temples

5 places of worship I visited while travelling

I’m not a very religious person although I do visit a Buddhist temple from time-to-time.

Since I am not bounded by a strict religion, I like to visit churches and temples when I travel.

The places of worship are usually peaceful and beautiful. Usually…

Sagrada Familia @ Barcelona

Sagrada Familia @ Barcelona

Sagrada Familia @ Barcelona

Work in progress. The inside is actually prettier than the outside.

Tokyo Daijingu @ Tokyo

Tokyo Daijingu @ Tokyo

Tokyo Daijingu @ Tokyo

This place is supposedly great for praying for romance. Has it worked for me?

Church of Scientology @ San Francisco

Church of Scientology @ San Francisco

Church of Scientology @ San Francisco

Pretty on the outside…

Candi Sewu @ Prambanan

Candi Sewu @ Prambanan

Candi Sewu @ Prambanan

Candi Sewu is actually nicer than its more famous neighbor.

Masjid Kampung Kling @ Melaka

Masjid Kampung Kling @ Melaka

Masjid Kampung Kling @ Melaka

A mosque with the most unique roof I’ve seen since I was familiar with the onion domes. (Apparently, I’ve not visited enough mosques.)

Spanish in 30 Days

Hola! Let’s learn Spanish.

I’m travelling to South America some time next year and I want to be able to speak Spanish to help me go through life easier.

I went to a Spanish language school a few months back and quite enjoyed it. My four semesters of French made it easier to pick up the language compared to my other classmates who were were thrown into the deep end of the Spanish pool.

Even though the language school has higher level classes, I don’t think I am want to spend about S$300 to improve my Spanish.

Self studying Spanish

What will I do then? I plan to self study.

I’m a fan of self-proclaimed language hacker, Benny Lewis, who evangelizes speaking from day 1.

While I probably won’t be as hardcore as he is buy speaking from day 1, I plan to learn from his methods and do a lot of self studying.

Spanish in 30 Days

I don’t think I will be able to speak Spanish in 30 days.

I’ve borrowed some language books and CDs from the library which I can practise reading and listening from.

For more listening and vocabulary practice, I can check out Spanish versions of pop songs (although I’m not that sure of some of their accents).

I also discovered that my current-favorite TV show/band (Flight of the Conchords) has Spanish dubs. I’ve put up a playlist of Los conchords in Spanish. If I can get my hands on the lyrics, I’ll be able to learn new vocabulary.

If you are interested in laughing out loud to songs, I recommend:
– Fashion is Danger [English | Spanish]
– You Don’t Have to be a Prostitute [English | Spanish]
– Business Time [English | Spanish]

Even though it’s still too early, I have a Spanish version of Bridget Jones’s Diary which I bought second hand while in San Francisco. I have the English version, maybe I can do a side-by-side readings? My goal is to understand at least 50% of the content by the time I leave for South America.

Bridget Jones's Diary, en espanoil

Bridget Jones’s Diary, en espanoil

To end this post, I bring you the only Spanish song I know all the lyrics to.

Indie Travel Challenge
This blog post was inspired by BootsnAll’s Indie Travel Challenge weekly travel blog project.

Week 43 of the Indie Travel Challenge is a challenge to start learning a new language:
Q: Do you speak two languages or more? What are those?
A: Fluent English, Mandarin Chinese and Malay. Conversational Japanese, French.

Check out my other #indie2012 posts.

Do you have any recommendations for beginners in Spanish?

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5 transportation I took during my travels

I rarely take taxis when travelling. One main reason is that I am stingy thrifty. The other reason is that it’s more interesting to take the public transport and see how the locals travel.

Train in Yogyakarta

Train in Yogyakarta
The ladies-only carriage was among the Top 10 Things I Love about Central Java

D and I were travelling from Jogja to Solo on the local train. Some of the ladies brought their own stools so they don’t need to sit on the floor.

The whole journey felt like a big party, except I was standing.

Public bus in Kamakura

Public bus in Kamakura
Japanese buses are efficient. They even have a timetable of when the buses come.

