There’s a lot of things to do in Singapore. It’s small in size but jam-packed in terms of places to visit and things to do.
In my last trip, I just wanted a chill day. No rush. No pressure. I wanted to enjoy a relaxing day just doing “chill stuff.” At the same time, my friends always ask me if I ever go anywhere WITHOUT shopping for clothes, bags and shoes. As unbelievable as it may sound, I actually do.
Here’s a list of my recommended things to do and places to visit, if you have limited time in the Lion City, sans the shopping. Yes, it can be done!
1. Have lunch in a food court offering a lot of choices. What better way to experience Singapore than to sample its array of sumptuous food. In my case, I normally crave for curry laksa or young tau foo. This time around, we found a shop in Vivo City’s Food Republic that served young tau foo in spicy curry sauce! It was a cross between my favorite curry laksa soup and my young tau foo obsession. Needless to say, I had it twice in one weekend! I highly recommend this if you like the curry soup of the laksa noodle dish, without the carbs from the noodles.
Arshad was happy to sample the stir-fried frog legs in sze chuan sauce, which according to him, was surprisingly good with just the right hint of spice.
The Food Republic offers a lot of food choices and fresh drinks: the usual Singaporean go-to dishes, Chinese food, street food and snacks. They also have vegetarian options, courtesy of the Indian food stalls. They also had Indonesian food serving nasi uduk, Javanese and Padang dishes.
2. Spend hours and hours on end at Kinokuya Bookstore. I live and breathe books, from fiction to self-help. After stuffing myself silly with young tau foo, we headed to the Takashimaya Center in Orchard Road to check out what’s on the Bestseller shelf. I was also hunting down a good hardbound copy of Neil Gaiman’s The American Gods so Kinokuniya was in my to-do list.
I said no shopping, but books are excluded from that list! I also ended up just browsing around since American Gods in hard bound cover was out of stock. I ended up buying my Kindle a cute cover casing.
I can spend half a day inside Kinokuniya just browsing through books. The bookstore also sells a lot of cute novelty items and beautiful notebooks — to beautiful that you sometimes don’t want to write on them!
3. High tea in TWG, Ion Orchard. Although both Jakarta and Manila have TWG, it is still cheaper to buy the teas from Singapore. Quick tip if you love TWG: hoard from Singapore, it’s a lot cheaper. I always buy boxes of vanilla bourbon tea. It doesn’t have caffeine and the whiff of vanilla whenever you brew a cup is divine!
Since I was still full from my young tau foo lunch, we opted to have some tea, macarons and dessert. We tried the sakura vacherin – vanilla bourbon tea ice cream and sakura tea sorbet encased in frozen meringue topped with fresh berries, raspberry coulis and get this: slivers of edible gold flakes.
4. Indian food dinner at Kinara. For dinner, we headed off to Boat Quay to try Kinara which was serving North Indian cuisine. I love Indian food and my default favorites are the paneer dishes. I will not bat an eyelash and satisfy my sweet cravings for kulfi (traditional Indian ice cream), too!
5. Drink bespoke cocktails at Maison Ikkoku. Finally, drinks! This is my favorite part of the day. Generally, I’m not a cocktails person. I don’t like my poison too sweet and sugary. For my alcohol, I stick to my wine and whiskey.
But I make an exemption whenever I visit Singapore because of Maison Ikkoku, as this restaurant-bar specializes in bespoke, craft cocktails. For bespoke cocktails, the bartender will just ask you how you like your drink: sweet, spicy (you read that right: spicy), sour, fruity, strong, creamy, herb-y – and he will do the rest. He will also ask you for your preferred base: whiskey, vodka, tequila, rum, champagne, etc. I normally go for a whiskey or champagne base. So far, I have not been disappointed with any of the cocktails mixed for me.
Their presentation of the cocktails are also quite spectacular, which makes the cocktails preparation an entertainment in itself.
