It’ll be 2011 in about 24 hours! How exciting. It’ll be my last year as a student. 22 years as a student, pretty scary to think of myself as being part of the ‘work force’.
What are your New Year plans?
My friends and I just hauled ass (yesterday) to book a (scarcely available) hotel room in which we can all comfortably ring in the New Year without having the problem of having to squeeze onto public transportation / struggling to get a cab home.
What’s been happening lately:
- Adorable God Daughter is adorable and 13months old. She’s so soft and fluffy!
- My entry for Fever Avenue’s WIYB3.
- At the behest of my parents and my terrible roots, I have dyed my hair back to black.
- Finally gave in to my long-standing obsession with hoping I can carry off bangs.
- Trying to decide if I look okay in bangs or if I hate it.
- Unable to decide, shall leave it to tomorrow.
- Ate at Arbite at Serangoon Gardens, at the recommendation of my friends over at cravingandwanderlust. Nice little place, reminds me a little of Food for Thought. Good place to just chill out with friends though.
- I had the pappardelle served with mushrooms and parma ham. It was deceivingly filling, and at $19.90, I thought it was a tad pricey, but not too bad. Salty, creamy, love the generous load of mushrooms, very garlic-y.
- Also shared “My Wife’s Chocolate Cake” served with a side of vanilla ice-cream. Very chocolatey and very satisfying for the sweet-tooth.
- Didn’t bring a camera out, photos via cravingsandwanderlust
- Spanner in my grad-trip plans. BUMMED.
I didn’t really know what to expect from Batam, having never been there and not having much general knowledge about it. I’ll be honest, I was expecting a village. I was wrong.
My Batam adventure began quite unfortunately. Somehow I managed to misplace and lose my ferry ticket before I even got on my ferry. There was a mad rush to get a replacement ticket, but eventually I made it (although I had to fork out another SGD24 to get a return ferry ticket later on).
Batam, contrary to my earlier misconception, is not a fishing village. Granted, it is less modern than Singapore, but not without its own city/urban comforts. We paid about SGD150-160 for a 3D2N package, with lodging at Golden View Batam Resort. The hotel is nice enough, if you aren’t a stickler for 5-star treatment, beds that are a tad too hard, and consistency (my room was missing a fridge and safe, but no matter). Although, it would have been nice to have gotten a room that didn’t smell of stale, unclean carpet. Thankfully, that smell disappeared after a day (it helps to leave the air-conditioning on). But what they lack, they make up for with relatively friendly and helpful staff, complementary dinner (on the first night) and breakfast, and a lovely pool.
The pool was godsent considering the ‘beach’ they had was really entirely not beach-holiday appropriate; it was resplete with rocks. Not where you want to lie out and soak some sun. Luckily for us, we took advantage of the sunny weather on our first day, because it was sadly gray and downtrodden on the second day of our trip.
Batam is the perfect place to do many of the things you would have done in Singapore, but for much, much less. You can watch movies, sing karaoke, play arcade games, get massages, eat till you can no longer wear your pants, all at a fraction of the price.
- Movies- SGD2.50. Of course, with a smaller variety of English movie choices to choose from, unless you speak Bahasa Indonesian.
- Karaoke- SGD5.00 per person, for 2 hours worth of singing your lungs out. And yes, they do have quite a modern selection of English/Chinese/Korean/Japanese songs.
- Massage– our massage was complementary with our package, but I’m sure you can get one there for about SGD20+ or so. Of course, if you are a guy, be prepared to get offered some ‘extra’ services.
- Cheap(er) alcohol
- Tim Tams for SGD1.00
But most importantly, your trip would be a waste if you didn’t venture forth and try their cheap (I mean, really cheap) and good food. Where can you find a meal that costs SGD1-2? Batam! Indonesian food is very flavourful, and everything packs a punch. Right down to their fried rice (you should see the way the hawker pours his heart and soul into frying that rice, I tell you). Things to try:
- Indomie goreng
- Teh botol- I believe it translates to ‘tea in a bottle’. Very refreshing.
