The Occasional Traveller Occasionally Travelling, Always Inspiring Mon, 16 Feb 2015 18:32:29 +0000 en-US hourly 1 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!

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Rivers of London – An Ode to the City Mon, 05 Jan 2015 02:00:00 +0000 Travelling without leaving home - reading the Rivers of London by Ben Aaronovitch brought back memories of my own London trip in 2014.

The post Rivers of London – An Ode to the City appeared first on The Occasional Traveller.

So we kick off 2015 without any firm travel plans for the year (which is a little unusual, I usually have some idea of where I’m headed in the first quarter at least), but while I decide on that, I spent my New Year’s day curled up with some snacks and a new book (some rare reading!) to spark some wanderlusting. This time it took me back to my London trip last year.

Rivers of London
A book about London with some Japanese and German snacks – International inspiration while reading in the comforts of my own home. It’s one way to travel without leaving home!

Well it’s not a new release – Rivers of London by Ben Aaronovitch was first published in 2010 and there have been 4 other sequels since which I probably will pick up because I enjoyed the first book. It reads as a first person narration by the protagonist Peter Grant, an aspiring policeman in London who accidentally stumbles on the more magical side of the city while on the job, which leads him to doing magic, discovering supernatural creatures and helping to solve London’s otherworldly crimes.

You could call it an urban fantasy, or magical realism – it’s akin to another favourite book of mine called Neverwhere by Neil Gaiman, where magic exists alongside everyday life that we know (it is also set very intimately in London, so I recognized a lot of the place names while visiting the city, and it was a wonder putting a visual to something that’s existed mostly in my head). I like how the magic here has some basis in science as well, a little different from Neverwhere and Harry Potter where we just assume that magic exists, just because.

But one thing that struck me about this book is the absolute detail it goes into describing London and its surroundings. You can tell that the author (London born of course) has very intimate knowledge of the city and being in the city – the detail that he drops into the narrative does a lot to bring the place alive. Since I was just there less than a year ago, some of these places that he mentions like Covent Garden, The Thames and even Camden for example are spots that I can actually see in my head because I’d actually been there. I usually enjoy fantasy because it lets me build worlds in my head, but being able to see the setting in my head and relate it to real places has been quite nice.

Go check out the book if you’re a fan of London and would enjoy a story that is part-history, part-commentary and part-cartographic about the city. I will admit that the first person narrative takes a bit of getting used to – Peter Grant is quite the sarcastic character so it took me a little while to get used to the tone. He even had a blog that gives a bit more context to some of the book’s content.

Side note: I liked that Peter Grant is actually a mixed-race dude with African roots – the way race and gender is treated is quite refreshing and it adds some character to the story without being turned into some sort of race commentary or caricature.

London Work Trip - Thames London Eye
And I leave you with a picture of me and the Thames river, who (and not which) play a pretty big part in the book

In case you’re getting a hankering for London as well, check out my London Street Art post as well as my fangeeking out about Harry Potter, Sherlock Holmes and Neverwhere in London.

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2014 Round Up – Writings Mon, 29 Dec 2014 02:00:00 +0000 Besides looking back at my travels in 2014, another thing I like to take stock of is my writing for the year – This year I have quite a lot of posts that I’m quite proud of! I will have to admit that I wrote a lot less in 2014, especially towards the second half [...]

The post 2014 Round Up – Writings appeared first on The Occasional Traveller.

Besides looking back at my travels in 2014, another thing I like to take stock of is my writing for the year – This year I have quite a lot of posts that I’m quite proud of!

I will have to admit that I wrote a lot less in 2014, especially towards the second half of the year. I just can’t seem to write as quickly and easily as before – coming up with good posts definitely takes a lot of work! On some inspired weekends I can finish about 2-3 blogposts if I’m not doing anything else, but on average each blogpost takes a couple of hours in total on top of the actual writing, which usually includes research, photo editing and inspiration. My latest tablet acquisition (the Microsoft Surface Pro 3 if you’re interested, I have about that in due time) has definitely helped in blogging on the go and on trips too.

But sometimes you just want to enjoy your trip and get away from behind the screen, even if it’s just staring out the train window and switching off your brain for awhile, y’know?

