TRAVEL: The Weekend Bali Disappointed Me

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

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

DD Ubud Villa_vickyras

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Entrance to the holy spring.

Entrance to the holy spring.

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

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

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

View of Mount Agung on a rainy, gloomy afternoon in Bali.

View of Mount Agung on a rainy, gloomy afternoon in Bali.

Lunch buffet with a view.

Lunch buffet with a view…of my visibly scarred thunder thighs. LOL.

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

Coffee beans from the civet cat poop being roasted.

Coffee beans from the civet cat poop being roasted.

Hubby enjoying his Luwak coffee.

Hubby enjoying his Luwak coffee.

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

Hindu temple by the lake.

Hindu temple by the lake.


Calm waters of Lake Bratan.

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

The mystical Tanah Lot temple.

The mystical Tanah Lot temple.

Tanah Lot selfie.

Tanah Lot selfie.

La Belle BORDEAUX Part II: Château Roquetaillade

Roquetaillade (meaning, ‘Carved in Rock’) is a French castle dating back from the Middle Ages, one of the seven that were constructed by Pope Clement the Fifth when he became the first French Pope in Avignon. Located on a limestone plateau in the heart of the Graves wine area in the south west region of France, the first wooden “Fort” was believed to have been built by Charlemagne in the 8th century. Overtime, wood was replaced by stone and after several rounds of fortifications and improvements, Roquetaillade has established itself as an important fortified town and castle in 14th century.

Welcome to Château Roquetaillade.

Welcome to Château Roquetaillade.

We visited the Roquetaillade castle one sunny winter afternoon of February 16 and I was struck by how beautiful and solid it still stands despite the centuries that have passed. They say that the castle survives to this today for numerous reasons and perhaps mainly due to the pragmatic diplomacy of the owners – shifting loyalties according to events.

Trip down medieval time at Roquetaillade.

Trip down medieval lane at Roquetaillade.

Interestingly, the estate has never been sold. It’s been passed on to the last of the family, in this case usually the females, who got married and brought the castle in their dowry. Hence, the change in family name of the owners. According to history, five families have held Roquetaillade since the 10th century: The Lamothe (for around 500 years), Lansac (150 years), Labiorie (50 years), Mauvezin (50 years) and the Baritault family who still owns it today (200 years). 

The Roquetaillade design (similar with the other 6 castles commissioned by Clement the Fifth) is said to be at the peak of military defense techniques  before the arrival of gunpowder and canons.

The Roquetaillade design (similar with the other 6 castles commissioned by Clement the Fifth) is said to be at the peak of military defense techniques before the arrival of gunpowder and canons.

This day, you can still see parts of the old castle – the 11th century keep, the lord’s housing, the gate tower and the village chapel which is still being used by the family today. You will notice that the ceiling of the chapel adapts an oriental style because at the time of restoration in 1875, Orientalism was in.

In the ‘new castle’, French architect and theorist Viollet le Duc (VLD) who was commissioned for the transformation of Roquetaillade, transformed the medieval postern or hidden door to the secret passage into a draw-bridge that leads to the dining room. Other parts of the new castle to take note of when you do do the tour are the family coat of arms, drop bridge, defensive toilets (in case of siege), murder hole to drop stones and hot water, the courtyard without windows or doors (just arrow slits), and many many more.

All openings in the castle that have been put by VLD were stylised to resemble the original 14th century windows on the keep with 2 gargoyles underneath, similar to those that he put on Notre Dame of Paris, which he also designed.

All openings in the castle that have been put by VLD were stylised to resemble the original 14th century windows on the keep with 2 gargoyles underneath, similar to those that he put on Notre Dame of Paris, which he also designed.

Visitors are not allowed to take photos inside the castle so you really have to soak in the beautiful elements that were incorporated by VLD such as paintings, sculptures, a 350kg oil lamp mounted from the13th century vaulted ceiling (love this one!), 16th century chimneys, family furniture and artefacts, Louis 13th armchairs, and plenty of other VLD’s creations, without getting distracted by people whipping out their cameras and phones to snap photos of everything. 

My favourites are the Pink Room, which is the guest room in the castle that is fully-equipped with bathroom, toilets and water reservoirs; and the kitchen which was designed by VLD to have the stove in the middle of the room, with a 360-degree work surface. The kitchen is also equipped with a 17th century barbecue system, an ice cream maker and beautiful copper pots and utensils which apparently are being cleaned by the family members once a year – to this day.

