The best Muar food & the best Muar hostel

The best Muar food & the best Muar hostel

Muar food is the best!

Have you been to Muar?   Have you even heard of a town called Muar and did you know that its in Malaysia?  And have you tasted the food in Muar?

If you haven’t heard of this town which lies on the west coast of Malaysia about an hour south of Melaka then you aren’t alone.

Many foreign tourists and travelers bypass Muar as they travel between Melaka and Singapore but in my opinion they’re missing out.  Muar is famous for its food and in this article I’m going to tell you the top 5 foods to try in Muar: plus I’ll tell you where is the best place to stay.

Check out the position of Muar on the map below – it’s that small town on the coast below Melaka.

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Muar food: Where is Muar on the map?

Map of Muar

 

I spent a few days in Muar in January when I was volunteering at a hostel in Melaka. Myself and another volunteer – she was Linda from the Netherlands – caught a local bus one morning from Melaka Sentral. We were off to stay at a hostel that Linda had discovered on a previous trip – WakaLily’s Hostel – and which was a new hostel just outside the town.

First stop – coffee

 

Lily had offered to collect us once we had arrived at the bus station and would drive us to her hostel, so whilst we waited for her we went inside one of the famous coffee shops in Muar – the Kopi 434 Cafe.  This cosy coffee shop is decorated with warm wood panels inside and it’s famous for its coffee as well as the food and its atmosphere.

If you ask for a coffee (or a kopi) in Malaysia you will be served a coffee with sweet (condensed) milk. If you want a black coffee you need to ask for a kopi 0 – or coffee zero.  Every state in Malaysia is famous for its own type of coffee and they are often roasted with margarine or butter and sugar for extra flavour.

Image. Kopi 434 Muar, Muar food

Kopi 434 Cafe

Once we had finished our coffee, Lily duly arrived and whisked us off to her hostel.

WakaLily’s Hostel

 

Waka Lily’s Hostel is, as I said, a new hostel and Lily and her business partner CJ have worked hard to make it welcoming, functional and comfortable.

The hostel is beautifully decorated with an artist’s attention to colour and detail and with many homely touches.  Colourful cushions and rugs are scattered around.  There are small tables, displays of books and ornaments and even a guitar for the musically inclined to play.  The dormitory with its bunk beds has enormous floor to ceiling windows, air conditioning (always a good thing in the Malaysian heat and humidity) and it has the BEST duvets to snuggle under.

If you have never stayed in a hostel you really should give one a go. You can read more about staying in hostels via this link, although many hostels, including WakaLily’s offer private rooms if the thought of sleeping in close proximity to strangers freaks you out.

Think of it as a personal challenge, who knows, you might actually find that you enjoy it, not to mention making new friends and expanding your comfort zone.

WakaLily's Hostel, Muar

WakaLily’s Hostel, Muar

A bonus at this hostel is the kitchen where guests are welcome to cook their own food or re-heat takeaways, and it’s nice that there is just one huge area to mix and socialise.  On the main road outside the hostel there are some small traditional warungs (local, cheerful restaurants) where the choice for breakfast is overwhelming and usually extremely cheap.

Bathrooms at WakaLily’s include showers which have piping hot water (believe me that is not necessarily standard in South East Asia), and you will be given a towel on arrival too – another nice touch that is not necessarily standard across all hostels.

If you want to reserve a bed (or a private room) at WakaLily’s, click on this link for the most up-to-date prices

If you are still nervous about staying in hostels and you want to check out the etiquette of how to behave, plus arm yourself with the no-no’s try this link – Hostel Tips and how NOT to behave in a  hostel

WakaLily's Hostel, Muar

WakaLily’s Hostel, Muar

WakaLily’s is part of the Warm Showers network – a system which offers discounted or sometimes even free accommodation for people who are travelling or touring by bicycle.  I had never heard of this scheme before I got to Malaysia but cycling is big here and many cyclists stop by and stay for a night or two here.

For Linda and I, one of the best bits about this particular hostel is that Lily loves to socialise and she is keen to show guests around Muar.

On our first evening we were joined by Jacky (who is a friend of Lily’s) and along with another guest from Switzerland (Etienne),  we set out on our mission to eat our body weight in Muar food – and this theme seemed to continue throughout the next few days.

Due to the food induced coma I forgot to take detailed notes during my stay and so Lily has very kindly put together the following Top Five list of Muar food for you.  I have added in my own comments and memories plus I have given you more information about what to see and do around the town.

Best of Muar food

Otak-otak

This has to be Muar’s most famous delicacy.  I had tried it previously in both Melaka and Georgetown and I wasn’t a fan, but I had never tried the otak-otak in Muar!

Otak-otak is grilled spicy fish paste wrapped in atap leaves and it’s synonymous with Muar’s food scene.

The little parcels are small yet rich so you don’t need many for a quick snack as you wander around.  Basically otak-otak can be found easily in the town but especially along the street in Avenue 4, at the MCA Bentayan Food Court Centre and at Otak-otak Cheng Boi, No.28, Jalan Bentayan (8am to 4pm)

 

You can try your hand at some Malaysian recipes in the following book which you can order from Amazon:

 

Otak Otak

Otak-otak

One nice touch in the centre of Muar is that many of the main streets are colour coded.  Entire streets have been painted either yellow, red, blue or green.  Shop fronts, shutters and walls are a uniform colour which is actually quite pleasing to the eye and is very helpful when you are trying to find your way around.

Dodge down some of the alleyways and you will also find some good street art dotted around. There is not a lot, but enough to make it interesting to poke around the small back lanes – not that I need much encouraging to wander down any little street that looks different to the rest.

Mee Bandung

Mee Bandung is said to be the traditional creation of Muarians and it is pure heaven. Mee Bandung consists of noodles and eggs in a soup base of chilli, onion, spices, shrimp paste and dried shrimp.

Mee Bandung is one such dish that demonstrates the subtleties of Malaysian flavours.  The ingredients are similar to many other recipes yet the dish tastes distinctly different.

You can find the best Mee bandung (in Lily’s opinion) at Restaurant Mee Bandung Abu Bakar Hanipah, Jalan Abdullah or you could try Mee Bandung Muar, Tanjung Agas (open 10am to 4pm).  If you are outside the city centre then head about 1.5km north from WakaLily Hostel to Warung Sup Kambing, Batu 3 1/2, Parit Bunga  (between 2.15 and 6pm)

 

How about this cookbook from a Malaysian family kitchen?

Malaysia: Recipes from a Family Kitchen
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bicycle statue outside Muar

You can hire a bicycle from WakaLily’s Hostel and explore the surrounding countryside or pedal yourself into the town centre. My friend Linda had done this on her previous visit and she told me that she had spent a lovely time cycling alongside lush green rice fields and exploring the town and the beach area.

Pork satay

Satay is common throughout Malaysia and Indonesia but pork satay is rare in Malaysia. So if you like Malaysian style satay, don’t miss the chance to try it while you are in Muar.

Small pieces of pork are barbequed on little wooden skewers and eaten with a creamy, rich, peanut based sauce.  The coals (or wood) give the meat a slightly smoky flavour and the satay sauce is streets ahead any commercial sauce outside of S E Asia.

You can find the unusual pork satay at Ah Kow Satay & Yong Kee Coffee Shop, Avenue 4

 

Authentic Recipes from Malaysia
List Price: £11.99
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Muar sunset

 

 

 

I have already shown you that Muar is on the coast; the Melaka Straits to be exact, and many Muarians take to the beachfront to walk, jog, bicycle or simply to sit and chat as they watch the sun go down.

Lily kindly took me to the beach promenade on my last evening.  We drove past the beautiful mosque set in parkland and we wandered along the seafront where we were treated to a magical sight.  The tide was very low and just covered the sand which set up all sorts of reflections in gold and amber with trees atmospherically silhouetted against the horizon. There was hardly a breath of wind as hundreds of people did their best to capture the scene with mobile phones and cameras.

As the sun went down the Iman began to call from the mosque and sounds of the call to prayer (the isak) which is hauntingly beautiful in Malaysia, gently floated across the park and seemed to roll softly around us and on out to sea.

Sup Kambing (mutton soup)

I never actually tried this dish but Lily assures me that it is good.  I guess it is soup made from lamb but when I return I will be sure to track it down at the Muar Soup House, 47, Jalan Sisi.  Lily sent me the following link to give you an idea of this dish! Click here

 

typical breakfast spread in a warung

What is a warung?

A warung is best described as a rustic cafe or small corner shop in S E Asia but they are especially found in Indonesia and Malaysia. Food is generally traditional and home-cooked by mum, dad or various aunties and you nearly always get an authentic experience eating at one.

More often than not they are simple and rustic but don’t let the appearances of many of them put you off.  These owners generally know their signature dishes inside out and usually have secret twists to their recipes that have been handed down through the generations,

Oyster omelette

Oh Chien – Nanyang style Teo Chew oyster omelette

The best place to try this is in Avenue 4

This is another dish that I didn’t actually have time to try, but you can watch a short video here which explains how it is made –             Click here for the video link

 

Like many towns in Malaysia, Muar is predominantly laid out on a grid system which can be pretty confusing if there are no dominant landmarks, such as a hill or a river on which to focus (Muar does have a river and a very pretty one at that), but as I am the world’s best at getting myself continuously lost any help and guidance is very welcome, and those coloured streets that I mentioned earlier in the article certainly help with that!

Bonus dish: Beef noodles

Tangkak Beef Noodle @Restaurant Kuang Fei

Whilst not in Muar town, if you visit Ledang Waterfall, I recommend that you stop off at Tangkak town to try this beef noodle dish.

Continue reading to find out more about our day out from Muar.

Muar's beef noodles

Ledang Waterfall

 

Myself, Linda and our Swiss friend Etienne jumped on a local bus and headed off towards the Ledang Waterfall.

After the bus had dropped us off on the main road we had to walk up through the rubber and palm oil plantations towards the National Park. We hiked up the steps and along little paths until we reached the top.  As far as waterfalls goes it certainly wasn’t one of the most spectacular but the setting and the views were perfect….and being cooler it was a respite from the heat and humidity.

walking through the palm oil plantations

The water was freezing where it had tumbled down from the high mountain peaks behind us so whilst myself and Linda were more than happy to half sit on a rock and allow the water to cool us as it passed, Etienne bravely plunged right in.

