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: 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