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Exploring New South Wales with Qantas

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#ILoveSydney with Destination NSW & Qantas

Earlier this year in May, I had the privilege of working with Qantas and Destination New South Wales to visit Sydney and Hunter Valley for the first time. Even though I was only there for a short five days, I had an amazing time there. But before we begin, let’s take a look at the highlights reel…

Now, let me recount my journey… I took a night flight out to Sydney via Qantas, and had access to their lounge at Changi Airport (which also had a bar, by the way). In that little time I had left before boarding, I stuffed my face with dinner selections from the kitchen… and I was ready to board the flight for more food. Needless to say, the meals served on board were exceptional! I was lucky to be given a Business Class ticket by the Qantas team, so the eight hours flight felt like I was right at home. Flying business class on Qantas was a different ball game altogether — they gave out amenity kits that were designed in collaboration with Kate Spade and Jack Spade for both genders, and even provided pyjamas so that you could spend a comfortable night in the skies. I’d have to say though, that the in-flight entertainment created an endless dilemma for me, but I meant it in a good way. Seriously though, with so many selections, how should I choose to spend my eight hours on board?! Sleep, watch a TV series, watch a movie, eat again, or… sleep? Ah, what a first world problem!

The hours flew by (pun, ha!) and then before I knew it, we had touched down in Sydney. I was headed for Bondi, where I was staying for the next two nights. I have heard so much about Bondi before, and I was excited to finally be there. I stayed in QT Bondi, and I absolutely loved the hotel. When you walk through the hotel lobby, you’d already get a sense of its eclectic character — but it isn’t until you enter the room when you’d get completely blown away. It felt like I was in interior heaven… I’m not exaggerating, or maybe I am, since I’m a huge fan of eclectic interiors. Oh, and everything in the hotel room is for sale (including their super comfortable bathrobes), you need only ask!

#ILoveSydney with Destination NSW & Qantas
#ILoveSydney with Destination NSW & Qantas
#ILoveSydney with Destination NSW & Qantas
#ILoveSydney with Destination NSW & Qantas

I took the afternoon to explore Bondi, and had lunch (fresh oysters, yum!) at Icebergs Dining Room and Bar. Icebergs is a definite bucket list for both locals and tourists in Sydney, and it’s where you’d get the stunning and iconic view of Bondi Beach. It was a really calming experience hearing the waves crash as I dined and I’m sure you’d agree with me if you have been there yourself! *Cue for you to make a mental note to visit this place* For the rest of the day, I walked around the beach looking at graffiti art on the Bondi Sea Wall, embarked on a fraction of the coastal trail, and had dinner at Brown Sugar, before retiring for the night.

#ILoveSydney with Destination NSW & Qantas
#ILoveSydney with Destination NSW & Qantas
#ILoveSydney with Destination NSW & Qantas
#ILoveSydney with Destination NSW & Qantas

On the second day, I woke up early to catch the sunrise at Circular Quay and boy, I was freezing even under my jacket! It was 7am, and with the sound of Sydneysiders shuffling to get to the CBD for work, I felt like I was slowly waking up together with the city. I watched the sun slowly climb out from behind the Sydney Opera House as it reflected its golden rays onto the Harbour Bridge across the waters, and it was surreal. My morning was spent with Elisabeth (a local photographer from vacation photography company, Sweet Escape), who took my outfit photos as we explored and walked along the harbour towards the botanic gardens.

*Pro Tip: Circular Quay is the best spot in town for all your scenic harbour shots of Sydney. You can walk towards the Sydney Opera House and Royal Botanic Garden from the train station if you turn right, and towards The Rocks (Hickson Road Reserve) for a closer view of the Harbour Bridge if you turn left!

#ILoveSydney with Destination NSW & Qantas
#ILoveSydney with Destination NSW & Qantas
#ILoveSydney with Destination NSW & Qantas
#ILoveSydney with Destination NSW & Qantas
#ILoveSydney with Destination NSW & Qantas
#ILoveSydney with Destination NSW & Qantas

It was already 9am by the time we decided to head towards Newtown. Newtown is a quaint precinct on the inner West that’s full of character, with graffiti art all over its streets. Elisabeth used to live in Newtown so this was home ground for her. She brought me to alleys with the best street art, and we walked through the town together looking at beautiful Victorian houses. My itinerary had included a visit to Hakiki – a Turkish ice cream parlour that even Elisabeth adores – but the shop wasn’t opened yet when we got there, so we had to give it a pass.

