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Holi-dating Our Children

In place of our annual family holiday, this year, my husband, Terence and I decided to try something different. We decided to go on a “holi-date”, a holiday consisting of…

In place of our annual family holiday, this year, my husband, Terence and I decided to try something different. We decided to go on a “holi-date”, a holiday consisting of one parent and one child, visiting a new destination. We thought it would be a fun challenge for us and a meaningful way to get to know our children better. We are parents to young children, a five and two year old, both at an age where they are very active and dependant on us. So this was not a holiday to kick back and relax – we knew that it would be hands-on and would require some compromise on our ambitious idea to see everything at the holiday destination. Still we chose to “holi-date” for the reason that it would have a long-term trajectory of building bonds through travel as our little ones continue to mature and grow as individuals.

I had S, our 5-year old boy as my travel buddy and Terence had little E as his co-explorer. Our destinations were a no-brainer. I’ve always wanted to see and taste Taiwan and Terence decided on Hong Kong as photos of dim sum lured him from afar. We booked our tickets way in advance, taking advantage of cheap flight fares but the planning only started about a month before our “holi-date”. When we got into the planning, we researched on public transport, places of interest, child-friendly attractions and the weather. Our itineraries were kept fairly loose to make room for any sudden-lies such as prolonged toilet time, uncalled for melt downs, slower pace of travel and other factors that come with travelling with young children.

Since I had S with me, I also wanted to try staying in hostels to give him the opportunity to mingle with different people from different countries – so we chose two different types of accommodation during our week in Taiwan, a few nights in a hostel-type accommodation and a few nights in a hotel. Much to my delight, he had a lot of questions while at the hostel, asking about different countries and why people travelled, listening in to different languages and sharing common spaces with strangers.

I was particularly excited to explore Taiwan with S. He’s at the age where he can read maps with a little assistance, enjoys different foods, gets excited about trying new things, follows instructions well and is able to articulate this experiences in words. I knew he would be an excellent travel buddy and he proved right! We explored the city from morning till night, always ending up in one of Taiwan’s bustling night markets. We went on a free walk tour where we got a low-down of Taiwan’s history and culture, visited the massive Taipei zoo – the largest in the Asia, rode the glass-bottom gondola to Maokong, decorated paper lanterns with heartfelt words and set them off into the air in Shifen – an enchanting village with a railway line running across it, meandered through the hillside town of Jiufen whilst trying not to get lost in the narrow alleys, witnessed the majestic Shifen Falls, stood in awe of Taipei’s jaw dropping skyline at the top of Taipei 101, elbowed our way through the crowds at Ximending – one of Taiwan’s busiest districts, took a dip in Beimen’s public hotsprings pool where old people hung out and talked all day and gobbled down the best of Taiwan’s street food.

Terence and little E explored bustling Hong Kong – Apliu flea market, Sham Sui Po, Tsim Sha Tsui, savoured many dim sum meals, wandered through Kowloon Park taking time to feed the fish and chase the birds, took the cable car to Ngong Ping, watched fishermen hauling in their catch at Sai Kung and enjoyed a full day at Ocean Park. His days in HK were a lot different from mine. Terence’s bag was packed with E in mind – diapers, milk, thermos, extra clothes and wet wipes. He also carried E in an Ergo carrier when it was time for her morning and afternoon naps. When she snoozed, Terence took the advantage to explore busier sights at a faster pace.

We returned home on the same day after a week of being apart. We were thrilled to see each other, shared many lingering hugs, exchanged gifts, scrolled through photos and spilled stories! While the children went off to play, running around the house and making it come alive – Terence and I took to our journals to pen some lessons we’ve learned from our “holi-date”. It’s without a doubt one of the best travel decisions we’ve made and hopefully, we can repeat this in a couple of years with the other child. What a privilege!

A holi-date in a heartbeat – here’s why:

  1. Special memories & stronger bonds

Extended time together in a new place is the best set up for growing relationships. Shared experiences such as savouring all kinds of street food or hiking to the waterfalls are powerful mental milestones that form special memories exclusive to parent and child. Imagine you’re your child’s best friend and closest buddy for a whole week!

2. Stage for education

Most of school learning is done in the classrooms, through books or audio visual material. Traveling allows our children to learn with all their senses and it gives them real-world practical lessons that can only be thought through experience. For example street smartness, appreciation for diversity and respect for different communities.

