Letting go and lighting the way at the Yipeng Lantern Festival

SAMSUNG CSC Over time we become attached to people and places, beliefs and burdens, things and trepidations because they become our markers for meaning. A point of reference for us to gauge who we are.

But what happens when we evolve? Do our attachments hold us back or enable us to grow? Letting go is one of the hardest things to learn. 

This was how I felt after releasing 1 out of 3,000 paper lanterns, which lit the sky on fire when I went to the Yi Peng Lantern Festival in Chiang Mai last year. What started out as something to check off my bucket list became an exercise in letting go. Yipeng5It all happened so fast.

My journey to Chiang Mai started as a spur of the moment decision. I’ve always wanted to attend the Lantern Festival, but I wasn’t available for the international festival date. Luckily my sister who was already in Thailand messaged me the local date, which was happening only a few days away!

After some internal debate about the cost I ended up booking anyway just one day before my departure. And even though buying 4 airplane tickets for a 2 day trip and sleeping overnight at the airport might not be practical, I knew that once-in-a-life-time experiences never are.

Afterwards, every moment leading up to the festival was about waiting.

We waited underneath our makeshift tent of scarves, in the scorching sun, for more than 6 hours. SAMSUNG CSCSAMSUNG CSCSAMSUNG CSC We waited until the procession of monks indicated the start of the ceremony. Yipeng3 Even when the speakers blasted, “Do not light your lantern until we give the signal,” we waited some more.

Our patience was growing thin so we passed time by chanting along with the monks while shifting our weight between kneeling positions. Then finally the loudspeaker blasted the signal. We could finally spark our lanterns. SAMSUNG CSC I was so engrossed in the moment of trying to light my lantern that I almost forgot to look up at the sky. But when I did I was speechless yet overcome with awe and rapture. YiPeng One-by-one the lanterns floated into horizon, like messengers of goodwill delivering our wishes to the universe above; a surreal sea of floating lanterns; a sky burning at the seams with positive energy. I felt so alive witnessing gratitude and hope multiplied by the thousands of wishes floating in the sky.Yipeng4 Me? Well, I held onto my lantern long enough to channel all the people and places, beliefs and burdens, things and trepidations that no longer mattered to me into the fire. Yipeng2 Then I let go not only of my lantern but also of all the parts of my life that don’t serve me anymore. Because I realised that if we don’t let go, hope will never be free to light the way. And if I didn’t let go, I wouldn’t have felt so alive.


Beyond the skyline – A Singapore beach getaway

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On the not so distant islands of St John and Lazarus, just off the coast of Sentosa Cove, we discovered a place where the Singapore skyline meets the sea. An anonymous piece of city paradise to actually dig our toes into the sand and wade in all shades of aquamarine.

The beach isn’t decorated with sun-kissed locals who live off the sea. No bangkas nor wooden boats delivered coconut juice or San Miguel beer up to our boatstep. Instead we found city folk kickin’ back their Havaianas for a day trip of frolicking in their bikinis, with tan lines leaving a mark on their air con weathered skin.

For my friends it was a welcome break from the concrete corporate playground we know Singapore to be. While the beach doesn’t compare to those back home in the Philippines, it was lovely to actually be able to jump off the boat and melt into one of the untouched coastlines in the city. Even until now, after 3 years of living here, Singapore can still surprise and delight. Two islands – St. John’s and Lazarus island – beyond the skyline and a beach getaway just a short ferry or boat ride away.

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Tips and Tricks for Managing Your Money While Traveling

Screen Shot 2015-02-19 at 4.14.06 pmI’ll be honest. Managing money is something that doesn’t come naturally to me. Yes, I can easily save and spend. But it’s being aware of my spending habits and understanding how to make my money really work for me that takes a lot of trial and error.

Luckily, traveling is the best teacher for stubborn people like me who learn best from experience, both good and bad. I call it baptism by fire, especially when you find yourself shortchanged with almost a week left in your trip in a country that doesn’t really accept credit cards. Trust me, it happens and you too can survive.

In the last couple of years I’ve traveled in groups, pairs, alone, for the weekend, over a week, on business and for pleasure. I’m not an expert, but hopefully you can learn from some of my tips below.

Managing your money starts before you trip

Research. I’m sure you’ve heard this before but researching the costs and expenses will give you less of a headache on the road. You don’t need to budget for everything. After all, the best part of traveling is being spontaneous.

