Thursday, 3 September 2015

things to do when in bali


Last destination of my Southeast Asia trip: Bali. I loved the culture and the food but I had to admit that I was very disappointed by the beaches. Bali has a paradise type of image across the world and yet, Manly beach next to Sydney CBD is 10 times prettier. I understood beaches such as Kuta and Seminyak would not be as attractive but when you take a day trip to Nusa Lembongan and have a dozen of empty bottles floating in turquoise water, you know something is wrong. I am not saying do not go - but I am just warning those of you who may think Bali is a paradise type of escape. If you live in Australia and look for a holiday by the beach - do not bother, unless you want to immerse yourself in Balinese culture. Here are however, a few things you should do if you are planning to go to Bali...

Ubud Rice Fields 



Ubud - also known as Bali's cultural place is very vast. People think it only resumes to the rice fields but it is not true. I haven't done it myself but I have heard you can do intensive yoga course and see a healer. Practice can be strange but should I have more time on my next trip, I will probably do a 'haling' trip with intensive yoga, massages and healing therapies. 

As famous as they are, the rice fields are, of course, a must do when in Bali. Ask your hotel for an external driver (if you book directly your hotel's driver prices will be double) to take you there as it took more than 2 hours from Nusa Dua. Once you get to the rice fields, they will appear smaller than expected or than whatever you have previously seen on photos, etc. Depending on the time I recommend you go for a lunch at the restaurant on the very left of the iconic rice field photo spot. They serve the best saté I've had! Get the mixed saté plate with a whole coconut and seat in front off the fields - the view is a real bliss. If you are courageous enough, take a walk into them and enjoy! Allow approximately 2 hours to take your time to tour around the rice fields. 

Sacred Monkey Forest 

If you're in Ubud then you cannot miss the Sacred Monkey Forest! The forest has hundreds of monkeys all around and it is part of Bali fun to go there. Entry fees are about 20,000Rupiah (A2$) and you can buy bananas for 200Rupiah. If you decide to feed the monkeys however, make sure to be careful with your belongings! Monkeys will enjoy stealing your phone and jewels. I have to admit that for the cost, it is worth going and the forest in itself is also very beautiful. You'll definitely take unforgettable photos. 

Beaches & Temples 

  
Obvious or not, you can't go to Bali without going to temples or walking on a few beaches. As I previously said, beaches have disappointed me so I'll name a few but none of them convinced my heart after having spent a year in Australia. Here's a few you could go but don't expect too much out of them: 
  • Seminyak - probably one of the cleanest. Go to the Potato Head Beach Club or La Plancha, for a colourful experience and cocktails by the beach
  • Padang Padang - great for surfer, I had a very good banana pancake on the beach but that's about it 
  • Nusa Dua - they claim is at resort beach but I could not even swim.. 
  • Kuta - the worst but I had to go, they have a nice shopping mall and a few markets around 

Temples on the other side are fabulous. Always remember to cover your shoulders. For your legs, you will be given a sarong to wear and a donation is usually appreciated. I have visited a few temples on my way to Ubud.  No entrance fees are required for most of them but they appreciate a donation as well. The one I strongly recommend is Uluwatu Temple. Go there, visit it and you HAVE TO sit and see the traditional dance, held everyday at 6pm. 100,000Rupiah (A$10) is required for the entry to the performance. Very unusual but interesting as it depicts traditional balinese men dance. I loved it!

Ayana Resort and Spa - Rock Bar 

For a fancy escapade, head to Ayana Resort and Spa in Jimbaran. Unless your budget allows it don't stay there - although it's absolutely fabulous with incredible sculptures and countless infinity pools. Instead, head to the Rock Bar for an amazing drink with a view. Make sure to arrive early. The bar only opens from 5pm but the queue will start around 4pm and they will prioritise hotel guests. Arriving there at 4:30-5pm, I had to wait an hour and a half!!! I did stay because I wanted to see and have a drink there and I was already at the place but if I had  to do it again I may not wait this long, as I sat when it was almost dark. The view is stunning. Compared to Le Bua in Bangkok, prices are not overrated and the food is nice, especially the tacos and fries basket. The overlooking beach was probably the prettiest I have seen in my whole Bali trip!

