My Battambang with Allison Jane Smith

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Over the years, I’ve asked friends from around Asia, met through my online and offline adventures, to share their must-stop spots in South, East, and Southeast Asia’s great cities.

Today, welcome Allison Jane Smith, a writer and communications consultant. She was an editor at WhyDev, a thought leader in the international development community, and her writing has been featured in The Guardian, ONE, TakePart World, and Matador Network, among others. Like me, she has strong opinions about the Oxford comma. Follow her on Twitter at @asmithb.

And now, over to Allison…

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Battambang is a provincial capital in northwestern Cambodia with more laid-back charm than Cambodia’s flashier cities of Phnom Penh and Siem Reap. Settle in for a relaxed visit with great food, incredible local art, and delightful surprises in the Cambodian countryside. I enjoyed my first visit to Battambang so much it turned into living there for a year, and I know many others who have similarly found their stays in Battambang lasted much longer than originally intended!

Must eats?

Chinese Noodle (Street 2) is a perennial favorite for its hand-pulled noodles and delicious dumplings. Its popularity means it can be slow at busy times, but the food is worth the wait.

Jaan Bai (corner of Street 2 and Street 1.5) offers sophisticated small plates inspired by the best of southeast Asian cuisine, from pad Thai to eggplant and shiitake dumplings. A particular highlight is the crab served with Kampot pepper, a Cambodian speciality, and the selection of cocktails and fresh juices mean you’ll have no trouble finding the perfect beverage to complement your meal.

Soline of Choco l’Art (Street 117) serves Battambang’s most decadent desserts. Her chocolate mousse, cheesecake and pastries will satisfy any sweet tooth, and the art hanging on the walls, much of it created by Choco l’Art co-owner and local artist Ke Prak, will please anyone interested in Cambodian art.

For coffee, there’s no better place to go than Kinyei (Street 1.5), whose baristas have won multiple barista championships in Cambodia. Order a street latte for a Cambodian take on a classic latte, or try an iced Cambodian coffee for a truly Cambodian experience. If it’s not too busy, strike up a conversation with the staff; while shy at first, they like the opportunity to practice their English.

Must dos?

Battambang is home of Phare Ponleu Selpak (National Highway 5), a circus troupe that travels internationally. Take the opportunity to see the circus in Battambang, in an intimate atmosphere unlike any other. Phare’s shows feature local artists, musicians and acrobats for a unique artistic experience people of all ages will enjoy.

Don’t miss the bamboo train, a seven-kilometre trip through the countryside on a wooden frame lined with slats of bamboo. When I go with friends, we time our trip for sunset and ask our conductor to stop at the bridge about halfway through the ride, for beautiful views of the sun setting over rice paddies.

Twelve kilometers southwest of the city on National Highway 57 is Phnom Sampov, which has a whole lot to explore – bring comfortable shoes! There’s a complex of temples, a deep cave, and the Killing Caves of Phnom Sampov, now a memorial for the people clubbed to death by the Khmer Rouge. Visit at dusk, when millions of bats pour out of the north side of the cliff, an impressive show that turns the sky black and lasts for a good half hour.

Soksabike offers half- and full-day cycling tours of the countryside, with stops along the way at family-run businesses to learn how they make rice paper, rice wine, and bamboo sticky rice. Stock up on the dried bananas offered on the tour, as they are sold in Thailand rather than at local markets. Book tours at Kinyei (Street 1.5).

Must shops?

Battambang is too small to have much shopping, but the few shops it has are unlike any others you’ll come across in Cambodia.

Bric-a-Brac (119 Street 2) is a one-of-a-kind boutique, serving as a workshop, showroom and gift shop for design textiles, antiques, and souvenirs. Ask shop co-owner Morrison for your turn on the handmade loom, to see what it’s like to weave on a loom that has created tassels and braids for royalty and heads of state.

The Lost Stick (76 Street 2.5) describes itself as an “emporium of strange items and underground comics” and is full of old photographs, novelty toys, and other kitsch. Always worth a browse.

Must art?

Battambang has a long and proud tradition of artistic excellence in Cambodia, and even today most of the country’s best artists come from Battambang. There’s no better place to learn about Cambodian art and meet Cambodian artists.

Across from The Lost Stick is Lotus Bar and Gallery (53 Street 2.5) in a beautifully renovated shophouse. On street-level is a bar, while upstairs is a gallery which specializes in showing the best of local arts. Lotus also hosts film screenings, live music and poetry events, so it’s worth asking at the bar what’s planned for while you’re visiting.

