Category Archives: Things to do

Red – #worldcolours project

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Ahh, I am SO behind with my #worldcolours project. Red was supposed to be in February so this is more than a little late – eep! Anyway, here are my reds.

Hairy strawberry looking plant things I spotted during my first Botanic Gardens trip

Hairy strawberry looking plant things I spotted during my first Botanic Gardens trip

Ponsettias at Gardens by the Bay

Poinsettia at Gardens by the Bay

Will & I having a great time at the Olympics

Will & I having a great time at the Olympics

Lion and his beater - Vietnam

Lion and his beater – Vietnam

Street shrine in Geylang

Street shrine in Geylang

Chillis at the market

Chillis at the market

Dragon from last years CNY celebrations

Dragon from last years CNY celebrations

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A Singapore must-do: Singapore Slings at Raffles

Hopefully I’ll get around to doing the ‘green’ post in the correct month…

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Beerfest 2012

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First of all – an apology. I went to Beerfest way back on the 9th June, but then due to my camera having suffered at the hands of a foam finger, requiring a brand new lens, I am only posting this now. Anyway, back to Beerfest.

Beerfest Asia is now in its 4th year, and is held at the Marina Promenade (near the Singapore Flyer), which is also part of the F1 track. It plays host to a huge variety of beers, but also includes ciders, wines and spirits. So there really is something for everyone. But of course, the main event is definitely the beer. There were 350 different beers from around the world on offer! Although we couldn’t possibly sample all of them (I think that would have involved an ambulance if we’d even tried) we certainly had a lot of fun trying out lots of the ones that were on offer.

View of the Singapore Flyer

I was lucky enough to receive a pair of VIP tickets, and we had also won a pair of complimentary tickets at a pub quiz a couple of weeks previous, so it meant a few of us were able to go along and get beer sampling! Being a VIP meant we had our own dedicated bar, free-flow of beer, and a VIP goody bag to take home.

VIP Beerfest cup

We tried a whole host of different beers that were on offer. I opted to try some of the fruit beers that were available, having enjoyed some in London in the past. I found the strawberry beer a bit too sweet for my liking, but there was a grapefruit beer that I loved – not too sweet or too sharp, just nice and refreshing. We also tried a couple of different types of Pilsner and the Kirin beer.

We then settled in to enjoy the Beerfest atmosphere – it was probably one of the most raucous evenings I’ve had in Singapore! Everybody seemed to be in a good mood and we really enjoyed the live music that was going on. It was great to be with friends, drink good beer, and let it rip on the dancefloor!

Check out the hair!

We then had even more hilarity as the competitions started on stage. My friend Mark won the competition for doing the loudest and longest ‘Beerfeeeeeeeeeeeeessssssssssssssssttttttttttttt’ (Go Mark – woohoo!) and Nav managed to win ‘Hairiest Chest’, which I think he clinched by doing some topless Bollywood dancing! I won’t shame them by putting photos up…instead, here’s me in my Fruli hard-hat!

Fruli hard hat

Watch out! Camera killers!

I think without a doubt, our evening at Beerfest was one of the best evenings I’ve had in Singapore. If you get the chance to go next year, I would thoroughly recommend it as it really is a good night out, and I’m sure if you are more of beer connoisseur than I am you will appreciate all the choice on offer.

The Beerfest 2012 gang

Thanks to notatourist and SingTel for the invitation and our VIP passes. 

Exploring Geylang

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Inspired by my friend Claire’s photo post on Little India, we hatched a plan to go exploring other parts of Singapore together, and take photos to document all the interesting things we found along the way.

One of the places that neither of us had been to before was Geylang. For those of you not familiar with Singapore geography, Geylang sits just east of the Singapore river, along the East Coast. When people say Geylang, they are usually referring to the area that sits between Kallang and Paya Lebar MRT stations. It is the old Malay district, and there are still strong Malay flavours in the area, with loads of Malay cuisine for sale. This part of town has a bit of a colourful history and is still well-known as Singapore’s red light district.  I’m not sure how the area changes at night, but during the day it seemed like a vibrant part of town, with lots of beautiful traditional shop houses (which I later learnt are protected to keep the area’s character), and plenty of hustle and bustle.

(Please note that I intelligently forgot my camera – seriously ‘doh’ moment – so all my photos are taken with the iPhone)

Pretty shophouse front – I love all the intricate detail

Sleepy street life

HDB hallway

Post box

Beautiful old tiles

By exploring the random little Lorongs (side streets) we came across some unusual little sights.

