#2039 | Stunning Starbucks Showoff: Thong Lor, Bangkok

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imagesBangkok, Thailand

Some people collect stamps and postcards, I collect pictures of beautiful starbucks outlets around the world. Sound about right? Perhaps this is my starbucks addiction taken to a new level, but when I passed the Starbucks outlet in The 49 Terrace, Bangkok, I just had to pop in for a quick coffee stop…

Make that tea. Starbucks Singapore just launched it’s Teavana menu, which I adore for the matcha espresso creation, but I wanted to try the offerings in bangkok as well. Also – they were having a 1-for-1 when we were there! I got the Iced Shaken Black Tea with Ruby Grapefruit & Honey, which is also available in Singapore but which for some reason I hadnt tried back home. It was the drink i never knew i needed on a sweltering bangkok day. What can i say? Not all heroes wear capes..

PS. I also really, really, really wanted to take a picture where the lady is sitting in the picture above. But she just WOULDNT MOVE! I waited for about half an hour then gave up, and when i walked away i saw that she was watching some korean drama on her phone…….. ok, i cant blame her. If i’d settled in a spot like that I’d never give it up.

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The architecture of Starbucks outlets have never failed to intrigue me. It’s the biggest coffee chain in the world. Arguably the most successful. All their stores need to have a certain recognisable aesthetic – but they’re never exactly the same. How do you get twenty three thousand stores in the world to look the same yet different, and have them all be beautiful at the same time? That is – how does the most common coffee chain in the world differentiate itself as a unique product? I dont have an answer, but somehow they’ve done it. I’ve always made it a point to pop by different starbucks outlets whenever I travel, and they’ve always remained both staunchly recognisable yet subtly varying in terms of interior decor. The outlets in Shibuya, Tokyo, and Taipei’s 101 benefit from incredibly iconic city views, and the outlets in Singapore play with location as well – the outlet in One Rochester, for example, sits in a colonial-style black and white house, and the one in Fullerton Waterboat House offers a gorgeous panorama of our landscape. This one in Thong Lor reacts to its surroundings in a very different way, by making use of the most consistent thing thailand has to offer by way of weather – the sun.

Floor to ceiling glass windows? It’s hard to say if this is a coffee chain or my dream home. The same concept might not have worked as well in a different location, but Sukhumvit Soi 49 blooms with lush greenery that’s both zen-like and deliberately pruned to casual perfection. As a result, the open feel of the store creates a cool, air-conditioned bubble that sits you right in the middle of all that smoky sunlight and greenery without being subjected to the unforgiving humidity. Coming from the country that has mastered the art of getting the hell out of the heat, I can tell you that this is a winning formula.

And of course, it helps that this outlet is situated in the Japanese expat neighbourhood of Bangkok, meaning that it’s clientele often features young families, trendy freelancers working off their laptops, or older japanese people just looking for a place to rest while walking their dogs…

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… because who doesn’t want to go to starbucks and make a new friend? Say hi to พาหุรัด, a word i google translated from english. Because that’s what she’s called – a thai word which translates to bracelet. And she is the hugest, laziest dog ever. I have a feeling she and Athena would get along.

Starbucks, The 49 Terrace
20 Soi Sukhumvit 49/1, Khlong Tan Nuea, Watthana, Bangkok 10110, Thailand

x
♥jem

#2038 | The Broke Student’s Guide to Being Human

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imagesBangkok, Thailand

Sawadee from Bangkok guys, where I just landed last night after a long and hectic week – no – month. Frequently I wonder if I’ve bitten off more than I can chew, but decisions are decisions that have been made, and life must go on. If anything, at least it is going on in a city where massages are popular and cheap, and time tested to be amazing. So obviously day one of Bangkok consisted not one but two massages, both of which cost downwards of fifteen singapore dollars.

So, this post. Where do I begin to contextualise my need to pen it? It’s hard to say – I’ve had a long, tiring month, I am not at the peak of my coherence. But some things need to be said, and the best we can do is try to say it elegantly, or at least, honestly. And then pray that it is taken the right way, with an open mind and heart.

Let me try to start. I do Broke Student Guides, and have done them for nearly three years now. For a large part of my childhood (and I categorise childhood all the way till you are twenty one, because lets face it, before then you’re just a baby) I was categorically and literally a broke student. Students are by very virtue of being a student, generally broke, and I’ve personally never grown up to know excess. This is not a complaint of my circumstance – in fact, I couldnt have asked for better parents, and I think they did an ace job raising my sisters and I. A large part of the reason why we never felt this quote unquote brokeness too strongly was because we were never raised to value purchasing power over human relationships, and also because we were by the grace of God the recipient of much kindness. But it also meant that my entire life has been measured by the hustle, because I am somebody who is by nature a perfectionist to the point of being neurotic, and part of being a perfectionist means that you want to go out and get things done. And I like having money, because I like having stuff. Like the ability to go out and get a drink with friends after a long day at work without having to obsess too much over whether a glass of wine here costs one buck fifty more than the one at the bar three blocks down. So on and so forth.

A lot of people ask me how I manage my time with all the stuff i have going on. The short answer is that I’m a millennial and all we do is hustle and complain, ha-ha. The long answer is that I understand what it’s like to want, and therefore I can see a way/opportunity of getting myself to a place where I no longer have to want and can give instead, and I have decided to take it. And yes, I know that as a chinese woman in singapore the ability even to reach out and take that opportunity is a privilege unlike any other. I recognise that. I am grateful for it. And I would love to delve into that further as something tangentially related to what I am trying to talk about today, but it would confound my original point, and so I will do it another time.

Because of the long and intense hustle and the borderline neurotic ocd when it comes to time and finance management, about a year ago I graduated from university, paid off my uni debts, and came to the strange and freeing realisation that i was no longer a broke student. In fact, I was finally in a position where I could partially provide for my family and be generous with friends while occasionally treating myself to my favourite glass of red. I am telling you, that feeling is fantastic. And it was a long time in the making, but I had finally also approached a kind of cognitive balance regarding knowing that money isnt the most important thing but also being aware that it’s pretty damned important if you want to be comfortably alive. What has that got to do with bangkok and massages, you ask? A great deal indeed. At least for me.