Sammaki (87 Street 2.5) is an artist-run community space offering workshops, exhibitions and other arts-related events.

Must go?

Except for the bamboo train, Phnom Sampov and the circus, everything is located in the city center and is easily walkable. Take a tuk tuk to get to everything farther away.

(Additional credits: Photographs by Allison Jane Smith; photo layout via Pugly Pixel.)

My Panjim with Chryselle D’Silva Dias

 

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Over the years, I’ve asked friends from around Asia, met through my online and offline adventures, to share their must-stop spots in South, East, and Southeast Asia’s great cities.

Today, welcome Chryselle D’Silva Dias, a freelance writer/journalist based in Goa, India. Her bylines have appeared in Time, BBC, The Atlantic, VICE, Scroll.in, The Guardian Weekly, Marie Claire India, Christian Science Monitor, Wall Street Journal Asia, Silverkris, and Architectural Digest (India) among others.

And now, over to Chryselle…

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Panjim is Goa’s capital city, one that feels more like a charming over-grown town. The city is a curious mix of old and new, of heritage buildings and new structures with glass facades, of hole-in-the-wall joints that only the locals know about and contemporary cuisine that the world appreciates.

Must eats?

If you’re hungry in Panjim, head to one of the little eateries along every street, the one that seems unremarkable in its decor, or menu. If it is crowded with locals, that’s the place to eat. Whether it is for the staple fish-curry-rice or a mid-morning snack of pav-bhaji (freshly baked Goan bread with different types of gravies), traditional Goan restaurants are in a league of their own. I love Cafe Aram (18th June Road). Its chana-masala (chick-peas cooked in a spicy base) with puris (fluffy deep fried Indian bread) fills you up and leaves you perfectly sated.

For a meal, try the blink-and-you-might-miss-it Anandashram (31st January Road), a favourite lunch-time spot for commoners and politicians alike. Their fish thali is sumptuous and the queues waiting in the aisle for a table are testimony to its popularity.

A short distance away is the popular Confeitaria 31 De Janeiro, one of the oldest bakeries in town (31st January Road). Traditional Goan sweets and savoury snacks line the shelves in this tiny bakery. The freshly baked biscuits and cakes are tempting. Say hello to Gleta, the owner if she happens to be there when you visit.

Cream Centre near the Panjim market has the most delectable dessert – Gadbad, which literally means “mess.” The mess in question is a tall glass of several scoops of ice-cream, mixed with bits of fruit and nuts. A tall chunk of heaven, for sure.

If you’re looking for a change from traditional Goan food, head straight to Black Sheep Bistro (near Old Passport Office, off 18th June Road), my favourite contemporary restaurant in Goa. Their menu features farm-to-table recipes ensuring fresh food with a local twist (chorizo with chocolate, anyone?). Their cocktails are amazing as is their service and attitude. The owners Prahlad and Sabreen are friendly, professional and evidently love what they do. Which is why we love them too!

Must dos?

Panjim is a very walkable city so put on your comfy shoes and explore.

Dedicated to Our Lady of Immaculate Conception, or Nossa Senhora da Immaculada Conceição, Panjim Church is the city’s most iconic landmark. It is one of the oldest Christian shrines in Goa, and is believed to have been built in 1541. The four-tiered zigzagging stone stairway that leads up to it was added a good three centuries later in 1841. The magnificent bell in the belfry, at 2250 kg, is second in size only to the “Golden Bell” of the Sé Cathedral in Old Goa, and once belonged to the Monastery of St Augustine in Old Goa (whose ruins are well worth a visit when you are in Old Goa).

Check out the magnificent Azulejos in the Institute Menezes Braganza. These beautiful blue and white tiles depict scenes from Os Lusíadas, an epic poem by Portuguese poet Luís Vaz de Camões. It tells the story of Portugal’s 15th- and 16th-century voyages of discovery. Goa was a Portuguese colony until 1961 and the azulejos are a work of art to be preserved and celebrated.

Walk around Fontainhas, Panjim’s charming Latin Quarter where time seems to stand still. The old houses and by-lanes are mostly well maintained and is lovely to walk through.

Must shops?

Marcou Artifacts (31 January Road) has pretty, traditional and sometimes humorous ceramic goodies for your home. From rooster-shaped bowls, sea-horses for your balcony wall or a Mario Miranda cartoon coaster, there’s something for every taste and budget here.