The best bit about the Ledang Waterfall was the fact that we almost had it to ourselves.  At one stage a large group of men trekked past – all studiously averting their eyes (Linda and I had put bikinis on as there were so few people around), but otherwise there were only a handful of local people and they were quite a long way below us.

I should clarify here, that being rural Malaysia, most people bathe in clothes although it is not mandatory. Unlike the muddy brown water in most of Asia’s rivers the water here was crystal clear and as we were alone in our part of the river (except for the guys that hiked past) we were in our bikinis.

We spent a few hours splashing around and building up an appetite so on Lily’s recommendation – with the sole purpose of a late lunch of the town’s famous beef noodles – we got off the bus on our way back to Muar at the small town called Tangkak.

Linda and Etienne at the waterfall

We were not disappointed.  Lunch was fantastic although one thing that I had learnt by now was to be suspicious of any dish in Malaysia which offered a ‘special’ upgrade.

Often this up-selling doesn’t mean that you get more succulent cuts of meat – it usually means that you get ‘spare parts’ which Asians are so especially fond of.

Lungs, intestines, kidney, brains and all the other ‘spare parts’ are just not my thing.

If you do visit Melaka or you are heading through Malaysia to or from Singapore do take the time to visit Muar and try the food –  you can order your Lonely Planet Guide Book at this link 

You can be sure of a warm welcome from Lily and CJ and you can be sure of some great tasting food.

 

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Spare parts!

And finally, here are two more cookery book recommendations for you:

 

What to do in Brunei

What to do in Brunei

I spent three nights in Brunei as I travelled across the north of Borneo island from one part of Malaysia to the other.  This article can be used as an itinerary for what to do in Brunei as well as giving you information on the best place to stay and why.  Personally I recommend that you stay on the edge of the capital city which is called Bandar Seri Begawan unless you are heading for one of Brunei’s beaches.  Three nights will give you enough time not to rush around but the main sites of interest can be seen in one day if you are very quick.

The article will also help answer the following:

  • Is Brunei expensive?
  • Is it true that you collect up to 10 passport stamps as you enter and exit the country overland?
  • People say that Brunei is boring. Is this true?
  • Do they have Sharia law in Brunei and are women forced to cover their hair?
  • Is Brunei worth a visit?

Brunei certainly won’t suit everybody but in my opinion Brunei IS worth a visit, especially if you are travelling around other S E Asian countries; if only so that you can experience a different culture and way of life.

 

Where is Brunei?

Brunei is on the north coast of the island of Borneo.  It is sandwiched between and divided by the huge Malaysian state of Sarawak, with a second Malaysian state, Sabah to taking up the north east corner.

The larger part of the island is taken up by some Indonesian states – see map below.

 

Map showing the position of Brunei in Borneo

Map showing the position of Brunei in Borneo

This post contains affiliate links and/or references to our advertisers. We may receive compensation when you click on or make a purchase using these links

Scarlet Jones Travels is a participant in the Amazon Services LLC Associates Program, an affiliate advertising program designed to provide a means for sites to earn advertising fees by advertising and linking to Amazon.com

I liked Brunei although I only had time to explore the capital city which is called Bandar Seri Begawan and with a population of just 150,000 people it is very laid back – more so even than Vientiane in Laos – and that place was extremely laid back.

Things to do in Brunei - the Omar Ali Saifuddien Mosque

The Omar Ali Saifuddien Mosque

The wealth of Brunei has come relatively recently in history from gas and oil reserves. The ruling Sultans have placed ever more emphasis on religion and they align themselves more with the Arab oil rich countries than the surrounding Asian countries but whilst the ‘new money’ has meant a spending spree on public buildings and infrastructure, Brunei somehow lacks the glitz of say Dubai or Bahrain.

It’s a little bit shabby and tired around the edges despite the huge cars on the roads and the mosques which creak under their heavy gold domes, but the people on the streets are friendly, the food is great and I think it’s definitely worth at least a couple of days of your time here.

The prosperity of the country has meant that many Bruneians don’t have to worry too much about hard work – although that’s not to say that there are no entrepreneurs, creative people and business men and women here.  Far from it for whilst foreigners from the Indian sub continent and other Asian countries supply much of the manual labour there are lots of new businesses springing up.  I was told many times by many people that the Bruneians major pastime is eating and this certainly seems true judging by the number of places to eat – although Brunei still has a long way to go in this regard if it is to beat Malaysia.

colourful produce at the Tamu Klanggeh Market

Tamu Klanggeh Market

 

Is Brunei expensive?

Yes….and no.  It depends!

The entrance to virtually all attractions is free and buses and water taxis are cheap. Conventional taxis are expensive and they are actually quite difficult to find on the streets but the city is compact enough to walk around if you can stand the heat and the humidity.

I was waiting on the local bus stop outside my hostel waiting to go to the main bus station when a man stopped and offered me a lift (I accepted) and on other occasions when I was walking around, people often stopped to ask if they could drop me anywhere.  If you are going to accept lifts from total strangers or hitch-hike please smarten up your instincts beforehand and don’t take any risks but I think that on balance Brunei is one of the safer places to be.

 

The water taxis

There are seemingly hundreds of water taxis buzzing around the river-front.  They criss-cross the river to take locals and tourists across to Kampung Ayer where 30,000 people live in the largest stilt village in the world.  These boats will also take you upriver to the small piers and the outlying suburbs or you can negotiate with the cheerful guys for a private trip into the jungle where you have a good chance of spotting proboscis monkeys or crocodiles; but bargain hard.

one of the best things to do in Brunei - wandering around Kampung Ayer

one of the best things to do in Brunei – wandering around Kampung Ayer

Food prices vary from cheap and cheerful in the markets and in the small cafes to expensive meals in the high-end restaurants; especially those aimed at tourists and ex-pats, and hotels and accommodation are higher priced than many other S E Asian countries (they are on a par with Singapore) but there is a new, very affordable kid on the block if you are open-minded about staying in a hostel.

The Lonely Planet Guide book for Brunei also covers Malaysia and Singapore – order your copy here

Where to stay in Brunei

I cannot recommend the AE Backpackers Hostel highly enough on many levels.

This is a new hostel just a 30 minute walk from the main city attractions.  The beds are in dormitories but no expense has been spared.  The staff are keen to welcome you and make you feel at home and will give you loads of information about the area, plus the place is kept spotlessly clean.  When I was there, Andy the owner actually gave me a lift into town on two occasions as he was driving that way and one evening he treated myself and some other guests to a satay meal.

You can find out more and book your stay at the AE Backpackers Hostel via this link.

Where to stay in Brunei? Why the AE Backpackers Hostel of course

Where to stay in Brunei? Why the AE Backpackers Hostel of course

A bonus is that the area around the AE Backpackers Hostel is full of places to eat and drink during the evening; unlike the city centre which closes down.  The hostel is also just a short walk from one of the water taxi piers and the bus stop is just outside.

If a hostel is not your thing (but why not give it a go, you might be a convert), you can get the latest up to date prices and accommodation in Brunei via this link to Agoda

 

I have heard Brunei is boring. Is that true?

It depends what you are looking for.  It actually seemed quite lonely to me because there are not that many people on the streets and at night the city centre is dead.  People tend to drive everywhere (partly to avoid the searing heat but also because fuel costs are so low) and they tend to eat out at the clusters of food outlets in the suburbs. It all feels very tranquil and calm, even on a Sunday morning when all the food stalls and the market open up alongside the Independence Field and the families come out for picnics and to let the children play and ride their bicycles.

 

Brunei culture

There are several things to do in the immediate city centre – all walkable – and if you have a car you can wander further afield and really delve into Brunei culture.

In one day I walked between and visited:

The Royal Regalia Museum – this museum is actually very interesting.  It contains information and artefacts depicting life as a Royal as well as a large collection of the sort of gifts that one Head of State or a Government will give to another.  You do have to wonder about some of these – imagine trying to buy a gift for an aunt or a brother who has everything, and then add political messages into the mix. You almost feel sorry for the recipient – maybe they should agree to stop swapping gifts and suggest visiting dignitaries sponsor a clouded leopard or donate to a hospice instead!

Inside the Royal Regalia Museum in Brunei

Inside the Royal Regalia Museum in Brunei

The Omar Ali Saifuddien Mosque – This is the enormous mosque in the city centre and despite its large golden domes I reckon it is beaten in the beauty stakes by the older mosque the ……which is just a 15 minute walk from the AE Backpackers Hostel.  But it’s still worth a visit and the grounds on the river bank are pretty (if bland).  Just avoid prayer time and dress respectfully – although you will be given a robe to wear when you enter.

The Old Custom House (now the Tourist Office) – This squat building is a reminder of colonial times and might, or might not, contain an art exhibition while you’re in town.

The riverfront promenade – There is a long walkway around much of the riverside which is good to stroll along and people watch.  You can hail a water taxi from here and the guys will certainly do their best to attract your attention.  I saw an annual boat race when I was in Brunei.  The long racing rowing boats blasted through the choppy waters and the water taxis dodged around them.  There were rumours that the Sultan might attend the race but if he were there I didn’t see him.

Boat race on the river with Kampung Ayer in the background

Boat race on the river with Kampung Ayer in the background

Tamu Klanggeh Market – This traditional fruit and vegetable market operates next to a little spur on the river.  Fresh produce is piled high on the stone tables and there is the usual bevy of cheap and cheerful food stalls at this bustling hive of activity.

The Chinese Temple – this large temple is the oldest in the city with its red pillars adding a splash of colour to the mostly bland beige and white of the rest of the city.  In fact, the colourless-ness of the city (I’m not sure if that is a real word but you understand what i mean) is possibly why Brunei might have a reputation if being boring. Everything attempts to be clean and white and sparkly – but instead it mostly manages to look tired and bland.

