Penang: Of Heritage, Street Art and Char Kway Teow

Around a week after I am back from our Italy vacation, I am off to Penang with my friend Sharon. We had been talking about going for a trip together and among the various destination in the region, we had settled for Penang. Sharon hasn’t been to Penang and my last visit was 17 years ago. So, Penang sounds like a good choice.

For a change from the usual hotels, we had chosen to stay in a lodge (or inn) instead. The Trip Advisor ratings for “Betelnut Lodge” (100 Lebuh Melayu) are quite good and the price at around S$160 for 2 nights is quite alright too.

It’s only on our last day, when we took the bus from bus interchange at Komtar to the airport, that we realise that we could have saved RM45 (fixed cab rate from the airport) if we had known where to take the bus from the airport to the city. Anyway, our flight had arrived slightly past noon and we can’t wait to start our itinerary so taking the cab can help save some time and might not be a bad idea afterall.

The cab had arrived at Lebuh Melayu where Betelnut Lodge is supposed to be but the driver had no idea where is unit number 100. It is also hard to see from inside the cab when the units along the rows of shophouses seem quite close to each other. Nevermind, let’s get off the cab and search. If we are on the correct street, it shouldn’t take too long to locate the lodge. Indeed, the lodge is tucked in the middle of a shophouse and the main entrance is partially obscured by the branches sticking out of the potted plants places at the main entrance. Pretty much a blink and you miss.

Just to share some thoughts about this lodge…

Stepping inside, I didn’t realise how small the lobby is. Would consider it more of a “front desk” than a lobby actually. But at the same time, I am also pleasantly surprised at its cleanliness. Everything seems to be neat and in order. The floor is clean and the air doesn’t smell musty. Overall, it feels like a “home”. In fact, no footwear is allowed beyond the ground floor hence we went barefoot while climbing up the stairs and in our room. Guess that helps to minimise the dirt as well as the cleaning upstairs.

The door next to the table at main “lobby” leads to a small courtyard that exudes a sense of tranquility with ample greenery (in the form of potted plants) with a small fountain next to them. Noticed there’s a fair bit of antique placed on some of the furniture which had accentuate the charm of the place. These include the gramophone, a light green Peranakan blouse within a frame and colourful tiffin trays. The owner had later shared that he luvs antique and these are from his collection.

Speaking of the owner, he has been very helpful in advising the food places, where to take the bus to certain key attraction, some history on the street art and where to buy the local specialities like tau sar piah and belacan etc. Some of these locations and names of restaurants are painstakingly handwritten on each map that the lodge provides.

Most importantly, the room (though small) is clean and has wifi connectivity. Tsk tsk, everywhere we go, we just can’t live without the internet, emails, facebook, whatsapp and whatever right? It’s ok that the room doesn’t come with a fridge or kettle. If there is a need to boil water or place anything in the fridge, I believe these can be done in their kitchen.

Without further delay, we were off to explore the streets of Old Georgetown. Most of the streets are flanked by traditional shophouses. Some had been restored, evident from their bright colours and minimal flaking of the paint, while there are others in a derelict state. Some of which serves as retail space as well as homes for the locals. Some of the residences also double up as shops selling souvenirs or other knick knacks.

Strolling along these streets is like taking a trip down memory lane. Feels like Singapore in the late 70s and 80s. Though there are still some of these shophouse units left in the heritage enclaves of Kampong Glam, Little India and Chinatown but much of its original cultural character had been diluted by the numerous new-age cafes and restaurants. Only a very few handful of traditional shops still remains but I wonder how long they would stay this way as times evolved. Don’t think there are also many people staying in these units except for probably a very small handful (if I may assume).

Back to the streets of Penang…. Some of the living rooms in these residences remind me so much of my late granny’s living room. Simple furniture and the style/design is obviously dated from decades ago. If my granny’s still alive, believe she will still kepp many of her furniture even if she had moved into an apartment. An altar at the corner is also another common feature. Those who are at home would be transfixed to their TV (seems old-school as well, instead of the modern gigantic ones with LCD or LED screens) while fanning themselves.

Spotted this car which its bumper is decorated (or protected) by a crocheted cover. Seriously??!

One key highlight of Georgetown are the street art painted by Ernest Zacharevic. There are also other art that are painted by others. Some are clearly graffiti. While the latter might be considered as art or expression of creavity here, it is no less than 3 strokes of cane back home. Hee…

Some of his famous art are soon to be gone from the effects of weather and also itchy-fingered folks who might have peeled off some of the paintwork. It is a shame that some jackass had sprayed painted over the “Little Children on a Bicycle” art. Why do this?

Over the 2 and a half days which we are there, we had made a point to locate all the street art, especially the Ernest Zacharevic ones, from our map. There are occasions where we can’t seem to find it and when we turned back, it’s right up there, huge on the wall, like “Kungfu Girl” (at Muntri Street). Each time, we spotted a mural, we will get all excited and start to snap pictures of it. Feels like some kind of treasure hunt.

We didn’t manage to locate all. The “Children in a Boat” at Chew Jetty is obviously gone. Looks like someone had deliberately scraped off the paint. We also can’t find the “Broken Heart” phone booths at Love Lane. Think they’re gone too.

We made our way to the jetty area. A bit of background. The clan jetties are an intregal part of Penang heritage. Once 7 jetties, there are now 6 jetties and are also homes to some living in houses on stilts. Similarly, some also double up as shops or provision shops, and even a salon. I told Sharon that if we’re to go for a perm in this salon, be sure we will get instant noodle curls. LOL!

Since we didn’t have lunch, we decided to heed one of the recommendations written on the map and try the nyonya (Peranakan) food at Aunty Gaik Lean at Bishop Street for a quick bite. Penang has a rather strong Peranakan culture so we should try these nyonya dishes. However, we had ordered a little too much and it seems like a full-blown dinner for 2 people! It’s the waiter’s fault lah. Said the portions are not huge. Damn they are! Literally 三菜一汤.

We ordered the Lor Bak (which is more of like a ngoh hiang rather than pork belly stewed in dark soy sauce that we’re familiar with), salted vegetable duck soup (really salty!), sambal kangkong (not bad) and assam prawns (this is good with the right amount of tangy and a tinge of spice).

To think that we can still stomach more food at Gurney Drive!!

Since Sharon hasn’t been to Penang, I though it might be a good idea to visit Gurney Drive even though I know it is a tourist trap and there are reviews that the food is overpriced and not delicious. Anyway, we didn’t order that much other than the char kway teow from stall no 71 and fruit rojak which is refreshing though the prawn paste sauce can be a little less generous.

On hindsight, visiting Gurney is a mistake. I shouldn’t have suggested that. We didn’t even enjoy the beach view. Anyway, what beach view? It’s dark!

The next morning, we popped over across the road for a breakfast of duck soup kway teow soup and what I would consider as something that I never expect to try, duck intestines. The owner of the lodge had strongly recommended the duck intestines. said they are very good and hours had been spent cleaning them. To convince myself, I went online and found some good reviews about the intestines and that they are not gamey or icky. Ok, let me just be adventurous (by my standard lah) and try Donald Duck’s innards.

The kway teow soup is rather sweet. It’s nothing to shout about but it makes a very good comfort food. Like the reviews I had read, the cream coloured duck intestines do not have that gamey taste typical of any innards. The savoury garlic sauce with crispy fried garlic makes this dish more palatable. In fact, it feels like jellyfish. Crunchy and yet, chewy at the same time. Even though it didn’t taste that bad, innards are not my cup of tea. It’s also psychological since we know the purpose of these intestines. Alright, I shall not say more.

We took a bus (204) from Komtar to the Ayer Itam area. First stop is at Kek Lok Si. If you are unfamiliar with the stop, just ask the driver to give you a shout when he reaches.

Wow, what an impressive temple! The statue of Guan Yin on the hill is a magnificent sight. The Kek Lok Si is supposed to be the largest Buddhist temple in Southeast Asia. Think some parts of the temple is still being constructed (?) or restored.

After the temple visit, we MUST try the famous Penang Assam Laksa at the “Pasar Air Itam” at the foot of the hill. The broth is thick and flavourful. Not too salty, sour or spicy. No wonder they dare to consider themselves as “the one and the only” in Penang. Well, it’s really good.

We made a point to share all the food. This will free us more space to try more food.. Haha… I had also read much about the Sister Curry Mee. It’s hard to describe the location except that you’d have to turn right at the junction after the Pasar Air Itam Laksa and then turn into this street that is leading towards the Chinese Methodist Church.