Not sure if this is a shrine? But it was fascinating

Shrine

We also stumbled across this gorgeous little shop selling  Pau – small steamed buns filled with a variety of different fillings. We stopped and watched them being made through the open kitchen, marvelling at the sheer volume the chef was turning out.

Little mouthfulls of gorgeousness

More bun-shaped deliciousness

After a slightly confusing discussion with the owner (slight language barrier!) we bought a bun each. We snuck off down another side street before greedily tucking in – Oh.My.God. Those buns were a beautiful, delicious explosion of taste. The pork was full of flavour, and then nestled inside again was an egg! We stood on the side of the road with sticky fingers, gleefully devouring every bit. I’d definitely recommend! They are called Tanjong Rhu Pau, and joy of joys, I found out that they have a shop on Thompson Road, just around the corner from me!

I also indulged in looking at all the delicious fresh produce for sale – fruit and vegetables of all kinds, including durian!

Mangosteens

Baby aubergines

Is this the smelliest truck in Singapore?!

If you’ve not yet been to Geylang, I’d definitely recommend a little wander around, just soaking up the sights, sounds and smells. Explore the little Lorongs that lead off the main streets; you never know what little treats you might uncover.

There are more photos on my Flickr Geylang set or you can also check out Claire’s gorgeous post over on her blog

Haw Par Villa

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I recently paid a visit to the deliciously creepy Haw Par Villa. I visited in the week with my friend Laura and we were the only people there, apart from a couple of older ladies who were also visiting, and a man sweeping up leaves. The weird silence coupled with the odd tableaux that greeted us left a slightly eerie feeling, and I think we were both a bit glad that we hadn’t visited on our own!

Welcome to Haw Par Villa

Haw Par Villa has been described as a theme park in the past – apparently there did used to be a roller coaster here, but it has long been removed. It is probably best known as somewhere where Singaporean parents would take their children to frighten them into behaving themselves, and also to instil some moral understanding into their little ones.

Originally called the ‘Tiger Balm Gardens’, Haw Par Villa was built by brothers Aw Boon Haw and Aw Boon Par in 1937 as a venue for teaching traditional Chinese values such as respect, filial piety, hard work and self-restraint. The brothers were also responsible for Tiger Balm – a bit of a lifesaver in these tropical climes, as it can be used for anything from stopping the itching of mosquito bites, to providing relief from headaches. I know I am a bit lost without my little pot of the stuff! Haw Par Villa was built by the brothers as they believed that they should contribute something back to the greater good of society – a bit like our modern-day corporate social responsibility agenda I suppose!

Entrance with the famous Tiger Balm tiger

Decapitated head anyone?!

The most famous part of Haw Par Villa is probably the depictions in the 10 Courts of Hell. This section is inside and illustrates the Chinese folk belief in ‘diyu’. Each court of hell depicts a judge and poor unfortunates who have committed a crime, and therefore are sentenced to a gruesome punishment, such as being dismembered, boiled in oil, crushed with rocks or decapitated. There is light at the end of the tunnel though, as you can be reborn once you have been punished. Depending on your crime, you could be reborn as a human, animal or vegetable etc! A bit like karma.

Ladies, this is what could happen if you are tempted to sell your bodies…

Been ungrateful? Your heart will get cut out

Disrespected your parents? Crushed by a huge rock

Gruesome though it was, this was probably my favourite part of the park. The rest of the dioramas are interesting to look at, but the signs are either non-existent or very worn making it impossible to really tell what is being depicted. However, some of the scenes are slightly comical because of the expressions on the faces, or show figures stealing chickens or some such thing. Other things are just plain weird, and leave you wondering what on earth is going on.

Mafia mice?!

Tiger!

Battle scene

Some of the scenes depict Chinese stories that have a moral at the end, a bit like a fable. The one below tells a story of a man who saved a whale, and in return, when the ship he was travelling on sunk, the whale saved him from a watery grave.

Be nice to whales

The ground are set around a pretty pagoda and  a little pond which had lots of terrapins swimming around in it. Although it is all a little bit unloved at the moment, you can tell that the grounds must have been quite impressive at one point, set up a hill with lots of colourful pillars and fencing.

