USA: New York City, 30 October 2015

6th Ave at duskI only had one goal today – visit the MoMA. My pal wanted to watch a Filipino movie, Insiang, which was screening at 4 pm, and we had to also work out the logistics of switching hotels, so we decided that MoMA will be an afternoon thing.

We spent our morning in midtown, where I looked for a cafe to do some work before lunch. After using the iPhone’s feature of locating cafes nearby, I wound up at Caffe Bene in Koreatown, which is quite a Korean cafe, with a bakery attached. It has quite a lot of seating, and if you like window seats like I do, there are some little tables by the window, and a big co-working table near the window as well. The cafe au lait was ~$2.50. I thought it was a bit too acidic, but drinkable. Caffe BeneIn the late morning, we headed to Wholefoods to grab some of their pre-packaged food for lunch, and enjoyed our early lunch on the steps of the New York Post Office facing the Madison Square Garden, as it was another glorious, sunny, crisp New York fall day, after which, I decided to try my luck checking in early (~noon, regular check in time: 3 pm) at the newly-opened Holiday Inn Times Square. We lucked out, so we got checked in early, and rolled round the corner to check out of Holiday Inn Express Times Square, making the hotel transition seamless.

In the afternoon, we started the trek on foot to MoMA on 6th ave and W 53rd st. MoMA entrance costs $14 for students (with valid ID) and $25 for adults, but they also offer free entrance on Fridays, from 4 pm – 8 pm. My friend strongly advised against us taking up on the free deal, but if you don’t mind the Fall crowds (it’s worse in summer) in MoMA, that could be a way to save some money. I ponied up $25.

MoMAI actually enjoyed the temporary exhibition on Joaquin Torres-Garcia the most. Joaquin Torres-Garcia is an Uruguayan artist, who uses a lot of symbols in his paintings. They involve a lot of color blocks, and global symbols, e.g. shapes, numbers, letters. Some of the labels/explanations are strangely placed, e.g. you only read about that period, after you see the paintings, but otherwise, the MoMA app/complimentary audio guide is actually a good way to enjoy the experience. We also visited the more famous works of the modern art on the 5th story (Ganguin, Monet, Van Gogh, etc) before we ran out of time, and had to catch Insiang (as an aside, Insiang is one disturbing movie). Joaquin Torres GarciaAfter rolling out of MoMA in the evening, we decided to try one of the food trucks, a variation of the Halal Guys. There are like four of them around that junction, two of which have a long line. Apparently, a couple of them are knock offs, but according to this article, the difference isn’t that great. We went with the one with no line, and got ourselves a ridiculously generous portion chicken and gyros over a bed of rice for $7. We walked to Central Park with our take out, and enjoyed our dinner at Central Park, with some fireworks in the background, before taking a leisurely stroll back to our hotel.

I ended my night with the usual horrible, White Castle, which was just one street from our hotel. It is nasty, but I had to do it, just because. 🙂 That sums up my perfect weekend at NYC.

White Castle - so disgusting, but I had to do it


Coffee: $2.50

Food: $19 (Lunch: $8, Dinner: $7, White Castle: $4)

MoMA Entry fee: $25

Hotel: $70 + 25000 IHG points

Total: $116.50 + 25000 IHG points


Colombia: Botero is all sorts of awesome, 03 September 2015

I had three main missions today:

  1. Check out the Botero Museum
  2. Get a souvenir for my uncle from Hard Rock Cafe
  3. Sample a lot of Colombian coffee

Botero Museum (free, closed on Tuesdays)

Hours: Closed on Tuesdays

Monday – Saturday, 9 am – 7 pm, last entry at 6.30 pm.

Sunday and holidays, 10 am – 5 pm, last entry at 4.30 pm


I have always liked the work of Botero, and honestly, prior to this trip, I didn’t even know that he is Colombian! The Botero Museum doesn’t just house the works of Botero, but it also houses some really famous artists, like Monet, Picaso, Dali, and Degas, to name a few. Given the quality of the works, this would be a good museum, even if they decided to charge $20. Within this complex, they also have rotating exhibitions, the Museum of Art, and the Museum of Coins. They do tend to attract student groups, so you might have to wait a little bit for student groups to clear out before you get to see the art works. Some of the paintings are not covered by that glass/plastic thing, that makes photography hard, so you can get some good photos. Just remember to turn off your flash!

