Category Archives: Public Holidays

Beaching it in Bintan

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Over the Easter bank holiday, we went to Bintan with our friends Fi & Nav for a little bit of beach hut action. Bintan is a firm favourite amongst Singapore residents, as it’s the perfect beach side getaway, but only an hour ferry ride from Singapore. It is part of the Riau archipelago in Indonesia, so you get all the flavour of being in a different country, without travelling very far. To Will’s delight, the time difference between Bintan and Singapore, means that you arrive at the same time that you depart!

On the recommendation of a friend (cheers Adam!), we stayed on Trikora Beach in a lovely little place called the Shady Shacks. Basic but lovely huts right by the beach, with a little restaurant/bar to provide sustenance and refreshment. With some good friends and a pack of cards, what more do you need?! Trikora Beach is on the other side of the island to Bintan Resorts, which is the part of the island that most people visit. We had an hour drive in a car to arrive, but it was nice to really escape all the hustle and bustle.

View from our ‘Shady Shack’

Part of the beach

The accommodation is basic – take a sarong or something similar to sleep under, and some toilet paper! However, the host, Lobo, is super friendly and very helpful. The menu in the restaurant is centered around fish and chicken, and while we didn’t get bored with the small selection during the time we spent there, I think any more than a few days and you’d be craving something else to eat.

Post fish – with Fi & Nav

Mostly we spent our time relaxing on the beach; reading books, swimming and chatting away. We also played lots of cards! On the second day we were there, we arranged a boat to take us to one of the little island we could see from the beach, that had the most gorgeous pale sand, and beautiful turquoise water. It was actually a nicer beach than the one just by the Shady Shacks, and was nice to have a little change of scene. After whiling away a few hours there, we came back and had a massage on the beach – bliss!

Island hopping

The boys relax on the boat over

What a beach!

That evening there was the most gorgeous full moon, and I had a bit of fun trying to spell out letters by moving my camera around to catch the light – what do you think?!

Moon ‘W’

Moon ‘C’

We had a fantastic time on Bintan – it was great going to sleep to the sound of the waves crashing outside, and waking up to see the sun rise over the South China Sea (still sounds impossibly exotic to me!). I can’t speak for the other parts of the islands, but I’d recommend hanging out at Trikora beach if it’s just for a few days, and you don’t mind getting back to basics, whilst soaking up the sunshine and the views.

Chinese New Year 2012: Year of the Dragon

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Gong Xi Fa Cai! Or Happy New (lunar) Year. As no doubt all you Singapore folks know, it was Chinese New Year this weekend. Kinda hard to miss it right?! For everyone else, Chinese New Year is bigger than Christmas here – its HUGE – and a bit like Christmas, everywhere is covered in decorations and the build up starts weeks beforehand.

Chinese New Year is probably the most important of the traditional Chinese holidays, marking the end of winter, and the beginning of spring. There are lots of traditions surrounding Chinese New Year, and I’ve been finding out a bit about some of the ones that Singaporeans do to make this festival special.

For starters, everywhere you go (our condo included) is covered in gold and red decorations. This is because in Chinese culture red and gold are lucky and prosperous colours. Red symbolises happiness, good fortune and joy, essential to starting a new year. At new year, small red envelopes (ang pow) are handed out, with a small monetary gift inside. These are usually given by married people to unmarried people, and by adults to children. Traditionally, the amount of money contained in the envelope should be an even number, such as S$8 (8 is also a particularly lucky number in Chinese culture), although our taxi driver who told us all about it, reckoned he only put S$2 (about £1) in his!

Before the new year arrived, every house will have been cleaned from top to bottom. This symbolises sweeping away any bad luck or problems from the previous year, to start the year with a clean slate, and hopefully better fortune. There must be a suitable period of time to elapse before the house can be cleaned again after the new year, to avoid sweeping good luck out of the house.

Houses are then decorated with red and gold decorations, and with flowers. There are a variety of flowers that are popular at new year, all of which have different meanings. Plum blossoms are very popular, and symbolise being lucky.

Now, this is Singapore, so no good set of festivities would be complete without its own set of traditional dishes and snacks. One of the things you can’t get away from here, is the pineapple tarts. These are tiny little bite-sized chunks of pastry, topped with a pineapple jam, that are sold everywhere in supermarkets and shopping centres. There also seem to have been a huge amount of Singaporean (and expat) bloggers who have taken the time to make their own. Two of my favourites are here and here. Pineapples are lucky (as the sound of the word for pineapple in Chinese is close to ‘good luck coming your way’), so as a result, not only do you need to eat sweet things made of them, but you also need to hang paper versions in your house as well! Oranges are also given, and represent wealth and good fortune.

