Adventures, Lifestyle

3 Ways To Go On Vacation Without Leaving The Country – Vanessa Tai

Short of going for a full-fledged staycation, are there ways to declutter your mind and experience the benefits of a vacation? Yes, says Vanessa Tai. You just need a little ingénue. 

Living in Singapore can be highly stressful. That’s part and parcel of living in a densely-populated, highly competitive city like ours. In a 2013 poll conducted by the Health Promotion Board, one in four workers admitted to being “highly stressed”. While it would be dreamy to book a flight and go for a short getaway whenever the stress levels get too high, we all know that’s not always financially viable. The next best option would be a staycation but even that can be expensive, especially on weekends.

So how can you feel like you’re on holiday while still in Singapore?

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Here are three suggestions:

1. Check out obscure cafes or attractions in the suburbs

A few days before your “vacation”, post a status update on Facebook asking your friends to recommend cool or lesser-known cafes in their neighbourhood. Apart from the usual hipster districts like Tiong Bahru or Ann Siang Hill, there are actually plenty of hidden gems dotted all around the island. For example, Denise and her fiance once managed to entertain themselves for an entire weekend in the unassuming Jalan Besar neighbourhood!

2. Go for a photography or hiking trail

This is one of the best ways to go off the beaten track. Because aspiring shutterbugs and trekkers alike are always on the lookout for new and exciting places to explore, you may just find yourself in previously undiscovered settings. Deborah, Lili, and I used to go for regular night hikes where we ventured into muggy forests, monsoon drains, abandoned railway tracks … all in the dead of the night! Check out Meetup.com to find likeminded individuals.

3. Have a picnic

Sounds simple, but when was the last time you actually packed a picnic basket and whiled away an entire afternoon? To make things a bit more fun, don’t cop out and just get takeaway fast food. Plan ahead and pack a basketful of fruit, bread, sandwich meats and of course, a good bottle of wine. From there, all you need is a picnic mat and an iPod full of your favourite tunes, and you’re set. To avoid the crowds that tend to throng the beach or places like Marina Barrage on weekends, see if you can take a weekday afternoon off. Then, simply enjoy that brief but sweet respite.

Do you have any other suggestions on how to temporarily escape the madness of the rat race? Tell me in the Comments section below!

About The Author: Vanessa Tai is a founder of Material World who has previously worked on magazines Simply Her and Cosmopolitan Singapore. Now a freelance writer and a full-time contributor to this website, the 27-year-old dreams of attending every single major music festival before she turns 30. Follow her on Twitter @VannTaiTweets.

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Denise Li, Opinions

5 Ways To Suck At Travelling – Denise Li

Some people think they are better than the middling masses because they have eaten at the world’s finest restaurants, can rattle off the names of famous chefs and where they’ve opened their newest restaurants, and can say “boef bourguignon” with a perfect French accent.

Not me, though. I happen to think that I’m better than everyone else because I own a 55L backpack, lived on three changes of clothes for three months, and went by road to far flung areas of Southeast Asia where hardly anyone spoke English. Yeah, I like to think of myself as an Intrepid Traveller who would be even more intrepid if it weren’t for the demands of survival and daily living.

Just to be clear: I don’t think I’m better than some people because I have more balls or whatever. I just happen immensely dislike close-minded people, and unfortunately, I’ve met my fair share of them while I was travelling. Some of them behave so badly or outright refuse to step out of their comfort zones that I wonder why they bothered stepping out of their own country at all.

I think it’s way easier to be a great traveller than a lousy one but if, for some reason, you would rather get your teeth pulled without anesthesia than see what this big, wide, wonderful world has to offer, then read on for the tips on how to suck at travelling.

Just ... no.

Just … no.

1. Making loud, pointed remarks about the people and the country that are playing host to you

You can get away with it because the people in that country don’t speak the same language as you, right? Wrong. Body language is a universal language and the gist of what you’re saying could very well be clear to them. Yes, you’re allowed to make observations about what you’ve heard or encountered, but there’s a thing called discretion and it would do you well to practise it. Plus, even if you’re not saying anything particularly insulting about them, it’s just plain rude and unacceptable to point at people and make sweeping generalisations about them. Wrong on any count, but especially so if you haven’t spent enough time in the country to get to know more about its customs and culture. It is dehumanising. Also, it’s racist.

