What I Did Right (And Wrong) in Southeast Asia

What I Did Right (And Wrong) in Southeast Asia

This post was inspired by Adventurous Kate’s posts The Things I Did RIGHT in Southeast Asia and The Things I Did WRONG in Southeast Asia. I loved her posts and couldn’t resist reflecting on my Southeast Asia travels in a similar vein!

Ever since I returned from Asia, I’ve been reflecting a lot on my four-month trip.

Despite some rough moments, I had a fantastic time and cliché of clichés, I changed a lot (gag), returning home a braver, more independent and more self-confident person.

But I undoubtedly made a lot of novice mistakes on my trip… and of course, did one or two things right.

What I did right in Southeast Asia:

I skipped the Full Moon Party.

Instead of donning neon and sculling Red Bull buckets, I skipped the Full Moon Party to complete my Open Water Certification. And considering everyone came back moaning about the crowded beach and filthy, sand-ridden accommodation, I wasn’t too upset that I passed up the party.

I took it slow in Vietnam.

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Instead of rushing to see all of Vietnam in a month, I traveled slowly and focused only on the south. But I still covered a lot of ground, from the pine-covered mountains of the Central Highlands to the tropical marshland of the Mekong Delta. And as many say the best food in Vietnam is in the south, I think I made a good (and delicious) choice.

(Though I won’t lie- I am dying to head to the north of Vietnam at some point: Hanoi, Sapa, Hoi An and Halong Bay.)

I went on antidepressants when I needed them.

I haven’t written about this until now but when I was in Asia I started taking antidepressants for the first time in my life. And given my mental state at the time (basically a deep well of anxiety and depression), this was one of my smartest decisions.

Honestly if I hadn’t sought out help I would’ve gone home months early.

I took cooking classes in almost every country I visited.

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While in Asia I took cooking classes in Hong Kong, Bangkok, Bali and Gili Trawangan. They were all a ton of fun and now I know lots of delicious Asian recipes… yay!

Big misses? I didn’t take cooking classes in Vietnam and Singapore. (I also didn’t take a Cambodian cooking class which was fine because I don’t care for Khmer cooking.)

I kept my itinerary super flexible.

While I had a guideline of what I wanted to see in Asia, I kept my day-to-day itinerary very loose. I usually just met travelers on the bus and tagged along with them to the hostel they had picked.

By keeping my itinerary flexible I was able to go on impromptu trips to the Mekong Delta and a motorcycle journey across Vietnam, as well tack on an unplanned leg of the trip: Singapore, Bali and Gili Trawangan.

I pushed myself physically.

Mount Batur Bali

During my four months in Asia I climbed a volcano, enjoyed a month-long yoga retreat and completed a four-day open water certification. I also tried stand-up paddle boarding, Capoeira, Muay Thai and canyoning for the first time.

Staying active not only kept me happy and healthy, it also exposed me to new physical activities. I’m now a stand-up paddle boarding and canyoning convert! (But good luck getting me to climb another volcano.)

I carried US dollars and passport photos on me at all times.

If you learn anything from this post, learn this: When traveling Southeast Asia keep at least $100 USD and several passport photos in your backpack.

I kept an envelope of crisp $20 bills in my backpack and they were useful for paying visa fees which often required US dollars. My extra passport photos also came in handy for the same reason.

And while I never had to bribe anyone, US dollars are the best currency for bribery worldwide.

I budgeted- but not too much.

While I tried to stick to a budget of $20-30 a day, some days I went over, some I went under.  I also splurged for adventure activities like scuba-diving or the occasional night in a boutique hotel. #SorryImNotSorry

I packed lots of useful things.

I was so thankful to have bug-spray, an eye-mask, a Kindle, a million black tank tops, packing cubes, Imodium, the world’s best sunscreen, a mini flashlight, two adorable Victoria’s Secret bikinis and a gigantic quick-drying travel towel. I was grateful to have a rolling backpack 99% of the time. (Which I snagged on Amazon for $150!)

 I didn’t commit any of the cardinal sins of Southeast Asia.

While in Asia I didn’t ride an elephant, give child street vendors money or buy a Thai wife. So there’s that.

 

And… What I did wrong in Southeast Asia.

 

I visited the Andaman Coast during low season.

IMG_6140                                                                      Right before a mini-monsoon…

It turns out September is a terrible time to visit the Andaman coast- it’s rainy, dead and depressing. The Gulf of Thailand (i.e. Koh Samui, Koh Phangan, Koh Tao) is a much better choice in September.

