Marina Bay Sands: top Singapore celebrity restaurants! Waku Ghin, David Myers Adrift, Cloud Forest gardens.

fashion blogger black goth hat

What’s it like to dine at one of the best restaurants in the world? A foodie’s dream, as you’ll find out in this post!

Singapore does both street food and high-end dining fabulously. During my time in Singapore, I got to taste the latter during an insider tour of Marina Bay Sands hotel. You know which iconic building I’m talking about…

merlion, marina bay sands singapore

.. this “surfboard on three pillars,” located across from the Merlion fountain!

Let me take you inside Marina Bay Sands’ celebrity chef restaurants, including Adrift and Waku Ghin. We’ll even get to dip our toes in the infinity edge swimming pool.

cloud mountain, gardens by the bay

If you’re visiting MBS, I recommend also spending time in the nearby Gardens by the Bay. This large complex includes dramatic outdoor gardens, and indoor conservatories with an admission fee. (Visitor info is found here.)

The Gardens are part of a government initiative to increase green spaces in cosmopolitan Singapore. When I went inside the Cloud Forest dome, I immediately saw this wall of “epiphytic” plants, adapted to grow on vertical walls.

(I’m wearing a skirt that’s actually a scarf from Naumi Hotel. My hat is this one from Lack of Color Australia.)

singapore cloud forest waterfall

The misty Cloud Forest looked like a scene from a storybook — and yet, it was all contained within a giant glass structure! This is the world’s tallest indoor waterfall, and you can walk all around and through it.

gardens by the bay, indoor garden

Towering walkways twist around the Cloud Mountain. Most visitors take the elevator up, and walk downward. On the way, I saw thousands of plant species, and came across interactive displays about the environment.

singapore high walkway

This is not your typical park, since many of the elements are indoors and manmade, and feature plants from all around the world. Still, the experience feels like a dream, especially when you walk along the high paths and see the dramatic waterfall.

Visiting Gardens by the Bay opened my eyes to how it’s possible to build lush, vertical environments within a busy city, where space and resources are limited.


marina bay sands park

Next, we went into the Flower Dome, home to species from countries as far ranging as South Africa and Spain.

Everything here is constructed to minimize the environmental footprint, such as by re-circulating rainwater for cooling.

black wide brim hat, lack of color

Do you like my black large-brimmed hat? The exact same one is available here!

flower dome singapore, Marina Gardens

l tried my best to blend in with the background. The dome’s Flower Field changes constantly, and has special displays for various seasons and themes (such as Fairy Tales).

supertree grove, OCBC Skyway

Outdoors, the Supertree Grove looks like an alien landscape. These unique vertical gardens are 50 meters tall, and turn into a display of light in the evening.

singapore vertical gardens, super trees

We strolled along the 128 meter long OCBC Skyway, which connects two of the Supertrees. (Photos by Ken Yuen)

mbs marina bay sands building

Now, are you ready to go inside Marina Bay Sands? The eyecatching hotel officially opened in 2011, and contains… eveything. An ice skating rink, theaters, a casino, haute couture shops, and dozens of restaurants.

marina bay sands infinity pool, swimming pool

I’m sure you have heard of their famous 150 meter long infinity pool, located high above Singapore skyscrapers!  Talk about “swimming on the edge.”

famous singapore infinity pool view

Only guests of the hotel can access the infinity pool, but PR kindly let us take a look around. And while this photo looks like I’m alone at the top… in reality, there were a lot of kids and families running around!

marina bay sands suite

PR also let us look inside one of the infamous luxury suites. I couldn’t believe it… in addition to spacious bed and bathrooms, the suite had a karaoke den, hair salon, massage parlor, and gym!

singapore rooftop bar view

From the living room window, I looked out at the skyscrapers, and down at the lotus flower-shaped ArtScience museum.

Can you believe that only 5 years ago, the MBS hotel and gardens didn’t even exist? Incredible to see how much Singapore’s landscape has changed, in a short time.

interior lobby marina bay sands hotel

The Marina Bay Sands lobby communicates this sense of soaring ambition. The entire complex sits on 20 hectares, and was designed by Moshe Safdie Architects. 

Restaurants are one of the biggest draws here — and I was ready to taste what they had to offer.

marina bay sands top restaurants

We started with lunch at Adrift by David Myers, a brand new concept for modern Asian fare.

