Going Back

In just three weeks I’ll be off again – and though that seems the story of my life, it will be the last trip on the cards for at least a year.  Money making beckons.

So where am I off to?  Somewhere I feel most alive – Asia.  After my mega, sight-seeing laden trip to Europe in May, I am craving a trip where I can just experience the life and the culture rather than lining up for sights.  I’ll be starting in Thailand, heading through Laos, staying in Vietnam and ending, of course, in Singapore.

The bit I am most nervous about is going back to Ho Chi Minh City.  And I’m not really sure why.  I last visited in 2008, still a relative newbie to travelling – and certainly not solo travelling.  I think that my first memory of Ho Chi Minh – where I found myself standing at a five way roundabout with no traffic lights and what seemed like a million scooters coming at me – is some thing that will never leave me.  And although I’ve been back to Vietnam, Hanoi’s traffic is nothing compared to the sheer panic-inducing volumes that I will be encountering in HCM.

Travel 101

Whilst travelling with my Mum recently, it did occur to me that this whole travel and getting through airports thing could probably be very overwhelming if you didn’t know what you were doing.

How did I manage the first time I went overseas?  Well, the travel agent my friend booked through took care of our visa’s and I guess I just copied what my friend did when we got to the airports, but it would have made it a lot less daunting if I knew the process!

So I’m going to tell you.

Having said that, every airport is different and has different procedures, so a general outline of how things goes I can give you, but a lot of the time you’ll just have to ride it out and take it as it comes.

Of course, I will be writing this from the point of view of departing from Australia on an international trip.

So, you’ve booked your flight and the big day has arrived.  You’ve packed and repacked and fingers crossed you have everything you need for your holiday.  Wait!  What do I need when I get to the airport?

OK, well, 99% of the time, all I’ve ever need to produce is my passport.  Lots of people take a print out of their flight itinerary and their online boarding pass and I think it is a great idea to have a copy of your itinerary with you, but most of the time nothing else will be required to check in.  The check in desk will print you your boarding passes anyway.  Besides, there are quite a few airports that are becoming automated and you’ll get your boarding pass from a machine outside the check in area (if you do have to use one of these automated check in machines there are always staff around to help you through it).

When you get to the check in counter, hand over your passport.  They’ll usually ask you where you are travelling to, whether you have any bags to check in and whether you packed your bag yourself.  Pop your luggage on the conveyor when they prompt you, you’ll get your passport back, along with your boarding pass and an Outgoing Passenger Card, which looks like this…

Outgoing Passenger Card

Depending on where you are going, you may also get an Incoming Passenger Card for your destination though sometimes these are handed out during the flight.  The IPC for Singapore looks like this…

Incoming Passenger Card - Singapore

So I’ve got my boarding pass, my luggage is on its way to the plane…what next?

Boarding is usually scheduled for an hour before the flight is due to depart.  If you are like me, I like to get to the airport early to avoid any last minute surprises and I usually love to get through immigration and head to the boarding gates as soon as possible.  That way I feel like I can relax and there’ll be no last minute rushing.

Before doing this I’ll take a seat at a bar with a drink in hand and fill out my Outgoing Passenger Card (along with my Incoming one if required).  At this point, it’s useful to note that if you have any gels or aerosols they need to be in a separate zip-lock bag.  You will have to pull them out of your bag when you go through security, along with your laptop and anything else you are carrying in your pockets.  I usually make sure this is all easily accessible in my bag before I head any further.

Then I head to the immigration queue.  This is where they check your passport and take your Outgoing Passenger Card before you head through security.  If you have any duty free goods that you want to claim tax back on, this desk is usually between Immigration and the security area.

Next you head to the security area where if you are lucky, you won’t have to strip down to your underwear!  I usually try to wear shoes like sneakers which are easy to slip off and are unlikely to set the scanners off.  Put your hand luggage, any jacket you might be wearing, your aerosols and laptop in the plastic tubs provided and then walk through the scanner when asked.

At some point you may be asked for a random testing for explosive residue.  They’ll wipe a little wand over you and put the swab through a machine and fingers crossed, you’ll be clear to go.

Then you head to your gate!

What now?

Relax!  Buy a magazine or a snack for the plane.  Go to the bathroom.  Have a drink or a quick meal.  Do some duty free shopping.  When your plane is ready to board, they will make an announcement over the speaker and usually start boarding with frequent flyers/business class passengers first, people travelling with elderly relatives or children and then by groups of row numbers.

