Malaysia

KL weekend getaway hotels – back to nature

October 10, 2014

It’s been quite hazy recently and it’s the perfect time to go on a little vacation. Here are 4 KL getaway destinations I found – putting them all on the list. These are all family owned retreat hotels, most have separate houses/villas – are great for a weekend date or a small team retreat or even a birthday outing.

(Anton, I know you’ll read this, please take note ;-)

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The Dusun

Dusun a beautiful nature resort that has a touching story.

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Image via thedusun.com.my

Rates: MYR 500 – 1,100 per house per night
Drive time from KL: 1:15 hours
Website | Facebook

Awanmulan hotel

Awanmulan is a sanctuary in the hills of Negeri Sembilan. The house on stilts sit on a hill slope overlooking a lush valley and surrounded by hills of green forests.

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Image via tripadvisor.co.uk

Rates: MYR 500 – 1,100 per house per night
Drive time from KL: ~1 hour
Website | Facebook

Sekeping Serendah

I wrote a whole post about our last year’s team retreat in Sekeping Serendah. Good times.

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Rates: MYR 280 – 1,300 per house per night
Drive time from KL: ~1 hour
Website | Facebook

The Shorea

Shorea is a name for a tree, it’s also a cozy family retreat close to the Berembun Forest Reserve.

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Images via theshorea.com

Rates: MYR 600 – 3,500 per house per night
Drive time from KL: 1:30 hours
Website | Facebook

If you’ve been to any of these beautiful hotels, please comment where and what was your experience! If you know other cool places like these, please share!

How-to's, Malaysia

What souvenirs to buy in Kuala Lumpur

October 7, 2014

This was hard. It’s not my first time playing this riddle and I think I got quite close to a proper “whoa, thank you so much!” expression from friends and family this time when they were unwrapping the souvenirs from KL.

Anton and I hacked it together, but it worked well. Here’s what we packed for friends:

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(picture by Nastya)

What souvenirs to buy in Kuala Lumpur

  • Green tea (you didn’t see it coming, did you?)
  • Pu-erh tea (I got all the tea from China Town, I wrote about it here)
  • Japanese candies from the Shojikiya store
  • Green tea Kit Kat
  • Green tea Oreo (both also available at Shojikiya, but I saw Kit Kat in some grocery stores too)
  • Korean face masks – Tony Moly corner in AEON Big in Midvalley
  • Asian cooking paste (different kinds, they all come with the recipe on the back and are self-sufficient, meaning, you don’t need to add anything super local, just regular ingredients like veggies or chicken) / alternatively you can get sambal paste or any other good paste rare in your home country
  • I wanted to add tiger balm too but it stinked through three layers of food wrap so I gave up on this one

How-to

Buy some fabric from Jalan Masjid India (fabric street in KL) or from Chinatown (Petaling Street) in a local pattern, wrap the goodies into a little furoshiki and violas! Happy friends at home receiving an ‘Asian bundle’.

I know, I know, it’s not really KL souvenirs, but hey, it represents the variety of cultures you get in Malaysia and truly Asia and all that. Plus, all of that you can get in Midvalley. Except for the fabric, but you get creative here, you got the idea.

The truth is, very rarely do people bring really useful souvenirs from abroad. What I think gets really valuable are those little local things that people don’t know exist. Things that have a flavour of the country you’re coming from. Literally.

Depending on who we visited, I added more to the furoshiki – jewellery I got during other Asian travels, incense sticks and Sombai rum from Cambodia, handmade soap from Kinder Soap, Jelly Beans (because we don’t have them in Ukraine), some toys for the kids and Duty Free exclusive booze for adults.

Oh, and since we went to Jalan Masjid India anyway, we got some great pashmina scarves for our grandmothers. They were so happy!

Travel hack

The main idea here is: get creative, think outside the magnets and postcards and look for nice little gifts everywhere you go to bundle them up later when you need them, instead of running around panicking and trying to figure out the presents the weekend before your flight.