Chef Myers trained with greats such as Charlie Trotter and Daniel Boulud, and his name is often found on award lists.

adrift by david myers restaurant

Adrift’s menu is inspired by Chef Myers’ travels in Asia. This dining room decor reflects his love of South East Asian flavors, Japanese ingredients, and more.

adrift bar, cocktails

The cocktail bar is a scene straight out of Ginza, Tokyo. Bar consultant Sam Ross created drinks that perfectly fit with Adrift’s approach. He uses ingredients like sake, and makes his own version of the Singapore Sling.

I tried his much-celebrated cocktail, The Penicillin, and it’s my favorite drink of the year so far. Smoky scotch, lemon juice, ginger honey perfection.

chef david myers, appetizers

I paired my cocktail with elevated “bar snacks” — creative, Asian-flavored munchies that I could have eaten all day long.

I’m eyeing the caramel popcorn with a spike of togarashi, and the nori rice crackers with yuzy kosho aioli.

asian fusion best singapore restaurants

These mouth-watering photos say it all… fresh flavors, gorgeous presentation. Adrift encourages diners to share plates, tapas style.

We loved the signature crab melt with pimento cheese, and the basil-infused tuna with avocado on a papaya-coconut sauce.

salad with melon, lotus chips

All of Chef Myers’ dishes were perfect for sharing, and never too heavy.

paleo healthy shrimp peas salad

It doens’t get any better than this seared Hokkaido scallop with peas.

chocolate sorbet dessert bowl

His handcrafted desserts were the perfect finish. The Guanaja chocolate pot de crème with burnt marshmallow was so good that I dug into it before we could take a proper photo!

celebrity chef dining, marina bay sands

Cheers to Adrift for a remarkable East meets West dining experience, “for dreamers and explorers.”

Tamir Shanel, marina bay sands food beverage

I had tea and a chat with Tamir Shanel, the Vice President of Food & Beverage. He told me he had a vision of the hotel as a world-class dining destination from the start. Today, Marina Bay Sands is home to original restaurants by the world’s top chefs including Tetsuya Wakuda, Daniel Boulud, Wolfgang Puck, David Thompson, Gordon Ramsay, and of course David Myers.

He’s also created a name for MBS with their annual Epicurean Market. This food and wine fair brings in the best for master classes — I wish I could have attended this August, and tried all the international food!

gordon ramsay restaurant singapore

We toured the hotel and peered into the various restaurants… if only I could dine at them all. I’m walking by Gordan Ramsay’s Bread Street Kitchen, which will be open soon. (MBS has more than 60 international dining options, listed here.)

cut steakhouse, wolfgang puck restaurant

A peek inside Cut steakhouse by Wolfgang Puck. He sources the highest quality Kobe beef, and other top cuts from the USA, Australia and Japan.

cut bar lounge singapore

The bartender was preparing ice for the evening. Cut is particularly well known for gin cocktails with Asian flavors like lemongrass and yuzu.

wolfgang puck portrait, spago

Wolfgang Puck, won’t you cook a meal for me?

waku ghin, marina bay sands

And now, for the main event... Waku Ghin. The Japanese word for excitement (“waku waku”) describes the feeling of anticipation we had. After all, it’s the brainchild of celebrated Chef Tetsuya Wakuda — and consistently named one of the top restaurants in Asia, if not the world.

waku ghin chef tetsuya wakuda

The name ‘Waku Ghin’ actually comes from two Japanese words, meaning “arise” and “silver.” This is the chef’s favorite color, and permeates the intimate modern decor.

From the start, you know that this is a sublime dining experience. The journey begins at the bar, with a staff that seems to anticipate your every need.

5 star best japanese restaurant singapore

Then, you’ll be ushered into one of the three “cocoons,” or spaces where a chef cooks right in front of you. Waku Ghin only has two seatings a night, serving only about 50 lucky people each evening. It goes without saying that reservations are a must.

fresh seafood selection, omakase

Our chef showed us a box of the the ingredients he would be serving us. The highest quality seafood sourced from all over the world, to be savored with a pairing of wine or sake.

top rated, most expensive meal singapore

Our chef was Cory Soo Thoo, a young Singaporean who has risen quickly in the culinary world. Chef Wakuda was in the restaurant that evening, and came out twice to greet us.

Watching Cory cook felt like witnessing a solemn ritual. He took the greatest care with each step, from the preparation to the plating.

waku ghin menu, food dishes

And what a meal he delivered. One of the first courses was sea urchin and oscietra caviar with marinated botan shrimp — so decadent yet balanced.