That’s it!  Until you get to the other end.

You disembark off the plane and head through Immigration in your destination country, again handing over your passport for inspection, along with any Incoming Passenger Card that is required.

Then you’ll collect your luggage (when you arrive in the luggage hall there is usually a screen somewhere that tells you which carousel the baggage for your flight will be coming off) and walk out into the arrivals hall to depart the airport however you have planned.  Most airports are clearly signposted at this point as to where buses, trains or taxis are located and of course, if you have pre-arranged a transfer, they should be waiting for you outside the doors to the Arrivals Hall, a piece of card in hand with your name on it.

Bon voyage!

De-stressing on the Little Red Dot

I LOVE Singapore, as you know, and so does Mum, so we can’t wait to start our trip off here, getting pampered and relaxed to start our holiday off on the right foot. Stepping out of Changi Airport into the early morning heat (it has been an abnormally humid week for this time of the year), we grab a taxi, load our bags in the boot, and are soon driving along East Coast Parkway towards the city. Arriving at the financial district, the roads are busy with commuters heading to their offices, ready to start their day.  In the near distance, we can see our hotel emerging, and our sense of excitement begins to build.

We have been eyeing off the Parkroyal on Pickering for years now – in fact, ever since we saw it magically arrive on the little red dot known as Singapore. ‘One day’, we thought, ‘one day we’ll stay there’. And just like magic, a good rate appeared on Agoda and that day has now come….

The Parkroyal on Pickering is a ‘green’ hotel – in more ways than one. It was the first eco-friendly hotel in Singapore – check this out:

  • there are 15,000m2 of sky gardens at the Parkroyal on Pickering;
  • it features zero energy sky gardens;
  • light, motion and rain sensors regulate the use of precious resources;
  • 32.5 Olympic sized swimming pools are saved through water conservation every year; and
  • their annual energy savings could power 680 homes!

But that doesn’t mean that it’s all heart and no soul, because this hotel does ‘green’ very well. Apart from the super lush greenery sprouting from numerous floors of the hotel on the outside, there are plants sprouting from the walls on the inside!

But we can’t check in yet, so you’ll just have to follow us around for the day, until we can give you more ‘goss’ on the hotel later.

We arrived in Singapore early this morning – just after 6am to be exact – and jumped into a taxi straight away to partake of one of our favourite things to do on our trips – a visit to SO Spa (previously Spa Botanica). Normally we would leave a stopover in Singapore for a relaxing wind-down at the end of a big trip, but because we had already booked Singapore in when Scenic cancelled on us for the second time, we had to start with it at the beginning. And you know what, when we looked at it – we thought, well at least we’ll have the opportunity to relax beforehand so that we are nice and chilled for our trip BEFORE we start this time – all the better to make the most of the things we love doing best on the little red dot.

SO (haha) here we are, back amongst the peacocks and the mud pools, ready to partake in some amazing massage treatments to kick off our amazing holiday.

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Mum chose the Instant Glow Green Tea Facial, I decided on the Gotu Kola and Walnut Body Scrub and we both went in for a Shoulder and Scalp Massage (check out my greasy hair afterwards down below!).  I am very close to sleep during the appointment, but I promise there was no snoring.

Afterwards, we sit in the small balcony room sipping a cup of ginger tea before changing into our bathers and heading for the gardens outside where you can head to the mud bath or take a dip in the float pool. What’s so good about lathering your skin up with a thick layer of goopy brown mud and letting it bake onto your skin before rinsing it all off? Well people have been aware of the healing powers of mud for thousands of years. Mud has anti-inflammatory properties so soaking in it can relieve muscle aches and pains. The minerals in the mud can also have a soothing effect on your skin. One you can feel straight away – your skin kind of tingles and feels fresh and alive. That’s the best way I can explain it, other than to say, just come here and try it for yourself!

At the float pool, the water splashes onto you from the rock face waterfall above, frangipani trees surrounding you.  Floating around in this pool is certainly not a dull way to spend the day, and any cares or worries we may have had just 12 hours ago are certainly not making an appearance here.

Then, inside for a bit of whirlpool action before washing our hair under the shower, drying our bathers in the spinner and moving on. Because you know, well, you can’t stay here all day.

