#49 Koyo in Nikko, Japan


When we think about koyo, amazing colours come to our mind. Gold, crimson, marigold yellow, maple syrup brown, tangerine, plum red…

Going leaf spotting is a tradition in Japan — there is even a specific term for it — momijigari. It is simply the act of enjoying the gorgeous autumn foliage. In this tech-obsessed world, a little spot of koyo is just what we needed.

For some, it could be a lot of fuss for nothing. Then again, the whole idea is to chill and relax. It’s for scenery and nature lovers, and for people who just want to take their mind off the hustle and bustle of real world. A refreshing change indeed for many who travel on a tight itinerary, and a great break for those who have spent a couple of hectic days in Tokyo.

I love trees and autumn is my favourite season. So yes, observing the koyo is just right up my alley. :-)

Here’s my trip report, hopefully it helps you get all the manic planning out of the way and focus on the beautiful scenery.

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#46 Why Nobody Likes To Read Another “I Quit My Job To Travel” Post

The word ‘wanderlust’ has a bad, bad rep. The hashtag #wanderlust is more likely to give you pangs of jealousy and self-deprecating pity than inspire you to go out and explore the world. It should not be getting all this flak, really, but it has.

While many Millenial folks are embracing the YOLO movement wholeheartedly, jumping head first into feeding their souls and passion, charging ahead with hedonistic mantras, some of them* are not so keen to abandon everything, leave it all behind and chase whatever it is that people chase when they embark on a journey of their own design. Student loans, family obligations, fear of “insert whatever it is” are some common reasons. Plenty of websites have already delineated step-by-step detailed ways about how to travel and make money at the same time to counter the angsty camp of people who keep insisting ‘I can’t afford to travel’.

So, is the need to have a job in order to travel what ticks people off so much?

Growing up, we are generally trained to believe that you should only ‘enjoy’ AFTER you put in the hard work, that is, pay your dues. And travelling, for some people, fall under the category of enjoyment. Think gorgeous star-hotels with staff waiting hand and foot on you, spas and massages, exquisitely-prepared cuisine, being whizzed from one amazing sight to another in the comforts of an air-conditioned vehicle. So if you visualise travel as such, of course it is going to take a lot of money — for the majority of us, doing a trip like that would be a once-a-year luxury, considering the fact that you have to pay the rent, bills, debts and groceries etc., plus set a little aside for rainy days. Just living day to day is not easy, so when you read that someone *gasps* QUIT THEIR JOB (how DARE they, in this sordidly dismal economy?!) *gasps even louder* TO TRAVEL

Oh my goodness, the audacity! Instead of feeling happy for or proud of this person for chasing their dreams, they channel jealousy, angst and even fierce animosity towards the person. Some people would even go as far to point out that it is always a “white, privileged, middle-to-upper class” individual who “most likely worked in a white-collared, well-paid job”, so of course they are able to save up, then quit to go travelling. I would say, yes there are definitely people who fall under the above descriptions – I say, good for them, some people are made billionaires within 5 years of hard work, some people are born sitting on large oilfields, shall we all hate on them too? (On this note, give us someone different for a change, folks at BBC Travel. ;-) )

When eyes fall on a “I Quit My Job to Travel” article headline, it simply grates on people’s nerves. I am a firm believer of chasing your dreams as long as you can afford to deal with the whole situation (not merely being able to afford it financially). Still, the title is short of annoying me like fingernails scraping across a chalkboard. Why? In six words, they made it sound so easy. There is zero relatability. Worse still, since practically everyone wants to travel and are limited by various reasons, this article is shoving it in people’s faces like ‘I can do it, what’s your problem?’

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#45 Discover Saigon Again – Saigon Trip Part Two

Admit it, unless there’s something really compelling, you’re more likely to be drawn to a new place than go back to a place you’ve been. The world’s a big place and there’s so much to see. But hey, even the best of us fail to give the most exciting places the time it deserves – whether it’s lack of time (I need to get to Bangkok by Monday!) or lack of budget (I can’t spend more than 3 days in this city if I want to do…) or lack of vacation days (uh-uh need to get home). So I had the pleasure and the luxury to spend a little more time in Ho Chi Minh City (from here on HCMC) and it has thrown up some interesting finds. In Part One, I sieved out the must-sees, must-dos for a quickie 3-day trip, but here’s a little extra to get ya feelers on this gorgeous Southern Vietnam metropolis.

I’ve got SEVEN things here for you – buy a conical hat, take a walk, drink some coffee and culture, go dancing, that’s one day. Then, eat a couple of freshly made summer rolls, explore a museum, watch a live performance and get a haircut – that’s another day. BUY A HAT, TAKE A WALK, DRINK COFFEE, GO DANCING, EAT SUMMER ROLLS, EXPLORE A MUSEUM, WATCH A LIVE SHOW, GET A HAIRCUT. Try saying that all in one breath. Now get all that done in 2 days — what do you mean, of course it’s doable! Come on, let’s go!

BUY – Binh Tay Market

Welcome to the Labyrinth… I mean, Binh Tay Market!

A feast for the curious eyes, a nightmare for the orderly mind. This central market of Cholon/Chinatown is as amazing as it is claustrophobia-inducing. Built in 1928, this traditional Chinese marketplace used to be an important trading hub but there seemed to be no signs of slowing down! Tons of small stores jam-freaking-packed from floor to ceiling with stuff. I could not imagine so so so many things could fit into such tiny spaces. And the inventory! How do they keep track!

Chock-a-block of everything under the sun!

Nail clippers, stainless mugs, Revlon lipsticks, childrens’ pajamas, brightly coloured women’s underwear, Monin syrups, exercise books, woks… I think this place supplies the whole Saigon. You just gotta come see it for yourself.

