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Lake Toya, Japan

Spot of Tranquility.

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Little India, Singapore

Spices, gold and splashes of colour!

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Singapore Flyer, Gardens by the Bay

Garden City, City in a Garden.

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Bryce Canyon, USA

Thor's Hammer

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Chocolate Test, Singapore

"All you need is love. But a little chocolate now and then doesn't hurt." -Charles M Schulz

Sunday, April 8, 2018

Indochilli (Zion Road)

Indochilli is my favourite place to go when I crave Indonesian food, so much that I have been there at least 4-5 times in 2017. 

I suggest that you make a reservation if you want to dine there because it is often full by 7 p.m. 

We always order the Tahu Telor ($8.80). Who can resist the crispy eggy beancurd with abundant sweet peanut sauce drizzled over it?

The Kacang Panjang Balado ($9.80) is a simple dish of long bean fried with fiery chilli and aromatic shrimp paste.

The Sate Ayam Madura (S$10.80) is also a must order. It is a juicier, sweeter and chunkier version of the satay we usually eat. It's almost like a grown up version. Instead of the usual sauce with the peanut bits, the accompanying sauce is a smooth peanut sauce, which consistency is like peanut butter. Squeeze a bit of lime over this dish and you get a dish which is sweet and tangy.

The Ayam Pangang Padang ($9.80) is a nicely grilled chicken dipped in Padang style chicken curry. The meat is very tender and falls off the bone easily.

The Nasi Goreng Seafood ($13.80) was a dish I would gladly eat on its own. A slightly sweet, moist and aromatic fried rice with fresh prawns and squids, topped with a a fried egg. 

I tried their Kue Lapis Legit ($2.10) and absolutely loved the layered goodness which was not too sweet. However, the Kue Lapis Legit is always sold out and they always try to sell me the, not so legit, Lepit Legis Surabaya ($2.20) which lack of layers just makes this cake so much less desirable.

Food is good, service is excellent and prices are reasonable.

Indochilli (Zion Road)
54 Zion Road
Singapore 247779
Tel No: 6445 1766 

Spirited Garden (Jeju)

Sung Bum-Young was born into a poor family in 1939. In 1963, he set foot on Jeju to visit a friend. He purchased land at Jeoji-ri and in 1968 started to develop the wasteland covered with stones, with no water or electricity supplied to the area. During those days, residents in his neighbourhood called him a "madman" as he developed this garden. And today the Spirited Garden is a well-maintained garden exuding a zen-like feel. Entrance fee is 12,000 won per adult and 10,000 won for seniors (65 years old and above). 

Even at the entrance, we spent some time there as my father-in-law was interested in the bonsai plants. There was also a guide on how to appreciate bonsai. Unlike how I usually just walk cursorily from plant to plant, according to the founder, you have to observe the tree, looking from the bottom to the top. There are also several etiquette to observe, including not asking the price the bonsai might sell for as beauty cannot be expressed in monetary terms.

There were nuggets of the founder's own wisdom at the signs next to the trees.

One example is this: "In spring, flowers bloom and leaves sprout. Before the blooming and sprouting comes the formation of a bud or germ. When does this germ form? Many assume that it must be either winter or spring. The correct answer is autumn... Trees prepare for the next spring as early as the previous summer or fall (mostly in June or July). And then against the cold winds of winter, they temper themselves. When spring arrives at last, they bloom their beautiful flowers. In human life, only those who prepare well for the future by enduring hardships seem to be able to enjoy the beautiful blooming season of life just like the trees that must withstand the cold winter before sprouting. It seems that resolutely enduring hardships are a prerequisite to all successes and achievements."

For a quick walk through the gardens, it will probably take around an hour. However, if you want to take a more leisurely walk through the gardens, give it around 2-3 hours.

As we completed our walk around the garden, we saw the founder and spoke to him. He was a kind-looking elderly gentleman and was happy to speak to us through his translator.

I did not have much expectations of this place but this place turned out to be rather thought provoking, and allows you to draw parallels between nature and how we should live our lives.

Thursday, April 5, 2018

Myeongjin Jeonbok (Jeju)

When tourists talk about the food that you must try in Jeju, the two items that will definitely surface are black pork and abalone. 

