Wednesday, 2 May 2018

Weekend Getaway Edition #1: Cafe Hopping & Street Art in George Town

Two weekends ago, I set off to explore the city of George Town, Malaysia. Four months into my time in Singapore, I figured it was time to fully take advantage of being back in Asia and explore some nearby destinations. This was my unofficially-official experiment to see how possible it is to travel overseas on a regular weekend- 48 hours. (Spoiler alert: it is entirely possible).

So, why George Town as my first destination?

  • A friend of mine said his favourite food ever was on the island of Penang, where George Town is located
  • The unique street art and historic feel of the town (a designated UNESCO World Heritage Site)
  • A super quick flight time (an hour and a half)
  • ....a damn good Air Asia sale that I couldn't pass up

The weekend started off at the number one airport in the world (literally)- Changi Airport. After checking in, going through security and immigration all in the span of under 20 minutes, I could see why. (Yay for automatic immigration!) The beautiful decor, cleanliness, abundance of charging outlets and dedicated "snooze lounges" was an added bonus.

Upon landing in Malaysia, I picked up a 48 hour sim card with unlimited data for $10, caught a Grab, and made my way to my hostel. Let the exploring commence!

Cafe #1- China House

I met a new friend at the hostel who asked if I wanted to get some cake (lol). Since I am 1- always down for some cake and 2- had no plans, I said sure and followed along. With zero expectations- we ended up here. A quiet, laid back and beautifully unique cafe- China House.  Lesson here: say yes to getting cake with strangers.

Salted Caramel Cheesecake and Tiramisu
The cafe itself spans three heritage buildings and the whole length of one side street. It's not until you walk to the very back where you experience the magical pool and patio, where they have live music at night.

Cake, cake and more cake! 

....I'm still kicking myself for not trying the caramel cashew cake.

The Streets

I knew there was a lot of street art in Georgetown, but I didn't expect this much! Around every little street corner you would find colourful, unique and often three dimensional street art. Inviting, almost begging to be photographed or posed with. 

Thank you to some kind and lovely strangers for asking if I wanted my photo taken!

I could have walked those streets forever attempting to find new and exciting murals to capture. If I were to go back, I would hire a trishaw (similar to a rickshaw) for an hour. Everyone who I spoke to said it was worth it, as you have a local person who shows you around and knows where all the great street art is. Considering the easily exhaustive heat while walking, this would be an added bonus!

Cafe #2- Awesome Canteen

Not only do I love exploring cafes for their unique ambiance (and coffee), but I find it is the perfect way to recuperate while travelling, especially in hot weather.  A nice little mid-afternoon cafe break is just what I need to refuel, and hanging out in a place that looks like this for a while sure doesn't hurt.

High ceilings, industrial and rustic walls, a touch of greenery, and natural flowing light. Finding unique spots like this make me happy.

The second story of this cafe is actually a hotel that you can stay in!

Other than cafe hopping and hunting for street art, my weekend was spent trying various street food and getting a little sample of Georgetown's nightlife. Which was lively and energetic despite the fact that I was there mid-week, since my weekends are Wednesday-Thursday. Patios filled with people overflowing onto the streets, flavoured shisha smoke blowing through the air and cheap, cheap drinks. A lot of things you don't get to see or experience in Singapore!

I spy my second home- Korea!

And my first home- Canada.
I would totally go back to George Town for a weekend since I definitely think there is more to explore. However, there are some other new destinations that are calling my name first. What destination will be up next on the second edition of Weekend Getaway? Langkawi? Kuala Lumpur? Bangkok?

Grateful to be living in a place that offers such ease of travelling to other destinations in Asia!

Until next time,


Wednesday, 14 March 2018

Singapore Staycation Part 3: Island Getaway

Technically, I already live on an island. A booming, crowded, metropolitan one- but nevertheless, an island. A getaway to a nearby Singaporean island, one much less populated and less developed, sounded like a perfect day trip to do with my friend Dan during Chinese New Year.

Pulau Ubin, northeast corner of Sinapore near the border of Malaysia 

Only a ten minute and $3 bumboat ride away, we headed to the (almost) untouched oasis of Pulau Ubin. Upon embarking on the boat, we could already tell this was going to be much different than mainland Singapore.

Old, weathered boats most likely not up to safety standards, and drivers with less than proficient English shouting, "Money! Money! Money!", it was definitely a step back from the extreme efficiency and often over the top organization that is mainland Singapore.

As it was Chinese New Year AND a weekend, it was packed with people that were also in need of a break from the hustle and bustle of the big city. Despite it being quite busy, it was still noticeably quieter than the mainland and had a more laid back atmosphere. Kind of like stepping into a time machine and seeing what Singapore would have been like years ago.

We rented some less than desirable bikes, that had clearly spent way too much time outside in the humid and rainy weather. Despite some rusty chains and semi-functioning brakes, we (carefully) peddled on to explore the island.

