About orionstar

Easily amused, easily interested, easily bored. Always looking out for new experiences..The world is so vast...

One more time in Bangkok…

In our division of about 20 people, my colleague “F” is likely, no make that highly likely, the only one who hasn’t been to Bangkok (BKK). Almost everyone I know had been to this popular city in region known for their good food, shopping, body massages among other things… Having been there several times over the past decade, it’s clearly one of my favourite travel destination. So I’d suggested to F if she would like to visit BKK and I don’t mind visiting the city again (had been there in Apr this year), and she was totally game. That sounds like a plan which had happened last weekend.

Since it’s her first time in BKK, I had offered to plan the itinerary. Heh, the privilege of being a “first-timer” otherwise she would have to join in the planning too, and you know I’ll plan down by the hour and min. Super anal but it beats trying to figure where to go, what to do while over there and waste precious time. Ha… It’s also an opportunity to check out certain places which I have not visited in a long time or not at all. For a first-timer, I’d thought there should, at least, be a temple visit. BKK is not all about shopping, eating and massages you know.

Anyway, we had taken only Fri off so it’s a pretty short trip.

Day 1

We had arrived at our hotel slightly past noon. Could have been earlier, no thanks to the delay in departure at Changi Airport. Thankfully, our room was ready so without wasting much time, we had quickly drop our stuff and had a quick lunch at both “Ban Khun Mae” (one of my favourite Thai restaurants in Siam Square) and “Som Tam”. Both are just next to our hotel.  Had posted about these 2 places before. I love the som tam (papaya salad) at “Som Tam” but this time round, whoever who’s making it was very generous with the chilli. It was too spicy for me! Phew!!!

After lunch, we hopped on the BTS (Skytrain) and alight at Saphan Taksin station. The station is just next to the Sathorn Pier (Central Pier) where we plan to board the boat to visit Wat Pho (Temple of the Reclining Buddha).

Now, about the boat ride…… It took me a while to figure out the whole boat ride planning. Some 10 years ago, I had joined a travel group so the boat ride was all arranged for. But now, I had to plan on my own and the main website can be quite confusing. Thankfully, there are some great tips in Trip Advisor and other forum pages that help me understand which boat to take, the walking directions and all that.

So, here’s the low-down…

Unless you are ok to fork out THB 150 (SGD 6) per pax or more for some meals or whatever entertainment on board in a more comfortable setting, I would suggest to board the orange flag boat. Ok, you may ask, what orange flag boat? How do you know it’s orange?

There are several lines (or different coloured flags) in operation but the orange flag boat operates daily and stops at most of the common piers such as the Grand Palace, Wat Pho and others. There will be an orange flag stuck on to the boat. Some parts of the boat might be painted orange as well. Think it’s quite hard to miss a colour like orange so be on the alert at Sathorn pier.

The ticket costs THB 15 (SGD 0.60) per pax one-way. This boat is mainly used as a form of public transportation so at certain times of the day, it can get really packed. Literally packed like sardines.

If you are still not sure where to queue to board the orange boat, just ask somebody and mention “orange boat”. We were directed to a make-shift ticket counter, which was just a table, to buy the ticket before boarding. The ticket is THB 15 per pax flat. So if someone tries to charge you anything more than that, walk away and find the right counter or buy the ticket on board.

The human traffic gets progressively crowded as more people had board the boat along the way. Be sure to look out for the signboard at each pier with the pier number clearly stated. For Wat Pho, we had to alight at Tha Tien Pier no. 8. For certain key attractions, I think the ticket person on the boat may shout out the name of the attraction. Well, the one on our boat did. When approaching your destination, it’s best to move to the back of the boat for easier and faster disembarkment especially when the boat is packed. I would suggest avoid going right to the front of the boat if you are gonna alight after a few stops.

Tha Tien pier is next to a market so we had to go through a narrow pathway with shops selling souvenirs along the sides. I supposed there’s a fish market somewhere cos the fishy smell in the air is quite strong. Or it could just be from the tons of stalls selling dried fish, shrimps and cuttlefish.

Watch out for traffic at the inter-section and after weaving through these vehicles, we had reached Wat Pho. We’ve got about an hour plus before the temple closes at 6pm.

Founded in 1781, Wat Pho is one of the largest and oldest temples in Bangkok. It is also the birthplace of traditional Thai massages. For those who love these massages, you should try them at the spa in the temple.

The entrance fee is THB 100 per pax for foreigners. Think locals enter for free. The ticket comes with a small bottle of water. Hey, there’s even wifi available.

The first stop was the temple of the magnificent reclining Buddha. The Buddha is 46 m long and covered in gold leaf. F and I were totally in awe. The Buddha’s feet along measures at 5m long with intricate carvings in mother-of-pearl.

By the way, do wear something that can cover up your legs, at least till the knees, and nothing too revealing or low-cut, or else you have to drape this awfully bright lime-green jacket before entering the temple. God knows how many sweaty bodies had been in those jackets. If you need to erm, flaunt your assets outside of the temple, it might be a good idea to bring a sheer shawl, that you can stash in your bag, as a make-shift wrap-around skirt just before entering the temple.

We had also checked out the rest of Wat Pho. Had read from Wikipedia that there are 91 chedis (stupas), 4 viharas (halls) and a central shrine. 71 chedis had contained the ashes of the royal family while the large ones contain the ashes of Buddha.

Something funny had happened when we were sitting in front of the Buddha in one of the viharas, enjoying the peace and being in a reflective mood. Suddenly, a loud “pooooot” disrupted the serenity of the ambience.

OMG… This caucasian guy next to us had farted. Within split seconds, we had got our butts off and fled from the hall. I can’t even bear to turn around and look at him. Maybe he’ll be like, what’s the big deal bitches or who knows, feel embarrassed. Either way, we didn’t want to know. I know he can’t stop his fart but it’s just so loud and sudden that it’s kinda amusing. Anyway, we are not going to hang around to decipher if the putrid gaseous concoction is a blend of Tom Yam Goong and Pad Thai. LOL…

After about an hour, it’s time to get on the boat and head back to Siam Square. It can get very messy at the pier. There’s also another queue for a ferry service, at THB 3 per pax, across the river to Wat Arun. Wat Arun would close at 5pm so we had skipped that visit.