Relaxed to the max, we jump about the island bus and head for Siloso beach to continue with the chilled out vibe, with a spot of lunch and the imbibing of cocktails.  It is peaceful sitting here, but looking out to sea we can see a raincloud swiftly moving across the waters – I think the Singapore afternoon shower is on its way.  We make our way back to our hotel just as the heavens open.

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Coastes Beach Bar, Sentosa

We finally make it back to our hotel, eager to explore every inch of this incredible place, hoping that it matches all of our long held expectations.  I’ll let the photos speak for themselves.

I can’t wait to check out that infinity pool later!

The chilling keeps rolling well into the evening as we make our way to Clarke Quay for some music and dinner. Mum LOVES Clarke Quay. I think it’s touristy and overpriced and would usually prefer to dine elsewhere. That said, I’ve had some great evenings here, and No. 1 – it’s close to our hotel, No. 2 – this trip is about compromise for this solo traveller.

We make the rounds of the restaurants checking out each of their menu displays to see what takes our fancy before settling on Warehouse, where there’s a great little band playing.  One duck pizza and a cocktail later, it’s time to head back to the hotel and get some proper rest (but not before getting Mum to try the black sesame icecream over at Azabu’s!)

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Clarke Quay

The Big One

We started planning this trip a couple years ago (yep, you can see where I get my planning skills from!). Mum and I both had milestone birthdays one month apart, and neither of us being ‘party’ people, we thought ‘Wouldn’t it be awesome to do an amazing trip together to celebrate?’ Mum was keen to visit France and I thought Italy would be an obvious match. We both thought Barcelona would be cool. So off we went to a travel expo where we grabbed armfuls of brochures to start dreaming up our perfect holiday. We made half plans and then sat on them for about a year.

Then, after a stint working for a travel agent, I thought it would be a great idea for us to do the trip via a Scenic River cruise. We chose an itinerary which took us from Barcelona to Paris in around 14 days, which sadly meant missing out on Italy, but we would be living it up with a complimentary mini bar every day and smorgasboard meals each evening, doing a bit of sightseeing here and there and just, relaxing. We booked a stopover in Singapore at the end of the trip as usual and sat back to count down the months. Easy.

Then the trip for the date we booked was cancelled. A new date was offered with a shorter itinerary and we decided we could still make it work, so we said ok. Then came another cancellation. A little worried about what this meant, and without any proper explanation of why from Scenic, we decided to get our money refunded and go back to the original plan to travel the way we always travel – our own way.

We put Italy back on the agenda. And then Lisbon, which had started appearing everywhere I looked, got added soon after. Next thing we knew, we were going to be away from home for over a month, travelling to five countries and taking in a lot more than we would have if we’d been on board any boat. The trick was going to be how to do so much, but still be relaxed and not have it feel like a whirlwind of a trip.

My niece was sceptical when I showed her all the places we were going. “Don’t you think that’s a little far for Nanny to travel? Perhaps you should go somewhere closer?” she worried.

I assured her that Nanna had already travelled to this part of the world only a couple of years before, so she would be fine, and of course I would be there with her. She looked dubious, her ten year old mind clearly pondering how I could possibly think about dragging a 70 year old woman around Europe with me on a whim.

We wouldn’t be rushing around, but she had me wondering, were we biting off more than we could chew?

Pearl of the Orient

Once I arrived back in Perth, my top priority was to spend time with my girlfriends whom I had missed so much whilst I was living in Melbourne on the other side of Australia.  So we booked a week long girls trip to Hong Kong, instead of our usual haunt Singapore, and off we went to shop, eat and explore our way around the ‘Pearl of the Orient’.

I had been to Hong Kong before (though way before I started this blog) at a similar time of year to this, so we had packed our suitcases with bathers, cute playsuits, tanks, tees and sandals.  Needless to say, we were a little taken aback when we arrived to a grey afternoon studded with showers.

Perhaps it would blow over.

Not deterred, we donned our jackets, which we thought would only be reserved for our flights, and headed out to start exploring the city.  We headed for the MTR in Wanchai and trained it down to the Central Ferry Pier.

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View of the Exhibition Centre & the Hong Kong Observation Wheel from the walkway down to Central Pier

Here we got our tickets for a night time tour of Hong Kong by bus and then settled in with some snacks and a celebration drink or two at Pier 7 Café & Bar.