Biking in San Francisco

Biking in San Francisco
I love cycling and I love cities that embrace cycling. I rented an electrical bike and cycled to Sausalito from San Francisco. It didn’t matter that my bicycle chain fell off and I had to put it back.

Boat in Kuching

Boat in Kuching
A 50 cents ride across the river in the City of Cats.

Becak in Solo

Becak in Solo
One becak drive who took us from Jogja town back to our hotel didn’t manage to get any commission from batik shops and complained about us being “gemuk” (fat). I thought it was quite funny.

Indie Travel Challenge
This blog post was inspired by BootsnAll’s Indie Travel Challenge weekly travel blog project.

Week 36 of the Indie Travel Challenge is all about photography: Share 5 photos you took during your travels.

Check out my other #indie2012 posts.

Floating udon

#FoodFri My love affair with Japanese food

Floating udon

Floating udon


When I was a kid, having Japanese food was a rare treat.

The Japanese restaurant that my family goes to most often started its business when I was just in high school. The place was different from the usual rowdy Chinese restaurants and had beautiful finished puzzles of Japanese beauties on the wall.

Each university vacation, my parents would take the family to the Japanese restaurant–Miyabi–for dinner. For me, Japanese food signified family.

Before my trip to Japan for summer school at the end of my third year, I read about the variety of Japanese food in my guidebooks. Back then, I didn’t understand why anyone would choose to eat wasabi. For me, Japanese food signified the exotic.

Today, I voluntarily scoop out the green spicy paste and mix a bit of soy sauce to it. I could slurp a bowl of udon/ramen as loudly as the Japanese businessman could. For me, Japanese food signified delicious meals.

Now, I am finishing this post at Changi Airport. In 8 hours, I will be in Tokyo where I will spend the weekend having fun before starting my business trip on Monday.

Even though I have not fully planned out my itinerary, I have made up my mind what I want to eat: sushi at Tsukiji, Monjayaki, udon, ramen, old Edo-styled tempura, rice balls from the convenience store and lots and lots of cheap conveyor belt sushi.

I leave you with this fascinating outdoor advertisement for a udon shop.

Other Japan eats:
What does fugu tastes like?
#FoodFri Silk pudding @ Tokyo, Japan
#FoodFri Breakfast @ Kyoto National Museum
#FoodFri Japanese fast food: Nakau

This blog post was inspired by BootsnAll’s Indie Travel Challenge weekly travel blog project.
Week 35 of the Indie Travel Challenge is all about Food in Asia: You have to pick one country in Asia to eat from for a month. What country do you pick? Why?

6 tips for a pleasant budget flight

Once you go budget, you never go back. Unless you have lots of money that is.

I’m a big fan of budget airlines, although I don’t like the hidden charges they secretly add on while you book.

The longest budget flight I’ve taken was the now-defunct Kuala Lumpur-Paris route. Thank goodness I was sleepy both ways and was deep asleep during the 14 hours trip.

As a veteran budget flyer, here are some tips for a more comfortable budget flight. Tips are based on budget flights in the Southeast Asia region, some other airlines might have more strict rules.

1. Book strategically
Do you know that booking early doesn’t guarantee you a cheap seat? It’s best to book when the airlines have promos. Keep up-to-date with promotions by joining their mailing lists.

A cheap flight makes me happy and cancels out much of the inconvenience of budget flights.

2. One carry on
I’ve reached the stage where I can go on a 7-night trip with only one carry on. It really saves time and hassle when I do not need to check in my luggage or wait for it to come out from the unmerry-go-around.

I cheat at this by bringing an extra large handbag or a backpack that works as a laptop bag but stuff it with well…stuff…other than a laptop.

3. Bring an empty bottle
Most airports will allow an empty bottle (not Jakarta, I found out the semi-hard way) which you can fill with drinking water in the lounge. But only some airports have drinking fountains, which is why I love Changi Airport.

4. Sneak food
Despite my unnatural love for plane food, I don’t buy extra food on budget flights unless the flight at a weird timing like right in the middle of lunch or dinner. I sneak in food that can be munched on stealthily like a ninja.

Have you seen a ninja eat? Never? That’s what I call stealth.