We asked our Airbnb host whether there was any place in particular she recommended for abalone. While she was happy to share the names of restaurants for other kinds of food, she said that locals usually typically did not eat abalone in restaurants as these abalones are farmed and they would rather buy the wild abalones from the market. 

We decided to try Myeongin Jeonbok in any case because we weren't about to head to the market to buy some abalones. When we reached, we were told by the lady at the counter that we were to return in 45 minutes. She then said, "One five!" We thought that she changed her mind and that we were now to return in 15 minutes. It turned out that she really meant five minutes past one.

There was a small hut next to the restaurant, where there was free water and coffee for the loads of people who were waiting for their turn to enter the restaurant. If you prefer, the restaurant is right next to the sea and you can take a stroll by the sea.

When asking for a seat, you also have to place your order. If it is easier, you can just tell her "one", "two", "three" and "four". These are set out on the wall.

(1) Abalone Sizzling Stone Pot Rice

(2) Rice Porridge with Abalone

(3) Grilled Abalone

(4) Slices of Raw Abalone

We ordered Grilled Abalones (30,000 won). This was the first time I ate abalone in its shell instead of eating it out of a can. The piping hot abalones were thick and chewy.

If you order both the porridge and the stone pot rice, I think you would have a preference for either by the end of the meal. I preferred the Abalone Sizzling Stone Pot Rice (15,000 won) as the rice was flavourful with more ingredients (such as pumpkin) and there were always the crispy bits of rice that you can always scrap off. The Koreans next to us poured some water into the pot, covered the pot for a while, then finished the rest of the rice.

The Rice Porridge with Abalone (12,000 won) was comforting to the hungry stomach, but was otherwise rather unexciting.

We also got a complimentary fish which was nicely crisped and had a delicious smoky taste to it (but plenty of bones).

If possible, do check the opening hours. While some websites state that they are open until 9 p.m. at night, other websites say that they open till 6:30 p.m. only. You don't want to be making a wasted trip! It is also supposedly closed on Tuesdays.

Myeongjin Jeonbok 
128 Haemajhaean-ro

Monday, April 2, 2018

Gamcheon Culture Village (Busan)

Gamcheon Culture Village was easily one of the more interesting places that we visited in Busan. 

I suggest that you pick up a Stamp Map (2000 won) at the Information Center for a couple of reasons. 

Firstly, the profits made from selling these maps go towards providing free shuttle bus services for locals who face difficulties in using public transportation, providing house repair services etc. 

Secondly, for obvious reasons- it is a map so you don't get lost in the labyrinth of colourful houses. There are 3 recommended tour courses (marked out in different colours on the map) of different durations- 40 minutes, 1h 20 minutes and 2 hours. 

Thirdly, the map ups the fun factor by letting you collect stamps (those with ink, not postage stamps) at several locations. However, to collect the complete set of stamps, this requires you to take the Stamp Course which is around 2 hours. I am sure that children will enjoy walking the route even if it's just for collecting the stamps! 

Take your time here to wander around the nooks and crannies. Lots of interesting art works screaming with vibrant colours. 

This had to be one of, if not the most, popular artwork in Gamcheon Culture Village- Little Prince and Fennec Fox. I read The Little Prince at least 3-4 times in the past 2 decades, each time trying to see if I get a new understanding out of it- nope. All I remember was quoting this passage from the book "And now here is my secret, a very simple secret: It is only with the heart that one can see rightly; what is essential is invisible to the eye". 

There was a long queue on the right of the Little Prince, where people were waiting to take a picture with the little prince- every single one of them with the exact same pose. While I initially intended to join the line as well, I decided that it was perhaps best to leave the little prince and the fox the way they are, without an intruder between them. 

There were also plenty of cafes and food shops for you to rest your tired legs and enjoy some refreshing drinks or fill your tummies. One shop sold these interesting cotton candy in various animal shapes! There were also souvenir shops with absolutely beautiful items. 

Our elderly parents were not that interested in walking the trails (everything looked the same to them and bearing in mind the slopes as well) and were more interested in sipping their aromatic coffees. 

Overall, if you are the kind of person who likes to wander around and are interested in colourful artworks, this is the place for you. 

Saturday, March 10, 2018

River Safari

The River Safari officially opened in 2014. However, I never really had the impetus to visit the safari because honestly, it did not sound particularly interesting. That said, as I had a corporate pass to visit the River Safari for free, it was a good chance to visit the attraction.