Then (moving clockwise): pan-fried ayu with daikon and fennel, Tasmanian abalone with fregola (Sardinian pasta) and tomato, and steamed Alaska king crab.

luxury japanese Degustation menu

I typically find shellfish a bit heavy, but in the hands of Chef Cory, this wasn’t the case. He used techniques such as steaming to let the natural flavors speak for themselves.

waku ghin dessert lounge

After the 10-course degustation menu, all the diners move to this lounge for dessert. The window overlooks the Bay and Merlion, which light up with evening light shows.

Waku Ghin offered us some of the best desserts we had in Singapore: fresh strawberry sorbets and mousses, and petit fours.

singapore flower shaped building, lotus ArtScience Museum

Singapore lives up to its name as a foodie dream destination, especially at Marina Bay Sands!

Have you been to any celebrity chef restaurants, anywhere in the world? Are local food experiences important for you when you travel?

Hong Kong Causeway Bay shopping guide & fashion maps! New travel TV & Vietnam food tour.

causeway bay hong kong colorful signs

Oh, the eye-popping energy of Hong Kong! If you only have a day to explore, then I encourage you to see Causeway Bay. This district is home to my favorite shops and malls, which sell cute character toys, streetwear and smoosh-faced pet cats.

Read on for a shopping guide to Causeway Bay (including maps), and a whole lot of “maooo!”

hong kong fashion magazine, visual kei hair, china gothic, goth punk fashion hong kong,

But first… let me give you a head’s up about my next trips. I’m thrilled to be in Hong Kong again, for one of the biggest TV jobs of my career. For now, all I’m allowed to tell you is that it’s a travel TV show, for a major American network. Once the program is ready to air, I can fill you in on the details and cast — and it’ll be worth the wait, I promise you!

In addition, my friend John Skeleton (above) and I will be adventuring in a new destination…

ciao vietnam travels, tour

Vietnam, at last! We’ve teamed up with Ciao Travel, a local tour company that offers bespoke journeys all over Southeast Asia. Since you gave great feedback on my recent food coverage, I’ll be continuing down this path — and sharing their unique Vietnam Food Tours with you.

vietnam food tour, hanoi halong bay

John and I will be eating our way around Hanoi and Halong Bay:  cooking classes, market tours, local village visits, and other authentic experiences. I’ve heard so much about the famous street food in Vietnam, and can’t wait to try it for myself. As always, if you have travel tips for us, please let us know in the comments or on my social networks (@lacarmina on Instagram, Twitter, Snapchat and more).

(Above two photos by my friend Joey Wong, who went to Vietnam in 2011.)

hong kong taxi cabs, street traffic

Whenever I’m in Hong Kong, I pay a visit to Causeway Bay for a shopping haul. It’s easy to get here. Hong Kong’s iconic red taxis are cheap, so you can hop in and tell your driver to drop you off at Causeway Bay station, or one of the major malls such as Times Square or Hysan Place.

The MTR subway system is also clean and convenient: simply ride to Causeway Bay station on the blue island line, and exit out of D3.

batmobile, batman display

Taxi drivers almost always speak English in Hong Kong (a former British colony), so we had no trouble asking ours to let us off at Times Square Mall (home to Lane Crawford and other luxury stores).

The entrance plaza usually has a funny themed display for people to pose with. Remember when John saw the One Piece exhibit, featuring a big pirate ship and life-size anime characters?

batman museum, exhibition

On this last visit, there was a Batman exhibition. Look up: someone in a mask is keeping close watch on Gotham City.

times square hong kong mall

People could pose with the comic book walls for free. Yukiro seems to be one of the illustrated characters, cackling “Muahahaha”.

hong kong fashion blogger outfit

How cool to see Batman art over the years. The glass display had cute “chibi” versions of The Dark Knight.

I’m wearing a black and white skull dress from Gladnews Tokyo. The shoes are Yosuke, from Marui Shinjuku. My white purse is from Baby the Stars Shine Bright.

arm scarification, sigil magic symbol

Unlike in Japan, anything goes in Hong Kong culture. Want to sit on the Bat-cycle? Take photos inside stores? Go for it, nobody will stop you.

causeway bay shopping map, store guide

I created the above shopping map for you.  Save or print a copy: it’s my ultimate guide to Causeway Bay’s coolest and cutest stores.

