The Shinta Mani Club, in Siem Reap, Cambodia, has just been voted the third best hotel in the world by TripAdvisor. We thought we'd look back at our stay there. To find out more about what to do, where to stay and what to see click here. Enjoy the photos.
Telunas is a place where you don't need to be good at photography. As long as you have a camera, and click the button, you will have beautiful memories.
Sounds like I'm starting the write their advertising slogan, but it's a place that's easy to fall in love with.
As soon as you chug past Sentosa Island, Singapore’s playground, on the Batam ferry, you literally leave everything behind to maroon yourself on a tropical island. Think Robinson Crusoe, with a luxury edge.
The relaxation is almost forced on you. No phones can reach you; no emails invade your peace and quiet. You're cosseted in nature. It's a relief to leave the technological world behind. Life is put on hold.
Telunas Private Island has only been open six months, but it's right across a short stretch of water (1.4km in case you wish to swim it) from the Telunas Beach Resort, which has already celebrated a decade as one of the best-kept secrets.
Here's what to expect
The sky is endless; the sea breezes bring cooler air; you can watch the sun rise over the water and then set again; you can sit on your balcony in perfect tranquility. What more do you need to help you recover from life in the city?
The practical bit
What you need to pack: passport (you’ll be visiting Indonesia); US$15 per person for the visa on arrival in Batam; your ferry ticket; swimming costume; sun glasses; sun hat; sun crème – can you see a theme developing here?
Transport: You’ll need to book a ferry from Harbourfront to Batam. We used Batam Fast. You’ll need to liaise with the Telunas booking staff as they will collect you from Batam and you’ll take a second boat (bumboat) to Telunas. The second leg takes an hour and a half: the scenery is beautiful, but little children may get bored. From Habourfront to Telunas the journey takes about three hours in total.
Cost: A weekend would cost around S$1,300 in January. This is based on two adults and two children sharing a cabana for two nights, and includes three meals a day, activities and transfers from Batam.
We’d like to thank the Telunas team for hosting us and making us feel so welcome.
For more photos please visit our Pinterest page.
Sunday was a big day in the Singapore race calendar: thousands of runners took their marks under starter’s orders and pounded the pavements in the Standard Chartered Singapore Marathon. And I mean thousands. The inaugural race, in 2002, attracted 6,000 runners, reaching a peak of 65,000 in 2011.
I love to combine sports and travel, and running is a great way to see a city. You can view the tourist spots or detour and investigate the path less trodden. You also fit a lot more in, although I have to say that it is an optimum way to get an overview of a city, rather than know it in-depth. Obviously, the more you run the more you see.
Sunday’s race unfortunately wasn’t about a tour around the city. I’ll call it a sandpaper race. You have to take the rough with the smooth.
I took part in the half marathon (beating my Significant Other officially by 10 seconds, unofficially by 30 seconds. Either way I won, and that’s very important in a marriage of equals.)
If I was visiting Singapore for the race, I might have been a little disappointed. (I can only comment on the half marathon. I may be Superwoman to some, but even I can only manage one race at a time.) The route started in an impressive way. We lined up at the Sentosa Gateway and meandered across the island, saying hello to various overheating cartoon characters lining the path through Universal Studios. There was a great vibe, and high-fiving Puss in Boots partly made up for the dearth of supporters. It was only 7am, after all.
Then the route took a dive into the underground car park, where the bus engines idled. Having not had our fill of carbon monoxide, we were spewed up onto the West Coast highway, where we trundled along, kilometer and kilometer, only to be turned pointlessly around to do it all in the other direction. I have to say the finish was great, through the Central Business District and onto the Pandang, but I didn’t really see much of Singapore. Good job I live here.
Space is a premium, and there were other distances to fit in: there was a marathon, a 10km and a kids’ run. The funny thing is, it isn’t even as if we did half the marathon route. It was a completely different route.
That said, despite the pain, the very early start (alarm clock rudely giving us an audible shove at 0430) and the heat and humidity, I can now sit back with smug satisfaction and plan my next race.
Podium points for:
Smelly socks to:
Find out more about the Standard Chartered Singapore Marathon here.
To read more about sports + travel equation read about my Bintan Triathlon effort, or check out our triathlon kit list.
What’s your favourite race and why?
As an expat, when you move to a new country you usually think about finding a new home, sorting out school places, and working out where to buy your groceries. You don’t usually think of war. But, to me, that has one major draw of living in Singapore….
I’ve lived in five countries. I’ve only lived in one that was once crawling with troops and pitted by trenches. A war that is still in living memory.
I have to confess that my fellow expats probably don’t have such an academic interest in the Second World War. Of course it’s well understood that the British built Singapore, and through the failure of war, lost it when the Japanese cycled their way through Malaya, paddled across the Straits of Johore, and then fought their way through the island with such confidence. A white flag was duly raised.