There are queue markings on the ground to differentiate the arriving and departing traffic but in a packed human traffic situation, the segregation might not be that clear. The space near the pier is rather tight and the badly circulated air reeked of something between fishiness, perspiration and pee. I can barely breathe in that congested area. It was so crowded that we’d just claw our way to the open-air area of the pier.

There is someone deployed at the pier to direct traffic. Again, if unsure, just mention “Sathorn” to this person and if she is kind enough and not too distracted, she will alert you when the boat arrives. Remember, take the orange boat. For the return trip, you can buy the ticket on the boat.

The return boat was freaking packed! Really hate to be squashed in such crowd but no choice if we wanna take the boat back to the BTS station. And we want to get back as soon as possible!

When we’d reached Siam Station, we were not feeling very hungry but in dire need of a cool drink and some air-con. Had to show F the very cutely decorated “Mr Jones Orphanage” cafe. Don’t know why it was called “orphanage”. Sounds kinda sad? For the teddy bears, I guess.

All the cakes look really amazing but we had settled for the Rocher cake. The cake was reasonably moist but not as rich as it looked, which is ok. Dry chocolate cakes are the worst. Unfortunately, the service wasn’t that responsive. Guess the high backs of the chairs, made to look like seats in a railway dining carriage, did little to give them visibility over the customers. Most of them were just happy standing near the main entrance and chatting. We had to wave our arms like crazy chimpanzees just to get their attention. Tsk tsk…

We were still not very hungry yet so had decided to feast our eyes on the very pretty desserts at the basement of Siam Paragon. They all look so gooood!!

For our first day, we’d decided not to tire ourselves with too much travelling around and pretty much stick to the Siam Square area. The next day would be a long one cos it’s the only full day we had. Hence, we had spent the rest of the evening checking out the night market along the stretch opposite Siam Paragon and Siam Center, all the way to MBK.

Oh but before that, we went for a Thai massage at “Issey”, opposite our hotel. It’s THB 300 (SGD 12) for an hour of full body massage. That’s a good price. In S’pore, a massage like this would be triple the price or even more, if they throw in some fancy body oil.

The massage was good. Though I am not too fond of massages but once in a while, I don’t mind some kneading to loosen those tense muscles. My masseuse had really worked my body like a piece of dough. The part that always made me nervous was at the last bit where she would twist my body to each side till there’s a “crack” sound. I’d always fear my lower spine would be twisted out of position or something.

At the night market, we had picked up quite a few good buys that are around THB 200 (SGD 8) per piece. Not all the clothes suit me. Either the cutting is too small and best suited for petite frames or the designs are too cutesy. Sigh… But I did manage to get meself a black chiffon-like blouse and a cute (oh I can’t resist this one) top with lots of sausage dog prints on it.

Had settled dinner at some nearby eatery that opened till late. No biggie about the food. In fact, it wasn’t that good, so I shall not post anything about it.

Day 2

Had a quick brunch at “Ros’ni” at Siam Paragon basement. Tried the Khao Soi which is a Northern Thailand dish consists of egg noodles in chicken curry topped with crispy (deep-fried) egg noodles. Interesting. The curry was very rich. We also tried the Pad Thai. It’s decent. If we have more time, we would have tried the Pad Thai at Sukhumvit Soi 38 on one of the nights, where there is a stall which is the winner of some Thai cooking contest for Pad Thai. Ah, another time then.

Off to Chatuchak Market!

The last time I was at Chatuchak, the heat from the sun had almost fried me. I gave up after around an hour and had to leave the place for some cool air-con. I remembered feeling dizzy and parched. So weak, tsk tsk…

This time, I tried to brace myself and try to cover as much as I can. It would be a waste to travel all the way there and leave within minutes. Who knows there are some hidden gems in the market which I had never checked out before.

Had bought a Singha beer singlet for the hubby, some pasminah shawls and a bag with embroidered flowers in brightly colours. Some things never change. I am still a sucker for embroidered stuff.

Had bargained a little for these items. Not much discount anyways. A dollar off here and some cents there. Over the years, I’d lost interest in relentless bargaining. I used to have more energy for that. Of course, I love a good deal but over a few cents? It’s really not worth my effort. Definitely not in this mad heat!

Not sure if there’s some code of ethics among the sellers here but the prices and even the extent of the discount do not differ much from each other. One seller had even confidently suggest we check with other sellers and likely, it would be the same price. Whether she’s telling the truth or calling our bluff, it doesn’t matter cos we want to get those items anyway and the cost is frankly not that much.

After an hour and just as I was about to give up and suggest we moved on to our next destination, we had somehow walked into this part of the market that sells ornamental fish and animals. Think we had tried to get to JJ Mall, which we did, but by the time we had reached there, we were ready to leave for the next place. Gotta stick to the pre-planned itinerary. If we have more time, we might check out JJ Mall.

It’s not just pets like dogs, cats and bunnies but there are also other animals like chickens, ducks and their young, turkeys and hedgehogs, owls (seriously?) and reptiles (eeww) sold in this part of the market. The dogs are very cute and many are playful and active but some of them are in tiny cages or enclosures and looked so miserable. Other than the miserable conditions and from the way they’d handled the animals, I don’t think these sellers care much about their welfare. Same goes for the other animals.

Aiyo… The poor owl (below image, bottom left) looked half-dead lah! It’s just lying there with both eyes shut and sometimes, an eye opened. Anyway, owls are nocturnal creatures. Obviously, this fellow is not in a cheery mood. How to zzz in this heat and so many people crowding over him.

You know you’re at the “fish market” section by the numerous stalls and shops selling fish mostly stored in clear plastic bags and tanks. Many of these bags can do with more water. Some of them are so shallow that the water level had just skimmed the surface of the fish’ dorsal fins. It’s like the water-equivalent of those tiny cages which the animals are stored.

Near the fish market are some food stalls and mobile carts. While some of the food look delicious, except for the fried insects and maggots (super gross!!), I yearned for a bottle of ice-cold water or soda instead. We had walked past this shop selling some decorative water feature and I wished I can dunk my head in the water. How can anyone enjoy a hot bowl of say, Tom Yam, in such hot weather?!

Chatuchak Market is like a labyrinth. I am always lost at Chatuchak and would just walk along, and hoping that I would find an exit out to the BTS or MRT station. That’s why there are tips online that once you found something you like, just get it and don’t bother to go back to the same shop again cos you might not be able to find it.