We stumbled upon a gorgeous waterfront campsite in the northern most part of the island, where you could see Malaysia in the distance.

Prepare to have your bag (and body) put through a scanner on the way back to the mainland (even though you never technically left Singapore. I guess being so close to Malaysia, they are quite strict when it comes to potential smugglers? (Hence the marine fence?) *These are all just guesses*.

Spoiler Alert: There were no cold drinks.

The highlight of our time spent on Pulau Ubin (well, mine at least) was "hiking" Puaka Hill. Probably the closest I'll get to hiking in Singapore! We trekked all the way to the top in about 15 minutes (hence the word hill), and it offered amazing views and a perfect photo op.

Despite our smiles, we were a hot and sweaty mess.

It felt so good to climb something, and get rewarded with a nice view for your efforts. (The stair-master at the gym can only do so much).You could actually see some high-rise apartments in the distance! Can you spot them in the photo below?

When we weren't biking around or "hiking" the hill, we spent time at one of the two "restaurants" on the island (I use that term loosely), drinking from coconuts, and dodging monkeys. While my friend Dan was having an excellent time photographing the monkeys, I simply had no choice but to bike right through them while chanting, "oh my god, oh my god," to myself on repeat. Literal CROWDS of monkey families on the paths. Still petrified from my previous monkey encounter, I think you can understand why there are no photos of these monkeys. 

It's hard to believe this little gem of an island is part of Singapore, and only a ten minute ferry ride away. I hope it forever stays "untouched", and continues to serve as a nearby respite from the busy city life of Singapore.

- Laur in Singapore

Wednesday, 28 February 2018

Seeing Red: Chinese New Year, Part Two

Chinatown during Chinese New Year season in Singapore is one heck of a busy place, I'll tell you that much. Not only will you be seeing red because of the festive colour being quite literally everywhere, however you may also start seeing red due to the streets being so packed, that you are in skin to skin contact with all the strangers within a 360 degree radius of you.

 Despite the craziness of the streets, I was still able to snag some photos (thank you crop feature).

The photogenic mix of the colonial architecture with the glow of the Chinese lanterns (and the Free Wi-fi sign to top it off) made all the craziness worth it. 

It's strange being in a foreign culture during their biggest holiday celebration. You can try and understand the traditions, but it's almost impossible to have that same connection that you have with holidays back home. Comparable to our Christmas season (with the whole month of December leading up to it), the actual celebration of Chinese New Year lasts fifteen days.

On the Eve of Chinese New Year, and the actual day of Chinese New Year (not when these photos were taken), I was shocked by how quiet the city was. Almost all restaurants and shops were closed, the streets were empty of cars, the construction that usually wakes me up in the morning stopped.

The craziness ceased, and turned to stillness. Everyone was with their relatives celebrating at home.

"I guess this is how people who don't celebrate Christmas feel on Christmas Day and Boxing Day", I thought to myself.

This thought helped me understand the holiday a little more. The build up of Christmas, the madness of the shopping leading up to the main holiday. Then come December 25th- stillness.

Thursday, 22 February 2018

Chinese New Year: Singapore Staycation, Part 1

Happy Lunar New Year from Singapore! I was lucky enough to ring in the Year of the Dog with a much needed five day weekend. As the cost of flights increase by approximately 500% during this time, I decided it was best to simply stay in Singapore, relax, and explore some new areas. Not leaving the country ended up being a great decision, as my friend Dan from Korea also came to visit for a few days!

Rewind a few days- the long weekend started out with a day trip to MacRitchie Reservoir, a giant section of (barely) untouched jungle, smack dab in the middle of Singapore. A breath of fresh air (literally) from the hustle and bustle of this city-state/country/city/island.

You would think that living on a land mass four times smaller than P.E.I, everything would be fairly close to to get to. However, some things are easier to get to than others- MacRitchie being one of the harder ones. We ended up taking a short Uber ride instead of the hour and a half public transit trip.

The Reservoir starts out as just that- a large body of water where you can rent kayaks among other things (I really need to start taking pictures of everything). You can then take a boardwalk or trail leading to other landmarks, such as the Treetop Walk- which was our intended destination.
A monitor lizard
We saw lots of creatures along the way, the first being a monitor lizard, which I had previously seen in the Botanic Gardens. My first reaction, "Is that a komodo dragon?!" Turns out, komodo dragons are in the same family as monitor lizards.

A spiky and well defended tree. If anyone knows the name, please share!

We also came across tons of unique plants and trees that we do not have back home. Black needle spiked trees, plants with leaves the size of my body, and red-stemmed palm trees, to name a few.

We had heard wild monkeys frequent MacRitchie, but nothing could prepare us for the sheer amount of them, and what would happen during our first encounter with one.

