Year In Review: 2013

As the old cliche goes, another year gone by before we even know it. It prompted me to look for my usual year in review for last year's, just to see where I am at. So here goes. Be warned though, it's going to be one of those word-y posts.

I wrote about three 'resolutions' from the last year's review of the year. Getting a property, go on more travels and generally maintaining a good health and well-being.

Here goes, the annual report-

Targeted a project development in Penang, I really liked the location and the developer is reputable. Contacted and even went to the office - the launching was supposed to be early this year but no joy. Last call to them informed me that the project may only be launched mid-till-end of next year? I'll just keep looking I suppose...

I really, really badly want to own a place of my own. To keep all my belongings in one place, instead of bits and pieces in Singapore, and some scattered items in SP. Well, the delay may be a blessing in disguise, I suppose. Buys me more time to save up and in the mean time, travel as much as I can before I get bounded by monthly property instalments. Ah well.

This is one department that is not lacking. I've been squeezing in every time off with as much plans as possible, sometimes stretching myself too thin. 

Covered India - dived in Havelock island early 2013, an extension after my work trip, and returned again towards the end of the year. This time to Kolkata and Darjeeling, the latter which I really enjoyed

Dived in the Philippines as well and swam with whale sharks for the first time. Many firsts, really. Blue-ringed octopus, pygmy seahorses, frog fishes... on and on. Stuffed myself silly with the delicious lechon, a suckling pig slow-roasted over open fire.

Worked in Vietnam and got the chance to visit Vung Tau. Have yet to produce a write-up of the not-so-edible sea snakes and 'coffee beer', but will do soon! I can't say I've seen much of Vietnam and I'd love to come back and explore Ho Chi Minh city, Hanoi and Sa Pa.

Travelled to the UK twice this year: visited London, Cardiff, Brighton Beach, Stonehenge, Manchester and also the Lake District. Didn't fancy London but loved the quaint countryside of Coniston in Lake District. Fate was not on my side with Stonehenge, however. It was a most unglamorous affair as I side-stepped and tip-toed over sheep shite in an attempt to get closer to one of the seven wonders of the world; only to capture the saddest tourist photo of myself with the ruins (complete with a fence blocking the view of Stonehenge, hehehe).

Visited Ireland for the first, and second time this year. It's definitely one of my favourite places in the world. Incredibly lucky to have THE best weather on my first visit - beautiful days with plenty of sunshine. The conscious ways of the Irish to preserve their country is admirable. Loved the Irish pubs, fresh pulled Guinness draft, the hearty laughs and loud conversations. Oh, and how can I leave out the scrumptious full Irish breakfast, complete with black pudding, eggs, bacon and sausages... And of course, fresh catch from the North Atlantic Ocean - best and freshest seafood I have had, and will ever have :) 

Spent a couple of days in Myanmar. Can't say I've seen much of it, was only in Yangon. With plenty of rainfall on both days! If time permits, I'd like to go back and cover the Mandalay Bay, Old Bagan and Lake Inle.

Headed east towards Sipadan island (third dive trip of the year!) with a bunch of friends - good fun, crazy bits and headpalm moments... Though the dive centre was a major let down. Never again, Big John. You people suck!

Now I only have Laos left to complete the SEA check list.

Health & Well-being-
Now this is quite subjective. I've tried making my workouts more regular while onboard; but it's quite tough to stay disciplined while on shore. The temptation and justification that I can't get good, fresh food onboard has me stuffing my face for a full 5 weeks .

I do miss going to the gym and joining classes :/ You just feel more motivated and is it a lot less boring than going on a solo run... Well, weight has fluctuated but still hovers at target range, so there's no need to hit the panic button just yet.

I've also been more conscious about eating healthily (more than often indulging myself, but hey, you only live once!), more so when I am working. Fresh fruits and vegetables are a luxury onboard; it's ironic how some people avoid them like a disease!


Resolutions? I dunno, I think I did pretty alright this year and would like to keep things that way. I'm not particularly passionate about the job but it's what the job offers that has kept me on leash thus far. Travel perks, better salary, time off! Made some really good friends along the way and hope to maintain and surround myself with close people. Will make it a note to call home more regularly too. I miss Pickles!

