architecture of local Shikumen. More on Shanghai here >>

 

Phuket Mai Khao
Mai Khao, Phuket, Thailand – I barely left the resort, spending most of it lounging by the beach and pool, or doing fun stuff like painting my own batik shirt!

The second quarter was absolutely packed – the weekend after that I found myself headed to Phuket, another new place for me (I’d only been to Bangkok before this) with the girls where we chillaxed over the weekend thanks to Holiday Inn Mai Khao resort. Mai Khao is pretty close to the airport and a lovely quiet part of Phuket, I would definitely consider going back there again. More on Thailand here >>

London Work Trip
London, UK – The British Museum is not only mostly free, it has an amazing ceiling and space!

June saw me heading up to London for my first ever working trip overseas – the good thing about my jobs in the arts is that even the work bits were quite fun as we got to explore quite a bit of London’s art scene, so I was quite happy not to be stuck in boardrooms or offices all day! I found even more street art, favourite literary landmarks and went to a lot of markets. More London stories here >>

Bangkok FAM trip
Ayutthaya, Thailand – this buddha head in the roots is quite a fascinating sight

The Tourism Authority of Thailand then invited me up to Bangkok for a huge Happiness party to show that Bangkok remains an amazing place to visit despite all their recent struggles with protests earlier in the year. I had the opportunity to visit the old capital of Ayutthaya and also got to watch my first live Muay Thai match. More on Bangkok here >>

Portugal
Lagos in the Algarve was a bit of a revelation – I had amazing food and saw some tremendously street art talent here. Here… I’m just kinda goofing around in the sun…

Finally after what felt like eons, I took off for my annual big trip – a semi-solo adventure to Portugal, where I spent a lovely 16 days travelling around Lisbon, the Algarve and Porto. I love the vibe of Portugal which has great history and amazing street art throughout the country, and in comparison to some other countries is actually a more affordable place to visit. I definitely have so much to write about which I haven’t quite gotten to yet! More on Portugal here >>

Patong Phuket
Phuket, Thailand – Patong is on the opposite end of the spectrum from quiet Mai Khao! The drain covers were also fascinatingly pretty.

And finally the last trip for 2014 was a short one with another group of girlfriends back to Phuket again for a hen’s weekend getaway. We stayed in a luxurious villa in Kamala on the central western coast, and I finally got to see firsthand what the notorious Patong Beach area was like (Spoiler: I didn’t love it). More Phuket stories here >>

 

So that’s my summary for the year – I apparently managed to spend 52 days travelling with my 18 days of leave! I’m pretty impressed with myself~

  • Feb: Penang, Malaysia – Eat and Relax trip (3D2N)
  • Mar: Bali, Indonesia – Family trip (4D3N)
  • Apr: Margaret River, Australia – Road trip (5D4N)
  • Apr: Shanghai, China – Spring Airlines FAM trip (4D3N)
  • May: Phuket, Thailand – Holiday Inn Mai Khao FAM trip (3D2N)
  • Jun: London, United Kingdom – Work trip (9D9N)
  • Jul: Bangkok, Thailand – Thailand FAM trip (4D3N)
  • Sep/Oct: Portugal – Semi-solo trip (17D16N)
  • Nov: Phuket, Thailand – Hen’s Weekend (3D2N)

The work trip to London definitely helped make that number so much higher than last year’s 38 days! Even if you take that number out, 42 days is still a pretty good number considering I only have 18 days of leave :) I definitely made full use of weekends and public holidays like Good Friday and Hari Raya to help increase my travelling days.

Most of the trips were nearby jaunts around Asia within 5 hours flight from Singapore, except for London and Portugal, so that made it easier to take many short trips in anticipation of my long Portugal trip. I had booked the Portugal trip quite early on, in the first quarter of the year, so while that made planning easier and saved me a load on airfare, it also means that I couldn’t go for some FAM trips that cropped up last minute or mid-week as my leave was all tied up already. Ah well, you can’t have it all~

 

Trips in 2015

I haven’t actually made any plans for 2015. Which is a little bit odd for me, feeling so untethered…

I definitely want to go diving earlier in the year – there was no dive trip this year so had to break that yearly tradition and I’m starting to feel like I need to get underwater.

There have been quite a lot of interesting chats with tourism boards and travel companies in partnership to help them promote their destinations, and I’m crossing my fingers that some of these will result in opportunities to visit amazing places that I might not think to visit on my own.

And as usual there are just so many places to go! My bucket list is ever growing, but some places that are on the top of that list include Iceland, Istanbul, Croatia, Galapagos Islands, Azores… there is so much to see!

 

How were your 2014 travels like? And where are you headed in 2015? Share here and inspire us all!

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Local Food Experiences with Traveling Spoonhttp://theoccasionaltraveller.com/2014/12/10/traveling-spoon-review/ http://theoccasionaltraveller.com/2014/12/10/traveling-spoon-review/#comments Wed, 10 Dec 2014 02:00:00 +0000 http://theoccasionaltraveller.com/?p=16237 A review on Traveling Spoon, a service offering travellers a home cooked meal and local experience around Asia. Here's my Singapore experience!

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Part of the travelling experience is to go somewhere new and try eating something foreign. it’s one key way to learn about the culture of the place that you’re in, and often a great way to make friends as most people become more open and friendly with a snack or drink in hand.

Portugal - Tavira Restaurant Avenida V
Food makes friends – me and V from Netherlands here bonded over looking for a dinner buddy in Tavira and we ended up at a very good local Portuguese restaurant. The next day, we ran into a fellow dutch lady over dinner at another restaurant. More on Tavira soon!

So when the folk from Traveling Spoon approached me about their service, which offers travellers a home dining and/or cooking experience with a local in Asia, I was quite intrigued. It’s a chance for you to taste some local cuisine as well as interact with a local – which is quite the authentic experience many travellers are looking for these days beyond the tour packages!

Since I was in Singapore and not headed overseas anytime soon, Traveling Spoon matched me up with the current local host, a lady named Rosaline Soon who turned out to be quite a famous cook locally, having run her own restaurant in the past, she has since published three cookbooks to her name and conducts cooking classes as well.

What I liked was the personal touch – Rosaline herself dropped me a note to say hello before the session, giving me instructions on how to get to her place (deep in a residential area in Singapore, which thankfully wasn’t too far from where I live myself) and letting me know the menu for the night.

Traveling Spoon - Rosaline
Me and Rosaline in her home kitchen
Traveling Spoon - Grandmothers Recipe Books
Grandmothers’ Recipes are based on local and Peranakan dishes, and specially made to be fairly easy to cook

The Traveling Spoon experience is made up of 3 tracks:

  1. just enjoying a home cooked meal (US$20-60)
  2. adding a cooking lesson to the home cooked meal (US$40-$100)
  3. or going the full shebang with a market tour prior to your cooking session and meal. (US$80-$170)

Since I was coming after work in the evening, no market tour for me, and while I am not much of a cook, I thought I’d try the cooking lesson just for fun.

 

THE EXPERIENCE

This meal was a real homey experience – Rosaline’s family was finishing up their dinner when I entered their house. She has a large kitchen with a nice island counter, and she had set up most of the prep before I arrived. She was a very nice affable sort, and we had a lot of chitchat while she showed me the ingredients and preparation method for the food – she prepared a little set of recipes on which I could take notes and bring home with me as well.

But here’s the more exciting part on what we ended up making – she based the menu on the food from her own Peranakan and Singaporean heritage: Nyonya Laksa, Roast Pork, Ngoh Hiang and Ondeh Ondeh. My own heritage is more Hokkien, so frankly while I knew most of these foods, I didn’t eat them very often myself, so it was quite nice learning about how to make them, which definitely helped in me appreciating the food better.

Traveling Spoon - Nyonya Laksa ingredients
Nyonya Laksa is basically a noodle in a spicy soup. The main thing is getting the soup right, which is what most of the ingredients here are for
Traveling Spoon - Nyonya Laksa
Here’s my laksa, yummy! I requested it not to be too spicy and not to have the beansprouts (hate), so it was pretty awesome.
Traveling Spoon - Roast Pork cooking
This roast pork dish was designed to be extremely simple – all you need is a good slap of pork, lots of salt and a toaster over, no marination required!
Traveling Spoon - Roast Pork
This tasted very, very good! I ate so much of this >_<
Traveling Spoon - Ngoh Hiang making
Ngoh Hiang consists of minced pork and onions wrapped in beancurd skin. Rosaline had prepped the stuffing first, so I mainly helped with the assembly.
Traveling Spoon - Ngoh Hiang cooked
Tastes better than it looks! You often find this sold alongside prawn noodle stalls in Singapore for some reason
Traveling Spoon - Ondeh Ondeh making
Dessert was ondeh-ondeh, which is little balls of fried flour mixed with tapioca or sweet potato and stuffed with some gula melaka. I never had this before and had a lot of fun making it – making it is tougher than you might imagine!
Traveling Spoon - Ondeh Ondeh cooked
The ondeh ondeh is rolled in coconut grating after cooking, a nice way to end the evening! I’m not a big fan of Gula Melaka and Coconut honestly, but this tasted pretty good

 

All in all, I really enjoyed the experience and I think it’s a great addition to your itinerary when overseas – if you’re tired of searching out your own food or eating tour package meals, it’s a great and easy way to get the authentic local experience. Also, the meal and cooking session took about 2-2.5 hours in total, so you still have lots of time for your own adventures and experiences.

You can do it alone like I did, but I’d recommend doing this in a group if possible, because you can possibly save a little bit of money, and you can make and eat more – I had to pack some of the remaining food back home so as not to waste it! Also, cooking and dining is always much more fun in a group setting. Drop them a note here for more enquiries – they’ll look at your requirements and match you up with the best host available.

Best of all my dear readers, if you’re interested in signing up for a package, type in theoccasionaltraveller10 to receive a 10% discount on any experience booked before January 31 2015 – take this as my Christmas present to you!

Head on over to TravelingSpoon.com for more – their regions so far are concentrated in the major Asian cities, but look out for more hosts and locations in 2015! They’ve just launched recently in Singapore and they are upgrading the site as well, exciting stuff ahead! Thank you again to Traveling Spoon for sponsoring my experience, I really enjoyed it and I might give it a try if I head to any of the other countries with host too!