I was feeling extremely jet lagged (and exhausted from waking so early), so I returned to my hotel for a nap before heading out for dinner. I went to Bar Brosé in Darlinghurst, and I highly recommend this place for its ambience and food. I had a nice glass of white, fish, and oysters again (ahhh, for all you oyster – or seafood for that matter – lovers out there, I swear Sydney is one of the best cities to have them!).

#ILoveSydney with Destination NSW & Qantas
#ILoveSydney with Destination NSW & Qantas
#ILoveSydney with Destination NSW & Qantas
#ILoveSydney with Destination NSW & Qantas
#ILoveSydney with Destination NSW & Qantas
#ILoveSydney with Destination NSW & Qantas

My two days of going solo were over, and I was joined by two other journalists from Singapore the next morning, together with our host, Sally, from Destination NSW. We were headed to Hunter Valley for a night, which was about two and a half hours drive away from Sydney. It was time for lunch when we finally reached, and so we stopped at Bistro Molines for a quick bite. The design of the restaurant had a French influence to it (its french doors and windows that let you appreciate the view of the vineyards while you dine), but it’s no wonder, since the owner and chef is from Provence.

We visited Tulloch Wines and Hunter Beer Co., and the Hunter Valley Gardens for the rest of the afternoon, before checking into our accommodation at Sebel Kirkton Park. I mean, what better way to spend a day than with a chilled glass or two, and a scenic walk around a picturesque garden? *winks* We had dinner at The Cellar Restaurant, which also had an amazing atmosphere and a fireplace that was really helpful for the chilly night. No prizes for guessing what we ordered, but we definitely ended the night with happy bellies.

We retired early as a hot air balloon ride was lined up for us the following morning, but the wind grew too strong overnight, and we were unable to experience it. To date, I have not had the chance to go on a hot air balloon because they (three separate bookings in three different cities!!!) have all been cancelled due to weather conditions. I hope you’ll have better luck than me!

#ILoveSydney with Destination NSW & Qantas
#ILoveSydney with Destination NSW & Qantas
#ILoveSydney with Destination NSW & Qantas
#ILoveSydney with Destination NSW & Qantas

We returned to Sydney after our breakfast at Café Enzo, to get ready for the exciting night we had ahead of us — it was the opening night of Vivid Sydney 2016! Vivid Sydney is the world’s largest festival of lights, music, and ideas, that has been running for eight years. Last year, more than 1.7 million people attended Vivid Sydney, so you can imagine just how large scale and exciting this festival is for both the locals and travellers!

We had a few hours to kill before the night’s activities, so we did a little shopping at Strand Arcade down Pitt Street (read: amazing fashion boutiques!!), which was about 7 minutes walk from our Shangri-la Hotel. The skies were already getting dark by the time we returned, so we hurried to Quay Restaurant at Circular Quay, where we would camp for the best spot to watch the ‘lights on’ moment.

Now, picture a very dark harbour, suddenly coming to life with projections of indigenous art on the sails of the Sydney Opera House, and neon lights lighting up from buildings and boats all around — it was such a magical sight indeed. We spent the next three hours walking around Circular Quay, experiencing and interacting with the different light shows and installations. Everything was beautiful, but the Cathedral of Light was my favourite of them all!

Psst… This year, Vivid Sydney saw more than 2.31 million visitors, and if you’d like to be part of that growing number, watch out for Vivid Sydney happening from 26 May to 17 June 2017 next year!