3. Ownership results in responsibility 

From the get go, S packed his own day bag filled with a couple of books, a travel journal, wireless headphones, a bottle of water, jacket and a cap. He carried his day pack everywhere and knew that it was his responsibility. There was one incident where left the bag in a shop while waiting for me to buy some souvenirs. Upon realising that he was missing his bag, he dragged me off the streets and back to the shop to ask the shopkeeper for his bag. It was a lesson as a parent that in order for our children to learn responsibility, they have to first feel a sense of ownership.

4. Adaptability

Life will not always be a set routine. If we teach our children to be adaptable and accepting of change, they will be better navigators in life. Adaptability involves living in different conditions, eating different kinds of food, taking different kinds of transport – in general appreciating the differences and similarities that each country, community and and place has to offer. Exposing our children to new cultures and places also fuels their sense of curiosity and wonder.

5. Seeing the world through their eyes 

It’s interesting to see our child’s personality emerge in different situations, such as getting lost, sticking within a budget, studying maps, choosing the places of interest to go to and deciding on what to eat. By allowing our children to make these decisions, it empowers them to step into new (and sometimes) unchartered territory. For example, S was given the option to choose between going to the public hotsprings bath or visiting the national science museum (which I thought was a better choice for children). He chose the public hotsprings bath filled with old people and was not allowed to jump and splash around. I thought he would have hated the experience, but he loved it. He sat in the hot pool listening to old uncles chatting away, people watched and sipped green tea for two hours! What an old soul!

Practical tips for traveling with children

Before you pounce on the next travel deal to plan your own “holi-date”, here are some practical tips that will help you along:

1. Age appropriate

Our children are at the age where they can walk, talk, is curious about their surroundings and don’t need a long checklist of things just to survive. They are also at the age where attractions make sense to them (eg. zoo, theme parks, etc). In short, I will probably not go on a “holi-date” with my baby and wait till he/she is a little older – but I’d gladly take them on a holiday! The purpose of both is quite different.

2. Fly early

Catch an early morning flight because when children wake up, they are ready to go! Morning flights are also usually less crowded and you reach the destination in the day which makes it easier to get around and navigate yourself in a new place.

3. Pack light

Especially if you’re traveling with young children, they cannot help you with larger bags and you don’t want to be in a frenzy waiting for multiple luggages to arrive on the belt while taking care of your child. Pack only what you absolutely need – swap strollers for carriers and bags with rollers are easier to get around.

4. Bring some meds

When traveling with children, you want to be always prepared to combat any bug or treat wounds. Essential medicine include paracetamol, antihistamines and small first aid kit. I also always carry some multivitamins or vitamin C for them to boost their immune system.

5. Encourage them to keep a travel journal

S kept a travel journal of his trip to Taiwan. He scribbled the different places we went to, foods we tried and things we saw. He doodled what he saw and stuck entrance tickets and stickers in it. He absolutely treasures his journal (which is nothing fancy, just a few pages of A4 paper stapled together with brown cover and self-decorated cover) – but this will be in his library of memories way into his adulthood.

6. Do some pre-trip learning

Read up, watch videos and talk about the place you will be going with your child. It helps create a sense of excitement and anticipation before the travel.

7. Take your time

Remember, it’s a holiday between you and your child. Give yourself enough buffer at the airport, getting around, having a meal or sightseeing. Young children love to explore and they don’t care about time. Older children perhaps like doing things that is not your usually fancy – but giving them time means and doing it together allows you to appreciate the world through their eyes. Terence was with E at a park and he thought a walk through was enough, but E decided to pick leaves, gawk at birds, pick up stones and wander around. Terence instinctively got the cue to slow down, enjoy nature and taught her about the tortoises and ducks in the pond and the different birds they saw. 

 

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30-Day New Zealand Roadtrip In A Spaceship

Compact, comfortable, cozy and convenient, that was our home on wheels for one month in New Zealand’s south island. To top it off, our ride had a pretty cool name…

Compact, comfortable, cozy and convenient, that was our home on wheels for one month in New Zealand’s south island. To top it off, our ride had a pretty cool name to go with it, “Stormtrooper” to be exact. This new concept of Spaceships on the road, essentially a modified MPV was totally foreign to us. We’ve heard of chunky caravans fully equipped with kitchenettes, a bed, sitting area and a roof tall enough for an adult to stand upright in the vehicle. Spaceships seemed a bit far fetch when it promised all the features of a caravan intelligently fitted into a drivable, easy to manuever, non-threatening, lady driver friendly MPV.

