March 9, 2013 § Leave a comment
By now you would have been tired of me talking about Bangkok. Hear me out! There’s something interesting I must share.
We did a short trip to Bangkok during the Lunar New Year and did something quite interesting – donating money to buy coffins for the people who can’t afford to or for unclaimed bodies found. Upon hearing “donating money to buy coffin”, the image casted in our heads was of a dark, scary, secluded place under an humongous old tree, where stray dogs circle around you cautiously as you walk into the temple and an old man with the longest and whitest hair waits for you at the door… What a morbid thing to do during the Chinese New Year.
The truth is far from it. It turns out that Ruamkatanyu Foundation is a simple yet crowded hall next to a temple and at the side of many others that stood out majestically against the blue skies. There is no old man with long white hair but regular people took seats behind a row of counters filling up paperwork for each donation. You will be given two pieces of documents, the first to stick on the empty coffin and the other to burn after prayers. Once the paperwork is done, the nice caretakers of the temple guided us through the sequence of offering prayers to the deities. And we were done!
It’s good to know that the less fortunate are being taken care at the final stage of their lives. Just a little something I wanted to share.
February 18, 2013 § Leave a comment
The last leg of our trip zoomed by really quickly. It was 2°c and we shivered all the way from sunny Nice to freezing Interlaken. It was sleeting and we were really lucky to catch the first snowfall of the season. Our cozy little room at Hotel Interlaken had some really ‘OMG!’ views of the surrounding mountains especially in the morning when snow was all around. Naturally, we jumped like two excited little kids and had snowball fights, because sunny Singapore only has an indoor compound somewhere near the edge of the island where artificial snow is being generated by machine.
It wasn’t the season for skiing or anything, so we almost had the beautiful place to ourselves. The fresh air and dreamy surroundings is so unreal. It felt like we are sucked into a different fantasy world where the seven dwarfs will emerge from little huts, reindeers will greet you by tossing you on their backs trotting off to your hotel where Gandalf will serve you hot cocoa.
As it was foggy and snowing heavily on the mountains, we only went as far as Grindelwald, where we found pasta with pork chop and mushroom sauce – my favourite so far. The feeling of having that in such a cold weather really made me want to cry. It’s too yummy and the German/Swiss music playing in the background just made it even more desirable.
Although I wish we didn’t have to leave this place forever, we had to train off to a beautiful calm city – Lucerne. Each old town has lures you with a different kind of charm, and Lucerne’s draws you with its unique buildings and shopping! The casual walk in the light breezy cold, watching duckies and swans swimming in the lake made it feel like I’m on a proper holiday.
Our Europe tour is really like those on travel programmes on TV (it might even be better), only minus the background music, the tiredness and extreme luxury. I wonder where we are going next.
February 3, 2013 § Leave a comment
The night train to Nice was about 12 hours. And because we were paranoid about sharing a cabin with strangers, we booked all 4 couchettes. The other worry was not being able to get good rest in a constricted space, however, the consistent rocking and the occasional bumping of the train on the track took no time in coaxing us into la-la land. Good stuff.
This is our last stop in magnificent France. Nice is warmer as its along the south east coast of France on the Mediterranean coast. The pebble beach, glistering blue sea and tall palm trees decorated the place, giving it a Hollywood glitzy feeling. Sun rays bounced off the checked floor, illuminating an Alice in Wonderland whimsical charm. One could imagine chess pieces moving around. Nice is good for a couple of days to do a slow stroll around, watch people at the beach and a take a short bus ride to Monaco.
The ride to Monaco was somewhat like the one we took to Stanley in Hong Kong – where we passed humongous houses that are too dramatic for a normal living in. Monaco held an air of haughtiness and luxury with supercars crawling on the roads, freshly waxed down yachts with arrogant names like “Little Fish” lined the docks. Otherwise, it could get rather boring for people like us who are not that into the everyday branded living and expensive toys.
The most exciting thing that happened for us was winning 5 euros from the Casino – paying off our return bus rides to Monaco! We are not greedy, we are happy with 5 euros!
January 19, 2013 § Leave a comment
The world’s most expensive wine originated from here. Some of the most prestigious wines are from here. Charmed and watched over by Bacchus, it remains one of the best wine making regions of the world.As our visit to some of the wineries in Medoc, St Emillion and Pomerol was during harvesting, we had the chance to witness the entire process and I’d like to believe that Bacchus was bouncing out from the crops or orbiting the tanks, supervising at every stage. The other part of the magic came from the hardworking pickers and the philosophy of the winermaker. Bruno was our informative and fun guide for two sun-shiny days and he taught us so much I think we can start making our own wine. We just need 100 million euros to buy over a winery. A famous one.
