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!

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TRAVEL: Top Things To Do in ARCACHON and La TESTE-de-BUCH


Located some 55kms from Bordeaux is another arrondissement called Arcachon which sits on the banks of the Atlantic coast. Compared with most towns in France, our friends at Wikipedia say Arcachon is fairly young at around 150 years old. Prior to it being officially acknowledged by Emperor Napoleon III as a town, Arcachon is said to be just a sprawling forest of pine, oaks, and strawberry trees with almost zero road links. Today, however, Arcachon is fast becoming famous for its fine beaches, the remarkable Arcachon houses so unique in architecture, great seafood, while neighbouring La Teste-de-Buch is home to the famous Grande Dune du Pilat. After spending the previous day gallivanting around Sauternes, my In-Laws took us on a road trip to these two arrondissements and what we have seen there certainly confirmed raves by tourists.

1. Arcachon Beaches. In Arcachon, you will find a long stretch of fine sandy beaches that has become so popular with beachcombers and surfers, too, especially during summer. As it was winter when we came here, we saw only a handful of people braving the icy cold temperature. There are restaurants and bars along Boulevard de l’Ocean, as well as private properties lucky (or wealthy) enough to hog a slice of this natural beauty.

I love the beach, even in winter.

I love the beach, even in winter.

From here, you can also take the boat for a tour around the Birds Island.

Up for some bird watching? You wouldn't want to skip this one!

Up for some bird watching? You wouldn’t want to skip this one!

Or simply roam around the city centre and take photos.

Fresh fruits at the local marché

Fresh fruits at the local marché

Picturesque Arcachon.

Picturesque Arcachon.

Walk the world one city at a time.

Walk the world one city at a time.

2. Grande Dune du Pilat. When my in-laws told us that we will pass by the Grande Dune du Pilat after our trip to Arcachon beach, it didn’t really occur to me that it would be as astonishing as the one that greeted us when we arrived at the site. First of all (and pardon me for my ignorance), I didn’t really think that there could be a sand dune in Europe and one as tall as this one in Pilat. My husband and I have been to the Red Dune in Dubai, and though Le Grande Dune du Pilat is nowhere near it in terms of size and the fine quality of the sand, it more than made up for its lack with the fantastic view of the Atlantic Ocean and Arcachon Bay from the top and the verdant forest in surrounding areas. They say that the dune is about 118m above sea level and stretches up to nearly 3kms, making it the highest sand dune in Europe.

The largest sand dune in Europe.

The largest sand dune in Europe.

Dune du Pilat offers a spectacular view of the Atlantic Ocean, Arcachon Bay and the surrounding verdant forest.

Dune du Pilat offers a spectacular view of the Atlantic Ocean, Arcachon Bay and the surrounding verdant forest.

The climb up can be a little challenging but like I said, totally worth the spectacular view from the top. It was very cold the afternoon that we visited with the wind occasionally blowing in freezing gusts, making the climb all the more fun. I can only imagine how even more beautiful it can be up there during summer! There is no fee charged for visitors and there’s one or two snack shops at the base of the dune if you ever feel the need to snack or hydrate before and after the climb. There are toilets and souvenir shops as well. This is definitely a great place to visit when in the region.

The Atlantic Ocean down below.

The Atlantic Ocean below.

3.  (Sea)Food trip. Arcachon takes pride in being recognised as one of the top four places for best oysters in France, alongside Normandy, Brittany and Marennes-Oléron. I must confess that we didn’t exactly have our seafood trip in Arcachon but rather, at this port-side restaurant in La Teste-de-Buch called Restaurant du Port.  Which, if my non-existent geographical knowledge is to be trusted, is really just next to Arcachon. It was still low tide when we got to the restaurant but the water quickly rose to cradle the little colourful sailboats up in its arms, lending the whole scene a slight touch of romance (because we all know France really goes hand-in-hand with romance).

View from Restaurant du Port.

View from Restaurant du Port.

We ordered from the menu escale and got a plate of oysters each for starters and they were truly fresh and delicious! We tried Loubine à la plancha, Pavé de Boeuf and Parillada plus crême brulée and tarte aux noix for desserts – all top-notch in terms of taste and portion.

Les huitres!