But you should know the basics and set aside money for it, like the cost of a hotel and hostel, and most importantly, any airport fees that will potentially prevent you from flying back home or to your next destination.

I freaked out once when I was traveling alone because I was looking at a guidebook that said I needed to pay airport tax, which I didn’t have enough money set aside for. Luckily, that book was outdated and I got home just fine

Tip: Always have a contingency plan. If you can, set aside an extra hundred dollars as an emergency fund. Don’t change it unless you absolutely have to.

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Plan for what you like to splurge on

You should be able to enjoy yourself while traveling and sometimes that means spending a little bit more on the experiences that make you happy. Whether it’s food, shopping, massages, tours or museums, don’t feel guilty about spending that extra dollar or two.  Plan for it. When is the next time you’ll be in that country? The chances of running into the same store with that adorable handicraft again are slim. Also, be conscious about what other people in the group don’t like spending on (like tips) to prevent any potential disagreement.

Tip: Check what’s the custom in the country that you’re visiting. Is it normal to tip and if so how much is the going rate?

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When to use your credit card

It’s best practice to always have cash on hand but don’t carry everything around. Predict and only carry how much you will need for that day. This helps to prevent you from spending too much all at once.

But your credit card is a safety net and security blanket. While I try to charge as little as possible, be practical and assess every situation. Charge if you have a big expense and need the extra cash because you’ve just begun your trip. I do find charging a good way to keep track of expenses especially when you’re in a big group and need people to reimburse you later on.

Tip: Remember to authorize your card for overseas transactions or use a bitcoin wallet like Xapo that helps you spend money in a secure and convenient way while traveling.

Have a tracking system when in big groups

When traveling in groups of 3 or more set up a kitty or a pool of money that’s contributed by everyone. This can be used for shared expenses like food and transportation.

Tip: Not all countries or activities give you receipts like taking a tuktuk for transportation in South East Asia so make sure you consciously note down all your expenses.

What are your tips and tricks? Share in the comments.

SOLE SISTERS: The Bali Life at the Tjendana Villas

I haven’t set foot in Bali since I was a kid. The name triggers fond memories of my beaded rastafarian braids, punching the waves and transforming into a sand mermaid.
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But when I recently went back for a weekend escape from busy Singapore I experienced Bali in a different light. I soaked up the beach in the day, got some vitamin sea and retired to the beautiful and tranquil villas for some alone time at night.
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Ah, this is the idyllic ‘Bali life’ my 7-year old self had yet to experience when she grew up!

I stayed in 2 of the Tjendana Villas, a collection of 6 different villas scattered in various locations in Bali. While each experience was unique and caters to various travelers, I was pleasantly surprised at how all the rooms were still part of the same Balinese way of life. Dampati for big groups of friends and family. Lembongan for a peaceful escape from bustling areas of Kuta and Seminyak.

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Nirwana for a tranquil ocean view. Tjendana for a convenient yet comfortable place near to the airport. For my weekend trip in Bali, the Kunti and Club villas made the short stay worth it.
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The Kunti Villas – a stylish and tranquil sanctuary

The first thing I noticed after settling in after a late flight was the cozy veranda next to the private pool. This was perfect for lazing around and reading a book while eating my complimentary breakfast of Indonesian mi goreng noodles.

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It was thoughtful of the Kunti Villas to decorate the four poster bed inside the room with yellow daisy petals. The layout of the open-concept bathroom was a little unusual, with the toilet slightly hidden from the sink and the bath tub.

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While I’m fond of getting a massage by the beach, the private one given in the comfort of my own villa changed my mind because it was fuss free and relaxing.

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The Club Villas at the heart of Seminyak

The Club villas is perfect for those visiting Bali for a short weekend, but longing for somewhere private yet convenient. The airport is less than 30 minutes away, so you don’t have to rush for early morning flights. If you want to shop, dine and go clubbing, all you need to do is step outside of your villa. While the street side is busy, everything turns quiet once you’re inside the premises.

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The room is more modern than Kunti, but equally as comfortable and luxurious with a bigger room. The veranda and kitchenette is just outside with a couch and table for entertaining friends or kicking back after a swim in the private pool.
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The staff were extremely accommodating. They helped me book a car for the day so that I could go swimming at Canggu beach (a good surf spot), visit a traditional coffee plantation and Tanah Lot (a temple by the sea).
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A new Bali experience

For more than 10 years Bali was nothing more than a childhood memory. As a popular destination to escape the city life among working professionals in Singapore and for weddings, I always wondered what my next experience would be like. Thanks to my weekend getaway at the Tjendana Villas, I could get used to the Bali life – a laidback surrounding to indulge my every desire.