#ILoveSydney with Destination NSW & Qantas
#ILoveSydney with Destination NSW & Qantas
#ILoveSydney with Destination NSW & Qantas
#ILoveSydney with Destination NSW & Qantas
#ILoveSydney with Destination NSW & Qantas
#ILoveSydney with Destination NSW & Qantas
#ILoveSydney with Destination NSW & Qantas
#ILoveSydney with Destination NSW & Qantas
#ILoveSydney with Destination NSW & Qantas

The next morning marked the last day of my trip, and we visited Carriageworks Farmers’ Market, where local (NSW) farmers sell their produce and foods. We had breakfast there, including a very yummy beef burger! I’ve been to smaller scale farmer markets in other parts of Australia before, but I’ve not been to one this large before. I understand why the locals love their farmer markets — you can find all sorts of organic and bio-dyanimic foods, from meat, to mushrooms, flowers, nuts, oil, and fruits. Who wouldn’t?! It made me wish we had our own version of farmer markets in Singapore too. :(

#ILoveSydney with Destination NSW & Qantas
#ILoveSydney with Destination NSW & Qantas
#ILoveSydney with Destination NSW & Qantas
#ILoveSydney with Destination NSW & Qantas

Alas, it was time for me to leave my new founded friends and depart for the airport. Thanks to the Qantas team, I was given access to the Qantas International First Lounge in Sydney Airport. I enjoyed some quiet time there, admiring the view of the city (you can also enjoy a spa session there but it was fully booked when I was there) before boarding my flight back to Singapore.

There were many places I didn’t get a chance to visit due to my short and tight itinerary, but I promise to be back! Thank you Qantas and Destination New South Wales for taking me on my first trip to Sydney, and for allowing me to experience the wonderful Vivid Sydney festival, among the many other fun things we did. :) Till then, Sydney!

#ILoveSydney with Destination NSW & Qantas
#ILoveSydney with Destination NSW & Qantas
#ILoveSydney with Destination NSW & Qantas

Photos taken with iPhone 6S Plus and Nikon D810 + 24-70mm
Video taken with iPhone 6S Plus

South Korea with Giamso Tours

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South Korea with Giamso Tours

In May last year, I got the chance to visit South Korea again — but in a way that was unconventional to me. I embarked on a new tour that Giamso International Tours was offering, the ‘7D6N Enjoy Korea’ package, which brought me to towns outside of Seoul, Everland Theme Park, the shooting location of ‘You Who Came From The Stars’, Jeju Island and more!

NOTE: This package is however, no longer available, and has been replaced with something more exciting – the ‘7D6N Hanguk Footprints (With ‘V’ Train)‘ – which are for those who want a more unique itinerary and for K-pop fans too. Highlights of this package include the ‘V’ train as well as new sightseeing spots in Korea – Taebaek Windy Hill, Andong Hahoe Village, and ‘Mungyeong’ Filming Site.

My other half has always wanted to bring his mom and sister on a trip since they’d never travelled out of Singapore before. It was only natural that I decided to work with Giamso to bring this dream alive. So I met Carmen and Wan Fong from Giamso one evening and over dinner, we pored over pages of itineraries and eventually decided on South Korea. With help from the girls during the process of planning, I made sure that the itinerary was suitable for his family (i.e. no trekking or too much walking, meal preferences etc). This was the one time that I could sit back and relax without worrying too much about planning for the trip!

You may ask, why a tour? Here are some common misconceptions I’d like to address before moving on to my adventures in South Korea:

Many people think that tour packages are inflexible and uninteresting, with guides bringing you to overly crowded and rip-off tourist attractions. While that may be true with some packages and agencies, Giamso does it differently. Aside from the standard packages that you and I both know about, there are also free and easy packages or flexi holiday packages for those who prefer self-exploration, and you can even choose to self-drive or travel by rail, with itineraries being provided as a guide! I didn’t know this was possible with tour agencies before working with Giamso, and I think this would be a fun fact for most of you too :)

Working with a tour agency is so fuss-free because you can get air tickets and accommodation at prices you sometimes cannot find online, and have logistics like airport transfers arranged for you. What more if you’re going to a country that speaks a language you don’t know! Giamso also offers rental of wifi devices for most countries, which if you ask me, was most helpful since I didn’t need to look for a SIM card store and could immediately connect with my friends when I arrived in Seoul.