I would usually avoid such roadside stalls. And these sisters don’t even serve the noodles from a proper counter. What we saw were 2 old ladies sitting on very short stools surrounded by pots of curry and tins of ingredients (noodles, cuttlefish, pork blood cubes etc). In veiw of the good reviews, we took a chance and try their curry noodles.

The sisters are very friendly without any of that old folks grouchiness. We had ordered a bowl to share. No beansprouts, no pork blood cubes and little chilli. The colour of the curry appear to be very light unlike the rich orange-red coloured curry which we are used to. It does taste like how it looks- diluted and lacks that oomph. I thought, maybe this is how Penang white curry taste like. We didn’t finish the curry and left quickly before they get insulted in why we didn’t finish their curry noodles that was exalted online. Sharon thinks we should try another stall later or tomorrow to compare. There’s one more near our lodge- “Tua Pui” curry noodles. Also well-known. Will talk about that later.

Our next stop is Penang Hill. It’s back to bus no. 204 again. The thing about the bus stops in Penang is, not every stop has a physical “bus stop” shelter or sign. If none are in sight, look downwards and see if there are any yellow box markings or words on the ground. That will be the bus stop.

When we reached the hill, it poured! OMG… it was really raining cats and dogs. Will we get to see anything on the hill top?

Despite the heavy rain, we’d still took the tram to the hill stop. Afterall, we are already here and who knows, the rain might lessen or stop later. The tram ride is around 15mins but the waiting times is another 15mins since it operates at a 15-min interval. The ticket is RM30 per pax for foreigners. Pretty pricey just for a tram ticket actually.

Thankfully, it’s only a slight drizzle when we had reached the hill top. From this altitude, the view of Penang is amazing. Although it’s misty over some areas like the Penang Bridge but the view is generally quite clear. Other than the view, there isn’t much to see on the hill top. There’s a cafe, a Hindu temple and erm, an owl museum. Hmm, is that an enclosure filled with owls? And I think you need to buy a ticket to see these owls.

By mid afternoon, we are back in Georgetown. We had tried 2 Penang dishes though the curry noodles was a disappointment. Now we are off to try some more local delights.

Many who visited Penang as well as the locals would be familiar with the “Penang Road Famous Teochew Chendol” at Lebuh Keng Kwee. Chendol is a rich coconut based dessert which usually comes with green coconut jelly strips and red beans. Even though the chendol is served from a very simple cart, business is very good. From afar, we know the chendol cart is near, judging by the mass of chendol slurping people standing nearby.

Though I am not really a fan of coconut-based dessert, we gotta give this a try since it is widely acclaimed. To ensure a quick turnaround, the server had dished out bowls after bowls of chendol like an energiser bunny. Try not to stand too close if you don’t want to get splashed by the white coconut mixture as he dived his ladle in with much gusto.

The chendol is not too sweet or thick. We had shared a bowl to also share the calories from this rich dessert. So far, we had eaten from roadside stalls and thankfully no stomach upset yet… Hee…

Just gotta share this picture of a butchery spotted along one of the shophouses. I don’t think we will ever see a sight like this in our wet markets. Not with the entire pig intact, hanging at a corner, waiting to be carved up. I’d also took a couple of similar pictures when we’re in Sham Shui Po in Hong Kong. Hmm.. seems like I am obsessed with erm, pigs?? :p

Around 5 plus, we had boarded Bus. no 11 from Komtar to visit the Jelutong night market at Jalan Van Praagh. This night market is only opened on Friday evenings. To our horror, the Fri traffic jam as horrendous. Just by waiting for the bus to turn into the interchange and for it to get out of the interchange had taken around 45mins!! Whhaaat!!

Actually, the night market isn’t any different from the pasar malams back home. Only difference is, the wares are displayed in any form they want- On top of a car, back of a truck.. Nothing is standardised here even though they may be wearing the same T-Shirt.

We had tried a number of food including char kway teow (again) and muah chee but they were nothing to rave about. In fact, the char keow teow has a weird bitterness to it.

The better dishes we had tried are the yong tau foo. Strangely, it’s called yong tau foo but there’s no tau foo (bean curd). Instead, it’s a mix of fishballs, pork skin and some other stuff (but not tau foo) served with a bit of chilli, sweet sauce and topped with fried garlic.

We had also tried the chai tow kuay (fried carrot cake) except it’s called “char kuey kak” here. The taste is also different. The Penang version is sweeter and doesn’t seem to have much chai por (preserved turnip) or maybe none at all.

We are so not done with char kway teow. The next morning, we tried the on (“Tiger Char Kway Teow) at the coffeshop across our lodge. Of the 3 char kway teows that we had tried, this is the best. We had decided to try the duck egg version but I’d still prefer if chicken egg is used as I find the taste of the duck egg to be quite strong though it seems fluffier. Maybe the duck egg, with its higher fat content, does enhance the already rich flavour of the char kway teow.

After breakfast, we hopped on a bus to Fort Cornwallis. There are free shuttle buses to the fort and some other attractions. However, we didn’t think it is worth to pay RM20 per person just to see the fort.

So we moved on to visit the Cheong Fatt Tze mansion aka “Blue Mansion”. According to the guide in the guided tour, the mansion wasn’t originally blue but was painted blue as part of the restoration. Seems like the blue or the type of paint that was used is pretty lasting. Come to think of it, why would a traditional Chinese guy of that era who seemed entrenched in fengshui, paint his mansion this blue?

The guided tour was quite insightful and interesting, thanks to his rather animated style of describing the history of the mansion and the man, Cheong Fatt Tze, himself. Like many rich dudes of that time, Cheong had 8 wives. Gosh. But his favourite was wife number 7. She was 17 when she married Cheong who was a grand daddy age of 70! But she didn’t mind. Guess this marriage is a meal (and many other things) ticket out of poverty. I am actually quite fascinated by his wives. He had 3 in Penang so I wonder how their lives were, how they get along… but there isn’t much literature online about him and his wives.

Influenced by Sharon’s poses, I had also attempted a “mood” shot in this picture. Hahaha..

This section is at the second level. Though the chair is made of hard wood but it’s quite comfy as it is quite ergonomically designed. When you sit on it, the angle of the back rest is tilted so you will naturally lean back. Since the chair is rather low, you can stretch out your legs effortlessly. We can simply sit here the whole day.

Just before we head back to our lodge to take a little break before getting to the airport, we had tried another version of the curry noodles. This time from this stall called “Tua Pui Curry Mee” at 23 Lebuh Kimberley.

The gravy is slightly thicker than the one by the sisters. Sharon commented that there is this bitter tinge as if the rempah or curry powder is not mixed properly. To compare, I would prefer Tua Pui’s curry noodles over the sisters but I am not sold on Penang curry noodles on the whole.

To avoid any horrendous jam, we reached Komtar at 5pm (our flight’s at 8.40pm) to board bus number 401e. There were a group of rowdy young kids on the bus, blasting techno music from their phones and dancing to the beat except that they look more like they are writhing from spasms instead. Tsk tsk… Kids…

We’re at the airport early and there’s really nothing much to do except wait. The free wi-fi is only for an hour. I can’t wait to get home…

I had enjoyed Penang very much. Believe I will visit again but I’ll be sure to try more of their local food. Haha…

 

Buongiorno!

All roads lead to Rome… That is the “road” we took for our recent vacation coinciding with the long National Day/”SG 50″ long weekend. Not that we are trying to get out of the country during our nation’s 50th birthday but rather, it’s more for me taking a break before my course starts in Sep, and I didn’t want to take it too close to the start of the term.

Ok, enough of any excuses…

Rome is our first stop, followed by Florence, Venice and finally, Milan with 2 nights at each city. If it is not for me taking a break during this period, Italy is NOT a recommended place to visit during August. Not only is August a vacation month for Italy, which means huge crowds and long queues at key attractions in major cities but it is also the hottest month of the summer season. And these Italians don’t really believe in air-conditioning! I’ll get to that later.

But… I’d really want to visit Italy so….. Oh well… Just gotta grind through the crowd and the weather…

For most cities, we had encountered large crowds, except for Milan which is nice but not particularly very interesting so I reckon many would visit other cities or the coastal areas instead of Milan, but thankfully, we didn’t have to queue very long for certain places cos we had bought the tickets online (very important!!).

But the weather’s a KILLER!! OMG! It is even hotter than Singapore, which I’d read from my Facebook newsfeed that it had been raining the whole week when we’re in Italy! I cannot stress enough and probably will repeat again on the scorching heat with little cloud cover. The mornings would still be ok, at around a high 20-ish Deg C, quite pleasant actually. By 11am, the sun would be high up, all ready to roast us and with the temperature rising to around 38 Deg C by noon/early afternoon. Evenings are much better.