Mount Batur 

Last but not least, something you shouldn't miss about Bali is trekking Mount Batur. Finding a trekking tour when you are alone may be difficult and very expensive as they often charge US$30 more than the original price. My driver kindly proposed to drove me and find a guide all for A$90 on my own. He came to pick me up and dropped me off - and I also had to guide to myself. The reason is because although I had my driver's guide, an official guide from Batur trekking association is compulsory. Therefore, it is safer and you have less risks of scam. I was picked up at my hotel at around 2am, started the trek around 3:30-4am and waited for the sun to rise up until 7am. I was definitely tired but the view was so worth it! Although clouds were present, you could still see the sunrise with a cup of Bali animal coffee (traditional coffee), toasts and eggs. The guides are very helpful and friendly. The trek wasn't easy and you should prepare yourself physically and mentally. Make sure to bring good shoes and a jacket as it will get very cold once at the top. 

Where to stay? 

For about 500€ for 5 nights, I stayed at Courtyard by Mariott in Nusa Dua - a resort place. Compared to Europe I found prices affordable and safer to stay at a hotel when on your own. The hotel has a wonderful pool (very useful when you don't like the hotel's private beach) which I had a view of from my room, a spa and many other facilities. One of the nicest place I stayed whilst in Southeast Asia! 

Tuesday, 18 August 2015

the temples of angkor


After Bangkok, my second destination was Cambodia. Believe it or not, I flew on the Monday morning and came back on the Tuesday night to then fly to Bali on the Wednesday morning - so hectic! Siem Reap is an amazing cultural city. Only an hour or so away from Bangkok, change of scene guaranteed. Or as we say in France, a total dépaysement!



Getting organised

Visa and currency:
When you arrive at the airport, the whole process is very easy. Have a few American dollars with you. Unlike Bali, you will not be able to pay for your visa on arrival in other currencies. The tourist visa is $30 and business visa is $35. They will charge you an extra $2 if you don't have a photo to provide, but no big deal.

To see if you are eligible for a visa on arrival, follow this link:
http://embassyofcambodia.sg/index.php/visas/visa-arrival

Also, note that apart from the visa most things in Cambodia can and are paid is $US. No need to change your money in the local currency, but make sure you have small notes, especially those $1 bills.





Getting around:
Not sure how you planned your trip - but there is no way you can walk around all temples by yourself. Some people hire a car and drive, whilst some other will cycle. To be honest, I think the easiest, the cheapest and the most local is to simply hire a tuk-tuk driver. I have contacted Polin prior to my departure and upon recommendations on Trip Advisor. He is sweet, adorable, reliable and honest! He took me everywhere I wanted in such a short time and even proposed to do/see more things but I was too tired to do so. For $30 (including all extra charges such as sunrise and sunset), he picked me up from the airport, let me visit a few temples in the afternoon and took me to sunset on the first day. Then on the next day, he was up as early as I was and on time for sunrise, half day of exploring and took me back to the airport, offering to go  and see the local markets. Amongst my personal desires, he took me to hidden places and temples less common to tourists. He also knows his culture really well and will explain to you anything if you have any questions. If you are planning a trip to Siem Reap, here is his email: polinangkordriver@gmail.com
PS: Polin always carries a few bottles of cold water for you!





Passes:
1 day pass - $20
3 days pass - $40
7 days pass - $60




Must see/not to miss: 
  • Sunrise at Angkor Wat 
  • Sunset at the Hill - be there in at least 2 hours in advance, or queue and miss it ... 
  • Angkor Thom (also known as Bayon Temple)

Wednesday, 12 August 2015

simple & easy: avocado smash with goat's cheese



Ever wanted that delicious avocado smash you get at your favourite brunch place, but not having the courage to get up and go wherever that is? Then why not make it yourself? Cheap, fast, easy and delicious - you'll only need a few ingredients and there is no cooking involved! 

