The Occasional Traveller http://theoccasionaltraveller.com Occasionally Travelling, Always Inspiring Mon, 27 Jul 2015 02:00:00 +0000 en-US hourly 1 http://wordpress.org/?v=392 Taipa and Coloane – Macau beyond the casinoshttp://theoccasionaltraveller.com/2015/07/27/taipa-and-coloane-macau-beyond-the-casinos/ http://theoccasionaltraveller.com/2015/07/27/taipa-and-coloane-macau-beyond-the-casinos/#comments Mon, 27 Jul 2015 02:00:00 +0000 http://theoccasionaltraveller.com/?p=16759 Skip the casinos on your next trip to Macau and see what Taipa and Coloane have to offer instead. Tips on exploring southern Macau for the non-gambler.

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When I said I was going to visit Macau, most people thought I was going to check out the casinos and gamble a little. A few others mentioned trying the Portuguese egg tarts. Almost all were boggled when I said I wanted to explore Taipa and Coloane, because I’m not sure that many people who visit know that there is a Macau worth outside of the casino strip.

I’d gone to Hong Kong to explore beyond the Central area, and I was determined to do so as well in Macau, so instead of taking a day trip like many visitors, A and I spent a night at the Holiday Inn Cotai – our first day was spent exploring the Peninsula (that’s for another upcoming post), but we spent our second day checking out Taipa and Coloane before heading back to Hong Kong.

 

Where is Taipa and Coloane?

To give a little context, Taipa and Coloane are islands south of the Macau Peninsula which is where you find the old historic city and its sights. There are several bridges that link the Peninsula to Taipa.

Taipa and Coloane used to be two separate islands, but they are now joined by reclaimed land, and that central portion is called Cotai (combining COloane and TAIpa, hah!), and where you find all the casinos.

Here’s a google map with all the stuff I’ll talk about in the post below conveniently labelled for you!

 

TAIPA

We started our exploration in Taipa, but it seemed almost too early on a Wednesday morning, because not much seemed to be happening.

 

Macau Taipa Central
all quiet in Taipa, no one seemed to be out and about much

The streets were pretty quiet as we walked towards our first destination – the Taipa Houses Museum.

Macau Taipa Houses Museum Architecture
5 similar houses all stood in a row

As its name implies, the Taipa Houses Museum is quite literally a stretch of 5 minty-green houses built in a unique Portuguese-Macanese mix back in the 1920s which have since been preserved and converted into a museum.

Macau Taipa Houses Museum Ticket
Just S$1 to check out this museum – excellent if you’re on a budget!

You can buy a ticket from the nearby booth for just 5HKD (about S$1!) and you can visit 3 of the houses, each with their own theme. The 4th house is a gallery or exhibition space (there was a Chinese art exhibition happening that we weren’t too interested in seeing) and the last house is available to rent for events.

Macau Taipa Houses Museum Furniture
House 1 showcased how a typical Macanese house looked like in the past, a mix of Chinese, Asian and European, Portuguese influences
Macau Taipa Houses Museum Exhibition
House 2 was more historical – lots of old pictures and artifacts of Macau in its colony days
Macau Taipa Houses Museum Costumes
House 3 was a shoutout to its Portuguese colony roots, showcasing the costumes from various parts of Portugal

It’s a small way to get a glimpse of Macanese history – generally it’s pretty quiet and simple, don’t expect anything too fancy. I thought the exterior was more interesting – The houses used to face the strip of sea between Taipa and Coloane, but now that they’ve built the Cotai strip in between, the sea view has been reduced more to a lake view… what looks like a strange marshland lake actually once used to be the sea!

Macau Taipa Lake
The weather could have been much better, but I was digging the reflections

Also nearby, a flower garden with a rather cheery theme if you want to take some whacky pictures or just enjoy a nice flower garden.

Macau Taipa Flower Garden Octopus
Nope, I can’t explain the flower covered Octopus

 

We doubled back towards Rua do Cunha which is apparently supposed to be some famous eating street in Macau, though we didn’t buy anything at this point as we wanted to eat lunch a little later.

 

Macau Taipa Rua do Cunha new and old
The ubiquitous Starbucks meets more traditional fare? That sign is touting Mao Shan Wang Durian ice cream which is pretty unusual for Macau though!

If you are looking for souvenirs from Macau, definitely check out the very colourful Cunha Bazaar which has some of the best tourist souvenirs I’ve seen which are not ticky-tacky and are handmade by local artists through Macau Creations.

Macau Taipa Rua do Cunha
Cunha Bazaar is a rather bright and cheerful building that’s hard to miss. Yet you might get distracted by the ever-present Koi Kei outlet on the other side of the lane!

I bought a beautiful scarf with an illustration of the St Paul’s Ruins from here! I really loved the illustrations, definitely a favourite souvenir :)

Macau Taipa Cunha Bazaar Scarf Close up
Can’t resist a good sketch!
Macau Taipa Cunha Bazaar Scarf
Like seriously look at that detail, this scarf is amazing.

Coloane

We took a cab from Taipa to Coloane Village in the south-western tip of the island, and our very first destination was obviously to check out the original Lord Stow’s Bakery, renowned for bringing the Portuguese Egg Tart (Pasteis de Nata or Pasteis de Belem if you get it from the original store in Belem like I did!) to Asia and it’s become quite synonymous with Macau.

We initially wanted to eat lunch as Espaco Lisboa Restaurante but it was closed :( anyhow I think our eventual lunch turned out pretty nice:

Macau Coloane Circus
The main ‘centre’ of Coloane Village – Lord Stow’s Bakery is just off to the side of one of the lanes on Rua do Tassara
Macau Coloane Lord Stow Bakery
Look for this dinky little building – spot the Lord Stow egg tarts?
Macau Coloane Lord Stow Bakery Interior
Quite an old school bakery inside! It wasn’t crowded at all when we were there so we could take out time browsing and picking out what to eat

A and I decided to have a light lunch of snacks from the bakery, and we took our wares and sat down by the bay to have our meal on a bench by the sea. A pity the weather was kinda dreary, but it was nice just chilling out by the water side where you can see Zhuhai across the water.

Macau Coloane Lord Stow Bakery Lunch Illustration
Lunch in illustrated form
Macau Lord Stow Egg Tart
This picture was taken in the Venetian Casino which had a branch of Lord Stow’s Bakery where we managed to snag the last 2 egg tarts for the night! They tasted the same as the ones from Coloane that we had for lunch though.
Macau Coloane Lord Stow Bakery Croissant
A giant chocolate croissant to accompany the egg tart
Macau Coloane Lord Stow Bakery Serradora
Serradura or Saw Dust Pudding is a popular Macanese dessert – it’s basically finely ground up biscuits on top of creamy pudding… yum!
Macau Coloane Panorama
Here’s a panorama shot of the view from our bench, which sadly was kinda dull
Macau Coloane Sketch Zhuhai
I tried sketching. Tried being the key word here. I feel that if you have to label a bird ‘bird’, it might mean your sketches need quite a lot more work.

We took a walk along the bank down the Avenida de Cinco de Outubro for a bit to see what else we would discover. We came across the Chapel of St Francis Xavier and further down we popped in briefly – the style it’s built in is similar to the Taipa Houses, just yellow instead of green.

Macau Coloane Monument
Eduardo Marques Square, with St Francis Xavier Chapel in the background
Macau Coloane Church Interior
Painted interiors – it’s like a weird mix of old, new, European, Asian and artsy in this chapel

 

Right at the end of the road was the little Tam Kung Miu or Tam Kung Temple, a tiny temple dedicated to the Taoist god of seafarers. Also of note – there’s a public toilet just next to this temple.

Macau Coloane Temple Sea
the tiny Tam Kung Temple
Macau Coloane Sea Sleeping Dog
Let sleeping dogs lie – this stray napped very comfortably outside the temple. In the distance, you can see the promenade we walked along on the right side, and Zhu Hai on the left bank

We considered walking further along, but it didn’t seem to be leading anywhere in particular so we doubled back, and passed the Tin Hau temple off Avenida de Republica which had a beautiful pink tree in full bloom. The temples were all pretty small so we didn’t venture inside, mostly admiring the architecture from outside.

Macau Coloane Temple Paper Bird
I like this intricate paper bird next to tree in bloom.
Macau Coloane Temple Tin Hau
Tin Hau Temple

 

We took a bus to get to from the South-west to the South-Eastern side of the island where Hac Sa beach is – Hac Sa literally translates into Black Sand, one of the features that makes this beach quite special. The weather was chilly and no one was in the water, so we mostly wandered along the beach for a bit.

Macau Coloane Hac Sa Beach Panorama
Panorama of the beach. There was someone sweeping and smoothening out the sand when we were there
Macau Coloane Hac Sa Beach Sand
The normal coloured sand is the result of the government adding sand because the black sand was eroding!
Macau Coloane Hac Sa Beach Black Sand
The sand was super fine – I kept finding fine black sand in my shoes all day long

 

We then had an early dinner at Fernando’s in the Hac Sa Beach area, which seemed pretty popular online for serving up traditional Portuguese food. It’s a bit weird seeing and eating Portuguese words and food in a place like Macau that feels so Asian, but the food here was not bad – the clams were amazing, the famous Bacalhau or codfish was really salty though, and I say that as someone who generally likes stuff savoury!

Macau Coloane Fernando Entrance
Macau Coloane Fernando Entrance
Macau Coloane Fernando Interior
It looks pretty small from outside, but actually extends quite a long way inside so it can hold quite a lot of tables
Macau Coloane Fernando Clams
The Fernando’s Style Clams (HK$162/S$28) is one of the house specials – the sauce is slightly spicy but absolutely delicious!

 

 

Getting around Macau

If you are staying in any of the hotel complexes, there are likely to be free shuttle bus services to get you around their various properties. I stayed at the Holiday Inn Cotai, which is a part of the Sands property. The concierge pointed us to take the free shuttle buses from shopping mall City of Dreams next door. There was a bus that would bring you to the Peninsular, but to get to Taipa, take the shuttle to Galaxy Hotel Macau. These shuttles generally come every 15-30mins.