Oh and not to forget that we’re perpetually parched. Don’t think I have drunk that much water back home nor have such a major craving for Coke. No, make that ice-cold Coke. You won’t believe some places (like Macs in Milan) don’t serve Coke with ice. What the… right? Anyway, I don’t drink much soda but here, no hesitation to down Coke or any cold sugar-laden beverages. Luckily, we had brought our water bottle and had refilled it with cool (drinkable) water from the numerous fountains scattered all over.

ROME

One thing I really dislike about red-eye flights is, I can never get good quality sleep, if I can get any sleep in the first place, on the flight. Furthermore, we had to transit at Dubai so that’s an additional interruption to whatever sleep we can get. So naturally, I will be all stoned out on the first day and I can only wish my hair is not scraggly looking.

Right after we had touched down around 7am or so, the driver for our transfer to the hotel had met us at the arrival area. Our free & easy package had included hotel/airport transfers and train tickets. Went straight to the hotel and thankfully, our room’s available. A quick wash-up and we’re out on the way to our first attraction in our itinerary.

Our hotel is around 5mins plus walk to the nearest metro station, “Lepanto”. Before we proceed to our first attraction (Colosseum), we had to go to the “Termini” station to collect the Roma Passes which we had bought online. Actually, we could have bought these at the ticketing machines at the train stations, which is slightly cheaper. During our trip planning, we didn’t come across any websites or forums that would have advised us the same otherwise we could have save the time and hassle to locate the damn information counter at “Termini” to collect these passes. Think the extra cost is for the small squarish folder that the pass is placed in and the city map which we find the map provided by the hotel is clearer.

Once we got our Roma Passes, we made our way to the Colosseum via the metro, stopping at the “Colosseo” station. While you can buy your tickets at the location and some would advise the counter at the Roman Forum (or Palatine Hill, can’t recall which) would be shorter but during peak seasons, always buy your tickets online except for the first Sun of every month where the admission into the Colosseum is free

Our Roma Passes would allow us to enter via a separate and supposedly shorter line. However, since our visit had hit the first Sun of Aug, we had dreadfully feared that there would a huge flood of visitors which we will end up queuing for more than an hour regardless of having the Roma Passes. Thankfully, we were inside within 10mins. Even though it’s free entry for all on that day but it seems that those without the passes (or other docs/passes that will provide fast track access, if any) would still need to go to the counters and get a ticket except they don’t need to pay anything. Hmm…

Wow… we are able to catch a part of the outer facade of the Colosseum the moment we exited from the station. Even then, this structure is impressive and magnificent. I am no longer groggy-eyed.

The original name of the Colosseum was the Flavian Amphitheatre, constructed under Emperor Vespasian of the Flavius family in 72AD and completed by Emperor Titus 10 years later. Most parts of the Colosseum’s original state had been weathered away. In the past, this was an arena for violent fights between gladiators, animals with animals and men with animals. In the past, the ground of the arena would be covered by a thick layer of sand to absorb the blood of these fights. Gruesome..

There would be these guys dressed up like gladiators hanging outside the Colosseum. It must have been unbearable wearing that thick costume in the summer. Noticed a few of them would remove their fake armour, presumably to cool down, during moments when business ain’t that brisk. Obviously, nothing is free so a picture with these guys is gonna cost you some but I am not sure how much.

After the Colosseum, we headed towards the Roman Forum, which is just nearby. Some over a thousand years or so ago, this place would be filled with structures, temples and buildings and had served as Rome’s political and commercial centre. Much of the surviving remnants of the past are now in the form of broken columns, and uneven rocks and boulders.

Walking through the Roman Forum in this heat really got to me. There’re no shade. The sun’s blazing. Our drinking water’s running out. I had truly underestimated the heat. A refill of our water bottle from a nearby fountain had provided much relief. It’s so hot that we had returned to our hotel to stay away from the sun until the late afternoon where we continue with the rest of our itinerary.

The days are also long during the summer so the sky’s still quite bright even at 8pm. Since we are not used to seeing bright blue skies in the evenings, this kind of give us a false perception of time. Hence, we often have dinner around 8pm plus since it seems it’s still early.

By 5pm, we’re out of the hotel towards the Spanish Steps. It’s a series of steps between the Piazza di Spagna at the base and Piazza Trinità dei Monti. Lots of tourists there as well. That also means lots of touts- Guys holding a bunch of roses or selfie sticks, attempting to sell them to you. To avoid these touts, very straight-forward, never express any interest or even look at them, and never ever accept whatever they hand to you cos that’s where they will ask for payment and would be real hard to shake them off.

There’re quite a number of shops along the streets near the Spanish Steps. A lot are branded stuff which I am not really into. I am also a little tired, no thanks to the lack of sleep on the flight. Might be good to turn in early since our day would start early for our visit to the Vatican City, the smallest independent state in the world.

The next morning, we left around 9am plus and walked towards the Vatican City, which is only 10mins plus walk from our hotel. Before we can enter into St Peter’s Square, we had to ignore the numerous touts lurking outside, many holding signs with the words “Skip the line (or queue)” on them. As you walked past them, you can hear them calling you out and saying they have tickets to the museum. One lady had even tried to pass me a map which I had ignored her and I heard her muttering, “I am just trying to help.” Yeah, right.

When we’re at St Peter’s Square, I was actually more struck by the INSANE LONG queue for St Peter’s Basilica. Seriously, how long would it take for the last person in the queue to finally enter the basilica. Luckily, we did not join in the queue and since we had bought the tickets to the Vatican Museum online, we decided not to be distracted by this crazy queue and quickly head towards the museum, which the entrance is located the other side of the wall that encloses the city. In fact, there’s a direct link to St Peter’s Basilica, after finishing the visit of the museum.

Sending postcards from the smallest state in the world seems to be a cute idea so yes, we had sent a postcard to ourselves. The postal service is literally known as the snail mail cos it’s been coming to 2 weeks since our visit to the Vatican City and our postcard still hasn’t arrived!

The Vatican Museum is huge and probably take 2 hours to tour. It supposedly contains the world’s largest private art collection. Looks like it as we passed by marble sculptures of naked/half-naked statues, beautiful and elaborate paintings on canvas and on the ceilings in typical Baroque style and of course, the key attractions- Raphael’s rooms, the gallery of maps and finally, the Sistine Chapel painted by the illustrious Michelangelo.

Although the website and signs onsite stated that shorts and tops showing the shoulders are not allowed into the museum but I’d noticed many had flouted that rule. Maybe it’s too hot and there are just too many people to manage so the guards had decided to be more flexible and just let anyone in?

For some reason, I am a little sensitive towards viewing paintings from centuries ago. For certain paintings or even sculptures, I will get goosebumps, even in this hot summer. I dunno if it’s psychological or… erm…you know… The hubby thinks I cannot visit any museums but that isn’t possible. I guess I just can’t stare too long at a painting then.

We didn’t spend much time at the Sistine Chapel. It’s too crowded. To get to St Peter’s Basilica, turn right straight from the chapel and you’ll get to the basilica in a few mins. This exit is sometimes termed as the “secret passageway” though it didn’t seem too secret since we joined a herd of folks going through this way.

Named by St Peter who was supposedly crucified here, St Peter’s Basilica is breath-taking. His tomb is located beneath the basilica. We didn’t get a chance to visit the dome for a view of the city. Think there was a very long queue for that and we’re not in the mood to queue up for anything.

It seems that Italians believe that the air-con and even ice are bad for health but they seem ok with gelato? Hmm.. Anyway, gelato shops are common in Italy. Can you imagine we ate gelato everyday, as if we had never eaten ice-cream in our life? A cone of 2 scoops of gelato is cheaper here than in Singapore but we had also encountered pretty pricey ones which we avoid. Although gelato have lower calories than typical ice-cream, it is still quite fattening. Well, when we’re on vacation, diet don’t matter. LOL!

Speaking of diet, we ate quite a fair bit.. hee… but I would only highlight the hits of this trip. We had a couple of misses where the food wasn’t that great so I shall not waste my time to talk about them.

The next day, we had joined the city tour that is part of our package, though most of the time, it’s still free and easy. Since the cost of these city tours are already built into our trip cost, we shouldn’t miss them. They had also save us some places to plan into our itinerary.

Just to brisk through what we had visited, our first stop was the famous “Trevi Fountain”. Now you might be wondering why the picture (below) of the fountain seems incomplete, like where’s the gushing water? You know what, the fountain is going through some restoration works 😦

So we didn’t stay too long at the Trevi Fountain since there isn’t really much of a fountain to see. At least, the statue of Neptune (middle) and the other statues are still intact so it’s still better than nothing.

