Penang’s Blue Beauty: Cheong Fatt Tze Mansion combines old world charm with modern comforts

Cheong Fatt Tze Mansion, Penang 2018 Cheong Fatt Tze Mansion, Penang 2018 Cheong Fatt Tze Mansion, Penang 2018

Research things to do in Penang and you’ll inevitably stumble upon the heritage gem that is the Cheong Fatt Tze Mansion, famously dubbed “The Blue Mansion” for its eye-catching indigo-blue facade. Steeped in history and built with extreme attention to the principles of feng shui, it is a sprawling architectural marvel that encompasses 38 rooms, 5 courtyards, and no less than 220 windows, not to mention a stately collection of heirlooms and antiques that decorate the halls and walkways.

Fun fact for movie buffs! The mahjong scene in Crazy Rich Asians (2018) was filmed here, in the beautiful courtyard dining room. It was awesome to find out on the last day of our stay (when we did the guided tour) that we’d been having breakfast every morning in the exact spot Rachel Chu did battle with Eleanor Young! The Cheong Fatt Tze Mansion has also been featured in the Oscar-winning French film Indochine (1992).

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Guided tours operate thrice daily — 11am, 2pm, and 3:30pm — and the mansion is open to the public during these times. The mansion doubles as a heritage hotel, and hotel guests are free to join the tours. Even if you are not staying, we highly recommend popping into the mansion to learn more about the history of this building, its fascinating Peranakan-style architecture, and the cultural value it brings to the UNESCO World Heritage site of George Town in which it sits.

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Together with a couple of friends visiting from Australia, we stayed at the mansion for three nights. We really loved it here. While it rained a fair bit, the weather accentuated the hush, peaceful atmosphere of the grounds and courtyards… perhaps because water plays a very important part in contributing to the aura and “chi” of the entire building, as was explained to us.

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James and I were lucky when we chose to join the Friday morning guided tour — the owner of the mansion was around that day to personally lead the tour, and it was a pleasure listening to her talk about the restoration efforts with so much passion and insight. She made the tour very engaging, peppering it with funny anecdotes and personal stories. The project of taking over and restoring the mansion into the masterpiece it is today wasn’t without its hiccups, according to her!

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All in all, the Cheong Fatt Tze Mansion proves that it is not just an everyday boutique hotel furnished with pretty relics. It is an unforgettable 19th-century landmark that has survived the test of time and it is certainly well-deserving of its reputation as a heritage gem. I’m sure it will continue to tell its story for many more generations to come!

Dān 单 @ Lebuh Farquhar, Penang // A magical place for lava cakes and coffee

Dān 单 Cafe, Penang, Malaysia Dān 单 Cafe, Penang, Malaysia Dān 单 Cafe, Penang, Malaysia

Certainly no secret any longer, the coffee and dessert scene in Penang has evolved at a staggering pace. It’s a curious thing that’s happened within the last half a decade, this idea of entrepreneurship and adoption of cafe culture that dominates the younger crowd. It’s not hard to see why the conservation shophouses are constantly being snapped up by anyone looking to start a space to attract like-minded coffee enthusiasts and food-hunters. Some cafes hold their attention with free wifi and a seriously jazzed-up interior, others ensnare with signature menu items cleverly crafted and served as both attractive Instagram bait and perfect marketing tool.

Dān 单 Cafe, Penang, Malaysia Dān 单 Cafe, Penang, Malaysia Dān 单 Cafe, Penang, Malaysia

Dan 单 ingeniously shelters a terrarium gallery-shop within the walls of its delightfully green cafe surrounded by glass. The theme of serenity and greenery coupled with a its moody zen-like atmosphere takes us someplace else. It doesn’t feel like George Town anymore as we cross into the little space.

Dān 单 Cafe, Penang, Malaysia Dān 单 Cafe, Penang, Malaysia

We were recommended the hojicha lava cake. It comes artfully decorated with berries, flowers and a dollop of smooth vanilla ice cream, and tastes just as beautiful. Warm and almost sticky, with notes of roasted green tea, it lives up to a lava cake’s reputation of being comforting and memorable. We also tried the white coffee and hojicha latte; both were very good.