Another option is to take the public buses, which are honestly quite cheap and easy to navigate. From Cotai to Coloane Village / Hac Sa, take Bus 25 or 26A. It cost us around HK$2.80 – 3.60 each depending on distance, the buses are modern, came quite punctually and have English signs. Here’s more details on bus costs.

You can take a taxi as well, which actually isn’t too pricey and may be quite worth while if you have a group of 4 and are looking to save time.

  • Cotai > Taipa: Free shuttle bus – 5 mins
  • Taipa > Coloane Village: Taxi – 15 mins, ~HK$50 (~S$9)
  • Coloane Village > Hac Sa: Public Bus – 10mins, ~HK$2.80 (~S$0.50)
  • Hac Sa > Taipa (Galaxy Hotel): Public Bus – 30mins, ~$3.60 (~S$0.65)

 

All in all, it was a pretty interesting look at Macau outside of the casinos in the Cotai strip. I would have liked to check it out during high season when the weather is warmer – there seem to be some pretty decent walks along the coastline and hikes, chill by the beach as well as try and find more Macanese food.

Do you have any Macau tips of your own for non-gamblers looking to explore Taipa or Coloane?

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A room with an ocean view at Samabe Resort Balihttp://theoccasionaltraveller.com/2015/07/13/samabe-resort-bali-review/ http://theoccasionaltraveller.com/2015/07/13/samabe-resort-bali-review/#comments Mon, 13 Jul 2015 02:00:00 +0000 http://theoccasionaltraveller.com/?p=16901 The Samabe Resort Bali in Sawangan, Bali boasts 100% of their rooms with an ocean view, and what a view it is to wake up to. Here's a review on this beautiful resort.

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This is a lesson in how sometimes being a lazy person and not doing thorough research can surprise you… in a good way!

When the Grand Mirage Resort invited me up to check out their hotel in Nusa Dua, they also extended me an offer to spend a night in their sister hotel – the Samabe Bali Suites and Villas in Sawangan. I didn’t think too much about it, was just happy to have a new place to check out in Bali and left it to the good staff to fit into the itinerary.

GETTING THERE

Bali Nusa Dua Plane
The plane on top shows you roughly where Samabe is in relation to Grand Mirage

I did enjoy my time at the Grand Mirage (See the review here) and was a little sad to be leaving it behind. We hopped into a car and they drove us down to the far South-eastern corner of Bali, I noticed that our surroundings… didn’t feel like Bali at all. In fact, it reminded me quite a lot of Singapore, specifically the Sentosa Cove area which is well known as a super fancy private housing estate. Lots of manicured green roads – unlike the choked dusty ones that lead you to Kuta or Ubud, discreet resort entrances with high hedge walls where you just know that there is a long driveway that leads you up to some fancy resort within.

And Samabe definitely looked like quite a posh resort right from the get-go – the entrance is a posh airy space filled with contemporary art, and as they sorted out our rooms and then brought us to our room in a golf buggy, driving past several villas with our personal butler.

Bali Samabe Lobby Rocking Chair
Lobby of Samabe overlooking a pond
Bali Samabe Lobby Art
Art in the lobby along with live traditional Indonesian music
Bali Samabe Villa Grounds
On the Samabe grounds – this particular hut is where they hold cooking classes

 

THE ROOM

As we stepped into our Ocean Front Samabe Suite, look at the view that greeted us when our butler opened the door to our suite in the West wing. Like…

Bali Samabe Beach Noon
from the balcony. the blues were really quite amazing

Apparently every room in the Samabe is ocean-facing, so you don’t have to worry about a bad view! There were visible attempts by both A and myself to keep it together as the butler showed us around the room, and a lot of excited OMG squealing once she stepped out the door.

This place is seriously posh, and quite a large space as well. It’s a bit of a struggle to decide whether you want to spend all your time luxuriating in the room or head out instead.

Bali Samabe Bedroom
The bedroom had 2 large king sized beds to sprawl in. To the right is an-almost full length glass window that overlooks that same ocean view – it was a bit too bright for me to get a decent shot in this pic
Bali Samabe Living Room
The living room is quite large and even has its own telescope for stargazing. The bedroom entrance is to the right of the picture
Bali Samabe Bathtub
the very large bathroom with bathtub that I had to soak in. The bathroom is provided with some fancy bath crystals to make your bath an awesome experience

And of course the wonderful ocean-facing balcony, which for some reason has a very prominent monkey warning on the door. We did not spot any monkeys though.

Bali Samabe Balcony Monkey
No monkeys allowed!

Samabe is located on the South-eastern tip of the island and we were facing somewhat easterly, so we dragged ourselves out of bed on our last morning in Bali to catch the sunrise, and while the sky was pretty cloudy, it still managed some spectacular moments

Bali Samabe Sunrise Blue
reflection of the sun – the sunrise mostly happened to the left of this picture
Bali Samabe Sunrise Pose
playing around as the colours started to pop in the midst of the sunrise. I used the reflection of the balcony door to get this shot and whatever little flexibility I have to make that pose

THE HOTEL

With only one night’s stay at this beautiful resort and sadly cloudy/drizzly weather, there wasn’t much time to do stuff, but if you’re looking for a holiday where you can just chill the heck out in beautiful surroundings, this is one place to consider. The guest profile also was quite different from Grand Mirage which had a lot of Caucasians and large family groups when we were there. This resort saw more Asian faces – still families but older/fewer and looking more affluent with considerably less children all around.

Samabe is situated on a cliff so the swimming pool has some spectacular views that you can take in while soaking in warm water. I’m pretty sure the water was heated slightly as I never felt like going in was going to freeze any of my bits off.

Bali Samabe Pool Deckchair
Lounging by the sea – perhaps it was off-season but the pool was rarely crowded
Bali Samabe Pool Lounging
Enjoying a cloudy afternoon

But if you have a hankering for salt water and enjoying that beautiful beach you can see from your room, it’s a private beach which is relatively quiet and just a short walk/climb down from the swimming pool area.

Bali Samabe Beach Stairs
I say climb because you’ll take at least 10 mins climbing those stairs!
Bali Samabe Beach Stairs Statue
these jolly statues mocking you as you pant your way back up the stairs
Bali Samabe Kayak Overcast
It was a really overcast afternoon! Someone was having their beach wedding and unfortunately they got drizzled on a bit at some point, though thankfully it didn’t pour. You can see the edge of the hotel in the distance, I suspect our room might be one of those!
Bali Samabe Beach Pano
Look at all that beach!

Samabe Bali has the option of paying for an all-inclusive package or what they called Unlimited Privileges, similar to that of the Grand Mirage, and one awesome perk of that is being able to enjoy one Signature Samabe activity per day – with little time to spare, we opted for a 1-hr in-room back massage – our masseuse was a pint sized lady who set up her foldable table in our living room and gave the most amazing massages, just the right amount of pressure to knead those knots deeply without hurting too much! Sadly we didn’t have time for a second massage the next morning, but do check out Galangan Spa on site if you have the time.

With the Unlimited Privileges, we also had a chance to try out meals around the resort. Dinner was at Crystal Blue Ocean Grill overlooking the pool area which has a rather unusual layout – our table was alone in a little nook with an ocean view sadly obscured by the dark night sky, but I can imagine this being quite romantic for the couples.

I was looking for comfort food that day so I had more boring grilled chicken while A had these amazing looking tiger prawns below, but the fun part was being able to pick 3 (!) different side condiments to go with your dish – I had mushroom and black pepper and some fruity mango salsa type of dip which was a lot of fun to eat. Adventurous A also tried their homemade ice cream, with really odd flavours like tomato and ginger which was.. odd (and I say this as someone who loves ice cream though yes I just had the flourless chocolate cake :p)

Bali Samabe Dinner Prawns
Giant tiger prawns! The restaurant specializes in grilled meats and seafood dishes

We had breakfast at the main dining hall Rempah-Rempah, which had quite an extensive spread of foods buffet style that you could also order a la carte to your table. I definitely ate my fill that morning.

Bali Samabe Breakfast Eggs and Beef
fancy eggs and steak dish, along with a really colourful set of fruit juices

And just before we departed, we ordered room service which turned out to be a little too much food because every dish came with rice! A finally had her nasi campur craving sated while I indulged in an Indonesian delicacy – oxtail soup, yum yum. Room service set up the table with proper place mats and cutlery so was quite impressed with that.

Bali Samabe Nasi Campur
yumyum. Yes we ordered 3 dishes between the 2 of us thinking they would be small… mistake!

PRICE

You can tell from the level of service and the overall atmosphere that a stay here is not cheap – based on weekend stays for the room we stayed in – an Ocean View Samabe Suite (and also the cheapest rooms available), you’re looking at around S$550 per night per room! You can definitely sleep a max of 3 adults + 1 child or 2 adults + 2 children quite comfortably in the room though so it’s probably better for short stays, families or those willing to splurge a little. The All-Inclusive takes that price up close to S$800/night, so definitely make sure you make full use of the facilities and F&B perks if you’re spending that sort of cash.

There are suite rooms with attached pools, or if you want to go all out in terms of privacy, go for the villas which have their own private pools and a much larger space compared to that of the suites, though you’re looking at a minimum of S$600/night at least.

I really loved the place, but quite practically speaking I probably would only be able to afford it for a special occasion and a short period of time! If you can afford it or looking to splurge though, I definitely can say the service and experience are top notch and I would recommend it for couples looking to enjoy some time together in paradise or for people who want tranquility away from the kids.

Thanks again to Grand Mirage Resort for setting this up and the Samabe Resort Bali staff for the excellent stay :)

Bali Samabe Swing

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Exploring Ho Chi Minh City from the back of a Vespahttp://theoccasionaltraveller.com/2015/07/09/exploring-ho-chi-minh-city-from-the-back-of-a-vespa/ http://theoccasionaltraveller.com/2015/07/09/exploring-ho-chi-minh-city-from-the-back-of-a-vespa/#comments Thu, 09 Jul 2015 02:00:00 +0000 http://theoccasionaltraveller.com/?p=17206 Discovering Ho Chi Minh City, street food and hidden culture spots, all on the back of a snazzy vintage Vespa with Vespa Adventures! Here's what you see.