It’s not all just grapes and turning them into wine, alright, maybe it is, but we can’t forget about the charismatic chateaus because most properties have the image of it on their label. It is an identity. And because they look just like what it is on the label, we jumped and did a little dance in Bruno’s car every time we see a familiar castle!
I love how everywhere seems so untouched even though many restorations had been done. The only thing that’s saddening is the commercialization of the wine industry, where the lush history of the properties ended in the hands of the big insurance companies and LVMH. But without it, we won’t be able to enjoy the beautiful end product of the harvest.
One thing Bruno said that sticks “You can’t make good wines with bad grapes, but you can make bad wine with good grapes.” In Bordeaux, they mostly make good wine with good grapes I guess.
It was an eye opening wine tour and we even had the honor of taking photos with some owners and the other amazing people from the Chateaus we visited. The best souvenir wasn’t that bottle of Latour I’d really like, but the leaf of the most amazing Carbernet Savignon from Chateau Troplong Mondot.
(We highly recommend Bruno from BD Wine Tours as your guide. Check out trip advisor for the 5 star reviews he’ve received. )
January 6, 2013 § Leave a comment
An hour away from Paris is Tours, a quaint little town where many came to visit the beautiful castles or the famous wineries in Loire Valley. We did neither.
The true French experience is what we were here for – the relaxing pace paired with the French speaking community. We loved every single bit of this shy little town – from its hospitality to just being here. Though the rain fogged up our photos a little, it dramatized the old charm of the town and made the stained glass of the church exceptionally stunning.
We put up at a lovely little place next to the station and Maria from Val De Loire took really good care of us during our stay. She made sure we didn’t get caught in the rain, showed us where to get good food and most importantly, directed us where to get medicine when Dale was down with food poisoning. Our cozy little room was great for winding down after a long walk in the rain.
I definitely can’t forget the yummy good birthday dinner at Restaurant L’Odeon – one of the best in town. Another nice little surprise was the lady boss is a fellow Singaporean who married a really good French chef. We were really lucky to have met familiar and friendly faces in a foreign place. The birthday flowers added a nice touch to the place too.
And we headed 3 hours southwest, for Bordeaux.
December 9, 2012 § Leave a comment
Time past so fast when you are enjoying, it’s been what? 6 weeks? As I unpack all the memories of a fantastic trip – I could still hear raindrops, feel the cold air, remembering the unusual conversation with the guy at the café about a hip 70’s French artiste and the nice little surprises along the way.
We knew it was gonna be a good trip the moment we got onto the cab. The nice taxi driver was playing classical music instead of the radio, befitting to the place and weather. I think appropriate music should be played everywhere, lifting moods around and add touches to a beautiful trip like those on TV.
The streets (and gardens) of Paris are undeniably romantic, especially in the rain, hand in hand holding an umbrella as we walked down stormy Champs Elysees. We called it ‘Street of Rain’, as every time we walk through, it rained.
Despite hearing unpleasant encounters from friends, we find the French folks really nice. Everyone we met were really sweet and helpful. Some found us rather amusing as we attempted to read out from the French language book. Some even helped us with the correct pronunciation – “la-di-sion-sil-vu-play”. A nice lady told us that if they see us trying, they will usually help us. No try, no help. Other nice people in the shops told us to be careful with our belongings.
Paris is very walkable as we found out. So, we walked everywhere, at least 33KM in 5 days. It’s a great way to enjoy the sight and sound… and rain. We joined a Discover Walks Tour to Montmartre and took pictures of some of the most stunning views of Paris. Our guide brought us through a little bit of history of the seemingly quiet cobblestoned area where many great artists once lived. It was fun and enriching, highly recommend the tour.
And because the tour was pretty good, we decided to go for another one to Le Marais. As we walked along, we bumped into friends who were also on their honeymoon! What are the chances of meeting friends in Paris? Not much, so, we enjoyed the day together. Off to Notre Dame before heading off to squeeze in a big restaurant serving really good Jewish food. I gotta thank Paul for this awesome recommendation. Thanks Paul! L’As Du Fafallel is THE most crowded restaurant along the street. If you are visiting, you have to eat there.