Dān 单 Cafe, Penang, Malaysia Dān 单 Cafe, Penang, Malaysia Dān 单 Cafe, Penang, Malaysia

The cafe itself is located on the ground floor, within a street-facing bowing alley complex, which is a little odd, but you end up ignoring the fact once you step into the lush little box filled with pretty plants.

Dān 单 Cafe, Penang, Malaysia Dān 单 Cafe, Penang, Malaysia Dān 单 Cafe, Penang, Malaysia

We stayed in a heritage shophouse on Petain Road and we liked it + Two Bakers, Singapore

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Back in November 2017 (I think it was November, my memory’s fuzzy), we had the opportunity to stay a night in a pretty quaint Airbnb loft. The “Fitzroy Loft” (as the listing is called) is found in one of the elegant colonial shophouses that make up the colourful block along Petain Road in the hipster neighbourhood of Jalan Besar. The shophouse itself has multiple floors and bedrooms, but we stayed on the fourth floor and attic, the double-storey space of which contained a living area and two bathrooms. Here’s the actual listing on Airbnb. I didn’t take too many photos of our Airbnb space (I don’t remember why), but the bedroom one level below us was empty and drenched in beautiful natural light from the window, so I sneaked a few pics. Not sure if it’s also listed on Airbnb, but you can try your luck! The communal area downstairs is a delight–there’s an indoor pond and some very cool art on display. Everything in the shophouse screamed eclectic charm.

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We stayed there on a work night, but we still found some time to visit Two Bakers at 88 Horne Road, an artisanal bakery-cafe that specialises in pastries and desserts, alongside good coffee and some decent fresh food options. We didn’t stay long, but it was a nice place to catch a break.

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Another walk through the Sungei Buloh Wetland Reserve, Singapore 2018

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Here’s us visiting the reserve back in 2015, when the tide was high. We encountered plenty of tree crabs and monitor lizards during that walk. This year, in March, we went during low tide, which meant a whole different crew of animals. We weren’t expecting to see saltwater crocs, but we saw at least three lurking in the depths of the mangrove swamp. Horseshoe crabs aplenty; easy to spot even from the boardwalk, thanks to the lack of tide making it harder for them to hide. Caught sight of many interesting birds, and even an adorable acid-green tree snake hanging around on a branch at eye-level that we spotted only as we came within two feet of it. Of course, the archer fish and mudskippers were doing their usual thing.

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See? We weren’t kidding about the crocodiles–don’t believe the naysayers who think there are no crocs at Sungei Buloh. They are there, being sneaky.

There’s something magical about Valais, Switzerland

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It’s surprising how much you can learn in a week. I’ve been staying in Switzerland, in the municipality of Conthey, with an incredibly lovely couple in their incredibly beautiful house up in the mountains. I’ve been lucky enough to be sent on this kinda-sorta immersion trip that combines business with pleasure, so I’m really grateful for this opportunity. I’ve seen so much, discovered so much, experienced so much, all in just a small amount of time. So far, I’ve seen the magnificent landmark castles of Sion, driven through the impressive rock tunnels along the road to Derborence, admired the black Hérens cattle Valais is famous for, encountered wildflowers bursting with colour and life, marvelled at the emerald green vineyards stretching as far as the eye can see, tasted local cheeses and sampled plenty of Swiss chocolate, even travelled through the Val d’Hérens and Val d’Anniviers alpine valleys to explore the little villages… it’s really been a dream.

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As you can probably imagine, I’ve taken hundreds and hundreds of photographs. It’s been a painstaking process to choose the best ones to feature, but here’s a tiny collection to showcase the beauty of what I’ve seen so far! These are mostly photos from my first day in and around Conthey (some taken elsewhere, but nearby). Once my journey in Switzerland is complete (17 days away from home, and I’m still not done yet!), I’ll have a bit more time to upload the rest of my collection and write about other regions. For now, enjoy!

