Malaysia

Dining in the Dark experience

October 27, 2013

Close your eyes. Open your eyes. It’s completely dark around you and you only rely on touch, sound and smell. At first you’re probably scared, then curious, then you become at ease and even start eating with the spoon or even fork. This is what it feels like to dine in the dark.

Last week we went out with a group of friends to check out the Dine in the Dark restaurant in Changkat area in Kuala Lumpur. The place seems to be fully booked and you need to make a reservation a couple of days in advance.

The best picture to describe the experiene I found online is this:

You first enter an ordinary restaurant and get seated in the waiting area. The restaurant looks like it’s seen its better times, but the dining area is completely dark, you won’t see anything anyway.

You order drinks, play a game to test your tactile skills and then go leave your bags, phones anything that glows in the dark at a locker and get introduced to your waiter. He leads you to his world – the world of darkness. You see, all waiters are blind in the Dine in the Dark. It’s their territory and they are fluent there.

You get seated, your eyes start to get used to the darkness, except for a couple of cameras that have tiny red lights the room is completely entirely dark. You close your eyes, you open your eyes – there’s no difference. At all. It’s that dark.

You get familiar with the table, your glass, the silverware, then the food arrives. I won’t say more about the food and the how-to, not to spoil your experience, hehe.

Overall, it’s a cool experience, you eat a lot of good food, challenge your senses, spend time in a very ambient environment. It’s pricy, even for KL – starting price is 98 MYR per person (that’s $33) but it is worth it. I wouldn’t go again, but I’d totally recommend to go once.

tip: Go with a group of people, don’t go just the two of you. It’s much more fun!

tip 2: You may or may not be eating with your hands, try not to wear clothes you will regret spilling stuff over.

The afterword. The waiter is smiling, but he can’t see you. That, to me is the saddest part of the experience. You experience something some people have to live in for their whole lives – complete darkness. I deeply respect their spirit, their strength and joy to life, but it just makes me so incredibly sad. But that’s me, I crack to tears when I see elderly people holding hands and when men cry.

Indonesia

Great places to stay in Ubud

October 9, 2013

It is overwhelming how many options when you’re thinking where to stay in Ubud (that’s in the heart of Bali, Indonesia, btw). So much to choose from online and even more offline –  there’s still many places that cannot be booked online, you need to call them, write them directly or just walk-in.

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I was looking at three options that I’ll share with you and only one was available and I couldn’t have wished for a better place to stay. Below are 3 great places for $30-ish per night.

The first one  was recommended by a dear friend. It’s called the Payogan Homestay. She said it’s great and peaceful. The owner was very nice in his reply and even offered his help to look for another place or with a ride to Ubud even though he was fully booked for the dates. I would love to go again just to stay there for a couple of days.

The other place was very new and the owners call it Sweet and Simple room :-) But also booked. So lesson one when booking a stay in Ubud: book well in advance if you want to get most of your experience!

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And finally the place we stayed at – Peaceful guest room in central Ubud. Great place, cool owners, very central – we drove a bike and even walking is very close to the main sights. The guys will give you great recommendations for food and places to visit – thanks to them we had fantastic experience of Ubud.

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And if you are not using airbnb.com for booking a place to stay, please check them out (there’s no affiliate program or anything, just sharing it cuz it’s so great, hehe).

What websites do you use for booking hotels/apartments?

Malaysia

Indie shopping in KL – Markets @ Jaya One

October 7, 2013

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Markets @ Jaya One is a quarterly fair in KL that I’m looking forward to every time. Clothes, shoes, jewelry, accessories, food, handmade cosmetics, stationery supplies, you name it. There was even a vintage section last time with some good bargains off the ground, only this time the area was closed for reconstruction – not sure if there was a vintage section at all this time.

Basically it’s a fair built around the mall called Jaya One and there are stalls and tents grouped by theme or kind. It took us 10 minutes to walk around the whole thing.

This Markets seemed a bit smaller to me than the one in May and definitely less crowded. Here are some of my finds.

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Not too interested in clothing this time. And I really wish there was more handmade jewelry – most of what I saw was the so popular in Asia plastic stuff and rustic copper charms. Nah.

