Monday, June 08, 2015

Chasing 193 - The Quest to Visit Every Country in the World

I am one of the 34 persons interviewed in this book.

There are 193 official countries on Earth. Fewer than 100 people have seen them all. The 34 people interviewed for this book have made it their life mission to visit every last one of them. 

Jam-packed with nearly 500 pages, these revealing Q&A interviews examine the lives of ordinary people who have undertaken extraordinary travels in their quest to visit every country in the world. Learn about their adventures and explore the highs and lows of what it means to be an extreme traveler, from near-death experiences to moments that have left even the most jaded traveler speechless. 
  • How did they do this?

  • What have they sacrificed?

  • What compelled these people to go beyond the realm of the ordinary tourist to see the entire world?

  • The answers to these questions and more are contained in this rare look inside the minds of some of the world's most-traveled people. Their stories, ranging from being questioned by U.S. Special Forces while doing a solo tour of war torn Iraq, to showing a Costco ID card in order to tour a restricted launching place for space satellites in French Guiana, to entering Libya during Arab Spring and getting caught in the cross fire of cigarette smugglers, and many more, are guaranteed to fascinate and entertain every travel fan.

    Sunday, June 07, 2015

    Sarawak 2015

    This is what I'm looking forward to - a 4 day family trip to Kuching, Sarawak. A nice revisit after a decade. I'm also looking forward to the gastronomical delights there.

    Tuesday, May 26, 2015

    Wednesday, May 20, 2015

    Historic Songkla

    I visited the historic city of Songkla, once the Sultanate of Singgora, later an important provincial centre in the South of Thailand. The old city centre of Songkla reminds me a bit like the historic core of Melaka - narrow streets, old Chinese clan houses and temples and Sino-Portuguese shophouses. In fact, Songkla is working towards Unesco World Heritage listing as well. A few old shophouses are already converted into eateries for the occasional visitor. The streets are still very quiet. The overall state of preservation is still mixed and some new structures do threaten the integrity of the whole site.

    Let me set aside my heritage purist cap and put on my b-school hat - if you are Thai citizen and have some spare cash, maybe this is a place to buy a few old houses and convert them to heritage inns and restaurants in due course. The return may take longer than elsewhere to realise as Songkla is far from other major moneyed population centres; but the potential is there.

    Monday, May 18, 2015

    Nakhon Si Thammarat: Kingdom of Red Penis

    Kingdom of Red Penis: This photo was taken at the ancient walls of the Kingdom of Ligor or Nakhon Si Thammarat (13th to 19th century), once a trading port city-state and tributary state of the Sukhothai and later Ayuthaya empires.

    Before that, this was the capital of the Tambralinga Kingdom which in the 7th to 9th centuries sent tributary missions to Tang Dynasty China on at least 5 occasions. Tambralinga, which was a Hindu state, means Red Penis in Sanskrit, a name with deep religious and spiritual significance.

    The Kingdom reached its height in 1247 when King Chandrabhanu invaded Sri Lanka and made himself King of Jaffna for 15 years - the only known Southeast Asian invasion of South Asia. In 1262, Chandrabhanu invaded southern Sri Lanka and was killed in battle. This marked the destruction of his extended empire and his home city emerged as Ligor, which was for all intents and purposes a small trading city state and tributary of great regional powers.

    Chaiya: Srivijaya metropolis of the north

    Chaiya, once a regional capital of the Srivijaya Empire that controlled the coasts of Sumatra, Malay and Southern Thai Peninsula, western Borneo and Java in the 10th century.

    I took a bus here from Surat Thani. Visited the Chaiya National Museum, Wat Boromma That Chaiya, and ruins of two Srivijaya chedis - Chedi Wat Long and Chedi Wat Kaew. 

    Saturday, May 16, 2015

    Surat Thani: City of Good People

    Surat Thani (meaning the City of Good People in the Thai language), a city with population 130,000 and capital of a province of the same name in Southern Thailand. First settled in the 3rd century AD, this used to be a major regional capital of the Srivijaya Empire (9th to 13th century) based in Palembang in South Sumatra but whose naval forces once controlled the coasts of Sumatra, Malay and South Thai Peninsula, and parts of Borneo and Java.

    Today, Surat Thani is a sleepy provincial city and the transit point for ferries to the full moon party islands of Ko Samui, Ko Phangan and Ko Tao. I'm not keen on the sun and the sea.  Instead, I'll do a day trip to Chaiya tomorrow to explore remnants of the Srivijaya civilisation, then head southwards to the Province of Nakhon Sri Thammarat.

    Bangkok style wanton noodles and pork trotters at Jalan Besar

    A great food find. Well it's quite authentic.

