Ibis Styles Fraser Business Park, KL, Malaysia

This hotel is our favorite haunt whenever we make a trip down to Kuala Lumpur. It is extremely near to the city centre, a short distance to Berjaya Times Square and yet reasonably priced, clean and spacious. We always make it a point to book this hotel during the Accor 40% off sale, where prices are a steal at around S$40 per night. There is even a small kids room where your kids can play and entertain themselves for a bit while the parents enjoy a time of rest and relaxation!
(Rating: 9 / 10, Excellent Budget Hotel, Value For Money, Clean, Spacious, Good Location, Good for Kids)

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5 Oysters, HCMC

We were looking for a good place to eat for our final meal in Ho Chi Minh City, and we settled on the 5 Oysters restaurant at Bui Vien. Thankfully, our experience here matched the generally positive reviews on Tripadvisor. Prices were reasonable and well worth it considering the quality of the food. 
Summary:

Bo Nuong La Lot, Vietnamese Grilled Beef with Wild Betel Leaf, VND80,000 (Rating 8/10) – This was more tasty and authentic that what the version we had at the Royal Saigon Restaurant!

Goi Cuon, Fresh Spring Rolls with Shrimp and Pork, VND40,000 for 5 pieces (Rating 7/10) – These were the best fresh spring rolls we had during this trip, and we were so happy we ordered a second plate. However, in our previous trips we have tasted better. 

Chim Cut Chien Bo, Fried Quails with Butter, VND70,000 (Rating 8/10) – This was delicious, especially the sauce and the veggies. The quails were good but a little on the tough side though and were not easy to chew. 

Hau Nuong Pho Mai, Grilled Oyster with Cheese, VND30,000 per oyster (Rating 8/10) – Oysters were reasonably fresh and well grilled. Cheese was grilled just nice, not over or under-done.

 

Pullman Saigon Centre, HCMC

Booked the Pullman Saigon Centre during Accor’s 40% members sale and we certainly have no regrets! Wonderful hotel, convenient location near the backpackers street. I don’t know how, but the front desk staff greeted me by name when I checked-in before I even handed them any official identification documents. I’m still figuring that one out! As Accor Gold members, we got a complimentary room upgrade. The room is super comfortble with modern decor and all the little perks like complimentary coffee machine, fruit and a bottle of fried soya beans. There is a huge open concept bathtub which you could spend the whole afternoon soaking in whilst enjoying a good book or movie. The breakfast was delicious with a good spread of local and international fare.

All in all, this was a steal for just about VND1,600,000 per night. 

A Little Dreamer, Preparing to take Flight

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“I do not know what’s in the future, but I know that in the present, I have in my hands, a little dreamer preparing to take flight.”

This song, composed for the 2014 Ministry of Education Workplan, will definitely be one of the highlights of my time in MOE. It speaks of the heart and soul of education, of empowering every child to chase his or her dreams and to reach for the skies.

In the original performance in 2014, I had the privilege of working with a group of amazing musician educators, putting together an amazing performance that moved the hearts of the leaders in education present at the Workplan. To this day, I still enjoy jamming and performing with these Musicators. Every rehearsal, they never fail to bring a smile to my face!

On 16 July 2016, Dorothy and I had the privilege of reprising the song (with a twist!) at the 2016 Music Education Scholarships and Beyond O Level Music Talk organised by MOE HR. As we were preparing the song, Dorothy felt that we should get my kids to join in to sing the final 2 choruses, as a signal that as a Music Educator, it is all about the children. They are at the centre of everything we do. We work hard to enrich their lives with a love for music, at the same time developing in them a diverse range of 21st Century Competencies such as confidence, communication skills, collaboration skills. Being a music teacher sure is great fun, and oh, what a meaningful career it is!

 

 

The Perks of Being A Father

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It isn’t easy being a father. Nothing you can do adequately prepares you for the role, and after 7 years of fatherhood, I still feel so new and so raw sometimes. Things can often be rough when the kids get up to mischief and awkward when they ask you a question you do not know how to answer in simple terms. Sometimes you run out of ideas. It is one big leadership training ground.

But through it all, I can say it has been a heck of a ride! No regrets, only wonderful memories and worthwhile lessons which shape the person you are. The perks of a father are not these little gifts from your kids on Fathers’ Day, but the way these little eyes look at you with that sense of respect and love, the eyes that say in spite of all your imperfections, “You are the best Daddy in the world!”

2016 Drive from Singapore to Thailand – Day 2 – Driving Conditions from Sadao to Phuket

This is the third part of my blog series that details our road trip from Singapore to Phuket, Thailand and offers some advice to would-be travellers who might like to attempt a similar journey. The first part can be found here and the second part here.

In this part of the blog series, we will share about the experience of driving on Thailand roads from the Sadao border to Phuket island.

