Through The Eyes Of A Local : The Hidden Secrets Tour Melbourne

Melbourne is an interesting city, full of things to see and do at every corner. While it’s great to explore and discover hidden gems on your own, some travellers might prefer having a guide to show them secret spots that only the locals would know.

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Enter Hidden Secrets Tour Melbourne, a walking tour established in 2004 that aims to uncover a side of the city not usually seen beyond the usual tourist hotspots. There are several itineraries to choose from, depending on your areas of interest, and a tour will usually take around two to three hours to complete. Ideal for those who are short on time, or just want a quick glimpse into Melbourne as it is for Melburnians!

I was in town earlier this year for a media trip, and our organisers booked us a tour which was a good mix of coffee, food, arts and culture. Right from the get-go we got a map and a mug (which can be used for coffee along the tour), which I felt was really thoughtful of them (and environmentally-friendly as well!).

LANEWAYS

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Inseparable from the city’s identity is its laneways; narrow streets once used for horses and cargo. They gained a reputation for seediness in the days after the Gold Rush, but are now considered cool, hip places, filled with hole-in-the-wall eateries, bars, indie art galleries, jewellery stores, boutiques and more. There are over 40 laneways in Melbourne. Our tour brought us to AC/DC Lane, named after one of the biggest rock bands to come out of Australia.

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I came here on my own a couple of days ago, but it was nice to come back with a guide. Wouldn’t have noticed otherwise details like these shoes hanging from cables. Apparently since the laneways were known to be slums / shady places, the shoes were used to indicate that drugs were sold at a particular place!

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A short walk away was Strachan Lane, which was marked by a large mural by local artist adnate.

 

Koko Black

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Chocolate lovers will want to stop by Koko Black, which offers premium chocolates in a phenomenal range of flavours: you name them, they’ve got ’em. Started in 2003, you can find Koko Black’s flagship store in the Royal Arcade, as well as in major cities in Australia.

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Aside from nicely packed gift boxes that make for ideal souvenirs, the shop also carries individual pieces, each lovingly handcrafted to sweet perfection.

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Tasting board.

La Belle Miette 

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The sweet adventure didn’t end there, as our guide brought us a few doors down to La Belle Miette (Beautiful crumb in French), which specialises in macarons, bon bons and chocolate drageés. Everything about this cute-looking shop exudes Parisian chic, from the heart-shaped chairs to the cute storefront decor and elegant white counters within.

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Too pretty to be eaten! Expect top notch quality as only premium ingredients are used to make the macarons, such as pure fruit purees, vanilla beans, Girgar butter and chocolate exclusively from French chocolate house Cacao Barry and Belgian Callebaut.

Sensory Lab

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Our next stop was Sensory Lab, which felt like a true hidden gem. Tucked away from the main street, it was nevertheless packed with customers. Got a taste of awesome Melbourne coffee (which is world-famous, by the way!) in our mugs before moving on.

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More beautiful murals. It’s easy to stumble across these while walking around Melbourne – just pop into any alleyway and be surprised.

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The shops here are so picturesque / cool-looking I think I could dedicate an entire photo album just for them.

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This is an interesting one! The Waiter’s Restaurant is a pasta speakeasy that dates back decades; at least to the 1940s. The story goes that Italian, Greek and Spanish waiters would come to the restaurant after their shifts to play cards and drinks, hence the name. Its reputation grew, and soon became a meeting place for people from all walks of life, from politicians and journalists to the local gang members. The Waiters have served generations of Melburnians, and their signatures include ox tail, chicken liver and spaghetti bolognese. This sounds like one of those places I’d gladly queue up for !

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Another classic establishment founded in 1950, Pellegrini‘s reputation is legendary. Started by the Pellegrini brothers, the cafe initially served the Italian migrant community. But the shop’s close proximity to the theatre district meant it was soon pulling an intellectual arts crowd. The cafe was later sold off to another pair of Italian migrants, but the offerings and menu, as well as the decor, have largely remained the same.

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Arts is a big thing in Melbourne, as evidenced by its East End Theatre District, home to no less than six major theatre and production houses, some of which date back over a 100 years. Here, plays and world-class shows are regularly staged. Must be great to be a Melburnian and have such convenient access to all these great art shows!

With that, we concluded our Hidden Secrets Tour of Melbourne! It was certainly an eye opening experience, and we discovered many little gems along the way. Our guide provided plenty of information, although I did get the feeling that we were being rushed despite still being within the stipulated time – perhaps she had another tour to conduct. Anyways, I’d highly recommend booking one of their tours if you’re ever in the city. 🙂

Bookings can be made here.

7 Things To Do In Sekinchan – The Rice Bowl Of Selangor, Malaysia

Located on the far northwestern reaches of Selangor, Sekinchan is a small fishing and agricultural town that is perfect for daytrippers from KL. Known for its vast paddy fields, it is also called the Rice Bowl of Selangor. For urban folk, the laidback pace here can be a nice change from the hustle and bustle of city life.

