Congratulations, You’re Pregnant! So What’s Next?


So you’re having a baby. Isn’t that wonderful? I know exactly how unreal that feels! But once you and your husband or partner are done jumping up and down for joy, you may need to sit down and start the ‘family’ talk – if you haven’t done already. Being pregnant is just the beginning of a lifetime commitment to put someone else’s needs, wants, convenience, happiness well ahead of yours. As a first time soon-to-be parent like me, you may also be wondering what exactly needs to be done next. Well, besides getting your husband/partner involved every step of the way, here are some of the most important things to tick-off your pregnancy checklist.

Before Getting Pregnant

1. Get a comprehensive health insurance. Actually, this is something that you and your partner should have already planned for even before getting pregnant. If possible, get one that covers pre-natal, delivery, and post-natal in full – especially if you live in an expensive country like Singapore. Hubby and I decided to go for Bupa Health Coverage, on the advice of some friends, sometime in July/August last year. At that time, the holding period was only around 10 months and any pregnancy-related expenses, including delivery, and post-natal, after the 10th month will be covered 100%. Shortly after we took the policy, the maturity period was changed to 24 months, so it really was a good call when get insured at the time that we did. Bupa has an excellent health coverage program and even if you have to pay a slightly higher premium, you know that you will not be left out cold when you need it the most – especially when the bills start piling up during the course of your pregnancy.

2. Find a great OB-Gyne with whom you can entrust your body and your baby. Just like in number 1, it would have been ideal if you already have an OB for your regular non-pregnancy related check-ups even before getting pregnant. In my case, I had to find an OB shortly after moving to Singapore because of my polycystic ovary syndrome (PCOS) which needs to be monitored regularly. And once Hubby and I decided to get pregnant and I had to get off the hormonal pills I was taking, he was also the one we consulted about it.

During Pregnancy

3. Keep fit and healthy. If you’ve been living a healthy lifestyle even before deciding to get pregnant, then props to you! Making sure that your body is getting enough vitamins and minerals for yourself and your growing baby is a very important task. Start with having more vegetables, fruits and meat/fish in your diet. Also, ask your OB about prenatal multivitamin supplements as these can help fill in the nutritional gaps in your diet.

When it comes to fitness, continue with whatever workout regimen you already have prior to pregnancy, but make sure to adjust the intensity according to the stage of your pregnancy. Remember, we are not created equal – so whatever works for other pregnant women may not necessarily be your cup of tea. In my case, I was doing a lot of running and yoga before I got pregnant, but I had to stop running at some stage and I also switched to prenatal yoga when I entered the second month of my pregnancy. In large part due to my age-related paranoia that I might end up causing harm to my growing bub if I get too intense with any of my workouts. Instead of running, I have been doing a lot of walking these days, averaging about 8,000 steps daily.

4. Get a good anti-stretchmark cream. Trust me, your body will thank you later for it. I started using this product called Elancyl, which I discovered when I Googled “Top anti-stretchmark creams for pregnant women” days after I found out that I’m pregnant. I started applying the product on my 8th week, even before the bump became pronounced. It is essential to keep the skin around your tummy, thighs, buttocks and breasts supple and elastic especially when they start expanding and stretching to accommodate the growing baby in your belly.

An amazing product like Elancyl will help keep those stretchies at bay.
An amazing product like Elancyl will help keep those stretchies at bay.

Another product that has mothers raving about is Bio Oil, which is a much cheaper alternative to the branded stretchmark creams available in the market. In order to stretch the life of the slightly pricey Elancyl, what I normally do is alternate the use of both. I apply a generous quantity of Bio Oil on prescribed areas at night before bed time, and use Elancyl during daytime, after my morning shower.

Another alternative is the ubiquitous Palmer’s Cocoa Butter Formula Anti-Stretchmarks Massage Cream. Slightly more expensive than Bio Oil but cheaper than Elancyl or Clarins, this product is also endorsed by a lot of pregnant women. I forgot to bring my Elancyl when we left for Bangkok and for some weird reason, we couldn’t find it in Boots or Watson’s so I bought Palmer’s instead. I love the buttery scent of the cream but I still prefer Elancyl. Will definitely stock up on the latter when we’re back in Singapore.

Palmer's Cocoa Butter Anti-stretchmarks cream
Palmer’s Cocoa Butter Anti-stretchmarks cream

5. Get educated. Read up on pregnancy but try not to get so obsessive about it that it causes you to be super scared and paranoid about your condition. I tend to fall prey to Googling weird stuff about pregnancy that I sometimes get so scared of stepping out of the house for fear that I might harm my baby. There are books and resource materials aplenty but in my case, I have found some of the best tips and information from this book called What To Expect When You’re Expecting, which was loaned to me by Yats, and this goldmine of a novel by an American writer living in Paris called Bringing Up Bébé, which essentially extolls the virtues of raising your children the French way.

Expect the best and the worst.:)
Expect the best, prepare for the worst.:)
Explore the joys of French parenting
Explore the joys of French parenting.

6. Pamper Yourself. As our body goes through a plethora of hormonal changes, so does our mood. Pregnant women tend to become overly sensitive, not only about their surroundings but especially about their bodies. At the beginning, I was also a bit alarmed by the weight gain, the appearance of cellulites on my thighs, the thickening of my arms and thighs, etc. And if you are every bit as vain as the woman sitting next to you, it’s not very difficult to feel fat or unkempt. But it shouldn’t have to be that way. By all means, get a haircut, a Brazilian wax (a word of caution: Your skin actually becomes more sensitive especially around the pubic area so if you can’t take the pain of getting the hair pulled, then feel free to skip this), mani-pedi treatment, antenatal massage, etc. You may be losing your hourglass shape, but that doesn’t mean you need to let go completely.

First thing I did when we arrived in Bangkok was to get a haircut, hair treatment,  gel mani-pedi, and a foot massage.
First thing I did when we arrived in Bangkok was to get a haircut, hair treatment, gel mani-pedi, and a foot massage.

7. Invest in fashionable yet durable maternity clothes. But don’t go on a rampage when you’re not even showing yet. I suggest you start buying only during your second trimester when your bump is already visible. And even then, go for pants or skirts that have elastic waistbands or those beautiful tunic dresses that you can keep until the the last trimester. Maternity clothes are not the easiest to find, I know, and are often more expensive than normal casual clothes, but with a little bit of patience in going through online shopping websites, you’ll soon be turning heads with your radiant pregnant look.

Can you believe that I found this dress online for only 20 SGD?!
Can you believe that I found this dress online for only sgd 20?!

8. Schedule maternity visits and pick your hospital (for delivery) soon. In a way, I feel very lucky to be living in Singapore for a multitude of reasons, including having so many great maternity hospitals to choose from. From Mount Elizabeth, Mount Alvernia, Thomson Medical, Gleneagles, KK Hospital, etc., you can have your pick of a great hospital to deliver your baby. Deciding on the hospital early is very important as it will also help you and your partner to figure out the finances. Having a baby in Singapore is such an expensive business which is why, I cannot emphasise more on the importance of securing a top-of-the-line insurance coverage earlier on.