It is my fifth time in Bangkok and my first time being here as somebody who is not struggling to count every cent I spend with the obsessive precision of a magpie on drugs. It is the third city I have been to since then for non-work related reasons – the first two being New York and London, both fast paced first world cosmopolitan cities in their own right. I have always loved to travel and so I have made it work despite not being somebody who naturally has money to throw around for no good reason: which is how the broke students guide was born, birthed from the idea that you can make any destination work for you by striking a balance between enjoyment and pragmatism. But despite my championing of making your dollar stretch for you, it has never been my intention to promote any sort of cheap stinginess that often translates to the dehumanisation of another person, and that is something that I have seen too much of in just one day roaming the land of smiles.

We went to a random massage parlour today near our Airbnb and I promptly dozed off after sitting down (see above, re: exhaustion). I woke intermittently, whenever new customers walked in, talked to each other, etcetera etcetera. And I woke again, more permanently, to a tourist arguing with the counter lady over the price of her massage.

“I think I deserve at least half off,” she was saying.
The helpless thai masseuse: “An hour’s massage is 250 baht, ma’am.”
“100”
“No, two fifty”
She threw some money down. “I will have you know I wont be coming back.” And she stormed out.

I checked with my own masseuse quickly – by this time the customers who were awake were all staring; the woman’s tone had been pretty freakin nasty. It seemed the woman had received some message on her phone and had to leave before her hour was up, and so wanted some discount on her unused massage time instead of paying for the full hour. And so she obviously thought the best way to get her discount was to talk to the thai masseuse like she was some kind of servant. I’m not trying to name-shame, but let’s just say that the tourist’s accent was immediately identifiable. I did a quick calculation on my phone and figured that she was effectively making someone else feel like shit in order to save $4.30 in her home currency.

Sorry, but that’s disgusting.

Let’s not linger too long on whether she deserved the discount to begin with. When you decide to purchase a bowl of noodles but only finish half of them because you spontaneously decide that youre too full mid-way through, are you entitled to half your money back? Who knows, it’s a strange and funny world we live in. Perhaps the vendor returns you the money you want: but does that then mean that you were entitled to it to begin with? Let’s not confuse another person’s kindness with your rights. But like I said, we shan’t linger on that. Say she was entitled to her money back, for some reason or the other. Does it validate talking down to another human being in the way that she did?

Of course not.

Four years ago in Bangkok, for some reason I found myself having a massage alone. My friends had all decided to either nap or go shopping, neither of which I wanted to do, and so I ended up having a solo hour long massage. The masseuse was a chatty old lady that I will probably never see again in my life. I can’t even remember what she looked like now. I only remember two things distinctly from our brief hour together: that she told me her son was going to become a ladyboy because it had the most earning potential for someone of their income class, and that of the amount we paid per massage, the masseuse keeps half, plus tip.

Back then the standard price of a massage was 200 Baht, which is approximately 4SGD. It blew my mind that a woman old enough to be my mother would take home 3SGD (2 + $1 tip?) for an hour of huffing and puffing kneading the knots right out of me. And too often since then I have noticed people quibbling at the counter of thailand’s many massage parlours over how much tip to give. Guys, I want to say, it’s fifty cents youre quibbling over. Round up the damned tip.

Three years ago, in Bangkok again. My friends and I were trying to figure out the cost price of renting a tuktuk for the entire day, something that’s really hard to communicate across the thai-english language barrier because all the tuktuk drivers just get really excited and assume you want to rent them the whole day, to drive you around. No, we explained over and over again, how much are you paying to rent this tuktuk? We just wanna know.

Finally one smiley old man got us, on the tuktuk from Siam to The Grand Palace. He told us in confusing english that they took back an average of 3-400 Baht a day after deducting their vehicle rental fees. On days we don’t get enough passengers we cant eat.

We stopped negotiating for cheaper rates after that.

What’s the point of this post, really? I guess what I’m trying to say is, everyone needs money. We get it, okay? Everyone needs money to be alive, having stuff like working electricity and food on the table and clothes to wear costs money, and so like it or not it’s a necessity that brings out the worst in people. But some people need money more than others. And sometimes you need to be asking: am I really bargaining this dress down that extra dollar because I need the dollar or because I want the satisfaction of having bargained down a damned dress? There is saving money and then there is being cheap. And it’s all well and good that you’ve wrangled your hand sewn elephant print drawstring bag down seventy cents but when that seventy cents comes at the cost of not just the seller’s next bowl of tom yum goong but also at the cost of their dignity, then that’s not cool.

In the class that I teach at the university we had to do Jamaica Kincaid’s A Small Place (which you can read here if you have an academiaEDU account) a few weeks back. In the novel she cries: A tourist is an ugly thing, ugly thing, ugly thing, ugly thing. It is a cry that is not unfamiliar but that millennials have resisted by claiming the title of traveller, not tourist. But as I’ve said before, a tortoise-like backpack a traveller does not make. And like it or not, after romping around a good bit of the world, I have to say that people can be absolute shits, whether they are tourists or travellers or whatever the trendy word for it is these days. Many times, they are shits to people they’ve paid money to, or are trying not to pay money to, and so you can see that money, while necessary and important to life, also fuels this kind of ridiculously embarrassing behaviour in some of the most privileged of people. It is awful to see.

Yes yes, I know what you’re going to say. Two things. Of course there are always going to be people who are more privileged than you are. But if you compare yourself to people richer than you all the time and whinge about being underprivileged when you are not, then you are not just doing the people less privileged than you a disservice, you are also probably a very irritating person. And then the other camp: but if you’re not shrewd enough, you’re going to be taken advantage of! And cheated of your hard earned money! Which I totally get, trust me. So many times I have been quoted five times the normal price of something just because I look different from the locals, and I’ve had to gently but firmly say, ha ha, no. But come on guys, can you really not differentiate when someone is trying to scam you and when they’re just trying to make a living? Come on.

