So we’ve just passed our 3rd year anniversary a month back, and it got me thinking about how we’ve always been travelling as part of our annual anniversary celebrations. And that led to more thoughts about how travelling has played a role in our marriage for the past 3 years. Which I guess led to this post 🙂 Happy reading!
Monotony in marriage life is something that may happen to any of us.
We may begin to take our partner for granted as we get too used to one another, or prefer to live within the comfort of our own routines. Goals may start to center around responsibilities instead of something exciting to look forward to. Commitment may feel like obligations rather than a desire to strengthen the relationship. And with that, passion may wither and fade with time. This may be a bleak, but not necessary irrelevant outlook for some relationships.
Understanding relationship as balancing an inverted pyramid
As according to Sternberg’s triangle theory of love, there are three components in a relationship that interact with each other and determine our experience of love.
Intimacy refers to the feeling of connectedness or bond, usually fueled by goals and interests between couples. Passion suggests the appeal, arousals and desires for each other, and lastly, Commitment is the decision to maintain that love for one another.
I find this concept rather useful and prefer to think of it as an act of balancing an inverted pyramid, with each component representing a tip of that triangular base. Neglect in one area will set the inverted pyramid topping over to the other sides.
For example, a newborn child to the family might increase the commitment and intimacy of a couple, but lead to a decline in passion due to a neglect of each other in the child’s daily matter.
Yes, it is true that an imbalance pyramid does not necessary equates to dissatisfaction in a relationship, and that it is almost impossible to maintain a perfectly balanced pyramid all the time. But it does help for us to know which side our pyramid is tipping towards.
The effort to balance the pyramid to bring satisfaction in every aspect of our relationship can be a very meaningful learning journey.
Travelling and its’ benefits for your relationship pyramid
This is where I find travelling very helpful with my personal pyramid. Travelling is like a booster pill that has multiple benefits for various components of my relationship.
I’m sharing 6 of the key relationship benefits I’ve gotten through travelling. Hopefully, this article will get you back to pursuing your wanderlust with your partner.
1. A precious private time and space
Travelling provides that space where we can legitimately become un-contactable, and where we can really soak in the company of each other.
Suspended in a period of liminality, we are freed from our daily roles and identities, and yet, not bounded by any expectations as guests in foreign lands. It is here that I can express myself most freely with my spouse. Whether as a young boy re-courting love or a new borne child being amazed by everything I see.
We are also able to really listen and talk to each other over a meal or drinks at a random cafe, bar or restaurant, as we immerse ourselves in the unfamiliar environment.
I find ourselves conversing about topics which rarely surface in our day-to-day interactions, such as our dreams, childhood memories, fears, passion and desires. In some ways, this helps to foster our intimacy and passion with each other.
2. Support and appreciation in situations of uncertainties and adversities
It is during uncertainties and adversities that our support, love and appreciation for each other shines the brightest.
Travelling sometimes require us to get out of our comfort zone and be thrown into situations of uncertainties and adversities. I find this especially helpful for the growth of our relationship. We are forced to support and appreciate each other, especially in situations where all we have are one another.
We bring our learnings from overcoming these temporal challenges back into our relationship, and become better at working through our differences. This helps us to strengthen our commitment towards one another.
3. Learning something new about each other
Learning something new about each other revitalizes our relationship and allow us to see each other with renewed wonder and admiration.
Travelling always allow us to learn something new about each other. Sometimes, you can be surprised at things you learn, even about yourself.
Just as how I’ve learnt during my Mongolia trip last year that the Married Girl actually really loves horse-riding and is more adventurous than I thought, having survived a 8 days outdoor trek and scaling Banyan-Olgiy with relative ease.
4. A goal to look forward
Travelling, unlike many goals in our daily lives, is a goal that is not fuelled by needs or responsibilities. It can also be a fun and exciting goal that a couple can very much look forward to.
Having goals as such can be an energizer in any relationship and booster the intimacy between couples.
5. Creating bonding moments
Bonding memories can help the relationship go a long way by being the fuel to our commitment.
If you have read my previous article about the real significance of honeymoons, you will understand the importance of bonding memories. Travelling allow us to create fun memories that we can laugh over; memories of strength when we overcome our differences or of love and appreciation when we support each other in times of adversities.
6. Enhancing passion
Almost always, we find our passion for each other enhanced after every trip.
Perhaps due to the temporal suspension of stress, or being able to just enjoy the company of each other without distractions. Or maybe because there are usually really nothing much to do in the evenings, especially when we are backpacking through the countryside. (Hehe… just kidding).
A strengthening of relationship
Overall, travelling has helped us strengthen our relationship in many ways. While it is not the only determinant to a healthy relationship, it is definitely something that has helped us grow that we very much look forward to.
So, if you have been casting away your wanderlust due to the burdens of daily life, we urge you to get your things packing and take that wonderful break with your partner, whenever you are able to.
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Before you get all stressed up by your upcoming honeymoon, read this to maximize the experience from your trip
Going through a wedding may feel like a maniac episode for some couples. Planning a honeymoon as a post-wedding break, or just to tune out from friends and family for some private time is definitely something worth pursuing.
But beyond these short-term gains, honeymoons can have long-term benefits for a couple’s growth.
The concept of honeymoon first originated in the 18th century. Back then, honeymoons were less for leisure but more for newlyweds to visit relatives who were unable to attend the wedding ceremony. It has since evolved into a pure holiday excursion and is heavily influenced by mass tourism.
Before you throw a huge amount of fortune pursuing an expensive honeymoon (to reward yourself for surviving the hectic ceremony), understanding the significance that honeymoons may have on your relationship can definitely help you make the most out of your honeymoon experience.
3 helpful ways to think about the purpose of honeymoons
So how are honeymoons important? Firstly, let’s set the 3 parameters that might help you rethink about the purpose of your honeymoon.
1. Generating fond memories to start your relationship on the right foot.
Now, imagine a childhood friend who you knew since you were 6 years old, and whom you have argued with, relied on, and shared your moments of happiness and despair with. Who knows your guts inside out, and have stuck by you despite your imperfections.
Bring it forward to today, and imagine that you are still in close contact and have not allowed your busy life to neglect this friendship of yours.
The chances of trivial conflicts escalating into full-blown tensions that threaten to tear the friendship apart would be incomprehensible. Even if so, it will be likely that you will try your best to work out the issues and attempt to salvage the relationship rather than easily giving it up.
While probably not the only reason for your commitment to the relationship, the wealth of positive memories and experiences that you shared with your childhood friend acts as important foundations for the relationship. With the average dating duration at 2 to 3 years for most couples, you may not necessary have the time or opportunities to create such wealth of experiences with your partner before your marriage.
Hence, starting your marriage journey on the right foot by creating fond, bonding memories with each other is especially important. And honeymoons provide just that space and opportunity for you to do so!
2. Your first post-marriage goal together.
Honeymoon is your first life goal as a married couple.
Okay, so your wedding or engagement ceremony is probably the first major activity that you managed as a married couple. While the wedding should have been the first positive experience of your journey, it is not always easy given the tremendous stress from family, friends or even just between you and your spouse. Like the saying goes, your marriage is not always just about you.
Honeymoon however, is spared from all these constraints. Think of it as your first goal as a married couple that involves just you and your partner, and is an activity that both of you have full control over. How exciting can that get!
3. A space for privacy and to reminisce the wedding ceremony.
As cliché as it sounds, honeymoon is a really great opportunity for you to spend some intimate time with your partner and to wind down from the hectic wedding ceremony.
Honeymoons provide a good space for both of you to reminisce about the wedding, recollecting, talking and laughing over the highlights and imprinting these moments into fond couple memories.
While you can definitely do it without going away, being away forces you to devote your time fully to each other, without distractions from family, friends and duties. That said, with the amount of connectivity available today, do remember to put away your phone and cherish the physical time with one another. This private moment is gold.
4 important reminders for your honeymoon
With the purpose set, honeymoon suddenly seems to be more meaningful, aside from being a great holiday. Below are 4 final reminders before you start embarking on your honeymoon preparations.
1. It doesn’t have to be expensive, far or long.
We often place the wrong emphasis and expectations on honeymoons. We imagine honeymoons to be a once-in-a-life-time event that might never happen again. With that, we throw all our expectations into the trip, spend huge amount of money trying to go places that are far away, trying to check-off our entire bucket list in one trip or wasting fortunes on extravagant and luxurious experiences so that we can share with our friends what a spectacular honeymoon we had.
Returning to the 3 significances of honeymoons, what is really important is being able to spend time with one another and enjoy the experience together, so as to start your album of fond memories as a married couple.
So, instead of trying to plan for an elaborated extravaganza, start by focusing on creating a successful and positive experience with each other. That means exploring places and activities that might bring much satisfaction to both of you, within the comfort of your means.
The last thing you want to do is to stretch yourself for the trip and come back regretting the decision. Remember, you don’t need to go far, travel long or spend exorbitantly to enjoy the company of one another.