If you have cool ideas of what souvenirs souvenirs to buy in Kuala Lumpur and what made your family happy last time you visited, please share in the comments below, I’d love to get more inspiration for the next trip :-)

UPD: someone has recommended Haw flakes as a souvenir. Never tried them, but looks very interesting. Thanks for the tip!

Malaysia

Cameron Highlands Tips

September 1, 2014

Why oh why haven’t I gone there earlier? It’s a fun picturesque drive, the place looks like the city of Miyazaki’s Spirited Away. 3 hours out of KL and you get here:

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Though I needed a travel sickness pill, as have a few people I know – the road is curvy, so be aware of that. Curvy is actually an understatement – it looks like a proper cardiogram on the map :-)

Cameron Highlands is an area, so to map your route, you may want to Waze Brinchang, or BOH tea plantation or your hotel address. You’ll pass a town called Ringlet, there’s a gas station. Use it. If you’re not driving, bus is another option. But I don’t know much about it as we drove each time.

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But as soon as you get there, you forget everything – the way, the road, busy KL, it’s so quiet and peaceful here in Cameron Highlands.

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If you drive, go to the small BOH tea plantation. It’s before the city, you won’t miss it as everything is located by one road.

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And then of course go all the way to the other side to the big BOH plantation for high tea:

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And this view:

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Such a bliss!

10 Cameron Highlands tips

  1. Please don’t do there on a public holiday. The road is narrow and I know a true story of a friend who spent 8 (!) hours on a bus to Cameron. Don’t do that.
  2. If you are prone to motion sickness, take your pills/use the acupressure bracelets/anything that helps – the first hour the road is straight as an arrow, the other one and a half – very very curvy.
  3. There’s a nice waterfall on the way from KL to Cameron, stop there if you can to appreciate the view.
  4. If you want to buy strawberries, go all the way up to the Brinchang Night Market (Pasar Malam) – fruit and veggies there are considerably cheaper than in the farm shops.
  5. You can shop for potted plants too – there’s a bunch of plant nurseries along the main road (think orchids, herbs, succulents, you name it).
  6. If you enjoy hiking, go on a Rafflesia trekking tour – go find that stinky giant flower! (depends on the season – Rafflesia is not in bloom all year round).
  7. Have an afternoon tea with scones at the BOH tea plantation – Sungai Palas Tea Garden.
  8. Also go to the smaller BOH plantation – BOH tea garden – it’s incredibly beautiful.
  9. Embrace ’em layers! It gets chilly in the morning and late evening, bring some warmer clothes with you.
  10. Just breathe.. Cameron Highlands is such a quiet peaceful ambient place, clean air, no haze, just enjoy your time there and be present in the moment – you’ll miss it in the busy city life.

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Have you been to Cameron Highlands? Any good tips/memories? Please share them in the comments below :-)

Malaysia

A beautiful story of Pol

August 8, 2014

I was walking down the road in the city center, right next to Petronas Towers in KLCC and something grabbed my attention, but because I needed to run for an appointment, I didn’t pause. It was a simple phrase scribbles on a large world map. It said “This is my dream”.

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An hour later, I rushed back to find out more.

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This is Pol, and this is his dream: “to make a journey, not a trip of 15 days or a month, a long journey, a journey of no less than 6 months, enough to change a “normal” lifestyle while one different and unknown”.

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Pol is from Spain, he’s on his way to Sydney now, he’s travelling on his bike and has been on the road since April. He makes bracelets and sells them on the streets of cities he passes by to fund the trip.

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It’s so inspiring to witness such a beautiful dream. Say hi to him if you see him. And get a bracelet or two – they are good energy :-) Good luck Pol, may your journey be safe!

p.s. check out Pol’s website, it’s in Spanish, but Google translate does a great job :-)

Malaysia, Outdoors

One Epic video

August 1, 2014

Remember the story about building a house I shared earlier?

That experience moved and inspired me, so much that I’m going to run that half marathon this weekend, the projects are moving and the three days in sweat and laughter (however weird it just sounded) are bringing great results even now!

Here’s a cool video about those 3 days of an EPIC house build, created by an amazing duo – Clarissa and Sathesh. You guys rock!

p.s. If you’re in Malaysia and would like to build a home for a local family, read more on the EPIC Homes page.

