Discovering the world with relentless curiosity

Majestic Malacca: A Glimpse Of Old Opulence

Every building has a story, particularly heritage buildings that have weathered the storms and survived to bear the footprints of this generation. I entered the modest lobby of the Majestic…

Every building has a story, particularly heritage buildings that have weathered the storms and survived to bear the footprints of this generation. I entered the modest lobby of the Majestic Malacca and felt perfectly at home. The warm lighting from the porcelain umbrella lamps and the old-fashioned chandelier set the place aglow. Large leather-bound armchairs and wicker furniture beckoned me for a rest.

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As I looked around, I found a few glass containers filled with familiar childhood goodies – preserved sweet plums, peanut biscuits, tou chee phaeng – tiny plain biscuits topped with a swirl of colourful harden icing sugar (in English, it’s translated as belly button biscuits), green peas, salted peanuts and coconut candy. These munchies brought back many memories and are reminiscent of Malacca’s rich culinary heritage – especially the coconut candy that taste almost like Gula Melaka.

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The beautiful Spanish tiles and solid timber staircase, reception and bar counter evoke an air of opulence in the days of past. I learned that this building was once a mansion belonging to a wealthy rubber tycoon who had four wives and he lavishly designed his home with the best fittings and furnishings. The decadence continued even after he passed on when a hotelier bought over the mansion and transformed it into a hotel bearing the same name “Majestic”.

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The reception and bar counters have been kept intact since the 1920s. The Majestic played host to traveling merchants and British planters. It was then lauded for its grandiosity where big banquets and important meetings were held within its walls. But its glory soon faded and was converted into a simple guesthouse and soon after abandoned.

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Walking into the Library, a lounge and lunch area with a floor to ceiling bookshelf filled with historical reads, I get a sense that the mansion was painstakingly and delicately restored to keep its charm and history unflawed. The cosy Library with its large wooden shuttered windows with warm natural light streaming in and soft arm chairs makes for a cozy curl up and read. This space was formerly a bedroom space which now has been aptly converted into a relaxing lounge where lunch and tea is served.

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I spent an afternoon sipping on green tea and nibbling on fine local and European tea snacks served on a three-tier platter – scones with clotted cream and jam, creme brulee, cheese tarts, macarons, finger sandwiches, kuih lapis, blue glutinous rice cakes, ondeh-ondeh, spring rolls and samosas. Full and satisfied after tea, I settled in and buried my face into a book trying not to feel guilty for the calories I’ve piled on. But my conscience did not waver, so I visited the hotel’s gym and spent an hour sweating it out. The fully equipped gym is small, but has all the essential equipment for a good workout.

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Overlooking the gym is a lap pool and it connects to a tall building where all 54 guest rooms are housed. My room was just as homely as the lobby, elegantly designed in neo Asian-colonial style with timber floorings, a teakwood four-poster bed and a sprawling daybed overlooking the Malacca River. The open bathroom with wooden sliding doors offer a chic accent with black and white marble floor and a large clawfoot bathtub.

Bedroom4Bedroom3Yet, even with the most luxuriate furnishings, what stood out was the warm, friendly hospitality of the people who work behind the scenes. Upon check-in, a wicker basket with porcelain teacups and a teapot filled with soothing warm Chinese tea was served to me in my room. I later requested for some nibbles to munch on and it promptly delivered to my room without fuss.

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Dining at The Mansion just above the lobby area was pure delight. Tunes from the grand piano piped through the entire building filling it with a sense of nostalgia. The spacious windows draped with elegant curtains boast views of the glistening Malacca River and Kampung Morten with dancing night lights as the city comes to life in the evening. The menu is simple and uncomplicated, it celebrates the best of Malacca cuisine; the perfect blend of Portuguese, Dutch, English and Baba-Nyonya cultures.

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From the food, to the service, to the hotel’s fine furnishings – the Majestic Malacca triumphantly captured the opulence of its heyday. Not many hotels are successful in telling their story so well, still not many are able to preserve a history that spanned almost a century old and to this day dwell in its confines. A visit to Malacca would be shortchanged if you did not stop by the Majestic for a stay or even stop over for a cup of Chinese tea.