I got ridiculously burned in Southern Thailand. Multiple times.

One day I went snorkeling on Koh Tao at noon. And before jumping in the water I quickly sprayed on a bit of SPF30. Dumb.

My back was so burnt I had to sleep on my stomach for days and could only shower with cold water. Did I learn from this? No. Because I got horrifically burnt several more times in Asia.

Note to all my pale people out there- WEAR SUNSCREEN IN THAILAND.

I only spent a morning at the Temples of Angkor… with a bunch of drunk people.

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Sight-seeing with drunk people was kind of funny but mostly obnoxious. The Temples of Angkor were spectacular and I only got to spend three hours at them. Sigh.

I got stressed about nothing.

In life and in travel, I tend to sweat the small stuff at times. Note to past-Ashley- chill the eff out. You’ll live.

I banged my camera equipment around.

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On my trip I committed many sins against my beloved camera: I dropped my SLR out of a van (California), dropped it on the ground (Cambodia) and banged my 5omm lens into a tiled wall (Vietnam). I had to pay for my SLR to be fixed in Vietnam and spent about $25 on the repair, and completely ruined my 50mm.

I missed Kep and Kampot in Cambodia.

Due to traveling with a big group for much of Thailand and Cambodia, I missed out on places I wanted to see like as Kep and Kampot. I also missed out on a Khmer princess photo shoot in Phnom Penh which may have been the biggest disappointment of my trip. (Okay a slight exaggeration but the pictures would’ve been killer.)

I packed too much.

It turns out I did not need a rain jacket, a rain cover for my rolling backpack, playing cards or a gigantic sack of toiletries.

And it did turn out I should’ve brought tiny scissors, a black bra, a dirty laundry bag, a mini travel towel for washing my face and acne medication (Asian humidity gave me the worst acne of my life, ugh).

I worked too much sometimes.

I struggled to balance work and play; there were weeks when I hardly opened my laptop and there were days when I barely left my room. Overall I should’ve managed my time better.

I got complacent.

After a few months I started taking beaches and budget prices for granted. Note to self- always be grateful for what’s in front of you.

Have you ever backpacked Southeast Asia? What did you do wrong? What did you do right?

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My Ultimate Packing Challenge: Packing for a RTW Trip

My Ultimate Packing Challenge: Packing for a RTW Trip

So as you guys may have seen on social media (Facebook, Twitter, Instagram) I’m going to INDIA! I’ll be heading there with my friend McCall for six weeks of yoga teacher training and trekking in the Himalayas. And of course, the Taj Majal. Lonely Planet India But first I will spend six weeks in Europe (I leave tomorrow, by the way!) and then fly to Delhi in April. I’m currently debating if I will add another six weeks in Southeast Asia onto the trip but I’ll decide that further down the line.

Anyway, what does this all mean for packing? Well, it means that packing will be a mother. I have to pack stylish winter clothes for Europe, yoga and trekking clothes for India and warm weather partying clothes for Southeast Asia.

Oh dear. Here’s my game-plan- I’m packing tons of leggings because I can use them in Europe (with boots) and in India (for yoga). McCall is generously bringing a few things to India for me like hiking boots and sunscreen. And if I make it to Thailand, I’ll just go on a Thai shopping spree in Bangkok. (I’ve always wanted to do that anyway).  

Bags:

Packing Around the World Trip JoTotes Camera Bag- My day bag and where I store my valuable electronics: camera, Kindle, chargers.

Wristlet – Daytime it’s a wallet and nighttime it’s a clutch! Genius, right?

Backpack- All clothes organized into packing cubes.

Clothes:

Packing Around the World Trip

1 peacoat (will ship home after Europe) (not shown)

1 pair touch-screen gloves (won in Angie Away giveaway! Thanks Angie!)

1 hoodie

2 light sweaters

2 t-shirts

1 chambray shirt

1 lace dress

1 tight, knee-length skirt

1 cotton dress

1 pair jeans

3 pairs leggings

1 pair of pijama shorts and lots of tank tops

1 pair of athletic shorts (double for pijama shorts)

5 pairs socks, 1 pair thick socks (skiing, hiking)

7 pairs underwear

2 bras (1 nude, 1 black)

1 pair tights

Shoes:

1 pair tennis shoes

1 pair black Tieks ballet flats (also won in the Angie Away giveaway!)