As you can see, most locations are near the subway station (the white symbol in a red circle). Essentially, if you drop by my favorite malls — World Trade Center, Sogo, Laforet, Hysan Place, Times Square — you can’t go wrong.

island beverley, sogo hong kong mall

I usually start with the Japanese malls, which are all next to each other: Sogo, Laforet, and the smaller Island Beverley. As you can see above, this is a popular shopping destination with a crazy cross-street like in Shibuya, Tokyo.

nozomi and friends pirate shirt

Ride the escalator in Sogo department store, and you’ll find all sorts of kawaii Japanese goods. Ironically, many of these aren’t found in Tokyo: such as “Nozomi and Friends” pirate shirts, and the Kilara Hello Kitty clothing line.

ans hello kitty accessories

Hello Kitty is as popular here as in Japan. ANS makes accessories with more “adult-oriented” Sanrio designs, like these chic keychains and wallets.

hello kitty stuffed toys hong kong

Sogo’s Sanrio shop has a wall of stuffed toys, including plush Tuxedo Sams, Bad Badtz Marus, and special edition Hello Kitties. The one with the raised paw is a “jinmao,” the Chinese version of the lucky maneki neko.

my melody paper shredder

Some items veer towards weird, like this My Melody paper shredder labelled “Let’s Shred!”

miffy Garfield astroboy

I love shopping for character goods in Hong Kong because prices tend to be better than in Japan, for the same or similar items. Miffy, Garfield and Astroboy — who is your favorite? (You know the answer, for me… Miffehhhh.)

lockhart road hong kong, causeway bay street

John and Yukiro get spooky beneath the stacks of signs on Lockhart Road. Lots of great stores on this road, including the makeup chain SaSa (look for the pink logo).

my melody makeup eyelash glue

I can’t take a trip to Hong Kong without ducking into SaSa. You can find affordable, only-in-Asia items here like My Melody eyelash glue…

japanese eyelashes makeup

… and Japanese false eyelashes, cosmetics and more for lower prices than in Tokyo.

cat pet store hong kong

Look above, and you’ll see this adorable awning. The Chinese name that translates to “Purebred paradise, dragon cat playground.” (Address: 527 Lockhart Road). But locals call it the “squish-faced cat shop” because that exactly describes what you’ll find inside…

smoosh faced exotic shorthair cat

Cats with flat faces, for sale! This smooshy-faced fellow is an Exotic Shorthair.

scottish fold kitten for sale hong kong

There was a grey Scottish Fold kitten, cleaning his squishy-face with his paw.

cute kitten breeder china

Part of this store sells “dragon-nosed” cats (how amazing is this Chinese term?) The other part sells toys, food and other pet supplies. I got my Scottish Fold, Basil Farrow, a moving toy that looks like a panda.

silver metallic sneakers

Onward to Laforet, a building dedicated to Jpop fashion (which is why it shares the same name as the Harajuku department store). However, the similarities end there. Laforet is a jumble of little independent stores, housed side by side.

Each carries a variety of mostly no-name brands, meaning you can find Japanese street styles for a fraction of the price (such as a sailor-style dress for $90 HKD). Look out for the Marie Antoinette shoe store, featuring a display window of towering, glittery shoes.

jinmao chinese lucky cats

The “kawaii” shops are excellent for picking up character goods at discount rates. There are quite a few cat-tastic little shops in there. This one contains nothing but feline objects, like this row of lucky cats wearing golden bells (jinmao).

Ginger tshirts 服裝店

This is Ginger (服裝店), a designer t-shirt and streetwear shop with a number of locations. They do collaborations both with indie artists and major mascots, like Garfield.

chinese robots exhibit

“We are the Robots.” By now, you can tell that funny-cute-bizarre displays are big in Hong Kong.

銅鑼灣 hong kong wtc mall

Some of Causeway Bay’s malls (like Lee Garden, Fashion Walk and Hysan Place) contain mostly international brands (Hollister, Valentino, etc), which don’t interest me. I prefer the offbeat Chinese street style in World Trade Center. Sugarman x Little Twin Stars encapsulates the type of streetwear you’ll find here.

sugarman chinese streetwear

In Hong Kong, you’ll see a lot of “borrowing” in character design. The Sugarman duck looks like the rubber ducky, and the mushroom creature has a Super Mario feeling.

miffy cartoonn, chinese shop

WTC is also home to my happy place… the Miffy Shop! This white, expressionless bunny is a Dutch character, but her “kawaii” look makes her popular in Asia. China’s TwoPercent fashion brand has a branch 100% dedicated to Miffy.

miffy bunny sneakers

All of the clothing features the rabbit in a creative way, such as silky tops with her face, or shoes decorated with her stuffed head.

miffy clothing boutique

Prices are reasonable and the quality is high, such as $200 HK ($25 US) for a bunny-eared hoodie.

hong kong sneaker street shops

Forget the Mongkok sneaker street shops. You can get the funniest custom sneakers right here.

miffy rabbit tshirts

You can’t find the Miffy store outside China, so put this on your must-see list.

miffy balloons

If you purchase a few items, you’ll get a gift or discount at checkout. I bought a black and white purse, and we walked away with these free Miffy balloons! (Remember how we made Miffy drink wine at a restaurant?)

causeway bay map, shopping malls

I hope you find my Causeway Bay store map helpful. Let me know if you were able to easily find these spots, or have any to add!

chinese fantasy girl anime

Isn’t Hong Kong shopping the best? I’ve been blogging about this city for years, so for more travel tips, check out my previous Hong Kong posts.