Les huitres!

Loubine à la plancha

Loubine à la plancha

Tarte aux Noix

Tarte aux Noix

If I’m not mistaken, the set meal costs around 20 euros, which is quite reasonable given the quality and taste of the food. Overall, this is a great restaurant to visit and you must not leave without sampling their seafood dishes (oysters, especially), which is what they are mainly known for. C’est très delicieux!

TRAVEL: Tailor-made fun in the sun in PHUKET


The party island of Phuket is officially our most-visited place, having just concluded our long weekend Christmas getaway there. It was our third time to celebrate Christmas on the island, an every-other-year holiday tradition Hubby and I started back in 2010, and our fourth trip overall. While that hardly qualifies us as experts, we have certainly seen and experienced more of this island than perhaps any average holiday-maker.

I have loved Phuket from the first moment I set foot on the island. It certainly isn’t the best island there is but there is just something about Phuket that draws us in and keeps us coming back for more – no matter how many times I keep telling Hubby that we should probably give Phuket a rest and go somewhere else next time. A little digression, if I may: We were in the same speedboat as this young French couple when we did the Phan Nga Bay tour and the guy, who himself is an intrepid traveler, said that among all the islands that he has visited in Asia he liked El Nido the most. He said not even James Bond Island or Koh Phi Phi comes close. It’s a shame that I have not been to El Nido myself, but I have seen enough photos and videos and heard first-hand account from friends to know that this cannot possibly be a fib. So yes, El Nido is definitely in our future travel plans. Now back to Phuket. You see, it’s not so easy to write-off this gem of an island given that it’s only a mere 1.5 hours air travel time from Singapore and there are flights galore! Besides, when you only have one long weekend to scratch the beach-itch, you really wouldn’t want to spend several hours cramped in the whatever-happened-to-leg-room budget airline seats when you could already be sampling pad thai or tom kha gai in one of the restaurants in Kamala, in your sexy swimsuits and with your toes buried in the soft white sand, for example. If you have been to Phuket, chances are, you probably love it for some of the reasons that we do. If you don’t like it, however, then it’s just too bad.

So here’s our definitive list of things to do in Phuket. I will be using photos from both our recent and older trips so don’t get too shocked by the weight gain and more pronounced appearances of crow’s feet, age spots and flab because sweetheart, we aren’t so young and so tight anymore.

1. Explore Patong on foot. This place certainly makes no apologies for what it is: tacky, sultry, campy, hot, crowded, boisterous, sexy, delicious, morally-bent, cheap, expensive, delightful, relaxing, capricious…all that and much more coming at you all at the same time! It can get a little too much but once you get used to the cacophony of noise, colour, taste, scent and feel of Phuket, trust me, it will grow on you.

Walking around Patong. December 2010.

…is all you need. Patong, December 2014.

2. Rent a motorbike and visit the more pleasant and less congested beaches of Surin, Karon, Kamala and Kata. Of the four, Surin is our favourite and this place just keeps changing each time we visit so it never gets old or boring.

Rent a motorbike to get around Phuket. August 2014.

3. Eat as much of your favourite Thai dishes and dare to discover a few others (deep-fried bugs, for example) because you know as well as I do that these delicious authentic Thai cooking is terribly hard to find in other countries. And even if you’re lucky enough to find a good one, you can bet it’s not going to be as cheap.

My all-time favourite, Tom Kha Kai.

4. Book a trip to see the Koh Phi Phi island. You’ve seen the movie with Leonardo DiCaprio, I presume? This area here is where some scenes of the movie were supposed to have been shot. Gorgeous island but just overly crowded especially during peak season.

Koh Phi Phi Island tour. December 2012.

Just wow.

Just wow.

5. Experience the Phang Nga 7-island Tour at least once. They say if you have a choice between Phi Phi and Phang Nga, you pick the latter because there are more activities and views to enjoy. The Phang Nga Tour includes the famous James Bond Island as one of the stops. We don’t dare play favourites because we like both (Phi Phi and Phang Nga), but yes, the 30-minute canoe experience at Koh Hong and the small cave exploration before that were quite nice. Koh Hong is one of the seven islands in Phang Nga.

James Bond Island tour. December 2014.

