30 June 2015

Homescapes Photography Exhibition

As Singapore's 50th anniversary of independence fast approaches lots of events celebrating Singapore are starting to happen all over the place. One such event is this photography exhibition which I popped along to to take a look at. Being right on my doorstep how could I not?

This exhibition is a part of the SG Heart Map, a whole series of events all over Singapore aiming to share and celebrate the many places that are special to Singapore residents and the many different reasons why. You can even upload your own story, special place and memory on their website.

The photography exhibition is a collection of local photographers and pupils from Raffles' Girls School photos exploring the concept of home and what it means to Singaporeans. As you may expect there are photos of HDB's, views of different parts of Singapore but also more personal photos of families in their home and people's personal trinkets. Also included, and in keeping with the SG Heart Map theme, are individuals memories of the different parts of Singapore that they lived in and what that place means to them.

You can just see in my photo above some white boards covering the safety railings of the HDB walkways. Some were white and some red and at the launch these made a rather cool massive heart design. I saw it the following morning on the way to work and it really looked fabulous in the morning sunshine. I made up my mind to get a photo when I returned home later but sadly by then they'd taken it down! A shame that it couldn't have been left for a little longer, however if you want to see it for yourself check out the SG Heart Map website or this YouTube clip.

This is a really delightful collection of photos and worth checking out if you are in the area.

 Just a couple of the photos on display

The Homescapes photography exhibition is on now at the void deck of Block 99, Old Airport Road just near Dakota MRT station. It is free to the public and is on from 10am - 8pm but hurry as it ends on the 5 July 2015.

For more information about this exhibition and other events check out the SG Heart Map website here.

26 June 2015

STEPS in the Park 2015

‘STEPS in the Park’ 2015 organized by the Singapore registered Charity EmancipAsia is back!

The aim of this event is to enable people to ‘take their first step’ toward understanding modern-day slavery and human trafficking.

'STEPS in the Park' is a 5km fun run/walk that the whole family can take part in.

The event details are as follows:

Date: 12 September 2015

Venue: OCBC Square, Singapore Sports Hub

Time: 7.30am to 12:30pm

Cost/pax: SGD 15

Other than the run, there will be live performances, merchandise sales, exhibitions, film screenings, interactive learning and fantastic lucky draw prizes to look forward to. We look forward to seeing YOU, your family and your friends there!

Visit http://stepsinthepark.com/ for more information and to register online NOW!

21 June 2015

Wandering Around Hanoi

After an interesting first day exploring Ho Chi Minh's mausoleum etc and in-between stuffing our faces full of good food we still had plenty of exploring of the city to do before moving on to our next stop, Halong Bay.

One of the first things we did was buy tickets for the water puppet show which several people had told us was a must see during our visit. Hanoi is also apparently the place to see one of these shows too. The theatre we chose was just a short walk from our hotel so we booked to do this in the evening after our explore of the mausoleum. There are several theatres giving these performances but we went to the Thang Long water puppet theatre. The place was packed out with both locals and tourists and although you buy tickets, either in advance or on the door, there are no allocated seats so get there prompt to ensure a good view! 

The water puppet shows are a tradition that dates from the 11th Century. As the name suggests there is water involved, the show being performed in a waist deep pool. The puppeteers are hidden behind a screen and control the puppets via long rods, giving the allusion that the puppets are moving on the top of the water. This type of puppetry came about when villagers would entertain each other when the rice fields flooded. The water acts as a stage for the puppets as well as a symbolic link to the rice harvest. The puppetry is accompanied by a traditional Vietnamese orchestra and the singers perform songs which tell the story being acted out by the puppets.                      

We were given a programme for the evening and got to enjoy fourteen performances that had been selected from a repertoire of 400! A lot of the stories come from Vietnamese folklore and centre on day to day life with stories of the harvest and fishing amongst many more.  The performances follow straight on from each other and apart from a couple that got a little confusing I was able to identify each performance from the visual performances despite not understanding any of the words being sung or spoken. It was fun and quite a different way to spend our evening.

Displays of just a few of the puppets in the entrance to the water puppet theatre

The orchestra that accompanies the puppeteers

Our couple of days in Hanoi gave us the chance to explore a few of the city's other famous landmarks. One place we decided to take a look at was Hanoi's Botanic Gardens, whilst not quite in the same league as Singapore's or Kew Gardens it was nonetheless pleasant enough to kill a little time in. It is quite a drive from the centre (we got a cab) and I'm not sure you would want to spend hours there but it did also give us the opportunity to then walk back via the Tran Quoc pagoda on the West Lake. For me though the main thing really spoiling the gardens were the cages with monkeys and peacocks in. It would have been far nicer to see the peacocks and monkeys roaming freely in the park. 