- The best chilli kangkong (spinach) ever– it’s sweet and spicy at the same time. Different from the type of chilli kangkong you get in Singapore.
- A&W– a chance for all Singaporeans to get their A&W fix, though if you’re looking for curly fries, you’re better off at..
- BFC– Best Fried Chicken (I believe). Think fast food serving both East (Indonesian fare) and West (curly fries, shakes, burgers), but at ridiculously cheap prices. Ridiculous (like SGD1-2++). Your loss if you don’t try.
- Coffee Town– You can find it in most of the malls in Batam, I think. Though a chain restaurant, it serves great food. Try their coffee susu (milk) and teh susu (tea with milk) that’s diabetic sweet but somehow fantastic. They also serve curly fries and the best fried kway teow (noodles) I have ever tried. It looks bland and tasteless, but trust me, it’s an explosion of flavour in your mouth. You will not regret trying it.
- Ayam Penyet
- Seafood– Batam is known for its cheap and fresh seafood. Even the grilled/bbq fish we had at some roadside stall was succulently fresh and delicious. Make sure you order cereal prawn. The hotel we stayed at had a seafood restaurant within its premises, apparently quite a famous one at that.
- Kueh Lapis– apparently a famous Batam produce. I can’t tell you who we ordered our cake from (because we did it through our tour agency, and I wasn’t expecting much), but my god, it was good and not too oily.
We didn’t manage to try much water sports, something I’ll be on a lookout for the next time I go to Batam. But really, if you’re looking for a cheap and relaxing get-away, lots of food and just hanging out with company. Batam would not be a bad choice at all, though probably just for about 3-4 days (maximum), before you get bored.
First exam has been taken, 2 more to go, and the term will be over!
Recent activities / purchases recap:
Starry Nite: ‘Twas a retro/hobo theme. I liked the opening band, even if many didn’t. It’s different, but good music nonetheless. Perhaps it just wasnt suited to the desires of the crowd, which was to mosh, I suppose.
Cambridge Satchel: my batchel is here! I give it 2 thumbs up- the colour is true to their picture, it’s really well-made and solidly put together. The buckles can be a little annoying, but I’m getting used to it. Plus, they deliver by Fed Ex, gotta love them for their tracking service! The 5 week wait was worth it.
Kikki.K 2011 organiser: I love Kikki.K (located at Ion) for their simplicity & functionality. And, I love my 2011 organiser. Can’t wait to use it, but I’m controlling myself (besides it only starts on 20th December). It also comes in yellow, red, and blue.
Rudi’s New Ball: my dog Rudi has a new ball, and he is obsessed. He carries it everywhere he goes (even to greet me when I get home) and is always trying to get people to play fetch with him, every single minute. Adorable, but it’s getting a little much. Especially since my dog insists on fighting for ball possession, before you can play fetch. He sleeps in my parents’ room and word is, he didn’t sleep at all last night; he just kept playing with his new toy!
In other news,
H&M is coming to Singapore (but we will all miss the H&M x Lanvin collection, sadly)
GAP has a new collaboration with Valentino! Check it out HERE.
I am heading to Batam after my exams, for a much needed re-charge.
Dear Friends, sorry for the neglect, but there will be catching up to do once I get back!
I feel like it’s been a long time since I last posted anything.
Probably because I’ve been so busy, I haven’t been doing anything, except fantasizing about flying off on a Jetplane. I need a holiday, pronto!
Anyway, Halloween is coming up. This year, I want to be Cookie Monster. I know it’s not scary, but I really couldn’t care less. I’M COOKIE MONSTER, end of conversation.
Now, just to find a cookie monster suit. Suggestions, anyone?
Also, tempted to get ASOS. Retail Therapy for the win.