2. Delay or postpone if necessary, but don’t scrap your honeymoon
Yes, I have heard it before too, honeymoons are overrated. That is if you think about honeymoons as how it is marketed by mass media today.
Of course, honeymoons are not obligatory and should only happen if it is something desired by the couple.
That said, I personally feel honeymoon, or travelling, is a good avenue for a couple’s discovery. While you may not be able to go away right after your wedding, it is always possible to postpone or delay your honeymoon, but don’t scrap it altogether.
Embarking on your first overseas goal together and achieving it can be a rewarding experience for your relationship. Keep it simple if required.Remember, it doesn’t have to be expensive, far or long.
3. It is about working things through together
Of course, there are always different expectations between a couple, and at times, it is hard to come to an agreement about what to do or where to go.
Instead of focusing on the impasse, communicate with each other and develop the itinerary collaboratively. Try to be open to new activities and support each other in the pursuit of these experiences. Show appreciation for each other if compromises have been made.
The key is to work things through together, from the planning to the travelling. Creating a positive experience founded on love, understanding and trust will help the relationship grow a long way.
4. Plan a honeymoon every year, biennially, or once every five years.
If you consider the purpose of honeymoons, you will realize that honeymoons doesn’t have to be an one-off activity.
Building positive memories, setting marriage goals and having intimate time is a constant investment required for healthy relationships.
For us, we try to go for a trip, or honeymoon if you call it, within our means every year. We time the trip near our wedding anniversary so that the trips can be something special we look forward to. We try to challenge ourselves for some trips, as in our Mongolia expedition, while others, we try to achieve some of our bucket’s list (watch a World Cup match live).
So there you have it…
So just in the event you are feeling stressed or constrained by your honeymoon, or contemplating doing away with this un-meaningful, overrated activity, consider these purposes behind your honeymoon and share it with your partner to align that vision.
Remind yourself that the honeymoon does not need to be an one-off event that needs to be exceptional or extravagant. Most importantly, you’ve got to enjoy that lovely honeymoon of yours together with your partner!
Travelling can be a wonderful way to bond and learn about your partner. You can read up about my experiences from travelling as a couple in my other article, and how we have managed our travels despite our different preferences.
Thinking of what food to try, places to eat or bars to chill? These are some of my recommendations during my trip to Russia!
Food is one important aspect of travelling. While some argue that food is a cultural representation of the people, I am usually more puzzled when I stare at the menu and find some variation of food that seems similar to what I have back home, or at least in other parts of the world that I have been to.
Food in Russia is quite unique. Throughout out trip, we couldn’t really identify something that we have never tried or tasted before. All the food somehow resembled something other food that we had eaten before. Perhaps, this is because Russia is so huge and diverse, with influences from Northern and Eastern Europe, Central Asia, Siberian, and Eastern Asia.
Things on menu to look out for and try when you are in Moscow
That said, Moscow does have it’s own share of local cuisine. If you are wondering what these are, here is a quick list of some Russian food to try, if you happen to see them in the menu.
Russian Pelmeni (meat or vegetable dumplings) served with sour cream as dip
Pirog (Russian pies) , with sweet or savory filling
Okroshka soup (Russian cold soup), with a sour taste
Sushki (small crunchy bread rings)
Vinegret, salad made of boiled beets, potatoes, carrots, pickles, onions, sauerkraut, and sometimes peas or white beans
Porridge, quite different and authentic. Served in whole grains instead of the typical rice we have in South-east asia, including barley, buckwheat, oat and millet
Shashlyk, a string of meat served in skewer. Quite similar to kebab from central Asia.
With that in mind, here, I will introduce to you 5 restaurants worth trying if you are in Moscow. Websites are for your reference in case you would like to look at the menu. But do note that they are all in Russian and you will need to use Google Translate to work your way through them.
This fine restaurant serves Belorussian food. Walking into the restaurant felt like walking into one of those medieval cottages, with log tables and benches. If you are a potato lover, this is a place you must definitely visit. Draniki, also known as potato pancakes, are a Belorussian speciality. Alcohol lovers should also visit the place as they serve a range of traditional drinks, from vodkas to moonshine. Non-bottled Kvass (honey drink with a slight tinge of alcohol) is not easily found in Moscow central, but can be found here as well.
Homemade Hooch (42% alc) – Bootleg alcohol are always intriguing, served as shot.
Moonshine Good Farmer Ale (40% alc) – Don’t be deceived by the ale, it is actually more of a hard liquor really. Served as shot.
Vodkas (assorted flavor) – A range of assorted flavored vodkas. You can really taste the difference when you gulp it down. Linden Honey and Cranberry are two shots that you must try.
Kvass – Supposedly a non-alcoholic drinks, and served in Eastern Europe to some parts of central Asia. Each have its own distinct taste and make. Something to try for those who do not like alcohol.
Draniki, potato pancakes – Served with meat or fish, in a pot or hotplates. You must try at least one of the Draniki dishes when you are there. We tried the carp in cast iron, which was a mixture of fish, cheese and potato pancakes. The other Draniki to try would be the Manchanka, pork in mushroom sauce with potato pancakes.
Beef baked with mushroom – Baked beef and mushrooms to fill the stomach, with cheese topping. Good to try if you have a large group for sharing.
For deserts, we tried the Cake Male ideal. It was a little too dense for our liking. Deserts were generally alright. Nothing exceptionally outstanding.
Daily Bread is a breakfast cafe chain outlets that you can find in some parts of Moscow. They have only one outlet in Saint Petersburg. While operating more like a breakfast cafe, it does have on its menu some main courses. The coffee and cakes in Daily Bread are good. Below are some of the other items that we ordered that is worth trying.
Hot Chocolate – Russians love their hot chocolate thick. Something very different from Singapore. The drink is literally melted chocolate. Served with a glass of hot water for you to wash down the thick molten as you enjoy the bitter sweet beverage.
Coffee – The coffee are quite good here. Typical range of Flat white, Cappuccino and Mocha that you can try.
Borsch soup – A generous serving of meat with soup. Good as something “before the road”.
Bread bowl – A thick creamy chicken soup, goes well with the home-made bread. Though I think it was sour dough bread.
Oatmeal – For those who likes something healthier, their hot oatmeals comes with a tinge of sweetness. Great for a good hearty morning meals
Eggs Benedict – You can either try it with salmon or without. Usually eggs benedict can’t go wrong. However, portion is relatively small for this.
Medovic – If you are a desert lover, you must definitely try the Medovic, a layered cake made of honey and condensed milk. It is mildly sweet and the texture is good.
Throughout Moscow or Saint Petersburg, you will find restaurants where you will queue to take the food that you want and pay at the end, something like Marche in Singapore. Mu-Mu (pronounced as My-My?) is one of these restaurant. The good thing about this is you can choose what you want to try, and control how much you spend. The flow is simple, get a table, join the queue, go through the different food stations and take what you like, and end off at the payment counter. The good thing about this is there is one just around Red Square, and pricing is reasonable.
Typical range of liquors, wine, beers and non-alcoholic drinks. Drink counters located separately from the food counters.
See what you like – Too much to introduce, but if you are really keen, try their grilled duck, if it is available.
Grilled Duck (if available) – The meat was very tender. Something for you to consider when you are there.
Vinegret – So far, not easily found in most restaurants. Or perhaps we skipped the salad section. But you can find and try this in Mu-Mu.
A wide range of deserts you can choose from. Just to note, there are red berries mixtures that are served in drink glasses. I think they are sauces for crepes and pancakes. It looks like a drink, but it is not as it is thick and sweet.
Trattoria Venezia is an Italian restaurant right beside one of Tripadvisor’s recommended Pelmeni restaurant, Lepim I Varim. We originally wanted to try Lepim I Varim but went to the nearest nearby restaurant, Trattoria Venezia instead. This was after finding out that Lepim I Varim was a Pelmeni restaurant. Not that it wasn’t nice or anything, but because we wanted to have more than just dumplings for that night. It was a good stumble upon as Trattoria Venezia serve quite delicious Italian food in Russia.
Located near Bolshoi Theatre, you can consider walking over after a stroll along Tverskaya Sreet.
Typical range of liquors, wine, beers and non-alcoholic drinks
Pizza – Woodfire oven pizza, the crust is thin and crispy. Something definitely worth trying.
Pasta – Like all Italian restaurants, the pasta is runny and creamy at the same time. You can taste the egg white in the sauce, and it is not overwhelmingly cheesy
Risotto – Another must try in all Italian restaurant. The Risotto is well cooked and neither too dry not sticky.
Tiramisu – Strangely, i used to think Tiramisu was from Japan, but it actually originated from Italy. The Tiramisu kind of melts in your mouth.
Eric the Red, located right in the centre of Arbat street is a good place for a drink and people watching. It is pretty crowded in the evenings, so to get a good seat, you might need to go slightly earlier. It serves a wide range of craft beers. The food is surprisingly decent for a place that is known more for its drinks.
Wide range of craft beers – For those who love beer, you can look through the range of beer, mostly ales. Below are two that perhaps is worth trying for something different.
