Saturday, 31 December 2011

2011 - A Year of Change

And so we come to the end of another year, a year of many changes in my life.

The biggest change happened at work when the company I work for divested its business in September 2011. As a result, half of the workforce were transferred to the other company and a restructuring took place. My Corporate Communications department changed name to Marketing Communications (Marcom) and got parked under the Business Development & Marketing division.

After the divestment and restructuring, I was (and still am) the only person in Marcom and was afraid my new boss would not approve my 2-week leave to travel to Europe since I have no backup staff. But she's a gem and approve she did my leave and that's why I managed to travel to Europe recently.

Visited a few places this year:
  • Phuket, Thailand
  • Paris, France
  • Barcelona, Spain
  • Madrid, Spain
  • Thurles, Ireland
  • Killkenny, Ireland, and
  • Few other towns in Ireland like Templemore and Cashel.
All those travels made me a happy woman :-)

Now that 2011 is behind us, what will 2012 bring?

"What will 2012 bring?" The famous gargoyle in Notre Dame Cathedral in Paris, France pondering as it looks out to the city of Paris.

I'm looking forward to new work challenges, the London Olympics, Euro 2012 and more travels (for sure!).

Here's to a great and wonderful 2012 !!! 
Happy New Year !!!

Friday, 30 December 2011

Breathless at Arc de Triomphe

The Arc de Triomphe is probably the most popular monument in Paris after the Eiffel Tower. And just like its superior sister monument, visitors can climb to the top of Arch de Triomphe for a birds eye view of Paris.

I successfully completed the climb to the top of Arch de Triomphe, albeit having to catch my breath numerous times. This climb was even tougher compared to climbing St Paul's Cathedral in London which I did in 2009.

The Arc de Triomphe is situated in the middle of a roundabout called Place Charles de Gaulle, as you may have seen in numerous photos and on television. Because the French drive like they don't value their lives, you should value yours by using the underground tunnel to get to the arch.

The tunnel that leads to the arch is located opposite it. There are other tunnels around the arch which leads to underground Metro stations instead. So you'd need to look carefully, otherwise you'd be walking around in circles like I did.

Underground tunnel that leads to Arc de Triomphe.

After flashing my Paris Museum Pass to the security personnel (€ 9.50 if you buy an individual adult ticket), I started climbing and what a climb it was. A narrow steel staircase lead the way in a winding fashion to the first level where there were some exhibits explaining the history and significance of the arch:

There's also a souvenir shop on that level, where I bought cloth figurines of Napolean & Josephine (his wife) for Pat's sister who collects X'mas tree deco from different countries. I thought these figurines of France's most popular son and wifey are more unique compared to baubles painted with images of the Eiffel Tower.

After that slight shopping 'interruption', it was time to resume the climb.

The huffing, panting and bouts of fainting spell continued (has my fitness level gone down the drain?) until I saw first signs of sunlight which means I had arrived at the top of the arch: 

It was indeed a cloudy day.

After climbing Arc de Triomphe, I was planning to climb the Eiffel Tower on the same day. But after seeing this ... 

... I changed my mind.

I was not going to pay € 13.70 to get my arse to the top of the Eiffel Tower and stand in a cloud with no view. Heck, I could do that on any airplane. 

Some of my friends said I was dumb not to climb the tower since I was already in Paris, but well ... I don't control the weather; I'm not Storm (X-Men).

Now Ladies, let me introduce you to Champs-Elysees where the world of fashion congregates. It's all here ... Louis Vuitton, Chanel, Lancel, Gucci (ok this is Italian, but they do have boutiques in Champs-Elysees), etc. Stop drooling, ladies  ... 

Champs-Elysees as seen from the Arc de Triomphe.

After walking around the arch and looking at the magnificent, albeit cloudy view, it was time for the descent.

This is how winding and narrow the steel staircase is. Visitors must walk in a single file and if someone stops to catch his/her breath, everyone behind will be held up. Someone asked me if someone fainted in there, with a long row of people behind and in front, how are paramedics going to get the victim out? He/She would have probably died by the time help arrives. 

This is what Arc de Triomphe looks like when you stand directly underneath it:

An angle of Arc de Triomphe which you have probably never seen before.

And to conclude this post about Arc de Triomphe, here is a grave at the foot of the arch:

Translation of the words on the grave: Here lies a French soldier who died for his country.