9. Get your husband/partner involved. Always remember that it’s not only you who’s probably scared and overwhelmed about having a baby. Make it a point to have regular open and sincere discussions about the baby and starting a family as this will also bring both of you closer than ever. Discuss parenting decisions, religious faith, child education, etc. all throughout this magical journey so you are both on the same page and the foundation of marriage and family life is more fortified than ever before.

10. Embrace the journey. The next nine months and the years after that are going to change your life in ways that you’ve probably never imagined. My husband and I are still befuddled by the changes and the coming responsibilities but we both love where we are now and where we’re headed for. That, to me, is just as important as all the other tips I have shared. There must be, first and foremost, an overflowing supply of love and respect in the home for you wouldn’t want to bring forth a child in a chaotic, stressful environment. Make time, as a couple, to sit back, relax and just bask in the joys of pregnancy even as you get ready for the next phase of becoming les parents.

Aye, The Stork Has Landed!


Today, I take a break from travel writing (Okay, let’s get real here. I am far from a celebrated travel writer/blogger. I just happen to travel quite a bit and occasionally write about my trips.) to talk about something personal, yet incredibly magical. The proverbial stork has paid our home a visit and I am now 17 weeks and 4 days into my pregnancy. I have been meaning to blog about it since the day we found out five weeks into my pregnancy, but Hubby and I decided we would wait until we’ve done the First Trimester Pregnancy Test (FTPT) and are assured of our baby’s health and normal development. Weeks have gone by and somehow, I can’t seem to find the right words to describe just how unrestrainedly excited I am – WE ARE – for the coming of our baby.

What I’m about to say is totalement cliché but I will say it anyway: What I am experiencing now is simply too beautiful for words. That pregnancy in itself is a life-altering event in a woman’s life – especially this woman – is a universally-accepted truth, but nothing could have prepared me for the overwhelming joy and occasional bouts of trepidation (Am I really ready to become a mother? Am I going to be a great Mom? What’s going to happen to my career after this? Will I be able to get rid of my pregnancy weight and how soon?) of actually going though it myself. The physical changes that my body goes through week after week is just one thing. The mental and emotional tumult (in a good way), is another.

It’s not because Hubby and I are worried for any particular reason. Deep in our hearts we know that we are both ready for the big picture responsibility of parenthood. Although we have been a couple for more than seven years (married for nearly three years out of those seven), we mutually-agreed at the beginning that we will not be rushing into parenthood for a handful of reasons. Some of those, I admit, were decidedly selfish but necessary in the way that they helped us become more prepared for what’s to come. Not to say that we already know exactly what to do – no one can possibly be that deluded – but we are trying and learning day by day. Do we regret having a baby quite late as opposed to getting right down to it at the early stage of our relationship? Not really, no. There are merits to spending a good amount of time as husband and wife, first, considering we spent much of our boyfriend-girlfriend years trying to make our long distance relationship work. We took time in nurturing our relationship and now that we have built a pretty solid foundation, we both felt it was time to bring in a new member to love and care for as much as we have done for each other all these years. Or perhaps even more. For isn’t it that children can bring out the selflessness you never even knew existed in you?

It was late last year when we started having serious baby talks and I won’t lie to you: I was starting to worry about my ovaries ageing faster than I could even perfect a pincha mayurasana (which I still haven’t learned to do unassisted, by the way) pose. I am 35 and I am not one to age-shame, but that sounds pretty advanced to me. Unfortunately for us women, our ovaries simply don’t decide to stop ageing at 21. Besides that, there’s also the late pregnancy risks to consider, i.e., the increased risk of Down’s Syndrome for the baby and also the potential risk on the mother’s wellbeing – if the mother is not very healthy to begin with. Thankfully, I have been living a somewhat healthy lifestyle for many years now. Yes, I do binge occasionally like any other human being with natural urges, but I try to compensate for it with a lot of weird exercises and then some.

To make things a little bit more compliqué, I had been diagnosed with polycystic ovary syndrome, which means, my hormones are completely out of whack and I’ve been told that getting pregnant may not be as easy as boiling eggs on a kettle with a timer. And because of my hormonal imbalance, I had to take hormonal pills for several years. So when we decided to have a baby, I prayed that I won’t have wait too long because, again, ageing ovaries, and well, we thought it would be really lovely to deliver our baby in Singapore, just as the nation celebrates its 50th year. After all, we did get married in Singapore on 12-12-12. Why not take the number play a notch higher and go for a Jubilee baby as well? LOL.

We may have been over enthusiastic about the whole let’s-start-a-family thing when we were in Europe last February (oh yes!) that I had the highest hopes of seeing those two blue lines when we got back from our winter holiday. But instead of two, I saw only one blue line, and I could feel myself slowly sinking into the abyss of sadness, that gnawing feeling of inadequacy, and aching worry. Weeks passed and my period still hasn’t come but at the same time, I was feeling these weird symptoms that were terrifying me because they were raising my hopes so far up – and I was afraid of crashing down in a pile of rubble. Hubby saw how distraught I was with the result of the first HPT and it was affecting him, too. The week before my second appointment with my OB, I took one of those HPTs and again, no two lines. By this time, I was oscillating from sadness to frustration and some other wild emotions in between, that it was pretty hard to play catch-up with my mood swings. Poor Hubby.

Finally, I went to see my doctor, primarily to complain about my period taking an extended break and the two happy lines not showing meanwhile. It turns out, I got false negatives on my HPTs! I was alone at that time as Hubby had a meeting he couldn’t get out of and anyway, we didn’t really expect anything different other than the singular line during that particular visit, so I didn’t really push him to go with me. So when I called him immediately after I stepped out of the clinic to break the news of my pregnancy, we were both so overcome with joy that’s unlike anything we’ve ever felt before. So freakin’ intense! I mean, if I thought having raclette and an undisclosed amount of wine up in the snowy French Alps in winter with was pure bliss, knowing that I have this beautiful seed blossoming into life inside of me is about a million times blissful! God has heard our prayers and we are going to become parents!

So for the last few weeks, Hubby and I have been quite busy making all the preparations for the little one’s arrival. And since I will most likely be blogging about pregnancy, motherhood, and the whole shebang far more frequently in the coming weeks, I should probably end my post right about here. On my next post, I will have tips and funny stories to share, so I hope you’ll stick around for that as well.:)

Oh, did I tell you that we are having a baby boy? Mais oui, c’est un garçon!

xoxox

My 17-week old bumpie.
My 17-week old bumpie.

TRAVEL: The Weekend Bali Disappointed Me


On our sixth visit to the island that holds a very special place in our hearts – if only for the fact that hubby and I were married there two years ago (in July) – we landed in, and left Bali physically exhausted and unspeakably disappointed. Okay, truth is, I was more vanquished about the weekend trip than my forever-chill husband, Chris. No, the island had absolutely nothing to do with it, because as far the whole world is considered, Bali is, and will always be one of the most mystical travel destinations. It was the blasted heavy downpour that greeted us the moment we arrived and carrying on every single day until the day we had to fly back to Singapore, that cast a long, dark shadow upon one of my anticipated summer trips, and which I am unable to shake-off until today. So much so that I keep telling my husband we need a rebound beach trip, and preferably somewhere that would give me all the sun, intoxicating beach feels, and course, fantastic food that my chubby little human body can absorb. Some place that has yet to disappoint us. Yes, Phuket, looks like we will be seeing each other again pretty soon. You have always been like a dirty little addiction for which we haven’t yet found a cure.