    The Little Prince Exhibitions at Alliance Française and Fullerton Hotel

    What a coincidence the French government is holding two exhibitions on Antoine de Saint-Exupery's The Little Prince right now!  I'll be heading to Tarfaya in Southern Morocco in June, where Antoine de Saint-Exupery was a Sahara airmail pilot for many years and his experiences there inspired his great work.

    Sunday, May 03, 2015

    Food-hunting at Simpang Bedok

    Revisiting Orang Seletar

    Revisited the Orang Seletar Community near Danga Bay of Johor. Land reclamation and developers are fast encroaching. I wonder how long will this ancient tribe survive here.

    Thursday, April 09, 2015

    178 UN Member States, 6 Defacto States and 35 Territories = 218 Entities So Far...

    As of today, I have visited 178 UN member states, 6 defacto states (e.g., Taiwan, North Cyprus, etc) and 35 Territories (e.g., Curacao, Cook Islands, etc), or 218 in total.  The full list can be seen here:

    Where to go next is frequently an issue on my mind. Unfortunately, many of the remaining countries are often difficult to reach, especially those in civil conflict or located in remote areas.  The plus point is that I have, in recent years, cultivated a healthy interest in archaeology, and do enjoy revisiting countries and spending time visiting obscure places that I hadn't visited on my earlier visits. However, even then, I do hope to add a few new countries or political entities every year apart from revisiting older ones. And for my big trip in Jun/Jul 2015, I have decided to visit Mauritania, Western Sahara/Southern Morocco, Tunisia and Turkey.  Mauritania and Tunisia would be new UN member countries for me, but the rest are revisits.  I will elaborate more on my journey in later postings.

    Wednesday, April 08, 2015

    Penang Foodie Trip April 2015

    DAY 1
    Arrival in Penang 21.15, check-in at our lodging, then off to Gurney Drive Hawker Centre – reaching there around 22.30pm.  Some stalls were already closed, but we managed to try char kway teow, asam laksa (or Penang laksa as it is known in Singapore), Penang rojak.  All were good, but personally I thought the char kway teow done by a Malay stall in the Muslim food section was excellent.  The flat rice noodles were well soaked with eggs and the full flavor that came with that was heavenly.  The laksa (from two stalls in the Chinese section) were good and rich with fish broth, though not exceptional.

    DAY 2
    We wanted to begin the day by going to One Corner Café to try its famous Hokkien mee (or Penang Prawn Noodle, as it is known in Singapore).  We ended up in a wrong eatery near it – the one at the junction of Jalan Hutton and Bawasah Road.  Its Hokkien mee stall was closed and so we had the rather ordinary wanton noodle and fairly tasty chee cheong fun (rice noodle row with dried shrimp and thick sweet sauce).  We also had a local version of kaya toast there.


    We walked down the street and found the real One Corner Café instead (2 Bawasah Road).  At this food court, we had the famous Super Hokkien Mee – very delicious soup! – and the Hock Seng Lor Mee (nice thick starchy dark gravy similar to the KL-style Hokkien mee plus ngo hiam slices).

    Above: Supper Hokkien Mee ; Below: Hock Seng Lor Mee

    After that, we drove to the suburb of Ayer Itam in a valley nestled against the hills.  We visited Kek Lok Si Temple before rushing to the Sisters Curry Mee stall (Exit Jalan Paya Terubong, 11500 Ayer Itam).  This legendary stall is manned by a few elderly sisters in their 80s selling under a canvas cover beneath a tree.  Penang’s curry mee is similar to Singapore’s laksa but it contains less coconut milk. In fact, this version is somewhat too salty for me, but that could be just my personal preference. Nearby at the Ayer Itam market is a famous Penang laksa stall (Pasar Ayer Item Laksa, Jalan Pasar, 11500 Ayer Itam) but we did not stop as we were full.  There were many people at the stall, so it is probably good.

    Back to George Town: In the late afternoon, we went to ChinaHouse, a renovated group of shophouses turned into a tastefully furnished rectro-style food and bar complex, with live music at certain timing.  We had rather expensive fusion cuisine (lamb balls, bento set, burger, etc) that was nothing to shout about.  The cakes looked nice but we did not try.  Probably good to drop by for coffee and cakes on a future visit.  153, Lebuh Pantai, Georgetown, 10300 Georgetown (

    At 10pm, we joined a long queue that had appeared outside the well-known nasi kandar shop,  Restoran Liyaqatali Nasi Kandaq Beratur.  Nasi kandar is a north Indian Muslim collection of curry dishes eaten with fragrant rice.  Liyaqatali Beratur is possibly the most famous nasi kandar restaurant in Penang and it only opens at 10pm.  Be prepared to wait 20-30 min for it.  Located just outside a magnificent mosque lit up at night (98 Jalan Masjid Kapitan Keling). Just point what dishes you like. The curry fish and curry beef were particularly good. Best eaten with a group of friends, as you can order more dishes.

