Category Archives: Travel

Trip Notes: Yangoon, Myanmar

I was thrilled to be in Myanmar a couple of weeks ago with my family. Since time was limited, we only spent three days in Yangon.

Myanmar is the 57th country I have visited – and I should say I am quite amazed by it.

After visiting Cambodia, I wondered if I was doing the right thing flying to Myanmar with a 15-month old, but I can truly say that it is a very safe country. There are many warm people and the infrastructure for a country with USD 1,300 per head is pretty good.

The airport was built quite recently and looks modern. Even though the online visa processing could have been a little smoother, nothing really bad happened on that front. Immigration to the country also went fairly well.

We stayed at the Savoy Hotel, near the centre of the city. It is a nicely-kept colonial building. The hotel is operated by a German company and the staff’s level of English was extremely high. The room was spacious and nicely decorated with local ornaments.

We had a chance to spend some time at the Strand Hotel, located literally just next to the British Embassy. This would be a great hotel as an alternative to the Savoy!

We were extremely lucky to have a Burmese friend, a London Business School alumni like my wife, who invited us for a nice dinner at a local restaurant, Padonman Restauant. The walls were covered with American and British diplomatic pictures. Burmese food is very similar to Thai food and people who like spicy food (like myself) will really enjoy the cuisine in Myanmar.

We visited many temples, such as the famous Inclining Buddha, the Shwedagon Pagoda and the Sule Pagoda. Although Yangon is not the best place to visit pagodas on the whole, the Shwedagon Pagoda was an original example. If you are really keen on temples, I have been recommended many times to visit the city of Pagan in Myanmar. I am not personally a big fan of visiting temples, as I found them rather similar after going to one after another.

We were brave enough to taste Burmese wine – and I would not advise others to try it… Stick to the beer instead!

During our time in Myanmar, there had been a water festival going on, and it was a real experience to see lots of people packed into the back of a truck, throwing water at each other throughout the city. We did not see any violence and watching people having fun was really good. The water festival marks the beginning of a new year for the Burmese people.

Video: Water Festival in Yangoon

For a country where civil war ended only a couple of years ago, and which is opening up slowly, Myanmar has definitely got a lot of potential. With its beautiful people and wide landscape, Myanmar is a candidate to be a real star in the region.

Hospital building from colonial times

Is a new Thailand emerging in south-east Asia?

YES!

All the best from Singapore.

Sukru Haskan
Twitter: @sukru_haskan

Share This:

Trip Notes: Sri Lanka

We spent our holidays in Sri Lanka over the Christmas and this is the fifty-fifth country in the world that I’ve visited. It is an island country which is located south of India and has recently become open to tourism, since the civil war ended in 2009.

Room View from Jetwings Galle Hotel

We made a big mistake by booking the hotels and the driver through a tour agency in Singapore and, as a result, we were significantly overcharged and stayed in the hotels that we did not particularly enjoy.

Our first destination was Colombo City and we stayed at Mirage Hotel. Since we landed very late at night, we stayed in Colombo City to sleep and go to Kandy in the morning. Colombo City is the capital of Sri Lanka and there are a lot of nice colonial buildings.

Sri Lanka was a colony of Portugal, the Dutch and the British.

I would not recommend spending much time in the capital, and I think a day should be more than enough to see the all landmarks. I would not recommend staying at Mirage Hotel, either. There is a Hilton in the city centre which would be a much better option.

We arrived Kandy in the afternoon after six hours trip by car. Christmas traffic and a one lane road increased the duration of the journey, which would usually take three and a half hours.

Sunset in Kandy

We stayed at Amaraya Hills Hotel in Kandy. The hotel sits at the top of a hill and has a beautiful view of Kandy. Having said that, the hotel is not up to good standard and they are lacking very basic service requirements. You can find my review of the hotel on the Trip Advisor website.

Kandy Lake and Tooth Temple are places to see, but I would not advise spending much time to see them. Kandy sits in the middle of a valley and, as a result, the air can be quite polluted. Unfortunately, during our two day visit, the air quality was horrible.

We travelled to Sigiriya Rock, which is around a two hour journey from Kandy. Sigiriya Rock used to be a fortress for monks and, today, it is a UNESCO listed World Heritage site. It is an example of ancient urban planning. I would say that this is the most interesting place that we visited throughout our eight day trip to Sri Lanka.

