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March 2017 Archive

4 stops to add to your itinerary in Malaysia

4 stops to add to your itinerary in Malaysia

Malaysia is definitely a place to put on your bucket list. It seems to have it all in terms of weather, modern infrastructure and a world of culture. If you decide to visit this beautiful country, here are four places to stop into.

  1. Enjoy the view at The Petronas Towers: These are the world's tallest twin structure and fifth tallest skyscraper. They are located in the capital of Malaysia, Kuala Lumpur. The architecture of the towers tells the story of Malaysia by combining post-modern style and Islamic art. The main attraction is the stunning view of the city experienced by walking over the sky bridge. Once you've finished the tour up high, head to the mall for a spot of shopping. Alternatively, you may also venture out to the twin towers fountain also known as Symphony Lake and catch the light and water show that happens every 30 minutes.
  2. Shop and Swim in Langkawi: Langkawi is the main part of an archipelago of 99 tropical islands off the coast of Kedah. It's well known as a diver's paradise and is popular with backpackers and honeymooners for its numerous water sport activities.  Langkawi offers a world of indulgences including yachting, sailing, jet-skiing and visiting Pulau Payar Marine Park. There's also a cable car ride all the way up to Gunung Mat Chincang that offers a spectacular view. As if that wasn't enough, the island has duty-free status so you can shop 'til you drop. 
  3. Soak it all in in Georgetown, Penang: Georgetown, the lively capital of Penang, is also a UNESCO World Heritage Site. This means that its streets are bursting with history and culture that dates back over 200 years. People come to witness traditional trades that have been passed down from generation to generation, marvel at the old architecture and eat good and wholesome Malaysian dishes! Foodie & culture buffs tend to flock to Penang because of the variety in Malaysian cuisine and the colourful street-art strips that add vivacity to the town.
  4. Trek at Taman Negara National Park: Taman Negara is Malaysia's largest National Park and the oldest tropical rainforest in the world. It is a very protected area and is perfect for those who love the great outdoors. The park has one of the longest rope walkways in the world and features activities like jungle trekking, exploring caves, fishing and camping. Once you arrive, you can also interact with one of Malaysia's indigenous tribes. The park is home to leopards, tigers, elephants, hornbills and monkeys but you may have to travel deep into the jungle to see the larger animals!

Wherever you end up when travelling to Malaysia, be sure to take in the vibrant culture, food and all of the untouched natural beauties which it has to offer.

(image credit: nickswanderings.com)

The art of the perfect bento box

The art of the perfect bento box

The bento box is an essential part of Japanese culture and can be traced back into the Heian Period (794-1185). They are pre-made quick meals that can either be prepared and made at home or bought at food stores. In Japan, you can easily get your hands on one of them at a convenience stores or at shops that specialise in selling only bento boxes called "bento-ya". The bento box is usually taken to school by children and adults for lunch, to help save travel time and money. On different occasions, they are also perfect for picnics and short trips to the park. The bento box has created many memories for the Japanese people throughout history and has become a worldwide experience to many, including some adaptations in neighbouring Asian countries.

Rice is a fundamental staple of the Japanese diet and by default, it is the most important ingredient in a bento box. Whether it's a rice ball, sushi or placed on the side, a Japanese bento box is not complete until there is rice. The rice that is generally eaten in Japan, Japonica-origin rice, tastes good even when it has become cold so it works perfectly in a bento-box. Aside from the rice, a traditional bento also comes with meat and seafood as a side dish and tsukemono, pickled vegetables.

There are many bento variations, here are a few of our favourites: 

  1. Musubi Bento: It is a lunch box that contains compressed rice balls, called onigiri. You can find either lightly salted balls of rice with no fillings or any cover, or choose to have ones that are filled and covered in nori, seaweed, or either gomashio, sesame seeds, or furikake, savoury sprinkles. They are super easy to make and can be eaten in one bite.
  2. Makunouchi Bento: This bento is historically eaten in the Edo period (1603-1868) during the intermissions of theatre performances. This luxurious bento consists of a variety of meat including fish, eggs and vegetables along with rice balls. Today, the Makunochi bento is served at the table and can be found in many Japanese restaurants.
  3. Ekiben Bento: Originating from the Meiji era, this bento is known as the 'train station' bento because it was originally designed for travellers, on the bullet trains in Japan. It is, as such usually sold at the starting stations for long-distance trains as well as department stores which are attached to the stations. It is reputable for the home-made feel as local ingredients are used and make up an important part of the experience of travelling on the Japanese bullet train.
  4. Koraku Bento: Directly translating to 'picnic', this bento is most popular during October in Japan as they enter the Koraku season (autumn), making it the perfect weather for picnics and outings. The koraku bento usually comes in a big box made for sharing among a big group of people and the ingredients can vary depending on what you want in it. An interesting thing about the koraku bento is that they are made with special attention to the colours and flavours according to the season you're in.
  5. Kyaraben Bento: Known as a 'character bento', food in the bento box is creatively arranged to make it take shape of cute characters and animals, making it not only taste nice but also interesting to look at. Popular children characters like Hello Kitty are often seen in a kyaraben box in Japan. Today, it has evolved into a form of art and you can even enter character bento making contests in Japan.   
(image credit: reishunger.de)

