Sri Lanka: The Paradise That Has It All

20170202_090526

I have so much admiration and fascination for Sri Lanka. This historical South Asian island has it all – culture, exotic beaches, UNESCO heritage sites and national parks. This absurdly beautiful one stop destination is not only a country steeped in rich history, but also home to the friendliest people I’ve ever met. Why should you visit Sri Lanka? It is so incredibly magical that you would feel sorry for yourself wanting to go to Bali after embracing that whole eat, pray, love aspiration. The suicidal stray dogs, narrow roads, reckless tuk-tuk drivers, high-speed buses, horns bellowing, plethora of rice and curry, peacocks and elephants attempting to cross the road, if you have an issue with that, well calm yourself with some Sri Lankan whisky. Old Keg whisky that is. Ah, how I miss Sri Lanka!

Places I’ve visited:

Negombo

20170127_084147.jpg

This fourth largest city in Sri Lanka located on the west coast is known for its fishing industry. This small coastal town is located near to Colombo’s main airport, so it tends to be the first or last stop for visitors. In Negombo, after a hearty Sri Lankan rice and curry for breakfast, our local driver took us to the country’s second largest fish market. The fish market was colourful and lively as customers and vendors were haggling and jostling around – it’s difficult to tell who was having a better time.

20170127_085009

IMG_3516.jpg

Local fishermen and customers were chatting away cheerfully oblivious to visitors like me snapping photos of barracudas, sharks, tuna and some I don’t even recognize.

20170127_085238

While I was gawking at people hard at work, the rest of my family were quenching their thirst with king coconuts, the drink of choice apparently on this island. Definitely worth a visit to get a glimpse of local Lankan life by the sea and this was where I imagined Gizzi Erskine would be throwing a party here. Who wouldn’t want a seafood feast with Gizzi Erskine?

Capture1.PNG

Capture2.PNG

Anuradhapura

img_3601

The UNESCO World Heritage Site of Anuradhapura was once a Ceylonese political and religious capital of Sri Lanka. Anuradhapura was one of the first planned cities in the world and is situated next to the Malvathu river, the second longest river in Sri Lanka. Once a glorious city, Anuradhapura was abandoned after an invasion in 933AD by the Chola Emperor Rajaraja I. The site was left secluded in the jungle for centuries until revived by the British in the 19th century. This ancient site was the highlight of my trip; the entire time in this sacred city I was mesmerized by the beauty of the monasteries, palaces, bathing pools, water reservoirs and monuments.

img_3583

img_3589

img_3598

Ruwanwelisaya is believed to be the oldest stupa in Sri Lanka. Constructed in 140B.C, by King Dutugemunu, this 338 ft tall majestic architecture is definitely larger than life. At dusk when local worshippers were seen performing a ceremony, the spiritual ambiance slowly started to set in, creating a mysterious and enchanting mood that made me want to linger longer. Anuradhapura is where you can take a tour of the past.

20170127_181525
Ruwanwelisaya

Galle

IMG_4210.jpg

For cultural travellers that like a bit of style, you will like Galle. A city in Sri Lanka that was formerly occupied by Portuguese, Dutch and British. Galle’s streets are not only heavy with Dutch and British influence but also exuding a flair of pretentious atmosphere. This UNESCO World Heritage Site is a bit hipster-ish, so if you want a space to provoke your creative senses while having a bubbly, this is your playground as fancy art galleries, colonial houses, boutique hotels and boho-chic cafes are abound.

img_4218

img_4228

img_4206img_4235img_4229img_4227

Capture5.PNG

20170201_124432

20170201_121121

20170201_123103

capture4

After an unbelievably scrumptious Sri Lankan crab curry dish in Peddlar’s Inn for lunch, I couldn’t think straight as my body was begging me to indulge in that daytime booze. By the beach of course with the rose-tinted sunset.

capture3

Sri Lanka is made to dazzle beach goers, you can expect to replenish your soul just by looking at the gorgeous rugged coastlines where you would want to kiss the powdery sands and plunge into the glistening green blue sea. Or, bask in the warm sunshine and order a cocktail or king coconut to complete your #vacaycay while enjoying the flawless surroundings.

img_4195

And the only sound you can hear besides the waves crashing on the beach is the sound of your own jaw dropping on the sands. It was an absolutely mesmerizing view – the Indian Ocean and tall palm trees gently swaying against the perfect postcard picture background. Time to crank up Aaliyah’s rock the boat track! #dolcevita #stylishrelaxation

20170201_120627.jpg

img_4196
Mirissa beach
img_4247
Ambalangoda beach

img_4251

Mirissa (there was a collective gasp when we drove by) mostly appeals to travellers, but we have checked into a boutique hotel by Ambalangoda beach. The beautiful, serene and almost deserted beach certainly has a calming effect on us. Here, I’ve realized that I truly love the languid pace of Lankan life.