But armed with a degree in contemporary history (not that’s not an oxymoron) and nine years of service as a Territorial Army captain, I probably have a keener interest than most. My husband has frequently picked up the bored children and walked out of museums as I devour every piece of information.
From my balcony at home, off the Holland Road, I can imagine the troops hiding in drainage ditches, and creeping through the undergrowth. I look for war damage on buildings I recognise as being battle contemporaries. My regular running route takes me right past the front line, and the very spot where Lieutenant-General Percival handed over the white flag to the Japanese. Today, the spot is marked by little more than the intersection of Bukit Timah Road by Farrer and Adam Roads.
The Battle of Bukit Timah
Bukit is the Malay word for “hill” (Timah means “tin”), which for a soldier is a strategic defensive position, offering surrounding views. That’s not to say the views were good: it’s a small hill of only 581 feet and in 1942 it was surrounded in thick jungle and plantations. But it was a modest, and important, advantage.
The summit also looked down on Adam Park and Sime Road Camp, which both became strategic in their own ways.
Adam Road, off Adam Road, was a spacious upmarket expat estate of 19 houses, set in their own grounds. It was right next to the country club. It was the colonial place to be for sipping cocktails and playing golf. In February 1942, that all changed. With Bukit Timah hill playing such an important strategic role, it was the site of a battle that saw Allied and Japanese soldiers fighting in such close quarters they were almost in physical reach, as the battle took place from house to house.
Sime Road Camp was the RAF’s military Command Centre. Percival had wanted to unite all services in one place, and Sime Road was the geographical centre of the island, with the main trunk road heading straight to the city. The Malaya Campaign had been run from here, but as the Japanese landed in Singapore, the Command Centre moved to the Battle Box at Fort Canning, and dug in.
The Japanese broke through defensive lines, and on 11 February captured Bukit Timah hill. From there they were able to push through towards to the city, by-passing Sime Road. Adam Park, on the other hand, was on its own little hill and so was held by the Cambridgeshire Regiment, known as the Fen Tigers, for a further three days until they were told to surrender. It was to be the most extended, and intense fighting during the entire campaign for Singapore.
The Fen Tigers were rounded up by the Imperial Japanese Army, and herded into a tennis court, before being marched off to Changi Prison.
Both Sime Road and Adam Park became POW camps during the Japanese Occupation, for soldiers and civilians. The dreadful conditions, and treatment of the internees has been well documented, an ironic contrary way of life to the gin and golf days.
After the war the buildings of Sime Road were demolished. Adam Park was restored to its former glory and is again a residential area.
A big thank you
I recently met up with Jon Cooper, a battlefield archeologist, who is in charge of The Adam Park Project (TAPP). TAPP is a collaborative project between the Singapore Heritage Society archeologists at the National University of Singapore, and the Centre for Battlefield Archeology at Glasgow University. To read more about Jon’s work please visit his Facebook page.
When I moved to Chicago, I counted my lucky stars that I didn't have to learn a new language. I had enough on my plate: I was moving house for the fourth time in three years, moving away from family across the Atlantic, with a toddler and a new born in tow. I love learning about other cultures, but I am pretty crap at languages.
However, I very quickly learnt that I was learning a new language. You can't go to the supermarket (grocery store) and pick up a trolley (cart), and ask for aubergines, courgettes and nappies (eggplant, zucchini and diapers). People look at your blankly. And why wouldn't they? You are not speaking American.
So what about when people come to the UK, and have to navigate the subtleties and subtext of English? Here are some guidelines. This table has been doing the rounds on the internet. I can't claim to have written it, although I wish I had. The source has become untraceable, but bravo to the author.
Anything to add? Drop us a line below.
Christmas is just around the corner, and there is nowhere quite like home for its traditions.
But every country is different, so it got us thinking: what traditions are we missing out on?
Here are just a few:
1. Smelly feet in France: The Noël season starts on 6th December. Instead of stockings, children leave out shoes for Father Christmas to leave gifts in. Food to try: The Bûche de Noël is a traditional Yule log.
2. Strong herbs in Greece: Families attend midnight mass on Christmas Eve. To ward away evil spirits (Killantzaroi) they hang up sprigs of basil. Food to try: Christopsomo (which translates to “Christ’s Bread”) is a sweet bread baked on Christmas Eve.
3. Put another shrimp on the Barbie in Australia: I’ve never actually heard an Aussie say this, especially as my Aussie friends call them prawns. Anyway, I digress. Christmas is in the middle of the summer holidays Down Under so barbecues are popular on Christmas Day. Food to try: Pavlova with fresh berries and passion fruit.