Russian Imperial Stout – If you look at the menu, you will realize that they do not serve this in a pint. Reason being that the alcohol concentration may differ, and it might be too strong for a pint. Strong coffee taste for those who loves stout.
Loosh Tropical fruit – A sour beer, not very common in Singapore. Sweet and sour, but taste like beer. Quite hard to make sense of it but worth a try.
Pork in sweet and sour sauce – To my fellow Singaporeans, do not try this. For all others, you can try it if you have never tried sweet and sour sauce.
Pork ribs – Not bad as a beer food. We ordered portions of fries to go with the beer as well.
Cheesecake Eric – Quite a good cheesecake, it was not too dense. Something to try, especially if you are ordering wine.
So there you go, if you have got really no idea about what to eat, consider these 5 places when you are in Moscow.
Thinking of visiting Moscow but not sure what is there to do in Moscow? Check out these 17 things that you must do or visit while in Moscow!
Moscow is an exciting place to be, with a sophisticated history evident in its well preserved architectures and monuments. To really maximize your trip in Moscow, two days in the city is probably not enough. In fact, you will need to be prepared for a tight schedule if you are spending only 4 days or less.
A week is a pace more comfortable if you intend to visit the museums and flea markets, stroll along the streets, chill at the cafe to people watch and really immerse yourself in the city’s atmosphere. This post shall introduce to you 17 things to do if it is your first time in Moscow!
Tips: Open your google map and pin all the places you read in this article. This will help you decide where you want to go and plan the best route for your itinerary later on
For us, it is always a good idea to start the trip with a free walking tour. Walking tours are good ways to get to know people if you are a solo traveller. I love it because it helps to orientate us to the key places of interests and give us some historical understanding of the city.
Both Saint Petersburg and Moscow offer free walking tours. We booked with MoscowFreeTours while we were there, and the tour was comprehensive and well-structured. They also offer paid walking tours packages if you like their services.
2. Do your own Metro-tour
The metro is a comprehensive underground railway system built by the Soviet Union. In each station, you will find interesting monuments, sculptures, paintings and architecture that reveals some aspect of the Soviet Union’s glory, its controversy and its propaganda.
The promise of a good life was often a propaganda used during the Soviet Union to motivate and inspire its people.
For the self-tour, we found this website, Moscow 360, that provided a comprehensive guide about which stations to visit and what to look out for when you are there. You can do some modification to your tour, just as how we did so that we did not have to exit the stations.
Below are some guides to help you with the metro tour.
Avoid peak period – You will often see other tourists wandering around the station while you are there. Try to avoid the peak period as you might face annoyed passengers trying to rush to or get off from work.
Recognize the colors – All the metro lines are colour coded to ease your planning. The names of the stations can be quite long and hard to grasp, so just for your convenience, below are the stations that you should visit on your metro tour.
Tips: You can quickly save these station on your google map for easy reference. Also, download and print the official English metro map here
Station 1: Ploschad Revolyutsii (Transit station between Blue/Green/Red line)
Station 2: Kurskaya (Blue – transit to Brown)
Station 3: Komsomolskaya (Brown)
Station 4: Novoslobodskaya (Brown)
Station 5: Belorusskaya (Brown line transit to Green)
Station 6: Mayakovskaya (Green)
You will probably not be able to cover all the museums during your trip. The museums in Moscow are huge, and depending on your interests, you might want to pick a couple to visit. Below are some museums that you can consider during your trip in Moscow.
Tips: Some museums have machines that you can purchase tickets using your credit cards. This will help you skip the long queue at the ticket booths. Overseas student pass are generally not accepted in Central Moscow, but can be helpful if you are travelling along the Golden Ring of Moscow
3. Lenin’s Mausoleum
The resting place of Vladimir Lenin, the founding father of the Soviet Union. There are contraversies about whether the body is a wax replica or Lenin’s genuine corpse. You can visit the place to catch a glimpse of his body at rest to make your own judgement.
Opening hours: 10 am to 1 pm.
Closed on: Monday, Friday and Sunday
4. State Historical Museum
Historical museum with artifacts dating back to the prehistoric tribes, and paintings collected by the Romanov Dynasty. Good place if you are a fan of history. Strongly encourage you to buy the English audio guide to really understand what is at display.
Opening hours: Daily, 10 am to 7 pm
For non-history lovers, keep a lookout for interesting stuff to keep yourself entertained!
5. Kremlin & the Armory Chamber
Behind the Kremlin walls houses various cathedrals, the Armory chamber and the President’s office. You can either buy a ticket to the main Kremlin square, where you can walk around the Kremlin square and access the cathedrals, or purchase the ticket that gives you access to the Armory Chamber as well.
The Armory Chamber houses treasures collected by the leaders of Russia, including art pieces, carriages, jewelries, the famous Faberge eggs, thrones (including the famous twin throne) and gifts from Sweden, Britian etc to the Czars. The following website might give you a better understanding about the Kremlin, what you will see and how to go about buying the tickets.
Opening hours: 10 am to 5 pm
Closed on: Tuesday
Within the Kremlin there is the cathedral squares mostly ordered to build by Ivan the Great (III), where you will see at least up to 6 ancient cathedrals and churches parked around each other
6. Pushkin Museum of Fine Arts
A collection of European art pieces in Moscow, you can probably spend a whole day walking through the art museum.
Opening hours: 11 am to 8 pm
Closed on: Monday
7. The State Tretyakov Gallery
If you have only time to visit one art museum, I will recommend this.
The first depository of Russian fine arts, the Tretyakov Gallery was started by Moscow merchant Pavel Mikhailovich Tretyakov. The merchant acquired by Russian artists during his time, which eventually led to the opening of a museum to display the finest work from Russia.
Opening hours: 10 am to 6 pm
Closed on: Monday
8. Saint Basil’s Cathedral
Aside from the cathedrals in the Cathedral Square within the Kremlin (Assumption Cathedral, Church of Laying our Lady’s Holy Robe, Annunciation Cathedral etc), the other cathedral worth visiting is definitely the Saint’s Basil Cathedral in Red Square.
It was built by Ivan the terrible between the 1555 to 1561, to commemorate the capturing of Kazan and Astrakhan. You will notice that the interior is slightly different from the other cathedrals, with 8 side churches around a core, instead of a central opening to a main cathedral.
Opening hours: 10 am to 5 pm
Closed on: Tuesday
The iconic Cathedral stands tall in the middle of Red Square
Streets and sight seeing
9. Tomb of the Unknown Soldier
Also located around the Red Square is the Tomb of the unknown soldier. The tomb is guarded by royal guards, and there will be a change of guard parade every hour. You can try to catch the change of guard and take photos as the guards march into their post with their escorts.
10. Zaryadye Park
The space where the park is currently located has been under contestation by developers to build fancy hotels, restaurants, and apartments, until Valdimir Putin finally declared a park to be built on the space for the general public.
This amazing small space was once homes to the reach Romanov families, a Jewish enclave, earmarked by Stalin to be the site for the 8th Stalinist building and was a monolith hotel with 3000 rooms, before it was finally demolished and became Zaryadye park.
One key highlight of the park is the angular floating bridge that hangs over the canal, where you can walk on to take panoramic views of the Red Square and its surrounding.
11. Arbat Street
Arbat street is a long pedestrian walking street lined with restaurants and bars. You will see street artists singing and performing as you walk.
Grab a drink along the bars and enjoy a relax evening people watching. There are many souvenirs shops along the street, though the things there are pricer than what you can get if you head out of Moscow central.
12. Tverskaya Street
This is a street recommend by many online. We did not manage to walk the street due to our tight schedule. It holds multiple historical buildings with unique architectural designs from the 19th to 20th century.
Moscovery provides you with a great overview of what to expect at Tverskaya if you decided to pay the street visit.
13. Watch a play at Bolshoi Theatre
Swan lake is probably the most famous ballet in Russia, and Bolshoi is probably one of the most famous and historical theatre in Moscow.
Catch a play, ballet or opera in Bolshoi Theatre, just to get inside and view the majestic auditorium. Do note that the price for plays in Bolshoi Theatre can be quite costly though.
Where to shop
Prices in most of the flea market in Russia is relatively fair and not exorbitant. Surprisingly, during our trip there, most shoppers were Russian, even at souvenir shops around tourist hotspots.
People do not smile much, but you’ll realize that the store owners are friendly and helpful once you greet them. Ask all the questions you want about the history of the antiques or about their products, and they will gladly respond without demanding you to make a purchase.
Tips: You can request for a bargain, but discounts usually range between 10 – 20%
Also known as the State Departmental Store during the Soviet Union period, GUM used to hold thousands of vendors selling daily products and necessities. Today, it has turned into a high-end retail outlet populated by big and luxurious brand.
While not exactly a place to shop for us, it is still worth a visit just because of its history. Who knows, some of you might want to visit these shops to check and compare the prices of luxurious products.
