Ipoh in 3 days!

For the March school hols this year, we couldn’t escape to Japan to see cherry blossoms because I was involved in a major work event. So our Japan trip has moved to June and we decided to go Ipoh in March. I was intrigued by Ipoh because it is not only historical but also very rustic and eclectic – totally my kind of place…

Day 1: We took the afternoon flight out of Singapore so only dinner was planned for our first day after checking in.

  • The ‘must-eat’ pitstop was the famous beansprout chicken at the Old Town side – Restoran Tauge Ayam Lou Wong

Day 2: Prior to coming here, I booked a day tour to bring us around the city. We booked our tour from Ipoh Secrets, which was highly recommended by my colleagues who have been to Ipoh.

What was initially a small group tour of 8-9 people became a ‘private’ one with only the two of us and our guide, John!

Here’s where we went in summary. The sites in the heritage trail are very near each other so they’re very walkable even without a guide.

Ipoh Heritage Trail – we started with the former Ipoh Town Hall aka the Taj Mahal of Ipoh.

The Town Hall is opposite the Ipoh Railway Station, which is still in operation. It used to have a hotel on the second level but the hotel has ceased operation for more than a decade. John also shared with us about the “Ipoh” tree, that collapsed in the 1990s. It apparently has poisonous sap, which was used to kill someone before. True or false – I think we won’t really know.

Nearby is the Birch Memorial Clock Tower where our guide told us the history of the first resident of Perak and how he was resented by the locals and eventually assassinated. The memorial was subsequently erected by his son, Ernest Birch, the 8th resident of Perak.

As a History educator, it was very interesting to see how certain versions of history are celebrated while others are purposely erased by something as simple as the renaming of street names.

Then we walked through some of the old streets, in particular, the Concubine Lanes. What was formerly a street for the second and third wives of wealthy men is now a tourist lane with small shops.

Before lunch, John drove us to a house selling handmade charcoal-baked pastries. Sadly, the coal oven isn’t fired up as often anymore because the owner is going to retire soon.

Post-lunch, we made a trip to the first cave temple – Sam Poh Tong. It’s an active place of worship and extremely tranquil. It also had a Japanese pond with koi fishes and turtles. I personally like to visit temples that have elements of nature like the relics in Siem Reap and those in Japan, that are surrounded by gardens.

Next up was the famous and supposedly haunted Kellie’s Castle, which was my main place of interest. It’s a 25-30min drive out of Ipoh town so one can also go without a tour guide.

I can now conclude that I’m a castle-junkie because every trip thus far that has castles to see, they have appeared on my itinerary. UK in 2014, Germany in 2015, Japan in 2011 and 2017 and now Ipoh.

Our last stop of the afternoon was another cave temple – Kek Lok Tong. It had started to rain but that turned out to be a blessing in disguise because during wet weather, water will drip down the stalagmites inside the limestone caves.

After the tour ended, we headed to Plan B, a cafe/bar that was formerly an opera house for a late afternoon snack.

At night, we cabbed to the New Town side to shop at Ipoh Parade mall because shops at the Old Town close by 5pm.

Day 3: We had half a day to sight-see before flying back so we reserved a tour at Han Chin Pet Soo – the Hakka Miners’ Club, the oldest Chinese club in Ipoh.

Interesting fact we found out about our hotel – Sarang Paloh Heritage Stay & Event Hall…. it was the former OCBC bank!

This is one main reasons why we had such a fulfilling trip to Ipoh…everything around the Old Town is so rich in history and I personally prefer the slower pace of the place compared to Penang.

I highly recommend our hotel, it’s so eclectic and filled with antique furniture that I wished my home had more of. The staff are also very welcoming and helpful.

Ipoh, you were simply amazing.

And now, I need to get over my travel withdrawal because I have to go back to work tomorrow.

– CK


Travel Fever

Only a month of 2018 has gone by and I’m in need of another escape from reality. I know this mood swing will pass but I just feel the urge to do what I want, without having to consider so many things. In line with that, I can’t wait for our upcoming vacays – a short trip to Ipoh in March (w/o the kiddo) and a longer one back to Japan June (w Nat!). Yep, it’s our 1st overseas trip with him… he’ll be 19 months old and we chose Hiroshima because in my gut, Japan felt right and we’re both having withdrawals from our Japan trip in Dec 2017.

Ipoh was a recent, rather last-minute decision despite it being on my mind for weeks.