5. BYOEntertainment
I usually bring a book (or my darling Kindle) when I travel. On a budget flight, I pore through the in-flight magazine then ration my book. I also write blog posts or watch videos on my laptop.

You should never EVER play your smartphone game with the speakers on. You can be attacked by ninjas for this.

6. Sleep
If you are blessed with the ability to sleep on a plane, use it wisely and often.

This blog post was inspired by BootsnAll’s Indie Travel Challenge weekly travel blog project.
Week 31 of the Indie Travel Challenge is all about air travel.

What other tips do you have for a better budget flight?

Why you should visit an Olympic host city post-Games

What’s the first thing that comes to you mind when you see the word “Olympic city”? Is it buff sports people, sportmanship, patriotism, world peace?

For me, the first thing that comes to my mind is: CROWDS. I hate crowds. So there’s no way that I would visit an Olympic host city during the games.

So I’ve compiled five reasons we should visit a post-Olympic city instead of a host city during the games:

not the Olympic Rings so no copyright infringement

1. Far from the madding crowd

When the Games are over, so will the crowd. I think it is best for my sanity not to share [place of Olympic venue] with thousands of other tourists.

This also means that people who I meet on the streets will not be talking all about the games, a good deal for me since I have no love for sports.

2. Normal prices

If I were a merchant, I would happily fleece the tourists visiting my city during the Olympics. It’s a once-in-a-lifetime event anyway.

Even if the merchants are not deliberating fleecing visitors, the number of visitors swarming into the city means that prices will be inflated. Room prices will be at its maximum and even food prices will be more expensive.

Post-Olympics, at least the prices will fall back to normal.

3. Rooms available

Even if I am able to afford rooms in the city during the Games, there’s no guarantee that there are vacant rooms.

Thus visiting the venue post-Games means less people to compete for rooms with and more more reviews online to decide which hotel/hostel to choose..

4. Cheap Olympics memorabilia

Besides sportsmanship, the Olympics is a showcase of consumerism. Fancy a one-eyed London 2012 mascot soft toy? That will be 12 pounds, thankyouverymuch.

If I ever have plans to become an antique collector (that is if I keep that toy in my attic long enough, it will become an antique) nor do I collect Olympics-themed souvenirs but if anyone wants cheap Olympics souvenirs, post-Games would be the best time as the businesspeople will be trying to get their merchandise off their shelves.

5. Upgraded public transport

Since all governments want to present the best to the public, you can bet that they will be upgrading their new train/bus lines to the venue.

So it’s worth delaying that trip for me to to escape the crowds and take advantage of the new metro or bus service.

What other reasons can you think of to visit a host city post-Olympic?


This blog post was inspired by BootsnAll’s Indie Travel Challenge weekly travel blog project.
This week’s topic: Have you ever been to the Olympics? Is it on your wishlist? Why? Why not?.

Other #indie2012 posts:

Splurging on musicals and performances

I’ve been known to be a penny pincher during my regular days. While I don’t become worse when travelling, I do keep an eye on my budget.

Fortunately, I am not too sporty so I do not spend my extra budget on anything that requires me to move my arms or legs too much. (Cycling does not really count as exercise as it is considered transportation.) I’m immune to theme parks so that’s another savings.

I love to eat but my unfortunate purse means I only eat cheap food–never 3-star Michelin restaurants. Visiting museums is my weakness but most are afforably priced.

So where do I splurge when I travel? Musicals and performances.

A musical in France

Since I first heard Le Roi Soleil‘s soundtrack, I swore to myself: “I will see a French musical live!” (A sample from the soundtrack, also the most romantic song on earth.)

Mozart l”opera rock


When I was planning my trip to Paris last year, I accidentally found out that Mozart, L’opera rock was performing in the country. I had been listening to the soundtrack of the musical ever since I accidentally (again!) stumbled upon the music video for L’assasymphonie which I thought was tres bizarre in the beginning.

Unfortunately, the troupe ended their Paris performances and were travelling around the country. I checked out their schedule and, on a whim, I bought a ticket for the show in Nantes.