More on Sri Lanka in my next post.

Gorgeous Georgian

IMG_2708.jpg

Didn’t know I can taste happiness until I was completely slayed by Georgian food. I had my first bite of Georgian cuisine last year in Holland and it has romanced me ever since. This recent trip back to the Netherlands and by the end of my vacay, we breezed our way to this all-familiar Georgian restaurant.

The food from Georgia (former Soviet republic, a country in the Caucasus region of Eurasia) were built for food enthusiasts. It is the texture, then the intense flavours of Georgian fascinating dishes using lots of walnuts, spices, cheese, herbs, beans and sour plums – a true mix of European and Middle Eastern that gave me food coma. Comfort food with steroids.

pGEO-I.EPS

Source: http://www.hotels-europe.com/info-countries/georgia/map.htm

We had own intimate supra (feast led by a toastmaster in Georgian) in Suhumi located at Elandstraat in The Hague. Although situated in an unassuming street, Suhumi is rather warm and welcoming. The feel of the dining area makes you want to linger in the place perhaps the friendliness of the staff or the eye catching brightly-lit bar, it doesn’t matter really because I do like the setting! Just like most restaurants offering national food from the former Soviet Union, Suhumi’s menu includes dishes such as Borscht and Olivier.

IMG_2727.jpg

IMG_2720.jpg

IMG_2718.jpg

This is the time when I allow myself to overindulge in Acharuli Kachapuri (cheese and egg-stuffed bread).

IMG_2710
Acharuli Kachapuri

Then I suffocated myself with heaps of Badrijai Nigvzit (eggplant walnut rolls).

IMG_2695
Badrijai Nigvzit

I was struggling but I had to sample this vegetarian dish Ajapsandali (eggplant stew).

IMG_2706
Ajapsandali

Even the faint hearted would love the Kuchmachi – a traditional Georgian dish of chicken hearts, gizzards and walnuts with pomegranate seeds for topping. Also because it is cooked right.

IMG_2701
Kuchmachi

Lobios Pkhali, hearty but healthy dish (green bean and walnut salad). Too delicious for me to refrain myself from eating.

IMG_2697
Lobios Pkhali

And the highlight of that night, Bazhe Baje– a typical Georgian dish of chicken in walnut paste served cold. It doesn’t look visually appetizing but it was uh-mazingly delicious.

IMG_2705
Bazhe Baje

And of course no visit to a Georgian restaurant would be complete without the Khinkali. If you are familiar with the Shangainese xiao long bao, then you know the first bite is definitely an explosive mess. However, unlike xiao long bao, you are not to eat the top handle of the Georgian dumpling. Here, you need to handle your dumpling with full care.

IMG_2716
Khinkali

If you think it’s a lot to take in, you certainly need a glass of Georgian wine. Georgian wine is, surprisingly likable especially for a curious drinker like myself and most of all, exceptionally divine! If you are feasting on Georgian cuisine, don’t forget to include Georgian wine, which is part of the culture too. Some Georgian wines are highly unique, so special that Georgia’s traditional winemaking technique (qvevri method) is listed in the UNESCO Intangible Cultural Heritage Lists. The qvevri is basically a large traditional clay jar used for making and ageing the wine.

IMG_2693
Qvevris Rkatsiteli 2013

We had a bottle of Qvevris Rkatsiteli 2013 to take it all in.

Hmmmm…… now where can I get Sulguni cheese in Vietnam?

Checking in: Bangkok

Bangkok obviously has an appeal, it has endured an incredible stubbornness; the rapid development of urbanization transforming the city to a concrete jungle place and yet co-existing with the old cultural landscapes are very much persistent and oriental.

Bangkok is the only place where I would like to feel the pulse of the local culture in and out, no hesitation. The incredible vibe that I’m struggling to feel in Ho Chi Minh City.

Don’t get me wrong, I like Vietnam as it is and most people that I’ve met here love being in Vietnam because it is so out of element. This what they are searching for. Living here excites them.

The lack of multiculturalism and poor behaviours of most of the locals are causing the unpleasantness feeling I seem to have here in Vietnam. Perhaps, this is why I travel. To understand not only different walks of life and culture but also on how my thoughts are reflecting on all these elements.

Although I haven’t seen Bone Thugs-N-Harmony, Usher, Rihanna and Drake performing live, I gotta confess Bangkok is still top in my bucket list.

In Southeast Asia, Thailand is the best place where you can get a dose of Southeast Asian cultu-real sense with a difference.

