My Bhutan adventure

It was some time ago that Bhutan caught my attention. As a country that puts Gross Domestic Happiness ahead of Gross Domestic Product I watched a programme about the country and was fascinated. The fact that it sits landlocked between India and China in the foothills of the Himalayas was something that was so intriguing – and the more I read about this tiny country and its independent people, the more I wanted to go. However, it was clear from the protestations of “I don’t want to look at temples” from the kids and “mmmh, not sure I’m that interested in treks” from the husband that this was somewhere I’d have to explore on my own.

So I did. In a way that I had never explored a country before. Part tourist, part volunteer, part working, here’s the journey I took…

Getting there

With an early start, and despite being one of the first at the airport, I wasn’t able to get a window seat – which I’d been told to try to do so that I could get the full experience of flying in over the Himalayas. I needn’t have worried though – the excitement on the plane is palpable. The flight was fine, a little cramped as you’d expect from a small airbus but the service was good.  After a quick stop in Kolcatta where half the plane got off and new passengers got on we take off again for the 40 minute journey to Bhutan.

Soon enough the range comes in to view, the snowy cap of Mount Everest can be seen if you are lucky enough to be sat on the left, the rest of us have to crane our necks and hope for a glimpse. Before you know it you are gasping at the wonder around you – left and right on our journey. At one point it felt like we got so close to the side of the mountain that we could have reached out and touched it.

The slight swerve and sharp pull on the brakes as we land reminds us how tricky a landing this is and once we’re done there is a ripple of applause. Apparently there are only a handful of pilots trained to do this landing and I can see why. Skill is an understatement.

View from plane window

The view from the airplane window as it circles round between the mountains

Bhutan airport is a straightforward, old-fashioned type affair where you walk down the steps of the plane on to the tarmac and trundle off to go through customs. I love that kind of arrival – you feel like you’ve arrived in a new country, rather than just a waiting room. Having said that, as I’d find out all over Bhutan, the building itself is like a museum itself. Beautiful carvings, paintings and architecture.

Painting on building - Paro airport

The airport is slightly jazzier than Heathrow

Customs was quick and painless as was collecting the luggage and I was met straight away by Dorji, one of the ever smiling guides who welcomed me with a white silk scarf and warm greeting.

Gangtey Palace

A short drive took us to Gangtey Palace, a boutique hotel just up the mountain from the airport. Once a summer palace to the aristocracy and residence of the Governor, it was gifted to an ancestor of Tobgye Dorji’s family for services to the monarchy.  The family is justifiably proud of their gift. The gardens – looked after solely by the mother of the family – was reminiscent of an english country garden in its planning. Fuchsias, carnations and sweet peas were near to the end of their season but I’m sure were blooming resplendent throughout the summer months.  The whole landscaping was breathtaking. However the similarity to an English garden stopped there as the whole hotel is beautifully traditional.

Gangtey Palace

The entrance to Gangtey Palace. Beautiful inside and out.

Stone pathways lead to a huge lawn – a former apple orchard I believe – that would simply say ‘ta da’ if it could to the view. And what a view. Paro and it’s surrounding mountains glistened in the beautiful sunlight. The sky was picture perfect blue and the air was clear and fresh – and not at all cold! I felt I may have over packed slightly as had brought thermals and LOTS of layers. However I was assured that come that evening I’d be glad of them.


The stunning view we had whilst we drank tea

Tea was served at tables on the edge of the lawn giving us all the opportunity to take in the view some more. Again a seemingly English affair with cups and saucers, milk and sugar (in Singapore you have to beg for milk) Although on tasting it was possibly condensed – but that didn’t spoil the moment.

Soon Tobgye, the owner of the hotel and his business partner and daughter Chukie came to meet us. It’s clear here is a man who has stories to tell – and he loves to tell them with aplomb. Not in a pompous or arrogant way, but in the way only someone who truly feels comfortable in his own skin can. Stories of past misdemeanours in the family, of the feisty Bhutanese battles with surrounding countries and most passionately of all, his Buddhist faith. Quoting various buddhist teachings he explained how he truly believes in karma and that we should all look towards altruism. He then invited us up to the altar room where he told us more of his fascinating families history and showed us family portraits and treasured Thangka’s (A buddhist painting on cotton or silk).


Tobgye Dorji – we were all fascinated by his stories.

Tobgye then led us all in a meditation which, considering was our first time together, proved to be easy to slip in to and thoroughly relaxing. Trying to stay awake was a challenge for all I think – and this is the challenge of meditation. Finding that space between relaxation and peace whilst awake. I would have loved to have taken time to do this every day of the trip, but it wasn’t to be.

The Gangtey Palace chefs provided a delicious lunch of rice, chicken, fish and vegetables and the local cheese which is very similar to Indian paneer. Highlights were definitely the delicious vegetable balls and some little dumplings filled with what tasted like spinach and ricotta. The traditional ‘Ema Datshi’ chilli kick was served as an accompaniment – which, Tobgye explained was his idea. He realised that the Bhutanese taste buds were slightly different to tourists – and he always ensured his guests were happy. This also meant limiting the amount of salt that would traditionally be added.


Eazy – a local side dish added to everything

Most of the group commented on the fact they had expected the food to be more ‘foreign’ and maybe difficult to enjoy at first – and considering we were a group including Chinese, Taiwanese, Australian, Singaporean, Brits, Czech’s and Americans – this wasn’t as ignorant as it sounds. Our guide Dorji said that things may differ at dinner (whilst laughing at our naivety).

As someone who doesn’t eat cheese and has a child’s palate for chilli, I had been a bit worried I’d be living off rice for the week. But, I was very wrong.

After lunch we headed to Thimpu and our hotel for the next few days. On the way we stopped at Tachog Lhakhang bridge. Apparently it was built over 600 years ago by a local engineer called Thangtong Gyalpo. He is said to have built around 58 iron chain suspension bridges around Bhutan and Tibet – many of which are still being used today.

Bridge in Paro

Tachog Lhakhan bridge

Unfortunately the bridge was shut for repair, but we got a chance to cross the wobbly enough wooden bridge next to it. With its fluttering prayer flags and unusual chain mail construction, there was something haunting about the bridge. This ten minute walk also gave us a chance to see how we were coping with the altitude. And yes, most of us walked back up (the not very steep) incline puffing more than we would usually.


The twisty turny mountain road was not as hair-raising as I had expected, although bit queasy at times. Driving in to Thimpu I realised  it’s much busier and more developed than I expected it to be. A mix of traditional style buildings and derelict looking places, as well as shops overflowing with local crafts, knick-knacks and souvenirs for the growing number of tourists now visiting. There are roads and pavements, but you need to watch your footing and take care as there are steep steps in many places, as well as the odd gap or two.

Thimpu was playing host to a car exhibition when we arrived which seemed to include a turn by local dancers, singers and a host who chattered away on the microphone. I didn’t actually see any new cars but just the logos. There was a pretty big crowd though and the heavy disco music went on for a couple of hours.


Street dancers doing their stuff

Walking around town I was struck by the number of people there were. Many in groups just hanging out it seemed. I walked down one side street which will now always be known to me as “meat street” where people were queuing for fresh chicken and other meat I couldn’t identify in the shops there. It didn’t smell very pleasant as you can imagine and as I walked through spotted a lady doing something with some dried fish which involved pulling off a part and chucking it behind her. I walked past without stopping.

Local farmers – or their family – were sat on the side of the pavement with their produce spread out in front them. Many people were walking along carrying bag loads of vegetables. And I don’t mean a bag load of vegetables. I mean one bag full of one vegetable – mostly chillies. I watched one lady crouching down filling a whole bag full of green, red and orange chillies. I seriously cannot imagine how long it would take my family to get through that many chillies. I’m starting to see what Dorji could be referring to.


Thimpu high street – where you could buy everything from ointment to shoes.

Some parts of Thimpu were not so pleasant to walk through if I’m honest, the drains full of rubbish, pavements with holes to break an ankle if you’re not careful and tired looking shop fronts that are maybe struggling to find a niche for themselves now. But, the overall feel of the town was quite festival like with lots of laughter and chat amongst people as they moved around. Stalls selling Cokes attracted a crowd and yet I didn’t spot any restaurants that seemed to be busy. Maybe that comes later in the evening?

The hotel itself – Thimpu Towers – was pleasant enough and offered a great view of the town square and the clock tower. The rooms are large and well equipped. I was slightly concerned by the supply of ear plugs though!