2014, Year of the Horse. I can foresee a large chunk of my pay check going to various materialistic pursuit. DSLR, scuba diving equipments - time to hunt for a pair of fins (sold off mine!), BCD and a reg. Possibly a 390cc matte black KTM? Decisions, decisions.....

28 At Sea

Was a less-than-desirable affair. But it could have been worse, I suppose.

Let's start with less depressing, pre-birthday events, shall we?

Went on a biking trip with Justin, rode from KL to Betong, Thailand. I've always wanted to ride a super bike, wanted to get a license, wanted to own one big shiny boys' toy. But never got around to actually do it. So when Justin is finally free to spend a few days to ride, I took a bus up from Singapore to KL.

The bike is really stable, even at a speed of 100km/h. However, once we get beyond that speed, at 120-140km/h, I had to strain my neck to keep my head forwards because of the force from the acceleration and speed - that gave me a sore neck for a couple of days afterwards. But so much fun!

Pushed the speedometer all the way to 230, whoosh!

Arrived destination some 4-5 hours later hehehe.

Justin got hold of the Kawasaki Z750, what a beauty! I love, love, love the roar of the engine when it's brought to life. It's massive too! But hey, at least my feet touches the ground :)

Omg omg omg our dinnerin Thailand!! I only had some oat biscuits in the morning (expecting Justin to arrive 10ish) but he only came at 1pm because the bike was undergoing some maintenance (don't want to rush that one). Along the way I may have had a chocolate bar or two but I was STARVING by the time we got to Betong. I refused to have anything other than authentic Thai food so we let ourselves loose. 

Clockwise from top - Seafood tomyum (good, but I've had better); spicy, sour lala (now I'm not a huge lala fan but omfg this is awesome! I was less than enthusiastic when Justin ordered these, but I think I ended up gobbling most of it ); grilled large king prawns (so juicy & succulent! Coming from a non-prawn fan, this is the highest order of compliment. Dipped in spicy Thai chilli...mmmm); stir fried sambal paku pakis & grilled squid. 

The hunger strike is more than worth it! Sigh. If I imagine hard enough, I can almost taste it......

It appears as though any random stalls sitting innocently in a shop still makes better tomyum than the ones you find in Singapore. This tomyum beehoon is delicious, spicy and full of flavour. Best eaten on a rainy day :) Oh, we got really crap weather while we were there - it rained all day and we had to call the masseuse to drop in to our rooms for a massage. It was a tough and testing period.

Justin taught me to pose this way -.-

Back in Singapore, MCC & IKK wanted to treat me to a birthday dinner, and asked what I'd like to have. Good old chu char I say! Haven't been to the South Village one for a while and needed my salted egg yolk pork ribs fix.

There's no other restaurant who can make a salted egg pork ribs the way South Village does.  Crispy batter on the outside and oozing on the inside. Awesomeness.

And of course, the honeydew prawn balls. Bliss.

We ordered some 4-5 dishes amongst the three of us (tofu, dried chilli frog meat, veg). Needless to say, we were stuffed.... But there's always room for dessert, right?

We were craving for ice-cream and wanted to go to Udders at Upper Thomson but IKK said parking will be a pain, so we settled for the mall opposite Mustafa (which I can't recall the name now). Got into Swensen's then decided that the choices are limited and also it was too cold in the restaurant -.-

And thus, we walked out without shame, and went into the Paddington House of Pancakes. It was my first visit there; I've just never been particularly attracted to a place that only serves pancakes but hey, there's ice-cream!

Um, in substitute of a birthday cake, perhaps? Crepes were delicious, btw. But the crepes I get onboard is much, much better (typing this after I've had a few of them, yum yum).

Japanese lunch buffet with Su En day after at Kiseki, Orchard Central. Yes, my life on land seems to be filled with me stuffing my face, I know. So it's completely justifiable. To satisfy all cravings and eat as much fresh food as I can. I sure as hell had plenty of fresh food.... loaded up on the salmon sashimi, plate after plate. I am content.