Don’t get me wrong, I do enjoy writing for the blog immensely – writing blogposts really straightens out the thoughts in my head and the research helps me appreciate my trips and learn so much more. So 2015 will definitely be about finding that balance – regular posts to keep my writing sharp and get my stories out, but with enough wiggle room that I can still have a life beyond it. Right now we’re looking at around 1-2 times a week, down from 3 times a week previously. On that note, not-blogging also annoys me, so it definitely won’t be too quiet.

But anyway, here we go with a recap of some of my favourite stories from this past year!


The Day I Forgot To Travel (And How I Learned To Remember)
This picture was taken back in 2012 with my dear Unholies back in the Liwa Desert. I still remember the sand dunes very fondly, and have J to thank for the amazing photos we came away with

January produced what I’ve been calling my ‘origin story’ (I can’t believe I wrote this in 2014, somehow it feels like I wrote it ages ago!), this post took me quite some effort to churn out, but I’m really proud of it, I think it’s some of my better writing and more importantly, it tells a story about me and who I am as The Occasional Traveller. Also, I’m quite fond of that super long title :P Thanks again to the folk from Planet D Dave and Deb for this excellent series about inspirational travellers on their blog – it’s a really good read!

Read it here: The Day I Realized I Forgot to Travel (And How I Learned To Remember)


Singapore Seas
You know you’re reaching Singapore when you fly over all the berthed ships in our waters!

In February I edited and reposted an initial piece I did as writing class homework for MatadorU about my thoughts on Singapore as my home. It’s technically 2 years old, but it seems to have held up pretty well. Perhaps one of my more personal pieces.

Read it here: My Heart is at Home, My Heart is in Singapore


5 Trips you really need to take in your 20s
How can you not love this picture. It’s one of my main sliders so I see it all the time, but it never fails to crack me up.

My birthday post in March, or the omg-how-am-i-30-years-old post 5 trips in your 20s had actually sat in my drafts for many, many months. Every so often, I would pop open that draft and tweak it a little, so by the time it actually reached the time to post (i.e. my birthday), it was about as good as I could have written it. Unfortunately I don’t have that same sort of luxury with most of my posts… My favourite part of writing this blogpost was discovering the piggybacking sheep photo while looking for a suitable photo to summarize budget backpacking – I try to find eye-catching photos that match the article and not flood you with all of my own selfies, so finding this was like JACKPOT.

Read it here: 5 Trips You Really Need to Take in Your 20s


Where to find street art in George Town Penang
Two stealthy rats (factoid: I’m born in the year of the rat according to the Chinese zodiac. I can’t believe I didn’t make that connection/pun earlier)

I don’t really have a favourite post from April and it was a really busy travel month for me then, so here’s another one from March which has been making the rounds on the internet based on my stats, and I’m actually quite proud of this because this was my first super comprehensive street art guide which spawned those that came after. This one is a little outdated now though, I have to go back to see the new street art they’ve put up!

Read it here: Where to find street art in George Town, Penang


Shanghai Zhang Yuan Pole Holders
Visiting Zhang Yuan and learning about shikumen from a local expat expert made me think about how well I know my own city

My pick for April was initially a toss up between my musing about solo travel not being the must-do for all travellers versus my 48-hr guide to Shanghai, but in the end I decided that my piece on Shanghai’s shikumen trumps the other two because it was a rather different experience from your usual tours and it did give me some local insight, something I definitely wouldn’t have been able to get on my own.

Read it here: Shikumen in Shanghai – a Peek at Zhang Yuan


My Dad the Pilot - Vintage photo
All vintage sepia toned and rounded corners

June involved a week-long overseas work trip so writing was a little sparse, but I guess this post about my late Dad is my favourite because, well… duh it’s my Dad~ and also because the photo is so vintage-y and kinda awesome.

Read it here: My Dad the Pilot – a vintage photo from the family archives


Jac Appreciating Art
trying to figure out art can be an overwhelming business

July saw this post about art appreciation, which is something quite close to my heart and while I currently work in the arts for a living, I really don’t have that much arts and culture in my background. It’s just not something my family is in to, and I spent my schooling years mostly as a sportsperson, so some of these art things I encounter at work really go right over my head. Travel did help, as I do think that cultural discovery is an important part to understanding a place, and just wanted to tell the fellow bumpkins like me that it really isn’t as high-faluting as you might imagine it to be. Also, this post’s title is in running with the January post as one of my all-time favourites.

Read it here: The Art of Appreciating Art When You Know Nothing About Art


Bangkok - Rajadamnern Stadium Muay Thai Fight
I can still feel the sweat spraying towards me, right there in the front row!

