48 hours in Singapore

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For my birthday, we decided to spend two days in Singapore. Since it’s such an expensive city, we couldn’t quite stay as long as we wanted on our budget but getting to see Singapore at all was a treat.

We took a public bus from Jahor Bahru, Malaysia for about $3. It takes you to the border, and then picks you up on the other side before dropping you off downtown. Singapore has another amazing transit system, so we bought a tourist pass ($10) and enjoyed it as much as we could.

Finding affordable accommodation was a huge struggle, so we finally settled on 5footway.inn, which is a cool art hotel with a few locations. Ours was right by Chinatown and after making a note on our reservation that it was my birthday, they upgraded our room for us a surprise. It was perfect.

Since we only had two days, I figured it would be best to sum up everything we did in a list:

Day 1:

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Gardens By The Bay

We got to Singapore in the late afternoon on our first day, so we grabbed the subway to the Gardens By The Bay. It’s a large park/artistic garden, and it’s mostly free to enjoy and explore. At dusk, they have a light show in the middle of the park. We really enjoyed hanging out under the Avatar-like trees that pulsed and glowed with lights – it honestly felt like we were on another planet.

Walking around the city (and Breakfast at Tiffany’s) 

After dinner, we spent the night walking around the city and enjoying all of the architecture and art around the city. The Marina Bay Sands was all lit up and we took some selfies on the helix bridge. We also passed a hotel playing Breakfast at Tiffany’s outside, which is my favorite movie. The waiters let us sit and enjoy the movie, even though we didn’t order one of the $40 cocktails.

Clubbing at Zouk

Around midnight, we decided we wanted to celebrate my birthday in style. I checked the biggest clubs in Singapore and Zouk came up, so I went on Twitter to see who was playing. We saw that a DJ we enjoy, Mat Zo, was playing at 1am. We threw on some clothes and ran to a cab.

The club was already packed and our $30 entry got us a free drink each. We cozied up to some locals who were also celebrating, and they were kind enough to share their massive bottle of vodka for the occasion. Everyone was so awesome and I even met another girl at midnight that shared the same birthday as me!

Partying in Singapore was interesting and the club scene was fun to be apart of. It’s a different way of partying for sure, but the people were friendly and we had the time of our lives.

Day 2:

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Cloud Forest and Flower Dome

We got up nice and early to enjoy breakfast on the terrace of our hotel before heading back to Marina Bay Sands. We wanted to see the Cloud Forest and the Flower Dome.

Both structures are separate from and you can pay an entrance fee to do just one or both of them. We opted for both and headed into the Cloud Forest first. It was a giant glass dome with a living mountain built inside. You took an elevator to the top, then climbed walkways and bridges back down. It was really cool to see and there was a beautiful waterfall that fell from the top – it felt like you were inside a jungle rain forest. Although it was smaller than it looked outside, it was still a lot of fun to walk around and see all of the plants.

The Flower Dome was a bit of a let down for us. It was another huge glass dome filled with tons of flowers and plants from all over the world. For a flower lover, I’m sure it would be pretty cool… but we zipped through it and felt pretty bored. Also, the AC was blasting in there so much that I had goosebumps the whole time.

Cat café 

Since it was my birthday IMG_20150307_175459weekend, Luke decided to treat me to a cat café experience. Since he’s allergic, he hung out outside, but for an hour I was in cat heaven at Café Neko no Niwa. They have 13 cats, all of which are rescues. Some cats are deemed “lap cats” and one of the workers will go around and place them in your lap. Kai Kai, an orange tabby, decided to sleep in my lap for the full hour, which was fine by me.

Hawker Street 

In Singapore, there are many hawker streets to choose from. Basically, a bunch of stalls open up and serve you any food from all over the world. Satay is Singapore’s specialty, and it’s a must try. Satay is meat seasoned and marinated on a kebab stick and done on a coal grill. It’s really delicious.

We opted for some Indian food and got a whole tray of stuff we couldn’t even finish for $5 a person. Considering Singapore is far from cheap, hitting up hawker streets are one of the few ways to stay within budget.

Marina Bay Sands 

We wanted to go to the top of the Marina Bay Sands for a drink, but we got there a little too late. After 9pm, the bar charges a $30 cover charge. So instead, we just decided to take our $30 and head into the casino to try our luck. Let’s just say, our luck lasted about two rounds of roulette… oops.

Singapore has so much to do and it’s such a nice, well put-together city. Most major buildings have some sort of fascinating and unique art installation, so it’s a picture taking Mecca. We absolutely loved our time there and we were both so happy we got to experience it. There’s really nothing else like it. While it’s a bit tough on the wallet, a short time is all you need to experience what Singapore has to offer.