Botero - If Mona Lisa ate too many Big Macs

If Mona Lisa had one too many Big Macs

Shopping is generally not my thing, but after this visit, I wanted a Botero for my souvenir fridge magnet. They have a gift shop on the premise, but it is slightly hard to find. It is behind the Botero museum itself, but still within the same complex. They do take credit cards. Within the complex, they also have a restaurant. I read a couple of blogs about best cafes in Bogota, and seeing the sign for Amor Perfecto coffee, I popped in for a coffee. I got a cappuccino, but I still felt that the coffee was a bit too acidic for my taste (4700 COP).

Cafe Amor Perfecto

Cafe Amor Perfecto

After my hour-long visit at the excellent Botero Museum, I headed towards the San Victorino Transmilenio station. As I walked across the Bolivar Plaza, it was quite a sight! There were protestors on the square. It appears that they are indigenous and non-Spanish people, who came in from other parts of Colombia, to protest inequality in the country. Some of them were also wrapping their own flag on the statue of Bolivar. It was a peaceful protest, but it was really quite a sight.

Protests on Bolivar Plaza - they are wrapping up Bolivar

Protests on Bolivar Plaza

Protests on Bolivar Plaza

Protests on Bolivar Plaza


Hunting for coffee and the Hard Rock Cafe took me to Chapinero, which is supposed to be an upscale neighborhood, with lots of shopping, dining, and drinking establishments. The area where Hard Rock Cafe is (Hard Rock Cafe is in Atlantis Mall, Calle 81) has a bunch of upscale shopping, e.g. Ferragamo, Louis Vutton. Well, I guess souvenir hunting for others has its advantages, since it took me to a different part of town?

After the trip, I walked about 10 blocks to another coffee shop that I read about – Devotion Coffee, which is attached to Hilton Hotel (calle 70, Ave 7). Of the different coffee places that I visited on this trip, I must say that this is my favorite (not to mention, most expensive). They have a number of beans, and they also have seasonal offerings, and these beans can be done in a number of different styles. The coffee menu is fairly self-evident. I tend to prefer my coffee with a chocolatey note, so I went with Toro, the form of a latte (6000 COP). You can also get 2 hours of free wifi, courtesy of Hilton, if you plan to do some work at the cafe.

Nice selection of coffees at Devotion Cafe

Selection of coffees at Cafe Devotion

I got the Toro latte at Devotion Cafe

Toro Latte at Cafe Devotion

Devotion Cafe

Cafe Devotion


So, I read on wikitravel about Ajiaco, which is some thick Colombian soup. After spotting it at this chain restaurant, Sopa De Mama y Postre de Abuela, I decided to try it for dinner (12900 COP). Unfortunately, my eye is bigger than my stomach as always, and I wound up ordering a Parrillada (something like steak/mixed grill, 30900 COP). Ajiaco is this thick chicken soup, which is served with shredded chicken, corn, potatoes, and usually comes with a side of rice and part of an avocado. Being Cantonese, I like the idea of soup. It was a decent soup, but I guess I was hoping for more of an umami rush from it. This can be a meal in itself, though. Parrillada is basically this mixed grill, and this particular one has all sorts of Colombian meats, so chorizo, pork, chicken, steak, served with some baby potatoes, and a side of guacamole. It was pretty decent. I thought the parrillada that I had in Lima, Peru was much tastier, and the steak and sausage that I had in Antigua, Guatemala was much better as well. But hey, for 10 bucks, can’t complain! Ajiaco - A Colombian soup



Buses: 1500 COP + 1800 COP + 1800 COP

Coffee: 4700 COP + 6000 COP

Dinner: 53000 COP

Accommodations: 25 USD

Total: 50 USD

Taiwan – Taipei, 26 August 2011

We followed another of my dad’s classic itineraries for Taipei, as my uncle has never been to Taiwan, and the last time my aunt visited Taiwan was over 40 years ago. What that means is, we go to the Chiang Kaishek Memorial, the Sun Yat-sen Memorial, and the National Palace Museum. In addition to the above, we also went to the Chiang Kaishek Residence in Shilin, which opened to public in the last year. Not that I am complaining.