My favourite August post would be the one about watching a real Muay Thai match, and I guess I have to thank the two guys who decided to set it up in the first place as it wasn’t part of the original FAM trip itinerary, and of course congratulate myself for being a little thick-skinned and tagging along because it was a really memorable part of my trip!

Read it here: Catching a live Muay Thai fight at Rajadamnern Stadium


Travel at Home - Globe
When your only form of travel involves staring at a globe…

Travelling Occasionally is a more personal section of the blog because it’s more of my own musings than travel tips. This post in September about keeping the feeling of travel alive when you aren’t travelling was borne out of my wanderlust – I had a pretty intense second quarter of the year, and suddenly I was stuck for three months solid with an intense workload and no travelling. As always, a lot of the posts are aimed at myself really, reminding myself and others like me to take stock of our lives and work with what we have.

Read it here: When Life Keeps You Down – How To Travel Without Leaving Home


Portugal - Lagos Street Art Aryz
One of my favourite photos – the thing about solo travel is you just don’t get awesome pix of yourself like this – I call this my blogger at work photo (Thanks Y)

I finally headed on my long trip to Portugal in October, and upon returning I put together this post on street art in Lagos, Portugal quite quickly as it was still very fresh in my memories, and it has gone even more viral than my old record holder How to Piss Off a Singaporean (possibly because because there are just a lot more people interested in Portugal than there are in Singapore)! I spent quite a lot of time looking for information during and after the trip to put this baby together, so it is gratifying that so many people think that it’s a post worth sharing.

Read it here: Stumbling upon street art in Lagos, Portugal


Portugal - Lisbon Roman Galleries Shadow Wall
What exactly are roman galleries? I will admit my understanding is still a bit hazy, even after research!

November produced another favourite from the Portugal posts, this one about my visit to the rarely opened Roman Galleries in Lisbon. I was quite excited to write about this because it was a really unusual event that I chanced upon on my trip – I didn’t even know this place existed! I do like the tourist spots, but unusual local experiences definitely get me more excited about writing. I have a bunch of posts that have been in my drafts for the longest time because I loved my experiences on those trips, but they weren’t particularly unusual like this was.

Read it here: A rare chance to enter the Roman Galleries of Lisbon


December was pretty sparse with writing, because my brain is in holiday mood (still) so I’ve been trying to stay motivated, though not as successfully as I would like. I shall cut myself some slack and not include a favourite post here, though looking at my archives, street art was very much on my mind.

And that’s it for 2014 folks, here’s to a brand new 2015 ahead! If you have any favourite posts of mine from the past year, fill free to let me know, I’d love to know what you guys want to see more (or less) of here!

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Living La Vida Lagos Wed, 24 Dec 2014 02:00:00 +0000 I didn't know what to expect from Lagos, Portugal, but I ended up having the most amazing food and beach experience there!

The post Living La Vida Lagos appeared first on The Occasional Traveller.

Portugal - Lagos Sign
Welcome to Lagos!

When deciding where I wanted to visit in Portugal, I knew that besides the main cities of Lisbon and Porto, I did want to head down to the Algarve to see what it was all about. The southern end of Portugal is renowned for its seaside towns and popular among the summer holidaying crowd, but I honestly had no idea what I would see there.

I didn’t have a lot of time, so I picked two spots to check out – the first of which was Lagos on the Western side of the Algarve. Why Lagos when there are so many towns I could have picked from? In part I was a little curious about what my friend Julika had experienced there, and also there was a direct bus from Lisbon to Lagos, so why not?

Portugal - Lagos Bus Station
I took Eva Bus 92 which took 4 hours in total from the Rede Expressos Bus Station in Lisbon to Lagos

The Algarve definitely has its own distinct vibe that you don’t get in Lisbon and Porto. It was here there I got a pretty good tan and spent most of my time on the beach, which was a nice change from the rainy days in both Lisbon and Porto. I was very happy to spend most of my time wandering around in a sleeveless dress and my slippers!