It’s time to wrap up guys, I think I’ve made my point. And very quickly, before I end. Just to pre-empt the haters or skeptics who will react by saying oh jeez, look at this privileged girl talking about travel and money and underprivilege. I have this to say to you: get your head out of your ass. Somebody has to say it. Are you going to sit and listen to the life story of an overworked waiter in a dingy thai restaurant who has three kids to feed and doesn’t have the patience for your shit but has to stand there and smile at you in hopes of a generous tip? Of course not. But you’re here reading me, aren’t you? So since you’re here, listen. It’s not that hard to be decent human beings to one another. The least we can do, the very absolute baseline, is try.

I am all for making the most of your dollar. I am all for learning to enjoy yourself and immerse yourself in new experiences and new places without emptying out your bank account. But I cannot and will not endorse the kind of selfishness I see – the kind that finds it okay to put someone else down to get your bargain. C’mon guys. It doesn’t have to be one or the other. Let’s be okay people. Let’s try.

Till next time.

x
♥jem

#2037 | The Broke Student’s Guide to Getting your PADI Open Water Divers License

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imagesTioman, Malaysia

Hey guys,

So, over one of the weekends in September I finally fulfilled one of my bucket list items and got my PADI Open Water Divers License. I’ve gotten a lot of requests to blog about my experience so in the name of both memory-keeping as well as BSG-creation for those of you looking to get your license too, here I am:

Why get your PADI certification?

To be honest, I mainly got the license because of Roz, my co-host on Hype Hunt. She’s a hardcore diver and she makes it sound so incredible! I’ve also been a swimmer my whole life, and I’m very comfortable underwater, which is why it made more sense to pick this up as a skill over, say, hiking, which I absolutely hate.

When you get your diving license you can start going on all sorts of really incredible trips with other divers, and the potential for creating that kind of memories in my relative youth is a huge part of why I finally decided to take the certification. Besides, it’s only a weekend and under a thousand bucks for a whole new skill. Not bad, I think.

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I took mine with three other girlfriends – an even number is recommended cos you have to buddy up for your dives!

Choosing a dive school

I knew from the get-go that I’d want to take my license in Tioman, or somewhere accessible via ferry from Singapore. The reasons for this are manifold, but primarily…

Firstly, the minute you fly somewhere the cost of your entire license goes up considerably.

Secondly, due to the concentration of nitrogen in your blood after diving, you can’t get on a plane for an approximate 24 hours after your last dive to be safe. Think about it – extreme low altitudes to extreme high altitudes messes up your insides, and so it’s always better to be safe than sorry. But this also means that the amount of time wasted just waiting around for your buffer period to be up before you fly home means that you probably cant complete your license over the weekend, and if youre going with friends who are WORKING ADULTS, this drastically affects them because they have to apply for more leave, so on and so forth.

I went with Diver’s Cove because they’ve got a pretty good rep and also because Xiaoqi had a girlfriend recommend them to her. There are quite a few other dive schools in Singapore that are also popular, like Gill Divers, and so on. Do your research before picking a place!


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Total Cost

So, let’s talk money.

I feel like learning to dive is one of the most cost-efficient new skills to pick up because the entire thing spans a long weekend (three days) and costs about six hundred bucks or so, inclusive of accommodation and ferry to and fro tioman. On top of that, we each changed a hundred SGD for meals, but we barely used up half of it because if you have lunch and dinner family-style, meaning you guys all share dishes, you’ll find that each meal costs very little for what it’s worth. So many great seafood dinners! If you compare that to other similar new skills like learning to drive or learning to ski I think it’s one of the most time and cost efficient things to introduce to your life. Ha.

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The dive resort we stayed in

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Random meals

The only other thing besides food that you’ll spend on during your diving weekend is probably aloe vera for your sunburn (and you will get sunburnt) from the convenience stores.

The process

Your diving license is split into two components – the theory and the practical. The theory test takes place in Singapore over about three hours, but don’t knock it – it’s very useful. Then when you dock in Tioman you can hit the ground running and start learning practical skills immediately, like pool skills, how to assemble your buoyancy control device, so on and so forth. You need four official dives to get your license. These will be done over two or three days, depending on your speed of learning.

The actual dive

So. Diving. What’s it actually like? This is something people have been asking me nonstop since I announced that I’d gotten my license. It’s all well and good to see gorgeous underwater pictures of manatees and sea turtles, but what those photos don’t relay is the perpetual fear as you are learning to dive that you are just going to die.

Diving has gotten a bit of a rep as a relaxing sport, a beautiful one that doesn’t require as much physical exertion as say, rock climbing, or mountain scaling. Sure. But it’s still an intense activity, and it’s one you need to respect and take very seriously. I mean, come on buddy. Do I really have to spell it out for you? If you mess around while learning to dive, you might not know what to do if your oxygen tank malfunctions, and then you will suffocate and drown. This is something my girlfriends and I talked about after our first dive, and that we all agreed on. Once you actually learn to dive, it’s so great and fun and breathtaking that you kind of forget how terrifying it can be in the learning process. But it is.

Here are the two things (in my opinion) that you need to take note of before you go for your first dive. Firstly, you have to know how to do very basic swimming. You don’t have to be very good at it. But you have to at least know what youre doing in the water, and how to float, and how to change directions! Make sense?

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Getting my fins..

And secondly, if you’re claustrophobic, you need to start mentally preparing yourself for the dive.

This is something that never occurred to me because I assumed diving was done in such open waters that the vast expanse of space undersea would never be a problem for claustrophobic people. I was wrong. Over the weekend I realised that claustrophobia is limited not only by the boundaries of physical space, but also by this thing we call AIR. I know that sounds dumb, but it really only hit me when I was 17 meters underwater and I realised that if I lost my regulator (the thing that feeds you oxygen), I’d have no air and I’d just drown. That kind of realisation makes you suddenly so aware of all the water everywhere pressing in on you, and it can really drive you crazy if you’re as neurotic about space as I am.

