New York City – 12 Key Attractions

New York City, North America, Southeast Asia

New York, concrete jungle where dreams are made of…

Well, NYC is just full of life and the street lights made me feel slightly brand new… :p

So glad that I did this trip with my bestie and a lot of planning were involved – where to go, what to do, when to go, what to eat etc. This trip took us few months to prepare but worth every single bit. This blog entry shall cover these 12 key attractions to go if you have limited amount of time.

  1. Brooklyn Bridge

It is a hybrid cable-stayed/suspension bridge connecting Manhatten and Brooklyn. Take 4,5,6 train to Brooklyn Bridge/City Hall stop, exit the station and you will see crowd going in one direction. That’s how we ended up at the bridge haha.

I would highly recommend to walk the entire bridge, soak in the atmosphere and the enjoy the city view. We walked there and took a train back, after we were done exploring Brooklyn before evening.

At the end of Brooklyn Bridge, there was Jane’s Carousel! To all ladies out there, you need to drop by for some OOTD shots!

IMG_0240.JPG

I would say exploration at the Brooklyn Bridge would take half a day, if you plan to have lunch and grab a drink there. There’s abundance of cafes and restaurants in Dumbo, Brooklyn.

2. Rockefeller Center / Top of the Rock

IMG_0307

Isn’t this so dreamy to watch? Imagine ice-skating on this rink during the holiday season! But I didn’t have much energy left to ice-skate and the first and last time I did was 13 years old. LOL. Do remember to drop by Magnolia Bakery for their banana pudding!

We were a tad late to book afternoon tickets for the observation deck at Rockefeller and settled for night time. Well, the city lights sure took our breath away.

IMG_0336.JPG

IMG_0344.JPG

IMG_0335

3. MOMA The Museum of Modern Art

Next day, we started our day to visit MOMA to see Claude Monet’s work – Water Lilies, Starry Night and other impressive exhibitions.

IMG_0455

4. Metropolitan Museum of Art

IMG_0559

Yes it was museum hopping day. We headed to Metropolitan Museum of Art – any gossip girl fan??? It was drizzling but the rain won’t stop us.

IMG_0560IMG_0564IMG_0538IMG_0567

5. Central Park

Well, I was not very impressed by Central Park – maybe I see too many pretty pictures on IG and I have this false expectations.

IMG_0598

How this trip came along was that we wanted to coincide with autumn foliage sight at Central Park and somehow we forgot this highlight along the way of our planning haha. Though we didn’t see the autumn foliage, still an awesome sight to behold.

6. Woodbury Common Premium Outlet

IMG_0646.JPG

This is everyone’s fave place to shop! Get ready your credit cards and go shopping already! We booked this tour with our hotel (most of the NYC hotels should offer this) and we spent the entire day shopping. We actually missed our return bus at 4pm but thankfully we called and requested to hop on the last bus at 6pm. This was the first time that I did not feel hungry but just keep shopping and buying.

7. Chelsea Market

Chelsea market is really a great place to eat and shop, especially for vintage lovers. It is an enclosed food court with lots of food choices and a small area of flea market. It’s a short walk from Hudson River in Manhattan area. This place is definitely worth your time for a short visit to grab a lobster roll and soak in the atmosphere.

8.  Broadway Musicals

IMG_0870

When in NYC, you have to experience the magic of Broadway in New York City.  There’s abundance to choose from and we settled for Chicago. It was amazing! I caught Phantom of the Opera on my own few days later and was so hooked onto Broadway now.

9. Grand Central Terminal

IMG_0890.JPG

This world famous landmark is not to be missed. It’s more than a transportation hub, but offers shopping and dining options as well. Again, gossip girl fans will recognize this place to be the opening of Serena.

10. FlyNyon Helipcopter Ride

Another crazy adventure that we embarked during this trip would be taking this open door helicopter ride with Flynyon. We had to attend a safety briefing session before we started this 15-min ride, which cost us around USD$299. But it was a YOLO experience.

https://www.flynyon.com/product/nyc-experience

IMG_1116.JPG

IMG_1057.JPG

11. Statue of Liberty

Another iconic place to go would be the Statue of Liberty National Monument. We took the cruise to get some shots but we did not visit the Ellis Island Immigration Museum.