We saw Monkey #1 from afar- in awe that in the middle of Singapore, we were now amongst wild monkeys. We immediately whipped out our cameras and started taking pictures. All of a sudden, the monkey looked up, and locked eyes with me. Literally stared into my soul like no other animal (and wild, at that) had looked at me before. It then showed it's teeth- a sign of aggression (not a smile, we would later found out). Then proceeded to jump from the tree it was on, to the tree that was right above us. I screamed and ran away as fast as I could! Images of being scratched and bitten and having to get a rabies shot flashed through my mind. (I am being slightly overly dramatic, but let me have my moment).

And it was at that exact moment where monkeys went from being cute, to terrifying- and will now forever taint all my future experiences with monkeys. (Which have already happened all too soon, who knew there were so many monkeys in Singapore?!?!) We later found out, on a friendly sign placed ever so helpfully after this near monkey attack, to never make eye contact with the monkeys. Lesson learned!

3.5km later, unscratched and unbitten, we made it to the Treetop Walk!

Suspension Bridge through the trees

 Yay to new friends and new experiences!

Just to show HOW big the leaf is. Bigger than half of me I would say!

It was at this point where our walk was coming to an end, all we had to do was follow the signs to the parking lot. Simple, right? But no, of course seven monkeys had to be hanging out just where we needed to go. Not just on the trail, but on the overhead branch as well. Since the stress from our last encounter was still alive and well, there was no way we were going through that alone. We thought it was best to wait for other people who were also heading that direction, and use them as a human shield walk with them. Surely there had to be some people coming soon?

And that is exactly what we did. Not long after we conjured up our plan, a group of four people were headed to the parking lot, so we tucked ourselves behind them, trying to act as inconspicuous as possible. Although we did not do a very subtle the whole time we were muttering "don't make eye contact, don't make eye contact".

We ended up telling them the story, our behaviour then making a whole lot more sense.

That was the first day of Chinese New Year, just the tip of the shenanigans about to transpire. Stay tuned for more!


Thursday, 1 February 2018

First Month in Singapore: Eight New Normals

Hi! Laura2Korea here, back again with another post, not living in Korea and still without a new blog name (working on it).

My first full calendar month living in Singapore has come to an end. Filled with some ups and downs, I'm definitely still adjusting to life here (but I'll make another post on that later). Throughout this month, I've learned a lot more about Singapore and the realities here that are different than back home. Similar to my "Top 10 Cultural Differences" regarding life in Korea back in 2014 (how the heck does time fly so fast), I present to you- the Singaporean edition.

1. Kids drink coffee

Yes, my ten year old students drink coffee. This is "normal" here.

2. Children stay up REALLY late

Since I work at an after school centre, my hours are afternoon and evenings. You would think for the younger kids, they would have them in the earlier time slots, but that is not the case. It is normal for all the teachers in our centre to teach Kindergartners (or younger) from 7:30-9PM. I know. Crazy, right?

3. Greenery in places I didn't know could have greenery

Officially one of my favourite buildings. "Park Royal Tower" (via Flickr)

Literally coming out of BUILDINGS. Definitely a new normal I can get used to.

4. Singaporeans love shopping

It's basically considered a hobby here. There are malls everywhere- almost every MRT station has one connected to it. And they are always packed. They love their air conditioning, and take respite from the hot and humid weather by enjoying the AC, while shopping.

5. Drinks almost always come in bags

The smoothie you ordered, your coffee, juice, you name it. If it doesn't automatically come in a bag, they will surely ask, "Would you like a carrier?" Or, if you're lucky, the bag also doubles as the cup (picture #2).

6. ...but don't drink these fun drinks in a bag on public transit

That's right, no food OR drink (including water) can be consumed on public transit. Food, I can understand. But sometimes, a girl just wants to leisurely sip on a bubble tea while riding the MRT (instead of hurriedly gulping it down before getting to the station). 

7. The garbage chute is where?

In apartment buildings back home, garbage chutes would typically be in the hallway, right? Here in Singapore, they're right under your sink! Super convenient.

8. Public service announcements everywhere

Over the intercom while riding the subway, posters plastered everywhere, signs outside of stores. For all things- smoking, groping (or what they call molesting), terrorism, theft.

Seen on the subway, but taken from Google. 

Seen outside the mall near my apartment

Despite the fear provoking PSA's, I feel extremely safe in Singapore and I am very grateful for that. It is clean, green, convenient, and the food options are endless.

To end this post, here is my first compilation from the app "1 Second A Day". Which, just like the name suggests- allows you to document one second video clips and then compile it into one final "movie". With January 2018 being a month filled with lots of firsts and new experiences, I thought this was the perfect time to try it (something I mentioned in my "Eighteen Things for 2018" post). (I apologise for the quality- it's quite grainy!)

Sending love and big hugs to anyone reading from back home! I miss you all.

Until next post,

- Laura