1 pair lace-up boots

Electronics:

Packing Around the World Trip

Canon EOS Rebel T2i + LCD screen protector + camera case + BlackRapid Metro camera strap + Canon 50mm lens f/1.4 + Canon kit lens

Kindle + case

iPhone 5S + case + screen protector (not shown)

iPod

1 mini speaker

Accessories: headphones, earbud splitter, 1 extra battery for Canon EOS Rebel T2i, 3 memory cards (16 GB, 4 GB, 4 GB), 2 converters (one europe, one u.k.), USB

Chargers: Camera, Kindle, iPhone, iPod, mini speaker

Extras:

5L dirty laundry bag

2 eye-masks (lost mine last time and had trouble sleeping for a month. Never again. Bringing two.)

1 Moleskine notebook and pens 1 mini Moleskine (to carry around during the day)

1 bikini (On my Southeast Asia I brought two which was great, but for this trip I won’t be on the beach as much.)

1 travel robe (won in Angie Away giveaway!)

1 mini travel towel (for washing face)

Combination padlock

Tiny flashlight

1 pair small scissors

1 pair earrings, 1 necklace

Sunglasses + case

 

Toiletries:

Shower: 2 small bars soap, Venus razor and 4 extra blades, deodorant

Skin: Face wash, acne medication, moisturizer with sunscreen, tweezers, Neutrogena face wipes

Hair: Lush solid shampoo and case, Lush solid conditioner and case, 1 mini brush, John Freida frizz serum, hair ties

Teeth: toothbrush, toothpaste, floss, retainers

Makeup: foundation, blush, bronzer, powder, mascara, eyeshadow, brow pencil, liquid eyeliner, lip balm, lip stain, brushes, pencil sharpener

Miscellaneous: Tampons, nail clippers Medicine: sleeping pills, Midol, cold medicine, Advil, melatonin

 

Debit and credits cards:

Main: Chase Sapphire Preferred credit card (has chip-in pin, great for Europe), Charles Schwab debit card (no international transaction fees, refunds the other bank’s fees)

Extra: (In case I lose others): Chase debit card, AMEX Starwood Rewards credit card

 

What my friend is bringing to India for me (thanks so much McCall!) 1 pair hiking boots, 1 pair black flip flops, sunscreen, mosquito repellent, Imodium

 

 

What I’m doing differently from my last backpacking trip:

I upgraded my iPhone from a 4 to a 5S so now I don’t need a point and shoot!

I’m also bringing stronger sunscreen to India, SPF 50, as I got horrifically burnt in Thailand.

I cut about six inches off my mane so now my hair will be so much easier to take care of. I used to spend around 45 minutes a day brushing my long, damaged hair.

I’m going to make sure to have a tiny notebook on my at all times to jot down in-the-moment observations.

I’m also bringing lots of make-up (Europe) as well as acne medication as I broke out so much in Asia. Never again!

And once I get to Asia I will always have toilet paper on me- there are so many bathrooms that don’t come stocked.

And surprise! I’m not bringing my laptop this time. I hated lugging my heavy laptop around Asia and working on the road definitely hampered my trip. As this is my last big trip I’m not working at all. (Plus I lost my main freelancing gig anyway.)

I’m also not bringing my PacSafe- as I’m not bringing my laptop I doubt I will need it.

What are some of your packing tips?

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How to DIY a Budget Yoga Retreat in Bali

How to DIY a Budget Yoga Retreat in Bali

One of my goals at 23 was to get in the best shape of my life, and where better to do so than beautiful Bali? But as a budget-conscious backpacker I knew I couldn’t afford a $1,500+ packaged yoga retreat- so I devised a plan to do a yoga retreat on a budget.

By DIY-ing my yoga retreat, I not only saved hundreds of dollars, I came to know and adore Ubud, the landlocked cultural hub of Bali that become my home for three wonderful weeks.

Here are some of the ways I crafted an inexpensive but amazing DIY yoga retreat in Ubud, Bali. (And some ways you can splurge if you need a night off of backpacking- no shame!)

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Yoga Centers

Save: Radiantly Alive

While I never took classes at Radiantly Alive, I walked past the beautiful studio often and was very impressed. And I wasn’t alone; many Ubud yogis reported that Radiantly Alive’s classes are top-notch. And best of all, the classes are reasonably priced, about half the cost of Yoga Barn.

For those looking for beautiful facilities at a reasonable price, head to Radiantly Alive.