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Vietnam Ho Chi Minh Vespa From the Bike
Beep beep! motorcycles in every single direction

People speak of crossing the road in Vietnam as an almost religious experience. As you step off the kerb, slowly but surely meandering across the road, a sea of motorbikes magically part around you, deftly manouvreing to avoid running you over and suddenly you find yourself on the other side still in one piece. That sense of accomplishment at making it across without the locals having to drag you by the elbow is pretty epic.

Vietnam Ho Chi Minh Vespa Road Selfie
I took this picture on the go. Look at how gleeful fellow pillion rider Estelle is on her first ever motorbike ride!

This time around thanks to the folk at VietJetAir who flew a bunch of female media up to have a bit of a girl’s getaway in Ho Chi Minh, I found myself instead as a part of evening traffic, riding pillion on a vintage vespa as one of a swarm of motorbikes zipping around the busy capital and avoiding other nervous foreigners attempting to cross the road.

Vietnam Ho Chi Minh Vespa Posing Bike
Pretending to be all cool and posing. That’s Jessica on the left who wanted the red bike to match her dress and my beer buddy Katie on the other slightly-less-blue vespa

Short of actually riding a bike in Vietnam by myself (which is probably never going to happen), this is probably the closest you can get to the local transit experience without risking your life too much. Exploring the city on scooter lets you cover a lot more ground – you become a part of the urban landscape – the feel of the wind blowing on your face, humidity made bearable by cool night air and hearing the sounds of the city whoosh by beats being shepherded around on a tour bus by a mile, no matter how good the air-conditioning on the bus feels.

Vietnam Ho Chi Minh Vespa Scooter Row
All lined up and ready to go! 9 ladies ready to take on the streets of Ho Chi Minh City!

Our riders from Vespa Adventures were waiting patiently for us at the hotel – I was first in the lobby and got my pick of the scooters. My driver turned out to be a sweet young guy in his early 20s who was polite and helpful throughout the trip, making sure I had my helmet strapped on properly, helping me on and off the bike and not freaking out even when the vintage Vespa decided to take a timeout halfway through our journey (we managed to restart, but for another bike which was having similar problems, they had a replacement bike come around quite quickly)

Vietnam Ho Chi Minh Vespa Driver Start
Obviously my posing skills need work! Check out Melissa workin’ it on her Vespa

The excitement all around was palpable, and the photo taking and selfies en route were pretty epic – we had to be reminded not to get too caught up with photographing and fall prey to snatch-thieves, especially because the fact we were tourists is pretty obvious!

Vietnam Ho Chi Minh Vespa Jac and beer Michelle
Oops caught with beer in hand. Michelle took this epic shot of me feeling like a party animal… don’t try this at home~

Our first stop was at the Vespa Adventures HQ Cafe Zoom, a little cafe cum bar smack in the middle of HCMC’s backpacker zone XX street. After a bit of a briefing and a welcome drink (free flow throughout the tour! But seriously you can only drink so much) where we were initiated into the Vietnamese style of toasting (a lusty Mot Hai Pa Yo!) before we were hustled off to our first food joint.

 

Vietnam Ho Chi Minh Vespa 662 Seafood
Live seafood on display at 662 Vinh Khanh

First stop: Quan An Gia Dinh – 662 Vinh Khanh in District 4 for SEAFOOD! Lots of fresh seafood just waiting for us when we arrived in this little restaurant. We had crab claws, some sort of clam soup, very tasty and well seasoned mussels were super tasty as well as frog (which as the cliches say, really does taste like chicken).

Vietnam Ho Chi Minh Vespa 662 Mussels
Mussels! The seasoning tasted so good~
Vietnam Ho Chi Minh Vespa 662 Frog Leg
Frog – the texture is slightly smoother than chicken

 

It was at this stop that the Vespa I was on chose to take a time-out, so I ended up lagging quite far behind the group, only catching up to them at our next stop Banh Xeo 46A which is apparently quite an old but famous restaurant that specialises in Banh Xeo, which is a Vietnamese style crispy pancake.

Vietnam Ho Chi Minh Vespa Banh Xeo sign
Vietnam Ho Chi Minh Vespa Banh Xeo sign

Obviously because I missed the earlier bit where they introduced the food, I didn’t know that the pancake was the main dish, which is why it’s not in any of my pictures and I didn’t eat much of it (it’s full of bean sprouts, which are my #1 hate) >_< Here‘s a pretty good account of what the Banh Xeo experience is like. I still enjoyed the spring rolls though

Vietnam Ho Chi Minh Vespa Banh Xeo Spring Rolls
The pancake is to the side of this plate, or possibly already finished by this time!

Then we were brought to a hidden little spot where you wouldn’t think had any sort of nightlife as it looks like an industrial building, but the guide led us behind and up some dodgy little stairs and what do you know – there’s a rather charming chill-out lounge of sorts with an assortment of battered sofas hidden on top.

Vietnam Ho Chi Minh Vespa Lounge Singer
Being seranded. There was a lot of swooning from the fellow girls :p

Cafe Vung Oi is a rather small place but they were prepared for our arrival as we filed in quietly and listened to some Vietnamese singers belt out a mix of Vietnamese and popular English songs. but who’s industrial exterior hid a rather charming chill out space where we were serenaded by some local guides singing a mix of Vietnamese and popular English songs.

Vietnam Ho Chi Minh Vespa Acoustic Bar Rocker
This guy was rocking out to a local favourite

We didn’t stay for too long though – after the second singer’s set, we filed out and popped a short distance down the road to The Acoustic Bar where we crowded in for a more hard rocking and loud experience, made all the more jarring after the soothing languid air of the previous spot. They too played some Vietnamese favourites that had locals singing along, and more popular rock songs that got the tourists grooving.

Vietnam Ho Chi Minh Vespa Acoustic Bar Exterior
End of the night, boo~

I really enjoyed the tour and I would love to do it again in other cities! I’m usually a big fan of walking around a place to discover, and did that a lot the first time around, but I think that being on a bike gave it that additional ‘local flavour’ – because it seems like Vietnamese people are born riding motorcycles! All the girls agree this was one of the highlights of the entire trip and whether you take the tour alone or with a whole bunch of friends, I think you’ll have a super fun time and an awesome experience!

Vietnam Ho Chi Minh Vespa Adventure
Thanks again Michelle for the great picture!

Check out Vespa Adventures for more about the vespa tours – the company offers tours in Hanoi, Hoi An and Siem Reap as well. The tour we did was the Saigon After Dark which runs from 6pm – 10pm and costs US$89, which covers most of the drinks and food at each of the stops unless you want something really special. If you’re strapped for cash and looking for one fun thing to spend on, do give this some consideration!

This tour was a part of a trip to Ho Chi Minh courtesy of VietJetAir, Vietnam’s budget airline that offers daily flights to this city just 2 hours away from Singapore. Look out for more upcoming posts on my trip to Ho Chi Minh City – we managed quite a lot in our short 3D2N trip there!

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The things you miss after flying budget airlines for too long [Mothership.sg]http://theoccasionaltraveller.com/2015/07/06/the-things-you-miss-after-flying-budget-airlines-for-too-long-mothership-sg/ http://theoccasionaltraveller.com/2015/07/06/the-things-you-miss-after-flying-budget-airlines-for-too-long-mothership-sg/#comments Mon, 06 Jul 2015 02:00:00 +0000 http://theoccasionaltraveller.com/?p=17419 Flying budget airlines has made the quick weekend getaway much more affordable, but you can't help missing the perks from flying full-service airlines.

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Travelling has become much more affordable and possible in today’s world, thanks to budget airlines that provide cost savings with optional in-flight services.

But the exclusion of these frills has made flying a much less fancy business than it used to be, and at the end of the day, you can’t help but miss the perks that full-service airlines have to offer:

 

1. One price that covers everything

Mothership - Too much budget airlines no money
No stealing money? Sometimes buying a budget airline ticket feels that way with all the ‘extras’ you have to fork out for. Photo from Flickr by Neubie

 

Budget airline fare offers may seem cheap, but keep an eye on the ++ costs when you complete your booking because you may overlook the many optional service fees that turn your super-cheap deal into a fare just below that of a full-service offering.

Some common things to look out for:

Checked Baggage – if you plan to carry-on only, make sure this is $0. If you need check-in though, plan for and pre-purchase it together with your booking because it’s usually cheaper.

Seat selection – if you’re not picky about where you end up sitting, make sure this is $0.

Travel Insurance – if you have your own policy in place, make sure you uncheck this. While the airline may offer you cheap insurance as an add-on, it might be better to get your own plan as the payout is often not as comprehensive.

On-board meals – you can pre-order meals but if you are not planning to eat, make sure this is $0.

Booking fees – credit card fees are charged per pax, so each ticket usually incurs an extra $16-$20 per person if you use credit card for online payment, though you can save a little by going through AXS or direct debit ($4-$5) – there’s a more comprehensive table here.

 

2. Free meals and snacks

Mothership - Too much budget airlines airplane food
Yes that is a Nasi Lemak, or as close to a version of Nasi Lemak as you can squeeze into a little metal tray… Photo from Flickr by Isriya Paireepairit

 

Want some water on a budget flight? Fork out $3 or more for a tiny bottle that you can finish in two large gulps. Getting served a little plastic cup of orange juice as a welcome drink on a full-service flight is like striking the lottery when you’ve forgotten to fill up your empty bottle at the departure gate.

And I will never get used to paying around $15 for dinner in a tray on a budget airline — the idea of paying restaurant prices for something that looks like a microwave TV dinner doesn’t make the experience any better. Who hasn’t quietly smuggled in their snack of choice rather than pay for an overpriced sad stack of bread and condiments?

