Lonely Planet's Best in Travel 2011

The best trends, destinations, journeys and experiences for the upcoming year.  That was what the Lonely Planet's Best in Travel 2011 was all about. Flipping through the pages brought out the wanderlust in me (not that it wasn't already there before). It inspires me to visit more places this year and put more places into my travel wish list.

There are some places that I had been in the last few of years...
  • Japan - Top 10 Countries
  • Cappadocia, Turkey - Top 10 Regions
  • New York City - Top 10 Cities
and a couple of places that I am planning to go this year...
  • Italy - Top 10 Countries
  • Chiang Mai - Top 10 Cities
and many more that I would love to go one day. 

In the list of top 10 best things to do in 2011 was "write a postcard". In this day and age, writing with a pen on a postcard with stamp is fast becoming a lost art. I would like to do more of this, although the last time I sent postcards (from Turkey), only 2 out of the 6 postcards I sent out actually reached the intended recipients!

Here are some of the lists to bring out the wanderlust in you!
Hope that this will inspire you to travel more and see more of the world!

{ Here are the places I've been and books I've read }

Postcard from... the Brooklyn Bridge

{ Brooklyn Bridge, New York City in October 2008 }

It has been a couple of years when I walked across the Brooklyn Bridge, but I could still remember it pretty well. The sun was shining brightly and the walk was uneventful, but the mere thought that I was in New York City walking on the Brooklyn Bridge raised my spirit. I couldn't help thinking that I was actually walking on a bridge that has been used for more than a hundred years in a city right across the globe from where I was from.

Can't wait to be back in New York! 
- nateniale -

{ Click here for a list of my travelogues }


Every dreamer knows that it is entirely possible to be homesick for a place you've never been to, perhaps more homesick than for familiar ground.
- Judith Thurman

{ Photo is from Etsy }

Three days of relaxation in Bintan

"Another suburb in Singapore" - That is what they call Bintan Resorts which is a section in Bintan Island in Indonesia. That was one of the reason why I had been reluctant to go to Bintan after more than 5 years in Singapore, although it was just a 45-minute ferry ride away. When we suddenly found ourselves free one of the weekends in between many hectic weeks, we decided to plan a 3-day getaway in Bintan. (Well, it was mainly because all the flights to elsewhere were expensive at such short notice!)

There are various resorts to choose from in Bintan, but we decided to go for Nirwana Gardens and spent three days of doing nothing! We walked around the beach, had long coffee breaks in between, and lie down by the swimming pool reading under the sun.

There were flowers and greenery throughout the resort, and even a small area with various exotic animals. Apparently, the animals were confiscated by the custom. For those looking for more things to do, there are sea sports, elephant rides, archery, buggy ride, and lots more.

Being so close to Singapore, and with Singaporeans being the main visitor, everything was quoted in Singapore dollars. We did not even need any Rupiah during our 3 days there. We were surrounded by Singaporeans, and it did not feel like we were in another country! So, would I go there again? If I ever find myself a weekend free that I need a break from the city, I guess I would.

Postcard from... the Blue Mosque

The Blue Mosque in Istanbul, Turkey

Although being from a predominantly Muslim country, I had never stepped inside a mosque. The Blue Mosque in Istanbul, Turkey was the first time I had ever been in one. I did not know what to expect, but seeing that there were so many tourists queuing up in the rain, I expected it to be just another tourist spot.

Once I stepped in, I could see the huge space inside the mosque. Visitors are only allowed to be in one small section as the remaining area are for prayers. The second thing I noted was the amazing carpet. As we had to take off our shoes, I could feel the softness of the carpet under my feet. After walking around for a moment, we decided to sit down on the amazing carpet and absorb everything in.

Be it a Buddhist temple, a Christian church or a Muslim mosque, I love the energy and the warmness that are accumulated from all the prayers. And I love how, after more than 400 years, the Blue Mosque is still being used on a daily basis for prayers.

love and peace,
- nateniale -

Postcard from... Penang

Penang's Traditional Joss Stick Maker

Next to the oldest temple in Penang, the Goddess of Mercy (or Kuan Yin) Temple, resides Mr Lee, a traditional joss stick maker. He makes joss sticks by hand, which is a disappearing craft as most joss sticks are now machine-made. Penang's status as a UNESCO's World Heritage Site would not mean as much without people like him and that's what I love about my hometown. No matter how long I have been away, there are things that still remained the same after all these years.

missing home,
- nateniale -

Buddhism and French food in Vientiane

Vientiane, Laos - August 2010 }

If you read my post on my exciting and adventurous journey to and from Vientiane, you would come to the conclusion that Vientiane is unexciting and unadventurous. And, you would be right. I read this quote somewhere that says, “The Vietnamese plant the rice, the Cambodians watch it grow and the Lao listen to it grow". Having been to all three countries, I would agree with the analogy.