Moving on, we visited the “Pantheon“. Constructed and dedicated around AD118 and AD 125, this is a temple dedicated to the pagan gods before Rome officially converted to Christianity sometime by AD 400. The guide had explained that the worship of pagan gods usually involves much burning of offerings, hence there was an oculus in the dome of the Pantheon to allow the smoke to escape.

Since there is literally a hole in the roof to let the smoke out, naturally it will let the rain in during rainy days. To prevent something terrible like *gasp* flooding in the temple, the guide then explained that the floor is actually slightly tilted and there’re also some holes at the point where the floor’s tilted towards, so as to let the water flow out. Ingenious!

The Pantheon is also considered the most preserved building of ancient Rome. While many structures of that time had been destroyed or re-built, the Pantheon had very much remained as its original structure other than, I supposed, some restoration works.

The tomb of the famous Renaissance painter, Raphael, is also located in the Pantheon. He died at 37. That’s really young.

We left the Pantheon after some 10mins. Had walked past the Palazzo Madama before stopping at the Piazza Navona for around 10mins.

The city tour ended at St Peter’s Square at the Vatican City. Since we’re here the day before, we didn’t stay long and decided to have some gelato before returning to the hotel to wait for the transfer to the train station.

We left Rome in the early afternoon for our next destination- Florence.

The train had passed by acres of farm land. To pass time, I had watched “Unfriended”, which I’d downloaded in my phone.

FLORENCE

Italy is one of the destinations in my travel list, particularly Florence of all the cities in Italy. This brings me to the time which I had taken a module on European history and the Renaissance period was one of the topics in that module. The descriptions of the art and architecture had piqued my interest. Since Florence is considered the birthplace of the Renaissance era, I had made a mental note that I would like to visit this city someday. Fast forward to some time last year, watching a few episodes of the TV series “Da Vinci’s Demons” had revived that thought again. And now, my wish had come true!

Our hotel was located near the Ponte Vecchio. It is the oldest bridge in Florence and the only one which had survived WWII while the others had been destroyed. Anyway, this isn’t just a bridge, there are also shops located on the bridge which this concept had existed even way back to the 13th century. Today, these are mainly goldsmiths and jewellery shops and there’s a reason for that. In the past, there were a mishmash of shops including butchers and fishmongers, and these caused so much filth and stench that the Holy Roman Emperor, Ferdinand I, issued a decree that only goldsmiths and jewellers were allowed to operate on this bridge.

Quite a number of stalls selling artwork and paintings. Many do not have a license to sell so whenever anyone spot a police car coming, they would hastily scramble their goods and fled. Not sure if the police are serious about addressing this problem cos we never see any arrests. In fact, we saw a police car deliberately accelerating towards this illegal vendor while he looks to be running for his life, braked so hard to give off the loud screeching sound probably to add on to the “scare” effect, one of them opening the door furthering enhancing the effect until the vendor fled out of their sight and dropping one of his paintings in the process. If the authorities are serious about tackling street touts, then they ought to do something about it rather than just scaring the living daylights out of them cos that is only temporary and when the police is out of sight, these vendors will return again. What a waste of public resources! Unless the aim is just to patrol around to ensure nobody messes around?

Walking further, we reached the Piazza della Repubblica (site of the forum, centre of the city) and the Piazza della Signoria. At the latter, there were many sculptures but some are replicates.

An example of a replicate would be Michelangelo’s “David”… In fact, there’re many replicates of the “David” in the city.

The original one, in all its magnificent glory in every angle, is in the Galleria dell’Accademia (“Academy Gallery”). When I posted this on Facebook, a friend seems to think I have an obsession with this naked statue. Another commented she can see his ribs. Aiyo… This is one of the most acclaimed and famous work of art in history and you all think I am erm, dirty minded?? Tsk tsk tsk… LOL!!

The visit to the gallery is part of the city tour which took place the next day after we had arrived. Even though the tickets were bought in advance but the queue to enter is still long though not as long as those who are buying the tickets on the spot. We had waited less than 30mins before we enter. The gallery isn’t very big but like the Mona Lisa in the art gallery section of the Lourve in Paris, most, if not all, would go straight for the David. While there are also many other sculptures, they seem to pale in comparison to the David, not by the detail of the artwork but the attention it receives.

Another key structure and a highly-visited place by tourists is the Cathedral of Santa Maria del Fiore. Designed and built by Brunelleschi, the cathedral took years to construct, starting from 1296. Although the city tour had included this cathedral in the itinerary, we had also check out (though did not enter cos the queue is, as expected, freaking long) the architecture.

Had also noticed these creative “Stop” signs along the street. Not sure if these are deliberately designed or are products of vandalism. Regardless, they are cute.

Other than the San Lorenzo market, there are also quite a number of such stalls selling leather goods and other stuff like T-shirts and shawls. But the San Lorenzo market is worth a visit. Most of the leather products are quite nice and at a good price. A good size cow-leather bag had cost me around EUR35 (around SGD56) and this is real leather. There are PVC bags that had cost more than that, even exceeding SGD100, depending on the brand. The hubby bought himself a leather belt. Although it seems right that we should bargain for these stuff, but I am not ready fond of haggling over prices especially if it is just a mere savings of a dollar or two. If I find something reasonable and I really like it, I’ll just get it. If I am in the mood, maybe I may attempt to bargain and save myself a dollar. Otherwise, if I don’t find something worth it and not in a desperate need to own it, I’ll just pass it.

Another favourite place is the Centrale market which opens till around 2pm. I love to visit local markets though I believe some of the products and their prices aim to target tourists as well since quite a fair bit would visit Florence. It is also great that the market is generally quite clean. Many stalls are selling usual Italian products such as olive oils, herbs and limoncello (a lemon-flavoured liqueur usually taken after a meal as a digestif). I had tried that in Barcelona. Compliments of this home-style like restaurant and didn’t really like it enough to get a bottle. Had bought a bottle of truffle oil and a couple packs of herbs for some friends as souvenirs and myself.

We find this particular brand of gelato “Venchi” pretty good so much so that we had visited their shops several times. I find their milk-based (e.g. chocolate, hazelnut etc) flavours more intense than the fruity ones. But in such HOT weather, I tend to go for the refreshing and tart flavours. Lemon is the best!

Of all the restaurants, we like the food from Caffe Rivoire, located at the Piazza della Signoria. The waiter is also very friendly and had gamely (or rather, helped himself) pose in our wefie.

Their seafood pasta is flavourful. Not too oily and the pasta texture is just nice. The gnocchi are chewy with a very tasty tomato-based sauce that goes well with these fluffy potato and flour nuggets. Their hot chocolate is one of their specialities. Thick and luscious, it would be perfect for a wintry season but in this hot summer, not so much. The tiramisu, however, is slightly on the dry side. Not too bad but I am not that fond of anything that is coffee-flavoured so we had only tried Tiramisu twice (the other one is in Venice) in the entire trip.

As I watched the sun set over Tuscany, how I wish we had extended one more day in Florence. It would be lovely to visit outside the city.

The next day, we had made our way to Venice.

VENICE

Our hotel transfer met us at the train station and brought us to…. a boat! That’s the only way to get to Venice. In the city, there are virtually vehicles and the only way to get through the veins of canals in the city is none other than by boat or other means of water transportation. I wonder if most people have boat licenses in Venice.

When I think of Venice, I can’t help recalling the famous “I am a Jew” and “If you prick us, do we not bleed?” dialogue from Shakespeare “The Merchant of Venice”. Oh and there’s also “Romeo and Juliet” but that’s set in Verona.

Of all the hotels, we are the most dissatisfied with the one in Venice. Shall not name it directly but I will give a hint. It is named after a famous smooth-talking playboy in Italy during the 18th century. Firstly, there is only wifi connection in the lobby and it’s weak. Ok fine but the worst was, our overseas data roaming does not work in our room! The hotel maybe small but I had stayed in small hotels which are still reasonable but the room in this hotel is rather bare. Can’t believe it is considered a 3-star hotel. More like a 2-star (perhaps, even 1-star) masquerading as a 3-star hotel.

Venice is often regarded as one of the most romantic cities in Europe. It is not hard to imagine why. Images of gondolas cruising down the narrow canals flanked by old-style architecture does exude a rather romantic aura. But it is also one of the highly visited cities in Europe so you can also imagine the throngs of tourists jostling through the equally narrow walk-ways. Where is that romantic feel??!! Urgh!

Despite the crowd, there is still that old-age charm about Venice though the hubby begs to differ. St Mark’s Basilica is a key attraction. Named after the city’s patron saint, St Mark, there was a story that his remains were stolen by some merchants from Alexandria during 828 AD and brought back to Venice, packed in chests full of vegetables and pork to avoid being detected by the Muslims. The return of St Mark’s remains to Venice was considered a great achievement for the city.