The Church is still being used by the family today.

The Church is still being used by the family today.

The tour is conducted by volunteers and more often in French. I got by because my mother-in-law and husband were there to translate what the tour guide was explaining as we moved from section to section of the castle. Otherwise, they do have a pamphlet which you can get from the information centre where they also sell souvenirs, and it’s written in English.

I give the Roquetaillade tour five brilliant stars and a handstand.:)

I give the Roquetaillade tour five brilliant stars and a handstand.:)

In the brochure, it says that Roquetaillade needs over 1.8 million Euros to save VLD’s unique creations. With no direct public support, the entrance fee to the castle (around 10 euros per person) form part of the repair funding. Donations are welcome and so is the purchase of bottles of their own Château Fort wine. And please don’t hesitate to tip the volunteer guide on your way out.

Château Roquetaillade had served as a location in films like Fantômas contre Scotland Yard (French) and some parts of the Hollywood film Brotherhood of the Wolf.

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 Thoughts Of The Girl With The Case Of The Elsewheres

Red Dune Safari in Dubai

Red Dune Safari in Dubai

Before my husband and I got married, we were often told to enjoy life as a couple; go on adventures together and travel as much and as often as we can afford before adding a new member to the family. We never sought to question the wisdom of those words because deep down, we have always known that the results are almost always worth the costs.

Travel while you have the advantage of youth and the friskiness of your feet, we were told, because as you get older and your responsibilities get bigger – family, education, mortgage and financial obligations especially – you will find it harder to pack up your bags and go on random trips. So. very. true.

Whether it’s a random overnight trip to the beach in Bintan, a weekend getaway in Phuket, Boracay or Bali, a rendezvous in the Middle East or even a carefully planned trip to Maldives, Australia or Europe, we have certainly revelled in the joys of traveling together as a couple. Traveling strengthens our bond in ways that perhaps no other activity could. Of course there’s the S word, but you know what I mean. And soon, when we have our little people, they will be taught to embrace travel and adventure because…

  1. Traveling is an awesome way to learn about other people’s culture and be seduced by languages apart from your own. Reading about cultural practices and quirks is easy, what with the plethora of available materials, but being present is a priceless experience you must never pass on, especially when you are young and fully capable of embracing people and cultures with wild abandon.
  2. Traveling makes an adventurer out of you. Being in a strange country or city brings out that side of you you never knew existed. One day you are riding a camel or an elephant and eating deep-fried crickets, the next day you could be cuddling a koala, petting a baby tiger, taking a selfie with a napping boa constrictor or swimming with the whale sharks. Or, you could be sipping a cup of coffee at a quaint little bistro one minute and dancing samba in the middle of the plaza the next.
  3. Traveling cultivates a deeper sense of love and compassion for Mother Earth and fellow human beings. The more you travel, the more you will learn that it is not simply about being mere tourists lugging around selfie sticks, although that’s how most of us start out as, but it is about knowing that there is a bigger world out of our comfort zones, with bigger issues to get involved in and confront.

So don’t always wait for the ‘perfect time to travel’ because you may end up not being able to leave your cocoon at all. Sometimes we don’t always know what a perfect travel is until we set foot in our destination and find ourselves wowed by little things we didn’t prepare for. You know, the physics of randomness and such. And if you are not traveling solo, it is best to travel with people you love and with whom you share a common lust for wandering and learning. Otherwise, you could be wasting so much time negotiating on your itinerary instead of feeling, seeing and tasting a luscious slice of the world.

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.


Thulusdhoo jetty. ‘Til we meet again!


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!


Blue on blue.


The artificial beach. Isn’t it gorgeous?


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.


Official color of the Ruling Party.


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.


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.


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.


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.


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.


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.


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.


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



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!


Playtime pour moi!


…and ze Hubby!

Team Altaie.

Team Altaie.


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!  🙂


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.

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).



No-filter beauty.



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.


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!



Mon amour.


Yoga anywhere.

End of Part II.