Maison Ikkoku details
Today, we covered a lot of ground in Madrid because of the segway tour that we booked. Not the first time that we did this. In fact, it was one great discovery that we had when Arshad and I went on tour in Italy last year.
We covered several areas in Madrid in a span of three hours, which was physically impossible if done on foot. Walking tours are good, but segway tours are amazing!
For this trip, we booked through Segway Fun (http://www.segwayfun.es/en/). It was a private tour customized for me and Arshad so there was no waiting for other people and we chose the areas where we wanted to go to.
This photo was taken at the Parque del Buen Retiro, my favorite park in the whole of Madrid. I don’t mind coming back here early in the day to just read under a park bench!
According to Joao, our friendly Portuguese tour guide, it was a very good day. Sometimes, visitors come in the area and the castle isn’t visible because of the fog and the mist. Today, everything was clear. Everything was picture perfect.
The Pena Palace or Palacio Nacional da Pena in the municipality of Sintra, Portugal is a Romanticist castle perched on top of a hill in the Sintra Mountains. It is now considered a Unesco World Heritage site and one of the Seven Wonders of Portugal. This was the summer palace of Portugal’s royalty.
When visiting Lisbon, an out-of-town visit to nearby Sintra to see the Pena Palace is something that you shouldn’t miss!
Today was a full day. After going to Sintra to visit the Pena Palace, I went to Cascais.
Cascais is a coastal municipality which is 30 kilometers away from Lisbon. It used to be a sleepy fishing village that became a popular vacation place for tourists. This also used to be the royal family’s resort in the 19th and 20th century.
There are a lot of hotels, restaurants, bars and local shops in the area. I highly recommend spending 2 days here after Lisbon.
Today is my second day in Lisbon. I’ll be here for a few more days before heading out to Spain. The weather is spring perfect!
So far, so good. Experience maravilhosa!
This year, I have 3 scheduled trips already, with booked and bought plane tickets:
This list doesn’t include the short trips that we normally make en route to Manila, KL and Singapore for weekends.
Sounds all exciting, doesn’t it? I am excited – super! The thing that worries me and gives me anxiety is the lack of time to research and prepare for the trips in a leisurely way that I want to.
See, I’m a traveler at heart. It’s one of the major reasons why I decided to be an expat since traveling comes with the job. But the job also comes with long hours, 10-12 hours per day on the average, which either leaves me exhausted after a long day or requires me to fit my other activities in a very tight timeline: workout, bank errands, grocery and all the other usual daily grind.
And unlike some of my friends who became successful travel bloggers, I have a full-time job that takes me away from my passion for traveling. Don’t get me wrong, though. I love my job and the career that I have, which is also why I never had the intention of giving it up for other equally important passions. That, and it pays for the trips and the expenses that go along with it!
So although it may sound such a first world problem (though I clearly do not live in one), a traveler at heart with a full-time career has 2 dilemmas:
For this blog entry, I specifically wanted to write about planning. For me, part of the joy of traveling is in the planning itself! The anticipation of traveling is what keeps me from being a trainwreck despite my crazy work hours as of late.
Here are some ways I do to get around my lack of time to prepare for the trip and to keep myself excited:
1. Prepare way ahead of time. As in way ahead. This is most especially true when you are preparing for travels abroad that will require visa applications. Things you have to note on visa processing and requirements:
At the same time, comparing accommodations, researching about restaurants, museums and activities require time. The longer the trip, the longer amount of time is required to prepare for it. For a European or US trip, I give myself 2-3 months to prepare and research, and this is crunch time already. For trips in Asia, a month is usually enough.
2. Prepare to steal moments from your day-to-day routine to do some online research. Busy women like me fantasize about a lazy Saturday morning where we can just sit down, have a cup of coffee while browsing online to research. For most of us, though, ain’t gonna happen. There will always be pressing matters.