4. Make them wait in Mexico: Children aren’t allowed to open presents until the final day of the festive season on 6th January, which is called El Dia de los Reyes. Food to try: Salt cod with spicy vegetables, a dish known as bacalao.
5. A 12 course meal in Russia: The Orthodox Church uses the traditional Julian calendar, so Christmas is not celebrated until the first week of January. When the first evening star appears a huge 12 course feast, to represent the 12 apostles, starts. Food to try: Russian King Cake made with three layers. The secret ingredient is poppy seeds.
6. Burn the goat in Sweden: In the town a Gavle, a huge straw goat is built every Christmas, and every year vandals try to burn it down. Despite its guards, it has only survived until Christmas Day ten times since 1966. Food to try: Rice pudding, or risgrynsgröt, flavoured with cinnamon.
7. Pants down in Spain, Portugal and Italy: Some villages set up a traditional Bethlehem model. “That’s not unusual”, I hear you cry. These models include a Caganer, which is a figurine with his pants around his ankles caught in the act of defecating. Charming. Now on to food to try: Stuffoli is popular in Italy. They are small nuggets of fried dough flavoured with lemon. Reindeer poo anyone?
What's your favourite family Christmas tradition? Drop us a line.
Remembrance Day means different things to different people. As a mother of two young girls, this year’s 100th anniversary of the start of the First World War was the opportunity to introduce my young family to the concept of playing a part in our community.
Living in Singapore, it was also the chance to give them some insight into the Second World War sacrifices made by soldiers and civilians. They know Mammy spent a number of years as a soldier, but I want them to understand why. Military service isn’t for everyone, but everyone does have a community role to play. It's a core belief: the world doesn’t revolve around you. You should revolve around the world.
Today, the world is still fighting. Today, religion and politics still muddy the water; water that is supposed to be clear, a life-giver, available to all.
So yesterday we got up before the sun, and headed to the Kranji War Memorial to pay our respects on Remembrance Sunday. I didn’t have to tell my children to behave. The solemnity and calm pervading from every attendee ensured they understood they were in a special place. They understood that soldiers in the past have kept us safe and we were saying thank you. If every child grew up remembering that, knowing their place in the world, and feeling confident that they could make a positive contribution, I’m sure there would be a true understanding of the meaning of respect. Maybe then we would have peace.
About the Kranji War Cemetery
Originally an ammunition depot, the site became a Prisoner of War (POW) camp and hospital after the Japanese Occupation in 1942. The Commonwealth War Graves Commission created a permanent war cemetery after the war, and graves were transferred from other areas, including the Buona Vista POW Camp and the Changi camp, to ensure they would be looked after. The War Cemetery was officially opened in March 1957. There are almost 4,500 burials marked by headstones and the memorial contains the names of 24,000 names of missing personnel.
To learn more about Singapore during the Second World War, visit the National Heritage Board.
We love collecting photos of signs and situations that make us smile. Do you have any to add? Send them to us and we'll put them on our Facebook page.
It's half term and already we have bumped into three families from our children's school. Put simply, Western Australia is the place to be, and in October it’s the perfect antidote to Singapore: the weather is cool, but the sun is warm; there are wide open spaces and fresh air; the countryside is a playground with miles and miles of vineyards, forests and farms; and it’s only a four-hour flight away.
We based ourselves in the small town of Margaret River, in the heart of the wine region. It's a pleasant place with all you need in terms of butchers, bakers and supermarkets (ha – didn’t think I was going there, did you?!), as well as little artisan shops.
We did our best to wear the children out, but in fact have done the opposite. In the evenings, we only have the energy to sip a bottle of local wine. Or I could just be making excuses.
Talking of wine, it is one of biggest enticements for coming here. To be truthful, I’m not a fan of reds from this region. They are a little too dry for me. But the whites are perfect, especially if you live in a hot country; fruity, crisp, clean and tangy.
The easiest way to see the region is to join a tour. As we reached the vineyards we noticed a sign asking: “Who’s the skipper?” It took us a while to realise that, as we didn’t speak Australian, there was a language barrier. We think a skipper is a designated driver, or a kangaroo, or is that a skippy? Goodness knows. Best said, get on a tour, and then you don’t have to worry about drinking and driving as someone else will drive you around.
We joined Neil McLeod’s tour. On family holiday’s they have worked out that people often pack their kids too, and so have created a varied agenda to keep the whole family entertained. On the one-day tour we joined there was a stop at an artisan coffee shop for Dad, four vineyards for Mam, a chocolate factory for the children, and a cheese shop for everyone. Smiles all round. Neil has just spruced up his big red Bedford lorry for a sunset kangaroo safari too. A Margaret River native, he knows the region’s iconic highlights as well as the best-kept secrets.