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Pretty soon the evening started to roll in and the city lights began to switch on.  We boarded the Hop On Hop Off bus for our evening tour of Hong Kong, cooing at the beautiful night time view of the city.  We drove along the foreshore past nightworks, and into a tunnel to cross over to the Kowloon side of the city, past beautiful hotels lit up for the approaching Christmas season.

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Further on we drove, through the streets of Mongkok with brightly lit neon signs calling out for attention.  We could see busy street markets and bustling shops and began noting things we would want to come back and check out over the next week.

We watched the Symphony of Lights show flash across the city, illuminating the buildings of Hong Kong despite the haze in the night sky, whilst the lit up Duk Ling Jung chugged its way across the city skyline.

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The Duk Ling Junk

 

Then we boarded the Star Ferry to begin our ride back to Hong Kong Island where we were staying, chatting excitedly, looking forward to all the exploring we were going to do tomorrow.

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Hong Kong Island through the window of the Star Ferry

Delighting in Little Things

Leaving Launceston behind, I am on my way back to Hobart for my flight out of Tassie this afternoon.  Surprisingly it’s only a couple of hours drive from Launceston straight down to Hobart so I have plenty of time to stop off and see some sights along the way.

The first one that catches my eye is the town of Perth!  I am from Perth in Western Australia, so I was not expecting to find another place named Perth in Australia, especially here in Tas – a good photo to send home.

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The drive is pretty straight, but there are a number of towns you drive through or past along the way.  A lot of the towns seem to be very quiet with buildings seemingly abandoned or closed.  I can imagine that economic times have hit these little rural towns very hard.

Further along National Highway 1 is the turnoff to a town called Richmond (not to be confused with Richmond in Melbourne).  I had read that Richmond was a great historic town to visit, so I turned off the highway preparing to make a detour.  It can’t be far, I thought, looking at the fuel gauge.  Probably should have fuelled up in Launceston, but surely there’ll be a station soon.

Well, the winding road to Richmond was long.  I kept thinking ‘surely it’ll be around the next bend’.  But I’d turn the corner and there would appear another town, a town that wasn’t Richmond.  Anyway, eventually I arrived in Richmond, having started to seriously worry about my petrol situation long ago. I breathed a big sigh of relief.

I fuelled up first and then set out to explore the town, which was indeed every bit historic.

After driving around the busy little streets of Richmond, I decided that Richmond Gaol would be my first port of call, mainly because the car park was almost empty.

I paid my $9 entry fee and embarked on my self guided tour of the gaol.  Built between 1825 and 1840, it housed not only male and female prisoners, but also the gaolor. Whilst it doesn’t take long to tour the grounds, it’s a really interesting place to visit with lots of information about the prison giving you a real glimpse into the past.

One of the prisoners of Richmond Gaol was Ikey Solomon.  He was an English criminal who because a ‘successful receiver of stolen property’.  He was tried at London’s Old Bailey in 1830 and was then sent to Richmond Gaol in 1832.  It is thought that he was the inspiration for the character Fagin in Charles Dickens’ novel, Oliver Twist.  He is also the main character of Bryce Courtney’s huge novel ‘The Potato Factory’.

Anyone who’s ever stopped at a country town bakery knows that this is where you best baked treats, so I wasn’t going to pass up a visit to the Richmond Bakery.  Good old fashioned cooking.  It was hard to choose what to try, but I was glad I went for the apricot tart because it really hit the spot.

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After wandering the streets, I decide to visit the Old Hobart Town Model Village before getting back on the road.  And I’m so glad I did.  What a cute little place.  Basically it’s a large scale model of the town of Hobart back in the day, complete with funny little characters doing all sorts of things like spewing over a bridge, taking a leak, getting drunk or working hard.  I spent quite a lot of time there taking in all the little details.  Little placards give you information about what has changed over the times.  I’d highly recommend a stop here.

Leaving Richmond wasn’t such an ordeal as I was able to take a different route out of town rather than going back the way I came and before long, I was back in Hobart with plenty of time to spare.  What to do with some time on my hands?

Well, I didn’t manage to get to the Botanic Gardens when I arrived, so up the hill I went, parked and trotted off to inspect this haven on the hillside.

The gardens were established in 1818 overlooking the Derwent River.  Today, there are over 6,500 species of plants here and the gardens make a lovely place to sit back and relax, whilst enjoying the views.  Beautifully laid out, the gardens are a haven of peace and quiet – perhaps except for wherever groups of children running around playing.

