The Occasional Traveller Occasionally Travelling, Always Inspiring Wed, 25 Mar 2015 03:09:12 +0000 en-US hourly 1 Cheung Chau – an island retreat from bustling central Hong Kong Wed, 25 Mar 2015 02:00:00 +0000 Checking out Cheung Chau - the little island getaway from busy Hong Kong with great seafood, awesome scenery for a fun day trip.

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

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



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

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



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

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

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

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

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

Hong Kong Cheung Chau - Signpost
Where to first?



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

Eat seafood – New Baccarat Restaurant

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


Grab some local desserts at Wan Sing Desserts

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

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

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

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

Wan Sing Desserts
3 San Hing Road


Touring the Temples – Pak Tai and Tin Hau Temples

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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




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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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



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

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


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

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


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

Hong Kong Cheung Chau - Leaving
bidding goodbye to the island

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Hong Kong just isn’t my place – a Post Trip recap Thu, 19 Mar 2015 02:00:00 +0000 Some musings on my feelings about Hong Kong and a post-trip recap of my artsy week and trips to the outlying islands.

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

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

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

Hong Kong Ferry Wake
Leaving the city behind

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

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

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


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

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

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


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

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


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

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Cabo Da Roca: What it looks like at the Western-most point of Europe Thu, 05 Mar 2015 03:30:00 +0000 An unplanned detour to Cabo Da Roca while heading to Cascais from Sintra gave us the most perfect sea view.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


Getting There

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

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

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Wallpaper Wanderer: Hungarian Parliament Building in Budapest Mon, 02 Mar 2015 02:00:00 +0000 Wanderlusting for Hungary? Travel Addicts Lance and Laura Longwell show you why you should visit with their pic of the Parliament Building in Budapest.

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It’s been awhile since our last Wallpaper Wanderer and the beautiful beaches of Byron Bay by Oksana. This time around it’s more awesome pix by Lance and Laura Longwell of Travel Addicts – remember their previous photo of La Raya Pass?

This American travel blogging couple were my fellow full-time working counterparts when we went through Bloghouse awhile back, but recently Laura’s decided to take the plunge by leaving her corporate job and trying out working for herself… all the best and hope to catch up with you sometime, somewhere in the world!

Their picture features somewhere I have never been before:

Wallpaper Wanderer - Hungarian Parliament Building
The colours are absolutely amazing. I can’t stop looking at that sky!

Lance and Laura Longwell:

Parliament Building; Budapest, Hungary

This photo of the Hungarian Parliament Building is one of our favorites. From the first time we saw a picture of this building, we knew we needed to travel to Budapest. Completed in 1904 to celebrate the 1000th anniversary of Hungary, the Parliament has become one of the most recognized symbols of the country. Designed by architect Imre Steindl in the Gothic style, it is one of the tallest buildings in the city.

Budapest is really one of the most beautiful cities in the world. Called the “Paris of the East,” the twin cities of Buda and Pest straddle the Danube River. From 1945 to 1989, Hungary was behind the “Iron Curtain,” but played a decisive role in the fall of communism in the 20th century. Any visitor to the city will be blown away by the rich history and immense beauty of the city.


Prague is probably the closest I’ve gotten to Budapest, but I’ve heard so many things about its beauty and hope to have a chance to visit it someday too! There are so many places on my ever-growing bucket list of places I want to see… is Budapest on your list too?


Do you have something that inspires you to travel?

What do you put on your wallpaper or just look at to inspire yourself to travel? It could be a fabulous quote, inspirational people, picturesque scenery, or even a quirky picture on your fridge… Wallpaper Wanderer is here to make you wanderlust! Send in your picture and a short blurb telling me why it inspires you to travel, either through email to jac [at] theoccasionaltraveller [dot] com or through the Contact page. I’ll pick my favourite ones and feature them here and on Facebook!

Missed the past Wallpaper Wanderers? Check them out here.

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The Perils and Pleasures of Solo Dining as a Traveller Mon, 16 Feb 2015 02:00:00 +0000 When you're travelling on your own, solo dining is something you'll have to do quite often. Here's what I love (and hate) about eating on my own overseas.

The post The Perils and Pleasures of Solo Dining as a Traveller appeared first on The Occasional Traveller.

People tell you that the best thing about solo travel is the absolute freedom that you have – no worrying about having to accommodate anyone else’s schedule but your own, or being able to change your mind on a whim, just because. All that is well and true, but despite that, the one thing I find perpetually challenging is having to dine on my own.

Dining Solo - Lionel Martinez
Solo dining by Lionel Martinez via Flickr CC

Which is weird because given my long work hours and that my family generally likes to eat earlier in the evening, I usually eat dinner at home by my lonesome anyway, but perhaps it comes from a lifetime of communal Chinese meals and that sense of community you get from sitting at a table together and sharing food, I’ve always found dining solo when travelling a little challenging and a tad lonely.

I’ve gotten a lot better at it – I can sit in a foreign restaurant on my own and order food much more comfortably now then when I first started travelling solo, but I still tend to avoid really crowded places and keep myself occupied by either reading or journalling. Some days I’ll just buy take out or hit a supermarket, and then find a random corner to picnic in or hide in my room to eat just because I don’t feel like dealing with dining alone.

I managed to find company in Tavira, so it was only when I hit Porto that I had to actively figure out most of my meals on my own. I stayed in a lovely private room at the Poets Inn, which was an amazing place to kickback at the end of the day but didn’t give me that much chance to meet new people – the private room was in a separate building from the rest of the hostel and they didn’t organize any of their own tours. I did join a bunch of other walking tours and made some friends then, but somehow at mealtimes I was mostly on my own.

Here’s why I find dining solo a pleasure… and a peril:


Pleasure – Eating whenever I wanted to

My priority on trips is usually to sightsee, so with limited time, I sometimes put off my mealtimes or eat on the go, which is harder to do when you’re travelling with other people and have to take their welfare into consideration. Not having to worry about anyone else’s palate also means you can eat whatever you feel like without worrying about whether you’re depriving your friends from something they wanted to eat.

Portugal - Porto Lunch Soup
This was a 4pm ‘tunch’ – I had gotten in to Porto around 2pmish and only decided that I needed to eat quite a bit later. That was a rather fishy soup and a side dish of rather odd fungi-like mushrooms


Peril – Overeating

Portugal - Porto Francesinha
Francesinha is a behemoth of a meat sandwich – it has pork, sausage, steak, ham all topped off with cheese, egg and a boatload of fries. It is a Porto specialty and Cafe Santiago specializes in it so you have to go eat it there.