With the sister, so many people say we look alike. I think I look better :D


And then on Friday the 13th, at sea.

You poor thing, you.... at least it was a really nice and calm day out at sea.

There you go, my birthday cake. Amongst a pile of chocolate cake.

The pastry chef *forgot* to make one for me. Also, we have run out of cream cheese so not even baked lemon cheese cake for me!  I don't want to live in this world any more...

While we're at it.... Christmas onboard:

The galley cooks overdid themselves this time...

Bloody photo turn out so red for what?

Photos from phone and the S100. Not satisfied with the quality any more....

Had lobster, slow-roasted suckling pig, prawn in a zesty dip sauce - for breakfast. Overkill, yes. But it's Christmas Day! 

It was a day full of mince pies, crackers and good cheese, chocolates, sweeties and my secret santa gift!

I got a toy remote-controlled helicopter. It's a bit erratic but so addictive :)  Chief Navigator donning the jolly man's suit hehhehe.

Not the prettiest boat but it's still my second home.... :)

Kurseong Premium Buds

I need to clear a truckload backlog of posts. This is going to be a short one on a 1-hour visit to the Darjeeling tea plantation. Mostly pictures, I'm afraid. 

As it was approaching winter and thus off-season, the factory is practically half-closed - they were processing the last batch of tea leaves.

The Makaibari factory has been operating for over 150 years. Most of its equipments and machines are from that era, since the British invasion. I must say, the dark, partially closed sections of the factory does make for an interesting photo op.

Old skool.

Our hamsap tour guide. Cikopek betul! Kept staring without shame. STARE SOME MORE I DIG YOUR EYES OUT!! DOM.

The red tea buds are sold at a premium; they are charged about $20 for a mere 50gm!

K, that's all, bai.

I did say it's a short post, did I not? 

Skipping to Sandakphu

Figuratively speaking. It wasn't, and shouldn't, be an easy hike. 

Rays of sun made this shot look like it's painted with water colour. 

There's been a change of plans: Instead of spending 3 days hiking up the trail, we decided to hop on to a 4x4 for three-quarters of the way up and hike the remaining to the top. Which means, more sitting around in a moving vehicle. Except that this vehicle moves - a lot. Large stones and boulders make up the road and the top of my head was in constant impact with the roof of the jeep. Ouch.

The Sandakphu trail is very close to the Nepal borders. Occasionally we were stopped on the jeep to show clearance etc before we can resume our journey.

Chop-chop mid way through the ride (butt and head and boobs hurting like mad). The little dog at the corner reminds me of Pickles. She gets super excited whenever she could tell that you're looking her way hehehehe. And when that happens, her face shivers in excitement, whiskers and all. So adorable :)

Momo and roti. We had a number of momos back in Bhutan, but I've missed all photo opportunities by pure coincidence. Momos are essentially dumplings - with chicken/pork/vegetables filling. I personally prefer vegetable ones. Dipped in a spicy chilly sauce - tres bien! Meat momos just taste.... dodgy.

So, being this far out in the wilderness, one can only expect 5 star accommodation and services.... not. The rest house where we spent the night in is very, very basic. A bed (no heater, no electricity actually) and an en-suite toilet. With no flush. To flush, you'll have to fetch water from a container (which felt like ice). We were, however, given a hot water bottle before bed. I don't think I could have survived the night without it! I first hugged it to my chest; then my feet got cold. So I shifted the bottle to my feet. Then my hands got cold. The hot bottle was basically doing a flip-flop mode from top to bottom hehehe.

Sunset from our rest house - with a magnificent view of the Kanchenjanga mountain.

After a meal of hot instant noodles (feels luxurious in that cold, seriously), we went to bed early - around 8pm-ish. I didn't even bother to take a shower - it would have been madness if I had. The clothes that I wore during the hike, stayed on till the next morning! I could barely sleep that night. The cold kept me awake and after a while I finally dozed off. Somewhere in between, I got woken up. Thinking that it must at least be way past midnight, I checked my watch. Goddamnit! It's only a little after 10! Wtf?! How can that be? And that kept me grudgingly going through the same painful process of trying to sleep again.