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Exploring the enchanting Angkor Wat

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Seeing the Angkor Wat was on our dream to-do list since we began planning our trip to Cambodia. When we arrived in Siem Reap and felt the hot air on our faces, things felt a little surreal. We had just left our winter jackets behind in Vietnam and fresh, clean air was an unexpected treat. It all felt invigorating and exciting.

The morning after we arrived, we packed two sandwiches to go and hired our trusty tuk-tuk driver Burri. For $17 USD, he would take us on a large loop around the temple complex, finishing with the sunset at Pre Rup. The cost to get into the park itself was $20 per person for one day. There was the option to go for a three-day pass for $40, but we figured we would try to cram as much sightseeing into one day as we could.

Although we had seen other tourists’ photos of the temples, nothing could have prepared us for the size and sprawl of the temples. Angkor Wat is the world’s largest single religious monument. Considered “heaven on earth” in the Hindu religion, this temple is an earthly depiction of Mount Meru – the home of the gods. This one temple is surrounded by a 190-meter moat, which gives you an idea of how huge the temple complex is.

We began with Angkor Wat, by far the most impressive temple. There were thousands of tourists roaming the hallways, climbing the towers, and posing in front of the intricate stone carvings. It is said that there are over 3000 nymphs carved intoIMG_1015 the walls, each one drawn in a unique pose, with 37 different hairstyles. On one curtain wall, we saw the portrayal of a marching army, complete with all the different types of soldiers, elephants, and machines of war.

After we forced ourselves to move on (we only had one day to see as much as we could), we got to see some very different temples. Some temples included the heads of the gods, towering over 12 feet tall. There were bridges with dozens and dozens of stone guards on either side, and one temple with a giant tree growing out of the ruins. This famous temple, Ta Prohm, was used for Angelina Jolie’s Tomb Raider. It was an incredible blend of massive architecture and natural decay. Samie was a fan-girl at this temple and could barely contain her excitement. Crawling through the hallways and seeing the trees overtaking the temple and imagining a movie being filmed here was really cool.

We had our first brush with monkeys while exploring these temples, as there are hundreds in the surrounding forests. Samie hadn’t realized that these adorable little animals are actually aggressive little terrors and she got chased, screaming, when she tried to take a close-up photo.

Pretty soon, we almost ran out of time. Watching the sunset at Pre Rup was the highlight of our entire day. Most people choose to watch the sun rise at Angkor Wat, but we heard that it could get pretty crowded in the morning. Hands down, we made the right choice with the sunset. We climbed the wat to the very top and joined some other peopl, sitting on the edge of the temple to watch the sun set over the jungle. The view was nothing short of perfection. There were no clouds, and we got to see the sun turn a brilliant red before it disappeared.

Here’s some of our favourite pictures:

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Exploring the beautiful Ancient Town of Hoi An

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Hoi An is a beautiful Ancient Town nestled on both a river and the Pacific Ocean.

While it may be packed with tourists, it’s with good reason. Hoi An has a lot to offer. While our original plan was to head to Hoi An to get a suit made for Luke, we ended up staying in Hoi An for an entire week enjoying beaches, incredible food, and the friendly locals. Being recognized as a World Heritage Site by UNESCO, the beauty of the town is tough to describe in words.

We stayed at the Han Thuyen Homestay in Hoi An and we loved the family feel of the place. A little toddler was running around during breakfast and always there to greet you with a huge smile when you came home. The homestay also offered free bikes to ride in town and really, it’s all we needed. We spent the entire week biking to and from wherever we wanted to go.

After getting Luke all dolled up in his handsome suit, we needed some shoes to go with it. We headed over to The Friendly Shoe for some custom made leather dress shoes for him and a pair of leather boots copied off of some I wore out back home in Toronto. For $60 a pair, our feet were measured and we picked out the colours and leather we liked. In just three fittings, they were perfect!

Cua Dai beach was a quick 10 minute bike ride along the river ’til you hit the white sand beaches and the kiss of the Pacific Ocean. Almost as warm as bath water, it was still refreshing to bob in the ocean before lounging on one of the many beach chairs local restaurants have set up. It was a great way to get a tan, relax, and spend some much needed time off from the always-on-the-go travelling we had been doing.IMG_3623

Every night when it gets dark, Hoi An has lanterns you can light and drop into the river. We were there on the full moon, however, so the city was extra special. They turn out all of the power and lights near the river, relying solely on lantern lighting. The Japanese Covered Bridge glows, as does the river and all of the boats. For $1 USD, you get two to let into the river for good luck.

We absolutely loved spending time by the river in Hoi An. Enjoying a coffee, browsing the many shops, and people watching was the perfect way to spend a vacation. You can fly right into Da Nang for $30 USD from Hanoi, making Hoi An an up and coming holiday destination and we’d highly recommend it.