Cambodia

Things to do in Siem Reap

July 6, 2014

This was a spontaneous trip for Anton’s birthday, it was his first time in Cambodia and a second one for me. I’m so glad we went without a plan and a place booked – the trip turned out amazing and we didn’t want to leave!

Here’s a list of our new finds and things to do in Siem Reap.

Things to do in Siem Reap

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One day tour around Angkor

We asked for an extended Small Tour that takes around 8 hours and altogether costs $90 for two:

  • $20 for the tuk-tuk
  • $30 – tour guide
  • $20 each for a dy pass to Angkor

This time we started at 7:30am, went straight to Angkor Wat and went clock-wise, since most tourists would take the other direction. It helped avoid huge crowds. A bit.

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Everything was arranged by our hotel, but if you really want to make out the most of this tour, book a guide that people you know have recommended. Both tours I took, I now wouldn’t recommend the guides. They were ok, but not great.

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Massage

After a long tour, go for a massage. We went to the Lemongrass Garden (there are two of them, both on Sivatha Boulevard, one next to KFC, the other across Molly Malones).

The traditional Khmer massage, one hour of pure relaxation, at a very clean, professional place. And the best part is – it’s only $10. So yes. Just go for it.

Things to buy in Siem Reap

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Buy local at Handicraft Market

Each year more than 2 million people come to Siem Reap and they spend around $100 million on souvenirs alone. However, the people living in the Siem Reap province continue to rank 3rd poorest in Cambodia. You see, very little of that money goes back to the community because most of the souvenirs are imported.

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So buy local-made souvenirs, ok? I shopped at the AHA market, it is open from 10am to 10pm, it’s a very picturesque bicycle ride, so I’d strongly recommend going there by bike.

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We found some really great handmade Khmer ceramic pieces (this cup is my favourite!), incense sticks, room spray and watercolor paintings. People there are very friendly and you can ask them how they make their pieces, very often they craft right there.

Oh, and of course the flip-flops! I need a replacement – my most favourite ones, I wore them for an entire year in the office!

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Shinta Mani Saturday market

Every first and third Saturday of the month there’s another local market held on the street in front of both the Shinta Mani Club and Shinta Mani Resort from 4pm to 9pm.

Noteworthy:

Where to stay in Siem Reap

This time, as I said, we had no plan and nothing booked. So from the airport we got a taxi to the city center, sat down in the first café we liked to grab breakfast and looked up places to stay nearby on Instagram.

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The second place we checked out was the Golden Banana Hotel and we fell in love with it!

They have three hotels, all next to each other – Golden Banana Boutique Resort, Boutique Hotel and Golden Banana Superior. We chose the latter, it was $42 per night with breakfast and I think it’s totally worth it.

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p.s. you can check out my last year posts about the trip to Cambodia here.

Girls living in...

Girls Living in… Shanghai

July 3, 2014

Hiya folks! The Girls Living in.. interviews are receiving great feedback and this week I’m delighted to show you another vibrant city through the eyes of a very inspiring girl. Let’s look at Shanghai with Nat’s eyes!

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Natalie and I have known each other for many years, back from the times when we were both working in one famous American chain restaurant wearing very funny hats and striped t-shirts for a uniform…

She then left for Shanghai and I was seriously considering moving there too, but then Germany happened, and this blog started and life turned out the way it is now.

Nat also came to visit me in KL, she was celebrating the 2013 with us (remember, I told you the story?) and I wanted to pay her a return visit and will probably do so next year. Especially after this interview. So read on, it’s Shanghai time!

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So, Nat, what brings you to Shanghai?

I came to Shanghai in 2007 to visit my friend who was studying here and guess what…it was love at first sight :) So next year I moved to Shanghai and there weren’t even a single second that I regret my decision.

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What do you do?

I teach in kindergarten, so my every single day is super fun and unpredictable. (And Nat is also a fashion blogger, apparently a shy one, so I’ll advertise for you ;-) – Olya)

What is your regular day in Shanghai like?

