Monday, March 23, 2015

Symphony in the Streets

Some of the best advice that I read in the Lonely Planet was about crossing the chaotic streets of Siem Reap.  The book advised the you don't rush across the street but rather walk normally (and don't wait for an optimal time because there never will be one) as all of the traffic will work to avoid you - and they do.

This picture does not do it justice but will give you a little insight of the symphony on the streets of Siem Reap.  On their own, each tuk tuk, car, bus and motorcycle looks and sounds like their own piece of randomness but when when all mixed together, it is a symphony of sounds and activity, where every piece seems to know what to when and where to be - it just works.

Saturday, March 21, 2015


I debated whether or not I should take this picture but then I realized that if I didn't, then how could I share with others the atrocities of the Khmer Rouge in Cambodia in the late 70s.

This photo was taken in the "killing fields" in Siem Reap and these bones are just some of the bones that have been found on this site.

I cried here.  I cried a lot.

Tuesday, February 3, 2015

Balinese Cooking & Bad Service

I think that I have mentioned on previous blogs that I really am not the biggest fan of travelling by myself as I get bored with being with just me.  And contrary to common belief, I am not an extrovert but rather an introvert, so getting out there and "just meeting people" is not easy or comfortable for me, so I am have started to explore different things to do when I am travelling that will 1) expose me to people other than me and 2) give me something to do.  One thing that I decided to do early in my planning for my weekend away in Bali was to do a Balinese cooking class, firstly because I had no idea what Balinese food was like, and secondly, when I went to Thailand, we did a cooking class there and I really enjoyed it.

I turned to my trusty colleague when it comes to trip planning - TripAdvisor and found a couple of different cooking classes in the Denpasar area.  The first one that I had wanted to do, and that one that goes rave reviews, didn't have any classes on the weekend, so they were out.  I then went with choice #2 - Anika's Balinese Cooking School and was not disappointed in the least.  The class ran for about 4.5 hours and included a trip to a local Balinese market with our cooking teacher/guide who explained the ins and outs of the market, as well as introduced us to some new fruits and veggies.  Did you know that tumeric is a root kinda like ginger?!  I was blown away by that - I did not know!  After the market tour, we then went back to the cooking kitchen where we were feed a light breakfast with a few local Balinese treats and fruit, including snake fruit, which had a really cool skin (like snake skin) but I was not fond of the fruit.  My class had 4 other people in it - 2 couples, one from Australia and the other from The Netherlands :-)  We then got down to business.  We were all given an apron, assigned a cutting board and a nice and had to put our knife skills to good use finely dicing garlic, ginger, tumeric, shallots and peppers, that would then eventually be ground up to a paste in a large stone mortar and pestle.

Once that was completed by each of us, we then concocted 7 different dishes ranging from a chicken satay with homemade peanut sauce to a bean salad to a fish curry (my recipe)  All of the food that we made was delicious and I would highly recommend doing something like this, as it is a good way to learn a little more about the culture and for a fussy eater like me, it gives me a safe place to try new things without big commitment!  LOL!

The enterprising person who owns Anika's Balinese Cooking School, also owns Anika's Tailor and Anika's Spa and for those doing the cooking class, they have a $25 USD special for a 2 hours spa experience after the class.  And since part of this weekend was about me being a spa whore, I decided to take them up on it.  The spa itself was very good, and we had no violations of the belly button, although she had no issues whatsoever about letting my girls hang out, or massaging them for that matter.  What I learned at this spa was that I had to let go of any modesty that I might have had because she did not seem to care.

Now moving on to the bad service part.  As a part of the whole experience is that they provide transport to and from your hotel and in the morning, the transportation had been very prompt and  very good.  After I was done my spa, I was told that I would need to wait about 10 minutes.  Then I was told that I would need to wait about 15 minutes.  By now, I am just wanting to go back to my hotel, which was on the other side of the island, so I felt like I was being held hostage.  Oh and I should note, that this spa is located down some side street and it is not like I knew the address.  After waiting for 30 minutes, rather impatiently I might add, I asked if they could please call me a taxi as I was not prepared to wait any long and that i just wanted to go to my hotel.  The girl assured me that a ride was coming.  I waited 5 more minutes and asked if my taxi had been called, at which point in time she said that she would call now.  Well. . . that just pissed me off, so I told them firmly, but not snottedly that this was bad service and that it had turned a very good spa experience into a bad experience, and I left.  Fortunately I pay attention when I am going somewhere so I knew how to get back to the main road and managed to easily flag down a taxi to take me to my hotel.  Or so I thought.

