Friday, June 24, 2016

useum Affandi.jpg

(Museum Affandi in Yogyakarta. Image via

One of the best ways to discover a foreign culture and its heritage is through its art. While we love escaping to a little peace and tranquility in an effort to offset the daily 9 to 5, immersing ourselves within a city’s arts scene is also a great way to reawaken the senses and get our creative juices flowing. Art surrounds us regardless of where we are - from grand masterpieces to nondescript scratchings on a wall - and here in Southeast Asia, artistic communities are coming together stronger than ever to mould a flourishing landscape of vibrant and fearless forms of expression.

Art exploration is especially great for travellers on a shoestring budget; a good number of these places can be explored by foot and have a variety of affordable accommodations that can be booked online with additional savings through sites like Saleduck. Public transport is accessible and mouth-watering street food is also aplenty.
So without further ado, here are five cities in Southeast Asia that you should definitely visit if you’re looking to get a little inspired during your travels.

Chiangmai, Thailand
Chiang Mai is not so much targeted by those who journey to the land of smiles for its cheap alcohol, spirited nightlife and exotic islands. However, this gem of a city is the perfect place for those looking to lose themselves in a wonderland of offbeat creativity - it's often dubbed as Thailand’s art capital. Peek through the windows of quaint shops and dine in the quirkily decorated cafes that dot the trendy Nimmanhemin Road. Visit the galleries and independent spaces bearing the works of local and international artists. The tone here is modern, experimental and eternally evolving. Stop by C.A.P studio, Gallery SeeScape and Vichit Studio to acquaint yourself with the local community.

eescape gallery.jpg
(SeeScape Gallery, image via

Yogyakarta, Indonesia
While it is world renowned for its traditional art forms such as shadow puppets, batik and intricate silverwares, today’s Jogjakarta is is also a melting pot of alternative art spaces. The vibe is a little more DIY and raw in comparison to Chiang Mai, but the diversity of artists that come together makes it a great place to discover Indonesia’s thriving modern art scene. Most of the galleries are concentrated on Jalan Prawirotaman, Tirtodipuran and and Jalan Panjaitan - all within walking distance from one another - and boast informal, open-concept spaces with communal studios and artistic residencies. The Cemeti Art House is a pioneering hub that hosts regular showcases and installations ranging from political photography to sculptural works.
emeti art house.jpg
(Cemeti Art House, image via

Battambang, Cambodia
Nestled amidst the sleepy city of Battambang is a spirited arts scene that transcends traditional media. Think poetry recitals, film screenings, culinary classes, digital exhibitions, visual installations and plenty more. What is most appealing about Battambang’s creative topography is its distinct familial quality. Painters, graphic designers, writers all come together in the most earnest of efforts to perfect and share their craft within a self-sustaining community that gives back to the city. Start your tour of the city at Sangker - a converted shophouse that focuses on collaborative works between local and international artists - and then head over to Kinyei cafe to recharge over a cup of coffee. Sammaki Gallery displays work by emerging young artists and also organises art workshops on the regular. If you need to unwind when the sun sets, Lotus Bar and Gallery is a great place to catch a live show or film over a drink and a light meal.

eorgetown penang mural.jpg
(mural in Georgetown Penang, image via
Georgetown, Penang, Malaysia
The walls of the colonial-style buildings that decorate the streets of Georgetown, Penang, tell an abundance of stories. This is partly due to the history that surrounds them but also the murals that adorn their exterior. Depicting the humorous, sometimes heartbreaking, fascinating lives of its people, these paintings - which come courtesy of artists such as Lithuanian-born Ernest Zacharevic and Despond Yeo - are just part of what makes Georgetown such a fascinating hub for the arts in Malaysia. This UNESCO world heritage site s also home to a variety of art collectives and refurbished shop lots that have been converted into galleries, cafes, knick-knack shops and event venues. Visitors can participate in a variety of free walking tours of the city to really get a feel of how Penang’s past and present collide in the most harmonious of ways.

