3 Hidden Foodie Gems of Hanoi

Since I have already written about the street food in Hanoi and its coffee joints, I might as well add a third — of three miscellaneous eateries all worth a visit.

The first and my favourite is Kem Trang Tien (35 Trang Tien), the oldest ice cream shop in Hanoi, and still going strong. After a hair-raising cyclo ride, weaving a hair’s breath away from oncoming cars, Trang, our trusty guide, stopped us at this local institution for a treat.

Located near the Opera House and a short trot from the Sofitel Metropole Hotel, it has little aesthetics to speak of and plenty of empty, sometimes greasy, open space. Two counters inexplicably far apart stood in the corners of this odd looking shop, one selling ice cream lollies on a stick, and another soft serve ice cream on a cone.

Trang explained that the shop was designed so that customers could drive all the way into the shop and up to the counter on the scooters and motor bikes, and buy the ice cream without once having to get off their vehicles. Hence the weird empty spaces within. What’s surprising too is that the shop becomes especially busy in winter when people enjoy the ice cream the most.

Kem Trang Tien makes their own ice creams in local Vietnamese flavours and sells nothing but. The ice lollies were recommended over the soft serve. Forget the chocolate flavour and go for the taro or coconut, or better yet, the glutinous rice ice cream or the mung bean. The rice ice cream made use of newly harvest grains, which exuded a subtle, fresh, green flavour with a slight, pleasing stickiness to it; the mung bean was lovely too – softly nutty, subtle and aromatic. Really good.

Another local favourite is Xoi Yen (35 Nguyen Huu Huan), a perpetually busy coffee shop on a street corner that is festooned with a great tangle of overhead electric cables. There is no enticing facade to speak of; it is entirely dominated by a messy open kitchen from where xoi xeo, its famous dish of glutinous turmeric rice, mung beans and fried shallots is prepared.

You’ll find the locals eating at the low tables along the walkway, but there is seating upstairs too if you want a more leisurely meal. Little English is spoken here, so it’s best to have a local friend help you along. As for the food, simple as it sounds, it is very tasty; add on an order of chicken or pork if you are particularly hungry. Locals flock here for breakfast as well as a quick lunch, and is quite an institution.

The final recommendation on my list of three is Koto Restaurant (59 Van Mieu Street). This can be accused of being touristy, but it deserves mention for the cause it supports — it is a not-for-profit restaurant that acts as a hospitality school for disadvantaged young Vietnamese.

Located near the Temple of Literature, the four-storey restaurant was crowded with mainly expats and tourists, but enjoyed ourselves here, with good food and very decent, inexpensive cocktails. We ordered the Vietnamese set menu and had a veritable feast — the banana flower and chicken salad, spring rolls, banana leaf grilled fish, and sweet and sour clam soup with pineapples and tomatoes were memorable. We added an order of banh xeo as well (truly delightful), and a stream of decently done classic cocktails, including two glasses of most enjoyable margarita.

Walking Food Tour of Hanoi’s Old Quarter

Despite the organised chaos that prevails on its streets and walkways, Hanoi is a charming, fascinating, delightful city. I am constantly amazed by how you can cross the scooter-laden streets at a steady pace and the wall of vehicles bearing down on you — nevermind that you’re using the zebra crossing — will fan out like a swarm of swallows, then skirt and meander past you like a well-rehearsed dance, allowing you to reach the other side of the road with limbs and life intact. What’s more dangerous to me are the great vats of boiling soup stubbornly straddling the narrow walkways, with low stools and tables scattered nearby, threatening to trip you over if you so much as take your eyes off the pavement for a moment to snap a shot.

It was to these street side food stalls in the Old Quarter that we went to taste and explore on a recent trip to Hanoi. Our private tour with Hanoi Voyages included a walking food tour on our first night, led by our guide Trang Ta. It was a dizzy, three-hour trek to a number of food stalls and small restaurants – I have lost count – to taste various dishes. A plate here, and nibble there all came together nicely to form a very filling and stimulating feast.

Banh xeo, at restaurant Mr Bay Mien Tay

First, we popped in to Mr Bay Mien Tay (79 Hang Bac), a buzzy little restaurant well known among the locals for its excellent banh xeo. Cooked at the front as you order, it was a sizzling crisp-edged egg pancake filled with prawns and beansprouts, eaten with fresh herbs and rolled in rice paper.