Our first stop was the Chiang Kaishek Residence in Shilin. The first sight that greeted us as we walked into the area (it was in a huge garden) was the Falun Gong, practising their art, and also protesting about their persecution in China. We took the short walk to the residence. Entrance was free, and they have a mandatory guided tour, which starts every 15 mins or so. You only get to see the waiting room, their living and dining room, and the hall where they entertain. Nevertheless, we got some interesting factoids about the Chiangs.

After the Chiang Residence, we headed to the National Palace Museum. Apparently, the Taiwanese Tourism Board is having some sort of promotion. If you check out the Taiwanese Tourism Board representative in your country, they do offer some free entrance ticket to attractions, and one of those free tickets is to the National Palace Museum. Thanks to my cousin, we got in for free. My dad, not a huge museum fan, gave us an hour. I chose to visit the ceramics exhibition and the jade exhibition, given that ceramics is one of the biggest things in Southeast Asian archaeology. The variety was definitely extremely impressive. They have stuff from Tang dynasty up to the Qing dynasty, and a lot of them were imperial wares, in imperial yellow. The ceramics on display definitely shows the connectedness of China to the world, even in the early periods. Unfortunately, no photography is allowed, and I also didn’t find any good postcards, so no pictures. Apparently, they have so much stuff in their collection, they rotate it every three months. Not sure if that is true.

Lunch was at this Taiwanese restaurant called Xinye. Their specialty is Taiwanese porridge, which is a rather bland tasting porridge, whose taste is augmented by very flavourful side dishes. I went for the Danzi noodles, given my dislike for Taiwanese porridge. It was definitely a great option. The Danzi noodles was had a nice bite texture to it, and there were two slices of pork, and the broth was extremely tasty. We also had a bunch of dishes, but I was more enamoured with the taste of the noodles.

After lunch, we headed to the Chiang Kaishek Memorial. It is located in the Freedom Square, which has two impressive-looking, Qing-style buildings flanking the four-storey memorial, which has a statue of Chiang Kaishek. It also doubles as a rotating exhibition museum. The museum on Chiang Kaishek seems a little on the repetitive side of things, but for first-timers to Taiwan, I guess it’s not a bad spot. In any case, it’s free.

Chiang Kaishek’s former residence

Danzi Noodles at Xinye

Freedom Square

Chiang Kaishek Memorial

Vietnam – Con Dao, 22 August 2011

I must have an affinity for prison islands. Anyway, just to spice up my library research trip, (and since the price was right) I decided to take a trip to Con Dao, which used to be known as Pulou Condore, and was famous for being a prison island during the French colonial era.

Con Dao is about 45 mins away from Ho Chi Minh City. It appears that getting there now is easier than in the past. Now, Vietnam Airlines offers almost daily flights (and sometimes, more than once a day) to Con Dao at reasonable prices (~100 usd, a little cheaper if you can score a deal), and so does Air Mekong . Both can be done online. I made my booking via Vietnam Airlines, and had no problems with the online booking system.

After the short flight from HCMC to the Con Dao airport, the reports on wikitravel about the difficulty of transportation was true. Most of the other passengers on the plane were staying either at Con Dao resort, ATC, or Six Senses, which sent their vans to pick up their hotel guests. Since I was staying at Con Dao Camping, and did not bother arranging for transportation beforehand, I was ever so slightly screwed. Thankfully, there were several xe om (motorbike taxis) hanging around, so I hopped onto one, and paid 50000 dong for the journey into town, which was about 12 km away from the airport.

The journey from the airport to town was amazingly picturesque. The island of Con Dao is rather hilly, and after the cliff, there’s the gorgeous blue-green sea. The road was ran along the coast, so I could see the contrast between the lush greenery, and the sea that beats relentlessly against the rocky cliffs.