I always prefer to wake up early as I ALWAYS have so many things to do. and here we go:

coffee…work…woooork….coffee…WOOOORRRKKK..friends…more woooork…movies….restaurants….dancing…home….peace

But honestly, my days are all the same but so different:)

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When it comes to Shanghai, what’s your number one favourite place to be?

Ouuuu…this turns out to be the most difficult question. I’m truly in love with Shanghai and have about dozen of my favourite places.

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I enjoy to explore new hidden cafés, they all are so different and incredibly cozy at the same time. I love small alleys and big shopping malls, narrow streets of French Concession and the Bund, parks and gardens…Shanghai is truly a city with so many faces. But one of my favourite places would be Museum of Contemporary Art or simply MoCA – a place with great exhibitions hidden in People’s Park.

Shanghai’s best:

Cafe: It would definitely be “The Cottage Cafe” on Taojiang Rd. 25a which I discovered a couple of months ago. Super cute place with decent coffee and great atmosphere.

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But for the best coffee in Shanghai I prefer to go to Cafe del Volcan on Yonkang Rd. It is super tiny, but believe me, totally worth it.

Shop: As I’m really into vintage so I would name the best vintage shops in Shanghai: Emporium, William the beekeeper (that unfortunately closed earlier this year – Olya), Lolo love vintage. Those are definitely the places to find something unique for a good price.

Secret hideout: Here comes my weird choice, but it would be small bamboo alley where I like to take pictures. It is hidden on a way to a Japanese cafe on Changle Rd. Nothing to special about it, but there is something about the light…and it is so peaceful…

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Site: THE BUND. It is super tourist-y, but the view is just amazing. I love Bund in early mornings when Shanghai is just waking up and there are not so many people.

How are the people in Shanghai? Are they nice? Helpful? Do they speak English?

O wooooow, they are so different. To my biggest shame, here I met people from the countries I’ve never heard of. Shanghai is a super social city with great people. Sometimes it seems that I hear more English than Chinese around:) so dont’ be afraid to come here without knowing Chinese.

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If I came to visit you in Shanghai for just one day, where would you take me?

To begin with, you are very welcome here!! And more than that, can’t wait to see you in SH. We will start with coffee, walk on the Bund, go to Yu Garden, eat lunch somewhere in Ferguson lane, check some galleries on Mogashan Rd., get lost on small streets of French Concession and finish our day in one of my favourite Thai or French restaurants. And if we still have any energy left, then get ready for salsa :)

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If you had to leave Shanghai, what would you miss most?

It’s the definitely the atmosphere!

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Any cons you found when living here?

What are the things to consider for someone who’s planning to move to Shanghai?

I moved to Shanghai 6 years ago and it was very different back then and the biggest problem for me was FOOD. But now, with so many options around, it is a blast!
If you move to Shanghai, do a serious research as there are much more options here than you can imagine….or contact me. I would always be glad to help.

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You can follow this lovely lady on her Instagram

And don’t forget to check out Nat’s blog: City Love Fashion project

Indonesia

Pulau Weh, Indonesia

July 2, 2014

This New Year celebration was supposed to prove the saying we believe in that says “How you celebrate the New Year’s eve is how you’ll spend your year”.

So we met the year of 2013 on our balcony eating cold french fries and sipping home-made drinks with a bunch of friends, watching the fireworks over KL skyline. Nothing to complain about here, but the year did turn out quite homey, calm, some parties, friends coming over and being in KL mostly.

Celebrating 2014

This year we wanted to create an adventure. Because this is the only way to make these moments special – do something about them and create them yourself, right? So we decided this time we’re going somewhere special.

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There was not a lot of choice in this case, because we were planning a trip together with 4 of our friends who have been to so many places and two of them had a thing – they try not to go to the same place twice.. So yeah, we were chosing between Cambodia and Indonesia, and since it had to be a beach getaway, we gave in to Pulau Weh.

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Getting to Pulau Weh

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Getting there is complicated. The morning flight from KL to Banda Aceh, taxi to the ferry, the 4 hour wait for the ferry ticket counter to open and then another 2 hour wait for the boat. Then it turned out the speed boat won’t go and we have to buy new tickets to the big boat.