 

3. In-flight entertainment

Mothership - Too much budget airlines tv screen
Considering the advancement of technology these days, the grainy flickery screens on most planes are a relic of the past! Photo from Flickr by Evan Bench

 

One surefire way to pass the time when you’re stuck on a long flight is to channel-surf and browse the inflight entertainment system. On budget airlines, these little seat-back screens are nowhere to be found… unless you pay anywhere from $10-$20 to rent a device with preloaded shows on it.

Sure, many people have their own tablets and smartphones to entertain themselves these days, but without any power outlets in sight, you better have enough battery juice to watch your Korean dramas for the whole flight — and then some, so you can log on to Facebook to check in when you land.

 

4. Blankets and cushions

 

Mothership - Too much budget airlines neck cushion
This guy is definitely going to wake up with a crick in his neck, pillow notwithstanding! Photo from Flickr by Edward Simpson

 

That skinny little cushion on your full-service airline seat may not offer much in terms of lumbar support, but you’re sure to miss it when the alternative is not having a cushion at all. Airplane seats have been engineered somehow to be universally uncomfortable when in the upright position, so that little pillow does provide some comfort for your back or your neck, especially with the scant amount of reclining the seat offers.

Also, be sure to always wear long pants or carry a scarf on a budget flight if you get cold easily, because there are no blankets available to keep you warm unless you’re willing to fork out more cash. Many do carry their own gear for hygiene reasons, but if you are trying to pack light, not having to carry your own pillow and blanket frees up that much more carry-on space.

 

And finally…

 

5. The expectation of good service

Mothership - Too much budget airlines quid pro quo
You get what you pay for! Photo from Flickr by John Gosier

 

Yes, you may have chosen to sacrifice little luxuries when you fly budget airlines over full-service ones, but does that mean you have chosen to sacrifice good service as well?

The common thinking seems to be “pay budget get budget,”, but surely, having flights that arrive and depart in a timely and safe manner, with good service recovery, is the very base level of flying that all airlines should strive for, budget or not.

(And by the way, here’s Exhibit A of how NOT to perform good service recovery.)

So if you are disgruntled from a 22-hour delay, sans any form of compensation apart from a $50 next-flight voucher, and missing the perks of full-service airlines, in the words of the recently-aggrieved Scoot stewardess, “Take SQ plane lor”.

 

This article first appeared in Mothership.sg, a Singaporean community news platform where I am a contributing writer.


This post was inspired because most of my trips these days involve budget flights, especially for those quick weekend getaways around the region with a short flight time. Why pay more when you’re barely in the air for a few hours? I’m a pretty low maintenance traveller who doesn’t need extensive space and am happy enough as long as I have a window seat and nobody invading my personal space.

But before The Occasional Traveller, the funny thing perhaps is that I had rarely flown any other airline besides Singapore Airlines in the first 2 decades of my life. Mostly because I travelled with my family and with a pilot Dad working in the airline, I think the first time I took a budget airline flight was on a trip with some friends in my university days! (Which makes me sound really privileged and some type of airline snob, but when you get staff family perks, and your Dad has a ton of airline safety horror stories from other airlines… you stick with what you know best!)

The no-frills approach by budget airlines after you’re accustomed to service from a top-notch full-service airline honestly takes some adjustment, but I’ve rationalized it as savings so that I can do more awesome things on my trips, so I’m ok not having the perks of flying full service.

But that said, I do believe that timeliness and good service are basic needs from an airline, which is reiterated on top. This piece was published after the Scoot-delay saga which drew quite a lot of attention online because of the poor service recovery, which is why it was edited to sound a little irate about that particular incident, but I can imagine the frustration that the passengers must have faced. Remember folks – always have travel insurance because things like these just might happen to you!

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Beaches and blue, blue waters at Club Med Kani Maldiveshttp://theoccasionaltraveller.com/2015/06/29/club-med-kani-maldives/ http://theoccasionaltraveller.com/2015/06/29/club-med-kani-maldives/#comments Mon, 29 Jun 2015 02:00:00 +0000 http://theoccasionaltraveller.com/?p=17145 A short getaway to paradise - I spend a long weekend snorkelling, scuba diving and otherwise lounging on the beach in Club Med Kani Maldives

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2 years ago I headed to the Maldives on a dive trip which was memorable not just because I saw whale sharks and manta rays in the wild for the first time, but because there’s something about the Maldivian waters that’s absolutely… blue. There’s just something about this place that’s not quite like anywhere else in the world. I’ve seen beautiful seas and islands from around the world, but the Maldives has always stood out.

Club Med Kani Maldives Plane Blue Waters
Maldives from the air – How can you not fall in love with a view like that?

 

So when Club Med offered to put me up at Club Med Kani in the Maldives, I was STOKED. How could I say no to spending some quality time in one of the most beautiful places on earth? I definitely wasn’t disappointed – prepare yourself for a boatload of pix of some amazing sunsets and blue, blue, blue waters. Dive buddy P joined me in enjoying Maldives from land instead of living on a boat this time.

Club Med Kani Maldives Lagoon Suites Keycard
Club Med Kani Maldives Lagoon Suites Keycard

Thanks also to the folks from Casio who loaned me the EXILIM EXZR3500 camera which I also used in the last trip to Nusa Dua. I had to edit my phone and underwater shots a bit, but the EXILIM ones are pretty much untouched. You might have seen some of these shots on Instagram already, also because the wifi capability of the camera makes transferring photos between camera and phone a breeze.

 

PICTURE PERFECT MALDIVES

The Maldives is made up of a collection of little islands, with each resort usually occupying its own island. Club Med’s main resort and facilities are located on the island of Kani, but more recently Club Med has set up some pretty exclusive villas over at the neighbouring island of Finolhu.

You know from the moment you land that you’re in for something special when you are greeted with this sight right outside the airport. No taxi stands, but the lovely blue ocean as you await your boat. I arrived at night last time around, so this was a pretty awesome welcome.

Club Med Kani Maldives Airport Blue
Waiting for the boat ride to Kani! That blue is just… unreal
Club Med Kani Maldives Boat Ride Blue Waters
More blue on the boat ride to the resort [taken with CASIO EXILIM]
Club Med Kani Maldives Jetty boardwalk gear
Welcome to Club Med! this is the jetty that brings you to the island

I don’t know about you, but apparently I had somehow forgotten how pretty the Maldives was from the previous visit, so I spent most of my first day just marvelling at the sun, sand and sea.

Club Med Kani Maldives Beach White Sand
Sandy white beaches make for a picturesque sight [taken with CASIO EXILIM]
Club Med Kani Maldives Beach Sunset
Taking in the sunset [taken with CASIO EXILIM]
Club Med Kani Maldives Beach Butt Seats
Being a beach bum – these weird butt seats are great for lounging in though [taken with CASIO EXILIM]

Club Med Kani Maldives Sunset Half Sky
Look at that amazing sky!

STAYING THERE
Deluxe Room on the beach vs Exclusive Lagoon Suite on the water

Deciding which room you want to book? Club Med put us up in the Deluxe Room #52 for the first two nights, and then upgraded us to the Lagoon Suite #157 on the last night, so I had a taste of both room types. Both rooms were sunrise facing – there are sunset facing rooms as well so you probably want to specific your preference when you book.

DELUXE ROOM:

Club Med Kani Maldives Deluxe Room Balcony
Deluxe Room view of the porch from the beach. The front door was on the other side. The beach is literally, at your doorstep.

The rooms are roomy enough to move around in, and I like that you have direct access to a very large stone-tiled bathroom/shower right at the doorway so you can clean up without trampling sand and water through your room. While the ‘hut’ looks rustic from the outside, it has air-conditioning and is sealed so you don’t get random creepy crawlies coming into your room… mostly.

The room lighting was pretty dim at night though, and frankly you don’t really want to spend your afternoons in here when you could be outside lounging on the beautiful beach. I somehow feel like it’s designed for people who don’t plan to spend much time in their rooms!

Club Med Kani Maldives Deluxe Room Balcony View
from inside the room – you can see how close the beach is! We were lucky that this part of the beach didn’t have a lot of people – the rooms nearer to the jetty would perpetually have people on their stretch of beach!
Club Med Kani Maldives Deluxe Room Bed
The room was mostly made up of the bed, and there was a round lounge couch on the right behind me, and a table on the left side. If you draw the curtains for privacy though, it can get kinda dark
Club Med Kani Maldives Beach Lounging Stuff
All ready to bask on the deckchairs just 50m away from our backdoor!

 

LAGOON SUITES:

Club Med Kani Maldives Lagoon Suite
I call this my brochure shot of the Lagoon Suite – seriously doesn’t this look like it came out of the Club Med Catalog? I wasn’t even doing anything special, just amazing natural light [Taken with CASIO EXILIM]

If you want some exclusivity and luxury, consider springing for the Lagoon Suites – while they are  a further walk from the main activity areas because they are located at the ends of the island, you probably aren’t going to leave the suites much once you’re checked in!

Club Med Kani Maldives Lagoon Suite reception
The check-in reception for the suites isn’t at the main area – you have to go all the way in. On the plus side, it’s less crowded, and the wifi less jammed up!
Club Med Kani Maldives Lagoon Suite lounge
Private lounge is much less crowded than the main area

The Lagoon Suites definitely feel more spacious, and one big difference is that there is a lot more natural light coming into the room. Also, the suite’s toilet is HUGE and there’s a living area as well.

Club Med Kani Maldives Lagoon Suite Bed
Bed wise it’s not too different from the Deluxe Rooms really
Club Med Kani Maldives Lagoon Suite bathtub
But a huge bathroom and a bathtub with a view! I didn’t have the chance to luxuriate in here as I spent most of my daylight in the sea outside :p
Club Med Kani Maldives Lagoon Suite Couch
There’s also more lounging areas – a mini living room of sorts which makes you more likely to chill out in your suite

The big highlight is being able to walk down into the shallow waters from the balcony – there’s a little wooden stairway that descends to sea level and you can climb down your own mini jetty into the water. There’s even a shower so you can wash up after you emerge from the water! The water doesn’t get too deep (Waist to shoulder-high) – it’s a relatively flat current that can be quite strong though, and the sea bed can be a bit rocky and poky with corals.

