Visiting The Historic Town of Heidelberg, Germany

*This post is part of my Euro-tour series. I’m clearing up some very old travel posts, some of which were migrated from another site. 

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Guten Tag! Germany has one of the prettiest landscapes I have seen so far, with its vibrant colours that seem fit to burst out of every leaf, its cloudless blue skies and sapphire blue rivers. Our next stop on our itinerary was the beautiful town of Heidelberg. Surrounded by rolling green hills perched with castles and overlooking the River Rhine, you’ll be hard-pressed to find a place more picturesque than this.

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As we approached Heidelberg in our bus, we were greeted by the most famous landmark in the area – Heidelberg Castle – which majestically overlooks the town and the flowing waters of the Rhine. Originally built in the 13th century, the castle has been destroyed and rebuilt several times. Although it is relatively small in comparison to some other European castles, nobles and kings once called this castle home as they stared out at their surrounding lands. In the 17th to 18th centuries, as the ruler of the area moved the court to a newer, grander castle, Heidelberg Castle fell into disarray, parts of its stone quarried for other buildings. It decayed even further during the French period, when most of Northern Europe was controlled by the Napoleonic French government, with townsfolk looting the castle for wood, stone and other materials.

Ironically, it was a French count – Charles de Graimberg – who saved the castle from falling into further disrepair, serving as its warden and living for a while in the building’s Glass Wing where he kept an eye out for looters. His work with the castle, which he commissioned for painters and writers to document (the olden-day equivalent of Instagram/ travel blog marketing, I should think) eventually drew interest from many tourists to visit Heidelberg. Even famed American writer Mark Twain wrote about the castle and its town.

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Another major landmark here is the Old Bridge (Alte Bruecke), which connects the old part of town to newer establishments. Built in the late 1700s with sandstone, it is an example of a classical stone bridge building and spans the Neckar, a tributary of the Rhine river. We alighted at the base and proceeded to the bridge for photos.

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It was my first time seeing such a deep blue river, disturbed only by occasional boats slicing through the surface like knife through butter. The sky, which was cloudless, seemed to stretch into an infinite horizon, while the banks were green and full of lush vegetation, lined with colourful, square-shaped buildings. I absolutely would not mind living here for the rest of my days, lol.

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At one end of the bridge is a large arch, signifying the entrance to the old town. Originally part of the town’s wall, the two black helmets were later added on in 1786 when the bridge was built.

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One of the most prominent statues on the bridge is a monkey holding a mirror. Records indicate that such a statue existed as early as the 15th century, but the original disappeared during the Nine Years War of the 17th century, fought between Louis XIV of France and a European coalition of the Holy Roman Empire. The current statue was only put up in 1979. You can put your head inside the monkey’s helmet-like hollow. If you rub the mirror, local legends have it that it will bring you good luck, and if you rub its fingers, it will ensure that you will return to Heidelberg someday! Next to the monkey are some bronze-cast mice, which are reported to bring fertility.

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As you walk through the archway and into the town proper, one of the first buildings to greet visitors is the Town Hall (Heidelberg Rathaus). With its many windows and flowery plants lining the edges, it looks more like a posh hotel than a town hall. The building is located within the Marketplace, which is littered with cafes and small tables and chairs for tourists, where you can grab a coffee and dine al fresco.

Heidelberg is a touristy town. During our visit, it was crowded with people from all over the world and I could hardly see any locals, except those manning the stores.

A little history – modern Heidelberg has ‘existed’ at least since the 5th century. Did you know that the Filipino freedom fighter, Joze Rizal, lived and studied here for many years? He attended the prestigious University of Heidelberg, then considered a leading university in Europe.

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We didn’t have a lot of time in town – just a couple of hours – which we spent wandering the streets and popping into whatever buildings seemed interesting. The houses are colourful and uniform, with an occasional turret or castle-like structure.

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There is a large church in the centre of town called the Church of the Holy Spirit, its turret towering over everything in town. We took some pictures outside, but since there was a crowd waiting to go in, we opted to spend more time in a smaller church that we stumbled upon in one of the alleys instead.

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The Jesuit Church (Jesuitenkirche) has an attractive, rosy pink facade. It was erected in the 1700s as a Catholic church and was originally built in a baroque style, although this was not preserved. All that remains of the original is a central altar painting. If you’re into history, the church houses a museum of sacred and liturgical art with objects from the 17th to 19th centuries, including treasures of gold and silverware.

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The inside is so well kept it looks brand new.

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The central altar painting.

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We only had a couple of hours to spend in Heidelberg, before it was time to bid adieu to this lovely, historic town. I touched the monkey statue’s fingers, so I’m hoping I’ll be able to visit again someday!

Travel tips: The nearest international airports to Heidelberg are Frankfurt and Stuttgart. From Frankfurt, trains run regularly to Heidelberg and take approximately an hour.

 

Exploring Wat Pho, Bangkok : The Birthplace of The Traditional Thai Massage

One of Bangkok’s oldest temples, Wat Pho is a must visit if you love architecture. Built in the 16th century, this vast royal temple complex boasts a splendid design, with towering spires, colourful glazed-tile roofs and grand halls. The temple is home to the largest collection of Buddha’s images in Thailand (over 1,000), the most famous being a 46-metre-long giant reclining Buddha. It is also the birthplace of the traditional Thai massage, which is offered to visitors as a communal experience at an open-air pavilion.

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The temple complex covers over 80,000 square metres, so it’s best to allocate several hours if you wish to fully explore the place. There are numerous pavilions, hallways, shrines and prayer halls to within, so tourist maps (located at various points throughout the temple) come in handy !

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The ordination hall, or Phra Ubosot, is where monks perform rituals. The hall looked absolutely stunning, with maroon and gold floor to ceiling motifs and a glittering gold and crystal dais, upon which was seated a gilded Buddha dating back to the Ayutthaya period. The statue was ‘shaded’ by a golden, tasseled nine-tiered umbrella, a symbol of Thailand. The ashes of the ruler Rama I can also be found under the pedestal.