Before dementia interferes me, what exactly is this difference am I crazying about?The Thai people. This ain’t a mystery. The culture of a country is always identified by the locals, no? The Thais may look all swag, urban and in vogue from the outside but their daily lifestyle is still rooted to their Thai customs, values and traditions. Only one day in Bangkok you will see – the wais, a form of greeting (prayer like gesture with hands with a slight bow), ducking down when walking between two people that are engaging in a conversation and placing great emphasis on politeness and respect for locals and foreigners.

Anyways, want to know where to eat in Bangkok but you only have 3 days or less? Tough, but it can be done. These are my favourite eateries:

1. Ratchathewi BTS street food – Authentic Thai street food fix, expect extreme sweat and spice. Only dinner time.

Where: Petchaburi Road, same side with Bangkok City Hotel near Ratchathewi BTS

2. Supanniga Eating Room – Rest assured, it is named after a flower known as Yellow Cotton Tree in Thai. Eastern and Issan dishes at its best.

Where: Thonglor, Sukhumvit

3. Krua Apsorn –  Traditional and unpretentious. Krua means kitchen in Thai and krua was one of the first few words I’ve learnt when I was learning to talk.

Where: Samsen Road branch, Din So Road branch, Sanam Bin Nam branch & Vimanmek Palace branch

4. White Flower Factory – Perfect place to host your guests from abroad. Lunch time would be best to avoid crowds.

Where: Siam Square One

I get annoyed each time I hear people smugly telling me oh they only do street food in Bangkok. Well standing ovation for these foodies. In Bangkok yes, you do need a good unmistakeable authentic Thai street food experience, but after a couple of times in Bangkok, surely you will want to divert your culinary senses to something still Thai but with a slight reinvention.

I am not a perfect candidate as a food hipster, just that if I see good food, I would like to feed myself some everywhere I go.

Sleepwalking in Vietnam

IMG_1508

Unlike most people, I find Vietnam to be an emotional unsettling cave for me, but surprisingly I am not disturbed by it, perhaps because of my non lackadaisical attitude I have yet to develop. OR, perhaps I understand that Vietnam has endured through a tragic struggle for independence over the years.

Perhaps I shouldn’t be sleepwalking in Ho Chi Minh City anymore.

IMG_1684

To be brutally honest, on the surface, I see Vietnam as a place where backpackers and young foreign teachers come to impress other backpackers and young teachers. So ambitious, so energetic and undaunted. And that is what I think makes it quite exciting to have these over stimulated folks peppered all over the city.

This is a powerful shift to me – adjusting in a new environment and to be able to uneasily expressing my thoughts of Vietnam when most people here are unflinchingly embracing the dirt and all that jazz.

IMG_1688

Naturally, I am not crippling myself to my sojourn, so I’ve managed to persuade my parents to visit me and with a little pressure, got them to do a Vietnam coaster ride me from Saigon – Hue – Danang – Hanoi – Sapa.

And so these are the photos, with my #pokerface I’ve skillfully managed to snap photos in between of terrifying noisy traffic, assuring my dad he will get his authentic Thai Tom Yum real soon as he was having a #badromance with Vietnamese cuisine and mum being an avid traveller, was neglecting my dad, ‘Oh, your dad was #bornthisway, we will get a stiff drink later!’ Trying to put your family together while travelling is far more strenuous than to understand Vietnamese culture from the down south all the way to the north.

Ha! I’ve just #hashtagged Lady Gaga’s top 3 sensational hits, I deserve an #applause! Make it 4!

IMG_1566

IMG_1563

IMG_1549

 

IMG_1694

IMG_1689

IMG_1627

IMG_1658

IMG_1633

IMG_1617

IMG_1524

Sapa The Hidden Charm in Vietnam

IMG_1746 - Copy - Copy

Sapa has successfully cast a spell upon me. Elevated and refreshing, this is where you get to witness incredibly beautiful envy-green coloured cascading rice terraces, lush-mountain ranges, different ethnic minority groups and the local villages.

Sapa is a town situated in Lao Cai province in Northwest of Vietnam near the Chinese border. And because this area is rather remote, the cultural traditions of the ethnic people are preserved, making Vietnam’s most beautiful place remains unchanged.

No doubt you will be encapsulated by the beauty of this place.

IMG_1830

IMG_1809 - Copy

One way to capture the beauty of Sapa is to discover the surrounding countryside. My expert local guide a Tay ethnic tribe, showed us the local village, his enthusiasm and passion for his job somehow instils my hopefulness for Vietnam.