IMG_9878

We queued under the hot sun for half an hour for the tickets so be prepared and bring an umbrella along.

12. Times Square

The major famous commercial intersection among tourists, where all the happening things and stuff take place. I actually went up to Marriott Hotel to get a good take of this shot.

IMG_0911

That’s all for my NYC adventure… What’s your other recommended place to go in NYC?

Wanderlust,

Salseralove

Osaka, Kyoto, Nara Trip (Sakura)

Japan, Southeast Asia

I know sakura season is all the rage now which I believe everyone is flocking there now to catch the beautiful cherry blossoms. Reminds me of my solo trip to Osaka/Kyoto/Nara back in 2013. Just had to jot this down and chronicled  this somehow for future reference, if I’m going back there soon.

I took China Eastern airlines and stayed in New Osaka Hotel (Shin Osaka Station) and given a choice now, I prolly wouldn’t take the same airline and stay at the same hotel. LOL.

First day, I alighted at Osaka Station and made it to Osaka Castle.

Next, at Sakuranomiya station, the lovely blossoms were located along the bank of river at Kema Sakuranomiya Park.

Of course, the trip would not be complete without Kyoto. Nijo Castle was beautiful.

Arashiyama Park is another important sight-seeing place in Kyoto but I didn’t manage to see the full glory of the bamboo grove.

I managed to squeeze in a day trip to Nara to catch a glimpse of those adorable deers!

Still remembered I went to this Maruyama Park next to Yasaka Shrine. It’s well-known as a main center for cherry blossom viewing in Kyoto, and can get extremely crowded at that time of year. The park’s star attraction is a weeping cherry tree which becomes lit up at night.

Last but not least, USJ was the final stop for me then.

Wonder when will I be back to Japan?…

Wanderlust,

Salseralove

Myanmar – Yangon and Bagan

Myanmar, Southeast Asia

Finally, one tick off my bucket list of visiting Yangon and Bagan in this 4D3N trip. It was a rather impromptu trip with my JC friend Minz and we booked our air ticket, less than a month from the departure date.

Which airline to take

We took Myanmar Airways International and paid $300 each per pax (Comes with in-flight meal and 30kg check-in luggage). The aircraft model was old which looked like a budget carrier but with the duration of 2h 45 mins, I would say it was alright for short travels. My Burmese friend recommended Myanmar National Airline which should be better but of course, the price is higher too. We cleared immigration within few minutes after we alighted from our flight. There were more of their locals travelling than foreigners and we were so surprised by that.

What to get for Data SIM card and Currency Exchange

You can get a sim card from Ooredoo at the airport with no queue. We changed our SGD to Kyat at KBZ Bank at the airport which offers a better exchange rate as compared to that in Singapore. We exchanged 1SGD to 1,000 Myanmar Kyat. In addition, we brought around 300 USD to standby as well.

Rough Expenditure for 2 pax (Excluding air fares)

Entrance Fee  $          22.59
Food  $          37.35
Hotel  $        102.62
Misc  $        106.85
Necessity  $             1.19
Transport  $        114.24
Grand Total  $        384.85

How to get around Yangon and Bagan

To travel around Yangon, you can choose to walk (if they are really in short walking distance). If not, taking a taxi or Grab would be good enough. We tried walking from our hotel to Shwegadon Pagoda in the morning and we perspired ALOT. The heat felt like 12noon but it was only 8am.

To travel around Bagan, you definitely need a driver to take you for pagoda hopping. If not, you can choose e-Bike but you would need to be very familiar in where you going because you will literally melt under the hot sun. We searched online which I found a driver on this site: http://www.greatbigglobe.com/bagan-guide-service/ that other tourists had recommended – Nyunt Win. We booked him for his services for a day – From pick-up till sunset and drove us back to the bus station at USD $65. (Including a trip to Pakokku to see 2 glass temples)

Nyunt Win and his email: thirigm.unw@gmail.com

How to get to Bagan:

We booked via Joyous Journey JJ Express Bus in advance for overnight bus ride which is usually 9 hours. But I have to warn you my horrible experience from Bagan back to Yangon. I suffered 30 bed bug bites on my upper back thigh! So I would recommend to take other coaches instead. In addition, the way back from Bagan to Yangon, they only made 1 stopover for toilet breaks which was not the case when we went there from Yangon to Bagan (which we had 3 stopovers for toilet breaks).