The Japanese Gardens were a treat, as all visits to Japanese gardens inevitably are, with a little red bridge leading between different sections of rockeries and garden.

Glimpses of the Derwent can be seen through the trees where their branches have been shed of their leaves from the winter months.  Really a beautiful place to visit and I’m glad to have had time to fit it into my itinerary.

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After a week that went just too quickly, it was time to drop off the car, check in for my flight and head home.  I was so glad that I had finally made it to Tasmania, and like all trips like this, wondered why I hadn’t done it sooner.  I would love to make a return visit so I can drive up the west coast next time, perhaps when all the berries are in season, and fill up on some more of that awesome fresh Tasmanian food and wine.

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My advice?  Stop talking about it and just go.

 

Travels along the Tamar

I was so excited to get out and make the most of my last couple of days in Tassie, that I didn’t sleep much.  Which, as it turned out, was just another bonus, because as I decided to take an early morning stroll nearby my hotel, these are the scenes that awaited me…

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If you looked up the word ‘tranquil’ in the dictionary, these scenes would have to be pictured there right underneath.  There was a slight chill in the air, the sky was bright blue, with puffy white/grey clouds hiding along the horizon, the water still and reflecting everything in its path.

I decided to spend the day further admiring the scenery of Launceston’s waterways, by joining a Tamar River cruise upon the Tamar Odyssey.  Tamar River Cruises runs a morning cruise which departs not far from my hotel – at Home Point Parade.  Once on board, we are introduced to the crew, and introduce ourselves also, letting everyone know where we are from.  Quite a mix today, some locals, some Hobartians, some Singaporeans and some Melbournites.  We start off down the Tamar, commentary explaining the history of the waterway, local countyside and life staring at us from the riverbanks.

Morning tea is set up, and we munch on local cookies and muffins while meandering down the waterway.

The Tamar was discovered by Matthew Flinders and George Bass in 1798, during an exploration in which they proved that Tasmania was separated from the mainland of Australia.

Then, in 1804, William Collins reported it as suitable for settlement.  The river was named Tamar as a compliment to Governor King who was born on the Tamar in south west England.

On our return journey, we head to Cataract Gorge, while tasting local beers and wines.  All very civilised.

Cataract Gorge is one of Tasmania’s top tourist spots and it’s easy to see why.  The jade coloured waters at the base of the tree lined quarry rocks make for a spectacular entrance to the gorge.

Stepping off the boat at the end of the cruise, I reckon it’s time to explore the rest of the city.  So I walk the streets, which are really quite compact, and head to the Queen Victoria Museum and Art Gallery Inveresk.  I had a brief look through but the bit that looked really interesting  me was the blacksmiths workshop, which was unfortunately closed due to recent vandalism!  (I believe it is now reopened, though with limited viewings).  Luckily, I was able to snap some photos from the entrance still.

Walking through the streets of Launceston is quite interesting because there are so many different types of architecture.  I found the buildings to be gorgeous and couldn’t stop snapping photos of them.  I love visiting towns where you can still see the charm of yesteryear and not just full of glittering new glass and steel towers!  I love to be able to see the history of a place, and Launceston certainly didn’t disappoint in this regard.

 

Around the World in Film

There’s nothing like getting a glimpse into the destination you are about to visit like watching a movie about it on the big screen.  The colours, the sounds, the smells – all seem to pop out right at you and suck you in.  You can almost imagine yourself there – perhaps minus the fight scene or motorcycle chase!

So here’s a few great films that give you a great glimpse into the location in which they were set.  Enjoy!

The Beach

Leonardo di Caprio’s master piece The Beach is set on Koh Phi Phi in Thailand.  You’ve probably seen this one – most people have.  It’s the story of a bunch of backpackers who have one by one found an island Thailand and made it their own secret community.  Richard stumbles across it after finding a map from his dorm room mate.  There’s death, drugs and cheating along with some beautiful location shots that make you just want to dive right into that crystal clear water.

Lost in Translation

A somewhat odd movie starring Bill Murray.  I’m not even sure what it’s about.  But it does show you what a great view you get if you dine at the New York Bar at the Park Hyatt, which I did after seeing this!

Ramen Girl

Another one set in Tokyo, Brittany Murphy starred in this comedy about a young American girl who travels to Japan to be with her boyfriend only to find herself dumped.  But no worries, she finds solace in learning how to make Ramen ‘with spirit’.  Full of tradition and a really great glimpse into the Japanese psyche.  Cute.

