Sunday, 30 December 2018

Highlights of 2018

Lo and behold ... I've not updated this blog since August, and that's a long period in the social media universe.

So what have I been up to lately? Let me share with you in a flashback post since it's already end of the year.

1) Visited Boracay in January

It was my first time in the Philippines and I was lucky I made the trip because not long after, the island was closed down in April 2018 so that environmental problems on the island could be fixed. Air Asia also terminated its Kuala Lumpur - Kalibo route not long after. Anyway, Boracay has since reopened early this month.

The most popular beach in Boracay is White Beach which had lovely soft, white sand, and the waters were crystal clear. The locals were also friendly. However each time I lay on the beach, there would be an endless stream of locals asking me to buy souvenirs and snacks. In the beginning it was ok, but then it started annoying me.

Sunset on White Beach in Boracay.


2) Visited Redang Island in April

Because my trip to Boracay was so-so, I compensated with a trip to Redang Island in the state of Terengganu in Malaysia.

It was a very relaxing trip. No locals bugged me to buy stuff and I could sleep for hours on the beach and hammock.

The crystal clear waters of Redang Island never fails to amaze me.


3) Visited Taiping in May

This was a road trip with my family. This was my first time to Taiping and I enjoyed the laidback town that Taiping is. In case you don't know, Taiping is a town in the state of Perak in Malaysia.

We visited the Taiping Zoo Night Safari, Taiping War Cemetery, Lake Gardens and Antong Coffee Mill.

I enjoyed the Night Safari the best. The highlight was seeing one of the elephants wash its food in the pond before consuming it. After the meal, the elephants gathered in a circle and emitted weird sounds as if though they were talking to each other. I could hear all this clearly because it was night time when the slightest sound is accentuated.

You can see how powder is prepared at the Antong Coffee Mill in Taiping.


4) East Europe & St Petersburg, Russia in September

I was away for 20 days when the weather was not too cold and the crowd manageable.

From Kuala Lumpur I flew to Helsinki (Finland) via London.

In Helsinki I visited the Suomenlinna fortress and ate salmon soup at the Kauppatori. The weather was chilly and becomes very cold when it rains which was quite frequent. I had come prepared with three jackets and was wondering whether I could survive a winter in Finland.

From Helsinki, I took the ferry to Tallinn to visit the holy trinity of the Baltics, i.e. Tallinn (Estonia), Riga (Latvia) and Vilnius (Lithuania). Amongst the three cities, I like Riga the most. Don't know why.

One of the squares in Old Town Riga.

The Three Sisters is a popular attraction in Riga.

Then I moved southwest into Poland into its capital city Warsaw and then to lovely Krakow where I visited Auschwitz-Birkenau and the Wieliczka Salt Mines Salt Mines. Many people had told me not to visit Auschwitz-Birkenau because it's a sad place filled with restless souls. But it was an eye opening experience which I'll remember for a long time to com; from the lady who burst out crying after listening to how the Jews were murdered, to the lingering smell of the chemicals used to preserve the hair of the victims.

From Krakow, I flew back to Helsinki and took the overnight Princess Anastasia ferry to St Petersburg in Russia.

The Russians really know how to build grandeur and magnificence into their buildings. I was astounded. In that magnificent city, I watched a ballet performance called Le Corsaire at the legendary Marinsky Theatre.

I had so much fun during this trip that I didn't want to come home.


5) Chartered Banker qualification

I progressed to the third and final level of the Chartered Banker professional qualification.

There are three modules for this level. I sat for the first module (Professionalism, Ethics & Regulation) on 24 November 2018 and currently awaiting exam results which will be out in February 2019.

If everything goes according to plan and I don't have to resit any module, I would be able to obtain my Chartered Banker qualification by end of 2019.

Completing assignments and studying for exams has been the main reason why I didn't update this blog since August.


6) Tried volunteering for 14th Malaysian General Election

I registered as a volunteer PACA (Polling Agent Counting Agent) for the 14th Malaysian General Election on 9 May 2018.

However I was not assigned a polling centre due to a blunder on the organiser's side. What a bloody waste of time and effort to attend PACA trainings which were usually held in the evening after work.

Eventhough the candidate I volunteered with won her parliamentary seat, I don't think I'll volunteer again for future elections after this bad experience.


7) Knee problem

I gave up running for almost 6 months due to a knee problem.

