Tuesday, November 25, 2014

Travel: Cocoa Island by COMO, Maldives (Day 5)

Our flight home was scheduled for midnight out of Male, so I didn't know how they would accommodate our late check-out. We were told that they would put us down for late check-out, but would not be able to confirm until closer to the date of our departure. They scheduled our speedboat transfer back to the hotel for 8:30pm.

At dinner on our last night, we were informed that the guests staying in our suite after us had requested early check-in, so we would not be able to stay in our room for late check-out. They said, we could either choose to stay in our room until normal check out (12pm) and make use of the day lounge for the rest of the day, or move out of our room early morning of our last day and use another suite until 8pm. We decided on the latter, and were moved to a One Bedroom Villa.

Here are pictures of the larger One Bedroom Villa which we used from 7am until 8pm. To be perfectly honest, we both preferred our original room because it felt cozier, and was already plenty spacious for the two of us! But I'm sure if we stayed in this suite from the start, it would have felt better than the Dhoni Suite ;)

Our temporary day use suite - One Bedroom Villa

Monday, November 24, 2014

Travel: Cocoa Island by COMO, Maldives (Day 4)

I finally remembered to check out the sunrise on Day 4 of our stay. Cory decided to sleep in, so I went off on my own towards the sandbar area to get a better view.


Sunday, November 23, 2014

Travel: Cocoa Island by COMO, Maldives (Day 3)

Cocoa Island Dive Shop Review

In preparation for our trip to the Maldives, we began our PADI Open Water Diver certification at home in NJ. We did our theory online, and our closed water (pool) sessions at the Hoboken Dive Shop. We planned to do 4 open water dives on our trip to complete our certification.

At the Dive Shop, we signed up for 4 dives over the next two days with Michy. We were so thrilled with having her as our instructor - she was incredible. Patient, understanding, extremely knowledgeable, calming, funny, laid-back -- just amazing!!! She was extremely thorough in our pre-dive briefings, answering all the questions we had. She made sure to check what we knew and remembered from our closed water dives, and helped us get comfortable with all the safety checks and precautions needed to go diving. Absolutely an A+ instructor!

On our first full day of our stay, we did a dive in the morning and then again in the afternoon. The morning dive was at the Cocoa House Reef. You enter from the shore, and swim along a little channel to a clearing in the reef. Our first dive was to get used to the equipment again, so we didn't have to deal with any skills (yay). Our second dive was at Cocoa Giri, a very short boat ride away. We did some skills here (regulator recovery, half mask and full mask clear, and alternate air exercise).

On our second full day, we decided to do our dives back-to-back, because on our first day we felt really sleepy after having lunch between the dives. We did our third dive at the Cocoa House Reef again, and did a TON of skills. It was skill after skill after skill because of how we decided to re-arrange our dives. Our last dive was at Woggiri, a little farther away by boat than Cocoa Giri. Our last dive had fewer skills, and after we finished, we spent quite a while longer looking at things.

It was such an incredible experience. I really want to go diving again! Everyone at the dive shop said we'd be spoiled for life now, having gone diving in the Maldives as our first open water experience. I think they may be right -- guess that means we just have to go back, right?

The cost of completing our open water certification here was very similar to what it would have cost us in NJ. There's no special training dive spots at Cocoa Island, so I think this was a really great value. Plus, we got the super knowledgeable Michy as our guide! :)

The dive sites

Saturday, November 22, 2014

Restaurant Review: Ufaa at Cocoa Island, Maldives

As promised, here is a separate post dedicated to the only restaurant on Cocoa Island by COMO: Ufaa. I was extremely impressed with the food at this restaurant. Nearly everything we tried was well-executed, interesting, and tasty. A little on the expensive side, but portions were quite large. Cory and I ended up sharing 1 appetizer, 1 entree, and 1 dessert and always felt really full afterwards. Lunch usually ran us about $90 after tip, and dinner $110 after tip (sometimes with 1-2 beers, but no wine).

Ufaa Restaurant

Here is the blurb directly from the official website:
Unique among restaurants in the Maldives, our talented, New Zealand-born Executive Chef Shane Avant draws inspiration from the Malabar Coast’s rich gourmet heritage and local seafood. He also creates modern interpretations of Southeast Asian and Mediterranean cuisine. The kitchen’s tandoor oven allows for fat-free, flavour-rich grilling of meats, vegetables and fish.

Outside the restaurant, next to the infinity pool

Friday, November 21, 2014

Travel: Cocoa Island by COMO, Maldives (Day 2)


The one downside of visiting the Maldives during low season is the chance of rain. The weather forecast in the weeks and days leading to our trip showed rain every single day, with 70-80% chance of precipitation. It was very depressing. But! The worst we got was rain overnight on our first night and a very light sprinkling of rain before breakfast in the morning. It was sunny with a few clouds the rest of the time with some overnight light rain (judging only from our wet deck furniture). Otherwise, the weather was fantastic. About 30-32 degrees Celcius, low humidity, and a beautiful ocean breeze. So, don't fret when looking at the weather forecast!