2. Being completely obsessed with looking for a Wifi connection

Hello, you’re given this one chance to unplug and get away from it all … WHY ARE YOU NOT JUMPING ON THAT?! Unless it’s a business trip, I don’t really see any negative repercussions from not checking your email or social media accounts for a few days. Okay, I’ll be completely honest here and say that I, too, will use a working Wifi connection if I can find one cos I’m usually excited to share some of the amazing things I’ve seen along the way. But I think there’s quite a big difference between that and freaking out, throwing a hissy fit if one isn’t available. Take a deep breath, chill out, and bask in the liberation that is an Internet-free zone.

3. Insisting on eating the food that you’re used to all the time

I’m not sure about you, but I think half the fun of travelling lies in discovering all the delicious treats that other cultures have to offer. Do I miss bak chor mee when I’m overseas? Of course, I do. But that doesn’t mean that I’m willing to spend hours looking for a decent restaurant serving up Chinese food just cos I need my noodles or rice fix. So much food, so little time … once again, why are you not on board with that? Okay, so I was once was one of those people who had very set ideas about what I wanted and liked to eat. But ever since I made the decision to try everything at least once, it was like a whole new world opened up to me.

4. Taking pictures of people without their permission

I know it’s all very exciting to be somewhere where people look and dress differently from you do. But, people aren’t zoo exhibits. If you really want a picture, ask for their permission first.

5. Talking loudly or fidgeting on long-haul flights

Stop Wiig-ing out and get back to your seat!

Stop Wiig-ing out and get back to your seat!

When I was flying from Brussels to Bangkok last December, I was trying very hard to snooze. I had just about fallen asleep when I felt something touching my elbow as it was resting on the armrest. It turned out to be the foot of the woman who sat behind me. It didn’t help that she and her companion had spent much of the flight talking loudly even though the cabin lights were dimmed, so that was the absolute last straw. I turned around and told her off. But, of course, that wasn’t the only time I’d encountered inconsiderate passengers. As with idiots who still insist on talking in the cinema, it really puzzles me that normal adults who go out and interact with other members of the society on a regular basis still don’t get basic rules of etiquette.

What are some of the things that bug you about travellers? Tell me all your horror stories! 

About the Author: Denise Li is a founder of Material World and a freelance writer-editor. Before that, she spent a few years in the Features section of CLEO and Cosmopolitan Singapore. She considers Chiang Mai her spiritual home and makes it a point to head there for a yearly pilgrimage. She’s also a fitness buff and enjoys boxing, running and the occasional yoga session. Follow her on Twitter @DeniseLiTweets.

[If You Like This, Be Sure to Check Out]

Travelling Solo Is The Best Thing Ever

Taking a Break From Full-Time Work

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Guest Writers

[Guest Star] My Child, a Citizen of the World – Aimee Chan

Material World4Aimee Chan is a writer and magazine editor who has been published in international mastheads such as CNN, Harper’s BAZAAR, ELLE, Cosmopolitan and The Weekend Australian. Her work has taken her all over the world from Bhutan to Vietnam, Cambodia to Hong Kong. 
 
suitcases&strollers is an online family travel magazine designed to inspire parents with kids under 12 to travel. It offers ideas for the perfect chillax holiday to intrepid and far away destinations that parents may never have thought (or heard) of. suitcases&strollers aims to encourage parents to conquer their fears and see the world, one destination at a time. 


Our family Christmases are a little unconventional – last year we took our 2-year-old son to South Africa. Some of my friends gave me a hard time. They said I gave myself a safari holiday while my son was too young to protest instead of giving him a tree and a stocking.

For his third birthday, instead of a big birthday party, we took my son to Malaysia on a road trip. We split the weekend visiting a real life submarine outside Malacca and then at a theme park in JB. He talked about it for weeks. (And despite my cynical misgivings, his favourite part was actually the sub, not the Thomas The Tank Engine-themed rides.)

These trips were such a success that I think this has become our family tradition: a holiday somewhere interesting and unique. I think, despite the peer pressure, that my son will remember that far beyond the candy canes and opened presents.

Yes, my husband and I enjoyed sampling the wines of Stellanbosch and the amazing all-inclusive babysitting service while we were on safari. But more pleasurable (and surprising) was to see my son recognise so many animals and learn about different environments. Half a world away from Singapore he saw and appreciated mountains for the first time. On our way to Malaysia he not only (again, to my surprise) sat uncomplainingly at the queue of cars at Woodlands, he began to understand the concept of “countries” at the border crossing.

