now browsing by category
Phuket – Accomodations
If there’s one good thing about going to a tourist-y island for holiday, it’s that there is no shortage of accommodation options. Phuket is saturated with all kinds of properties for short-holiday visitors, and they’re quite varied too – not just in pricing but also on amenities. On the other hand, by the time we started looking at accommodation options last week – and this is still 4 months from the holiday itself – I was surprised to see that more than half of the available accommodations over our period of study had already been booked out. That was quick! For instance, we stayed at Tepi Sawah Villa during our 2008 trip, but that property was fully booked over our coming vacation period.
As with our other stays in the vacations we had in the last two years, room size, number of beds, and general cleanliness of a property are the three things we look out most for. The island is also slightly larger than Singapore, which makes staying at different properties on different sides of the island a good idea – just so that we can minimize the inadvertent traveling time around the island.
So, after some searching, we settled on these two:
Cassia Phuket: on Phuket’s east coast. Booked a two-bedroom loft suite with lagoon/ocean view of 62sqm.
Sino House Phuket: in Phuket Town, which is located at the south-west end of the island. Booked a Family Junior Suite of 48sqm.
Next post on our developing itinerary!
Passion10 Electric Scooter – Part 2
If there’s one thing the government of our little island has done well, it’s maximizing greenery and outdoor areas in already fairly congested areas. Of particular note of course are our island’s interlinked network of Park Connectors, which has not only become an easy and convenient way for Singaporeans to get to and enjoy the multiple parks and outdoor areas, but has also become a way for people to get to places of work even.
Truth to tell, we haven’t really gone on the connectors much. In fact, our Ang Mo friend has spent more time on them in his almost yearly visits to Singapore than us residents LOL. But now that we’re armed with scooters both electrical and kick-typed, we’ve started exploring the PC Networks just behind our Minton home – and over time, we’ll probably starting driving out to explore the rest of the network.
So, after scootin’ for about 20km on the new Passion10, here are more of our pictures and observations.
The 20km distance we tried the Passion10 on used up perhaps just about 20% of the battery power according to the LCD indicator. But to be sure, we’d set the throttle to 50% of its maximum torque – a maximum of 11km/h – and didn’t push the engine too hard. Both our kids have had a lot of fun riding the scooter with me so far @ Punggol Park and the park connector behind Minton. We’ve since slightly increased the scooter throttle limit to 60% of its maximum torque, i.e. a limit of 15km/h – which is plenty fast enough already for us – the limit for foot paths and well below the 25km/h limit for shared paths.
In all, there are better machines than the Passion10 – with longer range, lighter, sturdier, faster, better featured etc. – but none that offered the ideal balance of specifications I preferred, and priced so attractively too. More posts to come soon enough when see start visiting segments of the Park Connector Network!
Passion10 Electric Scooter – Part 1
E-Scooters have been around on our streets for some years now, but it’s only been in the last year or two when they’ve really become common both in heartland areas and even retail stretches like Orchard Road on the island. The government here has been trying very hard to ween citizens off cars and get on public transportation. But buses can only run on so many roads, so Personal Mobility Devices – or PMDs – have become the choice of many as a last-mile transportation solution.
Increasing PMD ridership has introduced a host of challenges though – from competition between pedestrians, cyclists and now PMD users for space on walkways, to riders with death wishes using PMDs on main roads, residential apartments catching fire because of fault battery management systems in the PMD, and tragic and unfortunately fatal accidents involving E-bike users. The regulatory authorities seem to be inclined to support the use of these devices, but perhaps also recognized that some regulation was necessary. Among the rules of use include device weight limits (20kg), speed limits (25km/h), and finally that they cannot be used on roads. And the Land Transport Authority of Singapore is clearly ready to throw the book at riders who run afoul of rules.
I’ve been quite interested in getting an e-scooter since the start of the year. But a serious purchase exploration kept getting put off – until we bought both our kids kick scooters from Decathlon. So, why not an adult e-scooter now, if not just to create another opportunity for family activity! There are a lot of e-scooter stores on the island, but perhaps just a handful of especially well-known ones. One particular store is Passion Gadgets, who carries a very wide range of scooters, including parallel-imported branded and fairly expensive scooters, and house-brand scooters priced very attractively.