Things to note:

You may want to avoid using their tap water to brush your teeth to avoid stomach upset. Prepare additional bottled water. You may want to avoid visiting the pagoda during 11am – 3pm as you would need to walk barefoot and the tiles will just burn your feet. Do bring along some medicine just in case.

Here’s a summary of our itinerary:

Day 1:

  • Touched down Yangon in the afternoon
  • Took a cab to Ang Mingular bus station to have dinner before boarding for our overnight express bus ride to Bagan.

Day 2:

  • Reached Bagan at 5am
  • Mr Win picked us up from the coach and drove us to SkyView Hotel to drop off our luggage and for us to wash up.
  • Caught sunrise at Bagan
  • Toured Bagan temples/stupa/pagodas
  • Rested in hotel
  • Made a trip to Pakokku
  • Rested in hotel
  • Caught sunset along Irrawady river at a pagoda
  • Took our express bus ride back to Yangon

Day 3:

  • Checked in at Merchant Arts Boutique Hotel
  • Had breakfast at Golden Taste Restaurant
  • Visited Shwe Dagon Pagoda
  • First Thai Spa and Yangon BakeHouse
  • Headed to bogyoke aung san market
  • Rangon Tea House

Day 4:

  • Headed off to Yangon airport for early flight

Some tips to note:

First of all, the weather in Myanmar is HOT. It is not your typical Singapore hot but it is intense heat being trapped within a glasshouse. The highest temperature we experienced there was 38 Degree Celsius. Certainly doesn’t help that we were there during their summer time. So sunblock is a must, along with a hat or umbrella.

Also, you may want to wear a pair of shoes that you don’t intend to bring back as you will need to be barefoot to enter the temples and pagodas. I brought wet wipes but I did not use it because there’s no point wiping it only to get dirty again the next pagoda visit. For toilet usage, do bring lots of tissues with you!

Bring along mosquito repellent spray if you are susceptible to mozzie bites. Generally, wear t-shirt or sleeved top with maxi skirts and you should be fine. I would not recommend spaghetti top but if you are not wearing maxi skirts, some pagodas will rent you longyi (long wrap-around skirt) before you enter.

As soon as we touched down at around 320pm, we took a taxi to Ang Mingular Bus Station to ensure that we will be there early. The taxi driver quoted us 10,000 Kyat = SGD 10, which is considered a reasonable cost. He recommended us to try a local store named Nilar Briyani for dinner as he mentioned the local food by the street would not be suitable for us.

After dinner, we spent boarded the bus which they usually start to announce half an hour before departure time. From Yangon to Bagan during this 9-hour journey, we had 3 stopvers for toilet breaks and the toilets were relatively clean.

We then reached Bagan at 5am (just nice and on time for sunrise) and our driver Mr Win was already there, holding a board with our names written on it. He then advised us to drop off our luggages and had 15 minutes to wash up as sunrise typically happen around 605am. He drove us to a mount area whereby quite a number of tourists were already stationed there with their DSLR. We waited 10 minutes but still no sign of hot air balloons, which was delayed. The view was average but could not capture the view that I wanted.

Do note that you would need to pay archaeological entrance fee of 25,000 Kyat (SGD25), which allows visitors entry into both Old and New Bagan for five days from the date of issue.

So I requested Mr Win to drive us to Aureum Palace Hotel to access their observation tower (Nan Myint Tower). We paid USD 5 each to go up and we enjoyed a beautiful panoramic view of Bagan! It was really unforgettable.

Nan Myint Tower is the ideal one stop view point for visitors to Bagan to see the wonders of over 2000 ancient temples and monuments.

Thereafter, Mr Win took us to a local eatery situated in Thante Hotel for breakfast before pagoda/temple hopping in Bagan. Their local fare cost ranges SGD 6-8. Their Burmese black tea was similar to Lipton tea and Burmese loves everything sweet. They offer pastries and cakes for breakfast and we witnessed their locals buying 1kg cake often.

Here’s the places we covered in Bagan after we regained some energy from food.