It is also important to note that the room is dark and the light switch (solar-powered) is partially broken. I desperately needed to pee but couldn't do so as it was too dark. Yes, it was a cosy and fuzz-filled night. 

Up by 4ish am to catch the sunrise (not difficult). It was quite foggy and misty during sunset last night so there are doubts with a good, clear sunrise. 

Amidst my grogginess, I was completely woken up in awe of the scene that unfolds, changing by the minute.

Perfect sunrise!

And towards the west, Mount Everest beckons... :)


By 8:30am, the glorious sunrise colours turn to this vivid shade of blue. Then it was time to make our long trek down.... It took us 4-5 hours before we finally got to the nearest town and got a ride back to Kurseong.

Next post - Darjeeling tea plantation :)

Darjeeling & Dosas

We entered the Indian border by land, via Jaigaon. 5 hours of drive from Paro. By the time we reached Jaigaon, I was half dead. And the ride wasn't even over yet. There's still 3 more hours of drive to Kurseong.... Fun and games... fun and games.

Spent a couple of days in Darjeeling - probably my favourite place in India, after Havelock island, that is. A little trinket shop in Darjeeling gets my top points. I'll go all the way back to this little town just to have a chance to comb through the shelves. There are all sorts of quirky handicrafts, decorative wares, wall hangings, earrings, anything really. And they're so pretty!

Ahem. So, yes, Darjeeling.

When I first asked my chief what to expect in Darjeeling, he said to me, "You're going to Darjeeling? It's a romantic place. Many people go there for honeymoon". 

Uh. Okay...

So I questioned Vinnie, and his immediate response was, no, it's not a romantic town. Don't know where /when your chief has been but it's definitely not that 'romantic'.

Okay.... Why these Indians can't be agreeing? How frustrating.

Idli (left) and uttapam (right) - a pizza lookalike. A batter of presumably flour, eggs, onions (loads of them) and tomatoes cooked over pan . Delish.

My favourite chomp of the lot - Dosa. Sort of like a large folded crepe with onions, tomatoes and cheese fillings. Very yummy! Especially when drenched with dahl and chutney. Notice that the three plates we ordered have got similar ingredients, just cooked and served in different ways. And given different names.

Ah yes, India's orderliness deserves a mention here.

Keventer's along the main street of Darjeeling. A small unassuming restaurant upstairs that you would never have thought of popping into for a meal. We were there twice for two breakfasts in a row. Initial visit I was quite irritated by their 'services'. First a middle-aged man came to take our orders. Instead of writing them down (and saving a hell lot of trouble), he preferred to use his 52kB memory and made various mistakes when he attempted to repeat our orders.

That should set alarm bells ringing, but I thought I'll give him the benefit of the doubt and sat back. 10 minutes later, our food arrives, without my coffee and bacon sandwich. We reminded the old guy, and he gave us an over-the-shoulder-wave. 7 minutes later (and every other table has had their steaming cups of coffee), my bacon sandwich arrived, but coffee nowhere to be seen. After several reminders (and after we've practically finished our food) then my caffeine fix arrives. Uncle, if only you'd bothered with a notepad and a pen, you wouldn't be giving me HBP! Not that it needs any more help with the bacon and sausages....

Still, the one redeeming quality of this little cafe - pork sausages were out of this world!

Express way to cardiac arrest. Spiced and fried to crispy perfection, oh how I love the sound of crunchy sausages. Bacon was a tad too salty for me, though. Still prefer back bacon.

Breakfast with a view of the Kanchenjanga - third highest mountain in the world. Everest is nowhere in sight.

In Keventer's defense, their cup of hot coffee is quite good. At least our second visit there every item we ordered arrived without further spike of blood pressure.

Yep, dosas, pork sausages and unknown trinket shop - primary reasons you'll ever need to visit Darjeeling.

The Georgian Adventure - Hike to Chalaadi Glacier

Our third, and last hike in Svaneti. There are so many more places to hike and explore around Georgia, it was a hard decision to premature...