Canoeing at Koh Hong Island. December 2014.

6. Go elephant trekking and enjoy traversing the tropical jungle paths while comfortably seated on the back of these gentle giants. Afterwards, you can pay extra Baht to buy bananas to feed the elephants with, at the observation kiosk. They even have baby elephants dancing and doing tricks that will make you go awww and turn your heart into a big puddle of mush inside your chest.

Our second time to go elephant trekking and this time, we caught the beautiful sunset on our way back and it nearly brought tears to my eyes, I remember. December 2012.

7. Visit Wat Chalong, arguably the most visited Buddhist temple in Phuket. Thais offer flowers and light candles at the central temple by way of making merit or showing gratitude for wishes granted. You will also hear firecrackers exploding loudly which generally comes from this brick oven-like dome close opposite the main temple.

The Wat Chalong. December 2014.

One of the temples at Wat Chalong.

8. Drive up north to see the Big Buddha. This is probably one of the most recognisable structures in the northern part of Phuket, In fact, you will see the Buddha from any vantage point on this side of the island. Ladies who are wearing shorts and sleeveless tops will be given sarongs to cover up bare extremities. Entrance is free and the view is spectacular from here.

Behold the Big Buddha in Phuket. December 2014.

Big Buddha Phuket_vickyras

9. Take the most awesome sunset photos at Phromthep Cape. Or just about any panoramic photo and selfie shot, in case you’re there before sunset. Been here twice before and yes, the view is just spectacular, especially on a bright and sunny day.

Fantastic view from Phromtep Cape on a sunny day. December 2010.

Elephant sculptures of different sizes at the Phromtep Cape.

Elephant sculptures of different sizes at the Phromtep Cape. August 2014.

10. Catch the fascinating nighttime Thai cultural show at Fantasea. Be mesmerised by Thailand’s rich and exotic heritage and ancient traditions with some of the coolest technology and special effects. Watch out for the elephants. They will bring you to tears with their cuteness.

The Thai cultural show at Fantasea is a must-see when you’re in Phuket. The elephants were sensational!

11. Try the famous Phuket banana-nutella pancake and other flavours available. You are bound to feel that all-too-familiar tightening on your pant’s waistband after eating copious amount of this dangerous concoction but trust me, it’s worth the calories my friend.

I must always have my banana-nutella pancake when in Phuket. Try and I bet you’ll love it!

Banana-Nutella  pancake at  Surin Beach. December 2010.

Banana-Nutella pancake at Surin Beach. December 2010.

12. Dine at MK Gold (the duck with green noodles is an absolute must-try!) and watch a movie (or two) at Jungceylon Mall. On our recent trip alone, we watched Exodus and The Hobbit, and all because we love the cinemas here. The seats are perfectly plush and comfortable and the screen is huge!

Go for the duck dish, dimsum and steamboat ala carte. YUM! December 2014.

13. Get a facial treatment in any one of the facial centres in Jungceylon and get rid of those hard-to-eliminate blackheads and other skin impurities. They usually have a treatment package that already includes facial cleansing, blackheads and whiteheads removal, facial scrub and mask and a few minutes of soothing facial massage, ranging from 500 to 900 Bht.

14. Get all your skin and beauty swag at Boots. I love going to this shop because somehow I feel like I am getting a good deal when I buy my moisturisers, creams, oils, etc from here.

I can’t believe all these cost me only 56sgd! Boots loot, December 2014.

15. Try any one of the fish spas scattered all over Patong and get those dead skin and dirt nibbled away by these hungry little suckers. A caveat: If you are too sensitive to aggressive nibbling and gets tickled easily, you may want to rethink your decision. But try anyway ‘coz YOLO, right?

Ça chatouille! December 2012.

16. Indulge in a one-hour Thai massage on the beach. And a foot scrub, too, while you’re at it. The price has gone up a bit now to around 400-500 Bht for a one-hour session but still well worth it. Tips are not mandatory but encouraged.

Foot scrub and massage on the beach is always a great idea. Surin Beach, December 2014.

17. Explore Phuket City. Though there isn’t much here based on what we have experienced when we drove out to the city in the morning (the weekend night market seems to be a crowd-drawer from what we have read on the internet), we did, however, discover this quaint little café called The Circle Coffee Boutique where they serve delicious homemade cakes and pastries. Look it up when in town.