Pagoda

I really enjoyed my visit to Haw Par Villa. It was a glimpse back into old Singapore, when moral lessons were much more visible, and perhaps old traditional stories and values were held in greater respect than perhaps they are now. It is a weird and wonderful place to visit, and I feel a little sad that it is a bit neglected at the moment. I left wondering how much longer it would last, and when a real estate company will snap up the land. You can easily reach Haw Par Villa as there is an MRT station right outside the entrance, and there is no fee to get in. If you’d like a look into historic Singapore then it’s definitely worth a visit.

You can find more photos of my trip to Haw Par Villa over on Flickr

Bicycles and Bats

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Will’s sister came to visit us last month – we have now officially had all his immediate family to visit us! Must up the pressure on my lot to come and visit us now! It was wonderful to see her, as she was en route to visit Australia, so had a few days stopover with us. T is much more active than both Will & I so we had a rather action packed few days! It was actually lovely to get out and do things, and then be able to come back after a full day, sleepy but happy.

We went back to Pulau Ubin, as promised, and rented bicycles this time. You must be careful when renting bicycles there as they are all of varying quality. Make sure you test out the gears and the brakes in case they don’t work properly. Don’t be afraid to challenge some of the bicycles guys if they try to give you one that is no good. We cycled over to the Chek Jawa wetlands which are on the other side of the island. It was a pretty long ride for us unathletic types, especially in the heat and humidity. But you do get to see some amazing wildlife – we spotted a big monitor lizard on the way there, wild pigs, toucans and a HUGE spider in a web on the way back.  There is a viewing tower when you get to Chek Jawa where you can look out over the whole area. We also walked along the board walk where you can see lots of different natural habitats, including the mangroves. There are helpful signs to tell you what wildlife to look out for. I also enjoyed watching the planes landing at Changi, as they approach the airport from over the sea. You can find out more about Chek Jawa here.

We also finally made it up to MacRitchie. Despite it being only a short distance from us we hadn’t made it up there yet. I have thought about going during the day, but was frightened of seeing monkeys if I was on my own (I really, really hate monkeys!). So the three of us went, with our friend Fiona, for a walk along the HSBC Treetop walk, and a little wander around the area. MacRitchie is a big place! Make sure you wear proper shoes if you are planning on walking there – we did it in flip-flops which wasn’t so great, as the paths can be a little uneven and muddy if it has rained recently. The treetop walk is great fun – it is a huge suspension bridge which allows you fantastic views of the MacRitchie area.

Hanging out on the Treetop Walk

What a view!

After crossing over the bridge, we followed one of the trails for a little bit, allowing us to soak up the sounds and smells of the rainforest. There was a lovely little section where there was a bridge over a small stream. I am little bit obsessed with water features of any type, so I couldn’t resist taking a snap.

Little stream

We also took a trip to the Night Safari once again (how could we not?!). It was great as always, but this time Will & T made me brave the bat enclosure! I was not a fan! To make matters worse (or better, depending on your viewpoint) the keeper was in their feeding the fruit bats which meant they were all going bonkers and flying around. I know T took an illicit snap (by accident I should add) so if I get the photo from her I’ll pop it up for you to see. I’ve been in there, seen them, and I still don’t like bats flying around my face!

We had a wonderful time with T, and I hope she has even more fabulous adventures in Australia. Maybe I should get her to do a guest post…

In India

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For Will’s Mum’s birthday, Will decided to help her realise a lifetime dream and take her to India. She’s never visited before, and Will’s Dad is not a lover of curry so wasn’t keen on going himself. Will and I have been to India twice before, and loved it, so we decided that it would be a brilliant way to celebrate. For me, India is one of those places that when you love it, gets under your skin. My friend Raj has often joked that I must have been Indian in a previous life, as I love everything about it, and apparently make a better dahl than she does! So I was very happy to be going back there, as you can imagine.

We wanted to do an India highlights trip – in only 10 days – so we spent ages working out itineraries, looking at trains and domestic airlines, trying to decide the best route. In the end, Will did a fantastic job and put together a fantastic trip. Mumbai – Jodphur – Khimsar – Jaipur – Agra – Delhi. We also travelled in very different style to our first two trips – before it had been bright but basic backpacker places, and overnight trains; this time around it was gorgeous hotels and private cars. Very different – we did India in style!