As its name suggests, the River Safari is a river-themed zoo and aquarium, located between the Singapore Zoo and the Night Safari. If rivers do not fascinate you, there are two pandas located in the River Safari (which was really the main highlight for me).

1. Themes

The River Safari's attractions are categorised by major rivers of the world. For example, there are zones named Mississippi River, Yangtze River, Mekong River etc.

You can see animals such as catfishes, alligator snapping turtles etc. in tanks, both small and large.

Leaving aside the Giant Panda Forest, one of the more impressionable zones was the Amazon Flooded Forest. I never knew that the forests along the Amazon's bank could be submerged for a couple of months each year! Here, we got to see, amongst other animals, the manatees and giant river otters.

The manatees are large animals and it was quite a sight seeing them swim. As for the pair of otters, one moment they were sunbathing on the bank, the next moment they were diving into the water demonstrating their excellent swimming skills.

2. Pandas 

Of course, the pandas deserve a separate mention. Do note that it can get pretty chilly in this section as the bio dome is kept at a cool 16 - 24 degrees to simulate the pandas' natural climate.

The first animal that you see upon entering the Giant Panda Forest is not the famous pandas, but the red panda. At first sight, the red panda looks nothing like the lazy black and white pandas. This particular red panda was very active and hopping from one branch to the other. We were pretty fascinated by this cute creature.

Although we did not manage to see the famous pandas Kai Kai and Jia Jia the first time we walked past their enclosures, we waited for a while before walking back because there was no way I was going to miss seeing the pandas at the River Safari.

It was exciting seeing the pandas in real life, Kai Kai enjoying the bamboo like a boss while Jia Jia was just sitting back and relaxing, and simply enjoying her meal.

3. Reservoir Cruise

There is a Reservoir Cruise which you can board for free. They suspended the cruise when it was raining and resumed it when the rain stopped.

This was a cruise along the upper Seletar Reservoir and honestly, boring. We got to see a giraffe and rhinoceros at the ride. The guide also passed around some giraffe poo which attracted some curious looks from tourists. I would rather they skip passing the giraffe poo around because most people were either not interested or did not know what it was.

It was a nice, slow boat ride, where we got to enjoy some breeze. Other than that, there's nothing much to the reservoir cruise.

4. Amazon River Quest

There was also a Amazon River Quest right next to the Reservoir Cruise. It costs S$5 per adult and S$3 per child. You can purchase your tickets at the Boat Plaza. The signboard states that you should be prepared to be wet.

It was a good thing we were there on a weekday because there was totally no queue. There were a few mini roller-coasteresque drops but nothing too frightening. We sat in the middle and did not get wet but do not know whether those sitting at the front or back would get wet- if this is a concern, you should speak to the guides before purchasing your tickets. This gave some thrill factor to the River Safari, although rather insignificant, as the ride was short.

If you do not take this boat ride, you would not be able to see some animals, such as the Caribbean flamingos, capybaras, black howler monkeys and jaguars etc. Some of the animals had gone into hiding so we did not see them.

5. Food

When we were at the entrance of the zoo, my husband asked if I wanted to eat the food at the entrance (e.g. KFC). I did not want to because I wanted to have the cheesy panda food served in the River Safari.

I got my wish at Mama Panda Kitchen. I have to say that the price of food here is pretty decent and reasonable. I remember being shocked with the prices at some other attractions but am glad that this place did not seek to charge exorbitant prices. I tried the Chicken and Mushroom Bamboo Rice ($9.90) - nothing too gourmet, but decent.

For good order, I also tried the adorable Panda Chocolate Custard Bao ($2.90). I told my husband that all these cute food exist for females and children.

6. Planning your trip 

The walkways are covered so this can be a wet weather activity (except that you may not be able to sit the rides if there is bad weather).

That said, there are a number of activities which are scheduled at certain timings. If you want to catch those, I suggest that you download the map which states the timings of these activities. For example, the Meet the Green Iguana Grey Parrot is at 5:15 p.m., and the River Talk is at 11:30 a.m. and 3:15 p.m. We did not catch any of these.

There are hydration points around and you can save the earth and money by bringing your own water bottle.