Traveling Spoon: Travel off the Eaten Path from Traveling Spoon on Vimeo.

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Where to find Street Art in Lisbonhttp://theoccasionaltraveller.com/2014/12/08/find-street-art-lisbon/ http://theoccasionaltraveller.com/2014/12/08/find-street-art-lisbon/#comments Mon, 08 Dec 2014 02:00:00 +0000 http://theoccasionaltraveller.com/?p=16156 A detailed guide on various spots where you can find street art in Lisbon and how to get there on your own.

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The simple answer to where you can find street art in Lisbon – just about anywhere you can imagine!

Lagos and Porto both had amazing artworks in their street, but for sheer volume, variety and star power, Lisbon is where you can find stuff from some of the best street artists in Portugal and the world. I managed to find some random wonders by just wandering the streets, but I also managed a more curated viewing through maps and a guided tour. I love how hunting for street art has become such a great and fun way to explore and understand a city!

Portugal - Lisbon Street Art Aryz Horse
Portugal – Lisbon Street Art Aryz Horse

Here are some spots in Lisbon to check out for a good dose of street art – this is by no means an exhaustive or definitive guide of Lisbon’s street art works, merely just a recap of some of the places I visited and see some of the awesome art that I saw – there were plenty of places left unexplored. Sometimes you come across the coolest things most unexpectedly, like this great Vhils exhibition in Belem that I stumbled upon… till next time perhaps? :)

 

RESOURCES

Most of the time I google a destination to decide on some obvious must-sees like I did with Lagos, but it was a little impossible with Lisbon just because there is so much going on, so I made use of a couple of resources:

Portugal - Lisbon Street Art GAU Liberdade
Oops you can’t see Gabriela, but here’s when we ran into the group that we missed quite serendipitously!

Lisbon Street Art Tour: This is a great way not just to see some of the good street artworks, but also to learn a little about the street artists and their backgrounds, and a bit of the history of the places that they are found in. Our guide Gabriela was really great, and even though we missed the first half of the tour because we were late, she went out of the way to show us around and even brought us to a more out of the way area to check out works when she found out we were really interested. Currently, the tour is conducted on Wednesdays (11.30am) and Saturdays (4pm) and last about 2-3 hours, with the meeting point at the Luis de Camoes Square (Praca de Camoes). Payment is by donation, usually 10-15 euros on average, though the amount really is up to you.

 

Street Art Lisbon Vol 1
This little book is small and handy and comes with a folded map with all the places in the book marked out

Street Art Lisbon Vol 1: I bought myself this little book from Ler Devagar at LXFactory for 9 euros (I saw it marked up to 18 euros at other smaller shops!) which comes with a handy map cum poster that shows you where to find the works within the book, though remember that with the ephemeral nature of street art, some works might not exist any more! With the map in hand, I could pinpoint whether there were works in the area around me wherever I happened to be.

 

THE SPOTS

Check out my handy Google map where I’ve done my best to mark out the spots so you know where you can head to yourself!

 

GAU / URBAN ART GALLERY

Street art is so important to Lisbon that they set up GAU – Galeria de Arte Urbana or the Urban Art Gallery under the wing of the city’s culture and heritage department as a place for street artists to let loose. Proposals are put forth and those accepted get to translate their ideas onto large billboards set up along the sloping street – these works change very regularly so you’ll always see something different here. There is another long wall on the adjacent street about halfway down the slope which is a more free for all type of wall where people can just let loose.

How to get there: Take the subway to Restauradores and if you’re feeling rather sprightly, walk up the crazy steep slope of Calçada da Glória where you’ll find the works near the top of the slope and on the adjacent Largo da Oliveirinha. If you have a day pass, why not take the very graffiti-ed funicular (which costs 3.60 euros per trip without!) to the top, and then slowly make your way down. Alternatively, approach from the Bairro Alto side of Rua São Pedro de Alcântara. Definitely better to walk down than up this slope!

Portugal - Lisbon Street Art GAU Hill
On top of the hill as we approached from Bairro Alto
Portugal - Lisbon Street Art GAU tram
This place is so steep they have a tram serving it, which is naturally covered with graffiti
Portugal - Lisbon Street Art GAU Last Supper
Various boards like this are set up along the slope, and selected artists get to showcase their works here. Thiis piece is by Portuguese street artist Nomen called A Ultima Ceia aka The Last Soup, which seems to be a bit of a political commentary
Portugal - Lisbon Street Art GAU Oliverinha
This stretch is about halfway down the slope – Largo de Oliverinha – this part isn’t regulated by GAU like it is along the slope
Portugal - Lisbon Street Art GAU Pink Panther
The pink panther is kinda cute
Portugal - Lisbon Street Art GAU In action
Gabriela had some aerosols on hand to let us try our hand at it. How could I resist?
Portugal - Lisbon Street Art GAU Chat
Further down the Largo stretch as we were walking towards the Teatro area is this famous cat by french street artist Monsieur Chat (that’s french for cat) aka M Chat – we would find several of his works scattered across Lisbon!

 

TEATRO MARIA VITORIA / MARIA VITORIA THEATRE

This old theatre district only has one functioning theatre now – the rest of it is like a very large empty parking lot, but within its walls it is both bigger than it looks, as well as contains more street art than you would think. Definitely have to thank the street art walk and Gabriela for bringing us here, I doubt we would have walked here on our own!

How to get there: It was a short walk from GAU – Parque Mayer is off the main Avenida da Liberdade close to the metro station Avenida. You should be able to see the sign for Teatro Maria Vitoria outside, and another sign which points to Restaurant A Gina, which is apparently quite good.

Portugal - Lisbon Street Art Teatro Maria Vittoria Entrance
Entering the theatre district – Teatro Maria Vitoria is the pink building on the right
Portugal - Lisbon Street Art Teatro Maria Vittoria Walls
The inside feels like a huge carpark – the walls are covered with street art!
Portugal - Lisbon Street Art Teatro Maria Vittoria Pano
Panorama shot of the interior – click on picture for larger view!
Portugal - Lisbon Street Art Teatro Maria Vittoria Words
I can’t remember the name of this guy but he apparently usually incorporates some text into his works
Portugal - Lisbon Street Art Teatro Maria Vittoria Boat-Chat
M Chat makes another appearance, but I actually like the detailed purple boat by Swiss street artists Sybz and Meyk better! Their piece was done in 2013.
Portugal - Lisbon Street Art Teatro Maria Vittoria Girl
Ah I did manage to get Gabriela on camera after all! This giant piece is a little faded as it was done in 2011, but is an awesome international collaborative work by Resone, Mr Dheo, Pariz and Katre. See a nicer pic here.
Portugal - Lisbon Street Art Teatro Maria Vittoria Mime
This one and the one above were part of Writers Delight 2011 – this piece is by Wuna, Park, Rak, Esko and Agios. Too bad you can only now see a small part of it now… More here.

 

 

CRONO PROJECT

The Crono Project that happened back in 2010 was one of the events that garnered quite a lot of international attention and placed Lisbon on the top of the street art map, by inviting international names to collaborate with local Portuguese street artists. These works are pretty eye catching and hard to miss if you take the bus from the airport into the main city area.

How to get there: The buildings are located on Avenida Fontes Pereira de Melo. The closest subway station is Picoas on the Verde/green line where the right entrance will put you right next to the building. Alternatively, I walked from Parque station on the Azul/blue line which was about 5 minutes away. There are two more works in the Crono Project which are at other locations – more info at Stick2Target.

Portugal - Lisbon Street Art Crono Project Os Gemeos Blu
Os Gêmeos (aka the twins) from Brazil collaborated with Italian street artist Blu in 2010

 

Portugal - Lisbon Street Art Crono Project Os Gemeos
Os Gemeos are famous for their yellow skinned people – he’s holding a man in a suit as a slingshot!
Portugal - Lisbon Street Art Crono Project Blu man
Blu’s piece seems to be a commentary on the environment as a guy wearing a crown with various petrol company logos on it is drinking our of the earth with a straw..
Portugal - Lisbon Street Art Crono Project Sam3 Thief
La Noche by Sam3 from Madrid, Spain whose works typically feature a lot of black shadowy figures
Portugal - Lisbon Street Art Crono Project
The third building features Italian artist Ericailcane and the English Lucy McLauchlan
Portugal - Lisbon Street Art Crono Project Ericailcane Croc
Ericailane or Erica Il Cane likes to do large scale animals
Portugal - Lisbon Street Art Crono Project Lucy Mclauchlan
Lucy McLauchlan has quite a distinctive black and white aesthetic  – we also spot M Chat again!

 

AMOREIRAS

This particular spot is for those who really are quite passionate about street art and don’t mind a bit of a workout to get there – big props to Gabriela for bringing us here after the official street art tour tour was over to make up for us missing out on the first half of it! There is a massively long stretch of wall that surrounds an old fortress, which is now entirely covered with street art. It is one of the first places where street art first grew in Lisbon in about 1995 and some of its works have been on its walls for a very long time so its earned its place in Lisbon’s street art history. Gabriela recommended the West side walls along Conselheiro Fernando de Sousa for newer and better works – this stretch is almost 1km long so you can imagine the amount of art here!

How to get there: Amoreiras feels like a suburban area – bunch of fancy hotels in the area and much quieter than the downtown tourist stretch. The closest metro station is Marques de Pombal, but be warned that Avenida Eng. Duarte Pacheco is a really, really long steep hill to climb up, and that’s saying something considering the number of slopes and hills there are in Portugal. You could take a bus – I grabbed a taxi from the nearby Amoreiras Shopping Centre after that because I could not walk any further, so that’s another landmark you can use for directions. The walls run along Rua Artilharia 1, Rua Marques de Fronteira and Conselheiro Fernando de Sousa.