Club Med Kani Maldives Lagoon Suite balcony from water
Shot of the balcony from the water. Lifejackets are provided in case you want to snorkel, and there is a long rope in case you’re concerned about floating away. Sadly the current was mostly flowing inland, so my initial plan to float on a lifejacket while tied to the dock didn’t pan out…

Summary: if you plan to spend most of your time lounging outside on the beach and just want a decent place to sleep at night, the deluxe room should be sufficient for you. But if you’re going all out for luxury and don’t plan to be very sociable, consider springing for the suites.

 

THE CLUB MED EXPERIENCE

Club Med Kani Maldives Performance Stage
Every night is a party night at Club Med

Club Med is well known for it’s warm sunshine service, which translates into really perky guest relations officers . It takes a bit of getting used to (I’m speaking as a rather reserved Asian) to have random people chirp good morning at you and ask to sit at your table during a meal. They’re pretty decent about it if you prefer not to have their company, though it’s nice to get different company if you’re staying for awhile or with a group of friends.

Also, the staff range from young to well-travelled, but one thing they have in common is a whole lot of energy, because they put up a show every night for guests which usually involves a whole lot of dancing and partying, and still get up the next day to take care of you.

 

Club Med Kani Maldives Beer Tilt
‘free’ beer rocks!

Club Med is also one of the more well-known resort chains that has been offering all-inclusive packages, which basically means that your basic meals, drinks and activities are all paid for already. There is something awesome about just sitting down at a place and eating whatever you want and as much as you want! Then again you don’t have any other food options for a remote island like Kani!

The main dining area has quite a wide international selection of food, with several live stations where the food is prepped for you alongside the buffet spread. Quite decent quality overall – the dining hall can get crowded.

Club Med Kani Maldives Food Breakfast
My breakfast selection usually involves at least one pancake with a ton of nutella
Club Med Kani Maldives Food Prep Fire
Live prepping food – this was chicken with ham and cheese

 

Besides keeping you well-fed, the resort (being on a remote island) does have plenty of activities planned every day to entertain guests. Very early on when they first launched Maldives, it was pitched as a no-kids adults-only place, but these days they are very family friendly as we saw lots of families there. It’s also a popular destination for couples – my sister spent her honeymoon there – but for singles and friends, you don’t feel too out of place.

Some activities (all covered in the all-inclusive package) we got up to – snorkelling at a nearby reef. It was pretty choppy that day though the weather was fine and the water was clear. Great coral but the most interesting animal we spotted (other than the usual reef fish) was a moray eel.

Club Med Kani Maldives Snorkeling Reflection
pretty clear waters for snorkelling, but when you’ve been diving, snorkelling just doesn’t compare…

Sailing on one of their catamarans – you can either sail yourself or have someone take you out onto the water, which was what we did. You don’t go very far of course, so it’s a nice way to enjoy the sea without doing too much work.

Club Med Kani Maldives Beach Sailboat
They had about 6-7 boats? But only 2-3 instructors so if you wanted someone to sail you make sure you book a slot
Club Med Kani Maldives Sailboat Crab
random crab that was on a piece of junk our sailing guide picked up!

and of course most of our time was either wading in the waters (the waves are surprisingly stronger in different spots – adults should be fine if they don’t go out too deep but don’t leave your kids unattended even in the shallows) or basking on the beach with a beer or mojito in hand.

Club Med Kani Maldives Beach Beer
The chill life [taken with CASIO EXILIM]

Thanks also to the Club Med folk who managed to arrange for us to spend one day scuba diving with Euro Divers who are based in Kani – it was quite special because it was dives #99 and #100 for P and me!

Club Med Kani Maldives Diving P
P underwater – normally she dives in a long suit

P and I didn’t pack my own gear as we usually do since we were only going to do a day of diving – Euro Divers provided the equipment and took us out for two dives – #99 and #100 for P and me!

Club Med Kani Maldives Diving Boat Surface
Perfect days and perfect waters for diving!

in terms of the dive experience, it was great as the Euro Diver crew were very professional and very thorough in briefings – any diver would feel safe with them. But perhaps we just didn’t click or there wasn’t much time to get to know them in just one day – I thought they seemed a tad aloof, but they were nice enough when making small talk during the dive trip.

Club Med Kani Maldives Dive Briefing
Our instructor briefing about our dive site

No fancy creatures this time around, but the waters were still very beautiful and clear, and the underwater world teeming with life. Here are some favourite shots:

Club Med Kani Maldives - Diving 2 Eels
This cracks me up – two moray eels sharing the same hole! You don’t usually get them together, and having two different species sharing a hole is kinda cute too.
Club Med Kani Maldives Diving Fish School
Large school of fish
Club Med Kani Maldives Diving Stingray
No mantas – we were apparently a week too early for Manta season though we did catch a glimpse of a few small rays
Club Med Kani Maldives Diving Turtle Closeup
I probably saw the most turtles – I shall not bore you with all my turtle shots, just this one which I like best

 

WHAT NEEDS WORK

The wifi connection was quite bad when we were there. For some reason you couldn’t get connection in the deluxe rooms, so you had to be at the main area to use wifi, and even then with your unique passwords (which change every few days), you would get kicked off the network when too many people are on it. It can be pretty frustrating if you’re online a lot like I am, but the Club Med folk have received this feedback and assure me that they are upgrading the network very soon.

I KNOW you’re not really supposed to be using the internet so much when you’re ‘stranded’ on an island in the middle of the sea, but sometimes when you just want to instagram that beautiful picture of the sunset… argh! Alternatively just use this as an opportunity for a digital detox!

 

All in all, I had a very nice break thanks to Club Med – I think it offers a great experience for the more sociable sort who might get bored cooped up in a private villa, but it does give you the option of a more exclusive experience where you can easily get away from the crowds and find a nice quiet corner to relax in this beautiful paradise.

So if you’re looking to getaway, July might actually be a great time as Club Med has some awesome promos – the list price of $1,326 per person for a 3-night stay has been slashed to just S$756 (though it ends really soon, hurry!) and even prices for the later part of the year are down to about S$1k, definitely worth checking out!

Club Med Kani Maldives Beach Pano Sky

 

GETTING THERE

From Singapore, we’re quite lucky that Tiger Air now operates direct flights to Maldives and at quite decent timings as well. It cost us around S$380 for a roundtrip via Tiger Air – airfares usually goes for $600+ (promo price) on Singapore Airlines! The flight isn’t too long (about 4.5 hours) and it’s direct which is great – The last time I went by Malaysia Airlines which was a pretty stellar experience, except that we had to transit in Kuala Lumpur which was an extra 2-3 hours.

Kani is about 40mins from the Maldives airport island by boat – you look out for the little booth in the arrival hall, and someone will come along to mark your arrival and tag your backs. 40mins later once you reach the island, you’re whisked off for a quick orientation briefing and given your keys while your bags head to your room.

Thanks to Club Med for kindly sponsoring the all-inclusive package and scuba diving. To book your own Club Med holiday, check out www.clubmed.com for more!

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What Changi Recommendshttp://theoccasionaltraveller.com/2015/06/22/changi-recommends/ http://theoccasionaltraveller.com/2015/06/22/changi-recommends/#comments Mon, 22 Jun 2015 02:00:00 +0000 http://theoccasionaltraveller.com/?p=17205 Spotted the Changi Recommends booths at Singapore's Changi Airport? Here's a little on the services that they offer!

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If you have ever spent some time wandering through Singapore’s famous Changi Airport, you might have noticed these little Changi Recommends Booths located at the Arrival Halls of each terminal. Have you ever paused to consider, what on earth Changi is recommending to you?

Changi Recommends Booth
That’s how one of their booths looks like. Photo courtesy Changi Recommends

There are actually a surprising amount of services that these booths have that can help you travel better whether you’re headed overseas on a trip or you are a visitor coming into Singapore. Here are some of my favourite things and services I’d recommend (heh) that you check out at Changi Recommends:

 

For Outgoing Passengers

Stay in touch – you can rent portable wifi devices or buy SIM cards (HK, South Korea, Thailand only) for countries that you are visiting, so there’s no need to go hunting in the airport when you land. My favourite thing is the convenience of being able to rent and return right before and after your trip, so there’s no additional hassle in arranging delivery/pick-up or having to troop down to a place just to return.

Can’t decide whether a portable wifi device or SIM card works better for you? I did a rather thorough review of the pros and cons for you.

 

Changi Airport Souvenirs – want to remember this awesome airport? I’m quite intrigued by the miniature droplets of the kinetic rain sculpture – that’s the rather mesmerizing piece that you see at Terminal 1. I thought the tumblers were pretty nice as well.

For Incoming Visitors

Get Connected – You can also rent a portable wifi device for your visit to Singapore at $10/day, especially helpful for those who need multiple devices to be connected. The best way to ensure you have a device is to make an online reservation at least 3 days before your arrival date, and the moment you land at Changi Airport, you just need to pop by the booth and pick up your device before you head off to explore this little island. Returning the device is also a breeze, something you can do right after you’ve checked in and before you head into your gate.

 

Saving time and money on Tourist Attractions – If you are making a last minute decision to check out some of Singapore’s top tourist hotspots, Changi Recommends lets you book your tickets right at the booths when you land for the  Singapore Zoo, Night Safari and River Safari among others. It also offer some discounts on famous Singapore attractions like the S.E.A Aquarium, Universal Studios and Alive Museum.

Though you can get tickets online directly from the various attractions websites, what’s nice about the Changi Recommends voucher is that the ticket voucher is valid for 90 days, so you don’t have to book a specific day if you’re unsure about your itinerary. However, Changi Recommends only sells single adult or child tickets which works for solo/smaller groups and those who aren’t very comfortable with online bookings still – I’d suggest checking out the attractions websites or at the door if you’re looking for package deals or group discounts.