The mother-of-pearl windows that still adorn many traditional homes are increasingly difficult to find, but you can take home a shell-inspired souvenier or three. Shell chandeliers, necklaces and vases are popular, as are packets of the luminescent, disc-shaped “capiz.” (Try Shankwalkars, next to the Old Secretariat.)

Must art?

At the end of the 31st January Road, Gitanjali Gallery (31st January Road) is an increasingly important destination for local and national artists. Drop in to check out their latest exhibition and you might discover a new favourite. Owner Miriam Koshy Sukhija welcomes guests and is very knowledgeable about her work. A few hundred yards away (follow the little road to the left of the Gallery) is the elegant Fundação Oriente (Filipe Neri Road), now the permanent home to an impressive collection of paintings by António Xavier Trindade (1870-1935).

Goa is also home to the annual Goa Art and Lit Festival. This year, the festival will be from 10-13 December 2015 and speakers include popular authors, poets and international journalists.

Must Go?

Panjim is a fairly small city with promenades along the river and pavements (on most roads) for pedestrians and you can easily walk around. If your feet get weary (or the humidity gets to you), there are other ways to travel.

The yellow and black rickshaws are available at most corners and will take you in and around the city. Or hop on to a unique taxi service – the motorcycle taxi, which is exactly what it sounds like. These motorcycles with their “pilots” (as the drivers are called) have yellow and black number-plates and bright yellow mudguards which make them easy to spot. Public buses are available from the main bus stand and along the main roads, but not easy to find in the inner roads. For rickshaws and motorcycle taxis, do determine the price before you set off, to avoid any confusion at your destination. There are also traditional taxi services available but these tend to be more expensive.

(Additional credits: Photographs by Chryselle D’Silva Dias; photo layout via Pugly Pixel.)

My Hanoi with Quynh Nguyen of nightcactus

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Over the years, I’ve asked friends from around Asia, met through my online and offline adventures, to share their must-stop spots in South, East, and Southeast Asia’s great cities.

Today, welcome Quynh Nguyen, a Vietnamese-born Amsterdam-based freelance writer. She blogs about travelling, living abroad and #lifehack at www.nightcactus.net. You can also check out her work on her website, www.quynh.nl. Follow her on Twitter and Instagram

And now, over to Quynh…

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Must eats? One thing I love about living in Hanoi is the snack time. After work and before dinner, I sometimes go out with my best friend for some nom, a salad made with green papaya, carrot and beef jerky mixed in a tangy fish sauce and topped with roasted peanuts. There is a little stall run by an old lady near the church on Ham Long Street. It has a plastic table and a few blue stools on the part of a pavement where you are not allowed to sell food officially. Whenever a police car drives past, we have to stand up and pretend that we are not eating there and that we are just two random girls holding up some random plastic plates. We keep coming back despite the trouble because her nom is so good: it is fresh and full of flavour. On those plastic stools, my best friend and I have shared countless stories about friends and family, the rivalry and the loved ones, or sometimes just random gossip.

As soon as the summer heat eases off, I go for lau, or so-called “hotpot”, in Quan Ngay Moi (New Day Restaurant) on Ma May street. They offer three types of soup base (standard, tom yum and spicy) with a large selection of toppings from seafood and freshwater fish to thinly sliced pork and beef. They serve leafy green vegetables, different kinds of tofu (fresh as well as cooked), and various mushrooms on the side. The ingredients are fresh and of high quality, and the staff are friendly and efficient. The restaurant offers other foods such as rice dishes and beer snacks. If I arrive at the restaurant starving, I order these snacks while waiting for the hotpot to be ready. They are also pretty good and reasonably priced.

Living in Hanoi has the luxury of a wide choice of pho (noodle soup), inarguably the most famous Vietnamese dish abroad. I love Pho ga chat Ton Duc Thang where they only do pho with chicken in thick chops including both bone and skin. Their chicken is tender and tasty while their broth is just perfect for the tongue, the nose and the eyes. They must sell at least fifty chickens per day because the restaurant is always packed whenever I go for a slurp or simply drive past. Even though I prefer pho with chicken, I do sometimes go to Pho Thin, a small and rustic restaurant near Hoan Kiem Lake, for its excellent pho bo, the beef version.