Portugal - Lisbon Street Art Amoeiras Slope
The super steep slope that we climbed!
Portugal - Lisbon Street Art Amoeiras Blindfold
It’s hard to illustrate through the pictures just how LONG the stretch of wall is. This is on the East side
Portugal - Lisbon Street Art Amoeiras Tupac
Tupac by Aspen
Portugal - Lisbon Street Art Amoeiras Mark
Another place, another mark
Portugal - Lisbon Street Art Amoeiras West Wall
On the west side
Portugal - Lisbon Street Art Amoeiras Nomen
Nomen has quite a number of famous works here – Pray for Portugal came in the wake of the EU crisis
Portugal - Lisbon Street Art Amoeiras Puppet
This collab piece by Nomen, Slap and Kurtz is called As Marionetas de Merckel, or Merckell’s puppets – you might recognize German chancellor Angela Merckell as the puppeteer here controlling Portugal’s state leaders…
Portugal - Lisbon Street Art Amoeiras Layers
layers upon layers of street art

 

SANTA APOLONIA COASTLINE

I passed this coastal stretch while heading up to the Azulejos Museum in Madre de Deus, and on the way back I decided to drop by to get a closer look at these works. Here you’ll find the larger than life collaborative works of local legend Vhils and Pixelpancho, and Wall Lisbon – Santa Apolonia painted under the Pampero Public Art Project in 2010. After that I walked inland and up towards Lisbon Se and the Castle.

How to get there: Take bus 728, 735, 759,794 and stop at Casa Conto along Avenida Infante Dom Henrique. It’s hard to miss the large collab works on the buildings by the coastline when you travel along this road.

Portugal - Lisbon Street Art Santa Apolonia Wall
warehouses along the coastline
Portugal - Lisbon Street Art Santa Apolonia horses
Horses by Jose Carvalho
Portugal - Lisbon Street Art Santa Apolonia purple
Works by Tamara Alves and The Super Van
Portugal - Lisbon Street Art Santa Apolonia que
Que? – like M Chat, you’ll see a bunch of ‘Que?’ works all around town
Portugal - Lisbon Street Art Vhils-Pixelpancho lady-robot
Larger than life Pixelpancho
Portugal - Lisbon Street Art Vhils-Pixelpancho Face
Vhils iconic subtractive works in collaboration with Pixelpancho
Portugal - Lisbon Street Art Vhils-Pixelpancho Man-Boat
This Vhils-Pixelpancho work is probably one of my favourite art pieces from Lisbon
Portugal - Lisbon Street Art Vhils-Pixelpancho man-boat closeup
Close up of the detail – Vhils work is super intricate
Portugal - Lisbon Street Art Cane Morto Long
Look out for this work by Italian street artist Cane Morto
Portugal - Lisbon Street Art Cane Morto face
Cane Morto’s stuff is a little bit creepy looking
Portugal - Lisbon Street Art Copyblogger
How much is this shit? Man, ask my art dealer by Copyart

 

PÁTIO DOM FRADIQUE

Perched right on top of the hill, the castle of Saint George has some pretty amazing views of Lisbon, but on the way down, make sure to look for Patio Dom Fradique. It’s where the remains of the Cerca Velha wall are, and this part of the ruins has been transformed into a rather organic outdoor gallery of sorts with various artworks and graffiti all over.

How to get there: Take Tram 28 or bus 736 up the hill to the Castelo and walk down. This particular spot is on the southeast corner of the hill. Look for Marker #2 Patio Dom Fradique, or if you’re going uphill, look for Beco do Maldonaldo off Rua Sao Tome

 

Portugal - Lisbon Street Art Patio Dom Fradique Plant
Spotted this cute little hungry plant while walking around the Castelo grounds
Portugal - Lisbon Street Art Patio Dom Fradique Dont Be Mean
Don’t be mean!
Portugal - Lisbon Street Art Patio Dom Fradique Flowers
This sudden burst of floral action is a part of Disoriented Pavilion by Camila Caneque – what looks like a real garden is actually fake flowers
Portugal - Lisbon Street Art Patio Dom Fradique Fish
Pretty koi fish
Portugal - Lisbon Street Art Patio Dom Fradique Animals
You’ll find a surprising amount of art when you poke your head inside the ruins
Portugal - Lisbon Street Art Patio Dom Fradique arch
Entrance to Patio dom Fradique from Beco Do Maldonald
Portugal - Lisbon Street Art Patio Dom Fradique Beco Do Maldonald
Beco Do Maldonald is a stairwell lined with various street art and tags

 

This is just a smidgen of what I managed to find while I was in Lisbon in such a short period of time, so, Drop a note here if you know of any other street art hotspots in Lisbon to share!

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Tis the season of giving to Passports with Purpose 2014http://theoccasionaltraveller.com/2014/12/04/tis-season-giving-passports-purpose-2014/ http://theoccasionaltraveller.com/2014/12/04/tis-season-giving-passports-purpose-2014/#comments Thu, 04 Dec 2014 02:00:00 +0000 http://theoccasionaltraveller.com/?p=16331 Whip out those purses and get bidding, it's time for the annual Passports with Purpose 2014 in support of Sustainable Harvest International!

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If you’ve been splurging on Black Friday and Cyber Monday sales this past weekend, perhaps its time to share the good fortune by giving back. Fortunately, Passports with Purpose is back again this year and it’s one of the donation programmes that I’ve been supporting regularly and I hope you do too!

Every year they gather donations through a raffle, where donors put $10 bids on prizes solicited with the help of the travel blogging community who reached out to their corporate networks to sponsor the prizes, (of which there are several awesome ones I’ll talk about below).

This year, Passports with Purpose is supporting Sustainable Harvest International in Honduras – their mission is to help the rural people in Honduras develop sustainable methods of farming that both help the environment (no more slash and burn, which not only produces crazy pollution but spoils the land!) and help the farmers feed their families as well. More about them here.

Passports With Purpose 2014 Sustainable Harvest International

I donated last year and hosted a prize for Passports with Purpose back in 2012, and while I was unable to secure a prize in time for this round, I still wanted to do my little bit for them, so here’s me asking you to take a little bit of time to check out this little programme.

The fun thing about Passports with Purpose is that it makes donating fun, it’s easy to donate just $10 by sacrificing a fancy coffee or two, and you just might land yourself an even more awesome prize worth up to 10x or even 100x more!

The prizes are pretty awesome – here’s what I’m putting my bids on this year:

Passports With Purpose 2014 Hard Drive
This 2TB hard drive ($139) will come in useful whether you’re a traveller or not! More info at Travel Addicts
Passports With Purpose 2014 Amazon Giftcard
Can’t go wrong with an Amazon Gift Card ($200)! Amazon sells… practically everything! More at Ireland Family Vacations
Passports With Purpose 2014 Homeaway
And one of the biggest value prizes is a $1,000 voucher for vacation rental company HomeAway. More at Momitforward

 

Do check out the catalogue for the full list of prizes and see what catches your fancy, or if you’re just looking to give go here instead. You have till 17 Dec 2014, so hurry!

Passports with Purpose

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Where to find Street Art in Singapore: Little Indiahttp://theoccasionaltraveller.com/2014/12/01/street-art-singapore-little-india/ http://theoccasionaltraveller.com/2014/12/01/street-art-singapore-little-india/#comments Mon, 01 Dec 2014 02:00:00 +0000 http://theoccasionaltraveller.com/?p=15655 A detailed guide to a spot with a surprising amount of street art in Singapore - Little India has works from several prominent international street artists

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If you enjoyed hunting for street art in the Kampong Glam district, another area to head to where you can find a surprising little cluster of street art works is in the popular tourist district of Little India. Perhaps more famous for fabric shops, spicy curries and the amazing 24-hour Mustafa Shopping Centre that stocks everything you can think of, there are several spots here where you can see some artworks by well-known figures in the international street art scene.

I’ve embedded a Google Map at the bottom of the post to help, or go here for more. Check out Singapore Street Art on Instagram or Tumblr as well for more places in Singapore to discover awesome street art.

Getting there: The closest MRT station is Little India (NorthEast Line) and about 5-10mins walk away

ROWELL ROAD

The pedestrian stretch between Rowell and Desker Road are where you can see works by two prominent American street artists Elmac and Tyke Witnes AWR who were invited to put up their works during the Singapore Night Festival in 2010. There’s also a surprising series of fairytale related art in the Bellwethers Bistro just next to it (which is sadly being converted into a jewellers, those works are unlikely to be kept!)

Singapore Street Art - Rowell road alley
Alley way connecting Rowell Road and Desker Road. The building which these works are on used to belong to Post Museum but now belongs to Broadcast HQ
Singapore Street Art - Elmac Light
Light in Little India by Elmac – I ADORE THIS. Elmac’s work blew me away in London, and continues to blog my mind. The detail up close is quite incredible.
Singapore Street Art - Green Goblins Tyke Witnes AWR LR
Green Goblins by Tyke Witnes AWR – it’s quite a stark contrast to the Elmac work on its left, but still stunning nonetheless
Singapore Street Art - Bellwethers Boy Wolf
The work is signed fd’13 (at least I think it is) but I have no clue who that is
Singapore Street Art - Bellwethers Fairytale
Sadly, these works were getting painted over last I saw (Nov 2014)

 

VEERASAMY ROAD

Jalan Besar – Rowell Court RC sits in the void deck of Blk 640 Rowell Road, though it’s actually found between Veerasamy and Hindoo Road. It’s quite merrily decorated with murals, but this one by Kyerule is my favourite:

Singapore Street Art - Little India Street Me
How do you resist mugging for a shot with a scene like this?
Singapore Street Art - Little India Street
Without my ridiculous posing

PERAK ROAD

You’ll find Ernest Zacharevic’s first Singapore works from 2012 here at Perak Hotel (12 Perak Road) – a cheeky little boy with a hundred dollar bill on a fishing line! Also, there are apparently some of his other works here which I sadly couldn’t find – check out this photo album and see if you can see these works, it looks to me like you need to be a guest of the hotel to see them properly!

Singapore Street Art - Perak Hotel Money Boy
Giving you an idea how high up the artwork is
Singapore Street Art - Perak Hotel Money Boy Close up
view from below so you can see the detail

 

BONUS

I found this random piece of work while wandering in the back alleys – I forgot to take down where it was, so kudos to you if you find it, and even more love if you can tell me who it was by.

Singapore Street Art - Random Skateboarder
Who did this?

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The sights, sounds and savouries of Belem, Lisbonhttp://theoccasionaltraveller.com/2014/11/26/sights-sounds-savouries-belem-lisbon/ http://theoccasionaltraveller.com/2014/11/26/sights-sounds-savouries-belem-lisbon/#comments Wed, 26 Nov 2014 02:00:00 +0000 http://theoccasionaltraveller.com/?p=16020 Checking out the district of Belem, home to impressive historical monuments and some very authentic Portuguese culture, including the origin of Portugese egg tarts!

