Saturday, 30 July 2016

A birthday in Bintan

We spent two days, two nights on the Indonesian island of Bintan, just one hours ferry ride from Singapore. 

We arrived at our villa - Trikora Beach Club quite late, so aside from a few fairy lights winding their way around the palm trees, our surroundings were completely dark. We went to bed and the next morning I woke up another year older with a big, fat smile on my face. We were staying in a little hut right on a long stretch of deserted beach. The skies were blue, the sea was calm and it was perfect. 


Trikora Beach, Bintan
Trikora Beach

We spent the day drinking champagne and paddle boarding - absolute bliss.


paddle boardingchampagne on the beach


A friend had recommended that we check out a fishing village and the fireflies whilst we were over there. Just before sunset, we headed out on a little boat with a guide who showed us the different fishing boats for sting ray, squid and tuna, and told us how the tuna fisherman would head out to sea for ten days, collect their haul, then spend another ten days travelling back to sell the fish at market, before repeating the whole journey again.

Our guide also pointed out a row of houses on stilts in the water who belong to what he termed 'Sea People'. The Sea People are the fishing families who maintain old Bintan traditions; living on the sea, fishing without any modern technology (such as GPS), collecting rain water for washing and drinking, using petrol generators for electricity and teaching their children to become fisherman as soon as they are able instead of going to school. Their homes in the little village were beautiful and it was fascinating to hear how differently and separately they lived to the other land fisherman. 

We continued on the little boat towards the mangroves, and as we did so, the sky was set on fire by the sun. I've never seen anything like it.


Sunset

We continued up the mangrove lined river and as darkness fell, the trees around us began to flash. Thousands of little green and yellow fireflies were signalling to one another and it was as if we were surrounded by rows of Christmas trees. It was so pretty and peaceful, and as we returned back down the river it felt as though we had seen something magical. 

Bintan was the perfect birthday retreat, and I would definitely stay at Trikora Beach Club again. The staff at were so friendly and welcoming, and they even made me a huge cake and gathered around to sing happy birthday to me in the evening.


birthday cake
Happy birthday to me!

My only negative is that they only stock Bintang beer, so if you're a wine or cocktail drinker like me you'll have to bring some bottles along with you or be left a little thirsty.

For anyone living in Singapore - Bintan is such a quick and easy place to get to and it's definitely the place to go if you're looking to relax and get away from the built up city for a day or two.  The only thing to watch out for is the expense - it's similar pricing to Singapore so if you'd prefer a cheaper villa, drinks and dinner you'd be better off heading further afield to Bali, Krabi or Phuket!

Wednesday, 27 July 2016

Art and history

There was no work for me again this week as STILL awaiting my background check to come through. So, on Monday I headed over to Haji Lane and Arab Street for another blind friend-date (this time a friend of a second cousin who had put us in touch). It was so much fun and we've already planned a group trip out to LegoLand in neighbouring Malaysia in a couple of weekends time!

Haji/Arab is such a great area with lots of little artisan shops, fantastic street art and cute little cafes and bars. We ate at a little place called The Hangar which was really tasty, I then wondered up and down the two streets marveling at all the art.


Street Art

Street Art

Street Art
Street Art




Inspired by the street art and not being able to go exploring in the sunshine due to the naff weather this week - I've spent a couple of mornings sitting down with a paintbrush and paper. I've never been much of an artist, but I've loved painting this last week so will hopefully do some more on the next rainy day.


Acrylic artAcrylic art


Phil's brother has also been over visiting for part of this week so on one of the rainier days, he and I popped into the National Museum of Singapore to learn about the island's history. It was well-worth the visit as the exhibits take you right back to when the 'Kingdom of Singapura' first rose to importance as a major port city in the 1300s, followed by the 'Founding of Singapore' by Tom Raffles in the 1800s, then through to the grim Japanese take-over during WWII, the post-war struggle for independence, and finally the massive economic growth the country is seeing now. Singapore will be celebrating 51 years of independence in two weeks time. It is crazy to think how much this country has grown and developed in such a short time.