The Chinese Temple in Brunei

The Chinese Temple in Brunei

Kampung Ayer – On my second day in town I took a water taxi over to Kampung Ayer and spend a nice couple of hours wandering around the largest stilt village in the world.  Now this is worth a visit.  You could wander along the wooden board-walks for ages, getting lost down dead ends and snooping into homes, mosques, schools and fire stations. Just beware underfoot – of piles of cat poo on the boards and also rotten or even missing boards outside some of the less well-maintained homes.

I had to slow right down and tread very gingerly in some places; not sure if I would plummet into the murky river water below, but when you get tired of wandering around, simply find a jetty or an open space and a water taxi man will be sure to find you.

Jame Asr Sultan Hassanal Bolkiah Mosque – This mosque just 15 minutes walk from AE Backpackers was my favourite.  There are fountains and flowering shrubs and trees in the gardens and the tiles on the minarets are also pretty.  As usual, you will be asked to wear a robe if you are a non-Muslim but somebody will probably also show you around and answer any questions that you might have.  There is even an escalator up into the mosque – so the Sultan doesn’t have to walk up the stairs like the commoners!

the impressive entrance at the Jame Asr Sultan Hassanal Bolkiah Mosque

the impressive entrance at the Jame Asr Sultan Hassanal Bolkiah Mosque

Do they have Sharia law in Brunei and are women forced to cover their hair?

Yes, there is Sharia law but as you are not going to break any rules this will not affect you!  Also there is no requirement for non-Muslims women to cover their hair.  Alcohol is not on sale although you can import a small amount of alcohol for personal consumption – but as there is no shortage of different teas, coffees, juices or soft drinks available why bother?

Dress conservatively (cover your shoulders and knees and you will have no problems) and you will find that people are quick to smile and to ask where you are from.  There is no rule that says that you can’t wear shorts or a strappy top but as this would be offensive to the majority of the people who live here why would you?

Is it true that you collect up to 10 passport stamps as you enter and exit Brunei overland?

Brunei has a very interesting geographical outline on the map.  The country is split in two by the Sarawak state of Malaysia.  If you want to travel overland between the two Malaysian states on Borneo (Sarawak and Sabah) you will collect 10 passport stamps. (I could have downloaded a professional looking map off the internet but this is more the reality of my travel life)

The bus route across Brunei

the bus went from the teaspoon to the orange peg to the pink peg to the memory stick to the lighter

I travelled from west to east.

  • I crossed Borneo from the town of Mira in the state of Sarawak heading onwards to Kota Kinabalu in the state of Sabah. I exited Sarawak and I entered Brunei – stamp #1 & #2.

At this point I stayed for 2 nights in Brunei – pick up my bus route on the map at the teaspoon.

  • I exited by bus from Brunei and back into the bit of Sarawak that divides the country – stamps #3 & #4 (orange peg)
  • I exited Sarawak and crossed back into the eastern side of Brunei – stamps #5 & #6 (yellow peg)
  • I exited Brunei for the final time and crossed into the thin sliver of Sarawak that runs along the eastern border – stamps #7 & #8 (the black memory stick points here)
  • Despite both states being Malaysian there is a degree of autonomy in Borneo and to cross between Sarawak and Sabah gets you another 2 stamps #9 & #10 (and finally the lighter marks the exit)

You can fly in and out and you can cut out some of the borders by taking a ferry around the sea route but I love bus travel and it was fun to be popping off and on the bus with the local people at every immigration check.  We were all quite friendly after the 7 hour trip.  Look out for the local guy Danny at the bus station in Brunei who will help you with tickets and travel information about the border crossings.

colourful Dani will help you with the bus details

colourful Danny will help you with the bus details

 

To sum up: What to do in Brunei? Is it worth a visit?

Yes, I think so if you are exploring Borneo although I’m not sure it justifies a flight in and out just for itself.  There are other things to do outside the city centre, apparently the Brunei beaches are a great place to go and see the sunset, an (allegedly) tired theme park and access to the pristine rainforest but little else and it’s difficult to get around unless you have a car.

another view of the Jame Asr Sultan Hassanal Bolkiah Mosque

another view of the Jame Asr Sultan Hassanal Bolkiah Mosque

On a plus point, the wealth provided by the oil money so far has ensured that the loggers have not ravaged the rain forest to plant the palm oil cash crop as they have in neighbouring Malaysia.  The rainforest is largely untouched apart from where the highway was blasted through it and is apparently some of the best in the world but the Bruneians don’t seem to have much of an interested in promoting it to tourists either.

Get your Lonely Planet guide to Brunei, Malaysia (and Singapore) here and drop on by.  I adored both of the Malaysian states of Sarawak and Sabah and would one hundred percent recommend either or both of those for an extended stay.

Read my other S E Asia guides, such as the perfect itinerary of Myanmar or the best things to see and do in Melaka and drop me an email or reply in the comments below if you have any questions on Brunei or anywhere else that I have travelled.

If you would like me to accompany you and tour Borneo and/or mainland Malaysia let me know.  I know that I will return and I can take some of the hassle out of your journey and show you some of its gems.

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Travel in Laos: Vang Vieng, Vientiane & Pakse

Travel in Laos: Vang Vieng, Vientiane & Pakse

Travel in Laos: Vang Vieng, Vientiane and Pakse

You can truly appreciate the diversity and the beauty of Laos when you travel the length of it.  Travel in Laos is not easy but it is worth the effort. The climate, the people, the clothes, the food and the scenery all change as you bounce south on the buses.  Central Laos from Vang Vieng, through Vientiane to Pakse is vast with some long travel days.

Up in the north, Luang Prabang the UNESCO World Heritage Site is possibly Laos’ touristic jewel in the crown, although you will have read how we had a much more authentic experience when we rocked up in Phonsovan during the Hmong New Year. 

Cold, sick and a little bit travel jaded, my friend Gosia and I made our way south to Vang Vieng.  This town has a reputation for booze, drugs and hard partying although too many sad and fatal incidences on its main tubing attraction have led to the authorities closing many of the riverside bars down which has changed its dynamic.

 

Tubing on the Mekong at Vang Vieng

Vang Vieng

Don’t let the reputation put you off though as hordes of backpackers continue to crowd the streets and Vang Vieng is actually a charming town. 

It consists of a cluster of small streets and bars that crowd close to the river, You can choose to eat on decks hanging over the water, from low tables and on comfy floor cushions or you can cross the river on one of the narrow rickety bridges and walk in relatively peace and quiet or stay in one of the little wooden cabins which are dotted around here. 

The tubing is still here but it’s now a much calmer affair.  The couple of bars that remain open do their best to entice you to stay and get so drunk that you can’t walk – but it’s a bit like arriving late to the party.  Better to enjoy the tubing for what it is. 

A gentle three hour float down the river, passing under the shadows of the impressive limestone karst formations in relative silence. It’s a good idea to get some sort of a waterproof pouch for some cash and maybe your phone too – you can find a selection here at this link to Amazon

Travel in Laos; Vang Vieng

There are plenty of waterfalls and caves to visit close to Vang Vieng – and it’s easy to hire a scooter to get around them. The night life in the town is still pretty vibrant and unlike Luang Prabang, the locals just get on with their own lives, shrugging at the antics of some of the louder travellers. 

I have to do a ‘shout out’ here for the local hospital which is where I finally had to drag myself after days of sickness.  The ward looked a bit grim and bare – but the service was top class (within the restrictions that come with living in an extremely poor country).

Please, please, please don’t travel anywhere without purchasing travel insurance.  You can get a quote at this link from Alpha Travel Insurance

Travel in Laos; Vang Vieng

My doctor spoke good English and she agreed that they should run some tests to find out what was happening inside me.  The tests came back within THREE HOURS (eat your heart out NHS), although they didn’t have the capability to run all of the tests that I requested.  You can read my associated article about getting sick while travelling here

It was enough to rule out some exceptional nasties though and armed with antibiotics and Chinese medicines we moved on to Vientiane. 

Travel in Laos: Vientiane

On our route from Vang Vieng to Pakse we needed to stop off in Vientiane to sort our our visas for Vietnam.  I know that a lot of people say don’t bother and they would straightaway get the bus from Vientiane to Pakse, but in my opinion it is worth a look because  Vientiane must rank as one of the most laid back capital cities in the world.  It couldn’t be just because it was Christmas because it was not really celebrated in Laos.  It was hot, dusty and well, sleepy.  It was as if everything was just too much trouble so everybody seemed to be dozy.

We had an okay hostel in Vientiane with a pool which is always a bonus as we had to stay in this sleepy capital for 3 days while the Vietnamese Embassy staff processed our visa applications. There is a vast choice of places to stay at Agoda. Click here to check the latest places and prices.

To accompany this series of articles on Laos, I have published a comprehensive 28 page travel itinerary of my month-long route around Laos. Simply enter your details in the box below to get your free guide.

Travel in Laos: Vang Vieng

Vientiane has plenty of temples although most are covered with a layer of sandy dust, It has its version of the Arc de Triomph (as do Paris and Barcelona), some good markets and some excellent and atmospheric open air eating places which line the riverbank.  Vientiane also has some stunning sunsets, lovely bread rolls and baguettes and cheap beer. 

I discovered the works of Colin Cotterill who writes beautifully and extremely humorously about Laos.  Although his novels about the reluctant coroner are set just after the end of the war and when the Lao PDR came into being, nothing really seems to have changed in Vientiane since that time! 

His characters showed me the city in a new light – I felt that I could understand the psyche of the Laos people a little bit better.

travel in Laos; Vientiane

Gosia, Jodi and myself celebrated Christmas 2015 dining on the banks of the iconic Mekong.

We sat on the decking in the dusty heat of the night watching the twinkling lights from the more affluent Thailand across the river and raised a glass and then some more to friends and family who were far away.

We ate a large fish which had been baked in a salt crust and plenty of veggies – fish for Gosia because fish is the traditional Christmas meal in Poland and we wore our Santa hats despite the heat.

Travel in Laos

The sleeping bus from Vientiane to Pakse 

The Vientiane to Pakse sleeper bus was like no other night bus that I had experienced before.  It was not possible to stand up straight on the top deck and there were no reclining seats.  There were no seats.  They had all been removed and partitions divided the length of the bus into boxes. 