But back to Bali. Thing is, when you’ve had somewhat of a winning streak in your past holidays, you tend to slip into this weird zone of entitlement in which you start thinking and behaving as though every other holiday that you will have in the future will be perfect and happy. Maldives, Australia, Abu Dhabi, PhuketAvoriaz, Bordeaux, Krabi, Phnom Penh, etc. and yes, even rainy Paris in February – all these places we’ve traveled to during the last few months, have been nothing short of fantastic. And so I thought, Bali will be as consistently wonderful as it had been for us since our very first visit back in 2010. I was wrong.

DD Ubud Villa_vickyras

We stayed at this quaint little traditional villa in the Ubud tropics called DD Ubud Villa, which is a good place to hie-off to if you just want to disconnect/unplug from the hustle and bustle of the concrete jungle life you’ve been living. The place is far from luxurious. In fact, what they have are very traditional wooden little houses with basic amenities and a small balcony where you can just sit, relax, or have your meals. It is situated right in the middle of the woods so expect to hear cricket (and probably other small animals/insects) sounds day in and out. Depending on which house you get assigned to, expect to walk up and down 60 to 80 steps – so be careful, especially when it’s raining and the steps can be quite slippery. Better yet, ask for the casita close to the breakfast or pool area.

There's just something utterly sexy about outdoor baths, don't you think?
There’s just something utterly sexy about outdoor baths, don’t you think?

I liked the outdoor bath which is quite spacious. There is a bathtub, toilet and a shower, with a working hot water supply (except on our last day in which we didn’t have hot water). I thought it was pretty neat taking long, hot showers late at night with the cacophony of sounds coming from the forest’s little inhabitants. The resort has a tiny natural pool, which looks bigger in photos but really isn’t and the water is perpetually cold – especially the weekend we were there and it rained nonstop from Thursday. So we didn’t really get to try it out. In any case, it shouldn’t be that bad during hot summer days when, hopefully, the water is tepid enough for a decent dip. The place does not have it’s own restaurant, but they do have a menu where you can choose from and they order it from a partner restaurant. We tried a few of the dishes and they weren’t that bad either. Food is quite tasty and the price is pretty reasonable. Last orders are taken at 7:30pm, so if you are having your meals at the villa, take note of this because you will have a very hard time looking for food after. Chances are, you will end up paying extra for a transport to Ubud town centre or the nearby restaurant. If you are staying at DD for a few days, make sure you buy and stock big bottles of mineral water as there are no nearby store to buy supplies from. They do provide complimentary water everyday, but these are small 250ml bottles only.

Because we were unable to 'let the room breathe or let the sun shine in', so to speak, as there was only heavy downpour the entire time,  the room had this musty scent which wasn't that bad, really.
Because we were unable to ‘let the room breathe or let the sun shine in’, so to speak, as there was only heavy downpour the entire time, the room had this musty scent which really wasn’t that terrible.

You may also request for massage service in your room and the masseuse were quite good and I really liked the soft flower-scented oil they use for the massage. It doesn’t leave you feeling like a greased-up pig during or even after. Given the villa’s location, moving around can be such a pain. The only solution is to book transport for your tours. We did a morning tour the day after we arrived and opted to go on a whole day tour again on our last day – in which we ended up going to only two places because of the torrential rains that made the travel somewhat unbearable. We literally spent 7 or so hours inside the van moving from one place to another in what seemed like an exercise in absolute futility because of the terrible weather. At the end of the epic fail of a tour, all I got was foul temper and a sore bum. All things good and awful considered, our stay at DD Ubud Villa wasn’t terrible but it wasn’t fantastic either and to be fair, it was mostly due to the terrible weather in Bali that weekend. Oh, they do have free wifi but the connection is intermittent and often very slow, which we didn’t really mind that much because we were there to sort of disconnect.

Be that as it may, we couldn’t spend the whole weekend moping so we visited a few places which I would recommend you do the same, hopefully, on a much better weather situation. Here they are:

1. Visit the Pura Tirta Empul. A UNESCO-protected world cultural and natural heritage since 2012. This Hindu temple is where you will find the holy spring where believers bathe and offer prayers to cleanse their weary bodies and troubled minds. This spring is said to carry healing powers. You pay Rp 15,000 (US $1) to enter the temple grounds.

Entrance to the holy spring.
Entrance to the holy spring.
Looking to purge your body and mind of all negative influences? A dip in the holy spring just might give your troubled soul a reprieve.
Looking to purge your body and mind of all negative influences? A dip in the holy spring just might give your troubled soul a reprieve.

2. Visit (or in our case, view from afar) the legendary Mt. Agung. Still considered an active volcano occasionally belching smoke and ash, Mt. Agung is the highest point in Bali and had its last eruption in the year 1963. They have trekking tours being organised regularly if you are into that sort of thing. We would love to trek one of Indonesia’s volcanoes one day but on the weekend that we were there, we had to content ourselves with feasting on delicious local Indonesian fare for a fee of Rp 120,000 (US $9) per person for the lunch buffet at a restaurant overlooking the mountain. Before you reach the viewpoint, you will have to pay an additional Rp 30,000 (US $2) per person.

View of Mount Agung on a rainy, gloomy afternoon in Bali.
View of Mount Agung on a rainy, gloomy afternoon in Bali.
Lunch buffet with a view.
Lunch buffet with a view…of my visibly scarred thunder thighs. LOL.

3. Visit one of the organic cocoa and coffee plantations in Kinatamani for Luwak (and other variants of) coffee-tasting.  Unfortunately, I cannot recall the name of the plantation, but we did have a lovely time going around the property and I even tried my hand at manually grinding the coffee beans from the civet cat’s poop. We bought organic Bali Ginseng Coffee and organic Bali Cocoa. Personally, I think our Pinoy tableas (Filipino hot chocolate) taste much better than their cocoa. A cup of Luwak coffee costs Rp 50,000 (US $3) at the plantation and we were told that it’s more expensive outside.

Coffee beans from the civet cat poop being roasted.
Coffee beans from the civet cat poop being roasted.
Hubby enjoying his Luwak coffee.
Hubby enjoying his Luwak coffee.

4. Visit Ulun Danu Bratan. The temple complex is located on the shores of Lake Bratan, whis is the main source of irrigation in Bali. This temple complex is the site for offerings ceremony to the Balinese water, lake and river goddess Dewi Danu, due to the importance of the lake to the island.

Hindu temple by the lake.
Hindu temple by the lake.
Placid.
Calm waters of Lake Bratan.

