Tuesday, 21 July 2015

Reflections on why we really travel

This post is written by Lyn who blogs at Lil Blue Bottle. The fact that social media is first and foremost narcissistic is not lost on her, but despite that (or perhaps because of that), she still enjoys it so.

A while ago, I read this article by Henry Wismayer on whether "travel has become another exercise in narcissism" which was rather humorous.

Whilst this is a travel blog, I thought that article, whilst disparaging a certain breed of travellers, was a down-to-earth reminder to reflect at times, on why we really travel.

In particular, Singaporeans work so hard, and our favourite reward to self these days seems to be an extravagant holiday out of this tiny red dot.

Experience has become the new 'possession', and rather than spend money on things (that we have no space to store), some of our largest splurges are on long holidays. In fact, some people even declare that they work and live simply for the next holiday.

For our materialistic society, has travel has become yet another trophy to wave about, the more expensive unheard-of the locale, the better?

These days, it's become almost expected that everyone has some form of a travel bucket list. And the places on the bucket list are usually far-flung (read: expensive to travel to), exotic (read: so that you can say you've been where few people have), and/or possess some wonder-of-the-world reputation.

Going to some nearby beach resort is just too ho-hum, after all YOLO and all that jazz, no?

But I suppose the most insidious danger lies in how we begin to premise our self-worth on the number of countries we've visited (after all, who doesn't love listing them all out?), and feel that we somehow have not lived, if we haven't been to [insert current hankered-after destination]. The irony, as pointed out in Wismayer's article, is that such travelling "isn't making you interesting. It's just confirming your position as one of the crowd."

I would be the first to admit that I love travelling. There is a certain buzz in setting foot in a new place, full of people with their own unique culture, getting out of our tiny country, and experiencing a bit of life in the great big Out There.

But I have also become aware of the traveller's hubris of travelling for the sake of Facebook moments, of dashing from landmark to landmark, ticking off 'must-see highlights' without really being there.

Photo with the famous fountain? Check. Eaten at that renowned restaurant? Check. Which city was this again? Hmm... can't quite remember... we went to quite a few on that trip right?

So I suppose the article made me reflect on why I travel, whilst making me more self-aware, that travelling alone, does not a man make.

Beyond the place, what matters most is the people we travel with, I suppose. Most of us with petite travellers embark on trips so as to spend time with them, away from the usual distractions of work and school. It's amazing what we learn about our kids when both parents spend days on end with them. Regardless of location, the memories formed stay with us all, even after the photographs of the trip have faded.

For some of my friends, family trips are the only time when they have to handle their kids alone 24/7, without the omnipresence of their domestic helper. So that in itself is a precious and refreshing (or rather, dead tiring?) experience, that I think every family is the richer for.

Some travel stories are inspiring too. Recently, a friend's family took a trip off the beaten track, where her kids got to experience a vastly different world. Moving out of their comfort zone to trek through the Tonkinese Alps triggered many emotions and reflections, especially about the children they came into contact with. Such travel exposes our sheltered children to lives beyond their own, and a greater awareness of the world beyond our narrow shores.

So, which will your next travel experience be?

Tuesday, 7 July 2015

Best Hotel Staycations to View the SG50 Fireworks Display

As we enter July, there is a palpable sense of excitement in the air as the country gears up towards the big SG50 celebration on our National Day this 9th of August.

For those of you thinking about joining in the festivities and wondering how to catch a good view of the fireworks display, this post was written for you. Take a mini-holiday with a hotel staycation right in the heart of the action around the Padang and Marina Bay and you can be a part of the excitement — in air-conditioned comfort! Many of the best rooms (that is, the most expensive ones) for 9 August have already been snapped up, but all through the month of July, there will also be parade rehearsals every Saturday where you can catch a sneak preview of the parade. This includes the 21-gun salute on the water at Marina Bay, the aerial display, the mobile column and of course the fireworks display. A staycation on these weekends would cost you a fraction of the cost for the actual day too!

We’ve done the legwork for you and contacted the hotels for their best rates, all detailed here in our guide to the best hotels with a view to remember! We have only included rooms which are available but these are selling out as we speak so do move quickly!

1. Swissotel The Stamford

With the National Day Parade returning to the Padang for this historic year, Swissotel Stamford, the tallest hotel in the vicinity is the place to be to catch a bird’s eye view of all the action!