During the day till late evening, St Mark’s Square would be flooded by tourists as well as pigeons and also the touts, who not only sell roses, selfie sticks and what not, but also sell seeds that can entice these pigeons to feed from your hand. Erm, unhygienic much?

There are also many cafes along the inner parameters of the square. Had read online that these are all tourist traps where the prices of the food and drinks are marked up and not that delicious. As many had provided live music, there’re also warnings about an additional charge for music. Dunno how true cos we didn’t bother to pop by these cafes.

Don’t you think this red marble lion looks awfully sad? LOL..

As there are just too many narrow walkways snaking through the city, it is very easy to get lost. And this is precisely what a few travel websites had advised: Just get lost in Venice! Cos you’d never know what interesting shops or sights you will encounter.

I am expecting these gondola operators to play music (the kind played by an accordion) and serenade to the couple in their gondola. But no leh… a lot of them look quite grouchy. Haha.. Must be the hot weather. Can understand why nobody have the mood the sing while heaving as they rowed through the canals and to also take note not to bump into the gondola in front and at its side. At crowded parts of the canal or bottleneck areas, I can’t help thinking of bumper cars, since everyone seem so close to each other, but without the extreme bumping.

The super crowded Rialto Bridge is the oldest bridge that cross the Grand Canal.

Common souvenirs would be in the form of these Venetian masks, typically used during carnivals. Some of them look very creepy especially the one with the long beaks. Typically donned by doctors, particularly during the “Black Death” period, where these long beaks were meant to create that distance between the doctor and the disease-infected patients. There would also be this sponge of a concoction of herbs that would be placed in the tip of this beak to neutralise the spread of these diseases to the wearer. Dunno how effective is that.

In the evening, Venice is pleasant cos the weather is cool. The afternoon is just so unbearably hot that even with an umbrella, I had to go back to the hotel to take a short break in the afternoon (just like Rome) until the evening time when the sun is about to set.

In terms of food, we had more hits in Venice than the other cities. One of the restuarants, “Antica Sacrestia”,has a rather unique decor steeped in medieval history. I am rather excited by their lemon plant cos I have not seen one before. Us urban folks really need to get out and see more nature huh.

A Milanese speciality is squid with polenta. In fact, polenta is supposed to be a staple in a peasant’s diet but somehow it grew in popularity. I like polenta. Reminds me of solidified couscous. However, I find the squid ink sauce rather salty.

Another good find is Rosopomodoro for its excellent wood-oven pizza. Their pizzas are done the way I like them. Thin base with a chewy outer crust.

The Osteria Ai Tre Leini is also good. Not just for the service but for the quality of their food. I had the grilled sea bream which taste really fresh.

Our last stop is Milan.

Of all time, the air-con in the train that we had taken from Venice to Milan chose to break down!! It’s a torturous 2 hour plus of stuffy ride. Everyone was fanning like crazy and probably wish the train has wings instead.

MILAN

The air-con in our hotel pick-up car had never felt so good. Having visited cities that are rather traditional over the past few days, Milan feels more city-like even though they do have their fair share of old-style architecture of yesteryears.

Several people have told me that Milan is boring and there’s nothing much except shops and oh, the Duomo. Well, that is kind of true cos so far, we had only visited the Duomo and the area around it.

Since we will be traveling quite a bit via the subway, we had bought the Milano card. I guess many Italians would choose to visit the other cities instead of Milan cos it seem relatively less crowded than the other cities.

And there’s also the Gallery Vitorrio Emanuele… Nothing much other than a couple of restaurants and shops.

As usual, quite a few touts trying to sell their wares here. One of them even had the audacity to attempt hooking one of those bracelets simply made of colourful threads onto the hubby’s bags, only to receive a loud “Go away” from him. Haha…

We found this wonderful spot, located at the basement, which allows people to rest. Think I had taken a very short nap while resting on one of these chairs. Too comfy!

The next day, we had visited the Sforzesco Castle.

Other than the impressive medieval-like castle infrastructure, there’s nothing much that interest us in the museums/gallery in the castle.

On our last day, the hubby said we must visit the San Siro Stadium. Other than his favourite Liverpool, he also likes AC Milan.

Hey look! I am in the front seat of the train! Brings back childhood memories where I enjoyed sitting in the front seat on the upper deck of the double-decker bus. I’d always imagine I am driving the bus. Ironically, I do not like driving today. Haha…

The visit in San Siro took less than 2 hours including visiting the very small shop and the equally small museum. Can’t compare to the Liverpool museum and shop in Anfield. The hubby is not impressed.

But he’s still enthusiastic in posing with statues of past AC Milan players in the museum or the other artifacts like trophies, jerseys etc.

Some hits and misses in the food department in Milan.

Someone recommended that we should try the Risotto Milanese. It’s a little too cheesy for me.

There you have it…. that’s all I have to say about Milan… Essentially, nothing much!

After seeing sculptures after sculptures of naked/half-naked bodies, it is refreshing to see this sculpture of a middle-finger outside the Borsa Italiana. Must be a bold decision to place such an unconventional and most would say, rude (?), sculpture outside this important building.

That wraps up our 9-day Italian vacation!! Despite the heat and all, I had enjoyed myself. Best if the weather is really not that hot and the crowd is lesser too.

Now that my vacation is over, other than one more short one in Penang in the latter part of Aug, I had better start preparing myself for school. One reason why this entry is late was cos I am caught up with all my readings for Term 1 and I am not even done yet! Arrgh!!

A Crazy Chomping Long Weekend in Hong Kong

This happened 2 weekends ago, during the long Vesak Day weekend, which I am only posting it now. Looks like I have developed a (bad?) habit of posting entries late huh.

I may have mentioned this before but what the heck, cos I just like to reminisce so much. Hong Kong has a special status in my list of favourite vacation destinations. Had been there many times for both work and vacation, and yet I would still return again. Like Bangkok and Taipei. 

Why do I like HK so much? I mean, the city is densely crowded and in some parts, kinda dirty. The service level is not that great. The wait staff at the cha chan teng (茶餐厅) can be rude and impatient. My Cantonese is quite rotten though I can roughly understand some words and make out some sentences if they are not rattled off machine-gun speed. The shopping is decent but not uniquely different from our malls. The food is fantastic but still does not justify the price of the plane ticket and hotel for frequent visits.

The main reason is simple: HK is where I spent my first vacation overseas after my “O” levels in 1992. Technically, it’s Malaysia (end 1991) but we are connected by land and it’s pretty near so … Ok then, HK is my first overseas vacation destination that is not physically and directly (to be specific) connected to Singapore.   

During the 90s, the HK film industry was pretty much boomin’, churning out loads of movies where many were slapstick comedies, which I’d actually enjoyed back then though I might find them super lame today. Guess our taste in humour do change over time. And it was also the era of the “Four Heavenly Kings” (Andy Lau, Jacky Cheung, Aaron Kwok (and his famous centre-parting floppy fringe emulated by many ah bengs and butches at that time) and Leon Lai) and other Cantopop singers. I remembered religiously tuning into “Jade Solid Gold” as a way of beating the monotony of stationary bike cycling during breaks from cramming for the “O” Levels.

 

Hence, when I realised that we’re going to HK, I was freaking delighted and also harbouring the big fat chance of bumping into one of the “Heavenly Kings” which obviously didn’t happen but one can only hope right? 2 decades later, HK may be different as it evolves like many other major cities in time but some memories will remain for life. So yes, nostalgia triumphs above all..LOL

Ok, I shall now share about our eating escapade…

On the first day, after checking into Hotel Benito at Tsim Sha Tsui, we took the MTR to “Central”.

When in HK, there’s one dish that I would look forward to- Roast goose! Unfortunately, I don’t always have the opportunity to eat it during my work trips.

Before the trip, I had searched for recommended roast goose places and “Yat Lok” came up quite often. At “Central” MTR station, take exit D2 and head towards Stanley Street. Yat Lok is somewhere in the middle of the street. Like many eateries in HK, the interior is very small and cramped. The wait staff will just point to any available seats, which you’ll find yourself sharing the table with other people. Don’t bother asking for an exclusive table. Given the cramped space and the crowd, that ain’t happening,

Indeed, the roast goose from “Yat Lok” is one of the best. We got the quarter with drumstick for HKD 150 (around SGD 26). The skin is nicely crisped. The meat is quite tender and without much of that gamey taste. I supposed any gamey taste would have been masked by the oily braised sauce drizzled over the goose as well as the plum sauce served on the side. 