It’s also not necessarily true that travel agencies are more expensive due to the commission they charge. Travel consultants can help you plan your perfect vacation that’s within your budget, and help you score value-for-money deals, since they’re the experts! ;) All you have to do is to communicate your travel needs and wants. Ask and you shall receive, yes?

South Korea with Giamso Tours
South Korea with Giamso Tours
South Korea with Giamso Tours
South Korea with Giamso Tours
South Korea with Giamso Tours
South Korea with Giamso Tours

SOUTH KOREA 2015

A (not so) quick summary: Our itinerary brought us to Everland on the first day, then to the Hajodae Light House overlooking the East Sea and Daepohang Port to try their battered seafood (which was soooo good!!!) on the second day. We also managed to visit the Teddy Bear Farm, which houses a lot of cute bears in different settings! The next day we strolled through the national park of Seoraksan and then we took a ferry to Namiseom Island, which is famous for its row of perfectly lined trees where a scene from popular K-drama Winter Sonata was shot.

On the same day we left for Seoul, and went back in time at Bukchon Hanok Village. We shopped the streets of Samcheong-dong and went up to N-Seoul Tower that gave us one of the best views of Seoul, and even boarded a cruise (where they shot a scene from K-drama You Who Came From The Stars) down the Han River, since we had free time over the next two days.

For remaining leg of the trip, we took a domestic flight to Jeju Island and got to experience the weirdness of the Mysterious Road (what in the world?!?!), and saw female divers perform at the Seongsan Ilchulbong Peak. (Psst, did you know that in the past, only women in Jeju island would work and the men did not?) We ended off with visits to the Seongeup Folk Village, tangerine farms, Oedolgae Rock and Seopjikoji before flying back to Seoul and then back home!

I know I’m not the best person who writes so I’ll just shut up and let my pictures do the rest of the talking — and hopefully you’ll be inspired to embark on a tour with Giamso, regardless of the destination! So here goes, in chronological order:

Day 1: Everland

South Korea with Giamso Tours
South Korea with Giamso Tours
South Korea with Giamso Tours
South Korea with Giamso Tours
South Korea with Giamso Tours
South Korea with Giamso Tours
South Korea with Giamso Tours
This was one heck of a crazy ride but if you love the thrill, TRY THIS WHEN YOU’RE THERE! The queue was ridiculously long but it was worth every minute!

Day 2: Hajodae Light House + Daepohang Port + Teddy Bear Farm

South Korea with Giamso Tours
South Korea with Giamso Tours
I was so excited to see cherry blossoms even though the season was ending! Forgive the countless snaps of a first-timer!

South Korea with Giamso Tours
South Korea with Giamso Tours
South Korea with Giamso Tours
South Korea with Giamso Tours
South Korea with Giamso Tours
South Korea with Giamso Tours
South Korea with Giamso Tours
Our guide told us that this is the original/first store that sold battered deep-fried seafood at the port and trust me, it is so yummy that I cannot stop thinking about it now…

South Korea with Giamso Tours
South Korea with Giamso Tours
South Korea with Giamso Tours
South Korea with Giamso Tours
South Korea with Giamso Tours

Day 3: Seoraksan National Park + Namiseom Island

South Korea with Giamso Tours
South Korea with Giamso Tours
Peacefulness at Seoraksan National Park

South Korea with Giamso Tours
South Korea with Giamso Tours
South Korea with Giamso Tours
South Korea with Giamso Tours
South Korea with Giamso Tours
South Korea with Giamso Tours
South Korea with Giamso Tours
This ‘Winter Sonata’ scene at Namiseom Island. What a shame I was there during spring, because I bet it’d be much nicer during fall or winter.

South Korea with Giamso Tours
South Korea with Giamso Tours
South Korea with Giamso Tours

Day 3,4,5: Seoul – Bukchon Hanok Village + Samcheong-dong + N-Seoul Tower

South Korea with Giamso Tours
Bukchon Hanok Village and its impeccable architecture

South Korea with Giamso Tours
South Korea with Giamso Tours
South Korea with Giamso Tours
South Korea with Giamso Tours
South Korea with Giamso Tours
South Korea with Giamso Tours
Yes that is beer and chicken in the background, and it is as good as they say it is! We should have more of these in Singapore!!!