I like street foods because they are so yummy and they don’t fill you up too quickly. When I want to introduce Vietnamese street food to my foreign friends, I take them to one of the Quan An Ngon restaurants, which are on Tran Hung Dao Street or Phan Dinh Phung Street. Their concept is to bring different types of street food into a restaurant setting, which means that guests can sit on proper chairs and tables, instead of on tiny plastic stools by a busy street like at a typical street food stall. There, you can find everything from banh cuon (steamed rice crepes filled with minced pork and mushrooms) to banh goi (deep-fried pastries made with pork, vermicelli, mushrooms and sometimes eggs), all types of noodle soups: bun (rice vermicelli), mien (glass noodle) and pho (flat rice noodle), as well as che – a type of dessert made with beans, coconut milk, jelly and many other random ingredients, and served either hot or cold.

Must dos?

I like going for bia hoi (draught beer), and my favourite place is the bia hoi junction, where Ta Hien street meets Luong Ngoc Quyen street. It is very crowded with backpackers sitting right on the junction, but I do squeeze into the crowd when I am in the mood for people-watching. When I’m not, my boyfriend and I sit at a larger place about 50 metres away. The establishment includes ten to twenty plastic tables, setting up on the pavement outside a school. We park our motorbike inside the school and get a table, a few beer snacks and a lot of beer. The draught beer is made within the day at one of the breweries around town, and its alcohol level and quality vary widely. However, the main attraction of bia hoi is the taste of freshness on a summer evening. People, young and old, come to this place to unwind casually after a long hard day. It’s so full of life the way they drink, eat, talk and laugh away.

There is a blossoming cafe culture in Hanoi, where you can find many different styles of coffee shops from chic and modern (like Joma or Hanoi Social Club) to retro classic (like Cong Caphe or Cafe Lam). I like going to Cong Caphe, sitting on the floor by their low tables, and watching the coffee drips coming from the phin (the Vietnamese version of cafetière) into the glass.

Must sees?

The Old Quarter is something that you have probably read about in every guide to Hanoi, but you really must see it. I like to drive my motorbike very slowly through all the hang – a kind of street on which the shops historically sold only a single type of product. There used to be about 50 streets like that, but nowadays only a handful remain in their original form: selling incense sticks, spices, silver works, and lanterns etc. Each hang has their typical colour patterns and scents, which always give me a sense of nostalgia as I wander past.

I am generally not a big fan of mega malls, but I do find the newly built Royal City’s Mega Mall pretty impressive. The underground shopping mall covers a total area of 230,000 square metres. It has six hundred-and-something shops, two hundred-and-something restaurants, two movie theatres, a water park, and the most exciting thing: a full-size ice rink. When I last went, the majority of skaters were beginners, and it was so fun to watch tropical Hanoians giving it a try at a winter sport.

When I feel like taking a break from the hustle and bustle of the city life, I opt for visiting the Vietnam Museum of Ethnology. It is located in one of the newly developed districts and is about 10km away from the centre. The main exhibition displays everyday objects from various ethnic groups, as well as their tribal art inside a modern structure. However, I most enjoy what lies outside the main building . Here are examples of traditional village houses, such as a house on stilts or a long commune cottage. I find it fascinating to learn about the different ways of living that are so close to my birthplace, but somehow so remote to me.

Must art?

I still remember the first time my parents took me to see water puppets. I was ten and seeing the colouring puppets moving in the water was like magic. Adults also find water puppets fun and graceful so grab a show at the Municipal Water Puppet Theatre if you have never seen it. For more modern forms of art, I go to the Jazz Club on Quan Su, chilling with a glass of wine and listen to the live band. Or else, Hanoi Opera House has many big gigs of well popular singers and bands. I also go there for the venue, which is absolutely gorgeous.

Must gos?

I get around Hanoi on a scooter because it is a fast and convenient way to manoeuvre around busy roads. I sometimes take the bus, especially to go to the new part of town, like Cau Giay or Thanh Xuan districts. There the roads are wide, busy and dusty so the bus could be a temporary safe haven on a very hot day. Taxis are plenty in Hanoi, especially around the centre. The fare is quite reasonable, especially with smaller taxis like Van Xuan. I would take Mai Linh sometimes because their service is probably the best in the city, but they are not cheap. If you want to take a taxi, make you sure you learn the names of some big taxi companies so you can recognize them. There are a lot of scams so even if the brand looks familiar, you should always check if the car has a proper meter reader running.