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We drove “Stormtrooper” for a whole month around the South Island, starting at Christchurch moving north to Kaikoura, Nelson, covering the west coast stretch stopping in Frank Josef, into busy Queenstown, all the way down south to Invercargill and Bluff, then back up to gorgeous Mount Cook before bidding farewell to our trusty ride back in Christchurch.

We travelled with our baby son, Seth throughout the trip and so when it came to choosing the ideal vehicle for sleep and travel, safety was of utmost importance. “Stormtrooper” came fitted with a baby seat, upon request and a small additional charge. It was snug, easy to clean and very secure. Additionally, the MPV had many compartments for diapers and other baby gear and curtains to block the sun out when Seth was having his morning and afternoon naps. The spacious luggage storage at the back of the vehicle was also big enough for us to put away a medium-size trolley bag, a 60-litre backpack and other baby paraphernalia, and still had extra space for at least one more bag.

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Cooking was a breeze. “Stormtrooper” came equipped with a full set of kitchen utensils including a pot, pan, chopping board, knives, cutlery, plates, bowls and detergent and sponge for washing. It also came with a portable stove and a gas canister but we barely used the stove since most campsites where we parked for the night also offered basic kitchen facilities minus the utensils. The Spaceship has a small fridge fitted in and we were able to store raw ingredients for cooking whenever, wherever. The kitchen gears are neatly packed into two box compartments under the bed and you won’t even guess it was there if you peered into the vehicle!

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Comfort was essential since we rented the vehicle for a month. Being Asian, we reckoned any queen-size bed would fit us, two adults and a baby, snugly. The bed in our Spaceship stretched out nicely and sleeping came with two options, indoors – inside the car or outdoors – with an extension of the bed stretching out of the booth with a cover over it. The outdoor option was perfect for warmer nights and the outdoor cover has two windows with a protective mesh to keep the insects at bay. Since it was summer, we could try both options, and both were equally comfortable. We never woke up with any cramps or backaches despite Seth sleeping between us.

Spaceships (1)Spaceship interior

The best and most sensible feature of the Spaceship was its cost effectiveness. Renting the MPV trimmed our budget significantly. It’s not a fuel guzzler and takes just about the same amount of fuel as a sedan. It gave us the option of cooking our meals and reduced our accommodation costs. We still had to pay camping fees, but it was a fraction compared to paying for a hotel room. Plus, all campsites in New Zealand are very well run and maintain with basic comforts such as hot showers, shared lounges, basic kitchen facilities and laundry rooms. Although we didn’t sleep in our “Stormtrooper” for the whole month, we spent 20 nights in the car and every few days we took a break, gave ourselves a treat and booked into a hotel or B&B.

Also since it was summer, hotel rooms were often fully booked and if it weren’t for our Spaceship, we would have to worry about securing a place to stay way ahead of time. We love the freedom that our ‘home on wheels’ gave us.

Spaceships was more than a cool modified MPV, it was a community. We had the thrill of waving at other Spaceships and receiving reciprocal waves back when driving on the road. The feeling was mutual, kind of like seeing another family member on the road. There wasn’t any need for formal introduction or awkward handshakes. We naturally made friends, swapped DVDs and exchanged stories of road tripping in beautiful New Zealand.

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Cover Story For Malaysia Airlines Inflight Magazine!

It’s such a privilege to share this exciting news with you. After returning from my month-long TransSiberian rail adventure in August, I find myself re-living the holiday through writing –…

Cover Story 1_GoingPlaces_Nov15It’s such a privilege to share this exciting news with you. After returning from my month-long TransSiberian rail adventure in August, I find myself re-living the holiday through writing – mostly on blog posts here and some contributions on other travel sites. And this November, my feature article was chosen as cover story for Malaysia Airlines (MAS), Going Places in-flight magazine.

I’ve been flying MAS since I was very young and in more recent years I’ve realised that in-flight magazines are what I look forward to when boarding flights. Going Places has been a signature for MAS and I’m stoked to have contributed to its pages.

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The TransSiberian rail journey in itself is a lifetime experience. It crosses three countries; China, Mongolia and Russia and passes through five different time zones. Culturally, it is a robust experience, awakening every facet of your physical senses; sight, sound, smell, taste and touch. The real game changer for a holiday like this, is the people you choose to go with. I went with my husband and two-year-old toddler and they were fantastic travel buddies. We learned so much more about each other and about the world – the small train cabin forces you to be within close proximity. So choose your travel buddies wisely! 🙂

If you’re looking for a rich experiential holiday, take a read and decide for yourself if you’re up for a rail adventure of a lifetime.