Whoever said, though, that there aren’t pockets of time in a day when this can be done? Reality is, we live everyday in a frenzy. If research must be done: beg, borrow or steal some time. In my case, I wake up half an hour in advance in the morning to do this, or I shorten my lunch break, lock myself inside my office and hit Google. If you’re stuck in traffic, thank God for 4G LTE so you can research faster through your mobile phone or tablet.
3. Lists. Lists will save you. Prepare checklists for almost anything and everything related to travel preparations. My personal favorite is to use Evernote and I have a notebook inside categorized as Travel. I have a checklist of requirements needed for a Shengen visa, so everytime that I need to renew or apply all over again, I have my Shengen list as reference.
I also have a comprehensive checklist of items and clothes to bring depending on what kind of trip, where I am going and when. For example, I have a default checklist of summer essentials and what to pack on a beach trip, while I also have a checklist of what to pack for a Europe trip during autumn or winter time. It may sound extremely OCDC, but for seasoned travelers, it helps to have a default checklist to go back to, and seasoned travelers already know that there is a pattern for most kinds of trips, whether for backpacking, beach trip or cross-country.
4. Find a travel buddy who you can share the workload and planning with. Faaaaaaayn, I get away with it because my husband is an efficient travel planner. We make an effort (well, he makes the effort) to sit down and discuss our options: travel dates, whether to book a hotel or use AirBnB, what activities to do, etc.
When traveling with friends, assign the tasks. In my circle, we usually assign tasks depending on what we’re good at. Someone with a huge credit card limit can book the plane tickets, another one can plan the itinerary and someone else can research on which Michelin star restaurants to try. My specific competence, for obvious reasons, is planning trips for Indonesia and Malaysia. At the same time, since I’ve done the rounds for vineyard tours and whiskey flights, so they normally leave these things up to me.
5. Package tours. For the lazy ones, the pragmatists or those who are really running out of time, package tours is always the way to go. Package tours will already have everything: transfers, guided tour, food, detailed itinerary and even prepaid entrance tickets for museums, churches and other places of interest.
The tour package approach, though, is not for people who want to try traveling off the beaten path. This is more for those who prefer organized travel with less risks of uncertainty.
For some, it can be a safe choice, but not as exciting and not as spur-of -the-moment.
6. Digitize and appify. Thank God for Google and all the emerging travel-related apps that can simplify research! They make life less complicated, saves me a lot of time for research and I can store everything on my mobile phone or notebook!
Here are some of my favorite travel apps and sites that I always use for research and planning:
7. Lastly, find joy in the experience of planning a trip. It’s very simple. What you find pleasure in, you will always make time for. Cliche’ but true: It’s the journey, not the destination. And part of the journey is planning the trip.
To the busy Bellas with wanderlust that never goes away, have fun in planning and traveling. There will always be time for these things for us. Come hell or high water, off we travel!
Last weekend was the very first semi-sane weekend that I spent in Jakarta, which was exactly what I needed: to stay put and have some quiet time after a work-week inundated by nothing but meetings and boardroom presentations.
I always get these questions from friends in Manila: “So what is your typical weekend in Jakarta? What is there to do in Jakarta? Is it still traffic during the weekends?”
To finally shed light on what’s happening here in my side of town (yes, it’s still traffic in some parts of the city), I’m sharing what a quiet Jakarta weekend looks like. Here’s my initial weekend top 5:
Saint ALi is originally from Australia and luckily, Jakarta is the first branch outside of it. Their coffee game is strong and they offer a lot of variety. The baristas definitely know their coffee and you can ask for recommendations. I regularly order their flat white with Dama almond milk paired with my favorite Avo on Toast.
Another great news for those who love macarons: Saint ALi also partnered with La Maison Patisserie. There is an array of colorful macarons to choose from, with eccentric flavors, too. I tried the salted egg yolk and the salted popcorn and they tasted good, in a weird way.
