Christmas Shopping

I’m currently researching ideas for Christmas, because I LOVE Christmas! A lot of people I know are into tech gifts, so my usual google search involves the words ‘tech’ ‘rad’ ‘unique’ etc.

What I’ve found unfortunate however, is that if I haven’t found anything worthwhile or in my price range with those searches, inevitably, I end up on a page that’s titled something like ‘ultimate presents for boyfriends/fathers/boys’.

It’s something that irks me, because even though it’s true, a lot of boys like tech, so do I, and so do plenty of females I know.

And when you look up ‘cool tech presents for girls’ a lot of the time the products are  just lamer, albeit prettier versions of the boys toys. Or time saving products (you know, because all of the time traveling back to the fifties to do the ironing we have to do).

It’s definitely getting better every year, so there’s that. And the first product I clicked on while I was on the boys toys page was the Poo Head – Velcro Cap Poo Flinging Game. So maybe I’m just not as much of a lady as other girls.

 

Ramble over.

 

HOW COOL IS THIS THO

 

poohead

Aloft Santa Clara

We stayed at the Aloft Santa Clara this past weekend for our 4 year anniversary, and I really can’t speak highly enough of our experience.

The hotel is only about 9 weeks old, so the hotel is shiny and new and funky and everything cool that you’d expect from an Aloft. From the moment we arrived to when we left the level of service we experienced was outstanding.

Ryan had told the General Manager before we arrived and spoke to the receptionist as well, letting them know that it was a very special weekend for us, and they were so accommodating – we didn’t actually expect anything really, because we’re aware that Aloft hotels generally don’t provide extras.

But they did. From the Happy Anniversary from the receptionist when we first walked in  – to a knock on our door Saturday afternoon, where we were given a celebratory gift of wine glasses, wine, and a handwritten congratulations card.

It was pretty amazing.

Aside from that excellence, the bar staff were also so lovely, and the bar itself was a standout for comfort and atmosphere.The room was great, bed was super comfy, all those good things.

The location is a bit tricky if you didn’t have a car, but a close enough drive to anywhere you might need to go. They also have a pool that’s open 24/7 which is pretty crazy.

The Aloft is a Starwood Category 5 hotel, so 12,000 – 16, 000 points per night.

 

 

Players changes

I’m currently changing the novel that I’m currently writing (Players for those playing at home) from a first person narrative to third person limited. I find writing in first person much easier, even though it doesn’t particularly show in my writing.

“Third person limited point of view is a method of storytelling in which the narrator knows only the thoughts and feelings of a single character, while other characters are presented only externally. Third person limited grants a writer more freedom than first person, but less than third person omniscient.”

While: “A first-person narrative is a story from the first-person perspective: the viewpoint of a character writing or speaking directly about themselves and what they see.”T

Even though I’m 50,000 words deep on Players, yesterday I started playing around with the narrative voice and decided I would test out changing it to third person limited and so far I think it’s changing for the better, which always makes me happy!

Even if I eventually decide to change it back (just swap back to that edit), I find that it’s a really good exercise for me personally to go back through and really focus on the story and the development of character if I’m feeling a little writers block-y or lost in the story.

Which I am now.

I try to write every day on a number of projects, but sometimes when I get writers block on a particular project I give it a break, or rather give my mind a break from that project, and as good as that may be for my creativity in regard to that project, sometimes I can lose the rhythm of the story, or the heart of the characters.

Reading it back thoroughly and carefully is very helpful, and at this point, is getting me inspired and excited about Players again. That, other projects, (mainly short stories at this point) reading, and of course, general life stuff.

Like, the actor Shia La Beouf sitting in a cinema for 3 days watching all of his movies in chronological order whilst live streaming his face over the internet. I could write a story about that for sure. In fact, I am. Thanks, Shia.

 

(Small) Review of The Westin Grande Sukhumvit

We stayed for a week at the Westin Grande Sukhumvit using Starwood points at the beginning of this year, right after we stayed at the Aloft, and right before we went to Osaka.

Unfortunately I think I enjoyed my stay here less thank the Aloft for a number of reasons that have less to do with the hotel and more to do with me. I got really sick with a cold almost the minute we got to the hotel – so much so that we thought I was really allergic to something in the room (like the beautiful flower arrangement we had to have them take away sad-face).

I also had really high expectations for the Westin, driven even higher than our way better than expected stay at the Aloft.

Don’t get me wrong – The Westin is a really, really nice hotel. The staff are wonderful, the rooms are big, the amenities are great, the gym is small but good, and the pool is actually magical. But I was in bed a lot, sick in the head AND in the tummy, which means that like 70% of my diet was Macdonalds chips. Yum?

The hotel felt way more business-y than I had thought it was, and I felt like it was lacking in character because of that fact, especially in direct comparison with the Aloft.

The club was nice. Small, but comfortable with a buffet of both hot and cold snacks, including the usual cheeses and crudite etc, as well as Thai dishes. The staff were very lovely here and the drinks were to order. The location is pretty much exactly opposite Terminal 21 and the NANA BTS Skytrain- so pretty perfect.

We were Platinum when we stayed there and got placed in a club room with free breakfast.

The Westin Grande Sukhumvit is a Category 3, and will cost 7000 points or about $128 (current at time of writing).

 

 

The books in my life right now

I’m trying to commit to reading as much as possible right now, because, as everyone knows you need to read in order to write. And I’m really trying to write!

These are the books in my life right now –  have read, reading, or intending to read:

Elements of Style by William Strunk Jnr & E.B. White. Because every writer is supposed to read it, according to anyone who’s anyone. Currently reading. 

The Paris Wife – By Paula McLain. Intending to read. Intrigued by the set of people fictionalized in the book – Ernest Hemingway and his wife Hadley, F. Scott and Zelda Fitzgerald, etc.

Hard Choices By Hilary Clinton  Currently reading, on and off. Interested in her character, in the events that shaped her recent life and her ambition for the top job. It’s a little dry in the beginning, having some difficulty in staying focused.

Armada by Ernerst Cline. Intending to read. Really enjoyed his previous book Ready Player One, looking forward to this one.

The Narrow Road To The Deep North by Richard Flanagan. Intending to read. Man Booker prize winner. Australian Writer, has got great reviews.

My Brilliant Friend by Elena Ferrante. Intending to read. Recommended on Facebook by an old university lecturer of mine with these words – The ‘absolute highlight of my reading this year’ How could I not?

Mr Mercedes by Stephen King. Intending to read. It’s a Stephen King book and I haven’t read it yet. I love Stephen King.

We Were Liars by E. Lockhart. Intending to read. Highly recommended YA book. Sounds intriguing.

The Birth Of Venus by Sarah Dunant. Intending to Read. This, along with a couple of others, is a book I had intended to read while we were in Florence. I failed. Because Florence. 

The Book Of Fathers by Miklos Vamos. Intending to read. A book by a top Hungarian writer. I saw this in a Hostel in Berin and the cover art made me want to read it.

The House of Medici by Christopher Hibbert. Currently reading. Another book I intended on reading while we were in Florence. Just started it, it’s great so far.

Lone Star by Paullina Simons. Intending on reading.  I loved the Tatiana and Alexander love story that Paullina Simons wrote when I was a kid, and have been trying to recreate that reading experience ever since. I’m a little apprehensive about this book as I’ve read some not so favourable reviews, so have held off on reading it for a while.