Bad Service #2 - I gave my taxi driver the name of my hotel and told him that it was in Sanur.  Now keep in mind that this part of Bali is not that big and I was staying at the Fairmont, which is a very nice hotel.  As we got closer to Sanur, my driver asked me if I knew where my hotel was - that should have been clue #1 that he didn't know where he was going.  Clue #2 was when he asked me repeatedly for the name and tried to google it.  As I mentioned earlier, I generally pay attention to where I am, and I love to read maps, so after a while, I realized that we had gone too far north (but not that far).  I then asked him if he knew where he was going - no.  I then suggested, that maybe he could pull over and Google it again, which he did but left the meter running, which pissed me off.  He started to drive again and I quickly realized that he did not know where he was going still.  So then I asked him if there was not someone that he could call for directions.  Once again he pulled over to make his call, and had the meter going at which point in time I told him that I was not paying for him to figure out where he was going, so he stopped the meter.  I mean seriously, if you are lost, just say so and do what you need to do to figure it out but don't make me pay for it!  After about 2 minutes he figured out where we were going (the good news was that I found out where the Starbucks was)  Turns out, we were about 2 minutes from the hotel.  All told, his ineptness cost me about 25 000 rupiah, which is only about $3, but still on a what should have been a $10 fare, that was a 30% increase.  So we pull up to the hotel and by now, I am not in a happy mood.  The charge is about 123 000 rupiah so I hand him 150 000 rupiah, as I don't have any change.  He then proceeds to only give me 20 000 rupiah back (Lonely Planet suggests that you might round up in a taxi but tipping is not standard).  Bad move buddy - let's just say, he too got a lecture about bad service  and that this was not acceptable and how dare he expect a tip after he kept the meter running when he was pulled over and that I was not tipping bad service.  Yah, my Saturday did not go the best.

My lesson learned here is - always make sure you have the physical address written down and with you and don't assume that even on a small island that the taxi drivers will know where they are going.

Saturday, January 31, 2015

Blissful Bali & Belly Buttons

I see that it was a year ago since the last time I had posted anything on this blog and it is not because I haven't travelled in a year, because oh have I ever, but rather I get lazy about blogging (and exercising but that is a whole other blog!)  Not sure what inspired me because none of my other trips have, but for some reason I thought that I should blog about my time here in Bali.  Actually, I do know what has inspired me - my friend John who blogs a whole lot more than I do and when I see on his little blog list on the side when the last time something was posted on a blog he follows is a year, the guilt sets in.  So this is for you JB!  LOL!

Unbeknownst to many, I have temporarily relocated to Kuala Lumpur for work to cover off a colleague who has gone on maternity leave.  I will be there anywhere from 2-4 months, but that will be punctuated with a trip back to North America and a trip back to The Hague in February.  But that isn't what this posting is about. . .it is about blissful Bali and bellybuttons.  I have decided to make the most of my time in KL, as I do with most places I travel to with work, and am going to really try and explore SE Asia as much as a I can while I am here because I think the work travel well is likely to dry up once this stint is over due to low oil prices. (Don't worry JB - still working hard to keep your pension funded!).  My first little jaunt is to Bali.  It is a long weekend in KL this weekend (we get Monday and Tuesday off - I am only taking Monday), so I thought that I would check out Bali as it is one of those exotic places that I have always heard about, the pictures look lovely and spas are cheap!  

Bali is a 3 hour flight from KL - I was surprised because everything looks so close on the map and I had a choice of 3 wonderful airlines.  Air Asia, which had just crashed, Malaysian Airlines who had a plane disappear and another get shot down and Garuda which was banned in the EU for quite some time due to an abysmal safety record.  I opted to go with the one where I would get the points that meant the most to me, so I went with Malaysian :-).  As for hotels, I wanted a more "balinese" style experience but still wanted to stay with one my familiar brands, so I opted for a lovely room at the Fairmont Sanur Beach - tres, tres lovely!

My goal of this trip is to be as much of a spa whore as I possibly can and by that I mean, spending as much time at the spa as possible, as it is cheap, cheap, cheap here!  Last night, after I had arrived, I had arranged for a 2.5 hour spa appointment to start my trip.  As with much of my travel, I went on to TripAdvisor to get some advice and found a great spa called Lehela Lehala, which is located about a 5 minute drive from my hotel (they come and get you).  I can't remember which package I signed up for but it was essentially a full body massage, relexology, as well as a head massage - pure bliss. . . except for the belly button.  I HATE belly buttons.  They gross me out.  The name for this is called "omphalophobia" - fear of belly buttons and more particularly of them being touched.  Well, all I can say is that my therapist yesterday crossed the line with my belly button in so many ways!  Not only did she massage around it (as she was massaging my stomach) she also touched it, not once but twice. She pressed it with her finger.  I damn near threw up in my mouth - it just grosses me right out!  So much for my blissful Bali spa!  LOL!