Tanamera – Lion of Singapore

Now this one I have not actually seen in film because I haven’t been able to track down a copy – even though it was an Australian mini series – but I did read the book (named Tana Mera) and with my love of Singapore, it had me hooked.  I could see all the locations in the book, right in my mind because some of them are still even there and I’ve visited them.  Set in Singapore during the turbulent years of the second world war, it tells the story of two families and the forbidden love between their two children.

If the book can paint such a vivid picture, I imagine the movie did the location justice according to the period of time, although you have to imagine Singapore back in the day without all those skyscrapers!

The Tourist

This thriller of a movie sees Angelina Jolie and Johnny Depp tearing up the waterways of Venice whilst dodging bullets, leaping from buildings and damaging speed boats.  But always in the background are the magnificent buildings and lovely canals that Venice is famous for.  Definitely worth a watch – even if it’s only for a glimpse of Johnny.

Amelie

OK it’s a bit of a quirky one this, not to mention you’ll need to read subtitles (unless you are a master of the French language), but you get a lovely feel for the quaint neighbourhood that is Montmartre in the northern part of Paris city and that’s the whole point.

Singles

Set in Seattle on the west coast of the good ole US of A, Singles is probably one for a particular audience, but given my love of all things grunge at the time of it’s release and featuring cameos by artists such as Chris Cornell and Eddie Vedder, it couldn’t have held more intrigue for me.

It’s the story of a group of 20 somethings and how they deal with the relationships in their lives.  It’s got great music and a bit of subtle humour in it and apart from the cameos, stars Bill Pullman, Bridget Fonda and Matt Dillon to name a few.

Even better – it you make it to Seattle, make sure you look up Charity of Stalking Seattle and take one of her tours where she can show you some of the locations from the movie as well as many grunge era hot spots.

Under the Tuscan Sun

After Frances finds out her husband has been cheating on her, friends surprise her with a trip to Italy.  She ends up finding a property in Tuscany that grabs her heart and she buys it on a whim.  There’s lots of hard work along the way to get the home up to scratch and plenty of drama in between.  Lots of golden sunsets and rural settings.

Dilwale

A great movie – as all Shah Rukh Khan movies are – this one is set in a couple of locations, Sofia in Bulgaria and Goa, India.  As I had visited Sofia just last year it was a nice memory to see it again so soon.  The shots in Goa are beautiful too and you can just imagine the colours and scents jumping out of the movie screen at you, right before Shah Rukh Khan starts another fight.  It’s a bit of a chuckle too.

Chennai Express

Filmed in many locations around India, Chennai Express is one of those films that makes you want to book a flight right away.  It’s a love story at heart, mixed with plenty of singing and dancing, but also with a bit of action thrown in.  There’s so much going on in these Bollywood movies that they are never boring – even if they are three hours long!

And of course, it’s another Shah Rukh Khan movie.

Sex and the City

Any self respecting gal will know that you only have to watch one episode of the TV series to get the buzz of New York City in your veins, so why not watch the movie as well for that big screen feeling.  Once you get to New York, you’ll be surrounded by the same awesome places Carrie and the girls visited and you’ll understand just why they love it so much!

Happy travels!

The Delights of Ice Cream in Bread

My time in Singapore is almost at an end again.  I have most of today to finish off my list of must do’s.  Of course, there are still things I didn’t get to do and plenty more inspiration for next time.  I still haven’t made it to Pulau Ubin (grrr) and I would love to stay in a totally new location again next time – more residential if possible or even out as far as Changi.  Who knows – I’ll always be back, so there’s no hurry.

I have been to Tiong Bahru before, but only briefly (for a stop at the Nimble/Knead beauty salon in shipping containers – check it out if you get a chance), so I really wanted the chance to return again and stroll around it’s up and coming streets.

The architecture of Tiong Bahru is art deco and quite different from elsewhere on the island.  I really like its clean lines, which I think have held well against modern times considering it’s one of Singapore’s oldest suburbs.

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The two main streets to consider for funky little cafes and shops are Eng Hoon Street (where you’ll find the fabulous Tiong Bahru Bakery and the Orange Thimble) and Yong Siak Street (where you’ll find cafes like 40 Hands, the Open Door Policy bistro and Books Actually).  But wherever you walk, there’s a nice relaxing treat for your eyes and most likely, your stomach.

