In July, the Bossy Flossie Family went for a luxurious two-night staycation at the Sofitel Hotel in Sentosa. The Sofitel, a French chain, is apparently a five-star hotel and our stay wasn’t exactly cheap at around $400++ per night. But, we figured that we deserved a bit of luxury. Our last staycation was nearly a year earlier at the Oasia Hotel back when I was still pregnant! We had an enjoyable time. The shower was oh so magical and the swimming pool was fab. However, due to the location, our mini staycation felt more like a four-star experience.
What can I say, I am a Penang addict. I’ve been to Penang so many times that I know the historic town centre like the back of my hand. Visiting the Tropical Spice Garden in Penang has been on my list for a while now. I confess it was because I had read on the Real Singapore Expat Wives Facebook group that it was ‘the thing to do’ there. Note to self: some privileged expats wouldn’t know a good experience if it smacked them in the face.
My trip to Mirissia was one of the best beach-bum breaks I’ve ever had. Move over Phuket, Langkawi and Bondi Beach with your endless boardwalks, “international” restaurants and sugary cocktail bars. The seaside town of Mirissa, along the southernmost coast of Sri Lanka, is the fairest holiday spot of all. Mirissa beach has gorgeous grainy sand the colour of honey, sweeping blue waves and a warm jewel sun that kisses and never burns.
This year’s George Town Literary Festival was a culture-fest of all my favourite loves – food, coffee, shopping, hot debate and some powerful poetry. By the end of my trip, I left Penang feeling energised and ready to pen my own moody lyrics. But hold on a minute… perhaps you are surprised to learn that I am now a poetry enthusiast? If you had asked me a year ago I may have said “poetry is for sentimental suckers”. Well, it is a woman’s prerogative to change her mind.
The highlight of my long weekend in Belitung was island hopping and snorkelling off Pantai Tanjung Kelayang for the day. The weather in Belitung is very much like Singapore, hot and humid, and it is easy to get sunburnt. My friends and I lathered ourselves with sunscreen early in the morning, before enjoying a light breakfast at our beachside Santika Hotel. Although Belitung is a former Indonesian mining island, originally named after the toxic PHB Billiton company, nowadays it is trying to reinvent itself as a tourist hot spot. Sprigs of colourful yellow and red baby blooms danced in the breeze along the hotel’s perimeter as we finished our brekkie.
There is an old biblical saying, “Give a man a fish, and you feed him for a day. Teach a man to fish, and you feed him for life,” which is a wise and heartfelt philosophy. That is, until you become the subject of such efforts! On my recent holiday to Belitung, our tour guide made us learn how to fish and farm for our supper with disastrous results.
I visited the Taman Wisata Batu Mentas on day two of my long weekend to Belitung. The visit was a unique way to experience the island’s natural habitat and taste locally prepared food. We also got to check-out some really unique houses constructed from water bottles. However, don’t set your expectatons too high if you plan to visit here. You may be disappointed.
This September, I embarked on a mini three-day adventure with a great group of women to Belitung Island in Indonesia. Belitung is not a popular tourist destination and I was curious to discover an island not yet spoilt by the hoards of water bottle people. Whilst I admit there was not a smashed avocado on toast in sight on the island, by the end of the trip I realised that Belitong is probably too undeveloped for my liking.
One of the most memorable gastronomic adventures I have experienced was a cooking lesson in a traditional Sri Lankan home. Sri Lankan food is highly aromatic and rich, featuring all sorts of tropical vegetables not to mention roots, herbs, chills and curry powders. However enjoying authentic Sri Lankan food can be a real challenge because most of the restaurants in Sri Lanka cater to tourists rather than locals. In Sri Lanka, it is commonplace to cook and eat at home with the family rather than dine out.
The Hunter Valley is one of Australia’s most famous wine-growing regions. However in recent years, it has also gained a reputation as an important gastronomic locale of NSW. It is only two hours away from Sydney and so the area is bustling with Sydneysiders on the weekend. In general, Sydneysiders maintain strict diets during the week, which often includes skipping lunch, so when they escape the city they love to pig out. Many fancy restaurants and cafes have emerged in the Hunter Valley to satisfy these growing hoards. There are also an abundance of cheese and chocolate factories in the Hunter Valley. It’s not really farming land here, but rather the shops are to appease the greedy masses. I mean, if you are going to pig out, you might as well do it properly by loading up on rich cheeses and sugary chocolates filled with caramel and nuts!