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Bali Dreamin’,
Sole Sister Rica

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A weekend stroll in Penang (Part 2) #Coffee shops

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After spending a day strolling around in the hot sun you reach for something cool: a mug of beer, a can of soda, or a glass of water. Your choice of drink is convenient at the moment, just a few steps away to the nearest bar or street vendor. When my sister and I were in Georgetown, Penang, our oasis from the heat was coffee. The cafes were everywhere.

Honestly, we were surprised. Café hopping was not part of the itinerary. We were here for the street food and street art — what Georgetown is known for. Maybe the wave of hipster coffee is finally hitting this town (like in Singapore). But secretly I’m hoping that the scene will stay true to the joy of discovering our beloved coffee shops by chance. Our trip to Penang was exactly that kind of serendipitous encounter. These were 3 of my favourite café’s.

Purrfect for relaxing

The cat café was my sister’s idea. Proof that there are other ways to relax in a café beyond reading a book or Instagraming the whole afternoon away.

Personally, I’m not a big fan of cats. Unlike dogs I feel like they are too slinky to cuddle with. But admittedly spending around an hour with these furry felines was not a bad idea. The trick is waking them up or catching them before they run away.



Got coffee? 

B&W café is literally a cardboard coffee shop. Everything is made out of cardboard with black marker scribbles. It reminds me of playing make believe as a kid. Instead of forts and barricades were coffee tables and chairs assembled from boxes.




Out of all the coffee shops that I have visited and reviewed B&W is definitely the most unique concept. And the coffee ain’t bad too, especially when they come in these adorable coffee cartons.

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Later that night we took the same route back to our hotel. To our surprise (we really shouldn’t be at this point), some café’s came out of hiding from their hole-in-the-wall. There was no façade, no pretentiousness, which usually accompanies new coffee shops these days.


Bikes and coffee

For our late night cap we dropped by Wheeler’s Coffee. Nowadays cafe’s are not only about the coffee anymore, but your hobbies as well. Cafe cum bike shops are not that uncommon in Singapore, but Wheeler’s coffee in Penang was my first taste of how the scene is evolving. Even at night this place is bustling with energy and despite our exhaustion, my sister and I ended our last night on a high.

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This is the second part in a photoblog series about my weekend in Penang. Watch this space. Some pictures by Pia Facundo.

A weekend stroll in Penang (Part 1) #StreetArt

Georgetown is a quiet, charming town in Penang, Malaysia where time slows down. A place for art, coffee and food – the perfect ingredients to relax excessively without guilt. Thankfully, it makes a short weekend trip with my sister feel a lot longer than 2 days.



We take leisurely walks under the hot sun, following the street art trail left by Lithuania-born Ernest Zacharevic and other artists. Zacharevic’s style is playful and distant. Unlike Banksy, whose satirical drawings provoke, Ernest’s paintings feel like an almost forgotten childhood. Memories that restlessly linger in the streets of Penang.

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We also shoot snippets of every day life along the way. A mundane street is like that quiet person people say you gotta watch out for. Detached from afar but infinitely interesting up close.  Every sight, sound, and shadow is a window to the city’s soul.





Scribblings on a wall can tell you about the city’s hopes and dreams,


struggles and frustration.


Or give you a glimpse into their daily grind.




As a tourist, I can either blend into the background,

IMG_1596_blogOr stick out like a sore thumb.

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Luckily, in Penang I can be both.

This is the first part in a photoblog series about my weekend in Penang. Watch this space. Some pictures by Pia Facundo.

Blissful Bintan – An unexpected CNY vacation for two

Expats in Singapore take Chinese New Year seriously. CNY weekend that is. It’s the long anticipated extended Christmas holiday in January.

I come from the Philippines where long weekends are common and abundant. Singapore, on the other hand, is more stringent.

Enter Indonesia: our backyard to quick and affordable travel. Usually Bintan is the default destination for Singapore expats who get cabin fever in the small city state.

With only a few weeks to go until CNY, this was my mantra as I did last minute planning:

“I will not waste another long weekend by not traveling.”