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Preserving Fading Cultures & Trades

If you’re exploring Peninsular Malaysia and nearby stopovers destinations while transiting in the capital Kuala Lumpur, then put Malacca (Melaka) on the list. It’s only a two-hour drive from Kuala…

If you’re exploring Peninsular Malaysia and nearby stopovers destinations while transiting in the capital Kuala Lumpur, then put Malacca (Melaka) on the list. It’s only a two-hour drive from Kuala Lumpur and is brimming with culture, rich heritage and an abundance of good food. Since young, Malacca has been one of the places I frequented for short family getaways, aside from the equally charming state of Penang and nature-rich Pahang.

Malacca’s history holds great intrigue, a city once ruled by Portuguese, Dutch and British leaders. The Straits of Malacca was a strategic waterway and as a result, the city played host to Chinese, Indian and European merchants who brought with them spices, silks, ornamental carvings, porcelains – and of course, cultural influences to the local people. The traces of Malacca’s rich history can today be seen in the design of the shophouses, its cuisine, existing (but slowly fading) businesses and religious centres.

z2The best way to explore the city is by foot – so I joined the free walk tour hosted by the Majestic Malacca for her guests. We meandered through tiny lanes exploring small shophouses, some dating back 100 years and lasting through four generations. We watched tinsmiths, prints-men, barbers, goldsmith, Chinese tea sellers and tailors busy at work, unperturbed at the speed of the day, but drumming to their own carefree rhythm.

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We stopped at a century-old bar where the owner is thought to have extraordinary knowledge in concocting healing medicine laced with alcohol. We stopped by a wood carvers workstation, thought to be the only wood carver in Malacca that made Chinese signboards by hand. I revelled in the skill and patience of the carver – attentively chiselling away from the wooden plank.

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Then we stopped at a shophouse where skilful shoemakers with perfect vision sat attentively stitching small micro-beads to make beautiful beaded shoes for ladies. It takes up to a month to complete a pair of shoes and they retail for a few hundred ringgits, but every cent spent on a masterpiece like this is worth it, because these skills are slowly fading, one generation at a time.

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The gruesome foot binding practice which originated in China was also introduced to Malacca during the fusion merchants boom. Apparently, there were several shoe makers who specialised in foot binding, but only one remains today in Malacca. The practice, however, has been put to a stop due to the inhuman implications on young ladies who failed to walk or even perform day-to-day activities without falling over or aided with a walking stick. I held a shoe in my palm and was baffled at a how a foot can fit in – it was smaller than the pair of shoes my almost three-year-old wore. The shop still makes these minute shoes for keepsakes.

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Beelining past busy Jonker Street where activity is abuzz, we stepped into Masjid Kampung Kling. The mosque, built in 1872 resembles a Chinese temple at first glance, with the minaret resembling a pagoda instead of a dome. The interiors of the temple are decked with wooden wall carvings and hanging chandeliers, with its structure held up by Roman pillars.

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When the mosque was restored in 2013, craftsmen replaced old and missing tiles by replicating the design of old tiles. Our guide told us to look closely at the tiles to spot the difference. The new tiles were stamped with the year ‘2013’ while the old tiles remained as is. This interesting observation applies for many other restored shophouses and buildings within Malacca.

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The refurbishment of these old buildings, shophouses and religious centres have much to be celebrated. I returned from my three-hour walk tour and stood in awe of Majestic Malacca, once an old mansion owned by a wealthy businessman with four wives who tragically died from tuberculosis and whose sons squandered his fortune leaving the beautiful structure to waste. Many years on, the mansion was bought over by a hotelier who found the house too big for his family and so he converted the first floor to a simple hotel with single bedrooms and shared toilets. On the ground floor, his family lived in four spacious rooms and he built bar and reception which still remains today in the modern-heritage Majestic Malacca.

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The hotel survived 20 dark years of abandonment after it failed to fly with the rise of larger hotel chains. It also faced the threat of being torn down – but hope arose when YTL Hotels bought it over and delicately restored it to its former beauty. Today, the unsuspecting mansion still stands, sandwiched between a towering hospital and some shophouses while overlooking the glistening Malacca River.

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Seven Terraces, Penang: The Best Of Peranakan Living

Penang has fast gained popular attention. Since its inscription in 2008 as one of five Unesco World Heritage Sites in Malaysia, local and foreign entrepreneurs have rushed in to painstakingly…

Penang has fast gained popular attention. Since its inscription in 2008 as one of five Unesco World Heritage Sites in Malaysia, local and foreign entrepreneurs have rushed in to painstakingly restore and preserve the untouched inner city bringing back a vibrant heartbeat to George Town, a once-almost-forgotten heart of Penang.