Sigiriya Rock

On the way back to Kandy, we stopped at the Elephant Corridor Hotel, where we ate our lunch. It is a good hotel with a good manager. I would recommend anyone wanting to stay close to Sigiriya Rock to stay there.

On our second day in Kandy, we went to Elephant Park Orphanage, which charges around USD 20 each for entry. It was interesting to see elephants, however, I was not particularly amazed.

Elephant Orphanage

After Kandy, we headed towards Galle which is located to the south of the island. It is another five hour journey by car. Luckily, there is an express way between Colombo and Galle and this makes the journey much more enjoyable.

On the way, we stopped at a spice garden and were introduced to different types of spices. We also stopped at a tea shop where they gave us a free introduction on how tea is processed. It was interesting to go on a small tour to learn about the stages of tea processing and we bought some tea during our visit to the tea shop.

We stayed at Jetwings Lighthouse Hotel in Galle. I would recommend staying at this hotel, since it has a great location, by the beach and lives up to certain international standards. They have a nice open buffet, as well as a good a la carte menu.

The staff are friendly and they definitely do their best to help.

The only downside to this hotel was that they were not able to give us a late check out, since we were checking out on the 30th December, which is understandable.

There are not many places to visit around Galle, except the Galle Fort, which is a must. A lot of small shops and leftovers from colonial times make you feel as if you are somewhere in 18th century. There are some very nice hotels inside the Galle Fort, however, I would not stay in any of those as they are not by the beach. There are nice tea shops inside the Fort, which I would recommend visiting to buy various selections of beautiful tea.

Overall, Sri Lanka is a nice country to visit and is developing very fast. Many foreigners are buying their holidays homes there. For me, it is a good to place to visit, but I am not sure I will go back soon. If I were to go back, I would definitely stay in the middle of the tea plantations, rather than in Kandy and Colombo.

If you are planning a trip to Sri Lanka, I am always more than happy to help.

Best from Singapore.

Sukru Haskan
Twitter: @sukru_haskan

 

Share This:

Trip Notes: Bali

I was in Bali a couple of weeks ago for the second time in my life. It is one of the few things that I really regret that I have been so close to Bali in the last 3.5 years and this has been only my second visit. Many people have asked for recommendations for Bali, so I decided to provide this short write-up. There are many different areas in Bali, such as Ubud, Nusa Dusa, Jimbaran and Seminyak. I personally prefer Ubud over any other area as it is very tranquil and authentic.

So far, I have stayed at the Kamandalu and the COMO Uma Ubud. I slightly prefer the Kamandalu to the COMO Uma Ubud as it has larger grounds. I would say that the staff were very friendly and helpful in both cases. The COMO Uma has a great yoga area, with a stunning view. Alternatively, you might like to check out the Four Seasons, but it is a bit pricey.

Como Ubud Hotel

You might want to try out the Bridges or Mosaic restaurants if you like European cuisine. The Bridges has a good variety of wines, but relatively reasonable prices, although my “carnivorous” friend was not very happy with the size of the meals. For a local treat, you might like to go to Pulau Kelapa, where they grow their own organic vegetables and fruits. If you have chance, walk around their gardens and you will be amazed by the lovely smell of each plant. If you would like to try the local cafés, you could visit the Seniman, Clear and/or Elephant coffee shops.

Pulau Kelapa Restaurant’s own garden

In terms of sightseeing in Ubud, I would suggest you go to the Volcano, Monkey Forest, Uluwatu and Bath temples. There are many temples and I personally don’t think it necessary go to all of them, except the Uluwatu and Bath temples.

In Nusa Dua, I stayed at the Amanterra Villas and my experience was good overall. The level of English may sometimes be challenging, but the access to the beach and the hotel facilities are good.

Como Ubud Hotel Yoga Area View

If you would like to have some drinks, try the Single Fin and the Rock Bar in Jimbaran. The Single Fin is the place the Aussie surfers go and there are many beautiful ladies there, so watch out! 🙂 The Rock Bar in the Ayana Hotel is a “must visit”, but it is unnecessarily expensive and be prepared to wait in a long queue to be able to see the sunset from the bar.

Monkey Forest

I hope these are some useful tips for trips to Bali. If you want to have a chat, you are always more than welcome.

All the best from Singapore.