Hoi An is known for its quality silk, so it only seemed fitting to visit the Hoi An Silk Village. It ended up being surprisingly interesting and fun. At only $8 USD a person, we were greeted by the sweetest guide with a mulberry drink. Then, she showed a sampling of the more than 100 traditional silk costumes worn by Vietnamese tribes. Following that, she showed us the mulberry gardens while talking about the history of silk.

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You could hear the silkworms chewing!

We got to see the full silk worm life cycle, which is actually only about a month long. We saw big and small silkworms munching on cut mulberry leaves and also big trays of silk cocoons. Then, we went into the hut where the cocoons are boiled in hot water to dissolve the silk glue so that the women could pull it apart and wind it on a spindle. Luke and Bryan actually ate the the silkworm that had been boiled out of the cocoon. Very gross, but they claim it tasted pretty good.

Next we got to watch silk scarfs being made in the traditional Champa weaving style. The process looked extremely tedious with the result being a stunning robe, scarf, or bag.  Ending the tour, our guide showed us one final and useful fact. Have you ever wondered how to tell whether your silk souvenir is actually 100% silk? The answer is to light it on fire. Take a small flyaway thread, light it, and smell. Silk smells like burnt hair, and goes out the instant you take the flame away. Cotton and polyester keep burning after you remove the flame, and lack the signature scent. Polyester smells notably of plastic. We tried testing it in the market afterwards – as our guide told us, vendors did not mind a thread being tested to verify the material.

All in all, Hoi An is a perfect place for shopping, good food, getting a serious tan, and enjoying the local feel of Vietnam. A short plane trip or cheap overnight train ride from Hanoi, we have plans to get back as soon as we can.

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Hoi An traffic

Getting a suit made in Hoi An

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Like many others before us, we traveled to Hoi An anticipating getting a suit custom made and tailored for a good price. We had planned this stop about a year ago when we were brainstorming Vietnam and let’s just say Luke was very excited.

Years ago, Hoi An only had a few tailor shops. Now, it has hundreds (depending on your source, it’s around the 600 mark). Walking through the streets of Hoi An, you see shop after shop making suits, dresses, leather bags, leather shoes, and everything in between. The city is a top tourist destination and it really shows. It’s almost a overwhelming how much this city thrives off of Westerners coming to get something hand made. The tailor market has become so popular that some shops are very aggressive when trying to get your business. More on that later.

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The interior of Luke’s suit jacket.

Finding a tailor was daunting, but after a friend’s recommendation and checking some things out online, Luke felt comfortable choosing Kimmy’s. Walking into the bustling shop full of other Westerners, the ladies at Kimmy’s know how to cater to a dude getting a suit. Jumping all over Luke the moment he walked in, they explained the materials, colours, silks, and designs. Nicer fabrics cost more but overall, a three piece suit starts as low as $79 USD or as much as $250 USD. A nice dress was about $50 USD, depending on the length, fabric, etc.

This price range wasn’t the absolute cheapest in Hoi An, as some shops offered suits in the $50-150 range, but the quality had been attested for by others. The women walked us through the ‘extra touches’ that they add to their clothes, such as double-stitching key areas, reinforcing stretch points, and using high-quality ‘guts’ for the suit, and we felt good about the slightly higher price point.

As I mentioned, the tailor market is extremely cut throat since it’s Hoi An’s bread and butter. While being able to get a cheap quality suit tailor made is exciting, there’s unfortunately quite a dark side to it as well.

While we were finalizing some details about Luke’s suit, we heard a smash outside. As Luke looked outside and the women rushed to the window, he could see a terra cotta pot had been thrown at the store front containing grey sludge and dead birds. It was a homemade stink bomb. Quickly, the putrid smell filled the shop leaving everyone gasping and flooding out. It left us pretty shook up.

This wasn’t an isolated incident, either. Our tailor told us that this stuff happens from time to time and they have no idea who does it or why. Likely, it’s because someone was jealous of their success and wants to hurt their business. Either way, the stinkbomb was both scary and disgusting.

The next day, we went back for Luke’s first fitting. He had settled on a two piece Navy suit with three dress shirts. At the first fitting, everything was almost pretty much perfect. His tailor was great and took all of our suggestions with an encouraging nod. The next afternoon, the suit was complete.

All in all, the total cost to Luke for a two piece suit, two ties, and three custom made dress shirts: $220 USD.

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The final product.

My experience at Kimmy’s wasn’t as great. I wanted to join in on the experience and get two simple but dressy sleeveless shirts made. Since it was a low commission, my tailor couldn’t seem to care less about really taking care of it. Long story short, after a few disastrous fittings, we decided I should try somewhere else.

Thanks to our Irish friends’ recommendation, I headed over to BiBi Silk and the ladies there were so friendly and nice. In just three visits, the shirts were perfect without a hitch! We decided Luke will get his next suit made there on our way back through before leaving the country.

Overall, definitely try getting something custom made in Hoi An. The prices absolutely cannot be beat and if you find a good tailor, you’ll end up with a stunning product.