 

This post was brought to you by Changi Recommends.

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7 Singaporean things we take for granted when we are overseas [Mothership.sg]http://theoccasionaltraveller.com/2015/06/18/7-singaporean-things-we-take-for-granted-when-we-are-overseas-mothership-sg/ http://theoccasionaltraveller.com/2015/06/18/7-singaporean-things-we-take-for-granted-when-we-are-overseas-mothership-sg/#comments Thu, 18 Jun 2015 02:00:00 +0000 http://theoccasionaltraveller.com/?p=17314 You find yourself really appreciating these things about Singapore, especially when you spend an extended period abroad.

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Photo from Flickr CC by Mike Behnken
Do you miss the Singapore skyline when you’re away from home? Photo from Flickr by Mike Behnken

Cheap and good hawker food, efficient public transport and being able to walk the street at night — these are common things in Singapore that we are thankful for, but it takes living overseas for awhile to discover some of the more unusual things only Singaporeans would miss when away from home.

 

1. The consistently hot and humid tropical weather

Photo by Lady May Pamintuan
This picture looks exactly how I feel when the hot sun is blazing down on me. Photo from Flickr by Lady May Pamintuan

For all the complaints about our hot and wetter weather — one minute it’s blazing hot sun and the next torrential tropical downpours — the general predictability of 25-32 degrees Celsius temperature with the occasional downpour all year round is surprisingly comforting. Having actual seasons is overrated — winter is gloomy, less fluffy snowflakes and more slippery ice patches and much less amazing when you have to put on three layers of clothing just to go outside.

 

2. Being able to break into Singlish without judgement

Photo from Flickr CC by Mike Elleray
Singlish isn’t bizarre, it’s… efficient and emotive! Photo from Flickr by Mike Elleray

“Eh bro, this place ho jiak boh? Queue so long, must be got standard right?”

Kit Chan’s “This is home” rings through your head fondly as you hear the distinctly Singaporean accent cut through a sea of local dialect.

“Yah, shiokest!”

It’s like having your own secret code — there’s something so satisfying about not having to explain the nuances of ‘lah’ and ‘meh’ to people who inherently understand, and don’t question the existence of any actual English in that sentence.

 

3. Slippers are acceptable footwear in public

Photo from Flickr by Walter
Slippers go with everything! Photo from Flickr by Walter

Slippers, flip-flops, thongs (snigger). Whatever you call them, you can wear this flimsy rubber footwear just about anywhere in Singapore (that doesn’t have a strict dress code) sans judgement. In most other countries, slippers are strictly for the beach or your backpacker showers. Some call us sloppy dressers; we like to think of it as just being practical in our kind of weather.

 

4. Dustbins Everywhere

Photos from Flickr by Zhao, BerniceCB, William Ng
Never realized how important dustbins were to my daily life until they took them all away from MRT stations and shopping malls post-terrorist attacks. Photos from Flickr by Zhao, BerniceCB, William Ng

You don’t realise just how prolific the dustbin is in Singapore until you’ve been overseas and had to stash dirty food wrappers in your purse because there just don’t seem to be any trash receptacles in the vicinity whatsoever, and ‘clean and green’ is too well-ingrained in your psyche for you to start littering.

 

5. Not having to hold your bags while eating

Photo from Flickr by Stinne Ertmann
Presenting… a tempting target for snatch thieves! Photo from Flickr by Stinne Ertmann

Don’t even think about leaving your iPhone on the table for just a second when you are in some cities overseas, because one minute it’s there, the next minute it might be on its way to China to create another Brother Orange celebrity.

Singaporeans probably could afford to be more vigilant, but there’s a nice feeling about trusting the people around you not to take your things.

 

6. Flowers along our expressways

Photo from Flickr by Ravenblack7575
Pretty flowers really brighten up our roads. Photo from Flickr by Ravenblack7575

The ECP is a beautiful expressway to drive along when the flowers are in riotous bloom, especially when foreign dignitaries are about to descend upon Singapore for major international conferences — it’s a great welcome to the famous Garden City. You don’t realise how much you miss the bougainvillea lining our overhead bridges and roads until you’re faced with dreary or graffiti-ed expressway walls in other cities, nary a shrub in sight.

Finally…

 

7. Being half an hour away from most things when you’re running late

Photo from Flickr by Nicolas Lannuzel
Ka-ching! If you’re taking a cab to CBD during peak hour – consider whether being on time outweighs all the extra surcharges… Photo from Flickr by Nicolas Lannuzel

Overslept your morning alarm? Hop into a cab and you can get from Jurong to Changi in about half an hour if traffic isn’t too bad. It generally takes around an hour on average, even by public transport, to get to most corners of Singapore. The convenience of being in a rather small country is more apparent when you have to go to a neighbouring town a few hours’ drive away just to get your administrative work settled.

 

This article first appeared at Mothership.sg, a Singaporean community news platform where I am a contributing writer.


 

First things first – I’m starting to write for Mothership.sg – I first started reading them because I liked their somewhat offbeat vibe, and also that they are very focused on the Singaporean readers. I’ve mostly written for a more international audience on other travel sites that I’ve contributed to, so this will be my first non-travel site, as well as my first really Singaporean one as well. I hope that my Singaporean readers will appreciate the articles, and that my non-local readers will enjoy learning more about Singapore through my view!

This is my first article with them, big thanks to all the friends who I polled on Facebook and in person when I was researching for this piece. I’m looking to try and get articles done monthly so you just might see more seemingly random questions pop up!

I’d like to hear what you all think about this article, and if you have any other ideas on interesting things about Singapore you’ve noticed or always wanted to know about, especially if it’s travel or traveller related! Leave a note here or drop me a mail :)

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Wallpaper Wanderer: The Delicate Arch of Utahhttp://theoccasionaltraveller.com/2015/06/15/wallpaper-wanderer-the-delicate-arch-of-utah/ http://theoccasionaltraveller.com/2015/06/15/wallpaper-wanderer-the-delicate-arch-of-utah/#comments Mon, 15 Jun 2015 02:00:00 +0000 http://theoccasionaltraveller.com/?p=17297 Be inspired by the great outdoors - Akanksha Singh of Teal Rain Boots shares her view on the Delicate Arch in Utah and why it makes her want to travel

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Big props to anyone who might have noticed it’s gone a bit quiet suddenly – work has taken precedence right now! Regular readers will know I work in the arts, so this month has been quite unusual as I am currently temporarily seconded over to the SEA Games 2015, which is probably one of Singapore’s largest sporting events in a long awhile! My temporary role revolves around writing and social media, so trust me when I say I’m just way too tired to blog at the end of each day, even if it’s been crazy fun.

It’s coming to an end though, but as a bit of a cheat while I get back on track, here’s something from a fellow travel blogger to get you wanderlusting. You can’t imagine how much I’ve been wanting to take a holiday this past month!

The last wanderlust-inducing picture was from Budapest by my friends the Travel Addicts. This time around I’m featuring a new friend who’s inspired by a place that I’m honestly surprised hasn’t featured before – from the US of A!

Utah

 Akanksha Singh:

Arches National Park, Utah, United States

The Arches National Park is home to one of the most awe-inspiring views I’ve yet to see. The park’s most famous naturally-formed arch, the Delicate Arch is a stunning copper beauty that arguably looks better in person (OK, perhaps I’m being biased… I am a geologist, after all– hello, sandstone!). 
 
Jokes aside, the arch actually is iconic– so much so that it commonly features on Utah’s license plates. The main reason I fell in love with this view was because it was one I came to earn after a fairly solid hike in the desert sun. The arch frames the La Sal Mountains in the background, contrasted by the blue skies; just stunning!

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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Family Fun at the Grand Mirage Resort in Nusa Duahttp://theoccasionaltraveller.com/2015/05/20/family-fun-at-the-grand-mirage-resort-in-nusa-dua/ http://theoccasionaltraveller.com/2015/05/20/family-fun-at-the-grand-mirage-resort-in-nusa-dua/#comments Wed, 20 May 2015 11:00:00 +0000 http://theoccasionaltraveller.com/?p=16881 Visiting Nusa Dua and enjoying all-inclusive pampering at the Grand Mirage Resort in Bali

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Over the Good Friday long weekend, I packed my bags and headed out with travel buddy A to the little island paradise of Bali, favourite of Singaporeans for a quick weekend getaway. If you’ve been following the blog, you’ll know that while I’d never been to Bali before 2013, for some bizarre reason this was going to be my 4th trip in 2 years. The central touristy part of Bali is not large – Kuta and Seminyak start to feel familiar after awhile, and even traipsing over to Jimbaran and Ubud.

Bali Grand Mirage Resort Statue
Bali Grand Mirage Resort Statue

But this time around I was headed out to Nusa Dua, an area of Bali I had not visited yet and is known for fancy resorts. The folks from the Grand Mirage Resort Bali had asked me quite early on to come check out their space, and after much coordination I was finally headed their way!

I was also quite lucky to have the Casio people loan me an Casio EXILIM EXZR3500 camera which I used to take my pictures for most of this trip. I love the convenience of my camera phone, but I’ll let you gauge the quality of the Exilim photos for yourself – I didn’t have to edit most of the Exilim pix except to downsize them for the blog, so you can be the judge for yourself of the quality of the camera. Also awesome – wifi capabilities so I could easily bluetooth transfer the photos to my phone to upload on instagram, as well as browse camera photos on my phone.

GETTING THERE

Nusa Dua is south of the airport, about 30mins by car if traffic is decent. If you look at the picture below, you will notice a bit of highway going across the water on the right – that’s the main highway that we took to reach the Nusa Dua area.

From there we headed up North into this little finger of land called Tanjung Benoa, which is that whole stretch you see in the picture below and you can also see the entire beachfront is just lined with resorts.