Sukru Haskan
Twitter: @sukru_haskan

Share This:

Tourist Trap in Istanbul

I do not feel very comfortable about writing this article, but I want to make public this true story, which was experienced by a Chinese friend of mine in Istanbul recently.

To start with, Istanbul is a wonderful city with many attractions, and visiting only once is not really enough to understand the vibe and culture. In addition, generally speaking Turkish people are very hospitable with a kind attitude towards tourists. Unfortunately, my friend experienced something very different, which does not represent Istanbul and Turkish people.

Since there was a whole week’s holiday in China a couple of week ago, my friend took the opportunity to fly to Moscow and then to Istanbul to spend a few days there. Like any ordinary tourist, he was visiting the usual Istanbul tourist attractions, such as Hagia Sophia and the Blue Mosque in the Sultanahmet area.

He was travelling alone; since he is Asian, it was not easy to guess that he was a tourist, and he was approached by a stranger initially asking for a lighter. Since he is not a smoker, he politely told him that he did not have one, and then the conversation started. According to the local guy who approached my friend, this area is very touristic, and he offered to give him a lift and show him local places, which unfortunately my friend accepted and the story begins here.

image3-2

He was taken to some places, although he does not know exactly where they were, and in the end they sat down in a restaurant and ate dinner together. Given that the local guy had spent the last hour or so taking him to some places, my friend offered to pay for the dinner and did so.

Then, all of a sudden, the local guy offered to take my friend for a night out, and he accepted the offer. They initially went to his hotel, where he changed his outfit, and then he took him to a kind of striptease club, of which he does not know the name or the district (although it is possibly in Sisli).

image1-3

After spending an hour drinking and chatting with some half-naked women, they asked for the bill, which turned out to be 12,000 Turkish lira: in other words around USD 4,000. Having travelled and lived in many countries, my Chinese friend was amazed and asked the local guy how this could be possible; he was told that this is quite a normal bill for a night out in Istanbul (in 1 hour).

Apparently a security officer then escorted the local guy outside to an ATM to withdraw money and he came back with 6,000 Turkish lire, so he paid his half. Then my friend was escorted to the ATM, and he withdrew 6,000 Turkish lire and closed the bill.

I was disgusted by this experience, and, with his permission, I decided to publish his stories with his pictures from that specific night out. This guy even continued to SMS my friend even after he had landed in Shanghai.

image2-3

As mentioned at the beginning, Istanbul is a great city for tourists, and Turkish people are quite hospitable to tourists, since it is part of the Turkish culture to make sure that foreigners feel at home when they visit their city. Unfortunately, this experience is a little odd.

I hope it will not be replicated with somebody else and that nobody will suffer from it.

Best wishes from Singapore.

Sukru Haskan
Twitter: @sukru_haskan

Share This:

Trip Notes: Italy (Bologna, Florence and Chianti)

After great days spent in London, it was the family choice of destination this year: Italy.

The route was Bologna, San Marino, Florence, Castelnuovo Berardenga in Chianti and then back to Bologna. I drove around 850 km during these 10 days and as a person who hates cars and driving, this was enough for me this year.

image1

We landed in Bologna from London after a flight of just over two hours. The airport is a small traditional European airport with only two migration officers working when we landed.

After smoothly getting our car from Europcar, we headed to San Marino from Bologna. It is a very nice town and, to be honest with you, the only reason I dragged all my family there was to tick the box of visiting another country! 🙂

When we checked in to Grand Hotel San Marino at 9 p.m., I immediately asked if we would have enough time to go around in three hours the next day. The receptionist replied: “Two hours is enough, three hours is more than enough!”

Then I relaxed. 🙂

San Marino is a mountainous city state and “the country” is built inside the walls. Since there is no tax, you can buy cheap sunglasses, perfumes, etc. In other words, you can regard the country as an open air duty free shop. It is almost impossible to get San Marino citizenship. The view from the top and the air quality is great.

San Marino’s economy is heavily dependent on tourism and they have very nice ceramics that you may wish to buy during your visit as a souvenir.

Then we headed to Florence. It took me another 3.5 hours to drive there and we checked in at Grand Hotel Villa Medici. It is a very nice hotel and everything is within walking distance. This was my first trip to Florence and I can assure you that it won’t be the last!

I felt a little bit embarrassed since I hadn’t done my homework properly about the city. Three days were definitely not enough for this beautiful city.