IMG_1775 - Copy

IMG_1727 - Copy - Copy

As I was trekking in Ma Tra valley with my local guide, I saw two different ethnic groups the H’mong and Dzao people. The ethnic women blended beautifully in the Sapa landscape – their traditional brightly coloured clothing against the stunning vistas. Along the way, ethnic women were seen diligently working on their fabrics by the side of the road overlooking the breath-taking view of the valley. 

IMG_1744 IMG_1723

IMG_1758

It was misty and slightly cloudy that day but the fresh air awakened my senses and I enjoyed every bit discovering the diverse collection of rustic tribal villages and the tribal folks with my guide as my companion sharing his local cultural knowledge.

IMG_1776 - Copy

IMG_1777

IMG_1780

IMG_1749

We journeyed to Cao San market, almost a 3-hour drive from Lao Cai town. Cultural activities can be seen in traditional local markets – the ethnic people exhibiting their craftmanships, people distilling wine from corn and locals savouring local cuisines. However, it wasn’t the highlight of my trip – Cao San market was swampy and muddy from the rain earlier that day making it less vibrant and bizarre, the local products sold were all too familiar for me. The fact that it certainly did not offer much variety and a lively astmosphere like Bac Ha market which was located even further from Cao San market, you get to feel the authenticness.

IMG_1827

IMG_1823

IMG_1821

IMG_1814

IMG_1812

Such an enriching experience – the beautiful shades of Sapa!

Kampung Siam, My Living Treasure

IMG_1921

I was born and bred in Kampung (village) Siam in Pulau Tikus, Penang. For over 200 years, my Kampung Siam has been standing strong and proud of its Thai heritage but now it is at risk of demolition.

Nestled in a cozy but lively Pulau Tikus area, among the many shophouses and two most-visited temples; Wat Chaiya Mangkalaram and Dhamikarama Burmese Temple, is where you will find Kampung Siam –  a territory of enriching Siamese culture combine with your everyday Malaysian life, though a small community but it has so much history that this is the other side of Penang that most don’t know. This location offers together two different eras, two different living styles of Penang.

TS5
One of the houses in Kampung Siam – Image by Trevor Sibert
TS1
My grandfather’s backyard – Image by Trevor Sibert
TS2
My grandfather, on the left peering out of the window – Image by Trevor Sibert

However, this historical land now belongs to a developer that has an intention to turn this village to a budget hotel, well of course this is after all, a prime location. Devastating for the us, the Siamese community but change is inevitable they say. Should this kind of change be taking place?

Here is a brief history – the land was granted by Queen Victoria on May 30 in year 1845. It was clearly written in the grant that the land cannot be bargained, sold and transferred to other parties by the appointed trustees. Then in 1996, the land was no longer a ‘cultural and religious’ site but was rezoned as ‘commercial’ which Kampung Siam residents were not aware of.

TS3
Menora Performer performing during Penang Heritage Site Visit
TS6
Menora Performance – Image by Trevor Sibert

Now that this village and community will be destroyed, is this the cul-de-sac for the Siamese community? How do we preserve our heritage and culture if urban modernization is taking place?

Let’s put this Kampung Siam demolition aside for now, Penang is a remarkably colorful and a historical city and has made it to No.4 in Lonely Planet Top Cities list for Best in Travel 2016. Allow me to brag, the Second Penang Bridge linking the island to the mainland Peninsula Malaysia, is the longest bridge in Southeast Asia. Ha! Excessive pride of my city!

Penang is not sophisticated but admirable, entices travelers with its fusion of old and new – the British colonial architectures, the traditional shophouses, the growing art scene and the historic sights. No further explanation needed why Penang has to uphold the “multicultural heritage” status. Moreover, this tiny island has over 600 accommodations, come to think of it, is it necessary to build another hotel especially on the oldest and only Kampung Siam in Penang?

Is this how we move forward – to not preserve the old because it is deemed to be irrelevant in the modern times? And if people choose to ignore our valuable heritage, inevitably it will disappear along together with our customs and traditions. Unrestricted development will one day create a despair to the society.

TS4
Penang Heritage Trust Visit – Image by Trevor Sibert
IMG_1905
My grandfather Wan Dee Aroonratana on being a Shaman and a Thai Menora Performer

IMG_1904

It is truly devastating as this land is not only where I grew up but it is also where I got most of my inspiration from.

Talking about transformation, people around the world now are more aware and fascinated with experiencing different cultures, customs, traditions and ethnicities. As such, this kind of appreciation has tremendously changed the way people travel and view the world.

At times I wonder if Penang may soon lose its historical site and heritage appeal.

If you are in Penang, do visit the last Kampung Siam in Penang while you still can. The first and only Thai Settlement in Pulau Tikus is imperfectly beautiful in my own opinion.