5. Visit the famous Pura Tanah Lot. Arguably one of Bali’s most popular tourist destinations, attracting over a million of visitors from all over the world each year. It is also considered one of the holiest grounds on the island to worship the Balinese gods. At the base of the rocky islet where the temple sits atop, venomous sea snakes are believed to guard the temple from evil spirits and intruders. The offshore rock where the temple rests has been shaped continuously over the years by the roaring ocean tide. During low tide, people can walk up to the temple area, however, most of the time, when the tides are high, people are not allowed to get near the temple. They say Tanah Lot is most beautiful during sunset so we braved the inclement weather hoping it will clear up by the time we get there. Unfortunately, the rain pressed and the sky remained ominous grey.

The mystical Tanah Lot temple.
The mystical Tanah Lot temple.
Tanah Lot selfie.
Tanah Lot selfie.

TRAVEL: Weekend in PHNOM PENH


I first heard the name Pol Pot in our Asian history class back in high school, many years ago. I vaguely remember the details of what made him and the Khmer Rouge notorious, but they did very bad things, we were told. The thing is, when it’s something you have not experienced first-hand, it is not easy to claim full knowledge or even deep understanding of a situation, no matter the multitude of books written or documentaries made about it. I remember watching the film The Killing Fields some years back, the clumps of tears and snot-soaked tissues on the floor that resulted from it, and me making some vague promise to visit Phnom Penh one day, if only to retrace this part of history. Sort of.

Team Altaie discovering Phnom Penh.
Team Altaie discovering Phnom Penh.

Two weekends ago, that promise came into fruition. Chris and I traveled to Phnom Penh with only the fuzziest recollection of history and a compromise to just shoot the breeze when we get there, given that it was our first time traveling to the city. But what we saw, heard, and tasted of Phnom in a just one short weekend has driven us into a maelstrom of very strong emotions ranging from deep despair, some feeling of Asian allegiance, huge respect for what Phnom Penh has blossomed into after years of struggle that pressed on even after Pol Pot’s reign of terror has ended, and a sense of delicious wonder in large part due to the scrumptious Khmer cuisine.

We had a wonderful time in Phnom Penh, thanks to our friends Seima and Vite, for making sure we experience as much of the city and its history, even with our very short stay. Chris and Seima went to the same Graduate School in Thailand some years back and have not seen each other since graduation – until two weeks ago. So it really was a happy reunion with the two of them trading fond memories of their AIT days, usually with a feast of the most amazing local food laid out on the table before us.

So here it is, our weekend in Phnom Penh, in photos and lucid ramblings.

1. Tuol Sleng. The minute you step into the grounds of Tuol Sleng aka the S-21 concentration camp, you immediately get a sense of foreboding so acute that somehow tells you something utterly terrible and tragic has happened there. And that sinking feeling only gets more and more pronounced as you walk from cell to cell, scanning thousands of nameless faces captured in photographs, and some preserved fragments of bones and pieces of clothing that once belonged to Cambodians who were mercilessly tortured and starved, before they were put to death in what is now known as the Killing Fields, during the malevolent regime of Pol Pot and his savage Khmer Rouge. This is not the kind of place that would evoke jubilation as in most tourist attractions we know of; and perhaps we may never truly understand the kind of evil that was at work in the minds of those who carried out the genocide of nearly a quarter of Cambodia’s population at that time (for that kind of evil is, I think, only something the devil himself would know), but it is important that we know so that our generation would know better than to allow something like this to happen again. The images, writings, and documentary that you will see at Tuol Sleng are gut-wrenching, so be prepared as some of those images will linger in your head long after you have walked away from the place. When we were there, we met Chum Mey, one of the ONLY 7 survivors (out of the 7, only 2 remain alive today) of S-21 concentration camp. He is now almost 84 years old. He is usually found sitting in a small booth surrounded by copies of his memoir – written in French and English – which are being sold for charity. His story is perhaps only one out of the 3 million that have suffered and died during Pol Pot’s reign of terror, but unlike millions of others like him, he lived to tell the harrowing tale. There are volunteers who conduct the guided tour a few times a day. If you’re lucky to visit when a tour is being organised, it would be great for you to join. Otherwise, the documentary video will provide you with more insights into Cambodia’s darkest period in history. Vite’s family is actually among those working very hard to preserve Tuol Sleng. Her father interviewed the survivors and wrote their account in Khmer, while Seima helped with the English translation.

The 'Rules and Regulations'  imposed by the Khmer Rouge at Tuol Sleng.
The ‘Rules and Regulations’ imposed by the Khmer Rouge at Tuol Sleng.
This is one of the few cells at the ground floor of one of the buildings. This type of cell was reserved for the 'VIP' prisoners tortured and killed by the Khmer Rouge. VIP prisoners constitute mainly of the high-ranking officials of the government overthrown by the genocidal regime of Pol Pot.
This is one of the few cells at the ground floor of one of the buildings at Tuol Sleng. This type of cell was reserved for the ‘VIP’ prisoners tortured and killed by the Khmer Rouge. VIP prisoners constitute mainly of the high-ranking officials of the government overthrown by the genocidal regime of Pol Pot.
The Gallows. This was used to torture prisoners by hanging them upside down and dunking their heads into the big pot of water until they are drowned.
The Gallows. This was used to torture prisoners by hanging them upside down and dunking their heads into the big pot of water until they are drowned.
Chum Mey's cell. Chum Mey was one of the only 7 survivors of S-21.
Chum Mey’s cell. Chum Mey was one of the only 7 survivors of S-21.
Meet Chum Mey. He survived because he managed to fix the typewriter used by the Khmer Rouge at S-21 and from there, he became an all-around handyman. he is almost 84 years old now.
Meet Chum Mey. He survived because he managed to fix the typewriter used by the Khmer Rouge at S-21 and from there, he became an all-around handyman. he is almost 84 years old now.
These are the people RESPONSIBLE for the genocide that obliterated one fourth of Cambodia's population in the late 70's. These spawns of the devil led the extermination of Cambodia's educated people, women, children and even babies.
These are the people RESPONSIBLE for the genocide that obliterated one fourth of Cambodia’s population in the late 70’s. These spawns of the devil led the extermination of Cambodia’s educated people, women, children and even babies.

2. Choeung Ek Genocidal Centre (The Killing Fields). Truth be told, we were expecting a different Phnom Penh than the one that greeted us when we got out of the airport. The city, while sweltering hot and dusty on perhaps the hottest time of the year, is now visibly on its way to progress and development. Something the nation has been denied for several years by a regime so violent, so brutal, so inexplicably evil that it wiped out nearly a quarter of its population in mere four years. What we saw at the S-21 museum and the Choeung Ek Genocidal Centre (aka the Killing Fields) were images so gruesome it would have been inconceivable that humans were capable of launching such atrocities against another – if the skulls, bone fragments, torture and killing tools, weren’t there staring back at us, as though daring us to go ahead and forget. The second you step into the Killing Fields, you are overcome by a sense of foreboding so chilling that it would not have been possible for you to just close your eyes and steel yourself from the pain. Nope, there is certainly no escaping the terror once you see the skulls, torn clothes, barbaric weaponry used to torture and kill. The evil regime responsible for the mass murder had left in its wake nearly 3 million people wiped out from Cambodia’s history. Artists, lawyers, doctors, educators, monks, children, wives, etc – people that could’ve propelled Cambodia to a higher stature in the ASEAN. That Cambodia, Phnom Penh especially, has emerged from this dark period to get to where it is today, poised for economic spurt, is in itself a miracle.