The online version: http://bit.ly/GPTransSiberian

The November issue here:  http://bit.ly/GPnov15

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Perfect(ing) Heston

What do you get when you mix science and food? A revolutionary dish that is bound to invigorate your senses. Heston Blumenthal is the creative genius and his playground is…

What do you get when you mix science and food? A revolutionary dish that is bound to invigorate your senses. Heston Blumenthal is the creative genius and his playground is his kitchen. I was privileged to meet this culinary genius and learned what it takes to be a Michelin Star chef. 

Heston Blumenthal_by deborah chan

Described as a culinary alchemist, food scientist and perfectionist, Heston Blumenthal has definitely piqued the interest of chefs, gourmets and home cooks all over. His award winning TV series “In Search of Perfection” is mind blowing yet simple, which makes for an interesting watch. He makes poaching eggs and roasting potatoes somewhat of an experiment with meticulous instructions that entail specific temperature and precise technique. All of which results in a perfect dish – tried, tested and approved by the perfectionist himself.

Ironically, he looks less of a geek than I thought. Clad in a casual dark blue tank top, jeans and his famous thick framed glasses, Blumenthal, 47, exudes a childlike enthusiasm and perpetual chattiness when it comes to conversations about food. His excitement is contagious and his inquisitiveness is infectious. When describing how to make spaghetti bolognese, he chimes, “Did you know that whenever you’re making a meat-sauce using onions, you should add a hint of star anise? It reacts with the sulphur compounds and increases the flavour of meatiness?”

One would think a guy like him would have aced science in school, but that was the contrary. “I’d been intrigued with food from a young age but had failed science at school, though I got an A in Art so there was some creativity there.”

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Heston Blumenthal is often referred to as a culinary alchemist, food scientist and perfectionist. Credits: www.telegraph.co.uk

This enthusiasm coupled with creative genius and lots of hard work is what propelled him to culinary stardom. Blumenthal made his name when he bought over a 450 year old dilapidated pub in the small unsuspecting town of Bray, Berkshire. He transformed this teeny weeny, one door kitchen pub into a restaurant initially serving French bistro type dishes into a three star Michelin restaurant in just five years. This award winning restaurant is known as The Fat Duck and takes reservations up to two months in advance with a string of eager foodies on the waiting list.
Blumenthal is arguably Britain’s most innovative chef of all time. “We eat with our eyes and our ears and our noses. Eating is the only thing you do that involves all senses.” He recalls some unusual foods he has eaten and cringed adding “reindeer kneecap in Siberia, leeches fed on goose blood sautéed with parsley and garlic and freshly milked camel milk where you have to pick the hairs out of my mouth” to the list of nastiest food experiences.

Convinced that dining is a multi-sensory experience, Blumenthal toiled with the idea of creating food that stick in your memory. “Diners listen to an iPod placed in a shell that plays the sound of the waves lapping up against the shore, along with the occasional call of gulls, while eating edible sand, foam, and various food from the sea.” That’s ‘Sound of the Sea’, a sought after experiential treat on the tasting menu at The Fat Duck.

sound sea

The very famous “Sound of the Sea” served at The Fat Duck. Credits: www.cnn.com

As news caught on, Blumenthal’s list of credentials grew and so did his cache of restaurants including Dinner, The Hinds Head and The Crown. He has a number of very successful TV series that has fascinated viewers all over and gain growing followers. He has written seven cookbooks to date and even had the honour of cooking for the Queen of England, not once but numerous times.

“Naivety is one of the best friends of creativity. The first time you see something you get incredibly excited. When I first opened the Duck, I had no idea how hard it was going to be. There was good and bad. The naivety meant that I could question everything. The downside was that my organizational knowledge was rubbish.” He now looks back at the years spent establishing The Fat Duck as foundational years of his success.

“I was working 120 hours a week probably for the first 8 years. You get to levels of delirium that you never thought possible.” His creative gastronomical innovations are not plucked from the sky or fished out of a magician’s hat. Blumenthal is firmly rooted in tradition.

Garden salad

Heston Blumenthal’s (soil) garden salad with sauce gribiche recipe. Credits: www.theguardian.com

“You’ve seen all the crazy stuff that I’ve done, it is really heavily bedded in a technical foundation which starts off with classical French cooking and then from there you need a very deep understanding of classical French cooking in order to question it. And when you start questioning, that forms the building block for something new.”

