Destinations

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Short winter days in Melbourne

I’m entirely unused to spending just a few days in a place that will probably take years to know inside out. Having been to Melbourne several times over the past two decades (nothing like the passing of the years to show how much mileage you’ve gotten along with it), this has by far, been the longest gap in which I’ve eschewed one of the world’s most liveable and coolest city in favour of other far-flung places. With four days, there was just too much to see, too much to eat, so little time. The rich, cultural diversity of this place can’t make it any swankier honestly, and the inner-city ethnic...

Beneath the surface

It’s hard to write about Vancouver. Officially, it has been named one of the most liveable cities in the world, even through skyrocketing property prices (thanks to foreign speculation and buying), with a huge and impressive backcountry of British Columbia backing it up. An hour’s drive northwards brings you to Squamish, a haven for outdoorsy types. Drive east and you’d still be hard-pressed to escape the beautiful scenery that encircles the entire place. In Vancouver itself, there is a multitude of fascinating neighbourhoods that hold their own ethnic enclaves and by extension, the cuisine on offer is as varied and authentic as the immigrants themselves who bring a wealth of...

Day-tripping to Whistler

The Travel Companion (TC) and I debated long and hard about renting a car in Vancouver, even if it was only for a few days. Public transit has always been encouraged and what people say about Vancouver being a ’small’, walkable city is to an extent, true, unless you’re staying out in the suburbs and not Downtown. In the end, we compromised (isn’t this always the case?) and rented a small, white pimple of a VW Golf—easy to handle, though guaranteed to give you performance anxiety as larger cars and trucks breeze past on the highway—because we wanted the freedom of exploring Vancouver’s suburbs while doing a day trip to...

Kuala Lumpur for the lazy traveller

The usual 3-day itinerary in any place typically involves a clever mix of time-saving routes and an assumption of boundless energy that will enable any intrepid visitor to cover a key number of sights. In short, a brag-worthy itinerary for a short but exhausting period of time that you can confidently say to anyone ‘I’ve visited this place and have seen the top x number of things I should see in it’. Doing this in a place as dauntingly large as Kuala Lumpur is a difficult task to plan. Doing 3 days over a festive period (Chinese New year) with many Chinese shops (and areas like Chinatown) is impossible. But...

Eating in Siem Reap

Khmer cuisine is a curious thing, as it sits on the crossroads between Thai and Vietnamese dishes, though the dishes are slightly more sweetish, minus the stomach-burning heat yet still bursting with flavour with the abundance of herbs used in each one. Steven, our guide for the local food tour that we are taking of Siem Reap—and an ex-Scottish chef in a previous life—thinks that the cuisine in this region generally evolved at the same time, only with slight but distinct regional variations as national boundaries changed over the years. The tuk-tuk we pile on goes around the corner from where we stay and into a fairly large shop where...

Templed Out

Coming to see the Angkor temples was my primary objective in visiting Siem Reap and doing it during the cooler months from November – March sounded like a bloody good idea. Unfortunately, it seemed as though the whole world thought the same thing. Still, the best thing you can do is to plan…and plan well, just to avoid jostling shoulders with the huge crowds of Chinese tourists as much as possible. There are several ways to go about it: hire a tuk-tuk for a day or go with a tour operator, though choosing which one is probably imperative. A good guide makes all the difference and the stories he tells...

When the dust settles in Siem Reap

Siem Reap’s – quite literally meaning ‘Siamese Defeated – name is a (smug) testament to its history of conflict that Cambodia has always been embroiled in one way or another. And it isn’t a place that the travel companion (TC) and I actually envisioned visiting at all. But the idea the Angkor Wat Complex simply grew too big to contain. Knowing that the year end week-long holidays offered the opportunity to do just that, we booked our tickets still feeling uncertain, and that was that. If November – April is Cambodia’s driest and coolest period, the day we arrived proved the contrary. The sweltering heat and humidity meant the insects were...

When travel becomes lacklustre

It isn’t often that I feel dissatisfied after a trip, but a recent 5-day one to Khao Lak had wrong written on it from the very start. I’d planned to dive in the Similan Islands, taking advantage of the early diving season, but a sinus-infection (along with a doctor’s warning not to do it) meant that I was on the verge of cancelling the entire trip, only to go ahead the last minute. The hotel I was in was overwhelmingly stocked with Germans; my room had a variety of insects and bees in it and the deck chairs reserved the whole damn day with towels on them, while their owners remained...

Dweebs in Doha

Doha reminds me of Dubai a decade or so ago: a city expanding and changing at a frenetic rate as migrant workers and expatriates flock here to construct its lofty ambitions in the dust and sand. It’s also a hard city to love, with horrendous traffic and red lights that last up to 3 minutes and a plethora of dust pollution swirling at your feet each time you walk. I found myself mostly ignored by men and tried not to feel insulted that many of those who walked around in thobe dishdashas—whether working in the souq or the museum—chose to speak over me and directly to TC instead, when gender...

Tbilisi for the Uninitiated

The Caucasus is a region I had absolutely no clue about, except that it is where Europe and Asia converge, and where ancient man, as anthropologists and linguists posit, first walked out of Africa and into this part of the world. Georgia seemed like the logical choice when I planned this trip, along with Azerbaijan or Armenia. Time and costs narrowed it down to only Georgia and well, Doha, given the logical stopover that Qatar Airways offered. The Travel Companion (TC) bought his tickets separately a few weeks later after suddenly deciding that he wanted to come and truth be told, I was glad for his company. Georgians are hyper-social creatures;...