A dessert stall next door caught our eye, run by this cheerful young lady. We bought some of her rice mochi balls filled with peanuts. Sounds quite familiar indeed, but it also carried a sprinkling of coconut shreds which is a little different to how we eat it back home.

Then it was on to another stop for salad. This eatery (38 Bat Dan Road) could do with a bit of a clean up, and touch of aesthetics; but the beef jerky salad with fish sauce dressing — the only thing on the menu — which they sold was really delectable. With the jerky, there were green papaya, cucumbers, carrots, coriander and mint, beansprouts, and some peanuts which gave light, bright flavours, and crunchy textures. According to Trang, people would drop into this eatery early in the evening for a pre-dinner salad before heading home or moving on to their dinner venue.

Then it was on to Countryside Restaurant (29 Bat Dan Road) for two unusual dishes. First, fried snakehead fish with dill, beansprouts, crisp fried onions which you had to assemble yourself, wrapping it in rice paper with coriander, mint and peanuts. The fish was just nicely cooked and moist, lifted by the aromatics, resulting in a complex marriage of flavours in each mouthful, and a delightful mix of textures. The other was a juicy, hearty dish of fried frogs legs served with peppery betel leaf. It was certainly not among the usual suspects in Vietnamese cuisine and absolutely more-ish.

Snakehead fish with dill and rice noodles at Countryside Restaurant

We were to move on to a famous pho shop (49 Bat Dan Road) down the same street but the queues were ridiculously long, snaking down the road. So Trang decided to give it a miss and move us on to other options which Hanoi’s Old Quarter offered. As an alternative, she brought us to another pho shop but unfortunately, it wasn’t that great.

Our last stop made a fine finale — a well loved hole-in-the-wall dessert stall (95 Hang Bac) run by a cheerful aunty. It was packed, but we managed to find some plastic stools, squeezed them into the nearest empty spot we could find – nevermind that it was right in the middle of the entrance way — and ordered up her icy specialties. Without a table, we ate our desserts off a metal tray which we perched on our laps.

The hole in the wall dessert shop

They are quite similar to what we have at home in Singapore, but yet a little different — such as a creme caramel with black glutinous rice (like our pulut hitam) which was quite good, but I’m no fan of creme caramel in general. Surprisingly, as unexciting as the black bean soup with coconut milk sounded, it was excellent. The soy ice cream with glutinous rice was also most enjoyable. That brought us to the end of the food tour. By the time we meandered back to our hotel, it was close to 11pm.

At this point, I must give a shout out for Hanoi Voyages (pronounced with French flair – “voy-A-es”) who organised our entire four-day private tour, of which this evening was only one part. The company is run by a young staff who are pretty intuitive about what we were looking for. Beyond just taking us to these places to eat, Trang, who spoke fluent English, also filled us in on the background about the different foods, and told us about the individual eateries’ histories, and local food and cafe culture. She was also great fun to be with. Best of all, Hanoi Voyages specialises only in private tours and pride themselves for bringing guests off the beaten track, which means that for some part of your tour at least, you will be assured of a more unique Hanoi experience.

(This trip was my own personal holiday, paid fully by myself. Recommendations here are not paid for, simply that we want to share the great finds.)

Visiting The Three Gorges Dam

If you have a thing for world’s first and engineering marvels then this is one trip that you would want to make this Summer, and have it ticked off the bucket list.

Architectural Model – Photo taken at the Three Gorges Dam Museum showing the 5 ship locks bringing a boat downstream into the main river

The Three Gorges Dam or the Sanxia Da Ba (三峡大坝) is the world’s largest hydroelectric dam created to both produce electricity and increase the Yangtze River’s shipping capacity as well as reduce downstream floods. A project that started construction in 1994, it was fully functioning from 2012 complete with five ship locks and fully completed with a ship lift in December 2015. See TEN interesting facts that you may want to note about the Dam project here before you book those tickets.

As for us, we were curious to see what a project that saw China relocating 1.24 million people in 2008 to achieve, costing them US$27.6 billion or RMB180 billion to construct-looked like in reality.

Getting there was easier than expected, there is a 3 hour train ride option from Shenzhen but we decided to fly domestic. So we took the train from Hong Kong to Shenzhen via Lo Wu. From there, boarded a 2 hour flight from Shenzhen’s Airport into Yichang.