As it may be slightly cold in the panda dome, do bring along a light jacket if you are not comfortable with a temperature of 16-24 degrees.

River Safari 
80 Mandai Lake Road

Sunday, March 4, 2018

Fatboy's The Burger Bar (Upper Thomson)

Before moving to my current abode, I used to live near another Fatboy's outlet. But, well, because it looked like I might potentially put on a few kilograms eating their burgers, I wasn't that interested in giving the burgers a try. 

However, as we were on a quest to try all the eateries along Upper Thomson, we decided that it was only right that we tried the burgers at Fatboy's.  

Their menu looked enticing, with a couple of arteries-clogging burgers. But the thing I was truly attracted to was the fact that you could build your own burger, with a good variety of toppings. 

I first chose the healthy sounding honey oat bun ($2), then chose toppings including portabello mushroom ($4.50), fried egg ($1.50), fried onion strings ($1.50), and topped it off with truffle mayo ($1.50). For my dream combination, this burger only cost $11, which is reasonably priced. The honey oat bun was thick and fluffy, the deep fried onion strings were rather addictive (except that it was a tad over deep fried, and a little dry), and the mushroom was juicy. However, the mushroom was slathered with a tad too much balsamic vinegar and it overwhelmed the otherwise earthy taste of the mushroom. All burgers came with fries. Now, if they ever want to expand their menu, please include fish!

If I were craving for burgers, I would bear this place in mind, simply because it is decently priced and the food is reasonably good. The wait for the food can be a little slow because they have delivery orders to handle as well.

Fatboy's The Burger Bar
187 Upper Thomson Road
Tel No: 6252 8780

Sunday, January 14, 2018

The Replacement - Lodge & Kitchen (Johor Bahru)

After yoga class one Saturday morning, my husband asked, "Eh want to go JB?" We had not gone to JB in years and decided to have an impromptu trip. Armed with our passports, we set out to check out JB beyond City Square Mall.

The Replacement seemed to be one of the more popular cafes in JB. It was located a short walk away from City Square Mall. Even at 3 p.m., the cafe was full. It is your typical Scandinavian-styled cafe, with white washed walls and plenty of lights. 

I ordered the Eggs Benny (RM 26.90). You could choose between smoked salmon, beef pastrami or portobello mushroom. I liked how the hollandaise sauce was used to decorate the plate, instead of spamming it over the eggs. The hollandaise sauce was not too overpowering and was well-balanced, without being too sour. They decided to up it one notch- it's not simply poached eggs, but "63 degrees celcius eggs". The natural question is, "What the Heck is a 63-Degree Egg"? The eggs were done just the way I liked it- firm on the outside and moderately molten in the inside. The eggs were served on juicy portobello mushrooms, and laid on lightly buttered and toasted ciabatta.

My husband ordered the Berries Compote French Toast (RM 20.90). The homemade brioche bread is pan-fried with egg, butter and cinnamon mix. There was a hint of cinnamon with each bite and if you have a sweet tooth, this would delight you.

The food was pleasing but we felt that the portion was a little small. That said, the portion size is probably proportionate to the reasonable prices. 

The Replacement - Lodge & Kitchen 
33 & 34 Jalan Dhoby
Johor Bahru 80000
Tel No: 0167132714

Monday, January 1, 2018

Tiong Bahru Bakery (Raffles City)

Tiong Bahru Bakery used to be crowded all the time at its Eng Hoon branch. It was therefore good news when they set up branches in the city as well. 

After a heavy lunch, we decided to get some dessert. I got an Almond Croissant ($4.20). I didn't use to be a fan of croissants because to me, they were just pastry loaded with butter. However, recently I tried the almond croissants at AM Bakery and got hooked onto it. The Almond Croissant here is flaky, crispy and dense with almond paste, with a generous sprinkling of sliced almonds on the exterior. 

We also had a Lemon Tart ($6.10). The sweetness and sourness of the lemon tart were well balanced, with neither overpowering the other. It made for a nice post-lunch perk-me-up.

Tiong Bahru Bakery 
Raffles City Shopping Centre
252 North Bridge Road
Singapore 179103
Tel No: 6333 4160 

Saturday, December 23, 2017

Shamwari Game Reserve (South Africa)

We have never spent anything above S$300 for 2 people when choosing our accommodation. It was therefore a crazy splurge when we decided to pay S$1,200 per night for our accommodation at Shamwari Game Reserve (Sarili Lodge). We had to do it because we knew that we were not going to visit South Africa without visiting a safari. 