Material World5When I first decided to start suitcases&strollers, it was mainly because I knew that there was an opportunity to address other like-minded parents who grew up with Lonely Planets, moved on to Luxe City Guides but then, somehow, found ourselves with young kids but without a guidebook. I wish there had been a trusted travel publication who could have told me whether it’s worth risking the malaria for children to see Victoria Falls or if Johannesburg is really that dangerous for families.

So I had nothing more in mind for suitcases&strollers than to provide the information, stories and ideas I so sorely wanted myself. But along the way, by researching and writing about so many fascinating and interesting people, my focus has broadened considerably. I have interviewed a single mother who is a permanent traveller and has taken her son to 12 countries. I talked to a family who backpacked with two kids under 6 for an entire year. I learnt about a brave boy with cerebral palsy who raised money for the poverty-stricken children of Cambodia.

These people and the bucket list of places they have visited have given me so much personal invigoration. It’s inspiring to think that you actually can take small kids to South America for a low cost. Or that while a cruise ship might be kitsch, but it might also be incredibly fun.

And I want this for other parents too – to know that you don’t need to be conservative in your travel just because you have children. To know that you don’t have to go to an aquarium to see fish; you can teach your kids to dive. To know that villas don’t always have to be the answer; sometimes what might seem like a form of transport (such as a camper van or a sailing boat) might actually be a holiday in itself.

suitcases&strollers has reignited my personal passion for travel and consolidated one of my missions as a parent – to expose my son to as much of the world as possible. I want him to understand where he fits and how lucky he is. I want him to learn about history, cultures, languages and, yes, poverty.

Maybe I will never have to guts to quit my job, take my child out of school for over a year and drive around Australia, like one of my interviewees. But if I can raise a caring, generous and aware human being by taking him to orphanages in Vietnam and museums in Germany, and that’s all suitcases&strollers does for my family (or someone else’s), then that’s a great gift indeed.

Material World

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Lifestyle, Vacations & Staycations

Your Weekend Itinerary for Kuching, Sarawak – Tan Lili

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Craving for a weekend of fun but bummed out that Singapore isn’t exactly a city of adventures? Don’t despair; your thirst for thrills and spills can be satiated right next door in Kuching, the largest city of the East Malaysian state of Sarawak – it’s just slightly over an hour plane ride away! Here, we put together a weekend itinerary for you.

8.30am – 3pm: Jungle trekking
There are several adventures to choose from in Kuching, also known as Cat City. Jungle trekking is a popular option – and one that you must experience when you’re there. For a short weekend trip, I’d recommend a trek at Bako National Park. The oldest national park in Sarawak, it’s home to wildlife such as the highly endangered proboscis monkey, bearded boar, monitor lizards and snakes. Coupled with the park’s beautiful landscape – think unspoiled beaches, coastal cliffs and rolling hills – we guarantee this trek would make for one incredibly rewarding experience.

Take in the natural beauty of Bako National Park - it's truly a sight to behold.

Take in the natural beauty of Bako National Park – it’s truly a sight to behold.

For a half-day trek, you can choose either Paku Trail (0.8km) or Pandan Kecil Trail (2.6km). Don’t be fooled by the short distances – both trails take about two to three hours to complete! If you can afford more time at the park, try Tajor Trail (3.5km) or Lintang Trail (5.8km). Regardless of which trail you choose, word of warning: trekking at Bako National Park is unlike any of the trails at MacRitchie Reservoir Park. The treacherous jungle path is made up of laborious uphill climbs and heart-stopping descents; you’ll have to hang on to sturdy branches to make sure you don’t miss a slippery step! Speaking of which, it might be a good idea to watch your surroundings before you grasp anything – you wouldn’t want to mistake a snake for a branch, for instance.

Expect to be on all fours at some parts of the trek!

Expect to be on all fours at some parts of the trek!

If you booked your trek through a tour agency, lunch is usually provided at the local cafeteria. Otherwise, you can also purchase food and drinks there.

3.30pm – 5pm: Shower and rest

5pm – 6.30pm: Go for a massage
After the gruelling morning trek, you’ll need a good rubdown to soothe those aches. If you’re after a truly authentic tui na massage, make a trip to Mr Kaki (it’s right above McDonald’s, near Crowne Plaza Riverside Kuching). I am pretty selective when it comes to recommending a masseuse; Ah You at Mr Kaki is quite possibly the best I’ve experienced so far. From the get-go, before I could even emit a grunt of protest, he told me to suck it up because the pain would only be temporary. He sure wasn’t lying about the pain. For one hour, he mercilessly kneaded, pinched and chopped from my feet to my neck. When the hour was up, it took me five minutes to peel myself off the bed – no joke. The best part? It only costs RM45/hour.