A developing city

Dusty, busy, lots of cars, lots of people, quite a few tourists. All things I didn’t think I’d use to describe Thimpu. But it is a busy city/town (by Bhutanese standards you understand). Rows of shops selling everything from balls and clothing to incense sticks and buddha statues. The streets are laid out in a way I couldn’t fathom, many steps up and down pavements, some missing steps where they were needed so jumping was the only option. The smell of petrol bothered me slightly and the number of stray dogs was also surprising. It soon becomes clear this is an issue in Thimpu as they sleep all day in the sun and bark all night. Apparently the government are introducing spading to reduce their number.

The Bhutanese people are also a mixed bunch. Men seem to have an air of authority about them wearing their traditional Goh, as many do. It’s funny to see them reach in to their Goh and pull out things randomly – it’s where they keep phones, keys, notebooks, sweets. cigarettes – you name it, it’s tucked away neatly. In fact, it often explains the portly shape of some of the men.


Dorji, our  lead guide, in his traditional Goh

Lots of young people can be seen hanging around and children roam freely in the way children did back in the ‘good old days’. Sometimes their closeness to traffic made me gasp, but it’s clear these kids are street smart from an early age.

The women in their Kira amazed me with their elegance in heels, especially on the broken pavements and steep kerbs. Many are made up beautifully and I’m ashamed of myself for being surprised at this. Why wouldn’t women in Bhutan use make up and do their hair after all?

A wander along the craft stalls shows the various traditional crafts Bhutan is rightly protecting. Silk wall hangings, hand-made paper, simple knitted scarves, beautifully decorated scarves and throws, prayer flags, woven bags, even a traditional archery stall. Many of them selling the same as the next person, but each one important to the survival of many of these handicrafts (see Choki school below). Apparently the stalls are subsidised heavily in order to offer the workers a way to continue their tradition.

Sightseeing in Thimpu

Despite the fact Thimpu is relatively small, there are a number of sightseeing options. If you’d like to read about the places I visited, please click here. I also took on the ‘Tigers Nest Trek’ which you can find here. All of my cultural learning whilst there was part of a learning journey with Insightful Learning Journeys. which Founder Khatiza Van Savage facilitates. In this particular journey, I was included in a self funded volunteering and cultural immersion learning for Google Employees.

I travelled independently of the group but we met for breakfast and dinner most days. I also took part in my own mindful volunteering that you can read about here. As I was part of a larger group I was lucky to have a pick of wonderful guides – Dorji and his team of Bhakta, Thinley and Sonam are seasoned guides and drivers who have supported Khatiza Van Savage in her learning journeys for many years.  They are proud and gracious Bhutanese nationals, well versed in their culture and eager to ensure that your journey is memorable on many levels.

Bhutan Guides

The fantastic guides and drivers


For those, who, like my husband are airplane geeks here are some shots of the runway and airport. And, just for your enjoyment a video I took from Paro view-point of a plane coming in – amazing!



Please do click through to the links to read about the rest of my time in Bhutan.

Here for sightseeing in Thimpu

Here for my volunteering experiences

Here for the Tigers Nest Trek

I’d love to hear your comments and feedback…


Kick Back on Koh Samui


Samujana Villas, Koh Samui

A room with a view indeed

Many years ago, before kids, marriage and responsibility my husband and I – quite adventurously for the time – decided we wanted to go to Thailand. More than that, we wanted to go to an island that was pretty unknown then called Koh Samui. We booked a flight with an airline called Britannia  and as this was the early 90’s and there were no direct flights from the UK , we stopped to refuel in Bahrain. I can picture the arrival in to Koh Samui so well even now – we swooped in on a strip of a runway and walked through a hut with a straw roof to collect our bags from the room they called the baggage area.

The next two weeks were, I remember, absolute bliss. Tropical beaches, lovely hotel, nights spent drinking cocktails on the beach listening to The Red Hot Chilli Peppers, sunshine every day and tropical storms that blew away as quickly as they arrived. By the hotel were a few bars and restaurants to wander to every night and we were welcomed by the friendliest, warmest people you can imagine.

We talked about going back for years. We were both convinced the island – having obviously now grown to be tourist hotspot –  couldn’t live up to our possibly rose-tinted memories. If we were going to go back it had to be for something – or somewhere – special.

Enter Samujana…

Samujana Villas, Koh Samui

There’s special… and then there’s Samujana


Sat atop a hillside on the northeastern coast of Koh Samui and overlooking a picture perfect cove, this resort (and I use this term loosely as it’s nothing like a ‘resort’) is more than special. Each of the 20 or so luxury villas have been designed by award winning architect Gary Fell of Gfab Architects and are very cleverly built amongst the original rock outcrops and indigenous trees of the hillside – and they all have jaw dropping sea views.

Samujana Villas, Koh Samui

All of the villas offer stunning views of the coral bay

Every villa looked amazing on the website. Infinity pools, private gyms, the talk of comfy slumber areas and extensive living and dining areas. We also loved the sound of ‘the latest in audio and media amenities.’

Ahem, excuse me. This was the undersell of undersells – see excited children later on.

We flew with Asia airlines, our first time with this particular airline and we were pleasantly surprised. Good service, plane was comfortable and as spacious as you’d expect on a short haul economy airline. A special mention though has to go to the safety video. I won’t spoil it for those who haven’t seen it – but if there were awards for such things, Air Asia would win for entertainment, comedy and originality!

The airport had changed – there was more than one hut and a ‘street’ of shops and even a proper baggage belt now. But still it was without any of the stress and manic feel of most other airports and it still held the same quaint charm it had all those years ago.

We were met at the airport and led to our bus where the fun started immediately. As we pulled away we were asked if wanted music – of course we did! On went the music and disco lights and up went the volume and all of a sudden – much to the kids delight – we were on a party bus. It was hilarious and surreal at the same time. Shame the villa was only a ten minute journey as the kids were having so much fun.

Coming in to Samujana doesn’t feel anything like driving in to a resort. Villas aren’t packed together fighting for the best view and it’s almost as if you are being given a neck massage as you pull up. Honestly it has, you know, THAT kind of feel.

Villa 22, which if I tell you was originally planned as two villas, will give you an idea of how big it is, was perched just around the first bend.  We were immediately welcomed by our beaming villa host X (yes that was his name – when I asked how to spell that he grinned at me and said “with an X, no more”) who took us on a guided tour of the villa and made us the first of many refreshing lime sodas.

Gym, Samujana Villas, Koh Samui

For the gym bunnies

Anyone listening to us as we were shown around would have been intrigued immediately. Lots of sharp intakes of breath (the size of out bathroom), oohs and ahhs (our own treatment room), squeals of delight (a full size pool table AND a tennis table) and Wows! (a private cinema room with thousands of films to choose from). The excitement caused by the state of the art gym and huge infinity pool complete with inflatable turtles was infectious.

Cinema room, Samujana Villas, Koh Samui

Movie night takes on a whole new meaning here!

Honestly, having seen all six bedrooms and nine bathrooms and then settling ourselves in to just two next to each other, we did say this would be much more suited to an extended family gathering rather than just the four of us on a quick family holiday. We would be literally rattling around. But that was ok, we don’t mind a rattle!

It wasn’t long before the kids were diving in the pool and hubby and I were relaxing on the sun beds smiling smugly at our good fortune to have found somewhere so amazingly stunning. From there things just got better and better and more and more relaxed.

With our own private cook available in the villa breakfast was a feast – of many courses. Granola, cereals, fresh fruit, yoghurt, pastries as well as a selection of cooked food from omelettes to french toast, we were totally spoilt for choice. After the first morning we realised not to scarf down everything laid out for us on the table as this was just the start. X and our sweet housekeeper/chef would continue to bring out food. Literally we ate like Kings.

Lunch could be ordered from X too with a wide and varied menu to choose from. The chef can prepare a barbecue or a feast, whatever you want, you could have. We chose to eat out most nights and again X was on hand to recommend restaurants and arrange transport to the local town of Chaweng, or wherever it was we wanted to go. He even took us himself in his own car when he could.

We spent the week in total zen like relaxation. Reading, snoozing and playing in the pool with the kids when they weren’t playing table tennis or watching another movie in the cinema. Music is fed through speakers throughout the villa and you can choose to hook up your own music or listen to what is there. X had a penchant for soft reggae it seemed as often we’d have that playing – which seemed to suit the laid back mood perfectly.