Truth to tell, while this store seems quite well-regarded online and has been around for years now, I was initially still quite hesitant about stores that do parallel imports. Most of that hesitation dissipated after I checked out their retail store and also service center, housed in two separate buildings in close proximity and also a short 7 minute drive from Minton. The staff working at both places were all quite young – I reckon in their early two mid-twenties – very friendly, and were clearly enthusiasts of what they were selling. There must had been at least two dozen persons working at the service center, not just preparing devices for pick-up and repairing scooters sent in for repair, but also working on what seemed like artwork and publicity materials, answering questions on the web site etc. This seemed clearly a very busy business!
Even though this was going to be my first e-scooter, the thought process went through the same methodology like for every toy I buy – i.e. a spreadsheet detailing the different models I was considering, and specifications for each.
At this point, the scooter’s main purpose is just for family joy rides and not for long-distance traveling. A power mileage of about 25-30KM would be more than sufficient. Likewise, I wouldn’t be carrying the device up and down public transportation, so vehicle weight wasn’t a key factor. Though I didn’t think I’d want to handle a scooter that was heavier than 18kg!
The scooter’s foot board would need to be large enough for an adult and a child – i.e. space for me/Ling and H or P.
Safety and stability are of utmost importance: which pretty much meant that the scooter would need to use 8.5″ or larger Pneumatic tires, and offer suspension to provide some cushioning over bumps, potholes and small debris.
Cost no more than $1,000. The scooter is really meant to be used just for recreation, and I didn’t want to spend more than that.
The purchasing process @ Passion Gadgets is a little involved. The retail store front-end is a fairly small shop situated at a ground floor for one building. After choosing your model and initial accessories, you go next door to their twin shop to make payment. And finally, the actual scooter is on the fifth level of another building 3 minutes walk away LOL.Continued in the next post!
The travel bug bit us right after we returned from our 11 Day trip to Western Australia in June. As soon as I was able to straighten out a possible period of travel in December against work commitments, we next had to decide where to go.
A 10 day Taiwan trip was on the top of the list on account of its very cool weather at year’s end, and also that Ling has never been there before. Taiwan is of course one of the best all-round places to visit on account of its sheer variety of sights in a fairly compact island, a very developed infrastructural and transportation system to get around the island, language isn’t as large a barrier as say South Korea or Japan, and finally it’s also slightly less costly than a vacation in either country too. An early version of the itinerary would have seen us doing traveling around the island to take in natural sights – and that was when we realized that our two kids would likely not enjoy the itinerary, as it would be bereft of amusement parks, farms, and children-centered activities.
So, it was back to the drawing board midweek on where to go, and we decided on Phuket. Not a particularly inspired choice, and both Ling and myself have been to the island – our last trip from almost 10 years ago blogged here too. However, the island seems to have experienced quite a bit of development over the last decade, and specifically in the new inclusion of child-friendly places of interest – including theme and water parks.
A flight-booking confirmed, and we’re set for a 8 day trip to the island. More details to come next; starting with accommodation options, and also itineraries!
Thermomix – Stir Frying
Stir-frying veggies using Thermomix requires some getting used to. I did miss the experience of feeling, i.e. sight and smell, the food as it cooks in a wok. I had to trust that the machine can do a good job at ‘spinning’ up the dish. Instead of yielding a spatula, I press a few buttons to stir-fry veggies. How weird is that.
Honestly, I felt like giving up. So unnatural. But I persisted (because it is such a costly kitchen gadget!) Caixin, Kailan, broccoli, cauliflower, apparagus, baby corn, carrots, mushrooms, etc, the list goes on. After 2 months into using Thermomix to do Chinese stir-fry veggies, I’m starting to appreciate this machine’s consistency in producing crisp and evenly cooked greens. It has this sous vide ability to ensure that the veggies are cooked at the correct temperature without burning it. And I don’t have to be physically present to stir the veggies. I’m freed to prepare other dishes, do cleaning up, etc.