Anyway, no drama getting to Con Dao Camping. Despite the misleading name of Con Dao Camping, this place actually consists of well-constructed bungalows built in the shape of tents. The bungalows are modern, comfortable, and have every amenity you would need: A/C, ensuite bathroom with hot water shower, cable-tv, and fridge. Prices range from 30 USD for a bungalow with two single beds, to 35 USD for a bungalow with a King bed. Be sure to send them an email to make your reservations. These simple, but comfortable bungalows face the sea, and in the compound, there is a well-kept lawn, complete with deck chairs, and a private beach just after the lawn. It is more tranquil compared to the stretch where ATC and Con Dao resort is located (where locals go swimming, too), and it is definitely cheaper than ATC and Con Dao resort (which range from 50 USD to above 100 USD). They also provide motorcycle rentals at the standard rate in Con Dao, and range from 20000 dong for 1 hr on a manual motorbike, to 130000 dong for a full day on an automatic motorbike. My only complaint is that the service is kinda slow. Also, go look for food elsewhere – they don’t really have a kitchen.

My first stop for the day was the prison camp. After working up my expectations for it, it was actually rather anti-climatic. It kinda looked like the one in displayed in Ho Chi Minh City’s War Remnants Museum. Architecturally, it was not exactly inspiring, unlike its British counterpart, the Circular Jail in Port Blair in the Andamans. Oh well, at least I can say I’ve been there now?

Anyways, I still enjoyed this trip. It is definitely a nice getaway from Vietnam, which is always so busy and bustling. Pace of life was definitely slower here, and people seem more laid back, and less rip-off-y. There were many beaches around, and an excellent people-to-beach ratio (i.e. very few people compared to the number of beaches). I have heard that the snorkelling, diving, and trekking was wonderful, but I guess I will have to explore that in a separate trip. But otherwise, just moped-ing around simply made my day!

Con Dao Camping

On Top the French Tiger Cages

Con Dao Coastline, and an Island beyond

Markers and Mirrors

A mysterious little isle, and fishing boats

Peru – Cuzco, 04 June 2011

Day 2 of Cuzco, where we continue to try to acclimatize to the altitude.

Today, we tried to explore the city of Cuzco. My first impression of Cuzco, while standing at the Plaza de Armas, was how much it actually resembled Antigua, Guatemala. I guess it’s because both of them have Spanish influence, hence they have very similar layouts, whereby there is a square with a fountain, which is surrounded by religious buildings like churches? Anyway, yeah, there were a couple of churches around the Plaza de Armas, one of them being the Cathedral of Cuzco.

It was a culture day, so we went to a museum and a church. First, we went to the Museum of Inca Civilization. It was pretty ok, but does not offer too much, if you can’t understand any Spanish. They don’t have much in terms of artefacts, but mostly pictures of artefacts, alongside Spanish explanations. They only had English labels. You probably aren’t missing  much if you give it a miss, especially if you don’t read any Spanish.

Our next stop was the Cathedral of Cuzco. Apart from it being huge, the most interesting thing about the small differences between churches is their religious artwork. One of the more interesting pieces in the Cathedral of Cuzco is a painting of the Last Supper. What is of interest is, the dish in the middle is a cuy (guinea pig), which is a Peruvian cuisine. So, Peruvian artists had their own take of what was partaken at the Last Supper! Tropical fruits found in Peru were also depicted in other paintings, vis-a-vis the originals.

After our little culture tour, we were hungry. Being a very touristy place, pretty much everywhere was insanely expensive. Most of the restaurants in the town center did not seem to serve food for under 10 USD, and a lot of it seemed like backpacker food, e.g. pizzas and hamburgers. Sigh. Anyway, given our lame options, we got even lamer, and ended up eating at McDonalds, since it was the cheapest thing around (I know, I know, our bad). Anyway, on the bright side, McDonalds actually serves Inka Cola, Peru’s favourite cola, and they also have some very special Peruvian sauces to go with regular McD fare, which was actually very tasty.

To walk off our lunch, we started walking around the other squares that seemed to be north of the Plaza de Armas and south of Plaza de Armas, in a straight line. The trek uphill led us to a square with yet another church, and a handicraft market. B spent some time there shopping. Going south, we ended up in another square, which had a larger market, and was more like a proper mercado, selling food, and other stuff.

Tired, and altitude-sick, I decided to stop at Cafe Ayllu , a pretty neat-looking cafe that sells really excellent and decently-priced pastries. I had cocoa leaf tea, and a wonderful pastry, while B went off on more shopping.

