Tag Archives: Chinatown

10 things to do in Melbourne

As a Sydneysider, I am conditioned to think that Sydney is better than Melbourne. As much as I love Sydney, I still enjoy visiting Melbourne and can appreciate the city for its differences. Be it for a girls weekend, a wedding, a couples retreat, or to visit cousins- I’ve always had a good time in Melbourne-town.

First of all, the shopping in Melbourne is better than Sydney. It has the flagship H & M store, which is bigger than any that I have seen anywhere else and they have the few remaining Mango shops in Australia. Chapel St also has few more different fashion options.

I love shopping in the little laneways like the Block Arcade and the Royal Arcade with Suga- a shop where you can see them roll out and make yummy lollies. My favourite jewellery shop, The Rose Garden on the Walk Arcade, is where I bought all my wedding jewellery and accessories.

The next best thing about Melbourne is the shows. The theatre district near Chinatown always has a great blockbuster like Chicago or Avenue Q, sometimes before they make it to Sydney.

The beautiful National Gallery of Victoria is my top sight seeing pick. I was lucky enough to catch the Degas exhibit last time I was there- one of my favourite artists. The water-featured entry way always gets me straight away and the modern layout is spacious and light.

The Sea Life Melbourne Aquarium is also fantastic. The wonderful Emperor Penguins make it better than Sydney Aquarium, especially as they still have a shark tunnel.

Another good spot is the huge Fitzroy Gardens complete with Captain Cook’s Cottage. Melbourne loves its English style parks, and this one is my top pick.

Melbourne is known for its great restaurants from world class fine dining, to the Italian precinct on Lygon Street and casual laneway dining experiences like the Meatball and Wine Bar and Touche Hombre. All delicious!

It is also renowned for its serious café culture. And I must admit that these Melbourne-ites know how to elevate a café to the next level. My recent top pick is #hash with its signature hot chocolate science experiment served with fairy floss.

My favourite suburb in Melboure is St Kilda. It has the original Luna Park, the famous Esplande Hotel where they filmed The Secret Life of Us, the Beachcomber Café at St Kilda Baths and the weekend markets. I was lucky enough to live and work here for a couple of months and play the local, catching a tram into the office everyday.

With the newly renovated Melbourne Convention and Exhibition Centre and me working on the conference circuit, there was another year that I went to Melbourne a lot. It was good as to discover the adjoining Southbank area with the Crown Casino and Rockpool Bar and Grill, both of which I rate better than their Sydney counterparts.

And of course the DFO is right near the convention centre for any last minute shopping emergencies, like suddenly finding out that you need to attend networking drinks at the Old Melbourne Goal.

And then there’s the tennis. Even this non-sports-lover has to admit that watching the tennis in Melbourne for the weekend was atmospheric; and I didn’t even get bored.

Related posts: Sydney vs Melbourne, 10 things to do in Sydney, Small town vs Big city

Singapore, 2013: Part 1

When my daughter was 8 months old, I took her on our first trip without my husband to Singapore. My friend Cynthia had just moved there and she had a daughter the same age, plus a live in helper called Rosie, so I figured all I had to do alone was make it through the 9 hour flight.

The flight turned out to be fine and when we arrived my daughter made herself at home right away playing with Cynthia’s daughter, all her toys and one of the cats that dared to come close enough.

I borrowed a pram and we set off to see the city starting with Chinatown and the peaceful Temple of the Tooth. I loved the garden with so many little Buddha’s in the red walls and the cheap vegan restaurant downstairs was a favourite of Cynthia’s.

In the afternoon we cooled off with a swim in the pool of the apartment block that Cynthia lived in with her partner, Tony. Looking after two little girls of the same age turned out to be not so hard as sleep times, meal times and bath times could all be done together.

One night we all got dressed up for dinner and went to East Coast Park for chilli crab. It was delicious. For lunch the next day we headed into town to catch up with mutual friends Karen and Mitch for Ramen. Tony worked at Google and had us over to the all you can eat cafeteria at his office for lunch on another day where you could get anything you wanted from seafood to ice cream. There are so many good places to eat in Singapore that the possibilities were endless.

My daughter did us a favour by sleeping through a shopping trip where I stocked up on all my H&M goodies. When she did finally wake, she found her first changing room experience interesting- mirrors always seem to be a hit.

I was keen to visit Haw Par Villa as I had been there as a child when it was called the Tiger Balm Gardens. Although parts of it were falling into disrepair, it was still colourful and interesting. My favourite part was the dragon mural wall and the white lady on the lake fountain.

Related posts: Singapore, 2012: Old vs New, Singapore, 2012: Part 1, Indonesia and Singapore, 1994, England, Singapore and Malaysia, 1998, It’s an Asia Thing

Singapore, 2012: Old vs New

The next day, my husband and I headed back to Chinatown to explore further the mix of old and new. The old colourful Hindu Sri Mariamman temple was still there along with the Buddha Tooth Relic temple.