Leaving you with Aaliyah and a dope beat to step to. By proxy, Jet Li’s cool factor just up-ed 5 points.
The Weekend is here again, and I will be working through it, as usual.
At this point, I would like to remind all to PLEASE go back-up all your important files and photos right now. You really never know what will happen. In fact, just 2 days ago, my HDD took a knock and to my complete shock, is so damaged right now, I may lose a substantial amount of photos and I have indeed lost quite a few important school work files. Which is also partly why I will not have a life this weekend.
Point form blog:
New Blogger Obsession: sterlingstyle
The problem with reaching HCMC at 4am in the morning is…that it’s 4am in the morning. Nothing is opened and the city is, for the most parts I believe, asleep.
We trooped back to our HCMC hostel (my my art house) but since we couldn’t check in, we could only wait for daylight to break as we tried to catch some shut eye while lying on the table/chairs. Daybreak came, we washed up a little, and then set out on our last day in Vietnam.
Our last day was designated street food day (since at least we’d only suffer traveller’s diarrhoea either on the plane back or in the comforts of our own home). We put that to practice. Breakfast was some soupy pho noodles from a stall snuggled right in the alley leading to our hostel, near the main road. It was cheap and tasty, served with innards of course, and lots of vegetables on the side. Good healthy start to the day.
Then, we rushed off to Sinh tourist to catch our guided tour to Cuchi tunnels on the outskirts of HCMC. You might be thinking of trying to get there by yourself, but it’s near impossible to do so (they only allow visitors via guided tour) and not advisable because your tour guide will be able to give you a good informative session on all the secret hideouts and wonders of the tunnels.
In all honesty, we probably over-estimated ourselves and our ability to withstand the claustrophobic back-bending walk through the tunnel. It’s definitely something you need to do when you’re young-ish and healthy. And I thought the tombs in Egypt were difficult, these are harder!
We only made it 40metres through the tunnels, before the sheer lack of space in there was too much. Also, because you literally have to bend down to walk through it, your face WILL be in someone’s butt. Try not to eat anything that will cause flatulence, and try to walk behind (and in front of) someone you actually like. That said, Cuchi tunnels is the one thing you MUST visit when in HCMC. It’s quite amazing to see all the (direly) clever contraptions of the Vietnamese. They are very resilient, I will say. A good history lesson, it is.
After the tunnels, we hopped on the bus back to the city. The Cuchi tunnels tour will take you half a day; we reached HCMC at about 3pm or so. After negotiating bike rentals (I believe it was USD7 per bike for a day), we set off to find the elusive Quan Nam Giao restaurant for lunch. We failed and decided to make for the Reunification Palace before it closed. Some street snacks and coconut juice were grabbed as reinforcements before we died of hunger.
Warning: their coconuts do not come with a spoon for you to carve out and savour the flesh. BUT, if you really want to have a go at it, you can do it cavemen style (like we did) and try using bits of the coconut as a primitive spoon, or better yet, trying cracking the coconut apart with your bare hands or against the wall, and then eating the flesh off the inside of the shell. You probably shouldn’t try to do that while hiding at a trashbin, behind a pillar, at the palace though. Probably.
The Reunification Palace is essentially where the last pivotal moment in Vietnam’s civil war occurred. Armed with ‘Lonely Planet’ as our guide, we toured the grounds. To be quite honest, after Cuchi tunnels, the palace came up a little short. It was nice to see the old stomping ground of the former Vietnamese President (like his reception room, offices, etc), but all the rooms are basically cordoned off so besides taking a gander, it’s not very engaging. The guys will probably find the tour of his underground shelter and command center a tad more interesting though.
Starved, we headed to Ben Thanh market (which also took a while to find). Ben Thanh is going to be where you do your shopping for coffee beans (I bought weasel coffee that I still haven’t tried), those little Vietnamese coffee contraptions, and well, if you are my mom, you would ask me to buy cashew nuts. Do not ask me why.