And let me know if you have Vietnam travel advice for my upcoming trip. I’m getting ready to eat a lot of pho!


Reykjavik’s cool architecture & street art murals! Iceland Dead Gallery, Harpa Concert Hall, Hallgrimskirkja.

Reykjavik cool young travel destination

When I was growing up, I didn’t know anyone who dreamed of going to Iceland. Now, it seems all my friends want to visit Reykjavik. Somehow, this far-away place has become the hipster travel destination.

I didn’t know much about Reykjavik before I came, but heard whisperings of an indie music scene, wild nightlife and creative culture. Sounds like my type of place — and it delivered on its promises!

interior hallgrimskirkja reykjavik

In this post, I’ll show you the artistic side of Reykjavik. We’ll wander into street art tunnels, shoot inside the alien-like Hallgrims Church

harpa music hall glass windows

.. and marvel at the prismatic architecture of Harpa Concert Hall.

hallgrims, famoous iceland church

First impressions: Reykjavik is smaller than I expected. The city essentially has two main streets filled with shops and restaurants. Perhaps I shouldn’t have been surprised since only 119,000 people live here — and there are only 325,000 residents in the entire country!

Hallgrimskirkja towers over the city center. This Lutheran church is a wonder of Expressionist architecture, the early 20th century movement that harmonizes stylized forms with the native landscape. In this case, the exterior patterns are inspired by Iceland’s basalt formations, which naturally result from cooling lava.

white disco coat, 70s pimp jacket

The church design was commissioned in 1937, but wasn’t finished til the 1980s. I suppose it’s fitting that I’m wearing my Italo Disco pimp-coat, which would be en vogue during the last days of disco. I love this decadent garment, which  I found in a Portland vintage store (more photos here).

My leopard print fuzzy backpack is Gladnews, from Closet Child Tokyo.

icelandic language writing

At the entrance, there is a poem by Hallgrimur Petursson, who the church is named for. Isn’t the Icelandic language fascinating? It stems from early German and developed in isolation, which essentially preserved this ancient tongue.

(But don’t worry about getting around — everyone speaks fluent English in Reykjavik.)

hallgrims pipe organ

Look up, once you’re inside. There’s a pipe organ that looks straight out of Blade Runner. As soon as I stepped into Hallgrims Church, the organist played a short melody and it resonated through the white arches.

church window light shadow reflection

It was a rare sunny day in Reykjavik, which gave us the opportunity to play with light and shadow. Photographer Joey Wong captured this dramatic image of me — it almost looks I’m in a coffin — cast by the windows.

iceland visiting hallgrims church

The simple white altar conveys surprising grace and power. (It happens to match my coat, too.)

cool reykjavik attractions buildings

I thought the architect succeeded in building a space that felt like Iceland: stark landscapes under snow.

hallgrims exterior outside

Hallgrimskirkja looks like it teleported down from another planet. It’s not your typical church, and I love that.

hallgrímskirkja expressionist architecture

Outside, there stands a statue of Icelandic/Norse explorer Leif Erikson, the first European to set foot in North America.

harpa concert hall exterior

If you walk towards the water for about 15 minutes (remember, this is a small capital), you’ll come across yet another futuristic building. This sparkling, angular structure is Harpa Concert Hall: opened in 2011, and designed by Henning Larsen Architects

Húsið þitt

As we walked closer, Joey and I were puzzled by the facade, which seemed to shift colors and refract light from different angles. I found out that these panes are made from both clear and color-coated glass, and cut according to geometrical principles to fit on the steel framework.

iceland harpa music hall windows

More than 1000 of these three-dimensional prismatic “bricks” make up the exterior. At night, the entire facade comes to life with moving light projections.

iceland cute gift store

Inside, Harpa plays host to concerts and conferences (we heard musicians testing a gamelan on one of the upper levels). The lobby has an Epal Design gift store, and it’s well worth a browse.

iceland toys, design shop

It has a sweet selection of Nordic and European decorative objects. Cuteness is universal, it seems!

harpa music hall interior

Bjork, Yoko Ono, Wynton Marsalis and more have performed at Harpa (upcoming events can be found on their site).

harpa glass panels photoshoot

Reykjavik truly is photography heaven. Joey and I felt inspired by the city’s small details, eccentricities, and long hours of clear light.

reykjavik sculpture, art

Photos can’t begin to capture the experience of walking through Harpa and seeing the changing lights, colors and moods. If you come to Reykjavik, you’ll have to stop by and see for yourself.