Ingredients (for two filled toasts):
- 1 perfectly ripe avocado 
- 1/3 of fresh plain goat's cheese 
- 1 seeded ciabatta roll
- lemon
- salt & pepper 
- tabasco (optional) 


Directions:
Cut your avocado in half and get rid of the core. Use a spoon to take the meat and place it in a bowl. Cut 1/3 (more if you wish) of your goat's cheese in slices. Place in the same bowl. Season your bowl before you smash the ingredients with lemon, salt, pepper and tabasco if you would like your smash to be hot! I usually put a lot of pepper and tabasco in my guacamole so I like to do so when making a smash too. With your fork, smash everything until you can only see smalls bits and pieces. However, avoid making the whole thing liquid. 

I like to use ciabatta rolls or sourdough with seeds instead of plan boring 'toasts'. I believe it tastes better, and it's better for your body too! Cut your bread in half and toast it. Just when it's still warm, spread big chunks for your smash on the bread and... enjoy! 

Tuesday, 11 August 2015

chanel: les automnales 2015



Awaited by a lot of people – the Chanel Fall Collection is out! It has been since a while but I have heard that it wasn’t release yet in France, which I find very odd. I am not physically there at the moment so cannot check myself but at least I got some of my favourite products from Les Automnales (literally: the autumnals) collection. All I like about it is the names (erable or maple, chataigne or chestnut, pomme de pin or pine cone, etc.) and the marketing strategy for the whole campaign. Poetic names reflecting the autumn season – it’s almost like you’re walking through a forest when reading the products descriptions. The photos and colours chosen are also very strategic and smart. Dark browns, bronze, dark greens…. You literally are sitting in a forest in mid-autumn.

My picks were carefully chosen too. I do love collecting but I did stop buying things I won’t use more than once but I am more than happy of what I have bought and use so far.

The palette: Entre Lacs (translation: between lakes)

My favourite of all 5 colours Chanel palette that I own. Very simple, nude and fair but so delicate and elegant. Suitable for everyday use, as well as night time use. The colours blend together magically and I mean, what can you do with a browny and bronzy palette? Everything. If I had to only pick one item, I would pick this one over and over again.

The eyes: Illusion d’Ombre ‘Rouge Gorge’ 116  (translation: robin)

I have to admit I wasted a lot of Illusion d’Ombre from the lack of use. However, Chanel have changed their formula and they are now absolutely divine. First of all, they are not round anymore but flat. This means that they won’t dry and fall out anymore. Second – the texture is way creamier! Easier to blend and long lasting. I’m in love. Rouge Gorge does appear as orange when you see it, but try it on your fingers and you’ll see that it’s actually a gentle coral that you can wear all day without looking like a clown!

The lips: Rouge Coco Shine ‘Téméraire’ 112 (translation: audacious)

As mentioned previously, Rouge Coco Shine has become one of my favourite Chanel lipsticks’ formula. This dark cherry red colour combine a vamp look with an elegant red lips. Definitely wearable during day time with light eyes, it’s also your perfect night red and easier to apply than a Rouge Allure Velvet red. If you had to pick one of the lip product, again I would choose this one hands down.

The cheeks: Joues Contraste Blush ‘Alezane’ 260

This pink golden brown is the better edition of Jersey with shimmers. My all-time favourite is Caresse, from the Christmas collection (a subtle coral with shimmers). This one is basically a darker, more dramatic look in the same spirit to reveal your autumn colours. I do love a little bit of shimmers on my cheeks and although I usually go for coral-orange tones rather than pink (because of my complexion colours), I find this one suits me perfectly well as well, due to its bronzy and golden tones. The first thing I noticed in this collection was actually the blush; I knew I had to get it!