Hanoi, Vietnam
Due to the remnants of its authoritarian political framework, Vietnam is not a country that one would easily associate with the expressive nature of contemporary art. However, its emerging cultural scene is as dynamic as it is fascinating and Hanoi is the perfect place to dip your toes into the pool of Vietnam’s most promising creative talents. Start at the National Museum of Fine Arts to get a taste of its traditional folk art. The Goethe Institut and l’Institut Français de Hanoï is a great place to check out programs that encourage cultural exchange and interactions - language courses, lectures, visual exhibitions and performance arts are just some of the activities included in its repertoire.  Manzi Cafe and Art Space is another strong influencer and often displays work by Vietnam’s most interesting artists. For an experience that is a little more visceral, DOCLAB is a brilliant venue that showcases video art and documentary screenings regularly.

This article was contributed by Saleduck

Thursday, June 23, 2016

The Great Singapore Sale (GSS) is here! All that intense shopping is hard work though, and hard work makes you hungry! But check out HungryGoWhere's Orchard Dining Delights: exclusive dining deals you get by booking on their website/app or phone concierge (6884-6884).

HungryGoWhere GSS Orchard Dining Delights
3 June to 14 August 2016

You can expect 1 for 1 main courses and draft beer, free truffle fries, 4th diner dines free promos and up to 50% discounts on international buffets, brunch, premium yakiniku, Mexican, European, Australian, Peranakan and Spanish cuisines. We visited three outlets to see what's on offer.

Ito-Kacho Fine Yakiniku

333A Orchard Road #04-08/09/10 Mandarin Gallery, Singapore 238897

If you love a good wagyu BBQ, Ito-Kacho is one of the best places for yakiniku. The wagyu is from Kagoshima, and it's chilled, not frozen. Every bite is such a divine treat.

The promo here is 20% off total bill with a minimum spend of $100 (here's the direct link to the reservations page with full terms and conditions).

Here are some of the highlights:
- Wagyu Toku-Jo-Bara (S$69++)
- Wagyu Ribeye (S$90++) *not on the regular menu; subject to availability
- Kainomi (S$29++): my favourite!
- Kurobuta Karubi (S$19++)
- Tsubo-Zuke Kurobuta (S$19++)


Side dishes to complement the meats:
- Ito-Kacho Salad ($9.90++)
- Dashimak Tamago ($6.80++)
- Kimchi Moriawase ($9.90++, not pictured here)
- Ishiyaki Bibimbap ($15++)
- Ishiyaki Sundubu-Chige Soup ($15++)

Milagro Spanish Restaurant

181 Orchard Rd #08-06/07 Orchard Central, Singapore 238896

Milagro is a bit of a hidden find, tucked upstairs in Orchard Central. I was pleasantly surprised by the food. They are offering:

a) 20% off Paella from Sunday to Thursday

b) 1-for-1 Main Courses from Monday to Friday; lunch only


The Paella:

- Arros Negre (Squid ink rice with prawns, clams, squid, scallions and a splash of cognac; $49 for mini, $79 for standard size): we really liked this one. It's got all the umami from the seafood beautifully infused into the rice.

- Paella Valenciana (classic paella featuring chicken, French beans, saffron and spices; $38 for mini, $59 for standard size): the regular paella is ok but pales a little in comparison to the squid ink version.


The Mains:

- Hickory-smoked Salmon ($23++): the salmon is done perfectly, still moist and tender inside. The foam is what lends it an ethereal hickory smokiness. In this case, it isn't a gimmick but it works. And what a fabulous 1 for 1 deal this is!


- Braised Beef Cheeks ($23++): Generous chunks of tender beef in a rich stew. It's easy to like, but the salmon was what blew us away.


Level 10 Hotel Jen Orchard Gateway, 277 Orchard Road, Singapore 238858

If there's something Singaporeans can't get enough of, it's a buffet. Makan@Jen has several offers:

a) 4th diner dines free for Weekend Seafood Buffet Dinner ($65++/pax) on Friday & Saturday

b) 4th diner dines free for Weekend Singapore Roast Brunch Buffet ($42++/pax) on Saturday & Sunday

c) 4th diner dines free for Sunday Buffet Dinner ($42++/pax)

We had the roast-themed Wednesday dinner buffet which is not part of the HungryGoWhere GSS promotion but it gives you a sense of what to expect especially for the weekend seafood buffet dinner (expanded seafood spread) and the Sunday buffet dinner.