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Making our way around the temple complex, we could see influences from various cultures, such as these Chinese-style stone pagodas. There were figures and statues of Chinese deities as well. The colour of the tiles on the roof differed from building to building, but most had orange/gold as the primary shade, accentuated by blue, red, white and green.

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Chedis are an alternative to stupas in Thailand, and there are hundreds of these within the temple grounds. The smaller ones rise up about five metres, and are decorated with floral or geometric motifs from the base to the top.

Beyond being just a religious place, Wat Pho was also intended as an education centre, so visitors will find murals and engravings on granite slabs throughout the complex with texts and illustrations depicting subjects such as history, medicine, health, custom, literature and religion.

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Marble towers called Phra Prang, which are found at the corners of one of the main courtyards.

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Aside from the Reclining Buddha statue, I found the Phra Maha Chedi Si Rajakarn – a grouping of four large chedis – to be most impressive. Located within a courtyard, their sharp spires towering over their surroundings, these 42-metre-high chedis are dedicated to the first four Chakri kings: Rama I, Rama II, Rama III and Rama IV. The chedis each have a distinctive look and are covered in beautiful tiles, in green, yellow, white and blue.

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Inside one of the buildings called Viharn Phranorn, we finally came to the temple’s famed golden reclining Buddha. It was humongous, filling up one entire side of the hall, the statue’s long legs stretching from one end to the other. There were nooks all along the passageway for visitors to stop and take photos, while on the right were bowls where devotees can drop coins as part of a prayer ritual. The walls were decorated from top to bottom with elaborate murals, and there were artists doing touch up on places where they had faded.

 

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The feet are decorated with laksana, Sanskrit symbols and texts, some of which have been inlaid with mother of pearl.

Wat Pho is located right next to the Grand Palace, so you might want to pair your trip with a visit there. The entrance fee for the Grand Palace is quite pricey, which is why we opted not to.

Address: 2 Sanam Chai Rd, Phra Borom Maha Ratchawang, Phra Nakhon, Bangkok 10200, Thailand

GETTING THERE 

Take the BTS Skytrain to Saphan Taksin, then a Chao Phraya express boat at Taksin pier to Tha Tien Pier.

There is an entrance fee of 200 baht to get into Wat Pho.

Opening hours: 8AM – 6.30PM (daily)

 

We Spent Six Hours At The National Museum in Bangkok, Thailand

Thailand has a rich and colourful history, and it’s chronicled incredibly well at the National Museum in Bangkok.  From the early days of its ancient Buddhist kingdoms of Sukhothai, Lan Na and Ayutthaya to the more modern eras under the Rama kings, the museum offers visitors a look into the history and various facets of what makes up Thailand today – and it’s absolutely fascinating. N and I spent six hours exploring the vast museum grounds, and would have spent more if it wasn’t for the fact that we had other items on our itinerary to go to :’D

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The museum was about 1.5 kilometres from our hostel in Rambuttri, and it was packed with tourists, locals and students, despite being a weekday. From the outside, the museum didn’t look very large, but there were actually many buildings within. There was an entrance fee of 200 baht (RM27) for foreigners.

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Our timing was excellent as the museum was running a temporary exhibition, “Qin Shi Huang: The First Emperor of China and Terracotta Warriors” during our visit. The showcase included historical artefacts and items from the rule of China’s first emperor, Qin Shi Huang, some of which were flown in from Xi’an.

QSH was a bit of an obsessive personality and during his lifetime, drank mercury in an attempt to prolong his life (mercury was believed to be the secret to immortality back then). When he died (presumably from mercury poisoning), he was entombed in a necropolis, complete with 8,000 life-sized terracotta warriors. The mausoleum, which was designed as a reflection of a palace / city so that QSH could continue ruling in the afterlife,  has never been fully excavated due to fears of possible damage.

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Although it said ‘life-sized’, I felt like the sculptures were actually taller than normal, averaging about eight feet.

The original statues that were discovered were actually coated in paint, so they weren’t all grey and dull looking. The paint evaporated into the air after the mausoleum was excavated.

 

 

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Terracotta horse-drawn chariot.

Beyond just his odd practices of drinking mercury and burning books, SHD was an extraordinary figure who united China’s many warring factions under one banner. The exhibition also detailed this, explaining the economic and political reforms that took place during his rule, as well as cultural and historical impact that can still be felt two millennia later.  On display to tell the narrative was advanced weaponry, decorative statues, household items, ritual objects, and more.

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A distinctive stone armour worn by soldiers, made up of hundreds of interlinked stone pieces connected by bronze wire to offer more flexibility.

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Decorative / ritual objects in the shapes of farm animals like horses, cows, goats, pigs and sheep; or scenes from everyday life like a rice mill, shrines and small houses.

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N was fascinated, and I had to literally drag him out to the main courtyard (lest we stay there the entire day). We next ventured into the Buddhaisawan Chapel. Built in the early 18th century, the main hall houses one of the most sacred Buddhist images in all of Thailand, the Phra Buddha Sihing.

The vast hall had sleek wooden floors, with a red ceiling and walls decorated with images of the Devas, as well as old paintings telling Buddha’s story. Some of these were faded with age and were difficult to discern, but you could still see the meticulous attention to detail poured into creating each one.

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The entrance to Buddhaisawan Chapel is guarded by garudas – mythical creatures in Buddhist and Hindu mythology that sport avian and human features.

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Another building you can check out within the museum is the vibrant-looking The Red House. Constructed from teak, it was originally the private living quarters of a princess. Today, it houses items used by royals in the past, including those of Queen Sri Suriyenda.

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A beautiful gold pavilion with intricate decorative features and exquisite detailing on the ceiling.

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The halls within the museum seemed to go on forever – there were just so many things to see. There were sections dedicated to Buddhist art from Thailand and neighbouring regions, the evolution of the country’s monetary system and currency, paintings, weaponry, clothing worn by royals, palanquins which were used to mount onto the backs of elephants, war drums, dioramas and much more.

 

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Royal throne. The colour gold is prevalent in Thai colour, as it is an important colour in both Buddhist and Thai culture.