Of course, it better does more than just stir-fry veggies! Otherwise, it wouldn’t justify the price. I will try to share bits and pieces of my experiences here especially for friends who might be considering getting one for their family.
Samsung Galaxy S8 Plus – Part 2
And after a week of using the S8+, more comments on it!
We use our smartphones to tell the time a lot, and the S8+’s Always-On Display (AOD) to show that is incredibly useful. Despite Samsung’s promise that there is only minimal battery consumption by enabling AOD, the battery does seem to drain noticeably quicker though. The AOD themes all also seem to always include the battery percentage as a fixed information item, so if you’re one of those persons who get into a fit every time the percentage level drops an additional bit, then the AOD might actually be annoying.
The battery drains about 2-3% overnight without AOD, and twice that when it’s enabled. The power consumption without AOD is roughly about equal to the Mate 9’s overnight drain, but still higher than the Mi Max which routinely drops just about 1%.
There are several drop, bending, freezing and even Coke (?!) tests comparing the S8+ and iPhones on YouTube, which while – admittedly – is fun to see how well these top-line phones can withstand well extraordinary abuse, can also be incredibly painful to watch thousand dollar phones get, well, basically destroyed!
The curved screen also makes it very hard for tempered glass screen protectors to be pasted onto it without experiencing a range of issues – whether it’s inadvertent edge bubbles or loss of touch sensitivity – with The Verge having a good write-up about the difficulties here.
The phone is also water-resistant up till 1.5m for 30 minutes. So, according to specifications at least, this phone can survive a drop into a shallow puddle of water too. Not that I’m ever going to try that sort of test, but it’s nice to know that the phone will very likely easily live with rain.
The S8+’s navigation bar occupies the bottom bit of the tall screen, but – ingeniously – can also be set to auto-hide, like Windows’ taskbar, and brought back up with a flick of the thumb. This means that applications can use the full 6.2″ screen if need be. Like other phones with onscreen buttons, the ‘back’ and ‘recent’ buttons can be swapped. It’s also possible to unlock the phone by long-depressing the ‘home’ button, and in a very nice touch, the sensitivity of this button can also be adjusted.
There’s a dedicated button on the S8+’s left side to start-up Bixby, and the button cannot be natively disabled or remapped to do something else without relying on third party apps – and no guarantee if Samsung will not implement low-level changes to disable those customizing apps. Some reviewers have reported that they’ve frequently accidentally pressed that button and starting up Bixby when they do not intend to. It was indeed an annoyance in the first day or two of my use, but I’ve since gotten used to gripping the phone somewhat less tightly in my hand, just so that I don’t accidentally trigger Bixby.
The speaker and audio jack volume levels are adequate but aren’t particularly high. So, if you like music blasted out loud through your head/earphones in noisy environments, you’d need either a separate personal amplifier or a third party app to drive up phone volumes.
The S8+ is USB Type-C, and charges up quickly via cable, and it also charges as expected using a Samsung wireless charging pad and also Xpower’s wireless charger, albeit more slowly.
More in Part 3 later!
Samsung Galaxy S8 Plus – Part 1
If I had to name one characteristic of the Huawei Mate 9 that’s both great and also annoying at the same time, it’d be its rear fingerprint sensor. The sensor is located at the camera’s back and where one’s forefinger naturally rests. It hasn’t been just unfailingly accurate in recognizing my fingerprint, it’s also extremely sensitive – to the point that lightly brushing my finger over the sensor will instant-unlock the phone. The Mate 9 frequently unlocks in this fashion without my being aware, with all manner of functions also accidentally also triggering from the touchscreen as a result.
My phone plan was up for renewal this month, so I took the opportunity to not just continue with a new 2 year contract, but also migrate over to Singtel’s Corporate Individual Scheme – one of the nice perks of working where I’m at. The new plan approximately bumps up the tier of my current mobile plan to the next higher tier at no cost. Even better, there was also a hefty seasonal discount during the first week of July for selected phones – including SGD200 off the Samsung Galaxy S8+. So, the Huawei Mate 9 goes back in exchange for Samsung’s current top-of-the-line phone plus a small top-up fee.