And this my friend, is the significance of the Arc de Triomphe - it is a monument to the departed, to the fallen soldiers who died for the country. You can read more about the history of the arch here.

Thursday, 29 December 2011

Only One Louis Vuitton Item per Chinese Citizen

I met a Business Development Director (BDD) who had just returned from a trip to Europe. We exchanged notes and the topic of the Chinese lady who asked me to buy Louis Vuitton products came up.

According to the BDD, Chinese citizens are allowed to purchase only 1 LV product at a time because the international brand wants to prevent forgery.

Apparently these Chinese fellas would buy many different types of original LV products and forge them for resale. This has become so rampant that LV bags and wallets have become the most forged branded goods in the world.

So there you have it ... the answer to why LV has imposed this restriction on Chinese citizens has been answered.

Saturday, 24 December 2011

How I Became a Louis Vuitton Bag Mule

I arrived in Paris at 5.30am on a Friday morning. After checking into the apartment, I started exploring the city.

Since the apartment is a stone's throw from Champs Elysees, I thought I'd explore the famous street where everything is glamorous and pricey. Moreover it's only a long straight road and I didn't have to use my navigational skills which were still jet lag at that time.

The Louis Vuitton boutique (known as LV amongst fashionistas) is located along Champs Elysees, but I didn't go in. So I just snapped a photo of the boutique from across the street.

As I was walking away, a Chinese lady stopped me. I could see a Chinese guy standing a little towards the back behind her, looking at us anxiously. She introduced herself in broke English and asked if  I could help her buy LV products from the boutique. 

Immediately I asked why can't she buy it herself. Apparently Chinese citizens have a limit to the number of LV products they could buy. And this lady wanted to buy lots.

After listening to her, I was thinking since I can't afford LV products myself, why not help her, just for the experience and fun of it.

So I agreed. Instantaneously she whipped out a catalogue (colour printed from the computer), pointed to the items she wanted (5 in total) and I keyed-in the product codes into my mobile phone. She then handed me € 2,400 in cash which I quickly stuffed into my pocket. She told me that she would be waiting behind the magazine stand opposite the boutique.

You must be wondering how come this lady trusts a complete stranger with so much money (in cash!), what if I walked away with the money, what if the cash turned out to be forged notes, etc. Well, I've got an answer for all those questions because I had them too and weighed my risks before agreeing to help her:

  • What if I walked away with the money - she probably has some thugs waiting at the corner to beat the crap out of me. She may also have used face reading techniques on me and my face screams honesty ;-)
  • What if the notes were forged - She wants the goods badly and why would she want to get at a complete stranger? 

So I got into line (yes, you have to queue) and soon I was inside the boutique.

The shop was full of Chinese customers choosing and buying like there's no tomorrow.

In case you're not aware, branded goods from Europe like LV, Salvatore Ferragamo, Longchamp, Lancel, Gucci, etc. are more expensive in Asia because of tax. In Malaysia, these goods are like 30% higher. So whenever you see Asians on a buying frenzy in boutiques in Europe, you know why ...

I also realised why LV may have imposed this limit on Chinese citizens - they don't want these Chinese fellas to buy in bulk and resell in China. It would make the brand look cheap. What do you think?

Now back to the story.

The shop assistants were so busy handling the customers that I had to wait for someone to attend to me, which turned out to be a Chinese lady. She had been living in Paris for almost 10 years and could speak fluent French. But we spoke in English, of course :-0

When I gave her my orders, at once she asked whether someone had asked me to buy the items. I think the sales assistants are well aware that many Chinese fellas are lurking outside the LV boutique waiting to pounce on any unsuspecting person to help them buy LV products. I told her that family and friends have ordered the items since I was coming to Paris (I seriously need to go for confession).

Some of the items were out of stock and so I took the Neverfull MM Damier and Westminister PM Damier which the boutique had. They got the items wrapped nicely, I made payment (had to show my passport too) and headed to the magazine stand.

When I returned the change to the lady and informed that some of the items were unavailable, she asked whether I could help her again by going to another LV boutique on Avenue Montaigne nearby. She was that desperate.

