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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La Belle Bordeaux Part III: Bordeaux City


On our last day in Bordeaux, our hosts aka my très gentils beau parents, took us on une petite promenade 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.

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: Ski Holiday in AVORIAZ


Have you ever had one of those snow globes, perhaps given by relatives or friends as ‘pasalubong’ or souvenir from their trips abroad? Well, I never had one but I have always thought them pretty, and I often wondered what it must be like to be inside one. Two weeks ago, my snow globe fantasy just got real with our trip to Avoriaz in the French Alps.

Avoriaz is a ski resort in the heart of the Portes du Soleil, just inside the French side of the Franco-Swiss border. Built on a sunny plateau of land, the resort was the brainchild of the Olympic skier Jean Vuarnet, who wanted to link the pistes of Morzine to those over the border in Switzerland, covering a network of slopes that spans 13 resorts. Avoriaz is France’s first car-free resort which makes it a safe place for children to walk around the centre.

Avoriaz 1800, for those who want to ski hard and play hard.

Avoriaz 1800, for those who want to ski hard and play hard.

When Hubby and I were plotting our travel calendar for 2015 a few months back, I intimated that I would like to travel some place exciting during winter and preferably with snow. Being a stickler for details, my husband carefully worked out a 2-week itinerary for us which involved a rendezvous with his best friend (and his best friend’s family) in Switzerland before driving up  as a group to Avoriaz for a week-long ski holiday; a trip down to Bordeaux to visit the family; and finally, a rendezvous with more family members in Paris before flying back to Singapore. How can I possibly not adore my husband’s OC tendencies?!

Picturesque Avoriaz.

Picturesque Avoriaz.

You see, I have never seen snow in my 30-odd years of existence. I have experienced winter in Australia but never in Europe or any other four-season region, so you can imagine how excited I was. Way. too. much. The days leading up to the actual trip saw me mainly obsessing about how many layers I should put on, how much cheese and wine I can consume without combusting into a fiery ball of dairy and alcohol,  how many kilometres and landmarks we can cover in two weeks, and if I will learn how to ski in mere five hours. Schengen visa secured, vacation leave filed and approved, bags packed, Pinky the traveling pig bathed and prepped for the big trip, soon we were on our way to Changi airport to catch our flight to Zurich. 

After a quick stopover at Fribourg for aperitif and lunch with the Vimards, we were finally on the road to Avoriaz where we would spend the next six days basking in air so pure and snow so white. We were very lucky to have had the most perfect sunny weather in Avoriaz, without which, our stay would not have been as magical.

So. One week in Avoriaz and about a million snippets of only the fondest experiences gathered. But in the interest of brevity (although my intro is already far from being short and sweet), I will narrow it all to just six highlights, which are…

With our ski instructor, Sylvain.

With our ski instructor, Sylvain.

Never  too old to learn how to ski.

Never too old to learn how to ski.

Skiing

Nothing beats skiing in the Alps, they say, and I’m overjoyed that my first ski experience happened right in Avoriaz. We stayed in a fully-furnished family apartment at Pierre et Vacances which is just a few meters away from the resort centre. The men of the house, Christophe and Guillaume, enrolled the wives (FayFay and I) to a three-day exclusive ski class with Evolution 2 ski and snowboarding school, lasting 1.5 hours each day.  Frankly, I didn’t expect that I would be able to ski in mere five hours but thanks to our très gentil ski instructor Sylvain, I found myself going down a relatively steep slope and even managing some left and right turns on our final class!

Team VimTaie on a raquette adventure

Team VimTaie on a raquette adventure.

IMG_0154

Walking in winter wonderland.

Raquette à neige or snowshoeing

Simply means walking on thick layers of soft snow in snowshoes/rackets. We did this on our last day in Avoriaz and had a great time descending about 400 meters from Avoriaz to Les Lindarets, alternatingly walking or sliding on our bottoms. From there, we took the télésiège back to the resort. We were only a small group of six on that day, including our raquette guide Camille, who told us plenty of stories about the area. We even saw a few chamois scurrying away from us as we traversed through their territory.

Sledding with le petit Victor

Sledding with le petit Victor.

Luge

Although you see mostly kids sledding in the designated luge area, it didn’t stop us from borrowing little Victor’s sled and having a bit of fun with it.