Thursday, January 30, 2014

Okay, I Suck! Blog Catch-Up

Okay – so I suck!  I am so far behind on my blogs it is unbelievable.  There have been so many trips that I have taken that I have yet to either write about, or I have half written about them, but have never finished them or posted them, and they are just sitting on my computer.  I would like to say I have a good excuse, like I am travelling too much, however, with all of that travel comes A LOT, and I mean A LOT of downtime on the plane.  And truth be told, I have pretty much run out of movies to watch.  So just like now, what I should be doing when I am trying to kill some time in the air, is get caught up on my blog.  In my defense though, I don’t always travel with my personal laptop (usually don’t), only my iPad, so it makes it difficult to post as there won’t be any pictures.  I know, I know, that is really a lame excuse.

I am not going to make any firm commitments to get better, but I am really, really, really going to try.  I am also going to go back and dust off some of my half written posts from earlier in the year, and will post those too.  So for the next little while you might get a whole hodgepodge of posts from really random places – my apologies.  And really, I don’t have that many regular followers anyway, except for maybe John Brown, so by the time most of you will have read this, it could be months after the post anyway and then it won’t really matter.  I guess what I am really trying to say is that there will be no good sequencing to my posts!

To give you an idea of what still need to blog about, they include:

  My trip to the Ukraine in July
·           Some more about Beijing because I have now been there 5 times and now look at it through a very different lens
·      Paris in July
·      London in July
·      Trip to Brunei – a bit more about it, I know I did one post.
·      More about my trip to Honduras in September
·      My trip to Costa Rica in December
Oh wow!  It looks like I have a lot to reminisce about about!  I have also decided to start posting a bit information on some of the places that I have been staying, as well as some of the airlines as I am branching out.

Speaking of movies on planes, I sometimes use my flights as opportunities to re-watch those “old classics” or rather my favourites, like Mama Mia.  I LOVE that movie and every time that there is the scene where Pierce Bronsnan sings SOS, I burst out laughing because although he was great for that role, he is a horrid singer and that scene is just painful!  LOL!

Let’s begin the old blogs. . . .and some new ones too!

Monday, November 25, 2013

Thoughts on Flying on the Cheap

Last week or whenever it was, Westjet announced that it was flying to Dublin, Ireland for the low fare of $199 o/w. Now this post isn’t going to be a post about how much I dislike Westjet and how much I like Air Canada, but rather it is going to be my thoughts on Canadians and discount airlines, although I am going to take this opportunity (because this is my blog) to comment on this anyways. Firstly, I need to make the following very clear – last year I got SuperElite or Altitude 100K on Air Canada the hard way – flying 100 segments with about 90% of it in economy, and often on a small CRJ 100/200 – often to Fort McMurray – so no glamour there! The one person who really seemed to benefit from all of my travels was my chiro, Dr. Kim (at Bow Valley Chiropractic – shameless plug I know but he is amazing!) as those seats often did a number on my poor hips and glutes! So for all of you that think that I don’t fly economy – I do and I did and now I am just fortunate to have a job that allows me to fly business.

EasyJet Waiting Area - AMS

But now back to my point. There is no way I would want to ever fly from Calgary to Dublin on a 737 – no matter if it was Air Canada or Westjet – that is just far too long of a journey to be a plane like that. Now here is where the Westjet bashing begins, so if you are a Westjet lover you may just want to skip ahead. #1 - the $199 o/w deal is from St. John’s Nfld. To Dublin – keep that in mind because last time I checked a flight from Calgary to St. John’s was not cheap. So that “cheap trip to Dublin” isn’t so cheap anymore. #2 – I looked into the length of the flight (on Westjet) and it is about 14 hours with no less than 2 stops – one in Toronto and one in St. John’s – did you think about that? Yes – Westjet may have a direct flight to St. John’s from Calgary but direct and non-stop are not the same in the airline world. Now add to that some quality time in the airport in Toronto & St. John’s. #3 – on a flight that long, you still have to buy your movies (I know most people take an iPad but still) and you have to buy your food. At least on Air Canada you get free food & snacks and movies (I am not saying that it is good food– I am just saying it is free!) #4 – on a random search that I did, Air Canada/Air Lingus were cheaper than Westjet by a couple hundred dollars – I am just sayin’. . . .

Cattle class holding pen
Now to what this post is really about - I am not sure that Canadians or North Americans for that matter are ready for truly discount travel – and by that, I mean travel on airlines like EasyJet or RyanAir or the plethora of other discount airlines that none of us has ever heard of that travel around Europe. Why do I say this? Well firstly, we complain about being treated like cattle if we have to cue up too much and these airlines treat you just like that – they put you in pens! The waiting lounge in Amsterdam featured bleacher seating and everyone waited with baited breath for the gate # to pop up on the board (1 hour before flight) and then you saw the stampede to the gate! I am not sure why because EasyJet is assigned seating, maybe it is a Ryanair hangover – there it is survival of the fittest for getting a good seat.
Heading down to the pen

These airlines also nickel and dime you to death. Yes, we whine a little about having to pay for food on Air Canada and Westjet but on EasyJet, you pay for everything, including spending 3 euros or about $4 for a cup of coffee! So next time you scoff at the free beverage that you are getting, remember this. If you want to be treated a little more humanly and not have to be subjected to the cattle pens (that is what I call them) you pay a little extra – it is called “Speedy Boarding”. This also allows you and your 1 bag (will get to this) get on first without everyone pushing at you. And supposedly there is a “speedy check-in” line but if you don’t check in online and print your boarding pass at home, they charge you for that as well.