I agreed and got a Neverfull PM Damier and Zippy Wallet Damier for her. When I met up with her to hand over the goods and change, there was another Chinese girl with her. The Chinese guy had disappeared. I wonder whether these ladies are online shop owners or boutique owners who are going to resell the items back in China.

Things I learned from this incident:
  1. LV bags do not have serial number to ensure authenticity. The sales assistant in the LV boutique personally confirmed that.
  2. There's another LV boutique on Avenue Montaigne which is approximately 10 minutes walking distance from the Champs Elysees one.
  3. The Chinese are crazy for LV stuff. Personally, I prefer Gucci and Ferragamo :-)

Saturday, 17 December 2011

Use the Paris Museum Pass

During my recent trip to Paris, I visited 9 tourist spots that has entrance fees:

  1. Arc de Triomphe - € 9.50
  2. The Louvre - € 10.00
  3. Archeological Crypt at Notre Dame Cathedral - € 4.00
  4. Tours de Notre Dame (this is the tour to the towers, entrance to the cathedral is free) - € 8.00
  5. Orangerie Museum - € 7.50
  6. Versailles (ok technically this is not in Paris) - € 18.00
  7. Orsay Museum - € 8.00
  8. Rodin Museum - € 6.00
  9. Sainte-Chapelle - € 8.00

TOTAL - € 77.00

But I visited all of the above for only € 50.00 by using the 4-day Paris Museum Pass. Great savings, huh?

Passes are sold according to the duration of the pass:

  • 2-day pass: € 35.00
  • 4-day pass: € 50.00 
  • 6-day pass: € 65.00

Visitors with the pass can go in and out of museums and places of interest as many times as they like. I almost visited the Louvre twice because the place was too damn big to cover in one visit!

And if you want to make the most of your pass, try to visit as many places as you can and/or sites with high entrance fees (like Versailles), as long as your pass is valid. But trust me, 2 places a day is already tiring enough.

However, not all museums and sites are included in the Paris Museum Pass, one of which is Paris' iconic Eiffel Tower. I was hugely disappointed cause a ride to the top of the tower is € 13.70 which I had to fork out again.

Another advantage of having the Paris Museum Pass is that I can whizz into museums and places of interest without having to queue for tickets. This is indeed handy in a touristy city like Paris where ticket lines are perpetually long, even in the winter. Again, not all places have this whizzing facility. For example, you'd have to queue like everyone else to join the bell tower tour in Notre Dame Cathedral.

It was only 2 hours till closing time when I arrived at the Orsay Museum. The ticket queue was so long I thought it would take at least 30 minutes to get through it. With the Paris Museum Pass in hand, I quickly looked for the line for pass holders and I got my arse into the museum in less than 10 minutes. The Paris Museum Pass certainly comes in handy to beat long queues.

Friday, 18 November 2011

Review: Courtyard @ Heeren Hotel in Historical Malacca

If you're planning a trip to the historical city of Malacca, consider staying at Courtyard @ Heeren Hotel which is a boutique hotel with reasonable prices.

The hotel's location along Jalan Tun Tan Cheng Lock (formerly known as Heeren Street) makes it extremely convenient to explore the area. Popular places like Jonker Walk, Stadhuys and St Paul's Hill are all within walking distance.

Finding the hotel is easy on foot, but since we were driving, I could not find the way and had to call up the hotel for directions. The lady who answered the call asked for our licence plate and was waiting in front of the hotel as we approached it. She then hopped into the car and directed us to the car park which is located at the back of the hotel.

When driving along Jalan Tun Tan Cheng lock, watch out for the green vertical signboard on your left. Liam could spot it a mile away despite being in Malaysia for the first time and not familiar with the local names. So I don't think you'd miss it.

Entrance to the hotel.

The smell of lemon grass filled the air as we walked from the car park to the lobby where we were served welcome drinks as we checked-in.

I love the Peranakan interior decoration and furniture in the lobby.

The koi pond in the lobby is probably for feng shui purposes. But the sound of the water adds to the serenity of the hotel.

Our Superior Room weekday rate was RM200 nett for 2 pax including breakfast.

The door on the left leads to our room. With a magnificent door like that, I felt like a queen entering her chambers :-) Sorry no photos of the room to show you cause Liam messed up the bed before I could snap a photo. Anyway, you can check out the hotel website for photos. In fact, I chose to stay at Courtyard @ Heeren Hotel simply because I was attracted to the interior deco in the rooms :-) 

Just outside our room was a lovely courtyard with wall fountain. I could relax here all day.