Marching Powder by Rusty Young. Intending to read. Recommended by a friend, then buried amongst other books until I watched the (amazing) Netflix show – Narcos. You should watch Narcos if you haven’t, and i should read Marching Powder.

Natchez Burning by Greg Iles. Currently reading. Picked up a signed copy when I was visiting Harvard with Ryan’s parents. Didn’t get through it before I went home last, but wanted to still read the physical copy of the book which I left at Ryan’s parents house. Getting back into it now.

Harry Potter & The Philosophers Stone – by J.K. Rowling. Intending to read (again). Querying makes me think of J.K Rowling. The Harry Potter books are great and I love them and I haven’t read them in a long time.

Let’s Explore Diabetes With Owls by David Sedaris. Intending to read. Have heard a lot about David Sedaris lately, all of it good. Excited to read this.

Kitchen Confidential by Anthony Bourdain. Currently reading.  I love cooking, have worked in restaurants, and like Anthony Bourdain a lot. Liking it so far.

Holy Cow; An Indian Adventure by Sarah MacDonald. Intending to read. Always been fascinated with India, love travel books.

The Mountain Shadow by Gregory David Roberts. Intending to read. Love Shantaram. Have high hopes for this one when I can get my hands on a copy.

The Marble Collector by Cecilia Ahern. Intending to read. Have a love hate relationship with Cecilia Ahern and her books. Will always give them a red hot go though.

Housekeeping Vs The Dirt by Nick Hornby. Intending to read. Sounds awesome, and always ont he look out for more books to read from good sources!

Funny Girl – Intending to read. Love reading books with humour in them without being pure comedies. Nick Hornby is an excellent teacher.

New Boy by Nick Earls. Intending to read. I used to live a few streets over from ZigZag street from his 2nd novel. Read it when I lived there, appreciated him as a writer, looking forward to reading this.

An Abundance Of Katherines by John Green. Currently reading. Not totally sure about John Green yet. Enjoy his books to an extent – very easy reading and he certainly knows how to sell books. I enjoy his YouTube channel as well. Am enjoying this book more than his others so far.

Dear Mr. You by Mary Louise Parker. Intending to read. Like her a lot, this book sounds interesting.

Furiously Happy by Jenny Lawson. Finished reading. LOVED THIS BOOK. So much. I had read her first book ‘Let’s Pretend This Never Happened’ last year and enjoyed it, Furiously Happy is really excellent. Laugh out Loud a Lot in public type excellent. Read excerpts to your partner type excellent. Insightfully excellent. Loved it.

Modern Romance by Aziz Ansari. Finished reading. Funny & interesting. You should probably read it. And Watch his new Netflix show – Master of None. Master of none is better than Modern Romance, but only because numbers make me drift off focus, and there was a fair few stats n shizz in Modern Romance. And I was in Florence when I read it so I was already not very focused.

A Little Life. Short Stories by Hanya Yanagihara Intending to read. Trying to read a bunch of the most loved short stories as I’m trying to write more of them.

Runaway. Short Stories by Alice Munro. Currently reading. Ditto. Didn’t enjoy the first story as much as I thought I would. It made me question a lot of things about writing though, which is always good?

The Garden Party and Other Stories. Short stories by  Katherine Mansfield Intending to read. Ditto. 

Tenth Of Decembe. Short Stories by George Sanders Intending to read. Ditto.

The Thing Around Your Neck. Short Stories by Chimimanda Ngozi Adichie. Intending to read. Ditto.

My Salinger Year by Joanna Rakoff. Intending to read. 

Silver In The Blood by Jessica Day George. Finished reading. Easy reading and I finished it, but I didn’t love it.

The Queen Of The Tearling by Erika Johansen.Finished reading. Liked it. Will read the next one – The Invasion of the Tearling.

The Woman Who Stole My Life by Marian Keyes. Finished Reading. Because everyone needs a little Irish chick lit, amiright?  Easy summer reading.

Twenty Eight And A Half Wishes by Denise Grover Swank. Finished reading.  Didn’t really like this, a little too romance novel for me.

As You Wish by Cary Elwes  Finsihed reading.  As someone who loves the movie, this was a great quick read. Enjoyed it.

Sick In The Head by Judd Apatow. Currently reading. Not as good as I thought it would be so far. Haven’t read very much though. Have hope!

The Nightingale by Kristin Hannah. Finished reading. Took me a while to get into this, but enjoyed it more and more as I continued on. Worthwhile read.

Familyhood by Paul Reiser Finished reading.  Loved him as a comic, in Mad About You, and particularly his first two books – Couplehood and Babyhood. This was slightly disappointing, and I hate saying that.

Luckiest girl Alive by Jessica Knoll. Finished reading.  Eh. very Gone Girl. But I didn’t really like Gone Girl either. Might make a good movie, though?

DragonFlight by Anne McCaffrey Kind of reading?  I love this book, so sometimes i just go back and read parts of itI

Red Queen by Victoria Aveyard. Finished reading.  Really liked this book. Will definitely read the next one.

Shantaram by Gregory David Roberts. Same as DragonFlight. Will go back and read it again and again.

On Writing by Stephen King. Same as above. So many lessons in this book, it’s a goldmine.

Ready Player One by Ernest Cline – Listened to this on walks at home. Was great.

David And Goliath by Malcolm Gladwell. Currently listening to with Ryan. Enjoying it.

If you have any suggestions of other books to read, let me know!

The other things that I read right now are the Renegade Collective Magazine when I can get my mitts on it, because it’s the best magazine I’ve read in ages, and cooking magazines, because cooking.

 

 

HAHA! I’M BACK! With an Aloft Bangkok review…

Take that Thursday Eve resolutions! Today, you lucky sons of bitc*es get a review of the Aloft Hotel in Bangkok.

You should probably stay there.

Is that enough? No? Ok. We stayed at the Aloft using Starwood points at the beginning of the year. The week preceding the 26th of January, to be precise. How do I, renowned hopeless date rememberer, know this? Because that’s Australia Day, dummies. And we celebrated in style in Bangkok.

See?

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Classy. In the background, you can see the bedhead from our room at the Aloft. Fancy, huh? Well, the Aloft Bangkok is fancy, but not in the ‘your butler will be here 24/7 for whatever you need, sir’ type of fancy.

It, like other Aloft hotels we’ve stayed in is very loud and hip and architecturally funky, and lighting design funky. The nightclub that’s attached to it seems super popular (though we never went) and on Friday night’s it seems like it’s pretty pumping.

The Aloft is located in an excellent position in Sukhumvit Soi 11, right near the NANA BTS Skytrain, walking distance to all kinds of fun Soi’s, and right next to Terminal 21 Shopping Mall (killer mango sticky rice in the food court)

AND right outside are in our opinion some of the best Mango and Street meat vendors in THE WHOLE OF BANGKOK. Pretty high words, I know.

The rooms were smallissh but perfectly comfortable with a super comfortable bed, Mini Bar, etc. The Rooftop Pool is not by any means the tallest or most impressive in Bangkok but is big enough and has a good birds-eye view of the surrounding area.

Being an Aloft, we didn’t really get any platinum recognition, which is fine with us,but the staff were really nice and competent and we did get free breakfast which was pretty nice. Nothing outstanding, but your general Omelette Station, Sausages, hash-browns, fruits etc.

There’s an (expectedly) overpriced cafe, a Pool Table, an mayble slightly less overpriced pool bar, and a pretty nice little Gym that we used a few times until we forgot to.