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Much, much quieter than Orchard Road or any of the areas in the CBD, Tiong Bahru marches to a different beat and it’s easy to see why there has been a resurgence of people moving back into the suburb.

I definitely look forward to spending more time here from now on.

With only a few hours left before I need to get to the airport, there’s one thing I have got to do with my remaining time – track down one of the ice cream men on Orchard Road so I can try the ice cream in bread.  I have no trouble finding one just outside Wisma Atria – he’s just served up an ice cream to a foreign couple and has now unexpectedly been asked to pose for a photo with one of these strangers.  He looks as though he’s not sure what the heck is going on, he’s just serving ice cream and now he’s going to wind up in someone’s photo album?  He grimaces into the camera before turning back to his cart and looking anxiously around for his next customer.  Which is me.  I’m still not sure about this bread thing, so I’m definitely not going to go with an exotic ice cream flavour.  So I scan the list and think surely ‘Ripple’ would ease the blow in case the bread doesn’t cut it.

I grab my sandwich, exploring the texture and colour of the bread, clamp it down and bite into it – the berry flavour of the ripple ice cream is just gorgeous and the bread is, almost sweet I guess.  Or is it just that I think it’s sweet with those pretty pink and green swirls surrounding the sweet ice cream?

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In any case, it’s really great and I would have no hesitation in making this a must do every time I’m in Singapore.

I’ve enjoyed this (nearly) week in Singapore so much.  It’s been amazing getting to know the other sides of her personality and I can’t wait to see more next time.

So long for now, Singapore!

The Delights of Early Morning Hanoi

Last night I double-checked the internet to make sure that my hotel had 24 hour reception.  It also had 24 hour security, which was comforting to note.

So when I crept downstairs at 4am (yes 4AM) for my Good Morning Hanoi tour, I was surprised to see the reception area blanketed in darkness.  The sound of the darkness was quickly broken by the sound of snoring and as my eyes adjusted to the dark, I could see the outline of the receptionist asleep across four chairs behind the reception desk and the security guard asleep on the front couch.  The door of course was locked, an umbrella shoved through the handles.  I guess you can’t argue that 24 hour security and reception aren’t available – you just have to wake them up first!  Welcome to Hanoi.

I wasn’t sure what to do, so I sat down on the bottom step of the stairwell and decided to wait it out.  It wasn’t long before my guide in his taxi rocked up out the front of the hotel, and with a loud rap on the door – security was in place.  The poor guy must have been frightened out of his sleep and I felt terrible, but in the world of tourism where guests would be arriving at all times of the day and night, I would hope he may be used to it.

My guide is a super friendly chap, especially given the hour of the morning and he is incredibly eager to show me his city early in the morning.  It rubs off and I can’t help but feel excited to see it.

Our first stop is a wholesale flower market on the outskirts of the old quarter.  Row after row of all sorts of beautiful flowers are for sale here, colours and scents galore.  There are people weaving in and out all over the place, but my guide says this is very quiet – a result of the present economy.

We take a seat at a stall on the side of the market and the guide is sad to hear we just missed the sticky rice lady.  Luck, however, is on our side, because she does another swing around and very soon we are blessed with two portions of sticky rice on huge banana leaves – one sticky rice with beans and the other with peanuts.  I say blessed, because this food is amazing!  Picking at the rice with our fingers, the rice goes down an absolute treat, and although I’m not a fan of beans, I can’t even taste them.  This is the way to start the day.

Next up is the fruit and vegetable market and this place is really humming.  There are all sorts of fruits and vegetables here – massive apples, abundances of limes and dragon-fruit, people unloading and reloading goods left right and centre, and things I’ve never seen before.  And I can smell mangoes (did I mention already that the mangoes in Hanoi are THE best?  Well, they are).  I feel a little in the way, as woman struggle with heavy loads in and out of the market alleyways.  It’s a real mind buzz for this time of the morning.

Separated from the fruits, are the herbs and vegetables.  The smell when you enter the section where the herbs are being sold is incredible – just like the food it will adorn, coriander and mint, beautiful fresh smells, line the inside of my nostrils.  I can only image buying bunches and bunches of these wonderful ingredients and making something great out of them, but we aren’t here to buy.