The next morning we went for breakfast which is served on the first floor from 8.30am - 10.30am. There's a  reasonable spread of Asian and Western food which made me happy :-)

Whilst Liam was tucking into his food, I was busy admiring this lovely staircase:

I was so tempted to climb to the top to see where does the stairs lead to until the staff told me that it's just the storeroom up there. Darn!

Apart from the cockroach in our room (which Liam deftly removed), I enjoyed our stay at Courtyard @ Heeren not only because of its interior decorations, but also its customer service. Staff are extremely friendly and you can see that their smile is genuine and not pretentious like how some service staff or frontliners are trained to be. If I were to open my own hotel, I would pinch staff from Courtyard @ Heeren, hehehe.

It's not a wonder that this hotel is doing extremely well. Apparently the owner has acquired the adjoining building to extend the hotel. A restaurant opposite the hotel will soon be opened too. I'm glad to hear this piece of news as I would definitely stay in this hotel again the next time I'm in Malacca. 

Courtyard @ Heeren
91, Jalan Tun Tan Cheng Lock
75200 Malacca

Tel: +606 281 00 88
Fax: +606 282 48 88

General enquiries:

Saturday, 12 November 2011

Preparing for Paris

Been doing lots of reading lately ...

... in preparation for my trip to Paris.

I was also clearing my stuff and found an item of French origin ...

I can't for the life of me remember how I came to own this lovely Evian bottle!

Sunday, 16 October 2011

Paris Je t'aime

It's final - I'll be going to France for 2 weeks in November/December. Need to shout it out to the world because getting 2 weeks off seemed almost impossible with the responsibilities I shoulder.

I also consider it an accomplishment to book the return AirAsia X tickets from Kuala Lumpur to Paris-Orly for RM 1,697.40 (includes tax, booking fee, luggage and Skybus). My boss said with prices like that I can go to Paris 3 times a year.

Haven't made any plans yet for the Paris leg but it should include Mona Lisa, Rodin, Eiffel, Orsay and Pompidou amongst others.


Sunday, 9 October 2011

Review: The Chateau at Berjaya Hills

After visiting the Kraks de Chevalier in Syria last year, I had the privilege of spending a night at another 'castle' closer to home - The Chateau at Berjaya Hills.

The Chateau is modeled after 18th Century medievel Haut Koenigsbourg castle in Alsace, France.

Here's Haut Koenigsbourg in Alsace, France:

And here's The Chateau in Berjaya Hills:


Apparently former Malaysian prime minister, Tun Mahathir Mohamad travelled to Alsace in France, fell in love with Haut Koenigsbourg, and suggested to Berjaya Corporation Chairman & CEO, Tan Sri Dato' Seri Vincent Tan to build a castle like that in Malaysia. The rest ... as they say ... is history.

My trip started at the Berjaya Times Square Hotel & Convention Centre where I took the Shuttle Bus to The Chateau. It's the best option if you don't have your own transport or you're afraid you can't find your way along the meandering road that leads to The Chateau.

Return shuttle bus services from Berjaya Times Square Hotel to The Chateau are available daily. Click here for shuttle times, tickets and reservation. The journey takes between 45 minutes to an hour.

Tickets must be booked 3 days in advance and can be paid via online transfer or credit card authorisation form. What sucks is that you'd need to collect the tickets from Berjaya Times Square Shopping Mall during working hours. And it's a problem if you're a busy person like me who can hardly find time to go collect tickets.

It would be good if Columbia Asia that operates the shuttle bus service give passengers the option of printing out their tickets like what budget airlines do.


"Bonjour" was the greeting I received at Reception when I checked-in. After that, the staff refered to me as "Mademoiselle Julie". They use French phrases to complete the French chateau experience. So I also used words like "Merci" and "Sil vous plait" - want to show off my French skills after attending lessons at the YMCA :-)

After checking in, I started checking out the room and the bathroom was the first place I stepped into:

Green tiles - probably because The Chateau is the world's first organic wellness destination spa resort. So the green has to reflect it.

I thought it's a nice touch to brand the toilet rolls. So sayang to blemish the roll that I left it in its pristine condition and used the tissue on the table instead, hahaha.

