Saturday, September 1, 2012

What I learned about Singapore this week

Number one lesson is that in order to own a car you have to pay USD$65-$80,000 for a certificate of entitlement that is valid for 10 years.  Yes, $80,000 just to have the right to own a car.  Then after taxes and import duties you can be paying USD$500,000 for a Porsche 911 or USD$300-400,000 for a BMW 5 series.

Chobani yogurt that I bought on sale last week at my local supermarket for 99 cents is about USD$8-$10 in Singapore.

A small corporate apartment can cost USD$10-$12,000/month.

If you are thinking about working abroad for a higher paying salary, also consider the cost of living or make sure to get the expat package.

Friday, February 24, 2012

Dubai has arrived!

First time that I am in Dubai in the last 5 years and what an experience.  The world’s tallest building is here – the iconic Burj Khalifa - 2717 feet, which naturally features the world’s highest restaurant, at.mospehere -   At the base of Burj Khalifa is a lake with a dancing fountain that puts on a different show every 30 minutes (think Vegas but grander).  Next is Dubai Mall - which is full with luxury brands and features a 50 foot high aquarium, indoor waterfall, along with an ice skating rink.

The restaurants, much more so than before, feature cuisine from every part of the world and many feature world famous chefs.  Just like back home in NYC many restaurants double as lounges and night clubs with world class DJ’s, popular music, and a very hip crowd that dances on tables and consumes Grey Goose by the bottle.  Leaving People, a trendy night club, we noticed that many of the cars waiting outside were Ferraris, Bentleys, Rolls Royces, Porsches, and even a few Range Rovers.

There is also a shiny Atlantis - outlet, the popular beach resort from Bahamas, with many restaurants, aquariums, and tourists.  The hotel is on Palm Island, which is manmade group of islands in the shape of a palm tree.

The train system is brand new and very clean.  Streets are very safe and you can walk anywhere at night. Service everywhere is excellent.

Nearby government of Abu Dhabi had built a hotel, Emirates Palace -, which cost USD$3 billion and only has 400 rooms.  Many of the rooms are specifically reserved for Emirati royalty and their guests, who are usually heads of state and celebrities.

Saturday, January 28, 2012

A note on sailing in the Caribbean

Finally, an old dream to charter a private boat and island hop is achieved.   Probably for the last 10 years I have been dreaming about renting a large boat and going from one island to another with a group of friends.

Recently, 40 of us rented 5 large catamarans and cruised around Leeward islands in the Caribbean and celebrated our recent graduation.  We started from St Martin, then on to St Barth’s, Pinel Island, and finally Anguilla.  Most favorite island was Anguilla with its 35 beaches, where we found ourselves alone on a perfect beach stretching for at least a mile.  Most fun was St Barth’s where we danced on tables at Bagatelle until we could not stand.

The actual sailing part was a bit overwhelming, although a seasoned boater, I felt slightly nauseous and almost got sick from strong waves and the rocking of the boat.  Some in the group ended up throwing up overboard, but those who took motion sickness pills felt fine.  At first, I thought it was rough weather or bad season for boating but apparently these are just normal waves in this part of the world.  Note to self: go sailing only in calm water

The unique part is going to secluded beaches only accessible by boat and unspoiled by millions of tourists.  Moving around from one island to another and sleeping on a boat is also pretty cool. 

Watching from the sideline it feels like this holiday is only for the rich and famous but it is very affordable.   The cost to rent a 40 foot catamaran was a little bit more than $1k/pp/week and included the skipper.  However, the caveat is that sleeping conditions are not very comfortable and bathroom/shower space is very small.

Of course the bigger the yacht the better the accommodations:) 

Sunday, December 25, 2011

South Africa, China, and Korea

This is a long overdue entry and covers several trips. First is a trip to South Africa and later a short trip to China and Korea.

We left for Johannesburg on a direct flight from NYC via South African Airways (SAA). Although the flight was excellent there was a 20hr delay before takeoff. As I made the booking only a few days before departure I was not able to select my seat for all the flights but 73D or exit row seats are the economy class seats on SAA that are most desirable according to and verified by me because there are no seats in front of them.

Johannesburg like many others is a city of contrasts. We started a city tour by visiting the Houghton neighborhood, which has many beautiful villas hidden behind tall stone fences adorned with electrical security wire at the top. Most of the signs in the neighborhood advertised pool and tennis court repair, which gave us an idea of the demographic and its needs. Just a little while later we visited Hillsborough, where we were scared to get out of the car. Later on we visited the Apartheid museum and were reminded about how recent were the atrocities took place in South Africa.