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After spending 4 hours standing in line to see the Roman Galleries in downtown Lisbon, we decided to head out to nearby Belem to stretch our legs and grab a bite. Belem turned out to be one of my favourite districts to visit in Lisbon, and I returned to this little district again when I returned to Lisbon on the tail end of my trip. It’s about 20 minutes from central Lisbon and full of history, art and of course the super famous Portugese egg tarts are not to be missed – here are some things to do in Belem when you are there!

Portugal - Lisbon Belem Sign
Welcome to Belem

 

PASTEIS DE BELEM

Portugal - Lisbon Pasteis de Belem
Lunch at Pasteis de Belem!

Portugal is famous for its custard egg tarts, known as Pasteis de Natas throughout the country, but if you are headed to Belem, the one thing you have to do is to check out the originator of this wonderful little pastry snack at Pasteis de Belem. These yummy snacks were created right here in Belem, by the monks from the nearby Jeronimos Monastery. These egg tarts are so authentic that the rest of the country isn’t allowed to use the term ‘Pasteis de Belem’ because of their copyright (hence they are called Natas instead)!

Portugal - Lisbon Belem Pasteis de Belem Entrance
Check out the queue spilling out the front door

You can’t quite miss this place – it’s likely to have a takeaway queue spilling out its doors which can be quite off-putting, but I suggest popping in to sit down and eat if you can – walk past the queues and mill around inside, it’s surprisingly big, and there are seats in the back as well. It gets really crowded during peak hours but they do quite brisk business, so if you wait around a bit, you should be able to find yourself a seat. Each waiter services a specific area, so look out for the one in charge of your zone to place your order.

Portugal - Lisbon Belem Pasteis de Belem
Pasteis de Belem! Check out the awesome custard

The famous Pasteis de Belem (1.05 euro per pc) is definitely high quality – the custard is tasty without being too cloying, and the pastry layers are crispy and flaky. I highly suggest you order at least 2 pcs each!

Portugal - Lisbon Belem Pasteis de Belem Snacks
There are a whole variety of sweet and savoury pastries available to order

But the shop sells other Portuguese snacks besides the egg tarts – we tried a bunch of things: beef croquette, cod cake and ham quiche. Our lunch was then topped off with some Portuguese drinks – I had the Sagres beer while Y had the cutest Vino Verde or Green wine (it’s quite light) called Gato.

Portugal - Lisbon Belem Pasteis de Belem Azulejos
Portugal – Lisbon Belem Pasteis de Belem Azulejos

Also, take note of the lovely unique Portuguese Azulejos designs on the walls – these designs with animals are different from the Moorish inspired geometric shaped ones.

Pasteis de Belem
Rua de Belem 84-92
Opening Hours: 8am – 11pm daily

 

MOSTEIRO DOS JERONIMÓS (Jeronimos Monastery)

Portugal - Lisbon Belem Monastery Church Exterior
We happened to run into a wedding party there, pity for them it was raining!

This UNESCO World Heritage site is just down the road from the Pasteis de Belem shop, and quite a massive complex. It cost 12 euro for a joint ticket to enter the monastery and the tower of Belem (more on that below), but if you’re feeling broke, the Church of Santa Maria is free to enter and gives an excellent taster on the beauty of the monastery’s architecture.

The late Gothic Manueline style is kinda dark but really grand – the ceiling is a sight to behold, the detailing of the architecture is exquisite. You’ll also see the tombs of Portuguese explorer Vasco de Gama and poet Luís de Camões in the church.

Portugal - Lisbon Belem Monastery Church
Santa Maria Church – they conduct services here still, a wedding just ended the first time I visited
Portugal - Lisbon Belem Monastery Church Ceiling
Taking in the grand carved ceiling

 

Portugal - Lisbon Belem Monastery Church Cross
If you do go into the monastery, you can see the church from the upper choir area, including the cross pictured here
Portugal - Lisbon Belem Monastery Church Chandelier
More detail of a chandelier and stained glass window in the distance

I would recommend you enter the monastery if you have the time – the architecture is quite fantastic to see up close, and there are a bunch of permanent exhibitions on the history of Lisbon within which make for a good primer on the city. I wasn’t sure if I wanted to visit the monastery after seeing just the Church the first time around, but I’m glad I decided to give it a shot.

Portugal - Lisbon Belem Monastery Courtyard
The main courtyard inside the monastery
Portugal - Lisbon Belem Monastery Pillar Detail
Just some of the exquisite detail on display

Jeronimos Monastery
Rua de Belem 84-92
Opening Hours: 10am – 5.30pm [oct-may] or 6.30pm [may-sep] daily
Entry: A single ticket is 10 euros. I bought a combined ticket with Torre de Belem for 12 euro. It’s free entry on the first Sunday of each month!

 

TORRE DE BELEM (Tower of Belem)

The tower of Belem may sound quite as if it is a large and imposing structure, but it is actually a lot smaller than I thought it would be. It is a bit of a walk along the Tagus river from the Monastery (you can cross over via the underpass at the Padrao (more on that below) for a more scenic walk along the river, or you’ll have to walk past the Contemporary Art Museum till you reach the overhead bridge closer to the tower itself.

Portugal - Lisbon Belem Tower
Torre de Belem just off the coastline

The tower itself is connected to the main land by a little bridge – I was there in the late afternoon, which evidently was high tide and with the rain coming down, getting to the tower without getting splashed at by the waves was a matter of precision timing and wave jumping!

Portugal - Lisbon Belem Tower Water
The waves would splash up into this auditorium of sorts, surprising many unsuspecting guests with wet shoes

The tower was initially built as part of the city’s defense, but since they built another tower further up the river, this one became less critical as a fort. You can still see the old cannons facing the water on the ground level.

You can also go up to the top of the tower for a panoramic 360 view of the surrounding area, but note that the stairwell is REALLY narrow and winding, so much so that they implemented a queue and alarm system to control the traffic up and down the spiral staircase. After queuing to go up, you get to the top and you see another long snaking queue to go down again!

Portugal - Lisbon Belem Tower Statue
on one of the outer landings. you can climb the stairs

Torre de Belem
Avenida Brasília 1400-038
Opening Hours: 10am – 5.30pm [oct-may] or 6.30pm [may-sep] daily
Entry: A single ticket is 6 euros. I bought a combined ticket with Torre de Belem for 12 euro. It’s free entry on the first Sunday of each month!

 

Padrão dos Descobrimentos (Monument to the Discoveries)

From afar, I thought this was the Torre de Belem at first, but this rather unusual looking structure is less of a tower and more of a rather fancy looking monument. The Monument to the Discoveries was built to honour Portugal’s age of Discovery, where explorers like Vasco de Gama and Ferdinand Magellan among others sailed across uncharted territories to discover new lands.

Portugal - Lisbon Belem Monument BnW
The monument with the iconic red bridge in the background
Portugal - Lisbon Belem Monument Side
These are all significant Portuguese figures on both sides of the monument

It doesn’t seem so big from a distance, but it’s one of those things where the closer you get, the bigger you realize the monument looms! You can climb up to the roof – I’d already been on top of the Torre de Belem so I passed on that, but I think this one gives you a better view and might be less crowded.

Portugal - Lisbon Belem Monument Sword
Giant sword – the commemorative plaque is for the 5th centenary of the death of Henry the Navigator

I was quite fond of this huge wind rose and map spanning 50m that covered the ground right by the monument. A gift from the South African government because Portuguese explorers were recognized as the first to discover the Cape of Good Hope.

Portugal - Lisbon Belem Monument Wind Rose Illustration
Blow wind blow! The compass rose and map cover the the floor of the surrounding plaza
Portugal - Lisbon Belem Monument Wind Rose
Pointing to Singapore! The Portuguese had more presence in nearby countries like Macau and Malacca, not so much in Singapore which was a British colony

Padrão dos descobrimentos
Avenida Brasília 1400-038
Opening Hours: 10am – 6pm [oct-feb] or 7pm [mar-sep] daily
Entry: A single ticket is 3 euros which lets you go to the top 56m high and enjoy quite a spectacular view of the surrounding area

 

MUSEU DA ELECTRICIDADE

We had no intention of visiting this spot, but by pure serendipity, there was a large poster advertising a Vhils exhibition at the Museum da Electricidade just as we got off the bus in Belem. I recognized it immediately – like I would in Lagos with Roa, you can’t quite miss Vhils either. Vhils, or Alexandre Farto, is quite a prominent street artist whose works I first saw in London, so I convinced Y that we needed to see this, so after a satisfying lunch of Pasteis de Belem, we walked over to the Museum da Electricidade to check it out.

Portugal - Lisbon Belem Vhils Exhibition Building
You can already see Vhils works from a distance!
Portugal - Lisbon Belem Vhils Exhibition Water Tower
A closer shot of the Vhils work on the water tower using just old posters to create

This was once a functioning power station though it was converted into a cultural space and museum in 1990. The absolute best part about this exhibition is that it was FREE. Titled Dissecção/Dissection, this is Vhil’s largest solo show to date – and this Portuguese street artist is just in his 20s, imagine that!

Portugal - Lisbon Belem Vhils Exhibition Poster
The best part… it was FREE. How amazing is that.

Vhils has a very distinctive subtractive sort of style, in which he often uses the textures of the surrounding surfaces he works, chips away at them to form detailed faces within. A particular technique he’s famous for is using little explosives which blow up on a wall and when the smoke clears, the design emerges. Absolutely amazing to see in action through the videos they had on site.

Portugal - Lisbon Belem Vhils Exhibition Art
You have to see it up close to appreciate – this one was done on old billboards if I remember correctly
Portugal - Lisbon Belem Vhils Exhibition Restituir
Chipping away…
Portugal - Lisbon Belem Vhils Exhibition Scaffolding
One particular work in front of what looked like a random pile of styrofoam required you to climb 2 storeys up to see. Amazingly, this is what it looks like when you look down:
Portugal - Lisbon Belem Vhils Exhibition Top View
Can you see the faces? How someone can see these things in their head and create them is mindboggling to me

This video gives you an idea of what the exhibition was like, probably better than my pictures do! It was definitely something you had to see in person to really appreciate. Over 60,000 people attended in total, which is pretty impressive!