It was now or never! While the show, the TGV ride and hotel stay set me back an extra few hundreds of euros, the chance to watch a real life performance was priceless.

The show rocked my socks off, though I was wearing none. I didn’t understand half the dialogue but music, gestures, dances and costumes do not need translation.

Being in the audience, peering at the stage was very different from watching it on Youtube which is still better than nothing. I felt goosebumps listening to the familiar songs.

The trip was also not a waste as it was in Nantes that I first “met” my travel idol, Nellie Bly, although my first impression of her was not great because of my poor French.

A burlesque in San Francisco

As mentioned in my post on money saving tips for San Francisco, I caught a once-in-a-lifetime show in The City.

Dita von Teese


Dita von Teese’s “Strip Strip Hooray” show was on for two days when I was in SF. I could not get the tickets online but managed to get them from the box office.

Despite standing through the whole 3 hours, the show was fabulous. Not only were the burlesque performers entertaining, even the audience was really sporting. (Not so sure about the girl standing in front of me with a large headdress though.)

There was much booze and weed going on. The audience catcalled and cheered at the right moments. I felt like I peeped into a part of San Francisco that’s not found on the streets.

In the end, it was worth spending the $35 which meant three meals or an extra hostel’s night stay. Thank you for the incredible night.

This blog post was inspired by BootsnAll’s Indie Travel Challenge weekly travel blog project.
This week’s topic: What do you splurge on when you travel?.

Other #indie2012 posts:

Travelling back in time at Jidai Matsuri

When AirAsia was having a promotion for Japan in February last year, I chose to travel in mid-October, thinking I might catch the red leaves season.

Unfortunately, I was too early for the red leaves.

Pitiful red leaves

Fortunately, I was in time for the Jidai Matsuri, a Japanese festival I have been hoping to catch for a long long time.

Jidai Matsuti, or the Festival of the Ages, is a long parade where people dress up in period costume (sometimes representing historical characters) [inset Japanese history fan girl cheer here] stroll through a fixed path from the Old Imperial Palace to the Hei’an Shrine.

It’s one of the three major festivals in Kyoto and falls on October 22 yearly. The parade is to celebrate the move of Japan’s capital from Kyoto to Tokyo way way back. (You know what Wikipedia is for.)

I arranged our Kansai trip so that we will be able to watch the parade. Our hostel receptionist advised us to take the subway since some roads are blocked.

When we reached the subway station nearest to the starting point of the festival, there were a lot of people. Following not very clear road signs, we found ourselves next to the stoney path of the Old Imperial Palace.

There are paid seats but we didn’t get those so we sat on the stones along with the old uncles and aunties.

Rocky pavement

Mom waited at our “seats” while I went off to take pictures of the performers.

Some people also brought their dogs along.

It took a while of waiting before the event started. The two obasan (aunties) in front passed us coffee candy while we waited. That was sweet of them.

The announcement of the start of the parade came and I waited excitedly.

Some ladies had a banner congratulation Kyoto’s 1300th birthday as a capital.

And a man carried a flag announcing JIDAI MATSURI.

The parade started with the Meiji period when the country was westernized. Then the more fun costumes followed.

The women of Jidai Matsuri

I’ve always been fascinated by famous women in history because fewer women than men are recorded in history. I want to know how they overcome gender inequality to have a place in history books.

I want to know what sort of power they have over the men and their children. How can this power translate to our modern world?

It seems to me that Japanese history has many wonderfully romanticized female figures–some arepoets, writers, great beauties or wives of famous men.

Murasaki Shikibu, author of The Tale of Genji

Princess Kazu

Daughter of Ki no Tsurayuki

Ono no Komachi

Kudara-O-Myoshin

Reflections of Jidai Matsuri

The procession was oddly solemn. No one cheered, not even when the popular historical characters like Sakamoto Ryoma stroll by.

I wanted to stand up, clap and holler “BRAVO!” but didn’t because everyone else was quiet. The only time when the audience was lively was when a band comes along playing music.

Also, I regret not having internet to google every character that I do not recognize because of my very shallow knowledge of Japan history. It would be more exciting to know who that man in blue pants is.