Outside the stalls, my guide buys some fresh bread and we stand on the bridge overlooking the markets, while I munch on my beautiful fresh roll, chatting about the market and stuff.

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The view from up here gives a great overview of where I’ve just been and is a refuge from all the trolleys and soggy floors, and it’s buzz is just as electric, but the smells of wandering through the markets cannot be forgotten.  I am so glad I booked this tour, it’s things like this – seeing the heart of where the locals are and what they do – that makes travelling so much more valuable.

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The sky starts to lighten and the humidity jumps into action as we approach the square near Hoan Kiem.  People are jogging, walking and exercising all over the place.  Little dance and aerobic classes are starting and apparently I am going to try some laughter yoga.  This is a surprise.  It’s even more of a surprise that I’m staying for the whole class.  I have no idea what is being said, but the group leader welcomes me and motions to me to join in, so I just copy whatever everyone else is doing.  It’s a strange class and I’m not sure how this would compare to a laughter yoga class in Australia, but being with the locals in their circle and sharing a part of their daily ritual feels damn good.  A few other foreigners join in towards the end of the class so I’m not alone.  This feels nice.

Our last stop for this morning’s tour is coming up, but my guide quickly shows me the best spot to photograph the red bridge over Hoan Kiem Lake…

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The last stop is what every visitor to Hanoi should not leave without trying.  Pho Bo (beef pho).  It’s practically the national dish.  And although there are different types of pho, the beef one is the best. You’ll find pho all over the city and people will argue over which they feel is the best, but this one that we tried from Pho Ga Bun Thang (I think) it was simply amazing.  The broth was nice and salty (not too salty), the beef was really nice and tender and it was just, well, incredible.  And an incredible way to end what has been an amazing morning in Hanoi.  If you are going to Hanoi, do the tour.  Yes it’s a 4am start, but you’re on holidays, you can sleep later.  Have a real experience.

The tour is over and my guide calls a taxi to take me back to my hotel.  I’m going to rest now.  Because it is only 8am and I have the rest of the day to see what I want before I leave tomorrow.

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After a cold shower and a rest, it was time to see the last of what I could fit into my last day.  I headed for the famous Metropole Hotel, but the area was cordoned off due to a fire drill.  So I just wandered the streets, silently sweating to death.

By chance, and attracted by the bright colours, I stumbled across the Hanoi Police Museum.  Newly opened, the museum is free, but a guide is called to show you through once you arrive.  They give you an overview of each room, but happily leave you enough time to read the exhibits on your own.  It’s cool having a personal guide in the room once you have read the notes because you can instantly turn around and ask questions!

The displays were really well set out and easy on the eye and the exhibits were very interesting spelling out the role of the police force in Hanoi since it’s inception.

It’s another one of those museums you wouldn’t necessarily see elsewhere and I’d recommend a stop by.  I continued walking the streets half heartedly wondering whether I should have stayed at the hotel a little later and avoided the sweltering humidity.  I wasn’t feeling very inspired to keep going and I had used up all my laughter this morning but then I saw a beacon in the distance.

It’s safe to say that I popped back by Fanny’s only because my pants were melting into my legs and I needed some air-conditioning urgently…and Fanny’s just appeared like a mirage in a dessert (ha, I mean desert).

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An icecream sundae and a good half an hour in the air-conditioning sorted me right out and a plan of attack developed for the rest of the afternoon.

Starting with a visit to KOTO, a little walk away, for lunch.  KOTO (know one, teach one) is a social enterprise which trains underprivileged and disadvantaged kids to work in the hospitality industry.  It was founded by Vietnamese born Australian Jimmy Pham over ten years ago.  Every six months, KOTO recruits up to 30 young people from the streets, aged between 16-22 following recommendations from a large number of sources (ie. those dealing with poverty and trafficking).  They undergo a two year training program and at the end of it offers them the opportunity to work in some of the best restaurants and hotels.  But you can come to KOTO’s restaurant and see for yourself the result of the foundation’s efforts.

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Everything else I planned to do this afternoon seemed to fall apart – graduations at the Temple of Literaure, the Citadel was closed (for the same reason I think) and the War Museum was closed too.  But it didn’t really matter because at the end of the day, the excitement and vibrancy and the feel, sights and smells of Hanoi are what you come for and that’s exactly what you get by just being here.

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And, yes, this is a train track through the middle of a residential area.  Remember, you’re in Hanoi now.