Now, you probably have bought nothing since it was more like a feast for the eyes. Your wallet thanks you. Go outside the market and walk down the main street Tháp Mười in the direction towards the city– you’re bound to bump into a couple street peddlers selling the iconic Vietnamese hat (non la). Here they sell it for around 20,000k VND per hat (in August 2015) , a fraction of what you’d pay in the more touristy parts of the District 1.

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#44 Beginners’ Luck – Saigon Trip Part One

You say Saigon, I say Ho Chi Minh City (or some say HCMC). It might have been a sticky issue before but it seems that this up-and-coming Southeast Asian city has better things to think about now, such as the city’s exciting new metro line under construction, the downright hip club scene, and its metamorphosis into a modern metropolis. I won’t go into too much details about HCMC’s way forward with urban transformation – me ain’t no expert – but I can point you in the right direction for a couple things to do in the city for a getaway. A bunch of friends – including my little sis and the mister – flew to the city for a breath of fresh air (in more ways than one!) in August, and the fusion of several travel personalities has led us to a comfort zone boundary-pushing yet fun-filled trip for everyone.

Ho Chi Minh City street view (August 2015)

Our group was made up of a mix of first-timer and repeat travellers, as well as some pho lovers versus virgins ;-) All in all, we spent around 4 days in the city, hitting up many places when the mood strikes. Some good, some only so-so, some which I’d consider highlight/first timer places, next to some off-the-beaten-track or less touristy spots. Here’s a map for the places… good thing they are all centrally located so if you want you could walk to them all!


This is PART ONE – where I picked out the places we went that are more suitable for a first-time trip to this city, especially if you only have 2 days before moving off.

There is a bit of everything here, shopping in the market, coffee drinking, boulevard strolling, museum wandering… Plus, I hope my reviews can help you plan a solid itinerary to make the best of a tight schedule!  (I’ll post PART TWO next week!) Altogether we spent 4 days in the city – not a lot but not enough either (as usual) – and missed a couple places we initially planned to go, but we’ll be back!

Let’s hop to it! ^_^

For The Saigon Virgin

BUY – Ben Thant Market

Inside Ben Thant Market

First up, SHOPPING! ;-) The moment we stepped inside this labyrinth, hawk-eyed and red-lipped ladies grabbed our arm and persuaded us to buy their marked-up goodies, from lacquerware to dried coffee, from preserved fruits to baskets, from “I Love Saigon” T-shirts to the signature conical hat (nón lá). Here, I was rather intimidated and got the impression even if I bargain, I’d still get ripped off. But hey, you’re on holiday and they gotta eat, right?


Tip: Don’t buy your conical hat here! We paid only 20,000VND for one in Cholon! (which you’ll want to go.. more in Part Two).





Getting lost inside the Ben Thant Market - Photo: Amie Hu aka pherepiecet
Look at how many different kinds of fabric in just this small space!

After getting a little dizzy from the mad maze that is Ben Thant market, we made a dash for the stalls around the perimeter. Government-regulated, no-bargain stalls. Which meant a stress-free time for those who just aren’t turned on by all that haggling.

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#43 Saturdays Are For Coffee + Hiking – Labrador Park

Saturday. Time for something that excites the taste buds, and yet something fun to do that can burn the calories directly off without keeping it in the system. Zero guilt, double the fun. Let’s go!

I wanted to create an itinerary where I’d start off by getting a coffee (to wake up and get a boost) and some dessert (to please my tummy), and then sweat it all out in a satisfying way. So in my search for a start-off fuelling point to grab my cuppa joe and sugary treat before hitting the road, I stumbled upon this café. Just minutes away from one of the starting points of the Mount Faber Trail, it was not only convenient for our coffee-and-hike mission, but also unique in its own way.

That’s how we began with gusto at at Old Habits (Block 38 Telok Blangah Rise) for our obligatory sugary top up of energy. The name of the game here is all things vintage… except their menu which is refreshingly contemporary.

Chock-a-block of old-school stuff

We ordered the signature dessert item which required us to be patient and wait for it to be freshly cooked. But fret not, the café is chocked full of strange knick-knacks and colourful curios – from vintage posters to decades-old Nintendo cartridges to phased-out old road signs plucked from the middle of nowhere to a plastic purple Grimace toy (those that came with a Happy Meal) next to the cash till, there are plenty of things to poke around at while you wait for your food to arrive. Continue reading

#38 Register Your Alien Guest Online Now, in India

Sir, there's an alien in my home!

Sir, there’s an alien in my home!

If I end up learning something from an experience, then the time is not wasted. That’s what I told myself after this registration ordeal. Especially since every moment is precious the moment you get off the plane!

When my Indian friend Jojin was preparing to host me in his home, he was worried because he learnt that he needed to register me as a ‘foreigner living at a local private residence’. We ended up spending a few hours, visiting both the town and local police station and finally the Foreigner Regional Registration Office (FRRO) near the airport before realizing that, hey, it can be done online!

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#37 Getting An Indian Visa (in Singapore)

Going to India is always an adventure. And it starts with getting the tourist visa.

Where’s my passport?

This was early May 2015 – I was bracing myself for a long-drawn fight at the visa centre at The Verge.  After all, I received an email from VFS Global (where I applied last time) saying that they will stop processing visa after 8 May 2015. I figured everyone will flood to BLS International (the only other visa processing centre) in no time.

The Verge is a shopping mall near Little India MRT Station – take Exit C and go past Tekka Market, keep going straight, then cross the road to reach it.

The last time I applied for my visa was at VFS, so this might as well be the first time for me. So here we go…

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