    DAY 3
    We drove to a dim sum restaurant at the junction of Jalan Pintal Kali and Kimberley Street.  We had to navigate its chaotic system of ordering before we ate. Reasonably priced but we thought the food was rather average.  Leong Kee Tim Sum Restaurant 龙记港式点心61 Kimberley Street.

    We headed out of George Town towards the southwest direction, stopping by at Ah Leng Char Koay Teow, Jalan Dato Keramat, Kampung Makam, which some say is the best char koay teow in Penang.  We asked for the “special” version with duck yolk added, for a total princely sum of RM13.50 (ordinary version 7.50).  Despite the price, it was definitely worth it.  The proprietress took her own time (30 min wait!) and broad hard strokes ( - you hear the loud wok noise even before you see the stall) to fry the dish.  This was indeed the best char koay teow we had in Penang, complete with 5 prawns and slices of clayfish. Not overly greasy, but very flavourful; And the rice noodle texture was smooth and delightful.  Highly recommended despite the inconvenient location out of town centre.

    We drove across Penang’s central hills to the two-street town of Balik Pulau on the western side of Penang Island.  We stopped by a fruit stall to have fresh water melons (- you can have durians if you want too). Went past the market but did not stop by. The town is famous for its local version of Penang laksa – the most famous is Nan Guang, 67 Jalan Balik Pulau (at the T-junction of Jalan Tun Sardon and Jalan Balik Pulau) which has thick fish broth covered with delightful mint leaves.  Some food blogs rate this as one of Penang’s best.

    We drove southwards to the fishing village of Pulau Betong where you could have seafood by the sea inlet where fishing boats berth and Penangites bargain for the fresh fish harvested locally. Nearby is another famous laksa stall, Laksa Janggus, 338 MK, Jalan Bharu, Kampung Perlis, 11000.  I did not try this Malay-operated laksa stall but would try if I revisit this area again in the future.

    Back to George Town, we went to Toh Soon Cafe 多春茶室: 184 Campbell Street, Off Penang Road, George Town, 10100 Penang; Opening Hours: 8am-6pm (Closed on Sundays), a coffee shop along a narrow lane off Campbell Street.  It is famous for its Hainanese coffee and toast bread, plus the eccentric and temperamental behavior of its female owner, who shouted and screamed at her staff, and joked loudly with the patrons.  I’m not sure if that was a performance but it was certainly entertaining for most patrons.

    Just behind Toh Soon Café along Jalan Malabar was a Teochew oyster omelette (oh chien) stall – delicious with large pieces of oysters.  Next door was another coffeeshop (Hon Kei Food Corner, 45 Kampung Malabar) that also sells fragrant lor bak (mixed minced pork and prawn roll fritters).
    Above & lower right: Lok Bak; Lower left: Oyster omelette

    We finished the day with delicious Peranakan cuisine at Ivy’s Kitchen (58, Jalan Chow Thye, Georgetown. Phone:+60 13-433 7878), a small restaurant in an old conserved bungalow run by a husband-and-wife couple.  Be prepared to wait for 30 min for the food, but it was well worth the effort.  Delicious, carefully prepared dishes that bring much fame to this regional cuisine.  The prawns and fish were particularly tasty.
    Peranakan dishes at Ivy’s Kitchen.
    DAY 4
    We began the day with bak kut teh (a spiced herbal pork ribs soup popular among Chinese in Malaysia and Singapore) at Coffee Island 皇排肉骨茶, 77, Persiaran Gurney, 10250 George Town.  The version here is not surprisingly the Klang version which is very herbal, as opposed to the Singapore version which is very peppery. I was introduced, for the first time, to dry bak kut teh, which is essentially pork ribs in dark sauce cooked in a clay pot. Very delicious! In fact, at this stretch of Gurney Drive, there are many bak kut teh restaurants that open early in the morning till midnight or later. 

    Top: dry BKT, lower left: wet BKT, lower right: chili, ginger and black sauce

    For lunch, we headed for Song River Café (松花江茶室) 65, Persiaran Gurney, 10250, George Town nearby. We did not have bak kut teh which is also this restaurant’s specialty. Instead, we ordered other dishes recommended by my Penang-based friend, Andrina.  Among our favourites here were the bitter gourd with runny egg, toufu with brinjal, oyster noodles and chili long beans. Vermicilli with steamed pomfret is also popular here though we did not have it.

    After this wonderful final meal (for which I did not take any photos), we headed for the airport. Penang is definitely a foodie’s paradise and there are many more eateries to check out.