Tuesday, 21 August 2012

Vroom! Driving away from the city

On the morning of our 5th day, we were really excited of the prospect of driving southwards to the Great Ocean Road! We had been awake around 9 in the morning, lazed about in our beds, and went out for a quick breakfast at QV Market; for the love of coffee and free WiFi, everything is good there within a walking distance from where we stayed.

By 11am, we had already booked a car with Alpha Car Hire, Melbourne for a 2 day drive. The payment was quite cheap, as it did not come with a GPS unit. Trying to rent a separate GPS unit from other car hiring companies was also impossible. So, we were given a pink Nissan Micra for the price of AUD112, and navigated our way down to the coastal area using iPad tethering on an iPhone, and a map of Melbourne.

Driving in Melbourne requires strict adherence to the rules and regulations. Each turn we made must be indicated with a signal (unlike back home, so I heard from an aunt after I got back from my holidays). What we did was to observe the locals driving on the streets for the first few days, before adventuring out on our own. The Melbournians are respectful of pedestrians (even to the jay walkers)..slowing down for them to cross the street, unless they are in a hurry they would honk and the poor pedestrian would have to step back and allow the vehicle to pass. No road bullies around I presume...

So we started our journey southwards toward Great Ocean Road. The journey took us on average 5 hours, crossing the Australian plains on the freeway. Saw lots of remnants of where the great trees used to be before being burnt down by bushfires. The locals get teary-eyed everytime they talk of it. But we got to see all the local cows, sheep, horses along the way under the clear, blue, and sunny sky.

We took the road to Tourquay, went past Anglesea, drove along the Great Ocean Road where we stopped by Urquharts beach to absorb some fresh air and beautiful seaside scenery.

View of Urquharts bluff beach from the cliff

After a lot more of really curvy roads on the cliffs, we stopped by for a while at Lorne, a sleepy looking town with clean lawns and small cosy homes. Had a quick munch (hot drinks and pastries) around 5:30pm before continuing our journey. Drove a whole lot more, passing by Apollo Bay, which was a shame that we had no time to stop by; went past the great Otway Lighthouse and also drove on the winding roads that separate sections of the Otway National park. It was getting to  6:30pm and it had grew really dark on the roads in the forest. Only road reflectors were available and lighting was dependent on the vehicle's headlamps and the diminishing sunlight.

It was slightly stressful at times having to focus on the road for small animals and trying to rush to our hostel on time, lest it closes before we were able to reach it.

We had drove through the Great Ocean Road where the famous rocks lie... (the Apostles). Couldn't see a thing as it was pitch black out there. The dark sky was filled with twinkling stars though, where one was the brightest, seemingly guiding our way towards the hostel in the night. The towns weren't really brightly lit, and my iPad had ran out of battery, so we had to depend on our instincts to locate Port Campbell using the map, as not a soul was present on the road. Sounds scary? Hell, yeah!

By the time we reached our hostel in Port Campbell, I swear I could've had a few tears trickle down my cheek with joy - the many hours of driving and concentration was -EXHAUSTING-. Nevertheless it was a good adventure on the road. Wouldn't mind doing it again someday!

Saturday, 16 June 2012

Coffee...oh, specialty coffee!

"Coffees! Come get your coffees!"

My active imagination -> the blonde fellow in dark blue apron wrapped around his crisp, light blue collared shirt yelling to the customers passing by on the pavement from his coffee "laboratory" namely Market Lane Coffee. (Well, it did look like one!)

Melbourne is famous for specialty coffee. There's great coffee everywhere I went. It was another morning hovering like an empty soul in QV Market, in search for good coffee to perk me up. I remember reading an article from The Star paper about the coffees of Australia(Melbourne was in it!) right after I got home from my trip.

We had found ourselves again at Market Lane. This tiny coffe house with whitewashed walls, was introduced by Chanchan's friend, Penny. Located on the same row as McDonald's at QV Market.

Chanchan was queueing up for our "dunno--how-many"-th coffee for the week. Two days before I had ordered a cappuccino from Market Lane. This time, I had a short macchiato. I would say it was quite accidental that I bought something different from what I am used to. Well, I am a coffee lover but not an expert!

So, I placed an order for a macchiato, and the guy pipped, "Short?" Since I had no idea how it tastes like drinking a short - I had gone along with it because it seeemed to be a good idea to try something different in a foreign city. He mixed and stirred, and then my healthy dose of coffee was ready in a white paper cup. Beautiful chocolatey-looking brew...aaahhh...Took a whiff, and then a sip to jolt me awake with its aroma; my eyes twinkling and I found myself smiling, ahaha! As I was a little baffled as to why the macchiato was much, much, much more bitter than cappuccino without sugar, I plopped a teaspoonful of brown sugar into the beautiful mixture, which was a HUGE mistake. OHHHh!! Brown sugar turned my macchiato into a sourish concoction! Bad move.

Market Lane... good coffee!

Market Lane coffee "lab".  Slowly enjoyed with breakfast bought from QV Market.


Oh, do remember - do not repeat my mistake of mixing sugar into macchiato. It does not work that way.  Ouch!


A couple of other coffee stands/coffee houses we went to were:


  • Di Bella Coffee stand at Queen Victoria Market
  • Seven Seeds at Berkeley Street (near Elizabeth Street)


Each regular sized coffee cost me around AUD3.80 or AUD4..not bad at all!