The same had happened to us this time round. We decided to move on but oh no, how do we get out?? Aarrggh!! Rather than get more lost and confused amidst the numerous narrow lanes in the market, we chose to walk along the parameters of the market and lo and behold, we reached Kamphaeng Phet MRT station. You have no idea how happy we were.

Another 2 stops later, we had reached Phahon Yothin station where Union Mall is just next to it. Union Mall is like a mini mall-version of Chatuchak without the animals and household stuff. It might be smaller than Platinum Mall, which we had passed by in a cab but didn’t manage to visit. Well, save it for next time.

Ha, had found my shop! :)

After around an hour plus at Union Mall, it’s time for some Thai food! Before our trip, I had searched online for the best Tom Yam Goong and several websites had recommended “P’Aor” (68/51, Soi Phetchaburi 5, Thung Phaya Thai, Khet Ratchathewi, Bangkok, 10400).

After alighting at Ratchathewi station, at the gantry, turn left and then right again which would take you down a flight of stairs leading to an inter-section. Cross the road, turn left and then walk all the way till you reached Phetchaburi Soi 5. There would be other food stalls and eateries along this street.

At some point, just after a small shop selling fruits, there is another lane that cuts across the main street. This is where you turned right and “P’Aor” is on the left along this smaller lane. The name of the shop is not clearly indicated in front but there would be a cartoon image of a lady in a low-cut top. Presumably the lady boss in her younger days? Hmm.

Since it’s just the 2 of us and we want to save some room for dinner, so we had ordered only the Tom Yam Goon (mixed seafood) with very thin kway teow (flat rice noodles) and a “special sauce” prawn rice (dunno the actual name cos the menu is in Thai but the wait staff said something about special sauce and had recommended this dish so let’s just try lor). Both dishes are around THB 60 each (SGD 2.30).

Surprisingly, the Tom Yam Goong is not spicy at all. I was expecting to drench my tongue in lava. In fact, it’s only mildly spicy and sweet. I supposed the sweetness is partly contributed by the prawns used to make the stock. Since I can’t take too much spice, I like this version of Tom Yam Goong but it would be great if there’s more broth.

The “special sauce” rice dish is largely scrambled eggs in some savoury and slightly sweet gravy with a hint of prawns. It’s nice but likewise, would be good if there is more gravy which complement the plain white rice really well.

After our tea break, we took a stroll along the Soi 5 to check out the other food stalls and eateries. Judging from the rather rustic surroundings and open display of the food items (most of them are exposed), it would be likely that these places are where the locals would frequently dine or even pack their meals back. Don’t think the tourists in those tour groups would make a stop here to dine. I am also uncertain if I can stomach these food that can been exposed for, what, several hours (?) and patronised by flies.

Wah! Even the designs of the cakes are old-school. A pleasant memory of the traditional birthday cakes in the 70s and 80s. And what a contrast from those cakes at Siam Paragon and the city malls.

Oooh… We had tried these little puffs filled with coconut cream and corn. Other than corn, you can also choose taro (yam), onions or pumpkin. For THB 20 (SGD 0.80), you get 8 pieces. I am not very fond of coconut cream but this is not too sweet and rich for me, and goes really well with the egg-based crispy shells that contained the cream. Best consumed when warm.

Another tip. Do separate the shells if you prefer not to pop the whole thing in your mouth. I tried to bite into it and ended up squirting some cream onto the side of my face and fingers. Well done. Looking at the little mess I made on me, the stall owner had quickly pass me some tissues, probably rolling his eyes at my clumsiness. LOL!

Had took a short break at our hotel room and also to dump our shopping stash just before we head for Chinatown.

By 7pm onwards, the traffic is very congested. It’s quite complicated to get to Chinatown by train from Siam Station cos we’d to change to a different line via the BTS and then to the MRT plus some walking from the nearest BTS station which I am not too clear on the route.

I give up lah, let’s just take a cab. Do expect some cabs to charge a flat rate instead of turning on the meter. They will tell you things like, traffic jam, very far and all sort of nonsense. 2 cabs we had stopped had quoted us THB 200 to get fo Chinatown from our hotel. In the end, we had settled for THB 150 (SGD 6.00).

There are many food places/stalls and restaurants at Chinatown but we had decided to go for the seafood. There are 2 popular and terribly crowded seafood stalls located directly opposite each other. Obviously, competition is fierce. The one which we plan to visit is called “T&K” but it’s just crazy packed. Don’t think we can get a table that soon. On the contrary, “Lek & Rat” is able to show you to a table almost instantly. They will tell you that their food is “same same” as “T&K”. Well, of course, they have to say that. I am surprised they didn’t say theirs is better cos that’s erm, overselling.

It doesn’t matter lah. “Lek & Rat” is also good in their own right. We had ordered the Tom Yam Goong (just to try another version after the sweet and non-spicy version at P’Aor), the steamed sea bass in lime sauce and curry crab meat.

Oh my… The Tom Yam here is too fiery for me. Wooo!! Those who can take spice might like this version of Tom Yam instead of the mild and sweet version from P’Aor.

The steamed fish is my favourite dish. I’d generally prefer my fish steamed or grilled. Just some lime, garlic with a bit of fish sauce will suffice to bring out the freshness of the fish rather than complicate it with an overly rich or spicy sauce. The curry crab meat is very similar to the one at Somboon except that we had chosen the de-shelled crab flesh instead of the whole crab. Too cumbersome to pick out the flesh from the shells.

After a very satisfying dinner, we had strolled along Chinatown. Need to walk our meal off. It’s interesting to see the array of food stalls but I am unable to stomach anymore food.

F bought a small bottle of pomegranate juice and like it. Said it’s refreshing. I might try a bottle if I weren’t so full. BURP!

Then F mentioned that she would really like to try the mango sticky rice. Since it’s still not too late, I had suggested to cab down to Sukhumvit Soi 38 where this is a popular mango sticky rice stall.

At that point, I can’t recall the name of the street but I recalled it’s next to Thong Lo BTS. So in my mind, the stall is in “Thong Lo”. Again, some cabs chose to quote a flat fee- THB 200. “Thong Lo very far!”, said the driver of the first cab we had flagged down. Luckily, the next cab had agreed to turn on the meter.