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Now to interesting finds. Meet Bisou Rose – natural bath and body care products.

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And this lady here – her name is Louise and she’s the founder of Claire Organics. My choice – the lip balm, definitely.

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Some ukulele action around the corner.

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And on to the food!

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Could not resist trying one of the Tapping Tapir lemonade (a bottle for 6 ringgit = $2). Tiny Black Bird approves:

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And this cute couple here – homemade marshmallows in crazy flavours – Fête Artisan Marshmallow. I asked what their favourite was and they both were: “Chococo Chips, for sure. Yes, try the Chococo”. Considering I’m not the biggest fan of marshmallow, this one was really very good indeed.

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Hoping the next Markets is bigger and there’s more to see. Or maybe we’ll even participate next time, who knows? *wink*

Malaysia

Sekeping Serendah

October 6, 2013

This one is very cool. I never thought something like this can be found in Malaysia!

Last weekend we went out on a one day team retreat with my colleagues. The place totally blew my mind.

It’s called Sekeping Serendah and it’s in the middle of nowhere just one hour drive North Kuala Lumpur. There’s not much information I could find about it, but it looks like there’s a whole family of retreats that share a minimalistic concept of accommodation. Seksan Design is the agency behind it.

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Perfect for team retreats, weekend parties and industrial-themed photo shoots, Sekeping Serendah is truly a gem hidden in the forest. Look!

The Mud shed

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The Timber House

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Warehouse (The Foundry)

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And the other Warehouse where our gang stayed

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The freshwater pool. They changed the flow of the mountain river to have fresh filtered water in the pool AND in the showers! How cool is that? My hair was too soft the next morning, and the skin so smooth and whiter teeth and 5 kg gone!

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You would need to bring your own food, towels and bath stuff and a blanket if you are tall (some of them might be a bit too small). Everything else is there.

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To get there, the best way would be going to their website and printing out a map. Waze, Google maps and Forsquare don’t know it. Oh, and by the way, there’s very little coverage so get ready to be disconnected. And if it rains at night it can get a bit cold, so be prepared.

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Diving

Diving saga. Part 1. Preparation

October 1, 2013

Here’s a first of the many (I hope!) stories about one happy diver named O. It all started long ago in 2012 in Mexico where O. and  her lovely husband went for their honeymoon.

She put on a mask, a snorkel and a pair of fins and took a look at what’s going on under her feet in the sea. First she was scared, in a OMG-that’s-ALL-been-there-when-we-swim? way. Then she started getting used to it. Then an hour of free rental of equipment was over and she suggested to run to the shop right now and get all the stuff. I said right now and no it can’t wait until lunch!

That’s when it all started. The love and fascination for the underwater world. Then O. went to Cozumel Island and saw how divers jump off the boat and swim around very deep where it is much more fun (you can see how deep in this video, around 2:33).

And then the plot twisted a bit and they went to Malaysia. Keeping up with “one day we will learn to dive” promise, the two of they went to MIDE and were overwhelmed with choices. It was a new world of gadgets, gear, trips, locations and little red-white flags – a world that means so much but to the chosen few.

And they met a school and were charmed completely and booked a 9 day trip to Perhentian. It was a very smart move as they only needed to pay 100 ringgit each and got the great dates booked – only 4 days off work they needed to take.

And then.. well, you’ll just have to wait a bit to hear what happened next, okay? Please stay tuned, it’s coming soon, it will be a whole diving saga :-)

Cambodia

Is cycling in Siem Reap safe?

August 8, 2013

Siem Reap, Cambodia

Renting a bicycle in Siem Reap is very cheap (our hotel had some free of charge), at the Sister Srey Cafe you can ge one for $5 per day (these are fancy lilac-coloured bikes with a basket in front).

We rode around with no direction and stumbled upon a buddhist school (?). Dropped the bikes and walked around – such a blissful atmosphere!

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Some peaceful meditation.

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Then went to buy postcards at a local book store and had some coffee while writing them. See the 4 bicycles at the bottom left? That’s the Sister Srey’s rental. Told you they are nice :-)

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Oh, and here’s a nice Khmer food spot I forgot to show you in the earlier post – it’s right behind the market and further across the street from the Blue Pumpkin.