We flew into Mumbai from Singapore. I’d been to Mumbai on both our previous trips but neither of us had fallen in love with the city – it had seemed crowded, dirty, frantic with traffic, and the juxtaposition between rich and poor so close together had been rather difficult to stomach. The Mumbai that greeted us on this occasion felt very different. A new bridge has been recently completed, which cuts out a lot of the traffic, acting as a kind of by-pass in the sea. The slums that were so prevalent when we visited before weren’t visible this time (though of course that doesn’t mean that they weren’t there… just moved). This time I actually wanted to leave the hotel and explore the city. We spent a great morning exploring the city and visiting all the landmarks, and the house Gandhi used to stay in when he was in Mumbai.

Gateway of India

Gateway of India

Boats at Gateway of India

Victoria Terminus

Dhobi Ghat

Profound words from Gandhi

After a whistle-stop tour of Mumbai, we hopped onto a domestic flight up to Jodphur in Rajasthan. We’d been to Rajasthan (Jaipur & Udaipur) on previous visits, but ran out of time to see Jodphur. We heard so many great things that we really regretted not being able to visit, so we were keen to make sure that it was on the itinerary this time. The ‘Blue City’ did not disappoint. Smaller than the other cities we had visited in Rajasthan, Jodphur feels a bit more personal. The impressive Mehrangarh Fort, perched on a rocky outcrop, looks out over the city. I loved exploring it, with the bright blue sky overhead, and old stone all around me. The market was also fun and vibrant, with loads of fresh produce on sale. The whole city had a lovely chilled out vibe and I could’ve happily spent several days there.

Umaid Bhawan Palace

Mehrangarh Fort

View over Jodphur

Beautiful spiral staircase

More of the Mehrangarh Fort

After Jodphur, we travelled to the small town of Khimsar, where we were staying in the old Fort there. It’s a brilliant place to stay – lovely comfy rooms but with big ramparts all around the grounds, and the dining room is in the one part of the fort that they have left relatively unrenovated. Eating there is really atmospheric! We also did a little jeep safari into the desert where we saw all kinds of animals – lots of deer like looking creatures. We also did a short camel ride up a sand dune to watch the sunset – beautiful.

Camel!

Next up was Jaipur. Will & I had both visited it when we first came to India back in 2004, so we were looking forward to seeing the city again, and seeing if had changed as much as Mumbai had. After a white-knuckle car journey (which saw cars coming at 80 mph down the road towards us, on the wrong side of a motorway – I was in the front and quietly praying I would survive), we arrived. Jaipur is known as the ‘pink city’ due to the colours of the walls, which were painted in honour of Prince Albert’s visit in 1876. In reality, they are more of a terracotta col0ur, but it still make the old city striking. We visited the Amber Fort, as we had done on our previous visit. It sits perched on a hill, looking over the city. Will’s Mum had wanted to ride up on the elephants that are there, but our well-meaning but ultimately frustrating taxi driver took us all the way round the back to the top, meaning we had to walk all the way down again to do the elephant ride. Poor bloke, I think he thought he was doing us a favour.

The Amber Fort is as beautiful as I remembered it and much more of it has been restored to its former glory. For instance, there was a garden in the central courtyard that hadn’t been there when we came before. More of the Mirror Palace is being restored as well, which is incredible to see.  I’m pleased that India is preserving more of its beautiful heritage buildings.

The Amber Fort

Detailing in the Mirror Palace

Gardens inside the Amber Fort

On route to Agra from Jaipur, we stopped at Fatephur Sikri. It was originally built as a walled city, but now much of it lies empty and is described as a ‘ghost city’. We visited the mosque there, Jama Masjid. It is a striking building, and built out of the beautiful local red stone.

Buland Gate, Fatephur Sikri

Next up was Agra, home of the Taj Mahal. I had mixed feelings about going back there. It had been such a perfect experience when we first went, that I was a bit nervous about tainting it. We got off to a frustrating start, as after having got up early to get there, we had to wait in a huge queue, which is split into men’s and women’s, for over an hour. Needless to say, the men’s queue moves super quickly, whilst the women’s drags. This is all in the name of security, but I received nothing more than a cursory pat on the thighs and around my stomach. Nobody bothered to check my bag. They need to sort this out! However, once I stepped inside, I fell in love with the Taj all over again. It is such a mesmerising building – you can’t stop looking at it. It’s almost as if it has some kind of magic to it. It’s easy to see why its one of the wonders of the world, and one of my favourite places ever. I never thought I’d visit it again, so I am delighted that I’ve had the opportunity.