Since it is very popular, it is a challenge to getting into certain museums or you risk to losing hours and hours waiting in the queues.

I recommend that you visit Florence Cathedral, Piazza Della Signario, Palazzo Vecchio, Palazzo Pitti, Piazza Di San Croce and Ponte Vecchio if you have limited time. Ponte Vecchio is a very crowded tourist attraction but, still, you cannot really avoid it.

If I were to make only one restaurant recommendation it would be l’Parione Ristorante on Parione Street. It was “the” restaurant for us. I will not write in detail exactly what we ate, but I can assure you that everything was great – especially the fillet steak. When I compare the final bill with London and Singapore prices, it was real value for money!

We had been recommended many restaurants but we had some disappointments with many restaurants since it was August and many restaurant owners preferred to take 15 days or a full month’s holiday and did not leave anyone behind.

One of the reasons for this trip was to drink good wine so it was time to head to the Chianti region. We checked in to Castel Monastero.

image3
View from my room in Castel Monastero

Castel Monastero used to be a monastery and was converted into hotel in 2009. Gordon Ramsay’s restaurant and Contrada (Tuscany) are two restaurant choices inside the hotel. Even though it is not me, I refused to go anywhere outside the hotel since I really wanted to chill. Gordon Ramsay’s restaurant, as many of us would know from London, offers fine dining with a great outfit and Contrada is inside an old cellar with Tuscan food. We ate on three nights at Contrada and on one night at Gordon Ramsay.

I can truly say that all of the food and the wines were great and reasonably priced.

I arranged a full day wine tour at Chianti and that cost me a bit but it was worth it. We initially visited Tenuta Casanova where a gentleman pursued his dreams rather than conventional corporate life and bought the land and started producing balsamic vinegar and wine. His wife cooked for us and we enjoyed a tremendous amount of red wine and very good food.

Have you ever tasted balsamic vinegar with ice cream? I know it sounds very weird but it tastes great! (I am not sure a regular balsamic vinegar off the shelf will do the same job, though!)

My favourite wine from Tenuta Casanova is Chianti Classico Casanova Riserva. It is the cheapest wine out of their selection.

After spending almost 3–4 hours in Tenuta Casanova, we headed to the winery of the Mazzei family. The Mazzei family have been in the region for the last six centuries and 24 generations. Since then, they have always produced wines.

I strongly recommend you test Siepi Toscana, Chianti Classico Gran Selezione Castello Fonterutoli and Mix36 from this winery and my favourite one was Mix36.

Eventually it was time to go to back to Bologna where I headed back to London. We stayed at i Portici Hotel.

This hotel was recommended by a two good friends of ours. It is central but, most importantly, it is a beautiful building that used to be a theatre. It has a very nice garden where you can eat snacks and drink.

What to do in Bologna?

Bologna is a beautiful city with a university and many magnificent churches. A day or two would be more than enough to discover the hotel city. Piazza Maggiore and San Petronio Basilica are the main attractions. Don’t forget to taste the famous Bolognese pasta here!

Venice Feeling in Bologna
Taste of Venice in Bologna

Even though it was a ten-day trip, it went really fast – if you need more tips, you can always contact me via Twitter.

All the best from Singapore,

Sukru Haskan
Twitter: @sukru_haskan

Share This:

Trip Notes: London

IMG_1058

I had a chance to spend part of my summer holidays in London—six days, plus a day and a half on the way back to Singapore—and met quite a few people from different industries such as finance, law, higher education, food and government.

First of all, I can say that London is still London and nothing really has hammered its good mood.

Since the referendum on June 23rd, nothing much has changed except for the fact that EU citizens living in London are preparing themselves to apply for British passports.

Restaurants are full, theatres are colourful and, most importantly, there are tourists all over London, despite what’s going on in continental Europe.

I went to see a dramatised version of George Orwell’s 1984 and it was absolutely great. (Tip: read the book to understand the play better.)

People had apparently had a real shock on that frightening Friday with the referendum results, but it looks like that initial reaction has soon dissipated. With the new government in place very quickly, confidence levels are coming back, though they are still nowhere near the desirable level.

Of the people I spoke to, I can say that none of them showed any intention of leaving the UK following the Brexit vote.

During my stay in London, the only thing that really bothered me was the persistent helicopter hovering over central London, but unfortunately that’s a new normality and we will have to live with it for some time.