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Siem Reap, Cambodia

They have nice interior, huge menu (those books up there really are the menu) and good local food.
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I’ll be going to Bali soon and will be posting updates on Instagram, so follow me there and stay tuned!

Oh, and to answer the initial question, yes, cycling in Siem Reap is safe and you should totally do it.  Go for it. It’s really really safe. If you know how to ride a bicycle and if you’re not drunk or anything, you’ll be fine.

Cambodia

Angkor Wat in one day – yes or no?

August 1, 2013

I arrived to Siem Reap on Thursday and saved Friday just for visiting Angkor Wat. By the way, Angkor Wat is a temple, yet a part of a bigger Angkor complex.

The hotel arranged for a tuk-tuk and a guide (any hotel can do that) for the day. The trick was to wake up by 4:30 am. You see, we wanted to see the sunrise – the famous sunrise over Angkor.

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So you go early, get a pass (I got a daily pass for $20, there was also an option to get a 3 day pass for $40 but I wasn’t greedy), by the way here it is:

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You see, there’s no way to cheat around with such ticket. So yes, back to the sunset. You get to the spot where the driver drops you off and says “when you come back I see you”. There were hundreds of tuk-tuks, but the guys know their job, he spotted us immediately on the way out!

The sunset was quite uneventful, where it just got brighter – too many clouds. And a friend of mine who visited earlier said the same – no good sunrise during the low season. Oh well, Snapseed filter helped a bit:

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Then we walked around Angkor Wat freely for 2 hours, it was getting quite warm (5-7 am!). But see how peaceful it looks!

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Siem Reap, Cambodia

Siem Reap, Cambodia

Siem Reap, Cambodia

Then we headed back to the hotel to grab some breakfast and at 8:30 the guide was ready to take us to the so-called Small circle of Angkor. It’s a trip around 4 temples (except for Angkor Wat which we already explored in the early morning) and it’s great because you go from the less preserved ones to the most exciting one. Here’s a map I found to show the route.

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You start with Banteay Kdei, the citadel of chambers. You are still very amazed with the ruins, trees and the beauty.

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I am so so grateful for the guide who was showing us around (to my shame, I don’t remember his name nor have his contact information). He was born and raised in Angkor back when it was a village and many people lived there, then stayed with monks and learned English by hanging out with tourists. Then a sad event happened to a family member and he quit the monk life – he just couldn’t be emotionless about life anymore. Now he’s a volunteer, teaching students how to grow their own food and when he has time, he gives tours. But his knee is not in it’s best shape so he can’t walk too much. One day. he says, he’ll save enough money to buy a car and a house and will marry a beautiful girl and have many kids and have his own little garden.

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The saddest this is that the average teacher or a doctor earns about $80 a month, a tuk-tuk driver or a guide can earn $20 per day which gives them an opportunity to support their families. They are very beautiful sincere people living in a very poor and corrupted country. So when you go to Cambodia, don’t try to save each dollar, please – it can feed a whole family (but spend wisely since not all the money goes to the community, they have their own layers of mafia complexity when it comes to earning money).

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Okay, we’re in Ta Prohm already. Do you recognize this tree? It’s the famous Lara Croft tree from the movie! It’s real!

Siem Reap, Cambodia

Siem Reap, Cambodia

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Here’s a riddle for you. Imagine you’re in the 12th century, living your TV and Internet-free life somewhere in the middle of Cambodia. You are working as a stone carver just like the hundreds of thousands of your colleagues for a respectable king that wants a temple larger than his predecessor. You are sitting there getting inspired for a new carving and you do this:

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A Stegosaurus. Seriously, how on Earth did they know what a Stegosaurus looked like????
(That’s in the Ta Prohm by the way, ask your guide, he’ll show you)

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At about 2 pm it was too hot outside. We were tired and overwhelmed with emotions, all the stories and the beauty around. We had enough of Angkor for the day. The last important thing was to get a blessing. Only nuns can touch a woman (a true monk won’t give you a blessing if you are a woman) so we wend to meet this lady. The experience is very spiritual and I’ll keep the memory of it in my heart.