And oh boy, was the boat big..

2,5 hours  on a boat, with all the locals smoking around, eating and littering where they sit, was tough. But we made it. As a bonus to this trip (and we’ve already been on the road for 12 hours by now) we saw the dolphins that were sending us off – such a great thing to experience!

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I’ll fast-forward to three days from then and won’t say how we were placed in the staff room by accident and the weather was not good and we felt so disappointed and miserable and wanted to leave and get a plane to Bali – anywhere, but out of that island.

All because one thought was nagging me this whole time: coming ALL this way down here, it has to be for a reason, there has to be something worth all the trouble.

Paradise on Earth..

And it was – the weather cleared out and the sea gave the beach back so we could enjoy it.

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It was so peaceful and quiet, reading, beach combing (that’s the fancy word for wandering around gathering sea glass), playing on the beach, running with the kite.. It was great.

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Most of the time we stayed at Freddie’s hotel, which was really nice and the food every night was simply amazing! Go there for the food.

I would also recommend the Casa Nemo bungalows on the same side of the island. And their amazing parties that we missed because we didn’t know they’re happening, hehe.

Pulau-Weh-Indonesia-via-TinyBlackBird.com-05And then, of course, the same way back, which was rather tiring, but we were so well-rested (9 nights is a lot of nights) and calm and peaceful that all ended up very well.

And you know what? Looks like so far the saying is proving to be true (knocking on wood). We’ve already been to Cambodia, Cameron Highlands, Tioman, going to Thailand in two weeks and then Perhentians for more diving.

How did you celebrate 2014? Is the saying true for your year so far? Share in the comments below, I’d love to hear about it!

How-to's, Malaysia

Where to buy souvenirs in Kuala Lumpur

June 22, 2014

I never thought that would be a problem to buy souvenirs in Kuala Lumpur, not until I was going back to Ukraine to visit my family. I thought, hm.. so what is it that I’d get them from KL?

So first thing I went to Pasar Seni, the Central market. There’s plenty of over-priced, low-quality made-in-China kind of souvenirs and something locally made is rather rare to find. Still possible, but rare – like the soap and incents shop or the locally wood-carved postcards. Other than that, Pasar Seni is a bit disappointing.

But in that area there are two interesting shops I wanted to share with you – something local, hopefully supporting the community and a nice souvenir to bring back home.

KL City Gallery

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KL City Gallery is right next to the Independence square, 10 minutes walk from Pasar Seni. Here’s how they describe themselves:

“Kuala Lumpur City Gallery is part of the ARCH group’s vision in promoting the country’s heritage and culture.

While ARCH promotes collectibles and gifts made of wood veneer, our Kuala Lumpur Walks and Tours Map is the indispensable map of Kuala Lumpur’s architecture and living heritage, and now we have the centre – Kuala Lumpur City Gallery.

Located in a 116 year-old building, this landmark is a must visit for anyone who wants to know all about Kuala Lumpur!”

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You can get really nice KL souvenirs there – books, postcards, wooden miniature charms, phone cases, framed pictures and more.

You can also see how they’re making all of it right on the spot:

Peter Hoe Beyond

There are two shops – one on the corner next to Pasar Seni (called Peter Hoe Evolution) and that one you can’t miss, but another one is hidden. It on the street where the Chinese and the Hindu temples are at 145 Jalan Tun H S Lee.

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Peter Hoe Beyond is a shop and a café in one place. I strongly recommend having lunch there – their homemade food is very nice. While you wait for your food, take a stroll around the shop – there’s enough to get lost in – home decor, textiles, lots of souvenirs, clothing even!

Here are some not-so-good-looking iPhone pictures I took.

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Lunch was a homemade potato and leek soup and some salad. They serve and decorate with things you can buy in the shop – how smart is that!

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And you can always get tea as a souvenir, Chinatown has lots of tea shops with great variety. My favourite shop is called Commom Wisdom Teashop, ont the other side of the same street – 135, Jalan Tun H. H. Lee.

What souvenirs do you bring from your trips? Do share in the comments below, I’m curious to know.