And my comments after several days of usage of the new Samsung Galaxy S8+:
The S8+ has an usual aspect ratio, and the relatively skinnier girth of the S8+ also makes it slightly easier to hold than all three of my last phones – the Huawei Mate 9, Mi Max, and Samsung Galaxy Note 5. The taller than normal screen, coupled also with the QHD+ screen resolution and 6.2″ of screen estate, lets you see more web page content – though the ratio is also less effective for viewing photos and videos.
The phone feels very dense, and as is the current fashion for many top-line phones coming out of manufacturers these days, no creaks and joints are observed in the phone’s chassis. Like the Mate 9, the S8+ is begging for a case. Not having one is going to mean a high chance of the phone slipping from your grip and kissing concrete.
The phone’s thumbprint sensor has been widely criticized by many gadget reviewers, but I didn’t find it that bad. Sure, a larger fingerprint sensor and also one that’s not quite so close to the camera lens would had been better, but putting the phone in a case helps my forefinger feel where the sensor is.
The S8+ comes in different colors: black, blue, gold and grey. Unlike other Samsung phones, the front plate is a generic black in color regardless of the back plate color one chooses.
The phone supports PIN and iris recognition too. The face-recognition works so well though that that’s my default method of unlocking this phone now. Unlocking isn’t quite as instantaneous as the Mate 9, but a second lost from delay in exchange for not having the phone unlocked from accidental finger brushes is a good trade-off.
Many reviewers have remarked that the S8/S8+ super AMOLED screen is the best screen there is for smartphones, and I wholeheartedly agree! The Mate 9’s screen is no slouch, but the S8+ combination of color rendition, resolution, and contrasts in its screen – blows it right out of the water, and not even the current gen iPhones, good as they are, can match the S8/S8+. Like the Note 5, the maximum brightness level on the S8+ makes the display legible even in direct sunlight.
I really rather a bezel-less but flat display screen like on the Mate 9 and Note 5 than the curved one on the S8+. But oh well.
Samsung’s much talked about Bixby – their Google Assistant/Siri personal voice assistant equivalent – is gimped at the moment, as the voice client hasn’t been activated yet for local users LOL. But the image recognition module is lots of fun to play with. Basically, you use the phone’s camera to scan an object, and Bixby will attempt to recognize it and then produce a list of web sites that are related to that object. Pretty cool!
Next post here!
Western Australia – A Child’s Perspective
One key thing we wanted to do this WA trip was to be able to get Hannah to recollect in her later years her observations and reflections what she was seeing and experiencing across the 11 day vacation. She was definitely very game for it, and in fact on several evenings, even gently reminded me that she had to write her journal. And after 11 days:
Her notes contained a lot of factual information but less on retrospection. It’s probably just how her mind at this stage works, so it’ll be something that she’ll undoubtedly improve upon if we continue to get her to do this for our next trips.
Her handwriting gets progressively worse.
So, in future:
A more structured organization to her Journal by including questions like “What did you see?”, “What did you try out for the first time?”
Lines for her to write on LOL.
Western Australia – 11 Days in WA – Final Notes and Such
This has been our second family trip to Australia, and a very different 11 days vacation than the 9 days we had in Melbourne just last year. Specifically, the trip last year saw us stationed in Melbourne city throughout the length of the stay, and taking numerous day-trips out. This trip in WA saw us moving from point to point – on account that WA is a huge state, and we covered only a small segment of it over the 11 days. Specifically, we went as far as Walpole – though there is more in the state beyond that – and we never went in the opposite direction of Perth i.e. northwards.
The centerpieces of our WA trip were the two day tours, Whale-Watching (a new experience for the kids and Ling), and the farm stay, so our itinerary was largely constructed around those events and the respective availability of the operators in each instance. Quite a bit of itinerary juggling and the like – but I reckon it all paid off.
So, our final notes:
Plan your own itinerary: Perth/Fremantle/Margaret River/Bunbury/Busselton/Pemberton/Walpole, like Melbourne, are pretty safe places to explore, with the roads linking these towns and cities well-paved. The roads are not always well-lit, especially from MR southwards though, so you’ll want to take that into account if you’re nervous about night-driving or want to avoid any sort of risks associated with night-driving.