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That’s the story of my visit to Angkor, guys. Not regretting we didn’t go the second day, because we did something else and very cool. Stay tuned, I’ll write about it very soon!

Cambodia

Where to go in Siem Reap

July 28, 2013

Some great places I would totally recommend to anyone visiting Siem Reap.

Sister Srey Cafe

Overlooking the river, this is a great place to chill, have some good coffee and enjoy the atmosphere.  As their fb page says: “Sister Srey Cafe is Siem Reap’s premiere coffee house. Owned and operated by a dynamic sister duo, the café has the edge with older sis being an acclaimed coffee barista from Melbourne and younger sis bringing into it, all things groovy”

Siem Reap, Cambodia

Siem Reap, Cambodia

The Blue Pumpkin

The Blue Pumpkin is another great place to go in Siem Reap and chill while it’s too hot outside. Beautiful lounge area upstairs, nice interior, good food and ice cream. What I liked about Cambodia is that they have plenty of cheese, coffee and chocolate that is so overpriced here in KL.

Siem Reap, Cambodia

Siem Reap, Cambodia

Viva Mexican Cafe

I don’t have any picture from there, but trust me, it was one of the best margaritas I had! Located on the bar street, it’s really hard to miss.

Art market across the river

Compared to the big market on Street 9, the Art market (across the river from it) is much more quiet.

This is the big one:
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Siem Reap, Cambodia

And here’s the Art Market:

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I bought a bracelet and a wallet to support the local community – all money raised will go to good cause and help send children to school.

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The market is great, in the afternoon there were close to no people (too hot outside). It’s a great place to shop for souvenirs. Of course they will jump on you with the famous “Come, lady, see my dresses/wood carving/jewelry/.., give me your price, 5 dollaaah” but much less than at the big market.

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I got a tiny Buddha head, some tea for the colleagues, woven garland, flip-flops and the things from Friends ‘N’ Stuff. All for roughly $50.

Retreat Villa Boutique and Spa

This is where we stayed for the last night (the first 2 were booked with Groupon and I would not recommend it), we hired a tuk-tuk and he took us around places “with pools” – that was the only requirement. Plus I got si tired of looking on Agoda and Trip Advisor – too much to choose from. So we just went on a scouting trip.

Retreat Villa is great. It’s small, gad a pool and beautiful little pool and spa, food is good and the staff is beyond friendly. See for yourself:

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Siem Reap, Cambodia

Siem Reap, Cambodia

Siem Reap, Cambodia

So happy we went with the heart and chose this hotel!

Well, that’s all for now, stay tuned for the pictures and some tips for Angkor!

Malaysia

Island hopping in Langkawi

June 26, 2013

This is a story about saying yes to unexpected opportunities. We went to a team retreat to Langkawi (I know, right?) and on the last day we had 4 hours free time. There were two things to do in Langkawi in terms of sight-seeing – the cable cart and island hopping. I signed up for the latter thinking it was 140 ringgit.

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So they pick you up from the hotel and take you to the boat.

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The boat takes you to the first stop – the Lake of the Pregnant Maiden. The tale is – if you swim in that lake you have good chances to get pregnant. You heard me boys, pregnant. Just kidding.

Look at this picture. This is the lying pregnant maiden. Can you see her?

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It’s the fresh water lake in the heart of the island in the middle of the sea. So getting there requires some walking and fighting with dangerous local species.

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Yes, them. They will haunt you down and take your plastic bag with chips or anything else rustling.

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10 minutes and you’re there. So stunningly beautiful! You can rent a catamaran or a boat, there’s also a small shop with snacks, drinks and swimwear.

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You have 40 minutes to return to the boat before it turns into the pumpkin and then you go to feed the eagles. The local bird is a white eagle and they take good care of them. No worries, it’s super safe, the guide would just throw some chicken skins in the water and then..

Then you all go to the little piece of heaven to chill. Swim in the sea, enjoy the sun, relax for a moment.

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That moment I felt so blessed. Life turned out just right and the moment was beyond precious.

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Imagine my surprise when at the end of the trip they said it was only 40. 40! That’s less than $15! For all this! Gotta love Langkawi (and it’s a duty free island, just saying).

Are you planning any island trips this year? Tell me, I need ideas :-)