Price: a one-month unlimited class card is 1,200,000 IDR (about $100).

 

Splurge: Yoga Barn

Words can barely describe how much I adore the Yoga Barn. And it’s hardly a yoga studio, it’s more of a yoga compound: Yoga Barn has a café, a holistic healing center, an Ayurvedic Rejuvenation center, guesthouses and five yoga studios.

From lounging on the Garden Kafe’s comfy outdoor couches to blissing out at the spa under a $27 massage, I loved every moment of my time at the Yoga Barn and could see myself returning someday.

And have I mentioned how beautiful it is?

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My favorite meal of Meg’s Big Bowl salad and a glass of green juice at the Yoga Barn’s Kafe.

My favorite part about the Yoga Barn was of course, the classes. The Yoga Barns has an all-star staff with some of the best yoga instructors in the world- hello, Les Levanthal!

And the 90-minute classes allow you time to really explore each pose- no more rushing through Vinyasa Flow.

I also loved the Yoga Barn’s focus on yoga as a complete physical, mental and spiritual exercise- sometimes in the U.S. I feel like yoga is seen as just a way to work up a sweat.

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The spa. I miss $27 massages.

Yoga Barn also offers a variety of other classes like Capoeira, Acro Yoga, Mantra Vedic Chanting, Tibetan Bowl Meditation and Sound Healing.

Price: 30 day unlimited pass for 2,200,000 IDR (about $180). I instead bought a 20-class card for 1,200,000 IDR (about $100) which meant I went every day for three weeks. (Though sometimes I skipped a day and doubled up on others.)

Note- one way I racked up a big Yoga-Barn bill was at the café- while the food is delicious and healthy, the prices are relatively high for Ubud and the service is slow. Try to eat elsewhere!

 

Accommodation

Save: Balinese homestay, $20/night (less if you negotiate)

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The standard, complimentary homestay breakfast.

Budget accommodation in Ubud is different than the rest of Southeast Asia- there are no hostels! (Gasp!) Instead, there are lovely Balinese homestays where you rent out a room in a Balinese family compound. And plus, they all offer complimentary breakfasts of freshly cut fruit, coffee and banana pancakes.

Though some Balinese homestays are better than others; I stayed in five different homestays in Bali and my two favorites were Jangkrik and Tugu. Jangkrik was clean, comfortable and centrally located, but the best part was the family- both the parents and kids were so sweet!

And don’t forget to negotiate down the price with the homestay owner.

I met a girl who had also been staying in Ubud for a few weeks and she was shocked when she found out how much I had been paying. “You pay $20 a night? I’ve been negotiating down to $12.”

Um, you can negotiate? So learn from my mistake and barter with the owner for a fair price.

 

Splurge: Alaya Ubud, $155/night

If you have rupiah to spare I’d highly recommend the Alaya. The Alaya is a boutique hotel with chic decor, verdant views of the rice paddies and the world’s most amiable staff (considering the entire staff is Balinese this isn’t surprising.) IMG_1269

My room at the Alaya. 

And it only costs $155 a night! Have I mentioned the luxurious pool deck and the free, gourmet hotel breakfast?

After reading Alex in Wanderland’s review of the Alaya I knew I would have to splurge on a night there. And best of all, it’s only a stone’s throw from The Yoga Barn!

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If you have to work on vacation, work from your suite next to a Balinese rice paddy, right?

Food

For a small Balinese city Ubud has quite the bevy of restaurants. The Balinese “warungs” (“warung” means restaurant in Balinese) are the cheapest option in town and the expat spots are a bit pricier.

Here are some of my favorites:

Balinese options: Dayu’s Warung, Taksu

Expat options: Mamma Mia (Italian), Taco Casa (Mexican)

Healthy options: Sari Organik*, Clear Cafe, Kafe, Bali Buddha, Soma, Tutmak

*Disclaimer- one of my biggest Ubud regrets is that I never made it to Sari Organik, a local organic restaurant located in the middle of a rice paddy. But I’ve heard many a yogi rave about it so I thought it made sense to include.

 

Other yoga centers on Bali besides Ubud:

Yoga Shala in Canggu

Canggu is where I’ll be headed on my next trip to Bali; I’ve heard travelers wax poetic about its black sand beaches, dazzling tangerine sunsets and world-class surfing.

Yoga Shala is supposed to be the Canggu equivalent of my beloved Yoga Barn, and nearby Echoland  would be a great choice for budget accommodation at about $15 a night for a dorm and great TripAdvisor reviews!