  • Shwesandaw Pagoda
  • Shwegugyi Temple
  • Dhammayangyi Temple
  • Thatbyinnyu Temple
  • Ananda Temple

Shwesandaw Pagoda – a Buddhist pagoda located in Bagan, Burma. The pagoda contains a series of five terraces, topped with a cylindrical stupa.

When you see IG posts of selfies on top of pagodas, you would assume you are going to get similar shots. Well you will be disappointed because no one is allowed to climb up the temples/pagodas. This was due to the Bagan earthquake in 2016, to prevent further damaging the pagodas and also for the safety of tourists.

Shwegugyi Temple – a Buddhist temple in Bagan, an ancient city located in the Mandalay Region of Myanmar

We were wondering what were the differences between Stupa, Temples, Pagodas when Mr Win enlighted us briefly. There are essentially three kinds of Buddhist structures: 1) stupas, bell-shaped structures but you can’t walk in 2) temples, place of worship for visitors to walk in and worship; and 3) pagoda is sometimes used to collectively describe stupas and temples. For more details: http://factsanddetails.com/world/cat55/sub355/item1325.html

Thatbyinnyu Temple- known as “the Omniscient”, is the tallest structure in Bagan.

Dhammayangyi Temple – the largest monument on the plains of Bagan

Ananda Temple – also known as the finest, largest, best preserved and most revered temples of Bagan.

Apparently, Mr Win said you can see different expressions of this buddha at different angles.

We can feel our energy level dropping with each visit and had to head back to Skyview Hotel to rest. Though we did not plan to stay overnight, we were so glad we booked this hotel just for resting purpose to rejuvenate ourselves. I remembered I was KO-ed after lying there for 5 seconds. LOL.

We had initially planned to head to Mount Popa but our driver advised us otherwise as our feet will be burnt while climbing the hike up the HOT sun and he recommended to take us to this area named Pakokku, which was an hour drive away from Bagan. We drove past the longest bridge in Myanmar – Pakokku Bridge.

We arrived at a local eatery and we were shocked when they started to place many dishes in front of us and we realised it was an ala carte lunch buffet at only SGD 3 per pax! We loved the taste of their food and realised there’s influence of Indian and Chinese food. Not sure what is the name of this eatery as it’s in Burmese.

Shocked faces pose as requested by my travel buddy Minz haha. And a picture of Mr Win.

Next we headed to Pakokku, a city in Magway Region in Myanmar. We went to 2 beautiful pagodas – Thihoshin Pagoda and Shwe Ku Pagoda.

Thihoshin Pagoda – is the best-known pagoda in Pakokku, Magway Region, Myanmar

Love at first sight for this place and mesmerized by the mosaic tiled glass decorations.

Shwe Ku Pagoda – is famous for its wood carving and housing a Buddha image seated on a lotus throne. Also housed a famous teak carving.

We went to Irrawaddy River area at a Pagoda to view sunset.

Yangon

We reached Yangon at 6am and stayed at Merchant Arts Boutique Hotel. For breakfast, we went to Golden Taste Restaurant as recommended by our hotel, which was a 10-min walk away. We ordered Shan noodles with Burmese Tea, costing us SGD7 in total. Their Burmese tea tasted similar to our Teh Tarik version and the Shan noodles has its own unique flavour.

Shwegadon Pagoda

We then took a cab to Shwegadon Pagoda as the heat was getting really unbearable.

The hotel staff at Merchant Arts Boutique Hotel was really attentive and helpful. They recommended us to head for First Thai Spa for decent and good Thai massage. We then headed to Pearl condo for Thai massage. It’s legit and only cost SGD18 for 1 hour Thai massage.

Opposite First Thai Spa, we went to Yangon Bakehouse which is a cafe selling pastries and western coffee. The Yangon Bakehouse,  is a social enterprise dedicated to creating job opportunities, skills development and fair wages to disadvantaged women.

After getting our caffeine fix, we took Grab to Bogyoke Aung San Market. It is a major bazaar selling Burmese handicraft, jewelries, clothing and art pieces. On the second level, you can see the Burmese seamstresses working hard to complete the clothings before it’s being sold.