On the other hand, Lucky Cat is currently one of the hippest coffee shops in town (yes, there is always a line and you can’t make reservations). They’re open 24 hours, too! They have a much shorter menu for both coffee and food, but if you’re into flavored latte or affogatto, this is the place to be! I prefer their mushroom and avocado on toast over Saint Ali’s, to be honest. It’s creamier and more savory, but since this place is one of the newest, it also runs out pretty fast.
Side bar: I don’t know why, but Indonesia seems to have better-tasting avocados, compared to the Philippines. Theirs is more buttery and sweet-tasting, you just can’t have enough of it.
Saint ALi+6321-52906814Price Range is around Rp300k for 2 peopleHours: 7am to 8pmAddress : Setiabudi Two, Ground Floor, Jl. HR Rasuna Said, Setiabudi, Jakarta
Lucky Cat Coffee and Kitchen+621-52961475Price range: Rp300k for 2 peopleOpen 24 hoursPlaza Festival, South Parking, Jl. HR Rasuna Said, Kuningan Jakarta
2. Books! When I was a newbie in Jakarta, I had a hard time looking for English books. I didn’t know where to go. Indonesia has Gramedia bookstore but majority of the books they sell are in Bahasa Indonesia. There were English books but quite limited, in terms of bestsellers and new releases line-up. Luckily, I discovered Periplus in Plaza Indonesia in one of my cardio window shopping spree. Periplus branches are modest in size but they pack a lot of bestsellers and popular authors.
A weekend well-spent is a Periplus shopping spree and an afternoon spent in a coffee shop reading one of the bestsellers you just bought. In my case, I usually go to the Lotte Shopping Mall in Ciputra World since it’s in my ‘hood.
3. Batik shopping. My love for Indonesian batik is infamous among my friends. I wear them everywhere, for any occasion. For cheap batik shopping, Ambasador and ITC malls in South Jakarta are the places-to-be. One of my secret shopping jaunts though is the Bellagio Mall. There is always a bazaar in the middle of Bellagio Mall with around 5 stalls selling batik from Solo, Yogyakarta and Bandung. It’s very near my office and apartment so I end up buying whenever I pass by (or whenever I can come up with reasons to do so!). Price ranges from Rp150k to Rp300k.
For the bold and the brave, Thamrin City is the best place to buy batik coming from all over Indonesia. Imagine 5 floors of batik shops! I always, always get lost whenever I go, but I never get tired of going. You can find batik fabrics, RTW, shoes, bags and handicrafts. There are 2 main caveats: beware of pickpockets and traffic is a b*tch. Better to park your car if you’re driving in Plaza Indonesia or just go take Uber or Blue Bird taxi.
4. The most underrated but most divine treatment: Crème bath. Crème bath is essentially a hot oil treatment, with a pleasant twist: the head and scalp massage lasts for an hour! For someone like me who loves a scalp massage more than any kind of spa treatment, this is my best stress reliever! Most salons would have this treatment, but my favorite spots are at Alfons in Lotte Shopping Mall or Hair Code at Epicentrum, Rasuna Said.
Jakarta also has a better blow styling method that is longer lasting. Whenever I have to go to a Sunday brunch, I head to the salon first to get my crème bath treatment and a blow-dry after.
Alfons Salon+621-298890677Hours : 10am – 10pmLotte Shopping AvenueJl. Prof Dr. Satrio Kav. 3 – 5, RT.18/RW.4, Karet Kuningan, Setiabudi, Jakarta Selatan, Daerah Khusus Ibukota Jakarta 12940
Hair Code Epicentrum+621-29889292Hours: 10am – 10pmJl. Prof Dr. Satrio Kav. 3 – 5, RT.18/RW.4, Karet Kuningan, Setiabudi, Jakarta Selatan, Daerah Khusus Ibukota Jakarta 12940
First of all, the interior design of Hotel Mulia with its grandiose staircases makes me feel like a queen when I descend the stairs to go to the restaurant. Mulia has this old, elegant look that makes you feel like you’re an aristocrat of the olden days about to partake in a sumptuous feast of fresh oysters, lobster and champagne.