We just wanted to go somewhere nearby for a 3-day trip during the March term break.

  • Malacca was one of the choices but I don’t think I can last 4 hours on a coach.
  • Bangkok was also considered but HJ explicitly requested for a place that isn’t too chaotic and city-like.
  • I thought of Phuket, but we had gone there in 2015 so I didn’t feel like going back so soon.
  • There was just something about Ipoh – it’s history, food and the fact that it’s not as touristy as Malacca or Phuket that drew me towards it. So Ipoh it is then!

More on how I ended up deciding on Japan with Nat in another post because Netflix and supper awaits.

Tokyo and Kyoto in a week

Japan – you have been awesome! Will share briefly how we covered Tokyo-Kyoto-Nara & Yokohama within a week in this post. Now, at least HJ is open to more trips when he previously stayed away after the 2011 nuclear plant incident. Osaka-Kobe-Hiroshima next time? We’ll see. I really don’t fancy Osaka that much but it’s an inroad to Kobe and Hiroshima, which I’m more interested in.

Day 1: 28/11 (Tue)

  • Departed Singapore for Tokyo
  • We chose a night flight so that we can snooze on board and start touring once we arrive

Day 2: 29/11 (Wed)

  • Arrived in Tokyo early at 7am
  • Visited the Yasukuni Shrine after we stored our bags at our hotel near Shinjuku station – I missed this in my previous trip so it was a must-go for me in view of its historical significance. 
  • We didn’t go to the Meiji Shrine – it was not on HJ’s must-see list and I had also visited the shrine in 2011 but if you stay near Shinjuku or Shibuya, the Meiji Shrine is quite nearby!
  • After checking in, I bought HJ to see the main tourist spots in the city around Shinjuku, Shibuya and Harajuku since it’s his first time in Toyko.

Day 3: 30/11 (Thurs)

  • Left for Kyoto via Shinkansen, which was where I wanted to spent the bulk of our trip (3 days, 2 nights in total).
  • Kyoto has A LOT of temples but we narrowed down to a few must-sees that was near our hotel – Fushimi Inari Shrine and the Kiyomizudera Temple (both of which can take up the whole afternoon and evening if you take your own sweet time).
  • We also managed to visit a few malls i.e. Takashimaya in the evening. The big malls close daily at 8pm, which is quite early compared to Singapore standards so one way is to go shopping first and then have dinner after 8pm since most food places open until 10/11pm.

Day 4: 1/12 (Fri)

  • We set off early to the Arashiyama bamboo forest and the Kinkaku-ji temple (golden pavilion), which is in the same area as the bamboo forest so these two sites should be done together. 
  • If we had more time, I would have visited the Tenryu-ji temple, another UNESCO heritage site that is located quite near the bamboo forest. You can visit the temple first, and then exit via the garden, turn left and enter the bamboo forest grove.
  • After lunch and before the sun sets, we took a day trip to Nara (45 minutes away by train on the JR Nara line) to see wild deers roaming in Nara Park. The sun sets around 430pm during winter so we had to ensure that we reached Nara by 3pm so that we could spend some time in the park before it became dark. 
  • The famous Todai-ji temple (with the giant Buddha) is also located in the park and closes at 5pm.
  • We spent the evening having dinner and souvenir shopping in Nara before heading back to Kyoto at night.

Day 5: 2/12 (Sat)

  • For our last morning in Kyoto, we decided to go to the silver pavilion – Ginkaku-ji temple, having visited the golden one.
  • Near the temple is also the Philosopher’s Path, which is famous for being lined with peach blossoms but as it was the tail-end of autumn, we got to see a myriad of orange and red leaves instead.
  • In the afternoon, we headed back to Tokyo via Shinkansen and spent the rest of the evening shopping at Tokyo station, Ikebukuro and Sunshine City.

Day 6: 3/12 (Sun)

  • On our second last day, we decided to go to Yokohama, specifically to visit the Ramen museum and Nissin cup noodles museum.
  • If we had more time, maybe I would have visited the Kirin beer museum? However, between the 3, HJ preferred the food-related ones.

Day 7: 4/12 (Sun)

  • Half a day in Tokyo and flight back to SG

In retrospect, if we had 1 more day, to really max out the 7 day rail pass, I might have included a trip to Mt. Fuji.

Between Mt. Fuji and Yokohama, we chose to do the latter instead because HJ did not really want to take a a 2.5 hr bus ride to Mt. Fuji to and fro Tokyo. After all, I had also been to Hakone and Mt. Fuji on my previous trip but Yokohama was the first for the both of us.