#Foodporn. December 2014.

18. Yoga anywhere but especially on the beach.

Surin Beach, August 2014.

Heart opener. Karon Beach, December 2014.

19. Soak in the sun. But don’t forget to slap on generous layers of sunblock for protection. Your skin will thank you for it later.

#Pinkythetravelingpig likes it hot. As do I. Surin Beach, December 2014.

20. And get one last massage at Let’s Relax. There’s a plethora of massage centres to choose from (dodgy or otherwise) but personally, we like going to Let’s Relax.

Nothing quite like a fantastic Thai message to cap our holiday. Let’s Relax Phuket, December 2014.

I’m fairly certain that even with these 20-odd things I have listed down, I (probably) barely scratched the surface because Phuket is just…larger-than-life, in many ways. And that’s probably why we can’t stay away for a long period of time. We may not be going back to Phuket anytime soon but we have Krabi on our March travel calendar. That’s going to be another epic beach trip for sure. Abangan!

TRAVEL: BINTAN Lagoon Resort


Perhaps Bintan Lagoon Resort‘s biggest appeal for me is its close proximity to Singapore, which makes it an ideal destination for random overnight beach adventure on a weekend. One minute you’re in Singapore and one-hour ferry ride later, you’re basking in Bintan, with the sand on your feet and the warm sun on your face. Or the pouring rain on your skin, if you aren’t so lucky – like we were this past weekend. It rained the whole Saturday so we were reduced to merely sleeping the day away. But thankfully, Sunday brought the sun out and we actually managed to get a good tan before catching our ferry back to Singapore.

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Bintan Lagoon Resort’s beach looks inviting.

 

When we first came to Bintan Lagoon eighteen months ago, I was instantly taken by the beach that boasts of a clean white sand, tepid water temperature and the conspicuous absence of those sharp rocks that often threaten to mangle your feet as soon as you get in the water.

On our recent visit just over the weekend, I was happy to see things remain almost unaltered. We were even given the very same room we occupied the last time (I’m guessing it wasn’t just a coincidence), located on one of the higher floors with a nice view of the pool and the manicured lawn below from the balcony. Given that we’ve been to this island more than once, I thought I’d put together a list of likes and dislikes for my avid readers. Yes, all five of them and perhaps two more will be added once this post goes live. haha.

Team Altaie_Bintan2014

The weekend warriors. 

Pros:

1. Beach. White sand, no rocks, warm water, relatively quiet. What’s not to love? It’s certainly better than the ‘beaches’ of Singapore or even Batam.

2. Close proximity to Singapore. Like I said, a mere one hour ferry ride away. We took the 8am ferry and reached Bintan at 8am local time! It’s even shorter than our usual weekend cycling adventure from home to Changi Village and back.

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Pinkythetravelingpig loving her view of the sea.

 

3. Friendly staff. From the ladies at the reception/check-in to the housekeeping crew and restaurant staff, these people will instantly disarm you with their warm and friendly smiles.

4. Spacious room. There’s more than enough space for yoga and maybe two cartwheels. The rooms are a bit dated and the bathroom even more so, but they’re very well maintained and the bed is comfortable. On our recent stay though, the section of floor just outside the bathroom was moist the whole time and we couldn’t really tell if the bathroom was leaking or it was coming from the ceiling which was also damp.

IMG_9018

Bintan Lagoon Resort pool.

 

5. Nice pool and garden area. Bintan Lagoon Resort is a huge property and you get treated to a visual feast of abundant flora and plant species from the moment your vehicle crosses the gate and all the way to the resort grounds with its manicured lawns and coconut trees. Incidentally, the resort also boasts of a beautiful golf course.

6. Free wifi connection at the Terrace Bar which extends to some parts of the resort lobby. Unfortunately, you need to pay to get wifi access in the room.

7. Great massage. Look for Devi and Maya, they give a mean Javanese massage. When we arrived, I was suffering from a very nasty lower back pain which caused me to hobble and wince in pain each time I would so much as bend over a little. After a good massage and some yoga stretching, I was back to my old crazy-and-often-upside-down self. One hour massage costs 60 sgd.