There’s another part of the museum which shows some real life dioramas on how the power station used to work before being converted, which gives you a bit of context to the place. But other than that, there isn’t any real need to go in unless they’re having a kick ass exhibition.

Museu de Electricidade
Avenida Brasília 1300-598

I wish I had a little more time though, I would have loved to check out the Centro Cultural de Belem, but it is a MASSIVE space so sadly, I decided to skip it in favour of seeing more of Lisbon while the weather was being cooperative.

Portugal - Lisbon Belem CCB
the CCB, or the Centro Cultural de Belem

Getting There

Take the tram #15 from Praca Figueres or Praca do Comercio. It costs 2.85 euro per trip so I’d recommend either getting a day pass (24 hours, 6euro) or getting the via viagem card (1.40 euro) to top up. You can buy your ticket on the tram in the middle carriages and it takes about 20mins or so. Get off at the Mosteiro de Jeronimos stop.

Alternative, take the bus #718 instead (I think there are other buses as well, this one just happened to be the one available). It follows a parallel route to Belem, except it runs inland instead of along the river like the tram. It feels like there are more locals on the bus compared to the tram. I personally preferred the tram ride because the bus was hella bumpy in some areas, but you do get to see a different side of Lisbon, including this beauty by MAR:

Portugal - Lisbon Belem Mar Street Art
The bus zipped by too quickly so I didn’t manage a picture – this is from Goncalo Mar’s website

 

Anything else you’d recommend to check out in Belem that I might have missed? Share with me so I’ll have to go back some day and rectify that!

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A Retreat to Anantara Vacation Club Phuket Mai Khaohttp://theoccasionaltraveller.com/2014/11/24/anantara-vacation-club-phuket-mai-khao/ http://theoccasionaltraveller.com/2014/11/24/anantara-vacation-club-phuket-mai-khao/#comments Mon, 24 Nov 2014 02:00:00 +0000 http://theoccasionaltraveller.com/?p=16161 A review of Anantara Vacation Club Phuket Mai Khao, a beautiful resort village close to the airport and pleasantly removed from the bustle of Patong Beach.

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So here’s another trip that I sadly didn’t take – I was in Phuket earlier that same week for a friend’s hen’s night, so I asked Y to check out the Anantara Vacation Club Phuket Mai Khao on my behalf instead. Eagle-eyed readers might recognize the writer Y as my fellow companion who pops up in the latest Portugal trip recaps as well as some earlier trips – she was in the need for a quick weekend getaway, so this opportunity came in at exactly the right time. Read on for her take on this resort and don’t get too envious… I know I definitely was!


Y:

I love taking short solo retreats to beach destinations. They are my way of spending time with myself: to read, do absolutely nothing else for anybody, and just recharge. In recent years, I’ve come to favour going to Phuket as it is one of the easiest and relatively more affordable beach destinations for a quick get-away – this is my 3rd trip to Phuket in the last 2 years! In less than 4 hours, door-to-door, I can get from a congested Singapore to a laid-back Thai resort. Plus, I am almost guaranteed to be greeted by friendly faces and hospitable hosts.

My must-haves for a short weekend retreat: easy pool and beach access from my room is a MUST, simply because that gets me enough (lying) down time to read amidst the soothing symphony of water, sun, breeze. Forget about all the adventure activities, shopping, nightlife – I save those for longer trips with friends. Anantara Vacation Club definitely fulfilled this criteria and I had a terrific stay, now if only my retreat had been longer than 2D1N… #wanderlust.

LOCATION

Anantara Vacation Club Phuket (AVC) and its sister resort Anantara Phuket Villas are located along Mai Khao Beach, just a short 15-minute drive from the Phuket International Airport. (jac: Y was actually with me when we visited Holiday Inn Mai Khao Resorts earlier in the year! Anantara is located in the same area further south)

 

THE ROOM (or rather, THE VILLA)

Anantara Vacation Club Phuket Villa_1
Entering the villa

I had checked the weather prior to arriving in Phuket, and boy did it look disappointing – the forecast was “Thunderstorms, 100% precipitation”. So I was anticipating being holed up in my room with a book, or two for the majority of my time. Imagine my joy when I checked in to this beautiful 1-bedroom villa.

Anantara Vacation Club Phuket Villa_4
Bedroom – definitely no problems getting cooped up in here

The villa door opened into a living room with a full kitchen and dining area, connected to a walk-in wardrobe between the bedroom and a large, spacious bathroom. Both the living room and the bedroom opened up to the private pool. I definitely didn’t mind being cooped up in here!

Anantara Vacation Club Phuket Villa_5
Private pool and deck attached to the villa, just step out beyond the doorway of your bedroom…
Anantara Vacation Club Phuket Villa_6
Here’s the pool from the outside

My favourite part of the villa? The bathroom. Yes, the bathroom and it’s accompanying outdoor shower. If SIA’s ‘Chandelier’ music video was shot in a modern luxury bathroom, it might just be this. So much space to dance around and with a bathtub in the center of it all to fall upon.

Anantara Vacation Club Phuket Villa_9
giant luxurious bathroom!
Anantara Vacation Club Phuket Villa_2
Living room with sofa-bed

A villa of this configuration can accommodate up to 4 persons, as the L-shaped sofa in the living room can be turned into a bed that sleeps two.

Anantara Vacation Club Phuket Villa_7
Kitchen and dining area

The kitchen is fully equipped with an electric stove, a full-sized fridge (not a bar fridge!) and even has cooking ware all ready for guests to use. I was pretty impressed and slightly tempted to cook just so I could use these amenities. I did get to cook eventually though not in the resort, keep reading for more on that…

Anantara Vacation Club Phuket Villa_8
You can even do your laundry if you want to!

 

THE RESORT

Anantara Vacation Club Phuket Resort_1
View from the 6th storey room balcony

Entering AVC Phuket Mai Khao was like stepping into my own summer home (that is if I was rich enough to have one, a girl can daydream) with the resort staff so welcoming and friendly that it almost feels like they know you. AVC has about 100 standalone villas and 6 floors of apartment suites, spaciously laid out and yet all comfortably within walking distance. The property has its common facilities all conveniently located in one area – the pool, 24-hour fitness centre, kids club, playground and restaurant Chaam.

Anantara Vacation Club Phuket  Resort_4
Turtle Mart – call me auntie but I love checking out local grocery stores, which is where you find a lot of insight into local culture, and of course its treasures (aka my snacks and beer)

I was surprised to also find that the only ‘shopping area’ in Mai Khao called Turtle Village is literally across the road from AVC – in fact Turtle Village actually looks a lot like a retail extension of AVC. It is small, by Singaporean-standards, but has a good mix of retail shops and restaurants. I heard that the Irish pub, Bill Bentley, serves up rather good food too, but I didn’t have time to try it myself. And my favourite offering at Turtle Village? The grocery shop called Turtle Mart! It is larger than a mini-mart and offers a wide range of items from the usual snacks to even frozen meat and fresh vegetables.

Anantara Vacation Club Phuket Resort_4
Playground and bike stand from above

This place is definitely very convenient for a family vacationing with children. AVC has a signature kids club called ‘Jakka Club’ (Jakka means ‘crab’ in Thai!) that believes in arranging activities for children to take them away from their iPads and digital indulgences. Now that’s something I agree with, and apparently many parents who come here love the idea too! I grew up with annual family vacations at beach resorts and being ‘deposited’ at the resort’s kids club for a good amount of time, and I loved it – peers to play with, no parents to boss me around, learning new things. In fact, I believed my parents appreciated kids clubs more than I did. Come on parents, it’s time to re-acquaint children with what their hands and feet can do besides swipe across digital screens!

Anantara Vacation Club Phuket  Resort_1
Strolling around the resort is a tranquil experience

For couples and solo travellers like myself, the easy access to Anantara Phuket Villa’s facilities is a delight. This sister property adds to the variety of dining options with another 3 restaurants: La Sala (contemporary fusion of Italian and Thai), Sea.Fire.Salt (seafood grill by the beachside), and The Treehouse (Thai-style tapas and cocktails with an elevated view of the resort).

Anantara Vacation Club Phuket Resort_4
Lounging pool side. The weather was actually pretty nice

Food choices aside, I really liked the infinity pool and its cabanas facing an undisturbed view of the beach. There was nothing much at the beach when I was there though. The red flags were up, warning against swimming in the waters as there were rip-currents. So the usual sea-sport activities that AVC offered were not available then.

Anantara Vacation Club Phuket Resort_5
Quiet beach is definitely a far cry from Patong

The lack of activity on the shore suited me just fine – I liked the endless stretch of sand pristine and quiet. And Mai Khao beach is just that: a peaceful, tranquil area with just enough to do and more than enough to chill in. It’s becoming more popular for visitors who want to move away from the crowd in Patong beach.

Anantara Vacation Club Phuket Resort_2
Ducks! A common sight as you wander around the resort

Getting from my villa at AVC to the beach was easy – either a leisurely 3-minute stroll through the rustic Anantara Phuket Villas or a short ferry by the buggy service from AVC which is available anytime, even on short notice!

 

ACTIVITIES

Anantara Vacation Club Phuket Cooking_1
Me and Chef Wat

AVC has quite the variety of activities for its guests – I decided to try its signature Spice Spoons cooking class. The process was enjoyable and fun under the instruction of jovial Chef Wat who laughed at my lame jokes and loves answering “Yes Please!” in a boisterous voice. He took a lot of pride in introducing Thai culinary and was very enthusiastic about explaining why certain ingredients come before others. It was great learning for this noob cooking student.

Anantara Vacation Club Phuket Cooking_4
Cooking up a storm!

In 1.5 hours I made 4 Thai dishes – Som Tam (thai papaya salad), Tom Kha Gai (a milky version of the popular Tom Yum soup), Goong Phad Nam Prik Pao (stir fry prawns with chili paste), and even a dessert Kluai Nam Wa (bananas in coconut milk). I was pleasantly surprised at how well they all tasted. That could only be attributed to good guidance from the teacher, and of course a diligent student who had…. common sense and working taste buds.