I had to eat this amazing Franescinha dish at the popular Cafe Santiago on my own. The meat-cheese-egg combo was staggeringly delicious but the portion was hefty, and while I think I did quite an admirable job on finishing the dish, I also felt a little bit like exploding after that. Definitely no room for dessert after this!

Portugal - Porto Francesinha close up
A close up view – look at all that meat!


And having a whole bottle of wine by myself? Drinks definitely need company to be real good fun – drinking a whole bottle of port wine on your own, no matter how excellent, is just never as good.

Portugal - Porto Cruz Tasting
Except perhaps when you’re port wine tasting – you want to have all the wine then! The Porto Cruz wine tasting was a pretty modern affair in a room that looked very scientific


Pleasure – Making new friends

Portugal - Porto Gaia Restaurant Chicken
I was a bit tired of fish at this point, and a little bit lonely too – mushroom-chicken is totally my comfort food and wine never hurts

I wasn’t expecting to make any friends when I decided to dine along along the Douro river stretch in Vila Nova de Gaia, but as I savoured a very non-Portuguese meal of mushroom sauce chicken, the lovely J and S who sat in the next table from me in Porto struck up a conversation with me, which made dinner a lot less lonely. I would meet them again by chance the following day at Livaria Lello.

That same night after J & S departed, I ended up chatting up a merrily rowdy trio of travellers who took over their table as I was finishing my own meal, something I’m pretty sure I wouldn’t have done if I had a dinner companion of my own. I ended up joining their table that night, which led to quite a lot of laughs and port consumed. We even made vague grand plans to rent a car and head out to the Douro Valley, but at some point sobriety kicked in and I figured there was no way they were gonna wake up the next day from all that drinking (they departed to go dancing when I begged off to head back… and I was proven right the next morning), but it was a fun night while it lasted!

Portugal - Porto Cruz Rooftop Selfie
This was glass #6 – Port is deceptively sweet and makes you forget that it’s actually close to 20% alcohol – you can’t help but have a great time on a walking tour that involves copious amounts of port!

Then there was the Port Wine Tour I took with the Wild Walkers which brought us to the Ramos Pinto Wine Cave, followed by a visit to Porto Cruz, capped off with a sunset boat ride along the Douro River and a little fado at the end. I had 7 glasses of port and trust me when I say, people became real fast friends after the first few glasses :) We went for a huge group dinner later that night – though I don’t have any pictures of that!

Portugal - Porto Douro Boat Ride Wefie
Say hello to L and E as we cruise the Douro post wine tasting

Of course the lesson from all this could also be that alcohol is a great tool in the friend-making department, but you’re still more open to making friends when solo, alcohol or not.


Peril – It just isn’t as cost effective

Portugal - Porto Tasquinha Tripas Rice
Tasquinha is another very good restaurant to check out but I could not eat anything after eating this traditional dish of Tripas (white bean tripe soup) which could probably have fed 2 quite comfortably – and this was the HALF portion~

You can always tell when the Asians are in a restaurant because at some point, plates are going to be passed around and all the food at the table gets tasted. I personally enjoy eating meals as a group because by sharing, you get to order more food and have more variety, which is hard to do as a single person with a smaller budget. Also, I don’t eat a lot to begin with, so variety is hard when I’m on my own.

Portugal - Lisbon Principe do Calhariz
Me and Y at Principe do Calhariz in Lisbon – on top of this we had table sausage and a fishcake-looking cheese for sharing.

But if you are a small eater like me, it could result in savings just because you order smaller portions or you just don’t eat as much to begin with, and those savings can go to other things you might deem more important than food.


Pleasure – Increased propensity to be adventurous

Not that I’m unadventurous when eating with company – but one thing I like to do when I dine on my own is to get the waiter to recommend a favourite dish or house special. I am a notoriously picky eater but somehow I find myself being a little more daring when I’m on my own.

So far it’s been an interesting experiment – that’s how I ended up ordering Chanfana (a Lamb, or according to the waiter – goat stew) while in Coimbra because the menu was entirely in Portuguese and that’s what the waiter recommended. I didn’t love-love it – the soup/stew bit was kinda oily but it was a Portuguese specialty and rather unusual.

Portugal - Coimbra Chanfana
The fun part was that an old German couple sitting in the next table had ordered this dish too, and that got us talking. The restaurant owner decided that we were all adorable and brought over his special bottle of Fire Water (well it’s actually called Aguardente Bagaciera but it sure burnt its way down your throat) to share. I had 2 shots and slept quite deeply that night

And in yet another restaurant when I returned to Lisbon, I decided on the Special of the Day Bacalhau a bras, which is their famous cod shredded and mixed with potato, also recommended by a helpful waiter.

Portugal - Lisbon Bacalhoeiro Bacalhau a bras
I managed like… 2/3 of that plate. This portion was enormous


Peril – No one to share dinner conversation

Portugal - Porto Gaia Restaurant
Empty opposite seat – this was in Porto where I met J and S who were in the next table

Meals are a great time to commune, and after an awesome day of travels, it’s nice to take a break and reminisce about the day over good food and drinks. Solo dining opposite an empty seat may be a nice way to collect your thoughts on your own, but I personally like being able to have a conversation with someone. I usually use the time waiting for my order to arrive to either people watch or catch up on journalling, and if all fails there is the phone and wi-fi to catch up with friends instead!


How do you feel about dining solo on your travels? Are you cool with being a table for one, or wish you didn’t have to do it?

The post The Perils and Pleasures of Solo Dining as a Traveller appeared first on The Occasional Traveller.

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Checking out the Pacific Express Hotel Central Market in Kuala Lumpur Sat, 07 Feb 2015 02:00:00 +0000 A review of the Pacific Express Hotel Central Market located in the heart of Kuala Lumpur

The post Checking out the Pacific Express Hotel Central Market in Kuala Lumpur appeared first on The Occasional Traveller.

Hey y’all! Here’s a guest post that’s a little backdated from last year done by another friend and writer for The Occasional Traveller – Misty headed up to Kuala Lumpur over a long weekend last year, and I got her in touch with the Pacific Regency Hotel people so she could check out their hotels on my behalf. Here is her review on her stay.

