I know some of you are probably thinking, "There is a Club Med in Bintan?". Like many of you, I thought Club Med only existed in Cherating, Phuket and the Maldives, and was more of a singles place. But it seems the place is more family-oriented these days.
So when Club Med invited me and my brood to their resort in Bintan, I thought, why not? I told them I would be objective with my views as a newbie to the whole Club Med experience, and they seemed fine with that.
The idea with a Club Med holiday is you pay a per-head price, and you go there to play, eat and drink without needing to pay any more. It is a package deal. There are three buffets a day (breakfast, lunch and dinner) and the spread is actually pretty impressive.
In between meals, you can grab small bites at the bar area and also a free flow of drinks, both alcoholic and non-alcoholic. A special Kid's Corner is set up there for kids to order mocktails with silly names, like "Don't Tell Mama".
You can do nothing or do everything there. There is a program lined up all day for adults and kids so we did both.
The kids did everything (we dropped them off in the care of the G.O's (Gentil Organisateur) who led them from program to program from morning till evening, including lunch. Thanks for watching my two younger ones, Refa and gang!
And the wife and I did nothing. We chilled out and even had time for a two and a half hour massage/spa treatment at the Club Med Bintan Island Spa by Aramsa.
This is me after our Tropical Java Lulur spa treatment at the treatment-room-with-a-view. Can you see my skin glowing from the full body exfoliation and full body yoghurt wrap? I feel so beautiful now. The wife was also pleased with her 150 minutes of relaxation.
My mom happily watched tv in the room, and sometimes went to swim. And Faith also went swimming at the pool and went for walks at the beach with us.
The journey there was fairly painless. A 45-minute ferry ride from Tanah Merah Ferry Terminal was all it took. Because we had a nasty experience the last time we went to Bintan many years ago, when choppy waters made almost every one in my entourage sea sick, we came prepared. We came equipped with seasick pills but thankfully, the ride there and back was smooth.
The rooms are decent and they had enough tv channels to keep the kids entertained (though the signal was a little fuzzy because they don't use digital). The air conditioning was sufficiently cold which is super important to Singaporeans. And my rooms faced the open space in front of the sea, which was lovely.
My only complaint was that the wifi was spotty where we stayed. We only got decent wifi internet in the common areas and restaurant. Then again, it was nice to not be online so much. This is after all, a vacation.
In the evenings, there was a performance by the G.O's themselves. These enthusiastic hosts who look after you by day, become talented performers by night, led by their chief, Marco.
They even managed to get us dancing at the finale. We conga-ed our way to the bar area after the performances and then we led the kids to the rooms for bedtime. After which the wife and I snuck out for a final drink ourselves.
I have to say, we all enjoyed ourselves. I wish it didn't rain as much but we did have a full Saturday with great weather. I didn't have to plan too much and worry about the logistics. The kids had enough to keep them occupied and my mom, the wife and I even managed to get some time for ourselves. Food was never a problem: if the kids wanted to eat pizza, spaghetti and nuggets during meal times, they could help themselves while we adults had our beef steaks, lamb chops and grilled fish.
It is nice to be taken care of from start to finish. I could get used to this kind of family vacation.
If you are interested, there is a Kids Stay Free promotion going on for Bintan Island, Bali, Cherating Beach and Phuket. Go check it out.
Me, I am now thinking that a Club Med Hokkaido Sahoro ski vacation may be worth looking at.
Good morning from San Francisco! I'm going to Apple's WWDC 2015 and it's a sunny day here.
It's my first time seeing this live and it is quite odd not waking up at 1am in the morning to watch this streaming online.
So far I can report that the croissants for the media are quite tasty. And I love the Mango Tango juice.
I will share more once I'm in there. Watch my Twitter feed for live updates.
I'm spending a few days in San Francisco, partly for the Apple WWDC on the 8th of June and partly for leisure. This is me transiting through Narita earlier today, with my carry-on bags, the Tom Bihn Aeronaut 30 (carrying my clothes and 12-inch MacBook) and my Night Flight Travel Duffel (carrying my cameras and lenses).