Anantara Vacation Club Phuket Cooking_4
Ingredients and recipe to cook up a storm

If I had more time to spare, I would have liked to try the other activities which seemed fun yet relaxing: yoga in the mornings, guided cycling tours along the beach and around Mai Khao area, the spa treatments at Anantara Spa among other daily activities. What I thought was a nice touch to its offering was the availability of bicycles to guests. Anyone can simply pick up a bicycle and ride within the two sprawling resort compounds. It’s quicker than on foot and for the couples, leisure bicycle rides are kinda romantic :)

AVC Phuket Mai Khao was opened only about 18 months ago, and already they are adding a whole new wing of additional villas; some in time for Christmas this year and the rest will be completed by next quarter of 2015. They are also thinking of introducing outdoor fitness equipment stations all around the resort compound so that guests can chart a fitness routine of their own during their stay at AVC. Additionally, there will be a new inflatable floating screen for the pool, which means guests can enjoy movie nights IN the pool. That certainly seems like a fun vacationing activity to have!

THE COST

A quick check on the Anantara website showed that the rates for the 1 bedroom villa during this holiday period were going at S$650/night, so this would probably be if you’re willing to splurge on yourself or if you’re going with a small group and can split the cost! The apartment suites are much cheaper at around S$240/night instead.

About Anantara Vacation Club

Launched in 2010, Anantara Vacation Club (AVC) is a unique Shared Holiday Ownership concept offering Club Owners stays in destinations across Asia and beyond with a flexible points system. The Club Resort Collection includes a Signature Club Resort in Phuket and luxury private villas on Koh Samui in Thailand and Bali in Indonesia, plus suites in Queenstown in New Zealand, Bangkok in Thailand and Sanya in China. Over the next five years, the Club will add up to 10 additional resorts. Club Owners can enjoy stays at 29 Anantara Hotels, Resorts & Spas in eight countries worldwide, under the Club Escapes Privileges Program, with more properties scheduled to open. An affiliation with Resort Condominiums International (RCI) opens up access to over 4,000 resorts worldwide to Club Owners. Sales preview centres are found in Bali Koh Samui, Phuket, Shanghai and Sanya.

For more information visit www.anantaravacationclub.com

Accommodation courtesy of Anantara Vacation Club Phuket Mai Khao, but all views and opinions in this review are purely that of the writer and her experience.

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My Singapore Writers Festival 2014 Journeyhttp://theoccasionaltraveller.com/2014/11/17/singapore-writers-festival-2014-journey/ http://theoccasionaltraveller.com/2014/11/17/singapore-writers-festival-2014-journey/#comments Mon, 17 Nov 2014 02:00:00 +0000 http://theoccasionaltraveller.com/?p=16119 Here are some highlights from the travel programmes that I attended at the Singapore Writers Festival 2014, the annual literary arts festival held in Singapore

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Last weekend was the closing weekend of the Singapore Writers Festival, the annual literary arts festival held to celebrate the love for the written word in Singapore. Somehow, I always happened to be away during the festival period previously, so since I was finally in town this year during the festival, I decided to pop by and check out some of the travel writing related programmes.

SWF2014
Festival Village at Singapore Management University Green along Bras Basah Road

Firstly, the SWF is quite massive. For just $20 for a festival pass, you had access to hundreds of events over the 9 days.Having to pick and choose what to go for can be a little intimidating! I ended up doing 3 things – checking out a panel discussion on travel guides, attending a lecture by a travel writer, as well as taking a tour of Singapore’s outlying districts to see how they inspired our own local writers.

PANEL: BEYOND TRAVEL GUIDES

First I popped by the panel for Beyond Travel Guides, which features Canadian travel author Michael Buckley, who’s written quite extensively about Tibet, and China guidebook writer/publisher Yap Seow Choong for a discussion on guidebooks in this day and age.

SWF2014 - Beyond Travel Guides
Beyond Travel Guides panel. Moderator Pamela Ho (left) with Michael Buckley (center) and Yap Seow Choong (right)

It was Saturday morning, so a smallish group, and there were a small handful of travel writers and bloggers in the audience even. Quite an interesting discussion, here are a couple of discussion points that I enjoyed:

  • The diversity of guidebooks – Guidebooks aren’t all packaged or written the same way, even if they belong to the same publisher. It depends very much on who their audience is and what their interests are. On hindsight, I wonder why this has never occurred to me that Lonely Planet New York perhaps might have quite different formatting than Lonely Planet Beijing for example – I’d always just assumed the standard layout would be the same.
  • The overexposure of guidebooks – places change when they’ve been listed in guidebooks, I liked this discussion on the dilemma of the ‘responsibility’ of the writer to write about what he/she knows at the risk of irreparably changing the place by exposing it to the world.
  • The best sources of information – both writers advocated talking to the locals to get the best information, though they said locals sometimes tend to have quite a different perception on what is interesting or not. Seow Choong likes talking to taxi drivers and students especially
  • Travel guides still rock – both writers still used travel guidebooks quite frequently despite the information age – you don’t need data and you definitely don’t have to spend all your time researching when all the information is in one place – the book is still the most reliable source to turn to quite often, even if somewhat outdated

 

LECTURE: THE ROADS I TRAVELLED

After that hour, I headed over to the School of the Arts for a special lecture called The Roads I Travelled by Paul Theroux, famous for this books featuring train travel like The Great Railway Bazaar, and one written in the 70s set in Singapore called Saint Jack, which was also turned into a movie. There was a separate ticket at $20 for this event, separate from the festival pass, and it was a sold out event! I was lucky to get a seat quite near close to the stage the front in the lower levels.

SWF2014 - Paul Theroux
The Roads I Travelled lecture by Paul Theroux, moderated by Yeoh Siew Hoon

I’ll be the first to admit that I’ve never read any of his books before, but I enjoyed his lecture where he talked about how places changed and what it was like to travel.

  • Travel as transformation – He said that one of the most enlightening things is to go back to a place and see how it transformed. He talked of how Singapore looked back in the 70s, with barely any tall buildings
  • Travel as flight and pursuit – simultaneously, travel is to flee and get away from your daily life, as well as a pursuit and chase to discover new things, or to follow others, and that the secret about travel is to discover whether or not we were meant to go back to where we came from. I’m pretty sure I’ll go back home, but then again, who knows?
  • Travel vs Tourism – he broke it down as travel being about having a bad time, that the hardships of travel revealed what you were truly like to yourself, whereas tourism was all about having a good time and enjoying yourself. Now I still don’t like how we sometimes glorify the word ‘travel’ over being a tourist because I believe we are all tourists when it comes down to it, but this was an interesting way to look at it.
  • Travel breeding humility and compassion – this was how he said travel changed him, making him into a more humble and compassionate person. And while his travels in recent years were more limited to the USA rather than global travels, it made him realize the a lot of the problems he had seen overseas were actually right here at home, as he told an anecdote of a woman telling of her son going to Africa to ‘help people’, when their home state in the USA needed so much help of its own

 

LITERARY WALK: BALIK KAMPUNG OUTER RING

On Sunday, yet another precious early morning where I was awake, I headed back to the Festival Village and hopped on the bus for the Balik Kampung Literary Walk of the Outer Ring, which would bring us to far-flung parts of Singapore that even not many of the locals would visit unless we lived there ourselves or had some reason to go there.

Balik Kampung, which is Malay for ‘going home’, is the name of an anthology of short stories by local Singaporean writers inspired by the neighbourhoods they lived in and edited by Verena Tay. For this tour, we were going to hope on a coach and visit 4 of the locations in the Western and Northern ends of Singapore to see the places that inspired the writers to create those story which will be found in the upcoming 3rd editions of the anthology series. We were a group of about 30 people accompanied by the writers themselves as well as the editor Verena.

SWF2014 - Booklet
Reading material on the bus – we received A4 printouts of story excerpts, as well as had the authors talk to us about the process, inspiration and other story details.
SWF2014 - Outer Circle
Nature meets the city state

Story 1 was based in Bukit Gombak by Joey Chin and Wong Hongyi, a story set around a muslim coffee shop called Thohirah. This neighbourhood has a large Muslim population and is more popularly known as Little Guilin, a disused quarry where they used to film period Chinese dramas. We walked through the estate, a little like lost ducks as the writers pointed out bits of the neighbourhood.

SWF2014 - Bukit Merah
Joey and Hongyi showing us the coffeeshop in the distance

Story 2 was based on an old crime and urban legends by Christopher Fok, and we stopped by Choa Chu Kang Park for a quick toilet break.

SWF2014 - Suicide Bridge
The pedestrian bridge across the expressway in the distance is apparently known around this parts as suicide bridge because people had taken to jumping off that bridge. It otherwise looks quite innocuous.

Story 3 brought us northwards to Yishun, which was writer Colin Cheong’s old neighbourhood, and he had pretty funny stories to tell about his past as a coast guard and teacher in charge of outdoor activities. We visited Yishun dam, where you can find mangroves, the last fishing village in Singapore and apparently crocodiles so you should think twice about sitting close to the water’s edge. I’d been here once before at night, but it’s a pretty nice serene spot.

SWF2014 - Yishun Dam Panorama
Panorama of Yishun Dam

Our last story brought us to Seletar Hills, once an old airbase which they have recently converted into a modern aerospace hub. I liked that the author Brandon Chew brought us out to the park where some of his story took place and read his excerpt out there – the rest of the authors read their excerpt on the bus, which at least made those journeys feel less lengthy but I felt like I spent most of my time on the bus.

SWF2014 - Seletar Hills
Under the tree in Seletar with Brandon

Overall I thought the tour was a great idea, but since it was the first time they were doing it too, I think they can afford to do more to keep it more interesting in future – it is quite dependent on how interesting the authors were (some more so than others). I would have liked more interactivity with the various neighbourhoods, perhaps a smaller more intimate group, and to have come away feeling like I’d really been behind the scenes of the stories.

So that was this year’s Singapore’s Writers Festival for me – did anybody else attend? If it did one thing, it definitely made me want to get cracking on the writing, which I know I’ve been slacking off on!