Skimming stones, Koh Samui

The ideal beach for a spot of skimming stones

Samujana Villas, private beach, Koh Samui

Samujana’s private beach

All of the staff we encountered whilst there could not have been friendlier or more accommodating. From the guys watering the grounds to the security men at the gate. We took a walk down to the private beach one day – carrying a bag prepared for us by X with water and towels in – and spent an enjoyable hour or so skimming stones and swinging on the tree swing that’s hung there. The beach wouldn’t win any awards for beauty as it’s very rocky and the sand is more shingle, but it’s not a bad place to while away some time.


Ssh! Don’t tell Nanna.

We were surprised to see X on our walk back who had kindly come along to carry the bag back and offered us a lift on the back of his moped. Now, don’t tell Nanna, but both children were delighted to jump on the back one at a time and be whizzed (carefully and considerately!) up the short hill to the villa. He even came back and offered hubby and I a lift. We declined as figured we needed the exercise.

If you’re feeling energetic there is a tennis court and Samujana also offer a number of different experiences should you wish to indulge yourself. These include chartering a luxury 43ft catamaran, diving and snorkelling and cooking classes or yoga. Last year saw the launch of  Samujana’s Wellbeing experience which offers bespoke wellness and fitness services working with some of the top therapists and experts on the island. A great idea if you want to kickstart a healthy regime or re-boot your body.

We did neither I’m sorry to say. We just relaxed and made the most of it. We explored the island a bit too as wanted to see how much it had changed. And there’s no denying it has. Chaweng is now a town teaming with restaurants, bars, massage parlours, tattoo studios, boutiques and nail bars, to name but a few. Tourists are aplenty and the atmosphere is a mix of hippy student backpackers and family holiday. But go a little deeper and you and still find the charm of old Koh Samui. Simple villages with a couple of places to eat and locals going about their daily business.

Samujana Villas, Koh Samui

Lots of space to spread out and relax.

We had the most wonderful week at Samujana and will look forward to going back one day. Next time though we’ll take a few people to enjoy the stunning villa with us. In fact, we both said what a fabulous place it would be for a celebration like a ‘big’ birthday, family reunion or a wedding. With a dining table that seated 12 comfortably, huge comfortable sofas aplenty, six bedrooms and nine bathrooms it easily has the room. Even if you have little ones -as long as you were cautious with the stairs and the pool – it would be great as there was plenty of grass area to play on and of course, being Samujana they could even offer a nanny service to help you relax a little more.

Obviously with this kind of luxury comes a larger than life price tag. But if you were sharing the cost with one or even two other families it really is worth every penny (in fact, it’s worth it for a special treat regardless).

Thanks for having us Samujana, it was truly something special.

Shells on beach, Koh Samui

Even the shells on the beach were picture perfect


This song will always say “Koh Samui” to me.




Taking the shock out of shopping in Singapore

Shopping for clothes in Singapore

Don’t give up, you’ll find clothes in Singapore

There’s no getting away from it, Asian women are beautifully packaged. Alabaster skin, tiny waists, perfectly proportioned legs, all makes for a lovely petite bundle. So it should come as no surprise that the shops here in Singapore are geared up for these dainty lovelies. This can make shopping for your average sized, non-asian, expat lady, a little difficult.

You’ve heard the stories of women who have left stores shamefaced after being told they are ‘too big’ for anything in the store. Maybe you yourself have been turned away from that lovely boutique with a ‘no, cannot!’ echoing in your ears?

What’s too big you may ask? Think anything above a UK size 4!

I’m painting a dark picture I know — it’s not all bad. The staff aren’t necessarily being rude or obnoxious. They tend to be, how do I say this? Honest?  There’s no beating around the bush, they tell it like it is. Not to upset you or be mean, just to save time. I actually find it quite refreshing and prefer it to the fawning “oh that looks gorgeous” from a clearly deranged shop assistant in the UK as you stare at yourself in a banana yellow shapeless shift dress. As long as it’s not that time of the month, or year, I can put up with a bit of frankness

Clothes too small

Sometimes clothes shopping in Singapore can be tough!

I’ve had my moments here for sure. I remember one time whilst shopping for a dress in a department store I’d picked up quite a few that had caught my eye — always a good start. A sales assistant came up to me and asked if I’d like to try them on.  As she showed me to the changing room she deftly removed a number of my choices with a:

“No lah, not for your size.”

“Are you sure?” I asked, “It’s my size on the label.”

“No ma’am. For Asian women yes. Not you.”

She blatantly looked me up and down as she said it. I felt like I’d been scanned. With that she wafted off.

But, I had to get a dress so I had no choice but to soldier on. As I was squeezing my butt in to one of the two dresses I was left with, the assistant arrived with quite a few similar dresses for me to try, explaining that these were all ‘my size.’

It turns out she was spot on. The couple I’d chosen were all wrong — tight across the chest, arms too short, so not my size. But the selection she’d made were much better. I came home with two.

Shoppes at Marina Bay sands

The Shoppes at Marina Bay Sands – take your credit card!

So, ladies, don’t be disheartened. Take advice from the sales staff (if you can get past the initial fear of being ‘too large, lah!’)  Get to know the stores that stock your size.  Find the malls that are aimed at the expat – Tanglin Mall and Cluny Court are two of the most popular. There are also quite a few big chains here – H&M, Esprit, Marks & Spencer, Zara – that stock your average expat sizes. Also you have to front it out and ask for larger sizes as often they do but they are not out on display.

If all else fails, order from the cool, air-conditioned, comfort of your own home. Asos, Boohoo, Next, Macy’s, Saks, Zalora, to name but a few, all deliver to Singapore. Some of them even offer free delivery. Just be sure to measure yourself and check sizing first as returns can be a pain.

Happy Shopping!

If you have bosoms, and need a new bra, God help you. Really, that’s a whole other issue…

Esprit clothes shop

Esprit stock a good selection of sizes


Let’s make a list of places that stock a great selection of sizes. I’ll start:

Tangs in Orchard

Esprit all over the island

Most of the clothes shops in Tanglin Mall.


Handbags & Teabags

floral-teapot-pinkAnyone that knows me even remotely well will know I love a cup of tea. Have I mentioned this before? Sorry. But I do. Add cake in to the mix and I’m one happy lady. So, obviously, my favourite meal of the day is tea time – or afternoon tea, high tea, cream tea. Whatever you call it. I LOVE IT! Not that this is a meal as such. More of an event. In fact, I was have been asked if afternoon tea was something us Brits all had. Err.. no. But, wouldn’t it be fab if we could all go back to those Downton Abbey Days and luxuriate in afternoon tea at least once in a while. Straw-Handbags-Tokyo-2010-07-18-034

images (2)Which is why, last year, whilst still relatively new to Singapore I decided to invite a few ladies I’d met to join me for afternoon tea somewhere. A couple of them asked a friend or two. Before we knew it there was a big enough group of us to give  ourselves a name. So, may I introduce … drum roll please …

Handbags and Teabags or The Tea Ladies

Quite fitting for a group of expat women who like to scoff cake, drink tea  – and maybe a quaff a cheeky vino or two – whilst getting to know each other don’t you think?

imagesAs a group – with various people coming and going over the year – at no expense to yourselves, we have kindly spent our time trying out some of the best (and worst and quirkiest and unusual) places to have afternoon I_176447352_00_20121121tea here on our little red dot. All opinions expressed were personal. All taste buds were not hormone injected. All tea drunk was not organic. Any wine drunk may be well have been from the dark side. All prices quoted were what I could see without my glasses on.
Sometimes we may say we don’t like something – you might disagree. In which case, please tell us. Food critics we are not. If you’ve been somewhere good, do let me know. If you’ve been somewhere bad, tell me more.

imagesWe score each afternoon tea out of 10 – by teacups of course.

1 teacup = 1/10, it’s that simple.

So, put your feet up, stick the kettle on and have look at where we have been in the Time For Tea section of the blog.

2014-week-24-how-to-have-a-high-tea-673x480Calling all Afternoon Tea fans!

As we have lost a few people along the way thanks to this crazy transient expat life, we’re looking for some new tea drinkers. If you are a fan of afternoon tea, please get in touch, we’d love you to join us on our next Handbags and Teabags meet up which will be in December. Comment below and if you are interested in finding out more. 


More Things You Might Like To Know…

The response to my first “Things you might like to know” was so overwhelming I promised you part two.

Well, here it is. Please let me know what you think.