Tips for viewing Jidai Matsuri

  • Take the subway to the location: Some roads are closed for the procession so your best bet is the underground.
  • Bring a stool or something to put your butt on: If you are in the rocky grounds at start of the parade, a stool would help your butt from being too painful.
  • Bring food and drinks and an umbrella

Have you been to any celebrations with period costumes? How was it?

This blog post was inspired by BootsnAll’s Indie Travel Challenge weekly travel blog project.

Week 27 of the Indie Travel Challenge is all about celebrating: There are many reasons to travel and many moments make traveling special. Have you ever traveled to another country during a new [to you] holiday? If so, what was special about it?

Other festivals and Japan transportation tips:

Mid-year review of my 2012 travel resolutions

It’s the end of June and time for a mid-year review of my travel KPIs, and revise my KPIs for the rest of the year. (This sentence sound too depressingly like work.)

My travel resolutions set at the beginning of the year were:

1. Make flight bookings to Thailand and the Phillipines
–>Bangkok’s ticket is set. But I’ve ran out of leave for P’pines

2. Look less through the camera panel, instead straight at the scenery in front.
–>Does forgetting my camera during my bike ride to Sausolito count? Am I breaking the rules if I use my iPhone instead? This is so complicated!

3. When travelling, talk to a local and find out what they think is the best thing to do in town.
–>I used Yelp and found out what the locals thought were good food. Does that count as well?

4. While even CNNGo.com claiming Singapore as boring, I’ll find not boring activities to do, travel local and explore Singapore like it’s my first trip.
–>Travelling local seems to have been forgotten by me. Oops.

5. Start saving and planning for my 2013 round-the-world trip
–>I swear my bank balance looks exactly like it was at the beginning of the year. Argh

Are travel resolutions like the yellow brick road? Detouring wouldn’t hurt, would it?


After taking deep gulps of air (at least it’s not wine), I’ve decided to set (or revise) my travel resolutions:

1. Stop making new flight bookings. Finish my Malaysian travels (Five more to go!).
2. Eat more during travels for #FoodFri!
3. Stop being so dang shy and ask the e-mail address/twitter handle of the cute hostel guy.
4. Stop using so many “stops” in my travel resolution. Start using more starts!
5. Really start saving and reach that $20,000 goal for RTW. (If Stephanie from 20-something Traveling can do it, so can I!)
6. Continue my Sunday, Tue/Wed and #FoodFri posts. (Doing a good job sister!)
7. Start picking up conversational Spanish. (How should we measure the success for this?)
8. Start real research for #rtw2013.

This blog post was inspired by BootsnAll’s Indie Travel Challenge weekly travel blog project.
Week 26 of the Indie Travel Challenge is all about checking in on your resolutions from Week 1.

Money saving tips for San Francisco

Before I went to the US, I thought travelling there would be really expensive. But I realized that budget travel in San Francisco is possible after spending 8 nights in The City as a side trip of a business event.

While I’m not The Frugal Traveler, for the trip, my goal was to spend less than US$100 a day, including accommodation. I think I might have exceeded that budget because I bought tickets for some once-in-a-lifetime activities, shows and tours which easily costs about US$30 each.

In any case, I’m a frugal person to begin with so the trip was probably a budget travel success. Probably.

Save on accommodation with hostels


Instead of the usual cheap hotels I stay in when I travel in Malaysia, I had to bunk in hostels during my 8-night stay. Luckily, Pacific Tradewinds Backpacker Hostel and the San Francisco Fisherman’s Wharf Hostel were both under US$30 per night.

A short summary of the hostel reviews:
-Fisherman’s Wharf Hostel wins at free breakfast and nice view
-Pacific Tradewinds wins at having a fantastic location (and a cosy group, if you are a sociable person, which I am not).

Save on transportation and museums with CityPass

$6 for a ride?


The CityPass (US$69) was a good investment since I was in the city for 8 full days. It includes 7-days of transportation on MUNI buses and trams and the cable car, but not on BART, as well as 9-days admission to five different museums.