Oh yes, did I mention the fresh oysters already? What’s good about Il Mare is that the buffet spread is just enough in terms of size, but it doesn’t shortchange the customer. The buffet packs in a lot in terms of diversity in their offering – fresh seafood, sushi, sashimi, steak, pasta, grilled food, cheese and all the desserts you can think of.
I love the buffet brunches in Mulia, so much so that this deserves a separate blog entry!
Il Mare buffet with free-flowing wine and cocktails go for around Rp638,000.00++. Reservation is a must and when there are occasions such as Christmas or Chinese New Year, it’s always better to call a week ahead.
[photo courtesy of PalawanIsland.org]
In a surprising news yesterday, Nickelodeon announced that it will build an underwater resort theme park in Coron, Palawan.
Aside from the political goings-on in my country today, it is very rare that I get pissed off with news that I read. What else is new, right?
But this. This is a low blow.
Palawan is one of the last ecological frontiers in the Philippines. It is a marine sanctuary. It is one of the few pristine beaches that you can confidently swim in where the waters are crystal clear and you do not fear of chemical contamination.
Who in the world thought of this? Worse, who in his right mind approved it?
Nickelodeon has the gall to say that development will “advocate ocean protection.”
Ocean protection my ass.
This will ruin Coron.
I have very fond memories of Palawan and I choose to come back to it regularly because the beaches are clean and fresh.
I love Coron as it is.
To my fellow environmental advocates, to those who love Coron, Nickelodeon has no business to be in Palawan!
Please be part of the petition and sign up.
[Image courtesy of Save Philippine Seas]
“If you have 4 days and 3 nights that you want to spend frolicking on white sand beach without the commercial brouhaha of Bali whilst still being surrounded by a plenitude of activities, the Gili Islands might be the preferred getaway for you.”
Last week marked my birthday week. Yes, my name is April but I was born in October. As to why – that deserves another blog entry.
For my birthday this year, Shad and I decided to hie off to Gili Trawangan with our Malaysian friends. I wanted sand on my feet, with reggae music playing in the background while I am baking under the sun (with sunblock, to boot) to celebrate turning a new leaf.
I’ve been meaning to go to Gili for some time now, since the islands’ reputation preceded itself, but it kept getting shelved because of scheduling. This time around, I just thought, “Let’s book it and go!”
The Gili Islands is a more serene, less commercialized version of Bali. It is near Bali, too, so a lot of travelers normally go to Bali first and then take a boat going to either the main island of Lombok or to its three nearby islands of Gili: Gili Trawangan, Gili Meno and Gili Air.
Gili Trawangan is the largest of the three islands that attracts more visitors, primarily because of the availability of more resorts, luxury villas, boutique bungalows, dive resorts and even yoga places. It’s quite convenient, too, since it’s half an hour away from the northwest mainland of Lombok and a speedboat can take you directly to your resort. In short, it has more amenities compared to the two islands.
My husband and our friends decided to stay in Villa Almarik in the island of Gili Trawangan since we all wanted certain conveniences within our reach. We’ve all never been to Gili so our basis of selection were the Trip Advisor reviews, at least a 4-star rating and our personal preference that the resort must be located at the beachfront.
Villa Almarik pre-arranged our transports from the Lombok International Airport to Gili Trawangan. Our package included land transfers and a private speedboat that brought us to the island. During high tide, the speedboat can actually take you directly in front of your resort. In our case, however, we had to take a horse carriage from a drop-off point near the pasar malam (night market).
The Gili Islands do not allow any form of motorized transport. Once you’re there, the only way to go around is on foot, by bicycle (which you can rent almost everywhere) and pony carts knows as cidomos. I refused to ride the cidomos (I feel sorry for the horses) and rode it only upon arrival since we had to haul our luggage with us. Since I don’t know how to ride a bike (gasp!), I happily traveled on foot almost all the time.