(I don’t actually call her Misty, though that is one of the names she goes by. My guest writers have been surprisingly shy so far)


With all the long weekends beckoning in 2015, a perennial convenient and favourite destination for Singaporeans thinking of a short getaway is our neighbour Kuala Lumpur. With the strong Singapore Dollar to Malaysian Ringgit exchange rate, it always seems a good time to head up north to indulge in two of our famous pastimes – eating and shopping. I know I’m guilty of that too ^^

The folks at the Pacific Regency Hotel group kindly invited me and my partner to spend a night in the Pacific Express Hotel Central Market in downtown KL – Overall I enjoyed the short getaway in a city that’s really familiar to most of us, you don’t have to be stressed out by having to plan too much. I feel that the hotel is perfect for visitors who want to maximise their holiday by being right in the center of things in an affordable no-frills, yet comfortable hotel. Here’s more on my stay.

Pacific Express Hotel Central Market - Concierge
Pacific Express Hotel Central Market – Concierge



The hotel is located right in the thick of the action – as its name implies, it is right next to the famous Central Market in KL. Other popular landmarks within walking distance are Merdeka Square and Chinatown on Petaling Street.

To save time, we took the midnight coach up from Singapore – I recommend the KKKL Travel & Tours coach which is comfortable and reasonably-priced. I like that you can choose your Singapore departure point (Katong V mall, Tanjong Katong Complex or Tampines MRT) and KL arrival points (Berjaya Times Square and Chinatown)

We chose the Chinatown drop-off point in KL as it would be easier to get to the hotel, and in 5 1/2 hours  we found ourselves in the heart of Chinatown KL. At 5am, nothing much was open, so we camped at a 24-hour McDonald’s first to wait for the subway trains to start running. Once the city was up, finding the hotel was relatively easy with a map in hand. It is within 10 minutes walk of two LRT stations – Pasar Seni (near Chinatown) and Masjid Janek (right next to the mosque it is named after).

The central location also means that getting around by public transport is very convenient. You can walk to nearby attractions such as Chinatown and Central Market, or you can take the subway to the KLCC or Bukit Bintang shopping belts. There is also a free public bus service within the CBD area of KL, called Go KL although we did not try it, as the roads can get quite congested during weekend peak hours so the subway might be a better option.



Pacific Express Hotel Central Market - Room
Pacific Express Hotel Central Market – Room

We stayed in a Deluxe Room – a corner room on the top floor (8 stories up) which overlooks a busy square. The room was compact but comfortable, just right for one or two people who would be spending most of their time out of the room anyway. I liked the full-length windows that offered a great view of the square below. (Tip: if you HAVE to have windows in your hotel room, choose the Superior or Deluxe rooms, otherwise the windowless Standard rooms  are slightly smaller than Deluxe, but that’s about the only difference.)

The room offerings are pretty standard for your average hotel room – The furnishings still looked shiny and new – the hotel is less than a year old after all. And don’t worry, it comes with the very important feature – free wifi!

Breakfast was provided for our stay [is it a standard part of the hotel package? or extra?] which you have at Uncle Lim’s, the small café on the ground floor of the hotel. You get to pick from you to a set breakfast choice of American (eggs, sausage, hash brown, the works) or Asian (Nasi Lemak which is coconut rice with curry chicken; or Chinese style noodles in soup). I tried the nasi lemak, it was a pretty generous portion! The food was not too bad if  you’re too lazy to head out or need something convenient and quick.



Pacific Express Hotel Central Market - Pool
Pacific Express Hotel Central Market – Pool

Facilities wise, there is a nice rooftop swimming pool to lounge at that didn’t get too crowded and a small gym with attached bathrooms. If you are going to do some last minute sightseeing/shopping after check out time at 12pm, the hotel is happy to let you use the gym bathrooms to freshen up when you pick up your left luggage before leaving the hotel, which is great because you don’t have to endure a sweaty 6 hr bus ride back in the evening…

As for F&B options, besides Uncle Lim’s there is also a small 24-hour convenience store called where you can grab snacks and other light bites.


The hotel provides complimentary shuttle service to popular shopping malls at KLCC and Bukit Bintang at 10am and 3pm daily, you need to inform the concierge at least 30 minutes in advance to take the shuttle. We took the 10am one to Bukit Bintang which dropped us off at the Pavilion KL mall. Do note though that there is no return trip.

Pacific Express Hotel Central Market - Market
Pacific Express Hotel Central Market – Market

Pacific Express Hotel is a literal stone’s throw away from Central Market, so that’s something you definitely can’t miss. Stepping into this large two-storey building is like entering an Aladdin’s cave of arts and handicraft goods: neatly laid out in themed lanes are stores selling traditional fabrics and ethnic crafts, tourist souvenirs and knick-knacks, antiques, artwork, handbags and clothes, among others. We even spotted a full suit of armour at one of the corner stores on the second floor! Another bonus: the whole market is air-conditioned, a welcome respite from the humidity (or rain) and there is a food court on the second storey.

Pacific Express Hotel Central Market - Street
Enjoying the empty streets: On my right is the Sultan Abdul Samad Building, a historical landmark where Malaysia declared her independence on 31 August 1957. The building is now home to government offices. To my left (and not in the picture) is Merdeka Square.

Merdeka Square is a short walk away on the other side of the hotel, and we discovered that fthe roads in front of Merdeka Square are closed to traffic from Saturday nights to Sundays. This is so that visitors can roam around the attractions freely, and there are even parades and activities held on the roads sometimes. There are also many cultural attractions located nearby and worth checking out if you have the time, such as the National Textile Museum, and Kuala Lumpur City Gallery.

Plenty of food options are within walking distance of Pacific Express Hotel, from traditional Malay and Indian fare (nasi lemak, biryani) to the lively restaurants along Chinatown. There is a highly recommended nasi briyani stall just right opposite the hotel, called “Nasi Briyani Tajuddin”, that’s known for its deep fried chicken and sambal chilli. Word of warning: it closes after lunch so please go early if you want to have the best selection of dishes, as I discovered to my dismay (it was closed by the time we made our way down after lazing in the hotel in the morning!)