1. Accommodation 

The lodge was clean and felt luxurious. The bed was large and you could choose from a menu of pillows. We had good views of the grass plains. 

If there is nothing to do, you can always lounge around at the sofa and watch TV. The staff placed some fudge next to our bedsides each evening as well. I am not a fan of the exceedingly sweet fudge but appreciate the gesture. There was also a mini booklet with legends surrounding particular animals- that proved to be an interesting read although the words were a little small for my old eyes.

The toilet was large. There were basins for two and a large bathtub.

My only gripe was that when I first turned on the tap, yellow water started flowing out, which freaked me out a little. After running the tap for a while, the water finally became clear again. That said, I am not sure how clean the water supply is.

There were also great smelling body and hair products.

They were also thoughtful to provide a bag of essentials, including a hand sanitiser, some tissue paper and a bag of nuts. There was also a Species Check List on the animals that you may possibly encounter, although I highly doubt if anybody seriously looks at it. There was also a weather report that they prepare, probably so that they can moderate people's expectations. However, what we learnt from our drives, was that the weather could be rather unpredictable.

2) Food 

Everything, including food and the drives, is included in the package. You would definitely not go hungry. We ate so much on the first day that we decided that we had to refuse some food on the second day, or risk feeling bloated all the time.

When it was warmer, we sat at the balcony to enjoy our meals. When it was cooler, meals would be indoors.

Meals consist of pre-breakfast (if you are going out for an early game drive), breakfast, lunch, teatime, snacks in the evening as well as dinner. Breakfast and teatime would be together with the ranger, you are on your own for lunch and dinner is with the ranger every alternate night. If you are awkward with people you are not familiar with, there may be moments of awkwardness during your meals with the ranger.

The food presentation looked good and their menu made each dish sound incredibly scrumptious. The portions were large, although the quality of food does not really match its presentation. The meals were largely average to slightly above average. They cater for vegetarians as well.

For breakfast, there was a menu you could choose from and a side table where you could take some ham, cereal etc. For lunch and dinner, it was a three course meal where there was quite a variety to choose from. During the meals, you could also choose the drinks that you will be enjoying on your game drive.

Teatime consisted of a variety of pastries which differed each day. On the days we were there, we had some scones and lemon rosemary cake. There were also some light snacks such as liquorice or sunflower seeds that you could bring along for your game drive. Every other night, there would also be a braai, where you could choose from a variety of grilled meats.

3) Amenities 

While spa treatments are available, we did not go for them. There was also a swimming people which looked rather miserable in size. But I guess you don't really go to a safari to dip in the pool.

4) Game drives 

Now, the most important part- the game drives.

There are 2 game drives a day, each lasting around 3 hours, one in the morning and one in the afternoon. The game drive in the morning would usually start at 5:30 a.m. thereabouts. However, our ranger suggested that since it would be cloudy anyway, it is likely that there would be no difference even if we went out at 9 a.m. So that was what we did. The evening game drive would start at around 4 p.m. There were blankets on the vehicle, which proved to be extremely useful as it could get pretty windy on the drive.

Being on the game drive was like watching national geographic live. It was interesting to see the animals do their own thing, and you would never know what you would see on every game drive.

Our ranger was humorous and obviously knew quite a bit about animals. On drives where all the animals went into hiding (because it was raining), he would try to point out other things, such as identifying the animals' footsteps or talk about certain vegetation.

During the evening drives, the ranger would drive to some spot in the reserve and set out a picnic of sorts, complete with snacks and drinks.

5) Service 

We encountered very good service. Every time we came back from a game drive, there would be someone giving us warm hand towels and ready with a cup of hot drink, such as hot chocolate or apple tea.

6) Others

After checking out, we visited the Born Free Big Cat Sanctuaries. The sanctuary collaborates with the Born Free Foundation, which rescues animals from captivity and cares for them for the rest of their life. It was around an hour's walk and it was more of an educational tour to draw the public's attention to the plight of animals held in captivity.

7) Conclusion 

Overall, it was an eye opening experience, complete with a luxurious stay. It felt like 2 days was just right.