I’ve featured a number of hotels in Penang with the same vision of preservation but my recent stay at the Seven Terraces topped it all. Located on Stewart Lane adjacent to the Goddess of Mercy Temple, this hidden jewel is a celebration of the Peranakan culture, a mix of Chinese and Malay heritage, one that is unique to island city.

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Backstory of Seven Terraces

A row of seven shophouses built by wealthy Chinese immigrants in the early 1900s was once a business hub for traders and merchants. Unfortunately calamity struck and a raging fire engulfed the structure leaving it in shambles. The building was forgotten and forsaken as nature took over allowing creepers and tree roots to hold anchor. A glimmer of hope struck in 2009 when award-winning conservators and designers, Karl Steinberg and Penang-born Christopher Ong took on the mammoth task of restoring and re-building the dilapidated shophouses.

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During the reconstruction period, the original features of the building have been retained where possible and salvaged timber have been used to reduce the footprint and antique granite blocks from China were used for the central courtyard.

A celebration of the finest Peranakan living

Seven Terraces sets itself apart from other heritage boutique hotels in Penang because of its exclusivity and authenticity. The floor-to-ceiling gilded doors at its entrance opens up to the hotel’s lobby, an airy space with three mother-of-pearl Chinese opium beds, ornate antiques and blackwood furniture.

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The lobby is the only public space before guests step into the private open courtyard with the highly acclaimed Kebaya restaurant and Baba Bar running the length of the shophouse on one side and a lap pool, lounge and library on the other side of the ground floor. Walking along the open courtyard, I begin to take in the grandeur and wealth of the rich Peranakan culture. Gilded doors, intricate wooden carvings, elaborate furnishings and polished reflected the wealth of that era. I climb up the wooden spiral staircase at the end of the courtyard into the sunlit verandahs leading to the hotel suites.

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Arriving at Argus 5, the doors to my terraced duplex suite swung open as I entered into a tastefully curated contemporary-heritage suite with a homely living space on the ground floor and the bedroom on the mezzanine floor. The living space featured two plush arm chairs, a blackwood bench, rustic gilded cupboards, delicate antiques and framed embroidered costumes.

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At the end of the living room, a floor-to-ceiling wooden partition folds back to reveal the large bathroom and toilet with chic black-and-white mosaic tiles, a seamless rain shower lodged in the ceiling, marble basin and wooden shuttered windows opening to the street below.

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Above the living space is an intimate bedroom with a king-size four poster bed decked with fluffy feather pillows and a set of framed baba nyonya embroidered costumes as wall decor. Beyond the bed, a couple of wooden shuttered doors open to a small toilet for convenience and a private balcony that overlooks St. George’s church.

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The suite lacked nothing in terms of modern amenities, with a flat screen tv, powerful air-conditioning for the entire suite, dainty teapot and cups set on colourful tiled trays for coffee and tea and free internet access.

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At every turn of the hotel, a piece of antique beckons, from jade vases to wooden carvings, from blackwood furniture to memorable collectibles. The hotel’s Antiques shop, conveniently tucked at the corner of the ground floor is the perfect place to pick up a souvenir item or piece of furniture on the way out. The shop also features some of Ong’s personal collection that are now up for sale.

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Still, a trip to Penang is incomplete without a rave on the city’s food. Lauded as food haven by local Malaysians, Penang is bursting from it seams with an endless array of country’s tastiest dishes. The hotel’s award-winning Kebaya restaurant offers a delectable menu of traditional Peranakan flavours using modern and French dining techniques. If you choose to explore some of the favourite local joints on foot, grab a copy of Christopher Ong’s personal food guide from the reception, with a list of recommended coffee shops and cafes.

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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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Radisson Sonya, St. Petersburg: A Literary Boutique Hotel

Step into Radisson Sonya in the heart of St. Petersburg to uncover the pages of one of Russia’s most celebrated literary novels – Crime and Punishment by Fyodor Dostoyevsky. If…

Step into Radisson Sonya in the heart of St. Petersburg to uncover the pages of one of Russia’s most celebrated literary novels – Crime and Punishment by Fyodor Dostoyevsky. If you’re like me, I knew nothing much about this novel but found a deep compelling sense to find out more after my stay at the Radisson Sonya.

The story starts in the lobby, a re-creation of the author, Dostoyevsky’s studio where he begin penning the novel. A large bookshelf filled with 100 or more copies of the novel in various languages and editions jumbled with some manuscripts and photos of Raskolnikov and Sophia, the two main characters of the novel.