This year is the Year of the Dragon, so we have really been spoilt for choice with dragon decorations! I have particularly loved the ENORMOUS dragon that was at the junction of Cross Street and New Bridge Road. The dragon is supposed to be particularly auspicious, as it is the only mythical animal in the Chinese cosmic cycle. People born in the Year of the Dragon are said to be innovative, enterprising, flexible, self-assured, brave and passionate. Dragon people are flamboyant and don’t do things by halves.

I’m sure there are tons more traditions and symbols that I’ve missed out, but these are just some of the things I’ve noticed or learnt about during the build-up to Chinese New Year. We actually weren’t in Singapore for the day itself, instead using the four-day weekend to go to Vietnam, which I shall blog about soon (and all its various ways of celebrating the new year!). So for now, Gong Xi Fa Cai!

A little January update

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Sorry for the radio silence folks – we have been super busy since we got back from our Bali holiday.

First of all, we celebrated seeing in 2012 with some of our lovely new friends in Singapore. Pia threw a super fun ‘wigs & hats’ party over at her condo (which is walking distance from ours). So complete with dragon hat (Will) and crown (me), we saw 2012 in with much food, drink, laughter and silly dancing.

Does pink hair suit me?! 

We then had a lovely bank holiday spent with the same friends we were partying with. What started as a brunch at Epicurious at Robertson Quay, turned into a bit of a bar crawl and saw us sipping cocktails and eating cake at the PS Cafe on Ann Siang Hill, before moving on to the rooftop bar at Ying Yang. When we arrived they were playing atrocious club music at a stupidly early hour, so we got them to put on some reggae, and relaxed with some cold drinks and a cooling breeze. Great way to spend a bank holiday – thanks guys!

I also went with Laura back to the Asian Civilisations Museum, which continues to fascinate me. It’s such a great place to explore – I love reading all about the different areas and looking at the exhibits. In particular, we marvelled at some of the relics of language and how modern people had deciphered what was written, when no-one alive could speak the language. We had a great morning pottering around all the exhibits, before a yummy Italian lunch on Boat Quay, and a very long natter catching up on everything that we’d been up to and putting the world to rights!

Will & I finally went to Little India and had a delicious curry courtesy of Jaggis – brilliant Punjabi food in a no frills setting, exactly what we needed after the last few days of excess! I also met a fellow Claire, who is behind the gorgeous blog and company Fellow Fellow (beautiful handmade paper gorgeousness). We had a lovely evening with a cold glass of wine and surprisingly delicious calamari and truffle fries, at a bar on One Fullerton. This was followed up by eating ice cream by the Merlion and watching the laser show from Marina Bay Sands (still don’t understand the laser show, but its pretty!). Great evening, and great to meet another lovely person who calls this tiny island home.

On Friday, we went to the cinema to see The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo. I loved the books  (see my review here) but hadn’t seen any of the Swedish film adaptations. This was actually quite a good version, despite a bit of artistic licence with the plot somewhat! I would say that the rape scene and subsequent revenge scene is rather disturbing and not for the faint hearted! However, Rooney Mara was brilliant as Lisbeth Salander, and I did find it amusing how Daniel Craig has obviously made it enough to not have to put on a faux-Swedish accent!

Then on Saturday we hosted a birthday party for Nav at our condo – our first time BBQing in Singapore. Except although they are called ‘BBQ pits’, they are actually more of a hot plate – bit of a shock when we opened it up, but we managed to cook up a storm. Great fun, and great to find our ‘host & hostess’ mojo here in Singapore, as we were both missing having parties and BBQs like we used to in London. So we made some new friends, swam in the swimming pool after too much food, used every glass in our apartment when we had to move upstairs, and danced to Bollywood videos on You Tube. Awesome.

This is a bit of a sign of things to come as we have a busy January ahead:

  • a good friend of ours is coming over on his ‘look-see’ so we will be showing him the sights and sounds
  • we are going to Vietnam for Chinese New Year – flying to Ho Chi Minh, exploring the city, and then travelling down to the Mekong Delta. Can’t wait, as its my first time visiting Vietnam
  • hosting Will’s brother and a few of his friends as they stay for a few days, en route to a wedding in Australia

I am relishing the idea of being tour guide, as it’ll be nice to feel like a Singapore expert, rather than the ‘green’ newbie! Plus it will be great to see everyone and catch-up properly with all the news from home. I also think showing people around will make me appreciate Singapore a little bit more, as it’s always good to see your city through the eyes of someone else.

I am also on the job hunt, so if anyone knows of anyone who might like to give a great project manager/researcher/writer/events organiser/PA a job, then please get in touch! 🙂

A very Bali Christmas

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Christmas 2011 was a series of firsts for Will & I. Despite having been together for more than 7 years, it was the first time we actually spent Christmas Day together. Usually, we spend it with our respective families, meeting up on Boxing Day. It was also the first time that either of us had spent Christmas anywhere other than in England, and the first time we’d ever had a ‘hot’ Christmas.