I think one of those things I really like about Cuzco are some of those hole-in-the-wall finds. We really did not have much of an idea of what to get for dinner, so we decided to slowly walk back to our guesthouse, while keeping our eyes open for what might strike out fancy. We chanced upon a cute little pizzeria. When we popped our heads in, there was a chef rolling dough on the table, so immediately, we walked into Pizza Recoleta. We ended our nights with some lovely handmade pizzas (~8 usd for a big one) and I tried some Pisco Sour, Peru’s national alcohol to end our night early.

Big day ahead tomorrow!

From Plaza de Armas

Talk about Stereotypes


Tasty pastry at Cafe Ayllu

Plaza de Armas at night

Inside Pizza Recoleta

Pisco Sour

Inca Kola

USA – New York City, 11 November 2010

I took the opportunity of the Veterans’ Day weekend to take my first trip to the East Coast of the US. First stop? Big Apple.

Flying into Newark was a breeze. I took the Newark Airport Express , which was about 25 USD for a return ticket. That brought me to the Grand Central Station in Manhattan in about 45 min.

As it was the Veterans’ Day parade, M and I spent time trying to avoid getting caught in it, so much of our time was spent with him trying to show me the sights, while dodging the parade. We managed to see the Rockefeller Center, the ice rink in front of it (I started this trip with grand plans to skate in it), and took a long walk in Central Park to the Metropolitan Museum.

We spent a fair amount of time in the Metropolitan Museum of Art, which has quite a broad definition of art. Interesting, my favourite gallery is not of the paintings (there are quite a few Van Goghs), but the one of weapons, and armour, and how ornate they were. It tickles me to imagine a macho man holding a pistol that has elaborate flower designs. 😛

They have a pay as much as you want (recommended price: 20USD) system for entry. I paid 10 USD, since I am a student, and that is the recommended price. Ok, if M didn’t pay, I think I might have just like paid 5 USD or something. But in any case, it is worth your every buck, and well, it takes a while.

After the Met, I was dead beat, as I barely got any sleep on the plane to New York. We eventually ended up at White Castle, as I had to try it after watching Harrod and Kumar go to White Castle. The burgers were tiny, and not spectacular, but I can imagine how it would be good party food. When I was placing my order, a couple of guys came in to get like 300 sliders to go.

Grand Central

Inside Grand Central

30 Rock

Ice Rink in front of Rockefeller

Skating rink in Central Park

The Metropolitan Museum of Art

A Beautiful Pistol

Van Gogh

White Castle

Horse Patrol

Times Square at night

Nautical theme

Guatemala to USA – Guatemala City to Houston, 25 September 2010

Last morning in Guatemala – there is an exit tax of about 3 USD. I didn’t get an exit stamp on my passport. Hopefully this is normal!

Since Houston is a hub and transit point for Continental, and I have some friends living in Houston, I decided to drop by for a visit. Camera died, though, so no real pictures from this.

Houston seems pretty spread out, with a small downtown. It also reminds me of the suburbs of Seattle, in that the malls are spaced out. As K was driving me around, I couldn’t really get a sense of the geography. But based on the informative drive, it is kinda divided into neighbourhoods, and he was living somewhat near the Asian neighbourhoods.

Seeing all of it fleetingly, what struck me the most was the number of Republic of Vietnam flags, and other statues dedicated to the regime. It seems as if this regime from 35 years ago (fell 1975) just imported itself into this part of the US, and settled there, living out the nation’s life in the territory of another. It was very interesting for me, since this is what I study, and this just made me want to study it more.

It was also museum day, so all museums were free, which resulted in crowds. Guess Singaporeans are not the only ones who go to museums when they are free! We ended up going for an exhibition on Central Asian mummies in the Museum of Natural Science. It was pretty fascinating, though baby mummies do creep me out (especially if they are blue in colour!)

On to the topic of food, K brought me to this deli where they serve beef brisket. I never had a liking for beef brisket done in Chinese style (well, Crystal Jade style), but I definitely loved the brisket done in this deli. We also had ribs, which was excellent. Thank you Rs for being such wonderful hosts! I enjoyed chilling out at their house, just watching silly movies like Sharktopus. (mutant animal movies just got better as the night went on)