There is a fee of $3 for foreign visitors and also an audio guide for those who would like to know more of what really transpired in this small piece of land turned mass grave. At the center is a stupa where the skulls that were excavated were reverently stored, so visitors can offer prayers for their resting souls. There is also a museum within the compound. I would say Cheoung Ek is not for the weak of hearts but it is something that you must see for yourself when in Phnom Penh.

Entrance to the Choeung Ek Genocidal Centre aka The Killing Fields.
Entrance to the Choeung Ek Genocidal Centre aka The Killing Fields.
The stupa where skulls and bone fragments of those mass murdered by Pol Pot and the Khmer Rouge are stored, along with recovered weapons used to kill them.
The stupa where skulls and bone fragments of those mass murdered by Pol Pot and the Khmer Rouge are stored, along with recovered weapons used to kill them.
The truck stop. This is where prisoners to be killed were dropped-off by truckloads. They say that at the peak of the genocide, the Khmer Rouge were killing up to 300 Cambodians per day.
The truck stop. This is where prisoners to be killed were dropped-off by truckloads. They say that at the peak of the genocide, the Khmer Rouge were killing up to 300 Cambodians per day.
The Killing Tree. This trunk was where babies and small children were being smashed against by the barbaric Khmer Rouge.
The Killing Tree. This trunk was where babies and small children were being smashed against by the barbaric Khmer Rouge.

3. Independence Monument and the statue of His Majesty the King Norodom Sihanouk, known as the Father of Cambodian Independence from the French rule that spanned almost a century. The Independence Monument was built in 1958 as a symbol of Cambodia’s independence from France in 1953. It stands on the intersection of Norodom Boulevard and Sihanouk Boulevard in the city centre.

The Independence Monument.
The Independence Monument.

The statue of King Norodom Sihanouk was erected only last year to honour the late King who guided the country to independence from France and through two wars before backing the genocidal Khmer Rouge regime in a bid to retain power. The statue is said to have cost around US 1.2 million to build.

Photobombing the statue of the late King Norodom Sihanouk, the father of Cambodia's Independence from France.
Photobombing the statue of the late King Norodom Sihanouk, the father of Cambodia’s Independence from France.

4. The Silver Pagoda. This pagoda houses many national treasures including gold and jewelled Buddha statues. Most eye-catching is the small 17th century Emerald Buddha and a life-sized gold Maitreya Buddha decorated with 9584 diamonds, the largest of which weighs 25 carats. During King Norodom Sihanouk‘s pre-Khmer Rouge reign, the Silver Pagoda was inlaid with more than 5,000 silver tiles and some of its outer facade was remodeled with Italian marble. However only a small area of these tiles are available to be viewed by the public on entering the pagoda as the rest of floor is covered with carpet.

The Silver Pagoda. Photos are not allowed inside.
The Silver Pagoda. Photos are not allowed inside.
Hello from the Silver Pagoda!
Hello from the Silver Pagoda!

5. Royal Palace. This complex of buildings serve as the royal residence of the king of Cambodia. The Silver Pagoda is among the many structures within the palace complex. There is a fee of US $6 per visitor. Wearing of sleeveless tops and short, shorts are not allowed in the palace grounds. So we ended up buying a US $3 XL-sized t-shirt for me to wear as they don’t allow shawl as cover-up either.

The Throne Hall.
The Throne Hall.
At the Royal Palace grounds.
At the Royal Palace grounds.

6. Wat Phnom. Buddhist temple built in 1373 and is also the central point of Phnom Penh. According to legend, a wealthy widow called Penh found a large koki tree in the river. Discovered inside the tree were four bronze statues of the Buddha. Penh constructed a small shrine on an artificial hill made by the people living in the village to protect the sacred statues. This site will eventually become the place for prayer and worship for buddhists.

Wat Phrom.
Wat Phrom.

7. Eclipse Sky Bar. Located atop the Hyundai Tower, one of Phnom Penh’s popular skyscrapers, Eclipse Sky Bar gives its loyal customers and infrequent or first-time visitors a grand view of the burgeoning commerce and palpable growth opportunities below. Phnom Penh, no doubt, is poised for an explosive debut in the region, after the long painful years of civil war. There is usually an acoustic band playing and the music/sound coming out of the fancy Bose speakers is just at the right decibel to be both soothing and conducive for proper conversations. The price of drinks is certainly not cheap but you do get an awesome view with it, so it’s not such a bad trade-off if you ask me. Eclipse Bar is definitely one of the hottest places in Phnom Penh so if you can, it is best to book a table before coming – especially if it’s Friday/Saturday.

Beautiful 360-degree view of Phnom Penh from up here.
Beautiful 360-degree view of Phnom Penh from up here.
With our wonderful hosts, Seima and Vite, hanging out at Eclipse Sky Bar.
With our wonderful hosts, Seima and Vite, hanging out at Eclipse Sky Bar.

8. Exquisite Cambodian Cuisine. Arguably one the oldest living culinary styles in the world, dating back at least a millennium, and nearly wiped out during the Khmer Rouge’s reign of terror, the Cambodian cuisine is a succulent combination of flavourful herbs and spices and various textures. Almost similar to Thai cuisine in many ways but distinctively different in some. Thanks to Seima and Vite, we feasted on so many local dishes including the famous signature dish called fish amok, green mango salad, papaya salad, majew prai (country-style green soup), and some traditional dessert as well.

Papaya salad.
Papaya salad.
Crab meat fried rice.
Crab meat fried rice with a side of duck spring rolls.
Mango salad
Green mango salad
Majew prai.
Majew prai.

TRAVEL: KRABI-utiful Weekend


For only our second travel adventure of the year, Hubby and I chose to hie-off to the island of Krabi in Thailand. If you recall, not too long ago, I kind of gushed about my soft spot for Phuket. But as much as we adore this island, I couldn’t really bring myself to go there again. At least not so soon. And so Krabi, which is an adjacent island, and one that I had never been to prior to this trip, won almost by default. Like going to Phuket, it only takes an hour and a half (sometimes less, depending on how efficient and fast the aircraft is) to get to Krabi from Singapore via air. As most of you would probably agree, when you only have the weekend to burn, short trips make practical sense.

When we landed at the Krabi International Airport at half past three in the afternoon, I thought it wouldn’t take us half an hour to cross the immigration and collect our weekend luggage because there weren’t (at that time) an overflowing number of tourists. And so we took the stairs leading up to the second level of the airport building where the Immigration checkpoints were located. Half an hour passed and we barely moved an inch. Something clearly wasn’t right. People were getting restless. A few of us would leave our queue for a few seconds to sneak a peek at the Immigration situation and see what could possibly be causing the hold up. That’s when we realised that there were only two counters open and with the officers’ very slow and deliberate processing of each visitor, it would take about three to five minutes from the moment you hand you passport to the time you get it back with a stamp! Two more planes landed and offloaded their passengers and the hall got even more crowded and chaotic, with the slippery sort of tourists cutting queues whenever they can. I flew off the handle several times, it was like having mini coronary episodes every 5 minutes that we were stuck there. After almost two hours (yes, we ended up queueing at the immigration longer than the time it took us to fly from Singapore to Krabi), we were finally out and had only an hour or so before sunset. Luckily, our airport pick-up waited patiently for us and we were no sooner on the road to the resort.

