Sunday, September 25, 2016

Oman : Camping in the Wahiba Sands (Sharqiyah)

You cannot be in the Middle East without going for desert camping!

I was egged on last year by friends to go for a desert night safari in Dubai (as its a must do for tourists----and so well, its very touristy! lol) and so I begged off although I promised myself that before I leave Oman I will definitely go for a desert night camp in the famous Wahiba Sands (Sharqiyah, as per the locals).

Oh well, nowadays, you can choose your degree of comfort even when you are camping in the middle of the Arabian desert --- and so we opted for the luxuriously-appointed, air-conditioned tents at the Desert Nights Camp. 

Unless you wanted to stay for at least 2 or 3 days (we only stayed for a night!) so you can exhaust yourself in all the desert activities (dune bashing or quad biking, anyone?), for those on a shorter and limited itinerary can opt for these 2 activities which are offered to guests for free;

1. Sunset watching over the sand dunes

2. Camel riding
Make sure to hold on tight or else you will get thrown out by the docile-looking camel hahahaha

The rest of the time, you can just have coffee or tea and lounge in the outdoor seating area of the restaurant. You are on holiday, right? Might as well enjoy it.

Hmmm.....either these camels are really domesticated or they are just genetically disciplined......

Saturday, July 2, 2016

Oman : Shangri-la Muscat

The perfect time for hotel staycations around Oman (for local residents like me) is during the summer months, its quiet with less guests and offers great prices. If it falls on Ramadan though, it can be a bit of a stretch not being able to eat or drink in public places before Iftar but the hotel rates are absolutely fantastic!

There is an ongoing promo for local residents / work permit holders within the Sultanate (these promos normally lasts until September), we opted to go to the Shangri-la Muscat (stayed at the family hotel, Al Waha). 

Guests have the choice of either going to the swimming pool, beach, or the lazy river --- for us, we did all three! different times of the day (or shall we say, varying temperatures within the day)

Right after a very late breakfast, with the sun blaring at us, we opted to do the Lazy River and go tubing........

After a few rounds of lounging in the inflatables, we went for a swim at the family is big enough that we can swim in the shaded areas and not be hit directly by the noontime sunlight.
See how quiet it can have the ginormous pool all to yourself lol!

Sunset time is the best time to lounge in the beach loungers, watch the sun setting over the Gulf of Oman and taking a dip at the Arabian Sea.

And for those who think that travelling around the Sultanate of Oman during the summer months will cause them to wilt and expire from the have a lot of options to choose from even if you just stay inside your hotel.

Just before the entrance of the hotel complex, you can get this truly stunning and dramatic view of the Gulf of Oman.....

Thursday, June 2, 2016

Singapore : Highlights of our Family Trip

Had a really bad scare at the Immigration when we crossed over from Malaysia to Singapore. I completely forgot that in one of my luggages to send home I also included a bottle of Armenian cognac I brought with me from my trip to Yerevan last year. That bottle has crossed numerous immigration checkpoints already and even in the Middle East countries it did not create a problem but yallah, only in Singapore! Good thing my sister was the one left behind and she was able to iron through it with a promise to pay the tax and to declare it next time.

My parents were talking and pointing out how clean and organized the whole place is. We disembarked from our bus at the Queen Street station where most buses coming from Malaysia  stops. 

We wanted to find cheaper accommodation around Chinatown but one thing we forgot is that we have senior citizens with us. We booked at a hostel which is just right across the Chinatown area but what we neglected to check is that it is located at the third floor of a converted shophouse, pretty enough and with a historical twist but lugging all our heavy luggages was a nightmare!

My father also refuses to go back and forth the staircase so once he takes a rest he doesn't want to go out anymore lol.....


Our preference for Chinatown is quite obvious, we are not here for the historical places (been here nth number of times and my sister also used to live & work in SG for a few years).....we are here for the FOOD!

Right in front of our hostel is the Chinatown Food Street and the heart of Chinatown with its refurbished colorful shophouses, traditional hawker food, the night market, and just all the dimsums I want!

For a cheaper dining alternative, we visited an old dining hang-out --- The Maxwell Food Centre. Judging from the dozens of locals and tourists in the area, the place must be very popular now. You can already have a plate of chicken rice for just 4 SGD!

Its a covered dining hall with round tables, you can shop around from the different vendors/shops selling various specialties then take it to your table.

Orchard Road + Botanic Garden

The following day we went around the CBD area, mainly just at the Orchard Road area. My niece was exclaiming whenever she sees her dream fashion brands. Oh my goodness, there goes another shopaholic in the making hahahahaha

My mom's accountant mind was probably busy calculating how can the shopping malls here still earn money when they are everywhere??? Even in the train stations??? hahahahha

I don't know the answer to that but Singapore for me is one big shopping mall, especially the Orchard area.