Save some room for dessert; they have eight flavours of ice cream like coconut, chendol, sweetcorn and yam. Some of these really evoke old school memories.

The full list of HungryGoWhere’s GSS Orchard Dining Delights deals can be found here:

Happy shopping and eating! Share this with your friends and family too!

Many thanks to HungryGoWhere for the fabulous food trail!

Tuesday, June 14, 2016


Jolie has made her first Android app! I could not be more proud of my 8-year old. Thanks to the PayPal's Girls In Tech AppJamming Camp, she's discovered what a joy it is to create apps like the ones she loves to use on her mobile.

The AppJaming camp is part of PayPal’s Girls in Tech programme which started out in the U.S. as an initiative to help close the gender gap in technology, by providing tech knowledge to school girls aged 8-14 years old.

It’s the first time this camp has come to Singapore. The three-day camp is fully sponsored by PayPal and is held at its Suntec office.

Tuesday, June 7, 2016

The Singapore Coffee Festival (SCF) hits us this week from 9-12 June! It's a dream event for coffee lovers who want to learn more about what goes into making a good cup of coffee, sample coffee beans from around the world, and see everything that makes our coffee culture so vibrant.

There will be over 100 exhibitors including leaders and pioneers in Singapore’s coffee and lifestyle scene such as Common Man Coffee Roasters, Chye Seng Huat Hardware, Dapper Coffee and Knockhouse Supply Co.

This first ever coffee-centric event is for both trade and consumers: media and trade get a preview on 9 June, and the public can visit from 10-12 June. It's held at the F1 Pit Building (psst, get S$3 off your Grabcar Economy fare to/fro the event when you use the code SCF from 9-12 June).

There are lab sessions Fri-Sun run by Common Man Coffee Roasters, the Straits Times, and Bettr Barista. Try your hand at latte art and learn fundamental barista skills! Most of the workshops are free for festival guests.

Check out their Facebook page for updates -

Meanwhile, we enjoyed an SCF cafe-hopping trail and visited some of their participants. It was a real treat criss-crossing the island in vintage Kombi Rocks vans!

Oriole Coffee & Bar

First up was Oriole Coffee & Bar (where the first photo is from). We are not strangers to Oriole. They have lovely coffee (6-12 specialty coffee beans) and M.A.D. Milk (a dairy-free, cold-pressed nut milk made from macadamias, almonds and dates) which I really like.

They have plenty of food on the menu too, including all-day breakfast and a new weekend brunch (10am to 2pm weekends and public holidays). We got to try some of the new items. The Crab Cake Benedict (S$22) gives you poached eggs on crabcakes atop English muffins, all drenched in a lemon dill Hollandaise sauce.

The Wild Berries Oatmeal (S$10) is surprisingly very palatable, even if you're not a fan of oats. The tangy berries cut through the sweet, warm oatmeal while the nuts provide texture and crunch.

They now also have a Smoked Salmon Rosti (S$16) with capers and creme fraiche. The shredded potato is nicely pan-fried with crisp edges. I liked this the best.

If you're in a hurry, they have Grab and Go breakfasts (four sets at S$10 each including a coffee).

96 Somerset Road, #01-01 Pan Pacific Serviced Suites Orchard, Singapore 238163
Tel: +65 6238 8348
Opening Hours:
Mon-Thu 8am - 11pm
Fri & Sat 8am - 12am
Sun 8am - 11pm

The Coastal Settlement

Next up was The Coastal Settlement right at the Changi coastline. It was my first time at this quirky cafe.

I can see why it's popular despite its ultra "ulu" (out of the way) location. It's so pretty and atmospheric with vintage bric-a-brac, warm lighting inside and lush greenery outside. The only drawback is: you gotta watch out for mosquitoes.

But the food surprised me most of all. Fabulous fries, decent chicken and waffles, and a tom yum pasta that wasn't afraid to be SPICY!

They serve Western and local favourites. I also liked the Australian wagyu cubes with mushroom salsa. And there's thin-crust pizza topped with wagyu and caramelised onions too.