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Life-sized replica of an elephant with a palanquin strapped to its back. Elephants are the national animal of Thailand.

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Students writing notes down as they observe a diorama, complete with war elephants, cavalry, foot soldiers and archers

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Thai royals were a fashionable lot, with ceremonial and everyday costumes featuring rich fabrics, elegant colours, beautiful detailing and patterns, and slim silhouettes.

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Everyone likes beautiful things – and there were sections detailing Thai art, such as how artisans apply mother of pearl to everything from furniture to sword scabbards; as well as a section for enamel pottery.

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Another impressive section was a hall containing numerous royal funeral chariots. Built from teak, the chariots were ornately carved, painted and gilded in gold, with mythical / religious figures and decorative fixtures such as nagas and devas.

Thais have deep respect for their royalty (they have some of the world’s strictest lese-majeste laws), and they revere them as much in death as they do in life. When a member of the royal family passes, the chariots are pulled by hundreds of men in a parade down the streets with the urn carrying the ashes of the deceased royal sitting atop a tall roofed shrine.

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Grand send off.

The Bangkok National Museum is, by far, one of the most impressive museums I have been to in Southeast Asia, and it’s definitely worth checking out if you love history and culture. Allocate at least half a day for the place if you’re planning to have a more in-depth experience.

BANGKOK NATIONAL MUSEUM 

Na Phra That Alley, Phra Borom Maha Ratchawang, Phra Nakhon, Bangkok 10200, Thailand

Opening hours: 9AM – 4PM (closed on Mon – Tues)

 

4 Historical Spots To Visit While In Melaka

Melaka is one of Southeast Asia’s most historically rich sites. Founded by a Javanese Hindu prince in the 1400s, it thrived as a port and welcomed traders from as far as China, Arab and India. It was then conquered by the Portuguese, the Dutch and the English for hundreds of years. Naturally, old structures and the influence of various cultures remain, making Melaka a UNESCO World Heritage Site.

For first-timers in the city, there’s no running away from visiting four important historical hotspots. They’re all within walking distance of each other, so getting to each is just a matter of legwork. Just ready the sunscreen, shades, an umbrella and lots of water – Melaka is scorching at most times of the year.

THE RUINS OF ST PAUL’S CHURCH @ ST PAUL’S HILL 

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The heart of Melaka is centred around a hill (now known as St Paul’s Hill), since the high vantage point affordsgood views of the coastline (ergo, important back then to see ships + invading forces).

Perched on top of this hill are the ruins of St Paul’s Church, a Roman Catholic church built in 1521 by the Portuguese nobleman Duarte Coelho. Originally called the Nossa Senhora da Annunciada (Our Lady of the Annunciation), it was dedicated to St Mary. The church was later deeded to a Jesuit missionary called Francis Xavier, who used it as a base for his missionary trips around Southeast Asia. After his death and ascension to sainthood, his body was interred for a while at the church, before it was sent to Goa. A burial vault was also opened in the 1590s, and many Portuguese nobles and people of distinction were buried here.

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After the Dutch invaded in 1641, the church was re-designated as St Paul’s Church under the Dutch Reformed denomination. For a while, the Dutch community in Melaka used it as their main church, but left it abandoned after the new Christ Church was completed in 1753. Parts of the building were also taken down to help fortify defense structures around Melaka. The church building fell further into disrepair during English occupation, when it was used as a gunpowder depot.

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View of the Straits of Melaka from St Paul’s Hill

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There was a church event going on at the ruins during our visit.

The building itself is just a shell of its former self – four walls, no roof and exposed red brick, lined with elaborately carved stone grave markers. One wonders how it must have been like in its heyday, when both the Portuguese and then later the Dutch came to pray and attend religious sermons and events.

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The stage was set up for a play later in the evening, while the open grave where St Francis Xavier’s body was once interred was littered with flower petals.

PORTA DE SANTIAGO @ A FAMOSA 

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When the Portuguese invaded Melaka in 1511, they established their base at the hill (now St Paul’s Hill), built a fort around it, and called it “The Famous”. The Dutch continued to use it during their occupation, but when the British came, they destroyed almost all but this last gate called the Porta de Santiago. Visitors who visit the site today will find little more than a simple gate, its brick facade blackened and weathered. Over the archway is an inscription, Anno 1670, as well as the logo of the East India Company – both additions by the Dutch. While there isn’t much by way of sights, the historical significance itself makes this place worth a visit. It is, after all, the oldest surviving European remains in Southeast Asia.

MALACCA SULTANATE PALACE MUSEUM 

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Just steps away from the Porta de Santiago is the Malacca Sultanate Palace Museum, a reconstruction of the old palace based on written accounts in the Sejarah Melayu, or Malay Annals. The old palace was said to have sat on the hill where St Paul’s Church is now located, but it was destroyed when Portuguese forces invaded. This modern version tries to stay as true as possible to descriptions from the Malay Annals, and was built with timber wood without the use of nails.

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Inside, visitors will find various exhibits detailing the history of the sultanate, as well as cultural and historical artefacts. Only the main hall is air conditioned; it is very stuffy upstairs and at the outer verandah, so it’s best to visit at a cooler time of day.

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The story of Hang Tuah is told here through a series of paintings.

Hang Tuah is the OG of Malay warriors and features prominently throughout Malay legends and literature, although whether or not he truly existed remains highly debated. He was apparently highly skilled in the martial arts (silat) and was an extraordinary warrior, second to none.

One of the most famous tales is the one where some ministers of the court, jealous of Hang Tuah’s standing with the Sultan, spread slander and lies about him, to which the Sultan ordered him executed. The chief minister who was tasked with this knew that Hang Tuah was innocent and instead hid him in a cave. Hearing of unjust done to his childhood friend, Hang Jebat – who after Hang Tuah was the best fighter in the land – ran amok, seeking to avenge him.

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It was then that the Chief Minister revealed that Hang Tuah was in fact, alive – much to the relief of the Sultan. Jebat was happy that Hang Tuah was alive, but Hang Tuah berated his friend for rebelling against the Sultan. A fight ensued that lasted for seven days, and Tuah emerged the winner after killing his friend. He continued serving Melaka, going on numerous other adventures. Yes, a rather grim ending for Jebat who was only thinking of avenging a friend whom an unjust ruler wronged – but hey, loyalty to the Sultan was paramount to anything else back in the day, even childhood friends whom you grew up with.

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A diorama of the Balairong Seri, or the audience reception hall where the Sultan received political dignitaries, guests and his advisors.

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Costumes worn by the different classes in Malaccan society, including royalty, as well as accessories and jewellery such as hair pins, brooches, belts, etc.

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Another diorama, this one of the Sultan’s bedchamber.

The Melaka Sultanate Palace Museum is open daily from 9AM to 5PM. Entrance is RM3 for Malaysians and RM5 for foreigners.

RED SQUARE / STADTHUYS/ CHRISTCHURCH 

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Last but not least, make your way to the Red Square, where you will find fire-red buildings which include a clocktower, the 18th century Dutch founded Christ Church, and the Stadthuys, which was once used as an administration building and residence for the Dutch Governor and now houses a museum of History and Ethnography. The square is a colourful place, filled with loud and gaudy-looking trishaws that blast techno music and are decorated with pop culture characters. Once the main mode of transportation around Melaka, you can now take a ride around town for a hefty RM25.

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If the Melaka Sultanate Palace Museum detailed the history of the ancient Malay kingdom, the Stadthuys is more focused on the period between the landing of the Portuguese up until Japanese occupation in the days of World War II. Exhibits include a selection of weaponry, including swords, sabres, guns and armour, plus items from trade such as pottery, crystal glasses, silverware and the like.

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Melaka’s four conquering forces – the Portuguese (1511 – 1641), the Dutch (1641 – 1825), the British (1826 – 1942) and the Japanese (1942 – 1945).

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A diorama of Melaka during the Portuguese occupation. notice how the fort was still completely intact, surrounding the city.

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A painting depicting the captain of the Portuguese guard surrendering the keys to the city to the Dutch after the defeat of Portuguese forces.

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Aside from colonial history, the museum also houses exhibits on local culture and practices of the community. Pictured is a diorama of a traditional Malay-Melakan wedding. The bersanding ceremony, where the bride and groom sits on a raised dias, draws from Hindu cultural influences.

The Stadthuys is open from 9.30AM – 5.30PM daily. Entrance is RM5 for Malaysians and RM10 for foreigners.

If there’s one thing Melaka isn’t short of, it’s museums – although I can’t say they’re all impressive. If you like museum-hopping, also worth visiting is the Melaka Maritime Museum (housed in a replica of the Portuguese galleon Flor del Mar), the People’s Museum, the Stamp Museum and the Submarine Museum (housed in a decommissioned submarine by the coast), to name a few.

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Things To Do At Qing Xing Ling Leisure & Cultural Village, Ipoh : Tickets, Info And More

Hey guys! With the Christmas and New Year holidays approaching, I’m sure everyone’s feeling a little lazy (yours truly included). Just gotta kick my ass into gear and finish all these posts that have piled up 🙂

With that out of the way… here’s a blog on when we went to the Qing Xing Ling Cultural Village in Ipoh!

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This is not my first time here, but on my last visit the place was closed (apparently because of complaints from residents on tourist buses).  These days, there is a limit to the number of visitors allowed per day, and tickets are not sold on the spot (you have to buy them from a shop and collect them before you come), so crowd control measures are in place.

Where To Buy Qing Xing Ling Tickets 

Tickets are sold at a furniture shop called Syarikat Perabot Kota (Address: 164-166, Jalan Sultan Nazrin shah, Taman Sri Rokam, 31350 Ipoh, Perak). The shop is just a few minutes away from the attraction. While you can do walk-ins, it is best to call them in advance (Phone: +605-312 4140) to avoid disappointment. The ticket is priced at RM10.

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The ‘village’ itself is tucked deep within the hills, so you have to go through a housing area to get to the place. Entry is through a small side door where they have living quarters (they even had laundry hanging out to dry, and a pet baby goat in a paddock), but once you emerge, you’ll be greeted by a beautiful sight: a lake and quaint, colourful buildings amidst a backdrop of Ipoh’s emerald green limestone hills. There are also bicycles / tandem bikes / quadricycles that you can rent and ride around the grounds.

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The buildings at the village follow a vintage theme and are designed to look like houses of old, filled with nostalgic paraphernalia. Close to the entrance, we popped into one of these wooden ‘homes’, complete with a living space, bedrooms and a kitchen. Black and white photographs adorn the walls, and there was also a wooden balcony overlooking the lake. You can buy fish food to feed the fish in the pond.

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At the centre of the main courtyard is a God of Prosperity and a Wishing Tree, its branches weighed down by hundreds (if not thousands) of wishes written on red cloth.

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I forgot to mention that N and I were here to take our pre-wedding photos! (coz we couldn’t afford a photographer lol we were hoping to save on some money). We both agreed that it would be more of a fun-day-out-and-good-memories kinda thing, rather than having to dress up, sweat and be cranky and uncomfortable in the sweltering Malaysian heat.

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More vintage setups made to look like old-school photo studios, trinket shops, etc., filled with old machinery and items such as radios and TVs. They even have a (functioning) juke box!

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Climb up the hill to an area called Memory Lane, a whole ‘street’ lined with ‘shops’ that harken back to a nostalgic past. Sandwiched between a natural gorge with limestone cliffs on both sides, this a great place for photos. When we went there was barely anyone so we could take as much time as we wanted. There are lots of mosquitoes though, so if you’re a mozzie-magnet like me, bring some repellent.

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Makeshift cart peddling desserts. These were common in the 1960s to 70s. Note that the cart has wheels, which would have made it easy for the seller to pack up and move it when it was closing time.

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The tranquil lake at Qing Xing Ling exuding Guilin vibes.

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A resident drake preening its feathers under the shadow of an alcove. They also have a couple of geese and turkeys as well.

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Guanyin and other deity statues inside a cave with a natural spring.

 

The weather was muggy but we thoroughly enjoyed our time at Qing Xing Ling – more so because there weren’t that many people, so kudos to the management for good crowd control. The last thing you’d want is for screaming, uncontrollable kids to hog every spot.

QING XING LING LEISURE & CULTURAL VILLAGE

22A, Persiaran Pinggir Rapat 5a, Taman Saikat, 31350 Ipoh, Negeri Perak

Opening hours: 9.30AM – 5PM (Mon – Sat. Closed on Sundays)

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Things To Do In Seremban, Negeri Sembilan : A Travel Guide

AS one of only four state capitals in Malaysia that have yet to achieve city status, Seremban in the Southwestern Malaysian state of Negeri Sembilan is an interesting place: at once busy but idyllic; modern but with old world charm. It was founded in the early 19th century as Sungei Ujong, and its tin mining riches attracted many Malay farmers, Arab traders, as well as Chinese miners to the area. Later on, the British would establish their presence here. This hodgepodge of cultures can be seen even today, such as in the architecture of its buildings, the unique flavours of its cuisine, and the rich and varied traditions and cultural practices, some of which are still practiced to this day.

Seremban is just an hour and a half from KL, making it perfect for day tripping. If you’re planning one, here’s an itinerary that you can follow to get in all (or most) of the sights in, as well as helpful tips on how to make the most of your time. I hope you find it useful!

8AM: Pasar Besar Seremban 

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Wet markets are a great place to get a feel for the local way of life – and there’s no better place to do that than at Pasar Besar Seremban, one of the most recognisable landmarks in town. The architecture is reminiscent of the good ol’ 1970s (when it was opened) – brutalist; industrial-like, with a squarish layout that reminds one of the buildings in the Soviet Union, where the style was most popular. Part of the upper floor was burned down in a fire in 2017, which has since been restored, but many of the food vendors are still camped out at the front of the market underneath makeshift tents.

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The market’s neat, grid-like layout is divided into sections for vegetables, poultry and seafood, with another area for dry goods. If you’re here for shopping, it’s best to come early so you can have your pick of the best and freshest produce.

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Indoor vegetable corner

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Stall selling dry goods, herbs and spices in sacks. For urban millennials (like me, lol) who are used to doing their shopping in malls, come visit the market for a change! I guarantee you’ll ooh and aahh at all the things you can never find in a regular grocery store.

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When you’ve had your fill of exploring (or shopping) at the market, adjourn to the front for breakfast, where there are about a dozen food stalls operating under makeshift tents. Originally, the food stalls were located on the first floor of the building, but they had to move because of the fire, and the premises weren’t ready yet during our visit. A must have is the local specialty – Meehoon Sotong – fried vermicelli doused in a gravy and topped with slices of pork and cuttlefish.

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Another very popular dish to have in the market is the Beef Noodles from Stall 748 – although in my honest opinion, this was rather overrated. Tried the dry version which came topped with preserved vegetables and peanuts. The gravy was way too starchy and thick, and it might be my taste buds but I didn’t like the combination of flavours at all. Perhaps one would fare better with the soup version.

9AM: CHURCH OF THE VISITATION 

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A short drive from the market is the Church of The Visitation. Founded in 1848 by French missionaries from Melaka, it is one of the oldest in Seremban. What started off as an ‘attap’ chapel has become an impressive building with beautiful Neo-Gothic architecture. Unfortunately since it was a weekday, the church was not open for ahem.. visitations. You can still stop by to take photos of the facade, though. I especially like the weather vane at the top of the spire.

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Pretty colonial architecture in town. Also I just realised the billboard placement looks as if there are people peeking over the top lol.

10 AM: THEN TZE KHOON TEMPLE (CENTIPEDE TEMPLE) 

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Undoubtedly one of Seremban’s top attractions, the 150-year-old Then Tze Khoon temple, otherwise known as the Centipede Temple, is shrouded in myth and legend. Built on Bukit Jung, the stories go that the hill, which resembles the shape of a large ship, was actually once a real ship, navigated by a young man. The man had gone out to seek riches and fame, leaving his poor mother behind.

When he returned a wealthy and powerful man, he was not filial to his mother, casting her aside. Angered, the gods punished the man to become a rock ship, never to sail from the spot. It is said that a large centipede would often appear next to this rock, leading the locals to believe that the insect was a reincarnation of the man’s mother. The belief today is that if you see a centipede at the temple, it will bring you good fortune.

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The main shrine, dedicated to the Taoist deity Then Tze, part of it built into the rock ‘ship’.

The other story of how the temple came to be is that the hill was once filled with all manner of wild beasts and dangerous animals, so the locals asked Then Tze (coz he had a rep for vanquishing evil) to provide them with protection. Then Tze gave them a sign and they found some joss sticks at the hill, indicating they should build a temple on the site.

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While hiking your way to the top, you will pass by this small shrine with a pair of Malay-looking statues, complete with songkok and sarong. These are the Datuk Gong (Literally Grandfather ‘lord’ – a title in Chinese used to denote respect or someone elderly), aka local deities or spirits. Praying to Datuk Gong is a Chinese folk practice in places such as Malaysia, Indonesia, Brunei and southern Thailand.

It is said that when the Chinese immigrated here in the 18th to 19th centuries, they brought with them the culture of folk worship – praying to local deities and real historical figures for protection. Back then, many Malays still practiced a brand of Islam with animism (pagan beliefs), praying to local spirits, and when the Chinese came, they incorporated this into their own culture – hence Datuk Gong.

This shrine at the Centipede Temple is guarded by a pair, and you can see the songkok and tongkat offerings on the rock behind the shrine. Its just fascinating to see the assimilation of cultures – a rich and colourful shared heritage.

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Being a Taoist temple, one can expect to find figures of various Taoist deities here, including the 8 Immortals, Yue Lao (the god of marriage) and Guan Yu, the ancient Chinese general revered as a god of protection.

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Guan Yu’s pavilion is one of the most scenic and picture-worthy spots in the temple, with a view overlooking the entire Seremban town. The shrine is beautifully endowed with traditional elements, with curving roofs topped with dragons, intricate cloud patterns on its beams and stone dragons wrapped around its pillars. Surrounded by the hill’s lush greenery, it provides a tranquil atmosphere for meditation and relaxation.

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Did you know? Guan Yu was a real-life general who lived in the third century, during the time of the Three Kingdoms (of which the Romance of the Three Kingdoms was based on) and was revered for his loyalty and righteousness. Today, Guan Yu is a popular figure in many East Asian cultures. Fun tidbit: In places such as Hong Kong and other parts of China, he is worshipped by both the police force, and the triads.

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View from the Guan Yu Pavilion.

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Goddess of Mercy Pavilion

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Pond stocked with fat koi fish

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A large centipede statue at the top of the hill. Unfortunately we did not come across any centipedes during our visit. :/

11 AM: SEREMBAN STATE MUSEUM AND CULTURAL COMPLEX 

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Seremban, like most of Negeri Sembilan, is home to a large Minangkabau diaspora. The Minangs, who are originally from the highlands of Sumatra, have a unique culture, most notably in their architecture, which features sharp roof spires similar to that of the horns of a buffalo. The Seremban State Museum and Cultural Complex is a prime example of this. The inside houses a small but interesting collection of exhibits relating to the state’s history as well as culture. Unfortunately the upper floors were not open during our visit, but the air conditioned interiors are a good place to chill out in and escape the heat. Entrance is free.

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Pottery and utensils on display inside the museum. There was also a section detailing the Minangs and their unique culture, which is matrilineal. Which means that the womenfolk call the shots when it comes to inheritance, with homes, land and property passing down from mother to daughter. Some of the practices may not be followed so strictly in the Malaysian Minang community, but in the highlands of Sumatra, husbands still move into their wives homes when couples get married, and decisions are made collectively between men and women.

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Within the museum grounds, visitors will also find two wooden houses – one a replica of a traditional Negeri Sembilan house, and another a wedding gift from the 5th ruler of the state to his daughter. Both are built without the use of nails, but instead use the stacking of timber frames to put the building together – an impressive feat of architecture and building in its day.

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Khat detailing

1 PM: LUNCH TIME! @ YI POH 

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Known for its Hakka Mee and Lou Shi Fun, Yi Poh is an institution in town, where many locals flock to for breakfast and lunch. The Lou shi fun served here is similar to lai fun, which is long, slightly transculent and chewy, rather than shaped like a rat’s tail as is common in KL.

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Honest opinion? The Hakka Noodles are decent, but nothing great.

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Fried mushroom snacks. Needed more flavour, but portions were generous.

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What I actually enjoyed here was the peppery pork stomach soup. Innards were prepared well and tasted clean, with a nice, chewy texture. If only the weather wasn’t so hot, lol.

YI POH 

26A, Ground Floor, Jalan Seng Meng Lee, 70200 Seremban, Negeri Sembilan (opens 7.30AM – 5.30PM, closed Mondays) 

2PM: SIEW BAO TIME 

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One cannot simply go to Seremban and not get their famous siew bao aka oven baked pork/chicken buns. Just across the road from Yi Poh is Kedai Siew Pau Asia, where the flaky meat-filled pastries sell like hotcakes (pardon the pun). You can even watch the bakers in action, like this lady here who expertly applies egg yolk onto the buns to get that lustrous shine, before popping them into the industrial ovens by the trays.

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Aside from siew bao, the shop sells a variety of other biscuits, breads and pastries, all reasonably priced. They are also famous for egg tarts.

KEDAI SIEW PAU ASIA 

368, Jalan Seng Meng Lee, Taman Unian, 70200 Seremban, Negeri Sembilan (open daily: 8 AM – 6.30 PM) 

2.30PM – RIDING A BLACK CHOCOBO OSTRICHES AT JELITA OSTRICH FARM 

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Jelita Ostrich Farm has been around for quite a long time – I remember coming here when I was in high school. Tucked within the grounds of the Negeri Sembilan Veterinary Department, you have to drive aways in to the farm, where you pay an entrance fee of RM 10. A handler will bring you on a tour of the premises, where the ostriches roam around in grassy paddocks. You can also buy a packet of corn to feed them over the fence.

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Fun fact: Male ostriches have luxurious black plumage, while the females are grey. They can tower up to three metres in height, making them the world’s largest flightless birds. The birds here are imported from South Africa. The oldest is one affectionately called ‘Orang Tua’ (old man), a 60-year-old half blind bird with sparse feathers. We tried feeding it but because it couldn’t see properly the corn ended up being scattered all over the place.

The handlers will take you to a paddock where you can ride one of the males (the bird is blindfolded so they don’t run off and cause an accident). If you’re not up to the excitement, you can watch the handlers race the birds on a short track (ostriches can clock in at speeds of up to 70 kilometres/hour).

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While you’re walking around the grounds, you might be accompanied by these sweet long-eared goats (I like to call them Djali goats, after the character in The Hunchback of Notre Dame). They seem very used to human presence and will frolic beside you as you move from station to station, playfully nuzzling against your hands for a pet or treat.

The tour will not take more than an hour, and you can also stop at their souvenir shop to buy some ostrich-based products, including feathers, soaps and creams. They give you a certificate at the end of it proclaiming you are now a certified ostrich rider lol.

3.30PM – TUANKU JAAFAR ROYAL GALLERY 

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Feeling the afternoon lull? Escape the heat at the Tuanku Jaafar Royal Gallery, which was opened several years ago, dedicated to the 10th Yang di-Pertuan Agong, the Yang di-Pertua Negeri Sembilan, Tuanku Jaafar. The three-storey building houses various exhibits chronicling the king’s life, as well as several displays relating to Negeri Sembilan history. There is an entry fee of RM10, which is rather steep imo.

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Tuanku Jaafar was multi-talented. Apart from being an avid sportsman who played golf and cricket, he could also paint quite well. The above is one of his works.

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Gallery with some of the Tuanku’s personal effects. Do check out his extensive collection of golf clubs! There’s also a mini putting green where you can try your hand at knocking a golf ball into the hole.

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A replica of the royal dais.

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Replica of a traditional Rumah Gadang (home of the Minangkabau) from Sumatra.

5PM : CHILL AT ULU BENDUL RECREATIONAL PARK 

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Take a 20-minute drive out of town to the nearby area of Ulu Bendul, which is home to a recreational park at the foot of Gunung Angsi. Seasoned hikers will know the place, as it is a popular trail for hiking, but for the rest of the unfit population, taking a nice dip in the cool stream is also very refreshing. If you’re not up to clambering over the rocks littering the stream bed, there’s a dedicated pool at the bottom, complete with gazebos. There are also picnic and shower facilities.

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Great place to unwind if you love greenery. Surprisingly, I was not bitten by mosquitoes.

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You might come across friendly cattos hanging around the food court area. I suggest petting.

7 PM : DINNER 

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Before leaving town, stop by at Seremban Gateway, which has several restaurants and shops to explore, including a largish bookshop, a spa and a karaoke centre.

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Have a fruitful trip to Seremban!

Travel Guide: What To Do In Phuket, Thailand – A 12-Hour Itinerary

Surrounded by the azure blue waters of the Andaman Sea, Phuket is the largest island in Thailand, and one of the country’s most popular tourist spots, renowned for its resorts, beautiful beaches and gorgeous diving and snorkelling spots. My first visit was back in 2015, and it was one of my most enjoyable trips – the island has something catered to everyone, whether you like partying, beaches, culture or food.

Four years later, I’m back for work – tasked with writing an article on what you can do in Phuket when you only have 12 hours. I’ve re-purposed it a little for this blog, so I hope you’ll find this guide useful when planning your own trip.

8 AM – Breakfast 

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Throw a rock anywhere in Thailand, and you’ll probably hit a 7-Eleven. They’re found at almost every street corner, and they take their ‘convenience store’ label very seriously. Thailand’s 7-Elevens are foodie heaven, with a MASSIVE selection of snacks, beverages, cakes, hot meals and whatever else you can think of.  I can think of nothing better to start the day off than with a bowl of Mama instant noodles, a bottle of Betagen (their version of Yakult) and a CP Shrimp and Fish burger. If you’re pressed for time, you can eat at the store itself, where the workers will even heat up your burgers/whatever hot meals you need for you. Talk about service!

9 AM – Karon Viewpoint 

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Known locally as the Hill of Three Beaches, Karon Viewpoint is one of the must-visit spots on any tourist itinerary. From a small area atop a hill, visitors will be able to see three of Phuket’s main beaches on the west side, namely Kata Noi, Kata Yai and Karon, which form a fork-like shape when viewed from a distance. Of course, you’ll be getting panoramic views of the sea and lush green hills as well. Entrance: FREE 

9.30 AM – Windmill Viewpoint 

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A short drive away is Windmill Viewpoint, so called because of a giant windmill that powers electricity around the island. This viewpoint is not as popular as the other, but no less breathtaking, which makes it ideal for photos (if you wanna capture a shot without crowds). There’s a gazebo here if you need to shelter from the hot tropical sun. Entrance: Free.

10 AM – Promthep Cape 

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Welcome to the southernmost tip of Phuket. Promthep Cape is particularly popular for its sunset views, but visiting during the day offers a different experience. There’s a lighthouse-cum-museum that you can explore, a shrine surrounded by elephant figurines, a restaurant serving seafood and Thai dishes, and a large old Bodhi tree within its grounds.

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Hundreds of elephant statues and figurines both large and small, surrounding a four-faced Buddha shrine. Apparently the locals leave their own figurines here for good luck. Entrance: FREE. 

11 AM – Big Buddha 

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Moving on to one of Phuket’s main attractions, the Big Buddha on Nakkerd Hill is one of the island’s most iconic fixtures. Towering 45 metres high atop a hill overlooking the entire island, the statue is made from Burmese white marble, which glitters as the sun reflects off its smooth surface. When I last visited four years ago, the place was still pretty quiet – but now there are hordes of tourists, so there goes the tranquility. It’s still worth visiting; just don’t expect to meditate in solitude here. There have been a couple of additions, such as a wide marble staircase flanked by nagas, and two stone Buddhas at the back of the main statue, which remind me of the temple of Abu Simbel in Egypt.

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N in the corner for size comparison, lol.

12.30PM – Lunch at Mor Mu Dong 

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Before the trip, I scoured the Internet for local places to eat at, and one of the suggestions that popped up was Mor Mu Dong. Apparently the place has a Michelin Bib, and even had celebrity food host Andrew Zimmern visiting it once. It still isn’t super well known among tourists, so come for an authentic experience. What makes Mor Mu Dong unique is the setting, as it sits next to a mangrove swamp, and you basically dine in these little huts by the water. They also have tables in larger elevated huts with super quirky ceilings – they seem to have stitched blankets/bed covers together to keep out the heat. I think the resto warrants a separate review on its own, but definitely try the stuffed fried mackerel if you can take spicy food! Prices are also very affordable.

2PM – Cashewnut Factory 

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Cashew nuts are grown in Phuket and the southern provinces of Thailand, and they make for great souvenirs to take home (if you’re from a Western country, they’re much cheaper here too). Phuket’s largest cashew nut factory is the curiously named Sri Bhupara Orchid Co Ltd. Owned by a Thai Chinese family, the business started off as an orchid farm, hence the name. You get a sticker when you enter and there’s a corner with staff skilfully removing the shells (they’re poisonous). It’s a lot of work, which is why cashew nuts are pricey. Aside from the original cashews, there are also loads of flavours such as wasabi, chocolate coated, lightly salted, honey glazed, tomyum, BBQ (my personal fave!) and more. Do all your shopping in one go as they also carry other products, most notably local snacks. PS: Prices are fixed, so no haggling. 