Booking an available resort that is not ridiculously over priced by CNY is the travel equivalent of finding a needle in a hay stack.

Luckily I found Loola Adventure resort. 3 days & 2 nights for under 300 SGD. Ferry and food included.


It was a long weekend of blissful isolation. A quiet, more rustic escape. No air con. No distractions.Wake up between 7-8AM to a cool breeze and a meal that feels hearty and homecooked. And there were always fruits.


Oranges for good luck? #CNY


“I don’t think we’re the target group,” Ed said, referring to the big families that we shared our vacation with. Loola is the kind of place for team building or big group activities.


While it was an unlikely couple destination, two can also be an adventure! Initially we stocked up on movies to watch during our stay, but Loola had other things in store:


Pimp my bus! These buses took us to the sea.


Boat’s eye view


“Love the tree,” the instructor said. And love it we did!


They call this boomjumping. You jump out of the boat into a net while it takes you around the sea. Or what I like to call: What a fish must feel like when it gets caught


How did the flying fox land in the water?


I’m a clutz with terrible balance but I tried the Sky Walk anyway.


The water is beautiful, even in low tide.


We walked all the way to the next island.


And watched the sand patterns dance.

Even if it was an “adventure” resort, what I love is that we still left Loola feeling well rested.

Care free, hair free.

Care free, hair free.


It was well worth the vacation for two.

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How to get there from Singapore:

– Take a 1.5hour ferry. We took the Sindo Ferry, which is part of the Berlian Ferries Pte Ltd. 55 SGD/ head for both ways. Loola will help coordinate the ferry, including the free transfer to and from the terminal. 

Dubai Day 2: Beyond the sandscape of the Desert Safari


I fell in-and-out-of-sleep while the bus took us out of town and toward the Dubai’s Desert Safari. It was like waking up from a dream only to witness a mirage outside my window:  the desert grains endured, hardened by the beating sun. Beyond the sandscape, a seamless horizon.


It was my first time seeing the desert. A set change from many road trips before.


Grains of sand replaced the dusty provincial roads of the Philippines.


A natural skyline liberated from the towering buildings of Singapore. It was weird to see no trees, yet be assured that the lack of greenery was natural in Dubai.

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We tried our best to blend in. We’re not tourists! It was working until…

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we saw the sandboards.


Traveling, this means to an infinite end, approaching but never really reaching a final destination.


By bus


… camel….

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… or state of mind. 

Possibilities beyond the sandscape, smiling like a seamless horizon.

Dubai Day 1: Malls and the Mega City

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What is wealth: Family, friends and travel. With Mej @ Burj Khalifa

When I travel I look for patterns hidden within a city. From the gait of pedestrians strolling down a well manicured road to the efficiency of the MRT system, these are signs of the way of life.

In Dubai I could feel its extravagance everywhere, elegantly interlaced in gold, larger-than-life shopping malls (or palaces?), travellators from the MRT station to the mall, and the breeding of the local Emirati’s. Dubai was constructed to feel and appear grandeur, even if you were merely window shopping.

Both Singapore and Dubai are first world cities attractive to expats with cabs that are safe and accessible. They are global hubs with ambitious skylines, that of Marina Bay Sands in Singapore, and of the Burj Kalifa in Dubai. Consumerism is common place with pockets that run deep for both countries.

Yet I felt that wealth was perceived differently. Singaporeans work hard to shop hard while in Dubai many Emirati’s were born into families with rich backgrounds. Both nations are wealthy but they show it in different ways. I felt like Singapore was younger, stylishly modern while Dubai is older and wiser, with a past to build their city on.


I went to Dubai with Ed last May as an early birthday gift to myself. I visited Mej, who recently moved there for work, so we could celebrate our birthday together.

The trip wasn’t cheap, but my personal definition of wealth is friends, family and travel. Day 1 of my trip below. More pictures to come.

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Dubai MRT or space hub?

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Is this a mall or a palace? @ Dubai Mall

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Is this a mall or a palace? @ Dubai Mall

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People watching

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A glimpse of Dubai’s future: buildings, buildings, buildings

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Is Dubai built on a dream or a mirage?

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Am I in a James Bond movie chase scene?

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Delicious Turkish Delight

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Crazy for Kebabs

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Keeping it cool in Dubai ;)

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JBR. Man made beach in Dubai