7pm – 9pm: Dinner at Top Spot Food Court
Seafood lovers, you wouldn’t want to miss this. It’s located right smack in the middle of Kuching town, on top of a carpark. Competition among the stalls is high; majority of them sell the same kind of seafood dishes, though I heard the nicest of the lot is one called ABC Seafood (it’s halal-certified).

Top Spot Food Court: A must-visit when you're in Kuching.

Top Spot Food Court: A must-visit when you’re in Kuching.

A must-try is the grilled sambal stingray – it’s grilled to perfection; the flesh remains tantalisingly juicy and soft. Another dish you have to try is midin belacan – midin is a uniquely shaped green jungle fern that grows in Sarawak, and has the taste and crunch of kang kong. My friends and I ordered those, plus seafood fried rice and sotong with dried chilli, and the total bill came up to just RM60!

8am: Breakfast at Chong Choon Cafe
Famous for its Sarawak Laksa and Teh-C Peng, this eatery is open for breakfast only, and is often packed from as early as 7am. Unlike the laksa sold in Singapore, Sarawak Laksa contains little coconut cream and uses bee hoon. The base is made with sambal belacan, sour tamarind, galangal, garlic, a bit of coconut milk and lemon grass – a welcomed change from the local curry version. The laksa is usually sold out before 10am, so be sure to go early to avoid disappointment.

Sarawak Laksa and Teh-C Peng for breakfast, anyone?

Sarawak Laksa and Teh-C Peng for breakfast, anyone?

If you love your Teh Peng, you must try Teh-C Peng – a three-layer tea made up of gula melaka, evaporated milk and red tea. Compared to regular Teh Peng, this one tastes lighter and more refreshing. At Chong Choon Cafe, you can choose from three sizes: normal, medium and large. Just go for medium – you’d end up ordering another glass if you chose normal, anyway!

9am: Shop at Kuching Main Bazaar
Selling mainly local handicrafts and antiques, you can definitely find some souvenirs at these shophouses. One local delight you can buy home is the Sarawak Layer Cake – it comes in an assortment of flavours (blueberry and cheese, anyone?) and colours, though it’s not as authentically made. After shopping, take a stroll along the Kuching Waterfront for scenic views of the Astana, Malay kampungs and Fort Margherita across the river. Cat lovers, don’t miss the family of friendly felines at James Brooke Bistro, a restaurant located just along the Waterfront. You don’t have to patronise the restaurant to play with the kitties and, with the expanse of green grass and adorable cat sculptures at the entrance, it’s excellent for photo-taking.

The scenic Kuching Waterfront

The scenic Kuching Waterfront

12 noon: Check out and go home

About The Author: A founder of Material World, Tan Lili has previously worked in magazines The Singapore Women’s Weekly and Cosmopolitan Singapore, as well as herworld.com (now herworldplus.com, the online counterpart of Her World). She is now a freelance writer who works on this website full-time. Lili hopes to travel the world, work with wild animals, and discover more awesome Twilight fan-fiction.

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Lifestyle, Vacations & Staycations

Best Credit Cards for Air Miles – Vanessa Tai

When used with savvy, credit cards can offer multiple benefits to the user, with the biggest draw (in my opinion) being air miles. With the recent launch of the American Express Singapore Airlines KrisFlyer Ascend credit card, I wondered how it stacked up against other credit cards with frequent flyer benefits. If you too are shopping around for the best card to give you the most mileage – figuratively and literally – here’s a simple comparison chart:

amex-new dbs citibank uob
American Express Singapore Airlines KrisFlyer Ascend Credit Card
What you get 1 KrisFlyer mile for every S$1.20 spent 1.2 air miles for every S$1 spent (for the first S$2,000 spent); 1.6 air miles per subsequent dollar spent above S$2,000 in the statement month 1.2 Citi Miles with S$1 spent locally; 2 Citi Miles with every S$1 spent overseas 1 air mile for every S$1.25 spent
Annual Card Fee (with GST) S$256.80 S$192.60 $192.60 $214
Minimum Annual Income S$50,000 S$80,000 S$60,000 S$50,000
Additional Benefits 1. Welcome bonus of 5,000 KrisFlyer miles upon first transaction (provided you do not hold any other American Express Singapore Airlines Credit Cards)2. Trips charged to the card come with free travel insurance3. Earn double KrisFlyer miles for selected purchases at singaporeair.com, or at Tradewinds Tours & Travel or KrisShop, in-flight or online.4. One complimentary night per year at 80 participating Millennium Hotels and Resorts properties worldwide 1. Trips charged to the card come with free travel insurance 2. Dining deals at over 600 outlets islandwide3. No expiry date on points earned 1. 10 percent discount at Esso petrol stations2. Dining deals at over 1,000 outlets islandwide3. Trips charged to the card come with free travel insurance4. No expiry date on points earned 1. Points can be converted to travel vouchers, which can also be used for partner travel agencies and hotels (instead of simply air miles.)2. Dining deals at over 100 outlets islandwide3. Movie deals at Golden Village, Shaw and Cathay