15. Discount-Center Of Ordzhonikidze 11
There are multiple factory outlets for brands such as Nike and Adidas around Moscow. We headed to the Discount-Centre of Ordzhonikidze 11, near Leninskiy Prospekt metro station as the Married Girl wanted to get a Russia World Cup jersey with her Russian name printed.
The outlet has some brands and you can get some of the sales item at discounted rate. Brands include Oasis, Karen Millen, Columbia, Samsonite, Quicksilver, Roxy, Tommy Hilfiger, GAS, Fred Perry and others.
16. Izmailovsky market
This place feels a little like Disney land upon our arrival. The main entrance brings you into a Kremlin, looking something like a castle. Within the main square are food stalls and some museums and craft-shops, such as the Vodka Museum, Bread Museum or Weapons Museum. The museums are not worth visiting as they are relatively small and targeted at tourists.
Head out of the main square to the flea market. From the main square, you will connect to the second level of the flea market. This is where you can find antiques, from religious paintings and sculptures to vine recorders, Soviet union badges and coins. The lower level of the flea markets sell more touristy products, such as Matryoshka doll, Farberge eggs and apparels made of animal furs.
The prices here are not the lowest, but fair compared to Moscow central. The quality of some products are really great and you may not be able to find them back at central Moscow. We saw a series of finely hand-painted Matryoshka dolls, which we could not find elsewhere. However, expect the prices to be a little more premium for these products. You can expect a bargain of around 10% to 20% for some items.
Opening hours: Weekends
17. Levsha Flea Market (Novopodrezkovo station)
This place is a wonder, with loads of antiques, glasswares, soviet union badges, coins, tech gadgets to paintings and sculptures from the 19th and 20th century. Walk the place and take your time to look at the products as they can be stacked in a mess within some stores.
However, if you are not interested in antiques and decors, you might not find this place enjoyable. We found the place totally worth it and bought some antiques at a discount as compared to elsewhere.
This is not an easy place to find on Google Map. But if you search for Novopodrezkovo station, you will see Barakholka “Levsha”, which is the flea market itself. It is a little further out of the city, and will take you approximately 45 minutes of car ride to get to the spot. Alternatively, you will need to take the metro to Komosoml’skaya and transit to a train from Leningrad Station to Novopodrezkovo station.
Thinking of going Russia? Tips to help you plan your trip to Moscow
Moscow is a place rich in its history. It is an architecture wonderland with intricate sculptures decorating the pillars and walls of every building. Witness the gandiosity of the empires dating back from the 15th century and listen to stories about the rise and fall of the Soviet Union. Hunt for ancient treasures or talk to the streets of craftsmen and artists, displaying their work of creativity along Izmailovsky market. There are just so much to take in when you are in Moscow.
But before you start packing your bags, there are some things that you might need to know. Read on and begin making your plans for your trip!
You will probably require a tourist visa to enter Russia. Depending on where you are coming from, the fees will differ.
For fellow Singaporeans, fees are generally higher if you require it to be processed within 4 days. There is also a Russian Visa Application Centre service charge of $42 (including GST) for each visa application. You can apply for your visa via the VFS.Global website.
As visa application generally takes 7 to 28 days, make sure you do this early to prevent any issues with your travel.
Buying a data plan will definitely ease your travel. You can source for information about where to go, eat, read up on the historical sites, make hotel or transport bookings and communicate with the locals using google translate (though in Moscow, it might not be necessary as most people do speak some English).
You can get the data plan at the airport. The cheapest one is currently offered by Megafon (while we were there). It costs us around 1000 rubles for 14 days, giving us unlimited data usage for key applications such as Facebook, WhatsApp and Instagram. There was also 10gb for normal internet surfing. MTS on the other hand, cost 1500 rubles for 30 days with 7gb of data and unlimited data for the key applications. Both telcos offer free talk time and messages.
Aside from Megafon and MTS, there are also other telcos at the airport that you can explore. The staff will help you activate the card, but make sure that the data is connected before you leave the airport.
Where to stay
If you google the map of Moscow, you will realize that central Moscow is outlined in the shape of an egg that is sunny-side up. Red Square is the central of Moscow, and is right smack in the centre of the egg yolk.
Finding hotels around the road that forms the outline of the “yolk” is probably going to cost you lesser than living right within Red Square. We stayed at capsule hostels around Arbat street, as indicated in the starred places within the map (above).
Our choice of stay was at Capsule Hostel and Jedi Hostel. Both capsule hostels are quite worth its price, and are near to the SMOLENSKAYA metro (Blue line). Thought we will just give you a brief overview of our two accommodations.
Located right beside the Singapore Embassy (place to be if you want to feel really safe?), Capsule hostel is an apartment with three rooms. There are around 30 capsules across the 3 rooms, with a common area, kitchen area and 2 toilets. The capsules are stacked, and it may be difficult accessing the higher capsules due to the way the steps are designed. Also, you can’t do it without the capsules creaking.
The capsules are generally smaller in size but still reasonably comfortable without us feeling claustrophobic. For those who are concern about the toilets, both the capsules and toilets are well-kept and clean. We didn’t really have any complaints. You might find some long-term guests hanging around the common area, probably a good space if you like to meet new people. You can make yourself some coffee or tea in the kitchen, but the cleanliness of that space is alright.
Located diagonally opposite Russia’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs, and also one of the 7 Sisters with the Stalinist architecture, you might be able to get a beautiful view from your room if you are lucky.
There is a living, dining and a small kitchen area where you can make your drinks or cook a meal. The whole hostel is clean and well-kept. The capsules are generally spacious, with between 4 to 8 capsules in each room. We got the room with only 4 capsules. The steps to the higher capsules are also broad and easy to access. The bathrooms are well kept, and because there were 3 dry and 3 wet toilets, we didn’t have to wait to use the bathroom throughout our stay. A place I will recommend if you are planning for a hostel stay in Moscow.
Getting in and getting around
There are three main airports where you might enter Moscow, depending on the airline of your choice. Domodedovo is located to the south of Moscow Central, Shemeretyevo is located to the north and Vnukovo is located to the southwest.
There are the Aeroexpress train services that connects the airport to the metro services, where you can transit to whereever you are staying in Moscow central. The cost for the Aeroexpress is 500 rubles and a metro ticket cost 55 rubles, regardless of the station you exit. There are also tickets for family of 4 that will cost you 950 rubles for 4 pax.
That said, if you have 2 pax or more, you may consider calling Uber, which will cost you between 900 to 1100 rubles. The journey for both the train and the car will be between 45 mins to 1 hour. Try not to get the cab from the airport, as the taxi from the airport will cost you significantly more, costing anything between 1700 to 2500 rubles.
Once you are in Moscow central, you can easily get around using the metro system. The metro system covers most of the city center, and there is a good chance that you will be able to find a metro near you wherever you are. Rather than repeating content available online, this site that I came across provides you with a good overview of the metro services and how to use it.
Within Moscow central, if you are travelling with 3 pax or more, I will suggest that you go with Uber instead. Depending on where you are going, the prices can be comparative or even cheaper than the metro. It will also save you time from having to walk to the metro stations. Below is a snapshot of the costs of our Uber ride during our stay in Moscow.
To get to other cities in Russia, there are multiple ways, including bus, trains or plane. The most commonly used services would be the train. You can read up more about the various transport services from this guide that I found.
Driving in Russia can be quite a madness. If you have taken the taxi or the Uber, you will know what I mean. I will not recommend driving in Moscow central as the metro is convenient and Uber is readily available. That said, the drive outside of Moscow central can be really enjoyable, with straight clear roads and nice sceneries. You can try driving the Golden Ring of Russia if you are planning a road trip.
If you intend to drive while you are in Moscow, you will need an international driving permit. This can be applied through the AA Singapore’s website for Singaporeans. Do note that most car rentals in Russia require at least 2 years of driving experience.
While most car rentals require a deposit prior to the collection of the car, we managed to skip that with Rentmotors. We filled up the form on the website, and the booking was confirmed. Deposit of 10,000 rubles through credit card was only collected the day we got the car.
While the reviews of Rentmotors online is not entirely positive, mostly due to the attitude of the staff, we had no complaints. Other than looking slightly impatient, all the staff we met spoke English and answered all our queries. Also, the price was significantly cheaper than the other rental agencies that we found online. The car was also in good condition, and the collection point was in central Moscow. That said, do make a thorough check, and make sure that the spare tyre is in the car boot.
It is always good to bring some rubles over to Russia as the exchange rates at the airport are usually not attractive. Once you are out of the airpot and in the city, the rates are generally better. While in Moscow, banks are the places where you can get your money changed.
While not easily available in Singapore, you can still get rubles at some of the money changers in Chinatown and The Arcade. The rates were competitive to what we’ve got in Moscow.
You can change slightly more rubles if you would like to, but do note that you might have problem changing them back to your own currency once you leave Russia. My advice is to change enough rubles for a couple of days, and bring US dollars to change while you travel.
Lastly, you can consider using your credit cards in Russia as the exchange rate from the cards were not that far off from what the banks offered.
Modern media definitely does not do justice to the people of Russia. While western media often portray Russian as fierce, unfriendly, angry-looking mobs, the people we met in Russia were kind and pleasant.