Aloft is a category 2 Starwood and is the cheapest option in Bangkok, both if you’re paying in dollars (usually under $100USD)  or points (4000/night, 3000/weekend nights)

I have unfortunately misplaced all my photos from our time at the Aloft except for this one:

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So until I find them, that’ll have to do. Oh and here’s a link to the website so you can see what the hotel actually looks like n stuff.  –

 

http://www.aloftbangkoksukhumvit11.com/

 

Peace! xx

 

p.s. You should totally go to Bangkok, we love it there. I’ll write another post about the city another time… or will I…

So.. it’s been a while, huh?

Hi!

 

Yeah, it’s been quite a long while hasn’t it? But I’m back, it’s now 2015 (!) and I plan on making one of those New Years resolution thingy’s about being way better at blogging.

SO… what did I miss out on blogging about? Since the last time I blogged, traveling wise, I’ve been super lucky enough to have visited Beijing for one-night-only-craziness, staying at the super swanky St Regis ( thanks SPG points) and visiting Mao Zedong’s Mausoleum in Tiananmen Square, The Forbidden City, and eating lots of Dumplings.

I also had an amazing all-out birthday weekend in Vegas, a week in Boston, 3 nights in Osaka ( oh my goodness the food in Osaka though), and most recently a wonderful week in Sydney! Lucky much.

I also joined a writers group, who although I don’t see much of anymore, were extremely useful and helpful with my writing. I did a massive redraft of my book, and am excited about doing everything I can in 2015 toward getting it published.

I also started writing a new book. It’s something I’m very excited about and will probably be putting up a few chapters on here in the next year!

I’ve been collecting airline miles and have a super awesome plan to use them all in 2015, which will be crazy if it works out. Highlights i’m looking forward to are the possibility of going to a wonderful friend’s wedding in Dublin, to see an F1 race in Budapest, one of my favourite cities, with some of my favourite friends, going back to California to see some of those afore mentioned friends (yay) and hopefully seeing some winter days, cos summer in Australia is nice but snow is better.

I’m going to try and ease myself back into blogging and will try to keep anyone who might read this abreast of any awesome travel deals and writing and cooking and everything else I’m passionate about!

 

Peace xx

The DMZ

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So we were in South Korea, in the middle of one of N.Korea’s flare up’s and we damn well wanted to make sure we went to the DMZ. We rang our concierge to ask about tours, and they sent a lady up to our room armed with pamphlet upon pamphlet.

Her name was Candy Bang. We really liked Candy Bang, and for reasons other than her unreasonably cool name.

She recommended the cheaper tour ( a reflection on us? Haha probably…) but we were pretty unsure, so we said we had to think about it. The more expensive one was about $80 USD but you had access to the room where you can cross the line into (technically) North Korea, and the other one just kinda went around the edges I guess? We chose the more expensive one, because we figured it was a once in a lifetime thing, so we should make the most of it. And it was worth it. Every penny.

So we rang back Candy Bang, and gave her our passports and got super excited. The morning of the tour, we woke up early and got on a little bus, which took us to a hotel in the city, where we waited for a bit while a lady double checked our passports, and then we got on a bigger bus.

This is where we met our guide, who, for lack of memory, we will call Cute old jumper lady.  It was a little while out of Seoul, and she told us about the bridges that are set up to explode if North Korea invades by land.

The first time you could see North Kora was pretty exciting. Well, in real life it’s just bare hills across the way a bit but it felt exciting. The sleepy couple across the aisle from us disagreed, and showed it, by closing their little bus curtain pretty much right after that was pointed out to us.

What they missed, was the fact that there are no trees that you can see in North Korea. Just bare land. It’s interesting and weird and a little bit scary all at the same time, a bit like North Korea.

Our first stop was at  Imjingak, a park built to console those who lost people due to separation during the Korean War. It is also where the Freedom bridge lies, which was famous for being the place where POW’s and returning soldiers would cross the Imjin River from North Korea. There are a lot of memorial statues, and thousands of ribbons tied to fences from people mourning the loss of loved one’s stuck in North Korea, or just simply wishing the war would end.

This park was the first time we saw South Korean soldiers and their big, plastic counterparts. It was all very sad and very surreal.

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We then got back on the bus and ended up at a small café, and were given some Bibimbap. Each table was set up with a burner ( which we loved, because it was just like the ones I grew up camping with and which I made Ryan search NorCal for when we were going to Burning Man!)  Each burner had meat and noodles and there were side dishes of sauce and Kimchi and other excellent tasty things. Yummm.

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Next stop: the real deal, the DMZ.  We stopped right outside the official gates and were given lots of instructions. Severely, like our life depended on it. Cos, you know, it might.  We were not allowed to carry anything except one phone and/or one camera. A South Korean then soldier came on board, checked that we all had our passports, then a few minutes later an American soldier came on and checked our passport detail for detail against a list he had.

We were also given special tags. These were to let the North Koreans that would be watching us know that we were not big mean non-visitor types.

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We are then driven into the DMZ parking lot, we get off our bus, walked 2 by two into the little visitor centre and given an outline of more stuff we can and cannot do on the tour. And a contract to sign saying that we’re cool off suing anyone if we get, like shot and stuff.

The rules, were pretty simple: Don’t do anything stupid. Don’t go waving your arms, not pointing, not drastic or sudden movements, no yelling etc. Just go, look, come back. ok!

We were then given 4 minutes so that we could pee. Literally. And we all did- no-one wants an international peeing incident. Then it was on to one of their big green buses with cute old jumper lady still with us and the pretty jovial American Soldier from before joining us and off we went.

Exciting.

Jumper lady tells us that apparently there is more tanks here than usual, because of the current political situation, and other tours were not held in days previous because the risk was deemed too high. Yay?

We offloaded from the bus, told to walk two by two, which was fine, except this weird old german lady kept on trying to walk next to me and force Ryan ahead of me in a weird and grumpy fashion. I did not like that Lady. ( Fast forward an hour and she was complaining that she didn’t think the DMZ was going to be so ‘boring’. yeech.)

We walked through a building, down some steps, and saw the South Korean soldiers for the first time, clenched fists, sunglassed, arms at a ready, like, really ready. IMG_3614

 

We were then lead into the meeting room, where North and South Korea have joint meetings, sometimes. There is a table in the middle of the room that is split in half, closest side is South Korean, farthest is North Korean, and behind it is a door to North Korea. This door is now guarded by a South Korean Soldier, as previously North Koreans had used it as an opportunity to snatch tourists.

You can see Cute Old Jumper Lady in the first picture here!

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Sorry for the fuzziness of the fist pictures! It was, to be honest, a little nerve-wracking  and also felt really intrusive to be standing there taking photos of this guy and his fists. The last photo here is out the window, where you can see the rocks is the South Korean side, and the cement the North Korean.

We were only given a few minutes in the room, before heading out, again two by two back onto the steps. We were then allowed to take photos of the North Korean Building. This is where two things happened. Well, they happened in my brain.

1. Ryan tried to take a bunch of photos of me, which is cool, I obviously would want a picture of me standing in front of North Korea, but I couldn’t work out what expression i should have on my face. Surely i shouldn’t be smiling? But then if I just looked really sad that would be weird.  So I ended up with this:

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Weird confused Conor.

The other thing that happened was scared the bejesus out of me. Seriously. So I had this idea in my head that someone official had said that the North Koreans weren’t allowed to change the direction that they were looking if they could be seen by us.