Such awful, cloudy weather. /sarcasm

Thursday, November 20, 2014

Travel: Cocoa Island by COMO, Maldives (Day 1)

For the last leg of our honeymoon, we booked 4 nights at Cocoa Island by COMO in the Maldives. May through October is actually the low season in the Maldives, so we were able to book our stay with the following promotion: Pay for 3 nights, and get the 4th free, plus $150 USD resort credit for each of the three paid days (can be used on food, drink, and spa -- not that we ever use the spa facilities when we vacation). Even with this promotion, it was still a very expensive stay; I don't know when we'll be able to justify another trip back!

There are a lot of gorgeous looking accommodations in the Maldives. We chose Cocoa Island because of how small it is (only 33 suites), how luxurious the rooms looked, and the wonderful TripAdvisor reviews. The 4-for-3 nights promotion sealed the deal!

At the time of our booking, we also saw that their sister property, Maalifushi by COMO, had just had their soft opening. With a similar promotion, we almost decided to book it instead of Cocoa Island. However, we decided against it because it seemed like a larger resort that was more geared towards families with children. in addition to this, it would have cost more than Cocoa Island, because the seaplane transfer from Male international airport is much more expensive.

We landed around noon (local time) from Singapore after an easy 4 hour flight. After exiting customs, we were greeted by a representative holding a Cocoa Island sign, and he whisked us to our speedboat.

Aside from about 4 employees and the driver, we had the boat to ourselves (I'm guessing not many people staying at Cocoa Island fly in via the super cheap Tiger Air!), and after a short, but inaudible safety demonstration, we were off! It was a bit cloudy that day, but it still felt totally surreal to be in the Maldives. The speedboat ride took about 40 minutes, and we passed by many beautiful looking island resorts.

HELLO MALDIVES! Leaving the airport! A bit cloudy upon arrival.

Travel: Tiger Air Review (SIN to MLE)

This is a boring entry. Sorry. I wanted to document my thoughts on our budget-airline flight from Singapore to the Maldives.

Tiger Air Review

We booked fairly inexpensive flights from Singapore to Male on Tiger Air (about $190 USD each, one way). This is apparently a pretty recent addition to their routes.

Overall, the experience was good, but I was seriously annoyed that they even charged for water, especially considering:
(a) there was nowhere to buy any bottled beverages at our gate (the security was at our gate, so I couldn't bring any drinks in even if I had left the area to buy one), and

(b) they have the audacity to tell you NOT to bring your own food or drink onto the flight on their menu (!!!)

Tuesday, November 18, 2014

Travel: Miscellaneous Bits and Bobs in Singapore and Changi Airport

Kind of a mish mash post on Singapore for you:


Would you believe me if I said I had never had fresh durian before this trip? I've had it in dessert form and candy form, but never fresh. We saw packages of it for sale at the supermarket near Mellben Seafood, and afterwards came by to pick up a package for $5 SGD. The man selling packaging it responded, "It's worth trying" when I said I'd never had it before (RINGING ENDORSEMENT!) and I bought a middle SKU (they were priced by ripeness/softness).


Sunday, November 16, 2014

Restaurant Review: The Curry Culture (Singapore)

For our second dinner in Singapore, we had a strong hankering for Indian. About 1 hour of googling later (I told you, it takes me a long time to choose these things), we settled on The Curry Culture at Cuppage Terrace (*stifled giggle*). Reviews at Tripadvisor and GoHungryWhere.

It was about a 30 minute walk from our hotel, and we only got slightly lost down a random alleyway. We ended up cutting through the back entrance of a restaurant, and walked straight out the front door (a bit awkward).

The Curry Culture

Thursday, November 13, 2014

Restaurant Review: Alexandra Village Hawker Centre (Singapore)

After our Jurong Bird Park adventure, we cabbed to Alexandra Village Hawker Centre. There was some confusion with the cabbie about the location, but we found it without too much trouble. We actually got off about a 5 minutes walk away from the address, as the traffic was backed up and the driver said it can be gridlock inside.

120 Bukit Merah Lane, 150120, Singapore

What brought us to this particular hawker centre, as opposed to one of the more famous ones?

LAKSA. Depot Road Claypot Laksa, in particular. Apparently this stall is closed on Mondays! Stall number is 01-75. I had quite a few Laksa places on my short list (including the uber famous 328 Katong Laksa), but this was sort of on the way back from Jurong Bird Park, and everyone loves clay-potted food, right?