(Additional credits: Photographs by Quynh Nguyen; photo layout via Pugly Pixel.)

My Asia: My Tokyo with Ros Lee of Polkaros

Today’s installment of My Asia comes from Ros Lee of Polkaros, a Tokyo-based lifestyle brand.

Ros is a is Singapore-born designer that has been living and working in Japan since 2005. After graduating from Temasek Polytechnic School of Design, she was selected from a group of promising young artists and awarded a scholarship by Singapore’s National Art Council to study language and design in Japan.

After an intensive course in Japanese, Ros entered Joshibi Universitiy of Art and Design where she majored in textile design. Over the course of her studies she participated in gallery showings in Tokyo and upon completion of her degree she was offered a position as a product designer at a Tokyo-based interior goods and lifestyle product company.

After several years of working as an in-house designer, Ros decided to strike out on her own. In 2011 she began working as a design consultant and officially launched the Polkaros brand.

“I still find myself intrigued by my daily discoveries in this city,” she says. “I guess you can never finish exploring Tokyo as it’s ever-changing!”

To Ros…

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Must eats?

If you really want to enjoy some great food swing by Kagurazaka, a charming neighborhood packed with small cafes and restaurants. It’s particularly interesting because of its traditional Japanese atmosphere sprinkled with a dash of European culture. Many French expatriats live nearby; there are a ton of French eateries in the area. Additionally, you’ll also find several excellent tapas bars serving up authentic Spanish dishes. Many of the dining establishments here are top-notch and can be a bit pricy. But budget travelers need not fret. There are plenty of great lunch specials that will allow you to tantalize your palate without breaking the bank. I simply love wandering around the back streets and discovering new shops and watering holes. You should stop by Canal CafeSaryo CafeEl PulpoBrassarie Saint Martin.

Must shops?

I love shopping for vintage clothings in Tokyo and I am always inspired by the delightful fabric patterns and colors. Some of my favorite vintage shops are located in Koenji, Kichijoji, and Shimokitazawa. There are so many lovely shops to discover; all you have to do is start walking! My favorite shops are Vivid (Koenji), Garnish (Kichijoji), Big Time (Shimokitazawa), and New York Joe Exchange (Shimokitazawa).

While working as a lifestyle goods designer, I had to do market research to spot trends. That was great because wandering around home interior shops is one of my favorite pastimes! My favorite lifestyle stores are Bazar-et-Garde-MangerCiboneDoux DimancheDoinel, and Malto.

Must dos?

Visit the Inokashira Park Zoo if you like animals. Have a carefully concocted cocktail in one of the bars on Golden Street. Visit Yoyogi Koen on Sundays. There is usually flea market in the park on Sundays.

Must art?

Design Festa is an art event, held twice a year, where artists and crafters from all over Japan and around world participate and showcase their works. I participated in my first Design Festa eleven years ago and that was what inspired me to move to Japan. You will find some very creative and well-crafted handmade works at reasonable prices. Design Festa also has two galleries in Harajuku with rental spaces that are open to anyone who wants to showcase their art.

The Okuno Building is not a gallery, but an old apartment building occupied by many small art galleries and event spaces. It was built in the 1930s, during the Early Showa Era and is one of the oldest buildings in Ginza. Many of the galleries have irregular schedules and there is always something to see in this charismatic building.

The Hara Museum of Contemporary Art, the MOT Museum of Contemporary Art Tokyo, and Watari-um are also worth a look and host great exhibitions.

Must gos?

I like walking and cycling around Tokyo. But taking the train is be the best way to get around if you are visiting. It can be a little overwhelming at first as the train lines are complex and run by different companies. Often station names are written only in Japanese so I highly recommend downloading an app like train.jp where you can find your route simply by entering your location and destination.

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And so, My Asia draws to a close. Do check out the entire 2012 series: My Asia: My Bangkok with Kat Jones, My Asia: My Beijing with Qi Zhai of the Qrious life, My Asia: My Ho Chi Minh City with Sandrine Llouquet, My Asia: My Hong Kong with Wee Ling of chopchopcurrypok, and My Asia: My Manila with Deepa of Currystrumpet.

(Additional credits: Photographs by Ros Lee; photo layout via Pugly Pixel.)

My Asia: My Manila with Deepa of Currystrumpet

I’m so delighted to welcome Deepa of Currystrumpet to notabilia to share her Manila with you!