It’s actually quite a distance away. For a moment, I thought the cabbie is taking us round and round. When we had reached Thong Lo, I said “Soi 38” and the cabbie said, “There is no 38 in Thong Lo.” Oh shit!! Are we in the wrong place??? Finally, we told him to go to the BTS which luckily he understood and took us there.

I am still pretty full but can take a little of the mango. The sticky rice and coconut cream are too rich and sweet for me. As you can tell, I have a rather mild palate. Nothing too sweet, salty and spicy for me.

We head back to the hotel after that, all sweaty and greasy. A hot bath and lying in bed is what we need to end the day. Ahhh…

Day 3

Our flight is at 2.40pm and if we need to get to the airport by 12.40pm, we can’t venture too far off from the hotel. So this is the best time to visit the Erawan. I’d always try to visit this shrine whenever I’m in BKK.

After Erawan, we had grabbed some lunch at “Kalpapruek” at Central World. They used to have a branch at Siam Paragon but had closed recently. No wonder I can’t find it yesterday.

We had ordered the fried rice with dried shrimp sauce, curry fishcakes and pandan chicken. Typical Thai appetisers. The rice is just alright, a little salty actually. The rest of the dishes are not bad though the fishcakes are a tad too spicy for me. Tsk… I can’t really take spice but yet I’d still torture my poor tongue and stomach. 变态 right?

After lunch, it’s time to check-out and head for the airport. How fast the weekend had passed! Believe F would visit BKK again and maybe the rest of Thailand someday. I know I would! The hubby is already quite sore that I am savouring these good food without him. Wahahaha….

A pot of wholesome goodness at Tsukada Nojo

Actually, this is not our first time at Tsukada Nojo. The first time was with my besties, which we had managed to get a table quite close to the last order time, if I recall correctly. That was around 2 years ago, shortly after Tsukada Nojo opened its first branch at PS. The second time was with the hubby, which we had joined in the queue at 4.45pm, 15 mins before they open for dinner. If not, we would have to literally wait long long, and I didn’t want to have dinner too late. Since these 2 trips, it’s really hard to get a seat during dining hours without queuing up. Business is just so freaking good that often by 8pm, they would be packed for the night.

Strangely, I had never posted anything about their famous collagen chicken soup (“Bijin Nabe”) or 美人锅. Had taken pictures and all but I guess it just slipped off my mind. Hee.

A few days ago, I had this sudden craving for the oh-so-thick and rich chicken soup that I’d set my mind for that pot of Bijin Nabe. The only way is to have an early dinner, and start queuing by 4.45pm. If you want to be kiasu, then 4.30pm. By 5pm onwards, the queue would only get longer.

I am not sure if there is anyone who had queued up just for the other dishes. No doubt about it, the star dish is obviously the Bijin Nabe. Just for the 2 of us, a pot of soup, with all the ingredients that come with it, is really fulfilling.

Oooh… here comes our pot filled with slabs of pale custard yellow collagen curds. Yes, they do look so much like beancurd. In less than 5 mins, the heat from the flat stove had melted these curds into a thick broth.

Apparently, this is a process to follow. Before you are too quick to dunk the other ingredients in, a wait staff would scoop up some of that broth into a serving cup which you would slowly sip (cos you dun wanna burn your tongue) and savour the goodness of that broth. It’s wonderful. Then he/she would scoop up the chicken onto your plate which you can complement the rather plain meat with any of the 4 type of sauces at the table.

Other than the collagen curds, prawns, chicken (including the minced chicken), $25 per person is rather steep given that the rest of the ingredients are just vegetables. Perhaps they should replace the Iceberg lettuce which does not have much (or any?) nutrients at all. There are some yuzu strips which I chose to leave them out of the soup. Didn’t want the soup to have any citrusy taste.

The noodles (we chose the mochi noodles) are to be added last. By then, I am kinda stuffed from all that soup so I’d only took a few bites of the noodles. Even though the dessert that comes with the set is just 2 small cubes of yuzu (I think) jelly, it’s served in a rather cute manner.

It was a very satisfying meal. Seriously, I didn’t think about the so-call benefits of the collagen to the skin cos I don’t think it would make any difference. But if I ever want any comfort food for the soul, I know Tsukada Nojo is the place to go. By reaching there at 4.45pm, of course. :p

Cycling resumed!

My last cycling 3 weeks ago, right after we’re back from our NY vacation, had left me with a very bad phlegmy cough which I had totally recovered from it earlier this week. For the past 3 weeks, I had been coughing my lungs out, largely attempting to hurl all the phlegm out (obviously, it doesn’t work that way) and taking the yucky cough mixture. With this awful and rather persistent cough, I had to also shelve my cycling until I’m better.

Now that the stupid cough is gone, I can resume my cycling. Yay!

It’s not easy to just hop on and pedal off at super speed ok! Since I haven’t been cycling regularly, it would take me a while to get my energy up. Ok, it’s not as if I am some speed racer in the first place but you know what I mean.. So I had decided to take it a little easy first.

And I did just that on my day off yesterday. The weather isn’t that hot. The sun wasn’t trying to roast anyone alive and I’d decided to take a leisure ride to Pasir Ris Park…

It isn’t the school holidays yet so the park/beach was very quiet except for some kids cycling as well. It feels as if I had reserved this place for the afternoon!! Haha! It’s really peaceful and nice. Would be great if there was more sea breeze. Had chill at the bench for a while before heading home. I’d thought about cycling to Bedok Reservoir but decided maybe not this time.

The next day, I had decided to cycle to East Coast Park (ECP). Thankfully, it wasn’t that sunny. It’s hot but not kind that would leave you sun-burnt.

As much as I love to cycle along certain parts (except the hawker centre, seafood centre and other crowded places like the Futsal and Burger King areas), I am getting a little sick of the route towards the ECP. The stretch along the NEWater plant is fine but I really dread the route under the MRT track from Simei Station towards Tanah Merah, along the ITE East and crossing the main junction towards the PCN route along the NEWater plant. These routes are narrow and undulated at certain points. But it’s the only route unless I switch to the pedestrian lanes which are not ideal as well.

Anyways, ECP is pretty nice today. I had consciously avoided the food centre area, had chosen the less crowded spots.