The Chateau uses VOYA products in its rooms and spa. VOYA products are made from hand harvested organic seaweed from the Atlantic coast of Ireland, produced especially to clean and nourish the skin. Reminds me of California Rolls that are wrapped in seaweed :-)

In line with the philosophy of The Chateau, i.e. "We have a Heart for Our Planet", all guest amenities are made from 100% biodegradable cornstarch material, just like this shoe thingy (can't remember the name) which is made of cornstach. I couldn't believe it myself when Jose the Front Office Manager told me that.

I bet this pen is made of recycled fiber, cause I've seen one like that in Doubletree KL.

Love this booklet because of the sketched picture of The Chateau.

If this telephone could grant me anything, I'd ask for a hunky chevalier to sweep me off my feet. And then my experience at The Chateau would have been complete ;-)

And of course I had to drag myself out of bed the next morning because of the ultra comfy bedlinen which are made of 100% organic cotton by Coyuchi.

On the second day before taking the 3.00pm shuttle bus back to KL, I headed to La Sante Organic Wellness Spa for my appointment. 

Reception area at La Sante

La Sante is an integral part of The Chateau that offers an illusive experience of an European inspired state-of-the-art organic spa. Check out this herbal bath that looks like the hammam I experienced in Damascus: 

First time I'm seeing a herbal bath like this in a Malaysian spa. Image source.

La Sante offers personalised therapies like body pampering, beauty, stress relief, fitness, weight loss and body cleansing. Selected treatments are available for men. There are also special spa packages that lasts from 2 nights up till 7 nights and includes accommodation, meals and treatments.

I opted for the Organic Sea Salt Glow and Stress Relief Massage that left my skin feeling like it has lost a layer of dirt and stress completely drained away.

My masseuse Mary Chu is so good with her fingers and hands that I fell asleep during the massage. I dread thinking that all that pampering's gonna go to waste when I get back to chaotic KL.

The spa also has a gym with full facilites. I had 2 rounds of workout here to lose the 8-course French dinner I had at La Rissette. Foie gras is damn fattening, you know ...

Just before hopping onto the shuttle bus back to KL, I managed to snap a photo of the Orchid Garden in all its orchid glory. I think it would make a good location for wedding photos.

The Orchid Garden has 3 batches of orchids that are rotated every 3 or 4 months and costs RM40,000 per rotation. Whilst one batch is on display, the other 2 batches are kept at the nursury for some TLC. 

Sunday, 11 September 2011

Where Were You on Sept 11?

Today is the 10th Anniversary of Sept 11 - the day the world will remember as a day of carnage and sorrow.

The media is having a field day featuring interviews with people on where were they on Sept 11. So I thought I'd share my story too.

It was 10 pm and I was sitting in front of the telly waiting for The West Wing to start.

Image source

The West Wing is a drama series about people who work in the White House. It was one of my favourite drama series at that time as I learned alot about the American political system.

Suddenly broadcast was interrupted for special breaking news. It's extremely rare for any Malaysian station to interrupt the usual programmes to feature breaking news. So, it's GOT to be important.

Then the images started appearing on screen. By the time the broadcast reached Malaysian telly, both planes had already hit the towers and thick smoke was billowing from it.

Image source

A reporter in the background was giving a description of what was happening and they kept repeating footages of the planes crashing into the towers. And then the towers came crashing down ...

Image source

Since 9-11, and probably after a few other attempted terrorist attacks in other countries, travelling on planes have never been the same. You can't bring in sharp items in your hand luggage and the maximum volume of liqud allowed in a container is 100ml.

Sometimes I forget these rules and almost had my pen knife confiscated on a Qatar Airways flight to Egypt. Thankfully the officials allowed the flight attendants to keep the pen knife for me and I could collect it when I land in Egypt.

But there was one time when I tried to push my luck, and my expensive sunscreen got confiscated in Bali. I pleaded with the officials but they were strict. Thankfully the sunscreen was not as expensive as some facial products that costs hundreds of ringgit.

Even boarding flights have become a nuisance as some airports require passengers to remove their shoes and belt. On a Ryanair flight to Oslo, the guy in front of me almost dropped his pants literally when he removed his belt for inspection. I had to giggle.