Pakasai Resort's welcoming committee (member)
Pakasai Resort’s welcoming committee (member)

We stayed at Pakasai Resort in Ao Nang, Krabi. From the outside, Pakasai Resort would strike you as just another regular resort you’ve probably visited in most of your travels. But once you step into the property, your impression drastically changes from ‘Okay, I could stay here’ to one of sheer wonderment. At least that’s how positively our stay in Pakasai has affected us.

Pakasai Resort Krabi _vickyras

The place was built entirely around the little forest the owners and their staff have worked very hard to cultivate. I don’t know exactly how many species of plants and trees they have inside the property but I’m guessing it’s quite a lot. They even grow their own salad vegetables, as well as, make their own compost fetilizers. It’s like living in the midst of a happy, fragrant garden (with the occasional pee-like smell coming from one of the tree species there, the name of which I had forgotten) with the cicadas serenading you with their unique sounds, especially during the day when the temperature is absurdly high. More or less an hour away from the Krabi International Airport, Pakasai Resort gives its guests the unique experience of being so close to nature (by that I mean trees and flowers and the insects and small animals that have made the place their natural habitat) and at the same time, a few meters’ walk to Ao Nang Beach.

Pakasai Resort Krabi_vickyras

The rooms are spacious with individual balconies (some of which have the swinging daybed) and big bathrooms. I especially loved the shiny hardwood of our bedroom floor and the ultra comfortable bed which had us sleeping like babies during the two nights that we stayed there. The are no lifts at the resort so if you are given the room on the higher plane of the resort (we were at room 421), you will be taking several steps on a slightly steep incline. Hubby and I loved it though! I mean, it’s a pretty good exercise for the legs, too. There aren’t a lot of channels on the TV – only one movie channel in English and the rest are news, TV5 Monde (French), a German channel, and some channels in Thai. But it didn’t really matter to us because we were too happy exploring the resort and the nearby beach.

Pakasai Resort Krabi _vickyras

Food is not bad. Breakfast selection is quite diverse. The pool sitting on top of the restaurant is pretty neat. The water is great and super clean and there’s a pool bar to cater for your drinking needs. Lastly, all members of the resort staff are hands-down wonderful! Always cheerful and eager to serve. We are DEFINITELY coming back and when we do, we are thinking of doing the guided bike tour around the island and taking Thai cooking lessons – two things the resort offers its clients.

Pakasai Resort Krabi_vickyras

There’s that and a few other things that we absolutely loved about Krabi. First of all, Krabi is nothing at all like her raunchy, nasty bad-girl big sister, Phuket. Perhaps it’s because the island is predominantly Muslim (we saw more mosques than buddhist temples on our way to Aonang Beach from the airport), which explains why it’s quieter and people were more – for lack of a better word – proper.

So here’s our list of favourite things (to do) in Krabi:

Sunset dinner at the Long Tail Boat Restaurant. We took a stroll down Ao Nang Beach just in time for the sunset, when we saw this row of restaurants along the banks, and decided with this one. Come to think of it, the cost of the food on this side Krabi is quite high compared with most of the restaurants elsewhere and my guess is it’s because of – you’ve got it right – the view! When you offer an unobstructed view of the sunset, I believe you have every right to charge a premium. Food was good – though perhaps not the best one you’ve had yet (if you’re a fan of Thai food – but who isn’t?!) because in Thailand, it’s not that difficult to find great local food. We ordered vegetarian spring rolls for starters, fried rice with crab meat, some fish dishes – and they were well-prepared. Food portion is just right for our kind of appetite. Though a small part of me wished they could’ve been more generous with the fried rice with crab meat. The restaurant staff were quite nice and friendly and we didn’t have any issues with the way our food was prepared and served. All in all, Long Tail Restaurant is a good place to dine at when you want a killer sunset view and you don’t particularly mind shelling out a bit more baht for it.

Sunset dinner at Long Tail Boast Restaurant.
Sunset dinner at Long Tail Boat Restaurant.
Sunset in Ao Nang.
Sunset in Ao Nang.

Sunbathing at Ao Nang Beach. I wouldn’t really put Ao Nang beach in the category of the world’s best beaches but it does have its fine points. Ao Nang is pretty charming during sunset, when you actually have a wide room for romantic walks on its fine, light-coloured sand, due to low tide. During the day, though, it’s not so easy to find a spot to put your blankets/mats if you want to sunbathe as the water occupies most of the shoreline. You may have to walk further down to where the ‘Last Fisherman’ bar is and if you’re lucky, you can have a nice little spot to plop on to. It’s pretty striking how much different Krabi is from Phuket. I love how quiet and less raunchy it is in Krabi, but with food and massages that are just as good as in Phuket, yet a lot less expensive. There are restaurants, massage places, and souvenir shops aplenty for you to discover. And speaking of massage…

Team Altaie in Krabi
Team Altaie in Krabi
Wheelin' it.
Wheelin’ it.

Get as many massages as you can until your bones are almost as malleable as claydoh. After our morning sunbathing session, Hubby convinced me to get a foot scrub with him. After foot scrub, we ended up having back and shoulder massage as well because we wanted to take advantage of the happy hour discount of 50% off published service rate! Note: Most of the massage and service salons along the banks of Ao Nang beach offer Happy Hour promos from 10am to 2pm. After our foot scrub and massage, we took our late lunch and went back to the beach for the afternoon sun salutation. As the sun started to descend, we gathered our stuff and walked over to this massage place we saw on our way to lunch, offering a One Hour Coffee Body Scrub + One Hour Body Massage for a jaw-dropping price of only 500 Baht! And so there we were, husband and wife, naked as the day we were born, getting pampered from head to toe at a fraction of what it would have cost us in Singapore. The massage place is called SMILE and I’m pretty sure they would appreciate more business from island visitors, so please do look it up when in Krabi.

Smile! Coffee body scrub + Body Massage (2 hrs), FTW!
Smile! Coffee body scrub + Body Massage (2 hrs), FTW!

Eat as much Thai food as your stomach can accommodate and digest. Who cares if you gain a pound or two over the weekend? You must never deprive your senses of a great meal – and especially not when it’s everywhere you look and it also happens to be super affordable.

Dined at Blue Mango on our last night. They serve local and western fusion-ish type of food. Not bad.
Dined at Blue Mango on our last night in Krabi. They serve local and western fusion-ish type of food here. Pas mal.

Repeat from one to four, until it’s time for you to leave the island. Sadly, all we had was one weekend so we had to stop at some point, right? But with our Krabi-utiful experience, don’t be so shocked when you see us back there again before the year is over.

Deep bend at sunset.
Deep bend at sunset.
Team Altaie: Seven years and counting!
Team Altaie: Seven years and counting!

TRAVEL: PARIS Sera Toujours Paris!