If you look realllly closely in the above photo you can see a North Korean soldier standing in front of his building, almost directly above the middle South Korean soldier. I was looking at him. He was looking sideways. As i was looking at him he turned his head and looked at us, or rather, what i felt like, directly at me. Then he looked back to the side for a few seconds, then verrrry slowly put his hand down and picked up a small to medium sized, shaped, black object.

A gun, is what my eyes told me.

Nope! Just binoculars! How hilarious. I am so grateful that my disbelief that something bad would really happen stopped me from acting out what i thought was actually happening. Thanks, brain, suck on it eyes.

Here’s some more pics.

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The funny thing about the South Korean soldiers in that situation at least, was that they were solid, un-moving, ready to attack. The American soldier though? Laughing, making jokes, swinging his hands back and forth, walking around. I believe I may have even heard a whistle.

Also interesting to note is that the South Korean soldiers are there as part of their two year mandatory military duty, and are paid as such… as in not much- whereas the American soldiers are there as part of their job, and they get (apparently) really good danger money.

We were then put back on our bus, and drove back past the massive North Korean Flag that was built as some kind of weird flagpole war and used to be the the bigges in the world. It’s now only the third biggest, sorry North Korea.

We also passed the Propaganda village and the freedom Village. Both extraordinarily interesting places.

The Propaganda village, also known as Kijong-Dong, and within North Korea, The Peace Village, was built in the fifties and is believed to be a completley fake village to let the world know that North Korea can built most excellent villages and also to encourage South Koreans to defect to the North.

Freedom Village is the only village within the DMZ, it has around 200 residents who are direct descendants of the people who owned the land before the Korean War. These people are farmers, there is a strict curfew they must adhere to, and they must spend at least 240 nights in the village.

Cute Old Jumper lady said that they are apparently constantly in danger of being grabbed by North Koreans, that the produce they grow is some of the best in South Korea, and that they make about $80,000 USD a year, tax free. Worth it?

There were points ont he way back when cut old jumper lady would tell us that we were not allowed to take photos, and people sneakily took photos, but what was funny, and slightly annoying is that the American soldier later told us that we could have, and he had no idea why she said that.

We were dropped off at the shop, which was a mix of a eclectic souvenirs and a bunch of stuff that was made in the Khesong joint production facility. This faicility has both South and North Korean workers in it and had just the week before been shut down by North Korea. 

We bought some North Korean bank notes, small souvenirs and, obviously, some North Korean Brandy.

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And then that was it. We drove back, eavesdropping on some Aussie kid who was talking about his visit to San Francisco, and the awful bored lady complaining a lot. Even though it seems like we just kinda sat on a bus a lot then walked two by two a bit we were exhausted afterward. 

Good thing we only had to get the subway back to our hotel, grab our bags,  catch the subway back to the city centre and walk around for 2 hours trying to find our new hotel…

This was our last night in South Korea, but we will be back. Definitely.  We both fell head over heels in love with Seoul. We will be back.

Next up: Back to Cali! & Coachella!

 

South Korea

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About 3 nights before we were due to fly to Seoul, South Korea, the Supreme Leader of North Korea, Kim Jong Un advised tourists in Seoul to evacuate. I was fiiiine about going to Seoul before that point, but that little mini barely there threat under the guise of advice was pretty scary. Let’s just say it gave me pause.

I’ve been to a few places where people use the word brave ( or stupid) to describe, but I’ve only been afraid twice before. I didn’t want to be afraid this time either, and wasn’t really, but I almost was. What if this time was the time I got involved in a nuclear war?

Eh. Don’t worry about it. That was the message both Ryan and my innards ended up giving me, and I went with it, all the way to South Korea.

And Thank God. It was wonderful.

We actually flew in about a half an hour before John Kerry ( Secretary of state for those playing at home…) but were less concerned with this than by the fact that I was entering my 50th Country.

Getting past immigration has never felt this good!! I felt amazing. Ryan helped by screaming “50 countries!” and giving me a massive bear hug! Got a few looks…

There was a amazingly welcome 10 degree temperature drop,  the air felt clean and crisp, and people were all pretty and wearing jackets…  We got on a bus and it felt fancier than the plane we were just in. We felt great about South Korea right from the get go.

I had chosen this hotel, and it had pretty huge expectations to live up to for the both of us- The Sheraton Seoul D Cube City Hotel.

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Wheesh.

Ranked #1 out of 379 hotels on tripadvisor. Amazing hotel. The only small downside to this hotel was the pool area, which was small and weird honestly, but everything else was grade A++.

When we first got there we rushed upstairs for the platinum club check in cos, well, we were celebrating and we wanted to do it in style/for free… and the 2 hours of free food and drinks was ending in like 10 minutes.

So Ryan checked us in, and I got us drinks and food. Lots of both. Classy.

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We had a triangle squishy room for the first two nights, which was pretty awesome, and a bottle of wine to welcome us in, also very awesome.

The views were spectacular. We were on the 40th floor, and we felt like we could see everything.

Seoul from this angle looked like a strange future city, mixed with a little bit of old Asia- huge buildings everywhere you look, all off white, some quite dirty, both for business and lot and lots of apartment buildings. Almost all the buildings had helipads. Seoul is huge.

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The hotel is actually situated on top of a shopping centre, and after indulging in some wine, we headed downstairs to see what Seoul was all about.

It, apparently was about this;

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And, that’s about it.

Not really!

We were in Seoul for 5 nights, but it went really, really quickly.

Our highlights were:

Ryan surprised me on our second night  ( our 18 month anniversary) by organizing for the staff to have a bottle of wine and some of my favourite cheeses put into our room whilst we were out… and he doesn’t even like smushy cheese!! Really romantic and special.

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The hotel itself, where the service was impeccable. We would get greeted by name, nothing was too much trouble, they would try to make our lives the best lives we could have whilst in their care.  Which leads us to:

The people in general. From what we experienced from the everyday people on the street in Seoul, the excellent customer service is really just an extension of that. We would get waves, people saying hello, people making us take their seats in the subway if we had our backpacks on, people asking us where we were going to make sure we knew the way, asking us where we were from.

Ryan had to pee one night whilst we were walking around the streets, and he decided the subway was the best place to go, ( it was really late at night). When he got down into the subway, he discovered that the toilets were behind the closed barriers, but a homeless guy who was down there immediately leapt up and pushed the emergency button to open the barriers for him.

When we were eating a meal in a little street market, a homeless man came up and asked us for change ( we think…), before we really understood what was happening, a guy from a table across the way had jumped up and was walking the man away. He came back and apologized to us and told us that he really hopes that we are having a good time in his country.

In the same market, we were eating an amazing meal, and our table was quite close to another table with two guys. One of their phones started ringing, and it was the singer Psy’s latest song. Ryan sang the last part of the song, and the guys turned to us- “You know Psy????!” they were so amazed and impressed.

Right afterwards they received a meal which is quite famous in South Korea, and one that I’d been dying/dreading tasting. It’s an Octopus, taken alive out of water, dropped onto a hot grill, quickly chopped up with a hatchet into tiny pieces,  and then given to you on a plate. Still moving. Still moving for about 10 minutes.

These guys made sure that we had some.It looks like this:

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Except moving. That bits important.

The club  in the hotel was awesome. Two hours of free drinks, great, but also 2 hours of amazing and culturally relevant food. We sat in there a couple of nights and were watching the big screen tv at one end which was spouting forth all kinds of scary stuff from N. Korea. That felt pretty strange,  pretty abstract.