There was an old Buddha statue near a new perspex temple and old markets next to the new Tin Tin shop. My husband was a big fan of Tin Tin from his days of living in Belgium and he was happy to find some of the books in French so that he could teach the language to our child once it was born.

Another Asian favourite of my husband’s is a good hawker centre, so we found an authentic one here for lunch. The humidity being cut briefly by the afternoon rains was an old familiar Asian experience. One clap of thunder was so loud that it made me jump.

After the rain, we went into to the new Marina Bay Sands to journey to the top. We got a tip that the best place to go was the cocktail bar at the curved infinity pool where you got the view without having to pay for the observation deck.

From the bar we could see the shell like Art Science Museum, the Singapore Flyer and the domes and trees of Gardens By The Bay that was currently under construction. It was a clear day so I felt like I could see almost all the way to Malaysia.

On our last day in Singapore we went to the Singapore Botanic Gardens. We saw the Shaw Foundation Symphony Stage, a statue of Chopin and Swan Lake with fountains, swan statues and real swans and turtles. We went behind a waterfall, which triggered the old memory that I had been there before.

I’m not usually a flower person, but we figured it would be rude not to go into the National Orchid Garden while were here. After all, the purple flower is the national emblem. There were arches of golden orchids, an interesting cage display and a tiger orchid fountain.

The waterfalls in the cool room were another welcome reprieve from the heat. We got lost heading out of the gardens and found it hard to find a cab home, so that evening we took it easy by dining at one of the riverside restaurants at the foot of our hotel.

After a hectic couple of days in Singapore, my husband was looking forward to some relaxing beach time on Tioman Island and I was looking forward to returning to the island that held old memories from the last time I had been there.

Related posts: Singapore, 2012: Part 1

Singapore, 2012: Part 1

When I was 5 months pregnant, my husband and I took a trip to Singapore and Malaysia. It was my first trip back since the 1990’s and my husband’s first time there at all. He had recently acquired a job with an international company, so we were fitting the trip in before his work trip in Singapore.

Singapore had modernised over the last 18 years, the Chinatown had shrunk and big sleek high-rise had popped up everywhere. We stayed in the Riverview Hotel where there were lots of lovely old buildings, most which had now been given a fresh coat of paint and a face-lift. Necessary, I suppose, but sad that it also meant a loss of authenticity.

I started our tour of Singapore with the iconic Raffles Hotel. The Indian doorman I remembered, but not the fancy expensive shops. The Singapore slings also seemed a bit out of reach expensive this time around.

We headed for the waterfront, past the futuristic looking Esplanade Theatre, to my favourite white Merlion fountain. It was now overlooked by the new Marina Bay Sands which was three towers with a curved cruise boat shaped roof, shimmering in the sunlight.

Passing the Fullerton Hotel, we walked to Clarke Quay with all the bronzed statues of buffalo’s and children jumping into the river. We had lunch at one of the many riverfront restaurants boasting fresh seafood and good beer. Here it felt a bit more like the Singapore I remembered.

My husband is a bit of a fan of markets, so we headed to Bugis Street markets to see what we could find. We also stumbled upon Chijmes, a church surrounded by a new courtyard complex of restaurants, including a very nice Tapas restaurant. Chijmes was one of the nicer new developments where I could see improvements to the old.

That night, the bus picked us up from the hotel to take us out to the Singapore Zoo for a night safari. I love zoo, but had never heard of a night safari before and was quite excited to be embarking on a new experience. We sat in a jeep vehicle train with zebra stripes for the safari.

The light was not good enough for my camera to be able to take photos in the dark, which turned out to be a good thing as it forced me to sit back and enjoy the animals rather than concentrate on recording them all. There were Indian wolves, elephants and Himalayan Tahr.

Some of the animals were not naturally nocturnal which was a bit worrying, but I guess animals are adaptable, just like humans. After the drive, we got out of the jeeps and took one of the walks to see the bizarre fishing cats which I had never seen before. They became a new favourite of mine.

Related posts: It’s an Asia Thing,  Indonesia and Singapore, 1994, England, Malaysia and Singapore, 1988

It’s an Asia Thing

My first foray into Asia was to India. I marvelled at the temples of Tamil Nadu, spent Christmas in KodaiKanal and saw the sunset at Cape Cormorin. There was a visit to a strange circus in Kerala, a boat trip in Cochin and lots of ice cream in Goa. We went to markets, met Mormons, climbed Cape Rama Fort and left through the gateway to India in Bombay.

Next was a school trip to Indonesia where we were educated in all the traditional arts and crafts from batik to silver making. We travelled through Lombok, Bali, Java, Sumatra and Kalimantan. The highlights were the vast Borobudur temple and the Orangutan Rehabilitation Centre.