Le Marais is an interesting place well known for fashion, gays and the Jewish community. The streets are lined with quaint boutiques, secret gardens, Spanish influenced architecture. I like it here as it has its own mishmash charm and yummy Fafallel.
The most tiring day is when we walk to St Germain, had lunch at an Alice in Wonderland inspired cafe, then to the Invalides, on to Eiffel Tower, finally back to Champs Elysees to buy my mom’s bag then back to the hotel. Exhausting! As we missed Asian food, we had a hearty meal at a Japanese restaurant, it felt good having chilli! Before the night ends, I bumped into my colleagues and CEO at our hotel. Again, what are the chances?
After 5 nights of walking, we headed south – to Tours and Bordeaux we go!
October 13, 2012 § Leave a comment
September 16, 2012 § Leave a comment
We finally have all the necessary stuff sorted for a 3-week break in France and Switzerland next month. And I can’t wait! If anyone has any recommendations of things I absolutely have to do, eat or see, please let me know. Otherwise we will take it nice and slow, quite like the retiree kind. It’s a holiday afterall!
August 11, 2012 § 2 Comments
Way before i went to Bhutan, I read this book about a Parisian psychiatrist, Hector, who’s tired of those people coming to him with no real problems but their own unmet expectations. I followed him in his journey around the world in search for the answer to happiness. He met different people along the way, a young hostess in China, a fellow psychiatrist in Africa, a monk in China (or is it Hong Kong?), a quirky professor in the US calculating happiness and some others. Interaction with these people opened his eyes to things we usually take for granted. There were a total of 23 lessons learnt and my favorites are:
Lesson #20 Happiness is a certain way of seeing things.
Lesson #15 Happiness comes when you feel truly alive.
Lesson #8a Happiness is being with the people you love.
And I’d also like to add on two more to his list:
Lesson #24 Happiness is taking pleasure in the simple things in life.
Lesson #25 You are only as happy as you want to be.
But what better way to find out about happiness than to visit the land of Happiness? Incidentally, I got the chance to visit the happiest place on the planet – Bhutan. I never dreamt of stepping into the exotic land of happiness until work gave me a chance to. It was a fun media FAM trip not only because of the beautiful place but also the group of people who gel-ed so well together.
The experience was SUPER cool and unforgettable! There’s just too much to tell. From histories of Dzongs and its religion, to dancing in a basement club, trekking 8km to the Tiger’s Nest and threading through padi fields, nope, can’t forget all those.
Many asked if the people are truly happy. You can’t deny that they are – leading simple lives, breathing in fresher than fresh air, ending every sentence with “Don’t worry”, and the dash-dot-dash humour, even I felt really happy. Of course they do have their fair share of desires like owning iPhones, but with TV channels like AXN & Discovery, it’s no wonder that they do.
Mountains and clouds welcome you as we land and disembark.
There are friendly people all around, take all the photos you want with them, they love it. Even the babies! Their training to be friendly and happy starts really young.
Buddhism is a major part of their lives with histories dating back to many many centuries ago. They took care to restore the Dzongs – fortresses that protected the cities. I love their choice in colours, its so rich, it gives life to all the stories painted in the temples. And one of the most famous one we trekked to is Taktsang – Tiger’s Nest. After which, a cute little calf decided to taste my camera.
Some of the other town sights are really interesting. From the Cinema that screens only one movie at any one time to the meat store filled with so much meat that one would think they have an underground farm. I love the quaint and colourful hole-in-the-wall shops scattered all around, and got so tempted to dive into them. We even get to experience the local Drayang where locals pay to have young girls dance or sing (in their traditional costumes) on a stage with neon lights. The funniest thing is that you can have five girls dancing five different dances on stage. Nope, no coordination.
We have the privilege to relax each night at some of the most luxurious properties. My favourite (and the most expensive) being the Amankora properties in Thimphu and Punakha. I like them because i have never experienced so much tranquil in a resort before, never had to cross a bridge over raging waters and take a 5 min buggy ride to get to the lobby, never woken up to see the lovely padi fields out of my windows, and never ever had no TV in the room to disturb me. Oh, and no mosquitoes. I enjoyed every single bit of my stay and really loved the shy property dog, Funky. I just wished i had more time to enjoy the resorts thoroughly.
I would like to go back some day.