“I’m basically a big kid and I ask lots of questions. I’m not a scientist, but I am endlessly curious. The best advice I can give to anyone is question everything. You have to respect tradition but prepared to question everything,” that was his advice to young emerging chefs and enthusiastic home cooks. His tenacious probing for the next new thing has kept him going.

His success did not come without sacrifice. In 2011, Blumenthal went through a rough patch having separated from his wife of 20 years, with whom he has three grown up children. It was also around the same time that Blumenthal lost his father. Adding to the upheaval, he had to juggle the opening of Dinner, his newest restaurant at Mandarin Oriental Hyde Park in London.

“Things like that, you have to deal with deep. Really deep. It’s much easier now, but of course, anything like that is going to affect focus,” he said in an interview with Good Food. Blumenthal’s persistence ploughed through.

When he was awarded the ‘Chef of a Decade’ Observer Food Monthly 2013 Award by The Guardian UK, Blumenthal humbly reflected on the last 10 years of his career and said, “With all the knowledge I have now, I still feel I’m just scratching the surface.”

Oak moss

Visually intriguing “Oak Moss” served at The Fat Duck Credits: www.londonfoodfreak.com

When asked what’s next in his culinary journey, the sought after VIP guest at the recent Margaret River Gourmet Escape, a gastronomical extravaganza in Western Australia’s food mecca cordially replied, “I have no fixed plans but hopefully, the next restaurant I open outside of the UK will be in Australia.” To which he received thunderous applauses from his passionate fans. There is no stopping a perfectionist who is (still) in search of perfection.

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The Majestic Hotel, Kuala Lumpur: Old World Charm Marries Modern Luxury

Preserving the old while making way for the new, this tough and intricate balance is not an easy feat, especially when it comes to refurbishing timeworn hotels. Sustainability stands the…

Preserving the old while making way for the new, this tough and intricate balance is not an easy feat, especially when it comes to refurbishing timeworn hotels. Sustainability stands the test of time, it must outlive one generation and the successful passing down to the next generation is a testament to a hotel’s respect for its heritage, tradition and culture.

Opened in August 1932, The Majestic Hotel is a national treasure and an icon to Kuala Lumpur’s city scape and social tapestry. My parents have fond memories lunching at the hotel and the food was highly regarded as one of the best. Hainanese chefs dominated the kitchen churning out favourites like chicken chop, steak, hailam mee and sweet fluffy kaya Swiss rolls.

For more than 50 years, the hotel thrived as one of the leading hotels in Kuala Lumpur, a prime social venue for the country’s elites, highflying international travellers and government officials. The well-worn building collected many memories and if the walls could speak, they would tell of fancy dance parties and banquets, important political and business meetings and grand weddings.

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As with all good things, the old Majestic Hotel had to close its doors in December 1983 to give way to other newer hotels that sprung up in the city. Somehow, in the pages of the hotel’s history, a complete shutdown was never in mind. YTL Hotels took up the challenge to rebuild, restore and refurbish this heritage building that was and still is a much loved venue for those that have experienced its former glory.

“The restoration of The Majestic Hotel Kuala Lumpur is a project that is close to our hearts. It was a venue that was tremendously popular back in the days. YTL Hotels aims to bring this hotel back to its former glory; to share the heritage, popularity and success of its predecessor,” Dato Mark Yeoh

Colonial Cafe 1

Designed by Dutch Architect Van Leangeanderg, the original hotel accentuated a mix of neo-Renaissance and Art Deco design, where simple lines are married with Roman columns and intricate cornices. The façade is simple, yet classy. The refurbishment of the Majestic Hotel included a new adjoining building, the Tower Wing to accommodate larger capacity without compromising or taking away from the original main building, now called the Majestic Wing.

”There were many challenges in designing the hotel, mainly with regard to the Majestic Wing, which falls under the Antiquities Act 1976. We had to be very sensitive to its original design architecturally and structurally, and could only do minimal changes to the interior space and ensure we maintained the architectural elevation of the original design” said Zaidan Tahir, distinguished architect who has taken on projects of similar nature such as the refurbishment of Cameron Highlands Resort in Pahang and The Majestic Malacca.