I’m not saying that claustrophobic people can’t dive. But I just think it’d be really useful to start visualising yourself underwater before your dive, and start mentally preparing yourself for the experience. If you just happily roll up and yolo it like I did, you’re probably going to get a rude shock!

Logistics of the dive

The skills are the hardest part of your experience because they deal a lot with what to do in an emergency. So you simulate situations where you run out of oxygen and need to ascend to the surface quickly, where you lose your weight belt and start floating off, when your mask comes undone and you cant see anything underwater.. etcetera etcetera. It’s really important to get the skills done right because they help you understand what to do in an emergency and prep you not to panic if anything goes wrong during a dive. Because if youre thirty meters under water and you shoot upwards to the surface because you panic, you’ll get the bends which means nitrogen bubbles get stuck in your blood, and you might also die. No pressure!

Ok la, actually I’m being a bit harsh on diving. But I think it’s good to be warned of all these things before you go in, because a lot of the PR around the sport makes it sound SO easy and relaxing. I mean, it is, once you actually learn it properly. But it’s also terrifying and can be dangerous if you dont do it right. Which is why I think it’s better to be safe than sorry and just give everyone the scary bits of diving first so we’re all mentally prepared!

So that’s the skill-learning practical portion. The actual official dives are pretty easy, and get easier the more you go along. They involve exploring the seabed, poking at fish, and chasing turtles. Sounds fun? It is! It’s AMAZING. Just as long as you remember to breathe properly and not step on any sea urchins.

Why people are so addicted to diving..

If you’ve read up till this point, you’re probably thinking: why would anyone voluntarily put themselves in such a dangerous situation where their risk of dying is so much higher than being on land like normal human beings?! And this is where I sell you the idea of diving.

Because despite all that crazy shit, diving is freakin incredible.

If you’ve ever had dreams of flying, diving is the closest you can ever get to that experience. When you glide above the seabed of coral and aquatic life looking down on everything going on, it feels like you’re actually flying. Flying!!!

Being underwater is like NOTHING ELSE in the world. The feeling of descending to the bottom of the ocean is like being granted access into a whole new universe. Everything is vibrant and alive, and none of the fish really care about you because you’re just another big fish to them. Your position on the underwater great chain of being is so tiny and irrelevant that you cannot do anything but be amazed at how intricate the world underwater is, and how you’ve been missing out on so much of the Earth for so long. Because it’s true, isn’t it? Earth is mainly water, and it’s so incredibly self-contained to assume that we have seen it all simply by country hopping and romping around the landlocked 25% of the globe.

On our last dive in a marine park, we swam through schools of fish and spotted rainbow fish, puffer fish, clownfish and so on… but the thing that really sealed it for me was seeing a huge hawksbill sea turtle (the same type as Crush from Finding Nemo). I went nuts!! When we spotted it I immediately took off after it and followed it quite some distance across the sea bed.. it was magical. Didn’t manage to take any pictures since it didn’t make sense to bring the go pro underwater on our first few dives (we had quite enough to remember without having to handle a go pro at the same time) but the memory of swimming with the turtle was more than enough.

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Feeling very proud of ourselves for making it through

Diving: the aftereffects

Because diving means spending hours and hours in the sea, the aftereffects of a dive weekend include your skin and hair suffering for a bit, and nursing cuts and scratches from bumping into coral when you’re learning to dive. I assume as you go on you’ll learn to avoid coral, but i dont know how you can ever dive without getting majorly sunburnt and dehydrated. We applied sunscreen quite liberally but the sea just washes most of it off, so a lot of the skincare we did was reparative – after each dive, slapping on moisturisers, creams, and aloe vera.

Diving: conclusion

After all that.. is it worth it?

The answer is a resounding yes. Learning to dive was a harrowing experience but it was so incredibly rewarding! You shouldnt go into it expecting it to be a breeze, but then again you shouldnt expect that of anything in general. And the sense of accomplishment and wonder at the end of it all was incredible. I can see myself diving again and again in the years to come, and having so many wonderful memories and stories to tell. It’s such an addictive sport and I’d totally recommend it to anyone looking to try something new! 🙂

So that is basically it. My virgin diving experience – hopefully it’ll be useful for any of you looking to try it too. I tried to be as honest as I could about the entire thing, the good and the bad, but overall I think it was definitely one of the more memorable things I did this year. Would recommend. And to the rest of the divers out there – here’s another one joining the club. To more adventures always! x


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x
♥jem

#2036 | SCOTLAND EXPEDITION: ISLE OF SKYE

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imagesIsle of Skye, Scotland

Halloooo everyone!

Back again with yet another travel post to end off the extremely transnational week I’ve had – because why stop when you’re on a roll right? If you’ve been following me on instagram and snapchat you’ll know that the previous weekends were spent shooting for Laneige in Seoul and then getting my dive certification in Tioman, both fantastic experiences that left me spent. In some ways the exact opposite but equally amazing trip I did recently was a self-drive one around the incredible, incredible Isle of Skye, five days which left me feeling refreshed down to my soul like never before. And there is no visiting Skye without penning a post about it, amazing as it is, and so here we are. And here I go.

The Isle of Skye has been on my bucket list ever since I saw the Fairy Pools of Scotland online. For about three years now one of my bucket list items has been jumping into the freezing fairy pools, and I was going to do it by hook or by crook, dammit! This year is my 10th year anniversary with my best friend, and so we decided it was a great chance (excuse) to romp off on a great epic road trip together. Onward, to Skye!

Getting from London to Skye

Another reason why this trip to London was the perfect time for me to plan my Skye trip was because I now can drive, which is a new development. I spoke to several other people who’d been to Skye before, and after their gushing about the place (magical, heaven, will change your life, etc), they also clarified that it was nearly impossible to get around without driving since public transport was basically nonexistent and following a tour bus wasn’t ideal. So voila! A self-drive trip it was.

You can drive from London to Skye but it is expensive because fuel, and it is also exhausting. It’s a twelve hour drive!!! A much more economical option, we found, in terms of both time and money, was to either fly or train to Edinburgh/Glasgow, then pick up the car from the airport/station and go. Trains were ridiculously expensive – almost eighty pounds one way – but surprisingly it only cost us about 50pounds each for a return flight to Edinburgh on RyanAir, found on Skyscanner.

The great thing about this was that RyanAir is one of the few flight carriers that accepts Paypal as a mode of payment. If you recall my Paypal shopping guide post a couple of weeks ago, you’ll know that this means their buyer protection scheme protects you if anything goes wrong – which is perfect, because budget flights can really be quite flaky at times so this added layer of protection is pretty sweet!

Because I was in the UK for a total of three weeks, it was easy for us to toggle the Skyscanner website around to find the cheapest combination of dates for the flight. Yet another reason to love using the flight search engine! We picked up the car from the Edinburgh airport – Hertz Singapore, one of Skyscanner’s partners, very kindly jumped in on our trip for this. You can compare prices of cars (much like the fight search function on Skyscanner) on the SS website as well, here. For convenient planning on the go, you can actually use the Skyscanner mobile app to search both flight and car options pre-trip. I really like the smiley-ratings function on the app too – they rate each option a number rating and a smiley or frowny face to give you an idea of what other customers thought. It’s all super, super convenient.

PS. There IS cheaper way to do the london-edin journey – bus tickets on Megabus are about ten to twenty pounds one way. But the total difference of price amounts to less than thirty pounds return, and you’re stuck on a stuffy overnight bus for hours and hours. I’ve done this before, on a London to Inverness bus ride, and it was personally an awful experience. Now that I’m older and supposedly wiser I made the executive decision to save the time and pain, and just take an hour’s flight. But I’m just putting the bus option out there for the broke students who wanna know the absolute cheapest way to do this journey!

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Trip overview

So a look at how we did the entire trip in order to maximise the amount of places we could see while still having ample time to gander around without too strict an itinerary:

Fly from London to Edinburgh -> Spend a night in Edin -> drive to Skye -> spend three nights in Skye -> Drive to Glasgow and spend a night there -> Drive to edin airport from Glasgow (45 mins!) and fly back to London!

Arrival in Edinburgh

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A great thing about renting a car is that you can literally set the pick up location to be just at the airport where you land, so theres no need to figure out how to get to the bus station or whatever meeting point designated if you decide to follow a tour group. Convenience, my friends! Another hack I thought was super useful was that if you sign up for the Hertz Gold Membership, which is by the way FREE, you get to skip the queue and just pick up your car and go. I can tell you that the feeling of doing this is excellent. It was summer so the queues were mad long to get the car, and when we strolled up to the Gold counter and left with our keys you could tell that everyone else was really annoyed with us. Ha!

I dont know why more people dont do this. I suppose they are put off by the hassle of doing the sign up online.. but then isn’t it more hassle to stand in line for half an hour while being jostled around by other people trying to get their cars? You decide.

Because it was my first time renting a car there were actually a TON of things that fascinated me about the process. Firstly! This skipping the queue thing. Secondly! With some car rental companies, like Hertz, you can actually gain airline miles by renting a car! What!!! I have no idea how the mileage is calculated but how cool is that? It all went to my krisflyer account, obviously. Thirdly – I didn’t know you could just pay at the counter for the car. I thought it had to be pre-paid for with a credit card or something. I suppose only selected car companies did this, but Hertz is one of them, so there’s no cancellation charge if and when you rent with Hertz. Fourthly! You can pick up your rental car at one place and drop it at another if you rent with a company that has enough location options. We didn’t do this since we flew in and out of Edinburgh, but we were considering it when we were still deciding how to get to and fro Skye. I imagine it’ll be very useful as an option for people driving across Europe or America!

A brief sojourn

We decided to stay a night in Edinburgh before continuing on to Skye because I hadnt been to Edinburgh before, so killing two birds and all that. We stayed in the most incredible Airbnb apartment which i blogged about here, and drove to the city centre where we spent the day roaming around Edinburgh on foot.

Edinburgh to me was like Boston is to New York – an architecturally classical city juxtaposed against the backdrop of the metropolitan. Very old English, very beautiful. Lots of interesting Pokemon (I was going through a PoGo phase). And full of wonderful finds! We popped into an unassuming cafe looking for a coffee fix and it was the best thing that happened to us in Edin. If I had one recommendation for Edinburgh..

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The Milkman, Edinburgh.
Toddle In, 7 Cockburn St, Edinburgh EH1 1BP, United Kingdom

It is a brilliant, brilliant little place. Sitting slanted upon a curved slope, it barely has a signboard announcing itself. From the outside in it looks dim and kind of unnoticeable, but oh boy – it smelt of soup. So we walked in and OH MY WORD. It was amazing. The place seats barely ten people along little windows, on overturned crates, and tucked in literal holes in the walls, but it was packed with hippie locals the entire time. We got a coffee and a homemade soup (tomato and basil for that day, with homemade bread), and it blew our minds. The soup tasted like we were being hugged by a big, scottish man who just wanted to welcome us home. If it sounds funny, dont knock it. That was exactly what it tasted like. It was so good we wanted to cry.

After inhaling our soup we wanted another, but they were sold out – we bought the last bowl of the day. Lucky us. Apparently they get a local girl to make soup for the cafe everyday, someone from their neighbourhood, and so the soup is different each day, but always good. We nearly cancelled our glasgow plans to come back to Edinburgh after Skye just for this place, but we’d already booked our Glasgow accommodation, and so onward to new discoveries! The Milkman remains till this day a treasured discovery and a bit of a precious memory to take out and look upon with nostalgia. I recommend it so hard.

The one other iconic thing we did was to climb up Arthur’s Seat. Honestly it was a bit of an emotional moment for me because it’s such an anchor scene in David Nicholl’s One Day, you know, the start and the end of everything that happened in that book which is one of my all time favourites, but I never thought I’d make it there because 1. I hate hiking and 2. Edinburgh just wasnt prominently on my radar for places to go up till now.

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But I am so glad I did it! The view was incredible and the sense of achievement was insane. Also, I was the only person who hiked up in completely inappropriate gear, which drew a lot of concern from random tourists. I mean, who climbs a mini mountain in a dress and heeled boots? ME, THAT’S WHO. boom. It was awesome.

Driving to Skye

The great thing about doing a self-drive road trip is that you can stop wherever you want, whenever you see something vaguely interesting. Of course this meant that we wanted to stop everywhere.. scotland is so beautiful! We made a stop at the random little village of Luss for lunch where we discovered the Steak and Ale pie and promptly fell in love with it, subsequently attributing all our holiday weight gain to it retrospectively. Ah, hindsight. It is 20/20. Still, no regrets! We had a great trip 😀

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Luss sits on the bank of Loch Lomond, so it gets a nice bit of cold breeze as well as the gorgeous scenery that characterises most of Scotland. The thing about our drive was that the scenery kept getting better and better as we went along, so we were increasingly blown away by the scenery, and never underwhelmed by our expectations. Remember to look out for places with free parking – there are plenty – because you dont wanna be slapped with a parking ticket!

Note: If you’re driving to Skye, you will pass Fort Williams where you can refuel. Please take note that there are two ways up – driving up through the Kyle of Lochalsh, or driving to Mallaig, where your car can board a ferry that will take you to Skye. Google maps will automatically route you via the ferry because it is shorter. If you don’t take note of this and either book a ferry ticket beforehand or re-route the other way, you will end up stuck in Mallaig with nowhere to go. This happened to us and we had to drive back down to Fort Williams and go the long way around, which was a 2 hour detour, so please take note!

The detour was mildly frustrating but not an overall dampener because we got to see the Harry Potter train that was docked at the Mallaig station 😀 For those of you driving up to Skye, look out for the Glenfinnan Viaduct, which is the iconic bridge that the Hogwarts Express chugs through in the movies. Most people miss it because they dont realise it’s on the way up, so take note!

THE ISLE! OF SKYE!: Accomodation

When we finally reached Skye it was too late to do anything except settle in for a movie night and rest up for the day ahead. We booked this incredible self-catering apartment on Airbnb which advertised itself as a private room but which was actually a whole double storied apartment joined to the main house by a tiny door, which was a nice surprise.

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This Airbnb apartment here

We were also careful to book a place which offered free parking. But honestly, Skye is so huge that most places you book automatically come with free parking because you cant get to most places without a car. You can’t even get to our accommodation without driving – it’s just not possible to take a bus or train there. I dont think we realised this before coming to Skye because neither of us had been and we’re so used to getting around on buses and trains in the gridlock of the city. But the countryside is totally different. So that’s another benefit to renting a car – your accommodation options are much more varied. If we hadn’t gotten a car, we’d be limited to picking from places in the little villages and cities like Portree, which were lots smaller, and to be honest – more expensive.

Instead, we got a huge house, a view over the mountains, and two giant stories with two beds + two bathrooms, one on each floor! Fab. Would recommend for sure. In fact, I would recommend this place to anyone headed up to Skye. We really loved this place so much – it was the PERFECT base from which to explore Skye. It took about an hour to drive to other points of interest on Skye, which sounds like a lot because we’re so used to zoom zoom metros, but which in reality feels like about FIVE MINUTES because it’s SUCH a gorgeous drive. And I suppose the good company helps – you end up talking so much you dont even realise that time has flown by 🙂

One last note on accommodation: Please pre-book.
Some people like to quote unquote wing it, which means that they turn up wherever and try to get accommodation on the spot from hostels or airbnbs or what not. This will not work for Skye. Skye is so popular that it is perpetually overbooked. We heard so many horror stories from our host and from friends of people turning up in the middle of the night having driven from place to place trying to get room and board, and failing. Our host said that one this woman turned up with a car full of crying kids wanting to stay the night, but he had to turn her away because they were overcapacity. THIS ALWAYS HAPPENS IN SKYE. I dont know why on earth you wouldnt prebook accommodation if you have children with you especially, but who knows. If you want to wing it you will end up sleeping homeless in your car. You have been warned!

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THE ISLE! OF SKYE!: Traffic/ Road Conditions

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Nuff said.

THE ISLE! OF SKYE!: Things to See

The Isle of Skye is a place spouting wonders at every corner. I felt like we could have just driven anywhere, in any random direction, and we would have had a great time nonetheless! As it happened we just randomly picked places on a map and drove there, which always worked out well for us. Here are some of the most memorable places we visited:

Glencoe: The Fairy Pools

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Like I said.. the main thing for me, my bucket list item for Skye, was jumping into the freezing depths of the Fairy Pools in only a swimsuit. Because Yolo!

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How you get to the Glencoe fairy pools: drive through Carbost to Glenbrittle, where you can find multiple carparks along the way to the entrance. The nearest is the Forestry Commision gravel carpark signposted ‘Glumagan Na Sithichean’, right opposite the start of the walk to the pools. It’s about an hour’s hike to the pools, but it’s quite an enjoyable walk because it’s GORGEOUS the entire way. I suppose you could get here if you follow a tour bus, but then you’d be stuck to a certain time frame, which is pretty annoying.

The fairy pools were all i’d ever dreamed of and more. I feel like i spent the entire trip to scotland on the verge of tears because everything was so emotional for me. I got SO excited when i climbed down to the pools that i was jumping everywhere even though it was freezing! And all these random hikers passing by were yelling YOURE CRAZY! at us because it was so damned cold but yolo, am i right.

Totally would recommend. Bucket list item: checked!!

Carbost: Tallisker Whiskey Tour and Oyster Shed

On the way up to the fairy pools you can stop in Carbost, which we actually did on a different day from our Fairy Pools Expedition. We turned into Carbost randomly because we saw a roadsign announcing the TALISKER WHISKEY TOUR – the only distillery on the Isle of Skye. As the bestie and I are both huge whiskey nuts we knew we just had to do at least one whiskey tour in Scotland. The tour was only 8 pounds per person, but there was a bit of a wait for it so we ended up randomly walking around the area, which led us to discover the MOST AMAZING PLACE IN THE WORLD: the Oyster Shack!

But before that, a but more on the whiskey tour. It’s a short tour, about 45 minutes, and super interesting if you have no idea how whiskey is made but just like drinking it. Basically, like me. You only do a mild tasting at the end with a tiny glass, just to show you how whiskey is meant to be appreciated and how the taste changes with water or ice added, but it’s not enough to knock you over so you’re well and legally able to drive after, no worries. They bring you through the entire process of how whiskey is made, so it’s really a must-see if you’re a whiskey lover!

Talisker Distillery
Carbost, Isle of Skye IV47 8SR, United Kingdom

Behind the Distillery, there’s a small hill where you can walk upwards at about a literal 45 degree angle, which is pretty annoying and tiring. We saw people biking up with giant backpacks, which was insane! But that random romp led us to one of the best hidden gems of our trip: the Oyster Shed.

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The Oyster Shed is literally just a shack that sells seafood. But oh boy – what seafood! The oysters are homegrown and shucked daily by the owner and they are the FRESHEST AND CREAMIEST OYSTERS I’ve ever had in my life! They only cost a pound per oyster, can you believe it? I expired on the spot. I initially only had two because the bestie doesn’t take oysters (is it just me, or do most guys not like oysters?), but i went back and got another six after the whiskey tour. That’s how you know it was good – in a new place, where everything is fresh and exciting, how often do you go back to the same place twice? When it’s this good, that’s when. We were dreaming about this place for weeks after our trip ended.

They sell other things besides oysters, so don’t worry if youre reading this and can’t take oysters either. We had the lobster tail, which was fab, and the scallops, which were heavenly. Scallops! Yet another thing i’ve fallen hopelessly in love with. So, so good. Pan fried in garlic butter and herbs like they do in the Oyster Shed – they’re nearly a religious experience.

The entire meal cost less than twenty bucks each for us – which was so, so worth it for such an outstanding meal. This was the first place I actually hesitated to recommend because I don’t want it to get overrun by tourists and get all commercial, but honestly it’s too good not to share. So please be responsible if and when you go, and don’t be a spoilt tourist! You know, throw away your trash, be nice to the people there, etcetera etcetera.

The Oyster Shed
Carbost Beag, Isle of Skye IV47 8SE, United Kingdom

Neist Point/ Water Stein

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Why would you drive hours just to go for a walk? When you’re in Skye you’ll understand. The walk to Trig point on Waterstein head is about two to three miles depending on how far you go, and takes about two hours. Even though it sounds like a long time to be randomly walking, it’s actually a very calming walk that yields incredible views. We only wished we could have stayed till sunset, but alas! We were there in the middle of the afternoon and the sun sets about nine in the summer, which meant we would have had to stay there for a good five hours or more. Still, it was a really pleasant walk, made better only by the company. If you’ve never gone on a two hour long random scenic walk with your best friend I totally recommend it. We only broke off from heart to heart conversations to chase sheep. Obviously.

Miscellaneous Magic

Like I said at the start of the post, a big part of the magic of self-drive trips is the ability to just randomly stumble on new places and stop for however long you’d like – the freedom to dictate your own trip, basically. A huge part of our best memories on the trip involved really random stops at places we completely didn’t plan to go to, places which aren’t even marked out on the map. Below, a series of photos and scribbles from our miscellaneous stops:

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– We accidentally drove into someone’s property when trying to figure out a good vantage point from which to watch the sunset. Instead of yelling at us for TRESPASSING PRIVATE PROPERTY, the old man who lived there invited us to park, catch the sunset from his bench that he built himself, then showed us around his shed where he was in the process of making a huge double deck bed for his granddaughter! It turned out he owned nearly all the land on that side of Skye and was spending his retirement days tinkering around with wood. HAHA.

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– A random stop along the road. We saw cars from all over stopping and clustering at the hill as well, so we drove into the little ditch by the road to check it out.. and it was gorgeous. There were dudes experimenting with drones there, which was quite an eye opener for me because it was my first time actually seeing a drone in action!! One of them crashed his drone. lol. So I guess it wasn’t that fun for them.

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– Again, we stopped on the side of a slightly wider road where you could see in between several mountains. I suspect it’s some sort of off-the-beaten-track hiking path because we could see some brave souls trying to clamber over rocks in the distance. Total sound of music moment here.

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– I have no idea where this was except it was by the sea. We got a nice coffee here and sat by the jetty for a bit, chatting till it got dark.

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– Roadside stop for lunch. In Scotland i discovered what onion rings were meant to taste like. I thought I hated onion rings but that’s because now i realise Burger king has been selling me a chiong version all these years!

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– Accidentally drove into some private property AGAIN. This time we didn’t run into anyone, but we did get a breathtaking view of a random lake. Spent some time there trying to skip stones. I failed miserably, but the best friend is pretty good.

By the way, if you’re wondering why there are so many photos of my bestie when no one is here on jemmawei.com to look at him it is because O M G i finally understand the pain of all those instagrammers when they say their boyfriends cant take nice pictures of them. This whole time I was just like, aiyah, just tell them what you want then ask them to take lah. And they’re always like, cannot, it doesn’t work. And i thought they were just fronting.

But the time has come for me to admit that maybe Shane is just naturally a good photographer because O M G my best friend sucks. And I can say that because he admits it with quite a lot of shameless glee. Our conversations would go like this:

Me: Omg help me take a picture here please! I wanna take a nice photo with the car because Hertz kindly lent it to us and I wanna instagram it.
Fred: Ok sure. *takes picture* nah.
Me: Dude it sucks. Take from this angle please. *shows him the EXACT angle, I even take a test shot to demonstrate EXACTLY what i mean*
Fred: Ok i got it!!!! *Takes picture*
Me: OMG it sucks dude can u please look at the photo i took of you and do the EXACT SAME THING?
Fred: *looking at both pictures* they look the same.
Me: They are two completely different pictures.
Fred: Oh. Yeah. HA HA HA it’s so sad that you actually need these pictures but I suck so you just end up taking really good pictures of me and all the ones of you are kind of bad.

-.-

SO IRRITATING! But nevermind, my workaround was to get him to just stand wherever I wanted, then remote control shutter that shit.

Fred: Wait, so do I press the button now?
Me: NO. I will press the button with my remote control. You just STAND THERE AND DONT MOVE.
Fred: .. So I’m a portable tripod?
Me: YES. Now shut up and stand still.

Friendship, y’all!

One last night in Glasgow

After four wonderful days in Isle, we mournfully left around midday for Glasgow, where we’d booked one night in a Glasgow Airbnb before flying off the next morning just to give us buffer time. Glasgow is only a forty five minute drive to Edinburgh airport, give or take, so it was a pretty comfortable amount of time we had to work with. An update from my PoGo phase: there are NO cool pokemon in Glasgow. So there’s that.

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Since it was our last night of our road trip, we wanted to take it easy and just have a really nice dinner somewhere. We drove to the city centre and had a seafood and steak dinner at this place called Browns, which was FANTASTIC. Actually when we told some of our Londoner friends, they said Browns sucked (it’s a chain), but we had a really really good experience there, so I guess it differs from branch to branch. A two hour long dinner spent reminiscing the trip and our ten years together – we really have had a good run 🙂

The next morning we had to get up and go to the airport, and that meant returning the car…

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Which obviously I was very reluctant to do. This car was my total baby!!! It’s a dream to drive because Audi, I suppose, and we had some of the most scenic drives of our lives there. Admittedly my driving life is rather short because I havent had my license for long but STILL, one of the most scenic drives EVER. Don’t believe me? Here’s a short video that BroPro put together for me (more on BroPro next time).

The audi also ran megasmoothly because Hertz’s cars are all a year old or under, which is a great reassurance for new drivers like me. I’m a total roadtrip convert!!!! Previously all I could do on roadtrips was make myself very quiet and not a nuisance because I couldn’t contribute by taking a turn at driving, but now i am actually OF USE, which is a great feeling. More road trips to come for sure.

Winding down

So there – my Isle of Skye trip and itinerary. One of the most memorable trips of my life, and one that’s always going to be special to me. For anyone headed the UK way, I definitely recommend trying to head to the Isle. I’d recommend at least a week for it – there really is an abundance of things to see, and if you have any less time than that you’re sure to experience extreme FOMO when you leave!

Thank you Skyscanner and Hertz for loaning us the car and for your eternal support – It’s been over a year since I’ve first started my relationship with Skyscanner Singapore and it has been a joy every time – both as a collaborator and consumer. Still my favourite tool when it comes to planning a trip, and boy, was this one great.

x
Jem

#2035| Yes-man

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Are normal human beings supposed to be this sleepy? Ironically it is just as crunch time hits that my brain starts stuttering into distraction – the other day I spent half an hour curled up on the couch chuckling at F.R.I.E.N.D.S. jokes online. Me! The number one protestor against using your phone in your free time because it never yields anything productive! At the start of this year I set a self-imposed rule of not using my phone on public transport and as a result I read more books than ever – a record 31 books in five months. But of late I find myself reaching for – not the phone – but some peeling edge of my mind, perhaps? And holding on to it, zoning out, and then drifting into a vegetative state on the train. Is this old age? Is it obnoxious for me to say so yet?

It is now thursday, and I’m sitting in the office after teaching two morning classes at the university and having lunch with an old friend. Sent my boyfriend off to his operation in the hospital – a soccer related injury, the most cliche of cliches, as if there could be any other kind – and then got my nails did a politically correct neutrally anti-aggressive pink for tomorrow’s shoot. A breather, the wild and hopeless search for a dark quiet corner to take a nap in. But public naps in shared spaces are frowned upon, even in a place you dole out rent for monthly. So be it. Later: Vivienne Westwood’s FW16 show, and then to bed! Tomorrow: All day on set for Sephora. Beauty look upon beauty look, the main one being: how not to look like shit when you’re running on three cups of starbucks cold brew and five hours of sleep. Side note: I have begun actually strategising my best routes to work and school around starbucks stops, the quick fixes that seem indulgent but are in reality more necessary than I’d care to admit. And then packing, packing, and Saturday morning – emceeing a friend’s wedding, happiness, joy, and try not to cry, because right after that it’s a half-day shoot for a new client in the studios (but little joys – on set with my clicknetwork team, and that’s the best crew i could ever ask for). Dinner with the crew, or is that pushing my luck? And then it’s the airport, an ambien, and a red-eye flight to Seoul where I’ll be shooting for Laneige and representing Laneige SG for three days at their Global Beauty Camp and marking academic scripts by night. The funny thing is that I’m not even a beauty blogger, just a girl who likes make up. The vanity! My academic persona is always struggling to rationalise the balance in this. Perhaps the answer is simple: different things empower different people, and my empowerment (some of it?) comes in the form of shimmer and glitter and pots of paste you can smear on your lids. It is what it is. And then another red-eye flight, hopefully some wine, and bam. 5am Singapore on Wednesday, 930am lecture in the university. And so the days go on and on.

Don’t think i dont know it sounds crazy. I know. I know. But we are all mad here. The new realisation that comes with being almost 24 is that sometimes being mad should come with a side of sleep. Just a dab, maybe.

Till next time. x

x
♥jem