So visiting Tokyo & Kyoto 6-7 days is very doable. It just needs prior planning and scoping of the sites depending on what you want to really see and do.

Between the two, we definitely preferred the slower pace of Kyoto! Am so glad we spent almost half the time there.

Will surely be back to Japan in the near future! HJ says next year – that’s too soon for me but I definitely won’t wait 6 years to come back unlike my previous trip in 2011!


Last trip without Nat

We’re in Japan for our end of year trip while Nat is having his own ‘vacation’ at my mom’s. This is our longest time away from him – 7 days. He still seems rather oblivious? Actually, Nat has never been very clingy but after 6 days, we are eager to see him ! For our next trip in 2018, guess he will be traveling with us…

Generally, 2017 has been an awesome year vacation-wise.

We managed to go to Hanoi (June), Hong Kong (Aug), Penang (Sept) and now Japan.

Partly, it was to make up for a whole year of being in Singapore when I was expecting Nat.

HJ also does not want to travel with Nat yet because it’s very different, traveling with and without a baby. Bluntly speaking, dealing with a carrier, pram, milk powder and diapers isn’t what we have in mind when we think of a vacation.

Yet, I think after a year of reliving our 2015 travel days, I’m ready to bring Nat along with us next year. He’ll be 1 year plus and not really a baby anymore. We’ll see how it goes…


Dream Away 

I came across this photograph in a shophouse along Love Lane, Penang and bought it because there was a plethora of thoughts that came to mind. I thought of HJ’s dream(s), thought of my previous dream or fantasy to study and live in Germany. I wanted to walk away but I kept thinking about it so now I get to bring this home and then maybe, be reminded that it’s never too late to make things happen. 

The shop lady then told us that this was previously along Stewart Lane, but has since been painted over. What a pity. 

So back to this idea of dreams. 

There is no way I have any regrets when I look at how blessed we are, especially now with Nat. 

Maybe my only regret is not going for a student exchange in University?

Some days I also think about how things could have been if we didn’t have a family of our own yet – could we both be overseas studying and living for a year? 

Or maybe we won’t even have done that because of other commitments like our jobs and families? 

Technically, even with a family of our own, that can still happen but I’m always hampered by fear. 

Fear of losing security, fear of the unknown, fear of being lonely, fear of getting out there and being vulnerable. This then rubs off on HJ as well because whatever he does, also takes into consideration how I feel. 

Maybe what I need is a long vacation in Europe? Long enough to see the bulk of the places I yearn to visit e.g. Eastern Europe, Italy… Maybe this can still happen but just not now? 

Owell, for now I shall just bring the photograph home and be reminded of my dreams. Hopefully, I will be able to actualise some of them. 

– CK

Hong Kong 

Our HK trip in summary – some history and scenery but mostly walking, shopping and eating. Next time, in a few years, we will most probably be back with Nat but with a very different itinerary. I’m excited to go home tomorrow because I could do with a break from all the sweet and oily food and of course, see our monkey, Nat 🙂

In terms of visiting HK, here’s some tips we picked up along the way.

1. Decide which side you want to stay – Kowloon or HK island. 

  • Previously, when I visited HK with my family in 2010, I stayed on the Kowloon side. This time, I decided to stay on the HK island side for something different. 

2. Book a hotel NEAR an MTR exit. 

  • This may sound straight forward enough but there’s a difference between somewhere that is “2 minutes” walk from the sub vs. “5-8 minutes” walk, especially during the summer heat! Originally I booked at Butterfly on Hollywood Road but changed it to Kew Green Hotel Wan Chai as the latter was a much shorter walk from the Wan Chai MTR exit (2-3minutes). Although, Hollywood Road is nearer to the central part with all the food and nightlife/bars so it all depends on your preferences.

3. Sheung Wan/Central/Admirality was where we ate mostly.

  • Prior to the trip, I already knew where I wanted to go and eat. Most of the places was recommended by this blog entry. It is a shorter list compared to this other HK food guide that has 20+ listings but it was useful cross-referencing both of them during our pre-trip planning. 
  • In retrospect, I think the bulk of our trip was about locating these ‘must-eat’ places in HK and walking off the calories via shopping. 