Each time I hit 2km - 3km at a certain speed, my left knee would start having a discomfort which leads to pain.

After recuperating for almost 6 months I'm trying to start running again. I'm hoping that my knee won't let me down or else I would have to seek professional help.


8) Hard Rock Cafe bottle openers

Added six new bottle openers from Helsinki, Hong Kong (two different types), Houston, Krakow and Warsaw.

I could have collected more because Helsinki alone had like six different types of bottle openers. But I didn't want to spend so much on a single outlet.

The most disappointing was Hard Rock Cafe St Petersburg in Russia. I had walked almost 2km to the outlet only to find that the bottle openers were sold out. The sales assistant tried to convince me to purchase other stuff from the Rock Shop but my heart is with the bottle openers.


Looking forward to 2019

I've booked a trip to South Korea in May 2019. Tickets on Air Asia were bloody cheap to not book it. I'll be flying into Seoul and flying back from Busan. Gonna skip Jeju because I would need to drive around the island which is not economical since I'll be travelling alone. Ah some of the perils of solo travel.

A friend has mooted the idea of travelling to Morocco in September. So I hope that materialises. But you know when we plan so far ahead and depend on another person, most of the time it doesn't happen. That's why I prefer solo travel.

Saturday, 25 August 2018

3 Tips for Climbing the Old Bridge (Stari Most) in Mostar

The main attraction in Mostar, Bosnia & Herzegovina is definitely the Old Bridge, also known as Stari Most.

Built in 1566 by the Ottomons, the bridge stood for 427 years until it was destroyed on 9 November 1993 during the Bosnian War. However through efforts by UNESCO, the bridge was rebuilt and reopened on 23 July 2004 and is now a UNESCO World Heritage Site.

If you're visiting Mostar, read these 3 tips to have the best experience of climbing Stari Most.

Tip #1: Wear a good pair of walking shoes

Two factors make the bridge one of the most difficult to climb:

a) Its incredibly smooth and slippery steps; and
b) Its sharp arch.

Here, take a look at how steep the bridge is from a bottom angle:

Photo was taken when the sun was setting, thus the golden colours on the right side of the photo.

I made the mistake of walking on Stari Most in my flip flops and regretted it tremendously, thus this blog entry to ensure you don't make the same mistake as I did.

Another reason to wear a good pair of walking shoes is because the area surrounding the Old Bridge are builit on cobbled stones like this:

Therefore having a good pair of walking shoes is important to ensure you don't slip and fall. I personally prefer sneakers.

Tip #2: Use the ledges as footholds and hold onto the hand rails

There's a high possibility many would have slipped while walking on the bridge, so they built ledges on the bridge and installed hand rails on both sides of it.

Use the ledges as footholds and to break your fall. Also hold onto the hand rails and slowly make your way up and down the bridge.

At peak times when there're many people holding the hand rails and going up and down the bridge in both directions, I had to let go of the hand rails to allow others to pass. I had to be extra careful that I don't slip and fall when I let go, which leads to the third tip:

Top #3: Go early in the morning before the crowd arrives

Being the top attraction in Mostar, you can exprect many tourist on the bridge. 

To avoid the crowds, go early in the morning and there's a high possibility you'll have the whole bridge to yourself. Definitely worth sacrificing your beauty sleep for if you want to take photos without anyone photo bombing it.

Monday, 30 July 2018

5 Reasons Why You Must Visit Mostar

I used to hear alot about Bosnia & Herzegovina in the news when I was a teenager growing up in the 90s, but I was too young at that time to understand about the Bosnian War.

When I visited the Balkans last year, I decided to make a stop at Mostar, a city in Bosnia & Herzegovina because of my memories of the 90s and mainly because I wanted to visit Medjugorje which you can read about here.

I did not have any expectations before visiting Mostar but the city certainly left me charmed.

Here are the reasons why you must visit Mostar.

Reason #1: The Old Bridge a.k.a. Stari Most is gorgeous

The gem of Mostar is definitely The Old Bridge or Stari Most as the locals call it.

Built in 1566 by the Ottomons, the bridge stood for 427 years until it was destroyed on 9 November 1993 during the Bosnian War. However through efforts by UNESCO, the bridge was rebuilt and opened on 23 July 2004 and is now a UNESCO World Heritage Site.