The sky is still a little hazy. The skyline with the MBS and the S’pore Flyer are shrouded in grey mistiness. Had took a break at Bedok Jetty. A dull ache had developed in my lower back and the right side of my butt, which left me wincing as I dismount my bike. I am not a masochist but such aches are a “good” form of pain. Psychologically, I feel as if I had a good workout. And for some odd reason, I relish the ache as I lay on the bed and rest.

Well, I did slightly better today. 20km versus 15km yesterday. I’d really need to adjust my posture and not slouch during cycling. No wonder, my lower back would start aching very fast.

Think I would give myself a break tomorrow. Guess it’s also time to resume my night cycling, after work.

“Curry and Curry” (Blk 203, Hougang St 21): Super Shiok Curry Fish Head

Having coffee (in my case, tea) and chats/laughs with good friends followed by a fulfilling dinner is a wonderful way to spend the Sunday. That is how I had spent the day. Had met the Liu sisters at one of our regular joints- Cedele at Serangoon Gardens- for some coffee/tea and generally chilling out. By 5pm, we’d flagged a cab to take us to “Curry & Curry” at Blk 203, Hougang Street 21, next to the NTUC Finest.

They had often passed by the little eatery but never get to try their signature fish head curry. By 6pm, especially on weekends, the eatery will be packed even though more tables are set up in the open space just outside the eatery. That is why we had beat the dinner crowd and reached the place before 5.30pm.

The curry fish head ($20) had arrived first. Piping hot and extremely aromatic. In fact, you can catch a whiff of the curry, even at a slight distance from the eatery. I don’t eat fish head curry often but once in a while, I don’t mind numbing my tongue and sweating it out over it. Best eaten with a few other folks.

This fish head curry is spicy but thankfully, not too spicy till my eyes started tearing, nose runny and tongue totally paralysed. It’s a little tangy, probably with some assam? The fish is also fresh and we’re happily drenching our rice with the curry. My face’s a little red and the powerful fans inside (we had sat inside) had managed to kept me from sweating buckets. But can’t say the same for the hubby who perspire easily. He looked like he’d just ran a marathon.

The other dishes we had ordered were the beef rendang ($6- didn’t manage to take a picture of it), chicken rendang ($6), prawn paste chicken wings ($8) and stir-fried sweet potato leaves ($6). There are other dishes on the menu that look good but there are only 4 of us, and what we had ordered were just nice for us.

The chicken rendang is very rich and the thick and flavourful gravy is perfect for plain steamed rice. In order to appreciate the individual flavours of the 2 types of gravy- fish head curry and chicken rendang- I had to separate the rice on my plate into 2 portions. And I wiped out my rice, with no guilty feeling. Hahaha.

The prawn paste chicken wings are just alright for me. It’s hard to find very delicious prawn paste chicken wings here. The ones from Old Chang Kee are decent though. The stir-fried sweet potato leaves are ok as well. While these dishes are good on their own, the star is still the fish head curry.

There are no GST and service charge, and the whole meal turned out to be less than $50 for 4 of us. Not bad for the quality of the food.

After a very satisfying dinner, we had cooled down at the NTUC next door. LOL! Had bought some groceries too.

The Liu sisters had went home after that but I chose to take a little stroll around. Though we hardly come down to this part of the island but this used to be very familiar grounds when I am in secondary school. Had very fond memories of hanging out here with my classmates either before school, if we were in the afternoon session, or vice versa. No smartphones (not even handphones) or social media, so it’s really just chatting and walking around.

This place had changed much. The bus interchange is gone, even though the building structure still remains. Most of the shops are now smaller. Actually, it’s the old unit size split into 2 smaller units so there seem to be more shops now. Oh man, suddenly I miss those simple and fun days. Heh, anyway, those days are long gone but the wonderful memories still remains. :)

Zipping Thru Washington DC

Washington DC!!

Another must-visit destination in my list. Each time, images of the Lincoln Memorial, US Capitol and Washington Monument or other key landmarks of DC appeared during intervals of scene switching in some of my favourite TV shows like “Bones”, “Scandal”, “House of Cards”, “Criminal Minds” or in movies, I’ll be like, I wanna visit these places! As you can see, I am quite the TV buff. LOL! Hence, in the planning of our NYC trip, DC MUST be included. It’s around 2 hours plus train ride. Surely, we can do that right?

That’s also why we had chosen to stay (reasonably) near to the Penn Station in NYC. After we reached Union Station in DC, we had bought a large cup of ice-blended juice from “Jamba Juice” at the station, thinking we can enjoy slurping it during our subway train ride from Union Station to Farragut North (the subway station supposedly nearest to our hotel but in reality, is quite a walk), just like the subway in NYC where food and drinks are allowed. To our disappointment, food and drinks are not allowed in the subway. Dang! It’s a large cup so we had to gulp it all down with bouts of brain freeze in between. Youch!

Buying a subway train ticket from one of these ticket machines is a bitch. There are all these buttons and words on the machine. For example, the actual ticket value doesn’t appear on the display panel. Think there was some random figure and you need to press the “+” or “-” to adjust to the fare price of your destination. It’s just complicated!

We didn’t realise the subway station is quite a distance from our hotel. The weather in DC at that time was surprisingly hot! In anticipation of the cool fall weather, we had actually packed more long-sleeved tops and clearly not prepared for this summer-like weather. Blazing sun and all! The only short-sleeve top I had, was the same top which I wore on the plane ride to NYC. Had no choice but to “recycle” the top. It’s either that or I melt in my sweater. In case, you are wondering, nope, my top wasn’t stinky ok, granted that I don’t perspire much. Hee..

One thing we’d noticed during our walk to the hotel. The streets in DC are considerably cleaner than NYC. Same for the subway stations and the trains. There were also a lot of squirrels scurrying along essentially anything that has grass and trees. Quite funny when they’re busy munching nuts at super speed.

After some 25 mins walk, no thanks to our heavy luggage which had slowed us down, we had reached our hotel at around 4pm. Within minutes, we had dumped our stuff, slap some water on my face and start our sight-seeing venture. The afternoon is about to end so no time to lose!

First stop, the official residence and office of the POTUS- The White House. We had taken this picture through the grills along the lawn area. We’re not so crazy as the guy who had climbed over these grills, think it was a day before we had arrived in DC. Obviously, he made the news. What a way to be on national TV! Just as I am posting this, there’s another guy that also did the same thing a couple of days ago. What are they thinking of?