Mon rêve. Votre rêve. Truth is, we all have had wild fantasies about this city. And I think, it isn’t such a crime to desire something so beautiful, rich and elegant. The first time I visited Paris, three years ago, I thought I just walked into a theatrical dream. It was in spring and we enjoyed pitch-perfect weather the whole time. Though it was quite a short stay, we were able to cover pretty decent ground in the sense that I was able to do some of the touristy things – visits to la Tour Eiffel, Musée du Louvre, Montmartre, Champs-Elysées, Notre Dame, Jardin du Luxembourg, etc. Obviously, there’s still so much of Paris that I haven’t seen, so we made sure to cover a bit more during our last visit in February. It was winter and the mood was a bit different, more sombre in fact, and I think our stay in Paris was even shorter this time, following a longer stay Avoriaz and Bordeaux just days before.

Le Panthéon. As many of you probably know, the Panthéon was first constructed as a church dedicated to St. Genevieve, the Patron Saint of Paris, but after many changes over the years, it now also serves as the final resting place of some of France’s most noble citizens. There is currently some renovations works being done but inside it’s business as usual, so fret not, you will still be able to pay this amazing attraction a visit. There is a fee of 7 euros, with some standard exceptions (students, etc.), but quite frankly, a small price to pay for some good cultural and historical immersion right in the heart of Paris. Inside the Panthéon, you will see a lot of paintings dedicated to St. Genevieve and also plenty of sculptures аt thе base оf pillars depicting French Revolution. When you go down to the crypts, you will see the resting chambers of France’s illustrious poets, philosophers, architects, scientists and writers such as Voltaire, Alexandre Dumas, Marie and Pierre Curie, Rousseau, Victor Hugo, Soufflot, Louis Braille, etc, and also, former Presidents and children of the revolution. In other words, these aren’t normal joes like you and I. There are guide booklets at the entrance (just after you cross the checkpoint area) and they come in different languages, so you can always refer to it if you need to know more about the Panthéon. One hour is definitely not enough to soak in the rich history of the Panthéon, as well as the people interred therein, so I suggest that you visit after a good meal.

Inside Le Panthéon.
Inside Le Panthéon.
Elaborate sculpture dedicated to La Convention Nationale.
Elaborate sculpture dedicated to La Convention Nationale.
It is not enough to conquer; one must learn to seduce. - Voltaire
It is not enough to conquer; one must learn to seduce. – Voltaire

Jardin de Tuileries. The day started on a very gloomy note because the weather wasn’t exactly ideal for walking around Paris, as it was raining in torrents. So, we thought we could spend the afternoon at Musée de Louvre. Alas, a whole bunch of us seemed to have had the same brilliant idea because the queue for tickets was so long it would’ve taken us two hours just to get ours. And so we abandoned the idea and took to walking around Jardin de Tuileries instead, heavy downpour and all. Despite the inclement weather, the garden, with its perfectly manicured lawn and trees, appear unfazed, just like the beautiful sculptures scattered around the area. I remember the first time we came here, it was on a sunny spring day and we spent some time soaking in the sun lying supine on the grass. I prefer that actually, my skin brushing against the soft grass. Though I must admit, the rain and dark skies do give the jardin a more sombre, dramatic backdrop. Between this and Jardin du Luxembourg, I will take the latter anytime but a garden is a garden and France, especially, seems to do them pretty well.

Jardin des Tuileries
Jardin des Tuileries

Pont Alexandre III. To say that Pont Alexandre III is stunning is no doubt an understatement. With its resplendent details – the cherubs, nymphs, pegasus, etc – unseen in any other bridges, Pont Alexandre III is undeniably the most beautiful of all bridges in Paris – and perhaps even in the world. Joining the Champs Elysées and the Grand Palais on the right bank with Napoleon’s resting place, Les Invalides, on the left, Pont Alexandre III commands your attention from different angles and keeps you suspended in that state of wonderment long after you have walked away. We saw the whole stretch of the bridge from the boat when we did the Seine River Cruise in the afternoon and came back two days later, this time walking along the riverside towards the start of the bridge. We couldn’t walk all the way across because it was raining heavily that afternoon with the wind blowing in icy gusts, rendering our umbrellas completely useless against the deluge. I mean I do understand why couples would feel extra romantic crossing Pont Alexandre III, fingers intertwined, perhaps even stopping briefly for a kiss a few times.

Pont Alexandre III
Pont Alexandre III

La Seine. While Paris can be associated with so many landmarks, all worth their weight in gold, the River Seine provides the mirror in which the whole city can coquettishly glance upon its beautiful reflection, especially on a warm summer/spring day, so that any person who may happen to take a furtive glance on the water as well, will for certain be enamoured. On our last trip to Paris in February, we took the afternoon river cruise with Vedettes de Pont Neuf. It was my first time to take the cruise so I braved the freezing gusts of Parisian winter wind on the second level of the boat just so I could marvel at the landmarks ahead and on either side of the river banks. La Tour Eiffel, Musée du Louvre, Pont Alexandre III, Pont des Arts, Notre Dame, Place de la Concorde, Grand Palais, and many more enchanting landmarks can be seen from the boat as it gently glides along the water. The cruise itself lasts for an hour or so, with the guide speaking in a combination of English and French for the benefit of the non-residents on the boat. There is a food and beverage shop at the dock, so you can buy snacks before you take the cruise. But if you’re not too hungry, I suggest you skip the snacks and just go for a decadent meal and dessert at any of the brasseries cluttered around the riverbanks. The river cruise costs between 10 to 14 Euros. Though I think they have promo rates being offered depending on the season.

Vedettes de Pont Neuf
Vedettes de Pont Neuf
La Tour Eiffel as seen from the Seine River cruise boat.
La Tour Eiffel as seen from the Seine River cruise boat.

Pont des Arts. So we came here to see the lovelocks, and no, we did not add to the weight by having one of ours placed there as well. Either we are too old for this or we truly believe that our love is a lot stronger than any corrosive padlock. haha. Although this practice did not start with France (Belgium, Japan, etc, are in on the game as well), I suppose it does make a lot of sense for people to have it in the world’s most romantic city. They have long ceased people from clamping locks on Pont des Arts because the weight of these darn things has caused a part of the bridge to collapse. So the starry-eyed lovers have moved on to conquer Pont de l’Archevêché and Pont Neuf as well. It seems there is really no stopping young love.

Love locks at Pont des Arts.
Love locks at Pont des Arts.

Champs-Elysées. The world’s most famous avenue deserves a stroll anytime, any day and on every trip to Paris. Shopping is not mandatory, of course, but I gotta admit it’s strangely pleasant to give in to the lure of capitalism once in a while.

It was the eve of César Awards when we made a quick trip to Champs-Elysées. So they had this photowall just outside the famous Fouquet's. We thought it deserved a selfie.:)

On the subject of food, I mean really, what is not to LOVE about French cuisine?  We hit a lot of brasseries where I consumed large amounts of cheese, wine and dessert. What of meat then, you might ask. Well, considering how I shun meat except for chicken, pork (occasionally), fish and escargot (my favourites!) there’s really nothing of the exotic kind to share. Those that I remember fondly were Le Saint-André located at the Latin quarter and Le Libre Exchange (next to Brochant metro station) – both of whom I have reviewed on TripAdvisor as well.  Then, there was this fabulous crêperie near Henry IV which we visited after our tour of Le Panthéon. Really good stuff in there, too.