On the way home we went through Sentosa Island in Singapore. There have been many trips to the land of the Merlion since then to explore the food in Chinatown, the shops on Orchard Rd and visit friends, now expats of the city.

Close by is my favourite Asian destination of Malaysia. The fabulous food halls in Malacca, the life of Penang and the beautiful islands of course. So far I have visited Pulau Kapas, Pulau Pangkor and Pulau Tioman twice. Each island is special and interesting in its own way for the monkey in a hammock, the snorkelling or the sunsets.

The first time I went to Bangkok in Thailand I thought it was a big dirty Asian city. I thought Phuket was incredibly spoilt by tourism and I was sure I would never return. How wrong I was, as the island of Koh Lanta was to become the special place where I became engaged and later married. The little town of Ban Saladan and the beach at Kaw Kwang will forever have a piece of my heart.

Vietnam was a pleasant surprise, largely untouched by the greed of making a buck when I went there. I loved Hanoi, the city built around Haan Kim Lake and was fascinated by the other side of history as the story of Ho Chi Min unfolded before me. Halong Bay was undoubtedly beautiful and the little French colonial hill village of Tam Dao was a rare treasure.

When you think of places to go in Asia, South Korea is probably not at top of mind. However, I found I very much enjoyed discovering the two sides of Seoul. One deep in the traditions of markets, gates and palaces; and the other slightly crazy side of shopping centres, theme parks and off beat fashion.

I wish I had visited Hong Kong before the English handed it back to the locals, just to see how much it had changed. The modern world could clearly be seen here, but there were still the remnants of old. Like the Star Ferry and the fact that the city still had many large green spaces that had not yet been bulldozed by development. The smog of Victoria Peak reminded me that it was still Asia, but back on the ground there was always a drink in Soho to cool you down.

Yes, Asia can be hot, dirty and tiring; but it is also exciting, enticing and an assault to the senses. Riding in tuk tuks, bargaining with the friendly locals and appreciating the simple things in life. Asia has a lot to teach us and I sincerely hope that modernisation doesn’t engulf it to the point where it can no longer be recognised for the glorious cultural explosion it is.

Related posts: It’s a Sri Lankan Thing, Destination Thailand, 2010, Thailand, 2009, South Korea, 2008, Malaysia, 2006, Vietnam, 2003, Thailand, 2002, Sri Lanka, 1998, Sri Lanka and Malaysia, 1994, Indonesia and Singapore, 1994, England, Singapore and Malaysia, 1988, India, 1987- 1998, Part 2: The Journey North, India 1987- 1988, Part 1: The Road South

San Francisco, 2007, Part 1: Falling in love again

Being a fan of Party of Five and Charmed, I was in love with the city of San Francisco even before I revisited. I love the rows of terrace houses, the harbour that reminds me so much of Sydney and the hilly roads. Although, I’m sure if I lived here I would get sick of those hills after a while.

My husband-to-be (HTB) and I stayed in a small room in the Tenderloin district with an ethnic supermarket next door. I was a bit apprehensive about the area having just read a book about a prostitute that lived in the Tenderloin back in the days when it was a dangerous place to live. But that was years ago and it was a nice room, so I cast these fears aside.

We started our day with a walk up the Filbert steps on Telegraph Hill to Coit Tower. The walk up the long spiral staircase punctuated by murals made the climb interesting. From the top of the tower we could see all of San Francisco’s most famous landmarks: the Golden Gate Bridge, Alcatraz, Oakland Bay Bridge, Fisherman’s Wharf, the Transamerica Building and Lombard Street. It was awesome.

Back down the hill, we went to Jackson Square with all its lovely old rounded buildings and colourful jazz murals. Murals was becoming a bit of a theme for the city! We found the foot of the Transamerica building, which turned out to be an office building.

Chinatown was pretty much like every other Chinatown all over the world- colourful with lion gates and the smell of incense in the air. I did get ripped off on the purchase of some postage stamps, which was new. Which just goes to show that no matter how much you travel, you can still become victim to a travel scam. I don’t think I ever sent postcards again after that.

The Macey’s in Union square was lit up and decorated with impressive Christmas decorations. Being the main square of San Francisco it was very busy with people rushing around running errands and shopping for Christmas presents. We found Lotta’s fountain nearby which was tinier than I expected and ran into a gay couple who gave us an Irish pub recommendation nearby.

The pub was packed, had good food, great beer and we met a guy who worked at Google. Gays and Google- you can’t get more San Fran than that!

Related posts: USA Road trip, 2007: Part 2, Grand Canyon, 2007, Las Vegas, 2007, USA Road trip, 2007, Disneyland, 2007, Los Angeles, 2007, USA, 1990