Thailand: Mattress-Running in Phuket, 14 – 18 September 2016

Patong Beach, Phuket

I don’t have too much to comment about Phuket. I’ve been here several times. The sole purpose of this trip (apart from my extreme fondness for the beach), is to mattress-run for Hyatt Diamond status, while hitting some IHG properties because of a lucrative promotion. So the idea behind this trip is to actually work on the beach while mattress-running, and not actually be exploring. I’ll review the properties I stayed at on separate posts.

New Phuket International Airport - Opened September 2016

Getting Around

Boy, are the taxis in Phuket expensive! My first hotel was not on Patong, so I didn’t have any options with regards to the minivans. I was pretty much left with a taxi. A 30 min journey cost me 500 THB. It doesn’t sound much, but it’s expensive by Southeast Asian standards. I don’t think I brought quite enough cash for this trip!

If you are traveling in Southeast Asia, do consider downloading the following app – Grab (this is actually my invite code, whereby I’ll get $8, and so will you, for your first ride). It is more commonly-used than Uber in Southeast Asia, and its price is competitive with Uber. In the case of Phuket, Uber doesn’t exist, but Grab does. Private cars and taxis can be hired via Grab, and you can pay for the ride via credit card. The only downside is, you don’t earn SPG points. On my way back to the Phuket International Airport, I was out of cash, so I used a Grab Car. The price was competitive with taxis, and I had the option of pre-booking the ride to show up at the hotel at a designated time to send me to the airport.

If you are a way better driver than I am, do rent a car, or if you have balls of steel, rent a motorbike. I suck at driving and am now a wimp, so …


The one big tip I learned from the Holiday Inn Mai Khao hotel manager is, where to eat in Phuket. He suggested Baan Rim Pa, which has several locations. I went to the Patong location, which is a short walk from Hyatt Place Patong. Pricey as it is, I do suggest going there, and making a reservation ahead of time.

Duck Curry at Baan Rim Pa, Phuket

Why Baan Rim Pa?

The food is excellent. I had a fried rice, and a duck curry. The duck was succulent, and the curry had a very well-developed flavor. The fried rice is just fried rice, but served as an excellent base to complement the duck curry. I’ve not tried the other dishes, but I’m guessing it should be excellent as well.

Chicken Fried Rice at Baan Rim Pa, Phuket

Baan Rim Pa Patong is perched atop a small hill that offers amazing views of Patong Beach. In particular, it is the perfect viewpoint for spectacular sunsets. I went at 5 pm on a whim without a reservation, and was told I could dine there if I promise to clear out within an hour. If you want a good table for dinner and the view, do make a reservation and ask for a good spot.

This dinner set me back by 35 USD, so be prepared to open your wallet.

View of Patong Beach from Baan Rim Pa, Phuket


Argentina: Hangry and Lost in Buenos Aires, 15 July 2016

Centro, Buenos Aires

I generally don’t have the best sense of direction, and most of the time, this is not an issue, because I usually travel alone, and getting lost means making random explorations and discoveries. However, for this trip, I was traveling with my +1, and he’s a little more destination oriented than I am. This is the tale of hangry (hungry –> angry = hangry) and lost in Buenos Aires. It was a vicious cycle.

Today, we had a few things on the agenda:

  1. Go check out the train station and find out information about my train trip from Buenos Aires to Rosario. I checked this information online previously, but needed to go to the train station to confirm it and get a ticket.
  2. Try out the Buenos Aires metro system. I like exploring public transport. Also, it does save us money.
  3. Explore Centro, which is more the business/tourist/shopping district of Buenos Aires. My friend recommended I check out ABC restaurant, a former Nazi hangout.
  4. Eat parrilla.

Retiro Train Station, Buenos Aires

The train station is pretty close to our hotel, and there’s also a metro station there, so we made the 15 min walk there. Two birds, one stone. The +1 was very helpful in this situation, as he managed to confirm the timing and the fare of the train from Buenos Aires to Rosario. As I didn’t bring that much cash with me, we decided to come back the next day to get tickets. The Retiro train station is an elegant building. Do check it out if you happen to be there.

Next stop, metro station, which is also at the train station (Retiro, blue line). Buying a Subte card was rather interesting. I tried the ticket counter, and as it turns out, the ticket counter doesn’t sell the Subte card – they do reloads. We were directed to a lottery selling stand to get our Subte cards, which are 35 pesos (~$2.30) a piece. We loaded it up with 15 pesos. Rides cost 4.50 pesos (~$0.30), and are charged per trip. We took the Subte from Retiro to Lavalle.