TRAVEL: Marvelous MALDIVES (Part I)

The idea of Maldives came to me one morning in November last year while I was checking my personal email and got an alert from Tiger Air announcing its maiden voyage to Maldives from Singapore beginning January 2014. Not too long before that, I remember asking the Emperor if he had already plotted his 2014 travel schedules, in case I would be able to join him in one of (possibly) many trips this year. As you know, the Emperor and I have been to a few international and local travels together and knowing how he can be very flexible with his schedule (if he wants to!), I thought I’d mention Maldives when I saw him go online on FB. Et voila, in less than an hour, I had already booked Chris and I on a flight and Eric had done the same!

Knowing that Maldives requires no visa application (it’s VOA for a lot of countries, including Philippines!) made decision-making a no-brainer. Of course, the impossibly turquoise water surrounding the atolls and the promise of earthbound paradise go without saying. I mean, we would’ve gone still even if there was visa required. Maldives is just something you never say no to. What followed after that was a fun hotel hunting/booking. We had a reasonable budget to work with which, the three of us agreed, need not require us to smash our piggybanks open or you know, rob a bank.

After going through a long list of hotels and reading a lot of reviews on Trip Advisor, we opted to book our stay at Dream Inn Thulusdhoo for 3 nights and then spend our last night in Malé so we can explore the city and not be worried about missing our flight the following day (it takes an hour and a half from Thulusdhoo to Malé on the public ferry).

Finally, Maldives!

And so on the 12th of March, the three of us boarded Tiger Air bound for Malé, the urbanized capital city of Maldives. The flight was about 4 hours and 20 minutes long and by the way, Maldives is three hours behind Singapore. Soon as we exited the arrival hall, the first thing we saw was the exquisite turquoise waters dotted only by a few speed boats loading and unloading tourists. We had to physically restrain ourselves from jumping right into the water given the scorching heat outside. Gorgeous (easily three shades of) blue ocean water everywhere you look – and it’s unlike anything we’ve seen before! It took a while for our airport pick-up to reach us and we were starving so Eric and my husband decided to get us some takeout meals from Burger King. An idea which we all would come to regret IMMEDIATELY as one meal costs a minimum of US $10! (The chicken sandwich meal Chris got me was $15!) Definitely one of the most expensive junk food we have ever ingested and I wouldn’t recommend that you try it. Unless you’re even more famished than we were at that time, or just plain addicted to junk. Ewww.


Welcome to Thulusdhoo

It takes an hour and a half to get to Thulusdhoo atoll from Malé. I will not give you the wikipedia description of this charming little atoll but instead, I will try to paint a picture of Thulusdhoo based on what we have seen, heard, and tasted of the island. First of all, Thulusdhoo is also known as the Coca Cola island because of the presence of a Coke plant which is supposedly the only one in the world that uses aerated water to manufacture the carbonated drink for Maldivian consumption (Please feel free to verify that as I am rather lazy to Google it up). It is no surprise then that there is a hostel called ‘Cokes Surf’ in the island that specifically caters to surfers and backpackers. And in case you’re wondering why, it’s because Thulusdhoo is said to have the best waves in all of Maldives during surf season. Tim, the-hot-Aussie-surfing-instructor-with-six-pack- abs-that-won’t-quit at Cokes Surf, confirmed that when we all had dinner on our last night on the island.


The cozy little inn we called ‘home’ for three days, Dream Inn Thulusdhoo, is such a great find! At first, we were disappointed when Shaheem (awesome travel organiser!) told us two days before we were to depart SG for Maldives that he had to transfer the three of us to Askani Villa because they have about 20 youngsters from Denmark arriving the same day. But Askani proved to be just what we needed because it only had four very spacious rooms and we only had to share the whole place with a nice Russian couple. We had good wifi connection in our villa – at least for my iPhone but my Samsung phone totally crapped out on me during this trip so I was struggling a bit doing some work while traveling. 100 points for iPhone, negative 100 points for Samsung S4! – which made it quite convenient for the social media junkies in us to post occasional updates on FB and Instagram. The hotel staff were very amiable and always ready to help make arrangements for our island hopping adventures. And I love how their English is almost impeccable – and how beautifully they enunciate words!


Thulusdhoo residents take pride in their ‘Sunrise Beach’ and ‘Sunset Beach’ and by right, they should, because these two places certainly give you an awesome sunrise and sunset views. Look!


Sunrise at 5:50am.


Sunrise Beach at 6am.


Sunset Beach at 6pm.