Each box was 5’ 32 in length and about 3’ wide.  For two people!  I am 5’6” tall so I spent a very uncomfortable night and luckily I was travelling with Gosia rather than a stranger.  We rolled into our ‘coffin’ and settled down awkwardly.  As if the ‘beds’ were not challenging enough we hadn’t taken into account the rough road systems of Laos.  It was sort of fun, and it was certainly an adventure but we didn’t get much sleep.  If you are planning on any long trip, you might like to take a travel pillow for comfort – check this link for ideas

Travel in Laos

Pakse 

What can I say about Pakse except that most people use the town as a transport hub or as a start point for the Bolaven Plateau motorcycle loop.  Pakse to Vientiane or Pakse to Vang Vieng (or vice versa) seem to be the only reasons why people do come through this town.  Interestingly since writing this article I have heard from other people who actually liked it here – so don’t take my word for it.  If you have time check it out for yourself.

Gosia and I decided not to do the  Bolaven Plateau Loop because we were both in our own way exhausted. I explored the town, taking my book and hoping to find a nice quiet spot to relax by the river – but I was unable to find anywhere that wasn’t buried under piles of litter, plastic and filth. 

Get the latest information on the places that you pass through with the Lonely Planet Guidebooks – click here for the latest special offers such as 3 for 3

We caught up on our sleep and got a bus out the very next day.  Things were looking up – we were going to Champasak and then onwards to the 4000 Islands.

travel in Laos

Travel companions on this leg of the trip.  

Gosia – originally from Poland but with wanderlust in her soul. We travelled together for months from Luang Prabang to Siem Reap and Vietnam in between.  Gosia is the BEST travel companion.  Gosia has a wicked sense of humour and an infectious giggle. 

We laughed a lot, cried some and we got lots of attention as Gosia is stunningly beautiful. It was generally assumed that we were mother and daughter which, although I was pissed off that people didn’t think that I was only 34, gave me a nice warm feeling inside. 

I have one picture of Gosia which I took on Christmas day in her strange Christmas hat and when I was so sick later in Vietnam I would lie in my bunk and look at it just to cheer myself up. 

Rudi – a Frenchman who is in Canada (does that make him a French Canadian?) – who slept one night sandwiched between Gosia and myself (in separate single beds).  I still laugh when I think about the evening we spent playing silly songs via YouTube.  (sorry Rudi that you had to share a bathroom and my antibiotics were yet to kick in!) 

Cuong – the heart doctor from Vietnam who was a real sweetheart and who kept an eye on me, checking my medicines were acceptable and generally being nice.  I met with Cuong and one of his sons later in his home city of Hanoi.  THANK YOU Cuong. 

Jodi – a Canadian who lives in Taiwan.  I have to tell you that on her leaving day Jodi had it in her head that check-in for her flight was at a certain time.  Sitting in our dorm room it suddenly dawned on her that she had been looking at the departure time! 

The air turned blue, she stuffed everything into her rucksack and legged it out of the hostel with about twenty minutes to get to the airport.  A later text confirmed that she had made the flight by the skin of her teeth but Jodi was STILL WEARING her PYJAMAS!

And just in case you are wondering – here is my forever happy picture of Gosia in that hat!!!

Scarlet Jones Travels is a participant in the Amazon Services LLC Associates Program, an affiliate advertising program designed to provide a means for sites to earn advertising fees by advertising and linking to Amazon.com

This post contains affiliate links and/or references to our advertisers. We may receive compensation when you click on or make a purchase using these links

This article was originally published in May 2016 and has been updated and upgraded since then

 

Gosia's hat

The Smash the Pumpkin Project

Challenge links

The Smash the Pumpkin project challenges you to step outside your comfort zone. These are some of the ways that travel in Laos would fit into some of the categories.

Smash the Pumpkin

The Transporter challenge

Face your Fears

Mini-vans in the mountains, the sleeping bus and floating down the Meking in an inner tube; how many types of transport can you think of and how many have you tried?

Fear of heights, water or meeting new people – some of these may fill you with fear, others hold no challenge.  What causes you to feel anxious?

The Smash the Pumpkin project challenges your self beliefs with a series of emails that encourage you to step outside your comfort zone.  Click on the button below to find out more

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the Smash the Pumpkin Project
Cheerful cheap and free Melaka attractions

Cheerful cheap and free Melaka attractions

I put together this list of the best cheap and free Melaka attractions for you during the ten weeks that I stayed in Melaka.

I hope you will check some of them out when you visit.

Cheerful cheap and free Melaka attractions.

To get an understanding of the historical background of the city begin with one or both of the two free walking tours that the Tourist Information Centre organises. (Check with the tourist office for up to date information as they don’t run all year round).

The Old Melaka Heritage Tour

This tour takes you around the colonial district on a Tuesday, Thursday and Saturday at 9.30am.  Learn about St Paul’s Church, La Famosa and the riverside and find out just how many times Melaka was conquered and occupied in the past.

Meeting point: the Tourist Information Centre: the walk takes 2.5 hours

The Tourist Information Centre is inside the modern looking building which is right on the roundabout (opposite the fountain) in what is known as Dutch Square at the end of Jonker Street.

Be there 20 minutes before the start of the tour to register.

Melaka attractions Dutch Square

Kampung Morten: traditional Malay village life.

This second free walking tour in Melaka will show you a different side of city life by guiding you around Kampung Morten.  See a traditional Malay village and meet the locals, whilst learning about the food that they eat, the clothes that they wear and see some of the small businesses that thrive here.

Meeting point: the Kampung Morten Fountain: the walk takes 1.5 hours and take place on a Monday, Wednesday and Friday at 5pm

To get to Kampung Morten walk upriver following the path on the left-hand side where much of the street art is found.  Continue until you come to a small amusement park and a ferris wheel.  The path drops away from the river for a short while but search it out and continue along until you notice the buildings on your left change in character as you enter the village of Kampung Morten.

Keep an eye out on the road alongside you and just through the ‘gate’ to the village you will see a stone fountain which is the meeting point for this free walking tour.

Allow approximately 40 minutes to walk to the meeting point from Dutch Square and arrive 20 minutes before the start of the tour to register.

Melaka attractions

Vila Sentosa – a living museum.

Visit this traditional wooden home in the Malay settlement of Kampung Morten and learn about its history from one of the family members who still live there.

I met Ibrahim who was the youngest son of 12 children who were raised in the house. Ibrahim was a vet before he retired and he now shows people around his former family home. Ibrahim’s ancestors were originally from Java.

Ibrahim’s grandfather was the leader of a community that were forced to relocate to the present one when their land was purchased for redevelopment. This house, the grandest in the village of 96 houses, was completed 95 years ago.  Ibrahims grandfather received the Certificate of Honour from George IV and later the MBE and OBE for services to the community.

The house is ever so pretty and with the breeze coming in from all sides through open windows it was cool and peaceful. It was also very colourful and made of wood with a steep pitched and curved roof and was set in lush green gardens.

Inside, the house is just like a museum with original family pieces displayed, photos on the walls and the best family porcelain set on the table.

You may be allowed to strike the ancient gong – it is said that people who strike the gong while making a wish will see their wish granted, and you will usually be given a cup of tea in the sitting room.

If you visit Melaka, #villasentosamelaka is well worth a visit. Entrance is free although you can donate to its upkeep and to thank the family for giving their time to show you around.

Open daily between 9 – 5.  Admission is free but a donation towards the upkeep of the house and for the owners’ time would be appreciated.

Follow the directions for the Kampung Morten walking tour to the stone fountain but instead of stepping off onto the road continue following the river around the curve, keeping an eye on the houses to your left.  You are looking for a large green wooden house and garden with a big sign facing the river, ‘Vila Sentosa’.

Note: If you want to combine your visit to Vila Sentosa with the walking tour, allow 45 minutes at the living museum before back-tracking to the meeting point to register for the tour.

Melaka Riverside

Wander along the river with friends or sit and have a coffee or a beer and relax with a book.  You might spot one of the huge monitor lizards and you are almost guaranteed that one of the local people who live in Melaka will stop to chat to you.

Musical fountains

If you are wandering along the riverbank between 9.30 and 10pm you might catch the musical fountains with their music and light show.

Go to the small pedestrian bridge near to the Masjid (Mosque) Kampung Hulu and look upriver.  Just be aware that the fountains don’t always play and sometimes you will bizarrely just hear the music.

Boat tours in Melaka

Hop on one of the boats that go up and down the river for a 45 minute tour – both daytime and night time tours are good – boats often run late into the night and many come with a commentary.

Street Art in Melaka

Whilst nowhere near as good as the art in George Town the street art in Melaka wins due to its location.  There are some nice murals dotted around Melaka mostly painted along the riverbanks but if you explore the little alleyways that run behind the streets of China Town you will find many more.

Can you find Michael Jackson, the wishing well or the references to Harry Potter as you wander around?

The Jonker Walk Night Market

Melaka becomes very lively every Friday, Saturday & Sunday when traffic is banned from Jonker Walk and traders set up their market stalls.

Things get going about 6pm and continue until 11.30pm – give or take a bit.

There are lots of street food carts and you can shop for some of those gifts and trinkets that you want to take home with you.  To be honest, I have seen better walking street markets in Asia but the Jonker Walk night market in Melaka is still a good one.

For additional entertainment, near the bottom end of Jonker Street is a large stage which hosts karaoke or dance competitions whilst the night market is on.  Many of the Chinese Community Halls that line Jonker Street are also open and you can see residents watching DVDs, playing chess, line dancing and once, I even saw an orchestra playing.  So grab some street food and a chair and sit and enjoy the shows.

Temples, Mosques and Churches

Melaka has lots of temples, mosques and churches, some of which are hundreds of years old.  Grab a map from the tourist office and wander around and check them all out, but the biggest collection of the oldest ones are along Jalan Tokong which runs parallel to Jonker Walk.

You will notice that the architecture reflects the maritime heritage of Melaka and some of the minarets look like lighthouses.