Some of the food:

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One night we met an English couple who were there for the dude’s work ( engineer in the gas industry I think?). We started talking with them and I got all excited about making friends, just like I was in a hostel, until Ryan and the dude went together to get some more drinks, and I asked the lady about the shopping trip she had evidently done today.

Fast forward to her asking me what my favourite brand of luxury watches were and how obviously I knew that I should never spend less than $1000 on a FAKE handbag. Waaaaaay out of my depth in that conversation.

We went to Gangnam, late one night, last minute, just cos we knew that we had to! It was pretty cool, lots of really hip bars and clubs ad stuff.

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Took photos in front of the sign, obviously.

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Insadong was a nice suburb, lots of little stores.

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The Subway was amazing. Quick and easy and everyone seemed happy although every single person on there would normally be on their Samsung.

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I saw one iPhone and silently cheered that person on. There was a little song that came on at each station which was super jingly and got in your head- in a good way.

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We went to Dongaemun and Namdaemun, both big markets, both situated near the old gates to the city. Namdaemun was where we ate the still-moving octopus, and was a big area full of open street markets.

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Dongdaemun  was massive and had shopping centres attached to the open markets which had stores that sold only one thing- hats, ties, scarves etc. Nearby was a part of the Cheonggyecheon stream, which is park of recent urban renewal, and used to be covered by a highway. It’s now a place where people take romantic walks, performances are given, etc. It’s a really pretty stream right through the middle of Seoul.

 

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It was near here that we stumbled across and amazing little food market where the ladies doing the cooking got us to sit down and eat this amazing pancake stuff ( we’re not 100% but we think they were Bindaetteok) and to die for Dumplings ( Mandu).

The men sitting next to us taught us how to dink Soju ( clear and colorless korean spirit)  and Makgeolli. The first is drunk neat and teh second out of a bowl. Makgeolli might just be Ryan’s favourite new drink- easy to drink, kinda tastes like a cross of sprite and milk.

The atmosphere here was so fantastic. Busy, smoky, really yummy smells, drunk business men stumblimg past. Loud, cramped. Wonderful. This was the first time we had had Kimchi as well. Admittedly, not a favourite. Sorry!

 

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We went to an orchid festival, which turned out just to be an almost empty island with some orchid’s on it.. still very pretty- see-

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We went to city hall and to the main city strip near all the embassies and were surprised by how many cops there were standing around- Ryan asked one of them if it was for something specific, and the cop answered that it was normal, so that people would feel safe.

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We also got dressed up like Koreans here.

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Our favourite suburb overall, I think was Hongdae- the student area. We went at a pretty non descript time, like a Wednesday afternoon or something, and it was super bustling, there was markets lining the sides of the road, loads of unique and different bars, café’s restaurants, and people everywhere. And a Hello Kitty cafe.

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We got some Bobba Tea, I bought a badass bright pink jumper, we passed a Hello Kitty Café, and we found a Cat Café. So awesome.

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You walk in, take your shoes off, buy an (overpriced, yes) drink, which they make in another room,  and you sit down and pat cats. Lots of cats The biggest and healthiest cats I’ve ever seen in my entire life. All kinds. There were rules, so you couldn’t pick any cats up or wake them if they were sleeping, or make them do anything that they weren’t already doing, basically. I reallllly wanted to pick one up and cuddle, but hey what’re you going to do. I was satisfied with patting the inquisitive ones that came up to say hi to us.

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We had planned to come back to Hongdae later at night to hit up some bars, cos we thought that the atmosphere would be amazing, but we never made it. Next time for sure!!

We stayed right in the city for our last night, as we had run out of points ( saddest of sad faces) and needed to be staying somewhere with an easy link to the airport for our flight out the next morning. This hotel was incredibly hard to find, and kudos to Ryan for putting up with my grumpy and tired impatience at this apparently non-existent hotel. I think if I was by myself I would have given up and slept at the airport for the night!

Some more photos from Seoul:

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Next: DMZ Tour.

 

 

The thing about flying…

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Saddened to be leaving Thailand, relaxed and happy to be going back to KL, and a little anxious about our impending visit to South Korea, we jumped on a plane back to Malaysia.

I used to love flying, and still do love most of it, but some things can get a little old after a few flights. her’s my list of what irritates me about flying;

* Really loud, confused or stupid people in airports.

* Having to climb over people or wake people up when you have to pee.

*The increasingly terrifying take off. I am getting more and more scared the more I fly. I have probably been on an estimated 150 or so flights and until the last 20 or so I wasn’t particularly bothered. Now, I am. Terrified, actually. It sucks.

Put in a more positive light, these are the things I LOVE about flying;

*The magic of it all

*Airport and plane food ( call me crazy, I know)

*That feeling when you’ve gotten through security and there is (usually) no barrier where you are now and where you will be soon.

*Airport people watching

* Airport security guys who are smiley, and also those who make it fun. Usually by making fun of us, but in a nice way.

*Bitching about people who take too much carry on luggage

*Reading about the place where you’re flying to on the plane

*The excitement of it all

*Free alcoholic beverages on some flights. Yay.

*Lastly, the magazines. I freakin LOVE the magazines.

 

Whats your favourite/most hated part of flying?

Chiang Mai

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We caught a taxi into town the next morning, sad but with a bunch of awesome memories of our time in Chiang Rai. We got to the bus station about half an hour early ( That would be my fault… !) so we decided to get some beers from the little bus station store, and sat drinking them in the morning sun while we waited which was pretty nice!

We got the VIP bus which took 3 hours, and cost 288 baht ( about $10). The bus was super comfortable, with huge seats  and snacks and water served to us throughout the journey.

When we arrived in Chiang Mai we were actually surprised that the air quality was a lot worse. Very noticeable! We got a taxi to out hotel – Le Meridien Chiang Mai. The hotel is situated in perfect position, right in the middle of all the action Chiang Mai is famous for- the Night Bazaar.

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We got upgraded to a one bedroom suite which was gorgeous!

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AND with a killer bathtub-

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BUT was a smoking room- with the smoke outside and the stink of smoke inside, we were grateful to be able to change rooms the next day to the same room but in a non-smoking floor.

The hotel itself had a very impressive, cavournous lobby, a great restaurant where we had the brilliant buffet breakfast, and a really nice, rooftop pool. They have a club lounge, which would have had great views if not for the smoke! But a great range of canapés at night, and a pretty good range of beers, wine, spirits and cocktails served. Yay cocktails!

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The first night there after the club we went out to the Sunday walking markets, which were great and abuzz and strangely enough, at night, you couldn’t notice the smoke. I picked up a beautiful hill tribe made bracelet, before catching a taxi to the Night bBazaar.

Here, I got an amaaazing foot massage for half an hour while Ryan- still pretty turned off the whole massage thing- started playing a dart balloon game which turned out to be super frustratingly addictive! Let’s just say that it was not the last time we played ( and lost) the game during our stay!

The next morning when we woke up we swapped rooms, had some breakfast, looked outside and decided to have an inside day until the darkness came to disguise the smoke. Our lungs were feeling it even from the few hours we had spent outside the night before.

The afternoon and evening was pretty much modeled on the day before- afternoon tea, which turned into evening canapés and drinks in the club, before we headed out into the night Bazaar, drinking some beers, playing that damn dart game, scouring the stalls and generally soaking up the atmosphere. I also managed to have Ryan get another massage which he loved! HALLELUJAH!