It would be so cool to join the White House tour but it seems easier for US residents than foreigners to sign up for this tour. We read from the website that we’ll need to apply through our embassy at DC or something. Anyway, it’s not so straight forward as to just buy a ticket and get in da group. So forget it.

We walked past the Washington Monument, a very prominent structure visible even from a distance. Completed in 1884, the 169.3m tall obelisk was constructed to commemorate George Washington.

During the Hop On Hop Off BigBus tour the next day, the guide on the bus pointed out the difference in the colour of the monument. Around 1/3 from the base is lighter in colour as compared to the remaining 2/3 above. Apparently, a lack of funds had halted the construction from 1854 to 1877, so when the construction resumed, the design and possibly the material had changed as well.

This is one of my favourite views. And also a very common scene in my fave TV shows. In some scenes, can’t recall specifically which shows or what, the characters would be sitting on the steps outside the Lincoln Memorial and looking ahead to the exact same view as below. They could be chatting or feeling pensive. And here we are, viewing the same scene. How surreal! Of course, during the day and not too late at night, these steps seem to be populated primarily by tourists.

Oh shoot! It’s coming to 5pm. We need to catch the dinosaur exhibit at the National Museum of Natural History before it closes at 5.30pm. On hindsight, we could have factored one more day at DC to visit these museums. There are quite a few of them and would easily take up a day or more just to adequately cover them all. Besides, admission is free!

But time is not on our side, so we need to be selective AND focused. It would take us an entire afternoon just to browse through this museum but we had only 30mins (!!) and since our main interest are the pre-historic exhibits, we had scrambled to find our way there. Tick tock tick tock…

Alas! The only dino exhibit we saw was this replica of a T-Rex skull at the entrance. The dino exhibit area was under renovation!! Oh man!

Anyway, in that short span of 30mins, we had whizzed through some exhibits including skeletal structures of different mammals and ocean creatures. Some were pretty interesting, and bizarre, like these mummies on display. These were once living and breathing beings some gozillion years ago and pretty well-preserved today. Yes, they look like dried leather (well, they do) but the body structure and bones seem pretty intact.

Oh, that tiny rodent-like creature, at the bottom left of the above image, is called the “Monganucoden oehleri“. What a mouthful eh. A close relative of this creature was supposedly the first mammal on earth and its DNA was passed on to billions of descendants including us!! No wonder there are some people who are just so ratty… haha…

By 5.20pm, the museum folks had started to “chase” us out. The other museums would be closed as well so no point checking them out at this time.

The next stop is the FBI building. Before we reached the building, I was all psyched up and kept repeating to the hubby that we must check out the FBI building. Again, much influence from telly. I also kept thinking about the movie, “J Edgar”, where Leonardo DiCaprio had played the head of the FBI. Can someone give this guy an Oscar already?

Ok, we reached the building…. Well…It looks… desserted and erm, a little dull? The entire building is a uniform light earth brown. It was a Saturday so it’s either half (can’t be the entire building right?) the building is shut down… or it’s meant to look dead when there’s actually tons of activities going-on at that time. Pardon my ignorance. Just stating what we had observed.

Omg, my attempted “dun mess with me” pose next to a police car is a mega fail. Looking at the picture now, I look like some shady character who should be sitting at the back of the police car, taken in for questioning. LOL!

Our day had ended with a nice dinner and a visit to the Lincoln Memorial. Trying to experience the night view but we will catch more of it the next day in bright daylight.

Earlier, I had mentioned that we had taken the Hop on Hop Off bus tour. First things first, we had received mixed reviews about taking such a bus. My colleague had recommended it, saying it’s really convenient cos the bus would stop at the major attractions. Gary’s friend had advised otherwise, citing reasons that we would end up waiting for the bus and everywhere is accessible by subway.

Well, I am not sure what to recommend cos the bus is indeed convenient and the waiting time wasn’t that bad. And the subway might be a cheaper option and certain places, near the White House and the museums, are within walking distance if you are ok with some walking. So the choice is yours. If waiting for the bus is a concern, the popular route (red and blue) would have buses coming in every 15 to 20 mins, and they seem to stick quite closely to this interval. The only grouse was, at certain stops, the bus would wait there for a while for I dunno what reasons. That is fine if the weather wasn’t so hot, otherwise it’s really uncomfortable slow-roasting under the blazing sun in the open-top upper deck of the bus.

The next morning, we started our journey with the Lincoln Memorial. There are rangers standing nearby to answer any questions as well as share some history about the memorial or Abraham Lincoln, the 16th President of the USA, who was best known for preserving the Union through a bloody civil war and abolishing slavery. I haven’t watched “Lincoln” (played by the magnificent Daniel Day Lewis). Instead, I had watched the silly “Abraham Lincoln: Vampire Hunter”. Cringe much?

We had moved on to the Vietnam War memorial which is around 5mins walk away. Completed in 1982, the memorial consisted of 2 gabbro walls of reflective surface, honouring the US forces who had died or were missing during the Vietnam War. There are 58,286 names etched on the wall. Designed by an American-Chinese, Maya Lin, there were some controversies over the design but it was officially accepted. As a compromise to the detractors, the “Three Soldiers” statue was erected nearby.

Next, we hopped on the bus and moved on to Arlington Cemetery, which is across the bridge from DC to Virginia. The cemetery is the final resting ground for many of the nation’s veterans, casualties of war and former presidents such as William Taft and John F Kennedy.

There was a story that JFK had visited the cemetery sometime in 1963 and as he took in the view of the Potomac River and its serenity that he remarked, “I could stay here forever.”. How true is that.

The bus had passed by the Pentagon but the stop was at the Pentagon city mall which is pretty far from the Pentagon. We were kinda half-roasted from the sub so the thought of walking much had prompt us to skip this stop. Oh, you can’t take a picture of the Pentagon for security reasons. Anyway, we don’t have much time plus there’s quite a bit to cover and we are meeting up with Gary’s friend and his wife for dinner, so let’s move on.

Ah, that familiar dome of the US Capitol, how can we miss that?