In all honesty, after going to the Russian Market in Cambodia, and Chatuchak in Bangkok, I don’t find Ben Thanh market particularly interesting or exotic. I guess once you’ve seen them once, you’ve seen them all, with the exception of Chatuchak. Ben Thanh is really more of an eye-opener for the Western traveller, or Asian traveller who hasn’t been to markets like these before.
So after making our aromatic purchases, we headed straight to the food section. Have you ever had crab meat noodles? Neither have I, so we tried it at what appeared to be a very popular stall (i.e, lots of people must = good stuff). It was good and although deceptive, it is quite filling. They use fresh crab meat too; you can taste it. Well worth a try.
We wanted to explore more of the streets opposite Ben Thanh, but sadly it started pouring and we, being not of the umbrella-toting sort, were forced to retreat indoors to Pho 24 for some dessert and more Vietnamese coffee. The rain eventually stopped and we were able to explore the area. Typical goods are sold such as Teeshirts and such, of which we bought some. Nothing much otherwise, it seemed.
So we decided to give one last attempt at that elusive Quan Nam Giao restaurant. We rode, we walked in one direction, then back in the other direction. On the way, we stumbled across a roadside stall selling noodles, offering shelter under a makeshift canopy. The noodles soup consists of innards, even pig’s blood and is just a tinge spicy, but really the perfect hot piping thing to have in rainy weather. As usual, it’s served with lots of vegetables.
Later, we finally realised why we couldn’t find the restaurant although we were on the right road. Quan Nam Giao is not located just along the main road. Instead, it in snuggled deeper in one of the alleys by the road. A small sign is present, to signal you in the right direction; the sign is easy to miss, so keep your eyes peeled.
Quan Nam Giao serves ‘Hue’ cuisine; you can find their address and menu offerings here. We ordered a mish-mash of food- soup noodles again, some fried oysters (or something I can’t remember) thats served with a crispy side. The fried oysters were pretty tasty, but the soup noodles were nothing special, I felt.
After that, we headed back to our hostel for a night’s rest (although not after squeezing in some time for drinks etc). We arranged for a cab driver to pick us up for our transfer to the airport (via our hostel owner) and ended our Vietnam trip with more good Vietnamese coffee and breakfast, and then some very expensive and very bad Viet coffee at the airport (you are warned). All in all, Vietnam was a good trip; hope to go back soon and hit up some of its other destinations (:
There is a Chinese phrase- 禍不單行.
Loosely translated, it means trouble never comes alone, and how true.
A few weeks ago, my grandmother (86 years old, mind you), fell down and fractured her hip. The prognosis is not good at all, with her medical tests coming back with poor results- a weak lung, scarred liver, low blood cell count that even a blood transfusion can’t rectify.
Her options are few and both dire. An operation would mean a scary 40% fatality risk, while leaving her status quo means probable infection that is compounded by a bed-ridden status.
It’s very heartbreaking to tell a frail old lady that these her not-very-hopeful options.
I confess I’m not a very good Catholic at all, but this is one time I pray that prayers will help.
On Day Two of our Vietnam trip, we woke up bright and early to catch a 745am bus ride to Dalat. HCMC (at least in the backpackers district) is a city that sleeps late, and rises early. It was about 7am when we ventured out of our hostel, and the place was bustling with street food stalls, hawkers, and motorbikes everywhere.
Bracing ourselves for what we thought would be a 5-7 hours ride (it turned out to be 8), we grabbed a breakfast baguette & iced coffee combo right from a street stall opposite ‘The Sinh Tourist’. You can choose to take away your meal, or eat it on some plastic chairs facing the road, which is not a bad option for people-watching.
Their iced coffee remains the best one I had in my entire Vietnam trip. It’s bitter-sweet, with a slight nutty taste to it. The baguette is tasty & extremely filling- they basically fill it with meat, vegetables and a sauce, so it’s a good start to my day, especially at SGD2.50! Take that Subway!