No photos of Seven Seeds :( but I managed to salvage a couple of photos of coffee at Di Bella's :D


Creamy and foamy, yum yum yummm





Monday, 4 June 2012

Getting around Melbourne with Wifi and 3G service

A modern backpacker in a city should always move with the times. Gone are the days when we backpack, holding a paper map in our hands. The advantages of strolling in a foreign city with a smartphone or a tablet are abundant. I like Melbourne for the free WiFi connections I could get in the cafes and restaurants. But when I am walking on the street, I could be as lost as newbie in town.

My friend had earlier recommended a handy application for my iPhone and iPad if we are in search of gastronomic experiences. You could download UrbanSpoon, which gives you the best reviews of eateries in Melbourne CBD. Using this, we managed to make our way to Koko Black, a popular chocolate cafe which also sells rich Belgian chocolate (oh, the chocolatey luxury!) at Lygon Street which was many, many stones' throw away from our apartment. Before getting a 3G prepaid package, we made good use of the Wi-Fi in the apartment to snapshot a map to Koko Black :)



There are a few mobile network operators in the city, some of the common ones; Optus, Telstra, Vodafone. I was looking for an operator which gives me 24/7 connection even out of town when I move southwards, near the suburban and coastal areas on the following week. After googling for reviews prior to landing in Australia, I opted for Telstra. Pretty cheap for sharing among 3 people on a trip as it was only AUD30. With 3G, we had more options on our hands - where to eat, who to call for emergencies, hiring a car, making last minute accomodation bookings, people contacting me...uhhh very long story (stay tuned for more).


Surfed the net and made calls locally using this prepaid package.

Very affordable package, ain't it? Connection was satisfactory too.


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Koko Black could also be found at QV Market by the way. BUT nothing beats a nice walk along Lygon Street though, passing by Argyle Park and admiring all the Victorian-styled buildings on our way there.

Opening hours of Koko Black


The interior of Koko Black on Lygon Street looked inviting and cosy. We were seated next to the barista's coffee (or chocolate??) counter and served by a very friendly waiter.

Below is a breakdown of the costs of our first meal of the day. (Yes, we didn't have proper breakfast!)

  • Chocolate florentines - 5.50
  • Hot belgian chocolate - 6
  • Soy dark chocolate - 6
  • Chocolate affogato - 6

Totalling up to AUD 23.50


Very rich chocolate content for the chocolate lover!
Before leaving, I even purchased 2 small blocks of Belgian chocolate to take home. I had never imagined they could create a chocolate recipe with ginger!

The apartment

We chose to stay for 4 nights in Melbourne CBD before moving on south. Here are a few photos:


The apartment on Wills Street. Highly secured. You need a security card to activate the elevators.

A not-so-comprehensive view of the apartment unit itself. Cosy, nonetheless!


Cost of my stay at Wills Street apartment :
AUD120 for 5D4N


Within our 5 days, 4 nights stay in this unit, we had an "exciting" encounter. The other half of a couple who rented the master bedroom had accidentally plugged his CD player without using an adapter into the wall socket which caused the electricity to trip. It was a BLACKOUT - woo!! They were quite apologetic, but we didn't mind it at all :P

During the blackout, we took it as the perfect opportunity to revel a little in the chilly night with the flashlights we brought along, happily chatting away while waiting for our pot of red dates to boil. We have summer and rain all year at home. This was the chance to have some "fun", ahahaha.  After what seemed a long 15minutes, the landlord came over to sort out the matter and the ambient lighting was back to normal.

If you reading this, and wondering why do we drink the juice from red dates on our trip, there's a particular reason for that. According to traditional Chinese medicine, red dates are a good source of iron. Revitalising drink if we had walked ourselves to exhaustion. It wasn't easy to get our hands on red dates in Melbourne. On our city excursions the second night we were at Melbourne CBD, we chanced upon an Oriental shopping mart which was somewhere along Londsdale Street called the Laguna Oriental Supermarket located on the first floor of Queen Victoria building.

Laguna Oriental Supermarket basically has almost everything an Asian needs; from toiletries, junk food to herbal ingredients. I suspected it was opened by a Malaysian as I saw alot of familiar looking biscuits and coffee brands. Nice!

Surrounded with Asian groceries.
Smile! :D



Day 1 in Melbourne


Checking into our apartment at Wills Street around 11am, we were amazed at how strong and cold the wind was, howling through the street where we were to stay. We had booked an apartment room that was rented out by a Taiwanese couple. The apartment was not as big as I had imagined. Unlocking the door lead to a tiny, squarish living room, which was cluttered with belongings of another tenant who was in Melbourne for a working holiday. A musky herbal smell pervaded the air (speaking of which, we were caught offguard later that weekend, where the tenant cooked Korean BBQ beef!)  Stuffy as it may look and smell, the place was quite clean.

The tenant's sleeping area was "sealed" with sliding bedspreads on clothesline, dividing the living room into two. Looking right, was the kitchen. Two long counters faced each other, one where you cook and store your ingredients and the other, where you chop and dice, and do the washing. Walking past the living room and the kitchen led us to 2 bedrooms and the washroom. The master bedroom was to be occupied by another tenant. Peering into the washroom, I saw plenty of toiletries and a bathtub. Lucky for us, we could use their shampoo and they also had a hairdryer!

Given the rate of less than AUD35 per night, the place felt adequately comfortable albeit the space being slightly narrow. We hopped onto the beds and started unpacking. Looking out of the tall glass windows which were adorned with wooden shutters, it was a delight to be able to see Queen Victoria Market. Scores of cars parked along it. The market is famous for being there since 1878, and if you could've guessed, it is also a tourist-y area which sells lots and lots of goodies :)

The view from the room window....