#inveryoself

#inveryoself

Cons:

1. Food can be better. The lunch buffet at the Kopi-O restaurant was nothing spectacular and it was quite pricey at nearly 45 SGD per person, taxes included. The Rice restaurant located right on the beach is no better. But if you must eat, I suggest you order the local fare and skip the western dishes. I ordered this chicken dish cooked in coconut milk with a hint of spice and it was pretty good and the portion was big enough for sharing.

2. Expensive food and drinks. A bottle of water could set you back around 3 to 4 SGD including taxes and the alcoholic beverages certainly a  lot more. My suggestion: Pick up a bottle or two of your favourite wine or poison of choice before boarding the ferry in Singapore and save yourself a lot of money on drinks. Good thing we were on a self-imposed alco embargo due to the upcoming SCMS 2014 in which Hubs and I are both doing full-mary.

So there you go, 7 vs. 2. All things considered, Bintan Lagoon Resort is still a great travel option when you’re starting to go bonkers living an ultra fast-paced life in Singapore and you think a day spent on a decent private beach is going to help save your sanity. It certainly works for us.:)

TRAVEL: Marvelous MALDIVES (Part IV)


It was a bittersweet moment, leaving Thulusdhoo atoll and the unhurried pace we have grown accustomed to (at least for a few days) in favor of the more urbanized city capital, Malé, where we will be staying for one night before flying back to Singapore in the afternoon.

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Thulusdhoo jetty. ‘Til we meet again!

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City of Malé as seen from the ferry.

I started the day still feeling out of sorts, but when Chris and I started our city tour, I began to warm up, little by little. Also, he was kinda clever, first, by offering to take my picture on the public artificial beach; then, buying me that irresistible chocolate smoothie; and just as my angry countenance started to melt away bit by bit, he maneuvered me into a conversation about Malé and some of the touristy sites he had marked on the travel map. And just like that, I was très heureux wifey again! Whew.

A bit of trivia: Malé is 1.7 km long and 1.0 km wide (shorter even than UP loop, can you believe that?!) and is home to over 100,000 making it the world’s densest city. Recognizing the serious lack of space to accommodate the growing population, as well as the tourists and visitors that flock to the island, the government of Maldives has started work on a new reclaimed island called Hulhumalé, just between Male and Hulhule.

The artificial beach, as the locals call it, is actually a small enclave of turquoise sea water adjacent to the jetty. It’s where the city dwellers swim and it being a public beach, wearing of swimsuits is strictly prohibited. That day, we saw some small children happily playing in the water as the parents look on and it was such a lovely sight to behold!

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Blue on blue.

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The artificial beach. Isn’t it gorgeous?

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Here’s the public beach again from another vantage point.

From the beach, we walked the narrow streets of Malé in search of other famous landmarks. The city streets are congested with people, the ubiquitous motorcycles, and a few cars. You have to be careful when walking these narrow alleys to avoid getting side-swiped by the speeding vehicles. At this time of national elections, the whole of Malé is decked out with political banners, posters, and buntings. Pink symbolizes the Ruling Party and the Yellow color represents the Opposition. It’s interesting to note that the campaign posters are all of the same size and it has a uniform template – usually just a photo of the candidate, very few words, and the party affiliation. So unlike the complete state of disarray and pandemonium that Philippines is thrown into during national elections.

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Official color of the Ruling Party.

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Official color of the Opposition Party.

First, we went to Jumhooree Maidhaan or the Independence Square. It’s just a tiny park close to the market and it is marked by the giant Maldivian flag mounted on a towering flagpole. This is where political campaigns and demonstrations are held and it’s adjacent to the Police Headquarters and the Shaheed Hussain Administration Building.

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The Independence Square.

Close to the Independence Square is perhaps Malé’s most famous landmark, the Islamic Centre which has the largest mosque in the Maldives, with its eye-catching giant golden dome. The mosque is open to visitors outside of prayer hours of course but photography is not allowed inside. Plus, you have to be wearing proper clothes and absolutely no wearing of shoes and slippers inside.

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The famous Islamic Center.