Bali Nusa Dua Plane
The paper planes point to where I stayed during this trip – Grand Mirage Resort (left) and Samabe Resorts further down south in Sawangan, which I’ll talk about in a separate post.

If you’re intending to use Nusa Dua as a base, note that you probably will need to cater in more travelling time, because most of the stuff to see is in the central/northern area.

 

ALL INCLUSIVE STAY

With just a short extended weekend to check out the place and get my R&R in, I didn’t actually leave the resort at all (except to go surfing!). There’s not much to see in Nusa Dua itself, but part of that was also due to the Grand Mirage Resort’s all-inclusive package, which basically sums up to full room and board throughout your stay. You are free to order drinks (and drink from the minibar!) anywhere in the resort, have meals at any one of their four restaurants and even.

My usual hotel stay etiquette means not touching the mini-bar and popping out to the nearby mini-mart to stock up on snacks, so having that freedom to just eat and drink as I pleased throughout my stay was quite a novelty. Other perks of the all-inclusive include use of the non-motorized water sport equipment, laundry and with some T&Cs, check out the full list here.

It’s a great idea if your plan, like me, was to just relax fully and not have to think about stuff. If you plan to eat and drink with abandon as well as make full use of their facilities, definitely something to consider.

Bali Grand Mirage Resort All Inclusive Band
The all-powerful band that identifies you as all-inclusive guests!

 

THE ROOM

Bali Grand Mirage Resort Deluxe Ocean Room
Bali Grand Mirage Resort Deluxe Ocean Room

We had a Deluxe Ocean Room on Level 4 – Room 4452 to be exact. The bedroom area itself is quite large and spacious, and there is a small balcony enough for 2 chairs with an ocean view. Tanjong Benoa is on the Eastern coast, so make sure you wake up for sunrise on at least one day!

Bali Grand Mirage Resort Bathroom
The shower and toilet bowl is on the other side of the bathroom

The attached bathroom had a bathtub as well as a shower. It’s not a modern fancy luxe type of place; there’s a more lived-in feel to the rooms which I think fits what families might be looking for – not too chichi where you’re always worrying if your kids are going to break something, but comfortable and spacious enough.

Bali Grand Mirage Resort Sunrise
Sunrise on our first morning there, taken from the balcony!

Bali Grand Mirage Resort Sunrise Flowers
We didn’t manage such spectacutular colours the next day, but still beautiful nonetheless [taken with Casio EXILIM]
Bali Grand Mirage Resort Bali Hai
Rewarding myself with a beer from the minibar! [taken with Casio EXILIM]

THE HOTEL

Our host Stella took us on a bit of a walkabout. The hotel in itself isn’t very big – you can stroll around it quite easily.

Bali Grand Mirage Resort Waterfall
There’s quite a nice waterfall feature in the centre of the resort
Bali Grand Mirage Resort Pool
The pool is one of the main and most popular features – it’s quite large, you’re only looking at half of it and there are often activities like water volleyball and aquarobics planned. It can get crowded and if you aren’t fast enough all the good deckchairs get snapped up!
Bali Grand Mirage Resort Weaving
There is a daily sheet of activites, some of which include traditional Balinese weaving and music demonstrations
Bali Grand Mirage Resort Kecak Dance
This was held in the lobby because a wedding reception was taking place in its usual Rama Stage outside. This was quite a long performance of the traditional Balinese Kecak dance which is quite mesmerizing. Would have loved to have seen it outdoors in its more traditional setting!

We had a chance to eat in most of the restaurants on site – there is a Chinese restaurant called Chopsticks further down the beach in another property but we weren’t in the mood for Chinese food. Overall food was quite decent, and all-inclusive definitely makes you feel like you’re eating free food. You can order food and most drinks to your hearts content!

Bali Grand Mirage Resort Food
The Grand Cafe is where we had dinner, also because Rama Stage was not available. Quite a good buffet spread of traditional Indonesian food was available that night! Also, free flow cocktails because of all inclusive, whee!
Bali Grand Mirage Resort Italian Pasta
If you want some familiar Western flavours, Las Cascata is a small Italian restaurant that opens for dinner. Book your seats early as it’s small and can get crowded! A had a huge lamb rack and my duck pasta felt quite Asian (still yummy though!)
Bali Grand Mirage Resort Indian Food
The resort recently launched an Indian menu because they’re starting to get more Indian guests. The curry was a weird tone (perhaps I’m too used to yellows and reds, this one was… pinkish orange) but it tasted quite good
Bali Grand Mirage Resort Dessert
Jukung Grill is by the beach and where you can get seafood. We mostly had finger food for lunch that day, but here’s a shot of our fancy ice cream. The frozen watermelon pops i saw people ordering also looked very refreshing in the weather!

 

THINGS TO DO:

Laze by the beach

And of course the main reason you’re at any sort of beach resort – let me dazzle you with the stretch of Tanjung Benoa beach right past the pool area and where you were most likely to find me hanging out.

The water wasn’t as calm as I thought it would be – it’s still a little choppy so I would be careful with smaller children. Quite a lot of seaweed but very clear water.

Bali Grand Mirage Resort Beach Hut
All I want to do is lie down and chillax, which is what I ended up doing most of the time…

Bali Grand Mirage Resort Seabird
A sea bird drying its wings [taken with Casio EXILIM]
Bali Grand Mirage Resort Reflection Water
At low tide in the evenings, the water is rather still and you can walk out quite a distance [taken with Casio EXILIM]
Bali Grand Mirage Resort Seaside
blue, blue and more blue [taken with Casio EXILIM]
Bali Grand Mirage Resort Pink Sunset
pretty pink sunset! [taken with Casio EXILIM]
 

Pampering at Thalasso Spa

Thalasso Spa is connected to the hotel, even if it is actually a separate property. It is one of the larger spas I’ve seen, with 16 unique themed rooms and an aquamedic pool (didn’t take any pix because there were people in it) which is a heated seawater pool with minerals in it, various stations for pampering and exercise.

The place definitely has quite a lovely decor so wandering around in it feels a bit surreal. I had a decent Balinese massage and while I think the ambiance is nice, it might be considered pricey at US$48 for what I had if you are comparing this to other cheaper massage options you might be able to find outside the resort.

Bali Grand Mirage Resort Thalasso Spa
long lush corridors. That is actual sand between the slabs of stone on the floor [taken with Casio EXILIM]
Bali Grand Mirage Resort Thalasso Spa Space Room
just one of the themed rooms. this one is popular with the younger crowd! [Taken with Casio EXILIM]
 

Seawalking

Seawalking, or helmet diving as it is also known is the easiest way for you to be underwater without having to actually get a scuba diving license. At this point, it had been more than a year since I last dived, so I was just very happy to be going underwater again.

The idea is very simple – you put on a giant super heavy 30+kg helmet that traps an air bubble around your head. Air is pumped in to replenish the air that you are breathing in while the weight of the helmet keeps you from bobbing up.

Bali Grand Mirage Resort Seawalker Boat Portrait
Taking the boat out for seawalking [taken with Casio EXILIM]
Bali Grand Mirage Resort Seawalker Pontoon
There’s a little pontoon where you do the seawalking from. In the water are various tubes through which the air is pumped into the helmets
Bali Grand Mirage Resort SeaWalker Helmets
A Seawalker helmet. Looking through this is quite disconcerting – the thick glass really distorts your view.
Bali Grand Mirage Resort Seawalker Pink Shoes
We were given ripoff crocs to wear! it’s probably a cheaper option than booties. i wish they weren’t so violently pink though
Bali Grand Mirage Resort Seawalker Descent
For smaller shoulder kids and ladies, you’re fitted with a collar first and as you descend into the water, the helmet is placed over your head. It becomes weightless as you sink into the water, climbing down the ladder

As everybody descends to the bottom of the sea, you each hang on to a large metal stick that the guide is holding on to, and he leads you around a rather small area – the hoses on the top of your head will only stretch so far, so don’t think about wandering off!

The waters in general around the area are very clear, but perhaps because this area sees more tourists, it’s actually a little bit murky. There are fishes which you can feed and they will swarm around you so it feels like you’re in a reverse aquarium, and there are some coral as well, but remember it’s an area that sees a lot of activity so don’t expect something super pristine out of National Geographic.

Perhaps if you’ve never dived or snorkelled in your life, it might be quite an amazing experience being underwater and breathing for the first time – A doesn’t scuba dive though she did do this in Boracay as well and enjoyed it more. I’ve done a fair bit of scuba diving so that novelty perhaps is lost on me!

Normal price is US$75/pax (though there are cheaper rates for online/early bird) – it’s still cheaper than scuba diving or getting a license, but personally I’d save my money for that! Novel experience though and something to tick off the bucket list.

 

Parasailing

This isn’t actually offered by the hotel, but there are folk who wander along the beach offering you fun seasport activities in the afternoon while the tide is high. On Sunday there were at least 10 parasails in the air at any one point, so while we were keen, we decided to pass in favour of lazing by the pool.

And a good thing too because on Monday, the same guy was there, but this time he had a much reduced offer because of the slower weekday crowd – just 150,000 IDR (around S$15!), which is almost half of the weekend rate!

After paying up, we were zoomed off on a speedboat in a 5 min ride to a neighbouring beach where the parasailing took place. For this price, you get just one round (which feels like 5-10mins) in the air. I couldn’t bring up any cameras, but trust me when I say the view was GORGEOUS. You can see exactly how clear the water is as well! I wish I was up there for much longer, but for the price we paid, that wasn’t too bad :)

Bali Grand Mirage Resort Parasailing Gloves
Besides the harness, you are given a red glove for your left hand and blue glove for your right. As you are coming in to land, there is a lot of yelling from the guys on the ground to either pull RED or BLUE or neither depending on the wind direction so you don’t end up on the roof or in the sea.
Bali Grand Mirage Resort Parasailing Landing
A coming in to land!

Also worth checking out is their games room, which includes a pool table and Karaoke room. I would have done a spot of kayaking and windsurfing (free for all-inclusive) as well if I had a bit more time and wasn’t feeling so lazy!