Busker on the subway train, Buenos Aires

I actually wanted to go check out the ABC restaurant, before going to a parrilla place for lunch. Well, with my very crappy navigation, we ended up walking AWAY from the ABC restaurant. It wasn’t that bad, we did end up checking out the Obelisco and Teatro Colon. Eventually, the +1 decided to take charge, and navigated us towards the ABC restaurant. The ABC restaurant is a German beer hall, and it’s quite hard to miss, because it sticks out like an odd thumb on the street, with a wooden facade painted in the colors of the German flag. Its claim to notoriety is that, it was the lunch spot for prominent Nazi leaders who fled from Nazi Germany and sought refuge in Buenos Aires after the end of the Third Reich.

ABC Restaurant in Centro, Buenos Aires

Next stop, the parrilla that didn’t happen. The previous night, I settled on a place that hit the sweet spot of price and decent ratings on yelp, and wanted to dine there for lunch. I tried navigating us towards it, but once again, I navigated us AWAY from it. Sigh, and that’s why I hate the GPS and prefer a physical map. After getting lost a number of times, we were nearing the magical end of lunch hour – 3 pm. By this point, I was so hangry, I stopped caring where we ate, as long as we could find a place that was still open. We ended up going to a pizza place, because Argentina is supposed to be famous for pizza as well. I got the house special … it was odd… They put some root veggie that I couldn’t identify, and the +1 said that the Spanish here is somewhat different, so we had no idea what we ate.

After satisfying the gnawing pain in my stomach, we decided to walk some more around Centro, just to take in some of the beautiful architecture in Centro. It was a pretty nice walk, and a novelty for the +1, because he hasn’t been to Europe, so to date, this is the closest he’s gotten to European architecture.

Cathedral in Centro, Buenos Aires

By around 4 pm or so, we were done with Centro, so I left it up to the +1. He wanted to check out the Japanese gardens, so we hopped onto the green line on the subte, which took us from Catedral to Plaza Italia. It was a longish walk from Plaza Italia to the Japanese Gardens. We walked past the zoo, which was closed. They did try to fence off the zoo, so that pedestrians can’t get a free peep into the zoo. However, it’s kinda hard to hide giraffes from the public, ya know! We also stopped by Freddo’s for some ice cream. If you want to make bank as an ice cream stand, set it up beside a zoo. Jackpot!

When we got to the Japanese Gardens, we realized we had to pay an entrance fee for it. Well … we didn’t have enough cash on us. It wasn’t the end of the world. At this point, we were probably about 20-30 min walk from our hotel, so we decided to simply walk back and check out what’s on the way back to the hotel. The walk on Avenida del Libertador was very pleasant. We got to check out some parks, and there were also several embassies along the way. My favorite was when we got on a bridge, and could see the majestic sunset slowly developing. The graffiti on the bridge was pretty cool, too (don’t remember the name of the bridge, but you can see the mechanical flower from there).

Sunset from bridge over Av del Libertador, Buenos Aires

After the rather long walk, we went back to the hotel to rest up for a bit before dinner. Dinner was at Parrilla Aires Criolles, which was excellent. I had a full portion of ribeye with sausage, while the +1 had salmon and shrimp. The excellent dinner with drinks set us back by $50 for the two of us.

#Argentina has amazing beef #food #buenosaires

Uruguay: Colonia to Argentina: Buenos Aires, 14 July 2016

Winter in Buenos Aires, Recoleta Neighborhood

Another day, another journey. I was very last minute in planning this trip, so we were forced to take a rather early ferry (10.30) from Colonia to Buenos Aires. Consequently, we left the hotel at 9 am and got to the ferry terminal around 9.15, only to realize we were still too early once again for our ferry ride back.

Unfortunately, booking with a cut rate ferry (Colonia Express) meant that we got a way less glamorous ferry than the one we took from Buenos Aires to Montevideo. It also docked a lot further away from our hotel. Consequently, after disembarking, we had a fun task – how in the world were we going to get back to our hotel? (we walked from our hotel to the ferry terminal a couple of days ago)

We were fairly low on Argentinian pesos at this point, and based on the maps, we were also rather far from all kinds of civilization. That’s when we decided to give Uber another shot. After walking some ways from all the cabs, the +1 turned on his phone, and we both kept our fingers crossed that there would be an Uber (it’s not very popular in Buenos Aires yet). In any case, we did luck out. There was an Uber that was just within range. After a 10-15 min wait, we were on an Uber, and on our way back to the hotel.