Many Australians turn their nose up at the Hunter Valley. They claim the wine is average and the Hunter Valley is just for tourists. Well, those type of Aussies are stuck in a bad time warp. They still harp on about “how great” New Zealand Sauvignon Blanc is.
I was blown away by Danau Biru, the blue lake, among other awesome sights in Bintan. Many residents of Singapore regard Bintan as just some island to go for a cheap day spa. But Bintan has far more to offer with incredible religious and natural diversity.
Exercise to me is the equivalent of green vegetables to children. Everyone insists they are good and healthy but the only way you can get those green buggers down the hatch is with plenty of ketchup and the promise of dessert. Simply put, I hate exercise. To make it more palatable I often try to combine exercise with my passion for travel.
Gili Air is remote tropical paradise. Quite literally, it is an island off an island situated off the north-east coast of Lombok in Indonesia. It has always been my experience that an island getaway sounds better in theory than it ever is in reality. You turn up to these so called “island paradises” only to find one of two problems – either the beaches are overpopulated with loud tourists and rip-off vendors selling sunglasses and sugary-drinks. Or, you are faced with miles and miles of empty beach and nothing interesting to do except read a book. Gili Air is different though. Not only is it beautiful and remote (I mean seriously, they have ban on all motorised vehicles for god’s sake!) but there are so many interesting things to do on Gili Air without the usual masses of tourists. Plus, credit cards are welcome!
A holiday abroad never seems complete to me unless I can participate in a cookery class. Like any true foodie, getting busy in the kitchen is one of my favourite pastimes. It’s also a great way to learn about other cultures. For my recent trip to the Gili Islands, the thought of learning some spicy Indonesian dishes against an idyllic island backdrop sounded totally peachy.
Why are yoga classes always taught by skinny white women – even in the middle of Asia? I pondered the question as a slender Australian women with spectacular flowing hair strutted into the yoga studio, right to the very front of the class. I could tell she was Australian by her accent. She quickly announced to everyone in her Aussie twang that the class might start a little late as there was a bit of a “ka-fuffle” going on with the audio system.
Good coffee on Gili Air, a remote island of Indonesia; you’ve got to be kidding… right? I was actually surprised by the number of great cafes and brunch spots on this Gili island. Cafe hopping is a very real and popular pastime here, in between island hopping, swimming and snorkelling. A lot of the cafes have an all-natural vibe to them, to appeal to the boat loads of SWOF (skinny white organic females) that travel solo to the island for yoga. That’s a big plus in my book! Here is a run down of my favourite coffee spots on Gili Air.
If you want to drink your expresso right on the beach then Mowies is the place for you! Admittedly the coffee is not great, but it is good. By that I mean, it is definitely drinkable albeit pussy-willow-weak. I like my coffee milky anyway.
Mowies also have some great toasted ciabatta sandwiches, which are good to eat for breakfast or for lunch. I ordered a smoked salmon, sundries tomato and blue cheese toastie, substituting the ciabatta for wholegrain bread. It came with a delicious side of hand-cut, golden brown fries. This is breakfast on the beach at it’s almost best!
The name “Breadalicious” nearly scared me away, because I’m currently on a low-carb diet. But I’m glad I overcame my fear and ventured inside. Hands down, I had the best coffee on Gili Air at Breadalcious. It was a little slow to arrive, as the barista took great pains to craft the perfect cafe latte, but it was deliciously creamy yet strong.
My worst fear came true and I also succumbed to the temptation of bread whilst visiting here! They have a great selection of fresh breads and you can make your own sandwich. I ordered a warm wholemeal roll with feta cheese. Take a seat in their outside courtyard and enjoy some coffee, bread and their awesome Spanish playlist!
Gili Bliss is the chicest place on the island, decorated exclusively in pink and white hues to pay homage to all the yogi goddesses on the island. Heart throb pineapple-shaped pot plants with budding pineapple crowns dot each table. You just have to come here, if not for the pretty-in-pink decor, then for the spectacular brunch menu. I ordered poached eggs on smashed avocado and wholegrain thick-sliced bread, which was totally Instagram-worthy! The eggs were cooked to perfection although the avocado was a little slushy.
Gili Bliss is also famous for their smoothies and smoothie bowls. I ordered a Brown Lady, which was a blend of raw chocolate, organic peanut butter, banana and coconut water. It tasted like a healthy version of milo! The smoothies are huge and constitute as a meal in themselves.