A map of the tribal villages living along the Dam – at least 360 million people live here in the stretch from Yichang to Chongqing

Seeing the entire Dam and the expanse of land that is home to almost 360 million people is no mean feat and the most common way to fully appreciate it is to take a 4 to 6 day cruise and there are many cruise companies that arrange tours with English-speaking agents and guides.

With limited off days from school and work, we opted for the shortest way to see the Dam – via a Day Tour and got it arranged via the Crowne Plaza Hotel in Yichang (where we were staying). They recommended an English speaking tour guide, Christine who turned out to be a real gem. With a good command of English, knowledgeable, friendly and passionate about her job, she arranged a 2 day itinerary which included a day out on a tour boat down the Yangtze river and a second day out to see explore the Ba tribal village, one of the many small ancient villages that snake around the Yangtze.

Day 1

Saw us getting on to a tour boat that would take us on a leisurely cruise down part of the Yangtze to cross the ship lock of the Gezhouba Dam, go inside the Dam area, view the museum, have lunch, and then take a bus back to Yichang.

The Boat Tour – TIP: For better all around views – pay the extra 40RMB per person and sit on the top deck which is shaded with a canopy
Scenic views along the way

Entering a SHIP LOCK – think of it as an elevator of sorts but this SHIP LOCK allows the vessel to sail in and brings you 22 metres down stream in 20 mins (about the rate of 1 metre per minute). The ship is literally “locked” into the contained area that you see ahead to prevent the water from rushing in and then carried down stream.

CLOSE sesame! We are inside and the doors lock shut once the vessel is in. Water tight – our 20 minute journey via the ship lock brings us another 22m further downstream the Dam

You can’t fly over the Dam because of security issues and you need special military permission to do that – so a bird’s eye view of how the Dam operates and comes together is pretty much out of the question. Thus, a visit to the Dam museum to look at the model of it and how it all works and comes together is mandatory.

Day 2

We headed by bus to the catch another boat that would bring us to see the Ba Village, a  tribe of people who have lived in the region for centuries and in a village built by the banks of the Yangtze River. After which we would catch a bus to eat at the famous cliff side Weng Restaurant, one of the only 8 cliff restaurants in the world.

The boat moors at the Ba Village dock. We have travelled up stream to  visit the BA tribe to see how they live, explore local customs and experience the geography in the area.
The BA Tribe – a breathtaking ancient Kingdom built alongside the banks of the Yangtze
A river runs through the village ending in a stream and a waterfall at the heart of the village
The Coffin Caves were where the Ba Tribe buried their dead – Do you see two coffins in this shot?
Inside the village

Leaving the serenity of the Yangtze behind, we hopped on a tour bus back into Yichang city but not before stopping for dinner at the world-famous hanging Fang Weng Restaurant.

This restaurant is built into the side of a cliff – one of only 8 cliff restaurants in the world
The inside is a cavern that has been converted into a spacious dining room

The most famous dish there is a fish dish in milky soup where the fish has a distinct gelatinous texture. Look out for our detailed review later.

Total cost for the 2 day itinerary – 500 RMB per person (inclusive the boat and bus transport and minus a tip for the guide, the meals, an Uber or what China calls a “didi” back to the hotel). Definitely a great way to spend a long weekend.

(This trip was my own personal holiday, paid fully by myself. Recommendations here are not paid for, simply that we want to share the great finds.)

3 Fantastic Travels in Our Backyard

Savvy, seasoned travellers are beginning to realise that there’s much to discover in our backyard, and we don’t need to travel far to experience some of the most fascinating places in the world. Asia has its fair share of history, culture, scenic routes and off the beaten track gems of a find, and fabulous experiences. It’s all there waiting to be explored; just that over here, we probably need to poke around a bit more to get the information we need to plan our adventures.

Thankfully travel agencies are catching on to our increasing wanderlust and are offering some pretty off the beaten path experiences which allow us to really soak in the richness of the cultures around us.