Since I have been living in Singapore for the last three years, I keep comparing London with Singapore, and I must admit that the level of service in Singapore is much better than that in London right now. If you are looking for a single example, try to call the British Airways hotline and then call Singapore Airlines.

Another example could be the fantastic BA ground staff at Heathrow Terminal 5. On the way to Italy, the check in process took us 40 minutes due to an incompetent member of staff.

Fintech is growing very fast and I visited level 39 at 1 Canada Square to see how these people are doing. It looks like they are doing okay-ish, in that they are now situated on levels 39 to 42.

Canary Wharf management had to decide how to fill up the vacant space after banks began to pull out (or simply went bankrupt, like Bear Stearns and Lehman Brothers) and they decided to divide the space into pieces and rent the space to fintech companies, since they are growing very fast.

It would not be a surprise to see many fintechs in Canary Wharf in the near future.

Even though Brexit looks ugly and frightening right now, a nation with great negotiation skills demonstrated over the course of centuries makes me feel quite comfortable.

With a proposal to reduce the corporate tax level to 15 per cent and possible personal income tax reductions, it would be very attractive for many people to stay or even to return to the UK.

London is really unique and it has its own vibe compared with the rest of the country. Sometimes I think that it would make sense for London to have a special zone status within the rest of the UK.

From my point of view, the biggest challenge ahead for the UK is how to educate the uneducated and low skilled parents to make sure their children are part of the country’s future success. Access to education in the UK is free for everyone, but unfortunately a proper education is only enjoyed by a fraction of the population.

Last but not least, I paid visits to many book stores, including my favourite, Daunt Books at Marylebone, and bought some more books. These are Prisoners of Geography by Tim Marshall, Germany by Neil MacGregor, This is London by Ben Judah, An Intelligent Person’s Guide to Education by Tony Little and When Breath becomes Air by Paul Kalanithi.

I have already read Prisoners of Geography and I really like the book. I will be writing a book review on it in the coming weeks.

If you are looking for a restaurant tip, go to Oka for sushi on Kings Road.

I may still be biased but, having travelled to 53 countries now, nothing can really beat London.

All the best from Singapore,

Sukru Haskan
Twitter: @sukru_haskan

Share This:

Cannes and South of France: What would I do?

IMG_6959

I love the South of France and I have been going there for my summer holidays for the last ten years or so. Unfortunately, this year is an exception since my wife has won the battle and we are going somewhere different (Italy!)

A lot of people who know me well keep asking me to give them some tips for their trip to the South of France, so I thought it would be beneficial to write this post.

Since I always use Cannes as the centre of my summer trip, I prefer to stay at the Eden Hotel, a four star hotel just a street away from La Croisette and a relatively cheap option. It is located on Rue d’Antibes.

Alternatively, I would stay at the Martinez Hotel on La Croisette. It is definitely the more expensive choice, but you can sometimes find good prices depending on when you book. Martinez has a great beach club called ZPlage, where a drink at sunset is another must!

I booked a house last year for a week on La Croisette, which was also great since it gave us a real sensation of how we would feel if we were to live there. It is definitely the best option if you are going with your extended family.

IMG_6921

Cannes is a great town with many restaurants, my favourite being Astoux et Brun, towards Le Suquet. It is a restaurant famous for its seafood menu, particularly the oysters.

You really should have a coffee and ice cream at the Carlton Terrace, and you should visit the old town (Le Suquet) where natives party.

Another favourite restaurant is Le Caveau 30, which is also famous for its seafood. The crowd here is mostly over 40 and very chic: that’s exactly you want from Cannes during your holidays!

If you fancy a two-starred Michelin restaurant, you should try La Palme d’Or which is under the Martinez Hotel.

La Table du Chef is one of the hidden spots of Cannes. It is a small restaurant, and the menu is constantly changing.

Towns in the region

There are many places to travel around the South of France and one of them is the village of Èze. This beautiful village is almost a border village between France and Monaco.

I would recommend taking a walk around the village and visiting Château de La Chèvre d’Or, which has a magnificent view and a Michelin-starred restaurant. Even if you don’t feel like eating anything, you should go and drink a beer in front of the breathtaking view.

Saint Jean Cap Ferrat is another main place to visit. Paloma Beach is a must go, with a great beach restaurant. If you fancy touring a villa in this beautiful town, you should consider visiting Villa Ephrussi de Rothschild.