Well, maybe I do not have the full picture of Laos since I was only in the capital Vientiane, but it was a holiday in a city that we soon realised, we did not have enough activities to fill the three and a half days that we were there. And so, we took it slow, covering a few places each day, taking our time during meals and having lots of coffee breaks in between. Here are some of the places we went in Vientiane.

At the northeasatern end of the LaneXang Ave. arises a huge structure resembling the Arc de Triomphe. It is the Patuxay or Victory Gate of Vientiane, built in 1962 (B.E 2505), but never complete due to the country's turbulent history. From a closer distance, it appears even less impressive, like a monster of concrete. Nowadays this place is used as leisure ground for the people of Vientiane and the seventh floor on top of the building serves as excellent view point over the city.

That was not extracted from a guide book, but rather, on a wall of the concrete block. Talk about self promotion! However, the description was close to the truth. It was badly maintained, and climbing up to the upper floor, there were stalls selling dust-filled souvenirs. The locals may thought otherwise, as lots of them hang out around the area, including young monks.

Pha That Luang
I couldn't find any words to describe this but "golden shiny stupa". The Buddhist stupa was probably the best looking structure in the whole of Vientiane, and one of the most important national monument in Laos.

Haw Pha Kaeo
It used to be a temple, and is now a museum of some sort, storing many Buddhist statues and sculptures. There was also one plain jar from Plain of Jars in the garden outside. The jar looked normal sitting there by itself, but I tried to imagine what it would look like having jars like this all around the garden. Now, that would just be weird.

Wat Si Saket
One of the oldest temple in Vientiane, it stored 10,000 over Buddha statues, big and small all around the main compound. It was in need of a restoration and funds to upkeep the place. The roof was being repaired when we were there, and I hope that they would start to restore the whole temple before it came tumbling down.

Xieng Khuan / Buddha Park
We knew that the Buddha Park was pretty far from the town and so, we took a tuk-tuk. It was a bumpy dusty one hour ride to the park. It was an experience that I could have easily passed. Somehow, there were no taxis on the street else we would, and should, have flagged one down.

There were many statues in the park - some nice looking, some interesting and some scary ones too. It was a pretty bizarre experience. Even after reading up more about the park, I am still not sure what the point of the park is! The two main sculptures are the large sleeping Buddha and a big pumpkin-shaped concrete. We climbed up to the upper level for a view of the park (which was where the photo below was taken).

That Dam / Black Stupa
A black block of bricks with overgrown grass being used as a roundabout. That's my observation of a stupa that has many legends and mystery behind it - from it being covered in gold once upon a time to being inhabited by a seven-headed dragon.

Food in Vientiane
Tried some local food in Restaurant Kua Lao on the first night that we arrived, but unfortunately, the food left much to be desired. Maybe it was because I expected it to be similar to Thai food since it was so close to Thailand. So we spent the rest of our stay in Vientiane having French food in French restaurants opened by French! There were a few around but our favourite was Le Provencal which we went a few times. There were also some bakery and cafe around.

As a capital city, Vientiane was extremely laid-back and slow-paced. It is a good place to just relax and chill, and if you do not expect much, I am sure that it has a potential to surprise you. My next visit to Laos would be to the UNESCO's World Heritage Site, Luang Prabang.

Pompeii: A Roman town frozen in time

"... they are human beings seen in their agony. This is not art, it is not imitation;
these are their bones, the remains of their flesh and their clothes mixed with plaster,
it is the sadness of death that characterises body and form. I see their wretchedness.
I hear their cries as they call to their mothers, and I see them fall and writhe..."
Luigi Settembrini (1813-76)

The haunting words described the emotions and struggles of the Pompeiians that had been frozen in time since 24 August 79 AD when Mount Vesuvius erupted and buried the city of Pompeii. The plaster casts of the victims of the volcanic eruption evoke a sense of helplessness, and it seemed appropriate that we shared some thoughts for the victims that died almost 2,000 years ago - for the volcanic eruption that buried their city, their homes and themselves provided a snapshot of Roman life in the first century.

The National Museum of Singapore presents a special exhibition, Pompeii: Life In a Roman Town 79CE, from 16 October 2010 to 23 January 2011. It provided an introduction to the fateful day of the volcanic eruption through a 3D short film. Thereafter, a section of the exhibition showed the economy and activities in the town.