 

Yoga Shack Lembongan in Nusa Lembongan

If you want to do sun salutations with a sea breeze and go scuba-diving after, Nusa Lembongan’s the place. And Yoga Shack Lembongan looks like the ideal spot for a yoga and diving getaway.

I actually don’t know of any budget accommodation on Nusa Lemongan so let me know in the comments if you’re aware of a good spot.

. . . . . . . . . . .

My yoga retreat in Bali taught me so much. It taught me how to do crow and how to look forward in Chaturanga. But my retreat was so more than just the physical- It taught me how to be present. To be grateful. It taught me I want to do yoga for the rest of my life.

While practicing yoga for three weeks in Ubud, Bali, was the priciest things I did on my Asia trip, it was also the most worthwhile.

Would you ever go to Bali for a yoga retreat?

None of the hotels, restaurants or yoga studios mentioned perked or paid me in any way for this post. I just really loved them!

. . . . . . . . . . .

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What I Miss About Bali

What I Miss About Bali

Remembering my three weeks in Ubud, Bali, makes my heart hurt a little. Because I kind of wish I could stay forever.

Something about Bali just got under my skin; from the daily Hindu offerings to the the eerie, repetitive rhythm of the gamelan to the ornate family compounds. Out of all the places I’ve been Bali was one of the most culturally unique.

Here are all the reasons I couldn’t help but adore Bali.

Banana pancake breakfasts at my homestay.

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At every homestay in Ubud the family will prepare you a daily breakfast. Most include pandan pancakes (or eggs with toast), a fruit plate of freshly cut fruit (with lime to dress) and a choice of tea or coffee.

It felt so luxurious to wake up to a breakfast delivered to my door.

 

The Balinese.

Are there any people lovelier than the Balinese? Everyone I met in Bali, from my homestay family to the hotel baristas at the Alaya was so welcoming, greeting me with the rolling trill of their r’s and their wide smiles. I also love how all the men call you “dahling”.

While I was there I noticed I met a lot of people named Wayan. I soon learned this is because the Balinese have a unique naming system; the first child is named Wayan, the second Made, the third Nyoman and the fourth Ketut.

One thing that always made Balinese laugh was when I said, “If I were Balinese I would be Wayan!” as I’m the first-born in my family.

 

Work-lunches at the Alaya.

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I spent nearly every lunch at the Alaya, an adorable boutique hotel in Ubud, catching up on work and sipping perfectly frothed lattes.

Also I spent one night at the Alaya, which was possibly the best splurge of my life.

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The offerings.

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When I first arrived in Bali, I was baffled by the beautiful offerings left out in the street. Had I just missed a festival? Was there some kind of celebration in the works?

It turns out these offerings are called “canang sari“, and the Balinese leave them out every day as an offering to the gods. The offerings are little baskets woven from palm or banana leaves and are filled with flowers, crackers, rice, incense and other goodies.

(I would often see macaques munching on the offerings in the street. But everyone seemed pretty blasé about it.)

IMG_1356                                                      A monkey eating an offering on Mount Batur.

IMG_1224                                                    An offering on the hood of a car on Monkey Forest Road…

IMG_1494                                                           Constructing offerings at the water temple.

Every morning at my homestay a sarong-clad woman would carry a tray full of offerings, delicately placing the baskets all over the family compound (Balinese: banjar) and lighting incense.

And whenever I walked around Ubud I would hear the sound of a broom scratching the concrete- Is it just me or are the Balinese always sweeping?

Doing a bit of sight-seeing.

I compressed most of my sight-seeing into about eight hours by hiring a cab driver for the day. (Sorry guys- I kind of hate sight-seeing.)

All in all I saw three main sites: Pura Tirta Empul, Gunung Kawi and a coffee plantation where I tried Kopi Luwak- also known as “civet poo coffee.” When we returned to Ubud in the evening we also saw the Kecak Fire & Trance Dance.

IMG_1489                                                Visiting Pura Tirta Empul, built around 962 A.D.

IMG_1472                                   Worshippers bathing in the holy water before entering the temple

IMG_1415                                                          The beautiful Gunung Kawi, an 11th century temple complex. Beware of the stairs but enjoy the views of the rice paddies!

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IMG_1454                   The infamous coffee. Also palm sugar is everywhere in Bali and is crazy delicious.

IMG_1519                                                                               The fire and trance dance.