Dress respectfully and don’t enter during the main prayer times, but otherwise you will be welcome in all of the places of worship.

The Sikh Temple at the end of Jalan Temenggong serves up basic but tasty meals three times a day.  All are welcome: just make sure that you wash your dishes after you and maybe pop a donation in for the temple.

The Floating Mosque in Melaka 

The Melaka Straits Mosque or to give it its proper title, the Masjid Selat Melaka really is one of the stars of Melaka in my opinion and well worth its own entry in this guide to cheap and free Melaka attractions.

The mosque was my favourite destination when I was leading the bicycle tours from Ringo’s Foyer Hostel.  The guests and I would get there just before dusk and settle down on the rocky jetty opposite and wait for the sun to set. No matter if we had a decent sunset, the sound of the call to prayer floating across the still water with the lights from the mosque reflected in the sea was always magical.

Local markets and food in Melaka

There are local food markets on a Saturday and a Sunday afternoon (4-8pm) and on a Tuesday evening (4-7pm).

Key the following locations into your map app for directions.

Saturday: Pasar Malam (night bazaar) Kota Laksamana

Sunday: Pasar Malam Bandar Hilir

Tuesday: Pasar Malam Kampung Lapan

I would need to devote an entire article solely to the food in Melaka but my best advice is to simply wander around.  Search out the Malay food courts for spicy fish dishes or the unusual but addictive sweet cendol, Little India for the banana leaf curries that you eat with your right hand or China Town for a massive variety of foods.

Chinese Hill

Explore the Sam Po Keng Temple and Princess Hang Po Li’s Well before walking to the top of Chinese Hill for views of Melaka.  On the way up you will pass many ancient Chinese tombs and graves. Make sure that you go into the room at the back of the Sam Po Keng temple and see the display that explains the history of the site.  Chinese Hill is a great spot to come for a sunset view over Melaka but don’t be tempted to eat any of the fruit from the trees that are dotted around the hill.  In the past the conquering armies would poison the water wells and legend has it that the fruit trees still contain this poison.

Ringo’s Foyer Hostel and the Famous Bicycle Tours

Even if you don’t stay at Ringo’s Foyer Hostel you can join them on one of their famous bike tours.  Pop in to reception and ask where and when they will be leaving.  During my time as a volunteer at the hostel I was one of the bicycle tour guides and we would usually set off between 5 and 6.30pm – although this can change at any time.

Preference will always be given to guests and the tours can be cancelled or altered due to the weather but they are always interesting and fun.

The most popular tours will take you to the ‘Floating Mosque’ for a spectacular sunset or to Chinese Hill.  Ringo’s will show you some of the alleyways with their street art and maybe you will stop by a deserted theatre.  Occasionally you may take a tour to a local night market or even stop at a toddy shop and sample palm wine.  Depending on the guide, you may stop on the way back for a group dinner or you might just make a detour for a beer by the river.

Hire a bicycle for the day

Hire a bicycle for the day and explore the town.  The city is more or less flat and easy to get around.  Don’t be daunted by the traffic either.  The drivers in Melaka may seem erratic but the majority of them are very patient and happy for you to wobble out in front of them.  Just make sure that you make plenty of eye contact, wave your arms like your life depends upon it and smile and wave thank you as you pass them.

Apart from the Floating Mosque you could head off to the beach (try Pantai Puteri) or you could cycle to St John’s Fort as well as any of the other places that are listed in this guide.

Baba & Nyonya Heritage Museum

Do go and see the Baba & Nyonya Heritage Museum and tour a house that has been kept in the Peranakan style.  Several generations ago Chinese traders married Malay women and they developed a distinctive style of living which includes lots of colour and masses of bling.  In this family home you can learn about the lifestyle and see the luxury items on display in this house in Jalan Tan Cheng Lock which is parallel to Jonker Street.

Views of Melaka

You could ride up to the top of the Taming Sari Tower – or for similar money why not buy a drink at the nearby Pampas Skybar on the 41st floor of the largest building close to the hostel.  Relax for an hour or so as you take in the views and don’t forget to look up at the ceiling for a surprise!!

Directions for the skybar:  Walk out of the hostel and turn left towards the river.  At the river, follow the path to the left.  Continue until you come to a small amusement park and a ferris wheel.  Cross the river by the road bridge and then turn to the left and find the entrance to the skybar inside the first building that you come to.

The Woof Station

Pepper, Bella, Chewy, Mr Bean & Rocket are the 5 dogs belonging to of Sharine and Ace who own the Woof Station in Melaka.  They are 3 huskies, 1 samoyed and an Old English Sheepdog.

Unlike some similar establishments, the dogs at the Wood Station are the couple’s pets and go home with them each evening.

Ace & Sharine firmly place the well-being of their beloved pets first and educate visitors how they must act around the dogs.

If a dog chooses time out under a table, he or she is allowed to sleep and they play together quite naturally.

Visitors to the café must purchase a drink but we were not rushed out at all and spent a long time chatting and interacting with the dogs.

The excitement on the faces of visitors who had little contact with dogs was wonderful to see, as was the pleasure of travellers who were missing their pets back at home.

The Woof Station is a 30 minute walk from the bottom end of Jonker Street, or take a Grab taxi or an Uber cab.

You just need to buy a drink to cover your entrance and you can lounge on bean bags and play with the animals for as long as you like.

Swimming Pool in Melaka

There is an outside Olympic sized swimming pool right in the heart of the old town of Melaka.  Ladies are fine to wear a bikini – men must wear Speedos (that is, no baggy board shorts).  Knee length yoga pants or cycling pants are fine or you can buy a suitable pair at the shop at the pool.

Check the board outside the pool for the swimming session timetable and the latest prices.

Directions to the swimming pool: Turn right at the roundabout at Dutch Square. Take the first left along Jalan Kota and look for a little path on the right through the park next to a statue of a bullock cart.  The entrance to the swimming pool is in front of you.  At the time of writing the cost of entry was 5RM a session.

To sum up: Melaka attractions.

Melaka deserves to be more than simply a stopping off point en-route between Singapore and Kuala Lumpur, but all too often, travellers book just one night in the town and dash around the key sights before moving on; and then they declare that there is not much to see or to keep them occupied.

The cultural mix that makes up Malaysia is very apparent in Melaka.

There is the distinctive Dutch sector, China Town and Little India.  There are also many remnants from the British occupation and of course there is a huge Malay/Muslim presence which all combine to make a very interesting experience here in Melaka.

Melaka is a proud city and you will constantly get people calling out to you ‘Welcome to Melaka’.  Take time to wander along the riverbank and check out some of the activities above.  Get to feel the soul of the city.  It may not be immediately obvious but it is there and it has a big heart.  Book more than a couple of nights and take the time to get to know Melaka.

I would obviously recommend that you stay at Ringo’s Foyer Hostel because I volunteered there for two months but if you prefer something different check out some alternative accommodation here – Agoda Booking

The following travel resources may make your trip planning easier

Get your guide book here from the Lonely Planet

Don’t forget your travel insurance from Alpha

See where you can go with Explore

Myanmar travel guide: perfect itinerary and route on a budget

Myanmar travel guide: perfect itinerary and route on a budget

Here is your ultimate Myanmar travel guide with some of the best places to visit in Myanmar – and with a route that you can follow in just sixteen days – or you can take your time and do it over twenty-six days as I did.

Myanmar, or Burma as it is also known, has been high up there on my list of countries to visit ever since I was a child and since I learnt that my grandfather was fighting in the jungle during the war.  I’m very pleased to say that Burma lived up to all of my expectations and I’m already making plans to return.

I like to travel quite slowly, absorbing the atmosphere of a place and connecting with local people so I didn’t cover quite as much ground as I had originally hoped to do so on this trip to Burma, but that’s not a problem because it gives me the perfect excuse to return and to explore the less touristic south of the country.

(This post contains affiliate links and/or references to our advertisers. We may receive compensation when you click on or make a purchase using these links.  Scarlet Jones Travels is a participant in the Amazon Services LLC Associates Program, an affiliate advertising program designed to provide a means for sites to earn advertising fees by advertising and linking to Amazon.com)

Before I bring you what could possibly be the most perfect Myanmar travel guide ever, and especially one for backpackers or travellers on a budget, let’s get a few facts straight.

Burma or Myanmar?

Everybody from Myanmar that I spoke to in the country told me that it didn’t really matter whether I called it Burma or Myanmar ……but they all preferred to refer to their own country as Myanmar.

And one reason for this is because the name of Myanmar reflects the diversity of the ethnic groups.  Burma is made up of far more than just the Burmese.  There are 136 different ethnic groups and while there are different reasons why many countries around the world do not recognise the renaming, for me, if every person that I spoke to preferred Myanmar who am I to question them?

The political situation.

Myanmar is emerging from years of military rule and is transitioning to a democracy but this process is being hindered by violence.  Some of these conflicts date back many years and sadly for the people it seems to be difficult for them to break out of this cycle.

There is no doubt that there is a major crisis, some say genocide, which is ongoing in the western state of Rohingya and there are other areas that are totally out of bounds to foreigners or which are tightly controlled (I will cover the background to the different conflicts and history in another post), but there can be no doubt about the absolute delight from the Myanmar people themselves that foreigners are finally allowed to visit their country and I lost count of the number of selfies that I featured in and just about everybody is curious about visitors.

Another selfie request

Another selfie request

Is it safe?

Hell yes!  Of course I might be proved wrong at any time in the future, but when I was in Burma I never felt unsafe or unsupported.  The population of Myanmar are genuinely curious, friendly and honest and they have a refreshing naivety about them.

Many of the people speak English and I am pretty sure that if I were to leave my wallet on a table or my phone in the back of a taxi, that the majority of people would do their best to return it to me.

 

Your perfect Myanmar travel guide.

I took twenty six days to travel the route that I describe below but it’s perfectly possible to cover it in sixteen days, and if you have the time do take advantage of the twenty eight day visa which will leave you time to head on down to the south. After I have explored the south myself I’ll add a link to this article so that all of the hard work is done for you and you can continue in my footsteps; or you can click here and find out how you can join me and we can travel together if you don’t want to travel solo. – Click here for more information

Begin your trip in Yangon.