SG50 National Day Preview Package (11, 18, 25 July and 1 August)
From S$450++ (for July dates) and S$750++ (for 1 August) for 1 night’s stay in a premium Classic Harbourview room with views of the Marina Bay fireworks and the Padang

Package Includes:
  • Complimentary breakfast for two
  • Complimentary 24-hour car park coupons at Raffles City Shopping Centre per night of stay
For room reservations, head over to Swissotel's website.

2. Mandarin Oriental, Singapore

The closest hotel to the Marina Bay Floating Platform, the Mandarin Oriental will not offer a view of the Padang, but will give you a front row seat to the festivities happening in the bay, in particular the aerial and fireworks displays.

National Day Preview/ Rehearsals (11, 18, 25 July and 1 August)
From S$429++ (for July dates) and S$549++ (for 1 August) for 1 night’s stay in a Marina Bay view room with views of the fireworks display.

National Day Parade (9 August, with either 8 or 10 August)
From S$1,849++ for 2 nights’ stay in a Marina Bay view room with views of the fireworks display.

Package Includes:
  • Complimentary breakfast for two (only for the National Day Preview/Rehearsals package)
For room reservations, head over to Mandarin Oriental's website.

3. Marina Bay Sands

Situated opposite the Marina Bay Floating Platform, Marina Bay Sands’ city view rooms will offer a spectacular view of this year’s SG50 fireworks display in the Marina Bay area. You can also opt to enjoy the festivities from the Sands SkyPark, the highest vantage point in the Marina Bay area, or even from the hotel’s infinity pool for a unique one-of-a-kind fireworks experience!

Celebrate Singapore Offer (11, 18, 25 July and 1 August)
From S$469++ (for July dates) and S$549++ (for 1 August) for 1 night’s stay in a City View room with views of the fireworks display.

Package Includes:
  • 2 adults All-Access tickets to ArtScience Museum during the stay with additional tickets at 15% off
  • 20% off Sampan Ride tickets
  • 10% off body massages and selected spa retail products
For room reservations, head over to Marina Bay Sands' website.

4. The Ritz-Carlton, Millenia Singapore

Offering unblocked views of the Marina Bay area, as well as renowned 6-star service, The Ritz-Carlton is one of the most sought after hotels in Singapore when it comes to National Day celebrations.

Celebrate Singapore, Celebrate You” National Day Rehearsals (18, 25 July, and 1 August):
From S$650++ for one night stay in Deluxe Marina room with views of the Marina Bay and fireworks.

Package Includes:
  • A pair of limited edition Ritz-Carlton “Singapore 50” large lion beanie for premier, deluxe – marina bay view or club deluxe room bookings / A family set consisting of 2 large lion beanies and 1 miniature beanie for a Suite booking
  • Buffet breakfast for two persons
  • One bottle of Louis Roederer champagne
  • S$50 hotel credit per stay
For room reservations, head over to Ritz Carlton’s website.

5. Marina Mandarin Singapore

Located in the heart of the Marina Bay area, Marina Mandarin is an award-winning 5-star hotel that offers breathtaking views of the Marina Bay and financial district, as well as convenient access to the Marina Square Shopping Mall.

National Day Preview/ Rehearsals (18, 25 July and 1 August)
For 18 or 25 July 2015: S$300++ per night in an Executive Deluxe Marina Bay view room (level 12-15)
For 1 Aug 2015: S$320++ per night in a Premier Marina Bay view rooms (level 16-19)

National Day Fireworks@Marina Mandarin (9 August)
From S$1,800++ for 2 nights’ package in a Deluxe room, or from S$2,000++ for a 3 nights’ package.

Package Includes:
  • Complimentary breakfast for two
  • Free wifi
  • Complimentary parking

For room reservations, head over to Marina Mandarin’s website.

6. The Fullerton Hotel Singapore
A perfect blend of the old and new, The Fullerton Hotel offers guests a taste of Singapore's heritage even as they enjoy the modern luxuries of this beautiful hotel. Conveniently situated next just across the road from the waters of Marina Bay, aside from having a good view of the fireworks and aerial displays, you might also get a glimpse of the contingents after they leave the Padang too.

Celebrate Fireworks This July (11, 18, 25 July)
From S$468++ per night for 1 night's stay in a Quay room with views of Marina Bay and fireworks.

Celebrate Fireworks: 1 August Special (1 August)
From S$485++ per night for 1 night's stay in a Quay room with guaranteed fireworks view.