It's nice to travel without checked luggage. I breezed through customs at SFO and didn't need to wait for my luggage at the belts. And carrying less allowed me to wander around Mission Street for a Cubano sandwich lunch at La Taza's, before I went to my Airbnb place.
Here are some photos of my Airbnb apartment in San Francisco. It is nestled in the colourful area of Mission Street and Treat Ave. The bed is in a loft and the building is very quaint.
First, I need to shower. It's been more than 24 hours since I bathed.
We embarked on a road trip from Frankfurt and decided on the first night that we would head north towards Scandinavia. There is a certain freedom that comes with having a car, and deciding on where to go last minute, but it also comes with some risks, like not being to get a place to stay on such short notice.
Still, after a few attempts with different hosts, our Airbnb booking in Hamburg came through and that was to be our first stop on the way to Copenhagen. We didn’t think much of Hamburg at first, choosing it as a stop simply because it was on the way to Denmark and Ryan could rest after driving the long distance. But the second largest city in Germany was a lovely city to stop over.
Through Airbnb, we stayed at Kim’s place, which was not far from the city centre. His home is stylish and cool, and I spent many an hour writing and editing work in his living room with the great view. If it were warmer, I would have sat at the sun deck too.
His balcony has an awesome view of the neighbourhood, and it's especially pretty at sunrise and sunset.
Besides lunching at the port of Hamburg, we visited St Michael’s Church and the lovely grounds surrounding it.
We also took a walk through Planten un Blomen (their botanical gardens), taking our time to enjoy the sights. We kind of took a little too long and ended up incurring a parking fine for an expired coupon. I hope the bill isn't going to be too big. We won't know till they send a letter to the car rental company.
We ended the day at the supermarket, where we stocked up on groceries for breakfast and dinner. Lunch we ate out but it seemed a shame not to cook in Kim's well-equipped kitchen.
I know, we sound like two aunties hanging out at supermarkets while traveling. But it is part of the enjoyment. We even managed to score 30% off the already cheap pork we found at the supermarket near our apartment, because it was the end of the day. That was a very tasty pork too, as you can see in the photos above.
It helps when one of you is an ace cook (not me). And breakfast in the apartment is also enjoyable.
Music in the apartment was provided by my Spotify playlists and my newly-bought Harmon Kardon Esquire Mini Bluetooth speaker. I never thought I'd bother carrying one extra piece of tech on my trips, especially since I am such an ultralight packer these days, but darn it, that speaker is useful as heck. Acts as a wireless speaker, speaker phone, and emergency powerbank.
Sounds good too, for the size. It is smaller than my iPhone 6 Plus but thicker. You could pop it into your jeans pocket and not feel it at all. Perfect for music in the hotel room or even for watch movies on your tablet or smartphone.
Hamburg is pretty laid back for the second largest city in Germany. If I had any complaint, it was the weather. It gets a little nippy sometimes. For spring, it was pretty cold. But we came equipped with winter clothing anyway.
Thanks, Hamburg! Onward to Copenhagen next!
Who would have thought I'd ever visit Malta, that little island that, like Singapore, was also a colony of the British Empire, and like Singapore, also has a St John Ambulance service. Except their St John's were really linked to real knights.
This year the IFA Global Press Conference is held in Malta, and it is a perfect time to visit. The European consumer electronics show holds its global press conference in a different Mediterranean city each year and the last time it held it in Malta, it was 2009.
The weather here is sunny and yet a cool 17-19ºC during the day and you can enjoy the lovely old buildings and the beach. I didn't go to the beach because I didn't bring my swimming things. I thought it was going to be cold in Europe during Spring. Dang it.
Miss IFA was here as usual, and the city provided foot soldiers and knights in armor to entertain us. There was even a sword fight the night we had our excursion in the capital, Valletta. At least I hoped it was staged. It could have been a couple of drunk cosplayers, for all I know.
Industry leaders shared insights, shilled new products and talked about trends.
Philips was the first to speak during the Power Briefings, and they showed off their back pain management device that can monitor youur back problems with an app.