Inside Hanoi's Botanic Gardens

As I said from the, slightly underwhelming, Botanic Gardens we made our way back to the centre walking past the huge West Lake. Take a look at my photo below, it is a simply massive lake! We stopped in a place for coffee, a breather, a bit of wifi and watched the world go by for a while before carrying on to the Tran Quoc pagoda. 

The West Lake, stretching as far as the eye can see

Tran Quoc Pagoda

The Tran Quoc pagoda is the oldest pagoda in the city. It was originally constructed in the 6th Century during the reign of Emperor Ly Nam De who reigned from 544 to 548. The pagoda was originally constructed on the shores of the Red River but was moved to the West Lake in 1615. When we visited there were a lot of people making offerings, burning incense and saying prayers. It was lovely to observe just a little of that too as we took in the beauty of this ancient pagoda.

Thap Rua Tower (Tortoise Tower)

Back nearer the city centre and we found ourselves near the Hoan Kiem Lake on several occasions throughout our couple of days in the city. As we walked around it you can see a small tower on an island in the lake. This is the Thap Rua Tower or Tortoise Tower. It looked like a beautiful tower on an isolated little island which I admit I would have loved to have been able to go across to and visit. 

I've since learnt that it was built in 1886 on a site where a temple had once stood and at some point previously had been destroyed. This tower was built to commemorate a warrior called Le Loi born in 1384 and the impact he had on Vietnam.The story goes that whilst he was growing up he witnessed many atrocities committed against the Vietnamese people by the Ming Chinese who occupied Vietnam at that time and that he vowed to free his people. Eventually in 1426 a battle took place at Tot Dong to decide the outcome of this rebellion. This battle resulted in the Vietnamese being successful in capturing and executing the Chinese General and luring the Chinese forces into Hanoi where a trap had been laid. Instrumental in all of this was Le Loi and the use of his mystical sword which it is said he received from the Dragon King in his underwater palace. The sword was said to have given Le Loi great power and strength and also increased his physical stature when he used it. The lake that the tower stands on is called Hoan Kiem Lake which means Lake of the Returned Sword. It is called this because this is the lake where the Dragon King reclaimed his sword after Le Loi's victory. Legend says that Le Loi was in a boat on the river when a turtle came out of the water and took back the sword and despite Le Loi's best efforts the sword was never found. Le Loi determined that the turtle must have been sent on the Dragon King's behalf to retrieve the sword and he renamed the lake, Hoan Kiem Lake. The tower therefore stands in honour of what Le Loi did for the Vietnamese people and has stood since as a symbol of patriotic pride for the people of Hanoi.

St Joseph's cathedral

Our time in Hanoi would not have been complete without a visit to the very European looking St Joseph's cathedral, built in the late 19th century it is quite spectacular up close and dominates the small streets in its vicinity. The architectural design is said to resemble the Notre Dame in Paris, hardly surprising I guess. It was one of the first structures built by the French colonial government in Indochina when it was opened in 1886 and is the oldest church in Hanoi. We were able to go inside during our visit with the interior being a peaceful retreat from the bustle of Hanoi's busy streets.

Whilst we did not go inside we also stopped by the Hanoi Opera House, enjoying a Vietnamese coffee in a nearby cafe. Another legacy from the French colonial government built between 1901 and 1911. It certainly is a beautiful building! Today it seems to be in the centre of the hustle of busy traffic going to and fro but definitely stands out as a real landmark of the city.

Hanoi Opera House

All to soon our time in Hanoi was over and it was time to head off for the next stop on our Vietnam adventure. Hanoi was busy and certainly a lot crazier than the likes of Singapore but it is somewhere I would happily return to if the opportunity ever arose.

09 June 2015

Burnt Ends

Burnt Ends is somewhere we'd wanted to go for quite a while. We'd tried before but had not been able to get a table but eventually we got lucky. My husband has written a blog post about our visit. If you like what you read follow him on Twitter, @asksirstamford 

With the fairly recent publication of the fifty best restaurants in Asia for 2015, on reviewing the list we realised that we have been to very few of them, although we do eat out a fair bit. What have we been doing with our time and money, going to the same boring places all the time, probably. Anyway, one of the restaurants on the list was Burnt Ends on the edge of Chinatown, a modern Aussie BBQ place that we have tried and failed to go to in the past (after it was recommended by a former colleague). The restaurant operates a no reservations policy, save for the chef’s table and the first half hour of each service and as it is a small place it fills up really quickly. On the first attempt at going here we were quoted a wait time of approximately three hours, sod that, so went elsewhere. However I decided to try again and planned to use the strategy of early dining to see if we could get in. It worked, arriving as the place opened we were shown to the table (we shared with another couple, no worries there) and were told that they needed the table for a booking in 90 minutes. Done, we were in!

The food and drinks menus arrived with the extremely helpful waiter, who proceeded to explain the menu and ordering process. The menu was divided into four main sections covering appetisers, small plates, main courses and, of course, desserts with diners selecting two or three dishes from the first couple of sections and either separate or sharing platters from the mains. We decided to share across the courses, choosing two each from the appetizers and small plates and one from the mains (these are large and designed for two, three or four bodies).