Anyway, while we were there, we tried a few other things from the other stalls. There are two long strips of stalls with a walkway halfway down (so 4 sections of stalls). We first searched for the laksa (whose sign no longer says "Depot Road", but it was the right stall number and the only one saying "claypot laksa" on it). Afterwards, we made note of the more popular stalls and tried our luck! It appeared that we were the only tourists there (hurray!)

Alexandra Village Hawker Center

Monday, November 10, 2014

Travel: Jurong Bird Park (Singapore)

I love going to zoos and aquariums, so I had a hard time deciding whether I wanted to go to the Singapore Zoo, Jurong Bird Park, the Night Safari, or the River Safari.

I've been to San Diego's Zoo twice now, and from the Singapore Zoo TripAdvisor reviews, it sounded like it was of similar caliber and extra crowded. (I also didn't pack any zoom lenses for my camera!) I decided to save this for a future trip to Singapore.

I was intrigued by the Night Safari concept, but the TripAdvisor reviews seemed to indicate that it was extremely crowded and not much different than a regular zoo (but open at night time). I figured I wouldn't get many worthwhile photos at night, either!

Finally, the TripAdvisor reviews for the River Safari were not as favourable as the Night Safari, so it was a pass for me as well.

That left Jurong Bird Park, which has excellent TripAdvisor reviews. I've never been to a bird-dedicated park, so I was really excited to go!

Tickets and Travel

Ticket Price: $25 SGD per adult (they have a discount if you purchase online ahead of time, but for non-Singaporeans, it's only a 5% discount, so not really worth the trouble, IMO)

You can get to Jurong Bird Park via public transportation (MRT and bus), but takes about 90 minutes! Taxi, on the other hand, only takes about 20 minutes but costs more. We went for the taxi option since we were having a late start that morning. It cost us about $25-30 SGD (can't remember exactly), and there's a surcharge if you go during peak hours. There are also (not free) shuttle buses from various hotels (information here) that take up to 1 hour, but have a limited schedule.

We arrived about an hour after opening on a weekday and it was not that crowded at all. Although there were quite a lot of cute little school children on field trips.

We left via taxi as well. There's a taxi stand outside the park, and there was one there when we decided to leave (around 1PM, when it started getting a bit too hot and humid).


We started at Penguin Coast:

Indoor penguin exhibit. Many school children came up on our heels shortly after this picture was taken.

Sunday, November 9, 2014

Restaurant Review: Kaya Toast at 67 Killiney Kopitiam (Singapore)

I knew that I wanted to have a traditional Singaporean breakfast - which meant kaya toast and soft boiled eggs! From my research, there seemed to be two popular chains: Ya Kun Kaya Toast and Killiney Kopitiam. Based on the recommendation of an online friend (thanks, Boffan!), we decided to go to the original location of Killiney Kopitiam at 67 Killiney Rd (near Somerset MRT station). We just walked from our hotel, which took about 20 minutes.

Lots of locals hanging out, getting their breakfast on. Actually, it was pretty late already (9am) and some people were digging into some more substantial dishes.

67 Killiney Kopitiam

Saturday, November 8, 2014

Accommodation Review: Grand Hyatt Singapore

We used reward points to book our two night stay at the Grand Hyatt in Singapore. Here's a quick review and pictures of our room.

  • Swanky hotel
  • Large room size (we had the basic room)
  • Every taxi driver knows where it is!
  • Free welcome chocolate chip cookies, fruit, and bottled water
  • Free wifi
  • Great water pressure
  • Comfortable bed and pillows

  • Slight funky smell from the bathroom
  • Very confusing how to get here via the underground passages from the Orchard MRT station

Location Comments

The Grand Hyatt is fairly close to the Orchard MRT station, but you cannot just go up to the street level and walk there because there are no cross walks at the main intersection. You must go underground at some point, and it is confusing as hell! We probably spent 20 minutes getting from Ion Orchard shopping mall MRT exit to the right exit that would let us walk the rest of the way to the hotel. This is a huge pain with luggage, as some exits do not have escalators or elevators.

Taxi Comments

It seems like Singapore has different base and meter rates for different taxis. We found that the taxis pulling up to our hotel were more expensive (both base and meter) than ones we hailed from the street nearby, but they were also nicer (leather seats, air con already on, etc). Just a word of warning!

Grand Hyatt Singapore - entrance

Friday, November 7, 2014

Restaurant Review: Mellben Seafood (Singapore)

The next dish on my "to eat" list, was chilli crab! Again, there are a lot of well known establishments to have crab in Singapore. I decided on Mellben Seafood because it seemed less like a tourist destination than the others, and the claypot crab (which they are well known for) sounded super delicious.

Links: Hungrygowhere, Yelp, TripAdvisor

Mellben Seafood

Thursday, November 6, 2014

Restaurant Review: Yeo Keng Nam Chicken Rice (Singapore)

We had 36 hours in Singapore, and squeezing as many meals as possible into those hours was the main goal.