Bird at Taj Mahal

Taj Mahal

Will & I at the Taj Mahal, 8 years after our first visit

Our trip ended in Delhi, where we really only had an evening, before we caught our early morning flight back to Singapore. We decided not to face the wrath of the capital city, and instead relaxed in the hotel with a massage and yummy dinner. It was very sad to leave Will’s Mum (she was flying straight back to London) but also I was sad to leave India again. It is country that has definitely got under my skin – it fascinates me and frustrates me all at the same time! If you have never visited, I would seriously recommend that you do – it is one of the most beautiful and captivating places I’ve ever been lucky enough to visit.

(I took tons of photos and while there are plenty in this post, there are even more if you head on over to Flickr)

Pulau Ubin

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At the start of March we had our second set of house guests – Will’s Mum and Dad. We did a fair few of the more touristy things with them (Raffles, the Night Zoo, Marina Bay Sands) but we also wanted to do a couple of things that were more off the beaten track, and highlighted another side of Singapore. Their visit also happily coincided with some of the hottest weather we’ve had since we arrived in Singapore – seemingly endless days of bright blue sky and soaring temperatures.

We decided to make the most of the weather and do something outdoors. A couple of friends of ours had visited Pulau Ubin a couple of weekends previously, and raved about, so we were eager to explore for ourselves. You catch the bumboat over from Changi Point Ferry Terminal for the princely sum of S$2.50 (for UK readers, that’s about £1.25!). There aren’t any fixed departure times – the boats just go when they’re full. We seemed to time it just right, and there was one getting ready to depart as we arrived. I love being out on the water, slight spray on the face, wind in my hair – I felt oddly elated as we travelled over.

Enjoying the boat ride over

The bumboat

Welcome to Pulau Ubin!

Going to Pulau Ubin is like stepping back in time. It is described as one of the last ‘kampongs’ (villages) left in Singapore, and is supposed to be like what the rest of Singapore was like in the 1960s. Needless to say, I loved it! Such a brilliant, chilled out kind of vibe, and so wonderful to be around so much nature – even if I did acquire several mozzie bites within the first 15 minutes of arriving – the air feels fresher somehow, and its great to escape all the modern materialism of modern Singapore. I’d definitely recommend it as an escape on those days that you are feeling a bit disillusioned and fed up with Singapore.

There are loads of bikes for hire, for pretty cheap prices. We chose a more sedate option and just walked around a bit. Both Will and I are keen to go back and bike soon though, as we definitely didn’t get to explore as much of the island as we would’ve liked to. But it was fun walking around the little village bit, admiring some of the original art work, and hand painted signs for fresh seafood.

Bicycles for hire

Painted buildings

Seafood anyone?

I love this quote - it seems to embody the Pulau Ubin spirit

I loved strolling along the shady paths, spotting all kinds of local flora and fauna – which reminds me, I really need to get some kind of guide to that, as there are tons of things I don’t know the names of! There are some small buildings, near to the ferry point, which tell you all about the history of the island – it used to be famous for its granite quarries – as well as more about the wildlife you can find there. I’d like to go back and explore the mangrove areas next time.

Bananas growing by the side of the path

A sky to die for!

Starfruit (my current local food obsession)

There are plenty of places to sell you a cold drink, and we took Will’s parents to the only accommodation on the island, the Celestial Resort. There is a pretty decent restaurant there, where we enjoyed fried squid and noodles for lunch, whilst enjoying seeing all the brightly coloured fish (and a ray!) swimming around the restaurant – its set out in a little lake type bit. It was pretty relaxing to be honest, and nice to get out of the hot midday sun that was over us.

Island living

Tee hee - got to love this kind of thing!

In the end the heat defeated us a little bit (I am pretty acclimatised to the weather now, but I still flake out when it’s that hot…I’m a Brit, ok…sun is like a foreign thing to us), and we headed back to the jetty to go back to the mainland. I really enjoyed my short trip to Pulau Ubin, and I can’t  wait to go back and explore properly by bike another time. If you are looking for a little slice of peace and quiet in Singapore, I’d definitely recommend a day trip out there.

A tourist in Singapore: our first visitors to the Lion City

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Friends and family visiting from home. Can anything bring greater joy to the still-slightly-green expat?!

We had our first visitors to the Lion City at the end of January. Will’s brother (L) and his friend (N) came out to stay with us for 4 nights, before heading off to Australia for a friend’s wedding. One of the great things about Singapore for me, is that so many people have to fly via it when they are going visit Asia, Australia or New Zealand, meaning a lot of people are planning on passing through to see us – hooray!