Sun Voyager sculpture iceland, solfar

Down the road, we saw the Sun Voyager or Sólfar sculpture. Made by artist Jón Gunnar Árnason and unveiled in 1990, this is a “boat of dreams, an ode to the sun.” It also pays homage to the people who first migrated to Iceland, centuries ago.

(Behind the sculpture – how gorgeous is the mountain landscape?)

hipster cute cafes iceland

Reykjavik has many other art attractions, including various museums and a street filled with galleries. However, we were most impressed by the art we saw on the streets – like this yellow coffee shop painted with good vibes.

iceland street art big mural

While we were strolling the main street Laugavegur, we saw a smiling face peeking at us from a side street. How cool is this giant mural, made by  The London Police (from the UK) and Above (from USA)?

cool mural, london police, reykjavik

From 2010-14, Reykjavik’s major was an oddball comedian named Jon Gnarr. He encouraged people to create art in public spaces, resulting in big, striking works like this one.

reykjavik graffiti, street art

We ducked into a corridor, which was covered from ceiling to floor with graffiti and illustrations.

reykjavik big wall mural

New works are constantly appearing, like this one. The scale, quality and variety of street art in Reykjavik can’t be beat.

cool mural iceland

Some of the big streets have become very touristy (overpriced food, shops selling puffin toys). However, the city overall has an authentic feel, thanks to the DIY creativity that is allowed to thrive here. 

Reykjavik Foto camera store

If you need more proof that Reykjavik has become a hipster haven, peer inside the camera shop, Reykjavik Foto.

hipster young travel Reykjavik

The store sells old lomography cameras, photo books, and prints that put a unique lens on life in Reykjavik.

mandala mural, om sanskrit buddhism

Finally, one of my favorite memories of Iceland was visiting Dead Gallery, run by Jón Sæmundur or Nonni. Look for a mandala and DEAD written on the wall.

We heard that Jon only opens up his store/gallery at odd times. Fortunately, he was in that day…

dead gallery studio reykjavik

… and not only welcomed us, but let us go behind-the-scenes in his work studio!

jón sæmundur iceland artist

I felt an instant connection to Jon’s inspirations, which include Tibetan Buddhism and Goth aesthetics, particularly skulls. He surrounds himself with spiritual talismans as he paints.

nonni, Jon Saemundur Audarson

Jon is a multidisciplinary wonder — he also sings in his psychedelic rock band, The Dead Skeletons. He showed us his skull series, which will be published in a book. Each of these faces emerges viscerally, as he drives his brush across the paper. (The one pictured below resonated the most with me.)

skull art, reyjkavik artist

Dead Gallery’s logo is a skull surrounded by a mantra, which reads “He who fears death cannot fully enjoy life.” (I’m wearing one of his t-shirts in this post.)

Seeing past the illusions of life and death — which keep us clinging and fearful — became the major themes of Jon’s work. As he writes on his site, “Dead is focused on life, a paradox intended to shock people into thought. A benign virus.”

dead gallery tibetan buddhism art

Dead Gallery has stayed in my thoughts, and I hope I can go back soon. (Above is a photo from his site, which shows the staircase and bull head in winter.)

reykjavk hipster bars clubs nightlife

We also spotted Jon’s works at Húrra, a relatively new bar infused with incense and a young crowd. The nightlife in Iceland is notoriously wild; most have live bands who play surprisingly well. There are no cover charges, so you can hop into different bars and see what’s happening. On any given night, we recommend Dillon, a laid back rock / alternative / metal bar.

reykjavik boutique design hotel

Back to Hotel Alda, who hosted our stay. This modern, boutique hotel played disco vinyl records during breakfast, and served blueberry Skyr (my beloved Icelandic yogurt). 5 stars right there.

alda hotel, laugavegur street iceland

The lobby has a sleek retro feel, and houses a barber shop. Hotel Alda is located on the happening Laugavegur street — so you can party late, and easily walk back for a good night’s rest.

reykjavik city streets

I’ll leave you with this street view. Note the polar bear on the far left.