But if you ask me, the real treasure Thulusdhoo has is its charming people. Easily among the friendliest, accommodating, and well-mannered people you will ever meet, the residents of Thulusdhoo will make you feel welcome at any time of the day. Always smiling and often ready to greet you ‘good morning’ or ‘good afternoon’, some will even inquire about your day/health. On our first night at Dream Inn, we were lucky to have been treated to a lively cultural song and dance production by the young men of Thulusdhoo and we were impressed by the passion and energy they put into their craft. The Danish group, as well as the young lady from Kosovo, had a great time jumping around and gyrating to the infectious beat of the drums. Being an old boring fart, I just sat and watched the revelry. Kidding! We had to turn in early that night because we were off to ClubMed Kani the following morning and didn’t want to be sporting eyebags to go with our lovehandles. Not at all great for selfies, haha.

Oh, one more thing that we noticed in Thulusdhoo are the colorful doors and walls in every home which truly fascinated us. But apparently, this love for bold colors is typically Maldivian as we would see more and more of these colorful doors around Malé.




One great thing about living literally next to the ocean is that you get to enjoy fresh catch for your daily meals. Being just a tiny dot of an island (with only a little above 1,000++ inhabitants), Thulusdhoo does not have restaurants (though we saw one or two bars near the jetty) so we were only eating mostly at our resort and on our last night, at Cokes Surf Villas. There’s not much of variety here but the grilled fish we were served a few times was truly divine! It’s so fresh and tasty you don’t even need condiments to enjoy it!

If you are looking for some sun, surf and sand adventure with a little splash of culture, you can’t go wrong with a trip to this charming North Malé atoll called Thulusdhoo. And oh, good news to the ladies who might be wondering if swimsuit is allowed in the beaches of Thulusdhoo at all – the answer is yes, my sweetpea, you can wear your swimsuit on the beach! But please don’t go around the village in those tiny stringy cloths as you are definitely bound to offend the residents’ sensibilities and conservative ideals. Keep in mind that Maldives is an Islamic nation and all tourists must respect that.

End of Part One


I know only of a few people who can make this claim with such bravado and I’m one of them – I love my job. I don’t get paid ridiculously high amount of money but I get to travel to exotic places many people only see in world maps or read about on Blue Planet. Each country I visit offers something different and memorable that I feel it’s unfair to favor one over the other. And as much as I want to remain non-discriminatory, I cannot help but make an exception as some countries undeniably stand out. And among those that I have visited,  Turkey sure takes the cake.

Last March, I was sent to Istanbul on a three-day work assignment. Though my short-lived stay left me with so little a time spent on sightseeing, I feel I have seen, breathed-in, and tasted enough of its natural environs and uniquely beautiful topography to consider Istanbul as an earthly heaven.



With its unique position as a crossing between Asia and Europe, Istanbul is regarded as one of the most important cities in the world and a junction of trade because of the Bosphorus Strait. Four years ago, when I first traveled to Turkey, but in Ankara, I did not have as many beautiful recollections as I now have of Istanbul except for a fire drill that was staged at the Hilton Ankara in the dead of the night which saw some of us rushing out of the room in bathrobe and  very little else.

I took the 4:50PM flight from Manila to Kuala Lumpur where I will have a layover of nearly five hours before catching the next flight to Istanbul. I had my copy of Fyodor Dostoevsky’s Crime and Punishment with me so the long wait did not at all seem unbearable – especially after i got a call all the way from Bahrain telling me that my Fernando Alonso Ferrari shirt and an autographed F1 Bahrain GP plate number are on their way to my office address!

Day One. Temperature was at 6 degrees when we landed in Ataturk International Airport at six in the morning and  in just a few minutes after touchdown, my teeth were chattering and my fingers and toes were turning blue. Yet again, i have underestimated the cold temperature thinking that my sheer maxi dress and open-toed gladiator sandals would provide ample insulation from the biting cold. To make matters worse, my colleague and I couldn’t find each other as I happened to be standing on a different platform from where he initially directed me to. Finally, I saw Kourosh waving at me from the other side of the building and running toward me to help me with my bags. I was so grateful for the warm temperature inside the cab because I was literally close to catching hypothermia. Seriously. I am so used to tropical weather that anything below 19 degrees is already life-threatening for me. A few minutes later, we were in front of SURMELI Hotel, where we will be staying for the next 5 days.