We didn’t spend much time there and hopped on the bus towards the Holocaust Museum. Didn’t take any pictures in the museum cos I wanted to spend more time viewing the exhibits. We had only an hour to cover the place, and didn’t want to waste any time snapping pictures along the way. The exhibits at the Holocaust Museum had stirred up my emotions. Genocide and torture, all to pursue a superior race… You’d wonder, how can such cruelty exist?

Relating to the same period of the Holocaust, is the WWII Memorial, which is within walking distance.

This is our last stop before we returned to the hotel for a quick shower before meeting up with some friends later. We would be returning to NYC the next day and won’t have any time to do more sightseeing. There are still so much to see, if only we have more time, but at least we had covered the key attractions. Would be perfect if the weather wasn’t so crazy hot.

By the way, the above picture was taken along the Lincoln Memorial Reflecting Pool. The Lincoln Memorial is behind us but didn’t look very clear in this picture.

On the way back to NYC, the dreadful reality that our vacation is ending soon is more pronounced. Another 2 more nights in NYC… It’s always the case with vacations and festivities (especially Christmas). The anticipation leading to these events would be enjoyable but yet at the same time, you just can’t wait. And then they happen, you just wish it would last forever but obviously, it doesn’t and before you know it, urgh, it’s back to work!! What a never-ending cycle…. Sigh…

Ha, ridiculous emotions aside, we had enjoyed our vacation. Not at all for the jet lag. The return was worse. Over the few nights after we’re back, I had woke up around 4am and couldn’t fall asleep. Thankfully, my body clock is normal now, after almost a week.

Of course, we had eaten loads in our vacation. Being food lovers, there’s no such thing as a diet during vacation time. If I have the time, I would post about the food, or at least some of the good ones.

Cheese and Garlic Popovers

Again, the influence of TV shows. I’d first came across “popovers” when this character (a mom) had baked some popovers and asked if her kids wanted some. Can’t recall the name of the show but those golden brown muffin-like goodies had surely intrigued me. They look good.

So I went online to search for recipes and found one from Martha Stewart. There’s only 2 of us at home so I’d halved the ingredients to reduce the quantity, and also added some new ingredients.

These popovers are easy to make and the ingredients are not complicated. The aroma halfway through the baking was wonderful and mood-lifting. Of course, it is especially when you can sink your teeth into one of these yummies soon.

And they are yummy indeed. The popover is like air encased within a savoury and crispy shell. Well, it’s not totally hollow inside. But these popovers are best eaten within minutes after they are out of the oven when they are still pretty warm. For the leftovers, some light toasting would help crisped it up a little.

Here is the recipe, which makes around 10-12 popovers using a standard muffin tray

Ingredients

2 cups of all-purpose flour
1/2 tbsp salt (I had used this French salt mixed with herbs, given by a colleague)
4 large eggs
2 cups of milk
A handful of Cheddar cheese and Mozzarella (or any type of your preference as well as the quantity)
Garlic, diced (optional)

1. Pre-heat oven at 175 Deg C with the muffin trays (greased) inside

2. Sift the flour with the salt and set aside

3. Whisk eggs with an electric mixer for around 3 mins

4. Heat up the milk in a saucepan at medium heat till the edge of the milk start to bubble slightly

5. Add the warm milk into the egg mixture and continue whisking. Add the sifted flour and salt and whisk till batter is consistent

6. Pour batter in each muffin cup till it is almost full. Sprinkle the cheese and garlic on the surface.

7. Bake in oven at 175 Deg C for around 45-50 mins. Around 15 mins after baking, quickly turn the muffin trays 180 degree and continue baking. Do not open the oven door after that. (At the remaining 10 mins, I had lowered the temperature to 170 Deg C)

8. Before removing the popovers from the oven, leave the oven door slightly open for around 5 mins.

9. These popovers can be consumed around 5 mins after baking. Yum!

All Hail the Majestic Niagara Falls!

Our latest vacation is not all about NYC. We had also included Niagara Falls and Washington DC in the itinerary. After 3 nights in NYC, we had checked out to go on a 2D1N tour to Niagara Falls. The road journey to Niagara Falls would take around 8 hours, depending on traffic, so it would be advisable to stay overnight near Niagara Falls rather than attempt to do a really exhausting 1-day trip.

We had booked the tour from “TakeTours”, and this is a fine example of “you get monkeys when you pay peanuts”. When compared to other tours, like Viator.com, the price (around USD 100-something per pax) from “TakeTours” was considered on the low side. I am not sure if we would get a better coordinated and less screwed-up tour from other agencies if we had paid more but one thing for certain, “TakeTours” was disappointing. And we were not the only ones in that same tour who had the same sentiments.

We had started the day on a rather gloomy note. Literally. It was drizzling when we left the hotel to make our way to the pick-up point at Chinatown. Oh yes, the tour was led by Chinese and quite a number of the tour group folks were Chinese too. We were supposed to depart at, I think, 8am but we had only left at 9.30am. I can’t recall the exact timing but we were more than an hour late for departure.

If waiting for 2 inconsiderate late comers which had impacted the departure timing wasn’t bad enough, guess what, some parts of the bus was leaking at the roof. By the time the bus had reached the next pick-up point at New Jersey, some of the seats were totally soaked. The driver insisted he had just sent the bus for “maintenance”. Needless to say, the last passengers who had board the bus, were furious over the soaked seats and demanded a refund. Another passenger had complained the tight legroom of her seat and demanded to switch places. For around an hour, we were stuck at New Jersey while the tour guide, Joey (who is another mess of a tour guide altogether) tried to contact his office to presumably change bus. Well, there was no new bus and we ended up with this leaky bus. We were alright cos our seats were spared from the leak but for the affected ones, Joey can only passed them paper towels. Oh dear…

Anyway, the first stop was at the Corning Glass Museum, a place which I thought why bother other than lunch. There were some people who, I dunno for what reasons, actually paid $16 each to view a very short glass making demo. After that, they had to rush through their lunch cos we had to stick to the timings. In the first place, we were already very late.

The next stop was the Watkins Glen State Park which we had to pay $10 per pax to enter. After we got back and read all the crappy reviews about “TakeTours” (something which we should have done throughly prior to booking but don’t ask me why we didn’t), someone mentioned that the park is free. WTF!!