Isn’t Reykjavik the coolest place? Is it on your bucket list? 

iceland travel blogger tourism

PS — see more of my latest travel photos and highlighted hairstyle (by Stephanie Hoy of Stratosphere Hair Vancouver) on my Instagram @lacarmina.


Bali cooking class with an Indonesian chef! Jimbaran fishing boats, market tour.

bali fashion style, beach outfit

Wherever I go, I try to take part in activities that let me get immersed in the local life. Several of my friends insisted that I take a Balinese cooking class — and they were right, it ended up being one of my favorite memories from this trip.

bali vegetarian cooking lessons

At The Ritz-Carlton BaliI learned how to cook Indonesian cuisine with two of their chefs! Read on for my Bali cooking class adventure — including a visit to a seafood market, and a new favorite drink called “bajigur.”

But first, a quick announcement… German readers,  watch me on TV on August 13! I’m the Hong Kong guide of a new Pro7 travel show, “Offline,” starring Palina Rojinski. I hope you’ll tune in to Pro Sieben for this episode (and for everyone else, I’ll post photos and clips soon).

best bali untouched beach

If you recall from my first post, Ritz-Carlton Nusa Dua was the perfect home base for travellers like me. I got to experience these picture-perfect beaches, which you wouldn’t find in tourist districts like Kuta and Seminyak.

banyan tree buddhist mural

The hotel is wonderful at suggesting activities, based on the guests’ interests. I wanted to experience Balinese daily life, and the island’s distinctive cooking — so they arranged for a private food tour and cooking class at their Bejana restaurant.

bali boutique hotel architecture

My friends Cohica Travel took these photos of me in the lobby, while we waited for Executive Sous Chef Wayan Wacaya.

I wore a grey romper from Chaser, and a floral kimono by Japanese Goth designer h.NAOTO.

bali motorcycles, scooters

The hotel arranged a van and driver, which took us to the morning market. I enjoyed looking out the window, and seeing families balanced on motorcycles.

Your eyes are not deceiving you… above, that is indeed a dog riding on a scooter!

jimbaran market, food vendors

Chef Wicaya led us around the bustling Jimbaran market. We saw all sorts of fresh ingredients for sale, as well as homewares and other goods.

bali daily ritual offerings

Chef Wicaya introduced us to two women preparing “banten,” or ritual offerings for the gods. Three times a day, Hindus honor deities by placing a “banten” at entrances, statues or temples.

balinese banten, food flower offering

This lady is wrapping up the offerings into bamboo packets. Inside, you might find flowers, fruit, rice and leaves. If they’re too busy to make their own, locals purchase these “pre-wrapped” offerings for the thrice-daily ritual.

hindu flowers puja, banten

You’ll see these colorful, fragrant offerings everywhere in Bali. They’re an important part of daily life. 

row of motorcycles, bali

It’s best to see the Jimbaran market early in the morning. Even at 6-9am, the marketplace will be lined with rows of motorcycles.

bali wet market

I don’t know how these women balance full buckets on their heads.

jimbaran beach, indonesian toddler

The catch comes in every morning, on the shores of Jimbaran. This child looks eager to meet his fisherman father.

jimbaran bay bali, fishing boats

What a lively place — the beach was photography heaven! These colorful boats are “jukung” or traditional Indonesian fishing boats.  

bali market food tours

Families waited on the beach, chatting and playing while the boats pulled in. Balinese fishermen can be out in these small wooden boats for two weeks at a time, without ever coming to shore.

jimbaran bali colorful fish boats

Colors everywhere, and no foreigners in sight (other than ourselves).

indonesia bright fisherman boats, jukung

Now that’s a clever way to rig up lighting for a boat.

smiling bali people

It’s true that the Balinese are warm and welcoming. I saw smiles everywhere I turned my camera. (I shoot with a  Sony alpha 7 mirrorless.)

fishermen indonesia, fish basket

Fresh off the boat! It takes a team to bring in the catch. Love how even the baskets are brightly colored.