Firstly, after crossing the border, it is a good time to find a place to eat brunch or lunch before doing the long drive to Phuket. For families especially, a great place to fuel the stomachs would be at Tesco Lotus, Sadao which is just down the road after the Sadao customs towards Hat Yai on the right hand side of the road. Parking is free but as you enter the car park be prepared to show your ID (Passport or Driving License is good) to the security officer to “scan” at the camera. Within the building, you will find family friendly eateries such as KFC, MK Restaurants and The Pizza Company in a comfortable air-conditioned environment. Our eatery of choice for both our trips was The Pizza Company which serves delicious pizzas, pastas and kids meals great for the whole family! (Much better than Pizza Hut, trust me!) This is also a good place for you to stock up on groceries for your trip.

From Sadao, it is another 5-6 hours drive to Phuket, depending on how fast you cover ground. I would recommend you to drive conservatively while getting used to the unfamiliar roads and traffic habits of the Thai drivers and riders.

There are 4 main types of roads you will experience along the way. I will run through each type here:

1. Urban roads through Towns / Villages

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Urban Roads

These urban roads could be single or dual lane roads and are generally fine, except that you need to look out for cars and bikers that weave in and out without signalling. Also, you will routinely get motorists who will completely ignore traffic lights at intersections so do watch out. Don’t assume people will stop just because they have a red light on their side.

 

2. Dual Carriageways with a Central Divider on Major Roads like the Route 4 / AH2

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Dual Carriageways

After you get out of Sadao and make a left turn just before Hat Yai along the Route 4, you will be driving along a well-maintained dual carriageway for about 3 hours. Although the road doesn’t possess the finesse of the Malaysian NSE, it is a pretty good road to drive on and you should make good progress because overtaking is relatively straightforward with two or more lanes going each way. The only thing you will need to look out for along this stretch is traffic (especially motorcycles) suddenly shooting out from the side roads on the left as well as from the central divider on the right. Don’t be surprised that these motorcycles can come out from the central divider whether or not there is a legitimate U-turn point in-between the two carriageways. Sometimes the motorcycles can seem to suddenly come out from bushes and trees in the divider so you have to be alert. You will also get motorcycles (and sometimes cars!) coming at you in the wrong direction at the left side of the road.

 

3. Well-maintained Country Roads

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Country Roads

After the long stretch along the Route 4, you will proceed onto single-lane single carriageways for much of the remaining journey. Most of these are well maintained, but you do have to watch out for the following:

  • Super-slow Vehicles. Some motorists are operating on a different time-line and paradigm to you and will be taking their time crawling along and clogging up traffic, causing a long train of other vehicles to form behind them. Do overtake but only when safe to do so.  When you are overtaking, please check your right mirrors and blind spot to make sure that there isn’t another car coming from behind that is already trying to do a SUPER OVERTAKE.
  • Undulating roads in the hilly regions. These can be very deceptive because it may seem like a clear road up ahead, but there could be cars coming in the opposite direction which are completely invisible because they are hidden behind the curvature of the slope ahead. Don’t be presumptuous when you are trying to overtake along such roads because you could end up in a nasty head-on collision. Even when you are not trying to overtake, you might find that the cars in the opposite direction are trying to do so, so if you cannot see so far ahead because of the curvature of the hill, it will be prudent to slow down a bit to give you the chance to react if there is an emergency situation.
  • Sharp bends towards the left or right. These can be quite sudden and take you by surprise, so please don’t assume you can safely take all curves at the speed limit stated on your GPS.
  • Animals. Look out for dogs, cows and other animals that might be crossing the road or having a leisurely afternoon stroll.

 

4. Uneven Dirt Roads or Unmaintained Tarmac Roads with Potholes

There are some roads like these and we didn’t take a picture because we were too busy moving to the rhythm of the bumps. Just google “thailand roads with potholes” and you will find images of these suspension killers. These roads are nasty especially when coupled with heavy rain, puddles and mud. My advice here is to go slow and save your car from damage. Additionally, you should look out ahead for changes in the colour of the road surface because this could indicate the possibility of an upcoming pothole or of rough surface and give you some advance warning to slow down.

 

Arriving in Phuket

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Scenic drive around Phang Nga

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Arrival at the JW Marriott at Mai Khao Beach

With the kids sleeping in the car after lunch, I did not stop at all from Sadao to Phuket – a straight 6 hour drive. This can be potentially back-breaking, so do take a break and a coffee at the petrol kiosks along the way if you have to!

Enjoy the scenery especially along the roads around Phang Nga, these are really gorgeous scenes with lovely hills and cliffs. The view from the bridge crossing over to Phuket island is also a breathtaking sight so soak it all in! There is a security check at the gateway to Phuket just after the bridge, but you do not have to get out of the car and passports are not required. Just smile at the security officers as they give you a quizzical look at your Singapore registered vehicle.