My favorite slide was from Gfk's Gerald Tan (Singapore, represent!) who spoke about technology insights in Asia. I always enjoy listening to his presentations, though the Europeans tend to leave the room during that segment. Perhaps they should listen more, since Asia is going to be very important to the European tech and appliance industry.
A special Power Briefing was held by Microsoft, where nothing much was shared, because Microsoft was going to announce major things only at their Build 2015 event, to take place from April 29th to May 1st. So much of what was said was general fluff.
Not many products were on display at the press conference. I guess everyone was reserving it for the actual IFA in Messe, Berlin, in September. But I did check out the cool Grundig VUX (Virtual User Experience) tech for stovetops and other future kitchen appliances.
It is still in concept stage, which explains the giant projector needed to beam the interface onto the table top (recommended to be white and matte). Interesting idea but remains to be seen if it is feasible in a real kitchen environment.
Also of interest to me were the Philips Fidelio M2 Lightning headphones. These cans connect to Apple iOS devices via the Lightning port, taking the digital signal all the way to the built-in DAC of the headphones, before being made analog, bypassing the analog headphone jack.
I did enjoy the sound quality of this device. It was like having a sound card inside my headphones.
I am going to enjoy the rest of my short stay in Malta. My sink-washed laundry is drying nicely and quickly in the Maltese sun, at my room's balcony, and that always pleases me. I know, I am a simple person and easy to please. Like this Maltese cat.
I'm on the road all week with a group of participants on the Samsung NX Traveller program, photographing and eating my way through South Korea. I am surrounded by photography experts, enthusiasts and super-friendly folks from Singapore, Malaysia, Indonesia, the Philippines and Australia.
In two-plus days, I've been to Gyeongbok Palace. Yeouido, Naksan Park, Ihwa Mural Village, Nami Island, Myeongdong Street in Chuncheon and Gangchon Rail Park (Rail Bike Ride) so far.
I'm shooting with the Samsung NX1 camera with the premium 16-50mm f2.8 OIS lens (and also the new NX500 and other lenses) and thus far, I am fairly surprised at how capable these cameras are.
You can follow me on Instagram (@mr_brown) if you want to see more photos I'll be sharing on the trip.
Right now, I am enjoying a can of Lotte Milkis soda in my Alpensia Intercontinental Resort hotel room, which is a nice thing to do after spending a wet and cold day out sightseeing and shooting (it was 3°C pretty much all day).
It's supposed to be spring, and the cherry blossoms have been out in force, but as we move north, it's feeling more like winter. We even spotted snow here and there. I am glad I packed enough merino wool layers.
Tomorrow, I wake up at 6am and start another day of touring, photography and dining in Korea.
I know. It sounds like hard work. But someone's got to do it.
My photos (and a packing video) from a recent Japan trip is on the Tom Bihn blog (I am just a huge fan of their bags and there is no commercial arrangemment). Go look.
Tom Bihn blog: mrbrown goes to Japan
Tom Bihn blog: Packing the Co-Pilot and Synapse 19 for 9 Days in Japan
I am trying to catch up on my travel updates and photo editing, so rest assured, more photos and posts to come. Especially want to share the lovely Airbnb places I stayed while in Japan. Here is a peek at the lovely cottage we stayed in at Karuizawa.
Here is the backyard…
I know. It is gorgeous. We were there just as autumn turned into winter and the leaves were in striking red, and the weather cool and lovely.
Over breakfast in the hotel room, I said to the wife: "Do you want some sugar with that tea? I have some sugar packets I saved from the restaurant and plane."
Oh. My. Gosh. I have become my mummy.
Not only that, during the entire trip, I was making a checklist of things I must add to my travel packing list, like 2-in-1 coffee, instant noodles, and the little thingie that boils water in a cup.
I actually found leftover 2-in-1 coffee in side pocket of my luggage, because we borrowed mom's medium-sized suitcase. I remember thinking to myself, "Bless her, now I have coffee to drink in the cold Paris morning."
There were also leftover disposable travel toothbrush/toothpaste sets in there, and a foldable shopping bag which was useful for my trips to the laundromat.