National Day Package (9 August, with either 8 or 10 August)
From S$1,781++ for 2 nights' stay in a Quay room with guaranteed fireworks view.

Package Includes:
  • Daily American Buffet Breakfast for two adults and two children under 12 years at Town Restaurant (July packages) / Daily American Buffet Breakfast for two adults at Town Restaurant (August packages)
  • Saturday Singapore High Tea for two adults and two children (July packages only)
  • Complimentary internet connectivity
  • Complimentary Heritage Tours
For room reservations, head over to Fullerton Hotel's website.

6. Pan Pacific Singapore
Pan Pacific hotel overlooks the iconic Marina Bay and has been consistently voted the World’s Leading Business Hotel by World Travel Awards. It also offers an amazing view of the fireworks over the Marina Bay area. (See our previous post on Pan Pacific for more details.)

Pacific Escape (25 July)
From S$450++ per night for 1 night's stay in a Harbour Studio room.

National Day Preview (1 August)
From S$600++ per night for 1 night's stay in a Harbour Studio room.

Fireworks by the Bay (9 August)
From S$1,010++ for 1 night's stay in a Harbour Studio room.

Package Includes:
  • Complimentary breakfast for two
  • Complimentary Internet access
For room reservations, head over to Pan Pacific's website.

We hope that you've found this post helpful. For those of you who prefer to "chase" the fireworks and aerial displays outdoors, do check out Life's Tiny Miracles' post on the best outdoor spots (complete with timings) to view the action!

Thursday, 2 July 2015

FAQ about Camping in Singapore

Petite Travellers Go Camping!
This post is written by Pamela who blogs at Tan Family Chronicles. She camped overnight at Pasir Ris Park and East Coast Park, Singapore with her husband and her petite travellers, Shawna (3 years), Asher (3 years) and Isaac (6 years), for quite a number of times in the past 2 years.

Since I have written about our camping experience in this post, and this post, on this blog last year, I have had friends who told me that they were so inspired by our camping experience that they went camping themselves! However, for every friend that told me they went camping after they read about us camping, there were 10 others who told me they wanted to TRY camping, BUT... they had some or all of these questions below. Thus, this FAQ is born!

East Coast Park - took this from our camp site. Sand and water were very clean. We actually welcomed the grey skies - not so hot!

Frequently Asked Questions about Camping in Singapore

Q: Camping?! Is this legal in Singapore?
A: Yes, it is legal to go camping in Singapore. You just need to apply for a permit either on any AXS machines, or online at this NParks Camping Permit Internet Application link. The permit is free of charge, but each applicant is limited to camping a maximum of 4 (four) days a month. Do refer to the link above for other terms and conditions.

Q: Great! Can I go camping at any park or beach in Singapore?
A: I'm afraid not. Camping is only permitted at designated areas at the following parks:
  • East Coast Park - Area D and Area G
  • Pasir Ris Park - Area 1 and Area 3
  • West Coast Park - Designated area within Area 3
If you're thinking of camping at one of the offshore islands, you may camp at Jelutong and Mamam Beaches at Pulau Ubin where camping permits are not required. However, campers are advised to register their presence on the island with the police officers at Pulau Ubin Police Post on the day that they are camping. This way, campers would get the most current safety briefing, as well as be contactable and be accounted for, in cases of emergency.

If you intend to camp at Pulau Ubin with a group size of more than 20 people, please write to NParks at NParks_Public_Affairs@nparks.gov.sg so that they can ensure that there are not too many campers camping on-site at the same time. 

Here are some numbers you may need:
  • NParks Info Kiosk: 65424108, Office: 65424842/65434734
  • Pulau Ubin Police Post: 6542 8664 / 9736 9564
  • Police Coast Guard: 6377 5539/40
  • Loyang Regional Base: 6546 3236
Information above obtained from these links at NParks and WildSingapore.com and is subject to change without notice. 

Kidzes helping with the set up of the tent. They could help with laying out the tent, straightening and inserting the tent poles. You need two adults (or teens) to help insert the poles into the corner catch (pic 7) together with the opposite end.

Q: I don't have a tent. Where can we get one?
A: If you're not sure if you would be into this camping gig for multiple outings and want the lowest outlay possible, the cheapest and easiest solution is to walk into any hypermarket (Giant, NTUC Xtra, etc) and you are highly likely to find that they sell camping tents. Very cheaply too. You can easily get a 6-men tent for under $100. We bought our 8-men tent at the army's market above the Beach Road Hawker Centre. Cost us less than $120, and lasted us for four camping trips and counting!