The most beautiful city at night

So just over 13 months since we moved to Singapore and I think it’s safe to say we’ve all settled in.  Dog included. No longer is the supermarket run quite so daunting. I don’t always have to switch the satnav on whenever I leave the house.

There are so many little things that have helped me that it’s difficult to know where to start. So, in no particular order here’s a run down of more things you might like to know if you’re living in Singapore…

This is the one we all want to talk about – but don’t – right?

Let’s get it out there once and for all.
Living in Singapore you will sweat LIKE A PIG.
Sorry, there’s no other way to say it.


Is anyone else hot?

With an average temperature of 81 degrees (I’m still old school with the weather guy) it’s pretty hot. Add on the fact that we also have 80% humidity, you end up with a situation that is frankly similar to a sauna. So at some point you’ve got to get over the sweat issue.
Let’s clear up some questions/concerns straight away:

  • You will sweat in places you didn’t think you could. Down your back, legs, neck, behind your ears, backs of knees,  head, eyes… you get the picture.
  • Yes, sometimes you will leave that ‘little triangle’ on a chair as you get up. Don’t worry, it will evaporate faster than you can say, “I haven’t wet myself, honest.” Just walk away with your head held high, no one will notice – and if they do, they’re only looking because they want to be sure they’re not the only ones this happens to.
  • It rarely smells. Don’t think you’ll be surrounded by people who stink – or that you need to spray deodorant every two minutes. Sweat doesn’t smell straight away, it’s all about the reaction with the bacteria on your skin. If you’ve had a shower, you’ll be fine for a while. So don’t panic.

There’s not much you can do about it bar have surgery to remove your sweat glands – and even then you’ll probably still drip from the humidity. But there are some things you can do to help.

  • IMG_0675

    A girls best friend

    Take a fan out with you. My dear friend Toni always carried an elegant fan in her bag and gave me this advice early on. She suggested buying a few – a smaller one for evening bags, large one for when you’re off out for the day etc. They cost a few dollars from the stalls at China Town market and will become your best friend. Don’t bother with the little battery operated ones as you do look a bit daft wafting those around. Much more elegant to daintily fan yourself with a pretty fan. (I’m still working on the dainty and elegant!)

  • Avoid wearing anything not made of a natural fabric. I can’t stress this enough. Believe me, I’ve been there and done that. Thinking that viscose top that is so lovely and floaty at home will be fine when you’re out. It won’t, it will stick to you and make you feel much sweatier. Anything with a nylon lining should be packed away for trips home. It will be like going out in a sweater. Do not do it.
    Cotton, linen, silk – all the usual favourites. They won’t stop you sweating, but they’ll help you keep it under control.
  • Avoid colours that will show the sweat more – light blues, grey, certain light browns, the kind of colours that can turn a shade darker in water. They will give away any signs of perspiration long before you notice. Men have it easier here as they can wear a cotton t-shirt under their work shirt, ideal for soaking up wet patches.
  • Plan to stay out of the sun for as much as possible. Most, if not all, shops, cafes, hospitals, etc. will be air-conditioned so it’s quite easy to keep cool. If you’re going about your day to day business you’ll usually be able to take advantage of some air con most of the time. If you’re out enjoying some of the fabulous walks and sights that Singapore has to offer, then you’ve just got to suck it up. Take plenty of water with you and become friends with your sweat. Oh, and pop a flannel or two in your bag – great for mopping up.
  • But really – literally, don’t sweat the small stuff. It’s just part of living here.

Release your inner Monica

Really, I don’t know where to start. I guess I’m just going to start with a suggestion. Go find the episode of Friends when Monica goes to Barbados.

Watch it.
Then resign yourself to being Monica.

Seriously, it’s not quite that bad (for some people). But it can be a battle. Much like the sweat, it’s part of living in the tropics. You may well straighten it, blast it with anti humidity spray and only run from the house to a cab. But, by the time you reach your destination it will start the frizzing game. By the end of the day or evening you will look like you just got out of a hot tub. But hey, so will most other people so it’s ok.

Those that don’t look like that? Well, they fall in to a few categories:

  • Keratin treatment – a “wonder” treatment that gets mixed reviews. It’s an anti-frizz straightening treatment that costs quite a lot of money but lasts a good few months. Get a recommendation of where to go from someone before you decide. In my experience, it is pretty amazing and works like magic – I’ve tried it a couple of times and was pretty impressed.
  • Olaplex treatment – this is supposed to deal with the root of the problem and repair damaged hair. I have also tried this as it’s meant to be great for coloured hair (gasp, that’s not your natural colour I hear you cry!) To be honest, I never saw the fab results it promises but I do know people who’s hair looks amazing from it.
  • They have naturally straight, glossy, perfect hair.  So a little bit of frizz just gives it a lovely natural wave. We don’t talk to those people. 😉
  • They have a wig on.

There are other treatments around too. If you see someone who you think has fabulous hair – ask them. Who wouldn’t want to be told they looked great?

Should I talk about the hair falling out now? You know right?

Going Out
If you’re thinking of heading to a concert or a show whilst you’re here. Go for it! Singapore has some great venues and there’s almost always enough tickets to go round. If there isn’t, keep your eye on the expat sites as there are often people who, for whatever reasons can no longer go, so will need to sell theirs. But, just to say, the experience is slightly different here.


Yes, that’s right, we’re part of the show…

Singaporeans tend to be more reserved than you may be used to. So, whilst you may don your platform heels, dig out the white jump suit and slap on the 70’s wig to go along to the Abba tribute night (you know who you are hidden behind the disguises), the rest of the audience might not. That’s not to say you won’t have fun – in fact, you might well become part of other people’s evening entertainment. No one will mind, you just have to front it out and enjoy yourself.

Concerts can be tricky, depending on who you’re seeing. The sports stadium is huge but from my experience when a concert is sold out, this doesn’t actually mean there will be a full stadium. Not sure why? Maybe it’s an overcrowding concern (or fear of it?), but generally the big venues aren’t quite as crowded as you’d expect. If the artist you’re going to see is any good, they’ll have you on your feet and you’ll have  blast, if they’re a bit reserved, expect to be sitting down nodding along. Oh, and they will usually start and finish on time. Check if there’s a s support act, if not, don’t stroll in an hour after opening and expect to see much.

Oh my God, shops here LOVE a ‘package’

A ‘package’ is basically a way to pay for a service – such as nails, waxing, etc – up front. You pay for an agreed number of treatments up front and get a discount or something extra in return. They are basically buying your loyalty.

It used to really get on my nerves that every time I had my nails done (cos that’s all I do all day dahling, that and have free flow lunches right?!) I would have to listen to a huge sales spiel about a free manicure if I buy blah, blah. They’re good too. Next time listen out for the pitch. They start out asking if you’re here on holiday. When you proudly reply, “no, I live here” you will see them literally beam – Ah, an expat!  You see, they know you’re probably not too sure of things and know you’ll be around for a while. Or long enough to come back one more time at least.


Beauty packages – a good deal?

It’s entirely up to you if you decide to opt for a package or not. Some of them are worth while, offering really good discounts and, of course, you become a regular customer – and so feel more comfortable. But, some people have found the service changes once you’ve bought a package and others are left out of pocket when the company ceases to exist. If it’s a service you know you’ll use a lot you could save yourself a small fortune though so it’s worth considering. Some things to ask before you buy are:

  • Can you transfer the package to someone else – meaning if you have to leave before you’ve used up all your package you can give, or sell it, to someone else to use.
  • Can you share the package with other people. For example, if your mum comes to visit, can you both go to get your nails done within the package.
  • How long has the shop/company been around for and do they offer any assurances if they have to shut down?
  • What exactly is included – be careful of those that are vague. Your six manicures may only include a certain type of polish or, as I found, may only be the ‘deluxe’ version which takes so long to do you never actually have time for it.

You may have heard the rumble first, or caught site of a very strange guy wearing what looks like chemical warfare clothing. Or, like me, you may have been driving down the road and seen a thick cloud of smoke rising up from the grounds of a condo you are passing. Don’t, like me, panic and assume there’s a huge fire and you ought to call the fire brigade.

It’s just fogging.

Fogging is used by most landlords to control the number of pests (mainly mosquitos) in and around your home. It happens regularly here and it’s something you soon become accustomed to. If you’re in a condo you should be given fair warning of when it’ll happen as you do have to shut all doors and windows. Some people suggest taping up air vents and rubbish chute openings too as those critters are on a death sentence and will try to escape wherever they can.