A Deluxe Room normally goes for RM 147 and above, which is pretty decent for a mid-range, centrally located hotel with new amenities. Though if you don’t mind taking the smaller Standard rooms without windows, prices drop to around RM 100, and they even dropped prices as low as RM 59 for twin sharing during the last holiday season! Check out the offers page on their website for the latest deals.


Pacific Express Hotel Central Market
Jalan Hang Kasturi, 50050 Kuala Lumpur

The post Checking out the Pacific Express Hotel Central Market in Kuala Lumpur appeared first on The Occasional Traveller.

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Thoughts on Solo Travel in the Tiny Town of Tavira Portugal Mon, 02 Feb 2015 02:00:00 +0000 Re-learning how to travel solo and make new friends as I navigate the little town of Tavira Portugal, on the Eastern Algarve coast, with tips on what you can check out there.

The post Thoughts on Solo Travel in the Tiny Town of Tavira Portugal appeared first on The Occasional Traveller.

Travelling with someone else is a very intimate experience. Spending most of your time together in a foreign place inevitably shows you what that person is like, stripped away from the trappings and comforts of home. You truly know a person through travel, and I always say that if you can travel together, you’ll be friends for life.

I had just spent about a week with Y traipsing around Lisbon and Lagos, experiencing the wonders of street art and hilly streets together. So getting on that train and heading from western Algarve across to the east on my own, felt a little lonesome at first. You’ve just gotten used to travelling with someone, and now you’re solo again, having to watch your own bags and eat meals on your own.

Portugal - Tavira Sign
Fresh off the train in Tavira, feeling slightly untethered in Tavira

Things seemed kinda lonely right from the start as I left Y behind on the platform of Lagos. It took a bit of a search to finally find my Airbnb apartment (such small signs~) and my lovely host Dina would be a wealth of useful information later on, but right that afternoon she was suffering a massive toothache and departed quite quickly to get to a dentist. Since I was the first guest to arrive that day, the house was completely empty once she left.

Portugal - Tavira Gilao Burger
Me having a lonesome lunch by the river at Restaurant Gilao. I was a little tired of all the fish we’d been having so I settled for a burger with mushroom bacon and cheese.

So here I was, newly solo and feeling a little stranded, without much clue as to what to do in this tiny little town. Perhaps I’d arrived in mid afternoon and it was blazing out, but man, Tavira was really quiet, especially compared to the buzz of Lisbon and Lagos. I had no luck locating the tourism office at first (I just kept walking by it for some reason), and so decided to have a bit of a wander on my own after lunch. No maps, no GPS, just good ol’ fashioned exploration on foot, and relearning to talk to the voice in my head.

Portugal - Tavira River Gilao Reflective
The River Gilao – everything was rather still and hot that afternoon. This was my view while eating my burger
Portugal - Tavira Roman Bridge
The Roman Bridge that’s not really Roman. There’s another smaller bridge towards the right side that was supposed to be temporary but turned out to be a rather permanent fixture
Portugal - Tavira Rio Gilao Bridge
Crossing the Roman Bridge – there’s little streets and restaurants but in terms of sights, not much to see

I did come across some interesting things when wandering around, and had a merry time eating ice cream on my own.

Portugal - Tavira Climbing Tree
Pretty creeper tree. Also, my horizons aren’t off – remember that Portugal is all hills everywhere~
Portugal - Tavira Colourful Flowers
Pretty colourful flowers!
Portugal - Tavira Door Knockers
I spotted these on a few doors, very very creepy silvery hand knockers *shiver*
Portugal - Tavira Tyre Swan
That’s actually a tyre, how clever!

It turns out this tiny town was the perfect segue back into going solo, and before I returned to the buzz that would be my next stop Porto. Tavira might be less well known compared to all the other places on my itinerary, but you know how when your friends rave about the place, you kinda have to check it out just to see if they were right? I’m glad I did, because Julika was definitely right about this place.

And as solo travels go, I wasn’t alone for too long – while sketching out on my balcony during sunset, I met my newly arrived neighbour, dutch lady V, who just finished attending a conference nearby and was on her own for a day or two before returning home to Amsterdam.

Portugal - Tavira Guesthouse Balcony Sketch
Sketching on the balcony. You could actually see the castle walls on the right side. That balcony on the right belonged to V and was how I met her :)
Portugal - Tavira Restaurant Avenida V
Hello my friend V! Here we are having a very sumptuous dinner at Restaurante Avenida recommended by our host. It wasn’t crowded, the food portions were ginormous and it was amazing. I’m having some codfish with prawn sauce with chips (yes that entire plate was my dish). We split a bottle of vino verde and even have pudding for desert, oh my.

I’d also finally found the tourist office and picked up a map, so we ended up exploring Tavira together the next day where we made another friend during dinner in the next table (also Dutch, though from another part instead, but what are the odds… Hello E! We hung out in the town square for drinks when V headed in a little earlier.

If you’re in Tavira on your own, I suggest you go wandering a little, but here’s a couple of things you can check out:


Castelo de Tavira (Tavira Castle)

Portugal - Tavira Castle Garden
That’s Santa Maria Church on the left. The

Probably a bit of a misnomer as there’s hardly any castle left, but some random walls and towers. It does have a beautiful garden and you can climb the walls and towers (no safety barriers whatsoever, be careful!) and it offers an amazing view of the surrounding town and the river Gilao.

Portugal - Tavira Castle View
The River Gilao leads out towards Tavira Island in the distance

The castle is right next to Torre de Tavira (see below) and the Santa Maria church.


Torre de Tavira (Tavira Tower)

Portugal - Tavira Torre Tavira
The Tower – the structure on the left is the lift that brings you up. On level 1 is a tiny little hut where the welcome area is, and chairs/benches line the inside walls for when it gets crowded

This innocuous looking water tower is located one of the highest points in Tavira’s old town, right next to the Santa Maria church and the old Tavira Castle. The water tower also houses something called the Camera Obscura, which we were a little curious about so we went to check it out when it opened at 10am.

Portugal - Tavira Camera Obscura
Exiting the lift, you find yourself in a cavernous dark room that goes pitch black when the guide shuts the door, save for the light coming from the lenses above the bowl

It costs you 3.50euros, and there was just another older Canadian couple there when we were there. Our guide brought us up via a rather modern lift, and we stepped into the water tank itself. A boardwalk of sort had been built, and right in the centre is a large shallow curved bowl.