Deepa is a 30 year-old freelance writer from the Philippines living in Amsterdam (by way of Singapore). She blogs about her life in Amsterdam, her travels around Europe, and her home. She also posts creative projects that she’s working on—mostly in watercolor and calligraphy.

Follow Deepa on Twitter, connect with her on Facebook, or peek at what she’s pinning on Pinterest.

And now, to Deepa…

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What the world knows as Manila is actually a cluster of 13 cities and municipalities that make up “Metro Manila.” So you could say you’re flying to Manila, but actually end up, say, staying in Makati, shopping in Taguig, and brunching in Quezon City—and crossing several other cities in between. I used to work in Makati and Quezon City so most of my go-to places are in those cities.

Must eats?

Play grown-up at Sala Bistro, which does a beautiful weekend brunch with all the bubbly you could want. However, the little girl in me has a weakness for the chocolate chip pancakes (slathered with whipped butter, peanut butter, and maple syrup) at cheap and cheerful Pancake House, a chain with branches in virtually every mall in the metro.

A visit to Manila is not complete without dinner at Sentro 1771 for modern Filipino cuisine. I love their corned beef sinigang, fall-apart beef ribs and shanks in a sour tamarind broth. Also try Abe, for hearty traditional dishes from one of the country’s major foodie regions, and Chef Laudico’s Bistro Filipino, for a modern/fusion approach to classic Filipino fare (his Adobo Overload is a must and the desserts are divine). These restaurants are always packed, so book ahead.

Lusso pairs a luxe environment with a killer foie gras burger (and some very pretty desserts and tea) for a post-shopping girly catch-up. If you’re feeling adventurous, head away from the malls to Makati’s red-light district for Chinese comfort food at North Park. (Across the street, its offshoot Next Door serves dimsum till the wee hours of the morning.) Also nearby is Ziggurat, a relaxed, cozy, hole-in-the wall that offers Mediterranean, African, and Middle Eastern cuisine. If you find yourself in Quezon City, hit unpretentious roadside stop JT’s Manukan for a quick, satisfying meal of chicken inasal, marinated in a generations-old recipe of seasonings and spices and grilled over hot coals. Don’t forget the garlic fried rice and spicy vinegar!

Café Mary Grace is famous for melt-in-your-mouth baked goods, such as the soft, cheese-topped Filipino favorite, ensaymada. Seved best with a cup of thick, hot chocolate.

Must shops?

For his-and-hers shopping, my husband and I love Bleach Catastrophe for its flattering shapes, muted palette, and unique prints. Myth is a one-stop shop that offers chic clothing for men and women plus fashion and home accessories from some of the leading names in Filipino design. For the ultimate cheap thrill, root around Landmark for dirt-cheap, trendy buys. I don’t think I’ll use my neon yellow ballet flats for more than one season, but at the price of just Php600, I won’t be heartbroken.

Arnel Papa creates bold statement accessories with ethnic glamour. Bags from Aranaz combine modern design with quality Filipino workmanship. For souvenirs, Team Manila is my go-to stop for hip design goods with a touch of local humor. SM Kultura is where I load up on accessories made of brightly woven banig and iridescent, pearly capiz shells. The tiangge (market) at the Greenhills Shopping Center is the place to buy affordable cultured pearls. Pearl stud earrings here are inexpensive, which is great because I keep losing them!

As a bookworm, I can’t leave without a haul of English-language books from National Bookstore. The selection here is better and cheaper than in most Asian countries. Browse the Filipiniana section for books by talented local authors. If you have kids, you can find beautiful children’s books illustrated by Ang INK, a local children’s illustration collective.

Must sees?

The pace of life in the city is frenetic, so people often drive out of town to relax. I grew up with Tagaytay as the weekend driving destination of choice, for its cooler temperature and the stunning view over a lake within a volcano within a lake that was a volcano. (No, that was not a typo.) I love to start with a late brunch of fresh-baked cinnamon rolls and locally grown coffee at Bag of Beans followed by a soothing massage in the quiet green enclave of Nurture Spa. By far, my favorite place in Tagaytay is Antonio’s, a stunning residence-turned-restaurant with a consistent presence in the Miele Guide’s Asian Top 20.

Must dos?

I love Saturday mornings at the open-air Salcedo market for great foodie finds, people-watching, and a lively atmosphere. For a fascinating, entertaining and, at times, polarizing introduction to Filipino history and culture, Carlos Celdran’s walking tour of Old Manila is a must-do.