I hope go and at least give some of these beautiful products a try. The collection is out now in Australia and US, and you can browse the US website here: http://www.chanel.com/en_US/fragrance-beauty/FALL-2015-COLLECTION-139814

Note that most products are limited edition!!

PS: You can expect a video on these with further swatches.       

Sunday, 9 August 2015

chanel: collection méditerranée & hydra beauty micro sérum


In between travel posts, let's talk a little bit about beauty. After having this blog for two years it is kind of obvious that my favourite make up brand was, is and will be Chanel. They have recently released the Autumn collection (Les Automnales). I love this collection not because of the colours they feature (especially the special Entre Lacs palette) but because of poetic names they have given to all the products, on the theme of forest, and mother nature in autumn overall. I just fell in love, meaning their marketing strategy is absolutely fantastic! However, I have never reviewed the summer collection just yet (Méditerranée), which is a total shame since I liked that collection, especially from the re-release of the Stylo Eyeshadow.

They first came in Summer 2013 and I have reviewed them here:



For the record, it has been two years since I bought these items and I still use them, they are in perfect shape. Anyways, after 9 weeks of using the summer products as well as the Micro Serum (permanent collection) I would like to give you my personal opinion over the 9 weeks use.

Bronzer (illuminating powder): Lumière d'Été 
I never really buy bronzers as I have always feared to look too 'orange' and lack of flawlessness. However, this one was a must. To start with, the packaging is amazing (like always) and the texture is very surprising. When you try it with your fingers, the texture is really dry, which can unfortunately be a turn off. Once you try it on your skin though, it all goes so fluidly. It applies an stays perfectly. This is why I always recommend to try on first and not judge on the first impression. It does not have shimmers and I believe it is the perfect bronzer for any season. I personally like to use it as a blush, on my cheek bones only. The price was set as A$90 if I recall.

Lipstick: Rouge Coco Shine 'Insoumise' 507 
I have always been a huge fan of Rouge Coco but lately I have fallen in love with Rouge Coco Shine. Subtle, it has the intensity of a lipstick without all the flaws. It is wearable everyday, and easy to reapply. I use it as a lip balm to be honest. Insoumise is a deep coral that definitely applies for summer spirit. I was release in Autumn in Australia, but I couldn't careless with the amount of sunshine we get. I love it. A$50

Stylo Eyeshadow: 'Caroube' 147
As previously said, this a formula that I adore ever since it came out in summer 2013. I did not go crazy on the colours this year and preferred a discreet maroon. More like an autumn colour to me, I believe it goes along all season. Although I like peachy colours or very neutral (sometimes no eyeshadow) for summer, I think this bronze brown suits everyone at any time of the year. Straight from the bullet or with your fingers, there is no difficulty to apply this gem. Not a must, but a high recommendation if you like the formula better than a powder eyeshadow. A$46

Le Vernis: Terrana '697'
Chanel Le Vernis is such a good formula that I rarely switch brands. I have to admit Dior has a better brush but I am still biased towards Chanel. Terrana is a golden bronzy brown, similar to the Stylo Eyeshadow - which is the main reason why I got this one. I love dark colours but I also wanted to match both products. I would rather wear this in autumn again, but may look good on dark and tanned summer skin. A$39


Hydra Beauty Micro Sérum
This product is a hell of an investment (pardon my French) as it cost A$120 per bottle. However, although I was sceptical into getting it I do not regret it at all. It's the best skin product you could offer your face. After 9 weeks of using it every morning (only a few drops, once a day before your moisturiser) I find that my skin has changed so much. It is more hydrated, it has less blemishes and redness and it's just softer overall. I would definitely buy another once it runs out. In 9 weeks I have just used half of the bottle. If you care about your skin, I would definitely invest into this gem. I'm slowly moving into this Hydra Beauty range and about to start using the Hydra Beauty Gel Crème moisturiser (currently using a non-fragrance brand called Qiriness, which is a spa brand) and the Hydra Beauty Eye Cream. Besides - the whole range smells divine!