I recommend a minimum of 2 nights in Yangon.

 

I started my trip by flying into Yangon, formerly known as Rangoon but if flight times and prices are better and/or cheaper you can start this tour in Mandalay.  If you do begin  in Mandalay, pick up my route and head north west to Hsipaw and then after taking the train to Pwin Oo Lwin complete the remainder of the route in reverse (Bagan, Inle Lake and Yangon).

Yangon can’t fail to stimulate every one of your senses and it’s a great introduction to the variety and diversity of Myanmar.  This is probably the most chaotic place that you’ll encounter within Myanmar so if you can cope with Yangon you can cope with anything!

Yangon reminded me in parts of India and also of many cities in South America.  In places it was down at heel with street markets, rubbish on the streets and filthy water running in the open drains, but it also has a vibrant energy with new businesses springing up and entrepreneurs driving the way forward.

Depending on your arrival time from the airport I would suggest that you begin by exploring the local area on foot; maybe try some of the street food and do check out the decaying colonial buildings.

Yangon street scene

Yangon street scene

Yangon is also your opportunity to pick up anything that you may have forgotten to bring with you with its state of the art shopping malls as well as traditional night markets.

Whatever you do, do not pass on the opportunity to explore the Shwedagon Pagoda, and for a bonus, time your visit to end at sunset when its golden domes dazzles in the lights.

If you have extra days in the city I would suggest that you take the circle line train which takes three hours to complete its slow circuit of Yangon and will cost you less than a dollar.  From the train you will get a glimpse into the backyards of the local people and you will see the vendors selling noodles and snacks on board whilst having to shuffle up on the seats as the passengers stream on at the various stops.

Another great way to spend half a day in Yangon is to take a walk around the large Kan Daw Gyi Lake with its replica palace that houses a restaurant. If you travel as slowly as me you could also take a walking tour of the city and see some more of its hidden gems or you may prefer to relax with a Burmese foot massage which will set you up for the rest of your Myanmar trip.

I really enjoyed the tasty Myanmar cuisine, especially the tea leaf salad and I was very happy to dine at a not-for-profit restaurant that helps disadvantaged people get a leg up into the hospitality trade in Yangon – the LinkAge Training Restaurant.

When it’s time for you to move on you can catch the night bus to Inle Lake.

Where to stay in Yangon

I stayed at The Little Monkey Hostel which is in the busy China Town area. This new hostel is kept spotlessly clean and the staff can also arrange day trips out of the city for you (for example to Bago).  You can also sample traditional Myanmar food each day at breakfast – the cost of which is included in your stay.  For the latest prices and to book your stay, click this link.

Nyaungshwe and Inle Lake

Hopefully you will have got some sleep on the night bus to Inle Lake.  The roads can be extremely bouncy and the going mostly slow, however all of the night buses that I took were driven competently and were quite comfortable with reclining seats, water, toilet stops and a blanket to counteract the fierce air con.

You can take the time to rest if you need to do so today after your night bus ride or, if you are feeling bright and breezy you can ride a bicycle around the small town of Nyaungshwe.  My recommended hostel (see below) lends out free bicycles so you can explore to your heart’s content.

Cycle out to the teak pagoda with its little alcoves that contain hundreds of small dolls or you can cycle or take a tuk tuk to the Red Mountain Estate Winery up on the nearby hill for a wine tasting session. Cycle a bit further and you can walk out along the teak bridge and hire a local canoe to paddle you around one of the floating villages.

It sounds a bit cheesy but this was actually one of the highlights of Inle Lake.  Unlike the orchestrated fishermen on the lake at dawn, here we floated silently past real families getting on with their lives.  Washing clothes, bodies, hair and dishes in the lake and tending their vegetables on their man-made floating veggie patches, it was fascinating to see this community go about its work.

Inside an unusual teak monastery at Inle Lake

Inside an unusual teak monastery at Inle Lake

You should certainly do your best to catch the traditional puppet show one evening which is performed by a true enthusiast. Mr Aung makes all of his own puppets and actually dances behind the screen whilst he manipulates the puppets.  This traditional craft was outlawed for many years under the military regime and it is a testament to Mr Aung that he has managed to continue.

Set your alarm for an early start and rise before dawn to take a boat ride out onto Inle Lake.  Breakfast will usually be organised for you either in a restaurant or onboard, although you can go out later in the day if you are not bothered about catching the sunrise over the lake. You’ll see the iconic fishermen who paddle using one leg and you will no doubt have the opportunity to visit a lotus weaving centre, a silversmith, wood carvers and a local market as well as many other small tourist hubs.  There may even be some Padaung women who wear metal coils around their necks weaving.  When your time here in Inle Lake is done I suggest that you get another night bus – this time to Bagan.

Where to stay at Inle Lake

I stayed at the Song of Travel hostel where all the staff were very friendly and helpful, and like The Little Monkey Hostel in Yangon, beds are comfortable self-contained pods – Click here for up to date prices and to book your stay at the Song of Travel.

Where to stay in Inle Lake

Stay at the Song of Travel in Inle Lake

Bagan

Arriving in Bagan at dawn you could negotiate with your taxi driver to take you straight to a pagoda to see the sunrise or you might prefer to go to straight to your accommodation in the town and dump your bags or rest.  Hire e-bikes and get out and explore the historical area, losing yourself down the little sandy paths among the 2000 plus structures.  For a good explanation of the history behind the pagodas and the culture I recommend that you take a tour (contact me for the name of an excellent guide) and then end the day with a sunset boat trip on the river or you can watch the sun go down from the roof of a pagoda. (Rumours are that it will soon be forbidden to climb on the pagodas)

An early start to see the dawn is a must while you are in Bagan: set out in the dark to find a good spot to watch the sun rise and the hot air balloons float over the plain; or you can take your own hot air balloon flight for a bird’s eye view.

Sunrise over Bagan

Sunrise over Bagan

If you want to get out of Bagan take a trip to Mount Popa.  Here is a pagoda built high up on a plug of rock with spectacular views out across the plains.  There are some interesting statues and tableaus to see as you climb the several hundred steps – the downside is that you have to run the gauntlet of some not so friendly monkeys.  Myself and my friends were almost in tears when we descended at sunset, especially because there are men strategically placed with slingshots to chase the monkeys away if they get too close or too aggressive – which in my book tells me that they are not nice monkeys, although the trip was worth the small price that I paid.

Where to stay in Bagan.

I enjoyed the atmosphere in Bagan so much that I stayed for six nights.  Whilst not the cheapest hostel I stayed at the Ostello Bello. Like all of the other hostels in Myanmar a great breakfast was included as well as tea, coffee and water throughout the day. – Click here for up to date information on accommodation in Bagan

And please don’t ever think that you should travel anywhere without taking out travel insurance, especially in a country like Myanmar.  I was so glad that I had a policy in place when I was bitten by a street dog on the way to Bagan. I use Alpha Travel Insurance – you can get a quote and purchase a policy very easily via this link – Alpha Travel Insurance



Mandalay

When it’s time for you to move on from Bagan take a day bus so that you’ll get the chance to see some of the surrounding countryside on your journey north to Mandalay.

You can condense everything worth seeing in Mandalay into a couple of long days if you are pushed for time.  If the weather is good on the afternoon that you arrive, take a taxi up to Mandalay Hill or to the U Bein teak bridge.  From the hill you will get a good view of the city and hopefully a decent sunset and if the weather is on your side, some iconic photos of the bridge.

If you have the stamina and you want to hit the best of Mandalay in one day start off by exploring the Palace.  Although not the original complex, the palace has been rebuilt and as most of the buildings are empty it has an eerie atmosphere; and also because of the long walk up the driveway through the military enclave.  To avoid trouble keep your camera firmly in your pocket until you get inside the palace and don’t forget to take along some identification or you will be refused entry.

The palace at Mandalay

The palace at Mandalay

Before leaving the palace, climb the tower for views across the grounds and then visit the Shwe Nan Daw Monastery and the Kuthodaw Pagoda which contains the world’s biggest book; both are near the palace. Get off the main road and walk to both of these and you will see normal Mandalay life continuing in the leafy streets – with noodles drying in the sun and street sellers cooking up lunch in their woks.

After lunch take another taxi and head off to the jade market.  There is a small entrance fee here for foreigners but you might be able to avoid that if you’re lucky and dodge the collectors on the gate.  The jade market feels like stepping back in time with traders buying and selling gems and haggling over coffee whilst craftsmen cut and polish using ancient tools.  Follow the jade centre up with a visit to the gold leaf making centre where you can learn how this ancient craft continues and see how the gold leaf is beaten out by hand.  The craftsmen here earn less than £5 a day for some very physical work which really puts things into perspective.

If you want some context behind the history of the palace and how the Royal Family were forced into exile, read The Glass Palace by Amitav Ghosh Click on this link to order your copy of the book.

There are many things to see and do around Mandalay if you have more time.  You will be able to find a day tour of some of the historic sites and the old cities which surround Mandalay such as Sagain and Inwa through your hostel: or you could negotiate with a taxi driver and do it yourself.  If you haven’t already visited the U Bein teak bridge this is well worth a visit – although as soon as I arrived the heavens opened!

Where to stay in Mandalay

I opted to stay with the Ostello Bello chain again when I was in Mandalay.  Run along similar lines to its sister hotel in Bagan this large hostel meant that I could get to know other travellers and I could go along on some of their organised and value for money trips.  When you are visiting Myanmar you are not permitted to stay just anywhere so using one of the booking sites shows you the available options to you – Click here for accommodation options in Mandalay.

Hsipaw 

Take a shared car for the quickest and most interesting route up to Hsipaw and also for the opportunity to experience Myanmar travel .  The car will whisk you up the mountains and over to the charming mountain town of Hsipaw along a jaw-dropping road far quicker than the bus because it will overtake and undertake EVERYTHING wherever possible!  Do this journey in the day time for the views and be amazed by the queues of lorries struggling around the hair-pin bends.  There are numerous lay-bys where lorries and buses pull in and hose their brakes down with water and everywhere the air is thick with the smell of burning brakes and clutches as the hill takes its toll on these immense beasts.