Portugal - Tavira Camera Obscura Guide
The guide controls the lenses with 2 ropes. It’s surprisingly rudimentary but the picture quality is pretty damn amazing

Camera Obscura turned out to be a rather large life-size pinhole camera, which projected live images of the surrounding town onto the shallow bowl via special lenses installed on top of the tower! It was a little bizarre how clear the detail was – you could see bird flying and our guide gave us a virtual tour of Tavira, zooming into various landmarks and telling us some history. I think we were lucky that we had such clear weather – the guide mentioned that strong winds were the most problematic for the Camera Obscura experience as it meant the lenses (and thus the image) would be rather shaky.


Ilha De Tavira (Tavira Island)

Portugal - Tavira Beach Panorama
Click on the picture for a panoramic view of the absolutely beautiful beach

The beach on Tavira Island is a must-visit if you’re ever in Tavira – I had enjoyed the coastline of Lagos, but this beach here is just amazingly beautiful and not crowded at all, at least when I was there! The weather in October was hot and great for sunbathing, but the waters were kindaaaaaa cold for a tropical person like me. Still, I braved the waters and had an amazing time just chilling out on this beach with V.

Portugal - Tavira Beach Superbock
Enjoying a half pint of superbock (okay 2) before hitting the beach

The midday sun was blazing when we arrived on the island, so we hid out at a random eatery called Sunshine cafe for some lunch first – decent food, there are a bunch of restaurants on and of course you can’t be on the beach without some ice cold beer…

Portugal - Tavira Beach Deckchairs
Empty deckchairs at sunset just before we left

Our guesthouse awesomely provided each room in the house with a foldable beach umbrella, so we brought that along with us and saved some euros by not having to rent a cabana or deckchair along the beach.

Portugal - Tavira Beach Umbrella Shore
I had a lovely green umbrella. The trick is to hang your towel and clothes up to dry in the frame of your umbrella

I spent my name alternating between hiding in the shade of my umbrella, to reading and journalling, and finally took the plunge in the rather cold waters. V had absolutely no problems with the water, so I think I’m just too used to the warm waters of Southeast Asia!

Portugal - Tavira Beach Feet
Chilling out
Portugal - Tavira Beach Shore
I don’t know if it was the time of the year, but the beach was very pleasantly empty

If you have more time, you could also go birdwatching in the nature reserves on the island. There are also other beaches in different spots that you could check out – have a look at this list.

Getting there: the beach is on a separate ‘island’ that’s only accessible by ferry or water taxi. The easiest way to get there is via the Ferry service that runs along the River Gilao, at a spot in the town centre just past the old market. The ferry leaves on the hour/half hour, and runs till later during the summer season, so make sure you check the timings first. There are water taxis available as well if you don’t want to rush for the ferry, but it’s definitely the cheapest way to get to the island at just 1.90 euros for a round trip that takes a leisurely 20mins.

Once you reach Tavira Island, it’s about 5-10 mins walk from the ferry pier to the beach, where you’ll pass through camp sites and restaurants. Just follow the crowds, but once you reach the beach, they all seem to dissipate.

Portugal - Tavira Island Ferry Schedule
Ferry schedule in October. Judging from the black stickers, I thnk they start and end later during peak summer season!
Portugal - Tavira Island Ferry
The ferry has 2 levels – you want to try and get on the upper deck for fresh air, but the bottom deck does have windows as well

STAY: Tavira Guest (on Airbnb)

This was my first Airbnb stay ever! I enjoyed my stay there and glad I had both the privacy and space of my own room, as well as the option to be sociable over breakfast or with my neighbours on the balcony. (First time users to Airbnb can use this link for S$34 credit, which will be passed on to me as well!)

Getting there: It’s a direct walk from the train station, about 15-20mins walk down cobblestoned streets. It’s located on Rua Dr Augusto Carlos Palma with no block or unit number, so it took me walking up and down that little road and finally calling the host Dina before I realized I was actually standing in front of the place all along.

Dina managed to find me and showed me in. Warning for luggage carriers – the apartment is 3 storeys up and there’s no lift, which kinda sucks but you will appreciate having a room higher up because it does give you a nicer view.

Portugal - Tavira Guesthouse Entrance
See that tiny little sign on the door? Yeah I didn’t. You have a key for the building door, the main door upstairs and your room door. The other tenants in the building seem to be commercial – there’s a radiologist on the 2nd floor if I remember correctly.

The Room: I had a literary themed room – with some quotes by Fernando Pessoa on the wall. The room was large and airy and such a literal breath of fresh air after the somewhat cramped room Y and I shared in Lagos.

The shared bathroom was right outside my room so that was convenient. There were about 6 rooms in total, and they were fully occupied on my first night there. One or two of the rooms had their own bathroom, so sharing wasn’t too bad.

Portugal - Tavira Guesthouse Room
It does get afternoon sun, so I had to have the shutters down to keep the room cool. There’s a little sofa seat on the right side just out of frame

Of course my favourite spot was the balcony which overlooked a street corner so it got a little noisier during dinner time, but not overly so. There was a pretty popular restaurant with Al Fresco seating just across the street, though Dina recommended going to Restaurant Avenida just 5 mins away.

Portugal - Tavira Guesthouse Balcony Panorama
Click for panorama of my balcony view! That main road with the zebra crossing is where Restaurant Avenida is located, just a little past the zebra crossing
Portugal - Tavira Guesthouse Balcony
Watching the sunset

The House: The place is pretty spacious and you can get a lot of privacy in the room, which is nice. Location wise it’s also very convenient – you’re about 5-10mins walk from the River Gilao, which in essence puts you within a 15 min radius of practically everything important nearby!

Portugal - Tavira Guesthouse Bathroom
Shared bathroom with a shower on the left.
Portugal - Tavira Guesthouse Hallway
Main hallway entrance. My room door was behind me
Portugal - Tavira Guesthouse Kitchen
The kitchen where you can pick up breakfast in the morning
Portugal - Tavira Guest Breakfast
Breakfast is part of the package, feels like a typical hostel breakfast of bread with ham/cheese and cereal + milk

Here’s a helpful map of what I saw. For such a small place there are actually quite a lot of churches here, but while some like the Misericordia were small but quite impressive inside, I either had not-great pix or wasn’t allowed to take them, so I’ll spare you that.

Have you been to the tiny town of Tavira? What was your experience like?