I’m not much of an outdoor person, but running is very popular around Bonifacio Global City. Aim for very early morning or close to sunset to escape the oppressive heat.

Services are quite cheap in Manila, so I always get a full salon workup when I’m in town: cut, color, mani-pedi, threading, waxing, the works! My salon shortlist includes Azta Urban Salon in Quezon City and Hairworks, Basement, or Propaganda (all on this great roundup of salons) in Makati.

Must art?

The Collective is a warren of auto repair shops that have been converted into an alternative retail space. At night, bar B-side plays alternative music and combines reggae, ska, and dancehall with local street food on Sundays. For your art fix, nearby Silver Lens Galleryhas a finely curatedselection of fine art and photography.

West Gallery in Quezon City has a great selection of contemporary Filipino art. Many works by talented local artists are available at reasonable prices.

Filipinos are naturally gifted musicians and the local indie scene truly rocks. Catch a gig at Saguijo in Makati or Conspiracy Bar in Quezon City (a true local gem that’s well worth the trek on a weekend) and be blown away by the creativity and talent that is Manila’s music scene.

If you don’t want to stray too far, see what’s on the playbill at the Carlos P. Romulo Auditorium in RCBC Plaza or at Onstage Greenbelt, home of English-language theater company Repertory Philippines. Filipinos love musicals and theater, particularly local productions of Broadway hits; our theater artists and productions are of a high caliber.

Must gos?

The Makati commercial and business district is probably the most walkable area of the city. Greenbelt, Legaspi, and Salcedo Villages are all within walking distance. Elsewhere, taxis are your best bet. If you’re heading out of town to Tagaytay or one of the nearby beaches, rent a car.

(Additional credits: Photographs by Deepa; photo layout via Pugly Pixel.)

My Asia: My Hong Kong with Wee Ling of chopchopcurrypok

I am so delighted to welcome Wee Ling, the talented writer behind chopchopcurrypok, a beautiful blog about travel and visual culture in Asia, back to notabilia!

In her own words: “I was born in Singapore. While in university, I made up my mind to move to Beijing but ended up in Shanghai instead. I was a tax consultant who became a business/financial news editor. Now I live in Hong Kong and, by some surreal twist of fate, am back in tax consulting once more.

“I love writing and started to pursue writing a little more seriously after I landed a gig with Singapore’s main broadsheet as a freelance youth journalist because of my then blog. I am still looking to balance my creative interests and background in accounting/finance. Visual communication inspires me and I bring my camera everywhere.”

Now, over to Wee Ling…

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Must eats?

I wish I had the deep pockets, patience for month-long reservations, and coordination of dining companions that private kitchens encompass. Safe to say, I haven’t been to a lot but of the few I’ve gone to, I’ll gladly head back to TBLS for splurge-worthy special occasions. That probably says a lot since I hardly get excited over posh Western grub these days (my increasingly heartlander Asian-favoring palate is to blame). Creative and tasty, fancy yet unpretentious. Advance reservations a must.

For Cantonese comfort food, my regret is that I’ve only just recently discovered Wing Hing, a laidback Cantonese restaurant with middle-aged male wait staff that’s about a five minute walk from home after two years in Hong Kong. They do up a mean rendition of the shrimp omelette that’s wobbly-tasty like mom’s steamed egg even though it’s fried. Oh so perfect with rice. Chicken in scallion oil is what they are famous for so don’t forget to order that.

I go to On Lee Noodle Shop because they do wanton/ fishball noodles tossed in sauce well. It’s been a challenge finding an eatery that doesn’t just give you noodles on a plate and a tiny dollop of oyster sauce. Add some of their spicy chilli sauce into the mix and it quite hits the spot. Shau Kei Wan also makes for an interesting neighborhood to check out while you are there—local with a small town feel sans tourists with DSLR cameras.

Everyone comes to Hong Kong for dim sum but I have a soft spot for hotpot, its lesser-known cousin. For a truly Hong Kong hotpot experience, I have no qualms heading to Fong Wing Kee Hot Pot Restaurant in Kowloon City famed for its satay hotpot. The atmosphere’s great. (And by great, I mean local, no-frills, and fluorescent lighting.) Be sure to stir the thick, slightly spicy, satay broth often as it burns easily. Otherwise, closer to home, I go to San Xi Lou for a split hotpot of clear soup on one side and mala on the other. Half the fun is in concocting the accompanying dip; mine’s a throwback to my Singaporean roots with a base of soy sauce and chilli padi slices.