PS: All these products are still available to purchase on Chanel US & France websites (stock limits apply). 

Browse at: http://www.chanel.com/en_US/fragrance-beauty/SUMMER-2015-COLLECTION-139487

Wednesday, 5 August 2015

top 5 things to do in bangkok


1. Grand Palace







Obvious or not, the Grand Palace, aka the most touristic place in Bangkok is a must place to visit. Whether you have or have not the time, you have to go. Skip other temple like visits if you wish but do not skip this one. It is impressive on Google search, but so it is in real life, if not million times more. The place is absolutely huge and I have to say that without a guide, it was hard to get around. I do not mind it however - as I find it very interesting to come and go, back and forth and see some sights more than once, trying to explore and understand further more. You will be impressed on how local guides can literally speak any language on this planet. 

How to get there: As mentioned in my previous post, wherever you are from get on the closest BTS Sky Train station to Saphan Taksin. The price of the single ticket will depend on where you board. You can opt for the day pass if not (costs on the previous articles). From there go to the very last pier on the left and queue for the orange flagged boat. The single ticket is 15THB (A$0.60). Get off at Pier 9 (Tha Chang) and follow the crowd/signs to the Grand Palace.  

Cost: 500THB (A$20) - fairly expensive for a country like Thailand but again,  it is worth it and it is very touristic. 

Tips: Do not show too much skin. You may be asked to leave or pay for a sarong. It is also culturally respectful to not show too much skin. Even though the weather is hot - be acceptable and understanding of other cultures. Do not forget one or two bottles of water. Make sure to get there early as it is open from 8:30am to 3:30pm only.

2. Wat Pho



Wat Pho (or the Temple of the Reclining Buddha) is another awesome place to visit. I would have probably suggested Wat Arun (Temple of Dawn) if I had the chance to visit it, which I did not. Before you actually get to see the famous Buddha there are many 'small' temples, made of mosaic and gold lining, typical Thai style. You will walk around them, play hide and seek and eventually take photos. It is a magical little labyrinth before you actually get to see THE Buddha. Once you get to where the reclining Buddha is exposed, you will naturally be asked to remove your shoes. The golden Buddha is impressively 15m and 46m long. You can walk around the Buddha for as long as you wish. On the other side (following the sense of visit) of the Buddha you will notice a number of bowls - 108 to be exact. These are monk bowls and for 20THB (A$0.77) you can buy 108 coins to pour in the latter for luck. Simply amazing.  

How to get there: From the Grand Palace, you can either walk or take the orange flagged Chao Praya Express boat again. Get off at Tha Tien. You may need a map to walk from the pier but you should find your way after crossing the bridge opposite the pier, where the boat drops you off. 

Cost: 100THB (A$3.80)

Tips: Similar to any religious places in South East Asia, avoid showing too much skin. Bare with the heat and buy yourself a pair of light and fluffy pants. Long dresses will do too. Just remember to cover your shoulders with a cardigan or shawl. It is open from 8:30am to 6:30pm.

3. Chatuchak Weekend Market 








If you are in Bangkok on a Saturday or Sunday make sure to go to the Chatuchak (or JJ) market. To be simple, it is a giant bazaar where you can find anything. From home furniture to coconut ice cream. Everything is so cheap, you will feel bad for bargaining. I never really bargained but if you feel ripped off, do not hesitate. It will be hard at first to get your head around the whole market because it is just immense. You will think you are running in circle but it is just simply because everything looks alike. There is a map - but honestly it was like reading Chinese. What I did was simply walking around and go into alleys that inspired me. I found some nice 'vintage' type clothes, plenty of souvenirs and had countless coconut ice creams! They are the best and cost only 60THB (A$2) with toppings included.  

How to get there: Get off at Chatuchak Park MRT station (exit 1) or alternatively, Mo Chit BTS station (exit 1 & 3). 

Cost: There is no admission fee! Only on Saturdays and Sundays from 9am to 6pm. 