Hotel du Cap at Eden Roc is another place to stop by and drink champagne, or simply tea.

Plage de Passable and Plage de la Mala at Cap d’Ail just near Monaco are my favourite beaches. If you need to choose just one, I would go for Cap d’Ail.

Honestly, St Tropez is not my favourite since it is a rip-off and there are too many people. I personally have always found the St Tropez crowd irrelevant. If you really want to see St Tropez, I would go to Club 55 to party for a day in the beach club.

Monaco is good for a day trip, but I would not recommend that you stay there. If you want to party in Monaco, Jimmy’s and Buda Bar are the most famous options. If you really want to stay in Monaco, Le Meridien is relatively cheap and a good option by the beach.

 I was planning my wedding back in 2012 in the South of France, but it did not happen there. Since I was planning, I would recommend the Château de La Chèvre d’Or as the expensive option and the Château de Robernier as the more economical choice.

If you have more time and a car, I would also recommend that you visit Grasse, the perfume capital of the world. This small elegant village is a great place to see and you should visit the factory at Fragonard to get a sense of how perfumes are produced. You can also buy discounted perfumes at the factory shop.

Generally speaking, the train (TGV) that runs along the coast to Monaco is good and convenient. The only problem is the waiting time between the two trains, which may be longer than 30 minutes. Make sure you get your ticket and time stamped—otherwise, even with a ticket, you may be considered a free rider!

IMG_6941

After going to Cannes for many years, this town is the main reason that I started learning French from scratch in 2010.

Je rêve d’acheter une maison à Cannes!

P.S. If you speak to a native French person, they will tell you to avoid Cannes and recommend some other place in the south. With all respect, you can ignore them! 🙂

Best from Singapore.

Sukru Haskan
Twitter: @sukru_haskan

Share This:

Weekend Get Away – Bintan Island, Indonesia

Since I was expecting my baby, we had been unable to travel around much over the last month, and it is not easy to travel with a newborn.

The desire and intention to travel has been always there for our family so we decided to go for a quick weekend getaway to Bintan Island in Indonesia.

image2

A lot of my visitors in Singapore ask me where they can go from Singapore easily. This is the easiest option to travel from Singapore, since it only takes 45 minutes by boat to reach the island.

I booked the ferry tickets through Bintan Resort Ferries (www.brf.com.sg). The booking process was a bit complicated, as the website requests all passengers’ passport numbers, passport expiry dates, etc.

I had been to Bintan in September 2013 where we stayed at Bintan Lagoon Resort and we were not happy with our experience. The property was old, the breakfast was awful and it was overpriced.

Bearing in mind the previous experience, I booked the Angsana Hotel for this visit.

The ferry leaves from Tanah Merah ferry terminal, which is very close to Changi Airport. The immigration process is fast and smooth at the ferry terminal. We took the ferry out at 08:10 am and luckily we found a good spot on the ferry as we needed mobility because of the baby.

After almost an hour, we arrived at Bintan. Among the changes since our previous trip, Indonesia has initiated visa free travel to many nationalities, including those with Turkish and British passports. Before, there was a visa check on arrival and you would need to buy a visa for USD 15. Getting the visa was easy, but the queue and securing the exact USD 15 was a bit of a hassle.

Once we were through immigration, the hotel had arranged a complimentary transfer from the terminal. Angsana is only ten minutes away from the terminal, which was great.

The hotel is in an old complex and has a friendly staff. It has a long private beach and is situated just next to the Banyan Tree. We were able to access our room before the standard check-in time and headed to the beach, where there is a nice restaurant.

The menu is quite simple there but the food is good. Unfortunately, like anything in Bintan, it is very overpriced, though.

The hotel provides beach chairs along the beach, with towels. Even though the sea in Southeast Asia is not my favourite, given that it is hot and not crystal clear, it is nice to lie in front of it and relax.

We visited the Saffron restaurant—which is inside the Banyan Tree—for dinner. I should say the highlight of this trip for me was this restaurant. Perfect food, nice ambience and great service.

Even though we had some small communication problems at Angsana Hotel, I would say they are fairly friendly and do try their best to make sure you feel comfortable. On the way back, they arranged a private transfer for us to the ferry: since we had our newborn with us, it was a great gesture.