The skies were overcast that noon, but the sun was HOT. Sunlight was glaring into our room. Strong wind was still howling through the cracks of the window ledge. Hmm..I found the Melbourne climate strange.

We took our rest, and by 3pm we were prepared to explore Melbourne city. The landlady was helpful in pointing out several locations we could have our dinner later. We had to depend on the map we took from the airport.

Being new in Melbourne meant, we had no idea how to navigate our way around. We had yet to apply for a local 3G service provider, so there was no Google map for me to get directions. We simply walked down the street, onto the busiest streets we could find and started looking for restaurants. There were plenty of restaurants - Italian, Greek, Indian, Chinese, Vietnamese, Japanese, Korean, (and Malaysian even)! We settled on a Shanghainese restaurant after much deliberation. The funny thing was, we did not realise we were on Russell Street aka Chinatown.

I had forgotten the name of that restaurant we went to. Could only remember the word "Shanghai". We ordered a (gigantic) plate of fried rice, (gigantic) plate of gyoza, "siew loong bao" - Shanghainese meat dumplings with soup filling, and chinese tea. When our food came, we couldn't help noticing the hearty portion and could not stop ourselves making comments on the sizes...again.

The restaurant had a charming interior.  Grey stone brickwalls. Old chinese lanterns hanging from the ceiling. Wooden door frames, wooden pillars, chairs and tables. There were more of white people than Asians, gripping the wooden chopsticks awkwardly and picking on their food. The table next to us was having red wine over scrumptious Chinese platter.  Ahh... we don't usually do that at home unless it is somebody's wedding or to celebrate some big occasion. Interesting, I thought.

Snapped a photo to commemorate my first dinner in Melbourne.

A glass panel separated our table from the kitchen. Dumpling-making in the process!

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Melbourne is walkable. Getting lost was quite easy too. Since the city was built in grids, each intersection has at least two signage. The same signage repeated on every intersection. To put it logically, we could not take 3 left turns nor 3 right turns lest we wanted to end up in the same place again. Chanchan had forgotten it wasn't KL. Turning left too many times would not land us in a different location. What a pretty good walk we had that evening!

And so, that night after dinner, we were slightly lost, walking round and round the CBD before we saw Beckett Street and reached our apartment safely. The air was chilly and windy. Shops close early in Melbourne. Had nothing to do, so we slept at 8:30!



Wednesday, 23 May 2012

Enormous, enormous bite it is...

I had been forewarned. But somehow, sleep deprivation from boarding the night flight must have temporarily shut down some synapses in my brain, affecting my ability to recall what my friends had warned me before back home.

Right...now where was I? (Just kidding)

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The three of us took a shuttle bus on that sunny morning on a ride to Melbourne central. 

Blue skies everywhere. Waving trees in the breeze. A very English-y Indian/Punjabi bus driver who helped us with our luggage into the small metal container on wheels behind his bus, who asked us, "Aye, where arh-yoo stopping?" Ahh..a working foreigner...

We took the JetBus from Tullamarine Airport, paid AUD15 each to Beckett Street, near to where we were supposed to stay. 

Half an hour later, we were dropped off in front of Nomads backpackers, as our lodging was right opposite the road, and behind the quaint shops and apartments. My goodness, I thought to myself. This street looks right out of a scene from The Sims or SimCity! As we were a bit too early to check-in to the apartment room we booked, we had to linger for a while around the town that was quite empty. Pretty buildings, nice roads, beeping traffic lights and not many people to be seen!

Lady Luck must have been shining down on us with her spotlight that very morning. A kind old Aussie "uncle" noticed us standing there with luggage and all, had approached us and offered us some help with directions. How kind of him! Chanchan told the uncle, "We are looking for somewhere nice to sit down to have coffee!" and I had asked if he could point us out to the nearest location. The very nice Mr.-We-Did-Not-Ask-For-His-Name took us to his favourite cafe nearby for a cuppa on La Trobe Street (where we stood).

Being tired and hungry, we went straight to the counter and placed our breakfast orders. Forgetting that being Asians, we have much smaller stomachs. Looking at the purple menu behind the counter, I ordered a Raisin Toast and a Cappuccino - cost me, I think it was AUD6.40 altogether

Raisin toast sounded exciting! I never had raisin toast back in KL. It was either butter or kaya jam on toast. Interestingly, the cafe also had free WiFi.  Chanchan's sister and myself took the opportunity to Instagram so we could show our families and friends what we have been up to, and that we had safely reached Melbourne. While checking in online, the food came, I couldn't help but be in awe... 2 pieces of toasts sliced diagonally and arranged in a criss-cross manner. Each diagonal slice was as big as my face. And then my brain synapse suddenly rebooted from its hibernation and brought me into a momentary, swirling (exaggerated!) time lapse, back to what my friend Angie had told me. 

"Becareful when you order food because the portion is really big. You could order for sharing with your friends."

Well, what could I do then? I had no choice but to wallop at most 3 pieces of toasts. Luckily, they tasted really GOOD! Raisins and syrupy butter melted into the golden brown toast, coupled with a cup of Cappuccino served warm which was accompanied by a strawberry wafer stick for some sweetness on the tastebuds. Satisfying, really.

My breakfast in the photo doesn't look big enough. I had forgotten to pose with my toast for a face-to-toast comparison..hehehh. 

But I swear, the toast was HUGE!



Looking around, we noticed the other patrons of the cafe had bigger portions of food. As they were Australians, it wasn't a biggie to them. We even saw a man ordering a breakfast platter. That dish could feed the 3 of us for two square meals, go figure.