I’m never quite sure how assured I am by the “not dangerous ma’am” comments when I see a guy all kitted up with face mask and overalls. But the pest control companies all give the same assurances that the fogging is safe (and by ‘safe’ that means not toxic to us). And let’s face it, we live in a country that has a prevalence of dengue fever (a highly infectious disease spread by a certain breed of mosquito) as well as other mosquito borne diseases. So better safe than sorry eh? Just stay indoors whilst the fogging is going on and you’ll be ok.

Why oh why???

What is it with Singapore and shortening every bloody word, phrase, name there is? Jeez it’s confusing. But, don’t worry. I found this handy wicki guide that helps. Just be prepared to keep re-referring.

For now. Ladies and gentleman I give you the motorways. Apparently, once you know the full names you will know where you’re going – or where to head for.
Err… the jury is out on that one!

• AYEAyer Rajah Expressway
• BKEBukit Timah Expressway
• CTECentral Expressway
• ECPEast Coast Parkway
• KJEKranji Expressway
• KPEKallang-Paya Lebar Expressway
• MCEMarina Coastal Expressway
• NSENorth-South Expressway
• PIEPan Island Expressway
• SLESeletar Expressway
• TPETampines Expressway

One of the many things you will learn to love about Singapore are the cabs. I talked about them in the first part, but let me expand. They are cheap – back home in the UK the equivalent journey would cost three times as much. They are plentiful; even if it doesn’t always seem that way. There are generally lovely Uncles (and the occasional Auntie) driving them, some of whom will share their stories and wisdom with you, and some may even give you a pack of tissues too (which, by now you obviously know is the currency of hawker centres).

So, to clear up the taxi business. It’s all about the signs on top.

  • If it’s free and ready for a job, it’ll be lit up green and say ‘taxi’.
  • If it’s been booked it’ll be red and either say ‘hired’ ‘busy’ or ‘on call’.
  • If the signs says ‘shift change’ this means the driver is finishing for the day.


Now, many expats rant and rave about a cab that wouldn’t take them (me included) because it was not ‘on their way.’ But once I learnt why I stopped the moaning.

These guys are signing off and are on the way home. Why should they turn around and take you where you want to go if it means adding another 20 minutes to their already long day?  Sometimes the light on top will tell you where they are heading which is always handy (if you know where it is you’re going of course) If it’s not going your way – don’t flag it down. Move on and find a cab that has a green light.

Also, don’t be offended if you are in a cab line and someone at the back steps forward and jumps in the next cab that pulls up. Before you lynch them, check the sign – if it’s red then they’ve pre-booked it. It’s their cab. Done deal.

Which leads me to my last point on cabs. GET AN APP! There are many cab apps to choose from and they all work well. I’ll list some at the end of the article, but input your details and you can be the one jumping straight to the front of the line. Some of them you can link to your bank card so that you don’t need to have cash on you. Handy when booking for errant kids and hubbies!

Quirky sights
As you move around the island you’ll become familiar with some of the quirky sights that make Singapore so unique. Here are some of my favourites to look out for.

  • The poles that stick out of HDB windows. Washing lines! Nope, no idea how the washing stays on either but I would love to find out. I’d also love to know how many pairs of knickers are lost per year, how many odd socks are swept up every morning any how many cursing helpers have to run down 30 floors to retrieve washing that has fallen.
  • IMG_4386

    Be respectful and interested

    Temples, temples, temples. You literally can find a temple round every corner in Singapore. If, like me, you’re a keen photographer it’s a dream and a curse. You can waste many an hour photographing some of the most beautiful buildings. From my experience so far most temples are welcoming to guests who are respectful. If you are not sure if you should take your shoes off, go in with shorts on  or take photographs – ask! Some places have a small poster up outside to give guidelines. Or, like me, you could join one of the tours that show you around places like Little India. The lovely Pooja (Tekka Tours), who ran the tour was very helpful in explaining how to behave and it was quite eye-opening.

  • Phones – everywhere. People talking, watching, listening, cradling them. It’s the nations obsession. And don’t even get me started on selfies. Love or hate them you can not avoid them lah!
  • IMG_4223

    Always something new to see

    Graffiti – this isn’t so much something you can see. But something you can’t. Unlike most cities, the side streets and old buildings are not littered with scrawlings referring to someone’s football team preference. It’s only when you see some – and this will always be organised “allowed” graffiti – that you realise the lack of it. There are some spectacular examples around so keep a look out.

  • IMG_4425

    Friendly locals

    The people! If you open yourself up you’ll be surprised what you learn.
    This couple was delightful when we stopped at their shop to buy drinks after a hot day photographing around Little India. They happily told us about their local food business and posed for snaps.  Just last week I was eating at a hawker centre and a guy busy eating his rice dish (with his fingers – totally normal here) got chatting to me and my family.  He told us what he was eating, and offered to share it. Not wanting to be rude – and despite all my British reservations – I tucked in. It was delicious! I now know that you can get huge pots of sauce to add to your dish at that particular hawker stall. Yum!

Public holidays
There are a lot of public holidays in Singapore. Yay! Nothing to complain about there at all. If you’re planning on going away, plan well in advance as they get booked up. For a list of public holidays coming up look at the MOM website.

There are also lots of cultural festivals that happen and you may not even realise it. For example, right now, (August) is the Chinese Ghost Month. You may have noticed the smell of burning quite a lot. This is the Chinese tradition of burning joss paper to please the unknown ghost. Local Chinese will also pay respect to their own deceased ancestors by honouring them with food and burning incense.

Always be respectful of local festivals. Ask questions if you want to learn more and keep an eye on information at community centres for more details.

Making Friends
Once you’ve got over the shock of moving here you’ll start to feel like you might want to get out and about. Really, there are so many ways to meet people here you should find something to suit you. From courses to learn Mahjong and quilting, to groups that meet to walk the green corridor or run up Fort Canning steps a dozen or so times. Not to mention the hundreds of coffee morning, brunch and lunch meet ups. Oh, and of course the ladies nights (see here for more on that). Then there are groups for specific people such as those who have children with special needs, or business women, stay at home mums, empty nesters. The list goes on and on.

facebook-login-sign-inI’ve listed a selection of Facebook groups and the main website at the end of this. Choose which ones you think suit you and press that join button. You’ll be amazed at what you end up doing. If you’re not sure, just head to Facebook or a search engine and have a look. This is by no means an exhaustive group. Please feel free to add your favourites to the comments box at the end of this.

Enjoy it! I have met one too many people here who have said they’d wish they had joined in more, gone to see more of what Singapore has to offer, visited some of the many beautiful islands and countries that are so close. Do it! You never know how long you’ll be here and the fun will be over.

Cab Apps
Grab Taxi:

Little India Tours 

Expat Facebook Groups
For all expat women
More for expat women
And more still
If you have teenage children
To meet for coffee
If you’re new here
Casual meet ups
For those who like travel
To buy or sell stuff 
Business women
More business women
If you are an empty nester
Interested in photography

For meet up groups


Peranakan Museum

Peranakan museum

Peranakan Museum

Where: The Peranakan Museum, 39 Armenian Street, 179941.
Why? To finally find out what Peranakan actually means. To discover more about the history of Singapore.
When? Open daily 10am-7pm. Till 9pm on a Friday.
Cash heavy? Nope! Just $6 per entry, $3 for PR.
Kid friendly? Yes. there were hands on displays to keep them interested. There was a group of school children there whilst I was there and they looked like they were having fun. Strollers allowed in all galleries and there’s a changing room on level 1.
Dog friendly? No, but then why would it be?
Disabled access? Yes, all galleries have wheelchair access and there are disabled toilets and parking spaces nearby.
Getting there. The nearest MRT is City Hall. Alternatively it’s about a 5-10 minute drive from the centre of town and there are bus stops nearby.
Extra titbit. Look out for the poem about how to be a good daughter-in-law. When you’ve finished at the museum have a wander down the street and check out the amazing street art.
Website/Contact: Tel: +65 6332 7591

The nitty-gritty:

The term Peranakan is talked about a lot here in Singapore. For quite a while I had no idea what it actually meant. I knew it referred to something – or someone? – local and that there were lots of lovely housewares you could buy in the ‘Peranakan design.” I figured it referred to the indigenous people of Singapore; the forefathers of this modern city. However, a trip to the Peranakan museum made me realise that there is so much more to it than that.

The imposing staircases either side of the central atrium.

The imposing staircases either side of the central atrium.