Did I mention oily? Yes, the roast goose is damn oily. There’s so much oil that I thought even my face feels oily at each bite. It is definitely a sinful (but delicious) plate of meat. Looking at the amount of oil and fat, we might even have busted our fat quota for the day or even two, and this is just the first dish of our trip!! Yikes! Ok, stop thinking about it. STOP!!

After satisfying our roast goose craving, we took a walk around Tsim Sha Tsui area. There wasn’t much activity going on, other than aimless strolling and a visit to the “Citysuper” which sells a lot of imported (and typically higher priced) groceries. Some of the common items are packaged quite differently from their usual look. Like this green can of Coke. 

Ok, the afternoon was really uneventful so I shall jump straight to dinner time.

We took the MTR to Mongkok to try Mak’s Noodles. There are a few branches in the city but we had chosen Mongkok so that we can check out the Ladies Market after that.

I had planned this trip is in accordance to the type of food, mainly typical HK cuisine, even though there are also pretty good Western restaurants in HK. We had started off with roast goose and then wantan noodles, a visit to a cha chan teng just to experience that bustling cafe ambience and finally, dim sum. Anyway, the duration of our visit is quite short, just 3 days and we can’t possibly eat non-stop so we have to be targeted, even down to the type of dishes ordered.

There were some mixed reviews about Mak’s Noodles but we have not tried before so let’s take a chance. Actually, the noodles didn’t disappoint. They are thin and springy, and do not have that overpowering alkaline taste that is common in these type of yellow noodles. The wantans are also succulent, filled with crunchy large prawns.

At HKD 34 (around SGD 5.80) for the normal wantan noodles, it is considered quite pricey for a rather small portion. Not sure why they want to cramp the noodles and wantans into such a small bowl either. However, the same can’t be said for their fermented pork trotter noodles. It’s too fatty! Gary disagreed but he loves fatty pork so his views are bias. To me, it is not worth it at HKD 48 (around SGD 8.30).

A colleague recommended the “Australia Dairy Co“. The name is rather misleading. It sounds like a western-style dessert place but it is actually a HK cha chan teng (cafe). We were already quite full from the noodles earlier but can’t resist getting an egg and toast set. The eggs are just normal sunny-side ups. However, the toast is thick but with a soft texture. Gary had a steamed milk pudding which he gave a thumbs up. But NO thumbs up for the service. The wait staff that served our table is a young chap who is rather impatient and spoke in a “I don’t give a crap” manner.

There is always a certain allure of Ladies Market for me, even though almost all of the items sold are not my cup of tea. Similar to the cha chan teng wait staff, the sellers can also be rude. The moment you touch an item or asked for the price, many would attempt to bargain a price with you and would even trail after you, holding a calculator in hand, and demanding (yes, in that tone) your preferred price. Some would openly show their displeasure if you walked away.

In previous trips, I had bought some bags, pyjamas and other knick-knacks. This time, we bought a selfie stick for HKD40. That is almost SGD 7. Not bad, considering many selfie sticks would cost around SGD 10 here!

The streets near the Ladies Market were packed with people. Of course, cos it’s a Saturday night. I wonder how many were tourists. Quite a number of street buskers performing on the streets. At one corner was a guy belting rock numbers, and further down the street were 2 ladies crooning evergreen oldies, and round another corner were a group dressed largely in neon colours with loud accessories singing and dancing. With the numerous bright neon signboards hanging over our heads, the streets are really 多姿多彩. 好热闹! 

The next day, we went back to “Central” again for dim sum at Maxim’s Palace. It is a Sunday so we’re expecting these dim sum restaurants, especially the popular ones, to be crazy packed. Indeed it was. We took a queue number from Maxim and it was quite a huge gap between the current number and our queue number. Gary estimated that we may need to wait for an hour or more.

However, we can’t ignore our growling stomachs so we thought of getting a light bite at another dim sum place and then return back to Maxim and see if we are still in the queue. If we had missed our turn, so be it. At least, we won’t be starving.

We headed to Stanley Street for another popular dim sum restaurant called “Luk Yu”. We ate there before during our visit in 2006 and it was not bad. Since it is considered a popular restaurant, we were informed that availability for 2 pax would be 2 hours later. What??!!

We are not gonna just wait for another 2 hours, so we had settled for “Wong Chi Kei” which is just a couple of doors down. “Wong Chi Kei” is known for their noodles and congee. Had came across many positive reviews about their congee.

We went for the “boat congee” (艇仔粥) which typically contains a chockfull of ingredients such as sliced fish, cuttlefish and peanuts. I agree with some of the reviews that the congee here is good. The texture is thick and creamy. How I wish we are at the year-end period where the weather is cooler and this bowl of warm congee would have been the perfect comfort food. Oh, there are some roast duck in the congee too. Yum!

The congee had helped refuel our flagging energy. We noticed a number of Filipinos congregating in the “Central” area. Similar to Singapore, many maids would have their day off on Sunday. In HK, they tend to choose the quieter spots in the business district instead of the shopping area at Tsim Sha Tsui, unlike back home, they prefer to hang out at Orchard Road.

Along the way, we came across these Filipinos sitting in groups, chatting/ playing cards, knitting/ making jewellery/ helping each other put on make-up/ having a picnic, and some were singing and dancing.

Well, we had missed our table at Maxim’s. Since we had come all the way here, we had decided to take another number and just wait around. We managed to get a table after waiting for 40mins.

I can see why Maxim’s is popular. The interior is quite spacious. May seem cramped from the picture but it is not that bad. The large chandeliers gave the place a slightly posh and modern feel which is quite a contrast from the ground where the dim sum are served in the traditional way via dim sum carts pushed around by mainly elderly wait staff. While this mode of serving might appeal to those who still relish such traditional experiences, I prefer to order through an order chit. Very often, the carts that passed by do not carry the dim sum that we want, and we would then stretched our necks out to check if the nearby carts would have those items. 

Food-wise, we didn’t think the dim sum is worth the queue and the hype. It is not bad but they are really nothing to shout about. Of the items we had ordered, my favourite would be the cha siew baos. The custard buns are a disappointment cos we thought the filling would be watery. Then we realised these are not 流沙包 (salted egg yolk custard), which might be uncommon here cos they are not on the menu of another popular dim sum restaurant “One Dim Sum”, which we had visited the next day and found it to be much better and value-for-money than Maxim’s. Will come to that later.

By the time we were done at Maxim’s, it’s almost 4pm. I can’t eat any further so we took the MTR to Causeway Bay to walk off the calories from the dim sum. There was a mad sale at Sogo but there’s nothing I need. Was pretty tempted to get a blusher from Laduree (I didn’t know they sell cosmetics too) but it’s almost SGD100 per piece, even after discount. No way I am getting blusher for that price.

Oh gosh, I can’t walk anymore. The weather is hot and I need a cool drink!

Found this interesting cha chan teng called “Match Box“. The interior is small but not as 杂 as “Australia Dairy Co”. What’s really cool is the retro interior decor, with many items of yesteryears on display. 好怀旧!

I would like to save some room for dinner but can still stomach some egg tart accompanied by a glass of refreshing Coke and lemon. The combination of the acidic fizz from the Coke and the tart lemon flavour makes this the perfect thirst quencher. On the other hand, the hubby could not resist getting a really rich plate of pancakes with bananas, walnuts and soft-serve vanilla ice-cream.

As if the roast goose from “Yat Lok” is not satisfying enough, we have to cross-compare it with another famous restaurant “Yung Kee“. We had visited Yung Kee in 2006 and had to queue quite a bit just to get a table. This time, we had made a reservation through their website. Very convenient!

We ordered a combination plate of roast goose and suckling pig. The suckling pig is just alright. Comparatively, the roast goose from “Yat Lok” beat “Yung Kee” hands down in terms of the crispness of the skin and tenderness of the meat.

By now, you must be thinking. Damn, they ate way too much! LOL!

After some walking around, we had to have some dessert from my favourite mango dessert place “许留山” (Hui Lau Shan). There used to be a branch in Orchard but it closed down!

We had shared this jumbo bowl of mango dessert (diced mange with mochi and a scoop of mango ice-cream). A set would include some appetisers which we had chosen pan-fried carrot cake with XO sauce and tiny balls of mango mochi.

The dessert is good. Thick and sweet with chunks of juicy mango. The texture of the tiny mochi balls could have been more chewy but they are still alright. The mango mochi balls, filled with mashed mangos (I think) and coated with desiccated coconut, are awesome. However, the XO pan-fried carrot cake is a let-down. The carrot cake is too oily. While the XO sauce is very spicy (for my liking), it lacks the robust and savoury flavour of the XO sauce that I am familiar with.  