 

PRICE

I checked the price for a weekend in June – the cheapest rooms (garden facing, no breakfast) go for just under S$100. If you are looking for a similar experience to mine though (deluxe ocean room, all inclusive), the day rate was around S$315. Without the all-inclusive, inc breakfast it was S$135, so while I like the idea of the all-inclusive, I think it’s only worthwhile if you intend to spend all your time in the resort and eat and drink to your hearts content!

Bali Grand Mirage Resort Beach Silhouette
Silhouette at sunset [taken with Casio EXILIM]

From my experience there, I’d recommend the Grand Mirage Resort for family travellers – there’s a lot happening in the resort to entertain the young and active, while there’s enough R&R options for the parents who just need a break. There always seems to be something happening around the place, but you can still always run off to the beach to chill out.

What was your Nusa Dua experience like? Leave a comment for fellow trip planners so they know what to do or avoid in Nusa Dua!

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Day Trip to Sintra for Castles and Princess Fantasieshttp://theoccasionaltraveller.com/2015/05/12/day-trip-to-sintra-for-castles-and-princess-fantasies/ http://theoccasionaltraveller.com/2015/05/12/day-trip-to-sintra-for-castles-and-princess-fantasies/#comments Tue, 12 May 2015 02:00:00 +0000 http://theoccasionaltraveller.com/?p=17176 Spending the day in Sintra checking out the Moorish Castle and Pena Palace, and how you can plan your own day trip to Sintra and avoid the mistakes I made.

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A little bit of a throwback to my Portugal trip last year – one tip I had from a lot of people was to check out nearby Sintra while I was in Lisbon. Sintra is a small UNESCO World Heritage town that’s less than an hour away by train from Lisbon’s city centre, and it’s a popular day trip option for those who want to leave the buzz of busy Lisbon behind for history, green hills and fairytale-like castles.

Portugal - Sintra View of Moorish Castle
Kinda quaint, and is that a castle of some sorts right up there? Read on for more.

I’d done a little research beforehand and planned the day trip on a Monday, where lots of tourist stuff in Lisbon tends to be closed. We ended up making an unexpected detour to Cabo da Roca, but all in all it was a pretty fun trip.

Here is a rundown of what I saw there, and some tips for planning your own Sintra day trip.

 

CASTELO DOS MOUROS (MOORISH CASTLE)

Portugal - Sintra Moorish Castle Turret
Portugal – Sintra Moorish Castle Turret

Our first stop was Castelo dou Mouros aka the Moorish Castle, which turned out to be the building that we spotted from the ground. You can’t quite see the castle from the entrance – it takes a relatively pleasant walk in the shaded foliage of the Sintra-Cascais National Park or Serra de Sintra before you reach the actual castle walls. (side note: there are stairs that run up the cliff side which indicate that you could hike up to the Castle if you were so inclined. I am not inclined. At all.)

Portugal - Sintra Moorish Castle Jac Foliage
I like this pic Y took of me

You’ll pass by some historical bits and archaeological digs in your walk, and it is kinda hilly in bits, but trust me when I say the climbing is only just beginning…

Portugal - Sintra Moorish Castle Mossy Turrets
mossy turrets of old castle ruins

Finally at the walls of the castle, you are rewarded with an amazing panoramic view of Sintra and its surroundings. Absolutely worth the walk for!

Portugal - Sintra Moorish Castle Pano
Fabulous weather that day, a little hot for walking on the wall but made for great pix and super visibility
Portugal - Sintra Moorish Castle View Town Centre
The town centre is right below – if you see the triangular white cone shape in the centre – that’s the National Palace of Sintra down in the historical centre that had a really long queue so we ended up skipping that

You can sit in the turrets of this old fortress and enjoy the magnificent view, and walk the length of the walls to reach its highest point. Again I reiterate, there is A LOT of climbing involved on old narrow stone stairs, make sure you have some good walking shoes, pace yourself and just take the time to soak in the view.

Portugal - Sintra Moorish Castle Walls
See that tower on top? Yeah that’s where we eventually made our way to! We are about… halfway along the wall at this point?
Portugal - Sintra Moorish Castle Window
That same peak but taken from one of the turrets. I like the pretty leafy border
Portugal - Sintra Moorish Castle Pose
Some encouragement to myself as we climb that final leg up to the peak…
Portugal - Sintra Moorish Castle Pena Palace View
Success! In the distance is the Pena Palace, which I’ll talk more about shortly

After that exhausting climb, we took a bit of a break in the cafe. It’s nothing special, but I just wanted to share a pic of this really friendly cat giving me a very judgmental look when I fished out my phone instead of the snacks it was hoping for:

Portugal - Sintra Moorish Castle Judging Cat
ack the focus is off, but that expression says it all

 

 

NATIONAL PALACE OF PENA

Portugal - Sintra Pena Palace Colourful Exterior
Toy palace on top of a very high hill! The palace was once a former monastery, and you can tell which parts by the exterior colours – pink is for the former monastery while the ochre yellow is for the new palace constructed later

After the Moorish Castle, we take a 10min walk upslope towards the Palácio Nacional da Pena (National Palace of Pena) – you could hop onto the bus 434 again if you’re feeling tired but it’s not that far off, really. You can’t quite miss the distinct bright hues of the palace walls, making it seem almost toy-like from a distance.

Once more, slopes abound as you make your way from the entrance to the palace on top of the hill. There is a bus within the palace compound to take you up the slope but it costs a little extra and I honestly don’t think worth paying for unless you really need the help. The Pena Palace is the 2nd highest point in the Sintra hills, so you’ll have an even more panoramic view (if that is even possible) of the surrounding areas.

Portugal - Sintra Pena Palace Merman Doorway
Scary merman above the archway. The ‘corals’ look very real indeed
Portugal - Sintra Pena Palace Yellow Doorway
People were just a lot smaller back then! I am tiptoeing a bit but it’s still a pretty tiny doorway
Portugal - Sintra Pena Palace Courtyard Arches
This courtyard was pretty popular for its arches and view
Portugal - Sintra Pena Palace Selfie
me and Y can’t resist a great selfie :)
Portugal - Sintra Pena Palace Moorish Palace View
There’s a ledge around the outside of the palace where you can walk around. Earlier we were at the Moorish Castle which you can see in the distance. Can you see just how much walking we must have done??

After walking around the outside of the palace, take a stroll inside the compound because the interior is super intricate and is a great mix of that Gothic Manueline (similar to the Jeronimos Monastery in Belem) and the colourful Moorish styles. This was the summer palace of Portuguese Royals back in the day.

Portugal - Sintra Pena Palace Inner Courtyard
Cool quiet interior – this palace is quite a large place to walk around
Portugal - Sintra Pena Palace Church
Love the combination of Gothic arches and Azulejo, which are Portuguese tiles inspired by the Moors
Portugal - Sintra Pena Palace Mirror Selfie
This shot is less about the furnishing and more about the mirror selfie :P
Portugal - Sintra Pena Palace Ceiling Design
Remember to look up! you’ll spot some amazing things above you

 

After visiting these 2 places, we decided to head to Cabo da Roca, the Western-most point of the Europe/Asia landmass which you can read more about here, and then from there we headed to Cascais and then back to Lisbon at night.

There are other monuments in the Sintra area which we didn’t visit given that we only had one day and these were the easiest to get to. I think without the bus delays, we might have been able to squeeze in a visit to the National Palace in the city centre, or possibly have had more time in Cascais before it got dark…

 

GETTING THERE AND AROUND

Sintra is around 40mins by CP train from Lisbon. There are frequent trains that leave every hour from Rossio Station (the ornate station right next to Restauradores). From Sintra’s train station, you either take the Scotturb bus or a slow walk (15mins or so?) to the historical centre where all the action is. We reached Sintra about 10ish and visited the Moorish Castle and Pena Palace. It was about 3pmish when we headed off to Cabo da Roca.

Portugal - Lisbon Rossio Train Station Door
I’m kinda fond of Rossio station for its ornate design. I actually stayed in a hostel located on its top floor – Destination Hostel is quite a good place and very centrally located

If you are going to follow what I did, which is basically use the CP train and Scotturb bus a whole lot, I suggest getting the 1-day bus/train pass for 15euros from the ticket office. It saves you a lot of trouble from having to buy individual tickets when taking the Scotturb bus services around Sintra (5 euros hop on hop off). The ticket out of Sintra’s town centre is 3.35 euros/adult

Portugal - Sintra Bus Map
we took the yellow line 434 which goes in a loop

You can drive as well – though parking is a bit of a headache in the historical centre with very limited lots and the roads in the hills are quite narrow, but it’s one way to avoid the often crowded buses that result in you either having to wait for the next bus (Europeans aren’t big on squeezing Asian-subway-style) or standing precariously as the bus winds its way around the hills.

Driving gives you much more flexibility when headed out of the city centre and it’s much more pleasant in the hills with less traffic and you don’t get stuck waiting around. We waited over an hour for the bus from Cabo da Roca to Cascais… not fun!

 

COSTS

Here’s what I spent – happy to hear if anyone else has better ways to save some money!

  • Combined ticket for Moorish Castle + Pena Palace – 18 euros/adult. (Moorish Castle only – 7.50 euros, Pena Palace only – 14 euros. If you are planning to see more than one place, consider a combined ticket
  • 1-day Bus/Train Pass (buy from Rossio ticket office) – 15 euros – this covered the CP train rides Lisbon(Rossio)>Sintra and Cascais>Lisbon(Cais de Sodre), as well as the various Scotturb bus rides within Sintra, to Cabo da Roca and finally to Cascais.
    • For CP train, a single one-way ticket from Lisbon>Sintra costs 2.15 euros
    • For Bus 434, a single loop ticket (hop-on/hop-off) costs 5 euros while a single trip (from point A to point B) costs 3 euros. See this useful guide for details.

If you have tips for visiting Sintra, please share them here! My experience is only so limited and it seems like there’s so much more to see in this region so I have to go back again some time :)

 

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