Coffee & Thyme
The location of Coffee & Thyme is pretty awesome, situated just by the pier. It is the perfect place to grab a cuppa whilst waiting for the ferry. The coffee is on the weaker side, but nonetheless they make a respectable cafe latte replete with some coffee crema and coffee art. Their signature drink is a thyme latte, which comes with a dash of thyme syrup.
It is worth having breakfast here too. Their menu has a plethora of Western brekkie choices, from pancakes through to simple toast and jam. As I was on a low-carb diet, I ordered a classic cheese omelette with toast. I was slightly disappointed that they did not have wholemeal bread so I had to suck-it-up and eat white toast. At least the omelette made up for it – fluffy, soft and cheesy!
B52 is a small yet very popular cafe. They do coffee and tea and they do it really well. No fancy smoothies, milkshakes or cold-pressed juices in sight here. But, you can order a classic chocolate milk highball, which is sure to remind you of childhood memories.
The breakfast menu is also simple yet good. They make their own sourdough bread on-premise each day and cook up the best peppered sautéed spinach I have ever tasted. If you order eggs, they come with a side of delicious, crumbly feta cheese.
Good Earth Cafe
Come to the Good Earth Cafe if you want to be kind to yourself. Everything on the menu is natural, organic and vegan. Their specialty is coconut coffee, which is essentially muggy-black Lombok coffee with a dash of coconut cream – I don’t recommend drinking it, but kudos to them for trying to revamp the local brew to appeal to tourists. Their home-made banana bread is a treat in itself. It is densely packed with loads of healthy grains, topped with nut butter and fresh banana slivers. But the best thing here are the fresh juices and smoothies. They come in trendy glass jars with bamboo straws that are so environmentally chic right now. The dragon fruit and pineapple juice was my fave.
Happy cafe hopping on Gili Air and feel free to let me know about more good coffee on Gili Air in the comments box!
Robert Stroud was a mean son-of-a-bitch who spent seventeen years as a prisoner in Alcatraz, twelve of which were in isolation. Most people hold a romantic notion of the Bird Man of Alcatraz, as he is more famously known, thanks to the Hollywood movie starring Burt Lancaster. The reality is that Stroud was an egotistic sociopath who was better off behind bars. However, one cannot help but admire him. Here was a guy who, against all odds, persevered under the most hopeless circumstances. He spent his entire adulthood behind bars yet managed to educate himself and become an acclaimed author as well as a Hollywood legend. Robert Stroud’s life is that of a man who refused to conform to the dictates of society. He frequently flaunted the rules and despite being behind bars, he enjoyed a lot more freedom than most of us.
I spent a long weekend during autumn in San Francisco, which was a beautiful time to visit. The sun was warm, the skies were bright and there was a pleasant crispness in the air. I explored the Mission District as well as visited the ominous Alcatraz prison. But what I enjoyed most about San Francisco was strolling around some of the quieter neighbourhoods and crossing the Golden Gate Bridge. This is a very doable half day guide to the quieter side of San Francisco, which includes great coffee, an indulgent chocolate sundae and crossing the famous Golden Gate Bridge.
I was in San Francisco recently for a long weekend and I ended up spending an entire day walking through the Mission District. The Mission has a reputation for dishing up some of the best home-style Mexican food thanks to the area’s Latino heritage. But whilst the desire for a taco brought me here, it was my toothache that led me to discover the amazing stories and colourful street art of this eclectic neighbourhood.
Vũng Tàu is a small port city that is a couple of hours away from Ho Chi Minh. I came here with my Vietnamese girlfriend to pay homage to the iconic Jesus statue. This white figure with arms widespread has become one of the most recognisable landmarks of Vietnam in recent times. However, no visit to Vũng Tàu is complete without trying the equally-famous seafood at Ganh Hao restaurant.
My first visit to Japan was on a business trip. I spent Monday to Friday working long hours and seeing little else besides the inside of my hotel room and the office. But I arranged to stay over the weekend so I could have a chance to explore Tokyo.
The Japanese believe that you eat with your eyes first. Japanese meals are always carefully arranged on the plate and bright colours and garnish help to enhance their appearance. Condiments are served in delicate pots and ramekins whilst attractive chinaware and chopsticks help to frame the dish. The Japanese also believe in good, quality ingredients above all else. Most recipes are designed to maximise the natural flavours and textures of fresh produce and therefore the cuisine is notorious for its lack of spices and complex seasonings. Why would you spoil a nice piece of fatty tuna with too many sauces and oils after all?
