Monday, 9 June 2014

Travel to Siem Reap, Cambodia

Going to Siem Reap, Cambodia was an impromptu decision, but definitely one that I didn’t regret. Perhaps the only change I would make is to go during cooler months.

The 38 degree Celsius weather is so unforgiving, I was so afraid to fall sick during the trip. On the first day, I did apply some light makeup but the heat just melts everything. After that I ditch the makeup and pile on sunscreen instead.

I’m using the award-winning COOLA MINERAL FACE SPF 30CUCUMBER MATTE FINISH which is an all-natural CC cream that helps to even out skin tone, has a light coverage and has no nano-sized particles so it won’t clog pores. The texture is mousse-like and leaves a powdery feeling on the skin, instead of the usual sticky feeling for sunscreen. I loved it!

To prepare for the trip, I also bought new sunglasses. I don’t have one, weird I know since Singapore is so sunny. It turned out pretty handy because the heat and sun in Siem Reap is so much worse than Singapore.

During the planning of the trip, I kept telling Mel that we should stay at Golden Temple Hotel since it is only SGD$ 20 a night. My sister stayed there and found it to be pretty good. However, Mel wants something nicer and slightly more luxurious so we ended up choosing Bunwin Boutique Hotel, which is ranked #16 of 218 hotels in Siem Reap on Tripadvisor.

The hotel is located in the outskirt of the city center, but free tuk tuk rides are offered free of charge to the city so location is not a big issue. The rooms are huge and you will have plenty of space. I like the breakfast because it is not buffet style. There are 3 ala carte options and I find all 3 to be very good.

Siem Reap has quickly stolen my heart to be on par with Bangkok in terms of affordability, food, service and massage. Though there isn’t much shopping to be done, I don’t mind at all. Massages are good and at only USD$9 for 1 hour in your hotel room, we couldn’t be happier. We ended with massage every day for 4 days.

We booked our trip on Expedia Singapore and the package deal of Silkair flights + hotel are much cheaper compared to booking separately. For 5 days/4 nights & Silkair flights, it cost us about SGD $1000.

Thursday, 22 May 2014

Chasing Aurora Borealis: FINALLY!

I have to mention this. Northern Lights or Aurora Borealis actually looks much, much better on photographs most of the time. But on my last night in Abisko, I realized this is not true.

For the first couple of nights, the Aurora Borealis activity is only average. So we saw some fickle of greens and grey here and there but nothing spectacular. At times like this, the Aurora shows up much better on camera because the camera can capture the lights and colors better than our naked eyes.

We also realize that a lot of people traveled to view Aurora without proper cameras and found themselves to be very disappointed because they can share what they see with friends & family.

I’m not trying to be a snob here but I think it’s a total waste if you can’t capture the Aurora with your usual compact cameras! Please at least bring a camera that allows your to adjust your shutter speed. It doesn't have to be a DSLR. We have a Nikon D7000 & a Sony NEX5N; not the best cameras around but it is sufficient.

Do bring LOTs of extra batteries because the cold kills the batteries. The cold is brutal. Really brutal. My NEX batt lasted only 30 min in the -20 degreeC cold. In the -40 degreeC cold, it lasted 5 min and the camera got frozen up and wouldn't turn on. Piece of crap. Nikon DSLR fair so much better though.

Tripod is a must because we keep the camera shutter open for at least 10 – 20 seconds. You can’t hold the camera stable when you are shivering non-stop in the cold.

So one night, the best night, we set off around 7:30 pm to hike 30 minutes in total darkness. Armed with only small headlights, we took on the wilderness and followed the hiking trail we found in the day. It will lead us to a small cliff that has the most extraordinary view of the skies and Aurora.

I’m actually very scared because:
#1 I don’t hike
#2 the slopes are killing me
#3 there are wolves & fox
#4 there are reindeer and moose and I don’t know what other wild animals
#5 we may get lost
#6 we only walked the trail once in the morning and we are not familiar with the place
#7 we didn't have any survival kit with us
#8 what if I need to pee very badly?

So with all these worries, I set out with a seasoned boy scout, my hubby. As we walked, all I can hear is our breathing and footsteps in the deep snow. I couldn't see what’s beyond 5 meters ahead of me because it is so dark.

From this walk, I also realized how powerful moonlight is. It practically lit up the whole area when our headlights are off. We don’t get to experience this in an urban area.

I feel like I’m in a magical land. When my headlights shone onto the trees and ground, the snow glitters like diamonds. Everywhere is diamonds, shining, glittering, and being beautiful. The feeling and sight were very magical. I cannot put it down in words. At that moment, I am so glad I took a risk and go ahead with the hike. Imagine, walking in the dark, and the world around you just sparkles and glitters and it’s just a sea of white and trees. Just peace and calmness.

That night, we had the BEST Aurora ever. It’s green like what we see in pictures. It’s red like what we see in pictures. Without any photo processing, our naked eyes see the colours. The activity level is flying off the roof that night. The flow of the Aurora is captivating. I was hoping we can catch the purple and pink ones too but it didn't happen. It’s okay.

It’s the BEST night ever.

Monday, 19 May 2014

Chasing Aurora Borealis: Abisko Mountain Lodge

I'm so glad we have picked Abisko Mountain Lodge over the other more popular hotel in Abisko. It’s a relatively small hotel with room option of regular hotel room or a mountain cabin.

Of course we picked the mountain cabin because we have never stayed in one and it’s the same price as the hotel room. It’s huge with 2 floors and equipped with kitchen & porch area. However, the heater in the room is not very useful against the -30 degree Celsius so I actually slept in full body fleeces because it is so cold.

We love our mountain lodge but had to move out on the last night as the water pipes are frozen and we are not getting water to the house. We moved into a hotel room and it’s not too bad too.

Abisko is such a quiet town. Around the hotel, there is only 1 mid-size supermarket and a restaurant. That’s about it. We hardly see any cars moving around or people walking around. Just behind the hotel, there’s a helipad and it’s the must-go place for catching the Northern Lights. The view is not obstructed and you will have clear view of the sky.

The reason why we picked Abisko is because of the surrounding lakes and mountains, there is no cloud cover in this area. It has the perfect weather condition to view Northern Lights. In fact, the 5 nights we are there, we saw Northern Lights every day!

The restaurant at the hotel serves very good food. If you are staying there, try the food at least once. We had moose meat there and it’s very good.

It’s not a place I’ll go back again though. One time is enough because there isn't much to do really. But to see the Northern Lights, it’s pretty worthwhile.

Abisko Mountain Lodge
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