We also bought tickets in the market for an all day tour for the next day which we were pretty excited about. The tour was all-inclusive, a little on the expensive side, but included seeing an elephant show and riding an elephant, with lots more promised.

We were picked up pretty early, and to be perfectly honest, we were not feeling so great after a certain level of alcohol intake the night before, so the hour long bus ride out of Chiang Mai with a particularly loud cell phone talker right behind us was not enjoyed to its full capacity.

We felt a lot better once we got to Maesa Elephant camp. We got there just in time to snag prime seats for the show, where we saw the elephants dance, play soccor and best of all – Paint. It was amazing.

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As an animal lover I must say that I was a little nervous about going to the camp. I had heard different things about how well the animals are treated, but I loved it. The animals looked super healthy, and seemed for all intents and purposes to be treated really well.

The Mahouts did carry sticks with some kind of spike on the end, but I didn’t see one actually used on an animal once. This might sound naïve, but it really looked like the animals were enjoying themselves, showing off and playing for us. And the painting. Just astounding. This is one of the elephants painting:

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And this is one of the results, of which we are not the proud owners!

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After the show, we went for a ride on a cart pulled by oxes, which was pretty much the least impressive and least fun part of the day.

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BUT! Then we got to ride an elephant through the forest and through the river which was pretty great.

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After the ride, we all got on several rustic looking rafts, and floated down the river for about 40 minutes. It wasn’t exciting, or extraordinarily beautifl, but It was super relaxing and peaceful.

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When we got back to the main part of the camp, we had some lunch which was a pretty big buffet spread of stews and meats etc, before our guide asked us what we wanted to do for the rest of the day.

Now, the tour we had paid for had us going straight from the elephant camp to the nearby Orchid and Butterfly Farm, but our guide was a dude, so he gave us an alternative.

He told the group that they could split up, and if you still wanted to go the the orchid farm, that was cool, but if you wanted to go to the Tiger Kingdom instead, that was also an option.  Everyone said Tiger Kingdom, except one couple, who after sight hesitation, the husband said, yes, Tiger Kingdom.

At this point, the Guide paused, looked at the man’s wife and said, “Are you sure? Because I know you really love orchids and you were looking forward to it!”

The husband said “No, we want to go to the Tiger Kingdom” and the wife just looked down. Pretty sad.

So we all went to the Tiger Kingdom, where we had the choice of getting a photo with a baby tiger, a medium or a big ol tiger. We chose the baby, and we were led into this little compound where lots of little baby tigers were, well, sleeping. We got our photos, slightly uncomfortably because our ‘guide’ kept on telling us to hold up the sleeping tiger’s paws and make rawr faces.

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There was one baby tiger that was wide awake and playing, and we asked to go over to it, but we were denied. Hmph.

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The other tigers were waking up as we walked around ( apparently they sleep all day in the heat and wake up around late afternoon) and some of them were very big, and very scary behind not much fencing.

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We saw some tiny little babies as well!

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Later on, we read online that there have been some kind of attacks there, so even though we felt relatively safe, I’d say go at your own risk!

Next up, thanks to our dude of a guide, we took a quick 20 minute visit to the Orchid farm. Thank god, because we all felt so badly for that lady! So, the Orchid Farm. It was pretty. Some of the orchids looked like they had faces. That’s pretty much all I can say.

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Finally, back to the hotel, exhausted but really happy. The tour was definitely a highlight of the trip so far, and we had collected our first piece of art together! Drawn by Suda the elephant.

We ended our Chiang Mai stint by going for a swim in the romantic smokey evening, which apart from the obvious, I loved, because the pool had fountains and spa bits and dips and all the silly things pools don’t really need!

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Afterward we had some drinks and some food in the club, and had one last go at that damn darts game. We lost. Again.

Next stop: Bangkok Round 2!

Food in Kuching

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OK. So, the food in Kuching. We tried lots of different things, from street food to restaurant food ( the cheap ones!) to room service. Now, room service is not something we’re really accustomed to, but in Kuching, it was so cheap I must admit we had it more than once. In one day. Just kidding! Not really.

We usually had one meal each and it cost us about $9.00. Eating at the food stalls across the street, mind you, cost about $1.00-$2.00 per meal. We ate in a food court type place in town and it cost about $4.00 a meal, and we ate at one kinda touristy place in town, which cost about $8.00 per meal ( but the beer was really expensive!) I’m glad we got to experience all of these!

So Ryan’s favourite dishes were Beef Rendang and Roti Canai and mine were the Sarawak Laksa and the Char Kway Teow ( we also delighted in saying this to each other randomly, over and over. We’re a little strange.) We both really, really loved the satay sticks at the food stalls over the road as well as the vegetarian dumplings were some of the best I’ve ever had. Amazing.

I was going to write more about the food, with lots of helpful descriptions, but now I’m hungry. So, you know how to use google, right? :P

Semengogg Orangutans & Jongs crocodile farm, two attractions worlds apart

 

We hired a tour guide to take us to Semengogg Orangutan Sanctuary and Jongs Crocodile farm for the day. He was a lovely guy, really knowledgeable about the area and told us all kinds of things that we hadn’t known before, like how everyone thinks Kuching is named after cats- even down to there being loads of cat statues throughout the city- but in fact it’s names after a Chinese words that sounds like Kuching, and the pronunciation and spelling has changed over the years.

He took us to Semengogg first, but warned us although we were going to arrive for feeding time, the animals are essentially free to roam around the huge sanctuary, so seeing them is not a certainty. He mentioned that he had taken the American Ambassadors wife there four days in a row and only in the last 15 minutes on the last day did she see 1 orangutan.

We walked down from the entrance, not really knowing what to expect and a little troubled by the rules- no pointing umbrellas or tripods as the Orangutans will think they are guns, no smoking, as one of the Orangutans was a smoker when he was in captivity, to keep a fair distance, as there are some that they have no control over and if they get upset… well..

So these Orangutans are rescued/bought from lives of captivity, mainly from Indonesia. They are used as tourist attractions or as pets until they get too big to be controlled. We saw a mother and baby as soon as we entered the first feeding area which was amazing, they were just hanging out (literally), eating some coconuts, and the baby was swinging around. It’s amazing the dexterity the baby had.

We walked a little further and saw another 4 Orangutans swinging through the trees to the platform where they were being fed. It was wonderful, but, in the middle of the jungle, even at 9am, it was extremely humid! We were both sweating buckets! After about 20 minutes we went back to the original feeding platform to see the dominant male very very close to the road.

We turned our back to walk towards another one about 20 minutes away when we got a pretty sharp warning to move, as “no-one can control that one”, we looked behind to see the dominant male about 3 metres behind us!  It was really amazing and definitely worth it to go see them.

It was only as we were leaving that our guide chose to show us the photos of all the injuries of the people who work there!! A little scary! He said that almost 100% of the injuries were due to tourists doing something silly or against the rules.

Next we were off to Jongs Crocodile farm, which was a wholly different experience.

We enter, and our guide comes in and shows us a room full of pictures on the wall of small children being cut out of Crocodiles after they had been taken. Apparently it is a pretty big problem, but only in a few very select areas in Malaysia. Either way it was very very graphic and surprising.

We went on to see a bunch of crocodiles and small animals, monkeys etc, and I admit that I am a softy but it was so run down, the animals seemed to be in tiny dirty cages and it just made me so sad. Sad enough that I kept on apologizing to each animal, and then to Ryan for doing that.

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We went and saw the main event, which was the crocodiles being fed, which was actually really great, these crocs seems to have loads of space and were looked after pretty well and it was amazing to see the power they had to jump out of the water.