Le Libre Exchange is easily one of our favourite brasseries in Paris for very good reasons, namely: (1.) Great food (2.) Value for money (3.) Lovely service. I remember dining here for the first time back in 2012 as we were staying quite near the place, and back then I thought it was just okay. And on our recent trip to Paris, we dined here on three separate occasions and we noticed that there’s been amazing improvement especially with the way the staff relate with the customers. Really, really pleasant experience from the minute we were welcomed to the restaurant, to the time our orders were taken, when our food were delivered to our table, and when we had to settle our bill. When we were there again on our last night, there was this huge group of people who came in, literally filling up all the seats available in the restaurant and the staff were taking orders and bringing food and drinks over to different tables without breaking their rhythm or even showing a slight indication of fatigue, considering it was already a bit late at night. Amazing!  Food-wise, I’ve tried their escargot, la poule, cheese platter, omelette and they were pretty good. Hubby tried le lapin (rabbit) and he was truly happy with it, as well. They have quite a few things on their menu which I’m pretty sure are good to the taste as well.

Île flottante at Cafe Le Libre Change.
Île flottante at Cafe Le Libre Exchange.

Le Saint-André is every inch a typical Parisian brasserie, cozy with soft lighting and abuzz with lively conversations among diners. But what puts it in the same league as those places you’d most likely visit again a few times over is the warm hospitality of the staff. The guy who took our orders and brought our food was certainly very accommodating and friendly. Here, you don’t get that feeling of being hurried to place your order and wolf down your food. This is a good place for winding down with a good meal and a lovely glass of wine after a long day of walking around doing touristy stuff around Paris. I ordered a salmon dish with this delicious sauce (perhaps it was béarnaise?) and a side of fresh veggies. They also have free wifi so you may certainly have a great meal and Instagram it, too.

Café Le St. André
Café Le St. André

Looking back on our wonderful dining experiences in Paris, I was beginning to think the Parisians’ bad rep for customer service might possibly be an embellishment of sorts. Either that, or our timing must have been really splendid in those times!  

Voila, c’est tout. Rendez-vous l’année prochaine, Paris !

La Belle Bordeaux Part III: Bordeaux City


On our last day in Bordeaux, our hosts aka my très gentils In-laws, took us for a walk around the city, a few hours before we were to take the TGV bound for Paris. We certainly did not have enough time to explore and experience the incredible things the city has to offer, especially first-time visitors like me. But I must say that I really, REALLY liked the city. In my travels, limited as they were, I have come across cities that are good for visits and those that might actually be great for settling in. I think Bordeaux falls perfectly under the second category, along with Sydney and Singapore. Below are some of the attractions and landmarks I have seen during our brief walk.

Rue Saint-Catherine. The Rue Sainte Catherine is one of the largest shopping streets in France, stretching to about 1.2kms. It runs through most of the city centre from the Grand Theatre all the way to the Port d’Aquitaine. This shopping street is the Champs-Élysées of Bordeaux.

CNY feel at the Rue Sainte Catherine
CNY feel at the Rue Sainte Catherine

La Cathedrale Saint-André. This cathedral holds a lot of historical weight, for in 1137, the future King Louis VII – the royal figure said to be responsible for Bordeaux’s worldwide reputation for wine – married Eleanor of Aquitaine here. The exterior wall of the nave dates right back to 1096, while most the structure was built between the 13th-14th centuries. Incredible details such as flying buttresses, the rose window, gargoyles and other sculptures can be seen in both the exterior and interior of the cathedral. The cathedral as well as the 50m (164ft) belfry called Tour Pey-Berland are both open daily for visits.

La Cathedrale Sainte-André is not very easy to take a full scale photo of, especially with just my phone camera, given the sheer size of it.
La Cathedrale Sainte-André is not very easy to take a full scale photo of, especially with just my phone camera, given the enormous size of it.

Hotel de Ville. The Hotel de Ville is another one of the unforgettable fine buildings in Bordeaux that was built in the 18th century as a palace for the Archbishop (Prince Rohan), which is why it is located just next to the Cathedral.

Hotel de Ville.
Hotel de Ville.

Monument aux Girondins. At the foot of the Monument aux Girondins are two beautiful fountains. Next to the column there are a couple of statues that honour two of the greatest names of Bordeaux: Philosopher and former Mayor of Bordeaux Michel de Montaigne and Charles Louis de Montesquieu, one of the architects of the “century of the lights” and a winegrower.

Monument aux Girondins
Monument aux Girondins

Place de la Bourse. Place de la Bourse, originally known as the Place Royale, was built in the 17th century, as dedication to the glory of then King Louis XV (1729-1755). The city of Bordeaux at that time, was at the height of commercial boom. Located right on the banks of Garonne River, Place de la Bourse offers visitors the best of both views – that of the architectural genius that is the chain of buildings itself and of the beautiful river flowing just next to it. We came here in February and unfortunately, the weather at that time was rather gloomy, with occasional drizzle. However, that did not take away from the spectacular view laid out before us. There is definitely no bad angle here. Looking around you, it’s quite easy to imagine how pompous it must have been during its heydey. I wish we had time to really explore the place but it’s good to keep something pinned for a return trip, hopefully in summertime.

La Place de la Bourse
La Place de la Bourse

L’Eglise Notre Dame. This church built in the late 11th century adapts the Romanesque-Byzantine style and is richly decorated, both inside and out. Stone carvings on the doorway depict biblical scenes.

L'Eglise Notre Dame
L’Eglise Notre Dame

La Belle Epoque. La Belle Epoque is indeed très belle and the food très bon! From the design on the ceiling and the walls all the way down to the floor, La Belle Epoque sets out to seduce its customers – and succeeds. And then came the staff who greeted us with the warmest ‘Bonjour!’ and ushered us to our table. Our orders were taken promptly and food were delivered to our table, warm and perfect as they should be. I ordered this squid dish with Basmati rice and I loved how the meat just breaks apart in soft, delicious molecules in my mouth! The salmon starter with a tasteful sauce whose name escapes me at the moment, was also equally amazing. The restaurant is located in one of the most popular spots in Bordeaux, just opposite the Garonne River. Definitely one of the best restaurants I have ever visited anywhere in the world in terms of food, ambience and service.

La Belle Epoque
La Belle Epoque

Others. Just a few more captures of la belle Bordeaux. Thanks to my amazing iPhone6 camera and Snapseed, these photos seem to have taken a life of their own.;)

La belle Bordeaux
La belle Bordeaux
Bordeaux Opera
Bordeaux Opera
Sanna, comme Paula by Jaume Plensa, is a series of seven feminine figures envisaged since the encounter between the artist and the city was planned.
Sanna, comme Paula by Jaume Plensa, is a series of seven feminine figures envisaged since the encounter between the artist and the city was planned.