A foldable shopping bag is also essential when you go to the supermarket (they charge €0.15 for a miserable plastic bag that breaks easily). I know exactly which one I plan to buy, the Tom Bihn shop bag .
And when you travel with small children, you also save packets of ketchup and mayo from the McD's. Also useful, plastic cutlery.
Now if you will excuse me, I have to run out and buy some milk at the Paris provision shop. I don't know what they call that here in France, Le Chahp Feau Peau?
By the way, that's not my hotel room above. It's Napolean III's apartment at the Lourve and somewhat above my budget.
This is the five-port 10.6A USB charger I use when I travel. It saves me from a lot of headaches when the hotel room has only ONE power point. But thankfully the hotel we were staying in in Paris had more power points.
We didn't stay in Paris for long, just one night. We drove off to Caen after one day here. We will be back after we finish our road trip. It's our final leg.
We had to rent two 7-seater MPVs to carry 11 of us and or luggage. Thankfully they came with GPS built in so we didn't need to pay for that. We did add an €11-a-day Hertz mifi router with unlimited 4G internet, one for each car. That way we all had Internet and could Whatsapp group chat between the cars.
We did manage to make it to the Eiffel Tower on our first night here though. The wife and I just had to do a default lovey couple photo in front of the Eiffel.
Our gang saw the queue and didn't bother going up. We just enjoyed the view from below. So pretty, the Eiffel Tower is at night.
This is our packing for a 15-Day trip to France with my brood. It is winter there so we are packing more warm clothing for the kids and the wife (we are Equator dwellers, so our bodies aren't as acclimatized to cold weather).
Still, I am rather pleased with how efficiently we managed to pack.
My clothes are in the Aeronaut 30 (weight: 6kg, about 13 lbs). This includes all the jackets and sweater consisting of Icebreaker merino wool stuff, Uniqlo down jacket and a Columbia softshell.
My camera gear and iPad Air are in the Co-Pilot. I am debating whether to take the Night Flight Travel Duffel instead. It has double the capacity of the Co-Pilot but the latter is more compact.
My two younger ones age 9 and 11 carrying the Synapse 19 backpacks. The Synapse 19s contain their winter wear and one set of spare clothes. About 2.5kg (5.5lbs). I reckoned they should be able to handle that load. Their school bags are already more than double that weight (weight is a problem with SIngapore school bags, kids carry way too much). The key is to ensure that they have something to wear the moment we touch down. So even we lose our one checked luggage, or it is delayed, they still have a set of clothes and all their winter wear.
Faith isn't going on this trip, and is staying home with my mom. Her sensory issues don't deal with 13-hour flights very well. But Mom is taking her to Malaysia for a 4-day road trip with our helper. So she will have a ball.
I gave the missus the Dyneema Aeronaut 45, the bag on the far right. She has most of her clothes in there. About 6kg (13lbs) too. The bag is like a cave, swallowing all her belongings. This carry-on legal bag can be carried by the handle, by slinging or by the hidden backpack straps. The wife carried it backpack-style to leave her hands free to handle the kids.
We have one checked luggage. The mid-sized suitcase is carrying the balance of the kids' clothes, some toiletries and cosmetics that belong to the wife that won't pass the TSA 3-1-1 test (one does not argue with the wife about her toiletries and makeup) and the wife's high boots.
I tried suggesting that the wife wear the boots on the plane but she wanted to wear something lighter. Again, one does not question the wife when it comes to what fashion is needed on a trip. Hey, it's Paris, she wants her boots, she gets to pack it.
Not too bad for a family trip for half a month. We used to pack at least three suitcases for something like this.
And you don't realize how OCD you are until you are responsible for packing not just your own stuff but for the family. Color-coordinated packing cubes anyone?
I made a pre-trip run to NTUC Fairprice before we left. One must always have the right meds and other random stuff like Travel Wash and wet tissues. I usually use Dr Bronner's liquid soap for my own travel washing but I thought this time, I'd try the Dylon one for the family.