Portugal - Lagos Goncalo Statue
This saint apparently gives the fishermen protection

If you’re headed up to Lagos, here are some tips on where to go and what to do based on my experience. Definitely don’t miss the street art of course, but here’s what else you can find in the historic centre of Lagos:



We stayed in JJ’s Yard which I found off HostelWorld. Me and Y stayed in a private room for 2, which was located in a separate house about 3 mins walk down the street from the main hostel building. It was probably the smallest room I stayed in the entire trip, but also the cheapest at 23 euros for a private twin room with a shared bathroom. I would probably have preferred something bigger and a little fancier with a bit more space, but if you’re someone who’s happy enough with clean, no frills accommodation at a good price, it definitely is a decent place to stay.

Portugal - Lagos JJs Yard Outside
Here’s our house from the outside – our room was the window on the left of the door. The main building where the reception is is in another building in the street behind me. When you ring the bell here, it summons someone over from the other house.
Portugal - Lagos JJs Yard Living Room
The living room where we ended up spending a lot of time at because our room was so tiny. You’ll notice most of the photos are wide angle shots because there really wasn’t much space to back up to get a decent shot otherwise!
Portugal - Lagos JJs Yard Room
with both our luggage on the floor, there wasn’t much room for moving around! I took the top bunk
Portugal - Lagos JJs Yard Window
the street gets a high amount of traffic, but surprisingly it didn’t wake us up in the morning. Thankfully also there’s a fan for air circulation
Portugal - Lagos JJs Yard Bathroom
this is the bathroom on the 2nd level. there was a toilet (no showers) on the first floor where we were.

Owner Jay is a big surfer himself so you can convince him to recommend or even go with you to some of the best surf spots in town. He also had several very good recommendations on places to visit and eat at in town – I swear the best food we had in Portugal was in Lagos! More on that further down in the post….

JJ’s is also quite a sociable place – they have arrangements with pubs around the area for discounts, and often Jay will pop by and ask you to join him and other hostelites for a night out – Lagos is also popular among the student set for its partying, so that’s great if it’s your thing.

JJ’s Yard
Travessa do Forno, Lagos 10



Portugal - Lagos Dona Ana Beach
Dona Ana beach on the right. The entire coastline is made up of these little coves

You will definitely want to spend some time exploring the Lagos coastline. You can do it by walking along the cliffs – head up the Avenida dos Descobrimentos and look for the cliffside paths and staircases that lead down to the many beaches that dot the coastline. Lagos’s coastline has many hidden nooks and crannies, and the further afield you explore, the quieter the beaches get. I’m pretty sure there was some nude suntanning happening in some of these coves which I saw from far off…

Portugal - Lagos Coastline Cliff Paths
the paths you find are mostly natural ones, worn down by other people.

As you walk along along the cliffs, you will also see mostly man-made paths which you can follow and enjoy a fantastic view of the coast while you are at it. Be careful though, they usually aren’t barricaded in any way, so don’t get too adventurous especially when you’re distracted taking photos of the wonderful scenery.

Portugal - Lagos Dona Ana Beach Seagull
We took a break on Praia Dona Ana, or Dona Ana beach – we are in the shade which tends to be less crowded because everyone else is chasing sun rays. I… prefer not to get burnt.

You could walk all the way to Ponta de Piedade which is the pointy end of the headland, or if you’re adventurous even walk to Praia Porto de Mos on the other side of the headline. We only made it as far to Praia Dona Ana before deciding to turn back. My favourite beach was probably the little cove of Estudantes, just off Praia Batata.

Portugal - Lagos Batata Beach Cave Entrance
Some of the beaches are connected through little tunnels
Portugal - Lagos Batata Beach in water
Here I am trying to get into the water. it was COLD. I didn’t get in any deeper than what you see here!
Portugal - Lagos Batata Beach Pose
Y was a little braver, clambering out to a further rock and striking a very pretty pose for me.


Portugal - Lagos Fort Anchor
horsing around in front of the Fort with this giant anchor

Another great way to enjoy the coastline is from the water itself – we checked out some boat tours and prices around the Solaria area, but ended up doing what Jay recommended, which was heading down to this quite makeshift looking table at the waterfront close to the entrance of the fort. These people at the table speak good English and will link you up with one of several boatmen who are pottering around the area waiting for customers.

Portugal - Lagos Coastline Boat Sign Up
Look out for this rather makeshift looking set up

These boatmen each have their own little boat, and they’ll take you out for a private tour of the coastline for 12.50 euros that lasts about an hour up and down the coastline from Solaria to Ponta de Piedade. You can negotiate to go further out or for a longer time.