Drinks were also chosen, there being a good selection of beers from around the world and split of wines by the glass or bottle. I choose a beer with a funny obscene name (which I can't repeat here) with the blog owner having a white wine (Sauv Blanc variety).

So what did we eat.

From the appetizers we chose to have the quail eggs and caviar (decadence or what) and the beef marmalade on sourdough. Two eggs arrived on a small spoon with a lump of fish roe decorating daintily on the top, when bitten into the warm soft gooey yolks oozed across the inside of your mouth deliciously. The beef marmalade on sourdough was a meaty tasting soldier of bread, infused with onion and was also superb.

Smoked quail egg and caviar
Beef marmalade and pickles

Next to the small plates, where we ordered a dish entitled the Burnt Ends' Sanger (Australian for sandwich) which was a burger bun stuffed with wonderful smoky pulled pork that delivered a bit of a chili punch on the finish. My accompanying German lager was a perfect partner in crime. The second dish was leeks sauteed in oil and hazelnuts, which were fresh, crunchy and very tasty.

Burnt Ends' Sanger
Leek, hazelnut and brown butter

On to the main event, we decided to share the suckling pig, which for two comes as about a quarter of the little piggy wig. I can assure you that the little chap did not die in vain, he or she tasted wonderful, with juicy succulent meat (oozing with smoky flavour from the barbie) and crispy crackling skin. The dish was served with fresh gem lettuce heads, who’s leaves could be used to make mini-wraps (sort of like in a top-class Chinese restaurant).

Suckling pig and cider

Dessert was also shared, with the blog owner selecting the mint and chocolate dish, which was essentially mint ice cream with rich boulders of chocolate biscuit that reminded both of us of the sophisticated Eighties ice cream dessert Viennetta. Again, an excellent choice was made.

Mint and chocolate

All in all, Burnt Ends was great and well worth the wait to get a table. Must go back and so should you!

01 June 2015

The Entertainer Launches its 'Hot Summer Nights' for 2015!

I fully admit I was a bit late embracing the Entertainer (more fool me I know) and only recently really appreciated how good it was, just how many places were on there and how much you could save! We are definitely taking full advantage of those offers now.

As I've now learnt, as well as offers on restaurants, spas and attractions the Entertainer also offers some rather good travel deals on hotels. I recently attended the launch of their exciting new summer travel offer, the launch of their 'Hot Summer Nights' which has made travelling through the Entertainer suddenly even better! 

From now until the 31 August 2015, exclusively to Entertainer members, you can enjoy your holiday all the more by extending the buy one night get one free offers in the Entertainer Travel to cover multiple night stays. Basically this means Entertainer members can book one night, get one free; book two nights, get two free or even book three nights and get three free. Depending on the hotel selected and the length of stay Entertainer Members could save up to $2,500! Now that's not to be sniffed at I think you'll agree. Let's face it who doesn't want great travel offers when looking to maximize their travelling opportunities but also minimize that spending. This frankly fabulous offer gives you the opportunity to travel for less and #travelmore all thanks to the Entertainer!

You'll be excited to know that more than 90 of their leading hotel partners are currently extending their deal to offer these multiple night stays. You can choose from an amazing selection of hotels and resorts throughout the Middle East, Asia and the Indian Ocean. Destinations include: Dubai, Abu Dhabi, Jordan, Lebanon, Oman, Qatar, Egypt, Thailand, Hong Kong, Indonesia, Malaysia, India, Sri Lanka, Mauritius and the Maldives. There has to be somewhere there that you want to go to!

To find who which hotels and resorts are taking part just simply look for the travel offers on the Entertainer that are marked with a trophy icon, this means they are in the Hot Summer Nights offer. Once you've decided where you want to go, go ahead and make your booking. If you aren't already an Entertainer Member simply purchase an Entertainer Singapore 2015 product and you'll be able to access and enjoy this current offer. For more information take a look here.

Looking through the various hotels participating in the #hotsummernights offer I have to say they all look amazing with many 4 and 5 star hotels and resorts taking part. I was extra excited though to spot the Banyan Tree in Bangkok, a hotel I was lucky enough to stay in a few years ago, is one of those participating. It was a great stay, the hotel is a really distinctive building on the city skyline with its tall, narrow design, it offered us a great base for our visit (which was my first) and had a great rooftop bar. Perfect for sunset watching and holiday memory making! It would definitely be on my list of hotels to stay in again if I returned to Bangkok.  

Of course whether you choose here (check out a few of my photos from my stay below) or one of the many other hotels available I'm sure you'll have a fantastic time, how can you not with this offer? Quick pass me my phone!

The Moon Bar
View from the Moon Bar


Our hotel room
Sunset from the Moon Bar 
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