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The novel is a tale of a gruesome murder committed by Rodion Raskolnikov, an impoverished student as a result of an ideological poisoning. Raskolnikov conceived himself as being an extraordinary person and believed that if he murdered a despicable pawnbroker, he can use the money to make the world a better place. After the murder, Raskolnikov went into a mental spiral, overthinking his crime and was literally eaten away by his thoughts.

The light of redemption illuminated when he met Sophia “Sonya” Semenova Marmeladova, a sweet middle-class girl forced into prostitution to save her family from bankruptcy. He confessed the murder to her and she talked him into turning himself in. He was sentenced to prison in Siberia and begun his transformative redemption.

The hotel echoes chapters of the novel through interpretive decor starting at the lobby with a large sofa taking the form of a Russian lacquer box beautifully painted with scenes from the novel and a dark-glass coffee table etched with a 19th century map of St. Petersburg where Raskolnikov, in the novel, spent many gruelling hours walking and contemplating the murder he committed.

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The hallway leading to the my suite is shadowy, accentuated by the dark printed carpets and pictures of old St. Petersburg in black and white, depicting the long wandering walks that Raskolnikov took around the city as his mind raced in delirium after the crime. Each room number is accompanied by quotes from the novel.

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Entering the Business Room, I initially thought there was a mismatch in its decor. It is not the run-of-the-mill business room with white-washed walls and minimalistic decor. Instead, the wall featured a painting of a woman’s arm, whom I later found out was that of the Sistine Madonna, a character mentioned in the novel. The room featured a lounge area, an extended sitting area in the small oval overlooking the busy street, a working desk and a modern dark-tiled bathroom.

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The combination of furniture, colours, patterns, art and objects have been carefully selected to enhance the Russian atmosphere and to make it creative and a little eccentric. After all, the novel is a whirlwind of frantic thoughts and events. There are only two suites at the Radisson Sonya and it features a grand photo of Napoleon, the very character that gave Raskolnikov the inspiration to murder the pawnbroker.

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Meandering through the hallways of Radisson Sonya and uncovering the little details that bear reference to the novel is an adventure on its own. Unlike any other boutique hotel, a literary boutique hotel is both a work of art on the part of the designer and the author.

Radisson Sonya is located along Liteyny Avenue and is a great starting point for exploring St. Petersburg. It is within walking distance to Nevsky’s Prospect and the Summer Gardens and a few subway stops to the famous Hermitage Museum.

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Baltschug Kempinski, Moscow: A Taste Of Luxury

Every city has a tourism heritage distinct to her own history, culture, tradition and socio-economy status. Very few ‘first’ hotels are still standing, much less in operation or thriving. It…

Every city has a tourism heritage distinct to her own history, culture, tradition and socio-economy status. Very few ‘first’ hotels are still standing, much less in operation or thriving. It was a great honour to visit one of the first 5-star hotels established in 1898 in Moscow, the Baltschug Kempinski. This luxury heritage hotel can’t be in a better location, overlooking the Moscow River and a panoramic view of the Red Square, the Kremlin and the unmistakable St. Basil’s Cathedral, Russia’s architectural icon.

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Built by the well-known Moscow architect Alexander Ivanov, the stunning facade embellished with decorative figures is the only remnants of the original building dating back to the reign of Tsar Nicholas II. By nightfall, the building illuminates and its reflection shimmers on the Moscow River, a great reminder of this hotel’s grand history.

The hotel is not short of VIP guests from international dignitaries to celebrities like Tina Turner and Sting. It’s hard to resist a charming hotel that’s a stone’s throw away from the Red Square with unobstructed views of St. Basil’s Cathedral. We were ushered into our Kremlin Suite, a beautiful and spacious suite tastefully decorated with luxurious European-styled furniture in shades of royal blue, dark grey, and creme.

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The suite has a large lounge area, a powder room, a small study desk and in a separate room with curved walls and windows looking overlooking the river and the Red Square is the master bedroom, the hallmark of the Kremlin Suite. The bedroom connects to a walk-in-wardrobe leading to a sensational bathroom featuring a standalone claw-footed bathtub on marble flooring, rainwater shower and a double dark-marble sink. I have been told that some suites have been designed by minor members of the British royal family.