Next, we explored Junction City before heading to Rangoon Tea House Cafe. A lot of items were already sold out by the time we went there.

My thoughts..

Well, I would say Myanmar has definitely opened my eyes and learnt more about its culture during this short trip. During my walk to Shwegadon Pagoda, there were kids selling plastic bag for tourists to out their shoes in, before entering Shwegadon Pagoda. I remembered this little girl quoted me 1,000 kyat (SGD1) when I passed her 200 kyat as I was unaware how much a plastic bag would cost. I mean in Singapore it costs few cents right? But she actually showed me the 1,000 kyat dollar bill and peered into my wallet. At such a small age, they already knew the value of money. Another experience was a lady trying to sell us some souvenirs while following us throughout our visit at Shwesandaw Pagoda. She was very persistent and showed us the Pagoda throughout. Out of goodwill, we bought from her and another lady and they wanted USD or SGD when they see our wallets packed with other currencies, even as we gave her Kyat.

Also, I was surprised by their command of English – Mr Win, the ladies selling souvenirs etc. They are self-taught and practise everyday with tourists! It’s really impressive.

This trip was also another humbling experience for me. How? I realized how lucky we were that we had good and clean water. We heard that it may not be good to use their tap water and Minz had a minor case of stomach upset after she brushed her teeth with tap water. We would never know if it’s the tap water fault or the cold dish that came along with the breakfast set at Golden Taste. But I actually brushed my teeth with bottled water throughout the entire trip.

We had to walk and explore a lot barefoot and really tested our limit when we walked on road, dusty pathways and rocks. I promised that I’ll love my shoe collections even more. :p

Last but not least, I love the people there. I can only comment based on my short encounter during this trip. I would want to explore Mandalay if I have the chance.

Wanderlust,

Salseralove

Ho Chi Minh City 4 days 3 nights

Ho Chi Minh City, Southeast Asia

This was my first visit to Vietnam after living in Singapore for so many years. During a long weekend, we went to HCMC for a 4D3N stay.

We chose to stay at Liberty Central Saigon Riverside, which is a convenient spot to reach the places of interest nearby. I would say it is within walking distance to many key attractions and you only need to take a few cab rides in HCMC (for further cafes or places).

The very first stop we made was The Workshop cafe, situated just few minutes away from our hotel. It is indeed a hidden gem with its entrance located inside a car workshop. Really need to find the entrance sign.

IMG_5475[1]

Thereafter, we wandered around and chanced this Cafe Apartments – so many cafes within a building!

Not faraway, HCMC City Hall is right in front of us.

And Saigon Opera House

IMG_5496[1].JPG

Thereafter we headed over to Rex Hotel for rooftop dining. It’s the one of the oldest hotels around, built in 1927. It’s also famous for being a business and luxury hotel.

The next morning, we had breakfast at L’usine. It was empty perhaps we were too early. We researched some cafes and L’usine came up to be one of the recommended places to go. Can’t comment much on their drinks but their food was not bad. L’usine has an extended area which offers a coffee area and boutique that houses their own merchandises and other brands.

Thereafter we dropped by Saigon Coffee Roastery which is located in a hidden corner in an old building. Along the way, we saw quite a number of cats on rooftops and along the corridor.

Right after, we went back hotel to have a dip in its rooftop pool to enjoy the scenery. I would recommend Liberty Central Saigon Riverside as it’s a modern and clean hotel (cleanliness is an important factor for me) and its great location.

We were took a stroll nearby and were stuck in a downpour. I remembered we were standing at this building with Soi Spa sign indicating it’s locating at level 5 and some eateries at level 2. We decided to try out this local eatery and their fish soup was AMAZING. The best I have ever tasted and we actually went back again for another satisfying taste before we leave hcmc.

The downpour continued and we decided to have some head Spa to kill time and relax.

We continued to explore some other attractions in hcmc – Saigon Post Office and Notre Dame Cathedral for some mandatory shots!

One of the interesting thing we realised was that the reason why the locals commute in scooters as there isn’t much public transport infrastructure. We saw some construction going on for underground train but I reckon that would take another few more years. Again, time for some Vietnamese coffee. It is really sweet and strong, perhaps comparable to that of Thai Iced Coffee.