9-11 sparked off a series of events that ultimately led to the death of the man himself - Osama Bin Laden. However there're probably many more Osama wannabes being trained to mastermind more terrorist attacks around the world.

I pray and hope that humankind will never have to experience another terrorist attack that is as horrifying and catastrophic as 9-11.

Wednesday, 7 September 2011

Journeys of a Lifetime

The quote, "A journey of a thousand miles begins with a single step" has always been one of my favourite travel quotes. Some websites attribute it to Confucius and some to Lao Tzu; just goes to show that nothing on the net should be taken as the Gospel truth.

Another quote I like is, "Success is a journey not a destination" by writer Arthur Robert Ashe Jr.

Lea Salonga also sang about The Journey which I've listened to death at church camps when I was much younger.

The world is laden with quotes and songs about journeys. And that is precisely why I bought this book at the recent Popular Bookfest held at the KL Convention Centre:

The book's by National Geographic which makes it credible. And being priced at RM29.90 doesn't hurt either, especially when it's hardcover and printed on glossy paper.

This book has 500 trips which I'm gonna use to plan my travels. Some of these places I haven't even heard off before, which makes it even more exciting!

So let the journeys begin!

Tuesday, 16 August 2011

Travel Bucket List

And so I was sitting in my office cubicle on a Friday evening, waiting for the break of fast so that I could join my colleagues dig into the scumptious buka puasa spread in the pantry.

Suddenly I had a flash of inspiration to complete a bucket list of travel stuff I wanna do before I'm unable to, if you know what I mean. So I started jotting down profusely all the places I wanna travel to and do the things that will make mamma proud.

So here my friend, I present to you my travel bucket list. Promise not to laugh.

Friday, 12 August 2011

Review: Eight Mentigi Guesthouse in Cameron Highlands

We stayed at Eight Mentigi in Tanah Rata during our recent Ent hunt trip to Cameron Highlands.

Eight Mentigi started business in early 2010 which makes its facilities brand new at the point of writing. The guesthouse is named after the road it's situated on.

Tip: If you don't have ideas to name your guesthouse, use the street name. But what if the street has names like "Jalan Haiwan" or some other weird name I can't think off at the moment because it's 4.14am?

Entrance to Eight Mentigi.

Essentially the guesthouse is made up of 2 houses: Eight Mentigi 1 and Eight Mentigi 2, as you can see here:

Eight Mentigi 1 (house on the left) and Eight Mentigi 2 (house on the right).
Eight Mentigi 2 was formerly Papillon Guesthouse which was extremely rundown until it was acquired by Smith, the owner of Eight Mentigi and renovated to become Eight Mentigi 2. I think he spent approx. RM250k for the renovations.

The reception area is in Eight Mentigi 1 which is clean and spacious:

At the back of the house is where the kitchen, common bathroom and more rooms are. That's not my red backpack in the corner.

I like it that both the houses have its own living room instead of travellers from both houses having to cramp into one living room. How sad would that be.

Living Room in Eight Mentigi 1.

Living Room in Eight Mentigi 2. Now, that is my blackpack and stuff on the sofa.

Eight Mentigi 2 does not have a super duper audio visual system like in Eight Mentigi 1. Instead it has a nice dining room where you have a comfortable place to write your journal, research for your next travel destination or surf the internet all day long. Oh yeah, I forgot to mention that Wifi is FREE !!!

 Dining area in Eight Mentigi 2.

There are various types of rooms to suit different travellers - twin rooms, family rooms and even dorms. All rooms are basic and clean.

Some rooms have WC ensuite whist some don't. So make sure you specify whether you need this facility in your room when booking your room.

Like most guesthouses, Eight Mentigi offers transfers to Taman Negara and Perhentian Island. This is especially useful if you're travelling around Malaysia and need transport assistance.

All in all, I enjoyed my stay in Eight Mentigi because facilities were good, Smith the owner is extremely friendly and rates were reasonable by Cameron Highlands standards. So yeah, I would stay at Eight Mentigi again when I return to Cameron Highlands.

If you're interested to stay in Eight Mentigi, here's the brochure:

Eight Mentigi Cameron Highlands,
No. 8A, Jalan Mentigi,
39000 Tanah Rata,
Cameron Highlands, Pahang
Tel/Fax: +6 05 491 5988
Mobile: +6 016 566 1988

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