We arrived at the JW Marriott Hotel / Phuket Beach Club at Mai Khao Beach at around 6:30pm local time, with a sense of achievement and looking forward to a great time at the resort! Mai Khao Beach is at the tip of Phuket and so if you are moving on deeper into the island towards Patong or Kata Beach you will need to give it another 1 hour on the road to arrive at your destination.

I drove to Phuket AGAIN in 2017. You can read about my exploits from the link below:

Read about my Drive to Thailand in June 2017

Finally, my wife and I also enjoy having guests over at our place for fellowship and a nice home-cooked meal. So if you would like to drop by to try some of my wife’s wonderful cooking and to talk more about travel and life, do drop me a mail at lenniechua@gmail.com to arrange a dinner date! Everyone welcome!

 

2016 Road Trip from Singapore to Thailand – Day 2 – Crossing the Border at Bukit Kayu Hitam / Sadao

This is the second part of my blog series that details our road trip from Singapore to Phuket, Thailand and offers some advice to would-be travellers who might like to attempt a similar journey. The first part can be found here.

This leg of the journey from Alor Star to Phuket is the exciting one, especially because it takes many of our Singapore drivers out of our comfort zone. We have to cross an unfamiliar border at Bukit Kayu Hitam (Malaysia side) / Sadao (Thai side). We also have to grapple with road conditions quite different from what we are used to along the brilliantly well-maintained North South Expressway (NSE) in Malaysia.

The border is not open 24 hours, only from 6am – 12 midnight Singapore/Malaysia Time. No point going too early anyway, cause many of the shops that do the Thailand 3rd party vehicle insurance do not open so early (There could be some that open early, so if you have the info do let me know).

The Thailand 3rd party insurance is quite cheap (less than SGD$15 for 19 days of cover) and can be done at the following places:

  • Shops in Changlun, before the Malaysian immigration
  • Duty-Free complex, in no-man’s land between the Malaysian and Thai immigration
  • Shops in Sadao-Dannok, just after the Thai immigration

For my first trip last year, I got my insurance at Sadao-Dannok, and this year at the Duty-Free complex. Both are quite fuss-free but they were not open in the early mornings. I think around 9am Malaysia time is fine, but I’m not 100% sure about this. The immigration officials didn’t seem that interested in looking at my insurance papers though, so you might be able to just get your passports chopped and settle your vehicle customs first, then worry about getting the vehicle insurance done.

Now we will run you through the actual border crossing process, which should take around 1 to 2 hours depending on the crowd:

The Bukit Kayu Hitam immigration on the Malaysia side is relatively simple, and quite like what we are used to at Tuas or Woodlands. Just drive straight to the booth and hand over your passports. No real issues here.

The Sadao immigration on the Thailand side is more messy and confusing. You will need to park your car somewhere along the road just before the customs compound which you can see in the photo below (The big carpark to the left of the immigration compound is gone! I believe they are working on building a new immigration complex. Once that is done then things will change again.)

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Sadao border crossing

You also need Thailand immigration cards, which you can get for RM2 per card at the Duty-Free complex in no-man’s land (please don’t get fleeced here like I did!), or for free at the Sadao border at the immigration office inside the building on the left side. They are likely to only give you one card per passport so be prepared to show the passports of everyone in your party.

Fill up the immigration forms and queue up at one of the immigration counters to get your passports chopped. These immigration counters are all over the place, so if you are observant, you can actually find one with a much shorter queue. At the immigration counter, please be prepared to pay (a bribe?) of RM1 or RM2 per passport. Last year we “acted blur” and got through without having to pay this at all. This year I was charged RM2 and my wife and kids were more fortunate to be charged RM1 per passport at their counter.

After you get your passports chopped, you need to line up at the counter shown:

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Customs booth for the temporary import of your car into Thailand

There are two parts to this counter, the first one to get the temporary vehicle import form (where you see people queuing in the picture). Here you will need to present your vehicle log card printed from onemotoring (to prove that you are the legal owner of the vehicle) as well as your chopped passport.

The second booth is immediately after the first one where they will chop the form, and you will have to sign on it. They will hand you one copy of the processed form and will keep one copy for themselves. Please do not lose this form because if you do you will have trouble getting your car back through the customs when you return from Thailand!

After getting all this paperwork done, you can get back to your parked car and proceed to drive through border crossing. As you drive through, the border police will check again that you have your vehicle import form done.

Once all this is done, welcome to Thailand!

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After the Sadao border

Click here for Part 3 of this series which touches on the driving conditions in Thailand from Sadao to Phuket .

Finally, my wife and I also enjoy having guests over at our place for fellowship and a nice home-cooked meal. So if you would like to drop by to try some of my wife’s wonderful cooking and to talk more about travel and life, do drop me a mail at lenniechua@gmail.com to arrange a dinner date! Everyone welcome!