Ah well, having a taste of what Melbourne locals usually eat on a weekday morning was great! Although we could not finish up whatever was left on the plate, I felt happy to have tasted good coffee together with the giant raisin toast.

Sunday, 20 May 2012

Flying in the dead of the night

The bright lights emanating from the aircraft's lavatory woke me up again. Dang, I should have bought the eye mask I saw earlier on at the shop in LCCT. Flying at night has its perils. We were given AirAsia's first row of Hot Seats - the ones in the middle of the plane. I told Chanchan, "How nice it is to be able to stretch my legs!". And she said "Yeah, wait till you experience people walking past going to the loo." And so, she was right. My sleep disrupted by the bright lights and shuffling of the lavatory shutters. If only I had the eye mask... Talk about being unprepared. Lesson learnt!

While I drifted in and out of my sleep, I noticed the passengers' "airport fashion". I had heard about this term from the Kpop variety shows - whenever celebs are jet-setting, there's a small window of opportunity for fans and papparazzi to catch a glimpse of what the Kpop celebs are wearing. And then, they would make a fuss of the style the celebs bring down from the plane. I took a glance at Chanchan. Her "airport fashion" was a black hoodie over tights and green, army-print sneakers. While her sister had pink boots strapped on. Sound trendy? :D

I believe that some people have compartmentalized in their head, certain clothings to wear when they are boarding a plane. While most of us do it casually, some like it eye-catchy. On the other hand, a handful of  passengers did it in their own stride, wearing sleepwear and bringing pillows; the type you would drool on at home. Respect earned. I would be too shy for that!  As for myself, I had been wearing my fave batgirl Tee, harem pants and a nice chequered stole I got from Uniqlo, KLCC. This piece of warm cloth saved my skin throughout my backpacking trip. (More on that later!)

And so, back to where I was being groggy...I - COULDN'T - SLEEP. The aircon was blowing icy-cold and I sat there observing people going in and out of the lavatories. The sound of toilets flushing was akin to a vacuum. Sucking human waste into a (black hole?). And then my mind started drifting towards how the people at the airport would handle the waste. That's what sleepiness did to me.

Many moments of imaginary thoughts later all going in confusing directions, an announcement came. We were almost reaching our destination. A blonde "angmoh" lady in a black skirt - (yes, a skirt. How could she stand the cold!) was pacing up and down the aisle and doing side lunges to stretch herself. We smiled and said hi while she unabashedly stretched in front of the sleeping couple on my left. Gosh, maybe that's just the shy me being doing such thinking again. I told myself I shouldn't think it looked strange! Everyone should do the same that she did, when they are strapped onto their seats for 8 hours.

Others were still sleeping with their colourful eyemasks on. A few ladies were queueing up with their toothbrushes for their turn to use the lavatory. Another lady came out from the lavatory looking fresh with full makeup on. I was thinking, "Wow.. what sorcery makeup can do."  Couldn't think straight at all. All the nonsense started sprouting again like mushrooms in my head. What I could think of then later on, was SLEEP!  And so I looked to my left. Dawn was approaching. What nice colors the sky has when you are up above the clouds!

While groggy, I did myself a favour and took a photo. Although the color green did not appear in this photo. I swear there was a layer of bright green... the colours were almost the full spectrum of a rainbow. I had hijacked the empty seat next to the girl sleeping in her pink windbreaker and colourful eyemask and this is what I have shot.


Sunday, 22 April 2012

Holding out for the best Ka-CHING! rates in town

Money. This is the deciding factor whenever I travel on a budget. Everytime I spend money in a country which holds a bigger currency than my country... (owrghh! Wallet screaming out in pain!).... part of my preparations entails frequent checks on the rates at the money changers around KL at least 3 weeks before.

While searching for the best Australian Dollar rate in town, I did something extra before skipping out on a short trip to the nearest friendly-Money-Changer's booth! I pay a visit to the Bank Negara Malaysia's Ringgit Foreign Exchange rates website. (Disclaimer: BNM only as a guideline for my own tracking purposes to compare rates with banks and money changers.)

Well, I usually observe the rates on weekends and midweek so it would be convenient for me to run my errands together with exchanging currencies.

Talk about killing several birds with one stone ( ・_・)ノ⌒●~* ポイ!  

After 2 weeks of observation and comparing the prices to some of the money changers in town, I discovered that there IS actually a money changer in Pavilion shopping mall that adheres closely to the currency fluctuation shown on BNM's website, and they offer cheaper rates compared to the ones along Jalan Bukit Bintang.

Half-hearted as I am to divulge information of the getting good rates in KL, in hopes that their business will not turn brisk and then affecting the currency rates they are currently selling :P - do look for a money changer's booth located on the crowded Pavilion sidewalk that leads to the outdoor cafes and restaurants - La Bodega, CBTL, Starbucks etc on the ground floor. Try look for it! That's the only one, you can't miss it.

Tuesday, 17 April 2012

When you travel, go somewhere that will make you happy!


One fine Sunday morning, my usual travel buddy; none other than Chanchan, and yours truly set out to the nearest Coffee Bean & TeaLeaf outlet, with books, pencils and a Galaxy Tab. What could be more relaxing than sipping coffee and discussing something painful.... something like, route planning.


Both of us had picked our favourite destinations, and it was time to fit them into our itinerary. Chanchan wanted to look at penguins and the planning was quite easy-peasy. As for myself, it was not that easy to plan and we had to mull it over after stuffing our faces with breakfast.