The Cape Leeuwin Lighthouse is about as far south as you can go without swimming to Antarctica. It was built in 1895 to guide ships heading to the eastern ports across the rocks where the Indian Ocean meets the Southern Ocean. Its claim to fame is that it is the tallest mainland lighthouse in Australia, and as part of a tour you can climb to the top.
At the other end of the region, the Busselton Jetty reaches 1.8km into Geographe Bay and is the longest timber-piled jetty in the Southern Hemisphere. The Jetty used to only protrude 161m, when it was first built in 1865, but due to drifting sand and shallow waters it has been extended a number of times to enable ships to unload cargo without grounding. Horses and carts were loaded up, later to be replaced by a train, until the port closed in 1973. It’s a beautiful spot and whether you decided to ride the train or use your legs, it’s worth getting to the end of the jetty to see the underwater observatory. A spiral staircase takes you eight metres under the water so you can get a close look at the corals, sponges and barnacles clamped to the side of the piles, and well as spot the odd fish or two.
There are hundreds of caves, but only a few are open to the public. Lake Cave, although not large, is one of the most intricate, with hundreds of straws, stalagmites, stalactites, columns and a floating table. If you visit Lake or Jewel you’ll need to be part of a tour. Mammoth Cave is self-guided.
The coastline is pretty spectacular. Drive to the top of South Point at Gracetown for a sweeping view over Cowaramup Bay. From the top of the cliff you can often spot whales, and the odd surfer or two. There are plenty of beaches to choose from too.
Here's an outline of how we spent our time:
Day 4: Drive to Margaret River. A wander around the town and dinner at the Settlers' Tavern, Margaret River.
Day 5: A walk around the trails of Margaret River, lunch at Leeuwin's Wine Estate.
Day 6: Breakfast at Morries, drive to Busselton. Busselton has a fantastic 1.8km pier. You can buy a combined ticket that allows you to ride the train there and back, as well as visit the underwater aquarium at the end of the jetty.
Day 7: Lake cave, lunch at Cafe Boranup, Leeuwin Cape Lighthouse, dinner at Swings Taphouse & Kitchen, Margaret River.
Day 8: Wine, coffee, cheese and chocolate tour with Neil McLeod.
Day 9: Drive to Perth. Lunch at Cottesloe Beach Club.
Where we stayed:
We stayed at Villawarra, a bungalow set back in the bush, with a warm fire, an outside bathroom and kangaroos in the garden. We booked through Airbnb.
For more information about our trip, and photographs, click here.
Just outside Perth, at the mouth of the Swan River, is the chilled out little port of Fremantle. In fact it’s so laid back, you senses will be stimulated as you amble down Cappuccino Strip, passing through clouds of incense, wafting out of shops selling crystals and tie-dyed bags, as well as clouds of less legal smoke from time to time.
Freo, as it’s known locally, is the starting point for Western Australia’s settler history. It was here that the first colonials set up base in 1829, naming the town after an English naval officer, Captain Charles Fremantle.
The town has a number of heritage buildings, which have been preserved, offering their own insight into settler life. The oldest is the Round House, a prison at Arthur Head, which was completed in 1831. However, with the arrival of the first shipload of convicts, it became apparent that it was too small. Fremantle Prison was built in 1850. Between 1850 and 1868, 37 ships of prisoners set sail from the UK for the penal colony Down Under.
Fremantle Prison was used until 1991, when it was placed on the World Heritage List. Today it is open for tours; there’s a surprising amount to see, and no visit is complete without the escape stories and an insight into the harsh conditions (bucket toilets and the hangman’s noose). This was an era when prison was about “doing time” rather than rehabilitation.
The port area is also worth wandering around. Stop at the Little Creatures Brewery for a long lunch or grab a bag of fish and chips. The nearby Western Australian Museum Shipwrecks Galleries will give you some context into life at sea. It also home to part of the 17th century Batavia, raised from the seabed in the 1970s.
Fremantle is a small town and it’s easy to wander around, meandering through the markets and recharging every now and then with a coffee or ice cream.
Fun fact: Swan River was named after the native black swans that cruise up and down.
Places we tried:
Little Creatures Brewery (40 Mews Road): Great food and a fun place. Tours also available.
Gino's (1-5 South Terrace): The place for breakfast.
Cicerello’s (Fishing Boat Harbour): This is billed as the place to go for fish and chips. Fish was great. Chips not so.
Fremantle Prison (Parry Street, Fairbairn Ramp): Family rates available.
Western Australian Museum – Shipwrecks Galleries (Cliff Street): Entry free, donations appreciated.
We booked our accommodation through Airbnb.
Here's the itinerary we created and our photos.