The post Thoughts on Solo Travel in the Tiny Town of Tavira Portugal appeared first on The Occasional Traveller.

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What art would you put in your Hypothetical Mansion? Wed, 28 Jan 2015 02:00:00 +0000 "In my Hypothetical Mansion" was something borne out of my visits to artsy galleries and museums and has kept me entertained even as I learn to appreciate the art. Try it for yourself!

The post What art would you put in your Hypothetical Mansion? appeared first on The Occasional Traveller.

So lately you might have noticed my Instagram feed getting all artsy recently as I check out several arts events that fall under Singapore Art Week, which as its name implies is a full week (9 days actually) chock-full of visual arts related events happening all around Singapore. Many of the programmes extend beyond these 9 days, and I was going to write a more proper and informative post on my recs for you to check out for an artsy weekend of your own in Singapore…

But you know what, I thought I’d let you in on you something I often do when I check out art exhibitions that’s a whole lot more fun~

Despite working in the arts, I appreciate art on a very layman scale – I either like it or I don’t, I have relatively few deep thoughts about the art I see. To amuse myself, one thing I do to decide how much I like /dislike an artwork is something I call the Hypothetical Mansion Scale.

Carson Mansion - Kay Gaensler
I’d like to think that my Hypothetical Mansion would have quite a lot of character, both inside and out! Photo by Kay Gaensler via Flickr CC

It’s really very simple – All you need to do is look at a piece of artwork and ask yourself these two questions:

  1. Would I buy this for my Hypothetical Mansion? Imagine yourself as a filthy rich person with an endless supply of money, looking to fill up your imaginary giant mansion with art. Remember, money is no object – you can afford any art piece(s) that you lay your eyes on because you are rollin’ in dough.
  2. If I buy this for my Hypothetical Mansion, where would I display it? Your mansion can have any amount of rooms or types of rooms as you want – think about where you would display your art piece, and why. Space is no constraint either.

It works best for visual arts pieces that you can buy, and is most fun when played with a few like-minded friends – you might be surprised what types of answers they’ll give which is a fun way to discuss art. Also, I think it’s a way to entertain yourself if you’re not much of an arts enthusiast and find yourself being dragged through galleries by your more avid culture vulture buddies when on travels, or you are in a foreign museum with no way of reading the texts for further explanation.

Slightly irreverent reviews ahead! Let’s get started:


Cloud Series by Suzann Victor

There are a bunch of works in the cloud series, mostly fixed to the wall and of different colours, but this was the largest one and suspended from the ceiling.
Love the colours!

Would I buy this for my Hypothetical Mansion? YES, it’s really pretty! Pictures don’t really do it justice

Where would it go? In my Hypothetical front hallway, hanging in a high well-lit stairwell above the heads of guests who have just entered through the main door. I love the way it catches the light and the intricate detailing made with something as simple as paper pulp and acrylic!

Imprint: New Works by Suzann Victor
STPI (41 Robertson Quay)
Exhibition till 21 Feb 2015
Free entry! It’s a small gallery and collection – catch it soon!


Golden Teardrop by Arin Rungjang

This work is pretty mesmerizing close up – so precise you can see different patterns emerge as you walk around the ball
Here’s how the work looks like from further away. It is accompanied by a video piece but I didn’t think that was particularly interesting

Would I buy this for my Hypothetical Mansion? YES, the detail is quite exquisite, it’s quite arresting in person

Where would it go? I’d like to put it somewhere at floor level because there’s something quite fascinating about the patterns that emerge as you walk around the structure. I’m thinking a centerpiece in my large round Hypothetical driveway so I could circle it with my fancy car as I drop off my keys for my personal valet to park (I am living it up in my Hypothetical Mansion)

Asia Pacific Breweries Foundation Signature Art Prize
Singapore Art Museum, 71 Bras Basah Road
Exhibition till 15 Mar 2015
Free entry for Singaporeans! $10 for tourists

*The 2014 Signature Art Prize winner has already been chosen, but notable works I liked were Yao Jui-Chung + Lost Society Document‘s quite arresting photo/documentary series on disused public property in Taiwan and the very fantasy story-like Custos Cavum (Guardian of the Hole) by South Korean artist Choe U-Ram.


Utama’s Cat by David Chan

The museum security guard was very keen to know whether we realized it was a lion and not an actual cat (Utama refers to Sang Nila Utama, the dude who supposedly spotted a lion and named our little island ‘Singapura’)

Would I buy this for my Hypothetical Mansion? Maybe… I was a little underwhelmed by its smaller-than-expected size – this would have been really impressive if it was about 3x its current size. I did like that the lion was quite visibly made up of old furniture bits!

Where would it go? Perhaps a corner of one of my many hypothetical front lawns!

Singapore Art Museum, 71 Bras Basah Road
Exhibition till 15 Mar 2015
Free entry for Singaporeans! $10 for tourists


Cattleland by Eunice Lim

Cows! Quite a large and eye catching piece of work!

Would I buy this for my Hypothetical Mansion? Well it’s not for sale, but I’d be happy to commission someone to paint this on a wall.

Where would it go? I’m thinking a corner of my very large Hypothetical garden, maybe a garden shed?

This was a part of ArtWalk Little India by LASALLE College of the Arts. I hope they keep the works here permanently! This particular piece can be found at the exit of Little India MRT station along Buffalo Road. 

Falling Water by Hiroshi Senju

I imagine being a very, very small person looking at giant underground waterfalls in the distance

Would I buy this for my Hypothetical Mansion? Yes! i had no idea who the artist was when i first saw this at Art Stage, but I immediately thought of underground caverns and waterfalls – there’s something quite mystical and pretty about it. (I’d also been rewatching some of The Hobbit movie extras, so this made me think of some underground cavern in Middle Earth)

Where would it go? In a nice long corridor to be admired as you stroll from one end to the other.

Day Falls/Night Falls by Hirosho Senju
Sundaram Tagore
Blk 5 Lock Road, #01-05, Gillman Barracks
Exhibition till 8 March 2015
Free entry

I first saw this work at Art Stage, but the artist Hiroshi Senju is also having an exhibition at Sundaram Tagore gallery, where they are showing his latest works done with UV ink, which has a really cool glow at night! Definitely another work that looks better in person!

More enchanting in person, the blue glow is kinda eerie but very cool. Sadly they closed the gallery by the time I got there, so I only got to see this from outside!