As you drive you will also get a glimpse of the impossibly delicate looking Goteik viaduct which spans the gorge at over one hundred feet in the air.  Our driver over to Hsipaw fancied himself as a rally driver but apart from the fact that he was driving a right hand drive car on the right hand side of the road and every time he nudged out to overtake I would gasp, he was actually a truly competent driver and I thoroughly enjoyed the four hour adrenaline rush.

In 1970 Burma switched from driving on the left to the right hand side of the road but many of the cars (and the road signs) have yet to catch up.  Often, right hand drive cars are cheaper in Burma so there are still plenty of them about – the downside is that drivers have gigantic blind spots which makes the whole thing a bit of a guessing game.

Up in Hsipaw the weather is normally a little cooler and more comfortable than anything that you will have come across so far and this small town is fast becoming a firm favourite as a trekking hub.  There are many buildings which do more than ust nod at the colonial past – in some parts of town you could be in leafy Surry in England.

Provided you arrive in time I suggest that you head straight out and visit the Shan Palace where you will get the chance to meet and chat to a real life Shan Princess and learn a little about the history of Myanmar from her.

You will learn how the occupants of this grand home were kept under house arrest for many years and you will learn some of the facts surrounding the mystery of the Shan prince and his Austrian bride.  If you want to read the background to this story you can order the book at this link: click here to order ‘Twilight over Burma: my life as a Shan Princess’.

If you want to take a trek you must hike with a guide as it is currently not permitted to go too far into the surrounding countryside.  You can walk for one or two days, staying overnight in a home-stay in a rural village in the mountains. Meals will all be traditionally made – in my case over an open fire in the middle of the room – and you will get the chance to interact with local people. My trek ended with visit to the non-touristy hot springs where I bathed with the inquisitive locals who delighted in splashing me with the hot water, but many treks end with a swim to a waterfall.  If hiking is not your thing you can arrange a motorbike tour instead – contact me for the name of a brilliant guide in Hsipaw.

If you do the trek you will encounter checkpoints outside the villages but these are there more for the villagers’ safety as to keep you out. I will bring you more facts and information about the political background and the situation in a future article

It is permitted to take a bicycle and ride around the town and the immediate countryside of Hsipaw where you can visit waterfalls or you can explore Little Bagan and poke around inside the dusty old teak pagoda.

preparing dinner at our homestay in Hsipaw

preparing dinner at our homestay in Hsipaw

Where to stay in Hsipaw

Most backpackers stay at Mr Charles Guest House which is a hotel and a hostel next door to each other.  You can arrange your trekking from here (contact me for the name of a fantastic guide) and breakfast is included.  Rooms are simple and the place is very busy with trekkers arriving and departing but the hostel is in a great central location – Click here to book your accommodation in Hsipaw

Goteik Viaduct

This travel day is worthy of its own entry.  Take the iconic railway ride from Hsipaw to Pyin Oo Lwin and cross the jaw-dropping Goteik Viaduct. Take a picnic to eat on the train or even better, buy noodles from the ladies who jump onboard with their baskets on their heads at one of the stations that you pass.  It is of course possible to go all the way to Mandalay on the train but better to break your journey in Pyin Oo Lwin and stay a night or two or even jump in a shared car for the dash back down the mountain.

The spectacular scenery around Hsipaw

The spectacular scenery around Hsipaw

Your train will crawl across the viaduct which creaks alarmingly but the views are well worth a bit of stomach churning and if possible, do buy a tourist ticket so that you can ride on the soft seats.  If you do the ride the opposite way up from Mandalay you will have a very early start so far better to do the trip in my direction i.e. from Hsipaw to Pyin Oo Lwin.

Pyin Oo Lwin

I stayed at a lovely old hotel at Pyin Oo Lwin which felt like stepping back in history.  We expected a taxi from the train station to our hotel so imagine our surprise when the driver that we had negotiated our taxi ride outside the railway station led us over to a century old horse and carriage. (the carriage was over a hundred years old, not the horse).

After settling in to your hotel/hostel, borrow bicycles (If you stay at the Orchid Nan Myaning bikes are included) and head off to the traditional food night market where you can buy dinner on the go.  Just wander around the stalls and graze on anything that takes your fancy.  Hover and watch what the locals pay – but to be honest, very rarely did I come across any price-hiking for foreigners in Myanmar which is also a refreshing change.

Depending on how much time you have left on your trip to Burma you can cycle (or take a cab) to the huge Botanical Gardens and/or you may prefer to take a motor taxi to one of the two waterfalls that are in this area.  One waterfall is a hike away from where the bus or the taxi will drop you off, the other is easier to get to and has a market next to it where local strawberry jam, damson wine and hand knitted clothes are sold.

The Botanical Gardens at Pyin Oo Lwin

The Botanical Gardens at Pyin Oo Lwin

Where to stay in Pyin Oo Lwin

I stayed at the shabby chic Orchid Nan Myaning hotel on the outskirts of Pyin Oo Lwin.  With ultra-friendly staff and amazing grounds this hotel/hostel is the perfect way to wind down after your Myanmar trip, or it’s a great place to catch your breath before heading south. Click here for details and to book your stay in Pyin Oo Lwin

Wrapping up your trip to Myanmar

To end your trip, its a long night bus back to Yangon or take a shared car (or continue on the train) to Mandalay.

night market in Pyin Oo Lwin

night market in Pyin Oo Lwin

 

Note that the above route around Burma may be subject to change depending on the weather, the political situation or other elements outside of your control.

When I travel I like to eat local food and I use local tour guides where possible.  I prefer to stay in hostels so that I can meet people and while I was in Myanmar there wasn’t one day when I was lonely or alone.  I am going to revisit Burma in the first half of 2018 so if you would like to come along with me, drop me a message.  We will travel together staying mainly in hostels – the aim of the trip is to introduce you to Myanmar and also to the concept of backpacking and travelling on a budget.  Following many requests and emails I occasionally offer my readers the opportunity to travel with me depending on where I am in the world and my clients that I mentor in my life-coaching business sometimes join me too.

(If you would like to increase your self confidence or if you have issues with anxiety then travelling with me will also give you an insight into how I changed my mindset and how I learnt how to believe in myself again – Read more here – The Smash the Pumpkin Project).

And finally, if you have enjoyed reading this guide, or you have friends who are planning a trip to Myanmar, please share this article with them and/or pin this image

Peeping through the temple window

Peeping through the temple window

 

For your Myanmar travel guide book, click here:

 

Explore Singapore: top things to do in Singapore

Explore Singapore: top things to do in Singapore

Singapore sits on the bottom tip of the Malaysian Peninsular in South East Asia. It’s joined to the mainland by two bridges.  In this article I will tell you the top things do in Singapore and how to explore Singapore on a budget.

Yes, Singapore can be expensive, but it’s not necessarily as expensive as you might think.  There are ways to reduce costs and ways to see the main sites in the city without breaking the bank.

“This post contains affiliate links and/or references to our advertisers. We may receive compensation when you click on or make a purchase using these links.  Scarlet Jones Travels is a participant in the Amazon Services LLC Associates Program, an affiliate advertising program designed to provide a means for sites to earn advertising fees by advertising and linking to Amazon.com”

(Almost) Everything that you need to know about Singapore.

Singapore gained its independence in 1965 and it now has a reputation as one of the top financial and economic centres of the world.  According to Wikipedia Singapore was actually booted out of Malaysia when the Parliament of Malaysia voted 126-0 in favour of the expulsion on 9 August 1965 following race riots the previous year. On that day, a tearful Lee Kuan Yew announced on a televised press conference that Singapore was a sovereign, independent nation.

Singapore has the nickname ‘the fine city’.  This has a double meaning.  Fine – as in very nice and fine, and fine as in a penalty fee for an offence.  It is illegal and you can be fined for dropping litter, chewing gum in public or crossing the road outside a designated crossing place or against a red light, to name but a few things.  The government rules with a tight fist and there are harsh penalties for many misdemeanors.

City living in Singapore

City living in Singapore

However, the majority of the citizens are happy to accept the tight rules and regulations in return for a calm and ordered way of life.  In fact, each of the huge apartment buildings have to adhere to strict racial quotas – no more than a certain percentage of an ethnicity can occupy each building at any one time.  If you are of Chinese heritage and want to buy or rent in a particular location you have to wait until another Chinese family moves out and the same goes if you are Indian or Malay too.

Travelling to Singapore

I took one of Norwegian’s direct flights from London to Singapore.  It was a budget ‘no frills’ flight but because I wanted to check my backpack into the hold I paid a little bit extra which also bought me two airline meals, a snack and some drinks on board.

The plane was a Dreamliner which has larger than normal windows and ‘mood lighting’! The interior design gives the appearance of more space, the air system is definitely superior (no dry eyes or a cough for me) and I was thrilled to find that my neighbours were just as keen to talk as I was and they had interesting lives too.

I found my extremely cheap flight by searching on Skyscanner and booking through the link that they supplied – click here to search for the best deals or read more in the panel at the end of this post.

Sophie is a deputy head zoo keeper in the UK and her partner Marcus has more energy and enthusiasm than anybody that I have met for a long time so it will be great to follow their adventures around Malaysia and Singapore, and as a bonus I am hoping to get some useful tips from Sophie about visiting an ethical Orang Utang reserve for when I go to Malaysia.

Take a good guide book which will help you get around the city (Lonely Planet have some good deals and contain loads of information and maps) and sign up for Uber which is widely used.  I was hardly ever kept waiting but both the metro and the bus system are cheap and as you might expect, efficient too.



 

Divali or Deepvali – the Hindu festival of light

My friend Belinda who lives in Singapore and I went along to find out how the Hindu festival of light – Divali – is celebrated in Singapore.  Belinda and I first met when we were volunteering at the same NGO in Peru, and have subsequently met twice in Thailand and previously in Singapore.

First we ate lunch in a wonderful vegetarian restaurant called the Komala Vilas which is opposite the main temple.  We were surrounded by Indians; the ladies were wearing some fabulous saris because you should wear your most colourful clothes for Divali, and we ate the traditional way using just our right hand.