Having the guys here was just brilliant. It was so lovely to see familiar faces, share stories and jokes, and catch up on all the news from back home. We had a lot of laughs and silliness – thank you both so much for coming to visit!

As the guys were out first set of visitors, we aren’t yet jaded by the ‘tourist/visitor trail’, although no doubt we will get there at some point. We were both so excited about showing them around and showing off our ‘new’ city.

First stop was Chinatown for a bit of food. It was N’s first time in Asia (can you believe that?!) so we wanted to show him all the sights, sounds and smells of Asia, and Chinatown seemed like the best place to do that. We went to one of our usual haunts and devoured satay, Singapore noodles and many beers. Great start to the trip! The guys were pretty jetlagged so we didn’t stay all that late in the end.

The next day, we took the MRT almost the whole way across the island to Jurong Bird Park to get a bit of wildlife action. We were planning on visiting the Night Zoo later, so it seemed like a good plan to get the double entry tickets, that give you a discount.  I actually enjoyed the bird park a lot more than I thought I would. As with the Singapore Zoo, everything is done very sympathetically, so I never felt bad about the birds being in aviaries, as they were so large and well thought out.

Penguins!

Lories - love their colours

Victoria crowned pigeon

One for Miss Jackson - me at the Bird Park!

Cooling off or drying their wings - what do you think?

I loved seeing all the colourful and unusual birds that were there. It was a great treat to see so many and it made me curious to learn more about Asian flora and fauna. I think I need to buy myself a little book on it.

That evening we went to the Night Zoo. As so many people have commented before, you can’t take flash photos at the Night Zoo so unfortunately I don’t have any to share with you lot. But I LOVED it there – such an exciting and magical experience. You arrive in the dark, and the way is lit with flaming torches, and people drumming. It all feels very tribal and you can’t help but feel a flicker of excitement and anticipation as you wait to board your little train thingy that takes you around the park. The train thingy is electric so you just glide along, and then suddenly round a corner and see animals looming out through the gloom.

I know some people just sit on the train and don’t get off an explore. I can’t help but think that’s such a huge mistake. We saw so much more stuff wandering around, and it was a much more interactive experience. We saw flying squirrels, bats (yuk), and our new favourite creature – the Binturong. The Binturong is a funny cat looking creature, that is related to civets (those that make the super expensive coffee). It looks quite cute, until it bares its teeth, but the best fact about it is that its supposed to smell of popcorn. A cat that smells of popcorn = best thing ever. Anyway, GO to the Night Zoo. Its super fun and very exciting!

The next day we explored around the Marina Bay area. We walked along by MBS, over the Helix Bridge and back again. We also took a bum boat along the river. I found the bum boat fun, as I like being on the water, but I think we gave the guys more information about the area and the buildings than the tour guide did. Maybe we just know a lot more about Singapore than we thought, or we just had a particularly rubbish guide, but I wasn’t overly impressed.

Hanging out by MBS

Walkway by MBS

Helix Bridge

The Esplanade, aka the durians

The Merlion

The evening rolled around quickly, and then it was time for bar crawl, Singapore style! We started off in the Long Bar at Raffles Hotel for a Singapore Sling – had to be done really, and it was the first Sling that Will & I have had since arriving. I enjoyed it; the Long Bar was fun, although I can’t imagine staying for more than one drink.

Enjoying our first Singapore Sling!

We then went on to Altitude at One Raffles Place, where we’d planned to show the L & N the brilliant view from the ‘world’s highest alfresco bar’. We’d been before on our look-see visit, and were captivated by the views of the city. It made us really excited about moving here. Unfortunately, when we got upstairs, we were told that the rooftop bar was shut for a function (turned out to be a wedding). They told us they were almost finished, so we ordered drinks, thinking we could finish them upstairs. However, it was a much longer wait than we’d hoped, so we ended up doing the briefest of circuits around the outside bar, before we had to leave for our next booking.

On to Lantern Bar, on top of the Fullerton Bay Hotel. Top marks for brilliant marina views, and gorgeous surroundings. We enjoyed delicious cocktails and lots of yummy snacky bar foods. The setting was just great, and the service was excellent – I have to mention it, as those of you who are Singapore residents know how rare that is!

The pool on top of the Fullerton Bay

Lanterns at Lantern!