Balinese Fisherman

I learned that the government makes efforts to encourage sustainable fishing. These boats are prohibited from catching rare shark species, turtles and dolphins.

indonesia boats, jimbaran village

It’s hard work, being out in the ocean. For some, these water jugs are the only source of fresh water for a fortnight.

indonesian women selling fish

These women in triangle-hats were selling fish right on the sand.

indian ocean fish markets

Big fish, small fish. Surprisingly fun to photograph.

herring fish indonesia

Chef Wicaya led us inside to the covered area, or “pasar ikan” (fish market). 

southeast asia fish seafood

Locals squeezed through this small space, and bought fish to prepare at home.

fish with mouth open, bulging eyes

I saw Southeast Asian species that I didn’t recognize. This looks like a zombie fish. “The Swimming Dead,” perhaps?

women selling seafood, fish asia

My friends Cohica Travel, who write about sustainable tourism and local experiences, also blogged about our Jimbaran market visit. Here’s how they describe the scene:

“We watched Chef Wicaya walk the narrow corridors with confidence, waving hello to friends and neighbors who are picking up fish for their families (without refrigeration, many local woman visit the market each morning to pick up everything needed for the day’s meals). The sense of community and daily ritual is evident, and amidst the chaos, we’re grateful to be silent observers.”

yellowfin tuna, yellow fins

Outside, I learned that yellowfin tuna… is called “yellow finned” for a reason! 

jimbaran temple worshippers

I was happy I got to see Jimbaran market, and take part in this slice of local life. It made me better appreciate the food that we were about to make…

giant door, biggest door

But first, we had to open this gargantuan door! Bejana, the Ritz-Carlton’s Indonesian restaurant, has an entrance worthy of Game of Thrones.

traditional balinese sculptures, wood carved figures

Located on the hotel’s upper cliff, Bejana’s interiors pay tribute to Indonesian art and performance.

best indonesian restaurant, nusa dua

Everything is grand here, especially the dramatic patio views of the resort and Indian Ocean.

chef teaching bali cooking classes

Bejana is also home to the Culinary Cave, a fully equipped cooking station that lets you learn Indonesian cooking through hands-on instruction. We suited up in aprons and hats, and shook hands with our cheerful teacher, Chef Made Siriana. 

(A fun aside: In Bali, all firstborn sons are named Wayan, while the secondborns are called Made. There is a succession of four names, and you start again at Wayan for the fifth boy. This Wikipedia article desribes Balinese naming traditions in more depth.)

bali vegetarian cooking school

Chef Made could have been the star of a cooking TV show. He was marvelous at explaining ingredients and preparations, while weaving in stories of childhood, and even a joke or two!

My fellow students Cohica Travel describe the scene: “Pre-prepped ingredients sit perfectly chopped and julienned in small bowls. We recognize some of the Asian flavors we’ve grown accustomed to: ginger, lemongrass, coconut, turmeric, garlic, shallots, and red chilies. As we get started, we also learn about new herbs and spices: pandan, a green plant that is a key ingredient in many local dishes, salam leaves, similar to a large bay leaf, and kaffir lime leaves.”

bali restaurant cooking class

The chefs were happy to modify the ingredients for us — no nuts, please, or we’ll die! (Here’s the best peanut allergy poster ever made, by my pirate Naomi.)

First, we learned how to make bumbu, a curry-like spice paste that forms the base of many Indonesian dishes. We stir-fried aromatic ingredients together, then blended them into a hot and mouthwatering base. We all took turns stirring and chopping behind the stove.

learn indonesian recipes

From two versions of the bumbu paste, Chef Made showed us how to prepare a variety of homestyle dishes, including curries and tofu wrapped in banana leaves. Above, I’m learning how to pinch together a mahi-mahi fish satay (grilled on lemongrass sticks).

pandan coconut pancake recipe

Next, we moved over to the dessert station and learned how to make dadar gulung: bite-size pancakes turned green by pandan leaves, and filled with coconut and palm sugar. So, so good.

The staff gave us all copies of the recipes, so that we could re-create these meals back at home.

bejana restaurant, authentic indonesian cuisine

The photo above says it all… What a meal, and one that we cooked together! After this trip, I gained a new appreciation for Indonesian food, which is flavorful, spicy and more complex than you might imagine.

bajigur recipe, indonesia chai

My friends and I also have a new favorite drink, called bajigur. It’s a traditional Javanese hot beverage, rich with the healing flavors of ginger, coconut milk, lemongrass and pandan leaf. We’re convinced that if someone made this available in North America, it would become more popular than the Starbucks chai latte.

bajigur, javanese hot drink

I was so obsessed with this drink that the Ritz-Carlton arranged a special bajigur lesson for me! 

This is what I love about travel: no matter how much you read up about a place, you’ll never know what will inspire you until you’re actually there.

glistening fish tails, fins

Food is such a fantastic window into local culture, do you agree?

dog riding on scooter, crazy asia driving

Terima Kasih (thank you) to The Ritz-Carlton Bali for this unforgettable day! I enjoyed their Balinese cooking school so much that I’m going to do more experiences like this, wherever I go.

I leave you with another photo of the dog riding the scooter. Bali, you’re the best.