IMG_0001

Lunch at Les Fontaines Blanches.

Charcuterie.

Charcuterie and cheese fondue.

Gastronomy

Although Avoriaz does not have the same gastronomic reputation as Morzine, it does have a few dual-purpose (lunch and dinner) restaurants that serve great food and some lively bars for drinks and light bites open until late at night. If you have a big appetite, you definitely must try the lunch buffet at Les Fontaines Blanches. They have a wide selection of all-you-can-eat aperitifs, mains and desserts for a reasonable price of about 25 euros per person. If you happen to ski around the Lindarets, you can check out the restaurants there with their delectable plat du jour. They seem to be very popular with locals and visitors.

Le vin chaud meets la Pinky.

Le vin chaud meets la Pinky.

Vin Chaud

Vin chaud, or hot wine, is a beverage typically enjoyed on special occasions in cold places. It is mildly spicy and warming, with just a little splash of Cognac. I first heard about it from a friend who recommended that we try it when in Avoriaz. First sip and I knew it won’t be missed but it does give you that warm-fuzzy sensation. It’s good to have tried it though.

Sunset in Avoriaz.

Sunset in Avoriaz.

Sunset

There are only a few things more evocative than watching the dazzling colours of the sunset descend over the snowy plateau and the snow-capped chalets in Avoriaz. I had tears just looking at the sunset view.

Grocery shopping at Carrefour

This may sound ridiculous to your ears but I do love being inside the supermarket. To me, walking up and down aisles lined on both sides with all sorts of goodies arranged in specific manner begging for you to come pick them up and bring them home is almost akin to a fulfilling sexual experience. Okay, maybe not to that extreme, but yes, a trip to the supermarket is always a happy endeavour for me. We purchased our week-long food supply from Carrefour and had most of our meals in the apartment. Thanks to FayFay’s dexterity in the kitchen, we enjoyed great-tasting dishes right in the warm comfort of our cabin.

Meet the VimTaies.

Meet the VimTaies.

Our Avoriaz trip is definitely one for the books and none of it would have been possible without the exceptional planning of Christophe and Guillaume, all done over a series of Skype calls between Switzerland and Singapore. Having said that, you really ought to be planning the next VimTaie holiday, guys!

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.

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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.:)

Five Things to Consider When Going On a Holiday


Wouldn't you want to just lose yourself in THIS magnificence?

Wouldn’t you want to just lose yourself in THIS magnificence?

Going away on a holiday is a necessity for most of us who are deeply entrenched in the brutal corporate and (even) domestic jungles, primarily to relax and recharge our batteries, to get lost in the moment and rediscover our fun self (remember that time when you used to be fun?), meet new romantic partners or recapture excitement with current beau, or perhaps to disengage ourselves away from the maddening demands of our daily lives. Also, going on a holiday takes us to that state of natural mindfulness, where we pay complete attention to our life experiences and evaluate them with a fresh pair of eyes as we try to look to the future.

But now that we are bombarded by travel options, it becomes increasingly important to make wise travel decisions without having to kill the thrill of spontaneity and intoxicating randomness, in order for us to fully maximize the perks of our trip. Consider these tips when planning your next travel adventure:

  1. Traveling on a budget is NOT (always) synonymous to bad travel experience, and it shouldn’t be. What it does is simply help you manage your resources efficiently and encourage you to experience some aspects of traveling without having to go expensive all the time.
  2. Be an explorer! Now is your chance to absorb all the colors, sights, sounds, tastes and emotions your body can contain, so don’t waste it by being cooped-up in your hotel room the whole day. If in a safe neighborhood, you can take a walk, rent a bike, or run at your own pace. This is also a good way for you to keep fit while on vacation. Go out there and live life like you mean it!
  3. Direct your own travel documentary. Capture moments and places as much and as often as you can. These will give you enough materials to create your own travel videos which you can revisit each time you feel the need to escape but just can’t.
  4. Make one or two friends for each day of your trip and by that I mean, make it your mission to know more than just their name and what sort of work they do. Have engaging conversations on books, movies, sports and of course, your travel adventures.
  5. Be a student – learn. Discover more about the place, its history and culture, and the people, by watching, observing, listening, and asking questions. Make each travel an enriching experience for you and you will be surprised by the great number of things you will soon learn about yourself.