On our last day in HK, we decided to check out “One Dim Sum“. Read quite a number of good reviews about it, mainly about the price. We took the MTR to “Prince Edward” station and exit at A. We had assumed the crowd wouldn’t be as bad as Sunday. We were half-right. It wasn’t mad crowded but there’s still a rather long queue outside the restaurant. Judging from the way they speak, it seemed that most were non-locals. Quite a number are fellow Singaporeans. There were also some Thais.  

First things first, please get a queue number from the wait staff. After that, you can stand around the restaurant and wait for them to call out your number. We had waited for almost an hour for our turn.

Compared to Maxim’s Palace, which the wait time’s around the same, “One Dim Sum” is definitely worth the wait. Of course, the best is, no queue but when a place is so popular, that is unlikely unless we visit at non-peak timings. Even so, I am not sure.

Anyway, what is so great about “One Dim Sum”? Firstly, the price is very reasonable. The prices ranged from HKD 14 (SGD 2.40) to no more than HKD 26 (SGD 4.50). The dim sum are not too bad either. I love the steam dumplings in chiu chow style. They are like 水晶包 but with a generous heap of crunchy water chestnuts and other savoury ingredients wrapped with a chewy skin. The curry sauce for the dried squid is more sweet than spicy. Reminds me of the curry that was sold in my primary school canteen. Whenever I ate such sweet curry with a slight tinge of spice, I would call it “primary school curry”. Hee…

After a satisfying meal of good dim sum, we took a train to Sham Shui Po (深水埗). I’d first heard about this place through the popular HK drama “Ghetto Justice” about a lawyer who fights injustice for the folks in Sham Shui Po. Since “One Dim Sum” is just one MTR stop away, I’d thought it would be interesting to check out this place.

The first thing that struck me was the densely packed residential units above the street market. These buildings definitely need an upgrade for both comfort and safety reasons. These units reminded me of the 1-room HDB flats in Toa Payoh and other old estates during the 70s.

It’s been a while (80s?) since I have seen a traditional butchery like this and many others within the vicinity.

挂猪头… A favourite stunt of loan sharks when someone owes them money. I don’t know if they still do that now. I mean, 猪头s are not commonly sold, definitely not in the supermarkets.

Live fish for sale…

After I snapped this picture of a cage full of frogs, the seller (an old guy) quipped, “Have you not seen these before?” I am not one for small talk so I just shook my head. Of course, I have seen these kermits before! I love them legs stir fried with ginger and a good sauce. Then he asked where we are from. Being the more chatty one, the hubby replied Singapore. To our surprise, the old guy raised one of his arm and went, “李光耀!” (Lee Kuan Yew) and followed by “李显龙!” (Lee Hsien Loong) and then “吴作栋!” (Goh Chok Tong). And finally, he said something along the lines of, HK welcomes Singaporeans. Wow… That’s really nice. For a moment, I thought he was gonna berate me for snapping pictures of his froggies.

Oh my… check out these old-school and ahem, also old in the literal sense, confectionery storage containers…

The egg tarts look good…

Fishballs are known as 鱼圆 back home but in HK, they are called 鱼蛋. I like these 鱼蛋 in “primary school” curry. 🙂

I have not seen such a shop before. One that sells different kinds of noodles.

In the end, we bought some PJs from this old man. Yes, I wear granny PJs at home cos they are so comfy.

It is an interesting insight of the marketing activities in a local neighbourhood. It is ironic in how I don’t look forward to going to the markets when I was a kid, mainly cos of the wet floor and a myriad of raw smells (worse was the chicken poop before the sale of live chickens was banned) but now I get excited in checking out these sights.

By 4pm, we were back at our hotel to pick up our luggage and make our way to the airport. It was a great long weekend of nothing much but eating. Yikes! Hopefully, the next time, we can have more time and visit Macau as well as other parts of HK.

“Hello Kitty Sweets Cafe” and “Modern Toilet”: Cute and Crude.. LOL!

The cafe culture is rather strong in Taipei. While there are many old-school eateries, there are also quite a number of cafes with quirky, cosy and unique designs. For the 3 days that we were in Taipei, we didn’t manage to check out many cafes. Instead, we had spent more time scavenging for recommended food places serving good Taiwanese specialities. If we had more days in Taipei, maybe we would carve some time to sit back and have a cup of tea and some pretty-looking cakes.

However, we had managed to check out 2 cafes that are of polar opposites. In fact, I had made the deliberate choice to visit these cafes, having read about them in several blog posts. These cafes had been around for some time so they are not new. But they had piqued my interest and since 难得 we’re here, let’s check them out!

1) Hello Kitty Sweets Cafe

Address: No 90, Section 1 Daan Road Daan District, Taipei. Nearest MRT station: Zhongxiao Fuxing

I am a sucker for Hello Kitty. Ok, not just Hello Kitty. Some Sanrio characters as well, like My Melody and Tuxedo Sam. But I am not obsessed. Yup, am sure of that. I just like the images and figurines, and some of the soft toys (smaller ones like those from McDonalds). And yes, I do have some stationery, T-shirts and some other stuff with the Hello Kitty and other Sanrio characters’ prints on them. Ok lah, I LOVE Hello Kitty ok!

Because of my LOVE for this pussy (yes it is), I must check out the Hello Kitty cafe in Taipei. It’s a short walk from the Zhongxiao Fuxing MRT station, along Zhongxiao E Road until you reach Section 1 Daan Road and then you turn right. You can’t miss the pastel pink cafe with the huge Hello Kitty signboard.

We had arrived at the time where they only served tea and desserts. To cater for periods where there are huge crowds of like-minded Hello Kitty fans, the cafe had imposed a 1 and a half hour time limit for each table, and they do stick to that. Cos we were reminded, politely no less, to settle our bill and leave when our time is up. Anyway, I’ll get to that later.

Oh and there is also a NTD90 minimum spending limit per person. That is minimally a drink.

Now, let’s check out the cafe. It’s swarmed with largely pink, of course, and baby blue. All the dessert on display are either in the shape of Hello Kitty or have some sort of Hello Kitty-decor on them. They really look too cute to be eaten. If I may jump the gun, they should remain as decorative pieces instead of consumable dessert cos they are not really that nice. They are literally all look but no substance.

Being a “Hello Kitty” cafe, the walls are mainly decked with cute images of Hello Kitty and her friends. Of course, the Christmas tree had to be pink. *squeal*. Most of the customers, including myself, were happily snapping pictures all around. Only the guys seemed disinterested… Hahaha…

Now, about the one and half hour time limit… Sure, the cafe can be very crowded during peak hours cos there are also many others who would like to immerse in the ambience of everything cute and just cute. But to be fair, the customers should also be given ample time to enjoy our dessert (even though they are not that good but that’s my opinion. Who knows, some may find them alright) and coffee/tea. As we’re working through the last few mouthful, we were told that our time is up. Tsk…

Our dessert came quite late. Makes me wonder how much time can one take just to dish out 2 pieces of cake. Even the side decor of mini macarons and chocolate twirls should not take that long right?

As I was saying, the desserts were not fantastic. It’s all about the packaging. Never underestimate the power/appeal of Hello Kitty. Such that, it can lure people like me, who is sensible most of the time (Well, I think I am!), to this over-hyped cafe that is all cutesy pink and fluff.

2) Modern Toilet

Address: 2F, No.50-7 Xining South Road, Taipei. Nearest MRT station: Ximen

Speaking of packaging, I am lured to another cafe that got me curious. Now, this cafe is not exactly cute, though some may beg to differ, but rather, crude cos it involves the “doing the pee-pee or poo-poo”.

There are some blogs that gives quite clear walking directions from Ximen MRT station to “Modern Toilet”. Just google. That’s how we managed to find our way to this cafe. When you see a toilet bowl hanging from the building, you know you’d reached the destination.

Everything from the table to the seats and wall decor gotta do with the toilet. The seats are actually real toilet bowls! But with such hard covers, I am sure the comfort level is rather low.

The souvenirs are also toilet-themed. From poop figures with facial expression (yikes) to toilet bowls (both sitting and the squat versions) and poop-shaped soft toys. Even Hello Kitty is not spared! Haha…

Now comes what some may considered as crude and bizarre…… The food and drinks are served in what else, but toilet bowls (again, both sitting and the squat models) and urinals. How apt to see chocolate soft-serve, shaped to look like poop (now that’s easy) and served in a squatting toilet bowl.

Surprisingly for someone who is extremely picky about clean toilets, I am able to stomach all these food served in such manner. The only thing I’d actually found gross was the ginormous shaved ice drenched in chocolate sauce and served with a side of chocolate soft-serve ice-cream in the squatting toilet bowl. With the chocolate dripping at the sides!! It looks as if this particular toilet bowl has a severe sewage situation here… So yucky gross that I need to take a picture. LOL! See above image.