This small museum is in what used to be the Tao Nan Chinese School, one of the first modern Chinese schools in Singapore and is right by the city’s business district. With it’s dashing pastel coloured frontage, its arched verandahs and grand entrance way, the quietly imposing building catches you by surprise as you wander along Armenian Street. As you walk though the doors in to an atrium filled with light, you can’t help but notice the two huge symmetrical staircases that lead up either side of the building to corridors and galleries on the upper levels. As museums go, it’s very inviting – not stuffy or library like at all.

So, what is Peranakan? To quote the museum themselves “In Malay, Peranakan means ‘child of’ or ‘born of’ and is used to refer to people of mixed ethnic origins.” To put this in to context, years ago, way before Singapore was the high-rise city it is now, it was seen as a place of opportunity for many neighbouring countries due to its free port. This was mainly due to Singapore’s unique location on the major sea route between India and China. It quickly became a hub of trading and many Chinese immigrants came to make their fortune here – and never left. These travellers – although mainly Chinese, there were also Indian and Eurasian Portuguese – married local Malay (non muslim) women and their culture became known as Peranakan.

There are things displayed everywhere.

There are things displayed everywhere.

The first collection I visited in the museum was a series of photographs of modern-day Peranakan people accompanied by quotes about what being Peranakan means to them. There was a strong sense of belonging and tradition in most of what I read. Something that was echoed throughout other exhibits too. At the end of the room is a film showing the early Peranakan history.

I then went up to the first level where you can see art, clothing, furniture, traditions associated with the Peranakan culture. With nine galleries all themed with things such as Weddings, religion, food and feasting, it really does give you an insight in to how life would have been like years ago in Singapore. It also reflected on how this manifests in modern Singapore too.

The colourful Nonya ware.

The colourful Nonya ware.

My favourite exhibits included the amazing display of Nonya ware – the Peranakan design porcelain ware – including a full table laid for twenty plus guests. The fully dressed, parading wedding party was interesting too. There were artefacts all around the museum including at the top of the stairs and hanging above doors.

I'm not sure how far I'd walk in these...

I’m not sure how far I’d walk in these…

I was keen to learn about the Nonya (Peranakan lady), especially the rituals around getting married and was surprised by how many traditions there are. Many women it seems no longer follow these rituals to the book, but some do still survive. The room that focused on religion and in particular the rituals around death was fascinating – if a bit eery – and I can see that these customs are still in play today amongst modern-day Peranakans.

Other displays to look out for include the intricate beadwork, the fashion and the display about the many Peranakans who became cultural and philanthropic leaders.

They even have their own cat!

They even have their own cat!

The museum is an interesting way to spend a morning or afternoon. You can get around it in a couple of hours quite easily. On your way out visit the gift shop and pick up one of their beautiful hand-made cards or find a replica of the beadwork you had previously admired. There’s even a foodie shop where you can pick up some traditional Peranakan treats. A very pleasant way to while a few hours for sure.

Oh, and then have a wander down Armenian Street, there’s some amazing street art on the building just next door and some lovely little shop houses with pots of tropical plants and canaries in cages hanging out front. There’s an interesting looking restaurant that I want to go back to as well serving traditional Peranakan food.

Well worth the visit.

Final 5 Verdict? 5 5 5  (out of 5)


Clarke Quay


Where: 3 River Valley Road. 179024  to Clifford Pier, 80 Collier Quay, 049326.
Why? For a wander, a ride along the river and some great sightseeing.
When? Any time you like, it’s always there.
Cash heavy? Depends on what you do. To just walk is free. River boat tours are around $20 per person. Food is as much as you want to spend.
Kid friendly? Yes. Just keep an eye as you are by the river after all. But wide open spaces to walk along and easy for a stroller.
Dog friendly? Yes but only on a lead and not on the boats or in restaurants.
Disabled access? Yes, although it can be a bit tricky as you need to go around some buildings. Boat access check
Getting there. Clarke Quay MRT and Raffles Place MRT. 10 minutes from CBD by taxi.
Extra titbit. If you’re feeling really adventurous take the reverse bungee ride – not for the faint hearted!
The nitty gritty 

Whenever we have visitors the first place we take them, often jet lagged and little bit bleary-eyed is Clarke Quay. I’m not sure if it’s the colourful shutters of the MICA building (housing Government ministries) that I think will awaken their tired eyes. Or the towering city scape that comes in to view as you round the bend that I hope will impress them. Or the mix of bars, cafes and restaurants that can feed them whenever the need arises? Maybe it’s my old love, the Merlion – the original guardian of the city – who stands tall and proud at the mouth of the river, that I want to show off?

Who knows? I just feel it’s a great place to introduce anyone to this lovely city we call home. It has such a lot of history attached to it as the first port of Singapore. As recent as the 1970’s traders were still pedalling their wares on the banks of the river, and Clarke Quay was a noisy mix of bumboats (tongkangs) and lighters (twakows) unloading their cargoes. Ever since Sir Stamford Raffles step foot on the northern bank of the river and saw its potential as a free port it has been a hubbub for the island. But it hasn’t always been the lovely stretch of water it is now. With all the heavy traffic it encountered and the number of people living on, by and around the river it became heavily polluted and congested.

In 1977, the then Prime Minister, Mr Lee Kuan Yew began a clean up operation that took ten years to complete. Involving relocating many hawkers, squatters, industries and immigrants, this clean up has got to go down as one of the biggest successes for Singapore. For the river is now beyond recognition with it’s attractive waterway walks, bustling restaurants and grand hotels that line the river. At the same time it has stayed true to it’s rich heritage and celebrates its history.

So, if you’re looking for a relaxing day out and don’t mind a stroll. Or, if you’ve visitors who have just arrived and you don’t have  a clue where to start, here’s my suggestion for a fab day by the river.

Take the MRT to Clarke Quay station, come out at the river, turn right and head towards Clifford Pier. On the way you will find many statues to catch your eye – from the large bird sculpture (symbolising peace, serenity, the joy of living and the power of optimism apparently!), to the often photographed jumping boys or ‘The First Generation’ to give them their proper names. In fact, if you are taking young children, make a game of this – challenge them to find the jumping boys, the cats, the traders, the bullock cart, and even Sir Stamford Raffles himself (on the opposite bank, but easily spotted if you are keeping a look out).

As you head under South Bridge you will enter Boat Quay which will be obvious from the plethora of eateries that spring up along here. You will be encouraged to sit down, relax, have a bite to eat or ‘just a drink madam?’ In fact, this is one of only a few streets in Singers where you will be approached by restaurant staff keen for your custom.  But this is Singapore, so don’t worry, you can easily say no thank you and they won’t be offended. There are many options, so if you are hungry give somewhere a try. Fresh fish and shellfish are on display too so you can even pick out what you’d like served up!

fish tanks

Fresh fish anyone?


Fed and watered? Then keep walking and you will saunter past The Fullerton Hotel – an iconic hotel that has been on the same site since 1928 and had previously dominated the city’s skyline (pre skyscrapers and MBS). Placed under conservation at the beginning of last century, The Fullerton is one of those hotels that oozes colonial Singapore. If you want to soak up some of its history you can visit one of its restaurants or bars. If not, just oggle those that are as you walk by.

Keep going and walk around the mouth of the river heading for the Merlion Park. Standing 8.6 meters tall, this is where the guardian of Singapore now lives after moving from further down the river in 2002. Join the other tourists and see if you can capture a photo of the Merlion spouting water directly in to your mouth. This really is selfie heaven so be patient with the many tourists that are around. It’s worth it though for that one good shot. Look out for the Merlion cub too that sits just behind mum. Always a nice photo opportunity for the kids.


The Mighty Merlion



Nearly mum!


Just a bit more

Oh, and you may just notice another famous landmark or two whilst you’re there too. More photo opportunities as you try to lift the famous Marina Bay Sands with your bare hands, or push round the Singapore Eye. If you’re not sure what to do, just look around and take your cues from those in the know.

Once you’ve had your fill of photo taking head towards Clifford Pier and buy a ticket for a river boat ride. Yes, it’s worth it! Here you’ll get a chance to sail down the river you’ve been meandering past for the last hour or so. Jump aboard (or step precariously, depending on your sea legs – but it’s completely calm so no need to worry!) a traditional bumboat. They all have video commentary that will tell you more about the fascinating history of the river and Singapore itself.