4. Causeway Bay, TST and Citygate was where we shopped.

  • This one is really to each his own because HJ and I are not a fan of markets – Ladies Market, Stanley Market etc. Basically, any street market isn’t our cup of tea. That left us with mostly shopping malls in the above mentioned areas. Most of Nat’s items were bought from this mall called iSquare. They have both Babies’R’us and Mothercare! We also found clothes for him from Zara Kids @ Central that costs SGD$5 for a shirt?! 

5. Visiting between Oct-Dec may be the best time.

  • The next time we visit, I’d pick the cooler Winter months for the following reasons: 
  1. August is quite hot as it is still summer with temperatures ranging from 31-34 degrees. 
  2. We would have liked to see some horse racing for fun but found out there are no races during the summer months of July and August as it is too warm for the horses.
  3. September is the typhoon period for HK so even though it’s not as hot as July and August, there may be typhoons and/or heavy rain. 
  4. The seasonal flu season in HK is also from July to August although this year saw HK’s flu season begin a bit earlier in May/June. We both took our annual flu jabs earlier in the year so hopefully we don’t come down with anything. 

One ‘hidden find’ we came across was a legit and good foot massage place @ Central called ZEN Massage and Foot Massage – 98 Wellington St. 

  • We went there on the evening of our 2nd day because we had really walked TOO MUCH. Sometimes if our designated location was inbetween MTR stops, we’ll walk there instead of taking the train. If the location was 2 stops away by bus, we would also rather walk since it’s technically very near. So by the end of day 2, we abandoned our plans to go to the hotel gym because I think all the walking made up for all our eating! 

All in all, I think we have had enough city trips for 2017 so I guess our next escapade out of Singapore should be somewhere more relaxing? 

– CK

Traveling Without Baby

After the success of our ‘pilot’ trip to Hanoi, we’re definitely tempted (and more confident) to take more trips in the future where it’s just the two of us. Of course the biggest and most difficult decision i.e. whether you are okay traveling without baby has to be made way in advance but once that decision has been made, everything else comes pretty easy. HJ is very easygoing – he is okay traveling with or without the baby though he is aware that the latter would entail adjusting our itinerary. I, on the other hand, took a longer time to make up my mind but in my gut, I knew that I would prefer to travel without having to think about “baby logistics” and that was how our first couple trip since March 2016 came to be.

So here’s a sneak peek into the whole operation – yes, operation because a lot of planning and ‘rehearsing’ was involved.
1. Find a caretaker arrangement that puts your heart and mind at ease

I will be honest about this. There is no other person in this world that I would trust more to take care of Nat than my mom, with our helper to assist. So having her be the main caretaker while we were overseas made the decision to just go a very straightforward one.

2. Have caretaker(s) understand and experience baby’s daily routine

Knowing is one thing but nothing beats them experiencing the baby’s routine itself. So for us, we gave my mom and helper a rough schedule for Nat based on his daily eat/wake/sleep patterns. Nat is also over at my mom’s place on the days when I go to office so she gets to experience how his morning to evening routines are like. Then on some Sundays when we go to the movies, she gets to experience his bedtime routine until 10pm.

So if family member(s) are looking after baby when you travel, having them actually experience the routine helps prepare them for the days/nights that you are away.

3. Condition baby to sleep in various locations

This is more applicable if baby is going to be bunking over at the caretaker’s home as opposed to having the caretaker sleep over in your house.

For my mom, she is more comfortable in her own place so Nat and my helper slept over at my mom’s place while we were overseas. This meant that we had to start getting Nat used to the idea of taking naps at various locations, other than our own home. Even then, it took some trial and error experiments to figure out which room he prefers to nap in.

  • For instance, my mom’s room gets the morning sun so Nat could not nap very long in there whereas my sister’s room doesn’t get the morning or afternoon sun so it’s a darker and better environment for his naps. Verdict: my sister’s room is the best place for Nat to snooze.

4. Prepare for all scenarios especially if baby were to fall sick

Other than packing the usual baby clothes and accessories e.g. food, toys, bath items, we also packed his medicine for fever, nasal congestion and cough with instructions on how to administer each of them should he fall sick. The only thing we forgot to pass my mom was his health booklet, should they need to bring him to the PD!

Thankfully, everyone was prepared because Nat did come down with a slight cough 1-2 days before our trip because HJ and I took turns to fall sick so Nat also got some of our germs. We had also prepared for another more morbid scenario in the event that anything should happen to both of us.

I guess with that, we managed to travel with peace in our hearts and minds.

– CK