Here's Giant's online store selection of camping tents. If you think you want a more swanky (read: costlier!) tent, you can also check out the camping tents selection here at Decathlon.sg. You may also order them from overseas websites like Amazon and other camping specialist online shops - but do be aware that any guarantee/warranty that comes with these tents is probably not valid in Singapore.

If you're not comfortable buying online and want something better than what you can find at the hypermarkets, you can check out X-Boundaries at Velocity @ Novena Square, and The Campers Corner down at 51 Waterloo Street. The helpful staff there should be able to find you something within your budget.

Q: I don't want to buy stuff for something which I may do only once... Can I borrow from you?
A: Er... no? BUT guess what?! You can rent tent equipment! Here are two service providers we found when we Googled rental of tents in Singapore: Tent-4-Rent and Camp Kaki. We have not used any of these service providers before, but we think it's certainly very enterprising of them to offer such services. Do let us know your feedback on them if and when you use their services.
Setting up a tent. Top three pix: Pegging down the tent with the tent pegs. Bottom: Pulling on the flysheet.

Q: But, but, but... I don't know how to set up a tent!?
A: If you worry about setting up a tent, then please be sure to get a normal dome tent instead of the ultra fancy ones which look good but may be more difficult to set up. A dome tent is very easy to set up and can be easily done by two adults. Below is an excellent video showing you how a tent can be set up. The tents I have seen so far in Singapore usually have the ground tarp sewn into the base of the tent itself, so don't panic if you can't find the "ground tarp" - though you can always bring along another ground tarp for extra protection from any dampness from the ground.

Q: What if it rains while we're camping?
A: Your tent will come with a flysheet - this is meant to cover your entire tent, including the poles, and this flysheet is waterproof and would keep out the rain from your tent.

It has rained a few times, on our camping trips. Twice in the early morning hours of 4 to 8am, and once in the late afternoon and early evening. We usually go camping with other friends and so we usually have at least 5 families there in a minimum of 5 tents. All our tents are waterproof (as the ones you buy should be), and hence there is usually no problem at all when it rains. The kids relish the cosy feeling of staying in the tents warm and dry, whilst listening to the pitter patter of raindrops on the tent, while they play board games, read books, or as they recently did - play pretend school.

If you're really worried about this, then choose a campsite which is near a pavilion or a building which you can run to. Though in our experience so far, this has not been necessary.

Q: Is it safe at night?
A: In Singapore, it is generally safe to be camping out at night. However, if you want, you can go for the truly authentic camping experience of assigning duties to the adults to act as sentry throughout the night.

In our experience, the kids would go to sleep first, and the adults will proceed to have a second round of food, snacks and drinks - chit-chatting late into the night. This is one aspect of camping that I really enjoy, to be able to relax and chit-chat with good company, late into the night, without the worry of driving home at the back of my mind. By the time we all decide to go to sleep, it is usually at least 2am in the morning, with just a few hours to go before daybreak. Hubbs and I will usually situate ourselves at the door of the tent, so that we can surround the kids, and be the first line of defense in case any unwelcome intruders pay us a visit. Thankfully, that has not happened before!

In the morning, before we break camp, the kids squeeze in another few hours on the beach while their parents have a leisurely breakfast - after feeding the kids! The mummies chat in the kitchen while preparing some spaghetti for lunch in anticipation of having famished kids on their hands after a morning of hard work at the beach, trying to build a lake. The daddies enjoy their coffee and chat while keeping an eye on the kids in the water.

Q: What do you sleep on at night? 
A: During our first few camping trips, we brought along our yoga mats to sleep on. The kids slept fine, but hubbs and I are no longer teenagers on a camping trip - we had aching bones the day after! So, we invested in an airbed. You know, those inflatable mattresses? It certainly felt tons more comfortable, and well worth the investment! In fact, we're going to get another one so we don't all have to squeeze on one. We got our queen sized airbed at Giant one time, when we saw it was on sale. It cost us less than S$50. Airbeds are widely available at hypermarkets and you can find some online at the links I provided above.