While it is true that most people do not smile much, you will almost always find a response when asking for help or greeting the shop-owners. The shop owners were actually very helpful and took the time to answer our queries, regardless of whether we were buying stuff.
As long as you keep an open mind, be geniune, do not take matters personally, throw in a couple of jokes as you engage in conversations and recognize that there will always be some cultural differences wherever you travel, you will definitely enjoy yourself in Russia.
Thinking of a beach holiday? Find out everything you need to know about the sunny island, from the best time to visit to getting in and out of the island.
There are many beautiful beaches around the sunny island of Singapore, but one particular island that captured my heart is Koh Lipe. Less well-known and popular to Singaporeans, this island offers crystal clear water that you can swim and snorkel alongside fishes. If you are lucky, you can even see sea anemone growing just off the shore! With multiple white sandy beaches, this is a good place if you are seeking a holiday retreat or looking for a break in-between your backpacking holiday from Malaysia to Thailand.
Where is it and when should you go?
Koh Lipe is located at the West Coast of Thailand in the famous Andaman sea, just beyond the border between Malaysia and Thailand. It is slightly further north of Langkawi. It is rich in it’s marine life due to it’s location, and whale sharks used to visit the island regularly. There are multiple dive sites around the island, and you can find many dive shops on the island itself.
There are only two seasons on the island, the wet or dry season. Visiting the island at different timing of the year can be a very different experience. Below is a rough guide on the weather across the 12 months.
Peak season – December to January
Usually crowded but with the lowest rainfall, you can enjoy most of the sunny island if you are fine with crowds. Accommodation also tends to be most expensive during these months.
High season – October to November, February to March
Slightly less crowded than the peak season, you can visit the island with a hope to have more space on the beach for yourself. That said, the line between the peak and high season is thinning as Koh Lipe becomes more popular with tourists from abroad.
Low season – April to June
The high season ends around early April. Rainfall is expected to increase. Despite that, rain does not usually fall continuously throughout a single day. We visited the island in May, with some light showers in the early morning, or occasionally, afternoon. There wasn’t much crowd while we were there, but that said, Koh Lipe is getting popular. I think this is still a good time to visit if you want to escape the crowd. Be prepared for rough waters if you are coming from Pak Bara by speedboat.
Rain season – July – Sept
While transportation from Pak Bara to Koh Lipe runs throughout the year, ferries from Langkawi stops by June and resume in October. Rainfall is usually the highest during this period. The sea can be rough and ferries from other piers beside from Pak Bara are usually not in operation. Most of the shops on the island are closed.
Getting in and out
There are two main routes to get in and out of Koh Lipe. The most convenient and comfortable way is to get in from Langkawi. The other route, less travelled by Singaporeans will be to enter Koh Lipe from Pak Bara. I shall briefly introduce you to both routes to help you get your planning going.
Singapore to Hat Yai Airport to Pak Bara Pier to Koh Lipe
Duration:The total time to get from Hat Yai to Koh Lipe is estimated to be 4 hours. The time from Hat Yai to Pak Bara pier is approximately 2.5 hrs, and the ferry to Koh Lipe from the pier is 1.5 to 2 hrs. Ferry departs at 3 timings daily to Koh Lipe. More schedules are available during high season. The first ferry departs at 9.30 am while the last ferry leaves Pak Bara by 3.30pm.
Ticketing and timing: There are now connecting tickets that can pick you up from the airport or hotel in Hat Yai directly to Pak Bara, where you will transfer to the ferry at the Pak Bara pier. If you are intending to head down to Koh Lipe from the airport, you will need to make sure your arrival timing allows adequate time for you to transit to Pak Bara and catch the ferry to Koh Lipe. You will probably need to depart Hat Yai by 12 pm to catch the last ferry at 3.30pm. If you are staying overnight in Hat Yai, you can arrange to leave Hat Yai by 8 am to catch the earlier ferry at 11.30am.
Compared to 5 years ago, there are many ways to purchase the combo tickets now. From booking online to arranging with travel agents, you can find your preferred arrangements. You can use sites such as 12Go Asia to see the list of operators providing the combination tickets, or to check the schedules of the buses and ferries. (Proclaim: I have never booked through the website myself, so be sure to check reviews before booking). If you have time, you can also walk around Hat Yai to source for travel agents offering the same services, which was what we did previously. Be sure to make some price comparison before booking.
Tips to get out:To get out of Koh Lipe by the same route, we requested for our accommodation to help us book our ferry tickets. Get this done the day you arrive to secure the tickets home. After reaching Pak Bara, we walked around the pier and book with a travel agent to catch a minivan back to Hat Yai.
On a side note, expect some chaos when transiting from the minivan or bus to the ferry. You may need to take some initiatives to check your ferry tickets and timing to ensure that you do not miss the boat.
Langkawi to Koh Lipe (Not available from mid-June to early October, check the schedules before arranging for the trip)
This route is more direct. There are two jetty that you can catch a ferry to Koh Lipe, Kuah Jetty and Telaga Harbor (Telaga opens only during specific months in the year). You can either get the ferry tickets at the jetty or book through online platforms. Tropical Charters offer ferries that depart from Kuah jetty while Telaga Terminal depart from Telaga Habour. (Again, I’ve not booked with them before, so do find might a little more before booking). Ferry schedules are limited, so be sure to check the timing and coordinate your arrival and departure out of Langkawi. To be safe, I will usually arrive in the country one day earlier and plan for my flight one day later, after returning back to Langkawi. You should also check-in to the ferry terminal at least 2 hrs before the departure timing. You will be expected to clear immigration at the jetty and also upon arrival in Koh Lipe. You will be transferred from the ferry to a speedboat, on a off-shore platform as there are no pier for the ferry to dock on Koh Lipe.
You will probably arrive in Pattaya beach. From there, you can walk down to your accommodation, or use one of the long-tail boat-taxis to your accommodation.
Places to stay and things to do
There are three main beaches in Koh Lipe, Sunrise beach, Sunset Beach and Pattaya beach. Sunrise beach stretches more than a kilometer and has knee-deep water that seems to stretch for miles during low tide. It is not as crowded as Pattaya beach, but a short walk to the main walking street is required, where you can get food or drinks. It is a good place for snorkeling and you will be able to catch fishes or even sea anemone at parts of the beach where fewer long-tails dock.
Pattaya beach is livelier, and is a stone throw away from walking street. There are also some bars lined-up along the beach. As the beach is sheltered from strong waves, many long-tail boats dock in the area. Sunset beach is relatively shorter, and as you guessed it, provides a good view of the sunset. There are not many amenities in this side of the island, and much less convenient than the other two beaches.
The island can be covered simply within 2 hours walk, maximum. It really is an ideal place if you are looking to sit by the beach, read a book, take a dip in the waters or feel the afternoon breeze blowing gently as you close your eyes to relax. It is also a heaven for divers, as the dive spots had ample of beautiful soft corals while we were there. Whale sharks were known to be sighted in the area as well. There is a walking street where there are bars, food and shops selling souvenirs. However, most of the shops were closed during the low season.
Things to take note
Cash is king:We didn’t see any ATMs while we were there, though reviews indicated that there are some. My advice is to change enough money before going over to Koh Lipe. Also, expect prices on the island to be slightly higher than the average, as everything from fruits to beer are imported from the mainland.
Proper wear:Whether you are coming from Pak Bara or Langkawi, it is best to wear strap-on sandals if you do not want to lose your slippers in the water. The boats will dock you in the shallow waters of the beach, and you might be expected to waddle to the shore with your luggage. Make sure you waterproof all your clothes, just in case the bags ends up in the water.
Crazily exciting boat rides:The rides by speedboats from Pak Bara can be pretty rough, and may not be for the faint-hearted. Down a life-jacket if provided. You may also want to take motion sickness-pill if you are prone to sea-sick.
Don’t over-cramp your schedule: Lastly, many things can happen on the small island. Whether boat rides are delayed due to poor weather conditions, or tickets are sold out during high season. Give yourself ample of time between your flights, and getting in and out of the island. My advice is not to schedule your flight the same day you depart the island. The last thing you want to do is to end up stressing over a beach getaway!
Thinking of going Chiang Mai from Bangkok? Check out our friend’s couple blog to find out more about how to do that!
Our day-trip in Lombok that led to a sharing of personal memories, local folklores and cultural learnings. Read on to find out more!
A cultural trip around Lombok
After hearing all the stories shared by Mr Irwan, we were quite excited to explore the island and understand a little more about the culture of the Sasak people. The married girl and I had a quick “English” breakfast of poached eggs and toast before heading out to meet Arun, the guesthouse staff who was also our guide for the day. Our driver was silent throughout the trip, probably due our language barrier. Nevertheless, he was friendly and got us some snacks which Sophia gladly ate along the way back.