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A rare chance to enter the Roman Galleries of Lisbonhttp://theoccasionaltraveller.com/2014/11/11/rare-chance-enter-roman-galleries-lisbon/ http://theoccasionaltraveller.com/2014/11/11/rare-chance-enter-roman-galleries-lisbon/#comments Tue, 11 Nov 2014 02:00:00 +0000 http://theoccasionaltraveller.com/?p=16115 We just happened to be there on the rare day the Galerias Romanas were opened to the public. Find out what it's like to enter the Roman Galleries of Lisbon

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And finally, more Portugal blogs! Check out the overall trip recap for the quick and dirty about my 2-week trip around Portugal. You might have noticed a mention of something called the Galerias Romanas when I was in Lisbon…

Portugal - Lisbon Roman Galleries Sign
Galerias Romanas was open to public on 26 – 28 Sep 2014. We visited on 28 Sep 2014, the last day of entry!

Now prior to this trip, I hadn’t even known there was any sort of Roman influence in Portugal. It just happened that while me and Y were wandering around the Praça do Comércio (Commercial Square) area in downtown Lisbon and taking the famous Tram 28 around town, we came across a rather unusual scene – a portion of the road Rua da Prata had been blocked off to vehicular traffic save for the trams which run on fixed paths, and there was a really, really long queue formed on the sidewalk next to it.

Portugal - Lisbon Roman Galleries Tram Pass
Look at how close the tram passes by overhead

If that wasn’t weird enough, suddenly heads, and then people, started popping up from a manhole in the ground. What on earth was going on here?

Portugal - Lisbon Roman Galleries Entrance Road
Who are these mole people?

After a little bit of research and asking around, it turns out we happened to be in Lisbon during a rather rare event – The Roman Galleries of Lisbon are actually an ancient underground tunnels possibly used for water supply, drainage and storage that were discovered in 1771. These tunnels are usually flooded and have to be drained of water every year, and while that’s nothing particularly exciting in itself, the city council opens the tunnels to the public during a 3-day affair which attracts crazy long queues, with locals and tourists flocking to the site to check out some local history for themselves.

We Singaporeans think that anything with a queue must probably be for something good, and many of the locals I spoke to said that they wished to see them too, so Y and I decided to spend our morning checking out the Roman Galleries for ourselves, and participate in this rare event as a part of our trip.

We thought we would pop by a bit earlier to queue – the tunnels open from 10am – 5pm, but at 945am, the queue was already 2 blocks long!

Portugal - Lisbon Roman Galleries Queue
This was the queue which ends at the end of the street – about 1 block left to go! Imagine turning around and seeing 3x this queue…

Nonetheless, we popped into the queue to wait our turn. Groups were let in about 25 at a time, 2 – 3 groups at a go, but the queue was still super slow moving. As the hours ticked by, the queue inched forward, and as I looked behind at one point, it extended to a 3rd and possibly a 4th block! Man~ By the time it turned noon, they closed the queue for the day, imagine that.

Since we already in line, patiently we waited. Lots of people wandered by, staring curiously at this line of crazy people waiting in the sun. It was a good thing there were 2 of us, so someone could wander off for a break while the other stood in line. There were coffee and ice cream breaks, and just wandering around for a bit of a stretch as we continued to inch forward, bit by bit. There were all sorts in the queue – from groups of students and entire families, to couples and other lone travellers – it felt a little like everyone was there.

Finally, close to 4 hours from the time we joined the queue, we made it to the front, and it was our turn to descend into these famed tunnels! What secrets would wait beneath? It’s a climb down some narrow stairs where you have to watch your head from the low stone ceilings.

Portugal - Lisbon Roman Galleries Manhole
Going down…

The air was damp, humid and smelled not unexpectedly, like a sewer. Volunteers who have probably spent most of their weekend down the hole were clad in wellingtons and rainboots, there are puddles around but nothing that you need to wade through. We crowded into the narrow corridor, blinking in the dim lighting. There wasn’t much space, not with another 2 groups already down there.

Portugal - Lisbon Roman Galleries Tunnel
First glimpse of the tunnel, waiting for the rest of the group

Most unfortunately, our guide didn’t speak any English at all, despite the group being largely non-local, but she soldiered on nonetheless, probably explaining quite thoroughly in Portuguese the history and science of the roman galleries to those who understood. For the rest of us who couldn’t comprehend, it was merely a lot of looking around and photo snapping. Luckily we had had a bit of a primer while in the queue from another English speaking volunteer who told us a little bit about these tunnels – that they were used as storage at some point, and now they helped keep the city from flooding.

Portugal - Lisbon Roman Galleries Guide Group
Guide explaining about the Roman Galleries in a rather tight space

The tunnel system or at least what was accessible to the public doesn’t look very big – there are several ‘caves’ alongside the main pathways, thought to have been used for storage back in the day.

Portugal - Lisbon Roman Galleries Shadow Wall
Me and my shadow – Y takes awesome pix of me!
Portugal - Lisbon Roman Galleries Stooping
Get low, get low, get low, get low

There are various puddles of water to step around, and drippy ceilings to avoid.

Portugal - Lisbon Roman Galleries Feet
Our feet stayed relatively dry throughout

At one end there was even the glimpse of sunlight from above, an air hole opening perhaps?

Portugal - Lisbon Roman Galleries Manhole Light
Going up!

To be quite honest after all that wait, I kinda expected something a little more… impressive. The name ‘Roman Galleries’ conjures up grander imagery than a very large storm drain system, so personally you wouldn’t really be missing out if you skipped this, especially because it is a 2-3 hour affair at least, even if you went super early – we reached there about 945am and left close to 2pm! But now at least I can say I’ve had a truly local Lisbon experience :)

Portugal - Lisbon Roman Galleries Claustrophobia
Thanks Y for the awesome photos – here she is looking panicked in one of the very small tunnels in the complex

 

Information

The Galerias Romanas are located at the junction of Rua da Prata and Rua da Conceição. They are usually only open once a year during end September, but in 2014 they were opened in April as well.

Entrance is free with a mandatory guided tour by volunteers who let you down in groups, and opening hours tend to be from late morning to afternoon, though based on my experience you have to queue in the morning to ensure entry on that day.

More on the galleries here (Portuguese) and here (English)

 

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Daylesford Dreaming – A Weekend Getaway in Daylesford and Macedon Rangeshttp://theoccasionaltraveller.com/2014/11/06/weekend-getaway-daylesford-macedon-ranges/ http://theoccasionaltraveller.com/2014/11/06/weekend-getaway-daylesford-macedon-ranges/#comments Thu, 06 Nov 2014 02:00:00 +0000 http://theoccasionaltraveller.com/?p=16065 There's more to Australia than its famous cities - just a short drive from Melbourne, Daylesford makes a great weekend getaway for anyone looking to get away from the big city.

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Earlier in the year I was invited by the good folk from Daylesford and Macedon Ranges Tourism to go check out their region in the Victoria region of Australia.

But wait a minute – where on earth is Daylesford? That was the first question I asked – most people think of Australia as just Melbourne and Sydney and Perth, but don’t remember that Australia is actually quite a big place and not just made up of outback! Still, Daylesford was a place I had never heard of before, so I really was quite keen to check out what this alternative destination had to offer.

However, the thing about being an Occasional Traveller is that life often gets in the way of things, and without much leave days left, it didn’t look like I was going to be able to make this trip up (boo~~). So I decided to enlist a little bit of help from a friend who was going to be up in Melbourne that month, and asked her to take a little detour from her month-long Melbourne adventure and check out what Daylesford was like on my behalf – you might have seen some of the pix if you’re following me on instagram.

So please say hi to guest writer J, and I’ll let her tell you a little more about her awesome experience in Daylesford and how you can get up there for a quick getaway. I put all the spots in a convenient google map for you.

 


J:

So, this is long overdue. Lesson learned – it may not be a very good idea to come out of a month-long break away from home and hit the ground running the very next day. But all the same, thanks Jac for this amazing opportunity. I’m STILL dreaming of Daylesford, so here’s a throwback to my Winter Staycation in August 2014.

Daylesford was beautiful to behold – None of the shine of the modern city; just all things natural and soothing for what makes a person so at home in a place that calls itself the Well-Being Region. While the area is known for its spas and bathhouses, I think Daylesford has a lot more to offer to anyone who needs a good getaway. I could have stayed a lot longer than three days easily!

Once upon a time back in the 1800s, alluvial gold was discovered in the ground that is now Lake Daylesford resulting in a local gold rush. It’s an interesting thing to know because when I got there, there was no sign of the area having been a gold mining area at all. It’s all gardens and forests everywhere, and even in the more “industrialised” aspects – Daylesford definitely holds true to the classic Australian value of respecting and protecting the environment. A highly recommended road trip for anyone visiting Victoria, Australia!

 

GETTING THERE

In case you had no idea, Daylesford and the Macedon Ranges is an area northwest of Melbourne, still within Victoria. Here’s a map for visual reference, including some of the places of interest that I’ll be talking about below.

It’s about 1.5 hours drive by car, and you definitely want to be able to drive yourself around to really enjoy the area. Loved the journey, but I wouldn’t exactly recommend a stiff suspension vehicle unless you don’t mind the bumpiness and gravel at some parts – it is a natural area, after all.

 

PLACES TO VISIT

Hepburn Bathhouse & Spa
Visitors generally see Daylesford and Hepburn Springs as the same area, so that makes the entire area similarly known as a Spa destination. I had the privilege of visiting Hepburn Bathhouse with my travel buddy. It’s one of the many spa facilities in the area, but I’d think it’s the place to go.

Daylesford Hepburn Bathhouse Entrance
Entrance to the Hepburn Bathhouse & Spa

There are several similar spa facilities set in the Hepburn Mineral Springs Reserve, but this historic bathhouse one is the place to go. Just off the main Daylesford area, it is the only one that draws mineral waters directly from the Hepburn Springs so you get the best of the mineral waters, and for the history buffs, really feel what it’s like to soak in the vibes of what communal bathing must have been like back in the day.

Daylesford Hepburn Bathhouse Foliage
Surrounded by greenery

Hepburn Bathhouse and Spa opened way back in 1895 as a communal bath and was the only bathhouse in the area back then. This was about 30 years after residents in the area successfully petitioned for the mineral springs to be protected from the gold mining work (gold rush days, remember?) and thus the Springs Reserve was set up. The bathhouse compound underwent a major overhaul about 7 years ago, giving it a more modern look these days, none of that historical period look you might expect when you first enter.