**************************
I had been busy scribbling in my planner the week before with my very best..ahem, Doctor Yen writing, detailing all the carefully selected lodgings and points of interests that our piggy banks could afford, and also the kind of places that my inner child would love to visit.
Inner child said, "Hmm, I would love to visit a theme park!"


And so, Doctor Yen thumbed through the Lonely Planet guide book and wrote down a short prescription that would make even the saddest inner child happy. Doctor Yen would love her Inner Child to visit Luna Park in St. Kilda! Inner Child's eyes sparkled with joy upon catching a glimpse of the picture of the gaping entrance on Luna Park's website that Doctor Yen was carelessly scrolling through. And so, it was brought to Chanchan's attention, where she gladly helped to fit into our very busy sight-seeing schedule.


"But what's there to see in Luna Park?" The grave and mature side of Chanchan had emerged.


Inner Child tugged at Doctor Yen, and whispered, "Because it was built in circa 1910, like those I saw on TV! There will be many things to play and seeeee...I want to experience what I saw but could not touch!"


So, I grinned at Chanchan and replied, "Oh, it's ok. We will not be taking up much of our time there because I won't be going on the rides anyway. I just wanted to take photos!"
Ok, it's partly true because if I couldn't go on the rides, I will just satisfy myself by taking photos.


Oh well, but then again I know you could have guessed that Chanchan already knows my real intention =D =D


As helpful as she was, Chanchan checked the opening hours and we decided we could spend at most a few hours to stroll and take some fun photos. End of story.


It was a big YAY for me, as I know when I reach there, my Inner child will let loose and make me happy!!

Sunday, 1 April 2012

A food excursion to the south of KL


It was September the 24th, 2011; 6:45pm. I was late - chasing the train to Sri Petaling. Mich was waiting for me in her car wearing spanking short shorts. Myself, in a scruffy, brown long Tee I got for MYR10 in Bangkok's Platinum Mall.
Both of us had an agenda that day. To backpack to Melaka without doing any prior hotel booking in advance. Totally....pushing our luck. But, never say die right?

And so, off we zipped down in her cute and tiny Kelisa using the Alor Gajah freeway to Melaka town. Mich drove at 80-90kph. Girl talk all the way. Munched some choc. Took us 2hours. Not too bad!

Our Kelisa turned into the quaint little town of Melaka. Streets were dimly lit up. It was almost 9pm. NINE PM?! We had no idea where to stay, where to eat. And that was the start of our little adventure.

So first, we went to Jonker Street. Found a little corner to park and pay. Here's Mich doing a quick pose in front of the lovely pre-war shophouses painted in red.

While procrastinating to look for a place to stay the night, both of us walked along this street and turned into the Jonker's food and shopping avenue - the pasar malam. People and hawkers were swarming the street. Food everywhere, artisans selling their goods. Upfront there was a stage sponsored by Mamee, and there was some event going on. Live karaoke ftw!

Mich bought some "kuih bahulu" and we munched and munched till we reached Jonker88, a small kopitiam that sells Malaccan-styled noodles with a very popular ais kacang/cendol stall located right at its entrance. So we put our backpacks down, heaved a sigh of relief and ordered our food. I was itching for some cold, icy dessert and so, I joined the insanely long queue of foreigners and locals alike for a bowl of ais kacang!

After our food, we walked around the dark and quiet alleys of Jonker Street. Pubs are everywhere, people drinking quietly/noisily. Looked quite fun. I even saw a quaint little temple at the corner of an alley!

After that, we went to look for lodging. Went to the Baba House, and there was one room left with no water! Disappointed, so we walked and walked again, knocking every door that we think would offer us a place to sleep but there was none! Hence, we decided to drive out of Jonker, towards Melaka Raya.

Round and round we went near Dataran Pahlawan and we chanced upon this shophouse which has a backpacker's inn upstairs, called Samudera Backpackers inn in Melaka Raya. It was around MYR75 per night. Place was pretty clean and it is run by a Malay owner who also stays there with his family. Before going to bed, we went downstairs for some beer, basking in the warm night of Melaka town. And that was that, till we woke up the next day.

Some pic-cies of Samudera Backpacker's inn...













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The next morning's cloudy sky was drizzling. We were up by 7am, and headed out an hour later to Jonker Street again for food. Bought a full 6hour parking voucher and parked right up 1512 for a short brekkie. One convenient thing about buying parking vouchers, is that some shops do sell them. Phew! And it was just next to 1512. Businesses open late on a Sunday. We only managed to have our western platter after 9am. I quite like the otak-otak that I ordered as a side dish. It tasted a tad different, somehow.

Next, we continued on our journey to look for Kenny's Delights. According to Mich, this Nyonya eatery was opened by the Baba & Nyonya actor and it's one of the must-eat locations. And to my delight - the wooden house on stilts has vintage decor and red cloth covering round tables for family eatouts. A few families came out for lunch that Sunday. What a happy noon!

A feast for the eyes and the stomach :P



Home was beckoning to us. Full stomachs want to rest and sleep! Took us half a day to taste only a small part of Melaka. But oh well! I will be back someday =D



Saturday, 31 March 2012

TIP-ping TIME! Preparation for the next backpacking destination : MELBOURNE!

Yes!!! May 2012 is approaching and tomorrow's
the beginning of April!

How excited can you get thinking of an upcoming overseas backpacking experience in May?

For me... TONNESssss :D

Below is a setup for writing down all the budget travelling items and pricings before making a decision on where to stay, how to get there, and what to see.