Practical usage of the land
Arun was exceptionally sociable and quickly started introducing us to Lombok. Pointing to the vast padi fields that decorated the land, Arun shared that the yields were mainly harvested for domestic consumption, rarely exported (which we were informed again later at the traditional (Indra) village of the Sasak people). As we passed by some hills, Arun turned and asked, “What do you think people who live on the hilly area of the mountains, where the soil is often dry, do with their land?” I randomly looked at the hills which was now covered with vegetation that looked like shrubs or wild plants. “Erm…I’m not sure, maybe used for cattle grazing?” A feeble attempt at the question, even though I was quite sure that was definitely not what the land was used for. “There are two types of rice crops in Lombok, one that requires the water-logged fields to grow, and the other dry-seeded rice that could survive on dry land, which was often planted in the hills. This was to help increase the rice yield during the dry season and to maximize the land use in Lombok”. Another new piece of information for a tourist like me.
Stories of love, tradition and marriage
Along the way, we were stopped by a massive traffic jam with people streaming on both side of the car. “This is a wedding ceremony!” Arun exclaimed. We managed to catch a glimpse of the bride and the groom whom were both dressed in white traditional Sasak costumes, with a Sarong wrapped across their top. The groom was also carrying a huge Kris (dagger), which Arun explained was a symbol of protection that grooms provided for their brides. It was also a tradition that served a function in the past, as long distances between villages meant that the grooms had to carry their own weapons in case of enemy’s attacks.
Arun then explained to us that in Lombok, people can get married by “being stolen”, if the parents were not agreeable to the union between a couple. Similar to the idea of “elope”, young couples will get married in the middle of the night outside the village with the support of their close friends. After that, the “newly weds” will return to their villages to inform and seek their parents’ consent to proceed with the marriage. A formal ritual will then occur once the consents have been given. In the culture of the Sasak people, it was difficult for parents to reject the marriage due to the stigma associated with women who had been “stolen”. Arun shared that his wife and himself went through a stolen marriage to get together, as their parents were not very supportive of their union. Though relationships with his parents-in-law used to be tensed, the birth of his daughter has helped reconciled the relationships. It was an interesting cultural exchange from Arun, given that Sophia and I were also planning for our wedding back then. The idea of “being stolen” tickled me for a moment.
Banyemulek, a small village in the global world
Not long after, we reached our first destination, Banyamulek. Arun pointed out that Banyamulek used to be a pottery village in the past, where every household made potteries for living. Today, there are a few pottery factories in the village still engaged in the trade. He led us into a building where we found ourselves standing in a room filled with handmade pottery products, from vase, to ornaments, to coasters, to teapots and all. Most of the potteries are shipped to the Middle-east for sale, said a lady who walked into the store to greet us. It was amazing to imagine how the pottery seated in the store in this little village might be ending up in some mega-malls in the Middle-east shopping districts.
A shop lady brought us to a counter and presented to us what looked like a “teapot”. There was no opening at the top, but a large hole at the bottom of the pot. With the teapot inverted, she took some water and started pouring into the hole. Then, like a confident magician, she flipped the teapot around and started pouring water from the stout. No water spilled out from the bottom of the vase, despite the big gaping hole at the base. Grinning, she knew her trick worked as I was immediately attracted to the teapot (which I ultimately got from her in the end). Arun explained that the ‘teapot’ was called Kendil Maling, which also meant burglar, as water entered from the back, like a burglar entering a house through the backdoor.
We were then led to the back of the store where a few women sat on stools. “Go ahead and make one” Arun encouraged. We sat down and got started on our own little pottery. Throughout the 15 mins, I was busy trying to talk to the ladies with my limited knowledge of Bahasa Melayu, instead of making the pottery. We laughed trying to help each other comprehend each other, and of course, I learnt that my Melayu was nowhere near understandable.
Sukarara Village – The weaving village
We reached our second destination, also known as the Sukarara Village. A local guide brought us around the village, which was a very short and simple tour. Nevertheless, it was interesting to look at how weaving made up the entire economy of the village. Noticing that only the women were busy weaving in the village, while the males sat around in groups and chit-chatted, I asked the guide politely about the gender segregation of roles. The guide explained that only women were allowed to weave, and in the culture of the Sukarara, women who could not weave will have difficulty finding partners. It seems to be quite a tedious job as the women wove each thread manually to form the traditional batik. Sophia got her hands on it, and I’m glad she managed to weave a few threads. “Better learn how to weave, if not no marriage for you next year!” I gave my boldest threat to her in a light-hearted way.
The cultural heritage of the Sasak people
The last cultural trip was to visit a traditional village of the Sasak people. We visited a traditional house that was made with cow “dung” and mud. It was a simple house with no rooms or any partition. The door was low and the ceiling was made of straw grass. An old benevolent looking grandma sat on the porch right in-front of the house, and some photos of the granny decorated the entrance to the place, giving the place a warm and homely feel. Remembering what the guide said about giving respect to the owner before entering, I turned and gave my widest smile to the granny, greeting her “Selamat Tengah Hari Macik!” (Good afternoon auntie!). She looked happy at my greeting and smiled, revealing the few teeth that she had left. Despite looking like an old and frail granny, she was a hipster at heart. The granny beckoned for me to take a photograph with her while at the same time assessing whether I fitted into her definition of healthy young man by squeezing my arm and shoulders. I must have passed her assessment because she kept giving me the thumbs up sign. I was shock when she raised her “lets rock” hand gesture.
We took some photos with her, and took a tour around her place. It was clean and neat and everything was nicely hung in place on the walls, including utensils such as ladle and spoons. Sacks and sacks of rice was piled up at a corner of the room. Despite the dung used in the construction, there was no smell. I was impressed how little they needed and how tidy everything was kept in place. We also found out that couples in the Sasak did not sleep together except for times when they wanted to be intimate (which the guide said was not often). The husband slept outside the house at the porch, while the women slept in the huts. Children will usually sleep together with their mother in the huts, and once the couple had children, it got even harder for intimacy. This was a totally different culture from us, and made me wonder how love is defined in the traditional villages of Lombok. We walked through the village and identified the traditional houses of the Sasak people. The tall “horse-shoe” shaped roofs stored rice crops, and also provided resting areas for the people. It must have been an important symbol as many of the modern buildings in Lombok replicated its design.
One of Lombok Fantastic 4 – Tanjung Ann
“Walk barefoot on distant sands, amid the brightly painted boats at rest”
Connor Reade (1932 – 99)
The trip was scheduled to end with a beach visit. “You must definitely visit Lombok’s Fantastic 4, Selong Belanak, Mawun, Kuta and Tanjung Aan beach. It is like our Lombok’s 4 treasure!” proclaimed Arun as we asked him where will we be heading to. “It is not like Kuta Bali, so many people and so much drugs”. Indeed, Kuta Lombok still offers sandy white beach with deep blue water. The beach was also relatively quiet, just a couple of tourists who biked their way over. I noticed that unlike Senggigi or Gili, there were no guesthouses, shops or restaurants around the beaches. In fact, Arun informed us that the government has cordoned off and pull-down guesthouses that used to stretched along some of these beaches, so as to conserve the natural landscape for the locals.
We drove on for another 15 minutes to Tanjung Ann, through some badly paved roads, alongside tourists who slung their surf boards at the side of their bikes. Arun pointed to a pond along the way, and shared that buffalo races are conducted here every year and men who owned buffaloes will take part. I was a little surprised due to the depth of the water. Arun must have caught it as he quickly explained that the water will be shallower during the dry season when the competitions were held.
Suddenly, the path opened to a lagoon guarded by two green hills to its left and right. The water was turquoise blue and the sand… Arun grabbed a handful of the sand, and showed it to us. “Pepper-grain.” He said. Each grain was round that looked like pepper. But under the feet, it still felt soft and smooth.
We walked down the white sandy beach and I jumped into the turquoise blue water for a swim. The water was deep. Just as we were relaxing by the beach, Arun walked over with two coconuts in his hands. I felt bad having him serve us our drinks, and thanked him repeatedly. It was a good way to end the trip. After an hour or so, we decided to make our way back. We took out our Polaroid camera and took two photos with Arun, one which we gave to him. I’ve never seen anyone who appreciated the photo so much as he repeated thanked us and claimed that this will really cheer his daughter up. It moved me to see him appreciate such a simple gift and his constant thoughts about his family, especially his daughter.
A tale of a princess and a cliff.
Arun insisted that we stopped one last destination before heading back. It was just 10 minutes’ drive from Tanjung Aan. He stopped at a beach outside a resort. The beach looked as equally magnificent as Tanjung Aan. “This,” he said, “is Mandalika beach”. According to legend, Princess Mandalika was a beautiful princess of Lombok. She was so astoundingly beautiful that it attracted princes from different kingdoms. Kingdoms threatened war in order to ask for her hand. Facing the brink of a war occurring between kingdoms, her father asked Mandalika to choose amongst her suitor. Mandalika knew she was left with no options. The burden of her decision was heavy and will ultimately lead to the war amongst kingdoms.