I love this paragraph from the UNESCO World Heritage Site website that describes the Old Bridge area so beautifully:

The Old Bridge Area, with its pre-Ottomon, Eastern Ottomon, Mediterranean and Western European archtectural features, is an outstanding example of multicultural urban settlement. The reconstructed Old Bridge and Old City of Mostar are symbols of reconciliation, international cooperation and the coexistence of diverse, cultural, ethnic and religious communities.

I snapped this photo with my mobile phone and sent it to a friend. She asked me which website did I take it from. Initially I was annoyed but in the end I considered it as a compliment on my photography skills :-)

Reason #2: The seige of Mostar and the Bosnian War

The modern history of Bosnia & Herzegovina is a sad one because of the seige of Mostar that was fought during the Bosnian War that took place between 1992 and 1995.

If you look carefully, some of the buildings in the Old Bridge Area have bullet holes in its walls. Sorry I didn't take any photos of the bullet riddled buildings, but I did take this photo of a Muslim graveyard that I stumbled upon while walking from the bus station to Hostel Nina:

From the year of death written on the graves, I gather that they must have died in the Bosnian War that took place from 1992 till 1995.
I converted the photo to black & white because I thought it's appropriate for the sombre mood.

The Bosnian War lead to the breakup of Yugoslavia into 6 republics, i.e. Bosnia & Herzegovina, Croatia, Macedonia, Montenegro, Serbia and Slovenia. 

In the Old Bridge area there are tour agencies which organises tours on the breakup of Yugoslavia:

Too bad I didn't have enough time, otherwise I would have signed up for the tour.

If you like history, especially war history, Mostar would be a place right up your alley.

The capital city of Bosnia & Herzegovina, Sarajevo is another city to visit if you like war history. I missed it this round and regretted it after a group of Italian travellers whom I met in Mostar told me that I should not have missed Sarajevo.

Reason #3: Beautiful Neretva River

The Old City in Mostar and the Stari Most is situated along the Neretva River. The charming river is like an artery that runs through Mostar, pumping life into it.

A charming river should be complemented with equally charming houses along its banks and the houses in Mostar certainly lived up to this expectation. Here, take a look at the houses along the Neretva River:

So peaceful.

I love the turquoise coloured waters of the Neretva River:

Reason #4: Prices in Mostar are relatively cheaper 

If you're coming into Mostar from other parts of the Balkans, you would notice that the price of things are relatively cheaper in Mostar. Shops and eateries accept the Euro or Bosnian Mark (BAM).

To give you an idea of prices in Mostar, here are the prices of food that I had in that lovely little town:

 Grilled chicken, salad, fries and one glass house wine (not in photo). Price: 15.00 BAM

Sis cevapi with salad and fries. Price: 8.00 BAM

Let's move on to fridge magnets and prices that I had bought from shops in the Old Bridge area.

Typical fridge magnet of the infamous Stari Most:

 Price: 1 Euro

Flag and map of Bosnia & Herzegovina:

Price: Flag (EURO 1.00), Map (2.00 EURO)

Are you convinced now that prices in Mostar are relatively cheaper compared to other parts of the Balkans?

(Note: All prices are correct as of September 2017)

Reason #5: Less tourist in Mostar 

If you're travelling into Mostar from tourist hotspots in Croatia like Split and Dubrovnik, Mostar is a breathe of relief as the number of tourist here does not rival the neverending number of tourist in other parts of the Balkans.

To give you an idea of how quiet Mostar is, here's a photo of the main street on a Monday morning when I was walking from Hostel Nina to the bus station to take the bus to Dubrovnik.

No rush hour traffic like in bigger cities.

Although the Old Bridge area may get crowded at times, there'll be times when it's quiet and peaceful, and you'll find yourself having the whole place to yourself.

Tuesday, 12 June 2018

Review: Redang Beach Resort

After visiting Boracay in January, I needed to get another island fix and decided to return to Redang Island in the state of Terengganu in Malaysia in April. It was my third time on the island.

This time we stayed at Redang Beach Resort simply because the facilities are good and the rates were pretty reasonable. I paid RM693.24 for a 3 night / 4 day weekday snorkelling package. The cost includes the following:

- Return ferry from Shahbandar Jetty (in Kuala Terengganu) to Redang Island
- 3 nights in a Standard Room (twin sharing) at Redang Beach Resort
- 4 meals a day (breakfast, lunch, tea & dinner)
- Marine park fee
- 2 snorkelling trips a day

I thought since we went on a weekday, there would be less people and we would have the whole resort to ourselves. Unfortunately I was wrong and there were large groups of travellers (mainly Malaysians) whilst we were there.