After the horrendous start which lasted till mid-afternoon, seeing the natural beauty of the state park had appeased the group’s mood somehow. Thankfully, the weather was excellent. Clear blue skies and some light wind. Most people were snapping pictures of the natural rock formation and taking in the beauty of the natural waterfalls and gorge. Strolling through the park, technically we had started from the top and descend downwards instead of the other way round, has a soothing effect on one’s mood. What a great place to sit back, relax and meditate!

We were given only an hour at the state park. Something that I am very unhappy about. An hour is insufficient to take a leisurely stroll in this park. If we had departed earlier from NYC and without all that waiting time or the time-wasting stop at the glass museum, we might have a longer time here.

The state park is our last stop for the day. We had reached Niagara Falls in the late evening. Those who opted to watch the “Thundering Water Cultural Show” ($20 per pax), which we didn’t, would have to (like the glass museum) rush through their dinner after the show.

Don’t get me started on the food. We had dinner in this really awful food court that is in this building, next to the Hard Rock Cafe. We should have gone to the Hard Rock instead. What we got were salty and oily food at costly prices. Imagine paying $13 for a rice plus 2 dishes at the Chinese stall. That’s crazy!!

In between our crappy dinner, Joey had walked around and told whoever he had spotted at the dining area to check out the night scenes of Niagara Falls after we were done. This is in the itinerary, by the way. He should have given us a time and place to meet him cos those who managed to catch him, had followed him to the falls. Those who didn’t, like these 3 Russian girls in the group, had missed the night scenes and they were furious about it. They had berated him for not informing them and all Joey did was shrugged it off. What a “great” guide huh.

The next morning, we had stopped by the Whirlpool State Park for a short 30mins view of the Niagara river. The view was breathtaking. During the 19th century, this river was considered to be of strategic importance to the British forces in those days. Controlling this river means it could serve as an accessible link to Ohio and Mississippi Rivers, and the Gulf of Mexico, thereby controlling the trade links into the interior of the US. So battles were fought between the Americans and the British between 1812 to 1815 with the Americans finally reoccupying Fort Niagara.

Speaking of that, the next stop was the old Fort Niagara. Built in 1678 by the French, the Fort was originally named Fort Denonville with about a hundred men stationed under the command of a Captain Pierre de Troyes. The harsh winters and diseases had led the fort to be abandoned in 1688. The fort was then used as a trading post until 1755 when it was expanded to its present size due to the rising tensions between the British and the French.

Fast forward to present day, the fort had become a tourist and educational attraction. Some of the buildings were supposedly in their original state.

We had also witnessed a traditional musket firing demo by a guy dressed in the military uniforms of that era. In fact, there were quite a number of guys who were dressed in the different garbs of those times from military uniforms to artisans. And they would gamely posed for pictures. If you noticed, the dude next to the hubby was frowning. In fact, he had a frown the whole time and when another tourist asked him to smile, he replied gruffly, “Soldiers don’t smile!”. Think he’s in character. Haha..

We had spent about an hour at the old fort. Looks like most of the furniture, like the beds, tables and uniforms, are probably in their original state? They look pretty dusty, as if they had been untouched since ions ago.

Finally, the highlight of this tour- the Niagara Falls.

Before we get up close to the falls, we were hurdled, yes, hurdled like sheeps, to watch the Niagara Falls Adventure Movie. It was a 40-min documentary about the origins of Niagara Falls and some stories about people who had experienced falling over the falls including this retired (and likely, with a questionable state of mind) school teacher who put herself in a barrel and rolled over the falls, and survived, and this kid who had accidentally fell over the falls during a boat ride with his sister and some guy. Miraculously, the kid became the first person who survived without any aid. He had only a life-jacket on him.

I was told that the view from the Canadian side was more beautiful. Well, we didn’t get a chance to cross over. Not with this group whom the composition of the nationalities mean they would need a visa to cross over. But it doesn’t matter cos we had managed to catch the magnificent view on the “Maid of the Mist” boat ride.

After the show, we were hurdled again to take the boat ride. Joey said if we had missed this boat, the next one is in 30mins. Damn, let’s rush for our lives then. Unfortunately, some had missed the boat. To be fair, it was quite a distance from the theatre to the boat bay and we had less than 10mins to sprint to catch the boat. If you have kids or elderly folks, or are a natural slowcoach, you will likely miss the boat. Gary and I, and a few others had managed to board the boat while quite a few in our group had to take the next one. That means, once we had disembarked, we had to wait for another 30mins plus for these folks before we can move on.

Of all the attractions, I’d enjoyed the “Maid of the Mist” boat ride the most. Before boarding the boat, each passenger would be given a flimsy poncho. If you do not want to get drenched, wear the poncho cos you will get wet especially when the boat is near the base of the falls. The force of the water plus the wind is enough to give you a bath on the spot. Unfortunately, the strong wind had blown the hood off my head and my hair was totally soaked.

But it was a truly exhilarating feeling watching and feeling the powerful swoosh of the waterfall crashing down onto the rocks, creating a cool foggy mist in the aftermath which had enveloped us as the boat approaches the base of the falls and turned around to get back to the bay. What a rush! 

I’d wished the boat ride was longer or I can take another round. Sigh…

I was thinking about that kid who had fallen off and survived. I cannot imagine the fear going over the falls. At such height and the amount of water. One could have drowned halfway through the fall. I will always remember that scene in “Superman II” where this kid was playing at the edge of the falls and naturally, he would fall cos that’s when Superman had come to the rescue. That was my first impression and sight of the Niagara Falls when I was 8.

While waiting for those who didn’t manage to catch the boat, we had snapped some selfies (or wefies, to be accurate) with Niagara Falls in the background. My hair was still flat from that “shower” earlier.

At around 2pm, we had left Niagara Falls to make our way back to NYC. It would be a long 8-hour ass-numbing bus ride with only one toilet break in between!! The guys at the gas station were shocked to see the long line outside the ladies. There’s only 1 cubicle for the ladies and 10 over of us. After that, most of the folks were snoozing on the bus so that took away the feeling of wanting to go to the restroom. I am amazed that I wasn’t in need of a restroom after that 1 toilet break. We had reached NYC at 10.30pm.

Despite the screw-ups in the tour, at least we got to see the Niagara Falls. Gary had posted a negative review of the tour agency in Trip Advisor. He was pretty pissed off over some of the arrangements. Actually, me too. Anyway, the tour is over so no point bitching more than what I already did here.

On to Washington DC the next day!!