Of course there's coffee here too, and the robust brews don't disappoint.

200 Netheravon Rd, Singapore 508529
Tel: +65 6475 0200
Opening Hours:
Mon-Fri 10.30am - 12am (Fri till 1am)
Sat 9.30am - 1am
Sun & PH 9.30am - 10.30pm


Coffee and pastries are a marriage made in heaven. PAUL has quite a variety of these delectable sweet treats. We tried the salted caramel choux (centre, our hot favourite), coffee eclair (their eclairs carry the same filling as the creamy topping), lemon cream tartlette, and chocolate cream tartlette.

PAUL has specially created the banana cinnamon crumble tart (bottom right) for the Singapore Coffee Festival and it will be launched there.

If you don't like coffee, you could pick the PAUL Singapore hot chocolate to go with these.

PAUL has several branches in Singapore. This one is at the Ocean Financial Centre.

Address: 10 Collyer Quay #01-01, Singapore 049315
Tel: +65 6634 9068 (Bakery) | +65 6634 7686 (Restaurant)
Opening Hours:
Mon - Fri 8am - 9pm
Sat: 8am - 3pm
Sun and Public Holiday closed

Interestingly, Shiseido is the festival’s “Official Beauty Partner”, and they will have The Shiseido Parlour, a beauty pop-up area, serving Japanese confectionaries flown in direct from Ginza. Come try out Shiseido products and treat yourself to some Shiseido Parlour Cheesecake and Ganache. I wonder what they will be like! I'll keep you posted when I check them out on 9 June! Keep an eye out on my Instagram - - to find out!

Wednesday, June 1, 2016

The Novotel Suvarnabhumi Airport Hotel in Bangkok just turned 10 this year; it shares this anniversary with the airport. I still remember when the airport was built, but I never got to see the hotel until this trip to Laos. We stayed here overnight so we could catch a Bangkok Airways flight to Luang Prabang the next day.

The hotel is right next to the airport. You can take a 5-minute covered walkway if you don't have much luggage. Alternatively, there are free 24-hour shuttle ride from the terminals which give you a nice scenic ride.

There's no set check-in time as they get guests around the clock.

A photo posted by Catherine Ling (@camemberu) on
When you first enter, you'll be dazzled by the spacious five-storey atrium lobby.

photo from Novotel website
This is a huge four-star hotel with over 600 rooms and suites.

The suite is decently spacious with bedroom and living area, a walk-in closet and marble bathroom.

The bathroom has a peek-a-boo window to the bedroom. While the overall design is starting to show some age, the hotel seems quite well-maintained.

The Superior rooms give you either a King size bed or double beds. I'm glad the bed and pillows are comfortable. I still kept waking up because of that niggly fear of missing a flight the next morning, even though I have my alarms set.

My bath has a separate shower stall. Standard Novotel toiletries are supplied. These look just like the ones I got in the Novotel Vines Resort in Perth!

The pool is surrounded by lush foliage which helps with privacy.

The water features help lend a calm and peaceful atmosphere.

I like how they have incorporated Thai architectural features into the outdoor spaces.

There are indoor play areas for kids! I am glad to see they are quite family friendly. Kids under 16 eat and stay for free with parents or grandparents (up to 2 kids per room).

One thing you must not miss is the Vous spa. Treat insomnia with a Jetlag Aroma Relaxing Massage, or go for the Muscle Release Massage which combines deep massage and trigger points to release tension. The masseuse had some moves with the latter that might seem scary for some - just trust them and let it all go.

Dinner was at the inhouse Thai restaurant, Sala Thai, where we had a veritable feast.

The familiar Thai restaurant dishes were rich and satisfying: Spicy seafood salad, Kao Tung Na Tang (Crispy rice cracker with minced pork), Tom Yum Kung (Spicy Prawn Soup), Green Curry with Chicken, Stir-fried Scallop with vegetables, and Fried chicken with Cashew nut.

There are actually five F&B outlets here - besides Sala Thai, there's Kinsen (Japanese), Golden Village (Chinese, shown above), Le Gourmet (bakery), The Square (International) and the Atrium Terrace (cocktails and snacks).