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And at the end a man dressed as a horse ran around these hot coals made of burnt coconuts. Ouch?

But as far as sight-seeing goes, Bali does it very well.

World-class yoga. Everyday.

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During my three weeks in Ubud I did tons of yoga. I’ll write more on this soon, but my DIY yoga retreat really changed me as a person as clichéd as it sounds.

In my three weeks in Ubud I fell in love with yin yoga, attempted inversions under the guidance of yoga legend Les Leventhal, finally learned crow, tried capoeira and Tibetan bowl meditation and discovered an ardent love for yoga I want to pursue further. Pas mal.

Eating a crazy healthy diet.

IMG_1781                                                                 My beloved Meg’s Big Bowl salad.

The food in Ubud is seasonal, delicious, veggie-friendly and mostly vegetarian. I miss looking at a menu and knowing I could order anything I want. Sigh.

The rice paddies.

So Balinese, right?

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And to be fair… what I don’t miss.

Terrible sidewalks. Roosters crowing through the night. Monkeys.

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IMG_1745                                                                    Not my thing.

But these inconveniences are small when you’re living in such a spectacularly beautiful and special place.

Thank you Bali, for the memories. I promise to come back someday.

Bali Dancing LR

Have you ever visited Bali?

If you enjoyed this post please consider sharing it! Also, I’d love to keep you updated on my adventures in Asia and beyond, so feel free to subscribe to Ashley Abroad by email in the sidebar or connect with me on TwitterFacebook or Bloglovin.

My Favorite Moments in Singapore

My Favorite Moments in Singapore

Singapore. A city that felt like a breath of organized, Western air during my Asia trip. While I only spent four days there I tried to make the most of every moment in this colorful, clean and multicultural city.

As English is one of the official languages of Singapore, I found it much easier to meet locals there than in other Southeast Asian countries.

I fell in love with the food and jewel-toned colonial architecture, though the suffocating humidity was worse there than anywhere else in Asia. Hey, no place is perfect, right?

Here are my favorite moments in the Little Red Dot.

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Eating Absolutely Everything at Hawker Centres

Oh, god. Singaporean food. During my four day stay in Singapore I tried as many Singaporean dishes as my stomach would allow. To find the city’s best I visited a gaggle of hawker centres, including Old Airport Road Food Centre, Lavender Food Square Centre, Maxwell Food Centre and Jin Shui Kopitiam.

For those who don’t know, hawker centres are a Singaporean thing- clean, open-air food centers with stalls offering everything from Chinese to Indian to Malay. And best of all, the food is cheap!

While Singapore is certainly a melting pot, the most prominent ethnic group is Chinese (around 74% of the population claim Chinese heritage). During my short stay in Singapore I tried so many different types of Chinese food: Hainanese, Fujian, Shanghainese, that by the end I was dreaming about a foodcation to China.

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Lunch at Maxwell Food Centre

Side-note- my hero/role model Anthony Bourdain is working on opening a hawker centre in New York which needless to say is a fabulous idea. You rock, Tony.

Tasting My First Durian with a Middle-Aged Singaporean Couple

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While I was having dinner by my lonesome at Lavender Food Square, a super friendly Singaporean couple invited me to their table for dinner. When I mentioned I had never tried durian before they exclaimed, “Really? NEVER?” and rang up their “durian dealer” who agreed to meet them for a quick sale.

We then hopped into their Audi and drove to go fetch the durian.

I soon discovered durian has a horrific smell and a sweet, candy-like flavor. It also bears a strong resemblance to chicken fat.

I was surprised- despite it’s extremely unflattering reputation, it wasn’t that bad.

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After I successfully swallowed the first piece, my generous hosts insisted I have another. And I won’t lie- I struggled to get the second piece down.

And my new friends were even so generous to give me a doggy-bag of durian to take home to the hostel! (Which the hostel owner promptly forced me to throw out due to the odor.)

But did you know durian is actually really expensive? It’s about $12 a kilo, or $26 a pound. And they weigh the entire fruit, not just the pulp inside- making durian a very pricey little stinker.  IMG_0907

And then the couple gave me a driving tour of Singapore’s red light district and dropped me off at my hostel. True story.

 

Stumbling Upon Pristine Colonial Architecture

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After combing Southeast Asia for traces of the colonial era who knew I would find the most beautiful colonial architecture in Singapore?