It is the first time the kids are on such long flight (13 hours!) and going to somewhere this cold. They asked me if the movies on the plane are free and if the meals are free too. They are used to budget flights where everything is extra. I explained to them that the stuff on this flight isn't "free" per se, just included in the price.
This is the scene that greeted me when I landed in Narita after a redeye flight from Singapore. Rain, gray skies and cold weather. The only thing that cheered me up was the sign that said "Free wifi in Narita".
The SQ flight itself to Tokyo was great. New entertainment system and the usual great service. I had a whole row of seats to myself too. I watched A Million Ways to Die in the West by Seth MacFarlane, and found a million ways to die of boredom from that movie.
After picking up my rental portable internet router from the airport post office, I donned my down jacket and rain jacket and waited for my 90-minute ride to town. "17°C" said the clock outside. Thank goodness I packed the merino wool stuff.
My hotel in Shinjuku (which shall remain unnamed) didn't have any rooms ready for my early check-in. "After 2pm," they said firmly, even though my booking indicated an early check-in. Ah well, I didn't have much luggage anyway (one small backpack for my clothes and one small satchel for my gear) so I was free to wonder around town.
My personal radar led me to Yodobashi Camera in Shinjuku where I did some browsing. I swear I didn't buy a thing. Then a quick lunch (where I saw the above menu item), some more walking, and a coffee with a slice of cheesecake later, I was back at the hotel at 1.59pm to check in.
"After 2pm, please," was the reply.
And so at 2.01pm, myself and the lobby of eating guests surged forward to check-in. The room, I have to say, was small. I felt like Gandalf visiting the Hobbits in their home. Heck, the Hobbits would have found the place claustrophobic.
But a room is a room. I took my shower in a Hobbit-sized half-bathtub in the Hobbit-sized bathroom (I didn't even know they made bath tubs this size) and tried not to knock into anything.
One of my readers who lives here told me the rain was going to last all day. At first I wore my rain jacket but eventually I caved in and bought a ¥513 transparent umbrella for Ryan and me, from the Pharmacy-That-Sells-Everything.
Supper was the nicest meal of the day. Good old ramen from 博多風龍 at Shinjuku area. You can add extra ramen for free.
The guy next to us refilled his bowl three times. Really ate until he got his money's worth.
Oh, and the rain that was going on all day? It stopped soon after we bought our umbrellas. It's all a conspiracy, I tell you.
Truth be told, I haven't been much of a jeans person for a long time. Between cycling to work and traveling, jeans are usually too hot to wear in Singapore, or too heavy to fit into my ultralight packing ways.
So when Uniqlo asked me to try their jeans, I thought, why not? I bought the jeans before my Germany trip last month (only $59.90! Way less than I pay for my branded jeans in factory outlet stores!).
I noticed right away that the material is lighter and stretchier. Wearing them felt comfy and soft, and not warm. What manner of of quality jeans fabric were these?
I read the label and it said it was Kaihara Denim, and it was lovely. It stretched at the right places (there is a touch of spandex in there) and I could wear it all day without feeling discomfort, whether in hot and humid Singapore or the cold mountains of the Bavarian Alps.
I showed the jeans to my wife and she said, ya, she has a few Uniqlo jeans. They are very comfortable and are among her faves, she told me. I didn't even know she owned one, let alone a few pairs.
So far, I have worn the jeans to work, walked the streets of Berlin and Munich, hiked the Untersberg mountain in Austria (it is part of the Berchtesgaden Alps) and even did a few air guitar jumps for fun.
I washed them a few times in the 15 days I was away last month and each time, the jeans dried way faster than my usual all-cotton jeans.
And I don't always get so happy about pants but I liked them so much, I got myself another pair in grey.
Do visit www.uniqlodenim247.com.sg and submit your entries to win lucky draw prizes. There are two draws:
1. A weekly draw to win $20 UNIQLO shopping vouchers – total of 10 to be won every week.
2. A Best Pose draw to win a pair of jeans worth $59.90. One to be won for every activity = total of 26 pairs to be won!
"It's been a wet Summer in Austria," our host said. And she was right. We expected clear skies here in Reith bei Seefeld but it was not to be. We woke up to rain. Even the mountains in front of our terrace were covered with clouds and mist.