Entering the lobby of the Majestic Wing, a doorman dressed in white safari-style jacket, khaki Bermuda shorts, pith helmets and boots greet me with a warm hello. The atmosphere transforms quickly whisking me back into the golden era of colonial days. Rich wooden furniture lined with rich leather coverings, timber floorings and thick tufted carpets tastefully make up the lobby. I was told that guests staying in the Majestic Wing suites have their check-in procedures done in the comforts of their suite.

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The Majestic Wing has three different suites to choose from and each delicately designed to the tee to resemble the glamorous days of old. No rooms were added to this building and the configurations were not altered, hence some of the suites are not massive, but still spacious. However, despite the given space, furniture has been chosen to maximize the space, for example long lounge chairs perfect for an afternoon read while looking out KL’s city scape.

Majestic SuiteKuala Lumpur City Scape

The bathrooms are a stunning recluse, with luxurious clawfoot bathtubs, separate rain shower and toilets and glossy black and white checkerboard tiled floors. The suites are lavishly styled with timber floorings, chandeliers, day beds, plush lounge chairs and embroidered pillows. The suites in this wing also come with personalised service such as a personal butler and car enhancing the experience of a luxury holiday. Even if you do not sleep in this wing, do venture into the lures of the charming and old-fashioned heart of the hotel.

Majestic Suite

The hotel brims with flourishing extras that keep its history alive such as the Orchid Conservatory, a glass atrium lined with hundreds of colourful orchids creating a captivating venue for special events, photo shoots and intimate afternoon tea sessions.

Orchid Conservatory

The hotel’s Colonial Café is the heart of the old building where delectable afternoon tea is served daily from 3pm – 6pm. The grand golden dome ceiling is the centrepiece of the café where magical tunes fill the air upon nightfall as the Soliano family, the only family whose musical tradition dates back into the nation’s history, entertain with classic renditions. The café offers a delightful menu marrying Hainanese favourites and western flavours. The Hainanese have always been known for their delicious meals and were very skilful in the kitchen delivering well-loved favourites like chicken chop, Hailam Mee, steaks and Swiss rolls. Back in the day, Bristish expats would gladly welcome Hainanese cooks into their kitchens and trusted them with their meals.

Colonial Cafe_Solianos

I stayed in the Tower Wing, the new adjoining building where modern meets old. My Junior Suite was extremely spacious with a separate living room and lounge. The Art Deco design followed through from the old building with a modern touch of luxury and simplicity. The suite had many mirrors, polished chrome, stainless steel and dark ebony veneer and its furnishings minimalistic in design. The bathroom was a sanctuary and a getaway on its own, with glass doors separating it from the bedroom and a sexy bathtub its centrepiece with separate basin and toilet and rain shower. The hotel’s line of toiletries is a rich selection of Malaysian fruit scents like the mangosteen, watermelon and pomelo.

Majestic hotel klMajestic Hotel

Staying at the Majestic definitely heightened my appreciation for Malaysia’s rich history. The hotel’s nostalgic ambiance and sense of history denotes a great sense of respect for bygone years. A building so magnificently lined with history has once again been restored and the pages in its book continue to churn many memories for travelers and generations to come.

* Fancy some afternoon tea and blissful pampering in Kuala Lumpur? Got the perfect place
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QT Sydney: The Designer Statement Hotel

Very designer, definitely avant-garde, somewhat sexy and absolutely unforgettable. I stayed at QT Sydney, the talked about CBD hotel located in the historic Gowings department store and heritage-listed State Theatre…

Very designer, definitely avant-garde, somewhat sexy and absolutely unforgettable. I stayed at QT Sydney, the talked about CBD hotel located in the historic Gowings department store and heritage-listed State Theatre on the corner of Market and George streets. Location wise, QT Sydney nailed it, positioned central to the popular shopping strip and a nice stroll away from Sydney’s waterfront, the Harbour.

The restoration of both buildings and the curation of a new, bold and eclectic five-star hotel was no easy feat. The State Theatre is one of only two surviving theatres in Sydney and its interior mixes eclectic elements of Gothic, Italian and dramatic art décor while the Gowings department store is more plain in nature, with open and expansive space, big windows, high ceilings, open corridors and sandstone walls.

Photo courtesy of QT Sydney

Photo courtesy of QT Sydney

The acclaimed design team, Nic Graham & Associates was responsible for the curation of public areas and Indyk Architects designed the rooms. They spent months gathering art pieces from auctions, eBay, yard sales and op shops in order to achieve the classy vintage and quirky designer look. The aim was to marry heritage elements, such as the beautiful timber flooring, elaborate golden columns and ornate shop display cabinets with contemporary luxuries such as oversized bathtubs, designer bespoke furniture and cutting edge installations.