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After catching a glimpse of the suite and its decadent decor, I was ready to taste the fine offerings of the Baltschug Grill. Chef Louis Badenhorst introduced himself and recommended some signature dishes – yellow fin tuna tatar and gazpacho for starters and for mains, prime steak cooked to perfection, paired with a red wine & thyme sauce and a green-pepper sauce and a grilled seabass on a bed of fresh greens and consomme. The table was beautifully filled with delightful side dishes like pommes allumettes (finely cut french fries), mashed potatoes, juicy asparagus shoots and a platter of cheese and crisps. Seth, our little toddler had his own serving of handmade freshly made pasta which he gobbled without much effort. Our amazing lunch ended on a perfect sweet note with a surprise from Chef Louis, a special that’s not on the menu – salted caramel ice cream macarons.

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The following day, we enjoyed another decadent breakfast at the Baltschug Grill. The open grill was whirling with activity and the restaurant offered a luxurious buffet spread of Russian favourites like blini and caviar, a salad bar, cheese bar, cold meats counter, overflowing sweet pastries, fresh fruits and other continental favourites like sausages, baked potatoes and eggs cooked in any way you desire. We sipped on beautiful rooibos tea and tucked into a hearty breakfast while enjoying the buzz around us.

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With professional and top class standards of service that befit the Kempinski Hotel group and as member of “Leading Hotels of the World”, the Baltschug Kempinski is a luxurious haven of peace and comfort away from the large crowds in Moscow city center, yet close enough to not miss out on the city’s happenings. I climb into my deep bathroom tub for one last soak, taking in all the grandeur this city has to offer – it truly is the glimpse of the glitz and glamour of the rich.

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Saying Hello At The Asian Women Empowerment (AWE) Conference

There are conferences all around the world that collectively bring people of like mind together – TED Talks for those who seek ideas, inspiration and new genius, Awesomeness Fest for…

There are conferences all around the world that collectively bring people of like mind together – TED Talks for those who seek ideas, inspiration and new genius, Awesomeness Fest for world changers and innovators, TBC Asia for passionate travel bloggers in Asia and TBEX for savvy social media travel professionals – the list goes on, and on. When I heard of the Asian Women Empowerment (AWE) conference in 2013, I was a little skeptical at first. Not another one off pump-it-up, you-can-do-it, feel good conference, I thought. But since it was in Kuala Lumpur and I had no plans for that weekend, I decided to pop in and registered for the conference. I wanted to drown the skeptic in me and truth to be told, I wanted some me time as I had just become a mom six months prior – so a breather at a women’s event sounded like fun!

Since the first AWE in 2013, in Kuala Lumpur, I’ve been hooked and I found myself registering for the second conference in Kota Kinabalu last year. 2015 would make it the third year running and network of people have grown stronger, AWE Alumni’s are now friends instead of acquaintances and most significant of all, AWE has not lost its special authentic touch to connect and empower. More of what makes AWE so special?

  1. It’s a small conference born out of a vision to empower women the same way Juno Kim of Runaway Juno was empowered to take a daring step out of the career world into the world of travel. You can feel the heart and soul of Juno throughout the conference – it’s nothing like another event based, sponsor-centric, soulless mega-conference.
  2. The people! I made friends there that I continue to keep to this day thanks to Facebook and Twitter. I reckon because the event is so intimate, we end up befriending almost everyone and some special ones stay on as friends event after.
  3. The conference is down-to-earth and relatable – while it is fantastic and valuable listening to high-flying CEOs and professors speak, there is a connection that can only be made with peer exchange and shared experiences. At AWE, successful entrepreneurs, budding writers, and promising trendsetters share their success stories, but they also share the struggles involved in the journey. I have been incredibly inspired by people like Lois Yasay of We Are Sole Sisters,  Nila Tanzil of Taman Bacaan Pelangi, Caroline Nguyen Ticarro-Parker of Catalyst Foundation, Jeannie Mark of Nomadic Chick, Amalla Vesta Widaranti of Swanky Traveler and of course, Juno!

Sadly, I won’t be attending this year’s AWE as my schedule is packed. A couple of months back, Juno asked if I would like to shoot a short video to say hello to the participants. I was delighted and thought hard and long about what I wanted to say in a few short minutes. The past year and half have been a steep learning curve for me with many exciting life changes and daring leap. I’ve gleaned so much in this short time and sometimes I wonder if I’ve gained a few extra strands of grey hair as signs of added wisdom! 🙂

P/s: There is a short appearance of a very special little boy named Seth in the video. Enjoy!

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