To announce her decision, Mandalika invited all the princes and kings to the cliff that now overlooked the Indian Ocean. On that fateful day, she turned to the crowd and jumped off the cliff without making any decision. Her body was never found despite the King’s effort to search for her remains. Rumours was that her body had turned into sea worms that was a source of food for the people. To commemorate Mandlika’s sacrifice, a ceremony was held every year at the Mandlika beach, where villagers will gather to look for sea worms and make offering to the princess. Arun pointed to what was left of the cliff after years of erosion, and showed me the place where Princess Mandalika was said to have jumped. It was strange to me when I first heard that her body turned to sea worms but I guessed sea worms must have been useful for the people in the past. Nevertheless, it was a fascinating story to me.
We made it back by nightfall, exhausted. It was a long day, but a good way to end our trip in Lombok, having at least seen something different from the beaches and the mountains, and learning about the stories and traditions of the local people
Have a long weekend to spare, but not sure what to do? If you want to explore something different from your usual staycation, check out how you can conquer Merapi and visit Borodudur in your next long weekend holiday!
Are you looking to maximise your holiday over a long weekend? Searching for something more than the usual staycation? Lucky for you, being in Singapore means that there are plenty of destinations around us that offer unique experiences that you can cover over a short trip. All these with some proper planning of course! In this post, I will share with you on how you can trek the famous Mount Merapi and visit Borobudur, one of the world’s seven wonder, all within the course of a long weekend.
The summary of the itinerary as follow: Day 1: Arrival in Yogyakarta, Visit Borobudur temple, Depart to Selo village Day 2: Ascend Mount Merapi, Return to Yogyakarta, Visit Prambanan temple (optional) Day 3: Depart Yogyakarta to Singapore
Day 1: Singapore to Yogyakarta Estimated arrival time: 12pm – 1pm Activities: Visit Borobudur Temple tour, Mendut and Pawon Temple, Check-in hotel (optional), Depart for Merapi Sunrise trek
Based on current flight schedule, AirAsia offers the cheapest and most direct way of getting into Yogyakarta from Singapore. Arrive around 1pm in Yogyakarta and meet with your guide. I will recommend a guide for this trip due to the tight schedule, and also because it is easier to get around with a vehicle. Have lunch and head straight to Borobudur and witness one of the world’s greatest wonder. Borobudur is one of the world most majestic Buddhist monument built around the 8th to 9th AD under the reign of Syailendra Dynasty.
Once you reach Borobudur, you will notice that the whole temple is structured into layers, forming a slight pyramid with the Stupa as its tip. The Borobudur temple is divided into three layers, representing the concept of Universe in Buddhist cosmology. The base layer of the temple signifies Kamadhatu, or the ‘spheres of desire’, and is symbolic of how we are bounded by our humanly desires. The five square terraces of the temple forms the middle layer, representing Rupadhatu , or ‘spheres of forms’, where one abandons all desires but is still bounded by our name and our form. The three circular platforms and the huge Stupa at the top forms the last layer. This is symbolic of Arupadhatu, or ‘sphere of formlessness’, where we are nothingness, neither name nor form. The temple reflects the concept of nirvana in Buddhist teachings and is an interesting monument that you have to visit. You can also engage a local guide who will be able to bring you around and explain to you the cravings along the temple walls.
The temple compound consists of three buildings, the main Borodudur temple and two smaller temples, Mendut and Pawon temples. Visit Mendut and Pawon and imagine how huge the temple must have been in the past, when you remove all the roads, shops and building surrounding the structures in the modern world today.
By the time you are done, you will notice that it is almost 5pm to 6pm. Head down to a local restaurant and have a good feast to prepare for the night’s climb. If you prefer to have a shower, you can book a hotel to drop your luggage and have a quick wash-up before departing to Selo village, where you will begin your trek to Merapi. Alternatively, you can also save some money by keeping your luggage in your guide’s vehicle and head down to Selo Village after dinner. The ride to Selo is about 2 hours and the local trekking guides in Selo will bring you up Merapi. You can freshen up in their office while you wait for other climbers to arrive.
Day 2: Selo village – Yogyakarta Activities: Conquer Mount Merapi, check-in to hotel in Yogyakarta, visit UNESCO World Heritage site, Prambanan Temple (optional but highly recommended)
You will begin your trek between 1am and 2 am in the morning. The trek is challenging. Please do train and be mentally prepared for the climb. You will need to be quite fit to reach the summit within the next 4 hours to catch the sunrise. To give you an indication, the group we hiked consisted of about 30 people. We heard that less than 10 made it to the summit to catch the sunrise. It gets harder the higher you go, as the path becomes more inclined, and loose rocks forms the footpath instead of soil. You will need to ascend at a relatively quick pace to make it to the summit for the sunrise. But not to fret, even if you can’t reach the summit before the sunrise. There are 3 check-points before the summit where you can stop, each at different altitudes, and each offering a good view of the sunrise. If you are feeling too tired, the guides will recommend that you stop at the check-point nearest to you, so that you can still catch a good view of the distance rising sun.
Some tips to prepare you for the trek, you will need to bring water, and probably some light snacks. It can get quite cold as you near the summit, so do wear a good cold-jacket or wind-breaker. Most importantly, a good pair of trekking boots and a pair of gloves can do you a lot of good for the trek.
After conquering the summit, you will return to Selo by around 9 to 10 am. Tired and sleepy by now, get back to Yogyakarta and check-in to your hotel. You can have a good shower, freshen up or rest for the day. But to really maximise this long weekend, I will recommend that you arrange with your guide to visit Prambanan temple, one of the UNESCO World Heritage site. Unlike Borobudur, Prambanan is a Hindu temple built to honor the Hindu deity, Lord Shiva. It was built by the Hindu Sanjaya Dynasty, supposedly to outshine Borobudur and to mark the end of a century of the Buddhist Sailendra Dynasty domination. It is equally as majestic as the Borobudur temple, with intricate carvings lining its tall and pointed architecture. Catch the sunset at Prambanan, before heading off for a good dinner, some beer and rest for the night.
Day 3: Depart Yogyakarta to Singapore
Some final thoughts
So there you have it, a good cultural and outdoor adventure trip, all within the duration of a long weekend. Just a couple of my own thoughts below for your consideration, if you are planning to proceed with this itinerary.
Flying in one night before – Due to the tight schedule, it is always good to fly in the night before the long weekend, so that you have at least 2 full days for your holiday. That said, there isn’t a lot of flight timings that you can choose from. At the moment, AirAsia offers the cheapest and most direct way to get to Yogyakarta, though the timing may not allow you to maximise your holiday. Alternatively, if you don’t mind a longer flight time, you can check out Garuda Indonesia for alternative options.
Engage a local operator to save time – Also, do consider going with a local operator for this itinerary. Having a local operator can help you save time by maximising your schedule. Also, with a vehicle, you can get around to places with cheap and good local delicacies. I booked with Dejong Asia for my last trip. We met Frans, who was really considerate and made our experience much more memorable by bringing us to local food places, and introducing us to some of his friends at Selo Village (Just to proclaim, I do not get commission for the introduction, but a good service is definitely worth a recommendation). If not, you can easily find your own local operator from the internet and make this itinerary work.
Go with a group to save money – Lastly, I will recommend going with a group of 3 to 4 companions to save cost. If you are going with a local operator, sharing the cost of the guide and the vehicle with a group of friends is definitely a good way to cut some budget off your travelling expenditure. We spent approximately $300 for 2 pax for the activities for this trip. A group of 4 will definitely bring this lower.
I do hope this itinerary will bring some possibilities for your next holiday over the long weekend. Please do share with us your experiences and contribute to improving this itinerary!
Stories about Lombok, from legendary princess to mystical caves. Waiting to be retold.
From surviving a grueling Rinjani to walking by the beautiful beaches of the Gilis, we finally arrived in Senggigi, the last destination of our trip. Our journey from Gili Air to the town of Senggigi was not entirely hassle-free, with the agent from Persona not wanting to drop us at our hotel, and subsequently trying to sell us an over-priced airport shuttle service. But I guess we kind of got used to such situations by now.
We arrived at Jo Je Bungalow in the morning, with the sun shining brightly and the flowers outside the resort still moist with the morning dew. Almost immediately, we heard someone greeting us merrily, “Selemat Pagi! Jepun?” We were amused by the comment as we had been repeatedly mistaken as Japanese throughout the trip, perhaps due to our charcoal-burnt skin and Sophia’s hair, styled in a bun. We looked towards the direction of the voice, only to see a short, hardy looking man peering at us through a small window, which seems to be the kitchen. We smiled and I replied in my broken Bahasa Melayu, “Selemat pagi! Saya Singaporean” while the man hurried out of the kitchen to welcome us. “Hi! I’m Mr Iwan, the manager here, aaah, Singaporean!” exclaimed Mr Iwan, signaling to us that he should have second guessed that we were from Singapore instead. Very quickly, we introduced ourselves and chatted in the waiting area while we waited for our room to be ready.
Mr Iwan was a small size, but sturdy looking man who spoke slowly and patiently. It was obvious that he was a man who was proud and passionate about his country. We shared about our experiences in Rinjani while he excitedly shared his, having climbed the mountain himself four times.