At the end of the busy Orchard Road, you can veer off and go towards the Singapore Botanic Gardens --- a sprawling 74 hectares collection of themed gardens like the Ginger garden, Healing garden, Foliage garden, and more. Originally founded in 1859, the botanic gardens is one of the most visited attractions in Singapore. It has further cemented its popularity by becoming listed as a UNESCO World Heritage Site.
Flight of Swans @ the Swan Lake

My favourite though will always be the National Orchid Garden, the only place in the free-entrance Singapore Botanic Gardens which charges a fee (SGD 5 for adults / SGD 1 for students & senior citizens). For an orchid enthusiast like me, I was in heaven!

Amazing varieties of orchids are on display and it also gave me ideas of how to plant / cultivate my own orchids at home.

Marina Bay + Merlion

If Malaysia has the Petronas Towers, Singapore also has the Merlion --- the most popular tourist landmark and photo souvenir. This mythical creature with a lion's head and a fish body is probably the most visited place in Singapore. The "fish body" personifies the origins of Singapore as a fishing village and the "lion's head" signifies its given name Singapura or the lion city.

Nowadays though, the background on most IG posts is the iconic Marina Bay Sands with its three towers and topped by the gravity-defying Skypark with its infinity pool which looks like a cross between a boat and a plane on top of these three towers.

The Marina Bay Sands complex comes with the high end shoppes with very posh brands, dining outlets that seems always fully booked, casinos, and hotel.

And so after sending off my sister and my niece to the airport, I capped my last night in Singapore with a couple of beers (they had a buy 1 take 1 promo that time hahahaha) at Clarke Quay and a fantastic never-ending conversation with my old colleague and his wife.

Ciao, Singapore.....till we meet again.....

Tuesday, May 31, 2016

Malaysia : Highlights of our Family Trip @ Malacca

It was a huge challenge going from Genting to Malacca, first thing are the ginormous luggages that we have (I had 2 extra bags full of used clothes that I am sending home and my sister has a HUGE bag as well) and on top of that are our usual luggages for the trip. 

We got to the newish and spacious bus station, Terminal Bersepadu Selatan (TBS) in Bandar just right in time for a late lunch. Quite straightforward, lined up to get our tickets from one of the bus companies then went down to look for the specific departure gate (just like in the airports).

The bus ride to Malacca is just less than 3hours and in a very comfortable 2+1 bus. Since it was past 5pm already when we arrived, we opted not to go out anymore and just order for in room dining. We had again another fantastic hotel -- The Pines Hotel,  with really attentive staff and huge rooms with fabulous views!
The view of the night skyline of Malacca from our hotel room

Exploring Malacca

The historical town of Malacca is the cultural hub of Malaysia and has been declared a UNESCO World Heritage Site, this is where you will find vestiges of its colonial past, with remnants of its British, Dutch, and Portuguese heritage together with that of the immigrant Chinese "Baba Nyonya" culture intermixing with the traditional Malay culture.

Its very easy to navigate the whole town by foot (as we used to when we came here a couple of years back but with my parents this time we really had to take it slowly). Or you can opt to ride in the colorful tri-shaws that line the fountain area.

We started at the main square and first went to the 263-year old Christ Church, a defining structure made with red clay stone and built by the Dutch during their occupation of Malacca. 

Just across it is the Stadthuys, another Dutch colonial heritage building that was built between 1641 to 1660 making it at least 375 years old! It has now been converted to a museum showcasing Malacca's history. 

Right across the bridge over the Melaka River from Stadthuys is Malacca's Chinatown and the Baba Nyonya heritage enclave of Jonker Walk/Street. It is famous for its night markets although even during the day the whole place was swarming with locals and tourists. 

You really have to try the chicken rice balls at any of these local dining places

Aside from the old houses and shops, one of the must-visit places in the Jonker area is the Cheng Hoon Teng Temple. Built in 1646, it is the country's oldest traditional Chinese temple. 

The street outside the temple.....I wish we could have stayed longer and browsed some shops
Just a few steps away is the Kampung Kling Mosque. I would have wanted to visit the Baba Nyonya Heritage Museum once again but my father wants to go back to the hotel and when I urged on for one last place to visit, he asked what is the place about and when I said it the local immigrant Chinese heritage museum he said he doesn't want (because China is claiming the Scarborough Shoal and other islands in the Philippine territory within the West Philippine Sea, oh sya lets be political hahaha) and so off we went.

We headed off to the riverfront area to cool off a bit before going back to the hotel for a short break. They have really tidied this up since my last visit.

We were a bit too late in the afternoon when we came out to once again explore Malacca. We just had a glimpse of the Melaka Sultanate Palace before it closed down for the day. Too bad, my father would have enjoyed the historical tour.

Just right beside the palace is the A'Famosa Fort, built in 1511 only this lone gate called the Porta de Santiago remained from the original structure. The fort used to house the entire Portuguese administration, with hospitals, churches, army quarters, and even residences.

We rounded up the day with my mom's birthday dinner at Sushi King and her birthday cake at the hotel.

the stack of plates says it all hahahahaha