We took a cab to Pho 2000 and saw how the locals eat.

We walked past Ben Thanh Market but was closing already, so we didn’t get the chance to have a look at it. We heard that the locals usually do not patronise Pho 2000 but mostly the tourists, since it’s well known for being the shop that former US President Bill Clinton has visited. We just had to try it. 🙂

We ended the day with a full body stone massage at Golden Lotus Traditional Foot Massage Club situated nearby. Second day we went for a leg massage at a similar shop setup but different name.

Next morning, we had breakfast at a nearby restaurant named Jaspas. Seriously we had no idea why we went there as the food was average but it was the most expensive meal we had.

We then headed to Mockingbird cafe and were pretty excited about it as I have seen some pics of it on IG and how it’s well known for its Vietnamese coffee. It’s located at level 5 of an abandoned building (abandoned buildings are the latest hipster place to go) and i couldn’t imagine how it will look like at night.

We then headed to Bitexco Financial Tower to have a panoramic view of hcmc. We had lunch at nearby local eatery Ngoc Chau Garden which served awesome spring rolls!

Tried cold brew at this atas coffee place named Shin Cafe, before meeting my Vietnamese Friend at Au Parc. She recommended Bosgaurus Coffee which has great ambience. We marked it down and headed there the next morning before we leave for SG.

Bosgarus Coffee was a 15-Min ride from our hotel and I would say it’s worth the trip!

We also made our way to The Vintage Emporium which offers a homely landed property vibes. Their shakshuka portion was just nice for me.

Fully utilising the pool before we go.

I would say hcmc is a good short getaway for those who have limited amount of time for travel. I can’t wait to go other parts of Vietnam soon such as Hanoi, when I have the chance.

Wanderlust,

Salseralove

Greece – 5 Attractions to visit in Athens

Southeast Asia
I had little or no expectations before going there and all I knew was Acroplis and Santorini. But boy, was I so wrong that there are more things and experiences waiting for me in Greece. And so Greece turns out to be one of my favorite countries as of now. 🙂

Hotel – Where did we stay

Well, I must say my then-BF (Now Fiance) always do a good job in finding the best accommodation (I’m usually the air ticket I/C). After intensive research, we booked Athens Gate Hotel and their rooftop dining is one of the most recommended places to go. Our daily breakfast had us in awe with 3 different views – Acropolis of Athens, Temple of Olympian Zeus, Mount Lycabettus! Seriously, where else can you find a view like this?

Our first stop when we arrive via Qatar airways was Mount Lycabettus. Before that, we went to nearby eatery named Smile, to get a taste of Moussaka. And one key thing I learnt from this trip was that Hummus is not a Greek dish but a Middle-Eastern dish. :p


1. Mount Lycabettus
We dropped by Arch of Hedrian along the way since it was just opposite our hotel. Thereafter, it was a 20-min walk to Mount Lycabettus
2. Temple of Olympian Zeus

We kick-started the next day with visits to main attractions. During winter season, the sightseeing pass is slashed to half price but they closes earlier. So it would be better to check out the timings and all of them are closed during public holidays such as Christmas and Boxing Day.

We headed to the nearest cafe to get our coffee fix. A quaint cafe that offers specialty coffee – Coffee Dive.
 3. Odeon of Herodes Atticus

This is a stone theatre structure at the ascent to Acropolis. It used to be a music concert venue for them.

4. Acropolis of Athens
This hilltop temple monument was undergoing some construction work so we tried to take a good photo from different angle. And there’s a resident cat there! We call it the Guardian of Acropolis. 🐱

5. Temple of Hephaestus
I guess out of many attractions, this building is the most well-preserved. It was dedicated to Hephaestus, the ancient god of fire and Athena, Goddess of pottery and arts. It was known that a lot of craftsmen worked at this temple.
It is situated near the Acropolis and within walking distance. It has an awesome view from the top as well.
6. Ancient Agora of Athens
This place was previously used for the local residential as gatherings.
Here’s a few main attractions of Athens and they are all within walking distance if you live around Plaka, Syntagma Square, Monastiraki area. For next entries, I’ll feature more on our day trips to Meteora, Temple of Poisedon and a visit to Santorini! So stay tuned.
Wanderlust,
Salseralove