Still, we thought, we should see the Austrian Alps somehow. That's what we came for. So we drove to nearby Bergbahnen Rosshütte and took a cable car up.
The ride up to the summit was fun. It took two different cable cars, the first to the middle station, then a second one to the top. In winter, you would also be taking ski lifts to ski down the slopes but this was still the summer season and most folks came to hike.
The rain was not as heavy anymore and it was too beautiful to not try walking down the mountain. I learned quickly that I was no longer that young strapping soldier in National Service. Good thing I wasn't carrying a full pack and weapon on this hike.
Not a bad way to end a nice day, I think.
Here's a shot of the bedroom and the bathroom. We booked it via Airbnb, totally on a whim.
When we were in Salzburg, we didn't even know where we were going next. We just looked at the map and said, hey, this place looks nice. And here we are in Reith bei Seefeld.
From Reith, we can go up to the mountains via the cable car at Seefeld, the next town. We also visited Innsbruck, a larger, more touristy city.
One of the pleasures of traveling free and easy is you can choose to cook and dine in, instead of eating out.
We have been buying stuff from the supermarket to eat for lunch, like a €1.20 sandwich here and a €2 chicken drumstick there. Beats eating at expensive restaurants or fast food joints. This is me with our supermarket lunch at Seefeld.
As it was with our Turkey trip, we sometimes cook full meals if we think the place we are staying in has adequate cooking facilities. It saves money and you eat better.
At the SPAR supermarket, we shopped for two breakfasts and two dinners.
When Ryan saw the ribeye in the supermarket chiller, he couldn't resist and grabbed some. I asked him, "You bought steaks? You know how to cook ah? I like medium leh."
He replied: "Medium size ah? I only know Well Done and Not Done."
Yes, I told him, and after Well Done, there is Good Job.
It is Sunday in Salzburg. Almost all shops are closed. We hunt for a 3G data card desperately.
After a wondering around the Salzburg HBF train station area, we find a €15 for 5GB Yooopi SIM card in a tiny hole-in-the-wall internet LAN shop run by a young Bangladeshi man.
He cuts the SIM, puts it Into my iPhone and activates the data plan. I turn off the SIM pin lock via the phone, and put the SIM into my MIFI router. Voila, shared wifi for the Ryan and me.
The things we do for our mobile internet.
Anyways, this is how you get to see these photos I took at the top of Untersberg mountain, shortly after I got off the cable car. Got to have that internet, man.
We bought a €26 Salzburg Card that covers many attractions, public transport and the cable car ride too. This one lasted 24 hours. There are longer periods you can buy. The cable car ride alone is already €21 so the Card is quite worth it if you use it for the cable car ride and one other attraction, like the Hellbrunn Palace and Trick Fountains.
I am so happy I brought my Tom Bihn Synapse 19 backpack. It has been a real trooper of a day pack. Inside I usually have my camera with three lenses, an Ultralight Down Jacket, Polar Buff scarf and assorted cables and portable battery pack.
The MacBook Pro and iPad Air are usually back in the room, inside the Western Flyer, my carry-on where my clothes and toiletries are.
The hike, after we reached the top of the mountain by cable car, took us more than an hour. There were nearer spots but we decided to hike a little higher, a little further.
We overestimated ourselves. Chuan, can?
I ended up lying down like the guy above when I reached the summit. I laid down for a long long time.
I could not resist singing The Hills Are Alive on the top of this Salzburg mountain. Hey, The Sound of Music is a personal fave.
We are staying at Barbra's place in Salzburg. We found it via Airbnb. She rents out the rooms in her house and the one we have is her best, at the top floor with our own toilet and bathroom. There is a small breakfast setup in the room and I was happy to park my can of Czech Pilsner Urquell in the mini fridge for drinking later.
It even has a nice balcony with a great view, where I plan to drink my one lonely can of beer tonight, in the cool of the Austrian night.