Next stop is Cape Town, which is the ultimate tourist destination in South Africa with great sightseeing and great entertainment. We stayed at which is in Century City and 10 minutes away from downtown but the huge discount more than compensated for the taxi back and forth. We took the cable car to the top of Table Mountain and also visited Cape of Good Hope and Cape Point. Everything is very scenic and restaurants are top notch. Not too far away is beautiful wine country with many enormous vineyards and restaurants with some of the best chefs in the world - One restaurant that we really enjoyed here is Le Quartier Francais in Franschhoek - It is currently rated #36 in the world and #1 in Africa and the Middle East and the food stands up to the test.

A very special place is Salt Restaurant -, where Sara and I decided to celebrate our birthdays. We were there with our families and my classmates from the Global EMBA program. Special occasion is not only our 30th birthdays but also our engagement. I got down on one knee and after 10 years asked Sara to be my wife to which she agreed.

We went on to rent a car and drive to Kruger National Park for a relaxing safari. It should be noted that the driving is done on “other side” of the road in South Africa. It took about 6 or so hours to get to the park from Johannesburg and we had to enter through one of the official gates. We stayed inside the park for about a week an alternated between different camping sites. Camping sites have different accommodation from tents to townhouses and are much less expensive than if you were to stay outside of the park in a lodge. For comparison we paid about $100/night for a room and did our own sightseeing in our rented car while a comparable organized tour with accommodations in a lodge outside of the park would cost $1,000+/night and would require a long time to get inside the park everyday as the park speed limit is very low. All information is available on the official park website - and all tours should be booked directly with the park.

Everyone embarks on an African safari to see the big 5 animals, which are Leopard, Lion, Elephant, Rhino, and Buffalo. The big 5 are not categorized based on size but on aggressiveness. Different parts of the park are populated with different animals so I recommend that you visit different parts to see more animals. The best time to see animals is in the morning when they come to drink water so be ready to wake up at 4am. One night drive is also recommended just to get an idea of what’s it’s like. These can only be done by official park rangers and need to be booked at the campsite.

China and Korea

I was in Beijing as part of my school required international assignment. This was not my first time but Beijing has changed tremendously and I felt that it deserved a note.

The number of cars has doubled in the last few years and what used to be a Chinese dream is now a nightmare as there is chronic traffic almost everywhere in Beijing and simple drive just a few miles away can easily take an hour.

Apartments in Beijing, and many other large cities in China, are more expensive than in NYC. There are actually advertisements that say if you have $250,000 to spend for an apartment come to the US to buy 5 homes, if you have $500,000 learn about how to get official residency in the USA.

We stayed at the Grand Hyatt -, which has an amazing pool and Jacuzzi and a super convenient location near Tiananmen Square and Forbidden City. We visited the wall and the other attractions, including 798 Art Zone, which is an artistic community among decommissioned military factory buildings often compared to Soho in NYC.

After China we took a short trip to South Korea, where we spent one night and had just enough time to try Korean BBQ, which is awesome and much less expensive in Korea than it is in NYC. Something that stood out was that a lot more people knew English in Korea than in China, which for some reason was a surprise to me.

Thursday, August 4, 2011

Singapore/Malaysia/Indonesia/Thailand 2011 - The End

Thailand met expectations - beautiful and affordable. We arrived ahead of our group to stay at the Beach Republic – ($120/night). As a group we rented one villa and a bunch of rooms which was the perfect arrangement for us as we used the villa to get together around the private pool and pre-game before going out for the night.

The resort markets itself as the destination for the jet set crowd that likes to party but it was mostly deserted even during high season. We felt like we had the hotel all to ourselves which suited us just fine. It had 2 amazing infinity pools, several day beds, and many beach chairs with a live DJ for most of the time.

We spent most days just enjoying the sun by the pool and drinking strawberry mojitos. One day we decided to rent scooters ($5-$6/day) and take them to a zip line adventure ($50/person) which was very exciting, especially for those who have never done zip lining before or never rode a scooter.

One of the most memorable days was spent on a large catamaran that we rented from Kia Ora – ($100/person for private charter). We spent the day on the water with lots of dancing, drinking, eating, diving, and swimming while visiting remote beaches.

As most of the group went home mid-week those who remained visited Nikki Beach – (free). Nikki was similar to the Beach Republic with nicer beach and not as nice accommodations. We had such a good time that we contemplated organizing a Global regatta to visit all the Nikki Beach locations around the world.

As a note the whole group was introduced to 2 girls 1 cup - (priceless), an epic film that shows what’s really possible.

Now in Bangkok as a stop before going back home to NYC - staying at the Banyan Tree – ($165/night) for the 2nd time but at a higher price than 3 years ago.

As per Bertrand's recommendation just ate at Miyatake (Tokyu Supermarket, MBK, Bangkok) - amazing tuna toro and other Japanese dishes. A very plain sushi counter at a supermarket with quality and prices to rival Tokyo. We were about to give up looking for it when finally figured out where it was. I wish I took a video of our journey there through the massive electronics floor.