 

Sitting Down with a Young Singaporean Over Chicken Rice

While I didn’t fall for chicken rice, I had a great time sitting down with the stall owner’s godson, who taught me so much about his hometown of Singapore.

When I asked him if he loved being able to eat at hawker centres all the time, he confessed that he gets sick of hawker centres even though the food’s really good. How is that POSSIBLE.

And I couldn’t help smile inside when he explained the food he encountered on his trip to Turkey. “We had so much bread. Morning, lunch, dinner- can you imagine?”

Which mirrors exactly what westerners say about Asia. “They eat rice for breakfast, lunch and dinner! Can you believe it?”

And then he told me about Singapore’s darker side.

Apparently Singaporean citizens can’t speak out against the government; if you offend the government they will sue you for libel until you’re bankrupt. And if the government sues you, good luck- no lawyer will represent you in court.

He also told me that there’s only one political party with any sway- out of 88 seats, 80 are from one party.

And then he bought me a Singaporean egg tart and took me to the top floor of his gym so I could take panoramic shots of the city. All in all a pretty sound afternoon.

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Looking Around Little India

The colors, the saris, the lights, the food. Magic.

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Strolling the City at Night

By night Singapore is absurdly photogenic. Just look at that skyline!

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Taking the Spotless MRT

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After living in cities with despicably dirty metros like Chicago and Paris, riding the Singapore metro was truly was a joy. Clean, inexpensive, fast… can the rest of the world please take a tip?

 

Street Art

For such a law-abiding town, Singapore sure has a lot of gorgeous street art.

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How much does Singapore cost?

Singapore was less expensive than I imagined. Hostels cost $22-30 SGD a night, and food at the hawker centres was inexpensive- on average I paid $3-6 SGD a meal. The MTR, or the local subway, was $1.00-2.00 SGD for most trips.

Alcohol is highly taxed and therefore pricey- a local Tiger beer is about $5 SGD. Imported products are also expensive- I spent $11.50 SGD at Starbucks on a tall soy chai latte and mints. What?

Finally the attractions are reasonable priced- the Gardens by the Bay are free (even for the lightshow) and the museums I visited, Asia Civilisations Museum and the Peranakan Museum were $4 SGD and $3 SGD respectively with a student id. (I’m shameless.)

 

What do you love about Singapore?

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My Top Eats in Singapore

My Top Eats in Singapore

While my stint in Singapore was (sadly) short-lived, I still managed to cover a lot of gastronomic ground in four days. Which had no small part to do with my extensive preliminary research- besides grilling Edna, I also devoured as many Singapore food guides as possible.

Once I hit the ground I quickly learned that Singaporeans know how to eat; Singapore’s a nation positively obsessed with food. Which is no surprise- Singapore is a culinary wonderland, a delicious blend of Chinese, Malay and Indian cuisine. (more…)

One trick to finding the best grub in Singapore is to follow the lines- The longer the line (or the queue, as Singaporeans would say), the better.

Here are the best things I ate in Singapore.

 

Xiao Long Bao

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My first meal in Singapore was xiao long bao, one of my favorite Asian dishes of all time. Xiao long bao are Shanghainese soup dumplings, thin-skinned dumplings that release a rich, pork-flavored broth when poked.

Here’s how to eat them: mix soy sauce, chili sauce, sesame oil and garlic in a soup spoon, pick up the dumpling with chopsticks, place dumpling on soup spoon, poke dumpling with chopstick to release broth, sip the broth and gulp the hot dumpling down. Repeat.

Where to find it:

Ju Hao La Mian Xiao Long Bao #01-29, Lavender Food Square, 380 Jalan Besar Rd.

 

Laksa

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Laksa is a Peranakan noodle and cockle soup. It’s a spicy yet satisfying dish; I loved the creaminess of the coconut milk combined with the al dente bite of the noodles, all accented by a fiery dollop of sambal belacan.

I ordered my laksa spicy and paid extra for cockles, which were grilled the traditional way over a charcoal fire.

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And what is Peranakan cuisine? The Peranakans descend from Chinese and Indian merchants who settled in Malaysia in the 15th century. To read more about Peranakan culture in Singapore check out my article in the Culture-ist! (That reads like a shameless plug but to be honest I just don’t feel like explaining it again, ha.)

Where to find it:

Sungei Road Laksa (Top 33 Kopitiam Food Court, Stall 01-100, 27 Jalan Berseh 200027, 9am-6pm, closed on first Wed of the month) $2.50 for a bowl of laksa and 50 cents extra for noodles.