Portugal - Lagos Coastline Boat Dock
The boatmen sit in their little boats on the water. When the table crew whistles them over, they start up their boats and putt-putt over to pick up their customers.
Portugal - Lagos Coastline Boatman
Here’s our excellent boatman. You can tell he’s been at it for a long time with his expert boathandling!

Having a small boat is key, because that’s the only way you can weave in and out of the little grottos and get up close to the cliffs. These boatmen are locals and while our guide didn’t speak any English, he was an excellent boat captain – even with the choppy current that day, we barely got wet as he piloted us so smoothly around the rocks. He did point out some funny rock formations like the ‘Elephant’ and ‘Camel’ and we saw a mini blowhole too.

Portugal - Lagos Coastline Grotto Boat
That’s another more crowded small boat weaving in to the grottos. Larger boat tours park their boats further away and send the smaller boats in for exploration.
Portugal - Lagos Coastline Grotto Cave
Inside one of the caves
Portugal - Lagos Coastline Natural Arch
Passing under a natural arch
Portugal - Lagos Coastline Blowhole
A mini blowhole – I love the eerie blue light, which is really the sun shining through the hole. You can’t see it spouting here though.
Portugal - Lagos Coastline Boatman Selfie
Obligatory selfie with Y and me and our boatman in the background




The sea-side towns of the Algarve are of course renowned for having amazing seafood beyond the ubiquitous Bacalhau (Cod) that is eaten throughout Portugal (funny fact: the cod is actually shipped in from Scandinavia – you can’t actually find cod in the waters here even if the Portuguese have a 1000 recipes for this fish). The food in Lagos was definitely some of the best from my entire trip! We have good ol’ Jay to thank again for these great recommendations at a reasonable price.

Restaurante Ala do Castelo

Portugal - Lagos Ala Do Castelo Outside
Restaurante Ala do Castelo from the outside. We sat just inside the doorway. All the lighting inside was tinted red for some reason.

Restaurante Ala do Castelo is on a less crowded road of Lagos, away from the main tourist stretch so its surroundings are nice and quiet. We decided on seafood and ordered a ‘dose’ (that’s how they describe it) of fresh little clams, another dose of prawns which came in a really tasty sauce and a codfish dish with chickpeas. We had 2 jugs of Sangria while waiting – be prepared to wait though, the food takes really long to prepare – i think we waited for almost an hour, but it was quite awesome when it finally arrived.

Portugal - Lagos Ala do Castelo Food
The fish with veg and chickpeas on the left, prawns in the middle and lots of little clams on the right

Restaurante Ala do Castelo
Rua Castelo dos Governadores no. 40


Casinha do Petisco

Portugal - Lagos Casinha Cataplana Close up
Close up of Home style Cataplana, mmhmmm

Another place recommended by Jay was Casinha do Petisco – it’s a very small place over at Rua de Oliveira that sits perhaps 30-40 guests at a time and it was full when we first arrived at about 7pm, so we left a reservation and headed back to shower first. We returned later at 8pm and the place was still full, so despite our ‘reservation’, we only got our place at 845pm. Either come here really early or really late to ensure you don’t have to wait too long!

The food here was my favourite of all the things I ate in Portugal, mostly because of the homestyle Cataplana dish, which is basically a very tasty soup stew consisting of pork, clams and prawns. While the menu says it’s meant for 2 people, I’m pretty sure I could have fed my whole family of 5-6 pax with it! We were completely stuffed after this meal. We also had a starter of melon soaked in port wine, mmh. The kitchen here is open-style and the chef was really friendly, always checking in to see how the guests were doing.

Portugal - Lagos Casinha Port Melon
melon slices soaked in port wine – it’s a really nice mix together
Portugal - Lagos Casinha Cataplana
CATAPLANA! That also refers to the silver bowl that the dish is cooked in. Our dish was served with BOTH chips and rice (which was really tasty)

Casinha do Petisco
Rua da Oliveira no. 51

Have you been down to Lagos, Portugal? What did you enjoy doing there?

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2014 Round Up – Travels Wed, 17 Dec 2014 02:00:00 +0000 A look back at the past year and where I've been to. 52 days of overseas travel with a full time day job and just 18 days of leave? Here's how I managed to maximize travel in 2014

The post 2014 Round Up – Travels appeared first on The Occasional Traveller.

TOT Round Up 2014

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

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

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


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

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


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

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


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

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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


Trips in 2015

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

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

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

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


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

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