We sat on the backrow of the bus to Dalat, which was a really unfortunate thing since it can be quite a bumpy ride up the mountain, and makes it a little difficult to get shuteye sometimes (although I have found that I have this talent of sleeping anywhere that’s relatively clean).
2 stops & 8 hours later, we arrived in Dalat. As a side note, I am happy to report that the toilets at the stop overs were very clean. The downside is that the stopover for lunch only had one option, which sucked and was a rip-off.
Dalat is supposedly known as the Little Paris/Europe of Vietnam. I suppose it’s called that more for its weather which, during the day, hovers at a PERFECT 20degrees celsius (although it gets colder at night). There, we stayed at the highly-recommended ‘My Dream Hotel’ which has 2 branches (Dreams 1 and Dreams 2).
The hostel owner is a friendly and trilingual lady (she speaks Vietnamese, English and French). The spacious hostel room we stayed in was originally meant for 2 but in reality, fit all 4 of us. The toilet is incredibly clean and honestly looked just like a hotel’s. It’s got a jacuzzi shower! And if you want, you can enquire about using the hostel’s hot tub. No pictures though, I was too bus weary.
Dalat’s cool climate means that taking a walk is not a sweaty ordeal, although one will get tired. If you don’t want to explore Dalat by foot, you can always directly rent a bike from the hostel. We checked out Dalat’s market on our first day there; if you’re interested, it’s not too bad, and it’s quite interesting seeing the live poultry, fish, and street food that lines the street. You don’t get that in Singapore anymore.
At night, we headed for dinner at another Lonely Planet recommendation- The Art Cafe. The name is derived from its owners artistic ambitions. The walls of the restaurant, with its prominent bamboo themed decor, is adorned by the owners’ artwork. The cafe is warm and inviting and serves fusion Vietnamese food. The mains are not particularly mindblowing, but the French Onion soup is spectacular. Under a layer of cheese hides a generous, salty, flavour-packed amount of onions. Likes. Very. Much.
Later, we hopped on our bikes and braved the winds for a round of hot drinks and traditional Viet Coffee at a Cafe near the market. A row of pubs/cafes with inviting atmosphere overlooks the slope, so have your pick of any one of them. Vietnamese coffee works by piling on your coffe powder into that simple steel contraption you see. Pour hot water in it, and allow your coffee to slowly drip into your cup. Add condensed milk and enjoy. Beware: it is extremely thick because of the use of condensed milk so make sure you have enough coffee to balance that out.
The day ended with a chilling windy ride through the town/city, back to our hostel. I have a video of it, perhaps I will upload it one day if I’m not too lazy. More to Come!
Guess who’s back, back again….It’s me! Here’s a recount of the past few days…in parts of course.
HO CHI MINH CITY- DAY ONE.
Our Vietnam adventure began and ended in Ho Chi Minh City (HCMC)/Saigon. HCMC’s international airport is clean & modern, and honestly, not the worst I’ve seen. If you need a visa to enter Vietnam, your wait might take a little while though. SGD0.30 will put you on a clean, air-conditioned bus (#152) from the airport to central HCMC. Our hostel ‘My My Art House’ along with tonnes of other hostels is located in the main backpacker’s district at Phan Ngu Lao.
‘My My Art House’ is admittedly a little bit difficult to find. Its’ entrance is located in a back alley, so you will need some navigational skills. The easiest way is to find Allez Boo pub, make a right turn into an alley and find your way through (assuming Allez Boo is on your right). Asides from its slightly mysterious location, the Art House is clean and follows a ‘no footwear’ policy, so take off your shoes before stepping in.
A picture of our twin room & the toilet- simple and clean. If you need drinks like bottled mineral water, beer or soft drinks, you should find it in the mini-fridge in your room, or just ask the hostel owner who’s friendly and will be glad to help you. Free internet usage at the ground floor as well.