Today I'll be solely blogging on my preparatory notes on <<<Accomodation>>>.

Now, would you please roll your eyes onto the pic-cie on the right>>>>
- Book (borrowed from Angie)

- Lappie (for Googling HostelWorld and travel sites - thanks for the links Vay!)

- Notebook with calendar, doubling up as a planner to jot down all the items to make comparisons

- Stickers (it came with the notebook)

- a sticky cat (which has got nothing to do with my research :P)


As of last week, I caught up with a friend who just got home from Melbourne and she lent me a really nice book from Lonely Planet. Apart from the book, she dispensed a really useful tip for first-timers like me, with regards to applying an Australian visa. You can actually do it online! There's no need to visit the embassy.

Head over to the Australian immigration website and look out for the online ETA (Electronic Travel Authority) link. The good thing about this is, if you are travelling by AirAsia, you don't need to bring your printed visa application along. AirAsia would already have the details in their system.

I have yet to submit my application, and there's one month left and lots to do still. I feel like the White Rabbit (not the candy from China, but the character from Alice in Wonderland).

Today I have the luxury to sit down, prop myself against the lacquered coffee table and divide each page of my notebook into columns. On each page, I put down the following details;
  1. The dates I'll be at Melbourne CBD, South of Melbourne, Great Ocean Road
  2. The hostel I'm interested in, rent-per-day (yes, price may differ each day depending on the hostel)
  3. Facilities; Laundry service and Wifi is a must! Free breakfast is a wonderful option. And..does the hostel have a tour/travel desk? Aircond? Ceiling fan? Hairdryers?
  4. How to get to the hostel from Southern Cross Station, how far, how long it may take
  5. Surrounding facilities ; e.g. any Coles supermarket around to get bottled water?

Last, but not least, remember to jot down the details of checking in/checking out, cancellation policy, contact details, address of the hostel. Compile it into a few pages and then show it to your group of travel buddies. And then, make your pick!

So far I've checked, the price for a night's stay is around MYR100. I am torn between moving hostels in Melbourne. Or should I make my stay a tad boring by cooping up in the same hostel for a straight 5 nights?

Aaaahhh well, I shall now get back to my very exciting planning task. I am considering to make a trip to St Kilda and stay a few nights, to satisfy my inner child at Luna Park (opened circa 1900)!! Free entry, paid rides..yeah details, details... I have to remember to budget properly! Accomodation makes up a big chunk of my wallet. If I am not careful, I would be overspending.

Shall blog on preparing for commuting around my points of interests the next round.

Saturday, 14 January 2012

I found a Prince Charming



One of the highlights during our one day trip to Universal Studios Japan in Osaka, was the youthful energy displayed by some 20-ish year old dudes somersaulting, bending and twisting on an open-air stage. They got alot of attention from the audience, especially when they are such natural good lookers. What's more, they were quite good in interacting with the members of the floor with rap tunes pulsating in the background. Far to the left of this pic was actually a very retro-looking coupe that ferried them in for a quick show. Truly enjoyed this. 

But the very one thing that made me stood transfixed to the ground watching the whole event, was because of ...............


So KAWAII AND CHARMING!!

I told Chanjie and D-zai (who was standing next to his D-lui), that he was so leng zhai and he was the only guy in Japan that I thought was the most good looking I ever encountered so far,  but they had just looked back at me as if I've got seaweed stuck on my teeth.

I guess.... one girl's handsome is just another girl's ugly. Haha..





Oh-pretty Temple and its Wishing Powers of Water


The three of us were very much pooped out by the end of the day, spending hours and hours admiring the famous temples in Kyoto. 

D and D - the cute couple, were also there to join us;  them having visited Tokyo for the first few days right after they got off Thai Airways. 

Our final destination for the day was Kyomizudera. Despite feeling under the weather and trudging up the steep, crowded slope like ducks waddling up a hill, our spirits shot up when we realised we WERE at the right place and at the right time!! That night, Kyomizudera was holding a Lights Display Show, illuminating the buddhist temples. 



Lo-and-behold, what surprise there was in store for us!
 We were in luck o(^^o)(o^^)o わくわく


Kyomizudera Temple, Kyoto
Ta-Daaa!! Kyomizudera Temple having a Lights Display Show.I couldn't locate the source of that bright spotlight. AMAZING!


The Kyomizudera (Pure Water Temple) built on stilts that didn't make use of nails.AMAZING!!! 

The place was totally dark, with only certain points and structures being illuminated in the night. Tourists flocked to the Kyomizudera for a blessing of luck by drinking the water using a water scoop in the main hall of the temple. It is purportedly to grant whatever our heart desires. 

Well, according to one of my friends who visited a temple in Japan, she drank some water and wished for more money, had her wished granted. Once she came home to KL, she had no time to relax as there were jobs waiting for her! GO FIGURE =D


It is regrettable I did not have anything to wish for................ if only I was aware of its powers, I might have wished for a date with that really cute guy I saw dancing at Universal Studios Japan... Well, that's another story...AHAHA!!!!

Friday, 13 January 2012

It's so bright, it's gold! The Golden Temple




Ginkakuji, Kyoto


- The very serene and majestic Ginkakuji Temple -



Looking at this photo makes me want to recite a haiku. So I googled for one and  I found a really suitable haiku that resonates with my imagination. Plucked the one below from Matsuo Basho:

 furu ike ya
kawazu tobikomu
mizu no oto
           "an ancient pond,
a frog jumps in
      the splash of water"

Thursday, 12 January 2012

Looks manual, feels manual, but it is not manual!