After enjoying our drinks at Lantern, we headed back to MBS, and up to Ku De Ta for some more gorgeous views of the Singapore skyline. We didn’t actually go into the club, choosing instead to stand outside and enjoy the breezes and views. I felt strangely peaceful standing up there – I think I finally started to feel like Singapore was my home. There was a DJ playing some good tunes, so we ended up staying there late, drinking lots, and dancing our little socks off!

View of the City from the top of MBS

Sunday saw us doing what Sundays were invented for – working off a hangover by brunching with friends, and generally being lazy. Perfect. On Monday, L had to take an early flight on to Australia, but N was here until the evening so we decided to do an open top bus tour. Funniest thing ever. We learnt absolutely nothing about the history of Singapore or what certain landmarks were, but we did learn the about the best places to get chicken rice, buy Crocs, go the cinema, and exactly what roads bordered the Botanical Gardens. All this told to us by a lady with a voice that sounded like she did another job entirely in the evenings…Hilarious. I’d recommend it if you want a good laugh, not if you want to find out about Singapore! We finished up the day with a lovely steak in Club Street, before waving N off into a taxi to the airport.

Thanks guys for coming out and making me appreciate my new home town so much more. Being a tourist in Singapore really made me realise how much this place has to offer. Good times.

Exploring the Mekong River – Part Two

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After a super duper sleep on the boat (it was soooo relaxing just falling asleep to the sounds of nature), we woke up to another beautifully blue sky. We had another delicious meal (breakfast this time) before heading off in the little boat to explore some of the floating markets around Cai Be. It was all really quiet, because of the Tet holiday, so we didn’t get to experience the hustle and bustle that is usually there. On the other hand, there is something wonderful about seeing people at play, relaxing at home.

Enjoying time together

I find being by water really relaxing, and I loved the idea of living so close to the river (although there are bound to be cons…I can dream!). I loved the houses on stilts, and how the river is obviously such an integral part of daily life.

Relaxing at Tet

Houses by the river

I liked seeing the boats that usually make up some of the floating market, and tried to imagine the shouts of people selling and buying wares, and people stepping from boat to boat, to pick up the things that they need.

Floating market boat

After meandering down the waterways, we stopped at a small village to stretch out legs and explore. We went to a place that showed tourists all the different things that the local communities do with rice, from making rice wine, rice papers, and popped rice. We got to try a lot of things, including some delicious little sweets – they were yummy but so sticky they got stuck to your teeth!

Drying rice papers used for summer rolls

Making popped rice

As we left the rice place, I spotted all these Tintin books for sale! I loved Tintin when I was younger, so it was a real treat to see these. I can’t remember if I’ve read them or not, but I loved the illustrations, and how they were a complete time-capsule for what was going on when they were written.

Vietnamese Tintin

Soon after exploring the village, it was time to say goodbye to Loi, and the rest of our fellow guests on the boat. I felt sad to be leaving the Mekong. I found it very tranquil and calming, just being out on the water, with no internet or mobile phones to disturb your thoughts. I found the friendliness of all the people we met wonderful. They really made me feel welcome, and part of their community, even if just for a day.

Back in Saigon, we just had one final stop before flying back to Singapore. We went to the War Remnants Museum (previously know as the American War Crimes Museum). I didn’t take any photos inside as it felt a bit disrespectful, and also some of the exhibits on display were truly horrifying, and ones that I don’t wish to recall. Although it presents a very biased view of the conflict, I couldn’t help but be moved to tears by many of the images and stories that were shown. I was pleased to see some photographs of American soldiers who suffered, as well as the Vietnamese – I think some of the museum has been changed in order to attempt a more balanced viewpoint. The worst section for me was the one of the effects of Agent Orange. There were a few things in there that made me feel ill, but I felt like I needed to see them; to understand more about this war that really I knew so little about. It was incredibly moving and thought-provoking, and the experience will stay with me for quite some time.

I really loved Vietnam. I loved the warmth of the people, their resilience, and their openness. I found the scars left by the war to be shocking but also inspiring. Vietnam seems to have come such a long way since then that it gave me hope for other countries who are currently trying to recover from conflict themselves. I really hope I get the chance to return, and see more of this fascinating place.

Exploring the Mekong River

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(Part two of our CNY visit to Vietnam.)