 

Bah Kut Teh

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Bah kut teh is a Chinese pork bone broth that literally means, “Pork bone tea” as the pork bones are simmered for hours in an herbal star anise and pepper broth.

To be honest, the meat was a little too fatty for me; I was all about that peppery, fragrant, porky broth. And to my delight the server kept bringing more and more broth around for free! For sides I ordered iced tea, greens, rice and fried tofu.

It’s a shame that Singapore has such a hot climate because bah kut teh would be the perfect soup for a cold day. (Can someone PLEASE bring bah kut teh to Detroit?)

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Popiah

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I think out of everything I tasted in Singapore, popiah was my favorite.

Popiah is a wheat crepe lined with hoisin sauce and stuffed with Chinese sausage, prawns, hard-boiled egg, bean sprouts, caramelized onion and cooked carrot and turnip. During my time in Singapore I returned to the Lavender Food Square daily to get my sweet and savory popiah fix.

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Where to find it:

Miow Sin Popiah & Carrot Cake: 380 Jalan Besar #01-04, Lavender Food Square, Singapore 209000

 

Carrot Cake (Chai tao kway)

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The same stall that serves my beloved popiah also serves carrot cake which bears absolutely no resemblance to American carrot cake. The Singaporean version of carrot cake is made with daikon radish, not carrot, and is fried with eggs and preserved radish (chai poh), and topped with sambal and green onions.

(Basically you could put sambal and green onions on top of anything and I would like it. But still, this is a tasty vegetarian option.)

Where to find it:

Miow Sin Popiah & Carrot Cake: 380 Jalan Besar #01-04, Lavender Food Square, Singapore 209000

 

Roti Prata

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Roti prata is a crispy fried pancake of Indian origin. It’s pleasantly greasy and is filled with egg, and is served with the red curry sauce seen below. I loved the textural contrast of dipping the crunchy roti prata into the thick, flavorful sauce- it was vaguely reminiscent of grilled cheese and tomato soup.

Alhough I had roti prata at three in the afternoon I can imagine it being the ideal late-night option.

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Next we had murtabak which I can’t say I enjoyed. Sorry!

Where to find it:

Sin Ming Roti Prata #01-51, Jin Fa Kopitiam, 24 Sin Ming Road

 

Wanton Mee

Wanton Mee are wanton noodles dressed in a light, sweet sauce and topped with pork char siu (barbecued pork), greens and wanton dumplings.

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I loved this dish because when is barbacued pork ever a bad idea? And order your wanton mee spicy like I did- it was extra delicious with a kick of spice.

Where to find it:

Kok Kee Wanton Mee: 380 Jalan Besar, Lavender Food Square, #01-06, Singapore 209000

Chili Crab

On my last night in Singapore I tried Singapore’s signature dish- chili crab.

Though ordering black pepper crab appealed to me more (I adore black pepper), the friend I met for dinner was dead-set on having the famous chili crab.

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Which I can’t say was a problem- the enormous crabs came out drenched in delicious chili sauce and I swilled them down with icy beer- delicious. The best part was mopping up the sweet, spicy sauce with the pillow-soft mantou buns.

And although I wasn’t even hungry when I ate it (fair, considering how much I had eaten by that point in Singapore), I was still smitten with the sauce-drenched crabs.

Where to find it:

Mattar Road Seafood Barbecue, #01-63 Old Airport Rd, Singapore 390051, closed Tuesday and Wednesday. We paid $35 ($17.50 each) and the crab was $45 a kilo. But it was worth splurging for! 

 

And not on the list of my favorite dishes in Singapore?

Chicken rice.

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I may be virtually crucified for this, but chicken rice was quite literally lukewarm chicken with steamed rice- it reminded me of a meal I might prepare when I’m too tired to cook. Maybe I should give it another try?

 

One great resource in Singapore is HungryGoWhere, which is like the Singaporean Yelp.

And the dishes I wanted to try but didn’t have the time (or stomach room) for include kaya toast and soft-boiled eggs, curry fish head, fish head bee hoon, rojak and BBQ sambal sting ray. Next time!

What’s your favorite thing to eat in Singapore?

If you enjoyed this post please consider sharing it! Also, I’d love to keep you updated on my adventures in Europe, Asia and beyond, so feel free to subscribe to Ashley Abroad by email in the sidebar or connect with me on TwitterFacebook or Bloglovin.