I very strongly wanted to avoid Tian Tian Hainanese Chicken Rice because of the hype, lines, too predictable, etc.

Googling for the "best" Chicken Rice joints in Singapore is like getting sucked into a black hole. Actually, scratch that. Googling for any of the "best" local dishes is like getting sucked into a black hole. For my personality type (needing to read EVERY review ever written on every place), this meant I spent way too much time researching what to eat. It seems like Singaporeans are very opinionated when it comes to determining the "best" of what to eat. That's ok with me!

I eventually shortlisted the following three Chicken Rice joints (for various reasons, I'm sure, but I can no longer recall them):

Thien Kee Steamboat Restaurant (Golden Mile Tower #B1-20)
6001 Beach Rd, Singapore 199589

Hainanese Boneless Chicken Rice (Golden Mile Food Centre #B1-35)
505 Beach Rd, Singapore 199583

Yeo Keng Nam Chicken Rice
8 Braddell Rd, Singapore 359898

I decided to try the last place: Yeo Keng Nam Chicken Rice.

We hopped in a cab in front of our hotel, and gave the address to the cabbie. About 10 minutes in, he said "Is this a chicken rice place?" Cory and I looked at each other, and I said "Yes" to the cabbie. Another 10 minutes went by, and we basically pulled into a strip mall on the side of a very busy road.


This has got to be authentic, right?

Wednesday, November 5, 2014

Travel: Eva Air 'The Infinity' Lounge (Taoyuan Intl Airport / TPE)

Our flight to Singapore was fairly early (7am I think), so I was definitely interested in seeing what was for breakfast in the Eva Air lounge at Taoyuan Airport. We used miles to book business class flights, so we had access to the "Infinity" lounge.

The spread of breakfast was pretty incredible! Cory doesn't really eat breakfast, so it was down to me to eat as much as possible.

This is what I thought was an appropriate breakfast, faced with the options.

Tuesday, November 4, 2014

Travel: Eslite, Shin Kong Mitsukoshi Dept Store, Ice Monster (Taipei, Taiwan)

Here's a bit of a random post from our last day wandering around Taipei.

My Tiny Taiwan Haul

A couple haul pictures -- I was surprised at my restraint! I just bought a few face masks and staples. The THREE Blush in 019 Love Kick was a small splurge (I did have a lovely shopping experience at the THREE counter at the SOGO Pacific department store, though!)

Some face masks from Taipei

Monday, November 3, 2014

Restaurant Review: Pin Chuan Lan 品川蘭 (Taipei, Taiwan)

Since we were in Taiwan, I knew we'd have to eat beef noodle soup somewhere. But I wasn't really interested in going to those super famous street stalls and struggling with ordering. I decided to take it easy when I saw Hungry Girl in Taipei's review of Pin Chuan Lan, since it looked like a very modern and trendy restaurant (with English menu, yeyyy).

We were originally going to have lunch here, but we ended up here for an early dinner instead. We arrived around 5pm, and we were the only ones there. By the time we left an hour or so later, it started to fill up a bit.

Pin Chuan Lan - large table near the front of the store

Sunday, November 2, 2014

Restaurant Review: Anhe 65 (Taipei, Taiwan)

We had some time to kill one afternoon, and decided to check out this cat café I had read about: Little Aesthete, Herb and Lace, Taipei Cat Cafes. What I liked about these reviews, is that it genuinely looked like a cool space to hang out, rather than a cat brothel (per my experience in Tokyo... which I wouldn't take back, but it did make me feel unusual to pay $12USD to be ignored by a lot of cats at the same time).

Anhe 65 is a super relaxed basement gallery space with some food and drinks. We ordered a couple beverages (since we were in between meals). I had a fruit tea (which was huge! and yummy) and Cory ordered a Neko Beer (which turned out to be the best beer he'd had in Taiwan, and was from a local microbrewery). There are allegedly 2 or 3 cats that live here, but when we sat down, they were nowhere to be found D:

Anhe65 Cafe - Main facade - go down the staircase on the right!

Saturday, November 1, 2014

Restaurant Review: Kao Chi 高記 (Taipei, Taiwan)

I originally wanted to go to Kao Chi near Yong Kang St for XLB instead of Din Tai Fung based on the reviews I had read (Hungry Girl in Taipei, Noobcook.com, Fat SG Boy) which seemed to suggest this is one of Taipei's best-kept-secrets and is overshadowed by DTF. Since I gravitate towards under-the-radar type establishments, I was really disappointed that the location at Yong Kang St was closed when we had gone (later found out they just opened an hour later than DTF!).

Luckily, there are a few other locations in Taipei (we spotted one from the subway train we took), and one's tummy always makes room for more XLB. We decided to hit up a Kao Chi the next morning and decide for ourselves who has the better XLB.

Kao Chi - Fuxing Branch