We also saw the biggest freshwater fish in the world ( GIANTS!)

We continued on down a long path which seemed deserted, there were crocodiles on every side of the very jenky walkway only about 2 metres down, we saw a small enclosure with a sad bleating goat in it ( food?!),  there was some bird shrieking above us in the jungle, we heard a gunshot.. which was when we debated continuing… was this the part in the movie when the silly tourists got eaten!?

We continued nevertheless, but the more we saw the more we wanted to leave. I looked it up, and they have been in trouble with PETA before, although it doesn’t seem (to us) that they have done much that they promised to do. There were also some crocodiles there that has terrorized villages on the island, so it was probably better they were locked up… Hopefully some things will change, and in the meantime, the crocodile in the feeding swamp were amazing to see. Such amazing creatures.

Karaoke!

Karaoke!

So, turns out we both LOVE karaoke, although I’m usually too shy to sing in front of anyone, it’s not a problem singing in front of Ryan! We were in Kuching town one day, having a look around at the waterfront

When we stumbled across a karaoke place in a shopping centre. 30 RM ( US$10) for three hours in a private karaoke room with a beer each. Umm..ok!

So we went in, bought some more beers and stayed there for 5 hours. FIVE HOURS! And we only stopped because they charged more once it got to 8pm. It was fantastic! Although the toilet situation was a little strange!-

So, we discovered that we really really like karaoke. Which is good, because we also discovered that a little karaoke bar in the market opposite our hotel. No private booths obviously, we were lead to believe that this was a very local place.

We went in one night and were welcomed SO warmly by the chick who worked there, with short purple hair and who always seemed to be sporting a superman  t-shirt. The place was pretty tiny, with about 6 tables and another 2 out the front, and there was about 8 people there the first time we went. I don’t think either of us had actually realized it was a karaoke bar- yet.

We sat back with our bucket of beers and were talking amongst ourselves when I realized that the song I was hearing wasn’t coming through the speakers but from the man standing about two metres in front of me. He had the most amazing voice, and we were stunned into silence, just watching him. It was a Chinese song so we didn’t recognize it but it was just so, so beautiful!  When he finished, we clapped; he smiled at everyone in the bar, then took his seat. A lady stood up, and again, one of the best voices I’ve heard in real life.

It happened again and again. And then they started to come over and talk to us, although the language barrier was enhanced somewhat by the alcohol involved, we managed to communicate pretty effectively and we always ended up sharing a table.

They kept on buying us drinks, even when we tried to, at first openly, then more sneakily, buy them drinks or even pay for our own, they would catch us and shake their heads, grinning. It was amazing, the friendliness, the singing ability, it all came together to make quite a surreal experience.

We went again, of course, and it all happened again, more amazing singing, more drinks bought for us ( in fact we never got below half a glass before someone realized and opened a new beer to fill it up- we had to do all kinds of sneaky things to be able to finish a drink to be able to leave!) and more open friendliness.

They even ( with Ryan’s help ) got me to sing! They put Titanic on and gave me the microphone and I had to sing. And you know what? I loved it.  So. Karaoke, fun. And a fantastic way to make friends with the local people in Kuching!

Next up: Orangutans at Semengogg

Massages, no pain no gain?!

 

So, massages are super sweet right? South East Asia is pretty well known for cheap relaxing massages and we were both looking forward to this! I have had a few, mainly in Thailand or as gifts in Australia and I’ve enjoyed all of them. Or at least I thought I did. For a while there recently I was questioning everything I knew about massages, my pain threshold and maybe my bones and muscles were different to everyone else’s?

First up, there was about three massage parlours in our little market place across from our hotel, they were open until midnight and cost $15 each for an hour. Pretty good. We had images of ourselves lying in pleasure whilst someone drove all the kinks out of our backs.

Well, they tried to drive something out of our backs. The girls were perfectly nice- they didn’t speak any English but smiled a lot. Maybe because they’re sadists, because from the second my little tiny Malaysian girl started my massage I was almost crying in pain and came out with what would become huge bruises across my shoulder blades and spotty bruises across my lower back.

I stayed the whole hour because, well, I’m polite and didn’t want to upset anyone and also thought that maybe I was just a giant pussy. Ryan was in a room over and I could hear him getting pummeled, and he didn’t enjoy his either. It was not, to say the least, relaxing. So I looked up the best place to get a massage in Kuching. It was a posh-ish place in town, they gave us tea when we came in, gave us a room together, and there was soft music and it was lovely.

Until they started. I told my masseuse to please use less intense pressure, which she misunderstood as more pressure until my body was literally curling up in weird positions from pain and she used less pressure. Still not relaxing. Still painful. Were we too weak for Malaysian massages? We tried once more, sure that it was our own fault, that same day, and we left halfway through.

Too weak for Malaysian Massage!

We have since had foot massages in Thailand, and ( apart from being cheaper at about $6/hour) Ryan still can’t stand them, but I think either my feet are stronger than my body or they’re slightly more gentle over here? Because I love it.

I tried to look up to see if there was any difference between Thai and Malaysian massage techniques and couldn’t find anything, only that whenever I read about them using pressure points my body shivered in fear….

But we will not give up! I am adamant that I will find a massage that Ryan and myself both will enjoy and love and so that Ryan can understand why they can be so nice!!!!  Not such a hard quest!

Kuching!

 

kuchingStarted off the day in Chinatown, having some satay before catching a cab to the airport. For our flight to Kuching.

Kuching is a city located in the Malaysian province of Sarawak, on the island of Borneo. A lot of people go there as a base for trekking the jungles near there, or to volunteer at the Orangutan Sanctuaries near there, but that was not our plan for this time.

So why Kuching this time? Well, turns out that there is a very cheap Four Points Sheraton at the airport there, and in order to become a platinum member with SPG, we just had to stay there for like… 14 nights. A really big fairly new hotel pretty close to the airport, and a 15 minute cab/shuttle ride to the city.

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We had to get a new stamp on arrival, because Malaysian Borneo has it’s own immigration processes (does that means it counts as a new country?!), there was the same taxi coupon deal at the airport, everything was super easy, and we got upgraded once we got to the hotel to a junior suite which was a really really nice room.

Our plan for this time was to catch up on a lot of work that had perhaps fallen by the wayside in the last week or so, to quietly soak up some culture, and to see a few local attractions. And I think we did pretty well!

There was a marketplace right across the road from us with massage parlours, little convenience stores, and a bustling open air food market called Siang Siang food court which served delicious cheap meals ( around $2) that were very traditional, and a selection of other restaurants and small poky bars.

We loved it. It was the type of place where we would get stared at when we walked around, but everyone was more than friendly ( wait for the karaoke stories!) and most people we talked to spoke English pretty well.

We were surprised when we went into Kuching for the first time at the amount of western tourists we saw, as we hadn’t seen any for the four or five days we had just been staying at the hotel and visiting our market.

The area began to get a very homey feel to it.  We knew the people who ran each convenience store, we had our favourite stalls in the food court, we had friends at our local karaoke bar, and we had the hotel staff that knew us. It was a really nice feeling.

We had breakfast included in the deal, which was a buffet that included eggs and chicken sausage ( but not bacon or pork sausage because they only served Halal food) hash browns and toast, and a large selection of more traditional Malaysian and Sarawak foods including Sarawak laksa ( I found it delicious, if a bit spicy, Ryan not so much),  Kolo Mee which is yellow noodles with broth and prawns, vermicelli noodles with chicken broth and prawns,  Roti Canai, Fish/chicken porridge ( which is made with rice and is very comforting) and Beef Rendang.