When we first arrived in Singapore, we decided almost instantly that we should go away for the festive season. We knew flying back to England wasn’t really an option – too far, not enough days holiday, expensive, and potentially rubbish timing as we would be trying to get settled in Singapore, and returning home so soon might have made us feel even more homesick. We did a little bit of Googling and looking on Skyscanner to find affordable flights, and Bali came up trumps. We’d been once before, back in 2009, and LOVED it, so we knew we’d have a great time. 4 nights booked in Ubud.

We left Singapore bright and early, and of course had a super easy time getting through Changi airport! Two hours later, we touched down in Denpasar to an absolutely torrential rainstorm! Not quite what we had expected, and we both looked at each other and wondered ‘is it going to be like this the whole time?’. Thankfully, as we made our way by car from the airport to Ubud, the skies clearer and soon the hot Bali sun had raised our spirits.

It was so wonderful being back in Ubud, just hanging out in the clear air by the paddy fields, and enjoying the sounds of all the wildlife, especially after being somewhere so urban like Singapore (and London of course!). Where we stayed is tucked away down the end of a long road, meaning it’s very peaceful.

We spent Christmas Eve walking around Ubud. We took the road that leads out of the main town, across the river. We walked past lots of interesting little shops selling arts and other craft works. Just as we were beginning to tire we found the Art Zoo run by an American artist called Symon. Its a huge studio on several levels, and we had a great time wandering around, cooling off in the breeze blowing through the big open windows. Symon is a bit of a character, and talked to us about his work, whilst reclining in a hammock, wearing little more than a sarong! But we liked him, and we liked some of his art (some of it is truly bizarre – like a naked man, with the head of a bird) so we ended up buying a painting off him. Hey, who comes to Ubud without buying art right?! After that, we walked back into Ubud, stopping to have a massage, before hiding on our balcony for the rest of the afternoon, due to a sudden tropical downpour.

That evening we had an amazing time, eating at Mozaic restaurant, which is claimed to be Ubud’s best restaurant. We ate a six course tasting menu, at the chef’s table, where you could watch the dishes being prepared, and ask the chef questions about each dish – its ingredients, cooking methods and composition. I think I can safely say its one of, if not the best, meal I’ve ever eaten (you can read my post all about it here). I had such a fabulous evening – fantastic food, delicious wine, and great company! We went to bed feeling sleepy, full and very content.

Christmas Day! It was wonderful to wake up with Will on Christmas morning, and sit in bed opening our stockings that we’d brought with us. Lots of little treats and tasty things, as well as a Singaporean cookbook for me, and a Paul Frank T-shirt for Will, amongst other things. We ate our breakfast in the sunshine, and read on the terrace for a bit. We then went walking around Ubud again, exploring some of the shops along Jalan Dewi Sita, and Jalan Hanoman. We stopped in a cafe for a long lunch, before walking back towards our hotel. We stopped at a spa across the road from where we were staying and then indulged in a massage and beauty treatment, where you get an hour-long massage, before a green tea scrub, being covered in yoghurt, and then soaking in a bath in a garden bathroom, overlooking the paddy fields. Bliss.

In the evening, we Skyped our families (which left me a big teary afterwards) and then walked down to a restaurant where we had ordered babi gulung, or roast suckling pig, to have as our Christmas dinner. Unfortunately, it was at this point that I started to feel rather unwell, and had to leave Will to eat everything on his own, whilst I succumbed to the food poisoning curse. I haven’t felt that ill in quite some time, and needless to say it was an early and then rather sleepless night! However, Will reports that the babi gulung was delicious!

We spent Boxing Day just taking it easy, as I was finding it hard to eat much! Lots of sitting by the pool, reading, and relaxing. Later on in the afternoon, we took a trip to the village of Lodtundah, to visit the Semar Kuning artists co-operative that operates there. It’s basically a huge gallery, with every style of Balinese painting you can think of. The co-operative arrangement means that each artist benefits from any sales of art there, so you can invest in the whole community with your purchase. The artists show you around, and are happy to talk to you about each style and the artist who painted each piece. We had actually visited the co-operative before, when we came in 2009 but didn’t remember where it was or what it was called, so we were delighted that we had ended up there. Prices are very negotiable, so don’t be afraid to ask for a discount (we managed to pay a third of the price we were originally quoted!). We bought a beautiful painting of a pair of parrots, which I’ll put up here once we have had it re-stretched and framed.

Before too long, it was time to go home. It’s here that I must mention the only bad thing about our trip: the traffic in Ubud has become crazy. The roads are so congested with big tourist cars and motorbikes, that it took us over an hour to get out of Ubud centre! We just crawled along the streets. Despite the beauty and tranquility of Ubud, that has put me off returning somewhat, and I do think the Balinese need to take some serious steps to address it, as it won’t get any better on its own. Our driver drove like a demon to get us to the airport in time – we arrived 10 minutes before check-in closed! And then before too long we were up in the air again, saying goodbye to Bali, and on our way back home to Singapore.