The Fish Market is also an interesting place to visit. Here, you will see the day’s catch being sold or dried out in the sun. There’s a small lighthouse at the end of a narrow walk-path where you can have an unobstructed view of the Independence Square right across. It was rather off-putting seeing men relieving their bladder right on the sea next to the market. It reminded me so much of my home country where men can be quite imprudent (with) where they shoot their pee. LOL. But never mind that, the view, like I said is quite pleasant from this side of the island.

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View from the lighthouse. Behind Chris, you can see the Maldivian flag on the left and the golden dome of the Islamic Centre on the right.

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Catch of the day.

From the fish market, we went back to traversing the narrow alleys to look for the venerated tomb of the man said to have been responsible for bringing Islam to the Maldives, a Sunni Muslim visitor from Morocco named Abu al Barakat. According to the legend, young virgin girls in Malé were chosen from the community and left alone in a temple as a sacrifice to Rannamaari, a sea jinni. One night Barakat took the place of a prospective sacrificial virgin and drove the demon away by reading from the Islamic holy book, the Quran. The Maldivian king at the time was sold on Islam, and ordered that the whole country convert.

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The tomb of Abu Al Bakarat

Meanwhile, next to the mausoleum of Abu al Bakarat is the stately home of the President of Maldives. It’s gated, of course, but we didn’t see armed guards patrolling the area, however, there are CCTV cameras aplenty.

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Presidential House.

At 12:30, the three of us regrouped to have lunch at a local restaurant nearby. Chris and Eric ordered chicken and fish biryani and I got this ‘devil fish’ with roti. If the word ‘devil’ isn’t indication enough of just how spicy it was, the first few bites certainly set my tongue on fire. Eric, too, was unable to finish his biryani because it was on the spicy side as well. After lunch, we took the ferry to Hulhumalé, the reclaimed island close to the airport where we will be spending the night.

Thanks to Shaheem who made the arrangement for our last day in Hulhumalé, we found ourselves in this homey little beach house called COCO GILLI (contact numbers: +960 3350633 and +960 7 90633) which sits literally next to the beach! The hotel staff picked us up from the jetty (from Malé to Hulhumalé is about 20-30 minutes ferry ride) and took us straight to the beach house. Naturally, the three of us wasted no time in catching our last whiff of the Maldives sea. We dumped our luggage, changed into swimsuits, and ran to the beach all in under ten minutes! The island itself is fairly new, having been reclaimed only a few years, but the development is on fast track mode. Already the government has built several rows of housing blocks and are building more. The beachfront is also busy with a lot of beach house construction which, when completed, will certainly draw more tourists into Hulhumalé.

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There’s a lot of construction going on in the island so the beach here is not as well-kept as Thulusdhoo.

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I saw these children playing on the beach and I thought they were cute, so i asked if i can take their photo. Et voila!

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Playtime pour moi!

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…and ze Hubby!

Team Altaie.

Team Altaie.

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Christophe and Vicky. Maldives 2014.

And with that, we have officially concluded our first holiday in 2014 and indisputably one of the best trips ever! Maldives is such a beautiful country but don’t just take the travel junkies/bloggers/journalists’ words and photos for it. If you can, find a way to visit and no, you don’t (even) need to pawn off your home because there are now cheaper ways of enjoying the country and everything it has to offer. You just have to do your research well and make sure that you pack your adventurous spirit along with your sunscreen, after-sun cream (for both, I highly recommend La Roche Posay. It is the best product to protect your skin from the harsh elements of the sun and the beach. Of late, the combination of sun and the beach easily gives me painful rash attack but using La Roche Posay sun cream and after-sun cream prevents me from getting a massive rash breakout), and other swimming essentials. And in the event that you get all psychotic like me, hahaha, try to find your way back because Maldives is hardly any place for you to mope or get all worked up. I loved this trip for a lot of very obvious reasons but especially for the wonderful company. So to Emperor Eric and my hotsie-patootsie hubby Christophe whom I absolutely adore beyond words, here’s to us and the many more travel adventures we will hopefully have together! Ika nga ni Buzz Lightyear, ‘To inFIJI and beyond!’ Uuuuyyy, nagbabadya!  🙂

xoxox

TRAVEL: Marvelous MALDIVES (Part III)


It’s Day Three and though it seemed at that point it would be tough to top our ClubMed Kani adventure, Chris and I woke up much earlier than the previous day determined to catch the sun rise majestically over Thulusdhoo. I was up by 4am, promptly downdogging on the floor while waiting for Hubs to wake up and join me for a walk down the beach.

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In praise of the sun(rise).

At 5:30am, we found the perfect spot to watch the sunrise just in front of Cokes Surf Villas. Perched on a fallen trunk of a mid-sized tree like eager petits singes, we watched with a great deal of fascination the old women of Thulusdhoo who were systematically sweeping dried leaves scattered on the beach – with very precise strokes of the broom. Not a word was exchanged among these women and they just kept sweeping the beach area to spotless perfection – even long after we were done with our walk. If you’ve never watched the sunrise on the beach, you are definitely missing out on one of the greatest moments in life! There’s just no substitute for it. Chris and I had a grand time stretching and doing breathing exercises while the sun was slowly peeking out of the dregs of the night clouds (is there such a thing?). Anyway, we both loved the sunrise experience so much that we made time for it again on our last morning in Maldives. This time, on the beach right next to our petit inn at Hulhumale (watch out for Part quatre). In Part One, I have shared some Thulusdhoo sunrise photos but here’s one more for good measure. 🙂

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Break of dawn.

We had snorkeling ($40 per person) and Chickens Island tour on our agenda for Day Three. Like the rest of the group, I was very excited to go snorkeling until I met a petit accident just after my first jump and the monster in me emerged. **tantadadaaaannn** I was trying to climb back up the boat when it lurched and I scraped about an inch off my skin – which again, would have been okay as I am used to getting injured anyway, YES, even when I’m asleep (scratched my face a few times while sleeping so I never grow my nails long enough for them to scoop my eyeballs out in some freaky sleeping accident, haha) – but the cut was right on my left shin, exposing a little bit of the bone there. I didn’t cry, no, but I was so furious I wanted to lash out at something or someone – and guess who was well within ‘lashing out’ reach? Uh-oh. According to Chris and Eric, the view underwater is so beautiful it’s as if scenes from ‘Finding Nemo’ have been replayed for their exclusive viewing pleasure. And I missed all that. C’est dommage.

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Here’s Hubby happily snorkeling while I was seething. LOL.

So anyway, my horrible mood ruled me until the following day when we arrived in Malé (I will only get appeased during our city tour when I’ve had my chocolate milkshake – Hubby’s peace offering, haha. He really gets me, my darling hubby!), so you can imagine how much of a downer I was for the remainder of Day Three. I did try to amuse myself by walking around Chickens Island (our next stop after Chris and Eric have had enough of snorkeling), taking photos, walking from one end of the tiny island to the other end looking at baby sharks and manta rays swimming close to the shore, and yet, I was far from pleased. Not even the idea of us having dinner at Tim’s washboard abs, errr, surf joint later that evening could jolt me out of my childish tantrum. Anyway, you know that thing in the movies where hot surfers prance around day and night garbed only in their board shorts worn so low on their hips you don’t need a lot of imagination to ‘see’ what’s going on down there? Well, I’ll have to say it’s pure fiction because that night, Tim was wearing a freakin’ shirt! Lugi kami, soli bayad! LMAO.

But back to Chickens Island. This tiny piece of isolated island just a few hundreds of meters off the coast of Thulusdoo was named so because the locals used to breed poultry there. But as the chicken population grew, the risk of poultry diseases that could be passed on to the consumers was also on the rise. And so the locals decided to stop breeding chickens on the island but the name caught on. According to this surfer guy, Chika (incidentally, the 5th best local surfer in Maldives) – who was also there on the island and was nice enough to show me the baby sharks and manta rays – some resort developer group has already won the rights to convert Chickens Island into an exclusive resort. If it happens, then perhaps it will bring more employment opportunities for Thulusdhoo residents. There is a fee of $5 per person at Chickens Island which you will pay directly to the caretakers over there. If you’re planning on spending a few hours on the island, be sure to pack food and water as there is nothing you can buy to eat or drink there. All in all, the island is charming in a raw kind of way and the beach does not have a lot of jagged rocks making it ideal for leisure swimming. Even though you might encounter a few baby sharks, I doubt if Mommy Shark is swimming close enough to bite off your limbs or other extremities. Here are some photos of and around the island:

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I love all these wharf things that you see almost everywhere in the beaches of Maldives.