Daylesford Hepburn Bathhouse Interior
modern interior after refurbishment

Cool, serene surroundings, modern – zen, if you will. The public bath actually looks like a hotel swimming pool, with a distinct light mineral scent in place of the heavy chlorine smell of swimming pools. Lots of corners for people to relax in. Obviously, I couldn’t get a decent picture with all those folks sitting in the bath, but you can find all that on their website. The waiting area is sort of a big den covered with parquet set in the ground of the first floor, and comes with such attentive service staff. All you really need to do is relax and sip some complimentary tea.

The only “work” we had to do was pick out the mineral scent we wanted for our private bath. That was a bit of a headache since I’m not a huge fan of essential oils, perfumes, aromatherapy et all – I always worry about these aromatic scents being too strong. With the help of the friendly staff, I ended up with something called Mummy Me Time (Mummy?? REALLY??) – It apparently is one of the favourites for its light scent and relaxing effect, and I highly recommend it to anyone with an aversion to strong aromatic scents.

Daylesford Hepburn Bathhouse Bath
private bath time!

The private spa we got was a surprise. It certainly kept to that old-school bathhouse look – nothing like the rest of the now-modern compound that we walked through. Honestly it didn’t look very comforting at first glance, what with all that smooth stone and the hard angles. The walls reminded me of a dungeon, albeit with a sizeable (translucent) window. Somewhat exciting, I guess.

But wow, the warm water was a different story.

With a small diffuser bag of “Mummy Me Time”, the 45-minute session was relaxing to the bone. I’m not sure if it was my imagination but I thought I could actually feel the tension seeping out of me. I have been in a hot tub before, but the mineral bath was something more despite my initial skepticism, and its relaxing effect would last for days!

Hepburn Bathhouse & Spa
Mineral Springs Crescent, Hepburn Springs VIC 3461, Australia

Spa/bathing packages can be found here, and can include accommodation as well, though you most basic package would be bathing and tea at A$32/pax.

 

WOMBAT!

I don’t know about you, but I absolutely LOVE wombats. They are such underrated creatures amidst the various Australian marsupials. They might look cute and cuddly, but are really a solid mass of muscle and power. Unfortunately they are also nocturnal, so we didn’t get to see any out in the day.

Anyway here’s a wombat. Sort of.

Daylesford Wombat Hill Wombat
Wanna see a real cute wombat? You shouldn’t miss this snuggly one here.

Fun Fact: according to wikipedia, Daylesford used to be called Wombat, that’s probably true because it is home to the Wombat State Forest, AND the Wombat Hill Botanical Gardens, among other Wombat-ty names!

Daylesford Wombat Hill Panorama
On top of Wombat Hill

You should visit Wombat Hill just because it makes for a real breath of fresh air. It’s a lovely place for a stroll – there is this creepy tower right at the top, though there isn’t much to see from the top of the tower.

Daylesford Wombat Hill Tower
The Creepy Tower
Daylesford Wombat Hill Tower Stairs
Daylesford Wombat Hill Tower Stairs

The drive around the top of the Hill is incredibly beautiful, even in the winter when I was there. In spring, the Botanical Gardens will definitely be even more of a sight!

Daylesford Wombat Hill Trees
green pathway

 

The Garden of St Erth

Daylesford St Erth House
Welcome to St Erth

This quaint cottage at The Garden of St Erth is all that is left of the little gold rush town area in the middle of the Wombat State Forest. It was built by a traveller who decided to settle in Daylesford during those days – complete with its own butchery and pig pen! Today, this cottage is the only tangible memory of that time, and the area has been transformed into a lovely organic garden by The Diggers Club.

The Diggers Club are advocates for clean growing and clean eating, providing educational tours of the gardens to show people that all sorts of edible plants can be grown right at home, no matter how much or how little space you have.

Daylesford St Erth Mustard
This is Mustard
Daylesford St Erth Turnips
rows of turnips
Daylesford St Erth Daffofils
pretty daffodils!
Daylesford St Erth Sorcerers Tree
The sorcerer’s tree is extremely rare! Apparently these purple hanging bulbs are hallucinogenic, but maybe that’s just a deterrent to stop people from plucking these pretty flowers

These gardening enthusiasts must be doing something right because the animals from the neighbouring forest like to come into the compound and help themselves to the edibles sometimes. They even have a regular wombat who visits and burrows around the plots!

In any case, this place is a must-visit for anyone who wants to try their hand at growing their own foods, something that is becoming more popular these days. The staff talked about how people sometimes underestimate the types of plants that can be grown in warm climates (like eternally-hot Singapore), but many of our much-loved fruits can actually be grown with just a balcony space.

The gardens were already beautiful when I was there in August (that’s winter down under), but they are expecting fields and fields of daffodils and other brightly coloured flowers in full bloom at year’s end  so take the weekend to check it out if you are in the Victoria region!

Daylesford St Erth Food Pasta
Yummy pasta
Daylesford St Erth Food Sausage Eggs
awesome bratwurst with homegrown veggies

The Garden of St Erth also has a family-friendly cafe with lovely al fresco seating, and you can imagine how good and fresh the air is out there. For those who are unconvinced about clean foods, they have the most amazing dishes whipped up from their very own organic produce that will probably change your mind. I’d always been a skeptic of all that hype about going organic, but these gardeners certainly put their money with their mouths are as advocates. Great full flavour from both the pasta and the vegetable-based sides accompanying that bratwurst.

The Garden of St Erth
114 Simmons Reef Road, Blackwood. VIC 3458
The Garden of St Erth is quite far out from the main Daylesford area, though – you definitely need private transport as it is about 45 minutes to an hour’s drive out from the main Daylesford area. It is an easy leisurely drive so even if you’re not a very experienced driver, you don’t have to worry much about crosswinds and stuff like that.

 

Creswick Woollen Mill

Daylesford Creswick Woolen Mills Sign
The old mills signage

My sister and I often joke that our dad loves “things that keep things warm” – this includes thermos flasks, woolly gloves, and of course, sweaters, so he would have had a ball of a time checking out the Creswick Woolen Mill.

Daylesford Creswick Woolen Mills Spinning
spinning all the fibres into yarn

They only spin the yarn at the mill, then ship the yarn elsewhere for manufacturing. What I found most fascinating was their showcase of the history of yarn, and the journey of fibres from harvest to spinning. If you’re not an avid fan of “things that keep things warm” like my dad, you probably didn’t know that there is such a variety of fibres used to make what most of us just call “wool”.

Daylesford Creswick Woolen Mills Possum
You can touch all the possum fur for yourself! There was cashmere, alpaca and merina fibres as well

Besides being quite an educational experience, the visit to the mill is quite a treat for kids and adults alike as you are able to read, see, AND touch the stuff. They also sell a lot of natural fibre toys and wearables on-site, and of course, FEED THE ALPACAS!

Daylesford Creswick Woolen Mills Alpaca
Meet my new friend Horlicks, the baby alpaca!

 

Creswick Woolen Mill
Railway Parade, Creswick VIC 3363, Australia
The Mill is one of those places that doesn’t quite have a precise address – it’s located in Railway Parade just off the Clunes Road – look for road signage to direct you there, or check at the Visitor Information Centre

There are tours daily of the Creswick Woolen Mills every hour from 11am – 2pm, tickets cost A$15 for adults

 

Sault Restaurant Daylesford

Daylesford Sault Table
Overlooking a beautiful feature lake

Dinner at Sault was the standout meal of the trip for me and my partner, an especially magical experience with the sun setting over a quiet lake.

Daylesford Sault Candle Sunset
Enjoying the sunset over dinner

It’s funny that most of the crowd came after dark and missed the sunset view – I’d definitely recommending going there about half an hour before sunset and enjoy some wine till your stomach is ready for dinner, especially if you are looking to impress your significant other. (There’s also a barn by the lake that’s popular for weddings, which you may have reason to take a look at :))

Daylesford Sault House
The new barn/chapel alongside stunning lavender fields
Daylesford Sault Dining Room
Crowded dining room!
Daylesford Sault Lounge
Grab a drink by the fireplace at the bar/lounge before dinner

Good food, good wine, great service, and an amazing view. It is a fine dining restaurant with all the trappings and multiple cutlery, but with none of the stuffiness. The wait staff were excellent, and were even able to make specific recommendations of wines to go with whatever we ordered.

Daylesford Sault Octopus Potato
STARTER: Grilled octopus, confit potato, black garlic aioli, edamame bean, smoked paprika, olive oil

The food itself was a gastronomic adventure, with unusual dishes that somehow just came together so nicely. I wasn’t sure what to expect, but i was certainly impressed by the dynamic flavours and
how good they tasted together.

Sault Restaurant Daylesford
2349 Ballan Daylesford Road, Daylesford 3460. Victoria, Australia

Mains cost around A$30-$40 on average. See website for detailed menu.

 

Hotel Frangos and Frangos

Daylesford Frangos Hotel Room 1
one of the 13 rooms in the hotel

This is a boutique hotel in the main Daylesford area. It has only 13 rooms, but is such a charming place,
with every single room and the corridor personally designed by the owners. This hotel is definitely for
those who enjoy a little flamboyance and eccentricity as the interior design has a lot of character.

Daylesford Frangos Hotel Room 2
Yes, the honeymoon suite has a mirror above the bed…

Also, a shout out to the Hotel Manager Bernard, who really went out of his way to show us around and personally see to our comfort – in keeping with the personal-touch approach the Hotel seems to be centered on.

Daylesford Frangos Jimmys Bar Fowl
Dinner at Jimmy’s Bar
Daylesford Frangos Jimmys Bar Dining Room
The dining room

There are two casual dining places at the Hotel which are popular for lunch, dinner and anything
in between. While we only had dinner at the one called Jimmy’s Bar – which has brilliant food and great local beers, it should also be noted that Cafe Koukla just across the hallway boasts Daylesford’s only
wood-fired pizza place!

Hotel Frangos and Frangos
82 Vincent St, Daylesford VIC 3460

 

This short road trip to Daylesford was courtesy of the folk from Daylesford and the Macedon Ranges Regional Tourism Board. Follow them on facebook or twitter @wellbeingregion. Photos, text and opinions thanks to guest writer J on behalf of The Occasional Traveller.

The post Daylesford Dreaming – A Weekend Getaway in Daylesford and Macedon Ranges appeared first on The Occasional Traveller.

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