Maya942 by Park Seung Mo

Can you believe that this is exquisitely layered wire mesh and a little bit of lighting? I can’t imagine how he pictured this in his head and got wire mesh to have such nuanced details!

Would I buy this for my Hypothetical Mansion? From afar without the lights on, you wouldn’t be as drawn to it, but the glowing light really highlights the wire mesh and makes the work come alive.

Where would it go? Hm perhaps on a staircase landing on the way to an upper level. Somewhere you can chance upon this work for a nice surprise!

I saw this artwork at Art Stage Singapore 2015, and while there isn’t any exhibition happening, you can find out more about artist Park Seung Mo at Ode to Art’s website here. Their gallery is located at Raffles City Shopping Centre, #01-36E/F

Carlos Róne / Dzine

I like the reflections, and it is kinda trippy~

Would I buy this for my Hypothetical Mansion? It is kinda trippy, I didn’t really like most of his other stuff, so you could say this was my favourite. I like the weird reflections and the neon yellow

Where would it go? Well it’s not particularly practical is it? Random alcove or corridor near a window to catch the light

Carlos Róne / Dzine: Mi Casa
Pearl Lam Galleries
Blk 9 Lock Road, #03-22 Gillman Barracks
Exhibition till 15 March 2015
Free entry

Monarch by David Mach

That’s all silver hangers. Once again, how is this possible??

Would I buy this for my Hypothetical Mansion? Apparently I’m drawn to really weird and intricate sculptures for my Hypothetical Mansion – Yes I would totally buy this.

Where would it go? I’d put it right in the main hallway (Under the Suzann Victor work?) or possibly right by my front gate, just because.

If you are observant, you might realize that there was a similar work of a gorilla in my previous Art Stage post – the British artist David Mach has a whole series of sculptures made from silver coathangers. They are pretty large and definitely hard to miss!


And finally, I leave you with a bizarre set of works that I came across at the hotel art fair Art Apart, which while supposedly had an urban art theme, but didn’t really impress me much at all. I forgot the artist’s name, but man these are trippy. Definitely not making it to my Hypothetical Mansion!

Yes, those are loaves of cat bread

Hope you guys have fun during your next trip to the gallery! And remember, these are purely personal opinions, I can’t say I’m any sort of expert – For the record this record-selling $2.15 million Damien Hirst work at the recent Art Stage 2015? Did not make it to my hypothetical mansion at all (neither did I realize butterflies were involved, I saw it from afar and said “wow that looks like the entrance to a fancy Chinese restaurant”.)

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Reviewing the Lily Cup Compact – the world’s first collapsible menstrual cup Thu, 15 Jan 2015 02:00:00 +0000 A review of the Lily Cup Compact, a menstrual cup with a rather interesting collapsible function

The post Reviewing the Lily Cup Compact – the world’s first collapsible menstrual cup appeared first on The Occasional Traveller.


(sorry boys, that’s the hint for you to read another post if you are squeamish, but just so you know women are always pleasantly surprised when men know more than just ‘PMS’ when it comes to feminine matters, so read on for research purposes!)

Back to the ladies – you’ll know that when it comes to that womanly time of the month, I am a pretty strong proponent of using a menstrual cup over pads and even tampons. It’s environmentally friendly, space saving and comfortable once you get the hang of it, all important things you need as an active female traveller who wants to spend her travel time worrying about what to see than whether she’s sprung a leak.

I started off with the Lunette, and I currently use the Victoria’s Love with its convenient discharge valve, so at first glance the only thing that intrigued me about the Lily Cup Compact was its slightly odd shape:

Holding the Lily Cup Compact in my hand to give you an idea of the size. Most cups have smooth surfaces, so the ridges on these were what caught my eye. That’s its container in the background, but how does it fit…

And then it did THIS:

Like holy guacamole that’s how it fits into the container!

Like, how cool is that? The creator apparently took inspiration from Japanese collapsible cups and wanted something equally elegant. I love how you can collapse it down into something so flat, which makes it so much easier to slip into your bag – the problem with the usual menstrual cups is while they aren’t particularly bulky, their bulb like shape does take up precious space when you’re trying to minimize carrying around a load.

How the cup looks when collapsed from the side

The Lily cup in compact form is easy to palm discreetly and relatively flat, so it’s easy to pack into tiny bags. When you’re travelling around and trying not to carry too much, this definitely goes a long way.

The folks at Intimina kindly sent over one for me to try – I’ve been using it for about 2 months now to get a better feel for it, and am quite happy with it so far. I’m using the Small size A (there’s a larger size B), so it does have to be removed and emptied more often especially in the start of my period, but on lighter flow days, I can wear it comfortably all day without feeling a thing. I like the Victoria’s Love cup for the convenience of the discharge valve, but the stem is quite a lot longer (by virtue of the fact that it also functions as a discharge valve, it would be a pain to use if the stem was too short!) so you are definitely more aware that you’re wearing it.

Putting the menstrual cups side by side with a typical pantyliner as a size reference. The pink one is the Lily Cup, the green one is the lunette and the clear one is the Victoria’s Love. While the VL is the longest, the width of the cup on top is actually smaller

When it comes to the material, the Lily Cup compact uses a medical grade silicone which is really soft compared to the Lunette which is harder while the Victoria’s Love is more rubbery feeling. I had concerns that the collapsible nature of the Lily Cup Compact would make insertion hard, but in fact I think it actually helps instead – I used to have problems getting the cup to ‘pop’ back open (you need to fold it when you insert, and then wiggle it around a bit for the folded cup lips to pop back open and create the seal inside of you. but something about the shape of the collapsible system makes it pop back open more easily.

The only thing I noticed that I didn’t like was that there seemed to be a bit of staining inside the cup that can’t be washed away completely, but that’s a pretty minor thing all around. Also I wish it wasn’t so pink – I know it’s a girly thing but it would be cool if there were other colour options.

Right now I use the Victoria’s Love for heavy days and switch to the Lily Cup Compact for medium to light days. I’ve also taken to carrying the Lily Cup in my bag because it’s so compact.


The Lily Cup Compact has done quite well for itself, getting successfully funded on Kickstarter. It’s also currently being sold for US$39.90 on its website, which might seem expensive, but think about how much time and space you’ll save from buying pads in the long run – the recommended lifespan is up to 5 years!