Treat Yourself with a Bali Retreat

Treat Yourself with a Bali Retreat

It's important that we give ourselves some well-deserved r&r to unwind and regain clarity in life. If you want to truly escape routine and unplug then Bali is the answer. Known for its retreats, and its humble and friendly locals, Bali will cater for all kinds of personalities and getaways. Here are our top four retreat categories, which we think will definitely please when you next escape to the island of Bali.  

Health & Wellness retreat

Bliss out with a holistic retreat experience that incorporates physical, spiritual, mental and health related activities to help you gain a newfound appreciation for healthy and happy living. This style of retreat is aimed to provide something for everyone and is a great opportunity to sample a range of activities. Feel pampered with one of the many spa treatments on offer and take some well earnt time for yourself. For a more luxurious option check out COMO Shambhala and Fivelements, while OneWorld Retreats and Ubud Sari Health Resort provide more affordable packages. 

Yoga retreat

It doesn't matter if you're a beginner, intermediate, or yogi master, there is a yoga retreat in Bali with your name on it. Bali has become a hub for yoga and meditation retreats, especially in and around Ubud, which is known for its lush tropical forests, rice fields and numerous temples. Naya Ubud runs various yoga retreats throughout the year and provides private and group retreat packages. Be guided towards self-discovery, rejuvenation and peace of mind by the yoga and mindfulness program available at Svarga Loka Resort

Fitness retreat

If your idea of complete relaxation involves being active then a fitness retreat would be right up your alley. Emerge yourself in a variety of activities like hiking, running, pilates, CrossFit, as well as boot camp-type exercises. If you thrive being around the ocean then you should try a surfing retreat to reconnect with nature and explore the outdoors. There are many fitness retreats based on intensity and your goals, such as Ayung Sari Indah, which provides a range of fitness retreat packages.

Art retreat

Art retreats are a great opportunity to allow your creativity to flow freely. You can enjoy hours of art workshops where you can learn a range of art techniques like linocut printing, photography and traditional Balinese art. Unleash your inner creativity for fun and to experience stress-relief. Bali Art Retreats runs "week-long painting and drawing retreats" in three locations. Australian artist Christine Hingston also runs regular painting retreats in Ubud, Bali.

Whatever your interests, we guarantee that Bali will have the perfect retreat for you to help you unwind from the busyness of everyday life. 

(image credit: Bali Divine Spirit)

Where To See The Best Cherry Blossoms in Japan

Where To See The Best Cherry Blossoms in Japan

If you are ever lucky enough to visit Japan during the spring season, you'll experience the country's iconic "sakura" cherry blossoms. From early February to early May, the Japanese landscape is draped in beautiful pink blossoms. These spectacular cherry blossoms bloom all over the country, giving visitors several opportunities to gaze at their splendour and magic. In Japan, many locals see the blooming of the cherry blossom trees as a symbol of human life, ephemerality and graciousness. With cherry blossoms usually being in full bloom for around one week, many Japanese people love to celebrate and cherish the limited flowering period by holding a flower watching party, known as 'hanami' in Japanese. Read on to see where the best and most famous spots to view cherry blossoms are across Japan.

 

Tokyo and surroundings

Ueno-onshi-koen Park, Tokyo

Ueno Park can become pretty crowded in early April when people gather to enjoy the view of the cherry blossoms. There are over 1,000 trees along the street that lead toward the National Museum and around Shinobazu Pond. In the evening the trees are lit up to create a spectacular display of colour. The main blooming period is from late March to late April.

Chidorigafuchi, Tokyo

Hundreds of cherry blossoms line the Chidorigafuchi Moat of the Imperial Palace. During spring you can find the water of the moat covered in pink petals. It's also possible to rent a boat in the moat, so grab a paddle and enjoy the incredibly picturesque scenes of the cherry blossoms on the water's edge.

 

Kyoto

Maruyama Park, Arashiyama and The Philosopher's Path, Kyoto

Maruyama Park is the oldest park in Kyoto and is home to huge weeping cherry blossoms that are best viewed at night. Late March to late April is the peak blossom season as the trees on the mountainside begin to blossom while the rest of the park's trees fade to green.

Cherry blossoms flower profusely all over the Arashiyama area from Togetsu-kyo Bridge to Arashiyama-Nakanoshima Park, the bank of the O-i-gawa River, and Kameyama Park behind Tenryu-ji Temple. The road along the Katsura-gawa River is lined with fifty-year-old trees that form an arch of cherry blossoms, making it a simply magical place to take a stroll.  