We went with longer than normal periods of stays in Margaret River and Pemberton. Most visitors to Southwest WA- from our part of the world anyway – will normally spend less time than we did in either area, and most won’t spend nights in Pemberton even. But the nine days we allocated in total to both areas really permitted us more leisurely drives getting from point to point, driving the long stretches only during daylight hours, and also a lot of time to check out the off-road sights in both places.
Rent a car that’s at least 2.0L engine power: our initial booking was for a 1.6L – and because of our car rental’s lapses in service in a few spots, we received an upgraded vehicle. This really made for a smoother ride throughout getting from place to place. We read also of other blog reviewers commenting that it’s possible to drive to the Lancelin sand dune desert on non-4WDs, but as we didn’t travel to the points of interest north of Perth, we can’t say whether it’s doable. One thing is for sure: you will not want to try driving off-road through the WA national forests or Yeagarup Dunes without 4WDs. The two off-road tours we did were with guides who have lived their entire lives in their respective regions, and even they drove gingerly and very delicately managed the numerous road holes and water ponds at various points.
Driving in South-Western Australia: as long as you’re not vulnerable to the Z monster while on the wheel, the drive between Perth to Walpole will be easy during daytime. I did most of the driving and left the navigation to Ling – on account that she can be prone to dozing off whenever in a car LOL.
Keep to the speed-limits too when in the built-up areas too. This is especially true for the Margaret River town center. Our guide, Hank, was able to point out the exact spots where the hidden cameras were and also where the traffic cop camp out LOL. We had a friend who was fined a princely sum of AUD952 for speeding when touring WA! Google Maps + GPS were also able to pin locations down with good precision, so there shouldn’t be any worries of getting lost. The speed limits can change frequently over a small stretch: something like 110 to 90 to 80 to 50 to 40 then back to 50 then 80 wouldn’t be impossible.
Both our guides lamented and found the frequently changing speed limits a real annoyance, as it meant that drivers end up having to keep their eyes more on their speedometers than the road ahead – and ironically increasing rather than decreasing the possibilities of accidents.
Parking in Perth and Fremantle were horrendously expensive. Expect to pay $4 or more per hour in Perth central, and some spots do not allow you to park for more than an hour even. The beside road parking meters permitted us to insert coins up to the specific duration we used, while – annoyingly – another covered car park we used rounded upwards duration to the next hour.
We found plenty of petrol stations around the built-up areas, but much less so the further south-down we drove. You’ll want to check the distances between places you’re driving to, and when necessary make sure that you have enough gas in the tank. Fuel pumps are self-operated, so if you’re spoiled like in Singapore where pump attendants run to you to fill up your tank, you’d need to get a bit of practice on it. Interestingly too, none of the pumps I used had the grip-release catch that you find in stations here, so you’ll need to grip the pump handle the fuel release throughout.
There are places to have dinner in Margaret River though less so for Pemberton. So while you won’t starve, you’ll still want to plan ahead by checking on restaurant closing times (some close quite early!)
Explore your accommodation options for the Perth segment. We were spoiled for Airbnb choices when finding a place to stay in Perth, and we got a good rate for for a very decent home of about AUD300 for two nights for the four of us. You’ll also want to look for a property with free-parking too if you’re self-driving, given how expensive parking in the city is.
Whale-Watching during whale season is a must! I remember the hours we spent scouring the seas in New England trying to stumble on whales and almost in vain. In Augusta, all it took was for us to move out of the pier and we spotted whales, and dozens of them eventually even.
We got very mixed results for the Optus Pre-paid mobile Internet plans. There were no issues when we were in the large town and city areas, but significant problems came up, not surprisingly when we were off-road or in the forests but even at our farm stay, which was just 4-5km from the town center. Oddly, the iPad Air 2 was able to receive stronger 4G signals than the iPad Mini 4. We (or I rather haha) was quite a bit more paranoid about ensuring we were connected throughout our stay than Ling was. So, I picked up three data SIM Cards: two for the iPads – both with 4GB data stacked on them – and one more for the smartphone. We ended up almost exclusively just using and sharing using hotspot the plan for the iPad Air 2. You’d do just fine going with two plans and not the three we went with.