There are buffets 24-hour a day at The Square.

Breakfast is served as early as 3am, for those who need to catch early flights. How thoughtful! I can't count the number of times I've had to forego breakfast because I had a flight that was too early.

photo from Novotel website

It was a pleasant stay and I wish we had more time to explore the pool, fitness centre and gardens. If you're making a transit through Bangkok, this airport hotel definitely makes a nice pit stop.

999 Suvarnabhumi Airport Hotel
Moo 1 Nongprue Bang Phli
10540 Samutprakarn
Tel (+66)2/1311111

Many thanks to Accor and Novotel for the hospitality

Friday, May 20, 2016

Look at that KILLER sheen. You can tell just from the glaze that this is excellent char siu, nothing like the dry papery kind that tries to pass off as meat. But even I was surprised by how good it was. The first bite I had was a fatty piece that simply melted into a pool of bliss on my tongue. The thickly chopped slices were sweetly succulent with a chewy caramelised crust.

This is Roast Paradise (#01-122 Old Airport Road Food Centre), and it is indeed char siu heaven.

Young hawkers Kai and Randall have brought KL-style char siu to Singapore, and I can't thank them enough for doing so. Have you noticed how KL-style anything just trumps all other versions? Like dark Hokkien mee, mamee goreng, and even wantan mee!

Anyway, these two wonderfully humble and affable chaps (Randall, left; Kai, right) gave up careers in nightlife event management and apprenticed at Kai's uncle's shop in Malaysia - Restoran Famous Seremban Favourites - which is known for its char siu.

But of course there was parental objection. Randall's parents were very angry at first, preferring their son to go for studies instead of becoming a hawker.

But these guys proved that they could succeed with a winning recipe (tweaked from their uncle's) along with determination and dedication. I saw queues forming at their stall even at 11:15am. They won their parents' approval eventually.

It's still a lot of hard work, 14 hours a day at the stall. But making food that people like is much more fulfilling. "Our customers are so much more appreciative than our previous clients used to be, especially when we go the extra step," says Kai.

Besides the stellar char siu, I fell in love with their Hakka noodles (S$3.50). It completely brought me back to memories of Malaysia and old school food. What was it? Oh praise the lard, what else could it be! Seriously, hawkers should never have given up on lard; its unhealthy rap is undeserved!

The noodles are lightly tossed in lard and garlic oil but aren't greasy. These noodles are also not like your regular mee pok - they are free of "kee" alkali or lye, and are less yellow, if you notice.

These noodles also contrast with the char siu because they are just lightly savoury, whereas the meat is much more intense. But mild as they were, I found them comfortingly pleasant.

You can choose to have these with roast pork as well, but the char siu is really the star. The roast pork probably has some ways to go before catching up with the char siu.

How do they get the pork so juicy and gorgeously caramelised? Kai tells me they use pork belly and pork jowl (the premium meat, extra $1 per 100g; not pictured here) plus a marinade that works hard overnight. In addition, the meat is laboriously roasted (and basted) for 3-4 hours in the oven. The normal dry, red-dyed char siu in most places only take 15-30 minutes to cook.

So yes, I have found char siu heaven, and it's amazing that it's done by two guys who have no previous F&B experience. Prices are very reasonable despite the high rental at Old Airport Road Food Centre and increasing pork prices. It's just S$3.50 for rice or noodles with one meat; the char siu / roast pork is S$4.50 per 100g each, or S$5.00 per 100g for double roasts.

Initially they started with more items like wantans and roast chicken but as it's only the two of them, they decided to streamline and concentrate on just char siu and roast pork. I think that's wise - focus on doing just a few things but do them well, rather than do many things only half as well.

The food business is very tough and increasingly competitive, but I think they have the right elements in place.


#01-122, Old Airport Road Food Centre
Open Tues-Sun: 11am to 4pm or till sold out.
Wed and Sun: 11am to 2pm
Closed on Mondays
Tel: 9786-7396 or 9189-1017

P.S. Yes, I have to get used to spelling "char siu" instead of "char siew" because Oxford Dictionary now recognises that but not the other. Yet.

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