Kiyomizuya is a traditional ryokan located in the heart of Noboribetsu, a popular hot spring resort of Hokkaido. I visited Noboribetsu in late autumn to experience old-world Japanese hospitality and soak in the healing, natural hot springs. Noboribetsu is a corner of Japan forgotten by modern civilisation. The few streets of the town centre are sparsely dotted with old fashioned buildings and trim, black trees whilst the outer countryside is ravaged by wild rock, steam and volcanic activity.
A humble ryokan
Kiyomizuya is traditional Japanese inn. It is not the most expensive ryokan in Noboribetsu, but neither is it the cheapest. When we arrived we were asked to leave our shoes by the door and an elderly lady wearing a pink kimono bowed deeply in greeting. In Japanese culture, people sit on the floor so removing your shoes is an important social observance to avoid traipsing dirt through the home.
We checked-in and were shown to our room. It contained a small toilet with adjoining vanity and sink. The bedroom was modest, with a simple unadorned side table and two single beds tucked with white sheets and being coverlets. The largest room was the living and dining area, and it contained a large but low level square table so you could sit on the floor. The room was a pallid cream colour and stale cigarette smoke lingered in the air. It wasn’t classy or luxurious, but it was cosy and novel.
A set of Japanese yukata hung neatly in the wardrobe by the entrance to our room, pink for females and green for males. A yukata is a casual Japanese robe, less restrictive than a kimono and perfect attire for lounging around or slipping into after a hot bath. I took immense pleasure in tying my pink yukata on and sauntering around the room in true Japanese comfort and style.
The highlight of staying in a ryokan is the traditional meal service. Dinner is served to the room between 6pm and 7pm each night. On the first night we settled on the floor at the large dining table and we were waited on by the same elderly women who had taken our shoes. She set our table with chopsticks, hot towels and a beautifully printed copy of the menu. It was written in ancient, poetic Japanese language, which even my native-speaking Japanese companion struggled to read. It roughly translated as follows:
Kiyomizu sake for aperitif • Appetiser of potato and octopus • Assortment of sashimi • Broiled fish • Hotpot with local pork • Picked fish • Rice with chestnut and chicken • Miso soup • Pudding made of Noboribetsu milk
Each of the nine courses was served separately and with much decorum by our elderly host. She wheeled our dishes into the room on a small serving trolley. The food was presented carefully in ornate dish ware and arranged with such devotion and eye for detail. In Japan they believe that you eat with your eyes first, so the presentation of food is very important. The sashimi platter was a special highlight of the meal. Fish from the cold waters of Hokkaido has a superior fattiness and crispness of taste. The broiled fish and hot soup containing mushrooms were also delicious and warming.
On our second night, we were presented with a new dinner menu that read as follows:
Plum wine for aperitif • A dish of raw fish and vegetables seasoned in vinegar • Duck with miso • Eel • Prawn • Broiled salmon • Broiled hair tail fish • Deep fried cheese tofu • Broiled red snapper and king crab
simmered scalp • Roast beef • Salmon rice • Mochi for desert
We received our meal with the same cordiality and fanfare as the previous night. The tuna sushi and the snapper and crab soup were my favourite courses. Some of the pots of coloured tidbits were odd to taste and we only tried a spoonful before moving on to something more palatable.
The dining experience was memorable. It was interesting to sit on the floor and nibble at little bits of this and a that between sips of green tea. However as the menu was written in Japanese and the hosts did not speak English, I did not know what I was eating half the time. Some of the dishes were truly bizarre in both appearance and flavour.
Breakfast was served in a similar manner to dinner, but consisted mostly of oily fish, rice and miso soup. I’m not the kind of person who can stomach a fishy start to the day so I skipped breakfast at the ryokan in favour of hot coffee and Hokkaido ice-cream at the Milk House on Shopping Street.
One of the reasons we chose to stay at Kiyomizuya was because they have an outdoor onsen available for guests. An onsen is a traditional Japanese bath or hot spring and Noboribetsu is famous for them! There are nine different types of onsen-types found throughout Japan, but three are particularly present in Noboribetsu and offer different healing properties:
Sulphur springs are milky-white in colour and have an eggy-like smell. It is difficult to produce a lather with soap in such waters. Sulphur spring waters are known to help ease chronic bronchitis, hardening of the arteries and dermatitis, and can also aid weight lost and improve bowel movements.