Wednesday, July 27, 2011

Singapore/Malaysia/Indonesia/Thailand - Summer 2011

At first I was not going to blog about this trip because it is only 2.5 weeks and mostly beachy as my time will be spent going from one tropical drink to another. However, after the first week I realized that I am in an important part of the world and it should be shared.

Sara and I are already a week into this trip and have been to Singapore, Malaysia, and now in Indonesia.

Singapore - This is an island surrounded by Malaysia and Indonesia. There are 5-6 million inhabitants on only 270 square miles. This country is only 46 years old and already has one of the highest per capita GDP's in the world.

I was blown away by how developed and wealthy this country is. It went far beyond my expectation. We stayed at Marina Bay Sands which is a Las Vegas style resort and casino with 2500+ rooms, shoping mall, theatre, ice skating rink, 500 feet long infinity pool shaped like a ship and placed on the roof across all three towers. The hotel was one of the best I have ever experienced. I did not want to leave the pool as it gives you a birds eye view of the city and allows to enjoy a sangria at the same time.

Beyond the hotel, Singapore has everything that you would expect from a modern city including a high-rising financial center, luxury boutiques such as Prada, LV, Ferragamo, and many diverse restaurants. English is also an official language so it easy to get around and talk to people. It is also very safe. We had an excellent host in my classmate Steven who took us around to all the major sights in Singapore.

Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia (KL) - we arrived here to achieve my 10 year old dream to see the Petronas Towers - I first saw the towers while watching Entrapment (1999) and fell in love. They are called Twin Towers by the locals and that's exactly what they are. Two identical buildings joined together by a sky bridge about half way up. The buildings are impressive and so is the view from the top. They are also stunning at night. It was worth the trip to see the towers but I was not impressed by the rest of KL. It was dirty, dangerous, and not very exciting.

Now we are in Bali, Indonesia. Bali is one of the many islands in Indonesia but unlike other islands where citizens follow Islam it is the only one that is populated mostly by those following Hinduism. It is friendly, beautiful, known for its art, and overall amazing. Originally, we were going to stay at a Marriott but at the airport here we decided to change to a villa and what a good choice it was. We are staying at LaVillais - which is a villa resort. Each room has it's own inground pool, outdoor living room, kitchen, and all the amenities that come with it. All this for under $200/night. I love getting a good deal and I never want to leave. If you go to Bali..stay at a villa....this is way to go here. For those who think that this is an expensive vacation we just had a lunch special which included an excellent salad and pasta for $6. So far Bali is highly recommended and definitely a place I would visit again. Any takers for renting an enormous villa here next summer? Next on the trip is Thailand!

Wednesday, March 10, 2010

South America 2010 - The End

Upon arrival to Guayaquil, Ecuador we went straight to the check-in counter to check on the status of our flight to Santiago, Chile. After a few short hours it was clear that Chile and Easter Island were off the table. LAN, the airline was willing to send us to another destination but because of the crisis pretty much the whole continent was sold out....we considered an option of going to Buenos Aires and or Rio but it was too complicated since we would have to take 3 flights to get there and would add significantly to the cost. So we booked tickets to go to New York the next day on Aerogal in first class, which was the cheapest option available on short notice.

In the meantime we decided to explore Guayaquil with the guidance of John, our classmate from Pace, who permanently lives there. We checked into a hotel and then we were off to see the city. The city is modern and much larger and more developed than Quito. We saw many western franchises and tall office buildings. Afterwards, we went to a very nice steak house and had lots of Sangria. Again, the city seemed safe but there were many warnings to be careful. Armed robbery seems to be a popular crime....John is sending his car out to get bulletproofed as many robberies happen at intersections while waiting for the light to turn green. Overall, we had an awesome time and even decided to try and change our flight home for a day later so we can see the beach.

The next morning after checking out we went to the airport and changed our flight without any issues or penalties and we were on our way to Montanita, a remote beach town. The ride was very peaceful since we went on a workday with only interruption coming from tens of street peddlers at the toll booth....I wish we had a camera to take a picture...just imagine pulling up to a toll booth on a bridge and as you are paying the toll three people run up to your car and try to sell you candy, water, or a puppy...yes puppy. Montanita is a true experience. Although, only about 120 miles from Guayaquil, it feels like you are on different planet. Single rooms start at about $4 per night and the small, three block town is full of hippies and surfers. In a strange way it reminds of Rio where I met travelers who liked it so much they simply didn't leave but unlike the students who I met in Rio, these nomads have dread-locks, make a living by making and selling crafts, and also openly smoke and sell pot. It was nice to be in a remote place that does not often receive visitors from the USA. After spending the night we were off to the airport to fly home into the cold weather.

Thank you for traveling with me!!!