Check out the Lily Cup Compact on the Intimina website here. I’m happy to answer any questions if you are curious about menstrual cups in general, just drop a comment here so we can care and share :)

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Why you should take time to make travel memories (and how to do it) Mon, 12 Jan 2015 02:00:00 +0000 Why I keep such extensive travel journals, a look at my stash and how you can create your own travel memories too

The post Why you should take time to make travel memories (and how to do it) appeared first on The Occasional Traveller.

Back in the day before the idea of travel blogging was a thing for me, I always been an avid sort of journal keeper, a little obsessed with preserving my memories and just remembering things. I had a personal blog (from 2003, aw blogspot~) and various caches of organizers-cum-diaries that recorded both my schedule and my thoughts all the way from 1997.

So when I started travelling on my own, that naturally extended to me keeping physical travel journals, which is something I continue to do, even today. My earliest proper travel journals were back from 2007, my grad trip to Taiwan (I actually have scans of my journals in there if you are interested!), and a semi-solo visit to a friend in France and Spain, but I have random souvenirs, keepsakes and notes on hotel stationery from even earlier which are stored in a separate box.

Travel Journals Labelled
Travel journals from my trips in recent years. You will notice they are more like travel packets rather than journals because I use the notebook to hold lots of other ephemera like maps, tickets, brochures and other knick-knacks!

It’s kinda fun looking back now and flipping through these old memories – it brings back memories of things that happened that I had half-forgotten, and even some moments that I don’t recall anymore but remember again because I recorded them faithfully in a cute little notebook while in transit somewhere. I’m pretty sure some of my current memories are aided by the fact that I wrote them down – that act of recording helps me sort out the jumbles in my mind and gives coherence to stories that become, which makes for stronger recall and recollection of fun anecdotes :)

Travel Journals Spain 2008 Ducks
This was from a family trip in 2008 to Madrid where I was convinced I saw the biggest ducks, ever! I don’t think I have pix of these nor do I really recall exactly how the ducks look like, but it’s fun to see that even 7 years on, I’m pretty sure I would still be as in awe of huge ducks as I was back then

One of the main reasons I started The Occasional Traveller was as a way to electronically record these memories and sync them up with all the digital photos that I had, and it definitely makes it easier to find info, but there’s still something about the immediacy of scribbling down your thoughts on the go, and being able to stick a train ticket or beer label on to a spare page – it’s your most authentic reaction and it tells you something about yourself and the way you think. Revisiting these memories later on gives you perspective and reflection, and who doesn’t like a good ol’ reminiscence of their awesome past trips!

If you’re thinking about starting your own travel journals and collecting your own memories but have never found the will or way to do it, there really is no better time to start than right now, because… why not? I have a couple of tips that I think will help you start and keep this habit going – the challenging part about journalling (or blogging even) is finding that momentum to keep going, so this might help!


Osaka - Umeda Sky Building Sketch
Well one thing’s for sure, Journalling is always better with a beer at hand!

I can’t emphasize how important this is – these are your travel memories, so you don’t have to emulate anyone else, just find the best way that works for you. Don’t force yourself to keep lengthy diaries if you hate to write, or don’t lug around a DSLR camera if you like travelling light. There is NO ‘one right way’ to do it – I think people sometimes get a bit caught up in trying to doing what other people are doing, which is why they run out of steam so quickly, because it’s not something they enjoy doing themselves so it doesn’t come naturally to them.

I like to write my entire day’s activity and thoughts out chronologically, and sketch interesting things that I see, record photos of a place with my phone and stick physical mementos in my travel journal, something I do at the end of the day or while chilling out in the middle of a trip. It’s easy for me to keep doing this because I honestly enjoy being a little long winded and detailed.

Travel Journals Vietnam 2011 Beer Label
A beer label says a thousand words!

You can use other people’s methods to give you ideas on getting started though. This is a non-exhaustive list of ways you can record a memory – I’d love to hear what you do to record your memories!

  • Travel blogging (of course)
  • Video – Vlogs of your trip
  • Audio – recording ambient sounds of a place or keeping an audio journal
  • Drawing – so much you can do! Detailed sketches, lazy doodles or fancy water colours,
  • Photography – whatever type of camera or photography you like, or doing themed series that cut across your trip (e.g. bringing along a little mascot for every city you visit, or taking picture of a postbox in every town you pass through)
  • Map pinning – whether physical or digital
  • Scrapbooks – keeping boxes or folders of physical ephemera you find on your trip

The important take away is that there are so many ways you can record a trip memory, that you shouldn’t feel like you can only do it in one way. You don’t even have to be great at it – have you seen my sketches??

Travel Journals Barcelona 2008
I enjoy sketching but I’ll be the first to tell you that it’s not something I’m particularly good at. This is me describing various aspects of Gaudi architecture from Barcelona to myself. Trust me when I say this isn’t going to be winning me any art titles anytime soon.


Don’t feel you like you need to record EVERYTHING. Most people give up journaling halfway because it starts to get too tedious, and it begins to hinder their enjoyment of travel rather than help it. You will never be able to remember everything, and unless you’re a little obsessive about having a full set of memories like I am, you don’t need to remember all the mundane details.

My travel journals usually start off really neat and detailed, but by the middle of the trip, things start to get rather messy and I don’t record as faithfully as I do. I have often left travel journals unfinished just because I get so tired towards the end, from the trip and the journalling. Often I keep an initial outline set of memories in point form so I don’t forget the stuff, and then I spend more time later on recording it in longer form when I’m in the mood later on.

Travel Journals UAE Falcon
That is a very chicken-y looking falcon at the Falcon Hospital in Abu Dhabi. It was a very educational experience and I still remember quite vividly watching the falcons get treated. I remember writing this later in the night and still having the details quite fresh in my head.

I suggest that you start small and just note down the key things that strike you – Think about your feelings at that moment, and record pertinent names or details related to that event. I have blanks in my books or even on my phone notes for factual details that I know I can Google later on, but nothing can replicate your unique sensory memory of that moment later on, so that’s the key part that you’re trying to record down.



Don’t be obsessed about having the right equipment or the right way or the right time – just go out and get started! Like everything in life, it usually gets easier once you hit the ground running, so get out there and do it!


What do you do to preserve your travel memories? Share them here!

The post Why you should take time to make travel memories (and how to do it) appeared first on The Occasional Traveller.

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