South Korea with Giamso Tours
But why? :(

South Korea with Giamso Tours
South Korea with Giamso Tours
South Korea with Giamso Tours
Some authentic Korean ginseng chicken soup right there (omnomnom)

South Korea with Giamso Tours
South Korea with Giamso Tours
South Korea with Giamso Tours
Secretly pleased especially if there’s a portable wifi device (WIFI > FOOD, YES)…

South Korea with Giamso Tours

Day 6,7: Jeju Island – Mysterious Road + Seongsan Illchulbong Peak + Seongeup Folk Village + Oedolgae Rock + Seopjikoji

South Korea with Giamso Tours
The Mysterious Road is a mysterious road indeed — it is a road with an optical illusion. While the road looks like it is going downhill, it is actually upward sloping. Weird, huh?!

South Korea with Giamso Tours
South Korea with Giamso Tours
South Korea with Giamso Tours
South Korea with Giamso Tours
The view at Seopjikoji

South Korea with Giamso Tours
South Korea with Giamso Tours
Female divers with their catch after their performance at Seongsan Ilchulbong

South Korea with Giamso Tours
A lady selling tangerines by the cliffs of Oedolgae Rock

South Korea with Giamso Tours

And so… that marked the end of our trip to South Korea. Our guide was so hospitable and everything you would wish for in a guide, that it was hard to leave her at the airport – we ended up tearing while saying our goodbyes. Such attachment while only being there for a week!

Oh and before I end this post, there’s one last image that I have to share.

I love taking night flights, especially when I get the window seat, because I can look out to the blanket of stars before me. And this time when I did, I saw the sun setting and the moon rising at the same time. It was so surreal, I think I almost forgot to breathe. I mentioned this scene in my Morocco (Part I) post before, and till today it remains vivid in my head.

South Korea with Giamso Tours
Despite the very blurry image… Isn’t it just so beautiful…?

I was a little sad upon my arrival home because I was going to miss all the good Korean food I had. I’m usually not a fan of Korean cuisine but our guide brought us to several authentic Korean restaurants which completely changed my view (and now I’m thinking about it again. I’m sorry I just haven’t had my meal!).

And if you’re a big K-drama fan then I’m sure you’d want to visit the places that I did, because can you imagine being in the same place your K-idol once was? It’s much akin to sleeping in the same hotel room Angelina Jolie did before (I think I’d freak out), but that’s beside the point.

This entire trip was a very different experience for me, since I don’t usually sign up for tour packages, but the convenience of someone else settling my tickets and accommodation (or everything else) is something I could get used to — Just pack and travel, how difficult can that be, right?!

So there you have it! South Korea in 7 days: YAY OR NAY?

It’s a YAY for me. :)

For more pictures, follow my Instagram via #BeautifulAdieuinSouthKorea! x

Giamso International Tours is a homegrown travel agency with 36 years of experience in the industry, well known for their Australia and Asia packages. Whether you’re a on a leisure or corporate trip, you’ll find that Giamso will be able to be of service.

Their new website (www.giamso.com.sg) will provide a brand new e-commerce platform that enables you to book your flights directly and have easy access to all their packages! Follow them on their Facebook and Instagram for more! x

All images taken with Canon 5DMII + 24-70mm f/2.8L and edited with Lightroom and Photoshop – taken before I fully switched to a Nikon system

Montigo: Home Away From Home

Posted by | Personal, Travel | No Comments

All images taken with Nikon DSLRs and underwater camera

Montigo

This post comes a few months late, but three months ago, I finally had the opportunity to enjoy two nights at Montigo Resorts in Batam, Indonesia. I say finally because I’ve been seeing pictures of its famous white houses and rooftops all over social media since their opening a few years ago, and from then on, I’ve always wanted to go.

Jemimah, Vera and I packed our suitcases for our short getaway and brought our other halves (while Vera brought her friend Phoebe) along with us. Forty-five minutes after boarding the ferry at Tanah Merah Ferry Terminal, we arrived at NongsaPura and were promptly greeted by Kashi, who would be our host for the next three days. Kashi turned out to be such a friendly and professional member of the staff; his hospitality made our stay so much more enjoyable and memorable!