Take a bumboat ride along the river


This is a great thing to do come rain or shine as on a hot day you can catch the breeze as you sail along sitting outside the boat (though you don’t hear the commentary then) or sit by a window and enjoy some shade. It’s also the perfect shelter from the showers that can catch you out. Take a full round trip if you can and you will see many more famous landmarks such as the Old Parliament House, the Asians Civilisation Museum and Marina Barrage. Not to mention you get a full view of the CBD and the gob-smackingly tall skyscrapers. You can hop on and off if you wish or can choose to end your journey at any one of it’s 13 jetties.

city scape

Just a few of the skyscrapers you’ll see


Personally, I’d say go for a round trip and see as much as you can and end up back at Clifford Pier. This is purely because that way you can now gawp at, for me, one of the most splendid hotels in the area – The Fullerton Bay Hotel. I’m not sure of the technicalities, but the hotel is built on a public walkway (I’m also not sure they’ll appreciate my sharing this information so happily either). This basically means anyone – yes, even you in your comfy shorts and walking shoes – can stroll through the public areas. And these are public areas TO DIE FOR!


The stunning Clifford Pier restaurant

I never tire of staring when I enter the lobby. The beautiful – and I mean stunningly beautiful – Clifford Pier restaurant just whisks you away to a place where you want to call everybody ‘dahhhling’ and quaff cocktails and sip Ceylon tea all afternoon. In fact, you can do exactly that as this one of the best places for afternoon tea (see Time For Tea, Fullerton Bay Hotel).


A bar with a view to die for


Of course, if it’s later in the evening; ah hell, even if it’s not, you can head up to The Lantern Bar. Taking it’s name from Clifford Pier’s historical Chinese name ‘Red Lantern Pier’ this is one of my favourite spots for a drink or two as the views are lovely. Not so high up you feel sick, but high enough to take your breath away. There’s a relaxed vibe most nights with a DJ playing some nights – it can get busy so book if you’re keen to go on a particular night.

But, during the day it’s also great for a juice, cup of tea or cocktail too and you can get bar snacks if you haven’t partaken in any of the restaurants earlier. Now, sit back, relax and enjoy the view.

When you’re done – and had a good nose around the beautiful lobby – you can head to the hotel entrance and grab a cab back home. Or, if you’re feeling energetic, walk back along the river the way you came and jump back on the MRT. By the time you get there though you’ll be ready for another drink and some cake before heading home – look out for the cafe’s outside the shopping mall as they can tick the box no problem

For me, this is the perfect day out for newbies – and oldies – to Singapore. A great introduction to the city without being overwhelmed and a good way to check out what you might like to do next.



Four Seasons


The Four Seasons hotel is a luxury five-star hotel and home to the One-Ninety Bar which claims to offer “afternoon tea with a twist.” What’s the twist we wondered?

As we all gathered in the dimly lit bar ‘by’ Javier de las Muelas it felt as if we were there too early. Perhaps the creative partnership of Muelas serves its purpose well with martini’s flowing in the evening and a no doubt stylish crowd mingling amongst the spacious bar and outdoor area (they call this the Terraza). But, during the day it felt dark, heavy and too sombre.  This is possibly a bar best seen at night.

But there we were and afternoon tea is what we were after. The waitress gave us the menu and there was an impressive selection of teas to choose from. If you like fancy tea that is. For those of us who wanted a bog standard English Breakfast tea, or even an Earl Grey it seemed we were scuppered. Perhaps we should have opted for one of the amazing concoctions on offer; they certainly sounded delightful.


We all agreed these teas sounded lovely, but were not what we wanted with our sandwiches and cakes.

But, following a small panic by my mum – who was visiting from the UK and would win any award for tea drinking there is – we managed to get a pot of perfectly acceptable English Breakfast tea. She was happy. The rest of the tea drinkers were fairly conservative in their choices too with Earl Grey being the most adventurous. The coffee drinkers were well catered for too with latte’s, cappuccino’s and flat whites readily available.

The traditional three-tiered stand was soon to arrive, carrying what looked like a delectable section of finger sandwiches, pastries and scones (oh or o, I don’t care!) There were salmon, cheese, ham and egg sandwiches to choose from. Nothing amazing in the fillings and not really what you’d expect from a five-star hotel but they tasted fine so no complaints.


The tiered stand looked very pretty with its glass cups of strawberry mousse perched on top and macaroons nestled next to tiny little chocolate and raspberry bites, as well as some quirky champagne flute shaped cookies. There were also some rather large cupcakes brimming with fondant.

Of course the obligatory – in our opinion – scones were there with small dishes of clotted cream and jam to accompany them. It all looked pretty good.

But, and it’s a but that needs to be butted.

It all looked lovely. But tasted – meh!

Nothing blew any of us away. The macaroons were ok; they had a nice pistachio taste but were no deal breaker. The mousse was pretty bland, the chocolate and raspberry bites IMG_2347had those awful silver balls on top that you find on kids cakes that can break your teeth. The cupcakes were all show really. Even the champagne flute cookies weren’t particularly tasty. In fact, the icing on top also smacked of a children’s party. Again, not what you’d expect from a five-star hotel. The scones were ok, not too dry and had some fruit inside, but nowhere near enough jam or cream is provided. In fact, had we not all been such a polite bunch, a fight could have broken out over who had too much cream.

According to the website there is a show pantry “with a variety of exquisite pastries.” We weren’t told about or shown this and certainly didn’t get offered anything from anywhere else. We were also not offered more than one pot of tea, which is poor. Although had we asked, I’m sure they would have accommodated. Unfortunately the staff weren’t that easy to find so top ups were not really an option.

Some of our group opted for the additional $20 for a cocktail, and for $30 you can go for a glass of champagne with your afternoon tea. The standard afternoon tea was $42 – this seems a fair price for the quantity of food and is pretty average for Singapore.

Overall, the company made the afternoon worthwhile. Everyone felt they had got their money worth and although disappointed with the flavour of the food that day, the look of it was lovely. But, the afternoon tea was just a sideline really; never the star of the show, which is a shame.

This is definitely a bar best seen at night. Oh, and the twist? No idea! *

What, when, where, how much?

Classic Afternoon Tea
Daily, 2-5pm.
One-Ninety Bar and Terrazzo by Javier De Las Muelas *
The Four Seasons Hotel
190 Orchard Boulevard
Tel: +65 6734 1110

$42++ per person. More for cocktails and champagne.

Overall score from The Handbags and Teabags Ladies:

imagesimagesimages (out of 10)

* Maybe the twist is the ridiculously long name?


Speed bump ahead!

I originally posted this almost two years ago when I hit my ‘speed bump’  A lot has changed for me since then but I know many of you are just getting to ‘the speed bump.’ Honestly, you’ll get over it – it is only a bump in the road, I promise.

The other reason for re-posting is so that the next post I’m currently writing make slightly more sense… I hope!

Speed Bump Ahead!

So, you are now officially an expat. You are living in Singapore. This is your ‘home’.

You’ve made the huge move away from all you know and love. You’ve found somewhere to live, made friends, visited some amazing places and been blown away by the amount there is to do on this one tiny island. The kids (if you’ve got them) are settled, you may even have found yourself a job. You have even been tour guide to visiting friends and family. Things seem to be going swimmingly well.

Yeah, that’s what I thought too. And then… bleurgh!


Being a bit under the weather didn’t help, but after a couple of weeks of feeling a bit ‘out of sorts’ I started to wonder. What was wrong with me? I was physically ok’ish (well I’m no olympic athlete still) really.  A friend noticed and asked if I was ok. Not really I admitted. I felt low, fed up, bored and each day seemed to be a non starter.

You see, I have all this time on my hands and find I am literally busy doing nothing. What do I do all day is a question I battle with constantly. And it is a battle. To answer! I tend to cough a bit when people ask and shrug nonchalantly. I might splutter out something like:

Well…I catch up on Facebook – which is a whole other story but mark my words, there will be a Facebook Anonymous group. I read and send emails, I do house admin. I might go to the shops if I need something, (but as you know, me and shopping malls do not get along so I only do that when absolutely necessary). Oh, on a Monday I do Yoga – yay! And yeah, I might meet someone for coffee (I hate coffee, but saying you’re meeting someone for tea doesn’t sound right does it?) every now and then.

mood-writingAll these plans I had for filling my time. Writing every day, VectorToons.comgetting on with trying to get my book published, getting uber fit, seeing the hidden gems of Singapore.


And why?

That’s what I couldn’t work out. Why I wasn’t spending my time in a way that was more fulfilling? I haven’t got the excuse of house work, or young kids at home, or anything really.  After weeks of visitors you’d think I’d be glad to have my days back to myself and want to get stuck in. I did wonder if that was the problem. I had got used to having people here. But no, it’s not that.