My first day in Istanbul was uneventful, at least on the tourism front, as I was busy attending meetings one after the other. I did, however, get my first taste of this delicious hot beverage called salep. A typical Turkish drink, salep is a mixture of a special powder called salep and milk. The powder of salep is made with a mixture of different spices, and its flavor is unique.Before serving they spread cinnamon over it making the drink more attractive. salep is hot creamy drink, drank in coffee shops and tea gardens in winter all around Turkey. Usually it is drank alone but it also goes well with pies.

Day Two. If New York has Chinatown and Little Italy, then Istanbul has “French Street” or Cezayir Sokak, a completely renovated street lined with tented buildings, street musicians, cafés, bars and art centers.

Cezayir Sokak has a covered area of 9,000 square meters and a capacity of 3000 people together with the open-air areas. The heaters on the streets allow the open areas to be used even on cold days.

The French Area

The French Street

When we were at Chez Vous, one of those quaint little cafés along Cezayir Sokak, power went out for half an hour but it did not lessen the pulsating vibe of the place. Candles were lit, giving the street a more dramatic look, and animated conversations among customers went on as usual.

Chez Vous-Istanbul-VickyRas-VSCOcam

When the lights came back on, my friend Kourosh and I walked back to Taksim Square where he took me to this quaint Turkish Pub for some Turkish music and light beer. As you know, I have long since turned my back on the bottle of bitter and those nasty cigarettes, but on that night, I thought, why not? I had one bottle of their local beer Efes and thought it was fine. It helped warm me up a little bit but I didn’t ask for another bottle anymore as I still am determined to stay alcohol and nicotine-free for the rest of my life.

Taksim Square-Istanbul-VickyRas-VSCOcam

The singing duo who performed that night had a pretty good repertoire. They sang a mix of English, Turkish and Iranian songs. The English songs I know, of course, but even when I don’t understand a single word of the Turkish and Iranian songs, I was nonetheless touched by the beautiful rhythm and melody.

Day Three. No matter how often we’re told that all good things must – and they always do – come to an end, doesn’t make it any less painful when you are actually confronted with the finite. That’s how it felt like for me when I had to pack my bags and make my way back to the Ataturk International Airport in Istanbul to catch my 3PM flight, first to Kuala Lumpur and then back to Manila.

Once we were done with work, we tired to do as much sightseeing as we can possibly fit into my final 12 hours in Istanbul. Like an overzealous tourist, I had my camera with me the whole time and stopping every few meters to snap photos of just about anything. Here are some of the places I have seen and instantly favorited. The photographs may not be much to look at, but I hope you guys will like the places captured in the photos as much as I have.

  • Taksim Square. Taksim Square, considered as the heart of Modern Istanbul, is a major shopping, tourist and leisure district famed for its restaurants, shops and hotels. We first visited Taksim Square the previous night and it was extraordinary. But Taksim during the day is just as enchanting, all the more because you can see the people’s gorgeous faces in broad daylight.
  • The Grand Bazaar. This huge bazaar was built in the 15th century right in the heart of Istanbul’s historical centre. Its streets lie beneath high domes and this is where you can find thousands of authentic items from jewelery, fabric, mirrors, fur caps, high quality ceramics, leather goods and various forms of handicrafts.

The Grand Bazaar-Istanbul-VickyRas-VSCOcam

  • Dolmabahce Palace. Dolmabahce was the Ottoman imperial palace during the 19th century. This is also where Mustafa Kemal Ataturk, the most-loved founder of the Republic of Turkey, resided during his last days until his death in 1938. Dolmabahce Palace is one of the most imposing and beautiful architectural pieces located along the Bosphorus.

Dolmabahce Palace-Istanbul-VickyRas-VSCOcam

Fast facts about Dolmabahce:

  • The Palace boasts of a collection of clocks fashioned in the 18th and 19th century including French clocks gilded in gold, elegant British clocks and also those made by Turkish craftsmen.
  • The Dolmabahce Palace has influences of French Baroque, German Rococo, English Neo-classical, and Italian Renaissance styles. It has three floors and a symmetrical plan.
  • It has 285 rooms and 43 halls.
  • The 36-meter high ceilings of the ballroom make it the highest palace ballroom in the world.
  • The biggest crystal chandelier in the palace is made of pure English crystals and weighs an astounding 4.5 tons and illuminated with 750 lights.