The Pieces and Colours of Vietnam

I’ve come to realize that this country isn’t all sturm und drang.

Over the couple of months, I’ve learnt that as long as I do not torment myself into playing the game of nonsensical eat, pray, love ritual to live in Vietnam, life in Vietnam will make sense.

I may not understand Vietnam but without a doubt I respect this country and the people. At a very young age I was taught to respect other cultures. I also remember my mum told me ‘it makes your life easier’ when I questioned her the importance of respecting the differences around us. Inevitably along the way I understand why cultivating the habit of respecting people and their culture is important. It does make your life simpler, a chance to embrace new things and most of all, it questions your ability to handgrip the unknown.

I do not mean to create a stir in your Pho but I find most Vietnamese to be emotionally flat and impertinent in comparison to their neighbouring countries.

What enlivens me in Vietnam then?

The streets of Saigon – as if it is waiting to be discovered, the mysterious hidden alleys that nice quirky cafes and restaurants are buzzing with life cannot be seen from the outside or the main street.

The coffee culture and the countless fascinating art galleries surely had amazed me.

Internet connection here is badass. Menacingly fast. Pop into any cafes and you will be well connected. This is changing the way the country and business work. Not surprisingly, this is a hub for independent start-ups.

If you want a complete makeover for a brand new you that can be done in a week or so, Vietnam should be your next destination break.

Vietnam in a way, is an interesting distraction of your everyday life.

A Whiff of Sea Breeze in Melbourne

If you would like some dose of nature in Melbourne, you are spoilt for choices. I am an island girl and my house in Penang is close to the beach, naturally I seek for beautiful beaches wherever I go. The idea of spending time at the beach makes me feel so calm and energized.

Point Nepean National Park in Mornington Peninsula is really one of Victoria’s beautiful natural landscapes that you might want to sightsee if you have time in Melbourne. A mass-tourism free spot with a mesmerizing view of the beach.

IMG_1310

IMG_1289

IMG_1315

The picturesque Brighton Beach Bathing Boxes. Instagram – worthy though very touristy.

IMG_1185

bb

bb3

IMG_1173

 

 

Melbourne’s Arty Bit

The National Gallery of Victoria is playing host to an art exhibition of Andy Warhol & Ai Wei Wei which runs until April 24, 2016. NGV unveils East meets West art creations of Andy Warhol, an American pop artist and Ai Wei Wei, a Chinese contemporary artist and activist. Clearly Ai’s creations were very much inspired and influenced by Warhol. The experience was a bit of a disappointment – the exhibition was a bit lifeless and lacklustre in concept, it did not raise any difficult questions, the result was tragically insubstantial. Simply, there was no indication of why these two artists were brought together, although they do share some common interests. I did not leave with my mouth agape but it was an enjoyable visit, NGV itself is an awe-inspiring place to be at. The bravura stained-glass ceiling says it all. This truly #insanity masterpiece is designed by Leonard French.

Melbourne definitely has a wicked reputation for street art. I’ve got a serious crush on Melbourne’s street art – the rebellious and experimental kinda everyday art where you don’t need to pop into an actual gallery.

In Hosier Lane, you get to see some edgy urban art.

In Artists Lane – worth a visit if you are down in Chapel Street.

AC/DC Lane which is named after Australia’s legendary rock band.

IMG_1225

Young Street and Gertrude Contemporary Art Spaces in Fitzroy.

Re-experiencing da Down Under

There is so much to discover and love about Melbourne, even though I’ve used to live here for a year, Australia’s second largest city is still appealing to me. I personally favour Melbourne to Sydney because it is more atmospheric, stylish and eclectic. Not surprisingly, Melbourne is also rated as world’s most liveable cities. I can’t think of a better place for an exciting escapade – the city boasts extensive green parks, boundless art galleries, hidden laneways, lively bars, stunning beaches, charming neighbourhoods and constant evolving food and wine scene.

I always like to explore places by foot. Melbourne city is definitely the place to do so though known for its multiple personality disorder climate. Strangely walking around in this city can enliven my spirit. In contrast, Ho Chi Minh City is not a stroller’s paradise, not because of the scorching heat but because of the sea of people and motorcycles crowding/wheeling every possible corner, I feel less enthusiastic walking around.

Melbourne’s food truly celebrates diversity – Italian, Vietnamese, Greek, Chinese, Moroccan, Lebanese, to name a few. Interestingly, each unique precinct offers wide choices of eateries from budget eats to high-end restaurants. Not to mention, if you are looking for al fresco and coffee culture, this is unquestionably the city where you can eat, drink and be merry!