Salt springs are the most common type of spring in Japan. The water is colourless and tastes salty. These springs are also known as netsu-no-yu (or springs of heat) because they retain heat very well. Salt spring waters are known to help ease neuralgia, lower back pain and poor circulation.
Acid springs have a pH of less than 3 and can sometimes irritate your skin. Acidic spring waters are known to ease eczema symbols because of its powerful disinfecting action. People with sensitive skin should wash their body with regular water after the bath.
The spring at Kiyomizuya is sulphuric. According to the Japanese, nothing is more sublime then resting your laurels in naturally hot water whilst the night breezes cool your face. I didn’t quite have that experience. Kiyomizuya has only one outdoor spring with clearly designated times for men and women. I went along at 9pm after dinner on my first night to experience this so called magical moment.
There is a strict etiquette you must following when bathing in the onsen. First, you must remove all of your clothing and accessories in the change room outside. Neither underwear or swimsuits are permitted however you are allowed to carry a small hand towel, which you can use to cover your midsection whilst outside the bath. Once inside the onsen, you should pour hot water over your body whilst sitting down (called kakeyu) and thoroughly wash yourself with the soap provided. You can then fold your hand towel into a neat square and balance it on your head as you descend slowly into the bath.
I usually like my baths boiling hot in temperature, however the water at Kiyomizuya was more lukewarm. I spent more time washing myself pre and post onsen than actually bathing!
The onsen at Kiyomizuya was very basic so we decided to indulge in one of the more commercial and expensive onsen at the bigger hotels. We went to Hotel Yumoto Noboribetsu, which offers all three Sulphur, Salt and Acidic springs. Whilst the onsen was entirely indoors, the experience was a lot more indulgent. Beautiful smelling soaps and modern facilities were provided and the baths were nice hot, with their temperatures clearly marked. The thing about onsen is that it warms you up from the inside out. After spending a good hour soaking in the waters, my face was warm and red and I didn’t need a jacket when I walked outside into the chilling night temperatures.
Nature walking in Hell Valley
The beautiful thing about Noboribetsu are the rugged nature walks. You could spend hours in the cool, autumn air walking amongst gurgling hot streams, spitting geysers and baron volcanic rocks. No credit card required! Take a trip to Hell Valley and forget your cares amongst these natural wonders!
I visited Noboribetsu in late autumn, when the leaves have already turned deep crimson and there is a refreshing chill in the air. Noboribetsu is a well known hot spring resort in the south of Hokkaido and a two hour train journey from the capital of Sapporo. I travelled to Noboribetsu to revel in the traditional, small-town Japanese hospitality it is so famous for. As our train pulled up at the station, a wonderful Disney-like castle loomed across the main road. I later learned that was the aquarium. But we were heading to the heart of Noboribetsu and Hell Valley, so we shuffled onto the station shuttle bus along with the handful of other tourists.
During my recent trip to Japan, I had every intention of splurging on a special Wagyu steak dinner. Wagyu is the generic term given for Japanese breeds of cattle, however the meat is well regarded for its tenderness, superior fat marbling and buttery taste, which is the result of strict guidelines for rearing and feeding the cattle. There is no one single region of Japan that produces premier Wagyu however as I was visiting Hokkaido, the unofficial foodie capital of Japan, I planned to have my special steak experience here.
On the Two Brothers website, Sri Lanka is described as the Jewel of the Indian Ocean. A more evocative name is hard to imagine. It reminds me of a romantic adventure, something like the Jewel of the Nile only with more opulent jewels, regal banquets and charming South East Asian beaches. I wanted to travel to Sri Lanka simply because it sounded magnificent. Sri Lanka’s rich history and poetic stories further sparked my intrigue. According to Hindu legend, Sri Lanka and India were once connected by a long, wooden bridge. Lord Rama crossed the fabled bridge from Dhanushkodi to Sri Lanka to rescue his wife Sita from the demon king Ravana. He eventually slew the evil Ravana to enjoy purity and marital devotion with his beloved Sita.
“How was your trip?” Robin asked as I scooted into the dark, leather booth of an upmarket wine bar in Singapore. I had arrived slightly late to meet my friend, who was with two other women. They were half way through a bottle of white wine. “Terrible,” I huffed, studying the expectant faces of the other women whilst darting a look at the wine label. Fat Bastard Chardonnay, Languedoc, France.