Kashi showed us to our villas and gave us a tour as we — when I say we, I mean us girls — squealed at how beautiful the interiors were. Think clean lines and a monochromatic colour scheme, complete with wood finishings. *inserts smiley with heart-shaped-eyes*

We freshened up and filled our bellies with delicious food at Tadd’s before touring the Montigo Residences. If you didn’t know, Montigo has residences that you can purchase as a holiday home (how about that!), and you can also rent it back to the resorts when you’re not staying there. Definitely something I’d consider investing in if I had the money. Forget expensive air fares to exotic locations; you can have an equally luxurious and private beach holiday just forty-five minutes away from home!

Montigo
Montigo
Montigo
Montigo
Montigo
Montigo

The four of us girls spent the remaining afternoon lounging by the main pool and watching the sun set right in front of us, while the boys pigged out back in the villas. The skies were dark as we returned and we were told to gather at the rooftop for dinner. Chef Tony was waiting for us, and our first course was ready to be served: we were having a six-course barbecue on the rooftop! What a romantic way to spend our first night in Montigo… :)

Montigo
Montigo
Montigo
Montigo
Montigo
Montigo
Montigo

The Montigo villas were all decked with super-extra-deliciously comfortable beds and bed linens that we couldn’t help but indulge ourselves in over the night, only getting ready at 11am when breakfast was almost over.

In the afternoon we went fishing by the jetty within Montigo Resorts’ compound, and we were to have a Chef Experience with Chef Tony by the pool. Apparently we had to catch and cook our own lunch! (The horror) We had thirty minutes to try our luck but alas, all six of us were unsuccessful… Until the very last minute when we were supposed to wrap up and put away our fishing rods. Shane (Jemimah’s other half) took the lead and landed a big one, and within minutes, Zen (my other half) caught one too! Looks like fishing success is contagious!

So Chef Tony prepared our fish, ingredients, and greens which are grown in Montigo’s little garden. Since I’m a terrible cook and Zen is great in the kitchen (ha, role reversal right there), I took charge of photographing the boys and Vera as they whipped up our lunch. Mmmm, just thinking about it makes me hungry right now!

Montigo
Montigo
Montigo
Montigo
Montigo
Montigo
Montigo
Montigo
Montigo
Montigo
Montigo

Kashi took us to Nongsa Point Marina for a special line up that evening: a yacht trip out on the Batam waters to catch the sunset. Talk about a unique, luxurious getaway! Though it was cloudy and we only caught a glimpse of the sun rays, we returned to the resort with salty windswept hair and smiles on our faces.

Dinner served at Pantai, a restaurant adjacent to the lobby, was yet another spectacular meal. We were very well fed — too well in fact! We decided to have a karaoke party in a private room at Tiigo after dinner, but Vera and I went for a swim in the main pool before joining the crew. I love how the entire trip was just so laid back, and that we were spoilt for choice when we were deciding on our itinerary. Kashi was again, very accommodating to our needs and arranged our schedules as we indecisively changed our plans on a whim (sorry Kashi!).

Needless to say, we didn’t want to wake nor leave our beds the next morning. It was just too comfortable — where can I buy these bedsheets home?! We packed our luggages and prepared to leave the resort on our last day, but not before visiting the spa. The six of us were brought into a family room for our spa treatments. I chose the Hot Stone treatment, and boy, I’d go as far to say it was probably the best spa I’ve ever done in my life. The best part? The resort offers a Getaway Spa Day Package that includes ferry transfers. Looks like I’ll be heading back again soon for more!

Montigo
Montigo
Montigo
Montigo
Montigo
Montigo
Montigo

It was finally time to check out and we were (well, at least I was) reluctant to leave our luxurious villas that we had temporarily called home for the past three days. So I guess since Batam is under an hour away from Singapore, I’ll be back again soon! I’m definitely looking forward to having all the great food and experiencing the impeccable hospitality and spa treatments again the next time I’m there. :)


Montigo

All ready to leave: Goodbye Montigo Resorts and thank you for the fun times!