Then, my friend told me. I’d come to the six month speed bump. Hit the wall.

Apparently it happens to many of us expat women.

We have spent the first six or so months running round like headless chickens setting up home, making sure the rest of the family are ok, learning where to buy meat, fruit, veg and toothpaste, got to know the neighbourhood and generally got ourselves used to this new life.

And then it starts to feel more normal. The satnav isn’t on the whole time – both in the car and in your head. You no longer feel like a visitor and you feel more at home.


But it’s not really quite home. There are still things that you haven’t worked out. Like why the milk is not quite right. Why everyday things cost SO much.  There are still places you’re not sure of. Still new challenges to face each week. So you feel comfy, but not comfy enough.

For me it’s also the friendship thing. I’m lucky to have met some lovely people since being here and I’m sure some of them will be friends for a long time (God help us!)

But there are also those that I know I have nothing in common with aside from the fact we both live in Singapore. There is definitely a forced friendship thing going on in this kind of situation. I’m so used to having a solid group of friends who’s needs we mutually fulfil. I’m struggling to know what to do with these new friends I’m not really connecting with. Who should I call to come shopping when I need to find a dress for a special occasion? Who’s going to be a good person to ask for help with the kids? Who can I trust to listen and not judge when things are not going well? Who’s the one who can be relied on for a good night out? Who is more of a sit at home and watch a movie kind of friend?

These are all things we have to keep learning and this in itself takes up a lot of time. No wonder I’m not getting anything done eh?

From talking to others, another bump can be around the other half. Long working hours, constant travelling and work commitments take their toll quite quickly.

I’m know I’m not alone not being comfortable being regarded as ‘the trailing spouse’. Many women I’ve met have left behind good careers to come here. Getting a job here isn’t necessarily an easy option when here on a Dependent Pass. Also, the fact that their partner, who’s job has brought them here, is working so many hours and travelling so much that any kind of work commitment on the women’s part would tip the balance for the family.

Even the term ‘trailing spouse’ makes me feel so insignificant. Like I’m a damp mop being dragged around the place. Or, worst still, some kind of limpet.

Of course, we can’t complain because without their important job we wouldn’t have been given this amazing opportunity to live here on the dot. Right?

No one back home really gets it either. After all, in their eyes we’re here in our lovely big places, with help of some kind usually, money is possibly a bit easier, we have lots of exciting new things to see and do. Also, a big part for anyone from colder climes –  it’s always sunny. 🙂

That seems to be the general opinion doesn’t it?

Yes we have a lovely house/apartment – but it’s not OURS. If we have help – although we do feel grateful for this every day, it brings a whole host of new things to learn. Yep tax benefits are brilliant, but Singers is not a cheap place to live. Yep, there’s loads to do, but do we want to schlep around on our own? And as for the weather. Wow it is warm.

But… hang on, you’re right. I can’t argue with that one, sitting outside every day for every meal is amazing.

So that’s when I check myself.  I remind myself about the good stuff. The sound of the birds as we eat breakfast outside every morning. My daughter said recently “I like living here; it’s like being in a rainforest every day. Oh, we are aren’t we.” 

The freedom to let the children be more independent. The fact that I can drive straight in to the city in 10 minutes (traffic allowing) and find every shop imaginable. That we can go for a night out in town and be home in 20 minutes tops.


The Substation wall in Armenian Street

I love the fact that I see amazing new things every day like the wall art next to the Peranakan museum, the temple opposite the park I walk the dog in or the beautifully colourful shop houses in Little India.

I am grateful to be here. I’m happy to be here. I am excited about what’s to come. It’s just a bit lonely at times.


Some of the colourful shophouses around Little India

But it’s good to know that these feelings are completely normal and will pass. They are just another part of this new life we’re making for ourselves.

It’s good to know that others hit these speed bumps too. Let me know if you have won’t you?


Bollywood Veggies


Bollywood Veggies – Kranji

Where: 100 Neo Tiew Road, Singapore, 719026.
Why? To get a bit of countryside goodness, to smell the fresh air, to see another side to Singapore. For GREAT food.
When? Open Wednesday-Sunday, 9am-6:30pm. (Closed over Lunar New Year for 2 weeks.)
Cash heavy? Nope! A couple of bucks to get in and whatever you spend on lunch. Whatever it will be, it’ll be a bargain. Bring cash though as doesn’t accept cards or cheques.
Kid friendly? Yes. Paths lead around the gardens for those with strollers, and kids are encouraged to explore.
Dog friendly? I’m assuming so as they have a dog run in the garden.
Disabled access? Yes, although some parts of the gardens are not accessible it’s pretty much wheelchair friendly.
Getting there. The nearest MRT is Kranji and from there you can get a shuttle bus (check website for schedule). Alternatively it’s about a 25 minute drive from the centre of town.
Extra titbit. The owners of Bollywood Veg make a point of employing those from the local community who are physically or mentally challenged to help run the gardens and bistro. Look out for a particularly inspiring lady called May who has written a book called Scaling Walls.
And try the banana bread – it’s delicious!
Website/Contact: Tel:+65 6898 5001 .

The nitty-gritty:

Subtle but well said

Sometimes, despite the fabulousness of this city, every now and then we all just want out for a while. It may be that you want a drive through the countryside? Or perhaps you’re sick of high-rise condos, traffic and swarms of people everywhere? Maybe you need some time to think, relax and chill? Or just that you want reassurance that there is somewhere on this island that grows something you can actually eat!

In which case you can’t do any better than a trip to Bollywood Veggies in Kranji. Started by self titled ‘farm-preneurs’ Ivy Singh-Lim and Lim Ho Seng, this couple have turned a pipe dream in to reality. What began as an idea for somewhere for their retirement has flourished in to a fully fledged farm, bistro, food museum, cooking school and a whole new future for Singapore’s aspiring farming community.


Or, just do it out of the kindness of your heart?

We found Bollywood Veggies one Sunday afternoon after we had decided to visit Kranji War memorial and wanted to stop for a quick bite to eat. As soon as we parked up I knew this wasn’t your ordinary out-of-town cafe. The car park was pretty full for a start – always a good sign, but also makes you think “oh no, we should have booked.”

But no, Bollywood Veggie isn’t that kind of place. No reservations required.

Go through the entrance and you’ll enter a whole new world. You are welcome to stroll around the farm and get up close to a lot of what they do there. With the most fantastic and quirky little signs all over the place, that alone is enough to keep you interested for a while (and giggling at the humour of those who put them there). If you are the green fingered sort you’ll be enthralled by the number of plants, trees and flowers they have. From mangos to figs, curry plants to water lily’s. Most of which are helpfully labelled. Oh, and if you want to lend a hand, rake a few leaves for them and they’ll give you a drink on the house (non alcoholic I assume?)


As a playground should be

We came across one area that, despite the warnings about snakes, is a must. (I’m sure they’re not THAT serious about the snakes). Hidden amongst some trees, lots of plants and behind an old hut type building is a seesaw. You know, the old-fashioned kind. Along with a swing fashioned from a piece of wood and a rope, tied to a tree. Also, a very quaint, if somewhat eerily abandoned looking table and chair set. It was almost as if someone had just finished playing there 200 years ago and time had stood still ever since.

Once you’ve finished pottering around the farm do stop for something to eat. The ever friendly staff will help you with recommendations. The banana curry is a favourite we were told so we were keen to try it and were not disappointed. They also serve fish and chips for the less adventurous little ones with you.

With a small, but perfectly formed, set of farm ‘toys’ to keep the kids amused, you’ll find hours may have passed without you realising it.

And as you take your leave, with shoulders less hunched and your head a bit clearer, you can even buy some of their delicious chocolate banana bread to take home. I bought a copy of the book Scaling Walls by one of the ‘farm warriors’ Siew May who, despite a tough start in life has achieved more than most of us and I look forward to learning more about her and her life. Sometimes you can get lucky and they’ll have some veg or fruit to buy too. But, I think they use most of it themselves in the bistro. With bike tours now being arranged to start and end there, Bolly Jolly weekends and guided tours it seems to me this couple are long way from retiring just yet. And Singapore is the better for it.


Beautiful reminders of the wildlife


I cannot think of a better way to while a few hours than at Bollywood Veggies. Go explore yourself, you’ll not be disappointed.

Final 5 Verdict? 5 5 5 5 5