A note of caution if you are a shower/hygiene freak like me, the water supply for the bath rooms come from a water tank, so if many guests are using the shower at the same time, you run the risk of running out of hot water, if any even flow out of the tap. I had to find out the hard way, after shampooing my hair into a soapy state -.- Also, I found the level one toilet to smell abit like poop; that could just be my sensitive nose.
Anyway, the great thing about staying at Phan Ngu Lao is that it’s got a great atmosphere that’s partly created by the locals and by the international crowd of backpackers.
By day, the area is buzzing with activity. Money changers, tour operators, street food vendors and cafes are available for your needs. ‘The Sinh Tourist’ (formerly Sinh Cafe) is pretty reliable and offers many buses and tours to numerous locations in Vietnam and beyond. It also has a money changer inside which offers pretty strong rates- 1 SGD: 13,500 Vietnamese dong. We arranged for a bus (that departs at around 745am) to Dalat there.
If you can’t take a bus that leaves Dalat in the morning, you can arrange for an overnight bus trip back to HCMC (or to other destinations) when you are actually in Dalat, from other bus service operators.
At night, there are plenty of pubs to chill out and people-watch at. A few notable pubs are Allez Boo (which apparently features quite a few hook-ups, if you know what I mean), GoGo, and Crazy Buffalo. We visited GoGo and Crazy Buffalo on Day Four and Day One respectively, and I have to say that the crowd and atmosphere (but not necessarily the drinks) at GoGo is definitely the stronger of the two. Crazy Buffalo tends to play very mambo-like music, so if that’s your thing, the music isn’t a problem.
Nevertheless, both are good places to people watch. If you’re sitting right next to the road, you are going to be facing plenty of street vendors hawking their wares (anything from pirated books to cuttle fish). If you’re interested in taking home some art, there are plenty of art shops/galleries here that do great affordable pop art and replicas. Elsewhere in HCMC, we visited the War Remnants Museum, Notre Dame Cathedral, the Post Office (which is right across the road from the cathedral). We really should have just taken a taxi to these places, but we wanted to walk. Mistake. Hot, humid and not much fun when you get lost. But, oh well.
The War Remnants Museum is a good visit. A ticket costs about 15,000 dong and will bring you 3 levels of exhibits and a prison model. The exhibits not only showcase weapons used in the Vietnam war, but also provides photographic documentation of the victims of Agent Orange. If you’re easily disturbed, you probably will find the images upsetting. Outside the main building, there is a prison exhibit of what imprisoned Vietnamese had to endure.
When visiting this attraction, it’s a good idea to bring along a fan, just in case the air conditioning is not switched on. It gets especially stuffy on the 2nd and 3rd levels. Notre Dame is a pretty enough cathedral, though nothing particularly breath-taking, in my humble opinion. The Post Office is architecturally picturesque, and its quaint colonial interior is probably what draws tourists. It was fun to pretend to use those phone booths (still functional, apparently), but not much to shout about over all. You could always send out a post card.
Let’s now talk about FOOOOOOD! First food stop was Lam Cafe over at Phan Ngu Lao. Turns out it was a good random choice. I had the Beef Pho, while my other friends had the Chicken Pho, curry and yes, there was a burger ordered by someone.
The beef pho is sweet and I do honestly think it’s lovely. The pho noodles in Vietnam is textured with ridges, which really gives it this fantastic QQ/chewy bounce to it.
But the Star of my meal there is the Strawberry juice and shake. It’s thick and you can really taste the generous amount of strawberries put into it. Yummy.
Dinner was at Pho 24- a Vietnamese chain restaurant- that was recommended by Lonely Planet as the best pho. Our opinion? It was ‘meh’ and definitely not up to expectations, so you can skip it if you wish. The fried Spring Rolls were yummy though, so you can give that a try.
That marks HCMC, Day One. In other news, my dad’s just has his heart bypass operation. So far so good, hopefully it stays that way. Good night, World.