The bus had dropped us off in the middle of somewhere by a river, as how I recalled it. We were supposed to walk a few hundred metres ahead to join in the sight-seeing of the 3 famous temples in Kyoto. The Ginkakuji, Kinkakuji and the really famous Kyomizudera.

As I alighted from the stationary vehicle in front of the stop, something really awesome (as pictured below) had caught my eye when the shiny metallic bus zoomed off to its next destination. I quickly whipped out my trusty LX-2 again to snap a photo of this.





"Guess what this thing does??"











The lime green button you see in this wooden cabinet has an image of a bus stuck on it, and it automatically flipped up to show where the bus is driving off to that very minute! Brilliant eh?!!

We never had these at home........ boo-hoo.. =(

My fave photo of Chanjie and Beezai

It had been raining all morning. I remember this being our last day at Hakodate town, after walking around in the morning market and savouring a scrumptious breakfast set consisting of raw さかな(fish) andご飯(rice),  plus grilled crab on the roadside, and we were headed back to the minshuku(story here!)  from the convenient stores.

Somewhere in between our walks, I bought a rubber shuriken keychain from a souvenir shop, and it was confiscated by the immigration officers before leaving Hokkaido for Osaka via domestic airflight with ANA. Flying with ANA was pretty cheap, but then again, that's another story.

The reason? Because the keychain has sharp corners ―(T_T)→ サクッ

Caught this moment on my camera. LOVED IT!

Hakodate - raining
Doing the andante mezzo underneath the umbrella in the drizzle

...and here's a memory of the いか店 we found in Osaka

This was the tiny eatery in Osaka, near Den-den town that I fell in love with.


Osaka - nice eatery
Now, what I want you to do is, imagine yourself sitting at the bar in this izakaya, with Blues playing in the background, and dipping your wooden Japanese chopsticks into Osaka cuisine.
And hearing the lady shop owner greeting her customers, 
 (*≧▽≦) "まいど!まいど!”

Wednesday, 11 January 2012

This restaurant belongs to the 3 hunks

Remember my post on exploring for food when I was in Hakodate? Just remembered that I still have a picture of the restaurant.


 Here it is!

Diner in Hakodate

Tuesday, 10 January 2012

Fancy sna(ck)ing a deer partner, anyone?

Beezai, Chanjie and myself had found ourselves again on the road, off to another of our little adventures. This time we had set foot into the famous (or infamous?) Nara (Deer) Park! 

 As obvious as the name of the lushy green lung in Nara (奈良公園 Nara Kōen), this particular park houses many, many deers. Tall deers, horned stags, tiny deers, friendly deers, hungry deers....you name it! They come in all shapes and sizes. One really friendly deer had even came over to us and had her portrait taken. And we got ourselves a photograph of a really, really smug-looking deer....

The deers have a knack for chasing tourists. Or, they would just drop their head into someone's handbag to dig for food. Anything for food! One Japanese lady was caught unawares with the deer rummaging her handbag for a bag of chips.

As I walked around snapping photos of the National Treasures in that park - Tōdai-ji, Kōfuku-ji and Kasuga Shrine, there was a whole class of male students roaming around the place like their furry counterparts, very much in synch with the nature. And then one of them decided to be cheeky when they saw me lounging around looking for photo opportunities! So I whipped out my Panasonic LX-2 and snapped.


Memorable....ain't it? =D

Food, food and more of Osaka food

Dotombori is a long busy street that sells food, food and FOOD at night! Each building along Dotombori is unique…there’s this hotel entrance with four big pillars that are actually 4 big faces supported on 4 big feet…(go figure, I don’t know how to explain this one) and there’s one that is fashioned in the shape of a ship, the other one has a very big crab that has moving pincers and legs stuck on the front part of the shop.

Osaka is interesting

I can’t exactly put a theme to Osaka, it’s not like traditional Kyoto, nor like modern Tokyo nor even has the picturesque settings of Otaru nor the usual city life of Sapporo. Osaka is a mixture of retro and modern, the good and ugly, posters of murderers at train stations, excellent roadside food, bright neon lights, pachinko centres and business lounges, loud blaring music, rowdy colours, tall modern skyscrapers and weird architectures, stiletto boots and bikini tops, rastafarian braids and dreadlocks, old men and women, jazz music and hip hop, techno art, baroque art..aaaaagghhhh very confusing.

My Japanese language sensei used to advise us not to patronise Osaka streets on our own late at night, as there are bad people who dupe tourists into doing things (that he never really mentioned.) I love Osaka and am afraid of it at the same time. People in all kinds of clothings/makeup/hairdo rushing to their own thing around us. In fact, it was in Osaka that I started to have some culture-shock because Osaka is shocking!

Dotombori, Ebisu, Den-den Town and Universal Studios were among the nicest places I had been to! And the famous Umeda skybuilding is awesome to gawk at night. It made me feel as if I am looking into Stargate’s revolving gate. And the red Ferris Wheel that changes colours in the evening, oh! Gotta love that. Bathing with everyone else in the communal bath in our hotel suite is another thing. Ha ha ha. And nothing beats eating okonomiyaki (japanese pizza) in Osaka.

If I go back to Osaka, it would be for the food…. and Universal Studios.

Dining out pretty cheap! T'was a rate of 2.7 in 2007



Menu in an odd-pretty-intriguing eatery called Ika Tei in Osaka…was quite affordable!!! And the ambience was just nice…fusion of jazz music and chinoiserie hanging from the walls, on the bar, the seats, the ceiling….a middle aged Japanese auntie waitressing…aaaahh…

Raw discovery...hehehe


urchin meat served raw with just a dash of boiling water poured over…Yum-Yum anyone?