Hindu temple in Singapore

Hindu temple in Singapore

After our meal we crossed the road and after removing our shoes and washing our feet we joined hordes of people in the Sri Veeramakaliamman Temple where we walked slowly in a circular route around the various Hindu gods and goddesses.  We received an auspicious ash bindi from a couple who took the time to explain the various customs and then were bemused by another gentleman who wanted to give us a red bindi.  Indicating that we should hold out our hands, but slapping down my pro-offered left hand (I should have known better) he poured a little pile of red powder into our palms.  Confused Belinda and I looked at each other.  If we were not to use our left hands how could we dot our foreheads?  Another lady rescued us and tutting loudly and shaking her head she ‘dotted’ us before scurrying off.

The left hand is considered dirty in many cultures and should never be offered to anybody.  During our meal, both myself and Belinda actually sat on our left hands to remind ourselves not to use it.  No matter how much I practice I don’t think that I will ever get the hang of tearing up bread with just my right hand.  I have always wondered how somebody who is left handed copes – or are they simply forced to adapt from birth?  If you know the answer to this question, please let me know in the comments below.

Singapore – a green and sustainable city

Everywhere in Singapore you will see gardeners carefully tending the many green spaces.  Despite the skyscrapers and the modern buildings there is an awful lot of greenery (and water) around.

If you want to learn about how Singapore is doing its best to conserve energy and resources then you should visit the Gardens by the Bay.  Here, huge artificial supertrees loom high above the park, supporting amazing vertical gardens.  There are many sections to this huge park, entrance to most of it is free, and all sections are highly educational as well as just downright pretty.

Budget things to do in Singapore - go to a park

Budget things to do in Singapore – go to a park

I cycled from my friend’s home through parkland that runs alongside the seashore next to the beach to the Gardens by the Bay with views of literally hundreds of container ships and tankers anchored up and waiting to get in or leave the port.  I crossed the large barrage which was built to create a freshwater reservoir for the city and then I entered the huge parkland where sustainability and environmental protection is taught on entertaining information boards and displays.  Despite no hills, I was a soggy blog of sweat by the time that I finally got back home – the humidity in this city is intense – although as I was soon to discover, it was nothing compared to the heat in Melacca.

Explore Singapore: top things to do in Singapore

I began my Saturday by meeting a friend at the Merlion.  Singapore was named the ‘lion city’ after a Sumatran prince landed and claims to have seen a lion.  Singa is the word for lion in Malay and this iconic statue was the main symbol for the city before the amazing Marina Bay Sands Resort replaced it on all of the glossy brochures.

I drank tea with David in the beautiful building that is now the Fullerton Bay Hotel before heading off to Fort Canning Park.  This large hill overlooks Singapore and it was initially the place where the Malay royalty built their palaces, and later it was where Sir Stamford Raffles (the founder of modern day Singapore) chose to build his first home and a botanical garden.

Once the British colony was established, they built a fort and a military base and the two main buildings remain as a reminder of the grandeur that the officers would have lived in.

I visited the Battlebox (entrance costs S$18 and includes a guide) which is the underground bunker constructed in the 1930’s and from where the British Far East Command Headquarters ran operations during World War II.  The excellent tour was led by Aysha who explained the story of how and why the historic decision to surrender Singapore and its million citizens to the Japanese was made.

We walked through many of the underground rooms and learnt how the communications worked, the ventilation system and also much of the psychology behind the wartime planning.

There was a huge responsibility on the officers and their subsequent decision to surrender. As a result of this decision 80,000 British and Commonwealth soldiers were taken into captivity in horrific conditions and one million residents of Singapore were exposed to three years of terror and many were executed.

There is an amazing book by Eric Lomax that documents the life of one of these soldiers who was put first into Changi prison in Singapore and later transferred to Burma to work on the infamous ‘death railway’

You can order your own copy of The Railway Man at this Amazon link– and while I haven’t seen it, afilm has been made too.

I visited Hellfire Pass and Kanchanaburi when I was in Thailand.  This was an extremely moving place with an excellent museum showing how the Japanese forced their prisoners of war to build their railway so quickly – click here to be taken to that article

After emerging from the Battlebox I spent a very happy hour or so exploring the park and taking in the Spice Trail, part of the original cemetery and the various buildings that are dotted around, all in wonderful surroundings in this oasis above the city. www.battlebox.com.sg

As I wandered down the hill and back towards the city I passed through the massive concourse of the National Museum of Singapore and then I passed the Peranakan Museum.  I paused to ask how much the entrance fee was just as a guide was introducing himself to a group of visitors.  He was so engaging and so interesting I immediately bought a ticket so that I could tag along.  I wasn’t disappointed either as our guide took us to the best exhibits in the museum and explained much of the Peranakan culture (entrance cost me S$10 with a free guide thrown in).

The imposing National Museum of Singapore

The imposing National Museum of Singapore

Displays in the museum cover Peranakan life through their birth, marriages and death.  The culture is rich in colour and with beautiful ceremonies.  Peranakan means ‘child of’ or ‘born of’ and it refers to people of mixed ethnic origins in the Malay Peninsula.  The majority of these people were initially traders and business people who met and mixed through marriage and who have assimilated several cultures, be they Chinese, Malay or Indian.  Originally, the traders from China and India arrived in Malaysia on the trade winds but they had to stay awhile until the favourable winds could return them to their homeland.  Consequently many fell in love and married Malays and their descendents became known as Peranakan.

Singapore always confuses me so I was very pleased when our guide who was leaving the building as I did, offered to accompany me part of the way to my bus stop which was in the direction of his metro station.  Sadly I didn’t get his name but I would have loved to have talked some more with him because he was so passionate about his work.  I do know that he used to lecture in tourism and lives across the border in Malaysia…so if you do come across him, grab his tour.

Map of Singapore

 

Food and friends

I was very pleased to meet Faisal again whom I had met in a hostel in Porto, Portugal earlier this year.  We shared lunch (Malay food) in a mall and caught up with the gossip and Faisal told me some more about his business in Singapore – teaching both adults and children how to cycle.

I love to hear how entrepreneurs discover their niche and teaching children to cycle was quite alien to me.  In the UK, kids generally graduate to a small bike with stabilisers after their pedal tricycle and after spending a Sunday in the park with a parent or grandparent they are just left to their own devices to learn how to ride.  I remember vividly the day that I cracked my bike riding.  I had had the obligatory time being pushed around the garden by my father with no success and one day I took myself outside the house and determinedly rolled down the hill and around the corner over and over again until I worked out how to balance….and then I was away pedalling furiously.



The old dock areas

Much of the original docks have been transformed into areas with bars and restaurants and a whole area had given itself over to fish and seafood, and especially crab.

On my first visit to Singapore Belinda and I ate at one of these restaurants.  A big bowl of crab in a black pepper sauce was presented to us, together with a set of tools – nutcrackers, or should that be claw crackers and a hammer as well as an enormous bib.  We needed to wear the bib as by the end of the meal I was covered in crab goo.

Raffles and the Singapore Sling

I had always promised myself that I would have my first Singapore Sling cocktail in the bar where it was invented and so one evening we went along to the Long Bar in Raffles Hotel.  The main ingredients of gin, cointreau and pineapple juice all went down the hatch very well and at an exorbitant price but it had to be done and I have to say, that I did enjoy it.  The experience was made more special due to the surroundings – although the bar has been renovated it has been updated in keeping with its original style with teak floors and ceiling fans although I guess that the atmosphere would have been far more genteel than modern times with chattering tourists filling it up.

Skybars

For the very best sky bar you should head to the top of the Marina Bay Sands.  It is worth it here for the view alone.  Drink prices and service leave a lot to be desired but you can visit and leave again after taking a few photos without parting from any money from your wallet.

Summary of Singapore

There is no denying it, Singapore is not a cheap city but you can adapt it to your budget.  Alcohol is very pricy everywhere and food, even in the supermarkets generally costs a lot more than you would expect to pay in Europe. However, the hawker centres, food markets and smaller backstreet cafes and restaurants (such as the Komala Vilas) offer extremely reasonably priced and tasty food.

Transport links around the city are as good and efficient as you might expect and the bus drivers that I came across were all super-friendly.

I know that I am extremely lucky to have a wonderful friend Belinda who lives in the city and who invited me to stay with her, but there are many reasonably priced hostels and lots of AirBnB hosts that offer rooms or entire apartments (contact me if you would like a first time discount off an AirBnB stay)

Entrance to many of the main museums and attractions are not overpriced and you can get plenty of enjoyment from simply wandering around the (free) grounds at the Gardens by the Bay without paying the entrance fee for the domes or the skywalk.

Raffles once lived here in Singapore

Raffles once lived here in Singapore

Yes, Singapore is highly regulated, extremely clean and has none of the organised chaos of the rest of South East Asia but it is certainly worth a visit for at least a couple of days.

I didn’t get around to the interior, Sentai Island, the Botanical Gardens or the zoo so I shall simply have to return another time.

Getting great cheap flight deals and booking with Skyscanner

I LOVE the Skyscanner site.

It searches and compares flights between any destination that you want to travel and even those that you don’t yet know that you want to travel between.  Clicking on the link and booking via their site is nearly always the same as going to the airline direct and in many cases I have saved myself quite a bit of money.

The best thing is that you can enter vague search queries and the site will deliver almost every single variable possible: for example,

  1. a) Search from Hanoi to Bangkok any time during March
  2. b) Search from any airport in Vietnam to any airport in Thailand on a specific date or
  3. c) Search direct flights/cheapest options….or any variation of the above.

Back at the beginning of the year I wanted a week away in Europe.  I didn’t care where, but I knew that I had to fly from Barcelona.  So I searched flights from Barcelona to Anywhere during the whole of March and Porto came up top.  I had a return flight with very good departure times for £30. Bargain.

And as a bonus for me, if you book using any of the links to Skyscanner in this article or anywhere else on my website I will earn a teeny weeny bit of commission at no extra cost to you.  Bookmark this page/link and use the site (via Scarlet Jones Travels) for your next adventures.


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