In Bintan, everything is overpriced. Proximity to Singapore and an easy tropical escape make the place popular so the prices are high! Once every two years, though, it is a good place to visit.

If you are visiting Singapore, I would recommend that you spend two or three days in Bintan.

All the best from Singapore.

Sukru Haskan
Twitter: @sukru_haskan

Share This:

A weekend in London – What would I do?

I lived in London for 7.5 years and I became a true Londoner in this period of time. Since I have been living in Singapore for the last 2.5 years, I sometimes miss London, and whenever I have a chance to go to London, it is a great opportunity for me to get into my old routine for a few days.

What would I do in a weekend in London?

London, the capital, is a place where new ideas are generated so it is a place to visit museums, shows, restaurants but, most importantly, bookstores. You will not get any night life advice here.

In a typical weekend, I would start my day walking to Marylebone: this is my London centre since I lived in Bickenhall Street for 3.5 years.

mery

Marylebone is a very special place for me as I have a lot of memories of every single corner of it, and my first visit would be Daunt Bookstore on Marylebone.

Daunt-Books-london-kitapci

Technology is evolving and many argue that books will be history, since a lot of people have already shifted to e-books. Daunt Bookstore definitely fights quite strongly against this idea.

It is a great place for me to spend a couple of hours. It is an Edwardian bookstore with long oak galleries. This bookstore specialises in travel books, but there are other sections such as history and literature. I love to look through its travel books, but I would always buy a history, politics or economics book over a travel book. Since this is my first stop early in the morning, I won’t buy any books but I decide on what to buy on my return.

Now the long walk to Hampstead starts.

I cross the Marylebone Road and reach Regent’s Park, where I spent many of my early mornings and late nights. Through Regent’s Park, I reach Prince Albert Road and then I continue to walk towards Hampstead. The nonstop walk will take about an hour to reach beautiful Hampstead Heath.

IMG_7770

My stop would be at The Wells, a gastropub, by Hampstead Heath. It is a family friendly pub with an evolving menu. I would stop here for an hour or two before heading back to Marylebone to buy the books that I decided to buy earlier.

SB987647_942long

I find a lot of similarities between Marylebone and Hampstead Heath. A boutique cinema chain (Everyman) and my favourite bookstore Daunt Books are only two of them. I feel both have distinct characteristics, not like Chelsea, and they are both true London boroughs.

everyman

The time would hit 4–5 pm now and I would have to go and leave my books and maybe rest a bit. I have a lot of favourite restaurants in London, and I would prefer Big Easy on Kings Road, Alounak in Westbourne Grove or a new London restaurant recommended by a friend.

If I could a squeeze in a theatre at night, that’s perfect. Sometimes it is quite difficult, but I would definitely try.

The walk should take about 17–18 km that day. In other words, around 35,000 steps. Not too bad! And thank God that London is flat.

I would wake up as early as possible on my second and final day in London. I would try to go to Trafalgar and Covent Garden, to walk without any aim. Then I would walk to Parliament and would cross Waterloo Bridge.

This would enable me to walk towards London Bridge and should take about 45 minutes. On my way, there are the Tate Modern, a nice pub by the river, Shakespeare’s Globe Theatre and Vinopolis—which I heard that it is closing down.

120203061132-queen-s-walk-horizontal-large-gallery

Lunchtime should be about there and I would take a cab or a tube from London Bridge and go to my favourite spot once more, Marylebone. My lunch would take place at Casa Becci, an authentic Italian restaurant run by an Italian family for a long time.

casa-becci-restaurant

It is a very simple restaurant and price friendly, but, most importantly, great simple Italian food. My favourite here would be Spaghetti Aglio E Olio.

Unfortunately, the weekend has come to an end. I have to take a flight to continue wherever I need to go. I should walked about 15,000 steps that day, or in other words 10–11 km. Not bad!

London is not an easy city to live in, but it is definitely one of the best!

P.S. Most of my walking sessions started at Chelsea Bridge Wharf over the last three years as my beloved friend, Hakan Dikmen, kept hosting me without grumbling. Thank you, Hakan—you are such a great host!

All the best from Singapore.

Sukru Haskan
Twitter: @sukru_haskan

Share This:

Trip Notes to Cambodia

I thought it would be a good idea to add some of my previous trip notes to the blog.

I will begin with Cambodia, which has definitely been my best trip so far.