The only way to get here is by car, as public transportation is virtually non-existent. From Kuala Lumpur, Sekinchan is approximately a two-hour drive. Part of the trip is through the expressway, but most of it takes you through small towns, scenic kampung roads and even parts of palm oil plantations. Just be ready with Waze!

Here’s a short guide to things you can do / eat / see in town:

Take Lovely Photos of the Paddy Fields (In season: Sept – Nov)

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You’ll know you’re in Sekinchan when the landscape turns into vast swathes of paddy fields, dotted with concrete buildings (these are swiftlet nests; the locals use them to cultivate birds nest for consumption in Chinese herbal medicine), scarecrows and heavy machinery. The fields are green (pre-harvest) from September to October, which is also the perfect time for photos. Some couples come all the way here just to do their pre-wedding photoshoots (getting their gowns dirty in the mud / dirt notwithstanding). December is harvest season, when the fields turn into lush carpets of gold. Make sure you come at the right season to avoid disappointment !

Visit the Paddy Gallery 

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Sitting among the fields is a large paddy processing plant that also has a couple of shops for tourists. If you think rice is just rice, be prepared to have your eyes opened: they sell all kinds, from long grained basmathi to fluffy Jasmine and chewy brown rice (in smaller packs of two kilos up to gargantuan 20 kilo portions). There is a small ‘museum’ upstairs detailing the paddy processing, but entrance is RM5 which isn’t worth it IMO as all you get are static displays. Aside from rice, you can also get other products such as noodles, belacan, snacks, homemade goods, and more.

 

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Offer Prayers at Nan Tian Temple 

Overlooking the paddy fields is an old Chinese temple dedicated to the Nine Emperor Gods, which are nine deities in Taoist belief. Our visit conicided with the Nine Emperor Gods Festival and there were awnings out front, so I couldn’t capture the exterior – but it looks extremely Chinese, down to the bright yellow/red colour scheme and the curved, tiled roofs topped with dragons.

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2-metre high joss sticks, which will be burnt as an offering to the gods

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An intricately decorated paper (?) tower in front of the main altar, with figures of deities and mythical creatures

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The main prayer hall. The wood columns look pretty old.

Even if you’re not a devotee, come and observe the architecture and the going-ons in the temple – it’s a great insight into the local way of life here.

Get A Dose Of Nostalgia At Ah Ma House

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Close to the edge of the fields you will find Ah Ma House, a bakery-cum-tourist attraction. Step into its interior to be greeted by the smell of freshly baked goodies such as their famous kuih kapit and kuih bahulu, and while you’re munching away, browse through the decor which is filled with items from yesteryears. On display here are items such as antique furniture, cabinets, analog telephones, old sewing machines, black and white TVs, vintage radios, suitcases, and even a replica of a traditional wood-fired kitchen.

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I am old enough to remember the days when we had to adjust the antennas on our TV to get better reception. lol

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Ceramic bowls and tiffin carriers were a common sight in kitchens and dining rooms back in the day, and they were often kept on glass/wooden shelves like these.

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Colourful hand made fans – perfect for cooling yourself down in the sweltering Malaysian heat

 

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Shelves lined with local products you can buy, like belacan, sauces, noodles, snacks, and more. We bought a large packet of fried shrimp crackers for RM8 which we finished in a day, lol.

Lunch Break: Tuck Into Fish Noodles At Old Friend Kopitiam

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Since Sekinchan is also a fishing village and part of it is located by the sea, the place is famed for its fresh seafood. The initial plan was to look for a seafood restaurant, but we ended up at a kopitiam called Old Friend, in the centre of town. This turned out to be a pleasant surprise, as a random order from the noodle stall (handmade noodles with fish slices) was delicious, with soft slices of fish in a spicy, peppery broth paired with al dente noodles (only RM6!)

Address: Old Friend Kopitiam, 158, Jalan Radin, Pekan Sekinchan, 45400 Sekinchan, Selangor

Indulge In Fried Goodies

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We noticed many diners with packets of what seemed to be fried goodies and located the source: a street food vendor just across the road. Business was brisk, with workers frying batches of items in a huge, oil-filled wok. There were fried prawn fritters, nian gao with yam (glutinous rice cake – it’s rare to see it outside of festivals!), sesame balls filled with red bean paste, goreng pisang (banana fritters) and more. We got a bit of everything and it did not disappoint; seasoned well, and not the least bit greasy. Should have gotten more!

Make A Wish At The Sekinchan Wishing Tree

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Done with lunch? Drive away from the town and fields to Pantai Redang, the seaside portion of Sekinchan. There stands a picturesque ‘Wishing Tree’, which was popularised by a Hong Kong TVB drama and now attracts tourists and shutter bugs who come to snap photos and make their own wishes. Just next to the old tree is a small temple where visitors can make a small donation and write their wishes on one of the red ribbons, weighted on both ends with holed coins. Once you’re done, sling it up onto the branches!

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There are many resident kitties and dogs around the area; some are friendly but always approach with caution.

Protip: Relax on one of the wooden swings under the tree and let the gentle rocking motion lull you into a nap.

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The beach itself isn’t pretty, but there are a couple of elevated huts where you can sit down and enjoy the sea breeze.