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Surprise Birthday Staycation at Sofitel Singapore Sentosa Resort & Spa

Sofitel Singapore Sentosa Resort & Spa Sofitel Singapore Sentosa Resort & Spa Sofitel Singapore Sentosa Resort & Spa

James surprised me with a 3D2N staycation at Sofitel Singapore Sentosa Resort & Spa over the Mother’s Day weekend. Nope, I’m not a mum (ha!), but it was my birthday on Friday. 28 (yuck). He’d already had it planned before he discovered I had to make a work trip out of the country to stay at a Shangri-la resort for 5D4N just immediately before my birthday weekend. That meant an entire week away from my comfy bed. It’s okay, I didn’t complain.

Sofitel Singapore Sentosa Resort & Spa Sofitel Singapore Sentosa Resort & Spa Sofitel Singapore Sentosa Resort & Spa Sofitel Singapore Sentosa Resort & Spa

Holy heck, finally. A stay at Sofitel Singapore Sentosa Resort & Spa. James knows me so well. I’d been gushing about how they have peacocks just wandering about the resort grounds, by the poolside, at breakfast, just outside the guest room gardens… James even booked a room that led straight out to the ground floor gardens so we got to make friends with this particular peacock who kept coming back to our little porch. Ahhhhhh! I wanted to take him home with me!

Everything from the fairy lights in the trees at night, to the friendly bartender we met at Le Bar who takes pride in preparing the more elaborate mock/cocktails from the menu, to all the water features everywhere — not to mention the super easy access to the beach from behind The Cliff — made this stay really lovely. The selection at Kwee Zeen’s daily breakfast buffet is pretty amazing, too! Plenty of pastries to choose from, and a smorgasbord of local and international fare. Sit on the veranda and you get to watch the peacocks and peahens wander around. Just try not to feed them human food!

Would I stay here again? Heck yeah.

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Strangers’ Reunion @ Kampong Bahru Road // A dash of white magic and so much more

Strangers' Reunion, Crabcake Reunion Strangers' Reunion, Father's Favourite Sandwich Strangers' Reunion, White Magic

We enter the warmly-lit cafe and are quite taken aback by the buzz and energy rolling off the crowd in waves. The waitress at the door motions for us to follow her once she gathers it’s just two of us she needs to seat, while the family of four in front are told to wait for a bigger table – they’re all taken. We weave our way through the packed interior, past tables of boisterous mid-twenties and hungry expats, and sit by the window in what I deem an appropriate spot for food photography. Plenty of natural light, sturdy wood benchtop. Perfect.

Strangers' Reunion, Singapore

The cafe is clearly in vogue with the cafe-going crowd this side of the city. From the folks who brought us the likes of Curious Palette on Prinsep Street, it’s really no surprise. Perhaps it is the minimalist interior, with its touch of chic rustic homeliness, that keeps everyone coming back. Or, it could very well be the food dished out here — hearty and healthy with a good pinch of aesthetic finesse. One thing’s for sure: whatever Strangers’ Reunion is doing, it’s clearly doing it right.

Strangers' Reunion, Crabcake Reunion Strangers' Reunion, Singapore

Your heart will be stolen by the luscious flavours of the Crabcake Reunion, with its eye-catching presentation and impressive list of ingredients that make up the stack: ribbons of asparagus, a delightfully fluffy crab croquette, creamy avocado chunks, a poached egg that oozes perfectly, aburi chive hollandaise, and a smattering of ikura and micro herbs for colour.

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Thirsty? You will never taste anything more decadent than their bottled Sea Salt Chocolate – an elixir for sweet tooths who like their sweet treats with a twist. Creamy coffee lovers will no doubt want to make return trips to pick up orders of White Magic (it will heal any ailment).

Strangers’ Reunion is located at 35 Kampong Bahru Road. Closest MRT Station? Outram Park. If you have the time, have a little wander around the area after brunch. Neil Road, Everton Road and Blair Road are littered with old shophouses. You’ll find everything from antique stores to art dealers to hidden cafes. Walk a little further and you’ll find a few residential blocks and plenty of greenery. Spottiswoode Park Road and the nearby HDBs are home to some stray kitties. Blocks 106 and 107 have great views of the Keppel Harbour and all the colourful containers that come to port.

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