“There are so many beautiful and magical places in Rinjani. Like the Payung cave, a cave with a very small entrance between two rocks, which locals believe that only people who lived their lives with good intention and morals can pass through those rocks, unharmed.” he spoke slowly, with his eyes shifting slightly to look at us, trying to assess if he had gotten our attention. “You see, I’ve witness this. I saw my friend, bigger than you, going through the gap with no problem. Easy. But this white tourist, smaller than me, had to struggle and squeeze through the rocks. He was small, but we don’t know why he couldn’t pass. After that, inside the cave, he stopped and we saw cuts across his chest and bruises on his elbows. This is the working of the spirits guarding the caves.”
Mr Iwan continued with a couple more stories, relating to us his experiences of the milk caves (Susu Caves) where locals will sometime visit and stay overnight to enjoy the hot baths and sauna. “Only those with strong self-confidence will rest at ease in the caves, while others who often doubted themselves or had evil intentions will have restless nights, visited by snakes, scorpion, centipedes and even shadows of the other world”. We were intrigued by the stories that Mr Iwan shared, and can’t help, but be amazed by the cultural richness of the people in Lombok.
I asked Mr Irwan what to do while we were in Lombok. So many people have skipped the mainland during their trip from Rinjani to the Gili. He suggested that we visit the different cultural activities of Lombok while we were here, and to understand the local Sasak people’s way of life. Since we had nothing in mind, we signed up for a trip with the hotel, and quickly identified some of the cultural places that interest us.
We went for the trip the next day with Arun, but that is another story, waiting to be told another time. After returning from the trip, I spoke to Mr Iwan about our experiences, and things we had learnt about the Sasak people. To our disappointment, there were so many other places that we could have visited if we had more time in Lombok.
Mr Irwan talked about the biggest fish market in Lombok, Tanjung Luar that one can visit. “Tanjung Luar supplies fishes to the regional restaurants and markets. Fishes like sharks, manta rays, and sometimes even dolphins are on sale.” I was dismayed by the fact that sharks and dolphins were hunted, and asked Mr Iwan who bought these fishes. “Chinese restaurants in Bali, Java or Jakarta demand these fishes. Many people feel that it is wrong, but it is the way of life for the local people”. Feeling perturbed, yet intrigued, I felt compelled to visit this early market if I ever come back again.
“Tanjung Ringgit, the Grand Canyon of Lombok,” he added “is a very beautiful area that overlooked the ocean. You can take your wedding photo there!” he laughed (thinking back, it totally slipped our mind during our wedding). “You can also visit Bangkang caves, the house to many bats. Not far from Senggigi”. Bat hunting, which he proclaimed was legal, can also be done on the Eastern part of Lombok. “There are so many things to do that you can’t find in Lonely Planet or Tripadvisor”. Indeed, Mr Iwan`s introduction of Lombok, the things to do and to see, definitely sounds more exciting than what was recommended by Lonely Planet or TripAdvisor. Too bad, we only gave this island three days, after hearing from friends that there was nothing much to do, and finding nothing from online travel guides.
For the remaining of our trip, we spent our time mostly in the resort, reminiscing our first trekking experience together. Jo Je Bungalow was a beautiful place and our room faced the ocean. The sand in front of the resort was brownish black. Though it looked muddy, it nevertheless felt soft and smooth as you walked along the beach. Every evening, we’ll sit by the beach chairs and enjoy the gentle warmth of the setting sun. If it was raining, we’ll watch the rain drops softly on the sand from the comfort of our room. Other times, we’ll just sit by the beach, hearing the sound of the waves crashing against the sand. It was a good way to end the trip, and hopefully this story too.
Reasons why I’ll definitely not miss Lombok for my next holiday, and you shouldn’t too!
Most people only knows Lombok for two things, scaling the almighty Rinjani, and visiting the pristine clear waters of Gili Islands. But Lombok offers more than that, with many hidden gems waiting to be uncovered. Don’t get me wrong, Bali is still a wonderful travel destination, with its own attractions and experiences. But there are just so many unique and off-beaten experiences in Lombok that you can’t resist going back again.
Believed to be the next up and rising “Bali”, Lombok is relatively less well-known than Bali, is less crowded and also less touristy. It is definitely a place that you should visit before it rises through its rank to become the next tourist hotspot in Indonesia.
1. Pristine and secluded beaches in Lombok
Unknown to many, but Lombok has one of the nicest and most beautiful beaches around. Beach-hopping is a must if you are visiting Lombok. Step foot in Lombok’s Fantastic 4, Selong Belanak, Mawun, Kuta and Tanjung Aan beach. Be amazed by the undisturbed, pepper-grained or white sandy beaches. Hike to the surrounding hills to catch a breath-taking view of the scenery and take panoramic selfies. Or take a dip in its deep blue or turquoise water, while you enjoy a coconut sold by a couple of street hawkers by the beach. There is just so much you can do. After you are done with the Fantastic 4, visit Pantai Tangsi, also know as the Pink Beach in Lombok. Head there just before sunset and be dazed by this beauty Witness the beach turn pastel pink as the sun sets across the sea.
2. Immerse in an array of off-beaten, unique activities
Home to the Sasak people, there are plenty of cultural activities that you can engage in. Visit the pottery village, Banyemullek, and get your hands muddy as you attempt to make potteries with the guidance of locals. Or go to the Sakurara village to learn about the weaving economy and catch a glimpse of the traditional weaving methods practised by women in the villages. Or head down to a traditional Sasak village to hear about the traditional Sasak way of life. Visit houses made of clay and cow ‘dung’, and understand how different crops are used during wet and dry seasons to maximise a farmers’ yields.
If you are looking for more off-beaten activities, wake up in the wee hours of the morning and head down to Tanjung Luar. Watch as people trade for all type of fishes in the regional fish market. But be wary as you will see that many of the precious marine wildlife are traded here, including sharks, manta rays or sometimes even dolphins. You can also try to catch the annual Male’an Sampai buffalo races in April,organised to celebrate and pray for fertile yields before the dry season. Alternatively, you can visit Bangkang cave and be swamped by millions of bats living within. Bat hunting is still practised and bat meat is a local delicacy in some parts of Lombok.
3. A land of legendary myths and mystical stories
With a vibrant culture comes legendary myths and mystical stories. Every destination has its own secrets and stories waiting to be told. Chat with the locals you meet along your trip, and be awed by how everyone has some stories to tell. Hear about the story of Mandalika, the Lombok princess who sacrificed her life to prevent a war from erupting between kingdoms. Or the mystical milk caves where locals would visit and stay within, where “only those with a strong self-confidence will rest at ease in the caves, while others who often doubted themselves or had evil intentions would have restless nights, visited by snakes, scorpion, centipedes and even shadows of the other world”.
4. Tanjung Ringgit, the grand canyon of Lombok
If you have not gotten enough of the ocean, head down to Tanjung Ringgit, also known as the grand canyon of Lombok. Tanjung Ringgit is the cape located at the Eastern edge of Lombok, constituting a series of majestic cliffs overlooking the open sea. The view is amazing as you stroll along the edge of the cliffs.
5. Day treks and waterfalls
If you are craving for treks but don’t feel prepared for Rinjani, you can easily find day-treks that takes you to beautiful waterfalls. With a huge national park (Rinjani National Park, covering a total of 413 square kilometers), you can expect easily find day-treks and waterfalls to visit. Trek to the Benang Stokal and Benang Kelambu curtain waterfalls, and witness the water falling through the trees. Or head to Sendang Gile and Tie Kelep waterfalls in Senaru, where the treks are easier but the waterfalls are no less breath-taking.
6. The Gilis
There are more than just the three famous Gili, Gili Air, Meno and Trawangan in Lombok. Check out the other Gili in eastern Lombok if you have not done so. The 5 popular Gili, Gili Kondo, Bidari, Petagan, Sulat and Lawang in eastern Lombok are mostly inhabited, retaining much of authentic beauty. Petagan is best known for its abundance of mangrove and corals. An intermix of the two is truly a unique sight as you snorkel in the water of Petagan.
7. The crowd (there is literally none!)
Aside from the jetty heading to Gili Trawangan, there was literally no tourists in Lombok when we were there. I am not sure if this is still the same today, but compared to Bali, Lombok is definitely still much quieter and peaceful. If you are looking for a relaxing getaway, away from crowds and people, you should find Lombok a much more attractive location to visit.
8. You can rent a scooter to ride through the island, without having to weave through crazy traffic
We’ve read that you can get a motorcycle of scooter in Senggigi to ride around the island. I can imagine just the ride itself will be hell of an experience.
That said, we have not been able to cover all the mentioned attractions and activities during our trip in Lombok, which is precisely why I will still choose to come back to Lombok if I had the chance.
So the next time you are attempting Rinjani summit or heading to the Gili islands (Trawangan, Air or Meno), don’t skip Lombok mainland. Give yourself a few days and be rewarded with the experiences that Lombok has to offer!