I’m tempted to return to WA for our next major holiday period and try traveling north this time – on account that Perth is an easy 5 hour flight from Singapore with attractive fares!
Western Australia – Equipment Comments
Just a few more posts in our WA series – honest! And this one is for tech junkies – comments on how various gadgets and toys fared during the trip!
The Olympus E-M1 continued to perform admirably on it’s third major overseas outing. Oddly though, the camera occasionally required a few seconds to power-up from a cold-start. Might be something to do with the age of the battery – one of the two BLN-1 battery is about 5 years old now, and its internal circuity might be starting to fail.
The Panasonic GX85 did amazing well in its first major overseas trip! The GX85 was mostly coupled with the 40-150mm f2.8 with 1.4x converter throughout the trip, and I was able to get pretty good picture retention rates, with the C-AF modes able to track moving subjects. There was some minor annoyances though: the camera seems to have its own mind sometimes by selecting its own aperture against what I really want to shoot at. Specifically, I can set aperture on the Olympus m4/3 bodies set on Aperture-Priority and don’t ever worry about it again. But the GX85 will sometimes change f-stop on its own even on Aperture-Priority. I’ll have to read up a bit more about how Panasonic m4/3 bodies treat A modes.
Two batteries accompanied each of the bodies, and on most days, the one battery apiece for the E-M1 and GX85 was able to last for an entire day of shooting on most days. That is, excepting the really heavy days during the day tours, though the batteries were also routinely nearly drained by the day’s end. Sill, the weather in WA wasn’t cold enough at usually between 18 to 7 degree Cs for either the E-M1 and GX85’s batteries to discharge faster.
The number of exposures I triggered on the E-M1 and GX85 was about 3,250 and 2,251 respectively, about 227 using the Samsung 360, and another hundred or so using Huawei Mate 9 – a total of about 5,828 pictures. And of that, I processed and finally kept about 3,331 of them – a keeper percentage of about 57%. This WA trip goes well past the 5,013 exposures I took for the 23 day New England trip in 2010 (still the most memorable trip ever!) but I kept 4,327 of them then – or a much higher 86% retention. A huge number of shots for this WA trip were on burst mode – particularly the animal feedings – while the ones in New England were of a lot of scenery, which don’t require shooting on drive modes.
Three lenses came along for the trip: the 12-40mm f2.8, the 40-150mm f2.8 with 1.4x teleconverter, and the 17mm f1.8. The approximate picture distribution was 65% 12-40mm, 34% 40-150mm, 1% 17mm. Yep – just a small handful of pictures taken using the prime!
I was really happy with the videos taken on the Huawei Mate 9, despite the initial trepidation before the trip. Between that and Ling’s Samsung Note 5, we took about 79 videos, most about a 1 to 3 minutes long each. The 4K videos coming out of the Huawei Mate 9 did take a bit of processing though as the Dell XPS 13 wasn’t able to handle the 4K videos well. A comparison between the 2K videos taking in Melbourne using the Samsung Note 5 against the 2K downsized from 4K videos on the Huawei Mate 9 showed that despite the lower frame/s – the Note 5 can shoot at 60fps – there was simply a lot more visible resolution and detail for videos taken using the Mate 9, and less obvious jello-effect too when panning the phone around.
Sirui T-024X CF tripod/C-10S Ballhead: were instrumental in enabling some of our family photos and doubled-up also as the tripod for the Samsung Gear 360. It was light enough also for our 8 year old daughter to help carry around. Call me a traditionalist – but I simply don’t think smartphones take very good wefies!
Samsung Gear 360 (2017): already posted separately on this. The pictures were so-so, videos disappointing – but I got perspectives that traditional cameras simply cannot obtain, and the camera was purchased on the cheap.
But the most valuable item that accompanied us this trip was:
Hank – our guide at Margaret River – was quite interested in this camera bag too. Despite it being more than 4 years old now, it still looks as good as it did on the first day. Dirt simply rolls off it!