When you arrive on the island, you will be ushered to the registration counter here:

All guests will be briefed by the staff too.

Guests may go to their rooms after check-in provided the rooms are ready. Otherwise, have to wait.

My bed had a broken wheel. I got the staff to repair it but it broked again when I sat on the bed. So I lived with the broken wheel throughout my 3 nights at the resort. It was not so bad after all.


One of the features of Redang Beach Resort that I like is its landscaping.

There're manicured paths leading to the rooms:

This is the common area fronting the beach:

Another view of the common area fronting the beach:

Sorry this photo is dark. Either I need to improve my photography skills or editing skills.


Now let's talk about the most important thing for most travellers - meals!

All meals are served in either Home Town:

... or New Town:

The menu is the same in both locations.

In respect for its Muslim staff, the resort does not allow guests to consume alcohol in Home Town or New Town. However guests may do so at Summer Point (more on this place later).

We were assigned to Home Town and this is the buffet counter there:

The soup, dessert and drinks counter:

The resort does not provide mineral water bottles in the room. Instead, guests may get an unlimited supply of drinking water from the huge silver container that you can see on the right of this photo. I must say that this is a proactive effort to minimise the usage of plastic bottles on the island.

The salad and dessert counter:

It was barbecue night on our first night there:

Unlike most hotels in KL where the kitchen staff will barbecue the food for guests, in Redang Island Resort you'll have to barbecue the food yourself. In the end I didn't eat anything from the barbecue counter because I ain't got no patience to stand near the burning charcoal.

Another plus point for Redang Beach Resort is its wide variety of delicious food. To give you an example, here's the barbecue menu on the Sunday when we were there:

- Asparagus soup
- Salad bar
- Spaghetti
- Fried rice
- Cheesy mussel
- Creme corn
- Chicken wings
- Pandan chicken
- Chocolate cake
- Peach tart
- Watermelon
- Oranges
- Cendol
- BBQ stuff - satay, sausages, fishball, etc.

I was impressed with the quality of food (especially for that price) that I went up to the chef and commended his cooking.

If you still need to stuff your face with food, you may proceed to the Kopitiam which sells Malaysian food and cafe food:

Here's the menu in Kopitiam:

Note that you'll need to pay for anything that you order at Kopitiam as its not part of the snorkelling or diving package. Kopitiam also sells birthday cakes to groups who come to the resort to celebrate birthdays. 


Now let's move on to activities at the resort.

Snorkelling and diving are the most popular activities on Redang Island due to its rich marine life.

Redang Beach Resort offers diving or snorkelling packages which includes 2 snorkelling trips a day or 3 - 4 dives a day.

This is the Dive Centre where divers get ready for their dives:

If you just want to laze by the beach, there are beach chairs for you to lie on:

My favourite is the hammock:

Lying in the hammock with the cool sea breeze blowing is one of the best feelings in the world. I slept in the hammock for a couple of hours each day that I didn't go for a single snorkelling session :-)

Benches are also available if you need to do work or even chat with friends:

There are two small pools for guests who prefer to swim in chlorinated water:

The waters in the pools were cloudy due to the many idiotic guests who swam with their clothes on.

Redang Beach Resort also has a mini mart, souvenir shop and batik painting centre for guests who wish to express their creativity on a piece of batik:

If you've got nothing else better to do, then perhaps you may want to look for squirrels that run around freely on the island:

Photo credit to Celia.


When the sun has gone down and you've had your dinner, you have the option to go to Summer Point for a couple of drinks as you enjoy the live music:

The live band was getting ready when I snapped this photo.
Summer Point is the only location in Redang Beach Resort where you can drink alcohol.

On alternate nights, the DJ comes on and he spins from this place which is located right on the beach:

See the benches in front of the stage? Guests sit there with their friends, drink as much as they want and dance their hearts out to the tunes played by the DJ.

After reading my review and seeing all the photos, what do you think of Redang Beach Resort?

As for me I had a peaceful time there and will certainly come back again.

Sunday, 20 May 2018

Check Out This Classic Toyota in Tokyo

This is a throwback post to June 2017 when I visited Tokyo, Japan.