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Eco-Excitement In Rural Vietnam
Done HCM City and Hanoi? Take a 4D/3N Northern Vietnam Off the Beaten Track trip (US$395 per person) and discover a little known part of rural Vietnam. Start off predictably in the Old Town and French Quarter of Hanoi first — it has loads of charm even if it is crawling with fellow tourists. Then be whisked off to the relatively new ecotourism destination of Ngoc Son Ngo Luong Nature Reserve several hours’ drive southeast of the city. The scenery here is touted to be a ‘fairyland’ with jungle-covered peaks, rice terraces, cascading waterfalls and tranquil rural settings. Accommodation is in traditional stilt houses, and meals are with resident minority ethnic Muong people. The itinerary includes Ninh Binh to see its lush green valleys and impressive karst cliffs (said to rival those of Halong Bay), being rowed through Tam Coc, known as the region’s most beautiful valley, then finish off your stay at an exclusive eco lodge to wind down.
www.sensasia.com

The Ultimate Bhutan Adventure
Another great trip in the bosom of Mother Nature is the 6-day Scenic Heli-Adventure in Bhutan with ultra-luxe accommodation in COMO Uma Paro (4 nights) and COMO Uma Punakha (2 nights). Expect to splash a whole lot of cash, but it is a once-in-a-lifetime experience. Bring good hiking boots for some walking through pine forests, valleys, past farms and rice paddies;  see temples (lots of!) and lakes, even try riding a yak, and keep an eye out for Himalayan wildlife like marmots and blue sheep. The main highlights are the two helicopter rides from one hotel to the other, taking you over Bhutan’s stunning scenery and a visit to the Taktsang or Tiger’s Nest Monastery — one of Bhutan’s most important pieces of architecture — which requires a two hour scenic hike. There’ll be plenty of down-time to relax in the two hotels too. It’s not cheap but it’s a once-in-a-lifetime experience, and it includes all the tours, meals, transfers, literally everything…including yoga and a spa treatment.
http://www.comohotels.com/uma/bhutan/rates-and-offers/dual-destination-itineraries/scenic-heli-adventure

Indigenous Flavours in Bali
So this is not really roughing it out but it is an elegant culinary adventure by luxury resort Alila Manggis in Bali. Limited to only one party a day — be it a couple or a family — guests who have arranged for it are transported to the home of Pak Gede, a resident of Tengenan, a pre-Hindu era village in East Bali, and home of the indigenous Bali Aga people, ” believed to be descendants of the aboriginal Balinese that existed long before the Hindu-Javanese Majapahit migrated to the island”. They get to dine at Pak Gede’s beautiful, museum-like  home with high walls and separate structures for kitchen, sleeping and living areas, etc. The meal is served at a bale on a low table. Comprising Bali Aga delicacies, the seven-dish meal is cooked by his wife on over a coconut husk fire pit, with the help of the butler and a chef from Alila Manggis. Wine and champagne adds to the enjoyment of this experience even if it is does veer far off from the traditional culture of the land. Meanwhile, you get serenaded by a Balinese musician playing the rindik, a traditional bamboo instrument. Pak Gede himself is quite the artist, and specialises in woodcarving, Balinese calendar and Sanskrit writing on palm leaves, and tableware crafted from pandan leaves. His wife creates Geringsing, too — a traditional woven textile made using a special weaving technique known as double ikat.
www.alilamoments.com/manggis/happenings

City Guide : Off The Beaten Track In Perth, Western Australia

I’ve been very quiet and off the grid this month and that’s because I have taken a month off to spend quality time with my sister and her family in Perth, Western Australia – enjoying the joy of the reverse seasons and the chill of Winter in July.

Whilst most people on holiday in Perth concentrate on exploring the city’s main shopping area, outlet shopping at Water Town, hitting the tables at the Crown Casino and eating at the many of the North Bridge and South Perth restaurants –  this trip for me was all about ‘Going Local’ i.e. experiencing how the locals live, making time to drive out to and exploring the areas that I normally would not have time to visit, if I had been on a short holiday.

First up, I rented a car at No Birds – probably the city’s cheapest car rental at A$33 a day  including a zero access insurance coverage.

TIP: If you plan to do the same, don’t forget your local driving license and bring along your GPS or else be prepared to rent one off the car rental company. You will also need to rent a car seat if you have toddlers with you.  As a back up, go get a local 30 day mobile plan with wifi so that you can use Google maps on your phone and you are good to go.

With car settled and a trusty GPS, I decided to fully explore places that I could actually drive to and park at for free or with very little hassle and here is where I headed to and I  I hope that it refreshes jaded perspectives, especially for those of you who have been there and done that ‘seen-the-city-already-thing’ in Perth.

HEAD TO THE BEACH

Cotteslow Beach – there are a couple of good beaches in Perth but I like Cotteslow as the  beach area has a jetty to walk out to and plenty of lovely beach front restaurants to try.