Q: Are there many mosquitoes?
A: Not always. In Singapore, the campsites are generally clean and rubbish-free, and the beaches are next to the sea. The lack of receptacles and stagnant water for the mozzies to breed mean that there usually aren't many mosquitoes. Having said that, we find that the usual people who tend to get bitten by mosquitoes will still get bitten. So, do go camping armed with mosquito coils and insect repellent, just to be on the safe side. Make sure that the mesh layer to your tent is always zipped up closed too, to prevent mosquitoes and other insects from flying in.

Q: Where do you go to do your business? You know, pee, poo and bathe?
A: We use the nearby public toilets. All designated camp sites have them. They usually come with shower cubicles as well. If you are worried about the cleanliness of the public toilets, go check out your intended campsite before you decide on where to camp at and pop in to the toilets to take a look. Honestly, they are not hotel-standard clean, but aside from being a bit sandy, I do find that the public toilets at the campsites are clean and decent for use by young and old.

Having said that, do bring your own toilet paper, and an S-hook or two. The hooks are supremely useful for hanging your bag of clean clothes and towel on the door/wall, while you take your shower. And toilet paper for you know what. The toilets are sometimes stocked with toilet paper, but bring your own, just in case.
Our camping friends usually set up a basha to serve as the common kitchen, so we can continue cooking in shelter even if it rains. It is helpful to bring some camp furniture like camp chairs along, so that we don't need to sit on damp floors. Easier on us old folks' backs and knees too!

Q: What's your food supply?
A: In Singapore the food paradise, you are never really far from food. Technically, you could always buy food from hawker centres or probably even order in fast food delivery. But where's the fun in that?! Much of the fun of camping actually comes from cooking outdoors. We usually bring everything we need, buying them days before the camping day.

If you are camping with friends, you may wish to coordinate with them. Decide on the menu, and decide who brings what food, and how much to bring, etc. This is to prevent wastage of food since people tend to bring more than necessary. Doing this also usually results in having more variety of food, instead of everyone bringing the same food or snack, seasoning, cooking oil, etc.

Q: How do you cook the food?
A: Campers usually bring along a small camping stove, along with camping cookware like collapsible pots and pans. And also plates, bowls, cups, forks and spoons, chopsticks, ladles... Again, if you discuss beforehand, those in the group who drive can help shoulder the responsibility of bringing a full-size frying pan or pot from their kitchen.
Play, play, play all day! The kids spent hours on the beach playing with real sand. Kicking a ball around the field, flying a kite, or even playing portable card games.

Q: What do you do all day at the camp site?
A: The kids are usually either playing with sand on the beach, or running around the field playing football/frisbee, or flying a kite. I usually bring chess and card games along as well, so sometimes we lay out a mat in the shade and the kids can play some games.

Some of the adults are usually preparing the next meal, whilst the rest of the adults are usually playing with the kids or keeping an eye on them. Time passes quickly when you go camping as there is usually a lot of things to do. After the kids play an entire day away, parents round them up to go shower at the public toilets, and change into their nightwear.
Shawna helps to sweep up sand and grass that has gotten into the tent, before we folded the tent up. The kids help fold the humongous flysheet too.

Q: How many days do you stay?
A: Our friends stay as long as 3 days and 2 nights during the school holidays. Usually our family just joins in for 2 days and 1 night though. We tend to choose long weekends, public holidays and/or school holidays to go camping.

Q: Sounds and looks fun, but I'm not sure I want to do this...
A: If you know of friends who go camping, ask them to let you know next time they do. Then go visit them during the day, with your spouse and kids too. Have a look at what the campers are doing, so as to manage your kids' expectations, as well as yours and your spouse's expectations. If you think you are up to it, then give it a try!
The plane soaring to greater heights in the burst of sunshine.

Isn't the picture above beautiful? We saw this on the day we broke camp to go home. We saw rainbows in the distance as well, though I did not get a good pic of those. This picture turned out beautifully. Seeing these treats of nature were really the icing on the cake for our camping trip. It reminds us that nature has a lot to offer, if only we'd pay attention to it.

Look at the kids in the collage below, grinning from ear to ear. They love camping. Each camping trip is such a treat for them as they have so much fun with their friends that they do not even complain about stuff they might usually complain about: no air-conditioning, no gadgets, no tv...

One last tip: if you drive, a trolley like the one below is inexpensive ($60 from a hypermarket) and dead useful for lugging stuff around, to and from the car.

Last thing to note! Very important! Leave the camp site cleaner than when you first arrived! :)
Kids love camping! Try it!
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