Explore the Philosopher's Path that is a walking track from Ginkaku-ji Temple to Wakaoji-jinja Shrine to see a backdrop of cherry blossoms on both sides of the river path from Lake Biwa-ko. The cherry blossom petals floating on the water add to the picturesque setting of the historic monuments such as Ginkaku-ji Temple, Honen-in Shrine, and Eikan-do Temple.

Mt. Daigo-san, Kyoto

The Daigo precinct is located southeast of Kyoto City. Daigo-ji Temple is the head temple of the Shingon-Daigo sect and is a Registered World Cultural Heritage Site. The grounds of Daio-ji Temple rest on Mt. Daigo-san, where there are over 700 weeping cherry blossom trees, as well as a waterfall and an island.

 

Osaka

Osaka Castle Park, Osaka

Enjoy the proudly standing Osaka castle, which contains a lawn-covered park with an area of about 60,000 square metres. The castle's grounds boasts 4,300 cherry blossom trees with the best time to visit being early April.


Nara

Nara Park, Nara

Nara Park is a historical park surrounding many temples and other historical buildings. The park has over 1,700 cherry blossom trees of various kinds, as well as herds of deer that can be fed and petted. Other scenic spots within the park include Sagi Pond, Todai-ji Temple and the remains of To-do Tower. Make sure you allow yourself enough time to stroll around and soak up the beauty and history.

Mt. Yoshino-yama, Nara

Yoshino is said to be the most famous and the best location in Japan to view the cherry blossoms. In spring, the mountains are dusted in pink with over 30,000 trees blooming. The flowering season takes place from early to late April and can last as long as a month. The cherry blossoms start to bloom from the foot of the mountain and slowly creep their way to the peak. 

Discover the magical benefits of miso in your diet

Discover the magical benefits of miso in your diet

If you have eaten at a Japanese restaurant before then you have most likely slurped on a bowl of miso soup. The salty and earthy flavours of the broth are a result of the key ingredient, miso. Miso is a fermented Japanese soya food made from salt, koji fermentation culture and different grains like rice and barley.

It's a staple ingredient in many Asian diets, and most of the Japanese population start their day with a bowl of warm miso soup. Miso is claimed to have many health benefits due to the fermentation process, which produces an enzyme-rich food.

Here are some of the many health benefits of this low-calorie food and how it can be used in your cooking:

  • Miso contains all 9 essential amino acids, which are important for your diet as our cells can't make them naturally. Without these amino acids in our diet we could be at risk of a protein deficiency.
  • It stimulates the secretion of digestive fluids in the stomach that aid in maintaining good digestive health.
  • It's a great quality source of B vitamins, especially B12. B12 plays an important part in keeping the body's nerves and red blood cells healthy.
  • The binding agent in miso, zybicolin, is effective in detoxifying and eliminating elements that enter the body through radiation, pollution and artificial chemicals found in the soil and in our food.  
  • Miso can strengthen the immune system and help lower LDL cholesterol. LDL cholesterol is considered the 'bad' cholesterol as it can contribute to plaque build-up within the arteries, which can lead to a greater chance of having a heart attack.  

So with all these wonderful benefits, here are a few of our favourite ways to start adding miso into your life.

  • A classic warm miso soup
  • Mix light miso paste with vinegar, olive oil and herbs for a salad dressing
  • Use light coloured miso as a dairy substitute to replace milk or butter in creamed soups
  • Create a miso marinade for salmon or chicken
  • Add miso to sautéed onions for extra seasoning
(image credit: chimeraobscura.com)

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4 stops to add to your itinerary in Malaysia

4 stops to add to your itinerary in Malaysia

Malaysia is definitely a place to put on your bucket list. It seems to have it all in terms of weather, modern infrastructure and a world of culture. If you decide to visit this beautiful country, here are four places...

» Read more

The art of the perfect bento box

The art of the perfect bento box

The bento box is an essential part of Japanese culture and can be traced back into the Heian Period (794-1185). They are pre-made quick meals that can either be prepared and made at home or bought at food stores. In...

» Read more

Treat Yourself with a Bali Retreat

Treat Yourself with a Bali Retreat

It's important that we give ourselves some well-deserved r&r to unwind and regain clarity in life. If you want to truly escape routine and unplug then Bali is the answer. Known for its retreats, and its humble and friendly locals,...

» Read more

Where To See The Best Cherry Blossoms in Japan

Where To See The Best Cherry Blossoms in Japan

If you are ever lucky enough to visit Japan during the spring season, you'll experience the country's iconic "sakura" cherry blossoms. From early February to early May, the Japanese landscape is draped in beautiful pink blossoms. These spectacular cherry blossoms...

» Read more

Discover the magical benefits of miso in your diet

Discover the magical benefits of miso in your diet

If you have eaten at a Japanese restaurant before then you have most likely slurped on a bowl of miso soup. The salty and earthy flavours of the broth are a result of the key ingredient, miso. Miso is a...

» Read more