This blog post was written for purely informational purposes only, and was not paid for by any of the above brands. 

About The Author: Vanessa Tai is a founder of Material World who has previously worked on magazines Simply Her and Cosmopolitan Singapore. Now a freelance writer and a full-time contributor to this website, the 26-year-old dreams of attending every single major music festival before she turns 30. Follow her on Twitter @VannTaiTweets

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Guest Writers

[Guest Star] Living Life In The Wee Hours – Delphine Tan

Material World’s guest star this week is popular blogger Delphine Tan. As her blog’s tagline says, Delphine blogs regularly about “faith, family, friends and food”. Her posts are often accompanied by beautiful photography and have inspired many to live life simply, yet fully. Do visit her blog Life In The Wee Hours.

Delphine with her husband and kids

Delphine with her husband and kids

I’ve been blogging for more than 10 years. In the beginning, it was mainly inane stuff about what I did that day, nothing particularly interesting to anyone else other than myself and a handful of friends. I moved my blog two years ago and the focus now is my family and what we get up to on weekends and during the holidays. I tend to pack our free time with quite a variety of activities; so many people who read my blog assume that I must be a SAHM (stay-at-home mom) to be able to get so much done.

Now I blog mainly to have a record of where we go and what we do. Along the way, I realised that there were people interested in similar things that would use my blog as a reference and I was happy to share information wherever possible. I like to blog about the food we eat and I’m on a perpetual hunt for the best (according to my personal preferences, of course) Eggs Benedict in Singapore. We try to eat somewhere new every other week just to see what’s out there but we do have a few favourite joints that we find ourselves returning to again and again. We love going on holidays with the kids even though it is usually a logistical nightmare and I blog about our trips. I also blog a lot about the different activities for kids in Singapore, such as the playgrounds and museums.

While I love being a mother to two beautiful children, that’s not my only identity and I do like to have some personal time. Thanks to supportive family members and a wonderful husband, I get to find time for my own activities. People think that Singapore is small and boring but she has so much to offer and there’s a lot waiting to be discovered! I tend to be nostalgic and I like to wander around Singapore learning about the history and significance of various monuments and heritage areas. My recent jaunt was the Tiong Bahru Heritage Tour and the air raid shelter in one of the pre-war blocks there.  I’m also very fond of the green spaces in Singapore and try to explore them regularly.

Not a hands-off mum ... if that's the impression you're getting

Not a hands-off mum … if that’s the impression you’re getting

I think it’s really important to engage in activities without the kids so the husband and I try to have a date night every other week and we also go on holidays without the kids. Our last couple trip was to Yogyakarta and we explored Borobudur and climbed Mt Merapi. We also try to have our own ‘thing’: he has golf and I have… CIRCUS! I went for a trial circus aerial arts class at Circus Swingapore last October and signed up for the Intro course with my cousin’s wife this year. We just cleared the assessment for the intro course last week and we’ll be starting Level 1 next month. It’s the best class I’ve ever attended; it’s so fun and I look forward to it every week. When I first started, I couldn’t even get on the hoop without assistance. Now I feel so much stronger and more confident and that feeling keeps me buoyant the rest of the week.

I like to think that I’m well-rounded and doing a good job of juggling work, family and personal time. I’m happy to be a FTWM (full-time working mom) and I like my job as a teacher because it’s meaningful and benefits others. I try to avoid arguments about whether it’s better to be a SAHM or WAHM or PTWM or FTWM and just spend meaningful quality time with my family when I’m not at work. Of course, there are sacrifices to be made: I hardly watch TV, I don’t get as much sleep as I would like (hence the blogging in the wee hours) and our house is in a constant state of mess. But I think it is possible (and necessary for your sanity) to be a mom and still find time for yourself. It’s all a matter of give-and-take and ultimately, finding balance.

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A couple who laughs together …

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