I ended up having lunch at the Cott & Co Fish Bar at the Cotteslow Beach Hotel. The food was worth the drive out for and complete with a glass of pinot grigio and a light sea breeze, there’s not much not to love about making the drive out.

A FULL DAY AT THE PARK

Whiteman Park – If you have kids with you, or just want a chill afternoon at a one-stop destination, Whiteman Park is the best place to head to for a whole day of entertainment.

Start with the Park’s main highlight – Caversham Wildlife Park. This is where you get to pet your cuddly Koalas, Kangaroos, Wombats and other small and cute critters and you can easily spend about 2 to 3 hours there.

After that, head for lunch at the Park’s Village Cafe and then go shopping at the Handicraft store or pick up some snacks at the Lolli Shop there. If you have the afternoon free, go explore the Tractor Museum, Motor Museum and Revolutions Transport Museum. There is a Heritage Tram and Vintage Train Rides to take for a small fee. Alternatively, grab the kids and head to the Woodland Reserve to explore the Children’s Forest. Feeling just plain lazy – just get a bottle of wine, some coffee and snacks and get ready to chill out on a mat and enjoy the great weather as you find a spot on the Park’s spacious Picnic Grounds.

INTO THE BUSH AND BEYOND

Serpentine Dam and Falls – this makes a truly scenic drive out to the Australian countryside. Find yourself in the Serpentine National Park area which is also home to a Dam, a Waterfall and several lush picnic grounds.

The area is a sanctuary for an array of plants, birds and animals (particularly kangaroos). Part of the Darling scarp, the park is stretched up the steep slopes of the Serpentine River valley, past a sheer face of granite polished smooth by the rushing waters.

We love the picnic area – come armed with proper bird feed and you will be surprised at the tame birds who will shyly but happily come around for a quick snack.

CHECK OUT A CHARMING SEASIDE TOWN

Fremantle – a lovely and charming seaside town with a great weekend market that is just about 20 mins from Perth city.  It reminded me of what Devonport is to Aucklanders. Walk around the Cappuccino Strip, head to the shops along the same strip, head to the markets or make a beeline for the water front. Alternatively a day at the playground in front of the Esplanade hotel (pictured below) or rent a bike to get around. Whatever you choose, a day in Freo as its fondly called is a leisurely and fun affair.

If its not the markets (pictured below) that you after, Fremantle is also one of the points that you can sail from (by chartered ferry) to Rottenest island and other various offshore attractions.

Then there are the great eateries – my recommendations Cicerellos for Beer Battered Fish and Chips, Little Creatures for drinks, bites and heavier meatier items amongst the many other choices that line the waterfront marina deck.

EXPLORE WINE COUNTRY

The Swan Valley – the area is just a 20 minute drive from the city and not just famous for its vineyards which offer free tastings but also factories and retail shops for Chocolate, Cheese, Nougat and Honey.

As far as eateries and vineyards go, Mandoon Estate is probably the easiest stop for a quality vineyard and restaurant.

Otherwise drive along and explore and stop for a drink and nibble at the many independent vineyards along the stretch of the Swan! Download the food, wine and attractions trail map HERE

THE JOY OF FOOD SHOPPING 

Food Shopping – if you are the type of traveler like me who is inspired by food and loves carting back loads of delicious eats then you have to check out these mega-marts that offer great discounts.

I headed to Spudshed, the Liquorshed and Aldi, three new finds for me that had amazing deals and variety in terms of fresh produce, gluten free food options and price-friendly food gifts that I could bring home to friends and family.

Day Trip to Kaiping Diaolou, in Guangzhou – UNESCO World Heritage

Elaine said I had been ticking off UNESCO Heritage Sites on my travels over the last few years. I never thought of it that way, but I guess it is true. Historic sites are one of the main things we look for in a holiday destination. Sometimes, it is THE thing that brings us travelling there. Recently, we went to Guangdong province, specifically to Kaiping to see another two world heritage sites: the Kaiping diaolou and Chikan Old Town.

 We made our way there from Macau, crossing the land border early in the morning to Zhuhai for the day trip to Kaiping. At the Gongbei border crossing, we met up with our guide Jennifer, who had arranged a car with a driver, Mr Leong. We made the two-plus hour drive to Kaiping, mostly on highways, with a few traffic jams along the way, especially where there were toll booths.