Five Stacker from Burger King, Buenos Aires

After checking in and a short rest, it was time to get some food. The +1 saw an advertisement for Burger King’s 5 stacker, so we decided to try it. We walked some 15 min to the Burger King opposite Burger 54, and decided to challenge the 5 stacker. I was admonished for trying to deconstruct the 5 stacker instead of trying to stuff the whole thing in my face. 😛 We then adjourned to the restaurant at El Ateneo Grand Splendid, where I got some coffee and got in some reading.

Having a tea break in the restaurant in El Ateneo Bookshop, Buenos Aires

The day was still young after our tea break, so we headed over to a tourist attraction near our hotel – Recoleta cemetery. Most people visiting the Recoleta cemetery go straight for Evita’s tomb. But we mostly just wandered around and checked out how people envisioned their afterlife. I thought it was rather interesting that even in the afterlife, it was a pissing contest, as some families built taller graves than their neighbors, to get in the last word in the afterlife.

Recoleta Cemetery, Buenos Aires

We had a lazy stay in night in our beautiful suite to recover from our day of travels.

Watching sunset from Palacio Duhau deluxe suite balcony, Buenos Aires

Uruguay: Montevideo to Colonia, 13 July 2016

Colonia Del Sacramento from the lighthouse

Our grand plan today involved getting from Montevideo to Colonia. Colonia is a UNESCO World Heritage site that was built in the 1500s as a Portuguese town, and a fortification of sorts. It’s about 3 hrs by bus from Montevideo, and 1.5 hrs by a fast ferry from Buenos Aires.

The night before, I checked online, and seeing that buses run from Montevideo to Colonia 20 past the hour almost every hour, I decided to just wing it when we get to the bus station. At around 11.45 or so, we checked out of the hotel, and got an Uber to bring us to the bus station (we were running out of Uruguay Pesos, and didn’t want to change more). It was a longer-than-expected 20 min ride, because there were traffic diversions.

We arrived at the bus ticketing counter at 12.05, got the last two seats on the bus by the lav (argh!), and hopped onto the bus by 12.10. Sitting beside the lav isn’t ideal, but it does beat waiting another hour for the next round of buses. We paid 330 per person for the 3 hour bus ride, and with that, we spent the last of our Uruguay Pesos.

The bus ride was uneventful, and rolled by the bucolic Uruguayan countryside. It made several stops along the way. It probably pays to do more research than we did, and find out which bus offers the most direct route, because our meandering bus ride took about three hours. At around 3.30 or so, we arrived at the Colonia del Sacramento bus station, which is across the street from the ferry terminal.

Colonia Del Sacramento

We walked some 15 min or so to the fortified town of Colonia, the site of the UNESCO World Heritage site. The area has very clear signage, and maps are located around the little town, with different points of interest. While the +1 was climbing the fortifications and jumping over mud puddles, I just took it easy as I was getting increasingly hangry, not having eaten a thing the whole day.

Despite my increasing hangry-ness, we decided to climb up the lighthouse for a bird’s eye view of the Rio de la Plata and the town of Colonia.  As a very tourist-y town, Colonia takes you can pay in Argentinian Pesos or Uruguayan Pesos. Uruguayan Pesos offer the best rate, but if you aren’t looking to go change money, Argentinian Pesos will be accepted at a shitty rate. The lighthouse was kinda nice, but we wouldn’t recommend it for taller people. It did get to be quite a squeeze with visitors, even though the ticket vendors do manage foot traffic. We had a bit of trouble getting to the top, because it is pretty hard to climb to the top with a bag. We had to relay our bags up before climbing up. I’d still recommend hiking up, though.

Santa Rita, Colonia Del Sacramento

After the lighthouse, I was done. By this point, all I wanted was to sit down and eat. Unfortunately, a lot of the restaurants in the square were closed, because the day trip tourists have left, and so many restaurant operators make the decision to close shop. We had to walk to the edges of the square to find a restaurant that had a kitchen that was still operating. We wound up at Santa Rita (the +1 said they have bad reviews on Google, but whatever – beggars can’t be choosers).

Salmon Skewers from Santa Rita, Colonia Del Sacramento

They started us off with a bread course. We had salmon skewers and ordered a Santa Rita paella. We thought the salmon skewers were great. I thought the Santa Rita paella was so-so, but given how hungry I was, I couldn’t care less. It was perfectly edible. We also enjoyed a sunset by the restaurant. The dinner set us back by $50 for two of us. As our hotel was some ways from the town of Colonia itself, they also called a taxi for us to take us to our hotel.