This dessert actually belongs to a table of 2 Filipino ladies who had trouble finishing it. One of them kept saying it’s so cold… Methinks it’s so icky… ha… Anyway, they didn’t finish it. Don’t think it’s that nice.

Gary regretted ordering the pork cutlet curry cos it’s really nothing special and is wasted calories when there are other delish food which he could have enjoyed which he can’t for the next few hours cos he’s too full. See lah. Who ask him to order this dish?

Likewise as the Hello Kitty cafe, the food at “Modern Toilet” is really average at most. People are just fascinated with the concept of a toilet theme, even if they maybe grossed out, but that’s just it. Guess the novelty will wear off soon unless they improve in the quality of the food.

Again, these cafes are over-hyped and nothing more. In any case, I didn’t regret checking them out. At least now we know and will likely not visit them again, if we do visit Taipei again.

Chomping our way through 淡水老街 (“Danshui old street”)

We can’t get enough of Taipei. Whenever we plan for a short getaway, Taipei would be one of the places that comes to mind. There are other places in Taiwan that are worth exploring too. Definitely someday. We chose Taipei this time round cos it is the easiest to plan and get around. And we prefer somewhere cooler in weather with good food. So Taipei, it is…

Before I talk about Danshui, maybe I should share some thoughts on getting to the city and the hotel that we had stayed in.

Getting to Taipei city from the airport

There is no direct MRT or train line from the Taiwan Taoyuan International Airport. To get to the main city area, you can either 1) grab a cab; 2) a bus to the hi-speed rail station and then a train ride to the Taipei Main Station or; 3) a direct bus to the Taipei Main Station. There are several bus lines to Taipei Main Station but “Kuo-kuang” (Bus no. 1819) offers the lowest rate at NTD125 (SGD 5.20) per pax.

Do note that the queue for bus no. 1819 can get really long during periods when there are arrival passengers trying to get to the main city. Each bus interval is around 10-15 mins and 2 buses had passed before we managed to board one, so that’s around half an hour of waiting. But we’re considered lucky cos around 15mins after we had started queuing, the queue had just gotten longer by the minute. I think the last few people might have to wait several buses before their turn come. Alternatively, you can check out the queue for bus no. 1819 before buying the tickets and if it’s super long, you may wanna get a ticket to the hi-speed rail station instead or another bus line but at a slightly higher cost.

Reminiscent of Japan

To some extent, Taiwan reminds me of Japan. Ok, let’s talk about Taipei. Somehow the overall layout including the signs are similar to the subway stations in Tokyo no? There are even little stalls/shops selling snacks, some of them in cute packaging. Similar to the stalls/shops at say, Tokyo station.

Likewise, the service level is excellent. People are generally polite and friendly. Only difference is, the Taiwanese are more expressive, or what we would describe as “热情” as compared to the subtlety of the Japanese.

So far, we had not met a rude service staff (thankfully). In fact, at some of the stalls in the night markets or streets, some of the sellers were enthusiastically offering food samples and still give you a big smile even when you had walked away after sampling much. It’s hard to walk away when they kept shoving little cups of brown-sugar ginger and other flavoured tea (apparently, quite the fad these days or maybe the past XX years? I dunno but they are all over the place) or crackers and other tidbits to you.

Ideal hotel location

As for hotels, we had stayed at Cosmos Hotel which is right next to exit M3 of Taipei Main Station.

As you can see from the pictures above, the hotel room is SMALL. There isn’t much room at the side of the queen size bed and the bathroom is also rather small. BUT, it is decent enough for us. At least, the room is clean, doesn’t have some weird, moldy smell and it comes with the basic amenities- kettle, safe (though very small), free wi-fi (yay!), fridge and paper slippers. The service is also good. Most of our time is spent outdoors and we are back only to zzz, so in spite of the room size, we love this hotel largely cos of the location.

To Danshui…

I’d wanted to visit Danshui in our last trip back in 2011 but didn’t have time to squeeze that in. This time, I had planned an afternoon just for Danshui. By MRT, it’s about 40mins from Taipei Main Station and it is the last stop along the Tamsui-Xinyi (Red) line.

Once you exit Tamsui station, turn left and walk all the way down to the Danshui old street (淡水老街). Once the largest port in Taiwan during the 19th century, Danshui is now a laid-back and quaint coastal town that still retain that 古老味. Speaking of which, a lot of food stalls/shops, we had passed by, had boasted the 古老味 for their food as well. Authenticity appeals so I guess, sticking to tradition and proclaiming about it, is a selling factor.

Taipei is definitely a food paradise. Take Danshui for example, we had passed by mostly food stalls/shops, one after another.

As mentioned above, the brown-sugar ginger tea (姜母茶) is something which we did not encounter in our last visit but there are a lot of stalls selling these tea cubes at every night market. There are other flavours too and each flavour has its set of health benefits. Like the ginger tea is supposed to be good for digestion and I think, blood circulation. Gary likes the spicy sweet tea and had bought a pack of mixed tea cubes for himself. Well, he can have the whole bag cos this is not my cup of tea (literally). I’d still like my green tea and had bought a few packs of loose green tea and pu erh tea instead. To each their own when it come to tea.. LOL!

Now these home-made nougat are nice. They are chewy and rich in flavour, especially the butter ones. Had bought a few packs- one for the office, one for friends and one for ourselves. Perfect.

After strolling along, what a seller had called, the “new street” (新街), we had reached the waterfront area. The weather is little chilly and misty so sadly, not much of a scenery there. There is a strange-looking sculpture of a dude with one leg pointing to the sky.

Instead the line of food shops with all the yummy looking snacks had made up for the lack of much scenery beyond the waters.

Common street food include these deep-fried (some stalls had used the air-fryer for a slightly healthier and less oily version) squids- either whole or just the tentacles, sakura shrimps, small crabs (dunno what they are called) and grilled king oyster mushrooms. We had tried the air-fried squid tentacles. They are so succulent and chewy. Yum..

Ah, we had found what we are looking for— the “阿给老店”. There is another branch opposite the “New Taipei City Danshuei District Office” that is along the same street as the “Fuyou Temple”.

Anyway, “阿给” is the name of a dish. Not sure why the name. It is a speciality in Danshui. Mainly deep-fried beancurd stuffed with glass noodles and some mince meat or fish paste stewed in some sort of spicy sweet red yeast (?) braise sauce. Apparently, this shop sells the best “阿给”. I dunno if it is the best but the taste is quite alright. A little weird combination of the above-mentioned but a pretty comforting food in this weather.

We had also ordered the fried beehoon, fishball soup and meatballs in thick starchy sauce. The meatballs alone are not bad but the sauce is a little too thick for me. The fishballs are no big deal. Had expected them to be more chewy, you know that QQ-ness, but they are little tough and dry in texture.

Most of the eateries, especially the supposedly traditional ones, have very small and cramped interior. It’s meant for people to just eat and go. None of that chilling around with a book or catching up in chit-chats over a cuppa. They are not designed and built for hanging out.

After our meal, the next thing was to search for another Danshui speciality- “Iron eggs” (铁蛋). Had read online that the iron eggs from 阿婆 are recommended among the other brands. Frankly, I can’t tell the difference but no harm getting a few packs from this stall.

Quite a few people I know have not heard of iron eggs. And when I offered them some, the usual reaction would be along the lines of queasiness. But those who are brave to try them, would be pleasantly surprised by their delectable flavour and can’t help taking one more and another. Hahaha…

Yes, the very black and jelly-like appearance of these eggs are not very pretty but I love them. Had read online that these eggs look like what they are, is due to a recooking in a braised sauce (滷) and drying process. Hence, these chewy little eggs have a strong 滷 flavour. As these are real eggs with yolks intact, I need to watch over-popping them given that I have borderline high cholesterol. Sigh…

That’s Fuyou temple in the image below. It is the oldest temple in Danshui. Being a fishing town historically, it would be appropriate to give worship to the Goddess of the sea- Mazu (妈祖)- which this temple is dedicated to.

Chanced upon a long wall with colourful murals of mountains, animals, Gods and chinese calligraphy.

There are many shops selling traditional specialities of Danshui. One of them are fishballs.

Watching these workers fry these fish crackers on site had tempted me to get a few packs of these crackers. They are very addictive and make good TV snacks.

We had spent a good whole 3 hours at Danshui. Had our fair share of street snacks. If I have a bigger stomach and higher metabolism, trust me, I would eat more. Haha! We had definitely enjoyed ourselves in our leisurely stroll along the streets and feasting (also with our eyes) on the street snacks and specialities. Gotta pace ourselves cos we have night markets to check out too! 🙂

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….

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.