With 200 guest rooms and 12 unique designs, one will never be bored. I stayed in a room above the State Theatre building. The dimly lit hallway with glowing numbers above each room is a gentle theatrical prelude to the room itself. The room was spacious, with a short hallway leading up to a sprawling bathroom seamlessly overlooking a small study and an island bed facing a tall window. The lighting was different, somewhat dramatic casting shadows on art pieces and designer objects and playful bowler hat lamps hung from the ceiling – all as a reminder of the State Theatre’s former glory.

QT Sydney_RoomQT Sydney Room

The deep red and burgundy bold tones subtly dominate the room, as seen in the plush pillows, rug, hexagonal carpet and curtains. Every element in the room is intentional and specifically designed for the space – from the minimalist wall installation, to the old-style minibar, to the slick wardrobe and the red and orange-stained glass cabinets. Almost all the furniture is bespoke, the QT Collection as it’s called. I especially loved the cool wooden pill-shaped cot complete with bespoke bed lining, duvet and tiny pillows. While the room shouts contemporary, the original timber flooring gently subdues it and gives it a habitable feel.

QT Sydney RoomQT Sydney Room

The expansive bathroom is accentuated by an oversized, perfectly round bath tub and separate shower and toilet. The bathrobes are black instead of the usual white and the spotlights in the dark stone bathroom add to the suave mood. Standing at the sink, I noticed a quirky object, a black hand holding a small magnified-mirror – very avant-garde indeed. These display objects are spotted throughout the hotel such as mannequins decked in 1920’s styled dresses and miniature animal coat hooks – a fitting reminder of the old-school world of glamour.

QT Sydney BathroomQT Sydney BathroomQT Sydney Coffee Place

Outwardly the two buildings remain distinct and as is. QT’s lobby is understated and can be easily overlooked. Perhaps that is why the hotel has taken to a “look at me” approach when it comes to choosing front-line staff. Amidst the hustle and bustle of Market Street, you will not miss pretty girls dressed in presentable dark sexy outfits complete with the bold redhead look. They are given the title ‘Director of Chaos’, these pretty girls audition for the role and are accepted as ‘casts’. Not just your regular hospitality crew, the staff at QT is dramatic, over the top but every bit professional. They leave you with a lingering sense that you’ve just stepped into a show and about to live in a set.

Photo courtesy of QT Sydney

Photo courtesy of QT Sydney

The ‘drama’ continues, in the lift – intelligently fitted with a sensor to detect the number of people in the lift, the music in the lift changes according to the crowd. If you go solo, lonesome tunes like ‘All By Myself’ and ‘Are you Lonesome Tonight’ come on. Duos in the lift get more romantic and happy tunes such as ‘Just the Two of Us’ and ‘You’ve Got a Friend’. In the presence of three or more, groovy and upbeat tunes take over.

On entering the reception, the hall opens up to an array of beautifully handpicked and curated furniture. There is so much attention to detail from the unconventional yellow, magenta, blue colour palette chosen for the furniture to the circular coffee tables in different sizes to the featured wall of vintage luggage pieces.

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QT Sydney is a celebration of old and new. It has definitely succeeded in its attempt to stand out. The designers have not only done an immaculate job at transforming the space into a luxurious abode, it has created quite a ripple effect when it comes to story-telling. QT Sydney is one of those hotels that is talked about, years, and even decades to come.

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Wanderlust Hotel, Singapore: Daring Stay For Design Lovers

Everything shouts deviant from the moment you enter the sliding glass doors of Wanderlust Hotel. Every form, shape and function that you would expect to see in a hotel lobby…

Everything shouts deviant from the moment you enter the sliding glass doors of Wanderlust Hotel. Every form, shape and function that you would expect to see in a hotel lobby takes on a whole new character. Old leather-bound barber chairs, a foosball table, old fashioned strobe lights and a suitcase over flowing with coiled pipes and two eyes made out of bowls staring at you, is not the kind of welcome you would expect.

This sense of peculiarity soon turns into curiosity and wonder. It was my first visit to a member of the Design Hotels Collection. I was eager to uncover the story of Wanderlust from the time I heard about it – the name itself perked my interest. I could barely stop myself from being distracted by the copious funky furniture as the front desk staff went through the regularities of checking me in. The story of Wanderlust is a whirlwind, so continue if you’re up for a thrilling read.