Likewise, Hong Kong-style western food, which had sprung up during British colonial rule when most Hongkongers could not afford to dine at Western restaurants, is another aspect of local cuisine worth exploring. Goldfinch of Wong Kar Wai’s In the Mood for Love and 2046 fame is where I bring my friends to, both for the atmosphere and black pepper steak on hot plates, even if the old-schooled waiters always seat us in the unglamorous back area of the restaurant.

On the street, gai daan jai (eggette) makes for a sweet between-meals snacking as I explore Hong Kong. For something savory, do as Hongkongers do. Boiled fishballs and squid dunk in curry sauce (choose level of spiciness) are a convenient eat-as-you-go option.

Must shops?

Hong Kong ought to be proud of its multi-brand fashion powerhouse Lane Crawford. It’s a joy to browse even if shopping is not on the cards. I like their strong retail display concepts and how everything’s well-edited and quite put together, especially their Confetti System collaboration last year at their Pacific Place store (now closed, boo) and Pacific Place home and lifestyle flagship (still around).

Ironically, some of the more interesting Hong Kong stores aren’t brick-and-mortar (just yet?). My attempts to be less reliant on disposable fast fashion have meant that I’m always keeping an eye out for emerging independent designers. I’m currently obsessing over Tangram, a quirky cheery clothing and accessories line by husband-and-wife duo Paola Sinisterra and Ignacio Garcia, as well as Barnett, spunky statement necklaces by self-trained jewellery designer sisters Kate and Bridget Barnett.

Must dos?

To me, the best bar in HK is not exactly a bar. Definitely head to Happy Valley Racecourse if you are in town on a Wednesday. For a whiff of fast horses, serious local gamblers, and foreigners out for a social pre-drinks mixer before heading to Lan Kwai Fong, you can’t find a better atmosphere than at the racecourse. HKD10 entry buys you an unbeatable atmosphere and lots of fun whether you bet or not!

The terrace at Dharma Den and the roof garden at Hong Kong Fringe Club are my perennial favorites when it comes to chilling out with a drink in hand away from the chi chi crowded sidewalks of Wyndham Street and the tourists of Lan Kwai Fong. Tai Lung Fung is a similarly good option, but in Wan Chai, and away from the buzz of a different sort of ageing male tourists on Lockhart Road.

001 is a hyped-up basement whiskey bar hidden in a side street where there is a strict no-photography rule. Cocktails are pricey but well-mixed and they serve up probably the best version of Old Fashioned in Hong Kong that I keep coming back for.

Must sees?

Summer in Hong Kong, unbearably hot as it is, is a great season to look forward to, weekends of barbecue and sitting in the crystal-clear shallow waters of Long Ke Wan beach, clam-picking at Pui O beach, and lazy afternoons at islands such as Peng Chau and Cheung Chau.

Too many Singaporeans head to Hong Kong for a convenient slice of the shop-and-eat weekend getaway formula. It’s a shame as Hong Kong has plenty to offer in terms of nature—beaches, hiking trails and islands—sometimes as near as just 30 minutes away from downtown Hong Kong. What’s easy to work into the schedule of a whirlwind trip to Hong Kong is a visit to Dragon’s Back. It takes half a day maximum and is conveniently located on Hong Kong island, which is not too much effort really for a fantastic alternate landscape of HK beyond skyscrapers overlooking Victoria Harbour.

There’s also small pockets of interesting neighborhoods like Tai Ping Shan Street, Tai Hang and Star Street which make for interesting strolls. I suppose they are great places to while the time away if you like subtleties and idle wandering in urban neighborhoods.

Must art?

Clockenflap is a two-day arts and music festival typically held on a weekend in November/ December featuring a good mix of local and overseas indie bands. It’s free to enter but prior online registration is necessary.

Steering clear of the commercial art galleries on Hollywood Road, I usually go to Saamlung, Above Second, and Para/Site for a refreshing perspective of emerging and edgy contemporary art.

Must gos?

Like Singapore, Hong Kong is easily explored via the MTR and taxis. For a flavor of nostalgic and everyday Hong Kong, you can’t beat the Star Ferry and the trams (do hop on before they are all replaced by the new modern tram model).

(Additional credits: Photographs by Wee Ling; photo layout via Pugly Pixel.)