After a fun day exploring Saigon, and then meeting up with friends in the city for dinner, drinks and general marvelling at the Tet celebrations (yes, even going to Vietnam we managed to bump into people we know from Singapore – so awesome!), we set off bright and early for our trip exploring the Mekong delta.

We had arranged our trip through our hotel, and I think I would definitely recommend shopping around for trips as they can be of varying length, depth and quality. We went for a two-day, one night trip, where we got to sleep over on the boat. The hotel booked us on a Cochinchine cruise and I’d have to say I’d highly recommend them for the friendliness of the staff, delicious food, comfortable accommodation, and just general relaxing greatness!

We picked up the boat at Cai Be, just over an hour drive from Saigon. I enjoyed the drive down there – the roads are great, and it was lovely to see some of the countryside. I also enjoyed seeing all the rest stops  dotted along the route. The rest stops in Vietnam are really different to the ones in the UK; rather than Burger King, in Vietnam you get a shady hammock and a bowl of steaming hot pho! Unfortunately, our journey wasn’t long enough to warrant a rest stop, but it made me excited about going back to Vietnam one day and doing some longer journeys.

We were met at Cai Be, and taken onto our boat, where we would spend the next two days. The boat was beautiful and the crew, including our guide Loi, were welcoming and very friendly. I didn’t get a photo of our room, but the bed was super comfy, and there was air-conditioning, meaning that in the night we wouldn’t get bitten to death by mozzies!

Our boat

And then – we were off! I can’t tell you how much I enjoyed just slowly floating down the river, with a warm breeze in my face, cold drink in my hand, and great company by my side. I loved seeing all the life by the side of the Mekong – people who use the river to live and work every day.

Fishing

Kilns for firing bricks

View off the back of the boat

After floating along the river, eating a delicious lunch of about 5 courses (I was so busy eating I didn’t take photos!) including some gorgeous summer rolls, we arrived at Sa Dec. Sa Dec is a pretty market town, with a night market. After the peace and quiet of the river, it was almost a shock being back in the hustle and bustle of  a town. It was much more busy because of the Tet public holiday that evening.

We walked through the town until we arrived at the house of Hunyh Thuy Le. This house became famous due to the French writer, Marguerite Duras, having an affair with Hunyh Thuy Le. This love affair, became the basis for her book The Lover. The house was really beautiful, with loads of gorgeous detailing. I loved the mixture of French and Vietnamese that was everywhere. I’d never heard of Marguerite Duras until going there, but now I really want to read the book, and understand what inspired her.

Bird detailing on the wooden wall panels

Out in the courtyard

Floor tiles

On the way back, we happened across a group of children, practising their lion dance. I didn’t know much about lion dancing, but I now know it supposed to scare away evil spirits and summon good fortune. I was amazed by how acrobatic the children were – the lion is made by two people, and the boy at the front was often being picked up by the boy at the back, to make the lion rear up. It was quite amazing, and the traditional drumming really added to the atmosphere. They were really happy to let us watch everything, and seemed pleased to have an audience.

Standing on the shoulders of lions

Lion dancing

Lion and his beater

After our impromptu stop watching the lion dance, we continued on to a temple to look around. It was incredibly brightly coloured, with really unusual decorations inside.

Temple detailing

Dragons

We then walked up some narrow and incredibly steep staircases to get up to the roof, where we had the most incredible views over the town, and over the river. It was such a sunny day, and the really vivid colours of the temple looked amazing against the bright blue sky.

Will & I on the temple roof

From the top of the temple

Back in the main town, we had a chance to explore the markets. I love markets! It was brilliant looking around everything, and all the weird and wonderful fruit and vegetables. There was a great atmosphere in the market – vibrant and buzzy, with loads of people milling around, buying up things for the Tet celebrations that evening.

Mouthwatering selection

Stinky durians

Fruit selection

Back on the boat, we were treated to a foot massage on the top deck, as the sun set over the river. We then had another gorgeous meal, leaving us completely stuffed. We stayed up on deck, chatting with some of the other guests, and enjoying a glass of wine. After a couple of hours, we were ready to head down to bed. On our way down, we had to walk past the kitchen, and there we found all of the staff enjoying a celebratory Tet meal. They invited us, and the Australian couple who were with us, to join them. It was a real privilege to share their meal, and drinks, with them. All the staff were so friendly, teaching us to say Happy New Year in Vietnamese – Chuc Mung Nam Moi!

Chuc Mung Nam Moi - celebrating on the boat