Sunset in Colonia Del Sacramento

Uruguay: Stuffing my face in Montevideo, 12 July 2016

Yo <3 Mi Barrio, Montevideo #graffiti

Around noon, we moved from our first night at the more upscale part of Montevideo to the downtown of Montevideo, where there are more touristy things to do.

After checking in, I really wanted to eat parrillada, because Uruguay is famous for its beef. The hotel kindly supplied us with a map, and some simple directions on the map, and off to Mercado del Puerto we went. Mercado del Puerto is sort of like a tourist trap that’s filled with Uruguayan BBQ restaurants indoors in a market. We were dazzled by the meats on spits, which included a suckling pig. We ended up getting lured by a place that offered complimentary white wine, and ordered a parrillada for two. It wasn’t the best, but it was decent, and set us back around $30 for two people, including two glasses of white wine.

Parillada at Mercado del Puerto, Montevideo

Following our very hearty lunch, we decided to walk up Sarandi, a pedestrian street lined with shops, which brings you through downtown Montevideo. It was definitely less harrowing than our trip to the mercado, because the sidewalks of Montevideo are rather narrow. There is also some cool graffiti along the street, and after about 10 mins of walking, we ducked into a lovely little cafe, Sin Pretensiones (the name is very ironic), run by some lovely ladies, where we both got cafe con leche. I highly recommend this cafe despite its ironic name. It is a lovely place to spend an hour just sipping coffee.

Cafe Sin Pretensiones, Montevideo

The architecture around Sarandi is probably from the 1800s, and generally pretty well maintained. I loved how some of the lion figurines at some of the higher buildings were used to hide drainage pipes. In the world of contemporary architecture, it’s sometimes nice to have some throwbacks of how people used to camouflage the nitty gritty items that is found in every building.


As we edged towards the Plaza Independencia where the very impressive Palacio Salvo stands, I saw a lovely bookshop. I can’t remember its name, but it’s a couple of doors away from the Torres Garcia museum. It even has one of those old elevators that have metal doors that close. Torres Garcia, an Uruguayan artist, also features in the cityscape. Some of the buildings were decorated by prints of his artwork. I’m not particularly art literate, but it was kinda cool that I happened to go to an art exhibition in the MoMa last fall, which featured South American artists, and I was really taken by Torres Garcia’s works.

Cool bookshop on Sarandi, Montevideo

Torres Garcia on buildings, Montevideo

Buenos Aires, Argentina to Montevideo, Uruguay: Please put on the shoe condoms, 11 July 2016

Buquebus Terminal, Buenos Aires

Yet another travel day. It does seem that this trip involves a lot of moving around. We’re heading over to Montevideo, Uruguay, so I can check off another country. There are several options of going to Uruguay from Buenos Aires and they all involve a ferry (well, flight if you feel fancy, but it doesn’t take less time). You can either do the cheaper ferry + bus option (which takes longer), or go the more expensive, direct option.

It’s low season for ferry travel so the direct ferry tickets weren’t too expensive. However, I also sat on my ass for a while, so we wound up paying $100 per person for the direct, 2+hr ferry from Buenos Aires to Montevideo with the Buquebus company. Ferry prices vary based on demand and supply, and buying it earlier might lead to cheaper tickets. We purchased our tickets online two days before travel.

Buquebus Ferry from Buenos Aires to Montevideo

Some things to note about ferry travel:

  1. It’s suggested that you arrive 2 hours before departure to clear immigration and board the ferry. If you believe the suggestion, you’re a sucker, as we were. We were there about 1h 45 min before departure. We were the only people there. Most passengers probably appeared about 1 hr before departure.
  2. Immigration on both sides are done on the side you board the ferry. It’s an elegant system and minimizes the immigration pain where you have to stand in line twice.
  3. There are various classes of travel on the Buquebus: first class, business class, tourist class, economy class. Based on your fare class, you have different (free) seating areas. We bought an economy class ticket, but we self-upgraded to the tourist class seating with no problems. There seemed to be a ticket checker on the business class and first class side. We mostly wanted to be on the upper deck of the boat.

Buquebus is the most expensive ferry company of the three (Seacat, Colonia Express) and the only one that offers a direct ferry from Buenos Aires to Montevideo (the other two companies go to Colonia del Sacramento). While it’s the most expensive, they also do have the nicest ferries. The Buenos Aires – Montevideo ferry was like being on a cruise ship, without all the free food and slots machines. They made us put on shoe protectors because they just washed the carpets. It was wild.