Now here is where I think North American’s, particularly our friends to the south, will really struggle with discount airlines – luggage. When they say that you get 1 piece of carry-on, you only get 1 piece of carry-on. That doesn’t mean 1 roller board + purse + computer bag. Nor does it mean 1 purse + 1 diaper bag + 1 roller board – it means 1 piece of carry-on of the very specific size of 56cm x 45cm x 25 cm including wheels and handles and they measure each bag to make sure that it fits into those bag sizers at the airports that we all ignore. So that meant, I was shoving my purse into my already small carry-on (North American sized roller boards are likely too big) prior to boarding. If when you arrive at the airport and decide to check in your bag then, you pay more. In Canada, where we have to pay for our bags and don't want to, we can still take on board our carry on even though it doesn’t fit into the sizer,  plus whatever other bags we can seem to physically manage at no additional cost.  You need  keep that in mind when considering how great low cost travel is. ;-) Oh, and lastly, a lot of these discount airlines fly in and out of places or airports that we may or may not have heard about and often the “low cost carrier” terminal is a bit of a hole! They often make the Peace River or Fort McMurray airports look really good!!

 So really, how was my experience, well on our way to Geneva, I had what I called “European Business Class”. In Europe, business class is often just the normal economy seat space but no one sits in the middle seat – that is what we had on our way there. On our way back, we were jammed in there like sardines as the flight was full and I got to experience the full discount airlines experience minus the cattle class ques. Would I fly them again – possibly. I am a points whore so I will always default to my main carriers first but sometimes these discount airlines have better schedules, fly to places the big carriers don’t go to and can be cheaper, and really, the flight was only 1 hour long, so it wasn’t that bad. . . .
The distance between my seat and my knees - tight!

Thursday, October 17, 2013

Over thinking Brunei

The title says it all, I over thought Brunei and I will get to that in a minute but first - I am in Brunei.  Where is Brunei you ask?  Well Brunei is on the island of Borneo (bet you thought Borneo was a country - but it's not).  Borneo is an island made up of 3 countries - Malaysia, Indonesia and Brunei.  Brunei is also ruled by a Sultan and is a very Muslim country, which lead me to over thinking it.  As you know, I have been travelling a fair bit lately to SE Asia and in particular, Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia, which is also a Muslim country.  One think to keep in mind when thinking about Malaysia, it isn't Middle East, wear a burka type of Muslim, but rather wear a pretty floral dress to the floor along with a matching head scarf type of Muslim, so when I am in KL, I tend to dress normally and by normal, I mean normal.  I don't let it all hang out nor do I stay all covered up - I am somewhere in the middle in the range of what I would consider appropriate and I have never had issues with how I have dressed, nor have I ever felt uncomfortable.  Hell, down at the KLCC (big shopping mall in KL), I have seen girls with it all hanging out next to women clad head to toe, face covered, only eyes showing burkas.

When I found out I was coming to Brunei (this particular trip has been cancelled and rescheduled 3 times) I did a little research and asking around the office of what is appropriate to wear and this is where my over thinking came in.  I fretted last week about what to bring b/c Brunei is a tropical country, much like Malaysia and when I am in Malaysia I often wear a cardigan, tank top and a skirt to work with a nice little wedge sandal - something generally nice a cool.  But I couldn't wear that in Brunei!  I mean it is a very Muslim country.  My knees need to be covered, as do my shoulders and surely cleavage is a no-no. (unless I want to be in Prince Jeffrey's harem but that is another story!)  Or so I thought. . . until I got to the gate at the airport in Kuala Lumpur and I saw local girls sitting there in their short skirts and bare arms.

Really, at the end the day, I think that dressing in foreign countries comes down to a few common sense things (which I didn't really use :-( )

  1. Think, "would I wear this out to dinner with my parents, boss, in-laws, etc" or "could I wear this to the office and feel comfortable".  If so, it is probably safe
  2. Don't wear anything with slogans or logos that may offend people.  Personally, not the biggest fan of being a walking advertisement
  3. Don't always trust what you read on the internet - talk to locals about what is appropriate
  4. Lastly, don't over think it!

And when it comes to the beach in places like this, you will see everything - including the lovely skirted, 2 piece burkini!