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See that bloody spot on my left shin? That was the trigger to my tantrum that nearly rivaled the catastrophic Mt. Merapi eruption. Drama queen much, I know.

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In which it is proven that I can suspend irascibility for two seconds to do this.:P

Day Three was definitely not one of my best days and though on the surface, it didn’t look like I’d be able to bounce back fast enough for me to enjoy the sights and sounds of Malé the following day, I did manage to come around – but only after I had expunged all drama out of my system. Ouh la la. Thank you mon amour for being the soft voice of reason in the midst of all my irrationality. What can I say? I am a very lucky girl.

Malé, you’re next. 🙂

End of Part III

TRAVEL: Marvelous MALDIVES (Part II)


We were up early on our second day, brimming with excitement for our trip to ClubMed Kani in another nearby atoll – organised for us by the lovely staff of Dream Inn. After a quick breakfast, we made our way to Thulusdhoo jetty where our small speedboat is waiting to take us on the 20-minute trip to Kani atoll. The speedboat rate was US $125 roundtrip (if i’m not mistaken). On the boat, all three of us were ooohing and aaahing nonstop and almost in cadence while looking at the impossibly gorgeous blue waters. There’s the turquoise shade which reminded Chris and I so much of our Bali wedding theme color; there’s the pale blue color; and then, the dark royal blue tone which (probably) indicates the deeper side of the ocean compared with the other two.
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Endless blue.

ClubMed Kani

ClubMed’s very own private atoll featuring suites on stilts perched right on the turquoise waters, a garden path, swimming pool, beautiful white sand beach and of course, the French resort group’s all-inclusive travel package. Though we were only there on a day pass (usually until 5pm), we thought the US $108 per person fee is so worth it! Imagine this: Open bar for most cocktail drinks (the Mojito I got was bland to the taste but the mocktails were pretty good), beer, and house wine (I opted for the white variety and had about 4 or 5 glasses), an amazing buffet selection at lunch with a gourmet menu especially prepared by the Chef-on-duty, snorkeling, use of the pool and fun sports activities. They even had pool Zumba and yoga in the afternoon which we could have joined but didn’t because we were in our element taking photos (lots and lots of ’em!), tanning on the beach, swimming, checking out hotties (or ‘Tibets’ as Eric would call them), and getting deliciously wined up (in my case, that is).

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No-filter beauty.

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Suites on stilts at ClubMed Kani.

Swimming in the turquoise water of ClubMed Kani is as out-of-this-world as you probably imagined it would be – if not more. The water is pleasantly cool on the skin and it’s just the perfect backdrop for nearly all obligatory Maldives photos you could think of. Chris and I swam a bit before finding our sunbathing spots, fronting the beach – because, really, you don’t waste a fabulous view like that by being somewhere else. Meanwhile, Eric got busy doing his photowalk and taking hundreds of selfies before going into the water as well.

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Happy campers at ClubMed.

Spending a day in ClubMed Kani was one of the best calls we’ve made during this trip. It was the closest we could have gone to a five-star treatment close to Thulusdhoo without selling one of our kidneys in the black market. haha. Maldives was the cover story of this month’s Tiger Air inflight magazine and according to the article, some top-grade luxurious resorts in Maldives would charge around US $15,000 a nightC’est incroyable! But when you’re there and you see what Maldives is all about, a part of you would probably understand why incredibly rich people are willing to blow that kind of money for a few days of pure, unadulterated pleasure in one of God’s greatest island creations.

As for Eric, Chris, and I, we got all the fun and exhilaration we set out to achieve with our short trip to ClubMed Kani. Though it pained us to leave the island shortly before nightfall, we consoled ourselves with the thought of returning to Maldives someday. I have a feeling that Chris and I will be back, but probably not so soon as we still have more destinations to tick-off on our travel bucket list which seems to be getting longer and longer. And longer still. So here’s to us, mon amour, and the many adventures and wonderful memories we still have to make. Je t’adore!

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Mon amour.

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Yoga anywhere.

End of Part II.