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Dotted throughout Kaiping’s flat landscape are over 1000 diaolou, many built over a century ago by Chinese who made their fortunes working overseas and who had returned home. These odd tower-like buildings are essentially small fortresses designed to protect villagers from marauding bandits that used to roam the countryside. Their straight sheer walls, metal windows and grilled balconies kept intruders out. Some were homes while others were for communal use.

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But the most distinctive thing about these diaolou are the architecture they sport — presenting European and even Middle Eastern designs, from Grecian columns and embellished arches to turrets and minarets. The returning Chinese who had seen them in the countries they travelled to, or saw in postcards, copied them for the diaolou.

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They are scattered across the various villages, but with limited time, we focused on Zili Village, which had a large cluster of them. The village was a tranquil picturesque one, still inhabited but also had the facilities of a tourist site — a boardwalk that brought you across the pond to the village itself, little souvenir stalls, even a couple of restaurants. Being low season, we had the run of the place but it was incredibly hot. Most of the diaolou were empty and locked, but there were two that were open for visitors. They were once private residences; now, the period furniture, old family photos and other bits and bobs have been preserved there to show you how life was like. The diaolou had odd stairs, cubby holes and storage spaces. From the upper windows, you could see across the flat land into the distance, which made them great look outs for approaching undesirables.

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In this rural countryside, lunch was wherever you could find a decently clean restaurant. We went to Fang Guang restaurant (Sheng Ping Village, Tangkou Town) which Jennifer our guide had scouted out earlier. There was no decor or aesthetics, but it was air-conditioned and the food was good. Dishes included Sheng Yu (Toman Fish) rolled with ham and yellow chives and pan fried; braised goose, a local speciality, kangkong stir fried and a soup. With rice and drinks the price came up to just about S$35. The ‘facilities’ here were simple but clean. Use it before moving on ‘cos you never know when you’ll find decent amenities again along the way.

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Then we headed to Chikan Old Town, the other UNESCO site. It is an atmospheric, brooding, gorgeously crumbling town by the river that once was clearly a wealthy community. The rows and rows of shophouses there were huge – about twice the size of Singapore’s typical shophouses — double height on the ground floor, and very broad. The town has become a popular location for filming movies, there’s even a movie studio on one end of the town. Along the river are souvenir stalls selling herbs, the local speciality of dried fish and Cantonese pastries. They are interesting, but sadly block the best view of the town.

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Behind that first row are another three streets of equally dilapidated buildings. Most things are falling apart, warped, flaking off, or completely broken but people still live in them, surprisingly. Overhead you’ll occasionally spot a nicely restored balcony (they can’t renovate it) amid the almost-ruins, some waxed pork belly being air dried, or a huge monstera plant climbing up the front walls.

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Round the corner, the street market is the only busy part of the town — everyone seems to have clustered there, speaking Sze Yup, the dialect of that area. You’ll see live catfish and frogs, vegetables, meat, and sadly, even dogs. We skirted around those stalls as we didn’t want to see.

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At this time, we settled down at the only modern cafe along the river called Miss Guan for a beer. It is also a modern boutique hotel, if you ever want to stay a night. Miss Guan makes a reference to one of the more powerful clans that used to preside over Chikan’s community ages ago. In the vicinity, the Guan Clan Library still stands, and there is a Guan Clan temple somewhere nearby too, but we didn’t get to see them . The other powerful clan there was the Si-Hoe Clan who had a library there too, but I didn’t get to see it. By the time we crossed back into Macau, it was just past 9pm — in time for a late dinner at Dom Galo Restaurant, on Elaine’s recommendation.

This is worth a day trip if you are in Macau, particularly if you are Cantonese as this is where all the Cantonese overseas Chinese came from — the Pearl River Delta.
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Getting There:

This was a long day-trip. We left the hotel at 7.30am so that we could make the border crossing on time to meet our guide at 8.30am. We got back to the border around 9pm.  The private guide and car cost us 2160 RMB, or about S$450. If you do want to make the trip, I highly recommend Jennifer Choi (http://www.synotrip.com/jennychoiman) who was fun, chirpy and reliable. We had to wire a deposit to her before the trip, after which, most of our communication was done over watsapp, which made things very easy.