I did a spreadsheet before I headed off, taking away things like the aquarium and the one-hour cruise in the bay, but I realized that I would save money getting the pass.

Sure, it was quite expensive. But it includes cable car rides which are US$6 one way–unfortunately, taken only by tourists. Just by taking the cable car 12 times, I would get my money back, not that I actually did it.

Turns out, the aquarium was actually very lovely. The other museums were even better. Sadly, I missed out on the California Academy of Science because there was other more exciting stuff for me.

There’s also an option for an Alcatraz Island tour with CityPass but you’ll need to personally head down to Pier 33 to get the booklet.

Save on food with Yelp

Thanks for the coffee


I love food too much to eat only cheap fast food while in San Francisco. Luckily, I have Yelp on my iPhone to guide me to good locations.

I usually narrow down my food choices to eateries with only one dollar sign (cheap!). I also use the checkin coupons to save on drinks. Since I do not have 3G on my phone, I would redeem the coupon first then show the folks at the restaurant my coupon later.

I’ve managed to save 50% on my latte at M Cafe, grab a free coffee at Sushi Taka and 15 percent off some stuff at a shop-which-will-not-be-named.

Save on sunscreen with Walmart

2 for $5? How can it be this cheap?


Surprisingly, sunscreen is a lot cheaper in the US than in Singapore or Malaysia.

Walmart was selling its homebranded baby sunscreen at 2 for US$5. It took all my willpower to only take four in my basket. I wanted to take 10.

The sunscreen worked very well. I didn’t get sunburnt on my cycling trip to Sausolito. (OK, maybe wrapping myself in an oversized cardigan, a scarf around my neck and tights helped.)

Save on clothes with thrift shops

Thrift Town


K introduced me to thirft stores in San Francisco. I was in luck that day because I immediately found an oversized cardigan at the first store we stopped at. It was only $5 after I rounded to price up for donation.

The blue and white cardigan was only $5

Unlike Kota Kinabalu’s second hand clothes stalls, thirft shops in San Francisco are very organized. Instead of musty old clothes smell, their stuff are perfumed with softener.

Since I wore my clothes immediately, I felt very conscious of other people smelling the thrift store smell on me. (But it’s probably all in my head.)

I also bought two dresses from Thrift Town and a vintage belt from this other place.

Favorite store: Thrift Town
Address:
2101 Mission St
(between 17th St & Clarion Aly)
San Francisco, CA 94110
Neighborhood: Mission

Save on books with second hand bookstores

Adobe Bookstore


Similar to thrift shops, I love the second hand bookstore I found in San Francisco.

I picked up two books. One was the Spanish version of Bridget Jones’ Diary which is pretty much priceless in Singapore because it cannot be found.

There was also a 30 percent discount at Adobe Bookstore because it was closing down. It was rather sad that the building owner was raising the rent too high for the bookstore owner.

Address:
3166 16th St
(at Albion St)
San Francisco, CA 94103
Neighborhood: Mission

Save on once-in-a-lifetime experiences by reading local papers

This was actually in San Jose


I picked up a free SF Weekly as reading material from one of the newspaper-dispensing things. I flipped through the events listing while having breakfast and almost had a heart attack when I saw that Dita von Teese’s Strip Strip Hooray show was in town for a two-night performance.

The last time Dita was in Singapore, it was a local star-studded event! And I believe tickets weren’t even for sale. So this show was a not-to-be missed for me.

For SF, the standing-room ticket was only US$35. When I tried buying online, tickets were sold out. I decided to try my luck at the box office and tickets were still available.

Strip strip hooray


While I had to stand for a full three hours and look past other people’s head to peep at the stage, the atmosphere was amazing. People cheered and I cheered myself almost hoarse. The host was funny, the audience who were asked to go on stage for a dance competition were really sporting too.

And I got to breathe the same air as Dita von Teese! OK, that might be a bit stalkerish, but it’s DITA (Warning: That video is more Fatal Frame rather than sexy.)

What’s your budget travel tips for San Francisco?

This blog post was inspired by BootsnAll’s Indie Travel Challenge weekly travel blog project.
This week’s topic: Traveling to and within the USA..

More about the USof A