What struck me was that after 2,000 years, we really have not changed that much. We still keep our wine in barrels, we gamble with dice, we use coins and scales, and stamp our names to promote ourselves and our businesses. Well, the only difference is that they have gladiators who engaged in dangerous combats to entertain audiences! There was a full gladiator gear in the exhibition. Then again, we send our armies to fight unnecessary wars, gearing them up with all the protection and weapons. But, I digress.

And of course, what would an exhibition of a Roman town be without statues - big and small? There were many - from small statues made of metals to marble-carved statues.

There were apparently many luxurious villas in the town, and many of them were adorned with frescoes, some of which were shown in the exhibition. Reading more about town after the exhibition, I read that there were also some erotic frescoes and items with sexual themes. When the King of Naples saw the exhibition in the 1800s, he ordered the items to be kept in a Secret Cabinet in the Naples Museum. Only gentlemen of certain classes are allowed to view the items for an additional fee. Of course, no women and children are allowed.

There was also a mosaic fountain that was once part of a garden. Together with the marble statues, I am sure that the gardens must have been breathtaking during those days. Many of the buildings in Pompeii are still intact, so it is not surprising that Pompeii was added into the UNESCO's World Heritage Site.

The exhibition inspires me to visit Pompeii one day. Just visualise - walking on the cobble stone street the Romans walked on 2000 years ago and imagine how life was like for them then. When I was in Ephesus, the town blew me away and I simply love the idea that I was at the very same place where the Romans used to live their everyday lives. Well, me and the thousands of tourists that visit the area every day, but I can just erase them from my imagination.

In the meantime, let me continue dreaming and planning my trip to Italy.

Of travelling and travel writing


A new year is always a time when one reflects and considers what has been achieved the year before and what one aims to achieve the next year. I did a reflection of my year in travel and the places I wish to go this year. So, here's another challenge for myself this year: to increase the number of readers to my blog!

It started off about one and a half year ago as a place for me to jot down my thoughts, especially on my travels. I have started countless journals over the years, and was never organised or disciplined enough to continue. I figured, if I put everything on a website, I would have all of them in the same place. One and a half years and 85 posts later, I wished to put my blog "out there" (so to speak) for all to read and see. With just one problem - I have no idea where to start! Well, I did manage to get into Lonely Planet's Featured Blogger program, so that's a start.

So, when I read about this 1000-1000 Blog Challenge, I decided to put myself up for the challenge. The idea is to build the blog up to 1000 visitors per day and to earn US$1000 per month. I would be happy to increase my readership, and the money would be great to fund my travel! Still not quite sure how I'll achieve that, but let's take it one step at a time, ya?

So, here's to a great year of travel and travel writing!

{ Photo from We Heart It }

A year in reflection, and another in anticipation


2010: In Reflection

The list of the places I went in 2010 is, unfortunately, quite short. Due to work, I was unable to travel as much as I want this year. Most of them were also short weekend trips around Singapore, and all were in and around Asia. 
The highlight of my travel in 2010 would be Japan - the country that I have heard so much of, and finally had a chance to see. Simply love all the contradictions and juxtapositions in the country.

There had also been lots of beach holidays, which is weird for someone who doesn't like water! Well, goes to show that I needed lots of breaks where I can relax in 2010.

2011: In Anticipation

Promised myself a year full of travels for 2011! Here are some holidays that I am planning and (finger-crossed) that I am going...
  • Italy - For at least two weeks, covering Venice, Florence and Rome, among others
  • Taiwan - Probably choose a few main cities to visit, and not do the full island loop that most people do
  • Hong Kong and Macau - Still can't believe I haven't made my way to Hong Kong yet! I have always managed to postpone or changed the holiday to elsewhere! Not much of a city girl, I guess! So, maybe a short trip to Hong Kong just to tick it off my list, but I think I would prefer Macau to Hong Kong.
  • Kota Kinabalu and Sandakan, Malaysia - More excited about Sandakan than Kota Kinabalu. Want to visit the Orang Utans and turtles in Sandakan (Orang Utan sanctuary and Turtle Island). Not sure about climbing Mount Kinabalu, though!
  • Singapore - Likewise for Singapore. There are places that I have yet to go, like Universal Studios and Night Safari. Wonder if there are any nooks and crannies to explore in Singapore?
Other places that I am thinking of are Chiang Mai in Thailand and Myanmar (but not sure if it is safe to go). How about visiting the great pyramids in Egypt? And would it be too much if I plan another trip to Europe, covering London and Paris, or even Germany?

I'm even thinking of taking half a year off (or maybe 3 months?) just to travel around Europe! But haven't had the courage to really put that in motion.

Well, let's hope that 2011 brings lots of opportunities for me to travel (and have to be more disciplined to write about them)!

{ Photo is from We Heart It

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