3 Weekend Escapes For A Fresh Look At Asia

If you’re looking for a new place to go for a weekend escape, away from the usual resorts and destinations that everyone else heads to, pen these three new holidays down on your to-do list.Angkor Collage#1. A Private Pre-Dawn Tour of Angkor Wat
Angkor Wat is not exactly off the beaten track, but Anantara Angkor Resort gets you a unique view of the UNESCO Heritage temple like no other. Its Breakfast at Angkor Tour gets you special access into this stunning 9th century temple complex way before other tourists do. Start off at 4.30am from the hotel via private car or tuk-tuk for a local experience.

When you get there, a guide will escort you with flashlight in hand, into the temple grounds via a “secret back entrance” when it’s still dark. With no other tourist inside and before the sun is up, you can imagine what a mesmerizing experience that promises to be! The tour ends at the front of the temple when the sun rises — a great photo op — and the tourist hoards start streaming in. That’s when you head for your private breakfast in one of the more secluded temples nearby. There, you’ll be greeted by a personal butler waiting to serve a continental breakfast of pastries and fruits, while the guide tells you more about Siem Riep’s history and its surrounds. After breakfast, explore more temple ruins then head back to the resort. To get onto this tour, you’ll have to be a guest of the Anantara Angkor Resort of course. The tour is priced from about S$155++ and includes the English speaking guide, breakfast, a one-day ticket to the Angkor Archaeological Park and transport to and from the site.
http://angkor.anantara.com/

Alila Anji Collage

#2. Immerse in the Landscape of ‘Crouching Tiger Hidden Dragon’
Immerse yourself in the setting of ‘Crouching Tiger Hidden Dragon’ in Alila Anji, the luxury resort chain Alila’s first resort in China. This new resort will open 1 June. Located in Zhejiang province in China’s first national ‘ecological county’ — which promises pristine and sustainable environment — the resort is set in the hills overlooking a lake. Designed to resemble a traditional Chinese village, Alila Anji has only 74 rooms and villas, but is also family friendly, with a kids’ club to boot.

What do you do here? Visit the Anji Grand National Bamboo Forest where ‘Crouching Tiger Hidden Dragon’ was filmed, visit The Lingfeng Temple dating back to AD907, spend a day at a farm house to gather local produce and enjoy a farm-to-table culinary experience, or go tea picking followed by a picnic lunch in the plantation. Kids get to see Hello Kitty Land too, and adventurers can go white water rafting. The resort also has a spa to bliss out in and if you’ve got a special occasion to celebrate, the hotel can arrange a special dining experience like dinner in the bamboo forest or by the lake jetty just for two. Nice.

The hotel is offering a special rate starting from about S$430 per night (minimum 2 nights’ stay) which gives you accommodation in the Lakeview room, daily breakfast, and one of four tour/curated experience inclusive of lunch and dinner. These four WKND Experiences include some of the activities mentioned above. This package — a very good deal by Alila’s regular pricing — is available for those booking from now until 31 August, for stays between 1 June to 31 Dec 2016.
http://www.alilahotels.com/anji

Dhara Dhevi Collage - Copy

#3. Padi Farming and Thai Culture for the Family
If you’re thinking of a family getaway, the luxury resort Dhara Dhevi Chiang Mai offers a culturally rich weekend away. The highlight is a rice planting session for the family where you don traditional farmers’ clothing, hitch a ride to the rice paddies on the resident buffalo, learn about how to plant rice, and put the newfound knowledge into practice. Don’t worry, it’s just about an hour’s session, so you’re not put to much labour. But the kids will come back hopefully with newfound appreciation for the back breaking efforts by farmers who get the rice onto their dinner plates.

There’s also the craft village where you can try out basket weaving, traditional rice pounding, paper cutting and northern Thai music, cooking classes at the Dhara Dhevi Culinary Academy, and walking tours. There’s also plenty going on at the kid’s club to keep youngsters busy. Set in a century-old traditional Thai teakwood house, the club’s plethora of activities get kids experiencing the culture of Northern Thailand, such as Thai dancing, the Thai language, fan and umbrella painting, Sa paper and Lanna style flag making, even yoga and Thai boxing. The resort is offering a 4D/3N Family Getaway Package (about S$2,260++ from 1 May to 30 Sep 2016) including daily breakfast for 2 adults and 2 kids, a Thai set dinner for 2 adults and 2 kids at Le Grand Lanna, 60-minute spa session, Thai boxing or dance class for kids and a private rice planting class for the family.

http://www.dharadhevi.com/