3PM – Phuket Old Town

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The best place for a dose of culture and heritage is at Phuket’s Old Town, which comprises several streets and alleyways. Like Penang and Ipoh in Malaysia, Phuket prospered because of tin mining in the late 19th and early 20th centuries. which drew Chinese immigrants to the area. As such, Chinese names are common for businesses here, and the Sino-Portuguese architecture featuring bright, vividly decorated facades are prominently featured in its buildings. In recent years, the old town has become a hodgepodge of old businesses, hipster cafes and artisan coffee places, with plenty of stalls selling everything from jewellery to cheap clothing.

5PM – Karon Beach

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You can’t go to Phuket and not experience at least ONE of its famed beaches. Patong is the beach for partygoers, but if you prefer a quieter, more family-oriented beach, Karon Beach is a much better alternative. White sands and crystal clear waters await! Because there aren’t many boats here, it’s much cleaner and safer as well. Entrance: FREE. 

7 PM – Karon Temple Night Market 

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Plan your visit to fall on either a Tuesday or Friday, because that’s when the Karon Temple Night Market takes place. Located within the temple grounds, the market features stalls selling cheap goods such as T-shirts, souvenirs and snacks. Of course, being the foodies that we are, we made a beeline for the food stalls, which sell everything from grilled pork skewers to halal food by Muslim traders, padthai fresh from the wok, and bugs. Tried some and it was surprisingly not as gross as I thought it would be – quite tasty, even! Entrance: FREE. 

8 PM – Drinks and Live Music 

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If you’ve had your fill of snacks and food at the market, then adjourn for drinks along Beach Road in Karon, which is lined with pubs, bars and eateries. We spent the night enjoying the sea breeze and live music at MINT by Movenpick (where we stayed – review up soon!), which serves cocktails and good wood fired pizza. Alternatively, head on to Karon Bazaar down the road for seafood fresh out of the tank and grilled over a charcoal fire.

OTHER TIPS  

  • Public transport in Phuket is not very convenient, so I suggest engaging a local driver for the day (average price 250 – 280 baht for 8 hours). Alternatively, if you know how to ride a scooter, most hostels/resorts offer scooter rental services for much cheaper. Tuktuks can also be quite pricey for short distances (average about 200 baht from Patong to Karon, which is just a few minutes away from each other). 
  • Weather in Phuket is cool and dry from November to February, which is high season. Hot season is from March to May (during our visit temperatures hovered above 30 degrees and can get very humid. N and I are both from tropical countries and even we had a hard time being out in the sun for too long), while rainy season is from May to October. PS: If you’re visiting the waterfalls, rainy season is ideal because they dry up in the hot season.  
  • Currency is Thai baht. Money changers are available throughout the island. 
  • Be mindful when visiting temples and sacred sites. Most temples will loan you sarongs at the entrance to cover up before entering if you’re wearing shorts or sleeveless shirts, but your own scarf will come in handy. 

Happy travels! 

First-time Visit to Thailand: 5 Tips To Keep You Safe

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Last year, I couldn’t believe it when the Moomikins randomly decided that we were going to take a family trip across the border to Thailand. Of course, I love travelling more than anything else in the world (except maybe pizza), so I was pretty excited. Couldn’t believe that we could simply drive from Malaysia to Thailand in just a few hours… but we did!

Thailand immediately stole my heart and allowed me to explore everything from temples to street food, but I soon realised that there are some things about Thailand that first-time travellers have to think about. So, if you are planning your first visit, here are 5 tips to keep you safe:

1) Be wary of the Tuk Tuk

When you travel to Venice, you have to take a ride on a Gondola – and when you travel to Thailand, you just have to travel in a Tuk Tuk. It’s just the way it works! However, Tuk Tuks aren’t the safest vehicles in the world. Some Tuk Tuk drivers take part in scams and crimes that involve taking you to different stores, where they will pressure you to buy things you do not want. To avoid this, be incredibly wary of Tuk Tuk drivers. If you feel unsafe or uneasy with any driver or vehicle, opt for a train – which is the safest way to travel around Thailand.

2) Do as the Thai people do

One of the easiest ways to keep safe during your first-time visit to Thailand is to blend in with their eclectic culture. Many companies and business owners will try to exploit those who stand out as tourists. By dressing appropriately and wearing traditional clothing, you will be able to show that you respect their culture and their social norms, and it will make you seem as if you know the destination inside and out. If you can, also try to learn simple Thai phrases or perfect the traditional wai – a prayer-like gesture that they use as a greeting, a thank you, or even an apology.

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3) Keep your money and passport safe

Thievery is a real problem in Thailand, but that shouldn’t stop you from having an awesome first trip to the country. However, this does mean you have to be more wary about where you keep your money and passport. Before you leave for your Thailand adventure, it is best to take a photocopy of your passport that you can both print off and send to yourself via email. This way, you will always have a copy on you, which means you can leave your passport in the safe in your hotel room. It’s also a good idea to make a note of the address, phone number, and email of your foreign embassy in Thailand, if you ever need their advice.

4) Protect yourself from Dengue Fever

Dengue Fever is a hugely prominent viral disease in Thailand and is spread by those annoying mosquitoes that just love the taste of your blood. While the disease will not cause serious side effects, it may ruin your first-time visit and limit the time you have to explore – so you need to protect yourself. Mosquitoes that carry Dengue Fever are normally attracted to people who wear strong-smelling deodorant or perfume, as well as those who wear darker colours. So, wear light and loose fitting clothing that covers exposed skin, and cover yourself with insect repellent!

5) Never trust a stranger

Although we all like to think that every single person on this planet is as nice and friendly as we are, it’s just not the case. Most people in Thailand do simply want to be your friend, but there are others who have ulterior motives. It’s important to never fully trust a stranger. If you can, always travel with a buddy, don’t follow someone you don’t know who is offering discounted attraction tickets, and don’t take your eyes off your drink.

It’s best to stay safe during your first-time visit to Thailand, but that doesn’t mean you can’t have fun.

Do you have any more tips to keep travellers safe in Thailand? Share them with me below!