For those of you who are not familiar with the area, Cambodia is a Southeast Asian country with a population of over 15 million. Between 1975 and 1979, the ruler of Cambodia, Pol Pot, committed genocide against his own people. Cambodia’s nominal GDP per head was barely over USD 1,000 in 2014.

It all started when my wife kept insisting that she wanted to go to Cambodia. I thought it would be a nice surprise to book the tickets without informing her, and I did.

As I was busy dealing with so much stuff, I hadn’t done any research and I did not have any idea that Siem Reap is the place to visit, so I booked return flights to Phnom Penh.

When I revealed my surprise, she did not seem very happy and said that she wanted to go to Siem Reap.

And this is where the story begins…

This “small” mistake of my mine made our trip to Cambodia unforgettable. We had only three full days in Cambodia and we were landing at Phnom Penh, so we had to be really fast and efficient.

I booked Le Meriden Siem Reap and arranged a car from Phnom Penh to Siem Reap. I had been told that it would be only 3.5 hours, but it took us six hours to reach our destination.

I have no problem with long car trips, but the problem was there was no asphalt as soon as we were out of the capital, Phnom Penh.

IMG_5519

The road was bumpy, dusty but, more importantly, really dangerous. There was no real distinction of separation of the lanes and everybody was just going their own way.

Our driver was a good driver and he seemed quite experienced on Cambodian roads, but I could not keep myself from looking at the road for more than a second. After a two hour drive, our driver kindly offered us a break to visit a local market.

IMG_5373

That was an experience! Tarantulas, cockroaches and different type of insects were being sold in the market.

IMG_5371

When we were back in the car, I asked if he ate cockroaches and he proudly said: “Yes, sir, with beer especially. Very good!”

After much overtaking and danger of accidents, we reached our hotel in Siem Reap. Le Meriden is a good hotel and it is located close to the Siem Reap National Park.

We had a good dinner at Cafe Abacus on our first night. Cafe Abacus is situated in a pleasant villa which is a combination of French and Khmer architecture with a nice garden. As Cambodia used to be a French colony, there are quite a number of French people living in the country and you can’t really avoid French food.

On our second day in Cambodia, our hotel kindly arranged a tour guide and car for us to visit the necessary places. For a reasonable fee, we had a good tour guide and a driver for the whole day.

Siem Reap is a magical city. The combination of temples with banyan trees and its history makes it a very attractive tourist destination. I will leave you to discover Siem Reap, and I believe each experience will be unique.

IMG_5450

As there are so many temples to visit, it is important to be quite selective if you have a time constraint. We visited the famous Angor Watt, Angor Thom and couple more temples on our second day in Cambodia.

IMG_5474

One dollar bills are life savers in Cambodia. You need them for everything, especially for tuk-tuks. You can exchange your larger denomination bills into one dollars in your hotel. Tuk-tuks are a must try and are very common in Asia.

IMG_5407

On our second night, we ate at the FCC restaurant. It is a restaurant inside the hotel with a nice view and good food. It used to be former French governor’s residence which is now converted into a hotel and restaurant.

On our last day, we arranged a car back to the capital very early in the morning. To be honest, I tried to avoid this trip by checking direct flights from Siem Reap to Singapore but they were fully booked so we had no choice to go back to the capital.

And I am glad that we did!

We visited Killing Fields, a prison under the Khmer Rouge regime and a Royal Palace.  It was a really very touching experience. When you think that the Khmer Rouge were in power 30 years ago, it is really scary what happened in Cambodia.

IMG_5521

One particular scene that I had saw during my visit to the Killing Fields I will never forget—a room full of skulls, and cracks in every single skull. Apparently, as bullets were expensive, Pol Pot had ordered that people be killed with hammers and some types of farming implement.

IMG_5525

On our way back to the airport, we were really stuck in the traffic. Our driver (the same driver who took us to Siem Reap) performed several magical movements and got us out of the jam.

IMG_5533

At the airport, I bought some books on Cambodian history to learn more about these lovely people and their sad recent history.

Cambodia
Irony: A luxury car dealer in one of the most poor country…

If you haven’t visited Cambodia, you definitely should. I have visited 51 countries, and many countries more than once; but this short trip to Cambodia was my favourite.

All the best from Singapore.

Sukru Haskan
Twitter: @sukru_haskan

Share This: