This is default featured slide 1 title
This is default featured slide 2 title
This is default featured slide 3 title
This is default featured slide 4 title
This is default featured slide 5 title
 

Monthly Archives: December 2016

Best cheap eats in Kuala Lumpur

A slice of Sarawak in Bangsar

If you set out to find the epitome of a neighbourhood eatery in Bangsar, the Sarawak laksa stall inside the Nam Chuan Coffee Shop food court is your best bet. The laksa (RM8) here is built for rainy days: a heap of chewy rice vermicelli arrives in a spicy, coconut milk-based soup that is crowned with shredded chicken, huge prawns, ribbons of sliced omelette and lashings of chopped coriander. Owner Christina Jong has been doling out bowls of comfort for more than 16 years – her version of Sarawak laksa doesn’t get any more authentic than this.

Vegan mixed rice in a temple

A heads up: don’t come here expecting a leisurely meal or doting servers. The neighbouring office crowd flocks to this budget-friendly canteen located at the back of Dharma Realm Guan Yin Sagely Monastery for one of the best vegan meals in the city. The mixed rice buffet (from RM5) displays more than 50 dishes, including vegan mock-meat items. Come on a Friday for lei cha (which literally translates to ‘thunder tea’), a Hakka rice speciality served with an assortment of chopped vegetables and accompanied by a ‘pounded’ tea drink.

Nasi dagang in a Malay settlement

The unpretentious Chunburi Seafood (7 Jln Raja Muda Musa) restaurant in Kampung Baru – one of the last Malay villages in the heart of the city – is famed for its Kelantanese nasi dagang (nutty rice cooked in coconut milk, from RM6), which is traditionally eaten as breakfast on the east coast of Malaysia. Diners pair the rice with a variety of fish dishes, especially the gulai ikan tongkol – a tuna curry that woos you with a rich depth of flavour. Chunburi is consistently crowded during lunchtime; grab a mango and coconut rice dessert from the sweets stand while you wait.

Pisang goreng for a midday snack

The best way to treat a king banana? Fry it to a golden crisp. Stall owner Uncle Chiam has been catering to a steady stream of office workers, students and construction workers every day for the past 34 years. Sourced all the way from a farm in Pahang, the bananas (RM1.40 per piece) are deep-fried in a heavy batter, giving them a satisfying crunch while maintaining a caramelised interior within. Round out your pisang goreng snack with some fried kuih bakul (rice cakes).

Beef noodles with a side of nostalgia at Soong Kee

The battered restaurant signage and tinted windows make this old-timer at Masjid Jamek feel like a true find. Beef noodles are aplenty in KL but it’s the noodles, and sometimes soup, that help define each particular style of this local staple. Go for the dry version (RM7) at Restoran Soong Kee (facebook.com/SoongKeeBeefNoodle): springy egg noodles coated in dark soy sauce are topped with minced meat, and served with your choice of beef balls, sliced beef, cow’s stomach or tendon in a light-tasting broth.

Fluffy chapati in Little India

For cheap and cheerful refuelling, nothing beats a fluffy chapati at just RM1.80 each. Sure, you’ll find a much cheaper version of the unleavened flatbread elsewhere but the price at Authentic Chapati Hut (3 Lorong Padang Belia, Brickfields) is justifiable – the chapatis, cooked fresh on the griddle, are moderately chewy with perfectly browned crispy spots. They’re basically blank canvases to mop up curries or the restaurant’s signature chana masala (chickpea curry). Save some space for their pillowy naan bread too.

A belly-warming pork noodle

You can still score a decent bowl of pork noodles in the city even when you’re strapped for cash. Machi Pork Noodle (33 Jln 34/154, Taman Bukit Anggerik) outshines its contenders by cranking out a heady, cloudy pork broth that comforts you like a big warm hug. The noodles (RM6), cradling a poached egg in the centre (ask the waiter for it), are fortified with the addition of minced pork, pork balls, various pieces of pork offal, pork slices, fried lard and a flurry of chopped spring onion. Fortune favours the bold – break the yolk and stir through for a silkier and thicker soup.

Pair vegetarian nasi lemak with masala chai

A nasi lemak without the requisite fried anchovies and hard-boiled egg sounds almost blasphemous, but the vegetarian version (RM2.50) at Annapuurnam Chetinad Restaurant (74 Lorong Maarof, Bangsar) will prove you wrong. A warm, nutty fragrance permeates the air as you unpack the wrapping of the dish to reveal a mound of hot fluffy rice cooked in coconut milk, with peanuts, sliced cucumbers, a piece of mock meat, and a spicy sauce that packs flavour and heat in equal parts. A masala chai (spiced milk tea) seems like a sweet ending to a meal – until you spy the jars of murukku (crunchy Indian snacks) at the cashier.

Have rojak next to the Pudu wet market

For the uninitiated, walking through the sprawling labyrinth of thePudu wet market can be overwhelming. But those who brave the crowd will be rewarded with Sulaiman’s rojak pasembur (from RM5), a concoction of prawn fritters, deep-fried bean curd, hard-boiled egg, yam bean and shredded cucumber – all doused in a thick nutty sauce. Don’t leave without ordering a bowl of cendol, a cooling shaved ice heaped with strands of green rice ‘noodles’, coconut milk, sweet corn, Adzuki red beans and a caramel-like gula Melaka. Find the restaurant in front of MSS Maju Restaurant, off Jln Pudu.

Banana leaf rice with an addictive mango chutney

Devi’s Corner stands out in a crowded field of banana leaf rice spots in KL for one reason: its mango chutney. Only available on Friday and Sunday, the sweet and tangy relish is reason enough alone to put up with Bangsar’s snarly traffic. The banana leaf rice (from RM7.50) action takes place on the upper floor of the restaurant, where you’ll find diners knuckle-deep in a heap of rice, raita, crab curry and crunchy pappadam. Make sure you clear your schedule afterwards – a nap is almost inevitable.

Mixing it up in the Maldives

Appreciating the Maldives’ natural riches

Nicknames aside, the etymology of the word ‘Maldives’ refers to the remarkable geography of this scattered archipelago. The ‘garland islands’ are indeed draped like a necklace across the Indian Ocean, hanging below the teardrop-shaped earring of Sri Lanka. And this is a treasure crafted from only the finest materials: white-gold sands with a turquoise trim, diamond-clear waters and sparkling sunsets framed by a curtain of palms. Every second spent here is a pinch-me moment.

The Maldives is the world’s lowest country in terms of elevation, and therefore first in the climate change firing line, which makes its natural wonders seem all the more precious, particularly when you meet the wildlife. Keen spotters, snorkelers and scuba divers should head to the southernmost atoll, Addu (also known as Seenu), to see spinner dolphins, sea turtles, whale sharks and white terns – a striking seabird found nowhere else in the Maldives.

Addu is also home to some of the islands’ most novel landmarks – a nine-hole golf course with lagoon views, one of the longest roads in the Maldives (a whole 16km, best travelled by bike) and the nation’s tallest mountain, which looms above Villingili, a staggering five metres high.

A taste of the inhabited islands

Staying at a luxury resort for 24/7 pampering is part of the Maldives experience, but spa treatments and five-star dinners are only half of the story. To really get a feel for island life, you need to visit one of the officially designated inhabited islands, where most of the islands’ 345,000 people make their homes. Until 2009, government restrictions meant visitors to the Maldives needed a permit to explore and stay on non-resort islands, but today, many inhabited islands are open for day trips or even overnight stays, and 50% of resort staff are required by law to be local, making island culture far more accessible.

After living it up at the Shangri-La Villingili Resort & Spa on the southern atoll of Addu, I joined local guide Azmy for a cycle tour of Addu City – a sleepy string of inhabited isles just across the lagoon from my blissful bubble – for a gentle introduction to the ‘real’ Maldives. In this laid back ‘city’, an unhurried island vibe pervades (there’s only so much pace one can gather this close to the equator) but political street art, a multitude of mosques, busy tea shops and welcoming smiles reveal an unexpected community buzz.

‘We don’t lock our doors here – everyone knows everyone,’ explained Azmy with a smile as we parked our bikes outside his family home. I’d wangled an invitation in order to see – and try out – an undholi, the traditional Maldivian swing seats found in most houses in the atolls. Azmy’s wife and mother-in-law seemed bemused by enthusiasm for trying out the fancy wooden hammock in their living room, but were graciously accommodating. And yes, it was as good as it sounds.

A wealth of history and culture

People on Addu generally speak excellent English, as the British ran various military bases on Gan island between the 1940s and 1970s. Azmy’s grandfather worked there as a cook and his father, a local councillor, hopes to open a military museum one day to tell the story of the base, considered a hardship posting for British airmen because of the remote and secluded location.

But there’s plenty of history to discover even without a museum. As we pedalled, we passed a disused post office blanketed in moss, poppy-strewn memorials, a retro-looking cinema (still in occasional use), and an eerie old quarantine centre for sufferers of ‘elephant foot’, a mosquito-borne malady only officially wiped out in 2016. Needless to say, I declined to take a closer look at these last facilities.

These days the RAF barracks form part of Equator Village, one of many budget resorts springing up across the archipelago, and the airstrip has swapped bombers for commercial planes. Gan Airport received the first international passenger flights from Colombo in late 2016 and tourism is expected to boom in the southern atolls, so now is a good time to come and beat the rush.

Make time for Malé

While island life is what the Maldives is all about, the capital, Malé, remains the central transport hub and it’s well worth a stopover to see its miniature take on ‘big city’ life. It may only cover 5.8 sq km, but compared to the far-flung isles, this densely populated speck in the ocean is positively cosmopolitan. Residents often juggle two jobs, commuting by moped through traffic-clogged streets overshadowed by high-rise banks and office buildings. Markets bustle. Tarmac sizzles. The call to prayer cuts through the urban thrum.

If you do one thing in Malé, make time for the Old Friday Mosque. Built from coral stone in 1656, its walls are intricately decorated, and – just like the coral you’ll find in the ocean – rough to the touch. The graveyard’s time-worn headstones (the tops of which are pointed for men, smooth for women) stand off-kilter, like a crowd of spectators vying for a glimpse of the mosque’s timeless grace. The simple tomb of Abdul Barakat Yoosuf Al Barbary, the man credited with converting the Maldives from Buddhism to Islam in the 12th century, can be found just across the street.

The ocean’s bounty for food lovers

Walking the streets in the tropical sun can be hungry work – and even spa-goers and sun-bathers need to eat. The territory of the Maldives covers 90,000 sq km of ocean, so it should come as no surprise that seafood is the staple here, and tuna is catch of the day, every day. Find this flavoursome fish in mas huni, a breakfast dish combining chilli, coconut, onion and tuna, eaten with roti flatbread. Tuna is also the key ingredient in a host of spicy ‘short eats’ – popular deep-fried snacks – and in the tuna curry that locals enthusiastically chow down on morning, noon and night.

Why Family Travel’s Never Been Better

The world is your kid’s oyster

Then: plane travel was considered a luxury, low-cost airlines had yet to take to the skies and, for many, family holidays were annual events bookended by seemingly never-ending drives, complete with squabbling siblings and ‘are we there yet?’ on repeat.

Now: thanks to a boom in affordable air travel, the modern child may take numerous trips each year, blending close-to-home camping expeditions or farm stays with urban adventures in the world’s ‘must-see’ cities such as London, Paris or New York.

What were once considered ‘trips of a lifetime’ are also more likely to be regular fixtures in childhood, with long-haul holidays spent zip-lining in Costa Rica, snorkelling off Thailand’s beautiful beaches or penguin-watching off the Cape in South Africa all boosting a young jet-setter’s memory bank.

We all sleep easier, family style

Then: the whole clan often crowded into one unappetising hotel room, slept top-to-toe in a cramped tent or descended upon some kindly old friend or distant relative who had once politely suggested ‘you should really come and stay some time’.

Now: hotels are generally far better prepared for families, offering adjoining rooms, cots and even babysitting services. There’s a whole range of luxury places created specifically for the family market – Cavallino Bianco (cavallino-bianco.com) in Italy, the UK’s Watergate Bay Hotel (watergatebay.co.uk) or Disney’s Aulani Resort in Hawaii to name just a few – with kids’ clubs, child-friendly food, play areas in the grounds and so on.

But the accommodation revolution does not stop there. Thanks to popular home swap and rental sites it’s now super easy for families to locate great apartments, often with toys, bunk beds and all the mod cons required by today’s child. If you really want to go the extra mile, companies such as Bush Baby Travel (bushbaby.travel) offer safaris where the whole family can sleep comfortably under canvas in the bush. There’s also the family cruise option, with entire ships devoted to entertaining your children… did we mention Disney?

Our digital natives engage differently with a trip

Then: without portable screens and global roaming, children were kept busy while travelling by what now looks like a relatively limited repertoire: playing games, reading books, writing a travel journal or filling up a sketch pad.

Now: technology has transformed how children engage with a trip. Sure, the tech-free pursuits still apply – kids from any era adore reading, writing, drawing and (hopefully!) playing games as a family. But now they supplement these with a wealth of digital aids: Google Earth (google.com/earth) to see what their destination looks like before they arrive; translation apps to converse easily with locals; search engines to help locate fun things to do while away; and of course Skype or social media to share stories with family and friends back home.

Tablets are now key weapons in the parental arsenal against ‘I’m bored’: they get families through delays and meltdowns, and provide respite for siblings who need a bit of space from each other. Just don’t forget to pack the charger.

It’s all about the little ones

Then: children were often an afterthought when it came to planning a family trip; parents’ priorities – relaxation or gallery-hopping, for example – came first and youngsters were expected to behave impeccably, despite the absence of anything to engage, excite or entertain them.

Now: children are specifically catered for as a group with very distinct needs. Museums and art galleries in particular have upped their game with kid-friendly tours, interactive exhibits and a much more tolerant approach to the occasional squawk from a toddler. New York’sMetropolitan Museum of Art helps inspire little ones before their visit with the #MetKids website, while the British Museum offers free family activity trails.

Many restaurants offer children’s menus (plus colouring pens and paper) as standard and big airlines such as Emirates offer kids activity packs; of course, in-flight entertainment now gives each member of the family the ability to choose what they want to watch, listen to or play.

Forgotten an essential piece of kid-related kit? Never fear – there are now various hire companies ready to jump at the chance to help you out.

Priority one is family time

Then: family bonding was a natural outcome of hanging out together in a tiny hotel room with nothing to do. It wasn’t necessarily something parents particularly focused on or planned for, it just happened.

Now: in today’s busy world, any period away from the daily grind is actively viewed as precious family time; it’s a chance to properly engage with each other and unite as a family. From time to time, parents may revolt against the modern technologies that, for the most part, make family travel easier – signing everyone up for that cooking class in Florence or a child-friendly trek in Tasmania so that the whole family takes on a new challenge together.

Regional Guide to Europe’s Best Road Trips

These nine diverse and dynamic countries – all featured in our Europe’s Best Trips guide – represent some of the top spots to hit the road in Europe. Discover what makes them so special and kick your trip planning into gear with our recommended road trips.

Italy

Few countries can rival Italy’s wealth of riches. Its historic cities boast iconic monuments and masterpieces at every turn, its food is imitated the world over and its landscape is a majestic patchwork of snowcapped peaks, plunging coastlines, lakes and remote valleys. And with many thrilling roads to explore, it offers plenty of epic driving.

Recommended trip: World Heritage wonders – 14 days, 870 km/540 miles

Start – Rome; finish – Venice

From Rome to Venice, this tour of Unesco World Heritage Sites takes in some of Italy’s greatest hits, including the Colosseum and the Leaning Tower of Pisa, and some lesser-known treasures.

France

Iconic monuments, fabulous food, world-class wines – there are so many reasons to plan your very own French voyage. Whether you’re planning on cruising the corniches of the French Riviera, getting lost among the snowcapped mountains or tasting your way aroundChampagne’s hallowed vineyards, this is a nation that’s full of unforgettable routes that will plunge you straight into France’s heart and soul. There’s a trip for everyone here: family travellers, history buffs, culinary connoisseurs and outdoors adventurers. Buckle up and bon voyage – you’re in for quite a ride.

Recommended trip: Champagne taster – 3 days, 85 km/53 miles

Start – Reims; finish – Le Mesnil-sur-Oger

From musty cellars to vine-striped hillsides, this Champagne adventure whisks you through the heart of the region to explore the world’s favourite celebratory tipple. It’s time to quaff!

Great Britain

Great Britain overflows with unforgettable experiences and spectacular sights. There’s the grandeur of Scotland’s mountains, England’s quaint villages and country lanes, and the haunting beauty of the Welsh coast. You’ll also find wild northern moors, the exquisite university colleges of Oxford and Cambridge, and a string of vibrant cities boasting everything from Georgian architecture to 21st-century art.

Recommended trip: The best of Britain – 21 days, 1128 miles/1815 km

Start and finish – London (via Edinburgh and Cardiff)

Swing through three countries and several millennia of history as you take in a greatest hits parade of Britain’s chart-topping sights.

Ireland

Your main reason for visiting? To experience the Ireland of the postcard  – captivating peninsulas, dramatic wildness and undulating hills. Scenery, history, culture, bustling cosmopolitanism and the stillness of village life – you’ll visit blockbuster attractions and replicate famous photo ops. But there are plenty of surprises too – and they’re all within easy reach of each other.

Recommended trip: the long way round – 14 days, 1300 km/807 miles

Start – Dublin; finish – Ardmore

Why go in a straight line when you can perambulate at leisure? This trip explores Ireland’s jagged, scenic and spectacular edges; a captivating loop that takes in the whole island.

Spain

Spectacular beaches, mountaintop castles, medieval villages, stunning architecture and some of the most celebrated restaurants on the planet – Spain has an allure that few destinations can match. There’s much to see and do amid the enchanting landscapes that inspired Picasso and Velàzquez.

You can spend your days feasting on seafood in coastal Galician towns, feel the heartbeat of Spain at soul-stirring flamenco shows or hike across the flower-strewn meadows of the mountains. The journeys in this region offer something for everyone: beach lovers, outdoor adventurers, family travellers, music fiends, foodies and those simply wanting to delve into Spain’s rich art and history.

Recommended trip: Northern Spain pilgrimage – 5-7 days, 678 km/423 miles

Start – Roncesvalles; finish – Santiago de Compostela

Travel in the footprints of thousands of pilgrims past and present as you journey along the highroads and backroads of the legendary Camino de Santiago pilgrimage trail.

Portugal

Portugal’s mix of the medieval and the maritime makes it a superb place to visit. A turbulent history involving the Moors, Spain and Napoleon has left the interior scattered with walled medieval towns topped by castles, while the pounding Atlantic has sculpted a coast of glorious sand beaches. The nation’s days of exploration and seafaring have created an introspective yet open culture with wide-ranging artistic influences.

The eating and drinking scene here is a highlight, with several wine regions, and restaurants that are redolent with aromas of grilling pork or the freshest of fish. Comparatively short distances mean that you get full value for road trips here: less time behind the wheel means you can take more time to absorb the atmosphere.

Recommended trip: Douro Valley vineyard trails – 5-7 days, 358 km/222 miles

Start – Porto; finish – Miranda do Douro