Another rainy verse..

Strong winds and heavy drizzles wrecked Beezai’s plastic umbrella!
Chanjie clutched her sides laughing her arse off 
Beezai’s umbrella had flipped inside out all of the sudden 
Like Mary poppins’ umbrella gone wrong…..
She couldn’t stop laughing, 
I couldn’t stop snapping with my camera…

Raining in Hakodate


Me and my plastic umbrella with our little adventures

Rain, rain go away, come again another day,
Three of us want some snow to play,
But there was no winter to our dismay,
“It’s kind of weird”, Auntie Minshuku had her say!

A visit to the beach down the street


Seriously, it was really this dark and breezy on the beach….on an afternoon!

Phenomenal breeze…literally!

After getting our butts off the train and taking many wrong turns when we reached Hakodate, we finally reached a ‘minshuku’ owned by a Taiwanese lady to stay for 2 nights. She came out to greet us in her high hair, fluorescent pink turtleneck sweater and furry brown vest in a warm matronly manner. We exchanged introductions and she hastened us to take a rest in the guest hall.

The place was really clean and neatly decorated with lace curtains and china. A desk sits in the corner of the room with a computer, and there were a few luggage bags chucked on the sofa by other visitors from Singapore. Beezai started clicking away with her ixus, and then after seeking the lady’s help on getting out and about in Hakodate, we set off to explore on our own.

The sky was getting really dark although it was only noon. Wind was howling from the seas at the end of the long street. We set out to find the nicest place for a quick ramen lunch, as informed by Auntie Minshuku (her name changed to protect her privacy :P). We dragged our tired feet along, the wind kept blowing my jacket open (the zip’s spoilt, damn….) Then we reached a diner owned by 3 hunky guys who looked like each of them’d own Harleys, made us tasty bowls of ramen. If you’re curious how we’d order food in Japan, we had to speak in Japanese. So, better learn some Japanese if you want to backpack in Japan ya! By the way, I’ve never seen a real diner back home. Neva!

The 3 hunky men served us ramen in cute Hello Kitty bowls…so kawaii! And they were pink in colour. I felt as if I’m back in mama’s kitchen cooking maggi in my own favourite bowl~ aaah.. after much slurping, I took a look out of the diner, the door curtains were being blown crazy like a storm was hitting any second. We were like, “WAHHHHHHHHHHHH……………Go go go!!” And off we went out walking back to Auntie Minshuku.

***************

Auntie Minshuku showed us another place to see. The beach! So we trudged along the street till we reached its end and by then the wind was blowing reaaaaally hard. Beezai’s long hair was flapping in her face whenever she turned sideways, and I had a hard time trying to keep my eyes opened. We photographed the tall waves, the nice house that sits directly on the beach, the big ugly grey clouds and also posing with each other with crazy hair flying in all directions. After that we explored around a little and went back to our cute little lodge.
To cut a long story short, which I think I will spend more than a page explaining…we went out again to look for food in the evening. We were walking along an unknown street next to the river and sea, and there was an overhead bridge that shows the temperature of the town. It was 11degrees celcius as I remembered it. It was quite strange that nobody was to be seen. The wind was howling even harder and I started to feel some air pressure on the right side of my head. Two kids were practically speeding towards us like they were escaping something horrible. The 3 of us soldiered on, and the wind grew EVEN stronger! Suddenly it occured to us why the town seemed deserted……

Each of us tried to keep ourselves rooted to the ground we were walking on. I had never experienced such strong winds in my LIFE!!!!! We tried to run, but everytime we lifted our foot, we felt the wind would blow us away. Chanjie being the cutest and petitest of us all had the hardest time. Luckily there were buildings that occasionally sheltered us from the sea “breeze”…We were shrieking whenever we almost got “blown away”. I wouldn’t say it was scary, it was quite the adrenaline rush. But you’ve got to feel it yourself, the wind back home is NOTHING compared to the wind by the sea in Hakodate. Trust me.

Hakodate


If there’s any town that’d look tangled in a web of wires, I would point out Hakodate!!

Popular seafood? ..the crabs


Our lunch of crabmeat and beef at Otaru was AWESOME! Although I’m not a fan of crabmeat, I could picture chanjie and beezai singing praises about the quality of crabmeat in Japan….

Twirly, curly food



Do you like sausages? I love them but I don’t know what to think when I see them curled up like this…kinda interesting, don’t you think?

小樽 is a lovely place...



- the serene Otaru canal -


小樽Otaru is a picturesque little town, decorated with the famous Otaru canal, pretty little houses and shops sitting in clusters, each unique in its own way with harmonised colours. It seemed almost fairy-tale like. The lifestyle is slow-paced and the people there whether Otaru natives or tourists take their sweet time breathing in the scenery and fresh air.
We visited the Orgel shops, where they make music boxes varying from all kinds of sizes. Interesting pieces of art and music fused together. I bought myself a little orgel chained to a keyring that hums a little tune of “Sekai ni Hitotsu Dake no Hana” when the clockwork is twisted thrice around its back.
The town is filled with cute carvings and decors and artistic pieces. Some shops blow glass to fashion out fantastic utensils and crafts. Everything is done with such perfection that mirrors the townsfolk’s passion in the arts.
Heck, we loved Otaru so much that we even sent ourselves a postcard each back home when we saw a cute little post office
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