Villa Almarik, thanks to my well-researched husband, was fortunately one of the better resorts in the islands. The facilities were awesome and everyone was accommodating. Guests get the usual welcome drink but the delight was in the free 15-minute massage upon arrival. The resort also had its own pool, albeit tiny, which we never used because Villa Almarik had its own beachfront. Our package also offered free buffet breakfast and afternoon tea for guests that started at 4pm. Not bad for the extra effort.
The rooms were spacious and the bathroom was massive! The gardens also boasted of beautiful gardens and lotus ponds. The dining hall and lobby were accentuated with antique blue ceramics and antique furniture, which I have a penchant for.
I would have given Villa Almarik a five-star rating, had it not been for the bed bug bites that pestered me on our second night. Luckily (and unfortunately for me), I was the only one infested and bitten by them.
The beaches of the Gili islands are powdery white, with clear blue waters. The islands also have a perfect position to see the sunrise over Lombok’s Mount Rinjani and the sunset near Bali’s Mount Agung.
There are also a lot of restaurants dotting the beachfront, most of which are offering seafood feasts, wine and cocktails. In our short trip of four days and three nights in the islands, we managed to try several restaurants and bars offering seafood.
Most recommended of which are the following:
Other notable food fare in the island is the carts offering grilled corn that can be flavored with sweet or spicy butter at Rp10k per stick. Several tokos (shops) also offered Gili Gelato (Rp25k per scoop), Gili’s resident ice cream that offers a wide range of gelato and sorbet for those who don’t eat dairy.
Aside from gallivanting on the beachfront, swimming and snorkeling, another recommended activity is the Gili Barbeque Pontoon experience. We rented the barbeque pontoon for their Sunset Experience Package.
At Rp295,000 per person, one can swim and snorkel in three locations where there are turtles (saw giant ones near Gili Meno!) and vast schools of fish in Gili Air.
The first site in front of Gili Meno boasts of gigantic turtles and some fish, although what’s interesting in this site are really the huge turtles, who, when in the mood to be playful, will swim alongside you. The second stop near Gili Air had more schools of fish. We were given bottles of crumbs to feed them so the schools of fish will literally swarm around you.
We capped the trip with a sunset view near the northern tip of Gili Trawangan while sipping ice cold Bintang and local cabernet sauvignon from the vineyards of Bali. The package also included a barbeque dinner with a choice of chicken, fish or vegetarian.
On the exact day of my birthday, I requested for my husband to book a private yoga session at The Yoga Place. For the uninitiated, it is highly recommended to book a private yoga class so that the yogi (teacher) can explain the fundamentals of yoga, proper breathing techniques and right posture. The Yoga Place is highly recommended for beginners since it is not intimidating and the yogi will go out of his way to explain the basics. Look for Mate’ because our group had a good session with him and he is just wonderful!
The Yoga Place also has a café that offers vegetarian and vegan dishes. It’s comforting to know that there are places in the island where vegetarians and vegans have a plenitude of options.
After a day’s worth of beach activities and a whole lot of walking or biking, try a soothing foot reflexology or even a whole body massage in some of the spas dotting the beachfront. You can get an hour’s worth of massage for only Rp100k!
Other notable things that make Gili Trawangan unique would be the island’s trove of cats trotting through the streets in every corner! Some bars and restaurants have their designated cat. One of the diving resorts even has a feeding and drinking corner for the cats passing through and a donation box for their food, neutering or spaying. The cats are very friendly – they’re quite used to people – and there were several who approached me during dinner, asking to be fed.
Overall, Gili Islands boast off a plethora of activities for the adventurous and a quiet beachfront where one can just relax, chill or frolic on the white sand. It is a must-try experience, even once in your life.
As a caveat, though, if you are averse to the smell of horse manure on the streets, you are better off staying in Bali or beaches with motorized vehicles. I still rate it as a must-try, bed bug bites and horse manure notwithstanding.