My friend and I went to the Hard Rock Cafe in Roppongi to look for its signature bottle opener and t-shirts. While she was busy choosing t-shirts, I went gallivanting to the car park at the back.

In one of the parking lot was this cool looking Toyota:

The car was gleaming black and well maintained. I wonder which year was the car made in.

I suppose the owner must have invested much effort to preserve the car. He surely must be a car lover.

Such a beauty indeed!

Tuesday, 15 May 2018

3 Reasons Why You Must Visit Wilsons Promontory

This is a throwback post to September 2015 when I visited Wilsons Promontory National Park in the state of Victoria in Australia.

Wilsons Promontory National Park or 'The Prom' as it is affectionately known is an area of 50,460 hectares comprising beaches, rainforests, mountain peaks and rugged offshore islands.

The Prom is located in the state of Victoria, specifically at the southernmost tip of the Australian mainland.

Here are the 3 reasons why you must visit The Prom:

1) Wildlife in the Wild

Soon as we drove into Wilsons Promontory, we saw a large field where emus, kangaroos and wombats were grazing.

We stopped the car to take a closer look at the animals. I was getting excited.

Soon a kangaroo approached our car and poked his head in, presumably looking for food. But we didn't give it any because I had been informed before not to feed wild animals as our human food may be harmful to them.

The kangaroo had a collar on and its ears were tagged, so I think it's used to humans.

We couldn't go near the animals because they would run away. So we just shot these pics from afar:

It was already lunch time when we reached Tidal River Visitor Centre which is the park headquarters, so we looked for a picnic table to enjoy the prepacked sandwiches prepared by my aunt. 

Soon a group of colourful birds appeared out of nowhere and swooped down on our sandwiches. The birds were bold indeed and we had to chase them away.

Here's one of the birds that took a liking to my sister's backpack:

 Such a colourful birdie.

Here are two more photos of birds in Wilsons Promontory:

After lunch we took a stroll around the park office while waiting for our cabin to be ready, and stumbled upon this wombat:

We saw many more wombats throughout our stay at Wilsons Promontory. Here's a photo of a wombat struttling along like a boss:

If I had my way I would have brought a wombat home to Malaysia. It's so adorable.

The Australian wildlife in Wilsons Promontory was one of the highlights of my trip to Australia, and that's why I rank it as the top reason why you must visit The Prom.

2) Bushwalking a.k.a. Hiking

Australians call in 'bushwalking, the rest of the English speaking world call it 'hiking'.

There are many bushwalking trails in Wilsons Promontory and here are two popular short walks that I personally completed:

Lilly Pilly Nature Walk
(2.6 km one way, easy)

It was an easy walk because most of it was flat:

Part of the walk is on a boardwalk which is suitable for almost anyone:

Mount Oberon Summit Walk 
(Elevation: 558 meters only)
(3.4 km one way, moderate to hard)

The trail begins at Telegraph Saddle car park.

Start of the trail:

Part of the trail:

360 degree view from the peak of Mount Oberon:

It was so windy up there I could have been blown away.

Look for this at the peak to proof that you did climb to the peak of Mount Oberon:

Clue: It's on the ground.

Apart from the Lilly Pilly Nature Walk and Mount Oberon Summit Walk, there are also other walks and trails like Pillar Point, Loo Ern Track and the 2.2 km Mount Bishop walk.

The trail leading to the peak of Mount Bishop:

3) Beaches

Wilson's Promontory has beaches such as Norman Beach, Picnic Bay and Whisky Bay.

Here's a photo of Squeaky Beach:

Can you spot the bird that photobombed my photo?

We didn't swim in any of the beaches because it was too cold and windy. Moreover the waves were too large.

Nevertheless it was good fun walking along the beach trying not to freeze in the strong winds.

More about Wilsons Promontory

Getting there - The Proms is a 2-hour drive from Melbourne. The park is more than 50,000 hectares in size, so having your own transport is important and practical to get to lookout points and to the start of the various trails.

Accommodation - There's a range of accommodation for rent at Tidal River park headquarters like cabins, lodges and even camping sites.

Here are two photos of the cabin that we stayed in:

Front of the cabin.

The four of us could fit comfortably in this cabin which is equipped like a small apartment. 

More information - If you wish to know more about Wilsons Promontory or to make reservations for accommodation, click here.

I hope you will knock yourself out at The Proms and enjoy the wonders of nature that it's blessed with.

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