Buquebus Ferry from Buenos Aires to Montevideo

The ferry also had a cambio on board. For the sake of convenience, we changed some USD to Uruguayan pesos here. The rates here weren’t great – they are about 10% less than elsewhere, e.g. banks, regular cambios.

Arriving in Montevideo, the ferry terminal is actually in the heart of Montevideo’s old town, across the street from the Mercado del Puerto. However, we were staying at the upscale Pocitos neighborhood, which is about 20 min drive from the ferry terminal. We did get a hotel pick-up, so we whizzed out of that rather quickly.

By the time we were settled in, it was 7ish pm, so it was time to hunt for food. The +1 used his google-ful skills, and we wound up at a sushi place, Moshi Moshi, which is less than 10 min walk from our hotel. The sushi was excellent and cheap. It ended up costing $30 for the two of us.

Sushi at Moshi Moshi, Montevideo

Some random notes from today:

    1. I have a Singapore passport. Singapore has a population of 4 million people, and not everyone has a passport. Even fewer venture outside of Asia, so the Singapore passport is rather rare in these parts of the world. Today, it happened again. The immigration officer actually had to take out a booklet, to see what are the visa requirements for Singaporeans (none). It’s always amusing when that happens. I also have quite a number of unique stamps on my passport. The whole crew (it’s a slow news day at immigration) basically gathered round to flip through my passport.
    2. For some reason or other, you get a discount (10-20%) when you pay for dining using a credit card. This was pretty extensive, from small cafes to bigger restaurants. Use plastic. It saves you money.

Buquebus Ferry from Buenos Aires to Montevideo

Buenos Aires, Argentina: To the Market!, 10 July 2016

El Ateneo Bookshop, Buenos Aires

Today is the only Sunday that we’ll be in Buenos Aires. I read about the San Telmo market, and really wanted to go, so this was the top item on our agenda. But first, we needed some Argentinian Pesos.

We were directed by the hotel staff to a mall with a cambio, but on our way there, we walked by a tour agency, and wound up changing our money there. With Pesos in hand, we can now take a cab (we still couldn’t find Uber).

The San Telmo market’s focal point is Dorrego Plaza. The cab (~90 Pesos, or 6 USD for a 2 mile ride from Recoleta) dropped us off a block or two from the market, as the streets around Dorrego Plaza are closed on Sundays for the fair.

San Telmo Sunday Market, Buenos Aires

There’s quite a mishmash of stuff – things you might find in your grandparents’ basement, and other random knick knacks. There are also musical performances, and if you can find the elusive tango, let me know about it. Compared to the quiet elegance of Recoleta, the San Telmo area is very lively. I also enjoyed the graffiti in the area.

Aníbal Troilo: "Alguien dijo una vez Que yo me fui de mi barrio, Cuando? …pero cuando?  Si siempre estoy llegando!" San Telmo, Buenos Aires

After navigating through throngs of humans, we walked past a private museum, the El Zanjon, and decided to take a tour. The El Zanjon is the restored house of a former wealthy merchant from the late 1800s – early 1900s. Apparently the rich merchants built some crazy underground tunnels to channel the sewage away from the streets so they can have the amenities of living close to the port without the unpleasantries. The tour was 160 AR, and lasted for 40 min. The historian in me thinks that it could have been done better, but it’s not a bad way to pass some time and learn something about Buenos Aires’ early history.

San Telmo from El Zanjon, Buenos Aires

Today, it is the +1’s turn to decide on our dinner, and he wanted burgers. Apparently he heard good things about burgers in South America. We apparently drove by a place called Burger 54 on our way to the hotel the last night, and he wanted to check it out. So we got into a cab, and went back to the Recoleta area, or rather, the area between Recoleta and Centro. The burgers were pretty decent, well-priced, and I highly recommend the fries.

Burger 54, Buenos Aires

There was a super positive to us eating at Burger 54. Ever since I read about this beautiful bookshop inside a former theater – El Ateneo Grand Splendid – I always wanted to visit it. I knew it was within reasonable walking distance from our hotel, so after our dinner, I looked, and it turns out, it’s on the next block from Burger 54. Even if you don’t like books, do check it out. It’s beautiful inside, and just for kicks, you can sit in one of the box seats and read a little. The stage of the opera house is now a restaurant, and has live piano on the weekends.