We continued being tourists the following day and headed down to Singapore's ArtScience Museum on the bayfront. One of the exhibitions - Future World - had an installation called Graffiti Nature whereby you draw a picture and you watch it come to life in front of you in a weird hand-drawn world. Being around 20 years older than the others taking part in the installation, we probably shouldn't have loved it as much as we did, but there you go. 

video
Meet Phil the jellyfish

There was also a trippy light installation which we stared at for ages. 

Art Science

Once we had managed to draw our eyes away from the lights, we walked over to Raffle's Long Bar for some Singapore Slings - demolishing a full bag of peanuts at the same time. (Fun fact: Raffle's Long Bar is the only place in the whole of Singapore where littering is permitted so you can throw all your peanut shells on the floor without feeling guilty).

Raffle's Long Bar
Slings and Nuts in Raffles

We wanted to show Phil's brother the river at night as it's so pretty, so after Raffles we wondered over to grab some food at Octapas tapas bar on Clarke Quay. The whole strip along Clarke Quay is always buzzing in the evening as it is made up of numerous al-fresco bars and restaurants on both sides of the river. Most of them have a live band playing from about 8pm so it's a great place to go for a sociable evening out. I really want to go back and eat at Little Saigon, not only because I love Vietnamese food, but they also have a delicious looking Hanoi Martini on their menu!

Phil and I are spending a couple of nights at an Indonesian island called Bintan this weekend to celebrate my birthday. It's only one hour's ferry ride away and costs just $60 SGD each - I just love how easy it is to travel around from Singapore!

Tuesday, 26 July 2016

Sky-high places to eat, drink and enjoy in Singapore

Both Phil and I love a good view, and wherever we go in the world we always seem to end up eating or drinking in a skyscraper or on a rooftop. We've been to quite a few now in Singapore now, so I want to share my top five favourites for anyone else who loves a dizzying height.

1. Infinity Pool @ Marina Bay Sands Hotel. I know this is a little obvious, but it's well worth saving up for a stay at this hotel to make use of the infinity pool. The views over the city skyline are beautiful and it's fantastic watching the light show happen beneath you. The good news is that if you don't fancy forking out for a night at the hotel to access the pool, it's still possible to head up to the Sands Skypark Observatory or go to Cé La Vie, Flight Bar, Sky on 57 or Spago bars/restaurants which are all on the rooftop. I recommend Spago to anyone - it was one of the tastiest meals we've eaten in Singapore (just try not to fill up on all the delicious bread before your main course is served!)

2. 1 Altitude's gallery and bar @ 1 Raffle Place. 1 Altitude is right next to Raffles Place MRT and is a 'multi-concept destination' with a cafe on level 1, a VIP club (Altimate) on level 61, a restaurant (Stellar) on level 62, and a gallery and bar on level 63. The gallery and bar is incredible. It is the highest al-fresco bar in the world and gives 360 degree views of the city. There are lots of comfy chairs and areas to chill and chat; at the same time the music is great and there's a decent dance floor if you want to show off your moves! 

3. LeVeL 33 @ Marina Bay Financial Centre. The highest urban craft-brewery in the world and is a really relaxed and laid back place to go for a slap-up meal. The huge, copper beer brewing kettles looks pretty cool, the tenderloin steak and venison are melt-in-the-mouth delicious, and the view is excellent as the restaurant is situated on the rooftop of the MBFC, looking right across the water.

4. Aura / Smoke and Mirrors @ The National Gallery. I haven't been to Smoke and Mirrors (it's at the top of my to-do list) but I have been to Aura; both of which are at the top of the National Gallery. Aura is open all day serving brunch and dinner and turns into a Sky Lounge at night. They have happy hour until 8pm and it's a nice place to go as it offers a different view from the others I've mentioned above; overlooking the Padang with Marina Bay in the distance.

5. Club 55 @ Marina Bay Sands Hotel. I think I have left the best until last, but that is primarily because I am a cheese-fiend. I'll explain... Club 55 opens to the public at 8pm and offers an all-you-can-eat cheese and chocolate buffet heaven. There are over 40 little handcrafted desserts and all the hard and soft cheese, breads and chutneys you would wish for. Again, the views are as spectacular as you would imagine from the 55th floor and I don't think I could ask for anything more than cheese, chocolate, cocktails, good views and good company.

Sunday, 24 July 2016

A wedding and a wet weekend

In my last post I mentioned we were about to head out to meet some pals.. well the evening went something like this: Phil and I had several Dirty Martinis at home before heading to Club Street for a couple more cocktails. We then stumbled over to Boat Quay to meet our friends at Skinny's Lounge, had a few more cocktails and holed ourselves in the karaoke room until the wee hours. It was a fun night, but being up and ready for Phil's colleagues 10.30am wedding the next morning was not so fun...

The wedding was so different from any either of us have been to in the UK. The first thing I noticed was that the dress code appeared to be 'whatever goes' with some people wearing three-piece suits, chinos, smart leather shoes or high heels.. whilst others wore jeans, tracksuit bottoms and trainers.

The ceremony began with an animated cartoon video of how the couple met and how their relationship developed. Then, after lots of hymn singing and the exchange of vows/rings, a kind of dancing flash-mob occurred with the bride, groom and all the bridesmaids. Once the couple had made a speech, lunch was served in canteen/buffet style at both sides of the church and the bride sang karaoke. After this, Disney songs were played and people started leaving.


It was a beautiful day and we are really thankful to have been invited. We were also thankful to get back home, close our eyes and try and get rid of our hangovers.


Chijmes wedding
The wedding venue - Chijmes
Chijmes wedding
The inside of Chijmes



















happy couple
The happy couple
Wedding Favour
Wedding Favour



















On Sunday, we went for brunch at a place called Toby's Estate near Robertson Quay with a couple of friends. Both the coffee and company were great, but the food was pretty standard. (Although I should mention that their bacon is delicious - it is espresso-maple laquered!)

The heavens opened just as we finished brunch which scuppered any outdoor plans we had, so we bought some paint and had a day re-purposing some old chairs (as you do..). 

Here are our rainy day achievements:


Upcycling chairs
Before...
Upcycling chairs
...during...
Upcycling chairs
...


Upcycling chairs
...and after. Ta dahhh

I'm writing this post on Monday morning as I'm still not back at work today. I really hope my background check gets finalised soon..!

Thursday, 21 July 2016

No work, all play

It's been a slightly strange week for me this week as, after starting my new job last Monday, I wasn't able to go back in this week due to a delay with my background check being approved. It has been a right pain as this was the week I should have been shadowing three events which I will then have to manage next month. Anyway, these things happen and my fingers are crossed that my check will come through today and I can be back in work as normal again come Monday!

As I haven't been working, I have once again been filling my days with yoga, swimming, shopping and meeting new friends.

I adore Yoga Movement classes - this week I tried normal Yoga Power which is so much better than hot Yoga Power (as I could actually breathe!) and also another Yoga Core which involved continuous planks and leg raisers for an hour. That was two days ago. I still ache. 

I've discovered this quirky little place called the Plain Vanilla Bakery a few doors up from the Tiong Bahru studio which is a great treat after yoga. The bakery floor is covered in fake grass and cushions and they have the most delicious little cupcakes of every flavour.


Yoga Movement


I mentioned I've been shopping. Now, if you haven't already heard of Daiso, you need to. It's Japanese and has all the weird and wonderful things you would expect; from kawaii stationary, clothing and home decor, all the kitchenware you will never need and lots of great Japanese snacks and canned hot coffee. The best thing about Daiso is that everything costs $2 SGD. It's a dream.

Phil and I also headed to Dempsey Hill to check out all the cool shops selling rugs, furniture, lamps and other soft furnishings. Dempsey Hill shops felt alot like Bali - lots of statues and carvings we really wanted to buy but wouldn't have anywhere to put. We did buy a fun candle holder though, and spent a bit of time trying to 'feng shui' our living room when we got back.


Dempsey Hill purchase


Now our apartment is looking a little more homely and our fridge is well stocked; we had a few friends over for dinner mid-week. It's been really nice cooking and hosting again and we've got a few more dinner parties, game nights and BBQs planned in the coming weeks and months. 

I also went on another blind 'friend-date' with a girl I met on InterNations. We went for breakfast at Baker and Cook in Holland V and ended up chatting for hours. I love how easy it is to make friends here. I can't begin to imagine the reaction I would get in the UK if I asked a random girl I met online for a coffee. One of the many good things about Singapore!

It's Friday today so we're out with some pals in the CBD. Tomorrow we have been invited to a Singaporean wedding which I'm really looking forward to. Will update on that next week :)

Tuesday, 19 July 2016

Living in Singapore: one month review

I can't believe I have already been in Singapore for a month. The time has flown by. To mark the occasion, I thought I would post an update on some of the things I have learnt about living in Singapore over the last month:

1. Embrace the sweat. Being British, we are alot more used to shivering than we are sweating. It's been anywhere between 32-37 degrees since I moved here so it's safe to say you're gonna sweat, but it's ok.

2. Always pack an umbrella. It will be hot and sunny, then the heavens will open and it will bucket down for about an hour most days. Be prepared and always pack a brolly.

3. Eat cheaply, and deliciously. I haven't done this enough, but the Hawker Centres here serve some of the most delicious food from all across Asia and it will only cost you around $3-5 SGD. 

4. Buy the booze in duty free. Alcohol is ridiculously expensive here (about $60 SGD for an average bottle of wine) so buy as much as you're allowed in duty free on the way in. 

5. Join some clubs. So many people move here knowing no-one and the nature of expat living means that people come and go regularly, friendship groups change and newbies are always welcomed in with open arms. There are so many sports and social activities on offer in Singapore so sign up for yoga, skating, cycling, diving, kayaking, dragon boating, badminton, football, touch rugby, cricket, hiking, climbing, language exchange, board game nights, brunch club etc. Make connections, try everything. 

6. Learn some Singlish. Singlish is Singapore's colloquial English; a kind of mash-up of words from across the region. There are hundreds of Singlish words I haven't grasped, but the bare minimum that anyone living here will need to know are: 'can' = 'yes', 'cannot' = 'no' and 'lah' = which is added on to the end of most sentences or words.

7. Travel. Singapore is perfectly located to travel around all of South East Asia, as well as Central Asia and Australasia. It's incredibly cheap and easy to get a flight or ferry out to Malaysia, Indonesia or Thailand on a Friday evening and return Sunday evening in time for the new working week. 

8. Accept the faff of food shopping. Food shopping is time-consuming and/or expensive in Singapore. It's tricky to find everything you need in one place so I have now learnt to buy meat, fish, fruit and veg from the local wet market on a Saturday morning; and sauces, condiments and any other tinned or jarred food from Cold Storage, FairPrice or online at Red Mart. Any 'western luxuries' like cheese or cold meats are extortionate so might be wise to ween yourself off before moving to Singapore!

9. It's normal to have a live-in helper.. or a weekly cleaner at the very least. Everyone I have spoken to with children (and even some without) have a live-in helper who will taxi the child/ren to school, shop, cook, iron and clean. This is normal here and not seen as a crazy, unnecessary luxury as it would in the UK. 

10. The MRT, buses and taxis are excellent. The MRT is super cheap and efficient, the buses travel like clockwork to and from everywhere, and the taxi service is a great back-up if you're feeling lazy. It takes up to 30 mins to drive from one end of the city to the other and using Uber is such good value it makes you wonder why you don't just take taxis everywhere all the time!

I'm sure I could keep adding to this list, but these are the top 10 I can think of this morning.

The last thing I'll say is that Singapore is such a busy, bustling and vibrant place and - although it may be the other side of the world - the expat culture makes the transition easy. Every morning I wake up, look out the window and realise how lucky I am to be here.


Sunrise in Singapore
Sunrise over the city

Sunday, 17 July 2016

Starting work and joining the Dragons

I started my job at the international school this week. It's been half term so it's been nice settling in without the thousands of kids there. Trying to learn the names and roles of the 400 staff has been a little tough though..

The school have several events per week; whether it be an Open Day, an Induction Day for the new families, hospitality drinks or dinners for alumni or parents etc... I'll be kept busy that's for sure! I've never really thought about or realised how great international schools are until now.  Kids get incredible opportunities in sport, music, arts, languages and academics; in addition to being surrounded by other children and teachers from - in this case - over 60 different counties. The only downside is that it inevitably costs a small fortune to go there!

Aside from the working, Phil and I discovered two new places to eat this week. The first is a brunch place called Park HV.  It's in Holland V and probably better than Hatched as there is way more variety on the menu - truffled Mac&Cheese or Salted Egg Yolk Pork Ribs, Mmmmmm. The second place is Obatignolles wine bar on Club Street. We had a cheese-craving on Friday night so, after drinks with some friends, we headed to Obatignolles to gorge on a big fat cheese board. (Top tip: cheese is so expensive to buy over here so it almost works out cheaper to go to a restaurant to get your fill!)

After the intensity of starting a new job, the weekend could not have come quickly enough. On Saturday, Phil, me and a couple of friends headed over to Kallang and spent a grueling but incredible two hours Dragon Boating with the Gaelic Dragons. (If, like me a week ago, you don't know what Dragon Boating is, click HERE to see a video the Gaelics created.


Dragon Boating is such a social thing to be involved in here as there are so many international teams: French, Spanish, British, German, Australian etc, and everyone comes together for parties, nights out and the odd race every month or so. Water training is every Saturday and land training is mid-week - seems like a good way to get fit and have fun at the same time and can't wait for the next training session already.


Dragon Boating, Singapore



Saturday, 9 July 2016

Four days in beautiful Bali

This week we went to Bali. Two nights in Seminyak and two nights in Ubud. I can say without hesitation that Bali is the most beautiful place I have visited in Asia and four days was definitely not long enough. Every Balinese person we spoke to was friendly, warm and welcoming; every restaurant or bar we went to served scrumptious (and cheap) food and fun cocktails; the two villas we stayed in were perfect and both towns had this wonderful dichotomy of old art and architecture mixed with the new, trendy and modern. 


Seminyak, Bali

Seminyak, Bali
street art, Seminyak, Bali
Ubud, Bali
Ubud, Bali
















Seminyak has such cool places to eat and everywhere was buzzing at breakfast, lunch and dinner. We had three stand-out meals in Seminyak - the first was brunch at Sisterfields which a couple of friends had recommended to us, and if we had more time I'm sure we would have eaten there again.


Brunch at Sisterfields
Braised short rib, brisket and black
bean chilli @ Sisterfields

We also had a great brunch at a place called La Lucciola which had beautiful views of the ocean and the morning's local fisherman casting their rods from the shore.


Brunch at La Lucciola, Bali
Brunch with a view

The final one I have to mention is the dinner we had at La Laguna. Getting there requires a short taxi ride as its not on the main strip, but well worth heading the extra distance. Phil and I had never been to a restaurant like it - the place was right on the lagoon with lots of floor seating, old carriages, statues, bridges and rivers running through the middle. We had a great cocktail there called 'Herb & Spiced' which we need to recreate with vodka, chilli, lemongrass, basil and lime. The Balinese seem to use basil in almost everything and it's something we are definitely going to take away with us - especially as we now have a little herb garden growing on our balcony in Singapore!

We only had one full day in Seminyak which we used to lie on the beach and surf. Phil was amazing and stood up almost immediately, I on the other hand was not so good, and probably managed to stand up for about half a second in the two hours we were out at sea...



I annoyingly wacked my head whilst surfing and got a bit nauseous and headachy after that - was then very unwell when we reached Ubud the following day. Popped in to the medical centre (as now seems to be tradition whenever I'm on holiday) and was prescribed some meds to get me better. A day was wasted, but luckily I felt completely well again for our final half day in Ubud so Phil and I hired a taxi driver and went to the Sacred Monkey Forest Sanctuary, the Tengenungan village waterfall, and the Jambe Asri coffee plantation. 

Being in the Monkey Forest felt like being in The Jungle Book. The trees and ancient statues were amazing and we are really glad we went.


