Tag Archives: asia

Arrival in Kuching: first impressions

The Scoot flight from Singapore to Kuching landed a little after 9 pm on a Monday night. The money exchange bureau at the airport was closed  but a taxi driver accepted Singaporean dollars. Our journey to the Waterfront Hotel started. Everything looked much more developed than we had expected, and Kuching seemed like a big town. Everything felt very different from what we had seen on our previous trips. There seemed to be a balanced mixture of traditionalism (ancient temples etc) and modernity (fast-food chains etc). There is a French word “dépaysant”, which loosely translated means “exotic, unfamiliar”, and this is indeed how we felt. IMG_0369.JPGThe check-in at the Waterfront Hotel was friendly and professional. We were very hungry but the only way to eat was to order room service (overpriced, especially the beer, but tasty). Our room was clean, modern yet a bit bland. The room could have been in any of the world’s 4-star hotels.

Like often, everything looked brighter in the morning. We really liked our view.

There was the Indian neighborhood on the left, the 19th-century Old Court House Complex in front of our hotel, the old Chinatown on the right, and more hotels on the far right.  The majestic Sarawak river calmly flew in front of us.

Unfortunately after the breakfast we realized our daughter had fever. It kept coming and going during three days but stopped -as a doctor we had consulted had suggested- as abruptly as it had started after 72 hours. This however made us lose a few days so during her sick days we only walked around in different parts of Kuching and met our guide-to-be James to plan an efficient program for the rest of our stay. The elections that took place in Malaysia during our stay added an extra element of excitement to our already adventurous journey. The streets remained calm in Kuching, the capital of Sarawak but many places were closed and everyone we met was holding his breath while waiting for the results.  IMG_0478We ended up staying one full week in Kuching. During the first days we kept wondering whether we should move to another hotel or not. We usually like smaller hotels with a bit more charm combined with local touch, and the Waterfront Hotel just felt a bit dull. In the end we decided not to change: the staff was very friendly and the breakfast was great, but more about this in another post!

Kuching grew on us. We loved the fact that there was no tourist invasion. We were literally on the other side of the planet. A lot of the times it was only us and the locals. In retrospect I can say that Kuching was so different from anything else we had seen before that it took some time to get adjusted. On the other hand this is exactly what I love about traveling and why we travel –the goal for us is to find places that are “dépaysant” (exotic, unfamiliar, new, fresh, different…) and Kuching was all of that and beyond. We loved Kuching.

More detailed posts to come about accommodation, eating, sightseeing. Stay tuned!

Previous posts about our journey (in chronological order):

May travel dilemma

Borneo: Sarawak or Sabah?

Fabulous and stylish Indigo Hotel Singapore Katong

Fabulous and stylish Indigo Hotel Singapore Katong

This hotel review could be very short because one sentence could sum it all up: we absolutely adored Indigo Hotel Katong Singapore! It probably is the most stylish, originally decorated hotel I have ever stayed at. We slept there for three nights in the beginning of our journey and loved it so much that we returned for one last night on our way from Borneo to Paris. I would love to return to Singapore just for Indigo Hotel and I believe we will do so very soon!

***Click the photos to see captions***

LOCATION, NEIGHBORHOOD & GETTING AROUND

Hotel Indigo Singapore Katong is located in a charming neighborhood called Katong, home to fascinating and diverse Peranakan culture. The neighborhood is both residential and touristic, but we definitely felt that we were getting a very authentic experience. There are some really great (some very cheap) restaurants withing a walking distance but those looking for a more “Western experience” will also find what they need.

We loved Singapore because of Katong and our hotel, as simple as that.

 

The drive from the airport takes 10-15 minutes and costs 10-20 SGD (6-12€). If your taxi driver doesn’t know newly-opened Indigo Hotel Singapore Katong, tell him it is next to Holiday Inn Hotel.

There are many buses that take you from the hotel to the city center, i.e. number 31 and 32. The duration of the ride depends where you want to go but to give you an idea, Marina Bay Sands can be reached in 25 minutes. There is no metro near the hotel.

RESERVATION & PRICE

For the best price go here: https://www.ihg.com/hotelindigo/hotels/gb/en/singapore/sinki/hoteldetail

If you aren’t already, become a member of IHG Rewards Club, which by the way is the world’s largest hotel loyalty program. We compared prices and got a very good deal by booking directly. Breakfast was included. If you have any questions, click “Need help?” at the bottom of the website and you can chat with an assistant. We did this to get clarifications about taxes (10% + 7%), the cost of a child and the membership. The person who helped us was very professional and fast. Both of our reservations were very last minute (less than one week before arrival) and we paid around 130€ per night (2 adults and a child, breakfast and taxes included).

ROOMS

We stayed in two different rooms. We asked for a room with a view and on a higher floor and these photos are from our first room on the 12th floor (room number 1205).  All the rooms look pretty much the same but the main difference is that some have a view on the Peranakan houses (East Coast Road) and some look at Holiday Inn Hotel. We preferred the city view but the other one is not bad either.

 

There are many little well thought-through details. The drawing on the wall behind the bed. Beautiful cement tiles. Shower that looks right outside (you should use window shades while showering). Some rooms have a round bath tub. A feet-washing bowl with nice products. Traditional candies served in glass jars. The list goes on. There is a complimentary handy, a cellular phone guests can use during their stay. I used it for maps and making free phone calls to Borneo. Fantastic!

 

BREAKFAST

The breakfast was a delight. It consists of a buffet, fixed menu of classical dishes like eggs Florentine, but in addition there were three regional dishes every day. What a great way to discover Asian delicacies! We enjoyed exotic fruits, creative fresh juices like watermelon mixed with beetroot, and tasting laksa, nasi lemak and Singaporean signature snack kaya toast. Coffee selection was excellent.

 

Breakfast is served in the premises of Baba Chews restaurant that we never tried, but every time we walked by in the evening it was crowded. Hotel guests enjoy discount while dining and wining at Baba Chews (http://babachews.com.sg).

SERVICE

Impeccable. Once again, I do not have anything to add. We had questions about buses, restaurants, sites, shopping, medical care, Ramadan –you name it, and each time we were answered with patience and smile.

When we returned to Singapore for our last night, the flight landed really early making us arrive at Hotel Indigo before 11am. “No problem, we have a room for you and we won’t charge for the early check-in” the young man at the reception told us.

SWIMMING POOL

We used the pool a lot, morning, afternoon and evening. It was very pretty to watch sun sets from the infinity pool (the pool closes at 9pm). The music was cool, not too loud. Clientele was very discreet, young’ish and chic. Locals, Asians, French, Canadians… It felt like The Place To Be In.

There is a gym next to the pool but we didn’t try it.

 

CHILD-FRIENDLINESS

Very child friendly! Our three-year old daughter slept for free with us. She didn’t pay anything for breakfast. Every morning she was given a plastic plate with a mug and cutlery. They brought her black olives even when they were not part of the breakfast buffet. The chef customized her pancakes. High chairs were naturally available. Our daughter napped approximately from 1pm to 3pm and we were allowed to keep the room until she woke up, so instead of checking out at the midday we got extra three hours for free. They gave her an origami butterfly and always addressed her with kindness. The coffee table in the room was very practical and perfect for her size. She would sit on the sofa and draw, read or play. She loved Hotel Indigo and was inspired by atmosphere. And you know what they say? Happy child, happy parents!

PROS & CONS

+Close to the airport (10-15 minutes by taxi)

+Authentic, charming neighborhood called Katong

+Opened in 2016, everything is new and works like a dream including Internet

+Creative, cool and stylish decoration

+Awesome breakfast

+Beautiful infinity pool

+Superb service (reservation, reception, room service, breakfast, pool…)

+Room comes with a handy, a cellular phone you can use while staying at the hotel. Local and some international calls are free!

-Honestly I cannot think of anything negative. Some people could argue that the location is not ideal (metro is quite far away), but being in between the city center and the airport was ideal for us. And as you now know, we love Katong and would not stay elsewhere. However, a shuttle bus (maybe in partnership with the next door Holiday Inn Hotel?) to the city center would be a nice gesture!

TIP! Ask for a room with a view on the Peranakan houses (East Coast Road side).

Previous posts (in chronological order):

May travel dilemma

Borneo: Sarawak or Sabah?

Borneo: Sarawak or Sabah?

“I am going to Borneo” would be like saying “I am going to Europe”.  Will you visit Ireland, Lapland, former socialist countries bordering Russia or the Mediterranean islands?

Borneo is the world’s third biggest island divided between Malaysia, Indonesia and Brunei. The diversity touches all the spheres of life from culture and food to people and nature. WWF says that on average three new species are found in Borneo each month. WWF further estimates that over 170 languages are spoken in the island. Talking about re-inventing the word “diversity”!

There really is a lot to see in Borneo and that’s why we would have to smart about how to best use our precious ten days. So, where to begin? I started posting on travel forums and asking friends if they know anyone who has been to Borneo. Responses started to direct me toward Sabah but I remained intrigued by Sarawak. Ever since I discovered a great article on Kutching (the capital of Sarawak), published by the Guardian https://www.theguardian.com/travel/2017/jan/21/kuching-borneo-malaysia-city-guide-hotels-restaurants-bars I could not help but feel that Sarawak is The One. I read more and purchased the Borneo guide book by Lonely Planet. What I gathered from my extensive research was that there are two main differences between Sarawak and Sabah: the latter has better beaches and Borneo pygmy elephants. Orangutans can be seen in both states, which was important to us. I returned to travel forums to ask a strategic question: Why does everyone go to Sabah? Is Sarawak so much less interesting? The responses reassured me. I was told that Sabah is more developed and more known, but that Sarawak is like this rough diamond that hasn’t been fully discovered, with as much to offer as its more famous sister state (and more because Sarawak has famous caves).

To be honest, the fact that Sarawak is only 1 hour and 15 minutes by plane from Singapore (as opposed to Sabah, which is 2.5 hours away), was a key factor to us. The idea of being so close to Singapore in case there was an emergency comforted us. Yeah, we had never before chosen a travel destination even partially based on its proximity to a big city, but traveling with a child follows its learning curve…. I told some of our friends who insisted on Sabah that we will be a bit more adventurous next time. One step at a time. After all, this was our second exotic trip with our daughter. Even if Sri Lanka had been a piece of cake, Borneo was one step crazier.

But there was another practical reason. Sarawak is more compact than Sabah and we would be able to be based in one place (Kuching) and do half and full day trips from there. In Sabah we would have to visit Kota Kinabalu for the beaches. From there we would have to drive or fly to Sandakan for the orangutans and the Kinabatangan river safari (this is where you see the pygmy elephants). Ideally from Sandakan we would have to continue to Danum Valley for amazing rain forest and more orangutans and the Semporna Archipelago for some of the world’s best dive sites. Current warnings against traveling in the Eastern parts of Sabah worried us too. There was no need to take additional risks, especially when traveling with a precisious three-year old blond.IMG_0168I know we could have combined Sarawak and Sabah but it just felt like too much. So we purchased Singapore-Kuching-Singapore tickets by Scoot, but until the day of our departure I kept wondering if we made the right choice about visiting only Sarawak. Would we be disappointed by the beach? Will there be enough to see in Kuching and in the surroundings?

Follow our journey to find out more! Pearlspotting is also on Facebook and Instagram.

Previous posts:

May travel dilemma

May travel dilemma

When an unexpected holiday opportunity presented itself, we quickly started searching for cheap flights. You know, last minute can be expensive… at least so we thought!

Our criteria were: something hot, cheap/affordable, delicious food, wildlife, ocean swimming and culture. And of course suitable for a 3-year old toddler girl.

It should not be that difficult to combine all this, but if you are based in Europe you know that it is challenging to find a destination that falls under the aforementioned criteria. Our one-month-long trip to Greek islands two years ago (a fantastic trip I never had time to write about) was wonderful but also a good reminder that the sea water in Europe isn’t necessarily warm enough for swimming in May –even for a Finn like me!

I am subscribed to newsletters of almost every reputable airline existing in the world. I also follow http://www.secretflying.com and https://www.voyagespirates.fr. We usually fly Emirates to Asia but as Dubai has been getting more expensive due to the strengthening USD we felt it is time to try something else. Anyway, the Gulf-based airlines like Emirates, Qatar Airways and Etihad had nothing very exciting going on in terms of promotions (between 600-700€ per person). Finally, after going through Secret Flying promotions I came across with something really interesting: Paris-Singapore-Paris 439€ per person by Lufthansa! A real bargain, which is not even a special promotion. I called Lufthansa to ask some questions and I was told this is their standard price. Wow. Is flying becoming cheaper or have I been looking at wrong places before?

 

The next question was where to go from Singapore, which is not really a destination where you spend three week. I asked questions in various Facebook travel groups and one destination that a lot of people kept recommending was Borneo. We had thought of returning to Sri Lanka to see the regions we didn’t visit the last time (i.e. the North, the East and the Center). However, the more I read about Borneo, the more I became intrigued. I asked more questions in different travel forums and the decision was sealed. Borneo, and specifically Sarawak (one of the two states in the Malaysian Borneo) was going to be our new discovery!

Did Sarawak fulfill our dreams? Is it suitable for small children? To find out, stay tuned and follow Pearlspotting on Facebook and Instagram!

Blue Turtle Hotel in Tissamaharama: Stylish and comfortable boutique hotel in lush surroundings

The ride from Dalawella to Tissamaharama was long. We left Sri Gemunu Beach Resort: stunning location with friendly service before the noon, stopped briefly at Kataluwa Purwarama Temple: one of the finest temples in the southern Sri Lanka, did one more stop near Tangalle to check out a hotel and arrived in Tissamaharama just before the sunset. About 150 km of driving took us almost six hours. The road and traffic were ok, but things just take unusually long when traveling with a small child…

Anyway, we had shortlisted several hotels in Tissamaharama: Kithala Resort, Diyadahara Resort, The Rain Tree Hotel, Thaulle Resort, Chandrika Hotel and Blue Turtle Hotel. We chose Blue Turtle Hotel mainly for two reasons: it holds the Tripadvisor number one position, which usually means one cannot go too wrong, and they were very fast and professional in their communication (text messages).

We were more than pleased with our choice. The quality we got for approximately 50USD per night (including breakfast) was great. Rooms were very clean, simple yet stylish, came with a mosquito net and service was friendly. There was a wonderful pool we never got to use because we were the unlucky ones to get some rain (unlucky because apparently rain is not good for animal watching).  Blue Turtle opened in 2015 and everything is still very new.

Upon arrival we chatted with the Sri lankan owner who had  lived in Paris for thirty years. Being a former restaurant(s) owner means that he is serious about food, something that was proved to us at the dinner. The menu is limited (grilled meat and kottu roti), but the fact that most people only stay 1-2 nights in Tissamaharama explains it. Moreover, everything is so delicious that we didn’t mind eating the same thing twice! The only thing we regret is that breakfast was not Sri Lankan. Upon leaving I made a remark about this to the owner who explained that the reception should have asked whether we want European or local breakfast. Oh well, next time we know better!

We highly recommend staying at Blue Turtle. Most people arrive in Tissamaharama, sleep one night, go for a safari in Yala National Park in the morning and leave in the afternoon, but I would strongly suggest you stay two nights like we did and include a fascinating religious town called Kataragama in your itinerary. More about these two destinations in my next posts, so stay tuned.

PS There were surprisingly few mosquitoes wherever we visited in Sri Lanka, but most of them seem to be living in Tissamaharama, so do not forget your mosquito repellent.

Blue Turtle Hotel:

Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/blueturtlehotel/
Website: http://www.blueturtlehotel.com
Cell.phone: +94 77 5486836 (Text messages are most likely answered by the owner’s son Oliver who will help you in whatever you may need. He speaks French as well.)

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Previous Sri Lanka trip posts (in the order of appearance):

Planning Sri Lanka: Itinerary

Sea Shine Guesthouse in Dodanduwa: spotless seafront rooms that come with a smile and delicious food

Dalawella Beach: Picture perfect and safe for swimming

Sri Gemunu Beach Resort: stunning location with friendly service

Kataluwa Purwarama Temple: one of the finest temples in the southern Sri Lanka

Kataluwa Purwarama Temple: one of the finest temples in the southern Sri Lanka

Dodanduwa and Dalawella were perfect beach destinations to recover from jetlag and wind down, but after a few days we wanted to see more of Sri Lanka. As we had decided to completely skip the Cultural Triangle, it was all the more important for us to visit those few religious sites that exist along the southern coast and Kataluwa Purwarama Temple was one of them.IMG_4463.JPGWe had a bit of hard time finding the temple as our driver had never been there before. Upon arrival only silence greeted us. All the doors were closed and apart from some school children and birds, nobody was around. Eventually our driver found a monk  who he lives in a house (monastery) below, located sort of behind the pagoda. He kindly opened the door for us (pay attention to his massive golden key featured in the photo!) and we entered a very beautiful, peaceful shrine full of Kandyan-style murals dating from the 19th century. The monk spoke very good English and gave us a private tour. For a moment it was just the monk, his eighteen dogs, Buddha statues, some Hindu gods (Vishnu, Kataragama, etc) and us. A beautiful, spiritual moment, indeed a refreshing break from the beach life.

In addition to Buddhist tales, the paintings depict the 19th life and even Queen Victoria can be found in the wall paintings. Guide books (Routard, Lonely Planet and Rough Guide) and Internet do not seem to agree on the history of this temple that some say dates from the 13th century, so I am not going to go into this. All I can say is that the temple is definitely worth a visit! And while you are in the area, stop by at Ahangama to see the stilt fishermen.

PS Naturally there is no entrance fee but donations are appreciated. We left 500 Sri Lankan rupees for the monk and he seemed very pleased.

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Previous Sri Lanka trip posts (in the order of appearance):

Planning Sri Lanka: Itinerary

Sea Shine Guesthouse in Dodanduwa: spotless seafront rooms that come with a smile and delicious food

Dalawella Beach: Picture perfect and safe for swimming

Sri Gemunu Beach Resort: stunning location with friendly service

 

Sri Gemunu Beach Resort: stunning location with friendly service

If you read my previous post Dalawella Beach: Picture perfect and safe for swimming, you already have a pretty good idea about the area. We chose Sri Gemunu Beach Resort as our base in Dalawella beach, located on the northern end of this wonderful beach (where the big rock is). IMG_4424.JPG

We could choose between a downstairs room overlooking the garden (where the restaurant is) and the ocean (just behind the garden), and an upstairs room (comes with a proper sea view). Had we been just two of us, we would have probably chosen the upstairs room (around 95€/night including breakfast and dinner) but we took the downstairs room. It was very convenient for our daughter to be able to run straight from the room to the garden. The downstairs room -number 22, a nice one as it is on the far end of the building so very quiet- cost us just above 80€/ night (half board also).

IMG_4445.JPG

Our room 22 is located downstairs on the right. It had more privacy than many other downstairs rooms.  

Our AC room was clean and came with a four-poster bed with a mosquito net (that had some holes in it but the housekeeping fixed it very fast). The safe and fridge didn’t exist but we didn’t miss them (valuable can be left at the reception). The bathroom -again- was the weakest part of the room, but it was clean. There was a baby cot that however wasn’t in its best condition. The room was nothing fancy but it had a traditional design, and we were very comfortable and loved the fact that the ocean was just a few steps away.

The hotel staff was very welcoming. They let me use the reception telephone for local phone calls free of charge. The chefs was particularly kind and always prepared something special and extra for our daughter. He made sure we always had enough coconut and honey pancakes. One of the owners brought his little granddaughter to plays with ours. Small things maybe but all of our questions and requests were promptly responded with a sincere smile.

We ate at the hotel restaurant every night. There was a buffet, a mixture of Sri Lankan and Western food (this applied to breakfast too). After a few days the food got a bit boring but I guess buffets often do? We enjoyed Sri Lankan dishes but everything was a bit too westernized to our taste and we kept adding chili. Our daughter further extended her palate but pappadum and pumpkin curry remained her favorites. IMG_4367.JPG

The clientele of the hotel was mainly European: northern Europeans, Germans, English, Italians and French. The average age must have been around 60, but we did see some other families. The only thing that really bothered me was smoking as it is allowed in the outdoor restaurant. So when the wind blows from the right direction and you get a neighbor who loves smoking (regardless of smoke getting in your child’s face…), it is annoying, but not really a hotel’s fault (even if I would love to see all hotels in the world turn smoke free lol).

Would we return to Sri Gemunu Beach Resort? Definitely, any time! It is a great base to discover some important sites including Galle or just unwind at the beach.

Sri Gemunu Beach Resort: http://www.sri-lanka-resort.com

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Previous Sri Lanka trip posts (in the order of appearance):

Planning Sri Lanka: Itinerary

Sea Shine Guesthouse in Dodanduwa: spotless seafront rooms that come with a smile and delicious food

Dalawella Beach: Picture perfect and safe for swimming