To be honest, after the first two mornings, we learnt to get over our ‘it’s free!’ ‘It’s traditional food that we have to try!’ excitement and tried to only eat a proportionally normal sized breakfast!

There was an infinity pool just outside the restaurant that we would go to do laps and we would try to read the local newspaper every morning, although we did notice that the type of newspaper given to us was selected on the basis of which one had less concerning news regarding the violence in Sabah province particularly.

We had an absolutely amazing time in Kuching, and over the next couple of days I’ll try to outline some of the hilarious, painful, memorable and beautiful highlights of our time there.

Next up- Massages! No pain no gain??

The Marina Bay Sands & Casino

 

This building is amazing. Like something you think you saw in a dream once. A dream about the future. Or the Sims.  Within, you will find the worlds biggest atrium casino, a mall filled with all kinds of super pricey fare,  a museum, two theatres, seven celebrity chef run restaurants,  nightclubs, and an ice skating rink. And a hotel. A very expensive hotel.

On top of the building is the Skypark, and in that skypark is the worlds longest elevated swimming pool ( they’re big on world records here apparently). This is a vanishing swimming pool 191 metres above the ground. It’s amazing. I think. We didn’t actually see it, because you have to pay $20 each just to go up to the Skypark, or $50 to eat at one of the restaurants up there, but you have to be a hotel guest to swim in the pool. Next time, right?

This was our last day in Singapore and we didn’t have a lot of cash left, so, sitting in Chinatown having a beer, we decided that we wouldn’t spend any more money, or get any more out… but we would try our luck at the casino.  Which is what we did. We made our way to the Marina Bay Sands, marveled at the outside for a while, got lost in the huge glitzy shopping centre for a while, then found the casino.

Visitors to the casino get in for free but residents have to pay $100 for a day’s entry (rough! And a little intimidating to realize the people you will be gambling next to probably have a lot more of a disposable cash than you!)

We started with $15 Singapore dollars ($12.07 USD) and put $5 on black at a roulette table. Red. Dammit. It looked like our Time in the casino was destined to be short and nor particularly fruitful.

But! Then we moved to the craps table. I never really bothered to try and understand craps, but when you start winning… well I bothered a little bit then. Cos we did, win. At the highpoint, we were each up about $140 from that initial $10, and we left with $200 after about an hour of play. STOKED!

We went to the food court to celebrate and ate some amaaazing food, and then wandered over to the Gardens By The Bay, which is a super impressive park with huge artificial trees and beautiful gardens. Just another visual treat that Singapore has given us.

Next stop- flying to Kuching, Borneo!

Sentosa Island

For breakfast we went to a local little café near our hostel that was recommended for the type of food Roti Canai which Ryan really wanted to try- a thin flatbread type of thing that can be made with cheese… We had it with some kind of meat dish that was waaaaaay too spicy for me!

We then took a cab to Sentosa Island, the flashy island resort that is home to luxury hotels, some beaches, universal studios among other things on reclaimed land about 15 minutes from the city centre.

We had decided to go to the S.E.A Aquarium which is the worlds largest and were pretty excited about it. When we got in, we got to hand feed and pat all kinds of stingrays and fish which was really fun,

and there was a pretty cool moving walkway surrounded by lots of different fish- but as we got to the end, a dolphin pool filled with very cheeky attention seeking dolphins;

We realized that we were totally at the wrong place. Haha. We had been taken to a different aquarium- The Underwater World by the taxi driver and had just walked in without thinking ( what dummies!). While we had enjoyed it, we still wanted to go to the new big one, so we got the bus over to the SEA aquarium.

Brand new, a little confusing at first, but the quality of the aquariums and the size of the tanks was astounding!! There was one tank that took up one side of a giant room and you could just sit there for hours watching all the different fish. It was magical.

That night we went to a food market called Lau Pa Sat that was fantastic. It’s open 24 hours a day but the stalls out the back are mostly only open at night from what we were lead to believe.

We went to those stalls to get some cheap and delicious satay and then sat and drank some beers outside for hours enjoying the smoky, hot, loud, and busy atmosphere.  Perfect.

Next: Chinatown, Marina Sands and Craps, and Gardens By The Bay

Welcome to Singapore!

To be honest, Singapore was the part of our trip that I was looking forward to the least, and I’m not even totally sure if I could explain to you why, except that I had heard that everything there was prohibitively expensive. We had three days there and were staying in a hostel in the middle of the city ( Starwood properties here are prohibitively expensive points wise!).

As soon as we arrived at Singapore’s famous Changi airport however, I started to feel differently about our upcoming stay here. The airport certainly is very nice, the most impressive part for me being the various sculptures and moving art placed around the place, the type of stuff you could stare at for ages.

The taxi ride started off next to a beautiful landscaped park next to the port ( one of the 5 biggest in the world!!) , passed through the streets used for the Singapore F1 track ( and recognizable from the PlayStation game) and continued on to the most instantly impressive modern city I think I’ve ever been in.

I know that’s a really big call, and is perhaps swayed by the fact that I wasn’t fully expecting it, but the architecture here is amazing. Almost every building has something unique, different and nothing like you’ve seen before.

After we settled in to our hostel, we set off to walk around along the river and the bay. The star of the show is the Marina Sands building ( s?), but the whole city is beautiful, and they excel at what I love to see in cities- the integration of natural water sources, architecture and culture.

The waterfronts are lined with all kinds of different restaurants, café’s and bars, with the focus on the views of the water, the lighting and the atmosphere. There are old buildings mixed in with the new that look remarkably well looked after and parks are dotted here and there.

We walked all, got drenched by absolutely pouring rain  whilst taking pictures of the Merlion, 

a famous statue which means that everyone is welcome here, and eventually listened to the grumbling in our stomachs.

We ate dinner at a row of restaurants called Boat Quay- taken in by the live seafood and drink specials that I think a lot of tourists fall for. We had a wonderful ( and very romantic) dinner here for a pretty good mid range price but if you eat here you have to be really careful as the prices can be pretty misleading-  for example they will have a meal priced at say $10, but in small writing underneath, it will explain that that is $10 per 100g, and the minimum order if 500g.

We walked to Clarke Quay after this, a bar/club type area, before heading to Chinatown. We saw some people drinking some beers on the street, which apparently is legal, so we followed suit, after asking about 5 different people if it was ok to do! Breaking the law seems quite easy to do in Singapore- buying gum, spitting etc- and the consequences are not what you’d be wanting as part of your holiday!

But most of the people we asked about the beer just laughed at us and said of course it is ok, you are tourists, you drink beer! ( not sure if that’s the stereotype I want to reinforce but hey…)

Next: Sentosa: Asia’s favourite playground and the day we met lots of fish!

Jetstar flight to Singapore

So, a couple of months ago we saw a deal on ozbargains.com for Jetstar- free flights from KL to Singapore. Totally free! (except we ended up paying $15 for checked baggage).

We duly got four flights for both of us, because our plans were in no way set in cement.  Others no doubt did the same because when we ended up taking the flight it was practically empty! It is a budget airline but there was nothing at all bad about the flight, it was on time, comfortable and the service was great.

No idea why Jetstar decided to offer this apparently one off  slate of free flights but it just goes to show that it pays to keep up with deals websites like ozbargains.com etc!