Monkey Forest, Ubud

Monkey Forest, Ubud
Monkey Forest, Ubud

The coffee plantation was also well-worth the visit. We each tried lots of local teas and coffees before having a cup of Luwak coffee. Luwak Coffee comes from beans which have first been eaten and excreted by a mongoose, before being dried, roasted and ground. Sounds a bit gross but something about the fermentation in the mongoose stomach makes great coffee, and it was one of he best cups of coffee I've had.


Luwak Coffee
Luwak Coffee 

We want to spend more time in both Seminyak and Ubud, and also head to the Gili Islands and do some more diving. It's a fairly short flight from Singapore (2.5 hrs) so we are hoping to find a weekend in the next few months to pop back!

It is such a beautiful, relaxing place and there is so much more we still need to see.


Friday, 1 July 2016

Throwing ourselves into Singapore life: part 2

This week has been filled with walking, swimming, yoga, boxing, art galleries, eating, drinking.. and most exciting of all... furniture!

At the beginning of the week I tried a class at MMA Evolve which is the #1 martial arts organisation in Asia. I had a 1-on-1 Muay Thai boxing lesson and was still aching three days later! I'm going to go back for another trial in Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu to suss out whether I want to join - the problem is that they ask all members to commit to training a minimum of three hours per week which I'm not sure I can do.. it is also something like £150/month!!

Phil and I tried out a new yoga class on Friday night with Yoga Movement - the class was hard work but the instructor - Amy - made the class fun amidst all the pain. Yoga Movement have four venues across the city and run several classes each day - it's so handy so I'm definitely going to do one or two classes a week while I'm living here. 


Yoga Movement
Yoga Movement


On one of the more overcast days this week, I popped in to the Singapore Art Museum which is running two exhibitions called 'Odyssey: Navigating Nameless Seas's' and 'Imaginarium: Over the Ocean, Under the Sea'. It was all quite interactive and one of my favourite collections was Entang Wiharso's surrealistic seascapes - the whole room was filled with underwater 'memoryscapes' of when Wiharso almost drowned as a child and of the Indonesian pedicabs which were outlawed by the government and thrown in the sea. A lot of the collections focused on sea pollution. There was a display by Tan Zi Xi called 'An Effort Most Futile' which I loved - a whole room filled with suspended rubbish giving the feeling of being underwater.


Singapore Art Museum
Singapore Art Museum




Singapore Art MuseumSingapore Art Museum





On Tuesday, Phil and I had an amazing evening out; first at the Indochine bar in SuperTree Grove with views of MBS and the bay, followed by the tastiest steak I have ever eaten at CUT by Wolfgang Puck. We went to Wolfgang Puck's other restaurant - Spago - when we were here on holiday a couple of months ago and loved it. This was another level of mouth-watering deliciousness. Highly recommend all to try it - but don't make the mistake we made by filling up on all the fresh bread beforehand!


Indochine, Supertree grove, gardens by the bay
Drinks at the top of this wonder!

CUT

 Also met some cool new people this week. I had got to know a girl from a Singapore expat Facebook group, so arranged for us to go on a bit of a double-date to get to know on another. We went to Aura which is the rooftop bar above the National Gallery - the views were stunning, and we all got on really well.

I also had lunch with someone I met last Friday at a place called Kazbar near Raffles Place MRT which serves great Middle-Eastern food. There are so many good eateries around there as it's where all the main banks and everything is (think, the Canary Wharf of Singapore). Then met her again on Sunday for brunch at Super Loco on Robertson Quay. It was the best brunch ever - here is a pic if you don't believe me :P
Brunch at Super Loco
El Mexicano Grande

It's alot easier to make friends over here than it would be in London. One of the guys we met up with hit the nail on the head saying that Singapore is like one big university campus. It is like being at freshers week all over again - everyone talks to everyone and there is always something going on with new sports and activities to try.

The other social this week was an InterNations 'Singapore newcomers' event which was... interesting. We swapped numbers with one or two people who we might meet up with again, but I think those kind of events would be good if you've come to the country alone, or if you want to network. It all felt rather forced and intense so I'm not sure if we will be going back to another one.

So the final update for this week is.. furniture! It was all freighted over and it's just arriving as I type. Will be so nice to have a sofa, TV and storage and make the place feel a bit more homely :)