Tips: There are too many delicious places to choose from to eat at the market but I recommend a stop at Foon Talop (section 26). Do not miss the coconut ice cream and top it with peanuts, what a delish! Speaking of markets - make sure to check on what's going on in the city. I had the opportunity to experience a pop up night market, with varieties of stalls but especially delicious food stalls where I had grilled seafood (scallops and oysters) and calamari skewers for 20THB!! (See photos)  

PS: bring a suitcase if you need loads of things, it's so common at JJ!

4. LeBua Sky Bar



As I have already mentioned, if you need a little escape from street food and hostels, treat yourself at this top fancy place from The Hangover movie. The view is absolutely breathtaking. Make sure you arrive before the sunset. The staff is friendly and will not push you on buying drinks from the start. You will pay around A$20-30 per glass depending on the cocktail you will choose but again, you are paying for the view! Whilst you can get a glass of Laurent Perrier Champagne at A$20 at the Opera Bar, you may not even want to turn the Champagne menu page at LeBua! The food is not quite what I recommend the most, very expensive and you only get small portion. I got myself some spinach and feta samosa as I was starving. Sushis were definitely overrated!! Make sure you arrive early enough so you can get a spot on the couches and lie down whilst watching the sunset. It is, hands down, a magical and unreal  experience to be fairly honest. You hardly realise you are actually 'alive' and standing there, in front of a postcard. At the end before you leave, the staff will take you to the iconic so-called 'Sky Bar', only accessible to Restaurant guests. You will be allowed to take some photos within a defined perimeter and they will tell you off if you go beyond the 'point'...

How to get there: Same BTS station as to get the Chao Praya Express: Saphan Taksin. Walk about 15mn through buzzing streets and food stalls until you reach the hotel.

Tips: Dress appropriate! Imagine you are going to a Palace such as George V in Paris. It is fancy, you know it and the dress code is fairly strict. No sandals, no shorts, no jeans, etc. Use your common sense ;)

PS: Excuse the quality of the iPhone photo when the sky hits dusk.. but you get the idea.

5. Shopping









I am sure you have been told more than once that Bangkok is an amazing city for shopping. Well, it is true! Siam Paragon was my favourite, and I have to admit I spent a lot of time in there, hiding from the heat but also shopping. The Zara is absolutely mad and their foodcourt is heaven. Go to the foodcourt to grab a snack and wander in their giant supermarket, where I ended up buying some food to bring home. One of my favourite treat was at the Emporium foodcourt, where I tried for the first time a croissant taiyaki. Taiyaki has been my favourite Japanese treat every since I was a kid and they added a little french touch making it a croissant... Absolutely divine! 70THB being A$2.70 I simply suggest you try the three flavours, and they also have 6 or 12 packs to take away! Crispy Thai pancakes are also a must try and can be found at any foodcourt. They also have a chain of gyoza that you should try. Believe me, it is hard to think about keeping your body in shape when in Bangkok... But after all, it is alright after walking 20k, right? 

The top malls you should visit when in Bangkok:

  • Siam Paragon (the fancy one, make sure you head to their foodcourt and supermarket)
  • Emporium (another fancy one)
  • Central World Plaza (go there to get a massage and eat some delicious food)
  • Siam Square (for casual shopping)
  • MBK Center (very popular but I didn't really like it, they host a Tokyu Department Store, if interested)
  • Terminal 21 (an entire mall transformed into an airport! Each level is a different city/destination)
How to get there: Get off at Siam BTS station, where you can access ALL (or at least most of) Bangkok's shopping malls.

Tips: Allow half a day to visit/shop around the mall you want to, and try to decide in advance on which one you want to specifically go to. Do not freak out when you have to show your bag every time you enter a mall, you also do this when entering a MRT station for security purposes. I actually find it reassuring. Also, wander around before jumping on the first restaurant to make sure you make the right pick! Most malls open until late in Bangkok (10-11pm) so you can have a night shopping spree.