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Wanderlust is the brainchild of Loh Lik Peng, a self-made hotelier and restaurateur, ‘Peng’ as he would prefer to be called is a dare devil in the tourism scene. It all started in 2003 when Peng bought over a former brothel in the red-light district of Singapore’s Chinatown and transformed it into what was then known as the first boutique hotel in Singapore – Hotel 1929. Boutique or designer hotels were unheard of at that time and Singapore’s tourism scene was just booming. 1929 took off on a great start and three years later, the New Majestic joined the hotel series. The latter is an up-market boutique hotel with 30 individually designed rooms enough to keep guests returning for another inquisitive stay.

Once Hotel Majestic was up on its feet, it was time for another hotel project. By this time, Peng was already known to push boundaries of conventional middling hotels. The question was, “Which building and what concept was Peng going to take with this new project?” When the call was made to design Wanderlust, Peng basically said, “Go crazy!” The hotel was conceptualized by teams of creative designers who had no prior experience in interior designing. It was a designer’s dream come true – with a blank canvas and the opportunity to work across industries.

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Wanderlust embodies a fun, creative and deviant living space. It’s a holiday escape that will entertain your wildest imagination. Occupying a row of four storey shop lots, the hotel is a re-furbished old school originally built in the 1920s. The outer façade holds an accented whimsical look while retaining the historical architecture with stained glass peep-through windows and ceramic tiles. Despite its eccentric interior, the hotel fits nicely into Little India’s bustling scene.

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The Unfolding of Each Floor: Loud, Provocative and Eccentric

No two rooms are identical. Each features the innovative and creative freedom achieved by the designers. The lift opened to a bright orange wall with colourful cubed words – “Eccentricity – Phunk Studio” on the 2nd floor. Every door is painted a different solid colour and the same colour follows through into the interiors of the room. With a fairly small space to manoeuvre, the capsule-like rooms on the 2nd floor demonstrates smart use of space with hidden storage spaces and clever configurations. A mood affecter, this floor definitely dabbles with your disposition depending on the colour of your room.

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The 3rd floor takes on a different appeal with black washed walls and a prodding question staring right at you, “Is it just black and white?” by DP Aarchitects. Imagine peeling walls resembling origami paper and larger than life pop-art with glowing neon lights in your room. Predominantly in a white theme, the Origami rooms come to life with special lighting glowing from behind paper-like folds on the wall and the Pop-Art rooms are animated with stylish cartoon pop-arts.

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Finally, if you hit the 4th floor of Wanderlust, it is quite certain that your stay will be the most, if not one of the most bizarre hotel stays – ever. A glamourous hallway with grand steel lamps hanging overhead and in cursive words, “Creature Comforts – fFurious” greets you. This floor features loft rooms in five varying themes and the idea of having a friendly ‘monster’ accompanying you on holiday. These ‘monsters’ are in the form of a spaceship, a whimsical tree, a gigantic typewriter or a massive wall giant. The massive king-size bed on the split level is perhaps the only ordinary furniture in these rooms. Everything is styled to fit the theme from tiled pictured flooring of the tree roots to the scattered stars comprising of mini LED lights on the black washed wall in the spaceship themed room. This floor truly is a wanderers dream comes true.

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Wonders of Wanderlust

Despite its unconventional hotel look, the hotel doesn’t skim on comfort for guests. Each room comes with extremely soft and plush beds, huggable cotton robes, an ipod dock, designer amenities, free minibar, fine teas and your very own Nespresso machine to make a good cup of gourmet coffee.

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You are encouraged to venture out of your hotel room. Guests are given a handy passport-like book upon check-in. This cool momento gives useful information about the hotel and serves as a helpful city guide with MRT routes and a map of Little India. It also has recommendations for best places to eat, drink and shop. Best part is that the book contains several empty pages for travel scribbles!

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On a hot afternoon, lounge on the open deck on 2nd floor in the rainbow tiled Jacuzzi. The bright rainbow tiles and playful furniture is ideal for anyone who’s up for some serious sun soaking. Or dive into a hearty lunch plate at Cocotte, the hotel’s very own cozy café. Cocotte is an affirmation of the hotel’s adage – an unlikely restaurant in the most improbable place; a French restaurant in the heart of heritage Little India, where curries, tandoori and briyani overflow. How deviant is that?!

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Boutique hotels are not just about design, but service. Find out what makes the Unlisted Collection hotels stand out. Let’s go!

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